Before Buffy’s little speech, Hank’s anger had swelled as he listened to these people talk as if everything was as it should be. They talked about classes, Dawn’s homework, a sale at the grocery store, and the weather. Little tid-bits grated on his nerves:
Willow’s casual, “Better stay clear of the Richardson’s Cemetery on Wednesday, Buff. I heard it’s gonna pour all afternoon and that’s the place you slipped in the mud last month and got totally skewered by that swordy vamp.”
Balanced by Anya’s frantic, “…and there are only thirteen rabbit’s feet left on the shelf and I haven’t sold any in three days, so someone’s
pocketed one! And I couldn’t have thirteen on the shelve cause it’s thirteen
and it’s bad enough they already come from BUNNIES, so I had to throw one out so they wouldn’t get even worse luck! Horrid little …”
Spike asked Dawn, “Bit, did you finish that report on World War II? Now that was a bloody great time!”
Then, Buffy, Anya and Tara were discussing the Demon Dating site and saying absurd things like “Do you think it would be dangerous for a fish-eater like the Org’linkza to date a shark?” and “Maybe we should list the demon-friendly venues somewhere.” Then, “Oh! Do you think they would pay to advertise on the site?”
And Xander’s opening of the pizza around Spike’s commentary about his preferences for anchovies, which was just confusing because the vampire-eating-pizza thing was such a joke! Not to mention the following conversation on the merits of soap operas verses cartoons.
By the time Buffy had everyone’s attention, Hank was ready to just leave without either of his kids – the dead one, or the one that didn’t necessarily exist. They were all crazy – every last one of the maniacs. And he’d be damned if he was going to let them drag him down into this life. It wasn’t a life. It was the plot of a cosmic farce. He’d gone through so much in the last month to be here and they weren’t even acknowledging his presence, let alone his sacrifices. All he wanted was to go home take a few pills, have a glass of anything
and forget it all. He didn’t belong here!
But then, Buffy had started talking. She spoke about things he had never really known. And he realized that, somewhere in between all the horror, this array of oddities had become what he’d always wished for: a family that loved each other, flaws and all. A team of friends that worked together to live life the best way they could.
Then Buffy’s voice dropped to a condemning tone to say, “We here in this room are family, and family doesn’t give up on each other. At least, this kind of family doesn’t.”
His anger fizzled out. A twinge of jealousy crept in, but was overwhelmed with a need. A need to be part of this craziness. It was the worst and the best situation he could have ever imagined and he couldn’t stand the thought of letting it go. All of his addictions drumming in his head lessened as he considered it. Considered staying. He’d been running from the mundane his whole life so why, all of a sudden had he thought mundane was a good thing?
He was just so tired. He knew his emotions were still suffering from the withdrawal and lack of sleep and adding the stress and chaos was just a recipe for mood swings. A bark of laughter escaped his lips as he stared at his thin, shaking hands. Ridiculous, him judging anybody's life.
He put his hand to his head, running his fingers through his hair with a sigh. They were all looking at him like he was the weird one and it suddenly struck him as funny. Dawn was fidgeting and Spike put his arm around her in comfort. Willow and Tara shifted to hold hands. Buffy kept looking at him blankly and standing there, with her arms crossed and eyes dead with a certainty that he was going to leave … He closed his eyes. He bent to rest his elbows on his knees, forehead on his hands.
His little Buffy, the cheerleader, the buyer, the blondest brunet on the block. She was a better parent than he’d been. A strong leader that kept her family safe and whole. A provider and a protector. The only thing she wasn’t, was sane.
He chuckled quietly. Maybe they were all insane, him included, and the whole world. Another bark of laughter escaped him when he thought of the comment about getting skewered. And the pizza. And the shark. He laughed again and he felt his heart lighten as tears began to slide from his eyes and he knew he was one of them now. Crazy, and proud of it. Because …
“I’m going to stay.” He looked up at the concerned faces and laughed again because they thought that HE was the odd one. Then, he stopped laughing, suddenly shy in front of people he’d come very close to running away from again. “If that’s okay? I mean, I’d like to help and maybe do something worthwhile with my life. And, I’d like to be a part of this dynamic. Because you’re right, Buffy. All of you. You are a family. And if you’re willing to show me how, I think I’d like to be a part of that.” He frowned then, furrowing his brow as he realized, “though I don’t know what I could do.”
Shocked, Buffy stepped back to lean on the table. He hands falling to rest on either side. “I don’t know.”
No one said anything for a while after that.
Hank stood, walked to his eldest and stopped just short of touching her. He knew now how much she hated being touched, or feeling trapped. She was like an abused dog that learns to bite and run before the next bad thing happens. The kind that needs time and love and kindness to heal.
“I know you don’t need a father to sweep in and protect and provide. You’re doing a great job of that. I can see that. How much everyone here looks to you. I don’t want to be another burden, Sweety. I just want to be part of it somehow.”
Buffy looked away and Hank backed up, turned to the group, to Dawn. “I know lots of things you don’t want from me. I know you don’t believe I’ve missed you. That it nearly killed me to stop seeing you.” He shook his head again and return to his seat, exhausted. “My life has been a mess since I saw you last. I felt like maybe you’d be better off without me. And then your mother said… Maybe you’re right, Dawn, maybe I should have fought harder.”
