Joyce was considering the unexpected conversation she’d had earlier today. Actually, Professor Charles Xavier had called Scott, and they had talked for a good while about a number of people that Joyce assumed were at this school. After a while, Scott had handed her the phone, grinning and explaining that the Professor wanted to talk to her for a bit. He'd given her and her daughters a standing invitation to visit his school. He'd described it as 'a school for the gifted', but from her talks with Scott, Joyce knew that in this case, gifted meant mutant. It sounded like a fascinating place. Dozens of young mutants, exploring the extent of their abilities, how to control their gifts, learning not to fear their differences, gaining an education, and maybe even growing up...
She'd found herself wondering why someone like Professor Xavier hadn’t contacted her when she was a confused teenage mutant. After thinking about it for a little while longer, she realized that she was actually fairly close to the same age as Professor Xavier. That when Joyce was a teenager, Charles Xavier had still been years, if not decades, away from creating his school. That the closest there might have been to a ‘special program for mutants’ might have been whatever had been done to her father; and she could only count herself fortunate to have escaped something like that. There were downsides to looking so much younger than her actual age, and this was one of them. That was an awkward and unsettling thought. She decided not to mention that part to, well, anyone unless it became necessary. And it shouldn't be necessary.
"Time enough to talk to them after school about maybe visiting Scott and Jean." Joyce felt a little better about that, and tried to focused her attention on setting up her next exhibit instead of considering how her family might react to visiting Xavier’s school. While Joyce had just started adjusting to being in Sunnydale and had no intention of moving for any reason short of disaster, felony charges, or a possible localized apocalypse, she did think that it might be interesting to visit this school. Though she wasn't certain what her father would think, not that she intended to let his opinion influence her behavior as much as it had when she was a teenager. For that matter, she didn't know what her daughters would think of the idea.
She was humming when she realized just how much Hank would have hated the idea of a school for mutants. That led to other thoughts of Hank, and she found herself wondering again just what she'd seen in him, and where it had gone over the years. She wouldn't have dated, let alone married, the Hank that he'd become by last year, so... What had brought them together? Why had they stayed together for so long?
With a bit more thought as she continued handling matters at the gallery, she concluded that he'd probably picked up the beginnings of that attitude from Derek, his mentor at his first job after they'd married. The guidance on corporate etiquette and how to work a business meeting had been needed, Hank had adopted a wardrobe rather similar to Derek's, and that had been when he'd picked up an interest in tennis... which had blossomed when he'd realized how many pretty women played tennis in shorts or little skirts.
Sighing, Joyce murmured, "If it had only stayed wandering eyes... It was when his hands started to wander that it stopped being acceptable. And I was far too willing to stay out of habit, and thinking that leaving him would not only upset the girls but that they’d never give me custody of them. Afraid it’d be too much like Mother abandoning us."
Descending into the basement of her gallery, Joyce picked up a sword. “I will never become my mother. I won’t abandon my children, and I refuse to just let my family slip away without trying to hold on. And I’m not going to just stand aside and let anything hurt my girls.”
After a bit of sword practice in the basement, Joyce made her way home. She'd have to ask how the girls' day at school had gone. Maybe she'd also need to see if there had been any changes with Dawn's wretched teacher. Or if there was anything new in the realm of slayable dangers from Mr. Giles. Perhaps she and Angel could remove a few more minions from that Master vampire trapped in the abandoned church - that had been rather fun.
End part 1.
Buffy got home first, complaining about the bus and looking forward to being able to drive to school in a few months, when she'd be sixteen. Never mind that being sixteen only meant she'd be legal to try to get a license, not that she'd be given one just for surviving to her sixteenth birthday. Becoming sixteen didn’t somehow produce a car for Buffy to drive either. Those misconceptions would be ground to shreds as she continued teaching Buffy to drive, assuming that Buffy could find the time between school and patrol and her friends. Joyce wasn’t going to drag Buffy into driving lessons, and if Buffy didn’t at least seem to be paying a little attention to the rules of the road, then she wasn’t going to rush to get those lessons from anyone else.
