Ch. 62 Return to Sender
A/N: This update incorporates episode “Out of My Mind”
Buffy rolled her eyes shut for a brief second as she honed in on all her senses. As she perched on top of a crypt overlooking the entire cemetery, she scoped the darkness with calculating eyes. She clutched her large stake in her hand; her face was hard with determination as she searched for her prey. When her senses tingled, she shot her eyes to the right and spotted someone lurking near the mausoleums. She pushed off the crypt and soared through the air, flipping into a back tuck before rolling deftly to the ground. She sprung to her feet a few steps away from a figure in the dark.
Dean made a second pass through the cemetery, grumbling under his breath as he kept cautious eyes on his surroundings. He clutched his dagger in his right hand as he bounded toward a section of mausoleums. As he emerged from around the corner of a crypt, he jumped in startle when the Slayer seemed to have dropped out of the sky a few feet away from him. He stared at her with intense shock as she straightened.
“Nice of you to.....drop in,” Dean said dryly.
Feeling her senses pealing through her, Buffy turned on her heel and slashed her stake into a fresh pile of dirt. A second before Buffy’s stake hit the ground, two vampire arms burst through the dirt. Dean widened his eyes in astonishment when the vampire blew into dust before even popping its head out.
“Woah!........how.....how the hell.......”
The remainder of his comment trailed off as his mind whirled with amazement at the Slayer’s increasingly acute senses.
When he heard an explosion of dirt behind him, Buffy launched through the air as a huge, muscular vamp howled while clawing his way out of the dirt. Buffy landed directly between the emerging vampire and Dean. Dean swung around as the vamp roared and attacked Buffy with brutal force. She absorbed the blows, retaliating with her own. Dean hopped off his feet and swung his knife toward the vamp, attacking him from the side but Buffy kicked the vamp in the chest, sending him flying back towards a crypt. Dean let out a frustrated breath as Buffy pounced toward the vamp as he crashed into the crypt. As she raised her stake, another vampire rose from a grave and plunged into Dean, taking him down to the ground.
Buffy raised her stake, preparing to finish the one before her as Dean wrestled with the vamp on top of him. A flurry of fighting broke out in the cemetery as both vamps fiercely attacked. Buffy grunted as her vampire jumped into the air a second before she plunged her stake into its heart. Once the vampire landed, a dark figure grappled it to the ground. Buffy blinked in surprise when the dark figure got in a few punches, blowing the vamp several feet back. The vamp crashed into the wall of a crypt and slumped to the ground.
“Buffy, hey, uh.....I didn’t expect to see you.”
Dean growled low in his throat as a vampire had him pinned to the ground. When he heard a familiar male voice, his eyes were pulled away to see Riley a few feet from the Slayer. He frowned with dismay until he felt a sharp sting in his face, drawing his focus back to his vampire fight.
“I’m only here like, always,” Buffy stated pointedly.
As Dean’s grunts echoed in the cemetery, Riley drew a pleasant smile at Buffy.
“I meant I thought you were keeping to the north side....”
Buffy widened her eyes when the vampire Riley had grappled with, charged toward him.
“Watch your back!” she warned.
Riley whipped around and grabbed the vamp by the neck, lifting him high into the air before hurling him into another crypt. He deftly pinned the vampire to the ground and took out a stake from his back pocket.
Buffy heaved a sigh of frustration when a vampire’s wail of agony directed her focus toward Dean, as he began sawing its head off. A blink later, a muscular male vamp shot through a fresh grave and snarled. Buffy pounced toward the vamp, raising her stake for a quick kill when another dark figure emerged and tackled her prey to the ground. She saw a flash of bleached blonde hair and a dark overcoat wrestling with the vampire.
“You have got to be kidding me,” she groaned.
Buffy glanced at Riley as he dusted his vamp, then over at Dean as he watched his vamp’s head roll away to Spike as he threw several brutal punches at his vamp.
“Do I even HAVE a job anymore?”
Buffy shook her head as Spike sprung to his feet, clutching his vamp by the collar. He hurled his fist into the vamp’s face a few more times.
“Why are you here?” she posed sharply.
Spike gave a casual smile as he pounded the vampire’s face.
