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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)vidiconFR1598780,0851591501417,36728 May 115 Jul 14No

Of Cars and Cheeses

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Beta, Letomo.

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.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

Many thanks to kcl, KrisBeta and musumenosuoh for recommending the story.

Chapter 86 Of cars and cheeses

Saturday 13th of January 1996, Revello Drive, Joyce’s study

Joyce was looking palely at the two sheets of paper on the table, then at her grim looking fiancé. Her study had been reclaimed as such after the move of the children to the adjacent houses, but she really would have preferred to do this in the dining room.

Buffy breezed in with all the ease of someone with a perfectly clear conscience. “Hey Mom, Papa. You wanted to talk to me?”

Joyce took Simon’s hand. “Yes. You might want to sit down.”

“D-did I do something wrong?”

Joyce shook her head. “No. There are some things we need to tell you.”

“What?” Buffy asked warily as she slid onto a seat.

“Some people have gone missing. A new recruit for the bodyguard team called Jack Price. And Neave Cameron,” Simon spoke softly.

“What? How?” Buffy was stunned.

“Neave’s car was found by the High School. We think she went to get some notes for her class. Price went looking for her. At night. Alone,” Simon’s voice was disapproving and resigned.

Buffy glared at him. “You didn’t tell them?”

“Both were fully aware of the supernatural. But it takes; well I suppose concentration is the right word. When you don’t have magic yourself, you have to keep thinking about it, believe it in your bones to remember about it. All the main Primary team had extensive experience with the supernatural-”

“Aunt Penny,” Buffy coughed in spite of herself.

Simon smiled slightly. “Hurst was actually one of the founding members of the British Monster hunting squad of the SAS, Squad M. But I suppose Penelope counts, yes.”

Buffy looked thoughtful. “So with everyone you settled here? How many do you think you’re gonna lose?”

Simon winced. “I must admit I didn’t think that the field surrounding Sunnydale was as strong as it is. Price was fully briefed and survived an encounter with a vampire in Washington before coming here and he still apparently succumbed. I’ve instructed Hurst to be very careful about whom he recruits. But Neave… She lost her parents to vampires. She’s known about them her whole life.”

Buffy sighed. “Papa? It’s easy. Remember those three vamps? I was so distracted by Liam that I forgot to warn all of you. All this supernatural stuff? It isn’t normal. And when you’re doing the normal, you forget about it. It isn’t your fault.”

“I brought them here, Buffy. It is my fault, no matter what you say. But thank you for trying to make me feel better,” Simon smiled.

Joyce took Buffy’s hands. “So, be careful whom you talk to out there, okay?”

Buffy nodded. “Don’t forget to tell Willow and Jenny as well. She had a lot of contact with them.”

Simon rubbed his face. “Yes. Isn’t that going to be a fun conversation.”

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Saturday 13th of January 1996, Revello Drive

Hannah Harris smiled as she drew up in front of the Revello Drive Compound. ‘House’ no longer fit the bill. During the family’s absence a great deal of progress had been made in the massive alterations to the three houses and now mostly the finishing remained. It was more a compound than a house now, with the passages between 1628, 1630 and 1632 completed and the ones between 1628, 1632 and their respective garages as well.

Considering the size of the family, three driveways and three cars weren’t a luxury, they quite often were necessary. Hannah hummed as she closed and locked the door of the car and pocketed the key. She walked up the steps to what she considered the ‘main door’, that had been 1630, and rang the bell.

It was opened by Willow who grinned widely. “Hannah!” she stepped aside and Hannah entered without invitation.

Xander rose from the couch and grinned. “Heya, cuz! Welcome to the new digs! What do you think of my new coat?” He spread his arms, showing of his leather jacket.

Hannah laughed. “I see you bought it to grow into. Very wise.”

“We missed you over Christmas,” Willow pouted. “You’re family too, you know.”

“I know Catkin, I know. But I had things to do and didn’t want the Hellmouth guarded just by Liam and, well…” she coughed. “I’m still not quite certain if your Aunt Penny wouldn’t have changed me into a rat if I’d shown up. She’s still a bit upset about the whole feeling up her granddaughter thing.”

Willow shivered and nodded solemnly. “Probably wise. Groping girls in prison? So not of the good.”

Hannah chuckled. “Well, anyway, are your parents in?”

“Talking in Mom’s study. Wanna see the music room?” Willow started to glow with joy.

“It’sawesome!There’sapianoforKitandmeandaharpforBuffyandasaxophoneforXanderandacelloforKendraandawholebunchofflutesforwhenEvycomestovisitanDawngotaviolinand-”

Dave, who had shown up less than an hour after the family was home, with an expression so hopeful that Joyce had stifled a laugh, put an arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder and drew her in for a kiss.

Hannah sniggered. “Damn, that works well. Sure I’d love to see the Music Room. Then I really need to talk to your parents.”

Willow blushed but smiled and grabbing Dave’s hand dragged him off, leading Hannah through the high-windowed hall to 1632. The main room there had been set up as a sort of rec room and was dominated by a huge Bechstein Grand Piano and a large concert harp.

Unlike what Hannah had been expecting, something gilded and baroque, the harp was stark black, with gleaming silvery and golden strings. It seemed to exude power.

“Wow,” Hannah mumurmed.

Willow nodded. “Yeah. That’s Dad’s father’s harp.”

“His father played the harp?” Hannah frowned. “Seems a bit odd. And it feels… cold.”

Willow shivered. “Dad and Giles say that some instruments carry great magic. A lyra would too, and flutes and drums. But this... I mean, Nana and Aunt Penny and Gran say there isn’t anything evil about it, but it’s just…”

“Yeah. Why is it here?” Hannah eyed the harp suspiciously.

“Granpa James said it needed to be played, and then everybody just nodded,” Willow shrugged. “So it got wrapped up and sent here. And the Bechstein is from the LA house. The one that stood in Hooghwater needs to be restored.”

“Well, I hope to be able to listen to a family concert soon,” Hannah suppressed a smile at Willow’s slight ‘eep’.

Hannah turned to Xander. “So… Saxophone? I was expecting guitar.”

Xander grinned. “What can I say? I just wanna sax it up.”

