You say goodbye

By: Norwalker

Part 1 of 1

Summary: Sequel to " Goodbye to you", set 15 years after Chosen. Alternate Universe, Sunnydale survived the first. Buffy, Faith and Willow still live there. This is another in a loosed based series of stories chronicling the life of the slayers after they've matured. Defies summarization, please read "Goodbye to you" first, if you haven't already. It'll make more sense that way.


Category: Drama/Angst

Spoilers: Possible spoilers from the entire series. However, this is set way post "chosen"

Time Line: 15 years past "Chosen"

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon , Mutant Enemy and Fox own them.

Warnings: As usual, character death may happen. Sexual situations between members of the same gender. Since people can change over time, characterizations may be not entirely true to the coda. Mature themes, strong language… this could get ugly.

You say goodbye

She looked out the terminal window, waiting for her flight. The hot African sun ,which had baked her skin for over two years, shone unmercifully on the landscape.

She'd been a virtual slave to a tribe in central Africa for nearly two and one half years. She'd been sent here by the Watcher's council to investigate sightings of a Demon tribe. As luck would have it, they found it on the third day out. Also as luck would have it, they'd been attacked, and most of her party had been killed. She'd managed to escape, but she'd been captured by a local tribe, who used her to work the fields…and for other purposes… things she didn't want to think about now. The only thing she wanted to think about now was getting home. Home… Dawn Summers couldn't believe that in a couple of days, she'd be back in Sunnydale again. She never thought she'd leave Africa alive.

After nearly two and a half years as a slave to the tribe, some missionaries had discovered her. They managed to convince the Tribal elders that unless they freed her and her companions, a terrible evil would befall them. Hogwash, but it worked. She didn't care. It got her free, and here, on her way home. Once she'd reached a decent size city, she'd called Giles in London, and he, after making several un-British-like exclamations, sent her the money for a decent hotel room and a ticket home.

She was looking forward to seeing her family again. Buffy, and Faith, and the kids. God, she'd missed them. That was the worst part of the whole ordeal. Not seeing her family. She never knew she'd have missed them so terribly. Out of all the crap she'd put up with, maybe that was the one gem to come out of it. She had a greater appreciation of what she had. She'd always been running away from Buffy. She wanted to be her own person, not " The Slayer's little sister" anymore. Maybe that's why she took that risky assignment in Africa… to prove she was more than just the slayer's sister. She almost lost everything, just to prove something. 'Dumb, Dawnie, Dumb' she thought to herself.' Won't be doing that kinda stupid again'.

Giles had asked her not to contact Buffy directly. He explained that Buffy had taken her disappearance… hard. It'd been a great shock to her. Giles wanted time to prepare her for the news that she was alive. She agreed, but she was kind of regretting it now. She sensed something was wrong, something more than Giles was telling her. She needed to get home. That little fact was flaring up high in her brain. She was needed for something… she felt it. Damn, where is that plane? I want… I need to get home. Now!

Involved with her thoughts and anxieties, Dawn doesn't see the tall man approach her. His hair is mostly gray, and getting a bit thin on top. But he still carries himself well, and has managed to keep an athletic trim figure. He has a slightly aristocratic bearing, and ,as been his habit for more years than he wishes to admit to, he's wearing tweeds. He lays a hand on Dawn's shoulder. Dawn, not expecting anyone, nearly jumps out of her seat in fright. When she sees who it is , she jumps out of it in excitement.

" Giles!!!" She cries out, wrapping him in a big hug. Rupert Giles returns the hug, smiling down on the youngest of the Summer's women." What're you doing here?" Dawn asks, holding onto him tightly. After what she's been through, she wants to make sure things don't slip away from her again.

"Well, you didn't really believe that I would just let you make your journey alone, did you?" Giles asked, a small smile crossing his normally tightly controlled expression. " We chartered a jet for you. Seems silly to waste time on a commercial flight".

" I don't understand, Giles. Why did you send me the money for a ticket then?" Dawn asks, a bit puzzled.

" To be perfectly candid, Dawn, I didn't know this option would be available" Giles said. He removed his glasses, and cleaned them, as he'd done hundreds of times in the past to hide his emotions. He replaced his glasses, and continued, "I brought someone with me" Giles said, quietly. He steps aside, and a slender woman , nearly forty is standing a bit back of him. Her red hair gleams in the sun, and her green emerald colored eyes and splash of freckles covering her nose and cheeks are clearly visible. She stands quietly, a small smile lighting her face.

"Hello, Dawnie, we've been really worried about you" Willow Rosenberg says, her voice, even after all these years retaining it's youthful, sing-song quality. She stands nervously, twisting her fingers.

Dawn looks at Willow, and her first impulse is to run and hug her. But 5 years ago a big break came between her and Buffy, and it was ugly on both sides. Dawn naturally sided with her sister.

"Hello, Willow" Dawn says, coolly. " I suppose you arranged for the jet?" She asks. When Willow nods, she continues, " In that case, I think I'll pass". She turns away, looking out the terminal window. Willow's nervous smile is replaced by a small, sad frown.

" Dawn," Giles says quietly, " Buffy and Willow reconciled about 6 months ago. There really is no reason for you two to be angry at each other still".

" She said some awful things about my sister, and about Faith," Dawn replies, not turning around, " Things that are hard to forgive."

"Dawn, Faith and Buffy have forgiven Willow" Giles chides her gently, " Don't you think you could try to forgive her, also?".

" No, Giles. She has a right to be angry, " Willow says, quietly, " I said awful things. Things I had no right to say, because of bitterness and jealousy. But, Dawnie, please come with us, anyway. Not for my sake, but for Buffy's? She is anxious to see you, and we can get to her much quicker in my jet than you can by commercial flight".

