Written By: Michael K. Donovan
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the characters that appearon the show are the exclusive property of Joss Whedon, the WB andMutant Enemy, Inc.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The character of Gabriel was introduced in a previousstory I wrote entitled 'Divergent Paths'.
* * *
Giles ran his finger down along a page of the open book before him,stopping at a sketch of a hideous, horned demon. Across the desk fromhim, Xander and Gabriel stood waiting in agitation for his verdict.
"Here, is this what you saw down by the pier?" He asked, turning the tome around and offering it to Gabriel.
Gabriel nodded gravely, "Yeah, that's him all right, only not as ugly."
The young man paced tensely near the door. As soon as he had seen the beast, he had called his uncle, who then made arrangements for Buffy's mother to pick her and Willow up from the UCS campus. He and Xander then rushed over to his uncle's apartment and met Joyce, Willow and Buffy within half an hour. But that was already half an hour too long a wait for Gabriel.
"It was horrible." Xander added, slumping his shoulders forward and emulating an ambling posture with a dimwitted expression on his face,"All hunched over, with big teeth and evil eyes. I can't believe something that ugly felt comfortable walking around in broad daylight. Talk about rock solid self-esteem."
Buffy peered over Giles' shoulder while her mother hovered close by,"Hmm, an Aevum demon? The head kind of looks like a puppy dog. A big, slavering psycho-puppy, but still a puppy in my books. Never heard of them before, but I'm willing to bet they die just like any other run-of-the-mill demon." Hoisting a heavy crossbow, she cocked it and slipped an arrow into the firing groove.
"It says here that an Aevum demon's main line of defense is the fact that they're so hard to find." Willow leaned toward Buffy's mother and indicated a passage in her book, "Nothing about offensive abilities at all. I think we should have more battles against demons like this. It'll save on band-aid expenses."
"Great." Gabriel tugged on Buffy's arm impatiently and headed for the door, "We already know where it is, so let's go take it out."
Buffy cheerily took up step behind him, crossbow in hand.
"Uh, ah, w-w-wait just a moment." Giles cautioned with an outstretched hand, "We should research, uh, more thoroughly before the two of you run off into danger. The information in this book is sketchy, at best."
Gabriel's face creased in agitation as he paused in the doorway. Why was his uncle so determined to hold them up? The man was sometimes too cautious in his approach to Slaying and Gabriel needed action now.
Buffy leaned back against the wall and relaxed with a smirk. Unlike the Seventh Son, she had fully expected to get caught by Giles' usual fretful spiel on preparation.
"Sketchy?" she cocked a wry eyebrow, "In reference to a book full of drawings? You weren't attempting to pun there, were you Giles?"
"Uh, well, no, actually . . ." the englishman smiled self-consciously,"I just need you to wait until we know more about this creature."
"I'm not looking to adopt it, Uncle." Gabriel shook his head sharply,"If we don't get down to the pier soon, we might not find it again until it's too late. Xander and Willow are here to help you research if you need it. Buffy and I have work to do."
Joyce hovered near Rupert's desk, feeling out of place. She was rarely present when a dilemma of Hellmouth proportions arose and was unsure of the usual group dynamic, but she knew that he commanded some respect from the group.
"I think Rupert's got a point." she interjected, "How can you fight something when you don't know anything about it?"
"I'm with Gabriel on this one, Mom." Buffy inhaled deeply, "I already know what I need to and time definitely IS a factor here."
"Right." Gabriel agreed, jerking the door open, "Keep looking, but there probably won't be any need by the time we get back."
Without giving his uncle a chance to reply, he stepped into the hallway and broke into a steady jog toward the exit.
Buffy smiled, watching him go, and shrugged at her mother and Giles,"That's my boy, direct and to the point. I'll see you later." She ran quickly after Gabriel with the crossbow balanced over her shoulder,"Hey, wait up!"
"Great." Xander grumbled, picking up a worn book and inspecting the cover, "They get to go off and fight the good fight while we're stuck here in boring research mode." Completely unimpressed, he dropped the book flat on Giles desk with a loud thump and flopped into one of Giles' chairs, "This sucks."
"Research is very important Xander." Giles reminded him tersely, adjusting his spectacles, "Buffy and Gabriel do most of the fighting because that's what they're built for."
"I guess you're right." He relented, "But just for once, I wish I could be the one to avert terrible danger instead of being the guy who passed along the message which allowed one of them to save the day."
Petulantly, he picked up his book again and started leafing through the pages.Across from him, Joyce sighed tiredly and sank into a chair next to Giles.
"She's in one of her stubborn moods." She lamented ruefully, "I wish her father and I had realized what spoiling her as a child would mean in her later years."
"Gabriel's not much help on that front either, I'm afraid." Giles sighed, slipping his glasses off and pinching the bridge of his nose,"I sometimes think he purposely encourages her to ignore common sense."
"He's not much for following rules, is he?" Joyce laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
"It's not surprising, really." he shrugged helplessly, "Gabriel's been largely on his own since he was twelve, always moving from place to place. He's trained himself not to depend on anyone for fear that they won't be around when he needs them. Buffy appears to be a rare exception."
"How sad. It sounds very lonely." Joyce nodded, "I'm glad Buffy can be there for him, aren't you? Rupert?"
Giles sat dumb, his unblinking eyes locked on a particular passage in the book before him.
"Get your coat." He whispered aghast, rising sharply and turning for the door.
"What?" Joyce followed his instruction haltingly, "What's wrong?"
"Giles?" Willow looked to him worriedly.
Giles swallowed nervously and scooped up his jacket, holding the door open for Joyce."We have to catch them, before it's too late." He said with a touch of a tremble in his voice, "Buffy and Gabriel have no idea what they're getting into."
Xander went for his coat, but Giles shook his head.
"You two stay here. Joyce and I will take care of this."
Without another word, he and Joyce rushed through the doorway and into the hall. Willow looked slowly to Xander with worry in her eyes.
He petulantly threw his jacket into the seat of a chair and sat down roughly.
"Left on the sidelines again." He complained, leaning forward and propping his chin on the palms of both hands.
* * *
The demon's thick fist caught Buffy's midsection in a powerful,backhanded swing. It was over eight feet tall with a broad,muscle-bound body and a head that resembled a German Shepherd with sharp fangs and blood-red eyes. The Slayer tumbled backward and rolled with the blow, skidding along the weather worn pavement.
She and Gabriel had found the creature skulking in an alley between two of the largest riverfront warehouses and immediately set upon it. The demon apparently resented the intrusion and had retaliated with violent force.
Gabriel knelt by Buffy's side and helped her to her feet, scooping up the remains of her shattered crossbow and throwing the pile of junk overhand at the demon to buy some time.
"You okay?" he asked her, wincing as he watched the demon catch his projectile and crush it in its paw.
"Yeah, I bounce pretty good." She rubbed at her backside, "I don't know how long it'll be before I sit down again, but I'll live."
"Maybe we should have waited a little before we left." He considered uneasily, as the bulky creature advanced slowly up the alleyway at them.
Buffy smirked and raised her eyebrows. "You're not thinking about backing down, are you?" she chuckled, "What will that do to my image of you as a fearless European hero?"
"Cute." He made a sour face at her, "But we may have bitten off more than we can chew this time."
The pair leapt nimbly out of the way as the demon's heavy fist crashed into the pavement, shattering it and throwing bits of asphalt into the air.
"Oh, come on, Gabriel, what are you worried about?" Buffy queried,snatching up a length of wood from a dumpster and snapping it across the beast's wrist, "Look at it. He's just a puppy."
The demon howled in pain and recoiled, clutching its wounded limb.
"Leave me alone!" It snarled in a voice that was surprisingly eloquent and clear.
"Sorry, Snoopy," Buffy apologized unsympathetically, "but it's kind ofour job to keep unholy terrors like you in check."
"I warn you, Slayer." The dog demon glared at her, "My powers will work equally as well on you as any other human."
Gabriel hoisted an empty metal trashcan up behind the creature and slammed it down over its head. Recognizing his tactic, Buffy struck the side of the can with a raucous crash. The beast roared in agony as its sensitive ears were bludgeoned by the sound and it stumbled against the brick wall. Buffy's weapon crashed against the can and the demon's voice rose again in pain. Gabriel found himself a stick and picked up the can's discarded lid, adding his own tune to the discordant song. After a few more hits, the creature was on its knees, weak and disoriented.
Buffy tipped the trash can off its head with her toe and touched the end of her board to the underside of its chin while Gabriel stood at the ready with his stick and lid.
"Look, I really am a dog person, you know, honest." She assured it confidently, "That's why I'm going to give you the chance to clear out of here before I get the rest of my band together and you end up needing a hearing aid."
"You'll regret this." It pushed itself up weakly, leaning heavily against the brick and fixing the two of them with a withering stare.
"You'd be amazed at how many times I've heard that." She remarked,"And, so far, I'm living guilt-free. So what'll it be, Fido? You going to find the little doggie-door exit or am I going to have to bring out my triangle?"
The demon dropped its head and clutched its thick hand around a medallion against its chest, murmuring words in a language that sounded like little more than a collection of dog-like whines and whuffles.
"It's casting a spell!" Gabriel grabbed Buffy by the arm and pulled her back, stepping protectively in front of her.
The demon was suffused with a bright golden glow now, illuminating the short blonde fur on its body and forming a faint halo in the air. Gabriel struck the garbage can lid in an attempt to break the creature's concentration with no effect. Lashing out with the stick, he connected solidly with the demon's head, but the weapon only broke with equally disappointing results. The aura that had manifested around the beast appeared to have rendered it impervious to harm.
Buffy gripped Gabriel's wrist tightly and hauled on his arm.
"Come on." She breathed heavily, dragging him toward the mouth of the alley, "Magic wasn't supposed to be part of this package. I vote for a strategic withdrawal."
"Forget that!" Gabriel shouted, his wide eyes glued to chanting demon,"I vote we run like hell!"
Side-by-side, the two fled for the mouth of the alley, while the demon's strange, alien incantation reached a climax. Gabriel felt a wave of sickness pass over him and stumbled. He was slowing, like he was caught in a bad dream where, no matter how much he ran, he could not escape.
Beside him, Buffy tightened her fingers around his hand and experienced the same sensation. There was something else too. Her clothes were getting loose, hanging on her as she ran. She tripped on the cuff of her jeans and fell, face-first, to the ground. Gabriel skidded to a stop to help her up and she gasped when she saw him.
Normally, he topped her by a good seven or eight inches, but now he looked like he would stand almost eye to eye with her. He was swimming in his shirt and pants, the sleeves and cuffs hanging loosely over the ends of his limbs as he gaped at her in surprise.
