WHOLE STORY DISCLAIMER: All familiar characters, places etc belong to Joss Whedon, not me.
A/N: I've had the idea for something like this for a while, but how to put it into an actual story has only recently occurred to me in a lovely flash of inspiration, so I hope you enjoy it. This fic is in 7 parts, all of which I have written and will be posting on a weekly basis. Reviews may, however, speed up my posting ;) Happy reading!
Dawn watched as her big sister sacrificed herself, leaping off the monstrous metal tower and into the bright abyss of light that had appeared in the night sky. Tears ran from her wide eyes as she held her wounds and stood motionless until the light disappeared when the sudden return of darkness pushed her into action and she rushed down the steps as fast as she was able, the impossible hope that Buffy was still alive fuelling her steps.
The rest of the gang slowly congregated together: Willow and the newly-restored Tara leaning on each other, Xander carrying Anya, all smiling slightly as the insane idea that they had won crossed their minds. However their smiles flickered when they noticed Giles' stricken expression focused on something they had obviously missed. Together they turned to find the source of this emotion, and on seeing it froze as loss ripped through them.
Spike was just coming to as the light disappeared and he quickly forced himself to his feet only to collapse to his knees as the pain and dizziness caused by his wounds fully registered in his tired mind. Get up, he thought, get up you lazy prick and go keep your bloody promise. He stumbled back to his feet and mentally pushed himself towards the group, aware of keeping to the shadows as he could sense the sun beginning to rise. But when he saw her, he became unaware of anything else.
He sank to his knees again, disbelieving and confused eyes trained on the sight of her lying on a throne of rubble. Then he realised what must have happened – she had sacrificed herself to save Dawn. She had had to sacrifice herself because he'd failed her. He had failed her, and now...
No. Without a care for who could see, without a care for his reputation, Spike brought his hands to his face and sobbed.
The rest of the gang didn't see this, too absorbed in their own grief. Neither did they see Dawn finally reach the bottom of the stairs or notice her until she walked past them all to kneel before her sister's body. Her hand was shaking as she reached out and gently caressed Buffy's cheek. "Buffy?" she said timidly. When she got no reply, Dawn moved her hand to her shoulder and shook her slightly: "Buffy, y-you need to get up." The gang looked on in silence, their hearts breaking for the young girl in front of them.
Giles slowly knelt next to her, placing his hand on her back: "Dawn, it's too late," he said thickly, swallowing around his tears. "She's gone...she's gone."
Dawn began to shake violently as a hot flood of tears spilled down her cheeks and harsh sobs ripped from her chest. Giles tried to hug her but she pushed him away and curled over the body of her sister, one hand clasped in her jumper. Off to the side of the group, Dawn's sobs filtered through Spike's pain. He looked at her and the sight of her grief drew him to her before he knew what he was doing. Sinking down beside her, he gently pulled her into his arms, ignoring that she tried to pull away, and stroked her hair and held her tight as they cried together. It was after an eternity like this, when Dawn's sobs began to quieten, that something odd came to his attention.
There was a group of six humans around him, so he would expect six heartbeats, and yet he could detect seven. His grief addled brain clung to this piece of information as a brief, welcomed distraction from the situation at hand and it raced with possibilities to explain it. He could be mishearing things, that was very possible – or it could mean they were being watched. Spike subtly scanned the area around them for any figures but found nothing. Then his eyes landed on Buffy's form and he was overcome with hope and disbelief.
It couldn't be possible.
He focused on the seventh heartbeat, distinguishing it from the others easily as it was much weaker and slower than what he knew to be a healthy pace. Closing his eyes, he used all of his energy to block the noises around him, to block out his emotions and his thoughts as he tried to follow the fluttering heartbeat back to its source...
He opened his eyes. "She's alive."
As soon as he uttered the words, the gang froze in disbelief. It was only when Giles had searched for and confirmed that a pulse was still weakly present in her that they became vocal, someone asking if anyone had a phone to call for an ambulance, someone else replying that they couldn't afford to wait, she may not make it if they didn't get her to Sunnydale General as soon as possible.
In amongst the noise, Spike's hope had made him forget the pain and dizziness that not five minutes ago had prevented him from standing. He gently eased his arms under Buffy's knees and shoulders and lifted her, cradling her injured form as he made his way as quick as he could to the hospital, the gang following close behind.
They arrived just as the sun fully edged over the horizon, Spike rushing into the building with the back of his coat smoking dangerously. He immediately handed Buffy to the nurses and doctors and was about to set up vigil with the rest of the gang but was pulled aside by Giles.
