Ahoy! A quick note for the House fiends - Vogler isn't going to appear for a while yet. I gots plans for him. [Insert ominous music here]. So I'll just shamelessly steal the medical maladies and whomp up my own plots.
More confusion where House and Wilson's ages and schooling are concerned. To avoid having to rewrite canon, I'll likely go back and do some slight edits, but that's not going to happen for a bit yet. (All that scanning and rereading!)
Finally, a fair warning - this episode deals with the particularly sensitive subjects of GHB and non-consensual relations, though not in any extremely graphic detail, so if you are disturbed by such topics, you may wish to skip over this one.
Now, on with the show. Happy New Year, y'all!-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
A pregnant silence went around House's office, long enough to bring the pregnancy to full term. Blythe was the first one to shake off her shock. "Greg, how-?"
"Remember the girl I dated in pre-med?" Buffy blinked at him. She'd expected him to make one of his usual style comments at that question. The style being evasive and snarky, of course. After Blythe nodded, House went onward. "Turns out, I left a surprise behind. She never told me. Didn't find out until after she passed away a little while ago."
Blythe turned her eyes to Buffy, the sympathy welling up in her practically tangible. Before she could do or say anything, Buffy abruptly backed away. "Let me go tell my friends what's going on," she interrupted. "We were going to go dancing, but, well..." She gestured around at her newly discovered family members. Her gaze flicked from Blythe, to John and finally to House. She gave him a nervous expression. House simply nodded in understanding as if to say, I know
Buffy hastily slipped outside and could be heard softly explaining what was going on to Willow, Xander and Jesse. John turned a faintly disapproving gaze onto House. "You had a daughter appear out of nowhere and you couldn't be bothered to call us." It was not a question. It was as if he hadn't expected anything less.
"Of course not. It was my very first thought when I inherited a child from my dead ex-girlfriend from umpteen years ago." House pantomimed being deep in thought and spoke in a squeaky voice. "I bet if I hide my daughter in the closet, Mom and Dad will never find her there!"
"Greg," Blythe interrupted before the two men could start arguing. Her tone was gently reproving. "I know this couldn't have been easy for you. Why didn't you call us? It's such a sudden change. You didn't have to take care of everything alone."
"I know, Mom." Again, House had no snark to spread where his mother was concerned. "I wanted to get everything adjusted and settled before I called." His head tilted to the side and his eyes narrowed shrewdly. "What brought you two into town?"
"Jimmy called and said he wanted to give us his suggestion list for your Christmas present this year," Blythe explained. "We were going to Atlantic City anyway, so it wasn't much of a detour.
House began plotting very unpleasant vengance on Wilson. "And he told you to wait in my office?"
John shook his head, still clearly agitated. "No, that was your boss, Dr. Cuddy. We ran into her on the way to Jim's office and she said we could wait here for you to come in."
Cuddy. Now House understood. He pushed that to the back of his head. This was a vengeance that would have to be carefully planned out. He would have the last laugh. Oh yes. But for the moment, House restricted himself to a brief nod.
Buffy returned to the office, fiddling with her backpack strap anxiously. "Sorry, just had to fill them in."
Blythe immediately came to the rescue. "It's alright, sweetheart. We had no idea what we were walking into either." She smiled kindly at Buffy, who relaxed just a bit.
John let out a deep breath, clearly trying to keep things peacable around the seemingly nervous teenaged girl. "Okay. What say we spring for dinner? Get caught up with Greg and get to know you, Buffy." Blythe turned her Mom Eyes onto the two of them, clearly approving of this idea.
Buffy and House exchanged another glance. She could see the reluctance, but for a change, he actually seemed like he was going to give in. He could see that she was nervous, but game if he was.
"Sure. That'd be fine." House responded, avoiding his parents' eyes.
"Oh, how lovely." Blythe offered them both a bright smile. "We'll meet you at that steakhouse you like so much, Greg." She bustled forward to give House a hug, followed by one for Buffy. Buffy automatically returned it, but it was a little awkward for her since she wasn't really feeling that grandparental connection yet. House's parents filed out, leaving Buffy and House behind for a bit.
"You sure about this? You don't have to if you don't want." House informed her.
Buffy took a deep breath. "No, I'm good. I'm fine. I'm freaked out beyond belief, but I'm okay for dinner. Besides, I'd have to meet 'em sooner or later, right?"
House nodded. "Pretty much. Sorry. I wasn't planning to put you through this until after we got moved."
"No, it's okay." Buffy shook her head distractedly. "Just... please not too much talking about Mom. I'm not..." She raised her hands in a 'hands off' gesture.
"I won't." House promised. Then he brightened slightly. "Just so long as you don't pick at your food like you normally do. If Mom sees that, she's going to try and stuff you full of food until you don't know up from down."
Buffy laughed weakly and curled her arms around House's free arm for a brief bit of contact and support. "Check. No picking."
Across the way on their floor, Cuddy had been joined by Wilson who was sipping at a cup of coffee. "Things go the way you'd hoped?"
"I got to inflict House's parents on him. How could I not enjoy that?" Cuddy smiled faintly.
"And you got to introduce Buffy to the rather adversarial relationship that House has with his dad, when she's still coping with her mother's death. Go you." Wilson was using his Reality Check voice.
Cuddy hunched her shoulders guiltily. "I didn't think she'd get here so soon after school."
"And, didn't you say that if she helped, she'd be left out of the backlash?" He persisted.
"That's not exactly how I put it." Cuddy hedged.
"Don't get me wrong." Wilson interrupted. "I think he should have called them once Buffy got into town, if not before. They have a right to meet their granddaughter."
"She helped with the prank." Cuddy fidgeted absently with some files that she'd been holding.
Wilson shook his head. "Ah, the ever-popular 'they started it' defense. What are you? House with breasts, now?" Cuddy opened her mouth to protest, but Wilson interrupted. "I know she can get a little sarcastic now and then, but you have to remember that Buffy is not House. She joined in on that prank because it's what teenage kids do. They play jokes, they have fun, and generally act like teens."
"Okay, Dr. Feelgood. Point taken, I'll try to separate them out in my head." Cuddy gave Wilson a fondly irritated scowl.
"All I'm asking. Besides, look at him." He gestured at House letting Buffy hug his arm as father and daughter walked to the elevators. "He hasn't let anyone do something like that since Stacy. He might actually be learning how to open up to someone again."
"He's not returning the hug," she noted.
"Give it time." Wilson serenely continued to sip at his coffee as the elevator doors closed. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Somewhere in Plainsboro, in a darkened room lit only by a circle of candles surrounding a statue of a man with wings, leaning on a tree stump, a naked figure knelt in front of the circle.