"You do know that you won't get a car as your sixteenth birthday present, right?" Joyce suspected that Buffy hadn't even thought about what cars cost - the cars that would be within her budget to buy for Buffy would also be the sort that might not be entirely safe, would probably also be rather near their sixteenth birthday, and certainly nothing that would impress a teenage girl. For that matter, they wouldn't impress anyone other than a mechanic or a junkyard dealer.
"Mo-oom!" Buffy dragged out the word.
"How was school? Anything of interest, new monsters, big tests?"
"A girl caught on fire during the cheerleader try-outs. That was pretty weird." Buffy offered, dropping a stack of books on the table.
"On fire? That does sound rather odd," Joyce didn't mention that it sounded rather like taking 'flaming cheerleaders' much too far. "Did you talk to Mr. Giles about that? He did say that the weird and bizarre were often under the responsibility of Watchers and Slayers."
"I did and he made some funny noises, cleaned his glasses, and said that he'd need to check a few books. So I guess I just wait for him to figure out what's going on." Buffy gave a little shrug, and then sighed, "Life was simpler when I was a cheerleader."
"I don't recall you asking about the tryouts this year." Joyce poured Buffy a glass of milk, and reached into the cupboard. "I think there should still be some cookies in here, unless someone found and ate them last night."
"What with being a Slayer, or a super strong mutant, I didn't think it would really be fair." Buffy was staring at the table, and her voice suggested that she might be pouting. Buffy had loved being a cheerleader at Hemery.
"Scott's favorite teacher, Professor Xavier, called today. He wanted to invite the three of us - you, Dawn and myself - to visit his school. He thought we might find it interesting." Joyce grinned as she found the bag of cookies and pulled it down. Opening the bag, she bit down on the first cookie before offering Buffy the second. "It wouldn't be a transfer to Xavier's school, just a bit of a visit. They might have some good ideas for helping you work with your strength and reflexes."
"That might be cool. Maybe over a long weekend?" Buffy dunked her cookie into the milk, before nibbling at it. "Whichever explanation there is for these things, it's done wonders for not gaining extra weight."
"You've never in your life been in danger of carrying extra body weight," Joyce retorted.
Buffy stared at the milk, the cookie dangling and shedding sodden crumbs into the glass. “Scott and Jean are going to have to go back, aren’t they? They won’t be staying in Sunnydale.”
“Honey, Scott and Jean have things that they need to do. Lives and commitments elsewhere. Besides that, do you think that they’d really be safe in Sunnydale?” Joyce worried that if they stayed in this dangerous town for too long, one or the other of them, if not both, would wind up terribly injured at best. Perhaps even killed. They probably wouldn’t heal as well as she did.
“Probably not. Sunnydale isn’t really big with the safety.” Buffy sighed, “But we can go visit, right? When things calm down a bit, or there’s a long weekend?”
“Of course. If you’d like, they might also be able to sort out this whole Slayer or mutant question. Or at least look at it from another angle.”
“Maybe,” Buffy slowly ate the rest of the cookie. “What happens if we go there and find out that I’m a mutant after all? That I’m not really the Slayer, just… just a passable substitute?”
“You’re my daughter. You’re Buffy Summers, and you’re not a substitute for anything. Maybe you are the Slayer. Maybe you’re a physically gifted mutant. Regardless, you are going to be wonderful, and if you want to hunt and kill vampires and demons, then you’ll be one of the best in the world at it. I’ll help you. Mr. Giles will help you.” Joyce didn’t mention that if it turned out that Buffy wasn’t the Slayer, and Mr. Giles blathered on about only the Slayer having the duty to fight, then she’d give him the choice of helping Buffy anyhow or getting eviscerated. “Your grandfather might help you. He’s mentioned wanting to get to know you and Dawn.”
“Family bonding by demon hunting and killing things?” Buffy shook her head. “That’s got to be a first.”
“Well, it would be our family.” Joyce smiled.
“Do any of us really do normal?” Buffy sniffled a little. “Life was easier a few years ago. You worked at that green haired lady’s gallery, Dad worked at the Insurance company, Dawn played softball, and I wanted to be a cheerleader. There were no monsters in the dark, and everything was simple and happy.”
