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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)vidiconFR1598780,1331581492397,28728 May 115 Jul 14No

Purple Rain and Talent show try outs

Author’s Note:

I’m trying to limit the length of the chapters to make for easier reading, but I’m not sure if people prefer that. Can people let me know what they find more pleasant: Longer or shorter chapters?

Thanks for the recommendations: Jewel, rexcalon.

Everybody thanks for reviewing, it’s much appreciated and please continue!

Chapter 33: Purple Rain and Talent Show try outs

On Monday morning Willow discovered a pink rose and an eight of Edam wrapped in paper and embroidered cloth with little roses on her Comp Sci desk the first period. A neatly folded sheet with Burn’s My love is like a red, red rose inscribed upon itwas underneath.

She was so excited she barely paid attention to her work, only managing the basics of the assignment set. This also meant that Buffy, Xander and Amy suffered some delay in finishing theirs, but none of them seemed to mind. Miss Calendar seemed preoccupied, but amused by Willow’s antics. An unknown person with the moniker Broken_tree tried to get into contact with the Slayerettes, but they all, mindful of the Moloch disaster, deleted the message.

Buffy grinned at Dave who ducked into his own cubbyhole and avoided her eyes. Willow sniffed her rose and nibbled her cheese all morning long.

The afternoon was disturbed by a Hrackesh demon that felt an urgent need to disembowel dogs, cats and other small animals and which Giles insisted they slay despite the fact that it was probably not dangerous to humans.

The problem according to Giles being that Hrackesh were actually too stupid to discern what they were disembowelling until they tasted it. This meant skipping classes, which though not a great chore, might cause problems later, both with school and parents.

And it was, in Giles’ words, bloody hot, unseasonably hot for the time of year. The only good thing was that the Hrackesh was also too stupid to hide very effectively, so they found it relatively quickly, at the centre of the area where most of the pet disappearances had been taking place. It was lying outside the dog kennel of a rather dilapidated house with an overgrown, fenced in yard, quite near Amy’s home, stirring and burping in its sleep. Every belch rattled the wire of the kennel door, which stood broken open.

“That is a demon?” Buffy asked in disbelief.

Willow looked from the photocopy Giles had made and back at the shaggy, purple haired, smelly thing dripping mucus from its nose, mouth and occasionally hair.

“I-I think so…”

Amy’s face twisted in disgust. “Well unless someone has been doing really weird experiments on cats…”

Xander grinned. “Oh, I don’t know, it might be a-a really large Maine Coon with a cold; that erm… fell into the sewers…beneath a paint factory…”

The three girls gave him a look. Willow sighed. “It’s the demon. Buffy?”

Buffy gave the redhead a look. “This shirt is new, you know.”

Xander shrugged. “Then take it off.”

“XANDER!!!” The three girls chorused.

Xander winced and raised his hands in defence. “H-Hey!I-I can turn my back…”

Buffy sighed. “We’ll just have to hit Giles for the clothing credit card. Dammit, all I brought is a stake.”

“Why didn’t Giles warn us about this thing being all…icky? Willow demanded.

“I don’t know, he seemed preoccupied, as if his mind was on other things.” Buffy answered thoughtfully.

Amy blinked. “Ummm. Isn’t he supposed to be like, always focused on defeating these things?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well I have to be ever vigilant. Maybe that allows him to slack off or something.” She closed in on the beast, stake at the ready, a look of revulsion on her face. She poked it with a foot as it lay snoring.

The Hrackesh demon moved like greasy purple lightning and jumped her, its teeth ripping through Buffy’s shirt, barely missing her stomach as the Slayer dodged it. Purple goop slavered from its jaws and struck her jeans and shoes.

Buffy looked down at her torn shirt, the goop covering her shoes and globbing down her trousers. She growled in the back of her throat and the Slayer attacked, driving her stake deep into the purple thing’s skull. It squeaked, jumped up in the air, and then fell down flat on its stomach, all four legs sticking out in different directions.

And then it exploded into blobs of purple mucus, covering all four teens in blue purple goo and whatever it was that it had been eating.

