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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)vidiconFR1595738,6431501333354,82228 May 119 Mar 14No

Pink Bicycles and mothers commiserating

Author’s Note:

 

Thanks very much to my Betas. Letomo and Twilight wanderer.

 

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.#

 

The genealogies are up on the forum, and a short list of persons appearing will be up tomorrow.

 

Thanks to the latest to recommend me:  Alastor

 

Reviews are much appreciated, they inspire me.

 

 

Chapter 47: Pink bicycles and mothers commiserating

 

Buffy sniffed the night air and sighed. It was quite a happy sigh. After all this was the first time in weeks she was truly free of the stench of Hrackesh demon in her nostrils. And she was hunting. And no matter how much she hated being the Slayer, something inside her loved the hunt, the chase, the kill. It was a difficult realization. She’d have to talk about it with Marcel, and Giles and Simon…and eventually her mother. She was not looking forward to the last one, no matter that Simon had prepared her for the notion the very evening Joyce had been told Buffy was the Slayer.

 

She sniffed the air again, and tried to extend her senses, looking for Vamps. In LA she thought she could feel them quite well. Here, in Sunnydale, she was lucky if she could feel them ten feet away. She’d heard Simon and Giles discuss it, and they seemed to think it was the emanations from the Hellmouth. They’d put the matter before Dr. Worthing and he had yet to report back. In the mean time, Buffy just did her best. She smiled. Pat, Dave and Amy were safely off…she went to the garage, took out her candy apple red bike, a gift from Simon, and cycled off; senses stretched to the maximum, heading for her first goal, Sunnydale Cemetery.

 

Cecilia stepped outside, to see Buffy disappear in the distance. She sighed and borrowed the rather gaudy electric pink bicycle Willow had gotten at the same time Buffy had gotten her candy apple red one and Xander his manly black and blue. She put her hunting bag in the wire basket at the front. Practical, yes, but not very cool. That sort of epitomized her second oldest granddaughter. After five minutes she was feeling her bum. She’d forgotten that hunting demons could be hard work. And her Slayer Grand daughter was far, far ahead of her. It was a good thing she knew the girl’s patrol schedule.

 

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Simon and Clarice were looking at Kit, who lay sleeping deeply when Joyce came in. “She’s worn out.” Clarice said in a fond voice.

 

“Hmm, that she is. So, what are you wearing on Halloween?”

 

“Me?” Clarice asked in an alarmed voice.

 

“Yes, you. You and Patrick going together? Themed? Like Simon and me?”

 

Simon snorted. Clarice grinned. “Sister dear, you’re getting obvious. He won’t tell you until the day. Nothing you say or do will make him. Accept it.”

 

Joyce rolled her eyes. “Oh, very well…but don’t forget you do need a costume! And something that impresses Patrick…why would that be wrong?” She grinned slyly and Clarice flushed.

 

“Oh, go to bed.”

 

“Just got to go see Xander. Come on Simon. Good night, Clarice. ”

 

Clarice smiled and kissed Joyce’s cheek. “Goodnight yourself.”

 

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Joyce kissed Xander’s forehead and tucked the blankets around him. The boy had an amused look on his face.

 

“You did very well, Xander. A very good performance. I hope it was not as bad as you thought?”

 

“It was worth it to see Giles and Miss Calendar. And Will’s face when she realized that the whole audience had seen her kissing Dave…”

 

Yes, well…don’t tease her too much.”

 

“I won’t…Mom? Err…we really need to talk to Harmony and Cordelia….but err…”

 

“I’ll talk to Eliza Kendall about that. Don’t worry. Good night, love.” She kissed him on the cheek and left the room, turning off the light. Xander lay grinning at the ceiling, wondering at his luck. He was determined to enjoy as long as it lasted.

 

Simon was waiting in the foyer and Joyce led him into the dining room, nodding at her father who was reading on the couch.

 

“Simon…it was all Willow. Her and Dave.”

 

Simon blinked. “Ah…I must admit I’m surprised to find she’s so…err…uncontrolled.”

 

Joyce chuckled. “She isn’t…she was trying to find out, on the sneak, if Dave is Cheila who can change into his demonic form…”

 

Simon let out a laugh. “Oh dear…checking for bony protrusions? I’d better give her some more information about Cheila…I hope Dave hasn’t been getting the wrong message.”

