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Stranger at the Gate

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Waifs and strays". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Joyce Summers meets a man on her first day in Sunnydale, who will change her life forever. Multiple crossings in sequels.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Joyce-Centered(Current Donor)vidiconFR15111,780103410,14728 May 1128 May 11Yes
Stranger at the Gate

Author's notes:

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters conceived and created by Joss Whedon or any company affiliated to him. I do claim ownership of any and all OC's that appear in this piece of fiction and all non Buffyverse related subjects, organizations and metaphysical discussions. ;-)

The series is heavily Joyce centric.

This is an AU setting, featuring a number of OC's from a novel I am currently writing. One of the characters absolutely refused to cooperate and so I'm giving him a bit of a run in the Buffyverse. It is, if you will, a sort of crossover with an as yet unpublished book.

I assume that the reader is aware of the content of the episodes of Buffy. The plotlines of many episodes are only touched upon.I try to incorporate important dialogue and occurrences from episodes as best I may into the narrative, but I try not to repeat verbatim or to retell whole episodes. For reasons that will become clear later and I've not been able to find information to the contrary, BUffy is still fifteen at the start of this series and Dawn is ten.

Unless I think it adds to the narrative or is necessary for the development of the characters of course. I am grateful to the transcribers of the scripts I've used, though I regret I do not have their names.
This is the first story in the series; it is set the day after the episode The Harvest. Everything that happened in the first two episodes may be considered to have happened here.

This story takes place between The Harvest and Witch.
As the series progresses there will be changes to canon characters and occurrences.

Thoughts are denoted by sentences between asterisks. * * Thanks Josh! Thanks Cast!Reviews are appreciated

Stranger at the Gate

Joyce Summers was unpacking a box in the living room of her new house on Revello drive when she heard the noise. A loud puck-puck-puck and the occasional hiss. Carrying a large vase into the front room and placing it carefully on a recently unpacked and still very dusty side table. She looked out of the windows flanking the door and saw and elderly Volvo coming slowly to a halt on the street, smoke rising from under the hood. She crossed her arms and watched as the driver reached under the dash and the hood popped. Then he exited the car walked around to the front and lifted the hood with a silver handled black cane he carried with him. Placing the cane against the left front light he looked at the steaming, smoking engine and shifted his weight to his left leg, crossing his arms and then rubbing his chin with the right hand. An incised red stone on a golden seal ring flashed on the left one as the rays of the setting sun struck it. Joyce hesitated and then opened the door walking down the steps of the porch and up to the stricken vehicle.

"That may take a while to cool down."

The man turned towards her, seemingly unsurprised by her presence. He was six feet one, maybe six foot twot tall, with a spare, almost ascetic face, high cheekbones and a Greek nose. His hair was a warm chocolaty brown with touches of auburn, crisply cut and shot through with touches of silver, a few more strands at the temples than elsewhere. His eyes were large and so dark a brown as to be almost black, but with a ring of green flecks around the pupil, the lashes long and thick and the lids quite heavy. A few small laugh wrinkles surrounded his eyes. He looked at her solemnly from below them and she could see a twinkle replace the thoughtful look. His long slender fingers, with large, delicate nails were cupped around a firm, if slightly pointed chin. He had a minor five o'clock shadow and his mouth was a bit wide for his face, the lips thinned in annoyance at the breakdown. They became fuller and the annoyed expression became a friendly, warm smile.

"I fear you are right. Do you happen to know of a good garage around here?"

His accent was quite firmly British, though it sounded as if he spent a lot of time on the East coast.

"I am afraid I just moved in. I do have a 'Welcome to beautiful Sunnydale' brochure from the Chamber of Commerce though." Joyce said it solemnly but with a twinkle in her eye.

The man's smile widened. "Very recently moved in, if you still have it."

"Three days. Would you like to come inside to make the call?"

He held up a hand and removed a mobile phone from the inside pocket of his jacket. For the first time she noticed he wore a tweed suit, a grey one with brown weaving through it, of good quality though obviously not new, considering the leather patches on the elbows were worn. But Tweed? In California? In summer?

He poked at the phone and scowled at it."Stupid thing. My secretary insisted I get one of these so I could stay in contact."

Joyce looked at the dead phone with all the experience of having a teenage daughter who had been whining for one for a while. "I think it needs to be recharged."

He dropped the phone back into the pocket and spoke in an exasperated tone. "I think it needs to be scrapped. Modern technology."

Joyce grinned at him in commiseration. "You dislike modern technology?" She glanced at the elderly car, noting there were no signs of rust, the wind shield wipers were in good condition, and that it seemed to be generally in good repair. There was a small rod of Asclepius sticker on the inside of the windshield.

He shrugged deprecatingly. "I admit it is not my greatest strength. As for the car, I use it to get from one place to another. As long as it does that, its age is of no matter."

He stood up straight, extended his hand and made a slight bow, an old world gesture Joyce found strangely charming. "Simon Mayer. I thank you for the offered aid."

Joyce accepted the hand and shook. "Joyce Summers". His skin was warm and dry and his hands were well kept, though not manicured. She released his hand and gestured toward the path, leading him through the open door. He followed behind her, pausing only to pick up his cane.

He placed it nonchalantly on his shoulder, obviously not needing it to walk with.

"Welcome to my humble home." She quipped as she gestured him through the front door. "Ignore the moving in mess."

He lowered his head gravely in acceptance. "I am honoured by your welcome."

She took him through to the kitchen, and after digging through a box of paper to be recycled she waved the brochure triumphantly. "Found it!"

He accepted it and started leafing through it, sitting down on one of the stools at the breakfast bar looking for car repair.

"Can I offer you something to drink? I was about to make some tea."

"That would be wonderful, if it is not too much trouble."

"The dishwasher will not suffer from an extra cup to clean. Do you have a preference?"

"Earl grey, if you have it?"

"But certainly." For some reason she wanted to impress him and she dug out a tea egg from a box on the counter and her good loose tea, measuring the water and the tea and setting it to steep in a good china pot. He looked at her preparations from under his lashes and she could see the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

He coughed. "I bought some scones at a local bakery. They smelled rather good. They're in the car; I can go get them…"

Joyce threw a glance over her shoulder as she reached for a cookie jar. "That would be nice. Real scones?"

Simon shrugged. "Well they call themselves The British Bakery…"

Joyce smiled. "I'll get out a plate, you go get the scones."

He was back very quickly, a large white box with a Union Jack and red letters on it in his arms.

"Do you mind if I call a friend as well? I was supposed to be in Los Angeles tonight."

He opened the box and placed the scones artfully on the plate on the counter. There were several types and rather too many of them for a single person. It was obvious he had not bought the scones just for himself.

Joyce gestured to the phone. "Be my guest."

He nodded his thanks, licked his fingers in a, to Joyce's mind, endearingly childlike fashion, washed his hands, drying them carefully and dialed a number from memory. The phone could not have rung more than twice on the other side before it was picked up.

"Hello, this is Dr. Mayer. Could you put me through to Dr Lawson please?"

