All About Spike - Print Version
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Crisis Management
By Kimi

Want to know why you're not seeing any "Wolf"? Besides the obvious reasons that the Muse is silent? This is why. This *thing*... I wasn't going to post until I had several parts under my belt. But I guess since it's moving along, it's okay to put it out.

Please forgive me for lack of "Wolf." I offer this in its place for rerun hell. Shouldn't be a long one at all.

Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: Post-"Storyteller"
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...



Part 1

Buffy couldn't believe how much damage the students had done to the school in the space of one night. Xander had been in and out of her office all day, taking short breaks and ranting about redoing work he'd done just that summer. She'd finally giggled a little and he'd broken down, eyes twinkling as he realized how much like an authority figure he sounded. Like somebody's dad.

She shoved the gear shift into 'park', got out of the Cherokee, and headed to the front door, ready for a little quiet time. The hammering and noise of debris being hauled away had finally driven her to slip quietly from her office and out of the school. Checking her watch, she remembered that the girls would be in the back, working out and doing weapons drill. She wondered if the neighbors even noticed.

Pushing the front door open, she heaved a sigh of relief, followed immediately by a sharp gasp. She stared at the unaccustomed sight, a wave of nausea washing over her. This was wrong on so many levels that she almost couldn't stand there and stare. It was enough to send her upstairs screaming.

A vase of live roses sat on the table just inside the door. And there was a card.

Hand over her mouth, she fought the urge to let the world go black. She was breathing shallowly in panic. Swallowing once, she pushed her hands down to her sides to steady herself, and took a deep breath. The images rained down on her brain, bouncing, then sinking in... Memories so thick she was drowning in them.

"Hey, Mom." She recalled seeing the flowers and squealing. Nosily opening the card, she had read the sweet message. Flowers from her mother's date. Her mother's last date. Last anything. And Buffy's world had turned upside down, never to be the same. Her mother's body, lying on the sofa, skirt hitched up like a broken doll. Eyes staring like glass orbs. A very beautiful doll and nothing more.

What was his name? Brad? Bob? No. Brian. His name had been Brian. He'd actually come to the funeral, all subdued and out of place. So many of her mother's friends there. And Xander there, Anya with reddened eyes, Giles pained look, Willow's quiet sobs, Tara...

She heard a rustle of movement and turned, determined to pull herself together. They were just flowers, after all. Not a common delivery item at 1630 Revello Drive, but not the thing of nightmares, certainly. Just flowers.

"You saw them? Guess I haven't lost my touch..." Buffy stared at her mother, who walked up to the table and fingered the petals lightly, glancing at her daughter with a shy glint in her eye. Her mother, who had been dead for two years.

Joyce didn't seem to notice Buffy's paleness. "These came to the gallery today. I thought it was nice. Then again, he was nice." She smiled sweetly, then frowned. "Honey, can you shut the door?" The slayer reached behind her and silently closed it. Softly, so that whatever hallucination this was wasn't frightened away.

"Your sister isn't home yet. You don't suppose she's gone... well, you know."

Know? No, she didn't. She didn't know anything. Not for certain. And at this moment, she wasn't ready to know. Just play along. Racking her brain, Buffy threw her memory back two years and finally came up with the correct answer. It wasn't even that hard to remember. "Dawn's not at Spike's crypt. She's probably at Janice's."

Joyce sighed in relief. "Well, that's good. Are you hungry? Because I baked." Her mother headed toward the kitchen, Buffy following closely behind, watching her walk, listening to her light, comforting voice. "Had a little headache. Nothing much, but I came home early from the gallery anyway. I forgot to eat lunch, so I suppose that was all it was. Or the wine last night. Still," her mother said a little uncomfortably, "can't be too careful. I knew you'd be home soon."

Buffy could end this now. Reach forward and watch her hand go right through the manifestation in front of her.

Just reach out and not touch her.

Instead, she continued into the kitchen, sitting carefully on the stool across the kitchen island.

"There are all these girls in the backyard," Joyce said matter-of-factly as she looked out the kitchen window, hair shining in the light. "Willow's out there, too."

"And Spike's in the basement," Buffy said tiredly.

Joyce turned quickly in alarm. "He is? But I thought..."

Buffy waved a weary hand. "It's okay, Mom. We worked it out."

"But he does understand that you don't..."

"Things are different, Mom. He has a soul now."

