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!
Giles has just arrived. The last to be reintroduced to Joyce. Of course, he had to be at the foot of the stairs, right?
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Like a thief in the night, she posts... Please enjoy. Special beta thanks to Chen, MintWitch and Colleen on this one. Chris and Kelly, feel better soon!
Suddenly, he felt a moment of connection to his lost youth.
She'd tossed her golden brown hair and allowed it to nest in the embrace of ebony feathers. Her eyes had flashed, deep with heady desire. He'd put his hands on her, kissed her, had her there, the day's flirtation reaching a climax on the hood of a police car.
Oh, to be young again, and blissfully clueless about anything except what one wanted, he thought idly as he gazed at the woman on the stairs.
Soft sounds, moans and gasps. His own groans. And groans of a different kind, as he saw her dead body on the floor. A corpse. No sign of that vibrant girl/woman left behind.
The sounds of Creem, a fog of heavy cigarette smoke. Grief. Sorrow.
And now she was standing on the stairs, color in her cheeks, a shy smile playing around her mouth. An almost mischevious glint in her warm eyes.
Giles had never seen anything more lovely. Or any more frightening.
He had been prepared to see Buffy alive. Somehow, it had seemed inevitable after her death at the Master's hands and her subsequent revival.
She'd cheated death once. It had been no real surprise that her friends had brought her back again. It had just been... arrogant. So incredibly arrogant. So much like something Giles himself would have tried in his youth and damn the consequences.
His slayer wasn't one who played by the rules. Neither did her friends.
But this! This was different. Joyce's death had been a part of the natural order of things. And now somehow, she'd been returned to them. He was shocked. He was afraid.
And yet, a small part of him rejoiced in seeing her there before him. Living, breathing, warm, yielding flesh - instead of rotting tissue.
Realizing Buffy had silently moved up the stairs, he watched her nonchalantly take Joyce's hand. Obviously to reassure him that this was no apparition, no mental manipulation of the First. This 'Joyce' was real.
He'd known that at first sight. Processed it, catalogued it, filed it away. Giles wasn't certain how he'd known, but he had.
He opened his mouth to speak, but Buffy forestalled him.
"She woke up," Buffy said quickly. "From the coma. The *two-year* coma."
He felt the gazes of some of the Potentials on him as he heard and processed the lie she was telling. Telling for the girls' benefit.
And heard the irritating sound of construction somewhere deep in the bowels of the house.
Images of the room cloudy with smoke, while Clapton’s wailing guitar and Bruce's heavy bass filled his brain. He pushed it down. Back. Away.
As Joyce walked down the stairs toward him, the sight of her filled his vision.
He tried to stop staring and cease being such a stupid git. Tried to think. Reconnect with who he was right now.
"Joyce," he said with a respectful nod. He cleared his throat. "You look... remarkably well."
Nervously, Willow's eyes darted around. The Potentials looked suspicious of the exchange. Maybe they were catching the undercurrents. She jumped into the conversation. "And rested!" she interjected. "Doesn't she look rested?"
Giles turned his own suspicious eyes on Willow. "Did you have something to do with this?" he asked carefully. "This... 'awakening'?"
Voice moving into a shrill squeak, Willow exclaimed, "No! Uh, no. Not me." She took a small step back. "Haven't been by the... hospital... in ages!" As Giles' gaze returned to Joyce, Willow sighed in relief, then looked around surreptitiously to see if anyone else had noticed. "I was nowhere around," she muttered.
Giles nodded, still looking at Joyce. He smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. Joyce seemed unnerved by Giles' steady, appraising gaze, and looked down, hand tightening on the banister. She took a breath. "Would you... like some tea?"
As she glanced up for his answer with her warm, living eyes, he did smile, as he felt the fear gripping him loosen. "Very much."
Joyce nodded, stepping down off the step and onto the floor. Giles resisted the urge to steady her and stepped back so that she could pass.
"You got something to tell me?" Buffy's voice cut through the silence.
Giles nodded. "But it can wait. Until tomorrow, if need be. This is... more important," he said as he followed Joyce down the hallway.
He smelled shampoo and perfume. He sighed silently. What kind of game was the First playing? And why was he so incredibly distracted by her?
"What is that irritating, incessant, infernal racket?" he asked in annoyance. One could hardly think, much less process what was going on around him with that noise!
Joyce turned, her eyes almost accusatory. "Xander is building the girls some beds. In the basement."
"Well, it's about time someone took the sleeping situation in hand," he said condescendingly. Was he expected to think of everything?
"Yes," she said resentfully. "It was. More than time. Those girls didn't have a corner to call their own."
He rocked back on his heels slightly. Of course it had been her idea. And he was getting a dressing down for not thinking of it himself.
"Quite so," he said respectfully. "Shall we check on their progress?"
She nodded, face breaking into a real smile. "Before or after?" At his confused look, she clarified the question. "Tea. Before or after tea?"
