Buffy pulled at her ears, grimacing into the mirror. "Are you sure they'll come off? Mom isn't going to be impressed if I spend the rest of my life with pointy ears."
Sitting on her bed, Willow suppressed a nervous giggle. Buffy made a much better looking elf than she did the ordinary eighteenth century debutante she'd planned to dress up as, she decided, nervously playing with her book bag. Combined with raven colored hair, the ears made the costume Buffy was wearing work so much better in her admittedly biased opinion. With her petite build and thin features, there was already an almost fey look to her best friend, though she would never tell her that.
The idea had come to her when she saw how Buffy had looked longingly at the dress in 'Ethans', the new costume store. All it had taken were a pair of Spock ears and temporary hair dye, instead of the ugly wig suggested by the creepy man in the store, and the costume was nearly complete.
Convincing Buffy that going as Arwen Undomiel, a twenty-seven hundred year old elf maiden who'd fallen in love with a human, was much more romantic than her original idea, hadn't been very difficult after that. And worth it, even if it had meant allowing Buffy to choose a costume for her and admitting her membership in the 'Lord of the Rings' geek club.
"It's your turn!" Buffy told her, getting up and gesturing imperiously towards the vanity.
"I'm not sure this is a good idea," Willow mumbled as she stood up, having second thoughts. Looking down at the parts of her costume that she was already wearing, she wondered if it was going to be worth it. It wasn't just the hair style. It would look odd but she could live with that for a few hours. But mismatched stockings, large work boots, and overalls cut so short that a mini dress would have been more modest were the stuff of nightmares, and that was without the added inevitable Cordelia snark bonus.
Sitting down in front of the mirror, she wondered where Buffy had come up with the costume idea. Pippi Longstocking was not something she envisioned her ever reading. And the costume verged on several stereotypes high up on her 'To Avoid' list. Anyone who didn't recognize her character was going to think she was either dressed up as a Nympho Farmer's Daughter or something even worse.
Standing behind her, Buffy frowned at the image of her friend in the mirror, mentally comparing her to the picture she'd seen in one of Dawn's books. They'd tinted Willow's hair a deeper auburn and, with a bit of mousse and rubber bands, had her hair sticking out in two short pigtails on either side of her head. For a redhead, Willow had been unexpectedly freckle free so she'd carefully painted them on the bridge of her nose and her cheeks. Nothing outlandish, but visible enough to anyone who was only a yard or two away. Details like that mattered to Willow.
"We need pictures," she announced, looking around her bedroom for her camera. Catching sight of a neatly folded clump of white material at the foot of her bed, she poked at it curiously.
"No, no pictures," Willow mumbled, shifting nervously.
"Hmm..." Buffy looked at the material, back at Willow and refocused suspiciously on the white clump. Grabbing one corner, she picked it up. "What's this?"
"Oh, nothing," Willow said.
"Really?" Buffy asked, carefully unfolding the clump of material to reveal a white sheet with eye holes. "Spare costume?"
"Maybe," Willow mumbled, her sudden blush obscuring the freckles Buffy had spent so much time painting on her face.
"Nope," Buffy said decisively. "Xander warned me about this. Fortunately there is a cure for costumes that have come to life and wandered where they shouldn't," she announced. Going over to her desk, Buffy pulled out a bottle of holy water. "A little bit of this," she said, emptying half of the bottle on the sheet, "and it's all set." Shaking her head at Willow, she put the bottle away and wadded the sheet up into a wet ball before tossing it into her hamper. "Anything else?"
"After that, I'm not sure you deserve this," Willow said grumpily, grabbing her book bag from the bed.
"What'd you get me?" Buffy asked, eagerly bouncing on her toes.
"Thought this would be the perfect finishing touch," Willow said, pulling out a slim package wrapped in brown paper.
"What is it?" Buffy asked, before demanding, "Gimme!" Stifling a giggle at the way Willow cautiously approached her like a rabid tiger, Buffy took the small package. Ripping off the paper, Buffy gasped at the sight that met her eyes. Two curved, silver, razor sharp looking blades were joined together by a leather handle that seemed to be made just for her.
"It seemed very elf like," Willow explained. "I thought it would go with your costume."
"It does!" Buffy said, reluctantly putting it down to give Willow a hug. Picking it back up she rotated her wrist to get a feel for it. "What's it called?" she asked holding it up to her eyes to look at the writing on the blades.
"It's a haladie," Willow told her. "I borrowed it from Giles' secret collection in the library. I'll sneak it back tomorrow."
"Maybe he'll let me keep it?" Buffy whispered to herself, mesmerized at the way light reflected from the twin blades.
"What's Dawn going as?" Willow asked, following Buffy down the stairs.
"Some anime character," Buffy said with a shrug.
"Does it matter?" Buffy asked. "They all look the same. One of those girls in a sailor suit with the short skirts. Mom had a cow or two last year when Dawn wanted to go as Sailor something."
"Seifuku," Willow said.
"Huh?" Buffy stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked up at her friend.
"That's what they're called. It's a kind of school uniform, though the skirts aren't really that short in real life," Willow said.
"So, it's not just cheerleaders," Buffy said, winking at her friend. "It's the whole girls in short skirts thing."
Willow blushed. "Umm, maybe?" she muttered.
Buffy smirked at Willow's embarrassment. "Well, this year Mom made Dawn find a character that didn't wear one so short."
"Not sure, but she carries around a yo-yo," Buffy said shaking her head. "Dad bought her the costume last month when he took her school shopping in LA."
"Okay..." Willow frowned. "Doesn't sound familiar. Xander might know."
"So he joins you in your worship of short skirts?" Buffy asked, giggling.
"No!" Willow protested, trying not to blush. "Maybe?"
"Willow, Willow..." Buffy started saying in a sing-song voice before coming to an abrupt halt to avoid Dawn as she raced to answer the front door.
Too comfortable to move, Buffy lay there, flashes of memory of the night before running thru her mind. The Hellmouth had been a physically painful presence the entire time she'd been an elf.
She could feel Willow slowly running her fingers through her hair.
"What do you remember about last night," she asked.
"Everything," Buffy murmured. "All jumbled up in a pile. I think I might have insulted Angel. And Drusilla wouldn't stop screaming. Very strange."
She felt Willow sigh and then remove her hand.
"You?" Buffy asked.
"Bits and pieces," Willow said. "It was like I was there, but not really. I don't think Pippi was a normal girl."
"Nope," Buffy said. "Very precocious and innocent. Not a bad thing, except in a place like Sunnydale."
"You read them?" Willow asked, her voice going up in surprise.
"Used to read them to Dawn," Buffy admitted. "Ages ago."
"Willow?" Buffy asked, feeling fingers softly running up and down her ears. Suddenly, some parts of her felt so much warmer, like she was flushing all over.
"What are you doing?" she asked, repressing the urge to over-react as her heart suddenly sped up, her nipples hardened painfully, and her breathing deepened in response, knowing Willow would be horrified if she knew what her soft touch was doing to her.
"These costume ears look and feel very realistic," Willow said, continuing to touch them.
"You need to stop," Buffy gasped out.
"Why?" Willow asked curiously, even as she removed her hand.
Buffy opened her eyes and stared up at Willow. "Uh..." she mumbled, blushing and trying to think of a way to explain that wouldn't make things worse. "You remember how we agreed not to talk about certain subjects?"
"Oh, you mean the whole, you didn't want details about me and sex and I really didn't want to know about you and sex with guys? But all the mushy, romantic stuff that comes before that was okay?"
"Yes," Buffy said, rolling off of Willow's lap. Sitting up, she leaned against the headboard, next to Willow. "Romantic stuff is okay. Sex stuff, TMI even for best friends."
"I am a lesbian," Willow reminded her. "Future sex with women? Kind of a given."
"I don't have a problem with that," Buffy protested. "It's just not my thing."
"So the problem with the Halloween elf ears just now?"
"Um," Buffy blushed again. "That 'not my thing' thing?"
"The lesbian part or the sex with women part?" Willow asked, wrinkling her nose.
"There's a difference?" Buffy said, half jokingly. "Watch it!" she yelled, ducking Willow's swing.
"I know where you live, Slayer!" Willow said, giving Buffy a dose of resolve face.
"Put that away," Buffy said, pulling a pillow over her face as a shield.
"You haven't answered me," Willow told her. "What thing?"
"Sorry," Buffy mumbled. "The sex thing. If you hadn't stopped, that was really close to become a definite thing," she said, blushing again.
"And I missed it?" Willow said. "Darn," she added, before giggling. "How long have your ears been an erogenous zone?"
"A what zone?" Buffy asked.
"Erogenous," Willow repeated. "Basically means, if someone touches a certain place on your body you get turned on. Not everyone has exactly the same ones but there are a few common ones." She gestured at her chest.
"Oh!" Buffy nodded in understanding. "Me too," she said. "Ears? Never."
"Hmm..." Willow gazed at her thoughtfully. "Maybe they're just sensitive from the glue we used."
"Glue? This was like going from cold fish to burning down the house in less than a minute."
