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A Few Thoughts on Fatherhood

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The call came while he was at work - the receptionist called him over to her phone all hushed as he was on his way in from a coffee break. “Thank god you’re here - your ex is on the phone, Mr. Summers. She says your daughter’s been hurt.”

He took the phone from her, listened while Joyce explained that Buffy was in the hospital with several broken bones, a concussion, and some internal injuries. Some kind of fight, she said, but she wasn’t specific. She said they had it handled, but when he got off the line the receptionist and his CEO were standing by with worried expressions.

“Ah... my daughter.” He gestured at the phone. “Got herself hurt.”

“It sounded bad - is she going to be okay?” The girl is barely older than Buffy, just out of college. Not too pretty, but sort of cute when her face goes all pouty like this.

“Oh, yeah. She’ll be... Heh. Buffy, she’s always getting hurt. It’ll be okay. She’s... spunky. I’ll just call over, send her some flowers. It won’t interfere with the case, Bob, it’ll be good.”

“No way, man!” Bob squeezed his shoulder all manly, brotherly, a real ‘take one for the team’ kind of moment. “You gotta go - I know how it is when they’re getting older like that. It’s a crazy time. You take tonight off - longer, if you need it. I’d go nuts if I had one of my girls laid up like that.”

“But the Johnson case--”

“Go, Hank.” Bob crossed his arms over his chest. “We’ll handle it. You just take care of your daughter.”

So he’d gone. What else could he do? The girl would be fine, he knew that much, and Joyce would take care of her, but he couldn’t let Bob think him anything less than a concerned parent. It wasn’t that he wasn’t concerned... it was just that Buffy was almost a grown woman, and it wouldn’t do to let his boss think he was expendable, would it? But he went. Drove two and a half hours through traffic until he got to Sunnydale, then had to find a parking place at the hospital, which was a more difficult proposition than it really should have been. Sleepy little town like Sunnydale sure had a damned lot of sick people, didn’t it? And then up to the front desk.

“I’m here to see my daughter - she came in today with her mother. Name’s Buffy Summers.”

The nurse looked up from the chart she’d been examining. “Summers?”

“Yes, Summers. Did she already get released?” Wouldn’t that just figure, if he came all the way out here just to find out she’d been sent home hours ago.

“I’m sorry, sir - I can’t release that information to anyone other than next of kin.”

Hank blinked at the woman. Was she hard of hearing or what? “I’m her father.”

“No... her father’s already in with her, sir.”

“I beg your... what? We’re talking about Buffy Summers, here, right? Buffy. Tiny little thing, just above five feet, blonde, little snub nose? Came in with her mother, Joyce - my ex-wife. She said Buffy’d gotten into a fight of some kind, got a bunch of bones broken... Come on, this is a little town! You can’t have that many girls with a name like Buffy!

The nurse made a show of checking her computer, then shook her head. “Just the one, sir. And her father’s already with her, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave. If you want to come back later, please do so with her mother so we know you have valid approval to see the patient. I’m afraid in her condition we can’t allow anyone unfamiliar in to see her without the family’s express permission.”

“Unfam-- now just one minute! If Joyce has been seeing somebody, it can’t possibly have been more than a few months, and now you’re telling me--”

“Whether or not you’re aware of your ex-wife’s relationships isn’t exactly any concern of mine, sir.” The nurse sneered at him - actually sneered. “All I know is, the nice British gentleman who’s with her has been into this hospital each one of the many times Miss Summers has been admitted here, and I have not seen you a day in my life. That doesn’t exactly do much to encourage me, now, does it?” She crossed her arms over her rather impressive bosom and glared. “Now get out of my face before I have to call security, sir.”

Well, what else could he do? He carried the bouquet he’d bought at the gift shop out to his car, and set it in the passenger seat. The nurse had said this guy was in there, right? And she hadn’t mentioned Joyce... So he drove out to their place. It took some finding - he’d been there a few times, picking up Buffy, but that’d been a while ago, but eventually he found the right house.

“Hank?”

“Joyce, do you want to explain to me why the hospital won’t let me in to see my own daughter? Is there something you want to tell me?”

“You... I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d come. You’ve never...”

“Yeah, well, I did. I actually get away from work for once, and the stupid receptionist at that hospital tells me that Buffy’s father is already in there with her. You want to explain to me how that’s happened - how some other guy is in with my daughter every time she gets hurt and they all think he’s her dad? Some British guy? Is my daughter dating a British guy old enough to be mistaken for her father, is that what’s going on here?”

“Oh, that’s Mr. Giles, Buffy’s... er. School librarian.” Joyce’s face clammed up real fast, and Hank could tell there was something else going on. Pretty damned sure he know what it was, too, even if she was trying to keep it from him. So it was Joyce seeing some British guy, huh? A school librarian... God, no wonder they’d never gotten on, if that was what she’d wanted.

“Right.” He shook his head. “And they all think he’s her father.”

“Well, he’s been very helpful with Buffy, and he’s always... well, to be honest, Hank, he’s been here. Which you can’t exactly say--”

“You know, I don’t have time for this.” He holds out the flowers, practically stuffing them into Joyce’s hands. “I have to get back. There’s a client coming in tonight, and if I can get back to LA without too much traffic I might make it in time to... Listen, just tell Buffy I stopped by, okay? Tell her I hope she feels better.”

“Hank, wait. I'm just headed out for work, but--”

“No, never mind, Joyce. Just forget it.”

Replaced. His own daughter, hanging out with some poncy-ass librarian just because her mother got all hot for the jerk. Right. Well, fine. He’d tried - he’d done his bit, nobody could say he hadn’t.

* * *

Once things calmed down a bit at the front desk, the nurse decided it might be wise to check up on the focus of earlier contention. The business-suit man had left without any more fuss, thank God, but it didn't hurt to make sure the girl and her family were alright.

“Miss Summers?”

The nice British gentleman was there still, just as she’d thought. He looked up from his book and glanced toward the girl, laying a finger on his lips to ask for quiet. She was asleep, poor angel - her bruised face tilted slightly toward him and her lips a little parted. Just like a child, that - they all looked like babies when they slept, no matter how grown-up they tried to look and act while they were awake.

He looked to be thinking the same thing, too. His expression softened when he looked at her, almost a sad little smile that warmed up the tired lines of his face. It made him handsome, and younger-looking. The nurse smiled and waved him back to his reading. It was nothing that couldn’t wait, if the girl was comfortable - no need to worry the family over the strange man who’d been in. They had enough trouble, what with the girl always getting hurt and such - poor thing had a chart as long as the nurse’s arm, and didn’t look to be changing her habits any time soon. A hurt child was enough worry for anybody.

She took one last look into the room as she left, and watched the gentleman straighten the blanket a little to cover Miss Summers’ arm, then settle back into his chair and sigh, watching her with a look that said he was more than aware of all those worries - all the dangers a child could get into in this world, and all the hurt a parent couldn’t keep them from no matter how hard they tried and how carefully they watched over them.

The nurse tucked her clipboard under her arm and nodded approvingly. “Now that’s a good father."