The Fearsome Foursome was not amused.

Amy looked down at her once pristine blue t-shirt and gagged. “Oh god…that’s a dog’s nose! There’s a dog’s nose on my shirt!”

“Cat ear! Cat ear!” Buffy held the offending anatomical specimen by an ear tip, pale as a sheet and swallowing heavily.

Willow was on her knees, vomiting and Xander was holding her hair, even though it was already covered in slime and mucus.

Amy flicked bits of dog off herself and gagged. “Okay guys. Let’s go to my place and wash this stuff off. Oh yuck!”

The others nodded and followed her home. The goo resisted warm water, merely becoming oily and gelled under cold water. Soap made it change colour to green and smell like three days old offal. Willow vomited twice more, Amy once and Buffy gagged. Xander seemed strangely unaffected, but that might have had to do with the fact his nose was hit by purple goop and his sense of smell was gone. Finally in desperation Buffy called Giles but got no answer. That left only one other option.

Willow drew the short straw. She nervously dialled the number. The phone was picked up on the first ring.

“Willow? Are you alright?” Simon’s worried voice made Willow both feel warm and anxious.

“Ummm, Dad…you know…umm, how we talked about not skipping school to hunt demons unless it was necessary…”

“Yes…” Willow winced. *Does he have to sound quite so…ironic?*

“Well…ummmm….there’s this demon you see…eating cats and dogs…”

“Probably a Hrackesh. They’re utterly harmless to humans unless provoked. Quite interesting really. The Romanians are thinking of using some to control the numbers of strays in the country.”

Willow sighed. *Sometimes Dad really is too much like Giles…hello useless information!*

“So they offer quite good money for them, you can lure one into a cage and feed it cat food…I believe the current rate is seven thousand dollars, if delivered to the Romanian embassy alive and more or less intact,” Simon continued, unaware of Willow’s thoughts.

Willow spluttered. “Seven thousand…those purple goop things are worth seven thousand dollars?”

“Yes. Willow, what exactly have you been doing this afternoon?” Simon asked, suddenly suspicious.

Willow gulped. “Welll…ummm…Giles told us to go deal with it…and ummm…we may sorta have skipped afternoon class…And Buffy put a stake through its head…and now ummm…”

There was a snort from the other side. “A stake? A wooden stake? To kill a Hrackesh?” Simon started laughing.

Willow growled. “DAD! We’re covered in scummy oily yellow stinky stuff! Could you stop laughing and m-maybe help?” She noted that her growl had become distinctly weepy and quavery near the end of the sentence.

Simon sighed. “Where are you?”

“We’re at Amy’s…” Willow offered hopefully.

Simon sighed. “Very well. I’ll need to pick up some things, and then I’ll be by. It’ll be half an hour, maybe a bit longer.”

“Thanks Dad!”

“Oh, don’t thank me yet young lady, your mother and I will be having words with the lot of you…” Simon hung up on that threatening note.

Willow looked at the phone in trepidation. “Oh sugar.”

Buffy worried her lips with her teeth. “Not good?”

“I think he knows how to get rid of the muck, but definite stern parental talking to gonna happen…” Willow pouted.

 Buffy winced, as did Xander. Amy looked unworried. It wasn’t as if they were her parents after all…

Willow turned to Buffy. “And if we’d caught the Hrackesh, w-we could’ve sold it for seven thousand dollars! To the Romanians!”

The four looked at each other.

“Seven thousand…wow,” Xander voiced the thought of all four. ”That’s …seventeen-hundred and fifty each. Any more of those purple monsters out there?”

They sat on the grass outside the Madison home, waiting for Simon. Willow and Amy were developing a rash, Xander noted that his eyes were swelling shut and Buffy kept sneezing. They were rather relieved to see the old Volvo pull up. It was towing a trailer.

Simon got out of the car and walked up to the gate, stopped outside it, grimacing as he sniffed the air. “Well, that smell brings back memories. There are seats in the trailer.”

Willow rose, arms, crossed, glaring at him. “I’m not getting in the trailer!”

