Warnings and disclaimer in Chapter 1. Enjoy.
Joyce casually stretched as she slowly woke up. She didn't bother setting the alarm, instead letting her body get as much sleep as it wanted. Her bed felt heavenly after the long weeks spent sleeping in hospital chairs. She opened her eyes, trying to make sense of the numbers on her clock. She sighed when she realized the numbers weren't lying and it really was almost ten. Stretching once more she climbed out of bed and put on a bath robe before heading to the kitchen.
"Are you really just getting up?" Dawn asked when she saw her mother.
"I forgot what a pain two A.M. feedings were," Joyce said, heading straight for the coffee pot. "Besides, you're just getting up."
"Yeah, but I'm a teenager," she said as she drained the last of the milk from her cereal. "Anyway I've been up for hours with Buffy."
"Buffy?" Joyce asked, looking around for her oldest. "Where is she?"
"Oh I think they took her downstairs for the spell," Dawn said casually.
"What!" Joyce yelled. That woke her up for more effectively than the stale coffee she had been sipping. "They're doing the spell? Without me?"
"Setting up the spell," Dawn quickly amended. "There's no way Giles would start without you there to hover."
"I do not hover," Joyce grumbled, pouring the old coffee out and making a fresh pot. This time it was Dawn who looked unconvinced. Joyce shrugged. "Okay. Maybe a little. But it's because I worry so much about all of you."
"We know," Dawn told her. They were interrupted by Andrew running up the steps.
"Oh good you're up," he told them, reaching into the cupboard where they kept the formula. "I need to replenish my supply of baby wipes, but I didn't want to enter the nursery until you got up in case the door was open."
"Andrew?" she double checked, not sure if she was remembering his name correctly or not. He nodded as he started mixing a bottle. "What are you doing?"
"Mr. Giles said the spell is all ready to go. We are just waiting on you."
"We?" she asked pointedly. He winced slightly.
"They. They are just waiting on you. But Xander said he wouldn't let me hold Alex until it was time for the spell, since he's part of it, but now that you're awake I can hold her." Joyce just stared at him in disbelief.
"No," she said. "I will hold her." He was visibly hurt by that, but quickly recovered.
"Then I'll be your assistant. I have everything Billy or Alex will need. Formula. Diapers. Ointment. Baby powder. Oh. I need some wipes. Be right back." With that he shot off up the stairs. Joyce looked blankly at where he was standing before turning to Dawn.
"He's been like that all morning," she said, barely keeping a straight face. "He really wants to hold one of the twins, but Xander and Anya aren't letting up. He volunteered to be their assistants. Xander laughed but Anya looked thoughtful and said she always wanted to be a magician and the first thing they did was cut their assistants in half." Joyce laughed at the image before a humbling thought entered her mind.
"She was kidding, right?"
"It's one of the more interesting topics of discussion right now." They shared a look as Andrew came running back down the steps.
"Wipes!" he said triumphantly, sliding the container into a slot on his belt.
"Do I dare ask what you're wearing?" Joyce asked as he stepped up to finish the bottles.
"I call it my Babyman Utility Belt," he told her. She looked at him blankly. "You know how Batman has a utility belt with everything needed for fighting crime? Well, this is my utility belt with everything needed for the twins."
"Lovely," she told him. She felt she really needed something stronger than coffee to get through this conversation.
"I was up all night making it," he said proudly.
"Weren't you supposed to be on watch last night?" Dawn asked.
"I was, but it was so boring." He turned back to the counter, finished mixing the bottles, and whipped them into place on his belt. "Babyman to the rescue," he said as he started to leave the kitchen.
"Not so fast young man," Joyce called out sternly. He stopped and turned around, looking at her curiously. "You made a mess. In this house we clean up our messes."
"Right," he said, hurrying to the counter. "There's no mess too tough for Babyman." He quickly cleaned up after himself before heading down the stairs, leaving the two of them in stunned silence.
"I need a shower," Joyce said, shaking her head slightly to get that encounter out of her mind. "Is mine still down?"
"Yep," Dawn confirmed, trying very hard to not laugh. "You can use mine if you want."
"Does the door lock?" she asked, turning her head toward the basement stairs.
"Absolutely." Joyce nodded, heading upstairs and grabbing some clothes before heading to Dawn's room, locking the door behind her. Twenty minutes later she felt much more awake as she headed to the basement where everyone else was waiting. Slowly sipping her coffee, she took in the scene before her.
A large space had been cleared out in the center of the room. Tara and Willow had prepared the space, circles and symbols she didn't understand spelled out in chalk. The others were spread out around the room. The witches were at a small table, double checking their spell with Dawn and Jonathan looking on curiously. Xander and Anya were on the far side of the room with the twins, trying their best to ignore Andrew. On her right Giles had piled several training mats on top of each other. Buffy was lying on them as Giles did her lower body exercises. Faith and Daniel were watching them, while the Watchers were true to their names and watching everything silently.
