Willow hung up the phone and turned to her waiting friends. “Okay, things are getting really weird and I don't know what to do.”
“What did Percy say? Is something wrong?” Dawn spoke in frantic rush. “Are Buffy and Giles in trouble?”
“I don't know, Dawnie.” Willow spread out her hands. “Percy says reports are coming in from all around the world that their Slayers are collapsing into apparent comas, the same kind that Buffy's in. Not all of them, but lots of them.” She shook her head. “Percy also said that he and some of the other Watchers are feeling strange too or are having short blackouts. Plus the seers say the energy disturbances are getting worse.”
“What can we do?” asked Xander.
“I need to talk to Giles,” said Willow, standing and heading for the steps.
“No!” shouted Dawn, jumping to her feet. “Giles said it could kill them.”
“Will,” pleaded Xander, “Giles was really clear about staying out. Please, just give him time.”
Willow stared upwards for a long moment before turning and coming back to sit next to them. “I'll give them another couple of hours and then I'm going in.”
Xander gave her a hug. “It will be okay.”
“I wish people would just stop saying that.”
The cemetery gradually gave away to the desert sands. They stopped on the edge of one hill and looked out across the dry expanse. “Crap,” complained Buffy. “I'm getting really tired of hot sand.”
Giles looked around curiously. “I started here.” Off her confused look, he elaborated, “When I activated the spell, I found myself here.”
“Oh. I guess I sort of started here as well. In the big picture sort of way.”
“What do you mean?”
“You must fight him.” Sineya approached from behind them. “He poisoned you.”
“That's what I mean.” Buffy turned and glared at her. “Look, I'm tired of this. Giles and I are way past that, why aren't you?”
Sineya pointed at Giles. “He's from them. He's of them.” She cocked her head and pointed at Buffy. “You're from me. Of me.” She waved towards the horizon. “You showed me. You must fight them.”
Buffy turned and spoke causally. “You know, Giles, I'm beginning to think it's not just our issues that need to be worked on here. Our friend here is in desperate need of some major therapy.”
“Actually, I think you're quite literally right. Percy told me that they knew what spell Ethan had used because one of the Council seers had detected a disturbance in the Slayer energy they were tracking.”
“Slayer energy? Tracking?” Buffy frowned and she sounded suspicious. “You've got people spying on me? On the other slayers?”
“Not at all, Buffy,” he said quickly, hand upraised. “As you know, the Council has always tried to identify all the Potentials around the world. The Potentials had, hmm, 'energy signatures,' you might say. You'll remember we found Amanda from Willow's spell?” He waited until Buffy nodded. “When we converted them into Slayers, the energy signatures changed. The Council's been monitoring that energy the best they can to try to understand what will happen in the future, trying to understand, for example, if new Potentials or new Slayers are appearing.”
“Like Tara used to see auras?”
“In a sense, yes, although on a grander scale.”
“So what did they see?” Buffy asked, while gesturing to Sineya to be patient.
“The energies became quite chaotic.”
“Ethan.” Buffy practically spit out the name.
“Perhaps. But it seems to be a bit more then just his chaos magic coming into play. Given what we've seen and what you've told me, I think when Ethan activated this Slayer acceptance spell on you, he inadvertently activated it on the Slayer line.”
“So all the Slayers need therapy?” Buffy looked at him horrified. “Do you have any idea how long that's going to take? We'll be in here forever.” She shook her head and backed away. “No. No way, Giles. I can't play shrink for a few thousand years of messed up Slayers.”
Sineya circled them snarling. She waved a stake at Giles. “Fight him.”
Giles stepped away from her slowly. “Well, perhaps we could start by assuring her there is no need to fight me? In fact, you could remind her that she's already killed me once in our dreams and there is no need to be repetitious.”
“I don't know, right now I'm pretty mad myself.” Buffy paused thoughtfully. “Giles, do you know how much control I have of this dream? Can I, like, do things or make things here?”
Giles continued to watch Sineya warily. “I don't know. I would rather expect you could change at least some things. Therapy doesn't work if it is static.”
Buffy nodded and closed her eyes. With a look of deep concentration she spoke clearly, “I want all the Slayers who are currently in my head to be here.” She opened her eyes and ordered, “Now!” The desert was abruptly filled with women who immediately began point and shout at them. Buffy stepped back nervously. “Um, Giles, I think that kinda worked too well.”
