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Lonely Souls

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Waifs and strays". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The second (much longer) installment in the Waifs and Strays AU. Covers season 1. Please READ THE SERIES INTRODUCTION!

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Joyce-Centered(Current Donor)vidiconFR1595738,6431501333353,08528 May 119 Mar 14No

Catharsis and climbing trees

Chapter 10: Catharsis and Climbing trees

It was Friday afternoon and Buffy bounced into the office of Marcel Ovrion. He rose and gestured at the fridge. “Good afternoon. Please, sit on the couch today. Coke?”

“Please. And good afternoon.” She sat on the comfortable couch.

He poured her a large glass of soda and smiled. “Buffy, I asked you in here first to brief you. I’m going to ask you leading questions. I want you to ignore everything supernatural in your answers, just tell her what they did, do not mention biting or bloodsucking, don’t be too graphic or descriptive. You’re a very bright young woman, so I think you will have no problems. I also think that if we give your mother some idea of what occurred before you burned down the gym it will allow her to understand you better.”

Buffy nodded. “I suppose…Ummm You’ll help when I mess up? And, umm shouldn’t we, you know do talk through what we are going to say?”

“Actually telling your mother like this will be good practice for the hearing later. If one is even needed, which I doubt.”

Buffy sighed. “Ok. I’ll trust you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything. Simon told you I would. And a Simon promise is a Simon promise.”

“You know Simon promises?” Buffy found the notion peculiar, if amusing.

“I have children.” He grinned. “Shall we get your mother in here?”

“Ok.”

Buffy looked up as her mother walked into the office. Marcel was standing by his desk, and walked forward to shake hands, smiling. “Ms. Summers. Please, take a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”

Joyce nodded. “Can I have a cup of tea?”

Buffy added dryly. “She prefers Earl Grey. The same brand Simon drinks. Can I have another coke?”

Joyce blushed lightly at the words. Marcel smiled and prepared the drinks, taking a cup of coffee for himself. “It’s a pity Mr. Summers could not be here. But I think we can make good progress with the three of us here.”  He sipped his coffee.

“What I’m planning to do next is unorthodox, but I’ve found it useful, cathartic if you will. I will ask Buffy about the things that occurred and that led to her actions. The session we’re going to have… I will not deny it will be hard on both of you. If you prefer we can take this more slowly, over several sessions.”

Buffy looked at her mother. “I-I’d like to get it over with… please.”

Marcel smiled slightly, a bit sadly. “I can imagine. Joyce?”

Joyce nodded, thoughtfully. “Whatever Buffy wants… I suppose…”

“We can stop if and when she wants to. You’ll tell us that won’t you, Buffy?”

Buffy nodded, her face resolute. “Lets do this.”

Marcel nodded. “Very well.” He took another sip of his drink, as if to fortify himself, looked at the two women and his coffee again. “Now Buffy, I’m going to ask you some questions and Joyce, I want you just to listen. Try not to interrupt.” He rose and picked up a squeeze ball from his desk. “Hold on to that and squeeze as hard as you want when things get too bad for you.”

Joyce nodded, her expression doubtful.

“Buffy, you told me you met a gang. When did you first encounter them?”

“I was, umm well.” She blushed and looked at her mother. “Going on a sort of date with this guy and I saw these other guys and they were… beating up a tramp… real bad.” She swallowed as the memory returned to her. *I didn’t think it’d be this bad remembering. Killing vamps, that’s one thing… but what they did… Oh God…*

Joyce squeezed her ball.

“What did you do?”

“I yelled for them to stop, and they stopped beating up the tramp. And then they came towards us and we ran and… they followed we got in my date’s car and drove off.”

“Did you meet them again?”

“They hung around the school. Looking for… fun” She took a large gulp of her drink, then put the glass down.

“What sort of fun?”

“They liked hurting people. Beating them. Cutting them.”

“Did they sexually assault people?”

Buffy closed her eyes tightly and shivered. “Yes.”

“Did you see that occur?”

“I saw what they had done… found some victims ” She swallowed. Joyce’s fingers were white as they dug into the ball.

“People you knew?”

“School mates… classmates…. A girl called Kathy from my Cheerleader squad. She was so pretty…they cut her… after… after…” Tears were running down Buffy’s face.

Joyce was pale and her eyes were very wide, lips pressed so strongly together that her mouth was a mere fold in her face.