Dawn turns around. Her lip is quivering, and her eyes are overflowing with tears. " Why, Will? Why did you say those awful things about Faith and Buffy?" Dawn cries out, " Why couldn't you let them have their happiness?".

" I was a bitter fool, Dawn. I'd been alone so long, that seeing your sister happy with someone else, especially Faith… just hurt. I lashed out, and regretted what I said 5 minutes after those awful words left my mouth. I'm so sorry I hurt them, and you, Dawnie". Willow is close to tears too.

" Well, you really are a fool, Willow. If you'd have opened your eyes, you would've noticed there was a Summers' girl that's loved you like, forever". Dawn says quietly. "But, you were blind to anyone but Buffy."

You could've knocked Willow over with a feather. She'd never suspected Dawn's feelings. She wonders how she could've missed it.

"Dawnie" Willow says in a low voice, almost a whisper." I never knew!"

" Yeah, well…for being so smart, you're pretty damned stupid, Will, " Dawn says, maybe a little harshly. " Lets go. I haven't seen my family in 2 and a half years. I really don't want to wait any longer than I have to."

Taking Giles' arm, Dawn heads for the terminal where Willow's private jet is parked. Willow, still a bit in shock, brings up the rear.

Faith opens her eyes in the darkness.

It's that time of morning, just before sunrise, when everything is quiet and peaceful. She lays in the bed for a moment, collecting her thoughts. She knows she has to get up soon, the Holy Terror Duo will be up soon, and she has to get them fed and off to school. She sighs… another day starts. God, sometimes I just miss being able to lie in bed til noon, not worrying about anything.

Almost instinctively, she turns to check on Buffy. As has been her habit for the last two years, she listens for Buffy's breathing…trying to see the rise and fall of her chest. That means she's still here… still alive. Something Faith hopes never changes. She couldn't handle the change… ever.

She's startled when she finds Buffy's side of the bed empty. Oh god, where is she? Faith sits up quickly, and sees someone by the window, looking out. Her heart starts beating again when she realizes that it's Buffy. Faith lets out a breath, and gets out of bed, shivering a little in the morning chill. Faith grabs her robe and joins Buffy at the window.

"Mornin', Lazybones" Buffy smiles up at Faith. Though the years have been kind to both the slayers, leaving them their youthful look, the disease hasn't been kind to Buffy. She's thin, terribly thin… nearly gaunt. Her eyes have dark circles under them, and her skin has an unfamiliar pallor. Her once beautiful hair is gone, replaced by a large bandana she wears to cover the effects of Chemo( no silly wigs for her…. and they itch, anyway!). But despite that, if you look in her eyes you see the fighter she is… they glow with the challenge of beating this latest monster. Her smile is quick and genuine. And there is no mistaking the love she feels for Faith in her expression or look. Faith of course sees Buffy only with her heart, and to her Buffy is still the strong, vibrant beautiful woman that captured her heart so long ago.

"Morning, Beautiful" Faith says, leaning in for a kiss. They share a brief but heartfelt kiss, neither ever failing to be excited by the touch of their lover's lips. Faith smiles to herself, in awe how this little blonde woman after all these years can make her feel like a teenager on her first date.

"Liar" Buffy smiles, " I look like hell". But nonetheless she blushes at Faith's compliment, the corner of her lips turning up. She doesn't know what she'd do without Faith, and she never ever wants to find out. She reaches up and strokes Faith long, thick dark hair. She wonders to herself how this wonderful, beautiful and sexy woman could've chosen her. She doesn't care… all she knows is that she did. Her smile broadens, and Buffy leans against Faith, laying her head on Faith's tummy as she wraps her arms around her waist. Faith pulls her close, and they share this little moment of warm closeness.

" Couldn't sleep, baby?" Faith asks, concerned. Buffy needs to rest, but she seems unable to sleep well these days. In her heart, Faith feels some tiny sparks of fear. It's as if Buffy knows that she won't be here much longer, and is trying to pack every moment of the day with memories, impatient with even the briefest naps that steal precious time. Even though she knew, for the kid's sake, she had to contemplate the possibility of life without Buffy, it sometimes overwhelmed her, and she sometimes had to find a place to hide until the tears stopped. She didn't want to scare the kids, or Buffy.

Buffy faced the fact that she might not be here. During one of the 'good' times, when the disease was in remission, she insisted on making tapes for Joy and Hope. She wanted to share the special moments in their life, even if she couldn't be here in person to celebrate with them. So, they rented a camera and lights and the whole bit. Buffy even put on makeup, something she was loath to do these days, and wore a blonde wig(god, I don't want to look like a pirate , for Christ's sake, Faith), though she insisted the wigs made her scalp itch something fierce. She screwed up her courage, and made the tapes: One each for their graduation from high school, for their college graduation(you make SURE she goes to college, Faith!), and for when each of them got married. She even made separate tapes in case Joy or Hope was gay like her mom.

Faith always knew Buffy was brave. She'd faced lots of demons and vampires and bad things in her life, even dying twice to save the world. But it was while making the tapes she realized how quietly courageous Buffy was. She knew it was hard on Buffy to do this, but Buffy did it with a smile on her face, getting through it like a champ. It hadn't been until a few days later, when they were alone, that Buffy broke down. The thought of not being there as her babies(cause both were her babies) grew up, completed school and found a happy life devastated Buffy. She cried for an hour, Faith simply holding her. It was the only time, before or since, that she'd seen Buffy cry over this disease.