Another pause and then he spoke cheerfully. "Margaret! Hello, it's Simon. Look my car broke down. There's no need to laugh, Margaret. It is a perfectly good car." He scowled good naturedly down at the horn. "I know it is seventeen years old. That just shows that is excellent quality. It will probably last for many more. What do you mean you hope not? Well anyway, I won't be able to make it tonight, I fear. No, I will not leave my car and take a train, I checked before driving over and the service is frightful. And you need not send Marcel to pick me up. Margaret, I am perfectly capable of booking myself into a hotel. No, this is not my mobile… Yes it is empty again. Look Margaret if you don't stop disparaging my technological acumen I will not bring you a box of the excellent scones I bought. Yes enough for you, Marcel and all the offspring." He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I will bring some for the others as well. Look Margaret, if you want to make yourself useful why don't you call Cynthia and ask her to find a reputable garage in Sunnydale. I will see if I can get the phone recharged and you can call me. What do you mean you doubt it? Ah, so that I where I left my charger."

He scowled at the phone again, and then looked at Joyce."Can she call here? Cynthia's going to search around for a good garage."

Joyce nodded, suppressing a smile, pointed at the note stuck to the phone that had the number written on it in bold figures.

He smiled at her and gave Margaret the number and Joyce's name. He put the receiver down and gave her a grin. "As you may have gathered from the conversation my dislike of modern technology is well known."

Joyce smiled back, pouring him a cup of tea. "Well as long as you know how to use what you must. If I may be so bold, Dr Mayer…?" She asked the question with her tone of voice, allowing him to ignore if he wished.

He picked up the cup and smiled at her. "M.D. I specialized in Pediatrics. I do not practice regularly, however I do try to keep up to date."

"Can I ask why you don't practice?"

He shrugged deprecatingly. "I run the family business."

Joyce blinked. "Isn't a degree in medicine a rather strange preparation for running a business? Unless it's a pharmaceutical company of course. "

He shrugged again. "My grandfather believed that anyone who could become a medical doctor could do anything. I always carry an emergency bag however and have the Asclepius on my window so people know that I can offer help." A small smile touched his lips. "Even if that makes me late for meetings sometimes."

"And what brings you to Sunnydale?"He shrugged. "Checking on some property and looking in on some distant relatives, I have very few relations left so I try and stay in touch. However they travel a lot and weren't here. Though apparently they left their teenage daughter to fend alone. Again." His face tightened. "I must admit that I think they should not leave their daughter alone so often, certainly not at her age, no matter how responsible she is, but I can not tell them how to raise their child." He shrugged ruefully. "Not that I should talk, I probably travel more than they do."

"But do you have children?"

"No." Joyce thought she saw a momentary veil pass over his expressive eyes.

But then he looked up, smiling again. "And you, do you have children? This house is rather large for a woman on her own…?"

The question implied rather more than Joyce had expected and she felt an unexpected flutter of disappointment. Now came the bit where she admitted to two teenage daughters and a recently failed marriage and he would politely draw an end to the conversation.

Joyce's smile faltered. "I have two girls, fifteen and ten."

He glanced at her hands, noting the absence of a wedding band. "Divorce?"

She drew in a breath. "Yes"

"Bad one?"

"Not good. He was never there for the children, had affairs. Drank too much. Thought it was a woman's duty to accept all that. And our eldest daughter was sometimes…problematic. He would not deal with it."

Joyce stared at her tea, wondering what on earth possessed her to tell this man so much about herself, her family, when they had barely met and she hardly knew him.

"Hmm. We had a term for such a man while I was in University: arsehole."

Joyce snickered despite herself hearing the word emerging in his perfect clipped British accent. "I suppose he is, some of the time."

There was a ruckus and the kitchen door was thrown open, followed immediately by a young girl, long brown hair flying and a sullen expression on her face. The expression darkened further when she saw the strange man sitting there. Before the girl could pass through the kitchen Joyce grabbed her and drew her close. Simon saw a slight wince on the girl's face. "Hello to you too, Dawn. Dawn, this is Dr Mayer, his car broke down outside the house. Simon, this is my youngest daughter, Dawn."

The girl was dressed in jeans and a red t-shirt with white flowers on it and low pink sneakers and white socks with pink flowers on them. Simon rose, bowed to Dawn and accepted the hand she grudgingly proffered. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Summers. May I offer you a scone?"He gestured at the plate. "I do not know if you'd like to take tea with us, but if not I imagine that your mother can provide you with something more to your liking."

The little girl hesitated but Joyce rose and went to make hot chocolate. Dawn threw her backpack in the corner and climbed onto a stool, not looking at Simon. She reached for a scone, picking a raisin filled one.

Simon could see a bruise peeking out from under the short sleeve of the t-shirt and involuntarily reached out, halting his movement before he touched her. "That looks painful."

Dawn glared at him and threw an anxious look at her mother, who turned immediately, abandoning pan of milk on the worktop and looked a question at her daughter. "Dawnie? What happened?"

Dawn took a bite out of her scone. "Nothing. I fell."Joyce put a hand on her daughter's face and turned it towards herself, noting the almost washed off tear tracks and the reddened eyes. "Dawnie, you can tell me."

"Some guys made remarks about me being the sister of a weirdo psycho juvie. And I shouted at them. And then they tried to beat me up."

Joyce gasped in shock.Simon nodded understandingly. "Which led to an altercation which ended in you showing them that you are more than capable of defending the family honour."

Joyce glanced at him; Dawn gave him a dark look. "Well I won anyway. If that is what you mean."

Joyce sighed, placing and arm around Dawn's narrow shoulders. "Are you in trouble at school?"

"No. It happened after."

Joyce nodded, thoughtfully. "I'll talk to your teacher. I don't want you fighting Dawn. But I will not have you bullied either."

Dawn looked rebellious. "I'm not going to let them beat me up!"

Joyce chuckled and kissed her cheek. "Of course not. You might consider running next time?" She ran a hand down Dawn's back and the girl winced. "Dawnie? Did that hurt?"

Dawn nodded, face down. "Yeah."

Joyce pushed her daughter's chin up with her index finger, gently making the girl look her in the eye."I think we may have to get you to a doctor or the emergency room, to see if there is nothing wrong."

Simon gestured to the front of the house. "I can get my bag and take a look at it if you want… I'll be able to ascertain if there is anything worse than bruising or mild spraining. And I've got some good salves to rub on bruises."

Dawn looked at him as if he had sprouted wings and a tail but Joyce nodded gratefully. "Please if you could, we don't have our own doctor here yet."

Simon left and Dawn hissed at her mother. "I don't want to be looked at by him!"

Joyce stroked her hair. "He won't if you don't want to. I can rub on salve as well as he can I bet!" She hugged her daughter, carefully, not knowing where else she might be hurt. "Now what else is wrong, you never get into fights. Not even when Buffy first got into trouble."

"Ballet class is full. And my ballet shoes are too small. And some of the girls laughed at me. And Daddy hasn't called yet. And I don't like it here." She turned into her mother's shoulder and sniffled.

Simon came back on that note carrying a worn and old fashioned leather doctor's bag. "It is always difficult getting used to a new place. I had a great deal of difficulty getting used to school when I was your age."

