Kid Pro Quo

I'll tell you when the trouble started, it was summer, and it had been a quiet summer until then. School was out, my buddies and I were sort of hanging around, reading comic books, maybe doing some swimming at the slime pits near my Grandpa's farm---usual kid stuff, you know what I mean. Anyway, the day the trouble started was just like any other. Breakfast was entrail pancakes with antler-pus syrup---it was Friday and Mom wasn't working so she had time to cook 'em proper. Anyway, after that I did my chores, then put on my human guise and ran off to meet Kurap.

Kurap is my bud. He's 10, like me, and he has this older brother Siggur who knows all sorts of things. When I was over there last week, Siggur had told us a story about a magic box that's hidden in one of the caves near Grandpa's farm. Siggur says that there is this box, and it has a magic power in it! Kurap and I wanted to go at once to find the box, but Siggur just laughed and laughed…

"Like they would just leave a magic box lying around for stupid kids to find," he chuckled. "It's HIDDEN, dumbass. In a maze full of caves. Like you'd ever find it! And it's locked too." He stuck out his tongue and made campfire ghost story noises. "Legend has it the key is buried somewhere in those slime pits…"

Well, Kurap and I DO spend a lot of time at the slime pits…so we decided that IF we asked my grandpa and he told us that Siggur was not playing a trick on us, and IF we happened to be at the slime pits anyway, that we would try to look for this magic key. And that was our plan on the Friday when I was at the secret meeting place waiting for Kurap.

He came running to the picnic bench at the back of the Doublemeat half an hour past when he was supposed to, and I'd been bored enough to go inside and buy a milkshake.

"Sorry, sorry," he gasped, out of breath from running. "Had…to do… chores…"

I took a sip from my drink. "I thought it was Siggur's week."

"Was…but I owed him, from…" Kurap reached for my milkshake and took a big gulp. "S'okay, I'm better now."

"He got you in trouble again?"

"Would have, if I hadn't agreed to do his chores. Listen, Zeki, I've been thinking about this slime pit thing, and my thinking is maybe…no."

"Kurap!"

"Just…Siggur heard stories, about…about some humans up there. Prowling."

"So? Siggur hears a lot of stories."

"But this one my mom heard too, and she told me not to go there. And if I do go there and Siggur sees me go there and tells, I'll be doing his chores all summer!"

I reached for one of the napkins lying on the picnic table and used it to carefully clean the vent on the nose of my human guise.

"So? My nose is better than yours. We smell Siggur, we turn back. We smell humans, we run away."

"Zeki…"

"Kurap, don't be such a spoilsport! I waited half an hour for you. Who knows what we will find down there? Maybe a magic key, or maybe buried treasure…"

Kurap made noises like he didn't want to come, but I knew he would do it. He was my buddy that way.

He hadn't brought his bike with him, so I had to leave mine at the Doublemeat and hike it to the slime pits with him. I didn't mind. I still had some milkshake left and we brought it with. I finally threw it away at the road leading up to Grandpa's farm, and wiped my nose again.

"See?" I said, sniffling dramatically. "No Siggur. No humans."

"You can't be sure," whined Kurap. "Human food makes you mucousy. You might not be smelling right."

"Oh, Kurap, you worry so much," I said. "Why would any humans come here? Why would they want to play in any slime pits?"

We circled around Grandpa's driveway and peeked into the house. Nobody home. Perfect. No way word would get back to Siggur now!

We ducked through the bushes and to the edge of the property, tramping through a half-mile of brush until we reached the slime pits. I inhaled deeply.

"Not smelling anything," I said. "'Cept doublemeat burgers, and I think it's from my being in there."

Kurap snorkled noisily as he tried to get a whiff. "I can't tell," he said. "I'm stuffy."

"You just need to clean your suit better," I said. "Look…"

I loosened my face mask and slid it off. "See, perfectly safe."

I slid off the rest of my suit and dove into the slime pit, horn-first. We splashed around for a good ten minutes before we finally heard the rustling in the bushes.

Kurap froze. "Duck under!" he hissed.

I climbed out of the pond. "Forget it, I said. If there's anyone out there, they've already seen us."

He stayed in the pit, trembling coward-like in the warm bath of slime. I slipped on my human guise and picked his off the ground, then brought it over to the side of the pit and held it out. "Come on, Kurap, it's okay…"

Sniffling anxiously, he eased out of the pit and slipped into his suit. The rustling from the bushes grew louder as the two humans, who had apparently been politely waiting for us to finish dressing, stepped out from the shadows with little grins.

"Well," said one. "THAT was very interesting."

There were two of them that I could see: the red-headed one who had just spoken, and the tiny blond-haired one who stood in a sort of fighty muscle-tensed stance with a stick in her hand.

The red-headed one squinted at Kurap and me and seemed to relax a little. "Stand down, Buffy, I think they're harmless."

The blonde one---Buffy, she'd called her---looked unconvinced. "They're demons, Will. Did you see the horns? The…the scales?"

"I did," said the red-haired one. "But Buffy, I think they're, like, little-kid demons. Look, you scared one!"

Sure enough, Kurap had begun to blubber noisily, burying his face in my jacket.

"We have to run away," he sniffled. "If they catch us without our guises…"

"We've already BEEN caught," I pointed out.

"If you hadn't made us come…"

"Me? It's YOUR stupid brother that told us about the magic key!"

This seemed to perk up the blond Buffy-girl. "Magic key," she repeated to the other. "Willow, did they say…"

She smiled, then she held out her hand. "Hey, little guy. I'm not gonna hurt you, 'kay?"

Kurap shrank away, but I stepped forward, suddenly noticing something weird about her smell. "Doublemeat!"

The red-haired one blinked. "They want us to buy them food?"

"I don't think so, Will," Buffy said. "See the way his nose is twitching? I think he's realizing why he couldn't smell us out."

That wasn't enough though; a nose like mine should have been able to smell a real human, even underneath the Doublemeat grease that this one had all over her. Unless…

"Magic!" I blurted. "You're magic!"

"Two for two," said Buffy, smiling. "This guy's a smart one. Hey, there, fella. I'm Buffy, and this is my friend Willow."

"Zeki," I said.

"Zeki," Buffy repeated. "Okay." She looked at Kurap. "Is he…"

"Oh, that's Kurap. He's with me."

"I see that," said Buffy. "So you come here a lot?"

I shrugged. "Maybe. You?"

"Now and then. You seem like a pretty smart guy, Zeki. How'd you like to help us out with something?"

I hesitated. "Look, you seem nice and all, but…"

"I know, I know, your mother always warned you about strangers. Well, Zeki, this is kind of different. You'd be doing work for us. You and your friend."

"Like…like a summer job, kind of work?"

She looked at her friend for confirmation. "Yes, like a summer job."

Kurap had stopped bawling like a crybaby and had come up beside me. "What kind of job?"

"Come meet this friend of ours," said Buffy. "He'll explain everything."

--

I explained to them about my bike, which I had left at the Doublemeat. "No problem," Buffy said. "We can stop on the way and pick it up. I work at the Doublemeat. I can get you guys free milkshakes or something."

