DREAM WITHIN A DREAM By: D.M. Evans Disclaimer: You know the drill, Joss, WB and UPN own all. I make no money from this. I'm just happy to borrow the characters for a little while. Spoilers - AtS Season4 finale and Buffy the series finale Rating - R Feedback - feed me Seymour, ripewickedplum2@yahoo.com Summary - A year after Sunnydale collapses, Buffy and Faith head to L.A. for the Christmas holidays but it's not going to be a silent night. Pairings - there certainly be some but if I tell you now it'll ruin the surprise. Author's Note # 1 - For purposes of this story, Spike will NOT be back in any form. I'm leaving his sacrifice stand as is even though I know that as of now (according to WB) he's due to be in Los Angeles in the time frame this AR is set in. The rest of the events in both finales will otherwise remain the same. Author's Note #2 - The story set up is a bit of an oddity for me. The first few chapters will be non-linear covering parts of the preceding year before the main action set up in chapter one. All months and dates will be on the chapter headers for clarity. Also it'll be multiple first person POV's also noted clearly in the header.

CHAPTER ONE - BUFFY - December 2004

It's hard to believe that a year has gone by since my life fell into a big smoking hole in California. I never expected to survive that fight, not until after that crazed plan formed in my mind. I had no doubts that it would work and you know, I think that's one of the few times I've gone up against a big bad feeling that confident.

No one knew what having an army of Slayers meant. Giles and Wesley are still working out the ramifications of that. Willow's helping them. Had the Power weakened? I mean, it's not often you can divided power and make it stronger. Neither Faith nor I felt weaker. If all the Potentials are now Slayers, who would be called when we died? Infants not yet born when Willow cast her spell? Or had I squandered the Power and in a generation's time would evil have free rein since I'm not betting that even my army of Slayers will completely remove evil from this world? No one knew what might happen and that was scary. But we're coping.

Giles had gone with Willow to England to start up the Watchers' Council again and to do locator spells on all the new Slayers. They were confused and scared at first but the girls Faith and I had led in Sunnydale are now helping to teach these new girls. Some were so young, a few little more than toddlers. What was left of the Watchers dealt with that, leaving me and Faith out of it. We were the experienced Slayers. We had to hold the line until the others were up to speed. I was amazed the Watchers were prepared for that then I remember Kendra who had been a Potential since infancy. And I complained about not having a normal life. At least I had most of my childhood.

Wesley was building a Watcher's Complex here in the States, using the resources of Wolfram and Hart. I still didn't know how the law firm figured into it. There was something off about that since I thought Angel had said they were evil. But Angel and Wes seemed to think it's a good idea and I have to trust them.

And I do, so much so I have them keeping an eye on Dawn. She lived in L.A. with Xander who was working for Wolfram and Hart as a construction manager for some of their projects. I'm shocked he even wants to talk to me any more, let alone be big brother to Dawn. Once all the adrenaline wore off, Xander collapsed completely. He had been maimed. He had lost Anya. He's recovering. Dawn's been a big help.

It had been hard to leave Dawn behind but it was for the best. Dawn hadn't been joking about being a junior Watcher. She had approached Giles and Wes for formal training. I wanted her out of this lifestyle but it was too late. I knew that and if she was going to be in on it then she needed to be the best she could be. Wes was doing the Watcher training. Gunn and Angel were teaching her to fight and she was going to college. We all insisted on that and Dawn was more than agreeable. She had no intentions of ending up in fast food struggling to make ends meet while she helped save the world. So, when I left the state, I couldn't take her with me.

Faith and I were both kicking ass around Cleveland's Hellmouth. Faith had threatened to shove any Watchers protesting actually paying the active Slayers down said mouth, so we were getting paid but the rebuilding was costly. Right now most salaries were being cut to funnel money into reforming the council. Faith and I lived together in a brownstone in Cleveland Heights not far from Case Western University. No chance of Dawnie going there; it's baby Ivy League. No, she had to stay in California, finish high school without me and go to college for free.

As for me, I wanted to move out since Faith's life style was...um, noisy to say the least. She and I still butted heads but as a team we were killer. I missed California. I missed having my friends with me, my sister, the odd comfort of knowing Angel was just a phone call away even though I never made that call. I missed Spike. I remembered the heat of him boiling through me, mending that fatal wound as it went. I wished he had believed for a moment that I had loved him, but he hadn't. Maybe he was smarter than me. He knew I was deceiving myself or maybe we both were deceived.

I never missed California so much as I did last winter. Sunnydale had always been toasty. Sixty degrees was cold. Cleveland treated me to my first twenty below nights. I thought I was going to die. Faith insisted Boston was colder. If it was, I never wanted to visit. Patrolling the Flats when it's coated with ice and the wind is whipping off Lake Eire and the Cuyahoga River isn't fun. Faith loves the Flats though, clubs all over the place. She can party as much as she wants. I wonder if Slayer healing powers handles the abuse she puts her liver through. You'd think ice storms would keep vampires at home but oh no. So we're out there bundled up so much we can barely fight. It's dangerous. I hate it. At least Cleveland Heights is next to Coventry and all the coffee houses so there's a place for me to unwind. And forget about things for a minute or two.

