Title: Late Night Walk

Author: Gaeriel Mallory

Rating: FR7

Crossover: Highlander

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their individual creators, not me.

Summary: Joyce worries and does something stupid.

Ever since Buffy had returned from wherever she had been over the summer, Joyce worried. She was sure that her daughter knew that Joyce lay in bed wondering if Buffy would return home hurt that night, if she returned home at all. After awhile, the waiting got to be too much and she would get up and go to the kitchen to make a cup of hot chocolate. She would pretend to read a book or watch late-night TV, never turning the page or eyes staring at the screen without comprehension.

On the nights that she did manage to sleep, which were far and few between, monsters invaded her dreams. In the morning, she could never say just what exactly they were, but they rattled her. She would silently open the door to Buffy's room and observe the lump under the blankets, blond hair poking through at the head of the bed and sigh in relief. Another night past and another day that her daughter was home safe.

She never told anyone, not even Mr. Giles who might have understood, how inadequate she felt as a mother. It was her job to protect her daughter from things that might hurt her. Instead, it was the other way around. She was supposed to be the stronger one, the one who took on the responsibilities that Buffy should not have to.

One evening, after Buffy had left on patrol and Joyce had been left sleepless again, she left the house. In her back pocket, she had shoved one of Buffy's stakes and she held a bottle of holy water in her fist. It was foolish, she knew, but she had to experience just what her daughter did every night. The fear, the danger, the unknowing of what might jump out of the shadows next.

Her foolishness nearly cost Joyce her life. Her aim had been off and the holy water had splashed harmlessly on the cement. The vampires had laughed at her. Her heart ached as she recognized one of them from the disastrous welcome home party she had thrown Buffy. She clutched the stake tight in one hand and cursed herself for her stupidity.

The sword that beheaded the familiar vampire surprised her. The vampire apparently felt the same and she almost giggled hysterically at the look of bewilderment on his face before he turned to ash. Her rescuer wore a long trench coat and wielded the large sword expertly. Her attackers were soon no more than dust blowing around her feet.

She shivered and hugged herself. The strange man who had saved her shrugged out of his coat and laid it over her shoulders. "It's not safe to walk around alone at night," he admonished her gently.

"I know," she said. "But I had to."

He gently took the stake from her fingers. "Do you even know how to use this?" he asked her with a quirked eyebrow.

"Through the heart," she replied shortly. "I'm not stupid."

"I never said you were." He handed it back to her and she slid it back into her pocket. "Let me walk you home."

She nodded and was surprised when he gallantly offered her his arm. If there had been anyone about, they would have witnessed the odd sight: her, walking down the street in a coat so long that it trailed the ground and him, holding onto a sword that was longer than his torso.

The next morning, she slept through her alarm and by the time she got to work, her assistant had already opened up the gallery and was talking to a customer. The customer looked up as she walked through the door and smiled.

She smiled back and looked at Maria in apology. "Sorry I'm late."

"Not a problem," Maria said. "I was just about to show Mr. Pierson here the medieval catalogue. He's a collector of weaponry."

She remembered the sword he had used last night and raised an eyebrow at him. He shrugged. "I'll do that, Maria." She put her purse behind the desk and grabbed a binder. "Why don't you see about the shipment of Mesopotamia sculpture that came in yesterday?"

After Maria had disappeared into the back, she looked at the man. "I never thanked you for saving me last night and walking me home."

"No thanks necessary," he told her. "Just—"

She motioned for him to go on.

"No more late night walks?"

She laughed. "No. No more late night walks." She opened the catalogue to a sword that Mr. Giles had identified for her as a fourteenth century Turkish janissary saber. "So, Mr. Pierson, can I interest you in this, by any chance?"