Season of Solace. 173

173: Summers’ Residence, 1630 Revello Drive, Central Sunnydale

Buffy followed the scent of banana pancakes and coffee down to the kitchen. “Morning, Mom,” she said with a yawn. “Smells delicious. I’m starving.”

After her shower last night, she had flopped into bed without a post-slayage snack. Even her stomach sounded grumpy about it. No crazy animal-shaped pancakes today. That took too long. Buffy wanted them round and stacked up just right. Perfect. Orderly. Fast.

Pouring some orange juice for herself, Buffy hopped up onto the kitchen stool and slid the newspaper closer to glance at the headline and photos on the front page. ‘Hospital Ablaze’ shouted a bold font. Joyce noticed her browsing the article. “Horrible storm last night! So much wind—like nature itself was howling.”

“Yeah. Weird. Crazy weather.” Nodding in agreement, Buffy wondered how long it would be before her Mom segued from talking about the weather to her health. Conversations still felt awkward at times, and got off to rough starts before they remembered that they no longer had to dance around certain subjects.

Joyce set a stack of pancakes down in front of her temporarily distracting Buffy from the concerned look in her eyes. “Were you caught in the storm? I thought it might bring you home early last night.”

“Slayer stuff as usual,” Buffy explained without getting into any details. Telling her Mom too much was still something to be avoided. It was one thing for her to know that vampires actually existed and that her daughter was the Chosen One, but giving her the full scoop on a demon god’s plans to rule over the Earth might be too scary. “We helped out at the hospital, too.”

“You make it sound like you were volunteering as a candy-striper.” A short laugh came out, but it was not really funny because it was trying to cover up the hurt and worry that Joyce failed to hide.

“Um, not exactly.”

Explaining that she read a helicopter had crashed into the roof of Mercy General because of the storm, Joyce prompted for more of the details Buffy was trying to withhold. “Was this just an accident or something supernatural? If you had to be involved…”

Buffy swallowed down another bite of breakfast. “No demons or vampires at the hospital last night, Mom, except mine—just the team.”

Visibly stiffening at the possessive description, Joyce toyed with the banana slices on top of her own pancakes pushing them around with the tines of her fork, as if she would find the right question hidden in the patterns of melting butter and syrup. “You told me that Rupert feels it necessary to keep your team together while you handle this latest crisis.”

“Uh huh.”

Green eyes widened as Buffy recalled the assumption her mother had made when she packed up her sleeping bag and duffel to take with her. The key phrase ‘It’s Slayer Stuff’ usually gave them a pass these days, but Joyce was still jittery over her disappearance. “You gave me the impression that you were camping out on Rupert’s living room floor, along with Xander and Willow.”

“Don’t forget about Faith,” reminded Buffy. “And Wesley! He’s new, a Watcher like Giles, only he’s here for Faith. Y’know, for training and stuff.”

Joyce had been made aware of Giles’ role, and the two of them had gotten a lot closer than Buffy would have liked thanks to Ethan Rayne’s magical wonkiness. That was just wrong. As far as she knew there had been no further, um… contact between her mother and Watcher since that time.

“Must be pretty cramped in that condo.”

Time to fess up, Buffy supposed, finishing off the last bite of her pancakes before saying that they were not at Giles’ place. “We needed more space, so we’re all staying at one of the big houses on Crawford Street.”

Alarm sounded in her voice, “With Angel?” Even after the glossy version of the story, her face-to-face interaction with Angelus at the front door had been enough to form a harsh opinion about the vampire. Apparently, her mother had not forgotten her saying Angelus occupied the mysterious old mansion.

Letting out a big sigh, Buffy turned on the stool to face her mother. “You don’t have to worry about Angel anymore. His soul is safe now.”

The part about gypsy curses, soul lossage, and being sucked into a hell dimension was confusing, but Joyce had been too relieved to have her daughter back home at the time to question it. Somewhat fearfully, she asked, “Does that mean you and Ang—” only to be interrupted before she could get the words out.

