"Then I told Edna that I don't know what she puts in these cookies, but that whatever it is just has to
be illegal." Monica paused long enough to stuff half a cookie into her mouth and wash it down with a swig of Diet Coke. "It's just a shame the guys aren't here to share them with us."
"Giles took Buffy to run some errands and Xander's at Jerry's." Willow supplied the information with a smile. She had wondered when Monica showed up at the front door wearing a red leather jacket with matching mini-skirt and carrying a plate of freshly baked cookies how long it would take for the subject of "the guys" to come up.
Normally she tried to find an excuse to avoid their man-chasing neighbor, but this once she'd actually been glad to see her. The flamboyant blonde had taken one look at Hansel and Gretel and instantly gone into mother mode. Moving faster than Carol Brady after her tenth cup of coffee, Monica had washed faces and hands, brushed hair and had the kids settled at the kitchen table with warm cookies and cold milk.
Monica chased some crumbs around her plate with the scarlet tipped fingernail. "I guess Rupert is dating that Jo person from the coven. I see her over here all the time."
Willow nodded. While she didn't know how serious Giles and Jo were, she knew he would be happy to have Monica think he was off the market.
"What about Xander? Is he seeing anyone special? I haven't noticed him with anyone, but that doesn't mean that he's not
Willow sighed with relief when the sound of the telephone ringing interrupted Monica's rambling.
"Hello. What? Dawnie, slow down." Willow held the telephone receiver away from her as a furious retort blasted in her ear. She waited until there was silence and then cautiously moved it back. Meanwhile, Monica watched with undisguised curiosity. "The only part I understood was about calling from the bathroom
and you do know that this isn't a real emergency you are so going to be grounded for using your cell phone at school."
A high-pitched furious squeak made Willow jerk the phone away. She waited until the angry noise abated and tried again. "Okay, okay. It's an emergency. Just keep your pants on.
What do you mean you aren't wearing any?
They fell apart?!
Your sweater, too?
Well, blue is a good color for you.
Don't yell at me, it's not my fault.
Yes, I'm sure.
Because I don't have a way to get there that's why. Giles has the car and Xander has the SUV.
No, I don't expect you to sit around in your underwear.
Yes, I do realize you'll probably need therapy.
Wait a minute. I have an idea."
Willow put her hand over the phone and turned to Monica. "Dawn is having a sort of clothes crisis. You know how teenagers are." She forced a laugh and continued in a rush. "So could I please borrow your car and would you watch the kids for a few minutes while I go get her?"
Monica thought it over. "You're going to take Dawn out of school because she's not happy about what she's wearing?"
The blonde gave her an approving smile as she handed over her car keys. "I wish my mom had been just like you."
The redhead uncovered the receiver. "Okay, Dawn, hold onto your Wonderbra. I'll be there in ten minutes."
Buffy ducked and rolled to avoid the giant sized boot trying to grind her into the dirt. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Giles dash into the tool shed and emerge a moment later with a pitchfork. By the time she regained her footing, the pitchfork was flying through the air toward her outstretched hand. She grabbed it and dropped into a crouch, holding the makeshift weapon over her head.
"Look here, Mr. Jolly Green, there's no need to make a scene. You can take your goose and go, there's no need to fight toe to
toe--specially since I can't even see, eye to eye with your knee."
Without answering, the giant raised his foot and tried once more to stomp Buffy. Again she rolled away, only this time when she got back on her feet she ran toward the giant. When she reached his foot, she lifted the pitchfork over her head and used all her Slayer strength to shove it through his boot into the flesh beneath. She yelled out triumphantly, "Maybe we can't go head to head, but I can still make you dead!"
A howl of pain and rage echoed across the open field. The giant reached down, plucked the pitchfork out of his foot and hurled it at Buffy. She dodged so that it sailed beyond her and then turned to pull the pitchfork from where it was buried in the ground.
"Find everyone and get them away from this area and back to the Main Hall," Giles yelled at the stunned coven members, shocking them into action.
As Elspeth, Deborah and Lessa scattered to obey the order, Jo touched his shoulder to get his attention. "Should I get the goose and bring her here? Would that help?"
The sound of Buffy screaming tore through the air. Giles whirled around to find her scowling at a tear in the sleeve of her new jacket.
"You're choosing to play rough! Ok, now I've had enough.
You had your chance to leave, but instead you ripped my sleeve. Now I'm going to make you pay, both for the jacket and this terrible day!"
