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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)vidiconFR1598780,0851591501417,58228 May 115 Jul 14No

Old Time Traditions

Author’s Note:

Enter, whining. My last author’s note was very insecure. I’m not normally that bad. Don’t misunderstand me, I like reviews and attention as much as anyone. I write faster and with greater confidence when I get told that what I do makes sense (or not) and is entertaining people.

When I wrote that note I’d been trying to write to the children of one of my French friends. I do that at least once every month. (And oddly enough like my of/off in English I have one major, exceptionally stupid failing in French, I have huge problems writing qu'est-ce que c'est. Basically it means ‘What?’. I know when or how to use it, but I always screw it up at least once in anything longer than a thousand words. I seem to have this one blind spot in every language I know. Even my native one, but that’s so stupid I won’t mention it.)

At any rate, I was writing the next chapter in an ongoing story I’ve been telling them for a year. And I couldn’t come up with the word for fairy. Or remember what I wanted to tell them.

That scared the shit out of me. So I panicked and I whined. I’m very glad, deeply grateful for all the wonderful, supportive reviews. They helped me greatly to overcome my post-concussion dip.

I’m also very grateful to AngelRogue, celrea, Senko, stonegolem and zoella for recommending the story.

Chapter 97

Hard Rock Casino Hotel, morning of February 11th

“So we aren't married?” Sara asked relieved.

“No, we just bought the cake because we liked the colours, apparently. So we aren't. And, no offence, I'm very glad,” Hank said, as he hung up the phone.

“Thank god. No offence right back, but I really like to get to know people before I marry them,” Sara smiled.

“Me too. This wasn't normal for me in any way,” Hank rubbed the back of his head. “And I've no idea how I would have explained that to the girls.”

“Girls?” Sara stammered.

“My daughters, Buffy and Dawn,” Hank got out his wallet and showed her the pictures in there. Then he saw Sara's face. “You okay?”

Sara shook her head, then nodded. “I...”

“You look awful. Come on, sit down,” Hank urged, dragging a chair out from the table.

Sara sat, a sob escaping her. “I don't know why I thought I could escape it...”

“Escape what?” Hank asked anxiously.

“Charlie, my son died a little over a year ago,” Sara whispered. “He accidentally shot himself, with my ex-husband's gun.” “Oh my god, Sara, I'm so sorry,” Hank gasped. “I had no idea... I didn't realise...”

There was no way she could tell Hank about the encounter with her dead son, about a copy of her husband showing up. She didn’t believe what had happened, or understand it.

“No reason for you to know, I didn't tell you,” Sara shook her head, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.“I miss him every day. But I was getting to a point where I thought I could at least go on. Then I got called by a little girl who was looking for her mother, and had to call an ex of my husband's and... It's complicated, but it was just too much and I wanted to get away.”

“So you came to Vegas to forget,” Hank smiled. “I understand.”

“It seems I forgot a little too well,” Sara grinned weakly. “If I got a drunken one-night stand in Vegas, at least I want to have the memory of it, dammit!”

Hank laughed. “Same here. Well, now that all the married-not-married drama is out of the way, shall we go and have something to eat and drink, then see a few sights before we head home?”

Sara nodded just as her stomach growled. “That might be a good idea,” she said embarrassedly.

Hank laughed. “That sounded like Buffy after a big practice session.”

“Practice? What did she do?” Sara asked.

“She was a national level youth figure skater, and then she took up cheerleading,” Hank sighed. “And then there was an unholy mess that my ex and I really screwed up. Mostly me.”

“That sounds bad,” Sara took a breath and the plunge. “Do you... Does she still...”

Hank nodded. “I still see them, and things are getting better. Joyce is going to get married again and he's a good guy, he helped.”

Then he grinned. “As a matter of fact we've cooked up a surprise for her. I think she'll love it.”

Sara chuckled. “Sounds like you want to share.”

Hank's grin widened into a smile. “Over lunch. Come on.”

Sara nodded “No one back home is going to believe what happened this weekend.”

“Well, you'll have something to talk about for years at parties, once you get over the embarrassment. Me too, probably,” Hank laughed.

Sunnydale General Hospital

“Are you aware of any mental problems in your family, Miss Calendar?” the young doctor asked.

Jenny frowned. “I think there's some schizophrenia, possibly some bi-polar disorder. But it's never discussed and I don't think anyone ever went to a doctor for it.”

The young man sighed. "I'm afraid your uncle is... Well, he's not well," he finished lamely.

Jenny gave him a look. "He's naked, gibbering and claws at the carpet while foaming at the mouth. Knowing all that, I’d really like to know what you consider to be 'very bad'. Just so long as you aren’t treating me at the time."

The doctor winced. "Errr..."

Jenny sighed. "What sort of prognosis are we talking about? Will he recover?"

The doctor rubbed the back of his neck. "We've done x-rays and scans. They showed nothing, so we started medication. Mostly tranquilisers right now. I won’t lie to you, Miss Calendar, it is unlikely he will ever recover sufficiently to manage without care."

Jenny sighed again. "I thought so. I'll need to call some people. Thank you, doctor."

She left the room. Giles was outside, waiting for her. "Well?"

"Completely insane," Jenny stated glumly. "No doubt I’ll be blamed."

Giles smiled grimly. "That, I'd like to see them try."

IHOP, Las Vegas, Sunday 12th of February

Hank smiled at the waitress as Sara held out her cup to be refilled. Once the waitress had left she sipped it and raised a quizzical brow at Hank.

“You won a hundred thousand dollars and your idea of a good place to eat is at an IHOP?” Sara smiled.

Hank laughed. “Sorry, Buffy and Dawn love this place and it has sort of become a habit to find one if I need breakfast in a strange city. You don't mind, I hope?”

Sara sighed. “Memories again.”

Hank nodded. “I understand.”

They drank coffee and ate maple syrup-smothered pancakes and bacon in silence.

“So, what do we do now? Part and like passing ships in the night, never meet again, ‘Brief Encounter’ style?” Sara asked.

Hank pursed his lips. “If you want. I can also give you my phone number,” he tore off a small piece of his paper place-mat and wrote a number down on the edge. “There. That's my cell phone. You can call me if you like, or want.”

Sara laughed. “Well, that's decisive.”

“You can throw it away if you want,” Hank smiled. “But I think we had fun these past few days.”

“Not that we can remember some of the fun parts,” Sara remarked dryly and almost regretfully.

Hank rubbed his neck. “Yeah well, the bits we do remember were pretty good, eh?”

Sara snorted. “The bits we don't might have been, too. That bed was pretty rumpled.”

Hank grimaced. “I'm going to have to edit the bill before I send it in to expenses. A wedding cake delivered? The gossip will never stop.”

It was also, he mused, just as well that Dawn and Buffy wouldn’t find out about this. Aside from Buffy’s usual ‘grossed out’ opinion of adult sex, he wasn’t sure how his two daughters would feel about him hooking up with another woman, even for a brief period, even if Joyce had found a new love in Simon.

Sara giggled. “They won't mind an edited version?”

“They'll just think I was watching porn, and paid for it myself,” Hank smirked.

“Had to cover that up before, have you?” Sara smirked back.

“Not personally. As you may have noticed I prefer to get my kicks for real,” Hank sent her an exaggerated leer.

Sara laughed. “Oh, if only you could remember it.”

Hank laughed as well. “Yeah, important lesson there, drink less, recall more.. Anyway, I've edited plenty of bills that had personal stuff on them, toys for the kids and such, never anything like hotel room porn. But I’m not so sure about some colleagues,” he finished.

Sara laughed and took another bite of her pancake, looking at the few remaining bits wistfully. “These are really great.”

“Have another one. Or another plateful,” Hank smiled encouragingly. “I did win a hundred thousand dollars, after all.”

Hooghwater, Morning of Sunday 11th of February

“But I don't wanna!”

“Simon, I get enough of that from the children,” Joyce glared at him over the remnants of breakfast. “Ms Eglemore is right, you have things to do in New York and...”

Willow started to snicker, with Rowan in tandem. Kit giggled, and so did Buffy and Dawn. Kendra kept a straight face, but probably through liberal application of teeth to lower lip than anything else. Xander coughed.

Joyce looked at them, then noted he suspicious glint in Simon's eye. “Very funny. So you don't have any objections to going to New York?”

“I've got plenty of them, but I also have reasons to go there. I do owe people there at least that. And there are a few things that I can only do there and it wouldn't be fair to Hubert to make him travel here at his age.”

Joyce crossed her arms and glared at them. “I think they're rubbing off on you.”

“Well, as long as they learn something from me, it’ll be fine. We'll leave on Tuesday and be back here by Friday. That should be enough time to get your fitting in and for me to talk to people,” Simon smiled. “And show off my beautiful bride-to-be.”

“And get some shopping in,” Buffy pouted. “Wish I could go.”

“Another time, Buffy. There will be plenty of time to shop when you're no longer grounded,” Joyce said sternly.

Buffy sighed.

Morning of Monday, February 12th offices of Sawyer, Harcourt, Hewton, Massey and Partners

Hank whistled as he came into the building, greeting the doorman, the elevator guard, the people inside the elevator. He exchanged pleasantries as they ascended, getting off at the fourteenth floor. “Morning Jordan,” he greeted the receptionist as he passed her and made for the row of offices that included his own.

“Good morning, ladies,” he smiled at the four secretaries seated in the room at the head of the passage, “Any new appointments since last week?”

“No Hank, still the same. You're happy this morning,” Jakira Nelson, his own secretary smiled back.

“An unexpectedly friendly meeting, a good resolution and I tacked on a weekend in Vegas, which was unexpectedly relaxing,” Hank grinned.

“Well, that's good,” she smiled back.

Hank reached his office in the corner, put his briefcase down and pulled up his chair. There was a bunch of letters in his inbox, a pile of folders beside it that he could now mostly send back to Records. He sat down, got up again and stuck his head around the door.

“Jakira? If there’s a call put through from my cell when I’m busy from a Ms Sara Reese, let me know, okay?”

The four secretaries all turned to him. Jakira grinned. “Of course, Hank.”

