"We claim to be just and upright. No wrath from us will come stealthily to the one who holds out clean hands, and he will go through life unharmed; but whoever sins and hides his blood-stained hands, as avengers of bloodshed we appear against him to the end, presenting ourselves as upright witnesses for the dead." - Aeschylus
Joyce puttered around the kitchen, getting the coffee started and bagels out for breakfast. Ethan was upstairs in the shower. She smiled, remembering how nice it had been to start a work day waking up in her lover’s arms. They hadn’t had time for more than soft words and a few gentle kisses before she had to jump in the shower, but it was enough for her to start the day off humming.
As the coffee started dripping, she tied up the garbage and took it out back to the trash cans. It was a beautiful clear, bright morning that suited her mood and only boded well for the day.
She hadn’t come home last night, nor the night before. But that wasn’t unusual, especially since she and Spike had become more involved. But Joyce could tell something wasn’t right. Frankly, a complete stranger walking in off the street could tell things were horribly, horribly wrong. Her daughter bore all the signs of having had a long, unsatisfying cry.
Buffy looked up as Joyce came down the steps from the porch, quickly trying to wipe away the traces of her sorrow. “Oh, hey, Mom.”
Joyce sat down on the bench next to her. “What is it, honey? What happened?”
For long moments, Buffy just stared at her hands as they twisted round and round each other. When she finally looked up, Joyce could see pain and remorse shaping her expression. “Spike’s gone.”
“Gone?” Joyce was shocked. “As in . . .” She made a half-hearted staking motion.
“No, not that. He’s just gone. Left. I’ve been looking for him for three days. Instead I found Clem last night. He said Spike left town Saturday night, and didn’t say he was coming back.” She looked back down at her hands. “Clem said he was muttering something about never being good enough. So I guess I did it again, huh?” This time when she looked up, it was with a watery smile.
“Oh, honey,” Joyce said, slipping her arm around Buffy’s shoulder, “I’m sure it’s not like that. Spike cared about you so much.”
“They all did, didn’t they?” she snapped, anger suddenly flaring up in her tone. “Angel, Riley, and now Spike. They all cared. They all loved me. That didn’t keep any of them from leaving.” She dashed new tears out of her eyes. “What I don’t understand is why it still hurts so much. You’d think after all this time I’d have started to get numb to it.”
Joyce just put her arms around her and gathered her close, stroking her back and hair soothingly. There was nothing she could say that would ease her daughter’s pain, but she would offer what comfort she could until Buffy was ready to rise again.
The quiet morning was shattered by an angry male voice. “You think you can just do that to me? You think I'd let you get away with that?”
They both rose to see a heavy set young man Joyce didn’t recognize standing inside the gate, waving a large pistol angrily. Instinctively Joyce tried to step in front of Buffy, but Buffy shoved her back behind her just as he screamed, “Think again!” And the pistol barked.
Buffy slammed back into Joyce, knocking them both to the ground. Joyce heard more shots and the sound of breaking glass. A moment later all was silent except for the pounding of feet running away.
Buffy was barely moving, her breath coming in short, desperate gasps. Carefully Joyce slid her onto the ground beside her and sat up to see a crimson blossom flowering over her daughter’s chest, stark contrast to the frightening pallor of her face. Panic rose up inside Joyce at seeing her own child hurt like this, but she fought it down. “Remember your first aid class,” she chided herself, already rising to her feet. “First get help.”
She ran back into the house, her thoughts narrowed to Buffy and the phone. Snatching the cordless out of its charger, she turned back, grabbing a handful of dishcloths on her way back out, already thumbing in nine one one. “You have to send help. My daughter’s been shot. Sixteen thirty Revello Drive.” She knelt back beside Buffy, the phone cradled against her shoulder as she tried to staunch the flow of blood from the gaping wound. She tried to answer the emergency operator’s questions, but all she could focus on was the sight of her child’s life dripping away around her fingers. Finally she heard sirens, and a moment later strong hands were pulling her gently away as the EMTs went to work. “You did good,” they assured her. “We’ll take it from here.”