Joyce gave Buffy a little smile, “Things were never that simple. Whatever monsters are real now already existed three, four, five… ten years ago. Just because you didn’t know about them didn’t mean they weren’t out there. The gallery in LA was owned by a very charming person in dresses, but I’ve been assured by people with first-hand knowledge that underneath the make-up and lovely evening gowns… Well, Chris was short for Christopher, not Crystal.”
“The gallery in LA was owned by a cross-dresser?” Buffy blinked. “That’s… but…”
“Does it really matter?” Joyce asked.
Buffy just stared. “That was a guy?”
Joyce started to snicker. “Did you have homework today?”
Buffy drank the rest of the milk and reached for one of her books. “A guy? But… the high heels, the pretty dresses. The eyelashes. The… the… curves! Guys don’t… I mean…”
“The heels are from practice, there are fake eyelashes in any decent cosmetics section, and it’s amazing what a good corset can do.” Joyce snagged herself another cookie.
Buffy made a whimpering noise and whispered, “bad images.” In a louder voice, she continued, “I really need to study my French. And then History.”
Buffy retreated from the kitchen, her expression speaking of her confusion and dismay. Joyce sighed, feeling a small pang of guilt at the way a few words had so thoroughly upset her daughter and tilted her memories of LA sideways, and a larger pang at how amusing the whole thing had been. On the other hand, Buffy really needed to learn that appearances weren’t everything, that in fact, appearances could be quite deceptive. The idea that scary things had been around even before Buffy knew about them should only be common sense, and if her daughter wasn’t using that by now… Well, if Buffy wasn’t in the habit of using sense, there was only so much time that Joyce had to get her to start before Buffy decided that she was adult enough to move out and live on her own.
By the time Dawn walked inside, Joyce had thoroughly cleared away those pangs of guilt, convinced that it was really for Buffy’s own good. If Buffy was the Slayer, she desperately needed to know how to look beyond the surface for these supernatural threats. If she was a mutant, she still needed to learn not to judge by appearances.
Looking at her younger daughter, she brought up the invitation from Westchester. “Dawnie, Scott and Jean will be going back to New York before too much longer. However, they did invite us to go visit them, and the Professor in charge of the school they both attended has said that he’d be quite willing for us to come over and take a look around.”
“The special, secret school for mutants?” Dawn asked, dropping her backpack beside the table. “That would be so cool! He’s not afraid that we’ll scare his students?”
“You do realize that we are mutants, right? Why would we frighten his students when you and Buffy are probably the same age as most of them, and I’m just a divorced mother of two with an art gallery.” Joyce poured Dawn a glass of milk and offered her the rest of the cookies.
“What about that whole Slayer thing with Buffy? The one where she’s got a Destiny and fights scary things, and monsters are real,” Dawn countered. “Wouldn’t that scare people at that school?”
“Apart from the fact that I’m still doubtful about that, there is no need to tell anyone else about the possibility that Buffy might be a Slayer, or the Slayer. From what I’ve gathered, part of what makes a Slayer more successful is that the monsters that she fights tend to consider a young woman as a victim, not a danger. Announcing that she might be a specially enhanced fighter would remove the element of surprise. Especially if it is her destiny to do that.” Joyce paused, and glanced at her younger daughter. “Were you reading Buffy’s diary again?”
“Maybe.” Dawn couldn’t maintain eye contact. “She really needs to find a new place to keep it. When she complains about a Slayer’s destiny she always capitalizes the d in destiny. And really, it’s kind of cool that my sister kills monsters. And this guy Owen at school sounds a bit lame. Xander sounds cooler.”
“Most of the monsters aren’t that hard to kill,” Joyce muttered. In a more normal voice, “That isn’t something that you should just announce to people. If they don’t know about the monsters, then they might jump to the same conclusions that I started with, that Buffy was getting into fights with strange looking mutants.”
“Oh. Sorry, I guess I didn’t think about it. ” Dawn looked at her nails, which were still blue. “How do I make them not blue? Green’s a nice color, or maybe a light pink or a peach would go better with the rest of my clothing.”