Hank coughed and withdrew, trying very hard not to blush.


Afternoon of Monday, February 12th

“That man lives to make our lives hell!” Buffy hissed as she threw her bag next to the couch and fell onto it, face forward.

Willow collapsed next to her, practically in tears. Xander sat down and patted her shoulder.

“What's the matter?” Joyce asked, coming in from the adjacent drawing room.

“Snyder,” Xander said succinctly.

“Ah, of course. What did he do this time?” Joyce sat down as well.

“Be Snyder. He saw Willow and Dave kissing and decided they were breaking school rules and so deserved detention,” Buffy muttered into the pillow.

“And you spoke up and got detention as well?” Joyce sighed. “I'll ask Simon. And I'll have a look at the rules, but I'm sure that there isn't anything in there about kissing being banned.”

Willow nodded. “There isn't. He said he was instituting the rule right there and then.”

Joyce smiled grimly. “Well, now, isn't that interesting.”

Xander held out an arm dramatically. “Behold, the face of the Mother defending her Children!”

“You haven't seen anything yet, Xander,” Joyce assured him. “Oh, you got a letter. It's in my office, under the paperweight.”

“A letter? Me?” Xander frowned. Why?”

“I don't know. I didn't open it and wanted to make sure that nobody else did.” Joyce sighed.

“Two someone elses. Two curious little monkey elses,” Willow smiled. “Why don't you go and open it, Xander? It might be important.”

Xander nodded. “Probably junk mail, but I'll go look.”

“It might be the first of many fan-letters, or some little gold-digger hoping to get her claws into a rich boyfriend,” Buffy teased.

“Very funny, haha,” Xander sniffed and left. He returned soon, his eyes wide and fearful in his pale face. “Where's Dad? Did he see this?”

Joyce shook her head. “He's still at work and it was delivered this afternoon, why?”

“He wrote it,” Xander held the letter out with a trembling hand. “When he wasn't in his right mind, if you know what I mean. I got a shock when I opened it, you know, like static?”

“Is it bad? Did it hurt? Is it a nasty letter?” Willow whispered, getting up and hugging him.

“Not nice,” Xander said subdued. “And unexpected,” Xander handed the letter to Joyce, who read it.

She frowned. "This... This is odd.”

“Can we see?” Willow almost begged.

Joyce tilted her head. “Hmmm, later. I want someone to cast a curse detection spell on this, and your father needs to be there for it. In the meantime, we'll lock this away and Xander and I'll do some of the personal cleansing rituals. Don't forget not to touch anyone, Xander.”

“Not the one with the stinky oil?” Xander pleaded.

Joyce shuddered. “Sorry Xander, the one with the stinky oil. It's the most potent spell we can do alone.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, that was almost as bad as that Hrackesh stuff. But at least you can use real soap and conditioner after.”

“But why can't we do that curse detection spell?” Willow pouted. “I can cast that. And it can't be that bad if it got through the wards.”

“Not without supervision, you can't,” Joyce said firmly “And the wards here are not up to full strength yet, so don't even think about reading it on the sly, Willow Danielle!”

Buffy nodded, crossing her arms. “Yup, totally with that. Not until you've had way more training.”

“The P's are totally allowed to cast all sorts of spells, Phoebe told me,” Willow complained.

“Yes well, they are adults. Marginally,” Joyce added.

Buffy sniggered. “I'm gonna tell Phoebe you said that.”

Joyce shrugged. “She's only a few years older than you are, so she shouldn't be too surprised. Now off with you and go do your homework. You have chores tonight after all.”

Buffy sighed. “Like every night. And you can barely see what we've been doing, the place is such a disaster.”

Joyce smirked. “Like your papa would say, you wanted to live here.”

Willow and Amy were bent over the letter as it sat on a large piece of white paper, a circle of what looked like graphite strewn around it. Willow dropped a few herbs on it and a fragrant smell like a fresh spring morning filled the room.

“Clear?” she asked Simon hopefully.

“Yes. And after we've read it, I'd like you to get Untermeyer's ‘Cosmographia Magica’ and after reading chapter seven and eight, write me a thousand word essay on why leaving out the 'tspapesh' rune, no matter that it went faster, would have been disastrous. Both of you, not just Willow.”

“But it takes ages to draw!” Willow whined.

“Yes, and once you've read Untermeyer – again - you should understand why it's wise to take the time,” Simon replied sternly.

Willow sighed. “Why does it all take so long? Why can't we just tap into it?”

“That's a bit like asking an electrician why he takes so much care not to electrocute himself and doesn't just stick his fingers in the socket to get light,” Simon answered dryly. “There may be a faster way, and once you've learned and understood the basics, you're brilliant and driven enough that I wouldn't be at all surprised if you found ways to do it faster and still safely. But you’ll not be doing that sort of experiment while you're just barely an initiate apprentice.”

He sat back. “Magic is new and exciting to you, but it is also very, very dangerous.”

“You do all sorts of risky stuff,” Willow muttered. “Did too when you were our age. Nana told me.”

“She might also have told you about my state of mind at that time,” Simon answered bleakly. “Are you that unhappy here that you want to kill yourself?”

Willow flushed and rose to hug him. “Oh! Dad! I'm so sorry no! I just...” she waved a helpless hand. “I want to understand so badly!”

Simon smiled slightly. “Ah, and here I was making sure you understood well.”

Willow stuck her tongue out. “Haha. Very funny.”

“Will you go through the steps with us again, later?” Amy asked. “I know you said it was important, and I read Untermeyer, but I don't understand why.”

“Of course, but I want to read what you think first. It’s a very basic principle and very important, but especially on a Hellmouth,” Simon ruffled a still guilty looking Willow's hair. “You'll make your own mistakes Willow, we all do. But allow the older generation to teach you about theirs, okay?”

Willow nodded meekly.

“And in the meantime, I'll give you Fred Burkle's email and Captain Carter's as well and the three of you can go places where no-one has gone before in science,” Simon smiled.

“I can?” Willow beamed. “I thought you didn't want me to work with the Captain because of, ummm, stuff?”

“ ‘Stuff’ being cracking and the difficulties of minors working with the Military?” Simon smiled. “Your mother pointed out that at least physics are theoretical and the chances of you blowing yourself up are rather lower that way.”

Willow stuck out her tongue again. “Just for that, I'll talk about nothing else at dinner for a week. You totally won't understand a word I'm saying.”

“I, like, totally don't understand you now, ya'know?” he teased.

Willow rolled her eyes as Amy laughed.

Simon rose. “Let's go and read this letter shall we? I'm sure everyone who’s not Xander or your mother will be very interested. And I'm interested to hear if what’s in here now was in there when they read it.”

“Why didn't mom just tell us what it said?” Dawn asked, as she looked at the door, hoping for it to open.

Kendra answered without looking up. “Some magic is activated by merely reading it. Some must be spoken. What if the words in the letter would have set off some spell or curse?”

“Oh. I didn't think of that,” Dawn admitted sheepishly.

“Happily for you, others did,” Kendra answered stiffly.

“Jeesh! What got your panties in a bunch?” Dawn sniffed. “You've been all prickly all afternoon. Is it what you're reading?”

She wandered over to Kendra, who tried to cover her book, but it was large and unwieldy and Dawn read the title at the top of the page. “What's oncology?”

“Can you go and bother someone else?” Kendra hissed, grabbing her book and leaving.

Dawn stood gaping, looking after her newest sister uncertainly.

They had gathered in the library, a large group including Giles, Jenny, Clarice and Patrick.

Simon handed the letter to Joyce. “Is it the same text as before?”

Joyce read it and blinked. “No, but it still makes no sense to me,” she admitted.

Willow gave her a pleading look. “But what does it say? Is it an insult or anything?”

“It's a riddle, I think.” Joyce held it out to Willow.

The others gathered round and read it over her shoulder. Or from it, in Rowan's case.

“'And lo, the measure of the falcon will be taken, and the hair of the lion, and the night shall fall and none shall survive,'” Willow read out. “Okay, that doesn't make sense to me, either.”

“Well, if it's a test, I failed,” Xander sighed.

“What did the original say, Xander?” Simon asked.

Xander's eyes glazed.

“'To Alexander Gabriel Meier,

“If you are not worthy, I will shun you. Being chosen three times and not once being worthy. You wouldn't be worthy to walk in the light, nor in the darkness. All you would be is chaos and evil. If you do somehow show yourself to be worthy, I will be your affectionate and proud grandfather, Simon Meier.'”

He blinked. “Woah. What was that?”

Joyce moved over to sit by him. “Whatever it was, I don't like it. It also wasn't what I read.”

“What did you read? And what did grandfather Poopoo-Head do to Xander?” Willow bristled.

Xander laughed. “Grandfather Poopoo-Head? Boy, I wish you'd said that to his face.”

“I don't. I don't think he'd have reacted at all nice,” Buffy shivered.

“They were real insults, about the fact that Xander was useless, an insult to the Meier family and should not be here and wasn't even worth the lead of a bullet. With a lot of nasty words,” Joyce said.

“I remember that...” Xander frowned, “But you know, only vaguely. But I didn't before.”

“A compulsion spell. You'd remember what he wanted you to remember, until someone you trusted asked you, I think. What the hell was the old bastard getting at?” Simon frowned.

“Simon, language,” Joyce said automatically.

Simon laughed. “Yes dear.”

“What's 'shun' mean?” Kit asked.

“It means people won't or aren't allowed to talk to you. It was a punishment in some societies. People would be completely ignored by their whole community. Sometimes even by their families,” Joyce explained. “A very nasty psychological punishment. In some cases, it also forbids people to talk about someone, forever, and to erase all evidence of them. So they're forgotten completely."

“So that's a bit like the spell that's cast on the grand magister or something?” Rowan asked.

“Yes. The official name of that spell is interdiction, to prevent people telling who he is,” Simon said absently.

"Okay. So why would he send a letter to Xander to hurt him, and then hide it? I mean, he wasn't a nice man, but he could have said all sorts of really nasty stuff to us while we were with him. But he didn't," Rowan continued.

