"Will you just calm down?" Cordelia sighed as she looked up at Xander who was pacing back and forth in the hospital's waiting area. "Look, I know you're worried, but I'm sure she's going to be alright. And if you wear a hole in that carpet you're paying for it yourself."
Xander was about to answer, then he saw the doctor coming out of the exam room and ran over to him instead. "How is she?"
"Are you family?" The doctor regarded him warily.
"Well, no, not as such, but... Look, I've known her for 14 years and her parents are out of town." He had no idea if that was true, but knowing the Rosenbergs it was probably a good guess. "Right now I'm as close as she's got and could you please just tell me how Willow's doing?"
Seeing his genuine concern, the older man relented. "Well, she woke up a few minutes ago. As far as I've been able to tell so far there's nothing wrong with her, but we'd still like to run a few tests. You said she just fainted?"
Xander considered telling him about the spell, but decided the doctor seemed suspicious enough even without knowing they had been messing around with the black arts. He nodded.
"Do you know if anything like this has happened to her before? Epileptic fits, anxiety attacks, migraines...?"
Well, there was the time she was captured by vampires and almost sacrificed, and the evil egg that turned her into a zombie, and the stage-fright freakout with extra vomit... "No, nothing like that."
"And you're sure she hasn't been doing drugs?"
"Willow? Drugs?" Xander almost laughed at the thought. "No way. If there's anything I'm sure of –"
"Fine." The doctor smiled. "Then unless it's something brand new, I'd say there's probably nothing to worry about. You can go in and sit with her for a few minutes if you like, I'll be back to run those tests."
"Thank you, doctor." Xander turned to Cordelia feeling as if a 300-pound weight had been lifted off his chest. "She's OK."
"See? What did I tell you? You really should pay more attention, Xander Harris." Cordelia smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "You go in and talk to her. I'll get us some coffee."
Standing in line for the coffee machine, Cordelia got to thinking about... well... here she was, Queen C of Sunnydale, standing in line for freeze-dried coffee with a bunch of sick people so her dweeb boyfriend could talk to his nerd friend in peace. And damnit, it felt good. OK, so maybe not good, that spell had been scary, but right somehow. Ever since Giles' death, things had felt... focused, like there were some things she needed to do more than others. Taking care of the people she... liked, for instance. It felt important. She got her two styrofoam cups of brownish liquid and walked back towards Willow's room, still deep in thought. Which meant that when she walked through the entrance hall without looking, she collided rather violently with a woman running at full clip towards the elevator. They both went down in a painful tangle of limbs, Cordelia's coffee spilling out over her jacket.
"OW! Hey, watch where you're going! You are so going to pay for drycleaning this..." She looked up at the other woman, who didn't seem like she even noticed her; she was busy trying to scramble to her feet, looking like a wild animal was after her, tears streaming down her face. Of course, it was a face Cordelia knew. "...Mrs Summers?"
Willow looked up when he came into the room. "Oh, hey."
"Hey there, Will." Xander sat down beside his oldest friend, taking in how she looked. Paler than usual – though that could be the fluorescent lights – and tired, but not exactly sick. If anything, she looked almost giddy. "How are you feeling?"
"A bit loopy and generally icky, but also... I dunno, buzzed. Like I ate too much icecream and went on a rollercoaster. Man, that was powerful." She seemed to suddenly think of something and broke out in a bright smile. "Hey, do you think it worked? I mean, it felt like something happened right before I, uh, passed out..."
Passed out. Yeah, no big deal. Xander took her hand and squeezed it, as if just to make sure she was really OK. "Jesus, Will –"
"Alright then, Moses, Will, you don't get to scare me like that. You have to promise you won't do it again."
"If you scare that easily I'm not promising anything, mister." There was a teasing smile on Willow's lips that he knew all too well; that was the I-know-better-than-Xander-but-I'll-play-along-to-reassure-him smile.
"I'm serious. As far as any of us know you're damned lucky to be alive. At least with vampires we know what we're up against, but doing magic without Giles or Jenny or anyone to stop you if you do something wrong? That's playing in traffic. Blindfolded. On the highway. Please, promise me you won't try it again."
Willow looked as if she was going to argue, then sighed and pouted. "Fine. I promise. I mean, it's not like I was going to be Superwitch or anything, I just thought I could help, 'sall..."
"I know. And hey, maybe you did. I guess we'll know tomorrow."
Just then the door flew open and Cordelia popped her head in, looking like she'd seen a ghost. "Xander, you have to come with me right now."
"Cor, we're kind of in the middle of-"
"Buffy's been shot."