 

“She’ll talk to him tomorrow. Confess her little plan. Apologize. No doubt there will be some repercussion.” She shrugged helplessly. “But it’s better than that Dave tries to, you know, when she isn’t ready.”

 

Simon nodded. “Much better. I take it she didn’t think of that?”

 

“The thought never even crossed her mind…” Joyce said wearily.

 

“Our clueless little scientist…” Simon said with a dry chuckle.

 

“Isn’t she just…” Joyce sighed. ”And apparently she did a little more hacking lately, too…And more than she confessed to as well before.”

 

Simon frowned. “Ah...that might be bad.”

 

“Yes. I’ll talk to her about it.” She shrugged hopelessly.

 

“You know, for some reason, when we started this I never thought Willow was going to be the one who would keep getting in trouble…” Simon said.

 

Joyce looked sad. “She’s been hiding her naughtiness for a very long time…And she’s become very good at it.”

 

“A harsh lesson.”

 

“Too harsh. We need to get upstairs…she’s in our bed again.”

 

“Want me to hold her tonight?”

 

Joyce shrugged. “I don’t mind. Let’s see to which one of us she moves, okay?”

 

“Okay.” Simon grinned and then bent his head to catch her in a passionate kiss. “Can’t do that with Willow there…” He said after he let her go.

 

Joyce smiled and looked at the clock. “Hmmm. She can wait another minute, I think.”

 

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Buffy hummed as she staked the rising fledgling and hurried towards the second grave Willow and Giles had tagged as suspect. It was quite useful that her sister had a direct line into Sunnydale’s morgue. Buffy felt a momentary stab of guilt as she realized said line might earn her not quite truthful enough little sister an extra swat or two…though mom might make an exception for something so useful. She checked her watch and saw the dark, disturbed earth move. She staked the second fledgling in seconds. She smiled and headed back to her bike, taking a rough figure eight path, her finger on the alarm button that would summon two large men from a BMW running stationary just outside the gate.

 

There was a scream, to her right, and then another one, a slightly deeper voice. Buffy sighed. *My job would be a whole lot easier if people did not think cemeteries a good place to make out. Sheesh. Get a room, people!*  She swerved from her course to intercepted the sound as it weaved through the night. Who ever it was, they were running, and that was a good sign.

 

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Cecilia stood outside the gate of Sunnydale Cemetery, idly looking around, her old fashioned leather bag with beads around her shoulder. She’d stocked up on potions before leaving for Sunnydale. Several of them might be surprising to the nastier creatures that stalked the night, not to that mention her own powers were hardly to be underestimated. There was a scream, and then another. Cecilia sighed. *You know, you’d think that with all the morons getting killed in graveyards evolution would eventually take care of it…It would sure make this job easier.* She looked at the bike, shrugged and mounted it, homing in on the dopplering sounds in the distance.

 

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The young couple was running fast, but scared. The young man was holding the girl’s hand and they were both dressed for a party. Obviously they’d just come from the Bronze or maybe a party on Sunnydale Campus. With better transportation to and from locations, Giles was considering expanding the patrols to include UC Sunnydale. After all, as the Watcher had pointed out, drunken students were like an all you can eat buffet to the average vampire. Buffy intercepted the running pair, grabbing the boy by his wrist and swinging him towards a large, shady tree. She could feel the nearness of vampires.

 

“Get behind me, backs to the trees! Don’t run until I tell you to!” She barked at them. They obeyed and stood like she ordered while she took up position in front of them, stake at the ready. Five vampires came running up almost immediately.

 

The front one grinned. “Well now…it looks we get a better meal than we thought…”

 

“Really? Looks to me you tried to bite of more than you can chew.” Buffy replied archly.

 

There was a hiss from behind as the couple changed into vamp face. The male struck at her and Buffy was unable to dodge the blow to her head and she was dazed. The leader of the pack grinned. “I think we’re getting exactly the meal we ordered.”

 

He struck at her and gestured, the other vamps moving in and kicking and striking at Buffy. Buffy tried to dodge, but the seven vampires were all around her. She couldn’t retreat against the tree, she herself had blocked that possibility. Every time she moved in to kill one vamp the others moved in on her. She dodged about half the attacks she figured, but five vampires could land a lot of blows. One vamp was taking notes and the leader was grinning at her.

