The youngest one in curls.
GAH SCHOOL GAH. I'm so sorry I haven't written more but....well. You know how it goes.
Also, this chapter got begun and re-begun and re-re-begun, because I managed to hit a writing wall that would not go away. So, I just stepped back, took a deep breath, and powered through it. Hopefully things will be easier from here.
This chappie is joint-dedicated to Glorious, whose (private) review really kicked my butt and made me think about this story again, and to whatever wonderful person nominated me for ACS' Band Candy Award. It's my second nomination and I am soooooo excited.
After nearly an hour, Dawn announced that she had to go to the bathroom, and Buffy, in true girly fashion, decided to go with her. Joyce and John were left alone in the room.
As soon as the door clicked closed behind them, Joyce pinned John with a look.
“When are we going to tell them?”
Sighing, John ran a wide hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up in haphazard spikes.
“I don’t know. Probably soon, huh? I just…didn’t want to interrupt.”
“Yeah.” Joyce smiled wryly. “I don’t really know how to bring it up, either. Think we should just get the annulment, and not tell them at all?”
“Um, about that,” John began. Joyce raised an eyebrow.
Cringing, John told her what the doctor had told him. Joyce sighed in exasperation.
“Well, there goes that. We have to tell them now. At least this time there won’t be any fighting over who gets what, right?”
“Joyce, I’m sorry.”
Joyce shook her head.
“Don’t be. You’re my hero, remember? It won’t be bad, I promise. My lawyer’s really great, we’ve been friends for ages. She’ll have us fixed up in no time.”
John regarded her from under heavy lashes for a moment, digesting this. Then he stood, came over to her bed, sat next to her hip and kissed her soundly on the mouth.
He pulled away, breathless, a few minutes later and rested his forehead on hers.
“You’re incredible,” he said. “How do you manage to make everything seem okay?”
Joyce smiled softly and shrugged, not pulling away.
“I’m a mommy. It’s what we do.”
With a chuckle, John said, “I guess so. Mary used to do that, too.”
As soon as he said it, he wished he could take it back. It wasn’t fair to Joyce to compare her to Mary, no matter how hard it was for him to refrain.
But Joyce only cocked her head.
“Your wife?” she asked. John nodded.
“Tell me about her.”
So he did.
“Spill it, Buffy.”
Buffy looked up from washing her hands, regarding her sister in the mirror with a quizzical look.
“Something’s making you all grouchy-like. It’s John, isn’t it?”
Wrinkling her nose, Buffy pulled towels from the roll and wiped off her hands.
“I don’t know. Maybe?” At Dawn’s skeptical stare, she shrugged helplessly. “I like him, I guess. He’s not giving off any weird, Ted-like vibes, and he’s being all friendly and stuff. He saved Mom’s life, he stuck around to make sure she got better, and he went out of his way to contact us.” She tossed the used paper towels in the trash and leaned against the sink, biting her lip in thought. “Still, something’s a little…off. I guess I’m just outside my comfort zone with him. And I’m wiggy about other things, too.”
“Yeah.” Dawn mimicked her sister’s position. “That was close, today. If Mom’d been alone – ”
“Don’t even say it,” Buffy shuddered. “Yeah, there’s that. But there’s also this whole Glory thing. The sooner we can get back to Sunnydale, the better.”
“Why?” Dawn asked, genuinely confused. “I like being hundreds of miles away. I don’t feel like I have to keep looking over my shoulder.”
Buffy crossed her arms, frowning. “I do. Think about it, Dawnie. What’s the first thing Glory will do when she realizes we’re gone?”
“Uh…” Dawn thought about it for a second. Then her eyes widened. “Oh! She’ll think we ran. She’ll think we took the Key with us!”
