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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)vidiconFR1598780,0851591501417,54928 May 115 Jul 14No

Playing with Bindings and herding worms

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and EllandrahSylver.

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.#

Irda, thanks for recommending me, All my other recommenders, know that I appreciate every one of you, and for sticking with me.

Many thanks to all my reviewers and readers. Like, dislike, let me know.


65 Playing with Bindings and herding worms

Friday, November 10th  an undisclosed location in the Eastern United States

The Director looked with some dislike at the man seated in front of his desk. He did not show his dislike, as that would be both unprofessional and dangerous. His protection gem was powerful, but a short range attack by a focus user might still harm him. “We have received a message from Voldemort’s Secundus,” he started without preamble. “He wants us to perform a service for him, in exchange for certain formulae and rituals.”

“He actually identified himself as such? Interesting,” Gilderoy Lockhart ran a hand down his perfectly pressed powder blue robes and flashed a dazzlingly white smile. “I assume from my presence here that this service involves me?” his voice was wary, as if he expected to be sold to the man who had once been Voldemort’s chief strategist. *If it is really him.*    

“Yes. He wants you to kill someone.” The Director stated bluntly. “Someone is working to change the view of the ‘Wizarding world’ on ‘Muggles’ and apparently that annoys the good Secundus.”

“And who must die and why me, and what, if I might be so crass, is in it for us?”

“He wants to avoid having any ‘former Death Eaters’ involved in the… ah… death. The person to be killed is one Xenophilius Lovegood, a magazine editor and Arithmancer, whatever that might be. As for what is in it for us, you will learn the Hirudo Animi spell, which is much faster than our means of harvesting souls. And you might gain some insight into a spell that might be helpful in alleviating your condition,” the Director finished blandly.  

“I see. And who gets the soul?”

“The Secundus will keep the soul of the first person, the one who he will use to demonstrate functionality of the spell. You may keep the Lovegood fellow.”

“Hmmph. Will there be time for extracurricular activities? There are some young ladies who I’d love to visit. One of them might even be very near Lovegood.”

“You will do nothing that might attract attention to the fact that you are the perpetrator and not a, what are they called, ah yes, a Dementor. This must look to be a terrible accident, to help further embarrass the Minister of Magic, force him to dismiss or proscribe the freedom of movement and actions of the Dementors and drive them into the arms of the Secundus.”

Lockhart leaned back in the comfortable chair. “I see. Well, the offer is certainly tempting. I agree.”

The Director sneered. “I’m so happy. You’ll receive training in the Muggle customs needed for two or three weeks, depending on your progress, and then depart by airplane, to arrive in London on the 5th of December at the latest to help finalize the plans. Understood?”

“Understood quite well,” Lockhart replied. “Exceptionally clearly, even.” He rose and nodded, then left. *And I’m certain that the Secundus will have no problem with it at all if I made some arrangements after his plans have come to fruition, as long as the little darlings are Blood-traitors or Muggleborns.* He stood outside the Director’s door and smiled. *Ah, Hermione, Luna, you will be mine…*


Sunday, November 12th

Brian Kirby - wearing an oversized bathrobe that almost hung to the floor, watched calmly as his eldest son tore into the heavy canvas boxing bag, his claws sheathed and his expression grim. He closed his eyes and centred himself and then felt the change, the bathrobe shifting slightly until it fit him like a close fitting, short kimono. He walked to stand behind the bag and hold it as Mike hit it with all his might - which was considerable.

After a few minutes Mike sagged, his wings drooping. “I hate her!”

“No, you don’t. You’re just disappointed.” Brian let go of the bag and stood beside his son. Mike looked up at him. Even now Brian stood almost a foot taller than his son while in Cheila form, his golden crest starting to silver with age.

“How do you know?” Mike asked belligerently.

Brian sighed and gestured at the large chairs at the other side of the room that was Mike’s. The old firehouse the Kirbys had bought had many high rooms and the old hose drying room, with its fifteen foot ceilings, had been made over for Mike. “Mike, I know this is hard to understand, but despite everything, Buffy has never seen you. She still sees the form you’re in, not the person you are.”

“Oh, so she’s shallow, too... I knew I had good reason to hate her. And she loves Angelus. Angelus, Dad!”

“No, she doesn’t. She has a crush on Angel, who is a handsome young man. I doubt very much if the full meaning of dating a vampire has sunk in.”

Mike’s claws shot out and bit into the floor and the mattress. Brian gave him a glare. “Mike, control!”

Mike growled and then sighed. His claws retracted and Brian looked at the floor. “Well, we’ll need the sander, new sheets and a new mattress. What do you think they are going to be doing together, hmmm?”

This time Mike not only growled but struck, his large fist moving towards his father at startling speed, only to be intercepted by Brian with practiced ease. Brian snorted. “And here we have one good reason to keep you away from her. You lack the necessary balance. She may be a Lady Protector, Mike, but do you really think she wants to face a snarling beast whenever you’re upset with her?”

Mike blinked. “So I’m not good enough for her?”

“No, you are not ready for her yet. You’re a Phrang, Michael. You can’t control yourself fully until you’ve made the change the first time,” Brian explained gently. “And you know it. And it makes you angry, and you’ve got a right to be angry. But look at it this way, do you think Ms. Summers is just going to sit back and let a two-hundred and seventy year old woo her daughter, without setting some very strict rules about what is and what isn’t appropriate?”

