Dawn held the phone to one ear while she studied the children watching TV in the other room. "I don't know how to explain why they're weird, they just are. Call me paranoid, but every time they look at me I get this feeling that the minute I turn around they start plotting behind my back."
"Okay, Paranoid, but just because you're overly suspicious doesn't mean that they're not really out to get you. Jane King babysat for them one time and said she'd rather flip burgers forever rather than have to go back."
"I don't know. She wouldn't say. But Carol Turnage told her mom that if she wouldn't make her go back that she wouldn't ask to go to the mall for six months."
"Not even for sales?"
"Nope. Cold turkey."
"Okay. Now I'm positive there's something really weird going on with those two. I was sure that there was no power in the universe that could keep Carol away from a Gap sale."
Mark laughed. "I've never met the monsters, but they sound interesting."
"They sound interesting because you're on the other side of town," Dawn snapped. "Up close and personal they're just weird. And, believe me, weird is one thing I know a lot about."
"You say weird, I say interesting. I mean, just how bizarre are they?"
"Somewhere between 'The Waltons' and 'The X-Files'. They're so polite it's absolutely freaky. Everything is 'please' and 'thank you', and they're watching a tape of CSI and eating carrot sticks. I offered them some M&M’s and a bag of potato chips I snuck over in my backpack and they turned me down. They said they preferred live snacks."
"Just to recap here, your definition of weird is kids who have good manners, aren't watching trash and are eating stuff that's good for them instead of cramming down junk food? Quick! Run for your life! Get out of the house and call the cops!"
"Have I mentioned that sarcasm isn't an attractive trait in a boyfriend?" Dawn switched the phone to her other ear. "I'd better go check on them. They went into the kitchen a minute ago and I can't hear them making noise."
"Probably quietly sharpening a knife so it’ll be gleaming and razor-like while they chase you around."
"Been there, done that, wore the blood-stained sacrificial gown," Dawn said with a yawn. "Talk to you later."
Xander watched the expert billiards player miraculously sink five balls in three separate pockets. He let out an impressed chuckle. "I can do that. Just don't wanna."
Carrie snickered. "You any good at pool?"
"Oh yeah, long time pool shark." He nodded confidently. "Especially with my water wings and rubber ducky."
"Good try but I was referring to the billiards style of pool related activities." Carrie snuggled in closer until Xander draped his arm over the back of the sofa to gently lie along her shoulders. "I could teach you sometime."
"I'd like that but I'm not a good pupil. Total flunky in school, barely graduated. If it weren't for Willow , I'd be repeating grades until retirement."
"You've never had me for a teacher," she said with a smirk.
"That sounds a lot like a challenge." He grinned.
"Only if you make it one. " She slipped her hand over and threaded her fingers through his.
He tensed slightly at the subtle touch. When Carrie didn't make any further moves, he relaxed and focused his attention on the competition. "What's he doing there?"
"A variation of the railroad shot."
"Is he gonna get it?"
"I'm not sure." She stared intently at the screen. "Looks good but if he doesn't get the cue.... oh, see, didn't work out for him. That's too bad. He's already had a lot of things go wrong this year."
"I know the feeling," Xander mumbled. "Maybe he'll sink the next one."
"I hope so. You can never tell how someone is going to deal with disappointment. Sometime instead of trying again they just give up."
Xander turned his head and looked at her. "Are you still talking about the game?"
"No," Carrie replied without ever taking her eyes off the TV.
"Just wanted to be sure." He looked back at the screen. "What's he doing now?"
"I'm not sure." She stroked her thumb along his. "I think it's a version of the double kiss shot."
He turned again to look at her. "Is that something you want to teach me?"
She returned his gaze. "If you want it to learn it from me."
He took a deep breath. "I think you are just the teacher I’ve been looking for," he whispered leaning in and pressing his lips to hers.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather Percy and I remain here this evening?" Giles asked, looping a tie around his neck. He turned away from the dresser mirror and looked at Buffy who was sitting on the edge of his bed cuddling the giant slug.
"No, that's okay." She rubbed her cheek against the plush fur. " Willow wants a girl's night like the ones we used to have and having Pickles here will be fun. She reminds me a lot of Cordelia… except with better hair."
Giles began the complicated process of knotting his tie. "We can easily cancel the reservation."
"Totally not necessary." She watched his long fingers manipulate the thin strip of silk. "Anyway, Percy went to a lot of trouble planning this distraction for the troops. The least you and I can do is go along with it."
He smiled in satisfaction. "I told him that you would figure it out."
