All Ye Who Enter
Copyright September 2000
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
She prepared as if for a lover, with the same care and many of the same arrangements: soft music, scented candles, lights dimmed to a cozy, intimate level. The last prescribed element was a bottle of White Zinfandel in a bucket of ice, with a tulip-shaped wine glass. She would have preferred schnapps, but tonight she needed to think through some things, to examine feelings and facts, and perhaps make decisions. This wasn't the time for the warm blanket of intoxication, however seductive that might be.
She settled herself onto the couch, slantwise, half reclining, supported by plush cushions, and kicked off her shoes. She had already opened the bottle, and now she filled the glass for the first time, turning the stem in her fingers and watching the liquid swirl within. A long sip, and she let her eyes rest on the flame of the nearest candle, willing herself to relax, feeling the muscles in her neck and back — and, yes, her face — begin the gradual release from long-held tension. She had made a place for herself here tonight, private and safe, and inside it she would follow her troubled thoughts to some kind of resolution.
A little over a year now since she had come to Sunnydale with her daughter, hoping a new home and a new start would calm some of the turmoil in their lives. It could have been anywhere, really; there was a town in South Carolina that had sounded intriguing, and other opportunities as well, but the gallery here had been a good match with the settlement she had gotten from Hank, and in the end the choice had been made mainly on the basis of convenience. The results were mixed, at best. She had worked hard for her independence, and Buffy had made friends her first day at the new school, the same friends who now constituted almost the entirety of her social life …
Joyce sighed. There, the first small thorn of doubt in the optimistic rose garden she had tried to grow here. That school, so open and spacious and charming Spanish Colonial, that bizarre school and the repugnant little man who ran it (and how in God's name could wild dogs have killed the first principal in his own office?) … Less than a tenth of the rumors that came out of that place were even remotely credible, but what kind of suburban school could generate such an inexhaustible font of urban legends?
And the students who had befriended her daughter, what a strange collection they were. Cordelia Chase was in many ways the kind of person Buffy had been at Hemery, but her arrogance and acid tongue made her difficult to tolerate; and, when you came right down to it, she and Buffy didn't really seem to like each other that much, so why were they so frequently together? It was difficult to understand, but in a way it made sense, teenagers lived in a different world and this was just further evidence of the fact.
Xander Harris was another matter entirely, Joyce had seen warning lights flashing in the background the first moment she set eyes on him. There were dark currents in that boy, underneath the self-deprecating wit and superficial geekiness, and enough hormones rolling off him to clog a colander. No wonder Cordelia had let him inside her guard, or that poor Willow was so hopelessly infatuated with him. The real surprise was that Buffy seemed oddly immune to whatever it was he radiated …
Willow, now, that was a bright spot with no reservations attached. Joyce would have tried to find a way to discourage Buffy's association with Xander, if not for the fact that Willow Rosenberg was always in the mix. Her wholesomeness and sweetness and normalness more than compensated for Xander's subtle disturbing sexuality, and Joyce would herself have welcomed the girl as a friend and confidant if Willow's obvious devotion to Buffy hadn't occupied the whole of her attention. (Not like her mother, thank God. Joyce had introduced herself to Sheila Rosenberg at the ill-starred Parent Night, and the woman had smiled and nodded and called her 'Janice' before moving on to some other matter of interest. How could such an obviously intelligent person be so clueless?) No, Willow's presence was a welcome stabilizing element in Buffy's rather flighty approach to life.
Of course, Xander and Willow and Cordelia weren't the only persons Buffy had met her first week in Sunnydale.
That thought was enough to empty the glass, and she refilled it abstractedly. It was so easy to be so wrong about someone … she had known, as soon as her daughter had introduced her to the young man she called Angel, that there were serious feelings between those two. Her pointed comment to Buffy about the age difference had been automatic but perfunctory; there had been something about him, something deep and shy and … "old-fashioned" was an odd term to come to mind, but that was what she had felt, and she had been instinctually certain that he would never, never hurt Buffy.
She snorted. So much for mother's intuition. Somehow he had stayed in Buffy's life, keeping to the background, for the past year, and during that time he had changed, or perhaps just let the mask slip. The young man was extremely disturbed, obsessive even, and menacing in a way she couldn't define but nonetheless totally trusted. The scene in the driveway had carried the grim reality of live combat footage, and she had been positive he was going to follow her inside, that his insistence wouldn't stop with words …
… and he and her daughter … he and Buffy …
This time she caught herself before gulping, and set the wine glass down with fingers that trembled ever so slightly. No, not that way. She had to hold herself together.
