Chapter 2

Spike inhaled the sweet musk of pure Buffy from her sweater and gave a guilty jump as Finn managed to startle him. “Predator thing,” he’d fumbled. “Jumper’s got that Slayer scent all over it.” As if he still wanted any harm to come Buffy’s way! Wouldn’t do to make the farm boy jealous though, not with the bloody chip preventing him from a fair fight. Nothing Spike would love more than to lay one on the git, but Spike didn’t care for self-inflicted pain when it could be avoided.

Riley sneered at the vampire, “What’s a little sweater-sniffing between sworn enemies?” His tone just invited verbal warfare.

“Your girl in the habit of buying her enemies drinks, ‘cause she spent the better part of last night with me doing just that.”

Riley’s eyes narrowed in anger. He’d wondered where Buffy was all evening and didn’t like the sound of this one bit. “That’s good, tell me another one.”

Seeing a chink in the armor, Spike dove right in. “Okay, how ‘bout this? Twice in recent memory she’s had the wiccas do a disinvite on the house to keep specific vamps out. Ya ever ask yourself why she’s never taken my name off the guest list?”

“Because you’re harmless?”

Spike smirked right back at him. “Even before the chip?”

His fists and fangs might be hindered but there was nothing to stop his rapier tongue from giving the wanker a right lashing. Couldn’t let Finn get away with calling him harmless. “Face it, Buffy’s got a type and you’re not it. She likes us dangerous, rough and occasionally bumpy in the forehead region.” Spike smirked as he watched each word prick at the boy’s insecurities. “Not that she doesn’t like you, but sorry, Charlie, you’re just not dark enough.”

Well, that nearly netted him a fatal sunburn! Boy had it bad and Spike loved every minute of it. “You don’t know anything about Buffy. I’m the one who knows what she needs,” Riley spat.
Time to turn the screw a bit harder. “Yeah? That why you’re with her at the hospital right now? Givin’ her what she needs, strong manly shoulder and whatnot?

Riley yanked Spike back into the house. “What are you talking about?”

Spike put on a patently false look of sympathy. “Don’t you know? Didn’t she tell you?” Finn was clearly wanting to beat it out of him. “Mum’s sickly. Buffy took her to the hospital for a bit of prod ‘n probe. You know, it’s funny her not telling you about it. I’ve known since last night.” THERE! He might not be able to do physical damage but no one could say Spike was harmless!


Riley had never broken so many speed limits in his law abiding life. It irked him beyond the telling that Buffy had confided in Spike of all…no not people…things. She was HIS girlfriend!

The elevator ride to the proper floor gave him time to pull himself together. It wouldn’t do to start in on Buffy for her lapse at this moment. Men had to take care of their women at a time like this.

“Buffy.” He held open his arms and she melted into them with relief.

There were days when having the weight of the world on her shoulders was more personal than others and Buffy sighed in gratitude to have strong arms hold her if only for a moment.

“Mom’s in the testing room having her scan. Dawn’s having a fit and I don’t have a clue how to make her feel better.” She smiled at her boyfriend. “Got any hidden bedside skills you can pull out of your hat?”

Riley’s eyes glazed over as his mind went to places Buffy clearly didn’t mean under the circumstances. She had been too busy with the superwoman big bad lately to do more than have a soaking bath and sleep, and Riley was more than a bit frustrated. He was only a man after all, not a saint.

Buffy blushed, seeing where his mind had gone. She gave him a swat on the arm. “Not that kind of skill. The kind that will help with my adolescent sister.” She knew that she had been less than happy-making Buffy lately but refused to feel guilty. Riley understood; he was a big boy.

Riley followed her to Dawn’s side and hugged the frightened girl. “I’m sure everything will be fine, Dawn. Your mom is strong and young.”

Dawn sniffled and managed, to his annoyance, to get his shirt mucked up. “I know. It’s just the waiting, you know?”

“Yeah, that’s always the hardest part, and hey, almost done with that now.” Buffy smiled at her little sister and smoothed Dawn’s hair lovingly.

“So how’d you know where I was?”