"What's happening to us?" he asked fearfully in the high pitched voice of a pre-pubescent boy, holding his shrinking hands up before his eyes.
* * *
Joyce whipped the wheel of her minivan hard to the left and cut a sharp corner in her haste to get to the pier. Giles tumbled in his seat and bumped up against the passenger side door. Righting himself, he scanned the numerous alleys and driveways as they passed.
"Stop! Stop!" he directed, indicating an alleyway between two buildings from which a soft, golden glow radiated, "They must be fighting the demon in there."
Joyce brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt, slamming Giles up against the dashboard. She swiftly popped open her door and hopped to the ground. Giles scrambled out and circled around the front of the van to meet her on the side facing the alleyway.
The glow in the alley flared and then faded off into darkness and a faint, constant sound arose, like a single high-pitched note resonating through the air.
"Do you hear that?" she frowned, cocking her ear to the wind, "It sounds like-" Giles eyes widened and his face went pale, "Children."
As he spoke, two small, naked children, a boy and a girl, came out of the alleyway, wailing and crying at the tops of their lungs and running for their lives. Instinctively, Joyce scooped the terrified little girl into her arms while the boy collided with Giles' leg and wrapped himself tightly around it.
"Oh my God." Giles gasped, recognizing the auburn tint of the boy's hair, "It's them."
* * *
Giles paced tensely back and forth across his living room, frowning and stroking his chin in troubled thought. After a brief stopover at a children's clothing store to get Buffy and Gabriel dressed again, all four of them had immediately returned to his apartment to collect themselves. That had been twenty minutes ago and the shock of his discovery was only just wearing off.
"Quite honestly, I don't know what to make of it." He stopped pacing and shook his head in frustration.
Willow stood away from the furniture holding an open book in her hands while the toddler Buffy ran in unending circles around her legs.
"Willa, Willa, Willa, Willa, Willa!" the little girl cheered excitedly.
Willow smiled down at her, "She's cute isn't she?"
"Willa, Willa, Willa, Willa, Willa!" Buffy continued to run laps until it was apparent that all the spinning was beginning to make her dizzy. Determined to keep going, she made a few more loops before gravity dragged her unsteadily to the floor. Flopping over on her back, she kept up the chant between panting breaths, "Willa . . .Willa . . .Willa. . ."
Joyce was still sitting in the same chair she had occupied from the moment they had gotten back, staring at the small girl and stunned beyond speech. Living on a Hellmouth was a relatively new concept to her and she was still getting used to the possible ramifications.
"It's just like when she was a baby the first time." Joyce noted softly, "Her Terrible Two's lasted more than a year and a half."
"Why don't I find THAT hard to believe." Xander commented as he squatted down to peer at Gabriel who was huddled in the corner sucking his thumb.
"Hey, Giles?" Xander raised his hand and waved to get the older man's attention then pointed to Gabriel, "Was he always like this?"
Giles frowned, observing his nephew worriedly. In contrast to Buffy's boisterous behavior, the boy had become completely withdrawn since his transformation, remaining curled in the corner and silently sucking his thumb.
"I don't know. I never had much experience with him as a child. He appears to be taking to this second childhood a little less comfortably than Buffy. We must find a way to reverse this as soon as possible."
"But we're not even sure how it happened?" Joyce continued to stare at her daughter, feeling completely and utterly powerless to help her.
"I think I do." Willow sat in a chair and tickled Buffy's belly with her toe while she scanned one of the pages of the book in her hands. The toddler squealed with delight and giggled. "Aevum is latin for time. It says here that the demons aren't enemies of man, just really antisocial. They just kind of wander through time and avoid everyone but their own kind. They're pretty harmless unless threatened. I guess it didn't really appreciate Buffy and Gabriel trying to kill it."
"Go figure." Xander shrugged, smirking wryly.
"I should never have let them go out unprepared." Giles cursed himself reproachfully.
"This isn't anyone's fault, Rupert." Joyce rose out of her chair and scooped Buffy up into her arms, laying the girl over her shoulder, "We'll just have to find a way to fix it like you said."
Giles started thinking seriously, trying to collect himself and approach the problem logically. By nailing down the smaller, obvious facts, he could then concentrate on the larger issue.
"The demon is most certainly the key." He reasoned, "Perhaps there'ssome way to counter the enchantment it used."
Xander turned to look over one shoulder at Willow, "You know, I never would have taken Gabriel for a thumb sucker." He craned his neck the other way toward Giles and snickered, "Better hope he's not a bed-wetter too."
Giles sat up in alarm, aghast at the notion.
Xander noted something in Gabriel's grasp and reached out to him slowly with an open hand, "Hey there, little buddy. Whatcha got there?"
The auburn-haired child clutched the object closer to his chest and watched Xander suspiciously.
"I'm gonna git 'im." The boy child muttered in a low voice.
"Who?" Xander asked, leaning in closer.
"The Boogerman." The boy turned his back into the corner and brandished a pointed wooden stake sharply, "The one that scared me."
"Yah!" Xander jerked his hand back and scrambled away from the edgy child, "He-He's got a weapon!"
Joyce handed Buffy off to Willow and swiftly walked across the room,"Rupert! How could you leave something like this just lying around?"
"Well, I-I-I wasn't exactly expecting toddlers." He rebutted curtly.
"Then we'll take them to my house. At least there won't be any sharp objects lying around."
Bending low, she snatched the stake from Gabriel's hand. The boy reached for the weapon, his face screwed into an anxious expression.
"No." she scolded in a stern voice, waggling a finger in his face,"This could hurt someone. Now come out of there."
She took him by the wrist and pulled him to his feet. Gabriel whined,but complied as she led him out and sat him down on the edge of the couch.
"I want you to sit there and think about what you've done." She instructed.
Gabriel, chastened, hung his head in silence. Buffy lifted her head from Willow's shoulder and grinned.
"Time out! Time out! Time out!" she giggled.
"Buffy." Joyce warned and the girl immediately quieted.
Giles looked on flabbergasted and Xander nudged him with his elbow.
"Bet you wish YOU could shut her up like that once in a while." He smirked wryly.
Joyce knelt down before the auburn-haired boy and looked him in the eye.
"You're too little to be touching weapons, sweetie." She explained to him slowly, "Two more minutes and then you can get up again, okay? But not before that."
Gabriel accepted the punishment stoically and hung his head.
Pressing a palm to her forehead, Joyce sat down again and blew out along sigh, "God, I thought I was through with all this. How long do you think it will be before we can find a way to change them back?"
"And what are we supposed to do in the meantime if some big bad shows up?" Xander asked, watching Willow rock Buffy slowly in her arms, "A baby Slayer isn't going to do much good."
Giles rubbed his chin in thought, "N-no, I would suppose not. But I've been thinking about that. I have an idea which may buy us sometime to find a way to reverse the spell."
He rose and went to one of his larger bookcases. Reaching inside, he dug out a baseball-sized globe of smooth, glittering crystal.
"An Orb of Thesulah?" Willow was already starting to follow his plan.
"Yes. A few months back Drusilla used a spell to siphon Buffy's power through an orb like this one. Spike was about to do the same to Gabriel before they were stopped. We have the book they used. We could temporarily imbue a pair of volunteers with their powers until we find a way to restore Buffy and Gabriel to their proper ages."
"Volunteers?" Xander chuckled to himself, "Who'd be stupid enough to -Oh no, not me! I've had enough sorcery to last me a lifetime. Does anyone here remember the love spell incident? Or the hyena spirits?"
"None of us are particularly happy with the prospect, Xander." Giles told him, "But we're all going to have to do what we can to help."
While Xander considered, Joyce tapped Gabriel on the shoulder and smiled at him, "Okay, that's two minutes. Time out's over."
Grinning for the first time since they had found him, the child hopped to the floor and ran into the kitchenette.
"All right." Xander relented, "But if I puke all over the place like Drusilla did, I'm coming straight over here to share the wealth, got it?"
"That only happened because she's a vampire." Willow pointed out, "She had like an allergic reaction to Buffy's Slayer power." She turned to Giles expectantly, "I'm guessing you need someone to take hers too, huh?"
"Well, y-yes, I-if you don't mind, that is."
"I don't mind." She released a long, shuddering breath, "I can't say I'm looking forward to the idea, but I'm generally of the okay."
Something crashed in the kitchenette and Gabriel's voice was heard above the clatter, "Take THAT, Boogerman!"
Giles sighed tiredly and looked to Xander, "We should work the magic as soon as possible, if only to get his power out of the hands of a child."
Gabriel wandered out of the kitchenette and stopped next to the arm of his uncle's chair, with his hands folded together at his waist and hiding a mischievous smile.
"I made water for your plant, Unca Rupert." He smiled, fiddling with the zipper of his pants.
Giles was confused for an instant, "You made what? Oh, dear God!"
* * *
The skinny, scarred vampire skipped down the rough slope and landed roughly at the bottom of a damp sewer tunnel. He paused, furtively shifting his gaze from side to side in search of any danger. Satisfied that he was alone, he continued to follow along a convoluted path, hoping to throw off any possible pursuit. He couldn't be too careful after what he had just seen.
A powerful hand clamped onto his neck from behind and jerked him into the air. Crying out, the vampire flailed futilely with his bony arms and legs.
"Where're ya goin', Snitch?" the vampire who was holding him sneered.
Warwick was big for a vampire, one of those warrior types, with a muscle bound frame and cat-like reflexes. He was old too, older than any other vampire Snitch had ever come across, at least a hundred years or more. The extensive lifespan seemed to only have increased his natural penchant for cruelty.
"H-Hey, Warwick." Snitch greeted nervously, "How's it hangin'?"
"Hanging?" the tall, muscled vampire considered his captive's dangling legs, "Funny, Snitch. What are you hiding?"
"Hiding?" Snitch asked, too quickly and a touch too innocently.
"Yes," Warwick tightened his grip and Snitch winced in pain, "You're hiding something, I can tell. I want to know what it is."
"Lemme go, Warwick." The smaller vampire pleaded, "I got news for you,good news, honest."
Warwick lowered him enough for his feet to touch the concrete, but still retained a steely grip on the scruff of his neck, "Talk."
"It's about the Slayer and that guy that's always with her." Snitch gasped.
"What about them?" Warwick shook the skinny vampire irritably.
Warwick had crossed paths with the pair before. The encounter had left him with a shattered arm that had taken days to heal and a wound to his pride that would take far longer.
"Something happened to them." Snitch wheezed through clenched teeth,"Made them vulnerable."
