Comments, questions, criticisms are as always welcome at shyfox30@hotmail.com

Tell me I was dreaming
by

Shyfox

 

When I woke up this morning.
Wiped the sleep from my eyes.
I found a new day dawning.
And suddenly I realized...your gone.

Tell me I was dreaming,
That you didn't leave me here to cry.
You didn't say you don't love me anymore.
It was just my imagination telling lies.
Tell me that you didn't say goodbye.

I'm in a state of confusion.
I hope things aren't as they seem.
If this is really happening.
Just let me go back to dream...your home.

Tell me I was dreaming,
That you didn't leave me here to cry.
You didn't say you don't love me anymore.
It was just my imagination telling lies.
Tell me that you didn't say goodbye.

-- Travis Tritt

Fate is a funny taskmaster, and for most people a cruel one. They find themselves facing cruel jokes brought on by fate's hand and wondering what the hell happened...I mean think about it...how many of you have ever been watching a good movie...or reading a really good novel, gotten into the story...identified with the characters...only to have something really terrible happen halfway through the plot and shake your head saying... "That wasn't supposed to happen."

Fate is funny that way.
It gives unselfishly...yet it can also take away.
One of the best days of your life can quickly turn into your worst nightmare.

Willow Rosenberg-Summers knew this lesson well. She had faced it many times before in her young life. But somehow she had never thought that she would come to be at this place, in this moment in time, and find herself screaming into a cold cruel world... "This wasn't supposed to happen! It isn't fair!"

Life isn't fair. Sometimes things happen for a reason. Sometimes things happen for no reason at all. We don't get to pick and choose. We just have to live with it...as best we can.

*****

(Two minutes before all Hell broke loose)

"Anybody else feeling really shitty about letting her go up there alone?" Xander asked, raising his hand as he looked back and forth between Oz and Giles. None of them could tell what was happening up on the roof, although they spent an awfully long time looking up. But the longer they waited down here, the more nervous they became.

"I think we should help Willow." Oz agreed, nodding his head emphatically.

"Well, Buffy did say we should stay here." Giles protested, although Xander could tell his heart really wasn't in it. "We could prove to be an unnecessary distraction." The argument was weak at best and Giles knew it. "Oh Bloody Hell, you're right. I'm as anxious to know what's going on as you are." Giles said, starting to walk toward the entrance of the building.

"Giles." Xander said, gesturing toward the fire escape that Buffy had climbed earlier.

"Well, I'm not climbing up the bloody fire escape, come on." The watcher figured he would never be able to climb up all the way on the ricketly looking metal staircase. He'd rather take his chances from inside the decrepit looking building. "Faith has probably already seen Buffy come over that route she might be looking for more heads to pop up." He entered the building with Xander and Oz following behind him, shaking their heads.

*****

"Who knew there would be so many stairs in this place?" Giles asked, sounding out of breath as the three men raced from floor to floor. I'm getting too old for this. The retired watcher thought to himself ruefully, trying to ignore the nagging pain in his side as he fought to keep pace with the younger men.

Then all thought became irrelevant as the bone chilling sound of a woman screaming reached their ears.

"Will." Oz said, his face turning still and white for a half of a second, his head cocked to the side as he listened to the screams, before increasing his speed, kicking in some form of stamina that he drew from a secret place deep inside of him.

"I didn't know he could do that." Xander muttered to himself as he tried to keep up with the man taking the lead.

They broke out onto the roof, coming to a stand still as they tried to adjust their eyes to the sudden darkness of the rooftop. Oz however was scanning the rooftop intently, his eyes shining with an inner glow which was giving Xander the creeps. "I didn't know you could do that." Xander muttered again, getting hushed by an anxious wolf-man for his trouble.

They could all hear the screams and could pretty much tell where they were coming from, but they couldn't see any sign of Buffy or Faith and that was worrying them. "Do you see them?" Giles asked, whispering to Xander and Oz.

"No...but I see Willow...I'm gonna go untie her." Xander whispered back, darting out further onto the roof and heading over to where Willow was tied to her chair.

The lack of seeing any sign of Buffy and Faith was still bothering Giles and Oz and they continued to peer anxiously through the dim haze of the flickering florescent light. Then they noticed the direction in which Willow was looking and decided to follow her gaze, right off the edge of the building. "Dear God." Giles murmured, feeling his stomach twist as he hoped that what he was suspecting wasn't true.

The two men made their way over to the edge, hearing Xander talking to Willow as they did so.

"Hey take it easy, Willow. We're here. We'll get you out. Ouch! Those nails are sharp! Calm down!" But Willow wouldn't calm down...she wouldn't even stop fighting, and as Giles and Oz looked over the edge, they understood the reason why as they caught sight of the extremely still body lying in an awkward position far below them.

"Do you think she's..." Oz started to ask, but was interrupted by an ill looking Watcher.

"Go call an ambulance. Hurry!" Oz was loping over the pavement before Giles had even finished the sentence, feeling like the hounds of hell were at his heels.

"There...see I told you I'd get you untied.." Xander said, a smug tone to his voice as he released the rest of Willow's bonds. Giles half turned, seeing the wild look that covered the redhead's face.

"Xander...don't..." Giles warned, but it was too late...Willow had already broken loose from Xander's hold and was running pell mell for the edge. Giles caught hold of her, holding the struggling woman tight in his harms, feeling her shake with sobs against him.

*****

Oz ran to the nearest apartment and started pounding heavily on the door. "What the Fuck! Who is it?" Came a rough voice from within. The door was opened by a middle aged balding fat guy, wearing nothing but a rat chewed stained white t-shirt and a faded pair of green work pants that had seen better days.

"What the Fuck do you want?" The guy asked from between the stogie he had crammed between his teeth. Oz wasn't the slightest bit intimidated.

"I need to use your phone...it's an emergency." Oz said, trying to remain calm.

The fat guy snorted, the stale smell of the cigar going into Oz's face. "Like Hell." He said, starting to close the door. Oz's foot stopped the door's movement.

The fat guy looked back at Oz surprise and anger twisting his fat, flabby cheeks. "What the Fu--" He started to say, but was unable to finish as Oz cut in.

"As I was saying...I need to use your phone..." The voice started to deepen into a low growl as his eyes lit up. "NOW!" The tone left no room for argument as the fat man felt himself being pushed out of the way, and the insolent kid was moving inside his apartment.

*****

"Is she?" Willow could barely get the question out from between stiff lips. She was merely centimeters away from her wife, watching Giles carefully as he searched desperately for a pulse.

"She's alive." The answer came with a sigh of relief, as the watcher looked down on the damaged body of his precious Slayer. Barely. He thought to himself...not knowing how much longer she would stay that way. But not wanting to stress Willow any further he kept the observation to himself. He did wish the ambulance would make an appearance soon. Otherwise, Slayer healing abilities or not, she wasn't going to make it.

*****

"BP seventy over forty; Pulse rate 100; breathing is thready and shallow...let's get her moving." Willow watched in a complete state of shock as they loaded her wife onto a stretcher getting ready to load her into the nearby ambulance. She kept thinking that if she'd just pinch herself a little harder, that if she closed her eyes and pretended that it wasn't happening, she would wake up in bed, feeling Buffy's arms wrapped tightly around her, and hear her murmuring gentle words in her ear to calm her after having this nightmare. But it wasn't a bad dream...this was really happening...and she felt herself coming apart at the seams as she watched the paramedics pick up the stretcher and load it into the ambulance.

"I'm going with you." Her voice cracked as she got the words out, but at least she had managed to say them...she wasn't sure she'd be able to say anything through the huge lump that was lodged in her throat like a permanent fixture. The attendents spared her a quick look before nodding their heads.

"Are you sure..." Giles said, put a restraining hand on the red head's shoulder. Giles would be following behind the ambulance anyway, and wasn't sure Willow should put the greater stress of riding in the ambulance on her shoulders.

"I'm going." Willow didn't even look back as she climbed up into the ambulance behind the attendants. Giles watched with a certain amount of helplessness as the paramedic closed the doors behind her.

'Dear God...please don't let her die.'

Giles offered a solemn prayer to whatever higher power was listening, before he headed hurriedly to his car

*****

"Hang in there, Class Protector. You can't leave us to face the darkness alone." One of the attendents whispered to Buffy, and Willow was amazed to discover she hadn't even recognized one of her former classmates. Not too surprising considering the state of shock she was in, but still...

"How are you holding up?" Jonathan asked, sparing Willow a sympathetic look, before turning his eyes back on his patient.

"I've been better." Willow admitted, fresh tears staining her cheeks. "Can you hurry?"

"We're going to try." Jonathan said, as the sirens flared to life, and the ambulance pulled out of the dark alley it was parked in, intent on making it's destination as fast as humanly possible.

*****

Chapter two: Hold on this is gonna hurt like hell

 

Hold on
Hold on to yourself,
for this is gonna hurt like hell.
Hold on
Hold on to yourself,
you know that only time will tell.

What is it in me that refuses to believe
this isn't easier than the real thing.

My love
you know that you're my best friend,
you know I'd do anything for you.
My love,
let nothing come between us.
my love for you is strong and true.

Am I in heaven here or am I...
at the crossroads I am standing.
So now you're sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray
that you'll be strong tomorrow and we'll
see another day and we will praise it
and love the light that brings a smile
across your face .

-- Sarah Mclaughlin

 

The sound of the siren screaming seemed to echo inside her own head. Willow watched, a strange feeling of calmness washing over her, as Jonathan worked at keeping her wife alive on the short trip to Sunnydale General Hospital. It was almost as if this was a movie, and that she was a stranger looking in on her own life. That's how detached she felt from the situation. She couldn't even feel her own heartbeat. The curtain of shock that was protecting her felt like dead weight around her shoulders and it scared her that she could feel absolutely nothing at this moment. She thought that she should be screaming...or crying...or something, but all she could do was stare at the frenzied motions, feeling more out of touch with reality as the moments passed.

It seemed like an eternity passed before the ambulance reached the emergency doors of the hospital. But then, Willow felt her head spinning as the activity around her picked up to a rapid rate. She didn't even have time to blink before the ambulance doors were being pulled open by the driver, and Jonathan was helping him to lower Buffy's stretcher onto the pavement.

Jonathan took a moment to help her down, but then they were moving fast, crossing the small distance between the back of the ambulance and the emergency doors. Willow kept pace with them through urgency and determination...not wanting to lose sight of her love for a moment.

The hospital itself was alive with activity...as soon as the paramedics entered the hospital, the stretcher became surrounded by medical staff. Willow listened abstractly as Buffy's vital statistics and orders were relayed in a sharp staccato. Then the stretcher was moving again, and Willow found herself being left behind. By the time she caught up to them, the stretcher was already being pushed through a set of swinging doors. A nurse halted her progress just before she went inside and directed her back into the hall.