“Caught Spike poking in your drawers.”

Buffy looked irritated and confused but decided not to even to ask.

“He made sure I got the latest scoop on my girlfriend.”

“I was going to call as soon as I heard something. Not much to tell right now.”

“I was just a bit upset to be the last to know. Even Spike,” he spat out the name, “knew about this. When were you going to tell me?” All his good intentions to avoid confrontation were going out the window.

“It was all pretty sudden. Mom thinks it will just be an overnight and no big deal. I didn’t want to worry you over nothing.” Buffy shuffled her feet and fought off the feeling that she had something to be guilty over.


There it was, clear enough for even Joyce to recognize it on the images. A tiny bit of tissue as deadly as any demon, hiding like a small ticking bomb in the brain she had always taken for granted. Joyce stared at the image with incomprehension. How does one look their mortality in the face and truly grasp the meaning?

She was scheduled for a consultation with the surgeon later in the afternoon. Seemed her prediction of one night in the hospital was a bit optimistic.

How was she supposed to break this news to Buffy and Dawn? Buffy had far too much on her plate already to have to deal with this. Even if the surgery went well, Joyce would need to lean on her eldest for a bit until she was back up to speed. Buffy shouldn’t have to manage a home and assume the care of her adolescent and often rebellious little sister. And just who could she rely on to make sure the gallery continued to turn a profit? This was her fault; she should have prepared better. Now the clock was ticking and she was caught with her pants down.

“Just a few questions that will help us get a good idea of your particular case.“ The doctor began writing on a legal pad and referring to his list of questions. “Do you live near overhead power lines? Do you deal with wireless communications or headsets on a regular basis?”

Joyce wondered what that had to do with anything. This was a modern world; didn’t everyone use modern technology? Was there some great outbreak of brain tumors taking place that no one knew about? She thought of her pride in having so much wireless computing equipment at the gallery, of the Bluetooth device she had stuck in her ear most days keeping in touch with her clients and her contacts while leaving her hands free. Surely the doctor wasn’t suggesting that had anything to do with her current medical crisis. Was she being punished for being successful? That just wasn’t fair at all!

Hank! He was the one who picked out their house in L.A. The overhead telephone and power lines had been everywhere in their neighborhood. “Well, our old home was under some lines, yes. Are you saying that caused this?”

“Oh, no, there isn’t any definitive proof on that yet, but Dr. Kriegel did put together a small list of things they are looking into as possible contributing factors.” Dr. Isaacs looked a bit nervous, as if he could all but sense a future subpoena in a nasty class action suit. That was something to be avoided at all costs. “I personally don’t think there is a connection at all, but you know these researchers, checking on every little detail, looking for any small possibility.”

Joyce had ceased to listen to the doctor’s continued droning. Her thoughts were all scattered and filled with regret and worry.

She should have trained Buffy better in all those areas that help a person make a comfortable life. She couldn’t even cook for God’s sake! Had the schools taught budgeting? What was Buffy going to do if she didn’t make it? Did Buffy even know where to look for all the legal paperwork?

Joyce should have just stayed with Hank, the cheating bastard. He hadn’t wanted the divorce, just the freedom to have his bits of fluff without the argument and angst. The divorce had been expensive and had cost him more financially than it had Joyce. Tammy Wynette took center stage in Joyce’s mind, wailing about standing by her man. If she had just tried harder, the girls would at least have one parent actively involved in their life.

No, no, the divorce was right. The girls had to see that self-respect was a good thing and that a woman could make her own way in the world without a man. What she should have done was make sure the rat bastard had paid his support regularly and that he showed up for visits. It was her fault for not forcing him to meet his legal obligation. She should have had his ass tossed in jail the second time he “forgot” to make a payment or come by for at least a quick trip to In-N-Out Burger.

Thank God for the success of the gallery! Oh, God, the gallery!!! Buffy knew nothing, absolutely nothing about what went on there. She wouldn’t know what pieces were on commission and which were owned by the gallery and able to be sold with all the profit staying in-house. She wouldn’t know the customers to contact for specialty items or how to authenticate merchandise. Joyce had kept the operation small, only a couple of employees, but neither of them would be able to slip into her shoes. The gallery would have to be sold.


