Below Us Only Sand
Below Us Only Sand
She stood motionless, one hand cupping the doorframe the other rested, fingers splayed out and pressed against the door. Her head dropped forward, eyes closing as she listened to another muffled gasp of pain or fear though the physical barrier between Joyce and her eldest daughter. The hand gripping the frame tightened, knuckles paling as she resisted the urge to knock down the door standing between them and gather Buffy into arms. Promise her the world if only to stop those wounded sounds.
A hand covered the slope of her shoulder, stiffening her body and she turned to find Rupert standing behind her. Hazel eyes crinkled at the corners and a sympathetic smile lifted the sides of his mouth. The hand gripping her shoulder briefly tightened before slipping free as he offered, “Tea?”
Her brows drew together, gaze drawn helplessly to the guest bedroom door and she tightened the hand pressed against it into a fist, nails scraping over the wood. She gave an abrupt nod and followed him down the narrow hall, past Dawn’s room. Her heavy breathing forced Joyce’s lips to curve upward as Rupert led her down the staircase and into the small living room. She paused, glancing over the furniture that had barely filled their home in Sunnydale and now it overwhelmed this new one. Her considering gaze settled on the fireplace and the pictures resting across the mantle.
“Joyce,” Rupert’s voice was soft, coaxing and she turned away from the framed memories and back to her guest as his hand cupped her elbow and drew her into the dimly lit kitchen. She made her way to the island in the center and pulled out a stool as Rupert readied two cups of already prepared tea.
The mug was placed before her and she wrapped chilled fingers around the warm ceramic, leaning forward to inhale the steam. She smiled and glanced up, touched by his ability to make the smallest thing have such meaning. “Chamomile?”
He returned the smile. “I seem to recall you having a preference for the sweeter things when feeling unwell.”
She nodded, the loose waves of her hair falling forward to brush her cheeks as Joyce lifted the mug and blew gently across the dark surface before taking a hesitant sip. It slipped past her lips and over her tongue leaving behind the faintest hint of apples and her eyes fell closed for a moment. Welcoming the peace that spilled over her as the warmth slid down her throat.
She smiled into the still gently rising steam and looked up, met Rupert’s neutral stare head on. Joyce focused on the brown spot in the iris of his left eye as she struggled to find the right words, the right questions that would ease all her fears and bring the last several hours into clarity. Hazel green eyes turned away from his and focused on the sunlight beginning to lighten the sky outside from gray to pink.
Unsure of where to start she settled for the easiest question to get past the tightening of her throat. “How?”
Rupert nodded and tool a small sip of his tea before stating, “Willow.”
Her brows rose. “Willow?”
He stepped forward, lowered his mug to the tiled island and sighed. “You have to believe Joyce, that she did this without my knowledge or consent.”
She flinched. “You didn’t want Buffy back?”
His eyes widened as she misunderstood his words. “No! You know that I love—”
“I’m sorry, Rupert.” She interrupted, shook her head and placed the mug down, her stomach suddenly uneasy. “I know that you love Buffy. It’s just that her resur…” She stumbled over the word and settled on, “Reappearance leaves me with more questions than answers.”
Rupert’s gaze softened. “I know the feeling.”
“I believe you.” Her arms wrapped around her waist as she inclined her head. “How long do I have her for? How long until she’s needed back in Sunnydale?”
A real smile lifted his lips. “You have her for as long as she needs to be here. You know that the Council arranged for Faith to be freed after Buffy’s dea…departure and that they’ve assigned me as her Watcher.” Off Joyce’s nod, he continued with, “Which allows for the Sunnydale Hellmouth to be protected without Buffy.”
Her voice was hesitant as she asked, “How is Faith?”
Rupert’s smile widened. “Doing remarkably well all considering.” He kept her gaze as he added, “I’ve asked the Council to take care of the necessary paperwork in bringing Buffy back to life with your government. I was informed that it may take several weeks before the process is complete but you won’t need to do anything.”
