Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Softer Side
A/N: Next update..
At the Bronze, Buffy, Willow, Oz and Xander were squeezed around a small table near the stage.
“If college is supposed to be the best time of our life, what are we doing at the place that served many a traumatic memories?” Buffy asked.
“Well, the Bronze is something nice and predictable. With all the change going on, it’s nice to just hang somewhere that brings us comfort. It’s like a security blanket when the change becomes too much.” Willow replied.
Willow noticed Buffy eyeing the front door.
“Who are you looking for?”
“Huh? Oh, I was just looking to see if Dean was around. He said he would try and stop in tonight.”
“Oh, I didn’t know he was in town.”
Buffy smiled, “Yeah, for a couple of days. We’re gonna go out tomorrow.”
“Oh, on a date?”
Buffy laughed, “No Willow, not on a date.”
Oz regarded Willow. “He still hasn’t mustered up the courage?”
Willow shook her head.
“Okay, is there anyone here who hasn’t had this discussion?”
Buffy glanced around the club before looking over at Willow.
“He sure has been visiting a lot lately, more than usual.”
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t expect him to be back for awhile but he said that his dad was okay with sticking on the West side for awhile, so he’s been able to visit more and hang out …he’s almost like a little lost puppy who has attached himself to me.”
“Oh, he sounds a little needy.”
“Yeah, he is but – it’s kind of cute. I’ve never really seen him like this…I think not having Sam around has really shaken him up.”
Buffy’s eyes sank to the floor as she thought about the brothers who had been a part of her life for such a long time.
“I have to admit, it’s shaken me up. I’m not used to seeing one without seeing the other. Plus, Sam and I never go longer than a week without talking so…I guess I’m feeling kind of needy too.”
Willow’s eyes lit up. “Oh, you know what you are? You are Dean’s comfy blanky.”
“Oh, so I’m nice and predictable Buffy.”
Willow sighed at her failed attempt to give a compliment.
“I didn’t mean…”
Buffy gave an amused smile. “It’s okay, I know what you meant and you’re right about the blanky thingy. There has been a lot of change lately. I guess in a way, he’s my blanky too.”
Buffy masked her boredom as she strolled alongside Dean. She had been accompanying him through downtown Sunnydale picking up various supplies for the past half hour. She spied a look at him as he was preoccupied with a two page list.
Dean shifted his eyes away from his dad’s list and noticed the far off look on Buffy’s face.
“Am I boring you?”
Buffy snapped out of her daze. “Uh, no….I was just…..yeah, okay I am kind of bored.”
He gave an amused smile. “Don’t be honest or anything.”
Buffy whined, “Well, when you said you needed to pick up some things I assumed we were going shopping and then grab a bite to reenergize from all that shopping and then – eventually we would shop some more.”
Dean paused abruptly, “Because I’m the kind of guy that likes shopping.”
He stepped off the curb and shook his head.
“I’d rather get my teeth pulled.”
He watched a pouty expression pull over her face.
“Hey, you offered to come along,” he said.
Buffy sighed, “I know. It’s just – I thought this would be more fun.”
“You expected a supply run to be fun?”
She shrugged. “I just thought you were the king of showing a girl a good time.”
He fidgeted uncomfortably.
“I uh, got the manager at the blade shop to let you tryout those daggers you were looking at– I thought you had a good time with that.”
She gave a half smile, “Yeah, that was cool but I meant…”
“I know what you meant,” he replied, clipping the end of her sentence.
A long, awkward silence fell between them. Dean cleared his throat and drew out a breath.
“It’s not like this is a date,” he said.
He swallowed a hard lump in his throat after saying that last word.
“Yeah, you don’t have dates with girls in the daytime, if you even stick around that long.”
“Geez, more man bashing huh?”
“Not really, I’m just making an educated observation about you.”
“Why? Are you writing a paper about me in your Psyche class or something?”
She shrugged. “No, I guess I’m just trying to understand you. Even though we’ve been friends for a long time I feel like I really don’t know you the way I know Sam.”
“Uh huh and in what ‘way’ did you know him?”
Buffy frowned, “Not the way you think. Sam and I never did that.”
“But you wanted to I’m sure.”
“No,” she replied firmly.
“Right, that’s why I caught you trying so many times.”
She rolled her eyes. “That was all for fun.”
He scoffed, “Yeah, I know your kind of fun.”
“I never did anything with Sam.”
“Yeah but from what I saw the last time; you were certainly thinking about it.”
“You mean finding him in my bed when I was fifteen? That was a joke Dean. I asked Sam to do that on purpose because I knew you’d go looking for him.”
He stopped abruptly in his tracks. “You did what? Why the hell did you do that?”
Buffy snickered a little. “To bother you and obviously it worked.”
“Oh, so you just screwed with my mind for kicks huh?”