Willow let out a long-suffering sigh. Dave rolled his eyes and Hannah got the distinct impression that this was hardly the first time Xander had made that particular bad pun.

“So, had any lessons yet?” Hannah asked.

Willow shook her head. “Nope, gonna start on Monday. And the harp teacher will come to teach Buffy here.”

Hannah nodded, smiling as she saw the animation on the face of her cousin and the girl who had been his best friend and was now his sister.

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Joyce’s study, some time later

Hannah grinned at Simon’s expression and winked at Joyce. “So? We’ve got a deal then?”

Simon looked at Joyce who gave him a firm look and spoke before he could. “Yes. We do. He’ll have to abide by the rules we set, but I see no reason to forbid it.”

********

“So what was so important that you had to talk to Mom and Dad about?” Willow pounced on Hannah as soon as she came back upstairs.

“Willow, decorum!” Joyce scolded gently as Hannah laughed.

“I had to ask them something, Catkin. Couldn’t do it without their permission, see,” Hannah winked.

“Couldn’t do what?” Willow was almost quivering with curiosity and on her shoulder the small screen was filled with an equally excited Rowan.

Joyce smiled. “Kind of makes you wonder what Christmas would’ve been like if we’d had them a little earlier, doesn’t it?” she whispered to Simon.

Buffy heard the whisper and flashed a grin, then turned towards Hannah, obviously curious as well.

Hannah laughed and dug into her pocket, then threw something at Xander who caught it reflexively.

He looked at it for few seconds before his eyes widened. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope. Happy belated birthday and Christmas and a lot of belated birthdays and Christmases. Its outside,” Hannah waved her hand.

Xander shot off the couch and tore the door open, then ran down the steps, whooping with laughter. There was a large, black and chrome car standing on the driveway and with fumbling fingers Xander opened the door and slid behind the wheel, admiring the vintage dashboard and maroon interior.

Buffy looked at Willow. “Xander got a car?”

“Not just a car,” Hannah corrected. “That, my dear blonde cousin, is a 1976 Mercury Grand Monarch Ghia four-door Sedan, one of the finest cars produced in the 1970’s.”

Buffy waved her hands. “That’s sooo not the point! Xander got a car! That means I’m getting a car, right?” she looked hopefully at her parents.

“No,” Simon told her. “As far as we can tell Hell is still hot and burning.”

“Papa!” Buffy whined. “I wanna Porsche!”

“Not until you can actually drive, dear,” Joyce smiled. “Without hitting little old ladies, trees, and any stray sheep that may wander around. In Oregon.”

“Sooo not fair,” Buffy pouted. “And I do so can drive!”

“No, you can’t,” Simon stated flatly. “And besides, Xander is paying his own gas and maintenance. And that beast guzzles like a camel on the salt trail, and vinyl roofs are terrible to maintain,” Simon looked at the huge black car with resignation.

Willow bit her lip. “Mom? Dad? W-when I have my license? Do I get a car, too? I drive way more safely than Buffy and-”

“HEY!” Buffy protested.

Simon sighed like a teakettle and glared at Hannah. “See what you have unleashed woman?”

Hannah just grinned and looked at Xander looking ecstatic behind the wheel of his car.

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Sunday 14th of January 1996, Revello Drive

Willow was frowning at Jenny, who was looking out the window as if she was expecting something or someone and yet dreading it.

Willow snuck out of the room, noting in the kitchen that her mother had laid in a good supply of cheese during her shopping trip the afternoon of their arrival from New York, smiling at the prospect and then headed down to the basement, knocking on the office door. She’d expected Joyce to move into better space once the neighbouring houses had been integrated, but a chance remark by Simon that she might as well resign herself to the fact that she’d never stop picking up strays had caused the move to be called off. And it would be quieter to be in the basement rather than in one of the upstairs rooms. Willow knocked and a rather absent ‘come in’ sounded.

“Mom? Why are you all so upset with Giles?” Willow asked as soon as she closed the door.

Joyce sighed. “Because he was very stupid. You know that Jenny – what Jenny is?”

Willow nodded. “Big sis with punishment privileges and we’re not to make use of the relationship in class or we get grounded for a week,” she sent her mother a glare. “I still think cancelling my cheese privileges would be going too far!”

Joyce laughed. “No, not that. The mystical one.”

Willow looked sheepish. “Oh. The Seer of the People thing…” Her voice trailed off as realisation struck. “Why that big meanie!”

Joyce nodded sadly. “Realized it?”

“Realized what?” Buffy came in carrying what looked like a top and a disgruntled expression. “Mom! You gotta tell Dawn and Kit my clothes are not for dress up!” she whined.

Joyce sighed. *Oh, well. I suppose I could ask Simon for a study in a tower. With a moat. And a dragon.* “I’ll talk to them later. Did they damage anything?”

“No, but they could have!” Buffy argued. “So what did Willow realize.”

“That Giles is a Poo-poo head!” Willow scowled.

“A really smelly, damp Poo-poo head!” Rowan asserted from the little screen on Willow’s shoulder.

“Gee, Will, Row, way to let loose,” Buffy grinned. “So what did he do?”

“You know that Jenny had a fiancé who dumped her, used her and stole her power? She had a bond and it was broken?” Willow asked.

Buffy frowned. “Yeah. Has Papa found out yet where he is? And can I beat him up?”

Willow looked at Joyce who shook her head, a slight smile on her face.

“Okay, not found yet. But anyway, she’s forming a bond with Giles. And then he goes and asks her to-”

“Oooohhh… Strings attached,” Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah I get it. He tried to use her for something he should’ve done himself. Did it damage the bond?”

Willow sucked in a worried breath and both girls turned to Joyce.

Joyce smiled. “Mother doesn’t think so. The bond formed very quickly but looks to be quite strong. And I think she felt that it was more thoughtlessness than anything else. It just hurt for her to think that he’d see her as a resource. Even if he doesn’t. He didn’t even realise what he was doing.”

“That makes it even worse,” Buffy growled. “He should’ve done,” she grinned. “Maybe I should ask Hurst if Giles can be my sparring partner for a couple of bouts again. Just to see if I’ve improved…”

Joyce sighed. “No, Buffy. I think Jenny prefers him in one piece.”

