This is set in a version of Te's world where Xander and Giles go to LA and Cordy and Wes don't. Except I am assuming that Giles would not feel he could never commute back.
I don't know when I grew up, so much. Maybe it was eighteen months ago, on the road, or maybe it was this last six months with the hospital thing and the Dawn thing. And maybe it was just now.
Anyway, here I am in the adult world, stuck there for good. Perhaps it isn't that I grew up, just that sometimes I feel old and sometimes I feel middle-aged, and I never feel young anymore.
I only went to the shops for some food, for pancake mix for the girls and avocados and red peppers for the salad and some zucchini to roast with the chicken. That's a shopping list that will be carved in a hellish corner of my memory forever.
And the mall's just near the supermarket with the good produce, so I looked in to see if there were any interesting new shoes. One of the things I loved about her was that she was a woman with whom I could discuss shoes for hours. Just because she didn't spend money on shoes very often any more didn't mean she didn't care about them.
She loved to look at shoes and talk about the shoes she bought back in the day. I never understood before why platform wedgies even happened - one of the things I loved about her was that loving her meant that I got context for things.
I was only gone for an hour. Just an hour.
And when I came home, the paramedics were just leaving and Giles was just arriving - luckily he was back from LA that week - and Buffy hadn't even thought to ring my cell. Which I could have resented, but I'm bigger than that.
And Joyce was lying there, with her eyes closed and her mouth slightly open, and there was a patch on the carpet that smelt of disinfectant, and Buffy looked at me with big helpless little girl eyes and I thought, I am only a couple of months older than you, and I didn't say it, because what's to say? And I hugged her and I hugged Giles, because he had lost her too. She had lost her mother, but Giles and I, we lost Joyce.
And then I knelt beside Joyce and kissed her cheek one last time.
I'd always noticed her, in the way you notice your sort-of-friend's really amazingly good-looking mother. As someone whose good looks told you that there is a life of looking good beyond the mall and beyond marriage and children. A life of taking gentle care of yourself and moisturizing daily and getting gently older.
I must have chatted with her a bit, at some point, the polite meaningless words you say to a sort- of-friend's mother when you meet them on the stairs or bump into them in the street.
For the longest time, she didn't know anything, which meant we didn't say anything in front of her about Slaying or the rest of it. Then there was the Buffy being missing thing which sort of made for pregnant silences if she met us. And then there was the whole trying to burn people alive thing, which left a certain coolness. And the fact that I was sort of not speaking to any of that group of my sort-of-friends because of Xander and Willow and all of that.
My car broke down thirty miles out of Sunnydale. The only people that stopped to help were lingerie salesmen or truck drivers who wanted to keep me chained in a cellar with their Nazi pit bulls. After a few baking hours, I was down to my last bottle of Evian and wondering how bad life with a pit bull could be.
Suddenly her car pulled up and she asked if I needed help - well, duh! The cool thing is that she pulled up and asked even before she knew it was me, and that when she saw it was me behind the sunglasses, her face lit up in a smile that made her look so young it was almost scary.
She said that I couldn't just sit there and it was insane of me to go to LA by myself. And suddenly I realized what I needed was someone to take care of me, and there was someone here who would.
Somehow, she knew all about my parents and the IRS. I've learned, now, that grownups know all sorts of things that they don't tell you if you're younger than them, except in bed. She knew how broke I was and how much I'd hated working in the dress shop. And suddenly I was working for her at the gallery and sleeping on the couch at Revello Drive.
When she told them I was going to be living there for a while, Dawn said 'Mom!' and then said 'Actually, this is going to be incredibly cool'.
Buffy was sweet and said of course I was welcome. She doesn't really like me all that much, which is OK, because I don't really like her, but somehow, when it comes to it, we rub along well enough.
And then I wasn't sleeping on the couch, because one day in the gallery, Joyce's hand touched mine, or I put my hand where hers could touch it, and our entire lives changed. It was like brushing up against something really sharp, except I didn't bleed.
'I've never done this before', I said, as her big curls feathered into my nose and made me sneeze down her neck.
'Neither have I', she said, ' but somehow it is what I want to do.'
I didn't say anything else, but hung onto her like she was my mother and my boyfriend and everything to me. She had curves and softnesses I wasn't used to and they felt like cushioned heaven.
