Summary: I have no idea. There are no spoilers here though. This is so safe, it's pathetic.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Author's Notes: The problem with hanging on to a story until it's done is that I. Don't. Know. How.
That said, I'd like to thank Chris, Kelly, Colleen, Cindy and Chen for fixing their eyes on this when it was only 1500 words. And thanks to my LJ Friends for offering their support. It's the only thing that kept it off the list this long.
I'm going to go on and post this now, because I keep fooling with it and can't get very far on the next part if I'm playing with this, now can I? So that's why you're getting two parts so close together...
"What?!" she said in an irritated voice. God, she was so sick of the silent, and sometimes not-so-silent observers. Been so glad to get out of the crowded house today, even if it was only to go next door to Janice's. She thought she'd been a fairly good sport about the whole thing, considering the house had become a Home for Wayward Slayerettes. Well, maybe not 'wayward', she thought, wondering what kind of word it was.
The most delicious smell in the world wafted into her nostrils and slammed into her brain like a freight train. God, she thought salivating, that's incredible!
And familiar. So familiar...
Her brain placed the aroma and she inwardly bounced up and down. Sausage and chicken spaghetti! It wouldn't... couldn't... be as good as her mom's, but wow, it sure smelled like it!
She headed to the kitchen, swinging her arms. "Buffy! Is that mom's spaghetti? Cause I thought..."
The kitchen was full of Scoobies. And pseudo-Scoobs, she thought absently, noticing Andrew. Plus one. Buffy slid off the stool with slayer-speed and grabbed Dawn's shoulders, which was good, she realized, because her knees were like rubber and she didn't think she could stand on her own. She went cold, eyes slowly widening in fear.
"Dawnie," Buffy said urgently, "listen to me. It's not the First. Understand? It's. Not. The. First! It's... Mom. Mom!" The slayer's voice was hoarse, tears welling up in answer to the flood of moisture in her sister's eyes. She blinked them away and punctuated the short word by taking a firmer grip on Dawn's shoulders. The girl slowly took her eyes away from the sight that filled her vision and turned her head to look at her sister in accusation.
"Oh, Buffy! Let her sit down," Joyce said in an alarmed voice. Her youngest daughter's face had gone white. "Please, Buffy!"
The slayer slowly guided Dawn toward the stool that Xander quickly vacated. The teen shook her head slowly from side to side, closing her eyes tightly. As she reached the counter, she pushed back angrily, away from her big sister, away from all the eyes that were looking at her with such pity. Her own eyes found the ones that she'd missed the most.
Willow glanced up briefly, shaking her head as she returned her eyes to the laptop's screen. "Not yet."
"Dinner's ready," Xander informed her. "And that's another thing. Whatever 'that' is in there made Joyce's special spaghetti. Her secret-nobody-can-copy recipe. What's that about?"
The witch put a hand to her neck and stretched. "I don't know. I just wish Giles would call." A worried expression moved across her face. "Is Dawn all right?"
Xander blew out a breath and nodded slowly. "I think so, yeah. She had all of us in tears, though. Even me, and you know, I'm not big on the crying." Willow looked up with a knowing glint in her eye. "Hey! At least I didn't go all 'little girl' weepy like Andrew. I thought we were going to have to sedate him. After we pulled him out of the group hug, that is."
Drumming her fingers nervously on the table, she stared at the wall. "Need Giles. I'm not sure if calling the Coven is a good idea or not." She looked at him in confusion. "I feel like I should, you know. Cause they might have the scoop on this. Or at least have some idea of what this might be. But the other part of me says 'wait for Giles'."
Xander threw himself in a dining room chair. "Well, it's about time to get the bedrolls out anyway. Does Joyce get her old room back? And if she does, where do we put the six Potentials that have been bunking in there? Or do I just need to go home and put it out of my mind for the night?"
"Good questions all, Harris," Spike said with a smirk as he entered the dining room. "Got anythin'?"
Willow looked at him suspiciously. "Any what?"
"Come off it, Red," Spike said easily as he moved behind her shoulder to look at the computer screen. "Know you've been hidin' out trying to get the goods."
Sighing, Willow looked up at the vampire. "No 'goods.' No bads either. No nothing. I'm not finding anything."
Xander took in the exchange, and rolled his eyes at the vampire. "I thought you were in the 'Joyce is back' corner," he said pointedly. "Or at least yelling 'rah-rah-rah' from the bleachers."
Spike favored him with a cold look. "Do I look stupid to you? Would I have survived 120 years as a vampire if I was?" He shook his head. "I've been in there non-stop since right after she got back. I don't get a thing. No wrongness. But she was dead and now she's not."
"Like Buffy," Willow breathed slowly.
"No," he said patiently, drawing the word out. "Not like Buffy. Unless someone's been makin' with mojo we don't know about. And why Joyce?"
