the bunny warren v. Faith

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Pilgrim's Progress

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: During Season Four, expounds on events slightly suggested during "Pangs," but takes it on a tangent.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Eh, so-so.
Feedback: Yeah, sure.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "Pangs." Distribute if you like.

Part I.


"What do you mean it's canceled?"

Joyce Summers didn't like the unexpected. She didn't expect her husband to divorce her, and she didn't like it when he did. She didn't expect her daughter to take up demon hunting as a vocation, and she didn't like it when she found out. She enjoyed her life when it was as well-ordered and organized as the displays in her museum, but everyone seemed to enjoy throwing a little chaos into the mix. Apparently the airlines were now in on the conspiracy.

"We're sorry, ma'am," the ticket agent said. He braced for the conflict. He was going to have to give this speech to quite a lot of people this evening.

Joyce closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. "Well how am I supposed to get to Portland?"

"I'm afraid I can't help you, ma'am," the agent replied. He wasn't exaggerating. He saw the look on Passenger J. Summers' face. He was really afraid.

"Look," Joyce said, "It's a long drive back to Sunnydale. It's an impossibly longer drive to Portland. It's eight o'clock at night, and I don't know anyone in L.A., so what am I supposed to do?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. The plane has mechanical difficulties. We'd put you up at a hotel, but it's Thanksgiving, and the closest hotel with a vacancy is in Santa Monica, so...."

"No, I don't feel like staying in Santa Monica. I feel like staying in Portland with my sister, Arlene, like I planned. Can't you get me on another flight?"

"All the flights are booked, ma'am. It's Thanksgiving. If I gave you a seat, then someone else would have to give up their seat, and...."

"Oh, forget it! I'll drive back to Sunnydale." Joyce picked up her garment bag, and walked away from the ticket gate.

It was her own fault. She could have flown out of Sunnydale Airport, and caught a connecting flight in San Fransisco, but she'd decided to take a direct flight out of L.A. instead, which, even with the drive, would be faster, and cheaper. A $49 savings on the ticket and a two hour layover had just cost her a holiday trip to Arlene's, with a big table, a big turkey, a big crowd, a big holiday just like she used to have before the divorce.

It took her about ten minutes to get back to her car. She hung the garment bag in the back seat, and climbed behind the wheel. While looking for her keys in her purse, she also mentally searched for a silver lining. On the bright side, she'd get to spend Thanksgiving with Buffy. She'd felt a little guilty about leaving her over Thanksgiving, especially her first Thanksgiving since college started. They could go out for a Turkey dinner, maybe get reacquainted. They'd drifted apart since Buffy moved into the dorm. She'd always felt insecure when she was apart from Buffy, especially after she ran away two summers ago. Now, they could bond again. It was really a blessing that the flight was canceled. Everything had worked out for the best.

Joyce found her keys. She put them in the ignition. She turned the key.

Nothing.

No roar, no click. Nothing.

Joyce rested her head against the steering wheel. So much for silver linings.


Part II.


It took the tow truck about an hour to arrive. As they were taking her car, the driver said:

"Looks like something's wrong with the alternator. We can get it fixed by Monday."

"Monday!?! How can it take until Monday?"

"Well, we're short staffed as it is. It's Thanksgiving, you know."

"Well," Joyce said, "I guess I'll just have to rent a car."

"Rent a car? Are you kidding?"

Joyce hadn't been kidding. "Why can't I rent a car. This is the airport, isn't it?"

"Yeah, lady, but none of the rental companies are going to have any cars available. This is their second busiest time of the year, next to Christmas. This is...."

"Yes, yes, I know. This is Thanksgiving."

Joyce took a moment to count her blessings. She came up empty.

The driver gave her a lift back to the main terminal. As Joyce stood in front of the ticket counters, she considered her options. No hotels, no rental cars. She sure as Hell wasn't going to call her ex-husband to come to her rescue.

"Excuse me?"

Joyce turned around. A man (quite a man, actually) was standing behind her.

He was fairly tall. His dark hair was only slightly starting to grey around his temples. He wore a tan trench coat, carried a worn leather bag in one hand, and a blue umbrella in the other.

"Excuse me," he repeated, "are you from Los Angeles?"

"I am," Joyce replied. "I mean, I was. I moved about four years ago."

"Well, if you know your way around, do you know how I'd get to the Marriott? It's supposed to be close."

"Oh, sure. You're practically there. Um, do you have a pen?"

The gentleman produced a black Mont Blanc from his shirt pocket. Joyce jotted the directions down on his ticket envelope.

"I feel absolutely helpless," he admitted. "This is the first time I've left Connecticut since, oh, I don't know how long."

He smiled at Joyce. She smiled back. He had a warm face. Joyce handed the pen and envelope back to him. He reached for it. A gold band circled his third finger.

Joyce felt her heart drop. It was a shame. Such a warm face.

"Well, I'll let you get going."

"Yeah, right," Joyce said, half under her breath.

"Problem?"

Oops! Joyce had meant to say that entirely under her breath. "Oh, nothing much. My flight was canceled. My car won't start. They towed it. So I'm kind of stuck here."

"Need a ride?"

Joyce's defenses immediately sprang to life. A stranger. In an airport. He could be an axe murderer. A psychotic rapist. Or even one of those evil, monster thingies her daughter killed.

But, then again, such a warm face....

"Well, I kind of do. Need a ride, I mean. But I don't want to make you go out of your way...."

"I wouldn't be going on my way if you hadn't given me directions. It's the least I can do."

Joyce considered this. She could take a cab. She had traveler's checks. She could find somewhere to cash one, go outside, hail a cab....

"Well, if it's not too much trouble...."

"No trouble at all. Where are you going?"

Good question, Joyce thought. Her ex was out of the question. She had some old friends. Really old. She hadn't kept in contact with anyone.

Then, she had an idea.

"Let me make a call," she said.

"Sure thing. I'm Mark. Mark Shippe."

"Joyce. Joyce Summers."

She went into her purse, got out her cellphone, scrolled to "Giles-R" and hit "SEND." He would have the number.


Part III.


Giles gave her the number. He seemed concerned, but he promised not to say anything to Buffy. No sense worrying her. Besides, from the tone in Giles' voice she could tell that Buffy had other things to worry about. Giles said something about Indians, and Joyce guessed that it had nothing to do with Cleveland's baseball team. She called the number Giles gave her, and got directions.

On the drive over, Mark turned to Joyce and asked:

"So, what are your plans for Thanksgiving?"

"Well, I was going to my sister's," Joyce said. "My daughter couldn't get away from her studies. She's in college, a freshman. So I was going to visit my sister, Arlene, in Portland for a big family dinner. The flight got canceled, and my car won't start, so I'm stuck here."