Mike growled, his claws spasming in and out of their sheaths. “If he touches her, he dies!”

Brian slapped his son’s hand. “Control, Mike.” The growls only deepened and Brian rose, grabbed his son by the crest and dragged him up. Mike slashed at him and Brian intercepted the attack and countered with a punch to Mike’s face. The young Cheila reared back, trying to backwing instinctively, but the space was limited and his father’s foot behind his ankles. Mike fell heavily back onto the bed and then blinked sheepishly up at his father, whose towering ten and a half foot form stood still and foreboding like a statue, his face disapproving. “And if you needed any further confirmation that you are not ready, there you have it.”

Mike nodded and sighed. “I still want to kill him.”

Brian snorted. “Ah, but that is natural, every Cheila wants to kill the Butcher of Galway.”


About ten minutes later, so still Sunday, November 12th

There was a knock and Dave rather absently called “Come in!” as he tapped away at his keyboard.

“Dave, sometimes I am incredibly proud of you. And at other times I cringe at the fact that I fathered such an idiot,” Brian Kirby spoke mildly from the doorway, his deep bass voice an incongruous counterpoint to his slight and short appearance in the tatty bathrobe. In human form Anna Kirby was several inches taller than her husband. In Cheila form, Brian stood a foot and a half taller than his wife.

Dave looked up from his computer as the deep, resonant voice spoke and then turned back to his typing, trying to close out his father’s presence. Brian came in and sat on the bed, the springs creaking slightly under his slight weight.

“Willow doesn’t deserve what you are doing to her,” Brian stated quietly.

“She thinks it’s romantic! How would she feel if I dated Eichmann!” Dave spat.

“Well, besides the fact he is dead and ashes, and several years older, and male, I assume she would not be happy,” Brian replied with a small smile. “I must admit I never imagined you’d go for older men, David,” Brian deadpanned. “Seven month younger women - that I’ve known since you were twelve... older men, no.”

Dave groaned. “Dad! That wasn’t the point! ”

Brian smiled. “And what was? You ranting?”

Dave growled. “How can you take this so calmly?”

“Dave, you’ve loved Willow for how long?” Brian asked gently. “And now you’re angry because her sister is dating a guy who has the memories of Angelus? Okay, so it’s a little silly that she thinks it’s romantic. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, but she is fifteen years old. Cut her some slack. I mean, not that long ago you were seduced by a demon’s promises of power-”

“That isn’t the same, and you know it!” Dave retorted sharply.

“No, it wasn’t. You came out of that because of Willow. And now you’re acting like an idiot. You have to tell her why, Dave. You have to talk about it.”

“Will she understand?”

Brian snorted. “Of course she will. She’s Jewish and she’s smart. It may change her view of Angel. But that is their problem. Making her understand what your problem with him is... it’s the first step in apologizing.”

“Apologize?” Dave bristled. “Me? To her?”

“And then probably she to you. It’s this whole reciprocal thing called love,” Brian waved a slender fingered hand in the air. “And since she does not understand what she did wrong, and can’t, since she doesn’t know, well…”

Dave slumped. “Did you and Mom ever go through anything like this?”

“Well not quite like this, but there was a sufficiency of teen drama, yes,” Brian smiled slightly. “The jocks found it rather annoying that the school’s premier swimming star took up with a short nerd.”

Dave grinned. “A pity you never visited them while in Cheila form.”

Brian grinned back. “Why David, whoever would’ve believed them if I had?”

Dave blinked and his eyes widened. “Oh. Does Mom know?”

Brian quirked an eyebrow. “Your mother has always appreciated a good prank,” he rose and looked at his son. “Promise me you’ll at least think about talking to Willow.”

Dave nodded. “I will, Dad. And thanks.”

Brian put a hand on his son’s shoulder and smiled. “Always, David. Always.”


Monday morning, November 13th  Sunnydale High

Willow slunk into the school, feeling the eyes of everyone she met following her, feeling that everybody knew that she and Dave were over, that she was once more the ugly duckling. Buffy sighed beside her. “Willow, you’re overreacting. It was just a little fight. Dave loves you way too much to dump you over this.” She reached out and hugged Willow, who smiled, timorously. They reached the lockers and Willow’s eyes widened. There was a huge bunch of deep red roses hanging from the door and a small, white envelope. In Dave’s handwriting it bore the name Willow. Willow made a little squealing nose and ran to her locker, folded open the envelope and read the short note.

I love you, I’m sorry, please let me explain. Our bench, the rear courtyard, lunch? Please?Love, Dave.

Willow clutched the card to her chest and sniffed the roses. She smiled widely at Buffy. Buffy smiled back. “See? I told you so.”


Dave leaned back against the wall, his feet extended, the stone bench in the courtyard warm under him, heated by the sun and ambient temperature.

He opened his eyes at the slight noise. Willow was standing next to him, a tremulous smile on her face. Dave shot to his feet and hugged her. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think.”

Willow bit her lip. “Why were you so upset about it? I mean, yeah, he’s much older than she is, but…” She shrugged, indicating her inability to understand.