“Or one piece of him,” Willow sniggered.

Buffy laughed.

Joyce smiled and shook her head. “Anyway, be a bit careful around her, she’s very insecure. Again.”

Buffy nodded sharply. “Will do!” then she marched out of the room. “Kit! Dawn! Mom says you can’t use my clothes to play with!” she yelled.

Joyce winced. “Indoor voice!” she called after her now second eldest daughter.

Willlow and Rowan giggled in tandem.

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Outside the Complex

Rupert Giles checked if he had everything. His father had told him that most women liked chocolate and flowers, even if they were fond of computers. The same had been the advice of Quentin Travers. He’d also been told very firmly that in future information such as ‘I am bonded to a Seer of the People whose first bond was destroyed and I’m not going to do anything that might endanger it’ was fairly vital knowledge for the Augustus to have.

One of the things he carried was a letter of apology to Jenny, and another to Joyce and Simon, from Travers. The Augustus admitted to the fact he was obsessed with the Stronghold, and asked permission to come and explain why.

He’d also personally given Giles a list of excellent chocolatiers in London, with stars next to the ones his wife and daughters favoured.

Giles pressed the doorbell and winced slightly when the door was opened by a scowling Buffy. “Oh. It’s you,” she sniffed. “Here to apologize some more?”

Giles winced. “Errr, yes, that is to say-” he began.

Buffy shook her head. “Save it for Jenny. I hope you brought lots of chocolate.”

Giles nodded. “That I have.”

Buffy stood aside and Giles walked in, then stopped. Jenny stood by the window, looking pale and wan, and incredibly lovely.

“Jenny,” he stepped towards her and offered her the roses. “Once again, I’m dreadfully sorry. I cannot, really apologize enough,” he cleared his throat. “Augustus Travers is of the opinion I’m a young idiot by the way. And I’m to give you this,” he held out a letter. “With his apologies.”

Jenny’s brows rose. “No chocolate? I could have sworn I heard you tell Buffy you brought lots.”

Giles coughed and leaned in. “I have two sisters. I know what happens to chocolate with sisters around. It’s in the car.”

There was an affronted ‘Hey!’ from Buffy.

Jenny giggled. “I see,” she sniffed the roses. “I’ll just put these in a vase and-”

Buffy stepped up and took the roses. “Instructions from mom, I’ll take these to the kitchen and you two go and make up,” she glared at Giles. “But no funny stuff!”

Jenny sniggered at Giles’ expression, took his hand and led him out the door and to his car.

Giles opened the door for her. “I am sorry, Jenny. Deeply, incredibly sorry. My father told me that some things are more important than the Watchers’ Council. I just wish he’d told me that when I was ten years old,” he finished dryly.

“And Travers?” Jenny asked pointedly.

Giles looked pensive as he fastened his seatbelt. “He told me that nothing is more important than the mission of the Slayer. But lots of things are more important than the Watcher’s Council. He sent a box of chocolate himself, by the way. It’s on the back seat.”

Jenny looked over her shoulder and started to laugh. “Ru, I’m gonna need all my sisters if we’re to eat all that! Or I’m gonna be as fat as an otter!”

Giles smiled. “Well, I thought you should have the option at any rate. Now, dinner is at the Sea Palisades, I hope that meets with your approval?”

“It does,” Jenny smiled back.

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Monday 15th of January, Sunnydale High

Harmony was standing waiting for them as they arrived in the library, Cordelia beside her, looking more than a little mulish.

Giles was slightly irritated, apparently unsure for the reason of the visit by the two ‘popular girls’.

Then Harmony dipped into a deep, elegant curtsey, her head lowered in submission. “My Lady. I live but to serve you,” she said softly.

Willow paled. “Oh no! Oh no, no way! No way are you gonna be my servant,” she hurried forward and helped Harmony up. “I-I don’t know what they told you, but I’m not the Heir, okay? So totally not the heir! That’s Uncle Severus, or Aunt Clarice, maybe. A-and then, I’ve got a little brother on the way and the way the Family works he’s gonna be the Heir. So no kneeling or curtsying or servant-ting, okay? Please?”

Harmony looked unsure. “B-but the letter, it said you were the Heir. Why would Uncle Lucius write that if it weren’t true?”

“It’s true for now. B-but it won’t be for very long,” Willow explained as she glared at Buffy and Xander who were convulsed with laughter. “Will you two stop that?”

Xander hiccoughed. “Sorry Will, but this is just too funny.”

“Sorry, Your Lady Heirship,” Buffy giggled. “Or should that be lazy airship?”

Willow growled. “Harmony? You want to help the current Heir to the House of Vicari? Help me tickle those two into submission!”

Harmony nodded eagerly and sprang into action, heading for Xander, while Willow headed for the still giggling Buffy. Xander yelped as long slender fingers found sensitive spots. Buffy did the same, then hoisted Willow over her shoulders and swung her round.

Cordelia gaped as the blonde, smaller and more slender than her redheaded sister, was flinging around as easily as if she was a feather.

“Holy shit,” she whispered.

“BUFFY!” Giles called out, irritation leaking out of his voice.

Buffy gently lowered Willow to the ground, the redhead giggling in spite of her irritation at her sister and brother.

“Yes Giles?” Buffy asked breezily.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Giles hissed.

Buffy shrugged. “The big reveal. Their uncle knows, their cousin knows and I doubt they’ll keep quiet. So… do you want to tell them, or shall I?”

Giles spluttered, then glared, then gave in with ill grace. “The world is older than you know…”

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Monday January 15th 1996, outside St. Ursula’s school

The old Volvo drew up and two girls emerged from it, with a tall, dark haired man and a blonde woman. The woman made slight adjustments to the girls’ uniforms. The younger one, a dishwater blonde scowled. The older one, a serene African-American girl several years older than the other, merely stood still.

A number of pupils were looking at the scene with interest. “Will you look at that old wreck of a car? More scholarship girls,” one of the girls asserted, her face made up and her clothing as expensive as the school rules allowed.