"Did you think up those metaphors yourself?" Willow asked, smirking at her.
"Would you rather I used the real words?" Buffy asked curiously. Speaking frankly about things like sex was frowned on when you had a much younger sister.
"Yes. Next time," Willow said bluntly, sliding off the bed. "Even if it embarrasses both of us. Now come over here so I can get those ears off," she said, pointing at the stool in front of her mirror.
"Yes, ma'am," Buffy said, jumping up from the bed and giving her a Benny Hillish salute before sitting back down, facing away from the mirror.
"Buffy?" Willow said softly. She'd spent ten agonizing minutes while her friend poked and prodded around her ears, causing the occasional spike of desire in the process. But they didn't feel any different.
"Those are your ears," she said.
"What?" Buffy reached up and tugged at them herself. As much as she rubbed them, noticing in the process that touching her own ears did not have the same effect as Willow touching them, there didn't seem to be any spot where the Spock ears could be removed. In fact, if she didn't know better, she wasn't wearing any costume ears. "Make them go away!"
"They're kind of cute," Willow said, reaching over and lightly touching the tips of her ears. "And delicate. Not at all Vulcan like."
"Willow!" Buffy yelped, jumping to her feet to get away from her fascinated friend.
"Giles! Giles!" Buffy shouted, coming into the library, panic just barely under control. "You need to fix it!"
"Fix what exactly," he asked, coming out of his office carrying several large books.
"This," she said, pulling off the headscarf she'd borrowed from her mother's collection on their way to the library. Fortunately, according to the note she'd left, her mother had taken Dawn out to brunch so she hadn't had to explain the ears to her yet.
"Oh, my!" he mumbled, putting the books down on the checkout counter before stepping closer. "May I?" he asked, holding up his right hand.
"Uh, no," Buffy said, blushing and unable to prevent herself from stepping back from him.
"No?" Giles said, a surprised look crossing his face.
"Nnnot a good idea," Willow stammered, trying to catch her breath as she entered behind her. Unable to not think about how she'd reacted when they'd discovered what happened if someone touched her ears, Buffy didn't have to turn around to know that her friend was blushing an even darker color.
"No?" Giles repeated, looking back and forth between Buffy and Willow.
"They're a rogers nose zone?" Buffy looked over her shoulder at Willow as if in need of help. She probably didn't needed the IQ disguise points the extra cuteness bought her, she thought, since Willow and Giles actually expected intelligent conversation from her, and Xander was exposed to girls with a brain on a daily basis, Cordelia not withstanding, but out of habit she'd intentionally mangled the term Willow had used.
"Erogenous," Willow supplied, turning an even darker red, something Buffy hadn't thought possible. Especially after she'd been so matter of fact discussing it earlier, right before Buffy's almost panic attack.
"Yeah! That," Buffy said triumphantly. "So, keep your tweed covered paws to yourself!"
"Oh, dear," Giles muttered, pulling out his ever present handkerchief and rubbing his glasses. "When did this happen?"
"Woke up like this this morning," Buffy told him. "Went to take off the costume ears from last night..."
"Vulcan ears," Willow added helpfully.
"Went to take them off," Buffy said, smiling at her in thanks before continuing, "Found out they were real," she said, as she reach behind herself without thinking and grabbed Willow's hand before she could touch an ear. She wasn't sure if she should be creeped out or flattered by Willow's sudden compulsion to fondle her ears, but she'd certainly gotten a lot of practice stopping her in the last hour. "Willow!"
"Sorry," she mumbled. "Can't help it."
"Any other changes I should be aware of?" Giles asked, putting his glasses back on and peering at them intently.
"The Hellmouth was giving Arwen-me a migraine," Buffy told him. "Seems to have gone away. I'm just getting the usual evil induced background nausea now."
"Any other physical changes?"
"Not that I've noticed," Buffy said, letting go of Willow's hand. He didn't need to know that her hair really was that blonde now, everywhere. No matter what Willow thought about honesty and full disclosure, certain things were personal.
"She's shorter," Willow said, cautiously stepping around her and leaning against the counter, her hands stuffed into her pockets, away from the new temptation.
"You said I was still the same height," Buffy protested. "We even used your mother's tape measure."
"You were standing on your toes!" Willow told her.
"Was not," Buffy said.
"Not!" Buffy said loudly, stalking over to Willow.
"Were!" Willow said, visibly bracing herself.
"Ladies!" Giles said, raising his voice.
"What?" Buffy asked, turning to him.
"Enough," he told them. "Buffy, calm down."
"Sorry," she murmured. Taking a deep breath, she stepped back. "Calming down."
"It must be a side effect of Ethan's spell," Giles murmured to himself, though not low enough for Buffy to miss.
"You can undo it, right?" Buffy asked. She really didn't want to spend the rest of her life wearing a Mom scarf. Or hiding out from the geeks and nerds with a Spock or elf fetish. And he had somehow stopped Ethan the night before when Arwen-her, Pippi-Willow, and Soldier-Xander were busy protecting him from Spike and his minions, she thought, so he must have some magical ability.
"Did anyone else retain a part of their costume," he asked, pulling a small notebook and pencil out of a pocket.
"Don't know, don't care," Buffy grumbled. "I want my ears back!"
"Willow?" Giles asked.
"I didn't," she said. "Which is a good thing because I couldn't go to high school if I were still Pippi and midterms are in two weeks and I need a good grade to take that class at UC Sunnydale next spring and..."
"Slow down Willow," Buffy said, when she looked like she was going to start hyperventilating. Grabbing her by the arm, Buffy guided her over to a chair at the nearest table. "And breathe."
"Oh, right!" Willow said, flopping gracelessly onto the chair.
"Have either of you talked with Xander this morning?" Giles asked.
"Not me," Buffy said, grabbing the chair next to Willow.
"He said he was skipping, today," Willow said, guiltily eyeing Buffy and Giles. "He didn't sound so good."
"Call him," Giles said, pointing at his office. Nodding, she reluctantly stood up and went over to his office, closing the door behind her.
"Is there anything else you need to tell me?" he asked softly.
"That I don't want Willow to know?" she asked. At his nod, she said "Nothing you can help us with. She thinks it's her fault."
"The ears with the costume was her idea," Buffy said.
"What would you have become otherwise?" Giles asked. "And would you have survived the night?"
"Ugh!" Buffy frowned. "The way the spell worked, turning people into some kind of fictional character, I would have been some brainless debutante out of some romance novel. I wouldn't have survived the night like that. It would have been a Buffy buffet for Spike and Drusilla."
"So, you were saved by an ear," Giles said, nodding to himself before writing something in his notebook.
Buffy groaned at the attempted humor. "Giles?"
"Yes?" He looked up from his notes.
"Bad jokes? That's Xander's thing. He doesn't need the competition."
"What?" Giles gave her a puzzled look. Shaking his head, he went back to his notes.
"Well?" Buffy asked impatiently when Willow rejoined them.
"He said he remembers things," Willow said.
"He wasn't too clear. Army food, the smell of gunpowder," she said. "Stuff like that. He didn't really want to talk about it."
"And this made him stay home?" Buffy asked. "There must be something more to it than that. I remember stuff. You remember stuff."
"I don't think it's the same thing," Willow said. "I remember living on a South Sea island with my father the Cannibal King. And Tommy and Annika. You remember living at Imladris and Lothlórien." Willow sighed. "He was a soldier. Who knows what he remembers. We can make him talk later."
"Okay, we'll chase him down after school," Buffy said, pushing Xander's issues to the back of her mind, for now. "So, back to my ear problem. Giles?"
"I'll have to look into it," he told them.
"Research?" Willow asked eagerly. "What can I do to help?"
Before Giles could answer her, the first period bell rang.
"Darn," Willow grumbled.
"We can skip," Buffy told her.
"No, we can't," Willow said. "Snyder."
"Snyder," Buffy echoed mournfully. "You'll tell us what you find out, right?" she asked, putting up no resistance as Willow pulled her out of the library.
"Of course," Giles told them.
"Giles?" Buffy called, as she and Willow walked back into the library after school.
"Yes?" he asked, poking his head out of his office.
"Any ideas yet?" she asked dropping her books on the counter.
"Nothing concrete, though I do have a question."
"What?" Buffy asked nervously.
"What color was your hair last night?"
"You mean with the costume?" Buffy hopped up onto the counter. She stayed there for a minute until his glare drove her off. "Black. Why?"
"You kept the ears," he wondered aloud. "I assume you still have them. But not the hair?"
"Yup, still got the pointy ears," Buffy said, patting her scarf before joining Willow at their favorite table. "Not sure what's up with the hair."
"Hmm." Giles stepped back into his office, reappearing a minute later with a small paper bag.
"What's that?" Willow asked.
"I was able to find a spell that should help," Giles told them, taking several small packets out of the bag and placing them on the counter. "These are some of the ingredients."
"It'll change me back?" Buffy asked excitedly.
"No," Giles said. "But it should show us how Ethan's spell changed your appearance. Once we know that, finding a way to reverse the process should be possible."
"When can we do it?" Willow asked.
