Disclaimer: All characters and universes (BtVS, etc) within the following work which are owned by people other than me are owned by people other me.Timeline: Occurs while Buffy has run away to LA.
Joyce's head snapped to the door as she heard the soft knocking. Quickly, she crossed the living room and swung the door open. A sad sigh crossed her lips as she saw that not only was the person standing there not a blonde, he wasn't even female.
"And a cheery welcome to you too Mrs. Summers."
"Sorry Xander, its just…."
"Believe me, Mrs. Summers, I understand. We all miss her. But she'll come home when she's ready."
Joyce stepped back and Xander crossed the threshold. "And excellent use of not inviting me in, I might add."
As she swung the door shut, Joyce asked what brought him by today.
"Well, I was kinda just aimlessly wandering around Revello Drive, and low and behold, I saw your place and thought I'd swing by and say hello." Seeing Joyce's disbelieving look, the original male Slayerette elaborated. "Ok, truth be told, I don't spend much time at my place, if I can avoid it. I got my four hours of sleep last night, made my morning appointment this morning." Seeing the questioning look, he just said he had started taking some Aikido lessons, but asked her to just keep that to herself. "And from the dojo, your place really is kinda on my way home. So I thought I'd stop by. I know that all of this, the whole Buffy bailing thing, not to mention the whole Slayer gig, has to be gnawing at you. Maybe you could use a friendly ear or something.
"I appreciate the offer Xander, but…"
Her words were cut off by Xander raising his hand. "Mrs. Summers, seriously, before you say no, remember, that I'm not just a high school kid your daughter hangs out with. I've been fighting by her side for two years now. Through nightmares and worse. You have to have somebody you can talk to about all of this, or it'll drive you mad. And, as an added bonus, nothing you say to me will ever be repeated. Trust me, I'm really good at keeping secrets."
After a moment, she nodded, then collapsed on the couch, burying her face in her hands. "I'm just so scared for her. I mean, its been a month, and nobody has heard so much as a peep from her. I don't even know where she is!"
Xander responded that Buffy can handle herself. There was just too much going on at once and she needs to decompress. "Mark my words, she'll be back, probably within a couple of weeks of school starting."
Joyce responds that she should be at home, that she needs her mother.
"Mrs. S, Buffy knows that you love her. You may have freaked out… Ok, you did freak out, but it's understandable. You saw a monster turn to dust on your front steps, and you didn't handle it real well. You were confused and you lashed out. Deep down, Buffy knows you love her, and that you just over-reacted. Beating yourself up isn't going to help anything." Xander paused for a second as he chuckled. "Now beating up demons, that's therapeutic. But not really recommended for us mortals, but fun when you get it."
"Well, so how did you get sucked into this whole Army of Darkness thing? I mean, ok, you look a bit like Ash, but…"
Xander laughed. "Mrs. S, I never would have taken you for an Evil Dead fan."
"What can I say, Bruce Campbell is nice on the eyes. But you didn't answer my question."
"Well, it started out when I noticed a certain new student shortly before I crashed my skateboard into a handrail. Ok, not quite true. It started about an hour after that when I overheard Giles going on about the whole demon thing when I went to return Buffy's stake. Couple that with later that night getting grabbed by vamps…."
Over the next few hours, Xander filled Joyce in on the highlights of the past two years, careful to selectively edit certain events which would either get Buffy in even more trouble or upset Joyce unnecessarily.
"Well," she said with a faith smile. "I guess if the Hellmouth is under the high school, then I can't get Buffy transferred to a new school. So I'll have to figure a way to get around Synder or get him to reverse the whole expelling thing." She paused for a moment. "Ok, we need to back up a few topics. If that girl, Kendra, was the Slayer. Then… I thought you said that there was only one Slayer at a time, and it only got passed on if the old Slayer dies… So how did Kendra get to be Slayer if Buffy is the Slayer?"
Xander swallowed and looked down at his glass of Mountain Dew. After a moment, Joyce made the connection. "My daughter died, didn't she."
"Only for a minute," he said in a rather lame sounding explanation.
"And you just skipped that part?"
"Well, it was only for a minute, then…"
"How?" demanded the now irritated mother.
"Well, she was prophesized to die. And she went to face the Master. He drowned her. That's how Kendra got called."
"And that explains nothing about how she's still alive."
"Well, I'd rather not…."
"Well, that's not an option. I want to know what happened to my daughter."
After trying to stare her down for a moment, Xander gave in, but made Joyce promise that what he was about to tell her goes no further than this room.
"You saved her, didn't you?" she whispered in a flash of insight. Xander nodded.