 

“My, aren’t you a feisty little Slayer…we’ll have lots of fun with you later.”

 

Buffy moved her head to evade a blow with a shovel, but it landed heavily on her shoulder. She kicked out, hard and the vamp was thrown back. Had he been alone, he would have been dead in seconds. Even if they had been ordinary vampires the fight would be over with this opening, but this group seemed to have fought together before. Suddenly there was a burst of fire and a scream. The note taking vamp went up in flame and a woman stepped into the little clearing, hand raised. A slight movement and another vamp burst into flames. The distraction was enough for Buffy, who twirled and staked the two vamps behind her in a single, fluid motion.

 

She turned again, to see another of the vamps go up in flames. The leader of the vampires had started running as soon as his scribe had turned to a cinder, and now so was his last cohort, but Buffy threw a stake and it struck the minion, which turned into dust.

 

The leader disappeared among the graves. Suddenly a great white shape stooped down from above, seizing the fleeing form and rising up with him again, the vamp screaming and struggling. Buffy looked after them, mouth open in surprise. Then a hand swatted the back of her head lightly.

 

“Buffy! Pay attention to your surroundings!”

 

“Buffy blinked at the woman who had saved her. “Gran? What the hell? Ow!”

 

“Language, Buffy!”

 

Buffy rubbed her head where her grandmother had given her another light slap. “Sorry, Gran. Do you know what that was?”

 

“No idea dear, it was too dark for me to see much. Now what happened?”

 

“Errr…” Buffy looked embarrassed. ”They ambushed me…Two of them played victim.”

 

“Couldn’t you sense them?”

 

“I wasn’t paying enough attention…” Buffy looked at her feet.

 

“Oh, Buffy…Do you want to do the rest of the patrol? I’m on Willow’s bike.”

 

Buffy perked up. “Yeah, sure. Those were some awesome cool moves, Gran.”

 

“Thanks dear.” Cecilia smiled.

 

There was a terrible scream and Cecilia and Buffy both started, then moved towards the sound, Cecilia on Willow’s bike, Buffy running.

 

Impaled on the fence around the cemetery was the leader of the vampires, feebly moving on the black painted metal spikes. Buffy looked up. “Wow…whatever picked him up either has very good aim…or this guy is the unluckiest vamp in Sunnydale.”

 

Cecilia gestured and the vamp burned, screaming. Grandmother and granddaughter mounted their bikes and cycled of to continue the patrol, followed by a quietly running black BMW.

 

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Cecilia and Buffy put the bikes in the garage and entered the house quietly. James was sitting on the couch, reading.

 

“Cecilia, Buffy. Buffy, your mother wants you to shower and go to bed immediately.”

 

“Yes granddad.” Buffy nodded and yawned, slouching off to the basement room that was her temporary abode until Kit was recovered. She heard the voices of her grandparents behind her and noted granddad was not pleased. Obviously Gran had not quite discussed patrolling with her husband…

 

Upstairs in Buffy’s room, Clarice finally fell asleep when she heard the door close and her mother’s voice.

 

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“He called you ‘Rissy…and you called him Daddy.” Arlene said as she stood beside Clarice by the kitchen island, cutting and pressing oranges for juice.

 

Clarice froze. Arlene put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, easy big sis. You’re allowed. I was just wondering…”

 

“Mom was in the garden…I-I was sleeping. I had a nightmare…”

 

Arlene smiled. “Let me guess…a hug and warm milk with aniseed? And a nice comforting talk?”

 

“Yeah…” Clarice smiled. “Since then…Well this was the first time I called him Daddy.”

 

Arlene sniggered. “Trying to play on his emotions to escape a spanking?”

 

“Yes. No! Maybe a little…I...he’s never been angry with me before.” Clarice stammered.

 

“Twice before with me…Dad…is almost preternaturally calm.” Arlene said with a smile. “Mom…isn’t.”

 

They fell silent as the door opened and Willow streaked through, and out of the kitchen through the back door, settling quickly on the back porch swing.

 

“Oh dear…seems to be a bit of a problem there.” Clarice said with a worried look.

 

Arlene nodded. “I’d better take note how Joyce deals with it…I think I’ll need the experience.”

