The house echoed strangely, full of eerie shadows and empty, despite the furniture. It was dark, and the lone occupant didn’t bother to turn on the lights, settling on the couch and staring sightlessly out the window into the blackness beyond.
Not so very long ago, the house had been so much more, a home, a safe haven for many people. And now it was just a shell, like her. Shuddering, Joyce took another drink of her wine, tears slipping down her cheeks, wanting to forget, but knowing it hurt so much more not to remember…
She had been less than thrilled when Buffy had come to her during her second year at college to tell her that she had broken up with Riley because she was in love with someone else. But she'd been downright furious when Buffy had admitted that the someone else was Rupert Giles.
She had been so angry, she hadn’t wanted to see what they really had together. Instead of trying to understand her daughter, she'd done her best to ignore her, and when that didn’t work, she tried threats, then demands, but still nothing worked. Buffy remained calmly determined to be with the man she loved throughout all of their blow ups. Over and over again Joyce had been left standing alone in her living room, with nothing but her own anger for company.
Things might have gone on that way indefinitely, but then came the night that had forced her to open her eyes and look, really look, at the woman her daughter had become.
It had started to rain at about seven o’clock, and Buffy had stopped by, stood and dripped wet in the front hall, to ask her to come to dinner. Diner at Rupert’s apartment, with him in attendance, and hopefully civilized conversation. Angry, and still stung by all that had happened, Joyce said no, and expected her daughter to leave as quickly as she usually did.
But Buffy had only looked at her, eyes dark, and so pained and sad Joyce had felt tears come to her eyes.
"How long are you going to do this Mom? When will you stop pretending that we have all the time in the world to make things right between us?"
Buffy’s calm acceptance of her fate brought a lump to her throat, and she stammered a bit, before she spoke. For the first time she had admitted the real reasons she hated what was happening in Buffy’s life. "I do want you to have a real love, before it’s too late. And it’s not that it’s him that gets to me. It’s that you've already given him so much of yourself. He knows so much more of you, has so much more of you, than I do. I’m tired of being the one who matters after everyone else."
She stopped then, unable to contain a sob. It wasn’t a whine, but a plea. The centre of her life didn’t need her anymore, hadn’t for a long time, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She didn’t even know how to explain it properly so that Buffy could understand.
But there was sympathy and a suprising amount of understanding in Buffy’s eyes when she answered. "Oh Mom, think about it, about the person you raised me to be. I'm still your daughter. Deep down inside, I will always be the skinny, blonde girl who runs to mommy when she skins her knee or has a fight with a boy. Do you really think so little of me that you don’t think I have enough room in my heart to love you both?"
The words hadn’t been poetic, but the point was made. All Joyce could think to answer was the last thing Buffy expected to hear.
"I think that we should go to dinner, and tell the man in your life that we are back on speaking terms," she told her daughter shakily through her tears. Buffy’s look, one of true happiness and relief, had been wonderful to see, and done wonders to ease the ache that lingered in her heart.
With a shake of her head, Joyce came out of the memories, and looked into the bottom of her glass. It had taken her so long to understand her own daughter, so long to get past her own stubbornness and hurt.
One look at both of their faces, while she watched their feelings for each other reflect in their eyes, and she'd known how wrong she had been to think that Buffy would only be a passing fancy for Rupert. He loved her daughter absolutely and completely, and she loved him just as much. After she had started spending time with the two of them, usually at Rupert’s house, she had gotten used to the obvious feelings between them- the casual touches and shared looks, and other signs of intimacy. She was fairly certain that the two of them had been more embarrassed than she was, when she had come over one afternoon, to find them absorbed in each other, on the sofa.
The wedding had been no surprise to anyone, least of all her. Buffy had been such a beautiful bride. They’d found the dress in a small boutique tucked behind a strip mall. It was a creamy white, with long sleeves, a low neckline, and an even lower back. The skirt just touched the floor, and was decorated with tiny seed pearls that spread onto small train in the back. Most importantly, it fit like it had been made with her in mind.
The ceremony was in a small church outside of Sunnydale, just after sunset. Willow, Xander and Anya waited in the front pew with Cordelia, Wesley, and even Angel, who had long ago realized who the Slayer truly belonged with. The girls had cried a bit, and she’d thought she heard a suspicious sniff from Wesley.
Joyce had walked her daughter down the aisle to Rupert, and fought not to cry as she saw the love reach between the two of them so completely. Then, she had to fight back the urge to chuckle as Buffy reached Rupert’s side and he got a good look at the back of his bride’s dress.
The vows had been simply written, but powerful, as they declared their love for one another in their own words, and sealed the vows with an anything but chaste kiss. The reception had been at the new house that Giles had bought, the house Joyce was sitting in now. She smiled sadly as she remembered the jokes that had followed the happy couple out the door as they left on their honeymoon.
