Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: Post-"Storyteller". Period. No "Lies My Parents Told Me", other than premise... No spoilers!
Summary: Season 5 Joyce returns to the Season 7 Scoobies just in time for the newest and deadliest apocalypse yet.
Previous parts: http://www.the-sandlot.com/fic.php?mode=fic&fic_id=923
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
A/N: Thanks be to the betas: Colleen, Chris, Kelly, Chen... and what is it with all these hard 'C' sounds anyway?
Buffy kept exhibiting the same patterns over and over again. Just as she had realigned herself with Angel after his resouling, she had chosen to realign herself with Spike, despite what he had done. It was all of a piece, Giles thought.
He'd been so certain that Buffy had come to her senses last spring. And yet, with the vampire's return, complete with soul, she'd fallen into the old cycle of protector and nursemaid, even to visiting the butcher for blood.
Giles had to admit that Spike was a fine fighter, but the risk wasn't worth it. The trigger was still in place. Of that, he was certain, even if she'd pooh-poohed his misgivings.
A smothered giggle impinged on his resentful musings. He looked at Joyce Summers in shock.
Her eyes were brimming with tears, probably from the laughter she'd tried to hold in. He was appalled by her reaction.
"I know I shouldn't think it's funny, Rupert, but... Oh! Did you see him?"
Giles made a non-committal noise. She thought this was amusing! Her daughter choosing to spend her time with that!
Joyce interpreted the sound as it was meant. "I didn't say I approved," she said with a trace of heat.
Giles steepled his fingers over the steaming cup of tea. It was just the opening he needed. "Yet you allow him to stay here," he said quietly.
She sat back, eyes narrowing. "I wasn't here when she made that decision. I trust my daughter to do what's right. Spike helps her. And at least he wants to stay. Unlike some I know."
At her accusatory tone, he shook his head. "You don't understand."
She took a deep breath. "Where were you when she needed you?"
"Circumstances were such that..."
She cut off his reply. "Spike told me what you did," she said bluntly. "How you left. What it did to her."
Giles snorted. "Spike? You're getting your information from him?" Fine, he thought, it was time she got the real story, not some fairy tale of ogres and princesses. "Joyce, your daughter was shirking her responsibilities to Dawn and this household. She would have never stood on her own two feet while I was here."
"You were the only adult she had, Rupert."
Giles let out a breath. "Buffy *is* an adult."
"Let me tell you something, Rupert Giles." Joyce's voice was angry and rising steadily. "Buffy is *not* an adult. She hasn't had time to be one. She's had to grow up, yes, but in all the wrong ways. Maybe she can kill a whatever-you-call-it demon, but I imagine she *dozed* her way through high school."
The accusatory tone tugged at him. Didn't this infuriating woman understand that there was only one Slayer? And that the world's safety was in her daughter's hands?
"Buffy is an intelligent young woman," he retorted bullishly, as he felt his face begin to flush. "She has the test scores to prove it! But regardless, she has a Calling. It's a sacrifice, yes, but it is a sacred trust she's been given, as well."
"The word 'given' implies that she had a choice. Like she could accept it or not. She didn't have that!" Joyce slammed her mug down on the table. The tea sloshed out in a puddle. "When did you become so incredibly rigid?" Joyce racked her brain for the appropriate word. One that had more than three syllables. "So... parochial?"
Giles drew back from the table in anger. How dare she? After the way he'd adapted to her daughter and her daughter's way of doing things. After the things he'd had to deal with because she was stubborn and willful.
"Rigid? I'm rigid?"
It seemed that Joyce had no intention of arguing the point. She continued on, furiously berating him for doing his job. "And you dumped all these girls here with no thought of how they'd survive in a strange place, frightened and alone. At least Spike is helping her. And Xander. And Willow. *You* just breeze in and out, bringing more and more girls for her to protect! More and more children to add to the list of lives she's already responsible for. Isn't the world enough?"
"Buffy is the Slayer," he said decisively, carefully re-pitching his voice to lower it. He would not get in shouting match with Joyce Summers. "There's no one else."
Joyce stood up. "There's *you*! You used to have all the answers," she said angrily. "And if you didn't, you got them! When we found out about Dawn, you..."
Leaving his tea untouched, Giles got up from the table. "You're angry and I can see that there's to be no discussion. You're being unreasonable about this and on the subject of Spike as well, just as Buffy is. I think it would be better if I left."
Her eyes were dangerous, but her voice was deceptively calm. "Oh. Are you planning on coming back?"
"Of course." He stopped as he realized what she was implying. "That's completely unfair," he protested. "I have no intention of leaving Buffy like this."
