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Identity Crisis

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Summary: Her figurative 'grandfather', as it were, was the closest chance she had of finding Timothy Drake, now known as Dr. Gregory House, and that had to be her main focus.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
DC Universe > Batman > Buffy-Centered
Television > House, M.D. > Buffy-Centered
AngelfirenzeFR181247,21047932,7863 Apr 1014 Aug 10No

Secret

Identity Crisis
By Angelfirenze

Disclaimer: DC and Dark Horse Comics, respectively; Heel and Toe; Warner Bros.; Whedon, et al. own all but those unrecognized. Thursday. "Autumn Leaves Revisited." Island, 2006.

Summary: Xander almost did cry, then. This was why he was so upset now. Giles was always, always everything Tony never was.

Notes: In the case of this story, 'Band Candy' happened during season two.

Timelines: Batman: post-Heart of Hush; Buffy, (including the following comics) post-Viva Las Buffy, Slayer, Interrupted, and A Stake to the Heart; post-'Becoming, Part II';

General storyverse, post-Acquainted with the Night by marag, which is encompassed in its own wonderful universe where Gregory House was once our dear Timothy Drake...

House, M.D., 'No Reason' -- AU after that.

Part X: Secret

Giles stormed into the library, tired of trying to pretend he wasn't fuming. Bruce Wayne! Bruce Bloody Wayne! Giles didn't care how filthy bloody rich the bastard was, the mere fact that he could buy up the mansion on Crawford Street without so much as entering Sunnydale -- on a whim -- made Giles' blood boil.

Giles turned to enter his office when he noticed a figure huddled inside the bookcage, trying its damnedest to look as though it weren't there. It wasn't the full moon and, by now, Oz was quite comfortable with the routine they'd all set up to keep both himself and Sunnydale safe.

Giles placed his bag next to his office door and reached within to pull out a sword before turning slowly and as quietly as he could manage, inching his way slowly toward the bookcage before being stopped in his tracks, the sword clattering to the floor loudly and causing -- Xander's huddled form to jump in fright despite his still trying to hide.

"Xander -- what the devil -- what are you doing in the..." Giles halted as Xander's hands and face, his torn clothing all came into view. His first thought was that Xander's father had made good on the threat Xander had told him about, but then Giles remembered that Xander told him the Hyena came out every time the bastard tried anything nowadays so that couldn't have been it.

"Xander, stand up," Giles spoke, hardening his tone a bit and, sure enough, Xander jumped to attention before he could stop himself. Inwardly Giles both glowed with satisfaction and cringed at the fact that he was correct in all of his assumptions. "Xander Harris, answer me," he said more quietly, inching closer, cringeing again as he took in the wounds the young man sported now. "What happened to you?"

Xander was about to tell Giles everything that had happened the night before. How Willow and Oz were walking to Willow's house, talking about Buffy being in freaking Gotham City, and Willow complaining about being his friend and how annoying he was -- Xander getting angry and his temper taking over, all he saw was red and then he and Oz got into that fight and Oz, not Tony, had been the one to put his ass in a sling.

Oz watching him all night, he guessed -- Cordelia talking to him this morning and threatening to kick his ass all over again if he said anything about where Buffy was to Giles...everyone walking away from him, walking out on him -- everyone leaving.

But then Xander's hand came to his face again and found the large patches of scabbed over wounds and suddenly he couldn't say anything. Xander closed his mouth and looked at the floor, his hands fisted and fidgeting by his sides.

He wanted so badly to turn away from Giles so he wouldn't have to see the concern on his face. Giles was all he had left and they'd made it impossible for him to...WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT? HOW COULD THEY LET -- ? Xander shuddered as more tears came to his face, but he forced himself not to move. Not to speak.

Giles watched Xander's strange behavior and started to say something, but then paused to think. He had to take a different tack with this. Maybe then he'd get some answers.

"Xander, who did you get into that row with? Was it a fledgling?"

Xander snorted but just managed not to laugh in derision. Fledges hadn't given him much trouble in about a year now. Mostly the ones who were on the football team when they'd been alive -- or the hockey team. But...Xander sighed inwardly.