"I am not going to repeat myself, Snitch." Warwick growled warningly,"WHAT happened?"
"They're babies." Snitch was almost on the edge of tears, he wanted to get away so badly, "They got caught by some weird kind of spell and turned into babies."
The big, muscular vampire dropped his unwilling informant to the ground and smiled darkly. Seizing the opportunity to escape, Snitch scrambled on all fours until he reached a side tunnel and fled for his life.
"Oh, this is perfect." Warwick chuckled, "The Slayer and the Seventh Son are completely defenseless. And I haven't fed on babies in a longtime."
* * *
Giles paced in slow, tight circles as he scanned the pages of the spellbook that Spike and Drusilla had left behind months ago. Willow waited nervously with the Orb of Thesulah in her hands while Xander sat watching them from a chair in the corner alongside Joyce and the two children. Thankfully, the toddlers had tired themselves out and leaned calmly on either side of Joyce. At least for the moment, she was able to manage them alone.
"Ah, here it is." Giles found the passage he had been looking for,"Appears to be simple enough."
"I-is this going to hurt?" Willow questioned tensely, fiddling with the Orb in her hands, "Didn't Buffy get stunned by this spell the first time."
"That only happens in non-consensual transference." Giles assured her,"As long as both of you are willing, the transfer should be completely painless. Same thing goes for the reversal spell once this is all over with."
"I hope you're right." She still did not seem convinced.
"Joyce, could you bring Buffy over here, please?" he instructed, his nose still buried in the book. Sprinkling a handful of dust over the Orb, he recited the words to the spell low and under his breath. Immediately, the Orb filled with a warm, yellow light.
"Oh, pretty!" Buffy cooed as her mother brought her over to Willow,craning her small head backwards to look up at Joyce, "Can I touch it,Mommy?"
Rupert nodded and Joyce smiled her approval. Carefully, Willow held the glowing Orb out to the little girl. Joyce held her breath tensely as her daughter closed her tiny hands over the top of it. In an instant, the light inside winked out and Buffy sneezed cutely.
"Bless me!" she sniffed with a smile and rubbed her nose.
Joyce breathed a small sigh of relief, "Well, that wasn't so bad."
"Do you feel anything?"Giles asked Willow expectantly.
Willow looked herself over and flexed her fingers a few times. For a moment she thought she had sensed something, but it had passed in an instant and now she felt just like she did on any other day. The spell appeared to have failed.
Giles picked up the stake that Joyce had confiscated from his nephew and threw it overhand at Willow. Without thinking, the redhead whipped around and caught the projectile easily in one hand.
"Whoa, d-did I do that?" she gasped, slowly opening her hand and balancing the stake across her palm.
"You certainly did." Giles smiled, pleased, "The spell was successful."
He took the dormant Orb of Thesulah from her and offered it out toXander.
The young man sighed, rising and accepting the Orb, "And Harris steps up to bat."
Willow put her hand to her mouth to stifle a small chuckle.
"Last time I heard that you ended up with your uniform pants down around your knees." She snickered at the memory.
"Thanks for the reminder, Will." He smiled uneasily.
Little league was a source of some of his least fond memories. "Can we get this over with? I'm kind of nervous being the target of ancient magic and all. Call me quirky."
Rupert repeated the words of the spell and sprinkled a second handful of dust over the orb and Xander's fingers. Again, the soft yellow luminescence sprang up inside it.
"Come on, sweetie." Joyce urged, taking Gabriel by the hand and easing him off the couch, "It's your turn now."
"I don't wanna." The boy complained, pulling his hand free and turning his back to her.
Giles looked at his nephew worriedly.
"If he doesn't accept the spell willingly, it could hurt both of them."he intoned seriously.
"Wonderful." Xander sighed in exasperation, "Like I haven't already been knocked out enough in my lifetime."
"Let me give it a try." Willow stopped toying with the stake in her hand and slipped it into her pocket.
Strolling across the room, she crouched down in front of Gabriel and looked up under his downcast eyes, giving him a friendly smile.
"Hi, Gabriel. Do you remember who I am?" she asked softly.
Gabriel continued to stare at his feet, "You're Willa."
"Right." She smiled, pointing to Xander, "And who's that?"
The boy lifted his eyes and answered meekly, "That's Xandu."
"Good." She nodded reassuringly, "We're your friends, right?"
"Yes." He replied quietly, nodding his head slowly.
"Xandu and I need your help." She reached out cautiously to take his small hand in hers, "And we both know you're a brave boy. Do you think you can help us? All you have to do is go touch the pretty ball in Xandu's hand."
The boy gathered his pride and visibly straightened, fixing his wide gold and green eyes on the orb in Xander's grasp.
"I can do it, Willa." He told her proudly, "I'm a big boy."
Willow smiled gladly as she watched him march across the room and touch his tiny fingers to the cool surface of the Orb without hesitation. As the light inside flared and then went out, Xander and Gabriel both stumbled backward a step then straightened.
"D'I do it right?" Gabriel asked hopefully, "D'I?"
Willow tossed the stake to Xander. His hand caught it effortlessly and his face was as surprised as anyone's.
"You did great." She ruffled her fingers through the boy's auburn hair.
Pleased, Gabriel sat himself back on the couch, smiling proudly.
Xander started juggling the stake and the Orb with a pleasant smile,easily adding a book and a ceramic statuette to the assortment while keeping the whole process moving.
"This is cool!" he exclaimed, his eyes following the continuous cycle,"If we did this last year, I definitely would have taken the school talent show."
"Xander." Giles clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouthdisapprovingly and held out his hand, "The Orb please."
"Oh. Sorry." He let each object drop into his palms in turn and set it aside, finishing with the Orb of Thesulah, which he handed to Giles.
"As long as the transfer is to remain in effect, the Orb must be intact." He said, slipping the object into the pocket of his coat, "I'll keep it safe until we need it again."
Willow worked her hands into her pockets, "So what do we do now?"
"W-Well, it all seems rather straight forward from here." Gilesanswered, "You and Xander will take over patrolling and Joyce and I will do our best to find some way to reverse the youthening spell."
Willow pursed her lips nervously and tried to look confident. Inside,however, she was a jumble of frayed nerves. Buffy had been born to be a Slayer. How was she supposed to compare with that?
"I don't know about you, Will, but I'm ready to rock!" Xander pulled on his jacket with an energetic grin. He squinted and blinked a few times, staring around in mild confusion.
"Wow," he breathed softly, wavering slightly on his feet, "Everything looks all weird. Kinda like the time Billy Raditch spiked the punch at the winter dance during freshman year."
Giles rose quickly to his feet."Be careful." He cautioned, reaching out to steady the young man,"You're tapping into Gabriel's Second Sight."
"I think I'm fine." Xander straightened, focusing his eyes on Willow, "This is very cool. Hey Willow, I can see your aura!"
Willow instinctively scowled and attempted to cover herself, not completely sure how private a person's aura was supposed to be.
"Only use the Sight when you need it, Xander." Giles warned him, "The human brain is not equipped to handle such information on a regular basis. Gabriel only became accustomed to it after years of practice."
Xander nodded, letting the intense focus fall from his eyes. Giles could be such a party-pooper sometimes.
"Right, don't overdo it. I can handle that." He agreed, "Any other words of wisdom, oh Great One?"
Giles straightened his coat and looked back and forth between Xander and Willow. He felt nervous sending the two of them out on patrol so soon after gaining their powers, but he could see no other choice.
"You were both on patrol before while Buffy was in LA last summer." He reminded them, "I assume the only thing that has changed since then is you." He regarded his two new charges seriously, "But please, and I cannot stress this enough, if you run into any problems, anything at all, come straight back here to safety."
"Don't worry about it G-man." Xander clapped a hand to the former Watcher's shoulder, "Everything's totally under control."
Giles raised an eyebrow at the hand and cleared his throat noisily. Xander smiled an uneasy apology and opened the door, motioning for Willow to walk through with a grand sweep of his arm.
Willow picked up Buffy's kit bag and smiled reassuringly.
"Don't worry, Giles. We'll play it safe." She promised, before Xander followed her out and closed the door behind them.
"Bye, Willa! Bye, Xander!" Buffy shouted, jumping up and down and waving happily with her tiny hand.
Joyce pulled the little girl up into her arms and rocked her absently,her eyes clouded with worry.
"I hope they'll be all right." She murmured.
* * *
Xander jogged easily along the sidewalk, keeping a steady pace. Yesterday, he couldn't have lasted half as long as he already had. Now, he felt like he could keep it up forever.
"Xander, wait up!" Willow ran a short distance to catch up with him.
Xander slowed and turned, jogging backwards.
"Hurry up, Will, we gotta get moving." He urged, smiling giddily, "We still have more than half the town to cover."
She regarded him skeptically, holding her hands down around her waist.
"I don't think they ever patrol the whole town in one sweep." She surmised, "That's an awful lot of ground to cover."
Xander shrugged unconcerned, "Then tonight we'll do it our way. Come on, I know you're not tired."
"No, not tired." She tightened her lips together, "Just a little worried, that's all."
"What's there to be worried about?" he raised his arms and spread them,turning in a circle, "We haven't met a single vamp all night."
He focused his eyes again and stared up at the glittering stars in the night sky with his newfound vision. Each one stood out uniquely from the others with a feel and appearance all its own. He loved the Second Sight. With it, even the plainest things were interesting and that which was already interesting became dazzling.
"Stop it." Willow scolded quietly.
"What?" he protested, letting the focus fall from his eyes and looking at her.
"You can't fool me, Alexander Harris." She wagged a knowing finger at him, "Giles told you not to use the Sight unless you need it."
"Oh, come on Will. Lighten up." He ignored her warning with a smirk,"It's not like I'm hurting anyone. Besides, what could go wrong?"
A tall, lean vampire dressed in a sleeveless black shirt and a denim jacket appeared behind Willow and grinned over her head, showing a mouthful of pointed fangs.
"Willow, look out!" Xander dove forward barely in time to intercept the vampire's downswinging arm.
Twisting swiftly, he wrenched the arm around and threw the creature neatly over his shoulder. Xander stared, dumbfounded, as the vampire sailed through the air and collided with a telephone pole, collapsing in a heap to the ground. He hadn't thought about it at all. His body had just reacted.
"There's more!" Willow pointed over his shoulder and Xander whirled to see four more vampires, lead by a giant muscular leader, standing in the street.
"Looky what we got here." The dark-haired, yellow-eyed leader sneered,"A well balanced meal for the family on the go."
Xander shuddered at the confident way the vampire's eyes roamed over him, like victory was not even an issue, just how to divide the spoils. He backed protectively close to Willow and raised his hands into awkward fists.