“Just wanted a piece of action, like your little boys club over there,” he said.
The vamp counterattacked with a vicious blow to Spike’s nose. Spike’s head rocked back as the vampire roared. Spike swiped the blood stream from his nose and licked it off his finger. Buffy rolled her eyes and kicked Spike in the side blowing him far back. She followed with another kick at the muscular vamp before quickly staking it through the heart.
Spike dusted himself off as Buffy scowled deeply at him.
“Just stay out of my way Spike,” she groaned. “I’m really starting to get to the point where I can’t tolerate you anymore.”
Dean wiped the blood off his knife and frowned at Buffy with disbelief as he ambled over to her.
“Starting to? You mean you’re not way beyond it yet?”
Spike scoffed sharply at the two.
“What do you expect me to do? Watch TV and do the crossword?”
“If that keeps you out of my business,” Buffy said sharply.
“She has a point, you really shouldn’t be roaming off on your own,” Riley added.
Buffy shot a look at Riley as he moseyed over. Dean glared at Riley with a dubious frown. Spike drew a snarky smile at Dean and Riley.
“Well, innit a merry go round of your bloody little boy toys,” he snorted. “Wind ‘em up and let ‘em go eh Slayer?”
Spike licked a spot of blood that dripped from his nostril. Buffy grimaced and scoffed.
“You just licked your own nose blood Spike,” she chastised. “I am totally disgusted to even dignify your lame pot shots. Go back to your crypt and stay out of my way.”
“It’s a natural instinct! I suck blood you know!” Spike protested.
Buffy pivoted toward the clearing as Dean hesitated, glaring at Spike. She blew out a breath and latched onto Dean’s arm, tugging him away.
Riley dusted himself off and picked up his stake, pocketing it.
“Hey, I hope I didn’t complicate things by showing up here,” he said with an amicable smile.
Dean picked at a bloody cut on his hand and narrowed his eyes on Riley as he wandered over.
“It’s a little too late for that,” he muttered.
Buffy gave a forgiving expression as she tightened her grip on Dean.
“No, no, it’s just, I wasn’t expecting you to be out here, patrolling.....on your own.”
Buffy shaded with a pointed expression as she watched Dean rub the sting out of his jaw. Riley let out a jovial laugh.
“I guess it’s just my instinct to be out here,” he said. “You guys want to make another pass? There’s bound to be more of those gravity defying vamps somewhere around here.”
Riley looked around the cemetery with an eager smile while Dean simply stared at him with veiled annoyance. Buffy, however, saw through his mask, taking in the disapproving flare sparking bright in his eyes. She took a quick study of her senses and her surroundings before shaking her head at Riley.
“Uh, no, we’re all in the clear now,” she affirmed. “Unless we find Spike and kill him for kicks.”
Dean lit up with an immense enthusiasm, clutching his knife and pivoting in the direction they had last seen Spike.
“Where’d that bastard go?!”
Buffy hooked a hand over the crook of his arm and pulled him back. He shined his irritation down at her.
“Oh come on,” he moaned. “Kicking that lame dog a few thousand times will make my night.”
Riley shifted his direction and gave a polite smile.
“Have a good night.”
“Be careful,” Buffy said with a smile. “You really don’t need to be out hunting anymore Ri.”
“Yeah, uh, it’s going to take awhile for me to get used to just being....whatever this is.....”
Riley bounded away as Dean bore his eyes into Buffy.
“What?” she asked innocently.
“Be careful..........Ri,” Dean mocked in a girlish pitch.
Buffy soaked in the flare of jealousy and annoyance in his eyes. She rolled her eyes and shook his head.
“Don’t even start with that again Dean,” she stressed sharply.
As she noted the annoyance deepening over his face, she moped and pushed off her toes. She gave him a sweet kiss on the mouth before turning toward the clearing.
“So how come you didn’t call me when you got into town?”
“I did, I left a message with your sister.”
Buffy bolted abruptly in her tracks and shined a cynical frown.
“And you thought she would actually pass it on to me?”
Dean shrugged as he spit out some blood.
“I asked her nicely,” he stated.
Buffy rolled her eyes as her face knitted with a peevish frown.