Buffy cut that notion off at the quick. “No! So not happening. We’re done. It’s over. He’s moved on.”

There was a pause when an automatic ‘I’m sorry’ might have filled the void, but both of them knew Joyce’s opinion when it came to her daughter’s relationship with Angel. “Are you okay with that?”

Tears welled up stinging her eyes and turning them glassy, but she blinked them away. “No, but I will be. Kind of have to be considering it’s my fault Angel fell for Cordelia.”

Joyce was a little behind on the gossip. “Xander’s girlfriend?”

“Not anymore.” Buffy reminded her of the whole horrible rebar incident giving her parts of the story that might have been left out before. She brought her up to speed on the whole Angel-Cordelia thing sharing the irony that was her part in bringing them together for patrol. Another big sigh preceded telling Joyce, “He’s so different now that he’s back. The way he obsesses about Cordelia….”

Sourly, Joyce muttered, “Doesn’t sound so different,” considering the way Angelus had been so obsessive toward Buffy. “I take it their relationship is intimate, too.”

A hot flush bloomed rosy red. “Very.” That was all she could say without wanting to run out of the kitchen to escape the conversation. Telling her mother that there was nothing subtle about Angel and Cordelia’s displays of affection might be awkward, but there was something inside her that kept her riveted to every public caress and kiss they shared.

Their raw passion might flame out once this crisis was over. Rebound relationships like theirs were frequently short-lived. Kind of like Scott trying to fill a void in her heart. She had wanted to make that work, but it was impossible. Angel, on the other hand, seemed to be handling matters of the heart just fine without her. There might be some lingering regret. He had made an effort to save their relationship, but Buffy had not been ready to take that risk again. Not so soon, anyway.

Now it felt strange being in the same room as Angel because he seemed like a different person. How could he still be her Angel and be so obviously in love with Cordelia Chase? Maybe that was the point, she thought bitterly. He was not hers anymore.

It was the little things that bugged her the most. Like a smile brightening Angel’s usually impassive face, simply because Cordelia entered the room. Or the way Cor palmed his face as if soaking up all the cares in the world even though she was the one in trouble. Their constant touching like they could not bear to be apart for ten seconds. Oh, and the eye sex. Necessary? Not so much now that there was nothing stopping them from doing it, which they certainly did…a lot. Denying it was no longer an option.

Buffy doubted there was one person staying at the mansion who had not turned a corner or opened a door at the wrong time to catch those two in some passionate clinch. Twice now, she had been the victim of seeing just a little too much. Well, anything was still too much, but it was enough to be embarrassed by the hint of jealous rage flashing within at her inability to look away. The universe shrunk to a pinpoint with Buffy fixed to the spot, watching them make out.

Locked at the lips, their kisses were hot, intimate, and passionate. Clothes askew, their hands roved intimately across layers of cloth, slipping beneath them to capture a prize. Shell-shocked, Buffy stared, unknown seconds passing before things got too hot, or one of them caught her staring. No one else would have to put up with getting an eyeful like that on a daily basis.

“It sucks, but I deal,” Buffy confessed to Joyce. “Cordelia is actually in danger, which is part of the reason we’re all hanging out at the mansion. There’s this old scroll with a prophecy. . .”

Despite her original plan to keep her mother blissfully unaware of the dangers they were facing, Buffy decided to spill it all. She could see that Joyce looked shaken after learning that an ancient hag and a cult of demon-worshipping vampires planned to bring on an apocalypse. “Shouldn’t somebody in the government be made aware? It sounds like the Army or Special Forces should be involved.”

“Mom, when it comes to the Hellmouth, I am the Special Forces,” she quipped trying to make light of a scary subject.

A weak smile trembled at the corners of Joyce’s mouth. “You’re special to me. If the rest of the world depends on you to stop this prophecy from coming to pass, then all I can do is ask if there is anything I can do to help.”

Buffy knew that she wanted her mother to stay safe, and that meant keeping her away from the mansion and the escalating dangers they faced. “How about another round of those pancakes?”

Scene 174

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