Summary: Joyce is faced with a terrible choice.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: The end of "I Was Made To Love You" through the end of "The Body." (spoilers).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


A MOTHER'S CHOICE


Joyce blinked in disorientation: she had just been in her living room, getting ready to swing by the gallery for some paperwork she needed for a new shipment, and finding herself in what appeared to be an airport waiting room was-to put it mildly-distressing. She began examining her surroundings, looking for a clue to what had brought her there, and saw nothing helpful until she heard footsteps from behind her. She turned and saw a tall, slender dark-haired woman wearing a simple white dress walking towards her with a smile on her face. Joyce was momentarily at a loss, then remembered a terribly unpleasant event from three years ago that had only been fully explained to her later on. She blinked and whispered, "Miss Calendar?"

The younger woman nodded, then replied quietly, "You can call me Jenny, Mrs. Summers. . .I have a feeling we'll be getting along rather well." She smiled wistfully, then added, "We have a lot in common."

Joyce raised an eyebrow and replied, "First, my name is Joyce. . .my daughter and her friends spoke very highly of you to me. Second, what am I doing here? Lastly, aren't you dead?"


Jenny smiled and responded, "I'd be glad to call you Joyce. You're here because you have to make a decision. . .and yes, I'm still dead." She indicated their surroundings with a gesture and explained, "This place is a crossroads. . .a place where the dead pass through on their way to the afterlife. . .you see it in this way because you unconsciously expected it to look like this."

Joyce laughed bitterly, then commented, "I always thought that I lacked imagination." She blinked, then looked into Jenny's dark eyes as she whispered, "So that's it then. . .I'm dead. Not much fanfare, was there?"

Jenny smiled, then sighed and responded, "Not just yet. . .which is why you have a choice." Seeing Joyce's confused expression, she elaborated, "Occasionally, there is a certain amount of uncertainty in the way in which a human being is destined to die. . .in cases where that uncertainty can have a substantial impact on the way things come to pass, the Powers That Be send an emissary to offer that person a choice as to how they will meet their end." Jenny gestured for Joyce to follow her, and they walked until they reached a clear window that looked directly into the living room of the Summers house. Joyce could see herself standing there, reaching for her temples with an expression of mild discomfort on her face. Joyce sighed in comprehension, and Jenny confirmed her suspicions: "Yes. . .they warned you about the possibility of an aneurysm, and it has come to pass. Your death is now inevitable, and rather soon."

Joyce turned to Jenny, and her face was angry and frustrated as she snapped, "Sounds like everything is set in stone already." She saw Jenny's expression turn compassionate, and the sight calmed Joyce as she asked, "So, what choice do I have to make?"

Jenny pointed at the window again, and the view briefly changed to that of Buffy walking at the UC Sunnydale campus, then to Dawn sitting in her Geometry class. Jenny and Joyce watched for a moment before Jenny replied, "The first choice would be to simply let things progress. . .Buffy is too far away to do anything for you, even if she knew you were in danger and started immediately. The aneurysm bursts, and you die rather quickly. . .Buffy will come home and find you, and will inform Dawn and the others, who will be almost as devastated as Buffy and Dawn. Your ex-husband will not be easily located, and Buffy will have to shoulder the responsibility of raising Dawn with the help of her friends for the foreseeable future."

Joyce closed her eyes in pain for a moment, then turned back to Jenny and commented sarcastically, "Well, that sounds just wonderful. . .what's the other option?"

Jenny met her eyes and replied quietly, "You get enough warning of the aneurysm to call 911, and the paramedics get you to the hospital in time to stabilize you. You survive, but the doctors quickly find that the aftereffects of the surgery and the aneurysm leave you with a terminal prognosis, within six to eight weeks. As before, you have moments of incoherence, but you have enough clarity to put your affairs in order and to say goodbye to Buffy, Dawn, and their friends before the inevitable end comes."

Joyce frowns and comments, "Doesn't sound like that choice should be very difficult. . .what's the catch?"

