Not All There
Disclaimer :: The poem used is by Robert Frost and titled ‘Not All There
’ I turned to speak to God
About the world’s despair;
But to make bad matters worse
I found God wasn’t there.
His brows slipped together, hazel eyes narrowing on the slim figure hovering by the edge of the Summers’ doorstep. Giles’ hand rose to absently push his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. He gave a light cough, brought the platinum blonde vampire’s attention towards him in a flurry of leather and smoke as he offered, in a nearly civil tone, “Spike,” in way of greeting.
“Watcher,” was returned with equal disdain.
“Spike!” Dawn’s enthusiasm overrode their unease as she darted past Giles and up the steps toward the vampire.
His head inclined as he watched a softness enter Spike’s demeanor. “’Lil bit,” was spoken and Giles watched as a spark of red streak from the porch to land beside him in the damp grass. He sidestepped, pressing the heel of his loafer down on the cigarette and ground it out before finishing the several feet that would put him within reach of Spike and a still beaming Dawn.
The teenager’s head cocked, long hair spilling around her shoulders to catch the moon’s subtle light as she turned wide blue eyes on Spike. “Have you gone in? Have you seen her yet?”
“Seen who…” He trailed off, lips thinning before his head fell back and Giles stepped closer, slipping a hand over Dawn’s shoulder and pulling her back towards him. Her head swiveled to give him a confused frown as Spike’s snapped forward. He sent Giles a narrow-eyed glare as he spoke, his voice dangerously low, “Dawn, head inside. I need a moment alone with the Watcher.”
“Do as he asks.”
Dawn’s confusion melted into annoyance as her gaze flicked back and forth between the two males. Her fingers tightened around the Styrofoam container holding what remained of her dinner and it gave a pop in protest. She glanced down at it before spinning on her heel and tossing over her shoulder, as she freed one hand to reach into her coat for her house keys. “You’re both being stupid.”
She slipped the brass one home to unlock the front door and stepped inside before giving it a resolute slam. Giles’ shoulders tightened with the sound and he ignored the tiny voice in the back of his mind whispering it was Spike’s stare that was unnerving him.
The one word question ended on a growl and Giles allowed a brow to rise with Spike’s posturing as he mentally reminded himself that this particular vampire’s bark was worse than his bite and answered simply with, “Willow.”
The corners of his mouth dipped, “Don’t remember the witch having that kind of power when I left.”
Giles stepped back, leaned against one of the posts creating the opening that lead down to the steps. “Why did you leave, Spike?”
“I made a promise.”
His head inclined and he reached up, removed his glasses to clean them absently with his shirt and give himself a moment to ponder the vampire’s words. “You did.” He sighed and repositioned his glasses, “But that promise was to someone without the ability or care to see it fulfilled. Why do so?”
He watched Spike’s jaw tenses, nostrils flare before he gained control of his emotions, bottled them up but Giles had seen the flash of remorse. The instant when Spike showed regret and he’d remember that, take comfort in it when he left his charge with a vampire that had an open invitation to her home.
“Because I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand—” Spike abruptly halted his words and stepped forward, anger replacing all other emotion as he retorted. “I’m not the big bad anymore. Is that what you want to hear, Watcher?”
He shook his head, “I’ll never forget what you are, William.”
Spike pulled himself up at Giles’ use of his given name and frowned. “And what’s that?”
Giles finished the space between them and offered the vampire a tightlipped smile, “Dangerous.” Spike opened his mouth and he shook his head, cut the vampire off before he could interrupt. “I know that you are incapable of physical violence but you are also a superb manipulator. And should the Summers women fall from your grace, know this,” his voice dropped in pitch, “I will gladly render you limb from limb, leave your heart intact and the rest for the sun.”
Spike snorted, tilting his head back so that they met eye to eye. “You and what army?”
She shrugged the robe up onto her shoulders, lips thinning with the feel of it molding to her damp skin as her gaze settled on the mirror and her reflection. Buffy ran a critical eye over narrow features and pushed her fingers through her wet hair, squeezing out the excess water onto the mat covering the bathroom floor and down the front of her robe. She focused on the darkening of the pale blue rather than her constant need to bath and allowed her gaze to track the spreading stains before slipping it toward the exposed skin framed by the soft cotton.
A narrow scar bisected her from chest to navel with two sharper ones slipping diagonally up from her sternum to just under her collarbones. They had paled from angry pink to pliable white, giving her some comfort in the fact that the reminder of her own autopsy would fade in time. She tugged the robe’s front flaps together and tied the sash tightly around her waist, blocking the physical proof of her death and resurrection from her tired gaze.
The door vibrated with a decisive knock. The sound dropped her shoulders and she turned toward paneled wood, fingers wrapping around the brass knob before she dipped her wrist and pulled open the barrier to meet her mother’s unflinching stare. She inclined her head, ignored the sudden chill as the back of her neck was exposed to the recycled air as her hair shifted and she raised her brows in question.
