Faith and I continue to stare at each other but I gradually realize that someone's trying to get my attention. I somehow manage to tear my gaze away from hers, blinking back the tears that are threatening to spill from my eyes. Giles gives my hand a soft squeeze and smiles gently before speaking.
"Buffy, dear, I understand that this all might come as quite a shock to you and that you're going to need a fair bit of time to recover, but do you feel well enough to share with us what you experienced while in this other reality?"
My gaze flicks worriedly over to Faith who seems eager to hear my response. I take a deep breath and look down at my lap before looking back up at Giles.
"You said that all of the slayers are starting to wake up, right?" I ask and Giles nods. "And since this whole reality was set up in my mind, they'll probably all be awake now since I am, right?"
"That's our assumption, yes," Willow replies.
"Then do you think we can wait a while before we start the questions?" I ask wearily.
Truth of the matter is, I don't want to talk about everything that happened if I'm the only one that remembers. I can't even begin to imagine what'll happen if I tell everyone that Faith and I shacked up and fell in love in the middle of hell if she doesn't have that same memory.
I'd be devastated.
"Of course," Giles answers, patting my hand gently. "You must be quite exhausted from the entire ordeal and I'm sure there are more slayers that would like some answers as to why they're waking up in hospital beds. Will you be okay if we go check on them?"
I nod my head and Dawn takes a step closer to my bed.
"I'll stay," she says, resting her hand on my forearm. "The doctors are probably going to come rushing in here any minute anyway."
"Don't think they have enough doctors to check on all the girls that are coming to," Kennedy says. "This shit is so crazy. I mean, do you even remember anything at all besides fighting, Buffy?"
And again all eyes are on me but I can't do anything but look over at Faith. She studies my face as I look at her, trying to figure out whatever it is I'm not saying. I know I have to say something though.
"Bits and pieces," I manage to say after a few awkward moments of silence.
"Huh," Kennedy replies skeptically. "What about you, Faith?"
Faith's eyes never leave mine but it looks like she's a little bit disappointed when she shrugs and says, "Like she said: bits and pieces. Right, B?"
I nod and manage to tear my gaze away from hers again, feeling completely unnerved. She either knows something and won't say or she doesn't remember and is expecting me to fill in the blanks. My heart clenches in my chest and I close my eyes to fight back the tears. I open them only when I hear footsteps approach the room and see Faith's nurse walk in, ready to take her back.
"You can talk with your friends later, young lady," the nurse says as she starts to maneuver Faith around in the crowded room. "The doctors have a whole slew of tests waiting for you. They never expected especially you to wake up, taking your medical history into consideration. You're a lucky girl."
I'm not exactly sure how they know about her medical history without having an entire police squad swooping in here to take her back to prison but I'm betting Willow has something to do with that. I'll have to ask her about that when there are less people around.
"Yeah, really lucky," Faith groans as the nurse begins to push her through the door.
But after losing her once, an intense panic rises in me when I realize that she's being taken away from me again. My heart jumps to my throat and I can't stop myself calling out, "Faith!"
I watch as she grips the wheels tightly and stops the wheelchair against the nurse's wishes so that she can look back at me. And suddenly I don't know what to say.
"I, uh . . . I'll see you later?"
A soft smile forms on her lips and she nods, "I won't be far, B. Holler if ya need me. Ain't nothin' can keep me from rollin' back on over. Not even Nurse Muscles over here."
The nurse chuckles but shakes her head in mock disapproval. Faith lets go of the wheels and they're gone into the corridor before I can say anything else. I try to ignore the pain in my heart and instead look back at my friends, giving them a small smile.
"We'll be back in a little while too, Buff," Xander says.
"And we'll talk to the doctors, see when they think everyone can leave here," Willow adds. "We're guessing it won't be long because all of the injuries the girls here sustained in the battle are healed by now. Add some slayer metabolism to the mix and I think that the post-coma fatigue and weakness will fade pretty fast. We're not exactly sure on what happens next but we've been staying in a hotel Angel helped us find. It's nice but temporary. We can talk about it all when you're feeling better."
"Thanks Will," I reply, then say goodbye to everyone as they leave to check on the others. When they're all gone, I look up to Dawn and try to smile but I just don't have the energy. She smiles sympathetically and pushes my hair back from my face.
