Her Gift

By Norwalker.

Summary: The last Scooby reflects on her life. A very short tale.

Timeline: Well past " Chosen"

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Fox, and mutant Enemy owns them.

Sunnydale General Hospital

April 21st, 2085

She awakes when the light of dawn kisses her eyes . Slowly, she opens her eyes to another day. She hears the harsh whoosh-hiss of the respirator; it's the machine that's keeping her alive.

Why? She wonders to herself, sighing heavily.

She's had another stroke, she's sure of it. But this time, there's no mental confusion. She can think clearly. She can feel the weakness on the left side of her body, and knows that if she survives, it's likely she'll never regain much use of her left arm or leg. Swell, just great. Now I'll be confined to a wheelchair. Why won't they just let me go? Ah, stop bitching, girl. At least you can still see and hear. Still think.

She hasn't been able to talk since the last stroke, two years ago. When she tries, it comes out all garbled and confused. So she stopped trying, and just writes stuff down. Wonder if I'll be able to do that now, even?

So tired, I just want to sleep. But sleep comes so hard these days. If I sleep two hours a night, I'm lucky. My body must know time's short, and is trying to pack every last bit in. Damn, I wish it would just stop it!

As she watches the sunrise, she remembers the day Angel died. God, it must be 80 years ago now. She was in Europe… Italy, I think… when the call came through from Giles. She remembers how everything started to be ringed in black, and how she almost lost consciousness. She remembers hearing someone moaning over and over, No, no, no, it can't be happening, it can't be real… and how shocked she was when she realized it was herself. I never got to tell him I still loved him. I hope he knew, God I hope he knew.

They were all gone now. Gone. Giles, she remembers being with Giles at the end. 40 years ago. He was 85. He'd been suffering Alzheimer's for the previous 10 years, and Buffy had been with him, taking care of him. Like he took care of me, so many times. She could remember how much it hurt when he finally forgot who she was. It hurt to watch him forget who he was, what he'd been. In the end, he just sat and stared. She feels a tear burn at her eye, even now. I only hope somehow, someway Jenny was there with him in the end. Just before he let go, just before he died, for a second she saw a flash of recognition, and he'd squeezed her hand, as if saying " I remember. I love you". It took her years to come to terms with his death.

Xander Harris, just 25 years ago. Surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He'd found true happiness, and had a wonderful life with a woman that, here's the laugh, looked so much like Willow it could've been her twin. She had proceeded him in death by a year. He'd asked for Buffy and Willow to be there, in the end. It'd been a hard journey for two 80 year old women, but it was worth it. To see his goofy smile one last time, and still joking. "So, Buff, did you remember the Ho-Ho's? You know I can't do this without some chocolaty goodness." For a moment she saw him as he was so long ago, at 18, smiling, cracking jokes. Ragging on her for this or that… I don't think Will ever really got over his death. She was so quiet after that. It came so soon after Faith's death…

Willow and Faith. There was a combination Buffy never expected. So different… and just so right for each other. Who would've known? Buffy draws a tired breath. They were together for 55 years, finding each other soon after the last big battle with The First Evil. It wasn't all chocolate and puppy dogs. They fought… God, they could fight! She can't remember how many times Willow showed up at her door, swearing this time that she was going to leave her, that it was over. And then Faith would come, and they'd look at each other, and knew that they couldn't, wouldn't, live without each other. It became a joke around her house. Paul used to kid Will that if it was Tuesday, it was time for her to leave Faith. They even started making a bet, She and Paul, as to how long it would take Faith to show up and make nice.

Ah, god, tears again. She missed Paul so much, even after nearly 50 years. They'd been so happy for the few years they had each other, and of course, Paul gave her Joy. Her daughter. When they both died in that car accident, it nearly killed her. She didn't want to live anymore. How could the PtB be so cruel? She wanted to commit suicide, nearly succeeded. If it hadn't been for Willow and Faith… well, I wouldn't be hooked up to these damned tubes, lying here helpless and feeling stupid. She was glad they saved her, however. There was so much more of her life to live.