He could say this much, couldn't he? It wasn't telling where Buffy was -- God, he wanted to tell where Buffy was, but it was like the others had put a vise around his throat. Fucking Code of Silence. You'd think Giles was exempt!

"Oz," he muttered, hoping yet and still that Giles didn't hear. He was wrong.

"Excuse me, did you say Oz? Daniel Osbourne?" Giles' incredulity couldn't have been more apparent and Xander flinched, then flinched again as one of his scabs split and a thin trail of fresh blood slid over the larger ones all over his cheeks.

Without speaking again, Xander nodded.

"Why in God's name -- never mind, let's get you bandaged and cleaned up. When's the last time you've eaten?"

Xander almost did cry, then. This was why he was so upset now. Giles was always, always everything Tony never was. Giles cared whether he lived or died and didn't merely see him as a servant boy or an obstacle to getting plowed. And now they were asking Xander to lie to him. Xander had thought he'd hated Deadboy but that -- well, that was just on principle, but this?

And he hated that it was Buffy, Willow, Cordy, and Oz who were making him feel this way. The worst part was that he couldn't even figure out what this way was.

Giles didn't ask him to say anything up front. First, he walked Xander to the locker rooms and let him have a shower and got some gym shorts and a shirt for Xander to change into for the time being. Xander made sure to stop at his own locker and snatch a pair of his Speedos that he still kept there for surprise pantsings and other emergencies, as well as his sandals.

He tried to ignore just how red the water was as it flowed off his body and down the drain. Trying not to act as though he were surprise that Giles was still there when he came back out fully dressed, Xander followed him back to the library, thankful that it was a Saturday and Snyder wouldn't be here.

It wasn't until they were back in Giles' office and Giles had warmed up some tea for him and they were waiting for scones (because, of course, Giles didn't keep bread or a toaster in his very British office) that Giles sat back expectantly in his chair, obviously waiting for an explanation for what had happened.

Xander fiddled with the drawstring of his shorts until Giles cleared his throat and Xander's head popped back up to find Giles watching him still, his right eyebrow raised in that 'I'm waiting' way adults had.

Xander opened, his mouth, a small gust of air rushing out, but his voice wouldn't follow. He could feel his eyes burning again and Giles sighed, "Why did you fight with Oz, Xander?" he asked quietly, calmly.

Xander felt his chest tightening again and forced himself to take a sip of tea to steady himself, or at least to try. "Willow doesn't want to be my friend anymore, G-Man," he said quietly and, sure enough, Giles flinched at the nickname, but ignored it in favor of getting an actual answer.

"What do you mean?" Giles's brow furrowed in confusion, but Xander was shuddering so badly, tears he didn't seem to know were falling sliding down his bruised and battered face -- he wasn't exaggerating in the least. This was how he saw it.

Xander laughed bitterly, "She called our friendship my one-man show and she was my sidekick and she was tired of -- " Xander sniffled suddenly, blinking in surprise as he hadn't realized he'd begun to cry again. But Giles' expression didn't change so he tried to will himself to ignore it.

"She was tired of everyone assuming things about her and thinking she went along with everything I do and say just because. And she said she should have known I'd lie about -- " Xander faltered but Giles was staring hard at him now and, hey, he wasn't going to look a trusting horse in the mouth, damn it. "About the -- well, he's actually a lieutenant. Whenever he takes control, I'm First Lieutenant Alexander Harris, United States Army. Army Ranger, actually."

Xander forced himself to finish his tea before talking again and then take a bite of his scone before wolfing it down, too. Then he began talking again. And Giles didn't yell or tell him to get to it. He just sat back and waited.

Finally, Xander started again, "And...but the Hyena was there first. That's what came out first because I was -- I could hear them talking about -- talking and it was making me angry. Willow's my best friend, she always has been. It wasn't until Buffy and Oz -- or, hey, Cordelia 'Queen C' Chase, of all people -- that I ever had to share her, really.

"Jesse wasn't...it wasn't the same. She called me D'Artagnan and she said she was Porthos and everyone always gave D'Artagnan the credit. She said she was tired of that. Tired of everyone seeing me first."

