***Part Three***
Present Day - Sunnydale, California

"Buffy, you're going to be late for work," Dawn called from the foot of the stairs when she saw Buffy was asleep on the couch. She almost hated to wake her knowing how difficult it had been for her older sister to sleep lately. Ever since Spike left. Well, that was not exactly true. But ever since she had time to fully realize Spike was gone and possibly not coming back Buffy had changed.

Dawn was not quite sure what happened between them that night in the bathroom. She knew, though, that there was more to it than what Xander had said. Buffy was not talking about it and Spike was not here to talk about it, so that left Dawn very in the dark.

Buffy was not answering her so Dawn walked into the living room. "Buffy," she said, meeting with no response she approached the couch. "Buffy," she said, shaking her sister.

"Oh my God," she cried out her lip trembling. "Buffy answer me, this isn't funny. This can't be happening," she said, tears forming quickly as images of their mother crossed her mind. Placing a finger at Buffy's neck she searched for a pulse. At first she could not find one, but finally she convinced herself to take a deep breath and concentrate.

Placing two fingers against her neck she found her pulse point. She then placed those fingers in the same spot on Buffy's neck. "There," she called out victoriously. "Why aren't you waking up? Buffy, please! I don't know what to do," she called out. "Oh God." She sat against the couch, her hands at her head trying to figure out what to do. The solution should have been obvious. If Willow or Xander were here they would know what to do. "Of course, Xander," she said before standing and going to the telephone.

"Xander," she said once she had gotten a hold of him on his cell phone.

"Hi Dawn, what's up?"

"It's Buffy."

"What about her? Is she late for work and needs a ride or something?"

"No, she won't wake up, Xander. She's on the couch and she's just laying there."



"I'm here, Dawnster. Have you called an ambulance?"

"No, just you. You were the first person I thought of."

There was silence and Dawn knew what question he was trying to decide how to ask. "Is she breathing?"

"Yes, I checked that. She's breathing, she's just not responding to me. Xander, she's not waking up! She's just laying there."

"Okay, Dawnster, get the paramedics there and I'll be there in a few minutes, okay?"


"No need to thank me, Dawn."

"Okay," Dawn said. She pushed the disconnect button on the phone and then took her finger off of it after a few seconds. She heard the dial tone in her ear, knew who she had to call next but still her fingers paused at actually hitting the 9 and the 1 and the 1 a second time.


"What the hell," Spike called out when he heard sirens. If one of Buffy's neighbors had called the cops on him he would tell them all where to go and then send them there chip be damned. He was about to flee the area not wanting Buffy to accuse him of stalking her again when he noticed it was an ambulance not a squad car and decided to stick around. "What do we have here," he said, expecting to get good seats to some sort of tragedy. Maybe someone had a heart attack or it was a victim of a domestic squabble.

Though he did not need to breathe he felt his breath catch when he saw the emergency vehicle stop in front of the Summers' home. "What the hell," he whispered under his breath moving so he had a better vantage point. He had just seen the li'l bit go inside the house and she had not been in there long enough to do anything. That left Buffy. "No," he called out. He watched as two paramedics pushed the stretcher into the house and waited, holding breath he did not need in anticipation of seeing Buffy's body being carried out on a stretcher. Had he failed her again?

She was aware of his being back in Sunnydale, but he had decided not to reveal himself to her. He had so much to explain, so much to say, and he was not sure she would listen to him. He was not sure he deserved to be listened to, not by her anyway. She had called out to him the night before, he had been close enough to hear her and had been sorely tempted to turn around and go to her. But he was not ready yet so he had kept walking. Had he waited too long? Had he been biding his time only to never get more time with her? Impossible. This Slayer had years to live yet.

She had thwarted death twice now, four times if one wanted to count Angel bleeding her dry and the punk geek Warren shooting her. He had not been here for either event, but had heard about them. He would have sought Warren out himself chip or no if Red had not seen justice dispensed. Willy had been more than happy for a price to catch Spike up on the goings on in Sunnydale one afternoon when Spike paid him an after-hours visit. Spike was still not welcome at Willy's, but he needed to know what had been going on during his absence and knew of no other way to gain the information.

He watched the paramedics lead Buffy on a stretcher to the ambulance. The sheet was not over her head and Spike released the breath he had been holding. "She's alive," he said. He jerked back out of the way when he saw the whelp pull up in his car and decided it was time to leave. A night at the hospital was in store for Spike it seemed. Xander and Dawn would have to leave eventually due to their having work and school in the morning. Even if he could not spend time with her, he had to know what was wrong.


