Little Girl Lost
By Josiah Rose

TITLE: Little Girl Lost
AUTHOR: Josiah Rose
RATING: PG-13, violence
DISCLAIMER: By now I’m sure that even the little green men on Mars know they are not mine. No copyright infringement intended, and no profit made, though I can dream.
FEEDBACK: Of course. If you like it, tell me. If you don’t like it tell me. Either way, the feedback will give me warm fuzzies.
WARNING: This is not the happiest of fics by any stretch of the imagination.

The house echoed strangely, full of eerie shadows and an overwhelming emptiness. It was dark, and the lone occupant didn’t bother to turn on the lights, settled on the couch staring sightlessly out the window into the blackness beyond.

Not so very long ago, the house had been so much more, a home, a safe haven for many people. And now it was just a shell, like her. Shuddering, Joyce took another drink of her wine, tears slipping down her cheeks, wanting to forget, but knowing it hurt so much more not to remember…

She had been less than thrilled when Buffy had come to her during her second year at college to tell her that she had broken up with Riley because she was in love with someone else. But she had been downright furious when Buffy had admitted that the someone else was Rupert Giles.

She had been so angry, she hadn’t wanted to see what they really had. Instead of trying to understand her daughter, she had tried her best to ignore her, and when that didn’t work, she tried threats, then demands, but nothing had worked. Buffy had remained calmly determined to be with the man she loved throughout all of their blow ups. Over and over again Joyce had been left standing alone in her living room, with nothing but her own anger for company.

Things might have gone on that way indefinitely, but then came the night that had forced her to open her eyes and look, really look at the woman her daughter had become.

It had started to rain at about seven o’clock, and Buffy had stopped by, standing dripping wet in the front hall, to ask her to come to dinner. Diner at Rupert’s apartment, with him in attendance, and hopefully civilized conversation. Angry, and still stung by all that had happened, Joyce had said no, expecting her daughter to leave as quickly as she usually did. But Buffy had only looked at her, eyes dark, and so very sad that Joyce had felt tears come to her eyes. "How long are you going to do this Mom? When will you stop pretending that we have all the time in the world to make things right between us?"

Buffy’s calm acceptance of her fate brought a lump to her throat, and she had stammered a bit, before falling silent. Then, for the first time she had admitted the real reasons she hated what was happening in Buffy’s life. "I do want you to have a real love, before it’s too late. And it’s not that it’s him that gets to me. It’s that you have already given him so much of yourself. He knows so much more of you, has so much more of you, than I do. I’m tired of being the one who matters after everyone else." She stopped then, unable to contain a sob. It wasn’t a whine, but a plea. The centre of her life didn’t need her anymore, hadn’t for a long time, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She didn’t even know how to explain it properly so that Buffy could understand.

But there was sympathy and a suprising amount of understanding in Buffy’s eyes when she answered. "Oh Mom, think about it, about the person you raised me to be. I am still your daughter. Deep down inside I will always be the skinny blonde girl who runs to mommy when she skins her knee or has a fight with a boy. Do you really think so little of me that you don’t think I have enough room to care for both of you?"

The words hadn’t been poetic, but the point was made. And all Joyce could think to answer was the last thing Buffy expected to hear. "I think that we should go to dinner, and tell the man in your life that we are back on speaking terms," she told her daughter shakily through her tears. And Buffy’s look, one of true happiness and relief had been wonderful to see, and done wonders to ease a lingering ache in her heart.

Shaking her head, Joyce came out of the memories, looking into the bottom of her glass. It had taken her so long to understand her own daughter, so long to get past her own stubbornness and hurt.

She had taken one look at the expression on both of their faces, watching their feelings for each other reflect in their eyes, and she had known how wrong she had been to think that Buffy would only be a passing fancy for Rupert. He loved her daughter absolutely and completely, and she loved him just as much. After she had started spending time with the two of them, usually at Rupert’s house, she had eventually gotten used to the obvious feelings between them. She’d stopped feeling uncomfortable at the casual touches and shared looks, and other signs of intimacy. And she was fairly certain that the two of them had been more embarrassed than she was, when she had come over one afternoon, to find them absorbed in each other, in bed.

The wedding had been no surprise to anyone, least of all her. And Buffy had been such a beautiful bride. They’d found the dress in a small boutique tucked behind a strip mall. It was a creamy white, with long sleeves, a low neckline, and an even lower back. The skirt just touched the floor, and was decorated with tiny seed pearls that spread onto small train in the back. Most importantly, it fit like it had been made with her in mind.

The ceremony was in a small church outside of Sunnydale, just after sunset. Willow, Xander and Anya waited in the front pew with Cordelia, Wesley, and even Angel, who had long ago realized who the Slayer truly belonged with. The girls had cried a bit, and she’d thought she heard a suspicious sniff from Wesley. And Joyce had walked her daughter down the aisle to Rupert, fighting not to cry as she saw the love reach between the two of them so completely. Then she had to fight back the urge to chuckle as Buffy reached Rupert’s side and he got a good look at the back of his bride’s dress.

