THE POWER OF LOVE

DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the characters from BTVS or ANGEL. They're owned by the Joss Whedon, who is a genius but who should have treated them nicer.

Summary: Buffy's in a coma. Can anyone bring her out of it?

A/N: I'm not a doctor or nurse, or anything remotely related to medicine - which is probably obvious in this fic. The lyrics below are from "The Power of Love," first sung (as far as I know) in the '80s by both Air Supply and Laura Branigan; then re-covered in the late '90s by Celine Dion.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

The whispers in the morning

Of lovers sleeping tight

Are rolling by like thunder now

As I look in your eyes

I hold on to your body

And feel each move you make

Your voice is warm and tender

A love that I could not forsake

'Cause you are my lady and I am your man

Whenever you reach for me, I'll do all that I can

We're heading for something,

Somewhere I've never been

Sometimes I am frightened, but I'm ready to learn

About the power of love

Wednesday, 12:15 A.M.

Joyce burst through the hospital doors, wide-eyed and tense but controlled. Cool night breezes blew in with her, dissipating the odors of medicine and fear lingering in the air of the Emergency Room. Giles hurried over to meet her.

"How is she?" Vaguely she noted the group beyond him - Riley, hunkered down, leaning back against a nearby wall, with Willow, Xander and Anya standing around him, all looking her way with anxiety plain on their faces.

"I only know that she was unconscious when they brought her in and that they're working to stabilize her," Giles said, his quiet voice edged with tension and worry - and bitterness. "They won't tell me anything else; I'm not family."

"Well, I am." With that, Joyce marched over to the admittance desk. Giles stayed put, watching her intently. "I'm Joyce Summers. My daughter was brought in a little while ago."

The woman in attendance glanced down at a list on her desk. ;"Buffy Summers?" When Joyce nodded she picked up a phone and spoke into it briefly, then turned a sympathetic smile on Joyce. Dr. Martinez will be out in just a minute, Mrs. Summers. He's the doctor who's treating your daughter."

"Thank you." Joyce walked over to the group over by the wall. "Riley, what happened? You were together, weren't you?" Giles silently rejoined them.

"We were patrolling," the young man said, his voice dull. "Five vampires ambushed us. She staked two of them and started for the third one. It ran and she went after it, but . . . I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I heard her cry out just as I zapped the remaining vamp. I think she tripped or something because when I found her she was lying next to this big rock and there was blood on her head. She was unconscious, so I called 911 and they brought her here."

He looked up at Joyce. "They won't tell us anything."

Just then the inner doors of the ER slid open. A short, brown-haired, brown-skinned man walked through into the waiting room, his tired, drawn face testimony to the lateness of the hour. His dark eyes swept over the group, then fastened on Joyce as the only possibly candidate. "Mrs. Summers?"

"Yes." Joyce stepped forward. "How is Buffy?" Riley scrambled to his feet, staring at the man with mingled hope and dread, expressions mirrored by everyone.

The doctor hesitated, glancing at the group. "Would you prefer somewhere more private?" Pleading gazes swung over to Joyce; Giles tightened his lips.

"No," Joyce answered firmly. "These are my daughter's friends . . . no, they're more than friends. They're as much a part of her family as I am."

Giles cleared his throat, touched by her statement. Joyce had come a long way from the time when she blamed him for putting Buffy in danger and for keeping her life as the Slayer a secret from her.

"Very well," Dr. Martinez acquiesced. "Your daughter is still unconscious. Apparently she hit her head on a rock, resulting in what we believe is only a minor fracture to her skull. We've got her stabilized for the moment; but we need to make sure that the fractured area isn't pressing on her brain and that the bleeding inside the cranium has stopped. I want to take X-rays and do an MRI scan."

"Of course; do whatever it takes," Joyce responded. She took a shaky breath. "Doctor, what if there is pressure on the brain, or she's still bleeding? What happens then?"

"In either one of those cases there's always the possibility that we may have to perform surgery," the doctor told her. "But let's not cross that bridge unless we have to. First let me see what the tests show, then I'll discuss options with you."

Joyce nodded. "May I see her?"

"Only for a minute." The doctor's voice was kind. "We'll be taking her up to X-Ray very soon."

Joyce hesitated, then turned to Giles. "Rupert, would you like to come with me?" Giles looked at her in surprise, then blinked rapidly, swallowed, and said, hoarsely, "Yes. Yes, I would. Thank you."

Riley started to say something, but Willow touched his arm and gave him a look, shaking her head, and he subsided with the words unsaid, although his eyes followed Joyce and Giles yearningly as they entered the treatment area.

They followed the doctor into a small cubicle where Buffy lay, almost as white as the sheets and blanket covering her. A bag of saline solution dangled from a tall pole beside her, its liquid dripping through a long tube into a vein in the back of her right hand, and wires ran from her body to various monitors where lights danced across screens in rhythm to blips and beeps familiar to anyone who watched TV. An ugly, jagged cut two inches long, bristling with sutures, marked the left side of her head, nakedly revealed by the large circle shaved around it. Bruise marks were already spreading outward from the wound onto her face.

Joyce made a smothered sound. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she steadied herself and went forward. "Buffy?" She approached one side of the bed; Giles went around to the other. "Honey, I'm here. I don't know if you can hear me, but you've been hurt and you're in the hospital. But don't worry; the doctors are taking good care of you."

She put her hand over Buffy's, mindful of the tube snaking from it, and gave it a slight squeeze. Two tears trailed silently down her cheeks.