“What happened to Kathy?” Marcel asked gently but inexorably.

“She died.”

“What did the police do?”

“They said was not related. Not one gang. They did nothing. They were just runaways. Accidents. They did nothing.”

“And that made you mad.”

“Yes.”

“And your parents…”

“Were fighting.” Buffy looked down, not meeting her mother’s distraught gaze.

“Did you tell anyone then?” Marcel asked gently.

“There was guy I’d met in the park. An older man, I’d met before, John Merrick. I was crying one day and he sat next to me. Mom and dad had had a big fight and… He was a nice man and he listened.”

“So you told him about the gang?”

“Yes.”

“How did he react?”

“He listened. Helped me deal. We talked.”

“The gang was mostly younger members?”

“Yes.”

“But it had a leader?”

“Yes. Older. Richer. Evil. More evil”

“I see. Buffy, when did you first meet the leader of this gang?”

“I was walking home from school… He was hurting a guy.” Buffy swallowed.

“Did he say anything to you? Do anything?”

“He said I looked like a lovely morsel… That he couldn’t wait to taste me… He ki-killed the guy and then he walked to me and I ran…” Buffy’s tears ran down her face and he handed her a tissue.

“He caught you.”

“Yes.” Buffy whispered.

“Did he touch you?.”

Buffy drew her feet up on the couch and cried into her knees. Joyce threw her stress ball against the wall where it split from the force of the impact, raining down the gritty contents and rose from her seat on the couch, moving next to Buffy so fast she seemed to blur.

“I’m here honey, I’m here. Don’t worry, no one will hurt you, I’m here.” Joyce whispered fiercely.

Buffy sobbed into her shoulder. Joyce glared at the silent psychiatrist. “Don’t you dare say a word.”

He gave her a small smile. “I won’t.”

After a few minutes Buffy calmed down. Joyce kept a hold of her. She looked at Marcel. “Does she… can she…”

“By all means, your mother may hold you. But let us continue. He caught you. What did he do?”

“His hands… all over me.” Buffy swallowed and Joyce hugged her closer, wiping at the tears running down her daughter’s face.

Buffy drew a deep breath. “I got away. The nice man… Merrick… he gave me self defence training.”

Joyce smiled approvingly and murmured. “Well done him.”

“Did you meet him again, this gang leader?” Marcel addressed this to Buffy.

“He… said he liked me… I was feisty… fun… good to play with…” Buffy swallowed convulsively, grabbed her coke and drank.

“He chased me… Followed me… taunted me… His gang kept hurting people.” Tears ran down her face and Joyce held her, murmuring soft words of solace as she tried to keep her own tears contained.

“And what happened then?”

“I was talking to Merrick about what we could do…And then they showed up. They… he was going to torture Merrick and… get my name and stuff… Merrick” Buffy started sobbing again and Joyce held her, rubbing her shoulders and back, an angry glint in her eyes.

“Merrick killed himself. Shot himself… With his old army gun. But he had my address and they found it.” Buffy gulped in great breaths of air and sobbed again.

“How did you find out they had your name and address?”

“He followed me home… and Mom… she picked up Dawn from school… and he said… he said he was going to… r-rape them both… all of us, in front of each other.” Buffy sobbed hysterically into her mother’s shoulder and Joyce held her close, hugging her as if there would be no tomorrow, her face white and strained with anger and anguish.

Marcel was quiet as Joyce comforted her daughter as best she could. He could see the towering rage in the older woman and knew that at least part of that anger was directed at him, for making Buffy relive these things, a lot at herself, for being unaware of the depth of her daughter’s trauma, at the institution they’d sent her to, that had dealt with it so inadequately and most of all at the man who’d inflicted the pain. It took Joyce almost ten minutes before Buffy was capable of speech again, before Marcel thought it possible to continue.  

“And what did you decide to do?” the psychiatrist asked gently.

“The police wouldn’t listen before. I knew they wouldn’t do anything.” Joyce shivered at the steely resolve in her daughter’s voice. *Oh merciful God. What did she do?*

“They were in the school gym, it was prom night. They had a couple of friends of mine, held them in the locker rooms. I got them out through the windows.”

“And then?”

“I confronted the son of bitch.” Buffy said it with obvious satisfaction and Joyce shuddered at the cold, hard rage in her voice. “I shot him. A couple of candles fell over as some of his gang ran about and set fire to the gym.”