The vows had been simply written, but powerful, as they declared their love for one another in their own words, and sealed the vows with an anything but chaste kiss. The reception had been at the new house that Giles had bought, the house Joyce was sitting in now. She smiled sadly as she remembered the jokes that had followed the happy couple out the door as they left on their honeymoon.

The two of them had spent the next eight months in a state of relative bliss, but the happiness had been shattered by one late night phone call. Buffy had called her, nearly in a panic, because Rupert hadn’t come home and a search had turned up nothing. Joyce had tried to calm her down, but a second search had turned up nothing and when Buffy had gone out looking yet again, Joyce spent her time pacing by the window. Long hours later, Buffy had returned, exhausted, but supporting a battered looking Rupert. By some miracle of fate, he had survived an ambush by a gang of vampires, who thought to use him to lure the Slayer to them. After all, she wouldn’t be able to fight them off while they were holding her husband, or so they thought.

With the two of them reunited, life seemed to be looking up. Joyce had breathed a sigh of relief that whatever benevolent deities were watching had spared her daughter the pain of losing the man she loved so very deeply. The whole incident had shaken her up a bit to be sure. It was a stark reminder of just how dangerous her daughter’s calling was, but she had shrugged off her fears. Buffy was fine, happy and so alive her energy seemed to fill a room when she entered.

Outside, the darkness was interrupted by flashes of lightening, and distant rumbles of thunder, but Joyce ignored it, sipping her wine, lost to her memories.

In spite of the danger, Buffy had been thrilled to discover she was pregnant. Rupert had been ecstatic. Buffy had told both of them during their weekly dinner together, and he had actually cried, unable to find words to express to his wife the joy shining from his eyes. In the end he had settled for pulling her close, and kissing her tenderly, while Joyce looked on, smiling indulgently.

The pregnancy had been difficult, both on Buffy’s health and on her mental state. She worried constantly about how vulnerable she and the baby were, but all of her friends stepped in to help. And eventually, and with only a few close calls, they made it through the nine months. With Joyce on her left, and Giles on her right, Buffy had delivered a healthy baby boy, William Alexander Giles at precisely 3:24 a.m. on August 10. And a child had never been born who had been loved more, by so many people. Buffy and Rupert adjusted to having an infant in their lives. Joyce adjusted to being a grandmother, and helping William's various aunts and uncles spoil him outrageously.

Joyce laughed bitterly as she finished off her wine and denied herself another glass. It didn’t really dull the pain anyway.

In the midst of everyone’s adjustments, life had once again been turned upside down. How ironic it was that in the end, it wasn’t vampires, or demons, or an Apocalypse that stole her daughter, but ordinary men. Men high on so many drugs they probably didn’t even know what they were doing when they decided to rob the coffee shop Buffy’d talked her husband into stopping at on the way home.

There were only five men arrested that night, Joyce learned later. The other nine had been killed in a skirmish with Buffy and Rupert, who were determined that none of the innocent people in the café be killed. Neither of them could have known just how many strength enhancing chemicals their opponents were on. Neither of them saw the lone figures at the back with automatic weapons until it was too late. And in the end, that hadn’t mattered. Buffy and Rupert had made certain the last of the hostages escaped, working together as they always did. For a second or two, it looked like they would escape the gunfire that came after. Then one took aim at Giles, and Buffy had jumped in front of him to push him out of the way. The hostages had watched in horror from outside, as their two saviors had fallen, and the two gunmen just kept shooting. The shots stopped only when police snipers killed both of them. But by then Buffy and Rupert were already gone.

Joyce had made the arrangements. She had made sure their ashes were buried together, like they wanted. She had made sure to put away the diaries and books she had found in their things for William when he was older. And then she had tried to move on. At first the pain had been to great, the ache to much to bear. Endless hours, with nothing to do but get lost in the bottomless sadness and remember. All the times she had spoken to quickly, or not spoken at all. All the times she would never see, or had missed out on.

The worst were the what ifs and if onlys. But when she had at last realized that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, die too, she had pulled herself out of the pain bit by bit. She didn’t do it because she wanted to. She did it because she owed it to the little girl who had been the bright centre of her life. She owed it to her daughter to live, and raise William so that he would know his parents: who they were, and how they had lived, and most importantly, how much they had loved him.

When the pain got to be too much, or when she couldn’t seem to find the strength to keep going, she would come here, to their house, which she hadn’t had the heart to sell, and she would remember. She would remember the pain of losing them, but also how deeply they had loved each other, their son, and the rest of their family and friends.

A suddenly loud clap of thunder startled Joyce out of the past. The thunder woke Will, and she shifted and turned to him, murmuring comforting nonsense. When he was quiet she looked at her watch, and realized they had to get going. Remembering hadn’t helping ease the searing pain of losing her daughter, but as she gathered up her things and got ready to leave, she thought of the last time she had seen Buffy and Rupert together. And she realized that wherever they were, they were together, and they were waiting for her.

Walking out the door, carrying the well bundled baby protectively, she just hoped she could carry on until the day when that thought would be enough to make the pain she was living with bearable.