Author’s Note: Thanks very much to my Beta on this, Cordyfan. The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. Speech: “Who’s on first.”Thought: *What’s on second.*Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#Also many thanks to my eight new recommenders. It is much appreciated: Kevinn, liadenfan, Malto, mscecilyunderwood, Rich, SilverWave, Smurfette, zonianx. And to all my reviewers, thank you as well, hope you enjoy his chapter.Winslow B. Busby Army Base, Sunnydale, Infirmary
Jack slipped into the room quietly, hoping to avoid meeting Joyce Summers. She was a very nice woman, but very protective of her children and after their encounter with the vampires, both solicitous for his health and rather smugly pleased he'd had to have his bacon saved by her daughter.*And she still doesn't trust me completely around her children. Can't say I blame her either,*
Jack looked at the young man in the bed.
No, no matter what the kid had done, the battles he'd fought, the lives he'd saved, he was still a boy, not a man.
No one who looked that young and vulnerable sleeping was yet a man in Jack's eyes.
He sat on one of the chairs and tried to get moderately comfortable, but like all such chairs in all hospitals that he had ever been in, it was impossible. He still ached a little from the beating he'd gotten at the hands of what the Sunnydale group called a vampire fledgling, which didn't help. He sat looking at the boy. His hair was dark, like Sarah's before she went grey after Charlie died, and Charlie's had been too. If he sat here too long he would start to imagine himself back in the waiting room outside the ER, waiting for news, hoping against hope that it would be good, knowing that it wouldn’t be...
The boy stirred and looked at him. “You okay?” he asked in a hoarse, sleep roughened voice.
“What?” Jack stared. That was not what he was expecting.
“I asked if you were okay,” Xander repeated. “'Cause you know, you're crying.”
Jack touched his cheeks and noted they were wet. “Yeah. Seems like I was.”
“Ah. Okay,” Xander nodded and closed his eyes again. “So you're not okay.”
“What makes you say that?”
There was no response and Jack leaned forward, wondering if the boy had fallen asleep again.
“You're crying but didn't notice. So that means it's probably something big and deep,” Xander answered sleepily. He yawned and seemed to settle back into his slumber.
Jack looked at him for a minute or so, then reached out and tucked the slightly displaced blankets back around him and settled in to wait.
Sam flexed her hand and smiled at her father. “Feels good as new. A couple of twinges.”
“Those should pass within a week or so. Don't overdo it with that hand. Not too much typing or writing, or overly intricate or finicky stuff,” Jacob warned her.
“Yes dad,” Sam smiled again. “Where's the Colonel?”
“Asleep on two chairs in Xander's room,” Jacob replied.
Sam smiled indulgently, then tried to hide it.
Jacob pretended he hadn't seen it. “We'll be leaving soon. George says he wants you back home to recover.”
Sam nodded wryly. “And no doubt Ms Summers wants us away from her children, before they get hurt some more.”
Jacob pursed his lips. “She wants to talk to us before we leave. She did say that if you shared what you could with Willow, it might go a long way to appease her.”
“Share? Share what?” Sam asked.
“You're not usually this dense Sam. Did you knock your head as well?” Jacob frowned. “The science you've been working with. You said she was highly intelligent, possibly even a genius? If she is, her insights might be very valuable.”
Sam bit her lip. “I'll ask the General what I can share.”
Jacob smiled. “Even saying you tried might improve matters.”
Winslow B. Busby Army Base, Xander's room
Willow squinted slightly, then rubbed her nose with her fingers. The book she'd been reading seemed to slip from her fingers a bit.
"Are you okay, Willow?" Janet asked, worriedly.
Willow gave her a cold look. "Fine."
"She probably still has headaches from when the bookcase fell on her," Xander said from his bed.
Willow froze. Janet blinked and Joyce turned, took two steps and looked down at Willow. "Bookcase? Fell? Headaches? Why didn't you say anything about that?"
Willow whimpered. "Because Buffy needed..." Her voice trailed off as she saw Buffy's glare.
"I didn’t need to feel extra guilty about you not taking enough time to recover, dammit!" Buffy growled.
Janet rubbed her face, then stepped out of the room. "Nurse? Could you ask General Carter to join us?"
Then she came back in and closed the door, drew a screen across a corner of the room and pointed behind it. "You just earned yourself a comprehensive physical examination, young lady!"
Willow opened her mouth to protest, but Joyce shook her head. "Don't even think about it. I'm not allowing you to take risks with your health, Willow. You're too important to me for that."
She leaned down and glared. "Now move."
Willow eeped and almost ran behind the screen.
Willow was sitting in a chair and Jacob Carter was running the healing device over her head, frowning. "You really shouldn't have left the hospital so soon after getting these injuries."
"If I'd known how bad they were, she wouldn't have," Joyce glared at Willow. "Do you realise how lucky you were, young lady?"
Willow looked both mulish and sheepish. "You needed me to find Buffy."
Joyce sighed. "I also needed you to be safe and healthy. We'll be talking about this later."
Willow suspected it would be a very long and rather one-sided talk.
