The children had returned from an early patrol by one in the morning, which was fortunate because they’d barely gotten into their pajamas when there was a knock on Giles’s door. She looked over at him and he nodded, reaching for the crossbow tucked just out of sight beside his chair. Demons weren’t always bright enough to realize how stupid it was to intrude upon a Watcher’s home.
Joyce stepped to the side and pulled open the door and her heart lurched.
Jack smirked at her, looking every inch his appropriate age. “So, about that talk.”
“Jack,” she said, flinging her arms around his neck. Then her eyes widened and she went stiff because behind Jack, her
Jack, was the teenage Jack that had been living with her for a week.
He grimaced at her as Jack patted her back as he said, “We’ve got some papers we need you to sign.”
She nodded, pulling back so they could enter.
There was a gasp, then Buffy said, “Oh my God
. This is less than normal.”
Joyce turned and saw the children hovering in the doorway that led to Giles’s extra bedroom, Chris with a restraining hand on both Dawn and Sirius. Dawn blinked in confusion, then wrenched herself free to run forward and fling herself at Jack. He swung her up as he always had, squeezing tight. She tolerated it for a moment, then wriggled loose, stepping to Jack’s teen copy, hands on her hips as she studied him. She sighed, shaking her head, then stepped into him wrapping her arms about his waist.
Watching the boy’s face, Joyce’s breath rushed out as she realized that some things could be that simple.
Jon, because she was going to have to stop thinking of him as Jack, finally relaxed, settling his chin on Dawn’s head.
Jack’s team, Major Davis, General Hammond, and the Fraisers had filtered into the room and it was suddenly very full as the children all tried to go in for hugs and demand explanations at the same time.
She looked over at Giles, who had a particularly pinched look on his face.
“Dear Lord, there’s two of them,” he finally said dryly, looking towards the ceiling. “The only way it could be worse was if there were two Snyders.”
“Giles! Ix-nay on the inx-jay!” Xander hissed, appalled. Joyce sympathized. Two of the little trolls would be too much to bear.
“Of course he knows that
language,” Giles muttered and Jack snorted even as he ruffled Sirius’s hair. For all their differences, the two men were very easy in each other’s company. Possibly because they could both break out a sort of world weary practicality that only people who had Been There and Done That could.
“Something’s better than nothing,” Xander said congenially, shrugging.
Joyce sighed when everything came to an awkward stall. She looked over at Jenny, who must have slipped down from Giles’s room, and got a supportive smile in return.
She cleared her throat and said, “I guess we should just get to it.”
Everything went from awkward to strained.
Major Davis coughed and stepped forward. “About the paperwork…”
Joyce raised an eyebrow but nodded. “Let’s sit.”
The kids cluttered around the coffee table and Major Davis blinked, possibly expecting someone to send them away while the adults Discussed Things, as adults were wont to do. His eyes slid to Jack who smiled benignly at him, absolutely not putting his pony in that race.
He finally cleared his throat again and said, “Of course.”
Joyce looked at Jack when the Major pulled a thick stack of stapled papers from his briefcase and started passing them around. He winked at her and she smothered a smile. He must have told the Major that she wouldn’t send the children away and the Major hadn’t believed him.
Or it was possible Major Davis always kept that many confidentiality forms in his briefcase as a contingency and Jack was flirting with his wife. Either way, it was worth a smile after a week of tension.
Major Davis walked them through the paperwork, the consequences of talking about the things it covered, then collected the papers and straightened, looking over their motley crew before intoning, “Colonel Jack O’Neill works for a secret government program under Cheyenne Mountain.”
Joyce blinked, confounded. They’d just signed 20 pages of forms and he thought that was all they were gonna get?
She saw Xander twitch, then fidget, until finally he burst out, “Aliens!” Everybody jumped. “There. I named the big pink elephant in the room. Now can we talk about how Dad is an awesome alien hunter?”
“I’m not an alien hunter,” Jack said, nearly as amused as he was exasperated. “I’m an…ambassador.”
Major Davis relaxed slightly even as Giles snorted. He tilted his tumbler of Scotch at Jack as he said wryly, “Well then, the Earth really is doomed, isn’t it?”
Jack rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything.
Major Davis cleared his throat seemingly perturbed and said, “We can’t give you specifics-”
“Mr. Murray’s an alien,” Buffy cut in, scowling as she pointed.
Major Davis opened his mouth to protest or question but T Murray inclined his head and said, “Indeed, Buffy O’Neill. I am Jaffa.”
“Oh, buggering hell,” Giles swore viciously, the children’s eyes widening in shock. “They found the bloody Chappa’ai.”
“I’ll get to you in a minute,” Jack said, pointing a finger at Giles before narrowing his eyes at Buffy. “How did you know that?” Cassie sharply cleared her throat and he flapped a hand at her. “Yeah, yeah, Cassie’s an alien, too. How did you know about T?”