"Really?" her mother said interestedly. "Did Willow...?"

"No," Buffy answered firmly as she reached for a freshly baked cookie. She couldn't believe she was having a normal conversation with this thing, but she couldn't help it. It felt... good. "Spike went out and got it himself."

"So he's good now? I always liked him, you know."

"I know." Buffy knew that her mind should be racing along, trying to discern what this newest move of the First's was about, but instead she was sitting back on the stool carrying on a catch-up conversation with her dead mother. What did the First hope to accomplish? Or was this the First? Had she slipped and hit her head at the wrecked school? Was she asleep?

A faint whoosh of cooler air traveled across her neck as the door to the basement opened. She took a deep breath, waiting for Spike's entrance to either dis-corporate the vision of her mother, or bring out the vindictive, cutting words that the First used to chip away at them. There was a sharp intake of breath behind her. So. He could see her, too.

"Spike! Buffy said you were here. I'm so glad you two ironed things out." She frowned in the motherly way that even Spike wasn't immune to. "Of course, you realize this doesn't mean you're dating. You do know that?"

A shaking hand came down on Buffy's shoulder. She took her eyes off her mother long enough to turn her head and look up at him. His eyes were brimming with tears.

"What is this?" he whispered hoarsely.

Buffy looked at him with soft, sad eyes. "You see her?" she asked unnecessarily. Of course, he did. Maybe she just needed to hear him say it out loud.

Spike drew himself up, energy suddenly crackling from him like a tree that had been struck by lightening. He moved to Buffy's side and slightly in front of her as if protecting her from the sight. "This is low," he spat out. "Even for you."

Joyce looked surprised. "Well, you really can't expect her to be with you, Spike. It just wouldn't be right."

Moving around Buffy's shoulder, Spike swaggered to the figure. "Course it's not right," he growled. "But what's even less right is you here, looking like this."

"What?" Joyce looked shocked. "Spike, really!"

He moved in close. "Not gonna do this to her," he said softly. "Go away." Slowly, he reached up to Joyce's face and waited for his hand to pass through. Instead, he touched warm, soft, living flesh. Smelled the perfume he remembered so well. "Joyce..." he whispered unbelievingly.

The woman giggled and pulled her face away shyly. "Silly. Sit down and I'll fix you some hot chocolate. I made cookies."
___________________

Willow had taken Xander's not-so-subtle head-waggling as a request for a private conference. The fresh smell of Joyce's famous spaghetti permeated the upstairs bedroom where they had chosen to meet.

"So, what? You walked in and they were all chatty in the kitchen?"

Nodding, Willow answered. "It was so unreal, it was surreal. Buffy and Spike drinking hot chocolate, Joyce having a cup of coffee." She closed her eyes briefly. "Xander, she touched me."

"Well, I got that. That it wasn't the usual First Evil stuff. What did you tell the Potentials?"

"Kennedy? The truth. And I'm surprised she hasn't already called her parents to come and get her out of here. Signing on to be a slayer to stake vampires and kill baddies is one thing. But this? Totally wiggy." She shook her head in memory of that conversation. "We told the other girls what Joyce suggested."

"Which is what, exactly? Just so we're all singing out of the same hymn book?"

"That she's been in a coma for the last two years." Willow pursed her lips. "I think that was Spike's idea."

Xander stared at her in disbelief. "And they bought that?" He snorted. "Big Bad may be back, but he's still got a soap opera mentality."

"I tried to call Giles. Left a message on his cell. Maybe he'll call back. Soon." She shook her head. "We need him, Xand. We need him real bad."
______________

Spike hadn't gotten two feet from Joyce since she'd started dinner. "You put chicken in it? And sausage?" he asked, peering over her shoulder as she stirred the thick sauce.

"Polish sausage."

"Ah," he said, letting out a breath. "Like the look of it. Good rich blood red."

Buffy smiled. The big bad vampire was following her mother around the kitchen like a puppy. Of course, he had managed to be of some help. The kitchen cabinets' contents had moved around quite a bit since the last time her mother had cooked. Still, the girl was having some major regretful moments for past insults. It looked like Spike hadn't been using her mother to get to Buffy. He was genuinely fond of her.

The slayer shook her head, as if trying to rid herself of the image in front of her. Her mother was dead. She'd buried her. Seen her cold, blue body in the morgue, just as Dawn had.

