Bitter Truth

by Jeanne DeVore



"Tell me what's going on."

Joyce Summers stormed into the library, stalked up to the table and slapped a piece of paper down.

"Mrs. Summers, what...?" Giles stammered. The kids around the table simply stared, surprised.

"Contrary to what my daughter thinks, Mr. Giles, I'm not stupid," she interrupted. "Last night she went on about being a...a vampire slayer. This morning she's gone and she left this cryptic note behind. I know she spends a lot of time here with you, so maybe you can make sense of this." She pushed the paper toward him.

Giles picked up the sheet, reading:



Mom. I don't expect you to understand. In your place, I don't think I'd understand either. But everything I told you last night is true.

It's time for me to stop denying my destiny and putting the people I love in danger. Before any more get killed. It's hard enough to do what I have to do without worrying about that as well.

I'm sorry for all the pain I caused you, and the disappointment. I never wanted to hurt you. But it seems I just can't help hurting the people I love the most. I hope some day you can forgive me.

I love you.

Buffy.



Giles looked up. Buffy's mother was looking at him expectantly. Every face at the table was turned on him.

"Clear out," he said softly. "I need to speak with Mrs. Summers alone."

Nobody moved.

"Now," he said emphatically.

Slowly, reluctantly, the "slayerettes" began to gather their things, to leave the library.

"Mrs. Summers, Buffy..." Willow began.

"Later, Willow," Giles stopped her. He looked at Oz. "Get her out of here."

The young man nodded and resolutely pushed his girlfriend's wheelchair toward the exit.

Giles and Joyce Summers remained still until the double doors swung closed behind them.

He took a deep breath. "Would you like some tea?"

"I'd like some answers."

"And you shall get them. But first I need to know exactly what happened, and what Buffy told you last night." He pulled out a chair for her. She glanced at the chair, then back at Giles suspiciously. Then she sighed and sat down. He sat next to her, his chair facing hers.

Since Buffy had "disappeared" early this morning, Giles had a sick feeling of dread in his stomach, something he couldn't simply discount as being a side-effect of Angel's "hospitality". Buffy's note to her mother only intensified the feeling. Something had gone horribly wrong. Wrong enough that Buffy had felt the need to flee. He cleared his throat.

"Now then," he began, more calmly than he felt. "What happened last night?"

Joyce Summers fidgeted with the ring on her finger. "Buffy came home and she had this man with her: tall, thin, bleached blond hair."

"Spike?" Giles was surprised. What was Buffy doing with Spike? "Sorry, go on."

"Well, I asked where she'd been, because the police had been there looking for her, about the girl who'd been killed. She started spinning this story, and then this big guy with his face all funny...like those thugs who broke up the Parent's Night at the school that one time! Anyway, he attacked Buffy and they fought. The blond man fought, too. And then Buffy stabbed him with something and he...he exploded...into dust. I asked what was going on and that's when she said she was a vampire slayer."

Giles nodded. Yes, it would have taken Buffy's mother seeing a vampire up close in order for Buffy to tell her. "And then what happened?"

"Well, we all went inside and Buffy.... No. Not until you give me some answers. Who was that man, the one who exploded? What did she mean she was a vampire slayer?"

Giles took a deep breath, swallowing against a suddenly dry mouth. "Mrs. Summers, I am going to tell you some things you will find hard to believe. But I swear to you they're all true." Joyce just gazed at him.

"There are, in this reality, a number of creatures you probably assumed were no more than myths. Among them are vampires."

He waited for her reaction.

"Vampires. You mean like Count Dracula?"

"Well, Stoker embellished the truth a bit, but essentially correct. Demons in human form who prowl the night and feed on the blood of the innocent. That man Buffy dispatched last night was one. As were those thugs you remember from the Parent's Night."

She frowned, trying to assimmilate the information. "What does this have to do with my daughter?"

"In every generation," he began, "there is a Chosen One. One girl in all the world who has the strength and the power and the skill to stand against the dark forces. She is the Slayer. Buffy is that girl."

Joyce just stared. "You mean she's the only one? In the entire world?"

"Yes, that's right." With the death of Kendra, they were back to having just one slayer. And Giles didn't think Joyce was ready to have the mix-up with Kendra explained to her.

