No more goodbyes

By Norwalker

Summary: Third in a series of stories started with " Goodbye to you" and continued in " You say goodbye". AU story set 15 years after "Chosen", Sunnydale survives the destruction of The First, and the sealing of the Hellmouth. IF you've been following along, the last few years have been rough on Faith and Buffy. But things seem to be looking up.

Timeline: Post Seventh season. Possible spoilers for the entire series.

Warnings: Implied character death( yes folks, even the slayers are mortal). Suggested romantic/sexual relationships between members of the same gender. Mature themes, adult language… oh, boy this could get downright ugly.


Damned machines!

Buffy lay awake in her 'room', staring up at the ceiling. Sleep is impossible; no way she could close her eyes thinking about what was going to happen tomorrow. The worst is the all the machinery she's hooked up to: EKG, vitals monitor, IV drip. Well, at least no breathing tube and catheter. Nope, those'll come tomorrow, after surgery…ack. How in heck are you supposed to sleep when you can't get comfy? She shifts her weight in the bed, again, and feels some aching in her muscles. That's been happening a lot lately, even at home. She's been quiet about it, not wanting to worry Faith. Poor baby, as if she didn't have enough to worry about. With the kids, and work, and money… well, at least Will has been helping out there… . A small smile plays on her lips. She's glad Willow is back in the fold, so to speak. It'd been a bitterly tough 5 years having to be angry with her best friend. But those things she said about her and Faith had cut deeply. But that was past now. Gone and done, water under the bridge. All because Faith had swallowed her enormous pride and gone to Willow for help. She feels tears in her eyes. I hope I remembered to tell Faith how much I love her today… god, my mind is mush, I swear! I just wish I could do more to help her… but I've been so tired lately. I hate seeing her taking so much of the load. It's not fair, it just isn't.

Buffy's trying to avoid thinking about what's going to happen tomorrow. Surgery is always risky, and she's not exactly in fighting shape. The leukemia has taken a toll on her. She's thin to the point of gaunt. Never much of an eater, the combined chemo and radiation therapies have made her lose what appetite she has. Often times Faith has to act like a mother, not letting her leave the table until she eats. I try to hide the fact that I've gotta often rush to the bathroom cuz it just doesn't want to stay down. Been a couple of times I've been hospitalized on these damned IV's, just to get nourishment in me. Hate it, really hate it! Worse than the physical toll, however, has been the emotional cost. Faith is autopilot these days, Buffy thinks to herself. She does her best, but she can't deal with everything all the time without burnout. Buffy almost wished Faith would find someone to have an affair with. Not that she'd ever do it, she's loyal as a puppy. But she needs more than I can give her…she needs some sweet touch, and I… I'm just not up to it. God, I never thought I'd find myself wishing Faith would cheat on me… but I … it hurts to see her so sad all the time. She tries to hide it, but she's not very good at it. I miss the sex, and I feel crappy. Imagine how hard it's been on her! But it's more than the sex, she needs someone to talk to that's not me, or not 10 years old. I'm hoping at least Will is doing that for her. If I don't make it, she could do a lot worse than Will…

Buffy's scared. She's hiding it, trying to keep up a brave front, but deep down, she's afraid she's not coming out of this alive. Even though it's been over 30 years, she can't help remembering her cousin Celia died in the hospital. Of leukemia. Of course, things are much more advanced now, they've got lots of things they didn't have then. But deep inside, the fear rages, unreasonable and irrational. She doesn't want to die. She has so much to live for now. Her baby, Joy, and Hope, who she thinks of as her baby. Never ever tell them I call them that, they'd freak. And Faith, oh god, losing Faith… she can't imagine eternity without her. She can't imagine a day without her. Then there's Will… God, just got my best friend back…now I'm gonna lose her again? That's not right… don't you see that's not right? She says to no one in particular. Last, but by no means least, she's just gotten her sister back. Dawn, after being MIA for more than 2 years, reappeared and is home again…


6 weeks earlier

&&&&&

" C'mon, Faith, let's go welcome my sister home, " Buffy says, feeling more alive than she has in the last 2 ½ years.

Faith comes over to take Buffy's arm, but Buffy gently shakes her off. She's already a little nervous, wondering how Dawn's going to take her new, definitely NOT improved look. God, I wish I'd worn the wig. It makes me itch like crazy, but at least I wouldn't look like I escaped from " The Pirates of the Caribbean" . Don't want her to worry more about me than necessary. Buffy takes a second, drawing on her internal will. She stands tall, and strides across the porch and down the stairs, acting as if she hasn't had a sick day in her life.

Dawn, getting out of the car, looks around the house, realizing how much she's missed these familiar sights. She used to keep herself together emotionally by imagining this house and the people in it. It helped keep her calm while in captivity to the tribe in Africa. Probably kept her alive and sane. She looks around, seeing her nieces standing, staring at her. Well, it's been a long time since I've seen them. God, they've grown like weeds. She sees Faith standing next to them, smiling. Man, she looks… tired. It's gotta have been rough on her. Then she sees Buffy, walking towards her, and she almost doesn't recognize her. She's shocked at how much Buffy's changed, but she quickly covers it. She smiles a broad smile.

" Buffy, " Dawn says, for a moment at a loss for words.

" Hey, look at you!" Buffy beams, " Lookin' good, Dawnie. Gotta say, I envy that tan of yours. African sun agrees with you… but you're way too thin, I'm thinking. Don't worry, we'll fatten you up again".

" Yeah, well, wasn't exactly staying at Club Med, Buff, " Dawn rejoins, " You work the fields ten hours a day, every day, and see if you don't drop a few…." Dawn, realizing her gaffe, quickly shuts up.

" Pounds?" Buffy says, looking at herself, " Yeah, I know that one, " She brushes off the comment, and continues, "Hey, c'mere, you , been way too long!" Buffy spreads her arms wide. Dawn walked into her sister's arms for the best hug she's had … in forever.

The sisters hug for a minute or two, but it seems to them forever. Neither expected to see the other one again, and being here together was just beyond wonderful. For a moment the last few years seem to fall away, and Buffy, in a burst of strength, lifts her taller sister, who's giggling like a teenager, off the ground. She sets Dawn down, and leans a little heavily on her, that stunt costs her.

"Hey, you ok?" Dawn asks, a little worried.

" I'm … beyond great, Dawnie," Buffy says, then quips, " But if you ever do that again, dummy, I'm telling!"

"Hey, blondie, don't be hogging all the hugs, " Faith comes over to Dawn, and hugs her tightly, " Good to have you home, brat" She kisses Dawn's cheek.

"Good to be home again, " Dawn says, softly. She's beginning to get overwhelmed.

" Hey, hey, none of that. Bad enough having one weepy Summer's girl on my hands" Faith teases, wiping Dawn's tears.

"Yeah, and that wasn't you crying last night in the living room when you thought I was sleeping, was it Faith?" Buffy says, a wry look on her face.