“I don’t know. He just…felt different,” Buffy muttered with a jerky shrug, borderline petulant.
“Honestly,” Giles murmured, then, “Buffy.” A thin whistle split the air, then Buffy was holding a dagger by the hilt, bladed end pointed at her face. Jack and his contingent looked between Giles and Buffy, shocked, as Giles said, “Your daughter is the Vampire Slayer. The one girl in all the world built to fight the forces of darkness.” There was a moment of silence as everyone stared at him, obviously waiting for the ‘Gotcha’ moment. Instead, he sighed and said, “Angel, if you will?”
Joyce startled at that because she hadn’t realized he was in the room. She twisted in her seat and there he was, brooding in the darkest, most out of the way corner in the room. He scowled but then his face shifted, animalistic eyes glowing gold, the ridged brow and sharp fangs marking him as other even before he snarled and a deep, rumbling growl echoed from his chest.
“A vampire is a demon animated corpse of someone who used to be human,” Giles continued calmly. “Angel happens to be the only one in history with a soul, of course. Cursed, but still. In possession of a soul.”
Jack had straightened, hand tight around the butt of his gun at his hip. He jabbed a finger at Angel and said, “You stay the hell away from my daughter.”
Joyce sighed at Buffy’s yelped, “Dad!”
“You knew?” He accused, ignoring Buffy in favor of glowering at her.
Joyce shrugged. “In this world? Yes. From the beginning. In the other, not until several months from now.” Her face clouded and she said, “That didn’t end particularly well.” His jaw clenched and she stood. “Giles, we need to borrow your bathroom.”
Giles waved them away and she heard him begin the ‘the world is older than you know’ lecture, likely to keep their guests entertained.
Jack was right on her heels and she nearly tripped over him when she turned to close the door.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he whispered angrily.
Joyce knotted her fingers in front of her and said, “I’m going to explain three things so just…let me, okay?” he gave a tense nod and she blew out a breath. “I didn’t tell you because Buffy asked me not to.”
He opened his mouth to argue and she covered it with her fingers. “She just wanted to be her Daddy’s little girl. She didn’t want you to think of her any different, to look at her different. She didn’t want you to leave
. She just wanted to be who you thought she was. Just a normal kid.” He nodded slowly, still unbearably stiff as she held up a second finger. “In the other world, the first time she told us about her destiny, about what she was, Hank had her committed to an insane asylum. She had burned down a gym, she was ranting about vampires. Obviously, she was mentally ill. Hank and I divorced shortly after and the girls and I moved to Sunnydale. It was two years
before she tried to tell me again. I issued an ultimatum and she ran away.” She held up another finger. “So please believe me when I tell you that I would have told you. The woman that spent three months looking for her daughter and the past three years coming to terms with the fact that her daughter is a hero and that heroes die young. She-I
would have told you. The Joyce I was before, she had her reasons, valid
reasons, for keeping silent. But I’ve been the parent in the dark. And I would have told you. Because I trust you to stick it out, to not leave just because things have gotten harder.”
Jack took a deep breath and asked, “Joyce, how did you get here?”
She swallowed and said, “I’m pretty sure I made a wish. There are demons that grant them and they can have horrific consequences. But the last thing I really remember is wishing.”
“Consequences?” he asked, eyebrows rising.
“None so far,” she said, shrugging. “But I wouldn’t be totally surprised if this was just setting me up for a fall. Giving me the perfect family, then stripping it away.”
His face softened and his hand came up to cradle her cheek. “Not if I can help it.” She breathed out a sigh of relief. “Joyce…is there anything else I should know?”
of the children, they’re gifted. Magically. That’s the aptitude Giles is having someone come in to help with,” she said, then whispered, “And four of them-I don’t know where they came from. I’d never met them before coming here and-oh God. Buffy died. She drowned and Xander gave her CPR, but she died. That’s how the next Slayer is called: when one girl dies, the next is called.”
Jack’s face had gone ash white and his knees went out from under him and he collapsed onto the toilet lid. “Joyce.”
“Kendra. Her name is Kendra and she dies in the library at school in five months,” she whispered, cupping his cheeks. “Jack.”
He captured her wrists and said, “You want to change it, don’t you?”
“I want to change everything
,” she said fervently. “Jack, when Kendra died, Faith-she was called. Jack, she’s next.”
His hands clenched around her wrists. “Joyce-”
“And there’s two girls-Oh, Jack, you’re going to love them,” she carried on, rambling faster now that she’d started.
“I get it,” he cut in. “There’s a lot I don’t know and need to.”
She squished his cheeks between her palms a little, swallowing back further rambles until she could say lightly, “And while you’ve been gone, Xander got hit on by the Blaisdales’ son, Meredith got a DUI, and Abbey thinks she should move out here. And the Parent-Teacher conference is tomorrow. Well, technically tonight.”
He pressed his face into her belly and laughed. “I guess this is what I get for not being around for a week.”