"I'm sorry miss...you can't go in there." The stern, but empathetic looking nurse said, guarding the door, as she took in the appearance of the obviously shocked and devastated young woman.

"But-" Willow started to protest, but could see from looking into the chocalate brown eyes of the nurse, that it wasn't going to do any good.

"Will!" She could hear Xander calling to her, and turned to her rapidly approaching friends, emotion starting to catch up to her.

"Xand-" She stepped forward, starting to fumble as she was caught in the riptide of her rapidly rising and intensifying emotions, but soon two strong arms were closing around her and holding on tightly against the maelstrom.

Xander felt the warm tears that were streaming down his best friend's face and felt a knot grow in his own throat as he tried to figure out what he could say to make things better. "She's going to be all right. She's going to be just fine...you'll see." The words sounded flat and untrue to his own ears...he could only imagine how they sounded to Willow. 'But she's just gotta be...right? I mean...she's the Slayer. She's taken worse beatings than this before and survived. Right?!!!'

"I can't feel her, Xander." He heard the tremor in the whisper and felt the chill erupt down his spine, although he could only begin to guess at what she meant by the words. He shot a questioning look at Giles, who looked like he was just as far out of his league as the belabored Scoob was.

The Nurse took in the conversation quietly. Unfortunately, being an ER nurse, she was used to watching heart rending scenes like this. Also, unfortunate, was that part of her job was to gain as much information as possible from the grieving family members of the patient, including the distasteful but much needed insurance information. That in mind, she approached the parental looking figure and introduced herself.

Giles was not surprised at the nurses assumption that he was Buffy's father. Their connection as Watcher and Slayer possibly made them as close as a father and daughter, but he couldn't exactly say that here. He shook his head instead and explained his connection to Buffy's mother, before excusing himself so he could go call her while Willow, Oz and Xander wandered aimlessly into the waiting room.

*****

Giles wasn't looking forward to this phone call. It had been something he had dreaded since becoming Buffy's Watcher and meeting Joyce. He had always known that this day could come, and that it most likely would. The Slayer's profession was very deadly and it usually made for a very short life. Buffy had lived longer than any Slayer before her, surviving obstacles that other slayers wouldn't have. He had developed a certain amount of pride in his Slayer, believing her capable of handling all that life threw at her, and a certain amount of vanity in his own abilities to keep her aware and knowledgable in the dangers that she had to face every day. He had started to think that maybe Buffy had escaped her predecessor's fate. She had started a life beyond her call, had started to reach for and claim things that every person was entitled to...a home, a mate, a family.

That was usually when fate would choose to stand up and slap you in the face. And the only conclusion that Giles could come to was that he had failed. He had failed to keep watch over his Slayer...had failed to warn her when the timing was critical, and now it appeared that his failure was going to cost his Slayer her life.

Giles picked up the black reciever of the pay phone, holding the cool plastic in his hand as he took a deep breath...gathering his courage for the task that laid ahead, before dropping a quarter into the change slot. An unsteady finger dialed the familiar number.

"Hello." Joyce sounded anxious as she answered the phone.

"Joyce.."

"Giles...Oh thank God. Are Buffy and Willow with you? She wasn't here when I came home, and I couldn't help thinking that something dreadful had happened." Joyce's voice did sound tight...wound with nervous energy.

"Joyce...Willow is with me and she's fine..." 'Or about as fine as can be expected.' Giles thought worriedly, not quite able to voice it. "But...I'm afraid there's been an accident. It's Buffy..."

*****

Joyce reached the hospital in one peice, although that in itself was some kind of miracle after having raced across town, paying little attention to the traffic lights or other passing cars. She looked harried as she entered the hospital, her hair flying behind her as she raced up to the nurses station.

An overworked nurse looked up briefly from her mound of paperwork to see Joyce standing there. "May I help you?" She asked, disinterest rich in her voice.

Joyce found herself twitching at the attitude...already on a short fuse from her worry and concern, but reined her temper in carefully. "My daughter, Buffy Summers, was admitted by ambulance about half an hour ago. Where is she?"

The name sounded familiar, so the nurse checked the computer hurriedly. "She's still in surgery Mrs. Summers. If you'd like to have a seat in the waiting room and fill out these forms, I'll make sure the doctor comes to see you when he comes out." The nurse said, in a matter of fact tone, and handed Joyce a clipboard, which she was half tempted to use on the nurse.

"Do you have a pen?" The nurse handed Joyce a ball point, then watched with a certain amount of sympathy as she walked away. She had gotten a brief look of the girl's injuries when she had been brought in, and knew that the prognosis wasn't good for the girl's recovery.

*****

"Willow." Joyce said softly, to the young redhead, who was still crying against Xander's shoulder. Willow picked up her head, and the pain that filled her daughter-in-law's eyes when she looked at her, filled her own with tears.

"Oh...Joyce." Willow covered her mouth with a trembling hand, feeling the sudden unbearable weight of guilt fall heavily on her shoulders as she looked at her wife's mother. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, this is all my fault. I shouldn't have let her in...I..."

"Honey, stop. I don't want to hear you blame yourself." Joyce sat in the empty chair beside Willow, looking steadily at her. "No matter what happened, I do know that it wasn't your fault."

"But..." Willow started to protest, but was hushed by a look only a mother could give.

"Now you listen to me." Joyce said, hazel eyes piercing into hazel with a strong determination to be right. "Buffy's strong...and she's a fighter. She has so much to live for. So...I know that she's going to fight this and do everything in her power to get back to you."

The sentiment was shared by a group of nodding heads and Willow just absorbed the hopeful aura, using the groups support to bolster her own lagging nerves.

But as minute followed minute, and hour followed hour, their hope started to dwindle. Oz and Xander paced the small confines of the waiting room, wearing imaginary ruts into the dull brown carpeting. They kept meeting up with each other in the middle, excusing themselves distractedly, before continuing their aimless trek.

Giles tried not to notice the constant meandering, figuring that it was better that they get their pent up energy out in this manner, rather than starting to bicker with each other. He delved his inner resources for the calm he needed to handle his own anxieties. Willow looked just plain exhausted, Giles noted. Her face was stripped of color, except for the shade of red around her eyes, from the earlier crying session. Willow was curled into a very uncomfortable looking position, her head resting on Joyce's shoulder. Joyce tried to help by wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulders, but Giles knew that if the wiccan ever managed to fall asleep, she'd wake up with a heck of a crick in her neck. The poor girl looked like she could easily fall asleep at any minute, but every time her eyelids drifted closed, she'd pick her head up with a jerk, her breathing increasing, as if she were afraid that if she fell asleep for even a second, Buffy's fate would be sealed.

"Wonder what's taking them so long." Xander finally asked, risking a glance at the clock. 'Three am. Great. We've only been here for four hours.' "But hey, no news is good news right?" Oz spared him a glace before he continued his self imposed sentry line. "Right." Xander concluded, from the blank looks he received from the others, and continued walking his end of the imaginary X they were making on the floor.

*****

Dr. Peter Greene walked out of the Operating room, feeling thoroughly exhausted. This had been a tough case and they had nearly lost her, in fact had lost her for about thirty adrenaline producing seconds. The injury to the woman's side and ribs, not to mention the blow to her appendix, which they had been forced to remove, hadn't worried them half as much as the fracture to her skull and the resulting swelling of the brain tissue.

The knowledge that the young woman was far from being out of danger and that there was nothing that he could do about it, didn't sit well for the thirty-two year old doctor. He had been working the ER for about five years, and he had seen his fair share of death when there was nothing that his skills as a medical doctor could do about it. Many different kinds of people had been on his operating table...but he knew that this one was different...this one was...special. He never liked to lose someone under his care, but he instinctively felt that if he lost this one, the world would lose something special. 'You're getting maudlin and sentimental in your old age, Peter. That's not good.' He poked fun at himself, wondering if he was getting soft. Then he glanced at the clock outside of the Nurses' station. '3:10. No wonder I'm exhausted. I'm going home.' He thought to himself, but first he had to stop and get his messages.

"Dr. Greene. You've been here a while." The Nurse behind the desk picked up her head when she had heard him coming and gave him a cheerful smile. Dr. Greene was one of her favorites. He cared about his patients, usually knew what to say to grieving families, and never made the Nurses feel lower than a ground mole.

He nodded slowly, smiling a little at Shelley, one of the nurses that covered the night shift. "Sixteen hours, been in the OR for the last four. Definitely time to go home, just stopped by to check my messages."

Shelley nodded, smiling understandingly as she handed him his messages, then cocked her head to the side as if she had just thought of something. "Were you working on that young girl that was brought in...fell off a building or something?"

"Yeah. Why?" He asked, curious as to why she'd bring it up.

"Her family has been waiting for the last four hours, no one has been in to see them yet...could you?"

Peter shifted his shoulders back, easing the pain out of them as he looked in the direction of the waiting room. 'Four hours.' He shook his head in sympathy. He just wished he had better news to tell them. "What's the mother's name?" He asked quietly, then stood waiting as the Nurse found the chart.

"Joyce Summers."

"Thanks, Shelley." Peter sighed, then went to break the news to Mrs. Summers.

*****

Peter saw the five people huddled around the waiting room and approached them quietly. He could sense the air of tension around them, and prepared himself for being the deliverer of bad news. A young woman, who looked to be not much older than a teenager, and was obviously pregnant, was curled up next to a more matronly woman , who Peter assumed to be Joyce Summers. But who was the younger one? Sister? Peter decided it really didn't matter. "Mrs. Summers?" Peter called out, and was surprised to see both women look up to stare at him.

The younger woman flushed, casting a guilty look towards the older woman, who just smiled back in what appeared to be amusement, before standing to greet him. "I'm Mrs. Summers...how is my daughter...can I see her?"

Peter glanced around the room, wishing that they were nearer to his office so he could give them more privacy, but he was fairly certain that they wouldn't be walked in on at this late hour and he could tell by the looks on all of their faces that they were anxious to hear the news.

"Mrs. Summers...there is something I need to tell you about your daughter's condition. Maybe we should sit down first." He said, sinking into the closest chair.

Joyce wanted to protest, but by the look on the doctor's face, she could tell this was going to be bad. She sank weightlessly down beside Willow...not even daring to look at her daughter's wife as she took the noticeably trembling hand in hers.

Peter took a deep breath, knowing that it was better not to beat around the bush in these cases, and let it out slowly watching as the group huddled around him. "When your daughter was brought in, she was in very critical condition. She had apparently fallen from a five story apartment building, and she was also suffering from a severe stab wound. The stab wound, which I'm assuming came from either a very sharp piece of glass or a knife, affected her appendix, which we had to remove, and caused a shortage in her blood supply. These wounds although possibly dangerous were easily fixed." Peter paused, taking a breath, and a long look at everyone sitting there. He could see them growing more alert and more tense with each word that he spoke.