Simon shrugged. “You’re welcome to walk.”

Glaring at Simon who carefully was not smiling, the four got into the trailer. It was canvas covered and two benches were at the sides, with makeshift belts nailed to them. Simon drove them home carefully. He turned into Revello Drive and up the driveway. Joyce stood waiting in the door, a stern expression on her face that changed into amused disgust as she smelled and saw her truant children.

“Well, the fearless Hrackesh hunters have returned victorious.” Simon spoke lightly, trying to hide his grin.

Joyce succeeded better. “I see, well I’ve prepared what you wanted, but I hope you brought more olive oil. Were all out now.”

Simon grinned broadly, unable to contain his mirth. The four teens glared at him.

Joyce cleared her throat. “You lot are just very luck that Monday’s a slow day at the gallery, otherwise I’d have let you all sit in the garden until I came home and then mixed up this batch of whatever it is.”

Simon smiled and kissed her. “You know very well that it’s a natural soap love.” He turned to the children.

“There’s four showers and bathrooms in this house, get in there, put all your clothes in the bin bags that are there and seal them tightly, rub yourselves down with the fluid in the glass bottles and scrape it off with the wooden strigils.”

“Stri whats?” Buffy was the one to ask but all the others looked equally confused.

“Scrapers. You’ll recognize them when you see them.” Joyce spoke dryly. “I’ll be on hand to help you girls with your backs. Simon can help Xander.” She sighed. “There’s a bar of my natural jasmine soap in each bathroom, use it on your hair as well.”

Simon spoke again. “And I’ve got some lotion I made that you’ll have to rub on, all over. Don’t, whatever you do, use anything other than the oil-soap from the glass bottle and the Jasmine soap. No synthetic oils or shampoo. Understood?”

The four nodded and quickly left for the bathrooms.

Dawn was directed to keep out of the dining room when she came home by Simon. Simon was burning something in the back yard that looked like shoes and clothes and her Mom was in the dining room with her siblings and Amy. It did not take a genius to figure out her sibs had done something to earn parental ire. She settled into her bedroom to work on the Rangers’ Patrols for the upcoming week. Cyndi Blaisdell had been ill the week before and Jackie Brody and Hilary Vernon had been ambushed by Kit and almost overpowered until Janice, Felicity and Melody and Dawn herself had shown up. That had been too close…

Joyce sat looking at the teenagers, who in turn looked at the table. “Can you four explain to me exactly why you skipped school?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Demon, Mom.”

“Mostly harmless demon, Buffy. Unless they’re disturbed while sleeping. Why on earth were you in such a hurry? And why all four of you? I seem to recall only one of you is the vampire Slayer?” Joyce inquired.

“Giles told us it needed to be killed quickly…” Willow tried.

“Well if that was the case why didn’t he give you the copper knife to kill it with? Simon told me they just melt into a puddle if you use that, you can kill them easily, it’s the exploding afterwards that’s the problem,” Joyce asked.

“Wait, you think Giles knew that?” Buffy growled.

Joyce shrugged. “Simon says’ its common knowledge. However, that is not the point. The point is you skipped class without telling me or Simon and to deal with a demon which could hardly be described as dangerous, other than to dogs and cats. Now Simon spoke with your father when he borrowed his trailer from the building site Amy…”

Amy swallowed apparently parental ire would not be dodged; Joyce gave her a stern look and continued. “And he will coordinate his punishment with us.”

Amy swore. “Ah shi…” Joyce’s look made her wilt and she shut her mouth before she finished the four letter word. “Sorry Ms. Summers…”

“However….you can begin by asking Dr. Giles tomorrow what he was thinking, sending you out like that, unprepared and unnecessarily hasty,” Joyce finished.

“Yes, Mom,” Buffy nodded and sighed. *Well at least Giles is in trouble too…*

The only good thing, as Amy pointed out later, when they’d eaten dinner, was that the Hrackesh had eaten the Camperman’s huge Doberman, Mitzy.

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Jenny Calendar furtively entered the library and then the library office. “Did you get them to leave?”