"It has to be done at midnight in direct moonlight," Giles said.
"The full moon isn't for another week," Willow said, her excitement dissipating.
"Any moonlight will do," he said. "I'll need you both here tonight. The spell won't work otherwise."
"Me?" Willow squeaked. "I've never done any real magic. I've read a couple of your books but..."
Looking back and forth between her confused best friend and her Watcher, it belatedly occurred to Buffy that this was the first time he'd directly involved them in any real magic. Usually all they saw were the results.
"Um, yes, well..." he mumbled. "This spell requires your participation. It isn't very complicated. Even Buffy could do it if she weren't the person it is being done to."
"Hey!" Buffy blurted out at the implied insult. "Why Willow?"
"As I said, it isn't complicated," Giles said, taking off his glasses and nervously cleaning them. "I'll be doing the actual spell itself, but I need Willow to get one of the ingredients."
"Okay," Willow said. "But what about Buffy?"
"She has her own part to play," he told them, slipping on his glasses. "Here." He handed one packet to Buffy and another to Willow. "Don't mix them up."
Buffy sniffed hers, wrinkling her nose at the unfamiliar smells. "What's yours smell like?" she asked Willow, seeing her do the same thing.
"Licorice," Willow told her. "Yours?"
"Not sure. Cedar and sandalwood? Maybe?" They swapped packets. "I like yours better," Buffy said. "Can we trade?"
"No," Giles said firmly, taking back the packets and returning them to the correct girl.
"What do we do with them?" Willow asked.
"Make an infusion," Giles told them. "You need to drink it at least an hour before doing your part. And no makeup. It'll affect the spell."
"A what?" Buffy stared at him.
"It's like tea," Willow said. "We can do it at my house tonight, my parents are at a conference for the rest of the week. Just tell your mother you're sleeping over."
"Okay. So the plan for tonight is to drink the funky tea, get naked, and then meet here," Buffy said. "Yes?"
"Naked?" Willow squeaked.
"No makeup, therefore - naked," Buffy said, ignoring Giles' wince. There was something about the spell he wasn't telling them, she decided, hoping she wouldn't regret whatever it was. But it wasn't like she had a choice. The ears had to go.
"Correct," Giles said, continuing to look uncomfortable. "I'll explain the rest of it when you get here."
"Got it," Buffy said. "Willow, we should probably eat dinner at my house. Mom will agree to the sleep-over easier that way." Picking up her books, she headed towards the doors.
"Okay," Willow said, quickly grabbing her own book bag and following.
"We're back!" Buffy said loudly, entering the library with Willow.
"Good. Here are your instructions," Giles said, handing a small square box to Buffy and an envelope to Willow. "It's almost ten thirty. You'll want to do this somewhere private, in clear view of the moon, at midnight. Follow the instructions to the letter. And bring that back when you're done," he said.
"You couldn't have told us that earlier?" Buffy grumbled. "Any ideas?" she asked, turning to Willow. "It can't be far away."
"Actually, I know the perfect spot," Willow said grabbing Buffy's arm. "Come on. There's just enough time to get there."
"We'll be back!" Buffy said over her shoulder to her bemused watcher.
"This is your house," Buffy said, staring at their destination, mystified.
"Yup. Come on," Willow said, guiding her around to the back of the house, stopping in front of a gate in the tall fence that surrounded a small area behind the garage. Pulling out her keys, she unlocked the gate. "It's private. No one will see us."
"What is it?" Buffy asked following her into the small yard. In front of them was a small glass building that looked like a miniature greenhouse.
"It's a greenhouse," Willow said, using another key to unlock a small glass door. "The previous owner built it. My father used to grow prize winning orchids before my parents moved to Sunnydale. This is why they bought the house." Carefully opening the door, she went in.
"Looks kind of empty," Buffy said, cautiously poking her head in. Looking around she could see several low tables and a shovel and other tools but nothing resembling plants.
"I'm not sure why he stopped. He never talks about it," Willow said, turning on a small light hanging near the entrance that barely lit the room. "It was before I met Xander."
"So, what's the plan?" Buffy asked, joining her inside and putting the box on one of the tables.
"Well, Giles said we needed direct moonlight." Reaching over, she pressed a large red button. "But he didn't say we actually had to be outside to get it." With a low rumble, the center of the roof started to open, flooding the building with faint moonlight.
"Wow! Do all greenhouses do that?" Buffy asked, stepping into the pool of moonlight. She was sure she was imagining it but it felt like her skin was soaking it in, giving her an extra boost of energy.
"It's one of a kind," Willow said softly. "You like?"
"Muchly," Buffy said, grinning. "It has that privacy Giles said we'd want and should be safe from the usual interruptions. What do his directions say?"
Willow carefully opened the envelope and extracted several sheets of paper. "Oh my!" she said, after quickly scanning them.
"I can see why he said we'd want privacy," she said faintly. "And the no make-up stipulation."
"Why?" Buffy asked, pacing impatiently.
"We need to capture an impression of your mystical signature in that," Willow said, pointing at the small box.
"We both need to be sky clad for it to work. Completely."
In the dim light, Buffy could just barely detect Willow's blush. "Which means what for those of us who don't sneak into the library to read Giles' books?"
"Naked naked?" Buffy asked.
"Yup," Willow said. "Not a stitch."
"You can hold him down while I punch him!" Buffy said angrily, walking over to stand in front of Willow. "Pervert."
"Buffy?" Willow cautiously put her hand on Buffy's shoulder in a calming motion.
"I don't think this was his idea," Willow said, waving the directions. "And now we know why he said I had to do this part."
"I still plan to have words with him," Buffy said, not ready to let go of her anger. "This is going too far."
"Would you rather have those ears for the rest of your life?"
"No," Buffy said, sighing. "How do we do this? Can we do it with blind folds or our eyes closed?"
"No blind folds," Willow said. "If the directions are correct, that would ruin the imprint."
"So, we close our eyes, I take off my clothes, you do whatever, and then I put my clothes back on?" she asked hopefully.
Willow read through the directions once again. "I can't do my part with my eyes closed. Not unless we can rehearse it for a couple hours. Which we don't have time for."
"Oh," Buffy breathed, shaking her head. "So how do you want to do it then?"
"Giles has been teaching you to meditate, right?"
"A little. It's supposed to make it easier for me to remember any of those extra special slayer dreams," Buffy said. "I don't think I quite have it yet."
"Hmm." Willow looked around the greenhouse like she was trying to envision how things should be set up. "I need you to clean a large spot right in the middle, over there." She pointed at a spot bathed in moonlight. "Big enough to lay down on."
"Is this when we freak each other out with the nakedness?" Buffy asked, unable to completely hide her nervousness from Willow. It wasn't the nakedness, really, but the situation. Taking a shower after gym class or cheerleader practice and nakedness was a given for everyone. Taking her clothes off to do a spell, alone with her lesbian best friend? That was the stuff of cheesy Eighties porn. Like that video she'd found in the dumpster once when her mother was cleaning out a closet in their house in LA, after the divorce. Potential for embarrassment didn't really cover it.
"Not yet," Willow told her. "Bare feet should be enough for now."
"Okay," Buffy said, pulling off her boots and socks. The cement floor felt cold to her bare feet. "Broom?"
"This should do it," Willow said, grabbing a straw broom from a corner. "I'll go get something for you to sit on while you do that."
"You small town girls!" Buffy said, pretending to be offended, feeling the need to inject a little humor into the tense situation. "Invite a girl to your secret hide-away for a spell, ask her to get naked, and then expect her to sweep the floor as part of your nefarious scheme. I'm having a talk with my fairy godmother when this is over with. Cleaning wasn't part of the wish I made."
"Buffy!" Giggling, Willow shook her head. "You know this wasn't my idea. Seducing your best friend requires a seriously romantic location, not a dirty secret lair."
"So you've actually thought about it?" Buffy asked, curious. "Seducing your best friend?"
"Can I plead the fifth?" Willow asked, blushing.
"We're talking later," Buffy said firmly, taking the broom. "Go." She pointed at the door. "Time's a wasting."
Finished, Buffy put the broom back in its corner. Picking up the small box she carefully opened it. "Ooh, pretty," she breathed, looking at its contents. She carefully removed it from the box. It was the size of a small snow globe and slightly opaque. She resisted the urge to shake it, it looked extremely fragile. Held up to the moonlight, it seemed to sparkle.
Hearing the door open, she turned to see Willow entering the greenhouse, dressed in a robe, and carrying a small, rolled up rug.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Something for you to sit on," Willow told her. Spying the small globe in Buffy's hand she shook her head. "Couldn't resist opening it, could you," she said.
Buffy shrugged. "I finished cleaning the floor and I was bored," she said in self defense.
Willow nodded as if expecting that answer. "We should finish this up. It's almost midnight."
"What's next?" Buffy asked, watching her unroll the small rug and place it in the middle of the now clean floor. She watched, bemused, as her friend placed a compass in the middle of the rug. Muttering to herself, Willow drew four numbers on the floor with a piece of chalk and then picked up the compass. Noticing Willow blushing as she did this, she came to the obvious conclusion. "This is were the nakedness part comes in, isn't it?"
