Disclaimer: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' is the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.

"Tears and fears and feeling proud to say "I love you" right out loud,

Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I've looked at life that way.

Oh but now old friends are acting strange.

They shake their heads, they say I've changed.

Well something's lost but something's gained in living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose and still somehow,

It's life's illusions I recall, I really don't know life at all."

- Joni Mitchell, "Both Sides Now"


Buffy hated hospitals. Nothing good ever came from them. She wasn't particularly fond of the doctors in them either. In her experience they were bearers of bad news of the 'your mom has cancer variety'. They only thing they has going for them was the fact that life in Sunnydale had taught them not to ask too many questions. The ER doctors had taken one look at Tara and clumped her into the rest of the mental instability that was sweeping Sunnydale like the Bubonic. They'd just tsked over her hand before taking her away. No words of comfort, no questions, just a vague promise to release Tara into Willow's care despite the fact that she wasn't family. It wasn't much but it was something.

And so now there was nothing to do but sit and wait. Willow hadn't been able to stand it for more than a few minutes and had let Xander usher her away for some coffee and vending machine food. That left Buffy to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of the waiting room until Tara was released. It was the first chance she'd had for quiet in a while.

She'd counted on passing the time with a harmless game of anywhere but here but her brain had other thoughts. To be specific, Spike shaped thoughts. Not exactly the relaxing fare she'd hoped for.

Not even in her wildest dreams had Buffy Summers ever imagined that she would actually miss Spike once he was gone. It was wrong on such an astronomical scale that it gave her a serious case of the wiggins just considering the possibility that she might want him to come back and soon. Unfortunately, and she would die before admitting this aloud, that thought crossed her mind more often than was healthy. At first she'd told herself that it was because she rested easier knowing exactly what her former nemesis was doing. After all, a Spike left to his own devices was a Spike who usually ended up being a pain in her ass later.

That rationalization had held water for less then a week before she was forced to admit that he'd actually become somewhat useful lately. Somehow, despite all the amazingly unhelpful snark and seriously creepy obsession, he'd become someone she could count on. And not just to keep Dawn safe but to have her back - no matter what cutting criticisms he might be busy hurling at her and her friends while he was doing it. She couldn't help but remember the way he had looked when they'd finally managed to save him from Glory. She didn't like to think about it much but she knew that none of her other friends would have been able to live through, much less endure, that level of torture. Not only had Spike done it, but unlike her friends he didn't even have a reason to.

She was well aware that any other self-respecting evil vampire would have sold Dawn out willingly. But Spike, despite the way she treated him, hadn't. It boggled her mind and not in a good way.

The sound of muted crying brought her back to reality. Dawn had woken up and lay sniffling on the hospital bench. Soothingly, Buffy rubbed circles on her sister's back and made noises she hoped were comforting. She remembered mom doing the same thing for her before -

Buffy pushed the thought away. Now was not the time.

"It's all my fault."

If it wasn't for her Slayer hearing Buffy doubted that she would've been able to understand Dawn's whispered words. She froze for a moment, panic setting in as she realized she didn't know what to do to make it better, and then pulled her sister tighter against her before saying in her best comforting voice, "You know that's not true."

Dawn's head shook wildly, her sobs slowing only long enough for her to gasp for air, "None of this would've happened if not for me! I'm not supposed to be here and everyone else is suffering because of it."

"No," Buffy tried to gather her sister even closer but she skittered like a bird before popping off of the bench, her hazel eyes full of doubt, guilt, betrayal, hopelessness and defiance. Emotions Buffy knew well, ones she'd ways wanted to protect Dawn from.

"Stop lying to me!"

Dawn's hiss stunned her as if she'd been slapped. Her hands fluttered uselessly in her lap as she forced her face to remain calm, her eyes resting on Dawn's face as she waited for the teen's next move. But the shock of her own words seemed to deflate Dawn, she just stood there letting her tears drip down her chin as she struggled to regain her equilibrium. Finally, she moved; took a step away from Buffy and any comfort she could offer.

"I just need to be alone. I'll be back before Tara .." But her sentence trailed off as she rounded the corner and disappeared.

Buffy let her eyes slide closed for a minute, forced herself to take a calming breath and refrain from chasing her sister down. She would give her fifteen minutes and if she wasn't back by then all bets were off. But for fifteen minutes she could allow Dawn the illusion that she was safe. What was one more lie?

The clock ticked by slowly and Buffy felt sleep unconsciousness tugging at her. She hadn't slept in weeks, only fits and starts that could barely be called cat naps. Now, drained of any energy reserves, she let her mind drift aimlessly. Images drifted aimlessly before her eyes. Dawn, Xander, Giles, Willow, Mom - the bovine look that had been plastered across Tara's face when they'd first brought her to the hospital. Pretty dressing for an empty house, just another body really with the girl who loved inside of it already gone. Buffy pushed the thought away quickly. When had she become so hard?

Before she could answer that question her thoughts turned once more and she was remembering the smell of leather and cigarettes and the way her mouth had burned where he'd kissed her for hours after he'd left. She drifted there for a while; a stolen memory that was wholly hers and completely untouched by the Scoobies. She could picture every detail of his face that night; the way his eyes bad darkened imperceptibly, the tenor of his voice, the taste of his mouth and pressure of his body against hers. Yes, she was certain that this was exactly the place she wanted to spend her time while she waited for Dawn -

"Buffy!"

And then things began happening way too fast.