Surrendering To Fate
Chapter Five - Every Little Thing She Does...
written by Jolene Beasley
Giles strode into the Summers' living room, whistling snatches of a tune he' d heard in his car while driving over. His head thrummed, and quite nicely, as a matter of fact, with the happy prospect of seeing his lady love. Surprisingly, with only days to go before he'd be able to call her 'wife', he wasn't even slightly nervous. Rather, he was feeling giddy and carefree, despite the hectic pre-nuptial atmosphere.
He was dismayed to find Joyce sitting on the couch, a box of Kleenex beside her, looking for all the world as though someone had just broken her heart. She looked up at him through a haze of tears, and began sobbing. The sound went straight to his heart, as her crying always did, and he rushed to her side. He sat and gathered her into his arms, kissing the parts of her face he could reach. It wasn't easy to find reachable parts with her head smashed into his chest.
"Love, what is it now? I was only gone for two hours..."
Joyce wailed into his lapels. She handed him a slightly damp RSVP reply card. The handwriting, angular and cramped, instantly made him think an elderly spinster had written it. He didn't dare make any glib comments, for he knew Joyce didn't appreciate his dry wit when she was in distress.
He opted for the sympathetic approach. "Shh, shh, now. What is it? What's wrong? Have you had bad news? Please, love, tell me how I can help."
"You can't... it's too late, there's nothing anyone can do. I-I-it's Great-aunt Rose..."
Giles made sure there was no trace of a smile on his face or in his voice. The spinster aunt... of course. All those hours of deciphering ancient texts came in handy, at times. "What's become of Aunt Rose, darling?" He thought for a moment. Oh, no. He began kicking himself mentally... the poor woman might possibly have died. "She didn't... I mean, she hasn't..."
"No, she's not dead, or dying, or even s-sick." Joyce stopped sobbing and starting gathering a handful of Kleenex. "She's in Nepal... with... with her new boyfriend, digging around in some old temple there. They were going to fly back to the states over the weekend, but there's some kind of political thing going on, and they can't get a flight out. She's not gonna make it to the wedding."
"Ah." This was the disaster? He resolved never to pretend he understood the female mind. He was, however, quite sure he would like to meet Aunt Rose. She had to be at least eighty, being Joyce's great-aunt... this old age pensioner, running off with a *new* 'boyfriend'? To an archeological dig? In *Nepal*? "I'm sure she'd love to be here, darling, and I know you're terribly disappointed, but why did that make you cry?"
She sat up and blew her nose loudly. "I'm sorry, Rupert, I'm really a basket case right now. Aunt Rose is just the last straw. Every little thing is going wrong this week."
"She will be missed, but I hardly think..."
"It's not the missing that worries me. She's always been my... oh, I don't know, my good-luck charm. If Aunt Rose was there, nothing bad could happen. She was at my first piano recital, my high school graduation, my first gallery, Buffy's birth..."
"Ah, I see. And you've left out what happened when she wasn't in attendance."
Joyce nodded miserably. "Like my one attempt at athletic competition, my first track meet. She had a flat tire on her way over, and I fell after taking two steps. I spent the entire season in a cast."
He gazed fondly at her reddened face. "You've bestowed special powers upon your favorite relative, haven't you?" He stopped and frowned slightly. "Uhm... there's no chance that she actually..."
"No, no, no..." Joyce smiled at his Hellmouth-induced paranoia in spite of her anguish. "I'm sure she's just a really sweet little old lady, that just happens to show up at every good event in my life, while managing to avoid all the major disasters."
He pulled her over against him, his arm around her comfortingly. "Surely you realize this to be simple coincidence."
She buried her head into his shoulder, feeling more secure in his arms, but still not convinced. "It's more than coincidence, Rupert. She missed my one and only college play, which closed after three people were injured by a falling background, my first attempt at a drivers' license, which ended in a traffic summons and my first court appearance, my college graduation, which I don't want to go into right now, a family reunion that ended up with half of us in the hospital with food poisoning..." She sniffed and hiccuped. "My f-first wedding..."
Now he was at the crux of the matter. "Sweetheart..." He slid a finger under her chin and gently lifted her face to his. "...whether or not Aunt Rose is there, we shall have a lovely wedding, a wonderful reception, an uneventful flight to Hawaii, an incredibly romantic, beautiful and passionate honeymoon, and shall live happily ever after. And all of that simply because we're together."
"Oh, Rupert..." She melted inside at his heartfelt assertions. She accepted his tender kiss with a sigh of relief. "You are such a sweet talker... totally delusional, but a sweet talker." She kissed him with more fervor, and for a moment, forgot invitations, RSVPs, reception seating and other mundane matters.
After enjoying himself immensely for several more minutes, he eased away from her and looked down at the pile of reply cards on the coffee table. "Now, then, as to the reason you wanted me here... how many invitations did you send?"
"Two hundred, give or take." She straightened, her mind back on necessary details.
"That's rather a lot, isn't it?"
"No, that's about normal, I think. And you had nearly fifty yourself."
"Yes, mostly business associates from down through the years. I haven't much family left." He smiled wryly. "So, together, we've sent two hundred fifty or so invitations. The law of averages would dictate that we'd get half our RSVPs back, with little more than half of those actually attending."
Joyce laughed, the sound tinged with hysteria.
"I'm not sure I like the sound of that laugh... just how many replies *did* we get?"
She shook her head dazedly. "All of them."
He was shocked. "Really? ALL of them?"
"Well, except two that came back undeliverable."
"Good Lord. Uhm, and just how many said they were coming?"
She laughed again. "All of them."
He couldn't stop his jaw from dropping. "*All of them*?" He pondered the idea for a few seconds. "Even the ones from England and Wales? James Talbot in India? He's coming?"
"Everybody's coming. Your friend from India is going to be home for the summer, and he wrote you a nice note. Here, see? Your Watcher friends are coming, and the British Museum will probably have to shut down... Good God, Rupert, I planned for one hundred fifty at the most. I *knew* better than to try and plan a wedding in just four months. You see what I mean? No Aunt Rose, and things go haywire!"
'Steady on, Giles,' he told himself, 'It will do Joyce no good to see you panic.' He took a deep breath. "It seems we need to increase our catering order, then. I can manage that, I think."
"Would you? That'd be so helpful." She shuffled through the stack of correspondence. "I gotta find another organist, too. Debbie's cousin was supposed to play, but he broke his ankle skiing last weekend. I sent Buffy after some of the decorations, but we're still going to have to..."
The front door slammed open, and Buffy sloshed into the room, looking as if she'd been caught in the rain. Joyce and Giles jumped to their feet, and he frowned again... the sun was shining brightly.
"Buffy! What happened to you?" Joyce's voice was still a little shaky.
Buffy gave her a scowl, her sneakers squeaking wetly as she started for the stairs. "You really don't wanna know, Mom. Hey, Giles."
"Hello. Ah, Buffy? It would be better to tell us now, than to wait until our somewhat over-active imaginations have a chance to go to work." Giles started for the laundry room, knowing there was a pile of freshly dried towels inside, since he'd put them in just before he left. "I'll be right back. Don't move."
Buffy dripped on the wood floor and waited. He returned with an armload of towels, two of which he draped over a dining room chair, turning it to face the couch. He handed her two more, and she instantly wound one around her head and threw the other around her shoulders. As she moved to sit in the chair, he threw the remaining towel on the floor and started mopping water, using his foot to drag the towel back towards the front door. He silently thanked providence that Joyce had resealed the floors after their last bout with water damage.
Joyce handed her a steaming mug. "Here, I just made tea for Rupert. It'll warm you up."
Buffy took the mug, but made a 'yuck' face. "I'm not cold, Mom. Just wet."
"Now, tell us what happened." Giles returned to his seat beside Joyce, and leaned forward, hands on elbows, ready to listen to her misadventures.
"Okay, but you're not gonna like it. *I* don't like it. I *hate* it."
"Buffy..." Joyce's voice was firmer. The 'mother' tone was back.
Buffy sighed heavily. "I was coming back from the flower shop with Willow, and this rude guy turned right in front of me and slammed on his brakes. I barely stopped in time. He was yelling at me like it was *my* fault, and Willow got out and started yelling back. I was in the middle of the street, and I was trying to get out of traffic, and trying to get Willow back in the car, and the guy was blocking me, and nobody was *listening* to me about gettin' out of the street..."
"Where were you?" Joyce's mind had already conjured up several possible scenarios while Buffy was talking.
"Over on Main Street, just a few blocks from the florist's. Anyway, the guy finally left, and Willow got back into the car... Geez, there were like a hundred people standing there taking Willow's side and yelling at the guy... so, I started back here, and we were just this side of Miller's Nursery when the creep in his big blue Lincoln came zoomin' up again and started tailgating us. He was hanging out the window and yelling stuff... I was so mad, Giles, I coulda stopped and whipped his butt right then and there, but I didn't. You'd have been proud of me... I just kept driving and trying to keep outta his way. Willow was screaming so loud I couldn't think straight."