“It’s not about you being nice; it’s about her being.....my annoying little sister. Anyway, why did you go off by yourself?”
Dean absorbed her scolding glare and shaded with resentment.
“Jesus, I’m not four,” he grunted.
“You could have waited at my house,” she pointed.
“I DID,” he groaned. “And when I got tired of waiting around for you, I went out.”
“Oh,” Buffy said softly.
“Since when do you go off without me?”
Buffy absorbed his offended look and shaded with her own.
“Uh, all the time Dean, it’s called MY JOB,” she clarified.
“Yeah well, it’s mine too you know.”
“Yeah, but it’s my playground.”
“So, what, I don’t get to play unless you’re around?”
“No, no, of course you can it’s just....better to have backup,” Buffy reasoned.
Dean glanced at a tall mausoleum and stared at the huge moon painting the black sky.
“You know, that was some show you put on, including the aerobatic entrance,” he replied.
Buffy brimmed with a smug smile as she clutched her stake.
“Yeah, lately I have just been bursting at the seams with energy and strength. I think I could roll all night if need be,” she said boastfully.
Dean felt his bad mood quickly bleeding away as his face tugged with a grin.
“Now THAT makes my night,” he said.
Dean snatched her hand and fervently tugged her out of the cemetery.
The following afternoon, Buffy and Willow headed over to the Magic Box to find a flurry of construction activity. After looking around the renovations and newly arrived supplies, Giles led Buffy to the back of the shop to commence her training session, with Xander following behind. Giles unlocked the door and pushed it open, allowing Buffy to move inside first.
Buffy stepped into the new training room and widened her eyes.
“Woah,” she gasped. “This place is.....”
Buffy stared at the assortment of gymnastics equipment, training apparatuses, various sized targets, exotic weaponry displayed on the walls. She brightened with a smile of delight as she moved further into the room.
Dean poked his head out from a row of heavy bags as he finished fastening the last one to the ceiling. His tee shirt was drenched in perspiration and his usual jacket and long sleeve flannel had been tossed aside after several hours of arduous labor. Buffy wandered over into the boxing area as Dean wiped a thick sheen of sweat from his face and flashed a gratified smile.
“Awesome,” he finished. “And it was all me.”
Buffy glanced at some strange symbols painted on the wall as her smile deepened. Giles however threw a scoff at Dean.
“Okay, okay, so the idea was already there but, I stocked, assembled and.....gave it a little style.....”
Dean nodded toward another wall adorned with posters of classic martial arts movies but Buffy marveled at all the effort put into the room.
“Wow,” she said. “Thanks everyone. Really.”
Giles drew a humbled smile.
“It was a necessary measure,” he said. “It was long due for you to have an adequate space to train......”
Buffy shook her head, beaming with more appreciation.
“It’s perfect Giles,” she exalted.
Buffy swung around and strolled over to a large straw dummy resembling a scarecrow.
“God, I can’t imagine how long this took,” she said incredulously.
Dean dropped his tools on his bag and glanced at his watch.
“Just over nine and a half hours,” he noted. “With a very small lunch break may I add......”
Dean threw a disgruntled frown at Giles.
“Slave driver,” he muttered.
Xander patted on the straw dummy and drew a proud smile.
“The dummy is me,” he said.
Xander blinked at his statement as he leaned against the dummy.
“Oh, I meant, I put him together.”
“It looks good,” Buffy acclaimed. “Everything is just.....amazing....”
Giles beamed a paternal smile at Buffy.
“It’s a long overdue token to you,” he said.
Buffy shined more appreciation on the three men.
“Well, I’ll say it again, thanks so very much. You guys take care of me and I know I can always count on you. I’m gonna change.”
Dean picked up his jacket and flannel as his stomach rumbled loudly. He grimaced with hunger.
“Man, I’m starving,” he groaned.
Dean shuffled over to Giles and held out his hand, palm facing upward.
“Pay up, I’m done for the day.”
Buffy eyed Dean curiously.
“So you didn’t do all of this out of the kindness of your heart?” she asked.
Dean shaded with an irritable frown.
“Kindness ran out when Slave Driver started starving people,” he moaned.