Buffy had clearly been crying. Well, at least Joyce didn’t have to be the one to break the news. She held out her arms and reached for both her girls.

“Mom!” Dawn broke down in heartrending sobs.

“Shh, baby. I’m fine, really!”

Buffy pulled Dawn off their suddenly fragile-looking mother. “Dawnie, Mom doesn’t need to worry about drowning on top of everything else.”

Dawn sniffed and moved enough to please Buffy, still staying close enough to please herself. “You SO have to get better quick! Buffy makes the absolute worst mom substitute. She’s a regular prison warden!”

Joyce smiled. “Well, sweetheart, usually the ones who had a history of finding ways around their own parent’s edicts are just like that. They know the kind of mischief a pretty girl like you can get into.”

“Hey!” Buffy stifled a giggle, remembering all her years of sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. “I am not anywhere near ready for momhood.” She gave a fake glare at Dawn. “But I DO know my way around how to handle demons.”

Joyce laughed with them both. Maybe there’d be some good in that. She had heard that laughter was the best medicine. Perhaps they could chortle away the tumor.

“So I take it the doctor explained everything to you?”

“Yeah.” Buffy blinked back tears. “I kinda heard tumor and surgery and a lot of blah blah blah from a distance with a kind of whooshing noise in the background though, so maybe later you can fill in the blank parts?”

“Of course, honey.” Joyce grasped Buffy’s hand. “Not much else to tell really. Lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ that they won’t know the answer to until they actually get a real look inside my noggin.”

Dawn fingered her mother’s hair. “Are they going to shave your head?”

“Well, I imagine part of it would be all they need to shave, but then I’d just look silly. I think I’ll go for the Lt. Ilia look or get a pretty wig ‘til it grows back.”

Dawn looked completely confused, so Joyce explained. “Star Trek? The first movie? The bald, pretty alien crewmember who wore that flower thing and looked so lovely?”

Both her girls just looked at her in confusion. “Never mind,” she sighed. She hated feeling so old.

Buffy seemed to get the idea and brightened. “Ohh, totally Sinead O’Connor. I get it!”

Now Joyce was the one looking confused. She was suddenly drained of all her energy reserves. The letdown from the past couple of days’ worry and anticipation hit her like a ton of bricks. “Buffy, honey, did I hear Riley out there?”

“Sure did. Want me to call him in here?”

“No, that’s alright. Maybe he could drive you home so you could get a little rest.”

Buffy looked at her in concern. It was pretty clear that the one needing rest was Joyce. “Okay. I have to check on the gang anyway. I’ll have Riley take Dawn somewhere for dinner and then home while I get in a quick patrol after.”

“Buffy, please be careful.” Joyce’s grip on her hand tightened. “Don’t be distracted by this. I’ll be fine, really. Cross my heart.”


Too many thoughts and recriminations swirled around her for Joyce to drift off to peaceful slumber.

She should have taken better care of herself. What had she been thinking? She wasn’t some young college girl with the world ahead of her, able to take the time to follow old dreams. She was a mature woman with two dependent children to think of. She should have been seeing to their security and making certain she was around to take care of things.

Time enough for the hair shirt later. For now, all Joyce wanted to do was drown her misery and forget. Trouble was, she was in the hospital and she doubted there would be any Long Island Ice Teas on the menu. She thought back to other times when liquid comfort was all too easily had and choked back a sob. She would never forget how her careless, drink-spurred words had caused Buffy to run off years before. The drinking hadn’t changed a thing; there were still vampires and demons and Buffy was still the Chosen One. And drinking wouldn’t change anything now either. She sighed in resignation.

Somehow she was going to have to do years’ worth of work in a short time if she wanted to make sure she didn’t completely ruin her daughters’ lives by her lack of foresight.

So lost in beating herself up was Joyce that she missed the exit of Dr. Isaacs and the entry of her first guest of the evening.