Buffy shrugged and drew an innocent expression.
“Why did it bother you so much anyway? Did you like me or something?”
He answered a little too quickly, “It wasn’t about you, I’m supposed to look out for that kid and make sure he didn’t do anything stupid.”
She winced with pain. “Being with me would have been stupid?”
“Crap,” he muttered.
He blew out a few breaths.
“That came out wrong. I just meant, I didn’t want Sam to get involved with a girl he wouldn’t be able to see all the time. I figured he’d mope about you twenty-four seven and just drive me crazy.”
She didn’t seem convinced so he looked deeper in her eyes.
“You know the way my family lives. We stay, we go. It’s not really conducive for having serious relationships and Sammy, he’s got a big heart and I was concerned that he wouldn’t want to leave if he fell for you or something….if I knew then that school would be the thing to drive him away, maybe I wouldn’t have interfered.”
Buffy was struck by the despondent look in his eyes.
“Have you called him?”
“Why bother? We’re not a part of his life anymore.”
“You’re still his family, he may not be talking to me but he should at least try and reconnect with you.”
Dean was floored by her admission.
“You haven’t talked to him?”
“No, I told you we’ve only played phone tag. I’ve left him messages lately and he hasn’t returned any of them.”
Dean seethed through his teeth. That little jerk.
“He can be mad at dad and me all he wants but he has no reason to push you out of his life.”
Buffy sunk her eyes to the ground. “I don’t really understand why either….it kind of hurts.”
Dean looked as she met his eyes and saw the wounded expression on her face.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Buffy drew out a breath. “Wow, you sounded sincere just then.”
“Oh, you think I’m a shallow, skirt chasing liar, huh?”
“Well, aren’t you?”
He would have been mad had he not seen the playfulness that had flared into her eyes. He flashed an amused smile and looked back at his list.
“Since I’m boring you to tears, I guess that means I’ve got to buy you coffee or something. I have a couple more things to knock off this list. Why don’t I meet up with you at the Espresso Pump in like fifteen minutes?”
She smiled appreciatively. “Okay, sounds good.”
They parted ways at the curb.
Ten minutes later, Dean quickly stepped out of an odds and ends type shop and halted when he almost crashed into a girl.
“Woah, sorry,” he said.
Dean blinked when he realized Willow had brushed past him, completely unaware he had nearly collided with her.
Dean drew concern when he noticed Willow was sobbing incessantly. He hiked down the sidewalk after her as an onslaught of tourists blocked his path. He grumbled as he tried to snake through them. By the time he had barreled through the crowd, he caught sight of Willow stepping off the curb and into the middle of traffic. He bolted down the sidewalk as a huge SUV careened down the street.
Buffy paused in front of a boutique store and admired the clothing display when she heard some shouting at the far end of the street. She twisted around and saw Willow with a gloomy expression on her face. Her eyes widened when Willow stepped off the curb and into the path of a speeding car.
Buffy felt her heart thunder in her ribcage as she called out to Willow. She was at least six blocks away from her. There was no way she could get to Willow in time as the SUV was mere inches from a head on collision with her best friend.
Riley waited on the curb for traffic to clear before crossing the street. He noticed Buffy a few blocks down outside a trendy clothing store. As he racked his brain for conversational topics, he tensed when he saw Willow step onto the street in the middle of traffic. He hopped off the curb toward Willow after seeing Buffy call out for her.
The blare of a car horn broke Willow from her walking nightmare. She froze as a dark SUV charged toward her. She blinked, completely broken, as the car horn continued to blare. She heard her name called out but couldn’t move as the SUV closed in on her.
Willow gasped as she was jerked back to the safety of the curb. She felt a gentle shaking as she blinked a few times at someone vaguely familiar. Her mind was fuzzy and she felt numb.
“Willow, are you okay?”
Willow blinked and answered, “Huh?”
Buffy sighed in relief when she saw Dean pull Willow back to the curb. As she got closer, she saw Willow’s tear stained cheeks and felt her stomach churn.
“Willow, what’s wrong?” she asked.
Dean studied Willow, “She’s in shock.”
Buffy turned to see Riley approaching. He caught his breath and looked over Willow with concern.
“Is she okay?” Riley asked.
Willow looked at the three of them and merely blinked. Buffy regarded Willow. This smacked girlfriend emergency.
“Dean, can you take us home?”
“Yeah, I’ll bring the car around.”
Dean took off leaving Buffy, Willow and Riley alone.
“I saw her across the street…I was on my way to….but your friend got there first.”
Buffy nodded, “Thanks.”
Riley eyed her as his mind stumbled over something else to say. A minute later, Dean veered the Impala against the curb.
“Nice car,” Riley replied.
