Disclaimer: I do not own either BTVS or JOA, but if I did… well. Things would have been different on both shows. :)
A/N: Random plot bunnies have taken over my brain. Please ignore any/all time-line inconsistencies. Enjoy. :)
The sun was just breaking on the horizon when she awoke with a start, shooting upright in her bed- from deep sleep to wide awake in seconds. In the dim light, she gazed straight at him- the attractive teenage boy slumped in the chair by the door.
"What? What is it?" She felt frantic, as if something really, really big (or bad) was about to happen. Or had happened, maybe. But the expression he wore was a slight smile, and little else.
"I have a task for you, Joan." Unusual, that was not. She might be in college now- the USF had offered her a full ride because of her character and the adversity she had overcome. Joan was secretly convinced that someone had worked a miracle to help her out. She wasn't going to complain- San Francisco was… nice. It was far away from home, which was good, and it was fun and beautiful and she could be happy here. She was happy here. "Something unexpected has happened and I would like you to deliver a message for me."
"Really? Just deliver a message? What's the catch- do I have to do a strip-o-gram? Because I thought we'd decided that stuff like that is not kosher." He knew her well enough to know that her complaints were for show, now. She'd do as he asked, as she always did.
"Funny. No catch, but you do have to go now." She glared at him, but stumbled out of bed anyway and pulled on whatever clothes were closest to hand- the jeans and shirt she had been wearing the previous evening.
"You're lucky it's a Saturday, so I don't have to kick your ass for making me miss class." She pulled on her shoes and ran her fingers through her long hair to get it into some semblance of order. "Right. I'm ready. Where are we going?" He stood up and grinned.
"Grab your keys. It's a long drive."
For once, he wasn't being cryptic. The car journey from San Francisco to Sunnydale was six hours and two stops for food and toilet breaks. Cute Boy God sat in the passenger seat and they actually talked for hours without Joan stopping and kicking him out of the car. It was surprisingly pleasant, especially since he hadn't actually let her in on the purpose behind their trip, yet.
They were only a few miles away from their destination when he asked her to pull over. Joan, of course, complained but she did it, even turning off the engine to reduce her carbon footprint.
"What's the deal?"
So he told her; of warriors and demons and the nightmares that existed in the world. She sat, staring, for a time before she could even begin to comprehend what he meant.
"How have I not known this? How have I not encountered it?" She had seen the devil's work, of course; his influence over the minds and hearts of people. It was what she fought against.
"Joan… you and I have spent a lot of time together." He smiled, looking almost Old-Lady Godlike for a moment. "And you're my instrument- that kind of light shines for miles, and the dark creatures of this world hide from it."
Huh. Interesting. So, he'd brought her to the Mouth of Hell, why?
"Because there are people here that I need to get a message to, Joan, and you'll fit right in with them. Besides, I can't talk the Mouth of Hell myself without destroying the city- it's not stable enough. So it has to be you." He smiled, winked, and got out of the car. For a moment, she watched his retreating form as he walked away before turning the key in the ignition again, grumbling under her breath all the time.
Her GPS found Revello Drive easily- she was a little surprised that God had been able to program the GPS, but hey, it was nice to know he kept up with the latest technology. The town was quiet as she drove through, eerily so- almost as if there were few people left at all; most of the stores were closed and many of the houses were boarded up. And the Hellmouth? She passed it on her way, but she could have pointed in it's direction from miles away- it was a sinking dread in the pit of her stomach; a knowledge of pain and suffering that made her overwhelmingly sad. It was better, the further away she got, but how anyone went to school above it she didn't understand. 1530 Revello was the only house on the street that showed any kind of activity. One of the windows was boarded up and there were three or four cars parked around outside, as well as a large yellow school bus across the road that somehow felt as though it belonged to the house. As she pulled up, a group of teenage girls emerged from the yard to greet her. Well, greet was the wrong word. Watch her with suspicious eyes was probably more truthful. She waved to them, cheerful-like, and bounced up the steps to the front door, knocking loudly and obnoxiously. She kept a grin pasted on her face all the time, refusing to let the sinking dread that emanated from this house overwhelm her.
The blonde boy who answered the door was about her age, and he grinned at her shyly, twisting his hands together in a way that told her he was nervous.
"Hi, my name is Joan." She extended her hand and he shook it gently. "I'm here to see William?" Whatever he'd been expecting her to say, that wasn't it.
"William? You're here to see… William?" He sounded confused, but she nodded brightly.
"Is he here?" The boy nodded, stepping back slightly to allow her entry. She stepped inside and past him, glancing around for the elusive William. "Can you bring me to him? Or him to me- whichever. I'm easy."
"Uh. Sure. Just… take a seat in the living room and I'll be right back." He ushered her into the living room and gestured to the sofa before disappearing back through the archway. Joan sat where he'd pointed, on the very edge of the sofa cushions, and took a look around. The room was comfortable; someone had, at some point, put it together with love and care, but the room looked worn from use, now- scuff marks and fading paintwork. From her perch, she could see the photos of a woman about her mother's age, with blonde curls and a really pretty smile. Joan didn't have to ask God to know that the woman was dead. Joyce Summers had died right here, where she was sitting now. Her eyes welled up, just a little, with tears for what the family had lost. She'd seen enough of that, over time, to get control of herself again pretty quickly.
