As the fingers of an early morning sun probed her corner of the room, Paige awoke cramped and hungry. She stretched and glanced at her captor, whose position appeared to be unchanged from the night before. Much of Paige's terror had dissipated; she remained nervous, but now curiosity seemed to be the vastly overwhelming emotion. Her eyes flickered with interest as she examined her companion from head to toe, gaze lingering over the vampire's hand. It was the only feature that seemed at all out of place in the uniform neatness that was the saffron-clad girl. The shiny new skin still looked red and raw. Paige's eyes drifted back to the girl's serene face.
"Do you ever move?"
"Yes," came the soft reply.
Paige inched closer. "Then why aren't you moving?"
"I am thinking."
She moved closer still. "What about?"
Paige took a small step backward as the almond eyes opened and fixed her with a steady gaze. Casually standing in the heart of a sunray as though it was something anyone could do, the child was bathed in a golden glow.
Paige smiled and clasped her hands behind her back. "You have a sister? I have a sister too!"
The words spilled from her tongue excitedly, but then almost immediately, her expression became sober.
"I did have a sister," she corrected quietly. "She's dead now."
"My sister is dead also."
It was a shared moment. A bond, of sorts. Paige actually seemed to be a little happy at the news, as though she had finally met someone who could understand.
"Lauren died of …" Paige frowned, struggling to remember the correct terminology, "... lemontidus." She vigorously shook her head and tried again. "Neminditus." She whispered the word to herself. Was that it? Maybe. Probably. "Did your sister die of neminditus too?"
"No. My sister was killed."
Horror-struck, Paige's hand flew to cover her mouth, as if she couldn't possibly imagine anything so awful. "Someone killed her?" asked Paige, voice no more than a whisper.
"But sisters are special," she stated firmly, obviously having trouble reconciling. "My mommy told me so. Sisters are a gift from God."
"Your mother is very wise."
Paige sat cross-legged on the floor. "Do you know who killed your sister?"
The child seemed confused.
"I will know soon," the girl clarified.
"You'll hurt them, won't you?" It was more of a statement than a question and Paige received no answer. Her expression indicated that she hadn't truly expected one.
Paige nibbled at a ragged hangnail. She appeared torn as she mulled over the information. On one hand, Sisters Are Special, but on the other, hurting people is wrong. It was a moral dilemma that a child of her age wasn't really equipped to process logically.
The girl watched all this play across Paige's face before inquiring, "Do you know why you are here, Paige?"
The words shook the child from her conundrum. "You want us to be sisters?" she ventured.
The enigmatic smile that followed, and the white teeth that peeked between the ruby lips fascinated Paige, but she had guessed incorrectly again.
"That is not possible."
She concentrated hard to come up with an alternative response, but nothing sprang to mind. It didn't seem to matter though.
"I wish to hear about Lauren," came the gentle command.
More than delighted to divulge all she knew, Paige settled herself more comfortably in the sunbeam, sitting across from the figure who remained in shadow. She rested her hands in her lap.
"I remember when Mommy and Daddy brought her home. Her face was all red and she was so ugly!"
She continued to talk animatedly about her little sister, while her audience of one listened with undivided attention.
"An'," continued Buffy, "her face was all squished up like this!"
By way of illustration Buffy placed both palms flat against her cheeks and squeezed hard. Her eyes were clamped tightly shut and her lips protruded like a cartoon fish in search of a kiss. She had done an excellent job in contorting the hell out of her little features.
Willow and Xander both erupted in a fit of hysterical giggles.
Across the room, standing atop a desk and apparently none the worse for wear after her recent attempt to defy gravity, Faith was playing with whatever happened to be handy and within easy reach.
"You always look like that," she sneered.
An expression of righteous anger crossed Buffy's face. Willow was no less irate.
"She doesn't always!" protested the redhead indignantly. "Only sometimes!"
Buffy's display of wrath was swiftly transferred to Willow.
Xander had apparently transformed into the poster child for A.D.D. He spied something that attracted his attention and ran over to the desk where Faith has assumed the enviable position as king of the castle.
"Ooo, shiny!" he marveled, holding up a sharp-bladed letter opener with a carved ivory handle.