She glared at Xander. "You had to tell her?"
Xander grinned slightly. "Yeah. I thought, if we have a mom who cares, we might as well enjoy it."
Joyce leaned over and ruffled his hair, very gently, then leaned over to do the same with Willow, kissing the top of her head as well.
"Thank you," she said to Carter.
Jacob smiled. "She reminds me of Sam when she was younger, too. There was never anything wrong with her either. Not even when she wrapped her first motorcycle around a tree and suffered a concussion, three broken ribs and a collapsed lung."
"My daughter Shankaya was much the same," he then added in a deeper voice.
"You have a daughter?" Willow asked, surprised. "How? I mean..." she gestured.
"We can move ourselves out of the way quite easily," came Selmac's deep voice.
Carter suddenly stopped moving the healing device, frowning. "No. I don't care if you have the technology, I'm not going to be the first man to have a child on earth!"
Willow looked at him wide-eyed, then started to giggle. "I think she's kidding."
Carter gave a her a look, then sighed. "Yes, she was. Damn irritating snake."
Selmac laughed. "Ah, Jacob, you will get used to my sense of humour eventually."
"I hope someone kills me before I do," Jacob muttered.
Winslow B. Busby Army Base, Xander's room
“You sure you can manage?” Jack asked for the third time, as Xander leaned on Buffy who was helping him into a wheelchair, though Buffy could easily have lifted him into it.
“Yeah, we can,” Buffy repeated patiently. “And you know what Jacob said, not to put too much strain on your shoulders for a while yet. And totally not where people who know you were injured can see.”
Jack opened his mouth to answer, saw Jacob and Janet come into the room and closed it, a disgruntled look on his face.
“I've got the discharge papers,” Janet said. “I'll need your signature, Joyce.”
“Okay, give them here,” Joyce took the clipboard.
Janet bent her head. “Just so you know, all the costs of this are being picked up by Uncle Sam. General Hammond tapped the discretionary fund.”
Joyce blinked. “Oh... That's.. Thanks.”
“It will save a lot of hassle with insurance and stuff, due to him becoming your ward,” Janet smiled. “And as he said, it's the least we can do.”
“There's going to be a lot of things I'll have to arrange,” Joyce shook her head.
“I fostered, then adopted Cassie, so I've got some experience. Thought that was in a different state and with different circumstances,” Janet shook her head.
Joyce pursed her lips. “She's not from around here, is she?”
Janet gasped, then chuckled. “No, she isn't.”
Joyce nodded and put her final squiggle on the papers. “If anything should happen to you, we'll be there for her. Mind you, I do want to meet her soon. She's about Dawn's age?”
“Yeah,” Janet confirmed.
“Dawn always wanted a cousin for a playmate too...” Joyce's voice trailed off.
“What?” Janet asked.
Joyce sighed. “You've got two more sisters, you know that, right?”
Janet nodded. “I'd like to meet them, if that’s possible?”
“Probably, once I've told them I've met you and you aren't a total disaster,” Joyce smiled, then sobered. “We'll talk about it later.”
Janet gave her a look. “Bad?”
Joyce nodded, looking sadly at Buffy who's superior hearing had obviously picked up the conversation and was looking strained. “Yes, but not very recent. Is this all?”
“We just hand in the forms at the front desk, then we can go,” Janet flipped through the forms, seeing Joyce had signed in all the correct places.
Xander had been settled in a wheelchair and Willow was behind it. “We're ready if you are!”
Joyce nodded. “Let's go home.”
1630 Revello Drive
Xander groaned as Buffy helped him out of the car and back into the wheelchair he'd have to use for a day or two, to let his over-stimulated nerves and muscles rest. Despite the accelerated healing with the alien device, and man had he wanted to be awake for that when he heard about it, even with the pain, he still ached. He’d also be doing a lot of work to get back in the shape he’d been, before his ex-father had used him as a boxing, kicking and stomping bag.*So much for hoping soldier boy's memories would help there. Not enough muscle memory? Cowering has become a Pavlovian response when he starts yelling?*
He let himself be wheeled up the make-shift ramp, that had been hastily constructed on the familiar steps and through the familiar door and into the familiar room, and then smelled the awesome smell of baking.
“Chocolate and blackberry muffins?” he whimpered.
“Yes,” Joyce smiled. “Thought you might like that.”
“Damn Doc, if you baked when we came home we wouldn't be nearly as reluctant to come near you,” Jack teased.
“I'll keep it in mind, Colonel,” Janet smiled. “If a little baking prevents all your whining and evasion it’ll be well worth it.”
Sam snickered, then sobered when Jack sent her a glare.
“I don't like hospitals either,” Buffy grumbled.
“Me neither,” Willow added.
“Ditto. Or is that trippo?” Xander asked.
“I think that might make people think you've been smoking a bit too much,” a soft voice said from the porch.
“OZ!” Willow squealed and took the distance from the couch to the porch in a single leap, through the open door and straight into his arms. She almost bowled him over in her enthusiasm.
After about a minute Joyce coughed. “Willow? Daniel?”
