Assurances

Disclaimer: All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of Joss Whedon, Warner Brothers, UPN . This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

"Buffy, uh," Joyce cleared her throat uncomfortably and Buffy looked expectantly at her, "I'm gonna ask you something, a-and if I'm, if I'm being crazy you just tell me, okay?"

Buffy nodded. "You got it."

"The other day ... well, actually, I'm, I'm not sure when, the days seem to all bleed together..."

"It's not important."

"No, I guess it isn't. I do know I was…pretty out of it, and I had ... not, not a dream ... exactly, more like I had this ... knowledge, i-it just came to me like... truth, you know?" Buffy frowned a little anxious. "Even though it didn't seem...possible, even though I shouldn't even think such things."

"What?"

"That Dawn..."

Buffy's eyes widened and she froze waiting for the next words to come from her mother's mouth but dreading that she already knew what they'd be.

"She's not ... mine, is she?"

Buffy stared at her mom in shock, her heart beating rapidly before looking down. Could she tell her the truth? Should she tell her when she was about to have major surgery? She could tell her she was imagining things and try to put her fears to rest but… she'd lied to her mother too much since her arrival in Sunnydale and she had a right to know. Maybe it would be better for all of them if she did. With resolve she looked her mother in the eye.

"No."

Joyce sat for a moment in silence trying to absorb what her daughter had just said, and what it meant for them. Dawn was her daughter. No matter what else had happened, she had no doubt of the feelings that ran through her. Dawn was her daughter and nothing could change that.

"She's ... she does belong to us, though."

"Yes, she does."

"And she's important. To the world. Precious." Buffy nodded and Joyce looked lovingly up at her "As precious as you are to me."

Buffy smiled and nodded again, her mother mirroring her movements before speaking, her voice filled with determination.

"Then we have to take care of her. Buffy, promise me. If anything happens, if I don't come through this-"

"Mom-"

"No, listen to me. No matter what she is, she still feels like my daughter. I have to know that you'll take care of her, that you'll keep her safe. That you'll love her like I love you."

Buffy couldn't help the tears that welled in her eyes at her mother's words.

"I promise."

"Good. Good."

Buffy reached down and hugged her mother while Joyce held her as close to her as possible.

"Oh, my sweet brave Buffy. What would I do without you?"

Buffy hugged her even tighter the panic filling her again as immediately she asked herself what would she do without her mother. She wondered if she had any idea how much she meant to her. Joyce was the heart of her life, if anything ever happened to her….

A light knocking caused them to pull back and Buffy smiled at her mother.

"Rupert."

"Sorry, I'm not interrupting anything am I?"

"Of course not. Please come in."

Giles smiled and took the seat beside the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"As well as can be expected I suppose." She smiled at him and then turned to Buffy. "Buffy could you give me and Mr Giles a few minutes alone?"

Confused Buffy looked between Giles' surprised face and her mother. "Sure, I could do with a coffee anyway. Giles?"

"Uh no Buffy. Thank you."

She leaned down and kissed her mother on the cheek. "Be back soon."

Joyce nodded. "Ok honey." She smiled as her daughter left the room.

"Is there something I can do for you?" Giles asked helpfully, wishing to be of some use during all this.

Joyce nodded. "I want you to take care of the girls for me." He blinked and she sighed. "There's a chance…a chance I won't come out of this and I need-"

"Joyce, you'll be fine." He tried to reassure her touching her hand lightly.

"No Rupert!" her determined and pleading voice silenced him. "I need to know they'll be well looked after. You...you're more of a father to them then Hank has ever been."

"You have my word. I will look after them both to the best of my ability." He squeezed her hand and she closed her eyes sighing in relief before looking at him again smiling crookedly.

"You have no idea how much of a comfort that is." She fidgeted with the starch white sheet beneath her fingertips. " I never told you how much I appreciated what you've done for Buffy, for all of us."

He coloured and looked uncomfortably down at the bed cover. "There's no need."

She shook her head. "Yes there is. You've always looked after Buffy, even when I didn't know it. I'm sorry I blamed you for her leaving, I didn't mean it." She smiled nervously at him. " You've always looked after her and I know you'll look after them both if anything…happens. They both need you. They love you so much."

"And I love them too. I can't imagine loving them any more if they were my own daughters."

"Good. Good." She swallowed. "You have to…you have to help Buffy. Help her protect Dawn."

His startled eyes met hers. "Dawn?"

"It's ok Rupert, I...I know. I guess I always have in some small way but it was only recently..." she shook her head tiredly. "It's a shock but…she's my daughter and I love her."

"Oh Joyce." He lowered his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose as she continued.

"Buffy has to protect her. That's why they sent her to us, to me, because my daughter's the slayer and she's the best person to take care of her."

Giles nodded mutely.

"Then that, if for no other reason, is why I'm glad my daughter is the slayer. They've both given me so much joy Rupert, I wouldn't change a second of it."

"You're a good mother Joyce."

"And you're a good father Rupert." She told him sincerely and he smiled happily at her. She looked off into the distance reflecting, words spilling from her lips as she thought aloud.

"This is the last thing they need isn't it?"

"How do you mean?"