"Human food makes us muscousy," said Kurap. "It's why we couldn't smell you."

"It's not," I said. "We couldn't smell them because they're both magic! That one's a witch," I said, pointing at the red-haired one. "And this one is a…not sure what you are," I told Buffy. "But magic, for sure."

"Vampire slayer," she said.

Kurap shrank away again. "Zeki, I don't like it here," he whined.

"Do too! These are your favourite slime pits of all of them."

The red-headed one, Willow, gave us a funny look. "How many slime pits ARE there in Sunnydale, anyway?"

"Enough," I shrugged. "We come here a lot cause my Grandpa lives nearby."

"Quiet," whined Kurap. "Don't tell 'em stuff! I don't like them."

"Hey!" said Buffy. "Be nice to the lady who's buying you a milkshake, 'kay, little guy?"

Willow pulled her aside. "I don't know about this, Buffy. Shouldn't we, like, ask their parents or something?"

"Sure, Will. We'll just march right up to their demon parents and ask permission to take them to some slime pits and buy them human junk food."

"Oh," said Willow. "Well, if you put it that way…"

"Relax, Will." To Kurap and me, she said "We're VERY safe."

I trotted ahead of them. "Whatever, I already had a milkshake. Can we get ice cream instead?"

We stopped at the Doublemeat to get my bike and buy some ice cream, then headed downtown, finally stopping at a store called The Magic Box.

"Hey, I know this place," I told Kurap "I think my grandpa comes here."

That seemed to relax him some. He still seemed a little jittery, but I didn't worry. He had taken the ice cream…

There was a man behind the counter, and he put down his book when he saw us coming. "Buffy! Did you…well, what's this?"

"They're demons," said Buffy. Then, to me, she said "Show him that thing you do where you take off your head."

The man looked confused. "Buffy, what on earth…"

She pulled him aside and started whispering, and after a moment, he kneeled down on the floor so he was my size.

"Hello there," he said.

I shrugged. "Hi."

"My name is Mr. Giles. And you are…"

"I'm Zeki." I pointed at Kurap. "That's Kurap."

"Yes, of course. Um, Zeki, Buffy tells me she found the two of you playing in a sewer run-off."

"Slime pits," I corrected.

"Yes, well…what?"

"We call 'em that other thing to keep the humans away. But really, they're slime pits."

"Yes, of course they are. Do you…do you play in them often?"

"Sure, why not? Keeps the scales shiny," I shrugged.

The man finally gave a tiny smile. "Yes, I suppose it does. Well, then. I assume Buffy's explained to you that we're a little…different…than most people are…"

"She's magic," I told him. "I figured it out all on my own!"

He smiled again. "Of course you did. Well, Zeki, Buffy claims you were telling her a most interesting story…"

"I know a lot of stories."

Kurap tugged on my sleeve. "I think he means the one about the magic box. You know, that Siggur told us."

So I explained that Siggur told us there was a magic box in some caves near Grandpa's farm and that the key is buried in the slime pits.

"I see," he said. "Anything else?"

I shrugged. "Siggur tells us lots of things. Most of 'em aren't true."

"Do you know where he heard this particular story?"

I looked at Kurap, and he shook his head.

"Nope," I reported.

Mr. Giles nodded and rose to his feet. "Well, Zeki," he said. "It so happens that I think your friend's brother might be on to something. Look at this."

He passed me the book he had been reading. There was a lot of tiny printing, and a small drawing of a thundercloud with a creepy triangle-shaped baseball bat floating in the middle.

"Hammer of the gods," I read off the caption. "Is that what's inside the magic box?"

"In a matter of speaking," he said. "You're familiar with the pantheon? Gods and goddesses of the ancient world?"

Kurap's eyes went jumpy and he leaned over to look. "I have a picture book," he told me. "Your grandpa gave it to me for last year's birthday. There was this winged god who could fly, and this girl with snakes for hair, and this guy who killed his parents, and…"

"Right," said Mr. Giles. "Well, the demon world has a pantheon too, and at its base is The Infernal Father. Long ago, he was killed in a great battle with Zeus, the god of humans. Zeus was so cocky and smug that he didn't even deign to properly bury his foe: he simply left the body to rot in the field of battle."

Buffy made a face. "I'm guessing big mistake?"

"You could say that. Enchanted vultures descended and picked clean his bones, then the source of all evil entered into them and…well, animated them. Brought them to life, each bone, one by one, to spawn the numerous demon species we have today."

Willow frowned. "Vultures, huh? Who comes up with this stuff?"

"Well, it IS only a legend," Mr. Giles said. "You know how these things are."

"There must be something to it," said Buffy. "If it made it into the kinds of books YOU have…"

Giles nodded. "As the story goes, the only power that remained of him was in his magic hammer, similar to Zeus' own. Understandably, Zeus was rather jumpy about leaving such a power lying about. But he couldn't destroy it either---and not for lack of trying."

"So he hid it," guessed Buffy. "In the magic box the kids were talking about."

"Essentially, yes. The unfortunate detail, however, is what happens if someone should open the box. A human would be killed instantly. But if someone were to have even a speck of demon blood…"

"Uh oh," said Buffy.

"Pretty much. There is no telling what would happen if the magic got turned loose that way. The only experience I personally have had with demonic possession has been less than favourable…"

Kurap fiddled with the fringe of his sleeve. "So? What do you need with Zeki and me?"

Giles put down the book. "The council I work for, the council of Watchers, has been looking for the box and its key for centuries. And very recently, it started showing up on our magical radar as being here."

"And you're thinking that if the council's suddenly figured it out, the…well, whatever council the bad guys have must have figured it out too," said Buffy.

"Precisely. It's obviously imperative that we find the key first. And if it really is hidden in what seems to be a natural habitat for these children…"

I didn't understand all of the words he was using, but I did understand about buried treasure and big adventures. I read the same comic books as everyone else does, and I know all about these things.

"Okay," I said. "So what do we do?"

"Well, we start with the few leads we already have," he said. "Can you talk to your friend again? See if he has any other details he could give us?"

I looked at Kurap. "Somebody needs to talk to Siggur," I told him.

He made a face. "Why is everyone looking at ME?"

"Well, he's YOUR brother," I said. "I don't see why anyone else should have to do it. I mean, you live with him. He's your brother."

"That's not my fault," Kurap sniffled.

"Is he evil?" said Buffy, watching Kurap with some concern. "Cause if he is, I could…well, not kill, exactly, if he really is your brother, but maybe…" She mimed punching.

"No!" I said. "Not evil. Just…big brother, you know?"

"Well, if he DOES give you any trouble, you tell me," said Buffy. "I could maybe happen to run into him, and…" She mimed punching again.

Mr. Giles shook his head at her, but Kurap smiled. "Okay. Cool."

"I guess we'll keep at the research here," said Buffy. "I'm sure Giles still has books we haven't looked at yet."

"Oh, always," he said.

Kurap looked at me. "What are YOU gonna do?"

I thought about this for a minute. "I should talk to my grandpa," I finally decided. "See what he knows about all of this."

