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November 12th, 2002, evening

Patrolling a cemetery by himself would be stupid, and Xander might be dumb sometimes, but he wasn't stupid. That's why he wasn't patrolling a cemetery by himself. He was just hanging around. In a cemetery. By himself.

Okay, not really. Really, he was kind of patrolling, and really, he had backup, or given that it was Faith, he was backup.

It's just that he was backing Faith up by standing still next to one particular grave, and Faith was patrolling the end of the cemetery that didn't have this particular grave in it, because she knew without either of them having to say anything that he wouldn't want company here.

Not that he was saying anything now, either, or even doing much aside from picking up the flowers that had fallen out of their holder, then staying there, half-crouched next to the headstone. Looking. Thinking.




"You always were the one to fix and tidy," said a warm voice behind him.



Xander didn't move for a moment, and then when he did, he stood, but didn't turn around. He didn't dare, or maybe he wouldn't let himself. "You only say that because you've never been unlucky enough to see my bedroom."



"That's your own space. You take more care when it's other people's." He could hear the fond smile in her voice, could imagine what it would look like if he turned around...



"I just like putting stuff together." He stared at the letters on her grave, tracing them over with his eyes. Just to the right of it, he could see the other headstone, the one with a handful of rocks resting on top of it. Those, he hadn't touched; he knew they belonged there.



"I know. It's part of who you are." Out of the corner of his eye, Xander saw a soft glow as she moved. "But sometimes, there's things you can't fix."



Xander nodded, daring to dart a glance, but not for long. "We couldn't bring you or Tara back. Not like we did Buffy." He wasn't asking yet, what she was doing here or if it was really her. He was half afraid bringing it out in the open would chase her away, and half afraid he wouldn't like the answers.



"No, you couldn't," she agreed. "Some things are just meant to be. And you can't do anything to stop them."



"We tried," Xander said softly. It wasn't that he needed to convince anyone of that, least of all her, but maybe he needed to hear himself say it.



"I know. But sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you try, there's just no way you're going to succeed."



He knew it was meant to sound comforting, but it didn't. Even if some part of him knew it was true. The dissonance was enough to make Xander turn fully to look at her, saying as he did so, "Doesn't mean we can stop, though. I mean, you've met us. We're dumb that way."



Joyce smiled sadly at him. "Not dumb. Stubborn, maybe. So you end up putting yourselves through unnecessary pain."



Xander frowned. "Buffy and Dawn getting another year with you, that wasn't worth fighting for?"



"I'll always be grateful for the extra time," she told him. "But that doesn't change the end result. You can buy time, but you can't change the inevitable."



"Maybe." Xander didn't like acknowledging even that much. "Maybe some things are gonna happen no matter what. But people start trying to tell me they know which is which, I get the feeling they're selling something."



Joyce smiled. "No afterlife door to door salesman, I promise."



Xander's lips twitched, the ghost of a grin. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "I mean, why visit me, not that I'm complaining? Why not Buffy or Dawn?"



"You're the one who sees," Joyce said, somewhat cryptically.



"Sees what?" Xander shook his head. "You're looking for wacky powers I'd say you picked the wrong Scooby."



Joyce smiled at him. "You see everything. I love my daughters but they sometimes get too wrapped in their own emotions to see what is right in front of their face. Although I admit they come by that honestly."



"Not like I realized what was up with Willow before things got bad. You want to believe everything's okay hard enough, you miss a lot of things." The image of a girl he barely knew flashed into his mind, who might not have died if a lot of people -- even him, at some level -- hadn't had their own Angelus-shaped pair of blinkers. "So what is it I'm supposed to be seeing now, that everybody else isn't?"



"How things really are, not how you want them to be. Denial never did anyone any good."



"Been there, sent that drunkenated e-mail." Xander couldn't help raising an eyebrow. "I'm in the middle of a cemetery, though, standing between two graves I never wanted to see in my life. Not exactly pretending I'm at the waterslide park with Amy Yip."



"I'm not talking about now. I'm talking about what's coming."



"Yeah, Willow said." Xander nodded, but he also gave a shrug. Except yeah, maybe it was the shrug of a brave little toaster, because when somebody who'd tried to destroy the world by herself said 'it wants to swallow us whole'...

"Something's always coming."



Joyce shook her head. "Not like this, Xander. And that's what you have to see and accept. This time it's different."



He gripped the roses he still held in his hand a little tighter, then dropped to one knee to replace them in their holder, turning his back to her. "Okay, it's different. It's bigger and badder than everything that came before it. I dig. So how do we kill it?"

If his voice was a little less than rock-steady, well, hey, talking to a ghost, right?



In a voice that was soft, pitying, Joyce said, "You can't."



When Xander rose and turned again, faster this time, to ask her what she meant, there was nothing behind him but an empty graveyard.

No noise besides Faith's voice calling his name from someplace far away, shaky like he'd almost never heard it, sounding like she was afraid he wouldn't be there to answer her back.