Oh, God. Poor Dawnie. To have this, even for a while and then have it taken away? She hadn't been able to bring herself to call her sister on her cell phone. She hadn't even been able to bring herself to leave the room. What if she left and her mother wasn't there when she came back?

"A bit more garlic...?" Spike cajoled. Joyce shook her head, smiling slowly. He never could resist her. Fallen a little in love with her the night she'd brought the fire ax down on his head - one mortal woman facing down a demon with nothing more than a strong mixture of piss and vinegar.

He backed away just a little, watching her stir the sauce, little frown line knitting her forehead. She had a heart big enough for the whole world to fit in and a gift for plain speaking. What Buffy might have been if she hadn't been Called. No wonder he'd always been besotted with her, even if the slayer had his heart.

"Will you go on?" Joyce complained, shoving up against him lightly to push him away from the stove. Her eyes sparkled. "I can't even move with you following me around like this."

"Just makin' sure you're not gonna run off on us, Joyce," he said with a wink. He frowned, leaning in again. "Not sure there's enough garlic though..."

Xander eased into the kitchen, a little shocked at the domestic scene that was playing out in front of him. Willow had asked him to keep an eye on things while she surfed the 'net for information on their current problem. All five feet eight inches of her. He took a deep long-suffering type breath. Hey, he could act normal, too. After all, this was Sunnydale. Joyce was dead. Now she wasn't. Just another day on the Hellmouth.

"Spike, are you flirting with Buffy's mother now? Cause that is so..."

Not turning, the vampire acknowledged the man with a comment at the same time he dipped a finger into the large stockpot. "No more so than I ever did, Harris," he said nonchalantly as he made a great show of tasting the sauce. He smacked his lips. "Joyce and I have an understanding."

Buffy's mother laughed. "C'mon, Xander," she said, full of humor. "I'm a little old for Spike, aren't I?"

The vampire shot her a hooded glance. "Point of fact..."

"Gah! There's a world of 'no' going on right here! I can't watch," the man said, covering his eyes with one hand. In a moment, he spread his fingers and peered at Buffy. "Do something!"

The girl laughed. "Frankly, I like watching him use his smooth moves on someone else for a change." Considering that I haven't seen him use those moves in quite a while, she thought.

Spike threw a hand over his heart dramatically. "Joyce! Make them stop!"

"Shoo," she said in a stage whisper as a blush crept into her cheeks. "You're embarrassing me!"

"No need for that," the vampire assured her gallantly. "Harris is just jealous. And your daughter? She just likes tearing my heart out and stomping on it. I'm used to it."

"Enough, Spike." Buffy frowned. "We need to talk... about patrol." She glanced at Xander and nodded toward her mother as she stood up. "Xander, will you help Mom?"

The man bowed sweepingly, a lock of hair falling rakishly forward. "An honor." He sidled past Spike. "This is your special spaghetti sauce," he stated with certainty. "Buffy can't make it."

"Oh, I'm sure she could if she tried..."

The slayer moved into the hallway, careful to keep her mother in sight. Spike followed with a curious frown. She looked up at him questioningly. "Well?"

Spike shrugged. "Dunno, pet. I've seen zombies, ghost, a shapeshifter or two in my time. But this? Feels like her. Smells like her. And that wicked glint in her eye? That's yer mum all over."

Sighing, Buffy slumped against the wall. "I know. I've been sitting back. Watching. And nothing seems 'off', or 'wrong'. It's like she never left. Except for that whole two years that she missed, which by the way, Mister, is a good thing for you!"

"Buffy..." Spike's voice was soft. "The Bit."

Nodding once, she watched her mother laugh as Xander stole the spoon and dove in to do his own taste test. "Yes. It's time."



Spoilers: Post-"Storyteller"
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...

Enjoy.



Part 2

Dawn stopped dead in her tracks as a dozen pairs of eyes swung to her and then dropped furtively.

"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.

"Mom?"
________________

"Anything?"

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!"

"Oh, please!"

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..."

"Buffy Summers..."

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..."

"Shut. Up."

"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.

"What?"

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.

"Oh."

"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."

"No, really..."

"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."



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...



Part 3

It was Xander's favorite time of day. Utter quiet. He could almost pretend the house wasn't crawling with nubile teenage girls, one edgy ex-fiancee, and a formerly-evil nerd.

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."