"Eros, god of Love and Fertility, I supplicate myself to thee," the figure intoned. "Grant me thy blessing, let me partake of your boon." He raised a ceramic goblet full of wine and took one sip, before setting the cup in the circle. "Suffuse me with your power over love, that I may know warmth and the touch of affection. Thus I beseech thee."
A soft red glow began to radiate from the goblet, slowly filling the room. A slight flash of magicks and the room turned dark again, the candles extinguished.
The room filled with the sound of wonderous laughter. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Another person was praying to the divine at that moment too. God, someone shoot me in the foot. The bad one, so that I can still get away. Now.
House thought, rubbing his temple in irritation.
It wasn't so bad that he had to sit through dinner with his parents. Nor even that he had to deal with the assorted pointed comments that his dad was asking. No, wait. That second part was most of what was annoying House right now. He'd already gotten the message. They were upset that he didn't come running to them right away, after he found out about Buffy.
"How is school going for you so far, Buffy?" Blythe wanted to know.
Buffy shrugged. "It's, y'know, school. Only a lot colder." Mindful of House's warning, Buffy was making sure to eat a fair amount, lest she spend an eternity being stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Blythe nodded, bravely trying to keep the dinner chat friendly. "That's right, you're from California, aren't you? It must be hard to have such a drastic change like that."
House imperceptibly shook his head at his mother. That was dancing too close to things that Buffy's current defensive posture indicated she wasn't ready to talk about yet. "She made a run on the mall not long after she arrived." House explained. "Ran two of my poor staff ragged."
"Why your staff and not you?" John wanted to know. Blythe tried ineffectually to shush him.
"I figured Buffy wouldn't want a valet that tends to walk around the world to the right." House's inclination to maintain the peace for his mom's sake was slowly waning in the face of all the pointedly judgemental questions that his dad was asking.
"It was fine," Buffy murmured in protest. "One of his staff is a girl, and she was a lot of help."
Determined to restore order to the conversation, Blythe proceeded as if nothing had happened. "Are you having any trouble getting caught up in your classes?"
"Oh, no." Buffy shook her head. "My friend Willow, the redhead that I showed up to the office with? She's been helping me in the places where Jersey and California weren't equal with each other, school-ishly speaking."
"What about living arrangements?" John persisted, affixing House with his steely gaze. "You can't keep a teenage girl cooped up in that tiny apartment. You don't even have a spare bedroom for her."
Buffy raised her voice as if the crosstalk hadn't taken place in an effort to interrupt John. "Willow's all kinds of smart, so it's been a huge help," she continued. Pointedly, she added, "She's almost as smart as Dad is."
House's eyebrow twitched and he carefully smothered a smile. "We've already started looking for a new place," he replied mildly. "Shouldn't be more than another month, with paperwork, packing and moving." House absently hooked his hand under his bad leg and shifted it slightly, wincing as the blood flow changed.
"They'll be fine, John." Blythe chided. "It sounds like Greg has everything fairly well in hand." She bestowed an encouraging smile onto her son.
John shook his head and cut another piece of his sirloin, snapping it crisply off the fork. "Probably has the poor girl sleeping on the couch."
Buffy glowered fiercely. "Because I'm going to let someone who needs a cane to walk, try and take the couch?" She asked pointedly. "I'm young and bendy and full of pep. I'll deal until we get moved." Buffy gave John a challenging stare.
John paused in his chewing, eyeing Buffy in surprise. He wasn't used to anyone but Greg sniping at him like that. "No offense, Buffy. I just wanted to make sure that Greg was providing for you. He wound up missing the first fifteen years of your growing up."
Buffy's lips pressed into a thin line. She took a deep breath, dabbed her mouth with her napkin and nodded. "Excuse me, please." She got up and stiffly walked to the ladies' room.
House watched her go, rather amused. "Did I mention that she's rather feisty?"-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Just after sundown, Jesse was finishing up bagging the leaves in his front yard that he'd raked. He'd taken out the garbage earlier and done some tidying up in the garage. And he was loving every minute of it. The leukemia had prevented him from doing so many of the simple, mundane, everyday things for so long, that for once he was actually enjoying himself to an irrational degree.
Jesse whistled cheerfully as he stacked the bag on the side of the house. Willow's family was so painfully eco-friendly that all of them with front yards and trees were asked to save the rakings so that Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg could compost them. If Buffy and House ended up with a yard, they'd end up getting asked the same. Jesse smirked faintly at the thought of the enviro-freak Rosebergs butting heads with Buffy's dad. He was faintly tempted to sell tickets to watch the explosion.
Jesse went to the shed on the side of the house to put away his tools, flung the door closed with a flourish and snapped the padlock shut. He turned around and jumped in shock when he saw that Darla had appeared in front of him out of nowhere. "Don't do
that!" Jesse admonished playfully, putting his hand dramatically to his chest.
Darla twinkled at him with a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. I was watching you finish up in the yard and you just looked so happy I didn't want to interrupt."
"Eh, it's just, you know, chores." Jesse waved a hand dismissively.
"It seemed like more than that." Darla tilted her head prettily, peering up at Jesse with open curiosity.
Jesse shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "No big. It's just, y'know, nice to be able to do normal stuff again." As he walked around to the back of the house, Darla kept pace with him.
"You couldn't do those things for so long, it's nice to get that part of your life back. Believe me, I understand," Darla confided but didn't elaborate.
Jesse gave her a puzzled look, but didn't press the issue. "I guess."
Darla hopped out in front of Jesse and they both stopped walking. She reached up to brush her fingers over his cheek. Jesse stared down at her, as her eyes became more than a little dazzling. "You have more strength in you than you know, Jesse." Darla murmured softly.
Jesse could only nod slowly, transfixed until Darla's head suddenly turned to the side, as if she'd heard something off in the distance. Jesse blinked as she turned her attention back to him. "Oh, darn. I just remembered, I have to meet some friends for a girls night out. Would it be okay if I came over tomorrow?"
"I -" Jesse swallowed. "I think I could pencil you in. Have your people call my people? And by 'my people', I mean me."
Darla's cheeks dimpled. "I will." And she leaned up to brush a kiss across Jesse's cheek, squeezed his hand and murmured her goodbyes before walking from his backyard and around the side of the house. Jesse could only stare, touching his cheek where her lips had touched him.
"Thank you, Karma," Jesse breathed.
Darla walked down the street and took a sharp turn into an alleyway, glancing around suspiciously. A voice from one side rumbled in the darkness. "So it's school boys now, Darla? Quite a change from your usual." Angel stepped out from behind a fence line and took a few steps toward her before stopping.
"You're one to talk. You think I haven't seen the way you've been lurking around after the Slayer?" Darla shook her head chidingly. "You used to have standards."
Angel wasn't apparently in a mood to mince words. "Keep away from them, Darla."