Dawn bursts in, a huge grin on her face. "You gave Buffy mouth to mouth, and brought her back to life! That's SO cool! So, then what?"
"Dawn Summers, you go to your room this instant!" Joyce's glare was very recognizable to anyone who had been on the receiving end of one of her elder daughter's withering stare. "It's bad enough that I have one daughter involved in this whole supernatural mess, I won't have my baby getting involved as well!"
Dawn, showing surprising intelligence for a pre-teen, recognized that any response would have only inflamed the situation, turned and headed back to the door. The next words spoken, however, stopped her in her tracks.
"Um, Joyce, hang on for a second." Xander winced as the death glare returned, now directed at him. "Now, before you tear my head off, hear me out for a second. This is SunnyDale. And Buffy is the Slayer. No matter how much you try, you're not going to be able to shield Dawn from all of this, not if you want to keep her safe."
"Do not tell me how to raise my daughter young man," she snapped, dropping into that voice almost all mothers since time immemorial have possessed.
"I wouldn't dream of it. But this isn't just about how you raise your daughter. Its about keeping an innocent safe. And on these streets, in this town, with the monsters, literal monsters, that's something I know more about than you do. You tried to protect Buffy for the past two years and look at all the stuff that came after her. And you for that matter. How many times have you accidentally invited a vampire in, been attacked? And you're an adult. Dawn's not." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dawn bristle at that, but she kept quiet. "If you try and keep her safe from everything weird or, well, weird, in this town, all you're going to do is put a big target on her back. If she at least knows what's REALLY out there, then she'll know what not to do, and come running to us when something happens, and it will happen."
Although in her head, Joyce knew that Xander had a point, she wasn't about to risk the safety of both of her daughters. "No way. Dawn stays clear of all of this. If she avoids it, then she'll be safe."
"And if she doesn't know what to avoid, how will she avoid anything. She'll either lock herself in her room and never go out, or she'll go out oblivious and end up a snack for somebody like Spike. Either way its not a life." He sighed. "Look, you remember I told you I had to stake my own best friend? Jesse, a guy who I'd spent my whole life with. He got dragged away, and I was so damned lucky I wasn't turned along side of him. Maybe if he knew what really was going on, then he'd still be alive today. Maybe I wouldn't have had to plunge a sharpened piece of oak through his heart and watch as he turned to dust before me. You have my word, I will not let Dawn get involved in this as long as we can keep her out. But keeping her in the dark isn't going to help her and it may very well get her killed."
Joyce looked at the young man sitting across from her. She wanted so much to tell him he was wrong and chew him out for contradicting her. But she couldn't. Because he was right. She really hadn't had her eyes opened to the horrors of SunnyDale until a little more than a month ago. Whereas the boy, no, he was a young man, before her, had not only had his eyes opened for two years, he'd been fighting to save the world from the darkness. "Dawn, would you like something to drink?" she said, weariness in her voice.
Hours later, Xander and Dawn finished up the last of the dinner dishes while Xander continued more of his tales, going over everything this time, instead of the edited synopsis he had given before. Dawn couldn't believe that Angel had been a vampire, but was glad that he'd been stopped before sending the world to hell.
"Well," said Joyce, "Its getting to be that time. Dawn, time for you to get to bed young lady." Dawn tried to protest, but her mom wouldn't budge. Saying goodnight, the youngster headed upstairs. "If you want Xander, you're more than welcome to spend the night. Buffy's room is empty."
The young man chuckled. "As much as I will probably regret this years from now, I don't feel right about being in Buffy's room. But, if you don't mind, the couch sounds just fine to me."
Joyce retrieved a pillow and sheets for him from the linen closet. As she sat them on the couch, she looked at the young man, and then pulled him into a hug. "Thank you Xander. I'm glad you stopped by and that you spent the time to explain everything, to me and to Dawn."
Already a bit uncomfortable, Xander gave her a hug back before extracting himself from her grasp. "Its not a problem Mrs. S. Heck, in the long run, this will save us from having to make really lame excuses every time there's some monster around." He chuckled. "You don't know how many times I felt like an idiot trying to come up with some lame reason why we were all at the scene of some weirdness."
"You're secrets safe with me. Now get some sleep." With that she patted his shoulder and headed to her own room.
Moments later, Xander was snoring away on the couch, oblivious to the form watching him from the stairs.
The youngest Summers woman watched as he slept, a besmitten smile on her face. "Brave and cute. My sister may be blind, but I'm not." And with that, the last person awake in the house padded upstairs, ready from dreams of heroes, monsters and damsels in distress.