AUTHOR'S NOTE And here we are at the end! I hope you all enjoyed the story – thanks for reading and the great reviews!
DISCLAIMER I list a bunch of X5s in Max's family that I made up – they're mentioned a couple times in the story, but a full list of them is included in the author's note on Chapter Two. Anyone else, I don't own.
Slowly, Syl woke herself up. She rubbed her forehead, feeling the beginnings of one big headache, and squinted in the bright light.
She was lying on a white couch in a white room. When she peered closer at the walls, she saw that they were marble. "Crap," she muttered. "Typical."
She was dead. She had no idea what really had happened or where she was now, but she was pretty sure that she was dead. That sucked.
"You're not dead."
The voice startled her and she looked up to see a dark-haired woman in a soft gray dress coming toward her. "I'm not?"
The woman sat in an armchair opposite the couch that Syl was on and shook her head. "Nope. Although in about a day or so, you'll wish that you were."
Syl pushed herself into a sitting position and frowned. "Who are you? You look familiar."
That seemed to please the woman. "You mean Dawn or Willow actually kept a picture or two of me around?" When Syl did not answer, she continued, "I'm Cordelia Chase. Or, I was before the Powers brought me up here."
"Cordelia Chase," Syl repeated. She thought back to all of the people Dawn had mentioned. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but her head was hurting a lot now and thinking too hard seemed out of the question. "One of Buffy's friends?"
Cordelia snorted. "That's putting it a little strongly."
"Who are the Powers?" Syl asked.
"The Powers That Be," Cordelia said, as if that explained anything. "They're the head honchos around here. And around everywhere now that I think about it. They control everything that goes on down there."
Syl glanced at the floor. "Down there? I thought you said I'm not dead."
Cordelia sighed and leaned back. "Do you remember your sacrifice?"
Syl thought long and hard for a moment. She remembered the red light changing to white. She remembered the Renfro thing attacking Tara and Willow. She remembered feeling like she had to do something. Then there was nothing.
Or, wait. She looked up at Cordelia. "I fell," she said. "I fell into the Hellmouth."
Sadly, she nodded. "You did."
Syl contemplated that for a moment. "Well, did Willow's plan work? Is the First trapped?"
"It is. For now."
Cordelia was not looking at her and all of a sudden, she knew. "I am too."
Standing up, Cordelia began pacing around the room. "It was really brave, what you did." She glared. "Really sort of stupid too. You're trapped down there with the ultimate evil for all eternity. Or until it frees itself again. And if it doesn't kill you before that."
Syl looked around the white room. "Doesn't look like I'm trapped right now. What's going on?"
The pacing slowed. Cordelia looked at her. "You gave up everything to save someone in the name of goodness and vanquishing evil."
Syl shifted uncomfortably. "It sounds like a much bigger deal when you put it like that."
"Yeah well, the Powers That Be have a word for people like that. They call them champions."
"Champions?" Syl repeated. She smiled to herself. That sounded pretty cool.
Cordelia sat back down and nodded. "You're a champion, Syl. They've decided that. They're giving you a choice." She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "They are offering to make you a higher being. A messenger, like me. Well, not exactly like me, since they had to make me part demon to be up here and you don't need that since you're not entirely human anyway. But you'd be rescued from the trap that you're in right now."
Syl grinned. "Absolutely! Sign me up!"
Putting her hands up, Cordelia said, "Wait a minute – there's a catch. Once you're up here, you're up here for good. You can't ever have contact with anyone down there again. As far as they're concerned, you really would be dead."
That sounded less appealing. Syl looked at the floor. But what choice did she have? "I'll do it."
As if trying to soften the blow, Cordelia added gently, "There is one other thing. As a champion, the Powers are granting you a reward."
"A reward?" Syl asked, looking up.
Cordelia nodded. "As a token of their appreciation. For, you know, saving the world."
Syl thought about that for a moment. "So I can have anything I want?"
Fixing her with a glare, Cordelia said, "Within reason."
What did she want? Syl looked around the beautiful white room. She thought about what Max would ask for, or Krit or Zane. What would Brin have asked for it she was still alive?
And suddenly she knew. "A day," she said. "One day with all of my brothers and sisters as they should be today."
At first, Cordelia was quiet. As she was about to reply, Syl added, "And you, too."
Cordelia frowned. "Me?"
"All of you. You guys who made Willow and Dawn's lives so happy back in the days they don't really talk about."
The look in Cordelia's eyes was so heartbreaking that Syl felt a lump in her own throat. The demon woman said nothing for a minute, then finally said, "I can't."
The lump dissolved and tears filled Syl's eyes. "What do you mean you can't?"
"To bring back that many people," Cordelia said, "for an entire day – that's too much magic, even for the Powers that Be."
Having her request denied added to the fact that she was for all intents and purposes dead made Syl unable to stop her tears. It occurred to her that she did not know if Jace had had her baby. She did not know if anyone else had been killed in the battle in the library.
She had never gotten to say goodbye.
"I could do it for a couple hours."
Syl looked at Cordelia with joy. "Really?" she asked.
Cordelia shrugged. "They might get a little ticked off, but hey, it's only a little while. We should do it right now, though, before they find out what we're up to." She winked conspiratorially. Then she stood up and walked over so that she was standing right in front of Syl. "This might be weird."
There was no other preface. She touched Syl's forehead and again the Slayer found herself engulfed in white light.
When she blinked and came out of it, she found herself standing in the corner of the Summers backyard. Two huge tables were set up in the center of the lawn, with people milling around carrying plates and food.
Cordelia appeared to her right. The two of them stood in silence for a minute, gazing at the people who they had lost in life and now left behind in death. Finally Cordelia said, "Not all of them will know."
"What do you mean?"
"That this isn't real. Only those strong enough to cope with the fact that they have this for a few hours and are going to lose it again will get it." She smirked. "Which really means only Willow and Giles."
Syl looked across the lawn to where all twenty-one of her siblings were crowded in a tight circle. Jace was in the center, showing off her brand new baby girl. Del, Add, Eva, Jack, Creb, Han, Kora, Vee, and Etta were all there, adults enjoying life, not children who had been gunned down when they were nine. Seth, Brin, Ben, Zach, and Tinga were talking and laughing together, alive despite the fact that Manticore had killed them all. Max, Jondy, Krit, and Sari were joined by their brothers Rhett and Zane, the two that had gone into deep hiding and whom Syl had not heard from in years.
Cordelia left her side to join the other group of people, clustered around the table under a high tent. There was Dawn as a teenager and her blonde sister Buffy. Both girls were with an older woman with curly hair, whom Syl figured was their mother. An older man with glasses stuck close to them as well. He looked into her eyes and nodded knowingly. He must have been Giles.
Willow and Tara, both young and happy, were joined by three men and a woman. One was a vampire – Syl's still intact Slayer sense told her that – but there was something different about him. He had a soul. She remembered Willow or Dawn telling her about him once. He had to be Angel.
One of the other men felt otherworldly too. His stoic demeanor hid something more vicious, almost animal, but for the time being he seemed okay. Cordelia had joined the last two – a man with dark brown hair and an ancient demon woman at his side.
Just as Syl was about to go over to her siblings, Willow caught her eye. Here, the witch was not blind and her eyes lit up. She glanced around the yard, then back at Syl and smiled sadly. "Thank you," she mouthed.
Syl nodded. Then she crossed the lawn to join her family.