“Maybe if you picture them changing color and think about it very hard? It must be something that she can control, if she makes use of it to spy. Which means that it should be something that you can learn to control.” Joyce offered the suggestion, hoping that whatever mutation her daughter had inherited would follow that logic; that she could change things, like Julia who was now Mystique, instead of just turning blue around the edges forever.
Dawn nodded, munching on a cookie and staring at the fingernails of her other hand.
Joyce left her youngest daughter to her thoughts while she started dinner. When she glanced over later, Dawn’s left hand now sported peach nails, while the fingernails of her right hand were still dark blue. She wondered if Dawn had noticed, and if she planned to change the other hand to match.
“This town certainly is interesting,” Joyce murmured. She wasn’t certain what would happen next, or if she’d like it. But it didn’t look like life in Sunnydale would ever be dull.
End part 2.
Jean had called about an hour after Dawn came home, asking if Joyce could drop them off at the airport to return to Westchester. She’d insisted that it wasn’t that she and Scott hadn’t enjoyed meeting Joyce or her daughters, but that they had things that they needed to do back home. Neither had voiced the fact that Sunnydale, with all the demons and vampires, confused and frightened Scott and Jean. Joyce considered that a very sensible reaction.
Picking them up from the car rental office, Joyce smiled at Jean. “Did Scott tell you about the Professor’s invitation?”
“He did. Will you be visiting us at our home, now that we’ve seen yours?” Jean rubbed at her temples, “I won’t miss this town or all the headaches that it gives, though you and your daughters have been fun to meet.”
Joyce noticed that Jean and Scott were both evading the issue of her father. Then again, they had been very twitchy about him over dinner. And hadn’t Scott said something about Professor Xavier and Magneto having some sort of argument? Given that she still didn’t know how her father had ended up working with or for Magneto… “It’s always good to know who’s part of your family, and where you stand with them.”
“I still have trouble picturing him as a father, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Scott mumbled, quiet enough that Joyce wouldn’t have heard him except that her senses were better than an ordinary human’s. “Sabertooth, with a daughter. With granddaughters. Granddaughters who are my cousins…”
“Buffy and Dawn both liked the idea of visiting, but we aren’t sure when it’ll fit into our schedules. A long weekend with no impending disasters here, but that might take a while.” Joyce offered to Scott and Jean.
“Whenever you can make it out, we’ll be delighted to show you around our home. To show you our school,” Scott smiled at her.
“A school without the feeling of doom and despair that the evil high school here has,” Jean shook her head. “All I have to do is set foot on the grounds and my head starts to throb.”
Joyce chuckled at that. “Not to belittle your pain, but every high school that I’ve ever seen reeked of despair. Despair and sweaty socks, most of the time.”
Arriving at the airport didn’t take long, nor did getting the pair of them checked in and onto their flight out of Sunnydale. From there, they’d catch a connecting flight in Phoenix, Arizona that would take them to an airport in New York. Jean had promised that she’d call Joyce and give her the details after she’d made arrangements for someone to pick them up on the other end. It less than an hour, they were airborne, leaving Sunnydale.
They’d probably be safer elsewhere.
As much as she’d enjoyed their company, Joyce doubted that Sunnydale would be good for them. Especially since they seemed to be so flustered by her father and the idea that the monsters were real. Being off balance and reacting with stunned disbelief could get you maimed or killed in a fight. While she had considered suggesting that they think of them the same way they thought of other people in a fight, it would probably be a terrible idea. They didn’t try to kill other mutants, or humans. Demons needed to be killed, not locked into jails, if they were trying to eat people.
Scott and Jean would stay in touch – they’d call, they’d email. Buffy and Dawn would have a decent relative on their father’s side. A place that they could visit, maybe even people that they could count on. If things went the way they all hoped. If being a mutant wasn’t just as dangerous as hunting demons and vampires. If they weren’t hit by a bus. There were dozens of things that could happen to people, to throw plans into disruption. For her daughters’ sake, she hoped that nothing too serious happened to Scott or Jean.
End part 3.