"Sorry," Willow said, looking guiltily down at the floor. "Basically, you sit on the rug, and I draw a circle around us, and say a few words. Something happens to the globe and we go back to the library."
"And then I get to kill Giles," Buffy said, remembering how angry she'd been with him earlier for putting the two of them in this situation.
"No killing," Willow protested.
"A little maiming?" Buffy asked hopefully.
"We'll see," Willow said, her expression telling Buffy that she was trying not to laugh.
"So, clothes off," Willow said, turning off the light, leaving the moon their only illumination. "I promise not to watch."
"You're loving this," Buffy said, turning around to give herself at least the semblance of privacy.
"Nope," Willow protested. "Embarrassing my best friend like this? Not one of my favorite things," she said adding, "Remember, we both have to go sky clad for this or it won't work. Not just you."
"I wasn't sure you were serious about going through with that," Buffy said, looking over her shoulder before she unbuttoned her blouse and took it off.
"That's why Giles wanted me to do this part of the spell, not just because of you being naked," Willow said, as if it had just occurred to her. "He's your Watcher. He sees plenty of skin when you get hurt, so he can at least pretend it's part of his job. But him getting naked in front of a teenaged girl he doesn't know? He's too uptight for something like that."
"Ew! Giles naked," Buffy sputtered, as she finished undressing. "Did you have to put that image in my head? Now I need to wash my brain out!"
"Sorry," Willow said, though Buffy could tell from the tone of her voice that she really wasn't.
"So, I'm naked, now what?" Buffy asked, looking longingly at the pile of her clothes dimly outlined on the floor. She knew there was very little difference between some of her favorite bikinis and being completely naked, but this made her, the Slayer, feel more vulnerable than she'd felt in a long time. At least it was warm in the greenhouse, even with the roof open. That was a definite plus, she decided.
"You sit on the rug, holding the globe, and clear your mind of every thought," Willow told her. "And you need to face west."
"West?" Buffy asked. "Which way is that?"
"Sorry," Willow blurted out, but not turning around. "It's the three."
"So, I'm basically meditating, while naked, in a room where moonlight is the only light, holding a glass ball," Buffy said, summarizing her understanding of what they were about to do. "And we're okay with this?" she asked rhetorically. "While I'm doing this, what are you doing?"
"You can close your eyes while you meditate," Willow said. "But otherwise, that's your part. I'll be writing a couple things on the ground and chanting. You can pretend I'm not here."
"Right, because I meditate naked in the moonlight every day," Buffy muttered under her breath, returning the globe back to its box. "How will we know it's working?" she asked.
"Um, I'm not sure," Willow said nervously. "The direction just say we'll know when its done."
"Watcher is definitely on tonight's wanna kill list," Buffy grumbled, sitting down on the rug and making sure she was facing the correct number. "This feels odd," she complained. "What's it made out of?"
"It had to be something natural so it won't interfere with the spell," Willow said. "It's a kusha Aasan. It's a kind of grass rug used to meditate on."
"Okay," Buffy said. "Oddly appropriate, but not exactly comfy on bare butt. When do I start?"
"You can close your eyes now," Willow told her. "Make sure you hold the globe in both hands."
Trying not to feel too silly, Buffy gave up trying to shield her breasts and arranged her legs in that cross-legged flower something position Giles insisted she use when meditating, holding the globe in both hands in her lap.
"All set," she said, closing her eyes. From the rustle of cloth, she assumed that Willow was taking off her robe.
"Okay," Willow said, her voice to Buffy's right, "No talking, no matter how silly this sounds. Just sit there and try to meditate. I'll try to explain as I go." In a clear, sing-song voice, she called out four names, moving around Buffy as she did so.
"Boreas of the North, bless us. Notos of the South, bless us. Euros of the East, bless us. Zephryos of the West, bless us."
After each name, Buffy could hear the faint sound of Willow writing something on the floor with her chalk. She wondered how she could see Giles' directions in just the moonlight.
"They're the Greek gods of the four winds," Willow said softly, when she finished in front of Buffy. "Now I need to draw a protection circle around us."
The only sound for the next five minutes was more of the writing sounds she'd heard earlier. Breathing slowly and deeply, Buffy tried to ignore the sound as she attempted to clear her mind.
"Mnemosyne, give me your blessing. Shine the truth of Selene's Light on this Daughter of Artemis," Willow said loudly.
Buffy could hear Willow sitting down in front of her when she finished.
"Mnemosyne was a Greek goddess of memory," Willow said, in a low voice, "Selene is the Greek goddess of the moon. Artemis... she's the Greek goddess of a lot of things. If a slayer had a patron Greek goddess, she'd be it. Now, I'm going to put my hands on the globe, on top of yours. Not sure what happens after that but it's the last thing on Giles' list."
Willow's hands were warm and soft on her own. Buffy sat there, waiting for something to happen, trying not to think about their combined nakedness. And for some sign that they were done.
"Eep!" Buffy opened her eyes at Willow's startled exclamation. Her eyes followed Willow's to the globe. It was glowing, and slowly getting brighter. In the distance, she could hear the wind pushing against the greenhouse. It seemed to be coming from every direction. And getting stronger.
Looking back up, she found herself looking into her friend's eyes. Raising an eyebrow, she shrugged but remained silent. There was a bright flash and the wind stopped. Bringing the globe up to eye level, Buffy could see it glowing between their hands.
"Done?" she asked.
"Done," Willow agreed, removing her hands. "We should get dressed," she added, her face turning a red that was visible even in the moonlight.
"If you aren't careful, that blush is going to be permanent," Buffy told her. "You first," she added, waving at Willow's robe before closing her eyes again.
"Right." Willow jumped up and quickly put on her robe, facing away from Buffy. "My clothes are in the house," she said, "I'll be right back."
Buffy waited for the door to close behind her before getting up herself. After carefully putting the globe back in its protective box, she turned on the light and quickly dressed.
Willow returned just as she finished pulling on her boots. "Um, so..." she mumbled, standing in front of Buffy, shifting nervously.
"We don't mention this little episode to anyone," Buffy said. Willow just nodded. "Especially not Dawn or Xander. But that is a cute tattoo," she told her with a wink.
"You peaked?" Willow squeaked in surprise.
"You didn't?" Buffy asked in mock surprise.
"Let's get this to Giles so he can do his thing," Buffy said, picking the box up again. "Good thing tomorrow is Saturday."
"We still have to do something about Xander," Willow reminded her, locking the greenhouse and then the gate as they left.
"Invite him over for a movie night at my house?" Buffy asked. "We can talk to him then. He can even pick out a movie or two."
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Willow asked. "He can pick some strange movies."
"As long as it's in English," Buffy said, adjusting the hat she'd borrowed from Willow earlier.
"I wonder where he is," Willow asked. They'd walked to the library as fast as possible, only running into one vampire that Buffy had quickly staked. But it seemed to be empty.
Buffy shrugged. "Smart Watcher. Sends us off to do a spell, all with the sky cladness, and he runs away so I can't kill him."
Willow shook her head. Buffy didn't seem to want to let that go. Sure, the nakedness had been a little embarrassing at first but Buffy had been very considerate of her feelings. Mostly. Besides, it hadn't killed them. To say nothing of providing fuel for her fantasies for the next few years. Which she was never going to admit to since looking at Buffy while they did the spell had been purely academic. She was just checking her to see what other physical changes Ethan's spell had caused. Really.
"What? Sorry," Willow mumbled, dragging her attention back to the present.
"He left a note," Buffy told her. Unfolding it, she read it to herself. "He had to go pick some flower out at Beaker's Woods that only blooms in the moonlight. He said to leave the globe in the safe in his office if we get back here before he does and come back in the morning to finish it."
"Okay," Willow said. She'd confront him in the morning about his absence. He could have just told them to come back with the globe in the morning. Buffy was probably right, she thought. He was hiding from his slayer. Walking into Giles' office, she squatted down and opened the small safe in the corner.
"How do you know the combination?" Buffy asked, pouting. "I don't even know it."
"Globe," she said, holding out her hand. Taking the box from Buffy, she placed it in the safe and closed the door. "Do you need to know it?" she asked.
"Maybe," Buffy said. "What's he keep in it?"
"Nothing," Willow said. "It came with the office."
"Oh," Buffy murmured, following Willow back out of his office, waiting while she turned off the light before locking it up.
"Come on 'Daughter of Artemis'," Willow said, winking at her friend.
"Does that make you my priestess?" Buffy asked, grabbing her hand. "One of those Vestal Virgins?"
"No," Willow said, following her out of the school, amazed at the connections Buffy could make. "Wrong Goddess. And they had to be virgins for thirty years."
"Ouch," Buffy, said. "I wouldn't wish that on even Cordelia."
"A little late for that," Willow murmured as they walked down the sidewalk, forgetting how good Buffy's hearing was.
"Ooh... someone has Cordy issues," Buffy said.
"And darn proud of it!" Willow announced, unlocking the door and ushering Buffy into her house.