“The gang was inside?”

“Or they ran. I didn’t really care at the time.” Buffy felt her mother’s arms stiffen around her, then tighten. *Well Mom, your little girl is a killer. Now you know. Thanks Marcel.*

Marcel nodded. “Thank you Buffy. I realize it was very difficult for you to talk about this, especially in front of your mother. Maybe you’d like to freshen up? There’s a washroom through that door.” Joyce was sitting stiffly, her face an expressionless mask, her arms still tightly if gently holding Buffy. As Buffy made to rise she let her go with difficulty, her hand trailing along Buffy’s arm and hand until the girl was out of reach. The washroom door closed. Joyce’s face collapsed and Marcel knelt by her, putting her arms around her.

“I’m sorry you had to hear that Joyce. But it was necessary for you to understand.”

“You knew! You FUCKING KNEW WHAT THE BASTARDS DID TO MY LITTLE GIRL!!! YOU ASSHOLE!!! How could you put her through that!” Tears of rage ran down Joyce’s face and she pounded her fists on the psychiatrist’s shoulders and chest. Marcel winced.

“I had a fairly good idea yes. I… pieced things together from the police and FBI reports, a friend of mine, a profiler with the FBI, helped. If you want I can show you a condensed version…”

“Show me.” Joyce eyes were stormy with anger. 

He rose, walked to his desk, unlocked a drawer and took a sheaf of papers from it, handing them to Joyce.

“You can take these with you, if you keep them from Buffy for now. And I want you to realize that these are… heavily edited.”

Joyce glared at him. “Edited? How? Why?”

“No names of victims, or locations. And no precise descriptions of the things they did…” He swallowed heavily. “Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot of evil things in my practice Joyce and this is… real bad.” 

Joyce grimly nodded. “Would they have… done… what Buffy said to Dawnie?”

“Yes. Oh God, I wish I could say no.” The psychiatrist rubbed his own face with his hands. “Page nineteen.”

Joyce flicked through the stack until she reached the page, came to the short summary of a case in Nevada. Female, nine years old. Sexually abused and tortured for several days. Cause of death: bled out and cut about the neck. Traces of cannibalistic practices. 

Joyce flipped through the rest of the pages, her face growing ever more pale and strained. “How many?”  She finally whispered.

“We think they worked their way west from Chicago. At least 16 deaths in California alone, 34 persons missing whom we presume to be their victims in California. At least 40 more in the rest of the country, but numbers are imprecise.”

“Oh my God…”

“Joyce… I don’t say this lightly…But if anyone was caught in that fire, and the fire department found no traces inside, even then Buffy did not kill people. She put down rabid animals. Most of the cases of Loudun, in modern society, are because of relatively mild actions. We have become less resistant to brutal treatment in the past century. But this case… I can’t give you my analysis now Joyce. And I am by the way, having you make an appointment with me or a colleague, to talk about this. I am very sorry you had to go through this Joyce…”

“I understand why you had to. I…fuck it. If I’d been Buffy I’D ‘VE KILLED THE MOTHERFUCKING SON OF A BITCH MYSELF!!!” She threw the file against the wall.

Buffy opened the door as her mother’s scream reached its crescendo and she reared back, eyes wide. “M-Mom? Are you alright?”

Joyce strode to Buffy, gathering her into a warm embrace. “I love you honey. And you’re very brave. But if you ever do anything like that again, I will spank you until your butt shines in the dark.”

Buffy blinked at Marcel, who shrugged as if saying, ‘Don’t ask me’.

“M-Mom?”

“Do you realize what those bastards could have done to you? If I find out you even talk to a jaywalker I’m gonna tan your hide!”

Buffy, still held firmly in her mother’s arms began to sob and giggle at the same time. “Oh Mom…”

“I’m serious young lady! You’ll not be able to sit for a week.” Buffy snuggled into her mother’s shoulder and Joyce led her to the couch after a minute or so.

Marcel sat opposite them again, having reclaimed the stack of papers from the floor. “Now… Joyce understands your reasons Buffy. Joyce…I think you should explain to Buffy why you, and Hank, did what you did.”

Joyce sighed and Buffy felt her stiffen again. ”Yes. Yes you’re right.” She straightened her shoulders and leaned back, closing her eyes. She kept her arm loosely around Buffy and took a deep breath.