“The pancakes are ready and Dawn’s becoming impatient.” She opened her mouth, prepared herself to offer that they should begin without her but, “And don’t start. We’ll wait and you’ll hurry.” Her mother’s brow rose in both question and challenge. “Clear?”
Her lips lifted half heartedly, “Crystal.”
“All right then. We’ll see you downstairs in a few minutes.”
Joyce’s gaze softened and she reached out, straightened her collar before tugging free the rest of Buffy’s damp hair and stepping back. Her head lowered as she made her way down the hall and further away. Buffy’s stomach knotted, clenched and she stepped from tile to carpet. “Mom!”
Joyce halted, her head tilting as her shoulders dipped and met her daughter’s gaze and Buffy felt her mouth open, felt the sudden urge to tell her mother something, anything. Joyce’s pleasant smile slipped and she turned fully toward her, “Buffy?”
Her jaw clenched and she averted her gaze, “I’ll be just a few minutes.”
There was a distinct sigh and Joyce waited a moment longer before turning back and making her way down the stairs. Buffy ignored the watering of her vision and instead closed her eyes. Absently wiping at the tear that escaped before she swallowed, lifted her head, green eyes opening as she made her way toward the guest bedroom, alone.
The hurried strides of those around them tightened Joyce’s shoulders, pulling them forward as she watched her eldest push at the lettuce and chicken of her Caesar salad rather than put any of it into her mouth. She sighed and shifted in the uncomfortable plastic chair, frowning as the ‘medium brown bag’ from Bloomingdales competed for space against her calf with one of several Macy’s bags. She shifted, hands slipping from her less than healthy meal of ‘everything’ fries to rearrange some of Buffy’s new wardrobe.
The pair had already made two trips to the Jeep to drop off their purchases before reentering the temperature controlled environment of the Citadel Mall. Joyce couldn’t help but feel as if she was trying to compensate for something the more they shopped even though she knew Buffy needed clothing. Different clothing from the things Joyce had allowed herself to keep since Colorado’s weather differed so much from California.
She straightened and had to suppress her cry of joy as she watched Buffy’s fork finally make it from plastic container to mouth. She waited a moment before hesitantly breaking the comfortable silence that had settled around them once they sat down and if she were honest with herself, had followed them most of the day.
“I’ve spoken with your father.”
She watched the tension form in her daughter’s slim frame before her head rose and she met her gaze. Buffy’s upper lip was tugged into her mouth, teeth lightly sawing over it and Joyce rested the urge to admonish her as she had when Buffy was a child. “How did…is he…”
Her chest constricted and Joyce mentally kicked herself for just blurting out something that important. “He wants to see you.”
Green eyes widened, “He wants,” she trailed off and swallowed before reaching for her soda. “He’s coming?”
Joyce nodded, “If that’s alright with you.”
Buffy’s eyes shifted downward, focusing on the Styrofoam cup she was lifting to her mouth. Taking a quick sip she kept her gaze averted as she asked, “How did you explain…me?”
“We told him the truth.” Buffy’s head rose, eyes wide and Joyce arched a brow, “He deserved that much. He deserved to know that his daughter was,” she flinched and quickly corrected, “is a hero.”
“Don’t mom me, young lady.” Joyce offered a quirk of her lips to ease the sharpness of her interruption. “Rupert agreed and we told your father, together, about the person you had become.” Joyce swallowed and ignored the tears threatening her mascara. “And once it all sank in and he truly understood. He believed,” She paused a moment, waited for Buffy to meet her gaze and stated, “I’ve never seen he look prouder.”
Her daughter’s mouth opened and then closed as if she was at a loss for words and she watched, her brows rising as Buffy filled her fork and once again filled her mouth. Avoided having to respond by eating and Joyce placed that small tidbit of knowledge away for later use. It may be a type of manipulation but if it helped her, help Buffy put on weight faster she’d stoop to that level in a heartbeat.
“I also have a date tonight.”
Buffy swallowed and then coughed, reaching for her soda once again. After a quick sip and a mock glare she stated, “Dawn mentioned you had a boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
She watched Buffy’s eyes light up just a bit before she shot back, “Me think the lady doeth protest too much.” A shadow of the impish grin that use to fill Buffy’s entire face with delight lifted her daughter’s lips. “’Sides Giles mentioned him too.”
Her own lips thinned, “Rupert needs to learn to—”
“Stay away from the band candy. We’re all well aware of that.” Buffy picked up her drink and took a small sip, eyes wide and nearly innocent.
Joyce’s brow rose, “Buffy—”
“Does your boyfriend know about you and Giles and that police car?”