Joyce was still staring. "Whose bright idea was this?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Who decided that Buffy was this slayer? Was it you?"

"No, it was fate, if you will. Destiny. Buffy is the Chosen one. Chosen by whom, we don't know. A higher power than any we understand, certainly. Call it God or what you will. But as long as there have been vampires, there has been the Slayer."

He watched the play of emotions across Joyce Summers' face: confusion, anger, disbelief, fear.

She stared at him again. "And what are you in all of this?"

He was quietly pleased she'd worked that much out that he couldn't simply be the librarian, not with the kind of knowledge he had. Though, come to think of it, she must have figured that out before, or else why come here at all?

"I am her watcher," he replied. "It is my responsibility to train her, advise her...."

"You're the one who put this idea in her head."

"What?"

"This cockamamie story about being the slayer."

"She is the Slayer. And it was her first watcher, a man called Merrick, who first told her of her sacred calling. When she lived in Los Angeles."

"And that's when the trouble started," Joyce said bitterly. "Where is this Merrick? I've a mind to tell him a thing or two."

"Merrick is dead," Giles said bluntly. "He was killed by vampires. Vampires your daughter later destroyed, I believe, by burning down the gymnasium. I am her second watcher, sent here to Sunnydale specifically to be here for her. Because she is the Slayer and she needs all the support we can possibly give her."

"Why don't you people leave her alone!" Joyce shouted, pushing back her chair and jumping to her feet. "You put ideas in her head, make her believe she's some--some superhero. And all it gets her is trouble! Lies, fights. She's been expelled again and now she's run away!"

"What?" Giles was stunned. "Expelled?"

"You didn't know? Your lovely Principal Snyder gave me that welcome bit of news this morning." She swallowed. "This is your fault, Mr. Giles. You and your damned stories about vampires and Buffy being a vampire slayer. You caused all this. I'm going to call the police, someone who can really help. And you stay the hell away from me and my daughter!"

Joyce snatched up Buffy's note and stormed out of the library.

"Mrs. Summers! Mrs. Summers, please!" Giles called after her. But it was too late. She was gone. "Damn!"

Damn Damn Damn! She could put everything at risk if she went to the police. More at risk. Already everything was falling apart. His slayer was gone run off to God knew where. And he had to find her.

He snatched a couple of pertinent texts from his office and shrugged into his jacket, wincing as bruised and sore muscles protested. The rest of the slayerettes were coming back into the library no doubt they'd been waiting just outside the door.

"How'd it go?" Cordelia asked.

"Badly," Giles answered. "She didn't believe me, of course. Did you know Buffy has been expelled?"

"Oh no!" Willow gasped.

"Oh, man," Xander kicked a trash can.

"The Snyder-nazi strikes again," Cordelia said disgustedly.

"Quite," Giles agreed. "We've got work to do. Willow, are you up to doing some searching?"

"Yeah, I'm--"

"She's got a headache," Oz interrupted.

"I'm fine," Willow protested.

"You sure?" Giles asked, concerned. No matter how important this was, he wouldn't endanger them any more. Especially Willow, who'd been through so much already.

"Yes," she said firmly. "What do you want me to do?"

"We need to find out where the police investigation stands. Is Buffy still a suspect. See if we can shed any light on that situation. We also need the details of her expulsion: what event specifically led to it."

"Isn't that kind of obvious?" Oz asked.

"Perhaps, perhaps not," Giles answered. "We need to know for certain. See if we can have any ammunition to appeal. Then we need to start searching for Buffy herself. Check bus depots, train stations and schedules, flight manifests, looking for a passenger matching Buffy's description."

"What will you be doing?" Willow asked.

"Trying to convince Mrs. Summers that her daughter isn't possessed and I'm not Satan." He moved toward the door. "Report back when you know anything."

