By Indri

SUMMARY: Spike and Joyce, late in Season 4. PG. Spoilers for early season five. 1300 words. Written May 2002.

The fact of the matter is that Joyce Summers is clearly insane. It's amazing really, how normal she looks---there's none of the eye-rolling or wiggly hand movements he used to get with Dru. A fair amount of babbling, yeah, but that's almost cute. And yet she's daft as a brush, completely off her trolley, and stark raving bonkers with a cherry on top.

Because there she is, running around the kitchen, fetching him snacks. Fetching him snacks. Doesn't she remember hitting him with an axe? Or is that all bygones-be-bygones, you've-helped-save-the-world-often-enough-now, or maybe it's just at-least-you're-not-that-Angel-fellow? Because here she comes, back from the pantry, with a box of saltines and a bowl.

"Ah, crackers!'' he says, because this has become a bit of a game for him these days, and by Christ he needs something to do. With the chip in his head there's not much fun to be had when there's nothing on telly. Demons to kill, when he finds them, and the joys of home decoration, but it's not as if he's planning on being in Sunnydale long, is it? He'll just get the sodding chip out of his head and be on his way. With a song in his heart and all that.

He'd bumped into her first in a department store, where he'd been shoplifting CDs. She'd recognised him from three aisles away and came up to talk. Just visiting, was he? and he'd been forced to say no, he'd been in town for a while. And she'd done that sad little smile thing which meant "No-one comes to see me.'' And he thought, for a microsecond, about how little Joyce had been mentioned by the Slayerettes of late. Had Buffy gone to see her mum at all? So, slickly, and without a moment's further thought, he said that he should pop by. Well, it would piss off the slayer and he had to keep his invite up at the house because there was no telling if the Slayer had had it revoked. Besides, it was an opportunity for something, even if he wasn't sure quite what yet, anyway.

Sympathy and hot chocolate. As he'd shaken her hand, he'd thought, gullible just doesn't cover it.

He recalled the last time he'd just "popped by'' the house, looking for little Red's spellbook. He figured he could still get into the place, and he was glad to see a light on because he thought Joyce might be there. Then he could have a good meal to take the edge off the liquor, pick up the book and get back to the witch.

But as he'd wobbled drunkenly in the doorway, something strange had happened. The bloody woman smiled. It was the warmth and sincerity of that welcome which did it. It wouldn't have happened to Angelus because the ponce liked to play tricks, befriend people for months before he killed them. Spike didn't have the patience and, frankly, when he turned up at a doorway he expected people to faint and scream and shout bloody blue murder. So he was just drunk enough to get thrown by her smile, as if she had bypassed all the hunt-kill-eat routines in his brain. And before he'd realised what had happened, he was sitting in the kitchen with a mug in his hand and was enjoying it quite a bit. He'd already bored every bartender from here to Rio about Dru and now he was going to bore her too.

Still, turnabout's fair play, so here he is back in her kitchen again, getting bored by one of her stories this time. Oh yeah, all the fun you can have in a gallery!

The microwave pings and she breaks off her story to ask if he takes milk, and he nods without thinking. "Just a spot.'' And then he immediately regrets it, because she's only got that crap tea in the house, the kind with cinnamon and orange peel and whatnot: "Constant Comment''. He thinks the constant comment must be that it's bleeding awful. If a minion ever brought him a mug of tea that bad---and they sometimes did---he'd pour it over them, and then pound their heads in with the kettle.

"So you're settled in now?'' she asks him.

"More or less. Done the dusting. Still picking up a few things here and there. My flatmate's dull, though.'' She looks at him curiously. "Got this skeleton in the sarcophagus. Still, anything's better than Xander.''

She purses her lips and gives him this conspiratorial smile, as if he's said something wicked. See? Utterly mad. He wonders sometimes how she'd react if he told her of the sheer carnal pleasure he feels when he thought of killing her daughter. Who knows? The bint might just laugh it off.

Because really, what sort of a mother doesn't notice that her kid's the slayer? For three years? Just barmy! Mad as a hatter! And he's eaten a few milliners, so he should know.

He has to admire her stubbornness, her wilful refusal to deal with the world. Because, sure, it's a tough break---your only kid being the slayer and all, with a post-puberty lifespan of a packet of crisps---but she must have to work for this level of denial. Not that Miss-High-and-Mighty lets her in on much, that's for sure. Joyce is always asking him what her daughter's up to, what the boyfriend's like, how much danger her little girl is in. And Spike, with a straight face, tells her that her daughter is spunky and resourceful and the best slayer he's ever seen. Because of course, if she wasn't she'd be dead and Spike would be happily drinking martinis (or whatever) with Dru while minions fetched him snack food and washed his shirts.

(Except that it's begun to bother him, now that he's got too much time on his hands, that he could have killed the Slayer before. He'd had the opportunities. He had the fabled Gem of Amara on his finger, making him a god amongst vampires, and he'd done what, exactly? Hidden in the bushes on the Sunnydale campus and taunted the Slayer about her sex life---that made no sense at all. Or even that first time, when Joyce had hit him with the axe, he still could have lashed out, broken the woman's neck in an instant, drained Blondie in one go. Must just have been the shock of meeting a human with enough balls to get in a good hit. And besides, he'd always appreciated violence in women.)

And hell, shouldn't Joyce have a life of her own, anyway, friends from work maybe, or chatty neighbours? There's never anyone else here when Spike comes over. How lonely exactly do you have to be before you start enjoying the company of your enemy, spending your evenings swapping anecdotes and doing the crosswords in the USA Today?

Joyceworld: that's how he thinks of it, and when he steps over the threshold these days it's with the Twilight Zone music in his head. "You are about to enter another dimension...'' She lives in her own little reality, a universe with but a passing resemblance to our own. It's a strange place. Slayers live long lives there and danger's always thwarted and Our Heroes always live to save the world another day. She'll get to have grandkids in Joyceworld and her daughter will bury her and not the other way 'round. Even Spike's not a villain in Joyceworld (that's the bit that always threatens to break him into laughter). He's some kind of sodding hero, friend to Slayers and protector of the weak. It's hilarious. She has just no idea. Why, he'd have to be out of his mind.

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