An uncomfortable thought struck Joyce. "Uh, Buffy, did something happen to my car?"
"Let me finish, 'cause I don't wanna go over this again. The cops have already heard it three times..."
"Oh, my God..." Joyce's hand flew to her mouth.
Buffy's face took on a resigned look. "Anyway... Willow got really red faced and started chanting some magic stuff and pointing at the guy, and all of a sudden... POW! His tires exploded, and he ran into a tree."
Caught between admiration for Willow's ability and horror at her use of it, Giles kept a straight face and murmured, "I shall have to have a talk with Willow. Soon."
"Yeah, you better. Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah. The guy ran into a tree, and as I was looking back at him, sorta, you know, laughing at him, 'cause he was okay and all, but his car was trashed... this big ol' dog ran out in front of me, and Will screamed, and I swerved to keep from hitting it, the way she screamed I thought it was a *person*!... and there's no shoulder on that road, and when I hit the side, the car sorta, well, flipped into a pond."
Horror gripped both adults. Ignoring Buffy's soggy state, Joyce sprang up and threw her arms around her daughter. "Oh, honey... oh, I'm so glad you weren't hurt... Willow wasn't hurt, was she?"
"No, she's fine, except she's wet, too. I was only doing about thirty-five when it happened, and we both got out, no sweat."
Giles first thought was to Buffy's tendency to offend the local authorities. "Did they give you a traffic violation?" He had a sudden, horrible vision of being her cab driver for the next five years. He shuddered.
"No, and I was kinda surprised by that, too. The wrecker guy said it was 'cause Blue Lincoln Guy had gotten into so many bar fights that the cops figured it was all his fault, which it was, except for the dog."
"How did you get home?"
"The cops dropped us off. They were kinda nice and sympathetic, y'know? Not like the last bunch of dorks I had to deal with."
Giles smiled ruefully. "They must've been new."
Buffy glared at him for a moment, then looked down at her clasped hands. "Anyway, the wrecker guy said insurance would probably get you guys a new car. And..." She looked up, almost afraid to continue. "...I had the corsages and some decorating stuff in the back seat. They're kinda floating around in yucky pond water now. I don't think insurance is gonna cover that." Her face crumpled like a little child caught with a hand in the cookie jar. "I'm sorry, Mom, Giles... I'm a jinx. I'm no good at anything except slaying. I can't even run a simple errand without mixing it up with evil guys." A tear slid down one cheek.
"Now, now, Buffy dear, don't be silly. You couldn't help it." He took her hands in his and patted them gently. "Things can be replaced. People cannot. I am so very thankful you and Willow weren't injured. Don't worry about the rest... we'll simply replace what was ruined. It won't be a problem."
"You're sweet. Naive, but sweet." Buffy managed a smile.
'That's twice in less than an hour I've been called both sweet and something derogatory in the same sentence,' he thought.
"I'm just gonna go shower and change, 'kay? I don't wanna be late for the party." She took off her shoes and stood, no longer dripping. Giles smiled what he hoped was an encouraging smile, and watched her ascend the stairs, her face still sad and despondent.
Buffy's parting words finally sunk in, and he gave Joyce a questioning look. "Party? Uhm, where?"
"Here. At eight. A last minute thing... a lingerie shower. One of the girls at the gallery took it upon herself to organize it. All I have to do is be here. She's coming at six to get everything ready."
He looked at his watch. It was just after five now. "I suppose I should be... elsewhere, shouldn't I?"
"It's up to you, but I doubt you'd be comfortable with twenty slightly tipsy women armed with naughty nighties and X-rated gag gifts."
He suppressed a shudder at the thought of a house full of boisterous women giving Joyce garish, tasteless intimate apparel and making off-color remarks about their wedding night. "I will find something to occupy myself, never fear."
"You could relax, drink tea and read. You deserve a quiet night."
"That sounds marvelous, my dear. I think I shall do just that."
At exactly midnight, the telephone in Giles' now sparsely furnished apartment rang. It took him a minute to find the bedroom extension, hidden as it was behind a towering stack of boxes. At the fifth ring, he finally discovered its whereabouts and grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"
"Ruper', shweetie? Th' party's over, an' you c'n come home now."
Oh, lovely. His fiancee was plastered. "Ah, uhm, h-how did the party go?"
"Jus' shwell, honey. Th' punsch was *great*. You oughta see all th' shtuff I got. Oh, and Debbie tol' me th' *funniess*' joke, 'cept I can' rem'ber it jus' now... but it was *real* naughty."
"I'm so glad you had a nice time, darling." He sat back down against the pillows and reclaimed his freshly brewed cup of tea, inhaling its fragrance with a smile. He wondered briefly if Joyce would even remember having a nice time, come tomorrow morning.
"I'd be havin' a musch better time 'f you were over here with me."
A pleasant shiver ran through him. She was using the Pout on him. He couldn' t resist the Pout, and she knew it. Buffy had inherited it from her mother, as well, and she used it with almost equal skill. His only saving grace was the fact that he couldn't actually *see* the Pout right now. Still, his voice quavered slightly as he said, "Ah, Joyce, I don't think it would be a good idea if I came over just now."
"You don' wanna come over? Why not?"
"Well, its... uhm, it's rather late, for one thing. You need your rest, and so do I. I'd hate to fall asleep on our wedding night."
"Well, I don'wanna res'. C'mon over an' we c'n have sh'more punsch. There's a whol' gallon in the 'fridge. I wanna li'l more punsch, then I wanna shmooch." Joyce's voice crossed the line from petulant to suggestive in those few words. "An' other shtuff, too, Ruper', we could do lotsa other shtuff."
"That does sound extremely, ah, tempting, my dear..." He clenched his jaw and strengthened his resolve. He was *not* going to take advantage of a drunken woman, even if she *was* his fiancee. "...but you told me to stay home tonight, and I have. I've put on my pajamas. I've got a lovely cup of tea, I'm sitting all propped up in bed, and I'm reading a very old book. In short, I'm doing exactly what you told me to do this afternoon before I left."
"Awww, aren' you shweet? Shtodgy, bu' shweet."
Giles groaned. Not again! He was becoming tired of all the left-handed compliments. Even if he was left-handed.
He sighed into the receiver. She was in quite a talkative mood. Maybe he could distract her... keep her talking until the alcohol made her sleepy. "Where are you, my love?"
"Whadaya mean? I'm at th' houshe, shilly!" She giggled, then hiccuped noisily. "'Shcuse me."
"I know that, I meant, what room are you calling from?"
"Oh! I know... I'm in th' bedroom. *Our* bedroom." She hummed into the telephone, and the sound traveled quickly from his ear to all parts south. He bit his lip to keep from groaning again.
He allowed his voice to drop down into the lower register. "That's good, dearest, and where, exactly, are you in the bedroom?" He fervently hoped she 'd have no recollection of this when she woke up tomorrow.
"I'm layin' on the bed, aaall alone... waitin' for you to c'm over and ravish me."
"Rah...ravish? Darling... you know I can't come over right now..."
"But, but if you came over right now, I could give you a li'l fashion show... jus' you an' me..."
Giles imagination got the best of him at that point, and he almost spilled his tea. He juggled the cup and saucer frantically while trying not to drop the phone. He managed to set the cup on the night stand, and as an afterthought, he carefully closed his precious book and put it in the drawer for safe keeping. He yanked his glasses off and tossed them next to the cup. 'Keep talking, old man.' "And, and tell me, my little vixen... what are you wearing?""Ooo, I'm wearin' the neates' li'l teddy you ever shaw, baby, it'sh all pink..." There was a long pause, and he tried to steady his breathing. It was working, too, until she decided to finish her sentence. "...what there ish of it."
"An it'shooooo cute! It has all these velcro thingies on it, an' it makes the funniess' li'l rippin' shoun' when you pull it apart... jush listen..." She demonstrated, holding the telephone close, so the funny little ripping sound was clearly transmitted.
A strangled noise emerged from Giles' open mouth. He'd forgotten to breathe.
"An' thish one... ish kinda greeny-blue and shiny... boy, there's not musch to it, either... goo' thing I'm still in pretty goo' shape... it has cute li 'l garter straps on it..."
She giggled in delight. "Ooo, y'know I love it when you call me Joyschey..." The giggle turned into a throaty purr. "If you c'm over here, I c'n show you jush how *musch* I love it."
"Are you deliberately trying to drive me mad?"
"Thash not wha' I had in mind, nope, nope." There was a long pause, accompanied by slithering sounds that nearly took the top of his head off. It sounded like clothes being slipped on... or off. "Oh, I like thish, too, 'cept..., hey, some of thish one's missin'! Ish not coverin' up what ish suppose' t' be coverin' up."