"Why? Afraid I'll snitch one from your four piece Happy Meal?"
"I'm only going to say it once." Angel vowed.
"Just stay out of my way, and you won't have to say it again." Darla flipped her hair over her shoulder, staring challengingly at Angel. The two vampires backed slowly away from one another until they could only see eyes glowing faintly in the darkness. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
After dinner, Blythe and John promised to stop by again on their way back from Atlantic City, leaving House and Buffy to go home together to look at the final candidates in what House insisted on calling, 'The Realty World - Medical Edition'. In time-honored tradition, House set up an easel with a white board and affixed the four final brochures to the top, while jotting out the perks and drawbacks of each location underneath. Buffy had seen him do this when working on cases with his department.
"Contestant number one," House rapped the white board with his marker. "Is about ten minutes closer to the hospital, while remaining roughly the same distance from your school. It's gimp-friendly but about three hundred more per month. The unit in question has no stairs, has a fireplace and a built in wet-bar. Those are my pertinent facts and it's definitely in the lead so far." He pointed at Buffy and waited expectantly, poised to write.
"Do I really have to wear a doctor coat for this?" Buffy sighed, flapping her arms where the sleeves were entirely too big for her.
"It helps keep me in the mood to take notes." House nodded firmly before glancing to the telephone where the light indicated the speakerphone function was in use. "Alright, Winona-"
"Willow," Buffy automatically corrected.
"Whatever. Willow, Buffy is going to say one thing she likes, and then you. Then one thing she dislikes, then you. Got it?" House thumped his cane impatiently on the floor.
Willow's voice rang out hesitantly from the speaker. "I guess so. But I still don't see why you want my input into your new place."
"Buffy tells me you're the smartest student in your grade, maybe even in your school. Wilson told me that you know more about how one of his cancer patients meds work, than the patient himself. And I like having more than one person to brainstorm with."
Willow turned shy. "I'm not that-"
"Any of that modesty nonsense and I'm hanging up and calling one of Buffy's other friends." House interrupted. Buffy gave him a scowl for that one. One of the facets of her father's personality that she didn't particularly care for, was the way he talked to people who weren't naturally inclined to indulge in his eternal insult game. House responded by fishing his pills from his pocket and swallowing two Vicodin.
After Willow murmured that she'd follow the guidelines, House resumed his readiness for writing. "Excellent. Now! Residential diagnosis, go!"
"Bonus, five minute walk from the mall." Buffy immediately replied. She waited until House had finished writing that down before saying. "Your turn, Willow."
"Um, bonus, two minutes from major public transit and it's handicap-friendly?" Willow suggested.
"Very good. Extra points for noting the excellent location of the building, possible negative for trying to score points with the crippled father of the best friend. You're screening possible living spaces, not interviewing for a job with me." House turned to the phone as if he were elaborating to or chastising Willow. "Just throw out things you know about the building, don't worry about being nice or trying to make suggestions you think I want to hear."
Buffy reached out with her foot to tap House's arm. She mouthed, 'be nice' at him. He stared at her as if she'd grown a second head. He pointed at himself and mouthed 'jerk!' in response.
"Downside, building looked like it needs fixing up." Buffy began to fiddle with the cuffs of the lab coat she'd had inflicted on her in an effort to be able to use her hands once more.
"Con, Buffy's going to have a really grumpy roommate." Willow grumbled, still stung by House's gruff demeanor.
House barked a laugh. "That's the spirit! Okay, fixer upper and big ol' downer it is. However, that building also had several new drop cloths stacked outside in a fenced off area. Which means, they're going to be fixing up some of that before the winter snows start."
He continued along that vein, (so to speak), getting both girls to analyze things about the Final Four, (the names kept changing depending on his mood at any given moment), until they'd built up a pretty good list of pros and cons for the prospective new housing. Once that was done, they counted up the perks and perils of each location, and the two with the biggest negative gap between positives and negatives were removed from the board and discarded, while the other two were being left up there for the 'final vote to see who gets kicked off the island'.
Once the festivities had concluded, they hung up with Willow and House settled himself on the couch with Buffy. "Now, was that so hard?"
Buffy shook her head. "Nope, pretty painless. I may have to use that to do my homework. Think my teachers would complain if I handed everything in on a whiteboard?"
"If they do, then they're spoilsports. However, you could
use the easel sized notepads."
"Hey, there's a thought." Buffy tapped her chin in mock-thoughtfulness.
"I'll take you for your driving test if you hand in one paper like that." House sensed the opportunity for mischief.
"Sold!" Buffy bounced on the couch cushion in triumph.
"Hey hey!" House held up his scotch tumbler. "Don't ruin my supper!"
Buffy snorted. "Heaven forbid. After you spent all that time making it, what with the moving of the ice and the pouring..."
"So this is what they mean when they say that children can drive you to drink." He took a long sip of his scotch.
Buffy slapped her hand to her forehead and got up to hang House's rarely used lab coat back in the hall closet. When she came back to the couch, she fidgeted a bit before asking. "Is your dad always like that?"
House frowned, pursed his lips and nodded. "Pretty much."
"Product of his environment." House shrugged. "He was a pilot in the Marines. If things aren't done the way he wants them done, then you're clearly doing it wrong. Instead of joining the military, I became a doctor. Not nearly as muy macho as strapping a plane to your ass and trying to thin out the ranks of the human race one pilot at a time."
"He's disappointed because you became a doctor
?" Buffy gaped. "That's so not fair!"
"Among other things." Before Buffy could inquire further, he held up his hand. "I'm not going to vilify him to you, Buffy. He's treated my mother well for 46 years. Whether he agreed with my decision or not, they still put me through college and med school. I'd rather you form your own opinion about him. If you're still mad after you get to know him, that's your choice to make."
"Okay," Buffy grumbled, tucking her feet under her and leaning her head on House's shoulder. "I still say he shouldn't be automatically assuming you're doing everything wrong with me, though."
"Me too. But hey. What do we know?" -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
"So you didn't like him?" Mr. Platt leaned against his window sill facing Buffy, hanging his cigarette out the window.
Buffy made a face. "It wasn't that so much as I didn't like the way he was treating my dad. Like he'd done something wrong ages ago and he still hadn't gotten around to forgiving him."
Mr. Platt tilted his head, considering. "It's not always easy to live up to a parent's expectations. Particularly when both parent and child are very strong willed and independent."
"Like what happened between me and my- Hank, I mean."
He smiled kindly. "It's okay if you refer to Hank as your dad, Buffy. For better or worse, that's what he was to you for the first 15 years of your life. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Sure there is." Buffy muttered. Then her eyes widened. "Do you think that Dad would be upset if I wasn't smart enough to be a doctor? Especially because, y'know, I'm really not
"I don't know." Mr. Platt shook his head. "Nobody's going to know that until the time comes. Don't worry about what might happen, Buffy. You do that too much, it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You and Dr. House are still getting to know one another. Let that be enough for now, hm?"
