Title: Only Sky Above Us
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and no profit is being made from them.
Spoilers: BTVS 1-6 and Stargate 1-7
Challenge: #2 Ascension, Death, Rebirth
Only Sky Above Us
Thin yellow curtains decorated with white and blue flowers barely held back a setting sun’s glare as Joyce bent over a the sink. Hazel eyes trained on the horizon where the land slanted drastically upward as if striving to meet the night. Her hands dipped, shifting the head of lettuce further under the facet’s spray and twisted it. Slammed it downward into the stainless steel, stem side first and smiled at the sharp crack, welcomed the small release of built up energy as she repeated the movement.
Warmth engulfed her side and she glanced down at a crown of brown hair. It slid over pale shoulders as Dawn moved closer and tilted her head back, grinned at her mother and asked, “When will your boyfriend and his friends get here?”
Joyce arched a brow as she shook off the excess water from the lettuce, “He is not my boyfriend.” She empathized the last word while digging out the core with her fingers.
Dawn’s brows rose as she stepped back allowing her mother to move to the island in the center of their new kitchen. The lettuce head was deposited on the chopping block and she waited as Joyce threw out the stem and readied the knife. “You’ve gone on how many dates?”
She wasn’t fooled by her daughter’s casual question and Joyce shot her a glare that was ruined by her lips quirking. “A few.”
She coughed to hide her snicker at the matter-of-fact correction and brought the knife through the center of the lettuce and then again crossways. “Be helpful and get me a bowl.”
Dawn let free an exasperated sigh that only teenagers seemed to be able to fill with a world of annoyance while doing as requested. Once the bowl was placed beside the cutting board and the lettuce deposited into it she latched back onto Joyce. “So your boyfriend—”
Her warning tone had the teenager pausing and forcing a casual shrug accompanied by the correction of, “When is your friend who is male and that you have dated,” she giggled as Joyce sighed and finished chopping up a yellow pepper. “When is he coming?”
Switching to the celery she shot her daughter a pleading look. “Soon and if you could—”
The doorbell interrupted her and Dawn’s grin teasing widened. “I’ll get it!” The cheerful shout was accompanied by the slap of bare feet against the tile as she skirted around the island and darted for the door-less entryway.
“Dawn!” The shout of her name stopped the teenager and she turned innocent eyes on her mother who simply arched a brow. “Behave.”
“But I live to torment you.” The impish smirk and flash of mischief stilled Joyce’s busy hands and she watched Dawn turn, leave her.
The knife slid from suddenly nub fingers and her hands struck the cutting board with a dull thud and she looked down, stomach knotting as Dawn’s words rolled through her head. Dragged free a memory of last Christmas, of when their family was whole and she hadn’t left her eldest in California, left her in the cold ground. Parents shouldn’t to survive their child, that wasn’t supposed to be how the world worked.
She didn’t feel the tear ease its way free or leave a damp trail from cheek to chin but she felt the soft drop of it meeting the side of her hand. Joyce’s focus shifted, eyes clouding as they stared down at the insignificant show of remorse and she closed them. Pushed back the image of Buffy smiling up at her, teasing her about band candy and Rupert. She pushed back the memory of Buffy’s far too strong arms catching her as she felt the blinding pain and laid her on the couch before running for the phone.
With more willpower than she had ever thought herself capable of Joyce shook herself free of the memories and into the present as her friend—who did happen to be male—came up beside her.
She swallowed, pulled forth a false smile and turned to look into his understanding face, her mask crumbled. Jack’s brows dropped and he turned his attention toward the entry and motioned Carter and Teal’c away with a nod of his head.
Daniel’s eyes widened and he laid a hand on Dawn’s shoulder and led her from the room but not before he sent Jack a look that said he’d keep Joyce’s daughter occupied. He dropped his chin in thanks and turned back to Joyce even as Dawn leaned into Daniel and spoke to him in Turkish.
A wounded laugh fell past her lips and she shook her head. “Didn’t they just start those lessons?”
He frowned at the attempt of distraction but nodded, “Only a few week ago, I think.”
She shook her head and Jack caught her chin, turned her back to face him. His thumb smeared the trail the tear had left across her cheek. “What’s this?”
“One hundred and fifty two days.” Joyce swallowed, pulled back. “I moved here after only twenty and met you after only forty. My life’s moving on and…” She trailed off, blinked past the wetness in her lashes.
“It shouldn’t or at least you wished it wouldn’t.”
Joyce closed her eyes, took in a slow breath to quiet her thoughts, kill the cold creeping its way into her body and willing her to just lay down. Let Buffy’s death ruin her, ruin the life she was trying to rebuild for Dawn, far from the Sunnydale, far from the struggles of unnatural life and death.
“Help me set up the grill?”