Faith gives Buffy a disgusted look, and rolls her eyes. " Don't have a clue what you're babbling about, B"

Buffy shakes her head knowingly. Faith can't fool her…most of the time, anyway.

Dawn turns to Joy and Hope, who are standing a bit off. They're eyeing her; it's been forever since they've seen her, and they're feeling a little shy. She walks over to the girls.

" Well, guess I can't call you munchkins anymore, you two are beanpoles now, " Dawn jokes. She turns to Joy, and says, " So, Hope, aren't you gonna give your Auntie Dawn a hug?" deliberately confusing the two.

" She's not Hope, I'm Hope!" Hope calls out, hands on hips, " that's Joy".

" Oh, really? Looks like Hope to me!" Dawn grins." Are you sure?"

" I'm Joy… that loser is Hope, " Joy points at Hope.

" I dunno…." Dawn starts to giggle.

The two nieces, their reserve broken, tackle their aunt, knocking her to the ground and hugging her.

" I'm Hope!" Hope calls out, happily, " I'm the smart one! Don't you remember, Auntie Dawn?"

" Yeah, well, I'm the pretty one!" Joy says, sticking her tongue out at Hope. " She's such a butt ugly!"

" I'm not!" Hope squeals, " You're ugly!"

" Are too, you gargoyle!" Joy screams, launching into her sister. They start to tumble and wrestle on the ground.

" Hey… HEY!" Faith calls out, a little perturbed. " If you two are sooo full of energy, there's a bunch of dishes in the kitchen with your names on them!"

"Aw, Mom!" Hope says, " She started it!" Hope points at Joy.

"Did NOT!" Joy retorts. " MOM!!!"

" Hey, you two, enough!" Buffy says, picking up where Faith left off, " Kitchen, now! MARCH!"

" See what you did now?" Joy grumbles at her sister, " Got us in trouble!"

" I so did not!" Hope shoots back, " You did, you… m'shlack demon!"

" I'm not bumpy," Joy protests.

" Yeah, but you're sure slimy " Hope howls. She sees Joy's expression, and realizing she went too far, takes off running for the house, Joy hot on her trail.

"Hey, don't go too hard on them," Dawn says, as she rejoins the adults, " after all, I guess I kinda started it."

" Oh, really?" Buffy's brow arches, " Well, then you can join them in the kitchen, young lady."

" What!!!" Dawn looks at her, surprised. She feels a flush creeping up her neck.

" Go on," Buffy says, waving her hand at the house, " In the house, now young lady."

" Yeah, we don't put up with that kinda crap here!" Faith says, deadpanning Dawn.

Dawn looks at the both of them like their crazy, but they both fold their arms over their chests, as if she's in trouble now , too.

"Well, hell, " Dawn sputters, " If I knew I was gonna have to wash dishes, I woulda stayed in Africa!" Buffy and Faith burst out in laughter , much to Dawn's annoyance. But then she starts to giggle, and then laughs, and the three of them start to head for the house. She stops halfway to the porch, and turns back towards the car.

" Hey, aren't you two coming?" Dawn calls back to Giles and Willow, who've been standing back a little, letting 'the family' have their time.

" On it, " Willow calls back, turning to Giles, " lets go." She starts towards the house, but notices Giles isn't following. She turns back, "Well?"

" I really can't stay, Willow, " Giles says, " I've some council business that requires my immediate attention. I just wanted to be sure Dawn got home safe and sound." Smiling, he waves at the group, making to depart.

" Giles" Willow says, walking back to him, " this isn't about before, is it?"

"Don't be foolish, Willow, of course not" Giles says evenly, but he avoids eye contact. " I simply have other things I have to attend to. I'll drop by another time."

" Giles, please… " Willow starts, but is interrupted by Buffy.

" Will? Why don't you go and join the others inside? I think Giles and I need to have a little chat, " Buffy says, quietly.

" Buffy?" Willow says, looking at her friend.

" Don't worry, I won't hurt him, promise" Buffy smiles.

Willow shoots her a " You better not" look, and reluctantly walks towards the house, leaving Buffy and Giles standing in the driveway.

&&&&&

For a moment neither one speaks. They simply look at each other, as if they're taking each other's measure. Giles is still feeling awkward around Buffy…dismissing a long standing break is no easy task for him. It doesn't help that he still has feelings of guilt over Dawn's disappearance.

Buffy, outwardly calm, looks over Giles. He looks so tired. When did he get so gray? She notes the deepening of the lines in his face, and how his hair has thinned out. Why didn't I see this before? Maybe because I was being too much of a stubborn jackass to notice? You think?

Giles, keeping up the pretense, looks at his watch and frowns.

" Buffy, do you think this can wait? I really have to be somewhere soon…"

" Cut it Giles. You might…MIGHT… be able to fool the others with that line… but I know you too well." She reaches out, taking his hand, and starts to lead him towards the porch. Giles pulls back.

" Buffy, really, I have to…" but Buffy interrupts him again.

" Please, Giles, I'm tired. Don't make this any harder than it already is." She tugs on his hand again, and he follows her obediently. As if I could ever really refuse her anything, he sighs to himself. From her tone and words, he fears the worst.

Buffy leads him to the porch, and then sits on the porch swing. Patting the seat beside her, she indicates for him to sit. He does so, hands on knees. There's a brief silence while Buffy looks at him again. She reaches out, and covers his hand with hers.

" I've been a total moron, Giles," Buffy says, her voice low and full of emotion, " I'm hoping you can forgive me?"

Giles looks at her. Surprise is too mild a word to describe what he's feeling. Covering, he puts his free hand over hers.

" Don't be silly, Buffy, " Giles says, " you were right. I should've done more to prevent Dawn from taking that ridiculous mission. I knew it was dangerous, but I didn't want to squash Dawn's spirit. She really seemed intent on doing this. I knew better. I was an old fool, and there's none greater."

" Squash her spirit, " Buffy says, regretfully, " like I did all those years."

" Buffy, you can't blame yourself if Dawn felt… overshadowed" Giles says, " She's an adult, she can make her own decisions."

Buffy smiles ruefully, " Strangely, that's exactly what Faith told me. That blaming myself was just silly."

"Well, I have to agree. It's very silly."

" Is it?" Buffy shakes her head, " I should've encouraged her to get out, find out what she wanted to do. But I didn't… I wanted to keep her 'safe'. I think, more , it was I wanted to keep her close. Maybe I was afraid she'd finally outshine me. Maybe I was more than a little afraid… jealous even."

" Buffy, that's …."

" No, it's not, Giles. Think about it. The only reason I'm special, is because of my slayer powers. They were a gift, Giles. I never had to earn them. I just got them. Without them I'm just average girl, nothing special. Dawn, " Buffy pauses, unable to let a little pride creep into her voice, " Dawn is so smart, so … special, that anything she decides to do, she's going to shine. She's special all on her own. She doesn't need super powers to be special."

