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Ooh, Shiny!!

Author: DofEire
Rating: FR15
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. Joss owns the Buffyverse; Top Cow, Dark Horse and other entities whom I know nothing of (or can't remember) own the Witchblade, Sara Pezzini, and any other characters related thereto.
Summary: An anonymous package arrives at Joyce's art gallery; Buffy opens it.

Chapter One: Baubles and Bangles and Beads

Buffy Summers was Bored with a capital B. She wandered languidly into her mother's art gallery in downtown Sunnydale, casting cursory glances at the new pieces on display. Some were graceful statuettes; others were landscapes, or scrimshaw, or...she blinked.

"Ooh...shiny!" breathed Buffy, as an ornate dagger caught her eye. The hilt was inlaid with what appeared to be sapphires, in a pattern that drew the gaze to follow it. The blade was slightly curved, and gleamed with a faint patina of oil. Good on Mom, thought Buffy, she really knows her stuff! The beautiful weapon sat proudly on a polished wooden stand, with a sign beneath it proclaiming its origins as being Damascus for the steel, and South America for the sapphires.

"'Reproduction of a ceremonial knife found with the tomb of Philip of Macedon,'" Buffy read out under her breath. "Huh. Fancy," she concluded, and, hearing the tapping of high heeled shoes approaching, turned to see who was there.

"Hi, sweetie," greeted Joyce Summers, with a smile. She squeezed Buffy into a hug, and slung her purse over her shoulder. "Ready for lunch?"

"Born ready," grinned Buffy. "Are we still going to Arturo's?" The Italian restaurant had become a favorite for the Summers women; Buffy favoured the chicken Parmigiana, and Joyce adored the vegetarian lasagne.

"Absolutely!" replied Joyce, as they passed through the front doors. "Ian has the lunch shift, and he's got our usual table for us," she went on, unlocking the doors of her forest green Jeep and climbing into the driver's seat. Buffy fastened her seatbelt, and they were off.

Later...

"But Mom, it's so shiiiinyyyy..."

The 'pretty knife' was the subject of discussion, and Joyce wasn't having an easy time of it.

"Buffy, you may not have the 'pretty'," Joyce admonished her. "It's a consignment piece, and the seller wants a pretty good amount for it."

Buffy leaned against the doorframe of Joyce's office and crossed her arms over her waist. "Okay, Mom," she pouted, her eyes twinkling. She plunked into the visitor's chair, giving it a spin, then stopped. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Joyce's desk. Right squarely in the middle of it sat a medium-sized, oblong box, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

"Hey, Mom, you've got mail," she announced.

"What's this?" Joyce was intrigued. The package hadn't been on the desk when they'd left for lunch, and upon closer examination, didn't have any note on or near it explaining its presence.

The hairs on the back of Buffy's neck prickled. "Uh, Mom?" she began, "might wanna be careful, cause, Hellmouth?"

"I'm not going to open it, Buffy," her mother replied absently. "I just want to see if it has a return address..."

Joyce leaned closer to the package, using her page magnifier to peer at the mailing label.

"It's from the Herzog Gallery, in New York City," Joyce blurted out, her eyes widening.

"The Hotdog Gallery? Who are they?" Buffy wanted to know.

"Herzog, not Hotdog, and they're one of the largest private museums in the country," her mother replied. "Why would they have sent anything to me?"

Chapter Two: Rings and Things

"Um, Mom...so, who, exactly, sent you this box?"

Buffy was uncomfortable. Her 'spidey sense' was buzzing like a travel alarm, and it had no snooze button. All the agitation was centred around the surprisingly nondescript wrapped box that her mother was currently examining through the page magnifier she used to proof contracts.

"I told you, Buffy, the Herzog Gallery," was Joyce's distracted response.

Her daughter heaved an exasperated sigh. "You said that. But a museum isn't a who, it's a what," Buffy complained. "Isn't there a sender's name somewhere on there?" She bounced up from her chair and hurried to her mother's side. Despite herself, she was getting excited to see what was in the box o' mystery.

"Oh! Oh, of course, how stupid of me," Joyce murmured. "Look, right there...funny, it's barely readable...'E. Smith'? Who in the world...?"

Buffy chewed her bottom lip in thought. "I guess...maybe...you could open it?" she offered.

Joyce looked at her eldest with a raised eyebrow. "I thought you said that would be a bad idea?"