“We were visited by the police, child services, you name it. Buffy…wasn’t talking to us. I can’t blame her, we hadn’t listened to her before, hadn’t paid attention to anything but, well lets say Hank and I did not get along at all well.”

She took another deep breath, her eyes still closed. “At first I thought that she was just reacting to the troubles at home. I thought we’d take her to see a psychiatrist, talk to her, explain why Hank and I were not getting along. Then… Hank read her diary. He went ballistic. I got really worried. I’d read about some of the cases this gang seems to have perpetrated. I knew about Loudun from earlier reading, I studied a bit more. I tried to get Hank to read about it… He wouldn’t accept it. He said I’d filled her mind with silly notions and that she had to accept that she was a normal girl with normal parents who were going through a divorce. I gathered up all I could and sent it to your office… I got a negative reply.”

Marcel nodded. “One of my assistants vetted it. The case is highly atypical. Most Loudun sufferers are rather apathetic about their experiences, it is very rare for one to take action against their tormentors as Buffy did. So she called. Apparently she talked to your husband…”

Joyce’s eyes opened very wide. “He never told me…” Buffy swallowed, feeling tears come to her eyes.

“I’m sorry to say he called me everything from a charlatan to a con artist, that his daughter was just having trouble adjusting to the reality of her parents’ breakup and, well let’s just say my assistant was less than amused and advised that the case be refused.”

Joyce closed her eyes again, her mouth tight with anger. She was silent for a bit “By the time the refusal came… You had run away. Child services were going to take you, they were going to put you into juvenile detention, they thought we couldn’t control you. They were looking into taking Dawn as well… I panicked. I screwed up. I let Hank convince me that our best option was to send you to Overton. Child services and the court agreed. I was so tired… The fights, the anger, the things Hank said…”

Joyce’s tears ran down her face. “I gave in. I let you be taken. I could see the fear in your eyes, the disbelief when we had you taken there, the hate…and when you came back… I should have fought harder Buffy… Oh Buffy I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” Joyce collapsed into incoherence and this time it was Buffy who offered comfort.

“Mom, Mom, It’s alright. It’s alright. Mom I love you. You did what you could, please Mom.”

It took Joyce several minutes to regain some composure, enough to go on. Her voice was strained and teary. “Every time I went to Overton, you were always sleeping, or drugged. They used so many drugs. They tied you down. I told Hank; he said they had to do it, to make you face reality…” She sobbed again, shuddering violently. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Y-you came to visit me?” Buffy looked at her mother in amazement. “I thought I dreamt that… I thought…”

“Twice a week. They wouldn’t let me see you at first… And then you were always so heavily drugged… Oh Buffy…” Joyce put her hands on either side of her daughter’s face and her forehead against Buffy’s. “You cried out and struggled and… I let them, I left you there. I knew it was wrong… I’m so sorry.” She gulped. “I understand… I understand what you’re feeling… how you felt… I know I screwed up… Maybe one day…”

Buffy took her mother in her arms, holding her tight. “Oh Mom… I’m so sorry. You did what you could. You couldn’t let them take Dawnie. She’d have been destroyed. Please, Mom, please stop crying…” She looked helplessly at the psychiatrist who rose and got two glasses of water, holding one out to each woman.

“Drink, slowly. Take deep breaths.” Both took the glasses and drank as instructed. It took a while for Joyce’s breathing and tears to get back under control. Buffy took her mother’s hand.

“Mom. It was that day a long time ago.” Buffy smiled gently as she spoke the words.

“W-what?”

“The day I forgave you. It came when you told me you quit your job and were moving us to Sunnydale so I could go to school, live a normal life. When you used everything you’ve worked for since college to pay the costs of that gym when the insurance wouldn’t cover it.” Joyce looked up, eyes wide, mouth open as if to speak. Buffy put her fingers on her mother’s mouth. “I’m a teen Mom. I’m nosy. You… left the papers out on the desk in your study back in L.A.” Buffy blushed slightly.

She took a deep breath, looking into her mother’s eyes. “Mom, you gave up everything for me… your savings, investments, your job, your life… You took Dawn and me to Sunnydale to give us the best possible life you could. And I’m… Oh Mom please forgive me… I’m so sorry…” She started crying again and Joyce hugged her close.

“I love you Buffy. And there’s nothing to forgive.”

Marcel snorted. “Joyce… give your daughter credit for her intelligence. There is something to forgive.”

