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Challenge #578 What If I Loved You? Part 1 by slaymesoftly
Chapter Nin
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Joyce was sitting up and picking at a very unappetizing looking meal that seemed to consist of different colors of Jello.   She smiled when she saw Buffy, raising her head and then wincing.
“Hi, honey. Want to share my dinner?”
Buffy eyed the tray and shuddered. “Um... no thanks.  How do you feel?”
“Like somebody made a hole in my head and pulled my brain out through it.”
“Oh, Mom....”
“It’s okay, Buffy. I’m kidding... sort of.  It’s not bad actually, and the headaches are gone. I’ve got good painkillers, and Dr. Phillips tells me I shouldn’t need them for more than a few days.  The brain heals quickly, and the hole they made was very small and they put the bone back, so....”
“Ugh! That might be TMI, Mom.” Buffy shuddered.
“This from the girl who washes blood and demon ichor from her clothes in my washing machine?”
Buffy shrugged. “It’s not your blood. That’s different.”  She smiled and moved closer to the bed. “So, you feel better?  Are you better enough that I can yell at you for not telling me about the headaches and doctor visits?”
“I just didn’t want to worry you, honey. You’ve got so much on your plate all the time – school, slaying, important stuff like that. I had no idea my headaches were going to turn out to actually be something.”
“Yeah, well, do me a favor, huh? Let me decide what is and isn’t really important to put on my plate. ‘K?”
“Okay. From now on I’ll tell you everything.”  Joyce looked behind Buffy. “Where’s Dawn?”
“Oh, good. You remember her!”  Joyce frowned, then her eyes got wide.
“Oh my God.” She stared at Buffy. “But... but she’s my daughter... I...”
“She is your daughter. And my sister. Giles is looking in to how that’s possible, but she is. It’s just that... she popped into existence this year. Completely with her memories of her life to this point, and our memories of her.”
“I think I feel another headache coming on....” Joyce’s voice was weak, but she smiled her reassurance at Buffy.
“Yeah, we’re all kinda like that. Still trying to wrap our brains around it. Anyway, the thing is, Dawn coming into our lives is somehow connected to that woman who killed the old monk. Something about a key Glory needs to open a portal. It’s all kind of guesswork right now, but we’re learning more all the time.  Dawn’s with Spike right now, just in case....  I’m going to meet them in the parking lot in a while, and if it seems safe, I’ll bring her up to see you.”
“Safe?”  Joyce frowned and put her hand on her head.
Buffy went to the door and peered up and down the hall. “Have you see Ben – the young doctor – today?”
“Earlier, I did. Not for a while. Why? He’s quite good looking, but surely having Riley and Spike in your life—”
“Is quite complicated enough. Got it, Mom. I’m looking for Ben because he’s... and this will really sound crazy... he’s—right here! Hi! I just came by to see how Mom’s doing.”
Ben gave her a tentative smile, but his eyes were shifty and he tried to keep his distance. “She’s doing really well. I was just checking on her before I leave for the evening.” He shuffled his feet and seemed embarrassed, but plunged on. “I don’t suppose you’d—I mean would you like to join me for a late dinner? Somewhere not here?”
Buffy gaped at him, then shook her head. “I... that’s nice of you, but... I have a boy—actually, maybe two? And—”
“Look,” he said, glancing around as if someone could hear him. “I know who you are. And I know why she wants you. She’s getting stronger and I don’t know how much longer I can... You need to know what I know.”
“Right. Okay. Um... where and what time?”
“I get off at 8. Maybe... the diner down the street? I know it’s not much, and I did say ‘dinner’, but—”
“That’s fine. Um... I might be a little bit late... but it’s fine. I just want to make sure my sister gets a chance to see Mom tonight, but then I’ll take her... home... and meet you. Okay?”
“Sure. That’s great. I’ve got things to do on other floors before I check out for the night, but I’ll see you there.” He left quickly, as if not wanting to be close to her for long.
As soon as he’d left and Buffy checked the hallway to be sure, she ran back to Joyce’s side. 
“Look, Mom, I can’t explain everything right now, but when Dawn comes up, just act normal, okay?  I mean, as normal as it can be that you’re recovering from brain surgery and we all just found out that Dawn.... Just go with it, please?”
Joyce sighed and sank back against the pillows, pushing away her remaining food.
“I’m not a fool, Buffy. If Dawn only appeared a few months ago, then all the memories we think we have aren’t real. But they feel real, and she feels like my child. I’m not going to say or do anything to endanger her... or myself. I haven’t been the slayer’s mother all these years for nothing.”
Buffy smiled. “No, you haven’t.  And just so you know, she might have a bodyguard with her when she comes up... besides me. I’ll be here too, but....”
“Spike is always welcome, Buffy. Did you think I wouldn’t want to see him?” Joyce smirked at Buffy’s obvious surprise that she would know who the bodyguard might be.
“I don’t know. Just seemed like a good idea to let you know before he showed up with us. And I might pull a Giles and tell them he’s a cousin or something.” Buffy glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’m going to call the Magic Box and let everybody know you’re doing fine, but I think I’ll tell them to wait till you get home to visit. They aren’t going to allow anyone but family in here tonight anyway. Spike’s bringing Dawn over around 7:30, so we’ll be back then.”
