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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)vidiconFR1598780,1331581492397,07528 May 115 Jul 14No

Of Moms and Mothers

Author’s note:

Last chapter Joyce finally learned of Buffy’s Slayerhood. I hope you all, or at least most of you, enjoyed it, found it believable at the least. It always seemed a waste of a perfectly good episode to me, not to use it to inform Joyce. As if they wanted to feed her to the nightlife at a later time.

I fear we’re still stuck in the “reproduction of episodes bit, but we’ll pass beyond it after we deal with the matters of I robot, You Jane. Mostly. Some dialogue is just too neat to be passed up…

Here we have a continuation I hope will make sense and be enjoyable.

Reviews are still welcome!

The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. And you can thank Twilightwanderer for the Abbott and Costello.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

 

Chapter 20:  Of Moms and Mothers

Three rather subdued teens, a rather subdued ten year old and a rather subdued fifty two year old gentleman sat at the dining room table in the Summers house eating breakfast in a formal way, with place settings and napkins. Joyce had slept badly and risen very early, told Simon to stay in bed and had prepared the repast.

The meal now finished, except for Willow sneaking bits of cheese, she sat at the head of the table while Simon sat opposite her, prepared to lay down the rules. Dawn and Willow sat at her right, Buffy and Xander at her left.

“To say I’m not happy about this is an understatement. But I can’t say that the situation is not also my fault. If I’d been more open minded and willing to believe…” She looked at Buffy. “I understand your reasons for wanting to keep silent considering the last time you told us…me…I understand and I forgive you.”

Buffy nodded a relieved smile on her face.

She looked at Simon. “We will talk later about parents taking responsibilities, like adults, to tell each other important things about their children. If one of the children had been drinking, you’d have told me…and I know the analogy is flawed, but we will lay down some rules for parenting as well. Later.”

Simon inclined his head in grave acceptance.

Joyce looked at the children. “Now, ground rules. First I want to make it clear, you live under this roof, then you abide by these rules. You all know rule one: No actions to hurt a sibling or another person. Those are almost inevitably spanking offences. This includes the worst such offences of a psychological nature.”

Xander raised a hand. “Err...may I ask what you mean?”

“Of course Xander. I mean bullying, hitting out verbally against a persons weaknesses…I’m certain there are words and phrases that would hurt you deeply, and we may on occasion unintentionally hurt each other, but to do so intentionally, that is a breach of Rule one.”

Xander nodded, thoughtfully. “I see.”

“Second ground rule has been changed.” Buffy perked up.

“Recklessly endangering yourself is still a spankable offence…if it is done by bad planning or true recklessness. That means that storming in to save a victim because otherwise that person would die is…”Joyce gulped and Buffy reached out a hand to take hers, squeezing lightly. Joyce nodded gratefully. “…allowed, if not always encouraged. I won’t be patrolling with you…I’m not in any shape to do so, but I will be listening and I will be talking to Simon and Mr. Giles.”

She met Buffy’s eyes and the girl nodded. “ ‘K Mom.”

“You will strive for backup…Simon’s bodyguards are aware of the supernatural and have volunteered to help you. Simon says he thinks you three may have some great mystic predestined role to play, but he also says prophecy can be so much hogwash. So I don’t know what to do with you two.” She looked at Xander and Willow.

She took a deep breath. “So here’s my offer. I won’t be able to keep you out of this, even if I don’t approve of your reasons. Vengeance is not a good motivator. You’ll be allowed to participate, as far as Buffy, Simon and Mr. Giles are willing to let you. BUT, all of you, including you Buffy, will take self defence and fighting lessons with Leo, that is Mr. Hurst, and his men.”

Xander and Willow perked up, Buffy looked interested.

“I understand Simon will be teaching you magic Willow?”

“Y-yes?”

“All the rules stand for magic use. I’ve agreed with Simon to be his executioner…I’m sure you understand what I mean.”

Willow gulped, paling. “Yes ma’am.” Buffy grinned slightly at her redheaded sister’s reaction.

“Buffy…you will tell an adult, me Simon, Mr. Giles, not just one of the guards except in an emergency, if and when you’re going out to patrol. If you’re running late, you will call in at the earliest opportunity. Hurst will be training you in tactics and communications.”

Buffy scowled. “Why can’t Giles do that?”

“Because he wasn’t SAS. This is non negotiable Buffy.”

Xander put a hand on Buffy’s arm, silencing her response. “Buff…hush. Mom? Hurst was in the SAS?”

“Yes. Simon seems to have recruited an interesting group of former Special Forces personnel…”

Xander nodded. “She’ll take it.”

Buffy turned to him. “What?”

“It’s like being trained by a Navy Seal, only British and Airforce.”

“No, the Seal’s Mr. Botley, who’s usually on nights. He’ll be part of the training regimen as well.”

Buffy gulped. “Ah crap.”

“Buffy, language!” Joyce and Simon chorused, sending the children off into laughter. After a few Moments Joyce reestablished order.

“Rule three: All of you will make certain Dawn is not in anyway involved, Dawn you will not involve yourself until, and even then only maybe, you’re a good deal older. You will however, be taking self defence classes with Mr. Hurst.”

“MOM! That’s so not fair!” Dawn’s whine could have cut glass.

“Dawn, the only reason Buffy is not locked in the basement right now is that this is something that can’t be helped…in her case. YOU are not a Chosen Oneand after this you and I will sit down and I’ll explain to you exactly what it means to be Chosen…and…” Joyce swallowed heavily. “and…” Tears started flowing and she rose.