Giles sighed heavily, removing his glasses and rubbing his hand over his forehead and through his hair. "Well, considering she never intended for you to hear their conversation, Xander, you must take into account that she never intended to hurt you with those words. It's possible she hadn't even known she'd had those thoughts. Probable, actually.

"And it's actually a measure of how much she cares about you that she didn't throw them in your face when it was realized that you were listening to her conversation with Oz, which -- " And here Giles peered at Xander with a 'you should good and well know better' look and continued, "You shouldn't have been listening to in the first place. I told all of you to go straight home, which you did not."

Xander opened his mouth, looking for a rebuttal, but couldn't find one so he shut it again and simply nodded.

Giles put his glasses back on and frowned, "There are consequences to one's actions, Xander," he said pointedly, and Xander flinched, having learned that lesson very early on in life.

Giles saw this and again changed tack. "When you involve yourself in situations you aren't meant to be in, it's entirely possible that you'll hear and, or -- or see things you never wanted to, correct?"

Xander looked up at Giles, his eyes wide, but Giles' face remained calm and...gentle. Xander forced himself to nod.

Then Xander found words of his own bursting out before he could stop them, "Oz said I needed to break myself of my eavesdropping habit because it was getting me into a lot of trouble."

Xander gritted his teeth, unable to stop himself from growling again, "He said that while he was kicking the crap out of me."

Giles raised an eyebrow, but merely sighed, "Xander, did you start the fight or did Oz?"

Xander blinked, "I...I-I -- he called me a coward, I -- " Xander found himself becoming angry all over again. "He called me a coward, Giles!"

Without warning, Giles smacked Xander on the nose with a folded copy of that morning's newspaper. Xander's eyes widened and he started to jump out of his chair, but Giles stopped him with a finger in his face, maneuvering him back into the chair.

"Xander, Oz's point last night, which I'm reinforcing now: if you're going to act like a canine, then you'll be treated like one."

Xander's eyes widened, but Giles only continued to stare sternly at him.

"I haven't told the girls or anyone else that the Hyena spirit still dwells within you -- I should imagine that the others who suffered your affliction are still struggling with the same impulses, urges. You have a chance not to suffer as they are undoubtedly doing so. Have you spoken to any of them? The rest of your pack?"

Giles emphasized the word 'pack' and Xander flinched, remembering that he had been the leader, then, just like Willow described. Xander hesitated, but then he shook his head no.

Giles nodded, "Then exactly what right do you have, placing blame on anyone becoming loath to involve themselves with your tendency to take over when you drop those you are involved with the moment an uncomfortable situation ends? I told you that you couldn't let this get the best of you.

"You ignore those who actually understand what you're going through, even though they need your help just as much as you need theirs. This spirit within you, it is not a submissive entity -- it demands to be in charge of something. We've discussed this, Xander."

Xander frowned, but Giles got in his face and continued, "You've lacked control for the majority of your life -- did you think that once you got it, once this entity, or even the lieutenant were given command over others, a chance to save instead of sit helplessly...that it would be relinquished without protest?"

Xander blinked, the heavy knot in his stomach getting all the harder as Giles continued speaking. Giles didn't seem to care that he didn't answer, it appeared he already knew it.

"I will not deny that I hate Angel with every fiber of my body, even though he is dead now. I will not deny that I feel nothing but murderous intent whenever I so much as think of him -- but as I have told you, there is a reason you and I hate him as much as we do: fear of loss of control."

Xander scowled, wanting to turn away but unable to. "I still don't -- I don't believe you, Giles. So you were the leader of your -- so Ripper was in charge when you were in your juvenile hall days, so I was in charge when it was me, Kyle, Rhonda, Tor, and Heidi -- so what? I -- "

"Angelus was, each time, the leader, the Master, the head of his line, despite being younger than his Sire, despite having split off from the original Master. He wrote his own rules. We may hate one another, but it is because we have this in common -- leadership, power over others, and a willingness to use it."

Giles refilled his own cup of tea now and leaned back in his chair, giving Xander the space everything in him was screaming he needed.

"I don't want to be like Angelus," Xander whispered desperately, gripping his own cup as Giles slowly leaned forward to refill it.