For the longest time, we lied. I slept on the couch and we made out in the stock room like I used to in school cupboards and it was the biggest fun that Dawn and Buffy really didn't know. Buffy never notices anything of course - she took the longest time to know about Willow and never worked it out about Faith - but I was surprised that we pretty much managed to keep it from Dawn.
The kid is sharp. So very sharp. Except about that, right under her nose - it is one of the things that could make a person worry.
In the end, it all came out, which was a relief.
It was Faith bursting in on us that pretty much fixed that, of course.
Dawn was doing a sleepover and we knew Buffy was safely tucked up in Stevenson Hall or with her soldier boy somewhere, so we thought it was a good night for staying in safe with fluffy slippers and chocolates and champagne. Joyce taught me the joys of not feeling you have to be sophisticated about everything - she had a way of teasing you about who got stuck with the hard centres that made me go all squishy inside myself.
And in through the door comes Faith just as we are wrapped around each other to a degree that makes it pointless to disentangle. For several minutes, she is so awesmacked and giggly that I could probably have taken her down.
'So, C, not driving stick anymore? And Mrs S - if I had known you were into cradlesnatching, I'd have given you a go myself.'
And a lot of snarky remarks about a lipstick shade that never suited Joyce and which I had made her hide in a drawer.
Then Buffy comes in through a window and they fight and I thought there was something odd about Buffy afterwards, but who knew? I should have got it from the selection from Buffy's wardrobe next day, which is the closest I come to Tara and her auras, but I didn't.
Love blunts my instincts. Which goes some of the way to explaining Xander of course.
I don't even want to think about why she took up the bathroom for so long.
After that, Buffy didn't say anything, but she looked at me and at her mother from time to time as if there was something she knew but could not remember. She is so clueless - I mean she was sharing a room with Willow and still had to be told about Tara.
Willow and I never had gaydar about each other - and Faith totally had it about both of us. Which is odd, or, worryingly, maybe not.
By the time we had shared our essences and been the SuperSlayer - and can I say ewww! about that? - and I had added proper sarcasm to the mix that pulled Adam apart instead of Buffy's usual lame quips, Buffy was staring to work it out. That or the night we all had dreams, which is something I really do not want to think about - Giles and Spike in matching tweed is a fashion nightmare like no other. I think she saw something in her dream, because after that, when I was helping Joyce with the hot chocolate, Buffy suddenly definitely knew.
And was cool with it.
Buffy and Dawn were troupers during the hospital period - we went through it all together and I don't plan ever to brood on it again. You sit in waiting rooms and you play silly word games and you eat too much chocolate and too many Doritos and all the time there is that smell of chlorox and ozone and vague death. I had hoped, when it was over, that that was it, and we could get back to normal and I had my Joyce back for a few weeks, instead of occasionally crazy Joyce, or Joyce who couldn't remember why I was there, or Joyce just lying there with the mother of headaches grinding behind her eyes.
And, when it came, it was fast. I missed it by an hour I never thought I had to worry about.
So we all go to the morgue and everyone is sweet to Buffy and sweet to Dawn and even Willow is sweet to me, which I really don't deserve, and Tara does her big basset-hound without the bags eyes at me, which is her way of being sympathetic and actually matters.
Anya says, ' Will your next orgasm friend be your own age? Because then you won't have to look for another one for ages.' And everyone shushes her.
Giles and Wesley look at me, consideringly.
I know what they are thinking, of course. I can see Giles gearing up for a lecture behind that noble forehead. A lecture about facing facts and finding the higher purpose behind them.
I could write the lecture for him.
None of this ever happened, right. I was just Joyce's pet project who worked for her in the shop and stayed in the spare room and was prickly friends with Buffy when she was home and helped out.
Who had always lived in the room that was no longer spare, so I could not be living there.
When the monks made Dawn, and made memories of her, I was an inconvenience and setting me up as Joyce's cute young plaything was the easiest way to rewrite it. Moving me and all my clothes to a motel was just more magic than they wanted to spend.
Plus, monks are boys, and boys with time on their hands, and thoughts about girl on woman action always part of that deal.
And I don't care, or rather I do care and it doesn't matter. I had six months and more with Joyce and they were the best months of my life - and maybe it was all true even before Dawn, and I had the year I remember as well. Except, I had that year even if it never happened.
Who cares what the facts once were? The truth is that I loved Joyce and lost her.
If there is a higher purpose to that, I don't want to know how I could care.
Even if I didn't. And now I have to work out what comes next.