“Excuse me…” She left hurriedly, leaving the others to look after her retreating form.

Simon sighed. “That went better than I expected. All of you… You’ve taken on the responsibilities of adults with the very knowledge you’ve gained and the actions you’ve taken…act like ones. Don’t run of half-cocked, don’t act without thinking. And please to something remember what it would do to Joyce if she lost any of you…” He rose as well, leaving the children alone.

Dawn looked at Buffy, her face pale. “Why was Mom crying?”

Buffy swallowed. “I-I Dawn… Mom said she’d talk to you…and…Well…”

Dawn nodded, understanding. “And you’d rather not risk getting her dander up, yeah…ok.”

She crossed her arms. “Still not fair. Willow’s going to be a Witch, you’re the Slayer…”

Xander reached over and ruffled her hair. “Don’t worry Dawn, we’ll be the voice of reason and normality in the family…”

Willow and Buffy laughed. They cleared the dishes into the dishwasher and walked to the bus stop.

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Joyce was lying on her bed, sobbing when Simon came in. He sat down at her side and ran a hand over her back and hair. *What I do for Dawn and Buffy and Willow when they’re crying…*

“Joyce, you’re a blooming marvel. To be able to give them love and support, to do and say the things you did after just finding out…a miracle.”

Joyce rose from her pillow. “She’s going to die Simon! My baby is going to die! Nothing I can do will prevent that!”

Simon smiled a sad little smile. “Every parent knows their children are mortal, we can only hope to out live them. Joyce…this… I never had children for this very reason… I can’t truly imagine what you’re going through… but I’m here, for whatever you need, including punching bag.”

“I won’t hit you again Simon, but you will never keep secrets from me again!”

“Oh, but I will...” Simon deadpanned.

“What?!” Joyce’s voice was dangerously low and almost growled.

“I will keep secrets from you for years. Birthday presents. Christmas presents. Anniversary presents,”  He winked. “But never again about things like this. I promise.”

Joyce thumped his arm. “Dork. You know what I mean. And we aren’t married yet.”

“Well, I can think of a few things we’ve done I want to celebrate on a yearly basis…”

“Simon!” Joyce blushed and smiled. “Dork.”

Simon smiled back.  “You got Hurst’s Christian name out of him?”

Joyce looked up through her lashes and smiled coyly. “I used my feminine wiles. He’s partial to ginger snaps.”

Simon put a hand to her face. “And you wonder why I love you. Miller?”

“Ezekiel Washington Fairfax. I understand why he goes by Miller.” Joyce replied dryly.

Simon grinned. “Blooming miracle, that’s what you are.” He kissed her soundly. “I’ll take you to the gallery.”

“Only if you can drop me off at the School this afternoon. I need to talk to Rupert Giles…”

“Do try to let him live dear, the next one they send may not be as pleasant.”

“Oh, this isn’t about Buffy. It’s about Willow.”

Simon blinked, but did not question her further.

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Lunch break was upon Sunnydale High. A woman in a turquoise skirt and jacket, her golden blonde hair in a halo around her face strode decisively through the hallways, wearing low heeled pumps and the barest minimum of make up. A light green purse, two small turquoise earrings and a looped golden necklace completed her look. Numbers of teenage boys swallowed heavily as she passed by. One or two teenage girls did the same. There were whispers. It was noted that Willow Rosenberg smiled at the woman brilliantly and that the woman stopped for a Moment to talk to the shy redhead, who babbled until a soft touch from the woman stopped her. And instead of being embarrassed Willow smiled that smile again.

The strange woman then moved through the crowded corridors like a shark tracking a tasty treat. Jenny Calendar saw her entry into the library, saw the way the woman squared her shoulders and felt her heart sink. *Well…so much for Rupert being available.* She shook herself. *With my life, and Rupert’s there’s no chance of anything.* She stalked to the teachers’ lounge in a bad mood. About halfway there she turned and retraced her steps to the library.

Rupert Giles was sitting at his desk in his office when there was a knock. He absent mindedly looked up. “Uh…Come in?”

Joyce Summers entered, pinning him with a look. Giles swallowed heavily and put his hands over his groin reflexively and eyed the two ice bags he’d borrowed the night before. She closed the door behind her with decision and sat down uninvited. “Dr. Giles…I may not remember much from my time in the hospital…but there are some snippets.”

Giles started fidgeting under her gaze. “Uh…umm…Snippets?” *Oh Bugger.*

“I don’t think there is anything between you and Buffy. You are not, if you’ll forgive me, her type. She goes for jocks and bad boys.” Giles opened his mouth and Joyce held up hand to stay his words. “You’re not her type…now. Willow…Willow might just develop a crush on you.”

Giles took of his glasses, pulled out his polishing cloth, breathed on the lenses and rubbed, flushing furiously.

“You’re an attractive man, she is in your company a lot and her current crush is… not interested. There’s nothing we can do to prevent this.” She pinned him with a glare. “But if I find even the smallest encouragement or impropriety… your balls will be on the menu. Do you understand?”

Giles swallowed heavily. “I-I assure you Ms. Summers, that though uh Willow is a lovely girl, my um, feelings towards her are entirely p-platonic, avuncular if you will. She’s a tad young for me.” *Oh dear…I might have worded that better.*

Joyce lifted her eyebrows. “I see. Just a tad?”

There was a knock. Giles looked at Joyce who nodded. He put his glasses back on. “C-come in?”