Dean turned his sights back to Giles and shook his hand out with more determination. Giles rolled his eyes as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a few bills. Dean stared at the sum of bills and then frowned at Giles with deep resentment.
“Gee, that buys me............not much,” he griped. “Ten hours Giles, ten back breaking hours working in a stuffy room, getting splinters, cuts and mass hunger pains. TEN HOURS.”
Giles rolled his eyes and sighed, dishing out a few more bills of a larger denomination. Dean gave a satisfied nod as he stuffed the money in his pocket.
“Alright, I’ll be back.”
Dean pointed a finger at Buffy.
“Give ‘em hell, but DO NOT kick those bags off their chains cuz I spent a lot of time hookin’ ‘em up along with everything else. So don’t go crazy.”
Later in the evening, after retiring to the motel room, Buffy rolled onto her side and curled up against Dean as he settled a hand behind his head and burrowed it in a pillow. Their bare bodies lined together, their legs entangled under the sheets and their faces were glistening with perspiration and glowing with color. Buffy heaved a contented sigh and seeped with a peaceful expression. While Buffy was invigorated and breathing steadily, Dean displayed his exhaustion as he bellowed raggedly.
“You always know how to relax me,” Buffy said with a dreamy smile.
“Right, that was really.....relaxing,” Dean acceded, discreetly releasing more ragged breaths.
Buffy hitched her head up and drew concern.
“Was that um, a little too much.....spirit?”
Dean glanced around the room, taking in the disarray of furniture and articles of clothing littering the floor. He took a wider scope of the bed, now in the center of the room, instead of against the wall.
“What? No, no, I like the spirit, I’m all for spirit.....after ten hours of working my butt off to put your little Miyagi dojo together and then working my butt off with you......spirit is appreciated.....cause I don’t need to sleep or eat or anything....I’ll just lie here and let you shine some more spirit.....”
Dean shot her a playful wink as Buffy shifted under the covers, drawing her chin on his chest. Her eyes rolled shut as she snuggled closer to him.
“Can’t keep up with me?” she asked teasingly before giggling softly.
Dean balked loudly as his breathing settled.
“’Scuse me? Can’t keep.....oh you’re gonna get it now....”
Dean smacked her hard on the butt before drawing the covers tucked between their bodies.
“I’ll show you,” he taunted.
Buffy widened her eyes when she felt a distinct swelling pushing between her legs before she was flipped onto her back.
“Uh, but we just finished and you wanna....so soon....”
“Oh, look who ‘can’t keep it up’ now.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t keep ‘it’ up, I said, can’t keep up,” Buffy stressed. “I mean, I have the strength and energy of like ten, fifteen strapping young men.”
Dean paused in his seduction tactics and grimaced at her.
“Never say fifteen men when we’re like this, okay? Not a good image for either of my heads.”
Buffy rolled her eyes as Dean went back to attacking her collarbone with lustful strokes of his tongue.
“I’m just saying, I can go long bouts without tiring,” she taunted.
Dean paused in his actions again, locking with her eyes.
“Oh yeah? Well, I’m willing to test your limits.”
“What happened to the whole ‘I don’t need to sleep or eat’ thing,” she pointed.
“I’ll sleep at some point and as for eating.....I got a whole different appetite now.....”
Buffy’s eyes turned up, scoping the location of the bed as Dean tore the sheets away from her body.
“Uh, what if we end up busting through the door and in the um.....parking lot....”
Dean lifted his head up and chuckled. “I’d say that a feat worth shooting for.”
Early the next morning, the blaring sound of a cell phone cut through the serene silence. Dean moaned under the covers, reluctantly drawing the phone from the bedside table.
“Hello,” he mumbled. “Yeah....hold on....”
Dean let out a louder moan as he pushed the cell phone into Buffy. She groaned as she shifted under the covers.
“It’s for you.”
Buffy turned on her side, her back facing Dean and groaned again.
“Take a message.”
“No, my bed, my phone,” Dean grumbled.
Buffy heaved a sigh as she opened her bleary eyes and took the phone.
After a second, Buffy shot upright, her eyes widening.
“What?! Is she okay? Where are you?”
