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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)vidiconFR1598780,0851591497402,31128 May 115 Jul 14No

Old rituals and new beginnings

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.#

Greek: ^Who cares?^

Ancient Egyptian: »Who’s that?«

Latin: ~Who’s who?~

Telepathy: %Who’s that in my mind?%

Many thanks to the latest to recommend me, ozseaside, PrincessSimi and readerboy.

My apologies for taking so long to put this up, renovations are taking more time than expected, RL has other wise been very busy and my muse has been wandering all sorts of strange paths and back ways.

Hope you enjoy the chapter.

Chapter 72 Old rituals and New beginnings   

Wednesday evening December 5th 1995 Revello Drive

Willow wrinkled her nose and sighed. “Dad’s weird.”

Xander grinned widely. “Hey, its extra presents…”

“I think the candy is strange. Tasty, but strange,” Kendra declared.

Buffy was nibbling on a chocolate letter. “This is good. I’m with the weird though. I mean, how long has his family been here?”

“1624. That’s pretty long. So you’d think they’d be pretty well integrated,” Amy noted.

Kit and Dawn were scarfing down the spicy shortbread cookies and did not comment.

Joyce walked into the living room and sighed. “That’s enough complaining about the weirdness. Sinterklaas,” she very carefully enunciated, “has been a part of Dutch culture for centuries and is one, possibly the most important, of the origins of Santa Claus,” she looked around the room. “And it’s very important to Simon to share this with you, as a family. This is not about presents for him, this is about family.”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, I understand. The guys in blackface are bit much, though.”   

“They were different times,” Simon noted from the dining room doorway, carrying a large jute bag.

Willow looked at it and then at his rather worried face. “C’mon guys, is it any stranger than an undead guy hanging around the North pole served by small elves? Like Mom said, this is not about the myth, this is about family.”

Dawn’s lip trembled and her large blue eyes widened. “Santa’s a myth?”

Willow looked shocked and then guilty, until Joyce poked her youngest lightly in the shoulder. “Stop teasing Willow. Rowan, get your head out of the kruidnoten,” she laboriously pronounced the name of yet another traditional confection.

The redhead on the television screen hastily withdrew from the bowl that she had been grazing from and flushed. “They’re nice,” she mumbled around a mouthful of the small spicy cookies.”

Simon grinned. “Well at least the food is agreeable,”

Willow glared at him. “No it isn't!  There were frogs! No more frogs, ever!”

“They were chocolate frogs, Willow, and Miller didn’t know about your frog phobia,” Joyce soothed. “It won’t happen again. And Dawn and Kit ate them.”

Kit nodded, pumping the air with her fist. “Victory over the frogs!”

Simon laughed. “What a very British sentiment. Talking of British, when are Jenny and Rupert going to show up?”

Joyce raised an eyebrow, walked to the front door and stepped aside as the entangled couple almost fell inside. “I saw them walk up. They obviously got distracted.”

Jenny flushed, her kiss bruised mouth opened for a rebuttal and then she just laughed and shrugged, “Guilty.”

Simon grinned. “Well, as soon as the older generation gets here, we’ll begin.” 

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Presents had been distributed. Dawn was looking at the pile of books in front of her, and the equally sizeable stack in front of Kit and Willow, the toolset Xander was toying with and the embroidered pillow case Buffy was carefully examining.

“Did you celebrate this every year when you were younger?” Dawn asked Simon.

Simon smiled rather sadly. “Until my grandparents died, yes. My father had little interest in such things.”

Willow tilted her head, suddenly interested. “Ah. D-do you have pictures of them? Your grandparents?”  

Simon nodded. “Yes, I can show you when we’re in New York.”

Kit looked at Charles, who was munching on a chocolate letter and leafing through a book on Brahms he had received. “What did you call them, your grandparents?”

Simon smiled. “Opa and Oma, it’s short for old-father and old-mother in Dutch.”

“Opa? That sounds a bit Yiddish,” Willow asked, intrigued.

“Dutch and German have the same root language and Yiddish was quite heavily influenced by Dutch as well,” Simon explained.

“So what are the polite terms for father and mother?” Willow asked, looking as if she wanted to take notes. “And the short ones, like mom?”

Simon smiled at her enthusiasm. “Vader en moeder are considered polite, Papa and Pa and Mama and Ma and are short versions.” 

Xander giggled. “So ‘Paw’ is short for father?”

Simon raised an eyebrow. “Yes, it is. And one ‘Paw!’ out of you and we’ll see how you like cleaning the pool.”

“We don’t have a pool,” Buffy noted, looking up from her study of the pair of Jimmy Choo sandals she'd also received.

“They’re working on the one at Hooghwater. The old pool building burned down in the early seventies and collapsed into the indoor pool. As for the outdoor one, that's a scummy pond right now,” Simon grinned evilly. “So plenty of work there.”

There was a moment of silence. Then Dawn cleared her throat. “Does cleaning the pools and stuff mean we'll be moving in there? And errr.... there's a stable there too, isn't there?” she added hopefully.

“Can I have a horse and a Porsche?” Buffy looked at Simon with wide, begging eyes.

Joyce sighed. “Buffy, behave or you'll be helping Xander clean the pool.”

“Hey! Paw! Control your woman! I ain't done nuthin' to deserve cleanin' the pool!” Xander looked at Simon and winked.

There was dead silence at the table. Then Cecilia rose, very slowly, Dawn and Kit following suit. Then Willow and Buffy. Joyce and Clarice did the same, all moving slowly and menacingly towards the boy.

Xander looked at Simon, Giles and Patrick. “Errr, a little help here?”

Simon sighed. “Consider this a part of your education, Alexander. And you might want to start running now.”

Xander gulped and rose. His escape was blocked by Jenny. “I think not, little brother,” she stated darkly.

Xander whimpered as Buffy crooked her fingers and the Death by tickle commenced.

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Saint Louis, Missouri, Wednesday December 5th 1995, dusk

Faith was about to shoot, listening to the softly hummed hymn in the background when she was startled out of her concentration.

“What do you think you are doing, Miss Lehane?” A strident, cultured voice called out.

Faith winced and nearly dropped her basket ball. “Playin' ball? Least, that's what it looks like to me.” she answered.

“Don't you have a school to go to?” the strident voice demanded.

“No Miss Corcoran, I don't. Fancy you not remembering that what with your expensive education an' all,” Faith drawled.

“It's Doctor Corcoran, young lady, as you very well know. Where's Doctor Dormer?” A tall, dark haired woman stepped out from the shade of the trees onto the ball court and glared at Faith.

“Probably teachin'. It’s a thing she does,” Faith replied, bouncing the ball a few times.

“I see. And Monsignor Mulcahey?”

“He's inside, makin' pasta an' probably burnin' it. The man manages to burn water,” Faith shrugged,

“Do not talk in that disrespectful way about him, girl. You ought to feel grateful that he even allows you in the house,” Dr. Corcoran walked by Faith, eying the girl in the exercise shorts, trainers and tank top with disdain. She went to the house Faith and Diana were staying at and rang the bell.

Faith glared at her back and then returned to shooting hoops. She heard the door open and then the saccharine tones of Dr. Corcoran greeting Father Mulcahey, who apparently had once been a bishop of someplace before retiring to being a Father again.

“Most Reverend,” she gushed.

“Please, Dr. Corcoran, Father will do very nicely.” The old priest gently corrected her, not for the first time.

“Oh, Father, your humility does you credit,” Mrs. Corcoran schmoozed.

Faith ran at the hoop and jumped. She made the shot and was quite pleased to hear that Father Mulcahey guided his guest inside. And even he had to think her unwelcome and he was as close to a saint as Faith ever expected to meet.