He put the bag on the kitchen table and removed his jacket, then undid his tie. He was wearing a very good, slightly off white shirt, well cut to his body; Joyce noticed the fact immediately as she saw the play of lean muscle beneath the thin cloth.

Dawn glared at him as he opened the bag and removed a jar of salve. "Yeah, but you did not have to move."

Simon shrugged. "It was a boarding school."

Dawn blinked at him. "Boarding school?"

"It means I had to live at the school. I only got home for the holidays, sometimes not even that."

Dawn looked at him horrified. "But what about Christmas!"

"My parents quite often had other things to do which they thought more important than celebrating it with me."

Dawn's eyes went very wide. "That's terrible!"

"Moderately, yes. May I look at your arm?"

Dawn rolled up the short sleeve and Simon gently prodded the bruise, raising and lowering the limb. "Well, nothing broken, only relatively minor bruising. Icebags and some warm towels and maybe a mild painkiller should help. Any other injuries?"

Dawn nodded slowly. "My knees hurt, and my legs and my ankles and I have some pain on my lower back."

Simon's eyebrow rose. "Well, that must have been quite the fight. I hope the opponents are equally well marked?"

He glanced for permission at Joyce who nodded and helped Dawn out of her shirt. Joyce sucked in her breath at the livid bruising on the girl's lower back.

"Three bloody noses, two black eyes and I kicked one in the nuts." Dawn made the statement matter-of-factly but with obvious satisfaction.

"Dawn!" Joyce looked at her sweet little girl with an amazed expression but a glint of humour in her eyes.

Simon nodded, "I would say the honours were more than even, especially if there were three of them." He palpitated the muscles of her back and dawn's eyes filled with tears. Simon pursed his lips. "A bad bruise. Fell against something?"

"A park bench, I was doing a jeté getting away from Billy Hadwell. I slipped" Dawn looked more irritated at the slip than at the injury.

Simon glanced at Joyce, whose mouth was quirking. "And people say ballet is useless in real life."

Dawn blushed. "It was an accident. I just tried to jump away and went into a jeté. I didn't mean…"

Simon put a finger on her lips. "No need to apologize. We use what we must. Is there a drugstore nearby? I think you may need quite few icebags."

He looked the question at Joyce who grabbed the directory. "Anything you need a prescription for?"

Simon shook his head. "I'd hardly think so, but I could write one if needed, but we'd have to go to the hospital to get it filled, I'm not on the county register. Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol and as I said, lots of warm towels and icebags."

Joyce gestured at the freezer. "There are some icebags in there. And loose ice, kitchen towels are in there." She gestured at the cabinet beside the sink. "Tylenol in the drawer next to the freezer."

Simon smirked at Dawn. "Ice bags are on the way. Would you feel better if your mother looked at your legs and I got the icebags?"

Dawn looked at him over her shoulder as he gently rubbed the pungent smelling salve into her lower back. "Are you really a doctor?"

"Yes indeed. I mostly studied in a place called Edinburgh."

"The one in Scotland?"


"Do you have one of those things to listen to my heart?"

Simon lifted the bag down of the table and placed it on a stool pointing at the stethoscope in its own compartment, opening a few of the small metal boxes and showing her the equipment to look inside noses and ears, the sterile gauzes still in their wrappings and the few surgical instruments in their own sterile packaging.

Dawn picked up a small metal box, a combination lock built into the lid. Simon took it and manipulated the tumblers, careful not to let Dawn see the combination, opened it and showed her a number of clearly labeled syringes. "Drugs that can be used when people are injured or ill. A bit too dangerous to just leave lying around in my bag without the lock."

He locked the box again, once again careful to hide the combination, shrugging and apology at Dawn. "The drugs in there can be quite dangerous and the syringes themselves are quite sharp.

Dawn nodded solemnly, then looked at him. "They're all quite new." She picked up the somewhat battered stethoscope. "Newer than the bag anyway."

Simon smiled as he helped her get her t-shirt back on. "Stethoscopes don't change very much, and they wear out quite slowly. Bandages I can use only once. All the other stuff I have to change frequently, it's the law and drugs do loose their potency as they grow older. The bag is old. It was my father's, he was a doctor too."

Dawn nibbled her lower lip. "I suppose it won't matter if you are a doctor. And if Mom's here." She glanced at her mother who nodded encouragingly.

She stepped away from him and slipped of her shoes, then her jeans. Simon ran a gentle hand down her legs, feeling the muscles, tendons and bones and ascertaining there were indeed no worse injuries than bruises or grazes. "Any trouble walking getting here from the park?"

"It hurt some."

"I would imagine. They kicked you?"

"Yeah, that's why I kicked Joey Brand in the nuts."

Behind her Simon could see Joyce desperately try and stop a laugh at her daughter's prowess in battle. Maternal disapproval was not going to be effective if it was obvious mommy did not really disapprove.

"Well you have some nasty grazes and you got some scratches through your jeans, even. They will need to be washed. And the jeans as well, I imagine."

Joyce immediately opened the tap, wetting a cloth with warm water and soap and handed it to Dawn who washed the injuries, a pained expression passing across her face occasionally. Her mother rinsed and rewetted the cloth four times before she was satisfied Dawn's wounds were clean.

Simon rummaged in his bag and retrieved a small plastic spray bottle and a tub of salve."Well we can put iodine on them…" He hefted the bottle.

Dawn moved quickly behind her mother. "Nuh-uh!"

Simon smiled, lifting the jar of salve. "Or this rather nice disinfectant salve. It will sting a bit, but rather less than Iodine."

Joyce winked at him. "I think we will go for the salve."

"A wise decision. Do you want me to make some crushed ice packs?"

"Please do. I'll get Dawnie treated and changed into shorts. Can you manage?"

"Certainly. Shall I finish making the chocolate for Dawn?"

Dawn smiled at him a bit tentatively. "Can I have another scone with it too?"

Simon looked at the plate and box which held at least two dozen more scones. "I think there are sufficient, if your mother does not think it will spoil your supper?"

Joyce ruffled her daughter's hair, picked up the discarded jeans and shoes and smiled.

"What with all the exercise I have no doubt but she will have a good appetite."

The pair went upstairs and Simon placed several towels on the table after relighting the gas under the milk Joyce had been intending to heat before she had been distracted by her daughter's injuries. He put some cocoa in a mug and stirred it with cold milk and sugar.
He was adding the warm milk just as mother and daughter arrived back, Dawn in a different t-shirt, beach thong slippers and shorts. He handed her the cocoa after stirring it well. "Here you go."

He operated the ice maker on the fridge door and folded a double handful in a towel. He handed it to Joyce who held it against Dawn's shoulder and upper arm.

Simon opened the freezer and looked at Joyce, who answered the unspoken question. "Bottom drawer. There should be two."

He nodded and bent over, getting the two ice packs, settling one against Dawn's lower back and placing one on each shin."I can run to the drugstore and get more icepacks if you want?" He touched his hip pocket, apparently satisfied he had enough money.

