Title :: Many a Mile
Rating :: FR13
Word Count :: 3300
Disclaimer :: Anita Blake and all related characters are copyright of Laurell K. Hamilton and Penguin House. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters are copyright of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement intended. ***
Note :: AU for BtVS***
Synopsis :: Her husband was lost to her, but Joyce would be damned if she lost her girls as well. ~*~
Many a Mile
Sunlight glinted off the windows of the nondescript building standing in the rearview mirror of her rental car and Joyce’s gaze shifted downward, away from that intimidating building and caught sight of her paling knuckles. Swearing under her breath, she flexed her numb fingers and tried to will down the apprehension tightening her joints and making her palms slick with sweat as her gaze turned back towards the rearview mirror. The building looked like any other along the narrow street of offices and Joyce was certain no harm could come to her inside its walls, but she also knew, with every fiber of her being, that once she entered there was no going back.
With a resolute sigh she tore her gaze from the mirror and snatched her purse from the passenger seat before placing shoulder to door and spilling herself into the oppressive heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer. She made it three strides before turning back towards the safety of her rental and retreating one. Her shoulders tightened, mouth forming a thin, determined line as she clicked the electronic key, locking the doors to the sedan and finished the last few yards to the front door. The sun beat at her the crown of her head and shoulders, bared by the loose fitting top she wore, as her fingers caught the metal lip of the door handle and tugged it open.
Blessed air-conditioning greeted her, sending a slight shiver down her spine as Joyce stepped free of the heat and into a pleasantly cool waiting area. Trembling fingers caught the edge of her tortoise-shell sunglasses and lifted them, placing them atop her head and pushing the soft waves of her hair free from her face. White teeth tugged at her bottom lip a moment before she made her way hesitantly forward, towards the far left wall and what looked like the check in area where a young woman—not nearly as young as Buffy, but still much younger than herself—was typing away at a computer.
Brown eyes lifted from the monitor to Joyce and the clatter of key subsided as the young woman pushed back her chair, facing her fully and Joyce was struck by how very pretty the woman was standing to greet her. “You’re Mr. Callahan’s two o’clock.”
Her voice was husky, reminding Joyce of the way Hank’s had deepened after he’d had his first sip of a scotch after a long day and she struggled to will away the tears that always threatened to fall when thoughts of Hank were dragged, unwillingly, from her memories. Feeling the fool and her stomach in worse knots than before Joyce accepted the woman’s words with a nod and a feeble, “Yes,” she paused and then added, “I’m sorry—”
A box of tissues was suddenly within reach and the woman’s smile had softened, become less rehearsed and more real, making her twice as beautiful and, yet, suddenly so very sad. Joyce accepted a tissue and used it to gently dab at her eyes, wiping away the mascara that had already started to run as the woman stated, “I’ll let Mr. Callahan know you’re here,” she motioned to the chairs set up along the opposite wall, “if you’d like to take a seat. I’m sure he’ll be right out.”
Joyce nodded, her hand reaching out to grab another tissue and tucked both into her pocket before offering the young woman a tired smile. “Thank you.”
“There’s no need to thank me,” her voice had dipped towards a whisper and Joyce stepped back from the desk and made her way across the carpeted room towards the offered chairs. She hesitated in sitting, green eyes turning towards a section of the wall filled with pamphlets on lycanthropy and its various forms. She scanned all of the titles, selecting a few about counseling and one that held a list of hotlines to be tucked under her arm before she turned her curious gaze on the rest of the waiting area.
A pale yellow, which should have been warm, but felt cold, covered the walls and was offset by the blue, in varying shades, of office furniture and plastic chairs. The lack of artwork, of posters of any kind, seemed sad and her head inclined as she focused on something other than her mounting unease and tried to picture a painting from her gallery and online store gracing any of the four walls surrounding her. Something abstract, she mused and turned, taking in the way the sun streamed in through the blinds beside her and decided the best places would be the wall beside the receptionist’s desk and the wall behind her to avoid direct sunlight.