“Daniel?” Jack asked. “I thought his name was Oz?”
“Daniel Osbourne. Oz. Even his parents call him Oz,” Xander was looking around sadly.
“She wanted to be here, but it's difficult to get off that cruise ship,” Joyce told him softly.
Willow and Oz were no longer kissing, but she had her head buried in the crook of the shorter boy's neck.
“He has purple hair,” Jacob said.
“And he plays the bass in a band called Dingoes Ate My Baby,” Joyce sighed. “He also 'does well on tests' and downplays the fact he's very, very intelligent.”
“Dingoes Ate my Baby?” Sam asked incredulously.
“They made it up when they were pretending to be stoned. Don't ask,” Joyce rolled her eyes. “But trust me, boyfriend-wise she could be doing far, far worse.”
Buffy gasped. Joyce reached out and touched her. “In order, Billy Fordham, Pike, Owen Thurman, and yes Angel. But not just.”
“Okay, so I don't have much luck in the boyfriend department,” Buffy muttered. “So sue me.”
“I might if I thought you had any money,” Joyce smirked. “I think droves of parents would want to sue their kids for the grey hairs they gave them with their dumb stunts and the idiots they dated.”
“Hell yes,” Jacob muttered.
Sam glared at him. “Said parents might also have wanted to be there when said kids were going to be picked up on say, their prom night?”
Jacob winced and Joyce hastily changed the subject. “Well, anyone for muffins?”
Oz looked up, his eyes gleaming. “Chocolate Blackberry?”
“Yes. As if you hadn't smelled that already,” Joyce smiled, as Oz took Willow's hand and led her inside.
Willow poked Oz. “Just once I'd like to be able to compete for your attention with food.”
“Oh, you do. Food just always wins,” Oz smiled slightly.
Willow poked him again, then kissed him on the lips. “Thanks for being here.”
“You're my girl, my mate. You needed me, I just wish I could've been here earlier,” Oz said soberly.
Willow beamed at him.
“Mate?” Jack asked Xander very quietly. “I get a whole odd vibe from that.”
“Oz's tale,” the boy answered curtly.
“Check,” Jack nodded, knowing better than to take offence.
Joyce waved a hand at Oz. “This is Oz, Willow's boyfriend. He was on tour with his band. Oz, you know Janet and Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter. This is Jacob Carter.”
Oz gazed at Jacob, his eyes inquisitive. “You smell... Double?”
“Smell double?” Jack asked.
Jacob gave Oz a look. “Interesting. We can talk about that later. How about some of those muffins?”
Buffy was just about to leave on patrol, through the kitchen door rather than the window, which was still strange to her, when the doorbell rang.
Joyce gave her daughter a look and Buffy nodded. Willow tensed slightly on the couch where she was reading and Joyce went to open it.
Janet was standing on the porch, her arm still in a sling. O'Neill and Carter were with her. “Hello Joyce. Sorry for calling so late.”
Joyce frowned, and stepped aside. Janet came in, relaxing perceptibly when she came inside, as did Carter, though O'Neill seemed as relaxed before as after.
“I really wish you wouldn't have made that quip about hotels here being free all-you-can-eat buffets for vamps, sir,” Carter muttered.
Joyce smiled slightly. “Most of them do have fairly good security.”
“Yeah, the 'most' and 'fairly' part of that sentence are what worries me,” Carter said.
“We got a call, we have to leave tomorrow, very early, and we wanted to say goodbye,” Janet came to the point. “We thought you might prefer us coming by now, rather than tomorrow at 4.30.”
“In the morning? Ugh, remind me never to join the military,” Buffy wrinkled her nose.
“More the time you go to bed?” Janet asked, teasingly.
“Not if I can help it,” Joyce insisted. “Not as long as she's a growing girl.”
“She grows?” Jack asked, mock-amazed.
Buffy glared at him. “Very funny. Haha.”
“At any rate, we wanted to say goodbye, and apologize again,” Janet said.
Joyce smiled. “Mistakes were made on both sides. We've learned some interesting things from each other. And you already promised help if we should need it.”
“And it may have been awful, but it does mean I no longer need to live with the Rosenbergs,” Willow glared at Sam, but it wasn't as hard a glare as before. “But if I ever get the chance of having you strip-searched and cavity inspected...”
Sam gulped. Joyce sighed. “Now, Willow. Save that for the nice FBI team, hmmm?”
“Don’t see why I should... Maybe by a Polgara demon,” Willow muttered defiantly. “Full body cavity.”
Joyce sighed again, but knew that saying anything more wouldn't help. Willow was still angry and resentful, and she certainly had reason. Samantha Carter clearly had her work cut out for her if she wanted to get anything other than angry glares. She knew her newly acquired foster daughter well enough to know that Willow wouldn’t make it easy for her, no matter what Joyce said.
“P-Polgara demon?” Sam asked.
“Big, green, fists about the size of my head, has spikes that come out of its forearms that are this big,” Buffy obligingly explained holding her hands two feet apart.
Jack whistled. “We're lucky we didn't meet one of those?”