The two of them had spent the next eight months in a state of relative bliss, but the happiness had been shattered by one late night phone call. Buffy had called her, nearly in a panic, because Rupert hadn’t come home and a search had turned up nothing. Joyce had tried to calm her down, but a second search had still turned up nothing and when Buffy had gone out looking yet again, Joyce spent her time pacing by the window. Long hours later, Buffy had returned, exhausted, but supporting a battered looking Rupert. By some miracle of fate, he had survived an ambush by a gang of vampires, who thought to use him to lure the Slayer to them. After all, she wouldn’t be able to fight them off while they were holding her husband, or so they thought.
With the two of them reunited, life seemed to be looking up. Joyce had breathed a sigh of relief that whatever benevolent deities were watching had spared her daughter the pain of losing the man she loved so very deeply. The whole incident had shaken her up a bit to be sure. It was a stark reminder of just how dangerous her daughter’s calling was, but she had shrugged off her fears. Buffy was fine, happy and so alive her energy filled the room when she entered.
Outside, lighting flashed, and distant rumbles of thunder echoed, but Joyce ignored it, lost to her memories.
In spite of the danger, Buffy had been thrilled to discover she was pregnant. Rupert had been ecstatic. Buffy had told both of them during their weekly dinner together, and he had actually cried, unable to find words to express to his wife the joy that shone in his eyes. In the end, he pulled her close, and kissed her tenderly, while Joyce looked on and smiled indulgently.
The pregnancy had been difficult, both on Buffy’s health and on her mental state. She worried constantly about how vulnerable she and the baby were, but all of her friends stepped in to help. And eventually, and with only a few close calls, they made it through the nine months. With Joyce on her left, and Giles on her right, Buffy had delivered a healthy baby boy, William Alexander Giles at precisely three twenty four a.m. on August tenth. And a child had never been born who had been loved more, by so many people. Buffy and Rupert adjusted to having an infant in their lives. Joyce adjusted to being a grandmother, and helped William's various aunts and uncles spoil him outrageously.
Joyce laughed bitterly as she finished off her wine and denied herself another glass. It didn’t really dull the pain anyway.
In the midst of everyone’s adjustments, life had once again been turned upside down. How ironic it was that in the end, it wasn’t vampires, or demons, or an Apocalypse that stole her daughter, but ordinary men. Men high on so many drugs they probably didn’t even know what they were doing when they decided to rob the coffee shop Buffy’d talked her husband into stopping at on the way home.
There were only five men arrested that night, Joyce learned later. The other nine were killed in the skirmish with Buffy and Rupert, who were determined that none of the innocent people in the café be killed. Neither of them could have known just how many strength enhancing chemicals their opponents were on. Neither of them saw the lone figure at the back with an automatic weapon until it was too late.
Not that it would have mattered. Buffy and Rupert had made certain the last of the hostages escaped. For a second or two, it looked like they would escape the gunfire that came after. Then one of the men took aim at Giles, and Buffy jumped in front of him, pushed him out of the way. The hostages watched in horror from outside, as their two saviors fell, and the gunmen just kept shooting. The shots stopped only when police snipers killed both of them. But, by then, Buffy and Rupert were already gone.
Joyce made the arrangements. She had made sure their ashes were buried together, like they wanted. She had made sure to put away the diaries and books she had found in their things for William when he was older. And then she had tried to move on. At first the pain had been too great, the ache to much to bear. Endless hours, with nothing to do but get lost in the bottomless sadness and remember. All the times she had spoken to quickly, or not spoken at all. All the times she would never see, or had missed out on.
The worst were the what ifs and if onlys. But when she had at last realized that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, die too, she had pulled herself out of the pain bit by bit. She didn’t do it because she wanted to. She did it because she owed it to the little girl who had been the bright centre of her life. She owed it to her daughter to live, and raise William so that he would know his parents: who they were, and how they had lived, and most importantly, how much they had loved him.
When the pain got to be too much, or when she couldn’t find strength to keep going, she would come here, to their house, which she hadn’t had the heart to rent or sell, and she would remember. She would remember the pain of losing them, but also how deeply they had loved each other, their son, and the rest of their family and friends.
A loud clap of thunder startled Joyce out of the past. The thunder woke Will, and she shifted and turned to him, murmured comforting nonsense. When he was quiet she looked at her watch, and realized they had to get going. Remembering hadn’t helping ease the searing pain of losing her daughter, but as she gathered up her things and got ready to leave, she thought of the last time she had seen Buffy and Rupert together. Wherever they were, they were together, and they were waiting for her.
As she closed the door behind her, baby William bundled protectively into his car seat, she just hoped she could carry on until the day when that thought would be enough to make the pain she lived with bearable.