"Well, of course I couldn't sleep, moron" Buffy said, affectionately. "God, Dawnie's coming home! I… I never thought I'd see her again, and she's coming home. How could I sleep?"

"Gotcha, B" Faith said, smiling, " But don't get overexcited, ok? I mean it wouldn't be good if you get all flustered and nervy and excited, and are wiped out when Dawn gets here"

"Ok, Mom " Buffy teases Faith, " God, you don't need to baby me. I'm not a child".

"Oh, really?" Faith counters, " Sometimes I swear I got three kids instead of two".

Buffy sticks her tongue out at Faith, and Faith laughs.

" So mature, B" She teases.

"Well, what, Dimples?" Buffy says, knowing that nickname always gets Faith's goat," You expect me to act all cool and calm, like(snooty voice) ' Well, hello Dawn, dear. Long time no see. Been what? Two and a half years? Gee, how time flies. What've you been doing with yourself?'. Yeah, right. You heard Giles, didn't ya?" Buffy says, maybe a little more passionate than she intended.

"Well, excuuuuse me for being worried about ya, B" Faith says, pouting maybe just a little bit.

" I'm fine, Faith" Buffy insists, " Anyway, plenty of time to rest soon enough".

Faith feels like a cold knife has just gone through her heart.

"Buffy!" She cries. Buffy looks at her, and realizes her mistake. She gets up, and goes go Faith, hugging her.

"No, no, no, no, Faith" Buffy says, soothingly, "that's NOT what I meant! I just meant I'll take a little nap once we get the kids off to school". Buffy holds her, and feels Faith's tears on her cheek. " C'mon, you silly girl. Ya don't think I'm gonna let this stupid disease beat me, do you? Nothin's gonna take me away from my sweetcheeks."

Faith recovers herself, and smiles , " Sorry, sorry. I got stupid, again. OF course not. No fucking disease is gonna beat us. We'll fight it like we've fought everything else that's tried to break us up".

"Yeah, well, I guess that's why I married ya, Dimples" Buffy teases, " Cause you're beautiful, but stupid".

" Oh yeah, Blondie?" Faith counters, getting in the game, " You aint exactly Einstein yourself, ya know".

"Smarter than you" Buffy says, adding the coup de grace, "Slut".

"No way," Faith counters, evilly, " Tight ass".

"Way, " Buffy comes back, " Evil bitch"

"You're nuts, " Faith says, " Girl Scout"

"Pimple butt"




Their little game is interrupted by the cries of the Terrible Twosome. As per usual, Joy and Hope are having a fight over some 'terribly important' thing or another.

"She took my sweater AGAIN without asking" Joy calls out, obviously pissed off with her roommate.

"Did not, Did NOT!!!" Hope calls out, obviously wounded, " And it's MY sweater, not hers"

" Liar!" Joy screams, " that's MINE!"

" Is NOT!" Hope cries

"Mom!!!" Joys yells

"MOM!!!" Hope screams

" MOOOOM" They shriek together.

The Chosen Two look at each other, and shake their heads.

"We better get in there and break them up before WWIII breaks out" Faith chuckles.

"God, where do they get the energy to fight so much?" Buffy asks, puzzled.

"Well, Joy is such a brat" Faith taunts her, just a little

" Oh, yeah…and Hope is such an angel" Buffy counters, " She's the brat, not Joy".

" Yeah, right. Yours is the brat" Faith says

" No way. Yours!" Buffy says



They walk out of the bedroom, still arguing.

Rupert Giles wonders how he ever got himself into this.

He is seated on Willow's corporate jet. Somehow, as seems his lot in life, he's between two feuding women who are particularly special to him. On one end of the jet is Willow, looking guilty, nervous and frustrated. On the other end is Dawn, arms crossed, looking angry and hurt and confused. Almost on cue, Dawn will shoot Willow an angry, hurt look. Willow will catch it, blush and look away. Then she looks up, and meets the icy stare of Dawn, and looks back down again. Then, she gets frustrated, and looks at Giles, as if HE should've told her. As if HE even knew. As if ANYONE kept him in the loop about anything. He'll look over at Dawn, but then she gives him the " Don't look at ME" look, and it's back to square one again. Giles sighs, frustrated. He takes off his glasses, and cleans them(for the 40th time today), and thinks " I'm too old for this nonsense. Won't they EVER grow up?". He settles back in his seat, waiting for it to start up again.

"Well, " he thinks to himself," it's better than having them both angry with me". He sighs again. He had faced that one just a few days prior.

When Dawn had disappeared two and a half years ago, Giles had been given the assignment to inform Buffy. He dreaded that, but had done it. To say it hadn't gone well is like saying the great quake of '04 had just been a minor tremor. The council's relation with the oldest slayer had never been good, and this had just destroyed it. She'd cut off all communication with the council, and quit being the slayer. The worst part, however, had been what she'd said to him.

"How could this happen, Giles? How could I let this happen?" Buffy said, near tears. She was trying to keep a brave front, but it was near collapse.

" Buffy, you mustn't blame yourself" Giles said, coming to her. Trying to comfort her.

" But I do blame myself, Giles, " Buffy said, turning on him, " I blame myself for trusting you. You shoulda looked out for her. You shouldn't have let her go on this assignment. You should've stopped it!"

" Buffy…" Giles tried to explain, but she cut him off.

" No, I was an idiot for trusting you or the council." Buffy said, her voice hard. " Well, that's it. I quit. I told you long ago, Giles, that if anything happened to Dawn, I'm done. I won't be a slayer any longer. You can tell the council that". Buffy walked to the window. A long pause occurred, and then she turned back to Giles. " Are you still here?" She asked, her face furious, " Get out…. GET OUT!!!" She screamed at him. Sad and defeated, Giles turned and left.

