Giles sat at his desk in the cellar and picked up the phone, hitting a number on speed dial. He nearly dropped the handset at the greeting he received.
“Jo? What on earth are you doing up and about? Shouldn’t you still be in bed?”
He heard a quiet sigh on the other end of the line. “Please don’t you start, too, Rupert. I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with well-meaning friends and witches trying to order me around.”
“Oh dear,” he said, pulling off his glasses. “I’m sorry to have added to your grief over the matter.”
“You didn’t,” she said quickly. “It’s just cabin fever on my part. I never thought I would get sick of my own four walls, but if I hadn’t left my bedroom this morning, I wouldn’t have been responsible for my actions.”
He chuckled. “If it’s any comfort, I know all too well just how irritating forced bed rest can be.”
“It is a comfort,” she said softly. She took a deep breath before adding, “Now what can I do for you? I’m almost certain you didn’t call over here just to get your head bitten off.”
“No, not particularly.” He leaned back in his chair. “I called for two reasons, actually. The first to see how you and Elspeth are doing…”
“Quite well, though Elspeth’s even worse at staying in bed than I am, if you can imagine such a thing.”
“I’m so glad to hear you’re both recovering nicely,” he said in a warm tone.
“Thank you. And the second reason you called?”
“We had a bit of a problem earlier. Nothing serious, mind you, although we’re not yet certain it’s nothing to do with Ethan. But it’s a problem nonetheless,” he said. He explained the earlier intrusion and concluded with, “And then about a half hour ago, Dawn was apparently attacked by fairies. Aside from her ego, she didn’t suffer any harm, but it’s worrisome.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
“Jo? Still there?”
“Yes, Rupert. I’m still here,” she said, her tone somewhat off. “I’m just trying to understand how it is that you managed to draw fairies here. There’s never been a reported sighting in Whispering Pines, let alone in Oregon.”
“I’m afraid not.”
Giles heard the scrape of wood on wood come across the phone line. “Are you quite sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine,” she answered with a touch of asperity. “I just wanted to have a seat while we talked. Are you certain it was fairies who attacked?”
“Judging by Dawn’s description and the aftermath, I don’t see how it could have been anything but fairies.” Giles leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees.
“Hm. You’re certain that the fairy attack was connected with the arm through the keyhole?”
“No, I wouldn’t say certain. I think suspicious of a connection is more accurate. You know how coincidences seem to so rarely be actual coincidences with us.”
“You know…” There was a brief pause before Jo continued with, “There’s something about the arm through the keyhole that seems familiar.”
“It struck a chord with me as well, but I couldn’t quite place it.”
"I…" Jo’s words were swallowed by a huge yawn.
“I’ve kept you on the phone more than long enough,” Giles said quickly, overriding her objections. “Like it or not, you’re still recovering from a serious wound, and you should be in bed.”
“I’m worried about you, Jo,” he said gently. “We nearly lost you once, and I don’t wish to repeat the experience.”
She answered on a sigh, “I know I should be in bed. I’m just not very good at the recuperation part of getting well. I’ll ask Deborah to check with the others to see if any of them can recall anything about an arm through a keyhole.”
“Thank you. Now go to bed. We’ll talk anon,” he said, hanging up only after he heard the click of Jo’s phone.
Dawn stood in front of the mirror, a single tear making its way down her cheek.
Willow said hesitantly, “It’s not that bad, Dawn. Not really.”
“You’re just saying that,” she said dully.
“No. Really,” Buffy said, just before a giggle escaped.
Willow glared at her before telling Dawn, “Ignore Buffy. She’s just… your hair is… Oh god!” Willow ran from the bathroom and in just a few steps, she had to lean against a wall when laughter overcame her.
Dawn stood in front of the mirror. “This isn’t happening. I refuse to believe this is happening. My hair does not look like Rainbow Swirl’s mane.”
“What?” Buffy frowned in confusion. “What’s Rainbow Swirl?”
“My Little Pony,” Dawn said. “But it’s not important, because my hair is not streaked to look like a rainbow.”
“Denial. It’s not just a river in Egypt anymore.” Buffy stepped up to Dawn and studied her speculatively. “I suppose the silver glitter stuff isn’t real either, huh?”
“You both could be a little more supportive, you know.”
From the doorway, Willow cleared her throat. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to… you know…”
Dawn turned to Willow with a flat, unfriendly expression. “Alright. Apology accepted. Now do something about this.”
“Thought you said there was nothing wrong with your hair.”
“Fine, fine.” Buffy raised her hands in surrender. “Not saying another word. I’ll just stand here and be quiet.”
Willow looked at her, a puzzled expression on her face. “You know, there’s something different about you this week.”
Amused, Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Is old age setting in that quickly, Will? Did you forget the whole loss of Slayer strength deal?”
Her eyebrows raised, Dawn looked away from the mirror. “Not so sure that’s the kind of thing you want to admit to forgetting,” she said. “Especially if it makes you seem a little out of it.”
Willow shot her a dirty look before turning back to Buffy. “What I’m talking about is you and how calm you’ve been without your Slayer strength.”