"Well...what if we called Giles? I'm getting seriously wiggy from being in the same room with this, whatever it is," suggested Buffy, pulling her cell phone out of her purse. She snapped it open and hit a number on the speed dial.

"Hello?" came a pleasant, English-accented baritone.

"Hey, Giles," Buffy chirped. "I was wondering if you had a minute to help out with something potentially Hellmouthy?"

***************************************************************

About a half an hour later, Buffy, Joyce, and Giles were all gathered around the box in Joyce's office; Giles had made a stop by the magick shop to gather a few protective items, in case the whatever-it-was in the box was a 'potential threat'. Buffy had also tried to reach Xander and Willow, but Xander wasn't home, or so his mother had said; Willow was at a computer seminar at UC Sunnydale and wouldn't be back until that evening. So, it was just the Slayer, her Mom, and her Watcher against...a middling-sized cardboard box.

"Do you think it's something dangerous, Rupert?" Joyce murmured, not taking her eyes off him as she seated herself in her desk chair.

"Oh, no, no, I-I really don't think so, Joyce," he responded, casting a quick smile in her direction, before returning his attention to the box. "However, we may wish to proceed with caution nonetheless."

Buffy rolled her eyes; they were so obviously into one another, it was kinda sad the way they didn't have the nerve to do anything about it. There was, of course, the mild squicky factor...after all, Giles was her *Watcher*, and old, and British, and wore an awful lot of tweed... She shook her head a little to clear the side thoughts, and tried to concentrate on the matter at hand.

She reached over into Joyce's top drawer, retrieving the black-handled utility shears that her mother always kept there, and slowly approached the Box, as she'd begun to refer to it in her mind. Ever so gently, she opened the blades, tucked the bottom one under the string, and slowly began to separate the string...

Chapter Three: How Many Colors Does It Come In?

Finally, the sturdy string parted under Buffy's hesitant scissors, and she impatiently tugged the rest of the wrappings away, setting them to one side.

The contents of the brown paper sat serenely on Joyce's desk, looking not at all Hellmouth-item-like. It was just a standard, well, shoebox. It even...Buffy flinched. Yes, it did say 'Payless' on the side. Ouch.

"Okay...I guess it's time to see what all the spidey-sense fuss is about," she proclaimed, and placed a hand on each side of the cover.

"STOP!" shouted Joyce and Giles together. Buffy squeaked in alarm, and pulled her hands away and behind her back, stepping a little away from the desk.

"Mo-om!" she whined, "don't do that! You just don't make the Slayer jump like a little girl!"

The effect of her admonishment was somewhat lost by the fact that she actually stamped a foot in annoyance; her mother and Watcher looked sheepish, but Giles' mouth twitched a little as though he were holding back a smile.

"I apologize for startling you, Buffy, but perhaps you could stand to wait j-just a moment longer?" Giles queried, stepping closer to the desk and withdrawing several packets of herbs from the pockets of his tweed 'librarian coat', as Buffy referred to it. She recognised sage, mint, and sea salt from some of the meditations she'd done with Willow; all were for protection, and sea salt was especially effective against the 'bumps-in-the-night'.

"What are you planning to do, Giles?" she wanted to know.

"Just a little cantrip for protection; you, as the Slayer, have some natural immunity to inimical magicks," he explained, pulling a small mortar and pestle from an inside pocket. "Your mother and I, however," he continued, "are not so fortunate; I do know a few small 'tricks of the trade' that should protect the two of us, for this purpose."

He set the mortar and pestle on the desk, and removed his tweed jacket, unbuttoning and rolling up his shirt cuffs. Meticulously finger-separating an especially leafy bit of mint, he lifted it to his nose and sniffed; then, apparently satisfied with its quality, he dropped a quantity of it into the pestle, followed by a pinch of the sage, then trickles of sea salt. Efficiently, and with Joyce's appreciative gaze on the flexing of his forearms, he ground the herbs and salt to a fine powder. Laying the pestle aside, he extended both hands, palms down, over the mortar, and chanted several quick words in Latin and Greek. The only word Buffy could make out was 'Protego', which she thought was some sort of sauce.

As Giles finished his chants, a soft greenish light began to emanate from the herbs in the mortar; it lasted a few moments, then died away.