"Don't you have any friends in L.A.? You said you lived here."

"I had friends," Joyce replied. "But my husb...I mean, my ex-husband, stayed in L.A., so they're really his friends."

"So where are you going?"

"My daughter has a...friend...who lives here. He'll help me out. From what I hear, he does that sort of thing for a living...well...for a profession." Joyce felt that there was no need to explain to her Good Samaritan that "living" wasn't exactly an appropriate description.

"Well, if you need a place to have Thanksgiving dinner, give me a call. It's not good to be alone for a holiday," Mark said, with a hint of sadness in his voice.

Joyce considered this, and asked:

"Um, do you have a cell phone?"

"No," Mark said, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Joyce's face. It seemed to be an unusual question, since Joyce had her own phone.

"Well," Joyce replied, "if you want to use mine to call your wife...."

"Oh, I'm not married," Mark responded. "I mean, I am, or I was but...."

"Divorced?"

Mark paused, then said:

"She died. About a year ago. A week after Thanksgiving, actually. I think that's why my niece wanted me to come out for the holiday."

"Oh! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to...."

"Oh, I'm O.K.," Mark interrupted. "I'm not that fragile. Not anymore, anyway. My relatives just think that I am."

Joyce's emotions vacillated between sympathy and skepticism. A guy, from out of town, wearing his wedding ring, offers a woman a ride, and says that he's widowed. A tragedy, or a likely story?

"It's a tough holiday, though," Mark continued. "I mean, you're supposed to be thankful, you really ought to be thankful, but...."

"I know," Joyce interjected. "It's tough to be thankful when you're life is nothing like what you planned it to be."

"The best laid plans of Mice and Men...hey, is this it?"

Mark pulled up in front of an older office building.

"I think it is," Joyce said. "At least, this is how they described it." She waited until Mark came to a complete stop, opened the door, and stepped out. Mark rolled down the power window, and said:

"Hey, I was serious about Thanksgiving. Call." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. With his other hand he took out his pen, and began writing. When he was finished, he said:

"That's my niece's number on the back. Don't be afraid to call."

Joyce took the card, and said:

"You know, I just might do that."

They exchanged a final glance, and Joyce turned toward the front door of the building. Mark drove away.

Joyce entered the building. She opened an office door, and walked in on her daughter's old friend and a man that Joyce had never seen before. They were hovering over a desk, and directing their voices toward the telephone.

"You were supposed to call in two hours ago," Cordelia told the telephone. Over the speaker, Angel's voice said:

"I got sidetracked."

"Yeah, well, if you're going to be the boss, you've got to call and keep track of things," Cordelia admonished. "Who's going to keep us in line while you're gone? I mean, for all you know, I could have spent the whole day shopping....hey, wait a minute. I could have. Darn."

"Cordy," Doyle interjected, "I'm sure tha' da boss has bedder tings to do dan hear you grumble abou' lost bargains."

Angel interrupted before Cordelia and Doyle could start bickering. "Anything going on over there?"

"Well, let's see," Cordelia said, looking down at her message pad. "The landlord said he's raising our rent ten dollars a month. Also, some kind of steam demon came in...."

"A Durlatori mist demon," Doyle corrected.

"Yeah, whatever," Cordelia continued. "Anyway, he came up here and said his talisman got stolen. Said if he didn't have his talisman, he couldn't digest the entrails of small animals. He wanted you to find it for him."

"I can handle that when I get back," Angel responded.

"No need," Cordelia said. "Doyle here hooked him up with one of his 'contacts.' Got him a new talisman, dirt cheap. We even got a commission. Thirty-five whole dollars."

"Well," Angel said, "that'll cover our rent increase until next year. Good work, Doyle."

"Here ta help, man."

"That's pretty much it," Cordelia said toward the speaker. "If anything comes up, I'll...oh, Mrs. Summers!" Cordelia, noticing Joyce for the first time, walked around the desk to greet her.

"Please, call me Joyce. You're all grown up now, diploma and everything."

"Joyce," Cordelia repeated. She called back toward the telephone:

"Angel, Mrs. Summ...I mean, Joyce is here."

"Joyce," Angel's voice called out through the speaker. "Glad you found the place. I'm out of town for a couple of days, but feel free to stay while I'm gone."

"I really appreciate this. I wouldn't impose, but I'm in kind of a bind. Um...Giles told me you're...on business. Is Buffy...?"

"She's fine," Angel assured her. "I've checked on her."

"Please don't tell her I'm here. I don't want her to worry."

"I won't. Actually, I don't anticipate that I'll be in contact with Buffy before I leave. I'd appreciate it if you'd return the favor, and keep my trip a secret. I don't want her to know I've been in Sunnydale."

"I won't tell her, Angel," Joyce replied. "Thank you again. For everything." Both Joyce and Angel knew that, by "everything," Joyce meant thank you for moving away and leaving my daughter alone to lead something like a normal life.

"No problem," Angel said, and hung up.

"Well," Cordelia said, turning to Joyce, "how long are you in town for?"

"Well, I might go to Portland on Friday. There should be flights available then. Are you staying here for Thanksgiving?"

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "I figured I'd hang out. I mean, there's not much to do back in Sunnydale, since Daddy...well, there's not much to do."

Doyle cleared his throat, and looked at Cordelia with an expectant glare.

"Oh, yeah. This," Cordelia said, gesturing toward her co-worker, "is Doyle. He gets creepy visions. He's also Irish. That's why he talks funny. Kind of like Bono, only, well, Bono is cute."

"Tank you fer da glowin' introduction," Doyle replied. "'Tis a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Summers."

"Thank you, Mr. Doyle. I hope I'm not in the way here during the holiday."

"Tisn't a holiday fer me," Doyle explained. "In Ireland, Tanksgivin is just another Tursday."

"Well, I still hope I'm not in the way."

"Oh, it's no problem at all," Cordelia volunteered. "You can stay here. Angel's gone, so you can have his bed downstairs. It's nice down there. Cosy, really, except for the medieval axes on the wall. Tomorrow, if you don't have plans, we were going to have dinner here."

Joyce considered this. She thought of the card in her pocket, and said:

"Well, let's see. We'll talk tomorrow."


Part III.


Joyce curled up under the soft comforter. It was a little...odd...sleeping in Angel's bed. After all, he and her daughter had...well...it was just odd. Sleep would be difficult.

Joyce got up and walked to the kitchen. She opened the cabinets, and found a jar with tea bags. She took one, laid it on the counter, filled the teakettle with water from the sink, and lit the burner on the stove. While waiting for the water to boil, she took a walking tour of the room.