“I don’t know, Maddy. See that?” One of the other girls pointed at a large, black BMW that had drawn up unobtrusively and now disgorged two very large men, one of whom walked way to the doors, all the while looking at the small family.

“Yeah? So?” Maddy asked.

The tall, lanky girl rolled her eyes. “Bodyguards, Maddy. And you know what? I don’t give a shit if they are scholarship girls. At least then they can hold a sensible conversation,” she pushed away from the wall and sauntered towards the small group. “Good morning, I’m Henrietta Oberski, Prefect of the 8th Grade.”

The woman nodded. “Good morning, Miss Oberski. I’m Mrs. Summers and this is my fiancé Dr. Meier. These are our daughters, Kendra and Katherine-”

“Kit,” the younger girl scowled.

“Don’t interrupt young lady,” Joyce reproved. “Now, we were supposed to meet with Principal Dooley…”

Henrietta nodded. “I think the Principal was delayed by a slight errr…”

“Altercation?” Joyce suggested wryly. “Don’t worry, it happens in the best schools. Actually, I’d be worried if it didn’t happen.”

Henrietta nodded and grinned. “Yes ma’am. I’ll take you to her office. Would you follow me?” She led the way and the others followed her inside. The halls were wide, well lit and clean. Groups of uniformed girls hung around lockers and chattered and giggled as they passed.

They reached a large door with a stained glass representation of St. Ursula set into it. Henrietta knocked and then opened the door. The office beyond held three women of various ages all of whom smiled kindly. “Good morning Mrs. Antsworth, Mrs. Gleidecker, Miss Smith. Ummm… these are some new pupils, Principal Dooley was supposed to meet them, but…”

The oldest woman rolled her eyes in apology. “She’s having a word with Sylvia Horrocks and Xanthia Wilson. Again. If you would sit down and wait?” she gestured at a group of comfortable looking chairs.

Joyce smiled and sat, as did Kendra. Simon wandered through the room with Kit, the girl studying various paintings and prints and asking questions about what was going on in them.

The door to the Principal’s office opened and two chastened young girls hastened out, nodded at the three secretaries and fled.

A tall, fifty-ish woman with greying blonde hair smiled from behind thick-lensed glasses and waved them inside. “Thank you Henrietta. You can go to class now,” she told the Prefect, who nodded and left, only looking slightly disappointed.

Inside the office Mrs. Dooley sat down after her guests had and opened a folder. “Now, before you start school her, there are a few last t’s to cross and i’s to dot,” she looked up. “Firstly, you’ll be expected to join at least two of the school clubs besides study groups,” her dark blue eyes fastened on Kendra, who shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Then the Principal’s piercing gaze moved to Kit. “Nor will I allow any type of bullying.”

Kit gulped and nodded. Dooley cleared her throat. “If that is understood, let’s go through the school rules once more.”

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January 15th Sunnydale High

First period was American History. Mr. Smith had hung up a large reproduction of Trumbull’s Committee of Five painting. The veteran teacher was leafing through the final essays on the Founding Fathers that the pairs had handed in before the holidays. It was planned to be the culmination of the research the pupils had done into the subject, after the presentation. He’d have handed it back already, but he wanted to talk with his star pupil about the quality of the work she’d delivered. He cleared his throat. “Miss Summers, Miss Rosen- Miss Meyer,” he corrected himself, “I’d like to see you after class.”

The girls exchanged looks and nodded their acquiescence.

He started his lesson giving an outline of the Gilded age, by some called the age of the Robber Barons. Once he’d finished and dismissed the class he gestured towards the two girls who had stayed behind and he looked at them. “I’ve been grading your essays on the Founding Fathers. I must admit, I’m disappointed. I had been expecting rather more than rank speculation and impossible sources.”

Willow looked stunned. “What?”

Buffy frowned. “Can you clarify that, sir?”

Smith picked up the essay and flicked through the heavily marked text. “Here, in chapter one you write that Meier only joined the Continental Congress to safeguard the economic basis of the Colonies. There is no evidence for that and even if his speeches were all heavily inspired by the economic reality, that does not mean he wasn’t a Patriot.”

“We do give a source for that, sir. His Diary for 1774 and 1775,” Willow pointed out.

“Those are unpublished. If they even exist,” Smith argued.

“They exist,” Willow asserted. “They’re just kept within the family.”

Smith snorted. “My point exactly. Now I’m going to have to warn you, unless you clean this up, and soon, I’ll give you both a failing grade, and big one. Think ‘F’,” he held up a hand as Willow made to protest again.

“Now I did warn you that Meier is one of the more enigmatic Founders, if not the most. The family has kept his private papers from being published, his letters are unusually guarded and as I said, and you noted, he mostly spoke on subjects of economics and trade. I was quite happy that you were willing to go beyond the more famous Founding Fathers, most of what you’ve written about him is at best, conjecture and at worst baseless lies. If you want to recover your grades, you will have to correct that from real primary sources, not imaginary ones. Secondary sources will most likely be all you can find.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed, she shared a look with Willow. “The sources exist. They just haven’t been published, even if they have been edited and read. Just within the family,” Buffy leaned casually against the table. “Which we are.”

“You are?” Smith looked stunned. “How?”

Willow dug in her bag and put a piece of paper in front of him. “Dad said this might happen. You have to sign this first.”

The teacher looked at the paper and frowned. “A non-disclosure form?”

“Yes sir!” Willow nodded.

Smith sighed, picked up a pen and signed. “There…happy now? So how exactly are you Meiers? As far as I know the last Meier lives in New York and…” He started to laugh, ruefully. “Ah. I think I understand. Miss Meier?” He smiled at Willow.

Buffy grinned. “Yup, My mom’s gonna marry him.” She grinned even more widely and pointed a thumb at Willow. “And it gets better; one of his ancestors more than dated one of her ancestors.”

“BUFFY!!” Willow hissed.

Smith guffawed. “Well, I’ll be… Right. That leaves the problem that the sources are non-verifiable. What’re we gonna do about that?”

“Papa said he’s gonna donate scans of the relevant works to the Library of Congress, as well as edited texts. Still not the complete ones, though,” Buffy smirked. “They wanted the complete ones and the Family just won’t stand for that.”