Buffy, good to her word, had quit being a slayer. She cut off all communication with the council, and with Giles. He'd tried several times to call her, but she hung up. Or, if Faith was there, she refused to let him speak to Buffy. It had broken his heart. It was like he'd lost two daughter… three, counting Faith. Through habit, he continued his work on the council. He was, after all, the chair. But his heart wasn't in it anymore. Somehow, pursuing demons and , as Dawn would put it, ooglie booglies just didn't seem important anymore. He plodded on, looking for a way to retire( this new generation of Watchers were a pack of pillocks, not one had the brains they were born with). When Dawn disappeared, his real hope for retirement had gone south. She was the one he'd wanted to make the new Chair. Now he was afraid he was going to have to turn it over to some incompetent fool, and all the work he'd labored over for the last 15 years would be lost.

He was sitting in his office, thinking this over when his phone rang. He looked at it, annoyed.' Some bleeding burke has probably fouled up yet another assignment' he groused to himself. Impatiently, he lifted the receiver

"Hello, this is Giles, " he said, working up his usual reserve.

" This is the operator. I have a collect call for a Mr. Rupert Giles. Will you accept the charges?" The operator intones the standard speech. Giles, thinking one of his operatives has gotten in a jam, accepts the call.

" Giles? Is that really you?" The voice on the other end of the phone cried. " Thank God. It's me!"

" I'm sorry" Giles said, not recognizing the voice. He added, a bit irritated, " You'll have to be a bit more specific than ' It's me!' ".

"Giles " The voice said impatiently, "It's me, Dawn! Dawn Summers!"

Giles looked at the phone as if it turned into a snake. His face colored, and his voice hardened, " I don't find this in the least bit amusing. Ms. Summers has been missing for the last 2 years. "

"Well, yeah, since I've been the one missing, I guess I know that." Dawn said, acerbically.

" I don't know who you are, Miss" Giles said, his anger rising, " but there are laws against this kind of thing. This call can be traced, and I plan on calling the police right now!" .

" God, Giles, you can be so thick" Dawn said, losing patience. She continued, " Fine, don't believe me. I'll just have to call Buffy, and tell her about that time you were supposed to be watching me, and fell asleep, and I sneaked out to meet up with…." She didn't get to finish, because Giles interrupts her

"DAWN!!!" Giles said, convinced. He held the phone away from his face and, uncharacteristically, wiped a tear from his eye. He continued, his voice getting thick with emotion, " How are you ? Are you ok? Are you hurt? Where are you?"

" Fine. Yes. No. Africa." Dawn said, answering his questions. Her own voice got emotional." It was so bad, Giles. I was held captive. I was rescued by some missionaries." Dawn continues, her voice flat, " They died Giles. All the rest of the party… the demon tribe killed them. It was… horrible." She paused. Her emotions were overwhelming her. Her voice cracked," God, It… I'm so… I missed you all so much… I want to come home, Giles. Please…help me!"

" Of course, of course, Dawn. I'll get everything arranged. We'll get you home in no time". Giles responded.

" Oh, god, Giles. I gotta tell Buffy" Dawn said, " Is she ok? I mean, it must've been ….". Giles interrupted her.

"Actually, she took it quite hard, Dawn. It was … a terrible shock to her." He stalled. Dawn's had it hard enough, without knowing about the break between him and Buffy. Maybe if he reasoned with Buffy, they can patch it up enough so that they can put on a civilized front for Dawn, until at least she can handle the extra burden. But he has to talk to Buffy first. " If you don't mind, Dawn" Giles says, quietly, " I'd like to talk to her first. Prepare her. Hearing from you out of the blue might… not be good for her". He hated lying, but … sometimes it's necessary.

Dawn paused, "Giles, is she… ok?" Dawn asked, her voice worried.

" She took it hard, Dawn. But … she's alright" Giles said, " I just want to prepare her for the news."

" Giles… what is it? What's wrong?" Dawn asked, growing more concerned.

"Nothing… nothing, Dawn. It was just… very emotionally difficult for her. You know how close she felt to you. I don't want her to be…well, you understand, don't you?" Giles implied more than he was saying. And feeling like a cretin.

"Alright, Giles" Dawn said, reluctantly. She didn't like this one bit. " Just… just tell her I love her."

"Of course, Dawn." Giles said. " I'm so glad you're alive and alright, Dawn" Giles said, quite truthfully. " I know Buffy will be happy too." Again, the truth. " This is my cell number" He gives her the number. " I won't be in the office, so call me in a couple of days at that number, when you get settled at the hotel. Charge the call to the room. I'll let you know how things are then. Alright?".

"Ok, Giles" Dawn says, her tone reserved.

" I need to know where you are, Dawn, so I can wire you some money, and arrange for a hotel. Once I've spoken to Buffy, I'll make travel arrangements to get you home." They talk a little bit more, then he hung up the phone.

He sat staring at the phone, trying to digest all that's happened. After a few minutes, he picked up the phone, and arranged a flight to Sunnydale, Ca. via Los Angeles. He never thought he'd return there, but he knew what he had to do. At least this time he could bring good news. He just hoped he could get Buffy to go along with his plan.

He sighed, and getting up, left the office to go home and pack.

Rupert Giles stood staring at the house.

This was probably the longest walk he ever had to make. It was mere steps, but taking those steps was becoming extraordinarily difficult. It shouldn't be this way, he has good news. But, after their last parting, and the subsequent rebuffs at any attempt at reconciliation, it was daunting, to say the least. It was noon, and there was a car in the driveway. There was probably somebody at home. But he kept putting off taking that first step.

