Title: Sacrificial Nature
Author: Robyn the Snowshoe Hare
Part: 3/3
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine

Dedication: For Sam.

~*~*~*~*~

One week crawled by so slowly that it seemed to Dawn that she'd lived each day a dozen times over. No one was really paying attention to her, and the first time she was grateful rather than resentful. The nurses had stopped trying to shoo her home after visiting hours expired, understanding at last that those posted hours didn't apply to her. None of Buffy's friends really wanted to stay. They came daily, but Dawn watched as the visits became shorter and shorter. Maybe it was because of the sound of Buffy breathing - the wet, gasping sound certainly caused the doctors to keep their visits as brief as possible. Maybe it was because of the twisting scar tissue that roped its way across Buffy's face, which reminded Dawn of one of those plastic Halloween masks that could turn anyone into a monster. Maybe it was the horrible emptiness beneath the sheet where her left leg should've been. Maybe it was all of these and more.

None of that mattered, though. What really mattered was that by the end of the week, Dawn was all alone with her sister. No one was there to stop her when she crawled up onto the bed beside the horribly still form of her older sister and gently rested her head against Buffy's unbandaged left shoulder. Dawn spent hours like this, forcing herself to ignore the breathing, the scars, and the emptiness, and just remember the many times that Buffy had held and protected her. Remember how when they first came to Sunnydale, Buffy had always been there to comfort her during the transition to their new home. Remember how it had been Buffy who used to take her out for ice-cream at night when their parents had argued so badly during that last year in LA.

Sometimes, during those long hours when Dawn slept beside Buffy, she could forget that those were all false memories. She'd never existed until a few months ago, and she had just been some mystical burden that a few monks had dumped in Buffy's lap.

Other times, she'd listen to Buffy's labored breathing and pretend that Glory had just been lying when she had said all those things - and that Giles had been lying too when he confirmed them. And that the uncomfortable and vaguely accusatory looks that the others sent her were just because they were wrong. After all, hadn't Buffy always been there for her?

Hadn't Buffy been willing to give her life for her? And why would Buffy do that for some ball of energy that wasn't even human?

Vaguely, Dawn was aware that the world was continuing beyond the private room that had become her sanctuary as she sat a constant vigil beside Buffy. From what she had picked up in snippets of overheard conversation, both the Watcher's Council and the local demon population had made several attempts on Buffy's life, only barely stopped by either Spike or the Scooby Gang. She knew that Giles had barely stopped short of staking Spike after he caught the vampire licking the blood from Buffy's discarded bandages, and that Willow and Tara had put a whole slew of warding spells around the hospital room. She knew that Mom was having something close to a nervous breakdown, and was being kept heavily doped on tranquilizers. She knew that the argument of 'easing Buffy's pain' had been dropped completely after the issue had changed from just removing a breathing tube to actually having to physically kill her.

She knew all of these things, but they seemed so far away from the reality of her sister that Dawn stopped thinking about them entirely.

This was the situation when, one week to the day after Buffy's breathing tube had been removed, Buffy woke up.

~*~*~*~*~

Dawn registered the change in her sister's breathing almost immediately, and sat up quickly. Buffy's one eye was open and watching her with an almost frightening intensity. Dawn began to reach for a button to summon a nurse, but a sharp gesture from Buffy's left hand stopped her. Dawn watched as Buffy opened her mouth to say something, and cringed as nothing came out but a moaning croak. Buffy's eye widened as full memory of everything came rushing back to her, and a look of utter loss filled that one expressive orb.

All but two fingers on her right hand had been removed in the two surgeries since the tube was removed, so Dawn slid the pen into Buffy's left hand and braced the pad of paper herself. Buffy wrote slowly, as though even lifting the pen was requiring every scrap of fortitude and willpower that she possessed. At her written prompting, Dawn told her everything that had occurred since the death of Glory, leaving out nothing.

For long minutes after Dawn's voice finally fell silent, Buffy closed her eye and rested. Finally, she slowly lifted the pen once more and painstakingly wrote two words. As Dawn read them, she felt her whole body freeze with horror. Shaking her head desperately, she tried to ignore the pleading look in Buffy's one eye.

But, at last, she slowly nodded even as tears threatened to blind her, and shivers wracked her small body.

Buffy dropped the pen and gently squeezed Dawn's hand in thanks, and mouthed 'I love you'. Dawn scrubbed her eyes quickly with the heel of her hand, even as more sprung forth at this reminder that her sister could no longer give voice to her thoughts. Taking a deep breath and forcing herself to be strong, she lifted up the pillow that had cushioned her back during her week-long sojourn in the stiff chair positioned next to her sister's bed.

~*~*~*~*~

Down in the nurse's station, an alarm began to shrill loudly, warning that the patient in Room 314 was flatlining. Even as the head nurse began running down the hallway, she couldn't help but feel a sense of relief that that poor girl was finally at peace.

~*~*~*~*~

Summers, Buffy, age 19, was declared dead at 12:13AM ten days after her admittance. With so many advanced injuries, her death would've been a open-and-close matter had the doctor on call not happened across a scrap of paper with the scrawled words, 'Kill Me' on them. An autopsy proved that Miss Summers had been smothered, probably while conscious.

End

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Happy New Year

~Robyn the Snowshoe Hare
December 31, 2000

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