"Good." She put both hands on the table and leaned toward him. "My daughter's been hurt enough. That ends now."
Currently, the object of discussion was rolling her eyes in amusement. Two cemeteries and several city streets later, Spike was still complaining.
"... can't believe you sent me in there, knowin' what you knew. Felt like a bloody pillock, two of 'em lookin' at me like..."
It was a beautiful California night, still and quiet.
Except for Spike.
He'd barely shut up since they'd left the house. Had said more in the last hour than he had in the last six months.
Once upon a time, his non-stop diatribe would have annoyed the hell out of her. But tonight, even with the danger she knew they were all facing, she was twirling her stake idly. She was almost of the 'carefree' persuasion.
"... like rats off a sinkin' ship, innit? Ghost town already..."
Spike's verbal monologue was like comforting white noise. Like the air conditioner. Or the refrigerator. Something that you subconsciously missed when it wasn't going.
"... thought maybe movin' out would take some of the pressure off..."
Buffy's head snapped around, comfort forgotten. "What?" Her voice was slightly shrill.
"The empty houses," he said impatiently, indicating the row of beleaguered 'For Sale' signs. He had a 'weren't you listening?' look on his face. "Any idiot's got any sense is headed out of town. Bound to be another basement around here somewhere."
She stopped, putting her hands on her hips, the stake in her hand unnoticed as always. "Why do you keep trying to leave? You know I need you there."
Spike looked more than a little frustrated. "I'm talkin' down the block, Buffy. Not Mexico."
At her hard stare, he continued, choosing his words carefully, trying to keep it light. "That house is gonna bust wide open soon - probably in the full light of day. A mini-apocalypse I'd like to miss, if you don't mind."
"We need to stay together," she said stubbornly, frown etched deep in her left brow.
Obviously, she wasn't going to back down. Spike gave up. "Fine. Don't get your knickers in a twist, Slayer. Guess you can just shove me in a closet until the sun goes down."
Willow walked into the kitchen timidly. "Are you all right?"
"Don't I look all right?" Joyce snapped.
"Whoops. Leaving now."
Joyce put her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, Willow. I just don't understand it. That's not the Giles I know."
The witch entered the room and sat down at the table. "Been thinking about that. I think the whole Council-kablooey thing really messed him up. He's like... the 'Last Watcher', or something. A living embodiment of all the ones that are ashes in a mass grave somewhere. Which is kind of ironic. Considering that they fight vampires and vampires get all ashy-dusty when you stake them."
"It's just an observation," the girl said with a shrug. "And it would explain the way he's acting lately."
"What? Like a horse's ass?"
Willow's eyes widened. A startled giggle slipped out. Buffy's mother said 'horse's ass', she thought.
"And if he's so worried about Buffy patrolling with Spike, then why isn't he with them?" She looked at Willow appraisingly. "Why aren't you *all* with her?"
Willow looked surprised. "Huh?"
"Well, you all used to patrol together, didn't you? Isn't that right?"
Brow furrowing, the witch thought about that. "Well, yes. We did. When we were in high school, anyway. Things got a little wonky in college. She started going with Riley and..."
Joyce sighed. "He was a nice boy. I was proud for Buffy. I was never really one for nice boys."
Neither is she, Willow thought. "You weren't?" she prodded.
The woman smiled. "Not really. Hank used to play pool for spending money in law school. As in 'pool shark' playing pool."
"No!" And Buffy thought her weakness for wicked energy was a Slayer thing. Suddenly, Willow was seeing signs that it was a 'like mother, like daughter' thing.
"And he had a Harley before we had the girls."
Oooh, wicked Joyce! Was this Freud or Jung or...? Willow wasn't sure. Buffy had been much better in psychology classes than the witch had ever been. She'd have to check with her.
She imagined herself having the conversation with her friend.
Without conscious thought, Buffy and Spike backed up to each other, eyes scanning the ten Harbingers that surrounded them.
Reaching behind his back slowly, Spike withdrew the knife he'd stashed there and handed it off.
She spared it a glance. "Nice choice. Good heft," she said easily as she tossed it lightly and tested the grip.
"Thanks," he answered absently. "Hoped it'd suit." He retrieved the second knife from the same spot. "Do you think the ass-kickin' we're fixin' to get is gonna ease us out of the doghouse with your mum?"
Buffy was moving lightly on the balls of her feet, sizing up the opposition. Spike moved in concert with her, always keeping his back to hers.
"Probably," she answered. "Except *my* ass is not getting kicked. And you know, a little positive thinking on your part wouldn't be a bad thing. Still, Mom gets pretty protective over a skinned knee. If you can manage a gaping stab wound, it's bound to get you some perks."