“Fetching costume, Joyce. Not many can pull off the tiny flowered, tie-string look.” Spike held a small somewhat straggly bouquet of flowers. Joyce was fairly certain they had been destined for some other patient, especially given the blue ‘it’s a boy’ ribbon still attached, but it was the thought that counted. “Got any word yet?”

“Thank you, Spike, and yes, they had the results immediately. Modern testing devices are nothing if not quick.”

“And…?” he prompted. His face betrayed his worry even as he busied himself shoving his pilfered floral gift into her water pitcher.

“And I have my work cut out for me.” She began to laugh at the unintentional irony and feared for a moment the laughter would turn to hysteria. “Actually, Dr. Kriegel will be doing the cutting. It’s a tumor, small but still dangerous. I’m being scheduled for surgery as soon as possible.”

Spike had rarely been struck dumb before, but this did it. How do you talk to someone about their possible death? Spike was used to being the dark angel bringing death, not the one comforting the terminal patient. Joyce looked so terribly fragile--and not just physically. Spike worried that ill chosen words might just break her.

“Did Buffy tell you I was here?”

“Yeah.” Spike’s voice was subdued bordering on grim. “Right gutted she was too. Enough that she accepted some cold comfort from yours truly. That’ll tell you how out of it she was.”

“I know. I saw.” Joyce patted his hand in silent thanks.

Spike realized he had only added to Joyce’s concerns. “Thick as two short planks I am, sittin’ here addin’ to your misery.” He put on the brightest smile he could muster and tried to do some damage control. “She’s strong though; she’ll come through a champion as always. You don’t need to add to your worries about that. I’ll be watching her back too, just to be sure. No distractions for either of you if I can do anything about it.”

Joyce returned the smile, hers being the far more genuine of the two. He really could be a dear! “I’d be happy to know you are watching out for her. She doesn’t know that I caught onto what happened to her the other day, but she was hurt--I think rather badly--while slaying. I worry about that each and every night. I can’t get the words I read out of my mind, words in those books that Giles loaned to me about the life of a Slayer--the SHORT life, they should just come out and say.”

“For what it’s worth, Buffy’s the best I’ve ever seen and gettin’ better every day. Good thing she’s stopped really trying to dust me, ‘cause I think she could take me pretty easily now.”

“Still, all it takes is just one moment of distraction or overconfidence,” Joyce mused, her brow furrowed with worry.

“Told her that just the other night, I did,” Spike admitted. “Talked to her about how the Slayers I beat lost and how she can keep on winning.” Spike neglected to mention how that night had ended and just why he had shown up on her back porch with a shotgun. “I’ll be around, keep her on her toes and pick up the slack if needed. Just don’t tell her that or she will dust me!”

“Mum’s the word, not to worry. I know my girl. She’d hate anyone thinking she needed help for anything!” Joyce wondered if Buffy got her pride from watching her and wondered if that was just another sin to be laid at her doorstep. There was nothing wrong in accepting help when you needed it. Joyce vowed to make sure Buffy and Dawn learned that at least. No one was that self-sufficient and, in Buffy’s case, it was a literal life-or-death lesson.

“Hate to just pop in without a proper coze, but figure your nearest and dearest will be descending any moment and can’t say I want to be found hoverin’ round their mum’s bed.” Spike shuddered at the thought of Buffy’s reaction if she caught him there. “’Sides, need to do a sweep of the local haunts, clear the chaff a bit before the Slayer goes on harvest.”

“I do appreciate that and you, Spike. You are a good friend.” Joyce blushed as he gallantly kissed her hand. He really was. Even Dawn got along well with him. If only Spike were human, she’d be hoping that Buffy would notice all his better qualities. Joyce would love knowing her girls were being cared for by someone strong yet tender, as Spike had shown himself to be over the past couple of years.

“Ta, love. Be back tomorrow, if you’re still here.” He blanched at how that sounded. “Mean, in hospital o’ course.”

“I’m not that easy to get rid of,” Joyce reassured him. “I knew what you meant. I’ll be the envy of all the women on the floor when they see my handsome visitor, even if he is a flower thief.”