"Honey, are you *shure* you can't come over? I got sho many pretty pretties... you'd love thish one, an' thish one, too... oooh, I forgot about these! Uh, oh, shomebody forgot t' sew these panties up! Gee, thish seam ish wiiiide open. I'll have to take 'em back." Another giggle erupted in his ear, followed by a sharp gasp. "Oh, Rupert! You oughta see *thish* one..."
"Dear God, have mercy." He whispered softly. His little plan to keep Joyce distracted had backfired. Now his brain had taken a long-awaited holiday, leaving his body in charge of the shop. He doubted seriously that he'd even be able to drive in his befuddled state. Joyce was breathing heavily into the telephone, and he slid down until he was laying flat on the bed.
"Ye-yes?" His voice was nothing but a gasp. All the blood in his body had rushed to one particularly prominent area, leaving his brain dangerously low on oxygen.
"What're *you* wearin'?"
* * * * *
It wasn't the worst hangover she'd ever had, but it was bad enough, considering all that needed to be done. After she called Giles, apologized abjectly for her drunken behavior, and begged for his help, she managed to wobble to the shower on her own. She stayed under the warm spray until she began to feel vaguely human again.
While she was still in the shower, the doorbell rang. Buffy bounced down the stairs to let her soon-to-be step-dad in. She seemed fully recovered, both from her accident and from the party, and she admitted him with a happy grin. "Hey, Pop, c'mon in. You want some breakfast?"
"Hello, yes, that would be lovely... uh, Pop?"
"Chill, Giles, it's a fairly harmless word. I have to find a new title for you, since you're gonna be living here pretty soon."
"Must you?" He followed her into the kitchen, inhaling the smell of freshly cooked food. Buffy could cook, when she wanted to.
"I can still call you Giles, mostly. I just need a good around-the-house handle. Don't worry, it won't last long. I'm gonna live in the dorm come fall. You want juice?"
"Yes, thank you." He seated himself at the bar. "What is a handle? In popular terminology, of course."
"It's a nickname. Like 'G-man.' Only that one belongs to Xander, remember." She placed a heaping plate of blueberry pancakes in front of him, and he sud denly realized he was ravenous.
"Yes, I quite remember. I never liked that one." He took a bite of pancake and made an appreciative noise.
"Yeah, I really don't wanna call you G-man. 'Hey, you,' sounds kinda impersonal. Pop is okay, but I'm not sure, yet."
"Buffy, you may call me anything you like... as long as it isn't blatantly insulting." He considered his plate for a moment. "Although, if you continue to ply me with wonderful meals, you probably could get away with anything."
"You are *such* a sweet talker. And thank you. I get my cooking genes from Mom." She watched happily as he finished his plate in record time.
When the plate was empty, she asked in her best hostess voice, "Would you like some more? It'll only take a second to fix another batch."
"No, thank you, I'm quite full. That was very good." He stood and strolled into the living room to wait for Joyce. Buffy followed him shortly, handing him a cup of coffee as she sat beside him. "Thank you, again. You're being surpassingly solicitous this morning, Buffy. Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. Can't I just be nice to you sometimes?"
He smiled and touched her shoulder affectionately. "Of course you may. Any time you like."
She looked at him with a tender smile, then ducked her head shyly. "Good. 'Cause I like having you around here, even if I don't say so. It's nice."
He didn't quite know what to say, so he said nothing.
She raised her eyes with a questioning look. "You don't really care what I call you? It doesn't bother you that I don't call you 'Dad?'"
He looked at her with surprise. "Buffy, I wouldn't expect you to call me 'Dad,' although you certainly may. I think of you as family, regardless of the label involved."
"Well, then I guess I'm pretty lucky then, huh?" She leaned over and gave him a sweet kiss on the cheek. "I kinda love you, you know that?"
"And I you." He gave her arm a delicate caress. "Since I first laid eyes on you, I do believe."
"Are Watchers supposed to not love their Slayers? Isn't that why you got fired, 'cause they thought you cared too much?" She turned with her back slightly towards him and leaned into his side. His arm, resting on the back of the couch, made a perfect pillow for her cheek. "I never could figure that out. They have the best, and longest-lived, Slaying team in history, but they try to break it up because you love me. You think they'll ever realize that's why we're so good?"
"Intuitive leaps of insight rarely occur within the ranks of the Watchers' Council, I'm afraid."
She grinned. "I actually understood that, and was amused. I must be getting smarter."
"And I must be getting dumber, judging from last night," Joyce commented as she carefully negotiated the stairs and made her way into the living room, still in her robe. "Remind me *never* to do that again." She walked as though her head would fall off if not balanced precisely over her shoulders. It hurt Giles to watch her. He knew that fragile, sickening feeling all too well. "Also, remind me to pour out that poisonous brew from last night." She shuddered at the thought of coming near the stuff. She stopped directly in front of them and looked down at Buffy. "Scoot over. You're in my spot."
Buffy raised her eyebrows and grinned as she moved away from Giles. "Whoa, Mom, jealous much?"
Joyce slowly sat down and curled up against her fiancee's side. "Dream on, kiddo. I just need a little babying right now. Darn that blasted Debbie and her 'special recipe' for punch... I oughta kill her. It was probably ninety percent booze and ten percent punch." She sighed and lowered her head carefully onto his shoulder. "Once I get comfortable, if that's even possible with a head the size of mine, I don't want to move for a while. This way I combine all necessary activities together with minimal pain."
Giles happily complied with her wish for TLC by wrapping his arm around her, supporting her head with one hand as he bent to give her a gentle kiss. "Good morning, love. You must be suffering terribly right now. Have you taken something for your head?"
"Mmm hmm. But I think I need a couple more doses of that lovely hangover remedy of yours."
"You mean, this?" He kissed her again, then nuzzled her cheek softly before returning to her mouth. This time, he did a thorough job of administering his medicine. After a minute or so, Joyce moaned, and he wasn't sure if it was from the headache or the kiss. He broke away, moving to brush his lips to her forehead and stroke her hair, easing her head against his shoulder again.
She sighed happily and snuggled closer. "Oh, yeah, I'm feeling better already. You should bottle that stuff."
Buffy had been silent for as long as she could. She rolled her eyes dramatically and groaned. "Oh, *Puh-lease*! Gag me with a Danielle Steele novel! You guys are pathetic. You should get married and go to your room."
"I believe we shall do just that." He rested his cheek against Joyce's head and closed his eyes.
"You wanna get hitched? Sounds like a good idea to me." Joyce replied with a smile.
"It's a wonderful idea. And to think... Buffy thought of it all on her own." Giles knew, without opening his eyes, that Buffy was thoroughly enjoying his teasing. He also knew that she would rather die than admit it.
Sure enough, the Chosen One jumped to her feet, emitting a loud sigh. "Okay, I know when I'm being grossed right out of the house. I'm going to Willow's. She gonna help me do some wedding errands, and we'll probably eat lunch somewhere. You guys behave while I'm gone. I don't want the neighbors giving me graphically detailed descriptions of your exploits when I get home." She gazed fondly at the couple on the couch. Her mother looked mighty peaceful, even if she was hung over. And Giles... well, if you could take a picture of a man in heaven, that'd just about be the look on his face... Mondo Happiness.
She shook her head in mock disgust and took off to slay some wedding errands.
* * * * *
To Buffy's surprise, when she returned shortly after lunch, they didn't appear to have moved from their spot on the couch. Well, to be fair, her mother had changed into slacks and a T-shirt, and Giles had removed his tie and glasses. They were reclining a little more than before. Oh, yeah, and they were sound asleep.
She hated like everything to wake them up, but she had to make sure they weren't sleeping through something important like, for instance, picking up somebody old at the airport.
"Hey, Giles," she whispered, touching his arm lightly. He instantly came awake, but relaxed immediately when he saw her smiling face.
"Hello. I seem to have dozed off." He kept his voice low, and Buffy dropped hers to match.
"So did Mom. Did you guys get all the details worked out? Do I need to go pick up more stuff?"
"We've got it all taken care of. No need to go anywhere. We can relax and enjoy the calm before the storm, so to speak."
"Cool! Wait... I thought we had to meet Aunt Rose at the airport tonight."
"She wrote on her reply card that she couldn't come. Your mother was quite upset."
"Aunt Rose isn't coming?" Buffy suddenly looked worried.
"Apparently she's stranded in Nepal with the current boyfriend."
Buffy nodded knowingly. "Number Nine."
Giles looked more than a little shocked.
Buffy grinned wickedly. "If Aunt Rose is any indication of what you have to look forward to, Giles, I'd start taking vitamins now, if I were you. Number Eight was about fifteen years younger, and he broke up with her to get some rest. That kind of energy seems to run in the family."
"Buffy!" A red tinge began to creep into his embarrassed face.