"I made them let me wash your hair," she says, trying to arrange it just so. "There are orderlies for stuff like that but I know what a freak you've always been about your hair. They let me bring in the shampoo you like and I made sure to keep it clean and brushed. You can blame your complete lack of split-ends and bedhair on me."
I chuckle softly and rest my hand over hers on the side of my head. Her smile falters and I see tears starting to form in her eyes.
"I was so afraid that you were going to leave me again," she says, her words barely a whisper.
"I was fighting for you," I say, managing a smile. "Every day I fought for you. You were what got me through the roughest times, especially in the beginning when it felt like there was no hope."
I realize that I'm crying now too and I cling to Dawn when she leans down to hug me. We cry together and she climbs up onto the narrow bed after letting down the silver rail on one side. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world but I think Dawn is keeping me from breaking down even worse right now. My world has been thrown for a complete loop and just knowing that Dawn is here and that she still needs me after all this time is keeping me grounded.
"You can sleep if you need to and I can be quiet," she says after a few minutes, no longer sniffling. "I'm just happy that you're back and you're okay."
"Thanks, Dawnie. I'm glad you're okay, too. In the other world," I begin and she looks up at me, eager to hear the tale. I stop myself though and shake my head, closing my eyes briefly. "Actually, sleep sounds good."
Nodding, Dawn climbs off the bed and pulls the chair close enough so that she can still hold my hand.
"Get some rest and we can talk about it all later," she says.
I rest my head back on the cool pillow and take a deep breath. When I close my eyes and start to fall asleep, everything starts to blur and I feel a soft pull at the corners of my mind. I know I'm not dreaming because it's all too familiar. I'm back in the arena and there are bodies everywhere. Demons and slayers . . . just laying there, dead. There's nothing alive anywhere except for me. I start to panic, worried that I've been sucked back into the hell dimension but when I open my eyes, I'm back in the hospital bed with a sleeping Dawn on the chair at my side.
I close my eyes again and focus; everything starts to blur again and I find myself back in the arena with the bodies. Opening my eyes makes it all go away though.
I . . . I can't . . . It's still in my head. The other dimension is still there.
It's still inside of me.
And no matter how much I want to sleep right now, I grab the remote instead and turn the TV on. I flick through the channels and settle on a news station, deciding to fill my head with everything I've missed in the last two months.
I'm afraid to close my eyes. I don't want to end up back in that hell, alone.
It doesn't matter that my body was well-rested from two months of sleep because I still fell asleep again no matter how much I tried to fight it. I guess that when the body wants rest, it takes it. Luckily for me I didn't wind up back at the hell inside of my head. I'm pretty sure I was dreaming out loud though because when I wake up, Dawn's just watching at me from the chair beside my bed.
"Interesting dream?" she asks, smirking.
"I don't remember. Why?"
I scooch up a bit and adjust the pillows behind my back, carefully avoiding her gaze. My muscles feel stronger already and I can't wait to be able to take a hot shower and wash the hospital out of my dry skin.
Dawn shrugs and gazes back up at the TV, trying to look nonchalant despite the fact that I can see she's still smirking a little.
"There was some fairly porny moaning going on."
And now she's full out smiling. Great. I can remember every second of being in the other dimension but I can't remember a dream from a short cat-nap?
"I was not moaning," I defend. Dawn scoffs quietly and I sigh. "How do you know I wasn't having a nightmare? Those could have been moans of agony and terror."
Dawn tries to keep herself from smiling but fails miserably as she says, "While I may not have your level of bedroom expertise – eww, by the way – I know the difference between a traumatized moan and a porny moan, and you, my dear sister, were definitely on the porny side of the dream spectrum."
"I'd gladly welcome another mystical coma at this point," I groan, my cheeks burning with embarrassment.
"Don't worry, Buffy," she assures me, clicking the TV off and turning to face me. Her smile has softened and it seems like she's letting go of the teasing routine… for now. "Your dirty little secret's safe. No one but me will ever know about the torrid action between you and your co-star."
"Co-star?" Oh god. Think, brain, think! What the hell was I dreaming about?
"Yeah," Dawn says, tilting her head a little as she smiles at me. "You and Fa. . ."
"Knock knock!" calls a voice from the doorway, interrupting Dawn. A doctor comes walking in with a nurse in tow and for the first time in my life, I'm actually relieved to see a doctor. He's just in the nick of time, too. "How are we doing in here?"
"Fine," I say, grateful for the distraction. Dawn seems distracted too and smiles proudly like she's been the dutiful sister.