"Anya said that the Urn of Osiris that Willow used to raise Buffy was the very last one," Xander informed him.
"So, see? Not like the slayer's resurrection at all. Where's the Watcher, anyway?"
"Not sure," Willow said in a defeated voice. "I left a message on his cell, but if he's on a plane or something..."
"Right. No connection yet, then."
Xander pushed forward. "But Buffy..."
"The slayer's eyes are clear," Spike said reassuringly. "That's not a worry. The Bit? Now that's a whole other story." His eyes looked sad. "There wasn't a way we could keep her away and still have her safe from the uglies, but if..."
"'If'?" Xander said angrily. "Don't you mean 'when'? As in 'when this all blows up in our faces'?"
"Don't know anythin' for certain." He headed toward the door to the kitchen. "All I do know is that you couldn't pry the Nibblet away from her mum with a crowbar right now."
Dawn plopped down on her bed, eyes shining. "I can't believe you're back," she said happily. "Although it shouldn't be that surprising. Not really. This is the Hellmouth and things have been all Hellmouthy lately. Why shouldn't some of that be good for us?"
"I don't know, honey. I'm glad to see you, but it's more like you've just gotten in from school. A little late from school," she said warningly, then dimpled up, "but home." Sitting down on the bed, Joyce shook her head, face solemn. "I know that's not right. Looking at you, I can tell it's not right." Her mother smiled softly. "You're all grown up. And so tall." She tilted her head. "You know, you look just like your Grandmother Summers. Who was a very beautiful woman."
Dawn's eyes filled with tears.
Folding her youngest daughter into her arms, Joyce cried with her.
Spike slumped down onto a stool in the nearly-empty kitchen and fixed his eyes on the slayer's back. "Nothin' yet," he reported. "Except the whelp bein' all sanctimonious." He narrowed his eyes. "Where's Joyce?"
"Upstairs in Dawn's room. Probably hearing about what a horrible excuse for a mother figure I've been." Buffy tried to push her hair off her forehead with a suds-ridden hand, while avoiding a face full of bubbles. "You could make yourself useful, you know."
Jumping up, he moved to the sink and pushed the slayer's hair back off of her face. Her mouth quirked up at the corner in frustrated amusement. "I meant the dishes."
"Oh." He stared into the sink as if he'd never seen a dish in his life.
Blowing out a breath that bordered on disgust, she opened a drawer and grabbed a fresh towel. "You dry," she said condescendingly. "I'm washing."
Spike reached for one of the clean dishes. An elbow batted his hand away, as she nodded at the faucet. "Rinse! Then, dry."
"Bitch," he muttered. She looked up quickly to find that his eyes were laughing. Turning on the water, he watched it splash on the stacked items. Grimacing, he picked up the sprayer and began to rinse the dishes, wetting Buffy in the process.
"Quit!" She elbowed him out of the way and relieved him of the nozzle. "The dishes, not me!"
"What?" he complained. "I was helping."
"Were not," she harrumphed. Picking up the towel, she pushed it into his hand. "Now, dry!"
He took the towel and picked up a plate, chuckling as the slayer unsuccessfully tried to wipe away the droplets of water on her face with an elbow. After a moment, he restarted the conversation. "Harris was wondering where your mum is sleeping. Sounded suspicious to me," he said craftily.
"Maybe Dawn's room," she answered automatically, not rising to the bait. "One thing's for sure," she commented glumly, "she's not going to be happy with any of the sleeping arrangements. Other than yours, maybe. If she *is* Mom, I mean. Boys never get to stay over. Not even on the couch."
Spike stopped drying his third dish and stared at her as she continued to wash. Finally, he burst out laughing. "Now, this is rich! 'Boys', is it?"
Cutting her eyes up at him, she raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you don't fall into the 'boys' category. More like the category for formerly evil vampires who now have souls and are seeking redemption."
"There's a category for that? Oh. Of course there is," he said sarcastically. "And wait. Soldier Boy used to stay over."
"Shhhh!" Buffy glanced quickly over her shoulder. "She doesn't know that!"
She pursed her lips. "All kinds of medication, remember? Just drop it! She'll hear you!"
"Thought she was upstairs," Spike said wickedly.
"Like that matters. This is my *mom*. Uh, if it *is* my mom," she said, giving him a confused look that quickly morphed into the one known as Grumpy Buffy. "But if she is, I expect major reorganization of the sleeping assignments."
"You're not serious? Slayer, we're in the midst of an apocalypse. I really don't think your mum is gonna be thinkin' about anything as trivial as where Harris lays his weary, hardhat-bearing head," he said in an amused voice.
"Fine, Mr. Smarty," she stated darkly. "You'll see."
"Oh, honey, that's terrible."
"Yeah," Dawn said resentfully. "It was. I couldn't do anything right. Say anything right. I was a total spaz."
