Author's Note: No, I haven't abandoned the story and I haven't fallen off the end of the world. This has been sitting on my computer ready to post for months and I didn't post it because I thought I already had. The next parts are holding me back because I'm not sure how Buffy's birthday is going to play out.
As always, if you recognize it I didn't create it but everything else belongs to me.
Misty was kind enough to beta this for me but all mistakes are mine.
It was one of those silly arguments between mother and daughter and Joyce wondered if she should just give in, letting the slayer have the outfit.
“Oh, look at the time. The stores are closing and I haven’t ordered the flyers for the opening yet.” She dug into her purse and pulled out a receipt, “You go to the tailor’s and pick up my outfit from Everyday Woman while I order the flyers and our food.”
“Everyday Woman,” Buffy scoffed. “Why not just go to Muu-muus R Us?”
“Do now,” Joyce ordered, “make fun of your mother later.”
Buffy snatched the receipt and headed for the escalators.
Joyce quickly ordered the flyers and their food, finding a seat and waiting for Buffy.
“Oh, bliss,” Buffy said as she sat, “mall food.”
“Buffy, where’s my clothes?”
“By the time I got there they were closed,” Buffy admitted, handing her the receipt back. “I got side-tracked.”
“Just a vampire. A fairly old one,” Buffy made the statement warily, her mother’s conditional acceptance of her slayer status was still new to them both.
“Did you slay him?”
“Nah, he got away. Saved his lunch though. She took off when we started to fight.” Buffy took a bite of her food, waiting.
“I’ll manage to pick up my outfit tomorrow. Are you going to hunt that vampire tonight?”
“Nah. I’ll do my regular patrol but I’ll get Giles to look him up before I go hunting him. He’s old enough he should be in the books somewhere.”
“Will he come hunting you?”
“Probably not. And you’ll be safe at home so long as you don’t invite anyone inside.”
Joyce relaxed slightly. Buffy’s matter-of-fact attitude about her slaying made it less frightening. She turned her attention to her own food.
Grace was half asleep in the back row. This was one of the classes she would drop if the school hadn’t made it mandatory.
“Thank you, Miss Rosenberg. Teen pregnancy is the number one...” Mr. Whitmore’s voice trailed off as he noticed Grace. “Miss Kelly! What would you do if you suddenly found yourself with a child?”
“Register him in school and introduce him to the losers from the library,” Grace said without opening her eyes. She knew from the scents Tarto was blushing while the majority of the class laughed. “As for ending up with a baby of my own it’s not going to happen.”
“You may meet a young man and find yourself in just that position because of unprotected sex.”
“I’m not physically capable of having children,” Grace opened one eye to focus on him. “So without some extensive medical intervention I won’t have to deal with a baby that doesn’t come with a mother of its own.” She closed her eye again and relaxed back to the edge of sleep.
“You cannot be certain, at your age, that you are infertile.”
“She never said she was,” Xander spoke up. “She said she can’t have a baby, not that she can’t get pregnant. There is a difference,” he said scornfully. “And back off,” he ordered with a growl.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said back off,” Xander repeated. “Grace doesn’t want to participate in your mandatory class because it reminds her of her fiancee so you can just back off and leave her alone.”
Mr. Whitmore backed away from Grace and returned to his desk. “Unwanted pregnancy,” he resumed his lecture, “is the number one negative consequence of teenage sex. So, as we discussed last week, here are your offspring.” He pulled the towel off the trays of eggs. “You’ll pair up and share parenting responsibilities with your partner." He handed out eggs and noted who paired up with whom.
“And will you be participating in the exercise, Miss Kelly?”
“I assume,” Grace took the egg from him, “that it’s like the class. Mandatory.”
“And will you properly provide care and nurturing for your offspring?”
“Sure, I’ll give it to Chris to care for,” Grace said simply. “He’s my live-in housekeeper/cook and I'm sure he’ll be delighted to care for my offspring.”
“Miss Rosenberg, please deliver Miss Summers her offspring,” he handed Willow an extra egg.
“Yes, Mr. Whitmore.”
Grace rolled her eyes and followed the three - Willow, Tarto, and Xander - to the library. “Morning, Giles,” she called as she headed into the office and began fixing herself a tea.