Giles nodded; "Good," he stated. "Now, Buffy, Joyce, take a pinch of the powder into your palms and rub them together as though you were washing your hands," he instructed. He suited his actions to his words, taking a sizeable pinch and scrubbing his hands together vigorously.

Buffy and Joyce followed suit, Buffy grumpily muttering that she'd never get it out from under her fingernails.

Cleansing done, Giles nodded to Buffy; she nodded her understanding, and lifted the lid off the box.

Inside was a thick layer of soft cotton cloth; it looked like cleaning rags of some sort at first, but Joyce was the first to notice that it was embroidered along the edges with a gold fleur-de-lis emblem, done in almost infinitesimally tiny needlework.

"Wow," exclaimed Buffy, "that's really nice stuff, isn't it?" She reached deeper into the box, moving aside the folded layers, but stopped when her fingers met cold metal.

Her Slayer senses were screaming at her; here was something quite extraordinary, possibly dangerous, and definitely magickal in nature.

Keeping the cloth wrapped around her hands, Buffy gently lifted the metallic object into the light.

It was a gleaming steel bracelet, with a huge cabochon sapphire set into it. It was beautiful, and deadly, and...moving???

"Holy crap!"

Buffy nearly dropped the...thing in her startlement. She placed it quickly back on its bed of ritzy napkins, and tucked her hands across her waist defensively.

"Buffy, what in the world? Did that bracelet just...move?" her mother demanded frantically, coming quickly to her daughter's side.

Joyce placed a protective arm around her eldest daughter's shoulders.

"Yeah, Mom, I think...no, I know it did," answered Buffy in a puzzled tone. "But how did it do that? I mean, I got a really strong vibe off it..." She trailed off, looking at the strange jewelry.

It really is beautiful, she thought wistfully. As the thought entered her head, she was faintly surprised to find herself moving away from her mother's embrace, and reaching forward again to pick up the bracelet; but this time, instead of using the cloth wrappings, she picked it up in her left hand.

Before Giles or Joyce could stop her, or Buffy herself could even really notice what she'd done, Buffy had slid the bracelet onto her right wrist.

She turned to face mother and Watcher; they were gazing at her with twin looks of horror.

"What?" Buffy demanded. She shook her head a little; hadn't she been over by her mom a moment ago?

"You..." Giles started. He stopped, swallowed hard, then went on, "you put it on."

"Put what on?" Then she noticed that her right wrist felt, really, kinda heavy, maybe a bit confined...

Slowly, Buffy's gaze tracked to her right arm...and there, in its predatory glory, sat the bracelet--more of a bracer, really--in just the right position on her wrist. Was it her imagination, or was it actually a bit larger than it'd been in the box? And heavy!

And...

Growing.

Yep, growing. Silvery, vine-like strands were emanating slowly from the upper portion of the bracelet/bracer, and creeping across Buffy's forearm.

"Hey! Cut that out!" She slapped at it. "You're gonna break the new watch Dad sent me for my birthday!" It didn't matter that it was an inexpensive-ish Timex; it was pretty, and she liked it, and didn't want Creepy Vine Bracelet to break it.

Buffy was only a little surprised, therefore, when the growth paused, then surged out around her watch, enveloping it, and her entire forearm, in what looked like a flexible cage made of liquid silver.

Then, the growth stopped abruptly, leaving her with a half-sleeve of shiny strands.

"Oh dear Lord," muttered Giles.

He removed his glasses and began cleaning them vigorously as Joyce hurried to Buffy's side.

Chapter Four: Party all the Time

AN: I think I have deviated a tad from Witchblade canon by having Buffy able to communicate more easily than Sara did; BUT, I defend this by saying that Buffy's Slayer dreams show that she has some innate psychic abilities, which most Slayers likely have had over the thousands of years since the First Slayer was created. Ergo, a talking piece of jewelry wouldn't give Buffy the wig that it might give a stoic, stolid NYC Detective. :-) Just my thoughts.

:* *: is the Witchblade communicating with Buffy.

***************************************************************

It was seven-thirty on a Friday night, and the Scoobies were neither happily Bronzing, nor were they ensconced at Casa Summers with large roundels of pepperoni-and-cheesy goodness. Instead, they were parked in the Sunnydale High library, with, as Xander pointed out, ‘Nary a morsel of round and cheesy to be found.’ Their favoured table was piled high with the various and stenchful volumes of arcana that Giles had produced for their research party. Giles and Buffy had been there for several hours already by the time Xander arrived; Willow had hurried in about a half-hour behind him, carrying sundry refreshments for everyone, “since it’s a party, and it’s not a party without snacks,” she had said with a smile.

