There's a small hand on Buffy's shoulder, shaking, shaking, shaking. "Mommy? Mommy? Are you awake? Mommy?" And it was a lot easier to get by on four hours of sleep a night in high school, so she pokes Spike, hard, because it's his turn, dammit, but he just grumbles and rolls over and she's so going to make him pay for that in the morning.
So she cracks open a sleep-gummed eye and there's Connie's face peering at her, pale in a rat's nest of dark curls. "Mommy," her daughter whispers, "there's a monster in the closet."
Oh, God, not again. This is the third time this week. "Honey, are you sure?"
"Daddy and I showed you how to chase the monsters away, sweetie. All you have to do is turn on the light, and - "
"But it's a big one," Connie says piteously, all DeGrazia eyes and trembling lip. "Please?"
Buffy closes her eyes for one longing minute more and then sits up, groping for the robe hung over the bedpost. She struggles into its terrycloth embrace and Connie's fingers curl into hers, small and sweaty. Together they walk down the hallway that's always seemed longer in the dark. The door to Connie's bedroom gapes open, and she trips over a tangle of shock-haired Bratz dolls on the threshold, ow ow ow - count to ten, because it's bad enough explaining why Daddy gets to use those words.
The closet door's ajar, a menacing sliver of darkness. "I'll open it," Buffy whispers, "and you turn on the light."
Connie nods, chin set, lips firm. Battle stations. She skitters over to the Little Mermaid lamp.
Buffy yanks the closet door open, and Connie flips on the light. Brightness floods the closet, revealing rows of little-girl dresses, heaps of little-girl shoes. Buffy shoves the clothes aside, rattling hangers on the clothes-rail. "No monsters here," she says brightly. "Gosh, I wonder if it - " A flicker of shadow catches her eye, behind the boxes of seldom-worn sweaters and winter coats a-huddle in the corners. She lunges, scattering shoeboxes and Hot Wheels. " - got you!"
Connie shrieks, more in excitement than fear, as Buffy drags the snarling, kicking thing free - an animate inkspot, a Rorschach horror of claws and teeth and evil red eyes. It is a big one, and Buffy smacks it head-first into the closet door. It cries out once, a sound like burning newspaper, and goes limp.
"Yay Mommy!" Connie yells, clapping her hands.
"Hush, honey. You'll wake your brother." Wrinkling her nose, Buffy leaves the window casement open and tosses the thing out onto the lawn - it'll be gone by sunrise, melting away with the dew. She wiped her hands on her robe. "Think you can go to sleep now?"
Connie nods vigorously, but of course there's a glass of water and a tucking in between Buffy and bed still. Not that she can begrudge it; this room's given her the wig ever since she did the spell that revealed Dawn was a ball of green energy.
When she finally drops a kiss on Connie's damp forehead and staggers back to her bedroom, there's a thin pale streak of dawn in the eastern sky. Spike stirs as she crawls under the covers beside him, and wraps an arm around her waist, his flesh blessedly cool even in this summer heat. "Punkin all right?" he asks.
"She's fine," Buffy replies. "But tomorrow? We're calling an exterminator."