Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Character/Pairing: Buffy, Dawn, Joyce
Challenge/Prompt: Christian Pens: The Promise
Word Count: 3,404
Date Written: 1 November 2018
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to Whedon, not the author, and are used without permission.
Joyce looked up as her new, small house seemed to reverberate all over with the slamming of the front door. “Buffy -- “ she started to scold her but then stopped upon seeing the look on her only daughter’s face. There were no tears shining in her big, green eyes as there would have been just a few years ago back in LA. Fury radiated instead from her beautiful face, fury that Joyce had once found frightening but that now only made her heart hurt.
“Mom -- Just don’t,” Buffy said instead of what she’d been about to say. She sounded so tired and sad. “Please don’t.”
Joyce turned quickly to the cabinet next to her and pulled out their favorite coffee mugs. “All I was going to say was that I’m about to have some hot chocolate. Would you like to join me?”
Buffy paused; Joyce could practically feel her daughter’s inward battle. “That . . . sounds nice,” Buffy said at last.
“The cocoa’s almost ready. Why don’t you go upstairs, unload your books, get comfortable, and come back? By the time you get back here, it should be ready.”
“Okay,” Buffy mumbled.
Joyce turned and watched her silently with an eyebrow raised in question. Buffy used to tell her everything, but these days, it seems like her daughter tells her nothing. It’s almost as though they’re living two entirely different lives. Joyce sighed. There was something bothering her child. There was always something bothering Buffy these days. She wanted to help, but as long as Buffy refused to tell her the truth of whatever was bothering her, there was very little she could do.
Very little, Joyce thought, looking back to the box she’d been unpacking shortly before her daughter had come home, but not nothing. She walked over to the box and lifted out a big, heavy book she had not touched or even thought of in ages. It was a book that had been passed down through the women in her family and that she hoped to one day pass to Buffy. She couldn’t even begin to give it to her today, though. Just seeing the Bible would probably set her off.
Yet, as Joyce touched the frayed cover and wiped dust off of the ancient Bible, she found herself oddly comforted. She hummed an old, Gospel tune her mother had liked and gazed up at the ceiling. What would her mother had done, she wondered, if she’d been in her shoes? They hadn’t exactly seen eye to eye when Joyce had been a teenager, and the world had been a lot calmer and better place back then.
She tried not to fear for Buffy every day, but it was hard. She’d thought moving from LA would help, but every time she turned on the news, there was another shooting, more violence, more death, more drugs . . . Buffy thought she was always on her case any time she tried to talk to her about drugs or violence, and that only made it harder to talk to her daughter about the things that mattered. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Buffy. She did -- or at least, she did most of the time, when she wasn’t raving about crazy things like Vampires or setting her school on fire as she’d done in LA --, but she still worried about her.
Violence and destruction were everywhere. She didn’t want them to touch her child, but she knew they already had and would again. She worried every time she turned on the radio and heard something about teenagers being hurt that it would have something to do with Buffy or her few friends. Yet she couldn’t even approach the subject without setting off her own daughter’s defenses.
Glancing down again at the Bible in her hands, Joyce wondered if the people back then would have ever thought the world would come to the place it had. Children had always been more apt to be seen and not heard during her own childhood; she could just imagine how secretive and demure the teenagers back in ancient times must have been. But things were no longer that way. She not only wanted to hear from her daughter; she needed to hear from her. She needed to know what was happening with her. How else could she help her? How else could she be the mother she needed and deserved her to be?
Joyce jumped as a bubble popped on the stove behind her. She laid the Bible back in the box and moved to turn down the hot water and pour the cocoa powder into it. As she mixed it, she continued to think, and that song came back to her again. God had never promised that there would not be problems or that this world would not be trying, but He had promised He would be there for it and see His children through every step, every trial, every hurting moment. The song pretty well summed up a good parent’s desires for their child. She couldn’t stop things from happening to Buffy, but she could certainly be there for her and would as long as she allowed her. She just hoped she did allow her into whatever troublesome, teenage secret was now bothering her.
