"I don't believe it!" Giles broke into a wide smile and held out his arms. With a happy squeal, the rabbit threw herself into his embrace. He returned her affectionate hug, bending his head to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. "How wonderful to see you."
"Darlin', you just get more and more handsome each and every time I see you," she said in rich Southern drawl, patting him on the chest.
"What am I… chopped Mazar liver?" Percy asked, surveying the scene with a pretend frown.
The rabbit giggled and took a step back from Giles. "Goodness gracious me, you can't for one single minute think any woman could ever overlook you."
Percy kissed the backs of both paws and then brushed his lips across her cheek. "You look absolutely ravishing… as always. And your hat is extraordinary."
"This old thing?" She touched the brim of her hat. "Why I've had it since Methuselah was in diapers."
Willow leaned in closer to Buffy. "I'm not just imagining things, am I? You can see and hear her too?"
"See the who saying what?" Buffy asked, raising an eyebrow in perfect imitation of Giles. When Willow 's eyes began to widen in panic, she grinned. "Don't worry, Will, there actually is a fluffy, white, Scarlet O'Hara wanna-be flirting with Giles and Percy."
Willow sighed and relaxed. "For a minute I thought I was dreaming. I'm comfortable with dreams about girls and guys, but I'm totally not ready to move on to interspecies fantasies. I know that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I don't even want to consider what a five and a half-foot rabbit could be."
Buffy frowned. "I'd be more concerned about her fashion sense than her species. Where do you think she found that hat?"
Willow tilted her head to one side. "I don't know. I kind of like it. I wonder if you can get one without ear holes?"
Buffy folded her arms. "A hat like that should only be worn with real fur. The kind you grow yourself," she declared firmly.
Giles looked to where Buffy and Willow were standing giggling at each other and motioned them over. "Come say hello to one of my oldest and dearest friends."
"Oldest?" The rabbit repeated with a pout, slapping him lightly on the arm. "Rupert! You know better than to mention a lady's age."
Willow and Buffy edged forward slowly, trying to get their giggles under control. When she was close enough, Giles wrapped his arm around Buffy's waist, pulling her to his side. "This is Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg." He looked from one girl to the other. "I'd like for you to meet Pamela Smythe-Biddle."
Buffy cuddled closer to Giles. Trying to hold back her laughter, she smiled politely. "Nice to meet you, Pamela."
"Call me Pickles," the rabbit instructed, looking Buffy over from head to toe. "Why you're just the cutest little ol' Slayer I've ever did see." She turned her head and focused bright blue gaze on Willow . "And a precious little red-headed witch, too." She smiled brightly, exhibiting dazzling white teeth with a slight overbite. "Girls, I can tell already that we're going to be just the very best friends in the whole wide world." Her nose twitched as she reached over and pinched Buffy on the cheek.
Buffy's mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. Suddenly, she grabbed Giles' arm and pulled. "I just remember that there's something in the kitchen that you need to see." She gave him a stern look. "Right now."
Dawn stopped on the sidewalk in front of Monica Wilson's house and pulled out her cell phone. Flipping it open, she punched the first button on the speed dial and listened to the electronic rings.
"Hi." In the background Dawn could hear the sound from a TV show being quickly muted. "So how are Ms. Wilson's little monsters?"
Dawn shrugged. "I don't know yet. I'm in total procrastination mode just standing on the sidewalk, staring at the house."
"Wow." She could hear the grin in Mark's voice. "A cute girlfriend who's polysyllabic. I just died and went to geek heaven."
"If you think that's something you should hear what I can do with verb conjugation," Dawn purred.
There was dead silence and then Mark gulped.
Dawn giggled. "Guys are so easy."
"What did you expect?" he asked. "I'm a hormonal teenager. I'm supposed to be easy. It's in the owner's manual."
Dawn giggled again. "More like a pamphlet."
"Cute. Real cute."
"Yeah, you said that earlier," she replied smugly.
Mark laughed. "Not that I don't enjoy good phone flirt, but if it takes you longer than sixty seconds to get from where you are to Ms. Wilson's front door then you're going to be late."
Dawn looked at her watch and then started up the sidewalk. "Yeah, I guess I'd better get to work. "
"Call me if you need help with the monsters."
"Thanks." Dawn went up the steps and rang the doorbell. "Enjoy the rest of 'Queer Eye'."
There was another silence. "I'm taping it for my mother!" Mark protested.
"Stick with that story," Dawn advised. "Talk to you later."
Xander stopped in front of the door, tugged on his tie and brushed the wrinkles out of his suit. He smoothed his fingers across his carefully combed hair, straightened his eye patch, then breathed into his cupped hand and gave a quick sniff. "Minty fresh," he muttered before squaring his shoulders and giving a few knocks on the door. In response, footsteps sounded from inside the house and seconds later the door swung open.