Buffy frowned. "I don't know," she said to Giles. "Brining other people…well, okay, not people so much, but anyway, bringing them into this…"

Mr. Giles crouched to his knees and bent to my eye level. "Listen, Zeki, about that…well, the thing is, it's rather…" He paused. "See, we…"

Willow shoved him out of the way and gave me a smile. "What he's trying to say is we don't like telling people," she said. "About the whole he's-a-watcher-she's-a-slayer thing. Cause there's people, you know, especially YOUR kind of people who might…well, bug us about that if they knew, you know?"

I nodded. "Sure. I bet."

"It's this whole secret identity thing," she told us. "Like…"

"I know, I know," I said. "I'm not stupid, you know. I do read comic books."

"Right," said Willow. "Good. Okay, then."

"But my grandpa's cool," I said. "Really. He knows all about all sorts of things. He's on the council, you know---the elders council? He's smart and he knows about a lot of things. He was a Rogue's scholar, you know."

"You mean Rhodes Scholar?" said Willow, looking impressed.

"No, no," said Mr. Giles, smiling. "He means exactly what he says he means. Although they ARE somewhat equivalent." He climbed to his feet. "It's all right, Willow."

"Giles…" said Buffy.

"No, really, it's all right," he told her. "I've had some dealings myself with the council of which he speaks. Decent enough lot of fellows."

"So can we go?" said Kurap.

"Yes, of course," Mr. Giles told us. "Now, look---stay out of trouble, you hear me? Speak as little as you must about our little project, and come to me at once if you feel there's any trouble. We HAVE run this sort of operation before, and I don't THINK there will be danger, per se…well, not to you…at least, I HOPE not to you. But…well, this IS the hellmouth, and one never does know for sure. And you ARE only children…"

I could see him carefully talking himself out of letting us play. "We're cool," I told him. "Siggur's just a mean older brother, and my grandpa knows everything. We won't tell anyone else about us helping you or anything, I swear we won't ."

"Well, all right," he said. "Run along, then." I went for my bike and headed straight for Grandpa's.

--

Grandpa was working in his garden when I got there.

"Hey, Champ," he called out. He put down his shovel when he saw me coming. I pulled off my human face and let him ruffle my horns.

"So how goes the summer vacation?" he asked me.

"Awesome," I told him. "There's this thing, Kurap and I found it."

"Ah," he said. "A thing. I see. Shall we talk about this thing over Sarsaparilla tea and Gricken wings?"

I licked my snout hungrily. "With blue cheese dip?"

"Why not? After all, there's a thing involved."

I followed him inside, shedding the lower half of my guise as I went. By the time we reached the kitchen, I was enjoying the warm summer breeze on my tail.

"So," he said again. "A thing…"

I filled him in on the story we heard from Siggur, with the key and the magic box and the human girls lurking near the slime pits.

"Real careless," he told me. "Getting yourself caught like that…"

I pouted "Sorry."

"Sorry? Not good enough, boy. You know how it goes."

"Yessir."

"Well?" he prompted.

I took a deep breath. "We don't realize how lucky we are cause our ancestors lived in sewers and caves and stuff but our parents have worked hard to give us a better life which means Nintendo and College and stuff and if we want to stay that way we have to learn to get along with people which means houses and school and wearing our human guises whenever we go out there."

"That's better," he said. "Now, where were we? Ah, yes. At the slime pits, and the careless consorting with human girls. Really, Zeki," he muttered, shaking his head. "That Kurap fellow never did strike me as the sharpest cloven nail on the hoof, but a boy of mine, I would have hoped you'd smell them!"

"But they were magic!" I protested. "Grandpa, really, they were. The red-haired one is a witch, and the other, Buffy, she's a slayer!"

At that, he brightened. "Really? Slayer, did you say? Little blond thing, about yeah tall?"

He lifted his claw to about chest-height, and I nodded. "Yes. That's the girl."

"I've heard good things about her," he said. "More progressive than most. Finally brought the blasted council out of the stone ages, they say. Used to be they'd go around and kill any demon on sight!"

I tried to picture that friendly girl doing that. "Really?"

"Would I lie to you? Not to worry, though---rumour is SHE only goes for the bad ones. I guarantee you the first thing her watcher did when you left them was look you up in one of those little compendiums they have. Did she…did she HAVE a watcher? Did you meet one?"

"We went back to this magic store where her friends were staying," I said. "And there was a man there called Mr. Giles, who explained about…"

"Wait," said Grandpa. "Giles? Rupert Giles?"

"Yes, and he told us that…"

"Giles," said Grandpa again. "Son of a gun!"

"You know him?" I asked.

"Know him? KNOW him? If he's the Giles I think he is---and really, how many could there be---well, let's just say you're certainly in capable hands. Well, come on already, what did he say to you?"

I explained some more about the books that Mr. Giles had brought from his council.

"He's STILL with the council?" said Grandpa. "I thought the man was smarter than THAT!"

"Oh, he's VERY smart," I told Grandpa. "He explained about the whole thing, and how we need to find the magic key and stuff before some bad guys do, which is why I came to you cause I thought you might know something or help us."

"Well, I'll help, all right," said Grandpa. "Not sure I feel okay about just letting you run off with humans like that, even if one of them IS Rupert Giles. Let's just say there are a few missing pieces I'd like filled in before I sign off on this little project."

"Like what?"

"Like what exactly they plan to do with this hammer of the gods if they do find it. If it KILLS humans and CORRUPTS demons---just how exactly will we all be better of if THEY'RE the ones to find it?"

I thought about this for a moment. "Well, they aren't demons," I said. "But they aren't exactly human either. At least, the two girls aren't."

Grandpa frowned. "No, I suppose they're not, are they? Hmmm. That's definitely food for thought, now, isn't it?"

Then he suddenly grinned. "But Rupert Giles! My boy, what an adventure you'll have!"

Now that's the kind of talking I like to hear.

I met Kurap the next morning, just outside the magic store. He was out of breath, as usual.

"Sorry…I'm…late," he wheezed. "Had…chores…"

I'd had chores too, but I still managed to beat him here by a good half hour or so. I didn't say anything. I figured it was my fault he had extra chores, since I'd made him talk to Siggur again.

"My grandpa is coming later," I told him. "He's gonna help us."

Kurap was still trying to catch his breath. "That's…nice…"

Buffy and Mr. Giles were already inside, along with that Willow girl, and a boy I hadn't met yet. They greeted us with smiles.

"Morning, guys," said Buffy. "You haven't met Xander yet, have you?"

She nodded at the boy we didn't know, who was extremely occupied with trying to get open a box of donuts.

"Hi," I said.

We waited for an answer. "Xander?" Buffy prompted.

He looked up at last. "Oh. Hi, nice to meet you, and good god, you're very small. Are you sure this is a good idea, Buffy? Bringing little kids into this?"

I straightened to as menacing a posture as I could manage in my human guise. "I'll have you know, we are not just any kids, we are actually Narnic DEMONS!"

He choked on a giggle.

"What? We are, you know!"