"Good to know," he commented. "Cause two ass-kickin's in one night is a little excessive. Even for me."
He jockeyed for a good launching position. Might as well just dive in, but he'd like to take at least three down with him. They were a little too spread out for that kind of move, though. And Buffy would have more to deal with.
"There's *only* ten."
Sometimes it was like she read his mind.
"Right..." He pushed out a breath as he moved with her. "May not be a Rhodes Scholar, pet, but I can count. Still, thanks for savin' me the trouble."
The offhandedness of her reply meant she was preparing to make a move. Since he really wasn't seeing anything himself, he thought he'd just go with the flow. Stay on her back and see where it got him.
He was momentarily distracted by the visual on that.
Buffy chuckled softly, a feral grin creeping across her face. The 'Bringers were carrying their usual wickedly-curved, gutting-friendly blades, so no surprises there.
As one, their heads came up as if hearing something. Like dogs, Buffy thought.
Spike frowned, eyes darting around as he tried to divine just what was happening.
As quickly as they had appeared, the Harbingers scattered, melting into the shadows.
"Hey!" Buffy sounded perturbed. "Wait!" She looked at Spike. "Where did they go?"
"Dunno," he said, senses still on alert.
"Well, they're gone!"
Spike looked at Buffy in annoyance. "Again, no scholar, but..."
"Almost having fun," she grumbled. Putting away her knife, she straightened, willing herself to relax. The adrenaline was still running high. Now no 'bringers and not a demon in sight. Pretty lame patrol, she thought. "Can you track them?"
"Could be a trap. Looked bloody suspicious to me. If it's a brawl you want, we can go to Willy's. Bound to be something evil there." At the sight of Buffy's slightly pouty lower lip, Spike relented. "Still, if you're all set for a go, we can go chase down a few. Up to you, pet."
She grinned. "I think we should follow them."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Right. Fine then. Let's go."
Joyce could hear them on the back porch, whispering, laughing, and knocking around. She sat quietly in the darkened kitchen.
"And you wanted to take on 'ten'!" Spike's voice rang the glass on the other side of the door. "Christ, Slayer!"
The back door stammered open. "Hey, we did all right. Those guys went down just fine. It was that last run-in that took me by surprise."
"You couldn't *smell* it comin'? What about those highly developed slayer senses you've got? Another urban legend?"
Slayer and vampire tumbled in the back door. Spike was bracing Buffy against his body. Joyce heard a 'thunk' as her left foot hit the floor.
She looked down. Her daughter's foot was encased in a semi-transparent... something.
"What's wrong with your foot?" Joyce asked in alarm. She took a second look. "What is that?"
Spike looked up with a smirk on his face. He had a deep cut on one cheek that was oozing blood and a skinned spot on his chin. "Snot." He laughed. "Fyarl snot."
"But it's hard." Joyce couldn't imagine what Spike thought was so funny.
"That it is." He settled Buffy on a stool. Her foot dangled heavily.
"Ow." The slayer grimaced. "That's heavy."
Spike blew out a breath. "Well, yeah. Course. Like cement, innit? Which I'm sure your Watcher must have told you at one point." He looked at Joyce. "Could you get Buffy a real chair?" He headed to the basement. "Harris is bound to have a chisel down here somewhere."
Buffy was holding herself on the stool and bracing herself on the kitchen island. "Ow, ow, ow." She slid off the stool and stood. "Great."
Bustling into the dining room, Joyce grabbed one of the heavy chairs and returned to Buffy. "How did this happen?"
Rolling her eyes toward the basement, Buffy snorted and sat. "To hear him tell it, I didn't move fast enough. Which is like... so not true. I was just momentarily distracted by him. As he was telling me to get out of the way. So this," she looked down at her foot, "is his fault."
Joyce got down on her knees as her daughter lowered herself into the chair. She took a good look at what she could see of Buffy's foot. "Does it hurt?"
"A little tight. I think it's shrinking as it hardens." She laughed merrily. "I'm sure I looked pretty stupid when it happened."
Spike was back in the room with a heavy mallet and a chisel to pick up the tale. "You did look stupid. Bloody stupid," he commented wickedly. "And that girlie noise you made..."
"It was gross, Spike! Really gross."
"Well, instead of remarking on his rudeness, try making one of those slayer moves the next time a Fyarl demon hawks a lugie at you, " he said dryly. "I don't fancy makin' a habit of this." Joyce moved out of the way as he squatted down and began chipping away at the hunk of quartz-like stuff. She noticed that the knuckles on both of his hands were bloody and abraded.