More like the dutiful napper. I guess she deserved a break though. She's been worrying about me for two months. Some relaxation - and napping, apparently - is in order.
"Sorry it's taken me so long to check in. We've just been completely swamped the last few hours. It's a miracle really; more than ninety percent of our coma patients have woken up."
"That's great," Dawn says, looking between the doctor and I with a huge smile on her face. She looks so relieved. I guess the nightmare is well and truly over.
"In any case, some additional staff has been called in to help. They're working on some of the young girls down the hall, which means I'll be taking care of you." He smiles at me and approaches my bed, taking note of the readings on the monitor I'm attached to. "Your vitals look strong and consistent. Have you been experiencing any problems? Blurred or double vision, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, tingling in your limbs, muscle spasms?"
"Not really," I shrug. "I'm just a little worn down but I guess that's to be expected."
"Indeed. Don't worry, we won't push you hard at this point. We're just going to test some of your basic motor functions and draw some blood at the moment, and once we're sure you don't have any additional complications we'll set you up with a physical therapist to work on the bigger muscular issues."
"Muscular issues?" Dawn asks with a frown.
"It's nothing to worry about, I assure you. Most patients who have been comatose for prolonged periods of time suffer from some degree muscle atrophy. A little bit of physical therapy should help immensely though. Buffy is in peak physical condition so I'm willing to bet she'll be able to leave the hospital in a week, tops."
Dawn and I share a look. We both know that I'll be better way before then. Even the new slayers will, too. Slayer constitution is a great thing.
"Do you think you can sit up, Buffy?" The doctor asks.
I take a deep breath and center myself. I can feel the muscles in my legs, still strong despite their lack of use. They feel tired but that's it. Without over-thinking it, I sit up and toss the sheet off. My bare legs are pale but nothing else looks wrong with them. I definitely need an appointment with a Lady Bic though. Dawn must realize the same thing because I can hear her stifle a giggle from the foot of the bed. My glare is enough to quiet her down. Without thinking much more about it, I swing my legs over the side of the bed. The doctor and nurse are instantly at my side.
"You shouldn't do that yet!" the nurse warns. Both she and the doctor are trying to arrange me back in the bed, fussing over my 'overextended effort', but my slayer hearing picks up a sound from down the hall. A voice. Familiar. I can't believe my ears.
Completely dismissing the doctor and nurse, I swing my legs over the side of the bed again and brace myself as I stand up. There's no pain and I'm less wobbly than I thought I would be. Dawn is making a face that I can only read as 'what the heck are you doing?' as she looks between the open-mouthed doctor and I, but I can't help it. I have to see for myself.
Slowly but surely I start to walk toward the door, making sure that my hospital gown is closed behind me. My legs feel steadier with every step and by the time I've followed the voice out of my room and down the hall, it's like I'd never been in a coma to begin with. I stop outside an oak door five rooms down from mine with the doctor, nurse, and Dawn following right behind me, and I nearly freeze when I see her sitting there. She looks up at me and her dark eyes widen in surprise.
"Buffy?" she asks. She looks unsure as my name leaves her lips. It's probably because she's never actually said my name aloud.
After all, we've never physically met before.
She instantly smiles and I find myself rushing over to her side as fast as my legs can take me. The doctor in her room jumps back when Krista swings her legs over the side of the bed and stands. I have a feeling a lot of the doctors are going to be having the same reaction with the other coma patients today. They're going to think there's been some kind of a miracle. Too bad we can't tell them we're hot chicks with superpowers.
I don't think we can afford that many psych consults.
When I finally reach her, we stand there awkwardly for a minute. We don't actually know each other. We've never met except for in the world in my head. But we were best friends there. She was always there for me, even when she wasn't supposed to be. After a moment we share a nervous smile and then we're hugging each other so tight it's hard to breathe.
"I don't even know what's going on here, but man am I happy to see your face," she says.
I can't help but chuckle. "This is so weird. I wonder how many of the others are here too."
"Wait, others?" she asks, pulling back so that she can look in my eyes. "The only thing anyone has told me so far is that I was out for like two months and that my superpowers are all juiced up and ready for takeoff. Are you telling me that this is bigger than you and me?"
She looks so confused and I want to answer her, but I can't do that without making the doctors think we're crazier than they already do. They're staring at us wide-eyed and the doctor that followed me from my room is feverishly scribbling down notes on a pad he was carrying in his pocket.
