Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, Inc. own these characters. I thank them for allowing me to use them without suing my butt

Author's Note: Some of our friends receive a visit. Of course, this never happened. But hey, I do that a lot. The story is set sometime in season 7, Between 'Sleeper' and 'Bring on the night'. I do hope you enjoy it. Read and review, if you will

True Hearts

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There was a pall cast over the house at 1650 Revello Drive. The First Evil, and how it was affecting the people living there. The stress of so many people sharing the house. Spike, his return with a soul, and how the First seemed to have some hold on him. Buffy's own fear that she will fail these people she has come to care for. Willow, and her fear to use magic. Dawn, how she always felt left out of the important things. The strain was beginning to tell in the quiet grumblings heard, and the guilty looks all around.

It is night at the Revello household. Most are asleep, but some have a harder time sleeping than others. Worry, doubt, and fear make for a restless night.

Because of the overcrowding, Buffy and Dawn are sharing a room. Both are having troubling dreams, as is evidenced by their tossing and turning. In the darkness appears a small glow. Almost invisible at first, it gradually brightens and solidifies. It finally resolves itself into the form of Joyce Summers.

Joyce watches her daughters sleep, and her heart aches for them. She knows the troubles they are going through, and the troubles to come. She, like any mother, would do anything to take these burdens on for her children. But she knows she can't; she can only watch, and help where she can. She walks over, and looks down at her eldest daughter. You can see the love and pride in her eyes. " She has come so far, my little girl" Joyce muses. It grieves her that her daughter is so full of  doubt and pain, but she hopes to be able to help her in a small way. She walks over and looks down at Dawn, and her face is softened by her youngest. She loves her dearly, and sees great things ahead for her. She lightly brushes a stray hair out of Dawn's face, and smiles lovingly at her. She would love to let them sleep, to just watch over them. But she knows her time is short, and she has to talk to them before she goes.

" Babies. Wake up. I need to talk to you" Joyce gently shakes her daughters.

Buffy is having a nightmare. She is confronted by the First, and the First is telling her how she has failed. Failed again. Everyone she loves and cares about will die, and it will be her fault. Buffy is running, but the First is pursuing her, saying she can run as fast and far as she can, but she cannot escape the truth. Buffy wakes with a start, and sees her mother standing over her.

Dawn is also in a nightmare. She is fighting at Buffy's side, trying to kill a demon that is attacking them. But she fails, and watches as her sister is killed before her eyes. She screams " NOOOOOO" , but the sense of loss and failure haunts her. She runs away, and wakes slowly…seeing her mother standing at the beside.

Joyce smiles at her daughters. " Hello, darlings"

Buffy's eyes are wide. She backs away from the person she thinks she sees before her. It's a trick, she thinks, I know it's a trick. It has to be the First

Dawn is confused. She knows the First can come to them as someone dead. But she doesn't sense the First here. But she is wary, because the First has fooled her before.

"Hello, Buffy, hello Dawn. It's good to see you. I have missed you both" Joyce says, seeing their nervousness. " Don't worry, it's me"

" Dawn, it's a trick. The First is trying to trick us" Buffy says to her sister. Dawn nods, but isn't totally convinced.

"Buffy, I know you are afraid. Good reason to be. The First is very powerful, and likes to make you doubt yourself. But there is something the first can't do that I can. She can't touch you. Not physically." Joyce tries to reassure her oldest daughter." The Powers that Be knew you would be suspicious, so the gave me a physical form, though only briefly"

With that, Joyce reaches out and lightly brushes Buffy's face with her hand. Buffy, feeling her mom's warm hand on her cheek, is bewildered. She so wants to believe this is her mother, she so needs her mother, that the tears begin to form in her eyes.

" Mom…mommy?" Buffy starts to cry

" Mommy!!!!!" Dawn is convinced, and throws her arms around Joyce.

Joyce smiles, and takes both of her daughters into an embrace. Buffy and Dawn, their tears flowing freely, both kiss their mother again and again, not daring to believe she is really here, and so wanting to believe.

Joyce gently breaks the embrace, and sits down on the bed with her daughters

" We have much to talk about, and there is so little time" Joyce says, with a tinge of regret.

"You…you're leaving?" Dawn is ready to cry again.