Faith sighed. *Flies in ointment. Like Dr. D. says, in every life some rain must fall. And it poured in mine. But even in the finest life, the smoothest ointment, there are flies. And right now, when things are getting better again, she's your fly. Fucking great Bluebottle, too.*

Faith shot more hoops approaching it from various sides, jumping and running. Sweat ran down her body and she hoped that some of the boys from the neighbourhood would join her soon. They weren't her type of boys, being good boys, but they were company and after studying Latin composition with Father Mulcahey all day, any sort of conversation that did not involve conjugation would be a relief.

That was when she heard the voice, strident as ever, come out through the open kitchen window.  

“Dr. Dormer really shouldn't have brought her here, Father. Girls like that do not belong in a place like this.” Dr. Corcoran declared.

Faith gritted her teeth. There was a soft murmur, Father Mulcahey seldom raised his voice and was soft-spoken by nature.

“No really father, you are not getting any younger and she's obviously a handful. Dr. Dormer ought to be supervising her behaviour on a near permanent basis. Girls like that... Well I can just see her seducing Mitchell Pavone or my Albert, so she can live her life in luxury, living on child support with some brat,” the damn woman insisted.

Faith's fingers squeezed the ball hard, whitening with the power of her grip.

“I strongly doubt that would be the case, Dr. Corcoran. If Faith would consider Albert a prospect, I have no doubt she would insist on him using protection.” The answer was given in a sweet, gently chiding voice and Faith nearly choked with sudden laughter.

There was a spluttering noise from Dr. Corcoran. “My Albert would never stoop to be with such a girl!”

“Dr. Corcoran, in the first place Albert is a young man of nineteen and as far as I've seen he has no particular calling for the priesthood or desire for any form of abstinence. That makes it unlikely that he will be able to resist Faith's undoubted charms should she offer. Secondly, and more importantly, the Lord asks, nay demands, that we be charitable. And charity is not just about donating money to the deserving poor. It is time, and labour, and love, and blood. It is heart and strength and anguish and ache and pain. Forgiveness and charity, help and love are not easy. They are, forgive my French, damned hard. And Faith is a girl worth every drop of sweat and blood, every minute spent and every sleepless night. Christianity, Dr. Corcoran, is all of love, not just the bits that you happen to like.”

Faith looked at the open window, the ball forgotten in her hands, her tongue heavy in her throat and that strange, achy feeling at the back of it. Faith bit back her tears.

“Well, I never!” Dr. Corcoran exclaimed indignantly.

“Then, Dr. Corcoran, it was about time someone told you. Now, unless you have anything to talk about besides Faith, I'm trying to recreate a dish a friend of mine and his wife spoil me with whenever I visit,” Father Mulcahey's voice was gentle and sweet again, none of the hard, scourging lash left in it.

“No, no I don't,” Came the grating reply.

 Faith saw the door open and the woman leave and for form's sake she shot a few more hoops while Dr. Corcoran eyed her, still disdainful, but now with something else too, and it wasn't good.

Faith watched the shoulder length black hair and the sensible dress and shoes and shook her head. From behind Corcoran could pass for Dr. D., easily. After a few more shots at the basket she went back inside, hesitated by the stairs, listening to the sweet old voice sing a hymn in Latin. Then she went upstairs. Father Mulcahey hadn't meant for her to hear what he said and no doubt would be embarrassed if she mentioned it.  

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1630 Revelllo Drive, Thursday December 6th 

Kit was sobbing loudly into Simon’s shoulder while Joyce tried to comfort Buffy and Dawn.

Willow and Xander were huddled with Danielle and Clarice had Amy and Kendra in a near death grip. On her computer screen Rowan was in the comforting virtual arms of Joyce and Simon both.

Jenny had taken up a position on Giles’ lap and seemed unwilling to move from it.

Patrick was on the phone with the wife of an old Marine comrade who was stationed at the Mountain. The woman was almost as frightened as the children. Biological and Chemical warfare, quarantine. Shoot on sight orders. Several arrested journalists who’d tried to enter the Cheyenne mountain base. The family was worried. Very worried. And not all the magic and money in the world could help.

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Monday December 11th, New Orleans, Louisiana 

Faith was translating, or at least scowling at, a Latin text.

Diana looked over her shoulder. “Finding Virgil hard going?”

“Give me a break, until a few weeks ago I thought Virgil was the guy who flew the transport plane,” Faith didn’t look up, and her voice was distorted by the pencil she was chewing.

“That’s a very bad habit you know. And when did you watch Thunderbirds?” Diana asked.

“My mother wasn't very good at taking care of me. Sitting me in front of the TV was her idea of finding a babysitter. You see a lot of stuff that way,” Faith shrugged, trying to feign unconcern.

Diana smiled. “Well, if you want one, I'm sure Father Mulcahey will be delighted to provide the service. Just a heads up, one of his old friends is coming by next weekend.”

“The guy with the dresses?” Faith asked, interested.

“No, not Mr. Klinger, the one with the still, Dr. Pierce.”

“Hawkeye? Cool. Can I meet him?” Faith grinned.

Diana nodded, but eyed the girl with slight disapproval. “But you have to behave. I'm sure he has changed considerably since the Korean Wars.”

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Tuesday December 12th 1995

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.”

Jenny squirmed in her seat as Rupert narrated. After considerable time auditioning for just the right voice, the entire cast had decided that Rupert was just perfect. So poor Rupert was doing the narration. And poor Jenny was trying to ignore what his voice was doing to her body.

Jonathan Levinson, despite his ‘Incredible masterpiece being passed over for production, an unfair decision if there ever was one!’ was doing a fine job of playing Scrooge. Harmony was doing incredibly well singing the songs selected to form the interludes between the scenes. Larry Blaisdell made a suitably looming Ghost of Christmas Future, Nancy Campbell had been cast as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Lishanne Davis the Ghost of Christmas Present. Cordelia’s snarky comment that Buffy ought to be cast as Tiny Tim had not gone down well with the diminutive blonde, though she had not actually taken the revenge she had sworn after Harmony had scolded Cordelia for being nasty.

Jenny smiled a little. The play was coming together remarkably well and there was even a modicum of excitement among the actors. Not a single one of them had been drafted, for one. And they had the elementary school pupils as well. Most of them were going to be extras, but Tiny Tim was going to be played by Joey Brand, who had been soundly trounced by Dawn her first day at school.

Jenny smiled and leaned back to listen to Rupert’s voice.

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Wednesday, December 13th, 1630 Revello Drive

“Urgh,” Joyce pressed a hand to her stomach and then rose from the bed. “I don’t feel too good.”

Simon looked in worriedly from the en suite. “Should you go to work then?”

Joyce sighed. “Just a bit iffy, Simon, not the end of the world. It was probably that piece of pie yesterday.”

“Well, if you say so. I’ll go make breakfast. Fruit? Toast? Cereal?” he inquired as she knotted his tie with swift, sure movements.

“Ummm, plain yoghurt I think,” Joyce replied after a little wince and then a hand to her middle.

“Very well, see you downstairs”,” Simon leaned in to kiss her and then went down, humming lightly.

Joyce went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth, nearly gagging at the taste of the toothpaste. “Stupid pie,” she muttered.

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Wednesday, December 13th, Breakfast at 1630 Revello Drive

Joyce leaned on the kitchen island, her face pale. The island was set for breakfast, the newly bought stools and the plates filling the space. The rumble of feet on the stairs was the first sign of the swarm of locusts that was about to descend on the kitchen. The basement door opened, revealing Xander. Who stopped, rocked on his heels and narrowed his eyes. “Mom? What’s wrong?”