Joyce smiled and waved to the kitchen drawer. "It's a couple of blocks, you can take the car. Keys are in the drawer."

Simon opened the drawer and the car keys rattled from their position at the back to almost the front in the empty drawer. He picked them up and winked at Joyce. "You have my solemn word I will return it safe and unscathed.".

Joyce humphed. "I should warn you, it is quite modern technology."

Simon laughed and shook his head, walking out of the kitchen door and managing to start the jeep on the second try. Joyce lightly hugged Dawn who reached for a third scone."That's the last one for now Dawnie."

Joyce said it absently. She had just lent her car to a man that she barely knew. She had told him things about her marriage she had not told some of her best friends. She had let him treat her daughter's injuries and left him alone in her kitchen. She sighed softly. What the hell was wrong with her?

Dawn leaned into her. "I like him, he's nice."

Joyce blinked down at the small brown haired head. "Yes, I think I like him too."

He'd left his coat and tie hanging from the stool. Joyce noticed the bulge of the phone in one of the inside pockets and the slighter one of his folding wallet in the opposite one. Unlike Hank he'd completely unknotted his tie and straightened it out with his fingers. As she watched, the smooth silk lost its battle against gravity despite the opposition of the rough tweed and slithered down to the floor, landing in a grey-blue puddle.

Joyce got up, rubbing Dawn's back as she did and picked the tie up, rolling it and placing it on the table. A small very discreet label on the inside pocket declared the jacket to be by Gieves&Hawkes, Saville Row, London.

She realized he had left his jacket but taken his cane and wondered why.

The phone rang and she answered. "Joyce Summers"

"Ms. Summers? This is Cynthia Vance, Dr Mayer's secretary. Could you put him on please?"

The voice sounded older, and capable, a middle aged woman, Joyce thought, a bit older than herself. At least he did not feel the need to surround himself with bright young things like Hank did.

"He just stepped out to buy some things. He should be back in fifteen minutes at the latest."

There was a short pause. "Was his luggage damaged? It was just the engine that broke down wasn't it? He wasn't hurt?" The voice sounded a bit worried and mildly exasperated.

Joyce laughed. "Well it looks like the engine is totally cooked and I think the transmission belt broke, from the sound of it. But he seems fine, my daughter had an accident and Simon thought she needed more icepacks."

There was a sigh on the other end of the line. "Well thank god for small favours. That time in India he kept insisting he was fine, turned out he had been walking round with his broken arm in a sling made from his tie all the time. Can you take a message for him or should I call back later?"

Joyce smiled. "I can take a message. Give me a sec, I need to scrounge up a pen and paper, we just moved in." She found a pen and pad and first set down a suite reservation at the Valley Palace Hotel.

Her mouth smirked. "I thought I heard him say he could book himself into a hotel?"

Cynthia sighed again, the feeling sigh of a woman much put upon. "Oh yes. Last time he did that he ended up at a drive-in motel that catered to hookers and their johns. He spent the night taking care of venereal diseases and talking a crack addict out of suicide."

Joyce sniggered despite herself, trying to hide it as a small cough. "Sounds like an interesting boss."

She could almost hear the rolling eyes on the other side. "That is one way of putting it. I've called a European car dealership that services Volvos and they'll send down a tow truck later today and see if they can get it repaired tomorrow. Could you remind him to get his luggage out before they take it away this time?" Cynthia sounded plaintive.

Joyce smiled. "I will do my solemn best. Do I need to feed him as well?"

There was a silence on the other end of the line and she thought she heard a refined snigger on the as well. "Well if you could sort of remind him that he needs to eat…"

Joyce chuckled "I will nag him mercilessly."

"Thanks for all the trouble."

"You're welcome." Joyce rang off. She checked the ice packs and Dawn winced. Joyce absentmindedly intercepted her daughter's hand as she reached for another scone. Dawn sighed and pouted.

"We can try and get you into a different ballet class; there is probably more than one."

Dawn picked up her mug of chocolate, now half empty and snuggled into her mother, pressing the icepack on her lower back into Joyce's thigh. "I suppose. I just wish…"

Joyce pressed a kiss on top of her daughter's head. "I know dear. I know."

The jeep maneuvered back onto the driveway, the driver obviously quite skilled. Simon got out hefting a carrier bag. He carefully locked the car and entered the kitchen through the back door. "I come bearing icepacks."

He put the bag on a stool and removed twelve gel packs as well as a large roll of Velcro strips. Joyce looked a question at him and he smiled. "I use the strips to tie the icepacks in place. It works."

Joyce picked up one of the packs, noting it was useable for both heat and cold and that it was rather more expensive brand than hers. She winced. The move had rather strained her bank account and the twelve packs would easily run to a hundred and fifty dollars.

Simon put a hand on hers. "They're a gift." She opened her mouth to protest but he very firmly looked her in the eye, mouth set in determination. "A gift."

Joyce decided to submit with grace. He wore a Gieves&Hawkes and had a secretary who casually booked him into a suite. And that ring was worth a good chunk of cash. He could probably afford it.

"Thank you, but will you at least stay for dinner then?"

Simon scratched his chin. "I would be delighted. But I really need to get a hotel and such."

Joyce handed him the note. "A tow truck has been ordered. Cynthia told me to remind you to take the luggage out this time." She stressed "this time" and thought she saw a slight blush creep up his tanned cheeks.

"I take it Cynthia has been divulging her troubles?"

Joyce chuckled indulgently. "She sounds like a long suffering woman."

He shrugged. "I fear my inattentiveness to the details of traveling gives her a lot of extra work. I'll go get my luggage." He rose and walked to the Volvo, opening the boot with a key he took from his trouser pocket.

Joyce intercepted her daughter's hand as it once more made for a scone. "Do you have homework today Dawnie?"

Dawn shrugged. "Just a bit. Can I do it here?"

"If you want. Simon and I will probably be talking."

Dawn nodded. "I'll go do it in my room, I can sit on the bed and have the pack in my back and stuff."

Joyce smiled. "I'll help you get settled. Come on."

She glanced out of the window to see Simon come walking up the drive carrying a leather shoulder bag, an overnight bag, also of leather and a small, top of the range cooler. All seemed used, if of good quality and well maintained.

She called out. "Going to settle Dawn upstairs."

He nodded in understanding. When she came down a few minutes later he was leafing through a folder of papers and his shoulder bag was standing open.

He closed the folder as she came in and she smiled. "You can work if you want, I won't be offended."

He scowled at the folder. "Actually I'd rather not work." He looked around the kitchen at the unpacked boxes. "Can I help with unpacking?" He seemed almost eager to do so.

"It's not very exciting, just cleaning and emptying boxes into closets."

He shrugged. "It's better than reading about the Florida orange harvest."

Joyce smiled. "So you into orange juice?"

He shrugged; again, it seemed a habitual gesture. "You might say my business interests are diversified, but they do include orange juice yes. What say I clean the cupboards and you can do the unpacking?"