“Y-Yes. I sent them after a Hrackesh…” Giles smiled.

Jenny nodded, relieved. “Well at least we won’t have them stumbling in on us.” She looked thoughtful. “You did tell them about the copper knife?”

“It’s common knowledge. I told Buffy during one of our regular demon sessions.” Giles shrugged. “Tomorrow I can send them after a Lirkham, I’ve got a Prahnam for the day after that. But eventually they will find out.”

“Yeah. Rupert, we still need to agree on what were going to do.”

“Die of embarrassment?” Giles proposed. *Preferably before we’re embarrassed.*

 “Well, that too. But Rupert, we have to do something and I’m sure as hell not going to tap!” Jenny glared.

Giles had an odd glint in his eye. “Tap…stockings…top hat…”

Jenny thumped his arm. “Keep your mind on the problem, Rupert.” She looked at her watch. “I suppose it is time of the first audition. Let’s get to the theatre.”

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Rupert and Jenny groaned as the auditions started. The line up was not promising. A  ballet group, led by Emily Djiemanowicz, pretty good herself but the others were more enthusiastic than skilled, a really bad trombonist, a small band of woodwinds and brass who apparently had kicked out said trombonist and showed at least the ability to play, if not mastery of, their instruments. A tuba player who wanted to do a solo version of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, two stand up comedians seven singers (including Cordelia Chase, if her performance could be called singing) a magician as well as an animal trainer with menagerie (Including a rabbit, a ferret and for some strange reason a hamster with an eyepatch) and a ventriloquist. (Who apparently had the same native talent at his chosen performance as the hamster had for tapdancing.)

Presently Cordelia was singing the second of the possible songs she was considering singing and Jenny was wincing. Rupert himself had prepared by using some of the hard wax he kept for some of his leather bound books to stuff his ears.

“CAN YOUOEOEOEOE FEEELLL TEHH LUVVEE TOONIGHTT!!!” Cordelia warbled, happily unaware of the true horror that was her voice. Harmony was looking on, a few feet away vacant eyed, chewing gum and standing still. Both Rupert and Jenny were quietly convinced that any other options were far beyond the oldest Kendall girl.

There was a creak from above and one of the great overhead lights started to move and then fall. To Rupert’s surprise it was Harmony who reacted, pushing off hard with both legs and striking Cordelia in her side, pushing her away from the falling light. The two girls ended up landing in a flurry of limbs.

Rupert and Jenny hastened to the stage where the two girls were rising, looking rather shaken, helped by various other hopeful thespians and musicians.

“You ok Cordy?” Harmony asked anxiously.

“Yeah…thanks Harm…” Cordelia shook her head to clear it.

“You’re welcome. Oh shucks,” Harmony looked distressed.

“What?”

“I swallowed my gum.”

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On Tuesday a slightly pinker rose, a Shakespeare sonnet and another eighth of cheese lay on Willow’s desk in history. This caused much amusement in class. Mr. Smithson, the history teacher kept winking at Willow and Willow kept blushing, but quite happily, nibbled her cheese and smelled her rose.

Buffy had been less amused to be directed, by a note, not even in person, to go and slay a Lirkham demon in the woods beyond Sunnydale elementary. And Giles seemed to be avoiding her. He wasn’t in the library, which was very odd.

Buffy was the one who spotted Emily hanging up the poster. It shouted in big green and yellow letters: Talent Show!  Sign up with Mr. Giles in the library or the list right here! The desperately worded sign made it clear to Buffy that the number of people willing to embarrass themselves in front of their schoolmates was as vast here as it had been at Hemery. As in non existent. It also explained why Giles was distracted and why he’d wanted them out of the way… 

She waved over Xander, Willow and Amy. All three read the poster, and all three glared.

Willow took out her phone and held out a hand to Buffy. “Can I have that paper Giles left?”

Buffy nodded and dug it out of her bag. Willow dialled. “Dad? Willow, no problems a quick question, can you tell me what a Lirkham demon does…” She listened for a bit her face became more and more fierce. There was also an occasional “yuck.” After a few minutes she hung up, exchanging goodbyes.