“Yeah, we were,” Buffy answered. “I gotta go now, stuff to do, vamps to slay.”
“Got the list?” Willow asked, business like.
“Yup, with locations,” Buffy patted her pocket. She hugged Joyce and Willow and after a second's hesitation, Janet, then shook hands with Jack, Jacob and Sam and left.
“Dawn and Xander are sleeping,” Joyce said as she sat down wearily.
“And after the last few days they need their sleep,” Janet smiled. “Well, I hope next time we see each other will be, ummm...”
“Less of a FUBAR?” Willow said snarkily.
“Where did you learn that word, Willow?” Joyce asked mildly.
“Ummm...” Willow threw a glance at the visitors. Jacob was grinning slightly at Sam, who was glaring at him, while Jack was looking interested and Janet disapproving.
“Remember that whole Halloween thing? The Soldier,” she finally admitted.
“Do you know what it means?” Joyce inquired.
“I asked, he said it was a military term for a big mess...” Willow licked her lips. “I shoulda looked it up, shouldn't I?”
“Probably would have been wise,” Jack smirked. “Soldiers tend to strong language. ‘Fouled up beyond all recognition’.”
They could see her make the connection in her head of the acronym and the words, then the realisation of what ‘fouled’ really stood for. Willow threw a panicky look at Joyce. “Umm...”
Joyce laughed. “Don't worry about it, honey. Just think about what you say. Now go to bed and try to get a few hours before Buffy comes back, okay? You need more sleep than she does.”
Willow nodded sheepishly, hugged Joyce, then Janet, then after a short hesitation, Jacob. “Thanks for Xander. Both of you,” she whispered.
“My pleasure,” Jacob said. “And mine too,” Selmac assured her. “Now go and get some sleep. The young of all species I know of need plenty of it.”
Willow rolled her eyes at Joyce's laugh, shook hands with Jack, and then Sam, though she gave the latter another hard look. She hid a yawn as she climbed the stairs.
“It's gonna take a while to get back into her good graces, isn't it?” Sam sighed.
“Do you really blame her, after being humiliated and scared out of her wits?” Joyce pointed out. “Put yourself in her shoes and imagine if someone had told you to bend over and bare all at that age.”
Sam winced. “I guess I wouldn’t have been very forgiving, either.”
“You could be less forgiving for a lot less, Sam,” Jacob reminded her. “I think that guy who bumped your science project in High School probably still has nightmares about it.”
“Willow can bear a grudge for a very long time. Just ask Cordelia,” Joyce sighed. “I'll have to rein her in a bit before she decides to do something about those FBI agents.”
She was, however, contemplating making an official complaint on Willow’s behalf, on grounds of abuse of authority and probably breach of a whole load of statutes, not to mention the fact that there hadn’t actually been a clear Federal case.
“Do something about?” Jack asked. “Like what?”
“The fact that she doesn't use her computer skills to hurt people doesn't mean she can't, Colonel,” Joyce told him archly. “She may be tempted. Or worse, she may decide to use magic. That you wouldn't be able to trace.”
Sam shivered. “Holy Hannah. I really don't want to think about that.”
Jack nodded his agreement. “Okay. Well, we need to be up early tomorrow, so let's find our beds.”
Joyce smiled and led them to the door. “Well, I hope that our next meeting will be less fraught.”
“Fraught with what?” Jacob asked.
“Everything,” Joyce and Janet answered in tandem.
1630 Revello Drive
The dining room had been temporarily co-opted as a bedroom for Xander and Willow was bunking with Buffy. And Joyce was looking at the huge pile of boxes in her basement, wondering what was in them and where to leave it all if she wanted to keep any of it. Xander was sleeping, still recovering from his ordeal. Dawn, Buffy and Willow were all being rather clingy, which didn't exactly come as a surprise. Willow was also prone to bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, which wasn't surprising either.
“What's in all those?” Willow asked curiously from behind her.
“A few boxes of stuff from LA we still haven't sorted and probably can be thrown away. Some boxes with things I bought in job lots for the Gallery and should sort, And a lot of thing from the previous owners I couldn't be bothered to get rid of when we moved in,” Joyce replied absently.
“Ummm... How big is the basement, actually?” Willow, standing in the doorway, looked over her shoulder at the cramped, box filled area around the stairs. It housed the washer and the dryer, as well as numerous shelves with garden supplies, detergent and canned and boxed food.
There were two more doors that opened onto the area. She thought one led to the water heater.
Then she looked back at the equally box-filled room before her.
Joyce shrugged. “I don't really know. The real estate broker told me that it would be cleaned out, and Mrs Kalish who lived next door then allowed me look at hers, and it was pretty big, but when we arrived it was still like this. The previous owners turned out to be dead and so was the broker.”
She smiled at Willow. “That should have told me everything I needed to know about this town, really.”
“But you never cleaned it out? You didn't want to know what was in here?” Willow almost whimpered at the thought that anyone could contain themselves from not ripping through the boxes.
Joyce shrugged. “At first I tried to get someone else to do it, like the broker's partner. Then I was too annoyed, then I had other things on my mind. And it wasn't like I needed the space. There's still the attic and the store rooms at the Gallery.”