Waiting for the toast to pop up, Willow watched her best friend's face reflected in the kitchen window. She'd learned to read her expressions fairly well in the past few months but with the subtle changes from Halloween, she was having to learn them all over again.
Buffy still smiled. Her eyes still occasionally twinkled at some inner joke, and she still seemed like a bright beacon in Willow's formerly drab world. But her expressions were more subtle now. She used to show a happy, open face to outsiders.
It wasn't hard for Willow to imagine that anyone seeing her before Halloween would say 'There's a girl living life to its fullest'. There'd been a sureness in her eyes, even after surviving her encounter with the Master, that made those around her think things would be okay. She'd had her 'brush with death' meltdown and she'd seemed to move on.
But now, when Buffy thought no one was looking, her face lost most of its' animation. It took on an unearthly sereneness that reminded Willow of Michelangelo's Pietà, something she'd seen during one of the rare times her parents had taken her on one of their month long summer consultations. She'd been fascinated by the statues she'd encountered while exploring the churches and ruins of Rome but never expected to find an echo of one in her friend's face.
The sound of the toaster, attempting to forcibly eject its load of partially carbonized bread, interrupted her thoughts. Grabbing the two slices with tongs, she placed one of them on the plate in front of Buffy and the other on hers.
"Are you sure this is enough?" she asked, quickly slathering a layer of butter and then a layer of strawberry jam on her own toast.
"This is fine," Buffy said, taking a sip of her cocoa. "Not real hungry this morning anyway."
"Giles will fix it," Willow told her confidently.
"Maybe," Buffy mumbled.
"We should get going," Willow said. "Do we need to stop at your house first?"
"Nah, we'd pick up a leach," Buffy said.
"Leach? Oh! She's not that bad," Willow said, standing up.
"Tell me that when you have a little sister," Buffy grumbled.
"Not likely," Willow said. "My parents? One tax deduction was plenty."
"You don't know that," Buffy protested.
"Yes I do," Willow told her. "Even they will admit that the parenting thing? Not their most shining moment."
"Willow," Buffy said, giving her an upset look before picking up their plates and putting them in the sink.
Studying her, Willow frowned, not sure what she'd said. She loved her parents but she was well aware of their flaws. And so were they. And brutally honest about it when she'd confronted them about missing yet another Parent Teacher Night when she was in 8th grade. And then it struck her what the problem probably was.
Something about Arwen-Buffy had scared Angel. They hadn't seen him since the spell ended. He'd probably noticed the changes in Buffy before anyone else and had made himself scarce. It couldn't have done Buffy's ego much good to scare away the person she'd been trying to impress. And now the comments about her own parents had added to the problem. Fortunately, Buffy's father was still a part of her life, so that wasn't an issue.
"Buffy?" she said, gently taking her hand, hoping she was right. She couldn't fix the Angel problem but the rest of it shouldn't be hard.
"Yeah?" Buffy looked at her.
"My mother isn't anything like yours," Willow said softly. "She doesn't have a maternal bone in her body. She has all of these parenting books and she tries really hard but it doesn't come natural. But I know she loves me anyway. And my parents together? It's like watching the end of a romantic comedy from the sixties."
"Really?" Buffy whispered, a faint, hopeful smile showing.
"Yup," Willow said. "Fortunately, they're the only ones who can hear the corny soundtrack. We need to get going. Are we still doing movie night at your house tonight? Or do you want to cancel?" she offered.
"No canceling," Buffy said firmly, following Willow to the front door. "Wouldn't want to disappoint his Xanderness."
"Yeah," Willow said. "And since Giles is gonna fix your ears today, we can finally deal with his Halloween issues."
"And how do I explain them to him if Giles can't?" Buffy asked, stopping to adjust her hat in the foyer mirror while Willow set the house alarm.
"I'll think of something," Willow told her. "Don't worry."
"I don't think he went home last night," Willow whispered, spotting Giles staring off into the distance, a cup of something that might be tea giving off steam in front of him. "Wasn't he wearing that same shirt last night?"
"Definite signs of an all-nighter," Buffy whispered back.
"So, what's the sitch," Buffy asked Giles, collapsing onto a chair, happy to have avoided catching the attention of Cordelia and her cheer minions sweating away in the gym, not ready to face another Cordelia snark and fashion advice attack with the Mom-hat on her head.
He looked at them through bloodshot eyes. "The results are a bit confusing," he said. "I've run the test multiple times. There was no sign of either Ethan's spell or chaos magic on your impression."
"What's that mean?" Buffy asked.
"I have a theory but nothing definite yet," Giles told them. "I sent a copy of the impression off to a friend several hours ago for a second opinion. I expect her to call back within the hour."
"So, more waiting?" Buffy asked in dismay, quickly glancing at Willow to see her reaction.
Giving Buffy a faint frown, Willow hopped up out her chair. "Giles? Can I use your phone?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "Go ahead."
"What do you have in mind?" Buffy asked. Willow shook her head before disappearing into his office for several minutes.
"No sitting around," she said, pulling Buffy to her feet. "Giles, we'll be back in a couple hours with lunch."
At Giles' questioning glance, Buffy shrugged. She had no idea what Willow had in mind.
"We come bearing lunch," Willow announced pushing open the library doors with her free hand.
Putting the large bag on the counter, she turned to Buffy. "Table cloth."
"Yes, ma'am," Buffy said, pulling a folded cloth out of her own bag and holding it out to her in an exaggerated manner.
Willow carefully moved the old books to one side of the table, as Giles looked on in bemusement. Taking the cloth from Buffy, she gave it a shake to unfold it and paced it on the cleared end of the table.
"Utensils?" she asked, holding out a hand.
"Forks, knives, plates," Willow said, shaking her head.
"Giles? I hope you still like pastrami on rye," Buffy said, placing a wrapped sandwich in front of a chair. "You're on your own for beveraging." Rummaging around in the bag, she pulled out a diet soda for herself and lemonade for Willow followed by her sub and Willow's veggie pita concoction. Sitting down, she wait for them to join her.
"Go ahead," Willow told her, much to Buffy's relief. She didn't seem to eat a lot more than before becoming a slayer but she certainly felt hungrier when she went too long between meals.
"What'd you find out?" Buffy asked, nervously picking at her sub several minutes later.
"According to Council lore, you should never have been Chosen as The Slayer," Giles said.
Buffy could almost hear the capital letters in his voice. "What?" she blurted out in surprise. "What do you call what I've been doing for the last couple years?"
"While you have been acting as a slayer," he said, "only native potentials should become The Slayer."
"I'm a native," Buffy said. "At least I think so. California born and bred. Unless you mean non-English?"
"Where you were physically born is not the issue," he said. "The magic that chooses the Slayer's successor has always chosen someone human whose line originated on this planet."
"What does that mean?" Willow asked, lightly tapping her soda can on the table.
"Someone with demon or other non-human blood has never become the slayer," Giles said. "There have been several cases where a potential slayer had an ancestor who was a member of one of the neutral hybrid demonic races, but they've never become the slayer."
Willow frowned. "How do you know that's why?"
"The Council has ways of knowing," he said. "I've repeated the spell several times. The results are conclusive. This situation is unprecedented."
"Maybe I'm just special," Buffy said, winking at Willow.
"It isn't like she is running for President," Willow added. "No one is going to ask to see her birth certificate, are they?"
Giles gave Willow a puzzled look before continuing. "I'm not sure how the Council missed it before, but this isn't something we can argue about. Your heritage should have prevented you from being chosen."
"Her heritage? So, what is she?" Willow asked gazing worriedly at Buffy. "Except for the ears, and the freakishly super-heroic abilities, she looks normal to me."
"That's what has taken me so long to determine," Giles admitted. "The only thing of a demonic nature in your profile is the slayer essence you possess. Unfortunately, Council records are a bit lacking in information on the non-demonic, non-human races. The closest match was the Tuatha Dé Danann."
"The who?" Buffy asked, before wrapping up the tattered remains of her sub. Listening with half an ear, she grabbed an oatmeal raisin cookie from the pile, feeling the need for something chewy and tart.
"A people thought to be the origin of the legends of the Fae," Giles told them, disposing of the remains of his own lunch. "Irish legend speaks of them as gods."
"I'm thinking that claiming to be a god would be a bad thing?" Buffy said with a grimace.
"Yes," Giles said.
"Weren't they also known as elves?" Willow asked. Standing up, she gathered their garbage and carried it over to the trash can near the door.
"One aspect of the elves of folklore has certainly been traced back to them," Giles said when she rejoined them.
"So, Buffy dresses as a fictional elf for Halloween, and now she's a real one?" Willow asked.
"Partially correct," Giles said. "She didn't truly become one because of Ethan's spell. According to these tests she's always been one."
"How do you explain the physical changes?" Willow asked. "The ears, her height, her hair, her face?"
"Hey!" Buffy grumbled at the mention of the lost inches.
"Face? Hair?" Giles took off his glasses and carefully cleaned them. Putting them back on, he carefully examined his slouching slayer. "I hadn't realized the changes were so extensive."