“But you're on the right track here,” Giles said excitedly. “Keep going. Can you establish some order, some discipline?”
Buffy frowned. “They have issues with being Slayers right? So I think we need some Watchers to deal with this.” She took a deep breath and yelled, “Travers!”
“Really, Miss Summers, must you shout?” The disapproving voice came from behind and she whirled around. “Rupert, you should teach her better manners.”
“Buffy's just fine the way she is, Quentin.” Giles stepped forward threateningly. “And if you weren't dead, I'd teach you some respect.”
Sineya stepped forward and sniffed at Travers. “Fight him” she said, pointing. The women behind them shouted their approval.
Buffy grinned. “I think you better be careful, Quentin. Didn't I warn you before about a cranky Slayer?” She gestured at the crowd. “What about a few thousand cranky Slayers?”
Travers looked disdainfully at mass of women. “Miss Summers, I don't know what you've done here, but I certainly don't approve.”
Buffy laughed. “I think I could have guessed that.” She turned to Giles. “Giles, I think Travers has issues. You did, so I bet other Watchers do too. This spell seems to have us all in it together. What do you think?”
Giles grinned back at her. “I think you may want to see if there are any other Watchers who can give Travers a hand here.”
Buffy nodded and closed her eyes again. “Okay,” she yelled, “all you Watchers in my head, get your tweed-covered butts out here!”
She opened her eyes at the indignant voice behind her. “I never wore tweed, Miss Summers.”
“Wesley!” Buffy grinned. “No, you were a pretty sharp dresser even if you were completely incompetent. So you're here too? Who else?” She peered behind him. “Hmmm. Giles, it looks like a lot of Watchers may have had issues.” A sea of men, with a few women scattered throughout stood behind them. Her face tightened briefly as she spotted Merrick a few rows back, engaged in an animated conversation with another man.
“Buffy!” She turned her head at Giles' yell. She saw Sineya diving on one of the Shadowmen, snarling incomprehensibly. Buffy started to rush forward and then stopped as other young women surged around behind her and started yelling at, and in some cases, beating the Watchers behind her.
“Enough!” she yelled and then closed her eyes. “Time to learn acceptance.” She opened them to see everyone settled into seats in the classroom. The rows seemed to go on forever, but every face was distinct. In the front row to her left were Sineya, Faith, Kendra and many of the Potentials and Slayers from Sunnydale. Countless girls and young women settled in behind them. On her right sat Travers and several of his assistants, as well as Percy, Wes, Robin Wood and the trio of Shadowmen. Behind them sat a crowd of older faces, mostly male.
Giles stood beside her, next to a small projector. “Well,” he finally said, breaking the silence. “That was, hmm, impressive.”
Buffy stared wide-eyed at the crowd in front of her.
“Well, Miss Summers?” Travers demanded. “You called this meeting. Would you be so kind to explain why we are all here?”
“Isn't that the fundamental question that has been tormenting man for centuries?” Ethan laughed as he appeared in a doorway near the Slayers. “I don't really know if we can find an answer to it now.”
Buffy rushed over and grabbed him by the throat. She tried to lift him against the wall and he laughed as she struggled. “Sorry, you're not the Slayer any more.”
“Yes she is.” The certainty in Giles' voice caused them both to look at him in surprise.
“She couldn't command them if she weren’t.” He gestured at the crowded classroom. “She wouldn't be moving through this spell if she wasn’t.” He approached Buffy and gently removed her hand from Ethan's throat. “Buffy, being strong isn't what makes you a Slayer. It's something else, and that's still inside you. He may have your strength, but you're still the Slayer… you’re still my Slayer.”
“How do you always know how to say the right thing?” Buffy smiled widely at him, her eyes bright. “You're right. But you do know, right, that when I get out of here, I'm going to track his sorry butt down and take my powers back.”
“I would expect nothing less.” Giles smiled back at her. “Ignore him for now, and let's get this mess sorted out.” They turned away from Ethan, who slowly faded out of sight, and made their way back to the front of the classroom. Faith stopped Buffy as she went by.
“You know, I'm not sure why I'm here, B, although it is all kinda funny.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I like being a Slayer. Always have. Sure, I've got some major probs with guys in suits giving me orders when they don't know what the hell is really going down in my world, but being a Slayer? That's five by five.”