Mentally leafing through her memories of the paintings she was currently in possession of, Joyce attempted to match them to the environment of the room and began to wonder if the Coalition would consider changing the color of the furniture. Lost in thought she didn’t notice someone at her side until she turned to gues’timate—Buffy’s word, not her own—the relative space she’d have to work with beside the receptionist’s desk and stiffened, nearly taking a step back from the man beside her.
A nervous laugh tickled the back of her throat and she offered him a frightened smile, that didn’t nearly reach her eyes, as she inquired, “Mr. Callahan?”
“Please, call me Micah.” He offered her his hand and Joyce instantly accepted it, her green eyes locking with his chartreuse gaze and she swallowed the sudden lump in her throat as he stepped back, using his grip on her hand to them guide towards the hallway to their left. “Would you like to come to my office?” She tensed, she wasn’t certain why and her gaze slipped toward the young woman who had smiled so kindly at her before and Mr. Callahan—Micah she mentally corrected—explained, noticing her hesitancy, “So we may speak privately?”
Joyce blinked, giving a slight shake of her head and focused on the man Faith had assured her could help her daughters, her girls and winced. “I’m sorry,” her frown deepened as she muttered, “I keep saying that.” Her chin lifted and Joyce straightened her spine, pulled herself together and stated, “I’m Joyce and your office would be fine. Please lead the way.”
The carefully neutral lines of his face turned upward, bringing a smile to those startling eyes and Joyce found herself thankful she’d had the strength to agree to his suggestion as he motioned her to follow. She did, at a more sedated pace than his own, and she took a moment to study the well tailored suit that fit his petite frame, and he was petite, nearly four inches shorter than Joyce. Her head inclined when she noticed the tight French braid running the back of his head and her brows rose, she’d assumed his dark hair had been trimmed short, but instead it was just a masquerade.
Her lips quirked and she turned to her attention away from her escort and to the blank yellow walls mirroring them as they made their way down a narrow hallway and Joyce found herself absently counting the spaces between doorways where artwork could be hung and how many and what kind. The normal, almost steadying, train of thought helped calm some of her frazzled nerves and she found her pulse, beating a rapid tempo in her throat, begin to calm.
Micah paused at one of the few opened doors and motioned her to step inside. Joyce found it odd at how very silent her flats were against the carpet as she crossed the threshold and noticed his office was several degrees warmer than the reception area. She took in the small seating area to her right that housed a loveseat and two chairs and following the lines of the room she noticed a desk set beneath the window and two chairs, both dangerously overstuffed, placed in front of it. The closing of the office door had her turning back to Micah and he offered her another pleasant smile. “Please, sit where you’d like.”
Joyce turned back to her choices and frowned at the desk and the two chairs that reminded her of Dawn’s principal’s office when he had informed her it would be safer for her daughter to perhaps be homeschooled after the incident. Her mouth thinned into a pale, angry line before she shook off the useless memory and made her way to the loveseat. The cushions absorbed her weight easily and she found herself leaning back, accepting the soft comfort they offered for a moment as Micah took a seat across from her in one of the high-back chairs.
The delicate, almost androgynous shape of his face was once again in a carefully blank mask as he asked, “How can I help you, Joyce?”
Her mouth opened, closed and she found herself sitting up and forward, dragging her purse to sit in her lap and between them. Her hands tensed, rolling the pamphlets she’d collected over the edge of the purse and its zippered top as she gazed at Micah and found herself blurting out, “You need paintings.”
A dark brow rose, the corner of his mouth tugging upward with it as he inquired, “We do?”
“Yes,” Joyce winced at her own ambiguity, but found herself unable to change the topic until she explained, “In the lobby at least. It’s very cold, well, not cold as in chilly, but,” the line between her brows deepened before she offered, “very utilitarian. I have a gallery I could,” she trailed off with a sigh, before stating, “I suppose that could be construed as bribery.”
“You wish to bribe us?” the barest trace of laughter could be heard in his question.
“No!” Joyce winced at her own shout before her shoulders dropped and she offered, “maybe.”
Both of his brows rose and Joyce realized belatedly he could, of course, hear her mutters and ducked her head as he stated, “Why don’t we start with why you’re here and work our way up to bribery, if need be, later.”