Dave sighed. “Willow… There are two things you need to know. Vampires love the taste of Cheila blood, in both our forms. And Liam O’Connell was born in Ireland. Once, Ireland held the largest number of Cheila in the entire world. Until Angelus decided that he would feed exclusively on us. And that he would earn some money by selling my people to his. He’s killed, drained and tortured thousands of Cheila, often actively supported by the church and the Watchers’ Council, at least until the nineteenth century. I didn’t know that last bit until my Mom told me to be careful of Mr. Giles.”

Willow gasped, horrified. “Oh! Oh, Dave…” She took his hand. “I’m sorry, I should have realized-”

“And I should have explained,” Dave smiled at her. “But it will take a long time before I can see Liam and not the Beast of Galway.”

“I understand.” Willow leaned her head against Dave’s shoulder. “But next time, talk first.”

Dave smiled. “Yes. I will. I love you, Willow.”

“Hmm, I love you too, Dave.”


Monday morning, November 13th Imperial California

Clarice glared at her mother from her place in the sun-dappled living room, nestled on the huge, worn leather couch. “You're treatin' me like a teenager! If I want to kiss Patrick, I'll kiss Patrick! If I wanna do more with Patrick, I'll do that as well!”

Cecelia smiled. “Yes. The important word there is 'I want'. Clarice, at first I was hesitant because, well, you are just coming out of a nervous breakdown and that is seldom a good time to form a new relationship.” Cecelia bit her lip. “And then we found out your magic is rather more active than I expected it to be. And what your talent is.”

Clarice blinked.  “What has that got to do with it?”

“You can feel Patrick's desire. What if Patrick's subconscious desire is influencing you? Making you fall in love? Making you want him?”

Clarice sat back, stunned. “Is that what you think?”

“It’s what I fear, the worst case scenario. You'll need to learn to control your powers, shield your mind from outside influences. Simon ought to be able to teach you that, his mental shields are probably his strongest power,” Cecelia smiled. “I have nothing against Patrick, dear, but after one marriage in which his mind was influenced by magic, I think we owe it to him to prevent a repeat.”

Clarice winced. “You mean it could also be t’other way round? Me wantin' him and influencin' him?”

“It's possible. I'm sorry, Clarice.” Cecelia looked down at her folded hands.

Clarice buried her face in her hands. “Why can't things ever be simple?” She demanded. “Why can't I just meet a good guy and fall in love?”

“Maybe you have, it's quite likely even. But we won't know for sure until we've lifted the block and you’ve got conscious control of your power,” Cecelia moved to sit beside her eldest daughter and gave her a hug. “I'm sorry for dragging you off like that, that was beyond the pale.”

Clarice snorted. “I wish you’d been there when I was fifteen and...” She blushed furiously as she cut herself off.

Cecelia did not lessen her hug. “Clarice, I know your childhood, your youth after your father's death was not the best. You had little guidance and you made mistakes.” She grinned. “If you want me to, I can hex them for you.”

Clarice started to giggle through her tears. “That is an attractive thought, but I reckon we shouldn't.” She straightened. “So what do we have to do to lift this Bindin’?”

Clarice rose and extended a hand. “I've been compiling a book of spells and methods to destroy demons since I ran away. I'll show you.”

Clarice followed Cecelia up to the first floor and then to the attic by a narrow, almost ladder like stair, through a room that was obviously used for storage and to a locked and barred door, with padlocks on all four of the bars which Cecelia carefully unlocked. 

The room beyond was light and airy, with three dormer windows on both sides and a fireplace in the wall opposing the door. The floor was sanded and varnished wood, with a few rugs that could easily be moved aside and a number of circles and pentagrams painted under the varnish. A long table stood under one row of dormer windows, including triple gas ring and large numbers of jars and pots, as well as a coffee machine, a simple faucet and sink were present as well, as was a large number of bookcases, a divan bed and several comfortable chairs in front of a fireplace  

Clarice looked at the figures on the floor.  “Don't you have to draw those anew each time? Isn't this cheatin'?”

Cecelia smiled. “They're guidelines. You try creating a perfect circle with sand or iron filings or whatever without a template,” she gestured at a large book lying closed on a lectern near the fireplace, set between two large book cases with leather bound tomes. “That's my spellbook.”

Clarice grinned. “What, no broom?”  

Cecelia lifted an eyebrow. “Only for switching.”

Clarice winced and blushed. “Ah, err... So, what's in the book?” she looked at it attentively, noting that the front cover was embossed with a Triquetra, and that two large brass, keyhole-less locks kept it closed.

Cecelia smiled. “I'll show you.” She put her hand on the brass locks of the book and whispered a word. The locks clicked and Cecelia opened the large leather-bound book to the flyleaf. Then she took a thin, sharp knife from the table and carefully cut some of the paper of the cover and removed an old-fashioned exercise book, she opened it to the middle and handed it to Clarice with a trembling smile.

“My mother gave both Penelope and me one of these, to write our spells in, until we were old enough to get our own books.”

Clarice took the notebook and read the girlish handwriting.

From father's Blood his seed protect

Keep safe from wrath and dark intent,

Hide all that he might and try detect

Until the day the Blood repents.         

“That's the one I cast to keep him from detecting you,” Cecelia explained gently.

“I see. And this one sealed away my powers?” She tapped the opposite page.