Cordelia was right. With the exception of the antique weapons, the room did have a certain charm. She looked down at the kitchen table. Simple, but nice. Something caught her eye under the table. The linoleum was cracked in several places. Rather badly, actually, almost as though someone had cut into it with a knife. It obviously needed to be replaced, or, even better, Joyce thought, taken up altogether. There were probably nice hardwood floors underneath.

Anyway, it was a nice place. Much nicer than that abandoned mansion Angel had inhabited in Sunnydale. He'd moved up. Well, perhaps not 'up' in the strictest sense of the word; given his...condition...he needed to be underground. But it was a better home. And Buffy was in college, and seemed to be enjoying it. Everything had turned out well. There, Joyce thought, no need to feel guilty about that talk she'd had with Angel. It had all worked out just fine.

"Is Angel here?"

Joyce gasped. The voice came from behind her. No one was supposed to be there. Suddenly, the dark room didn't seem so cosy.

Joyce slowly turned. She saw a woman with long, blond hair cascading down a flowing, white gown. This, in and of itself, was not hard to absorb. She saw a painting on the wall behind the woman, through the woman. This was more difficult to absorb.

Joyce didn't know precisely what to say. Fortunately, the transparent woman interrupted the silence, and said:

"I'm looking for a man named Angel. I was told he could help me."

"A-a-a-ngel," Joyce said, attempting to regain her composure. "Angel isn't here."

"Oh!" The woman's head fell. "I see."

She turned away. It was then that Joyce noticed that the woman's feet never touched the ground. The visitor began to float away.

"Wait," Joyce called toward the woman. "Is there something I can...help you with?"

"No," the woman replied, her back still turned. "No one can help me. It was foolish of me to believe that anyone could."

"Hold on. Angel will be back in a few days. Until then, can't you wait?"

"I haven't much time," the woman said, turning to face Joyce.

Joyce considered this. She said:

"Let me make a phone call."


Part IV.


"So, are you, like, a ghost? Because I have a ghost in my apartment, and I have some questions. For example, birthdays. Do you celebrate them? And what do you give for presents? I mean, Christmas is coming up, and I thought about giving Dennis a book. Because, I mean, it's not like he can use gift certificates. And, how do you do your hair? I mean, Angel has to kind of feel his way through it, not having a reflection and all, but since you don't even have a body, does it

just fall in place, or is there some kind of ectoplasmic conditioner you use, or...." "Cordelia," Doyle interrupted. "Let da lady speak. I doubt she's here ta help ya with yer shoppin' and cosmetology questions."

Cordelia, Doyle and Joyce were sitting around Angel's kitchen table. Their guest hovered in front of them.

"I am not a ghost," the woman replied. "My name is Sira. I am a guardian spirit."

"Interestin'," Doyle said. "Guardian of...?"

"A small grotto in the hills to the south. A statute, a symbol of things too involved for me to explain, was buried there. I was it's guardian."

"And...?"

"The statute was stolen. A vampire, a powerful vampire, stole it. I used my powers. I can control weather, within limits. I sent rain...hail...winds. This scares off people who wander into the wrong place, and may stumble on something too powerful for them to possess. However, this vampire was undeterred. He knew what he was looking for. I called on squirrels, insects, even a wild dog answered my call. He destroyed them all, and took the statute."

Cordelia asked:

"So, how did you end up here? I mean, I came to L.A. to be an actress. I'm just doing this secretary thing until my big break comes along. I've had a few auditions...."

"Cordy, please!" Doyle turned to the spirit. "I tink my associate is askin' how you came to find us."

"I followed the vampire," Sira explained. "Once the symbol was stolen, I was no longer connected to that place. The bond was broken, and I drifted, waiting for my connection to this plane to be lost forever. I don't have much time. I lost the vampire when he arrived in the city. I drifted for several days, until I came upon a tavern. As my bond to this reality dissipates, my ability to conceal my presence becomes weak, and suddenly I realized that everyone could see me. It was late, and the bar was almost empty. Everyone ran when I appeared. They were terrified, except one man. He wasn't scared. I explained my situation to him, and he suggested that I come here. He apparently knows your employer."

"I'll have to ask Angel about dat," Doyle said. "Find out who we can tank for da referral. Wha' do you want us to do fer ya?"

"The statute must be returned," Sira responded. "It maintains a balance in that place which must not be disturbed for too long. I cannot return. I am almost gone. I can feel myself slipping...." Suddenly, Sira's faded form began to fade even more. "No more time...."

"Wait," Doyle said. "Wha's da name o' dis statute? If we know it's name...."

"It is called the Myransa. It will guide you back to it's resting place. But you must...." Sira faded, continued fading, and then finally was gone.

Joyce stared, her mouth agape. Cordelia swallowed once, and bowed her head. Doyle only stared. The silence was palpable. Joyce finally broke the silence when she asked:

"Does...this happen often?"


Part V.


"Here it is!"

Cordelia looked up from the dusty volume of spirit history, pointing excitedly toward an open page. She held up the book, and revealed a charcoal sketch of a statuette of a winged mountain lion. It was approximately nine o'clock in the morning. They had been researching all night.

"Yeah, dat looks like wha' we're lookin' fer," Doyle said, taking the book from Cordelia. He read out loud:

"Da Myransa is a totem of power, protectin' sacred areas from imbalance. It harnesses da powers of nature to keep alignment of da spirit energies of a natural settin'. Mage scholars believe dat da powers of da Myransa may be harnessed, if combined with odder magics, and da power of da Myransa can dereby be redirected to cause unnatural phenomena to occur."

A voice called from the stairs:

"Why would a vampire want that?"

Cordelia and Doyle turned to face Joyce, standing in a robe, her hair wet and tangled. She had apparently just gotten out of the shower.

"Well," Cordelia said, "Vampires sometimes want weird stuff. They're kind of like those people who collect Beanie Babies, if Beanie Babies gave you access to limitless evil powers."

"An' dis git is likely ta be up ta no good," Doyle added. "Look, if dis vamp needs to combine da statue wit some udder magic, he's likely here ta find some. I've got a few contacts I can check."

Joyce asked:

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Actually, Mrs. Summers, ya should probably lay low. Dees vamps, dey can be radder nasty like. You probably shouldn't even stay here, until were sure dat dis vamp didn't follow da spirit. Is dere anywhere ya can go?"

"Uh, yes, I think there is."

"Good. Cordelia and I will snoop around. We'll call yer phone when da coast is clear."


Part VI.


"Joyce, so glad you could make it!"

Mark reached out a hand to take Joyce's coat. She looked over her shoulder to see Cordelia and Doyle drive away. She replied:

"Thanks. I appreciate you letting me come on such short notice. My...friends...at the last minute, had to change their plans, so...."

"No need to explain. Cindy," Mark called to a young woman, perhaps five or six years older than Buffy. "This is Joyce. We met at the airport."