Joyce could only watch, still clutching the phone, as they packed the wound and stuck a needle in Buffy’s arm before lifting her onto the gurney, taking her vitals even while they were rolling the bed back out the gate to the ambulance. “Do you want to ride with us?”
Shaking off her horror, she nodded, turning back to the house. “I just . . . let me get a sweater.”
“Hurry,” the EMT warned. “When she’s loaded, we have to go.”
Nodding, Joyce turned and ran into the house, taking the stairs two at a time.
Glass crunched under foot as she came around the end of the bed towards her armoire. She paused, looking towards the window, horror dawning as she realized what she was seeing. Feet heavy with fear, she circled the foot of the bed.
Ethan lay there, a hole similar to Buffy’s piercing his dress shirt just below his breastbone, the blood turning the blue cotton black. His eyes were closed, and she could hear his slow, watery breath.
Without pausing, she turned and stumbled out of the room before tearing down the stairs. She nearly crashed into Willow as she flew out the door.
“Mrs. Summers, what’s going on?”
Joyce didn’t pause, pushing the girl out of her way to get to the ambulance, where they were just loading in Buffy’s gurney. “Wait! Please! There’s another one upstairs!”
One of the EMTs stuck her head out the door. “Another what?”
“Please, he’s shot,” she begged. “I don’t know if he’s still breathing.”
The woman turned and grabbed a large tackle box and several IV bags. “Get this one in and send another rig. I’ll stay with the other one and try to stabilize him.”
Joyce heard the driver speak into the radio, repeating the commands as the EMT pushed past her and back into the house. Joyce followed her.
Willow just stood on the porch, horrified. “Was that Buffy?” she insisted as Joyce passed her. “What happened?”
“Up the stairs,” Joyce directed the EMT, catching Willow’s arm. “Buffy and Ethan have been shot. I need you to call Rupert and the others. Could you and Tara get Dawn?” She never stopped walking, following the technician up the stairs and down the hall.
Willow followed, stopping at the window to watch as Joyce and the tech knelt beside Ethan’s still form. “Who did this?” she asked quietly.
The tech was busy at work, directing Joyce as they quickly opened his shirt to expose the sucking chest wound. Joyce wanted to vomit, but fought it down, desperate to help him.
“Who. Did. This?” Willow demanded again.
“I don’t know,” Joyce answered distractedly. “I didn’t recognize him. He was a big man, about Xander’s age. Dark hair. Honestly, all I really saw was the gun. He seemed very angry at Buffy, though.”
It seemed to be enough for Willow. “Warren,” she stated coldly.
The EMT looked up. “You know who did this?”
They both froze, shocked at the sight of Willow. Her hair had gone even more brilliant than normal, and her eyes were a dark, ominous black that was all too familiar to Joyce. “Warren Mears,” she repeated, her tone flat and threatening all at once. “And it’s about time someone made this stop.” She turned and strode purposefully out of the room.
Joyce looked at the EMT, who seemed puzzled, then rose to follow after Willow. “Willow, wait.” She tried to stop her, but the girl wouldn’t be swayed. “Willow, don’t do anything foolish.”
“Foolish?” She finally paused on the porch, turning to look at Joyce. “Foolish was letting those pests annoy us as long as they have. Go take care of Ethan, Mrs. Summers. He taught me everything I need to know. I know what to do now.” She turned and continued purposefully down the walk.
Joyce started to follow, but was interrupted by the wail of sirens as the second ambulance pulled onto the street in the other direction. She turned back momentarily to see Willow disappearing around the corner and surrendered to her more immediate concern, meeting the ambulance to guide them upstairs.
Within five minutes, they were loading Ethan, still barely conscious, into the ambulance. Joyce stayed right at his side, never letting go of his hand as it grew slowly cooler. “Don’t worry, ma’am,” the woman who had been tending him said comfortingly. “These people are the best. They’ll get your husband through.”