“Yes. That one is traditional, the hiding spell isn't. The counterspells are err... in the back of the book.”

Clarice turned to the last page and read the carefully scribed words. Her eyes widened. “Mom! This has to be performed naked!” she exclaimed.

Cecelia grinned wickedly. “Yes. It could be worse. Should I show you some of the ones that can only be performed by a couple in love?”

“MOM!” Clarice groaned and glared at her mother. Then an equally wicked grin made her look amazingly like the older woman. “Maybe, once we're sure Patrick and I really are in love.”

Cecelia grin widened and became a positive smirk. “Well, since they are all spells to ensure healthy, strong offspring, fertility and easy birth...”

Clarice's smile fell away and she looked at the book. Then she looked up. “Maybe. If Patrick wants to...” she whispered in a tear choked voice.

Cecelia sighed and hugged her daughter.

“We'll see, dear, we'll. We'll see.”


San Francisco, HalliwellMansion. November 13th

The three young women sat looking at the bowl in the middle of the table and the older woman who reached for it, taking out the three pieces of paper, each one folded identically in four.

“Are you sure this is the way you want to do it?' Penelope asked anxiously.

Prue sighed. “Yes, Grams. We talked about it on the way here from Sunnydale. We’ve discussed it, we're all sure. We've considered how it will impact us, all three of us. We've discussed how we will be affected. And now we must decide, and stop dithering.” She looked at her sisters for support.

Piper reached out to take Penelope's hand. “Grams, this way each of us made their decision alone. If any one of us does not want the power, or not now, well...”

Penelope closed her eyes and sighed. “Very well.”  She let go of Piper’s hand and with trembling fingers she unfolded the first sheet of paper. It held a single word, printed out. “One ‘Yes’,” Penelope counted, and unfolded the second sheet, which held an identically printed word. “Two ‘Yesses’,” Penelope bit her lip and then unfolded the last piece of paper. “Three ‘Yesses’.” She swallowed heavily, her expression a mixture of pride and fear.

The younger Halliwells smiled at their grandmother and then Piper reached out to take Phoebe's and Penelope's hand, and Phoebe to take Prue's and Prue to take Penelope's.

Penelope smiled. “I'm so proud of you. And I love you all so much.”

Phoebe grinned and dropped her grandmother a nearly imperceptible wink. “So, how do we lift the block?”

Penelope smile became slightly wicked, knowing quite well that Phoebe had divined some parts of the ritual at least. “Well, why don’t I take you to the attic and show you.”


November 14th - Joyce’s birthday.5am

The door creaked open and two heads peeked around it, one dirty blonde, one light brown with streaks of sun blanched blonde that showed she would grow lighter with the years, if not much, under the California sun.

The two heads sneaked in, very careful to keep to the side of the bed that contained the curly blonde head, and not the dark one. Even if the curly blonde was sleeping with her head on the dark one’s chest.

“You two do realize it is five in the morning?” Simon muttered, as Dawn was about to jump up and scream “Happy birthday!” at the top of her voice.

Dawn deflated. There was a sleepy giggle. “Really Sime, if you’d wanted a quiet life…” Joyce turned around and looked at her youngest daughters, both looking rather sheepish and sleepy in their sleeping t-shirts and bare feet. Then Dawn yawned, which set off Kit.

Joyce lifted the duvet and with quick meeting of eyes the girls hurried under it, lying between the adults. Kit nestled in the warmth beside Simon and Dawn next to Joyce.


Tuesday 14th of November, late afternoon

There was a large box on the kitchen island, wrapped in colourful paper. Joyce looked at it, and then at the children. They all looked at it with curiosity. Dawn was biting her lip, Kit was trying to control her bounce, Buffy and Willow were looking at Simon. Xander was looking sad, which was not uncommon the past week. Joyce made a mental note to talk to him and try and get Kit some exercise. Now that she was getting proper food her energy seemed even more boundless than Dawn’s.

“Well, let’s make dinner and then we can…” she began, knowing what reaction she would get.

“MOM!!!” The chorus of horrifyingly curious teens and preteens made her laugh.

“Oh, very well.” Joyce ripped off the paper and stiffened, her face going blank and then settling into anger. “Who- Who… IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?”

Buffy and Dawn gasped and so did Willow.

“Not a joke. I’d quite like you to continue your thesis and finish it,” Simon stated quietly, as he cut some vegetables next to the sink.

“Oh? You would? And you think you can get one of the most sequestered and exclusive private palaces of Florence opened up for me just like that?” Joyce snapped her fingers. “And the Libraria Vicarii? I only tried for three years, and when I finally managed it, I was told on the doorstep that regrettably they had no time for me that day! That the Library was closed for restoration! Can you make sure that never happens again?”

“Certainly. When the Meiers bought the Medici collection we did so in the full knowledge that the last Will and Testament of the Electress Anna Maria stipulated that only select items of the jewelry could be taken beyond the borders of the Duchy. So we set up a Palazzo in Florence,” Simon smiled at her ruefully and slightly frightened. “In defence of the organization, there was a rather catastrophic flood in the basement the week before you arrived, but you were treated scandalously. I’m sure that the staff will be utterly horrified to know that the new chatelaine is going to be most upset with them before she’s even officially introduced.”

