“Somebody had better start explaining SOMETHING to me right now or, so help me, EVERYBODY is grounded for-EVER.”
Joyce Summers, looking every inch the head of her household, folded her arms over her chest and tapped one slippered foot ominously off the dining room floor. They had finally all managed to pile back to the Summers’ residence where various wounds had been tended, status checks of limbs still attached to bodies conducted and swift orders to get to bed and get some sleep had been followed to the letter.
Joyce and Giles themselves hadn’t slept a wink. They had stayed up all night worrying over the three preternaturally still forms of their children, adopted or otherwise. Joyce had taken turns sitting beside each of them and fretting and Giles had buried himself into his books, muttering, taking notes and turning pages feverishly.
Dawn had been lain on the two seat couch, on her front so that her wings weren’t crushed. Morgan had been set onto the three seat sofa even though her feet were still hooked over the end after her growth spurt of nearly a foot. Her fire golden hair spilled everywhere and was perhaps the hardest thing to get used to about her new appearance. Morgan had been the type to view her hair as a nuisance more than a fashion statement and had kept it restrained or shorn accordingly.
Xander had been a slightly different matter. He had previously been a lean young man on the cusp of being full grown. Now he was very much full grown and then some. He must have now topped seven feet, was built like a line backer and it had taken all four of them to drag him from the truck bed into the house. He had been left on a blanket on the floor since they didn’t want to risk lifting him and dropping him.
So, having worried and fretted all night while the others slept, under her roof where they couldn’t escape her impending wrath, Joyce had waited patiently through breakfast, the cleaning of dishes and was now finally ready for some answers.
Lord help them if they weren’t forthcoming.
“Well?” Joyce had The Mother Voice on, the one that was disobeyed on pain of unspeakable horrors.
“Joyce,” Giles began but was halted when a narrow eyed look was levelled at him. He was momentarily cowed into a loss of words and solved the situation by removing his glasses and polishing them industriously. Like he could find some courage in the sheen on the lenses.
“Don’t tell her.”
Everybody looked at Buffy.
“I don’t want her to know. It’s not her fight.”
“Young lady, you had better start talking like I’m still in the room. I’m still your mother and I deserve the respect that entails. Am I clear?” Joyce’s voice was low and almost vicious. She felt betrayed, stupid and scared. It was blatantly obvious that, whatever was going on, she was the last to know.
Even Cordelia had dismissed it as, what had she called it again…?
“What’s ‘Slayer Business’?”
“Buffy is the Slayer, Joyce.” Giles said quietly. “Everything you know to be myth and legend, everything that you believe only exists in nightmares, is real. Monsters, demons, magic -both dark and light- vampires, werewolves and wizards oh-my…all of it is real. Buffy is the Slayer. She was Chosen to be the one to fight all of these demons and I am her Watcher. I’m here to guide her.”
Giles looked sad as he spoke. Like he knew that he had broken something in their friendship. Something that had taken a long time to build but had been torn down in a single night.
Their trust was gone.
Joyce, for her part, took it rather well. She inhaled a deep breath, pulled out a chair from the dining room table and sat. She folded her hands on the glossy table top, chose her words carefully and spoke with a quiet commanding tone.
“I think you had better start at the beginning.”
Buffy folded her arms over her chest and shook her head vehemently. Giles ignored her, Joyce deserved to know.
“Joyce, the world is older than you know…”
“Mom…are you okay?” Buffy reached across the table and took her mother’s hand in hers. “Mom, say something.”
It had been the better part of two hours since they had rebooted Joyce’s view on the world. Giles had told her everything. Once the words had started, he hadn’t been able to hold them back. The Council would probably have his head if they ever found out, but Giles didn’t care. He felt like a massive weight had been lifted. He didn’t have to lie anymore. Smile to Joyce’s face and say Buffy was at a friend’s when she was really out hunting for the latest trouble of the small town and figuring out a way to kill it.
