Mountain Springs High School seemed average enough. She knew that there were an inordinate number of military brats and that having parents or family that worked at NORAD was the norm and not the exception. But the place was bright and sunny and, for a high school, happy.
“Joyce!” Jenny called from across the quad, waving.
It sparked one of those dual memories that everything, but especially people, seemed to. She remembered placing flowers on her grave years ago but also meeting a few months ago for coffee to strategize the best way to keep her children safe.
She fought the pang of despair at the idea that one of her best friends might die sooner rather than later, smiled, and waved as she moved towards her. They would figure this out. Jenny wouldn’t die. Joyce would make sure of it.
Jenny accepted her hug with a laugh as she asked, “Is everything okay? The kids weren’t sure you’d make it.”
“I believe we need to take this conversation to the library,” she said and raised her eyebrows.
Some of Jenny’s joy melted away at the word library. It’d become their informal codeword for supernatural shenanigans. They linked arms and hurried away into the school, Joyce waving as she passed classes where her children sat, mostly not paying attention to their teachers.
“Giles!” Jenny called as they pushed through the swinging door. “Joyce has a problem.”
Giles popped out o his office, tea cup in hand, worry on his face. “Joyce?”
A memory bubbled up and she blurted, “I think I made a wish.”
“Oh dear,” he said as Jenny frowned in confusion.
“What’s wrong with wishing?” she asked.
“Because there are demons that grant them,” Joyce said as Giles opened his mouth to begin his spiel.
He looked at her, shocked, as Jenny asked, wary, “How did you know that?”
“Because I don’t think I started out in this world,” she said, trying to appear calm. “I woke up only remembering having two daughters in a town called Sunnydale until I saw Jack’s face. And I-she-that Joyce has dealt with Vengeance Demons.”
Giles’s tea cup rattled as he set it on the counter so he could whip his glasses off for a brisk clean as he scowled. She could practically see the wheels churning in his head.
“What’s the last thing you remember? From her-that Joyce’s life?” he finally asked, looking at her as a school bell rang.
“Coming out of sedation after brain surgery to remove a tumor and somebody asking if I wished the pain would go away,” she said promptly. “But that’s not what I wished for.”
Giles’s mouth pinched and the library door slammed open.
“Mom, is everything okay?” Chris demanded, worried.
Really, she was going to get tired of being asked that. “I’m fine,” she said, pushing his dark brown hair out of his face.
He, Connor, and Harry couldn’t be bothered to keep their hair out of their faces or under control. Strangely, that was one of the few things they had in common. That, their propensity for brooding and their over protectiveness towards women. For triplets, that was a short list.
Well, they had one other thing in common, along with Sirius, but she would roast in hell before she told them that she had no memories of them in that other life. Even Oz and Cordelia, who hadn’t practically lived at her house like Xander and Willow, she had infrequent but extremely fond memories of. Something tickled her mind about Connor but she kept forgetting to try to remember.
Connor grunted in disagreement and she grimaced at him. He knew she hated it when he did that.
He grinned suddenly, sharp and sunny, as he shoved Chris’s shoulder and said, “She’s fine.”
Harry stepped around both of his brothers, rolling his eyes, so that he could pet her shoulder as he said, “Of course she’s fine. Mom’s always
She wrapped her arm around his shoulders, silently bemoaning yet again his short, slight stature. Their first day in
Mountain Springs, there’d been what could politely be called a brawl. Bullies had taken one look at Connor and Harry, each petite for their age, and decided they were fresh meat. They hadn’t accounted for the fact that, with four rough-and-tumble brothers and five take-no-guff sisters, Connor and Harry had learned to take care of themselves years ago. Unfortunately, she was pretty sure they were both going to have her thin build, though they might eventually grow taller.
The rest of the kids, except for Dawn and Sirius who were in middle school, barged into the library.
“Don’t you all have lunch?” Giles asked dryly to which everyone held u their brown bag lunches. He winced and muttered, “The texts
Joyce rolled her eyes and began making sure that her children were filling their mouths with food instead of questions.
Cordelia, though, raised an eyebrow and demanded, “Explanation any time, really.”
Then she took a delicate bite to appease her mother. Giles began rattling off things about Vengeance Demons that she already knew so Joyce turned to nudging Buffy to eat more of her sandwich. As the Slayer, she burned more energy, carbs, and calories in a day than an average person did in a week but she was still a teenage girl who didn’t want to look like a pig by eating as much as her body really needed. It hadn’t had much effect yet, just a little weight loss and better muscle definition, but Joyce was worried about down the road, after years of slaying.