“Exactly. She might go after Giles or Xander or Willow. She might come chasing after us. The residents of Sunnydale might be able to ignore a hell goddess, but do you think Vegas will? And all those people…” She shook her head. “No, we’ve gotta get out of here ASAP. It’s too late tonight, but tomorrow we go back, whether Mom can travel or not.” She held up her hand, halting Dawn’s protests. “I know, I don’t like it either, but we have no choice. I wish I could just leave you here but if Glory somehow found out and I wasn’t nearby, well.” She left it at that, cocking an eyebrow meaningfully.
Dawn pouted. “Darn it. I was hoping to get out of school for a couple of days.”
Buffy blinked in surprise, then burst into laughter. “You’re such a brat,” she said between giggles, trying unsuccessfully to stifle them behind her hand. Dawn grinned back.
“At least you can take a night off from slaying,” she told her sister. Buffy sighed.
“I guess I’m gonna have to, even though slaying in Vegas is probably awesome. I’m not leaving you alone in a hotel room all night.”
“That’s okay. We can paint each other’s toenails and watch girly movies and stuff. You know, sister things.”
“Ooh, we can make popcorn,” Buffy said, grinning. “The extra-heart-attacky kind.”
“And eat chocolate chip cookie dough straight from the tube!”
“Ew.” Wrinkling her nose, Buffy steered Dawn out of the bathroom. “That’s so bad for you.”
Dawn laughed, hooking her arm through Buffy’s. “Like it matters. After today, we deserve it.”
“You’re so right,” Buffy replied with conviction. “We’re taking the night off.”
They stopped at the vending machine and were munching chocolate when they finally got back to their mother’s room, nearly fifteen minutes later.
Dawn broke away from Buffy, raced ahead, then skid to a stop, peering through the glass pane in the door. Her hand flew up to her mouth, and with an expression of glee she beckoned Buffy over.
Buffy obliged, peeking over Dawn’s shoulder to see what the fuss was about.
John was leaning over their mothers bed, and the two were making out like teenagers. One broad hand cradled her head, the other rested gently on her hip; both of Joyce’s hands were braced against his chest. It looked like the cover of a romance novel, Buffy thought. Except with old people. And in a hospital bed instead of a boudoir or whatever.
“That’s so romantic,” Dawn sighed, leaning against the doorframe and watching dreamily. Buffy looked startled.
“That doesn’t wig you?” she asked. “He’s almost a stranger. What about Dad?”
Dawn looked thoughtful.
“Well, technically, Dad’s not really my dad, right? I mean, I was made out of you, so I guess he is, sorta, but he didn’t really donate the sperm. And I don’t think he liked me very much. I mean, he’s called or sent you letters occasionally, but never anything for me.” She shrugged. “I don’t really care. All the memories I have of him are false, anyway. John’s real, and Mom really likes him. As long as he doesn’t turn out to be the Big Bad, I’m cool with that.”
“Stop it,” Buffy said. Dawn crossed her arms and put on a pissy face.
“Stop acting all grown-up. You make me look bad,” Buffy replied with a grin. Dawn grinned back.
“Ha! I win.” She did a little shuffling dance in place that looked suspiciously similar to Anya’s Dance Of Capitalist Superiority. Buffy made a mental note to curb the amount of time Dawn spent with the ex-demon and made a big production out of fumbling with the door handle before she opened the door.
Joyce and John had separated by then, though Joyce’s hair was really messy and John looked a bit flushed. He gave the girls a sheepish grin as their mother launched into the expected “Where did you go, back to California?” routine.
“Nah, just needed some girly-talk. We decided we’re gonna have a girl’s night in at the hotel tonight.”
Joyce cocked an eyebrow. “You mean, my 20-year-old daughter is not going to seize this chance to paint Vegas red?”
Buffy, knowing what was really being asked, shook her head. “Nah. Dawn’d just get in trouble if I wasn’t there.”
Joyce nodded. “Good. You gonna watch movies? I hear the Breakfast Club is playing on HBO tonight.” She and Dawn launched into a discussion of movies to watch. Buffy took up her place in the chair and joined in.
But not before noticing and cataloging the thoughtful way John was staring at her.