And with confidence that they would do what he'd asked, he headed out the door.



~~~



Joyce Summers' truck was in her driveway, a fact which relieved Giles. At least she hadn't gone to the police. Yet.

He rang the bell. Then he rang it again. Then he tried the knob, surprised when it turned and the door opened. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside.

"Mrs. Summers?"

She appeared in the hallway. "What are you doing here?"

"I--"

"Get the hell out of my house!"

"Mrs. Summers, please...."

"Get out before I call the police!"

There was a pause. "Weren't you going to do that anyway?"

She stared at him. "Oooh!" she growled and stormed into the dining room.

He followed directly. "Mrs. Summers, please, hear me out. If you call the police, what are you going to tell them? That Buffy's run away? Add one more crime to her growing list?"

Joyce picked up the phone. "She didn't kill that girl."

"I know that and you know that. But how are we going to convince the police of that, hmm? She ran from the scene. At the very least, that makes her a fugitive. You call them and they'll go after her all right with guns drawn, hunting a dangerous criminal."

"I can't just do nothing!"

He took the phone out of her hand and hung it up. "I'm not advocating doing nothing. But we need to do this ourselves. And you need to listen to what I have to say."

"Oh, don't start in again with that vampire slayer crap!" she spat, stalking away from him.

"It's the truth."

"You get her in trouble, you get her expelled. My God, now she's accused of murder because she believes this nonsense!" She moved to the sideboard, pouring herself a drink and slugging it back. Then she poured another. "This is your fault, Mr. Giles."

"I told you...."

"Yes, I know, you weren't the one. Maybe not, maybe it was some...some cult that got hold of her in LA. But we moved here to get away from all that. Why did you have to follow her? Why can't you leave her alone?"

"Because she is the Chosen One. She is the Slayer. The only one."

"She said that girl who was killed was a slayer, too. How can that be if she's the only one?"

Giles had a moment of panic. He hadn't wanted to get into Kendra. But there was no way round it. "Yes, she was. But it was a highly unusual situation which occurred last spring when Buffy...er...died. Briefly."

Joyce froze. "She what?"

"Well, she stopped breathing. But she was revived. However, apparently that was enough to activate the next--"

"She died?! And you let it happen?"

"I couldn't prevent it. It was prophesied...."

"Damn your prophesies!" The cocktail glass flew across the room, a missile aimed unerringly at his head. He reacted instinctively, raising his arm to ward off the blow. The glass ricocheted off his splinted fingers and he was momentarily blinded by the white-hot shock of pain which originated in his hand, radiating through his entire body. He cried out in agony and doubled over, clutching his injured hand to his chest.

She said something, but he couldn't hear her--the blood was roaring in his ears and breath was only a memory.

Finally, the white-hot pain subsided and he could breathe again.

"...My God," he heard her say, the sounds coming back into focus. "You're hurt."

He bit off an angry retort. Antagonizing her at this point would only hurt his cause. "Yes," he managed.

"What happened?" she asked.

He took a deep breath and straightened. His fingers throbbed and he swallowed back incipient nausea. He wondered what he could possibly tell her, then decided on the truth. At this point it could hardly be any worse. "I was captured," he began simply. "By an enemy."

"The person who killed that girl?"

"An associate," he nodded. "They...he tortured me. He wanted information which would have brought about the end of the world. And I'm not just saying that poetically. I mean the literal end of the world as we know it. Buffy rescued me and, I believe, ultimately...destroyed this enemy. Or, at the very least, foiled his plan."

He took a deep breath--a breath which caught as realization slammed into him. Buffy had somehow stopped Angel. If Angel had pulled the sword, then the only way to stop him was to put the sword back--through Angel and into Acathla. But if Willow was right and the restoration spell had worked, then she would have had to.... He swallowed. "I don't know where Buffy has gone, but I think I may know why. And if I'm right, Buffy's greatest danger now could be from herself. Please, I'm begging you, for your daughter's sake listen to what I have to say."

She stared at him for a long moment. "There have been so many lies...."

"You have my word. No more lies. The truth may be painful, it may be hard to accept. Buf if that's what you want, I promise, that's what you shall get."

There was such confusion in her face. She wanted to be told this was all some great cosmic mistake. But he couldn't tell her that. He'd promised her the truth, no matter how difficult.

She took a deep breath, swallowing. "All right, I'll listen. I won't say I'll like what I hear...."

"I'm not asking you to," he said. "All I'm asking is for a hearing."

"Yes," she nodded. "I'll hear you out."

He closed his eyes in relief. In one sense, the worst of the battle was over. In another, it was just beginning. "Why don't we...?" He indicated the living room.

She nodded. "Can can I get you anything?"

He wiped the sticky wetness off his cheek. "Perhaps a towel...?"