Smith frowned. “Why not? It’s the heritage of the Nation!”

Willow blushed and giggled. “Ummm, there’s this one set of notes he made at a meeting, errr… lots of stuff about how he thinks that the Colonies won’t be able to keep up food production for the armed forces and that blockade is to be feared and then, wham, there’s this errr… scurrilous verse about Washington’s wooden teeth and Mrs. Washington…”

Smith almost choked. “What?”

“Honest truth, sir,” Buffy grinned. *And the parts about the Covens splitting away from East Greenwich in the other set of diaries? Definitely not for publication.*

Smith shook his head. “Well, I must admit I was expecting a wholly different reason.”

“Great uncle Gabriel built Banker’s Manor to host parties with girls and boys, sir,” Buffy smirked at Smith’s expression.

The teacher sighed. “I see. Well, considering Willow’s normal standard of work, I shall accept this and grade it accordingly. Do let me know when the copies are sent to the Library, would you?” He tapped his desk. “Ummm…I don’t suppose he’ll come in for show and tell?”

Willow groaned, reached for her wallet and handed over five bucks to the triumphantly grinning Buffy. “And you owe Kendra a backrub and Xander a Snoopy dance, in costume. And Dawn a rook and knight advantage for the next week. And you’ve gotta help Amy weed her herb garden and-”

Willow groaned again and gave the teacher a glare. “Thanks, sir!”

Buffy grinned. “Hey, you made the bets…”

Smith smiled. “So… why the non-disclosure? Why don’t we know about this? Oh, I know you’ve been adopted and were being fostered, that’s been the talk of the staff room…”

Buffy coughed. “Ummm…kidnap risk.”

“What? Oh, of course…the Meier family is rich.” His eyes widened. “I hope I haven’t endangered you?”

“Not if you keep silent about it, sir. And more people know than Papa might like,” Buffy shrugged. “And we did walk around New York with him, and they do know him there. But the donation to the LoC is still secret and well, better safe than sorry on the whole thing.”

Smith nodded. “I see. I also understand you’ll be handing in some essays on the Bartlett Family to make up for the week you’ve missed. Do you need any help? Or is your father sufficient?”

Willow reached into her bag and took out a sheaf of notes. “I sat down with Uncle Jed and Dad and I think we covered most of the basics.”

“Uncle Jed?” Smith asked weakly. “Governor Bartlett?”

“Yeah, Uncle Jed. Papa and him have known each other since they were little,” Buffy smiled wickedly. “We got pictures.”

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Police headquarters, New Orleans

“You still cannot remember anything, Dr. Dormer?” the tall, handsome and polite African-American police officer asked for the umpteenth time.

Diana shook her head. “No. Not except what I’ve told you. I don’t know what happened after I was knocked out in the hallway.”

The man nodded. “I understand. And you don’t know why you were targeted?”

Diana sighed, exasperation showing. “No! Look, I don’t know why they dragged Dr. Corcoran and her daughter in there, I don’t know the whereabouts of Albert Corcoran, and I don’t know what they looked like. And I don’t know what happened to Faith and I’d really like for you to find out!” she growled.

The detective cleared his throat. “We’re doing our best ma’am. But, well, we haven’t got much to go on. Do you have any idea who brought you here?”

“Lieutenant January, if I knew that I would have told you! If I knew anything I would’ve told you. I lost my ward and one of my oldest and dearest friends, a neighbour and her daughter. Why the hell wouldn’t I cooperate?” Diana stated firmly.

Lieutenant January nodded. “Of course. But you see, Dr. Dormer, we have some worries about Miss Lehane-”

“Lieutenant, Faith had nothing to do with the death of her foster parents. She’s just… Well she might just be the unluckiest girl in the world,” Diana ruefully.

January nodded. “Of course, Dr. Dormer. Of course she is.”

Diana glared at the man. “I would suggest, Lieutenant January, that you maintain an open mind. If you do not, if you hound Faith to do something desperate? I will make certain you, and yours, regret it for the rest of eternity.”

January frowned. “You do realize that threatening a police officer is a crime, Dr. Dormer?”

Diana nodded. “Oh, yes. I quite understand. I do apologize. I also understand that if you mess this up your life won’t be worth living. And no-one will be able to prove anything. All they will have is rumour and hearsay and the vague remarks of a distraught woman.”

January sat back. “Do you have the Power, Dr. Dormer?” he asked after a moment.

Diana raised an eyebrow. “What Power?”

January shook his head. “My Great-great-great-grand-father had a younger sister some called Olympia Snakebones,” he regarded her steadily.

Diana pursed her lips. “What do you know about the things that stalk in the dark?”

January tapped his fingers on the table nervously. “More than I prefer. This has to do with them?”

“Yes. The ones who attacked us were vampires,” Diana replied softly. “I think that someone used the Power to heal me. But I really can’t remember what happened. I-I think I told Faith to run. They were after her.”

January nodded decisively. “I see. I understand now. I should have guessed, realised from the bites on Monsignor Mulcahey. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. And I’ll widen the state-wide BOLO for Faith to the neighbouring states. We need to make sure she is safe. I’ll make sure they understand she’s not a person of interest but a scared teen running in a panic.”

Diana smiled. “Now I’m really sorry I threatened you, Lieutenant.”

January smiled back. “I’m not. If you hadn’t, I would still be looking for a group of psychopaths.”

Diana’s smile vanished. “Oh, you are, lieutenant. Just not ones who are breathing.”

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Evening/night of 15th of January 1996, Revello Drive Complex

Buffy snuck into the kitchen after her patrol. The Slayer’s patrol schedule had been carefully arranged by Hurst and Bchenka, the two most experienced monster hunters among the Bodyguards. The former SAS and Spetsnaz officers had instilled in their young trainee that predictability was deadly. If an opponent of even moderate intelligence could observe her patrol, or learn what schedule she followed, it would be easy to kill her using the gathered intelligence.

This also meant that her parents were quite often in bed when she came home from a late night patrol. Like on this night. Her slayer-enhanced eyes took in the scene in the kitchen. She smiled slightly. The cheese cloche had been lifted. The designated part of the cheese had been cut. Her mother was a wonderful woman, but she was far too miserly with the cheese, her daughters had long ago decided.