There was no easy way to say this next part, so he just said it. "The wounds from the fall are concerning us now, though. Your daughter sustained a severe blow to her head from the fall causing a severe fracture in her skull. Due to the impact and the nature of the blow it has also caused her brain tissue to swell, putting pressure on the brain. We believe that because of this...your daughter...has lapsed into a coma."

During the conversation, Willow had felt her previous state of disassociation returning. A great rushing had filled her head, like she was being bathed constantly in a tidal wave, and a red haze had covered her eyes. She heard the doctor's words as if from a mile away...so it took a few moments before his last words sank in. "I'm sorry." She said finally, raising her hand in some abstract way, like she was back in school waiting for the teacher to call on her. She waited until Dr. Greene's eyes were resting on her before she added. "But did you just say that Buffy's in a coma?"

Seeing him nod was like the straw that broke the camel's back. Her grief was too great...too overwhelming...and so she welcomed the dark cloud that swept over her. She welcomed the oblivion as if it was all she had left.

*****

Chapter three: Inside the dream

I've just closed my eyes again, Climbed aboard the dream weaver train. Trying to chase away the worries of today. And leave tomorrow behind.

Ooooh, Dream Weaver. I believe you can get me through the night. Oooooh, dream Weaver I believe we can reach the morning light.

-- The Moody Blues

"Will."

She heard the call as from a distance...soft and whispery...a voice pulling at her heart strings like no other ever had.

"Willow."

It came again, louder and more distinct this time, and she opened her eyes slowly, at least she thought she had, but she couldn't really be seeing what she thought she was seeing...right?

"Buffy?" Her voice sounded strange inside her own head...kind of echoey and she knew that she was dreaming. The realization nearly brought tears to her eyes, but she couldn't stop looking at the apparition that shared her bed.

"Good morning, Sunshine." Her wife flashed her a vibrant smile, which dimmed when she caught the tears that were shining in her eyes. "What's the matter? Did you have a bad dream?" A frown appeared on the Slayer's brow as she pulled the trembling form to her.

'Maybe this isn't a dream?' Willow thought to herself, as she clung ferociously to the strong frame of her wife. 'I mean, she certainly feels real.'

"You want to tell me about it?" The whisper was soft against her ear, soothing...like a balm against her frazzled nerves.

Willow almost couldn't bring herself to answer...feeling her throat tighten as she swallowed her tears. "I...I thought...you were..."

Buffy wiped the tears from her face gently, while she thought seriously about her answer. "There might be things that get in our way...I might even be gone for a while, but I will never leave you completely."

Willow frowned, not liking the sound of that. "What do you mean?"

Buffy smiled then, fingering the front of Willow's night shirt, then slipped a lone finger over her heart. "Keep a candle burning for me, Will, and I promise I'll find my way back home."

'Oh great...go cryptic on me.' Willow thought sourly.

Buffy looked out the window, at the sun making it's descent across the sky. Shadows were creaping across the lawn, growing long as the sun started to lose it's hold on the day. Buffy sighed into Willow's hair, as she caressed the soft back. "I have to be going soon." She whispered mournfully, not wanting to leave this warm spot, or the woman that she loved, but knowing that the night would soon be upon her and that she'd have to renew her battle once again.

The words filled Willow with fear, and she clung to Buffy's body, refusing to let her go. "No...I don't want you to." She said stubbornly, pulling her resolve face into battle. 

Buffy smiled at her sadly, brushing a soft cheek with her fingertips. "My Wills. Remember me." She said softly, then disappeared, leaving Willow feeling icy and alone.

"Buffy?" She called out to the empty room, scanning every shadow and corner of the room for her missing wife. "Buffy, come back!"

*****

"Buffy?" Willow started to sit up, but was held back by a restraining hand on her shoulder. "Buffy?" She called again, feeling her anxiousness returning.

"No, Willow. It's Dr. Wiseberg. Do you know where you are?" She looked up into the kind, caring face of her physician, and almost burst into tears as everything came rushing back to her. Buffy and Faith's fight on top of the apartment building, watching them both fall off, the fast paced ride to the hospital and everything that came after that. She laid back on the bed, covering her eyes with one arm as she tried to make it all go away. He attempted to make conversation a few times, but Willow kept shaking her head at him refusing to answer. Finally he sighed a little and walked over to the door where Joyce was watching uneasily.

"How is she?" She asked, half of her attention on the doctor, half on her daughter-in-law who had given her a few more grey hairs by passing out the way she did the night before. Dr. Greene had been remarkably surprised, yet composed as he checked on her, then had gotten her admitted to the hospital while Joyce called Willow's own physician.

Dr. Wiseberg wasn't going to candy coat it for Joyce, he figured that he'd need her help to keep Willow from over stressing any more than she already had. "Given the considerable amount of shock she's gone through in the past twenty four hours...I'd say she's a very lucky woman."

"Lucky?" Joyce asked, surprised that he would even consider that.

"Lucky that with the amount of stress she's been under, she hasn't lost the baby." He saw the shock that appeared on Joyce's face and rushed to comfort her. "The baby is fine, the heart is beating just as strong as ever, but I'd still like to keep Willow here for the next forty-eight hours to monitor her stress levels. She needs to stay calm, and not over extend herself."

Joyce shook her head, wondering just how Willow was supposed to stay calm under these circumstances. "Will she be able to see Buffy?" Joyce asked, remembering how shocked she had been when Dr. Greene had finally allowed her to see her daughter earlier that morning. She wasn't used to seeing her that frail or helpless...tied to machines and tubes that sustained her life and kept her alive.

Dr. Wiseberg sighed, aware of how bad the situation really was. "It depends on which causes her the most stress...seeing her wife the way she is, or not seeing her at all. You'll have to make that decision, I'm not sure she's able to think clearly about it at this time."

Willow could hear them, past the vague veil of disinterest she was under and wondered if she should be upset that they were talking about her as if she wasn't even in the room. She wondered how they could talk about her wife so casually. How dare they try to make that decision for her...as if they could even keep her away. Not see Buffy? Yeah, right! She would see her, even if she had to sneak her way through the hospital to do so. "I'll be back to check on her a little bit later." Dr. Wiseberg said, spending another moment looking over his patient, feeling heartsick at how wan and pale she appeared.

"Try to get her to eat something."

Joyce nodded, then watched as he left the room, before she sighed and looked back at the still form in the hospital bed. She made her way over quietly, trying to think of something to say to her. "Hey, honey...it's Joyce." When Willow didn't respond to her, she sighed again and sank down into the leather chair that was beside the bed. "I know you aren't up to talking right now. It's all right. I understand...so...I'll just sit here and keep you company."

"You know...you gave us quite a scare last night. Poor Xander was beside himself...not literally, of course. And Giles...I don't think I've ever seen him look so worried. That nice paramedic...I guess his name was Jonathan...came back to see how you were. Oh...in all the confusion, I almost forgot..." She dug into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled out a couple of small objects.

"Dr. Greene gave me these to hang onto...but I think that you really should be the one to hang onto them for safe keeping." That appeared to get Willow's attention, and green eyes appeared for the first time since she woke up with a mixture of sadness and slight curiosity mingling inside them.

Joyce handed her the articles, and saw fresh tears appear in her eyes. She could see her hands starting to tremble and almost drop the items that she was holding. Joyce covered the trembling hands with her own, until they felt sturdy again, then Willow pulled away and looked down at the cold pieces of metal. They felt like they were burning, even though they were cool in her hands. A tear slid down her face as she put her wife's wedding ring on her ring finger, remembering when she had put the ring on Buffy's. She held the other object loosely in her hand for quite a while, feeling how the silvery chain slipped through her fingers as she played with it, a far-away look on her face. "She might need this." She said finally, looking up into Joyce's concerned face. 

"Honey...nobody's going to find her in a hospital room." Joyce said, knowing what Willow meant without having to say anything about the creatures of the night who wouldn't mind taking advantage of her daughter's present condition to rid themselves of a Slayer.

"We don't know that...bet they'd just love to take advantage of this." Willow said, thoughtfully. "I want to see her." She said, 'resolve face' firmly in place. 

"Honey..." Joyce said, shaking her head a little...not knowing if that was a good idea or not.

"Now." Willow said, quite firmly, holding the silver cross firmly in her grip.

"I don't think they're going to let her wear that." Joyce pointed out, rationally. 

"They don't have to know." Willow said, quite calmly, gathering the flimsy gown she was wearing around her. "Are you going to help me?" She questioned, a russet eyebrow rising imperiously.

Joyce had no choice but to give in to the look, and found her a wheel chair to use. She couldn't just go walking around in a hospital gown after all, the hospital staff might stop them and ask questions...something she was sure Willow wouldn't want. 'I need to remember to bring her in some clothes. A nightgown at the very least.' Joyce thought, as she helped the determined young woman into the wheelchair.

*****

Chapter Four: Quiet confessions.

Sometimes late at night I lie awake and watch her sleeping.
She's lost in peaceful dreams so I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark.
And a thought crosses my mind, if I never wake up in the morning.
Would she ever doubt the way I feel about her in my heart.

If tomorrow never comes, Will she know how much I loved her?
Did I try in every way, to show her every day that she's the only one?
And if my time on Earth were through and she must face this world without me.
Is the love I gave her in the past, going to be enough to last if tomorrow never comes?

-- Garth Brooks

Willow could hear the sounds of the machines, even before she saw the still figure lying propped in the hospital bed. She wheeled her way over to where she lay, feeling her heart bleed as she took in the sight of her. Tubes ran from her nose and mouth, to a machine that apparently regulated her wife's breathing, wires ran from her arm to the heart monitoring machine that was giving off a set of beeps that was strangely soothing to Willow's otherwise agitated nerves.

She reached for the hand that was lying closest to her on the bed, and traced it with a cautious finger, relieved to find it warm to the touch. Buffy looked so pale...so...lifeless, that any sign of life was a good thing. Her fingers closed reflexively around the warm digits, like a lifeline that tugged painfully at her heart.

"Buffy." Willow whispered silently, almost afraid to make a sound that would cover the unnatural sounds of the machines. She fell silent again, as she watched her lover breathe, fixated on the sight of her chest moving up and down. She brought the relatively undamaged hand to her lips and kissed it gently, glancing down at the pale colored patch of skin on her wife's finger where her wedding ring had been.

Then her eyes tracked back up the bed, from the crinkled white sheet to the pale, nearly lifeless and bruised face of her wife. She couldn't stop the tears that slid from her eyes, and wondered idly if she'd ever stop crying. They had been through so much, in such a little span of time that it kind of felt like she was on the Cyclone at Coney Island, a roller coaster she had been on once, when her parents had taken her with them on a trip to New York City. She wondered briefly if the ride would ever stop, and then rushed with her prayer that it never would. The highs in her life with Buffy were so very much worth the lows.

