"Buffy, if the Master rises..."

"I don't care! I don't care. Giles, I'm sixteen years old. I don't wanna die."

"...Oh, but it was a beautiful night!"

"And you had your whole life ahead of you."

"Yeah."

"Must be nice."

The Master's fangs sank into her neck like butter. No.

Like acid.

The only other feeling that could be judged against the pain of this particular moment was not a good comparison.

One time where she had misjudged her throw on a knife and it whirled back and sliced open her hand. Gasping with the surprising intensity of the pain, she'd cried out as tears sprung to her eyes. Of course, Giles had been close by to carefully and quickly clean and dress the moderately serious wound.

"I don't know what I'd do without you, Giles." He had smiled, noticeably uncomfortable with the closeness. At the time she had wondered why that statement had bothered him. Now, with the Master's fangs close at her neck, she knew. He'd loved her. And now...

Through blurry eyes Buffy glimpsed a pool of water. Her mother used to bathe her when she was a child...

"Buffy, honey! Stop splashing!" Joyce said with a smile in her voice. 7 year old Buffy giggled as her mother tried to get behind her ears. She hated that part! Squirming out of her torturer's grasp she shook her head like a dog, grinning widely with the gap in between her teeth showing. Joyce stifled a laugh with her hand.

She had been trying to practice tough love, and, attempting to keep a straight face, said "Buffy, honey. Your ears need to be cleaned just like the rest of you. It's important to take care of yourself as you get older so you body can help you in life. It's very important..." She trailed off, noticing her little girl staring at her intently.

Buffy had always been mature for her age, Joyce thought, and the arguments between herself and Hank had unfortunately helped things along. She should have time to be a child. Maybe another play date with her cousin Celia could be arranged, the two girls seemed to share a bond...

"Mommy?" Joyce was pulled out of her thoughts by a plaintive voice. Buffy's brow was creased.

"I'm sorry, Mommy." Joyce opened her mouth, but her daughter cut her off.

"You're right. If I wanna be a hero like when I play with Celia and help people I hafta take care of myself. You can...wash behind my ears, I guess."

Joyce was elated. How extremely blessed she was to have such a wonderfully intelligent and brave little girl. All Buffy been through with the arguments, the fights...

She hoped Buffy never blamed herself.

"Mommy?" Joyce looked up at Buffy's resolute voice with tears in her eyes.

"I love you, Mommy." Joyce beamed.

"Sweetie, I will always, always, love you."

Buffy bit her lip; it took all her mental strength to keep from completely breaking down and begging for mercy. She wanted to live! She'd never see her mother again, or poor sweet Willow, or wacky Xander, or her first love Angel. A slayer falling in love with a vampire. And he with her...

And Giles. Her mentor, her friend.

Her...almost Father. She loved him like the father she'd always wanted but never had but desperately wanted all her life. And to be snatched from that life so quickly. She had only just met her friends, and now-

A tear fell from her cheek onto the cold cave floor. Trembling, she made to struggle but the signal from her brain didn't seem to translate well to her body. It was this stupid thrall. If only she could...

"If you hadn't come, I couldn't go. Think about that."

The Master's words chilled her. This was all her fault. How foolish she had been! But she was only sixteen, and didn't know everything-

A small sob escaped her lips.

Only sixteen! She was afraid to die. She'd never be at some old folks home, telling stories about the glory days and clutching Mr. Gordo. She'd never have children-well it had already occurred to her that as "The" (soon to be "a") Slayer it would not have been wise to ever have children. And she was much too young anyway. None of that mattered...now...

Her mother had told her to take care of herself. That her body was "a well oiled machine and needed to be treated like a car." ('Except with the dice in the mirror and the environmental bumper stickers' Buffy had interjected). Joyce had laughed.

"Of course, Buffy. You get out what you put in."

Right now what she was "getting out" was blood, streaming down her neck. Wasted, precious life coursing out of her easily as water. Her heart beat faster, as if it knew it would not be needed for much longer. Had she really appreciated what her heart had done for her until this moment?

As she began blacking out she fell to her knees before falling helplessly toward the stagnant pool before her.

"Buffy, you're giving both of us a bath here!" Joyce's laughter and Buffy's chortles echoed through the bathroom.

She'd never... hear her mother laugh again.

The water rose up around her, and with her last vestige of consciousness...

'I love you, Mommy.'