“Just a bit queasy, Xander. I’ll be fine,” Joyce assured him.

Xander’s gaze was thoughtful, but he nodded and started piling his plate with food. Kendra came in through the kitchen door, adjusting the skirt of her school uniform. Buffy came in seconds later from the foyer, followed by Willow, with Rowan-cam perched on her shoulder.

“You know, if this was a full English breakfast we could have bacon and eggs and tomatoes and baked beans and stuff!” Willow, a morning person, chirped cheerily.

Joyce hurried out of the room, face pale and noises from the downstairs bathroom quickly showed that her queasiness had overtaken her. Willow and Buffy exchanged worried glances with Xander and Kendra. Simon looked about ready to run after her.

Joyce came in again, pale but amused and followed by Dawn and Kit, both complaining about the need for there to be mornings.

“It's not as if I have to be anywhere,” Kit pointed out reasonably. “I mean, it's not like I go to school or something.”

“Yes, but you will again, and we want you to have a normal rhythm when you do.” Simon explained like he had about every morning since Kit's healing.

Kit sighed like a steam engine and sat down to shovel food into her mouth. Unlike Dawn she had no problems eating in the morning. Buffy fixed Dawn a bowl of what was considered ‘enough food' and handed it to her.

Dawn wrinkled her nose but started eating. 

Joyce shivered and left the room to sit on the couch. A few minutes later Xander brought her a cup of tea that Simon had made. Xander looked at Joyce rather worriedly. “Mom? You okay?”

Joyce smiled, a hand to her stomach, leaning back into the couch pillows. “I just ate something wrong Xander. It’ll be fine.” She assured him.

Xander looked doubtful. “You just ran into the bathroom and threw up. That sort of eating something wrong sounds like food poisoning to me. I had that once and it wasn't fun. I think you should stay home.”

Joyce rolled her eyes. “Heavens, Xander, don't exaggerate. I just felt queasy and threw up. And now I’m feeling better,” she looked a little uncertain at her own words, rubbing her stomach again. “Mostly.”

Xander shook his head and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “Damn stubborn Johnson women.”

Joyce laughed but also lightly flicked his ear. “Language, Xander.”

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The Gallery was quiet and that was a good thing as Joyce ran to the bathroom twice in the first hour.

Joyce groaned as she jumped out off her chair for the third time and hurried to the toilet.

Marianne saw her enter the bathroom of the office and heard the noise of someone being heartily sick. When Joyce came back she was leaning elegantly against the doorframe.

Marianne Arbeaux, Joyce's chief assistant and newly graduated BA in Art History and Appreciation looked at her employer with her deep blue eyes under her elegantly plucked eyebrows. Her lovely mouth was set in hard lines of disapproval at odds with her relaxed position.  

“That’s it. I’m calling Monsieur Simon,” Marianne’s voice brooked no argument and her French accent was far more pronounced than usual in her worry.

“Marianne, I just ate something that doesn’t agree with me,” Joyce argued as she surreptitiously tried to wipe her mouth with a pale and shaking hand, . 

“All ze more reason to call ze good doctor, n’est-ce pas?” Marianne strode into the office and reached for the phone.

“Marianne, it’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a little stomach upset,” Joyce reached for the phone herself, to stop Marianne..

Marianne blithely ignored her employer, snuck the cordless phone from the stand and quick-dialled. “Allo? Madame Yancey, zis is Marianne Arbeaux, at ze Gallery. Is Mr. Meier available?”

“Might I inquire what you wish to speak to him about, Miss Arbeaux?” came the polite response from Gerry.

“Joyce, she has been ill, vomiting, three times zis morning-” Marianne reported faithfully.

“I’m putting you through right now, thank you Miss Arbeaux,” Ms. Yancey cut off the young woman, “Thank you.”

Less than fifteen seconds later there was a concerned male voice. “Hello? Marianne? What are her symptoms?”

“Good morning, Monsieur Meier. Joyce has vomited three times this morning, she is unable to hold down tea or coffee and the cookies, zey make her ill too,” Marianne rattled of.

“Vomited three times? She only had the one cup of tea for breakfast! I’ll be right over and take her to the clinic,” Simon sounded worried and hung up the phone.

Marianne hung up as well, only to face an angry Joyce. “What the hell was that?”

Marianne smiled. “Zat was me telling your fiancé that you were ill, like he asked me to.”

“What? How dare he!” Joyce raged.

“He is worried. So are your children. Buffy called and Willow with her, and Xander and even Kendra from her school.” Marianne shrugged. “So much worry, I thought, there has to be a reason.”

“Are you telling me that my entire family is ganging up on me?” Joyce demanded angrily.

“Not ganging up, worried,” Marianne told her employer dryly. “Zere is a difference, non?”

Joyce glared. “I'm a grown woman; I'm perfectly capable of making my own health decisions.”

“Ah, but would you have made this decision to come in today if you had not felt guilty about asking me to work overtime such a great deal?” Marianne countered.

Joyce sighed. “I suppose not. I still think they're overreacting. I'm not running a temperature. I don't have a headache or sore throat, I'm just feeling ill.”

“Hmm, but Monsieur le Docteur, and your girls and your son, they worry. Most of them have just found you, so they overreact a little,” Marianne gave a Gallic shrug. “And if Monsieur Simon thinks you're ill, maybe he'll pamper you a little,” she grinned. “Get you another very nice dress perhaps?”

Joyce flapped a hand at her assistant in amusement. “Oh, you! You just see men as something to be exploited.”

Marianne raised an elegant eyebrow and struck a pose, on hand on her hip. “Not just exploited,” she purred.

Joyce laughed helplessly and shook her head.

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Simon as a doctor was very thorough, this Joyce knew. Simon as a doctor worried for her was a nightmare, she decided. She was rather glad that the children were all busy with school and unaware of what was going on beyond that she’d been taken to the clinic. Simon alone was bad enough, Simon coupled with a worried and teary Kit and Dawn, near- panicking Rowan and trembly-lipped Willow and Kendra silent, stoic and jumpy like a rabbit, it was enough to make her rather crabby. Xander's solicitous behaviour and Buffy's fake breeziness would not have helped either.

Under their employer's watchful eye the Clinic doctors had been very, if apologetically thorough. And ever so slightly amused at Simon’s obvious worry over what they obviously thought was just a minor stomach upset. They'd taken blood and Joyce had left a urine sample, and due to an unexpected moment of nausea, bile.

That last bit had the doctors looking serious at least. All of which meant that a thoroughly annoyed Joyce was sitting with her arms crossed in a pouffy chair in the Clinic staff room, a cup of tea by her side and glaring at the wall while her fiancé consulted with Margaret Lawson to enquire if there was time for a visit.

The door opened and one of the doctors came in, carrying a clipboard. “What?” Joyce growled.

“Ms. Summers? I need to ask you some questions.” The woman sounded unusually hesitant.

“Yes?” Joyce was not feeling very polite and the doctor had been a touch too amused for her taste. It would do her no ill to feel a bit scared that her employer’s future wife was ready to bite her head off.

The Doctor, Joyce thought her name was Renner, took a deep breath. “Ms. Summers, have you had sexual relations with any other man beside Dr. Meier?”

Joyce's eyes narrowed. “I do have two biological daughters, so I think the answer to that might be obvious. Don't tell me Hank gave me a disease? I was checked before the divorce!”

The doctor sat down. “No, I meant, more recently...” her voice trailed off in the face of Joyce's outraged stare.

“How dare you! What possible reason do you have to come in here and tell ask me a question like that!” Joyce almost shouted.

