They talked it out, Jack offering a fact and Joyce filling in the details. But she also told a parallel story of the Joyce she knew herself to be, the one that never found out about Hank’s illegitimate daughter and left him when Buffy was seven, who only had one child, then, magically, a pair of daughters that she never regretted, even when she had to raise them by herself.
Then, “I had a brain tumor,” she said, fingers frantically running through her hair.
Jack caught her elbow, bringing her arm down until he could lace his fingers with his as he said gently, “You aren’t her.”
“Not now. Not yet,” she said, her fingers clenching around his. She whispered, “Three years. Two after Buffy graduates. Dawn was just fifteen.”
Jack ran his knuckles down her cheek as he said, “Well, Buffy’s a Junior and Dawn’s twelve. An incredibly sassy twelve. So even if you do follow the same path with your health, that’s three years away. You can’t
worry about that now.”
Joyce focused on his eyes and said, “You believe me.”
He hesitated but his eyes remained steady as he said cautiously, “I believe you. I believe something is going on and I don’t think it’s a brain tumor.”
Relief washed through her and she bowed to press her forehead against his shoulder.
A smart rap on the door was the only warning before Xander stuck his head in the door and said, obviously quoting, “Mom, I’m sorry to interrupt your existential crisis but we need a ride to school or Cordelia wants to drive.”
She felt a rush of joy at the sight of him. He was here and, in this world, he was hers, three minutes younger than Buffy and four older than Willow. She didn’t have to send him home to parents that didn’t care, anymore.
“Tell her to get the keys out of my purse,” she said and realized that was the wrong thing to say.
Jack went still against her and Xander stepped into the room, lowering his voice as he asked, “Is something wrong? Do we need to stay home from school today?”
And that decided that. She couldn’t hide in her bedroom all day. Not without scaring her children and, in this life or the last, the most important people to her were these children.
“No, baby, I’m just running behind. Besides, Cordelia’s a wonderful driver,” she said, patting Jack’s arm when his phone rang and he swore under his breath. A thought occurred to her and she said, “And I’ll be by to have lunch with Mr. Giles and Miss Calendar. Go to school. Everything’s fine.”
Xander gave her a dubious look but left, shouting her instructions to Cordelia as he went.
Jack cupped her cheek, pausing in the hasty buttoning of his uniform to say, “I’ll be back and we’ll figure this out.”
“Tonight?” she asked, eyebrow raised.
He grimaced and she interpreted that to mean ‘probably not.’ For a program with a title as banal as Space Telemetry, Jack certainly had trouble getting home for dinner on time. She wasn’t sure who he thought he was fooling. But she’d been a military wife long enough to know better than to ask. Of course, Jack had his secrets and Joyce had hers.
On impulse, she leaned up, said, “Stay safe,” and kissed him. She smiled when he pulled away because he felt familiar but tasted new. She opened heavy lidded eyes to find him studying him seriously. “What?”
“You smiled like that the first time I kiss you,” he said.
Her smile grew as she said, “Don’t worry. You make excellent first impressions.”
He smirked, his eyes taking on that devilish sparkle that she loved so much and he said as he leaned closer, pushing her into the bed, “Yeah, sure, you betcha. But maybe we should test that theory,” and she giggled, outright giggled
like a school girl.
“Ugh,” Faith said from the doorway and Joyce turned to see her oldest four daughters lined up.
“Hands down,” she said before she realized it and blinked as they rolled their eyes and flattened their hands down against their skirts. Only Faith’s was close to indecent and Joyce squinted at the hem barely brushing her fingertips before waving her hand and saying, “Fine. Go to school.”
“Shit,” Faith muttered as she stomped away.
“What was that about?” Joyce asked, bemused.
Buffy threaded her arm through Willow’s and started to tow her away as she said breezily, “Xander thinks you’ve been replaced by a Pod person.”
Jack snorted as he stooped to kiss her cheek, then scurry out the door, patting Cordy’s shoulder as he passed her.
Cordelia crossed her arms and examined her. She’d already started her metamorphosis from shallow Queen Bee to conscientious truthsayer. Finally, she said, “I’ll drive the others to school in the Mommobile but after we get home, we’re talking about whatever this is.”
Joyce smothered a smile as she stood even though Cordelia had commanded and not asked. She petted her sable mane, straightened an already flawless collar, and Cody bore it with the bearing of a princess used to
Then she hugged her and murmured, “Of course we will.” Cordelia’s fatal flaw had always been trying to shoulder everyone’s burdens alone, even in this world. She pulled back and said, “Remind Dawn to get her lunch when you let her out at school, have Willow ask Amy over for the weekend, and be nice to Jonathon today.”
“Mom!” Cordelia shouted, betrayed.
“Do your mother, who may or may not be losing her marbles, a favor and be nice to the lonely geek today,” she said calmly, patting Cordy’s cheeks.
“Fine,” she said grudgingly.
“Good. Now go to school
,” she said and Cordy walked away grumbling about her reputation.Author’s Note:
I swear the number of kids, how they wound up with Joyce, and what the hell is going on will
come to light. So don’t panic and don’t ask because I don’t like giving away my secrets. Bwahaha!