 Joyce managed to bring out a strangling noise. “Chatelaine?”

“I had the master key of the Palazzo Medici-Vicari sent here. It’s on top of your notes, in the box,” Simon looked at the floor. “If you want it.”

With trembling hands Joyce opened the scruffy cardboard. She closed her eyes for a second and then pulled out an elaborate bronze key, verdigris covering the surface except around the beard and the handle, where use kept it shiny. 

“The pearls. The Medici pearls should have told me…” Joyce whispered, as she ran her hands over the cool metal. “I should have guessed…” Then she glared at Simon. “How did you find out?”

Simon blushed. “Err… Well, I went to comfort Willow and I saw her carrying the box up from the garage, and well, your handwriting and I got curious… so I snooped,” he looked incredibly guilty. “I’m really sorry Willow; I didn’t intend to invade your privacy.”

Willow looked at him for a few seconds, her mouth open, and then began to giggle. “It’s a family trait; we’re cursed with terrible curiosity,” she walked over to him and kissed his cheek. “With Mom’s handwriting, what were you expecting?”

Simon cleared his throat and looked guiltily at Joyce. “Err… rather steamy romance novels, which you are too young for and which I would have wanted to confiscate…” He shrugged.

Joyce, still clutching the key, blushed furiously, as did Willow. Buffy laughed uproariously and Joyce glared at her and then grinned ruefully.  “No, I keep those locked up at the Gallery. So no use looking for them again, Buffy Anne Summers!”

Buffy let out an ‘eep’ and blushed herself.

Joyce smiled. “I suppose I can’t blame you for something that happened ten years ago?”

Simon growled. “Well, I must admit that when I read in your rather… vituperative notes they didn’t even offer you coffee, tea or an explanation, and you pregnant with Dawn… I almost called them to sack the lot…”

“Well next time I shall go with you, how is that? Will they still slam the door in my face?” Joyce teased.

“I doubt it,” Simon replied dryly. “And speaking of foreign travel, I’ve been drafted by the Grand Magister to investigate a matter between two factions of focus users in Britain, and negotiate a possible settlement…”

Joyce sighed. “When do you leave?”

Simon pursed his lips. “There are some preliminary investigations that have to be done, but I was thinking the Christmas Holidays?”

“So you will be gone for Christmas?” There was real disappointment in Willow’s voice. “Hanukah I mean…”

“Well, I was actually thinking of celebrating it in New York, at Vlugwater, or the New York Mansion, with all of you, and New Year’s in London, but if you prefer me to be gone…” Simon shrugged. “I can do that.”

The cacophony of squeals and demands to be included was nearly deafening. Simon chuckled. “I’ll take it as a yes then.” He glanced at the clock. “Why don’t you go and tell our guests that dinner will be ready in ten?” He looked at the children, who grinned. Buffy looked at Dawn and Kit, delegating the responsibility. Kit stuck her head out of the door and called out at the two elderly gentlemen sharing the porch swing. “Grandpa Charles, Grandpa Jon, soup’s up in ten!”

“Don’t you mean ‘Soup’s on’, Kit?” Charles inquired.

“Not if you eat the oxtail soup… Dad added Madeira.” Kit replied cheerfully.

Evy in the meantime was biting her lip and trying to stifle her tears. Arlene glared at Simon.

Simon lifted an eyebrow. “I’m probably taking one of the jets, and I doubt one or two - or a dozen - extra occupants will matter to it, or any of my houses. I’m planning on inviting Clarice as well. And Amy and Patrick if they want. Jon needs to go to Britain for something or other and it would hardly be fair to let the two of you remain here alone to guard the house, now would it?”

Evy looked at her cousins. “You-you wouldn’t mind?”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Of course not, eh Buffy?”

Buffy looked rebellious. “As long as I get first pick of the bedrooms it’s fine. I’m not sleeping in the basement!”

Simon sighed. “Willow, would you look on the internet for ‘largest private house in the United States’ and show Buffy that, unless she keeps up this behaviour towards Evelyn, it is highly unlikely she will need to sleep in the basement.”

Joyce looked up from the contents of the box, which she had been studying as if they were all new to her. “Buffy, apologize. Simon, you are not making Buffy sleep in the basement of a house with a hundred and thirty bedrooms. Understood?”

Simon waved a languid hand, showing he had not been serious in the first place.

Buffy flushed. “Sorry, Evy. I’m just… edgy.”

“Edgy? What about?” Simon asked, his voice rather more gentle now.

“I’ve had dreams. Every night since Friday…” Buffy murmured.

“What about? Can you remember?”

“A man, an old man, with a stick in his hand, he’s standing beside this huge stone lion and there is this girl, a blonde, about twelve, wearing a weird dress and sobbing and crying and calling for her parents. And then the old guy steps up and smirks and says, ‘And now we come to the end of the line’, or something like that, and he points the stick at her and says ‘Abra cadabra’ or something and there is a green light and the girl… dies,” Buffy whispered.

“Avada Kedavra. Is that what he is saying?” Simon asked, his face set in hard lines.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Buffy nodded. “You know who it is?”

“No. No I don’t. Do they speak in British accents?” Simon asked thoughtfully.

“Yeah, they do.”

Simon nodded. “What does the lion look like? Is it naturalistic?”