"Giles?" A voice called from behind him. He was startled. He turned around, and there stood Willow Rosenberg. She smiled, and ran over to him.

" It is you! " She cried, hugging him tightly. " God, it's been… over 5 years, Giles! Handsome as ever, I see" She smiles, her eyes twinkling, " But sadly, still in tweeds" She chuckled.

" Hello, Willow" Giles said. He was fond of the young woman, as he'd been of all the them. He hadn't realized how much he missed them til this very moment," How've you been, Willow?"

" I've been good, Giles" Willow said." How about you?"

" Actually, good" He replied, " I've come bearing good news".

Willow looked at him, puzzled for a minute. Then it clicks in.

"Dawn? Is it about Dawnie?" She asked, almost in a whisper. " Did… did you find her?"

Giles nods, " Yes, Willow. She's alive, and well".

" Oh, my .. oh MY, Giles! This is WONDERFUL news. Buffy's going to be so happy!" Willow seemed all charged up, " C'mon, Giles, we've got to tell her!" She grabs his hand, and starts pulling him towards the front door.

" Uhhh… Willow, I don't think I'm very welcome here. Maybe you could tell them?" Giles said, hanging back.

Willow looked at Giles, and saw the expression on his face. Then she remembered. She stood there, thinking a moment, and seemed to come to a decision.

" You don't know, do you?" Willow asked.

"Know? I…What don't I know, Willow?" Giles asked, perplexed

"Come sit on the porch with me, Giles, I'll explain it" Willow said

They sat on the porch steps, side by side. Willow turned to Giles, and started speaking.

" You know that Buffy and I had a … rift for a number of years? " Willow queried Giles. He nodded.

" We reconciled just recently, a few months back. " Willow explained, quietly, " Oddly, it was Faith that brought us back together. But I misjudged Faith terribly, Giles. I've become close to both of them."

" Well, I'm very happy to hear that, Willow" Giles smiled, " But I don't understand what that has to do with Dawn?".

" I'm getting to that, Giles" Willow said. Her tone becomes quieter, more weighty." It wasn't til we reconciled that I found out." Giles looked at her, his expression reflecting his bafflement." I can't think of a way to sugar coat this, Giles… So I'm just going to come out with it", She said, but she still paused.

Giles looked at her, growing concerned. "What is it, Willow?" He asked.

" It's Buffy, Giles. She's very sick" Willow said, her voice dropping lower. Giles looked at her, shocked

"Sick?" Giles managed, his throat tightening.

" She has leukemia, Giles." Willow said. She looked at Giles, gauging his reaction.

Giles sat, his eyes closed. His fists are clenched , and it looked like he was doing his best not to lose control.

"How long?" He asked, his voice strained.

"Over two years, Giles. She started showing symptoms not long after … Dawn's disappearance" Willow's eyes are sad, seeing how hard Giles is taking this.

Giles sat, looking at the sidewalk. He can barely breathe. He feels dizzy, and disoriented. ' This can't be happening,' he tells himself, ' it's a nightmare. I'll wake up, and it won't be true'. But he knows it's true.

" Why didn't someone tell me?" he asks.

" I didn't know myself, Giles, until just a few months ago. And they made me promise not to tell you. I just broke that promise" She said, quietly. " I'm hoping they don't kick me out again".

Giles looks at her, and tries to smile, but fails.

"Look, Giles. I thought at first they didn't want you to know because they were still upset over Dawn." Willow went on, " But I'm thinking now that it's more… they didn't want to worry you."

Giles was silent. Willow looked over, and saw his body shaking. It's the only time she can remember ever seeing Giles cry. She puts an arm around him, and tries to comfort him.

"Hey, Red, who're you….." Faith stopped dead in her tracks. She's carrying a small white pharmacy bag. " G? What's he doing here, Red?" Faith asked, not sounding very pleased.

" I found him standing on the sidewalk, looking lost, Faith" Willow says, gently.

" He's not very welcome here, Red. You know that" Faith said, firmly.

" Of course, of course" Giles said, starting to get up, " Just tell them what I told you, Willow"

"No, stay, " Willow gently pushes him back down, " Faith. He has news. About Dawn".

Faith's heart sank. Seeing how broken up Giles was, she feared the worst. She approached him.

" Tell me, G. Buffy's been… upset enough over this" Faith said.

Giles sighed, " Actually, Faith, I have good news. Dawn has been found, alive and well".

Faith stands stunned. This is wonderful news. Why is Giles so upset then…. Oh, god

" You told him, didn't you?" Faith said, angrily, " Buffy didn't want him to know!"

" I had to tell him, Faith" Willow replied, " He has a right to tell Buffy. What would he say seeing her …."

" He'd probably say I look … sick" A voice floats over them from behind. They all turned, and Buffy was standing at the door, looking over the tableau.

Giles is shocked. It's been over 2 years since he's seen Buffy, and the change is profound. He recovers quickly, and stands quietly

Buffy breaks the awkward silence. " Well, Giles, you've come all this way to tell me something. I suppose you should come in". She waves him inside, then turns and reenters the house.

Faith and Willow exchange a look, and follow them inside.

They are all seated in the Revello Drive living room. Buffy sat in one of the chairs, across from Faith, who has the other chair. Giles is sharing the sofa with Willow.

" So, you're here to tell me something Giles?" Buffy asked, her tone a bit harsh, " Do hope you haven't misplace another one of my relatives." She looked around at the group, " Nope. Faith is here, and so is Willow. I assume the girls are still in school. Hey, there's a cousin in Minneapolis I wouldn't mind seeing gone. You could disappear him" Buffy says, her tone acid.

