Xander grinned, snagging another pumpkin spice cookie courtesy of Buffy’s mom. The three friends turned to watch their librarian hurry through the student lounge.
“Let’s show Giles the meaning of Halloween this year,” Xander suddenly laughed.
“You wanna prank my Watcher?”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, guys,” Willow frowned. “They don’t even celebrate Halloween in England.”
“He’s been here for three years. About time he was initiated.” Xander’s eyes twinkled. “Come on… Two Slayers around. No Big Bad in sight. What better time!”
“This is not good,” Willow muttered as her friends leaned forward to whisper plans…
Buffy hurried into the library, carrying a large box. “This is all I could find. Cleaned out all the stores and even stole what was in the student’s lounge.”
Xander peered inside. “Perfect.”
“Eww, flies!” Willow gagged.
“And spiders, roaches, centipedes, snakes… All the rubber Halloween goodness!”
“I still think this is bad. Giles’ll be back any minute.”
“Wil, you keep watch. Buffy, start opening all the drawers you can find. Every time he reaches for so much as a pen, he’ll get a handful of creepy-crawlies.”
“He’ll be pissed,” Buffy giggled.
“That’s why we don’t let him catch us!”
“Psst, Wil. G-man around?”
“He muttered something about California’s lack of autumn and wandered outside.”
“Great,” Xander pushed the door open. “Buffy! Coast’s clear.”
Willow sighed as Buffy entered carrying a large assortment of paper and inflatable skeletons. “What now, Guys? He hasn’t mentioned the bugs. I say leave it alone while you can.”
“That’s just ‘cause he hasn’t figured out it was us, yet.”
“Who else would it be?” she dead-panned.
“Doesn’t matter, time for phase two! You guys start blowing these babies up. When we’re done, every dark corner in the stacks will have a spooky new resident.”
“… in a meeting with Snyder.”
Willow frowned, “Poor Giles.”
“It’s time to step it up, Ladies.” Xander entered with a bag. “G-man thinks he can ignore us? Ha!”
Buffy examined the contents. “Double-sided tape, cotton webs, Bottle-O-Blood…?”
“You girls get started. I’ll look-out.”
“But, how do we know where he’ll go?”
Willow sighed. “Take a book from that section and put it on his cart.”
“Look at our resident evil genius,” Buffy grinned.
“And remember he’s over six foot, so put the webs high and stretch them thin.”
It wasn’t long before Xander sprinted though. “…with the running now!”
The three young Scoobies were more cautious than usual as they entered the library. Buffy and Xander each took turns pushing the other into the lead, and Willow walked along behind shaking her head.
“I told you guys to lay off him,” the redhead whispered with a giggle. “Look at you two. You’re so ready for him to try to get you back, both of you are practically jumping out of your skins.”
“Oh, come on, Wils,” Xander breathed as he lightly shoved Buffy ahead again. “What’s the fun of Halloween without a few wacky little scares?”
Willow sighed, “Don’t you think Giles has enough jumping out to scare him on his normal days?”
“Shh,” Buffy hushed them, listening intently for any hint of an impending attack. Sensing nothing, she called out timidly, “Giles? You wanted to see us?”
The librarian stood up from behind his counter, causing the three teens to jump and squeak. If he noticed, he didn’t look up from his book and show it. Taking the time to finish the passage he was reading, he finally glanced up at them. “You’re here. Good.”
They stood frozen in a huddle, their eyes wide and expecting as they carefully watched his every move.
“Is there something the matter?” he gazed at them curiously, absently setting a packet of herbs on the counter. “This really isn’t a time for games. We must go over these plans.”
Willow was the first to relax. She smiled at him, the kind smile that always brightened his day. “Sorry, Giles. It’s just that these two have themselves so worked up expecting you to retaliate, they’ve even got me all jumpy.”
“Retaliate?” the Watcher narrowed his eyes in thought. “Whatever for?”
This shook Xander out of his defensive pose. He took offence with a huge huff. “What for!?! A whole week’s hard work, that’s what. Rubber snakes and spiders in all your drawers. Fake skeletons in the dark corners of the stacks. Spider webs across all the doorways.”
“You didn’t notice?” Buffy squeaked. “Not even the fake blood on the steps?”
Giles frowned, “That was fake? The novelty industry sure has come a long way…”
Willow giggled. “They didn’t faze you at all, did they? Told you guys it would take a lot more than kid stuff to wig Giles.”
Her two friends sighed and shook their heads at each other.
