TITLE: A New Beginning

AUTHOR: Spike Girl

PAIRING: NONE! Can you believe it?

RATING: PG

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I DO, however, own Joss Whedon. Since Joss owns Buffy, Angel, and all that fun stuff, doesn't that mean I own them indirectly? No? Oh...right. And that part about owning Joss? It might be KIND of not true. But...uh...fine. I'll depress myself with the fact that I don't own anything. Thanks for NOTHING, Joss! ;)

SUMMARY: In response to another one of Alex's fic challenges. Buffy's in trooooouble…

FEEDBACK: Flames are welcome and appreciated. Especially on this fic, cause...just read it! E-mail me at spike_girl@angelfire.com

SPOILERS: Slightly spoilery for "Normal Again," but takes place before "Welcome to the Hellmouth."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Wow! This one just popped out in a few minutes. Like…6! It was crazy! Now, while all of my fics are pretty pointless, this one takes the cake. It's basically just a slightly in-depth look at a frequently mentioned event on the show. And depicted in the movie. Hey, I tried...

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Buffy wrung her hands nervously in her lap and stared at the floor. Maybe if she didn't look up, it wouldn't be real. Maybe if she just closed her eyes and wished hard enough...

"Buffy Anne Summers, you are in SERIOUS trouble, young lady!"

No such luck. She lifted her head slowly and was confronted with the angry eyes of the one person in the world you did NOT want angry with you.

Her mother.

"What happened? How COULD YOU? Wait until I..." Joyce sputtered in her fury, unable to articulate to her daughter the thoughts that were rushing through her mind at a million miles a minute.

"Get in the car." Joyce gave Buffy the patented "wait until we get home, because I can't even say this in public look." Uh-oh....

This was going to be a long night.

As Buffy rose from her place on the cold bench, she glanced around the station. Her mother was talking in hushed tones with the officer that had brought her in, casting a disproving look at her every so often.

The officer walked over to her and eyed her up and down. "You're free to go. Trust me, what your mother has in store for you is worse than anything we could ever come up with here." He smiled at her. "Have a nice night."

Buffy and Joyce made their way to the car. The ride home was conducted in absolute silence.

Buffy was afraid to breathe too loud let alone risk saying something to her mother. Not that there was really much she could say. Whatever happened, and however many times she proclaimed her innocence, she knew there was no way anyone would buy it. And why should they? The evidence against her was staggering, and the other accusations against her that had been made as of late only further incriminated her.

Being a vampire slayer really sucked.

Joyce threw open the front door and waited for Buffy to pass through. Buffy's luck ran out once they were both inside and closed off from the rest of the world.

"Why, Buffy? Why? Was it something I did? Something your father did? We've always tried our best with you...Tried to raise you as a responsible, independent woman. What could make you do something like this? How could you do something so reckless? So dangerous? Buffy, people DIED tonight!

"Mom, that wasn't me. I--"

"I know very well what you did. Your principal called and told me all about it. Then I got the news that you were being held for questioning down at the police station. The police station!! What happened tonight?"

She sighed. No matter what she told her mother, she was doomed. Either she made up some convincing lie and got grounded for life, or she told the truth and got committed to that asylum again.

A shudder ran through her body at the thought of that place. No way was she ever going back there.

A lie it was.

"Well...Mom...Tonight was the prom."

"Buffy..." Joyce's tone was deathly.

"And, uh..."

"Spit it out Buffy. Why on EARTH would you set the school on fire? You haven't been in enough trouble lately and you wanted to improve your record?"

Oh. THAT'S what she was talking about.

"As I was saying, Mom. I was at the prom. You know, dancing, talking with my friends. The usual." How could she get herself out of this one?

"I gathered that, Buffy. Skip to the pyrotechnics."

"Right. Anyway, we were all standing around the punchbowl. Yep...me and the gang. So we decided to go out into the hall for some...fresh air. I was just standing there, minding my own business when..." She racked her brain and chose the LEAST lame of the excuses she had managed to come up with on the ride home.