 

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Willow had awakened early that Saturday morning, as her parents rose to make breakfast. Now she was sitting on the porch swing, watching the partially dug trench that would hold the foundations for the connection between 1628 and 1630. The plans hadn’t passed City Hall yet, but Patrick believed in pre emptive strikes. The swing moved and Xander sat beside her, a glass of milk in his right hand, a plateful of bagels in the other.

 

“Wanna talk about it?”

 

“I messed up.” She said brokenly, as she looked at the condensation on the glass. A tear ran down her cheek as a drop ran down the glass.

 

“How?”

 

“I hacked some more things. I didn’t tell Mom and Dad about all the things I hacked before. And I’ve been feeling up Dave to try and find out if he’s the kind of Cheila demon who can change into his natural form.”

 

“Ah. Is this like the time you dug up my mo…Jessica’s Pergoloanians while we were on holiday to study the root system?”

 

“Err… Pelargoniums. Yes.”

 

Xander chuckled wryly. “Scientific curiosity strikes again. Well, that just means confessing to Dave and grovelling a lot. The other thing…I bet Mom is pretty upset.”

 

“She is…Xander…do you think they still want me?” She asked in a scared voice.

 

“Willow…you spent the last two nights sleeping in their bed…I think they’re pretty convinced they want to keep you. I think you might want to talk to Mom sooner rather than later…but yeah. You’re definitely a keeper, Lil’ sis.” He gently kissed her forehead. *You are…*

 

Willow sighed and leaned into his shoulder. Xander made a mental note to talk to Mom and Dave before Willow had a chance to put her foot in her mouth. What were big brothers for, after all…and it was not as if she hadn’t saved his bacon on more than one occasion. 

 

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Dave arrived at the Summers’ house quite early on Saturday, they would leave in two cars to go to LA and Joyce had promised he too, could have a costume, courtesy of Simon’s credit card, as a thanks for his participation in the talent show.

 

Dave put his bike against the garage and locked it. Xander pushed himself away from the wall and approached him. “Hey Dave. I’d like to talk to you about Willow.”

 

Dave took a small step back. Xander had  put on a lot of muscle since he’d started training with the family bodyguards. “Err…what about Willow?” *Oh crap…he’s gonna beat me up for egging her on or something.*

 

“She’s gonna talk to you about, well, I’ll let you hear that from her. I just want you to think about the time in elementary school when she climbed into that tree to look to see if the acorns were different up there from on the ground. And the fire department had to come and get her down. ”

 

Dave smiled. “Willowosity. Check.”

 

“Willowosity?” Xander asked with laughter in his voice.

 

“Scientific curiosity driven to extremes.” His face fell. “Oh. I know what this is about. Shit.”

 

Xander took his shoulder. “Talk to her, Dave. Don’t assume! She’s on the back porch. Go on.”

 

Dave sighed and walked under the arch. Xander stared at the bike, grinning. * Willowosity. Now there’s a word worth remembering…* 

 

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Dave saw Willow on the swing. She looked up at him and then down, afraid to meet his eyes and he swallowed. He walked up the steps and sat down next to her. Willow shied away from him.

 

“I’m sorry.” She said in a tiny voice.

 

“Yeah, well…I thought you didn’t mind dating a demon. It…I…Why did you start anything with me if it freaked you out?” He said bitterly.

 

Willow let out a strangled sob. “I’m not freaked out! I just wanted to know if you could change into that cool other form Cheila have and I didn’t want you to know because I didn’t want you to think I was disappointed if you couldn’t!” Willow’s babble was stopped by Dave putting a gentle hand over her mouth.

 

Her eyes widened in fear and Dave let go, leaning back, shoulders slumping in defeat. “Sorry…I’ll leave.”

 

“NO! It...It was the other hand…I’m not ready for that yet. I-I’m sorry. Don’t leave! I love you!” Willow gasped out.

 

Dave blinked and then realised his left hand had rested on her breast. His mouth quirked. “Willow…if you aren’t afraid of me…of my being a demon …what exactly are you so nervous about…”

 

His eyes widened in realisation. “Disappointed…you said disappointed…” He smirked. “The ability runs in families. Both my mother and grandmother can do it, there’s a good chance I can do it as well…” *Certainly considering Michael…* 

 

“But I won’t show any of the signs until I reach adulthood…you’re welcome to keep looking if you want, though.“ He added with a  wide grin.