Doctor Renner’s hands clamped around her clipboard. “Dr. Meier’s medical files state he is sterile. He cannot father children.”

Joyce's anger faltered as she realised what he doctor meant. “C-children? I'm pregnant? But that's impossible!”

Doctor Renner held out the clipboard, showing a form with a number of rather frantic looking tics in boxes, all positive. “We did the blood test and the urine tests twice each. We think you're about four weeks along,” she said defensively.

“D-did you tell Simon? Joyce asked anxiously.

The young doctor shook her head. “No. Whatever happened...” she looked at Joyce, a look of anger and loathing that made the older woman swallow. “It had better be a very good excuse.”

Joyce glared back. “I did not cheat on him! Could you please ask him to come in here?”

Doctor Renner nodded reluctantly and rose. She pointedly put the clipboard on the side table by Joyce, and then she went into the office and a few minutes later Simon came in.

“Dr. Renner said you wanted to talk to me?” He asked, rather absently. “I called Margaret; she can see you this week, Friday.”

Joyce bit her lip and took a deep breath. “Simon, I need you to know that I love you, and that I don know how it happened. I didn't cheat on you, I swear,” she held up a hand as Simon was about to interrupt and held out the clipboard. “Simon, they say I'm pregnant,” she ended on a sob.

Simon fell into a chair opposite Joyce, his face stunned. “What? How?”

Joyce wrung her hands. “I don't know! But I swear Simon, I didn't cheat!”

Simon blinked, finally looking at the clipboard.

Joyce bit her lip. “Simon, please don't blame the children.”

“Children...” Simon whispered. His eyes widened and he jumped up. “Stay here! Don't move! And for Heaven's sake don't worry, stress is bad for the baby! I’ll be right back!” He ran out of the room, leaving Joyce looking after him with her mouth open.

She was pacing up and down the room when Simon came back in about ten minutes later. He grabbed her and kissed her before she could even say anything.

“What is a mother?” he asked her, smiling.

Joyce rolled her eyes. “A type of witch power. We've been over this.”

“No, what is a mother,” Simon insisted.

Joyce blinked. “A woman with children?” she ventured after some thought.

“Good. Now what are the powers of the Mother talent?” Simon asked his hands on Joyce's stomach and an expression of intense possessiveness on his face.

Joyce eyed him warily. “Succour, protection, love, healing...” her eyes widened. “Impossible! I healed your vasectomy?”

Simon smirked. “Well, we have been in pretty close contact fairly often and that helps. We both admitted to the fact we would not mind children… And yes, you did. I just verified it.”

“Verified? How?” Joyce asked suspiciously.

Simon laughed. “A microscope. Some of the earliest observed living creatures under a microscope were spermatozoa.”

Joyce looked at him, then raised an arch eyebrow, suppressing a giggle as she realised what he had to have been doing. “I see. Did you at least wash your hands afterwards?”

 Simon raised his eyebrows. “You healed my vasectomy, you're pregnant and that is all that you can think of?”   

 “Well, I could make remarks about how short a time you needed, and how happy I am you usually last longer…even if just a little bit…” Joyce teased.

Simon smiled and buried his face in Joyce neck, nibbling. “Would you like me to tell you what I was thinking of whilst getting my sample? Or just show you?” He whispered throatily.

Joyce giggled. “What, right here?”

Simon bit down very lightly. “Well I was thinking more along the lines of the beds in the examination room. And possibly you, bent over the front desk. It’s been a long time since I last had sex in a hospital setting…” He took her hand and started to drag her off.

“Simon!” Joyce gasped. “Don’t you dare!”

Simon looked at her over his shoulder. “Oh, stop worrying. I’m taking you to the Gallery and I’ll tell Margaret to expedite the appointment and we need to pick colours for the nursery. We need to tell the children and I need to call Jed and Abby and we’ve got to tell Charles and Nanny, we’ll need to sit them down and-”

Joyce put a finger to Simon’s lips. “You’re babbling, love. And I think telling the children before we pick the colours for the nursery might be wise.”

Simon smiled sheepishly. “Yes. I know. Sorry.”

“Don't worry, it's rather cute.” Joyce grinned.

“Wonderful. If fatherhood reduces me to 'cute' this quickly I may need some help,” Simon smiled.

They moved towards the exit. Joyce hesitated. “Simon… before we leave... I think you might want to talk with the doctors. Dr. Renner especially.”

Simon blinked. “Why? Do you prefer her over Margaret?”

Joyce winced. “No, no! I... errr....”

Simon's eyes narrowed in realisation. “They think you cheated on me, don't they?”

Joyce wouldn't meet his eyes. “Yes. Dr. Renner was rather rude.”

“Stay here. I'll be right back.” Simon left the room. Joyce sat down, picked up her tea and sipped. After about fifteen minutes Dr. Renner entered the room, looking rather fearful.

Joyce looked at her and smiled. “I hope Simon wasn't too rough?”

The younger woman sat down and looked at the table, took a deep breath and then looked up. “I'm very sorry, Ms. Summers. I was way out of line.”

Joyce nodded. “Yes, you were. You seem rather protective of Simon...” she let her voice trail off questioningly.

Dr. Renner looked at Joyce and then started to laugh. “I'm not in love with him, you know. I'm quite happily married to Burke, that's Doctor Kells,” She got her laughter under control, sobering. “We're both Meier kids. Meier house, Meier sponsored fostering, Meier sponsored adoption. Meier Scholarship to Medical School.”

“Ah. I think I understand.” Joyce nodded thoughtfully.

“Do you?” Dr. Renner smiled sadly. “Without the Meier Foundation I wouldn't be here. My mother was a drug addict and a prostitute. One of my friends from the House ran away, five times. She refused to live by the rules and they finally gave her the freedom she wanted, to destroy herself... And she is a prostitute, or was. I identified her in my last year of residency. She overdosed. She had no teeth left, never got a high school diploma, never had a job other than lying on her back or pushing drugs.”

Joyce blinked. “Okay... I must admit I don't know what to say to that.”

“Not all of us succeed brilliantly. But you know Clyde Brown, the big security guard? He's a Meier Kid, too. There are hundreds, thousands of us, all over America. And for us doctors especially, we all know that Dr. Meier is proud of every life we save, every Band-Aid we put on every scratched knee,” She gestured at the walls and doors of the staff room. “He's proud of every one of us who has children and raises them well, who has a job, or does volunteer work, who lives a good, fulfilling life. We know he is proud, because he tells us. And he wants nothing in return but us living those good lives.”

Joyce nodded. “And then you thought I cheated on him and had a child with another man.”

Dr. Renner nodded, rather sheepishly. “And then I thought you cheated,” she admitted. “I still don't quite understand what happened. I know about magic, and the supernatural, that is one of the main reasons Dr. Meier asked us to come here. There aren’t many of us who do, and a lot of us end up employed by him.”

“Oh. I didn’t realise that,” Joyce looked thoughtful. “I hope he’s paying you a bonus? Because of the dangers of the Hellmouth?”

Renner grinned. “An awesome bonus. And we’ve got a three year contract, so we can leave and find a safer place then, start a family. Dr. Meier hopes to have another few doctors in the know lined up then. We need them here. What with the barbecue fork incidents and all.”

Joyce grinned wryly, her hand going to her neck where two pale scars were still barely visible. “Well, that’s good to hear. Do you have magic yourself? Is that how you know?”