“It hunts small animals such as voles, the largest thing they eat is raccoons. The only really weird thing is that they need to…erm…impregnate Billy goats to…ermm…bear their young. Utterly harmless, accept on an ecological level. There’s a pride of them that lives in Central Park apparently.”

“Billy goats?” Xander looked a bit sick.

“Yeah…” Willow didn’t look very happy about it either.

“He’s been distracting us.” Buffy said in a cold voice.

Willow was the one to express the general displeasure. “Why that sneaky poop head!”

Xander scowled blackly at the bright letters. “I couldn’t agree more Wills. I say we go visit the Librarian.”

Amy looked at her fingernails. “Does anyone else think this will be sufficient punishment?  She motioned to the poster with her head.

“No. He needs to suffer!” Buffy was adamant. Willow and Xander nodded.

Amy grinned fiercely. “Good, we’re all in agreement then. I suggest we let him think he got away with it, and then we surprise him this afternoon in the theatre.”

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The theatre was filled with noise. Apparently there were masochists who wanted to show the world how bad they were at many different things.

Giles was sitting, staring at the stage and wincing as Cordelia Chase tried to wring out every last bit of musicality from her second choice, this time with possibly added special effects. The problem being Cordelia still had the singing abilities of a duck on PCP. Harmony once again was standing several feet away, once again chewing gum.

Jenny Calendar sat next to Giles, gazing at a clipboard. The four teens snuck up on them and listened in on their conversation.

“I’m not going to sing ‘The white cliffs of Dover Rupert! And it’s not a duet anyway.”

Jenny Calendar’s voice was clear and obviously annoyed; Rupert Giles’ murmured response was unheard, even by Buffy.

“NO! Playing the guitar is not enough…And you’d probably sit behind the curtain.” There was moment’s silence. The teens strained their ears “Have you spoken to your White Hats yet about the Lirkham?”

“No, I expected her, them after the third period, but I left a note in Buffy’s locker. I expect she just took it as an instruction and left. I’ll see her tomorrow. I’ll debrief and instruct them on the Frashow then.”

“J-just get them out of here, I mean its bad enough that Willow…” There was an embarrassed quiver in Jenny’s voice.

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

To everybody’s surprise it was Willow who spoke in false cheery tones. “I’ve got the perfect song for the two of you.”

The adults slewed round in shock. Willow continued speaking smiling happily. “And you’d better perform it, ‘cause otherwise we’ll tell Mom you set the whole Hrackesh thing up and that it wasn’t just a mistake.”

Giles and Miss Calendar had turned an interesting shade of red.

“You’ll sing a very nice duet, in front of the curtain, won’t you Giles?” Willow’s sweet smile was utterly terrifying.

Giles gulped and nodded. Jenny gave her pupil a frightened look.

“W-what…”

“Disney, ’It’s a whole new World’. From Aladdin.”

Jenny swallowed. “B-but…that’s a…”

Buffy chuckled. “A love song.”

Giles winced. “We can’t! In front of the entire school? We’ll be…”

Willow grinned evilly. “Just reverse the parts and use technology. Maybe if you use enough humour, people will forget the meaning of the song.”

Xander cleared his throat. “For self protection.”

Giles groaned. “We’re doomed…”

“Well I don’t know about that, obviously show biz is in your blood.” Amy drawled.

Buffy drew in a breath. “Yeah, I mean, just look at the great producer! And his lovely assistant.”

They sat down around the pair, smirking and Miss Calendar actually growled.

Xander grinned. “You know, I really had to see this to believe it. Show business suits the two of you, I can see it now, the slinky dress, the tux.”

Giles gave him a withering look which the teens cheerfully ignored. “Oh, you lot….Just…”

Buffy smiled maliciously obviously ready to milk her Watcher’s discomfort as much as possible. “The school talent show. How ever did you two finagle such a primo assignment? I mean, it’s almost as good as a Hrackesh hunt. Without a copper knife.”