“Maybe it's your issues with the Council that has you here, Faith.”
“Hmmm…” said Faith thoughtfully studying Giles as he moved over to talk to Travers and some of the other Watchers.
“There's just something about those Watchers, you know? The good ones, I mean.”
Buffy turned to look at Giles and the others and frowned thoughtfully. “What are you talking about?”
“I'm talking about you and G. I'm talking about me and Robin. Hell, me and Wes.”
Buffy looked at her shocked. “You and Wesley?!”
“Whoa, take it easy!” Faith laughed. “Nothing happened, but you know, there was always this sorta wondering about it, you know.”
“Hey, he dirtied up pretty good, B, when he left Sunnyhell. It's sorta weird to see him back in prissy mode actually. You would have been impressed with him up in LA. In the end, he was doing what needed to be done.”
Buffy blinked and looked back at Wesley thoughtfully. He looked up at her and nodded his head formally. She shrugged and turned back to Faith. “If you say so.”
“Oh, trust me on this one. There's just something about these guys that we respond to.”
Buffy looked insulted. “Are you saying I love Giles because he's my Watcher and it's like my duty or something? You think Robin's got some weird sorta hold over you?”
“Take it easy, B!” Faith grinned. “You ever get hot for Travers?”
“Good god, no!”
“Then relax. It ain't just the Watcher/Slayer mojo. It's more than that. But that's part of it, because it's who they are, it's who we are. Personally, I think it's pretty cool.”
Buffy turned and looked back again at Giles. He turned, saw her staring and smiled. She smiled back. “I think you're right.” She glanced at Faith. “Any suggestions about where to go from here?”
“Sorry, B, but like I said, it's all about you.”
Buffy nodded thoughtfully and began walking back to the center of the classroom. “Giles!” she called out. He turned. “Give me your speech.”
He frowned. “What speech?”
“Your favorite speech, the one girl speech, you know what I mean. Give it to us.”
He looked confused. “Why? You always hated that speech and anyway,” he said, gesturing the sea of Slayers, “it's not exactly accurate now.”
“I know.” She grinned at him. “But give it to me one more time anyway. Make sure you say it like you mean it.”
He shook his head, an amused expression on his face and began.
“Into every generation, a Slayer is born…”
“Louder, Giles. Let them hear you.”
Giles studied her face for a moment then nodded seriously and turned to face the crowd. His voice carried across the vast audience, and each Slayer and Watcher grew silent as he spoke with all the passion of his belief. “Into every generation, a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world. She alone will have the strength and skill to fight the vampires, the demons and the forces of evil.” He turned and looked at Buffy grinning at him. “She is the Slayer.”
Buffy nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Giles.” She turned to the crowd. “Let me rewrite that little speech now.”
“Thousands and thousands of years ago, demons dominated this earth. A bunch of old men needed a weapon to fight them, so they captured a demon and put part of it into an innocent young girl. And so into that generation, a Slayer was created.” Buffy looked at the Shadowmen shifting uneasily in their seats. “And the old men watched as she fought and died and her powers moved to another girl who fought and died.”
“And it became institutionalized,” Giles said bitterly. “Routine.”
Travers stood. “The Council fights evil, and the Slayer is the instrument by which we fight. Slayers change, the Council remains.” He pointed at Giles and continued smugly, “For all your flaws, Rupert, in the end you were the perfect Watcher. You got your Slayer killed in the line of duty.”
Giles winced. He opened his mouth to respond but Percy forcefully pulled Travers back into his seat.
“Sit down, Quentin,” Percy said sharply. “Let them speak.”
Buffy pointedly ignored Travers. “Giles is right. It became routine. One Slayer dies, the next one's called.” She looked at him with a sad smile. “Mostly those girls were alone. But sometimes one of the men broke free of the traditions and offered the girl a life. Gave her a chance to see what she was fighting for.”
Buffy walked over to projector and flipped it on. She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them to a dark room. “This is who we're fighting for.”
Image after image flicked by on the movie screen, each image larger than life and dominating the room. Joyce and Dawn making cookies. Willow and Tara kissing. Xander and Jessie as young boys with goofy grins in a sandbox. The images came faster. High schoolers at a dance, women shopping, men cheering at a football game. Visions of food and flowers and fine art rushed by. The sound of music filled the hall. “This is what we're fighting for. But we don't fight alone any more.”