"No, you do not." Giles replaced the kettle on the table and favored Xander with a 'can you figure this out' expression that Xander usually hated but was too afraid to at the moment.

When he remained silent, Giles sighed and merely said, "You want to be better than he is and by better, I mean you want to be the one they talk about in two hundred years even with a century of inacitivity."

"No, I don't," Xander snapped, but then forced himself to be quiet.

"It's true, Xander. You mentioned my hedonistic days as the worst that magick and power had to offer, but I was fooling myself just as Angelus did."

Xander blinked, confused. "What do you mean? Confused about what?"

Giles frowned, "I don't know about what, but he was fooling himself about something -- something only a soul could ever remind him of. Perhaps that is the reason he lost his mind, perhaps Buffy was only the tip of the iceberg, we will never know.

"But Angelus was never interested in the type of power that so many wish for, conquering worlds and bending others to their wills. He could bend lesser beings to his will with ease, that was never a problem. All he had to do was use his considerable skills at mental torture. The power he wished, sought was over himself."

Xander's eyes widened and he found he could only blink.

"How do you know?" Xander asked, glancing around the office as though the answer lay in the many shelves of books. "How do you know he didn't just want to destroy everyone and everything just for kicks?"

Giles sighed, "If Angelus wanted to end the world, he could have done so without ever telling anyone, giving us a chance to stop him, thwart his plans. He certainly wouldn't have bothered fixating on Buffy -- but, well, that's just it, isn't it?"

Xander scowled now, taking a deep breath to attempt to ward off another growl. It worked for the most part and Giles gave him a slight smirk, which he ignored. "Giles, please do me a favor of mustering up a little more vague, because I don't think you had quite enough there."

Giles gingerly lifted the newspaper again and an unheeded whimper escaped Xander. Giles lay the newspaper back down, but gave Xander a look of warning.

"I've been doing rather a lot of research on the Statue of Acathla, as you know. There are certain sections missing from the text, but there was enough that I eventually managed to come to a conclusion: there are several objects within the world that allow an immortal being to end its life, even end both its own and the lives of everyone else such as that very statue. Another example would be the Hagun Shafts, which destroy the body of the otherwise-Immortal who wields it after he tires of life on whichever, I'm guessing this plane.

"But the point is that Angelus was not simply out to torment Buffy. It is my belief that because he could not force himself to mirror the man she loved, in his warped mind, having watched Buffy with his souled persona for more than a year after who knows how long with no one, caring for nothing...that he wanted to kill himself.

"There are many, many years missing from the documentation of Angel's existence once he again attained his soul and even years when he was human. Nothing is known about his childhood, for example -- but it is my guess that he never once experienced the feeling of love, unremitting in its intensity yet all-encompassing in its force of feeling.

"What would a demon such as Angelus know what to do with love, Xander, let alone that for the Slayer, who freely loves him in return? Look not to the Soldier, in its humanity, yet knowledge of life and feeling of loss. Look to the Hyena, who has yet to feel anything other than the wish to hunt, to feed. What would Angelus know?"

Xander was gripping the armrests of the chair he sat in, the refill of his tea having gone cold, as he stared at Giles in fear and horror, tears dripping onto his second scone and jam. "Giles. They -- they're not human, it's not -- "

Giles cut him off at the knees. "Is Oz? Are you? Kyle? Rhonda? Tor, and Heidi? What is human, Xander? What is love, or hate?"

Xander was hitching audibly now, struggling not to cry aloud as he gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut. "I...you're...I don't understand! You're human -- the species! You have a soul, I have a soul -- "

"Angel had a soul, I'm forced quite impartially to say," Giles said tonelessly and Xander shook his head violently.

"That didn't make him human! He still wanted blood -- he still wanted Buffy's blood!"

Giles sighed. "Blood. Xander, you realize you have quite a lot of dried blood cells caked upon your face, forming a natural sort of Band-Aid upon the wounds in your flesh, helping them to heal? And yet your blood, human though it probably is in structure, is not normal. Kendra's was not, Buffy's...wherever she is...her blood is not normal.