"I know, I know, just…well…"

"We looked you up last night," said Willow. "And…well, you really aren't the most menacing species of demon, you know?"

I looked at Kurap. "Grandpa told me they would do that," I told him. "He said slayers kill demons, but that SHE was all modern and stuff and only killed the bad ones, and that her watcher prob'ly told her we were safe or she wouldn't let us be here plus she would kill us on the spot."

"Well, it doesn't QUITE work that way," Mr. Giles said. "But overall, I'd say that's actually fairly good intelligence."

"Didn't realize I was such a popular topic of conversation," said Buffy. "I mean, the bad ones that I've run against, okay, maybe there's SOME mystique, but the tame little demon families?"

"I didn't even know there WERE tame little demon families," Willow said. "Learn something new every day, don't you?"

"Can we please get back on topic?" said Mr. Giles. "Now that we're all here, we DO have work to do, you know." He took off his glasses and started cleaning them.

"Well, okay," I said. "I talked to Grandpa, and he says there are lots of old stories about the area where the slime pits are. He has some books and stuff. We're meeting him for lunch at the Doublemeat and he says you have to come, to get the books, but also cause he wants to check up on you."

Mr. Giles made a face, but admitted "That seems fair enough. Right, then."

"I hope we didn't get you guys in trouble," said Buffy, frowning.

I shrugged. "Nah. Grandpa's cool, and I just told my mom I was hanging with Kurap, and he told HIS mom he was hanging with me and that's true anyway but I think she doesn't really care about the rest of it as long as we stay out of trouble which we sort of are since YOU'RE in charge anyway plus you have superpowers."

"You know, I actually follow that train of logic," said Xander. "How scary is that?"

Buffy turned to Kurap. "And you?"

He pouted. "I thought there would be ice cream."

"We're going to the Doublemeat later," she told him. "We've got donuts though…" I thought she should sound impatient with him, but she didn't.

He reached for a donut and took a tiny nibble. "So I went to Siggur's room last night," he said.

"Yes. And?"

"And he was playing some VERY loud music and smoking something that I think my mother wouldn't like to see him smoking. So that's why he didn't beat me up or anything even though I was talking to him and stuff and that's why I got off with only doing half his chores instead of all of them."

Buffy's face pinched up all serious. "I don't like this Siggur person at all," she said.

"Well he's not technically a person, per se," said Willow.

"I don't care. You were with me when we looked them up last night, Will. Narnic demons are a pacifist species. Gentler than us, even. This Siggur guy doesn't sound demon-mean, he sounds 'little kid picking the legs off a spider' mean, and I have a bad feeling about it."

"I can handle Siggur," Kurap sniffled.

"You just better hope I don't run into him somewhere," said Buffy. "Beating up on a little kid like that…" She shook her head. "Sorry, Kurap. You were talking."

"Right. So I went into Siggur's room, and I asked him if it was really true about that story he told us. You know, the one about the magic box and the key being buried in the slime pits and all."

He paused and waited for an answer.

"I'm familiar with the story," said Buffy, smiling.

"So anyway then he says I am a dumb kid who will believe anything, but that lucky for me, this time I'm right and the story IS true. Or at least, he thinks it is. He heard it from his friend Malpuder, who heard it from his uncle, who heard it from his cousin's brother's girlfriend's dad, who happens to be a member of the council of elders, but over in Dutton, not here."

"And again, I am following this train of logic," said Xander. "Is anyone worried by that?"

"Well, that's something, then," said Mr. Giles. "Something bad, in that it's reached the council level. But something good in that it means the source might be traceable. Zeki, you mentioned that your grandfather is on the council here. Does he have any contact with his local compatriots?"

I looked at Willow.

"As in, does his council ever talk to the other ones," she explained.

"Oh. Well, we could ask him," I said. "When we go to the Doublemeat to have lunch and let him check you over and stuff."

"But Giles, you told us these were good guys," said Willow. "So why is it bad if their councils know?"

"Because it isn't only them on the councils," he said. "It's ALL the ones who live among us, and some of them aren't so friendly. I can think of half a dozen Willy's regulars, off-hand, who would loose a dangerous mytho-historical power on the world just for the fun of it."

Kurap squinted. "When you say Willy, do you mean Willy, like the guy who runs that Willy's Place Willy?"

"Tell me you don't go there," Buffy groaned. "Please tell me you don't go there."

"Gosh, no! But I think Siggur does. I heard Malpuder say it to him once."

"I am liking this Siggur guy less and less," said Buffy. "Giles, you'd better go on ahead to the Doublemeat without me. I think it's time I made Willy the Snitch do a little snitching." She turned to Kurap. "You have any pictures of Siggur that I could borrow?"

Kurap shook his head. "Only in guise. We don't really keep the ones around of us not in guise."

"Give us what you've got. We'll work with it. Xander, you up for some noirish good cop/bad cop?"

"Sounds fun."

"Great, we'll meet you back here at, say, 2ish?"

Mr. Giles nodded. "Right, then. Shall we?"

Willow came with Giles and me to the Doublemeat.

"You'll like my grandpa," I told them. "He's very smart---like you! He was a Rogue's Scholar, you know."

"You mentioned," Willow said.

"And then after that he stayed there and he taught at the university, then he finished doing that because of a thing and he came here with my grandma when my dad was a boy. I'm not from there, though. I've always been from here."

Mr. Giles didn't look so relaxed now, and for a second, I worried I had scared him about my grandpa.

"But he's cool," I quickly reassured him. "He's very into stuff. He goes to your magic shop sometimes, you might have met him already."

His eye twitched a little. "I'm not in the shop as often these days," he said. "I've been…busy…"

"Whatever, there he is. Grandpa!" I called. I ran over and raised my face upward, waiting for my hug. Grandpa obliged, then turned to the others.

"Well, well," he said. "I thought it was you." He let Mr. Giles squirm for a minute, then he smiled and said "Good to see you, old chap."

That seemed to relax him a little. "Yes, well…"

"Thought you'd been avoiding me, Rupert. Every time I come into that shop of yours, you happen to not be there."

"Well, I'm very busy," Mr. Giles said. "I do have a slayer, you know, and we…"

"Right, Zeki mentioned." Grandpa looked doubtful at this excuse, but Mr. Giles looked so jittery that even I was glad to see him let it pass. Grandpa held out his hand to Willow.

"Hello there, young lady. I'm Garo, Zeki's grandfather."

"Willow Rosenberg. Pleased to meet you."

We went inside, and I snagged us a table. Willow went to get our food, and I patted the bench for Grandpa to sit beside me. With a wink, he shook his head and slid in next to Mr. Giles, nudging himself close. Mr. Giles squirmed again, and coughed into his hand.

"Now, put on a good show," Grandpa whispered to him, looking carefully in my direction.

Willow came back with our food. "So, you guys getting acquainted?" she said cheerfully.

Having her around again seemed to give Mr. Giles back his energy. "Actually, we already know each other," he said. "Garo was a professor while I was at Oxford, back in the day."

"Really? Wow, small world. So were you in any classes with him?"