When Faith died, Buffy was there with Willow. Faith was always so strong, no one would think a bunch of tiny rogue cells could get her. But they did. Non –Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She had the indolent variety, the kind that's slow growing. She last 10 years with it, but in the end, her body gave up. She refused treatment the last time the disease reoccurred.

"Dammit, Red. I've had a good run. What'm I gonna gain by going through the chemo again? Another 6 months? And most of the time, I'll be so sick I'll be hugging the toilet. I want the last few months we got together to be good, ok?"

Willow had been angry with her for giving up, for like 10 minutes. Then she accepted it, and made Faith's last days the best ever. In the end, Faith had slipped away so quietly… so unlike her in life. Her death, and then a few months after, Xander's death, changed Willow. She lost her focus, her reasons to go on. Buffy stayed with her, tried to get her out of her depression, but it wasn't more than a year that Buffy was at a third funeral… Willow's.

Willow's death hit her like a truck. They'd been best friends for 65 years. They'd shared everything. When she buried Willow, a large part of herself went with her. She remembers the day of the funeral, standing by Willow's casket, wondering why she had to live to see this. She'd placed a single red rose on her coffin, expressing her love and devotion to her… she'd never hear her laugh again, or babble again, or hold her while she cried again. Never was so long.

She stopped caring for a long time after that. Meals became irregular, sleep became a luxury. She just wanted it to be over, to go. But the PtB weren't about to be cheated. Their little joke wasn't done. Dawn, her sister, wouldn't let her go. She nagged, she bothered, she sent her kids to nag and bother and whatever else it took to keep Buffy's spirits up, even if in anger. Finally, one day, without so much as a " if you please" , she moved in with her, and watched over her. Ummm… just who the hell is the older sister here, anyway? But that didn't matter; with Dawn, it never had mattered. So, in the end, it kept her going. No one could irritate her like Dawn, and she was too damned cranky to give Dawn the satisfaction of a quick check-out.

So of course, 9 years ago, she was the one to bury Dawn. At the ripe age of 90, without a peep, while sitting on the chair on the porch, Dawn had quietly passed away. Damn, it was so like her. Not even a goodbye, rude to the end. Buffy doesn't remember much about the funeral. One of Dawn's granddaughters did all the arrangements. All she remembers is she cried and cried for days.

It wasn't long after that the first stroke hit. She didn't even realize something was wrong at first; she just thought she was having another dizzy spell. But then her legs gave out from under her, and she fell. If one of Dawn's grandchildren hadn't been keeping an eye on her, she would've surely gone then.

She fought back, as was her nature. But she never really fully recovered from the stroke and the fall. The family(Dawn's family, I might mention!) decided it was best for "Auntie" to live in a nursing home where "she could get proper care"( Not be a burden, you mean!) She'd had three strokes since then, the last placing her where she was today, Sunnydale general.

Her tired eyes scanned the room, seeing the overly white walls. She smelled the odor of antiseptic and death all around her. Her breathing was being forced by a tube( God, how my throat aches) and she could hear the beeps, the whirrs, and the whoosh-hiss of the machines 'assisting' her to ' live '.

If you can call this living. Why won't they just let me go? The irony of the situation hits her. I'm a slayer, I was supposed to die young. God, I remember that time, my first year in Sunnydale, when I overheard Angel and Giles talking about the prophecy… how the master would rise, and I would die. I freaked. " I'm sixteen years old, Giles. I don't want to die!". And yet I did, even if only for a few minutes. Now, I'm 104 years old, and I wanna die… and they won't let me. I'm telling you, somebody up there really , really hates me.

-- Gee, complain much, Buffy? You've had a great run… more than most. You've lived to see your destiny change from being a lonely curse to a calling for many dedicated young women. You've been married, had a child… even if they were taken from you too soon, way too soon. You've seen Dawn grow up, and you were there when they gave her the Nobel Prize for medicine when she found the cure for AIDS. You were so proud you wanted to burst. You've got family; so much family you don't know what to do with them all. But most importantly, you've got memories. Millions of moments with those you love that time hasn't stolen from you. Stop being such a baby, and thank whoever for giving you so much… and for having so much time to enjoy it!!! --

It was then that she noticed the room had grown dark. At first, she thought a cloud had passed in front of the sun, but then she realized that she wasn't in her room anymore.