Giles and Jenny flushed and the four teens glowered. Buffy tapped her chin. “No, seriously, how or why?” She gestured around the theatre.

Giles answered repressively. “Our new Führer, Mr. Snyder. Mm. He thought it would behoove me to have more contact with the students. I did try to explain that my vocational choice of librarian was a deliberate attempt to minimize said contact, but, uh, he would have none of it.”

Willow chipped in happily, munching a bit of cheese she’d fished from her bag. “I think they call 'em 'principals' now.”

Amy smiled angelically at Miss Calendar. “And you Miss Calendar? How did you get into this?”

Miss Calendar growled again. “It’s all Eng….Mr. Giles fault. If he’d actually done some of his student-staff hours in his contract, Snyder might have had only one candidate and I’d have had fair grounds of refusal.”

Giles gave her an indignant look. “The same goes for you! It’s not my fault computer classes don’t actually count as extra curricular activities! Besides which I-I don’t see you leading band practice! Or the school ballet class! O-or the girls’ softball team.”

Jenny leaned forward, her face almost in his. “It’s the fault of all the old fashioned, annoying chauvinist Luddite idiots like you, that in this case you’re not actively involved is just coincidence!”

Buffy snickered at her Watcher’s cornered expression. “Giles, unto every generation is born one, with his lovely assistant, who must run the annual talentless show. You cannot escape your destiny.” She winked.

Giles gave her an irritated glare. “I knew you would react this way. This is the reason for the Hrackesh demon. I mean if you had any decency you’d have signed up or done something to help. But I knew you’d just gloat.”

Jenny nodded in affirmation, looking at Willow who beatifically smiled back at her. Jenny scowled at her favourite pupil. “Programmed the lights and sound, done something, anything to help!”

Buffy and the others shared looks, trying to contain their mirth.

Buffy leaned back in the chipped wooden seat. ”Nah! I think I'll take on your traditional role... and watch!”

Xander grinned. “And mock!”

“And laugh!” Amy chimed in.

“And derogate…in a Victorian way…” Willow winked evilly at the two and the staff members blushed.

The children laughed.

Buffy rose, carefully wiping some imagined dust of the chipped laminated wood of the chair. “O-kay. I think maybe we better leave our Mr. Giles and Miss Calendar to this business they call a show…”

The four giggling teens walked back up the aisle. Principal Snyder stood waiting for them, looking impassive.

Buffy smiled brightly if a bit fearfully. “Principal Snyder!”

Giles and Jenny turned round, their gazes meeting and their mouth quirking in amusement. At least some revenge would be had, even if it was enacted by the Troll Führer.

Snyder’s face was set in a careful mask. “So. We think school events are stupid, and we think authority figures are to be made fun of.”

Buffy swallowed heavily. “No! No, we don't. U-unless you do.” Both Willow and Amy elbowed her in the side and she whuffed as her breath was expelled.

Snyder seemed unaware of the byplay.” And we think our afternoon classes are optional. All of you left campus yesterday.”

Buffy blurted out her answer before thinking about it. “Yeah, but we were fighting a demon...” She shut up as another two elbows lodged below her ribcage.

Snyder suddenly looked interested. “Fighting?”

Buffy shook her head vehemently. “No! Not fighting.”

Xander chimed in. “No, we, uh, left to avoid fighting.”

Snyder gave him a look and Xander shut up. “Real anti-social types. You need to integrate into this school, people.” He crossed his arms. “I think I just found four eager new participants for the talent show.”

Buffy managed to stammer out an answer. “What?”

Xander held up his hands in a warding gesture. “No!”

Willow almost dropped her cheese and gave him her best wide eyed innocent doe look. “Please?”

Amy merely groaned and buried her face in her hands.

Snyder seemed immune to their collective dismay. “I've been watching you kids. Always getting into one scrape or another.”

Buffy tried once more. “Well, we're really, really sorry, but about the talent show, pleeease, you can't make us...”