The images changed. Anya rushing into battle, Oz thrusting a stake, Cordelia striking at a vampire. Faces and headstones intermixed. Jenny. Tara. Lessa. Injured people and doctors working frantically.
Buffy closed her eyes and the images changed to show Giles confronting a young Buffy in a white dress. “Buffy, I am not going to send you out there to die. I don't care what the books say. I defy prophecy and I'm going.”
The young girl nodded. “I know,” she said as the image merged into a battle scene. The Hellmouth monster roared as Giles charged in, sword raised high. As he hacked at the snapping mouth, the image faded to show Willow, Xander, and Giles sitting cross-legged in a circle, tarot cards in front of them. They spoke in turn: “spirit,” “heart,” “mind.”
“Hand,” said Giles from across the room, nodding at Buffy. She blinked at him and pursed her lips. Above them, the screen froze on a shot of Giles lying bleeding on a table, Buffy holding his hand.
“I'm sorry,” whispered the girl on the screen as Buffy mouthed it silently across the room at him. He shook his head at her and mouthed back, “I love you.”
Buffy smiled at him. “We aren't alone any more.” She turned to the crowd. “Nor do we serve the Council. We serve the world.”
Percy stood. “And the Council serves you.”
Buffy nodded at him and opened her mouth to speak again, but stopped as the audience started whispering urgently and pointing at the screen. She frowned and turned to see the screen showing Giles bending over a body. The view shifted and Buffy gasped.
Towering above her on the screen, Ben lay writhing on the ground. “Can you move?” the image of Giles asked.
“Need a minute,” Ben gasped. “She could have killed me.”
“No. She couldn't. She's a hero, you see. She's not like us.”
Giles clamped his hand over Ben's mouth. He waited calmly and patiently until Ben stopped struggling. The screen faded to display a headstone.
He Watched A Lot.'
The crowd grew quiet as Buffy turned to stare at the Watcher. “Giles?”
He ducked his head and closed his eyes briefly as Buffy waited. In the silence they heard Faith curse softly, “Damn, G, I knew you had some dark in you,” and a shocked, “Mr. Giles?!” come from Wesley.
Giles took a deep breath, then looked Buffy steadily. “I'm sorry, Buffy, but I had to do it. Glory would have come back and killed you, killed all of us.” He paused, clearly searching for words, before finally shrugging. “I told you before that I've sworn to protect this sorry world and sometimes that means saying or doing what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to.” He stepped towards her. “Sometimes I do what you can't or shouldn't have to do.” He took her hand. “I serve you.”
Sineya stood and pointed at the screen. “Killer!” she cried. “Betrayer!”
Buffy looked up at the screen and saw Giles towering over her, syringe in his hand. He knelt down, reaching for a younger Buffy's arm. He slowly inserted the point of the needle into her skin and pushed the plunger.
The crowd behind them hissed as the image faded again to the headstone.
He Watched A Lot.'
“Buffy…” Giles started.
“It's okay, Giles,” she said firmly. “We've gone beyond that. This is not from me.” She looked out at the crowd. “Will whoever is pulling this out of their trauma stop showing that headstone? It's giving me a major wiggins. Giles is not dead and is not going to die anytime soon, thank you very much.”
Sineya stepped towards them and gestured angrily, holding a needle filled with a pale yellow-brown liquid. Her mouth opened and the voice rang out clear and strong from the shadows in the back of the room. “He poisoned you, as I was poisoned. How can you trust him? How can you love him?”
Tara walked slowly down the classroom's aisle. Her voice reflected Sineya's anger as the Slayer pointed at the Shadowmen. “They made me of evil. They forged me in pain and betrayal. You fought them.” Sineya pointed at Giles. “Fight him!” said Tara.
Buffy shook her head. She continued to hold Giles' hand as she turned to face the First Slayer. “I will not fight him. I fight with him and we serve the world.”
Percy stepped forward. “And the Council will serve you.” He turned to Sineya. “There will be no more poisonings. I promise.”
“I say, this has gone on quite long enough.” Travers stood. “I am not going to sit here any longer, being abused and second guessed by this, this…” he looked Sineya up and down and waved his hand dismissively, “…this creature. We're leaving.” The Shadowmen stood up next to him and the four men turned towards the door.