Joyce pulled the brush through her youngest's long dark hair. "Your hair has gotten so long," she murmured. "And I'm sure that isn't true. It just felt that way."
Dawn chuckled mirthlessly. "I fell flat on my a..." The brush stopped. "Bottom." The brush began moving again. "Cheerleading potential here? Not so much. As in, at all."
"Boys can make girls awfully nervous. I think it would be almost impossible to concentrate on something like that if the boy you liked was right there staring at you."
Dawn swung her eyes up gratefully. "See? You understand." She turned back so that her mother could continue brushing. God, she'd missed this. "And yes, it was. But the worst part of the whole thing was when I looked in this empty classroom and saw he and Buffy macking all over each other. And her almost like a teacher!"
The rhythmic movement of the brush ceased. "What?"
Uh oh, Dawn thought. "It turned out it was a spell," she said quickly. "Just a spell. The whole thing. Even the 'me liking R.J.' thing. Well, I'm pretty sure it was," she mused. "I was so embarrassed over it - and Buffy - that I haven't talked to him since, even when he wanted to."
The brush started again. "But your sister, 'macking'? Is that like..." Her mother's voice trailed off.
"No!" she exclaimed, beginning to panic. "No, it's just kissing. Kissing is all! Nothing like what Buffy and Spike were doing last year!"
The brush stopped, as she felt her mother stiffen on the bed. In horror, Dawn slapped a hand over her mouth.
Joyce stood up. The girl ventured a look. Her mother was standing there, hands clenching, fire in her eyes. "I'll be right back."
'Oh. My. God.' Dawn thought. 'I am so dead.'
The dishes were finished, and Buffy had simply settled into the kitchen, letting everything else take care of itself.
After all, the Potentials were fed and gossiping about Joyce's return, Andrew and Xander were wrestling over a video game, and Willow was still glued to the computer screen. And her mom? She was upstairs doing Dawn catch-up.
"So we just wait for Giles to call?" she said quietly.
"And keep a close eye," Spike said carefully. "Hope Red finds something."
They were seated shoulder to shoulder, talking in a low murmur.
"I don't know what to think. That's my mother up there. Which is impossible."
"You're here, aren't you?" Spike countered. "Stranger things, pet."
"I know. But this is all wrong. When Dawn hugged her, I felt so... detached. I haven't hugged her... even touched her."
"Don't want to get hurt," Spike said softly. "And you're the Slayer on top of the rest."
Buffy sighed. "Rest. Now there's a concept."
"I'll stand watch," he said earnestly. "Done it before."
"I know, but..."
The slayer and vampire looked up in twin movements. Joyce was standing in the door. "Hi, Mom." "Joyce." Spike looked down briefly. Remembered that the woman didn't have vampire or slayer hearing. When he looked back up, Joyce's eyes were like daggers... fixed on him. He started.
"Spike, go downstairs."
He looked at her in surprise, frozen in place.
"Now," she said curtly. "I'll talk to you later."
Nodding, he got up, eyes moving from Joyce to Buffy and back. He edged to the door.
"And young lady, you've got a lot of explaining to do!" Joyce said firmly, eyes never leaving Spike's retreating form.
'Oh, bugger,' he thought. 'Nibblet sold us out.' "Joyce..."
"Bloody hell," he muttered, as he flung open the door to the basement and fled to the dimly-lit space. He had no illusions about what was wrong. In the space of one evening, he'd regressed from Big Bad to stupid git status and was soon to be the recipient of a Summers woman tirade.
Or she just might forego the tirade and stake him. Not a bad plan, that, he thought.
Burrowing in his duster, he brought out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. Lit one.
And proceeded to climb onto his bunk and push the window open a crack, watching as the draft pulled the smoke out.
After all, no need to add insult to injury. Although he suspected a little smoking in the house was nothing at all to Joyce when compared to having sex with her daughter.
"What did Dawn tell you?" Buffy asked as she slowly stood up.
Joyce set her jaw. "Enough. Buffy, he's not even your type!"
"Do you mean the bleached blond punk look or the dead part?" she quipped, trying to gauge just how angry her mother was. And realized she'd just made a huge mistake.
Joyce stomped over to the counter, picked up a discarded schoolbook, and slammed it down. "I can't believe you did this. Again! This is just like...!"
"It is not!" Buffy interrupted. "And besides, it's over anyway."
Joyce nodded in disbelief. "Right. Of course. It's so obvious that it's over. The two of you all snuggled up in the kitchen while everybody else is... well, somewhere else!" she said sarcastically.
"Hey! I had a date! Lately! It was just one, but it wasn't with Spike!" Sitting down tiredly, Buffy raked her hand through her hair. "Mom, a lot happened while you were... gone. A lot of... things. And..."