"Well, it's true!"
Joyce murmured in her sleep and snuggled closer, causing the blush to linger as she ground against him.
Buffy eyed her Watcher with great glee. She whispered, "I'm tellin' ya, Giles. Vitamins. Lots of 'em." She winked and dashed up the stairs, giggling.
He shook his head ruefully. She really loved teasing him. He pulled Joyce closer, settling back comfortably. Finally, she stirred slightly and opened her eyes, looking up at him with complete trust. His heart did a little joy-dance in his chest as he smiled back. "Good afternoon, my love. Did you have a nice rest?"
She stretched languidly and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Very nice. Very warm. You are the best snuggler in the world." She pulled up to give him a deep, still-sleepy kiss.
His eyes twinkled down at her. "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
She burst into surprised laughter. "I can't believe you said 'ain't'!"
"It's the title of a song." Not a particularly *great* song... but he wouldn 't say that out loud.
"The way I remember the words, I should be singing *that* line to you." She batted her big brown eyes at him. "I was a major Bachman Turner Overdrive fan, you know?"
He groaned. He was glad he had left his opinion of the song unsaid.
"Oh, yeah, you were one of those rock-n-roll snobs, weren't you? British highbrow heavy metal only?"
"You wouldn't let me listen to anything but Cream when I was over there the night of the candy thing."
"I was going through something of a phase at sixteen." He winced. "I was a dreadful guitarist, but I fancied myself a budding star. And, of course, the only music worth imitating was British."
"Yeah? I seem to remember a Black Sabbath album hiding in your collection."
"Oh, and did I see a Bay City Rollers album in there somewhere?"
He started laughing. She must be feeling better. "They were from Scotland. It's in the vicinity."
"What about America? Kinda hard to justify that one."
"I shan't try. It was a moment of madness."
They both chuckled. She settled back against him and was still. He wasn't quite through with the discussion, however. "I wonder what I'd find, should I look through your old albums?"
"American pop. I'm not ashamed to say it! Carpenters, Jackson Five, Neil Sedaka, Helen Redding, Barry Manilow, Hughes Corporation... I had 'em all."
"What about the Bee Gees?"
"What's wrong with the Bee Gees?"
"They were British. And *disco*."
"So, my secret is out. I still have an Olivia Newton John tape somewhere."
"And Wings. I was big on ex-Beatles."
He laughed gently. "This is one of the sillier conversations we've had, do you realize?"
"Yeah, isn't it great? It beats the heck out of the subject of demons, vampires, and dire prophecies."
"It does indeed."
"I'm so glad you can actually converse on a non-Watcherly level. This is much more fun."
"Glad to oblige." He shifted slightly, moving her up to a more comfortable position against him. "Not only can I converse intelligently on a 'non-Watcherly' level, I am quite capable of engaging in 'non-Watcherly' activity."
"Oh, really? Like what?"
He demonstrated with a kiss that began as a leisurely caress, but quickly changed to a thrilling tangle of lips, tongue and teeth. He accompanied the kiss with his hands, moving them over her body until she was trembling and moaning his name. Only the fact that Buffy was still upstairs kept him from taking things much farther.
When they broke apart, breathing heavily, Joyce looked at him with passion-glazed eyes and whispered, "Wow. Okay, just... wow."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet." He gave her a quick squeeze, then relaxed again, waiting for his heart rate to return to normal.
"I still say that's *my* line!"
* * * * *
The day of the rehearsal dawned bright and glaringly normal. Despite Joyce's worry about the absent Aunt Rose, things had begun to fall into place. Buffy 's cohorts volunteered to run most of the last-minute errands, when they weren't lounging in Joyce's living room, eating her out of house and home. Well, to be fair, only Xander was doing that. Willow had gone for a take-out lunch, since there wasn't much left in the pantry that didn't require several hours of preparation.
Joyce had just finished the last of the thank-you notes for her latest shower, and had snagged the teen-aged bottomless pit on one of his trips to the kitchen to mail them. He had just gone out the front door when Willow appeared, catching the door as it swung shut.
She gave Joyce an uneasy smile. "Hey, Mrs. Summers. Nice day, isn't it?"
"Yes it is. What's wrong?"
Willow looked surprised, then resigned as she started for the kitchen, still moving a bit stiffly from the accident two days before. "For a minute there I forgot you have Mom Radar."
"My Mom Radar is telling me there's a problem. So, what is it?" Joyce followed her, feeling a sense of nervous dread.
"Well, I was driving by the wedding chapel on my way back from the Chinese Food place..." She held up two white bags as the aroma of chicken fried rice filled the air. "...and I saw a bunch of vans and cars outside, so I turned around and came back to see what was going on. I was kinda worried, y'know, with it only being a day away from the wedding."
"So, I saw these guys in protective suits going in with some Star-Wars-y looking equipment, so I got out and asked them what they were doing." She stopped, looking miserable.
Joyce nodded, a little slower this time. "Go on."
"Seems like they had an outbreak of... well, you're really gonna think I've flipped, but this is what the guy with the clipboard said, and you know the guy with the clipboard is usually in charge... anyway, he said they were fumigating the place because of a major cockroach infestation."
Joyce shuddered. "Did you think to ask if they'd be done by... oh, I can see by your face you did, and they aren't. Right?"
"That's what the guy with the clipboard said. He gave me a number to call, and I think I'll do that now, so I won't forget. I'd hate for us to get all worked up because the guy with the clipboard only *looked* official."
"Go ahead and call. I knew this would happen. I tried to tell Rupert, but he wouldn't listen."
Willow moved to the kitchen wall phone and started dialing. While she waited, she said, "What did you try to tell Giles?"
"That everything would go to pot without Aunt Rose here."
Willow's eyes got big and round. "Aunt Rose isn't... oh, hello? Yes, can you tell me how long the fumigation at 1311 West Birch in Sunnydale is going to take?" There was a pause while the secretary looked up the information. "Really, that long? Wasn't just roaches? Worst you've ever seen? Wow, that's a long time to bomb a building... oh, I see. Okay, well, thanks for the info. What? Oh, we have a wedding scheduled there for tomorrow, and nobody called to tell us it wasn't available... oh? Oh... oh, poor thing, well, I can see that would make things difficult. You're gonna mail back the deposit? Great, okay, well, thanks again. Bye!"
Joyce was shaking her head sadly. "We have a wedding in just over 24 hours, and no place to have it. That's just peachy. We should've gone to Vegas and had Elvis marry us."
"Oh, hey, that sounds like fun... uh, you were kidding, weren't you?"
"Yes, I was, but just barely. Where am I gonna find a place for two-hundred-fifty-plus people on such short notice? With chairs, and restroom facilities, and a place for a gala reception... I can't believe this is happening. It's driving me crazy. Did they say why we weren't notified?"
"Um, she said because the lady who does the reservations is in the hospital. She sorta freaked out when she opened a closet and, like, a million bugs came crawling out at her. She probably didn't have a chance to tell anyone before she, uh, kinda went bonkers."
"Willow, we need back up plans for *everything* that has to do with the wedding, including tonight's rehearsal dinner. Can you help?"
A wide smile broke out on Willow's face. "Sure! I like helping. And I can do web searches if we run into a problem with alternate services..."
The telephone rang. Joyce eyed it with an almost clairvoyant fear. The dominoes were falling, and it was all because of Aunt Rose.
Two hours later...
"...And we'll just put up a sign on all the doors at the chapel and tell people where the ceremony will be held, so they won't freak out, and the reception can be at the American Legion Hall, they already said it was okay. The Park Office says they don't charge for parties, and we've got the biggest pavilion there reserved, in case it rains. The Legion Hall is right next door, so we won't have to drive, we can all walk over while 'Xand The Photographer Man' is taking the last pictures of you guys." Willow followed her recitation with a deep breath. An amazingly long list of items on the paper in front of her were check-marked as complete. They were just about to regain control of this crazy wedding!
Joyce gave her a relieved hug. "Willow, you *must* be a witch. To pull all this off had to take some serious magic."
"It wasn't magic, Mrs. Summers. I just thought, 'What would I do if I wanted to get married tomorrow and I didn't have a whole lot of money?' Then I thought, 'The park! You don't need a lot of decorations, and no candelabras to rent...' Oh, uh, not that I think you don't have enough money, uh, but, well, with everything going wrong, and the um... the car thing, I was kinda... well, the park is really pretty right now, and it's not supposed to rain or anything," Willow finished desperately, feeling totally stupid.
Joyce laughed and gave her daughter's best friend a hug. "Willow, dear, never think that saving me money is an insult!" She drew back and beamed at Willow's relieved face. "And, I'm sure Rupert will feel the same way. He's pretty frugal, when he has to be."
"Oh, good, 'cause I also found someone who'll play at the reception for free, and bring his own guitar."