“Are you okay, Grace?” Giles asked, raising his voice to be heard from the bookcage.
Grace grabbed her egg and carried it with her tea out into the main library. “I’m fine, Giles. Whitmore’s just an ass.”
“Did Mr. Whitmore notice I was tardy?” Buffy asked them.
“I think the word you’re searching for is absent,” Xander teased Buffy.
“Tardy people show,” Willow agreed. “And, yes, he did notice. And he wanted me to give you this,” she handed Buffy the egg.
“As punishments go this is fairly obscure,” Buffy said, examining the egg.
“It’s your baby,” Willow explained.
“I get it even less,” Buffy looked at them blankly.
“It’s the whole sex leads to responsibility thing,” Xander picked up the explanation, “which I don’t get. The egg is a baby. You’re supposed to feed it, change it, teach it Christian values.”
“My egg is Jewish,” Willow chided him.
“Then teach it that dreidel song,” Xander suggested, making Willow relax and Tarto frown. He made a later gesture at Tarto who nodded back at him.
“I can’t take care of things,” Buffy complained. “I can’t. I killed my gigapet. Literally,” she said as she put her egg on top of the card catalog. “I sat on it and it died.”
“Ah ha,” Giles breathed as he came out of the library. “At last. It seems your playmate was a fellow of some repute.” As he spoke he put the book down and Buffy snatched her egg away just in time. “Lyle Gorch, and that’s this brother Tector. They’re from Abilene,” he pointed at the picture. “They made their reputation by slaughtering an entire Mexican village in 1886.”
“Friendly little demons,” Buffy observed sarcastically.
“That was before they became vampires,” Giles chided her. “On the upside they don’t appear to be some of the great thinkers of their time. Most likely they’re just drawn here by the Hellmouth’s energy.”
“I say Buffy slays,” Xander said with a brief grin. “All in favour?”
“Aye,” Willow said as she and Tarto raised their hands along with Xander.
“Don’t discount them...” Giles began, finally focussing on them. “Why do you all have eggs?”
Grace studied Chris as he made his way slowly down the stairs. “Are you okay, Chris?”
“I feel,” he hesitated. “I don’t know but I don’t feel all that well. I had strange dreams,” he said honestly, “and didn’t get much rest.” As he spoke he continued towards the kitchen, his fingers absently stroking the egg he still carried.
“You gonna be okay if I leave the baby here with you?”
“I’d be insulted if you didn’t,” he said as he shifted the egg out of Grace’s reach.
“Far be it from me to take away your parental obligation,” Grace teased him. “Not like I’m gonna have one of my own barring major magical help.”
“Will you miss that?”
“If I ever meet another man I want forever with,” she said slowly, “then I might find a way. Greg had started to talk about harvesting my eggs and using a surrogate.”
“He wanted you to have his child,” Chris stated positively.
“He was dealing,” Grace said simply. “In a few years he would have done all the research and set everything up and he would have happily become a stay-at-home father. That was what he had begun to want. And I would have loved any child we had but I would have left the parenting up to him.”
“That’s how most Merth families are.”
“Which is why I’m content to let you do the whole egg parenting thing,” Grace dismissed the situation. “If you’re not well make sure you take care of you first,” she ordered. “In the end it’s just an egg and you are a lot more important to me than an egg.”
Chris smiled at her, pleased with at her concern.
“Tarto!” Grace yelled up the stairs.
“I’m coming,” he stumbed down the stairs, egg in a padded basket. “Why do they want males learning about babies?”
“Because if you and some female make a baby you are half responsible for caring for said baby. And in some cultures,” she added, “you’d be completely responsible.”
Tarto stumbled into the kitchen and grabbed some leftovers, eating quickly.
“You want a ride to school?” Grace asked him.
“Yes, please. Are you bringing your egg to school?”
“Nope, leaving it with Chris. Same as I would if it was a real baby.”
“Want me to watch your egg as well, Tarto?”
“I’d better do it myself,” Tarto said between bites. “I can’t afford to fail any of my classes.”
Grace laughed and headed upstairs to get her books. “Five minutes, Tarto.”