"Nice to meet you, Joyce," Cindy said. Cindy looked Joyce over from head to toe, and smiled. She apparently approved.

Cindy led Joyce in, and introduced her to the family. There were about twenty people at the gathering, and Cindy announced that dinner would be served in about two hours.

Joyce took a seat by the fireplace. Of course, in Southern California, it was for decorative purposes only.

Mark came and sat next to her. He asked:

"So, your friends...."

"They're really my daughter's friends. They had to...um...work on a....project that...materialized, so I thought I'd come over. Thanks again. I hope I'm not intruding."

"Oh, not at all," Mark replied. "My niece told me to bring someone, if I wanted. She keeps trying to set me up. Not that...I mean...I didn't invite you here to...."

"I understand," Joyce said. "I know what it's like to be single all of a sudden."

"Yeah, it's tough. I mean, you get used to always having someone around."

"Yes. You do." Joyce looked straight into Marks eyes. She thought to herself:

What am I doing? He's from Connecticut. What could possibly come of this?

A voice called from across the room:

"Uncle Mark!"

"Oh, that's my nephew, Steve," Mark explained to Joyce. "I should really...."

"Oh, go on. Go talk to him. I'll be fine."

"I'll be right back," Mark promised, and crossed the room to see his nephew.

Joyce looked around the room. This room genuinely was cosy. Not even one pole arm from the Middle Ages hung on the wall. She looked back and forth between pieces of furniture, attempting to occupy her attention among the room full of strangers.

"Here," Cindy said, walking up with a drink in her hand. "It's apple cider. I hope that's alright."

"Oh, yes, thank you," Joyce said, taking the drink. Cindy sat down next to Joyce and said:

"I'm so glad you could come. It's nice to see Uncle Mark here with someone."

"Well, we're not really...."

"Oh, Uncle Mark told me how you met. I know you're not...well, I know you just met. It's just, well, it's nice that he feels...comfortable...asking a woman to go somewhere. You know, after Aunt Sandy died, we were all kind of worried."

"He seems to be doing well," Joyce commented.

"Oh, he's fine, for the most part. It's just, well, it's hard for someone to get used to relating to people, after they've lost someone. I don't think he ever thought that he'd have to learn to talk to women again, you know, that way."

"Yes." Joyce knew exactly how he felt. She remembered Ted. What a disaster. She hadn't even tried to go out with anyone since then. She told herself that she was just too busy, between work and taking care of Buffy. But Buffy was away at college, work was as slow as it was going to get, and, still...nothing.

"Anyway, I've got to get dinner on the table," Cindy said, arising from her chair. "We'll eat soon."

"Sounds good," Joyce said. She stared at the bottom of her drink. Then she looked up across the room toward Mark. She couldn't hear the conversation he was having with his nephew, but she could tell he was happy, lost in the joy of relief from isolation.

She suddenly realized that she craved that relief herself.


Part VII.


"A vampire you ssssay? Yesssss. There wassss one here."

Iggy was a three-foot tall lizard demon. He lived in a small plywood shack in the sewers. He wasn't know for his social skills. But he was known for selling minor magic items to those in need.

Doyle asked:

"Yer sure it was da same guy. We don't know much about 'im. We just know he's a vamp, and he was trying to find sumtin' ta combine wit a magic statue...."

"Yesssss. He wasssss here yessssterday. He bought a gemssssstone. A ssssunssshield gem. He held it up to a ssssstatue, trying to make them fit together."

"Dat sounds like our man. Wha' did he look like?"

"Tall, yesssss. Dresssssed in a red cape. With whisssskers, and dagger on hissss belt."

"Did he say where he was goin'?"

"Ssssomething about having an appointment at the Four Windssssss."

"Tanks, Iggy," Doyle said. He reached in his pocket, and gave the demon a twenty-dollar bill. So much for covering the rent increase.

Doyle climbed a steel ladder to the street, and crawled into the tiny front seat of a small rental car. Cordelia was asleep in the driver's seat.

"Wake up, sunshine," Doyle said, shaking one of Cordelia's shoulders. "Dere's work ta do."

"Oh, Doyle, give me a break," Cordelia exclaimed. "I didn't get any sleep last night."

"Not me fault, Cordy. Hey, did ya have ta get such tiny transportation? Me legs 'er practically in me chest."

"It's all we can afford," Cordelia replied. "Angel took his car to Sunnydale, and, remember, we don't even have a paying client on this one. I highly doubt Ms. Phantom What's-Her-Name is going to send us a fee from the Great Beyond. We were lucky we could rent this. It's Thanksgiving weekend."

"We shoulda let Joyce have tha' car to drive back to Sunnydale," Doyle said. "I don't like us havin' house guests with nasty business up."

"It's a local Mom-N-Pop rental company," Cordelia said. "The car can't be returned in Sunnydale. Any luck with your reptile friend?"

"Drive ta da Four Winds. It's an outdoor patio bar, over in da Valley. Some demon-types frequent da place. I'll give ya directions."

"Oh, can't we get some sleep first? It's daylight. No vampire's going to go to an outdoor place until after sundown."

"Dis may be an exception," Doyle explained. "Ya see, dat vamp, he bought a sunshield gem."

"What's that? A jewel you hang from your rearview mirror that keeps your leather seats from cracking in the sun?"

"It protects humans from da damaging effects of da sun. Sailor's used to use 'em, back before Hawaiian Tropic was invented."

"So, does this protect vampires?"

"Nah, tisn't powerful enough. By itself, dat is. But if da vamp is usin' it wit da statue, I'm guessin' he has a way of changing it. Drive."

Cordelia rolled her eyes, and started the car.


Part VIII.


"So where do you live now?"

Joyce waited until she had chewed and swallowed her mouthful of lettuce before replying to Mark's question. Cindy had sat them next to each other around the dining room table. There were about fifteen people seated around the long table, knocking elbows as they tried to eat. In a corner, four young children sat around a card table, pretending to eat their salads.

"A little town called Sunnydale," Joyce finally said. "I work in a museum."

"Sound's interesting."

"It can be. Of course, I would rather have stayed in Los Angeles. But my daughter had some...trouble...in school, and I got tired of living in my ex-husband's shadow, so we moved."

"Any regrets?"

"Oh, I don't know," Joyce answered. "I mean, the work's OK, and Sunnydale's nice. The town can be a little...unusual, but it's nice. It's just not what I planned. Nothing really turned out the way I planned."

"Well," Mark responded, "look at it this way, nothing really turned out the way the Pilgrims planned, either, and here we are half a millennium later, celebrating Thanksgiving."

"I suppose," Joyce said. "I guess the Puritans didn't leave England expecting to die from starvation, exposure, and disease."