"So not the point," Buffy said grumpily. "What am I supposed to do now?"
"It's possible this is a temporary condition," he said. "Nothing is known about the appearance of the Tuatha Dé Danann. There are demon-human hybrids who have the ability to change their appearance between human and a more demonic one. It's possible they also had that ability," he said. "It would certainly explain why they seemed to have disappeared several millennia ago."
"Cami-what?" Buffy asked.
"A disguise," Willow told her. "To make it easier to blend in."
"Unless you're adopted, it's possible one of your parents isn't native to this dimension and knows how to return your appearance to what it was before," Giles told her.
"I've never felt anything non-humany from my mother or father," Buffy protested. "Wouldn't be surprised if my sister is a demon. So I'm probably adopted?"
"You'll have to ask your mother that," Giles said. "But it is a reasonable explanation."
"Great! Oh Mother Dear, am I adopted?" Buffy said, dramatically turning to a corner of the library and speaking to an imaginary person. "That'll go over well," she said to Giles.
"Can't we just look at Buffy's birth certificate?" Willow asked.
"There isn't a copy in her Council records. They don't start until Merrick found her," he said.
"You can't..." Buffy said, looking back at Willow and miming typing.
"Nope," Willow said. "Those aren't computerized yet and your school records don't have that kind of stuff in them."
"Giles? What'd the Council say?" Willow asked curiously. "When you asked them about this."
"I, ah... haven't told them," Giles said, nervously shuffling his notes. "I don't believe they need to know. We don't need the distraction of a Council investigation."
"What do they normally do when something like this happens?" Willow asked.
"Since it had never happened before," Giles said, "I suspect they would react in a negative fashion."
"So, we never tell them, and hope I'm back to normal soon?" Buffy said, looking at both of them intently.
"Yup," Willow agreed.
"Quite," Giles said, getting up and carrying his mug and notes back to his office.
"And where are you going?" Willow asked, watching Buffy silently get up and walk to the door. Her breath caught in her throat at the agonized look her question received in answer.
"We're done here and I have to go talk with my mom," Buffy mumbled, before slipping out of the room.
"What about... tonight," Willow asked faintly, slumping back into her chair.
"Where's Buffy?" Giles asked, returning from his office.
"Where do you think she went," Willow said, glaring at him. "You just told her she might be adopted and her being the Slayer was a pointless cosmic accident."
"I did not," Giles protested, once more pulling out his handkerchief to wipe his glasses. "A slayer is never called accidentally. We might never know why, when she should never have become a slayer, but there is a good reason for Sunnydale to have one."
"Like what?" Willow asked, pulling over a book and idly looking through it.
"The Hellmouth," Giles told her.
Willow shook her head. "Didn't you say there were other Hellmouths? Why should this one have a slayer and those don't?"
"This one is active," Giles said triumphantly.
"Too simple," Willow murmured, running her hand over the embossed cover of the book. "There's only one slayer, right?"
"Why keep the slayer in one place all the time. Isn't there evil all over the world?"
"Yes." Giles gave her a puzzled look, as if he couldn't figure out where she was going with her questions. Not that she had an actual point. She wasn't going to tell him she was just rambling to keep him in the library to give Buffy a chance to calm down before going after her herself.
"So the Hellmouth doesn't actually need a full time guardian," Willow said. "Any random slayer could drop in when needed. I mean, they all have those dreams, right?"
"Most of them," he said reluctantly, a fact Willow squirreled away in her head for later examination.
"So why Buffy? And why now?"
"We'll find out soon enough, I suspect," Giles told her.
"Okay," Willow said, giving him her most skeptical look. "We'll see you Monday." Standing up, she paused to give him time to issue the inevitable orders.
"Remind Buffy that she still needs to patrol," he said, before heading back to his office.
"Of course," Willow murmured. "Wouldn't want to forget that." Stopping at the door, she had a sudden thought. "Hey Giles?"
"Yes?" He stopped.
"Your friend? Do you trust her to keep this a secret?"
"Yes," he said. "Her coven does not agree with the Council's treatment of the slayer." Shaking his head at the idea, he went into his office.
"Okay, thanks," she said. Closing the door, Willow headed towards the exit, already thinking of ways she could find out who Giles friend was without him knowing. Someone on Buffy's side, who wasn't part of the Council, could only be a good thing.
Coffee mug in hand, Joyce watched the large pot of water start to boil. She'd quickly learned after moving to Sunnydale to make large quantities of food whenever Buffy invited her friends over for movie night. She could hear Dawn behind her humming the theme to her current favorite cartoon.
"Dawn, go somewhere that's else," she heard Buffy say. Turning around, she noticed that her eldest daughter was unexpectedly wearing one of her hats.
"Why? I'm helping make dinner," Dawn grumbled.
"It's private," Buffy said. "So, go away."
"Go. You can go wait for Xander out on the porch," she told her, making shooing motions.
"Xander's coming over?" Dawn said, a large grin appearing on her face.
"You knew that!" Buffy said. "You were snooping when I asked last night."
"I wasn't snooping," Dawn said. "And how would you know? You were at Willow's house."
"The next time you listen to someone using the upstairs phone," Buffy said, "make sure you turn off your music first."
"Dawn?" Joyce said, frowning at her. "You know better."
"Mom..." Dawn whinged. "I never get to hear the good stuff."
Shaking her head, Joyce pointed to the door. "Porch, living room, or bedroom," she said. An eleven year old did better with choices. Something she'd learned several years before when Buffy'd gone through the same phase.
"Yes, Mom," Dawn mumbled before sulkily leaving the room.
Leaning against the sink, Joyce sipped her coffee, watching her eldest daughter stomp around the kitchen muttering unintelligibly to herself.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, finally coming to a stop.
"Tell you what?"
"That I'm adopted," Buffy said, pausing for a second to go to the door to yell into the other room "You better not be listening!"
"Buffy!" Joyce said, warningly. Even though Dawn's response hadn't reached her ears, they both winced when the sound of the front screen door slamming shut echoed back to them.
"Mom!" Buffy whinged, "It's none of her business."
"You're not adopted," Joyce said. "What gave you that idea? As your mother, it is something I would know."
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked, tugging at the edges of the hat she was wearing. "Maybe you imagined it?"
Joyce frowned at her, "Eighteen hours of labour, in the middle of a hurricane, is not something one imagines."
"You're getting old," Buffy said. "It's possible you forgot."
"No, I remember every second of it," Joyce said, throwing in a glare for good measure at the age comment.
"Then how do you explain this?" Buffy said, dramatically pulling off her hat. "Unless you had an affair with a Keebler elf!"
"Buffy!" Joyce said indignantly, hoping her surprise wasn't showing.
"Well, where else would these come from?" she asked, tugging at an ear lobe. "And why am I shorter than you or Dad? I bet Dawn is going to be taller than me too, with her big elephant feet."
"Oh dear," Joyce murmured, ignoring the Dawn comment. "Those aren't the costume ears from Halloween?" she asked hopefully.
"Nope," Buffy said bluntly, sitting down.
"It doesn't mean you're adopted," Joyce told her.
Joyce stared at Buffy for minute, trying to decide what to tell her. She'd hoped it would never come to this. Hoped that her daughters would be free from the family curse. Not that her great aunt had considered it a curse.
"There's a perfectly good explanation," Joyce said, putting down her cup and taking the water off the burner. "Don't go anywhere."
"As if," Buffy grumbled, just barely loud enough for Joyce to hear. "And risk getting mobbed by a wandering band of geeks with a Spock fetish?"
Joyce shook her head, pausing only for a moment at the bottom of the stairs to check on her youngest daughter, sitting out on the front porch, headphones on and her newest manga in front of her. Satisfied that Dawn would be occupied for a while, she continued up the stairs.
Entering her bedroom, she lifted the painting of her Great Aunt Elizabeth from the wall and removed the thick envelope taped to its back. Nosy daughters sometimes meant cliched hiding places, she thought with some embarrassment. She'd been planning to put it with the rest of her important papers in the bank for months but it looked like she would need its contents after all.
Re-entering the kitchen, she held up a hand to stop Buffy's rant about Spock fetishists in mid-sentence. Putting the envelope down on the table, she grabbed a glass and filled it with ice. Taking out the bottle of Scotch she kept in the cupboard above the stove, she splashed a large amount in the glass. "You didn't see where this came from," she told Buffy firmly, before returning the bottle to its hiding place.
Taking a large gulp, she sat down in front of her wide-eyed daughter. Opening the envelope, she carefully poured its contents out onto her side of the table.
"I can't say I'm completely surprised," she said, arranging the slim, leather bound book, a silver ring and earring, and photos in front of her. "But I was really hoping you'd be spared this." Picking up the top photo and looking at it, she wondered briefly where the years had gone. "Buffy, this is a family secret. You can't tell anyone," Joyce said, before handing it to Buffy.
"Who's this with you?" Buffy asked in a shocked voice. "She has my ears."
"That's my Great Aunt Elizabeth. It was taken on my sixteenth birthday."
"Why can't I tell anyone?" she asked, putting the photo down. "They're my ears."
