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
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...
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.
"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."
Continued in Part 2