"You're kidding! I had given up. It's bad enough we're going to have to use tapes for the wedding, since it's outside now."
"Well, I don't know for sure yet, but maybe I can help with that, too, see, Oz is the guitar guy, and he knows lots of struggling musicians."
"Willow, I owe you, big time!"
Willow grinned widely. "Chocolate chip cookies are legal tender in my book."
* * * * *
By five o'clock that afternoon, they'd managed to set up and decorate the cinder block Legion Hall until it was unrecognizable, and arranged for enough food and drink to accommodate the expected crowd. Now all they had to do was get to the rehearsal at seven, and the dinner afterwards. So far, the latest restaurant hadn't called to cancel. Not many places accepted last minute parties of twenty-five. It would've been twenty-six, but the minster was sick with a bad cold, and wasn't even sure he could perform the wedding. They already had a Justice of the Peace standing by, just in case.
Joyce, Willow and Buffy dragged themselves into the house after finishing up the decorations, and before they could all collapse on the couch, Joyce suggested, "How about let's get something to drink and then sit down and relax a minute. Rupert won't be back for a little while... he's gone to get the tuxes. I need to recharge."
"Sounds great, Mrs. Summers... y'know, I'm gonna have to get used to calling you Mrs. Giles after tomorrow. I hope I don't forget."
"Don't worry, if you forget, I'll remind you. It'll take some getting used to for me, too."
"I'll be right back, Mom, I need to make a pit stop." Buffy made a dash for the stairs.
Joyce smiled as she led the way into the kitchen, hoping that there was something left to drink after having Xander underfoot for two whole days. She loved the boy dearly, but she wasn't used to having boy children around. Especially boy children who were taller than she, outweighed her by nearly one hundred pounds, and ate like a linebacker for the Forty-Niners.
She found chilled herbal tea in the fridge, and grinned as she retrieved it. "I see the tea survived."
Willow laughed. "I made that 'cause I knew Xander wouldn't drink it."
"You know him too well."
"Ain't it the truth!"
They had just reseated themselves on the couch, breathing twin sighs of relief at the prospect of having a few quiet moments, when Giles burst through the door, his face an interesting shade of red.
Joyce and Willow exchanged resigned glances as he saw them and attempted to calm himself. Before he could speak, Joyce got up and headed for the kitchen. Willow handed him her glass of tea and said, matter-of-factly, "Here, Giles, drink this. Chamomile is soothing."
He eyed her for a moment, then looked at the glass. Without a word, he turned it up and drained it with huge swallows. He gasped for breath when he finished, and handed the empty glass back to her. She watched him breathe heavily for a few seconds, then her brow furrowed with concern and she handed him Joyce's glass as well. He was in the process of finishing it when Joyce returned with the pitcher and a third glass of ice.
"I think we're all gonna need this." She placed the pitcher on the coffee table and they all sat on the couch. She turned to Giles and patted his knee gently. "Okay, what?"
He began to look embarrassed, but began his story. "Forgive my unholy entrance, but, as has been our usual luck this week, something's gone wrong with the tuxedoes. The rental shop can't seem to find them. The alterations were done, and they were tagged for pick up today, but they aren't where the clerk put them. They've only found Xander's so far. If they can't locate them, we'll all have to be refitted. David's flight doesn't arrive in time for a second fitting today, and since they've lost the clothes, they've also lost his measurements as well. They've offered to open early tomorrow to try and accommodate everyone, but it's going to be close."
Buffy came in just in time to hear the last sentence. "More badness, Mom?"
"Missing tuxes... *this* time."
"Oh, no." She plopped down in the easy chair, throwing a dramatic hand against her forehead. "This is wearin' me out."
"Just think how *I* feel." Joyce let her head drop back against Giles' arm and closed her eyes. "Rupert, I wish we could elope."
"That's beginning to sound good to me, as well." He gave her a comforting squeeze.
"If it wasn't for all the over-seas and out-of-town people, I might consider it."
The telephone rang, startling everyone. It had been the bearer of bad news all week. At her mother's pleading look, Buffy sighed and got up to answer it. "Hello? Who? Yes, we'll accept the charges! Mom, it's Aunt Rose! She's calling collect!"
Joyce looked completely bewildered. "From *Nepal*?" She jumped up, but didn' t move from her spot in front of the couch.
"Are you in Nepal, Aunt Rose? You're not? You did? You are? Oh, cool... so do we need to come and get you? No? But that's... wow, that's amazing, so he 's bringing you here? That's sure nice of him! I'm so glad you made it... what? Oh, okay, whatever you say, Aunt Rose. We'll see you in a little while! 'Bye!"
Buffy replaced the receiver and turned around, a happy smile on her face. "You guys won't believe what happened to Aunt Rose... somehow, she got a ride on a military plane flying non-stop from Nepal to LA Air Force Base and got here just about an hour ago. She was using The Colonel's car phone, which was why she called collect."
"The Colonel?" Giles voice rose slightly.
"Yeah, the commander guy from the base. He's driving her here right now. She knows his grandfather really well. I don't wanna know *how* well. She has the most amazing luck."
"Aunt Rose is coming." It finally soaked in, and Joyce felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
"Oh, and she said to tell Giles not to take the bypass tomorrow. What does that mean, Giles?"
"I have no idea. There are no bypasses around Sunnydale."
Joyce was too happy to think about Aunt Rose's unusual warning. "Oh, well, we'll find out when she gets here, I guess. I think this calls for a little celebration. Herbal tea, anyone?"
* * * * *
The vehicle that pulled up in front of the Summers' home less than an hour later looked like it had been commandeered from the presidential staff car pool. Long, black, sleek, with darkened windows and flags dancing from both antennas, it drew considerable attention from the neighborhood. People emerged from their houses and stared openly as the military chauffeur jumped out, gathered bags from the trunk, and snapped to attention. The rear driver 's side door opened, and a tall man in full dress uniform stepped out, looking like the poster boy for Today's Air Force.
Joyce, Buffy, Willow, and Giles watched in amazement from the porch as the obviously high-ranking officer rounded the car, opened the door and helped a tiny, silver-haired woman to her feet. The heavily laden chauffeur followed behind at a perfectly paced distance as the officer and the grandmotherly lady strolled up the driveway, chatting like old friends. As they neared the porch, the woman saw her welcoming committee, and broke into a wide smile. "Joyce Anne! Buffy! How wonderful to see you again!" Her voice was melodious and surprisingly strong, given her diminutive size.
Giles thought for a moment he was looking at a mythical being. Surely this tiny woman couldn't be the famous Aunt Rose? She looked too fragile to manage herself from the curb to the front door, much less all the way to Nepal and back. He found himself grinning broadly as his two blondes launched themselves off the porch and buried their relative in hugs and kisses. The Colonel stood aside, beaming fondly, but trying to hide it. Aunt Rose paused in her reunion to bestow a kiss on the Colonel's cheek and wish him safe journey. He snapped to attention, saluted her smartly, and strode away, not once looking back.
"Aunt Rose, I'm so glad you're here, and safe." Buffy's voice was trembly with happiness.
"Buffy, dear child! You're all grown up, and such a lovely young lady! Has it been that long?" Aunt Rose gave her great-great-niece a quick kiss on the cheek, reaching up on tip-toe to manage the gesture.
Joyce watched the staff car drive away, ignoring the open-mouthed stares of the neighbors as their eyes followed the Colonel out of sight. "I'm sorry the Colonel couldn't stay for refreshments. I have a fresh pitcher of Chamomile tea made."
"He had a pressing engagement to return to, Joyce Anne. Something about organizing war games for the Pacific Theater. He's a fine boy, much like his grandfather. I so enjoyed our little chat on the way here." She gave Joyce a thorough look-over, then pronounced, "Joyce Anne, you look wonderful. This must be Mr. Right, dear, it shows on your face."
Joyce face was indeed radiant as she proudly turned and presented Giles. "Definitely Mr. Right. Rupert Giles, meet my great-aunt, Rose McAlister."
Giles bent from the waist and gently took the proffered hand in his much larger one. Bowing deeply, he brought her hand to his lips for a delicate kiss. "Lady McAlister, it is indeed an honor. May I?" He offered her his arm, and she took it with a delighted sigh. Joyce fell in step beside Aunt Rose on the opposite side, smiling broadly. Rupert could charm the birds down from the trees, if he set out to do so.
"Mr. Giles, please, call me Aunt Rose. I have no peerage to speak of. I've been so looking forward to meeting you. Joyce Anne's letters have been extremely enthusiastic."
"She does me great credit, Aunt Rose. I am a fortunate man to find someone as wonderful as your great-niece." He patted her hand gently as it rested in the crook of his arm. "I understand she takes after her favorite aunt in that respect. And you must call me Rupert."