Xander was wrong. I'm still special. Oh, there's no more 'one girl' in every generation but there's still not that many Slayers. We had lost quite a few in the past year. Kennedy for one. I wish I felt bad about that but I honestly don't beyond the normal regret about the loss of a young life. I didn't like her. I couldn't even pretend to for Willow's sake. But luckily, if you can call it that, Willow and Kennedy were splits before Kennedy died. Kennedy was about as fickle as Faith and Willow wasn't one to put up with that no matter how many times Kennedy called her a goddess and tried to make up. Kennedy had known better than me and Giles when we warned her about going up against a nest of vampires she said was infesting the East End of London. I guess winning the battle in Sunnydale made her overconfident. I saved my grief for Willow. She might have cooled toward Kennedy by then but she was the one who had to burn Kennedy when her vampire self came calling. I've killed someone I once loved and it's beyond hard. But Willow is stronger than even she knows.

I shifted in my seat. Coach just sucked. One day I'd be able to afford first class. Faith was next to me, her head against the window as she drooled on herself, sound asleep. My queendom for a camera. We were flying back to LA to spend Christmas with Dawn. She had wanted to come to Cleveland for a real white Christmas. I told her the best she'd get would be piles of grey yucky snow. Cleveland had survived its Hellmouth for years without me and Faith. It would survive two weeks at holiday time. Too bad though I could bring a little of Mama Santos' pizza to Dawn. It is delicious. We didn't have anything that good in Sunnydale nor did Sunnydale have a Brotherhood Loan Company of Little Italy down the street from its pizzeria. And I only wished I was joking about the name.

It would be hard to be in LA. Xander didn't have enough space in his apartment to put up me and Faith so we were staying at the Hyperion with Angel and company. Dawn had offered to stay there and let me have her room but I said no, Angel and I could be adults about this. Then I remembered his last visit to Sunnydale. We had been anything but adult. I winced every time I think about it. He, Spike and I all acted like we were two years old and someone had taken our favorite toy. It was hardly any of our shining hours. And that cheesy cookie analogy of mine, how embarrassing. Okay, I meant a lot of it. I needed to grow into an adult and I had begun that journey. Giles assured me no one is really an adult in their twenties even if they think they are.

I had seen Angel once after it was all over. We talked about what had happened and Spike's death in particular. He told me about him and Cordy and it was hard on both of us. Spike's gone and God help me, I wish Cordy was. She's a vegetable. No one deserved that. We're all still hopeful that like Faith, she'll one day wake up from her coma. But for now, she's resting on an air mattress, suffering from a bed sore on her backside despite all the fancy care Wolfram and Hart paid for.

I had gone to see her before going to Cleveland, to thank her for looking out for Angel all this time. I will go to my grave regretting how I felt that day, like I wanted to run and forget she'd ever lived. I got there as feeding time was almost over, which consisted of pouring fluid into a tube that passed through this angry red hole in Cordy's belly. The nurse told me it was just a little stoma infection, nothing to really worry about. I had to ask what a stoma was. It's doctor talk for an opening like the one they had fashioned to feed Cordy. A tube feeding her, a tube under the cover running into the bag of urine on the side of her bed, Cordy would have been horrified to know any of us saw her like that. And all I could think of was, thank God Mom had died fast. I knew with her brain cancer that she could have ended up like this. I might have killed her myself if she had.

The flight attendant asking me what I wanted to drink distracted me from thinking about Cordy and I refused to go back there once she handed over my Coke. This was going to be a good Christmas, just friends and family and no big bads. I was looking forward to meeting Dawn's new boyfriend who was hanging around for a few days for just that purpose before joining his parents in Aspen for the holidays. I guess his family had money. Wes assured me he was a very polite, smart young man. Xander was more critical calling him skinny and geeky but I think Xander liked that last part. Angel said very little about Dawn's man.

I got the impression Angel didn't like him but it was so hard to tell with Angel. He seemed broodier than usual, depressed even. We talked almost weekly. We called it the Dawn Report. I know something was bothering him but typical Angel, he refused to share with me. He was bearing some terrible burden alone. I could hear it in his voice. Wes and Dawn agreed. Maybe I'd ask him when I saw him. Maybe not. I didn't want to spoil the mood. For once I was going to have a nice holiday.

Author's Note - Mama Santos in Cleveland's Little Italy kept me well fed for four years. Hands down some of the best pizza I've ever had. I'm trusting that 10 years after I moved away, things haven't changed. As for the Brotherhood Loan Company of Little Italy, I'm not sure if it's still there. A lot of things could happen in ten years but I hope it is.