Renner shook her head. “No, nothing like that,” Dr. Renner looked at her hands. “Burke and me, we were attacked by Fyarl demons on a date a few years ago, while we were interns in Boston. We were saved. But unlike most people we didn’t forget we were, or what we saw. The lady who saved us thinks we’re very weak latents, or have some magical genes,” her mouth flickered into a smile. “We spent hours being prodded and poked so she could find out why we remembered when so many people are in denial. It wasn’t much fun, but hey, we got paid for it and we learned stuff about magic.”

“I can imagine. Got any ideas on how to explain it to the outside world?” Joyce smiled, taking the nervous young doctor in her confidence.

“We’ll say it was a reversal operation that went unexpectedly well,” Renner shrugged. “Insofar as it’s necessary. Most of those who know about his condition know about magic. Its hardly common knowledge.”

Joyce nodded. “Yes, that would work.”

Dr. Renner cleared her throat. “Errr, I realise that this is a lot to ask, but would you consider talking about how you did it? He didn’t say much, but from what Dr. Sternin explained to me when we first found out, any type of healing by magic isn't easy. It takes skill, or more power than most adepts can use, or both...” She looked at Joyce rather hopefully.

Joyce shrugged. “I doubt the method can be easily repeated. At any rate I'm not going to repeat it with anyone but Simon.”

Dr, Renner looked disappointed. “Dr. Meier wouldn't say either. He just laughed. I mean, you must have done something!”

Joyce laughed too. “Oh, we did. Indeed we did,” Joyce smiled impishly. “It requires love, and I think lots and lots of...contact.”

Dr. Renner blinked. Then she started to chuckle. “Lots and lots, eh? Yes, I understand how repeating that particular cure with others might be problematic.”

Joyce smiled. “Well. Feel a bit happier now?”

Dr. Renner nodded. “Yes. I am very sorry for the way I spoke to you and treated you.”

Joyce smiled. “You're forgiven. But just keep in mind that in matters pertaining to our family things are not always as simple as they seem.”

Dr. Renner nodded, grinning ruefully. “It's not likely I'll ever forget,” Renner rose and looked down at Joyce. “I didn’t meet Dr. Meier very often before we moved here, only a couple of times, barely ever spoke to him. But there was always something sad about him, a feeling of ineffable grief and weariness.”

Joyce winced. “Yes. He still gets like that sometimes.”

Renner put a hand on Joyce’s shoulder. “Sometimes is a lot better than always. I should’ve thanked you. Instead I turned on you. So… Thank you, for taking care of him, being there for him,” she inclined her head. “And for providing him with children so the Meier Houses can continue.”

Joyce snorted laughter in her eyes. “Is that all you see me as? A brood mare for the propagation of his line?”

Renner smiled. “You gave him children before you got pregnant,” she looked at the clock. “Which reminds me I’ve got an appointment to teach a Health Class at the High School.”

Joyce winced. “And I’ve got to think of a way to tell my children I’m pregnant.”

Dr. Renner smirked. “Oh yes, your teenage children are gonna love those night-time feedings...    

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Xander stole into the house, followed by Buffy and Willow, the latter with Rowan-cam on her shoulder. They were almost at the stairs when they heard the cough.

All three, four including the image of Rowan on the table, winced. Xander turned around, a grin on his face. “Hey, Mom! Didn’t see you there!”

Joyce shook her head in amusement. “I’m not angry, Xander. I may be a little bit miffed that you think so little of my good sense that you feel the need to call Marianne and have her watch out for me, but I’m not really angry.”

The teens visibly relaxed. Joyce grinned. “However…”

Four winces once more graced four teen faces. Joyce gestured at the living area. “We need to talk.”

Willow blanched. “Oh! Oh, I knew it! It’s bad! You’re ill aren’t you? It’s like cancer of the bowels or, or…”

Willow was getting louder and more frantic with every word and Joyce was getting worried she would start hyperventilating. Dawn and Kit looked in from the kitchen, Willow’s worry migrating to them and Kendra, still at the island, was looking slightly less composed than usual. On the screen Rowan was starting to sniffle.

“Willow! I’m alright! I’m just pregnant!” Joycee yelled to be heard over Willow’s near hysteria.

There was a sudden, deafening silence. Buffy raised a hand. “Did you say… pregnant?”

Joyce nodded rather sheepishly. “Yes. I, errr, meant to have a bit more of an introduction before shouting that out. Sorry.”

Willow blinked. “Pregnant? But, but, but, but…” Willow pointed at Simon who was coming down the stairs, lured by the noise.

“Yes Willow?” Joyce looked at Simon as well, a small, if rather embarrassed smile around her lips.

“Dad, I mean, he told us, we talked about…” Willow looked at Joyce pleadingly. “How?”

“Apparently there’s still more to the Mother talent that we didn’t know about. Though I think that Mary Beckforth is probably laughing her head off at our innocence,” Simon replied. “I am once more capable of begetting children.”

Xander grinned. “And with all the times you two are making the naked pretzel, it was bound to happen.”

Buffy groaned and slapped the back of his head.

Kendra’s confused voice came from the kitchen. “Is baking in the nude conducive to the fertility of couples?”

Kit was the first person to start to giggle, swiftly followed by all the other children besides Kendra, who merely looked confused.

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Charles got home from his pre-dinner constitutional to find a house in uproar. Taking the porch steps as fast as he could he entered 1630 and looked around, fearful of what he might find. Kit saw him first, ran to him, hugged him and grabbed his hand, dragged him to his favourite chair and almost forced him to sit. “Sit here, Grandpa Charles, I need to fetch Dad and Aunt Joyce.” She ran off, outside.

Charles looked around the room, taking in the excited faces and generally happy atmosphere and decided that whatever was happening wasn't a bad thing. It certainly helped lift the pall that had hung over the house since Evy and Arlene had left and the Quarantine had been called at Cheyenne Mountain.

“So? What is going on?” He asked Xander, who was looking rather excitedly through a set of colour swathes.

“Mom and Dad'll tell you grandpa Charles,” Xander grinned widely.

Charles sighed. “God forbid you and Pierce ever get together,” he murmured and sat back, hands on the head of his cane, to await with patience until someone would inform him of what was going on. Willow and Rowan were conversing with Buffy and a rather confused looking Kendra about colour schemes and music rooms. Together with Xander's actions Charles surmised that they would be moving into the Manor after all. He could really not think of any reason to do so, Simon was unfond of such places. Suddenly his face lit up. *There is one reason I can think of... I wonder...*

Joyce was ushered into the room by Simon from the dining room and by his behaviour Charles had his answer, or rather, the confirmation of his suspicion.

Simon beamed at him. “Charles, we have excellent news. Joyce is pregnant!”

Charles nodded. “I thought as much. I assume this is an outflow of Joyce's talent?”

Simon blinked and then looked at Joyce who shared his surprise.

Charles snorted. “I've been a pediatrician for almost as long as you've been alive Simon. I can put two and two together. I assume that you're not very far along yet, Joyce?”  

Joyce smiled broadly. “They say about a month.”

“Well, there are marvelous technologies these days. We'll soon know for sure.” Charles smiled, broadly. “Well done, you two. Well done.”

“They certainly practiced enough,” Buffy muttered disgustedly.

Charles grinned at her. “One day you will learn to appreciate the practice.”

“One day not very soon,” Joyce warned. “That's a very important step.”

“What's a very important step?”  Dawn asked from the kitchen doorway, a few cookie crumbs around her mouth showing what she'd been doing.

“A small step for man, dear.” Joyce lied smoothly, “We were talking about the moonlandings.”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Is this another one of those things I'm supposedly too young for?”

Joyce smiled. “Somewhat. Don't worry Pumpkin, one day we'll have that conversation, much to your embarrassment.”