"Joyce Anne, is it possible that you did manage to find a gentleman, after all, in this rough jungle of palm trees, concrete and steel? Such beautiful manners... and he's very handsome, as well." Two silver-blue eyes gazed admiringly up at the tall figure beside her, and Joyce relaxed visibly at her aunt's approval.
Giles blushed at the compliment, and led her into the house.
Willow stood, watching the procession with a happy grin. Suddenly she looked around and realized she was the only one left in the yard. Eyeing the heavy luggage that had been deposited on the porch, she wailed, "Hey, who died and made me bellhop?"
* * * * *
The telephone began to ring steadily from the moment Aunt Rose set foot inside the house. While the women freshened up and dressed for the rehearsal, Giles took a bewildering amount of messages, all of them sure to cause Joyce to shout with happiness. The tuxes were found, perfectly altered. David Bannering's plane landed on time (with his luggage intact.) Giles' friends from the Watcher's Council, Alistair and Cyril, arrived with their wives in tow. The various relatives came pouring into town, finding their hotel rooms ready and waiting. The minister got over his cold just in time to assume his role... and even the clouds, which had threatened all afternoon, disappeared without a trace.
Giles was beginning to believe Aunt Rose *was* magic.
At the park, the setting sun held out just long enough for the rehearsal to end, then dusk took over rapidly. Ever vigilant for night nasties, Buffy and Giles hung back as people got in their cars and started for the restaurant. As soon as everyone was safely inside, they hurried to join their friends and relatives for a relaxed, informal dinner. The food was excellent, and Joyce couldn't help marvel at how well the hastily made plans had turned out.
Giles' English cohorts made quite sure he remained in a perpetual state of embarrassment the entire evening, much to Buffy and Xander's delight. They even managed to coax him into singing a few of the not-so-raunchy tavern songs they'd shared in their youth. Joyce and her relatives fell into the spirit of things, raising ridiculous toasts to the happy couple, and generally being loud and boisterous. It was grand.
Everyone seemed happy and content, and Aunt Rose presided over the evening like a true matriarch, doling out advice and snippets of her lifetime of travel until she had the entire crowd, plus the restaurant staff, hanging on her every word.
Somehow, she managed to turn the attention towards Joyce and Rupert at every opportunity, as though she were an emcee spotlighting the top-billed act of the evening. She was deceptive, Giles decided as he watched her. Underneath that innocent, grandmotherly exterior beat the heart of a shrewd businesswoman. She knew what it took to get the job done, and she did so with grand aplomb. He studied her with great interest the entire night, and was highly impressed. He was observing a master of human psychology at work in front of him!
As the party dispersed for the evening, Giles once again took the role of escort, offering his arm to his future wife's relative as if he was highly honored to do so. In truth, he was. It was plain to see where Joyce had gotten her ability to meet people. She was running a highly profitable art gallery with no help from anyone, and had managed to make it look easy. 'I am the luckiest man on earth,' he mused as he assisted Aunt Rose in getting into the BMW.
He should have knocked on wood. Just as he close the back door and moved towards the driver's side, he heard steps behind him. He turned around and was horrified to see a very vamped-out figure approaching him. Buffy was across the parking lot saying her good-byes to Oz and Willow, but as soon as she sensed the vampire's presence, she whirled, seeing the creature as it came towards her former Watcher. She knew she was too far away to reach them in time, but she started running desperately, shouting Giles' name.
The vamp moved with a swagger, a wide, snaggle-toothed grin on his face. Giles didn't even try to open the car door. He searched his pockets frantically for a weapon, but before he could locate one, the window rolled smoothly down and a tiny hand appeared, holding a compact crossbow shaped like a pistol.
There was an almost comical 'thwap', and the vampire disappeared in a cloud of dust. The crossbow was withdrawn, and the window quietly rolled back up. Buffy stopped, shocked, then finished her dash to the car, disbelief still plain on her face. "Giles? Are you okay? Who shot the vamp?"
"Get in the car, Buffy." Surprisingly, Giles' voice remained steady. He scanned the area, wondering if anyone had seen what happened.
"Quickly, now, in the car. We need to get going."
She complied, clambering into the seat beside her disarmingly tiny relative. Aunt Rose patted Buffy's knee consolingly. "Don't you fret your pretty little head, Buffy, dear. Even Slayers can't be everywhere at once." As Buffy watched with wide eyes, the small crossbow disappeared into the large handbag sitting on the floorboard, and Aunt Rose was a sweet little old lady once again.
'Definitely more than meets the eye, this Aunt Rose,' Giles thought, fighting his natural suspicion down until they were safely inside the house.
Once inside, the atmospheric tension increased until Buffy could almost touch it. Giles never faltered in his polite escort, and seated Joyce's aunt in the living room, waiting until she was comfortable before voicing his questions.
"I suppose you realize that we wish an explanation for your... intervention tonight, Madam. Far be it from me to intrude on your personal life, but if said life impinges upon Buffy's duties as a Slayer, or her life as a member of my family, then you'll understand if I need to ask questions."
"Aunt Rose, are you a Watcher?" Buffy asked before Giles could concoct another long, drawn out sentence.
The little woman smiled, admiring Buffy's ability to cut to the quick. "More of an Evaluator of Watchers, and semi-retired, Buffy, but still very much in practice."
Giles frowned, disbelieving, although he'd seen her in action with his own eyes. "Several Councilmen were with us at the restaurant last night, and they mentioned nothing about your being a Watcher. Forgive me, I mean no disrespect, but I've learned over the years not to trust everyone who claims to be on my side."
"You are referring to Alistair Chalmers and Cyril Stephens?"
Giles eyebrows moved higher on his forehead, but he only nodded.
"The dear boys. They've learned some discretion since the last time I met them, I'll give them credit for that. They aren't members of the Ruling Council, however, and they haven't seen me in person for about fifteen years, now. They've been instructed to act as though I am a stranger to them, since I travel incognito so often nowadays."
Giles moved to sit on the arm of Joyce's chair. He wasn't surprised, now that he had time to consider the facts. The rich retiree image was perfect. She traveled, often alone, sometimes in the company of people much younger that herself. She was often in exotic, hard-to-reach places for months at a time. She had the uncanny ability to get herself out of trouble, even when she landed in the middle of it. She was obviously accustomed to being in authority. He knew there were Evaluators, but he had never met one.
Lost in his musings, he was quite astonished when Joyce burst into laughter. She leaned back and patted his thigh as she tried to come to grips with everything. Finally, she managed to say, "I guess I can't get away from the Council, no matter what my family does to alienate them!"
Aunt Rose joined her, chuckling sympathetically. "It does seem so, doesn't it? To be frank, most of the time, the members of the Ruling Council are asleep at the wheel. They rely heavily on their field operatives for information and impressions, and we all know how inaccurate and prejudiced that data can be. It was entirely upon that idiot Travers' recommendation that you were relieved, Rupert, dear. I was very upset when I got back from Sri Lanka and heard the news. I'd been following your career, and your interaction with my family, with great interest since you arrived in California."
She grinned widely and added, "Speaking of Travers, I was quite delighted with his 'film debut.' Most original of you both. The man was a rogue and a cad, much more so than you ever were, Rupert. I warned the Council many times not to come between a successful Watcher/Slayer pair, but they are only now beginning to listen."
Giles nodded. "Thank you for your support, Aunt Rose. It means a great deal. I've managed to outlast my first replacement already, as you may know. If Buffy wills it, I will be her Watcher until the day I die."
Buffy shifted uncomfortably. "I just wish you wouldn't put it in exactly *those* terms, Giles."
He smiled tenderly at her. "It is the truth."
"And what of Joyce Anne? Where does she fit into all this madness, Rupert? I must have concern for my relative's happiness, as well, no matter how things may seem." The matriarch leaned slightly forward, her piercing silver eyes fixed on his face. She would see any sign of hesitancy as a lack of commitment, he knew.
He slid his arm across Joyce's shoulders, enjoying the feeling of touching her despite her aunt's close scrutiny. "Buffy is my soul, my lady, but Joyce is my heart. I cannot be complete without both."
Buffy's eyes filled with tears, and she sniffed quietly, trying not to be conspicuous. She glanced up and saw that her mother's eyes had spilled over as she sat gazing up at her fiancee. Adoration was plain on her face.
Aunt Rose stood gracefully and ended her side of the inquisition with a nod and a smile. "Well spoken, Rupert. I believe you, if that counts for anything. Now, I think it is time to say good night. Sleep well, children. We have a wedding to attend tomorrow, you know."
She bestowed kisses upon everyone, including Giles, and marched up the stairs to retire. In her wake, Buffy drifted towards the stairs, reluctant to break the sweet mood, but knowing that her mom wanted to be alone with Giles for a little while. She gave Giles a kiss on the cheek and whispered, "'Night, Giles, and...thanks," then headed up to her room.
He turned and smiled down at Joyce, his face content and happy. "I'd best be off, then. It's not considered good luck to see the bride before the wedding, and it's nearly midnight now. I'm not one to tout tradition, but better safe than sorry."
