Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: Post-"Storyteller" and straight on 'til morning. No spoilers!
Summary: Season 5 Joyce returns to the Season 7 Scoobies just in time for the newest and deadliest apocalypse yet. Oh, what a better world it could be!
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Also, there was that whole vampire issue. Didn't see that one - vampire or issue - going anywhere. Nope, seemed like he was settled in for the duration.
Yawning, he got up off the sofa and headed to the kitchen to brew coffee and bask in the silence. Could use a little more sleep, but then he sacrificed the solitary time - and the hot shower. So at 5 am every morning he was up and moving, sometimes limping, but always eyes open and somewhat alert.
That was why his shock at seeing Buffy's dead mother in the kitchen threw him off his morning ritual. He'd forgotten she was there.
Joyce Summers was sitting at the kitchen island, nursing a cup of coffee and wearing a ball cap. The Rams? Okay, even that change had happened a while back. To cover his surprise, he pointed. "You almost gave me a heart attack with that," he said, too quickly. "The Rams have been away from LA since long before..."
Smiling, the woman touched the bill of the cap. "Hank and I went to a Rams game once. He got the tickets from a client. So I guess it's an antique. Or at the least a collector's item."
"Dawn had it. She kept it, I suppose. There's a whole wardrobe up there in a box. None of my nice clothes. Just my favorite sleep shirt and pants, a few sweat shirts, more pants. But it's something. Made me feel a little more... at home? Does that make sense?"
Xander sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "You know, I've been so busy worrying about Buffy and Dawn are dealing, I didn't think about you," he said honestly. At the way the words sounded when said out loud, he winced.
She sat there a moment, silent, choosing not to address his comment.
"It's just weird, you know?" Xander said in explanation. "When I saw you here just now, I felt like I'd stepped into a parallel universe. Weird. You were here and then you just... weren't. And now you're back. It's a lot to take in."
Nodding, Joyce stared at the cup in front of her. After a moment, she looked up. "Spike said you're doing construction. That you've basically rebuilt the whole house in the last year."
"Spike?" Xander stared at her. At her puzzled expression, he snorted derisively. "And probably told you I'm a regular Bob Villa," he said sarcastically.
She looked at him reprovingly. "He told me you'd done 'a bloody fine job' of it. I take it there's no love lost between you and Spike?"
Xander shrugged. "Well, he's no Angel. Who I hate only a little less than Basement Guy down there." At Joyce's look, he backed off slightly. "Okay, hate? Not so much anymore. Dislike. Dislike intensely. Yep. That's more the thing."
It was Joyce's turn to make a small, frustrated noise. She looked at Xander. "I've been thinking."
"I hear it's a 'thing'," Xander said quickly, glad for any change in subject.
She grinned wryly. "No, really. What would it take to make the basement livable?"
"Well, not really a concern, since its only inhabitant is dead, right?"
"It's livable now. After all, this is California, Joyce, not Minnesota." Whoa. That felt really strange. Should he call her Joyce? Mrs. Summers? Buffy's Mom? He shook his head and tried to get his brain back on topic, pausing momentarily on the whole 'does she like younger men' thing. Back. On. Topic.
One corner of her mouth turned up. He hoped she hadn't come back from the grave with the power to read his mind.
"Okay, more than livable."
He tried to give her a full answer. "It's not cold down there, or hot. There's plenty of plumbing pipes... several that I've had first hand experience with. There was a full copper refit last..." He stopped. "What are you thinking?"
"A dorm room, complete with bunk beds. Bunk beds with little shelves under them for baskets. Laundry baskets are cheap." She frowned. "Were cheap," she corrected herself. "There hasn't been a supply and demand problem with plastic laundry baskets has there? While I was gone?"
Xander was already thinking. "Rough summer camp stuff. Bunk beds could go three high down there, I think. Of course, they were training down there until Spike started co-habitating with us. Don't think he'd exactly take to the new roomies, though."
Shocked, Joyce looked at Xander. "Well, he couldn't stay down there with those girls anyway! He'd have to move up here."
Xander quelled the desire to yell 'ewww.' After all, it wasn't like he and Spike hadn't been roomies before. Twice. "Uh, sunlight issues. Unless we go to blackout shades throughout. Now *those* are expensive. Even if they're not really a decorating fad at the moment."
