Buffy came into the kitchen and stopped short. "Dawn!"
Jumping slightly, her sister turned with a startled, "What!?"
"What are you doing?"
Dawn relaxed into her customary slouch and raised an eyebrow. "Breakfast. Remember? It’s Saturday, so it’s my turn."
"And you chose pancakes for breakfast? Not waffles?"
Without looking up from the batter she stirred, Dawn asked, "Have you talked to anyone about this waffle fetish of yours?"
"It’s not a fetish. I just happen to like waffles is all."
Willow walked in, carrying a book and looking distracted. "Waffles again? I thought you said you were making pancakes this morning."
Dawn looked at her sister pointedly, a single eyebrow raised. "I am making pancakes. Buffy’s just trying to get me to feed her waffle addiction." She dipped a ladle into the batter. "Funny shapes or rounds, Willow?"
She sat down at the table and opened her book. "Rounds, please."
Giving one last, disappointed look at the contents of the bowl, Buffy walked past Dawn to get plates out of the cupboard. "Rounds are good for me, too."
Dawn muttered, "Nobody likes funny shapes anymore."
Giles entered the kitchen in time to hear her complaint and paused to drop a kiss on Buffy’s head before answering. "We like funny shapes. It’s just that after the last time… well… um…"
He looked at Dawn helplessly as his voice trailed off. After a quick glance at his face, Buffy finished what Giles couldn’t. "We don’t need another anatomy lesson."
"It was a mistake!" She presented the perfect picture of outraged innocence.
Willow laughed at her. "Sorry, Dawnie. You were tried and convicted."
"Hmm. I smell pancake goodness." Xander bounced into the kitchen with his customary enthusiasm, pausing briefly to give the griddle a look.
"Xander, you believe me, don’t you?" Dawn poured out two more ladles-full of batter.
"I think my dating record proves I’ll believe anything." He grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl and sat next to Willow. "So what do I believe today?"
Dawn carefully flipped the first pancake before looking back at him over her shoulder. "That my funny shapes last month were an accident."
Xander opened his mouth to answer, then closed it when he caught Buffy’s very direct look. After a moment, he said, "Jury came back with a guilty verdict. Who am I to question the jury’s wisdom?"
Dawn muttered, "Traitor."
"Yes, but I’m a traitor who loves you. Can’t get any better than that, can you?" Xander caught sight of Willow’s book and leaned over for a better look. "Taking another shot at tuning your mojo?"
She didn’t look up from the page she was studying. "Yeah. Sort of. Maybe. Don’t know. Probably not."
Xander looked over at Buffy. "Did we get a Willow-shaped Magic 8 Ball this week? ‘Cause I could have sworn when I sat down that this was the real Willow."
Buffy took the plates to the table and distributed them. "I thought she was the real Willow when she came in, so I’m in the dark, too. You want OJ this morning or grapefruit?"
"Grapefruit." Xander poked at Willow’s ribs, grinning at her small yelp and the glare she directed at him.
"I’ll have orange juice this morning. And a big stick I can use on Xander."
"Now that you’re actually paying attention to the world o’ love around you, what are your plans for the day?" He peeled his banana and took a bite out of the end.
"Meditation. That’s what this book is about. Different techniques and stuff." Willow turned the book slightly, showing him a picture of a woman seated in the middle of a glade. "See? This is what I want to try today."
Xander frowned slightly. "So you’re going into the woods today?"
"What? Oh. No. That’s just a picture. The technique I want to learn means I’m staying right here at Scooby Central. I want to practice getting into a trance when there are distractions around."
Dawn approached the table, carrying a platter filled with pancakes. "Is that a polite way of saying we bother you?"
Willow gave her a cheerful grin. "Yep. But only in the nicest way. What’s everyone else doing?"
"Last week Carrie was complaining about not having a good place for her stethoscope at the school. She says kids kept getting at it and playing doctor." Dropping his banana beside his plate, Xander snagged several pancakes and slathered on the butter and syrup. "I’m going to make a lock box she can keep it in."
"That’s a very nice, boyfriendy kind of thing to do." Buffy smiled at him as she took a pancake.
Giles added another one to her plate, ignoring her objection as he took two for himself. "Buffy mentioned something about the mall. I thought I would drop her off then head to my office. What are your plans, Dawn?"
"Homework’s all done, so my weekend is free. I’m thinking about another nail polish experiment." At the collective groan, she looked around the table. "What?"
Willow entered the living room and placed a pillow on the floor. She settled herself on it and lit a candle for focus. She arranged herself in the classic lotus position and stared at the candle, taking slow, deep breaths. At her third breath, she frowned at the way the flame danced on the wick. She stood up, closed the window then sat down again. After a moment of fidgeting, she settled back into her original position and focused on the flame.
Xander walked into the workshop and placed his notes on the side table. He studied his design for moment and then nodded to himself. Whistling softly, he began to gather his tools.
Giles walked down to the basement and approached the computer with a sigh. He brought it out of standby with a shake of the mouse and sat down to read his messages. He smiled when he saw Percy’s e-mail announcing his safe return to England.
As Willow resumed her deep breathing, she listened to the house. The tick of the clock was a steady rhythm and one of her fingers twitched slightly in time to it. From the kitchen came the muffled noise of a phone being hung up and then the soft sound of Dawn and Buffy talking. She frowned as she tried to tune them out.
Xander frowned at the pile of wood. "I know I had a piece of pine around here somewhere. Now all I have to do is figure out what I did with it." He bent and began rooting through the stack of loose lumber.
"I thought you were going for a nail polish experiment. Why the sudden need to go to Mark’s today? You saw him yesterday." Buffy sounded suspicious.
Dawn countered with a wheedling tone with just a hint of whining to it. "I know, but yesterday, he didn’t have his mom’s permission to loan me her tape. Today, he does, which is why he just called."
Willow opened her eyes briefly as the voices from the kitchen grew louder. She glanced in the general direction of the conversation, then shook her head and tried a low "ohm" to drown out the chatter.
Giles clicked on SEND and then leaned back in his chair. He could hear Buffy and Dawn’s voices drifting down through the basement’s open door. He grinned as he listened to their negotiation.
"That show he likes. You know the one." Dawn had given up on cajolery and switched to enthusiasm.
"The supermodel one?" Buffy’s voice sounded a little more distant than it had.
"No. The makeover one. ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’ "
Willow could still hear the words, but they gradually took on a tinny quality as she dropped more deeply into a trance state. Her fingers continued to twitch in time to the clock’s ticking. She didn’t open her eyes, though, so she didn’t see the blue and green sparks of magic moving lazily around her hands.
"He watches it whenever it’s on. Why does he need a tape?" Buffy sounded like she was talking through a very long tube.
"Ah ha! There you are." Xander picked up the piece of wood and took it over to his workbench and set it down. The salvaged lumber looked old and battered, and two rusty nails were visible on the top surface. After donning his safety glasses, he pulled the nails out with a claw hammer and discarded them. A moment later, he took a small gadget from a drawer and turned it on before running it along the wood.
There was only one high-pitched squeal from the metal detector. The hidden nail was at the rotted end of the wood, so Xander took the piece to his circular saw and positioned it carefully.
Dawn’s voice was raised, and her frustration was evident. "Well, duh! So he can see the one he missed!"
Xander turned the saw on and said with a smile of satisfaction, "Gotta love modern technology."
A flare of energy erupted from Willow’s hands. She clutched them to her chest with a loud yelp of pain.
The chips began to fly as the blade cut into the old lumber. Xander clutched at his face and doubled over with a scream.