" Buffy," Giles says, sternly, " I've never heard such a load of piffle in all my life!"

"What!?!"

" Buffy, you're special because of who you are, not what you are, " Giles states, " You say that if it weren't for your ' super powers' as you put it, you'd be nothing but 'average. Well, that's just nonsense! You put on this persona of shallow, self-involved mall girl, and I have to admit, much to my discredit, I believed it for awhile. But I've been your watcher for nearly a quarter of a century, Buffy, and I've never met anyone like you. I've trained other slayers, but none come close. It's not because you're physically more adept, or that you're more disciplined. That just isn't so."

" Well, geeze, thanks, Giles. I feel a whole lot better now, " Buffy says.

" What makes you special, Buffy, is that you lead with your heart. Even if it costs you everything, including your life, you follow what your heart tells you is right. You protect those you love, but even more, you protect those who need protecting, even if they make you angry. I know more than once you've wanted to just walk away, give it up. Who could blame you? But you stuck it out, because it was the right thing to do."

"That doesn't change what I did to Dawn. And, oh, if you forgot, I quit the slayer gig…remember?"

" Buffy, you did what you thought was right concerning Dawn. You wanted to keep her safe," Giles reiterates," your motives weren't pure? Well, Buffy, I hate to disappoint you, but that's just being human. No one's motives are entirely pure… in anything. Do you really think Dawn only took that assignment for the betterment of the council, and to increase its knowledge? Of course not. She wanted to ' shuck your shadow', so to speak, prove she could be her own person, shine on her own. Bit of foolish pride there, don't you think? You said how smart she is… do you really think she didn't know the dangers going in? That would be pretty foolish of her… something I won't believe. I let her go, Buffy, not only because I thought she could do the job, but because I wanted to retire, Buffy. I believed that if Dawn could pull off a coup with this assignment, she'd be a shoo-in for Chair of the council. I didn't want to turn it over to the other burkes that make up the membership. I knew Dawn would be best. But being an American, she faced stiff resistance… unless she pulled off something risky like this. So you see, my motives weren't pure as the driven snow, either."

" But, Giles, " Buffy protests.

" No, Buffy. You're willing to forgive everybody else, it's time you start forgiving yourself, too." Giles removes his glasses, cleaning them. " We're not angels, Buffy. We're human beings, with all the faults and foibles. The sooner you accept that, the easier things will be."

" I'm still sorry for how I treated you, Giles."

" Again, you're human, Buffy. You needed someone to blame. I can understand that. As I said, we all were a little guilty here… you, Dawn and myself." Giles thinks a second, " I do believe we can let Faith off the hook… and the girls."

Buffy chuckles at that.

" Yeah, I'm pretty sure they didn't have anything to do with this" She smiles up at him, and he returns her smile. She leans against him, putting her arms around him.

" I've missed you terribly, Giles." Buffy says, her voice low.

" I've missed you, Buffy. Very much." Giles puts his arm around her shoulders.

They sit quietly for awhile, not speaking. Then Giles notices Buffy is shaking. He looks down, and sees her crying.

" Buffy, what's wrong?" Giles asks.

Buffy looks up at him, her eyes filled with tears.

" I don't want to die, Giles. I … I'm not even 40…I've got my whole life in front of me. I don't want to die!" She sobs quietly, trying not to be heard by those inside the house.

Giles flashes back 22 years, to the Sunnydale high library. A young girl, barely sixteen, has just found out that she must face the master, and that she was going to die if she did.

" I don't want to die, Giles. I'm only 16!" Buffy says, her voice full of hopeless despair.

And for a moment, he sees that young girl again, clinging to him in despair. He pulls her closer, and gently rubs her back. At least this time he can offer her some small comfort.

" it's going to be alright, Buffy, " Giles tries to reassure her, " Everything's going to be alright"

&&&&&

Buffy sits in the darkened hospital room, staring at the ceiling. Her eyes sting with tears, remembering that day. It was the first time in a long time that her heart had been at peace; she had her family, all of her family back.

And in a way, Giles had been right. Dawn was tested for compatibility, and was a near perfect match. Thank goodness she has my DNA Buffy chuckles to herself. They waited as long as they did to schedule surgery, because they wanted Buffy to 'beef up ' a little, in preparation for surgery. They had to stop chemo and radiation to give her system a chance to recover, and they pumped her full of vitamins to build her up. They were trying to minimize the risks of surgery, but there were still risks…

Buffy starts a little when she feels a hand touch hers. She looks up into the intense blue eyes, and knowing smile of her sister.

"Hey, Buffy," Dawn whispers.

" Hey, Dawnie. What're you doing here?" Buffy asks, concerned, " you should be in bed, sleeping. Tomorrow's gonna be a killer, you know."

" Sleeping like you're sleeping?" Dawn smirks.

"Always gotta be the smart ass, right Dawnie?" Buffy says, but not unpleased that Dawn's there. Better than alone with my thoughts, anyway.

"Well, better than being a dumb blonde cheerleader, I always said, " Dawn retorts quietly.

Ok, maybe I was wrong. Being alone with my thoughts MIGHT be better, Buffy sighs to herself." So, did you just come here to annoy me, or what?"

" Ummm… Buffy, can I ask a favor?"

Figures. " If it involves heavy lifting, forget it, Dawnie" Buffy quips." And no, you can't have Mr. Gordo, either!"

" Look, Buffy, I really can't sleep. Would you mind if I crawled in there with you?" Dawn asks, embarrassed.

" Dawn, are you nuts? This bed isn't made for two."

" Oh, c'mon Buff. We're both pretty skinny. Anyway, we've shared a sleeping bag before. That was narrower than this!"

" Yeah, and you were 10, and I was 15…"

" C'mon, Buffy. Don't be a poop."

" I dunno, Dawn," Buffy sounds doubtful, " what if they catch us?"

"What're they gonna do? Kick us out?" Dawn says.

Buffy sighs, " Ok, ok, climb in. Just be careful, ok? I'm more hooked up than a stereo here." Buffy scoots over as far as she can to make space for Dawn. Dawn carefully crawls into the bed, watching for tubes and wires. Lying on her side, she snuggles close to Buffy… as if she had much choice.

" Thanks, Buffy," Dawn says, settling in.

"Whatever, " Buffy replies, pretending annoyance. But actually, it's kind of nice having someone next to her. Makes her feel… strangely, more comfortable. She listens as Dawn's breathing becomes quieter and more regular. Soon, she's asleep, lightly snoring. Oh, swell, I forgot she snores. Buffy settles in for a long, sleepless night.

Yet, as the minutes pass, her own eyelids become heavier and heavier, and she soon finds herself starting to drift off. She smiles, realizing that she needed someone next to her to really fall asleep. It's been a long time since she's had to sleep alone. She looks over at the sleeping Dawn, and realizes just how much she missed her, and how much she owed her. Maybe, even her life.

" Hey, Dawnie" Buffy says quietly.