“No, kinda stylized.”

“Lying or sitting?” Joyce asked.

“Lying, paws crossed.” Buffy replied, after a moment of thought.

Joyce left the kitchen and returned a short time later with a large book. She walked up to Buffy, and opened the book near the beginning. “This it?” She asked, pointing a picture of a large, recumbent lion statue.

Buffy looked at the picture. “Yeah. That’s it. Where is this?”

“London, the rear entrance of the British Museum,” Joyce looked at Simon. “Focus users?”

“Sounds like it. Does the dream feel as if it is something that must be done quickly?” Simon asked Buffy.

Buffy looked uncertain. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Joyce gave her a quick hug. “Don’t worry, honey. From what Arlene tells me these things get clearer with repetition.” She looked at Arlene, who nodded.

“Yes, which can be very annoying,” Arlene sighed. “But Slayer dreams are not the same as my visions. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, Buffy,” Arlene put a hand on Buffy’s arm. “And I know how upsetting they can get.”

Buffy swallowed. “The look on that girl’s face. So hopeless, and… It just makes me want to cry.” She got off her stool and went over to Evy, hugging her tightly. “I’m sorry, Evy. Not sleeping well is no reason to-”

Evy made a shushing noise. “It’s alright, Buffy. I know Mom can get very upset by her visions,” Evy bit her lip. “Err… Sorry Mom.”

Arlene smiled. “Evy, anyone with any sense, which includes most of this family, knows I get upset by my visions.”

Joyce lifted an eyebrow. “Most?”

Arlene met the eyebrow and raised her sister a smirk. “I call your attention to the two elderly gentlemen on the kitchen porch swing who are currently discussing a road trip, by motorbike, up and down the West Coast, to and I quote ‘let it all hang loose’.”

Joyce groaned. “I can’t believe Dad actually considered joining them!”

Arlene shook her head. “He would have, if Mom hadn’t dragged him and ‘Ris back to Imperial. I rather expected ‘Ris to stay for your birthday-”

“Gran said she didn’t think she was ready for a new grandchild quite yet,” Kit said absently. 

“And she said that next time she found Aunt ‘Ris and Patrick, no matter how nice he looked in uniform, kissing like that in public, she would find out exactly what it felt like to be grounded. And that almost tearing off his jacket was not the right way to show her appreciation of veterans,” Dawn continued, stealing a small cube of cooked chicken that Simon had cut to put into the soup.

“And Aunt ‘Ris wanted to know how Gran appreciated her own veteran, and Gran blushed and then dragged off Aunt ‘Ris by her ear,” Kit looked up at Joyce. “Is she gonna be upset to find out that you dragged Dad into the storeroom at the Gallery, Aunt Joyce?”

Buffy made a gargling noise. Willow groaned. Xander’s head thudded on the island. Evy bit her lip and eyed her mother in a way that made it clear that if the woman even got near a man she was personally locking her up for ten years.  

Joyce crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at Kit, her cheeks bearing rosy flushes. “Katherine Melanie Joanne Holburn, Dawn Florence Summers, that was a little too rehearsed.”

Dawn looked at Kit, and the two nine year olds slipped off the stools and out of the kitchen as quickly as they could. Joyce set off after them, her face promising plenty of chores in the future of her two youngest.

Arlene giggled, and then laughed. “I told you she liked uniforms,” she teased Simon. Simon merely sighed and added the vegetables to the chicken soup.


Simon laid down the phone on the receiver next to the bed. “Well, we’ll fly out from here early on the twenty-third. Both the mansion and the Manor are being prepared.  

“Christmas in New York? At Vlugwater?” Joyce stepped up to Simon and looked him in the eye. “Are you certain?”

“Yes. If all of you can’t keep the memories at bay, nothing can. And it’s not as if the houses are at fault.” He smiled a little sadly. “I even have memories of good times there, when my grandparents were still alive.”

“Have you found out anything about the girl in Buffy’s vision?”

“No. Arlene had Buffy write the dreams down, as well as she could remember. There seem to be Christmas decorations, so we now think that Buffy got the dream so she can prepare for whoever we will be facing.”

“What are you going to be investigating? And do you have notion how long it will take?”

Simon snorted. “The idiots have been using a type of demon called a Soul Stealer to guard their main prison and to execute felons. And one of their worst criminals escaped and now is on the run, and they’ve set the things to hunt him, and since his primary target is a young boy, they’ve set them up around his school.”

“Soul Stealer? That doesn’t sound good,” Joyce shuddered.

 “It isn’t. They’re vile things, they cause fear and anguish and depression when they are nearby; they exuded a kind of mist, or at least they are so cold that water condenses around them and the mist is filled with gloom and fear as well.” Simon shook his head in disgust.

“So, why do they need you?”

“So far the things have affected several students badly. Parents have demanded that the demons be banished back to their island, or if they are unmanageable, destroyed,” Simon sighed. “The problem is, nobody knows how, there is no known way to kill one of those things.”

Joyce bit her lip. “Oh, I see. Will you be alright?”

“As long as you and the children keep away from them, yes. I want you as far away from the focus users as I can manage.”

“Will we be in danger?” Joyce asked, shocked.