Simon groaned and shook his head. "Of course. The old... Man never did anything without a reason, no matter how twisted his reasons were."

"So why did he do it?" Rowan asked. Her eyes met Willow's and they both suddenly lit up in understanding. “Oh. Oh my.”

Giles took off his glasses. “Quite. It is obviously a riddle. He wanted to impart knowledge. Now you two seem to have figured out what.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Well duh, that's easy. He figured out who the Shadow was. You know, that evil sorcerer dude? And he can't tell because of that interdiction, so he's giving us the hints he can... Dad? You okay?”

Simon chuckled wryly. “No, but I just realised something. That letter is in my handwriting. That means he made me write it, somehow.”

“He made you break an interdiction?” Jenny whispered. “Oh my god.”

“Yes. It does explain why I've been feeling exceptionally bad,” Simon rubbed his face.

“Why?” Kit asked anxiously.

“If the interdiction is broken, a punishment is meted out. It has to do with how powerful the interdiction is, but since the Shadow is very powerful, so is his interdiction. Even writing those hints down has called it down on me," Simon explained. "Which means I'll need some people to help me lift it."

"Is that possible?" Clarice asked, her voice hitching.

"Yes," Simon said tersely. It was clear he didn't want to talk about it.

"Okay. So why did he make you write it?" Buffy asked. "Aside from being a ba- Poopoo-Head?"

"I don't know," Simon shrugged.

"Would it weaken him magically?" Clarice asked. "Inhibit his thinking? His bodily health?"

"Yes, yes and yes. Different subject, please," Simon growled.

"Sir? Where were you when you woke up?" Kendra spoke up.

"Wilkins Park, near the Town Centre..." Simon answered uncertainly.

"Row? Cross reference in the news and the database of occult occurrences for anything happening near there? Anything out of the ordinary that might have happened near there, say, a mile from where dad was? Can you point it out on the map?" Willow asked Simon, while also talking to her sister.

“Yes, it was just opposite Town Hall,” Simon nodded.

“Hit! Electrical fire in Town Hall! Damage to exterior and several office spaces. Probably a result from the earlier fire in the basement!” Rowan called out.

“That was fast,” Joyce said. “So you think it has something to do with City Hall?”

“It might. On the other hand, if the electrical systems were damaged by that earlier fire, it would explain this one. It's not uncommon,” Jenny noted cautiously.

“Ummm... I think I know,” Willow whispered. “But first I've got to check some things to make sure.” She sat at the computer terminal in the corner and quickly typed in a few searches, then rose and took a few books from the local history section, leafing through them.

“Willow! Stop being mysterious-y and talk to us,” Buffy fussed.

Willow nodded. “It's the thrice chosen bit. I just remembered. Mayor Wilkins, he's Richard Wilkins III, and both his father and grandfather were Mayors, too. And,” she turned some of the books around, pointing at several pictures. “All three of them look an awful lot alike. Even more than Dad and his family.”

“They certainly seem identical,” Giles agreed after studying the pictures. “But there might be slight differences. From what you told me, Severus Meier is almost a complete copy of Simon, except for the changes brought by a different life and upbringing. So likenesses may indeed run very strongly in families.”

“True, it needs corroboration, but as a guess it's a very good one,” Simon frowned at the pictures. “We can go and check and see what sort of magical protection Wilkins' house and Town Hall have. Then again, if he's feared enough, he might not have any, or he might be relying on hired muscle.”

“Ummm...” Willow looked from one parent to the other, as did Rowan.

Joyce and Simon shared a resigned look. “Cracking permission granted. But!” Joyce held up a hand. “Only with proper supervision. Jenny? Would you be willing?”

Jenny nodded enthusiastically. “To catch the Shadow? Sure.”

“Start now?” Willow asked hopefully.

“No, first you’ll finish reading Untermeyer and write that essay on the use of Tspapesh runes in divination,” Simon said firmly.

“Tspapesh runes aren't always needed,” Jenny offered absently.

“On a Hellmouth and when dealing with a possibly cursed letter from one of the nastiest magic users of the past century?” Simon asked pointedly.

Jenny flushed. “Oh. Right. Sorry.”

“You read chapters seven and eight of Untermeyer, too. I want a two thousand word reasoned essay, explaining in what sort of situations you might consider not using protective runes. We'll talk after that.” Simon told her.

Jenny opened her mouth to protest, then closed it and nodded meekly. “Yes sir.”

Simon yawned. “Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go and call a man about lifting a curse and then I'll be going to bed.”

He left the room and Willow smirked at Jenny. “Heh. You got twice as much to write as we did.”

Jenny sighed. “Yeah. But he’s right. I'm older and should know better.”

“And the fact that he just basically took you on as his adult apprentice, by giving you that assignment, has nothing to do with it?” Clarice teased.

Jenny blushed.

“He did?” Buffy asked. “What?”

“He gave her a learning assignment and she accepted. I've been reading about traditions in magical families and such. That’s the first step in an apprenticeship between an older and more experienced magic user and a younger one who has already finished basic training,” Clarice explained.

“So you're Papa's apprentice? Why? You were already trained, right?” Buffy asked Jenny.

“Maybe, and yeah, I was. But he does know a lot of stuff I'd never learn otherwise in a million years,” Jenny admitted.

“Not to mention the bragging rights when she says she was trained by the former Grand Magister. I know the Grand Magister before Simon's father had a lot of offers from wealthy magical families to train their grown or older children. She made quite a bit of money by accepting them.”

Clarice laughed when she saw Jenny's face. “Don't worry, I really doubt Simon will charge you.”

Tuesday February 13th Hooghwater

“You will listen to everything Jenny and Giles tell you. But Clarice is in overall charge, with Patrick,” Joyce instructed as they were gathered in the Library.

The children collectively rolled their eyes. “Yes, we know, you only told us seventeen times and made us swear we’d obey and stuff. It'll be fine mom! Sheesh,” Buffy spoke for all of them.

Joyce smiled slightly. “Well, forgive me for worrying about my kids. The list of chores is on the fridge and everybody knows what they have to do.”

“Yes, mum. Have fun in New York,” Kendra took Joyce's arm and led her to the door. “I think the car has been waiting for a few minutes already.”

Joyce laughed. “No doubt it has. And don't forget that everyone except for Xander is grounded!”

“Like we could forget,” Xander muttered. “They whine about it constantly.”

“Do not. We also talk about fashion,” Buffy pointed out. “Shoes. Magic.”

“School?” Joyce suggested.

There was a collective snort. “Maybe about how bad it is, and how horrible?” Xander smirked. “Now get in the car mom, dad might be getting grouchy.”

“He's probably asleep,” Joyce sighed. “I really hope that whoever he called can really do something about that curse.”

Airplane to New York, evening of Monday 12th of February

“You know, I could really get used to travelling like this,” Joyce smiled slightly, as she sipped the freshly pressed orange juice, then made a face.

The flight attendant who had just brought the drink pounced anxiously. “Isn’t it to your liking, Ma’am? Is something wrong with it? Can I get you anything else?”

Joyce waved a hand. “No, no, I’m sure it’s fine. I’m just feeling a bit delicate and not all my food agrees with me.”

The attendant’s eyes widened marginally as they flicked to Joyce’s abdomen. “Very well, Ma’am. Please let me know if I can do anything to help.”

Joyce looked over to the seat beside her, tilted back, where Simon had fallen asleep. “A blanket, please.”

“Immediately ma’am,” the attendant smiled.

In the seats surrounding them a delicate whisper started up.

The smell of burned flesh lay hot and sweet upon the air. It was the first thing Buffy noticed. The second thing was what had been burning. She knew this street, this city. The house that lay in ruins and ashes was the one where she’d grown up. The police lines were ragged and broken in places and it was clear that the fire had happened some time ago. There were a couple of people talking about razing the blackened ruins and building something new.

She knew, without knowing how or why, that the house hadn't been empty when it burned, that the deaths of those inside had not been quick and easy.

She knew it had been her parents. She looked over her shoulder. There was a motorcycle standing in the street she was in, and she knew it was hers. And it had been Pike's, who had not made it out of Las Vegas. Or at least, not alive. She knew his body had been taken back to LA and buried.

There was nothing left here for her. She mounted the bike, ignoring the pain, the agony of being alone. She looked at herself in the small round mirror on bike's handle. She looked worn, tired. Her eyes were dead and cold, her hair was stringy and dirty and her clothes looked, smelled and felt as if they hadn't been washed in a while. All she owned was in the two black leather saddle bags behind her.

She kicked the engine alive and tore out off the street, out of LA. There was supposed to be a powerful vampire living in the East. She'd go look him up and see what happened.

Buffy sat up with a gasp, her eyes wide, looking around the room. Her four poster bed, her desk, her computer, the large corner room in Hooghwater house that was hers, with a slanting beam of moonlight over the sky blue carpet, where she hadn’t drawn the amazing curtains that wouldn’t let a spark of light through.

“Just a dream. Man what an awful dream,” Buffy muttered, laying down again, drawing Mr Gordo close and tried to get back to sleep.

Willow carefully closed the door, after making sure there really was no one listening and faced the large flat screen TV hanging on the wall. “Okay. We’re definitely alone. Now what did you want to talk about that had to wait until mom and dad were in New York?”

Rowan took a deep breath she didn’t need. “I need your help. I-I need… Willow, I want to forget,” she finished in a quavering whisper.

Willow blinked once, before the meaning of her sister’s words became clear. She sat down. “Oh. How? And what?”

Rowan sat as well. Willow’s fingers played over a nearby keyboard and her avatar appeared in the room with Rowan, beside her on the couch.

She was almost sure she could feel Rowan when the avatar put an arm around her. “Okay, talk to me Row.”

Rowan looked at her clenched hands that lay on her lap. “I've been digging into my memory banks. I think I know how my memory works.”

Willow frowned. “Show me.”

“You'll help?” Rowan whispered.

“You're my sister. Of course I'll help,” Willow rolled her eyes. “But we need to know we don't take out memories you want to keep, or that it's something else we're removing.”