Jenny Calendar opened the door and took in the scene. The woman was not in any way disheveled. She was sitting, primly on a chair quite a distance away from Rupert. She was not even looking particularly friendly towards him. Jenny relaxed just a tiny fraction.

“Jenny! I mean Ms. Calendar! What brings you here?”

Jenny leaned against the doorjamb. “I’m sorry, am I interrupting something?”

The strange woman looked at Rupert in an appraising way, then at Jenny herself. Then she rose. “No…Mr. Giles and I were done.” She leaned forward a bit and shook hands with Giles, who seemed to blush. “Goodbye Mr. Giles. Thanks again for running the Home work group.”

Giles nodded uncomfortably. “Ah…uh…my pleasure Ms. Summers.” *Dear lord…she did not just…’Go get ‘em tiger’?”*

Jenny relaxed and felt a little foolish. *Ms. Summers…Buffy’s mother, Xander’s foster mother. Got a rowr-worthy older boyfriend. Not a threat. Oh god…You’re in trouble girl.*

Ms. Summers walked to the door and mustered Jenny. The younger woman fidgeted. “Ms. Calendar, I’d like to thank you for all the extra time you spend with Willow.”

Jenny nodded. “It’s my pleasure Ms. Summers.” Then the actual words that Ms. Summers had spoken registered. Jenny blinked. *Willow? Dear me. I wonder if… I need to look into this…Why’s Ms. Summers inquiring after Willow? And if…oh dear…she was here to make Rupert aware of the risks of hanky-panky with her daughter. Daughters?*

She grinned suddenly. “Willow is a lovely girl. It’s a pity Buffy isn’t more interested in IT, but she’ll come round I think.”

Ms. Summers gave her another look, then her gaze rested very briefly on Rupert and Jenny felt herself bristling. *Dammit Jenny! Control! He’s not yours yet! She’s not even interested in him!*

Suddenly Jenny felt a hand on her arm and… *Did Ms. Summers just wink and mouth…’Down girl’?*

“Well it was pleasure speaking with you both, and thanks to you both again for all the time you take with my children. I’ve no doubt we’ll speak again in the future about the way you deal with both my daughters and my son, Dr Giles… Have a nice day.”

Jenny swallowed. “I’ll walk with you. Bye Rupert. I’ll come talk to you later.” She could have sworn that Ms Summers threw her a disappointed look. Jenny decided to flee to the Teacher’s lounge instead of walking the older woman all the way out.

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Rupert Giles sat in his office with his head in his hands. His library, his Sanctum Sanctorum was being invaded by the dread multi-headed hydra that was technology. He’d had enough of that in the British Museum, thank you very much. The worst thing was she was going to be there. He never felt sure of himself around her. He might act it, but he never had the supreme self confidence around her that she did around him.

The only times he felt he held the advantage was when he acted in the way his grandfather had treated his grandmother; with old fashioned old world courtesy. If only… If only he were younger, she were older, she knew about magic, he felt better about technology… If only the world were simple. And that dratted Summers woman. ‘Go get ‘em tiger.’ As if she seriously believed that he had a chance with Jenny.

There were noises. He groaned, she was here. With the legions of hell. And Fritz. Fritz had to count as a legion of hell all on his own. Rupert Edmund Giles got up to face his destiny.

The project to scan part of the library was a class assignment and all those who took Miss Calendar’s Comp Sci class had to pitch in. Even those who felt they spent too much time in the library already and those who felt one could not spend too much time in a library. And of course, Miss Calendar herself.

Jenny Calendar ran her hand down the dark blue velvet binding a book in Rupert’s office and sighed. Love poems by Donne. Rupert had said they were a tad too racy for American parental tastes and that the edition was his own anyway. She loved the feel of the velvet under her fingers and wondered how the wondrous erotic phrases would sound if Rupert read them to her…he probably knew most of them by heart. *Lady, license my roving hands…Down girl. Pay attention to the students, before they wreck a scanner or, heaven forbid, dog ear a book.*

She rolled her eyes and went back into the main part of the library. She saw Buffy was opening crates and boxes of newly arrived books. Rupert sure ordered a lot of them. Was that a copy of the Ritualis Cretanensis? What the hell would a high school library need that for? It was probably an entirely different book. She hoped. Rupert would probably laugh at hearing the rituals in the book might work… If it was real she’d need a way to get it to safety…

Buffy opened another box. She drew her face into an attractive grimace and said in a clear sarcastic voice. “Oh, great! A book!” She took it out off the box and blew off some of the heavy coating of dust.

Willow grinned. “Oh, you were expecting lingerie?”

A few of the other Comp Sci kids laughed and Giles winced.

“Oh, uh, I, uh... haven't gone through the new arrivals. Uh, put it in, uh,” he looked around vaguely before finally pointing with the large economy text he was holding in, “in that pile.”

Dave got up from his computer. “Here, I'll get it.”

Buffy smiled her thanks at him. “Oh, thanks, Dave. The Willow pile.”

Dave grinned as he took the book, moving over besides Willow and placing the book carefully on the pile. Buffy noticed he looked at the redhead from the corners of his eyes, drinking in her profile like a parched man water. *Hello. Looks like lil’ sis has herself an admirer.* She winked at Dave, who blushed.

Giles still stood holding the hefty economy tome. Jenny looked at the title, rolling her eyes. Only Rupert Giles would recommend for digitisation Theory and Design of Macroeconomics in Developing Nations. No one had ever checked it out, she was sure. No one sane anyway. He dropped her a wink.