She heard the scraping sound of wood against tile as Buffy, having silently reentered the kitchen behind her, pulled out her chair. Joyce finished mixing the cocoa into the water, poured it into their mugs, and grabbed a bag of marshmallows. Then, with all three in her hands, she moved back to the table.
“Marshmallows?” Buffy said, making a face as she looked up at her mother.
“Don’t pretend you don’t like them. No hot chocolate is complete without them, sweetheart, and you know it.” She tore open the bag and sprinkled some miniature marshmallows into both her mug and Buffy’s.
Buffy didn’t say anything, but she watched the tiny, white globs of sugar as she sipped her chocolate. She could hear the kids at school fussing now over her drinking hot cocoa, let alone with marshmallows in it! Cordelia would definitely throw her nose up into the air in disgust. They would poke fun at her for still liking something so childish -- yet she was out in the middle of the night every night, staking Vampires and saving their lives. They could continue living in the broad light of day and pretending not to like things from their childhood, because she spent every night risking her own life to make sure they lived another day.
And she never got any thanks for it, she thought, muttering incoherently underneath her breath. Never once did any of them say “thank you”. Heck, even in the rare instances where she actually stopped a Vamp right before he or she could sink their fangs right into one of her classmate’s neck, that classmate was always too busy screaming and running -- or out right fainting -- to even notice that she was the one who had saved them.
She risked everything, and she lied to her mother and so many others every night. Her mother didn’t even trust her any more. She’d thought she was running with some kind of gang in LA when she’d had to burn down the school to stop the Vampires inside it, and she was constantly concerned she was going to hook back up with the “wrong kind” of people here in Sunnydale. Not that any gang other than a Vampire one had ever looked twice at the sleepy, little town. There was so nothing to do here even if she’d had time for a social life.
Which, of course, she didn’t and was part of the problem. She was as much an outcast in this place as Willow and Xander, her only two real friends, but unlike them, it looked to their classmates like she wanted to be an outsider, as if, as Cordy had said earlier, she was too cool to go to their parties and stuff. That wasn’t it at all. She’d wanted to go to the party of the season last night. She’d even had a dress picked out. But yet again she’d had to forego doing what she wanted to do to do something she didn’t but that had to be done and risk her life yet again to stop still another apocalypse.
Sometimes she wondered what would happen if she just let the apocalypse come. But then she remembered every time. She wasn’t just protecting people she didn’t know and people who didn’t like her. Every time she saved the world, she was also saving her mother, her friends, Giles, and the people and animals who could not fight for themselves even if they had known what was happening and had been willing.
“Buffy,” Joyce spoke softly, reaching across the table.
Buffy blinked rapidly, realizing that she’d been so lost in thought that she’d forgotten her mother was there with her and her hot cocoa was getting cold. She’d actually been closer to tears than she had been in quite some time. She looked away, down at her glass and noticed that the tiny marshmallows had already melted. Her mother touched her hand, and for once, Buffy didn’t yank immediately away.
“I wish you’d let me know what’s going on with you,” Joyce murmured tenderly, gently squeezing her daughter’s tight fist, “what’s wrong -- “
“I can’t,” Buffy whispered.
“I know you think you can’t, but I can always listen, Buffy, any time, and I promise not to judge.”
Buffy shook her head wordlessly.
“You’re still not fitting in, are you?” Joyce asked.
If only that was all her problem instead of just being the least of it, but her mother was close enough. She could let her think that was all it was, let her think she helped her. She nodded mutely. “You could say that,” she said after a moment.
Joyce squeezed her hand again. “You know, this might surprise you, but I had trouble fitting in too.” She didn’t mention that she still had problems with some of her coworkers at her new job. “It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes it really felt like I was walking alone. But you never walk alone,” she said solemnly as Buffy’s eyes slowly met hers. “I’ll always be there for you, Buffy, and I’m not the only one.” She squeezed her hand again, then patted it.