She looked away from the photographs when footsteps heralded another, more suited, questioner.
"Who are you and what do you want with Spike?" The blonde was, maybe, three or four years older than her, very pretty, with eyes so tired and Joan felt the need to give her a hug. She'd do that, if she could, before she left.
"My name is Joan. And I don't know a Spike. I'm here for William- I have a message for him. It's important."
"You can tell me, and I'll tell William." If Joan couldn't see the protective vibe emanating from the other woman, she would have been offended. She smiled and stood up.
"My message is not for you, I'm afraid. It's for William. Can I see him now, please?" Before the girl could answer, several other people appeared, a red-head with a confused stare; a man holding a hammer and an elder gentleman who took one look at her, removed his glasses and muttered, "Not another one."
"No, Giles, I don't think so. She says she has a message for William." They all looked surprised.
"Who has a what for who now?" The younger of the two men turned to her, holding her gaze for a moment longer than was natural. "What do you want with Spike? What does anyone want with Spike?" Joan forced a smile again, though this one was decidedly less pleasant.
"I fail to see how that is any of your business?" The blonde had been fine- she had, at least, been concerned. But this guys was just hostile and that was not acceptable. Joan had driven too far, and listened to too many off-key sing-along songs, to tolerate rudeness. Before the redhead could jump in and defend her friend, the blonde raised a hand to stop her.
"You know what he is, right?" Joan nodded quickly.
"Yeah, I do."
"I'm Buffy. I'll take you to him. It's not safe for him up here during the day." Because, you know, flammable. Joan nodded and followed the other woman out and through the hall, where Buffy opened the door to the basement and flicked on the lights. "I'm going to stay. I don't care who you are or what the message is, I'm not leaving him alone with you."
"That's fine." She was careful to close the door behind them. She couldn't see well in the gloom so she was watching her step carefully and didn't see her target until she was at the bottom of the stairs. He was watching her, from his position on a cot by the wall. The chains holding him in place seemed a little archaic.
"You have a message for me, love?" She hadn't realized he was English.
"I do." Fearless, safe in the knowledge that this man would never hurt her, she crossed the floor and took a seat beside him. Buffy, she knew, wanted to object but to the other woman's credit, she didn't interfere. Joan met the man's eyes and smiled widely, reaching out to take one of his hands.
"I was sent here to welcome you back, William." His blue eyes widened, just a fraction. "He is so very, very proud of you." With her other hand she reached up to cup his face and with her thumb she traced the sign of the cross on his forehead. "In His name, I deliver you from every evil and grant you peace." Behind her, she was vaguely aware of Buffy falling to the ground in shock as the ripple of light hit her firmly. His head fell heavily onto her head and she could feel his tears drip onto her fingers.
She wasn't sure how long she was there, holding him like a baby as he cried out his relief. At some point, Buffy joined them on the cot, hugging him from the other side and muttering apologies that Joan didn't understand. It took a long time, but he eventually fell asleep, relaxed for the first time in a long, long time, and Joan slipped off the cot and shook herself, trying to return feeling to limbs that had been idle for too long. Buffy moved gracefully, untangling herself from him carefully.
She followed the blonde up the stairs, casting one final glance at the man from the top and smiling again. Sometimes, the 'instrument of God' thing felt pretty darn rewarding. When the basement door shut behind her again, she was abruptly returned to reality- the people from earlier were waiting for them, and they'd been joined by more than a dozen young girls and several other adults. Buffy was smiling though, and none of them looked ready to bite.
"Who are you? How did you do that?" The redhead; she was a Wicca practitioner, Joan knew. A recovering abuser, too.
"I am but a lowly triangle in the orchestra of the universe. And right now, this triangle has to jet because I have a six hour drive ahead of me and I'm pretty sure there's a hitchhiker outside the next town that's waiting for me to give her a ride." The crowd were easy to ignore, despite their loud protests and Joan turned back to Buffy.
"You're doing fine, you know that, right?"
"I do now."
Joan reached out and pulled her into a tight hug, offering whatever comfort she could.
"Your sister will be home soon, Buffy. Be kind to her, please." Joan didn't mean the young brunette sitting on an armchair looking annoyed, and Buffy knew it.
"Can't you stay?" The warm feeling that covered the Slayer- a feeling she thought she had lost when she left Heaven- was something she wished she could keep forever.
"No, I'm afraid not. My presence would be … counterproductive, to what you guys are planning." One last smile and a wave, and Joan was gone, out the front door and back to her car.
Her friends were looking to her for answers, but Buffy stood there with her eyes closed, trying to hold on to that feeling for as long as she could. Finally, as the girl left the block, it faded some and the Slayer turned to everyone else.
"Is it safe to let her drive away alone? This town is not safe after dark." Anya pointed out.
"She'll be fine, Anya, though I'm sure your concern has been noted." Anya beamed. "Could none of you feel it? Feel what she is?" They all shook their heads, no, and Buffy wondered if it was a slayer thing, or a Heaven thing. "She's the kind of person that evil- our evil- would never dare to touch. In fact, I'm pretty sure they'll flee in the face of it." She grinned widely, "We should all sleep really well tonight."