Meanwhile, the Watcher was coming out from behind the counter and heading toward the main table. “Honestly, I haven’t had time to notice much in the past few days. I’ve been busy working out the details of this plan.”
“We got something big coming up?” Buffy voiced as the trio approached him at the table.
“Um, yes, you could say…” He ran a hand nervously through his hair. “Some of my sources have warned me of a nest of Swarith demons taking up residence here in Sunnydale. There’s no denying the tell-tale signs, they are here. But, if we can pull off this plan I have devised for tonight--”
“Wait… tonight? Giles, it’s Halloween. Night off for all the demon creepies means night off for the Slayer.”
“I am sorry, Buffy. It can’t be helped. I’m afraid Swariths aren’t sophisticated enough to observe any Holidays. They are your basic ‘hungry, hunt, and eat’ type of demon.”
“Okay,” Xander nodded. “Just point us at this nest, Big Guy. We can do a quick hack and slash and be Bronzing it before the party really gets going.”
“I’m afraid it’s not going to be that easy,” Giles frowned.
Willow was looking over the papers and supplies he had laid out on the table. “Why don’t you tell us your plan, Giles?”
He sighed, glancing at her with a grateful smile. “Yes. Well, these demons are on the small side. Hardly a challenge for a Slayer of Buffy’s skill.”
“Liking what I hear,” Buffy commented.
“That is, unless they swarm. Most nests can consist of over a hundred demons, and when one is faced with danger, it signals all of the others. Even the biggest and strongest opponent can be overwhelmed by a Swarith swarm.”
“Less liking,” she muttered.
“These demons also hunt in small packs, so it’s impossible to kill one fast enough not to alert the others.” Giles pulled his glasses off slowly, adding with sadness in his eyes, “And their food of preference is young children.”
“Oh man,” Xander mumbled. “That’s why we have to go tonight.”
“The town will be like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord with all those kids out there trick-or-treating,” Willow cried.
“That’s why we’re here,” Buffy said with confidence. “How do we get them to swarm where we want them?”
Giles couldn’t hide a proud smile. “I have it all planed out here.” He pointed to a diagram on the table between them. “We’ll use the school’s athletic field. The large, open space should give you a fighting chance.”
“Wouldn’t that give them the advantage?” the Slayer frowned.
“Normally,” Giles nodded. “But, in this case, it will mean Xander can have a full view of the field to direct you from up here.” He pointed to an X he’d drawn in the commentator’s box.
“Wait… Direct what?” Xander asked.
“Xander,” the Watcher gazed seriously at the boy. “You will need to relay precise instructions to Buffy regarding the locations and numbers of the demons. She will depend heavily on your directions as you’ll be able to see them and she will not.”
“Wait… What!?!” the two teenagers paled in horror.
“These demons prey on children. Their main defense is that they can only be seen by… well, innocents.”
Xander’s eyes went wide. “And I’m more innocent than Buffy?”
Giles rubbed at the back of his neck and glanced away from them, mumbling, “In certain ways… yes.”
Both Buffy and Xander suddenly turned bright red. “Wh-what about Willow?” the boy stuttered.
“Ah. Willow has her own task to concentrate on. She will be here.” He pointed to another X drawn just outside a circle in the middle of the field. “I need you, Willow, to perform the spell that will call the Swarith to us and insure Xander will be able to see them. It is my hope that the spell will be strong enough to also allow Buffy brief glimpses.”
Willow nodded with huge round eyes, picking up the open spell-book to study the ritual.
“Willow must give her full attention to the spell. If she loses focus and stops chanting… Well, we’ll be lost.” The girl in question whimpered and sank into a chair. “Therefor, Buffy, you must protect her as you fight. Keep the swarm from disrupting her ritual.”
“I’m supposed to do all this against something I can’t see?” Buffy’s confidence was beginning to fade.
Xander was no less concerned. “And how am I supposed to keep track of a hundred bogies and tell Buffy how to fight them?”
“We have been working on honing of your other senses for just this type of eventuality. I have tremendous faith in you both,” the Watcher answered soothingly.
Buffy planted her fists on her hips. “And just where are you going to be during all of this?”
Giles pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and glanced away from her, “I, um, I-I have my role to play in this as well.”
Willow suddenly stood and pointed to a third X in the center of the circle where she was to cast the spell. “Giles, who’s this?!” she asked with barely contained panic in her voice.
The Watcher sighed deeply, and his reluctance to answer caused Buffy to turn to her friend. “What is it, Wil? What’s wrong?”