Rowan bit her lip. “There'll be less difference between us.”

Willow turned around and glared. “Do you really think that I'm so worried about our individuality that I want you to wake up screaming whenever you sleep alone? Whimper when you see a dog leash? Stiffen when even dad and Xander come near?”

Rowan looked down. “I didn't think anyone could see.”

“I can feel it, Row,” Willow shivered. “I can feel it a little and I don't even want to know what it feels like for you. If I can help you get rid of that? I'll do whatever I can.”

Rowan smiled. “Thanks. So what do we do now?”

Willow gave her a look. “Now we very carefully check and see if you're right about those memories being where you think they are. And then we check again and then we take them out.”

Rowan pouted. “Why take so long?”

“Because I doubt Mom and Dad are going to be happy about us messing with your memory and mind. Probably the only thing that will keep us from getting burned out is that we won't be using magic,” Willow's mouth quirked. “They're going to be very upset,” she added in an English accent.

“Very upset indeed,” Rowan deadpanned in a similar accent.

Willow giggled. “Okay. Let's get started.”

Simon Meier's apartment, New York, morning of Tuesday 13th of February

“Simon, this is slightly ridiculous,” Joyce crossed her arms and gave him a look.

“This isn't Sunnydale, which has one of the lowest incidences of non-supernatural violent crime in the country, love. This is New York, where there aren’t so many vampires to keep down the street criminal population,” Simon answered calmly.

Joyce shook her head. “Not the bodyguards. The secretary.”

Simon looked up from the Washington Post. “You can argue that one with Pat Eglemore. But she does have an M.A. in art history, has experience as a secretary and a researcher and is willing to move to Sunnydale until you've finished your PhD.”

“And why a woman? Why not a man?”

“After managing me for over thirty years, Pat is convinced men can't organise the tying of their own shoelaces,” Simon answered dryly. “It's just for a few days. If she doesn't suit, you can try another. This one’s just a try out, and the final hire is your decision.”

“So do I get a say on the initial selection?” Joyce asked pointedly.

Simon laughed. “Of course. Talk about it with Pat or Gerry, tell them what you're looking for and they'd better accommodate you.”

Joyce nodded. “Simon? What should I do about the Gallery?”

Simon shrugged. “You got fifty million dollars in the pre-nup, which is yours whatever happens to me. You can do whatever the hell you want.”

“Simon Coenraad Hendrick Meier! There may not be little ears around, but watch your language! And you'd better stay alive or I’ll find a way to make your afterlife hell!”

Simon smiled.

MIC New York headquarters, morning of Tuesday 13th of February

“Hello Patricia,” Simon greeted his executive secretary. “All well with the family I hope?”

"Fine, and yours?” Pat smiled. “Still firmly grounded?”

“All except Xander,” Simon smiled back. “The Great Cheese Caper is still resounding.”

Pat sniggered. “Well, they were sounding just a bit too angelic to be true before that.”

“So, what's the schedule?” Simon flipped the book that held his appointments around. “Besides the concert tomorrow.”

Patricia sighed and shook her head. “Not a surprise?”

“My grandparents took me from the age of five,” Simon smiled. “And I checked. On the internet.”

Patricia smiled. “Miracles do happen. Simon Meier learned to use a computer.”

“I'm not completely computer illiterate anymore. Willow and Rowan wouldn't stand for it,” Simon laughed.

“You've got a meeting with Dr Wells in an hour, the board in two hours, your reading is on the desk,” Patricia went through the day. “Lunch with Joyce at The Four Seasons. Then a visit to the bank to get some jewellery and Mr De Montebello of the Met wants to talk to you, so does Ms Futter of the AMNH and Mrs Debs and Mrs Gotbaum want to talk about the grant to the New York Historical Society. Mr McDonald would like to talk to you about the grant for the enlargement and upkeep of the MCNY.”

Simon shook his head. “Depending on if Joyce is done when the museum people start showing up, I’ll ask her if she wants to be present. What about tomorrow?”

“Mr Crumrin, another board meeting, Michaela Tyler, dinner with Joyce at La Grenouille, Carnegie Hall, the after party. I've pencilled in twenty minutes for meeting the press in between. Then a flight to Washington, you’re booked into the Hay-Adams. The President has asked to meet you both in Washington. At the National Gallery.”

Simon winced. “Thursday?”

“Video conference with the board. Mr Crumrin and Ms Sternin, then lunch with Joyce at the White House, or another location if the President changes his mind or takes too long at the Gallery. Some sightseeing. You're flying back from Washington to LA.”

Simon ran a hand through his hair. “Very well. Who're going to be there from the Press?”

Patricia gave him a look. “Everybody who can shoehorn themselves into the room, Simon.”

“Magnifique!” the elderly, well-dressed man smiled as he walked slowly around where Joyce stood on a podium, dressed in a slip. His height allowed him to still look her in the eye. “A marvellous figure. You glow, you... Vous-êtes enceinte!”

Joyce sighed. “Yes, but it's not quite public knowledge.”

“My dear, I fear it will not be a secret much longer,” Hubert de Givenchy shook his head in amusement. “And the Press, they will always speculate.”

“Great. No doubt they'll crucify us,” Joyce muttered.

Hubert waved and an assistant came forward with a bolt of silk. “If they do, the good people of New York will crucify them. They're quite fond of Little Meiers, or so I’ve heard.”

“Rudi! Good to see you. Any news?”

Rudi shook his head. “News, you ask? You hand me the most incredible robotic creations I’ve ever seen and you ask me for news?”

“Yes, I do,” Simon leaned forward. “I want this body done, Rudy.”

“Can’t we build a few prosthetics first? Do you have any idea of the immense leap forward this will mean? How many people it may help? There’s things in there I can use for-”

Simon held up a hand. “Rudy? Can you have it done to specs by March 21st? “

Rudi opened and closed his mouth a few times, rubbed his greying moustache, then stiffened his spine. “Simon… Why do you want a robot replica of your daughter?”

Simon smiled. “I was wondering when you would ask me. You know about my other job?”

Rudi nodded cautiously. “Regrettably, yes.”

“Then I’d like you to meet someone. Rowan? Are you here?”

A screen that stood facing Rudi came alive. Rowan appeared in it, looking grouchy. “Dad, it’s like way early.”

“Yes it is, and you have no actual body, or sleep cycle to go with it. Rudi, this is my daughter Rowan, one of Willow’s triplet sisters. She’s currently inhabiting a mainframe or two. The body is for her.”

Rudi’s eyes just about bugged out. “O-okay,” he managed. “I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you Rowan, you can get ready for school now,” Simon grinned at her. Rowan stuck out her tongue and the screen went black again.

Simon rose and opened a cabinet. “I don’t usually serve alcohol in my office, and certainly not at this time of day, but you look like you could use a drink Rudi. Don’t worry, I’ll have someone take you back to your lab later.”

The Four Seasons

“Simon? Is there anyone here you don't know?” Joyce asked quietly, as another man smiled cheerily and waved at Simon, who smiled back politely.

“I don't know most of them. They think they know me,” Simon studied the menu.

“They all greet you as if you're their long lost friend,” Joyce pointed out.

“They all greet me like a man who can cough up a couple of million to jumpstart their wonderful plans, plays, films and keep them in food while they write their immortal novels,” Simon answered, frowning a little.

“Oh. I didn't think of that,” Joyce muttered.

“And of course, they all want to have a look at you. That’s one reason for the public dinner. The lady of the Meier of Meier is going to be a public figure to some extent. And they want to see who managed to snare me.”

“Snare?” Joyce objected mildly.

“With your evil feminine wiles,” Simon smirked. “Anyone you'd like to meet?”

Joyce frowned. “Not really. I'm sure we'll meet a lot of people at Carnegie Hall,” she pouted. “It would have been nice to surprise you.”

“I'm not very good with surprises,” Simon smiled. “But I can act like I am, if you want.”

Joyce smiled back. “Anyone you think I should meet?”

“Well, I'm meeting with a goodly number of directors of various museums, I thought you might want to meet them. No doubt they'll be happy to talk about art, with someone who knows more about it than just where he's got it hanging on his walls,” Simon said, closing the menu.

Joyce giggled. “I doubt they think that badly of you, or they daren’t show it. After all, some of what you've got is on their walls.”

Simon looked slightly embarrassed. “I may have, when I was younger, remarked that the whole lot would make a nice bonfire.”

“Younger and drunker?”

“While holding a speech at the New York Historical Society, celebrating the opening of an exhibition on my family's illustrious history. My father wasn’t amused,” Simon winced. “Happily I was no longer subject to his punishments. Charles wasn't amused either. That was more of a problem.”

Joyce snorted. “So. Anything you recommend?”

Simon smiled. “If it's served here, it should be good. If it isn't, I'll have a word with the chef.”

Meier, Barclays and Rothschild Bank

“This one should look nice on you,” Simon pulled open a draw in the walk in safe, that lay at the rear of a corridor lined with smaller safes and intersected with heavy vault doors.

Joyce was sitting at a small table, a black velvet cloth spread upon it. A big ledger, bound in blue leather with a heavily monogrammed golden M on the cover lay on a lectern, with Miller behind it, calling out numbers. Coe and Bchenka were standing outside the door and scowling.

There were jeweller’s boxes on the table, and each contained a king's ransom. There were diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies, platinum, gold and silver, garnets and bronze, Roman cut cameos and Aztec jadeite, Chinese beadwork, and several pieces Joyce was sure had come from the tomb of a Pharaoh or two.

It was a collection spanning every age and region of the world from antiquity to modern times, from Europe to Asia, crossing the Pacific and covering the Americas.

She gulped as Simon opened the big black box marked with the Fabergé stamp and the Russian Imperial Eagle. “Grandfather bought this from the Grand Duke Vassily. This was before the Revolution by the way. He'd lost a lot of money gambling at Monte Carlo.”

“Simon? Is-is this the Heart of Fire?”

“Well, technically the necklace is called the Ring of Fire. The Heart of Fire is the big one here,” Simon touched the centre stone, a flawless ruby the size of a pigeon's egg. “Terribly ostentatious, of course. It might look good on Kendra.”