Faith scowled and reached down to snatch it from his hand. "I was playin' with that!"
"Nuh-uh," denied Xander with an emphatic head shake. "It was over here an' you were over there."
Faith's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Well I was gonna play with it!"
Xander stubbornly jutted his chin. "You can play with it when I'm done …" His tongue poked out insultingly. "In about five gabillion years!"
Leaping from the desk, Faith launched a full force attack in Xander's direction. His eye grew wide, but before she could make contact, a muscular arm ensnared her around the waist and held her fast, trapped and dangling in mid-air. Her legs continued to wheel and she strained forward, as though the action alone would restart her momentum, but no such luck. Carefully and solidly, Spencer deposited her back on terra firma, while smoothly plucking the letter opener from Xander's clenched fist.
"What I find most interesting, Ms. Faith," Spencer observed dryly, "is that I can't be entirely be certain you've joined your friends in mental regression."
Hopping ineffectually from one foot to the other, Xander tried to retrieve his prize. "That's mine!"
Spencer shook his head regretfully. "Nine-tenths of the law, dear boy."
"Yay!" announced Willow with much gusto. "It's Spencer!"
"Spencer! Spencer!" cried Buffy, rushing toward him.
"That was fun!" Faith decided, clambering back on the desk. "Again!"
"No again," Spencer advised, deftly removing her once more. "One of us is bound to get hurt, and I'm inclined to hope that it's not me."
Faith swiped at her nose with the heel of her hand. "Then what can we do?"
A dejected Xander sank slowly to the floor. "I'm booo-o-oo-ored," he complained.
"I'm borededer," Buffy countered.
Spencer was inclined to agree with the consensus. "Your life is a hard one." His omniscient gaze drifted across the room. "Ms. Willow, are you trying to turn me into a puppy again?"
Perched on the edge of a chair, Willow wore an expression of intense concentration. She visibly started at Spencer's comment, guilt radiating like a supernova.
"No," she denied in a thoroughly unconvincing way.
"Well don't," instructed Spencer. "It's annoying."
"There's nothin' t' do," sniffed Faith, swinging her arms in ever-widening circles.
Xander sighed the sigh of the downtrodden. "We never have any fun."
"What about that copy of Armod's Abridged Demon Anthology I brought you to look at?" Spencer reminded. "Its very existence is fun, in hardcover."
Buffy gestured vaguely over her shoulder. "We colored it already."
Horror-struck, Spencer sought out the volume. He found it lying amid the debris of several crushed Crayolas, where it did indeed appear to have been colored within an inch of its life. Spencer cradled it in his hands mournfully. "Let's all pretend that was Mr. Giles' copy, all right?" he suggested to the children.
At the mention of the name, Buffy visibly brightened. "Giles! Where's Giles?" she demanded. "I wanna see Giles!"
"Mr. Giles is trying to find the information he needs to make you all marginally less immature," explained Spencer patiently.
"Giles said he'd be back in a minute but that was forever ago," pouted Willow. "And that's way longer'n a minute!"
"Yes, well I think he was lying."
Faith kicked the leg of the desk. "I bet Giles'd have cool stuff for us to do."
"Yeah, Giles'd play with us!" Xander affirmed, snapping the elastic of his eye patch.
Spencer was openly doubtful on that score, but sought to pacify. "Unfortunately Mr. Giles, as head of the Watcher's Council, has seen fit to abuse that position and entrust your care to me. He made it quite clear he wasn't to be disturbed unless new information came to light."
Buffy stomped her small foot. "Want. Giles."
"So I've gathered," acknowledged Spencer.
"Giles'll make it better," Willow informed nobody in particular, but everyone in general. "Giles makes everything better."
"Yeah!" enthused Xander. "Giles can do anything! Giles could beat up Superman and the Hulk and Stone Cold Steve Austin all at once!" He jabbed small fists at the empty space in front of him.
"And it's gotta be better'n here," huffed Faith.
Suddenly, Spencer found himself in the middle of a clamoring mob. A cacophony of insistent, shrill and piping voices, each determined to make itself heard above the rest. An expression of thoughtfulness crept into Spencer's eyes, almost as though he were fervently wishing that child abuse was not a crime punishable by law.