" Shhh, Dawnie" Joyce soothes her youngest daughter. " I'm still dead, honey. I only have been granted a short reprieve because the Powers realize you both need a little encouragement to carry on with what you have to do."

"Dawn, honey, I know things have been difficult for you. You always feel like you are being left out of things." Joyce begins, turning to her youngest. " But, you have to realize that sometimes there are things that you're just not ready for yet. And if you think you are being left out, it is only because Buffy is trying to protect you. It grates, but it is done out of love. Buffy won't say it, but she is very proud of you" Dawn looks down, a little chastened. But her mouth has a tiny smile at the last words her mother spoke

" Also, Dawn, I know how proud you are of Buffy, and how much you want to be just like her. But you're not her, Dawn. You have your own gifts, your own unique contributions. We all know you are not my daughter by birth, but by spirit. But you have two parents, Dawn, that you get your gifts from. From Buffy, you get your heart, your courage, and your strength. Your other parent, Willow" At this, both girls looks shocked " Yes, dears, Willow is Dawn's other parent. They wanted her to be not only human, but unique. Not just a part of Buffy, but a human in her own right." Joyce continues, " Anyway, from Willow you get your interest in Magic, and your love of learning. Which reminds me, young lady, stop goofing off in school. I know you can do a lot better than you are doing" Joyce chastises her daughter, but with love. Dawn looks down, a little embarrassed. Joyce goes on, " From both your parents, you get your quirky sense of humor, your love of life, and your sense of wonder. Dawn, in time you are going to do many great things. I know you are impatient , you want it now. But give it time, it will happen. Don't try to be your sister, Dawn. Be yourself."

Dawn sits, amazed. She is overwhelmed by it all, and for once, doesn't speak. She is trying to digest all she has just heard.

Buffy has been sitting quietly, listening to her mother. She knows she is not in for such an easy time of  it. She knows she has let her down, and is afraid of what her mother has to say to her. " ah, well. No big. I probably need to hear this" Buffy thinks, but she is so not looking forward to it.

Joyce turns to her eldest daughter, and takes her face in her hands

" Ah, Buffy. My poor Buffy" She begins, her heart aching for her oldest child. She smiles at her. " I remember how Celia gave you that name, because she couldn't say " Bethy". The memory is sweet to both women. " You have had to take on so much. I do wish I could have been here to help you, but that is something that's just beyond our control. I want you to know, my love, how proud of you I am" Joyce sees her daughter's lip tremble, knowing it means tears are on the way. " Of course I am proud of you. You have taken on so much more than a woman your age should have to. And you have done your best by everyone. I know how hard it has been for you to readjust to life , after dying.  I was worried for so long that you wouldn't readjust. But your love for your sister" Joyce turns and smiles at Dawn  " Got you through it."

" You are your own harshest critic, Buffy" Joyce continues. " You are always questioning yourself, feeling you have let everyone down. Honey, I can tell you that you're doing a wonderful job. You need to start trusting yourself more. Believe what your heart tells you, Buffy. Do your best, and give it your all. No one can ask you to do more."

Buffy is crying now. She hugs her mother tightly " Oh, mom. I have missed you so much. It has been so hard."

Joyce soothes her daughter " I know , baby. But it will get better. I promise. If you trust yourself, and let those around you help you  as they want to, you will prevail."

Joyce gently disengages from her daughter, and takes both her daughter's hands.

" I am sorry, babies. But I have to leave now. Just remember I am always with you, and that I love you" Joyce smiles one final time at her daughters. She begins to glow, then shimmers, and fades away.

Both girls now are crying, hard. They look at each other, and fall into a hug. They cling together, but they are not sad.

Their hearts are so much lighter now.

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Willow can't sleep. She is worried about all that is happening, and especially about Buffy. She knows that Buffy is taking things especially hard, and is worried her best friend will go shut down. Like when she came back from death. A little twinge of guilt goes through Willow as she remembers that she pulled her friend out of Paradise to return here.

Willow is afraid. She is afraid of using her magic. That she will lose control, and become that…thing … she was. It scares her, and she feel so alone right now. That no one understands, or cares what she is going through.