“I doubt it, but there are still some factions among them who consider channelers to be vile and worthy of immediate execution. No better than ‘Muggles’,” Simon sneered.

“Muggles?” Joyce inquired.

“People without magic. I think a cognate word in our society might be ‘Nigger’,” Simon pronounced with distaste. 

“Not very nice people are they?”

“Not very, no.”


Rupert Giles whimpered inaudibly. Next to him Jenny Calendar did the same. Principal Snyder gave them both a feral, victorious smile. “And I shall expect this year’s Christmas pageant with Sunnydale Elementary to be the finest in many years.”

The two exchanged glances. Finally they rose and left, shoulders slumped in defeat. “He can’t be serious!” Jenny whined.

“He is. I’m sorry, Jenny,” Giles soothed her. “It’s my fault; I should have paid more attention to the small print in my contract.”

Jenny sighed. “Great. Just wonderful. Another massive headache and a lot of afternoons at school.”

“Why don’t we go to my office and talk about how we’ll deal with it?” Giles proposed diffidently.

Jenny nodded. “I suppose. C’mon English, we need to call Sunnydale Elementary and get things set up.”

“Ah, yes, and maybe a cup of tea, to help you calm down?” Giles offered.

 “Hmmm, and a foot rub?” Jenny asked hopefully.

Giles smiled at her. “And a foot rub. Remind me to lock the door.”


Tuesday 15th of November, evening

Buffy glared at the flowers and the envelope on the table. “It’s not fair!” she whined.

“It’s worrying, that’s what it is. The Master sending you flowers is not a good thing, Buffy,” Angel pointed out, trying to soothe her.

“Who cares about that! He sent me a Neiman Marcus voucher and I can’t use it until I get back to LA! If he'd sent it earlier I could have used it this weekend!” Buffy stamped one petite foot on the floor.

Joyce smiled, as did Simon. Angel looked on uncomprehendingly for a moment, and finally shrugged. “Come on Buffy, let’s go patrol. You can work off some of that frustration,” he suggested.

Buffy huffed and nodded. “Yeah, okay, I just need to get my stuff and change.”

Buffy went upstairs and Angel opened his mouth to speak. The looks on the faces of Joyce and Simon stopped him.

“Lewis and Hurst will be watching. Everything should be quite well monitored,” Simon told him.

*Chaperoned, you mean.* Angel thought.

“I called Dad and Mom today; they were very interested to hear about your relationship with Buffy,” Joyce added.

*Touch her and The Witch of Imperial and her Shaman husband will do things to you that would make Angelus run like a frightened kid.* Angel translated for himself. He smiled. “Glad to hear it. I’ll do everything in my power to keep Buffy safe.”

Joyce gave him a look. “You’d better.”

Angel shivered slightly. “I err… will wait for her on the porch, shall I?”

Joyce smiled. “Let me turn on the lights for you, so we can see.” She rose and did so, opening the door for Angel to leave.  

Angel sighed a little and waited for Buffy. When she arrived he gave her a chaste peck on the cheek and swiftly led her away.

Joyce and Simon watched them go. “Do you think we overdid that?” Simon asked.

“I think they both realize we do not approve, and will not allow her to be taken advantage of. If he does…” Joyce’s voice trailed off.

Simon snorted. “I think we were pretty clear on that.”

Joyce sighed. “I give it two months at the most, once the novelty has worn off.”

Simon nodded. “Agreed.”

Joyce grinned up at him. “Want to bet on the when and the how?”

“Angel will do something stupid, he lacks understanding of this time and of Buffy. He fell in love with an image of her, an Angel sent to fight the forces of darkness, and he clings to her since he thinks she’s his salvation. It’s too selfish to be called love. Fascination or obsession is a better word. No more than two months. Halfway into January. But no bet.”

Joyce pouted. “And I had this darling costume in mind, Dawn saw it in Swan Lake…”

Simon glared at her. “And there you have my reason for not wanting a bet,” he muttered. “I dread to think what you will make me wear.”

Joyce sniffed. “It can’t be any worse than the costume you made me wear.”

“You liked it,” Simon argued softly.

Joyce glared. “I was expecting Lord Hornblower to enter my bedroom, not some pirate to ravish me!”

“You liked that too…” Simon purred.

Joyce huffed. “Idiot. But yes, I did,” she said in a sultry voice.

“YES!!! OH, DAVE!! YES!!!” Willow’s voice rang from upstairs, exultantly.

Simon and Joyce were torn from their memory, their eyes meeting in shock. “Willow? Dave?” Simon blurted out. “They wouldn’t?”

Joyce grabbed his hand and dragged him upstairs, to Willow’s room. “We’re gonna find out, right now!” Her expression was fierce, and if Dave had laid a finger on Willow in an inappropriate way, he was sure to suffer the consequences.

They arrived at Willow’s door, breathless, and found it standing open. Two laptops sat on the bed and Willow was hugging Dave. They were both fully clothed and though kissing, their clothes showed no sign of disarray. Joyce cleared her throat. Willow looked up and beamed at them.

“We found him! We found Lebannen! We’ve got a tracking worm on him. With a nasty little rider that will turn his computer to mush and send us his real IP.” Willow was exultant. “Take that, you little snitch!” She pointed at the computer. “Ha!”