"A vampire's blood looks exactly the same as a human being's...they were human once, after all. Millenia of research and we still do not know exactly what about blood makes a vampire that which they are, let alone why they crave it, use it for sustenance. But we have been shown firsthand that a soul is not connected to blood, nor vice-versa. And want does not always take or have. Even Angelus when he wanted, could not bring himself to take or have Buffy's blood."

Xander scowled, "Oh, so it was alright for him to snack on the rest of us -- the town of Sunnydale is up for grabs so long as he doesn't -- "

Giles once more smacked Xander on the nose with the newspaper, leaving him once more shocked and appalled, this time irritated, as well. "I don't believe I said I was finished, Xander."

Xander wanted to protest, but forced himself to be quiet. Still, he allowed himself to growl lightly, his fingers gripping into the armrests as he tried to control his anger.

Giles watched him, seemingly without concern. "You would like to rip out my throat."

Before Xander could stop it, a louder growl tore out of his throat and he clapped his hands over his mouth then, horrified.

Giles frowned in sympathy, reaching forward to stroke Xander's damp hair. "Buffy told me once that she long ago said to Angel that when he kissed her she wanted to die. Angel told me even longer before that that all he wanted to do was keep her from harm, help her, protect her. Even as Angelus, as you said, the rest of us were up for grabs, so to speak. Woe betide, however, the fool who lay a hand, claw, whatever...on his Slayer."

Xander stared at Giles in utter disbelief, "You sound like you're President of the Buffy/Angel fan club! What the hell, Giles!"

And here Giles actually rolled his eyes, "I'm merely stating facts, Xander. The whole point of this discussion is that just because someone is not human, does not mean they cannot love. And just because someone is...doesn't mean they can. Do you understand, Xander? You are not entitled to Willow's friendship.

"She obviously feels you have not earned it and, to be perfectly honest, given your behavior when it comes to both herself and Buffy, you have not. You merely feel yourself entitled to it, to their affection. Even Cordelia."

And here Giles' face truly hardened for the first time. "They deserve better and you know that perfectly well. As for their reasons for threatening you about telling me whatever started the fight...given your history, I would hazard a guess that their intent is to teach you that not everyone's secret is yours to tell. If it were you, remember, you would probably feel incredibly violated...if Buffy..."

Giles sighed and took off his glasses again to rub his brow. "Given what has happened, the impetus of those events, as well as their consequences, Buffy's reaction...if she has left -- is, at least a natural one. If she has chosen to contact Willow, that would also make sense -- Oz, a little less so, but still a choice easily seen, since Oz is Willow's boyfriend and neither of them have bad blood between one another...unlike yourself and Angel, which you made sure to advertise as often as you could, with great vigor.

"Cordelia might serve as a neutral party in this -- her feelings for Angel may have been superficially romantic at first, as yours were with her, as well, but now she knows enough to keep her distance, and she far from stupid. She will not go blabbing every bit of information she hears to the first set of ears she sees anymore...she chose to be one of us and has acted the part, even when angry with you or the two of you engaged in your time-honored activity of publicly slighting one another for recreational purposes.

"In short, she is close enough to have a grasp of the situation and understand it for what it is, but distant enough not to feel that it personally effects her to the point that she feels no qualms airing our quote-unquote, dirty laundry, especially since that does involve her, as well."

Xander shrank into the armchair he sat in again, tears coming back to his eyes again. "Cordy said I didn't love her -- that I only ever think of myself. That Angel and Oz both put Buffy and Willow first at all times. She said I was so obsessed with comparing myself with them..."

"That you forget to see yourself, your own behavior, your own qualities and, as a result, those of they whom you claim to love."

Xander's eyes widened, "I do love her! I love Cordy! I -- you're not even pissed off that Buffy would run away from you?"

Giles frowned again, this time sighing, "Xander, your second question first: Buffy and I each understand my loyalty is expected to be to the Council first, my Slayer second. If she were not the slightest bit suspicious of my motives or my ability to keep my mouth shut, I -- personally -- would feel I failed as her Watcher.