"Nope. But those who survived celebrated. It's kind of a testament to the human spirit. There's something heroic about surviving adversity."

Joyce considered this. She never considered herself to be herioc.


Part IX.


"So, this is the place?"

Cordelia stood beside Doyle and looked up at the sign at the entrance to the outdoor café. It said:

"The Four Winds"

"Yeah," Doyle replied. "Dis is it. Looks innocent enough, don' it?"

Tables were arranged in the outdoor seating area. A bar with a thatched roof was in the corner.

"So, what are we looking for?"

"I have a feelin' we'll know when we see it," Doyle replied.

At that moment, the light suddenly began to grow dim. "Looks like we may get some rain. It's clouding over," Cordelia said.

Doyle looked straight up into the sky. "Dat's not cloud cover. Look!"

Cordelia tilted her head toward the sun. It looked as though the sun was coated with a layer of honey. The light began to grow ever more dim, until the sky was as dark as midnight. Everyone in the courtyard looked up, checked their watches, and attempted to comprehend the sudden darkness.

"Dat's what he's doin'," Doyle exclaimed. "He's blockin' out da sun. Dat gem he bought from Iggy must lower da intensity of sunlight. Dat's how da gem protected sailors from da heat. Dat statute, it increased da gem's power, makin' it dark."

Cordelia looked away from the sky, toward Doyle, and said:

"So, some vampire now has a magic statute that can turn off the sun? Great. That's just what we need. A vampire who can ruin picnics."

"An' can go out in da day, witout worryin' about flamin' up," Doyle observed. "O' course, it doesn't explain why he's coming here. Dat is, if he actually is."

"Uh, I think it's safe to say he is," Cordelia said, pointing to one of the tables.

The first giveaway was the skin. Pasty white, a stark contrast to the black turtleneck, the dark pants, the blood-red cape, and the leather boots. His dark goatee stood out from his face like ink on paper.

Of course, the glowing, ivory white statuette of a mountain cat in his hand was a dead giveaway, too. The vampire held the statute in his left hand. As the statue moved, the gleam of a red gem flashed from the lion's mouth. He was walking toward a table where a solitary man sat sipping an iced tea. Doyle and Cordelia crept closer.

"Julius," the vampire said to the table's occupant. "I thought I'd find you here."

The man attempted to respond:

"Y-y-y-y-y-you, you can't...."

"Go out during the day? Yes, that was a problem, Julius. And you were always good at exploiting it. Never venturing into the open except during daylight, and then staying only in outdoor places. Staying in your home at night. Very clever. You have no idea the trouble I went through, arranging this little 'meeting' between us."

"Darius, I can explain...."

"Explain what? Why you stole from me? Destroyed Diana? Attempted to destroy me? Yes, please, explain."

"Sounds like these two have a history," Cordelia whispered to Doyle.

"Yeah," Doyle whispered back, "and none too friendly like."

Julius stood from the table. He said:

"Well, I guess this was coming sooner or later. If it's a fight you want...."

Julius dropped his arms to his sides. His arms were straight against his body...but they kept dropping. His legs grew, until he reached a total height of ten feet. His hair exploded into a silver mane, and his eyes flashed, red as a sunset.

Doyle and Cordelia scurried for cover. Everyone in the courtyard screamed and ran. Except Darius.

"Don't be a fool, Julius," he said, his face morphing into his vamp form, "you never were a match for me." He threw a chair at Julius, which sent the huge creature reeling backward.

"Da big one's a lot to look at," Doyle whispered to Cordelia, with whom he crouched, peeking up from behind the bar. "But he's not as strong as he looks."

Julius struggled to his feet and walked toward Darius. The vampire sprang up at the towering man, his fangs aimed for the giant's throat. Julius attempted to grab Darius with his huge hands, but Darius caught him by the wrists. The sound of snapping bone filled the courtyard. Darius had broken both of Julius' arms.

He'd also dropped the statue.

Doyle wasted no time at the opportunity. He sprang out from behind the bar, and lunged for the statue at the vampire's feet. He grasped it with both hands and shouted:

"Cordelia! Get outta here!"

Cordelia did not need to be told twice. She ran toward the front gate. Doyle stood and turned to run for the gate himself. Darius turned, for a moment confused, not quite sure what was happening. When he saw the statue in Doyle's hands, he threw Julius against a wall, reached one arm out, and struck Doyle in the back. The blow sent Doyle flying headlong onto the ground.

"Doyle!" Cordelia stopped at the gate, and, reflexively threw her purse at the behemoth. It struck Darius in the head, and the contents of Cordelia's purse scattered on the ground. Darius turned to face his second unexpected attacker of the day.

Doyle took advantage of the opportunity. He still had the statue in his hand. He raised it in the air, concentrated, and silently prayed. The tome in Angel's library hadn't said anything about needing any special incantation to control the statue's powers. He hoped that one wasn't necessary.

As he held the statue, he felt it's power course through his body. As Darius moved toward Cordelia, Doyle shouted:

"Hey, bloodsucker! Beautiful weather we're havin', eh?"

Darius turned toward Doyle, and saw that the gem in the statue's mouth was glowing, fire red. He looked to the sky. The dark haze over the sun was fading from black to brown, then brown to tan. Doyle and Cordelia squinted as the light began to reach their eyes. Darius screamed as the sunshine began to scorch his skin. A less experienced vampire would have been ash on the ground. Darius, however, kept his senses, looked around, and saw a manhole cover. He tore the steel circle from the ground with his bare hands, and jumped into the darkness.

Doyle got up of the ground. Cordelia ran to his side. She shouted:

"Well, that was damned foolish!"

"Yeah," Doyle said, "but ya canna argue with the results."

They walked back to Julius. His body had returned to human size. Doyle checked his pulse. Nothing. The last throw by Darius had broken the giant's neck. Doyle heard Cordelia shout:

"Dammit! My stuff is everywhere." She retrieved her purse, and began picking up a seemingly endless supply of lipsticks and eyeliners.

"Hurry up," Doyle told her. "Let's get outta here ba'fore da sun comes down on it's own, and dat beastie comes back."


Part X.


"That's weird."

Cindy was holding one curtain of her kitchen window open with her hand, and stared into the sky. Joyce, who had volunteered to help her carry out the serving trays, looked over Cindy's shoulder through the window. Cindy continued:

"Did you see that? It was dark for a couple of minutes."

"It could have been a passing storm," Joyce said.

"No, there's not a cloud in the sky. How odd."

Joyce had been enjoying the normalcy of the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. It had brought back memories of a simpler time, when she would have dismissed the moment of darkness without needing an explanation. However, the phenomenon had reminded her of the secret world of darkness that she had become all too familiar with.