"Get 'em." The leader commanded and his flunkies leaped to obey.
Fearfully, Xander ducked his head and flailed with his arms, slapping and scratching wildly at two of the vampires as they closed on him. His head snapped back from a sharp punch to the chin and two more rushed past him.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl and he perceived every moment with crystal clarity. As his hand slapped ineffectually off the shoulder of one of the creatures, he saw its fist driving for his face. He grimaced, expecting the blow to connect at any second, but it continued to travel at a snail's pace. A ludicrous thought occurred to him and he took a half step sideways, removing himself from the path of the attack. Everything was caught in the sluggish flow of the moment, but for once, Xander was not.
In slow motion, the fist flew wide, well past his shoulder and the vampire stumbled forward, off balance. Extrapolating on his earlier observation, Xander lined up a shot and drew back his fist as if he had all the time in the world. He cracked his knuckles into the creature's jaw with every ounce of strength he could muster. The vampire flew back, carried by the force of the blow and fell over.
Xander stared at his fist, the fist that had felled a vampire with one blow, and grinned in disbelief. His hand didn't even hurt. He caught sight of a surprisingly simple attack out of the corner of his eye and countered without even thinking, driving a solid kick into the vampire's gut. As it staggered and bent over, holding its ribs, he dropped a powerful chop to the back of the creature's neck, slamming it to the ground. Turned his attention back to the first vampire, Xander gestured a challenge and smiled broadly.
Willow squeaked in fear and shielded her head with her arms as the pair of vampires charged her. A strong hand gripped her around the throat and forced her head upward. The vampire swung a heavy fist toward her stomach and, instinctively, she jammed her eyes shut and tensed her body.
A vampire's fist cracked into her abdomen and Willow felt her body shake with the impact, but for some reason, it didn't hurt. When the fist had connected with her stomach, the muscles had flexed at just the right moment and absorbed the collision painlessly. The punch had felt like it had been wrapped in twenty layers of soft cotton.
Growling in frustration, the vampire took a swipe at her head, but she instinctively dodged back out of reach before the strike was even halfway to its target. The second vampire attempted to grab her about the waist but she whirled swiftly, knocking its reaching arms aside with a sweep of her hand, and danced back nimbly.
Her defensive reflexes were near flawless, but she could not bring herself to counter. Willow had always found violence upsetting, she wouldn't even swat a fly if there was a chance that she could chase it out a window. Her own reticence was overpowering the Slayer instinct to attack.
"Xandeerrr! Help!" she cried out, her eyes wide with fear as her arms moved continuously of their own accord to block the attacks of her two opponents.
Xander staked his second vampire and ran to her aid. Leaping into an impressive front kick, he smashed one of her attackers in the chest and knocked it flat on its back at Willow's feet.
"Go ahead, Willow!" he shouted, grabbing the other vampire in an armlock and slamming an open palm into its face, "Stake him already."
Willow dropped to her knees next to the fallen vampire with a stake in her hand. She raised the sharpened wood overhead, but hesitated,filled with uncertainty and panic.
"Ohhh!" she screwed her face up in distress, fluttering her hands nervously.
The vampire sat up and grabbed her by the throat, grinning evilly. Willow slapped at the creature ineffectually and it shoved her back onto the grass, leaping on top of her. She turned her head to the side and jammed her eyes shut, propping the stake point-up over her chest. She squeaked as the vampire's full weight dropped on her and the blunt end of the stake dug against her sternum while the point wedged into the creature's heart. The vampire gaped soundlessly for an instant with wide, dark eyes and then exploded into a cloud of gray ash.
Coughing and sputtering, she sat up, brushed herself off and shifted her feet under her. Her heart was pounding madly in her chest, but she couldn't quit yet. By her count, there were still two vampires left.
Xander tripped his opponent to the ground before raising his arm with a dramatic flourish and dropping an elbow into its chest.
"This is better than Pro Wrestling!" he announced gleefully, hauling the creature up and wrenching its arms behind its back, "Check it out,the Brazilian Death Lock!"
"Stop goofing around Xander." She urged, worried by his lack ofcaution, "There's still one more."
"Right." He grinned sheepishly, "Sorry about that."
Drawing out a stake, he plunged it into the vampire's heart and the creature's body collapsed into dust. He turned around and frowned.
"So where's the big one?" his eyebrows knitted together over the bridge of his nose.
"I don't know." Willow searched the darkness, looking back and forth quickly, "He must have gotten away."
Warwick crouched, hidden in the bushes, his fists clenched tightly and his whole body shaking with rage. He had never seen or heard of these two before and yet they had just effortlessly destroyed four of his strongest allies. How many Slayers could there be?
The red-haired one continued scanning the night and paused as she looked in his direction. Warwick forced himself to remain stone still. After a moment, the girl shrugged and looked away.
"Looks like we'll have to go find him."Her companion flipped a stake around in his hand and slid it into his belt like an Old West pistol.
The girl looked in Warwick's direction one more time and sighed softly. All she wanted to do now was go home to the relative safety of the dorm.
"Yeah, you're probably right. This is the pits. Giles and Buffy's Mom have it easy."
* * *
Giles sat across from Joyce on her couch and rubbed his fingers into his temples, trying his best to massage away his mounting worry. Willow and Xander were out on their first patrol at this very moment. He prayed that they would be all right. If he and Joyce could to find a way to reverse the spell on Buffy and Gabriel then the two temporary defenders of Sunnydale might not ever have to go on patrol again. Unfortunately, after hours of searching through the stacks of books he had brought over, neither of them had come up with even a reference to such a spell. But at least the children had settled down for a while.
"MOMMYYY!" Buffy wailed from the kitchen, "He's HITTING me!"
"Am not!" Gabriel's high-pitched voice returned.
"Are too!" came Buffy's predictable response.
"They're at it again." Giles groaned, slowly rising from his seat.
Joyce shook her head and placed a hand on his arm to stop him, "No, you stay here. I'll take care of this one. It's almost time for them to go to bed anyway."
Giles sighed and sat back down, watching her walk through the swingingdoor into the kitchen. Thank God Joyce was there to help him. It seemed like at every moment one child or the other had an earthshaking problem and needed help. They were like little demons, always running about and screaming with seemingly endless energy. In fact, they were worse. Rupert had dealt with demons before and, at the moment, he would prefer it to his current situation. He couldn't imagine what in the world ever possessed people to voluntarily bear offspring.
The kitchen door burst open and the two children came running out. Buffy tore around the corner, squealing excitedly while Gabriel dropped to his hands and knees and quickly crawled under the table.
"I'll go get Buffy." Joyce emerged from the kitchen with two small juice boxes in her hands and followed her daughter around the corner,"Could you fish him out of there?"
Giles nodded slowly, his eyes filled with trepidation, and sank down onto his hands and knees. Crouching low, he peered at Gabriel, who returned the look with blithe innocence.
"Gabriel, come out from under there this instant." He commanded sternly, gesturing to his young nephew.
The auburn-haired little boy made a face and stuck his tongue out in challenge, crouching just beyond his uncle's reach.
"Now, see here, young man!" Rupert made a grab for the child and banged his head painfully off the underside of the table.
Gabriel giggled uproariously and pressed his small hand to his mouth in excitement, pointing gleefully at his uncle's misfortune and scurrying farther under the table.
As Rupert backed out carefully, holding the top of his head and wincing in pain, Joyce returned, marching Buffy ahead of her like a little soldier.
The young girl gripped a small box of juice in her tiny hands and sucked contentedly from a bendable straw.
"Couldn't convince him to come out, huh?" Joyce observed, crouching to look under the table at Gabriel.
"I have no idea why he insists on being so difficult." Giles sighed in irritation, backing away and sitting down on the edge of the chair he had vacated earlier, "He just refuses to listen to me."
"You're not used to dealing with children, are you?" she squatted and held out the second juice box temptingly to Gabriel, "You always have to be ready with a back-up plan."
Lured by the offered treat, Gabriel crawled a bit closer to Joyce. Slowly, she withdrew her hand until he unintentionally left his hiding place. Once he was out in the open where she could easily keep an eye on him, she punched the attached bendable straw into the juice box and allowed him to have it.
"Now what do you say?" she waited expectantly for an answer.
"Thank you." The auburn-haired boy put the straw in his mouth and started sucking happily.
"You're welcome." Joyce smiled and walked back to the dining room table.
Sitting down, she opened a crisp magazine and began casually flipping through the pages.Giles watched her silently, stunned by her calm demeanor.
"How do you do it?" he gasped quietly.
"Do what?" Joyce asked without looking up from her magazine.
"The children." Giles elaborated, "You always know what to do with them."
"I had a lot of practice with Buffy." She smiled thoughtfully, "It's kind of strange to be going through it all again, but you never really forget, like riding a bicycle."
Buffy yawned and rubbed her eyes with a tiny fist. She pulled onJoyce's pantleg to get her mother's attention.
"Up." She insisted, reaching up with her arms.
Joyce pulled Buffy's small body up into her lap with one arm, resting the little girl's head against her shoulder while she read. Buffy continued to draw quietly on her juice box, her face complacently blank as she relaxed in the comfort of her mother's arms.
Gabriel watched the exchange curiously and wandered over to his uncle's chair.
"Up." He emulated Buffy's display.
"What?" Giles stared at the boy, perplexed.
"Up, up, up!" Gabriel reiterated, jumping up and down impatiently.
Joyce turned a little, holding Buffy, "Pick him up, Rupert."
Giles made an uneasy face and put his hands under Gabriel's arms,lifting him up gingerly and holding him out straight. As Joyce watched, prompting him with raised eyebrows, he sat the small boy in his lap and smiled weakly.
"Th-there, that wasn't so bad." He released an anxious breath and eased back stiffly into his chair.
Gabriel stuffed a wet thumb into his mouth and curled against his uncle's chest. Rupert started at first, but calmed slowly, shifting to get himself as comfortable as he could with a child on top of him. A cold, wet sensation spread across his chest as Gabriel squeezed his drink box in his tiny fists, spraying a stream of red juice into the air and onto Giles' shirt. The former Watcher jumped to his feet with a cry of dismay, sending his nephew tumbling to the floor.
Gabriel turned and landed cat-like on his feet and scampered into the next room with an impish giggle. Giles stared at the mess of his shirt, stunned beyond speech then sighed harshly and followed after the boy. Joyce smiled at him with a tilt of her head as he walked past and shrugged helplessly.
* * *
As Willow walked silently back to the campus, Xander swept his arms back and forth excitedly, reenacting the fight with the vampires from earlier.