" Wha?" Dawn says, mostly asleep.

" Love you, sis"

" Uh-huh… me too" Dawn says, her voice thick with sleep.

And before too long, Buffy joins her in slumber.

&&&&&

Faith, Willow and Giles are sitting in the waiting room, each claiming their own little section, each trying to relax, and failing miserably. Buffy and Dawn have been in surgery two hours, and still they've had no word about the results. As the minutes tick by, everybody's strings seem to be getting wound tighter and tighter.

" We're on the right floor, right? " Faith asks.

" Yes, Faith, this is the correct floor, " Giles answers patiently( for the fifth time).

" They know we're here. I mean, the doctors?" Faith asks, getting up and pacing a little.

" Yes, Faith, the doctors are in the know" Willow answers, for the… oh, she lost count how many times Faith asked.

" Why haven't they told us something? I mean, how long can it take to do this, anyway? Are they like being paid by the hour?" Faith looks like she wants to hit something… or someone.

"Faith," Willow gets up and goes over to Faith, laying a hand on her shoulder. Faith shrugs her off. Willow puts it there again. " Faith"

"What?" Faith snaps. " Sorry, just… sorry."

" It's ok, I know," Willow says, " just, we gotta let the doctors do their job. I'm sure they're only taking the time they need. I'm sure everything's going to be ok." Only wished I really believed that!

" I know… just, why is it taking so long? It didn't sound like it would take so long when the surgeon explained it. What if something's gone wrong? What if …"

" Faith, maybe this is a good thing"

" What do you mean? Good thing?"

"Well… I mean, if they'd gone in, and found the cancer had advanced to the stage where a transplant couldn't help…they would've closed her up quickly. So, it taking this long kind of says that things are going as expected…"

"You think?" Faith looks hopeful.

" I'm sure that's it, Faith, " Willow replies. Wonder if hell is really as warm as they say? Seeing I'm gonna be going there for that lie!

Faith sits down, nervously picking at her fingers. She mumbles something to herself.

" I didn't catch that , Faith… what'd you say?" Willow asks, coming over to her.

" I said, I wish I had a cigarette." Faith says, quietly.

" Oh, good plan, Faith," Willow says, sarcastically, " help Buffy's cancer by getting it yourself!"

" Gimme a break, would you, Red?" Faith says, defensively, " I quit the habit 11 years ago, when I found out I was preggers with Hope. I haven't had one since. Been lots of times when I wanted one. Right now, I feel so strung out I feel like my skin is crawling. I just want it to soothe my nerves. No big, not gonna… just saying, is all"

" I know, I'm sorry too, " Willow says, running her hand over Faith's hair. Faith takes her hand, and squeezes it tightly.

At about this time, the surgeon comes walking down the hallway. Faith gets up, followed closely by Willow and Giles. As the surgeon approaches, all three can see how tired he looks. Faith gets a bit of nausea at the pit of her stomach.

"So, doc… how is she?" Faith asks, her voice cracking from nervousness. " I mean, is she gonna be ok?"

" Faith, you've got to remember what we discussed in my office. The procedure went successfully. As a matter of fact, the match between Buffy and Dawn was so close, we weren't forced to use any immuno-suppressors. That's a good thing. Means her system won't be compromised, and that the likelihood of the transplant 'taking' is increased. I have to say, you're friend Buffy has an amazing system. I expected a lot more evidence of the cancer to be present. Her own natural immunity must be working overtime to fight the disease."

"Even so, I still have to warn you… even with the transplant, there's still risk of the cancer not being contained. Right now, I'm giving it 50/50 odds. Only time will tell how well the stem cell transplant worked. So please, don't expect miracles. We're going to have to take it one day at a time, and she's going to have to keep coming in for tests. But at least for now, because of the success of the transplant, I believe we're going to be able to eliminate chemo or radiation treatment for now… at least, until we see how effective the new stem cells are."

"But… but she's ok, right?" Faith asks, a note of hope and desperation evident in her voice, " She's gonna be ok, right? I mean, at least for now?"

" Yes, Faith, " He nods, " She's going to be ok for now, at least." He looks at his watch, " it's going to be some time yet before she's ready for visitors. You might want to leave for awhile, come back later…"

" I really need to see her," Faith says, firmly, " can't I just look in on her at least?"

The surgeon is starting to refuse her request, feeling it won't help, and only possibly complicate recovery. Then he sees the looks of determination in Faith's face. That no matter what he says, she'll find a way to see his patient.

" Alright, you can see her… but you can't go in the room. She has to rest. Do you understand?" He says.

He leads her, and the others, down the hall to ICU. He points out her bed, but it's unnecessary. Faith would know Buffy no matter how she looked. She walks over to the glass separating them, and looks in.

She looks so… breakable, Faith thinks to herself, looking at Buffy.

Buffy is laying on the bed, hooked up to various monitors, IV's in both arms, a breathing tube inserted down her throat to assist breathing. Her scarf is gone, and her baldness makes her look very old, and very young at the same time. Her eyes have a bruised look, and her face is thin and pale. Yet for all her apparent fragileness, there is an aura about her. A determination, as if she's no way near ready to give up life just yet. Faith can sense it, and it eases her troubled heart just a little.

Further back in the hallway, Giles and Willow are speaking to the surgeon.

" What about Dawn?" Willow is asking, " the donor? Is she ok?"

" Oh yes, she's fine. She's in recovery, but I anticipate no complications with her. She's remarkably healthy. I would think she should be able to be released as early as this evening." He has a puzzled expression on his face.

"What is it, doctor?" Giles asks, noting his expression.

He shakes his head. " It's just this case is … extraordinary in a number of ways. As I said earlier… I was expecting a lot more evidence of the cancer than what I found. She's had this condition for two years, and I know she's been in remission… but…" He shakes his head again, " it's still remarkable."

"Well, Ms. Summers is a remarkable woman," Giles says, not even touching on the truth.

" That's not the strangest thing, though." The doctor continues, almost as if he hadn't heard Giles.

" Oh?" Willow asks.

" I've done a considerable number of these transplants. The ideal candidate is a sibling, as in this case. Then a parent or child, then a close match of a stranger. But even amongst siblings, there is going to be a variation in the DNA typing. That's to be expected. Twins are closer, and identical twins closest in DNA matching. However, even identical twins show some variation in the gene pairing… more than you would expect, considering their physicality, " Here the doctor halts. His brow furrows. " The oddest thing is the match between the Summer's sisters. They're obviously not twins, and certainly not identical twins. Yet, the match in their DNA pairings is the closest I've ever experienced in all the time I've been doing this. It's almost as if… " he stops, looking flabbergasted, " but of course, that's impossible".

Giles and Willow exchange a brief but significant look.

"Anyway, I'll tell you. I didn't want to get Ms. DeMarco's hopes up too much. I've seen these things to wrong, even when every indicator points to it going right. But, considering all the factors, I'm looking forward to giving Ms. Summers her one year, five year, and possibly even her ten year survivor chip… if I haven't retired by then."