"Well, if it was a storm, it's gone now," Joyce said. She had learned something of the art of plausible denial from her daughter. "We'd better get dinner on the table before it get's cold." "Uh...yeah," Cindy said. She took her hand from the curtain, and started arranging the trays to bring to the table. Joyce could tell that she had forgotten the momentary darkness, and moved on to more mundane concerns. Joyce took a bowl of mashed potatoes, and walked toward the dining room. She envied Cindy. There was a time in her own life when tending to hearth and home did not involve worries about the darkness that came without warning.


Part XI.


Darius crawled out of the sewer about three blocks from where he had entered. Night had fallen. He stealthily crept back to the restaurant. Yellow tape blocked off the courtyard. Darius proceeded through undeterred.

He looked at the ground, and saw a chalk outline in the shape of a man. He smiled. Julius had met the fate he so richly deserved. Now, it was only a matter of finding the two miscreants who had interrupted his vengance and stolen a tool which, while it had served its main purpose, would have proven useful to keep.

A flash of white cardboard caught his eye. He reached under one of the tables, and picked it up. It was a business card. There was a drawing of something that looked like...a man in a big bow tie? Perhaps...an elephant's head?

He read the business card. He suddenly understood the significance of the curious shape. An angel. As in, Angel Investigations. With a telephone number. He smiled.

Perfect.


Part XII.


Cindy had accepted Joyce's offer to help clean up while Mark and the others watched the football game. Joyce held a stack of dishes, and was carrying them into the kitchen, when she heard from the television in the living room:

"This is a Channel Five News Brief. We'll be back to the game in just a moment. Our station has been getting calls from local residents regarding what appeared to be a solar eclipse this afternoon. No, it wasn't the Martians invading. Our meteorologists tell us that a patch of smog was lifted by a passing high pressure system, causing a momentary haze over the greater Los Angeles area. More on this story at eleven."

Joyce paused. It seemed to be a logical explanation.

Which was exactly why she didn't believe it.


Part XIII.


Darius reached down onto the knob of the front door of Angel Investigations. It was locked. He forced the knob. The lock snapped, and the door opened.

He walked into the front office, past the reception desk, and through Angel's office. He considered lying in wait for whoever arrived next, but when he saw the elevator, he decided to thoroughly check the premises. He entered the elevator, and pressed the lever down. The elevator sank to the basement.

He walked into the living area, and noted the kitchen table. He looked to one side and saw the open door of the bedroom. Someone lived here, yet he had been able to enter uninvited.

A vampire? With human minions? Very interesting. At that moment, he looked down, and saw a pad of paper lying on the table. He picked it up. It said "Mark," and had a telephone number. Darius walked to the telephone and dialed the number. A voice answered:

"Hello?"

"Yes, I'm looking for a friend," Darius replied. He saw a garment bag draped over the couch. It was half unzipped, and the paisley sleeve of a woman's blouse hung out of the bag toward the floor.

"Oh, you must mean Joyce," the voice replied over the phone. "She said some friends might call to pick her up after dinner."

"Yes," Darius responded, "I am on my way to get...Joyce. How do I get there?"

"I'll give you directions. Do you have a pen?"

Darius smiled to himself and said:

"I have an excellent memory."


Part XIV.


"Well, there goes a perfectly good manicure!"

Cordelia dropped her shovel and put her hands on her hips. "How am I supposed to become a famous model-slash-actress-slash-diva digging out here in the dirt?"

"I tink you got da diva part down," Doyle said, shoveling dirt into what remained of the pit they had dug. The statue, at the bottom of the hole, was now almost completely buried. "Tink of it as auditionin' for a movie about gold prospectors."

"I can't believe how late it is. This is not how I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving."

"Tisn't my fault it took ya two hours ta find a place to buy da shovels."

"Well, that statue may have an excellent sense of direction for finding secluded grottos, but it stinks at finding Wal-Marts. Couldn't this have waited until morning?"

"Take a look around," Doyle said. "Da vegetation is already dyin'. Dat spirit was right about tha' statue maintainin' nature's balance. Another few days, an' this place woulda been barren."

"I know, I know," Cordelia said, as Doyle finished filling the hole and patted down the soil with the shovel. "It's just...I was hoping for a nice, quiet Thanksgiving. No vamps, no demons, no supernatural quests. This is my first holiday away from home. Well, except for that Christmas I went skiing in Aspen. That wasn't so bad."

"Well, tink of it dis way," Doyle said, tossing the shovel aside. "Once you've been on da cover of yer first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, ya can spend every Christmas in Aspen."

"Yeah, well, it's not like I can go home. Or have a home to go to."

"I know dat feelin'."

"Yeah, I suppose you would," Cordelia admitted. "You know, normally it's not so bad, but during the holidays, when every stupid TV show is doing it's 'Very Special' episode, all full of good cheer and togetherness, it just...."

"Oh, please. Not now."

Cordelia was stunned. She said:

"Excuse me!?! Am I annoying you?"

"No...I mean...not...now...ugh!"

Doyle doubled over in pain, grasping at the side of his head. Apparently the Powers that Be weren't taking the long weekend off.

"Ahhhh!" Doyle fell to the ground. He started to lose his vision, and gain his second sight.

"Doyle!" Cordelia ran to his side. She grasped his arm. She didn't know what else to do. She never did.

Through the haze, Doyle saw a small house. A shadowy figure lurked outside, looking through one of the windows. It was Darius.

Suddenly, through the vampire's eyes, he saw through the window, into the house. A woman sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap.

It was Joyce.

The stabbing pain in Doyle's head became a dull ache. His vision was over.

"Doyle," Cordelia asked, "what did you see?"

"Get in da car," he replied, with all the force he could muster through the pain. He stumbled toward the passenger door.

Cordelia followed, jumping into the driver's seat. "Where are we going?"

"It's Joyce," Doyle said, climbing into the car. "Dat vamp's after her."

"How did he find her?"

"Don't know," Doyle said, "just drive."

Cordelia started the engine, put the car into gear, and hit the accelerator. "Here," she said, handing Doyle her cell phone, "call and warn her."

"Good idea," Doyle said. He pulled the phone number from his jacket pocket. He dialed, hit SEND, and put the phone to his ear. He heard:

"We're sorry. Cellular service is not available at this time. Please try again later."

"Cordy," Doyle said, "Dese phones ya got er junk."

"It's not the phone," Cordelia replied. "We're too far from the city. We'll never get a signal out here."

"Keep drivin'," Doyle replied, focusing his eyes on the road.


Part XV.


Joyce and Mark sat in the living room of Cindy's home. Each had a pumpkin pie slice on a paper plate on their laps.

"So, what do you do?"

"I'm a professor of history at UConn," Mark replied.

"Oh," she said. "We have something in common. I was a history major. That's how I got into museum work."