Surrounded by tall stacks of research texts, Giles was virtually buried behind his desk. Close at hand was the enigmatic wooden box. He referred to it often as he scanned page after ancient page, sometimes scribbling hasty notes on a yellow legal pad. The cell phone in his pocket vibrated. He seemed to wonder for a moment why it wasn't ringing, but managed to locate the contraption without raising his eyes from the volume in front of him. After the third attempt, he actually made contact with the caller.
"Hello?" He listened for a moment and then a frown creased his brow. "'Look out'? I don't underst—"
He almost dropped the phone as his door abruptly burst open. Four small bodies bounced gaily across the threshold, followed by Spencer who was holding his own mobile to his ear.
"Yes sir, 'look out'," repeated Spencer. "Simply precious bundles of raw energy are rapidly coming your way."
"So I see," Giles stated flatly into the mouthpiece.
As both men broken the connection, Giles glowered darkly in Spencer's direction. Spencer accepted the unspoken accusation with his customary flair and displayed no sign of remorse. He straightened the silk tie that had been tugged slightly askew, and smiled indulgently upon the four holy terrors now running amok in Giles' office.
Faith was already scaling one of Giles' bookcases while Xander had wrapped his arms lovingly around Giles' left leg and was squeezing tight enough to cut off the circulation. Holding hands, Buffy and Willow were hopping up and down, alternately 'Yay'ing and 'Giles'ing in perfect unison.
Removing his glasses, Giles tossed them onto the desk and began to massage his forehead.
"They were rather adamant about visiting you, sir," Spencer informed briskly, easily extracting Faith from the fifth shelf of the bookcase and setting her on the floor. She scowled her annoyance.
"I thought you were going to keep them occupied," sighed Giles.
Moving sneakily, Buffy swiped Giles' glasses from under his very nose. She beamed with delight at her stealthy skill and jammed the glasses onto her face. They were, of course, far too big, but by tilting her head back a little, she managed to balance them in place.
"Look at me," she declared. "I'm Giles!" She blinked as everything became blurry and her eyes started to cross. "Whoa, Giles, are you blind?"
"Buffy, Giles can't be blind," Willow told her in all seriousness. "See how he's lookin' atcha?"
Indeed, Giles was not a happy man. With lips set in a tight line, he extended his palm. Buffy returned the booty, but not with a particularly good grace. Spencer's mouth twitched with amusement, but he disguised it seamlessly with a miniscule cough.
Since Buffy was commandeering the center of attention, Xander and Faith found themselves free to wander at will. Nudging Xander with her elbow, Faith pointed to a large chest residing in a corner of the room. Without a word, they both sidled toward it.
"As sir can doubtless see," Spencer was insisting. "Keeping them occupied is more easily said than done."
"Yes, well, you've seen me now," Giles informed the children. "Hello," he added with a quick nod to all. "So if you'll just run along with Spencer—"
"No!" objected Buffy firmly. "We wanna stay with you!"
Giles sighed. "Buffy, don't be childish." He frowned and tried again. "I need you to be a good girl and go with Spencer, so that I can—"
She shook her head obstinately. "No! I don't wanna go!"
Giles was losing patience. He adopted a more severe tone. "Buffy, I need you and others to leave," he told her sternly. Tears began to well in Buffy's big blue eyes and Willow's bottom lip started to quiver.
"Why?" asked the redhead miserably. "Don’t you love us any more?"
The question was so plaintive and so innocent that Giles visibly crumpled. Xander and Faith came to join in the earnest plea. Faith had found an ornate cloth in the corner trunk and had draped around her shoulders like a cape. Xander, his little face wearing a wretched expression, clutched an Owl plushie to his chest that had also been lifted from the depths of the ancient trunk.
Clambering on a chair, Buffy hoisted herself onto the desk and then climbed into Giles' lap. She sat there quietly, hanging her head, while the remainder of the gang stared at him through mournful, puppy-dog eyes. Giles regarded each of them in turn. There was no salvation. He was indeed a lost man.