They shared a look. "Not classes, so much," Mr. Giles said.

Willow looked at me, and I shrugged. "Okay," she said brightly, giving Mr. Giles a funny look. "Let's talk about something else!"

Giles nodded. "Right, yes, Well, than, Garo. I assume your grandson has filled you in on our little problem?"

"Not quite so little a problem, Rupert."

Mr. Giles picked at his French fries, completely miserable. "I'm not 18 anymore, Garo. I do understand these things."

"Whoa!" said Willow. "Stop it right now with the attitude, you two. I don't know what's going on here, and I probably don't really want to, but for the sake of this small thing called the fate of the WORLD, just cool it, okay?"

"Willow…" Mr. Giles began.

"No! Look, I don't want a big hard thing either, okay? But we have a job to do and we have people to keep safe, not the least of whom include these two great little demon kids we know, and the last thing we need is the only two real grown-ups we have making faces at each other and acting like they're on the playground. So whatever it is, Giles, get it on the table NOW, you hear me?"

Grandpa held up his hand with a teeny wave. "My dear, if I may?" He turned to Mr. Giles. "Rupert, I've been trying to tell you, I'm NOT mad at you. I never was. I know you've grown up---after what happened at Oxford, how could you have not? You came to me, the night after Randall had…and you'd already learned, you already knew. I wouldn't have helped you if you hadn't."

"Randall," said Willow slowly. "Does he mean…oh my god." Her eyes went huge. "The Eyghon thing? You're telling me he was there for THAT?"

"Not merely there, Willow," said Mr. Giles very quietly. "He saved my life. And he intervened with the council on my behalf. Lost his job for it, too."

"I was tired of England anyway," Grandpa said. "And the wife was sick of the rainy weather. There, there, it all turned out okay. And you now, a watcher still…and with a slayer, no less. A good one, I hear."

"The best."

"Takes after her watcher, no doubt. I confess Rupert, I have been keeping up on things, and I have seen the girl in action on a handful of occasions. A most impressive woman."

"That she is."

Grandpa gave me a wink, then leaned over and snatched one of Mr. Giles' French fries. "Well, if my grandson MUST consort with humans, I certainly couldn't think of better ones," he said.

"And you're okay with the whole scary-magic thing?" said Willow.

"My dear, he's a BOY. And boys need to have a little adventure now and then, hmm?"

Mr. Giles pressed his palm to his forehead and took a deep breath. "Right, then. We'll keep you posted."

"I expect nothing less."

--

It was later when I noticed I had accidentally taken one of Grandpa's books. He must have put it on the table near MY stuff when we were at lunch, and it got shoved in my backpack with the rest of it without my even seeing. It had only just got dark, and it was a clear night. I'd be okay on my bike.

I pedaled fast, and stopped to walk beside my bike when I hit the gravel of Grandpa's driveway. Something made me stop for a minute---voices, and an alien yet familiar smell. I very quietly laid down my bike and scuttled into the bushes to listen.

He had his guise on, even in his own yard, which meant his visitor had to be human. I held very still, and then I heard their voices.

"It really is a small world, isn't it?" There was a faint creaky sound as Mr. Giles leaned back his chair. "Did you ever think, Garo, when we were at Oxford together, that both of us would wind up here?"

"Never thought YOU would," my grandpa said. "Thought they'd throw you into the clinker after that whole Eyghon debacle."

I could feel the air tense up. "That was a long time ago," said Mr. Giles. He sounded like he was trying not to grind his teeth.

"Oh, I agree," Grandpa said. "I agree, don't get me wrong. YOU'RE the one who started getting all nostalgic, Rupert. Wasn't ME who brought it up."

"I never thanked you. I would have been…well, I shudder to imagine. But you…and not just as a professor, either. You, personally…well, I…."

"Now, now, let's not get emotional. Seems to me like what's past is past, and we've got enough on our plates in the here and now to worry about. Does she know?"

"Does…what?"

"Your slayer, does she know? What the plan really is, I mean."

His teeth went grindy again. "I can't say I know what you're talking about."

"Oh, come on, of course you do. This hammer of the gods business, it ruins a demon, and it kills a human. Seems to me you'd only think you have a shot at stopping it if you suspect that you're…well, neither."

They were quiet for a moment. "That would be the gamble," Mr. Giles finally said.

"And if you're wrong, if that slayer of yours is too human---or too the other way, as it may turn out---what then?"

"Then she'll die to save the world," he said, voice cracking. "As she has before, and as she's fated to again."

"A rather bloodless outlook, isn't it? Now, tell me this, old friend---have you given the slightest thought to what you would tell the children in such an instance?"

He was hit by a stray beam of moonlight, and I could see the colour drain out of his face. "Garo…"

"Sorry, mate, but it IS a legitimate question. You do know how they see this, don't you? Like a comic book. A grand adventure. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after. You know it doesn't always work that way."

"I know. You taught me."

"And you'll teach them? They're ten years old, Rupert. Do you really think they'll understand?"

"Well, what should I do, Garo? Let the hammer of the gods fall into the hands of lord knows who, and…"

"Now, don't try that excuse with me. If it wasn't the hammer of the gods, it would be another thing. And if it wasn't THESE harmless innocents stumbling into harm's way, it would be others. Such is the way of things, we both know that. But Rupert, old chap---these are MY harmless innocents, and if you had a little more faith in yourself, perhaps it would touch you---rather than baffle you---that they've already come to love you."

"So what are you expecting of me?"

"That you be honest, when you're called upon to be. That you be brave, and have the faith that it will be enough to help them understand when all is said and done."

"I won't let anything happen to them, Garo. I can't let anything happen."

"I know that, old friend." Grandpa stood and cracked his knees. "They're good boys, Rupert. But it's a dangerous world we live in, and I have no naivetes about THAT. Just be sure that if they do get hurt, it's from the danger---and not from you."

Mr. Giles didn't answer, but I saw him clench his hands into fists at his side and take a deep breath. "I should go," he said after a moment.

"Yes, I suppose you should. Well, goodnight, then."

I watched him leave, and briefly wondered whether I should show myself to Grandpa. I didn't wonder long. As soon as he was back inside, I climbed on my bike and pedaled home.

When I got to the magic store the next morning at the usual time, I was still thinking, hard. It was exciting, in a way---if we were up to something so huge that even Grandpa was scared…I wanted to tell him not to worry, that I was brave and Mr. Giles was smart, and Buffy was strong and Willow was powerful. But I also knew that I wasn't supposed to hear what I'd heard last night, and that even though I had, I probably shouldn't talk about it. I mean, sure, I trusted that Kurap would do his bit when he needed to, but he sure wasn't a born superhero, and all that stuff I heard last night would probably freak him out. And Buffy…was Grandpa right? Was this adventure of ours some kind of set-up where her watcher wasn't telling her what was really going on?

It was a lot to think about, and I admit, it was a little distracting. So I didn't even realize our morning meeting had even ended until we had split up into our separate assignments. Kurap and I had been itching to go to the slime pits, but Mr. Giles had given us a big speech on how being a superhero was more than just rushing head-on, and how research and planning and stuff was important too. So Kurap got stuck looking at picture books with him and Buffy, and since I knew the slime pits better (them being near my grandpa and all) I was given the job of helping Willow and Xander with a map of it. They took me to the training room so we could spread out.