“I’ll be ready,” he assured her, still eating.
Buffy bounced down the stairs just as the doorbell rang. She opened the door and took a step back in surprise. “Hello, Grace.”
“Who is it, Dear?” Joyce called from the kitchen.
“It’s Grace. Do you need help slaying something?” she asked Grace. “Cause I’m supposed to meet Angel to hunt for the Gorches.”
“I came to see Joyce actually,” Grace said honestly. “Have fun hunting vampires.”
“Mom!” Buffy yelled towards the kitchen, “I’m leaving on patrol!”
“Be careful, Honey,” Joyce said as she came out of the kitchen. “Did you come by for a reason, Grace?”
Grace slipped into the house as Buffy slipped out. “Yeah, I was hoping to talk to you about Chris.”
“What about him?”
“Could you use a hand around the gallery? You don’t have to pay him but I have to find something for him to do before he goes any more stir-crazy. And I can’t just get him a job down the block because it has to be with a person I trust completely.”
“And you trust me completely?”
“You aren’t telling me I shouldn’t have a keeper, or that having someone whose entire being revolves around keeping me happy is basically slavery. Although I wouldn’t have to punish him, he’d punish himself if I was upset with him.”
“I assume that Chris wouldn’t have fought for the job if he didn’t know what it involved.”
“Merth males are submissive caretakers, that’s what they are naturally. Taking care of a female’s life; doing all the housework, cooking, childcare; that’s what makes them happy.”
“Then I don’t see any reason to tell you what you’re doing is wrong.”
“I don’t know if Chris knows anything about art but he could take over all the housekeeping chores at the gallery. Even if you only have him in to clean for a couple hours a day it would be a humongous help. And, like I said, you don’t have to pay him.”
“I could use the help, if you’re sure he won’t mind?”
“If he does he’ll tell me so.”
“We can give it a try,” Joyce smiled at her. “Do you think Buffy will be okay? She said the vampire she was hunting was old.”
“About a hundred. Old enough to be more than a minor nuisance but not old enough to be a major threat.” Grace studied Joyce’s body language, “She’ll be fine. Giles did his research thing and the Gorches are nasty but not too bright. Once she finds them they won’t be a problem for her.”
“Okay,” Joyce relaxed slightly.
“I’ll bring Chris by the gallery tomorrow and introduce you.”
“He doesn’t attend school?”
“He’s almost 80,” Grace chuckled. “Doesn’t look that old and he’ll probably live another 80 years, but he’s past the point where he expects a life of his own.”
“So tomorrow then.”
“Thanks, Joyce,” Grace grinned at her.
“Have you heard from your friend Spike?”
“He’s still around,” Grace said slowly. “I took a bottle over and we had a drink the other day. He’s hurt, but he’s a vampire and he’ll heal.”
“I’m glad your friend is going to be okay.”
Grace gave her a smile, “And so we come to another point the others don’t get. They all think I should be glad Spike’s out of the picture. Like he isn’t my friend.”
Joyce reached over and patted Grace’s hand, “I understand. He might be a vampire but he’s your friend and he considers you a friend as well.”
“I like to think so,” Grace agreed. “I should go, I want to check on Chris before he goes to bed, he wasn’t feeling well this morning.”
“That’s odd, Buffy wasn’t feeling well either.”
“Neither was Tarto. Maybe they all picked up a bug,” Grace hedged. “I’ll check on him too.” She stood and headed for the front door. “Thanks, Joyce.”
Joyce came into Buffy’s room at a run, “Is everything okay?”
“No,” Buffy answered automatically. “My egg just went postal on me.” She showed her the broken shell and the dead hatchling. “I have to call the others and check on them.” She reached for the phone, dialling quickly. “Willow, how’s your egg? I want you to smash it. Right now. Get something heavy and just smash it.”
Waiting was hard to do as she watched Buffy call all of her friends, finding out from each of them their eggs were normal.
“The general consensus is this was a trap set by the Gorches for me,” Buffy finally stated.
“You don’t agree?”
“How could they get to it?” she asked. “I only left it alone here at home and they couldn’t get in here.”
“Grace mentioned both Chris and Tarto were feeling a bit under the weather this morning. How were Willow and Xander?”