~~~



His throat was raw and his voice hoarse. He'd long ago gone through three glasses of scotch and at least as many of tea and was now drinking plain water. Opposite him on the couch, Joyce Summers sat clutching a throw pillow, her eyes and nose red from crying. The coffee table was littered with discarded tissues and the box stood empty.

For himself, Giles didn't think he had any tears left, though he'd had to force them away when he told her about Jenny.

And he'd told her everything. About Buffy, about what being a slayer meant. About how they could count themselves fortunate if Buffy made it into her mid-twenties. He told her about the hellmouth, about the Master and Buffy's "death", about Spike and Drusilla.

About Angel. Especially about Angel. Joyce had been horrified, then angry, then terrified, then finally heart-sickened when she learned about Angel, and about Buffy's love for him and his for her, and how he'd lost his soul in one glorious and terrible moment of pure happiness, when Buffy had given herself to him, a precious gift which had been soiled by the events which had followed.

He told her about Jenny, and about Acathla, and about the spell for restoration, and finally what he believed must have happened and why Buffy had fled.

It was rather a lot for her to take in. He knew she might be hearing it all, but she hadn't really accepted any of it yet. Except that her daughter was in trouble and she didn't know how to help her.

She sniffed and wiped at her eyes again. "You must think I'm the biggest fool. All of this was happening and I never knew, never saw any of it. How blind can a person be?" Her tone was bitter, self-recriminating.

He smiled in a way he hoped was reassuring. "You didn't see because you weren't meant to see. The human mind is superb at rationalizing away the things it cannot easily understand. It's easier than seeking answers in the inexplicable."

"All the lies..." she murmured. "All the stories." She looked at him, her gaze both demanding and searching. "Why was it all right for her friends to know, but not her mother?"

"Her friends weren't supposed to know, either," he explained. "They...got involved in a way which demanded they be given an explanation. Much like your seeing that vampire outside last night. They had been directly involved, and they had been endangered. We had no choice but to tell them. Only Xander and Willow at first. Then, as things progressed, events involved more and more of them. Cordelia. Oz. Jenny. But we were careful to keep you out of it, and if you want to blame me for that, you can. It's one of the things which is stressed by the watchers, that the slayer operates in secret. Her family should not be involved lest it put them in danger, which would endanger the slayer, because she'd be more concerned with keeping her family safe than she would with her duties."

"But I never caught on."

"You weren't meant to."

"I was so willing to believe...ridiculous things...rather than face what was happening right in front of me. Things like...like barbecue forks!"

"Please, don't. You were kept in the dark on purpose. We went out of our way to keep it from you."

"Doesn't say much for my powers of observation."

"You can't blame yourself."

She stared at him. "Should I blame you instead?"

"If you'd like," he answered simply. "For it was certainly my insistence that Buffy kept you in the dark as long as she did. Beyond the dangers of...of the forces she faces, a slayer's greatest danger can inadvertently come from her parents, either by putting themselves in danger in a misguided attempt to 'help' or by purposely thwarting her duties keeping her from them. That was always my fear. That if you knew, you would prevent Buffy from fulfilling her calling."

"I still might."

Now it was his turn to stare. Her expression was bleak, but there was still a spark of anger there. "You could. But I don't think you will. Especially since you now know that Buffy is safest when she's allowed to act in accordance with her skills and her training."

"Which is why my little girl ran away," she said bitterly. "What good did that training do her?"

He sighed. "It kept her alive. From all evidence, it prevented the destruction of life as we know it on this planet. And it's still keeping her alive."

"How do you know?" she frowned.

"I know," he said simply. "I am her watcher. We are...connected."

She thought about that for a minute. "Psychically?"

"If you'd like. It's nothing concrete, nothing I can put my finger on. I can't tell you where she is nor how she's doing. But I do know she's alive. Were she not...I'd know that, too."

She took a deep breath, clutching the pillow tighter. "I just want her home and safe."