"Your chariot awaits m'lady." Xander stretched out his hand and bowed graciously.
"My, don't you look handsome," Carrie said playfully, clearly enjoying the sight of a formally dressed Xander.
"Yes... yes I do." He nodded confidently. "And you look..." He glanced over her faded jeans and oversized sweatshirt. "...comfortable, in a laid back and relaxed kinda un-formal, formal way."
Carrie stepped back slightly from the door. "I know you wanted to do the whole expensive dinner and dancing thing and I really appreciate that, I do. And I appreciate the promise to avoid the escargot of all sizes too. But I'm really in more of a beer and pretzels mood tonight."
"Okay," Xander said slowly. "We can skip the snobbish experience and go for the stale pretzels and overpriced hops and barley of the Slamdunk."
"Actually," Carrie drawled, "I had something else in mind." She slipped her fingers around his tie and tugged him inside. He fumbled over his feet, barely managing to trip his way in as she closed the door behind.
She continued to pull him through the house, confidentially tugging him around a chair and twisting the tie to lead him quickly through the hall. At the end of the corridor he could see an open door leading into her bedroom. He skidded to a halt at the sight of the bed covered with a brightly colored quilt. "C-Carrie? Um... I-I really do like you. You're an incredible w-woman..." He rolled his eyes at his apparent channeling of Giles. "And someday, someday really soon too, but still someday that’s not today, I hope I'll be ready for a step like this but I don't think it’s today."
Carrie stopped and looked back at him in surprise. "What do you mean you're not ready?"
Xander rocked back and forth on his heels. "I really care for you, Carrie. But with my history and all, I don't want to rush into things. I don't think I'm ready for..." His voice trailed away as she walked through the side door into a living room furnished with a table buried under heaps of snack foods, pop and beer. "What exactly am I not ready for?"
"There's a billiards championship on ESPN tonight. I thought we could make it a tailgate party, only minus the tailgate and the football and just you and me and my 40 inch flat screen."
Carrie crossed her arms. "But I don't want to rush you into things. If you're not ready for such a big step as sharing mass quantities of heavily salted snack foods and watching professional pool sharks at their best, I'll understand."
"You know what?" Xander raised his finger in thought. "On second thought, I think I can meet the level of commitment needed for such a circumstance."
"You do realize you just used the 'c' word, don't you?"
Xander followed Carrie into the living room. "Circumstance? Fine then, would you prefer scenario? Or situation? Or..."
Carrie grabbed a donut and stuffed it in Xander's mouth. "I just can't resist the strong, silent type."
Buffy shut the kitchen door and contemplated Giles with a determined glint in her eye. "Two things. First, if she pinches me again I'm turning her into rabbit stew no matter whose old friend she is."
Giles laughed and pulled her hard against him, putting his mouth very close to hers. "That's not very nice. I don't threaten to eat your friends."
Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a quick kiss. "Like that would be a threat."
Giles snorted. "And the second thing?"
"How did she know about me and about Willow ? Did the Council send out 'It's A Slayer' announcements to the Easter Bunny?"
He looked surprised. "How did you know that she's the Easter Bunny?"
It took her at least two beats to process that information. "It was a joke, Giles. See a well-rounded Slayer is humorous and witty as well as stylish and trendy." She stepped back and shook a finger at him. "And of course a big white rabbit equals Easter Bunny. Or something out of Alice in Wonderland, but she wasn’t a he going on about being late." She rubbed her temples and frowned slightly. "She really is… you mean the real McCoy… She’s the Easter Bunny with colored eggs and chocolates and Peeps and everything?"
"Marshmallow candy that comes in different shapes," Buffy explained. "I'm a purist so I prefer the yellow ones that look like baby chickens."
"They sound absolutely nauseating," he said with a grimace.
"I don't eat them," Buffy huffed. "Dawn and I like to nuke them in the microwave and watch them get puffy and explode."
Giles shook his head. "Putting that disturbing image aside permanently and returning to the original question, Pickles is indeed the Easter Bunny. Or, to be more accurate, she's one Easter Bunny."
"How many are there?" Buffy asked curiously, stepping forward again to rest against his chest.
Giles wrapped her arms around her. "I'm not sure. It's a family business and since rabbits tend to be rather prolific…"
"…aside from her parents there are all sorts of aunts, uncles and cousins."
"I just know I'm going to regret asking this," Buffy said with a sigh, snuggling closer but tilting back her head so she could she his face. "How on earth did you meet a southern belle Easter Bunny called Pickles?"
Giles grinned like a shark that had just spotted a swimmer. "She's married to a Watcher."