Xander now sat happily with a book of French woodcuts, making up his own captions for them, and occasionally interjecting an insightful comment on the subject at hand. The books that had already been gone through and discarded as no help served as his footrest.

Willow, fresh from her seminar, was bubbling over with ideas about the significance of Buffy’s recent adornment. “It could be a symbiont of some type; I hear the military is developing something, some-some sort of super-soldier technology,” she began excitedly, looking from Buffy to Giles to Xander and back again.

“I don’t think so, Wills,” Buffy said gently. “It seems awfully old to be, um, new.” Willow looked crestfallen, until Buffy added, “it was a great theory, though!”

“Oh, thanks…it wasn’t so much, I guess,” Willow said, with a grin.

Buffy smiled at her best friend, then turned her attention back to the slender, tooled-leather text she’d been reading. The title was Arms and Arcana: A User’s Guide, by Leonidas MacLeish. It was thin and very old, and the leaves of the pages actually *felt* like leaves, dry and threatening to crumble away under her touch. With a gloved finger (Giles had made her put on a pair of white cotton ‘docent gloves’ that he always kept on hand), Buffy gently turned the page over, and suddenly felt transfixed. Her eyes locked onto the illustration on the page; it was a beautiful, pen-and-ink sketch that looked almost three-dimensional—and the subject was the strange steel bracelet currently latched around her right wrist.

Abruptly, the bracer-let flexed around her forearm; then the vinelike tendrils extended from it again, moving much more rapidly than before.

“Giles!” she called, quickly standing up from the table.

He arrived beside her while she was still straightening; he opened his mouth to speak, but was forestalled from comment when Buffy mutely held up her arm for his inspection.

His eyes widened in alarm. The tendrils were growing thicker by the moment; they’d begun as the width of a human hair, and were now the thickness of a heavy cotton twine, and their spread was up past Buffy’s elbow. A stouter strand had begun to make its way along the back of Buffy’s bicep, and appeared ready to zing onto her torso.

“Giles, the book!” Willow had seen Buffy freeze on the page, and swiftly, she tweaked the book out from in front of Buffy and held the page up so she and Giles could both see it.


Giles read the caption out loud. “The Witchblade,” he read, “is a most ancient weapon, and peculiar to women is the wielding of it…”

He looked up at Buffy with an expression of mingled shock, concern, and awe painted over his features. “Dear Lord, Buffy,” he murmured, unable to sustain a louder voice. “The Witchblade…it seems…has chosen you.”

His Slayer gave him an exasperated glare. The bracelet—no, the Witchblade’s—tendrils were fully taking over her right arm now.

“Oh, really, Giles, ya think?” she snorted. She cast a baleful gaze at the silvery strands encasing her limb. “And silver is so last season!” she complained, rolling her eyes. There was no humor in her expression or her voice, however. “Um…Witchblade?” she began, holding the bracelet portion near her mouth. “Is there something I need to do to keep you from pinching me?”

She nearly staggered from the shock, as a cool, silvery voice echoed in her head. :* You need only ask, Wielder,*: it said. The tendrils loosened; Buffy was a slender, fit young woman, but the ‘Blade’s tendrils had compressed her skin and made small, reddish wavery marks where it had gripped. These vanished instantly as the Scoobies and Giles watched.

“Cool,” opined Xander.

“I concur,” smiled Willow. Then she frowned a little, as a thought occurred to her. “Buff?”

Buffy glanced up at her. “Hmm?” she responded a bit absently, running her left hand lightly over the ‘Blade. She was liking it more and more as time went on; it seemed warm, and it could talk to her! “Oh, sorry, Will,” she apologized, shaking herself out of her contemplation. “What is it?”

“Buffy, can…can you communicate with the Witchblade?” Willow asked tentatively.

“Yeah…I mean, I can talk to it, and it can talk to me,” was the response. “So, yes.”

“Fascinating,” said Giles in a low mutter, gently removing the Arms and Arcana from Willow’s grasp. He rapidly scanned the rest of the page in MacLeish’s compendium, his lips moving on salient points; then he snapped the slim book closed and handed it to Buffy.