"I know you're in there." She whispered to the pale still form, who looked more like a Mummy than her wife at the moment, as her head was covered in bandages. "I'm not going to let you go without a fight. I love you too much for that." She brushed her fingers gingerly over the bruised cheek, before turning her attention to the silver chain she still held loosely in one hand. "So, I'm just going to stay right here and keep you company. I'm gonna babble so much it will drive you crazy and then you'll have to wake up just to kiss me so I'll be quiet." She didn't know it, but her resolve face had just then completely taken over her face.

Joyce watched in silence from the doorway, feeling like an interloper on the quiet communication. She wasn't really sure that she could call it that, considering it was all one-sided. But if she didn't know any better, she would swear that she could see her daughter listening with all her might. She decided that maybe they'd be all right left on their own for a while, and slipped out of the room, wondering if the cafeteria would still be open. She could use a strong cup of tea right about now.

Willow never even noticed her Mother-in-law's departure, her entire focus centered on her wife. "Joyce gave me this to hold onto for you, but I think it looks better on you than it does on me." She quipped gently, forcing a smile as she gently put the silver chain around Buffy's neck. She fastened the clasp, careful not to lean on the bed, or put pressure on the all too fragile looking body, then leaned back examining the way the cross looked shining under the fluorescent light of the hospital room. She tucked it carefully under the loose fitting smock Buffy was wearing, then petted it once, feeling unreasonably better knowing it was there.

******

"How are you holding up?" The rich softness of his voice caused Joyce to tense up a brief millisecond before she put the Styrofoam cup down on the cafeteria table and picked her head up, looking at the love of her life through blood-shot eyes.

"Both of my daughters are in the hospital. Buffy is in a coma, and Dr. Wiseberg is worried about what all of the stress that Willow is undoubtedly going through is doing to the baby. I'd say other than that, I'm just peachy." Her voice was more tense and angry then she would have liked, and she felt guilty for the flinch she saw edge over Giles face before it disappeared. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm just..." She closed her mouth, feeling frustration and an overwhelming anger building inside of her.

"Worried...angry...and undoubtedly very upset. I don't blame you." She could see his calm reassurance shining through the dark layers of his eyes, and for some reason felt unaccountably more upset that he wasn't outwardly falling apart like she was.

"I wish I could just get my hands around that conniving, little...to think I actually invited her into my house once." Joyce enjoyed her visions of strangling the life out of Faith immensely. The enjoyment in her eyes of the vision caused Giles to squirm uneasily. "Did you find any traces of her at all?"

"None." Faith, to everyone's surprise, seemed to have disappeared. There wasn't any sign of her body, anywhere. It's almost like the other Slayer had got up and walked away from the site...but that was impossible wasn't it? She had to have been as badly hurt as Buffy had been from that fall. "Xander, Oz and I have examined the scene thoroughly, but we have found no traces of where she might have landed. I can't quite figure it out...it's like she just disappeared."

Giles shook his head, mystified and just as upset as Joyce was that they hadn't been able to locate the other Slayer. He shuddered to think she was still out there, just waiting for another opportunity to take a crack at his Slayer. In her present condition, she would be no match for Faith in a fight.

Giles took a deep breath, glancing around the mostly empty cafeteria to ensure that no one was close enough to overhear them "You know there's something else that we need to consider."

"What's that?" Joyce asked, an eyebrow arching enquiringly on her forehead.

"While I'm confident that Buffy's going to make a full and speedy recovery, we just might have a problem with that."

"What do you mean?" Joyce asked, totally taken aback by Giles statement.

"Buffy doesn't heal like normal people. A bruise disappears overnight, a cut...depending on how bad it is, or how deep...in a day or two. Dr. Greene is probably going to notice that. I'm not sure if there's anything that we can do to prevent that. And he's probably going to have a lot of questions. Questions I'm not sure that we can answer."

"Okay...I can see that. But she has so many injuries, surely her body is going to take a while to heal them all, even with Super Slayer healing ability." Joyce said the last bit in a whisper, but it still caused Giles to scan the room, worriedly. "Maybe he won't notice?"

Giles shook his head slowly. "Doubtful. We're just going to have to figure out a plausible story to tell him."

Joyce looked at him, worry filling her expression. What could they say? Buffy comes from a long line of healers? Undoubtedly true, based on the stories she had heard as a child, and from the fact that Buffy was a Vampire Slayer. But not exactly something that the doctor would believe, was it? She wasn't sure what they were going to do when asked, hopefully they could find some way to bluff their way through it.

******

Sunlight dabbled across her cheeks, and she woke up to the tweetering of birds outside her window. Her hand reached out and traced the warm flesh that was curled protectively around her stomach, and she smiled at the feel of the warm weight that rested comfortably on top of her. Breath breezed across her face, as her wife exhaled then opened a pair of sleepy blue eyes. A warm smile was quick to follow, as the newly awakened sleeper stretched mightily.

"Did you sleep okay?" Green eyes with a shade of worry in them, examined the lithe form of her wife carefully.

"Like a rock." Came the sleepy but exuberant reply, as blue eyes shifted to rest warmly on the small form that had crawled into bed with them the night before, clutching her teddy bear tightly to her. "Think she's okay?" A strong but gentle hand caressed a tiny head full of reddish blonde hair.

"Yeah. She just had a bad dream. She'll be all right." Their daughter had scared the living daylights out of them the night before. They had been in the middle of a very pleasant daze, when the sharp shriek, that only their daughter could make, shattered their mood in a heartbeat. Buffy had collected the tear streaked red-head, who was sucking her thumb with one hand, while the other clung onto the tattered form of her Pooh bear, and taken her into bed with them.

"Yeah, but it was so strange. It's like she thought I had died or something." Buffy commented, looking down at her daughter who was still clutching at her skin fretfully with two tiny fingers. When she had entered her daughter's bedroom, the redhead had looked up at her with such a lost puppy expression that it had nearly broken her heart. Big wet tears had dripped out of those big blue eyes and it had caught her flat footed. The little arms had gone up, just waiting to be picked up, and Buffy had swept her up into her arms, holding her daughter tightly to her chest.

The little girl had clung tenaciously to her for the rest of the night, crying when Willow had tried to move her so Buffy could get more comfortable. So she had merely wrapped her arms around the small frame, watching as she sniffed and hiccoughed her way towards the sandman's door, before the blue eyes had drifted closed and the small mouth's movements on the tiny thumb had slowed to a halt.

"She looks alright now though." Willow replied, running her fingers through the soft and sweaty hair, as she studied the peaceful pose.

"Yeah." Buffy murmured, rubbing a gentle hand in a massaging motion over the tiny back. Their hands merged over their daughter's sleeping form, and their eyes rose to meet each others, conveying their love for each other and their child. Was there anything she wouldn't do for the both of them? One look into Willow's eyes gave her the answer.

*****

Willow was startled awake by a low melodic humming, coming from a chair beside her. Surprised to find she had fallen asleep in the first place, she picked up her head, feeling the crick in her neck from falling asleep in such an awkward position, and stared in amazement at the older woman.

There was such a presence around her, an air of calm gentility that it set Willow completely at peace as she examined the other woman's appearance. The older woman sat poised, as if she were in front of a camera or at a book recital, her long frame folded into the chair as if it were made specifically for her. Long, greyish-white hair was tied into a bun, and the still bright blue eyes rested peacefully and quite calmly on the occupant of the bed.

Willow knew immediately who it must be, but she was surprised that the elderly woman had arrived here so quickly. "Nana?"

"Came to see how my granddaughters were doing." The vibrant eyes rested on her for a half of a second, appearing to size her up with that one look, before moving her attention back to the form lying so still in the bed. "She's going to be just fine you know." Nana said, the sound of strong determination and belief in her voice.

"How do you know?" Willow asked, her eyes filling with questions.

"Because...she has a destiny that she has yet to fulfill. She will remember that and fight to come back. They always do."

"I want to believe that." Willow said, not feeling so sure herself at the moment, as she took in the sight of all of Buffy's wounds.

"Then believe it, child." The older woman said, catching Willow up in the strong pull of her azure eyes. "She comes from a long line of fast healers." A sparkle of amusement lit the blue, catching the redhead off guard.

Chapter Five: Quiet Confessions, continued

Willow was still thinking about what Buffy's grandmother had said, as she sat at the cafeteria table, reluctantly eating the vegetable soup that Joyce and Nana had insisted she get. Her stomach twisted every time she took a sip of the warm, bland tasting liquid, that had just enough soft vegetables in it to be considered soup instead of broth. She really hadn't wanted to leave Buffy's side for a moment, and had received both encouragement and badgering in order to even consider it. Giles had offered to accompany her, and Willow had accepted hesitantly, leaving the two older women to watch over her comatose wife.

She swirled the contents of her bowl around with her spoon, brooding on recent events as she again wondered how they had managed to come so far from where they had started from...

'Mind if I sit down?...

Why...I mean...H-hi...'

Giles watched as she played with her food, wincing at the lost look he saw reflected from the normally bright and cheerful eyes. He coughed to get her attention, then watched as she picked her head up to look at him. "Would you care for something else?" he asked, in a quiet, sympathetic tone that quite frankly got on Willow's nerves. Although she did her best not to show it.

"No thanks, Giles. I'm just...not up to eating I guess." She put the spoon back in the bowl with a defeated sigh, then pushed the bowl away from her as the aroma of the soup played havoc with her stomach. She put her head in her hands, and tried to control her breathing enough to quell the queasiness she felt rising. She felt a warm hand gently rest on top of her shoulder and felt herself cringe under the touch. She didn't deserve his sympathy, and she certainly didn't deserve his pity. She was the reason Buffy was where she was at in the first place.

Her lips clamped down over the scream she felt bubbling from deep inside, unsure where all of the rage and hostility was stemming from. It scared her how close she was to just losing it in front of Giles, and in front of everyone in the cafeteria. She felt like just letting loose and screaming out all of her rage and terror. The only thing that stopped her was the knowledge that if she started she might never stop.

*****

Xander peeked gingerly around the corner of the door, peering into Buffy's hospital room for any sign of his best friend. He didn't want to intrude if Willow was visiting Buffy, but he hadn't seen the red-head since she had passed out the night before, and he was extremely worried about her. The only person he saw though, besides a shadow of one of his very best friends, was her mother sitting in the chair beside her.

Joyce picked up somber eyes to look at him when she heard him approach the bed and gave him a slight smile before her attention turned back to its heavy regard.

"Any changes?" Xander asked, in a hushed whisper, staring with disbelieving eyes at the sight before him.

"None yet." Joyce answered, aware of what he was asking. She wasn't sure what to look for...had never watched her daughter recover from anything after she had become the Slayer, and wasn't sure if she had even taken the time to bandage a boo boo when Buffy had been younger. Seeing her now made her realize of all of the lost opportunities she had missed while Buffy had been growing up. She would trade any gallery meeting or business meeting now for a few more spent hours with her daughter. Even when they had moved to Sunnydale, she had missed so many things because she was too busy working...too busy being a single parent to really realize what was going on with her. She had thought that fate was giving her a second chance really, to be the kind of mother that both Buffy and Willow deserved.