She swung one leg absently. "Yeah, it was kinda hard to miss. Remember that night we came back from patrol and found everyone huddled together in the living room. They were just so obvious about being up to something sneaky and underhanded."
Giles grinned. "Really? What was your first clue?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "I think it was when everyone stopped talking, stared at us like they were trapped in the headlights of a big truck and then…."
"Everyone began speaking at the same time, but no one was discussing the same subject?"
"Then they all stopped talked, looked at each other, and started babbling again." Buffy shook her head. "I thought Dawn was going to break Xander's ribs she was elbowing him so hard. You know, I'm not sure if I'm should be happy that they're going to so much trouble or mad that they think we're so stupid."
"I think we should simply chalk this one up to good intentions."
She continued swinging her foot. "I suppose. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm glad Percy decided to stay for a while. Willow and Xander really like him and he's been great for Dawn. He sat on the porch with her the other night and I don't know what they talked about but ever since then she's been a lot happier."
"Percy told me that Dawn reminds him very much of his own daughter when she was the same age." He walked across the room and stood in front of her. "He was most annoyed that Ethan would attempt to use her in such a way."
Buffy stopped swinging her foot. "I hope that's watcher-speak for totally pissed off and ready to help wipe the floor with the weasel if he even thinks about coming within ten feet of Dawn ever again?"
"At the very least," Giles assured her.
Without warning, Giles plucked the slug from her arms and tossed it in the middle of the bed.
"Hey! That's no way to treat Stewart! He's very sensitive."
"So am I," Giles said, kneeling in front of her and resting his hands on the bed on either side of her legs. "And since I'm the one being banished out into the cold, cruel world for the evening I believe the least I deserve is a farewell kiss."
"You're right. You never know what might happen. You could be jumped by a linen napkin… mugged by a crystal salt shaker… assaulted by a china cup." She smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Just remember that while you're out braving the dangers of a four-star restaurant, Willow and I will be here plying your old friend Pickles with ice cream and baby gherkins. I wonder just how much she would be willing to spill for a couple of jars of that relish the Coven makes?"
"All right. Name your price. What will it take for any and all embarrassing stories and information to be kept completely confidential?" Giles asked, sliding hands along the outside of her thighs.
She tightened her arms around his neck, pulling his head down to her. "Let' see," she murmured against his mouth. "I think if you bring back two pieces of raspberry cheesecake, Willow and I can be persuaded to never repeat anything we hear tonight. Although we reserve the right to giggle over it together and I may tease you about it for the next fifty years."
"Only one way to silence a tease," whispered Giles as he kissed her deeply. Buffy moaned and ran her fingers through his hair.
Giles finally pulled away from the kiss. "You smell so good," he said, inhaling deeply and burying his lips in her hair. "Even when you were… gone, I could never get that scent out of my head." He nuzzled her ear. "I never wanted to."
"I don't wear perfume," she protested with a smile.
"I know. It's just you."
Trailing her fingertips through his hair, Buffy massaged the nape of his neck. She watched enthralled at the play of muscles across his shoulders beneath his shirt. It was like petting a live leopard. He was all sleek sinew and tempting warmth.
Pulling them to their feet, she pressed her body against his, shivering with excitement at the heat and intensity in his gaze. "Giles, I love you and these make-out sessions are making me crazy. Dawn's out of the house and Xander's on a date. Maybe we could give the rest of the kids some money and send them to a movie." She pushed in against him and whispered, "You said you could show me something awe inspiring…"
Giles groaned. "Buffy, as tempting as that sounds, I don’t think tonight’s the night." She pouted at him slightly and he grinned wickedly at her. "After all, to be truly awe inspiring, I’ll need more than the few hours we have before Dawn’s back." He laughed as her eyes widened. "And if we don't go downstairs soon at least one of the 'kids' will come up to see why we're late." He leaned down and kissed her with a deep thoroughness that left her gasping for breath. "I'm not sure I'm ready to face the smug expression on Percy's face if he…."
"Catches us making out again?" Buffy gasped, tilting her head to allow Giles better access to the sensitive area below her ear. She ran her hands over his back, tracing the line of his spine. "At least he only grins. Dawn has started patting me on the head and saying we're cute."
"How dare she say such a thing?" he murmured, nuzzling Buffy's throat. "She's evil and must be stopped."
Buffy sighed and closed her eyes. "I wonder how things are going with Cody and Ashley? Maybe I should go over and check on them."
"Later," he suggested.
"Mmmmm," she agreed. "What about Percy?"
His arms tightened around her. "Who?" he asked, covering her mouth his again.
"What on earth is taking Rupert so long?" Percy grumbled, looking at his watch. "How much time could it take for Buffy to help select a tie?"