“Xander was okay but Willow was tired too,” Buffy agreed.
“And did you sneak in your window again?”
“Force of habit,” Buffy admitted, wrapping up the hatchling before cleaning the scissors and putting them back in her sewing basket. “Hey, Mom,” she grinned at her mother, “I’m back from patrol.”
“So I see. Do you need a snack?”
“Nah, I’m gonna head right to bed so I can consult Giles before school on what that thing is.”
“Okay,” Joyce smiled at her. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Grace had the gym to herself and she worked trough her hard katas from the beginner to the master levels. As she moved she allowed her wolf and alpha to surface until the whole gym buzzed with power.
The way her name was yelled meant it wasn’t the first time she’d been called and she chastised herself for her failure to notice she was being watched.
Facing the teacher Grace took in several deep breaths, pulling herself back under control before she spoke. “Was there something you wanted, Coach Barrett?”
“The girl’s basketball team is coming in a few minutes to begin their practice.”
“Sorry,” Grace gave her a brief smile. “I’ll get out of their way.”
“You’re very good,” the coach said quickly. “I’ve been trying to get people interested in a martial arts club. Would you be interested in...”
“Coach Barrett,” Grace cut her off, “I’ve been studying two forms since I was 11. I don’t participate in organized activities like clubs. I’m frustrated at a friend so I’m doing katas.”
“You mean you’re frustrated with her,” the coach corrected.
“No. I’m frustrated at him. In order to be frustrated with him I’d have to be around him.”
“Oh, your boyfriend is avoiding you.”
Grace sighed and shook her head, “He’s not my boyfriend, he’s a friend who happens to be male. And he’s not avoiding me, he’s just not coming around since he was hurt. Therefore I am frustrated at him.” She walked over to where she’d put her water and her towel. Downing the entire bottle in one long swallow Grace draped the towel around her neck and headed for the locker room.
Showered and changed Grace headed for the library, she wanted to know what the hatchling autopsy had turned up. And she thought she’d be a little help in getting Giles to tell Joyce the whole truth when she came in.
Grace shifted her grip on the oversize crate and slid it onto the waist high shelf. Straightening the box absently she closed her eyes and let out a sigh.
“I’m fine, Reith,” she said without opening her eyes.
“We’re almost done if you want to leave early.”
With another sigh Grace opened her eyes and looked at her co-worker. “Going home wouldn’t help.”
“Problems at home?” Jimmy asked in surprise.
“Tarto’s in another mood,” Grace admitted. “He keeps pushing me and I’m just gonna snap his neck.”
“Maybe you need to beat him down,” Coral suggested. “Remind him why he came to you for protection from the clan.”
“Yeah, if I hadn’t pinned him to the wall a couple weeks ago and marked him when he challenged me over Chris and then beat his ass silly during his lesson Saturday that might help.”
“We aren’t the problem,” Jimmy reminded her.
“I’m sorry, Coral,” Grace sighed at him. “I’m not mad at you and I shouldn’t take it out on you.” She let out another sigh as the whole crew subtly moved her towards the break room and into her usual seat.
“You know something, Jimmy?” Taurus asked him.
“Did he start acting up before or after you found the prophesy about your mate?”
“It’s been since before I left for Grandpa Lou’s funeral,” Grace said honestly. “And it’s getting worse.” She looked at the cup Vic was holding out to her, frowning up at him.
“It’s coffee with a shot of rgar.”
Grace took the mug and breathed in the scent of the coffee. Closing her eyes she just let the vapours soothe her for a few minutes before taking a sip. The rgar, one of her favourite demon drinks, melded well with the coffee and she let out a soft growl of pleasure.
Coral and Taurus pulled their cards out of the freezer and a new round of their game while Vic passed out drinks for everyone. None of them were in a hurry to get back to work, it was only seven and they were almost done.
“You know something, Jimmy?” Vic asked as he sat beside him.
“Maybe,” Jimmy said softly, glancing over at Grace.
“Care to share?” Reith asked, sitting on Jimmy’s other side.
