Origin and Season One (Ch. 36)
Character: Buffy Summers
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Word Count: 1557
- Home -
The lamp shone gold and dull against the night. Buffy stared up at it as the car on the cross street passed, then looked away when they took their turn to accelerate. Home was a few blocks away.
It felt odd that Sunnydale was already “home” to her, despite her having just left LA a little over an hour ago. When they'd first made the move she'd thought she'd never get over the loss of her childhood home, never get used to some podunk town with a name that seemed as if it'd suit some equally podunk 60s show more than an all too real, mappable place, yet that was how she'd thought of it tonight, as they'd coasted down a few of the streets she'd seen almost every day just a few weeks ago. And when they'd turned away from LA and made their way back to the 101, some tiny part of her hadn't been entirely unhappy about it.
She wasn't sure what to think about it, that she thought of the Hellmouth as “home.”
“I'm sorry, honey.”
Her mother's voice broke her thoughts, and she looked over to her, hitting the playback button. “For what?” she said after a beat.
Joyce looked away from the road to meet her eyes, “For...everything. I know your sweet sixteen hasn't been particularly sweet. Are you okay?”
She looked at her, slightly taken aback. “Yeah,” she said, swallowing, though she wasn't entirely sure how honest she was being. “Yeah, I'm fine with it.”
“Last year I remember you talking about how big you wanted your party to be. I'm sorry I couldn't afford to take you anywhere better than the mall, with the new house and all the moving costs and the gallery. I hope this hasn't been your worst birthday ever.”
In truth, it was, by a landslide as long as a country mile, with current events being what they were. Buffy wasn't about to admit that though. “I know, Mom,” she said instead. “You're doing the best you can, and I'm fine. Really.”
“I'm glad you had a good time with your father at least.” She flicked her turn signal and slowed to a rolling stop before turning. “I know you were both looking forward to going to the show.”
“Yeah, it was a lot of fun.” That at least she could be honest about. For those few, scant hours in her ringside seat, the Slayer had fallen away from Buffy Summers, leaving her free to enjoy that same, familiar enchantment she'd been feeling every year since she was a kid. She'd been lost in the costumes and the dancing and the music, not feeling the cold, for once not sparing a thought for demons and death, for Watchers and vampires and Hemery and the Hellmouth and her strange, disturbing dreams. She'd been free.
But then the show had ended, and then they'd gone back to her dad's crappy little Glendale apartment to split the small ice cream cake he'd bought for her, and reality had come rushing back, as if life was returning to high tide.
“Maybe we could see a movie or something,” her mom was saying. “Or we could rent one. I could make those brownies you like, the ones neither of us should be eating. We could split an entire carton of spumoni with it.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “I'd like that.”
“I would too.”
She watched her mom as she slowed and pulled into their driveway, and when they stopped, she finally said, “You don't have to feel guilty, Mom.”
She killed the engine and hit the locks. “I know.”
“But you are anyway.”
“I am.” She smiled softly at her, then reached over and smoothed some hair behind her ear. “But I can't help it, Buffy, I love you.”
Something hot blew through her chest. “I love you too, Mom.”
They might've hugged then, if they hadn't been in the car. Instead, they unbuckled and got out.
“I did do something though,” Joyce said as they made their way to the front steps. “Since I was feeling guilty.”
Buffy stopped, curiosity peaked, spirits punched up just a bit. “You did?”
“Yeah,” she smiled. “Go open the door.”
Suddenly, absurdly, she thought a car must be parked in the living room, but she shot that down immediately, since it was ridiculous. Feeling a little jolt of excitement, she trotted up the steps and opened the door, realizing as she did it that it should've been locked.
There were balloons all over the foyer, and the TV was on, and in the dining room there was a little stack of presents. She moved automatically to investigate the latter.
“Hey, it's birthday Buff.”
She froze, the voice clicking, and she whirled to find Willow and Xander smiling at her from the couch. They were both wearing party cones.
“Hi!” Xander said, grinning. “You like the decorations? I did them—”
“We did them,” Willow cut in.
They both got up.
Buffy walked into the living room, smiling like an idiot. Suddenly the night didn't seem quite so lost. “What're you guys doing here?”
“Your mom called,” Willow said. “She said we should come over. Oh, uh, we got you...” she turned, looking at the couch. “Where's the thing?”
“What thing?” Xander looked at her.
“The thing, you know, the ha— oh.” She shifted a pillow aside, to produce a cone more sparkly and iridescent than they ones they bore, then turned back. “Here. You want me to— here, you can put it on.”
Snorting, Buffy reached for it, then put the thing on her head, pulling the strap taunt under her chin. “Thank you.”
“I wasn't sure what you'd like,” Willow said. “I mean, Xander and I usually just get a cake or something, and then we eat it... well, obviously. I mean, we don't really do anything. I figured you'd want to do something though.”
“This is great,” Buffy said, meaning it. “Thank you guys.” Impulsively, she moved in to give them a hug, and for a moment they all clumped together, and suddenly the world didn't seem quite so harsh and sad and lonely. She almost could've cried then, but she quickly threw that secondary impulse off a cliff, recovering before they separated.
“I made a cake,” her mom's voice attracted her attention, and she turned to find her standing in the doorway, smiling. She'd found a cone too: bright purple. “I know you already had cake, but it's your birthday.”
“Cake with a side of cake,” she said, grinning. “Who's in?”
Everyone was, and they all quickly relocated to the dining room as her mother went upstairs to get Dawn. When her sister finally came, she stopped on the stairs on spotting the strangers, and Buffy quickly made introductions as Joyce coaxed her in.
“Hey, Dawn,” Xander said as she eyed him suspiciously. “Dawnie? Dawnster?”
“Want a hat?” Willow was up from her seat in an instant. “I got like eight of them – I couldn't decide. A pink one and a green one and...another green one, but it's a different color, and—”
“I like green,” Dawn cut in, walking over to her. “Pink is for little girls.”
“I like green too.” Her own cone was a flaming orange – like a pylon sans the white stripe.
Dawn accepted the cone, putting it on as she took a seat at the far end of the table. “Dad's not here?” she looked at Buffy.
Buffy glanced away, seeing her friends' smiles falter out of the corner of her eye. “No,” she said, clearing her throat. “No, uh, he's in LA.”
“But it's your birthday,” she said. “And he was here earlier.”
“I know.” She wanted her to drop it. “I already had my birthday with him.”
“But your birthday's here.”
The lights went out.
Buffy jolted from her seat, arms raised, blood up in an instant. Just as she made to move protectively in front of her family, she spotted the lights in the kitchen, and then her mother. She made the connection just as she heard her voice.
“Happy birthday to you...”
Cake. Candles. Birthday.
“Happy birthday to you.”
She retook her seat as her friends joined in the awful, embarrassing chorus.
“Happy birthday to Buffy—”
“You look like a monkey...” Dawn sang over them.
“Happy birthday to—“
“And you smell like one too.”
The flaming cake was set in front of her. She could smell the smoke and the sugar, could feel her heart slowing down, could feel her cheeks burning – though whether it was from the singing or her overreaction, she didn't know. She was glad it was dark.
“Make a wish, Buffy,” her mother said.
Buffy looked at the cake. And looked at it. Felt her pulse in her ear. Quelled a hundred fragmented thoughts.