"And it was like my hands already knew what to do!" he grinned as he walked beside her, "Bam! Boom! No more vampire! Man, I feel like I could go all night."
They had found no trace of the muscular vampire who had escaped and,after a long search, they had agreed to leave the matter until tomorrow.
Willow shook her head softly as Xander held a green leaf up to his face and stared at it, fascinated.
He was using the Second Sight again, she knew, looking at everything around him like it was an entirely new experience. Something inside her sensed the Seventh Son's power within him, like a physical presence. His closeness registered as a faint warming sensation along the side of her that was facing him. It was like her body was itself aware of his. Ever since the fight with the vampires, Willow's blood had been humming with energy. Her senses had become even sharper and she was now conscious of a host of things that had been previously unnoticeable to her. Buffy sometimes referred to something she called her Slayer sense. Willow wondered whether this new awareness she was experiencing might be it. She closed her eyes and opened up to her surroundings, breathing it all in slowly. The trees, the wind, even Xander. Xander most of all.
"Here we are." Xander announced, coming to a halt at the bottom of the steps to her dorm, "Stevenson Hall. Guess it's time we called it a night."
Willow snapped out of her reverie, standing closer to him than she had expected, "Oh, right."
He smiled a bit tensely and scratched the back of his head.
"Well, good night." He leaned in and bestowed a friendly peck on her cheek.
Willow felt an intense field of energy wash over her, like a wall of soft-tipped needles caressing the surface of her skin. She gasped unintentionally as the sensation evoked a warm, comforting feeling inside her and her face flushed uncontrollably.
"No!" she backed off in alarm, holding her hand out to keep Xander at a distance, "It's the tingly thing!"
"The what?" Xander cocked a confused eyebrow.
"The tinglies!" Willow repeated, shaking her hands in frustration and trying to clear her head, "The Slayer and Seventh Son have energies around them that interact sometimes, makes them feel all tingly."
Willow had long ago determined that she and Xander were ancient history. Even with the loss of Oz's departure still fresh in her heart, she was not willing to rehash the old feelings yet again. Besides, Xander and Anya were pretty much an item these days. After the mess she had created for Cordelia last year, she had become hyper-sensitive to treading on another woman's territory, even if the woman in question was a former demon. But at the moment, the temptation was very strong.
"Oh, that?" Xander sighed, relieved, "I just figured it came with the territory. I didn't know it was because of you. So what's so wrong with us giving each other a little air massage?" he passed his palm close to her face to demonstrate, evoking the soft, tantalizing feeling of soft tipped needles again.
"Don't you understand, Xander?" Willow swatted his hand away and dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "This is what happens when they . . .you know . . .S-E-X."
"You mean these tingles happen all over?" Xander considered with a bemused smirk, "That's kinky! How come you knew about this and I didn't?"
"Because of comments like the one you just made." Willow smirked and rolled her eyes, "Some things are just private."
"Fine, leave me out of your girls club." Xander quirked an expression of feigned indignance and shrugged, "Just don't forget it when one of these days I have some juicy gossip and I won't share."
"You better go." She took the first stairs up to the entrance to her dorm, "I have to get my homework done before class tomorrow."
"Alright," he waved, starting toward home, "Just remember tomorrow night, same bat-time, same bat-channel."
* * *
Giles rolled over on the floor, half-asleep, and winced at the sharp knot of discomfort in his lower back. He had been sharing the spare bed with Gabriel while Joyce shared hers with Buffy. But the young boy had proved to be a fitful and restless sleeper and, after getting kicked repeatedly, Giles had abandoned the bed in the middle of the night for the relative comfort of the floor.
He cracked his eyes open and groaned softly. Since he had been out of a job, he had rarely seen this early a morning.
Gabriel was standing on the bed, bouncing up and down excitedly, "Unca Giles! Unca Giles! Get up! It's breakfast time!"
"Wh-what?" he squinted into the bright light that streamed in through the window and slipped on his glasses.
"Breakfast!" Gabriel bounced extra high and away from the bed, his arms flailing.
Giles reacted instinctively, lurching forward to catch the plummeting boy. Gabriel caught his uncle's hand by the thumb and used it to guide himself to the floor with a happy smile. Giles released a tense breath and laid back down on the floor, closing his eyes again.
"Come on!" the child hauled impatiently on Giles' hand, pulling him up into a sitting position and attempting to lead him downstairs.
Groggily, Giles climbed to his feet and followed his nephew as he bounced down the stairs one at a time on his rear. As they reached the bottom, the auburn-haired boy released him and ran into the kitchen where he clambered up into a chair at the table. A place had been set for him, complete with a bowl and spoon and child-sized glass of orange juice. Buffy sat next to him, digging an oversized metal spoon into a bowl of Frosted Choco-Puffs and cramming it into her mouth. Gabriel reached eagerly for the box and poured a bowl for himself, two handed.
"Good morning, Rupert." Joyce smiled over a pan of frying eggs and handed him a cup of fresh tea, "Newspaper's on the table. Did you sleep okay?"
Giles accepted the cup gratefully and leaned against the open door, sighing tiredly, "Just grand, thank you."
Rubbing his face sleepily, he took a place at one end of the table andunfolded the newspaper with one hand.
"Eggs?" Joyce offered without turning around, "I've got scrambled and sunnyside."
"Um, no, thanks you." Giles paused in the midst of filling a bowl full of Choco-Puffs, "This will, ah, be fine."
As he lifted the first spoonful to his open mouth, Gabriel mischievously flicked a Puff at Buffy.
"STOP it!" she yelled, grabbing up a handful of dry Puffs and throwing them back at him.
"HEEYY!" Gabriel cried out in complaint, raising his arm to shield himself from the sugar coated onslaught, "Unca Giles!?"
Giles watched the display with a bland expression.
"You're not impressing anyone with your antics. Either of you." He stated, calmly sipping from his tea, shifting his gaze back to the paper. He was beginning to get used to this sort of behavior from them and realized that it was nothing to get upset over. He was actually learning to take it in stride.
Stunned by his unexpected reaction, the toddlers stopped their battle and quietly went back to their breakfasts.
"They're starting early this morning." Rupert noted casually, turning a page of the paper, "You'd never guess that someday they'd end up dating."
Joyce piled a small mound of scrambled eggs on a plate next to two slices of whole-wheat toast and a wedge of fresh avocado. Holding a cup of tea in one hand, she set the plate on the table and sat down.
"I was just thinking the exact opposite." She commented absently,testing the steaming tea carefully, "Usually, the harder little kids fight, the more they like each other."
Giles froze with another spoonful of cereal halfway to his mouth, his brow furrowing in distress.
"Oh dear God," he gasped quietly, "this is going to be a long day."
As the words left his mouth, Buffy innocently reached over under the table and pinched Gabriel's arm.
* * *
Willow covered a yawn and tried to keep her head from sagging during Professor Walsh's lecture. It was an interesting presentation, but she just couldn't get into it today. When she had gotten home last night, she had desperately wanted a shower. Then, finding herself ravenously hungry, she had devoured half the junk food that she and Buffy had squirreled away in their room. After which, she had succumbed to an overpowering lethargy and gone straight to bed.
She'd had no control over the cravings. It was like she had become possessed or something. No Wicca group, no internet surfing for neat new incantations to add to her collection, she hadn't even gotten her homework done. It was no wonder that Buffy sometimes had trouble keeping up with her studies.
Being the Slayer was too much responsibility. Sure, physically, she felt great. She knew she could run from one end of the campus to the other without even breaking a sweat and probably put the entire gymnastics team to shame. All in all, though, she still considered it to be a raw deal. She would be counting the seconds until Giles found a cure for Buffy and Gabriel's condition and returned their powers to them.
"Psst! Will!" a voice called to her insistently in a sharp whisper.
She turned in her seat and found Xander peeking his head through the classroom's side door. Quickly, he beckoned with his hand.
Willow sat up, caught in indecision. She couldn't just walk out in the middle of a lecture, but if Professor Walsh caught Xander interrupting her class, she'd have a cow. Her brow furrowed tensely,Willow scooped up her tote bag and slung it over her shoulder, making a hasty yet discreet exit to the hallway.
"What is it, Xander?" she demanded a little testily.
She could just see her class participation marks dwindling by the second.
"I talked to Anya this morning to see if she knew anything about this time demon." He related quickly, "You know, because of . . ."
"The fact that she used to be a demon herself?" she finished for him archly.
"Well, yeah." He shrugged.
Sometimes it seemed like Willow enjoyed reminding him of that uncomfortable detail, "Anyway, she thinks that ifwe find it, we might be able to get it to revoke the spell. But we have to get moving ASAP. Come on, she said she'll meet us at my house."
Willow paused uncertainly, her eyes dark with worry. She wanted to help, but there was still a full day's worth of classes ahead of her. Not to mention the project she had to pass in during the afternoon.
"Xander, I can't." she sighed tiredly, "You know, that thing you no longer partake of? Class . . .?"
Xander patted her shoulder consolingly and smiled, "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner you can get back to life as usual in Willowland."
The red-haired girl sighed and stepped away from his touch, trying to ignore the warm tingling that had started along her shoulder and collarbone.
"Okay," she relented, "But I want to get back by fourth class if I can."
"I promise we'll get this over with as fast as we can." he grinned,handing her a small kit bag filled with a typical assortment of Slayer weapons, "Before you know it, Buffy'll be back to full grown,vamp-slaying power and you'll be hip deep in extra credit assignments."
Still smiling, he spun a full rotation and a half on his heel in perfect balance and started for the door.
Willow allowed herself one last regretful glance to the door of Professor Walsh's class before following him down the hall.
When they arrived at Xander's house, Anya was already there waiting for them. Or waiting for him, more accurately. Willow wasn't really sure how comfortable she felt around Anya, especially with the way the girl had been practically hounding Xander. Of course, she could also see how not having a boyfriend for twelve hundred years could make a girl a little crazy. These last couple of months without Oz had certainly taught her that. Guiltily, she thought of the enticing tingle that she had experienced when Xander had kissed her cheek last night.
"Took you two long enough." Anya commented sourly from the top step of Xander's porch, her arms crossed in front of her.
"Been here long?" Xander asked her uneasily, fidgeting his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
"A little while." She shrugged, "Long enough for your Mom to tell me that you were out all night last night."
The expression on her face indicated that she was not impressed with the revelation.
"Hey, I explained that already." Xander replied defensively, "As long as Gabriel is filling out ensembles from Osh Kosh B'Gosh, I have to play Seventh Son. I've got responsibilities now."