"Spike's fine with it," she said. At Xander's surprised look, she smiled conspiratorially. "I imagine I can come up with a way to give him daylight to dark somewhere safe."
Xander looked at Joyce admiringly. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"I think I've rested enough. So, what will it take to get what you need to do this?"
The man got up and poured a cup of coffee. He sat down again and took a massive gulp. "A trip to the Home Depot and my handy-dandy, brand-new credit card. The one I was saving for a rainy day." He grinned. "What was I thinking? It never rains in California."
Buffy rolled over in bed and buried her hand underneath the pillow, pulling it under her head to change the angle of her neck. Slowly her eyes opened, then closed again when they encountered the bright light streaming in her window.
It was Saturday. Her mom had fixed breakfast - she could smell the bacon wafting through the house. Oh. It was Saturday and she'd been dreaming. Dreaming... a movie. And her mom was...
Eyes flying open, Buffy rolled off the bed and to her feet in one slayer-quick motion. Breathing shallowly, she brushed past the Potentials in the hall and grabbed onto the banister, taking the stairs in three leaps, dodging the other girls headed up with bedrolls and backpacks.
She didn't notice their startled looks. At that moment, they were just in her way. Absently, she noticed that the living room was spotless. Briefly. As she swiftly moved through it, glancing from side to side, but contining to head dead on toward the kitchen.
Reaching it, she froze.
"Mornin', sleepyhead," Joyce said pertly.
It hadn't been a dream. Her mother was standing in the kitchen, wearing a pair of sweat pants and an old shirt she'd seen her wear a million times. A ball cap was on her head, pulled low over her eyes. The *Rams* ball cap.
"You've missed all the..." She stopped, surprised at Buffy's pale face. "Honey, what is it?" she said, alarm bells beginning to go off.
"Mom... you're... Oh, Mom, you're not dead!"
Joyce's mouth twisted at the corner in amusement. Buffy Summers, the great communicator, she thought. "Well, not at the..." She stopped, swallowing the rest of her clever remark. Suddenly, the woman realized that Buffy was shaking. Tears were beginning to form in her daughter's eyes.
Joyce made a comforting, shushing sound as she moved toward Buffy. "Honey, it's all right..."
"But you're not..." The girl couldn't finish. Large tears began to roll down her face. Buffy threw herself at her mother, wrapping her arms around her body like she'd never let go just as Willow ran into the kitchen.
"Kennedy said..." The witch heard a loud sob and realized that Buffy was practically sitting on Joyce's lap, clutching her in a hug as the woman leaned heavily against one of the stools.
She turned to go, deeply embarrassed at the emotional scene she was witnessing, and ran directly into Spike's chest.
Spike looked over Willow's shoulder and watched Joyce's tender smile melt into a grimace.
"She's hurtin' her," he muttered. Quickly, Spike brushed past Willow, not speaking again until he got to the two. "Buffy love, ease up a bit," he said, lightly touching the girl's shoulder. "I think you might be usin' slayer hugs on your mum." His voice was soft and tender. Joyce looked at him gratefully. Speaking was out of the question. "Come on, love," he coaxed. "It's all right. Let her breathe."
Buffy snuffled loudly and loosened her hold slightly. Joyce gasped for breath.
"It's your mum, pet. She's here now and she's not goin' anywhere," he soothed her in a whisper. "So whatever nasty dream you had's just a dream."
At his last words, she moved back a little, dropping her arms to her sides.
"That's my girl," he breathed, stepping back to give her room.
With an embarrassed giggle, Buffy whispered, "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm just..."
Joyce still wasn't quite capable of speaking yet, but she was doing a good job of masking the lingering effects of an undiluted Buffy hug.
"You're tired," Spike said, jumping into the silence. "Overwrought. We've all been there; nothin' wrong in it."
The woman drew in another, deeper, restorative breath. Spike was pleased to see the redness in her face fading. A slayer bear hug was no picnic, he thought.
"Best hug I ever had," Joyce breathed out. Buffy put her arms around her mother again. Gently, this time, Spike noticed.
"Willow, would you please get some Kleenex?" The woman's voice was calm and quiet. "Buffy's... had a delayed... well, you know."