Buffy smiled a watery smile and nodded. “Mom, please…”

Joyce let out her breath. “Very well. I admit I was upset I had to quit my job to get you into a good school. The rest… that is just money. The move, that was hard on Dawn. However it’s also had it’s definite upside. You’ve been happier at the new school, since the divorce, you seem closer to your new friends, even after a few weeks, than you ever were to anyone but Celia. Dawn is very happy in Sunnydale now, certainly better than she was in LA, but that might just be because she can’t hear Hank and me fighting anymore. And erm… there have been erm… beneficial side effects for me as well.” She blushed, glancing at Marcel who seemed to be suppressing a grin.

Buffy felt no need to do so, smiling . “Simon kissage side effects. Also Simon sleep over-y side effects.”

“Buffy!” Joyce blushed more deeply at her daughter’s brashness and glanced at Marcel again, who now looked distinctly amused and was unable to suppress his grin this time.

Covering her embarrassment Joyce hugged her daughter. “I forgive you. I love you.” She held Buffy at arm’s length. “And if I ever find out you’re doing stuff like you did again, you will need pillows to sit on for a week!”

Buffy smiled. “’K, Mom, understood. And I forgive you and I love you.”

Joyce hugged her again. “I’m going to freshen up a little, if you don’t mind.”

She rose and went to the small washroom. Buffy leaned back on the couch, sighing despondently. “If she ever starts believing I’m the Slayer my butt is soooo toast.”

Marcel took a sip of his cold coffee and grimaced. “She was serious? About the spanking? She doesn’t’ seem the type to use punishments like that…”

“She never threatens to spank unless she is serious. And she will act upon the threat, this I know from experience.” She flushed a little and rolled her eyes. “I can’t even say it wasn’t deserved.”

Marcel grinned. “I’m not going to ask what you did.”

“I’m not telling.”

“Well, at least now you have some physical advantages…”

 “You’ve never seen my Mom in full punishment mode. I’m not even sure my Slayer strength would help.”

Marcel grinned. “It’s good to know one’s limitations. I assume you wish to freshen up after your mother? How do you feel now?”

“Better. This… cleared the air. I never thought telling Mom what it was like would be so… well liberating.”

“You never told anyone before, did you?”

“No. Who’d have listened? Your removal of the supernatural angle really helped.” She drained her glass of soda.

He bowed in his chair. “Thank you. More coke?”        

“Hmm, please. I need fluids. Haven’t cried this much in… well since Overton.”

He poured a glass. Joyce came back in and Buffy went into the washroom to wash her face and repair her make up. Joyce sat and drank her cold tea.

“Thank you.” She looked at the dark, slightly bitter dregs left in her cup. Marcel took it from her and poured it into the sink in the kitchenette, pouring her a fresh cup of hot water and adding some loose tea.

“It’s my job. Some days it’s a better one than other days. Joyce…?”

“Yes?”

“This was a very good day. I’m impressed, very impressed with both of you. And I hope you will forgive my methods.”

“Thank you. You’re forgiven. I must admit I’m surprised that you use the Dr. Phil Method of confrontational treatment however.” She gave him a smirk and he groaned.

“I never should have let Margaret talk me into doing that show...”

“So. Are we done for today?”

“We achieved what I wanted to achieve. And you must be worn out. So yes. You have other plans?”

“Just dinner at home. We may get Chinese if we’re home late.” She rolled her eyes. “And Simon has gone all builder and masculine and wants to make a treehouse for Dawn. So there will plenty of bruised thumbs to tend to.”

Marcel grinned broadly. “I almost feel tempted to come and see that.”

Buffy came in and smiled. She’d restored some of her make up but the traces of her crying were still visible. “Right. All presentable.”

“Then I’d like to say that both of you are remarkable women. And I think you both realize that you are there for each other. And on that unusually happy note, we’ll call it a day.” He smiled broadly.

“I’ll just give you something to help you sleep if needed.” Marcel rose and walked to a locked safe. “I dislike the use of medication in my treatments, but in this case I’ll make and exception.” He sat at his desk, wrote to prescriptions and handed two boxes to Joyce.  “No more than one a day and no more than one week of use. Pill dependency is not the goal here.”

Joyce smiled and took the packets. “Understood. C’mon Buffy, time to get home.”

BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS

Xander arrived at the Summers house after school, Willow in tow.

“Ah, Xander, Willow. Just the people I was looking for.”

“Oh?” Xander looked wary.

“Oh yes… please follow me.” He led them to the backyard where a large pile of lumber was lying beneath an oak.

“I have liberated this wood from the skip at Hooghwater and I propose we use it to build an arborial residence for Aurora.”

“Err… what?” Xander looked a bit confused.

Willow giggled. “We’re gonna build a tree house for Dawn!”  

“Indeed.” Simon pointed at the toolbox at his feet. “Wanna help?” Xander and Willow grimaced at his failed attempt at a California accent. Simon shrugged and took a drawing from his back pocket. “Now I’m not proposing a Disney like Robinson construction. Something large enough for Dawn to seclude herself with one or two friends,” He gestured at the pile of wood resting at the foot of the large oak. “This looks like the most solid tree to me. We’ll use one or two uprights to support it so we don’t put too much weight on the branches and we can use them for solid ladder supports as well.”

Willow and Xander nodded. “Xander, why don’t you cut some of the diagonals and crossbeams we’ll need, measure the width between the branches.”

Xander grinned and took out a measuring tape. Willow’s face scrunched up in thought.

“Diagonals. Triangles. Supports…” She gave Simon a look. “You’re making Xander see the math and physics in the real world.”

“Yes. And we’re building Dawn a tree house.”

“Have you ever built one before?”

“Some shelters during military training nothing really solid. This has to be solid; we don’t want Dawn falling through the floor with her friends after pigging out on Ben&Jerry’s.”

There was an angry squawk from a nearby bush. Willow giggled nervously and Simon grinned. “Dawn, if you want to sneak up on people and listen to their conversations hot pink is not a good colour. And you need practice on the sneaking as well.”

He turned towards the bush, arms crossed and Dawn sulkily and somewhat shamefacedly came out of it, followed by Janice who dragged her feet and looked embarrassed.

“You said that on purpose.” Dawn said it accusingly.

“I did, it was a ruse.”

“It was mean!” She glared at him and Willow stifled a giggle.

“And listening in on our conversation wasn’t?”  

Dawn flushed. “Ok, so that was bad too. But I mean; the falling through the floor thing. We’re not fat!”

Simon laughed. “No indeed, I’d say you were of excellent weight for your height. Do you two want to help?  Xander might need someone to hold the measuring tape…”

The two girls exchanged glances and then both walked over to Xander. A few minutes later the girls were agilely seated on the proper branches, dropping measuring tapes down to Xander, Simon was up on a ladder and Willow was handing up tools.

Joyce and Buffy arrived home quite late to the sounds of laughter coming from the back yard. Joyce drove the jeep up the drive way and Dawn bounced up to it. “Hi Mom! Hi Buff! Had a good trip?”

Joyce got out of the car and smiled at her youngest, covered in bark marks, bits of leaf, wood splinters and sawdust. “Very good. And how was your afternoon?”

“Way cool! Simon’s building me a tree house. Xander fell out of the tree. Twice. Willow’s got a splinter and being a baby about it and she fell out too. And Simon’s going to order Chinese so you have to say what you want like right now. Otherwise Xander says he’ll starve.”

Buffy laughed and took Dawn’s hand. “Let’s go see this tree house of yours. And order Chinese before Xander eats his own leg.”

Joyce looked with some amazement at the structure in the tree, it was far further advanced than she had thought and looked remarkably solid. Xander was leaning against the garage covered in the same mix of building debris as Dawn but seemed quite happy, sipping a soda. He winked at her and she ruffled his already unruly hair and as usual his eyes widened a bit. He straightened but did not seem to mind her caress. *The boy is starved for affection. Is there any child in this town that had a normal childhood?* Joyce sighed as she looked at the scene before her, gave Xander a quick shoulder hug and went to deal with the medical drama.

Willow was looking woeful, as only she could and whimpered as Simon reached for her hand, a set of tweezers in the other and Willow backed away into the tree, hand behind her back. “No! It’ll hurt.”

Simon smiled encouragingly. “Willow, if we get it out now there will be les swelling and chance of infection…”

“No, please?” Willow’s lower lip trembled.

Joyce smiled and intervened. “Come on dear, we’ll go soak it in washing soda and then I’ll get it out. You’ll hardly feel a thing. Don’t worry.”