"I know you do. That's what I want, too."

"Do you?" The anger flashed in her eyes again. "Do you really? Or do you just want her so you can send her into danger again?"

"If I wanted that, I wouldn't care what happened to her," he said, struggling to keep the anger out of his own voice. "After all, when one slayer dies, another is called. If it didn't matter to me, I'd let her take her chances, perhaps let herself get killed. The earth would still be covered, it would still have its slayer. Of course I care because, she's the slayer. She's my responsibility, my sworn duty to protect. But I also care because she's Buffy. Because she's unlike anything I was led to expect from a slayer, and yet she is the most courageous, strongest young woman it has ever been my privilege to know. It isn't enough to me that she's a slayer, but that she's this slayer, this very special girl. I want her home and safe and healing her wounds, physical and emotional. I do want her home, Mrs. Summers. And I will do anything in my power to see that it happens. Including," he paused, "laying down my own life."

There was a long pause; she stared at him, mouth partway open in surprise. "You would die for her?"

"If necessary," he confirmed. "If my death would save her. I'd rather not have to, and I hope it won't come to that because knowing Buffy, she'd feel responsible for it, just as she still feels responsibility for Merrick's death. But if that's what it took, then yes. I would die for her." He looked at her calmly. Let's see what she made of that.

She continued to stare at him silently. "Do you love my daughter, Mr. Giles?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

He could have explained. He could have qualified. But he wasn't about to dissemble.

"Yes."

She blinked and looked away, breathing deeply as if trying to sort it all out in her head.

He took another deep breath. "It's difficult to explain the relationship between watchers and slayers. mentor/student, master/servant, parent/child, superior/subordinate, queen and consort...it's all these things, and more. More that can't even begin to be defined in ordinary terms. I don't know what I can tell you to assure you that my...my intentions are honorable, that I have Buffy's best interests at heart. After all, I'm the one who keeps pointing out to her where the evil, the danger lies. But I'm also the one who trains her in how to best defeat that evil, overcome that danger.

"Buffy is the slayer, whether you want to admit it, or whether you like it, or whether you accept it. The facts don't change. Our first priority is getting her home safely. But once she's home, she'll still be the slayer, still have duties and responsibilities. Now you can make it easier for her, or you can make it more difficult. It won't change what she has to do, but it will affect how she feels about it. It will be much harder for her if she has to do her duty knowing she's disobeying you. Knowing you disapprove of her. She loves you. She doesn't want to hurt you. And she doesn't want to disappoint you. I suspect that's one of the reasons why she ran. Because she knows that no matter what, she's still the slayer. She will always have to do things you won't approve of. But right now she believes you are so disappointed in her you don't want anything more to do with her."

"That's not true!" Joyce protested. "I was angry, I said things in anger that I...."

"I know that. But Buffy doesn't. All she knows is what she sees. And remember, no matter how mature she seems, no matter how great and grave the responsibilities which rest on her shoulders, she's still only seventeen. And the world is much more black and white at seventeen."

"Are you trying to say that it's my fault she...."

"No. No, I'm not saying that, not at all. But how you feel, how you react, it affects her. Buffy is a rare and unique girl, with special skills, special strengths. But ultimately, she's still just a girl, a young woman who has to live in this world with all its ordinary trials and difficulties. And those of us around her can either help make it easier for her, or we can make it harder."

Giles reached for his water glass, emptying it again. Then he turned to Joyce Summers, looking at her intensely. "Do you love your daughter, Mrs. Summers?"

Joyce gasped, aghast. "How dare you--"

"Do you?" he interrupted.

"Of course! How can you even--"

"No matter what? No matter what she has done in the past, or what she may do in the future? Can you give her that kind of unconditional love?"

Joyce stopped protesting and stared at him, confusion etched on her open face. Joyce Summers had a very expressive face; everything she ever thought, ever felt, was played out across her expression. Her daughter was much the same. "I might not like some of the things she's done, but I've never stopped loving Buffy," she finally said softly, but with an inner core of strength which heartened him to hear.

"Good. That's the kind of love she needs. You don't need to approve of her actions as long as you approve of her. Without reservation. Without trying to convince her this is all some terrible mistake, or that she needs psychiatric help. But with love and acceptance and as much understanding as you can muster.