"Okay." Buffy gave Mr. Platt a sheepish smile. "Sorry for the generational freak-out."
"No need to apologize. I told you that you could some see me any time, and I meant it." He flicked the cigarette out the window and reached down to peel a hall pass from the pad on his desk.
Buffy waited for him to fill it out and hand it over. "Thank you," she said quietly.
"Any time." As Buffy left the office, he fished out his can of air freshener and went about the business of banishing the big bad smoke fumes.
Buffy scampered off to English class, which she had with Willow. She slid into the seat a little puzzled, because the teacher. Ms. Carson, hadn't arrived yet. "Hmph. Perfectly good hall pass, shot to hell."
Willow grinned a little slyly. "But that means that you may not have to turn in the assignment from yesterday."
"Assignment?" Buffy looked blankly at Willow.
"Dylan Thomas? 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
'? Y'know, the homework?" Willow prompted.
Buffy feigned being unconcerned. "After the bucket of wierd that was the meeting of the grandparents, I completely spaced it. No big, I'll make it up."
Willow had heard the story before Buffy peeled off to go see the councillor. "Well, maybe it was just a bad day. They could-"
Willow cut off as the door opened. A man not their English teacher came into the room. Tall, dark haired, piercing blue eyes, he gave the class an easy smile.
Buffy could practically hear spines snapping to attention throughout the room. She glanced around to see the vast majority of the girls in the room staring at the newcomer with sparkling eyes. What's with all the googly eyes
? Buffy wondered. Sure, he was pretty, but not that
"Good afternoon," he rumbled in a resonant baritone. "I'm Rob Thompson, I'm going to sub for you today while your teacher is out. Hopefully, this is sophomore English or I've taken a seriously wrong turn."
A cascade of giggles went through the room. Buffy scowled. Could they be any more obvious?
Mr. Thompson was going through a series of notes. "Looks like you guys were working on Dylan Thomas. A nice bit of work, but not really my specialty. What say we give ol' Dylan a break and take a trip further back?"
Buffy watched as he extracted some handouts from his messenger bag. Something wasn't sitting right here.
"Here we go. Sonnets by the poet, good ol' Bill Shakespeare." A chorus of repressed groans went through the men of the class. "Don't scoff, guys. If you can understand some of these, it might just give you some insight into what that special girl of yours might want." He threw a wink at the class at large, causing a few repressed sighs to hiss into the air. Oh, please. Where's a vampire when you need one
? Buffy rolled her eyes.
After Cordelia jumped up to volunteer passing out the handouts, Mr. Thompson set out a dish of candy on the desk. "Okay, each of you has a different sonnet to read, followed by a series of questions. When you get your assignment turned in, feel free to dive into the candy. Hand poured dark chocolate from my favorite chocolatier in the New England area."
A sudden shuffle of papers showed that this seemed to have gotten the desired effect across. Buffy shook her head and began to read. Strangely, she wasn't in the mood for chocolate that day. (She wondered vaguely if she should get her dad to make sure she wasn't coming down with a bug.) Buffy decided that she missed Ms. Carson. The teacher kind of reminded her of her mom.-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
After fleeing from school, (Mr. Thompson was all Willow could talk about. Buffy now better understood why her dad went diving for the Vicodin when people annoyed him), Buffy headed for House's office, but she was sidetracked. A very sharply dressed woman in her early 30's was getting helped into a room. Apparently something was wrong with her leg, because they had to help her from the wheelchair to the bed.
Buffy paused and peered in. "Hi, um, sorry to bother you, but.." She blushed sheepishly. "I love those shoes. Could I ask where you got 'em?"
The patient-to-be looked up, bemused and obviously in pain, but still managed a polite smile of sorts. "Italy. I'm afraid they're little expensive. Not to mention, not sold in the U.S."
"Oh. Well, bummer." Buffy's face fell. "I'm totally jealous, then. Thanks! I hope you feel better soon!" The woman nodded her head wearily and Buffy made her way to the Diagnostic offices.
House wasn't in the conference room, but the rest of the diagnostic horde was in there. Since she hadn't talked to them since the remote control vampire incident, she decided to go and be friendly.
"Hi guys!" Buffy greeted cheerily, after she dropped her bag off in House's office and slipped through the other door.
Foreman, Chase and Cameron were all looking a touch on the bored side, but perked up when they found themselves with a visitor. "Hi Buffy," Cameron greeted warmly. "How was school?"
Huffing out an exasperated breath, Buffy replied," Don't even get me started."
"Bad day?" Chase asked, having long since forgiven her for the indignity that was the shopping incident.
"Not exactly." She made a face. "We had a substitute English teacher, and don't get me wrong, he was a fair bit of pretty, but all
the girls in the class looked like they just had Orlando Bloom come in and sit in their lap one by one."
Foreman's shoulders shook in a silent chuckle. "Well, crush on a teacher, it happens." He looked up from the magazine he was reading and eyed her with a cocked brow. "Don't tell me you never had that happen to you before?"
Buffy's face screwed up in thought. "I've had teachers I thought were cute before, but I didn't run around making cow eyes at any of 'em. He's like, ten years older than us! Even Willow was all starstruck, and she's normally too shy to notice boys."
"Well, Buffy, sometimes the authority figure just has that kind of impact." Cameron offered reasonably.
"No, it's - I'm not explaining it right." Buffy folded her arms and looked around. "Ah! Here, this'll help."
The three members of House's diagnostic fellowship looked on in a mixture of amusement and tolerance as Buffy marched up to the white board, uncapped a marker and started scribbling.
By the time House put in an appearance in the Diagnostic conference room, Buffy had drawn an elaborate outline of the English teacher and various students' reactions to him. He dropped his coat off at his desk and entered the conference room quietly.
"..and even uber-snob Cordelia was jumping up to pass around handouts for the assignment. Cordelia can't be bothered to do something like that unless it's cheer-leading related!" Buffy's rant finally wound down, at which point she noticed House's presence. "Hi Dad!"
"I'm torn between horror that my board is being used to diagram a.." He leaned forward and squinted. "..high school social dynamic that I wish to know nothing about, and pride that you're using the same tools as me for problem solving. I think I'll go with pride today." House immediately began to feign sniffles. "My little devil spawn is growing up so fast!" He announced, rubbing at his eyes.
"Hey, you made me do this last night to pick our new place!" Buffy protested, to the amusement of the rest of the room.
"Nothing wrong with that. And the fact that these three," He indicated his doctors. "Just sat there and let you commandeer the board, means that obviously the sanctity of the white board hasn't been impressed on them yet. On the other hand, kudos for enthralling three doctors with a high school problem! But, I have to interrupt your fun and chase you out of here. Duty calls." He waggled a case file.