Willow gave her a hopeful look. “Promise?”

“Promise.” She held out her hand for Simon’s tweezers and he gave them up with a smile. She kissed him lightly on the lips and there was a general groan from the older teens. She took Willow into the kitchen, prepared a soda wash bath with hot water and soaked Willow’s index finger in it.

“So… Want to tell me why you didn’t want this removed?”

Willow blushed. “I got a splinter when I was five when Xander and I were playing in the yard, from the fence. And I went to my Mom to get it taken out, ‘cause it hurt. Mom… Mom’s really bad at it, it hurt a lot.”

“I see. Well, that’s understandable enough. But I really can’t imagine Simon being bad at it…”

Willow sighed. “I know. I just, panicked. And Xander talking about amputation did not help.”

Joyce smiled, rolling her eyes. There was a thump and an ‘ouch’ from outside and then the sound of Dawn’s laughter and Buffy’s complaints that it wasn’t funny. “That sounded like Buffy landing. Did Dawn or Janice fall out?”

“No, Simon’s really careful, he made sure they always held onto the branches or stood on the floor.”

“Why am I not surprised? Shall we try this?”

Willow nodded, biting her lower lip. Joyce gently tweezered the splinter out and Willow looked on in amazement. “I hardly felt that!”

Joyce smiled. “Lolly and I got splinters all the time. You learn to deal with them.”

Willow smiled at her radiantly. “Thank you!” She gave Joyce a quick hug and ran outside. “See Xand! No amputation!” She waved her finger at the boy.

Joyce laughed and shook her head. Simon stepped into the kitchen. “I’ve finished inventorying the food wishes except for yours.” He handed her a bit of paper with the choices in builder’s pencil and Joyce noted that there were several of her favourites on it.

“That’ll be fine.”

 “I’ll call the Chinese now.”

“Okay. I’m just going to go upstairs and take out my contacts. My eyes got tired with driving.”  She noted him swallow. For some strange reason the Moment she went from Joyce without to Joyce with glasses he seemed to lose his self control. She kissed him again and walked upstairs. She rather relished that she could reduce him to a horny puddle when she looked at him over her glasses. She really had to dress like a librarian and see how he’d react…

Dinner was eaten in the garden and Joyce allowed herself to be cornered by Simon behind the oak tree, out of sight of the children. The eye rolling and groans from Buffy, Willow and Xander told her that they very well knew what their elders would be doing.

They emerged from behind the tree, slightly mussed, after a few minutes. Simon climbed up the ladder to the treehouse to inventory what was to be done the next day and Xander followed him. The girls helped Joyce carry the dishes into the kitchen, storing the leftovers.

“I think the roof will be finished tomorrow, and then we can start varnishing the outside and lay the electricity, put in the door and windows, make it a little home.”

“Luxury tree accommodation.” Xander grinned.

“It has to feel like a real home to Dawn, or part of her home. I can’t imagine letting her use it otherwise, considering this is Sunnydale.”

“Oh, yes. Yeah. I see your point.” He ran a hand over an upright. “You gonna use magic on it? Are there things like protection spells?” He spoke softly, even though Joyce was on the other end of the yard, talking to Willow about planting the garden.

“Yes. I’ve put some on already.”

Xander grinned broadly. “And you didn’t show Wills? Heh, she’s going to be very disappointed.”

“Xander…” Simon looked at the boy whose smile lessened at the serious tone in the older man’s voice.

“Yeah?”

“Those bruises on your arms… You didn’t get them from falling out of the tree. And they’re too fresh to be from the Mantis lady…”

“I’m accident prone.”

“You fall into your father a lot? Or your mother?”

Xander gasped, sucking in his breath, eyes going wide. “W-what?”

“I know the signs Xander. Don’t lie to me.”

Xander sank down onto the floor, suddenly boneless. “And what are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing if you don’t want me to. I’d like to report it to the police, the appropriate authorities. And I want to check you over, maybe take a few x-rays.”

Xander huddled down; Simon knelt next to him, putting his arms around him. “Why are you being so damned nice? Why the fuck do you care?”

Simon gently firmed the one armed hug. “Language, Xander, Joyce doesn’t like swearing. As for why… Xander, do you think that child abuse only happens in Sunnydale, in the Harris household? Do you think you’re the first?” His voice broke on the last word.