Joyce just tightened her grip on his hand, trying not to look as terrified as she felt.
The EMTs talked to each other and by radio to the hospital in a volley of medical jargon that made less sense than one of Rupert’s mystical texts. But when they pulled into the ambulance bay at the emergency room, half a dozen nurses and doctors were waiting for them. Many hands reached up to lift down the stretcher as they began shouting information and instructions back and forth. Joyce was the last one out of the vehicle. She started to follow after, but stopped at the emergency desk. “My daughter, Buffy Summers. Where is she?”
Before the clerk there could respond, two orderlies and a doctor wheeled a bed past with a familiar form in it, headed toward the elevators. “Buffy!” Joyce grabbed the bed rail, stopping them to catch her daughter’s hand.
“Ma’am, you have to let go,” the doctor said, trying to pry her away. “We have to get her up to surgery right now.”
“Mom?” Buffy spoke weakly from behind the oxygen mask she wore.
“I’m right here, baby.” Joyce began walking beside them, never letting go of Buffy’s hand.
“Ethan got shot, too, honey. They just brought him in.” She looked up at the doctor. “How is she?”
“She’s stable for now. But there’s a great deal of internal hemorrhaging, and her lung has collapsed. The bullet’s still in there, so we need to remove it before we can begin repairing the damage.”
They stopped, waiting for the elevator. “Where are you taking her?”
“Up to the surgical suites on three.”
Joyce looked from Buffy back down the hall where Ethan had gone before making a decision. “Baby, I need to go call Rupert, okay? I’ll be right up as soon as he gets here. I promise.”
Buffy’s eyes sagged closed. “Okay, Mommy.”
The panic threatened again as the elevators closed between them, taking her little girl off to live or die. But Joyce couldn’t do anything about that. Except pray.
A quick glance around the waiting room showed no signs of Rupert, so she went to the bank of phones and quickly dialed in his number. “You need to get here now,” she said without preamble when he picked up the phone.
“Buffy and Ethan have been shot. We’re at Sunnydale Memorial. Ethan’s in the ER and Buffy just went up to surgery. You need to get here right now.”
“Five minutes. Where should I meet you?”
She glanced back towards the elevators before looking back down the hall towards the trauma room. “Down in ER. And call the others. They’ll need to know.”
“Five minutes,” he repeated, then hung up the phone. Joyce cradled the receiver and followed her eyes down the hallway.
The doors were closed, leaving her to watch through the window as the trauma team worked on Ethan’s still, sallow body. She could tell the rhythms on the monitors were too slow, too weak. He’d lain there bleeding for too long. She should have realized something was wrong when he didn’t come down on hearing the gunshots. But she had been too scared for Buffy to even think of anything else. Fighting back hysterical sobs, she wrapped her arms tightly around herself.
Suddenly strong, warm hands were resting on her shoulders, turning her into Rupert’s comforting embrace. “I’m here, I’m here,” he crooned softly as she collapsed against his chest.
The door opened and a doctor came out to speak to them, looking very grim. “I’m sorry, I won’t lie to you. The bullet nicked his pericardium, and there’s severe bleeding. If he’d been a few inches shorter, it would have gone through the heart entirely and killed him instantly. As it is, his heart isn’t pumping blood properly, so we’re going to have to go in and try to repair the damage. We just need to stabilize his vitals and we’ll move him up.”
She looked up at Rupert. “They’re operating on Buffy now.”
“Go. I’ll stay here with him. We’ll see you up there.”
With one last fearful glance into the trauma suite, she gave up Ethan’s care to Rupert and went to be with her daughter.
She couldn’t do anything more than stand at the observation windows and watch as they prepped Buffy for surgery. The anesthesiologist was working over her, but everyone seemed focused on the erratic readings on all the monitors.
“How’s she doing?”
Joyce twisted her head to see Xander standing behind her. “I wish I knew. They say she’s stable, but she just looks so pale and still.” She went back to watching the activity in the room.