“All right, honey. I’ll see you later. Tell them to bring me a hamburger!”
Buffy laughed as she went out the door, her relief at hearing Joyce sound so perky making her almost miss the noise from the other end of the building. Almost.
Running toward the sounds, she found Ben standing outside the psych ward while another young doctor was apologizing to him.
“Hey, man. I’ve got no idea what’s going on. They’d all settled down and were just kind of zombie-like all day until you walked in.  Don’t know why they’re afraid of you, but they are. I’m going to have to ask you to stay out. Let us try to get them settled again and maybe you can try again tomorrow. I’ll get somebody else to keep me company this evening.”
Buffy peered around Ben’s body to see a good half of the patients cowering back in one corner and shrieking every time he looked at them. She frowned, remembering how they’d wanted to attack Dawn.
“Well, that’s weird,” she said, pointing into the ward. “They were all ready to fight this morning. They weren’t afraid of me... not that they have any reason to be,” she added quickly, remembering the other resident who was listening to them. “But they’re terrified of you....” Ben is Glory, Glory is Ben. Spike’s words came back to her and she narrowed her eyes looking from Ben to the cowering men and back again.  “I wonder why that is?” 
Ben shifted his feet uncomfortably, then began to edge away. “Don’t know. But I’ll just go... See you later, Buffy?”
“Yeah. See ya, Ben.”
After calling the Magic Box and explaining that it would be best if everyone waited until Joyce was home and feeling better to come see her, Buffy found herself with some time to kill. Giles informed her that Riley had called there searching for her, and she realized she hadn’t spoken to him since her mother’s operation. Feeling guilty about her lack of interest lately, she wondered if she should call him and say she needed him for something. Then she remembered that Spike would be coming to the hospital in a couple of hours and thought better of it.
“It’s not like he’d be coming here armed with big guns or something,” she muttered to shut up her conscience. “He’ll just be a jerk about Spike and....”
“Buffy! There you are. I’ve been trying to find you all day.”
“Riley! You’re here. And you’re Riley, and here. Where my mom is.”
“Are you all right?  Did you get any sleep last night after I left?”
“Uh... yes. Some. Not a lot. I mean, you know, it was already late and we had to be here really early this morning... So... yeah, kinda tired and fuzzy-brained today.”
“I’m sorry. But your mom is okay? I figure you would have called me if anything... I mean... she’s okay?”
“She’s fine,” Buffy said with a relieved smile. “Not cancer, and she’s complaining about the food already.”  She gave him an apologetic look. “But, she’s still in ICU, so only immediate family can go in there – which is pretty much, just Dawn and me... and maybe Giles cause he lied and said he was my uncle.”
“That’s okay. I’ll see her when she’s feeling better and home. I just wanted to be here for you. I thought... I mean... how did you get here this morning? Who was with you?”
“Giles picked us up and he stayed until we knew Mom was okay and recovering. And then we... we had some important stuff to do at the Magic Box... and yeah. It’s been a busy afternoon. I was just thinking maybe I should go back to the Magic Box for a while until it’s time to... um... to visit my mom again. With Dawn.”
Riley nodded. “Why don’t I give you a ride over there, then?  We can pick up Dawn and come back together.”
“Uh... okay. Sure. That’s a good idea. We’ll just go there, and... then we’ll come back here.”
Everyone looked up in surprise when Riley walked in behind Buffy. Only Xander greeted him with enthusiasm. Giles looked at Buffy and smiled tightly. “Oh Buffy, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve just heard from the Council and we have new information.”  He gestured for Buffy to join him in the training room, which she did, shrugging her lack of understanding for it at Riley, who sat down next to Xander.
“What now?”
Giles sighed. “It appears that with the breaking of the spell(s), including the one that was hiding Dawn’s recent appearance from us, the Council has realized what she is. And they have contacted the few monks from that order that are still alive.”
“My sister, is what she is,” Buffy growled.
“Quite so. And she was apparently made from you somehow. So she is very much your sister, in that you share DNA.” He waited for Buffy to figure out what he was saying.
 “You mean, she’s made from me? Wouldn’t that make me more like her... mother... or something?”
“I suppose it would in some ways, but you obviously could not have a daughter that age, and if she were an infant, she would be too vulnerable, so a sister seems to have been the best choice.”
“So... you’re saying Dawn is the key Glory’s looking for. Not just connected to it in some way?”
“That appears to be the case. It is imperative that we keep her out of Glory’s hands until after her window of opportunity has passed.”
Buffy nodded, then frowned. “But how is Dawn supposed to open anything? She’s just a normal teenage girl.  She doesn’t have any super powers or magical talent or anything.”
“We’re researching that,” he said, not meeting her gaze.
“So, what do the crazy guys have to do with it? They know what she is... and they’re terrified of Ben, by the way.  So they must know what he is too.”