“Uh, when I've examined it, you can, uh, uh, skim it.”

Jenny gritted her teeth, very gently. She was certain that somehow, Rupert Giles was far more aware of the technological than he let on. He’d known the correct terminology months ago in Flutie’s office, he still knew the correct word and he was not letting on. What was his game?”  “Scan it, Rupert. That's scan it.”

Giles gave her a look that was twenty four carat sarcasm. “Of course.”

Jenny smiled at him saccharinely. “Oh, I know, our ways are strange to you, but soon you will join us in the 20th century. With four whole years to spare!” She grinned at him.

Giles gave her a smug little smile in reply. “Ms. Calendar, I'm sure your computer science class is fascinating, but I happen to believe that one can survive in modern society without being a slave to the, um, idiot box.”

Jenny was now definitely getting annoyed. *That's* TV. The idiot box is TV. This…” she pointed triumphantly at one of the computers, “is the *good* box!”

Giles gazed at her over his glasses. “I still prefer a good book.”

Fritz rose, taking his books with a disdainful expression on his face. “The printed page is obsolete. Information isn't bound up anymore. It's an entity. The only reality is virtual. If you're not jacked in, you're not alive.” He stalked out of the library.

Ms. Calendar sighed. “Thank you, Fritz, for making us all sound like crazy people.” She turned to Giles. “Fritz, Fritz comes on a little strong, but he does have a point. You know, for the last two years more e-mail was sent than regular mail.

Giles winced. “Oh... what a terrible loss.”

Jenny blinked at the true pain in his voice. “More digitized information went across phone lines than conversation.”

Giles sighed. “That is a fact that I regard with genuine horror.”

Ms. Calendar gave him a teasing smile. “I'll bet it is.” Gathering her students’ attention with a look she spoke to them.  “Alright, guys, let's wrap it up for today.

Willow gave her favourite teacher a smile. “I've just got a few more. I'll hang for a bit.”

Ms. Calendar gave her a grateful look. “Cool! Thanks.”

Xander grabbed his bag and pulled it onto his shoulder.

Willow gave him a puppy dog look. “Xander, you wanna stay and help me?”

Xander exchanged a look with Buffy, who had already grabbed her bag as well before replying. “Are you kidding?”

Willow looked taken aback. “Yes, it was a joke I made up.”

Xander and Buffy exchanged another look. Buffy leaned forward a little towards Willow. “Will… beautiful weather, handsome boys, pretty girls in pretty clothes, cheese, or…” she gestured around the library and at the computers, piles of books and scanners. “this. There’s life beyond these walls and I intend to explore it.”

Willow pouted. “Xander?”

Xander sighed.  “Willow, I love you, but bye!”

Willow called after him. “See you tomorrow!”

Xander hurrying after Buffy, ignored her. “Buffy, wait up! We can look at the pretty girls in the pretty clothes together.” Willow heard Buffy groan from her seat in the library and had to grin.

*I suppose the weather is nice. But the weather is always almost nice. And, well the boy I want to look at me thinks of me like a sister. Ah poop. At least the books will always love me.*  She vaguely heard the start of a conversation between Ms Calendar and Giles.

Giles looked around his dominion, noting the detritus of the stay of a large number of uninterested students in his hallowed halls. “I'm, I'm just going stay and clean up a little. I'll, uh, I'll be back in the middle ages.” He started up the stairs.

Jenny couldn’t resist. “Did you ever leave?”

Giles ascent halted and Jenny smirked a little at his back at her successful dig.

Willow suppressed a giggle. She could swear they were flirting.

Giles turned on his heel and approached her. Jenny backed away slightly at his firm expression. *Oh crap.*

He very carefully mustered her from shoes to hair and then gave her a silent bow. “No Ms. Calendar, I managed to advance to the Victorian era.” He eyed her neckline and her graceful ankles. “When your beauty and attire would have turned the head of every man in Britain.” He gently took her trembling hand and breathed on her knuckles, then turned it round and… she felt his warm breath on the palm of her hand and wrist. She swallowed, he rose from his bow, his face serious. “So you must forgive me my strange ways. They are positively… Victorian.”

Jenny fled the library blushing, clasping her purse and a comp sci textbook. Giles shook himself and suddenly saw Willow who looked at him in utter disbelief, eyes wide and cheeks flushed, breathing a touch fast and shallowly.

“I-I’ll be in the medieval section… err, cataloguing and r-reshelving.”

He raced speedily up the stairs, ears bright. Willow looked after him. *Well, now there’s a lovely bit of gossip.* She grinned at herself. But first there was work to be done. 

It was quite dark in the library; the only pool of light was centered around Willow’s workplace. The pile beside her had shrunk until only one book remained and she was humming as she carefully scanned it. She drew the hand held scanner over the pages after noting that the script was unfamiliar and the pages made of fine vellum. She smiled. Probably an arcane reference Giles wanted to keep safe. She hummed as she typed in the filename and saved. She looked at the clock. No wonder she was hungry. She put the book on the finished pile and hurriedly grabbed her bag. Seven o clock… Mom would have called hours ago… mother… no way.

She did not see the script had disappeared from the last book she had scanned. Nor did she see the typed words appearing on her computer screen.

“Where am I?”

