"See You When You Get There"

SPOILERS: None really. Takes place at the end of second season, maybe early third season

DISCLAIMER: As much as I want to, I own neither of these wonderful characters. They are all the property of Joss Whedon and Company.

Joyce Summers settled on the bench overlooking the park lined with perfect green grass, colorful assorted flowers, and the Eiffel Tower somewhat in the distance. She took in a breath of the freshest air she had ever had known as she looked at the clear blue sky above. She had always imagined Paris being so beautiful.

Kids' joyful laughter lingered in the background while the city sounds even had a cheerful ring to them. Springtime always brought out the best of nature or man. At least, she'd like to think so.

Of course, it was different in Sunnydale; it always was. Still, the town had its beauty, despite its true nature. And she missed it.

The visitor Joyce was expecting came into sight, sauntering down the walkway. She didn't know whether the visitor was late or early; time didn't really matter much.

Joyce brightened at the sight of the petite blonde coming toward her, the unmistakable style of her stride, confident and bold. Sunglasses on nose, new baby blue sweater and black pants on slim body, hair back in clips, Buffy Summers returned the smile as she made eye contact with her mother.

Joyce stood up and took her only child in her arms, hugging her tightly. "Hi, sweetheart," she greeted her, happily.

"Hey, mom," Buffy replied. As they parted, Buffy looked her over from top to bottom. "Choice outfit you've got there. Seems your taste has gotten better."

"Don't get started with me. I just thought this was more...Frenchy. And what about that ensemble? Is that a new gift for yourself?"

Buffy glanced down at her outfit. "I think psychologists say to treat yourself to some gifts every once in a while. Okay, so the 'every once' is actually 'every time,' but it's healthy."

Joyce couldn't stop looking at her beautiful daughter, so young yet forced to grow up so fast. She sat down with Buffy following her lead.

"Wow, what a great place to meet," Buffy commented, looking around. "Everything's perfect. Didn't think you had it in you."

She nodded, as proud as if she had built Paris herself. "We've always wanted to come here."

Buffy's smile lessened. "Yeah, we did."

"So how is everything?"

Buffy pushed her sunglasses up on her head to take a better look at her mom. "Same old same."

Joyce could see the sadness in Buffy's blue eyes. "How about expanding on that," she prompted.

"Well, the gang is still crazy as ever. Willow is still into her witchcraft. She knows how to make a pencil float."

"Oh? That's...good. Are you sure it's safe for her to be practicing something like that?"

"I think safety in Sunnydale is long gone by now, Mom. I worry about her, but she's a big girl. She's definitely stood by...." She paused, rethinking what she was going to say. "Xander. Yes, Xander he's...well, he's Xander. Nothing more to say."

"What about Mr. Giles? How is he?"

"He's Giles, librarian extraordinare. Really hasn't been happy with me lately, but is he ever satisfied? Uh, what else....School is going okay. I think I can make it through the rest of the year. The unpopularity disease is still invading my aura, though."

"It's their loss," she assured her.

"Funny, but it doesn't feel like it."

"You've still got one more year to go."

"Witness my continuing misery, Mom."

"And the grades?"

"Grades of what?" Buffy asked, dumbly.

"Ha, ha. You know what I'm talking about. College time is coming up soon and the grades are starting to count."

"Don't remind me. I know what's coming." Buffy suddenly turned to look at the Eiffel Tower, staring at it absently. "The grades aren't so good. They are of the bad; they're actually leading the Bad Pack."

"Honey, you know how important school is." She paused, touching her daughter's arm soothingly. She was trying to stop herself from doing the same old speech about school; things were different. "Is it the slaying? I know how much time it takes up."

"Slaying is slaying, Mom. I do what I do."

"You're pushing yourself, Buffy. I can see it in your eyes, in your face. You look exhausted, even here. You can't hide it no matter how you do it. You're pushing yourself, aren't you?"

"I'm not." She forced herself to stare at her hands, fumbling with them.

Joyce knew this simple act to mean that Buffy wasn't telling the truth. "Don't lie to your mother, especially not here." But she knew what her daughter was thinking, how her logic and emotions worked at least some of the time. Ever since she found out what Buffy was destined to do, fighting the evils of Sunnydale, Joyce sometimes wondered what she had done to bring this upon her daughter. "Look at me."

Buffy raised her head to meet Joyce's eyes.

"I'm okay, Buffy. I know that you're pushing yourself to find them, but it's going to hurt you in the end. I don't ever want to see you hurt. You don't need this right now. Just take it little by little."

"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm doing the slayage, thus the title of Slayer. I thought I told you all this."

"And you did, and I tried to understand. I don't know how good of a job I did in the understanding. I mean, I hate what you do, but I've always stood behind you no matter what."

"Until now," she whispered, her eyes suddenly filled with tears. "Now you can't, ever. And it's because of me." She put her face in her hands and began sobbing loudly. "God, Mom, it's my fault."