Buffy snorted and marched up to House, presenting him with the marker by placing it on her forearm like a blade. "I return your sword of command, Father-mine."
"Fabulous. Now go forth and slay the unwashed heathen. Then go after the washed heathen, just to make sure."
Buffy had to fight to keep a straight face on that one. She moved over to grab some juice from the mini-fridge as House started talking. Not really listening until he mentioned that their new patient was the CEO of a cosmetics company.
"Think she can get me some free samples?" Buffy wondered.
House cast his eyes heavenward as the others snorted. He pointed at the door. "Out, girl-child. Patient confidentiality."
Buffy raised her hands peacefully. "I'm going, I'm going." As she left, she heard the last few sentences when House simply flipped the white board to the other side.
"Why didn't you just erase that?" Chase asked.
"What? And make her think that the problem solving process isn't important? Blasphemy!" House pegged Chase in the chest with his fuzzy, oversized tennis ball. "That stays there until she's figured out whatever she needs to."
Oh, he was having one of those days, was he? With a shake of her head, Buffy headed down the hall to peek in on Wilson, who was just finishing up handing out a prescription to a patient. He spotted her as he was saying goodbye to the patient and waved her on in.
"Hey, Buffy. Everything okay?" Wilson finished sorting whatever paperwork was on his desk and put it all into one file folder.
"Kinda. Some stuff at school that I'm not getting, but that's not why I'm here." Buffy settled into one of the chairs opposite Wilson and frowned. "Do you know dad's parents at all? They mentioned something about you, but I can't remember what."
Wilson's expression became one of understanding. "Yeah, instead of trying to pry Christmas ideas out of House, they ask me instead. I noticed you got to meet them yesterday. What'd you think?"
"I so don't know. I mean, his mom was nice enough, but his dad was kinda..." She scowled at the memory of last night's dinner.
"Abrupt and quick to blame House for anything and everything under the sun?" Wilson prompted without missing a beat.
"That." Buffy nodded. "Dad said part of it had something to do with him not getting a manly-man kinda job, but that's not the vibe I was getting from it."
Wilson leaned over to place a gentle hand on Buffy's forearm. "You're probably looking for a little insight right now. Unfortunately, this is one of those things where I'm going to say that you need to come to your own conclusions, and otherwise stay out of it. They're good people, Buffy. There's just tensions that are probably never going to be resolved between House and his father. If you come up with something, you can come talk to me if you want, but until then, you're kind of on your own, kiddo." He gave Buffy's wrist a pat and sat back in his chair.
"Oh sure, if you want to be all logical about it." Buffy pretended to huff.
"Damn me and my logical ways. A pox on them all." Wilson agreed in deadpan tone. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Now that the weather was starting to turn, the gang's morning hangout in front of the school had been preempted for warmer climes. Buffy made her way into the library to discover that Jesse and Xander were sitting at one table chatting idly, while Willow sat a few more tables away in a rather impressive looking sulk, holding her blue jacket to her chest. Giles, of course, was avidly ignoring anything that was going on from the safety of his office.
"This is new. What's the deal? We're dividing up between boys and girls now?" Buffy blinked at the previously unprecedented segregation.
"Willow's been banished." Jesse supplied, rolling his eyes.
"Huh? Is that like this group's equivalent of being excommunicated?"
"No, that would require me to wear an array of increasingly silly hats." Giles observed.
Xander raised his index finger for emphasis. "Banished, until she can go three sentences without speaking the words 'Mr. Thompson'," he clarified.
"That again?" Buffy sent Giles a pleading gaze. "You don't have room in there for me to hide until this goes away, do you?"
"I'm not sharing my sanctuary." Giles shook his head gravely. "That way lies madness."
"Darn. I was hoping to get some Switzerland status going. Alright, you guys. I'm going in." Buffy set her bag on the table with the boys and went to see if she could talk Willow down.
going to make fun of me now?" Willow asked grumpily as Buffy eased herself into a chair beside Willow.
Buffy shook her head. "No making fun, I promise. Strictly a fact-finding tour, here." She reached out to give Willow's hand a squeeze.
Willow relaxed marginally. "I'm not stupid, Buffy. I know that there's no possible way that anything could happen. But when I'm around him, I just can't help feeling like..." She sighed, transitioning from grouchy to wistful.
"I vaguely recall that sensation." Buffy gave a half smile and shook her head. "What about..?" She shifted her eyes significantly to Xander for a brief moment.
Frantically trying not to draw attention to herself, Willow shook her head. "I know, but I can't wait forever."
"Or, you could make an actual move." Buffy lowered her voice to avoid alerting the concerned party of Xander about the background crush that Willow seemed to still be nursing. "You know, do something to show him that you're more than his best friend since forever."
"Actually, I think we came before 'forever'." Willow gave a look at Xander that could only be described as fondness mixed with irritation. "And part of me isn't sure if I should mess with that. What if-?"
The door to the library was pushed open, causing Willow to cut herself off. Cordelia strode into the room and poked her head into Giles' office. "Sonnets, Shakespeare, where?" She asked, skipping right over the niceties of such things as 'hello' and 'how are you'.
Giles arched an eyebrow at this intruder into his sanctuary. "Far wall, east side, resting comfortably with the rest of the poetry. And I'm fine, thanks ever so for asking."
"Whatever. Not here for chit-chat, just need the book. I'm scheduled to meet with Mr. Thompson after school. Except I have to wait in line. That tramp Julie, she of the eternally low-riding jeans, snuck in first thing this morning." Much to Giles' relief, Cordelia didn't feel obligated to explain beyond that as she went to go fetch the desired book.
Once the check-out proceedings had concluded, Willow whirled to hiss jealously at Buffy. "Julie and Cordelia both? That's so unfair!" She scrambled to gather up her things and bustled impatiently out of the library before Buffy could derail her romantic rage.
"Yeah. That went well." Xander announced in the sudden quiet of the library.
Buffy shook her head. "This is so not like her. And that teacher isn't even all that wonderful. He's just pretty."
"It's probably that whole 'strong-yet-sensitive' thing, Buffy." Jesse offered, having received similar advice from her not so very long ago.
"No, there's got to be something more to it. Jess, Xander, this is way out of Willow's usual behavior, right?" She turned a hopeful gaze onto the two boys.
Xander looked vaguely pessimistic. "Well, when we went out, there was some adoration-type behavior, but nothing like this."
"Wait, you and Willow? What happened? Why did I not know about this already?" Buffy looked to be getting herself worked up.
"There was an... incident. Barbies were involved. I shall speak no more of it." Xander solemnly made the motion of closing a zipper over his lips.