"But where'd..."

"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?"

"Xander..."

"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."

"Groggy?"

"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..."

"Dead? No."

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.

"What?"

"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.



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!



Part 4

He was A Man of a Certain Age. Giles had noticed it a good deal more than usual of late. He fumbled with the pop culturisms his young charges tossed around in casual conversation, trying to catch the thread. He had grown 'to' Buffy and her illogical speech patterns. Had actually come to understand most of them, even when taken out of context. But he was at a loss at how to relate to so many who were so obviously living in a different world than he remembered.

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.

Regret.

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.

"Hello, Rupert."

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.

Xander wilted.

"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?"

"Mom."

"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."



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
http://www.allaboutspike.com/fic.html?id=393
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?



Part 5

The back door slammed shut in a flurry of flying black leather and pointed weapons. Giles stared after Spike angrily.

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."

"Willow!"

"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.

Maybe not...
_____________________

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."

"Anytime."

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.



Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: Post-"Storyteller". Period. No spoilers!
Summary: Season 5 Joyce returns to the Season 7 Scoobies.
Previous parts: http://www.the-sandlot.com/fic.php?mode=fic&fic_id=923
http://www.allaboutspike.com/fic.html?id=393
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
A/N: To Walt Whitman, who gives us the body and soul connection in words even a high school student can understand.

And all hail the team! Chris, Colleen, Cindy, Chen, Kelly and Mezz.



Part 6

"I sing the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul."


He was sitting on the edge of his desk, reading aloud from Whitman's writings - low, sensual voice caressing every syllable. Reading straight-forward, powerful words that made her all hot inside. His weight was on one hip, head cocked to the other side. His accent was firmly British, but he wasn't at all what all those old movies led you to expect.

"Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves;
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?"


She wondered if he even noticed that her nails were freshly done and that she was wearing glossy lipstick that matched.


"The love of the Body of man or woman balks account - the body itself balks account;
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect."

He was so mature. Even if he did look young. In fact, none of the boys in her class would ever be like him, even when they were older. She let the sound of his voice melt into the background of her thoughts and watched his lips move.


"Within there runs blood,
The same old blood!
The same red-running blood!
There swells and jets a heart-there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations..."


Not the least bit stodgy. He was vibrant, so sure of himself and who he was. What he was about. That must be wonderful. To know.


"...You would wish long and long to be with him - you would wish to sit by him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other...."


Willow leaned over. "Mmmm. Earthy *and* romantic," she said, a wicked sparkle in her eyes.

Coloring slightly, Buffy looked down sightlessly at the book in front of her. "Um, yeah."

Her teacher looked up and smiled, making certain they were all listening. He needn't have bothered. No one ever acted out in his class. The first attempt by any of the boys was squashed with a raised eyebrow and a sarcastic comment that made veiled references to the offender's obvious feelings of inadequacy in his masculinity.

No girl ever acted out at all. Like her, they were enrapt. The worst he had to deal with were the major pleas for private explanations and help with out-of-class reading.

She herself wanted to fall... into his embracing voice, his intense blue eyes, his arms. To be wrapped up so tightly, she would be safe even if the world gave way under her.

"...To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment - what is this, then? I do not ask any more delight - I swim in it, as in a sea...."


Xander leaned forward and caught Buffy's attention with his own inimitable stage whisper. "Hey, is it hot in here, or is it just me?"


"...The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body, The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out..."


Her breath caught as his words flowed over her, around her, through her. She wondered how it would feel to have those words whispered in her ear. How it would tickle. How it would inflame.


"...The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees..."


She watched him carefully turn the page of the book. The gesture was soft, gentle, reverent. She imagined that that was exactly how his hands would touch her. Her body went hot with the path her thoughts were taking. Would anyone notice?

Would *he* notice?


"...The thin red jellies within you, or within me - the bones, and the marrow in the bones...

Buffy frowned, slightly disturbed. Blood as jelly? It niggled at her.

Food?


"The exquisite realization of health;
O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul,
O I say now these are the Soul!"


Buffy jumped as the door of the classroom slammed against the wall. All eyes flew to the door as the principal made his entrance. He was angry. Flushed.

Striding to the desk, he snatched the book from her teacher's hands. He glanced at the open page, winced, and looked around the room at the students. His eyes found Buffy's.

His head spun around to fix glassy eyes on her teacher.

