"Hurrah! The Cavalry officers will surely arrive in time to save the day!" one bright-eyed young lady cheerfully assessed to a chorus of approval from her companions.
As they passed out of the forest the road wound its way through cornfields until it reached a clearing. Donnie steered his wagon around the side of a modest wood frame house and toward the large barn, calling out a greeting as they approached. A moment later a gangly brunette came charging toward them.
"Donnie!" she exclaimed happily as she ran up to the cart, stopping just short when she spied Will hopping down from the seat. Donnie followed the girl's gaze with an amused smirk and cleared his throat.
"Dawnie, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. This here's Will Smith. Will, this young lady is Miss Dawn Summers."
"Nice to meet you, Mister Smith," Dawn said shyly, attempting a curtsey and stumbling slightly. Will grinned before executing a sweeping bow.
"The pleasure is mine, Miss Summers," the redhead proclaimed formally. "You have a lovely home... I have not seen your fine estate's equal in these here parts."
Dawn giggled and hid her head behind Donnie's horse while Donnie himself rolled his eyes and shoved Will toward the barn.
"Now you've done it," he teased as soon as they were out of earshot of the girl. "That kid's already had crushes on every other boy in town, and you just hung a big ol' target on your back. She's a nice kid, but a word of advice? Do not under any circumstances eat her cookin'."
Several hours after they'd arrived, Will and Donnie sat down on the makeshift stage they'd constructed along with Hank, Larry and Clem. Willow wiped her brow with a handkerchief and looked around at the transformed barn in wonder.
"I hope you boys are thirsty!" a voice called out, and Will looked up to see a petite blonde entering the barn with a pitcher, closely followed by Dawn precariously balancing a tray of mugs.
"Don't drink it!" Donnie hissed in the redhead's ear, momentarily distracting her and causing them to miss witnessing the collision that brought both Summers girls to the barn floor amidst a heap of shattered glass. Once they had been helped up and away from the shards, Hank sent Dawn off to fetch a broom. Willow peered intently at the pile of glass, a smile spreading slowly across her face.
"Mr. Summers, I have an idea. Would you happen to have any thin twine?"
"An idea involving broken glass? My word, whatever could it be?"
Tara and Anya sat at a small table in the uncharacteristically quiet general store, sipping tea and conversing amiably.
"It is my party Tara - anyone I say can attend - and I say you should invite him."
"Anya! I couldn't possibly! It simply isn't... proper."
"Oh, propriety!" Anya scoffed with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Did I care a whit for propriety when I took Xander into my bed before we were even formally engaged - NO!"
"Oh Good Lord!"
Anya and Tara both turned in time to see Mister Giles pivoting on his toe and rushing back into the storeroom. Tara ducked her head and blushed furiously, realizing their conversation had been overheard, but Anya merely shrugged and continued.
"It's only a dance, Tara. Half the town is going to be there. I could ask him myself if you wish, or have Xander do it. That is... assuming one of the Summers girls han't already extended an invitation to him..."
Anya trailed off meaningfully, smiling slightly and looking around the room, her face the picture of innocence. Tara's head had snapped up at her friend's too casual remark, her features darkening as shock quickly turned to indignation. Despite her pleas and her inner turmoil, she did want Will to go to the dance, and it had not occurred to her that someone else might take the opportunity to invite him first. She felt an acute and undeniable churning in the pit of her stomach at the thought of some other girl in the redhead's arms, and a look of fierce determination settled over her face as she caught Anya's knowing and clearly amused gaze.
"I'll do it."
"Excuse me Miss?" a hesitant voice queried. "Please forgive my interruption but well, you see, you've already told us that Willow is a female, yet..." As she trailed off, her face reddening, another girl spoke up in her place.
"Faith! What are you doing here, my sweet?"
"What's going on?" the brunette asked suspiciously, ignoring her husband's question and gracing him with only the briefest of sneering glances. Her father stood and enveloped her in a hug before returning to sit at his desk.
"Just a little business. Nothing you need worry your pretty little head about."
"Father...," she warned.
"Now Faithy, you know I don't like you exposed to talk of the criminal elements in this town. I was just asking Warren here to look after a potential troublemaker."
"Well that shouldn't be too hard, considering most of them are his friends," Faith snapped, glaring at her husband, who stood stiffly, his face turning red.
"So, Warren, I believe you were saying you saw the young man this morning?"
Warren looked from his father-in-law to his wife and back again, silently questioning whether or not he should continue with her in the room. At Wilkins raised eyebrow, the Sheriff cleared his throat.
"Yeah, I saw him alright. After he talked to Harris he was over at Donnie's, and the two of them rode off together toward the Summers farm."
"That is interesting," Wilkins mused. "My, my, he's becoming quite the social joiner for someone who was only supposed to be passing through," the Mayor emphasized, staring down his son-in-law, who blanched under the man's gaze.
"Do you want me and the boys to-"
"My my, Warren! Jumping the gun a little, aren't we? You know, as much as I appreciate your initiative, I think in this case I'd like to first find out what Mr. Smith's plans are while he's a guest in our town."
Wilkins sat back in his chair and steepled his hands together under his chin, a thoughtful expression on his face. Warren and Faith stood on opposite sides of the room, waiting silently for the Mayor to continue. After several moments, he swivelled his chair toward Faith, smiling broadly at his daughter.
"I think some lucky girl is going to a party tonight!"
Across town, Xander finished hoisting up the buckboard by a system of pulleys, locking the chain in place when the wheels dangled a foot off the ground. He crounched down and wedged a support block under the bottom of the wagon, but paused when he noticed a thin wire running along both underside rails and disappearing under matching brass plates, hinged on one side. Curiously lifting one plate, he heard a muffled click, and shuffled forward on his knees to repeat the procedure on the other plate. When he stood up, he could see that the bed of the wagon had shifted several inches toward the back, leaving a small gap between the front of the bed and the driver's perch. Xander gripped the overhanging edge of wood and pulled, walking backward a few feet and peering into the exposed compartment. His mouth gaped open and he walked slowly around the side of the cart to confirm the sight before his wide eyes. The sound of footsteps approaching his shop jerked him out of his stupor, and he quickly rushed to the back of the wagon and slid the board back in place before sliding himself down to the floor and running a hand through his tousled hair.
"Holy Moley, Will!"