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Willow sat on her bed, not the bed she and Ms. Sum…Mom had chosen for her new room above the garage, the one they were building just for her and adding French doors to, because this one had them, no the one in the green and purple room in her biological parents’ house. She’d never really understood what was lacking in this place and she had come to the horrifying conclusion the last few days she had spent here that what was lacking, had been lacking for years; was love. She did not know if her parents shared love for each other, they seemed comfortable together, sure. But they barely even noticed or acknowledged her existence. She was at best a third wheel on a bike that was never meant to be a tricycle.

 

Her mother had bought orange juice for her and American cheese. And clothes. Willow had been visiting a few select shops with her Mom, yeah that was what she was, and had gotten some clothes that made her feel better about her self, more feminine. She blushed furiously when she remembered that Mom had taken her and Buffy to Victoria’s secret. Both of them had been utterly stunned when the older woman had calmly given instructions to the equally stunned shop assistant on the sort of underwear that might suit her daughters.

 

And it was darned comfortable. She’d never felt a bra as good as this. And sexy too. Even if no one else got to see it. She tried to picture her mother buying bras with her and came up with images that included pink unicorns. Her mother hadn’t even gone with her to buy her training bra… Willow wondered what Mom would have done in the same situation. Probably something embarrassing at the time…then again Willow found most things concerning her actual underwear embarrassing. She could make jokes with the best of them, but she had to admit she hadn’t been really comfortable with her own body.

And Mom had noticed. And had talked to her about what it meant being a teenager, the changes she’d gone through and was still going through. And she’d discussed the variations of feminine hygiene products available, and how they differed and she’d bought some for Willow to experiment with. And it had been normal and natural and not the stilted ‘your body is going through certain changes when you hit puberty’ conversation she’d had with her mother. When she’d been eight. Willow snorted and let herself fall back onto her bed. And now she was wearing underwear that made her feel desirable and the object of her affections was further away than ever. Xander loved her like a sister. He’d said so. And she knew he meant it. Dammit.

She could hear Mom say the words. ‘Language Willow’. She giggled and ran her hands through her hair. Just once she’d like a guy to pay attention to her, not Buffy. Even if Xander seemed to see Buffy as a sister now too. Which was of the good, since now she didn’t feel so bad about seeing Xander look at Buffy. He wasn’t even jealous of Angel. He was very protective of Buffy. And of her. And of Dawn.

He’d glared at a twelve year old boy who’d made a remark about his youngest sister until the boy fled in a panic. She giggled again at the memory, and then scowled. He’d better not act like that towards her when a guy showed interest. She deserved some nice guy paying attention to her. Mom had said so. Willow sighed and put on the ridiculous pajamas. The emerald green linen ones Mom had bought her were much nicer, but she’d left them at home. She sighed. In a few days she could go and eat with her family. It was not like mother and father would notice she was gone by then. She turned on her computer and logged onto one of her computer chat groups. She’d chat a bit before she went to sleep.

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Danielle Moritz did not know may people she trusted with the really important things that involved Sunnydale. She took a deep breath before she picked up her phone and rang the number.

It was answered on the second ring by a breathy, somewhat ditzy voice. “Phoebe Halliwell.”

“Miss Halliwell? My name is Danielle Moritz; I’m looking for Penelope Halliwell.”

“Grams! PHONE!!” There was a noise as a different extension was picked up.

“Penelope Halliwell.”

“Mrs. Halliwell? This is Danielle Moritz. I realize it’s been very long since we last spoke. But I need your help. I need to get to Sunnydale.”

There was a Moment of silence. “Seven years or so…quite some time indeed. And from what I heard… I’m a bit surprised you’re so… coherent.”

“I got better.” Danielle replied dryly. “And I’ve got some of my magic back.”

“I’m not as young as I was Mrs. Moritz, but I suppose I can still manage a Vanquish…”

“Hopefully… there will be no vanquishing… It’s a personal matter. But I need an experienced witch of the world at my side. Preferably one with powerful Spirit. Drawing on nature on a Hellmouth…”

“Quite right. Mrs. Moritz.”

“I can do magic…again…but I can’t drive.”

There was a chuckle at the plaintive way in which she said it. “It may be a week or two. That whole mess with the Grand Magister has thrown everything off. I can’t believe he actually did it…”

Danielly snorted. “Well apparently his continued statements that he wanted to lay down the burden were not as hollow as those his father used to spew… We may have made a mistake, Penelope…”

“Is that how you see it?” Penelope sounded worried.

“He never wanted the job. He’s pointed out diplomatically and otherwise, that there are many more powerful magic users who are perfectly capable. He even got the successor he wanted lined up, much to her displeasure...”

Penelope was silent for a bit. “You know, I hadn’t looked at it like that. Still, it will take a week or two to get messages to all the members for the election.”

“True. Clarice has her hands full here as well.”

“We miss you in the Councils you know.”

“I’m happy enough to be alive right now.”

“I can imagine. Might I inquire about the nature of the personal matter?”

“My granddaughter, Sheila’s daughter.”

There was a choking noise. “Sheila’s daughter? Is she…as powerful?”

“No. More powerful.”

“And she’s raising the girl on a Hellmouth?” Penelope’s voice rose in disbelief near the end of the sentence.

“I think she hoped Willow would go dark and take the vengeance she could not take herself.”

“Aha. How encouraging.”

“It gets worse… I didn’t suffer a stroke. I was defeated by Catherine McGonagall.”

“Goddess above…why didn’t you tell us before?”

“Because I didn’t remember. I’m darn lucky she didn’t lobotomize me completely with the number of memory blocks she put in. I think she liked the notion of me being a drooling vegetable most of the time.”