"I know what Seventh Sons are like," she frowned, turning her eyes onWillow, "especially when they get around Slayers."
Willow met the girl's gaze steadily and fought down the urge to stickout her tongue.
"Oh, come on," Xander argued, "Buffy and Gabriel are an isolated occurrence. Faith is a Slayer and he HATES her."
"Oh, that's a good idea." Anya scowled, "Remind me about Faith."
"Hey, I had absolutely no control over that." He held his hands in the air in surrender.
"Exactly." she sniffed, pushing past Xander and heading down thestairs, "Come on, we should get going."
"Hold the phone there," Xander took hold of her arm as she went by and stopped her on the bottom step, "What's with all this 'we' stuff? Last time I checked, you didn't have any special powers."
"You'd regret it if I did." She narrowed her eyes at him, "You think I'm going to let you go off in this condition alone with a Slayer? Forget it."
"Condition? I can't believe this." Xander's face broke in a wide incredulous smile, "You're jealous!"
"Am not!" she responded far too quickly, turning swiftly on her heel and putting her back to him.
Willow inhaled deeply and released the breath slowly. If the two of them kept this up, it could seriously cut into her school time.
"Could you two do this some other time, please?" she beseeched calmly,"Some of us are missing classes to be here. Classes which were pre-paid. And not cheap, either."
Anya turned slowly, glaring at Xander's sheepish expression.
"I was just trying to keep you out of danger." Xander dropped his hands and sighed softly, helplessly.
"Really?", her scowl became replaced instantly by a look of dreamy appreciation.She peered up at him, clasping two of his fingers in her hand and tugging him gently toward her.
"Well . . .yeah." Xander dropped his gaze and scuffed his foot sideways across the edge of the step bashfully.
"That's so sweet." She made a soft sound in the back of her throat that made Willow want to gag.
Willow waved her hand to get the pair's attention.
"Hello, doesn't anyone care that I'm missing class right now?" she reminded them, thinking again of the project she needed to pass in, "If you know how to find this thing Anya, can't you just tell us so we can find it?"
Both Xander and Anya turned to look at her.
"I can sense it if I get close." Anya answered simply, separating herself from Xander by a half step, "You know, one demon to another."
Xander's eyes were wide and his jaw sagged open. He sometimes had dreams where Anyanka made a frightening appearance, not nearly as nice as the ones about Anya. He shuddered slightly at the thought.
"I, uh, I thought you weren't a demon anymore." He was breathing with tiny nervous gulps, "That's kinda what 'former' is supposed to mean."
"I'm not, as you, of all people should be intimately aware of." She scowled, swatting the back of her hand into his stomach, "It's just that after twelve hundred years, you get pretty good at feeling out the supernatural. So, you see, I have to go with you."
"Great," Xander relented, clapping his hands together, and hopped down to the ground with a smile, "We know how to find our time demon now."
"Yeah," Willow agreed less enthusiastically, "We just have to figure out what to do when we catch it."
"You saw it down by the pier, right?" Anya reasoned, "Let's start down there and work our way in."
Xander nodded and the three started walking in the direction of the pier, with Willow in front.
"So," Anya stroked a slender fingertip along the length of Xander's arm and smiled coyly, "Just how true is this rumor I've heard about Chosen Ones getting all charged up after a kill?"
Willow rolled her eyes silently and wished more than anything in the world that she could be in a nice boring classroom.
* * *
Joyce cradled Buffy in her lap and smiled, listening to Giles struggle with Gabriel in the bathroom. Water splashed and Gabriel complained again loudly from the tub. They had taken the kids for a walk in the early afternoon and, almost instantly, Gabriel had found himself a deep mud puddle. Giles hadn't caught him in time and for the last twenty minutes he had been paying for that mistake.
"I hate him." Buffy commented sulkily from her mother's lap.
"Buffy?" Joyce regarded the little girl with surprise.
"He's so loud." She screwed her face up in disgust, "And he's dirty. Why do we have to have a BOY in the house?"
"Gabriel needs our help." Joyce explained, "It won't be much longer, I hope. Besides, you won't feel the same way when you're grown up again."
"I don't want him here." She disagreed softly, "Why can't it just be me here? Just me and you and Giles? I like him."
Joyce sighed. So that's what this was all about. Not Gabriel or hismischievous antics. Buffy was feeling neglected. Joyce had forgotten how much attention children required.
"You miss your father, don't you?" she stroked the girl's hair consolingly and Buffy relaxed in her lap.
Buffy's father was in LA, it wouldn't be a problem to pick up the phone and call him, but what would she tell him. She could just see it now,'Oh, hi Hank, your daughter has been turned into a toddler by a demon and she'd like to talk to you for a minute. ' Wouldn't THAT be priceless?
She heard Giles say something stern to Gabriel in the next room and the sound of the plug being pulled from the tub. There was more struggling and the sound of Giles biting back numerous curses before Gabriel emerged from the bathroom with damp hair and wearing only a red t-shirt and a small pair of overalls bunched around his ankles.
"Get back here, you troublesome little imp! You haven't finished dressing!" Giles came running out of the bathroom with a child-sized pair of underwear in his hand. There was a little picture of Spider-Man on the fanny and web designs all over them.
The little boy ignored his uncle and pulled the overalls up, slinging the straps over his shoulders. Sitting himself down in front of the TV, he jammed his thumb into his mouth, apparently more interested in the local news than underpants.
"You might as well leave him, Rupert." Joyce smiled, "You were lucky enough to get him to wear the pants."
"I suppose you're right." He agreed, sinking tiredly into a chair next to her and Buffy and tucking the underwear into his pocket. He made a mental not to forget and leave them there. It was certainly something he wouldn't want to try and explain to his dry-cleaner.
After a few peaceful minutes Gabriel appeared next to him and smiled.
"Up." He insisted, reaching with his tiny arms.
Giles looked him over skeptically and, after seeing no obvious boobytraps this time, lifted the boy into his lap. Gabriel popped his thumb out of his mouth and curled sleepily against the warmth of his uncle's chest.
As the boy dozed, Giles considered how different his relationship with his young nephew was developing now that he was an infant. Giles had only briefly seen Gabriel as a child and then often with long years in between visits, but to Giles experience, he had always been a polite and well-behaved young man. One good thing Rupert could say about his brother was that he had always been a stickler for manners and proper etiquette.
But when the young man had arrived in Sunnydale at the age of seventeen to study under the former Watcher, the two had immediately clashed. Gabriel's life of constant change and upheaval had made him distrustful and volatile. His stubborn nature and frustrating insistence on self-reliance inevitably conflicted with Rupert's sometimes overbearing protectiveness.
Now, with the clock literally turned back on his development, Gabriel was starting to rely on his uncle more and trust him. Giles gently patted the boy's head as he stirred slightly against him. He was beginning to like being a surrogate father.
"He's really starting to take to you, Rupert." Joyce noted while absently rocking Buffy.
"Yes," Giles smiled self-consciously, "He does seem to be more tolerable, doesn't he? While he's asleep, at least."
The boy stirred again and kicked unconsciously, his face tightening with stress. Rupert watched him for a moment and briefly wondered if he should wake him. Gabriel jolted again and Giles shook the boy's shoulder gently.
Gabriel started and sat up, rubbing his eyes and yawning quietly.
"Are you alright, Gabriel?" Rupert asked, "You were having a bad dream."
The little boy blinked a few times and stretched, "I dreamt I was with my Daddy. Do you know where my Daddy is?"He watched his uncle with glistening green and gold eyes, waiting patiently for an answer.
"Uh . . .um . . ." Giles paused, looking to Joyce for support, but she only shrugged helplessly.
He knew she was aware of little about what had happened with Peter,only that the man was dead. Rupert hoped he was dead, at least. Shortly after Gabriel had arrived in Sunnydale, Peter had fallen victim to his own greed and been dragged through the Hellmouth to the otherside. From what Giles knew of the demon dimension and its denizens,he could only pray that his brother had died quick and painlessly.
"I think I'll go put her down for a while." Joyce indicated Buffy's slumbering form and rose carefully with the girl in her arms, "Give you two a minute alone."
She carried Buffy into the next room and Rupert was left alone with his nephew and a very thorny question to answer.
"W-What do you remember?" he asked the child softly, fearfully. Gabriel had been overcome by guilt when it had happened. If the change to childhood had hidden the memory from him, Rupert feared what uncovering it might do to him.
Gabriel frowned, concentrating and trying to remember. Suddenly, his face relaxed and he seemed to have found what he was looking for.
"I hurt my Daddy, didn't I Unca Giles?" he asked quietly. The statement was not exactly true, but from Gabriel's point of view, it might have seemed that way.
"Your father caused a very serious problem for himself." Giles explained cautiously, skirting the truth while still not actually lying, "He had to go away after that, but he's in a better place now."
That is, if 'having to go' could be considered the same as 'dragged kicking and screaming through a fiery portal'. And about Peter beingin a better place now, Giles had no proof one way or the other and chose to hope for the best.
"Then who takes care of me?" the boy wondered aloud, a shadow of worry appearing on his cherub-like face.
"W-well, I-I would suppose that I do."
Gabriel accepted the explanation easily and settled back against his uncle's chest and closed his eyes.
"Love you, Unca Giles." He murmured drowsily.
Giles hesitated, stunned by his nephew's unexpected sentiment, and was forced to clear a sudden lump from his throat.
"I . . . love you too, Gabriel." He replied, gently folding his arms over the boy.
* * *
Xander walked with quick, impatient steps, his hands buried deep in his pockets, and kicked a flattened soda can clattering down the street.
"Good idea," Anya smirked, "Just announce us to every demon and vampire within a quarter mile."
"It's been almost four hours!" Xander returned sharply, his voice tense, "I thought we'd end up fighting SOMETHING by now. Man, the one time when I'm not worried about coming face-to-face with vampires and they all turn into shut-ins."
Willow trailed behind the two, glumly swinging her arms from side to side, her mind distant. She wondered what she had missed from the day's classes and if anyone noticed that she was gone. She really hoped that professor Milton would accept her project in his mailbox and only deduct minimal marks for lateness.
Her brain lit up with horror. What if he had assigned a new project today, one that she would know nothing about? Would she be able to rely on the notes of one of her classmates to give her a full understanding of what was expected? She doubted it. Over the years,Willow had developed her own style of meticulous note-taking which had proven more effective than anyone else's she had ever encountered. Being the Slayer was, undoubtedly, a complete and utter drag.
"Let's take another pass by Halfway Bridge." Xander suggested, "I thought the water looked kind of funny when I used the Sight last time. Maybe we'll find something evil to slay."