Giles sits, looking at the floor, his hands folded. He's taking the abuse because he feels deserving of it.

"Why'd you think I'd want to hear anything from you, Giles?" Buffy asked, puzzled." Wasn't telling me you lost my sister enough? Maybe you have an apocalypse to throw in now. Sweet, but I'm really not in fighting shape. Maybe one of the other slayers could handle this one." She gets up out of her chair, and walks away from the group.

" B, please, hear him out" Faith says, quietly." It's important."

Buffy made a tired noise. " Fine. Say what you came to say, Giles. Then, please go".

" Dawn is alive, Buffy" Giles said, " She's in Africa. She's alive and well".

Buffy stands stock still. " Don't mess with me Giles. I'm not up to it" Buffy said, her tone disbelieving

Giles briefly explains how it all came about. Buffy stood turned away.

" I suppose this is the part where I'm supposed to get all melty and grateful, huh Giles?" Buffy says, turning around.

"No, Buffy, of course not" Giles said quietly.

" Well, then I misjudged you, Giles" Buffy said," You're not quite the moron I thought you were"

"Buffy!" Willow cried out

"B… that's harsh!" Faith added.

" Harsh? You want harsh?" Buffy said, angered, " Harsh is hearing your sister is missing. Harsh is not knowing for over 2 years if she's dead or not. Harsh is after giving a good chunk of my life to the council, they couldn't even expend the resources necessary to find my sister!" Buffy said, her voice low, " It took a band of missionaries to find her, and get her free."

" Buffy, we did the best we could" Giles said

"Bullshit, Giles. The Council is powerful. It has resources no one knows about. IF you really wanted to find my sister, you could've turned over Africa inch by inch til you found her. Don't even come in here and tell me you did the best you could." Buffy stopped ranting. Her tone softened," Thank you, Giles, for telling me. I do appreciate that. But…for the rest? I'm sorry. I … just can't" She sighed heavily, " I'm very tired. I'm going upstairs to take a nap." She turned and climbed the stairs, leaving the others behind.

Giles watched her, his heart aching. But, what did he really expect, he asked himself. He got up to leave.

"Thank you for allowing me to tell her" He said, genuinely grateful, " At least I got to do that".

"Giles, she's ill. She… she's not very patient these days. Give her time. She'll come around" Willow said.

" Yeah, G. I'll talk to her." Faith said," thank you . It means a lot knowing Dawnie's alive"

Giles turned and smiled, " Let's not fool ourselves. We all know that Buffy, once she makes up her mind, is pretty much set. " He fights back his hurt, " I really didn't expect much, anyway. Thank you both for trying. I have to go now. I've got to make arrangements for Dawn's flight home". He turns to go.

"Giles, wait!" Willow calls out, " I'll go with you!"

"That's very kind, Willow. But I think I can find my way back to my hotel" Giles said, smiling.

"No, that's not what I meant." Willow said, firmly," I've got corporate jets standing by in over half the world. I think that'll be a faster way to bring Dawnie home. Commercial flights just take too long".

Giles looked at her, amazed.

" Don't look at me like that, Giles" Willow said, quietly, " I'm worth billions." She notices his expression, and waves him off, " No, I didn't cast a spell. I made it the old fashioned way… with computers. What good is being rich if you can't use it to your advantage once in awhile?" She asked, her eyebrow arched.

" You won't get an argument out of me, Willow" Giles said," I don't particularly care for commercial flights. But I already arranged a ticket for Dawn".

" Well, gee, Giles. I'll compensate you." Willow grins, " Goddess, imagine the council crying 'poor mouth', " She laughs, " So, when do we leave?"

" Tomorrow?" He asked.

" Great, gives me time to pack" She said, brightly. She turned to Faith, " You gonna talk to Buffy?"

" I'll try" Faith said, doubtfully. " You know how stubborn she can be".

" And… you're not?" Willow said, grinning.

" Good point" Faith returned the smile.

"So, Giles, how about that coffee now?" Willow asked, turning back to Giles.

" Ummm…. I don't remember inviting you to coffee, Willow" Giles said, bewildered.

" Of course you don't. But did you really think this flight was for free?" Willow grinned. " Anyway, I think Buffy and Faith could use some alone time. Talk about your rock and hard place. I don't envy Faith right now" .

Giles and Willow left, leaving Faith with one daunting task.

Changing Buffy's mind.

Giles has put it off long enough.

He gets up from his seat, and walks over to Dawn. He sits down next to her. They sit silently next to each other for awhile, as Giles works out a way to tell Dawn what he has to tell her. He finally turns to her, and breaks the silence.

"Dawn, we need to talk" Giles says the four most dreaded words in the English language. Dawn looks at him, and tries to smile, but doesn't feel it breaking out over her face.

" I wish we could put this off, but I have to prepare you," Giles says." There's no easy way to say this, I'm afraid".

" It's Buffy, isn't it Giles?" Dawn says, putting on a brave face, " Something's wrong with Buffy."

" I'm afraid so, Dawn" Giles says, wondering at Dawn's intuition. Not realizing his phone conversation with Dawn kind of gave it away.

" Is she… " Dawn begins, finding it hard to say, " Did she… is she insane, Giles?" Dawn fears that most of all. Buffy going over the edge, losing her mind, forgetting her. Still, after all these years, and they both being adults.

" No, " Giles says, feeling a touch of relief, " No, Buffy's not insane, Dawn. But it's not good, nonetheless."

" What is it Giles?" Dawn asks, worried, " What's wrong with her?"