A sigh dropped her shoulders. “I didn’t even think of that, thank you.” Her body shifted forward, the heels of her bare feet settling on the bottom rung of the stool as she crossed her arms and laid them across the island. “How long before you have to head back?”
He lifted his mug and took another sip before answering. “A week or so.”
She nodded, lifting an arm and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. “Would it be entirely selfish of me to ask you to stay longer?”
“Selfish? Never. Improbable? Yes, unfortunately.” He took another sip. “Faith is still in need of a Watcher and at the moment I believe Buffy is more in need of family.”
“You’re both of those things to her, to us, Rupert.”
The corners of his eyes gathered together with her words. “And I thank you for that, but I do believe you and Dawn are what my Slayer needs most for the time being.” He lowered his mug, ignored his slip of the tongue and reached across the island to cup his hand over her wrist. “And you know that I will be but a phone call away.”
“I know.” She nodded and turned her arm over pulling it across the tiles so that his hand settled over hers, caging it to the island.
He smiled with their casual contact and attempted to lighten the mood. “So the man that sent me the rather intrusive glare during our introductions is he—”
“If you say boyfriend this conversation is over.”
His lips spread wider and he nodded at her interruption. “Perhaps, gentleman caller would be more appropriate?”
Her eyes narrowed even as her lips quirked. “You’ve been spending far too much time with the children, Rupert.”
He laughed. “That is absolutely correct, but please do tell me more about this Jack O’Neill.”
Strong hands wrapped around the edge of an overcrowded box and tugged it to the front of the truck bed. A hand wrapped around his bicep and Jack’s head swiveled, offered Joyce a crooked smile and she gave his arm a light squeeze before dropping her hand. His brows pulled together as he noticed her averted gaze and his attention slid from her to the small blonde at her side.
Hooded eyes came up to meet his and Buffy offered him a minute lifting of her lips before she easily lifted the box he had been pulling forward and turned back toward the house. He watched her make her way up the drive, the casual gait and her small hop over the warped board on the steps leading up to the front porch.
“I can fix that step for you,” his lips quirked, “with Carter’s help.”
Joyce stepped forward and pressed her head to Jack’s shoulder, ignored the slight dampness of the cotton. He turned so that they were pressed chest to chest and she wrapped her arms around his waist, buried her forehead in the curve where shoulder and neck met. Her eyes fell closed and she inhaled the salty scent of sweat as she breathed against his chest, “Thank you.”
A hand rose to cup the back of her head, fingers sifting through the wavy mass of hair. “Don’t mention it.”
Joyce shifted and leaned back just enough to brush her lips against the line of his jaw, “I think it deserves mentioning.”
He tilted his chin and looked down the bridge of his nose at her before raising his brows, “Helping you move your daughter’s stuff out of storage isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
“That’s not what I’m thanking you for.”
Jack’s lips dipped, “I’m going to ask questions.”
“But not right this moment.”
He sighed and reached a hand forward to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, “No, not right now.”
A smile began in her eyes but didn’t quite make it to her mouth, “Thank you.”
She stepped over the small lip that separated the carpet of the living room from the tile of the dining room and made her way toward Buffy and the couch. Her eldest offered her a weak smile before pulling her newly washed hair into a messy French twist and securing it with a clip. Joyce waited for her to get settled and then presented her with an oversized mug of hot chocolate and her chest tightened as she watched her daughter’s lips spread wider.
“Thanks.” She accepted the mug and shifted, offering Joyce a larger space beside her and as they situated themselves and the blanket covering them, Buffy asked. “Where’s Dawn?” She glanced around with a frown, “And Giles?”
Joyce carefully balanced her mug one handed as she shifted a pillow so that it supported her lower back, “Rupert thought we could use a little alone time. He took Dawn to her new favorite restaurant O’Malley’s.” She offered Buffy a sympathetic smile, “I know she’s been a little—”
Was offered and her lips dipped as she sent her eldest a reproving look. “I was going to say enthusiastic.”