By a careful routine, inspired by the patrol schedule, each was able to truthfully tell Joyce that they hadn’t eaten the cheese, or taken the cheese, or combinations thereof, in the kitchen or elsewhere as each girl took a turn removing the cloche, cutting the cheese and loading it in the baskets, though the last was easiest for Buffy. It also helped that Buffy managed to make her mother believe she preferred the horrid orange processed cheese Hank had always eaten. It was a sacrifice to eat it now she knew what real cheese was like, but Buffy made it gladly if it meant more of the good stuff for all of them.

There had, of course, been momentary guilt among them when Joyce had started to doubt her sanity, but it was just plain evil of their mother to withhold the cheesy goodness.

Buffy picked up the separate pieces and with a Slayer’s uncanny accuracy threw them into the basket delivery system they’d set up between their rooms. Once upstairs she would quietly haul each of them to her sister’s rooms and each, in her own room, would hide the booty and eat at leisure. Willow, as the master mind behind the whole thing and their mother’s chief suspect, got the largest chunk. Buffy grinned slightly and then hurried out of the kitchen to her bedroom, hauled the baskets to their destinations and ran into the bathroom, to shower and then to sleep.

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16th of January, Joyce’s office at the Gallery

Joyce sat behind the desk in her office. The room wasn’t very large and it might have been more economical to place it against a wall, but having the desk face the door and the visitors’ chairs face her, allowed her to create a more friendly impression to her customers. The man who came in did so with a deferential air and sat down.

“You wished to see me, ma’am?” Hurst asked politely.

In reply Joyce glared at him. “I realize that in order to protect the children you have to gain their trust and to do that you have to let them get away with some mischief. What I want to know is, how long have you known? And did you help them?”

Hurst cleared his throat. “Ma’am?”

“Did you help them think up the plan to steal the cheese, Hurst?” Joyce clarified her question.

Hurst shook his head. “No, ma’am.”

“But you did know?” Joyce pressed.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Hurst affirmed.

“You probably thought it clever and admired them for it, didn’t you?” Joyce accused him.

Hurst coughed. “The thought did cross my mind, ma’am. If I might ask, how did you find out?”

Joyce smiled grimly. “Oh, come now Hurst. If you’re allowed your secrets, so am I. You may leave. Oh, and Hurst? You will make certain that all my daughters are at home on time, no dodges, excuses or prevarications.”

Hurst nodded, resigned. “Yes ma’am.”

“Good. I will see you this afternoon, Hurst,” Joyce smiled serenely.

Hurst left and reflected that the Great Cheese Caper was coming to an end.

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16th of January, Summers House, Family room

The girls were chatting, unconcerned. It was not that unusual for their mother to have them all in one room to discuss family matters that did not concern males. Bathroom use and the disposal of feminine hygiene products did not particularly disturb or embarrass Simon, but he felt no need to listen as Joyce laid down the law about them either. Xander tended to wince and hide. This afternoon’s talk was likely about the ‘borrowing’ of clothes that all the girls had been guilty of. Having had to interfere in one too many squabbles of who took whose favourite shirt and spilled what on it, the girls were ruefully convinced the law was about to be laid down on the subject and due warning given for transgressions.

Then the door opened and Joyce came in, her expression severe, carrying a basket and a sheaf of papers. She sat down without speaking. Her demeanor was cold enough that all the girls fell silent within seconds.

Then she unpacked the basket and took out several pieces of cheese, some with obvious teeth marks. She put them on the table and looked each of her teenage daughters firmly in the eye. Willow whimpered and ducked in on herself.

“Well. It seems I do not have one cheese thief in the house. I have seven,” she stated coolly. “Can anyone explain why you felt the need to do this?”

The girls exchanged glances. Finally after some nudging and whispering Buffy was apparently chosen as spokeswoman and nervously cleared her throat. “Well, ummm… we all like cheese.”

“Yes? And?” Joyce frowned. “Why did you have to steal it then?”

“Because you said you wouldn’t buy more than pound a week. And that ‘s like almost nothing if all of us get a bit!” Dawn spoke before Buffy could.

Joyce closed her eyes. It was very obvious that she was counting to ten at the very least. She opened her eyes. “Yes, well, that was when I was under the impression that only Willow ate vast amounts of cheese. A simple request to buy more, since all of you liked it, might have been better. Do you have any other reasons?”

Willow bit her lip, looked around at her sisters and then sighed. “I-it was exciting, you know? And kinda funny, to see how long we could, you know, keep doing it.”

Joyce shook her head. “I don’t think it is all that funny. And you lied to me,” she held up a hand at the instant denials. “You all lied by omission and dissembling and misdirection. I’m sure that Willow never ate all the cheese alone, but she ate some of it. It stops now. If I find out that you’ve lied to me again, or told me fibs, or half-truths you will not like it. You will not like it at all. Is that understood?” Her steely glare moved from Buffy, to Willow, to Rowan who was whimpering on the screen, to Kendra who was looking as pale as a sheet and trembling, to Kit who was clinging to Buffy for dear life and finally to Dawn who swallowed and nodded.

“Your father will see to your punishment,” Joyce rose and gestured at the cheese. “You might want to eat those. It may be quite some time before you get any more,” she left, closing the door softly but with an air of finality.

Kit started to cry. “I’m never gonna be adopted! She hates me! I’m gonna get sent back to the Rosses!”

Willow shook her head. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Kit. She won’t do that…” she looked at Buffy who sighed.

“Mom is very annoyed right now. Very, very annoyed. But she would never be that cruel. Don’t worry, Kit,” Buffy hugged the younger girl, her eyes fearfully on the door.

******

Joyce was in the kitchen, sitting at the island, her head on her arms. Simon was rubbing her shoulders. “Better now?”

Joyce sniggered. “Oh man… they went to such trouble. I feel almost bad for stopping them.”

“They did lie,” Simon pointed out with a smirk.

Joyce giggled. “Oh, yes, just like Lolly and I did when we wanted to go on a date, and Arlene did when Gil Hicks got into Dad’s beer. I’m sure that my little performance scared them enough that they’ll never lie about anything important.”