Dean kept the engine running as he quickly climbed out and swung the passenger side door open. Buffy delicately ushered Willow inside. She gave Riley an appreciative smile before climbing into the back of the car. Riley watched as the car flew around the corner. Another day, he thought.
Dean wandered around Stevenson Hall, checking his voicemail, browsing the bulletin board promoting campus social activities and mindlessly chatting with a few girls he passed by. He grew antsy after fifteen minutes and ambled back toward Buffy and Willow’s room. The door cracked open as a somber Buffy stepped out to meet him. She had a tranquilizer gun slung over her shoulder.
“So what’s going on?” he asked.
“We got to hunt, I’ll explain on the way.”
Buffy imparted the details of Oz’s indiscretion with another musician named Veruca. Dean stopped at his car and flipped open the trunk. He fished out a pistol and began to load the chamber.
“This little silver bullet is for Oz and this little bullet is for wolf chick.”
Buffy frowned, “You can’t shoot them.”
Dean paused, “Seriously? After what Oz did to Willow?”
Buffy drew out a breath, “I appreciate you wanting to inflict pain on Oz but we can’t kill him – as much as I’d like to. I just want to end this for Willow’s sake.”
“I got a quick solution for that,” he said, waving the pistol.
“When did you become so gung ho about exacting revenge on jerky guys?”
Dean shrugged and tucked the pistol in his waistband.
“Just in case you change your mind.”
Buffy crooked her eyebrows, irked.
“What’s that look for?”
“I didn’t see you offering to be Captain Vengeance when I was dealing with the whole Parker thing.”
“You’re mad at me because I didn’t beat a punk kid up?”
“It makes me think you like Willow more than me. I mean you were quick on the draw to inflict a house of pain on Oz”
He rolled his eyes. If you only knew.
“You’re really getting off topic.”
She sighed, “Yeah, you’re right….I just….I feel really bad for Willow. I wish she didn’t have to go through this.”
He shut the trunk and ambled alongside Buffy as she headed towards Oz’s place.
“Ugh, men!” she growled.
“Oh great, here we go,” Dean replied, “Are you going to start in on the man bashing again? If you are, I need to go back to the car and fetch my suit of armor.”
Buffy sighed, “It just sucks. Willow is in so much pain. I was lucky she was even able to form coherent sentences or I would never have known what was wrong. I really feel for her. You think the pain is never going to go away and you feel like you just want to die.”
“You got through it,” he pointed without much emotion. “She will too.”
She frowned in dismay. “I can’t expect you to really understand. You’ve never been on the receiving end of a heartbreak-o-gram.”
“You would think,” he replied.Why the hell did I just say that? Crap. I need to go smack myself in the head now.
Buffy halted and eyed him intently.
“You got your heart broken?”
“I do have a heart,” he said softly.
“I just thought you were….”
“A cold heartless bastard, I know.”
He grew reticent as they stepped off the curb.
“It hurts my feelings,” he admitted. “After everything I’ve been through with you, you still have such a low opinion of me.”
Buffy was thunderstruck by such a sincere admission. Her heart grew heavy with guilt when she saw he was genuinely hurt by her long standing opinion of him.
“It’s not that I have a low opinion of you, it’s just that I have only one opinion of you. You’ve never shown me the softer side of Dean.”
He rolled his eyes. “So I have to be an emotional doormat for you to have a better opinion of me?”
“It’s just always been hard to get a dial on whether you care or not. If you haven’t noticed, you have been kind of jerk to me my whole life.”
He tapped his mind for a witty comment but came up dry.
“Well what?” she asked expectantly.
He kept thinking. Come on, I know I’ve got something.
“No comment at all?”
After a long minute, he gave up. Dammit.
“Guess not,” he said.
“Well, that’s not like you at all,” she replied. “You’re just full of surprises.”
She gazed at him for a couple seconds until he became uncomfortable.
“So who was this girl?”
He groaned, “Uh uh. Forget it, I’m not having one of your Hallmark, cry in my ice cream moments with you. I came here to hunt.”
“Aw come on Dean, you were doing so well with the sharing and caring.”
“Not the time or the place even if I did want to talk about it. Which I don’t.”
Through the corner of his eye, he caught her staring at him with utter fascination.
“Quit that,” he said.
“Quit looking at me like I’m an alien.”
“Sorry, I’m just not used to seeing this side of you.”
“Well don’t get used to it.”
When they reached Oz’s place, Buffy ran inside while Dean hung back. He was in dire need of recovering from the deeply personal conversation that had unfolded minutes earlier. He was uncomfortable at how easily Buffy seemed to pull his most private thoughts out of him without much resistance. She is just like a truth serum.
He drew out a long breath when Buffy returned with Oz at her side. She pulled out a second tranquilizer gun and tossed it to Dean.
“Oz is going to track Veruca.”