Buffy grinned at Dawn's sigh.

Charles looked around. “So, where did Kit run off to, to try and find you?”

“I think she thought we were in 1628. We were there earlier,” Joyce looked around the room. “Otherwise we seem to be fairly complete.”

The door flew open and an excited Kit ran in, running and almost skidding into a fall as she took the corner into the living room. “GRANDPA CHARLES! I can't find them! Xander, have you seen-” she blinked and then grinned at her foster parents. “Where were you? Have you told him yet?”

“Upstairs. He guessed.” Simon grinned at Kit. “Though he hasn't really shown much enthusiasm.”

Charles snorted. “I'm an old man; I need to work up to these things.”

“What things? And why exactly did Lois turn the car around just as we were approaching my home?” Danielle asked pointedly from the door, still open from Kit's entry. “I might as well move here, for all the times I see my home!”

“Nana! Mom’s going to have a baby!” Rowan squealed from the screen.

Danielle looked at the girl and sighed. “Rowan, you know that’s impossible…” Seeing the faces of the rest of the family her face went stiff and then thoughtful. “It’s true?”

Simon nodded. “Yes, it is, Nanny. We are going to have a baby.”

Danielle very slowly walked to a seat, sat down and looked up. “How?” She asked. “It’s, it’s nothing bad is it? Not some horrifying mystic fate?”

Simon snorted. “We'll be looking into that one as well, yes, but no, I don't think so. Just an old witch with a wicked sense of humour not telling us just how effective Mother healing can be over a period of time and errr.... close contact.”

Danielle looked at Simon and then Joyce. And then she rose, slightly wobbly, tears in her eyes and hugged them both.

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Joyce was in the kitchen, putting dishes in the dishwasher and wondering how to tell her parents the news when a soft tread got her attention. She looked round and saw Dawn, looking solemn.

“Mom? When there's another baby, will I still be your baby?” The girl asked anxiously.

Joyce gave the only answer she could, she hugged her youngest daughter and smiled. “You'll always be my baby, Pumpkin. Always.”

“I won’t have to share my room?” Dawn murmured into her mother’s shoulder.

“No dear, Simon has agreed to move to Hooghwater before the baby is born. Even with the connections to 1632 and 1628 the Manor is just more convenient.”

Dawn smirked. “Can I have a horse? I mean, the manor has stables…”

Joyce sighed. “We’ll see dear, we’ll see.”

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Xander sat at the table. He looked at his sisters as they bickered over the colours they were going to give their rooms and then at his father. He leaned over. “Dad? Is it very bad of me to hope for a brother? Just to off-set the estrogen brigade?”

Simon grinned. “No. But you do realize that Buffy heard you say that?”

Xander winced as he noted the glare from his sister. “Aww, man. I'm gonna be carrying book bags for weeks!”

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Kit sat looking out her window when the soft knock came that signaled the nightly ritual of 'making sure the kids are okay, with added tucking in for those who want it.’ Looking up she called out in a soft voice. “It’s open.”

Simon came in, shutting the door behind him. “Well?”

Kit blinked. “Well, what?”

Simon smiled. “Well, now that the initial excitement is gone, how do you feel? About the baby?”

Kit looked around the room. She looked down at her pajamas and her fluffy slippers, at the place where the wounds had been that should have killed her. “You'll still take care of me? Maybe love me a little?”

Simon shook his head, smiling. “No, we'll love you a lot. And yes, we will take care of you.”

Kit's expression became calculating. “Will we get paid for baby sitting?”

Simon laughed. “We'll see. Now get into bed, you have to be up early.”

Kit sighed, flounced off her windowsill and into bed. “I still think it's unfair I have to go to bed at the same time as Dawn. I don't go to school!” Then she yawned.

“There's your answer,” Simon tucked the duvet around her and kissed her forehead. “Sleep well.”

“That's like, so totally not a reason! It was just one yawn,” Kit protested sleepily, and then yawned again.

Simon checked that the nightlight was on, turned off the main lights and left the room, the murmured complaints from the bed fading into the breath of sleep.

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Willow was lying awake, the monitor on her bedside table showed Rowan lying in a similar bedroom, also staring at the ceiling. For some strange reason Rowan did need sleep, or rest of some kind and she got it at the same time as the rest of the family. When Joyce came in they looked at the door at the same time, heads cocked in the same way, green eyes wide and worried.

“Well, what seems to be the trouble?” Joyce asked briskly sitting on the bed. On Rowan's screen an indentation formed on the virtual bed as well and a hazy blue form appeared.

“N-nothing.” Willow looked at her hands.

“That is not a ‘nothing’ kind of look, nor a ‘nothing’ kind of voice,” Joyce smiled. “Now, tell me what’s wrong with you two?”

Willow sighed. “Just... Stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?” Joyce moved closer to Willow and sat next to her. Willow leaned into her, and on the screen Rowan did the same.

“I-I... Dad only took me in because I'm the youngest Meier, so now that he's having a real baby of his own, he won't need me anymore!” Willow wailed.

Joyce kissed Willow's forehead. “Willow, we took you in because we love you and you needed us. Not because Simon needed an heir. We still love you and we still think you need us. And we need you, because you're funny and quirky and can be silly and get in the most unbelievable scrapes. And none of that will change because you're getting a little brother or sister. Does that answer your question?”

Willow nodded. “A little. But things will change. You're gonna be busy with the baby a lot...”

Joyce nodded. “That’s true. However, your father and I decided that it might be a good way to teach you lot some responsibility by having you help. I mean, what mother could ignore such a group of perfect free babysitters...” she ended teasingly.

Willow grinned. “Well, that's fine. Except for the 'free' part.”

“Well, I suppose the Meiers did earn their money by horrible extortion practices. So we’ll see who wins, the old, cynical head of the family firm or the upstart ‘displaced heiress’. Think someone will want to buy the television rights?” Joyce smiled. Then she pulled Willow close and turned to the screen. Her glowing blue virtual shape was holding Rowan and the girl was leaning into the embrace in a way that worried Joyce more than a little. Terms like ‘neglect’ and ‘deprivation’ had been mostly words to her until she started her collection of waifs, but the combined history of Willow and Rowan was bad enough that she seriously worried about her girls’ sanities on occasion.

“And you? Does that lay your fears to rest as well?” She asked the redhead on the screen.

“No,” Rowan answered in a tiny voice.

Joyce very carefully did not roll her eyes. *Life should be so easy.* “Then what are you afraid of, Rowan?”

“I’m not real. I’m gonna be a robot, maybe. But, but, it’s like, if Geppetto had had a real son, would he have loved Pinocchio? I mean, Willow’s real, but I’m just a, a figment, a screwed up memory!” Rowan gestured wildly.

There was an ‘eeep’ from the screen as something grabbed Rowan by the ear. Joyce looked at the screen with narrowed eyes. *Interesting. That was exactly what I would have done.*

“Rowan, just a few things. One, you are real, you have a consciousness and a soul and an aura, just no physical flesh and blood body. Two, have you ever read The Velveteen Rabbit? And if you have, no we won’t have you burned,” Joyce added before Rowan could respond. “You are real. You will always be real to us. You will be a big sister to this child, like you are to Kendra, Kit and Dawn. You will not be ignored, you will not be forgotten. You are real, do you understand?.”

Rowan nodded, wide-eyed. “U-understood. M-mom? Can you let go off my ear now? ‘Cause, like ow?”

Joyce blinked. “Oh, I’m sorry dear. I didn’t intend that.”

Rowan let out a sigh of relief and rubbed her ear looking relieved and then suddenly anxious. “Oh, pootles!”

