Title: Guest
Author: gleefulmusings
Beta: mysterious_daze
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Five.
Character: Joyce Summers
Rating: FR-7 (K)
Warning(s): Character death. Spoilers for The Body.
Word Count: ~ 1600
Distribution: Please ask first. Please do not screencap this story, save it to hard drives, exchange with others, or translate into other languages without written consent.
Feedback: Con-crit is always welcome; flames are ridiculed and put on display.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Snippets of dialogue may be incorporated from the original canonical episode(s) and belong to their respective authors/creators. The original characters and plot are the property of the author(s). The author(s) is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor should any be inferred. No profit is being made.

Summary: In the end, Joyce wasn't alone.

Joyce hummed tunelessly as she flitted about the kitchen, attacking a particularly bothersome strawberry jam stain which had dried on the countertop.

She didn't understand why Dawn couldn't clean up after herself. She knew that her daughter was experiencing an existential crisis courtesy of a hell goddess and a group of bizarre religious zealots, but that was no excuse for slovenliness.

She quietly chuckled to herself. Why was she surprised? Biology was indisputable, and Dawn was every bit as messy as her sister. She would always consider Dawn her child, but as far as she was concerned, Buffy was welcome to the credit for the younger's bad habits.

She paused in her routine, the multipurpose spray cleaner in one hand and a sponge in the other, to listen to the song of the birds nesting in the myrtle tree just outside the kitchen door.

She doubted she would have noticed such a pure, innocuous delight prior to the surgery; for the past four years she had been more consumed with Buffy's survival than her own.

It was so cliché, how she had taken simple things for granted; how it had taken a brush with death for her to appreciate them, to rediscover their inherent joy; to find that part of herself which she had buried after Buffy had been born, that woman who had thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams which revolved around something other than her child.

Hank had called earlier in the morning. It had been uncomfortable for both of them, but Joyce had appreciated it nonetheless. He was doing well; he was enjoying his new promotion, as was his girlfriend, who had benefited with a new pair of breasts. He told her that she would see an increase in her child support check for Dawn and that Buffy's tuition would be covered for the next semester. Other than relaying that information, he inquired no further about his children.

More bored than disgusted, she had hurried him off the phone and felt not a whit of guilt for doing so. It was no longer a luxury she could afford.

She knew there were many things she should do: update her will and life insurance policy, write letters to family members she often neglected, clean out the closets and put together a donation for Purple Heart. None of these held much interest, however; she preferred to tackle the strawberry jam. A small and definable task was so much more appealing than considering her mortality.

Frankly, she was sick of it. It was all she had been doing for the past several months.

As she absently scrubbed the Formica, she thought about her children and their friends, children she considered her own.

She smiled. The recent additions were working out well.

Tara was a lovely girl who managed to exert a calming influence on Willow's adorable mania and Anya's childlike wonder at all things modern brought out endless patience in Xander.

She did miss Riley and figured she always would. He was the type of man whom she had often dreamed of for Buffy, but circumstances had conspired against them.

She thought of Faith and sent up a quick prayer to whatever Powers might be listening, hoping the girl would find her way. While she might never like Angel, she appreciated what he had done for Faith and hoped the girl would heed his advice.

It was probably time to send another care package to Cordelia. Joyce clicked her tongue. She had only met the girl's mother once, but it had been enough. That the woman had so willingly abandoned her child was galling but not surprising.

She hoped Oz was okay.

Sighing, she stowed the Clorox Clean-Up beneath the sink and rinsed the sponge, wringing it dry and placing it on top of the sink.

She looked around for something else to do.

She had dressed to go in to the gallery, but no longer felt the desire. Hellmouth or no, Sunnydale was still a small town and far too many people were aware of her health, much to her chagrin. Coworkers, artists, and patrons had no compunction about asking her the most personal questions under the guise of concern and civility. Even though the majority of them were truly well-meaning, there was a morbid undercurrent to their questioning which set her teeth on edge.

Despite her medications, despite the early hour, she was all for throwing caution to the wind and pouring herself a nice, fat bourbon. She then considered that it was perhaps not the best time to start drinking, fretting that if she indulged, she might never stop. She was surprised Buffy wasn't a full-blown alcoholic by now.