The witch stood watching uncertainly. Finally, her mind processed Joyce's request. "I think... I'm pretty sure we're out of Kleenex," she said inanely.
Joyce nodded. "Just bring a whole roll of the other then. Okay?"
"Is she all right now?" Willow's voice was low and concerned.
Joyce nodded as she came into the kitchen and sank down onto a stool. "Got her to eat some breakfast. Put her back to bed for a while. She seems very, very tired."
Pursing her lips, Willow walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water that had her name written on it in magic marker. "She is. We all are, but she's more tired than the rest of us."
"Is it this... First Evil? Or something else?"
Willow shrugged. Staring at the bottle in front of her, the witch tried to figure out how to phrase the question. It was the first moment she'd had alone with Buffy's mother since she'd come back. "What do you remember? About... where you were?"
Puzzled, Joyce looked at Willow blankly. "I don't understand."
"Well, you... well, you weren't here."
"Willow, I remember having a headache. It scared me and I left the gallery and came home. I took some medicine and laid down for a few minutes on the sofa. Then, I got up. I was groggy, so I made some coffee."
"You know, disoriented. My eyes were... blurry. And I felt... off-balance. So I did what any normal woman of my age does when she's taken pain medication and it hasn't quite worn off. I made coffee. Drank it. Felt better." She grinned, a bit of humor brightening her flat voice. "Baked cookies."
"That's all you remember?" Willow prodded. "Nothing else?"
Joyce shook her head.
"You don't remember being..."
Willow groped for the right words. "No, I mean being... well, somewhere else, like maybe heaven or somewhere that might seem like you would expect heaven to be? Somewhere like that."
"No. Should I?" Joyce asked, intrigued.
"Buffy did," Willow mumbled.
"After Buffy died, when we... I... brought her back, she..."
"Buffy *died*?" Joyce exclaimed.
Willow's eyes went wide. They didn't tell her? Buffy, Dawn - Spike - didn't tell her? "Oh, I'm sorry, I just... There was a portal. It opened and she jumped. And..."
"She told me she closed the portal so that Dawn wouldn't have to. She didn't tell me how!"
Getting up from the table blindly, Joyce left the kitchen. Willow sat for a moment too long and missed her chance to stop the woman from going to the basement.
She sighed. Everything she did, everything she said lately, was wrong.
Levering herself off the stool, she went to the dining room and brought her laptop into the kitchen and started searching.
Xander came around the corner swinging his arms, feeling pretty satisfied at the progress he'd made. The trip to Home Depot had been a success and he'd borrowed a truck from one of his construction buddies. He would go get the lumber and ask Will to make some calls to the local army surplus about bunk bed mattresses. By tomorrow night, the girls could be downstairs in their new barracks with boy band gossip and boy band sounds.
It was a comforting thought.
He stopped in the living room. Andrew was looking out the living room window, chest against the back of the sofa, face pressed to the glass.
"What? Now you lurk, too?"
Andrew looked over his shoulder. "Not lurking," he said petulantly. He bounced around on the sofa to sit facing the man, frown changing into a pleased smile. "I'm on a mission for Willow," he said in satisfaction.
The sentence drew Xander up short. "Mission? What? To glue yourself to the glass? Which could become a new form of holiday trim, I guess. For Nerd Day."
Andrew's lower lip went out in a pout. "I do have a mission. I'm on 'Gileswatch'," he said proudly.
"Gileswhazit?" Walking to the sofa, Xander leaned over and looked out the window.
Andrew looked up coyly. "Giles watch," he enunciated carefully. "He still hasn't called, but Willow is expecting him back. And she's afraid that Mr. Giles will see Miss Joyce before anyone has a chance to warn him and that he might think she's the First, or heaven forbid, a demon. In which case, he might kill her." He waited for Xander's nod of understanding. It didn't come. "She asked me," and at this, Andrew's chest puffed up, "to watch for him."
He hopped off the couch and walked to the dining room door as Xander looked on incredulously. Andrew stood in the doorway sweeping a hand gracefully to make his point. "This," he said, "will be the Green Room. A holding area, if you will, for Mr. Giles until the news can be broken to him by," Andrew held up one finger, "you," a second finger, "Willow," a third, "or the slayer." He dropped his hand dramatically. "Oh," he said quickly. "Or Spike, if no one else is around."