"This was before my time, but that was when they were in kindergarten." Jesse supplied.
Giles cautiously emerged from his office. "It may simply be a schoolgirl crush, Buffy."
"I'm just not convinced. I'm going to go keep an eye on him until class starts, and check in between classes. If all I see are swoony sophomores, I'll back off, I promise." So saying, Buffy gathered up her bag, spun on her heel and marched down the hallway.
A few twists and turns later, Buffy found herself loitering by a vending machine, while keeping one eye on the proceedings in the English classroom. Willow and a small cluster of hopeful girls were all being addressed by Mr. Thompson, who was speaking to each of them in turn and jotting down their respective names in a date book. Buffy frowned. She knew there were some pretty smart cookies in their class. Not all of them were going to need help with something as relatively mundane as Shakespeare.
Mr. Thompson placed his hand on a small, pendant-like object on the desk and said something that set the assembled students into a cascade of girlish giggling. Giving them all an easy grin, he stood up to usher the girls out, claiming that he needed to take a trip to the faculty lounge. He flipped the lock on the back of the doorknob and walked away, the door slowly swinging shut behind him.
Buffy waited until he was far enough away that he wouldn't hear her and darted forward to slip into the classroom before the door latched. A quick survey of his messenger bag didn't turn anything up, nor did an inspection of the drawers. However, the item on the desk gave Buffy the wig. A small, square pendant with a winged man etched into it, affixed to a leather cord. Since there wasn't anything else that Buffy could work with, she slipped the pendant into her pocket and slipped back out the door. But before she could go back to the library, the bell rang for first period. Buffy scowled. She'd have to show the pendant to Giles and get him to figure out that part.
She so needed to get Giles to pick up a white board. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
After photocopying the pendant so Giles had his own copy to work with, Buffy bolted for the hospital and the Diagnostics conference room. She wasn't going to bother her dad at that moment, because he and his other doctors were all clustered in his office looking at some medical scan-thingie or another.
Buffy added onto her own diagram that there were students lining up to get one-on-one sessions with the substitute teacher and circled the names of those worthies. She alternated from pacing back and forth in front of the white board, to frowning at the little pendant and occasionally pulling out her cell phone and staring at the lack of calls, muttering, "C'mon, Giles."
She started briefly when she heard House raise his voice at Chase, but didn't give it much more thought until he came into the conference room, catching her looking at the pendant intently once again. "I'm going to tell you up front, that won't match any of my shoes or my cane," he informed her gravely.
"This isn't mine," she murmured. "I lifted it off of the substitute that this is all about." She waved at the white board, then glanced back at the doctors milling around in the other room. "What was that all about?"
"Chase was thinking with his Little Koala when he was supposed to be doing scans," House replied mildly, causing Buffy to snort involuntarily. He leaned over to take a look at the pendant and the white board. "How's your mystery teacher investigation coming along?"
Buffy shook her head. "Something is missing, I just can't pin down what it is."
"That's how it goes sometimes." House bobbed his head in agreement. "You stole this from the sub that's got all your little school friends enthralled, eh? At least you've backed off from arson to petty larceny." House squinted at the pendant. "Looks like a Roman or Greek god from way back in the day."
"So, he's going to go all 'Hail Zeus!' on us? Weirdest English teacher ever." Buffy frowned.
House was still studying the pendant. "What's that on the wing?" He asked suddenly.
Buffy focused on the only wing that was fully visible. "What's the what on the wing?" She couldn't see anything.
House limped over to a table and picked up a magnifying glass. "Turn the pendant upside down and all shall be revealed, wee little daughterling." After Buffy obliged, he held up the glass so that Buffy could see the magnified result.
"Still not seeing what you are," Buffy prompted.
House fished a pen from his coat pocket and began to point at a sequence of dots and lines etched into the wing. "Right side up, it doesn't look like anything, but when you look at it from this angle, it looks remarkably like the molecular chemical diagram for gamma-Hydroxybutyric."
House arched a stern eyebrow at Buffy. "GHB. The date rape drug. I sincerely hope you're not drinking anything from strangers at parties. I know how to put this cane in places, even their proctologist can't remove it."
Buffy's eyes widened. "That's..." Inwardly, she was frantically shouting 'oh my God!'. "...kind of spooky. Well, thanks for that random bit of chemistry." Buffy walked out of the conference room, leaving a bewildered House behind. Once she was in the stairwell, where he could not follow, she began hitting buttons on her cell.
Giles voice responded almost immediately. "Buffy, I believe I've found something. The image is that of Eros, the Roman god of love and fertility. His followers were often rumored to posses remarkable power of persuasion over the gender of their choice."
"I'll go you one better. Turns out on the full wing side of the pendant, the chemistry symbol for GHB is etched into the metal." Buffy began to jog once she got clear of the hospital's front doors.
"That shouldn't be." Giles sounded briefly puzzled. "Mixing a scientific symbol with a deity wouldn't do any good unless - oh dear lord."
"Why did all the hair on my neck just stick straight up?"
The conversation lagged briefly while Giles dispatched Jesse to check for the substitute teacher's car and Xander to start combing the school for Willow, and under no circumstances was Xander to take action unless Buffy or Giles was with him.
"In its purest form, worship to a deity of old meant supplication, sometimes sacrifice, but most of all, devout faith. If that image has been combined with scientific drawings, then the bearer is distinctly less-than-pure in their intentions." Giles explained rapidly, pausing again when Jesse reported that Mr. Thompson's car was still in the school parking lot.
"And if he's getting his juju from Error-"
"-Right, that - then he's decided to troll the grounds for young, nubile playthings?" Buffy was pelting along the sidewalk at full tilt, careful to stick to in-between streets and alleyways.
"Jesse and I are going to help Xander look for Willow. You get here as quickly as possible, and we'll call if we spot them."
Buffy snapped her phone shut and began to pour on the speed. Willow
Willow followed behind Mr. Thompson with a mixture of mild concern and severe adoration. They were taking the stairs down into the basement, ostensibly to discuss the sonnet that had particularly caught Willow's fancy. He'd said that with all the students wanting to talk to him, he could use the quiet and a bit of exercise.
Once in the basement, he led Willow down a few twists and turns. "It's just a little further, Willow," he assured her. "I found this place yesterday and thought it'd be a great spot to sit quietly and talk." She couldn't see it, but his face had quirked a none-too-mirthful smile. In fact, it was rather sinister now that nobody was looking.
They rounded the final corner where a low light was burning - an oil lamp hanging from a wrought iron stand. Willow blinked as her senses vaguely registered that there was a pallet of blankets and pillows on the floor, a low table with a candy dish and burning incense, a small statuette off to the side, and most notably a woman lounging on the aforementioned pallet in a sheer white gown that wasn't perfectly opaque.