He turned back to Jo. "Get the goose!"
Jo hesitated again. "What are you going to do?"
Giles rubbed his hands together and blue sparks flew into the air. "Whatever I have to."
Willow parked in the student pick-up area beside the school. While she appreciated Monica loaning her the car, a crimson Cadillac with the personalized tag 'Red Hot Mama' wasn't exactly low profile. She just hoped Dawn showed up before the police made an appearance and asked why she was loitering around a high school.
Dawn had explained that signing out through the office wasn't an option and that it would be easier if she sneaked out. "The secretary is a total witch. And not in the good way like you and Jo and Elspeth. More in the needs a house dropped on her kind of way."
Willow drummed her fingers against the steering wheel. If this
turned out to be some kind of prank so Dawn could get out of
school, like her sudden headaches, then she was going to be
really angry. Not world-ending angry - because been there, done that, and probably a bit of an over reaction in this case - but still she was going to be very
Suddenly, something darted across the parking lot, opened the rear door, tossed in a backpack and then dived into the back seat. Willow turned around and saw Dawn, wearing nothing but blue panties and a bra, huddled down on the floor. She whirled back around, stomped on the accelerator and fishtailed out of the parking lot. "What's with being a Lady Godiva wannabe? Couldn't you borrow a jacket or some sweats or something?"
"Sweats at school where people can see me and everything? Are you crazy?" Dawn burrowed lower. "I got Liz to loan me her new leather coat - and it looked so great on me that I absolutely have to get one - but then it fell apart just like my other clothes. When all of this gets fixed and we go to buy my coat, we need to replace hers, too."
Willow pushed down harder on the accelerator. "Buffy's not going to be happy about buying two coats.
But on the bright side, at least you didn't wreck her new jacket that she likes so much."
Giles shoved his hands in his pockets, leaned his shoulder against the edge of the storage shed and smiled as he watched the giant attempt to stomp Buffy into the ground.
He couldn't remember the last time that he'd seen his Slayer have such fun.
When it became obvious that the giant wasn't the greenest bean on the vine and had only one method of attack, Buffy put aside the pitchfork and danced out of the way time and again. Then, like some hyperactive puppy, she began running circles around the field, yelling insults at the giant to force him to follow her. By the twelfth lap, she was just getting warmed up and the giant was exhausted almost to the point of collapse.
"Come on you stupid jerk, you won't even try to make this work. This is an easy game, just catch the Slayer of Sunnydale fame." She bounced easily away from a giant foot and crowed. "Not even near! But never fear! Have another
try: Slayer standing by!"
He watched as the giant tried once again. This time, Buffy did a series of back flips to remove herself from harm's way. Giles frowned and made a mental note to have her put in a little more practice on that portion of her training routine. Her form on the landings wasn't as good as it could be.
"Rupert!" Jo ran up to him. Tucked under one arm was a large, placid goose. "Everyone made it to the main hall."
"Good." He turned back to watch Buffy. "This shouldn't take much longer."
Jo observed silently for a moment, then looked at Giles. "What's going on? It looks like she's playing a game to make him chase her."
He nodded. "She is. Only this game will save lives, including the giant's. If she can exhaust him enough there may be a way to solve this without anyone being injured."
Jo turned her attention back to the field just as Buffy dashed up
to the giant and landed a flying kick to his shin. Before he could react, she laughed and ran
in the opposite direction. The giant groaned and then lumbered after her, red-faced and gasping for breath.
Giles chuckled as Buffy made a sharp U-turn and darted back between the giant's legs. When the giant bent in half and looked between his knees to see where his prey had disappeared, the quiet laughter turned into helpless giggles.
"I haven't heard you do that before." Jo stared at him in surprise.
He gave her a puzzled smile.
"Laugh like that. As though you're having the best time in the world," she said, as they both turned back to watch the continuing antics of the Slayer. "It's nice. You should do it more often."
"There hasn't been much to laugh about for a very long while," Giles pointed out quietly, his attention focused on the scene playing out in front of them. "It's wonderful to see her relax and enjoy herself."
Jo shook her head. "Playing tag with a giant who threatened to grind bread with human bones isn't at the top of my list of fun ways to spend the morning."
Giles never took his gaze off of Buffy. "You're not the Slayer."
She gave him a considering look. "No. I'm not."
The goose honked softly as if in agreement.
"What happens next?" Hansel asked, his eyes large with fright.