"Cigarettes. They had cigarettes. And you KNOW how you've always taught me how bad they are. When I saw them lighting up...I don't know. I just freaked out. I grabbed the cigarettes, and I...uh...threw them on the ground. I gave everyone the lecture on lung cancer that you and Dad gave me...remember that? Well, I was really getting into it, and being as how I've never smoked or anything, I kind of neglected the fact that cigarettes need to be put out. And..."

Joyce's eyebrow arched, but she said nothing.

"Rags! Oily rags!" Buffy continued. "Little did I know that I had thrown the cigarettes on some oily rags. Yep, oily rags in the hallway of the school on prom night. Pretty weird, huh? Before we knew it there was a fire. I tried to find a fire extinguisher to put it out, but then there was all of this chaos going on inside the gym...it was crazy, Mom! Then the fire started spreading and I didn't know what to do, so I ran to the phone and called 911 and..."

She stopped when she noticed the look Joyce was giving her.

"What?"

Joyce sighed deeply. "I guess I could try to look for the silver lining and realize that if nothing else, your father and I taught you the value of honesty. You're a horrible liar."

Buffy smiled. "Thanks, Mom, I always...Liar? What makes you think I'm lying?"

She eyed her daughter up and down. "Cigarettes? Oily rags? I may be your mother, Buffy, but I am not dumb. Next thing I know you'll be telling me that vampires caused those mysterious deaths. Right? Vampires, or some other evil, demonic creature."

Buffy's mouth dropped open as her mother spoke, completely missing the sarcasm contained within Joyce's words.

"If you really want to know, Mom..."

"Buffy! Oh, God...Buffy! I...I'm so sorry!" Joyce reached out and enveloped Buffy in a huge hug. "The therapist told your father and I that we should never, ever mention...you know...THAT...again. Just in case it triggered a relapse, or upset you, or...I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean anything. I'm just at the end of my rope, and I don't know what to do. What will it take to get the truth from you?"

"But, Mom. About the vampires..."

"Drop it, Buffy. The last thing I want it to have to send you back to that place, and I'm sure you probably don't want to go back. What's done is done. Just tell me what happened. I'll try not to yell at you, I promise. We're both mature adults here. We can discuss this in a civil manner. So you have one more chance--what happened that caused you to burn down about a quarter of your school?"

Slight tears formed at the corners of her eyes. For a minute, for ONE SHINING MINUTE, she had thought she could tell her mother what really happened. About the battle, about her victory, about her life as the Slayer. At this moment, it all became clear. Her mother would never know the truth. COULD never know the truth. Another word about vampires, and she'd be committed for good. Buffy hated keeping everything to herself, but realized now the full importance of keeping her activities a secret. With that settled, she still wasn't any closer to explaining how the gymnasium burned down.

"It wasn't me?"

"That is IT, Buffy! I've given you the opportunity...I've even been civil about it when all I want to do is scream at you until you understand. If this is how you want it, fine. Go to your room."

"But I--"

"I said GO. TO. YOUR. ROOM. NOW. I'm going to make a phone call, and then we're going to talk whether you like it or not. If nothing else, the promise of a punishment to beat all punishments might persuade you to tell me something. I want you to get in there and think about what you did. Why you did it. And how to fix it. I expect answers, Buffy."

Without another word, Buffy ascended the stairs to her room. She sat on down on her bed and stared at the wall. Why was it that she, who saved people's lives on a DAILY BASIS, was always the one to get in trouble? Everyone else she knew could do whatever they wanted and not get caught, and here she was--helping humanity--considered a delinquent and a failure by her parents. Life just wasn't fair. There had to be some stipulation in the parent rulebook about punishment when someone was fighting for the forces of good. Like a get out of jail free card or something.

