Chapter 6 pt. 1


They heard the gleeful chatter from well down the hall, and Buffy's head hit the kitchen table with an audible 'thump!' It was Erin, and from the sound of things, the little girl was wide eyed and cheerful at an ungodly hour. All the adults had been up until 3 in the morning finishing up the quarters they'd arranged for the new Slayer, and had barely gotten any sleep when the alarm woke them at 7. They had all been working themselves into exhaustion to get ready for their arrival, and the dinner party the next day, prompting Willow and Oz to accept Buffy's hospitality instead of returning to their own apartment. As for the Slayer, on top of the work and her general nervousness, Buffy hadn't slept well. She had tossed and turned all night, plagued by dreams of dark, oppressive places, dreams that had awakened her at 6. While the familiar nightmares hadn't started yet, years of experience told Buffy she was headed back into a cycle of dreams that would reenact the torture and helplessness of being raped, cycles that lasted anywhere from a week to months. Sometimes the anticipation of the dreams was worse than the dreams themselves. She had unexpectedly preempted the last batch of dreams by her abrupt rush to move back to Sunnydale, but it seemed the dreams were not going to be denied this time. Already overwhelmed emotionally from her return, the responsibility of watching out for a potentially unstable Slayer, and meeting up with Angel and Xander again, Buffy's mental defenses were taxed to their limits, setting the dreams loose from their dark closet. The Slayer longed for a good old fashioned prophecy dream. Having decided to avoid the looks of fatherly concern, guilt and pity that Giles tended to cast in her direction when the nightmares started up again, Buffy had kept them from her Watcher.

Still, when Giles had stumbled out of his library to find Buffy trying to make coffee and watching infomercials on TV, he had known something was wrong. Mindful of her tendency to overreact to concern, he had simply made the coffee for her and decided to wait before confronting her about the extra bruises under her eyes. He too winced a little at the happy chatter, listening as Buffy repeatedly banged her head against the table. Giles blearily looked at her over the rim of his coffee mug, having forsaken his usual tea in favor of the stronger caffeine coffee offered. The Watcher sighed deeply and rose stiffly from his seat to refill her cup of coffee, which he placed next to Buffy's slowly clenching hand. Buffy raised her head again wearily, her hazel eyes red with exhaustion as she studied the mug of steaming caffeine. She carefully raised it to her mouth and had just managed a small sip when an infectious giggle could be heard just outside the kitchen. Then, she just shook her head and said, "Nope, it's not going to work."

"What won't work Mommy?" came the cheerful query from the kitchen doorway.

"Mainlining coffee," was Buffy's muttered reply as Erin appeared, bright eyed and wide awake, followed by a bemused and bleary Willow. Buffy glared at her disgustingly happy daughter, and then at her only half-awake best friend when she heard a tired chuckle from the redhead's corner. She watched as Erin quickly forgot her question and skipped into the room., before rising to find something to feed Erin for breakfast.

"Morning Mommy! Morning Papa!" Erin chirped, wrapping her arms around her mother's leg, blinking up at Buffy. Erin giggled when Buffy stared at her blankly for a moment, her tired hazel eyes slow to focus that early in the day.

"Erin, it's just unnatural for you to be so awake at 7 in the morning," Buffy mumbled sleepily. "Usually you're just as out of it as I am."

"I'm sure that's quite impossible," murmured Giles as he stood up from his seat. Erin quickly detached herself from her mother to wrap her arms around Giles' knee. "Good morning Moppet," the Watcher smiled as he pulled Erin along with him; now that the coffee had jump-started his system, Giles wanted his morning tea. Erin wasn't quite sure what he meant by his earlier comment, but she figured that Papa had been making fun of Mommy, so she stuck her little pink tongue out at her mother triumphantly.

Buffy rolled her eyes and responded in kind. "Come on Erin, time for breakfast," she said through Erin's giggles. She and Erin looked at Giles expectantly.

Erin knew from past experience that not only was her mother not really awake, but that she didn't want to eat anything Buffy cooked, unless it was toast or soup. Buffy also wanted breakfast, recognizing she'd need to recharge her energy with food if sleep was going to be scarce, and pouted at her Watcher hopefully. He gazed at them blankly for a moment, his eyes switching back and forth between Buffy and Erin, who eventually prompted, "What's for bre'fast Papa?"

Giles mumbled inarticulately and sought refuge in brewing his tea, and Buffy sighed dismally. She turned to Willow, who was leaning heavily next to the coffee maker, waiting for a new pot to brew, and studiously ignoring everyone else. The Slayer grumbled under her breath and moved slowly to the cupboard and pulled out a box of cereal and some fruit out of the bowl next to the refrigerator. She forced herself to concentrate long enough to carefully pour a cup of orange juice and flood the cereal with milk without spilling it.

Erin climbed into her booster seat as Buffy placed the bowl of cereal and some fruit in front of her. Erin started on her breakfast and watched her mother and 'grandfather' stumble around making their own breakfasts. She started giggling quietly when Buffy sat down at the table, added sugar to her coffee, and started stirring her cereal.