“No!” cried Tara as Sineya charged forward, the needle held high like a stake. She grabbed the back of Travers' jacket and spun him around. He raised his hands defensively.
“Don't!” yelled Buffy. “You'll kill him with that!”
Percy grabbed Sineya's hand and twisted her to face him. “No!” he ordered as Travers collapsed on the floor beside them. She stared at him. “No,” he said more softly. “No more poisonings.”
“They must pay,” Sineya hissed.
“Then poison me.” Percy gently pulled Sineya's hand down, so the needle's tip rested over his heart. “I represent the Council now. If someone must pay, then it should be me.” He stared intently into her eyes. “I serve you and if this is what you require, then I offer myself to you.”
The room was silent and still as the Council Head and the First Slayer locked eyes. Their joined hands trembled slightly as they clasped the needle together.
“You are full of love.” The whisper cut the silence like a knife. All eyes turned to Buffy. She squeezed Giles' hand once and then released it, stepping forward and focusing totally on Sineya. “Being the Slayer doesn't mean losing your humanity. It means embracing it.” She moved closer. “I am full of love now. I love Giles. I love my family and my friends. I love the world. I love life.” She stood in front of Sineya and held out her hand. “And while I didn't choose to be a Slayer before, I choose it now. I know what evil is out there and I cannot walk away.” Her voice carried across the room as she continued, “I choose to fight for this world. I choose to fight for this life.”
Sineya raised her head slightly. She looked over Buffy's shoulder.
Giles took a step forward. “I love Buffy and I will fight for this world and this life. I choose to serve her.”
“I'm with B about kicking some evil ass.” Faith stood up and twirled a stake casually in her hand. “I choose to be a Slayer. I don't know about being full of love, but I do love this fight.”
“And I love and serve her.” Robin Wood stood.
Kendra rose beside Faith. “Slaying is not a job. It is who I am.”
“I…” Wesley stuttered slightly as he stood, “I want to help.” Travers tugged at his pant leg and he stepped away and spoke more confidently. “Tell me how I can serve.”
Watcher after Watcher stood, promising to serve as Slayers rose one at a time and then in groups, pledging to serve the world, choosing to fight. Finally, almost every person in the room was standing, staring down at the small group in front.
Percy looked again at Sineya. “I serve the Slayers.”
Sineya looked around the room again and then down at Travers at her feet and the Shadowmen standing at the door. She stared for a long moment at Buffy and then returned her eyes to Percy. She nodded. “Serve the world,” she agreed harshly. She dropped the needle and crushed into under her heel. She turned to the Shadowmen and snarled. “No longer alone.”
Percy took a deep breath, looking greatly relieved. “No longer alone,” he repeated. He walked quickly forward to the front of the classroom, acknowledging both Buffy and Giles as he passed with a grateful smile and quick nod. He turned to face the crowd.
“I wish none of us had to face this battle, but the evil is there in the world and it is strong and it is real. If we do not fight it, innocents will die. I cannot walk away.” He paused and looked at the few people still sitting on both sides of the classroom. “But I will not force or blame those who are unwilling to accept this burden. If a Slayer today chooses not to fight, then I will not force them into battle. I pledge to you that Slayers will always have a choice about their lives.” He smiled as he looked over to see Giles move to embrace Buffy from behind. “And I pledge that Slayers will have lives worth fighting for.”
He turned to face the other side of the room. “If you Watchers cannot commit your lives to serving the Slayers who protect the world, then you are no longer members of the Council.” He continued firmly, “They will not stand alone.” He fixed Travers with a glare. “Agreed?”
Travers stood up and brushed himself off. He nodded. “Your terms are acceptable.” He turned to Sineya, bowed slightly and spoke sincerely. “The Slayers fights evil, and the Council is but an instrument in their fight.”
Buffy and Giles stood alone looking around the empty classroom.
“Um, yes. Wow indeed.” Giles looked around. “You were amazing.”
“You weren't too bad yourself, Watcher-mine.”
“Well, I'm glad Percy was here. To be frank, I didn't think Quentin had it in him to step back like that.”
“Yeah, but I couldn't see him not being a Watcher either, so when given a choice which was no choice…”
“You do like to do that to him, don't you?” Giles noted with a smile.