Willow and Giles stare at him speechless. But it's a happy speechless. The surgeon doesn't even seem to notice.

" It's just so strange, this case, " He says, starting to walk away. " Never seen one like it". He continues down the hall.

Willow and Giles watch him leave, then turn to each other. A brief smile is shared between them. They go to join Faith at Buffy's window.

&&&&&

" Please count backwards from 100, " Buffy hears the anesthesiologist say to her.

" 100… 99…" Buffy starts to count, noting how bright the room is, smelling the disinfectants, hearing the beeps and whirs and hissing sounds of the machines surrounding her.

" … 98…. 97… 96…. 95 …" then it all goes dark, as her lids drop over her eyes…

&&&&&

She awakens in another bright room. But this isn't an OR, rather it looks like a waiting room to a doctor's office. There are bright colored pictures on the wall, and the typical out of date magazines on the clinically sterile waiting room furniture. Still, she can smell the strong odor of disinfectants, and vaguely hear the electronic sounds of monitoring machines. She looks over and sees the receptionist behind the sliding panel, looking over the waiting list.

She makes to get up, and suddenly realizes she has a ton of weight she's not used to. She looks down, and notices her abdomen is extended… Oh, my god! I'm pregnant! Again! When the hell did this happen? But that can't be…

Then she feels it, her hair. On her shoulders. She reaches up, and touches it, amazed. No, that's impossible… I haven't had my hair since I started chemo… yeah, and your pregnant? That's possible? Something damned weird is going on here! Next thing I know I'm gonna be seeing a white rabbit with a waistcoat looking at his pocket-watch saying " Oh, dear, Oh dear I'm late"!

Doing her best not to freak out, Buffy again makes the attempt to move her considerable bulk up off the waiting room couch. Not fair, at least last time I had time to get used to this. Sighing, feeling the hemorrhoids which plagued her so badly in her last pregnancy, she moves over to the door. Looking in the glass window of the door, she gets a shock… she's younger, a lot younger… 11 years younger. She turns, and looks at the office again, and recognition hits her. I'm back in L.A. This is the OB-GYN's office I used to go there while I was pregnant with Joy… Ok, this is going waaay too far, now…

Lost in her thoughts, she is suddenly startled when an all too familiar voice breaks in.

" Ummm… Blondie? Think you can move? I can't seem to get around you, and I really need to sit my oversized ass DOWN! Never figured out why they make this damned waiting rooms so small."

Buffy looks up, startled, directly into the somewhat pissed off( yet ever smirking) face of Faith… as she was 11 years ago. It takes a second, but then a flicker of recognition comes over Faith, and her smirk widens.

"Well, well… lookee what we got here, " Faith mocks, " This is the last place I ever expected to run into you again, " Faith does a once over on Buffy, " Especially in this condition!" She chuckles, and deliberately bumps her own swollen stomach into Buffy's.

" Faith! What the hell?" is all Buffy manages to get out, surprised. An extremely strong sense of déjà vu overwhelms her… I've been here before… this has happened before…!

The two extremely pregnant slayers stand staring at each other. The tension between them is thick. The last time the two had seen each other, they'd been fighting… each other. After the defeat of The First, Faith had stayed in Sunnydale awhile, helping Buffy clean up the remnants of the hellmouth's denizens. Working together, being together so much, they'd developed a strong bond… which transformed into a mutual attraction… which evolved into a wild, if brief, affair. They had gotten up to a lot of wild and nasty stuff together, both in and out of bed. But like most such passionate trysts, the affair had burned itself out, and left some nasty carnage in its wake. They went from loving each other to hating each other in a brief time, and finally they broke up, not before they fought each other to a standstill, however. It had been an acrimonious parting, and neither had seen each other since.

Faith had left Sunnydale soon after the break up, and Buffy left soon after Faith. She wanted… no, needed to get away from the memories of her affair. She headed down to L.A, and started a new life for herself. But her brief tryst, affair, or whatever you want to call it had changed her. Buffy was wilder than she'd ever been in Sunny- D. Faith had shown her she not only liked sex, but she liked lots of it, and …well, wild sex was great too. Her 'nightlife' might have even surprised Faith. She took precautions, and insisted on safe sex, but something failed. Because she became pregnant… which explains why she's standing here in this office right now. Looking at Faith, it was pretty evident she had a similar story to tell…

This went through Buffy's mind in a second, and the two were still standing in the doctor's office, staring at each other. Finally, Faith tilted her head in that way she does when a good one is about to be come out.

" Well, I guess neither of us were listening in health class that day when they told us to cross our legs and Just Say No! " Faith deadpans.

Buffy looks at her like she's crazy, her jaw drops open… the statement is so outrageous, so totally off the wall… that she starts to laugh. Small at first, but then it builds and builds. Her laugh is infectious, because Faith joins her, slowly at first, but soon both are holding each other's arms, praying they don't fall down, and laughing like crazy women.

The rest of the women in the office look at them like they ARE crazy. A few start to laugh in sympathy, but mostly it's just glares or puzzled, confused looks. The Chosen two look at them, and burst out laughing harder. It's so totally insane, all of it, them meeting this way, they can't stop laughing. Finally, the receptionist behind the desk starts to come out, as if to shoo them away. Still laughing helplessly, waving their hands at her, the two leave the office together….

Her laughter turns to moans and then screams of pain when Buffy realizes she's back in the hospital again, having a baby. Standing next to her is the still very, very pregnant Faith, holding her hand, cooling her brow with a damp cloth. Her legs are spread, and the doctor is sitting in the 'catcher's position' between them. A wave of pain comes over her, as if someone is trying to push a spiked bowling ball through her vagina. She screams again, and feels the urge to push. God, please, I'll do anything just get THIS OUTTA ME!!! She feels Faith squeezing her hand…

" C'mon baby, c'mon" Faith encourages, " you can do it… don't push… not yet… breathe, Buffy, breathe… huh- huh- huh- huh- huh…"

"GET THIS FUCKING THING OUTTA ME!!!" Buffy screams as another wave of pain washes over her. Her brow is covered in sweat, and she's panting heavily.

" I told you, B, you should do the drugs. But no, you had to go 'natural' , didn't you?" Faith says, holding her hand, giving her a little ice to suck on.

"I can see the crown, " the doctor says. " Push!"

" C'mon baby, now. PUSH" Faith says, holding her hand, " PUSH and BREATHE… he-he-huh-he-he!" She demonstrates.

Buffy pushes hard. She's panting, and the pain is killer…beyond killer… she nearly faints with the pain.

" No, B, hold on, it's almost there….almost done" Faith squeezes her hand.

" I can see the head… push!" the doctor says." PUSH!"

"Push baby, give it all you got!" Faith exclaims, her own excitement building, " she's coming…push baby!"

Buffy pushes harder than before, harder than ever before. She feels like she's passing a watermelon, the pain is so intense… one last push…one last… and….