 

Willow blushed. ‘Errr…well…errr…as long as…”

 

Dave gave her a gentle kiss. “Willow…I’ll never ask you to do something you don’t think you’re ready for…But this…does demand a certain amount of satisfaction…A reckoning.” He grinned.

 

Willow hugged herself, her eyes widening. “Ah…What?” 

 

“You and I pick your costume together. And no ghost!” He held up a warning finger.

 

“B-But…” Willow started to  protest.

 

“You’ve been a ghost since as long as I can remember. Not this year. You’ve been on stage, you’ve faced that fear. You and I will pick something for you to wear that will make people sit up and notice.” Dave said firmly. 

 

Willow nodded meekly. “Yes, Dave.”

 

“Now…I believe the expression is, ‘Kiss and make up?’”

 

“Well if you want…but make-up would look silly on you I think. I think Buffy can lend us some…” Willow smiled impishly, at least some of her good humour restored now that the rocks and shoals of at least one of her problems had been weathered. She opened her mouth to continue but Dave silenced her, quite effectively.

 

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Xander knocked on the door of the master bedroom. Joyce’s basement office had been pre-empted as a guestroom again and the furnishing of 1628 and 1632 hadn’t been finished yet. Mrs. Kalish had accepted a cash deal and left for greener, non-hellmouthy pastures with a last warning to Joyce about the dangers of deer ticks. Simon had been quietly looking into ways of joining all three houses as fast as possible. Joyce had sighed and looked rather wistfully in the direction of the manor. Xander smiled at the memory. He knocked again. “Mom? You in there?”

 

“Yes, Xander, come in. ”Joyce, dressed in a knee length plaited light blue skirt, a white blouse and a light blue jacket was putting in her earrings and smiled at Xander. “So, think I pass muster?”

 

Xander smirked. “Mom…he’s not going to tell you, no matter how prettily you dress up…You’ll have to wait till Halloween.”

 

Joyce pouted, then grinned evilly. “Well, I can always undress…”

 

Mom!!!” Xander whined, putting up his hands in defeat. “Mercy…Anyway…that’s not why I’m here. Errr. Willow is downstairs on the porch swing with Dave…”

 

Joyce looked anxious. “Are they alright?”

 

“Well…they’re kissing.” Xander smirked. “And utterly oblivious, so yeah…but she’s worried again, about, well…”

 

Joyce shook her head, muttering vile imprecations about Sheila and Ira Rosenberg. “What do I have to do and say to convince that girl we’re not going to throw her out?”

 

She looked up at Xander, seeing his face swiftly move from anguished to neutral. “Xander…” Joyce took a step up to him and hugged him close. “We’re not throwing you out either.”

 

Xander sighed. “Yeah, well…It’s not like I’m prime real estate.”

 

“Xander…don’t you dare disparage yourself.” Joyce said firmly.

 

“Yeah…sure, Mom.”

 

“Come here you…Now, what has you so worried?” She sat him on the bed, keeping her arm around his shoulder.

 

“Nothing, just…”

 

“Xander…”

 

“I’m dumb, okay? I’m not like the rest of you…” Xander whispered.

 

“No, you’re not. Mr. Danvers says you have an excellent grasp of mechanical engineering. You see what is wrong, but you also see how things can be improved. You notice things, Xander.”

 

“Yeah…like my foster agreement only runs until I’m eighteen…Willow’s goes to twenty-one…” He looked at his hands in his lap.

 

“Yes, it does. That’s because your parents’ abuse of you is easier to prove. To keep Willow out of their clutches until she is fully adult we had that put in. That does not mean we’re kicking you out at eighteen…though you may be heartily sick of my mothering by then.” She gently touched his face.

 

“Now, come down with me and tell me what you’ve been doing at the garage.”

 

Xander smiled. *She knew…she didn’t call me an idiot…she understood why I was afraid…* He smiled broadly. “Well, we’ve got some classic European cars in for restoration right now. A Volkswagen Beetle, A Morris Mini and a Citroën 2C van. Can you believe that last one has actual bullet holes? The owner wants them preserved somehow.”

 

Joyce smiled as she led the now happily chattering Xander downstairs.  

 

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Joyce sat happily humming behind her desk in the Gallery, earlier than usual, still trying to catalogue her inventory. The phone rang. Joyce frowned. Not a number she recognized off-hand…She shrugged. She wasn’t going to find out who it was by sitting here and looking at it.