Joyce raised an eye brow at her daughter's comment. "What do you think would happen?"
"Permanent Star Trek geek tent cities on the front lawn?" Buffy said.
"I was thinking more like forced relocation to Area 51," Joyce told her.
"A secret government base where they supposedly study aliens?" Joyce said. Seeing no comprehension in Buffy's eyes, she added. "It's out in the middle of a desert, with no mall. Not that you'd be able to go outside anyway."
"Paranoid much?" Buffy grumbled.
"Better safe than sorry," Joyce said. "Looked what happened to the people who lived here before the Spanish arrived."
"I get the point," Buffy said. "Being different is okay. Attracting attention from the people in the shiny black helicopters? Not so much."
"Keep that in mind," Joyce said.
"What about Willow?" Buffy asked.
"She noticed the ears were real before I did," Buffy said.
"Do you trust her to keep this a secret?" Joyce asked, wondering why Buffy was blushing.
"Okay, but no one else," Joyce said. Buffy nodded.
"She doesn't have these ears in her painting in your room," she said, peering down at the picture.
"No," Joyce agreed. She then passed the other photo to her before taking another sip. Scotch had really been Hank's drink of choice, but it would serve its purpose.
Buffy looked at the photo, over at her mother, and back at the photo several times. "You had them too," Buffy mumbled. "How'd you get rid of them?"
"I didn't," Joyce admitted.
"Huh?" Buffy stared at her ears like she was trying to see through them. "Your ears look normal. How'd you do it?"
Joyce sighed. "It's not so much getting rid of them as hiding them," she said, gulping down the rest of the Scotch and once more holding up a hand to signal quiet. The strong alcohol made things much easier, but she'd never particularly enjoyed the process.
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and concentrated. It took a minute to achieve the necessary state of mind. Somewhere behind her eyes was an invisible point she needed to focus on. Once she was ready, she mentally reached for that focal point, pushing the outside world away and visualizing herself as she looked with the ears and lightly shorter and thinner body.
After several minutes of concentrating, and ignoring Buffy's impatience that she could sense across the table, there was a sharp, agonizing shift in her head, and her hearing was suddenly much sharper. If she tried, she knew she could hear Dawn's breathing out on the porch and traffic in the street. Hearing Buffy's surprised gasp, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes, squinting against the sudden increase in light.
"How?" Buffy asked. "Is it magic?"
"I don't know how it works," Joyce said, wondering at Buffy's tone, as if magic were an everyday thing in her life. "Magic isn't real," she added.
"Then how?" Buffy asked again.
"I'm sure there's a term for it," Joyce said, reflexively shielding her eyes against the bright kitchen lights, "but I was never that good with science."
"Yes," Joyce said. "Your great uncle was fascinated by the whole thing, even though he couldn't do it himself. He spent years looking into it."
"Why not?" Buffy asked.
"It runs in the family, but only the eldest daughter can control the change if it happens. Your Aunt Arleen can only change with help."
"So Dawn isn't going to suddenly get ears like mine?"
"No. You're the only one." Joyce said, not letting her relief show. Even though there was a remote chance Dawn would inherit the ability to shift, it wouldn't make a sudden appearance like it had for her eldest daughter.
"Can you teach me how to go back to normal?" Buffy asked.
"Yes, but it can take a while to learn. It took me months the first time." Joyce winced at the expression on Buffy's face.
"So I'm stuck like this until I can figure it out?"
"No, fortunately," Joyce said. Picking up the ring, she held it up. "Watch." Sliding the ring onto her left ring finger, Joyce concentrated again, picturing herself with normal ears until she felt herself shift back. She'd forgotten how much easier it was with the ring.
"Are you sure it isn't magic?" Buffy asked, her eyes large in her face. "Why didn't you do that the first time?"
"There's no such thing as magic," Joyce said again, wondering who had been filling her daughter's head with such nonsense. "The ring only works twice and then needs to recharge. And that can take days."
"Oh," Buffy said. "So you did it without the ring the first time..."
"So you can use it," Joyce said. "Yes." Sliding off the ring, she handed it to Buffy. "You'll need to wear it until you can control the change yourself. It'll also prevent any accidental changes."
"Okay," Buffy said, slipping on the ring. "How does it work?"
"You need to concentrate," Joyce told her. "Picture yourself the way you want to look."
"So I can use it to look like anyone?" Buffy asked, grinning at some secret thought. "Or change a few things?"
"No," Joyce told her. "That isn't how it works."
"You tried it didn't you," Buffy said, smirking at her mother.
"No. Maybe," Joyce said, feeling herself blush. "It's hard to describe. You're still you but it's like your body has different forms. Once you've changed into one of those forms, with practice you can repeat it."
"So, there's an elf me, and a human me? Can we change into anything else?"
"Aunt Elizabeth always claimed there was a third form but never said what it was. But we're not elves," Joyce said firmly. "We just aren't from around here."
"What does that mean?" Buffy asked. "Not from around here?"
"Not from this planet," Joyce told her, sipping her coffee to get rid of the taste of the Scotch.
"How do you know?"
Joyce held up the book. "According to Aunt Elizabeth, it's explained in here," she said, sliding it across to her. "It's a journal written by one of your distant ancestors."
Buffy opened it and looked at a page. It looked familiar, like something Arwen-her would have known, she thought, but the words she ended up with made no sense. "I can't read it. What's it written in?"
"Aunt Elizabeth was't able to read most of it either," Joyce said, taking it back. "Just a few words here and there. It's in a language she called Furling."
"So, we have a book that no one can really read, but we think it says we're aliens? We also have the ability to sort of shape change, and a ring that helps. What does this do?" Buffy gingerly took the earring and looked at it.
"It doesn't get lost," Joyce said. "No one really knows, but it and the ring are always together. Whomever has the ring always has the earring nearby."
"And you're sure this isn't magic?"
"It's technology," Joyce insisted, feeling slightly frustrated that Buffy kept bringing up magic. "If you looked at them with a very powerful microscope, the ring and the earring also have writing on them like the book."
"Huh. So how do I work it?" Buffy asked, playing with the ring on her finger.
"You need to concentrate on what you want to look like," Joyce said. "Which form you want to take." She watched Buffy close her eyes and take several deep breaths before falling into what looked like a deep meditative state. It wasn't instantaneous but Buffy shifted faster than she expected, remembering her own first time.
"Not the most pleasant feeling," Buffy said, opening her eyes. "Like something cold and metallic sliding under my skin. Does it get better?"
"Buffy! Willow's here!" Dawn's shout from the porch interrupted them before she could get an answer.
"Hey Dawn. Is Buffy home?" Willow asked, stopping at the bottom of the steps.
"Is Xander coming?" Dawn countered.
"In a little bit," Willow said. "Where's Buffy?" she asked.
"In the kitchen with Mom. They're having a private conversation," Dawn said, looking up from her book.
"I'll come back later," Willow said, disappointed.
"I'm sure Buffy will let you listen," Dawn grumbled. "It's not like you're family," she added, getting up.
Willow just shrugged guiltily. She'd noticed that Buffy tended to keep secrets from her little sister.
"Buffy! Willow's here!" Dawn yelled through the screen door. "Go ahead," Dawn said, listening intently for a minute. "I'll stay out here where it's safe from rampaging sisters."
Willow nodded and entered the house. She suspected the only reason Dawn wasn't going in was the promised appearance of Xander. Otherwise she would have found a way to listen to Buffy and her mother talking. Willow didn't have the heart to tell her that Xander might not show up. Stopping in the kitchen door she waved at Buffy and her mother.
"Hey Willow," Buffy said, waving her into the kitchen. "Have a seat."
"Are you sure Buffy?" her Mom asked, looking intently at Willow as she sat down next to Buffy, causing her to blush. "This isn't just your life."
"Yes," Buffy said. "I trust her."
"Buffy?" Willow said, wondering what was going on. Looking at her best friend, she suddenly realized something. "What happened to your ears?" she asked. Unable to resist, she reached out and ran a finger along one of Buffy's now normal looking ears.
"Focus, Willow!" Buffy said, grabbing her hand.
"Sorry," Willow said, blushing even redder.
"Ear fetish?" Buffy's Mom asked, clearly amused.
"Apparently," Buffy said, still holding Willow's hand. "Fortunately, they aren't sensitive like earlier."
"I'd rather not discuss that right now," Buffy said, blushing. "Please?"
"Later," Buffy's Mom said, giving both of them a look that Willow couldn't interpret.
"So, your ears?" Willow asked.
"Fixed," Buffy said. "For now anyway," she added when her mother shook her head in disagreement.
Noticing the photographs on the table, Willow picked one up. "Who's this?" she asked excitedly. The girl in the photo looked vaguely familiar but it was her ears that Willow really noticed.
"That... would be my Mom," Buffy said, pointing across the table.
Willow was sure that the only reason her shock didn't show was from experiencing life with Xander, the king of shocking and often outright crazy statements. It was too bad that reflex didn't work with blushes, she thought. "Your Mom? You?" Willow looked at her for confirmation.
"Yes," she said.