Unfortunately, all the weight that had been removed from him, seemed to have transferred directly onto Joyce’s shoulders.
“Why didn’t they change back?” Joyce spoke without looking up, her head in her hand.
Buffy looked up at Giles and the Watcher’s shoulders tensed.
“I have only a theory.” Joyce looked up at him sharply and he tried to reassure her with the certainty of his words. “My research so far leads me to believe that the children have not changed back due to the fact they were dressed as real people. Everyone else was dressed as something generic, an ideological figure, they took the guise of actual people.”
“They’re comic book characters.” Willow protested.
“Yes, and those comic books are fables about real people, the X-Men vigilante group, the Avengers, Fantastic Four…exaggerated for certain, but still real enough. They couldn’t change back because you cannot destroy a sentient being with magic. You can kill someone or send them somewhere, but you cannot wish them to ’not be’. The spell rebounds upon the caster and destroys them instead. Which may also give us a clue on how Ethan disappeared without a trace.”
Joyce swallowed hard and put her hand to her throat. She seemed to take a moment to wrestle herself under control and then spoke with a voice that only trembled a little.
“Can they be changed back?”
“I’m not sure.” Joyce looked at him harder and Giles was pressed into saying what he didn’t want to. “I don’t think so. Both Dawn and Xander took on the guise of well known mutants from the vigilante group on the East coast. Even though it was only partially due to their collage of costumes, I believe that their very DNA was altered by the chaos spell that Ethan cast. If this is the case, then there’s nothing anybody can do to reverse it.”
“And Morgan?” Joyce was on the verge of complete meltdown and it was only the fact that she viewed all of them as her children, in one way or another, that was keeping her together.
“Her costume and the persona she adopted were magical I nature. Powerfully magical. Valkyries are the harbingers of death. Becoming one is a one way process as far as I am aware.” Giles voice was tight and his fingers had tightened to white knuckle proportions on the handkerchief he had used on his glasses. He didn’t go into what the process was but, judging by his expression, it was not something to be wished on anyone.
“Mrs Summers,” Willow started in a small voice. “I’m gonna help Giles in looking for something to fix this, to put them back to the way they were. Between us, I’m sure we can come up with something.”
“Even if we can’t, Mom, I’ll protect them. That’s my job.”
“Your job?” Joyce whipped her head up to stare at Buffy. “You’re seventeen! You shouldn’t be….be…SLAYING! You should be out having fun and getting into trouble with boys and not doing homework. You shouldn’t be part of this! And you,” she stabbed an accusing finger at Giles, “should NEVER have allowed my daughter to be dragged into this. She’s already DIED once because of it.” She gestured wildly at the open doorway to the living room. “And now, because of it, my OTHER daughter is a mutant! Her best friend is a harbinger of doom and Xander’s turned into a giant! Would somebody please point out to me the GOOD that has come of any of this.”
“I keep people safe, mom.” Buffy straightened her spine and tried to find the words that would comfort her mother but still allow her to defend who she was. She was the Slayer and, like it or not, she was needed. “No one else can do this, not like I can. I’m sorry Dawnie got dragged into this, I never meant for that to happen, if your mad at me, I understand.”
“Buffy, sweetheart, this isn’t about you.” Joyce pulled her hand from Buffy’s. “This is about your sister being changed into something that will change her life forever. Do you know what HAPPENS to mutants? I’ve seen the news. I know about the riots, the hate crimes, the lynching and the blood feuds. This isn’t some secret war that can be fought in the shadows. This is now Dawn’s LIFE. She has to live it every day now. At least you can pretend to be normal.” Joyce stood sharply and turned away from them all. She didn’t know where to go or what to do, but she suddenly needed to be away from them all. She set out through the kitchen, threw open the back door and strode out across the yard. She carried on past the boundry between manicured lawn and wild meadowland that their house backed onto.
She heard them calling her name, but she didn’t look back.
She needed space.
She needed to think.