Willow and Pickles exchanged looks of feminine amusement.
"I saw that." His mouth quirked wryly. "Ah, young love."
Willow giggled. "They're just so cute with the cuddling and the smoochies."
Pickles popped a candied dill strip in her mouth. "If you ask me…"
"Which no one did," Percy interrupted hastily, then closed his eyes waiting for the explosion.
"I wasn't going to say anything indiscreet," she assured him in a perfectly calm voice. "I just wonder why they're not having sex yet? I remember that Rupert always liked sex. A lot."
Willow 's mouth fell open. "You and Giles uh… dated?"
"Certainly not," Pickles said primly. "My mama would've had a conniption fit if I'd ever even mentioned wanting to date a bareskin. Not that she has anything against y'all," she added hastily. "Why some of my very best friends are humans. It's just that you're so…. naked. " Her ears quivered with the force of her feelings. "But Rupert did date a human friend of mine, and let me tell you the things she talked about them doing were enough to make a rabbit blush."
"Thank you so much for sharing that enlightening bit of information." Percy massaged his temples and sighed. "Now could we please change to subject to something other than Rupert's sexual exploits?"
"Do we have to?" Willow whined, sounding a lot like a three-year-old being denied a treat. She grinned at Pickles. "I bet that Giles is all grrrr and argh, but in a really good way."
"You have no idea." Pickles popped a gherkin and crunched happily. "Let me tell about what Cynthia told me about their first date. It seems that it all started because she was wearing a red dress."
Willow leaned forward expectantly.
Percy closed his eyes and groaned.
"Cody! Ashley! C'mon, this isn't funny." Dawn opened the pantry door and looked inside. She'd already made one fruitless sweep of the house and now was going back checking any space small enough for them to hide. "Your mom is going to be really mad if I call her and she has to come home because you're playing some stupid game."
A low growl sounded from outside the room. Dawn took a step, listened and heard the noise again. It was coming from the other side of the wall connecting the kitchen to the den. She flung opened the door. The room was empty.
There was a giggle from the hallway leading to the bedrooms at the back of the house. "That's it. I've had it with both of you! Get your butts back in here right this second or I'm calling your mom."
The sound of laughter floated down the hallway. Suddenly, the lights flickered and died. Dawn stumbled, but caught herself before she fell. "Note to self: Never, ever have children," she said through gritted teeth. "I wonder what Buffy would do if this happened to her?" She stiffened her spine. "Wait a minute, I've faced vampires, demons, a hell god, an apocalypse and an insane Englishman. Just because the kids are weird and the lights have gone out doesn't mean that I should panic."
Suddenly she caught sight of a movement out of the corner of her eye. Something large and slightly phosphorescent skittered along the hallway wall. The glow was so faint, Dawn couldn't tell what it looked like, but she could see that it was headed toward Cody's bedroom. "Okay, panicking now."
She reached in her pocket for her cell phone. "Damn! You'd think I'd see enough horror movies not to leave the phone in the other room." She took a tentative step forward. Something cold, wet and furry brushed against her hand.
Dawn yelped and stumbled backward. Her head thudded painfully against the wall and she slid to the floor with a hard thump. It took a moment for her to catch her breath. When she opened her eyes, she saw two sets of glowing green eyes starting back at her.
Dawn gulped. The creature that had gone down the hall earlier had come back… and brought a friend. She opened her mouth and drew a deep breath, preparing to scream. Before she could make a sound, one of the monsters prodded her with its paw.
"Run!" it ordered in a voice somewhere between a growl and a snarl.
Dawn didn't wait for a second invitation to be issued from that mouthful of gleaming teeth. Scrambling to her feet, she took off down the hall. Behind her should could hear the creatures begin to count, "One, two, three, four…"
"…and that's how a ferret wearing a pink bow ended up in the punch bowl," Pickles said, just as Buffy and Giles walked into the living room.
Buffy looked at Willow who was sitting with her mouth open, and Percy who was slowly shaking his head. "It looks like we missed a good story," she said, turning to Giles.
"No, we didn't." He glared at Pickles. "And he damned well deserved to be turned into a ferret."
"Honey, I'm not saying he didn't." Pickles picked up her glass and took a sip of bourbon. "It was where you put the ribbon that caused the fuss."
Buffy looked around the room. "Someone care to explain the joke to the nice Slayer?"
"NO!" Two English voices said together while Pickles smiled smugly.
Percy surged to his feet and grabbed Giles by the arm. "My friend, now would be an excellent time to follow the advice given by our great and glorious King Arthur."
Giles thought for a moment and then grinned. "Run away! Run away!"