Snyder grinned. “Oh, you see, I called your mother, lovely woman. She was aware you’d skipped classes and I told her I was afraid you weren’t integrating very well into school society. She asked if there were any social activities you could participate in…”

Buffy swallowed heavily. Willow paled, Xander looked at the little man with wide eyes and Amy merely groaned behind her hands again.

Snyder continued. “And I suggested the talent show; she seemed quite interested in seeing her babies perform.”

All four teens winced, Amy in sympathy, the others in embarrassment, as they could hear Joyce say the words.

Snyder walked toward the stage, past the shocked teens.

Xander found his voice. “Can I just mention that detention is a time-honored form of punishment?”

Buffy nodded vigorously in agreement. Snyder gave them a cool look. “Oh, but that would interfere with your mother’s plans for punishment…”

All four teens winced. Snyder nodded in satisfaction “It gives me great joy to see such deep respect for parental authority. I know the four of you will come up with a wonderful act for the school to watch. And mock. And laugh. At…” He glanced at Willow in puzzlement, uncertain what her remarks to Giles and Calendar had meant. He continued down to the stage.

The four teens huddled in seats at the top of the theatre and looked at each other with wide eyes. “He called Mom, they’re in cahoots.” Buffy whispered.

“We’re doomed.” Xander intoned in a deep voice. “DOOOMEEDD!!!”

Willow whimpered.

It did not get any better when Cordelia, passing by them in the aisle wrinkled her nose and said. “Damn, you people smell of dead, wet dog.” And blithely walked on.

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“Vote Cordelia Chase for Talent Queen!” Harmony handed out the flyer to Willow with a vapid smile. “Look, it’s got a chocolate note stuck to it, that’s like symbolic!”

Willow glanced at the rather runny bit of chocolate. “Well, yeah, it’s all melted and deformed.”

Buffy grinned. “Much like Cordelia’s talent.”

Amy sniggered. “From what I heard up on that stage it was probably her voice that caused this stuff to melt, that’d set off uranium!”

“Harmony! Don’t waste time on those losers! They’re competing themselves!” Cordelia called out from across the hall.

“Yeah, but they can still vote, can’t they?” Harmony looked confused.

“Harm, they’d vote for themselves.” Cordelia explained, not unkindly.

“But if you’re better…” Harmony persisted.

Cordelia, Buffy, Amy and Willow gave Harmony pitying glances. It was Cordelia who nodded. “Sure Harm, sure. C’mon!” She stalked away, ready to corner an innocent senior and ply him with chocolate and smiles.

Harmony followed, looking confused.

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The Cordettes stood clustered at the top of the western outer stairs counting the remaining leaflets and occasionally nibbling a chocolate. “So how many are left?” Cordelia asked.

Harmony was trying to add up the figures she’d scribbled on a pad. “Errr…about a hundred and fifty?”

“Well then we need to get back in there and spread the word! Once the surprise hits them they must remember me with fondness! C’mon!”

She turned round, as did the other Cordettes. Harmony stumbled backwards, her arms windmilling, and then she fell down the stairs, knocking her head on the way down. An eerie chuckle filled the air as the Cordettes rushed down to pick up their fallen friend.

“Wha?’” Harmony blinked up at Cordelia.

“Harm? How many fingers?” Cordelia held up two.

“Huh? Fingers?”

“Ok, I’d say that was a concussion, someone get the nurse and call 911.” Cordelia held her friend’s hand until the nurse came and she was sent to class.

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Buffy walked into the locker room muttering to herself. “Stupid Mom’s and their stupid notions on stupid hygiene and stupid sisters who forget their stupid gym bags in their lockers and stupid me who gets sent to get it, just because I’m faster and lil’ sis gets afraid when she walks between the lockers, ‘cause it’s all cramped…Oh, hi Emily…”

“Heya Buff.” The blonde girl grinned. “Willow convinced you to come get her bag? Ummm…this is gonna sound really weird, but that picture in the paper, of Baryshnikov dancing with that little girl.”

“Yeah?”

“That kid I’ve seen you with, your sister, that’s her isn’t it?” Emily asked.

“Yup. My baby sister, Dawn,” Buffy replied with just a touch of pride.