"Spike I think it would be better if you weren't here."
Spike was outraged. "Why the hell shouldn't I be here Rupes? And don't give me that 'evil vampire' bollocks because I just bloody well carried your Slayer here and that should bleedin' well count for something!"
"I only meant that your appearance may bring some unwanted attention. If the doctors see your injuries they will want to help you, and it would be rather difficult to explain why your heart is not beating."
Spike stared at him for a moment, determined to say something that outweighed the annoyingly logical reason Giles had put forward. After a moment he was forced to give in and swiftly left the hospital. After cleaning up, changing and feeding he returned and joined the solemn group in the waiting room. Buffy was in surgery. She had broken some ribs, her left leg and possibly had a fractured skull and the doctors suspected she may have internal bleeding. All of these injuries could be fixed by Slayer healing, but none of the group knew how the energy of the would-be portal had affected her.
Spike guessed it wouldn't be in a good way.
When eventually a surgeon made his way towards them, pulling the green mask from his mouth, the group stood as one as Giles moved to the approaching man. Dawn grasped Spike's hand, holding it tight as they watched the surgeon and the Watcher exchange some words then shake hands. When Giles returned, Dawn's heart was in her throat.
"They've managed to stop the bleeding and set her bones. He said how amazed he was when they began the surgery that it looked like she had begun to heal beyond the normal rate-"
"Well, that's good right? Slayer healing has a purpose after all," Xander interjected, a small hopeful smile lighting his features.
"Yes, yes it is good. Her injuries will heal..."
When he paused, the uneasy silence was broken by Willow: "Giles? What is it?"
"She...Buffy's fallen into a coma."
A heavy silence overcame them as they tried to process this information. Dawn's grip on Spike's hand was almost painful now and her voice was shaking when she spoke: "I thought you said she was fine?"
"Her body is, she will suffer no lasting damage, but her mind...the surgeon said that physically, apart from being a bit bruised from the fall, there's nothing wrong with her skull and yet it's as if her mind has shut down."
Xander spoke up again: "Couldn't it just be a result of...of everything? I mean, maybe the anaesthetic from the surgery was really strong and she's not actually comatose just unconscious. That could be it, right?" The silence from the rest of the group answered his optimistic question and he dropped his gaze to the sterile hospital floor, trying to process what was happening.
The whole night was surreal. It was strange to think that only a few hours ago they had been fighting Glory and her minions, trying to save the world, and now they were here trying to save one of their own. It was even stranger to think that this seemed more important.
"Can I see her?"
Giles' attention snapped to the young brunette before him and he nodded: "The doctor said family only." The fact she had to see her sister in such a helpless state on her own overwhelmed her for a moment, but then she clenched her jaw and her very own resolve face came into existence. She followed Giles around the corner to Buffy's room.
The others watched them walk away. Anya hugged Xander tightly, Tara helped Willow sit then held her as she began to cry again and off to one side Spike stood motionless, staring blankly after his Lil' Bit as he cursed himself to the deepest fathoms of hell for failing her.
Three weeks later...
The machines around the hospital bed beeped and hummed in time with Buffy's steady heartbeat. Giles and Dawn stood to one side watching as a doctor examined her, flashing a light into her eyes and taking a note of her blood pressure, and Dawn had a hard time in understanding their importance when her sister was in a coma and just wouldn't wake up. After a bout of silence that was causing her to become twitchy, Giles finally spoke. "How is she?"
The doctor looked up from his inspection of the patient lying motionless on the hospital bed, "The same. No worse, no better."
Giles glanced down at his Slayer, the sight of her almost lifeless causing him to remove and polish his glasses as if with weaker vision he would be unable to see her. It proved ineffectual – the image was burned into his mind. "What does that mean?"
"It means she's non-responsive so far." The doctor sighed then decided to be straightforward. "There are a few techniques we can try, but situations like this usually rely on the patient pulling themselves out of it. And though she has woken from a coma before, there's no certainty she'll be able to do it again." He glanced to the young girl who was staring at the comatose woman with pleading, glassy eyes. "I'm sorry," he said, mostly to the girl, and then made his way out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Dawn slowly walked forward and placed her hands around the metal bars sticking up beside the bed, tightening her grip until her knuckles went white. "What are we going to do now?"
Replacing his glasses, Giles placed his hand over hers and squeezed it as he looked at the woman lying before them. Even though tubes were running in and out of her arms and she wore a shapeless white hospital gown he still could still see the strong Buffy he knew, even though her 'extended rest' had brought a paleness to her complexion.
"We save her."
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