Summary: Jenny Calendar offers Joyce Summers a choice during her aneurysm.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Original story: (A Mother's Choice) by M. Scott Eiland
A Techno-pagan’s Duty
The room she found herself in was drab and boring, the quintessential non-look of a vacant airport lounge at 3 AM. Nothing but the impersonal off-white color of the walls and the high-backed hard plastic chairs greeted her. It was not what she would have picked as a reception area, as that land of in-between. When she’d died and then been greeted by her Romany grandmother, it had been in the wide-open park behind her childhood home, those rolling knolls in which her older aunts and cousins had spent their time camping, singing, and spreading the stories of her people.
She’d died and come home, the same home she’d been avoiding for years, and it had felt right.
Now she smiled as comfortingly as she could at the woman before her. “Joyce, I’ve been expecting you.”
Jenny Calendar had met Joyce Summers briefly at the back-to-school night that wasn’t three falls before. She’d been busy trying to fend off vampires and confer with Rupert, and she’d only glimpsed the way that Joyce had adapted to the chaos around her. Buffy’s natural authority under pressure was a gift not only from being Chosen but from her mother. Right now, despite her deeply furrowed brow and the way her eyes darted rapidly around the room, Joyce still exuded an air of authority. She was a calming presence. Someone who, like Rupert, could make things right.
“Who are you?” she asked, still confused.
“Just your friendly neighborhood computer science teacher and techno-pagan in one convenient package.”
Joyce’s eyes widened. “You’re Buffy’s teacher, the one Willow covered for. Miss Calendar, correct?”
She nodded. “Not in the flesh, but more-or-less in the ectoplasmic excess.”
“Am I dead?”
“Now that’s an interesting question. The immediate answer is yes, you are.”
Joyce stepped back and grabbed at the plastic chair — something garish and parking-cone orange -==behind her. “Oh, God, my girls.”
“But the long range answer is that you don’t have to stay this way,” Jenny continued, cursing her own tendency to be flippant. She hadn’t meant to shock Joyce the way she had. Her grandmother had been better about transitioning, about instilling hope, and she’d needed that strength when she’d witnessed Rupert’s pain from the other side. She’d have given anything to stop Angelus from arranging her body like that, to curtail his shock.
“What do you mean? I don’t have to stay this way?” Joyce prodded, straightening her back and staring her down. Yes, Buffy was very much like her mother.
“Sometimes, when people die isn’t as written in stone as the Powers That Be want you to believe. Sometimes destinies can be changed. When there’s a big loophole like that, an ‘ASK AGAIN’ in the Magic 8-Ball of life-and-death, the Powers can send an emissary to offer a choice. I’ve been nominated for that position, mostly because of the history between me and your daughter. Will you follow me?”
“I…of course,” Joyce replied, falling into step behind her and coming to stand before the large window built into the back wall. She gasped as she watched the scene unfold. In the living room, the still-living Joyce was rubbing at her temples, wincing in pain.
Jenny nodded sadly. “The doctors warned you about an aneurysm as a potential side effect from the surgery. It was a chance you were willing to take. I’d have taken the surgery myself, but sometimes the odds catch up with you. You’re going to die.”
Joyce turned to her, her hands clenched until the knuckles had gone white. “If it’s already coming, if I can watch it unfold right now, then what kind of choice can you possibly be giving me? Why are you even forcing me to watch this?”
There was such an anger and vehemence in her tone, that if Jenny had not already been dead, she’d have feared for her continued physical safety. Those damn Summers women; how her Rupert was going to go crazy trying to take care of both Buffy and her (new) younger sister. “I’m going to show you. Don’t shoot the messenger, Joyce. We’re all the playthings of the Powers That Be. I’m here to give you choices that can’t save your life but just might save Buffy and Dawn’s.”
“Again, Fate’s not set. It’s fluid and it moves. It can be manipulated, the slightest changes can offset when and how someone will die. Your choice now could cause a big enough ripple to save Buffy, but you never know.”
“‘You never know’ is the best that the Powers can do?”
“It’s a chess game they play with the other side, and that whole pawn thing? Pretty much applies to us,” Jenny replied. She laid her palm along the window, and the scenes changed in quick succession. First, they both watched as Buffy walked across the main quad of UC Sunnydale. Her long hair blew through the breeze and her backpack bounced against her shoulder. She looked like any other relaxed, normal co-ed. Appearances were never true to life in Sunnydale, but it was as happy and content as Buffy ever looked. Her world would not stay that way for long. Jenny tapped the glass again and the scene flashed on Dawn twirling a pencil through her hair and staring at the boy in front of her instead of the board in Geometry class.
“Even if we were able to get a warning to Buffy right now, she couldn’t make it across town fast enough to save you. If everything plays out as it was written, she’ll come home, find your body, and then rush into funeral arrangements and everything else. She’ll try to locate her deadbeat father—”
“Hank has been good to the girls sometimes. He hasn’t taken Buffy for her annual ice-skating date in several years, but he can be a good father.”