She was in the desert, and it was night. Ok, weirdness maximus. What the hell is going on here anyway? And damn, it's cold! She moved to draw her blankets around her, best she could, and then realized she wasn't in a bed, but was standing, fully dressed. Standing? God, I haven't been able to stand since the third stroke! What? A little ways away, she sees a fire. She starts to walk towards it, and realizes I'm walking. Ok, I'm dreaming, I know it now. Just go with the flow, Buffy.

As she approaches, she sees it's a huge bonfire. It's burning brightly. She moves towards it to warm herself, putting out her hands to catch the heat. In the center , slowly, a wavering form begins to take shape. Buffy, a little freaked, backs off.

Slowly the form coalesces into the image of the first slayer. She's standing quietly, looking at Buffy with a curious and open expression. She reaches out for Buffy.

"You… why're you here?" Buffy asks, suddenly feeling nervous.

" I'm here as your guide, Buffy. I'm merely in a form you can understand" The first slayer says, standing patiently , waiting.

" Ok, not getting the understanding part real good. What am I supposed to understand?"

"That I'm here to help you. It's your time, Buffy"

" My time?. Ummm… what's that supposed to mean?"

The first slayer merely stands and looks at her.

" Oh… you mean…." Buffy trails off.

Now that it's here, she's not sure she's ready. Ok, ok, I know, 10 minutes ago I was begging for it. But hell, I didn't get a chance to say goodbye or anything! Geeze, don't you guys ever give notice?

The first slayer reaches out for her again, and Buffy starts to reach, but then pulls back.

"Wait.. the fire! It'll burn me!" Buffy says, a knot of fear growing in her stomach.

" Embrace the pain. It doesn't last, it's only for a short while. Then all will be done."

" I'm afraid!" Buffy cries out.

" I know, but all will be clear soon"

The first slayer reaches out to her, and takes her hand. She pulls Buffy into the fire.

Buffy feels pain. Searing, soul wrenching pain. Pain like she's never felt before. No, that's not true… pain… like so long ago… on the tower… when I dived into the portal. She feels as if her body is being torn apart. Then as quick as it comes, the pain departs, and everything goes black.

" B? Hey, B, wake up… WAKE UP!"

Buffy wakes up, startled. Faith is standing over her, shaking her. There is a concerned look on her face, covered by cynical amusement.

"Gee, Buff, I always knew you were a bit of a wuss… but fainting? Get real!"

" Huh? What happened? Where am I?" Buffy asks, looking around. She's in a field, and in the distance, she can see Sunnydale. The sun is nearly gone from the sky.

" Well, duh. We were fighting a couple of demons, and I look over and you're sprawled out taking a nap!"

It suddenly hits her. " Faith? FAITH? Is that YOU?" Buffy jumps to her feet( Holy crap… how'd I do that?) and runs to Faith, hugging her tightly.

Faith gives her a look like she's gone bonkers, and pushes her away.

" Well, geeze, B. Never knew you cared" Faith smirks, giving Buffy the eye.

" What? Who? How?" is all Buffy can say, utterly confused.

" Man, B. You musta knocked your head pretty damned hard, " Faith says, " C'mon. We don't have time for this crap right now. They're waiting."

" They?" Buffy asks, still disoriented.

" Giles, Willow, Xander, Dawn. You remember, the scoobies?" Faith looks at her, worried for the first time.

" They are?" Buffy whispers, not believing her ears." B-But…they… you…"

Faith lets out an impatient sigh. " God, you pick the weirdest times to go weird. " Faith grabs her wrist, and pulling her along behind, starts to run. " We don't have time for this. What, do you think they're gonna hold up the Apocalypse because you want a time out?".

And then they're running. Running towards Sunnydale. And Buffy finally realizes how young Faith is… not even 20… and how young she is. God, I haven't felt this strong in like… forever.

Then she knows. Knows as if born with the knowledge.

It's not over.

It's never over.

It never ends.

Laughing, happier than she's been for a very long time, she shakes off Faith's hand, and the two women race to see who'll be first back to town.