"S'bit like cutting a diamond," he explained. "You catch it just right and..."
Joyce watched him chip away carefully, trying different spots. "A Fyarl demon."
Looking up, Buffy smiled. "They're kinda dumb. Giles was one once." Off Joyce's surprised look, she explained. "Another Ethan Rayne thing. I actually almost killed Giles."
"Almost, so no cigar," Spike commented. He made a triumphant noise. The chunks fell away in three large pieces. He pulled Buffy's boot off and took a good look. Her foot was slightly blue, but otherwise fine. Spike nodded in satisfaction.
Buffy flexed her foot. "Owie. Feels like my foot was asleep."
"Well, walk on it," he said in exasperation, as he gathered the tools and headed back toward the basement door with the chisel. "Not gonna rub it for you."
"Hold it," Joyce barked.
Spike stopped in confusion. "What?"
Buffy's mother indicated the remnants of the hardened mucous on the floor. "What about that?"
"What about it?"
Joyce put her hands on her hips. "Well, I'm not picking it up."
"Sorry," he mumbled as he grabbed two of the pieces and heaved them out the back door. Going back for the third, he was halted by Joyce's disapproving look. "What now?"
"You threw those in the yard." Joyce was almost tapping her foot.
"Well. Yeah." His confusion was evident.
She narrowed her eyes. "They go in the garbage can, mister. The big one."
"Right." He shot Buffy an acid look as he picked up the last chunk and went out the back door.
Buffy was chuckling.
Joyce looked at her daughter in puzzlement. "So," she ventured. "You had... fun?"
"Oh, yeah. It was a blast. Lots of snappy comebacks from yours truly. I 'slayed' 'em. Literally." Her eyes were shining and her cheeks were flushed.
Joyce nodded. "No close calls?" she asked tentatively.
Shrugging, Buffy got up and walked to the kitchen cabinet and snagged some dried fruit. "Sure. Ran into a few of the First's guys. But Spike had my back."
Spike came back in. "Her back. Not her foot. Can't watch all of her." He caught Joyce's amused look. "Even if she is reckless as hell when she's up for a spot."
Joyce's face reddened in anger as she found Buffy's eyes.
"Not that she was... up for a spot, mind." Spike started backpedaling as he realized that the woman's eyes were hardening. He glanced at Buffy who was looking betrayed. "Thing with the Fyarl could have happened to anyone. And that thing with the 'Bringers..."
Buffy sighed. "Please stop helping me. Go away now."
"Well, I would," he said in an irritated voice. "But I have no idea where I'm supposed to be anymore, do I?"
"Dining room," Joyce stated. "The windows are shaded during the day. You can just close it off. Everybody else can go around. I moved your things myself. Xander's in the living room. I have no idea where Rupert is," she said cuttingly.
Buffy and Spike traded looks. "Well, I'll just be off..." he said quickly.
"Not so fast," Joyce said firmly. "Sit down and let me look at that cheek."
If Spike could have turned red, he would have. "M'fine."
"Mom, it'll be gone by tomorrow afternoon," Buffy protested as she saw Spike's discomfiture. "That's nothing. I've seen..."
Joyce was immovable. "At least wash up. It could get infected."
Moving toward the sink, Spike chuckled. "Vampire's don't get infections, Joyce. Don't get colds either."
Buffy stood up, limping lightly on her still slightly numb foot, and watched him rinse his hands. Her mother dug around for a worn cloth in the drawer.
"Here," Joyce said, handing it to him.
"Where?" he asked, putting a hand to his cheek. "There?"
She nodded. "And that streak. Right there. It's dried, but..." Joyce pointed.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Buffy said, jumping out of the chair. "Give me that!" She took the cloth and wet it, pressing it against Spike's face.
"Ow!" Spike exclaimed. "Take it easy!"
"You are such a wuss! And we are so not going to start this communal cleansing of wounds!" she said as she wiped at the dried spot.
"Never asked you to, did I?" Spike snarled. He grabbed for the cloth. "Give it!"
"No," she growled, stepping back. "There. All cleaned up." She threw the rag in the sink.
"Could 'a done it m'self," he mumbled resentfully.
Buffy put her hands on her hips. "Oh, right. Sure you can, except for that whole mirror-challenged thing you've got going."
Joyce watched them banter back and forth. The two of them were so relaxed with each other, but underneath it all there was an edge that...
She shook her head. This was not at all what she'd envisioned for Buffy when she'd held her in her arms for the first time.
Of course, none of it was.
Continued in Part 6