"Who's this?" Willow asked, once she'd had a chance to digest the idea.The other photo contained a young Ms. Summers standing next to an older woman, also with pointy ears.
"My Great Aunt Elizabeth," Buffy's Mom said.
"So it's a family thing?" Willow asked, wondering how they'd managed to hide it for so long.
"Yup," Buffy said cheerfully. "I'm not adopted after all."
"Dawn will be so disappointed," Willow said with a nervous giggle.
"So, how'd you turn your ears back?" Willow asked. "You obviously don't look like that all the time. I wonder if your aunt knew Gene Roddenberry? Spock's ears came from somewhere."
"Before we go any further, I need a promise," Buffy told her. "You can't tell Xander, or anyone else about this."
"Not anyone? At all?" Willow wondered how they were going to explain things to Giles.
"Nope," Buffy said. "Black helicopters."
"Black helicopters?" Willow frowned at the non sequitur.
"Buffy," her Mom said with a groan.
"You brought it up first," Buffy protested.
"If you were Xander," Willow said, "and you obviously aren't..."
"I'm way cuter," Buffy said with a wink.
"If you were Xander," she repeated, glaring at the interruption, "I would suspect you had watched 'The Men In Black' one too many times and had aliens on the brain again."
"That would make life easier," Buffy's Mom said. "But I'm more concerned about real government entanglements."
"Oh," Willow thought for a moment. "So this is just between us? Do I need to sign an oath in blood?"
"Blood?" Buffy's Mom frowned at her.
"I take that as a no," Willow murmured. "So, how'd you fix your ears?"
"Some of us have alien shape shifter genes," Buffy told her.
"You're kidding," Willow said.
"Nope," Buffy said.
"So you can change into anyone you want?" Willow asked excitedly. "Like Mystique?"
"Who's Mystique?" Buffy asked.
"A comic book character," Willow said. "She can turn into anyone. Does Dawn know?" Willow asked. "About any of it?"
"No," Buffy said. "Mom doesn't want her to know yet."
"The shifting ability is only carried through the female line," her mother said. "Buffy gets it from me; her eldest daughter would get it from her. Younger daughters don't usually inherit it."
"Sound very selective," Willow said. "Wait, if that's your Great Aunt, how did you inherit this?"
"She was one of the exceptions to the rule," she said.
"Oh," Willow said. "So, why do you think it's an alien thing and not something else."
"What else could it be?"
"There are legends of beings who could change their appearance," Willow said. "Or maybe it's a mutant ability like Mystique?"
"No," Buffy's Mom said. "This isn't a comic book."
"But we do have that book in an unknown language," Buffy said. "And the ring." She held up her hand.
"Book?" Willow asked. Taking the book from Buffy, she eagerly leafed through it. "It sort of looks like Sindarin?"
"Almost," Buffy agreed. "But if you pronounced it like Sindarin you'd get nonsense. Or a headache."
"Sindarin?" Buffy's mother gave them both a puzzled look. "It's in Furling."
"Elvish from 'Lord of the Rings'," Willow explained. "Must be a coincidence. That was an artificial language. Can you read it?"
"No one in the family has been able to read more than a word or two of it for several centuries."
"How about this?" Buffy waved her hand. "The ring is like a switch. It flips the genes that control the change."
"So you can change back?" Willow asked, grabbing Buffy's hand to look at the ring.
"Sort of," Buffy said reluctantly.
"She needs to wear the ring until she can control the change on her own," Buffy's Mom said.
"Huh." Willow frowned. "Can anyone else use it to change?"
"Not outside the family," she said.
"Why?" Buffy asked Willow.
"I was wondering what it felt like to be an elf," Willow said.
"It's like all of your senses are turned up to eleven," Buffy's Mom said.
"Was that another pop culture reference?" Buffy asked Willow. "I think this shape shifting stuff affects the brain cells. Because that? Is not something my mother should know."
"When is Xander coming over?" Buffy's mom asked in what Willow thought was an excellent example of redirection.
"A half hour or so," Willow said.
"And he's going to be here late?"
"Yes," Buffy said.
"Okay. Now scoot while I finish making dinner so he doesn't starve," she said. "I'll give you girls a call when I want you to set the table."
"Yes, Mom," Buffy said, jumping up. "Come on Willow, before she suddenly discovers some alien mind control power she didn't know she had."
Giggling, Willow followed Buffy out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her room.
"You can't go in yet," Dawn said, sitting at the top of the porch steps.
"Buffy isn't home?" Xander asked. Willow had insisted that he come over. Her tone had been the one no one ignored, if they were smart.
"She is but they're having the 'adoption' conversation," Dawn said in a loud whisper.
"Buffy's adopted?" Xander asked, wondering if this was why Willow had insisted on his appearance for the evening.
"Yes, isn't it obvious?" Dawn asked. "She doesn't look anything like Mom and me and she's too short to be related to Dad."
"So you're just guessing?"
"Maybe?" Dawn said. "But I'm sure it's true. I heard Buffy say it herself a couple minutes ago."
"Okay." Xander sat down on a lower step. "So, how'd your Halloween turn out?"
"Janice broke her arm so her parents wouldn't let her go out. So we handed out candy instead," Dawn said.
"Smart," Xander said.
"So something strange did happen?" Dawn asked eagerly. "Everybody's already forgotten."
"That sounds like Sunnydale," Xander said. "Some people turned into their costumes for a little while. You didn't get yours at that new costume shop, Ethan's, did you?"
"Nope," Dawn said. "I got mine in LA this summer. So, did Buffy turn into an elf? She hasn't said anything about it."
"Yup," Xander said. "I was somebody else at the time, but I don't think she really changed so much as thought she was an elf."
"I bet Willow had fun being Pippi," Dawn said, standing up to play with a fancy Yo-yo that Xander thought looked very familiar.
"Were'd you get the yo-yo from?" he asked carefuly.
"Janice gave it to me," Dawn said. "It went with my costume."
"Were'd she get it?"
"I don't remember," Dawn said nervously.
Xander frowned. If she'd spent the evening with her friend handing out candy, there wasn't much trouble she could have gotten into, if he remembered her costume correctly. He'd just have to talk with Buffy and Willow about it after she went to bed.
"Dawn," Buffy said loudly from the door, "Go get washed up. Dinner's ready."
"Come on Xander," Dawn said grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet.
"Nu-uh," Buffy said, stepping outside and prying her hand loose.
"But he needs to wash up," Dawn protested.
"He'll be along in a minute," Buffy told her. "Now scoot!"
"Uh, yes," Buffy said firmly, pointing inside. Glaring at her, Dawn stomped into the house.
"What's up?" Xander asked.
"Just a second," she told him, pointing at the door. She listened for a moment before sitting down on the steps. "Have a seat," she said, patting the step below her.
Nodding, he sat down and waved at her to go ahead.
"So, who exactly did you go as for Halloween?" Buffy asked. "I know it was some comic book soldier guy but Willow didn't know who he was."
"Does it matter?" Xander asked, leaning back, his elbows on Buffy's step. He'd had a couple days to get used to the memories.
"When our best male friend becomes a hermit for a couple days because of something he remembers? Of course it matters."
"No big," Xander said, shrugging.
"Yes, big, Mister!" Willow said, joining them on the steps. "You may not have ended up with not so fake ears like Buffy, but something happened."
"Ears?" Xander sat up and stared at Buffy. "They look normal to me."
"We can talk about that later," Buffy told him. "It's all under control."
"Why not now?" Xander asked.
"Because it's your turn first," Buffy told him.
"So... what was so special about this guy?" Willow asked.
"Sgt. Fury?" Xander asked. "Back in World War II he was a commando. He fought a lot of the big-time Nazi super-villains. He sort of becomes immortal at the end of the war and ends up in charge of his own super-spy gang."
"So you remember all that?" Willow asked. "The spy stuff?"
"Nah, just the stuff when he was a commando in the army," Xander said.
"And that had you hiding out in your bedroom?" Buffy asked.
"He was in a comic book," Willow reminded her. "So he spent the whole war fighting?" she asked him.
"Yup," Xander said, grimacing at the thought. "And seeing his men die. And his fiance got killed in a bombing raid on London when he was off fighting."
"Ouch." Buffy stared at him for a moment. The changes weren't blatantly obvious but they were there. "So... a couple years of fighting and friends dying and it hit you all at once?"
"Oh yeah," Xander said. "Not a lot of hugs and puppies for ol' Sgt. Fury."
"Oh, Xander," Willow said, leaning over to hug him.
"Don't worry about it," Xander told her. "We have a wonderful meal with the Ladies Summers ahead of us," he said, winking at Buffy. "And then an evening of movie watching."
"So, what'd you bring?" Buff asked.
"Something for everyone," he said. "A chick-flic; an action movie; a Disney movie; and a couple alternates."
"Let me see," Willow said, reaching for the bag.
"Hey," Xander said, grabbing the bag. "You'll have to wait until after dinner like everyone else." Standing up, he stepped over them and ran into the house, Willow on his heals.
Laughing at their antics, Buffy followed them in.