Suddenly it's over… and she hears a slap… and a cry…. She's in a fog of joy and pain… Faith is right with her, holding her hand.

" Here you go, Ms. Summers, " the nurse says, bringing the swaddled new born for Buffy to hold. Red little old man wrinkly face, waving her tiny fists in defiance of being snatched from her warm womb. " A healthy little girl" the nurse adds. She lays the newborn in Buffy's arms.

Buffy and Faith look at each other, tears sliding down both their cheeks. Faith leans over and kisses Buffy gently on the lips.

" You did it honey, you did it!" Faith says, sounding proud and happy and overwhelmed. Buffy looks up at her, smiling weakly.

The two welcome little Joyce Marie Summer to the world…

Then suddenly Buffy is looking down on Faith. She is pale, and looks ill. Her hair is matted to her head. They're moving quickly down the hall, Buffy trying to keep up with the gurney as they wheel Faith towards the operating room.

" Buffy, " Faith says weakly, sounding frightened, " My baby…."

" It's going to be ok, Faith, " Buffy says, trying to reassure her, " She just got twisted around… but she's fine. They're gonna do a C-section and have her come out."

"Buffy, promise me, " Faith says, " promise me!"

"What honey? Anything!"

" IF anything happens to me… you'll take care of my baby. Promise me!"

"Faith, nothing's going to happen to you, " Buffy says, trying to keep it light," It just figures, you're kid makes a fuss about coming out, is all"

" Buffy , please" Faith says, pleading, " I'm serious. Promise me!"

" I promise, Faith, " Buffy says, feeling her heart sink into her stomach. She looks awful. " Nothings gonna happen to you, though…"

" Miss? You've gotta stay here" The nurse says, as they wheel the gurney through the OR doors. Buffy stops, watching the gurney disappear . The doors swing shut, leaving Buffy standing alone in the hallway.

She can't move, she's in shock. It happened so quickly… she was doing so well…please, God, or whoever you are, please…don't take her… . Buffy stands looking at the doors, her fists clenched. She can't remember ever feeling so helpless in her life…

"MOOOMMMMMYYY!!!! MOOMMMY!!!!…. MONSTERS!!!!"

Both slayers eyes open instantly…

"Wha the fu…" Faith says, looking at the clock, " shit…it's 2 am"

"MMMOOOOOOMMMMMMEEEEEE!!!!"

"Tha's yours" Faith says, rolling over…

Buffy pushes herself out of bed. She knows it's just " monster in the closet" again, but still… Buffy all too well knows that monsters DO exist. Feeling like she's just gone 10 round with the World Welterweight champion, she grabs her robe and heads for the girl's bedroom

"MMMMOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!"

Faith's eyes snap open. That's Hope…. Aw, crap…don't they ever outgrow closet monsters? She grabs her robe, unsteadily following Buffy to the girls bedroom.

Buffy emerges from the girl's room, looking worried.

"They're not in there!" Buffy says, her voice low.

"Whaat?" Faith exclaims, reaching the room as Buffy comes out." Not in there? Where in hell…"

They hear a crash from downstairs. The chosen two look at each other, and take off running. They reach the top of the stairs, nearly crashing into each other. They're about to run down when they see Joy and Hope, crouching on the stairs, looking through the banister. The girls turn toward them.

"Mom, mommy, there's a monster…" Joy says, pointing towards the living room.

Hope, the quieter of the two girls just points, looking scared.

Buffy comes down and retrieves the two frightened little girls as quietly as she can… though with the screaming…whatever is in the living room has to be tipped off. Probably ran away by now. She carries them back up to Faith.

" Take the girls into our room… I'll go take a look…" Buffy says.

" Buffy…" Faith starts, but Buffy stops her.

" It's probably nothing…"

" Not nothing!" Joy chimes in, " MONSTER!"

"… but it's best one of us stays with the girls. Try to calm them down…" Buffy finishes after being interrupted.

"C'mon you two…" Faith says, gathering her brood together and herding them towards the bedroom. She turns back to Buffy briefly, " Be careful. This is still Sunnydale… hellmouth or no hellmouth…" She turns and follows the little girls.

" But I wanna see the monster!" Joy is protesting, loudly as usual.

" Me, too" Hope says, but not sounding nearly as sure.

The bedroom door shuts behind them.

Buffy looks around for a weapon… and doesn't find anything. Damn…weapon's chest down in the living room … locked up! Buffy sighs, and using some slayer strength, pulls one of the banister rails out. That's gonna cost! Never mind explaining it… Quietly, she makes her way down the stairs.

An eerie bluish glow is emanating from the living room. Buffy feels her stomach clench. Great. Not gone… and all glowy…probably some upper level demon, come to pay a call on the slayers. Swell… just got the damage from the last little visiting demon paid off… sneaking closer, she's startled when she hears voices. More than one? Then she realizes…it's not live…it's coming from the TV… like the glow. Watching TV? What kind of prowler watches TV … She feels her anger rising, because she realizes exactly what kind of prowler would… She stands up straight, and marches to the living room, flipping on the light switch when she passes it.

A bowl of popcorn goes flying through the air. Something jumps out of the chair in front of the TV set. A demon. A rather loose skinned, thick bodied demon with floppy ears.

" Geez… Slayer! You startled me!" Clem says, his expression at once a mixture of consternation and apology. " Don't sneak up on a fella, ok?"

" Clem!" Buffy says, her tone bemused and angry. " What are you doing in my living room at 2 am?"

" Ummm…." Clem looks embarrassed, and doesn't look Buffy straight in the eye. As a matter of fact, she doesn't look at Buffy at all, preferring instead to take this time to inspect his feet.

Buffy crosses her arms over her chest. " Did you and Spike have another fight?" Buffy asks, impatiently.

" Uhhh… yeah"

Buffy makes a disgusted noise. " I swear you two are worse than the 5 year olds. What's it about THIS time?"

Clem shrugs. " I dunno. He's just so unreasonable, Buffy. I mean he picks on me all the time, calling me a slob and nagging at me to pick up after myself…"

Buffy surveys the mess that once was her living room, " Well, I can't understand why…" her tone is sarcastic. " Look, when I said it was alright if you came over when Spike starts one of his tirades, that didn't include my living room at 2 am in the morning. You scared the girls to death."

" I'm really sorry about that, Slayer" Clem says, contritely.

"Yeah, well…" Buffy finds it hard to keep angry with Clem too long. " That's why I had that room built on the back. There's a TV in there, and you can stay there until Spike gets over his hissy fit. I swear he's more a pain since he got his soul than before… at least then he wasn't so much of a … pouf! Anyway, out with you…"

" But it's kinda drafty in there, Slayer… and I didn't have any snacks…" Clem offers as way of explanation.

"Draftier than a tomb? Please!" Buffy says, getting irritated again. " Out… go on… now!"