Joyce shook her head. “I'm sure it would. And the Medici Pearls on Dawn and the Churchill Diamonds on Buffy and the Enghien Emeralds on Willow and... Dammit Simon!”

“I've got some cufflinks and a tie pin for Xander, if you think he'll feel passed over,” Simon looked at Miller, who leafed through the book, a slight smile on his face, called out a number and watched as Simon pulled out another box and opened it for Joyce.

Joyce gasped. “Simon!”

“They belonged to great uncle Gabriel, of course,” Simon smirked at her, as she closed the lid on the intricately carved erotic scenes of the cufflinks and the copulating couple that made up the tie pin.

“Of course. I'm sure you wore them lots of times,” Joyce shook her head in wry amusement. “When are they going to wear this sort of thing, Simon? To school?”

“They can at our wedding,” Simon pointed out. “I’m not saying they should just put it on for the Spring Fling. Anyway, anything you want to wear tonight? Or in Washington?”

“The love necklace and the engagement rings,” Joyce said firmly. “And for Washington, your grandmother's watch and that pearl and silver necklace you didn’t want me to look at. The one your mother wore in that picture with you.”

Simon gave her a look. “Caught that, didn't you?”

Joyce shook her head. “You tried to hide it a little too much, love.”

MIC Boardroom New York

Simon looked around the table at the eight people who sat down the sides. “I think that finishes the agenda. Any further business?”

“Yeah. When will we meet the heir?” John Scott asked from his seat beside Simon. “Willow?”

“There’s been a few developments on the heir business,” Simon answered with aplomb.

“Ah. So the New York Post was right?” Vera Haley leaned forward.

“I have seldom seen the Post being right regarding my relationships or family,” Simon answered dryly. “What have they insinuated this time?”

“That Joyce is pregnant,” Vera reached into her bag and sailed a luridly printed paper across the polished table at him.

Simon caught it and read the headline. “‘Knocked up, screwed over?’ How charming. Oh, I see she cleverly used this fact to force me to marry her and derail my life as a playboy.”

“So?” Vera pressed. “Is it true?”

Simon looked around the table, as several of the eight others at the shortened board table squirmed uncomfortably. “How much did you lot bet on this?”

John laughed self-consciously. “Well, I think the pot is a hundred bucks on her being pregnant. So… We were all really impressed with what you told us about Willow…”

“Willow hasn’t decided if she wants to join the company. If she does, it probably would be on the research and development side, either hard science or IT,” Simon temporised. “Xander is thinking about looking at Meier & Brunell Engineering, none of the others have formed an opinion. As for the heir… The current one is still Willow, until the birth of the Twins. The position of my half-siblings has yet to be addressed.”

There was a shocked silence. “Birth? Twins? Half-siblings?”

Simon smirked slightly. “One of each, on both counts. So. Who won the pot?”

Buffy sat beside Willow on the white concrete bench in the High School courtyard. “She totally didn’t know what I was going to do,” she complained.

“She’s probably really busy getting the Gallery going,” Willow soothed. “it sounds like a lot of hard work.”

“It isn’t even hers,” Buffy muttered. “She’s just the manager.”

“I thought she bought it?” Willow frowned.

“Mom? What with? She doesn’t have that sort of money. Never had a job, except some stuff in college and right after. I mean, she worked at Sotheby’s and then I was born and they'd hired a guy for her old job and stuff,” Buffy shrugged. “I think she blames me sometimes she didn’t get the career she wanted.”

Willow winced. “Ouch.”

“Yeah. And she keeps singing all these old songs. She's been going on and on with this Simon and Garfunkel one,” Buffy muttered.

“I like them. Which one is it?” Willow perked up.

“The really creepy one about the guy who's got everything to live for and puts a bullet in his head. You know? Simon Meier?”

“Know it! They say that Simon Meier owns one half of this whole town, with political connections to spread his wealth around,” Willow sing-songed.

Buffy winced and wiggled a finger in her ear. “Ouch.”

Willow glared. “Not funny.”

“Okay, but you have to admit you can't sing,” Buffy grinned.

Willow sighed. “Jesse and Xander threatened to stuff my mouth with gym socks if I ever sang in their presence again. Used gym socks.”

Buffy grimaced. “Ugh, yuck.”

Willow nodded. “Totally ugh, yuck.”

“Not that they don't have a point-”

Buffy giggled as Willow mounted a tickle attack, with all the ferocity of a kitten.

Once they'd laughed and straightened themselves out, Willow spoke up.

“He was a real guy, you know, Simon Meier. Paul Simon took an old poem and put Meier's name in it after he killed himself.”

“And did he really own half a town?” Buffy asked.

“More like half a state,” Willow shrugged. “The government is taking care of the inheritance. Supposedly looking for an heir. Lots of people think they're taking nice and long, so that they can use all that nice money and maybe keep some of it, or all of it, or whatever. Lots of conspiracies from the tinfoil hat brigade.”

Buffy snorted. “Gee, what a big surprise.”

“About the government, or the tinfoil hat brigade?” Willow smiled.

“Either. Both,” Buffy smirked. “Are there any theories about your singing being a government program?”

“You dare!” Willow leaped to tickle again.

Buffy woke up, reached out a hand and dragged Mr Gordo close into her embrace. “Okay. I need to talk to some people about this stuff. That was really, really creepy.”

Simon Meier’s office, morning of Wednesday 14th of February

“Aloysius,” Simon greeted the older man. “How's your niece?”

“A thorn in my side and the light of my later years,” Crumrin said with a grim smile. “I found that spell you wanted. It won't be easy.”

“And here I thought looking for an occluded soul was going to be a walk in the park,” Simon answered sarcastically.

“You always were too optimistic,” Crumrin reached into his pocket and took out an envelope of creamy handmade paper, which he pushed over the table. “You'll need your daughters for it.”

“I was expecting that. I'm sure they'll be happy to help,” Simon sighed.

“A bit too eager to rush into the craft, eh? Good thing you've got them under your tutelage, or it might have gone badly,” Crumrin's aged hands lay upon the head of his cane. “Now, I could just have mailed you that and no one would have known. So. Why did you want to meet with me?”

“I was here anyway. And I need to talk to you about the effects of possession,” Simon said quietly.

“Your boy? Is he having trouble with that Hyena possession?” Aloysius frowned. “I thought he was being trained by Four Bears, so it shouldn't be a problem.”

“No. Me. By my father,” Simon let out a breath. “And he broke an Interdiction while in my body.”

Crumrin pursed his lips. “Should've known that bastard was too stubborn to just die. Tell me everything.”

Simon nodded. “It began with a young boy, a Dreamwalker or something like it. He was in a coma and we think he was manipulated by a powerful magic user, either Rack or the Shadow

“You really should pick enemies in your own weight class, boy,” Crumrin growled.

“I wish they'd be so accommodating as that,” Simon muttered.

“Does Lilith know about this?”

“She'll be here at the meeting tomorrow. By the way, you're here to talk about the Crumrin Foundation.”

“Again? You do know there's hardly any orphans in Hillsborough, right?” Aloysius sniffed. “Except the kids of the bastards who worked with Marigold. And they sure as hell won't want to come near me.”

“They'll have very little choice, if they don't want to be burned out. Lilith is not going to be nearly as forgiving as I am.”

“She'll probably let young Gwen try some of the more flashy parts of her talent,” Aloysius smiled indulgently.

“That's what I'm afraid of,” Simon muttered.

New York Times, Wednesday 14th of February

It has been decades since Sviatoslav Richter has performed in America and the number of people who have tried getting tickets to this, probably his last concert in the USA, has been gigantic. The occasion of course, is memorable as well.

The Meier family is one of the oldest in New York and America and there have been rumours flying about Dr Simon Meier and his new family since they visited New York over the Christmas break.

This will be the first public appearance of Dr Meier with his fiancée, Ms Joyce Summers, since they visited the ballet in Los Angeles, the first as an acknowledged couple. There has been much speculation about the speed with which the relationship developed and the family's life. Dr Meier and the Meier Foundation have maintained their customary silence about all private matters.

And he has a right to that privacy. For decades he has been giving to this nation, this city, its people. He has not demanded accolades, or praise, or the fawning of the Press, or the touching of caps. Most of those who receive his gifts, he will not call it charity, never even know where they ultimately come from. No banquets are held in his honour, nor speeches are given, or sermons held.

He has given everything from John Smith's pipe to Italian Masters to museums. He has loaned a large amount of his family's own art collection to be shown to the public.

He pays honest wages for an honest day of work, he is a fair landlord and to many, more than fair. And all he asks in return is that he be allowed his privacy.

Yet tonight, this most secretive of men will answer questions. Questions that had to be submitted beforehand. Some journalists have complained about that. But why? A man uses his private wealth to help people, gives gifts, served this country as a soldier and doctor for decades. He has never held public office, his lobbyists are known and his political influence in comparison with his wealth is minimal.

He is not a public figure. He is not even that elusive thing, a celebrity. Celebrities seek fame in some way, Simon Meier seeks to avoid it.

So let us think about the old saying (and ignore the cruelty to animals). ‘The amazing thing about the waltzing bear is not how well it waltzes, but that it waltzes at all.'

Tim Gallagher, The New York Times

PBS broadcast

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Carnegie Hall. In 1891, the year after Andrew Carnegie built this hall, he instituted the Valentine's Day Concerts, in honour of the abiding love of his dear friends Dr Simon Meier XII and his wife Lady Helena Churchill. He stipulated that at least one of Bach's English Suites should be played and that the concerts should be held as long as there was a Meier of Meier in love.

After the untimely 1962 death of the wife of Simon Meier XIV, Mrs Alice Meier, born Van Rensselaer, that meant that the concerts stopped. It was in the same year that her grief-stricken husband endowed the Alice Meier Fund in her memory, to allow the operation of Carnegie hall in perpetuity.