Willow's eyes widened in recognition. "Ms. Carson?"
The missing English teacher nodded. "Hello Willow," she drawled lazily.
"But I thought you were out sick!" Willow exclaimed.
"That's a little bit my fault, Willow." Mr. Thompson confessed, strolling over to the statue of the winged man and running his hand over it. "I met Ms. Carson over the weekend, and when she said she didn't want to leave, well, I just had to take over for her."
Willow put a hand to her head, feeling more fuzzy-headed by the moment. That incense was heady stuff and it was getting harder for her to think clearly. "But why is she-? And why am I-?" She stammered, carefully not looking at her English teacher's somewhat see through apparel.
"She's here to show you that nothing bad is going to happen to you here." Mr. Thompson replied gently, his hand resting on one of the statue's wings. "And you're here, because you're a very special girl. I looked at your grades for this semester; you're an incredibly brilliant and apt pupil. You not only read the assignments, you understand
them in ways that not many others could."
Weaving a bit on her feet, Willow blinked up at him with her enormous eyes. "But I'm not-"
"Yes you are," he corrected, stepping closer to Willow. Ms. Carson unobtrusively eased herself over on the pallet, making room with a Mona Lisa smile. Mr. Thompson reached up to cup Willow's cheek and whispered, "And I'd like to show you how special we both think you are."
Willow's breath quickened and she swallowed thickly. Mr. Thompson's hand trailed down the side of her neck, his fingertips tracing over her collarbone. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
The call went 'round from Xander to Giles, Jesse and Buffy - he'd caught the sound of talking in the basement, and it wasn't the kind of talk that the janitor would use. Most notably, he'd picked up on Willow's voice.
Buffy met up with Jesse from where he was searching at, and they both pelted down the stairs to the basement, finding Xander at the base of the stairs and looking angry enough to bite nails in half, spit them out and build a hardwood back deck with the leavings.
"Buffy, the things they're saying-" Xander's voice choked off. Jesse looked at Xander in alarm. He'd never looked this upset before.
"Shh, we're going to take care of it." Buffy promised. "Giles is getting something from the library now." Her head tilted to the side as her Slayer-enhanced hearing picked up on the conversation. So tender, such a delicate flower...
Buffy scowled fiercely. "Go." With Xander and Jesse half a step behind, Buffy barreled into Mr. Thompson's love nest. They came in on Willow having had her blouse pushed off one of her shoulders, the substitutes hand lingering on Willow's breast.
Xander emitted a wordless bellow of rage and flew at Mr. Thompson with a right cross that had youthful strength and fury piled up behind it, slamming squarely into his jaw. Mr. Thompson reeled before regaining his footing and backhanded Xander away. As Xander hit the floor, he found himself confronted with the last person he'd thought he'd ever have to fight - Willow, jumping on him and trying to beat him in the head with her tiny fists. Trying desperately not to hurt her, he did what he could to catch at Willow's wrists and keep her from hurting him or herself.
Ms. Carson let out a shriek of protest and dove at Jesse, preventing him from going to Xander's aid. Jesse managed to divert her charge so that she didn't knock him over, but he was still rebuilding his strength and stamina after his leukemia therapy, and could only manage a stalemate.
The Slayer strode over to Mr. Thompson with wrathful vengance in her eyes, promising untold dimensions of pain and suffering. Mr. Thompson backed up toward his statue. "You were the only one that resisted. It should have been you here all along. No matter, though. You're here now." He reached his hand out for the statue. Buffy recognized it as the same one of Eros from the pendant and lunged forward to stop him before he could do whatever he'd done to Willow, unto Buffy.
Giles' somewhat breathless voice abruptly rang out.
"Eros, bringer of love and children!
Heed my words; hear this my plea!
Your gifts abused, your trust betrayed,
Your servant corrupts what you gave him, free!"
The statue of Eros glowed a dark, angry red. Light shot out from the eyes, hitting Mr. Thompson squarely in the small of his back. Mr. Thompson arched his back and screamed a wordless denial, his features contorting and shifting in a slightly nauseating display of facial anatomy, his body mass diminishing at least ten percent. When the glow faded, the incense had cleared from the air and Mr. Thompson was no longer a handsome, dashing substitute teacher. He was a gangly, awkward looking man with asymmetrical features, his eyes bulging, his nose entirely too prominent, and a severe overbite.
"You went through all this trouble so you could seduce a high school English teacher and a student? Loser." Buffy reached out to punch the man squarely between the eyes, and he crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Willow suddenly stopped trying to hurt Xander and instead stared at him in horror. "Oh God, Xander." Her eyes welled up with tears and she curled into his chest, sobbing hysterically.
Xander sighed and let go of her wrists, wrapping his arms around her tightly. "I'm here, Willow. I'm fine," he tried to reassure her as he held her. But his gaze slipped up to Buffy and Giles. Giles was frowning thunderously as he removed his tweed coat to drape over Ms. Carson. Buffy gently reached out to set the shoulder of Willow's blouse to rights.
Jesse was holding Ms. Carson up as she tried to assimilate all the things that had happened to her since meeting Mr. Thompson. "Mr Giles, could I trouble you for a phone? I seem to have misplaced my pockets," she asked in the tones of a person that simply wasn't ready to start dealing with the things that were done to her.
The somber group of rescuers helped Willow and Ms. Carson upstairs, Giles and Buffy standing vigil over the person that had almost used one of their friends for his own twisted pleasures. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
"Tox screen shows positive for a variant of GHB in almost every student that took that class that we've tested so far." Cameron announced soberly to the occupants of Cuddy's office.
Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital was bustling. Once the school administration had uncovered what happened to one of their students, they declared an emergency and had every single student that took the class, bussed to the hospital to have their blood checked for the date rape drug.
Buffy's features contorted angrily. "I can't believe he almost got away with it."
"According to what the police were telling me, he has
gotten away with it in Manhattan, Boston, Philadelphia..." Cuddy shook her head sadly. "What makes a person do something like that?"
"Control." House replied abruptly. He'd been uncharacteristically quiet ever since he'd learned that a rapist and child molester had been apprehended and Buffy was at the eye of the storm for the capture. "He's likely one of those people that never felt like his opinion was worth anything throughout his life, never could get the girl or be popular. So instead of finding a regular way to feel important, he resorted to the less savory aspects of chemistry."
"House, that's possibly the most astute thing I've ever heard you say." Wilson murmured, still slightly stunned at the revelations of the last day.
"It was in a fortune cookie I got once."
Buffy turned to Cuddy, for once not joining in her father's antics. "What happens to Willow and Ms. Carson now?"
Cuddy gave Buffy a sympathetic look. "Your teacher is going to get tested for rape, which I can tell you is going to come up positive. The school district will probably refer everyone to councilors that want to talk to them. And Mr. Thompson is probably going to spend a very long time in prison."