Buffy forced down the lump in her throat. Her mother had surprisingly come close to the problem. She was walking alone, or at least she felt like she was walking alone. The Slayer was supposed to walk alone. She’d heard Giles say that countless times; he uttered those words almost as often as he cleaned his glasses, which never seemed to be clean enough. But she wasn’t alone, Buffy thought, not really. She had her mother to come home to, and she had Willow and Xander. She was far, far from being alone. For the first time ever, the Slayer had friends.
Joyce’s face lit up as she saw her little girl smile. “Thanks, Mom,” Buffy murmured and finally sipped her chocolate.
“More marshmallows?” her mother asked, opening the bag again.
This time, Buffy grinned. “Sure. Why not?” She was never going to fit in. The Slayer wasn’t meant to fit in. So why couldn’t she at least have a little fun being and doing the small things she wanted and that she could still do, despite being a Slayer? It wasn’t as if she wasn’t going to work off the pounds tonight anyway.
Buffy looked up as Dawn slammed the door shut behind her. Willow had warned her she’d thought Dawn would come home in a mood today, and she had certainly been right. Buffy turned to meet her sister with two cups of steaming hot chocolate already in her hands.
“What’s this?” Dawn asked, stopping in the kitchen and staring, it seemed, at her sister.
“Hot chocolate,” Buffy replied with a casual shrug. “Mom’s recipe.” It was one of the few recipes her mother had perfected that Buffy actually remembered.
“No. Not that.” Dawn reached out and took hold of the massive, old book in the center of their table. “This.”
“Oh, I found it when I was cleaning out some of Mom’s things earlier.” Buffy placed the cups down and grabbed the marshmallows. She watched her sister’s face flicker with interest while Dawn studied the old Bible and Buffy sprinkled miniature marshmallows into their cups. She’d always preferred the plain, white ones, but she’d gotten the colorful ones this time because she knew they were what her sister preferred.
“I . . . never knew you were that religious.”
“I’m not. Mom wasn’t either. But her mom was. I can remember going to church on Sundays when I was real little, but we stopped going except for maybe a couple of times a year long before I ever hit puberty. Mom had done it that long mostly, I think, for her mother and because she was trying to make certain I was a good daughter. I think she kinda started giving up on that before high school.” Buffy made a face.
To her surprise, Dawn didn’t comment or move for her chocolate. Instead, as Buffy sat down beside her, she opened the old Bible and started tenderly leafing through its delicate pages. She stopped here and there, reading various passageways that seemed oddly familiar to her. “You know, I think some of the monks must have tried reading some of this to me when they were making me.”
“What makes you think that?”
Dawn shrugged. “It just . . . seems kind of familiar, that’s all.”
“Dawn, . . . do you want to go to church?” She’d never thought she’d need to ask her sister that question, but Dawn was showing much more interest in the Bible than she herself ever had.
“No,” Dawn said quickly. “I just . . . I do kind of think some of it’s true, you know?” She glanced up at Buffy.
“Of course some of it’s true,” Buffy agreed without doubt, “but then too, like Willow says, some of it was just written by old men who were set in their ways and wanted women to be set in them too.”
Dawn giggled. “I don’t doubt that either. Men have a way of wanting to make us into what they want us to be. But that doesn’t mean God’s not real. I . . . I think I’ve kind of felt Him before, but there are still things I don’t understand if He is real.”
“Like what?” Buffy asked curiously.
“Like why He lets us hurt. Why He took Mom.”
Buffy nodded. She reached across the table and took her sister’s hand in hers. As she did so, her mind flashed back to another time, shortly after coming to Sunnydale and before she’d been given a sister, even if she was a cosmic key placed in a teenager’s body by monks. She remembered when Joyce had tried to reassure her she was never going to be alone while she had sat where Dawn now sat.