Monica leaned in closer. "The wicked witch grabs Gretel and tosses her into a gigantic oven and slams the door. That's when Hansel
Oh, hi! Back already?"
"Hi and bye!" Dawn dashed across the room and up the back stairway.
Willow followed more slowly, taking time to remove her coat and hang it up before she came into the kitchen. As she handed the car keys back to Monica, she noticed that Hansel and Gretel were still seated at the table and both were pale and trembling. "What's going on?"
Monica smiled happily. "I was just telling the kids about Hansel and Gretel from the story. You know, the one where the witch
"I've heard it," Willow interrupted hastily, wondering how she was going to explain to Giles that even though she'd promised to take care of the children she'd let Monica terrorize them into quivering puddles. Trying to keep her
from doing more damage, she grasped the blonde by the arm and practically dragged her to her feet, hurrying her through the laundry room toward the back door. She lowered her voice to an angry whisper. "Did you consider that a story about being shoved into an oven and cooked alive might not be the kind of thing you tell kids who are actually named Hansel and Gretel."
"Oh." Monica took a moment to process that information, then her eyes filled with tears. "I didn't mean to scare them. Honest. My little monsters love that story. I didn't think about
I'm so sorry. Should I go apologize? I will if you think I should."
Willow couldn't hold onto her anger in the face of such obvious remorse. "It'll be okay. I'll talk to them."
"Thanks." Monica sniffed loudly. She started out the door, then stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "I know that when you first moved in I didn't exactly welcome you and Buffy to the neighborhood."
Willow held back a smile "Really? I didn't notice."
"Well, I just wanted to say 'I'm sorry' about that, too. It's just that you and Buffy are so pretty, and so young, that I guess I
" Her eye filled with tears again.
"You've been a great neighbor," Willow hastened to assured her, trying to avoid an emotional scene. "You brought over soup and casseroles and things when Giles was mugged. And today you didn't have to let me borrow your car, but you did. I think we're lucky to have you living next door."
Tears rolled down Monica's cheeks, leaving dark streaks of mascara. She took a deep, gulping breath. "You know something, Willow? You're so nice, I'd be glad to have you as a neighbor even if you weren't gay."
Buffy prodded the unconscious giant with the toe of her boot. He gave a grumbling snore and then settled back down into an exhausted sleep. "Now that I've fulfilled my duty, what do we do with Sleeping Beauty?"
"First, we return his property." Giles took the large, white bird from Jo and sat it down beside the giant. "Then, we wait for him to wake up."
"You think he'll call a truce when you give back the goose?"
"I believe that given the chance he will choose to go home." He smiled at Buffy. "Certainly he'd find that preferable to another game of tag with you."
"Are you sure?" Jo looked at the giant. She shuddered and Giles put his arm around her. "That threat he made about bones and grinding sounded real to me. I don't want you to get hurt again."
Buffy flashed her an annoyed look. "He can bluster all he desires, I'll just fight him until he tires. And if he doesn't quit, I'll slay him and that'll be it.
On Giles' bones, no one will dine, no one will hurt this Watcher-mine." She spoke fiercely and firmly, but then turned away from the couple to study the beanstalk.
She wished she could figure out exactly what it was about Jo that always rubbed her the wrong way. Her feelings about the Wiccan were irrational, particularly considering how generous and kind she had been to all of them. Everyone else thought she was wonderful. Willow admired her skill with magick and her devotion to the Coven. Xander's main admiration was more for her body than her mind, but he thought she was fun and had a great sense of humor. Even Dawn, who hated the idea of anyone telling her what to do, worked for her in the Coven shop without ever arguing or talking back.
Buffy closed her hands into fists. Yes, Jo certainly had the magick touch with all the Scoobies - especially Giles. It had been after midnight when he'd gotten home. Not that she'd stayed up waiting for him or anything like that. For some reason, she hadn't been able to sleep and just happened to be up and looking out the front window when he pulled into the driveway at 12:15.
"He's waking up." Giles' voice broke into her thoughts. "I suggest we take shelter behind the shed."
Buffy focused her attention on her Watcher. "Not that I think the idea is
bad; in fact I think I'm rather glad, that you are finally showing sense, by choosing to hide when things get tense."
"I am not hiding! Hiding implies concealment mixed with a certain amount of subterfuge. This is
Buffy stared at him with raised eyebrows.
"A certain amount of concealment mixed with subterfuge." Giles herded both women toward the outbuilding. "Obviously, two entirely different things."