She reached out with her right hand and took it from him. The ‘Blade’s silver vines covered it like a flexible, living glove, and it was continuing to expand its reach. A sudden tearing noise made everyone jump.

A scarlet blush spread slowly across Buffy’s face and neck…and a goodly expanse of her upper torso. Which hadn’t been visible a few moments prior.

Apparently, the ‘Blade didn’t like her keen fashion sense.

“Oh, dear,” Giles exclaimed. “It said in the book that the Witchblade might try to impose armour on its Wielder, Buffy,” he explained. “Can you…er…perhaps ask it to not do it right now?”

Buffy did as he suggested, and the ‘Blade agreed, in its thin silvery voice. :* But you are a Warrior of the Light,*: it cautioned, :*and you should look the part…*:

She smiled wickedly. “Well, then,” she began, “how about something a little bit more concealing than destroying my favourite blouse?”

:* As you will,*: it responded. :* Since you are a young female, do you wish to have the males leave the chamber?:* Given the fact that the expansion of the tendrils had pretty much gutted the pretty floral lawn blouse Buffy had been wearing, and Buffy-parts were exposed to the light, she thought that was a pretty good idea, and told the ‘Blade so.

“Um, Giles…? And Xander? Could you guys just…I don’t know, step into the hall for a moment? The ‘Blade seems to think I need ‘armouring’,” she said sheepishly.

“Of course we shall, Buffy,” Giles agreed instantly. He crossed to where Xander still sat, chuckling over what turned out to still be the book of woodcuts, took the younger man by the arm, and hustled him out of the room, speaking to him in low, urgent tones as they exited.

Willow looked wide-eyed at Buffy. Her best friend was now almost half-wrapped in the liquid-silver webbing of the Witchblade; she looked like the well-trained Slayer that she was, and like something…more, something even deadlier.

:* Slayer? Do you wish to remove your mundane clothing before I proceed? The process may be less awkward for you if you do not,*: murmured the silvery voice of the ‘Blade.

“I think I’ll keep the frillies on, thanks,” Buffy said at once.

:* Indeed.*: The ‘Blade seemed almost amused by her reticence. :*I shall forbear to armour you until you are more at ease, then, Wielder,*: it continued.

The Slayer quickly removed her boots, jeans and the remains of her top, which the ‘Blade-tendrils helpfully let go of as she tugged at it. Finally, she stood in only her pale-blue undergarments. She took a deep breath. “Okay, ‘Blade,” she said uncertainly. “Kit me out.”

:* Have your companion move a distance from you,*: it warned her. :* I shall require space to manoeuvre.*:

Buffy did as it asked, saying, “Wills, you may want to go over by the rare book cage, the ‘Blade says it needs some more room to make my armour.”

Willow complied quickly; then, the really interesting bit began.

The Witchblade, now unconstrained, began to show its true capability. It spun a thick, glistening silver web of itself around Buffy, wrapping her in a distinct aura of energy and power. Hints of arcane, exotically-shaped weaponry appeared through the aura: a huge broadsword; long, curving claws; even a whiplike, spiked tail.

The glamour hid her from view for a few moments, then dissipated, leaving Buffy clothed from head to surprisingly comfortable toe in supple, body-hugging silver armour; the bracelet portion remained as the fundament of the right arm. Both hands and feet were covered in the substance of the Witchblade; the arms bore full, gauntleted gloves that seemed strangely organic, and the boots had sturdy but flexible shin guards and stylish mid heels. The liquid armour actually covered Buffy from hip to sole, but seemed not to confine her in any way.

The torso portion looked to Willow as though Buffy would have a terrible time breathing in it. It conformed so closely to her body that a piece of Saran Wrap couldn’t have come between the two surfaces; but it flexed smoothly in time with her breathing. It wrapped her upper arms in slightly thicker layers of vine-like design, finally culminating in a half-helmet that actually seemed to have grown *through* Buffy’s shoulder-length blonde hair.

The effect, Willow decided, was absolutely stunning. “Wow,” she breathed.

“Is it…done?” Buffy asked. “Oh…wow,” she whispered, holding her hands up and turning them slowly back and forth. “A mirror! I gotta have a mirror,” she squealed excitedly.

