Disclaimer: Don't own anyone recognizable.

Spoilers: None, AU past Nesting Dolls

Summary: Sara returns a favor.

The woman was very tiny, five three and one hundred and four pounds in socks. She was extremely pretty and earthy—not the hemp-wearing hippie sort of earthy, but she wore tawny, natural colors and little makeup. When she wore makeup, it was usually just bronzer and a little gold eye shadow and brown mascara. Though she was very natural, she wasn't a vegan, or anything like that—she was wearing a buttery brown leather bomber jacket over her chic designer jeans and deep red raw silk shirt.

She was very pretty, and did not look her forty-five years. She had long auburn tangles, and gorgeous dark eyes, and the face shape that ran high on her father's side: small eyes and high forehead, narrow nose and prominent cheekbones, thin lips and tiny chin with a gap in between small front teeth. She did not think she was particularly attractive, but her husband had thought she was striking. He was of German-Welsh descent and both their daughters looked liked him: dark ash blonde, nearly brown hair, and variations-on-blue eyes. Jules' skin was closer to her mother's; it was tawny where her mother's was olive. Grace was a fairer beige tone and burnt easily.

She twisted the wedding ring that she now wore on a chain around her neck. Thom had been out of the picture since the girls were three, dead since they were eleven. Still, she had loved him once, and he was the father of her girls. She owed that much to him.

The bench was very cold; staring at her watch, she realized it was nearly seven AM. She wondered why she had been sitting out there for so long, why she couldn't just go inside the building. She had come earlier that night, at ten; but had left because she chickened out. She had returned forty-five minutes ago, changed and showered and determined.

Luckily, she ran out of time. Sara came out of the building, willowy and sad and everything Lilly remembered. Her cousin didn't see her, instead walking on past. Lilly called out, "Sara. Sara Sidle."

Sara turned. She looked….okay. Sara had never looked good, she was too damaged and fragile and tough to look good. But she looked more adjusted. Shock and surprise and a blink of happiness registered on her face when she saw Lilly. "Lillith." She said. "What are you doing here?" It had been years since they had seen each other. She didn't move towards her, but that was still a good sign. Lilly blinked. She hadn't seen Sara as an adult ever; she had had to call her father just to know where Sara was living. She was shocked to see how much they looked alike—the only difference was twelve years and coloring.

"I…..we….I need to talk. To you. And it's Lilly. It always has been." The last part came out more like a reprimand than Lilly would have preferred. Lilly felt lame and immature, especially since she had more than ten years on her cousin and had bossed her around when they were growing up. "Is there somewhere we can go….to eat ..breakfast, or anything? And talk?"

"Yeah, there's a Denny's around the corner. We can go there." Sara didn't move. She used to her shoulder to signify the direction of the Denny's.

"Could you give me a lift? I took a taxi here."

"Where are you staying?"

"At a Marriott Courtyard. I'm just here through tomorrow…..well, tonight now. It's not the Strip, but it's not seedy or anything."

"Alright….Will you need a ride back there? After the breakfast?"

"Well, you'll probably need your sleep. I can just take a taxi again."

"Alright. If that suits you."

"Yeah. Let's go eat."

They made minimal small talk on the way to the Denny's and got a booth which they sat on opposite sides of. Lilly ordered an omelet and Sara got fruit-drenched pancakes. Finally, Sara, realizing her cousin needed asked why she had flown in from Sacramento, said, "What's new with you? Is everything alright?"

This was Lilly's invitation. "No." she paused for the dramatic bit, timing she had learned in high school. "It's a long story," and she slumped back heavily and her pretense of drama eroded. "About…six months ago, I was promoted and would be transferred to London. It was an amazing opportunity. I put the house on the market; the girls weren't too upset because they would be going to England. The house got snapped up pretty quickly. We should have been leaving about three weeks from today.

"However, I was feeling…ill. That's the only way to describe it. I went to the doctor. She ran some diagnostics, and told me I had cancer in my liver and pancreas. She gave me nine months about five months ago.

"I was stuck. I got an extended leave of absence and turned down the promotion immediately. The house was already in escrow, though, the sale has to go through. I began looking into treatment plans with my doctor; she highly recommended a local clinic here called Grace House. It's very small, most people come from around here but they've got some effective cutting-edge treatment. You stay in the clinic during treatments, but you go home for a few days at a time. I was talking to my friend from high school, Wendy, and she lives here now—four kids and her sister and her niece live with her, too, though. She said that I could stay with her, problem solved. But another one was created—where do Jules and Grace go? I can't ask Wendy to take them in, and I can't let them see my getting so sick. But I want them near me. Grace suggested they just stay with friends but I need them here and I think they need me." She paused and took a bite of the omelet. "I know, Sara, we've drifted since…everything, but, please, I'm begging only because it's the last thing left: Will you take Grace and Jules in? I will pay you, pay their school tuition bills, everything…. I just need my daughters here."