He strode to the bucket by the sink and started filling it with tepid water. Joyce pointed him to the cleaning supplies and he grabbed a bottle of vinegar and another of ammonia, starting on the cupboards and working towards the stove. Joyce filled cupboards with towels and plates, drawers with silverware and utensils. Simon changed his water often, taking of his shirt when the first rivulet of water ran down his arm as he was cleaning a high shelf. He was wearing a tight fitting white t-shirt under the dress shirt, showing of considerable amounts of well muscled bicep.

Joyce tried very hard to keep her eyes of the play of muscles under the shirt, but occasionally failed. They worked mostly in companionable silence. After an hour and a half, when they had advanced into the living room and dining Joyce called a break, asked Simon to make tea, then went upstairs to check on Dawn.

Dawn was sleeping with an atlas beside her and the traces of a filched chocolate chip scone around her mouth. Joyce smiled despite herself. When she arrived downstairs Simon was boiling water and rinsing out the tea egg. She took a few moments to study his trim figure and to compare it mentally to Hank's. Her ex husband had turned rather flabby in the last years of their marriage.

Simon looked over his shoulder. "Earl Grey alright?"

"Mmmm, lovely."

"Won't be a moment."

They settled at the table waiting for the water to boil. Simon steepled his fingers beneath his nose. "I do not mean to pry, but out of professional interest, what were the troubles of your older daughter? From what Dawn said…"

Joyce gave him a searching look. "Why don't we play twenty questions. I feel you know a lot about me, and I know hardly anything about you."

He nodded in acknowledgement. "By all means."

"You wear a Saville row suit and a very expensive ring and yet you drive in a seventeen year old car. Please explain."

Simon smiled, glancing at the ring. "Nice one. I am what is called independently wealthy. But I found that I have little desire to invest in conspicuous consumption. And if I drive an old Volvo I am less likely to be robbed or have it stolen or get myself kidnapped. Satisfactory answer?"

Joyce nodded. "Quite. Shall I answer your initial question?"

Simon shook his head, sipping his tea. "Let's get to know each other a bit. Tell me about your immediate family. No need to go deep into the history."

Joyce rose and got a picture from the living room. Three women were on it, Joyce, a smaller woman with the same nose and oval face but with freckles and strawberry blonde hair and a bit slighter in build. And one with very similar features to Buffy but a stronger nose and darker hair.

"That's me and my sisters, Arlene is the oldest by about a year and a half. I'm older by thirty-six minutes than Lolly. That's Charlotte, Lolly is my name for her. We're fraternal twins. My parents are Cecelia and James Ellis both still alive, my dad used to be a lawyer in Imperial, Imperial county. He's mostly retired."

Simon nodded, digesting the facts.

"Your turn.""What about your family?"

"I was born in 1944. My parents are both dead. My mother died when I was eighteen, my father about twenty-five years ago. As far as I know I have no living relatives except a few cousins many times removed that I have never actually met beyond a very casual handshake. We've been working in the family business for generations."

"I see." *Fourteen years older than me. He doesn't look it.* "Your turn."

"I think I'd like to know how you identified my ring so quickly."

Joyce smiled. "I used to be a senior acquisitions and appraisal expert for Christie's. I specialized in Jewelry and nineteenth and twentieth century art."

Simon nodded. "An interesting and I would assume quite well paid job."

Joyce smiled, a trifle sadly. "Yeah. Yeah it was." She shook herself. "So tell me about the ring."

In answer Simon took it off and handed it to her. "You first." He winked at her and she arched an eyebrow.

She ran her fingers over it, studying the finely filigreed work around the seal."Italian imitation goldsmith's work. The stone is…" She looked closely. "The stone has to be a garnet, if it were a ruby… It's a copy of the Victory of Achiles over Hektor from the de Medici collection, a very good example, best I've ever seen… Early nineteenth century, French by the makers mark, made for the grand tour?"

"Quite right, except that it was privately commissioned." He decided not to add that it was a ruby.

Joyce puffed out her chest. "See? I'm good!" She handed the ring back and he put it on.

"Now I'd like an answer to my initial question. Unless you find it too intrusive…"

Joyce shrugged. "Sometimes it is good to unburden yourself to a sympathetic stranger." She took a deep breath. "Buffy ran away from home after setting fire to a school gym. She claimed it was full of vampires and that she was a predestined supernatural being chosen to destroy them. She was almost taken way from us by Child Services. We had to put her into a mental hospital. She isn't very talkative about her reasons, but at least she no longer believes in vampires. Or at least I thought she didn't until the day before yesterday."

She took a deep breath, before he could make a remark on her previous answer and asked her own question. "You speak with a British accent and an eastern twang. Not a single California-ism Why are you driving around California in an old Volvo?"

He smiled at her in apparent delight. "My you are good at this. Nice open ended questions." He pursed his lips.""My residence of record is New York city. I was educated at Groton and Edinburgh as well as Leyden University. I cultivated the British accent to annoy my father, it has sort of stuck. I have property investments through out the country and I sometimes check up on them, using cars that are kept for me in facilities that I, or my company at any rate, own. I am quite fond of driving so I try and avoid chauffeurs. As I said previously I am here to check on some very distant relatives."

He looked at her and she nodded her satisfaction once more. "Your turn."

"When you talk about Buffy you are afraid for her. Why?"Joyce could feel her emotions welling up.

"I'd prefer not to answer that."

Simon nodded. "May I try?"

She looked at him askance, trying to hold back tears. "If you wish."

He looked at her thoughtfully. "Burning down a gym is going to get peoples' attention: police, child services, insurance companies, all sorts. They would not just let her walk away unmonitored, even after institutionalization. They would demand periodic check ups. You are afraid she will not pass them. Afraid they will take her away from you, put her in juvenile detention or in a state or federal institution."

Joyce gulped. "Yes."

"Your turn." His eyes were hooded and she decided to play it safe, hoping her move from the personal would tell him she wanted to talk about less personal things."What's your full name?"

"Simon Hendrick Coenraad Meier XV"

She blinked. "You pronounced that differently than before."He winked, rising to make the tea as the water started boiling.

"That is another question, so me first."

She smiled at him, hoping he had taken her hint when she did not answer before and would stop asking about Buffy.

"Do you have a psychologist or psychiatrist in mind to counter any demanded by the State?"

Joyce smiled bitterly. So much for hoping he'd leave well enough alone. "I found one, researched him and everything, but he's too busy. Can't take another delusional valley girl I suppose. Couldn't afford him now anyway."

He tilted his head at her. "Can I ask his name this time round?"

She nodded. "A Dr Ovrion. He's a specialist at delusions and alien abductions and such; I hoped that if he gave her a clean bill of health, they would let us be."

He nodded understandingly. "Your turn."

She wondered what she should ask? Maybe if she asked something equally personal he'd stop asking her questions she wasn't certain she wanted to answer. "You are rich and personable, like children. Why aren't you married with a slew of kids?"

She saw his face close down, as if a brick wall had gone up, heard him drag in a deep breath. "I suppose I deserved that." He gave her a wan smile. "I never met a woman before that I wanted to marry. Plenty who have wanted to marry Simon Hendrick Coenraad Meier XV, but none who wanted to marry me. And no, I am not homosexual. I did not have the best examples in parenting, my father was …not nice… and I fear I would not make a very good father to a modern day child. And my work keeps me very busy."