"I think we have all the good luck we need, now." Joyce sighed as he embraced her. "Aunt Rose is here."
"Ah, well, I'm going to need a great deal of said luck, I fear. Alistair has informed me I am to be 'properly toasted' by some of the heartier souls in our group at one of the more disreputable pubs downtown. They're waiting for me now. I may be in great peril."
"You won't be making any obscene phone calls later, will you?" She blushed slightly, remembering, albeit vaguely, her attempt at telephone seduction earlier in the week.
He laughed loudly and gave her a firm kiss. "I shall endeavor to restrain myself." He kissed her again. "Until tomorrow, my love."
Her eyes shone with anticipation. "Tomorrow..."
* * * * *
"Where is he?"
"He's here, don't worry, I asked Xander."
"I just wish I could see him. I'd feel better."
"You're not supposed to see him 'till you start down the aisle, Mom. Tradition, remember? It's the new, 'In' thing with weddings nowadays."
"Ha ha." Joyce looked out the door and craned her neck to see above the crowd. The park office had been turned into a waiting room, and they could see people outside taking their seats. Cordelia was fussing around Joyce, trying valiantly to put the finishing touches on her nervously moving target. "They should be up there by now. I'm just worried that his buddies got him roaring drunk and he's too sick to stand upright."
"I doubt it. Giles can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be."
"You say that like it's a bad thing." She stood on tiptoe, then sighed heavily. "I need a stepladder. I can't see a thing."
"Mom, you've got a few minutes. Try to relax."
"Must be pre-nuptial jitters, I guess."
"Not getting cold feet, are you?" Cordelia's blunt question made Joyce stop pacing briefly.
"No way. I want this. Him. Marriage. I'm ready this time."
Buffy touched her arm gently, trying to get her mother to calm down. "And you weren't before, with Dad?"
"One of us wasn't, that's for sure. I'm not going to play the blame game about it."
"Fine with me. I hate choosing sides, anyway. Is Dad here? He said he might come."
"I haven't seen him. I hope he doesn't make a scene. He can be pretty stubborn and possessive, even if he *is* the one who left. I don't want Rupert to tie into him. Hank wouldn't stand a chance."
"No doubt. Giles is really tough... although, if you ever tell him I said that, I'll deny it."
"Hold still, Mrs. S! I can't pin this veil with you moving all over the place." Cordelia finished securing the short veil and stepped back, admiring her handiwork. "Am I a genius, or what? You look great! Doesn't she look great?"
"Yeah, like, wow, Mom. Totally babesome."
Joyce surveyed her image in the mirror with satisfaction. 'I love this dress,' she thought dreamily. It was an off-white, lacy number that started in front just above the knee and dropped to a floor-sweeping train in back. The bodice was covered in seed pearls, and the lace sleeves were long with pearl buttons reaching nearly to the elbow. The neckline was a bit daring, but Joyce knew Rupert would love it. A pearl tiara with a short veil completed the ensemble.
"Thanks, honey. And thank you, Cordelia. You should be a fashion designer. I couldn't have done this without you."
"Well, I had something to work with, this time. You look fabulous. Giles will drool all over his tux." Cordelia smiled confidently at the nervous bride.
"He won't be the only one drooling. The man can wear a tux, that's for sure."
Cordelia gave a grunt that could be interpreted as agreement.
"He did look pretty spiffy at the Prom, right Cordy?" Buffy nudged Cordelia as if to say, 'Come on, say something nice about Giles right now, for my Mom 's sake.'
Cordy glared at Buffy briefly, then returned to her close scrutiny of Joyce' s dress, seeking any flaws or adjustments that needed attention. Absentmindedly, she commented, "Giles wears his clothes pretty well, I guess. Better than when he first got here, thank God. His collars always stood out sideways, and that tweed made him look like a geek."
"I remember, when I first met him, I thought, 'Here's a man that is in *desperate* need of a woman. He looks like he's slept in his clothes.'" Joyce smiled at the memory.
"Well, I was always beatin' the crap outta him during training. No wonder he looked kinda rumpled." Buffy snickered. "And I think there were a few late night research parties when he *did* sleep in his clothes."
Willow appeared at the door of the park office. "Show time, people! Mrs. Summers, you ready?"
Joyce bit her lip and nodded.
"Don't gnaw! You'll ruin your lipstick!" Cordelia grabbed a tube from the table and carefully erased the teethmarks from Joyce's lower lip. "Now, wipe the lipstick off your teeth. Good. Don't do anything else to your face, hair, or dress until after the pictures are taken, and you'll be just fine. You can smile, just a little bit, but that's all!"
Joyce took the statement for what it was... Cordelia's version of, 'Good luck, I'm happy for you, and I wish you the best.' "I really do appreciate your help, Cordelia. Okay, let's go!"
* * * * *
The strains of the bridal march floated out into the beautiful afternoon. Oz had contacted the local musician's guild, and she picked out the sounds of a harp, an electronic keyboard, and a flute as she walked. The combination was surprisingly beautiful. Joyce couldn't have asked for a better entrance. Xander waited for her at the back of the aisle, looking solemnly handsome and older than his eighteen years. He offered her his arm with a crooked smile, winked, and instantly, the teen-ager was back.
Willow, as bridesmaid, went forward first and took her place, followed by Buffy as maid of honor. Their pale green dresses stood out against the darker green of the park lawn as they stopped and turned, waiting for the music to change. Suddenly, it was Joyce's turn. The crowd stood as the traditional wedding march began. As she started down the aisle, she finally could see her groom, and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of him. David Bannering, his close friend from England, stood beside him, beaming. Giles looked stunned at the sight of her coming towards him. Xander 's spot as best man was waiting for him as soon as he finished escorting the bride.
"Oh..." She grabbed Xander's arm for support.
"Hey, Mrs. S, you okay?" He steadied her with a firm grip, concern on his face.
"I'm fine. Just... look at him."
"Yeah, yeah, he's kinda cute. C'mon... you can make goo-goo eyes at him all you want when this is over. The quicker we get you guys hitched, the sooner we get cake!"
She giggled softly and glided towards the altar, not taking her eyes off Giles' face. It was beautiful. His eyes glowed with love's light, and he saw only her as she approached.
She wasn't aware of it, but her face was truly beautiful, as well.
* * * * *
"Great! Now, give her a big, wet one."
"Xander..." Giles' face shifted into an exasperated glare. At least, he *hoped* he was glaring at Xander. He couldn't see clearly for the spots dancing in front of his eyes. Xander was the world's most obsessive shutterbug, and he had come to the reception armed with two cameras and a frighteningly large amount of film.
"Just kidding, Giles! Unless you really *wanna* give her a big, wet one in front of God and everybody..."
Giles looked at Joyce with a shrug. "Xander will be Xander, I'm afraid."
"He can't help it. His brain hasn't quite grown into his body yet." Buffy thumped the dark-haired photographer on the back of the head as she passed.
"*Ouch*! Nobody said anything about physical abuse when they asked me to be best man-slash-photographer. Which, by the way, means not only do I get to take many, many pictures, but I also get to do the first toast."
"Oh, dear. I'd forgotten about that." Giles turned to Xander, who was blinding the rest of the bridal party with repeated flashes from his camera. "Xander, you will try to restrain yourself in front of Aunt Rose and the other guests, won't you?"
"Sure, Giles. You know me... Mr. Tact Guy. Don't sweat it." Xander ceased his photographic harassment and jumped up in a chair. "Yo! People! Can you keep the loud chewing quiet for a few seconds while I do my speech?" At the sound of laughter, and Xander grinned broadly. "As part of my duties as best man, a title that fits me like a glove, by the way..."
Once more, sounds of amusement rippled through the crowd. Giles found himself smiling at the boy...young *man*...who had been through so much, and never lost his sense of humor.
"...It falls to me to propose a toast to our newlyweds. So, without further ado... heeeere goes!" He took a deep breath, and then began.
"Without going into boring details, let's just say that these two people here were my only glimpse of what a real family is supposed to be. Even before they were together, I was always welcome in their homes, even though I usually emptied their fridge before I left!" Chuckles were heard all around, and Giles and Joyce nodded knowingly. "They put up with my silliness, accepted me unconditionally, made me feel like I was somebody special, and did their best to give me good advice, which, of course, I didn 't take, but that's not their fault. All I gotta say about that is... Buffy' s a lucky girl, to have people like them in her life. I guess we're all pretty lucky, aren't we?
"So they're together now. I think it's great. Buffy gets a new Dad, Joyce gets a new husband, Giles gets a new, ready-made family, and all's right with the world. So, here's to Rupert and Joyce: To your health, my friends: Love, luck and laughter be yours for the rest of your lives. And, Giles, if you need any advice about women, buddy...for Pete's sake, don't come to me!"
