Chapter 1

Only one more witness deposition to add to the evidence log and she would be able to escape her cell of an office for lunch.  Buffy was reaching for the stack in her incoming basket when the phone beeped. 

"Buffy, your sister, Dawn, is on line one for you," the receptionist said, with obvious reproach in her voice. 

"Thanks," Buffy snatched up the receiver.  Dawn knew never to call her at the office unless it was an emergency.  Wolfram & Hart frowned on their employees having a personal life much less having it come within touching distance of the firm.  "Hello?"

At first, all she could hear was sobbing on the other end of the phone, and then, "Buffy, you've got to come home."

"What's wrong?"  A million problems ran through Buffy's mind.  Was it Dawn herself, her marriage, the children, or something else?  "Dawn?"

"It's mom," Dawn said, sniffling as she tried to pull her emotions in check.  "She's in the hospital."

"Oh shit, was it an accident?  Is she…all right?"

Although it was a big reach, what she really wanted to ask was if their mother was dying?  The past year had taken so much from her that she was scared of losing someone or something else.  Buffy closed her eyes as she waited for Dawn to tell her the details.

"She collapsed at the gallery," Dawn said, hitching over another sob.  "It was yesterday, but she said not to call you until we knew."

"You should have called me anyway.  I could already be there."

"I know…I know.  I should have.  You're coming now, right?"

Sometimes her younger sister still sounded like a child.  Their mother and Xander, her husband, still protected Dawn from the ugliness in life.  Buffy wondered how her sister coped with the problems of mothering her two young children, because someone else always fought her battles.  So of course, she would expect Buffy to support her through this crisis, too.

"Yes, I'm coming, but Dawnie, what is it?  What did they find?"

"A shadow on her brain.  They have to operate."  Dawn broke out in fresh sobs.  "They don't even know if she'll make it through the surgery."

"When are they operating?"

"Tomorrow morning."

"I have to run by my apartment, pack a few things and get Lucky then I'm on my way.  Okay?"

"Thanks Buffy."   

Buffy didn't even take the time to say goodbye.  Her mind was already racing with the things she needed to do before she could get on the road.  She quickly finished assembling the case file, marked everything carefully, before putting it back in the file cabinet where a secretary or another paralegal could find it.  Knowing approval for time off wasn't easy, Buffy chose to ignore going to Lindsey who was technically her immediate boss.  She opted to go to Lilah, another partner in the firm, who she knew had a mother in a nursing home.  A little sympathy couldn't hurt her request.

Lilah's door was open so Buffy only rapped on it before stepping into the office.

"Yes, Buffy," Lilah said, looking up from the file that was in front of her on the desk.  "May I help you?"

"I'm sorry for interrupting you," Buffy said, wringing her hands.  "I need some emergency leave."

"What's wrong?"

"My sister just called to tell me that our mother is in the hospital.  They need to do brain surgery," she took a deep breath so she wouldn't break out in tears.  Another weakness that wouldn't be appreciated.  "The doctor said they're not sure she'll make it through the operation."

"You should've come to me," Lindsey said, startling her when he spoke from a chair in the corner. 

Nervous of the well-deserved reproach in his voice, Buffy stared at the floor and said, "I know." 

"You thought I wouldn't let you take the time off?"

"I'm sorry, Lindsey.  It's my mother.  I…I couldn't take the chance of you saying no."

This time she did look up at him.  Old arguments, and never forgotten emotions danced between them for a second.  Lindsey never forgave her for breaking off their affair a couple of months ago.  Sometimes he could be vindictive despite his declarations of still caring about her.  It gave her another good reason to avoid him.  This time he surprised her with genuine concern in his expression.

"Go Buffy," Lindsey said.  "That is if Lilah says it's all right."

"Do what you need to do," Lilah said, looking suspiciously from one to the other as she leaned back in her chair.  "Keep us informed about the time you need."

"I will.  If you need anything, you can reach me on my cell.  Thank you both," she said in one breath.  Before leaving, she gave Lindsey an appreciative smile, and then Buffy rushed back to her office to grab her purse.  On the drive to her apartment, she prepared a mental list of what she would need to take with her.  Not that it really mattered.  None of it did except getting home. 

Lucky was waiting at the front door when she arrived.  He gave her a surprised look when she rushed past him without even so much as a pat on the head.  Despite her indifference to him, he followed her into the bedroom.  He sat out of the way, and watched while she grabbed the things that she could remember and threw them into a pile on the bed.

"Don't let me forget the stuff you need," Buffy said, rushing into the bathroom to get her toiletries.  "We are both going to end up with too much of one stuff and not enough of another.  Guess it doesn't really matter since we can buy or borrow what we need.  Or I can borrow, you I'll have to buy for, but you're worth it." 

