It had been two months since Hank and Joyce's funeral. While she had made sure no one else could see, Buffy had cried herself to sleep more than a few nights during that time. She loved Celia and Aunt Arlene, but she missed her parents terribly.
That changed on the night of January 17, 1989.
She had gone to bed just an hour before, and was in the halfway state between being awake and being asleep when she was jolted fully awake by a tap on the window. For a moment, she thought she had dreamed it until she heard two more taps. She looked from her bed on the top bunk to the window, which was covered by curtains which blew in the breeze; she had left the window cracked open.
There was a human-shaped silhouette visible in the curtains.
Buffy was about to scream to wake up Celia on the bottom bunk (she was a deep sleeper and had not been woken up by the tapping) when she heard a very quiet but familiar voice: "Buffy."
She was stunned for a moment and thought she had imagined it, until she heard it again.
"Buffy. Come to the window."
The small blonde immediately sat up and proceeded down the ladder to the floor; her brunette cousin continued to snore softly. She pulled the curtains open and confirmed who the mysterious person at the window was.
Joyce immediately shushed her. "Quiet, honey, we don't want to wake your cousin. Put your shoes and coat on and come out here."
Buffy put on her shoes as asked, being careful not to disturb Celia. Then she tiptoed through the house and went out the front door. The first thing she did was rush up to her mother and hug her. Joyce picked her up in her arms and swung her around.
"You came back. I thought you were gone forever," said Buffy, as joyful tears started pouring from her eyes. "I thought you were dead. But you came back, mommy."
"I was dead, honey...still am, in a way. But that's a story for another time. The important thing is that I'm here now, and I'm feeling the best I ever have."
"You've gotten stronger, too," replied Buffy. "You couldn't pick me up so easy before. Did dying make you stronger?"
Joyce smiled again as she set her daughter down. "Let's take a walk."
Had there been any other people awake at that time, the two females would have made for a rather strange yet adorable sight: a blonde woman wearing a nice red dress and a leather jacket, who was holding the hand of her daughter wearing a coat and pajamas.
"Your hand's cold, Mommy," said Buffy.
Joyce let go of Buffy's hand, but said nothing.
A moment later, Buffy asked, "What about Daddy? Is he back, too?"
Joyce's smile was gone now. "I'm sorry, honey, but he is truly gone. What brought me back could not have done the same for him."
"Oh," said Buffy, disappointed. "Well, I'm glad to have you back, anyway."
"I'm sorry I took so long to get around to seeing you. I had some...things I had to deal with."
"It's okay, mommy."
Joyce's smile reappeared. "So how's my sister Arlene doing?"
"Okay, I guess. She's dating a man now."
"Huh, wasn't sure she'd ever get back into dating," said Joyce. "So what's he like?"
"His name's Michael. He's alright, I guess. I don't really like him, but Celia does. Will you be coming to live with us? Or will I be coming to live with you?"
Joyce stopped walking. Kneeling down, she turned her daughter to face her and spoke quietly.
"Honey, I'm sorry, but that won't be happening. You're going to continue to live with Arlene and Celia."
"But why?" Tears started forming in the little blond girl's eyes again. "Won't I ever see you again?"
"Believe me, it's for the best. In fact, you can never tell anyone that I'm still around. They have to believe I'm dead."
"Even Aunt Arlene and Celia?" asked Buffy.
"Especially Aunt Arlene and Celia," replied her mother. "But don't worry, I'm not gone for good. I plan to visit you often. It will be our little secret, okay?"
"So...what did you want to talk about?" asked the Slayer.
"I came here to warn you about things in this town."
Buffy sighed. "I know about the Hellmouth, mom. The thing that attracts all things spooky. Merrick told me."
"Did he tell you about anyone or anything specifically?"
"There's this one vampire you'll have to deal with eventually. He calls himself The Master."
"The Master? Really? He couldn't have come up with something more original than that?"
"Well, where do I find him?" asked Buffy. "I'll go deal with him right now!"
"It's not as simple as that, Buffy. First, I don't know exactly where he is. Second, he's surrounded by many loyal and longtime followers. He's also very old and very powerful." Joyce turned and looked at the Slayer. "At his full strength, I hear he's more powerful than Lothos was."
Buffy's heart sank. "No," she said quietly.
"Fortunately for you, he's also literally underground. He's been sleeping there for a few decades and only recently woke up, from what I understand. He has to have his minions go out and do his work for him. He's weak but he won't be that way for long, not unless you stop him."
"So what should I do then?" the slayer asked.
"You mentioned Mr. Merrick was still around?"
"Yes. He said there's going to be a second Watcher helping us, too. He didn't give me his name."
"Good," replied Joyce. "Start with them. From what I hear about the Master, there should be a lot of books that will help you out."
As they got back to the house, Joyce said to her daughter, "Guess what time it is."
"It's after midnight. Which means it is now..." she trailed off expectantly.
"You remembered, mommy!" Buffy squealed with delight for an instant before Joyce immediately shushed her, laughing.
"Quiet honey, you'll wake the family! Yes, I did remember. And I got you a little something, too." Reaching behind a bush near the window where she had first gotten Buffy's attention, Joyce brought out a small gift bag and handed it to the blond girl.
Buffy pulled several pieces of tissue out of the bag, then found the gift itself. It was a stuffed animal; a pig, to be precise.
She hugged the stuffed animal tightly. "I love it. Thank you, mommy!"
Joyce smiled. "Happy Birthday, sweetie. What are you going to name it?"
Buffy thought for a moment. "Hmm, since he's a pig, I'll call him Gordo!"
"Where did you get that name from?" asked Joyce.
"They've been teaching us some Spanish words at school recently. Gordo means 'fat'."
Joyce laughed. "I like it. Mr. Gordo it is, then!"
"I gotta ask, mom...why are you helping me?"
"You know why. Because I love you," replied Joyce. "Why are you even asking?"
"That's the thing...you have no soul. When I first learned I was the Slayer, I was told that when a person becomes a vampire, that person is dead...it's just that a demon is now using their body. So how can you love me? Or am I totally not understanding how that works?"
The vampire smiled. "I think the Watchers' explanation is a bit oversimplified, honey. I don't know whether who I am now is the same person as who I was before, but I do know that a few aspects of the old me are definitely still there. Including how much I love you."
Buffy smiled in return. Then she stood. "It's getting late. If I don't get back soon, Arlene's gonna throw a fit when she finds out I was out all night."
Joyce stood as well and embraced her daughter. "Take care, sweetie. I'll see you again soon."
Author's Note: Apologies for the delay in updating. The flashbacks showing how Buffy first learned Joyce wasn't out of the picture yet were inspired by a short story from the comic book limited series Tales of the Vampires, which is set in the Buffyverse and had Joss Whedon's involvement. The story was called Father (written by Jane Espenson, who also wrote for the TV series) and depicted the relationship between a vampire and his human son over the course of the latter's lifetime.
My current plan is to have the next chapter catch up with the villain Maximus Wolf and what he's been up to; afterward, Buffy will start attending school and we will finally meet many of the other characters we came to love over the course of the TV series. Thank you for your patience, and as always, leave feedback!