He raised his glass high. "To the Giles-es!"
The room echoed as everyone repeated Xander's toast, then burst into good-natured laughter.
* * * * *
The sun was just getting low enough on the horizon to annoy Giles as he drove. The only thing worse than driving west into the sunset was trying to read ancient Greek text with bifocals. He kicked himself mentally for not buying a pair of sunglasses before they left. He squinted, trying to see the road ahead of him, almost missing the sign that led him towards the main highway and into the tangle of concrete that was Los Angeles proper.
He glanced over at Joyce as she lay in the reclined passenger seat. She was sound asleep. He smiled tenderly, and let his gaze linger too long. He very nearly missed the sign for the interstate, looking up just in time to react.
"Ah! There we are!" He slowed and signaled, intending to change lanes and ease onto the crowded highway.
Joyce stirred in her sleep, then sat up suddenly. "Where are we?"
"We're getting on the bypass now, darling. Go back to sleep... we've still a ways to go."
She sat up straight. "Bypass? No, no bypass! Aunt Rose's warning, remember?"
Reacting to the panic in her words, he whipped the car back into traffic, ignoring the blare of horns and expressive gestures from his fellow motorists. "Good Lord, I almost forgot." He floored the BMW, quickly increasing speed to avoid being run down by the drivers behind him, who were honking steadily.
After the cacophony subsided, he glanced at Joyce. She let out her breath with a whoosh, obviously convinced they'd avoided a disaster. "I know you think it's silly, Rupert, but Aunt Rose is always right about these things. There's a reason why everyone thinks of her as a good luck charm."
"I didn't say it was silly, love. I haven't been around her enough to form any opinion, except that I like her a great deal."
"She likes you too, Rupert, and she's a pretty shrewd judge of character."
"She'd have to be, wouldn't she, if her opinion of me is any indication!"
Joyce giggled and stretched, enjoying the roominess of Giles' car. "In a way, it's a good thing the Cherokee was damaged. Your car is much more comfortable."
"And you would have insisted on taking your car, wouldn't you?"
"Probably... yes. I hated for you to leave your nice new car in an airport parking lot for a week. *Anything* could happen. My car is already banged up from Buffy driving it."
"Poor Buffy. Driving is not her forte."
"It's not even a close runner up."
Giles chuckled. Buffy might be the Slayer, but being the Chosen One didn't automatically endow her with driving savvy.
Joyce adjusted her seat to an upright position, unbuckled her seat belt, and slid over next to him. He opened his mouth to say something, but she shushed him with a look and refastened the center belt around her waist. He smiled and raised his arm to encircle her shoulders, keeping his eyes on the road with sheer force of will. She settled into his side and rested her head against him, sighing contentedly.
"Don't distract me too much, Mrs. Giles. We still have a good half-hour of driving ahead of us. I do want to live to see my honeymoon."
"No distracting." She closed her eyes, smiling. "Just a little discreet snuggling. Nothing you can't handle."
"Ah. Well, good." He squinted against the heavy golden rays of the setting sun, noticing the bright red taillights ahead of him were signaling that a slow down was in progress. Soon they were motionless in a sea of metal and exhaust fumes. Giles shook his head and snorted in disgust. "If we'd taken the highway, we'd be past all this by now. I'm not sure Aunt Rose's predictions were entirely accurate."
"We're paralleling the bypass right now. If you want, we can catch the next on ramp and go around this bottleneck."
"With all deference to Aunt Rose, that's a capital idea." Giles began to look for a way to get on the bypass. Traffic was moving in fits and starts, and he was barely able to go a hundred feet without stopping again. It wasn' t until he spotted an access point, and found it blocked by highway patrol cars with flashing blue lights, that he realized the accident wasn't on the side street at all.
"Oh, my God..." As the traffic crawled ahead, they were afforded a perfect and prolonged view of the wreck scene. A tractor-trailer rig had run into the guard rails of an overpass, and was hanging, precariously balanced, over the street below. There were a bewildering number of emergency vehicles, flashing red, blue, yellow, and white streams of light into the growing dusk. They could just make out four other vehicles, two pickup trucks and two cars, mangled along the bridge, pieces of twisted metal fanning out from the points of impact and reflecting the last golden rays of the sun.
They came to a stop almost in front of the horrible sight. Giles rolled his window down and waved a uniformed patrolman over. "Pardon me, officer, but we're trying to catch a flight at LA International. Is there any way to get back on the bypass once we pass this unfortunate accident?"
The cop shook his head sadly. "No way, I'm afraid. Traffic's backed up for miles in either direction. The big rig hanging up there jumped the median and messed things up in both directions. I just hope it doesn't come crashing down before they get the tow truck in place. It's a disaster up there."
"Good thing we weren't in the midst of it, then."
"Yes, sir, you're right about that. Just keep going 'til you reach I-405. It 's probably the fastest way. You should be able to make your flight, with a little luck."
Giles thanked the man and looked over at Joyce thoughtfully. "I shall never doubt Aunt Rose again."
"Believe me, it pays to listen to her, Rupert. That's a lifetime of experience talking."
"I just hope her good luck includes our making our plane."
It did. Barely.
* * * * *
"Do you think our luggage actually made it on the plane?"
"I sincerely hope so. I'd rather not depend on current island fashion for my clothing." They both tried to relax and calm their racing hearts. A mad dash through a crowded airport was not the ideal way to begin a honeymoon, but they'd made it to the loading gate just as the crew was beginning to disconnect the covered walkway from the plane. Now the plane was taxiing down the runway, waiting to take off.
Joyce smiled gently. "I'm sure they have more than Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts, Rupert. They have regular clothing stores, just like Sunnydale. Probably nicer, even."
He took her hand in his and held it to his lips. "I have better things to do with my time than shop for a new wardrobe."
She hummed in agreement and gave him a feather-light kiss. They settled back into their seats, her head on his shoulder, and just basked in the feeling of being together.
As soon as they were in the air, the flight attendants began serving drinks. When the cart stopped by Giles' elbow, he turned to Joyce and said, almost playfully, "Champagne, darling?"
She laughed. "Sure, why not? We have something to celebrate, don't we?"
"Certainly." He looked expectantly at the dark-haired girl serving the drinks, wondering if champagne was actually available. To his delight, the girl grinned and produced a small bottle, twisting the cap with a smile. "It 's not Korbel, but it's champagne, if you don't mind."
"No, that'll be fine, miss. I'm sure popping corks wouldn't go over well in an airplane."
She laughed and nodded. "If it requires a corkscrew, we probably don't have it. Here you go. What are you celebrating, if you don't mind me asking?"
Joyce flushed slightly and said, with a happy smile, "We're on our honeymoon."
The girl was delighted. "Really? How long have you been married?"
Giles looked at his watch. "Five and one half hours, now."
Joyce and the flight attendant both burst into giggles. His proud expression was just so cute. The brunette cooed, "Isn't that sweet!"
Joyce grinned as Giles began to turn red. "That's my Rupert... he's one of a kind."
The girl continued on with her task of dispensing refreshments, and Giles relaxed a bit. They clinked their plastic cups together playfully and sipped their drinks, their eyes carrying on a silent and very suggestive conversation. The passing of time barely registered, and before they knew it, the in-flight dinner was being served.
After the trays were taken away, Joyce resumed her comfortable position nestled against her new husband's shoulder. They talked drowsily, wandering through subjects without any conscious direction. Giles held her hand in his, trailing the fingers of his free hand over hers from time to time. She adored the way he made her feel cherished and protected, even thought he wasn't demonstrative as a rule. He had always given his affection openly when they were alone or at home, but shrank from blatant displays in public. Here in this semi-public place, the subtle touch of his fingertips against hers was enough to drive her to distraction.
The brunette stewardess threw surreptitious glances their way each time she passed their seats. She was curious about their story, knowing she'd never hear it. 'I wonder what brought them together at their age?' she mused to herself as she gathered empty cups and wrappers from the other passengers. She noted their complete preoccupation with each other, and found herself wishing she had a man who would look at her with similar devotion.
She nodded at them as she passed one of her coworkers in the aisle. They both smiled. When they met later in the back, the other girl asked, "What's the deal with the lovebirds on 26?"
"Newlyweds." The brunette grinned as she began to unload her cart.
"Really? That's neat. They seem really in love."
"Yeah. I hope I don't have to wait until I'm their age to find the perfect guy."
The other girl thought about that for a minute. "I don't know... maybe he was worth waiting for."
The brunette shrugged. "Maybe he was. He's certainly cute enough, behind those glasses."
"Molly!" Her friend gasped, then started laughing. "He's probably my Dad's age!"
"So? She's probably my mom's age."
"Match made in heaven!"
"They're both lucky."
She thought about the way they looked at each other. "I kinda think they know it, too."
Read the next chapter: Island Paradise