Simon laughed. “So how long have you known?”

Joyce sat up, leaning back against him. “Oh, almost since the beginning. I tried camera’s, but Rowan and Willow must have managed to get to all of them. And I tried waiting up, but they very carefully kept track of where I was. So I didn’t have proof until I asked Poppy Pomfrey what Camera Obscura she was talking about when Willow explained about Rowan-cam.”

“And what does it do? I’m familiar with the term, but think you have a different meaning in mind.  A spell?” Simon kissed the nape of her neck.

“Yes. It was a bitch to cast, I can tell you that. First actual spell I cast too!” Joyce proclaimed proudly. “It lets me use a reflecting image in one room to look into another, or once I’m better at it, to send out an astral body.”

“Dangerous woman,” Simon murmured. “Oh well. I’ve got to go and act the disappointed Father.”

Joyce smiled. “Just make sure that they all come in here afterwards, so I can show them they’re forgiven.”

“I will. But only after they apologize. It might have been a minor transgression, but it’s still theft, and still lying,” Simon smirked. “It will do them good to do some hard, manual labour.”

“I wonder why they kept Xander out of it, though,” Joyce mused.

Simon laughed. “Oh, Joyce I thought you’d guessed that one long ago. Xander’s the only one who really likes processed cheese.”

*******

The door to the kitchen inched open minutes later and Buffy looked around it, expecting her mother to be radiating anger. Instead Joyce was at the other side of the island, looking at her now-second eldest daughter over her glasses, looking unexpectedly calm. “Come in Buffy.”

Buffy winced and shuffled in, followed by the others.

“So. What punishment did your father levy upon-” she gasped as her breath and words were cut off by Kit, and rather unexpectedly Kendra, who threw themselves at her, hugging her and trying incoherently to make clear they were very sorry. Buffy, Willow and Dawn looked uncertain and teary eyed. “I’m sorry I lied, sorry, so sorry,” Kendra whispered furiously.

Simon stood in the doorway and shrugged. “I thought it might be wise to do the comfort before the punishment this time.”

Joyce raised her arms and hugged the two girls. “You two can stop worrying now; we’re not kicking you out. You lied and you stole, and yes, I’m angry, and yes, you will be punished, but I still love all of you and I will most certainly not love you less or kick you out of the house or the family.”

“It is after all, not nearly as bad as what you and your sisters got up to, at least according to your father,” Simon smirked as he sat down.

“Simon!” Joyce called out warningly.

“What did they do?” Willow inquired, her nose almost quivering with curiosity.

Simon laughed. “If your grandparents will tell you, then you’ll find out. Now,” his face became stern again. “Since you have calmed down a bit, punishment time. Firstly, except for Slaying, the lot of you are grounded for a month.”

“A MONTH?” Buffy screamed.

“A month,” Simon repeated calmly. “Each of you will also write a three thousand word essay on the value of honesty and open communication. And in the copious time you have while being grounded, you will be able to do some chores around the house.”

Willow sighed. “Weeding? You do know that there’s nothing left to weed out back, right?”

“As has been pointed out before, all the grounds of the manor were once a landscaped park, plenty of work there. But actually, I was thinking about painting. Unless you prefer toothbrushes and toilets?” Simon asked pointedly.

Willow squeaked and shut up.

“And for Rowan, who was fully aware what was happening but kept her silence? There are a number of charities who can do with new websites,” Simon finished.

Buffy licked her lips. “What about my birthday party?”

Joyce sighed. “Your father and I considered telling you to cancel it. However after much discussion, we’ve come to the conclusion that your grounding starts after your party.”

Buffy let out a breath of relief.

Joyce looked around. “But I repeat, no more lying! Next time we will not be so lenient. Understood?”

There was an uneven chorus of ‘Yes Mom’s’ and ‘Yes Mama’. Joyce smiled a little at the ‘Mum’ that came from Kendra.

“However, since I don’t want any of you to starve while you’re grounded…” she reached under the table and got out a basket and from it took a large spread of different cheeses. She then raised an eyebrow. “And if you’d just told me that all of you love cheese so much, you could’ve had all this without the lying and the stealing.”

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The kitchen, morning of the 17th of January

“EEEEEEEEE!” the happy squeal from the sitting room shocked the couple by the island and probably woke every dog in a five mile radius.

“Hank’s letter?” Simon suggested.

“Quite possibly,” Joyce grinned. “Or ours.”

The door was flung open and Buffy, dressing gown askew and her hair a mess, tore into the room with the enthusiasm and joy of a much younger girl. Joyce let out a ‘whuff’ of breath as Hurricane Buffy grabbed her in a tight hug and then moved onto Simon, back to Joyce and then started bouncing and bounding through the room.

“I think she likes it,” Joyce smiled at Simon.

“It’s awesome, wonderful, amazing and it’s from all three of you!” Buffy hollered.

“Hmmm. You should count yourself lucky we’re still allowing you to do this, young lady,” Joyce told her sternly.

Buffy wilted. “Y-you mean you might have…”

Joyce nodded. “Yes, when I found out I talked to your father and your Papa and even your grandparents. All of them said cancelling this would be too harsh a punishment-”

“Said grandparents hooted with laughter and kept saying things like ‘What goes around comes around’ and ‘Karma’,” Simon added helpfully, his eyes twinkling.

“Shush, you,” Joyce lightly slapped his arm. “And I agreed. So, from the sounds you made I assume you like the gift?”

Buffy hugged her mother again. “It’s totally awesome!”

There was a groan from the door. “It had better be. That squeal woke me up!” Xander was wearing his own bathrobe. “So what did you get?”

“Dad is taking me to the Ice Capades! And then a skating master class with Dorothy Hamill!” Buffy squee-ed

Xander grinned. “Well, that’s awesome. But not a Porsche then?”

Joyce sighed.

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An undisclosed location, Sunnydale, Saturday 20th of January 1996

Tucker Wells had been picked up in front of the high school by a black car and blindfolded, then driven around, taken inside a building, down several sets of steps and was now sitting in a white-painted concrete room with two doors, one through which he had entered, one beyond which waited his fate. The second door opened and a man clad all in black robes, with a black hood that covered his head and shadowed the upper half of his face came in. “The Tribunal awaits you, Wells,” he said in a deep but quiet voice. “Enter and be judged.”