“I don’t get it,” Xander said, distracting Joyce from her minor tussle with Buffy over a baggy of cookies. “Mom’s human. I mean, in that…other place, you were human, right?”
“Yes,” she said, surprised at the question. “There’s nothing different with this body, I think, just the life I’m living.”
“Wigsome,” Buffy said, absently shoving a cookie in her mouth.
Joyce turned her head away quickly to hide her grin and Oz quietly snickered when he figured out what was going on. He was her clever boy, too laid back, thankfully, to cause her too much trouble. She ran her hand over hair that was a particularly obnoxious shade of purple, much to Jack’s dismay, and he grinned at her.
“I really don’t get it, then,” Xander said, propping his head up on his hand as he stared at her. “I mean, we all love you and it would hurt to lose you, but I just don’t understand what the bad guys gain by taking you away.”
“I have a theory,” Giles said, holding up a finger, then hurrying away.
a shocker,” Cordelia muttered, examining her nails. She must have found them lacking because she whipped out an emery board and started delicately sawing away.
Apparently, as long as Joyce was calm and Giles knew what was going on, there was nothing to worry about. God, her babies were still so young.
Giles plonked the chess board that Xander had made him in shop class last year down on the table, although several of the pieces she didn’t recognize, and said, “It’s a bit like chess.”
“I like a visual demonstration as much as the next guy, but I still don’t get it,” Xander said and Joyce was pretty sure he was just being difficult now.
“Unvaguify it, please,” Willow said, though, nodding, and she wasn’t one to make trouble.
“The pieces are the players in the fight between good versus evil,” Giles said slowly. “The world, on the side of the light, is the king. Buffy, the player with the most abilities, is the queen.”
“And the reason everybody else on the light side has been replaced by pawns but the black side looks like a normal chess board?” Xander asked, although he didn’t sound upset, just curious.
“Well, with the exception of Buffy, we’re all moderately normal humans, aren’t we? Even the dark’s minions, while no match for a Slayer, can eat a normal human for breakfast,” Giles said, straightening the pieces that had tumbled over when Connor banged his knee into the table.
He missed the looks that had been thrown around the table, even Jenny casting Joyce a guilty look. With four exceptions, each of her children had some growing ability that definitely wasn’t normal. And of the four that were normal, Faith was Hank’s illegitimate daughter (adopted by Joyce, of course, when her birth mother dropped her on their doorstep because she certainly wasn’t going to leave her to him and Joyce knew better than to blame a child for her parents’ mistakes) and Oz and Cordelia were adopted. Xander was the odd one out there, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Er, right,” Xander said, nodding when Giles looked at him for agreement. He slid a quick glance at Joyce as he said, “Only the normalest of mortals here.”
Joyce’s lips pinched. She trusted Rupert Giles with her life and those of her children but the Council was an entirely different matter. Until he broke ties with them, her children’s secrets would remain well hidden. Even Jenny agreed with her on that and she and Giles were dating.
“By taking away the players closest to the queen, she is weakened and the world is within their grasp,” Giles said, lifting the pawn to the queen’s left. “I they were running a long game, it would make sense to knock out one player at a time. No matter how normal.”
Joyce’s breath had stalled as she stared at the board. She reached out her hand and Giles placed the pawn in her hand, watching as she set it beside the queen. It was shocking, how insulated against the fall Buffy was in this world.
She picked up a pawn as she said quietly, “I’m single, so no Jack.” She set it aside, then reached for six more. “Without him, I’ve never met his colleagues, not even Janet and her Cassie.” She set them aside and took a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Jenny’s dead.” There were gasps but she ignored them except a glance at Jenny to let her know that, yes, she knew
there was a secret she was keeping from them, and kept going. “Harry, Chris, Connor, and Sirius are missing. Cordelia and Angel go to L.A.”
“Ooh,” Cordelia said, sitting forward even as Buffy scowled.
“You’re his secretary,” Joyce said dryly. “You fight demons and run a decrepit detective agency.”
“Ugh!” she said, appalled, leaning away as Buffy smirked.
“Oz and Faith left in the first year of college,” she said, then hesitated. She slowly lifted two black pawns and slid them into the squares Angel and Faith had held. “Anyanka and Spike come to our side. Sort of. Mostly.” Giles was choking on air, obviously recognizing the names. Joyce pulled one of the little crystal pawns out of one the drawers that was built into the base of the board. “And we gain Tara.” The board looked mostly bare on the light side, stripped from 22 pawns to a mere eight. Then she lifted her pawn again and said at nearly a whisper, “And now me.”
The bell for class rang, shattering their silence.