“Prefer to think of it as liberating the blooms. New mum’s got a million of ‘em and this sorry lot would just get ignored in the shuffle.” He smiled and waved as he exited.


Buffy couldn’t believe Giles could be so lame as to sell bad mojo supplies to Glory of all people! Had he lost his mind when he lost his Watcher position with the Council? She hadn’t rubbed it in, was far too distracted at the time she found out. Still, after killing the giant snake thing and getting another beat down from Glory, she had some time to connect with her inner bitch.

In hindsight, she actually felt sorry for Anya. The gang, including Giles, had thought to hang the whole thing on her! The ex-demon wasn’t one of Buffy’s favorite people, but it wasn’t at all right to hide behind her while telling Anya to shut up.

Maybe she was just hurting, exhausted and worried, but Buffy didn’t really want to run into the gang ‘til tomorrow. They were on her last nerve. They wouldn’t even look for a possible spell to help with her mom!

Still, Buffy trusted that Tara would have told her if there were a way. Considering Tara had also thought it a bad idea meant that it must be the truth.

She had talked to Riley earlier and he had taken Dawn to the carousel and fed her hot dogs. Well, that covered dinner at least. Now Dawn was back home tucked in bed, so Buffy didn’t have to worry about her if she wanted to pop in to visit with her mom for a short while. She limped her way to the hospital, clutching her arm where Glory had nearly dislocated it and hoped for good news from her mom.


Riley had heartburn. Hot dogs and irritation equaled the need for Alka-Seltzer, but he’d settle for a shot of whiskey. Dawn hadn’t even noticed how her words had tormented him.


Dawn and he sat eating hotdogs and watching the children go round and round on the wooden horses. “I’m really glad you’re here.”

Riley felt himself puff up with manly pride. It was good to be appreciated. “Thanks.”

“Buffy’s glad too.”

Riley wasn’t completely sure of that. She seemed so distant for so long now…ever since he had the implant removed really. She seemed to lose respect for him, to no longer see him as an equal.

“She sure cries less with you than she did with Angel.”

There was that name again! What did the kid mean ‘cries less’? Since when did he make her cry? Wait a minute…did that mean precious Angel made Buffy unhappy? “Angel made her cry a lot?” He tried to keep the glee from his voice and almost succeeded.

Dawn nodded. “Everything with him was all ‘grr’, you know? The whole ‘my boyfriend’s a vampire’ craziness.” Riley nodded for her to continue. “Every day was like the end of the world, sometimes literally. It was all too Romeo and Juliet, if you ask me. Lots of teen angst and passion.” Dawn shook her head, pleased at finding the words to describe her older sister’s grand, disastrous, first love.

‘Yeah!’ Riley thought, ‘nothing but puppy love. Of course that puppy had fangs….then again, all puppies had fangs.’ He was so pleased at the dismissal of Buffy’s first love that he nearly missed the rest of what Dawn was saying. He wished later that he had.

“She doesn’t get all worked up like that over you. I think you’ve been really good for her.” She smiled shyly at Finn.

“Yeah, doesn’t get worked up,” he mumbled into his drink.

Willy’s was crowded and Riley was hunched over his drink, just hoping someone would bump into him and start a fight. He’d love to plant one on some demon in this place.

A comely vampire strolled over towards him. He remembered her name was Sandy and she was relatively harmless. When she had come on to him once before and he turned her down, she had meekly walked away. Not a very good predator, maybe that’s how she stayed so slim.

So he didn’t get Buffy’s passions fired up, did he? So vampires were what got her hot? Maybe he needed to see what all the fuss was about. He ordered a drink for Sandy and motioned to the now vacant seat next to him. Maybe he’d find out what Buffy felt. Why the Slayer had let vampires like Dracula and Angel have so much power over her. Buffy’d even let them bite her, for God’s sake!


Joyce was still asleep while Buffy kept silent vigil. She wished there was something she could do, something she could kill that would make this all right. Buffy had never felt so powerless or human in her life--and not human in a good way.