“Two weeks is starting to sound quite long…”

“If she’s out there still we need to prepare. She was far more accomplished than I expected from a witch her age. But…The spells are unraveling, so I think she either stopped paying attention…or… She’s dead. But I can’t be sure.”

“If she took you down…I’m beginning to understand why you need a Spirit witch. I will call you to finalize the arrangements. It was good talking to you again Danielle.”

“You too Penelope. Give my regards to your granddaughters.”

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“A VAMPIRE?”

Buffy winced. Telling her Mom that Angel was a vampire was not going particularly well.

“He’s a good vampire Mom, he’s got a soul…”

“So did Hitler. And Stalin.” She looked at Simon. “Didn’t they?”

“Yes, they were human. A soul is not a guarantee for good behaviour.”

“You knew.” Her voice was accusing and she crossed her arms.

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you put a stop to it?”

In answer Simon took out a leather bound photo album from a large wooden crate that had been delivered earlier. He handed it to Joyce who opened it. Her face softened in spite of her anger.

“Awww…you were a very cute baby…” She leafed on until she found picture that apparently stunned her, then another, and another. And then she started to giggle. Simon blushed.

“Changing your diapers? The expression on his face is priceless…And you read him the riot act on Buffy?”

Simon winced. Buffy glared. “Wait, what? You read him the riot act? About me?”

Simon coughed hesitantly. “I may have pointed out to him he’d need to shape up to be good enough for you…Some simple facts regarding relations with teenagers…Things like that…”

“Oh? And what gives you the right to interfere in my love life?” Buffy bristled.

Joyce cleared her throat. “The fact you’re fifteen, he’s a semi-responsible adult and I asked him to.”

“MOM!!”

“Semi-responsible?” Simon objected mildly.

“Buffy…I wasn’t happy about this when I thought he was twenty-two…at…” Her face scrunched up in quick calculation, “Two hundred and seventy…my enthusiasm is…lets say you have to dig to measure it Buffy.”

Buffy sighed. “Yeah I know. We both know…But…”

“You can’t help what’s in your heart?”

“Something like that… Mom?” Buffy looked pleadingly at Simon who smiled and left.

Buffy sat down. “Mom…I-I don’t know what to do… Every time I see him, or think about him…”

“You feel butterflies in your stomach and all happy?”

“Yeah… and then… I remember that it won’t, can’t, shouldn’t happen…” Buffy sniffled and Joyce took her in her arms.

“Oh Buffy…”  

“I feel like an idiot…”

“Well he isn’t much better, like a deer falling in love with the hunter.”

“More like bear Mom, but yeah, we don’t seem to be too high up on the Common Sense scale…”

“You can say that again…well we can only see where this goes…And if this does lead to something…”

“He’s got to come to dinner, I know.”

Joyce grinned. “Sooo….want to go dig through Simon’s family albums and look at embarrassing pictures?”

“Sure! Let’s get Dawn and Xander in here too!”

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Joyce sat leaning against Simon on the couch, reading. He’d been for a run with Buffy before dinner and was exhausted but determined not to show it. The fact he occasionally nodded off over his book made her smile just a little.

Hurst and Simon’s personal defence trainer, a phlegmatic elderly Okinawan man called Mr. Miyagi had been rather harshly humorous about the small paunch her lover had developed in the recent weeks of soft living and too much comfort. They’d set aside a portion of each working day for him to train at his office’s gym, while he was briefed on non vital matters through verbal reports. She looked at the clock and poked him in the side with her elbow.

“Simon.”

He snorted and woke up. “Yes love?”

“Willow hasn’t called…” Her voice was sorrowful and she could feel that she was on the verge of tears.

Simon sighed and drew her into an embrace. “We can’t make her come to us love, she has to choose this. With Xander…they were beating him. There was evidence. The only one who can really tell what happened to Willow is Willow and she probably feels ambivalent about it. She may decide only to live here when her parents are away. If we take it to the courts without her full support, we may just drive her away.”

“It’s not fair Simon, she deserves so much more.” She turned towards him and looked him in the eye.

“You should tell her. Everything.”

 Simon paled and she felt him shiver and saw him swallow. “Joyce…”

“Everything Simon. I’m sure she’ll understand.” She fell silent as she saw his hands were breaking the cover of the hardback he was reading. She feared the nightmares would be fierce this night.

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Willow was humming to herself as she walked down the hallway. Buffy muttered under her breath as she ran to catch up with her.

“Willow! Willow, hey, wait up!” She reined in her speed as she caught up.

Willow started. “Oh, Buffy, I didn't even see you.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Or hear me. Willow…Where have you been the past days? Mom’s really worried. What was up the last few nights? I tried your line, like, a million times. And you didn’t answer your mobile”

Willow looked dreamy. “Oh, I was, I was talking. Bit busy. May have forgot to charge it.”

Buffy looked at her askance. “Yeah… You haven’t been by… You haven’t called… Mom and Simon are really worried. It’s been a week. Xander is getting more than a bit moody and Dawn misses her chess partner. And we both miss our sis…And you totally missed a night of watching Simon squirm as we went through every baby picture of him and oohed and aahed for hours… So who’s that important to talk to Will?”

Willow kept silent, except for her breathy humming.

“Okay, that's it, you have a secret, and that's not allowed.”

Willow gave the blonde an arch look. “Why not? She opened her locker, starting to rummage.

“'Cause... there's a rule.”

Willow grinned. “Well, I sort of met someone.”