"Buffy, she's a slayer, she has responsibilities. You've said so yourself on more then one occasion, and I'm not just talking about her nighttime activities. She has college and friends and Riley, she shouldn't have to deal with this. She has enough on her plate. And Dawn…Dawn's just a little girl, barely a teenager. She shouldn't have to know about hospitals or chemotherapy or how doctors perform brain surgery. The biggest worry she should have is whether to wear her hair up or leave it down. It's not fair on them, is it?"

"Joyce this is not your fault."

She refocused on him a frown on her face. "It doesn't make it any better Rupert. I'll still be leaving them."

"Don't talk like that."

"Who will pay the bills and go to Dawn's parent-teacher meetings? Who'll make sure the clothes are washed and dry and have a hot dinner waiting for the girl's when they come home?"

"Joyce please." He whispered desperately.

"I'm sorry, you're right," she shook her head, "I know I'll get through this, I do. It's just…I worry about them, I can't help it. They're my girls and I don't want to leave them alone. I need to know they're safe and taken care of."

She smiled at him kindly. "Thank you for looking after them for me. Before you say anything, I'm not being pessimistic, I'm just glad to know someone will be watching out for them if, and I mean if, cos it probably won't happen, but if anything should happen. I doubt Hank would be of much help to them."

"I'm sure he'd do his bit." Giles replied trying to sound optimistic about a man he'd never met. A man who had next to nothing to do with his children.

Joyce smiled derisively. "You've never met Hank have you?"

"No, I've not had that pleasure," he replied.

"I'm thinking after this is all over, we could go on a holiday. Just the three of us, me, Dawn and Buffy." She had a dreamy look in her eyes. "W-would that be alright. Can slayers take holidays?"

"I'm sure something can be arranged. After all we did manage a whole summer without her, a few days shouldn't be too much of a bother." He smiled tightly, thoughts immediately going to Glory but not wanting to dampen Joyce's enthusiasm.

"I was thinking maybe just a long weekend shopping in New York. Dawn's never been to New York and Buffy was only six that one time we went with Hank on a business trip," she continued. "It should be fun."

"Yes. I believe they'd enjoy it."

"Excuse me Mrs Summers, we'll be taking you up in about ten minutes." The nurse smiled pleasantly.

"Thank you." She said as the brunette left. "Rupert would you get the girls for me?"

"Of course." He strode to the door and paused turning around. "You're strong Joyce, I know now where Buffy gets her strength from. You'll make it through this," he told her striding out to find her children.

"Mom!" Dawn rushed in and hugged her mother fiercely.

"Hey sweetie."

"Dawn, not so tight."

"It's alright Buffy," Joyce reassured her daughter.

Dawn pulled back her eyes wide and open, "Mom, you're going to be alright r-right? I mean I-I don't want anything to happen."

"Oh, honey I'm going to be just fine."

"You promise?"

"I promise. I love you both so much." She held out her hand for her other daughter to join in their hug. She closed her eyes savouring the feeling of her two favourite girls in her arms, their heads resting on her shoulders.

"We're ready for you now Mrs Summers," the nurse interrupted.

"Of course. I have to go girls," she whispered to them.

"We'll be waiting for you," Buffy said, her arms around her sister walking behind as they wheeled her away and out of sight.

She looked back as she moved further away from them. They were all there. All the people who cared for her and her daughters a sombre look on all their faces but the last thing she saw as she counted backwards from ten were her daughters holding each other in solidarity.

XXXXXXXXXX

Giles thumbed through the inflight magazine not seeing anything in it. He stuffed it in the pocket in front of him in frustration and closed his eyes as the pilot told them they would arrive in Heathrow in a few hours.

He argued with himself again that he was in fact doing the right thing in leaving. Buffy relied too much on him and needed to learn to stand on her own two feet. She needed to grow up.

He sighed.

Was he doing the right thing?

He hadn't even stayed to say goodbye. He'd left the shop when Anya went into the store room babbling awkwardly so they wouldn't have to deal with the even more awkward silence.

Hauntingly Joyce's words came back to him as if she were whispering in his ear.

"I need to know they'll be well looked after. You...you're more of a father to them then Hank has ever been."

He fidgetted in his seat again. He'd promised her he'd look after them. What a job he'd made of it! Dawn had been kidnapped by an evil God and Buffy had died to save her! And of course he'd run back to England after that leaving Dawn in the capable hands of a bunch of emotional young adults, barely out of their teens, well apart from Anya and Spike, but that was beside the point.

He shouldn't have left them then, and maybe he shouldn't be leaving them now. Especially after Buffy's little musical rendition.

The passenger beside him glared annoyingly at him and he mumbled an apology trying to sit still.

Maybe it wasn't the right decision, but maybe it was.

He stilled as a faded memory came back to him. They were sitting in the living room, Joyce was nervous about Buffy going to college. He'd tried to reassure her and she'd smiled kindly and said something that had stayed with him.

"There are two things that parents give their children. Roots and wings. Why is it that the wings is the hard part?"

She'd shook her head and laughed sardonically.

Roots and wings.

Buffy needed to use her wings and while he was there she wouldn't, not really. It was time she spread them and used them the way they were meant to be.

He relaxed back into the chair and closed his eyes as the lights dimmed and sleep drifted by. As he entered deep slumber he thought he could hear a whispered

"Thank you."

Finis