"Yes," Mark said. "I've always been fascinated with history. You can't know where you're going until you know what's past."

"And it's so dynamic," Joyce interjected. "It's always changing."

"And any sort of change results in progress, sooner or later. Wars, earthquakes, any form of tragedy almost universally results in an improvement of the human condition over time. War machines become steam trains. Guided missiles become moon rockets. Disasters may be horrible when they occur, but it is the nature of humanity to improve itself in the face of adversity. And, contrary to the popular saying, history doesn't repeat itself. If you always look to the past to try to predict the future, you'll wind up short. History is a tool for understanding ourselves, but it's not the whole story."

"Very true," Joyce said.

The conversation was interrupted by a doorbell. Cindy called from the kitchen:

"I'll get it!"

Cindy walked to the door. She opened it. A man in a red cape stood at the door. This seemed unusual. Even if capes had been a more normal accessory, it simply wasn't cold.

"Hello," Darius said. "I'm here for...Joyce."

"Oh, I'll get her," Cindy responded.

"May I come in?" Darius stood ready to launch himself into the house upon the granting of an invitation.

"Well," Cindy said, "I don't see...."

"You're not invited!"

Cindy and Darius turned and saw Joyce standing behind Cindy.

"Oh, Joyce," Cindy said, "your friend is here to...."

"He's not my friend," Joyce said. "Do NOT invite him in."

Cindy looked puzzled. She said:

"Joyce, this man said that he was...."

"Don't invite him in," Joyce said again. "He's...he's...my ex-husband. I have a restraining order against him." Joyce shifted her focus toward Darius and said:

"You're looking a little PALE today, dear. Don't you remember the judge telling you that you couldn't come within 100 yards of me?"

This woman is clever, Darius thought to himself. Too clever. He replied:

"You're right, dear. I'm sorry. I'll just be going." Darius turned to Cindy. "Oh, by the way, I noticed that your newspapers are stacked at the side of the house for recycling. You shouldn't let them pile up like that. It's a fire hazard. You know, not every danger that can befall you comes from inside your house. Good day."

Darius walked away. Mark walked up to Joyce and asked:

"Was that a threat?"

"No," Joyce said. Yes, Joyce thought. She couldn't endanger these people. "Look, I should really be going...."

"I'll drive you," Mark offered. "He may be waiting for you, so I'll...."

"No!" Joyce exclaimed. "I'll go alone. My friends were going to wait for me at the corner anyway."

"Look, Joyce," Mark said, "I don't feel comfortable...."

"Mark, listen to me," Joyce said with the same firm tone in her voice that she used to use when she would tell Buffy not to sneak cookies out of the pantry. She hoped that she would have better results with Mark. "Do NOT follow me. Do NOT leave the house. Stay here. I'll be fine. I'll call you tomorrow. Don't worry. And do NOT follow me."

Mark and Cindy exchanged glances. They did not know what to make of this sudden situation.

"Let me get my coat," Joyce said, walking upstairs toward the bedroom where the jackets had been stashed. She walked quickly. Who knew how long it would take for the vampire to find a book of matches.

She walked into the bedroom, and closed the door behind her. She grabbed her coat off the bed and threw it on. She looked around the room for something she could use to protect herself from the vamp. Unfortunately, Cindy wasn't so devout that she kept holy water in every room.

Then Joyce looked up on the wall. A crucifix hung over the bed. Joyce climbed up to the bed, and for a moment thought of the irony: she was stealing a crucifix to fight evil. Under the circumstances, she thought it was justified. She put the cross under her jacket, and walked out of the room, down the stairs. Mark said:

"Listen, Joyce, I really think..."

"I'll be fine, Mark," Joyce replied. "I'll call you. Don't worry. And DON'T follow me."

Joyce went outside the door. She quickly walked to the sidewalk, and went down the street, looking over her shoulder. She knew the vampire would come. She just needed to lead him away from the house. When she was about two blocks down the street, she turned the corner, and looked back towards Cindy's house one last time. She pulled out the crucifix with her left hand, and got her cell phone out from her purse with her right hand. She was looking through her purse for the paper with Cordelia's cell phone number, when a voice behind her said:

"You left. How noble."

She turned around. Darius was standing behind her. She held the crucifix toward him. He took a half step back.

"And you're resourceful," Darius said. "I'm impressed."

"Well," Joyce said, trying to maintain her composure, "I'm my daughter's mother. She's the Slayer. She'll hunt you and kill you if you lay one hand on me."

"Hmmm, a Slayer," Darius said. "I ran into a Slayer once. I lived. She didn't. Now, why don't you put that toy away. I'll only kill you if you don't give me what I want, and all I want is my statue back."

"I don't know anything about your statue. Now get out of here."

"Or what? You'll point that cross at me some more? It may keep me at bay, but I'll eventually maneuver around it. If your daughter is the Slayer, you know I'm not lying. If you don't have what I want, your friends, those two busybodies who took my statue, will have it, and I'll trade you for it. You'll be safe, and I'll have my statue. That sounds fair, doesn't it?"

For a moment, it actually sounded like a good exchange to Joyce. Then she remembered what Cordelia said about evil Beanie Babies. She said:

"Whatever you want that statue for, it's probably to hurt people. So forget it."

"Well," Darius said, "it seems we're at a bit of a standoff. How will we resolve this."

A voice called from behind Darius:

"Stay away from her!"

Darius turned to look over his shoulder. Mark stood behind him, carrying a golf club. It appeared to be a putter, but Darius wasn't sure. He hadn't played golf for about one hundred and fifty years. He made a mental note to get back to Scotland one day soon.

Darius turned back to face Joyce and said:

"Well, a solution has presented itself. The gentleman is carrying an iron, instead of a wood, so I assume he doesn't know what he's up against. So why don't you just come quietly, and I'll let your 'rescuer' go back home in one piece?"

Joyce's jaw trembled. She should have known Mark wouldn't have listened. Darius then said:

"I've got a better idea. I'll kill this friend of yours, and then wait for his family to come out of the house to find him. Oh, yes, I like that solution. I've been a bit hungry...."

Joyce shouted:

"No!"

Darius ignored Joyce's exclamation. His face twisted into his vamp form, and he walked toward Mark, who stood in shock at the transformation. Darius grabbed him by the throat, lifted him from the ground, and said to him:

"Don't worry. I'll just take a taste. If you're not one of my preferred blood types, I'll just snap your neck. Much less painful that way."

SSSCCCREEEEECHHHH!!!!

The squeal of the tires caught Darius off guard. He dropped Mark to the ground, and looked at the lights of the approaching vehicle. Cordelia flipped on the high beams, temporarily blinding the vampire. Darius held up his arms. His hands shielded his eyes from the light.