 

“Sunnydale Art Gallery, Joyce Summers, how may I help you?”

 

“Joyce? This is Phoebe, Phoebe Halliwell…”

 

“Phoebe! Hello, good to speak to you.”

 

“Joyce…can we come by?”

 

“Err…Weren’t you anyway? I mean, Prue’s still going to be helping with the exhibition in the Natural History Museum, right?” Joyce asked, slightly confused.

 

“Yeah…it’s just…she broke up with her boyfriend, because the scumbag stole the Bealls exhibition and the Meier exhibition…and she’s not sure she still has a job anyway…And Piper and Grams and I, we’re…”

 

“Worried. You’re all welcome here.”

 

“Thanks.” Phoebe sounded hugely relieved.

 

“And of course I will be calling Travis and Consuela and Simon can have a word with the Board…” Joyce said in a hard edged voice.

 

“Ah…now that might be interesting. Roger, that’s the ex, is coming over too; he’s supposed to be in charge of helping out with the exhibition.”

 

“He can find his own place to sleep then.” Joyce said firmly.

 

Phoebe laughed. “Thanks, Joyce.”

 

“Will you be there for Halloween?” Joyce asked. ”We still need to get some beds and furniture for the other houses…”

 

“Other houses?” Phoebe squeaked.

 

“Simon bought out the neighbours.” Joyce explained. “So you won’t be under the same roof, but you will be just a stone’s throw away.”

 

“Damn…I keep forgetting that he’s rich.”

 

“Yeah. Sometimes I manage that too.” Joyce said ruefully. “When will you be here?”

 

“Piper is prodding Prue as we speak. Tomorrow, late afternoon, early evening?”

 

“That will be fine. But you would be welcome tonight. I’m just warning you Simon and me will be off for dinner together, so you’ll be alone with the children, Clarice and Arlene.”

 

“Really? GRAMS!!! JOYCE SAYS IT’S OKAY TO COME TODAY!!!” Phoebe hollered.

 

Joyce chuckled as she held the phone far away from her ear. “Well, that seems to have settled that. I’ll just ask someone to get the beds in and we’ll be all set.”

 

“Yeah. Errr…Do we have to sleep in separate rooms? I sort of like sharing with Dawnie…” Phoebe rather hesitantly asked.

 

Joyce smiled. “What ever you prefer. I’ll see you tonight.”

 

“Thanks again, Joyce!”

 

“See you, Phoebe. Drive carefully.”

 

After Phoebe rang off Joyce called home to report that more guest might be coming to dinner and extra food needed to be bought for Sunday. And then she reached for her address book and grimly called Travis Bealls.

 

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Joyce saw Eliza Kendall approaching and opened the door of the Gallery to let in the tall blond woman, smiling her invitation but not speaking it. If she wanted to break the habit, she needed to go cold turkey.

 

Eliza Kendall gave her a look but did not comment. Joyce led her to the small . “Tea? Coffee?” We won’t be interrupted by the children or Simon; they all went to LA for costumes, after the morning run. And customers seem to be sparse this morning…” She gestured hopelessly around the front room.

 

“A run?”

 

“Plenty of exercise keeps them healthy and tired enough that I actually live through the weekends.” Joyce said dryly. “My older sisters are both with them. They ran too.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“Active family.”

 

Joyce smirked. “Well…I ought to have gone running with them, but your visit gave me an excellent excuse to dodge this one time…I said I had some work to do before you came by. It’s really embarrassing when I have to try and keep up with ‘Ris and ‘Lene. They can both easily run me into the ground.”

 

Eliza laughed. “Well then; tea please.” Joyce went into the little kitchen to make tea and Eliza followed.

 

“I heard that there’s going to be a hearing to expel Dawn.” Eliza started.

 

Joyce sighed. “Yes. Tuesday.”

 

“I’m going to be there. A lot of other parents as well. To blame Dawn and the other children for this more than us, the adults, is stupid.”

 

Joyce smiled. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

 

“Not that they don’t deserve some punishment…the Twins tell me you grounded Dawn and set her chores?” Eliza inquired, hesitantly.

 

“Yes, and I gave her a spanking.”

 

Eliza’s mouth quirked. “They skipped that bit.”