"A coma," he muttered to himself as he sat by her side. "You're stronger than this, Slayer," he whispered. Xander had taken Dawn home. "What happened to you? I saw you last night and you were as right as could be."

He took hold of her hand, fighting the urge to tear the IV out from the back of it. "You don't belong here like this, Pet," he whispered hoarsely, resting his forehead against the top of her hand. He had held dead people before, had held Drusilla, Angelus and Darla when they were sleeping the sleep of the undead. Spike was still unprepared for the stillness that he met in Buffy. Not even her hand flexed under his ministrations.

"Visiting hours are over," a young nurse said as she came in. She did not look to be much older than Buffy.

"I know. I just couldn't leave yet," he said giving her his most charming smile and made sure his accent was good and pronounced as he spoke. It always seemed to work on ladies. "Didn't want to leave her alone, wake up to the dark alone and all."

"She's in good hands, sir."

"I know. I suppose the gift shop downstairs is closed."

"Yes, it closes at eight."

"Thought so. I guess I'll have to get her something tomorrow then. Can I stay for a little longer? I won't hurt anything. Won't even turn a light on or anythin'," he offered, feeling like he was begging but now that he was this close to her again he could not just leave.

"I could get in trouble."

"I won't tell a soul you gave me permission. I swear it," he squinted taking in her name tag. "Dawn is it. Her sister's name is Dawn, you know."

"Yes, I did. I knew her vaguely through school. Are you her boyfriend," she asked.

"Just a friend," he said somberly unsure if he could even call himself that anymore. For all he knew she had called out to him the night before wanting to kick his ass once and for all, finishing it off this time with a stake through his heart or a blade to his throat. Spike glanced at the clock on the wall, it was a little after eleven o'clock. "If you went to school with her you should know how special she is then."

She smiled with a slight shrug. "Yeah, she won an award at prom for being the Class Protector."

"I'll bet she appreciated that, though she'd never tell anyone," Spike said somberly. One thing his Slayer did not suffer from was hubris. She saved Sunnydale from destruction more times than any of its citizens probably knew yet she never asked for thanks or recognition.

"No you're right she always did it quietly, helping people," she said growing quiet. She glanced to Buffy and then sighed. "I suppose I can let you stay for a little longer but if anyone comes in here you have to go."

"I understand. I won't stay long, don't want to risk getting you in trouble or anything, Dawn. Thank you."

"You're welcome." She turned and left and Spike returned to his chair at the side of her bed.

"What am I going to do with you here? I can't come during the day when Harris and li'l bit are busy and they're going to shush me out of here as soon as the clock strikes nine each night." He sighed heavily and looked out the window. He had listened as the doctor spoke to Dawn and Xander. One benefit to being a vampire even on the other side of the corridor he could hear all that the doctor had said. Dawn said she knew of nothing that might have happened, she had fallen asleep on the couch like she normally did and that's how Dawn had found her.

Spike had watched her enough since his return to know that Buffy did not sleep well, but he had not realized it was so bad that she had taken to sleeping on the couch. "What's bothering you, pet," he said, a hand reaching to push away some hair from her face. "What's got the Slayer so spooked she's got to sleep with infomercials playing in the background?" He placed a kiss along her temple and stood to go. He could not risk a doctor coming in here wondering who he was and why he was there. He did not want to have to deal with Harris or Dawn either.

"I'll see you tomorrow night, Slayer," he whispered against her ear. He kissed her lightly on the mouth, his breath caught and hitched when she did not respond even slightly. He left the room, closing the door behind him his heart - and new soul - heavy. Someone had to patrol for her. No one could know the Slayer was lying in a hospital bed comatose. He did not want to do it, did not know if he was ready to do it for that matter. He doubted that Xander would pick up the slack.

He raked a hand through his newly bleached curls. His hair was longer than last she had seen it, he had not bothered to cut it since his return. Dying it had been his first step. He should have talked to Angelus before going after his soul. He had not anticipated the blessed thing being so soddin painful. Maybe this was one way he could pay back some of his debt. He liked to think he had started paying it back ever since he got the bloody chip in his head, little by little he had started helping the Slayer and her group of Scoobies. He had stumbled and fallen a couple of times, but who walked in a perfectly straight line all the time?

"No one that's who," he murmured once outside heading toward the abandoned building he'd been staying in since his return. One thing about Sunnydale, California he never seemed to have difficulty finding a decent place to live.

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