Jenny inclined her head at the window, and a new scene appeared: a luxurious apartment, containing several crusty looking creatures apparently engaged in serving the whims of a blonde woman in a red dress. Joyce had never seen the woman before, but she had listened to enough of Buffy and Giles discussing the threat to her family to recognize her. Her eyes narrowed and she spit out the name like a curse: "Glory."

Jenny nodded and elaborated, "Her time is growing short, and she will become increasingly ruthless in her attempts to find the Key. . .she will inevitably discover that Dawn is the Key, and Buffy will very sensibly decide to flee. . .but there will be a complication."

Joyce closed her eyes again and whispered, "Me."

Jenny smiled sadly and nodded, "You will be too ill to be moved. . .Buffy will be faced with the choice of staying or leaving you behind to become a potential hostage for Glory, or perhaps for the Knights of Byzantium."

Joyce's eyes narrowed, and she snapped, "I'd end it right there before I'd let Buffy be in that situation."

"I know, Joyce," Jenny replied gently, "but it won't be that simple. . .if you make the choice to go on, you won't remember any of this. . .and even if you came to the conclusion to end your life on your own, think of what that would do to Buffy and Dawn at the very moment they were already under more stress than they had ever been before."

Joyce sighed, then asked quietly, "So you're saying that if I choose to live, Buffy and Dawn will die?"

Jenny shook her head and replied, "No matter what decision you make, they will be in grave danger. . .one or both of them could die, and the fate of the entire universe hangs on the decisions that Buffy will make in the next few months." She walked up to Joyce and squeezed her hand, concluding, "I'm not here to urge you to make one choice or another, Joyce. . .I'm just telling you what will definitely result from the choice you do make. . .there is much that is still unknowable. . .I'm sorry." Jenny released Joyce's hand and turned away, whispering, "I'll let you take time to think. . .there's no rush."

Jenny was surprised when she felt Joyce grasp her hand, and turned to see a determined look on the older woman's face as she stated flatly, "I don't need any more time. . .I've decided."

Jenny sighed sadly at the expression on Joyce's face and asked, "Are you sure?"

Joyce nodded once, then asked, "Can I have a minute?"

Jenny replied, "Of course," and turned to give Joyce some privacy. Joyce walked up to the window, and the views of Buffy and Dawn returned. She reached out to touch the glass, and a tear ran down her cheek as she watched her daughters go about their daily activities with their usual vigor. She closed her eyes and whispered, "Good-bye, my darlings." She turned to go, then as an afterthought looked at the window and summoned back the image of the living room and her body about to fall back inert on the couch. With every ounce of effort she could muster, she stared at her body, trying to send one last message to Buffy and Dawn. When she was finished, she sighed, then went back to Jenny, who smiled and began leading her toward a hallway with a sign reading "New Arrival Gate."



* * * * *


"Mom. . . mom. . .mommy?"

The sight of her mother lying there staring sightlessly at the ceiling had galvanized Buffy into action, and the horrible day that followed, culminating in Dawn nearly dying in the morgue, had left her numb. Consequently, it was not until she was standing next to Dawn in the aftermath of the vampire attack, looking at Joyce's body that she noticed it. She blinked, then whispered in disbelief: "Dawn. . .she's smiling." Dawn, thinking that Buffy had lost it, hesitantly forced herself to look at Joyce's face. . .and the corners of her mouth were frozen into a slightly upturned position. . .a very subtle smile, but unmistakable. Dawn blinked in confusion and asked, "How. . .what do you think it means?

Buffy shook her head and replied, "I don't know. . .but maybe Mom was trying to tell us something. . .tell us that things were going to be OK." She sighed, then pulled the sheet back over Joyce's staring eyes before turning to Dawn and grasping her hand, commenting, "Let's go. . .we need to let the others know you're all right." They walked out of the morgue, and in a faraway place a mother gave her daughters a look of pure pride before turning away to deal with the concerns of her new existence.




As always, comments are welcomed and desired