Buffy stared at Erin for a moment in confusion before she realized what was wrong. Shed groaned and moved her spoon from her corn flakes to the coffee. "Why are you so awake today Erin? Usually, you are slow as a turtle in the morning," Buffy asked, hiding a yawn behind her hand.

Erin shrugged uncomfortably as she finished her banana. She was uneasy with the question, but living with her mother and Giles had taught her that dreams were important. "I woke up early 'cause I had funny dreams last night," she finally said, staring at Buffy and Giles expectantly.

"Tell me about it," mumbled Buffy, still mostly out of it, Erin's words not really registering. The Slayer waved absently at Willow as she took two cups of coffee back to the bedroom that she and Oz were staying in. Erin frowned at her mother, a little confused. The little girl wasn't any happier when she heard Giles' reply.

"You're having dreams?" Giles frowned at her, worry so obvious in his voice even Erin could identify it. "What about, and why didn't you tell me? You know we need all the help we can get; we haven't a clue what's behind the sudden activity here. It's all we can do to identify the various sects that have come into town."

"They weren't prophecy dreams Giles, they were just bad dreams." Buffy grimaced at her loose tongue, and her gaze shot to her daughter before continuing carefully, "I dreamed about darkness and feeling lost."

Erin didn't know what her mother was talking about, and was tired of being ignored. "I didn't," she chimed in, trying to draw attention. "I saw some really weird guys dancing and singing around..."

"Erin, please." Erin glowered at Buffy, though she did shut her mouth. She recognized that tone in her mother's voice, even if she didn't hear it often. "I don't have the patience to deal with this right now. I'm sorry. Please, eat your breakfast, and then go get dressed. I'll be up to help you, and then we'll find something for you to do. Maybe you'd like to make some pictures for Angel and Grandma when they come in the next few days."

Distracted, Erin allowed her determination to talk about her dreams fade. Instead, her little face brightened and she began to swing her feet excitedly, occasionally banging against the table leg or the chair she was seated in. "When will Angel come? Do you think he'll watch cartoons with me? Would he like one of my drawings?" Erin continued happily, pumping her mother for information on her favorite topic, ignoring the groan Buffy let out as her head hit the table with a soft thump. Erin chattered on, knowing she was driving the Slayer nuts, but figured it served her mother and Giles right for not listening to her. Eventually, they would cave in and listen to her. They always did.


The morning moved into afternoon, and as it grew closer to the time the new Slayer and Wesley were to arrive, Buffy's temper grew shorter and shorter. She was brusque and snapped at everyone, eventually driving Oz to the basement to check out the arrangements for the cage, Willow to the study to read, and Giles out to the little magic store for supplies.

Buffy felt a little guilty for her behavior, but she knew subconsciously that it was best for all involved if her friends stayed out of her way. She felt overwhelmed, and Buffy didn't want to take out her frustrations on her friends, but she knew that they understood why she was coming unglued, and would let her have a little space to deal with her emotions. Besides, they were equally tired and frayed, and didn't want to argue or start fights either, so it was easier for all involved to take a break. Erin, however...

"Mommy!" Erin whined from the hallway, drawing Buffy's attention away from her thoughts and what had become compulsive pacing. All day, after the vague discussion and minor argument at breakfast, Erin had been following her around, demanding her attention. While Buffy loved her daughter, she knew that she didn't really have the patience necessary, to deal with the child's constant babbling questions and had sought to distract her with various activities ranging from drawing pictures, to her favorite video. Unfortunately, Erin had awakened from her afternoon nap cranky and whiny, and Buffy was ready to blow.

"What!" Buffy exclaimed in exasperation, trying desperately to hold onto her temper. "Erin, please, I know you don't understand, but today is not a good day to bother me."

Erin frowned at her petulantly and mumbled stubbornly, "How do you know it's not 'portant?" the little girl said, glaring at her mother.

Buffy took a deep breath and tried for calm and patience. "OK, what do you need to say?"

Erin stood a little uncomfortably in the hall, staring at her foot as it traced the pattern on the carpet runner before answering. "I want to tell you 'bout my dream. There was this guy talking, and it was confusing. Then it was dark and cold but..."

Buffy knew she was overreacting, but with a potential powder keg in the form of a new Slayer due to arrive any minute, she couldn't find the patience to indulge her daughter's active imagination that day. Buffy's hazel eyes snapped with irritation and when she spoke, her voice was cool and stiff, her words clipped. "Not now Erin. I can't deal with this right now, and I've told you that several times today. I know you don't understand, but if you stay in here with me, or ask me one more question today, I'm going to loose my temper and yell. You don't deserve that, so either go to your room and play *quietly* or go get one of your books and look at it in the library."

Erin glared at her angrily and yelled, "You're not listening! You always listen!" before stamping down the hall to the library and slamming the door behind her.

Buffy groaned aloud, dragging her hands down her face and then through her hair. She knew she would have to apologize, but she also knew it wouldn't do any good until she calmed down. What had promised to be a long, hard day was proving to be worse than she'd anticipated.



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