“Yup, always a good time.” Buffy looked around. “So, I'm thinking everything is all accepty now, so why aren't we home yet?”
“I don't know. Let's go outside and see if there is anything or anyone else waiting for us.”
They exited the classroom and found themselves in the courtyard in front of Giles' old apartment. Buffy smiled happily. “Giles, I think it's okay, I think we're going home.”
“What do you mean?”
“This was always home for me. Sometimes more than my house. Well, except that time when Olivia was here, but we're never going to speak of that again.”
They tried the door and found it unlocked but when they walked in the room was empty. Buffy looked disappointed. “That's not right. It should be like when you lived here, all Gilesy with weird artifacts and lots and lots of books and the smell of tea and…” She stopped when she saw him smiling at her. “Well, it should.”
“You've given that a lot of thought, haven't you?” Giles asked tenderly. “I didn't know the place mattered that much.”
“Of course it did! Some of our best moments as well as our worst happened here.” She walked into the middle of the empty space. “This was our place, all of us.”
“Yes, well you lot did seem to take it over on a regular basis,” Giles said with a grin. “But yes, I miss it too.”
Buffy turned and looked up the steps. “Oh, something's left!” She pointed to the bed in the loft. She grinned at Giles. “Don't tell me that's not significant.”
He shook his head. “I don't know if it's from your mind or mine, but I think that most likely we're on the same wavelength.” He held out his hand. “Shall we?”
Buffy smiled happily and walked with him up the steps. They stood beside the bed for a long moment and then Buffy laughed. “This is silly. Come on, let's lie down.”
Giles nodded and they clambered onto the bed together. Buffy slid to one side and then shifted so Giles could slip his arm under her shoulders. She tucked her head under his chin as he gathered her in more closely and kissed the top of her head.
“This is nice.”
“Yes, it is.”
“But I'm still waiting for that special night you promised me. This Saturday right?
“Actually, I think today is Saturday. Or it may be Sunday by now, I'm not sure.”
“I missed our special night? That is SO not fair!”
“I'll make it up to you, promise. Next Saturday will be our night. Alright?”
“Okay.” Buffy snuggled in closer and spoke quietly. “Giles, you said this spell was to help me to accept my destiny?”
He nodded, looking uncertain.
“Before you found me, I was seeing it all again, but it was so mixed up, so strange. That weird Cheeseman, Angel, Ethan, the First Slayer, and then the Master and Travers and the Mom and...” She stopped and gestured weakly with her hand around the room. “All of it was there, everything all mixed up and I kept thinking, this is my life? This is my destiny?”
“Giles, wait. It's okay. I mean it wasn't okay, and there are going to be times later when it's not going to be okay, but it really is okay.” She sighed. “I'm too tired to think and I don't know what to say.” She took his hand and squeezed it before snuggling in next to his chest again. “Giles, it's just that, I'm not alone in my destiny. I never really was, but now I finally see that.” She closed her eyes and yawned. “You're here with me and we'll be okay. The origins of it all don't matter, just our future together.”
Giles held her until he too drifted off to sleep.
“That was Percy again,” Willow said. “He says that we should give Buffy and Giles 'his compliments' and reaffirm that he really is 'at their service' anytime.” She shook her head. “He sounded kinda weird and a lot more stuffy British guy than usual.”
“So can we go in?” Dawn asked nervously. “Does that mean it's over and they're okay?”
Willow frowned uncertainly. “Percy said the Slayer energy was back to normal. Well, actually, looking stronger then ever. He said the Slayers were waking up and that everything would be fine. He actually sounded surprised that Buffy wasn't out of it yet, but that we shouldn't worry.”
“I want to go in.”
“Dawn, you know Giles said it was dangerous,” Xander said soothingly. “If Percy says it's okay, let's just wait a little longer.”
“No, I need to see!” Dawn started up the steps.
Xander grabbed her arm. “Please, Dawn, wait.” He took a deep breath. “Look, Giles said that your magic's had been tainted by Ethan and you might disrupt the spell. And Willow here just reeks of magic… no offense, Will... but you both know I'm about as magical as a week old McDonald's french fry that you find under the front seat of the car.” He waited until they nodded. “So I'll take a peek. Then we'll decide what to do. Okay?”