He heaved a heavy sigh. "Oh, bugger."
Spencer tutted his disapproval. "Not in front of the children, sir."
Licking the traces of peanut butter from his fingers, Xander hungrily eyed Faith's remaining sandwich. She promptly stuffed the whole thing into her mouth and tauntingly opened it wide so he could see what he was missing. Buffy hastily scooted her plate to the other side, well out of reach. Xander crossed his arms and pouted darkly.
Seated at his desk, Giles stared intently at the wooden box. Perhaps if he simply concentrated hard enough, he could miraculously unravel its secrets. His brow was furrowed in deep contemplation.
Standing on a chair next to him, Willow also furrowed her brow as she focused upon the box with rapt concentration. Resting his elbow on the desk, Giles cupped his chin in his hand. So did Willow. Giles took a deep breath and held it for a second before releasing it with an exasperated puff. Willow did the same. Giles scratched his head in perplexed thought. Willow quickly followed suit. She was a miniature facsimile, imitating his every move to near perfection.
Their snack done, the other three returned to an interrupted game of Candyland. The board and pieces appeared to be brand new and probably were, given the cellophane wrapper that had been tossed to one side, still bearing the price sticker. It was failing to hold their attention, however, and they were beginning to grow restless.
Drawing a card, Buffy moved her gingerbread man to the corresponding colored square. She glanced at Faith and Xander, neither of whom were paying close attention, so she stole a few more spaces. She gave a self-satisfied smile to have gotten away with her ploy scot-free and poked Xander's arm.
Mechanically, he grabbed the top card from the pile but didn't even look at it. "I'm booo-o-oo-ored," he complained loudly.
A wicked twinkle surfaced in Faith's eyes. "Wanna play Slayer an' Demon?"
Xander shook his head in an emphatic 'no'.
"We should go somewhere," decided Buffy.
Faith was in favor of that. "Go where?"
Buffy shrugged. "Somewhere."
Xander tossed his card into the center of the board. "Giles, we wanna so somewhere!"
But Giles wasn't truly listening. "Why don't you play a lovely quiet game of Candyland?" he suggested.
Tentatively, Willow's fingers wriggled toward the wooden box, but Giles took her hand and laid it back gently atop the desk.
"We've been playing Candyland forever," whinged Buffy.
"Now we're booo-o-oo-ored," added Xander.
Faith simply glowered. "I don't wanna be inside. I wanna go outside."
Again, Willow's fingers snaked toward the wooden box. And again, Giles placed her hand back on the desk. Willow frowned in irritation.
"Given your last adventures outside, I don't think that's a very good idea," advised Giles. "You're lucky you didn't break anything."
"I won't do it again," Faith immediately swore. She craftily hid the crossed fingers behind her back. "I promise."
Giles didn't appear to put much stock in the vow.
"I promise I promise I promise I—" she chanted in a sing-song voice and then abruptly stopped as the door opened.
Each small face immediately broke into a beaming smile when they realized the new arrival was Hannah and there was a gleeful chorus of her name. She grinned in friendly fashion and seemed genuinely pleased to see them.
"Hello, everyone," she greeted cheerfully. "How are you today?"
"I'm booo-o—" began Xander, but Willow effectively cut him off mid-whine.
"I'm helping Giles!" she stated proudly.
"Well done, Willow!" Hannah told her approvingly.
Willow's expression became smug, while Xander looked very put out.
"Smarty-pants," he muttered.
"Can we go outside?" Faith pleaded with the new authority figure.
"It's such a beautiful day, I don't see why not."
There was a resounding cheer.
"Splendid," agreed Giles. "You can take them."
Buffy jutted an insistent finger in Giles' direction. "You have to come!"
"Absolutely," stated Hannah. "In fact, I just came to tell you that we've narrowed the search further, and that Margulies and his team believe that the designs on the box are a Crinthok demon derivation of classical Indus Script."
"Excellent job," Giles told her enthusiastically. "Now we need to—"
"Done," interrupted Hannah.
"You don't even know what I was going to say," returned Giles petulantly.
"You were going to tell me to add two teams to Margulies' group." She arched a questioning eyebrow.