" She has leukemia, Dawn." Giles says, " It's … she's had it for over 2 years. Evidently it became symptomatic around the time you disappeared".

" Why didn't you tell me, Giles? " Dawn asks, upset, " Why didn't you tell me?"

" I just learned of it myself , Dawn" Giles says, " After I spoke with you".

" I don't understand, Giles. You were acting so weird on the phone when we spoke, that's why I knew something was wrong. But, if you just learned about it now, why'd you act so weird?" Dawn is confused.

" You're sister and I had a falling out. She was upset… when you disappeared." Giles says, " Rightly so. She blamed me for your disappearance. We hadn't spoken in over 2 years when you called."

" Giles " Dawn says, " That's totally…that's just wrong! How can she blame you for my disappearance?"

" I never should've let you go on that mission" Giles says, feeling guilty." I should've stopped you".

" Like you really could have! I'm an adult, Giles, not a child." Dawn protests, " I make my own decisions, good or bad. Buffy has no right to blame you!".

" Dawn, she felt betrayed. She'd given a lot to being a slayer, and to the council, over the years" Giles says, " When you went missing, she felt the council didn't do enough to find you. I happen to agree, even though I tried to push them to continue. I was overruled." Giles felt more than a little bitterness about this. " Unfortunately, there was nothing more I could do with the council. I used my savings, and organized a search party. But nothing came of it. I failed you, Dawn" Giles says, bitterly." I failed Buffy".

" I didn't know that, Giles" Willow says, scaring both of them. They hadn't realized she moved over towards them. She continues, " Sorry , guys, I got nosey" She blushes, " But back to what you were saying. I know I didn't know that you'd done that Giles. I'm sure Buffy didn't know it either… did she?" Willow asks.

" No. I didn't tell her. I didn't see the point" Giles said." I didn't find Dawn".

" The point, Giles, is that you did everything you could, even wiping out your savings, to find Dawn." Willow says, with conviction, " Don't you think Buffy would want to know that?"

"She doesn't know that?" Dawn asks." Why not?"

"Because it's irrelevant, Dawn." Giles says, " I didn't find you!"

"She has to know, Giles" Willow says, " You can't let her stay mad at you".

" She's still mad at Giles?" Dawn says, amazed, " Why?"

" You know your sister, Dawn" Willow says, " She can be awfully… stubborn when she makes up her mind".

" The word, Will, is pigheaded" Dawn says," She makes stubborn look reasonable".

" Stop it, both of you!" Giles say, tightly, " Buffy is a fine woman who happens to hold strong opinions".

" Will you look at that?" Willow says, " Buffy is treating him like crap, and he still defends her!"

" You're hopeless, Giles, you know that, don't you?" Dawn says, chiding him, but kindly. "Well, we just have to tell her, Will".

" You will NOT tell her!" Giles says, " She's got enough on her plate. She doesn't need anything else confusing her!".

" Now you're being pigheaded, Giles" Dawn says.

" Maybe so, but I want you both to promise. You must promise you won't tell her." Giles says, resolutely."

" Fine, ok" Dawn says, reluctantly, " I promise". But she has her fingers crossed behind her back.

" Giles, you're being foolish" Willow says, " But that's your choice. I promise". She also is crossing her fingers.

" Giles," Dawn says, changing the subject, " How bad is Buffy? Is she… is she going to … die?"

" I don't know, Dawn. She's been responding to chemo and radiation therapy. But she needs a transplant. She needs the stem cells to replace those damaged by the disease. So the body's natural immunity can fight the disease. The problem is, she has a rare blood type. She's not been able to find a match."

Dawn gets it. She is the most likely donor for Buffy.

" So, it's me." She says, " Buffy needs my stem cells to live".

"Dawn" Giles says, " Even with the transplant, from what Willow has been telling me, Buffy has about a 50/50 chance. The disease has progressed significantly. The doctors are hopeful, but not overly optimistic. Even should you match, and give the transplant, only time will tell if it'll work."

" You're not big on giving the hopeful, Giles" Willow says." Maybe you could make it a little less grim?"

Giles sighs in frustration. " Less grim?" he says, his voice reflecting his weariness, " Don't you think I wish I could make it less grim? I've been Buffy's watcher for nearly a quarter of a century. I've had to deliver bad news to her too many times. I've watched her die twice. I brought the news about Dawn being missing. I find out now it was right after that she began to get sick. How do you think that makes me feel? God, I wish I could take this away from her, don't you know that? She's…." He stops, pulls off his glasses and cleans them, trying to hide the emotions he's feeling. He continues, " … she's like a daughter to me. All of you are like daughters to me. You, Faith, Dawn, Buffy. I've never had a family. You're my family. When you and Buffy had that … falling out, where you didn't speak to each other for nearly 5 years, it was like my family was falling apart. Then, Dawn disappeared. I thought my heart was going to break. Having to tell Buffy was the hardest thing I ever had to do." He pauses again, reliving those emotions, " Now, I'm afraid. Afraid I'm going to have to watch Buffy die. Again. And there's no reprieve possible this time." He looks at Willow pointedly, as if to say ' don't even think it!'. " I'm being as hopeful as I can. I'm sorry if it's not enough". He stands up, and walks to another part of the plane. He needs to get away from this.

Willow and Dawn sit in their seats, stunned and chastened. Giles, even in the worst of times, had always been their rock. But even the rock wears down after the relentlessly beating forces of time. They realized they were going to have to reciprocate on all those times he'd been there for them. The time had come for them to pay down on the debt.