"Do you think that we can have a few minutes?" I ask and he stops scribbling long enough to share a look with the second doctor. Poor guys. They don't know what to make of us.
One of the nurses takes pity on them and points out that there are still other patients to see. They agree to come back within the hour to check on us . . . but I think that both of them are gonna be a little bit too intimidated to do so. When they clear out, Dawn excuses herself to take a run down to the cafeteria, leaving just Krista and I in the room.
Krista takes a seat back down on her bed but she doesn't let go of my hand, so I hop on up next to her so that we're sitting sideways on the bed, facing each other.
"Kris, what's the last thing you remember before . . . before the camp?" I ask.
She takes in a deep breath and exhales it slowly through her nose. "I dunno. I was on the way to Sunnydale from Tucson. Would've been there sooner but there were these crazy guys with no eyes chasing after me for like, two weeks at least. I lost them just outside LA and hopped on a bus. That's when the lights went out, I guess. I can't remember anything after then that isn't all doom and campy gloom."
"But you remember the camp?" I ask hopefully.
"I dunno," she says again, her eyes trying to focus on some point across the room now. "I can see flashes of stuff. Kinda like I'm watching through a video camera that someone just threw black paint over. Every now and then the paint runs thin and I catch a glimpse but then it goes black again."
"You remember me though." Nothing like pointing out the obvious, Buffy.
"Yeah, I do. I don't know how, or why," she says, meeting my gaze again. "But I saw you at the door to my room and it all added up. It wasn't just some weird coincidence seeing you there like that after you were in my coma-dream for two months. I felt it inside; I knew you. And I knew that you know me."
"We were friends," I explain, smiling sadly. "Things were bad. I was the outcast and you befriended me despite that. You know, I didn't have a single friend before you. I was alone and you showed me that I didn't have to be even though I tried to keep it that way."
"Right, so clearly you remember more than me," she says, grinning softly.
"Maybe a little," I reply with a shrug. Somehow I don't think Krista's going to go blabbing that to everyone and I told her the truth without even thinking twice. "Turns out that the big bad we were up against in Sunnydale used some kind of uber mojo on us – well, me specifically. The whole thing was a magical dimension that was set up in my head. We were trapped in my mind, Kris."
She gives my hand a little squeeze and tries to smile reassuringly.
"It's not your fault, Buffy. It could have happened to any slayer out there."
"Yeah, but there were only two slayers at that time, and it happened to me."
Suddenly she looks like she's concentrating, trying really hard to figure something out. Her brows are furrowed and I can tell she's frustrated.
"Two slayers," she mumbles while deep in thought. "I think . . . I remember. So many blank faces, but I see yours. And . . . hers. I see hers too."
"Whose?" I ask quietly.
There's a loud crash by the door and we both jump, startled. And judging by the look on Krista's face, I'm not the only one surprised to see Faith there in a wheelchair, trying to keep her balance as another wheelchair crashes into her repeatedly from behind.
"S'up guys?" Faith asks, a huge grin on her face. She winces as she's hit again from behind and her grip on the doorframe gives. Her chair is thrust into the room and another quickly follows it in, still trying to bang into it. Faith is trying to ignore it though and instead looks up at me, then Krista. "Hey K-doll. Nice to know you weren't just a figment of my warped imagination."
Krista tilts her head to the side, staring closely at Faith's face. I guess the black paint thins enough for her to grab a memory flash because she furrows her brow and says, "Faith?"
Faith grins again. "Got it in one, kid. Glad I made a lasting impression. I basically had to smack this one around a little bit to get her to admit that she remembers me." She hikes her thumb over her shoulder and indicates the person in the wheelchair behind her.
Suddenly a head pops up, laughing, and smiles over at Krista and I.
"Jo?" I ask, shocked.
"Hey Buff, Kris," she says with a smile. God, I can't remember ever seeing her smile back in the camp. She looks so young and carefree.
"How did you . . . how long have you . . . ?" I begin but she cuts me off.
"Been awake just over a week," she explains. "Last thing I remember is a million and a half ubervamps and a knife to the back. Next thing I know I'm waking up in a hospital bed with some scary hairy legs and a crazy redhead in my face asking if I know you over and over again."
"And you remembered?" Krista asks, sounding almost jealous that she can't recall everything. Personally, I think it's better that she doesn't. Nothing good can come from remembering all of the bad.