And so it was that Xander was the one to support Joyce as they stood at the foot of Buffy's bed, listening to the doctor explain. Behind them, Willow sat in a wheelchair staring in horror at her best friend lying among a bunch of wires and tubes and beeping machines keeping her alive. She looks so... small. Yep, that spell must have worked A-OK. God, I'm so stupid.
Joyce listened to the doctor explain, though it felt like he was shouting at her from at least 10 miles away. Ever since she got the phone call an hour earlier she'd felt like she was falling down a deep hole, and something told her she was about to hit bottom. "Your daughter is still in critical condition, but I think we've managed to stabilize her for now. We've set the broken bones and they should heal fine, and the gunshot wound is serious but barring complications it shouldn't be life-threatening anymore. However..." The doctor took a deep breath; he hated this part of his job. "The big issue right now is that she was in full cardiac arrest for well over three minutes, and combined with the massive blood loss... right now there's no telling how much damage that may have done to her brain."
"Oh God..." Xander had to hold on to Joyce when her knees buckled.
The man in the white coat knew he had to continue. "Mrs Summers, I know this sounds awful and I don't want you to give up hope, we're going to do everything we can, but you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that she might never regain consciousne-"
"Mom?" At least that's what Buffy meant to say; the respirator tube down her throat made sure it came out only as a muffled and barely audible "Unh". But her eyes were open, and Joyce tore away from Xander and pushed past the bewildered doctor to kneel by her daughter.
"Buffy?" Joyce barely dared make eye contact, terrified of looking into the dull eyes of someone who would never again be the girl she knew... but when she did meet her daughter's gaze she knew, and wept with joy. There was life in there. Buffy was terrified and hurt, but all there. "Hey, sweetheart. Welcome back."
"Euurgh..." It hurts...
"I know, sweetie. Just don't try to speak, OK? You're going to be fine. You're going to be fine."
He barely seemed to weigh anything as she carried him through the dark streets. Some more-or-less rational part of Drusilla's brain tried to reason that this was because she was strong; vampires are strong, just like vampires can find their loved ones by sense of smell – especially when their smells are splattered all over a room. That rational part tried to tell her that as awful as the gaping holes in his head looked – a small one at his temple, and a huge crater on the other side – there was no way all of him was gone. A pound or two, tops. Maybe three. Most of him, muscle, bone, skin, even blood, was still there in her arms. But that part of her was fighting a losing battle with panic; she could smell his sweat, touch his skin, taste his blood, see his face – what was left of it – and hear the sound of squeaking leather when one of his limbs would twitch, but her real sense, the one that had damned her, was quiet. She could always hear others as whispers in her head, but tonight there was nothing. All the way home she kept reaching out for him, both with her voice and her mind - DADDY DADDY DADDY wake UP - but all she got in return was silence. Not a single thought, not a word, not even a mindless groan since his lungs were long empty and there was nothing telling them to fill themselves up again.
Her pleas turned to sobs as she carried him into the mansion. "SPIIIKE!"
Her childe came rolling towards her with an annoyed look. "Easy, Ducks, you'll wake up all of Sunn- Oh bloody hell." He stopped when he saw her kneel next to the body of their sire. Shit, somebody did a number on Gramps. What's that, a .44? Looks like it's just the hair gel holding him together. "Calm down, Dru." Spike pointed to Angelus' hand, twitching feebly on the carpet. "He's alive, ain't he? If he hasn't dusted..."
"But I can't hear him!" Drusilla wailed. "He's not in there! Everything is quiet, the storm has torn the roof off the belfry and all the little bats are gone and the bells won't ring anymore..." She ran a trembling hand over the hole in Angelus' skull, shuddering at the squishy pink stuff that clung to her finger when she brought it up to her nose. "A quagmire of mingled brains, muddied, thick and unwholesome..." She whimpered in disgust as she wiped her hand on the front of her dress. "That harlot of a Slayer did this to him, Spike. I want her to pay. I want to feed her to Daddy, drop by ruddy drop. I want her to die as slowly as he lives. Please, Spike, she needs to suffer."
"Don't worry, my sweet. We'll set everything right again." Spike patted her head affectionately. Angelus would heal, of course. It would take time and would probably be quite amusing to watch. Sure, he could easily stake him as soon as Dru turned her back, but she certainly wouldn't thank him for it... and frankly, wouldn't it be more fun to torture the old fella a bit? Let's see how Dru likes changing her precious Daddy's nappies and wiping the drool off his chin for a while. Let Spike be the hero for a change. And if he got a chance to pay the Slayer back for dropping a church organ on him in the process... so much the better. "Everything's going to be fine."
Author's note: I don't say this nearly enough: THANKS SO MUCH to everyone who reads and/or reviews. It's very much appreciated. This story has been stuck in Writersblockland for some time, but I think it's going to move along a little better in the future...