Giles cleared his throat and took her other hand. "Buffy, it's me. Er, Giles. We're all here, you know. Willow, Xander, Riley . . . even Anya. You just concentrate on getting better."

He turned his head as footsteps approached. A nurse and two orderlies entered the cubicle, pushing a gurney between them. "They're taking you to get X-rays now, so I'll see you later." He hesitated, then leaned forward and kissed her forehead.

Joyce also kissed her daughter, again. "I'll see you in a little while, honey. I love you." With one last backward glance at the motionless form in the bed, they went back to the waiting room. "Does anyone know where the pay phone is? I need to call her father."

Xander looked at her strangely. "It's, uh, right here." He turned his head; there, unmistakably, less than a foot away, was a telephone kiosk.

Joyce gazed at it blankly. "Oh. Yes. Thank you, Xander." She dug in her purse for her calling card as everyone politely moved away to give her some privacy.

"Giles," said Willow very quietly. "Will Buffy be all right?"

"She's alive and her vital signs are stable," Giles replied steadily. "Those are encouraging signs. And as you know, Slayers possess amazing healing powers. Yes, I believe Buffy will come through this."

They fell silent. A few minutes later Joyce rejoined them. "He'll be here in a couple of hours," she told them. "We should know more by then."

Again silence fell. Riley found a chair and sat, leaning forward, arms braced on his thighs, hands clasped between his knees, staring at the floor. He looked as if he were praying. Willow and Giles left in search of coffee; Xander and Anya moved back to the wall. It was almost an hour before Dr. Martinez made another appearance. He looked even more exhausted than he had earlier, but he smiled at Joyce as she rose from the small couch.

"Mrs. Summers, I have good news. The fracture is only a hairline; there doesn't appear to be any pressure onto the brain; and the bleeding inside the skull was minimal and has definitely stopped. This significantly reduces the probability of lasting brain damage."

"Thank God." Joyce buried her face in her hands.

Dr. Martinez continued. "However, it's still possible that Buffy may experience some temporary - " he stressed the word, " - memory loss or other mental or physical impairment. We'll simply have to wait until she wakes up and see."

"When will that be?" Xander wanted to know.

The doctor shook his head. "There's no way of knowing; every case of head trauma is individual and unique. Some patients regain consciousness in only a few hours; others take days or even weeks. In Buffy's case, with only a hairline fracture, I would not expect this condition to last beyond forty-eight hours."

"But the quicker she comes out of it, the better, yes?" Giles asked.

"Well," the doctor admitted, "I'll certainly be happier if she wakes up by Friday. But - " he held up a finger for emphasis. " - that doesn't mean we should despair if she doesn't."

"When can I see her?" Joyce demanded.

"I want to keep her in ICU for a few more hours, just to make sure she continues to be stable," the doctor told her. "Only immediate family are allowed - "

Joyce interrupted. "I already told you, this is her family. She's closer to Mr. Giles here than she is to her own father, who, by the way, is on his way from Los Angeles."

"I'm not family," blurted Anya. "But that's okay; I don't like hospitals anyway. Or sick people. So I don't need to see her."

This statement was so typically Anya that it caused only a slight rolling of eyes; otherwise, the gang ignored it. The doctor, however, looked somewhat taken aback. He blinked in confusion for a moment, then obviously decided to ignore the blunt statement. "Uh, yes. Very well, Mrs. Summers, I'll permit her friends to go in also. But only for a few minutes."

Riley was the first to enter Buffy's cubicle. His eyes flew to her pale face. Swallowing hard, he picked up the hand not encumbered with the IV tube. It took him a minute to get his voice under control.

"Hey there." It came out as a whisper. "You look a lot better than you did earlier. Well, except for that big bald spot on your head, but at least they cleaned you up. You're not all bloody now."

He managed a faint smile, but it immediately vanished. "I hate seeing you like this, Buffy. You're so pale and, and quiet. I can't get used to not hearing your voice. I don't mean that you're a chatterbox or anything; I mean . . . well, you know what I mean. God, when I heard you cry out, and then I saw you lying there on the ground . . . I think my heart stopped. I thought you were - "

He had to stop for a second. "Well, never mind that; I was wrong, thank God. You're going to be fine; the doctor said so. So just rest now and get your strength back. That's an order, soldier. I want to take you back to Iowa one of these days and show you off to my folks, so you see you have to get better."

One of the nurses poked her head inside. "Excuse me." Riley turned. "I'm sorry, but your time is up." Her voice was kind but her firm expression told him it would do no good to protest.

Sighing, he turned back to the bed. "They're making me go now. Wake up soon, Buffy, please."

He kissed her forehead just as Xander and Willow came in. The three exchanged glances as Riley left, then the two friends arranged themselves beside the bed, one on each side.

Xander grimaced at the sight of the wound on her head. "Ouch, that looks really nasty. No wonder she's out cold."

"Xander." Willow frowned at him. "Just because she's unconscious doesn't mean she can't hear us - or see us, even. How do we know, maybe she's floating around somewhere over this bed right now."

"What? You mean like that babe in the Ghostbusters movie? The one that unzipped Dan Aykroyd's pants?" Xander peered above Buffy's bed as if trying to see a transparent floating figure.

The redhead gave him a Look. "You know what I mean: we should talk to Buffy, not about her like she's not even here." Turning once more to her unconscious friend she said, "Buffy, we can only stay a moment before they kick us out. We just wanted to say that we love you and we know you're fighting to come out of this."

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "The doc says the bleeding has stopped and everything looks good. So you rest now and when you wake up you'll be Slay Girl again, just like usual."