Buffy squealed excitedly. “I knew it! This is so important! When did you meet?”

“Last week after we did the scanning project in the library.” Willow closed her locker after retrieving a book.

Buffy crossed her arms. “Okay Wills, get with the ‘splainy. Does he go here? What's his name? Have you kissed him? What's he like?”

Willow almost snorted with amusement. “No, Malcolm, no, and very nice.”

Buffy tried to look down her nose at Willow to show her annoyance. The problem with this was that Willow was taller, even if only by a small margin. “You are a thing of evil for not telling me this right away! And Mom is going to be so excited for you!”

Willow smirked. “Well, I wasn't sure there was anything to tell. But last night, oh! We talked all night, it was amazing. He's so smart, Buffy, and, and he's romantic, and we agree about everything!”

Buffy sighed at her soon-to-be-sister’s innocence. ” What's he look like?”

Willow waved a hand at the irrelevance. “I don't know!”

Willow walked down the hall with a big smile on her face. Buffy stared after her for a Moment, confused, then followed quickly. She caught up with Willow outside the computer lab.

The Computer lab was empty except for Fritz and Dave who were typing, a slightly glazed look on their faces.

Dave spoke to his monitor softly. “Yes, I will. I promise.”

Buffy followed Willow into the room.

“So, you've been seeing a guy, and you don't know what he looks like? Okay, this is a puzzle. No, wait, I'm good at these. Does it involve a midget and a block of ice?”

Willow smirked. “I met him online.”

Buffy blinked. “On line for what?”

Willow laid a hand on one of the computer screens and smiled.

“Oh! Like that…” Buffy looked enlightened.

Jenny Calendar strode quickly into the room wearing dark glasses and holding a mug of coffee in one hand and her books in the other. “Morning, kids!”

Buffy turned to the young teacher who looked back at her as she walked to her desk. Putting her mug down she addressed the blonde. “Buffy, are you supposed to be somewhere? She took of the sunglasses and gave the teen a searching look.

Buffy shrugged. “No, I have a free.”

Ms. Calendar nodded, satisfied. “Cool! But this is lab time, so let's make it a nice, short visit, okay?”

Buffy nodded. “Sure.”

The PC Willow used spoke in an artificial voice. “You have mail.”

Willow smiled. She quickly accessed the message: I'm thinking of you.

Willow aahed to herself. “He's so sweet!”

Buffy nodded, then smiled nervously. “He's obviously a sweetie.”

Willow gave her an uncertain look. “What should I write back?”

Buffy tried to caution the redhead. “Uh, Willow, I think it's really great that you have this cool pen pal, but don't you think you're kinda rushing all into this? Y'know what I mean?”

Willow ignored her, babbling excitedly. “'I'm thinking of you, too!'” She deflated, crestfallen. “No, that's incredibly stupid!”

Buffy sighed. “Will, down girl! Let's focus here, okay? What do you actually know about this guy?”

Willow gave her a disappointed look. “Oh, see, I knew you'd react like this.”

Buffy looked honestly confused. “Like what?”

An entity watched the conversation with eagle eyes from the computer’s video hook up.

Buffy fiddled awkwardly with a pile of printer paper. “I just wanna make sure you're careful, that's all.

Willow spoke in an exasperated tone. “Buffy...”

Buffy looked earnestly into Willow’s eyes. “He could be different than you think. You’ve never met him.”

In one of the school’s offices a computer came online by itself and started searching through the student records, halting at the record of one Buffy Anne Summers.

Fritz’s  glazed gaze was upon his screen and he saw the record appear on it. The blond boy studied it carefully, until a message blanked out the rest of the screen. Watch her.

Willow rolled her eyes. “His name is Malcolm Black, he's eighteen, he lives in Elmwood, which is about eighty miles from here, and he likes me! See, I know lots about him.”

Buffy gave her a worried look. “Short, tall, skinny, fat?”

Willow grated out her reply. “Why does everything have to be about looks?”

Buffy huffed. “Not everything, but some stuff is. I mean, what if you guys get really, really intense, and then you find out that he... has... a hairy back?”

Willow blinked at the, to her, utterly irrelevant remark. “Well, no! Uh, he doesn't talk like somebody who would have a hairy back. Not that I know how somebody who has a hairy back. Or how they talk. And anyways, that stuff doesn't matter when you really care about each other. Maybe I'm not his ideal either.”

Buffy raised her hands in defence. “Hey, I'm just trying to make sure that he's good enough for you.

I think it's great that you met someone.” She leaned forward and sighed, whispering to Willow. “And it’s not like I’ve got a right to talk about weird boyfriends.”

Jenny blinked at the computer logs she had been studying, and then rose, walking over to the students whose intensive use worried her. “Hey, Fritz... I'm, uh, lookin' at the logs. You and Dave are clockin' a pretty scary amount of computer time.”

Fritz smiled smugly. “New project.”

Jenny smiled, indulgently. Fritz and Dave did quite often manage to surprise her. “Ooo, will I be excited?”

Fritz’s smug grin disappeared and his face became a blank mask. “You'll die.”

Willow came down the steps next to him. Oblivious to her surroundings she didn’t notice Xander coming from her right. Putting his hand over her eyes, he forced her to stop, nearly losing her balance.

Neither noticed Dave glaring at the two of them from one of the benches in the courtyard.

Xander. “Hup, guess who?”

Willow sighed. “Uh, Xander?”

“Yeah, but keep guessing anyway. You might be wrong, considering how long I’ve barely seen you.”