“Sometimes a young warrior just keeps pushing at a clan leader. I think it’s finally sunk in for him that he’s an exile dependant on a girl younger than him for support. I was older, I knew how to provide for myself. Probably doesn’t help she’s now the clan leader and she could return him to the clan with just a word.”
“She could end your exile too,” Vic pointed out.
“I’m not asking her to,” Jimmy said softly. “I’m,” he hesitated. “I don’t mind being an exile.”
“Don’t lie about it, Jimmy,” Grace said without looking over at them. “No one likes the feeling of being an exile. You might be getting used to it and even be coming to accept it but no one likes it.” She opened her eyes and looked over at him, “You just learn to live with it.”
“I miss being part of the clan,” Jimmy admitted. “Of being able to visit my parents and siblings, but I don’t mind having a life outside the clan. I like my job, most of my co-workers,” he glanced over at Coral, who made a rude gesture without looking up from his game. “And I can see past Grace’s age. Unlike Tarto I can see her as a leader and protector and not feel threatened because she’s so young.”
“And female,” Reith added. “That was my biggest problem.”
“Yeah, but once I beat your ass you were over it,” Grace pointed out. “You didn’t keep pushing me every day. Tarto is. Why am I home early, where was I when I came home late, why did I move Chris in, why do I hang out with Spike. Why, why why?”
“Is he pushing anyone else?” Jimmy asked her.
“Not confronting him. Even he’s not that stupid. He’s just a little,” she paused. “TJ asked him and the girls to teach Chris to fall. That’s TJ’s first lesson and he refuses to teach you anything else until he’s satisfied you can fall. Tarto worked on his katas instead.”
“TJ? The fae TJ? Chris is confronting him?”
“Not confronting, just subtly disobeying,” Grace explained. “Me he’s actively confronting.”
“At least you know he hasn’t completely lost his mind,” Taurus joked.
“Even if he had TJ is leaving him to me. I’ve decided to ignore his challenges to me or at least his insults to me. He insults Chris again,” she let it trail off.
“Insults to oneself are easier to accept than inults to a loved one,” Vic said simply.
“You have to protect your own,” Jimmy said, his voice low. “And Chris is yours while Tarto is doing all he can to push you away.”
Grace studied his body language silently. “How much do we have left to do?”
“Only about an hour.”
“Cool,” Grace drained her rgar laced coffee and stood. “I’ll be back in about an hour.”
“You want us to finish without you?” Reith asked, looking up from his game with Coral.
“Nah, take a long break,” she waved it off. “We got no need to hurry.”
The others nodded their agreement and settled comfortably in the break room, waiting for her to return.
Tarto pounded the punching bag without thought or plan, just spending his energy and trying to control his temper. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, he had been challenging Grace for months and earlier today he had snapped at Buffy. She’d blown it off but he’d still snapped at her. The bag stopped swaying and he put more strength behind his punches.
“You know you can’t move me if I don’t want you to,” Grace said simply.
“What do you want?”
“We’re going to come to an understanding,” Grace said, giving the bag a push and sending him flying back off balance.
“I’m not going to return you to the clan,” she said bluntly. “They would accept it, even if they thought it was only a way for me to test how far I could push them.”
“I thought going back to the clan would be bad for you, you were becoming someone I could trust. I didn’t want you back under the control of Corath when he was trying so hard to to goad me into a war.”
“Corath’s gone now.”
“Now I think you’d be bad for the clan,” Grace said honestly.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he admitted.
“You’re lucky TJ is letting me deal with you. Take a few days, figure out who and what you want to be. You insult Chris again and I’m going to destroy you. You will be polite to the people I have living in my home, Tarto, or you will not be living.”
“If you can’t control yourself well enough to be polite then start packing your bags and get out of my home. Those are your only choices right now. You have until tomorrow after school to make a decision.”
“And where am I supposed to go?”
“That’s your problem. I’m done making excuses and allowances for you, Tarto. You either live by the rules of my home or you get yourself out of my home.”
Grace gave the bag another push, making it sway gently. “Maybe instead of katas you should be doing an extra cleansing or two.”
“Where are you going?”
Stopping Grace looked back at him over her shoulder, “I’m going to work. I’m on my coffee break.”
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I don’t mean to do it.”
Shaking her head Grace left the gym, heading back to work.