She had faced Glory earlier with little or no fear, taken a beating and bounced back for more. The snake had alarmed her and she had known the danger of letting it get back to the bimbo–bitch, but she had never once felt like the situation was out of her control. This was different.

She loved and admired her mom so much and had never told her. They had, however, made up after the bad and uncomfortable years. Those had largely been the fault of Merrick and later Giles, who insisted that Buffy keep her mother in the dark. Well, maybe not so much Giles; he had let her tell her friends after all, and probably would have been okay with her explaining to her mom about being the Chosen One if she had wanted to try again.

Her mom had been just as strong as a Slayer really. Left to make a whole new life for her family when her dad decided his secretary was more fun than a wife and kids, she had stepped up to the plate. Joyce had done it too, hit it out of the park. She was a success and was even starting to build a social life. Through it all, she had kept close to Buffy and even Willow couldn’t say that about her mom. Once Joyce sorted through all the supernatural stuff, she was uber supporto-mom.

Buffy was going to have to be strong for both of them for a while, let Joyce rest. She didn’t want her mom to have to worry too much about this Glory thing and Dawn’s safety. Time to suck it up and be the woman her mother expected her to be. Buffy just wished she wasn’t so very, very tired.


Riley and Sandy stood outside what must have been her apartment. He knew that he was in no danger. The girl might—and probably would--bite, but she wouldn’t dare try to drain him. She was looking for a good time, some romance and a bit of nourishment along the way.

He really wanted to do this. It was good enough for Buffy after all. Better than good. How was it that Dawn put it? Ah, passion. He hadn’t felt real passion from Buffy except that one time in the haunted frat house when they were sexual ghost batteries. Passion…. Oh yeah, he wanted some of that. He yearned to feel like he was the center of someone’s world, of Buffy’s world.

He was always having to compete with that miserable glowering vampire he wished he’d staked the time Angel had come into town to give him the sniff-over.

It wasn’t right! Women had always been impressed with him and his cool military commando/‘take no prisoners’ persona. Of course, Buffy was different; she was more than his equal. Maybe that was the problem: she didn’t see him as an equal any longer.

Now Sandy here, she saw him as more than an equal. She knew he had power; she knew who he was and what he could do.

Sandy smiled up at Riley and ran her hands over his chest. Her eyes indicated the need for permission as her mouth neared his neck.

Riley didn’t pull back and craned his neck slightly in invitation. Sandy kissed him tenderly before letting her vampire face come to the fore. Her fangs slid home with far less pain than he had expected and he relaxed into the moment. It was compelling being the center of her whole existence for that moment in time. The act was oddly sensual, sending sharp bolts of desire to his groin.

‘NO! This is a thing, a monster. I’m better than this. Buffy’s better than this. I just have to prove it to her.’ He moved his hand from the back of Sandy’s head and reached for his stake. In one move he thrust her from him and ran the sharp piece of wood home. He noted the accusing look of sadness and shock as Sandy crumbled to dust.

This had been different from the suck house experiences. This had bordered on a date with a vampire. He felt dirty and cheap and more than a bit angry at Buffy. How could she give herself to something like that?

He needed Buffy. And she needed to know that he was what she needed too.


“Shhhh!” Buffy looked irritated. “Mom just fell back asleep and we really should take this outside.”

“Nothing to take outside, Buffy. I’m here for you, you have to know that.” Riley drew her into a hug

“You hold me at arm’s length, Buffy. I want to take care of you. Need you to let me in,” Riley looked pleadingly at her searching for some glimmer that she understood, that she needed not just someone, but him.

“I’m sorry.” Buffy could feel the waves of emotional need wafting off of him and suddenly felt even more weary. “I can’t take care of you and Mom too, not while thinking my mother might be dying.”

“Like I said, Buffy, I want to take care of you. You don’t have to be on top of everything all the time.” Riley tried not to let his bruised ego show.

“I’m tough, Riley. I take care of myself and the whole world at least once a year, along with making sure the good citizens of Sunnydale are safe on a nightly basis. I’m a little busy at the moment and not as careful not to hurt your feelings.”