Dawn turned around and leaned against the sink. “Yeah, that’s what I said earlier. You should be kind of… I don’t know… way more upset?”
Buffy shrugged. “I’m not gonna lie to you. Of course it’s weird right now, having normal human strength after eight years of being super slay gal. I’m having to learn how to get by. Again.”
“Again?” Dawn frowned for a moment and then her face brightened in understanding. "Oh! You mean the Cru thing, right? I asked about that and Giles said this was different somehow, something about physical versus metaphysical." She looked back at the mirror and glared at her hair again. "He uses way too many big words when he doesn't know the answer."
"Yeah, well that was way worse than this. I mean, here, Ethan is being the bad guy. He's out to hurt us and I know where I stand with him and why he did it. But then, it was Giles doing it to me, the guy who was supposed to protect me." She looked down and said softly. "I was so angry at him.”
“I remember,” said Willow, reaching out to touch her shoulder gently.
“I was convinced he did it out of revenge for not telling him Angel was back.” Her voice tight, she continued, “It wasn’t until Travers fired Giles that I realized how wrong I was.”
“I remember Giles getting fired, but you and Mom wouldn’t talk about it.”
“Kind of hurt too much at the time,” Buffy said.
Willow added, “And I was totally freaked about Giles getting fired. At the time, I couldn’t imagine anything worse happening.”
“What did it take for you to forgive him?”
“It took Giles being Giles, a near apocalypse and the arrival of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce to make me forgive him.” Buffy smiled wryly, adding, “And it took Ethan Rayne stealing my Slayer strength for me to forgive Quentin Travers.”
“What?” Willow looked incredulous. “You can’t be serious!”
“I can, and I am. Thanks to Quentin and his insistence that I take that stupid test, I know I can take care of myself even without Slayer strength to back me up. I’ve been kind of hanging onto that knowledge for dear life over the last week.”
Willow said, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“That surviving the Cruciamentum is one of the things that's helped to keep me from screaming in panic ever since I woke up? Yep.” Buffy nodded decisively. She pointed at Dawn. “And that, Miss might-become-a-Watcher, is in no way, shape or form meant to suggest that the test come back again… at least, not the way the Council used to give it.”
“Dawn’s gonna be a Watcher?” Willow looked shocked and then did a double-take, staring at Buffy. “Wait… you think the test is useful?”
“Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.” Dawn’s bearing, despite her rainbow-colored, sparkly hair, was mature and serious. “Anyway, Buffy, what do you mean about the test?”
Buffy flexed her hand into a fist several times before looking up at them. “I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea for experienced Slayers to face the monsters without super strength. It might help them remember what it feels like for almost everyone else in the world to face evil.”
“Wow.” Willow blinked and shook her head. “I mean, wow. I never thought I would hear you say anything good about that test. Or Travers, come to think of it.”
“Wonders never cease. Anyway, I think you have things under control here. I’ll just be going downstairs to um, debrief Giles,” Buffy said, her lips twitching.
Dawn scowled at her. “Nice to know my hair emergency rates so high.”
“It does!” Buffy’s sincere look fell flat when a snicker escaped. “I know the two of you will figure out the hair thing.”
Willow said apologetically, “I’m not sure there’s anything to figure out, Buffy. There’s not much I can do to counteract fairy magic. If, that is, fairies are responsible.”
“No. Don’t say that. Be positive! Put on your resolve face!” Dawn clutched at Willow’s hands. “You have to fix this. You can’t make me go to school like this on Monday. You just can’t!”
Fergus stared at a wall in Dawn’s bedroom. “If ye keep strugglin’, you’ll hurt yourself.” After a pause, he chuckled. “With language like that, ye’d make a berserker blush.”
He went back to the bed and started touching the stuffed animals, whispering a word to each. Fergus nodded in satisfaction as he watched each of them come to life.
Willow worked on undoing one of several braids that wound through Dawn’s hair, her face a study in concentration. “This is frustrating. Every time I let go of the strands, it just rebraids itself.”
Dawn’s sullen, “Great,” made Willow look up from her task.
“We’ll get it figured out," she said encouragingly. "Sooner or later… Probably even before you have to go to school on Monday.”
Dawn scowled then asked, “Who’s Owen?”
“Owen?” Confused by the question, Willow let go of the strands she had just unbraided, biting off a muttered, “Damn,” as the hair twisted itself back into a braid.
“Yeah. Buffy said something about how Mark wasn’t an Owen, but I don’t remember an Owen.” Dawn took the end of a second braid and started to pull it apart.
“I don’t think I… Oh!” Willow’s face brightened up. “Owen of the quality brood!”
“Owen could do a quality brood?”
“Well, yeah, we thought so then. But that was before we got to know Angel and saw a champion in action,” Willow said as she started to work on the braid again. “You probably don’t remember him, because he only went on one date with Buffy.”
Dawn affected a casual air when she asked, “Why just one?”
“Turns out Owen was kind of a danger junkie.”