With a sigh, she flung herself onto her back and switched from wall staring to ceiling staring. This was the first moment she'd had alone since hell had broken loose, and the events of the evening finally began to process.

She'd start with the obvious.

The school gymnasium burned down. However, she had managed to incinerate the entire vampire threat while all of the living attendees of the prom managed to find their way to safety.

Granted, the vampire threat had consisted of her classmates that she hadn't been able to save...

But it wasn't her fault. She had done her best, and in her mind, the number of causalities was severely lower than it could have been. That was good.

Another good--she had managed to prevail in her final showdown against Lothos.

If only Merrick had seen her fight. He would have been proud. He was the one who taught her...

Oh God.

Merrick.

In order to focus on her task, Buffy had needed to clear her mind completely. She had thought of nothing but what she had to accomplish, and fought for her goal. Now in this moment of reflection, the truth hit her.

He was dead.

Lothos. Lothos killed Merrick. Lothos killed Merrick and she couldn't save him. Her watcher, her mentor, the harbinger of her destiny was gone.

Tears found their way down Buffy's face in memory of the man who had set her on her life-altering course. He was only doing his job, and because of her inability, he was dead.

Dead.

The word echoed in her head, causing her to sob harder.

"It's good to see someone's finally feeling a little guilty about what she's done."

Buffy sat up quickly and saw Joyce standing in her doorway, her expression grim. She gulped back her tears and tried to put on a brave face. Let her mother think she was crying over some stupid fire. It didn't really matter any more, did it? Whatever happened, Merrick was still dead, and it was still her fault. Buffy chastised herself for being worried earlier about being punished. Putting everything into perspective, it seemed a trivial thing to worry about. Nothing mattered besides the fact that she was the Slayer. She had a duty. She had to continue her fight, regardless of the consequences. She owed Merrick at least that much.

And she had done it. Everything that happened at the prom—it was all for him.

"Buffy? Are you even listening to me?"

Buffy shook herself out of her stupor and faced her mother. "Sorry, Mom. What were you saying?"

Joyce sat at the foot of the bed, not speaking. After the silence became overwhelming, she turned towards Buffy hesitantly.

"Look, Buffy. I'm not going to sugar coat this, and I'm not going to skirt around the issue. What you did tonight...What you won't tell me about..." She shook her head.

"I'm shocked, and amazed. And disappointed. Disappointed more than anything else. You're my daughter. My baby. To see you do something so stupid...so incredibly idiotic..." Anger flared in Joyce's eyes.

"I just don't get it. I suppose I never will. I just called your father. We--"

"Dad? You called Dad? What did he--"

Joyce's glare shut Buffy up.

"As I was saying. I just talked to your father. And...we both agreed on something. It's one of the only things we ever HAVE agreed on." She turned towards Buffy and clasped her hands over her daughter's.

"We both love you very much, Buffy. We know what you're capable of, and we know that deep down you're a good girl. It's just...these so-called 'friends' you've been hanging around with. Look at what happened! What kind of an influence are they on you? You never used to get into trouble, Buffy. You've always struggled in school,. But tried your hardest. Now, all of a sudden, you're getting into fights. Your grades are dropping. You're burning down buildings...."

She held up a hand before Buffy could interject.

"But despite all of this, your father and I believe in you. We know what you can be without all of these negative influences. Now, we've been talking about it for a little while, just in passing, but now--after THIS-- we think it's for the best."

"You think what's for the best?"

Joyce took a deep breath.

"We're moving."

Buffy digested these two words slowly, her mind not quite grasping what was said. Then...

"Oh, right. Very funny, Mom. Look--I said I'm sorry, and that I didn't mean anything. Please just punish me and get it over with." She smiled slightly. "Look--I'm actually ASKING to be punished. Crazy world we live in, huh?"

Joyce sighed. "Buffy, dear. You're not getting it. We ARE moving. When you first got in with that crowd, your father and I worried, but figured that the trouble would pass. That maybe you were just going through a phase or something. But things kept getting worse. And tonight...This is the last straw, Buffy. We have to do something."

