Dedication: For Sam.
It was almost midnight when the slim figure of Buffy Summers exited the tunnels and began to make her way towards Main Street. At one point in her journey, a newly risen vampire snarled threateningly from the doorway of a small bar located on the left side of the street, and was greeted with a casually thrown stake that reduced the creature to a pile of dust for its fellow drinkers to marvel at. At another point, a stray alley cat brushed against Buffy's right leg, mewing loudly in hopes of a scrap of food. In sharp contrast to the smooth grace and presence that had marked the staking of the vampire, she jerked away with a muffled cry of horror, calming only when the arm she threw out in a desperate gesture to shove away the unknown threat came in contact with a soft furry pelt. Buffy twisted her head to a sharp angle to regard the feline, then walked on.
The path Buffy followed was marked by many such odd occurrences where she reacted with easy competence in some instances, but painful uncertainty in others. Finally, she reached The Magic Box, and slipped in through the back door. Once in the pitch black of her training room, she seemed more comfortable and at ease than she had out on the dimly lit streets. Making no move towards the light switches, she walked the room by memory, tracing various weapons with a professional hand. The dull murmur of voices filtered in from the front area of the shop, where the Scoobies waited impatiently for her return. Once, the connecting door slid halfway open as Xander made a routine check of the training room. Seeing nothing but darkness, however, he left, closing the door behind him. Had he made more than a cursory check, however, he would've seen a familiar figure crouching beside a display of long spears and swords, and would've wondered why a large swatch of cloth that looked remarkably like the fabric of Buffy's sleeve was bound tightly over her right eye. Had he investigated closer, he would've been disturbed by the odd stains that the cloth bore - stains that strongly resembled dried blood.
As it was, however, Xander closed the door without having witnessed any of those interesting sights. It was only an hour later that he checked the training room again, this time thinking to turn on the overhead lights. It was on this occasion that he noticed the absence of a large spear.
Dawn's rescue came in true 11th hour tradition, just as Glory had lifted an ornately (and rather ostentatiously) bejeweled knife to put an end to the younger Summers sister and was waiting with a noticeable lack of patience for Dreg to return with some ritual incense that had to be lit.
"Honestly," Glory complained to a tightly bound and gagged Dawn, "you'd think that with all the fuss everyone made about the millennium that they would've finally rewritten a few of these ancient rituals. Bring them up to speed, and finally eliminate the need for incense. Why do we even need it, anyway? Every time I do some kind of sacrificial offering it takes the dry cleaners days to get the smell out of my clothes. And," she glanced condescendingly at the terrified young girl, "I certainly hope you have the decency not to twitch and splash your blood all over me. With all the trouble you gave me in tracking you down, you could at least try and be helpful."
A loud rapping at the door broke off her train of thought, and she gave a loud sigh of relief. "At last. You'd think that the scabby little twit had had to make it from scratch instead of just opening a plastic package. Come in, already!"
The door slammed open, and the figure of Dreg appeared at the doorway for one moment, his head hanging limply at a critical angle on his broken neck. The corpse balanced neatly for one moment before falling slowly into a crumpled heap. Behind him, Buffy stood stiffly, glancing wildly around the room out of her one eye. The remains of the right eye were still concealed beneath her impromptu bandage, but Dreg had managed to slam an elbow into the wound during his capture, so blood was soaking through the cloth to coat the right side of her face.
Glory had never been one to think quickly on her feet, preferring to rely on her invulnerability to preserve her for however long it took her to adjust to any given situation. Had she been a more adaptable person, Buffy's weakened state would've made her an easy kill. As it was, however, the Slayer had one free moment to act in while Glory considered the scenario with Bush-like speed of thought.
"Dawn, don't listen!" Buffy screamed, and then pulled out a softly glowing scroll from her pocket. Little Dawn's arms were firmly restrained, but she was being detained in Glory's wardrobe, and she was able to push herself back into Glory's collection of fur coats to muffle all sound. As Buffy began reading the one word written upon the scroll, Glory began to stalk forward as she suddenly realized what was happening, but that slow response time had finally been her undoing. The last thing Dawn saw was Buffy throwing down the scroll in triumph and readying the long spear in her hand as Glory shrieked in anger.
Then the lights went out.
And the fire began.
With the speaking of Glory's true name, a huge wave of psychic energy rolled outward like a tidal wave, causing anyone with the slightest spiritual awareness to clutch at their heads in agony, including Tara and Willow back in The Magic Shop. Drawing on the deep power of Buffy's sacrifice, it tore away all of Glory's illusions.
The sumptuously and expensively decorated penthouse apartment could once more be seen for the rundown factory that it was. The giant closet that Dawn had been caged in was revealed as nothing more than rotting wooden framework, and the rich furs that she had muffled herself in were just a pile of bones. When Giles cut through the ropes that had bound her, he saw that it wasn't rope at all that had been used, but rather human entrails.
The blonde and leggy facade of Glory had been broken, and for a moment everyone stared in gaping amazement at the huge beast that lay in the center of the factory. Almost twenty feet long from snout to tail, it was covered with thick red scales which offered almost armor-like protection. The drops of acid-like saliva that dripped through the fang-filled jaws hissed into the concrete floor and bubbled as they ate away at it. The char marks that covered a large area of the factory was testament enough to the creature's ability to breathe fire, had the two charred bodies not been proof enough to sway even the most Scully-ish among the Scoobies. The sail-like wings lay limp, though it was probable that at the time of its death, the creature had been holding them at full extension.