“Don’t worry, she’s strong. And remember, these guys saved you, didn’t they?” He was trying to sound cheery and supportive, but she could hear his own fear leaking through.
She sighed. “With the help of a great deal of magic. And that’s in short supply at the moment.” She watched the confusion of activity in the surgical suite. “I just don’t understand why anyone would do something like this. It just seems so random.”
“Some guys don’t respond well to having their manly toys taken away.” As they watched the preparations, he explained about the young men who had been giving Buffy such a hard time all year, and of Buffy’s latest humiliation of this Warren Mears. “Everything else he tried to do to her, she overcame. So he resorted to the only thing he had left. It’s hard to believe something as mundane as a bullet could bring her down.”
“At least it’s something that can be dealt with through the courts for a change.”
“I just hope it’s for attempted manslaughter and not the real thing.”
There was a sudden commotion in the operating room, medical professionals turning and protesting, waving their arms at Willow, who was standing in the doorway. But something was odd about her. Normally bright and energetic, now she seemed dark, as though all the color had been leeched from her. Her hair had gone the same matte black as her soulless eyes, and dark veins stood out against her cheeks and forehead.
“What’s she doing?” Joyce asked, horrified, but Xander was already in motion.
“Willow, come on out of there. They need to take care of Buffy.”
She ignored him. “Get out. All of you.”
To Joyce’s surprise, everyone followed her command.
Xander tried again. “Willow, she’s going to die.”
Willow paid no heed, crossing over to the bed to extend her hand out over Buffy. As they watched, a quarter inch piece of mashed steel slowly levitated up out of Buffy’s body before the flesh began to re-knit and the inflammation around the entry site faded back to normal, healthy pink.
Joyce gasped when Buffy sat up.
Xander was by Buffy’s side in an instant. Holding her hand and helping her slowly swing her feet over the edge of the bed, he stared at Willow, stunned. “My god, Willow. What have you done?”
“I saved her,” she replied nonchalantly, turning to walk back out of the room. “Now come on. We’ve got work to do.”
Joyce stepped in front of her. “Now, just one minute, young lady . . .”
Willow just looked her up and down coldly. “Ethan’s asking for you.” Her tone was flat and disinterested.
A cold hand squeezed Joyce’s heart. “Is he . . .” She couldn’t say it.
“He’s fine.” She turned away, starting back down the hall. “He wants to see you.”
Joyce didn’t know what to do. Something was very wrong here, but she was ill equipped to deal with it. Buffy had just been so close to death, and now . . .
Buffy took Joyce’s sweater, slipping it on over her own ruined blouse. “Go,” she said understandingly. “We’ll take care of Willow. We’re her friends, maybe she’ll listen to us. Is Giles here?”
Joyce nodded. “Downstairs with Ethan.”
“Tell him we’ll meet him back at the shop as soon as we can. And if not, well, we need to know where to get a hold of him if we need him.”
“Will you be alright? I mean, my god, you just nearly died in there!”
Buffy put her arms around Joyce and hugged her fiercely. “I’ve been almost dead a lot. And I always have to get right back to work afterwards. Go, be with Ethan. We’ll be in touch as soon as we can.” Then she took Xander’s hand and they hurried off after Willow.
The emergency room was in chaos, all centered around one room. Ethan sat up in his bed, still attached to all sorts of wires as the hospital staff milled around him. “This isn’t possible!” one doctor protested. “We were about to crack his chest. You don’t simply recover from that!”
Joyce pushed through the crowd to throw her arms around Ethan. “My god, what happened?”
“He went into cardiac arrest,” Rupert supplied. “We thought we lost him, and then suddenly Willow was here.” He didn’t look happy.
“She came upstairs to Buffy, too,” Joyce confirmed. “Then the two of them and Xander went off together. How bad is it?”
Rupert and Ethan shared a meaningful look before Rupert dropped his eyes. “It depends on how far she goes with it,” Ethan admitted. “But it could be bad. Very, very bad.”
Joyce looked at him in horror, unable now to remember how promising the day had looked just a few short hours before.