"But MOVE? There's not something less drastic? Like...me switching schools or something?"

Joyce laughed bitterly. "Didn't your principle tell you? You're obviously expelled for what happened tonight. When I asked him about schools to transfer you to...He said after the story got out, not one school in all of Los Angeles would be willing to take you. I told him they couldn't refuse you, that a school would have to take you...He started laughing. Now, I don't know what lies or excuses or technicalities there are, but he guaranteed me that you'd be denied admission to every school in the area. It's time for a fresh start, Buffy. We're going somewhere where no one knows you, or about what's happened. You'll have a clean slate. You can make some nice, responsible friends, and have the high school experience we've always wanted for our daughter."

Buffy was still in disbelief, the shock of her mother's revelation not having yet worn off.

"Okay. So I get in trouble a few times and we're moving. Very realistic. God, Mom, this isn't some soap opera. We don't have to flee town because I made a mistake."

"That's not it, and you know it. If you stay....After things calm down, something else will happen. You know it as well as I do--look at the past few months! The only way you can get out of this web of dishonesty and deceit is to remove yourself from the negative environment."

"Dishonesty and deceit? Good to know you've been reading the thesaurus…And it's nice to know what you finally think of me!":

"Buffy, you know I didn't--"

"Didn't what? You've made it quite clear, Mom. I'm a failure. You used more words, but that's basically it." Buffy lowered her head, her anger turning into despair.

"So, where are we going?"

"A town called Sunnydale. It's only a few hours away, so you'll still be able to see your father all you want."

"Sunnydale? Never heard of it."

"Exactly. It's a nice, quiet, typical small town. Just the place you need. Nothing big going on, and no opportunity to get in trouble. I know you'll love it there, honey."

Joyce stood up and gave Buffy a hug.

"As for punishment...I think moving will be hard enough. Consider yourself lucky. I'm going to have a talk with the real estate agent in the morning, but if things go according to plan, we should be moving next week."

"Next WEEK? What, do you have a house picked out and everything? How long have you been waiting to spring this on me?"

"I love you very much Buffy. So does your father. We want what's best for you, and we've decided that this is it. I know it's sudden, and I know it will be hard to adjust, but we'll do it. Together. I'll bring some boxes home from work tomorrow so we can start packing." Joyce smiled at Buffy. "Get some sleep. It's been a long night for both of us."

With that, she was gone.

Buffy sat on her bed, still dazed. Out of everything she had expected her mother to do, this was definitely not on her list. Moving? It was absurd! They had lived in this house forever. Even after her father had left...There were memories! She didn't want to leave everything behind. And what about her friends? Not that she really talked to them much ever since she had been called, and now that she thought of it, they were kind if ditzy. Superficial. Definitely not the kind of people she should be hanging out with...But still! It was the principle.

She knew that there was no changing Joyce's mind. Once her mother was set on something that was it. There was really nothing to do but try to make the best of an awful situation. Sunnydale, huh? A nice, normal town? That could work her.

But wait--if she left LA, who would take care of the vampires?

Not her. Merrick was dead. She had no watcher. Maybe this was fate working in odd ways. It was telling her to move on, to forget about being the Slayer.

Buffy smiled. Sunnydale. Normal small towns didn't have vampires. She'd be free. She could leave the fear and uncertainty and fighting behind her in LA. Her mother was right. All she needed was a fresh start.

With an improved outlook on the situation, Buffy snuggled into her covers. Dreams to months before, when she had been nothing but a carefree teenage girl, pervaded her mind.

She could have that again.

Little did she know....

Buffy Summers would never be a carefree teenage girl again.

She is, after all, the Slayer.

*THE END*

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THE CHALLENGE:

Describe a scene from a character's past. It can be an event mentioned, but it cannot be one depicted in the show. It can happen anytime in their lives before "Welcome to the Hellmouth."