Joyce was surprised at the honesty of his answer, and a bit at the rushing, almost babbling delivery. Maybe this talking truth to a stranger was not such one way street after all. "I see. I can understand that I suppose. But I disagree that you would be a bad father."

He nodded his thanks. He removed the tea egg, drained it and poured her a cup of tea, then himself, adding a drop of lemon from the slice that Joyce had cut earlier. "May I help you?"

She blinked. "What?"

"The friends I was supposed to be staying with, they're called Dr Margaret Lawson and Dr Marcel Ovrion. If I ask, Marcel will at least make an assessment."

Joyce looked at him as if he had grown horns and a tail. "What?"

"I'm serious Joyce. Marcel's assistants sometimes make mistakes in their assessments, he does have a heavy caseload, and they shield him. But if I ask, he will talk to her."

"But you barely know me! You haven't even met Buffy! Why would you do this?"

"The kindness of strangers. Let me put it this way. Is Buffy coming home this afternoon?"

Joyce smirked despite herself. "She'd better, or she's going to be in such trouble." She ran a hand over her eyes. "Can you believe I was already called by her principal that she had been skipping classes?"

"Then let me talk with her. If I think Marcel will be able to help, let me intercede for you. If I think, with my medical training, that I would be wasting my and his time, I will tell you that. Deal?"

She gave him a long stare, finally extending her hand to grasp his. "Deal."

He smiled. "Your turn."

"The pronunciation thing. Explain Mayer and Meier." She stumbled over the second pronunciation.

"Well the basic answer is what just happened: easier to pronounce." He smirked at her glare, and then continued. "The long answer…" He sighed. "The family comes from the Alsace. We were called Maire or Le Maire back then. Became protestants in the 15th century, were persecuted, moved to Antwerp. Fled from there to the Northern Netherlands, a branch moved to New Amsterdam as Patroons in the early days of the seventeenth century, have been there ever since. The Dutch branch died out in the 1800's the London branch in the early 20th century. Leaving the American branch holding a tidy bucket of money and property all over the world."

Joyce gaped at him. "Holy shit." She suddenly blushed furiously. "Uhm sorry."

"No problem." He took a sip of his tea. His eyes twinkled over the rim. "So no need to feel guilty for the fact that I bought some icepacks. And I am buying supper tonight."

Joyce nodded, still overcome. "I suppose it would be useless to try and resist."

"Very much so." The eyes twinkled again.

A loud teenage voice sounded outside. "Don't worry guys, my mother won't mind. I know she bought some soda already. She wants me to make friends."

Simon lifted an eyebrow. "Buffy?"

"And friends apparently." She smiled hopefully, relief on her face. Buffy was making friends. A young blonde entered, followed by a lanky boy and a sweet looking red head in an outfit Joyce mentally categorized as "wince worthy".

He rose and put down his tea. "Mom, you remember Willow and Xander, can we go make homework in my room?"

Joyce eyed the three teens. Buffy noticed the stranger in the kitchen for the first time. The young red head looked at him as if he were somehow familiar but couldn't remember from where.

Joyce waved a hand at Buffy. "Simon, this is Buffy, my eldest daughter, these are her friends, Willow and Xander. The gentleman is Dr Simon Mayer, his car broke down out front and I invited him in."

Simon bowed slightly. "Simon Mayer."

Buffy extended a hand, shaking his firmly. "Buffy Summers."

The lanky boy came next. "Xander Harris."

The red headed girl shook his hand firmly. "Willow Rosenberg." She looked at him questioningly. "Are you famous? Only I seem to know your face from somewhere." The firm handshake became fluttery and she blushed. "Err… Not in a bad way you know, like the ten most wanted or you being a bank robber, its just you look sort of familiar and I was wondering if you were movie or TV star or something, you look like you could be a character actor…"

Simon gave a slight smile, interrupting the flow of babble gently. "I have studiously avoided being photographed in the past forty odd years miss Rosenberg. I doubt very much that you have seen me in any sort of thespian activity, and I am neither wanted by law enforcement nor am I a criminal."

The girl blinked, confused to be answered so fully. "Ummm. Okay."

Simon gestured at the plate of pastry. "Scone? I bought these earlier, they're quite good." Xander reached for a scone immediately, Buffy soon after, Willow after some hesitation, reached for a glazed one. The three teens made quick inroads in the pastry and discussed the day, complaining about their homework in the cases of Buffy and Xander, saying it wasn't really all that much in the case of Willow.

Buffy kept looking at the stranger in the kitchen, looking at the brown bag and the pile of luggage in the corner. "So, you going to be here long?" She asked finally unable to contain her curiosity.

Simon shrugged. "Joyce has kindly allowed me to stay for supper. I propose to buy Chinese. After supper I shall retire to my hotel." He fished in his trouser pocket, retrieving the note Joyce had written. "The Valley Palace?" He looked his question at Xander and Willow.

"Expensive place." Xander mumbled around a large bite of scone.

Simon looked at him indulgently. "Is it far from here? By which I mean should I order a cab or can I walk?"

Willow tilted her head. "I'd take a cab, walking with all that luggage would not be fun."

"I suppose not. I think I will take a stroll through the neighbourhood before I order supper." He rose, grabbing his shirt and cane, moving to the front door. He stopped looking slightly embarrassed. "Do any of you know anything about mobile phones? Apparently I need to recharge mine and the charger is currently at home…"

Buffy sniggered. "Where is it?"

"Left inside pocket of my jacket. I'll leave it to you then."

He left, whistling a small tune. Joyce casually retrieved the phone from the jacket and handed it to Buffy, whose eyes widened. "Well hello beauty! That is one expensive phone. Me likey. So not the sort of phone I expected mister Muscles to have."

Joyce frowned at her daughter "Mister Muscles?"Buffy flushed. "Err, you know what forget I said that. Willow, you got a Nokia, would your charger work for this?"

Willow took the phone and studied the charger socket. "Yeah, oughta." She dug into her voluminous bag, producing a charger with a triumphant smile. "Willow Rosenberg to the rescue!"

Willow plugged the phone in and the teens went upstairs to study after Joyce firmly put the plate of scones in the fridge. A few minutes later Simon reappeared, to see Joyce rinsing the cups, mugs and glasses."I thought the dishwasher was going to do that?"

"Works better if you rinse it first. At least to remove the lipstick." She pointed at Buffy's mug.

"Should I do some more cupboard cleaning?"

"Why don't you find a taxi to take you to the Hotel? I think Xander and Willow will know about a Chinese, taxis, I don't know."

He tilted his head, put his cane on the table and leafed through the brochure from the Chamber of Commerce again. "I think this thing has seen more use from you and me this past afternoon than it ever has in the history of its publication."

Joyce laughed. "If I'd known you'd have a break down I'd have insisted on getting a phonebook at the same time as the connection."

Joyce finished her washing up, made another pot of tea, set it on the table and watched Simon leaf through various mortuary and funeral directors. "What is this place, the center for all burials in California?"

Joyce smiled. "Be buried in beautiful Sunnydale?"