“This ritual talks about a sacrifice. It talks about the ‘red life flowing’ and the spell ending when ‘the sacrifice has given all’.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Giles tried to be calming. “The sacrifice does not have to die, as long we do what must be done before I… b-before too much blood is lost...”
“You can’t be serious,” Xander breathed in disbelief.
“Giles,” his Slayer shouted. “We are so not going to sacrifice you!”
“And what would you have me do? Pull an unsuspecting student from the corridors and offer their blood? I am willing, Buffy. And I trust all of you to finish this and give me the medical attention I’ll need before it’s too late.”
“But, Giles,” Willow whispered in a choked voice. “These offering bowls are big enough to hold more blood than you have in your whole body.”
“You’re right, Willow,” he said thoughtfully. “We will need to devise a way to keep me held upright so I won’t disturb the ritual when I reach the point of passing out.”
“Giles…” the redhead whimpered, sinking back into her chair in a state of horrified shock.
“That’s it,” Buffy began to pace. “My Watcher has officially lost his mind.”
Xander followed her. “We aren’t gonna let him do this, are we, Buffy? I mean, yeah kids in danger and all that, but this is G-man we’re talking about.”
They were arguing frantically several feet away when Willow looked up at the Watcher with large, hot tears glistening in her frightened eyes. Upon seeing her true distress, his features contorted into a frown of guilty concern before he again schooled them back into his serious mask. But not before giving her a sly wink.
Willow blinked in surprise. Why would Giles wink at her? Why would Giles wink at her in the middle this awful situation where he was telling them they would all have to do the most frightening things possible and the very thought of it was scaring them all stupid? Why would he…? Oh!
After a long moment, the young witch swallowed hard, making a show of scrubbing her tears away, and stood to face him across the table. “All right,” she nodded, showing her resolved face. “This is the twice-blessed dagger, right? Where do you want me to bleed you?”
Giles began rolling up his sleeves when the other two turned on their friend in shock. “What are you doing, Willow?” Xander shouted. “Not you, too?”
“Have you both gone wacky in the head!?!”
“Buffy,” she responded, “Giles has researched this. If there was another way, he would have found it. Are you saying you don’t trust Giles?”
“Oh, I do,” the Slayer sputtered. “I trust Giles to put himself at risk and get himself nearly dead whenever he can manage it.”
“But the kids,” Willow shrugged.
“No!” Buffy leaned forward, planting her hands on the table. “I’m telling you now, we are not sacrificing you. Not happening.” Her voice shook, but she was giving her Watcher her most intimidating Slayer glare.
Xander struck the same pose right beside her, his voice near frantic. “I second the motion. No way I’m gonna let you risk your life on my ability to coach Buffy through this. Stupid, stupid idea!”
Giles lunged across the table, pinning both their hands to the hard surface and staring unflinchingly into their eyes from mere inches away. “And I am telling both of you… amateurs should never start a fright war with a master.”
He released them and casually walked off to his office with a bounce in his step and an innocent whistling on his lips.
Xander was still breathing hard, his heart pounding. “What just happened?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy shrugged.
They both turned slowly around when Willow started giggling. “I warned you,” she laughed at their wide, accusing stares. “You guys wanted to mess with him, but I declare the prank-master of this Halloween to be Giles.”
“Soooo, no invisible demons?” Buffy checked.
“And no using sharp things on the Watcher-man?”
Willow grinned. “He got you guys good.”
“And you were in on this?” Xander accused.
“Not at first. But I figured it out. Meaning he tipped me off when he thought I was really gonna start crying.”
Her oldest friend sighed. “I’m just glad there’s no real blood involved.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Buffy growled with a grin and started stalking towards the office. “Giles may still bleed tonight,” she made sure her Watcher could hear the threat.
He was leaning innocently against the door frame with a lollipop stick pocking out from his very self-satisfied smirk. “Problem?”
“Oh don’t you play that game with me, Old Man. You couldn’t just jump out in some dumb costume and say ‘boo’? You had to go through this whole elaborate set-up to get into our minds and freak us all out?”
“Too much?” Giles couldn’t hold back a grin. “You would have preferred, perhaps, something like…?”
Both Buffy and Xander were still advancing on him. With a flick of his hidden hand, a net filled with all of the rubber creatures they had hidden in the library over the preceding week fell from the ceiling onto their heads. Shrieks mixed with laugher as Willow watched her two friends fight to get themselves untangled and run after the Watcher, who had already made his swift get-away.