She reached into the closet, heart pounding, and mind racing, to grab her suitcase.  Within ten minutes of walking into the door, she was packed and her suitcase sat by the door.  Lucky was still following her, stupefied at both her ignoring him and her frantic behavior.  Usually when she came home, she lavished him with love.  He came before her even changing clothes or checking the answering machine.  He was the one who kept her heart and head together in the long months after her divorce from Riley.  Even more importantly, Lucky was the non-judgmental friend while she learned to be single again after almost twelve years of marriage. 

After packing a bag for him with food and favorite toys, she finally slowed down.  Dropping to her knees, she wrapped her arms around her best friend.  "I can't lose my mom.  I can't," she whispered burying her face in the thick fur around his neck.  Lucky whimpered, rubbing his snout against her shoulder.  It was his way of telling her that he was there for her just like always.  She kissed his head and stood.

"I guess all we need is the leash for you and we can get on the road."

For once, the trademark insane traffic of Los Angeles didn't bog down the highway, and Buffy was able to pull off the exit leading to Sunnydale in less than two hours.  Although, she'd just gotten off the phone with her sister a few minutes prior, Buffy reached for her cell to let Dawn she was home.  Dawn answered on the second ring.

"Does Mom still have a key hidden outside the house?"  Buffy asked after a brief hello.  "I can't leave Lucky in the car."

"Hold on," Dawn said.  There was muttered talk before Dawn returned to the line.  "It's quicker if you come straight to the hospital.  Call when you're getting ready to pull into the parking lot.  Mattie will meet you downstairs.  He'll take the car back to Spike's, and watch Lucky while you're here.  Okay?"

"Is Mattie old enough to drive?" 

"Yes," Dawn said, with an impatient sigh.  "I just thought you would want to see Mom as soon as possible."

"I do.  I'm sorry.  My mind is all jumbled."  If Mattie was there then so was Spike, which didn't surprise her.  From the day, she'd brought Spike home for a visit in high school, her mother and he had gotten along very well.  Almost like a son, her mother treated him like a member of the family, long after she left for Los Angeles.  "I'll be there in ten, Dawn.  Tell Mattie I'll pull up in the front."

"Okay."

It was a bit jarring when she pulled up to see Spike's son standing there.  He was almost a man, and even more handsome than the last time she'd seen him.  Mattie looked nothing like his father.  Instead, he was the spitting image of his mother, Drusilla, with black hair and dark eyes.  The boy was waiting by the front doors of the hospital with a familiar teenage slouch to his shoulders. 

Pulling to a stop, she put the car into park and got out. 

"Hello," Buffy said. 

"Hello, Mrs. Finn," Mattie said.  "Don't worry.  I'll take good care of the car and of Lucky," Mattie leaned in the passenger window to pet the dog.  "Hey there."

Lucky, always ready to make a new friend, accepted Mattie's affection with good humor. 

"Well, I'm glad I didn't need any protection," Buffy said, relieved that Mattie seemed to like her best friend.

"Ah, Lucky knows that I wouldn't ever hurt you."  He rubbed the dog's head.  "Don't you?"

"I wouldn't ask you to leave, but…"

"Hey, it's no problem," Mattie said with a smile.  "I told Dad that I'd go home and make dinner for Anne."

"How is your sister?" 

"She's cool."  He laughed.  "Actually a pain in my ass."

"Ooh, watch your language," Buffy said, falling into the familiar teasing they always did when they saw each other.  "Or I'll tell your Dad." 

"Scare me, why don't you?"

"Nah, I wouldn't tell," Buffy said.  "Look, I really need to get upstairs."

"Yeah, Aunt Joyce has been asking for you.  Don't worry.  Things will be fine."

"I won't."  She handed the keys to the car over before petting Lucky one more time.  "Do you know the room number?"

"Fourth floor.  Room 424."

Needing something, anything, Buffy impulsively hugged Mattie.  "Thank you."

"Go on.  They're waiting for you," Mattie said, after he hugged her back.  "Don't worry.  I've got it under control."

Something told her that he did.  Without looking back, she rushed into the hospital.  The elevators were in front of her, but with the numerous people in front of them, she opted for the stairs.  By the time, she reached the fourth floor she was gasping for air, but the only thing on her mind was her mother.  She raced through the doors leading to the hallway.  Xander was pacing only a little ways away.  He stopped when he spotted her.

"Buffy, you made it."

The sound of his voice propelled Dawn into the doorway. 

"I'm here," Buffy said, rushing forward to give her sister a hug.  "How is Mom?"

"She's awake," Dawn said, pulling Buffy into the room.  "Mom, look who's here.  Buffy made it."

Buffy only had eyes for her mother.  Her stomach dropped at the sight of her mother hooked up to so many machines, face pale against the pillows.  Tears welled up in her eyes as the adrenaline left her and the reality of the situation finally sank in.  Hands squeezed her shoulders, supporting her so she wouldn't fall to the floor.

"Be strong, Buffy," Spike whispered in her ear.  "She needs you."

to be continued…