Both women nodded reluctantly and Xander turned and headed up the steps. He stood outside the door and listened for a long moment. He finally reached for the doorknob and turned it slowly. Cracking it open, he peered inside to see Giles and Buffy curled up together on the bed. They appeared to be sleeping normally. He looked around the room. The candles had gone out.
He stepped inside the room, closing the door behind him. “How you guys doing?” he whispered. There was no answer. He stood staring at the motionless couple for several minutes before adding quietly, “Please come back to us. We need you.”
He studied again the room and the still figures on the bed. He frowned as he heard voices in the hallway growing steadily louder. Closing his eyes, Xander rested his head against the door, listening.
“Please. I won't go inside the room or anything. Just open the door and let me peek in for just a second.” Dawn's voice broke on a sob. “I just need to see them.”
“I know. But we can't.” Willow sounded tense. “What if your energy or my magic undid all the good stuff that Giles has already done? We know the other Slayers are back. We just have to wait for Buffy and Giles to wake up too.”
“But what if they don't,” Dawn wailed. “We've got to do something!”
“I don't think patience is ever going to be one of her strong points,” Buffy said with a sigh.
Xander's eyes snapped open. Buffy and Giles were looking at each other and smiling.
“I wonder where she might have come by that particular character trait,” Giles asked. Shifting his weight stiffly, he pulled himself up into a sitting position then drew Buffy up into his arms.
“You're awake,” Xander said in a wondering tone.
Buffy looked over and smiled softly. “Hey, Xand.”
He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Hey, Buffy.”
“Buffy?!” Dawn's voice filtered through the closed door. “Xander, let us in!” She pounded on the door. “Open up!”
Xander looked at Giles, who nodded permission. He turned and quickly opened the door.
Dawn and Willow hesitated on the threshold for a moment. Buffy raised her hand and waved weakly. “Hi guys.”
“Buffy! Giles!” Dawn's happy shriek echoed off the walls as she hurled herself across the room, onto the bed and into her sister's arms.
Giles was laughing and smiling down at the two when he was jostled by two more bodies hitting the bed.
“You're okay!” Willow said, wrapping her arms around Giles in a fierce hug. She lifted her head to look around in wonder. “I can feel how the magic is settled in the room now. It's all calm and powerful.” She looked down at him, excited. “Cool! But I knew you could do it.”
“I'm glad one of us had confidence in my abilities,” Giles said dryly.
“C'mon G-man, you know you always save the day.” Xander wiggled to make more room between Willow and Dawn. “It must be part of the Watcher job description or something.”
“Or something,” Buffy laughed. “Whatever it is, like always, my Watcher came through for me.”
“Is everything okay?” Dawn demanded. “You've got all your Slayerness back right?”
Buffy glanced quickly at Giles and then pasted on a grin. “Nope, just plain old Buffy for right now, but that's okay. With a little help from my friends, I'm still gonna kick Ethan's ass to hell and back and then back to hell again.”
“Works for me,” Xander said.
“Count me in.” Willow nodded.
“Me too,” Dawn confirmed, then glared at her sister. “And I don't want to hear a word about me being too young either.”
Buffy grinned. “I never realized before just how much you sound like Mom.”
Dawn blinked back tears before breaking into a huge grin.
“If there's going to be another group hug could we please get on with it?” Giles asked. “I could really use a cup of tea.”
“And despite all the resting I've done, I'm surprisingly tired and want a nap. A normal nap please with no one else in my dreams.” Buffy leaned her head against her Watcher's shoulder. “Well, maybe one other person in my dreams…” Smiling, Giles dipped his head and kissed her forehead.
“Okay,” declared Xander. “It's a group hug, tea, a nap and then we go fight evil, right?”
“I think you've got it,” Willow said, grinning.
“This is really dopey,” Dawn said, even as she tightened her grip on Buffy and reached for Xander.
On the other side of the bed, Giles put his free arm around Willow. “Absolutely. Utterly and completely silly.”
“You know…” Xander said, holding onto Willow and Dawn. “…those cheesy chick flicks on those all estrogen channels, the ones that I never watch? They usually end just like this.”
Willow's elbow contacted Xander's rib at approximately the same time Dawn smacked him on the back of the head, and all five burst into laughter as they continued to hold each other tight.