November 13th, 2002, very early morning

They sat in the wreck of the Summers living room and went around the circle. It was like Duck, Duck, Goose only with less goosing and more freaked-out people and mumbling.

"I saw Buffy," Larry said, his jacket still on probably because it made it look like he was shivering from the cool air coming through the broken window and not because he was still completely wigged. "I mean, I thought it was. Caught me as I was going into my apartment." He nodded at Buffy. "You said something was coming and I ought to get out of town now while it was still safe, that you guys didn't need me - after all, you managed to save the world without my help last time." He shook his head. "Almost made sense, but then I dropped my keys, trying to balance two bags of groceries and the doorknob, and they kinda crashed right through your foot. *poof* And then I thought you were a ghost, and I couldn't get you on the phone, and yeah. So here I am."

"Kinda busy fighting a vampire," Buffy said grimly. "One that told me Spike made him."

Spike's eyes widened. "The hell? I never--"

"Never?" she repeated, raising an eyebrow.

His jaw set for a moment, but he gave a small nod, then re-phrased. "I didn't."

"If you were chowing down on people again you wouldn't be stupid enough to make new vamps," Buffy answered in a strained voice, nodding.

That got Spike staring back at her, eyes wounded. "That's your logic? I didn't kill him because I'm not ninny enough to get caught that way?"

"No. That's the logic he thought I was using when I told him I knew he was lying. Right before I dusted him." Buffy gave Spike a look at once apologetic and pissed-off. "Something thought I'd believe that about you, though."

"Something thought I'd believe Tara would want me to kill myself," Willow added, very, very quietly. Then, louder, almost fierce, "Something's really, really stupid."

Attention turned to Faith, who sat on the arm of the couch near where Xander was measuring the window-frame for a replacement pane. She frowned, and shook her head. "Yeah, it tried to get at me too." She didn't say anything else; Xander'd got more details than that from her on the ride over, but not many more.

"Faith," Buffy said. "We need to know. Anything could help us figure out what this thing is, what it's up to."

Faith clearly didn't like this, but couldn't argue with it. "Let's just say my ex-boss wasn't too impressed with the company I'm keeping. Asked me if it came down to me or Buffy, which one did I think you guys would pick." She looked anywhere but at Xander when she said it.

Dawn's eyes widened. "That's what Mom said! Except she said..." Her voice lowered and she shook her head. "It doesn't matter. The same kind of thing."

Buffy stood up and walked over to her, putting a hand on her arm. "You saw Mom?" Her voice was strained and hopeful at the same time, and her fingers dug into Dawn's shirt enough to pull at the fabric and make Dawn wince.

"Actually..." And all eyes turned to Xander. "I saw Joyce too. So whatever she said to you, Dawn, it wasn't her talking. Not unless she could be in two places at once. Mom-powers are great and mysterious, but I'm thinking no."

"Maybe," Dawn replied in a small voice, her hair sliding over her shoulder and curtaining her face. "Or one could've been her and one could've been something pretending to be her."

In the silence that came after that thought, there was a kick, and a squeak, and Andrew's voice blurting, "I saw Warren. He wanted me to..." His shoes were apparently really fascinating, since he was looking at them now even more studiously than he had when he and Jonathan arrived at the door half an hour ago. "Do something really bad," he finished, and wouldn't say anything more.

"We kept having these dreams about our asses getting eaten," Jonathan volunteered. "Uh, not in a gay way," he added uncomfortably.

"Oh good, 'cause we're all out of toaster ovens." Xander rolled his eyes.

"From beneath you, it devours." Willow picked up a broken lamp, started to set it upright on the splintered table it used to belong on, then gave up and let it fall to the carpet again. "That's what it said."

"What, though? There's like a million devoury things this could be." Buffy's hand was still on Dawn's arm, but she smoothed the fabric on Dawn's sleeve, then just rested it there. "Ghosts? Demons? Aliens?"

"Disturbingly phallic tentacle-monsters?" Xander offered. At multiple stares, he shrugged. "There was a thing."

"Why didn't this thing come after me, whatever it is?" Spike asked with a growl that sounded almost petulant.

Nobody had an answer for that one. At least not until the eyeless bald guys broke in and took him that night. Which actually made a lot of things clearer. Except, presumably, for the eyeless bald guys.


November 21st, 2002

On reflection, Xander decided a week later, he preferred Spike whining about not getting haunted to Spike hissing as Buffy applied a clean wet cloth to one of the many symbols said eyeless bald guys had carved into his chest.

As usual, it was an annoying realization, though not as annoying as having to fix the window yet again, or listening to the girls who'd arrived with Giles whisper not quite behind their hands about how much hotter this vampire was than the one with the claws and the forehead the size of a pumpkin. Especially with his shirt off.

That it was true was completely beside the point.

__
[IC non, OOC oui. La belle [livejournal.com profile] saltandammo {pause for gender confusion}, beaucoup merci.]

Date: 2006-12-04 09:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mparkerceo.livejournal.com
[Should also add yays and ows here, because, yeah. So very very cool. Like the original, but not. *applauds First!Joyce & you*]

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