"So let me get this straight," Faith said. "You guys go into B's mind and get the information, then me and Daniel get to go kick some demon ass?"
"Basically," Giles said, stretching Buffy's left leg. "Good morning Joyce," he said when he noticed her standing in the doorway. Everyone looked up and casually waved, which she returned, before heading toward Buffy. Buffy looked up as she came over, but her attention was quickly brought back to Giles when he switched to her right leg.
"Dawn said everything was ready," she said. Giles nodded. "Is it safe?" she asked. Everybody looked up at her. Giles sighed, finishing the stretch before getting to his feet.
"It's as safe as it can be," he told her. "Everybody knows the risks and we're all willing to take them." She nodded. She had heard the same thing last night, but it seemed much more real now that the time was here.
"I'm just worried," she admitted. She went over and gave Willow a big hug, followed by Xander, before returning to Giles. "Be careful," she told them all, casually laying her hand on Giles's shoulder. He reached up and gripped her hand tightly before lifting Buffy up and putting her into her place inside the circle. Xander came up and handed Alex to her before taking his spot, while Willow did the same.
"They'll be fine," Tara said, coming to stand next to Joyce. "We double checked everything this morning. They might feel a bit sleepy but that should be the worst of it."
"Unless the Slayer thinks they're attacking and they lose their minds," Joyce said, holding the baby closer. Willow started chanting, Giles joining her after a minute, then everybody fell into a trance. "Now we wait," she said, making herself as comfortable as possible.
Xander opened his eyes to blackness. "Will?" he called out in a panic. "Giles?"
"Here," Willow reached out and touched his back. He twirled around, grabbing his friend in a bear hug. He saw Giles looking around next to them.
"Where are we?" he asked as he let go. They were surrounded by blackness, but he could see his companions as clear as day.
"Think of it as an antechamber," Willow said. "We figured the best way to appear non-threatening was not to appear inside her mind without her permission."
"The joining part of the spell is being done right now, before we enter," Giles told him, "but there should be some sort of entryway."
"You mean like a door?" Xander asked, pointing off into the distance. A door had just appeared. Willow nodded and the three of them cautiously made their way over. "So do we just go in?" Willow frowned.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. Giles shrugged and reached out to knock. Nothing happened. He looked back to the young friends.
"Buffy!" Xander called out to the darkness. "It's your friends. We're here to help you."
"We're not going to hurt you," Willow called out. "We need your help. We need to ask you something."
"Please," Giles begged, "let us in. If you ever trusted me trust me now." He looked around helplessly when the door stayed closed.
"So now what?" Xander asked. "Do we break it down?"
"That would definitely fall into the threatening category," Giles said bluntly. Willow sighed.
"Maybe we missed something," she said, mentally going over the spell.
"I suggest we leave and regroup," Giles said. "The first part of the spell is working. We just need to work on the second part."
"You're right," Xander said as he and Giles turned back. "There's no point looking for trouble."
"Umm guys," Willow called out. She was facing the door, which was open now. Giles and Xander quickly rejoined her.
"So either it worked or it's a trap," Xander said.
"It worked," Willow said confidently. Xander looked at her.
"I say we go for it," he said, fully trusting his friend. Giles nodded and they slowly stepped through the door and found themselves in a field, the sun shining brightly down upon them. "Whoa. Set change."
"Where are we now?" Willow asked.
"Buffy's mind," Giles answered, looking around carefully. The others followed his lead.
"Umm," Xander was the first to notice. "Where'd the door go?" They followed his gaze, seeing nothing but grassy plain everywhere they looked.
"It served its purpose," Giles told them. "From now on we're on our own."
"So do we just pick a direction and go?" Xander asked. They didn't have any better ideas so they started walking. The grassy plain soon turned into rolling hills. As they crested the first hill they stopped short as the First Slayer suddenly appeared before them. She didn't say anything, instead watched them carefully. "Why is she in chains?" Xander asked. Giles shrugged and moved carefully toward her.
"We are friends," he said slowly, showing his open hands.
"I remember," she spoke harshly, her lips barely moving.
"We need to find Buffy," he told her. She just watched him carefully. Giles looked back at the two young adults.
"We need to find her," Willow tried. The First Slayer continued to stared at them.
"Maybe we can just go around?" Xander asked. Willow shrugged and they cautiously circled around the First Slayer. She watched them go carefully until they finally were out of her sight. Breathing a sigh of relief, they turned around only to come face to face with her again. She immediately jumped at them. Only Giles's quick thinking of pulling Willow and Xander back saved them from getting attacked. The Slayer lunged toward them, but was held by a chain in the ground.