Willow bit her lip. “So... We just throw them out?”
Joyce gave her a look. “I sell stuff that comes from house clearances all the time, Willow. No, we have to go through this fairly carefully.”
Willow's mouth quirked. “Can I help?”
Joyce smiled. “Of course you can, dear. Let's drag a few of these upstairs to the kitchen, then we'll go through them there and sort out what we have.”
“Xander and Buffy can take a few boxes too,” Willow decided. “I'll go get them.”
Xander, realising that the faster the basement was cleaned out, the sooner he'd have a room that didn't have a sideboard and allowed him a bit more privacy, enthusiastically ran down the stairs.
Buffy, realising that she’d get dusty and dirty, was a lot less happy about it, even if it did mean she'd no longer have to share her room, or maybe because of it.
Nevertheless, they had ten boxes and crates out of the basement in short order and were sorting through them quickly.
Buffy levered open the crate she'd selected with her bare hands and looked over the edge. “Oh man! That thing!”
Joyce laughed. “I see you found the fertility statue again. I still think you don't need to see it.”
Buffy scowled at her good-naturedly. “Very funny. I thought you sold that?”
“I did, got paid, the buyer never came to pick it up,” Joyce shrugged sadly. “He was going to get some dinner with his wife, take an evening stroll down the beach...”
“Out-of-towners?” Buffy said wearily.
“Yeah. Honey, you can't save everybody,” Joyce moved over to hug her. “There are vampires everywhere, even if there are more here. You can't be everywhere at the same time. Even Superman can't.”
“Superman doesn't exist,” Buffy dashed away a few tears. “I do.”
“Superman doesn't exist?” Xander gasped. “You can't mean that?”
Willow sighed. “Superman doesn't exist, and putting on a cape does not
mean you can suddenly fly.”
“But-” Xander said with a smirk.
“Bouncing off a trampoline doesn’t count,” Willow scowled at him. “And when you tried jumping off the roof, you sprained both your ankles and fell on your nose and looked like a clown for a week.”
Joyce laughed, so did Buffy. Xander took on an air of mock superiority. “Ah, but I was young then! I'd do better now!”
“Now you'd break both your ankles and permanently look like a clown?” Willow replied dryly.
Dawn giggled, ruining her plan to sneak next to the box with the statue and peek in. Buffy very firmly put the lid back on. “Anything good in your box, Will?”
Willow frowned, flipping through one of the books she'd taken from the box. “They look like photo albums... This looks like you. Who's this girl?”
Joyce threw a glance at Buffy who smiled sadly, then answered. “Celia. My and Dawn's cousin. My best friend. She... She died, in hospital, when we were eight.”
Xander sucked in a breath. “What happened?”
“Went in for an appendectomy, everything went great, then...” Buffy shrugged. “Then she was gone...” She frowned. “I... Mom? I need to talk with you about that. There's some things that don't make sense, unless, you know, you think about other things.”
Dawn sighed. “You mean the supernatural? I know about that, you know.”
Buffy shook her head. “I was thinking more along the lines of medical errors, but hey.”
Joyce nodded. “There was some suspicion of that, but the autopsy showed nothing. The wound was healing, there was no infection, the surgeons and the hospital were as stunned as we were. They called it total systemic failure. All they could come up with was that she'd gone into some sort of shock that was atypical and then died.”
Dawn shuddered, looking at Xander “Can we talk about something else?”
“I'm still here, Dawnster. Will be for a while yet,” Xander grinned and ruffled her hair. “What's in your box?”
“Some old toys,” Dawn said. “But not ours.”
“We can have a yard sale,” Joyce decided. “And we may need a skip for the junk. Ah, this box is full of copper pipe fittings.”
“If they're undamaged, we can sell those too,” Xander told her. “Even if just for the metal. Copper is copper.”
Joyce really wanted to be at home with the kids, but since she now had two more of them she needed to make money and that meant keeping the Gallery open. The money she got for fostering them from various state and county organisations would help, but it hadn't started yet and the Gallery wasn't so profitable that she could afford to hire more help and work less. Which meant she couldn't be home with the kids, no matter how badly she wanted to be. Right now they'd be digging through the basement, 'looking to see where the boxes ended', as Willow had put it. Joyce rather enjoyed digging through them with her family, getting to know each other better, preparing for the 'Mother of all yard sales' as Xander had declared and occasionally digging up something that she could put in the gallery. Several things she'd even set aside to be separately valued, including a lacquered wooden box full of what she was sure were original framed engravings by Frederic Remington.
But her changed home life did mean she was a little less patient with people who came in five minutes before closing, only to settle in for a good long round of browsing, usually without buying anything. It was especially galling on Saturdays.
So when the shop bell rang at exactly five before, when the shop was otherwise empty, she almost growled. Then she saw who it was. “Hank?”
Hank looked nothing like his usual neat self. He had a stubbly beard, his clothes were dishevelled and Joyce thought she could smell him, and the alcohol he'd drunk from where she sat.
"My god, what have you been doing?"