“There’s nothing in that Bible,” Buffy said gently, “not written down from the Word of God or by men that promises we won’t have pain in this life. There are verses,” she noted with some confidence as she’d read several passages herself over and over again after being brought back to life, “saying that we are all only given a certain amount of time.” And she’d thought her time had been over. She’d thought she’d be able to rest at long last with her mother. But her time here was not yet over. She still had lives to save and to touch, and Dawnie’s was definitely one of those.
“We all have to deal with death and sorrow,” she continued, “but not alone. There is a Father, a Maker of us all, and He is always there for us. And you know, Jesus was pretty ridiculed when He lived in this world too.”
“I guess He was,” Dawn whispered thoughtfully, “wasn’t He?”
“Oh, yeah. He didn’t have to worry about people teasing Him because His mother was dead -- “
Dawn’s eyes shot wide. “How did you know?” she asked.
“Because I’ve heard it too, sweetheart, too many damn times. We’re different, and because we’re different, they like to make fun of us for any reason they can think of. But you know what? I was born different, and so were you. And I don’t think it’s just because I’m the Slayer and you’re the Key.”
“What do you think it is?”
“Mom told me once that she should have known better than to worry about me. That I was special and I’d been born special and it wasn’t just being the Slayer that made me special. Come to think of it,” Buffy recalled aloud, “I heard about the same things from Giles before too. We want to run with the crowd, because it’s easier, but at the same time, we don’t want to. We don’t want to do the things they do. We don’t want to do the drugs or the needless violence. We don’t want to sell our bodies or give out our wares, as Mom would’ve said. When it boils right down to it, yes, we want to fit in, but we also want to do what’s right. And sometimes doing what’s right means fighting a different kind of fight than the battle we face every night.”
“You mean you face -- “
“No.” Buffy took her hand in hers and squeezed. “We fight. You’re there too, Dawnie, doing whatever you can to help. You’ve fought plenty of Vampires already, way too many for a girl your age who isn’t supposed to be a Slayer.”
“Not that I’m a girl.”
“You are a girl,” Buffy insisted, “just like you’re my sister, and you’re special. You want to do what’s right. You don’t want to hurt others. You don’t want to make the wrong choices, even when you know it’s easier to go with the wrong choices and fit in. You’re better than that. You’re better than them. So they’ll pick on you. They’re not going to stop. They never really stopped teasing me, even when most of them came to realize that I’d saved their butts. They gave me that parasol, and it was like that was supposed to make up for everything they’d done and said over the years.”
“Of course it didn’t. Nothing could have. But it doesn’t matter what they think. What matters is that we keep being true to ourselves. We keep making the right decisions, because we know they’re right. We’ll suffer. We’ll cry. We’ll be teased. And we won’t fit in. But neither did He. None of the best heroes do.”
“I’m not a hero.”
“You are, in your own way, and you’re something better than that too.” Buffy leaned over, wrapped her arms around her sister, and hugged her. “You’re my sister,” she breathed against her soft, brown hair. “It doesn’t matter if you were made by monks and weren’t really born into this world. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have the same blood coursing through our veins. You’ll always be my sister.”
Dawn was blushing when Buffy pulled back. “Thanks,” she said bashfully.
“Any time.” Buffy grinned. “We outcasts have to keep each other right, after all.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she said, starting to grin. “Maybe it is better to be an outcast than to be one of them.”
“Of course I am.” The sisters finished their hot chocolates together, and Dawn left to go do her homework -- because, as Buffy reminded her, it was the right thing to do. Left alone in their kitchen, the same kitchen in which she’d once sat with her mother, Buffy eyed the old Bible. Finally she pulled it to her, opened the pages, and started to read. And as she read, she remembered. She would never be alone. The Lord was there for her, blessing her with the right friends and family she needed, and her mother was there too, waiting for her to join her when her time in this world was truly meant to be over. She smiled and was still reading when she finally had to get up, collect her stake and other weapons, and slip out into the settling night to right wrongs and save lives all over again.