She opens the refrigerator, hoping to find some little snack to help her sleep. After a quick search of the contents, she settles on some milk. As she closes the door, and turns, she nearly drops the carton. For there is Tara, standing before her, smiling.

" Who are you?" Willow questions, not believing her eyes

She instinctively backs up, a little afraid. She is afraid that the First is playing with her. She eyes Tara suspiciously.

" It is me, baby. Tara" Tara smiles at her.

" This could be a trick. The First likes to play tricks. How do I know it's you ? " Willow is wanting to believe, but her heart is still suspicious.

Tara smiles at Willow, and replies " Well, we could talk about some intimate things only you and I should know" Tara blushes a little bit, and Willow blushes even more, " But that probably wouldn't convince you. So how about this?"

Tara walks over to Willow, takes her hand and lightly places a small kiss on her lips.

Willow shivers a little at the sweet contact, but is convinced. She knows the First cannot take physical form, cannot touch anyone.

"T-T-Tara , Baby?" Willow stutters, a bit overwhelmed. " How? Why? What?" is all she can manage.

" It's ok, Willow. I know it is confusing. But the Powers that Be see there are problems here, and that some of you need a little encouragement. So they sent me to you, to talk. I don't have much time, honey, so we have to talk now" Tara smiles at her lover.

Willow can't help but feel disappointment that she won't have Tara back. But she listens. She knows better than to question mystical things.

" Willow, honey, I know you have been going through some very rough times. With your trouble controlling your powers, My death, and giving over to the dark within you, you have been severely tested. I wish I could make it easier for you, baby, but sometimes you have to deal with these things the best you can. They are a test of your true self."

Tara continues " You've lost faith in yourself, Willow. You don't trust yourself anymore. But I wanted you to know that I believe in you, baby. I always have".

Willow stands quietly. She doesn't know how to react to Tara's words.

" Even the time when we were apart, I believed in you Willow. I was worried that you were using your magic too much, but I never stopped loving or believing that you would do the right thing. You are a special person, Willow. An ancient soul. Like all of us, you have darkness within you, but for the most part, you keep it away from you. You're much stronger than you think, Willow. Not only in magic; you are indeed a very powerful Wicca. But mainly, you are strong in courage and character. You have much to do, Willow, and now you have to draw on those gifts. You have to believe that you can control the darkness within you, because now more than ever you are needed."

Willow feels tears threatening, but she is fighting hard to hold back. She knows that she has to listen

" Things will be coming to a head soon. Very soon. Thing will change. People you think are enemies will be by your side to fight this evil. Accept them, because they come to make atonement for past wrongs. Others will need you, more than ever. Buffy is very, very discouraged right now. It has been very hard on her, losing her best friend, her confidant. You need to be there more for her, Willow. And she needs the power you have. This fight is not going to be easy. It is not going to be clear who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Don't fear what you have been given, but embrace it. Be strong, because now is your real test."

Willow feels the tears on her cheek. " But how? I don't understand. I am so scared, Tara. What if I go evil again? What if I harm those I love?"

Tara takes Willow in her arms, and hugs her. " Don't fear, baby" She soothes the scared Wicca. " Trust your heart. It won't lead you wrong"

Tara gently disengages from Willow. She smiles at Willow , and blows her a kiss " I have to go, love. Be brave. I know you can do it." She shimmers, and fades.

Willow is hugging herself, feeling better, and worse. The milk forgotten, she heads back upstairs to her room. She needs to think, to figure it all out.

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Far from Revello Drive, seemingly a world away, a man is sitting in his parlor. He is contemplating the glass of scotch in his hand, and his face reflects the trouble he is feeling.

Rupert Giles is worried. With the destruction of the Watcher's Council, and the threat of  the First Evil, the times are hard on him. He's having problems figuring out how he can help, where he fits into this latest challenge. Most of all, his thoughts are on his daughter; rather, the young woman he has grown to think of as his daughter. He feels sorrow at their…separation. He wants nothing more than to go to her, to comfort her and stand by her. But he also knows she cannot grow unless he stays away. He takes a drink of the scotch, and tries to put his mind to other things. But it keeps going back to Buffy. He nearly drops his glass when he feels a hand on his shoulder.

He is out of his chair in a flash , and turns around. He nearly drops his scotch again when he sees who is there. Jenny Calendar smiles at him, with a mischievous gleam in her eye. She walks to him, and takes his glass.