"This is most unseemly, William! All this twaddle about the soul."

He threw the book in the trash.

"It is *not* a part of the established curriculum!"



Buffy's head came off the pillow with a start. She was tangled in her sheets. Which never happened. Attempting to steady her breathing, she wiped a hand across her head. Her hair was wet and sticking to her face.

Guiltily, she looked around, but the room was empty. She remembered that all the girls were either in the basement or downstairs. Except Kennedy, who, as her mom had told her, had 'volunteered' to stay in Willow's room until the rest of the beds were finished.

Looking at the clock, she heaved a sigh. Five a.m. But Sunday, and therefore, plenty of time for more sleep. If she possibly could after that roller-coaster of a dream. Freudian much?

She'd been sitting with Xander and Willow in class at the old high school.

English Lit. Walt Whitman. Spike as teacher. In black slacks and a blue shirt, open over a gray tee-shirt. Hair longer than usual, curly, brown tipped with gold.

She raised her head again and slammed it against the pillow at the thought that she'd actually noticed what he was wearing.

The scary part, though? Giles in the role of Principal Snyder. But with a British accent.

Buffy snorted. One crazy dream. And in Technicolor, too. Bizarro Land extraordinaire. As if Spike would view anything other than some Ramones lyric as poetry anyway...

Her old teacher Maggie Walsh would have had a field day with this. She stared at the ceiling. At least it hadn't been a slayer dream.

A shallow thought crept into her brain. Maybe she'd been a little more fascinated with post-Soul, insane-Spike hair than she'd realized.
_____________________

He was signing copies of his book of prose when she arrived at the table.

The lines had been long. He was pleased that so many had turned out to meet him. These were people who had all bought his book. People who cared about his words. At one point, he had despaired of ever signing them all, but now the line was manageable. His hand cramped but it was all right. He owed this to them - each and every one of them.

Prose was a wonderful thing. You could express yourself without worrying about the meter. Much. Or finding rhyming words. They happened or they didn't. It was all one in prose.

Taking a second look at the girl, he realized how lovely she was. All sunkissed cheeks and nose with a glorious head of golden hair.

The effect was ruined by the condescending look on her face.

"This is for a friend," she said as she laid the book on the table and pushed it toward him.

He glanced down. It wasn't his book. His book was small, seventy pages at best. Instead, he was looking at a thick, moldering tome.

"Excuse me. This isn't my book."

She stared at him impatiently. "Of course it is. Read the title."

Helpless under her assault, he turned his gaze to the cover. It was marred. Impossible to make out.

"I can't..."

With a disgusted noise, she flipped the cover of the book open and showed him the faded title page. His eyes widened as he read.

Spike looked up in confusion. "'A History of William the Bloody'?"

The girl smiled conspiratorially. "See? It's all about you. It even has a list of everyone you killed." She frowned. "That's the biggest section of the book, by the way. I understand there have been new editions since this one was published, but I thought this particular one would make a wonderful gift. My friend is older. Likes old books. This one is a classic."

"But I'm not this person anymore..." he protested.

She shrugged. "Maybe not. Doesn't make it go away, now does it?" Flipping her hair back, she folded her arms. "The line's not getting any shorter."

He looked behind her and saw that the line had grown. And no one was holding the small book of prose. They were all holding thick books in all different types of condition. There was even a paperback.

Spike woke from his restless sleep. He'd only dozed off for a moment, he thought shakily. Sitting up, he threw his legs over the side of the cot and put his head in his hands.

This was not going down as his favorite Buffy dream ever, that was for certain.

He seriously needed a cigarette.
__________________________

"Don't you sleep?"

The question was delivered in a blunt, irritated tone of voice. Not the way to be talking to Buffy's mum, but dammit, he was pissed. Had fallen into a troubled sleep long before sunup, because he'd been trying not to disturb anyone, and had had that wretched dream. His nocturnal ramblings around the basement hadn't been noted, and so he could count on sleeping when he should. But now that he was in the 'living' part of the house, he noticed every creak of the old cot as he tossed around. He even felt odd about turning the pages of a book.

He winced. Best not think about books.

Or the tobacco situation. Never should have taken that back up, Big Bad or not.

Soon the sun would rise and the house would begin to stir. Spike hoped that at some point he'd simply pass out from exhaustion. God, he missed his crypt!