Hank laughed. It was a bleak, lost sound. "What have I been doing? I've been thinking!" he slurred.
“Really? I thought you'd been drinking,” Joyce snarled.
Hank gestured wildly with one arm. “Maybe a little.”
“Maybe a lot,” Joyce muttered. “And when was the last time you showered?”
Hank frowned. “Went runnin'. An' horse ridin', and runnin' again and went to a bar...”
“And you've been seeing clients like this?” Joyce asked, aghast.
She might no longer be married to him, but she was proud of what they'd achieved and knew Hank was too. And she got a fair amount of her income from Hank's earnings from the company in alimony and child support.
Hank shook his head. “Jake and Pete took over. Sent me home.”
Joyce nodded. “Okay. That makes sense. Except for the part where you’re here and why the heck you are acting like this.”
Hank gave her a long, sad look. “B-Buffy didn't make it up,” he managed to sob.
Joyce gasped. “Oh. Oh Hank.”
“I wanna see her. I wanna see my Princess. I- I need...” Hank gestured again.
Joyce shook her head. “There's no way I'll let her see you like this.”
Hank's face crumpled and Joyce grabbed his arm. “You need a shower and a shave and to sober up. There's a bathroom behind the store, you can use that. Did you bring any clean clothes?”
Hank gaped at her. “Wha'?”
“Clothes,” Joyce told him firmly. “Did you bring any? These stink.”
“I can see Buffy?” Hank asked hopefully.
“Yes, you can. But do you really want her to see you looking and smelling like a hobo?” Joyce pulled at his arm. “Come on. Where's your car? Did you bring your travel bag?”
“P-parking lot,” Hank stuttered. “Yeah. I think.”
Joyce rolled her eyes again. “Keys, then.”
Hank nodded and dug out his keys. Joyce firmly took him by the shoulders and pushed him into the small bathroom, grateful that she'd put some spare towels and toiletries in there.
Once she heard the water running, she picked up the phone and called home. “Buffy? I'm going to be a bit later, an hour or so I think. Can you manage?”
There was a snort. “We'll be fine mom.”
“As long as Buffy doesn't cook!” Xander hollered.
Joyce laughed. “I'll be there within the hour, okay?”
“Yes mom,” Buffy answered. “I need to go and threaten Xander now.”
“Yes dear, have fun,” Joyce hung up and sighed, shook her head and went and got Hank's bag from his car.
When she returned the shower was still running, which was unusual, since Hank was usually a two minute shower man. “Hank? You alright?”
The shower turned off. “Not really,” came the muffled reply.
“I've got your bag.”
“Yeah. I'm just gonna hang o'er the toilet for a bit,” Hank answered unsteadily. There was a thud and then the noise of vomiting and retching.
Joyce sighed. “I'll put the bag just outside the door, okay?”
There was an agonised moan for an answer.
“You think something's wrong?” Willow asked for the third time, looking at the clock.
Buffy shook her head. “She's still well within the hour, Will. If she doesn't call when it's been twenty minutes more, that's when I might consider calling her.”
Willow bit her lip. Buffy put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, don't worry. Mom's been busy with the Gallery since we came here. It takes a lot of time to run a starting business.”
“Yeah. But...” Willow took a deep breath. “I've seen her do the calculations, you know, to get the books to balance...”
Buffy shrugged. “So money's gonna be a bit tight for a bit. We can manage. I'll get fewer shoes. You'll get fewer books. Xander and Dawn will get fewer Twinkies-”
She waited a beat smirking at Willow, whose mouth was twitching.
“Hey!” two voices chorused. Xander and Dawn came into view.
Buffy laughed. “But seriously guys, Mom had been, you know, hinting about taking you two in before, and she was sure we could manage even without the money from the State. And once that comes, things will be easier.”
“You're still gonna have to work for your next computer Willow,” Xander teased.
Willow shook her head. “Naah, I think I'll just sue the FBI for everything they've got.”
Joyce looked up from where she was inventorying some of the finds from the basement, when the door to the backrooms opened and Hank came out. He was clean, his hair was still wet and he carried the travel bag, now probably containing his dirty clothes.
“Well you look better,” Joyce smiled. “Smell a lot better too.”
Hank nodded. “I still feel like crap though.”
Hank shook his head. “I sent my daughter to an institution because she was mad. Turns out she isn't.”
Joyce sighed. “In case you were wondering, I still don't know which of the two is worse. That she was wrong, or that she's right.”
Hank nodded. “Yeah. I spent almost every day the last week going through the news, looking at old papers, figuring out when things were, you know...”
“Not of this world?” Joyce nodded in understanding. “I did a lot of that while Buffy was missing. Willow wrote a program for it too. She figures about one in a hundred cops know, and about one in forty probably suspect and about one in two hundred journalists.”
“They're good friends, aren't they?” Hank ran a hand through his hair.
“Better than we are parents?” Joyce smiled sadly at him. “Maybe. All we had was our rather distraught daughter and a diary, in the middle of her parents separating. And separating rather messily. They got their faces pressed into the reality of things. There used to be three of them. He was killed and turned. Xander had to stake him.”