"By all means, now. Once I see it, perhaps I can put it out of my mind long enough to have a conversation."
She grinned and shrugged her shoulders. "I doubt it. But come on anyway. They seem to be having way too much fun down there to be getting anything done. It may be about time to wrap it up for the night."
"Whoa. I felt like the bad girl and I hadn't done anything this time," Willow whispered.
Buffy nodded. "Well, Giles is going to be busy for the next few hours, that's for sure."
Mirroring the nod, the witch agreed. "And didn't you get a touch of weirdness during that whole 'seeing her on the stairs' thing?"
Spike's voice cut in. "Yeah, well. Somethin' like that, no warning and all. Can be quite shocking," he said cuttingly to Willow.
Turning quickly, Buffy found Spike's eyes. The fire in them quickly dampened to something sad. "Oh," she said softly. "I guess... I guess it would be."
"Yeah," he muttered, looking down at his boots. "Thought ole Rupes handled it real well, myself. Better than most."
"Most," Buffy agreed. "But I've seen better."
He looked up at her with soft eyes. Smiling lightly, she seemed to want to say more, but didn't.
Still stung by Spike's angry retort, Willow looked from Buffy to Spike. There seemed to be more discussion between them than the verbal one. No surprise there. There'd been a lot of the non-verbally stuff there lately. And the verbally, too. They'd become the great communicator, she thought resentfully. Sighing, she looked for Kennedy, quickly finding her eyes in the sea of many.
Buffy glanced at her feet, face reddening. "I'll be back later," she announced finally, as the silence stretched on.
"Need company?" Spike asked gently.
She shook her head. "Maybe later."
Vi and Rona held the 2x4 in place as Xander fitted a nail to the wood and raised his hammer.
"Not very pretty, is it?" Rona complained.
Xander banged the nail into place and stepped back. "Look at it as unfinished furniture. Unfinished yellow pine. Stain it, paint it, express yourself in color and texture. Make it your own." He pointed to the old table in the corner. "Sandpaper's over there."
Rona rolled her eyes, but Vi looked interested. "Really? We can paint?"
"You can carve designs in it with a 'Bringer blade if it suits your fancy. I'm just the carpenter, not a decorator."
"Oh!" Vi had an epiphany. "I could do a collage! Need magazines, though."
Xander grinned. "Girlie magazines are upstairs in Dawn's room." He looked befuddled as he realized what he had said and how it had sounded. "Uh, girl magazines." Still not it. "Teen magazines! Right! Teens!" He almost wiped non-existent, embarrassed sweat from his forehead. He settled for pushing his hair out of his eyes.
Rona looked at him with a cute smile. "You know, you're kinda funny."
Perking up at the implied compliment, Xander grinned. "You think?"
Several of the other girls who were watching the exchange from their positions on Spike's bed and various boxes tittered.
"For an old guy," Rona amended quickly, as her eyes darted to the other would be slayers.
"And speaking of old..." Vi whispered, pointing up the stairs.
"Giles!" Xander rushed toward the stairs, thrilled at the interruption. "How do you like summer slayer camp?"
The watcher walked down the stairs behind Joyce, an amused expression on his face. "Quite functional," he said, nodding briskly. "Unfortunate no one thought of it sooner."
"Yes, quite," said Xander in a mock-British accent. "Well, grab a hammer, Watcher Man. Only have three sets done so far."
Joyce looked up at Giles quickly, burying her amusement as swiftly as it appeared.
"I have... things to do, Xander. Joyce is going to tell me about..." He quickly changed his wording. "Her awakening."
"Over tea," Joyce concluded.
"Oh, tea. Well, that's a lot more important than the construction job down here," Xander said snarkily.
"Xander," Joyce said reprovingly, "you're doing the important work in this house tonight.
The young man's chest puffed out.
"There is a lot for Joyce and I to discuss, you must admit," Giles continued. "Still, this is excellent work. I'm told you only started today."
"It was her idea," he said gallantly, nodding at Joyce.
"Of course." Giles looked at the woman, dismissing Xander. "I brought some teas, various varieties, back with me. Perhaps we could try one of those."
"That would be lovely," she said as she turned to follow him up the stairs.
"Among the ones I brought is a rather nice, full-bodied private blend. Might be just the ticket for our talk," he said over his shoulder.
Xander watched them go up the stairs, a little miffed. As they disappeared, he turned back to Rona and Vi.
"All right. Let's get the mattresses and sheets on this set."
Vi looked disgruntled. "But what about the collage?" she whined.
Spike walked out onto the porch, pulling the back door closed with a firm click. Buffy was there, much as he'd expected. He could feel the intermittent vibrations of Xander's hammer under his feet. It sounded like they might be finishing up.
A worried frown knitting her brow, Buffy looked up.
"Does she know you're out here?"
"What?" he asked in surprise. "Who?"