If it wasn't for what I had with Faith, I wouldn't want to remember either.
Jo shrugs, "Not everything. They showed me a couple pictures and I put some names to the faces. Just been waiting for everyone else. They've got me in this pretty sweet hotel. Better than any place I've ever stayed."
God, she's like Faith Junior. No wonder they got along so well in the camp. And here in the hospital too, apparently.
"My Doc said we'll be out in a day or two if all the tests are good," Faith interrupts. "He's pretty shocked that we're all up and walking so they're not gonna bother with the physical therapy."
"Funny, I think our doctors are in the lunchroom sharing a bottle of vodka," Krista says.
"Leave it to B to drive a man to drink," Faith says and I can't help but laugh. A comment like that from her would have driven me insane two months ago. And now, well . . . now I just have to smile. That's my Faith.
Or it was. Now she doesn't remember, and if she does, she's keeping it secret.
My smile falls and I look down at my lap. Faith must take notice because she wheels a little bit closer.
"You look kinda tired, B. Want me to wheel ya back to your room? You can ride shotgun." She pats her lap and bounces her eyebrows playfully and I find my smile again.
"Actually, I kinda wanted to talk to Krista a little bit more. Raincheck?"
"Anytime," she offers. Her smile is soft and when I meet her gaze, something crosses between us. A memory washes over me: Faith pressing me against the door to her room and telling me that she'd never make me do anything I don't want to. Making me feel safe in her arms.
She opens her mouth to say something and a nurse comes barging into the room looking anything but happy.
"Ladies, if I've told you once I've told you five times now. No more wheelchair races! These are instruments for the disabled, not go-karts!"
"Yes, ma'am," they say with false apology in their voices and quickly stand to follow her out of the room. When she's a few steps ahead, Jo steers her wheelchair right into Faith and takes off laughing, nearly knocking over an orderly on the way out.
Faith calls after her but stops in the doorway and looks back at me, smiling. "Catch ya later, B." She winks and runs out, crashing into Jo just outside the door.
I sit there chuckling for a minute, watching the doorway until I'm sure they're gone. When I look back at Krista, she's studying my face intently.
"What?" I ask, suddenly self-conscious.
"Her what?" I ask, confused.
"Her face. I see her too," she explains, picking up our conversation right where we left off.
"And what do you see it doing?" I ask warily.
She thinks hard for a moment before saying, "I'm not sure yet. The paint is too thick. But all I know is that when I saw her at the door and the way she was looking at you, I felt irrationally jealous. Why do I feel jealous, Buffy?"
I shrug just a little and sigh. "I don't know. If you remember though, maybe you can tell Faith and refresh her memory too."
She's quiet again but then I see something familiar in her eyes. Remembrance. Cognizance. And I suddenly feel really, really naked. Did my hospital gown open up?
"You and her," she says quietly. "I remember. Just flashes, but . . . I see it. I feel it. I remember it."
Panic starts to wash over me and I take her hand again, having let go of it a few minutes ago.
"Krista, I know we just met. Not really, but really. Or something. But please, you can't say anything to anyone. You have to promise me."
"But Buffy . . ."
"No," I interrupt, shaking my head. "If she remembers, she's pretending she doesn't, and I think it would kill me if I found out she went on ignoring it after she heard it from you. Please, just for now . . . please. If she doesn't remember anything, let's keep it that way."
"That's crazy," she says, shaking her head.
"Maybe it is, but I can't put myself out there like that. Not with Faith. If she was to throw it back in my face . . . god, I couldn't deal. If she brings it up to me, if she says something, that's fine. But I'm not forcing a memory on her."
She stares at me, still shaking her head sadly.
"Fine, I promise. But Buffy, I'm still not sure what really went on. Like I said: flashes. What I do see and feel though? It's all real. Talk to her about it. If I'm promising you that I won't say anything, at least promise me you'll try."
"Fine, I will. But not now," I say dismissively. "Let's just focus on getting strong. Think you can walk?" She doesn't say anything for a few moments but finally relents and nods her head. "Good, let's go for a stroll. The sooner we can function normally, the sooner we can get out of here."
She doesn't say anything more. She simply loops her arm through mine and stands up, taking a moment to find her balance. Within a minute we're out and walking down the hall with a couple of nurses following us, making sure we're okay.
I really hope she keeps her promise, because I don't know if I can keep mine.
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