Willow’s voice was annoyed now. “Xander…”

Xander removed his hand from her eyes. “Oh, I can't fool ya, you see right through my petty charade. We goin' to the Bronze tonight? After dinner?”

Willow smiled placatingly. “Not me, I think I'm gonna call it an early night.”

Xander gave her a searching look. “Oh, Malcolm, right?”

Willow smiled and nodded happily, even humming a little.

“Yeah, I heard. But you're gonna be missin' out. I'm plannin' to be witty. I'm gonna make fun of all the people who won't talk to me.”

Willow grinned, leaving quickly. “That's nice, you’ll be busy all evening. Have a good time!” Xander looked after her with worry in his eyes and a slightly hurt expression. Buffy joined him.

Buffy looked up at her foster brother. “She certainly looks perky.”

“Yeah, color in the cheeks, bounce in the step... Bushy tailed and bright-eyed. I don't like it. It's not healthy.” He turned towards her. “So, are you goin' to the Bronze tonight? Oh, probably not, you probably have some vampire slaying or some lame endeavor like that, don't you? Everyone deserts me.” He sniffed and theatrically wiped at his eyes.

They began walking their next class.

Buffy grinned up at him. “Check out the jealous man!”

Xander gave her a measured look. “What are you talking about?”

Buffy twirled a tuft of hair between her fingers and then blew it out. “You're jealous.”

“Of what?”

“Willow's got a thang, and Xander's left hanging.”

Xander’s rolled his eyes. “Oh, that's meaningless drivel. I'm not interested in Willow like that.”

Buffy gave him a serious look. “Yeah, but you got used to being the Belle of the Ball.”

Xander looked uncharacteristically serious. “No, it's just... this Malcolm guy? What's his deal? I mean, tell me you're not slightly wigged.”

Buffy conceded his point with a slight nod. “Okay, slightly. I mean, just not knowing what he’s really like.”

Xander scratched his head. “Or who he really is. I mean, sure he says he's a high school student, but I can say I'm a high school student.”

Buffy tried to be the voice of rationality and grinned. “You are.”

Xander grinned back but his voice still held a serious undertone.. “Okay, but I can also say that I'm an elderly Dutch woman. Get me? I mean, who's to say I'm not if I'm in the elderly Dutch chat room?”

Buffy grinned again. “I get your point!” Then her face fell as she realized it was not really a joking matter. “I get your point. Oh, this guy could be anybody. He could be weird, or crazy, or old, or... He could be a circus freak.” Buffy was now getting panicky and wide-eyed. “He's probably a circus freak!”

Xander nodded sagely. “Yeah. I mean, we read about it all the time. Y'know, people meet on the 'Net, they talk, they get together, have dinner, a show, horrible ax murder.”

Buffy swallowed. “Willow ax murdered by a circus freak... Okay, okay, what do we do? Suddenly she gave Xander an annoyed look. What are we doing? Xander, you get me started! We are totally overreacting! This is way paranoid!”

Xander nodded, grinning. ”But its fun, isn't it?” They walked on, chatting, but Xander still, when Buffy did not notice, look worried.

It was hot in the computer lab, the air conditioning was not able to vent all the heat produced by the machines. A single student sat watching a screen with avid intensity.

Fritz muttered to himself in an undertone, carving his arm with an etching tool. “I'm jacked in. I'm jacked in. I'm jacked in.”

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Joyce was sitting on the couch after dinner when Xander and Buffy sat down next to her. Simon was playing Dawn at chess, obviously as a distraction. Willow was a much better match for the ten year old.

Miss Mellowes still wasn’t better and the fact that Willow wasn’t there was throwing Dawn of her game, since Simon was actually winning.

“Mom? We’re worried about Willow.”

Joyce looked up. “So am I dear, but I can’t force her to come eat or sleep here. Unless her parents are restraining her from visiting…”

“No…At least I don’t think so…” Buffy looked at Xander.

“No, they don’t notice her enough for that. I doubt they’ve had dinner together or spoken more than three times since they came back. They’ve got a full schedule whenever they return to Sunny D.” Xander said with bitterness in his voice.

Joyce winced then sat back. “And you’re not worried about that?” Xander looked uncomfortable.

“No… Willow is strong… and she’s got… well she’s got me and now she got a real Mom and Dad and that has made her even stronger…but she…she’s met this person in an online chat room…”

Joyce ahed. ”I see. And you’re afraid this person is not who he seems to be.”

The teens exchanged looks. “You know what a chatroom is?” Buffy ventured, somewhat surprised.

Joyce grinned. “Well I do have a computer at the gallery.”

Buffy blinked. Xander grinned and winked at Buffy, whose face cleared with realization before she asked her question in a pointed voice. “Mom…what exactly do you chat about with Simon?”

Joyce blushed furiously. Buffy and Xander exchanged a knowing look.

“Nothing of concern to you. I’ll ask Simon to look into this friend of Willow’s. What do you know about him?”

Buffy took a piece of paper from her pocket and handed it over. Joyce read it and sighed. ”I suppose I should be glad one of my children’s’ love interests is only two years older, or pretends to be.”

Buffy, flushing, opened her mouth to protest, closed it again, and noted Xander had coloured as well. “Damn. That was good. I see where you got it Buff.”

“Yeah. She’s good. And underhanded and sneaky.”

Joyce sniffed archly. “You have much to learn, my young apprentices.”

Xander thought it was funny but not worthy of the howling laughter Buffy and Joyce produced. He’d ask why later.
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