But how many second chances do you really think you're going to get with her? Joyce asked herself, as she examined the pale, yet still beautiful face. It scared her how much Buffy put on the line every night. How many times had her daughter come close to dying without her ever realizing it?

Did it really take her daughter coming this close to death before she sat up and smelled the roses? All of those lost opportunities seemed to step up and slap her in the face, and she found herself recoiling as she remembered her worst moments as a mother.

If you walk out that door don't even think about coming back.'

She couldn't believe that those words had really exited her mouth until she had seen the shocked and suddenly shuttered look that had come over her blue eyes. Then her daughter had walked out the door without looking back. It was the worst moment of her life, worse than leaving Hank had been, and the guilt she had felt while Buffy had been away had made her lash out at the one person she could justify feeling angry at. Besides herself, of course.

Giles and Joyce had to deal with those emotions while they had been forging a relationship, and had even managed to get past them, but it had put a certain strain on things at the beginning. He was the man who she blamed for taking her daughter away. It wasn't until she made herself realize that she was the one to blame that she could even begin to let that lie. And yet, she realized that she had never really asked for her daughter's forgiveness for not being there when she had needed her the most.

She didn't like examining the fact that it might have been the reason she was so quick to throw herself into Buffy's present situation. Even though Willow was a dear, sweet girl that had received nothing but trouble from her overbearing parents. And even though she looked forward to her grandchild's birth almost as much as her two daughter's did. She couldn't help but wonder if this was her way of making up to Buffy for all of the times that she hadn't been there for her. And would all of her efforts be in vain if Buffy herself wasn't there to see it?

'You want me dead?'

Buffy had asked her another time, when Joyce had suggested that maybe Faith could take over her duties of being the Slayer.

'What?!'

Joyce had asked, shocked that her daughter could even ask such a thing.

'The only way I get to stop being the Slayer is if I'm dead.'

Buffy had told her, quite calmly, missing the look of horror that had filled her eyes.

As much as Joyce hated the fact that her daughter had to go out every night, risking her life and limb for the sake of humanity, she hated the thought of losing her daughter even more.

*****

Xander could see Joyce was lost in thought, so he sat down in the chair beside her and unwittingly began doing what Joyce was doing. Examining every interaction he had ever had with his friend, The Slayer.

He studied the bruises on her face, thinking that they didn't make her any less beautiful, then remembered the first time he had seen her as he had been riding across the quad on his skateboard. He had been so captivated by her, that he had wiped out and flipped over a railing. He had known right away that she was something special, something out of the ordinary from the usual class of girls that went to Sunnydale High. He also remembered being instantly attracted to her.

It hadn't been until later that day that he had realized just how special she was...and then she had pulled him into this totally new and different world full of vampires, and demons and things that go bump in the night. And he was totally hooked.

He had to admit that he had liked going from a virtual nobody...a loser...to being a part of something that was bigger than he was. A true, working part of the Scooby gang. His attraction for her had never completely gone away, even though he had Anya now and knew that Buffy and Willow fit together like two peas in a pod, but he had always known that what Buffy had given him the most was a sense of belonging, and he really wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.

Xander couldn't stand the thought of her dying, because if she did, he would lose his best friend...his high school crush...his greatest support...but most importantly, he would lose his hero.

*****

Willow's heart beat in time with the steady beeps coming from Buffy's heart monitor. She could feel herself growing sleepy and lethargic as the silent vigil went on, but she refused to leave Buffy's side for a moment tonight, and wondered vaguely how she had been able to convince the nurses and doctor's to let her stay. They probably just didn't want an obviously distraught, pregnant woman on their hands, Willow thought with an almost hysterical giggle, before she clamped down on the urge with an iron will.

She had managed to convince Joyce and Giles to go home and get some rest, though Xander was camped in an uncomfortable looking plastic chair down in the waiting room. She had tried to convince him to go home as well, stating that she'd be fine left here alone, but Xander refused with a stubbornness she was all too familiar with. He had respected her wish to be alone with Buffy, however, finding his way to the waiting room not long after Joyce and Giles had headed home.

So, now she found herself alone with Buffy, and wasn't quite sure what to do with herself. She tried pacing for a short while, but the small confines of the room didn't really allow for that, and she found herself growing tired much sooner than she thought she would. So sitting and staring seemed to be the only option she had left. But the silence became too much for her and she soon found herself talking to the person that she had always been able to tell anything to.

"I've heard that people can hear you when they're in a coma. I hope that it's true. I hope you can hear me Buffy." She took Buffy's hand in hers, starting to chafe the still fingers between her own as she looked down upon them. "Because I miss you so much. I miss you so much it hurts." Two wet tears fell from her eyes and she felt her earlier anger returning. She wiped the tears away, almost angrily as she stood up and started pacing. Then turned and looked at the unmoving body.

"Damn it, Buffy. Why'd you have to do it? Why'd you have to jump?" Her voice sounded hoarse through the thick moisture of her tears. "You Promised me you'd be here...to help me raise our baby...and then you just jump...like it's nothing?"

The scene flashed through her head again...Buffy coming to untie her...looking up to see Faith coming up behind Buffy with the knife, the look in her wife's eyes when she felt the knife penetrate--that look of regret that she thought that she would never forget for as long as she lived--, and that silent goodbye that Willow had heard loud and clear, before Buffy had turned to face Faith.

Willow knew that what Buffy had done, she had done for her and that knowledge twisted the knife within her own heart. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." She whispered, grabbing the rail of the hospital bed and feeling her knees start to buckle. "I know it was all my fault. I should never have let her in."

The deep voice she heard behind her, stopped her speech cold. "You shouldn't blame yourself. It wasn't your fault."

Willow turned around, sinking into a nearby chair as her knees gave out completely. "Daddy?" she whispered, unable to believe he was really standing there.

"Your mother and I came as soon as we heard. She's waiting down the hall." He took in the sight of the room, then turned his observation onto his daughter, noticing how haggard she looked. "Is there anything we can do?"

*****

Chapter Six:

Everywhere I look the sun is shining.
But it's always raining here inside.
I can see, you've really got a hold on me.
But you rain on love, with a rain that never dies.

-- Wynona Judd

Ira had stood in the doorway for a while, amazed by the steel in his daughter's eyes while she confronted her friend. 'Strike that...wife.' He shuddered as he thought the words, unable to believe that his little girl had gone ahead and actually married that...that... He couldn't think of a word that was vile enough for the comatose blond. His one consolation was the fact that their marriage wasn't exactly legal in the eyes of the state of California.

He still wasn't happy that his daughter had gone against his every wish in this situation. But he was sorry for the state their relationship was in. He wasn't too proud to admit that he missed his daughter. Yes she had made mistakes, so had he--though he was loathe to admit it, even to himself, but he thought that the present situation would give him the perfect opportunity to reclaim his daughter's love and devotion.

Now, as she sat staring at him in shock, he knew he'd made the right decision in coming here.

*****

"I...How did you find out?"

"It was on the news...I thought..." He looked somewhat uncomfortable standing there, and Willow wondered idly what he was thinking.

"I hadn't thought it...would be..." She shook her head, staring blankly at the television monitor above her head. Out of all the strange happenings that went on in Sunnydale, Buffy's header off of an apartment building made the news? Go figure.

He could see that she was waiting for him to say something. Though he wasn't quite sure what to say, he thought he might know what she'd like to hear. "Willow...we're very...sorry...about...everything. We just..." Green, pain-filled eyes pierced him into silence.

"I'm not sure I can deal...with this right now." Willow said, plainly and honestly, the strain showing on her face as she stared him down.

For the first time since entering the room, Ira got a really good look at his daughter, noticing the fullness in her face and the noticable protrusion of her belly. Only then did it occur to him just how far she had come in her term. She was almost a mother, an adult, and he finally recognized and accepted the maturity that shined on her face. She wasn't his little girl any longer. "You've changed." He said finally, and Willow could pick up the note of sadness in his voice.

She nodded, staring at him as she wondered where the dad she used to know had gone. "Yes." She agreed, softly. "I have. Is that such a bad thing?"

He was silent for a long time, simply staring at her, the only noise coming from the active machines behind her, and Willow started to wonder if he'd ever speak to her again. Finally, he shook his head slowly. "I guess what I've been trying to protect you from the most, happened without me even noticing."

Willow's inquisitive look brought a sardonic smile to his face. "You grew up." He sighed, staring at her through new eyes. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to see it."

Willow noticed the change in him, and started to lower the walls she had built. There was so much wrong in her world right now, she desperately wanted to mend at least this one thing. "I have pictures." She offered, smiling nervously.

"I'd love to see them." He answered with a smile. It was a small concession, from both sides, but to Willow it felt like a good start. They moved, haltingly, towards each other, neither one knowing whether this forgiving each other thing was going to work, until they were just a short span away from each other.

Willow sighed, almost forlornly, then did something she hadn't done since she was five, after she had broken up with Xander Harris because he'd broken her barbie doll. She collapsed in his arms and cried. "I've missed you Daddy." She said, feeling five years old all over again.

It felt...weird...holding his pregnant daughter like this, but it also felt comfortable...like coming home. "I've missed you too, princess." He said, feeling like all was right once again in his own little world.

Willow stiffened slightly at the use of the pet name, recalling the last time he had said it, and pulled away to look at him. "Daddy..." she sighed. "Last time you called me that, you ended up doing something that led to our current situation. I'm not your princess anymore."

He looked at her in shock, not quite believing she had said that to him. "Willow...what happened...that was...we were only trying to do what we thought was best for you."

Willow looked away from him, remembering the hurt and anger that he had put her through, that they had both put her through. She tried to look at the situation from her parent's point of view, but all she could see was that if she didn't make her stand here, they might continue to think that they could just keep making her decisions for her. That she wasn't about to let happen. "No. You were trying to protect me." She acknowledged gently. "But in so doing you tried to take away my right to make my own decisions. If we're going to mend any of this, then you're going to have to understand that I'm not your little girl anymore. I grew up. And I make my own decisions now."

Ira was understandably hurt by his daughter's words. It felt like he was being rejected, and he didn't like it. He cast a baleful look at the person he blamed for everything. "It's because of her, isn't it? Everything was fine and dandy until she came along."

"Buffy?" Willow cast a quick glance back at her comatose wife, then looked back at her father, incredulous. "She's my wife, Dad. She helped me along the way, and more importantly, she helped me survive. I wouldn't even be alive if she hadn't been here. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. So yes, I suppose it is because of her that I grew up, that I had a chance to grow up. You should thank her some day."

"Thank her? For what?! For taking you away from us? For nearly getting you killed?!" Ira asked quietly, although Willow could hear the rage in his tone.

Willow was just about to defend her wife, vehemently, when another voice broke the temporary stillness between them. "Ira...that's enough."