“Giles has a wall mirror in the office,” Willow offered, getting caught up in Buffy’s excitement. “C’mon!” The two girls ran for Giles’ office, and Willow talked Buffy into letting her set the mirror up for a full-length view. Then, she made Buffy close her eyes, and led her into the room.

“Ok, Buff…open ‘em,” Willow said gleefully.

Buffy opened her eyes, and gazed open-mouthed at her reflection.

“Congratulations, Buffy,” said her best friend. “It’s a bouncing baby suit of funky armour!”

To be continued…

Chapter Five: Do You Know Where You're Going To?

Buffy and Willow slowly re-entered the main room of the Sunnydale High School library. "Giles? Xan?" Willow called. "You can come back in now!"

Xander's voice traveled from the hallway outside the double doors. "You sure? Buff, you decent?"

Willow and Buffy looked at one another and rolled their eyes in unison. "Yes, Xander, I'm decent," Buffy retorted, striding toward the sound of Xander's voice. She met the men-folks walking through the swinging double doors.

The brown-haired man's eyes fairly bugged from his head. "Hubba, hubba! Welcome to Thunderdome," Xander blurted out as he got his first look at Buffy's armouring makeover a la Witchblade.

A gravity-altering eye roll was Buffy's only response.

* * *


Herzog Gallery, New York City

"No, Alastair, I do not know who sent it away!" The tall, blonde Englishwoman spoke sharply into the handset of her cordless phone.

"Then I suggest you find out, Miranda," came the icy retort. "I will hold you...personally...responsible if it falls into the hands of the Watchers' Council. Do I make myself clear?"

The venom in the caller's voice send a shudder of pure, atavistic fear down Miranda Collier's spine. "Yes, Alastair, clear as crystal." She was proud that her voice trembled not at all.

"Very well then," said Alastair Kent briskly, "It won't take you long to track the item to its current location. I am sending you an attachment in email," she could hear the staccato clicking of keys on a computer keyboard, "it contains the address to which the item was posted. And Miranda?" He paused. "Do not fail me." He rang off.

The blonde woman's grey eyes were wide and frightened. She looked at the receiver in her hand as though it were a coiled viper; then, carefully, she set it into its cradle and sank into her white leather desk chair, shivering, and wrapping her arms protectively about herself. Nauseous, chilled, and vaguely grimy: all the usual feelings, she thought wryly, wiping a shaking hand over her eyes.

Damn Alastair.

Damn Council.

Chapter Six: Come Together, Right Now

DISCLAIMER: You know it, I don't own it. You don't know it, I might own it. Just ask me. :)

FURTHER DISCLAIMER: I'm playing fast and loose with the details of Season 3. So ya know.

"...an' the Slaying? Effortless!" Buffy was bubbling over with gleeful energy as she walked into the library, flanked by Willow and Xander. The 'Blade, in bracelet form, gleamed on her wrist.

"Ooh, and-and when that one vamp?" Willow put in excitedly, making a jabbing motion with her free hand. She and Buffy leaned into each other, giggling.

Xander shook his head with a grin. "I never saw anyone - or anything - run that fast," he mused.

The previous night, Buffy, he and Willow had gone on patrol as per usual, starting their rounds at Restfield Cemetery, and ending at Shady Grove, which was near Willow's house. To their surprise, vamp activity was increasing; Willow had built an algorithm to measure the levels, and slowly but surely, since the Acathla incident, vampire and other demonic activity had increased by nearly 15 percent.

Xander smirked. 'Not that you could tell,' he thought to himself, shaking his head wonderingly. 'Slaygal is like 500% more efficient with the new features!'

Thoughts of Buffy's new accoutrements soon led to other thoughts -- such as the fact that the Slayer actually seemed to have grown taller, and had visible muscle definition. She had always been slim and in good shape from cheerleading and Slayer training, but this was something else again. Buffy was far from WWF material still; however, this was more than just a growth spurt.

When Giles had asked her about the changes, she had shrugged with surprising nonchalance, saying, "I think the 'Blade's got something to do with it -- like, I dunno, it's making me a more appropriate wielder?"

The Watcher had appropriated a measuring tape from his mending kit and had Buffy stand in her stocking feet against the side of his office doorway, and had measured her in the Mom-approved fashion, setting a ruler on the top of her head and making a chalk mark on the steel doorframe. Running the tape from the mark to the floor, Giles had jotted down the measurement and then compared it to Buffy's medical records from her school physical that year.