Buffy knew that the only reason Ms. Carson wasn't going to get in trouble, was because of the high levels of GHB in her own system, coupled with Willow's statement to the police that the teacher hadn't seemed terribly coherent until they'd gotten the incense aired out. As it turned out, both his candy and his incense burner were both laced with the stuff.
She processed the notion that the substitute was going to spend some significant quality time behind bars. "Good." Buffy snarled.
Cuddy looked from daughter to father. "House, she's had a rough 24 hours. Why don't you take her home. Buffy, if you need to talk to someone, my door is open."
Buffy smiled wanly. "Thanks. I have a councilor at school, but I'll keep that in mind." At House's hand on her shoulder, she stood up and walked slowly out of the Dean's office with him.
Once the family had departed, Cuddy began herding the rest of her staff out of the office, taking stethoscope in hand and sending them to help deal with the deluge of drugged students.
Buffy and House didn't say a word until they got to his office by way of the conference room. House flipped the board over from the symptoms of Carly the recent recipient of a heart transplant, and mutely handed Buffy the eraser. Buffy took it and slowly began to erase her own brainstorming list from the board, wiping every last bit of it clean.
Once inside the office proper, House locked both doors. "What do you need?" House asked without any preamble.
Buffy peered up at him with large hazel eyes and wordlessly wrapped her arms around his middle, her shoulders beginning to shake as she cried quietly into his sport coat. Uncharacteristically, House merely set aside his cane and gathered his daughter into his long, wiry arms. "You done good, kid," he murmured.
Across the way on their floor, Cuddy and Wilson had paused to watch House console his distraught daughter. "Told you to give it time." Wilson said with a bittersweet smile. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
"I like the fireplace, Greg," Blythe announced cheerfully as she helped open the take-out Chinese food that they'd ordered.
Buffy and House had officially decided on their new condo, the one with the fireplace and wetbar that House had liked so much. Buffy had just liked it because of how close it was to the hospital. They'd gotten the word just as Blythe and John had gotten back into town for their promised follow-up visit, so they decided to break in the dining area properly. The condo contained precisely one table, four chairs and one waste basket thusfar.
House nodded at his mom. "That was one of our selling points, too." He cast a sidelong smile at Buffy, who repressed a smirk. She knew very well it was the bar setup that he'd liked the most.
"It's a fine new place," John agreed. "Plenty of room for the both of you, and lots of windows."
Buffy eyed John warily, suspecting some kind of slam against House was in the offing, if their last meal together had been any indication. House, oddly enough, came to the rescue. "They always used to complain that the old place is too dark, even during the day."
The dinner was much less tense than the previous one had been. They talked about school and work, John and Blythe's travel plans, and very briefly touched on the goings on at the school. The chatter was very pleasant and for a moment, Buffy could half close her eyes and imagine that this was how things had always been, rather than the recent upheaval that had gone in these last several weeks.
After they got done with the fortune cookies, House and Blythe began to perform some obscure ritual with the fortunes. John shook his head, chuckling at Buffy's bemused expression. "They always do this, and I haven't the first idea what it all means. What say you take me for a walk, Buffy? Get to know the new neighborhood, have a little chat?"
Reluctantly, Buffy agreed and they both donned coats so they could have a stroll around the block. For a bit, they talked about little bits of nothing at all, taking note of the shops in the area as they had their stroll. Finally, Buffy couldn't avoid it any longer.
"What happened between you and Dad?" Buffy asked abruptly.
John sighed. "I figured this talk was coming. It's not so much what happened between Greg and I, it's how he changed after the leg surgery."
Whatever Buffy had been expecting, that hadn't been it. "What do you mean? I asked Jim about it, and he said that Dad was pretty much always like this."
"Mostly, yes." He nodded. "But there was something after he needed the cane and the pills that Jimmy doesn't see. Greg was a stubborn, opinionated, intelligent, sharp minded and sharp tongued boy, and that didn't change when he became a man. After the operation, though." John paused on the street so that he and Buffy could look at one another. "He's mad about something, I figure. But he won't tell anyone what that is. And when Blythe or I try to talk to him about it, he gets defensive, which makes me defensive."
Buffy furrowed her brow as she tried to take this all in. John reached out to tip Buffy's chin up so he could see her face. "And I'm sorry for my part in what you got mad about when we first met. Greg and my fight shouldn't spill over onto you."
She studied his craggy features for a few moments before slowly nodding. "Then I'm sorry too, for snapping back when you and Dad started getting into it."
John nodded gravely. "And it'll probably happen again in the future?"
"More than likely."
"Just so I know that it's coming, I'm okay with it."
The air cleared, they continued their walk around the block. As they passed one of the knicknack shops, a voice rang out from behind Buffy. "Hey you!"
Buffy turned. "Darla, hi!" She glanced to John. "Darla, this is my grandfather, John. And this is Darla. We kind of... had an encounter once, and she pops up every now and then to catch up with us. Mostly my friend Jesse." Buffy added that last part with no little teasing and dragging out of the vowels in Jesse's name in sing-song fashion.
John chuckled. "A pleasure, little lady. Well, why don't you girls catch up, and I'll see if I can't rescue some of that szechuan from Greg's clutches." Waving pleasantly, he ambled off down the sidewalk.
Darla smiled at Buffy. "He seems nice."
"It was a little touch-and-go for a while there, but so far, yeah it looks that way." Buffy watched her grandfather stroll off. "We haven't seen you in a while. You talk to Jesse lately?"
"Just yesterday." Darla nodded. "He said something almost happened to Willow?"
Buffy's features darkened. "Yeah. That teacher didn't actually, y'know, to her, but he got way too close."
"That's horrible. If I don't see her, tell her that I'm thinking of her?" Darla offered, falling into step with Buffy as they began to continue the walk as well.
"Will do. You could probably catch us at the Bronze in the next couple of days. I'm sure Jesse wouldn't be too heartbroken to see you there." Buffy teased.
Darla ducked her head and smiled, a little embarassed. "I might just do that, then." She glanced at Buffy and blurted. "I really like him, you know."
"I think I got that impression, with as much as he talks about you." Buffy grinned back at the other girl. "Just, y'know, be careful with him. He's been through a lot in just the last few months alone."
"I know. And I wouldn't dream of hurting him. There's just something about him." Darla sighed a little girlishly.
Buffy giggled. "You've got it bad."
Darla made a face. "Ugh. I know, it's disgusting. But I can't help it. I just get the feeling..."
"That he's going to get through this and stay in remission. That he's going to do great things. That he's more special than anyone realizes."
There was nothing Buffy could say to that. The two girls continued on their walk, their small shoes clicking and making echoes in the night.