Sara was extremely quiet. "You've only got four months and you've waited this long for treatment?"

Lilly shrugged. "I've been getting treatment—my hair right now is a wig. It's just I need something stronger. And I don't want to die while living in a hotel."

"Why didn't you call earlier?" Sara's eyes showed compassion, something she always had had trouble expressing but could feel to the bone. "God, Lilly, I don't know what to say. What a horrible horrible thing."

Lilly's eyes dropped. "I know. It's hard sometimes, like when the girls went to prom about three months after my diagnosis. It hurt so bad and it ached. I felt like I was railing and wailing against everything—I won't watch them get married. Or even graduate high school for that matter." Her eyes swelled and she shut them until she pulled herself together. "I don't know what to do. I'm going to die soon and I feel horrible uprooting them two weeks before their senior year just so they can watch me die. I feel so selfish. But it honestly is probably the only solution I can think of. But, Sara, they're going to be left in pretty good shape, between my estate and their father's. I can have the estate pay you…posthumously."

"I don't need payment." Sara said. This was the first time in a long while she had acted with rash passion. "I've been wanting an apartment closer to work, anyways. I'll get something more permanent—I've been living here for six years and my condo can be liquidated. I'll start looking for something like a house soon. How soon until school starts? Do you mind that I work evenings? I mean, I can get home before they go to school, sleep while they're at school and then be up when they get home through a little after their dinner. But I can't watch them while they're sleeping or anything."

"They're big girls." Lilly felt hopeful for the first time since accepting her impending death. School starts in about four weeks. I've been looking around the Vegas area—I want to send them to a small, private school where they can receive more support. This year's gonna be tough. Jules will need a swim team and Grace plays tennis very competitively. I think I found a school called the St. Christopher School."

"I've heard of it—it's near work." Sara said, "It's very good."

"Good." Lilly was relieved. "I'm calling the principal today—seeing if I can get them in. I'm sure there's forms, but hopefully in light of circumstances—" she stopped, "Anyways, Sara, thank you so very much."

"No problem. I'll start looking for a house. Do the girls have a car? And, what are your rules and things?" Sara yawned suddenly.

"I'm sorry, you've been up so long." Lilly apologized. "We'll talk later. I've got a book at home I keep for house sitters that I can give you. It's got all my rules and stuff."

"Here, I'll drive you back to your hotel."

"Thank you," Lilly said gratefully.

An idea hit Sara, "You know—why don't you just come live with me, and the girls? Wendy's house sounds very crowded—you'd be more involved with them and everything. It would be more like I'm just letting you stay instead of taking over your role."

Lilly almost couldn't believe what she was hearing. Then, she deflated. "That's a wonderful offer. But I'm afraid it would be hard. I need you to step in with my role—do the yelling and corralling. Not that they'll ever really need it. But I'll be so weak."

"We can work it out." Sara said confidently.

"Well—then—yes—thank you."

As they sat in the car, Sara felt compelled to make small talk, "How have your brothers been doing?"

Lilly smiled. "They're good. Dan is living in Maine now with his wife, Katrina, and they have three kids, two boys and a girl. He wants to move back to the West Coast so they're looking around Tahoe for after their youngest graduates in two years. Doug married Diana when they went to Oregon together for college and she got pregnant. They've grown up, two kids in college and they run a bed and breakfast."

"So they're happy?"

Lilly shrugged, "Yeah, I guess. Turn left here." They pulled up to the hotel and Lilly slid out. "Sara, I just have to tell you how incredibly grateful that you'll do this. Especially after what happened between my family and you and Troy."

Sara waved a hand to signal no problem and said, "No. It's okay. I was mad then but I can understand now. Did you know, that when I went to Harvard your father gave me money to help with tuition? Later, when I went to grad school, he helped me with rent and cosigned for my student loans. Your parents have more than made up for everything, not that they needed to. And, besides, Lilly, you were at college the entire time."

"I was twenty minutes away and I came home all the time," Lilly said. It was a slight exaggeration, but unfortunately mostly true. She stepped back. "I'll be calling you later, Sara, and you can meet the girls. Thank you, so much." Her eyes welled up and she could barely say, "Bye."

Like it? Hate it? Think I should continue? You know the dril...Thanks!