Tucker swallowed and checked to see if his suit looked good. He was wearing clean underwear but was quite sure that if the death penalty was levied, as Questor Moritz had told him was quite likely, it wouldn’t remain that way.

The room beyond was slightly larger than the anteroom and again had two doors, the one he had come in through and one in the opposite wall, with a long table set in front of it. There were three people behind the table and a chair and a small, old school desk with a pitcher of water and a glass on it opposite it. The man in black gestured at the desk and took up station beside the table.

Tucker didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone as old as the three people who were going to judge him. In the middle was a thin woman, with a large, hooked nose and a thin-lipped mouth and the darkest eyes Tucker had ever seen. To the left of her sat another hook-nosed, dark eyed person, but this was a man and he seemed to be even older. On the right was a big, overweight woman with curly blue-grey hair and piercing blue eyes. On the table were his notebooks, including everything he’d planned to do. Very carefully Tucker made his way to the desk and sat down, pouring a glass of water with trembling hands.

The old man spoke in a cultured Eastern accented voice. “Mr. Wells. We’ve read what you’ve done, and tried to do, and were planning to do. Do you have anything to say?”

Tucker swallowed. “You mean to explain what I did, o-or mitigating circumstances?”

The old man lifted an eyebrow. “Actually I was thinking of last words, but if you think there’s anything of that nature I’m sure all of us would be delighted to hear what you’ve come up with.”

Tucker let out a whimper and nearly fell out of his chair. Then he took a deep breath. “O-okay. I-I was kinda expecting that. But you give training, right? So if I know about kids who should get training, you’ll train them and not kill them, right?”

The woman on the right moved slightly. “Have they broken the laws, like you have?” Her voice had a heavy accent, sounding almost like a parody of the Arkansas pronunciation.

“They haven’t done anything! I swear,” Tucker replied hastily. “One of them is my little brother. My parents are gonna be devastated when I d-die I don’t want them to lose Andrew too! Please!”

“We will consider it. Names, Mr. Wells, and addresses,” the old man answered.

Tucker nodded and reached into his inner pocket and took out a handwritten list. “T-these are all the people I know can do magic. N-none of us knew about the laws of magic. A-and I know what I did was wrong, even under normal laws, just please, don’t kill my little brother?” he begged.

The old man gestured and the list landed in front of the silent woman in the middle. “We shall see. If these people are innocent, like you say we will train them. If not…” the old man’s smile was the most unpleasant one Tucker had ever seen. “Bailiff, remove the prisoner to the cells.”

The man in black, obviously the Bailiff, took Tucker’s arm, though not unkindly, and led him out of the courtroom, through the anteroom into a corridor and locked him into a small, well-lit sparsely furnished room, no; cell, with a heavy steel door. The door was locked firmly behind Tucker.

Tucker sat down on the bed and looked at the small washbasin with the spotless mirror on the opposite wall. *Maybe they’ll give me a clean death. Not the Sempharg Demons. Please, not the Sempharg demons…*

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Revello Drive, Main Room, evening of Saturday 20th of January 1996: Buffy’s party

The room was humming. Buffy had kept her party small, just friends and family. Though she wanted to be able to let loose, the Bronze was a rather smelly place and most of her friends were now her family, and not all those who she wanted to invite felt comfortable in public. Or in private, for that matter. Angel had made a short appearance and then headed off to some cemetery to sulk and brood. Buffy was getting rather annoyed at that.

“I mean, you’d think he’d at least stay for one dance!” she whined at Kendra who was looking slightly glazed.

Buffy sniffed, then sighed as she looked around. “Okay. Well, as my boyfriend is currently unavailable…” she let her gaze wander, looking for a likely prospect to dance with. It landed on Owen for a few seconds as he danced, slowly, with Harmony in his arms.

It landed on where Cordelia was bickering with Amy of the value of cheerleading versus physics.

“I need to talk with Owen, explain things to him. Harmony will have to, as well,” she told Kendra. “He has to realize that things aren’t always wonderful and exciting.”

Kendra frowned. “He looks happy enough.”

“Hmm, but Harmony may be a witch. At any rate, she comes from a magical family. If he dates her, he risks all sorts of dangers,” Buffy replied. Then she grinned. “Ooooh. Mike. “‘Scuse me sis, gonna catch me a Cheila if the vampire won’t dance.”

Kendra looked around the room rather forlornly. Mostly her family, plus a few friends of Buffy’s from school. A tall, curly headed young man made his way towards her. “Hey. You’re Buffy’s sister?”

“Yes. I am Kendra,” Kendra nodded.

“Morgan, Morgan Shea,” the boy introduced himself.

“Oh. The one with the Dummy,” Kendra smiled slightly. “He was a brave hunter.”

Morgan sighed. “Yeah. I would’ve preferred him hanging around a bit more. It… distracted me.”

Kendra frowned in confusion. “What do you need to be distracted from?”

“Buffy told me what she is, after Sid… died,” Morgan smiled. “So I told her my secret. I thought you’d know as well.”

Kendra shook her head. “If you told her a secret to keep, Buffy would not tell another.”

Morgan laughed. “Yeah, figuring that out. Do you always speak so formally?”

Kendra bit her lip. “I was taught to do so.”

Morgan smiled. “Well then, maybe I shall teach you to be less formal. Live a little, in a short time. Do you know how to dance?”

Kendra shook her head. “No I’ve never- EEEPP!”

The unexpected noise from their sister drew the attention of all the other siblings, who merely laughed as they saw Kendra dragged onto the dance floor.

“Nor do I wish to learn!” Kendra hissed from within the circle of Morgan’s arms.

Morgan grinned. “Look around you. Everybody who’s dancing is having fun, right? Don’t worry Kendra, it’ll be fun.”

Kendra sighed and allowed the boy to lead her around. She had to admit it was kind of fun. And she thought that it might be useful for training, as well.

End Note:

A small cameo for a descendant of Benjamin January, created by Barbara Hambly.

I tried to clarify some points and the final resolution of the great cheese caper.

 
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