“Buffy!” She ignored the heat building in her cheeks and glanced from side to side, suddenly afraid or paranoid that Jack or one of his team would come upon them. She also ignored the urge to applaud her daughter’s slight lifting of spirits—especially since they were at her own expense. “Stop—”
“I love you.”
The sudden admission stopped Joyce’s scolding and she caught the surprise that flashed across her daughter’s features before Buffy ducked her head and took another pull from her soda. Joyce frowned at the sudden, almost violent withdrawal and made an attempt to save that moment of levity.
“Honey,” Buffy’s head rose and she smiled, “I love you too. Now eat.”
The half dozen lavender calla lilies had been put in water, in a mosaic vase to be set on the coffee table in the living room and all the while Joyce had managed to ignore Rupert’s smirk with Jack’s choice in flowers. She also ignored Dawn’s confusion with Rupert’s smirk until Buffy had leaned over and whispered something that caused her youngest to blush and then giggle like a loon.
Her lips lifted as she settled herself more comfortably in the cushioned passenger seat, in the cab of Jack’s truck as he slipped from back roads and onto main streets. Bringing them closer to Coozan’s and catfish strips with an extra spicy Bloody Mary for her and a bottled Heineken for him. She shifted her feet against the floorboards and brushed her purse with her ankle as she turned to study Jack’s profile outlined by streetlight.
“What is it?”
His lips thinned and she watched the hand gripping the wheel tense before he loosened it and took a right at the next light. “What is what?”
The casual throwback questioned pursed her lips and she sighed, “Jack.”
“She seems nice.” His head turned and she raised her brows, “Buffy. She seems like a nice young woman.”
“A nice young woman?” She didn’t bother to hide her amusement with his choice of words.
“She has your eyes.”
Joyce blinked, startled by the casual observation and her sudden urge to cry. “She does.”
The arm resting on the door’s frame lifted, grasping the wheel so that the other was free to settle over the knee closest to him. Joyce felt her face crumble and she winced, knowing her voice had wavered with those two simple words. Silently she took the hand covering knee and pulled it into her lap before stating, “Hank’s coming to town next week to see her.”
Jack’s hand tightened around hers offering comfort and stated his next words as a question even though he knew the answer, “You’re ex-husband?”
“The one and only.”
“Good to know.”
Joyce’s lips quirked and she absently wiped at the few tears that had escaped her lashes. “I know there are things we need to discuss.”
Jack’s chin dipped, “Yeah.”
“I know it’s unusual for…for—”
“Someone to come back from the dead?”
She withdrew her hand from his and Jack pulled his free from her lap, placed it back onto the wheel as he pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and a decent parking space. He turned the key and they sat, the engine’s ticking filling the silence that followed his words.
“No.” Her voice was soft, “I owe you an explanation.” She turned toward the man she was certain she was falling in love with and lied to him. “Buffy worked with the Army as a consultant and during one of her top secret or whatnot missions she didn’t come home.”
“But there was an autopsy, Joyce. I’ve reviewed the files. Her death certificate.” He said the last sentence softly and she found no fault in his research, his curiosity when he could never have his son brought back to him as she had Buffy to her.
She finished the cover story that Rupert had supplied for her with the help of the Council and surprisingly the US government. “I was given a body. A body identified by dental records and the reports of the men and women she worked with.” Joyce swallowed, hating the lie. Hating the need for one and finished with, “The body I was given was so badly beaten, so broken I only looked at it once.”
That was truth. She had only seen her daughter’s hollowed form once before insisting on a closed casket. The stillness, the cold that had replaced her baby didn’t need to be viewed. Dawn didn’t need to remember her sister as a body and she truly didn’t—not anymore.
She hiccupped and lifted her hands, covering her face and hunching her shoulders as she refused to look into Jack’s eyes and see his pity. See his remorse for her lies and in that moment she held a better understanding of her daughter. Of the regret Buffy must have felt lying to those she cared for over and over and she wondered if it had killed bits of her as well.
A hand settled on her shoulder, a solid weight that brought her back to Jack and his soft words, “Why don’t I take you home.”
“No.” Her head rose and she turned, looked at him. “No, I want to be here with you. I need too.”
She knew there would be more questions, more lies but the understanding in his eyes drew her forward and her hands rose to slip around his neck as Jack met her halfway. His mouth pressed to hers, opening, tongue coming forth to greet her as his thumbs brushed away her tears and the cold building in her stomach began to warm.
After a moment she pulled back and offered him the bravest smile she could muster. “Give me a minute to freshen up?”
His head dipped forward to press one last kiss against her mouth before he pulled back and winked, “I’ll give you two.”
She watched him slip from the car, the door closing and her hand rose, lightly tracing her lips as she came to the somewhat startling conclusion that she wasn’t falling in love with Jack—she was already in love with him.
Joyce whispered softly to no one, “Well damn.” The End.