What was she supposed to do? That was the question, that was why she had set aside this time for herself. How could she be sure of the right balance between objectivity and wishful thinking, caution and paranoia? She wasn't the least bit sure she could trust her own judgment; there was something about dating a serial killer that tended to skew your perspective, and realizing it didn't necessarily mean you could get past it. And, in all fairness, Angel may have risen to stalker status but he was certainly no Ted Buchanan …
This wasn't helping. No matter how much she tried to sort out her thoughts, each one sent three or four new ones careening uncontrolled through her mind. Ted's body, twisted and unmoving at the bottom of the stairs … the invasion of Parent Night by some mindless murderous street gang, and Buffy taking charge with a determined confidence that said violence was familiar territory for her … missed curfews, and torn clothes, and explanations delivered in a tone so bright and breezy and casual that it had to be concealing something …
Worst of all, really, even worse than thinking her daughter had killed Ted, was the evening she and so many others had been overcome by gas fumes at the school, and in her addled state she had fantasized about attacking Buffy with a pickaxe. That was a memory best buried deep and crushed to nothingness. Was she really so poor a mother, did she resent the girl so bitterly that she would subconsciously want her dead?
That seemed impossible. As children will do, Buffy had initially blamed herself for her parents' divorce; but Joyce genuinely never had, suspecting instead that the meltdown of the marriage had aggravated her daughter's erratic behavior, rather than the reverse. And how could any part of her desire Buffy's death, when for the first years of the girl's life she had lived in silent, irrational dread that her precious child would die prematurely?
It was one of those fixations that came seemingly from nowhere, and so ridiculous that she kept it hidden even while it haunted her. Perhaps that was what had driven the first wedges between her and Hank; there was no doubt that he loved his daughter, but there had always been an indefinable distance between them, as if somehow he were an outsider in his own family. Was that her fault, something she had created with her unvoiced obsession? She would never know; she knew only that by the time it eased, the pattern had been set.
Actually … it had been years since she had thought about this, she had been only too happy to let the fear vanish once it loosed its hold on her, but now she remembered when and why it had ended. Celia, earnest enchanting little Celia, close to Buffy as a sister; in fact, it was Celia's toddler attempts to pronounce her cousin's name that had produced "Buffy" in the first place. The two girls had been inseparable … and then Celia had died (Celia, instead of her daughter, how ashamed she had been for the relief she felt!), and after that Buffy refused to answer to any other name, until by now only her birth certificate remained to contradict her …
Joyce poured more wine. This made three glasses, and she wouldn't allow herself to go past four. Already she could feel the first pleasant flush beginning to seep through her; but she needed that, needed something to blunt the edge of constant anxiety so she could think past it. She had brought Buffy here to provide them both with a second chance. So, was it working? and if not, would it accomplish anything to move again? That was the central issue, the thing she had to settle or at least come to grips with. She couldn't allow her doubts to paralyze her, any more than to rule her. She had to choose what was best for her daughter. Even if she succeeded only in getting a clear recognition of the problem, that would be a beginning.
The sound of the doorbell was like an electric shock, so completely had she immersed herself in her reflections. She found herself on her feet with no memory of moving, and noted with distant surprise that she still held the wine glass. She set it down and went to the door, wondering who it might be. Buffy wouldn't have rung, and Xander and Willow were with her so it wouldn't be them, and that didn't leave many possibilities. (Except the police. No, don't go there. Just answer the door.)
She had set the chain and deadbolt, for privacy rather than from any real fear of intrusion, and now she paused to take a preliminary look through one of the narrow panes in the door. What —? On the porch was a pizza delivery driver, the red-and-blue uniform shirt and cap unmistakable, his head bent as he peered at the ticket he held atop the warming bag.
Joyce pulled the bolt and chain and opened the door. "I'm sorry," she said, keeping her tone pleasant. "We didn't order anything."
"Yes, ma'am, I know," he replied. His voice had the high, cracking timbre of an adolescent, though by now he surely must have reached his full growth. "This was called in by a —" He ran a finger over the ticket, still leaning in close to study it. "— by a Willow Rosenberg. She said she and her friends would be right over, but I guess we were faster than she thought."
"Oh," Joyce said. Yes, Buffy did sometimes have the others over, though she usually let her mother know. "Well, I suppose …"
"Okay," the driver said, as if that settled it. He opened the flap of the warming bag and extracted the two large pizza boxes from within. "They're already paid for," he said reassuringly, and held them out for her.
"Thank you," Joyce said, reaching for the boxes. "If you'll wait for a moment, I'll go get you a tip —"
He had her while the words were still leaving her mouth, his hand snapping out with an effortless grace that hid its speed, fastening on her wrist before the discarded boxes had even begun to fall. His grip was light as silk and solid as iron, and he looked up for the first time, the billed cap no longer concealing the too-handsome face with its amused, chilling smile. "Don't worry about the tip," he said, his voice now the one she knew. "After all, we're practically family, aren't we?"
She stared at him, not wanting to believe, as if she could somehow rewind the last few seconds and still be safe. "Angel," she whispered.
"We never got to finish our conversation the other night," he told her, still smiling, though his eyes were as dark and empty as agate. "Why don't you ask me inside, Joyce? You could catch your death out here."