"There are more funeral directors in here than cab companies. I hope that is not a causal relationship."

"If it is, I'll take you to the hotel tonight." Joyce deadpanned.

He lifted an eyebrow and smirked. "A tempting offer; Ms. Summers."

Joyce blushed despite herself.

Simon lowered his eyes. "I apologize. I should not have said that."

Joyce reached across the table, touching his hand. "I don't mind." She decided to change the subject."So, if your picture has not been taken in forty years, where does Willow know you from?"

Simon scratched his chin with his left thumb. "I have avoided it, that doesn't mean pictures don't exist. The paparazzi are nothing if not insistent. And if she's read anything about the early history of America or New York there is plenty of chance that she ran into an ancestral portrait. We seem to breed quite true, the facial features, in general outline, appear from generation to generation." He rubbed a finger self consciously over his Greek nose.

"Well it is an attractive face, nothing to feel ashamed about." Joyce blushed furiously. "If you don't mind my saying so."

Simon smiled at her quirkily. "I don't mind."

Joyce decided to move the conversation to a less dangerous subject. "So your ring, it's an heirloom?"

He glanced at it. "The family has been collecting art for quite a while. The ring… It's a tradition for the oldest male to wear it."

"So you're not an art fan?"

"Oh, I am. Lets just say that the ring carries…mixed memories."

"So you visit a lot of museums?" The conversation thankfully went to art and exhibitions from there. Some time later Simon reached over to his jacket and took a fob watch out of the watch pocket, flipping open the engraved cover with a practiced thumb.

Joyce's eyes widened. "That's a Pitkin!"

Simon gave her an amused glance. "Are you going to appraise everything I own?" He glanced at the dial, undid the chain and handed watch and chain to Joyce, who took them reverently.

"Should I call the Chinese and order food? It's getting quite late." Joyce nodded; face shining as she opened the back cover to look at the movement. "I… umm would have invited Willow and Xander to stay…"

Simon rolled his eyes. "Joyce, I am hardly going to go broke from buying a couple of teenagers take away."

Joyce looked up from the watch, a little sad. "No, I meant…Hank used to… He didn't like to have…the girls' friends over when he was there."

Simon reached across the table, touching her wringing hands gently. "Sorry. I should not have presumed. I have no problems eating with a couple of extra teens." He smiled at her gently. "Shall we go ask them what they'd like and where we can get it?"

Joyce nodded, handing back the watch with a look that was a trifle regretful. He reattached the chain and replaced the watch in its pocket. "Sure, this way."

She led him through the living room up the stairs, knocking softly on Dawn's door. The younger girl was still asleep, now lying on her side, the atlas having slid of the bed. Simon picked up the book while Joyce gently shook her daughter's shoulder.

Dawn yawned, stretched and winced, running the palms of her hands across her eyes. "Ouch."

Joyce nodded sagely. "The cost of fighting, Dawnie, remember it for next time."

Dawn nodded, but did not seem at all contrite."Totally worth it."

"Dawn!" Simon stifled a snicker at Dawn's remark and Joyce's repressive reaction then tried to change his expression to one of innocence as Joyce turned her glare at him. "Simon!"

Simon coughed, extended a hand to Dawn and avoided Joyce's gaze. "Shall we go down, Oh rosy fingered Aurora, so that we may consider what food we would like from the local Chinese?"

Dawn jumped up, grabbing his hand. "Chinese, cool!" She dragged Simon out of the door as Joyce glared at them impartially. "So what is that rose fingered Aur what-sit?"

Simon smiled, looking at the still glaring Joyce. "I'll explain downstairs."

Dawn glanced at her mother. "Yeah. Ok."

"So what was homework?"

"Finding the capitol cities of Europe and writing a bit on their history." Dawn rolled her eyes.

"So did you find anything?"

Dawn replied gloomily. "I fell asleep. Got to do it later tonight." She sighed. "So no TV."

"Want me to help?"

Dawn looked up hopefully. "Would you? That would be cool."

"It would be my pleasure."Joyce sighed at the top of the stairs as she listened to the conversation. Hank never took time to help the girls with homework. She knocked on the door of Buffy's room. "You lot ready to order? Simon wants to know what to get."

The door was opened swiftly and Buffy's glance swept the hallway as if to check for enemies."Simon is ordering?"

Joyce shrugged. "He insisted. In exchange for the hospitality and help."

Buffy looked at her askance. "Willow and Xander too?"


Buffy snorted. "Sounds too good to be true."

Joyce looked at Buffy wistfully. "He does, doesn't he? Come down and help pick the food."

She turned and went downstairs, followed closely by her thoughtful daughter and her friends. They settled on Cho Mein, general Cho's chicken, Chop sue, ginger beef, Dim sum, Kung Pao chicken and egg foo yung. Joyce drew Simon aside as he went into the living room to make the call, since the teens were making too much noise to make himself heard. Dawn had run upstairs to get her homework assignment for later.

"Simon, its way too much."

He smiled. "You have a freezer and a microwave. It won't go to waste."

"Dammit Simon! A phone call and taking a message is not worth a couple of hundred dollars!"

Simon looked uncomfortable. "I have an ulterior motive."

Joyce crossed her arms, glaring. "Oh, so now it comes. What?"

He looked at the floor. "Joyce, you know when you are feeling a bit less down by the divorce and feel ready for it would you consider going out with me? You know, a date?"

She gaped at him. "What? Why?"

"You have just come out of a messy divorce, you have moved into a new house yet you walk outside to ask a total stranger if you can help him. You love your children fiercely and they love you. I think getting to know someone who is plain good as you, is, well even if we don't go beyond friends, though I really hope we can, I don't have that many friends Joyce." He blushed. "And you are beautiful." He looked up dark brown eyes meeting blue and his voice fell to a whisper. "So very beautiful."

She leaned in, blushing and kissed his cheek."Call the Chinese."

He blinked. "Umm. Okay." He placed the order, asking for the food to be delivered with plenty of rice and side dishes.

Joyce glared at him. "Even more food?"

"Xander looks hungry."She sighed, shaking her head. "Nothing too expensive."

He blinked again. "I beg your pardon?"

"The first date, and whatever you have planned. Nothing too expensive. Just a friends going to dinner in a normal restaurant."

He smiled crookedly. "I sort of thought you might think that way. Would you find it terribly unromantic if I let you call a secretary to figure out a date with her? She has a far better idea what my schedule is like than I do…"

Joyce grinned. "As long as you don't cancel it for a business meeting. I'll call her when I feel ready."

"Never for mere business."

There was a shout from the kitchen. "Are you two making out in there or something?"

Joyce laughed. "Don't worry Buffy we haven't gotten beyond first base yet." There was a strangled noise from the kitchen and hooting laughter from Xander. Joyce pushed Simon back into the kitchen.

Dawn thundered down the stairs seconds later carrying the atlas and her history textbook. "Dawn, if you want to see any TV tonight you'd better grab your homework partner and get to work."

The younger Summers' girl nodded and walked into the living room, wincing slightly. Buffy looked questioningly at her mother, taking in her sister's scratches and scrapes. "She got into a fight."