Clem, looking like a whipped puppy, starts to slump out of the living room.

" Hey!" Buffy says, her voice softer, " don't forget your popcorn" She retrieves the bag, and hands it to Clem, who smiles. Why can't I stay angry with him? Maybe cuz he's harmless… and such a goofball. Clem makes to leave, but Buffy stops him again. " Hey, tell William the Poufy, next time he starts up like this, I'm gonna come over there and stake him personally!" Clem grins apologetically, nods and leaves.

Buffy looks at her living room, and shakes her head. I'll get it in the morning…way too tired right now. She starts towards the stairs, and feels that nauseated pit of the stomach feeling again. Faith is gonna have a fit!

Sighing, she makes her way upstairs….

… and right into a dark room. In the middle of the room is a chair, a single lamp hanging over it the only illumination. Feeling puzzled, she makes her way to the chair, and sits. Well, now what? I mean… I already feel like Alice in Wonderland… wonderland being my life. If the red queen comes running through here, I'm so outta here… those musta been some drugs they gave me to put me under…

" Buffy?" A young girls voice floats out of the darkness. A little girl, around 8 years old, comes into the light. She has long brown hair, and brown eyes that are full of mischief. She's smiling, her dimples creasing her cheeks.

"Celia?" Buffy says, surprised and a little afraid at the same time. This isn't good.

" Gee, Buffy… you got old!" Celia says, sounding disappointed.

" Well, that's what happens when you grow up, Ceel, " Buffy says, laughing a little.

" I know that, silly. I mean, you got old here, " Celia says, pointing at Buffy's heart.

" What'm I doing here, Ceel?" Buffy says, glossing over her remark.

"Waiting," Celia says, patiently.

"Waiting for what?" Buffy says, feeling nervous.

" To wake up, dope, " Celia says.

"Oh. Why're you here, Ceel?" Buffy asks.

" Keep you company, I guess" Celia shrugs, "maybe we can have a little chat while we're waiting."

Buffy's brows furrow. " You don't talk much like a kid."

"Well, this is your dream, Buffy, "Celia says, " Maybe this'll make more sense to you."

Celia raises her hands, palms inwards about 2 feet apart. She bends over, and slowly raises them over her body. When she finishes, she's a fully grown woman, close to Buffy's age. She has long reddish-brown hair, intense dark brown eyes and full, sensual lips. She smiles.

" So, whattya think, Buff?" She asks, smiling.

"Whoa, Ceel… is that you?" Buffy says, " You're gorgeous"

" Why, thanks Ultra-girl!" Celia giggles. A second chair appears next to Buffy's, and she sits.

" You still remember that?" Buffy says, blushing a little.

" Oh yeah, how could I forget? I mean, you never really stopped being Ultra-girl, did you?" Celia says," Always saving the day, protecting your loved ones, and the rest."

Buffy mumbles something to herself.

" I didn't hear that Buffy. What'd you say?" Celia asks.

" Said, I didn't protect you too well, did I?" Buffy says, frowning.

" Buffy, we were kids. You couldn't save me. Nobody could. The leukemia I had … well, there wasn't a cure for it. Wasn't your fault, sweetie." Celia hugs her. " You know I adored my cousin Buffy til the end, don't you?"

" I love you Celia, " Buffy says, quietly, "never stopped loving you. I miss you."

" Silly girl. I've never been far away… always been right here, with you" Celia says, touching Buffy's heart. " Death didn't end that…"

Buffy doesn't say anything, she just clasps her hands, looking at her lap.

" Buffy, why'd you let yourself get old?" Celia asks.

" That's just growing up, Ceel, " Buffy says, " said that before."

" No, growing up is growing up. Everybody does that… even me." She smiles, " No, I meant, in your heart. You grew old… why?"

" Don't know what you mean, Ceel, "

" Yes you do. You tell everybody you're afraid to die, Buffy. But you stopped living years ago. Why is that?"

"That's crazy talk, Ceel. "

" Is it, Buffy?" Celia gives her a sidelong glance, " ever since… no, even before you fought with Willow…you stopped reaching out to people. You started pushing them away. You had that big fight with Willow…and you pushed her away…"

"She pushed first!" Buffy says, sounding like an 8 year old, " She said bad things about me and Faith…tried to break us up…what was I supposed to do?"

" Forgive her?" Celia asks, pointedly, " friends do stupid things. They fight, they hurt each other, but in the end, they forgive each other. But, you were ready to throw Willow away forever. And not only Willow. Giles, too. And … even Faith".

" That's just wrong!" Buffy declares, " I'd never leave Faith!"

" No, but you'd surely make it where she'd leave you. When Dawnie disappeared, you blamed everybody, and you nearly broke with Faith over it. Because, deep inside, you blamed yourself, didn't you?"

" Yeah ok, so…" Buffy says, "So what?"

"Because that was a lie, Buffy… and you know it." Celia says.

" What're you talking about?" Buffy says, standing up, moving away, " You don't know what the hell you're saying."

" Don't I, Buffy? Funny, after all, this is your dream, your mind. No, you didn't almost break up with Faith over Dawn… it was because you were sick."

" That's not true…" Buffy turns away from Celia.

" Isn't it? You get sick shortly after Dawn disappears. Willow comes back to help out, even though you're both feuding. You could've made peace then, but you didn't. Why? Because you didn't want her close. You didn't want her to know how sick you were. You tried to shove Faith away? Why? Because you were sick, Buffy. You didn't want her to stick by you, suffer with you. You would've sent the kids with her, if she'd left. But she didn't leave… she foiled that plan. Can't blame her, she loves you too much to leave you."

" You're crazy. You don't know what your saying!"

" Naw, I don't think so, Buffy. You pushed Giles away by blaming him for Dawn's disappearance. Hurt him badly, hoping he'd turn away from you. All because you were sick… you didn't want him to grieve your death. Or at least, that's what you tell yourself, but it's deeper than that. Much deeper, Buffy."

" I won't listen to this. This is insane-o talk. You're nuts, " Buffy says, covering her ears.

" That won't shut me out, Buffy. I won't let you shut me out, "Celia says, getting up and walking over to Buffy, removing her hands from her ears. " you have a great life, Buffy. A life a lot of people would trade anything they had to have. You've had adventure, you've got a loving partner, beautiful children, a loving sister and wonderful friends who adore you… do anything for you. And yet, you want to throw that all away!"

' No , no , NO! I don't want to. I want to live. I do!" Buffy is almost shouting now.

" You say that, but it's a lie." Celia looks at her cousin sadly, " You want to die. You've used this disease to withdraw from life, but you've wanted to die for a very long time."

"THAT'S A LIE!!!" Buffy screams

" It's not, Buffy, " Celia says, " I wish it were. I'm hoping I can convince you to live."

Buffy looks at Celia , her face a mask of anger.

" Don't look at me like that, Buffy, "Celia pleads, " I know what I'm saying hurts, but I don't get many chances to talk to you… none, because mostly you won't listen, " She pauses, seeing Buffy has turned her back on her, "Please, Buffy, just listen."