"So maybe we don't have such a warm welcome?" Willow asked as they once again edged around the Slayer.
"We were prepared for a hostile environment," Giles reminded them, as the Slayer appeared before them once more. They didn't try to engage, simply veering around her once more.
"This isn't what I thought Buffy's mind would be like," Xander said as they continued walking.
"What did you think it would be?" Willow asked as they veered around the Slayer once again.
"A shopping mall," Giles said, causing the witch to giggle. "Or perhaps a city?" he asked, looking into the horizon. Several buildings could be seen in the distance. The group started walking towards them.
"Anyone notice the First Slayer hasn't popped up for a while?" Xander said after they had walked a while.
"Maybe she was leading us," Giles suggested. "The only way she knew how."
"We need to teach her the fine art of pointing," Xander said as they climbed yet another hill. At the top they could clearly see the buildings. "Are those?"
"The marks on her back," Giles finished, seeing the marks on the buildings. They slowly approached the buildings, the group getting somber as the buildings began distinguishing themselves.
"There's so many," Willow whispered, her voice shaking. Even Xander was having a hard time maintaining his goofy cheerfulness that he was known for.
"I'm beginning to think maybe her silence is not only physical in nature," Giles said as the grass finally gave way to the concrete of the buildings, "but also psychological."
"Ya think?" Xander snarked. "I've never even taken any psychology classes and I know that something like The Ring would leave you messed up."
"What's happening?" Willow asked. She was sure she read about something like this in her psychology class, but between the Professor turning into Dr. Frankenstein and her own personal problems she was going through at that time, she couldn't for the life of her remember.
"I believe we are witnessing two psychological conditions," Giles explained knowingly. "The first is forgetting for basic survival. It's a fairly common result of long term captivity. The only way to survive is to forget everything about their former lives."
"So the only part of her life she can remember is the hell they put her through?" Xander asked. Giles nodded.
"Unfortunately," he agreed. "The second is compartmentalizing. I think she remembers everything she's been through since being captured by The Ring, only she's boxing the memories up and putting them away. Somewhere they can't hurt her."
"So not only is that all she remembers," Xander amended, horrified by the thought, "but she remembers it all?"
"So it would seem," Giles said solemnly. They stopped walking in the middle of the buildings. Giles began to study the buildings.
"How do you know these things?" Xander asked, his respect for the man increasing.
"I do know how to research more than dusty old tomes," he told them. "Unfortunately old books are much more direct than matters of the mind."
"She's hiding," Willow said, finally understanding what was happening in her friend's mind. Giles nodded.
"But where?" Giles asked. He began leading them through the various buildings.
"But she's safe now," Willow argued. "She can come out of hiding."
"I doubt she realizes that," Giles said, studying the buildings as they walked.
"Giles," Xander interrupted, pointing into the distance. "There's no mark on that one." Giles turned, studying the building intently before walking towards it.
"That's the one I think."
"There's the Horsemen," Willow said, pointing to the next building over. The group stopped between the two buildings.
"Which one?" Xander asked, looking back and forth.
"The unmarked one," Giles said after a minute. Xander nodded, leading the way through the door that suddenly appeared. He had just crossed the threshold when the First Slayer jumped him.
"Giles!" he shouted, automatically falling into his fighting stance. Giles and Willow rushed over to help, but he was able to flip the Slayer on her back and subdue her. "Okay. That shouldn't have happened." The Slayer snarled, throwing a fist at his face, but he was able to grab her fist midair. "Giles?" he asked.
"Umm," he said, perplexed. He pulled Xander back and the three of them stood and watched the First Slayer. "Are you okay?" he asked cautiously, not really expecting an answer. She merely growled.
"Is this because of what happened?" Willow asked. "The Slayer in chains?"
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "While it's true they did horrible things to Buffy, the Slayer shouldn't have been affected."
"Maybe she's helping Buffy," Xander thought. "Taking part of Buffy's tortures as her own."
"Possibly," Giles admitted. "Buffy and the Slayer have certainly united like no other Slayers ever have."
"I grow weary," the First Slayer suddenly said. "Soon I shall sleep."
"You can sleep now," Giles told her carefully. "You're safe now. Among friends."
"Friends," she whispered, looking at them hopefully. She smiled before slowly disappearing, the chains clanking to the floor once she was gone.
"Okay," Xander said, watching the floor where the Slayer stood. "This just keeps getting weirder and weirder." The others nodded before looking around. They found themselves in a hallway that stretched on either side of them for what seemed forever.
"Where are we Giles," Willow asked again, moving to the door they just came through. It was locked. "Which part of Buffy is this?"
"I'm not sure," he said, trying another door. He could hear movement on the other side, but it too was locked. Xander moved to a third door, which opened. He stuck his head in, only to pull it out a second later and slam the door.