Joyce decided that a patrol would be just the thing to clear her thoughts tonight. Rather than worrying about Buffy driving, about Dawn possibly turning blue, about her gallery, about Scott and Jean, about if Buffy was the Slayer - she could just find something to hunt. To kill the monsters that would otherwise endanger her daughters. To stay away from the fretting, ineffective woman who’d stayed home while Hank had been out God-only-knew where, with his latest girlfriend. The more she remembered being her Daddy’s Pumpkin, the more she hunted the monsters in Sunnydale, the less she could stand Hank Summers’ wife.
“Something bothering you, Joyce?” Angel’s question floated in the darkness, distracting Joyce from her fretting.
Joyce felt herself smiling as she turned to face the vampire, approaching her from down-wind. “Angel. Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to calm down from some family issues.”
“If you were a vampire, I’d suggest violence or…” Angel paused, and looked away. “Except you aren’t a vampire, you’re human.”
Looking at Angel, Joyce wondered if he’d be blushing if he were alive. She wondered just what the other recommendation for a vampire would be, and why he was trying not to tell her this second option. Stepping closer, she cupped her hand over his cheek, “You said ‘violence or…’ but then you didn’t finish your thought. What other suggestion for dealing with stress and frustration did you have going through your mind?”
His hand slid into the hair over her ear, and he leaned close to her. His eyes flickered from dark brown to amber and back to brown as he whispered, “Joyce, you’ve no idea what you do to me.”
“Maybe you should tell me. I’ve lost my taste for guessing games,” a sensation rather like butterflies in her stomach teased at Joyce, lowering her own words to something close to Angel’s whisper. Her imagination painted a dozen ways that this moment could move forwards. Joyce didn’t know what was on his mind, and she wasn’t even certain what she wanted to be on his mind.
With a soft growl, Angel’s lips met her own as his other arm slid around her waist, holding her close. It wasn’t a gentle, teasing kiss, but one filled with longing, temptation and urgency. Joyce found herself kissing back, part of her wondering how long he’d wanted to kiss her and part of her wondering why he’d given in to that urge tonight. She could feel his teeth change, becoming sharper, his kiss shifting to be more aggressive and almost desperate. Their bodies were pressing together, as close as two people could be while still in their clothing.
Joyce didn’t need Angel to put the other option into words anymore. Clearly, for vampires a problem could be dealt with either by violence or sex. The words slipped out as she pulled back just enough that their lips were no longer locked together, a whisper against his lips, “Very tempting.”
“You have no idea how tempting,” Angel replied before he kissed her again.
They kissed for several long moments before Joyce sighed and pulled back, not entirely out of his arms. “Tempting as you and your kisses are… we’re in the middle of a graveyard, and I’m not certain that I’m ready to jump into bed with you.”
“Because humans and vampires take a different view of sex?” Angel sighed, and leaned his forehead against hers. “I can’t... I’m not human anymore. I’ll never be human again, never think and react just like a human. But I can’t be an ordinary vampire anymore either.”
“Angel, if I’d met you, been faced with this sort of tempting offer, before I had two daughters to worry about,” Joyce closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. “Before my daughters, I’d be asking you if you knew where a room was instead of saying that this is going too fast.”
“Before you had to worry about more than yourself.” Angel took a single step back, meeting her eyes, his features having taken on their vampiric cast.
“I’m not telling you not ever, Angel,” Joyce ran her fingertips over the ridges of his forehead, and smiled. “I’m saying not tonight. Why don’t we go kill something instead?”
Sharp teeth gleaming in the moonlight, Angel tugged her hand to follow him. “I have a few ideas of where we can find something to kill.”
Following Angel in search of monsters to kill, Joyce hoped that this would work better than Hank. Angel made her feel attractive and desirable in a way that she hadn’t felt in years. He wasn’t afraid of her being strong, being capable of killing her own monsters – in fact, he seemed to find the idea a definite turn-on. He knew that she was a mutant, and didn’t seem to care. No, things with Angel wouldn’t turn out the same way that things had with Hank. At the very worst, Angel would be a completely different kind of mistake.
End part 4.
End MMUF 30: Looking Ahead