Hank shivered. “Yeah, that would do it.”
“So, what now?” Joyce lifted an eyebrow at him.
“What happened last year?” Hank asked. “She...”
Joyce took a deep breath. “Post Traumatic Shock. She fought a very powerful vampire. It bit and drowned her. Xander resuscitated her. She wasn't-”
“Resuscitated?” Hank interrupted, his voice harsh with shock.
“Yeah. She died. Remember what she told us? One girl in all the world? When one dies, a new one is called?” Joyce said bitterly. “Kendra was called when Buffy died.”
Hank staggered and fell into one of the chairs by the table. “She died?”
Joyce's smile got nowhere near her eyes. “As she puts it, 'she got better.'”
“Buying her lots of shoes probably wasn't the right treatment method, was it?” Hank rubbed his face.
“Well, she still wears the shoes,” Joyce sighed. “The dress I got her for that night? It was damaged. You really don't want to know the fuss I made about that.”
Hank groaned again. “God, we made a mess of things.”
Joyce patted his arm. “Let's go and see her.”
“How's Dawn dealing with all this?” Hank asked.
“Dawn? Dawn thinks its all a marvellous adventure. She wants to be a Slayer, just like her big sister,” Joyce shivered.
“Horrible as it sounds, that does sound like Dawn,” Hank smiled. “Maybe we can convince her to take up something safer. Like bomb disposal.”
“Daddy!” Dawn squealed and ran down the steps into his arms, seemingly only seconds after he stepped out of Joyce's car. He laughed and swung her around. Buffy followed, slightly more sedately. The last time he'd caught her like that it had thrown his back out. She did hug him.
“So this is why you were late?” she asked her mother archly. “You could've just said.”
“There were things we needed to talk about,” Hank said quietly. “Why don't we order something, Chinese, pizza? My treat.”
Dawn squealed again. “Chinese!” she ran inside to get the menu, as Hank laughed.
Buffy gave him a look. “Dad? Why didn't you drive? Have you been drinking?”
Hank sighed. “Your mother said you'd be able to smell that.”
“She did?” Buffy asked sharply.
Hank hugged her again. “There are some things a father can't face without being drunk, Princess Skatey. Like their daughter being the Slayer.”
Buffy gulped. “Oh. You-you...”
“I know. I believe it. And I hate it,” Hank whispered into her hair. “Oh, how desperately I hate it. And I'm so very sorry. And I can't even take you to the IceCapades to apologize, because they don't exist anymore.”
Buffy hugged him, being careful to keep her strength in check. “I love you, dad.” Then she frowned. “Ummm...Dad? You drove here from LA?”
Hank winced. “Yeah. Your mother was very vocal about that. Yell at me later?”
Buffy gave him a stern look. “Yeah. Lots. Also, no Princess Skatey in front of the others, okay?”
Hanks grinned. “Sure, Princess Piggy.”
Sunday morning, 1630 Revello Drive.
“This is a really big mess, Joyce,” Hank said, looking at the water heater, a card board box in his arms. “I hope you got a stiff price reduction on this place, because this is a disaster.”
Joyce laughed. “I did. I won't be going for copper piping for all of the refurbishment, of course.”
“Whut?” Xander asked, confused.
“There's plastic piping available that’ll be able to deal with earth movements and earthquakes better than most metals,” Hank explained.
“Oh, right, Uncle Dave mentioned those,” Xander frowned. “He still thinks that moving gaskets and stuff are better.”
At Hank's look he shrugged. “My ex-father's brother. He's a plumber. He breathes plumbing. Plumbing's his religion.”
“Did he ever hurt you?” Joyce asked sharply.
“Naaah, he put me up some nights to protect me from dad. Bored me stiff with talking about solder and link joints, but he's a very gentle man. Unless you're a rat who got at a pipe,” Xander smiled. “Or a dude who let his kids drink water from lead pipes.”
“Put him on the list to look at this then,” Hank smirked. “You'll need the god of plumbing to deal with this.”
Hank was watching Willow manipulate his drawing program, his mouth hanging open. She'd loaded a copy of it onto her computer, something Hank was sure she wouldn't manage without getting an extra license, and flipped between the UI and the code, reading a few lines, trying a few things and then changing something in the code before flipping back and then trying again.
“It's a bit clunky, but fun. See, now these load bearing calculations work. They’d connected it to the wrong column of the table,” Willow said scornfully. “They should've found that in minutes and not just shut down the feature. Lazy.”
Hank looked at Buffy disbelievingly. His daughter only smirked. “Told you she was smart.”
“This... This is amazing,” Hank smiled. “If I give you a list of bugs, do you think you could look at them and fix them?”
Willow frowned. “Possibly. I'd have to get into the code, and it would depend on the bugs. Why?”
“Because I know that the company that makes this program has been losing sales because of the bugs. So if you can show them you got rid of them, I'm sure I can get you a rather well-paid summer job. And if this is your level of competence, I can get you a few more.”
Willow gaped at him. “Oh.”