“I think clingy sums it up better.” She was given a sideways glance and Joyce merely arched a brow. Buffy shrugged and leaned into the cushions, taking a sip of the hot chocolate and tilting her head to lay against the back of the couch.
Joyce reached out and brushed at a lock of damp hair stuck to Buffy’s neck. She fiddled with it a moment, twisting the pliable strand around her fingers before tucking it behind a too thin shoulder. Her fingertips brushed over said shoulder, her brows tugging together as she remembered how Buffy rearranged the food on her plate rather than eating the lunch she’d made earlier.
“Chocolate chip pancakes.”
A surprised sound came from Buffy, that was a laugh but not, and her head fell to the side so that Joyce could see her lips pull up at the corners. “What?”
“Tomorrow morning I’ll make chocolate chip pancakes.” Her chin dipped as she looked at her daughter, “And you’ll actually eat some of them.” Buffy’s mouth opened and Joyce shook her head, “No arguments.” She ran her fingers over the slope of Buffy’s shoulder again and added, “Besides, you’ll need your strength up for the marathon shopping spree I have planned.”
Her brows dipped, “Shopping spree? Not that I’m complaining or even a little adverse to the idea, but why?”
Joyce’s hand fell away from her and she lifted her own mug and took a small sip before answering. “I saved some of your things but a lot of your clothing I gave away.”
The simple answer, the lack of emotion from Buffy gave Joyce pause and she turned to watch her sip from the mug and keep her gaze locked on the television. On a movie that was in black and white with singing and dancing, a movie that she normally only watched to placate Joyce.
The cushions compressed as Buffy eased herself closer to her mother and rearranged the blankets around them. Joyce welcomed the weight of her eldest at her side and chose, for the moment, to ignore the nagging feeling at the back of her mind and simply enjoy Buffy’s presence back in her life. It had been too long, too hard without her there.
Callused fingertips absently drummed against the couch arm as condensation gathered along the green glass and dropped towards Daniel’s jeans where his other hand held the Heinekin upright. Jack’s lips thinned before he raised his own bottle and took a long pull, welcoming the cold that slipped past his tongue and down is throat.
Daniel’s gaze flicked from his Heinekin to Jack. “So.”
“So?” After another few moments of silence Jack sighed, “Drink your beer, Daniel. If I’d know you came over to talk feelings I wouldn’t have let you in.”
“Which is exactly why I asked for a beer.”
Jack’s frown became more pronounced as he rose and headed toward the hall. “I’ve got to stop falling for that.”
He matched the aggravated tone as he entered his kitchen, “Daniel,” knowing full well the linguist would follow him. He sent said linguist a suffering look as he placed his beer down on the tiled countertop with resolute clink. “I really don’t want to talk about this.”
“Jack this can’t be easy.”
He moved toward the fridge, “And why not?”
Daniel growled in frustration, “because,” and paused, suddenly at a loss for words while attempting not to mention the son Jack had lost.
His friend gave him a narrowed look and slammed the refrigerator door closed. “That’s
your argument? Because?”
“Dammit, Jack! Why do you have to make any conversation that doesn’t revolve around hockey or the Simpsons into a battle?”
His eyes narrowed, “Not every conversation. Just the ones I don’t want to have because
,“ he stressed the word mockingly, “I’m fine.”
“Really? That’s, ah, that’s funny because you don’t seem fine. Or at least I wouldn’t be in your position.”
“You’re not in
my position.” The retort stiffened Daniel’s spine and Jack shook his head, “Just let it go, Danny.”
His shoulders pulled back as he inhaled and then sighed before bringing the Heinekin to his mouth and taking a deep pull. Daniel lowered the bottle to see Jack’s brows raised in surprise and he offered him a tilting of his lips, “What’s on ESPN?”
“You hate ESPN.”
The corners of his mouth dipped inward and Jack nodded, “Let’s find out.”The End.