Tonight, for the first time since 1962, there is a Valentine's Day Concert, a real one. Tonight, Maestro Sviatoslav Richter will play all six English Suites. Tonight we welcome Ms Joyce Summers and we thank her for thawing the heart of New York's, if not America's, most eligible bachelor and allowing us to once more hold these concerts.

And now, Maestro Richter!


“Mom looks really happy, but it's not really my kind of music,” Xander whispered as they watched the broadcast.

Buffy grinned at Xander, pointing with her head at Kendra, Willow, Dawn and Rowan, who were listening intently to the music and watching the way the old pianist's hands moved over the keys, fluidly and surely. “They seem to like it.”

“Kit doesn’t,” Xander replied, as they watched Kit who seemed to be spending all her time watching Joyce and Simon, every time the cameras turned to them.

“I think Uncle Patrick only likes it because of Aunt Clarice,” Buffy whispered with a grin.

Xander grinned back and looked at where Giles and Jenny sat, hands entwined, listening. Jenny was trying very hard to not look bored.

“I think Big Sis is thinking about the same thing.”

“Mom looks awesome, too,” Buffy said wistfully. “Do you really think that Mom will let us wear things like that?”

Xander sat back. “Buffy, one word. Debutante.”

Buffy squealed and hugged him.

“DR MEIER!” a reporter called out. Three security guards homed in on him and gently, but firmly, guided him outside.

Joyce smiled wryly at Simon. “And so it begins?”

Simon shrugged. “It began when I was born, but at least they were more polite about it then, mostly.”

Joyce took his proffered arm. “Well, what do we do now?”

“Maestro Richter is backstage. I suggest we go and talk with him,” Simon grinned. “I realise he isn't Juice Newton, but I think you enjoyed his playing.”

Joyce squeezed slightly. Simon chuckled.

“Joyce, this is Sophia Bones, she handles the Press for the Meier Foundation and the Houses if Caitlin can't,” Simon introduced the red-headed thirty something woman.

“Very pleased to meet you, Ms Summers,” Sophia smiled. “I'll answer the first questions and try and keep them to the point. I sent you the list with questions I thought appropriate.”

“And I read what you suggested as answers,” Joyce nodded. “Keep it brief, don't elaborate.”

“Simon?” Sophia looked at her employer.

Simon sighed. “I'll behave.”

Joyce frowned. “You'd better. Well, let's get on with this then.”

They entered a packed room, a small rostrum and a table with a heavy blue cloth with the Meier family arms embroidered on them stood at one end. Simon seated Joyce, sat himself, while Sophia took the rostrum. “Good evening, I’m Sophia Bones. I will be answering most of the questions or possibly all. Dr Meier and Ms Summers may take an occasional question themselves.”

She looked around the room, noting that most of those present seemed willing to accept this, even if they weren’t happy about it.

“Carla, then Ken Smith,” Sophia prompted.

“What can you tell us about what Ms Summers is wearing?”

“Ms Summers is dressed in a light peach coloured silk Hubert de Givenchy dress that was specifically created for this evening to go with her colouration and the jewellery she was planning to wear. The Meier Love Necklace, the oldest of its kind continuously in use, is made of gold and red stones. And no, Dr Meier will not make any statements about the jeweller who will make the fifteenth heart.”

There was some slight laughter, as Joyce turned to Simon with an upturned eyebrow.

Sophia waited for the titters to die down and continued. “The Meier-Tiffany ring is, of course, set with a red diamond which is surrounded by smaller heart-shaped white diamonds. The old engagement ring bears the Meier Garnet and hasn't been resized since the Tiffany Ring came into use, which is why Ms Summers is not wearing it. Dr Meier commissioned artist Tessa Noël to create the ring he gave Ms Summers, around a Russian Alexandrite that changes colour from deep green-blue to a dark ruby red. The dress was created with those in mind. And the Comte de Givenchy did not consider that restrictive, he says his muse works better when challenged. Ken, then Jackie Fitch”

A tall thin man rose. “Will Dr Meier and his family move back to New York?”

“Dr Meier has just enjoyed his first So-Cal winter, and his daughters were here over the Christmas holidays. It was cold. What do you think?” Sophia said with a smile.

There was more laughter. “That doesn’t, however, mean Dr Meier and his family won’t visit, or that he doesn’t still feel deeply connected with the city and the state. Jackie, then Roy Glass.”

“Will Dr Meier still offer his financial support to New York institutions?”

“Dr Meier has agreed to sizeable grants and donations to a number of such institutions. Their directors and boards will be making joint statements with the Meier Family Foundation on that. The answer is a resounding yes. Roy, then Tim Gallagher.”

“Will Dr Meier change his stance on funding for the Christian Churches?”

“That wasn’t your prepared question,” Sophia said calmly. “Tim, then Carol Johnson.”

Tim Gallagher rose, looking uncomfortable in what obviously was a hired tuxedo. “First I’d like to extend my congratulations to you on your engagement, Ms Summers, Dr Meier. Dr Meier, will you be reviving the Meier traditions connected with a marriage?”

Sophia smiled slightly. “Many of the traditions you listed can’t be revived by Dr Meier, since they are in fact other people’s traditions. However Dr Meier assures me he has given, and continues to give, the matter some thought.”

Tim gave Simon a long look, then nodded and sat down.

“Carol, then Otis Herman,” Sophia pointed at a tall, elegantly dressed woman.

“You have several girls-”

“Daughters,” Joyce corrected firmly. “And yes, they can’t wait to put on debutantes dresses.”

Simon gave a helpless shrug.

Carol laughed. She wasn’t the only one. “Thank you, Ms Summers.”

“Otis, then Osbern White,” Sophia smiled slightly at Joyce, as the room quieted immediately.

An older man rose, Joyce smiled slightly as he did so. “Ms Summers, you have a reputation in the field of art. Will you be taking an active hand in the acquisition of art for the Foundation? And taking over your future husband’s current relationship with the art world?”

Sophia looked at Joyce. Joyce pursed her lips. “Simon and I had some interesting meetings with various museum directors yesterday. And yes, I shall be taking an active part.”

White nodded and then smiled, reached into a pocket and dangled an old watch. “Bet you a dollar you can’t tell me the maker of this, Miss Ellis.”

Joyce shook her head and smiled. “You taught me better than that, Dr Herman. ‘The way cheap crooks get you to identify their art’.”

White laughed and sat down. There was an immediate murmur of interest that died as Sophia cleared her throat. “Osbern, then Nancy Smith.”

“Osbern White, Horse&Rider. First, congratulations on your upcoming nuptials. Dr Meier is known for his dislike of riding. Will riding be a part of your children’s education?”

“If they want to learn to ride, they can. Ms Summers is a fair equestrian, having been taught by a friend of her father’s, Chief Swift Running Brook, as have Miss Buffy and Miss Dawn, who are excellent riders,” Sophia answered. “Nancy, then Jason Kent.”

“Your daughter Willow was shortlisted for the AJAS with a co-author, D. Kirby. Is there any truth to the rumour that they did not write their own submission and that’s why they cancelled the annual meeting, under pressure from you?”

“They postponed the meeting because the venue was flooded by a burst water pipe. The meeting will be held in March and the AAAS meeting that runs mostly concurrently was postponed as well. I have to point out though, that she was approached by various research institutions before she met Dr Meier. Jason, then Andrew Galt.”

“Dr Meier, there have been rumours of you resigning your commission in the Army Reserves. Is there truth to these rumours?”

“It is true that Dr Meier has handed in his resignation as Major General. After serving in the Army for more than twenty years, he has decided he wants to spend time with his family. Now that he has one, he wants to enjoy it. Andrew, then John Loon.”

“Ms Summers, I understand that your father is Captain James Caldecott Ellis, of Imperial California? How does he feel about your future husband’s retirement?”

“Captain Ellis retired from the Marines and became a lawyer and spent quite some time with his family. He understands completely,” Sophia smiled slightly. “I called him to ask about this. I quote. ‘He has enough scars from the battles he fought not to be ashamed to sit back and enjoy what we fight battles for.’ John, then Martha Kerrick, whose will be the last question.”

“Seeing as my question is about how Ms Summers’ family feels about the wedding, I would like to ask if there are plans on expanding the family even more. Ms Summers has two children and yet there are quite few more, as far as we can make out.”

Joyce gave the man a fierce look and spoke before Sophia could. “We have eight children of various ages. Not all of them are my biological children, but all are our children.”

The man smiled slightly and sat down.


“I fear I shall not be asking my proposed question either, though my excuse is I only just found out about this. I understand you and Ms Summers will be visiting the President tomorrow, Dr Meier. Do you have any notion as to the subject matter?”

Sophia smiled. “The President wants get reacquainted with the woman who caught the most confirmed bachelor in the United States. The last time he spoke to her, she was about as high as his knee and she wanted a cookie.”

Joyce glared at Simon, who raised his hands defensively. “That was your mother! Don’t blame me!”

There was more laughter. Sophia looked around. “Okay people, that’s a wrap. I’m sure there are a lot more things you want to ask, and some of those questions may be answered later, but not today.”

Willow was breathing into a paper bag. Jenny was sitting beside her and rubbing her shoulders, while Clarice was standing by with a glass of water.

Buffy was on the phone. “Yes Dave, she’ll be fine. She's just a bit shocked that people all the way over in New York know who she is and know about what she's doing. You don’t need to come over to see her. It’s late and it’d take hours and you need to sleep, school tomorrow.”

Xander chuckled. “Listen to you, all responsible.”

Buffy shot him a glare, as he hunkered down in front of Willow. “Will? Relax. You know science. When you had to act Shakespeare, you did great. And you don’t know Shakespeare like you know physics.”

Willow nodded slowly and her frantically wide eyes calmed a little. Xander patted her knee. “And I’m sure that if you want it, Dad will get us all there. I’ve never been to the Space Needle.”

“And on that note, it’s time for all of you to go to bed. As Buffy said, it is a school day tomorrow and you’re up later than usual,” Clarice smiled. “Once Willow’s a bit calmer.”

An obituary for a bachelor.

For the first time since the death of Alice van Rensselaer in 1962, probably by suicide, a Valentine’s day concert was held in honour of the Meier of Meier’s love.