Willow stood up, and went to where Giles was sitting. Not saying a word, she sat next to him, and put her arm around his shoulders, taking his hand in her free hand, and just being there for him. He didn't say anything, but his face looked a little less grim. Dawn, following Willow's lead, sat on his other side, holding his free hand. They spent most of the rest of the flight that way, sharing the pain and trying to comfort each other.

Buffy stood on the porch watching the road. Her face reflected her impatience, anticipation and nervousness.

She'd lost hope of ever seeing Dawn again. When she disappeared, it was as if someone had taken a part of her, the best part of her, and thrown it away. It had overwhelmed her. Dawnie had always been more than a sister to her. She was a part of Buffy on many levels. Losing her brought up the same feelings as if she'd lost Joy. It tore her apart.

Buffy had lots of guilt over how she reacted. In her grief, she'd blamed Giles personally. Not as a member of the council, but as if he personally had been responsible. Even when he came and told her that Dawn was found, alive and safe, she'd treated him horribly. She'd like to blame the sickness, but she couldn't. Losing Dawnie had hurt, hurt badly. She wanted… needed someone to hurt back. So she struck out at the one person whom she knew she could hurt. Giles. The man who'd been with her since the start; the man who'd gone to the mat for her more than once. The man who in so many ways had been so much more than a watcher to her; more than Hank Summers had ever thought to be, Giles had been a father to her. Faith had patiently pointed out to her that her treatment of Giles had been little short of cruel. He loved Dawn too, and instead of leaning on each other, Buffy had made him the villain in the piece. She'd driven him away, and put the burden of Dawn's loss on him. She didn't want to listen to Faith; it was comforting in a perverse way to have someone to blame, someone to loathe. But Faith wasn't going to let it go; she knew Buffy had to clear this from her soul. She reminded Buffy of all Giles had done for her, for Dawn, for Faith and the kids.

Buffy had finally broken down, and admitted that she blamed Giles because she couldn't bear to take the blame herself. That Dawn had only taken this risky assignment because she was trying, even after all these years, to get out from under the shadow of being the Slayer's sister. That she should've encourage Dawn to find her own place in life, instead of holding her so close as to smother her. She'd been selfish, never letting Dawn have her own life. She, Buffy, was to blame, not Giles, not anyone else. The guilt, along with the sickness, had been eating her up.

Faith patiently listened, and let her express her guilt and grief. She then had to poke holes in that idea, too. Dawn was an adult. She was not restricted in any way, mentally or physically. She made her own choices, her own mistakes. Buffy was not responsible for Dawn's choices. If she wanted to stay close, that was her decision. If she wanted to go away, that was her choice. It was foolish, and just a little bit vain, for Buffy to think she controlled Dawn's life in any significant way. So, blaming herself for a choice Dawn made was nearly as foolish as blaming Giles. Feeling grief and sadness is ok. That's normal. But guilt? That's just … dumb.

Faith was right, of course. Even Buffy had to admit that. Rather than dwell on past mistake, real or imagined, it was time to live in the now. To look forward to whatever future was left, and to enjoy it without overloading it with baggage. Maybe just live life, and not worry about whatever might be around the corner.

As Buffy watched the road, waiting for the car that would be bringing Dawn home, she thought about her relationship with Faith. When they first met, it'd seemed that Buffy was the mature one, the responsible one. The one that did the right thing, made the hard decisions, and followed through. Faith was the wild one, the rebel. The one with no cares, no worries, no responsibilities. Buffy was the adult, Faith was the child.

That had certainly changed. Over the years, Faith had grown and matured. She was the responsible one, taking on too much of the burden of late. She cared for Buffy, cared for the kids, and made everything work. Buffy realized that it was time to put away her own childishness, and start being more of the equal partner in this relationship. Being sick wasn't an excuse. There are things she could do, even now, that would take some of the load off of Faith. And when she got well… Buffy stopped for a minute. That was the first time she'd thought that way. That she was going to get well. For the last two years she believed she was going to die. She prepared herself for it, accepted it. But now, in her heart, she no longer wanted to accept it. It was too soon, way too soon. She had too much to do, too much to make up for. It was time she stopped playing at being an adult, and like Faith, grow up and be one. She owed it to herself, she owed it to the kids, especially Joy, and , most of all Buffy owed it to Faith.

Faith walked out onto the porch. She saw Buffy looking off, waiting for Dawn and the others arrive. Something was different about her, faith noticed. She stood straighter, seemed stronger. There was something … a sense of life… that had been missing for so long. Faith watched for a minute, liking what she was seeing.

"Hey, B. Just got off the phone with Red. They landed an hour ago, and their on their way" Faith said, walking over to Buffy.

Buffy turned to Faith, and gave her a broad, bright smile. Faith looked at her quizzically. Something had changed in the last few minutes. Something good had happened. She sensed it, but didn't know what.

" What is it, B?" Faith asked.

" I'm not going to die, Faith" Buffy said simply. Then, teasing, " Hope that doesn't muck up your plans, or anything".

" Buffy!" Faith cried out.

" I'm going to live. I know it. I feel it, here" Buffy takes Faith's hand, and puts it on her heart." I'm not ready to go yet. I've got too much to do. Too much to live for. Nope, that's settled, I'm sticking around".

" Buffy" Faith repeats, softly. They move into an embrace, hugging each other tightly. Buffy makes a noise.

"Ummm.. not dying, but not well yet, either" Buffy says teasingly, "Watch that slayer strength, ok?". She smiles at Faith.

They hear a car pull up in the driveway. They look out and see its Dawn and the rest. Buffy takes Faith's hand, and tugs her along behind her.

"C'mon, Faith. Lets go welcome my sister home".