"You need to remember that Buffy is an extremely unique Slayer under the weight of equally unique circumstances. As such, I am a Watcher of the same sort, if in different ways. I applaud her suspicion where my superiors would be disgusted by it because it means she can still think for herself and, that, I've now seen is one of a Slayer's most invaluable tools."

Xander looked as though he wanted to interrupt, so Giles cut straight to the point, "Her ability to attach and detach, whether willful or not, to others has kept her alive, Xander. What if the Council were sending assassins because they feel Buffy is not dealing with Angelus efficiently enough for their tastes? They have no use for a Slayer who feels, if you recall. What if the Council were to attempt to torture me to try to get information about where she is?"

Xander's eyes widened as that unforeseen incidence suddenly made complete sense to him.

Giles nodded as he saw that Xander understood him, "Am I alright with knowing my Slayer is out in the world on her own? No. It is not because I believe she cannot care for herself -- the very idea is ludicrous. Buffy has street and world knowledge denied other slayers and they've all died.

"Does it upset me, personally, to know that Buffy does not trust me enough to tell me where she is, believing I will drag her back here? Honestly, yes, I am human just as she is. Watchers are trained mercilessly just as Slayers are to do as we are told, those who don't are generally sacked. Some even killed.

"I know she believes I will do whatever necessary to bring her back here simply because it is my job. The only thing I want, however, is her happiness, which -- whatever our feelings on the subject of it -- has died. It would kill me, as well, to have to look her in the eye every day knowing she doesn't care to live as a person any longer."

Giles' face hardened again, if now for a different reason.

"If the Slayer is all that's motivating her, then that is not a Buffy I would like to know. It may sound selfish to you, but if I wanted to see Buffy back here again, it would have to be the Buffy I know, not the substitute she will have become without love to guide her. You four can only fill so much of the void and, knowing that Joyce Summers threw her daughter out -- Buffy is not a normal girl, whatever fantasies of such you've been entertaining.

"That is a chasm I cannot fill, you, Willow, Oz, Cordelia -- none of you can fill it. It is the love of a parent. And Slayers and their counterpart foes, as you have been shown by now whether you care to remember or not, love or hate -- in Angelus' case and those of his deviated line, as if their very lives are connected to that feeling.

"Losing that love, hate -- both, whatever it is directed toward, is such as losing a part of their own soul, or essence, as the case may be. Demons who mate do not go voluntarily into solitude. The same is obviously true for Slayers."

"Well, what about us, though?" Xander asked quietly, faintly, his voice saddened and dull. "Doesn't Buffy love us?"

Giles nodded, "Yes. You are missing my point. Angel..." Giles sighed. "Xander, do you feel the need to find a mate and connect with them?"

Xander froze, Cordelia instantly coming to mind without heed. Slowly, he nodded. "Cordy," he whispered now, nearly inaudibly.

Giles merely nodded.

"Were you able to tell her that when it mattered or were you too busy complaining about whatever was on your mind at the time?"

Xander shuddered and sniffled, taking the tissue Giles then offered and leaning around the back of the chair to blow his nose.

He turned back around, his tone now deadened, "I was too busy complaining."

He tossed the tissue at the wastebasket, not caring that it went in without a problem. "She called me a hypocrite. She said to call her when I'd grown the hell up."

Giles nodded. "The Council does not allow its secrets out -- they will kill to protect them, but suffice it to say that as Joyce is Buffy's biological parent and, formerly, a confidante as such, if not for this part of her life until recently. Joyce rejected it, and her, quite violently, I can't imagine that had any effect on her but overwhelming pain and despair on the level of Joyce actually having died, as well. Angel was her mate, the other half of her soul and vice versa, as Cordelia is yours and Willow is Oz's. If...if Buffy's pillock of a father is not her true parent, much would make sense...well, bloody hell, all the better.

"At any rate, that would explain her waning lack of feeling toward him, as well. If Buffy has gone to find whomever actually is her father, if he is alive, then it will be to try to fill what is currently a gaping chasm within her soul."

Giles gave Xander a slow once-over, "One you have yet to fill yourself, young man. One you never knew you had until your spirits took up residence within you and forced you to realize things about yourself that you, otherwise, never would have.