“What is it Rowan?” Joyce asked, worried.

“N-nothing.” Rowan vigorously shook her head in denial.

“Rowan, what’s wrong?” Joyce repeated the question.

Rowan’s expression was a mix of worry and annoyance and the girl shook her head. “Nuh-uh!”

Willow began to giggle. “So much for ‘Safety theorem number one!’”

“Safety theorem number one? What’s that?” Joyce queried.

Rowan growled and glared but Willow merely shook her head. “Row, Mom’d figure it out anyway,” Willow looked at Joyce. “You see, Row and me, we thought that you could only affect her in the machine when she wanted to and how she wanted to. So when you just nabbed her ear…”

Joyce nodded thoughtfully and gave Rowan a look. “Ah, I see. DARPA hacking punishment worries.”

Rowan gulped. Willow gave her an encouraging, if slightly worried grin.

Joyce sighed. “Rowan, I’m not going to start commanding you around or manhandling you on a whim. And I realized what I could do when I tried to get you to take a bath, remember?”

Rowan looked sheepish. “Willow said you’d remember that.”

Joyce side-hugged Willow and on the screen the same thing happened to Rowan. “Now, settle down and go to sleep you two.”

The girls nodded and scooted under the blankets and Joyce and virtual-Joyce tucked them in and kissed their foreheads. “Sleep well. I love both of you.”

Just as she turned off the light and closed the door she heard the murmured conversation start and cleared her throat. “Sleep!”

Twin ‘eeps’ answered her, and then silence reigned.

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Kendra lay on the bed, stiff like a board, gazing at the ceiling. Joyce noted that she relaxed, but only marginally, when she realized it was her and not Simon doing the checking up. It was going to take a while and a good deal of work before Kendra would trust Simon with his obvious dislike of Watchers. The girl had been well and truly indoctrinated.

“Well?” Joyce asked.

“What will my function be once the child is born? Will I be the babysitter?” Kendra asked quietly.

Joyce smiled. “Well, I do hope that all of you children will take some interest in the baby, including some babysitting, but function? Well, there will be your chores and your homework and going to school, but otherwise you ‘function’ will be that of ‘daughter’ and ‘sister’,” Joyce’s voice became hesitant. “If you want it to be, at any rate.”

Kendra blinked. “D-daughter? Sister?” her voice broke on the single word

Joyce sat on the dark blue bedspread Kendra had chosen and gently put a hand to her face. “Only if you want to. We’re still looking for your parents-”

“They gave me up,” Kendra’s interruption was whispered. “I remember it. My father hugged me and my mother kissed my cheek and then they gave me to Mr. Zabuto.”

Joyce took a deep breath. “They may not have done it of their own free will, Kendra. Simon’s people are looking into it.”

“They didn’t want me,” Kendra whispered. “I know they didn’t. What reason would they, to want a girl child who was meant to die? My mother was pregnant too…”

Joyce groaned and dragged the stiff and tense teen into a hug, despite Kendra’s obvious reluctance. “We want you. We’ll want you if you become a Slayer, we’ll want you if you don’t. We’ll want you once this baby is born. We’ll want you.” She kept whispering and soothing until very slowly Kendra relaxed. And then the tears came.

Hot tears of shame, of not being good enough, of loss and pain, of anger and abandonment flowed down the normally self-contained girl’s cheeks. Harsh sobs shook Kendra’s slender frame and her fists balled into the back of Joyce’s dressing gown. Deep, rasping gulps of air taken in to be able to continue to cry. After half an hour Simon came in with a pitcher of water, two glasses and a half pitcher of fresh orange juice. He put them on the bedside table and left with a nod at Joyce.      

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Buffy sat on her bed, tailor-fashion, playing with her toes when Simon came in. “I’ve been deputized. Kendra is rather upset.”

Buffy nodded. “I can hear her crying,” she leaned back, stretching her arms behind her. “I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if the Watchers’ Council had found me when I was younger. Would they have taken me? Raised me to be a perfect weapon, a perfect Slayer?”

Simon sat down beside her. “They might have. They can be quite ruthless. They tend to believe that the ends justify the means. And they forget that a human being carries the burden of being the slayer.”

“Would I’ve become like Kendra, you think?” Buffy asked the ceiling.

“If they’d found you and trained you young enough, most likely yes,” Simon replied calmly. “Very few people can manage to withstand indoctrination on that level for very long.”

Buffy shuddered. “Wonderful. Simon?”

“Hmmm?”

“The baby… what are you gonna tell about me being the Slayer? A-about ‘big sis Buffy, who died?’” Buffy swallowed.

Simon sighed and held out an arm. Buffy, after a slight hesitation, slid under it. “We won’t tell her or him anything. You will be there to tease the poor tyke mercilessly. But one Dawn-and-the-larvae joke and you might want to head for the hills,” He ended with a warning smile.

Buffy winced. “Yeah. Okay, rub it in. It’s not as if I don’t feel guilty enough about that already,” Buffy let go of a huge sigh, a massive expression of teenage Weltschmerz. “You really think I’ll get to see him?”

“You want the baby to be a boy?” Simon asked amused.

“Well, I think Xander has a point about the number of girls in the family.” Buffy grinned.

“So you don’t mind a new brother or sister?” Simon asked straight out.

Buffy blinked. “You’ll still love us. We can love the kid. The o-only thing… I might not get to know…” Buffy started to sob. “I don’t want to die! I want to see Dawn grow up, and the baby and Kit and I want to have babies of my own and Mom to babysit and, and-”

Simon gathered the shaking girl into his arms and let her cry. He knew that any reassurance he could give would be hollow. A single slip might mean Buffy’s early death, no matter how good the training his people provided and the back-up the family supplied. And Buffy was more than smart enough to know that. Tonight he’d let her cry, and then tell her the lie that everything would be alright, and hope she’d pretend to believe him.

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Thursday, December 14th, breakfast at 1630 Revello Drive

Xander was shoveling food into his mouth and inhaling juice and milk. Joyce sat looking at him a slightly amused expression on her face as she listened to Buffy’s epic battlehymn of ‘Dawn took my shampoo again!’ with added sisterly assistance from Willow and Rowan. She’d let Simon sort this one out. “Chew your food, Xander.”

Xander rolled his eyes and made exaggerated chewing movements.

Joyce smiled. “So, I never got round to you last night. But here you are, all alone…”

Xander swallowed. “I’m not upset about getting a brother or sister, but I still stand by my ill-fated remarks that got me bookbag carrying duties for the next month or two.” 

Joyce laughed. “Do you now? Well, I’ll admit that I’ll settle for healthy and normal. Or at least what goes for normal in this family. Though a boy would be nice.”

“Got enough daughters?” Xander joked.

“Girls might become Slayers,” Joyce replied seriously.

Xander sobered. “Ah. Yes. I almost forgot about that,” He looked at Joyce, his eyes dark. “Yeah, I can imagine knowing you give birth to a girl, knowing all that…” Xander rose and shoulder hugged Joyce. “And a boy would help with the estrogen levels in this house.”

Joyce snorted. “That term got you in enough trouble already, young man. Beware!”

Xander’s eyes danced as he pointed in the direction of the bathroom where the sounds of squabbling were rending the air. “With all the bathrooms in this place and the amount of money you allow for shampoo and soap, you’d think they’d manage to live and let live…”

Joyce smiled and ruffled his hair. “You’re a good boy, Xander. A good big brother.”

Xander smiled down at Joyce‘s stomach. “And we get to see how that works from the get go now.”