"Let me guess," Joyce said, voice dripping with another healthy dollop of sarcasm as she leaned against the kitchen island with her arms crossed staring at her oldest child. "You had sex with the first vampire that came along!"
"Mom, just sit down," Buffy said wearily. "I'll tell you what I can, all right?"
Dawn poked her head in the kitchen. Her mother had been gone from her room for an hour. Long enough for the fireworks to be over. She'd slipped down the stairs and snuck down the hall. Silence. Wondering if her sister had survived, she had finally gotten up the guts to check. Buffy was the only one there, head in her hands.
"Um, hey?" Dawn crept in slowly, ready to turn and run if it looked like her life was forfeit.
"You are so dead," Buffy groaned without looking up. "You would be already if I didn't have this headache."
"Bad?" her sister asked solicitously. "I mean, the mom part."
"A world of bad. Galaxy of bad. A universe of bad."
Dawn sat down next to her sister. "It just slipped out. Honest."
The slayer slowly raised her head and looked at her sister with incredulous eyes. "How does the revelation that your sister had wild, monkey sex with a vampire for months just slip out?"
Eyes widening, Dawn leaned closer. "Wild *monkey* sex?"
"Oh, God. I cannot believe I just said that out loud," Buffy moaned. "Will this day never end?"
Dawn patted her sister on the shoulder carefully, prepared to pull back lest she draw back a nub. "Sorry, Big Sis. Where is mom anyway?"
Head again in her hands, Buffy mumbled out some words.
The slayer raised her head. "Where's Mom?" Buffy repeated. "Staking Spike in the basement, maybe? Probably that. Staking Spike."
"Well, it's not like he'd let her!" Dawn scoffed.
Buffy looked at her. "Where have you been for the last two months? Of course he would. Mr. Remorse? He's probably on his knees begging for it," she said dryly.
"I really didn't need this," Buffy complained. "We've got The First on our tails, a bunch of girls who are all targets, a world-ending vision, a souled vampire in the basement whose 'trigger' may or may not be working, and my mom. Who is down in the basement giving said vampire and ex-boyfriend hell."
Buffy stood up decisively. "You know, this is crazy. I'm in charge here. I've just got to go down there and..."
"Rescue Spike?" Dawn said snarkily. "From the First Evil? Yeah, no problem. From Mom? You're nuts!"
Buffy stared at her. "Right." She sat back down. "Maybe in a minute."
"Again, love what you've neglected to do with the place." The woman's voice was biting.
Spike sighed and flipped a cigarette, his third, out the window and jumped off the cot. "Look, Joyce, I don't know what Buffy told you, but..."
"I know. It's terrible when you don't have time to get your story straight," she said sharply, a stern expression on her face.
"Well, she did tell you it was all my fault, right? Cause it was."
Joyce let out a huge breath and leaned against the washing machine. "And now you're covering for each other? Great. And she thinks it's over."
One firing squad coming right up. "'Over' implies that it 'was'," he said reasonably, wincing on the inside. "It wasn't. Not really."
Joyce looked at him searchingly. He resisted the urge to find the concrete floor interesting. Finally, she folded her arms. "Fine," she said quietly. "I'll be happy to feed the flames of denial. Because this is not what I had in mind for Buffy. I'd like to think it's a phase, but it's beginning to look like a pattern."
"Oh, let it go, Spike," she said, cutting him off. "You're here in this house and until you give me a good reason, you're staying. Buffy needs you here to help."
"Joyce..." He shook his head and sat down heavily on the cot.
Taking pity on him, she walked over to him and looked down. "You want to know what my daughter told me? That you'd been good to her when she was in a bad place. A very bad place."
The woman sat down. He moved over slightly, keeping his distance as he turned his eyes carefully to the wall.
"And she told me you're a good man."
His head spun. "She told you that?" he said surprised, eyes wide.
She nodded solemnly. "Yes. And she also reminded me that she's twenty-two." Shaking her head in wonder, she smiled sadly. "I cannot believe it. So many birthdays...
Gathering her thoughts, she spoke again. "Spike, Buffy says things are bad. Really bad. Again." She looked at him candidly. "I'm no fighter. There's not much I can do there. Still, there has to be something. You've been here. You know... things."
She laughed wryly, trying very hard not to think of what things. Spike almost smiled, but thought better of it. Best not, under the circumstances.
"So tell me what can I do to help," she continued. Taking in his grateful look, she smiled. "Anything that I can do to make this better. Her communication skills... well," she nodded knowingly. "Not the best. Just be... careful... about what you tell me, because..."
"There's a stake with my name on it?" he said dryly, recovering a little.
"More like a flame thrower," she said honestly.
Spike winced, grinning a little. "Think they call that overkill. Still, as a former Big Bad, I have to say, you're a woman after my own heart. Overkill's always better than underkill."
Continued in Part 3