"We have some basic stuff," Willow said. "You know, land surveys, topography scans, that sort of thing. But an insider's perspective will REALLY help us. This'll be great, Zeki. Isn't it exciting?"

Xander gave me a smile. "You think this is geeky, just wait 'til she starts drawing grids."

"What?" said Willow. "It IS the most efficient search pattern, and…hey, you okay there, Zeki?"

I blinked, and jumped a little. "Huh?"

"You just kinda looked like you weren't paying attention there for a sec."

"Which would be a cardinal sin if you weren't so small and cute," Xander teased.

"Xander, stop it, I'm serious. You okay, sport?"

I shrugged. "Sure I am. Just thinking is all."

She smiled. "Thinking about what?"

"Just…that stuff that happened yesterday. It's all okay, right?"

She frowned and looked at Xander. "What stuff?"

"Oh, come on," I said. "You know. With Mr. Giles and my grandpa and stuff. I mean, he's never talked about that with me, you know, him leaving England and what happened there and all---but what I heard yesterday---it sounded bad, you know?"

And what I heard after that didn't sound good either. I didn't want to say anything about that, but I had to know.

"Willow, Mr. Giles isn't…he isn't BAD, is he?"

She made a sad sound, then kneeled on the floor beside me. "Oh, Zeki, no, sweetie, no! He's one of the least bad people I've ever known! You didn't really think…Xander, he really thought!"

Xander thought for a moment, then pushed over a chair, plopped himself down and pulled me onto his lap.

"Zeki, it's like this," he said. "You remember that part in Spider-Man where Peter Parker runs away?"

I nodded. "He won the fight, but they didn't pay him. So he ran away and let the bad guys win."

"And that was bad," said Xander. "That was wrong. It was a mistake, and it hurt people, but Zeki, he was young and scared and he didn't know."

"Okay…"

"But he learned his lesson, didn't he? And you know…if he hadn't made a mistake like that, maybe he never would have learned it. It's a hard thing to have a destiny, Zeki."

"I know it," I said. "With great power comes great responsibility."

"And you can know that," he finished. "And you can understand it. But you never really feel it in your heart until you're tested."

Willow kneeled down beside us and put her hand on my knee. "And sometimes the test isn't fair," she said real quiet. "They sent you the wrong booklet and it has questions on it that you didn't study. And they pulled out all irregular conjugations, and the…"

"He gets it, Will," said Xander. To me, he said "You get it, right?"

"Like Spiderman," I said. "He made a mistake and he hurt people once."

"But it hurt himself worst of all," said Willow.

"And now he's good?"

"Now he's good."

I squirmed off Xander's lap and stretched a little. "Whatever, let's do the mapping thingie now."

I still had stuff to think about.

--

Things went pretty quick after that. I helped Willow and Xander fill in the map and stuff, and a few days later we were ready to start digging.

"I'll need all of you to help me on this," Buffy told the others. "Lookout, mostly---don't want any bad guys taking too much interest in what we're doing there."

"Lookout's good," said Willow with obvious relief. I think she was worried she'd have to be in the slime pits.

"Any further intel from Spike or Willy the Snitch?" asked Xander.

"Spike's been laying low," Buffy told them. "He's heard pretty much what the rest of them have---big scary brewing from beneath, you know, that sort of thing. Standard hellmouth stuff." She shrugged. "You sort of tune it out after awhile. I mean, when has there NOT been a big scary lurking about?"

"And Willy the snitch had nothing to add?" asked Mr. Giles.

"He says not. I did show him a picture of Kurap's brother, and he admitted the guy's been in, but he runs a bar, and not a very savory one at that. He says he sees a lot of young punks, and what does that prove?"

"I see your point. But it does seem awfully coincidental, doesn't it?"

"It does. But then again. I haven't been too impressed with that Siggur guy, so I could be biased."

"So let's go," I said. "Let's dig."

So we did. We left our bikes at the magic store and half of us went with Xander and half of us went with Mr. Giles. The girls didn't have cars.

And it was a fun day. Kurap and I enjoy the slime pits lots, and we probably would be playing there anyway even if it wasn't magic. At lunchtime, my grandpa came with sandwiches and lemonade, greeting us with a booming "Hail, adventurers! How goes the dig?"

Mr. Giles stood up to meet him. "Fairly dull, as a matter of fact."

"Oh," said Grandpa. "Well, that's reassuring, isn't it?"

"Not entirely."

Grandpa smiled. "Calm before the storm? Still the pessimist, I see."

"It seems to work for me."

"That it does, boy, that it does. Lets you live to see another day, hmm? Zeki, my boy---they treating you right?"

I wiped a dribble of slimy sandwich goop off my whiskers. "Yup. Umm hmmm."

"Kurap?"

Kurap looked up from his lunch and waved.

Grandpa looked at Mr. Giles again. "You need a hand?"

Buffy, mission commander extraordinaire, looked over the troops carefully. "Could always use another lookout," she said. "The boys dig faster when they take their guises off. Wouldn't want to chance an authority figure happening along, with the horns, and the tails…"

So Grandpa joined us every day after that. But it wasn't until almost four days of digging that we found the box.

It was Kurap who found it, and typically for him, it was an accident. I was in the other end of the pit when it happened. I was digging away and I heard him yelp.

"Owwww! I stubbed my toe on something!"

I paddled over and dove underwater to help him. When the sand cleared, we had a tiny little box in our claws.

Buffy snatched it from us at once and pried the box open. "Is it…oh no…"

There was no key inside---only a piece of paper, tucked inside a sandwich bag to keep it dry. The paper said 'Too late, suckers!' and was signed with a smiley face.

We washed ourselves off at Grandpa's, then went back to the magic shop to try and figure things out.

"Someone clearly beat us to it," said Xander.

Willow rolled her eyes. "No, really?"

"More significant," interrupted Grandpa. "Is the fact that they seemed to address the note directly to you. Whoever it was that found the key, they knew that someone else was looking."

"Which only narrows it down to half the regulars at Willy's," Buffy said. "They heard me asking questions…"

"But you didn't say anything about a key," said Xander. "You did go to Willy's, but it was about Kurap's brother."

"Very interesting," said Buffy thoughtfully.

Kurap frowned. "What do you mean? Are you saying it was my brother that took the key away?"

"We're saying that right now, your brother is a lead," said Buffy. "We know he knows about the key. We know he heard the story from people who know their stuff, and have at least as reliable a way to verify it as we do. We know he was hanging around at Willy's, and we know that my asking about him was enough to freak a few people out. Two points make a line. Three points make a pattern. And four points make…a suspect…"

I ignored Kurap's whimper and took a step forward. "So what do we do?" I asked.

"We follow him," Buffy said. "Kurap, is he home?"

Poor, stunned Kurap could only nod. "He'll be home for supper," Kurap said. "Mom asked him this morning."