Giles nodded. “They are from an ancient order of soldiers whose job it was to prevent Glory from opening the portal, should she find the key.” He frowned. “It appears that their strategy consists of destroying the key, thus trapping Glory in this dimension where she can be prevented from doing more damage.”
“Uh, Giles. I’ve fought that skanky god. Not seeing a bunch of medieval wannabes preventing her from damaging anything. Especially if they piss her off by destroying her key. Which, so not happening, by the way,” she added.
“I believe they expect to kill her human host. After they have destroyed the Key so that she cannot use it.”
“Oh great, so not only do I have to protect Dawn, I’ve got to worry about Ben too?”
Giles gazed at her, then nodded almost to himself. “I don’t believe you should include him in those you need to protect. If anything, should something happen to him, it could be quite fortuitous....”
“I know you aren’t telling me I should kill a human being in cold blood....” Buffy stared at him, her expression shocked. She started shaking her head.  “If I have to stop him from taking Dawn, I’ll stop him. But I’m not going to kill him. Not unless he’s Glory. Her I’ll take out in a heartbeat.”  She turned and marched back out to the main part of the shop. 
“Do you guys know what that was all about?  Were you here when Giles talked to the Council?” Buffy stared around the table. Willow raised her hand. “We were,” she said. “Xander and Anya were—”
“We were taking inventory. In the basement,” Xander said quickly. “We figured we’d get caught up when you did.”
Riley was frowning at them all. “What is there to get caught up on? I don’t know what the deal is with Dawn, but obviously she didn’t just appear out of thin air a few months ago, so someone is playing games with us.  Probably Spike. It would be just like him to invent something like that to make us all suspicious of Dawn.”
He turned to Buffy. “Where is she, anyway? I thought she’d be here with your friends.”
Buffy studied his face for a full minute, her silence telling her friends not to say anything yet. When Xander started to open his mouth, Giles cuffed him in the back of the head before sitting down.
“Dawn is where she’s safe,” Buffy finally said. “I didn’t say she was here, I said I’d be taking her to see Mom.”
“Oh. I thought that was why we came here. Not that I mind seeing you guys,” he added quickly. “But I didn’t think Buffy would be bothering with Slayer stuff while her mom was in the hospital.”  He looked at Buffy. “Weren’t you taking a break because you got hurt?”
“I’m just not patrolling, Riley. I’ve got somebody handling that for me. There is no such thing as a break from slaying stuff. And Giles and I had important things to talk about.”
“Things I’m obviously not going to be a party to,” Riley said stiffly.
Buffy sighed and looked at Giles. He shook his head and said to Riley, “Buffy is not deliberately hiding anything from you. It’s just that you don’t always believe us when we discuss supernatural events, and that makes it difficult to discuss... things.”
“What ‘things’?”
“Do you remember that skanky woman who beat me up and threw me through a brick wall?” 
Riley blinked, then nodded. “Yeah. She sounded like a pretty powerful vamp or demon.”
“She’s a god. A hell god, to be specific.  And she’s back in town. She thinks I have something she needs to get back to her own dimension, and I need to concentrate on keeping my family safe while we figure out how to kill something that seems more powerful than all of us put together.”
Riley rolled his eyes. “And there you go again. A ‘god’?”
“A hell god,” Giles said coldly. “From an extremely unpleasant dimension full of creatures we would just as soon did not gain access to this world through the portal she intends to open to get home.”
“So, what is this thing she thinks you have?”
“It’s a key. We’re not sure how it works, but she apparently has to have it by the time the portal is in position, or she will be stuck here for another thousand years.”
“You aren’t planning to give it to her, I take it?”
Buffy shook her head. “No. I’m not. But I’m not going to destroy it either.”  She gave him a pleading smile. “Look, Riley, the truth is, the less you know about the key and Glory, the safer you are. And that’s one less person for me to worry about while I deal with this.”
Buffy’s mistake was obvious to everyone as Riley’s expression darkened and he stood up. “I am not something for you to keep safe, Buffy. You need to get over this ridiculously ego-centric idea that you’ve been indoctrinated with...” He shot Giles a glare. “And stop thinking that it’s your job to save the world. Just show me this ‘key’ and we’ll get a squad to protect it until she stops looking for it.”
“Riley, trust me, if it comes to that, I will the first one to ask for military help. I’m not above throwing grenades at her.  I just need to be sure she isn’t going to throw them back. Or that she can be killed by non-magical means.”
Riley glanced at Willow and Tara. “No offense, ladies, but floating pencils and somehow hypnotizing your friends into thinking they’re blind or getting married or whatever isn’t really magic. I’m not sure what it is, but somehow I don’t think it will work better than a shot from an M-16.”
“And when and if we know that for sure, we will know how to handle her and if you can be of assistance.”  Giles was making no attempt to hide his irritation at Riley’s on-going insistence that Buffy’s powers – as impressive as they were – were anything but enhancements from the Council of Watchers, and that there was a scientific explanation for everything they encountered. He refused to discuss Angel’s soul and the difference it made in the old vampire’s attitude and behavior, although he was more than willing to point out to Buffy that Spike did not have one....
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