The huge yellow eyes seemed to glare through the fog of death at Spike as he leaned over to examine the death-wound. As before, Buffy had had only one chance to kill the creature before it almost certainly killed her, and she had used it well. One long, heavy spear had been slammed into the creature's chest with every bit of force that Slayer muscles which could bend steel could lend it.
Two humanoid bodies lay in the wreckage. It was only because the body of Dreg was still mostly intact that they were able to identify which body was Buffy's. Deep burns covered her body, probably inflicted just after she slammed the spear into the heart of Glory. Even her closest friends cringed away from the sight of her mangled body, and only Giles was able to kneel down to kiss her goodbye. As he did so, he suddenly paused, then placed a hand on her neck.
His face drained of all color. "My god..." he breathed. "She's still alive."
For two days, the small group made camp in the waiting room of the hospital, a place that they had hoped to never have to frequent again. With Joyce still in recovery, all decision duties fell to Giles, who was Buffy's listed next-of-kin, and he signed paper after paper in a state of numb disbelief. For two days, the doctors merely shook their heads and said that it was far too early to make any prognosis. For two days, they sat helplessly and prayed.
It was at sunset on the third day that one of the doctors who had worked on Buffy walked up to the small group and cleared his voice to speak.
"Miss Summers seemed to have stabilized... for the moment. But I feel that a decision should be made. At this point, I would like to ask you for permission to remove her breathing tube."
Pandemonium. Angry words were lashed at the doctor from all sides, but it was Willow's accusation of, "What gives you the right to ask that?" that he answered.
"I could lose my license for merely suggesting this, but there is no way that I could ethically stay silent. I have been present during all six of the surgeries that we performed on Miss Summers. We've had to open up her chest cavity to perform internal repairs four times. Her left leg was almost completely shredded, and we had to remove it at the hip. We managed to save her right leg, but it will take years of rehabilitation for her to regain even half the use of it. The burn damage on her upper body is frightening, and she is no longer even recognizable. We still have hopes that her right hand won't need to be removed. The nerves on her face and most of her right side are beyond recovery, and there is a good chance of permanent damage to her brain. In addition to all of this, her tongue was somehow ripped out, and at some very recent time her right eye was removed with surgical precision. And yet," here, the doctor swallowed deeply, "and yet, she is alive, and healing quickly. Everything that I have ever learned in medicine tells me that she should've been dead on arrival. We expected her to die on that operating table, but against all natural law she didn't. She's in what appears to be a coma now, but her healing rate has almost quadrupled since she entered it." The doctor swallowed again, and stepped closer, pitching his voice very low, almost as though he was afraid of being overheard. "I've been a doctor in Sunnydale for ten years, and I've seen some amazing things, but never anything like this. This girl just isn't normal... nothing about her healing system is. I saw a scar on her back that looked about fifteen years old.. but when I pulled her medical file, I found an entry for a large back wound in that same spot that occurred eight months ago. I don't know what she does... but even if all of those other wounds heal, she can't regrow what she lost completely. I'm begging you to consider her quality of life, and to think about the possibility of taking her off the respirator now, while she still has the chance for a painless death. There are four surgeons who agree with me... if you decide the way that I hope you will, contact any of us." Passing a small list of names to Giles, the doctor turned and walked down a corridor.
Two hours later, Giles sat next to the bed of his Slayer, and wished with all his heart that she had let him go back to England instead of asking him to be her Watcher. Or that he had died, rather than having lived to make this painful decision.
The moment the doctor had left, the arguments began. Xander and Willow had rejected any possibility of unhooking her respirator, while Tara and Anya had meekly voiced their support of sparing her more pain. Now, the decision was left up to Giles, who had come to make his choice. A choice that would mean life or death for the girl that he loved as much as if she had been the daughter of his flesh and blood.
Her small body was swaddled in clean white bandages that tried to mask the utter destruction, but did a poor job of it. The empty impression beneath the stiff hospital blanket where her left leg should've lain tore at Giles' heart, and he looked away from it quickly. Only two areas were whole and undamaged. Her left arm was clear of all bandages save for a bright green band-aid that marked a minor cut that had still required three stitches on her shoulder. The area from her left eye to the bottom of her jaw had also been spared from the fire. Giles focused on this for hope, and also on the dry, artificial sound of the respirator.
Tears welled in his eyes, and Giles buried his face in his hands and sobbed brokenly. Reaching out, he gently grasped Buffy's hand as he urgently begged her forgiveness for what he was going to do.
Rising from the chair, he slowly walked into the hallway, where Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara, Dawn, and the doctor were waiting. Taking a deep breath, he turned to the doctor and said the hardest words of his life.
"Unhook the respirator."
They gathered around the bed, none willing to be apart from Buffy during the last minute of her painfully short life. Arguments were forgotten as Xander held Anya so tightly that she normally would've yelped in pain, and Willow buried her face in Tara's shoulder. Dawn sat to one side, her face dreadfully pale as she stared at her sister with frightened eyes. Giles slid his hand into Buffy's, and watched as the doctor unhooked the piece of equipment that had been sustaining her breath.
For a long moment, all was silent.
Then there was a wet, gasping sound as Buffy drew her first breath.
End Part Two.