Buffy pouted, but her eyes twinkled. “You never offered to get me a job.”
Hank smiled at her. “I did. It wasn't to do with cheerleading or ice-skating, so you weren't interested, remember?”
Buffy stuck her tongue out. Hank laughed.
“Think you could get me one? A job?” Xander asked a while later, as Willow was reading code and Buffy was helping Joyce with sorting through some more boxes.
“Depends, what're you looking for? And keep in mind most of the people I know are in LA,” Hank shrugged. “I'd be willing to put you up for a bit, but I get the notion that none of you want to be too far from Joyce.”
“I'm not really clever like Willow or Buffy. More of a manual labour kinda guy,” Xander said apologetically.
“Nothing wrong with working with your hands. I did a few summer jobs in construction. Gave me a very good basis for becoming an architect,” Hank smiled. “And you know, I do know a few guys who do construction around here.”
Xander's smile lit up the room.
“Thanks,” Joyce smiled at Hank as he was getting ready to bed down on the couch.
“For what?” he asked.
“Willow and Xander were feeling guilty about the cost of living here,” Joyce sat down. “They both said they wanted to help pay. And you've given them something to do, and they both needed that as well.”
Hank laughed. “They're good kids. And the way Willow got rid of those bugs was incredible.”
“Yes, they are,” Joyce smiled fondly.
“So... How many of those cracking accusations might Willow actually have had something to do with?” Hank asked blithely.
Joyce gave him a look. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
Hank nodded. “Thought so.”
Monday morning, FBI Office, LA, of Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Investigation Department
“What the hell were you thinking, Agent Loomis?” SAC John Calhoun glared at the Special Agent. “Have you got any idea how much trouble we’re in?”
“The evidence we had seemed sufficient at the time, sir,” Loomis stood uneasily in front of the desk. He hadn’t been invited to sit.
“She's underage, Special Agent. That alone should have given you pause. The Governor is not pleased we arrested a minor in his State,” Calhoun growled.
“The Moloch case is Federal, sir,” Loomis pointed out.
“You had a sixteen year old girl crying in the cell after a strip and cavity inspection search. She looked pathetic when they brought her in here. You know as well as I do that once the Press got hold of a picture of her, it was gonna explode,” Calhoun snarled. “And you also know that in cases of minors we always, always, involve the States!”
“Sir, we did nothing that-.”
Calhoun held up a hand. “I know the rules, and the laws. Yes, the rules allow for the search. But you wanted it to be true, Loomis. You went in like a bull in a china shop, never thinking about the consequences if you were wrong. And you know as well as I do how that's gonna look. And I got a call from Quantico this morning. Ms Summers apparently called them in Friday and told them that if they use Miss Rosenberg's combination search program, she will sue the pants off them. And they’ve patented it.”
Loomis rubbed his face. “Quantico wasn't happy?”
“Quantico wants to know what the hell we were thinking arresting her, then holding her for as long as we did. There's gonna be a lot of fallout from this. Possibly of the Internal Investigations variety,” Calhoun glared at Loomis. “And you know what? I really don't feel like keeping the shit from hitting you this time.”
Hank Summers' house, Tuesday
Buffy was moping. There really was no other word for it, Hank decided. And Dawn was moping because Buffy was moping, or possibly for her own reasons. Occasionally it was difficult for him to differentiate between his daughters' mopes. Joyce had always been far better at it. That was the reason he tended towards ice cream and shopping as ways to deal with it.
The problem was that he had a lot of work, and that was in some ways very good, but it also meant that he didn't have as much time to spend with his daughters as he might like, and Buffy seemed to have lost her newly recovered joy in helping him with it. Before, while Buffy helped, Dawn would use some of his older drafting tools to create fantastic buildings of her own. Today, they seemed unable to do anything but sigh, pout and hang listlessly on the couch, not even mustering enough energy to watch daytime TV.
Hank wasn't really sure what the cause was. It might be that they were missing Joyce and their new foster siblings.
He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Does either one of you want to tell me what's wrong?"
Two pairs of eyes, one hazel green, one blue, looked up at him, moved from side to side as they shook their heads, then returned to staring at the turned off TV.
"Dammit," Hank muttered, then went to phone his ex.
As the door closed, Dawn tearfully looked at Buffy. "They're not getting together again, are they?"
Buffy shook her head. "No. They get along a lot better than they did. But no."
Dawn sobbed. Buffy reached out and hugged her, letting her own tears fall.
Rupert Giles wasn't fond of flying. No, that was wrong. He'd had a dream of being a fighter pilot as a boy – one which his less than perfect eyesight would have rendered impossible, if the Council hadn’t done so - and actually did have a small plane pilot's license. However, he hated being flown. But after reading through the journals of dozens of earlier Watchers, the discomfort of being flown really was nothing as to riding three hundred miles through constant sleet and rain from London to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
His discomfort was only partially physical, however. His bag contained the materials needed for the Tento de Cruciamentum, the crystals, the syringes, the compound itself.
A thousand years of tradition, with the weight of the Council behind it, and he knew what the Council could do to those who disobeyed its orders.