Anya sighed roughly at his single-mindedness.
"You know, you're even more pig-headed than ever now." She commented acidly, making a face, "You really are a Seventh Son."
All he had talked about all day was duty and the responsibility of defending the town. At first she had found it exciting, kind of a turn-on, but now it was getting frustrating. He was so caught up withhis new powers, particularly the Second Sight, that he hadn't even wanted to hold hands as they went demon hunting together. Things were just boring like this.
"Okay, I've had enough." she muttered tiredly, "Why don't I just cast the summoning ritual and call it to us? Then we can go do something fun together."
Willow froze in midstep and her face fell slack with shock.
"You-You know how to . . . summon it?" she gaped, almost stunned beyond words. All this walking around and wasted time and she could have just called the demon up on Xander's front lawn.
"Well, call actually. There's no guarantee it'll show." She shrugged,"All demons can be called. I thought you were a wicca. I just assumed you would know that already."
Willow fought down a scowl, ignoring the implied insult. It didn't matter. What mattered was getting Buffy and Gabriel back to normal and giving them their powers back. Then maybe she could concentrate on repairing the damage that had been done to her school career during her absence.
"Okay, what are you going to need?" she asked with enforced calm.
"Candles. And clocks. Lots of clocks." The dark-haired girl nodded,"And we'll have to wait until the moon is higher in the sky before I can start."
"Great," Xander rubbed his hands quickly together, "We can go to my place pick up some clocks, then drop in on Giles and Buffy's mom to let them know we found our guy."
Willow nodded sympathetically, "Yeah, Giles probably can't wait to get Buffy and Gabriel back to normal."
* * *
"Get in there!" Giles snapped in frustration, marching Gabriel into the spare bedroom behind Buffy, "And I expect both of you to be quiet and on your best behavior until I return."
Both children's clothes were stained with a burgundy liquid. They hung their heads and gave him guilty looks, but he ignored them and shut the door.
Giles sighed and removed his glasses, rubbing tiredly at his eyes and leaning back against the wall.
Joyce emerged from the kitchen with a wet, maroon-stained towel in her hands.
"I'll never understand how kids always manage to find the messiest trouble they can get into." She lamented softly, "I didn't even know we HAD beets in the fridge."
Giles lifted his head and slipped his glasses back on.
"Are you sure this 'time out' practice works?" he asked with a tone of disbelief, "Right now, I'm about ready to introduce Gabriel's backside to the broad end of a paddle."
"Buffy's father and I never believed in spanking." Joyce rubbed her beet-stained fingers through the towel a few times before dropping it in the bathroom sink and soaking it down with clean water.
"I wish I had your patience." Giles walked past the open doorway and sat down in the front room. Picking up the newspaper, he sighed fretfully. It was already after sundown and he had yet to get halfway through his morning paper.
Joyce gave up on the towel with a frown. It was clearly beyond repair. Another donation for my rag box, she thought. Drying her hands, she walked into the room where Rupert sat.
"Oh well, you know, you get used it after a while." She took the seat next to him and relaxed, "First it's three o'clock feedings, then it's skinned knees and summer camp. The next thing you know, she has a vampire for a boyfriend."
Rupert smirked to himself. Joyce was slowly becoming accustomed to the realities of her daughter's life. She had almost sounded casual when she had mentioned Angel.
"Y-yes I suppose some children require a bit more adjustment than others, hmm?" he smiled, "You've raised a very strong and accomplished young lady. You should be pleased."
"I am." Joyce nodded softly, pride showing in her eyes, "But you've had just as much a hand in her development as I have these past few years. More even."
Giles smiled his appreciation, but cringed a little inwardly. Two years ago, when Buffy had run off to LA, Joyce had blamed him for her secret life as the Slayer. At the time, the accusation had added to his already overwhelming guilt.
"Well, y-yes, I suppose." He hedged, "And I apologize for that,really."
"Forget it." She waved her hand in unconcerned dismissal, "I'm long over that now. These days I'm - what's that sound?"
She sat up sharply and froze, listening carefully.
Rupert cocked his head and raised a confused eyebrow.
"What? I don't hear anything."
"Exactly." She rushed past him and practically ran to the bedroom,"That's never good with toddlers."
Giles scrambled after her, alarmed by her sudden reaction. Together they stood before the bedroom door and opened it. Immediately a cool breeze washed into the hallway and Rupert's eyes when wide and his jaw dropped.
The room was empty and the sheer drapes wafted softly in the breeze.
"Dear God." He whispered, staring at the open window and the stack of hardcover books piled underneath it, "They've run away."
* * *
Willow rapped on Mrs. Summers' front door again and received no answer. She wondered if she could just kick it down. She had seen Buffy accomplish similar feats and was curious whether she could accomplish the same under the right circumstances. She doubted it. Buffy always had a natural knack for that sort of thing. Willow considered herself to be more of the key and doorknob type. She turned and seated herself on the edge of the concrete step with her chin balanced on her hands.
Beside her, Xander squinted, focusing his Second Sight and trying to peek in through the window.
"Man, I was sure they said they'd be here." He muttered, "They picked a great time to take the kids for a walk."
Anya spread her arms and dumped a load of clocks and magical paraphernalia unceremoniously onto the grass.
"It's alright, Xander." She crouched and started arranging the multitude of ticking clocks into a circle, "It won't change anything if we do this outside. It might even be safer."
"Safer?" Willow perked up alertly. She didn't like the sound of that.
"Well, yeah," Anya gave a non-committal shrug as she started lighting the candles, "Less to catch on fire."
Sitting back on the grass, she folded her hands in her lap and inhaled a deep breath. Now came the hard part.
"Servant of time, heed my call." She intoned, her voice falling into a steady drone, "Hear me and come forth from the lost reaches so that I may beg your favor."
Willow watched the proceedings worriedly, "I hope this works."
"Don't sweat it, Will." Xander smirked, admiring his reflection in the window against the night sky. He couldn't see it very well, but his vision was definitely better than it had been, "So what's the plan? We just call up this demon and the second it gets here, WHAM!" he spuns wiftly and swiped a fist through the air at an imaginary adversary. His sight blurred sickeningly and the world lurched uncontrollably. Holding his head, he staggered back against the house.
"Xander!" Willow ran to him and propped him up against her side, "What happened?"
"I-I dunno." He shook his head, puzzled, "Everything just went all psychedelic and my stomach felt like it did a little tap dance between my ribs."
"Here, sit down for a minute." She guided him over to the step and sat him down, "Anya's going to be out of it until either the demon shows or the spell fails, whichever comes first. We've got time."
A long shadow fell across them and her head snapped up to see its source. Leering evilly, with a new group of minions behind him, the muscled vampire they had battled yesterday nodded a greeting.
"I think your time is just about up, Slayer."
* * *
Giles' shoes slid on the damp grass as he reached desperately around the rough trunk of a tree, grasping for his mischievous nephew. The auburn-haired boy squealed excitedly and scrambled away.
Joyce ran up next to Giles and stopped, leaning against the tree and panting.
"Buffy Anne Summers, you get back here this instant!" she shouted aloud, hoping the sheer volume would broadcast the depth of her resolve.
Buffy's little blonde head popped out from around a bush and she giggled.
"Mommy, Mommy, can't catch me!" she cried, ducking back into the foliage with Gabriel.
"It's-it's no good." Rupert wiped his forehead and straightened,gasping for breath, "The little monsters are working together now."
"Why are they so hard to catch?" she marveled crossly as she circled the tree, "They're only babies!"
"True." Giles observed, circling in the opposite direction, "But they're not ordinary babies. Being reduced to childhood has apparently not robbed them of the training and instincts they acquired over the years."
Rupert approached the shrubbery that Buffy had disappeared into and noted a small movement in the brush. Slowing, he motioned to Joyce silently and readied his hands to make a grab for their elusive quarry. Joyce sharply rustled one end of the brush while Giles made a dive for the other.
Buffy exploded from the leaves, dodging the attempt and fleeing down the hill, while Gabriel escaped in a separate direction.
Giles sighed from his prone position on the ground and propped his chin up on his hand, setting his glasses slightly askew.
"Come on then." Joyce offered him her hand with a resigned smile and helped him to his feet, "Let's see if we can't herd them back toward the house."
* * *
Willow ducked under a vampire's attack and shoved it away desperately. While the big one stayed back, calmly watching with his arms folded confidently across his chest, his minions had surrounded them,threatening but wary of approaching too close. The vampires eyed them with crazed bloodlust and showed their teeth in lusty snarls. She and Xander had been doing their best to protect Anya while she cast her spell, standing on opposite sides of her and maintaining a rough defensive perimeter, but it was not easy.
A pair of vampires broke from the circle and closed on her, hoping to take her from two angles at once.
"Xander, help!" she cried, stomping down on one of her attackers' toes and kicking the other in the shin.
Xander bounded across the grass and leaped to her defense, punching one of the creatures in the face then spearing the other through the heart with a stake and killing it instantly. He had successfully convinced the remaining vampires to back off a step, but the effort had taxed him greatly and he sank weakly to one knee, his head bowed and his eyes squeezed shut.
Willow reached out to help him, her face creased with worry.
"I'm okay." He assured her, waving her hands away, "I'm still just a little sick, that's all." He rose, wobbling unsteadily on his feet, and put his hand to his forehead, "How much longer before the spell is done?"
Willow stepped in front of him and intercepted a swinging wooden staff. Jerking it from the attacking vampire's hands, she jabbed the butt of the weapon into its face and drove it back.
"I think she's just about finished." Willow shot the other girl a quick glance, "If it doesn't work soon, the whole effort will be wasted."
Two more vampires charged and, instinctively, Willow struck them down. Xander reached down, staking one through the chest and then, after taking a moment to collect himself, staked the other. Both were instantly reduced to a thin layer of ash on the grass.
"Willa!" a pair of high-pitched voices cried gleefully in chorus.
Willow turned and found Buffy and Gabriel rushing across the lawn toward her.
"Buffy! Gabriel!" she exclaimed, "What are you doing here all by yourselves? Where are your mother and Giles?"
Gabriel grinned proudly.
"They can't find us!" he confided, "We hide really good!"
"Yup. Uh-huh." Buffy nodded happy agreement, then noticed Xander's pale, sickly expression, "What's wrong wiff Xander?"
The tall, muscled vampire unfolded his arms and smirked wryly at them while his servants continued to circle cautiously.
"So I finally get to see the baby Slayer." Warwick chuckled mirthfully,"Between the four of you, we're going to eat well tonight!"