"What is it?" Willow asked. Xander had gone pale and was shaking. She reached for the knob, but Xander quickly stopped her.
"Let's just say that door really needs a mark." Willow paled as she realized what he meant, while Giles closed his eyes in dismay.
"Good Lord," he murmured. "This is where her encounters go until they can be properly filed." He looked down the never ending hallway in disgust. "Come on." He walked down the hallway at random, the other two following him. Occasionally they would try a door, feeling dismay when it wouldn't open and disgust when it did. Finally, the hallway came to an end. They faced the largest set of double doors they had ever seen. Giles reached out, turning the knob easily, and was just about to push it open when a voice stopped him.
"Please don't." They turned to find Buffy standing behind them, the First Slayer behind her.
"Buffy." Relief colored Giles's words as he rushed toward the girl, but he stopped short when she flinched from his touch. "Buffy?" He asked a million different questions with that one name. She shook her head from side to side, backing up a couple steps.
"Please don't," she repeated. She continued to back up, but was stopped by the Slayer, who stood her ground.
"Buffy," Willow tried. "It's us. Your friends."
"I don't have any friends," she said, heartbroken with the statement.
"I'm sorry it took us so long to find you," Xander said, "but you're safe now. They can't hurt you." Buffy laughed manically at that statement.
"All they ever do is hurt me," she cackled. "And no one can ever stop that."
"We can," Giles insisted. "We simply need some information and we can shut them down permanently."
"I wish I could believe you," Buffy said, sliding down to the ground and curling into a ball, "but we've played this game before. There is no escape for me. They own me."
"No they don't," Willow insisted. "Your mom found you and brought you back home. You're safe, but they are still trying to hurt you. They're desperate to keep the information you know from seeing the light of day. Desperate enough to try and kill you."
"Kill me?" Buffy asked, confused. "I'm already dead."
"No you're not," Xander insisted, "but they still try and eventually someone will die. Faith or Daniel or one of the Scoobies." He paused, glancing at her appraisingly before speaking again. "One of you kids."
"Kids?" she asked, getting shakily to her feet and staring hopefully at him. "They made it?"
"Two of them did," Willow said sadly. "One didn't."
"Alexandra Joyce," Xander said softly, inching his way forward, "and William Giles. They're beautiful Buff." With that Buffy fell sobbing into his arms. Willow moved in and hugged her friend from the other side, while Giles watched the heartwarming reunion tearfully. Eventually they pulled away.
"I wish I could know them," Buffy said sadly.
"You can," Willow insisted. "The only person keeping you trapped here is you. And I get it. This is your safe place. The place where they can't hurt you. But all that is over. I know it won't be easy, but the only people waiting for you are your family. And we'll do whatever it takes to help you get through this."
"Thanks Will," Buffy said, wiping several tears away, "but I don't know how to leave, even if I wanted to."
"How about we start with who did this to you," Giles said. Buffy shook her head.
"I can't," she admitted. "I don't know."
"You don't know," Giles repeated, trying to control his anger. He looked around before realization dawned. "You don't remember anything before your re-education and conditioning?"
"No," Buffy shook her head, tears rolling down her cheek. "There's a building with a marking I don't know, but I've never been able to get into it."
"Buffy," he started, stepping forward again. This time she didn't flinch. "I think your memories, and the answers we're looking for, are behind that door. Have you ever opened it?"
"No. I can't." She started shaking at the mere thought.
"You can," he told her, heading toward the door once more. The Slayer growled warningly, but he ignored her. Instead he put his hand on the knob and turned.
"Please don't," she begged again. Giles sighed, releasing the knob but not moving his hand.
"What are you afraid of Buffy?" he asked tiredly, finally turning to face her.
"If you open that door," she said timidly, "they all will open." He thought about how best to soothe her but Xander beat him to it.
"If you don't open that door they win," he said simply. "And I know you're stronger than a bunch of demons on your worst day." She closed her eyes and nodded. Giles twisted the knob for the third time, this time actually applying force to the door. It didn't move. He looked back at his Slayer. The First Slayer was whispering something into her ear, but he couldn't make it out. Suddenly Buffy shot to her feet, a determination shining in her eyes that he realized he missed sorely.
"I can't go through it," she said, somehow managing to keep her voice steady, "but I can open it for you. Just don't think too badly of me."
"Never dear girl," he told her, smiling softly. She returned the smile slightly, before pulling open the door. On the other side was chaos, a nightmarishly hellish place that had no reason of any kind. Buffy was cowering behind the door as if that could keep the sights and sounds from reaching her. Giles held out his hands to Willow and Xander, wincing slightly at their tight grip.
"See you soon," Xander said, and as one they stepped into a living hell.