There was a sudden silence upstairs. Then a chorus of ‘Yes dads’ and ‘Yes Simons’ and the rush of feet, some coming down. Willow was the first to arrive, wide eyed and a little pale, Rowan cam on her shoulder. The monitor over the counter flashed into life and Rowan, her expression almost a carbon copy of her older sister, appeared.

“Wow,” Willow uttered. “That was scary.”

Rowan nodded. “Very scary.”

Joyce raised an eyebrow. “What was?”

“Dad… he just… errr… you know what his subordinates call him?” Rowan asked.

Joyce smiled. “He went Old Bloody Bones on you?”

The girls nodded in unison. “He laid down the law. ‘No more fighting over the bathroom, there are plenty. No using other people’s stuff without asking. And hang your towels or put them in the laundry basket. Otherwise we’ll find a new use for our toothbrush.’” Willow sent a rather subdued look at the door.

“Good.” Joyce nodded in satisfaction. “I was getting a bit tired of being the one to punish all the time. It was about time the big lug started to pull his weight.”   

Willow looked outraged. “B-but! Toothbrush! Toilet!”

“It’s an excellent tool to get things really clean,” Joyce grinned. “It’ll do you no harm to get something clean, might make you appreciate it a bit more.”

Buffy came pounding in, her face irritated. “Sheesh! He’s acting like we’re at West Point or somethin’!” she pouted. “Why did he get all like ‘General-stick-up-his-butt anyway?”

Xander snorted some of his milk out through his nose.

At Joyce’s lifted eyebrow Buffy flushed. “Sorry. It’s just; he’s usually so laid back.”

Joyce chuckled. “I think it might be a panic reaction, really.”

“Panic?” Buffy asked, surprised.

“Well, he knows he can deal with raising teens and preteens… But a baby? His baby? That is going to be a whole different kettle of fish, even with the children of Margaret and Marcel and Abby and Jed. He’s scared,” Joyce smiled. “The poor dear, so very male of him.”

Xander snorted again, but this time avoided the milk up his nose.

Buffy sniggered. “Yeah. That would do it. Okay, I suppose I can cut the nervous daddy of my half-sibling some slack.”

BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS

Office of Simon Meier, December 14th 1995

The phone was picked up at the other end, “Simon! How are the kids!”

“Multiplying in unexpected ways,” Simon answered dryly. “You remember that operation I had? The one you said I would regret?”

Jed sighed. “You’re regretting it?”

“I regretted it when I got together with Joyce. You know that sort of thing Abbey gets really annoyed about, if we even mention it?” Simon asked.

Jed chuckled. “Magic? Yeah… wait a second…”

Simon smiled. “Jed… How would you like to be a godfather?”

There was a thud. “Jed? Jed are you alright?” Simon called out worriedly.

There was a rustle. “Yeah, fine, I just dropped the phone in surprise. Joyce is pregnant?”

“Yes. Well? Will you?” Simon’s voice was oddly hesitant.

“Heck, yes. Did ya want Abbey as godmother?”

Simon grinned. “Who else? How’s Lisbeth?”

“Grouching about night feedings. And she wants to know when you’ll come over and visit…” Jed needled.

“We’ll be at Vlughwater for Christmas, the Apartment or the Mansion before that. You’re all welcome. Heaven knows the houses are big enough.” Simon answered calmly.

There was a cough and a splutter. “I thought you were going to use the Mansion in New York?!” Jed sounded as surprised as Simon had ever heard him.

“The girls want to see the place. I gave in.” Simon let out a very fake long-suffering sigh.

“Just like that? You haven’t set foot in it since ’72 and all of a sudden you’re going to celebrate Christmas there?” Jed’s incredulity could clearly be heard.

“You haven’t seen Kit and Dawn pout. Also, all the girls’, and even Joyce’s eyes gleamed suspiciously when they heard of the possibility of shopping,” Simon laughed. “Even my wealth might fail if they stay in the Fifth Avenue house.”

“What about the Brownstone? Or your apartment?” Jed teased.

“Oh, shut up. Is Abbey there?”

“Yeah, I’ll call her. “ABBEY!! ABBEY! SIMON KNOCKED UP HIS GIRLFRIEND!”

“You've been waiting to do that for a while now, haven't you Jed?” Simon asked, smiling.

“Oh, coupla decades,” Jed answered flippantly. “About as long ago as I told you about Elizabeth.”

Simon sighed. There was a noise of a door opening and shutting and then Abbey's voice was heard. “Not unless it was an immaculate conception,” came her dry voice.

“She's got two older children. It would hardly be immaculate now, would it?” Jed countered.

“Jed... Enough with the jokes.” Abbey warned. “So what's the news, Simon?”

“Abbey... You know those things Jed and I sometimes talk about that make you so uncomfortable?” Simon asked, a trifle uneasy.

There was a spluttering noise from Abbey. “Wait, what? I thought there was a law against creating life?”

“Against resurrecting the dead. The one about creating new life by magic never passed the Concordat, a hold over from the old Homunculi days. It probably would now, but nobody really bothers with homunculi any more anyway, it’s just too dangerous,” Simon explained.

“Then how is it possible? Is it something you did?” Abbey asked sharply.

Simon laughed. “Hardly. A part of Joyce's talent is healing those she loves, over a period of time. Scars fade, rheumatism eases. She has to be in daily contact with them, or know them very well-”

A hoot of laughter erupted from Jed. Simon sighed.

“Jed, behave.” Abbey scolded. “Okay, I'll accept you didn't just magic this baby into existence. Now what?”

“Margaret is ecstatic and is going to do a full physical on Joyce,” Simon smiled. “Joyce is grousing already. As for now, we're trying to find foods that will stay down.”

Abbey nodded, even though Simon could not see her, grimacing in sympathy. “Yes, I remember that. Wish her luck. And tell her we'll talk over Christmas. You are still coming by?”

“I'm opening the Manor and the Mansion, as I told Jed, you're both welcome, and the children too.” Simon smiled at her gasp.  

“We'll be there, at least for some of the time. I want to see the woman and her children who tamed the raging dragon.” Jed chuckled.

“Raging?” Simon objected mildly.

“Hush Simon, Jed, get out, I'm gonna ask Simon all sorts of questions that you don't want to hear. Is Joyce near by?” Abbey inquired.

Jed left the room, chuckling and muttering. “Heaven help the poor, pregnant woman who knows too many doctors...”

BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS

Thursday, December 14th, evening, Carnahan House, Broadmoor Road, Colorado Springs

Arlene looked at the phone she had just hung up and then at her mother and father. “Well...”

James looked at Cecilia who was, and had been, strangely silent during the short phone conversation. “Are you alright, love?”

Cecilia looked up. “Hmmm? Fine. Just... I feel an urgent need to drive to Sunnydale and keep watch to make certain no one steals another one of my grandchildren’s souls.”

“You're not angry?” James asked carefully.

Cecilia snorted. “Well, I'm a bit annoyed with Mary Beckforth, who I am sure knew exactly what might happen. And more than a little annoyed with Joyce after all the times I told her, all you girls to be careful.” She gestured at Arlene. “But angry? Certainly not.”

James let out a very small breath of relief. And then he saw Arlene's face. “Arlene?”

Arlene shot to her feet. “I-I need to call someone!” And practically ran out of the study, into the living room, past the surprised looking Evy and Jon and up the stairs to her own room.

She took an address book from the desk and with trembling fingers dialled. “Janet? I’m sorry to call you at home, I know you must be exhausted, but I need to talk to you, do you have time? It's personal and very, very urgent.”

End Note:

When I wrote the title of the previous story, Where the wild things are, Maurice Sendak was alive. I thank you, Mr. Sendak, for the imagination you stimulated.

 
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