However, they did not shield his legs from the car's bumper as Cordelia drove up over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Darius was thrown into a thicket of bushes.

Cordelia and Doyle jumped out of the car. Doyle held one of the wooden sticks he and Cordelia had picked up from the side of the road. Doyle had sharpened them while Cordelia drove.

Leaves and twigs flew into the air as Darius sprang to his feet. He had no intention of letting these two get the better of him again. He stood face to face with Doyle.

Doyle did a quick evaluation of the situation. This was a strong vampire, and had probably been fighting off men wielding stakes for at least a hundred years before Doyle was born. Doyle needed a plan, and fast.

Doyle had an idea. He only hoped Cordelia was savvy enough to figure it out.

"Cordy," he said, never taking his eyes off the vamp, "get da statue, and use it ta bring out da sun!"

Cordy paused for a moment, although to Doyle it seemed like an eternity. Then Cordelia said:

"It's in the back seat. I'll get it."

Darius backed away. Doyle advanced toward him. Darius turned so that he could run at full pace. Doyle sprang forward, and buried the stake between the vampire's shoulder blades.

"Actually," Doyle whispered into the paralyzed vamp's ear, "da statue's buried in da woods, but dat's a bit of a moot point now, isn't it?"

Darius dissolved, covering Doyle in his dust.

Doyle walked back to where Cordelia and Joyce were standing. He said:

"Tanks fer backin' me up dere, Cordy. I wasn't sure ya'd pick up on me idea."

"Please! Just because I'm beautiful, doesn't mean I'm stupid."

"Sorry fer, uh, underestimatin' ya," Doyle replied. He turned to Joyce. "An' sorry fer puttin' ya in danger."

"It's not your fault," Joyce said.

"Actually, it kind of is," Cordelia said. "We were going to call and warn you. I told him to wait until we got back to the city to call, but he kept trying, and by the time we got close enough to civilization to get a signal, our own little Irish Alexander Graham Bell here had drained the phone battery."

"Well," Doyle interjected, "if ya'd buy decent equipment, then I wouldn't hafta...."

"What's important is that you both got here on time," Joyce interrupted. God, how did Angel put up with these two?

"Um...Joyce?"

Joyce, Doyle and Cordelia turned toward the voice. Mark was sitting on the ground, the golf club still in his hand. He had the facial expression of...well, of a man who'd just seen someone disintegrate into a fine powder. Joyce ran to him, knelt on the ground, and said:

"Mark, are you alright?"

"Your ex-husband," Mark said, "he just...he...."

"He wasn't my ex-husband," Joyce said. She looked at Doyle and Cordelia. Doyle bit his bottom lip. Cordelia shrugged. Plausible denial didn't seem to be an option this time. Joyce drew a deep breath, turned to Mark, and said:

"That was a vampire. They're real. My daughter slays them. Her ex-boyfriend is a vampire, but he stopped being evil due to a gypsy curse. He now lives in L.A., and uses his vampire powers to help people and fight monsters. Monsters are real, too. These two people work for my daughter's ex-evil ex-boyfriend, and they help fight monsters. Last night a ghost, I mean, a guardian spirit, came to me and asked for help finding her magic statue. My daughter's ex-boyfriend's friends found the statue, and then came back here to help me."

Mark waited for a moment. He then looked toward Doyle and Cordelia and said:

"Have you eaten?"


Epilogue


"Is dere more of da cranberries?"

Doyle and Cordelia sat with Cindy at the dining room table, eating leftovers. The rest of Cindy's guests had gone home. Cindy said:

"I'm afraid that was the last of them. But there's more stuffing."

"Naw, I'm gettin' stuffed myself. Tanks anyway."

"My pleasure," Cindy replied. "Your accent is so interesting. Is it Scottish?"

"Irish, actually."

"Oh," Cindy said. "I was going to say you look a lot like Pierce Brosnan."

Doyle looked up from his plate. Cindy was smiling at him. He said:

"Well, yer not da first ta notice da resemblance. Anyway, I don't want ta eat all yer leftovers. I'm sure you and your husband...."

"Oh, I'm not married. I got divorced about a year ago."

"Really," Doyle said, letting a grin cover his face. "Well, if ya need someone ta help ya wit da dishes, I could stay an'...."

"Excuse me," Cordelia interjected. "Did you say there was more stuffing?"

"Oh...yes," Cindy said, less than enthusiastically. "I'll get it."

Cindy arose from the table, and went into the kitchen. Cordelia shouted to her:

"Take your time!"

Doyle shot a glance at Cordelia that was equal parts frustration and curiosity. Cordelia said:

"What? I'm hungry."

Joyce and Mark sat in the living room sipping coffee.

"So," Mark said, "your daughter slays vampires. How does one get that job?"

"She's the Chosen One. It's like getting drafted."

She stared right into Mark's eyes, and asked:

"Are you OK with all this?"

"Actually," Mark said, "it explains quite a lot. There are a lot of events that they leave out of the history books that can't be explained. We normally write it off to poor records or superstition, but I guess there's more to it than that. I'll have to go back and look up a few things. Some historical theory may be radically wrong."

"Mark," Joyce cautioned, "you can't ever tell anyone...."

"Who'd believe me?"

"True," Joyce said. She looked at her watch. "It's getting late. I'd better be getting back."

"Where will you go?"

"Back to Angel's for tonight. Tomorrow I may see if I can get a flight to Portland."

Mark paused, and then said:

"You could stay here."

Joyce considered this, although it was not the first time she considered it. She said:

"Well, I couldn't impose on Angel's hospitality for too long."

She smiled. She was being coy and aloof, and yet she wasn't closing any doors. This was all coming back to her.

Like riding a bicycle, she thought.

"Well, I have a suite at the Marriott. You could stay with me," Mark suggested, and then quickly added:

"The couch in the outer room turns into a bed. I could stay on that, and you could have the bedroom."

"I couldn't ask you to sleep on the couch."

"Well, you could have the couch, and I could...."

"Mark, why don't I just stay, and we can see what happens."

Mark smiled. "I'd like that."

"I'll have to go with my friends to get my things."

"I'll follow you in my car."

Joyce got up, asked Cordelia to go to the ladies room with her, and told Cordelia of her new...arrangements. Cordelia giggled like a schoolgirl. Joyce got Cordelia to promise not to tell Buffy, Angel, or anyone of her...layover...in LA, and Cordelia said she would get a similar promise out of Doyle.

Shortly thereafter, Joyce stood in the driveway while Cordelia and Doyle got in the tiny rental car, and Mark said his goodbyes to his niece. Joyce looked at the man with whom she would be spending the weekend, her first such weekend in a long time. She thought to herself:

All change is progress.

THE END


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