"Dawnie? In a fight? What about?"Joyce glanced at Simon.

"Defending the family honour."

Buffy's face crumpled as she realized her younger sister had fought about her. Simon rose and put a hand on her shoulder. "I think I hear the tow truck, maybe you can help me with the car?"

She nodded, unable to talk for fear of crying, not wanting to do so in front of her mother and new found friends. Something to do might help.The tow truck had indeed arrived. Buffy held a light while Simon and the tow truck operator maneuvered the car onto the tow, stood by Simon as it drove away.

"Buffy, I do not pretend to know what happened to you back in LA. I do know your mother is desperately worried about loosing you to Child Services."

She looked at him, mouth gaping open."There is a psychologist who specializes in your sort of cases. His name is Dr Ovrion. Your mother tried to get you assessed by him before."

"How the hell do you know?"

"She told me. Sometimes talking to a stranger is easier than to someone you know."

She looked at him measuringly. "And what is it to you?"

"I like Joyce. I like Dawn. I rather like you as well. I do not think you deserve to spend the rest of your life under observation in a psych ward."

Buffy audibly swallowed. "I don't want to. But I'm cured you know. Really I am!"

"Buffy, the psychologists the state employs in cases like this are quite well trained, very experienced. The institution your parents sent you to… that was a private one. They are paid to make you 'better' or have people believe you are 'better'. "

"Your point?"

"I am going to get you an appointment with Dr Ovrion. You will tell him the complete truth."

"The truth?"

"Yes the truth. What you really believe happened, and why."

"Last time I did that I ended up in an institution."

She slapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes widening in fear. Simon put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Tell Dr Ovrion the truth, including that. The whole truth. I promise he will take care of everything."

A single tear ran down her face. "Promise?"

He rubbed the tear off with his thumb. Then licked his finger and pressed his thumb against it. "Simon promise. And upon my word and honour as a gentleman." He handed her a large linen handkerchief which she used to wipe her face and blow her nose.

"My cousin does that, a Simon promise. She's never broken one of those; she says Simon promises are a sacred trust. So I'll trust you."

Simon smiled. "Thanks. It means a lot to me. I used to do that with the children in the wards if they wanted to know something was really going to happen." He smiled sadly. "I have never broken a Simon promise either."

"Well. Thanks. I think."

"We can go back in when you're ready. Umm, Buffy, can I ask you something? About your mother?"

"She likes Italian food."

He gazed at her thoughtfully, but with a smile. "You have very good ears. You don't mind me dating your mother?"

"I won't deny I think it's sudden. But if it makes her feel better."She glared at him. "But if you hurt her, I will make you wish you were that bloody gym, ok?"

Simon smiled. "Atta girl. Let's go back inside."

Simon sat on the couch with Dawn and her homework until the food arrived, telling her bits of interesting history of the capital cities of Europe. He made her look up each capital and write the stories down in her own words. She looked at him as if he was crazy when he told her about the catacombs of Rome and Paris and when he insisted Edinburgh be included as a capitol.

Buffy looked at them thoughtfully as Dawn listened breathlessly to a story about the French resistance cells who had hidden in the same catacombs that had once provided the stone for building the city and the storage of the bones of its dead. Willow asking permission with her eyes curled up on the couch next to him, listening avidly and even Xander showed an interest.

The conversation did not end after the arrival of the food, Joyce and Simon inquired into the goings on of the day and the way in which the three teens had actually dealt with the homework they had been complaining about. The slightly guilty looks on their faces showed that they had been discussing other things, but Joyce did not press them, though her smile showed she knew.

After dinner, or supper as Simon insisted on referring to it, Simon and Dawn sat at the kitchen table to finish her homework. Buffy, Willow and Xander went upstairs to finish theirs, with a silently admonishing look from Joyce to actually do so.

Once Dawn had finished her homework she settled in front of the TV in the living room and Joyce and Simon sat in the kitchen, the door closed.

"Have you come to a decision?"

"I will talk to Dr Ovrion."

Joyce sighed. "I won't be able to afford him more than once." She raised a hand. "And don't offer to pay for it. You're not her father."

He shrugged. "I won't offer. I would like to point out that an official evaluation is rather more expensive than a monthly visit."

Joyce twisted her mug of coffee in her hand. "You think it will help?"

"I think it will. Marcel is very good. And it is his specialty. Which is why you wanted him in the first place."

She gave him a wan smile. "True." She looked at the black surface of her coffee. "Thanks Simon." She sighed. "Now I have to tell her…"

Simon looked guilty. "Err…"

"SIMON! You didn't!" Joyce gave him a fierce glare and half rose, pointing an accusing finger at him.

He raised his hands in defense and shrunk a little in on himself. "I explained the way the authorities think about these things. She seemed amenable."

Joyce blinked. "She did?""I promised her it would be alright. On my honour as a gentleman. It may have helped she's scared to death of being institutionalized again."

Joyce winced. "Oh god."

"Marcel will probably want you to sit in on a session or two once they get to that."

"Won't that be pleasant."

She gripped her mug so hard Simon thought she might break it."You will have to talk about it one day Joyce or it will always stand between you. Not just say 'we thought it was best for you' but explain the fear of loosing her and willing to do anything to keep her."

She smiled grimly. "And driving her away from us…Me with that."

He shrugged. "She's here with you, not with Hank, nor is she a runaway."

"You're full of cheer."

"It's a gift." He looked at the clock. "I should be going to my hotel."

Joyce nodded. "Willow used her charger to charge your phone."

He smiled and picked it off the worktop, dialing the number he had written down earlier, ordering a taxi. After he had rang off he looked at Joyce. "Shall we join Dawn watching whatever loud thing she is watching?"

Joyce smiled. "If we don't you're going all maudlin' on me aren't you?"


He picked up his coat and luggage, carrying it to the front door, draping his coat and tie over a chair in the living room. Dawn eyed him from lowered eyes as Joyce sat next to her, sipping coffee. He took a business card, of thick creamy paper out of his pocket and wrote a number on it with a black fountain pen Joyce recognized as an early Mont Blanc. He wrote 'Call me!' beneath the number and underlined the words twice. He carefully screwed the cap back on, blew on the card and handed it to Joyce.

Dawn looked on closely as her mother accepted it with a grave nod. The taxi arrived, summoning the teenagers down to say goodbye. He shook firm hands with Willow and Xander. He shook Buffy's hand and then laid his other hand on top of their intertwined ones gave a comforting squeeze and an accompanying gaze.

He was about to shake Dawn's hand but she threw herself at him and gave him a hug around the middle which he returned with a soft smile on his face, careful to avoid her injuries. He bent to kiss Joyce's hand as she held it out and winked at her as she glared at him through her blush.

Dawn and Willow giggled, Buffy rolled her eyes and Xander seemed to be making careful mental notes.Xander helped carry the luggage to the taxi.

Simon got in next to the driver and waved as the car moved out of Revello drive. Joyce stood looking after it, an arm around Dawn, until it was entirely out of sight.

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The End

You have reached the end of "Stranger at the Gate". This story is complete.

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