She blinked, head lifting with the humor in his words before she allowed the pamphlets to drop to the couch cushion beside her and unzipped her purse. Missing the tightening of his body Joyce shuffled through the contents before pulling free a folded photograph and leaned forward, offering him a memento of when her family had been whole.
He accepted it and dutifully unfolded, his startling eyes trained downward and he remained silent, waiting for Joyce to explain the need for it. Inhaling sharply, she ignored the tightness behind her eyes as she stated, voice nearly even, “That’s my family. Hank, my husband and my oldest, Buffy,” she noticed the quirk of his mouth and hastily explained, “I was a hippy and Hank was indulgent.”
His chartreuse gaze lifted, studied her face a moment before he smiled and offered, “Buffy Sainte-Marie?”
“Buffy Anne, actually, but very few get that reference and instead they think me and her, by default, completely frivolous.”
“I have a friend that was a believer in the power of the daisy.”
Joyce’s felt her eyes gather at the corners as she smiled and continued, “And the littlest is Dawn. Though not so little anymore.” Her voice softened as she added, “She takes after Hank.” Micah nodded his agreement, gaze once again trained on the photograph as she reiterated, “That was my family,” she saw his shoulders tighten and those startling eyes lifted to hers as she finished, “before the attack.”
She swallowed and added, “We were camping near Reyes Creek when it happened. Hank was killed,” her jaw trembled and Joyce’s blinked back her tears. “He tried to protect us. He did his best.”
“I’m sure he did.”
“He just didn’t stand a chance against—” she caught herself, ending the sentence abruptly before she called the thing that attack her family an it. Reaching into the pockets of her slacks she dragged out the tissues she’d taken from the receptionist and drabbed at the corners of her eyes, even though she knew it was a lost cause. “Hank did manage to distract it long enough for us to escape our tent, but Dawn tripped and the,” she hesitated.
Micah offered quietly, “Were?”
Joyce nodded, grateful as more tears gathering in her lashes. “The were caught her and I froze. I couldn’t think and my child was screaming, crying for me to help her,” the horror at her own weakness had Joyce lowering her head, ashamed as she finished, “Buffy attacked it. She had one of the tent poles, I don’t,” she paused, frowned, “I don’t know where she got it from, but she just had one and was beating the were with it. I just gathered Dawn in my arms and Buffy told me to run.” Joyce swallowed her pride and looked up, met Micah’s neutral stare and whispered, “So I did.”
Her tongue brushed the roof of her mouth, pushing at the back of her teeth as she reigned in the urge to sob and stated, “A bounty hunter had been tracking the-the were,” she tripped over what to call it once more and sighed, pushing onward, “He killed it and saved Buffy, but-but she’d been badly mauled and the doctors didn’t think she’d make it,” a ghost of a smile lifted the corners of Joyce’s mouth, “they didn’t know how stubborn my daughters can be.”
“She was infected.”
His words were more of a statement than question, but Joyce found herself nodding and explaining, “Both of them were.” Joyce watched his eyes dip back towards the picture in his hands and she offered, “Buffy is nineteen and Dawn is thirteen.” Something close to anger slipped into her voice. “They wanted me to have them committed to a secure living faculty to ensure their safety.”
Micah’s voice was hesitant as he inquired, “Did you—”
“No,” she interrupted him with a vehement shake of her head, “I failed my girls once I wasn’t going to do it again. A member of the werelions came to me in the hospital and offered to help me take on the task that was in front of me and I thought them a godsend.”
His head inclined, gaze narrowing as he inquired, “And now?”
“Now?” Joyce echoed, her shoulders dropping, “Now, I’m terrified for them. I know my daughters aren’t werelions. I know it must be hard for them to fit in with another group, I’ve read that much, but now—”
“Joyce,” Micah interrupted, “I’m sorry, but did you say your daughters aren’t werelions?”
“Yes, Eric, the young man that came to me at the hospital explained that the string of lycanthropy my daughters’ contract was very rare, but they were willing to accept them.”
“May I ask what they contracted?”