"And what time does supper end?"

"Maybe 6:30?"

"Okay. And what did you tell your mom about you?"

"I said I would try and be home. But that I might stay over at Zeki's."

"Perfect. You go home and tell her that Zeki's mom had to go out somewhere, so you're home for dinner after all---but that Zeki's grandpa is picking you up after dinner and you're sleeping over. Garo, you be ready to go get him early if Siggur bolts."

Grandpa nodded. "Right. So I pick him up, then…?"

"Dump your car somewhere and walk back with him on foot. We'll find some bush or something to hide in, then follow Siggur when he leaves. Sound good?"

Nods all around.

"Kurap? Buddy? You okay with this?"

If he had cried, I wouldn't have blamed him this time. But he seemed okay. "I always knew he was bad," he told Buffy. "Beating me up…making me do his chores…I always knew!"

It almost went off just like Buffy said it would. Kurap went home near dinner, and I stayed with Mr. Giles and Buffy and the others while we got ready.

"There's more weapons out back," Mr. Giles reminded to her as she started packing.

She shrugged. "I guess. You really think there'll be that much trouble?"

I remembered his earlier conversation with Grandpa, and suddenly, I wanted to warn Buffy, but I didn't know what to say.

"He IS just a kid, Giles," Buffy said.

"A teenager," Giles corrected. "As were you, when you became the slayer. Looks can be deceiving, you know that."

They suddenly remembered I was there. Mr. Giles kneeled down to my eye level. "It's okay to be frightened," he said.

"I'm not frightened," I told him. "Not of Siggur, anyway."

Willow and Xander had been helping Buffy gather weapons, and they looked suddenly nervous. Xander pulled me over to him.

"I can handle this," he told the others. Then to me, very quietly, he said "Is this about that thing we talked about?"

"Sorta. Kinda. I mean, we didn't talk about THIS part…"

"Ah. You got something you want to share with the class here, Zeki?"

I fidgeted away from him. "I'm not scared," I told him. "Really, I'm not. But Xander, this is real life, not a comic book! And Kurap is my bud!"

"And you've got MY buds on slate to protect him. Zeki, I'd trust any of these guys with my life. In fact, I HAVE trusted them with my life."

"But this is bigger than them," I said. "This is magic, and that's something even brave people have to gamble on, right?"

He frowned. "Is there something you aren't telling me here?"

I pulled away. "Ask him!" I said. "Ask Mr. Giles, and he'll tell you! And if he lied about that, did he lie about Kurap too?"

I didn't know I was shouting until I felt the others gather near us, staring at Xander and me.

"Okay," said Xander, gently pulling away from me and hopping onto suddenly shaky feet. "Somebody want to jump in here and tell me what's going on?"

I suddenly noticed Grandpa. He had been on his way out to go get Kurap when he heard us talking, and he must have doubled back to watch.

"I heard you talking," I said in his direction. I couldn't even look my grandpa in the eye. "When I came with my bike, cause you left your book, and I had it, and he was there, and you were talking, and I'm sorry I listened but I did…"

He dragged himself over to a chair and pulled me onto his lap, not even angry. "And what did we say, Zeki?"

"You said…you said does Buffy know. Did he tell her, how…"

"Ah," said Grandpa.

"How what?" Xander said. "I still don't get it. How what?"

"Well, the hammer of the gods KILLS a human," said Grandpa. "And it does worse than that if you have demon blood. Only chance you'd have…"

"…is if you think you might not really be either," finished Buffy quietly. "He did tell me, Zeki. And I told him…that I was willing to risk it."

Willow looked horrified. "Buffy!"

"Come on, Will, you know how this works. You must have known how this works…"

"Guess I didn't want to think about it," Willow said. "You could die, Buffy. Again."

"I could not, also. Maybe it'll be like that time Eyghon came back, and we put him in Angel, and their demons fought it out and Angel won."

I felt Grandpa go tense underneath me. "It came back, Rupert? Eyghon came back?"

Poor Mr. Giles had his jaw clenched so tight it must be hurting him. "Really, Garo. This is hardly the time…"

Grandpa shook his head. "So angry, so proud…that's good, Rupert, take that into the coming fight with you and we might just keep these children alive between us. I'm not angry, lad. I already told you I wasn't. So he came back, then?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry. It must have been hard."

"It was. I don't wish to talk about it."

"Well, I don't see why not. You made a mistake, Rupert. Happens to the best of us. I suppose mine was in running off as I did and leaving you to think that I was angry. How could I be? You learned, and you grew, and you became a better man because of it."

Mr. Giles said nothing, but I saw his fingers flex back and forth, into fists and out of them.

"We've all been there, my boy," said Grandpa very gently. "Why, I wonder how our friend Siggur will look back upon this night when is older."

THAT stopped them all: Buffy stared at the dagger she had been polishing with her shirt sleeve, then slowly placed it gently on the table, and Mr. Giles froze, hand mid-fist, sucking in air as if he were suddenly choking.

"Didn't think of it that way, did you?" said Grandpa with a smile. "Never crossed your minds to wonder whether the lad was truly evil, or simply a foolish boy who fell in with a bad crowd and an even worse magic he couldn't possibly control…"

Mr. Giles sank into a chair, eyes glassy and sick. "Dear lord…"

"And I certainly don't want to be the one to go in there and tell young Kurap that his brother is completely irredeemable," continued Grandpa. "But if you want to play it that way---well, you ARE the leader, and it would be your prerogative. I just think it's best to clarify such parameters BEFORE we go in there, guns blazing, no?"

He slid me off his lap and approached Mr. Giles very slowly, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Minimal force, do you think?"

Mr. Giles nodded slowly. "Minimal force. Buffy, we need more tasers…"

Buffy nodded wordlessly and gathered the others with her to check their supplies. It seemed best to leave Mr. Giles alone for a minute, and we had a lot of stuff to carry.

--

We stopped at Kurap's house to get him, and to follow Siggur's trail. He had less than a five-minute head start on us. Xander took Buffy, Willow and Kurap in his car, and Grandpa and I rode with Mr. Giles. When we reached the path to the caves, we left the cars and followed Buffy on foot.

"Voices low, feet light and gentle," she told us. "Let's not give ourselves away until we have to…"

We followed behind her, from one dark chamber into the next, stepping over rock and dust and crooked little bumps until at last she held us back, and we saw it: the box, hanging in midair like it was on some kind of invisible shelf or something, floating atop a roaring fire. And Siggur, looking like he had been smoking that stuff his mother wouldn't like him smoking, sweating through his guise, key wrapped in one hand and with the other, poking at the box with a sword and trying to dislodge it.

"Hey!" called Buffy.

Siggur stopped for a second, looking briefly scared, then smirked again when he saw his brother.

"I really don't think you want to do that," said Buffy. She tiptoed slowly toward him, Xander following a step behind her, watching her back while she worked her way closer. I saw Grandpa pull away from me and whisper something to Willow.

"Stay back!" called Siggur. "I mean, it, stay back!"