Ten minutes later, they watched the giant's boots disappear through the clouds. Upon waking and discovering his pet by
his side, the giant had stumbled to his feet, tucked the goose in his vest pocket and began his climb.
Giles, Buffy and Jo walked across the field to the beanstalk. Jo was the first to speak.
"We still have to find some way to get rid of this thing. We don't want him changing his mind and coming back."
Giles slanted her a sidelong glance. "I believe I may have a solution."
He pressed his palms together. A blue aura formed around his hands.
"Rupert, you can't!" Jo reached out to touch his hands and then jerked back when angry sparks flew. "You don't know what might happen."
"So far I'm the only one who hasn't any difficulty with magick." He hoped that no one had told Buffy about the massive headache that had accompanied his last attempt. If she knew, he doubted that she would allow him to conjure a glass of water, much less undertake a major casting. "The beanstalk is still growing and we have no way to stop it, and because of the size we can't chop it down. It is also possible for the giant to return at any time. I believe you will agree that our options are somewhat limited."
Jo thought it over, then nodded grudgingly. "All right. I don't like it, but go ahead."
Giles looked at Buffy who had watched their exchange in silence. "Well?"
She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Giles, I cannot lie, I'm not happy to see you try. Magicks are acting funny on this farm and I don't want them to cause you harm. But just as you had to let me go, up that stalk to face my foe, I have to place my trust in you, to do what you have to do."
She gave him a warning glare. "But as you cast, please take care.
At the slightest problem don't you dare, play the hero trying to save the
day: we'll solve this problem another way."
Giles's eyes thanked her for her support. He nodded once, then turned around and placed his palms on the beanstalk, resting his entire weight against the trunk of the vine. He began to chant and the blue glow from his hands slowly spread, moving across the green stalk outlining the trunk and leaves with an eerie luminescence. With each word he spoke, the wind picked up speed until it was beating against the three of them with almost gale force.
It wasn't until Buffy looked around that she realized the wind was blowing only where they were standing. Suddenly, she had an unexpected and overwhelming urge to touch his face, to trace every plane and hollow. She refused to give in to the impulse, because she sensed that it was somehow connected to the magick he was using. She glanced at Jo, who didn't seem to be experiencing the same side effect.
Without warning, the beanstalk blinked out of existence and Giles tumbled to the ground. Before Jo could react, Buffy was by his side. "Giles, you did it, you were great, but if you're hurt, I'll be quite irate."
It was a moment before he was able to catch his breath enough to respond. "I'm fine."
Buffy sat back on her heels, worry still etched on her face.
"Truly," he reaffirmed.
"What the hell was that?" There was disbelief mingled with outrage in Jo's voice.
Giles allowed Buffy to help him climb to his feet. "Magick. My magick."
Jo stared at him as if she'd never seen him before. "When Elspeth said you didn't do much magick, I thought she meant you couldn't."
Giles shook his head. "Choice rather than a lack of ability."
She hesitated. "You're very powerful."
He shrugged, clearly ill at ease with the conversation.
Buffy decided it was time to rescue her Watcher. She had more than a few questions herself, but she knew from past experience that Giles would only talk about something when he was good and ready. "So our job here is done? Wow, Jo, it's been fun.
But I think it's well past time that I stop speaking in rhyme. So long Jo, we've got to go."
"We need to check on the children, too." Giles looked at Jo. "If you find out anything, please let us know."
"Okay." She gave a small smile. "Call me later."
"Hansel!" Willow opened the door and peered into the closet. "Gretel!"
"Will?" Xander came up behind her. "What's going on? Are you playing hide and seek with the kids?"
She whirled around and clutched the front of his shirt with both hands. "You've got to help me find them. Right now!"
"Have you been hittin' the coffee again?" He loosened her grip and patted her on the head. "Take it easy. It's just a game."
"No, it's not." Willow ran her hands through her hair. "Hansel and Gretel think we're going to cook them."
Xander stared at her. "They what? Why?"
She sighed. "It's a long story. I borrowed Monica's car to pick up Dawn
"What's wrong with Dawn?" he interrupted.
"Her clothes keep falling off."
Xander exhaled a long sigh. "Not even wanting to go there."
"Anyway, that's not important." Willow dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "She's upstairs wrapped up in a blanket."
"Naked Dawn in a blanket." Xander shook his head. "Still not a place I want to go."
Willow put her hands on her hips. "Will you forget about naked Dawn
and concentrate on what's important."
"And that would be?"
"Hansel and Gretel have disappeared."