" I won't" Buffy says.

" When you got this illness, you were scared. Sure, it's scary. But today, it's not nearly as fatal as before. Like when I died," Celia says, " But that didn't matter to you. Because you knew you were going to die, Buffy."

" What? No way! I knew I was gonna beat it!" Buffy turns around, protesting.

" Not true, Buffy. That's what you wanted to believe, what you wanted everybody to believe," Celia says, " but in your heart of hearts, that place where you don't lie to yourself, you knew you were going to die. Because you thought you deserved to die."

" That's just stupid!" Buffy says, but her voice is low. The anger is gone.

" Yes, it was. But unfortunately, it's also true, " Celia comes around in front of her, " You blamed yourself because I died, Buffy. You thought you caused my death. You thought you should've protected me, like you always did as Ultra-girl. But I died Buffy, and you wouldn't accept that it was supposed to be. You thought you failed me, and let me die."

Buffy stands silent, trying to look away. Celia won't let her.

" Same with your mom, Buffy. When Joyce died, you thought you should've saved her. After all, you were the Slayer. You had super powers. What good are they, if you can't save the people you love. You arrived after she died, but to your mind, that didn't matter. You should've brought her back. If only you had gotten home sooner. A thousand and one scenarios played out in your mind, in each you saved Joyce. But in the end you didn't. You couldn't… it was just what was supposed to be. But not in your mind, not in your heart. You should have saved her, but didn't."

"When Dawn disappeared, and was thought to be dead, that was the final straw. You got sick, and you saw it as a sign… that you were supposed to die. Not on a conscious level. No, in your mind you fought it. But deep in your heart, you thought this was your punishment. For letting me, who you thought of as a sister, die. For letting your mom die. For letting Dawn die. It was all your fault. You knew that, and you knew this was your punishment. You shoved away those you loved, withdrawing from them, trying to ease the pain of your dying. But you were determined to die."

"Dawn really made a mess of things for you, by showing back up, didn't she, Buffy? Because now there was no 'rare blood type' excuse. Of course her type matched… she's part of you in so many ways it's not funny. So they did the transplant, Buffy, and that's where we're at now. Waiting."

As if by magic, a window of light appears in the darkness, and they're in Buffy's ICU room. Buffy is laying on the bed, tubes running everywhere. She's also standing next to Celia, both of them looking at the woman in the bed.

" Not looking so good, am I" Buffy says, quietly.

" No… but it'll get better," Celia says. She puts her arm around Buffy's shoulder.

" I don't want it to get better, " Buffy says, her voice raspy.

" Buffy"

" Why'd you leave me Celia? " Buffy says, anguished," Everything was so bad at home. Mom and dad fighting all the time. The only person who I cared about, who loved me just as I was, crazy as I was… was you… and you left me" She leans on her cousin heavily.

Celia rubs her neck. " Ah, Buffy, if I'd had my wish, I never would've left you."

" But I killed you, Celia. Don't you see?" Buffy says, voice thick with emotion. " We were goofing around, and I shoved you, and you hit that wall, and got hurt. Then you got sick… and died. It was me, Celia. I killed you!"

"Oh, Buffy, you dummy. I was already sick…I just didn't know it. Nobody knew it. Wasn't til I got hurt that time that I got checked out, and they found out about it. It was already well advanced… nothing could've been done…nothing, Buffy. It wasn't you, Buffy, it was just that stupid disease." Celia hugs Buffy tightly. The room fades, and they're back in the dark place again.

" I wish I could believe that, " Buffy says, longingly

" Buffy, look at me, " Celia says, taking Buffy by the shoulders, and holding her. She looks directly into her eyes. " It wasn't your fault. It never was, it was just the disease that took me. Heck, if I hadn't been sick, I never would've even gotten hurt over that push you gave me. You're always such a wimpy girl" She smiles, devilishly.

" Was not!" Buffy says.

"Ah, good. Finally, she fights back," Celia smiles, "That's what you gotta do now. Fight back. It's not your time yet, Buffy. Not even close. You've got friends and family who need you, and you still have lots to do yet before you check out."

" I didn't … you mean it… it wasn't my fault?" Buffy says.

Celia sighs. " God, Buffy Summers, I swear, you're the dumbest girl I ever knew!" Right before Buffy's eyes, she begins to change… change back into the 8 year old girl Buffy knew so well.

Buffy sits down in the chair, feeling weak and dizzy. "What? What's going on? I feel so…tired…" Buffy says…feeling her eyes fighting to close on her.

"Means you're waking up over there" Celia says, pointing into space. " Means time for me to go home now, Buffy."

"Wait…Celia… don't leave me… not now!" Buffy cries out, but her eyes are betraying her, closing like the traitorous things they are.

" Gotta go, Buff Puff. But don't worry, we'll see each other again. When its time. Maybe I'll even let you be Ultra-Girl" Celia giggles… and disappears into the darkness.

"Ceel…" Buffy whispers. The darkness encloses her.

&&&&&

Buffy's eyes flutter open. The room is dark, and at first she gets scared. She thinks maybe this time she's back in the dark place… for good. Then she notices the lamp casting off a dull glow by the beside. She sees someone sitting in the chair next to her bed. A hand is holding hers.

It's Faith. She's been sitting with Buffy for hours now. She had to throw a few fits, and threaten lawsuit, to get in. But she's here, sitting by her lover's side. She stayed awake as long as she could, but finally her body and eyes just had to rest… just for a minute.

Buffy, only tied by an IV drip now, reaches up and touches Faith's face. Faiths eyes open, and she sees Buffy looking at her.

"Hey, Buffy. Welcome back, " Faith says, voice thick from sleep.

"Faith…honey," Buffy whispers, hoarsely. Her throat is very sore." How long have you been here?"

"Not long, baby, " Faith lies, " just didn't want you to wake up alone."

Buffy looks at her, and her heart swells with love. " Liar, " she whispers. " maybe you should go get some rest."

" Naw, I'm good, B. Don't sweat it." Faith says, her muscles and her back aching. She smiles at Buffy.

" Liar," Buffy smiling back at her. " Well, if you won't go…hmmmm." She scoots over in her bed, and pats the space. " jump in, sexy."

" Buffy, you're nuts!' Faith says, " You just had major surgery there…"

" Aw, screw that. Not like were gonna be humpin' or nothin, girl. Just … tired of sleeping alone."

"B. This is total insanity," Faith says, but somehow that doesn't stop her. Faith climbs into bed next to Buffy, and lays on her side, facing her. " You know if they catch me, their so gonna kick my ass outta here."

Buffy smiles evilly at her, and slips her arm around Faith's waist. She squeezes Faith's butt. " Not before I get my share, honey."

" Buffee!" Faith giggles, " You're bad!"

" Yeah… maybe I am… maybe I am ."

&&&&&

Fin.