Even I could tell that he was losing it. Grandpa nodded to Willow, and she moved far back again, to where Siggur couldn't see her, and started chanting in a language I didn't know.

"We don't want to hurt you," Buffy was telling Siggur.

The box began to glow, and I saw Willow flash Grandpa a thumbs-up before turning her attention again to the box and the chanting. The glow grew stronger, but it was hot in the cave and there were lots of shadows. Siggur was too busy with Buffy to notice what was happening to the box.

"Stay back," he said again. He poked blindly with his sword and through dumb luck, he managed to dislodge the box with the tip of his sword. The box tumbled to the ground, narrowly missing the fire by inches. "You won't stop me!" he taunted Buffy. "I'll open it, I swear I will!"

Buffy took a tiny step still closer. "So you'll open it," she said. "And? Did your new buddies at Willy's even tell you what will happen then?"

Siggur looked briefly confused, and Buffy took advantage. "Did they tell you how they'll use you, Siggur?" she said, edging closer to him still. "How they'll wait and see if the power consumes you or kills you or leaves you alive so they can take it from you? Use you like a guinea pig to test the power out?"

"You lie!" said Siggur, waving his sword around him. "You lie and you're wrong and you have no idea!"

"Oh, please," said Buffy. "I've heard more convincing rebuttals from Chaos demons."

Siggur was panicking now. "Just shut up!" he whined. "Just shut up, okay?"

"And it's not like you really know either," said Buffy, taking one more tiny step toward him. "What did they promise you, Siggur? Money? Girls? Some weird demon perk that I don't even know exists?"

He waved his sword at her again. "Stay back!" he screamed.

She took a baby step away from him. "You don't have to be afraid of me," she said. "And I think you know that, Siggur. I think you know that if there's anyone who's out to hurt you in this, it isn't me."

He froze, just for a second. But it was enough. Kurap, pumped up on all the drama, gave a mighty cry and rushed him. The one hand, clumsy from the weight of the sword, fell dumbly to his side for balance, and the other one---the one holding the key---lashed out at Kurap. Kurap went flying, his landing only cushioned by the floppy ear of his human face, which nearly ripped off his head from the impact. But---the key went flying with him! Buffy rushed to Kurap's aid, and I saw my chance. I dove under Siggur's legs and with one hand, batted the box in Buffy's direction, and with the other, I snatched the key.

Buffy twisted Siggur's hands behind his back and passed him off that way Grandpa, then she told Mr. Giles and Xander to take Kurap and me and hide us out of harm's way. She put the key in the lock, and the box glowed blue even brighter and spit the key out. "Will, let me in!" called Buffy. Willow stopped chanting, and the box grew dark again. Buffy slid the key into the lock and opened it.

A black mist poured out of the lid, and even Siggur went still as it grew to a giant cloud that tunneled around her. She opened her mouth and inhaled, and the cloud went into her.

It was very quiet for a second or two, then she fell to the ground, choking and coughing, her skin going blotchy and red, then turning other colours, then bubbling up and oozing down again, all the while with her choking and coughing and screaming in pain. Then her eyes glowed white, then they went normal again, and she collapsed with a whimper.

Willow let go of my hand and rushed to help her.

"Buffy?"

Buffy lifted her head, gave Willow a tiny smile and said 'It worked.' Then she passed out.

It went quickly after that. Grandpa's council friends came in all dressed like astronauts and stuff and took Siggur away to question him. One of them had a doctor's bag and he made sure Buffy was okay. The rest of us waited outside, enjoying the cool air after being in the cave for so long.

"So what'll happen to him?" Willow asked Grandpa.

"To Siggur? What you would imagine, I suspect. They'll question him, probably realize it wasn't entirely his fault. They might order therapy, or community service---crimes that affect human relations are frowned upon most severely. It might help if he had himself a human sponsor---go to bat with the council, maybe offer him a placement for his community service work…"

Mr. Giles nodded. "I think that can be arranged."

"And you, young Kurap---with your guise nearly falling off of you, I suppose you'll need a council escort home. I'll get one of the lads to take you. And I'll make sure they tell your mother how very, truly brave you were."

If he started crying, I wouldn't have blamed him. But Kurap---he's my bud, you know---just smiled. "Think they'll let me toot the siren?" he asked.

"Entirely possibly, they will." He hoisted me into his arms. "And you, my boy…had your first glimpse of the council militia, did you? And? Were you suitably awed and impressed?"

"Did you see their suits?" I said. "All shiny, and they have tasers, and scanners, and vans, and other stuff I couldn't even think of! And…"

Grandpa laughed. "I think somebody's found himself a future career," he told the others. "Although it WILL be hard work, you know."

"..and they have radios and walkie-talkies, and special giant boots, and…"

"Lot of work to get where they are," said Grandpa. "Years of study. Demonology, humanology, all sorts of fighting arts, and sciences of every kind…you might need tutors…"

"Oh, pick me!" said Willow. "I love sciences. Almost as much as I love tutoring."

"And you know," said Xander. "Us being real humans and all, I suspect we'd be very good at 'humanology,' whatever that is…"

"So let's go," I said. "I'm ready."

Grandpa laughed. "In due time. It's very late and your mother must be worried. We'd best get you boys home. And tomorrow when we've had some sleep, I'll sit down with Mr. Giles here and work out a schedule for you, all right?"

To Mr. Giles, he said "It goes without saying that you shan't hide anymore, Rupert. When I pop in to the magic shop to check up on my favourite protégé, I expect to find you there, training your magnificent slayer and taking well-deserved ribbing from your delightful employee Anya on how soft you've gone on the children."

He put me down for a moment and took Willow's hands in his. "My dear, you were magnificent," he told her.

She bowed dramatically. "Thank you…"

"If only I were 50 years younger," he sighed. "Or you, 50 years older. If only I were not demon, and you human…"

"And if only you were not married," she smirked. "And I lesbian…"

They laughed together for a very long time. It was nice, you know?

So that's what happened. It was kind of scary, as far as boring summers go. But it was sort of fun too. And Siggur is a MUCH better brother now that he's all not evil and the world didn't end and stuff. He's doing his community service at the magic shop, and sometimes he brings us back little treats like bats wings or chicken feet and stuff. And it's nice to have a human place we can go to and not have to worry about keeping our guises on.

Kurap is there too. He and Buffy are, like, the best buds ever now. Well, except for me. I'm still his best bud cause I'm a demon too and I'm also ten like him. But as far as human girls with magic powers go, okay, in that area Buffy is his best bud. She even went swimming in the slime pits with him once. Grandpa says he has a great future in the diplomatic corps, working with the human relations council.

I still haven't gotten MY best human buds to go to the slime pits with me. But they know other cool stuff that Kurap, although he is my best bud, is not exactly up for. Giles told me I didn't have to call him mister, then showed me a vision quest thing that involves a wolf and a raven, and there's this thing that Willow does involving a rose and a spinning pencil…

I'll tell you about that one another time. I'm late for my scooby meeting, and if I don't get there soon, there won't be ANY jelly donuts left. Why they just don't buy extra, I don't understand. But hey, I'm just a kid.

the end