 

“I wonder why.” Joyce said with a straight face. “Now, what type of tea would you like?”

 

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Arlene shared a put upon look with Clarice. “Why did we volunteer for this again?”

 

“Joyce is at the Gallery, Mom and Dad are spoiling Kit, and Simon said he had to pick something up.” Clarice shrugged.

 

Arlene looked around the large costume shop with a sigh. All of the children, even Evy, were assiduously going through the clothing racks, studying mannequins, and chatting to each other.

 

“Oh well, I suppose the selection here is bigger than that store in Sunnydale…and they all look quite happy.”

 

“We have specific instructions from Joyce not to let Willow dress like a ghost.” Clarice said. She pointed at where the redhead had lifted a cellophane wrapped ‘boo sheet’ of a shelf. Then Dave’s hand clamped around her wrist and pushed it back, firmly. Willow opened her mouth to protest but Dave dragged her off to another section of the store. Willow followed meekly.

 

Amy was talking to Evy but Evy kept looking around anxiously. Arlene quickly stepped into her field of vision and Evy quickly relaxed. Clarice bit her lip.

 

“That doesn’t look good…”

 

“I know…she really dislikes being away from me…It’s as if she needs to define herself by me, by my presence. As if her invisibility ate away her individuality…” Arlene said in a low voice.

 

“Can that happen?” Clarice sounded startled.

 

“I don’t know…I asked Mom and she told me that Invisibility is a new power for the Lineage. We don’t know a lot about it. And she’s been invisible for months, draining her self, her power, on a Hellmouth no less.” Arlene bit her lip. “We just don’t know…and there was the whole mind control thing…We need more information, and we don’t know where to get it…”

 

Clarice hugged her sister. “Don’t worry ‘Lene. We’ll get to the bottom of it. I swear.”

 

Arlene sighed. “You know…it feels nice not to have to be the eldest for a change.”

 

“It feels nice to have younger siblings. Ummm…wanna help me pick a costume?”

 

“Something to impress Patrick?” Arlene asked slyly. “Plenty of cleavage?”

 

 Clarice blushed. “’Lene!”

  

“Hmm…I’ll take that as a yes, then…”

 

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Joyce led Eliza out of the Gallery to the lunchroom opposite. They sat down and ordered coffee while studying the luncheon menu.

 

“So. What did you want to talk to me about?”

 

“Err two things…I’ve been cutting down my hours at the clinic…I want to spend more time with the children, get Marcus to do the same…But I still find that…errr…”

 

“You’d like a friend?”

 

“Yes. When Harmony and Cordelia were younger, I…lets say that Charlotte Chase hasn’t aged well...and errr…” She reached into her purse and took out a large, colourful hardcover with a picture of a vase on the front. Joyce groaned.

 

“Identifying art…Why ever did I write that book…” She said whimsically.

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Eliza.” Joyce grinned. I’m flattered. But I still have my hero worshipping cousin’s copy at home and I have to put a suitable message in that before she comes back for a visit next week.”

 

Eliza smiled. “Ah…well I don’t need an autograph…just…well, you seem to be interested in more than money, power and clothes. So I was wondering…maybe you’d like to enrol in the Chinese Cookery course that’s on offer? Get to know each other? Get away from the children?”

 

Joyce grinned. “Cut down on the take out bill?”

 

“That too…those girls of mine are Dim Sum hogs, I swear. And Marcus can eat tons of General Cho’s Chicken.”

 

“I have a friend down the street, Pat, she runs the interior design shop in Wilkins Avenue…”

 

“Sure, invite her along. Does she have children?”

 

“Yes, but they’re all grown. I err…When I don’t ask my mother, I ask her for parenting advice. She’s divorced…”

 

“Single mother, I understand.” Eliza nodded sympathetically. “You ready to order? I’m starved.”

 

“Me too. So, tell me about Harmony and Cordelia…”

 

“Well when Cordy was young I always thought she’d get Harmony to run off to the army with her, because she just loves uniforms and titles and ranks, I’ve got this really cute set of pictures of the two of them…”

 

When Joyce returned to the Gallery an hour later she smiled broadly at Marianne and went into the office where she sat at her desk, felling quite happy.  She had made a friend and was going to do something normal, not Hellmouth related; she was going to a cookery course. With that and her book club life might almost seem normal. Almost.

 
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