“Cheetah,” Joyce frowned at his startled expression, “there aren’t any werecheetahs in St. Louis?”
“No, I can’t say that there are.”
“Faith assured me you’d be able to help.”
A hand rose to pinch the bridge of her nose as Micah prompted, “Faith?”
“Faith is a werelion,” Joyce offered him tired eyes, “She’s the only one that’s been willing to talk with me since my daughters joined their pride,” she paused, frowned, “Is that they right word? Pride?”
“It’s sufficient.” Micah nodded and prompted, “Why did Faith send you to us?”
“She couldn’t give me details, but Buffy’s been coming home from their meetings
,” she stressed the word, filling it with her disbelief, “with bruises and limping. And Faith has been spending more and more time at our home. Sleeping over, stopping by my gallery every so often and while I know I’m human, and I’m not suppose to understand what it’s like to be a shifter, I am not stupid and I know Faith is acting as a bodyguard or buffer for me or the girls. I don’t know which, but yesterday she told me to come to you. To not waste any time and come to you.” Joyce sighed as she stated once more, “So I did.”
She wiped absently at the tears of frustration streaming down her cheeks as Micah gazed at her thoughtfully a moment. “Do you trust this Faith?”
“I’ve known her a little over eight months. She started to stop by after Buffy and Dawn joined her pride and I’ve learned since then to buy extra groceries.” The determined line of her mouth softened. “She’s protective of Dawn and she’s managed to make Buffy laugh like she use to.” Joyce lifted her chin and stated, “She’s young. Buffy’s age and she’s one of my girls.”
“I see,” Micah leaned forward, “What is that you think we at the Coalition can do for you?”
Joyce swallowed her pride and met his gaze straight on, “If we moved. If we moved to St. Louis could you keep them safe?”
“Safe from what?”
A frustrated noise crawled its way up from Joyce’s throat and she shook her head, snapping, “I don’t know!” She stood, her purse falling to the floor and she ignored the way Micah’s startled gaze followed her as she stalked towards his desk. “I don’t know because no one will tell me. Because I’m too human! Too goddamn fragile! These are my girls! My children and no one will tell me what I need to do to help them!”
She spun, fixed Micah with a heated stare and let her voice dip into a quiet calm, “Dawn cries. All the time and Buffy is so quiet. Buffy is never
quiet.” Joyce took a few steps towards him, her hands balling into fist as she fought off the urge to tremble. “I know that my children have been through hell and that can change them, but I know something
is going on. I know my children and I know that they seemed terrified to let me out of their sight. I think,” Joyce hesitated before snapping, “No, I know that the pride is using me against them. I don’t know how, but I do know it.”
Her voice slipped lower still as she added quietly, “And I know Faith is trying to help, as best she can, but she’s one girl against so many. I want my girls safe,” exhaustion crept in as Joyce asked, “Can you help me?”
Micah searched her face a moment, silence stretching between them before he prompted, “Can you move to St. Louis?”
Relief flooded her as Joyce moved back to the small sofa to take her place back in front of Micah and replied, “If it meant keeping my daughters safe I’d move anywhere.”
“We can help you with housing and trying to locate a job, but in this economy—”
Joyce raised a hand, “We’ll be okay for a little while. I’ve already spoken with my business partner about me stepping down and focusing on our internet and international sales. I’ll need to sell our home, but otherwise we should be fine.” She wiped at her face, fingers coming back smudged with mascara and Joyce sighed, giving up on a lost cause and refocused, “What about Faith?”
Those chartreuse eyes narrowed, “What about Faith?”
“She’s one of my girls,” Joyce rushed onward when his mouth opened to protest and stated, “I know she’ll be punished for coming to me. For warning me and I won’t leave her to that. I want her with us.” A stubborn lift to her jaw tightened her resolve as she stated, “It’s all or none.”
He gave her a bemused look. “And if Faith doesn’t wish to leave?”
“Then that’s her choice,” Joyce met his gaze, “but I want her to have that choice.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The end.
Note :: There might be more of this ‘verse muse permitting. Feel free to let me know what you think. Reviews equal love and all that jazz.