“He dated Buffy, so that should have been a tip-off right there.” Dawn glared at the strands of hair that tried to wrap around her fingers in an effort to get back into a braid.
“Except that this was right after you guys moved to Sunnydale, so Buffy’s reputation hadn’t really gotten… Ow!” Willow jerked her hands away from Dawn and sucked on her right index finger.
“Your hair just bit me,” she answered, glaring at the offending braid.
“Sorry.” Dawn chewed lightly on her lower lip. “So, Owen? What happened?”
“Hm? Oh. Yeah. Anyway, there was a prophecy that was supposed to be fulfilled the night of their date, and Owen ended up following Buffy to the morgue. Big, nasty vampire rose, Owen got knocked out and Buffy fought the vamp. The next day, he wanted to go out with her again, but only because he thought almost getting killed the night before was so much fun.”
“That’s not good.” Dawn finished pulling the braid apart and let go of her hair to see what would happen. “Hey! If you get it unbraided all the way, it stays unbraided.”
“Great! Good luck with that.”
Dawn turned to Willow with a hurt expression. “You’re not going to help?”
“Your hair doesn’t want me to help. You can manage it without getting bitten, so more power to you,” Willow said, stepping back out of arm’s reach.
Sparing enough time to scowl at Willow, Dawn turned back to the mirror and started working on the next braid. “What do you think Buffy meant when she said Mark was no Owen?”
“Probably that she thinks Mark has more common sense than Owen did.”
Buffy went down to Giles’ study and found him sitting at his desk. “Willow is seeing if she can do anything to fix Dawn’s hair,” she said as she walked toward him.
He pushed away from the desk and gave her a puzzled frown. “She thinks she can reverse it?”
“Not really.” She grinned and stepped forward to straddle his lap, putting her arms around his neck. “Something about fairy magic maybe being a problem.”
His hands on her hips, Giles stared at Buffy’s chest. “Problem, yes,” he said absently.
"There's another problem too."
"What?" He looked up concerned.
"You changed." She pushed her hips against him a bit. "As sexy as you look in jeans, your sweats did offer me other benefits," she said smiling.
"Er, yes. Sorry, I should have been more considerate," he answered, leaning forward, lips slightly parted. Buffy put her hand on the back of his head, and she pushed her chest forward to aid and abet him.
As he began to mouth her breasts through her shirt, she whispered, “You know, this chair is kind of comfy. A benefit of sweats is that I can slip out of them in just a minute…"
He nipped at a nipple before lifting his face up to her. "Well, actually it is early Sunday morning in Japan right now," he said thoughtfully.
"Sunday!" Buffy exclaimed. "See, we're actually behind schedule! So, how about we try out this chair?"
“It will be a bit awkward, but I think it’s manageable.”
Flushed with delight, she said, “You mean it?”
Xander poked his head into the bathroom on the second floor. “Hey, Dawn. Thought I’d offer some moral support.”
She turned her scowl on him. “Unless you’re planning to help undo the braids, I don’t want to hear a single word.”
“Xander?” Willow sat on the edge of the tub. “Take it from me, you don’t want to help with the hair.” She held up her hands to show him her red and swollen fingers. “Unless you’re Dawn, the hair fights back.”
Fergus marshaled his troops and sent them down from the attic before turning back to face Hedwig. “It’s a shame her friends and family will get caught up in her lesson. On the other hand, perhaps they should learn it, too. After all, where did the fair Dawn learn her rude behavior if not from those who ought to have taught her better?”
He paused at the stairs. “I think, however, we’ll give the soldiers outside a bit of a rest. No need to go upsetting them when they needn’t hear a thing.” He sketched a rune into the air and whispered the required spell.
Xander backed out of the bathroom with a shrug and a grin. “Sorry, Dawn, no can… Crap!” He stumbled and landed hard. Before he could get up again, he was swarmed by a herd of stuffed animals.
At his nod, Buffy started to raise her shirt, rocking lightly on his lap.
“Buffy! Giles! Come quick!”
“I’m trying, dammit!” Frustrated, Giles clutched at Buffy as she started to stand up.
He looked up at her with a hint of desperation in his eyes. “Please? Can’t Xander’s cry be nothing of import as well?”
She dropped a kiss on his lips. “I’m not happy myself, but Xander doesn’t usually overreact. We should see what’s wrong.”
Outside, Margaret, Harold and the other CoWboys calmly continued their patrol of the grounds.
He slumped. “You're right. You go,” he said, turning his face away from her.
“Come on,” she said laughing. “You shouldn’t pout alone down here.”
He pushed up with his hips and lifted an eyebrow at her gasp. “Does it feel like I’ll be down here pouting?”
Buffy carefully lifted herself up and moved away slowly. “Sorry. Um, yes, you should take a moment here. I’ll check on the gang.”
“Thank you so much,” he said dryly.
“Tonight. I promise. You, me and not a single Scooby within miles.” She cast a guilty look at him, blushing faintly.
When she hesitated at the bottom of the steps, his face softened. “Hurry on. I’ll be up when I’m… er… no longer ‘up,’ as it were.”