“It’s not about hurt feelings, Buffy!” Riley lowered his voice at Buffy’s motioning to her sleeping mother. “My God, you told that blood sucker all about Joyce and I had to hear it from him!”

“Spike happened to be there just after I found out. It’s not like I hunted him down.”

“And that’s another good question…,” Riley let jealousy get the better of the situation.

“Just why haven’t you hunted down Seventeen and shoved something wood into him? He’s a vampire; you’re the Slayer. That’s the only relationship you should be having with him, not talk buddies.”

“’Talk buddies’? You think Spike and I are ‘talk buddies’?” Buffy pushed Riley towards the door to the hallway outside. Somehow she had the feeling this was going to get worse before it got better.

“Some of the guys saw you sharing drinks and snacks at the Bronze,” Riley pouted. “Spike bragged about it.”

“That was work. Research.” Buffy was exasperated. “Look, I don’t owe you any explanation about Spike or my dealings with him. As for staking him, there’s no need. Your former boss took that need away and he’s harmless.”

Riley muttered “research” in a skeptical way and turned from Buffy. “I just know that you seem to have plenty of time for everything and everybody else but me lately. I’m beginning to wonder if being stronger than I am now has made you see me as less of a man.”

“No,” Buffy rolled her eyes in frustration, “But I am starting to wonder if you do.”

“I love you, Buffy. I changed my whole life, my loyalties for you,” Riley could hear the resentment himself and cringed inwardly. He hated to become a beggar. “I know you don’t say the words, but we are onto something special here. But even something special needs nurturing now and then.”

Buffy wanted to hit something, preferably some large, muscular something. “Riley, are you sure this is the best time to get all green-eyed and insecure? I just got bested by a vamp that made Donny Osmond look virile, found out my mother has a brain tumor, have some crazy-mad bimbo in heels that for some reason can kick my butt plaguing me and a little sister that--,” she stopped herself in shock. She really didn’t want Riley knowing all about Dawn!

“I understand your responsibilities,” Riley said in a dismissive tone of voice.

“No, you really, really don’t. You volunteered. I was called; it’s a whole other vibe. You can walk away from it and I never can. The best I can do is to try to stay alive as long as possible while juggling my calling with a real life. If you can’t understand my priorities, then we have a real problem here.” Buffy sighed. “Look, I’m too tired to fight right now. Obviously we have issues, but I choose not to deal with those right this moment. If you can’t just visit without any demands on me until I’m a bit less up to my neck in worries, then you need to leave.”

Riley looked shamefaced. “I can do that,” he promised.

A not-so-asleep-as-she had-appeared Joyce listened to the conversation in the hallway. There was trouble there in the making. Men who didn’t feel fulfilled at home looked elsewhere; that’s what Hank had done. She prayed that Buffy wouldn’t be the next Summers woman to feel the sting of betrayal. ‘I hope I’ve taught her not to accept that from any man,’ Joyce worried. Joyce didn’t want another thing to lay to her list of neglects in her mothering. She could see how Buffy seemed to need the approval of those around her, even at a cost to herself.

Riley had seemed a godsend, just what Joyce had pictured for her eldest: manly and strong and human. She could hear the undercurrent in his voice though, that same one Hank had when he accused her of being too much the mother and not enough the wife. The same need that demanded attention no matter what else was going on in life at the moment. That same insecurity that needed constant bolstering, the ego needing a tender stroke. This was NOT what Joyce wanted for Buffy. She wanted someone who would be a true partner for her daughter, someone to appreciate all that made up Buffy.

“Tell you what, Buffy,” Riley offered, “why don’t I just let you visit with your mom and drop by later when you’re home. That way you can concentrate on her completely.”

Buffy turned a worried gaze towards the doorway, “Yeah, that would be good. Thanks for coming, Riley, and I’ll see you later.”

He gave her a soft kiss and a smile before heading towards the elevators. Maybe that skinny vamp would be available for a quick suck job. Just a little something to take the edge off, make him feel a bit more even-keeled, more necessary.

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