Buffy and Gabriel cowered fearfully behind Willow's legs as the red-haired girl glared at the vampire leader.
"You leave them alone!" she warned.
"Or what?" he sneered, advancing on her and shoving Xander's weakened form aside effortlessly, "All I've seen you do so far is stomp toes and kick shins. That's not going to stop me."
Willow felt herself shrink under Warwick's baleful gaze. The vampire towered over her, with a thick muscled body and a jutting, angry jaw. Taking a fearful step back, she felt a slight drag on her legs and remembered that Buffy and Gabriel still clung to her.
Warwick was getting closer, grinning arrogantly down at her. She felt the children cringing against her legs and something inside her snapped. As frightened as she was, it was nowhere near the paralyzing terror that they felt. They were helpless, completely unable to defend themselves. But Willow was not. Gritting her teeth to steel her resolve, she balled her hand into a fist and held it close to her body. Warwick stopped, looming over her and grinning evilly.
"It's over, little girl." He sneered taking hold of her slender throat.
"I'm not a little girl." She answered, straining against his grip.Drawing her arm back, she threw her fist forward and drove it intoWarwick's chest, knocking the surprised vampire roughly to the ground,"I'm the Slayer."
* * *
Xander staggered to his feet and leaned forward heavily, hands propped on knees. He had to help her. Willow would never be able to stand up to the giant vampire alone. But the torturous sickness would not abate and every step wracked him with fresh waves of illness. He could barely stand, let alone fight.A pair of footsteps sounded in the distance and he squinted at the blurry image of two human sized shapes approaching.
"Xander," Giles familiar voice asked in concern as he felt someone help him to straighten up, "What's happening here? Have you seen Gabriel and Buffy?"
"Summoning spell." Xander grunted, breathing heavily and indicating the general direction that Anya was in. Biting back more dizzying sickness, he then swept his hand toward Willow, "Vampires." He pointed to himself, "Barf-ready."
"What's wrong with him?" Joyce insisted worriedly.
"He disobeyed my warning and overused the Sight, made himself sick. He'll be fine again after a good rest." Rupert informed her, leaning down next to Xander as the young man hung his head between his knees again, "Let this be a lesson to you."
A pair of gleeful cheers rose up from behind the thick trunk of a birch tree and Joyce recognized the voices instantly.
"The children!" she gasped then stopped, "Is-Is that Willow?"
Giles lifted his head and his eyebrows jumped in surprise. Across the yard, Willow brought her leg straight up and snapped a sharp kick under the largest vampire's chin, launching his body into the air. More vampires closed in on her from all sides, five in all, and she whirled gracefully to fight them, her hands and feet working in flawless synchronicity.
Joyce seized the opportunity to slink over to the children and hurry them back to the relative safety of the driveway.
"Go Willa!" Buffy cried, jumping up and down excitedly.
"Yeah!" Gabriel agreed whole-heartedly, shaking his small fist in the air.
Willow punched a wiry vampire in the face and delivered a hard chop to the throat of a second. As another leaped at her from behind, she twisted and slammed a kick into its midsection, driving it to the ground.
"Wow," she paused, amazed at her own prowess, "I didn't think I was that bendy!"
Realizing that she had forgotten something, she quickly drew a stake and dropped onto her knees, slamming the weapon home. The vampire exploded into a cloud of dust and dissipated.Jumping to her feet, she speared a vampire through the chest,destroying it in an instant, and tripped another to the ground. Finally embracing her Slayer power, she had become like a one-woman army in the vampires' midst. Her body seemed to know exactly what to do once she let it, tensing the instant before landing a strike,rolling with a punch when one slipped through her defenses. She was beginning to see the up side of being the Slayer.
* * *
A flash of yellow light illuminated the yard for an instant and a small, glowing window split the air in front of Anya. Her face tensed suddenly and her eyes snapped open, freeing her from the spellcasting trance. Inside the window, a large dog-like face appeared, its lip curled in irritation.
"Enough, Vengeance Demon!" it snarled, "I answer your call, if only to silence your insipid little voice. What do you wish of me?"
Anya took a deep breath and steadied herself. From what she recalled,Aevum demons were renowned for being unfriendly and the greatest of care would have to be taken to gain its cooperation.
"Two days ago, you cast a spell on two people who mistakenly attacked you and turned them into children." She said with manufactured pleasantness, "I need you to reverse that spell and restore them."
"Two days." The demon snorted disdainfully, "What is time to me? I go where and when I wish. I do not know what you are talking about."
Giles took the two wide-eyed children by the shoulders and urged them gently forward. Joyce held her breath tensely as the three neared the demon, but trusted Rupert to know what he was doing.
"These are the children, oh Wanderer of Time." He indicated Buffy and Gabriel. So far, the toddlers were keeping their fear in check and bravely stood their ground.
"Silence, idiot mortal!" the demon roared, sending a startled jolt through Giles and the children, "I will listen to the supplicant only!"
The demon returned its burning gaze to Anya and she frowned in growing annoyance.
"That's them." She tipped her head toward the children in affirmation, "Recognize them now?"
The time demon started to chuckle to itself, a harsh, berating sound.
"Yes, I remember these two." It laughed, "So full of pride, so quick to try and destroy what is different. No, I will not help them. Let them suffer the price of my annoyance."
Anya's minimal patience ran out and she jumped angrily to her feet.
"Listen here, Cujo!" she snapped, jabbing a fingertip into the demon's face, "if you think you're annoyed now, wait until I start casting the calling ritual twenty four hours a day until you're ready to go crazy from the sound of my INSIPID little voice. Fix them now or find out just how long a vengeance demon can hold a grudge!"
The Aevum demon shrank back from her verbal onslaught and its ears drooped. Although none but its brother time demons would be able to see it, the creature's tail was tucked between its legs submissively.
"Do it." She fixed the demon's dog-like eyes with a stern expression and pointed at Buffy and Gabriel, "NOW!"
The demon flinched and waved its pawed hands swiftly before its face. With a few short barks and a low, warbling whine, it cast its spell and immediately the two children were enveloped in a golden glow.
Staring around confusedly, both began to grow, quickly filling out their child-sized clothes and splitting the seams. Joyce and Rupert each removed their long coats and draped them over the pair as they returned to their natural ages.
"Hey." Gabriel blinked, pulling Rupert's coat closed around his body and standing up straight, "What's going on?"
"Mom?" Buffy did the same and looked worriedly to her mother, "Why am I naked?"
Anya nodded to herself, satisfied that she had achieved the desired result. Turning, she noted that the mystic window was still open and the demon was still there.
"Okay, we're all done here." She rolled her eyes in exasperation and made an impatient flicking motion with the back of her hand, "Good doggie. Now shoo."
The demon wasted no time and hastily retreated to the reaches of the time plane as the window winked out of existence behind it.
Willow ducked under a wild swing from Warwick and cracked a solid elbow into his chest, knocking him to the ground. He was the only one left now. Those of his followers that had not been destroyed had long since fled into the night.
"You still feel like picking on little kids?" she blocked a clumsy kick and held her stake at the ready, "Because I think that would be a big mis-"
Warwick bounced up faster than she would have thought possible and rushed her, fangs bared. Without thinking, she jabbed out with her stake hand and caught him in the heart. The bulky vampire staggered,eyes wide and mouth gaping before he dissolved into a puff of dust andash on the wind with an airy wail.
"Awww, I didn't get the chance to finish my pun." Willow pouted, "And it was a good one, too."
A pair of feet brushed soft steps through the cool grass behind her.
"Wow," Buffy observed blithely, holding her mother's coat tightly around herself, "A little tardy on the witticism, but overall, nice slayage, Will."
"Buffy!" Willow smiled running to throw her arms around her newly restored friend, "You're back! You're both back. . . .and you're naked."
"Thanks," Buffy smiled, shivering, "But I'm pretty well aware of that."
Joyce took her by the shoulders and steered her toward the house, "We better get everyone inside."
"Love to." Xander rubbed his forehead and forced himself to take a few tentative steps. The sickness that had overtaken him appeared to be slowly receding as Giles had predicted, "But Mother Harris will have a fit if she finds me out all night again."
"W-Will you be alright?" Giles paused on Joyce's doorstep, "To get home, I mean."
"Yeah, I'll be fine." He nodded carefully with a tentative smile, "I'll see you guys tomorrow."
Anya slung Xander's arm over her shoulders and helped support some of his weight.
"I'll make sure he gets home okay." She promised, then turned to face Willow, "You know Willow, that was a nice job you did tonight."
"Thanks," Willow smiled at the compliment appreciatively, "You, too."
For the moment, at least, she and Anya were a little less at odds with one another.Hauling Xander around, the dark-haired girl started them on the trek to his house.
"Home, Jeeves." He indicated with a weak smile and a pointed finger.
As they shrank in the distance, Anya's voice came wafting back on the breeze.
"Xander?" she asked, "Do you think my voice sounds insipid?"
Gabriel turned to his uncle and frowned as both he and Buffy were ushered into the house with Willow close behind.
"Wait, he can't just go." Gabriel pointed in the general direction that Xander had gone, craning his neck in an attempt to see him through the window, "I still have to get my powers back."
Giles shook his head patiently as he walked down the hall into the spare bedroom, "Not tonight."
"What?" Gabriel demanded, following him into the room.
Giles raised his eyebrows and stepped back into the hall.
"As I recall, young man, you are still on a 'time out'." He noted crisply, closing the door on his nephew.
Buffy's face lit up with a bright grin.
"He's got you there, Gabriel!" she laughed, shouting through the door at him.
Joyce took a firm hold of Buffy's arm with a serious expression on her face.
"You too, Missy." She directed her baffled daughter up the stairs to her old bedroom, "Don't think I didn't recognize that window trick with the books as your work. Upstairs, now."
"Whu? Mom!!?" Buffy opened her mouth to protest further, then wisely shut it. Arguing over a time out had never worked when she was a child and she doubted it would work now. Sullenly, she plodded up the stairs to bed, trying to ignore Gabriel's muffled snicker, to accept her punishment.
Joyce waited until she heard the door close and sat down, relaxing totally for the first time in two days. Giles took the seat opposite her and looked to Willow, impressed.
"Anya was right. You did very well tonight, Willow," Giles began, "I imagine you'll be happy to return to your normal life again tomorrow?"
Willow fidgeted anxiously and shrugged, smiling."I don't know. I didn't really like at first, but that last part . .." she gestured toward the front lawn excitedly, "that was SO neat! You see it was witty because I was going to say mis-stake and I had a stake in my hand. Get it?"
Joyce and Giles looked to one another silently in mild bemusement.
"Don't you think that was witty?"