Giles shifted in his chair. "But I might not have," he felt compelled to point out.
The room radiated a definite fidgety aura. On one side of the room, Faith was performing handstands and Willow had now joined Xander on the floor. Snickering uncontrollably, the pair created bubbles in their glasses of milk by blowing down the straws. Xander giggled so hard that he sucked when he should have blew and the liquid erupted from his nostrils. Willow rolled on the floor clutching her sides while Xander noisily choked, but still couldn't stop laughing. As for Buffy, she had resumed playing Candyland even though she was the only participant. Dutifully selecting a card, she moved her gingerbread man to the appropriate square. Then, making sure she was unobserved, methodically cheated and moved her piece further along the rainbow path. She waited for a moment and then repeated the process.
"So as you can see, everything is completely under control, leaving you the whole day with your kids," Hannah assured.
"Yours." Hannah crossed her arms and allowed herself a tiny grin at Giles' expense. "It looks like you're a daddy, Rupert."
Strangely, Giles found little comfort in that. "But … but what am I supposed to do with them?"
"You'll figure it out," Hannah told him. "I have every confidence in you. I'll make certain that unless it's a dire emergency, you won't be disturbed until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow, Mr. Giles."
With a sweet and satisfied smile, Hannah favored him with a farewell wave and made good her exit, closing the door firmly behind her. Giles was dismayed to say the least. Aghast even. But he had no chance to dwell on his misfortune. Xander attempting to sound out a word swiftly diverted his attention.
"Lap … ro ..."
Glancing down sharply, he noticed that Willow and Xander had opened the side drawer of his desk and were staring at the bottle of scotch, prominently displayed within. Making sure than no small fingers would be pinched, Giles hastily slammed the drawer shut. Xander gazed at him with an inner wisdom that was beyond the comprehension of any true four-year-old.
"You shouldn't," he reprimanded soberly.
For a moment Giles looked ashamed at being chastised, but he didn't have long to reflect on his shortcomings.
"Oo! Oo! HappyfunWorldLand!" suddenly burst forth from Willow's vocal chords.
Buffy caught on immediately and rushed over to grab Willow's arm, the game of Candyland instantly forgotten. "HappyfunWorldLand! HappyfunWorldLand!" she chanted.
Giles peered at both of them. "Are you even speaking English?"
"I saw it on TV!" Faith offered gleefully, her eyes bright as she regarded Giles from her upside-down position. She waddled toward him, walking on the palms of her hands. "They have rides an' games an' adventure an' happyfun!"
"'Kids, tell your parents to take you to HappyfunWorldLand today! Off Highway 220 on Old Mill Road,'" Xander recited, enunciating every syllable with respectful precision like a polished television announcer.
Giles' frustration hit its limit. "For the—" He settled his glasses deliberately on the bridge of his nose. "No. I have work to do here. Important work. For you, I might point out."
The austere tone had a severe dampening effect on everyone's enthusiasm.
"But Hannah said—" Willow reminded meekly, shuffling her feet.
"I don't care what Hannah said," fumed Giles. "This is what I'm saying: you're going to go back to your game – quietly – and I will remain here and figure out what I need to do save you all."
Suitably subdued, the quartet exchanged glances of heartfelt disappointment. Even Faith's handstand wilted and she tumbled to the floor in an untidy heap, gazing morosely at the ceiling. The awkward silence was eventually broken by Buffy.
"But … we don't want you to save us."
"Anybody can save us," added Faith glumly.
Willow sadly shook her head. "Nobody can be Giles."
Xander blinked rapidly at Giles with his lone eye. "Nobody but you."
Giles ran a hand through his hair, discomfited by the unwavering stares. He hunched his shoulders and returned to his research. He retrieved his pen, but it dangled idly between his fingers. Exhibiting phenomenal restraint, the waiting group didn't fidget, didn't murmur, didn't make one solitary peep.
With a sigh, Giles finally regarded them over the top of his glasses.
HappyfunWorldLand. The multi-colored, strobe-flashing, neon-garish title said it all. Every square inch was crammed to the gills with bright lights, happy tunes of video games and the lively sounds of playtime. It was big and shiny and loud. It was the quintessential money-maker and it was packed. It was a kid's dream and an adult's worse nightmare.