"Enough? Enough?! It surely isn't enough! That bitch took away our daughter, she took her away from us and twisted her mind, and now she's not even our daughter anymore. And what is that blond anyway? How the hell did she manage to get out of the psych ward? I'm telling you, that's not normal, no one can do that. And-"

"Ira! Stop it right now! Can't you see it? Bunny...." She silently cursed as she saw the look in Willow's eyes, "Buffy, didn't take her away from us, we did. We weren't there for her, and we never really saw what was going on in her."

"What's that now? You trying to defend her? What's going on with you women?"

"Wait a minute", Willow interrupted. "What did you mean with she managed to get out of the psych ward? How did you know about that?" Willow looked at her dad as though she were seeing right through him.

He looked at her, knowing he was caught. "Baby, please, you have to-"

"No dad, I don't have to do anything. I don't even have to listen to you."

She looked away from him, tears beginning to form in her eyes again. Long moments passed with nothing being said, long moments in which she tried to collect her thoughts.

"For the sake of god, do you have any idea who she is? What she means to human kind, to this town, to me?! Why do you think that she was on the news? Because there's nothing else that could be told? Have you ever, ever, opened your eyes to what happens here?" She stared at the blank faces of her parents, one showing hatred and hurt, the other pity.

"She's the Slayer. She's the one that protects us all, you, me, this whole god forsaken town. We are living on a hellmouth, in case you haven't noticed it yet! What do you think has caused all those 'cases of death through total blood loss'? Open your eyes to see what is happening here, then you will understand why I love her, and what she means to me."

Sheila took the opportunity to step closer. She moved up to her daughter, placed a hand on her cheek, then took her into a hug.

"I'm sorry honey, I'm so sorry", she whispered.

"Sheila, you can't just-"

"Shut up Ira! You know she's right. Stop fighting her, or we'll loose her for good."

He just gaped at his wife, unable to believe she just had said that. In a sudden movement he turned around and stormed out of the room, leaving the two alone.

"I'm sorry darling." Sheila said again, then turning to her daughter's love, "How is she?"

Willow turned her attention to her wife, glad that for once Buffy hadn't had to defend her... that she had in turn been the one able to defend Buffy. "Not good." She replied, tears thick in her voice. "She's in a coma...and the doctors don't know what shape she is going to be in when she comes out...or if.."

"I've always thought that she was strong for a girl... that she's a strong person. Even before everything happened. I... I still remember some of what happened back when... when I tried, we all tried to burn you and Buffy, and what was her name? Amy? The one that turned into a rat. What happened to her anyway?"

Willow smiled. "Long story mom, but she's still with us."

"I know what you told me, and for a long time, I didn't want it to be true." She focused back on her daughter in bed, yes she definately saw her as a daughter now. "She's so... so powerful. I remember looking at her when she was tied against that pole and thinking, knowing how strong she was. I knew, well at least I think I knew that she was special."

She turned to Willow. "Why don't you tell me about her, and about what happened in the past ten years. I think we have enough time right now, don't you think?"

Willow looked at her mom, looked down at Buffy for a long moment, then back at her mother. "I think I'd like that." Yes, it was about time her mother and the love of her life got acquainted.

*****

Chapter seven: The Wish

Last night I had a crazy dream.
A wish was granted just for me. It could be for anything.
I didn't wish for money, or a mansion by the blue.
I simply wished for one more day with you.

One more day.
One more time.
One more sunset, baby, I'd be satisfied.
But then again, I know what it would do.
Leave me wishing still for one more day with you.

-- Diamond Rio

Joyce thought that she was seeing things when she poked her head into Buffy's hospital room the next morning. Sheila and Willow had their heads together, discussing everything from marriage to motherhood, while living on the hellmouth.

It did Joyce's heart good to see them together like this, grateful for Sheila's change of heart where her daughter was concerned. Willow certainly needed all of the support that she could get right now.

It took the conversing pair a while to notice that she was standing there. She was just contemplating creeping back out when Willow picked up her head and saw her.

"Joyce...hi. Come on in."

Joyce hesitated, not wanting to intrude on this moment. "I'm sorry to interrupt. I can come back later."

Willow was just starting to shake her head in protest, when her mother spoke up. "No...please...stay." Sheila said awkwardly, as she rose to greet the person that had been there for her daugher when she hadn't been. "I...wanted to thank you for taking Willow in and supporting her. After talking with her last night, I've begun to realize just how much I've missed out on with her...especially over the last few years. It's going to take me a while to make up for that. I'm just glad that I'm getting this second chance."

"We all make mistakes. I know I've made my own with Buffy." Joyce said, ruefully, a wistful look filling her eyes as she looked over at where her daughter lay so still. "Some I don't think I've even begun to atone for yet."

Willow eyed her sympathetically, knowing what she was thinking about. "Buffy never blamed you for that. I think you should know...just in case." Willow cast her own look at the bed, knowing that she shouldn't be thinking the unthinkable, but somehow not being able to prevent it.

"How is she?" Joyce couldn't keep herself from asking, walking over to take the cool fingers into her own hand. "Were there any changes during the night?"

Willow shook her head slowly. "None noticable. The nurses came in to check on her a couple of times...but..." She shrugged, helplessly.

"I would have thought that her healing powers would have kicked in by now." Joyce murmured, thoughtfully.

"Maybe they have." Willow agreed, cautiously. "But most of her ouchies are on the inside...so we probably wouldn't notice anyway."

Joyce nodded, quietly, wondering what was going on inside Buffy's head at the moment, trying to imagine her daughter's healing ability kicking in to overtime. "I just know that she's going to pull through this."

"She has to." Willow agreed, softly.

Sheila watched the communication, noticing how close Joyce and Willow appeared to be, and wondering where she had lost that connection with her own daughter. She knew that level of trust was hard to build and easily broken. She didn't know if she'd ever be able to re-establish that link. She was going to give it her every effort though, and if Ira didn't like it...well, she'd be damned if she'd let him stop her from having a relationship with her own daughter. She hoped against all hope that he would come to his senses...but if he didn't...well she wasn't about to let the opportunity to get to know her own daughter...and later her granddaughter, to pass her by.

*****

Doctor Greene entered Buffy's room not long after Joyce had, and if he was surprised by the presence of the three women he didn't let it show.

"Good morning." He smiled congenially at Joyce and Willow, introducing himself to Sheila, before moving his attention to his patient. "And, how are we doing this morning, Miss Summers?" His voice was cheerful as he picked up Buffy's chart, almost as if he expected her to say. "Why, I'm fine, Doc. How are you?"

At Willow's questioning look, Dr. Greene explained his behavior. "I've gotten into the habit of talking to my patients. I imagine that they can hear me, and like hearing a warm, friendly voice on the other side...something that they can cling to while they heal. And it has been proven to increase brain stimulation, heightening her chances for recovery."

"I've heard that too." Willow nodded, having researched this very thing. She watched him curiously while he examined Buffy's chart, wondering what it said, if anything, about the progress of her wife's recovery.

He felt their attention on him, like little pinpricks on the back of his neck, while he examined the chart, knowing that they were anxiously waiting for him to make some sort of prognosis. He nodded to himself, closing the chart before turning to look at three worried faces.

"Well?" Willow asked, unable to wait any longer.

"I'm sure you're all eager to see Buffy making progress. The truth is, we don't know where she's at right now. We will need to take numerous x-rays and Cat scans today and compare them to the ones we took when she first came in. Hopefully, we will find that the bruising and swelling is going down. The sooner the pressure in her brain is alleviated, the better off she's going to be." He explained.

"How soon will we know?" Joyce asked, laying a comforting hand on Willow's shoulder.

"The tests should take about three to four hours. I'll notify you when we have the results, but until then I strongly suggest that you get something to eat, and then get some rest." He directed most of the last part to Willow, who he was worried about. "You won't be doing Buffy any good by wearing yourself out."

Willow found herself getting a little angry at his presumption. And though she wanted to object, she felt the exhaustion starting to eat away at her reserves, and the growling of her stomach reminded her that she hadn't eaten since some time yesterday. Noticing the caring, concerned looks she was recieving from the Doctor and both of her mothers she started to feel slightly ashamed that she wasn't taking better care of herself, therefore neglecting the baby's health. She knew that Buffy would not be happy at all if she knew.

"Okay." She conceded quietly. "But...you will tell me when she's back...right?"

"I will notify you when she's brought back to the room. Try not to worry, as soon as we know anything else, we'll let you know."

There wasn't much else she could say to that, so she gently placed a parting kiss on her wife's left hand. "See you later." She whispered quietly, to responsive ears, then allowed herself to be lead from the room.

"Well." Dr. Greene said, after watching the women leave. "Let's see if we can give that young lady the miracle she craves. What do you say?"

He thought his overtired mind was playing tricks on him when he heard a whispered, "Ready when you are, Doc." He shook his head to clear it, thinking that his imagination had run wild. Casting one last look at the woman in the bed, he imagined a ghost of a smile playing over the blonde's lips, as if she were sharing a joke with him. Feeling jumpy, and not a little unnerved, he left the room to start the proceedings.

*****

Later that day, Dr. Greene was busy examining the X-rays that had just been brought back from the lab. Unfortunately, they looked like they had been taken of a totally different person.

"Are you sure these are the x-rays taken from Buffy Summers?" he asked, looking back and forth between two very differen't looking sets of x-rays. It was almost like looking at a before and after picture...only more pronounced.

"I'm positive, Doctor Greene." An aide replied, casting a nervous glance at the chart holding the patient's name. Misplaced lab reports didn't exactly look good on a person's record.

Dr. Greene shook his head, mystified by what he was seeing. Sure he had expected some reduction in the swelling and bruising that had completely filled the skull in the first x-ray, but it should have been nothing like he was seeing now. The first was taken as a prime example of a coma patient that was barely alive. The second was a portrait of a body actively and aggresively repairing itself.

It was no wonder the supply of nutrients found in Buffy's blood stream was so low. Her body was using them all to heal itself. He'd have to increase the nutrients that was presently filling her IV to meet the requirements demanded from her body, but if this rapid rate of healing kept its steady pace...for all intents and purposes she should come out of it by late tonight, or sometime in the early hours of the morning. What happened after that was anybody's guess.

He looked forward to telling Buffy Summer's family the good news...and maybe then they could answer a few questions of his own.

*****

Willow was sleeping restlessly when Dr. Greene entered her hospital room. Joyce and Sheila had been sitting in the corner chatting quietly when he had entered but had become quiet as soon as they noticed him standing in the entryway. He didn't allow himself to speculate about what they had been discussing, finding that line of thought entirely too unprofessional, and put his other questions to the back of his mind for the moment.

Joyce eyed him anxiously, wondering what the tests had revealed about the condition of her daughter. "Are the tests back?" She asked, her voice soft. She didn't want to wake Willow unless she absolutely had to.

"Yes, they are." Something in the way he said that caused Joyce to pick her ears up in interest. Something had changed. Something was different. And she got the feeling that the change was going to be good.