She felt that tingle at the base of her spine, the one which promised something supernatural was about to pay her an unexpected and annoying visit, like the onset of an eternal period.

It was a sense she hadn't even noticed until she moved to Sunnydale, an unwelcome gift-with-purchase which she would gladly relinquish if given the opportunity. Perhaps she had always possessed it, but had learned to ignore it over the years. She supposed the Hellmouth had awoken it, and whether she was resentful or grateful - it all depended on her mood - she had come to rely on it.

She gazed out the window over the sink, the bright noon sky ensuring that Spike wasn't stopping by for a mug of cocoa.

She knew there was nothing she could do if Glory had decided to make a return call; the best she could offer was some scathing barbs about the goddess's wardrobe choices. She smirked as she thought she caught a whiff of Cordelia's perfume.

There was a showdown she would have mortgaged the house to witness: Queen versus Goddess. Her money was on the Seer.

Squaring her shoulders, Joyce slowly turned around, her eyes hard and one brow cocked, and found herself staring into the pale face of a slight woman a few years younger than herself, outfitted in a loose white dress which managed to be both earthy and chic. The woman's eyes were as dark as her hair, which gleamed like mink under the unforgiving fluorescent lights of the kitchen. The eyes were placid and held a grace which nearly stole the breath from Joyce, and the welcoming smile was beatific.

"Hello Joyce."

"Hello Ms. Calendar."

"Jenny, please."

She stared for a moment before nodding. "Jenny, then. I wasn't quite sure. We weren't properly introduced before you, er, died."

The woman's smile was sardonic. "It's unfortunate we were never friends. I think we would have discovered we had a lot in common. Rupert, for instance."

Joyce colored and cursed herself for it. How inane, a grown woman blushing like a schoolgirl. She cleared her throat. "Well, I can assume that your appearance doesn't bode well for me."

"I'm afraid not," Jenny quietly agreed.

"I see."

And she did. She knew what was coming, why Jenny was there. She had known for a while, even though she had tried to convince herself otherwise, which was why she could so easily accept this now.

"Why you, if I may ask?"

"I'm really not sure. Perhaps because we love the same people."

"Buffy's never gotten over your death."

"I know. She will in time. She'll come to realize that it wasn't her fault."

"That everything happens for a reason?"

"It does, you know, and there's a reason for this."

"Forgive me if I don't find that comforting." Joyce crossed the kitchen and exited into the living room, knowing her guest would follow.

"I wouldn't expect you to," was the quiet response.

"Will I be able to see them?"

"Not for a while. They will need to grieve, and so will you." Her voice dropped. "You won't want to see the immediate aftermath."

The voice was so full of sorrow and contrition, Joyce inwardly agreed with the assessment. "Will they be okay?"

"I don't know. That's up to them. At least they will have each other."

"If they allow themselves."


Joyce gave a brittle laugh. "Most of my life has escaped my control. Why did I ever think my death might be different?"

Jenny said nothing, merely regarding the woman's sudden solitude as unobtrusively as possible.

"There are so many things I would have done differently. Not that I have regrets per se, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty."

Joyce turned and looked out the picture window over the sofa. The view outside was normal. Everything was so normal. Even this exchange, despite its absurdity, was normal. At least in her life.

"For what it's worth," Jenny said, "I believe Buffy and Dawn will come through this. It might take a while, and the pain will be, at times, more than they think they can bear, but they will survive."

"Surviving isn't living."

"It's not, but it's a start, and living is not the same as being alive. We can't know joy without loss, or hope without pain. Your girls will triumph."

"How can you know?"

"Because you're their mother."

The words and the emotion behind them, the emotion they engendered, touched her. In the end, she supposed that the only real legacy she could leave her daughters wasn't a house or a sum of money, but a belief in one's self and the quiet fortitude to navigate through life. She hoped she had provided them that; she believed that she had. She relaxed her hands at her sides and turned back to face the other woman.

"What happens now?"

Jenny gestured toward the sofa. "Perhaps you should sit down."