And immediately yanked his glasses off, reaching for a handkerchief and beginning to polish the lenses within an inch of their lives, muttering "Oh dear" and "Good lord" and other various worried Britishisms.

"What?" demanded the Slayer. "Spill, Giles, you're wigging me out," Buffy continued, tapping her foot impatiently when Giles continued to dither.

Finally, with a deep sigh, he had turned to face her, an expression of deep concern etched on his features. "I am not entirely sanguine about this, Buffy," he began. "According to these measurements, you have grown two and a half inches in six weeks!"

Agog, Buffy had lost her defensive posture and her eyes widened even further as he handed her the copy of her paperwork indicating the beginning of the school year.

"As you see here, you were five feet, two and three-quarters inches-"

"Five-four!" Buffy protested, pouting.

"—Erm, yes, well, as you say. However, now--" Giles shifted the bottom sheet to the top. "--Now, these measurements, taken today." He waited with admirable patience as Buffy digested the information.

"Oh my God." she whispered. A smile slowly grew on her face. "Yay! I'm not Smurfette Buffy any more!" She whispered "Thanks!" to the bracelet. It pulsed warmly in response, causing the blonde to grin even more widely.

The smile slid off her face in a moment, though. "Oh no!" she moaned.

"What's the what, Buffy?" Willow asked, slightly alarmed at the sudden turnaround.

"What if my feet get bigger? My shoes won't fit!"

Willow sighed with infinite best-friend patience. "Oh, really, Buffy, like you'd pass up new shoes?" she giggled.

"Ooh, I hadn't thought of that! Thanks, Will!" Buffy beamed at the redhead.

Giles rolled his eyes and began cleaning his glasses once again, as Willow and Xander smothered grins and snickers of their own behind him.

* * *

Elsewhere…Sunnydale Municipal Airport

As the small private jet bumpity-squeaked to a halt on the tarmac, Miranda checked her appearance once more in her small hand mirror. The pale blue Armani skirt suit was immaculate, still unwrinkled despite her fidgeting; her blonde hair waved smoothly back from her patrician features and wide blue eyes. Those eyes, however, were wide from nerves – if not outright fear.

Alastair had phoned her again that morning, just as she was boarding this rattly flying death trap to track down that infernal package that someone had seen fit to send out to a gallery in this tiny little near-desert hick town.

The not-so-veiled threat in his voice had, after she had rung off with assurances that she would retrieve the item, sent her running for the lavatory, where she had proceeded to expel what felt like the last several days' meals into the toilet. Shaking, still nauseous, and coated in chill sweat, Miranda had mentally and verbally cursed Alastair, his masters, and whoever had caused all this trouble directly to the deepest and most miserable levels of Hell.

"Miss Collier?" came the pilot's voice down the tiny aisle, jarring her from her reverie. "We've arrived, and there will be a delegation to meet you in the terminal."

Sighing, Miranda forced a smile to her face and answered, "Thank you, Nigel, will you please see to the refueling? I will take my own bags. This shouldn't take very long, I don't think."

"Very well, ma'am, as you wish," replied the pilot, a youngish, dark-haired gent from Birmingham, though you'd never know he was a Brummy by his impeccable upper-crust accent.

Miranda rose from her seat, gathered her briefcase, handbag and small carry-on, and made her way down the aisle. She was the only passenger on the private plane, but the size of it made her feel claustrophobic, so she was looking forward to fresh non-processed air. With eagerness that surprised her, she hurried for the exit, slipping a pair of designer sunglasses onto her nose as she neared the steps.

The bright Southern California sunshine assailed her nonetheless as she took the small stairs and alighted on the airstrip itself. She scanned the area instinctively, looking for the "delegation" that Nigel had spoken of, but saw no one.

A movement to one side of the glass doors of the terminal caught her eye. Nearing the structure, Miranda shifted her handbag to her left arm and reached for the door handle. Just as she touched it, the door swung smoothly towards her, held open by a Hugo Boss-clad masculine arm.

"Miranda Collier?" the man asked.

Miranda looked up into the lean, saturnine features of a man of about forty-five years of age, dark-eyed, dark-haired and stylish. "Yes? May I help you?" she queried politely.

"My name is Rayne, Ethan Rayne. I have been sent to meet you."

TBC

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