Jack’s mouth thinned and he stared into her unblinking gaze, watched the tears recede and determination darken hazel to green. He nodded and added a hopeful tilt to his question, “Red meat?”
Joyce sighed with the fact that he was allowing her to repress, allowing her to fake her way through another day. “Isn’t that what you insisted on?”
“I always burn the chicken.”
Real amusement sparked in her voice, “I always burn the pie.”
“So between us chicken-pot-pie would be a disaster.”
She laughed suddenly and moved into his chest, dropped her forehead onto his chin. “Thank you.”
He touched the back of her head, ran his fingers through the loose curls. “Don’t mention it.”
“Don’t watch Dawn eat.”
He laughed, “Why’s that?”
“She likes odd things.”
Jack shifted, dislodging Joyce and forcing her to tilt her head back to meet his gaze. “Odd?”
His mouth dropped open in horror. “On a burger?”
She laughed and corrected, “A cheeseburger.”
Joyce felt another string of sadness loosen. “Just look away.”
Her finger wrapped around the condensation laced pitcher that had once been filled with iced tea that now more closely resembled brown water. She smiled and nodded with Sam’s casual assessment of, “Lost cause,” before moving back into the house. The homey sound of dishes clanking together as their were washed had her glancing toward the sink and smiling at Daniel, “Thank you.”
He offered her a pleasant smile and turned back to his work, the sleeves of his shirt rolled back to allow him to sink his forearms into the soapy water and Joyce was almost positive he was humming. A childish giggle drew her attention to the center island and Dawn who glance up from the chocolate cake she had spent all of yesterday evening preparing. Murray inclined his head to her as he set a stack of desert plates beside between them and patiently awaited the next of her daughter’s instructions.
The doorbell chimed and Dawn glanced up, caught her mother’s eye and raised her brows. Daniel moved to her side, wiping his damp hands on a dishtowel, “I’ll get it.”
Dawn shook her head, swiped a bit of frosting off the knife, “Nah, you’re the guest. I’ll get it.” She popped her finger in her mouth and grinned around it before skirting around the island and out of the room.
Joyce placed the pitcher on the edge of the counter, hands running along the sides to the base as she watched Jack enter the back door followed by Sam. She watched the quick way his eyes scanned the room, the almost predatory assessment of those inside of it and she suppressed the voice that nagging at her that she had seen the same look in Buffy’s eyes, the same attention to her environment. His dark gaze finally landed on her and he smiled, a warm smile that filled his entire face with happiness and she felt her lips lift up of their own accord, felt an answering spark of happiness form in her stomach.
Dawn’s scream sliced through the happy moment and tore Joyce from thoughts of tomorrow. “MOM!”
Her heart jerked, sliding into a frantic pitch without a moments thought as her throat closed and she shoved back from the counter. The pitcher tilted, tumbled and shattered against the tile as Joyce slid past a startled Daniel and a step ahead of Jack as she rushed through her home. Her sandals beat down the carpeted hallway, her breathing picked up with her bodies moment as she stumbled into the small greeting area and stopped.
Dawn had her arms wrapped tightly around someone; her head buried in their shoulder and Joyce blinked, her mind trying to comprehend the impossibility of what her eyes saw. She stepped forward watched the person’s head lift and hazel eyes, that so mimicked her own shifted toward, stated at her almost blankly. Dawn stepped back, aside and left a path for Joyce to gather up her eldest but she remained motionless. Afraid the smallest movement would wake her; bring this dream moment to an end.
Her gaze shifted past her daughter to the man standing behind her. Rupert inclined his head, offered her a small lift of his lips and the sight of him brought the realization home and Joyce refocused on the small blonde filling her doorway.
“Buffy? Baby?” Her words were soft, uncertain as she stepped forward, her hand rising, reaching out and suddenly her arms were filled with her daughter.
She curled into Joyce’s front, cheek pressed to the beat of her mother’s heart. The taller woman’s arms fell closed and she pressed her face into the crown of blonde hair. Heard Buffy’s muffled chant of, “Mommy,” and no longer tried to suppress her tears.
She spoke her daughter’s name again “Buffy.” Gone was the hesitation, only the truth of that softly uttered word remained as she sank to her knees cradling her baby girl and began to sob.
Brown eyes narrowed on the touching scene and Jack felt more than saw Daniel come to his side, Carter and Teal’c only a step behind him. His best friend was silent a moment as he watched Dawn kneel beside her mother and run gentle hands through the blonde’s hair, tears streaming down the curved slopes of her cheeks.
“Jack,” The colonel shifted, inclined his head in acknowledgment of Daniel and the other man cautiously whispered, “Jack, I thought Joyce told us Buffy had died.”
Never taking his focus of the reunited family he answered back, his voice rough. “She did.”