Um. Sorry about the three-and-a-half year wait, guys. Life happened.
I have no idea if I will be finishing this story, or when. I know that sucks for you guys. It sucks even more because I have a sequel begun and waiting on my comp to be posted, but it spoils the end of this story so I can't post it until this one is done.
With that said, I finally worked through my writer's block and managed to squeeze out one more chapter. Here's to hoping there's more where that came from.
Sam and Dawn spent the next three nights growing stronger. They learned at an insanely fast pace, which both worried and fascinated Willow. She half-jokingly asked if she could write a paper on them, to which they laughed and agreed. She even started the organizational work for it, but she couldn’t figure out how to explain what had happened without revealing Dawn’s secret, so the idea was dropped.
Faith and Dean spent the next three nights hunting. At the beginning, Dean was in a foul mood, convinced he was being used as a pawn. After twenty-four hours of constant bitching Sam cornered him and pitched Buffy’s proposal.
It didn’t go over well, at first. But Sam reasoned and Faith cajoled and Dawn pleaded, and finally Giles and Buffy sat him down and went over the exact terms of the position. It was so businesslike and professional that Dean could suddenly view it for the job offer it was, and not the shameless bribe it appeared to be.
He accepted, and Dawn and Faith took the boys out to dinner that night to celebrate.
They were on their way out of the restaurant, full of good food and laughing, when Faith’s cell rang. She looked at it, intending to turn off the ringer, but one glance at the screen changed her mind.
She flicked the phone open. “Giles, what’s up?”
Dawn and Sam immediately looked alarmed, and Dean trailed off, confused.
“What?” he asked, furrowing his brow.
“Giles never, ever calls Faith unless it’s emergency Slayer business,” Sam told him. Dawn nodded her affirmation.
Dean gave a quiet ‘Ohh’ of understanding. All three fell silent, listening.
“Where? …Yeah, we’re close. We’ll go get them. Which squad?” She closed her eyes. “Jesus. Alright, we’ll get there as fast as we can. Yeah. Bye.” She snapped her phone closed and broke into a jog.
The other three kept up with her easily, sliding into Buffy’s car, which they had borrowed for the night.
“Faith, what’s the sitch?” Dawn asked, buckling herself in. Faith started the car and squealed out of the parking lot.
“Did Buffy tell you about those new spells Giles and Wes were researching?”
“The Slayer-keyed spells? Yeah.”
Faith hit the highway in record time. “One of the Slayer squads ran into some of those spells. Their witch got knocked out, and their Watcher called in for help.”
“Which squad?” Sam asked. Faith’s eyes narrowed as she wove in and out of traffic.
Sam, Dawn and even Dean winced. Code Red was the pet name of the newest, youngest Slayer squad. They had just started high school this year – the eldest was fourteen years old.
“How close are we?” Dean growled. Anne was on that squad. She’d sat right at his feet when he was storytelling, asking a thousand questions.
“About six minutes if I book it. A little more because I have to slow down as I pass Linndale.”
Dean shot Dawn a look over his shoulder.
“Something wrong with Linndale?”
She shrugged. “Tiny little village stuck between Cleveland and the bigger suburbs. Their government gets most of its money from speeding tickets.”
“I can’t afford to be stopped right now,” Faith muttered, slowing down to under the speed limit. Dean watched the Linndale city limit sign go by. Less than thirty seconds later, another city limit sign went by, telling them they were in Cleveland proper. Faith sped back up.
“That was it?”
“Buffy’s been ticketed by Linndale’s only cop three times,” Dawn told him. “Willow and Giles have been caught too.”
Dean shook his head. “You live in a weird city.”
Faith turned off the highway, and Dawn watched the signs, frowning. Suddenly her eyes went wide.
“They’re at the zoo?”
Faith nodded grimly. “Apparently a local small-time sorcerer has been selling potions laced with dangerous drugs, sometimes even poisons. A lot of his ingredients come from exotic animals, so they set up a trap. He turned the tables on them with a Slayer-catching spell.”
“Are you even going to be able to come in with us?” Dean asked. Faith shrugged.
“I’m hoping the spell was a one-time trigger. If it isn’t, I’ll do my best to avoid getting hit, but you guys gotta be prepared to go on without me.”
“Is that why Giles called you?” Sam asked suddenly. “Because Dean and I were with you?”
Faith shrugged. “Not a clue. Maybe we really were the closest.”
With a small shake of her head, Dawn said, “No, we weren’t. Strawberry Squad was patrolling Big Creek Reservation tonight. We just passed them a minute ago.”
Sam frowned. “The ‘Berries are one of the oldest squads.” All four of the Strawberry Squad girls were seniors, including Katie, the redheaded Aussie, and Sindhuri, the East Indian with the large khopesh. They were an very competent group, close to taking on Slaying duties solo.
“But they don’t have a witch, and their Watcher is a newbie,” Faith told him. “If they’d been sent, and the Slayer-catcher got them, we’d have seven scared high school girls to rescue instead of three.”
“So it was because of Sam and I.” Dean said. Faith shrugged.