But who is this man, and why is his family so important that a room full of press shows up on the off chance he might say something?

The answer to that is, in essence, wealth. His family’s long residence and service to this country certainly help, but in the final analysis it is all about the filthy lucre.

Just how much wealth? Well, that’s the rub. There are many theories about that. But it seems as if no Meier has ever sold anything he could possibly hold onto. And the Great Instruction of 1712 entailed the wealth of the family to the first born son. Unlike many other families, the Meiers have held on to the Instruction since then. When Stephen van Rensselaer III divided his property among his heirs, the Meiers did not. When the renters in their lands rose up, the Meiers simply shrugged and told them they could leave if they wanted and imported labour from out of state and the country to work their farms and mills.

Today, still, the Meiers are the largest landowners in the state of New York, quite possibly the nation. And that wealth has only grown. But the Meiers are more secretive even than the Rockefellers about their money, and have been sitting on it for centuries longer. The fact that there hasn’t been more than one heir for the last five generations of American Meiers certainly helps. Estimations of Simon Meier’s net worth, excluding art, run from 200 billion dollars up. Yes: 200 billion dollars. I think that might be a touch on the low side as a starting point. A few touches, maybe.

Last year, the total size of the ‘Annual Gift’, the amount the Meier Foundation spends on the Meier Houses and children’s charities world-wide alone was at least 9.5 billion dollars. At least 5 of those billions were spent in the USA. To put that into perspective, the US Federal Budget on children’s welfare for 1995 (I did not get this figure myself, reading the budget is the work of experts) was 11.2 billion dollars.

That’s just the children’s welfare. The Simon Meier XII Support of Medicine Foundation annually gives grants to dozens of hospitals and many types of research. The Julia Claudia Meier Fund for the Encouragement of the Education of Women does exactly that. And then there’s the Helena Meier Fund for the Protection of the Rights of the Free, which offers legal aid, the Alice van Rensselaer Fund for the Arts, which provides art students of many ages with everything from crayons to full scholarships.

Even a fraction of that wealth and generosity would draw in hundreds of solicitors for favours and support for anything from political elections to travels to Mars by catapult. (This was a proposal Dr Simon Meier XIV once received. He was willing to pay if the entire group that made the request would be among the first ‘colonists’.)

So there is wealth and there is pedigree. The Meiers have been here for a hundred and fifty years longer than there was a country and before that they were ‘Selling Byzantium to the Venetians, doing shady deals in Florence with the Medici and ripping off Rembrandt when he went bankrupt.’ Those are Dr Meier’s words, not mine.

In New York, the Meiers are reclusive royalty. They have vast holdings upstate, which meant they didn’t see the necessity of building a manor like the Rockefellers’ Kykuit. After all, Nieuw Vlughwater on its hill overlooking the Hudson River was already the largest private house in the country. Dr Meier refers to the 130 bedroom, Richard Morris Hunt designed house as ‘the white elephantine bête noir of the family’ and seldom spends time there. But sell it? Never!

He runs the family office with skill and finds time to deal with patients in various free clinics. But what does anybody really know? He was born in 1944. He was educated at Groton, the same private school his father and grandfather attended and his great-grandfather helped found and which he finished at the age of fifteen.

He was sent to Britain and spent a year at the Glasgow school of arts and Slade, after which he started medical school in Edinburgh and later went to Leiden and Princeton. He is fluent in French and Dutch and possibly several other languages.

From the age of fifteen, he led what can only be described as a life of wild debauchery, despite maintaining a truly impressive grade point average. The list of famous women he supposedly slept with is literally longer than my arms. Plural. He was the most famous playboy of the age, and still managed to graduate from Edinburgh

And then, slowly, he changed. He founded the South Side Children’s Clinic in Boston. He went into the Army as a Doctor and was sent to Vietnam. He was awarded a Silver Star and more Purple Hearts than I want to think about as well as two Distinguished Service Medals. He resigned as a Major in 1971, two weeks after the death of his father, when he took over the reins of the family office. He also cancelled the Meier Foundation cooperation with half a dozen Federal welfare programs.

According to rumour, in December 1973, just before Christmas he was invited by newly inaugurated President Ford to the White House, which he refused. Ford then supposedly visited Meier at his home, his grandparents’ old penthouse on Fifth Avenue accompanied by Dr Meier’s mentor, Dr Charles Winchester of Boston.

After Christmas, Dr Meier was placed on the Army Reserve list, with his seniority showing the intervening years as having been served. And the Federal welfare programs suddenly got an influx of money. (Before you ask, his pay has, since the moment of his enlistment, been paid into the VA fund for Children). And in 1974 he received a Distinguished Service Cross from President Ford that had been blocked by Nixon.

Since then, there has been an almost unnatural silence surrounding his private relations. Many claimed to be his girlfriend, or boyfriend, or children. But everyone who was paying attention realised that he wasn’t doing anything but work, that his donations to charities, unlike those of his father, were given in secret.

Until he met Ms Joyce Summers, I personally expected the Meier family to die out, the vast fortune to be distributed as the last scion saw fit. Though having seen a picture of the newly adopted Miss Willow Meier, I now have my doubts if Dr Meier was ever of the same opinion.

The leaves the question: what now?

From the character of the woman he has chosen as his wife, I think that there will be little that will change, except for the better. For instance, the Meier Foundation Scholarships for Excellence in Science have been awarded for the first time since 1971. The Meier Foundation for the Arts is lending a vast number of artworks to museums on the West Coast. And considering the number of children now in his family, I doubt her interest is just with the arts and education. With luck there will be more grants, more support, enhancing the already existing efforts by Simon Meier.

Tim Gallagher, The New York Times


The Society for the Preservation of the USS President wishes to announce that it has gained permission from the Mayor of New York to fire the traditional salute. The USS President is the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy, her commission dating from 1796, and the oldest wooden warship afloat, being somewhat older than the USS Constitution.

Since the first salute for a Meier of Meier was fired before there was an official US set of rules on salutes, the salute will be the usual 19 guns. Dr Meier, as a Major General, is allowed 13. Since the December appearance of Dr Meier and his family in New York and the Lighting of the Tree, the curators and volunteers of the USS President have checked her seaworthiness in conjunction with the Commander of USS President and are certain that the traditional sail-by will be possible. Negotiations are under way with the Department of the Navy, in hopes of making this age-old tradition possible once more.


The office of the Central Park Conservancy wishes to state they have no problems at all with the organisation of the traditional ‘Lady’s Wish’ concert in Central Park. It should be noted that the Conservancy isn’t the only party in this, the concert can only take place if City Government has no objections.


The Mayor of Los Angeles wishes to make it clear that if New York won’t host the Lady’s Wish concert that there are many venues in and around LA that are perfect for such an occasion…


The Governor and Mayor of New York wish to make it clear that any and all traditions pertaining to the marriage of the Meier of Meier will, of course, be allowed if Dr Meier and his lady so wish. The Central Park Conservancy and the Society of the Preservation of the USS President have requested the permission of the Mayor and he has stated that their traditions on this occasion will be fully respected.


The New York State United Teachers hope that Dr Meier will continue the old tradition upon his marriage of a gratification to the teachers of New York, and the funding of a new school house, which has been a tradition since Simon Meier III…


Though it is known that Dr Meier is not a great horse lover, the New York Racing Association hopes that the Lady’s Favour Cup will be run in the year of his marriage. The three venues in New York are more than fit for the purpose…


The New York Yacht Club would like to announce that, as tradition dictates, at least twelve of her members’ vessels will accompany USS President on her traditional sail-by. The Commodore has sought out the Commander of the USS Presidents on the possibility of practicing the manoeuvres.


Washington D.C., the National Portrait Gallery, Meier Annex

“It is a bit overwhelming, non?” Colombe smiled at Joyce, as she handed her a flute of sparkling water.

“I’m not entirely sure why all these people are here. I thought it was to be a private function?” Joyce looked around. There were at least fifty other people and more were coming in.

Colombe shrugged minutely, a gesture of utmost Gallic grace. “The luncheon will be, I made sure of that. But there are many people who want to meet you, to see what influence you might have over the doctor. To be seen with you.”

Joyce shook her head. “I think it is a bit ridiculous, really.”

Colombe gave her a long look. “Did you look at Mr Gallagher’s article in The New York Times this morning?”

Joyce glared over at where Simon was standing, hiding behind a statue of Simon Coenraad Hendrick Meier IX, he of Founding Father fame. “Yes. He still hasn’t told me how much off the mark Gallagher is with his estimate.”

Colombe grinned. “This is the first time I heard a woman complain about her future husband being too rich.”

Joyce sighed. “He did try to walk me through the family holdings, but I got stuck on the art. I really shouldn’t complain.”

“Will you want to withdraw any of these?” Colombe gestured with her own glass at the surrounding paintings and sculptures.

Joyce shook her head. “No. there’s good copies of all of them, or second originals in some cases. Here, more people can see them.”

“The President of the United States! The First Lady!” A young man with a booming voice called out and the chattering of the gathered politicians and lobbyists fell silent.

Lassiter walked in, his wife on his arm looked around, and made a beeline for the furthest corner of the long gallery, where Simon was behind the statue, with the looming bulk of Bchenka in a very good suit hiding him further.

“Dr Meier!”

Simon sighed, handed his glass to the huge Russian and stepped out, pasting a smile on his face. “Mr President.”

Lassiter heartily shook his hand and slapped his shoulder. “Good to see you looking so well. I’m sure there’s lots of people who want to talk to you.” He grinned wickedly. “But first, where is this paragon among women who brought you to your knees?”

Joyce stepped out, wearing a sea grey dress and a silver and pearl necklace in the shape of a swan, with matching pearl earrings.

“Ms Summers, this is a pleasure. It has been far too long,” Lassiter beamed. “I have to admit I didn’t make the connection to Paisley, until Libby pointed it out.”

Joyce smiled back. “I fear I really don’t remember the meeting, Mr President. I was only two years old.”