It didn't take long for Sheila, who had laid a hand on her daughter's arm, to wake her up. She swam out of the light doze with hardly any awareness that she had done so, until she looked over and saw the Doctor standing there.

"Is it Buffy?" Willow asked, as she sat up abruptly in the bed, brushing off a slight feeling of dizziness. "Is she okay?"

Seeing the worry on the Red-head's face, Dr. Greene rushed to reassure her. "She's fine. Actually, she's more fine than I had anticipated."

Both Joyce and Willow felt an electric shock flow down their spines. They stared at the Doctor in anticipation, trying hard not to look at each other. They each knew what the other was thinking...they just needed the Doctor to confirm it.

Dr. Greene watched their emotions flicker, curiously, almost feeling like he was swimming in a fish bowl, under the leer of a hungry cat. "I told you I'd let you know as soon as the lab reports came back what her condition was. The truth is...they were a bit surprising. And, it took me a little while to believe what I was seeing."

He looked at them, seeing matching expressions of confusion highlighting their faces, but somehow he got the feeling that the confusion was feigned. "She's healing at a much faster rate than I expected...in fact most patients in her condition wouldn't have recovered as nearly as quickly as what the X-rays have shown."

"Cut to the chase Doctor." Joyce said, strung out by the anticipation. "How is my daughter?"

"Well, I can tell you, that the swelling has gone down, the hemotoma has all but disappeared, and even the crack in her skull appears to be mending itself." Joyce and Willow simply stared at him, conscious of every breath. "If all goes well, and she suffers no setbacks, I estimate that she will wake up either late tonight or early tomorrow morning."

"In the meantime, we will be giving her more nutrients...her body appears to be depleting her supply faster than we can give them to her..." The Doctor continued talking, but his words fell on deaf ears as the two people that loved Buffy the most let out loud whoops of joy, and hugged each other joyfully. "I knew that she was going to be all right." Joyce said, feeling happy tears slip down her face.

"I can't wait to see her beautiful blue eyes looking at me." Willow murmured, all but forgetting the presence of the Doctor.

Dr. Greene smiled, allowing them to have their moment, then grew serious as he cleared his throat, waiting until he got their attention before continuing. "I know Buffy has made a lot of progress in a very short period of time, and that has us very optimistic about her continued path towards getting well, but I also don't want to fool you into thinking that her recovery is going to be painless."

That received their undivided attention again, and they sat in rapt silence waiting for him to continue. "While it is true that Buffy has passed one major hurdle in just coming this far, we won't know how much damage the swelling has already done to her brain until she wakes up."

Fingers tightened painfully around Joyce's wrist causing her to look down at the white knuckled grip Willow had on her. "I wouldn't be telling you this if I didn't think it was important to prepare you for any eventuality. Buffy suffered a great blow to the head and as a result of that she might not come out of the coma the same Buffy as when she went in." Dr. Greene clarified, allowing his words to sink in.

"Like what, Doctor?" Joyce asked, finally.

"She might suffer anything from paralysis, mood swings, erratic behavior, short term to wide spread amnesia or some form of mental illness or instability."

He could see the devastation on their faces, hating that part of his job where he had to state the worst. "I'm sorry to have to tell you like this, but I didn't want to trick you into thinking that the worst is over. Buffy still has a long way to go in her recovery process."

"Buffy's good at dealing with pain...or anything that's thrown at her." Willow replied calmly, thinking about all of the times Buffy had pulled herself out of the land of hurt she was in and fought back. "She can handle it. But what are her chances of coming out without any of these hindrances?"

"Like I said before, it's hard to tell what the outcome is going to be...but with the amount of damage she has to overcome...I'd say her chances of waking up completely healed, without any kind of long term problems are pretty slim."

The mood over the room was decidedly somber now. Willow felt like she had just played the good news/bad news game and it left her feeling overwhelmed. Buffy was definitely going to wake up...sometime during the night...that was the good news. The bad news was Willow didn't know if it would be her Buffy waking up, or a somewhat dented facsimile of her.

*****

It was a pensive group that had gathered around Buffy's bed that night, waiting for some sign that the Slayer was awakening. Xander and Giles had been brought up to date on Buffy's condition, and now they, along with the rest of the group, waited for their Slayer to wake up, and the other shoe to fall.

Xander paced quietly around the room, casting long glances back at the bed every now and then, just to make sure he hadn't missed anything. Giles reflected that it was probably going to be a long night...every tick of the clock felt like an eternity to a small group that might have had better luck watching paint dry, than a young woman who might or might not awaken at any moment.

Willow just sat quietly by the bed, holding her wife and best friend's hand tightly to her chest while she waited for those beautiful eyes to open. Inanely, she thought of a song that she had absolutely loved as a child...a song from Pete's Dragon that she would play over and over again, driving her parents crazy. It had somehow, always made her feel better, especially after the older kids had teased her mercilessly at school, that somewhere in the world there was a candle that shined brightly just for her. She had found that candle the day she had met Buffy, shining that light into the darkness and protecting her from the shadows that she had unknowingly mingled with. Now, it was her turn to be Buffy's candle, and no matter what happened she knew that she would help her to see through the darkness surrounding her.

She found herself singing the song in a soft tone, not caring in the least if the other's heard her.

"I'll be your candle on the water. My love for you will always burn. I know you're lost and drifting, but the clouds are lifting. Don't give up you have somewhere to turn.

I'll be your candle on the water. Till every wave is warm and bright. My soul is there beside you. Let this candle guide you. Soon you'll see a golden stream of light.

A cold and friendless tide has found you. Don't let the stormy darkness pull you down. I'll paint a ray of hope around you, circling in the air...lighted by a prayer.

I'll be your candle on the water. This flame inside of me will grow. Keep holding on, you'll make it. Here's my hand so take it. Look for me reaching out to show, As sure as rivers flow...I'll never let you go."

Her mother smiled, recognizing the song instantly and placed a gentle hand on one shoulder. Joyce simply recognized the meaning behind the words, and the gentle tranquility of the tune. She too placed a loving hand on Willow's other shoulder, both lending their support. Willow smiled through her tears, feeling the circle of love spreading throughout the room as Giles and Xander came over to the edge of the bed adding their support to the small group.

As the night wore on into early morning, Willow began to wonder if the Doctor's estimate had been accurate. She cast an inquiring look over at the man who stood waiting in the doorway. "Talk to her." He advised, quietly. "Let her follow your voice back home."

Willow gulped, feeling a little apprehensive as she studied the face of her love. "It's time to wake up." She started, haltingly. "Everybody misses you. Giles misses having somebody around that he can scold. Xander misses having you throw him on his butt. Your mom misses the way you used to sneak out of the house when you were supposed to be sleeping."

Willow heard her family chuckling behind her, but she kept her focus on Buffy's face. "I might be a little presumptuous, but I think I miss you the most." Nobody said a word at that, all knowing that it was probably true. "I need you, Buffy. I love you. Please come back to me."

She waited a few more seconds, studying her wife's face for any sign of life...a blink, a twitch...anything. When nothing was forthcoming more moments later, Willow looked helplessly and hopelessly over at the doctor, nearly missing the collective gasp that went around the room.

She swiveled her head back around quickly, feeling a jolt go through her as she was locked in the vibrant blue gaze that stared back at her. They examined her quite thoroughly, as if they didn't quite know what to make of her. Then she felt them lift as they scanned the entire room, and every face in it.

"Buffy?" Willow whispered, regaining Buffy's attention.

A blonde eyebrow furrowed in a somber face as Willow felt herself being examined once more. Finally the blonde spoke, in a voice hoarse from lack of use. "I'm sorry. Who are you?"

*****

Chapter Eight: The hardest decisions

Here I go again.
Driving to the edge of town.
I need to be alone when I'm thinking.
With no one else around.
I've always been a dreamer.
And from here I dream alot.
And now I see the end of Camelot.
If anyone could have a change of heart.
Maybe you can change your mind.
But if you're given up, if you're letting go.
Don't let me be the last to know.
Here I go again.
Just walking down the same old streets.
I don't want to see anybody.
I want to be discreet.
I'm a firm believer.
And I once believed in you.
But now I can't believe all the things you put me through.
If anyone could have a change of heart.
Surely, you can change your mind.
But if you're given up, if you're letting go.
Don't let me be the last to know.

I'm not thinking straight.
I'm not feeling great. 
I'm not sleeping too well.
I'm not doing what I know I can.
I can't help myself.
Only time will tell.
If anyone could have a change of heart.
Maybe you can change your mind.
But if you're given up, if you're letting go.
Don't let me be the last to know.

-- Peter Cetera 'The end of Camelot'

 

The room fell into instantaneous, deafening silence as each of them tried to comprehend and come to terms with the momentous words Buffy Summers had just spoken.

Amid a haze of confusion, anxiety and general upset, Dr. Peter Greene stepped into the fray to try to put a dim light onto the subject. "Hello, Buffy." Peter said, gaining the patient's attention while reinforcing the name so that Buffy would have at least one fact about herself to cling to. "My name is Dr. Peter Greene and you are in Sunnydale General hospital. Do you remember anything at all about how you came to be here?"

His tone was reassuring and the confused woman found herself listening to it intently. Not wanting to disappoint the man who seemed to be her one anchor in a sea of unfamiliar faces, she searched her blank memory for the information he sought or any clue of her own identity. Finally, she shook her head slowly, feeling a dull roaring ache roll over her shoulders and the back of her skull, and sighed silently in defeat.

She felt uncomfortable when she looked at the other people in the room, especially the redhead that sat in the chair by her bed, so she kept her attention locked on the doctor, who was explaining to her how she'd been in a coma and that her amnesia was an expected part of her recovery process.

He said that it would probably fade in time as she started to remember things, especially when she was in a more familiar setting, but that it would take time and she'd have to deal with the frustration of everyone knowing her better then she did herself.

Buffy nodded as she tried to understand all that was happening. She couldn't stop wondering over the sadness that filled each face in the room, although most of them tried to hide it she could tell that it was there.

Joyce waited until the doctor had finished his explanation, before she made her way over to the bed, careful not to be too emotional as she greeted her daughter. "Hi Honey. You probably don't remember this...but I'm your mom."

Buffy tried on a smile for her mother, but somehow it felt awkward and strange. She stared at this person who claimed to be her mother and hunted for some shred of recognition or the love you're supposed to feel for your parents. She found instead a huge wall of nothing and that terrified her. "Hi...mom." She tried, her eyes tearing as she saw the concern amplify in the hazel eyes. "I'm sorry...I don't remember you." She whispered.

"It's okay, honey. It will all come back with time." Joyce said, trying to reassure her.

Willow had watched the stranger that was her wife as she had listened to the doctor. She had never thought that looking at Buffy could ever hurt her. But looking into those eyes and seeing a stranger looking back at her was almost too much for her to take. When Joyce moved forward to establish herself as Buffy's mother, Willow found herself fading into the background. She found, with great surprise, that she was content to remain there, uncertain where her place with Buffy now was, and unsure how to introduce herself to her own wife.