Amid the chaos, Giles was clearly out of his element. Willow was holding one of his hands while Xander had claimed the other. Both were tugging him along. Buffy was riding piggyback, her arms wrapped around his neck, much as she had the day before when she was full-sized. Luckily, Giles found her diminished weight to be much less of a strain this time around. Faith was barely able to contain her excitement. She kept scampering ahead and then dashing back, repeating the process over and over, as though an invisible tether prevented her from wandering too far afield. She screeched to a halt and began hopping up and down.
"I wanna play in Junglefun Land!" She jabbed a finger toward an area that was obviously safari-themed. Her eyes sparkled. There were vines to swing from, fake trees to climb – complete with dangling coconuts – furry monkeys and huge plastic crocodiles.
"Piratefun Land!" insisted Xander, pointing at an area proudly displaying a huge Jolly Roger. Through the arch of criss-crossed bones, there was a giant pirate ship. A barrel of toy cutlasses stood by the gangplank, available for the taking. On the deck, several small boys were engaged in a deadly duel. A clockwork parrot perched atop the crow's nest squawked, "Pieces of eight" with monotonous regularity.
Giles sighed. "I see they spared no creative expense in the naming process."
"Arr!" agreed Xander. His eye patch made it all the more an apt response.
Much to Giles' dismay, Buffy began to bounce on his back while continuing to maintain a strangulating hold. She gestured with much gusto toward an area that was outer space themed. The overhead canopy twinkled with fairy lights. There was a large silver rocket ship and gargantuan craters. A group of luminous green-skinned aliens beckoned a jerky invite and emitted a low whir as their heads twitched mechanically from side-to-side.
"OuterWorld SpacefunLandWorldfun…Land!" she stuttered, lost somewhere in the midst of the title.
"Ice cream!" announced Willow, beaming as the rest of the gang took up the rallying cry.
Giles was relieved. "Oh thank god for two common words used correctly."
Elbowing her way through the crowd, Faith led the way to a candy-striped ice cream bar that dominated one of the walls. As with everything else in this wacky place o' fun, it was larger than life. The costume of the young employee behind the counter would have rivaled that of Bozo the Clown, but he didn't seem to mind or even be aware of the fact. He smiled happily as he worked, apparently one of those rare and twisted individuals who actually loved their job and was prepared to give it 350%.
"Hi kids!" he greeted cheerfully as they approached.
"Hi!!" came the consolidated cry.
"Yeah!!" was the enthusiastic and unanimous response.
"What kind of fun?"
"Super HappyfunWorldLand fun!"
The employee's grin was so broad it almost split his face in two. "Glad to hear it!" He turned to Giles. "How about you, Dad?"
Faith, Xander and Willow stared up at Giles. Buffy leaned over his shoulder, craning her neck to try and get a good view.
"Fun," acknowledged Giles doubtfully. "Yes. Quite."
Ice Cream Guy wagged an admonishing finger. "You can do better than that!"
"I don't think I can, actually," Giles responded, gazing at the ceiling.
But the employee was not going to be put off that easily. "Sure you can!" he urged before winking at the open-mouthed quartet in Giles' custody. "What kind of fun is Dad having, kids?"
"Super HappyfunWorldLand fun!" came the immediate sing-song chorus.
"Super HappyfunWorldLand fun, yes," Giles dutifully, if exasperatedly, repeated.
"Yaaay!!" proclaimed the four in unison, along with Ice Cream Guy.
"Because this is exactly how I wanted to see in my 50th birthday," muttered Giles to himself.
But with the admission gained, the group had ceased paying attention to him. Giles gave a sigh of resignation before making a valiant effort to be a little more upbeat.
"All right then, what would you like? Xander?"
Xander had his nose and hands pressed against the glass, trying to check out all the choices before making a selection. The only thing he managed to verbalize was, "Yum!"
Giles waited for a moment and when nothing else appeared to be forthcoming from Xander's mouth, moved on. "Willow?"