Dean observed Oz as he took a long sniff of the air. An image flashed into his mind that brightened his mood.
“Look at that, you got yourself another recruit for your cave hound club.”
He chuckled softly as Buffy chose to ignore him. The three walked a few miles until they reached a clearing. Oz sniffed the air.
Oz sniffed a few more times before stopping. Buffy noticed something on the ground.
“Or you’re just close to her clothes.”
“These were probably from when….she turned.”
“Well, it smells more like a big fat ploy to throw you off her trail,” Dean assessed.
“Oh no,” Buffy replied with apprehension. “Willow.”
Buffy and Oz suddenly bolted toward campus. As Buffy dodged a big tree, a man in full camouflage and a black mask jumped out of the trees and grabbed her. She instinctively attacked him. Dean caught up to her as she was thrown to the ground. He flipped over his tranquilizer rifle and slammed the butt end into the military man’s face. Buffy drew out a frustrated breath and sprung to her feet.
“I got him!” Dean hollered as the commando counterattacked.
Buffy raced after Oz.
Minutes later, Dean ran in to the science lab and took a minute to catch his breath. He took a look around and assessed the situation. Oz the werewolf was unconscious on the floor. Veruca, the second werewolf, was torn to shreds.
“Damn,” he said. “I missed the action again.”
He spied Buffy comforting Willow and felt awkward.
“I’ll uh, go put the dog back in his cage.”
Dean gathered Oz and dragged him out of the lab.
A little later, Buffy and Dean arrived outside of Giles’ apartment. He answered after a few moments and eagerly let them in.
“Can I offer you some tea? I just made a pot.”
“Sure, that would be nice.”
Dean looked around the apartment as Buffy and Giles settled at the dining room table with their tea. Dean paused at a box of record albums. He took a seat on the floor and began to rifle through them as Buffy and Giles got into a discussion.
“You said this fellow was outfitted in military attire?”
“Yeah, a highly financed military operation I would think by the looks of their fancy hardware. I thought when I saw some guys wearing the same getup on Halloween that they were just in costume.”
Buffy and Giles continued to talk low when Dean did a double take on a particular album.
“Are you kidding me Giles?”
Giles turned his attention away from Buffy to see Dean holding a couple of vinyl albums.
“You used to be cool – what happened?”
Giles and Buffy regarded him with an odd expression before turning back to their conversation. A half hour later, Buffy and Giles rose as Dean flipped through the last of the albums. After driving a few miles, Buffy eyed a convenience store and bounced in her seat.
“Can you stop here for a second?”
Dean veered the car to the curb and the both of them got out. He wandered aimlessly through the aisles as Buffy hung out in the freezer section. She found him browsing through magazines. Dean eyed the contents of her basket. She had a couple of pints of ice cream along with some other sugary snacks.
“Geez, someone’s looking to have a sugar coma.”
“It’s for Will. She needs consoling and teeth rotting treats.”
As she waited in line, she remembered a question pressing her mind. She plucked one of the pints out.
“I’m getting extra ice cream….you could come over and hang out with us…maybe cry a little…”
Dean shook his head, picking up on her all too obvious hint of wanting to interrogate him. “No thanks.”
Buffy whined, “But I want to know about this girl.”
He drew out a breath and eyed the line. There were a bunch of teenagers gathered around the corner, counting out small change to buy a bunch of snacks. He was almost tempted to pay for their food just so he could get out of there.
“Because I want to know,” she said.
He shifted uncomfortably in line.
“I’m going to wait outside.”
After a few more minutes, Buffy swept outside and climbed into the passenger seat. Dean pulled away from the curb and steered the car toward campus.
“So…what’s her name?”
Dean sighed and shook his head, “Jesus.”
“Her name is Jesus? That’s unusual for a girl’s name.”
Buffy snorted at her clever comment and met Dean’s glaring eyes. She gulped.
“Will you drop it?”
Dean pressed on the gas. Buffy jerked forward as he recklessly tore around street corners.
“I’m just going to keep asking until you tell me.”
Dean slammed on the brakes as he reached Stevenson Hall.
“Bye,” he said.
Buffy frowned. “Back to being a jerk, huh?”
“Are you still here?”
She rolled her eyes.
“Fine, I’ll drop it – for tonight.”
She opened the door and climbed out.
“I’ll call you later, we’ll hang, okay?”
“If I’m around,” he replied vaguely.
“Oh you’ll be around, you can’t resist me,” she chimed.
She drew a cocky smile.
“I can too,” he snapped.
“Nuh uh,” she teased.
She batted her eyes and skipped off. Dean kept his eyes on her until she was inside the building. She swung around, smiled and waved. He sighed. Crap, she was right.
Next up: Dean reveals more thoughts about Buffy as Riley recruits Willow to help him win her attention.