Joyce looked up at the frowning vampire. His hair was disheveled and he looked tightly wound. "Dawn was hogging the covers. Moving around a lot. I finally decided to get up - start the day."

Spike was concerned. "Bit's okay, though?"

Chuckling, Joyce nodded. "She's always been hard to sleep with. Even when she was little. Now that she's so tall - well, it's harder."

Sitting down on a stool, Spike cast around for subject matter. A discussion of dreams and their meaning was not on the menu.

"Anya come back last night?"

Joyce smiled. "Finally. With a suitcase full of clothes that are now in my bulging closet. She's sleeping on the floor in our room."

Something else to think about, he thought. Good! "As far from Harris as she can get, then," he commented.

The woman frowned. "I hadn't thought of it that way. But she didn't have much to say to him last night when she got in. What's going on with those two?"

"Joyce, if you manage to live another hundred years, you'll never catch up on all the goings on. I was away for six weeks. Missed two shootings and an apocalypse." He toyed with the cigarette pack in his pocket. "S'like 'Passions' around here."

"Buffy told me about Willow trying to destroy the world. I was sorry to hear about Tara. I thought she was a sweet, sweet girl." She leaned forward. "It's Rupert I don't understand."

He shrugged, unconcerned. "Can't help you there. The Watcher and I have an uneasy truce at best. At worst, it's open warfare. Was a bit different when Buffy was gone, but we were never mates. Got drunk with him once or twice, though." He smirked. "I think he takes umbrage at the whole undead, blood-drinking situation. That and the chip bein' out. Doesn't trust me." He nodded. "I understand that."

"Then, why does he let you patrol with Buffy alone? I asked Willow and she couldn't really give me an answer."

Spike got up. "Couldn't tell you." He indicated the porch. "Goin' out there for a bit. Then, to bed. Again." Holding up a cigarette, he nodded. "Won't go far."

Joyce looked at him disapprovingly.

"What?" he said in annoyance. "Not like it'll kill me."

"Just pick up the butts when you're done," she called after him.
_____________________

Once again, Xander's right of place in the kitchen had been usurped.

Buffy's mother was making a chart. He smiled as she glanced upward and raked a self-conscious hand through his unruly hair.

"Early bird?" he asked.

"Ugh. No worms please. Just trying to get a head start on a routine around here."

Xander walked around and looked over her shoulder. "Not a bad idea. After all, you *do* have plenty of minions around here."

Puzzled, Joyce looked up and caught the glint of amusement in his warm eyes. "I have minions?"

He made a respectful bow. "A whole houseful... several houses-full, actually." Walking to the coffee pot, he poured a mug full. "Nice not to have to do early morning java duty. Thanks."

Returning to the chart, she bit her lip and worried at it for a moment, before answering. "You're welcome."

"How early do you think I can start downstairs?"

She looked at the clock. "Still a little early yet. It's 6 am."

"Yeah," he said in an embarrassed voice. "I slept in."

Her eyes flashed with laughter. "Working man, right?"

Xander's pride swelled at the idea of being called a 'man' by Buffy's mother. Circle of Life, right? Even Xander Harris could grow up. "Yep. But never on Sunday. Unless it's for you."
_____________________

There was a knock on the dining room door. Spike opened one eye and stared across the room belligerently.

He was never going to get a bloody moment of sleep today! It was eight in the morning and the house was beginning to stir. Might as well get used to the fact and get the hell up.

"Yeah?"

"It's me."

Buffy. The last person he wanted to see right now.

She opened the door, slowly. As if she expected him to be lying around starkers in the dining room, he thought sarcastically.

"Hi." Her voice had a false brightness to it. She seemed nervous. "You up?"

He sighed. It was just a dream. No use taking it out on her. "Am now. What's goin' on?"

With a frown, she walked in and sat on a chair near the transplanted cot.

"Do you know who Walt Whitman is?"

Spike sat up, completely outraged. His eyes flashed in anger. "Do I know...? Christ, Buffy, what do you take me for? Some under-educated pillock?"

"I just..."

"Yes," he said slowly, trying to control his temper, "I know *exactly* who Walt Whitman is. American poet, though there were rumblings about him in some drawing rooms in London right before I met Dru. A lot of his work was about the physicality of the soul. He was a bloody damn more accessible than most of those namby-pamby poets everyone else was always natterin' about. Can even quote you a few lines."