“But he won’t be. She’ll be unable to find him as he screws his way through Spain, and all the responsibility of raising Dawn will be on her and the Scoobies. It will be hard and it will almost break her and that’s the way it’ll go.”
“There’s a better option?”
“There’s a second option,” Jenny corrected. “I don’t know if it’s better.”
“What is it?”
“We can give you the chance. You’ll be able to call 911 right this second and the paramedics will be able to find and save you, but the prognosis will not be good. You’ll still only have about 8 weeks to live and you’ll be horribly weak, basically an invalid.”
“So instead of caring for just Dawn, Buffy will have to care for the both of us?”
She nodded, “Yes, but that’s not the most important thing you need to consider. You know about Glory, don’t you?”
“Of course. She’s a god and she’s coming for Dawn. She’s come close a few times before.”
“Exactly. Eventually, she will figure out who Dawn really is and she will come for her. When that day comes, the best thing Buffy can do is flee Sunnydale and go underground, but you will be too sick to be moved. She’ll have a choice between abandoning you to be tortured or captured by Glory or trying to stay and fight. You know Buffy—”
“She’d stay for me even if I ordered her not to.”
“It looks like,” Jenny added. “You could still go back, but you won’t be allowed to remember this. You’ll be sent back and partially recover, but you won’t know about the threat coming down the line. You won’t remember that if you stay, then it will come down to Glory using you to get to your daughters.”
“But you’re saying that if I stay, Buffy and Dawn will die?”
“If you die now, they’ll both be scrambling to keep their lives together, the finances and the medical bills. If you go back, there might be some time to put all your affairs in order.”
“Wait, so you’re saying—”
“That there are advantages and disadvantages to both actions. If you die now, no one can guarantee it will save both Buffy and Dawn. The battle that’s coming is huge, and the fate of this dimension and the others depends on what Buffy does and how prepared she is.”
“Giles can have her ready.”
Jenny smiled, “I hope Rupert can. The odds are terrible and she still might die, but both definitely aren’t long for this world if they stay to try and protect you from Glory. So, Joyce, what do you choose?”
“Can I have a minute?”
“There’s not a huge rush,” Jenny replied, stepping back from the glass. “Everything there is halted until you make your choice and roll those dice.”
She nodded and pressed her hand against the glass. Jenny watched then. She watched Joyce watch her children, noticed as the tears streamed down her cheeks as she enjoyed her girls involved in the activities of daily life for the last time. She chuckled softly when Buffy slipped in her platform sandals on her frantic rush to psychology class, and she shook her head when Dawn passed her friend Janice a note. There was such love and longing in her gaze that Jenny turned away, unable to bear the display of raw emotion.
Finally, Joyce willed the scene to change once more and both women looked on at the image of her dead body, cold and pale, splayed out onto the couch. Closing her eyes, Joyce seemed to concentrate on the scene before her, and then whispered, “Goodbye, my darlings.”
She stepped back from the glass then and sighed, “That’s it, then?”
“Not as much fanfare as you think,” Jenny said kindly as she gripped the other woman’s hand and led her to the New Arrivals gate of the afterlife.
“Dawn,” Buffy said, daring to look at her mother’s exposed body. The older girl had rushed in to save her sister from a vampire in the morgue, and she’d managed so far not to spy what was left of her mother. But now, the girl seemed captivated by something.
“Look at her mouth. It’s almost like she’s smiling, like she’s trying to tell us that it’s going to be okay.” Buffy sighed and placed the sheet back over her mother’s face, before wrapping an arm around her sister’s shoulders, “Come on, let’s get out of here.
Jenny and Joyce watched all of this from their vantage point on the other side. Jenny let out a sigh that echoed Buffy’s. “Part of being dead is not watching the living. It’s compulsive, like getting piercings, you know?”
“You can watch, but it will drive you nuts. I know it did me when I saw Drusilla with Rupert. It’s best if you just ignore it, Joyce.”
The other woman shook her head and turned back to the gazing pool before her. “I won’t ever do that to my girls.”
Jenny sighed again and shook her head. “Then you’re much stronger than I am.”
Joyce smiled sadly, “I’m a Summers, aren’t I?”
And with that, Jenny turned back to her own affairs, letting Joyce find her own place in the afterlife. Jenny, no matter how drawn she still felt to Rupert, had never been able to bear watching his struggles, knowing all the while that she couldn’t lift a finger to help him. It was the most exquisite form of torture imaginable. She hadn’t the courage to withstand it, but Joyce was different.
She had the same choice as Jenny had once had and she was choosing to follow her girls no matter what.
She was a Watcher now and always would be, until her girls were safe with her on the other side.