"So, basically, everyone's sick of you and thought up this big important job to get you out of their hair..."
Andrew raised a haughty eyebrow. "It is important - and a show of trust for my valiant efforts in striving for redemption." As an aside, he muttered, "Finally..."
At Xander's derisive look, he bristled. "Just think how different things might have been if Luke had been told that Darth Vader was his father by Obi-Wan or Yoda! If he'd only been warned, Luke might not have lost his hand and so begin the downward spiral that takes him to the Dark Side," he concluded triumphantly. "And by the way, the whole loss of the hand, as a special effect, was pretty lame by today's standards," he confided.
Xander stared at Andrew as if he'd sprouted a horn. "In no way does it hint in any shape, form, or fashion that Luke will turn to the Dark Side someday!"
"Well, we won't know for sure until George starts the final trilogy, will we?" Andrew said snidely.
Xander turned around and headed back the way he came.
"He would have been *prepared*!" Andrew yelled.
As the man's back disappeared through the doorway, Andrew took one more stab at continuing the conversation, "What? Don't you think it's like the same thing?"
Joyce hadn't come back into the kitchen when she left the basement. But Spike did.
"Nice goin', Red."
Willow sighed. "I didn't know. Why didn't you..."
Shrugging, Spike went to the refrigerator and got out a large jar. He poured the blood into a mug and put it in the microwave. "Not my place. Hers, to tell or not. Point's moot now." Seeing the miserable look on Willow's face, he relented. "Sooner or later, would 'a come out. Don't kick yourself around about it."
She shot him a grateful look, as he sat down.
"Know you don't like me bein' here," he said candidly. "Doesn't matter. S'not your place to make those decisions, anymore than it was to tell Joyce about the slayer." As her back straightened in resentment, he looked at her with intense blue eyes. "Said she's not ready for me to go. And as long as she wants me here, I'm stickin'. 'Less things get dangerous." He smirked at the surprise on Willow's face. "What? Think I'm wearin' blinders here? M'not. Know that bugger's not done. I remember what it told the boy."
Willow nodded uneasily, eyes darting from his intense gaze. Spike was so different. But not really, she thought.
"Why did you come back?" she blurted out.
He leaned back in his chair, giving the witch an appraising once over. "Why did you?" he countered, turning her own question back on her.
This was a question she could answer. "I belong here. And I felt something... a disturbance. I was needed here."
"And I'm not? Look around, Red. Sure I've been useless for a while, but that's changin'."
"How could you come back after..." Her voice trailed off. She was the last one who should ever ask that question of anyone.
He wasn't letting her off the hook. "What I did? Same way you could, I reckon." He leaned forward, impaling Willow with his level gaze. "Whatever you, the Bit, or Harris, or the Watcher think, the slayer needs me. M'here to watch her back. And do it a whole bloody lot better than last time. Anythin' gets to her's gonna have to go through my dust."
Willow wanted to look away from those hard blue eyes, but she couldn't. He meant what he was saying. It was just that it could go so wrong...
"Willow! Willow, Willow, Willow! Xander! Buffy!"
"Christ! Can't we gag the boy again?" Spike said in frustration.
"Oh!" The witch jumped up. "Oh! Giles! Where's Joyce?"
"Dunno," Spike said. "With Buffy, I..."
"Oh, boy. Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy..."
They headed to the living room at a run.
Giles was standing by the front door, Andrew tugging at him, trying to get him in the dining room.
"Let go of me, you silly boy," he said impatiently. "I've news for Buffy, and..."
Willow and Spike arrived just as Buffy came down the steps at a lope. "Giles, I have to tell..."
"Buffy, there's something you should..."
Buffy nervously looked behind her. Sure enough, her mother had followed her when she'd jumped off the bed and headed down. Andrew had sounded upset and all she could think about was more badness. This was the last thing she'd expected.
She glanced back at Giles and started down the steps. "Giles, it's... Mom."
Her former watcher stood at the foot of the stairs. His bags dropped to the floor with a thump.
"I mean, really, really Mom," Buffy said quickly, rushing through the words. "No... manifes-what's it. Just... Mom."
Giles continued to stare.
Spike sighed. He knew exactly how Giles felt.
Continued in Part 4