“Ah, but Charlotte and you were unbearably adorable,” Libby Lassiter laughed. “Poor Richard was completely smitten with the two of you!”

“I’m sure he got over it, he was only four himself,” Joyce answered dryly.

Libby laughed. “Oh, yes, but it took him a very long time.”

“Good, otherwise I’d have to call him out for a duel and that would have Number Nine over there spinning in his grave. He was annoyed enough at Hamilton and Burr, he’d be really upset if one of his descendants did something like that,” Simon joked.

Lassiter laughed. “Ah, I’m sure you could find other, more horrible things to do to him. But he’s happily married and sends his regards.”

“And now that’s out of the way, why don’t you tell me about these portraits. I understand you’re an art expert of some note and I really hope you can give me some juicy secrets about all these long-dead Meiers,” Liberty put a hand on Joyce’s arm. “And that leaves Owen to try and get Simon to give his support to some Bill.”

Owen laughed. “Just a Bill, Bill Menson. Simon is notoriously a-political, except when children are the subject and there are no child-related bills that require his attention.”

“He’s still not going to let you drag him into anything Federal,” Simon pointed out. “He’s glad to be out of it, sir.”

“I know, I know. But indulge an old man’s fancies. Oh, are any of your children interested in politics?”

Simon lifted an eyebrow as Joyce snorted. “No. Not even class president.”

“Still no Meiers going to take up the mantle?” Lassiter almost pleaded.

Simon jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the statue at his back. “Number Nine did enough of that for the next few centuries.”

Libby smiled and led Joyce away. “They’re always on about that. And then Owen starts about ‘Young Josiah Bartlett’. Owen really thinks Simon could do a lot of good if he ran for office.”

“Simon thinks he can do more good if he doesn’t,” Joyce shrugged. “I was wondering why we were meeting here and not somewhere more private?”

Libby Lassiter smiled at the younger woman. “People need to see you, dear. Like it or not, you’re now part of the Establishment. And I think Owen likes showing off here. When people say America has no history and Americans think only the last fifty years are important, he takes them to the Meier Annex and makes them eat crow. The way the American people dote on the Meiers almost overshadows the Kennedys.”

Joyce was standing in front of the busts by Verocchio of Gabriele Alessandro de Vicari and his son Cosimo Alessandro by Da Vinci. She smiled back. “Simon would disagree. Probably vehemently.”

“Simon occasionally forgets exactly what his family means to so many people. When walking down this corridor, they can see the progression of time in the faces, the hands, the eyes-”

“Don’t forget the noses, and the hair. They’ve only gone brunette the last three generations,” Joyce smiled whimsically.

Libby laughed. “I did once wonder if they dyed it.”

“Simon has red and auburn hair when you look close and under certain light,” Joyce smiled, looking down the line of portraits. “Well this is Simon Number One and...” her voice trailed off and she rubbed her eyes with her fingers.

“Are you alright?”

“Just remembering that I'm not an expert on French and British portrait masters,” Joyce muttered. “But I should've made the connection!”

“What connection is that dear?” Libby asked rather carefully.

Joyce almost stalked down the gallery and stopped in front of two portraits. “Julia Claudia Meier by Reynolds and Julia Claudia between the mirrors by Liotard,” Joyce whispered. “God, that I didn't... No wonder Gallagher...”

“Ms Summers? Joyce? Are you alright?”

Joyce nodded, closing her eyes. “I'm going to kill that man.”

“I assume that you mean Simon. What has he done?” Libby asked, sounding more amused than worried.

Joyce looked around and less than half a minute later, Colombe came gliding into view, perfection in a well cut blue gown, her dark hair and blue eyes set of by her unmarred pale skin. “Mrs Lassiter, this is Colombe Devouton. Colombe, First Lady Lassiter.”

Colombe inclined her head regally, as if conferring a favour upon the First Lady. Libby's lips quirked. “Your secretary?”

Colombe lifted an eyebrow. “Dr Meier assigned me as Ms Summers bodyguard on public occasions. He trusts me to know always to use the right fork.”

“To eat with, or gouge out an eye, with equal grace,” Joyce clarified. “Colombe, did Simon bring any photo albums with pictures of Willow?”

Colombe’s eyes flickered to the portraits, then nodded, a slight smile around her lips. “And he has many in his wallet as well."

“Of course he does,” Joyce muttered. “Thank you, Colombe.”

Colombe inclined her head again and smoothly moved away.

“Interesting woman,” Libby noted. “She doesn’t seem very impressed with me.”

“She's unimpressed with most people,” Joyce said absently, her eyes still on the paintings, flitting between them.

“They're gorgeous paintings, aren't they? I tried to get the Liotard for the White House, but it doesn't belong to the Nation of course,” Libby sighed wistfully.

“He fell in love with her when she was thirteen, which is rather... nasty to think about, but at least he waited to marry her until she was fifteen, even if just by a day and by all accounts she loved him too, eloped with him,” Simon had joined them, the President at his side.

Joyce glared at him. “You... I...”

Simon gave her a look. Then his lips quirked and his eyes crinkled. He let out a snort. And then started to laugh. As the laugh grew, the room fell silent. Wide eyes turned their way, in stunned faces as the guests nudged each other.

Joyce crossed her arms and glared until Simon quieted down. “All done?”

Simon let out a final chortle. “Yes dear. Sorry. But you have to admit that it's funny. What will Dr Herman say?”

Joyce's glare intensified. “It's not funny!”

“Yes it is, dear. One of the country's foremost art appraisers only just making this connection? That's hilarious,” Simon smirked. “So much for one of us knowing about art.”

Joyce's lips quirked. “Oh, you. I suppose you're going to say you thought I knew?”

Simon shrugged. “It never crossed my mind that you didn't. Maybe not at first, when you didn't know we were related, but certainly after you knew all about the family. Sorry dear.”

Lassiter gave them a look. “Care to enlighten us?”

Joyce sighed. “Later Mr President, over lunch. But not here, with all these people watching and listening.”

“They’re shocked enough hearing Simon laugh in public, more shocks might kill them,” Libby smirked.

“Such a pity should that happen,” Simon muttered.

Joyce lightly slapped his arm. “Behave. Why don’t you tell the President some juicy stories about Uncle Gabriel? He’s Californian, he can relate.”

“Are you trying to have him corrupt my husband, Ms Summers?” Libby asked with an arch smile.

“I’m sure that impossible,” Joyce answered, just as archly.

Libby laughed and patted her arm. “I’m glad you don’t seem too over-impressed with me. It’s nice talking to someone who isn’t all deferential on occasion.”

“You should have seen her around Buffy Chandler. Instant babbling fangirl,” Simon grinned.

Libby just laughed as Joyce glared at him.

Joyce shrugged. “I’ll talk about it with Simon. This is Simon’s father in the Boznanska portrait, which was painted just after the First World War.”

Joyce had led them past the older portraits, pointing out an occasional family heirloom and the fact that Gabriel Meier’s cufflinks and tiepin had been painted over at his brother’s behest after his death and that Simon XI had 'patronised' several female artists.

“Well, this is Simon’s mother by Tamara de Lempicka and next to that the double portrait of his parents by von Schneidau. Simon prefers the Theodore Lukits of his mother. The Coldstream portrait of his father from 1969.

“This is the Sargent portrait of his grandparents and father. And this is portrait he painted at their wedding. And this is his grandmother by Lovis Corinth. Simon really likes this one, he says who she was shines through.”

“Have you picked your artist yet? And are you going to do a family portrait? “

Joyce snorted. “I don’t think I could get the children to sit still that long, so he’d have to work from photos. And no, I haven’t really thought about it.”

“You should. There’s already speculation about it in the Press, especially a family portrait,” Libby smiled. “I wonder if any of them are good at doing baby pictures?”

Joyce groaned.

Lunch had been eaten and at the President's request, the Meier Annex had been vacated by the public.

“So she's your distant cousin?” Lassiter looked between the picture of Willow and the portraits of the young Julia Claudia. “I can believe that. This is a really freakish likeness.”

“I was rather surprised when I saw a picture of her at age thirteen, yes,” Simon agreed.

“So what are you going to do about it?”

Simon stepped next to the bust of Cosimo Alessandro. He set his face in a slight sneer and looked down his nose.

Libby laughed. “Besides sneer like a Florentine. You know that people are going to think she's yours.”

“She's already my daughter. So except for the fact that would mean I supposedly slept with her odious mother, I have absolutely no problems with that,” Simon shrugged.

“Any other little surprises that might pop up?”

Simon hesitated, then shrugged, leafed through one of the photo albums, took one out, and walked over to the portrait of Helena Churchill. Stopping by the painting, he handed the photo to Lassiter, who had followed him.

Lassiter held it as if it was a snake. He looked from the portrait to Simon to the picture. “Who...?”

“My younger half-sister and brother. Clarice and Severus,” Simon shrugged.

Lassiter snorted. “Heh. I was more right than I thought when I told FBI director Schumacher that she came of good stock.”

Author’s Note:

AN 1: The American Junior Academy of Sciences (AJAS) is the only US honour society recognizing America's premier high school students for outstanding scientific research. Each state’s Academy of Science nominates high school students as AJAS delegates. The chosen delegates are then invited to attend the AJAS annual conference. The AJAS mission is to introduce, encourage, and accelerate pre-college students into the professional world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

AJAS meets annually in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting, and is sponsored by that body. AAAS is the largest scientific organization in the world and the publisher of Science.

AN 2: All the artists mentioned are/were real artists. All the people Simon was set to meet except his board members, Aloysius Crumrin and Lilith Sternin really did lead those museums and foundations.

AN 3: The real USS President was launched after the USS Constitution, (in 1800) captured by the British and broken up by them after she turned out to be rotten.

AN 4: Stephen van Rensselaer III’s heirs were forced to sell the freehold of Rensselaerswijck by revolting tenant farmers who refused to pay their back rents.

AN 5: The figure of 11.2 billion comes from The cost of child protection in the context of Welfare Reform, Mark E. Courtney, in The future of Children: Protecting children from abuse and neglect, vol. 8, nr 1 spring 1998.
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