"Oh." She looked at him wonderingly. "You can?"

"Yeah."

"Willow gave me a book of his poetry once. There was one I really liked. Of course, I only read the one. I dreamed..."

"One?" Spike looked astonished. "Slayer, you never cease to amaze me. Was it this one?

"... Bodies, Souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations,
Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk;
All hopes, benefactions, bestowals,
All the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth..."


He rolled through the passage, as her color went higher and higher. Finally, she fixed her eyes on her hands to avoid looking at him. He was beginning to enjoy this, in spite of his bad mood. Almost worth the 'wake up.'

"...These are contain'd in sex, as parts of itself, and justifications of itself..."

He let his voice trail off into silence, watching her.

Finally, she gulped once and broke the quiet with a whisper. "No. I don't know that one."

"Well, they're pretty much all like that," he said dismissively. "Should have kept reading, pet."

Getting up quickly, Buffy headed to the door. "Okay, you can go back to sleep now."

There was a click. The slayer could move quickly in a fight - even faster when a conversation became uncomfortable. Slightly amused, Spike stared at the closed door. What the hell had that been about anyway?

Sleep might elude him for a while longer, he thought grumpily as he lay back down.

Despite his offhandedness with Buffy, Whitman was not at all conducive to a good day's rest.
________________________________

Promptly at ten a.m., there was a firm knock on the front door at 1630 Revello Drive.

Spike was once again attempting to sleep, this time lulled along by the sounds of the over-burdened water pipes in the upstairs bathroom combined with the staccato rhythms of 'Bang, Bang, Xander's Silver Hammer' in the basement.

Joyce hummed the Beatles tune as she hurried to the door. Willow was in the kitchen trying to wake up. Anya was still asleep on the floor near Dawn's somnambulistic form. Andrew had cleared a place on the kitchen counter to work on the 'Big Board' Joyce had commissioned for chore assignments. Buffy was in back working off some pent-up 'excess' energy with some of the Potentials.

Which left the woman to do 'door duty.'

The door opened to reveal Rupert Giles, wearing sunglasses, a light-weight, decidedly un-tweedy, sweater, and khaki pants. In his hand was a bundle of notes. She squinted. Impossible to read, crabby hand-writing.

"In and of themselves," he stated concisely, "the Harbingers seems to be incapable of any sort of real coup for the First. Its real power lies in those it can manipulate to its own ends."

Joyce looked at him.

Giles reached up and pulled off his sunglasses and placed them in his pocket. "May I come in?" he asked respectfully. "I believe I have some notes here that could lead to some solid information if properly researched."

Stepping aside with a nod, she gestured the man inside. Giles reached into his pocket and pulled out another pair of glasses, clear lenses this time, and walked into the foyer.

"I'm still angry with you, Rupert."

"And I still think you were quite unfair. I am not Buffy's father. I was her Watcher. There is a distinction there I think you might have missed."

Joyce looked abashed. "I didn't..."

"Oh, yes, you did. And unfortunately, my training as a Watcher did not include the sort of personal instruction that goes with having a slayer survive as long as Buffy has." He wiped his glasses and put them on. "A serious shortcoming."

"So you're here to work?" she asked hopefully.

"Yes. Yes, I am," he answered candidly. "I thought about the things we discussed last night. I don't agree with what you said, for the most part, but it did make me think." He held up the notes. "Which led me to this line of research." He smiled. "Shall we call a truce?"

Joyce nodded. "I'll just make us some tea. Buffy's in the backyard."

"Willow?"

"In the kitchen."

"And Xander is still banging away in the basement?"

She chuckled. "But making progress."

"Spike?" His mouth wrapped around the single syllable with a touch of distaste.

"Trying to sleep."

"Ah." He headed toward the kitchen through the hallway, Joyce following along behind. "There is something I haven't been particularly forthcoming about. I'm prepared to change that. But everyone concerned will have to be equally as honest."

Joyce walked past him as he stopped to greet Willow and gaze abstractedly at Andrew's project.

"I'm sure that won't be a problem," she said as she filled the teakettle with fresh water. "Why would it be?"

Giles looked up and met her eyes. "Honesty can be extremely painful."
_______________________


Final note on this chapter:

The stuff of Buffy's dream is from Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric," while Spike quotes lines from "A Woman Waits For Me."

http://www.bartleby.com/142/index1.html