Tears springing to her own eyes, Joyce took her daughter into an embrace that only a mother could give her child. No matter what special powers had been given to Buffy, Joyce only saw her as the 17-year-old that she was, still vulnerable and still innocent. "No, honey, don't ever think that."

"Yes, it so is. I'm sorry, Mom. I am so sorry. I should've been there. I should've stopped them, but I couldn't...I couldn't get there in time."

Joyce stroked Buffy's hair tenderly, wishing she could be there for her daughter during this time in her life. "You can't do everything, Buffy, no matter how hard you try. And I know you try so hard." Blaming herself for every bad thing that happened in Sunnydale was something Buffy did in the back of her mind. "You're the Slayer, but you're still human. You had others to think about."

"If I just didn't go to the Bronze that night, I could've come home in time. I could've been there for you."

"Oh, sweetie, it's okay." She paused, wanting Buffy to understand, wanting her daughter not to kill herself over this. "Like you, I tried to live a normal life in Sunnydale, especially after I found out it wasn't a normal town, and it only worked for so long. Who could've known that carrying your groceries from the car to the house is a dangerous thing? Stuff happens, Buffy, and you can only do so much."

"But I was almost home. I saw them run from our yard, and I thought...just a few seconds earlier...if I just didn't stop by the Bronze to see what's what...they knew who you were." She was so full of emotion, her thoughts kept running into each other. "They were on some...revenge streak. I'm sorry for who I am, for what I do." She pressed her face against Joyce's shoulder and cried more. "I miss you, Mom. I miss you so much."

The tears she tried to hold in for so long finally flowed, hearing her child cry like the little girl Joyce missed at times. "I miss you so much, too. You know I love you."

"Even after what I did?" she whispered.

"You didn't do anything. It was just something that happened. Buffy, I'm so proud of you, and I always have been. You've been through so much: your dad and I splitting up, us moving, and now the slaying. But I still see the goodness in you. You are such a good kid; I couldn't ask for more. I just wish I knew about you being the Slayer. I could've been there for you."

Buffy calmed down a little, raising her head. "But you were." A smile crept up to her lips. "Always have been."

"And always will be, as you can see."

"Yeah, I do." She wiped her tears. "I...I have been...pushing myself. Every night, I go out and I just wail on anything I see, wishing it were those group of vamps that...I couldn't stop. Giles has been getting onto me about it. So has the gang. But I can't help it. I can't make it go away."

"The pain?"

Buffy nodded. "And the guilt."

"There shouldn't be any guilt, honey. But the pain...I know how you feel. I want to be there with you, and I knew you'd blame yourself for what happened just because they were vampires. I know this pain because I feel it, too. It's the not being there with you and not seeing you become a woman, or you graduating, or going to college, or...seeing you have your own family." The pain intensified then, forcing her to stop before continuing. "But it's just something that needs coping with."

It was easier said than done.

Buffy sniffled. "And I'm trying. But it's a Mount Everest, Mom. Willow and Xander have taken the brunt of my depression. I've cried to them like mad. I've even yelled at them a few times for making me go to Bronze that night." She closed her eyes at the thought. "That was during my 'blame-everything-that-I- see' phase. Thankfully, they're still around. I can't say much for the vampires I saw, though."

Knowing Xander and Willow were the only true friends Buffy had brought some comfort to Joyce. "They're good kids. Use them. They know you, and I know they'll do all they can to help you out."

"And they have been. But...they're all I've got right now."

"You still have me." Joyce managed to wipe away her own tears. "I don't want to see you like this, Buffy. If those bastards come along, great. But they aren't worth it."

"No, but you are."

She hugged her child again. "Just promise me you'll take care of yourself. Don't do anything unnecessary, please."

Buffy took a moment before responding, then nodded. "Okay, Mom. I just wish you were here to...do the taking care."

"Believe me, you've done a good job taking care of yourself. But I will be watching you." She was so relieved that this had come out. She knew Buffy had been keeping things in, especially the first time they visited each other. Buffy had acted fine, but Joyce knew she wasn't, and she wondered how long it would take for her to come to terms with what had happened.

Moving her hand to hold her mother's, Buffy finally presented a true smile. "I like these visits. We...will see each other again, won't we?"

"Whenever you want. It's up to you. Of course, let's not make it at the bowling alley like we did the first time."

Buffy laughed. "Sorry. I was watching some bowling league championship on TV. Xander's idea. I guess it's the first thing I thought of when I went to sleep."

Joyce leaned over and kissed Buffy on the forehead. She knew Buffy had people who would take care of her through the dark and light times. And she would always be watching her. "Now we can say we've been to Paris," she remarked, looking back at the Eiffel Tower. She turned back to her daughter.

"Yeah. But it's not what I really came here for." Giving one last hug, she stood up.

"You know I'll be here, or wherever you want me to be. Be careful out there, please."

Buffy began to walk away, waving as she began to fade. "I love you, Mom. I guess I'll see you soon."

Joyce smiled, sad to see the visit end, but happy it had happened. "In our dreams."