"Dunno. Why? That a bad thing?" He thought it might be as Buffy swung her head negatively from side to side. Not really an answer, but...
Sighing, she scooted over and vacated a spot on the top step of the porch. At her silent invitation, Spike sat.
"Gonna tell me what's wrong?" His voice was merely questioning, but from the steel in his tone, he wasn't about to let go of it.
Pushing her hair back, she said, "I feel like we're..." Buffy stopped in confusion. After a moment, she continued, carefully avoiding his steady gaze, "*I'm* under a microscope."
"Your mum," he said, clarifying her statement.
She nodded. "Yes. Mom." She glanced at him, then looked back at her feet. "She's watching me. You. Us." Buffy looked decidedly uncomfortable.
This was an interesting conversation, Spike thought. "Nothing to watch, is there?"
Chagrined, she shot him an embarrassed look. "A week ago, I wouldn't have thought so. But we're out here... on the porch... talking. And it feels like we're sneaking around."
Spike's eyes widened in surprise. "You're joking, right?"
Leaning back on her hands, she blew out a frustrated breath and closed her eyes as her head went back, giving in to the tension in her neck. "I wish I were," she murmured. "No," she said in a more normal tone. "Not joking."
He sat there, hands between his knees, completely gobsmacked. "But we're not..." he protested.
She cut him off. "We might as well be. They might call Giles a 'watcher', but he could take some lessons from Mom. I catch her watching us when we're in the same room together and I feel... guilty. And I wonder what I'm feeling guilty about." Her voice dropped. "It's like I'm lying or something."
That pissed him off. "Lying about what, for pity's sake?" he said hotly.
"Me. You. Us."
The repetition was going to turn this into a mantra before too much longer. She looked miserable. And that pissed him off even more. "There is no 'us'. At least, not like you're talkin' about." he said flatly.
She looked at him as though commiserating with him. "That's what I thought, too. But Mom seems to think... otherwise."
Spike couldn't believe they were having this conversation. Truth be told, he would have never believed that they would ever have this conversation.
As though hearing his unspoken thoughts, Buffy stood and brushed off the seat of her pants, seeming to draw the discussion to a close. He let it go, even if it did rankle a bit. He wasn't in the mood for pushing.
"I need to get out of here," she said decisively. "I'm Paranoia Girl." She looked at him quizzically. "Do you want to get out of here?"
Spike stood up, relieved that he wasn't being shut out. "Why not? Bedroom's been taken over by the teen hordes."
Giggling, Buffy stepped down, feet connecting with the back yard. "Oh, there's bound to be somewhere we can put you until the sun goes down." She stopped. "Wait. You need to tell Mom we're going."
He stared at her. "Me?"
She returned the stare. "Well, why not you?"
"She's *your* mum."
Buffy shrugged. "I'll share. Have a little mothery goodness of your own. I'm good."
He set his chin. "Fine. Think you're overreactin', anyway. I'll grab a couple of stakes while I'm about it."
Buffy rolled her eyes and groaned. "Oh, God. The 'patrol' excuse!"
"It's what we're doin', innit? So what's wrong with...?"
"Just hurry up," she said impatiently. "Workin' on a major case of the wiggins here."
Spike walked into the kitchen and smack into two pairs of appraising eyes. The sounds from the basement were punctuated by whoops of girlish laughter. The eyes were unrelenting.
"Buffy wants to... patrol." Bloody hell, he thought, the slayer was right. It did sound lame. Immediately the eyes narrowed in suspicion. He fled to the living room and grabbed Mr. Pointy and another, more anonymous, stake out of the weapons chest. Deciding in retrospect that the two stakes weren't making enough of a statement about their intentions, he turned back to the chest and picked up a crossbow, some arrows, and a sword. He reached back in for something else to seal the deal and stopped.
Bugger it, he thought as he stared at the small arsenal he was holding clumsily in his hands, they *were* going patrolling after all. Wasn't a lie. He dropped the sword and crossbow back in the chest, grabbed a wicked-looking knife for her and another for himself. He passed back through the kitchen and felt like a specimen under a microscope. "We'll... be back... uh, later," he stammered, holding the weapons up in explanation and intent. Spike had never been so relieved to get a closed door between him and the mother-watcher tag team on guard in the kitchen.
Buffy was standing in the yard, arms folded, foot tapping. He pushed out an indignant breath. "Bloody hell, Slayer! Now you've got me actin' like a ponce! Made a right fool of myself in there."
"See? Told you. *Watching*, right?"
At her smug look, he was determined not to give anything away. "Think it's your imagination, pet."
"Oh, really?" She arched an eyebrow, clearly not believing him.
"No," he growled, relenting. "It's *not* your sodding imagination. Come on. Let's push off. Go kill something."
"Well, be sure to get some kind of demon goo on you or something," she said glumly. "I'm not up to any mother-daughter talks tonight. And something tells me she'll be waiting up."
Continued in Part 5