" I think you have had enough of this tonight, Rupert" She says lightly. " By the way, it is good to see you too"

"What? Jenny? This is impossible. It is some trick of the First" He stutters, simply not accepting what he is seeing

" No trick, Rupert. What do you know about the First?" Jenny replies, setting the glass on the table.

" Not a lot, I fear" Giles replies " Most of the resources of the Watcher's Council have been lost"

Jenny sighs, a bit impatient " One thing you do know, Rupert, is the first can't do this" She walks over to Giles, and lightly kisses him.

Giles is a bit stunned, but remains still.

"Still no? Rupert, we both know the First cannot take physical form. I couldn't kiss you, you couldn't feel my lips, if I were the First. I swear, sometimes, for such an intelligent man, you can be a brick" Jenny gently laughs at him.

" Yes, well…" Giles tries to cover. " Why are you here?"

"Always straight to the point Rupert?" Jenny flirts a little. " Haven't you missed me just a little?"

Giles sighs, and hides behind cleaning his glasses. He has missed Jenny every day of his life since Angelus killed her 5 years ago.

Jenny comes over, and lightly touches his cheek. " It's ok, Rupert, I know. I know how you feel. I have missed you too" She kisses his cheek.

"I am here, Rupert" She begins," Because the Powers that Be sense you are troubled, and need some encouragement. They sent me because they felt you might listen to me"

She takes his chin and lifts it " It is time, Rupert" She looks into his eyes. " It is time to return to Sunnydale"

"What?" is all Giles can manage

" She needs you , Rupert. The girl you think of a daughter really needs you now" Jenny says. "Oh, I know all about it, Rupert. Even when I was alive I could tell you had a special affection for your slayer." She smiles. " I actually thought it was one of your nicer qualities"

Rupert turns away, trying to hide the tears in his eyes. Jenny pats him affectionately

" Now, now , you old stuffed Bear" She chides him. " It is quite ok to feel"

" But the important thing right now, Rupert, is that you be with her. She needs all those who love her by her side. This battle with the First will be the hardest yet, and without the support she so depends on, it could have a tragic outcome"

Giles is visibly shaken by these words.

" So you see, Rupert, it is very important you go to her now. But one thing you have to keep in mind. Something important, that you have to try not to forget. She is no longer the little girl you left behind, Rupert. She is no longer the child who runs to you when things get tough. She has grown, grown a lot since you were there. She has had to take on responsibilities, and she makes decisions that would be hard for an adult your age. So, when you go back, you are not going back to try to lead her. You are going back to support her."

Jenny continues." There are things she will do that you don't understand. Trust her, Rupert. She has grown up. You have done well by her, and she is more perceptive than she seems at times. You will make one big mistake, Rupert, but she will forgive you for it. Just go to her, and support her. That is what she needs now"

Rupert hangs his head. He feels he has abandoned Buffy, and he feels shame

Jenny comes to him, and lifts his chin. " Don't feel shame, Rupert. You did the right thing. Buffy needed to be forced to grow. But now is the time to go to her once again. Trust your heart, Rupert. It won't steer you wrong ."

" I have to go, Rupert, my time here is brief."

" I will never see you again, will I? " Giles says, feeling his heart sink

"Probably not in this life. The Powers that be give us what we need. It's not always what we want. But, silly man" pressing her palm to his heart,  " I will always be here with you" She sees how sad he looks, so she takes him in her arms, and presses a kiss to his lips. She shimmers, and fades away.

Giles stands still for a moment, savoring the last touch of Jenny's lips. Then his face resolves, and he goes to the phone. He calls and books a flight to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles a commuter flight to Sunnydale. When he is finished, he sits back down in his chair. He reaches for his glass of scotch, but changes his mind.

He contemplates what has happened, and what is going to happen. Somehow, his heart no longer is troubled, but finds the courage to do what needs to be done. He believes in his soul that if your heart is true, if you hold to your beliefs, you will in the end prevail.

He thinks about the future, and is confident.

Fin

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While working on "Summer of faith" this story kept rumbling around in my mind. It finally would no longer be denied. I hope you enjoy it, and will read and review it. Thank you  =)