"I dunno," pondered the redhead, a tiny frown creasing her forehead. "What if I get one, but I don't get the best one?" She gnawed at her bottom lip. "What if I want somethin' else but don't know it and I don't know it until I get it and it's not right?" Worriedly, she turned to Giles. "I dunno!"
"Well how about strawberry?" he suggested gently. "When I was a young boy, it was always my favorite."
Willow was only too pleased to have solved that dilemma. "Okay, I want that too!"
Giles instantly brightened. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad. After all, one-fourth of such a major decision had already been dealt with rather efficiently. "One small strawberry," he told Ice Cream Guy.
"One small Veryfun Berrysome Strawberry, coming up!"
Unable to contain an eye roll, Giles continued down the line. "Buf—"
But Buffy didn't get the chance to voice her favorite.
"I know! I know!" clamored Faith.
"Oh, all right then," agreed Giles amicably, while Buffy glowered down upon Faith for stealing her limelight. "What would you like, Faith?"
"That!" She pointed to the placard of a rather large sundae.
Giles frowned. "You don't think that'll be too much for you?"
"Nuh-uh!" denied Faith, puffing out her chest. "I'm the Slayer."
Having heard enough, little Buffy leapt down from Giles' back and grabbing Faith by the shoulders, gave her a hearty push. "I'm the Slayer! You're not the Slayer!"
Faith quickly returned the shove. "I am so the Slayer!"
"No! I am! You're a big stupid-head!"
"You're a stupid-head!"
Peeking around the sanctuary afford by Giles' leg, Willow clutched her ice cream cone tightly in one hand and blinked anxiously at the fracas. "Giiiiiiles, make them stoooop…"
"You're both stupid-heads!" declared Xander, throwing his two cents into the ring. "Stupid girl poo-poo heads!"
With scowling faces, the pair of miniature Slayers focused on the unfortunate Xander. He ran to hide behind Giles' other leg.
"That's enough," Giles informed everyone abruptly. "No one is a … a 'stupid-head'."
"But I'm the Slayer!" pouted Buffy. "Giles, tell her!"
Faith refused to be outdone. "I'm the Slayer!"
Giles' eyes glittered with annoyance behind his glasses. "You're both Slayers, and I am your Watcher, and that's the end of it!" He glanced sharply at the placard Faith had indicated, clearly struggling to get a grip on his rising temper.
"Now," continued Giles firmly to Ice Cream Guy, "I'd like an 'Ultra-tazzy Chocolate-razzy Makes-you-spazzy Funtime Treat'." As the words echoed back, Giles couldn't help but blink as he confirmed that yes, his voice had in fact spoken them.
The HappyfunWorldLand employee handbook clearly had no guidelines for dealing with little girls who loudly bickered over which of them was a killer, and as such, Ice Cream Guy was entirely at a loss for what to do in the face of such an unfunlike exhibition. He regarded Giles and the four youngsters with an expression that clearly indicated he believed they might well be crazy.
"Sure. Sure thing," he reassured before slinking away to prepare the dessert.
"You're copying!" accused Buffy. She tugged on Giles' jacket. "Giles, she's copying!"
"I got it first!" protested Faith.
"But I was gonna get it!"
Willow licked at her ice cream. "That's not copying," she advised. "Faith didn't copy. You copied her, Buffy."
A look of supremacy crossed Faith's face.
Buffy, by contrast, was utterly crestfallen. "I thought we were friends," she told Willow in a very small voice.
"We are friends," insisted the redhead.
Buffy sniffed. "You were my best friend."
"She's my best friend now," Faith gloated.
"No I'm not!" Willow promptly denied, glaring in Faith's direction. She turned to Buffy. "No I'm not!"
"You said you were my best friend!" accused Xander.
Xander was so not convinced. "Giles, Willow's lying!"
Running a desperate hand through his hair, Giles gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut.
"No. No, no, no, this isn't right at all," came a voice from over his shoulder.
A frown appeared on Giles' forehead and his eyes snapped open. He turned to the owner and his gaze narrowed dangerously.
Hands in pockets, Ethan Rayne looked at the tableau disapprovingly.
"Ripper, what have you done?"