“Just means you can start earning that very large expense account.”
Dean very nearly growled at her. “I’m not in it for the money, Faith.”
“No shit.” Faith ran the red light at the end of the highway exit, determined to get to the zoo as soon as possible. “The entire point of the account is so that you never have to worry about money again, Dean.” She took a right turn at a dangerous speed and ran another red, ignoring the honking around her. “T-minus one minute, kids, get your shit together.”
Sam immediately reached over the back seat and began handing weapons and supplies up to Dean. Dawn took advantage of his distraction, closing her eyes and falling deep within her own mind.
Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and the plan was ready to go into action. She had to keep Sam out of the deepest, darkest portions of her mind until then. If he knew what was being planned, they couldn’t risk the attempt. There was too high a chance Arakiel would somehow read his mind. And if they were about to go into an emergency situation, she and Sam would likely be in each other’s heads. She couldn’t be distracted by keeping Sam away from the plans.
So Dawn bundled every little detail together and hid them under a mental trapdoor, sealed so tightly she herself nearly forgot it existed, with just the barest thread of memory to mark it so she could find it again.
The car stopped, and Dawn looked up to see that they were parked just outside the familiar gates of the Cleveland Zoo. She took the shotgun and her stiletto from Sam and slid out of the car, shaking off the residual fuzziness from her little mental exercise.
Sam brushed his hand past her hair. You ok?
he asked mentally.
Dawn nodded. She’d forgotten, now, what was hidden in her mental hidey-hole. All she knew was that there was something there, something she couldn’t touch until later.Fine. Let’s do this.
It was well after 2 AM when Dawn, Sam and Dean made it back to Scooby House. Willow met them at the front door, along with Buffy, who had just returned from her own patrol.
Buffy swept Dawn up into a big hug, then surprised everyone by hugging Sam, too. She laid a hand on Dean’s shoulder, looking him over.
“You’re bleeding again,” she said, and Dean cracked a smile.
“Not anymore, thanks to your sister. I think my shirt’s a lost cause, though.”
Buffy eyed the ragged, bloody tear in his shirt, near the base of his ribs. “Looks like it was a pretty nasty wound.”
“So you really can heal other people?” Willow asked Dawn. “Not just yourself and Sam?”
“I needed Sam’s help to do it, but yeah, apparently. Pretty useful.”
“Where’s Faith?” Buffy asked, cutting off whatever Willow had been about to say.
Dawn sat heavily on the stairs, leaning against the banister. “She’s taking the girls home. Adam had to take Jen to the hospital; she has a concussion.” Adam and Jen were Code Red’s Watcher and witch, respectively; they were also the squad’s drivers, since none of the girls were yet old enough.
“You didn’t heal her too?” Willow asked. Dawn shook her head.
“I tried. It wouldn’t work. I couldn’t find a connection to her. I think that’s why I needed Sam to heal Dean.” She turned haunted eyes on Willow. “Can we work on that soon? I want to be able to help more people than just the ones I have a mystical connection to.”
Willow nodded. “We’ll start on it after the holiday. Meanwhile, you should sleep. Big day tomorrow,” she said, giving Dawn a significant look. Dawn frowned, looking confused, but let it slide, instead just standing and dragging Sam with her up the stairs. Dean followed, moving like he was very sore. Buffy wanted very much to stop him and make him tell her the whole story, but he had just saved her girls tonight, and it seemed that he nearly got killed in the process. She could wait until Faith got back to hear the whole story.
In the meantime, she turned to Willow. “What’s so special about tomorrow night?” she asked. Willow suddenly got that flushed, guilty look she always got when she was hiding something, and Buffy crossed her arms and gave her a Resolve Face.
Willow gave in. “Alright, I guess we’d better tell you beforehand, anyway. It’s about the demon that killed Sam’s parents.” She led Buffy into the living room and told her all about their plan.
Faith watched Anne and Hina climb the stairs of the house they shared with Adam and Jen, holding Gabriele upright between them. They were good girls and the injuries could have been much worse; Gabi would probably need a day’s rest but otherwise they would be all but healed by morning. Slayer healing was a wonderful thing.
Faith parked Jen’s car in the drive and started the walk back to Scooby House. It wasn’t far, and though it had started to snow a bit the wind was low so it wasn’t too unbearably cold. Faith figured the time change in her head and put in a call to LA.
As she’d guessed, Lindsey was still awake, and he answered his phone immediately.
“Faith. What can I do you for?”
“You wish, McDonald. I’m just calling to make sure our deal is still on.”
“I took the contract to the Senior Partners this morning. They approved it, so we’re all set. You keep your end of the bargain, and we’ll keep ours.”
“You better,” Faith said. “I am really going out on a limb for this.”
“Hey, it was your idea.”
“Yeah, I know. You didn’t tell anyone else, right? Not even Angel?”
“Babe, I can keep a secret better than anyone else in this damn office. No one knows except us and Lyri. You just deliver the mark and you’ll get what you want.”
“Count on it. Talk to you tomorrow.”
“As always, I am at your service.” Lindsey hung up.