“Is there something that interests you?” Joyce asked the woman who had been looking at the display of reliquaries for the past half hour.
The woman turned in a flash of black hair, revealing dark, luminescent eyes and a pleasant smile.
“Must be ever so careful,” she told Joyce. “Pretty, fragile things. Touch them wrong and they break.”
“Yes, they are very delicate,” Joyce agreed.
The woman, who really couldn’t be more than a few years older than Buffy, seemed to study Joyce carefully. Tsking in a musical voice, “They never told me about you.”
There was something more than a little off about this woman, though Joyce couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Instinct made her back away.
“Oh, don’t be frightened,” the woman gripped Joyce’s wrist firmly, halting her retreat. “You are a lovely surprise. Mummy of the Slayer. Special treat, no wonder they kept it all hidden from me.”
While Joyce was certain she hadn’t met this woman before, there was something incredibly familiar about her. An impression more than anything definite. And the fact that the woman knew she was the mother of the Slayer. “Do I know you?”
“Not yet,” the woman smiled predatorily. “But soon we will be very close. Slayer was naughty and stole something very dear to me. Made my fierce Spike as harmless as a lamb. But it’s all even in the end.”
Spike. Last year Spike had come by the house. Whatever his original intent had been she would never know. Somehow she had wound up making hot chocolate and he had confided in her his troubles in love. These troubles centered around a stunning dark beauty, more than half mad, unfaithful without shame, but he was hopelessly in love with her. What was the name again?
“Drusilla?” she asked uncertainly.
“Right, bright mummy you are,” Drusilla squealed with delight. “All the more fun.”
Joyce wanted to kick herself for being such a fool, but there weren’t many mirrors in the gallery and these days pale was the thing, wasn’t it? And since Buffy had gone to college, Joyce’s encounters with the supernatural or whatever it was, were, well, nonexistent. Aside from the visit from Faith. But other than that . . .
“What do you want?” Joyce asked, forcing herself to sound strong. She could still find a way out of this, maybe lull the woman—vampire, crazy vampire . . . this wasn’t looking good.
“I wanted my William back, but the stars told me long ago I’d lose him one day. I don’t want William anymore,” she pulled Joyce close. “You don’t know it yet, but something’s growing inside your head. Creeping ever so carefully so you don’t notice. Not yet. Got months and months before you will. But then there will be pain and men in white coats who will try and fix you with their sharp shiny tools. But in the end it won’t matter. The damage will have already been done.”
Almost against her will, Joyce felt herself looking deep into Drusilla’s eyes. In them she saw herself, lying on the couch at home, gazing unblinkingly at the ceiling. And then there was Buffy, shaking her, yelling, but she wasn’t moving.
“No,” Joyce breathed, wanting to deny the vision. But something deep down told her it was true. Summoning all her courage. “I’d rather have that than what you offer.”
Drusilla shrugged as if it were nothing but a disagreement in the weather. “Of course you would. You are a good woman, Joyce Summers. But it’s always polite to ask first.” Cool fingers caressed her cheek. “Now close your eyes.”
Not wanting to, Joyce did. The seconds seemed to stretch out and then sharp, hot pain focused to two tiny points overwhelmed her senses. She felt very warm, burning up, and then slowly she grew numb as the creature at her throat drank deeply. Everything faded to grey. It would be over soon and her only regret was that she didn’t resist better. Not much longer now. And then thick, bitter liquid was on her lips, creeping across her tongue, tasting of pennies and something else . . .
“No,” she pleaded weakly.
“Shh,” Drusilla cooed. “It’ll be better soon. I promise.”
And Joyce Summers knew no more.