"It's a very difficult thing I'm asking you do to, Mrs. Summers. I know that. It's one of the reasons family is traditionally kept in the dark. It must be one of the hardest things a parent can do, watching their child knowingly put themselves in danger. And yet parents do it all the time when a son or daughter serves in the military. Or performs a dangerous job. Your daughter is fighting a war. A very bloody war. And there is nothing we can do to help her except to support her through thick and thin. To be there for her when she needs us. And she will need us. You. She will need the strength and the security that 'home' means. She will need your unconditional love, the kind of love she can get nowhere else but from you. That's what I'm asking you to do. Be there for her."

Joyce looked away, tears welling in her eyes. "You don't ask much, do you?" she said and struggled to smile, a smile which turned into a sob. "I don't know if I can." She sniffed. "You're asking me to send her out to die."

"No," he shook his head. "I know it's difficult, but the brutal truth is she'll be going out there anyway. You can't stop that. But what you can do is support her. Make it easier for her. We don't know how long she's got. In my fantasies I like to imagine that she'll be the first slayer they'll ever have to retire due to old age. But I know that's not likely. So it's up to us to see that the time she does have is fruitful and happy. I know that's asking a lot. But it's all we can do."

Joyce was crying freely. "It's not enough!"

"It's all we can do," he repeated.

"Buffy...." she sobbed, breaking down again.

She wept and he felt helpless. He wanted to comfort her, but he had no comfort to give. There was nothing he could tell her which would ease her mind or her heart.

She reached for a tissue, coming up empty, and he handed her his handkerchief. She accepted it wordlessly, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose.

They sat in silence for several minutes, absorbed in their own thoughts. Finally, Giles cleared his throat. "It's late," he said. "I should be going." In truth, he had no idea what time it was. It had gone from daylight to nighttime without their knowing. A glance at his watch showed him it was almost midnight and he wasn't surprised.

She nodded and he levered himself off the couch. "I'm going to leave a couple of books for you to look at." He left her Merrick's final journal, the one which dealt with Buffy, and also the Slayer's Handbook, which included a brief history of the slayers. "Read them. If you have any questions, or simply want to talk, I'm available, day or night." He pulled out a scrap of paper and scribbled on it, an act made difficult by his splinted fingers. "Here's my home number, and the number at the library. I hope you can read them. My handwriting isn't all it should be at the moment, I'm afraid."

She smiled wanly, glancing at the paper. "It's fine," she confirmed, walking him to the door. She gazed at him, an odd, inexplicable look on her face. "I keep wanting to thank you, but I can't figure out what for."

He nodded, understanding. "I promise you, Mrs. Summers. I will be doing everything in my power to find Buffy, bring her home."

Still that unreadable expression. "I believe you. But I think after all this you can call me Joyce."

He smiled. "Rupert."

"Good night...Rupert." She extended a hand to him. Her hand was cold and he clasped it between both of his, careful of his splinted fingers.

"Good night, Joyce."

The clasp lasted a fraction longer than necessary, as if neither of them wanted to let go. There was a certain comfort in shared pain. Knowing there was someone else who understood. But finally it broke and Giles let himself out.

As he walked to his car, he found himself smiling. Finally coming clean with Joyce Summers was an oddly freeing thing. Nothing had changed: Buffy was still missing, still expelled, still suspected of murder. But somehow having taken her mother in confidence gave him a peculiar sense of...not strength, exactly. After all, he was exhausted, weak and in pain. But of...closure. Of a loose end finally being tied up. This was done, now they could move on.

He knew it wouldn't be smooth sailing. Joyce didn't really understand it all, especially didn't understand why it had to be her daughter who had to do these things. She was likely to put up quite a fuss later, once Buffy was home, when they got down to the daily realities of what being the Slayer meant. He could envision many more lengthy explanation sessions as he attempted yet again to make Joyce understand. But at least there were no more lies. He could put up with the occasional hurled cocktail glass if he had to. If it would help him gain Joyce's trust. If it would help Buffy.

The truth was sometimes a bitter pill to take. But sometimes, that pill was the first step toward healing.



~End~