Both Xander and Giles introduced themselves, joking quietly with their friend, before finding excuses to leave the room.

Willow felt her mother pat her awkwardly on the shoulder, taking small comfort from it, before she heard her mother's footsteps leaving the room as well. She wished that she could go with them without being noticed, but considering the fact that she was still holding Buffy's hand, a fact that the blonde hadn't seemed to notice, it made it seem nigh impossible. So, she was left staring at a person that she loved more than life itself...a person she knew didn't know her from Adam.

It was a very strange feeling, and it made her want to distance herself from the whole situation.

Cautiously, she eased her hand out of Buffy's, hoping that she was too distracted with her conversation with her mother to feel her pull away. She knew the movement was felt when a pair of blue eyes seared into her own. She gulped, feeling self-conscious as she was pulled by the power of those eyes. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Buffy." She managed to say, quite softly, as she rose from the chair she'd been sitting in for over six hours.

The blonde brow furrowed for a moment, as if Buffy was trying to figure her out. "Thank you." She said finally, and even her voice sounded different to the Wiccan's ears.

Plastering a false smile to suddenly trembling lips, Willow nodded rapidly. Babble mode fell swiftly on the tightly wound wiccan and she found herself talking rapidly while she backed her way towards the door. "Anytime. That's what friends are for. I'll let you get some rest now, kay? I could sure use some rest myself. I'll see you later." She said, before she quickly left the room.

Buffy blinked, not knowing what to make of the sudden departure. "Is she always like that?" She asked, looking at her mom quizzically.

Joyce stared worriedly after her daughter-in-law before she answered her daughter's question. "I think she's just tired, honey. You've had us all worried for a while, and now it's just a relief to have you awake."

Buffy frowned, thinking about all of the people that had been in her room when woke up. Now only her mother remained. "Even though I don't remember you?" She asked, starting to wonder if she had offended them.

Joyce nodded. "We're just happy to have you back."

*****

Willow made it into the hallway before she felt her floodgates being completely overwhelmed. She so desperately didn't want to break down, especially where passing nurses and orderlies could see her and look at her with pity shining from their eyes...she didn't want to become a spectacle for the entire hospital to see. 'Oh look at the poor, pitiful, pregnant girl. Wonder who died?' She could just imagine their thoughts as they would pass by her. She could almost feel the flood of judgments cast down by people who had seen too much grief and sorrow to ever be truly sympathetic to it. And what could she possibly say to these people to explain why she was crying, why she actually felt like she was dying inside.

Despite her every intention, she felt her walls crumbling and knew that she was about to lose it in that very hallway. Wiping uselessly at eyes that were already beginning to swell with tears, she ran blindly through the hall, looking for the nearest place where she could hide herself away.

*****

"This is so frustrating." Xander ground out between gritted teeth, swiping his fingers through his hair as he paced back and forth across a floor he was quickly growing sick of. "I mean, we get her back, she's awake...but now she can't remember us? What good is that?"

"Xander." Giles completely understood Xander's frustration. He imagined they were all feeling many shades of that emotion at the moment. It had to be especially difficult for Joyce and Willow. But Xander wasn't helping things by griping about it.

"What? Giles...what are we going to do? We need a Slayer. How do we tell her? Just walk right up and say, 'Look, I know you just came out of a coma and all, but...'"

"Well then, we're just going to have to handle things without her, won't we?" Giles said, a bit snippily, but then they all were under a great deal of stress. He glanced around the hospital to make sure they weren't overheard, then sent his best reproachful glare Xander's way.

Xander quickly shut up, knowing he'd hit a nerve, and flopped down hard into the nearest chair.

"You're right, Giles. I just...I'm worried about what this is going to do to them...I mean...did you see the look on Willow's face?" Xander slumped back into his seat, staring up at Giles with a bleak look on his face. "I'm not sure how much more she can take."

*****

In a small corridor, hidden between two vacant stretchers, Willow sat up against a wall, arms wrapped around her knees, her head back against the cool surface as she watched nurses scurry up and down the hall.

What am I going to do? That was the question that kept swirling around her head like snowflakes on a winter wind. She'd spent the last half hour trying to figure out how to answer it, and was unsurprised to discover that she really had no clue. She'd stared at her hands, laced tightly on her knees, and more specifically at the rings that graced her finger and thought about the person who had put them there, making all of her dreams come true in the process. It was so hard to believe that same person had forgotten all about her. That person didn't have a clue who she was or that she carried her child, and probably wouldn't have cared less if she had known.

"No...that isn't fair to her." Willow chastised herself grimly. She could tell that Buffy had felt really bad about not recognizing her own mother. She had seen the conflicted look on her face as she had struggled to remember the people filling her room, and the connection that she shared with them. So saying that Buffy didn't care that she couldn't remember them was not only unfair, it wasn't true.

Still, the problem remained. How did she go about telling Buffy what she meant to her? She wasn't even sure that she should. How could she walk in there and tell Buffy who she really was? "Hi. Me again...just wanted to let you know that...I'm your wife and I'm carrying your child." That sounded stupid, even inside her own head and she remembered everything. How could she possibly expect her to take that at face value? She wasn't sure she would believe Buffy if the cards were reversed, so how could she expect her wife to believe the miraculous insanity that was their lives?

After long moments of deliberation, and heart rending soul searching, she decided that she couldn't. She couldn't take the chance that Buffy might freak out, possibly running away to escape her, she'd done it before during other trying circumstances and this would certainly count as a trying circumstance, leaving behind the love and support of her family and friends which she so desperately needed at this time.

No. It would be better if she didn't know. At least for now. Willow decided. She would have to talk it over with Joyce and Giles, but she was sure that some arrangements could be made. Leaving would be the hardest part. She felt her throat closing up just thinking about it. She didn't want to think of how much worse it was going to feel when she actually did it. The trick would be in not leaving a trace of their relationship behind for Buffy to stumble over and discover before she was ready, or before she could remember on her own, which was something Willow was secretly hoping for and counting on.

Looking back down at the rings on her finger, she sighed forlornly. "Well, these should be the first to go, I guess." She mumbled to herself, watching as they seemed to gleam mockingly under the fluorescent lighting. It felt as if she were being stabbed with the same knife that had sliced through her wife's innards like butter, as she removed first her wife's, then her own wedding rings, followed by the tiny engagement ring she had worn happily for the last three months.

Not pausing long enough to give herself time for thought, she took the silver chain from around her neck and slipped the rings onto the chain, listening to them clink metallically against each other as she put them on. She fought the tears that threatened to surface, ignoring the dull ache in her chest as she put the necklace back around her neck, feeling the metal settle against her skin.

*****

The hardest part, she would reflect much later, would be getting Joyce and Giles to go along with her. They'd argued about it, long and hard, nearly bringing Willow close to bursting into tears several times before she'd been able to get her point across. Dr. Greene had unwittingly helped her argument by telling them Buffy shouldn't be shocked into remembering anything, Buffy should recover at her own time and pace, and finally, Giles and Joyce had found no choice but to give into Willow's resolve.

Now, a week later, Willow stood in a room that was bare of anything that belonged to her, except for one suitcase remaining on the bed, and the picture that she held in her hands. It was one they had taken after they had first moved in, Joyce's had insisted really, saying they should do something to commemorate the moment. Willow had always wondered if she had done it to try to make up for walking in on them that time, but she hadn't found the courage to ask her about it. In the picture, Willow stood behind the blonde, her arms circling her lover's shoulders while she smiled enthusiastically at the photographer. Buffy held her trademark smirk on her face, and Willow wondered what her lover, now wife, had been thinking about at the time. She wondered if she'd ever get the chance to find out.

Joyce stood in the doorway, feeling the sadness the redhead emanated from herself in waves. Even though she knew what the answer was going to be, she had to try one last time. "Are you sure...this is what you want?"

Willow turned and regarded the woman that had been mother to her for the last three months...longer than that really, but Willow thought they had formed a special relationship over the last few months. One forged from the relationship she had with her daughter, and the baby that was only a few more months away. So, she knew that Joyce knew that she didn't want to go...she also knew that Willow felt like she didn't have any other choice. "What else can I do?" Willow asked, and for the first time allowed the hopelessness she felt to show on her face.

The emotion hit the older woman, bringing tears to her own eyes as she took in the sight of the younger woman, trying to be so strong for her daughter's sake, neglecting her own needs in the process. "Oh...honey." Joyce wrapped the shaking girl in her arms, hoping to bestow some comfort, and wishing there was some way out of this.

Willow allowed this for a few moments, knowing it was something they both needed, before she pulled away gently, trying to ignore the tears that appeared in her mother-in-law's eyes, and the tears she felt forming in her own. "Buffy's going to be home soon." Xander and Anya had gone to the hospital to pick her up and bring her home...she wasn't sure that was the wisest choice, Xander still didn't agree that keeping Buffy in the dark was the right thing to do, but Joyce wanted to help Willow finish packing and Giles was helping her to get moved into his place, and was presently waiting for her to finish up here so he could bring her home. Willow just prayed that Xander and the ex-demon had enough sense to keep their mouth shut.

"I need to..." She started nodding, as her throat closed up, then moved over to her suitcase where she finished packing what remaining clothes were left. Looking down at the photograph she had placed on the bed, intent on packing it with the rest of her belongings, she paused in thought, carefully considering it before she put it back on the dresser. When Joyce looked at her curiously, Willow shrugged her shoulders gently. "We are friends. It would be weird if she didn't have at least one picture of me." Joyce nodded in understanding, while Willow went back to collect her suitcase. She knew Giles would be waiting for her downstairs.

Joyce followed her from the room, noticing as Willow stopped to look at the closed nursery room door. "Do you want to.." 'Go inside?' She would have finished her question if Willow hadn't shook her head vehemently. The expectant mother had seen it only once since she had returned home a week ago, but she had found the memories in there so vivid and painful that she hadn't been in there since. Not even while Joyce had been putting the lock on the door, a lock to which only she and Willow held the key.

She would have said something else, but Willow was moving again, heading down the stairs and Joyce felt a moment of panic as she wondered if the red-head would ever return. At the door, Willow turned back, a thoughtful look on her face and Joyce paused on the stairs, so many memories running through her mind. "Thank you, Joyce. For everything." Willow smiled, and then she was gone, following the tall Brit as he carried her suitcase towards his car, seeming as stoic as ever as he witnessed the fall of one of the happiest homes he had ever known.

As they drove away, Willow couldn't help glancing back, burning into memory the sight of the cherished white house, and the image of Joyce standing in the doorway, watching them go, just as Xander's dirty grey car was pulling into the driveway. Willow caught a flash of blonde hair just before Giles turned the corner and she knew that Buffy had finally made it home.

Continue to the Next Story in the Series
Stranger in My House

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