Xander blinked at the older man. “Man… I never figured…”

“Most people don’t. They see money and the façade it can buy and think there must be happiness behind it.”

“So your dad beat you?”

“No. He used words.” The older man’s mouth twisted and his eyes grew dark with memories.

Xander shuddered “Mine loves to talk me down too. Mom’s…the same. He doesn’t hit me all that often anymore really, now I’m bigger.”

“Look on the bright side Xander. At least your father cares enough to beat you himself. Mine had people to do it for him.” Simon’s voice was soft and humorous, but Xander could feel the pain that lay underneath it. “But I want you to know, to understand, I know where you’re coming from, and I’m here when you need me. And I’m very sure Joyce feels the same way. Ok?”

Xander closed his eyes, tears leaking from between the lids and nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Simon got out his handkerchief and handed it to Xander to dry his tears and blow his nose. “I gotta get down; we’re going to the Bronze.”

“Have fun.”

Xander nodded, his normal smile back on his face. “There will be pretty girls and dancing and hopefully a band that does not suck.”

Simon smiled. “The essence of young male happiness. Come on, let’s get down.”

The elder teens went off to the Bronze and Janice would stay over with Dawn. Joyce saw to it they were at least in bed on time, even though she doubted that they would actually sleep. She stayed up, cuddling and reading with Simon until Buffy and Willow came home. The girls went upstairs and Joyce knocked on the door some time later, to see both of them lying in bed, waiting to be tucked in. Most nights she knew Buffy merely tolerated the tucking in so Willow would not feel embarrassed, but tonight her oldest daughter seemed as eager as the petite redhead. As she bent over her daughter Buffy gave her a tight hug.

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, Buffy.”

Buffy whispered in her ear, so softly Willow could not hear. “Could you hug Wills too, she’s looking really sad.”

Joyce grinned and whispered back. “Sure love. Sleep well.”

Kneeling by Willow she gave the girl a good tight hug, tucked her in well, put her tatty bear under her chin and gave her a motherly kiss on her forehead. Willow’s eyes, slightly teary when Joyce had first approached her were wide and her smile was luminous. “Goodnight Willow dear. Sleep well, both of you.”

She turned of the lights and went to her own bed, crawling up to Simon who was lying in bed with his arms behind his head. “Hello love. How are the children?”

” She sighed. “I feel sorry for Xander. From the things I hear he doesn’t have much of a family life. I wish I had a spare room, I think he feels left out with Willow staying over.”

“We could clear out the basement, paint it up. Put up some walls around the boiler…”

“I can’t afford that Simon…” Joyce sighed, torn.

“I can. And it wouldn’t be all that expensive. But first we need to know how Buffy and Dawn feel about it.”

“True. I think Dawn would love it. She’s crushing bad.”

Simon smiled. “Xander knows. He’s being very gentle.”

“I’ll talk to them tomorrow. So what did you talk about in the tree? I could see Xander’d been crying.”

“The joys of having fathers.” His voice was strained.

Joyce sat up, looking at his face. “Simon… is Xander being abused?”

“Yes. Emotional and physical abuse”

She touched his face with her hands and then drew it down to her shoulder, laying his head upon her breast. “And you could relate far too well…”

“Joyce…” His voice was pained and desperate, she could hear the hope that she’d drop it, and she knew that after the emotionally exhausting day she wasn’t up for it either.

“We won’t discuss it tonight. Later. But we will discuss it.”

“Thank you…For understanding.”

“I just think your father is lucky he’s dead. Otherwise I’d go give him a piece of my mind.”

Simon smiled at her wrathful expression. “I would have loved to have seen that.”

“Think you can sleep?”

“I’ve slept better in the past few days than I have in years… I think it won’t be a problem. I hope it won’t be one at any rate.” He sighed. “And from Monday I’ll be back at work in New York…” He hugged her tight and nuzzled her neck.

She tightened her own hold. “I’ll miss you.” She felt him smile. “And if you say ‘I’ll miss you more’, you can sleep on the couch.”

He laughed. “God, I love you.”

“I love you too.” She snuggled into him and he drew the duvet over them.

“This, as the children would say, is of the good.”

She thumped his chest lightly. “Simon…”

“I know, I know. I’m too old to carry of the youthful vocabulary.”

“I don’t think you ever were young enough.” She yawned. “This was a long day.”

“Hmmm. Sleep well love.”

“Good night sweetheart.”
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