"Tony Harris is not what they or we feel is a true model of any kind for you. Your mother is under his thumb. You are fixated upon Buffy's problems to distract yourself from your own. You have never recognized that but, I assure you, the Hyena and the Lieutenant will not allow you to faff about in that regard any longer. You are slowly coming to realize that Cordelia is your mate, your...mission, as it were, again in the case of the lieutenant.

"You were too busy complaining the last time Cordelia talked to you? Too busy playing your usual role to realize the one you were meant to play right before you?"

Giles steepled his fingers before his own face and finally leaned back into his chair.

Xander, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape, closed them both, nodding as more tears escaped from underneath his eyelids.

Giles pursed his lips, sighing as he stood up, kissing the top of Xander's head, causing him to startle, but not to back away. Giles never made him feel...wounded or unprotected. Was this what Buffy was searching for, the parent he needed but had never had?

He looked upward and nodded, finally surrendering. Finally trusting.

"We have a lot of work to do, don't we, then, son?"

With that, Giles began collecting their dishes, pointedly ignoring the gobsmacked expression on Xander's face.

***

Don't just give God a blank slate and let Him run with that! - Christopher Titus, Love is EVOL

Joyce stumbled out of the bathroom, her eyes clinched shut, her hands feeling along the walls so as to avoid tripping, but she couldn't stand to look at anything.

Every time she opened her eyes, everything spun horribly and she ended up right back in her bathroom. She was lucky she could make it to her bed at all. This was the third day she'd called in to her assistant, sick. She was seriously considering making a doctor's appointment to check for some sort of stomach virus or something worse, which seemed likely.

She remembered when Buffy had gotten the flu the previous year and spent days in the ICU. That alone was enough to make her want to call someone.

If the...Joyce paused, frowning before slowly lowering herself back into her bed. She had to get used to saying it. She owed Buffy that much.

If the Vampire Slayer could become so deathly ill, then it stood to reason that she should likely make an appointment at least for a check-up. It was bad enough that when she wasn't vomiting, all she wanted to eat now was vanilla pudding and sardines.

Ordinarily, she would have asked herself what the hell she was thinking, but when the craving struck, she became to ravenous to care. It didn't matter, though, as every morning, like clockwork, she stumbled into the bathroom and out came everything she'd eaten the previous night.

You'd think she was...

Joyce's eyes popped open.

Vanilla pudding and sardines.

Vomiting.

Oh, my God.

She remembered when she had been barely seventeen and pregnant with Buffy those first few months. All she'd wanted...oh, God.

Joyce stared at the opposite wall, wracking her brain, trying to figure out when this could have possibly happened. She covered her face with her hands, blocking everything else out and, almost as if someone or something had wanted her to know, instantly she recalled that time the high school had been selling those chocolate bars and most of the adults here had bought and eaten them.

She remembered Ripper, remembered strolling through town with him, enthralled by his tales of -- well, she thought he'd been lying through his teeth to get up her skirt.

Not to say that it hadn't worked, nor that it wasn't true now that she knew what she did about...about everything, but...oh, my GOD.

Joyce carefully rolled onto her back and wished Buffy was here, at least so she could hear her daughter's incredulous, mortified voice.

For all she knew, though, Buffy was dead. More than a week and not a word from her since she'd gone to fight her ex-boyfriend. Part of Joyce wanted to believe she'd won and everything was well but, if that were the case, then Buffy would be here at home, wouldn't she? Disgusted and horrified, maybe, but still -- here at home. But she wasn't.

So why was Joyce seemingly getting another chance when she'd failed so miserably the first time? Was this another chance? Was this -- oh, God.

She had to tell Rupert. She no longer had the luxury of being angry with him for being her daughter's Watcher and hiding so much right in front of her. Not when he was going to be the father of one of her children, it seemed.

Joyce carefully reached up and took hold of one of her pillows, slowly bringing it down and hugging it to herself.

"Guess what, sweetheart: you're going to be a big sister," she whispered to no one in particular. Then everything blurred and she cried yet again. She'd long since lost count.

...It won't be long, 'til you find your way home...

...TBC...
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