“Ummm, do you think I could come by one day and talk to her?” Emily smiled uncertainly.

“About her dancing with Mikhail Buffy fluttered her eyelashes and sighed exaggeratedly, which made Emily giggle. “Or about ballet in general? In both cases, not a problem. You’d do us all a favour, she loves talking about it and to have another ballet enthusiast distract her.”

Buffy opened Willow’s locker and reached in for the redhead’s bag, then furtively looked around and got her own, putting a finger to her lips.

Emily giggled again. “Forgot yours too?”

“Shhhh! Yeah. We were kinda distracted yesterday, c’mon let’s bust this joint.”

A pair of angry eyes flashed as the two girls left, chatting about the horrors that were PE.

BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS

Joyce was preparing dinner when the kids came home, looking subdued, Willow looked ready to cry.

“I see Principal Snyder informed you of your punishment.” She said dryly.

“MOM!!!” Buffy whined. “How could you!”

“I’m your mother. It seemed to be more fitting a punishment than yet another detention, which you would shrug off or point to as a sign of prestige…” Joyce continued cleaning the cauliflower she was working on.

“But…” Xander tried.

“The rest of your punishment will be me making certain you rehearse and pick an actual act that might impress an audience.”

Amy just groaned. “Dad is going to love seeing me on stage.”

Joyce grinned wickedly. “I think he’s going to buy all his workers tickets. He sounded so proud.”

Amy groaned, but with even more feeling.

“MOM!!!” Buffy growled in desperation.

“Oh stop complaining dear, just go upstairs or in the dining room and discuss what you’re going to put on. If you can’t think of anything, I’ll help. Now shoo, I’m trying to cook.”

Buffy, Amy and Xander left, but Willow sat on a stool, dropping her bag on the floor and her forehead on the arms she laid on the island. After a minute or so she spoke in a quivering tiny voice.

“Mom, I’m scared.”

“I know dear,” Joyce said in a calm soothing voice.

“No, I’m really, really scared.”

“You hate getting in front of groups and talking and you’re afraid they’ll laugh and everything will go wrong. I know dear,” Joyce soothed once more.

Willow looked up, a few tears in the corners of her eyes. Her expression was fierce and anguished at the same time. “Then why are you making me do this!”

“Because this is how I got over it dear. And your Aunt Arlene. Your Nana was the same way. And I had a word or two with Aunt Penny and Phoebe and Piper both suffer from it as well, her Patty was frantic about it. Celia is too. Buffy has it in a lesser way, she gets all rambling when she tries to speak in front of groups and Dawn, is just too much like Lolly…” Joyce smiled good naturedly at her youngest outgoing nature. “I’ve got no idea if Clarice is affected…” She looked slightly guilty at the fact she didn’t.

Willow blinked in surprise. “Oh…B-but…’

“You’re still afraid. I know honey. But I’ll be here to help you through it, and trust me, it’s a lot easier when you’re dressed up as something completely different. You can play a part, and not be you,” Joyce put down the cauliflower next to the one she’d finished and hugged Willow. “I only got into theatre in my junior year of college after…” She swallowed and hugged Willow even more tightly. “My psychologist suggested it. I-I sometimes wish I’d done it sooner, been more outgoing sooner. I think this may be good for you little Mouse. And for Buffy too.”

“You think so Mom?” Willow asked in a tiny voice.

“I think so and I hope so. I can’t be certain, but I’ll do everything I can to help you.” Joyce assured her daughter.

“’kay…Mom?”

“Yes dear?”

“Will there be…” She gestured at the cabbages waiting to be cooked hopefully.

Joyce laughed. “Yes dear, cauliflower with Gruyère and Emmentaler cheese sauce, now why don’t you go talk with the others about what you’ll perform.”

Willow swallowed, nodding. Joyce smiled. “And you can tell them it was either this or four whole weeks of afternoon detentions, including Saturdays. I don’t think Principal Snyder likes you very much.”

End note:

I hope Joyce’s punishment is not cruel? I attempted to show that she tried to both protect her children and help them at the same time.
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