Joyce sighed. “Willow, isn't what you did slightly illegal? And hadn’t we agreed that you would locate this Lebannen person and then we would discuss what was going to happen?”

Willow's excitement collapsed in seconds as she blanched. “Err... Oops?”

“Oops?” Joyce gave Dave a stern look. “David, please log off and say goodnight. And I fear that you won't be allowed to take Willow anywhere for the foreseeable future.”

“Mom! Dave just helped, you shouldn't blame him!” Willow interrupted.

“Oh, I'm not. But it’s going to be very difficult what with you being grounded and all the chores you’ll be doing,” Joyce stated firmly.

Willow gulped and looked at her feet. “Ah. Right. Didn't think of that.”

Dave was quickly putting away his laptop and stood ready to leave. “I'm sorry, Ms. Summers, I-”

Joyce raised a hand. “Dave, Willow knows the rules and she agreed to the ones I set with regards to Lebannen. She did this to herself. Now say good night.”

Dave nodded, kissed Willow on the cheek and was led downstairs by Simon.

Willow swallowed. “Grounded?”

“Two weeks. We'll think of some chores,” Joyce said firmly. “And get ready for bed, it’s time for you to go to sleep.”

“Yes, Mom. Sorry, Mom,” Willow's voice was tear-choked and Joyce reached out to hug her.

“We'll discuss this further tomorrow, Willow. And you may have to buy someone a new computer.”

Willow let out an outraged squeak and then blushed. “Yeah, well, I suppose you're right.”

Joyce smiled. “We'll discuss it tomorrow. I'll come and tuck you in later.”

Willow nodded and sighed, heading for the shower next to her room, her shoulders slumped, muttering. “Stupid Lebannen, he probably has a heavy duty system too! I'll be paying him for years! Until I'm fifty! No, fifty years older than Mom!”

Joyce left, very carefully hiding her grin.


Wednesday, 15th of November, after lunch

Joyce groaned as she sat behind her desk at the Gallery, ready for another struggle with her inventory program. She had briefly considered making Willow build her one instead of making her do chores, but hadn't for two reasons. Willow would enjoy it and Willow would need the money Joyce was planning to pay her for doing it to repair or replace Lebannen's computer.

Joyce turned on the computer and went to the kitchen to make coffee. She’d probably had more already than was good for her but she hadn’t slept very well and needed the caffeine. By the time she'd brewed her caffeine shot the computer had started up and she turned to her mail. There was mail from Willow, from a few minutes ago, sent just after Joyce turned on her computer. A moment's calculation made her realize that Willow should be getting ready for PE, not mailing her mother. Willow despised PE… was the girl letting her know that she was skipping class out of a sense of guilt?  Joyce shook her head. Better see what she wanted, it might be important. Willow was very conscientious about going to her classes. Even PE.

Ms. Summers? Please? I’ll be good. I did everything I could. I think it’s all back to how it should be, I’m really sorry it took me so long, please? Let me come back?

What had Willow done to make her fear that she was no longer allowed to say Mom? Or come back?  Joyce sighed. At least Xander, Buffy and Dawn enjoyed PE, most of the time. Kit was bouncing around the house so much Joyce had no doubt she loved it.  Joyce guiltily thought back to the many, many times she had dodged PE herself and decided that she might be  a touch more lenient with her one daughter who had the same level of agility she did.

Dear Willow,

Didn’t we agree on you calling me Mom? Now why aren’t you changing for PE? What have you been up to, young lady? You’d better spill and it had better not be your fault. There will be no skipping any classes!

Love, Mom.

The answer came immediately, in her chat program which she’d thoughtlessly opened. Unlike what the children thought she and Simon mostly discussed art and what they were going to eat and stuff like that. Mostly. He wasn’t online, but Willow was.

But I’m in here?! I can’t go to PE! I’m in here and I can’t get out! Please! I’ll be good, just get me out, please tell them to stop hurting me!

Joyce’s heart beat faster. *In where? Oh god… has someone locked Willow in somewhere?  She’s claustrophobic, how will she manage? I’m going to kill the sonofabitch who hurt her!* She speed dialed a call to Hurst and got him immediately.

“Hurst? It’s me… are the children alright? Willow?”

Hurst chuckled. “Well, she’s currently rather annoyed at having to swing a bat at a ball which she declared was not a proper way to spend her afternoon… But otherwise yes, she’s alright, they all are.”

Joyce sighed with relief. “Thanks, Hurst. I’ll get back to you.”

“You’re welcome, Ms. Summers. Call Lewis if you need anything, he’s on stand by.”

“I will. Thank you.” Joyce hung up and returned to the chat program and typed, rather angrily

Willow is playing baseball… who are you?

I’m Willow! I’m Willow! Please, Mom help me! I’m scared! He’ll be back and he’ll hurt me again! Please, Mom! I don’t want him to hurt me again! I put everything back like it was and it took a really long time, I know but please! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please, they're hurting me!

Joyce’s blood ran cold. *It can’t be, Oh please, not that...*With trembling fingers, she typed her next question.

Willow… where are you?

I’m in the machine. He put me in the machine! Please, Mom, I’ll be good, I'll be good forever! Don’t let him hurt me again! He's at the door and he sent a virus at me. Please!


End note:

Oh dear, it’s a cliffhanger….



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