Tara was crying. Willow was running a hand down her hair in comfort. The blonde’s eyes opened and she realized her last sniff had caught everyone’s attention. “I’m s…sorry.” She paused but decided maybe this was a time when her pain could help somebody. “My f…f… f…” She looked to Willow, too choked up and upset to even say the word. Willow leaned in to give her a soft peck on the lips, then nodded once and turned to the room.
“Tara’s father was an awful man. Physical abuse, mental abuse, he doesn’t deserve to live.”
Tara cleared her throat. “He doesn’t have it in him to ap..apologize.” She looked at Buffy. “You have a d…d…d…dad.” At that, she broke down completely and Willow led her from the room.
Silence fell again.
Anya looked around, then stood up. “If I had my previous powers, you would have been diminished to a large pile of parasitic worms that got slowly eaten by baby birds with tiny, little beaks. Now I’m just depressed. Xander, I want to go home.”
Before Xander could do more than pull Anya back down to his lap, Dawn spoke. “You’re probably just gonna change your mind again, but whatever. Stay if you want. Not like I care what you do.” She stood and everyone could see she was shaking, though she was working hard to go for nonchalant. Spike put a hand to the small of her back to steady her.
She turned to her sister, “Some girls said they’d be at the mall today. I’m going to go.” Her words gave no room for argument, but she knew the flaw in her logic as much as Buffy. No ride.
“Xander?” Buffy asked.
He turned to the girl, “Come on Dawnie, let’s blow this popsicle stand.” Anya stood with an ‘about time’ and moved to Dawn’s side while Xander caught Dawn’s other arm. Xander spoke over his shoulder as they headed for the door. “We’ll call later. We might go to a movie or something after.”
Buffy nodded with a grateful little smile. “Thanks, Xand.” At Anya’s glare, she added, “…and Anya.”
Anya smiled wide. “No problem! See ya!”
Buffy moved across the room and took her sister’s place at Spike’s side.
Hank still sat, watching the room as everyone left.
Buffy looked up at Spike. “Thanks.”
“For what, love?”
Buffy just smiled. She knew he knew that she knew how hard it was for him to keep out of the proceedings. Sometimes he was just too good to be evil.
Hank watched the exchange and felt, yet again, like an outsider. “Buffy… I don’t know where to start here. I guess… Would you like me to …” He didn’t know where he was going with that question. No words formed at the end of the sentence and so, he let his mouth shut.
Spike inhaled. “I need a bloody smoke. That was worse than any soap I’ve seen.” He snorted. “Humans.”
Carefully, he stood and let his hand fall from the Slayer’s shoulder. She let it, which he took as assent. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
As he walked out the back and sat on the porch, Buffy turned her eyes back to her silent dad.
His heart leapt at the word and he slid to his knees in front of his little girl.
She cleared her throat and let him take her hand gently. “I don’t know what to do either,” she said. “And I have to go to work in half an hour.” She started to shake off the emotion and he could tell she’d be getting up any second.
“I know it’s not what you want, Buffy, but … let me start with something easy. Something that will help you right now. It seems trivial but, it’s not everything I’m going to do. I just… I hate to see you so tired.”
“Money right? You’re offering money?” She looked at him, disgusted. “You think that will fix everything?”
“No – no I don’t, but it’s your money. I’ve been saving it.”
She swallowed before she said something she might regret. Especially since she could really use some money. They were going to loose the house if they didn’t come up with money in the next two weeks. She hadn’t told Dawn yet. Then what he said registered. “What do you mean, my
“Your’s and Dawn’s. Your mother wouldn’t let me send the money anymore, but I thought maybe she’d change her mind so I had it set to automatically come out of the account each month. I … I never stopped paying, I just stopped sending it.”
Buffy’s eyes got big. That would be a lot of money by now. And she could take it because it wasn’t a gift, it was what he owed her mother. She would have used it to pay off the house anyway. She’d always said that, “If I won the lottery, I’d pay off the house.” Buffy could remember her voice as she said it.
“You owe mom money.”
She stood and he followed. She actually had to help him up because of his ankle. “This is mom’s house.”
Now he was getting confused. “Yes…”
Spike came around the corner, a smile on his face because he figured it out too. He nearly pushed Hank out of the way as he picked her up in a hug.
His eyes narrowed at the man. “How much did you owe Joyce?”
“I… I don’t know … I … I’ll have to call and …”
“Stop your stammerin’. When can you get it?”
“What? Oh, well, most of it’s in CDs and-“
He was cut off by Buffy. “Can you give mom $3600 by Friday?”
“Well, I.. I mean, yes – Yes, of course.”
Buffy shouted up the stairs, “Will! Tara!”
When they came to the stairs, curious, Spike said, “The pillock’s got money he owes Joyce.”
Buffy added with relief and more emotion than she’d felt since she returned to life, “We can keep her house!”
Hank, ignored by the happy people, still smiled because, however they wanted to phrase it, this was definitely a good sign.
A/N: It’s been a while, but my muse has spoken! Please let me know what you think!
Thanks for reading!