Buffy bolted off the bed and began gathering her clothes, her voice thick with trepidation.
“I’ll be right there!”
Buffy hurriedly dressed as Dean slowly folded up and yawned.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s my mom. She had some kind of fainting spell. I need to get to the hospital,” Buffy answered shakily.
Seeing the heavy dread flooding over her face, Dean nodded and quickly got out of bed.
A short time later, Buffy and Dean flew down a corridor of Sunnydale Hospital. As a crowd of staff passed by, Buffy spotted Dawn sitting at the end of the hall. She rushed over to Dawn and embraced her tightly as Dean followed behind. Dawn stiffened within her sister’s hold, clutching a stethoscope around her neck with more interest.
“Are you okay? What’d they say about mom?”
“I’m fine,” Dawn said.
“Your mom is doing well.”
Buffy and Dean turned toward an attractive young guy in a lab coat and scrubs shining a friendly smile. Dawn drew a silly grin at the guy as she gripped the stethoscope.
“That’s Dr. Ben,” Dawn cooed. “This is his stethoscope that he gave to me.”
Ben feigned a stern glare at Dawn.
“I did not give it to you, I simply loaned it to you for awhile.”
Dawn widened her goofy grin as Ben laughed. Dean watched the interaction between the two with suspicion until Ben extended a hand to Buffy, beaming a brighter smile.
“You’re the older sister, Buffy? Hi, I’m Ben, I’m not a doctor, I’m an intern. I’ve been keeping your sister company while your mom went in for tests.”
Buffy politely took Ben’s hand and shook it as Dean watched with more suspicion.
“So Intern Ben, what’s the story on Joyce?”
Ben eyed Dean curiously.
“And you are?”
“Someone who asked you a question.”
Ben deepened his curiosity as Buffy intervened.
“Do you know what’s wrong with her?” she asked.
“The doctors are still trying to figure that out, running a wealth of tests as to why she collapsed. There are a number of reasons, low blood sugar or just a dizzy spell.”
“So it’s not something we should be worried about, nothing serious?”
“It’s doubtful,” Ben said assuredly.
“But no one’s told you anything for certain?” Dean added.
“No, like I said before, the doctors are still running tests.”
As the three converged and continued to talk, Dawn got up from her seat and pressed the stethoscope to Ben’s heart. She smiled as she listened to his steady heartbeat.
“Has your mom fainted before?” Ben probed.
Buffy shook her head firmly. “I’m pretty sure she hasn’t. Not like this. She’s always been in tip top shape.”
Dawn moved over to Buffy with her stethoscope and began listening to her heart.
“Well, the tests are going to take awhile and she may need to return in a few weeks for a follow up. But I wouldn’t be too concerned,” Ben stated.
Buffy sank against Dean and heaved a huge sigh of relief. Dawn moved her stethoscope to Dean and listened to his heart.
“I was really starting to get worried,” Buffy replied.
“Well, after the tests are completed, you can take your mom home, no reason to keep her overnight,” Ben said,
Buffy beamed another sigh of relief as Dean noticed Ben’s lingering warm smile.
Buffy and Dean whipped around to see Riley with a polite smile on his face. Dean rolled his eyes out of view as Riley approached.
“What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Buffy shot a look at Dean as he muttered under his breath.
“Yeah, everything’s fine, my mom is just getting some tests. Um, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, I got an expensive taxi ride here for nothing.....”
Buffy shined her bewilderment as Ben interacted with Dawn.
“I was playing ball with some buddies, took a spill, woke up here,” Riley explained.
“A spill? Are you okay?”
Dean swung his eyes from Ben teasing Dawn, to Riley. He narrowed his eyes on Buffy when shined her concern at Riley.
“Yeah, it was nothing.”
Dawn giggled at Ben before using her stethoscope on Riley. She flashed a look of alarm as she listened to his heartbeat. Buffy blew out a breath and gently pushed Dawn away. She gave Riley an apologetic look.
“Sorry about her,” Buffy said.
“No problem, I’m glad to hear your mom is going to be fine,” Riley said. “I’ll see ya.”
Riley waved to Buffy and Dawn before strolling away. Dean bore his eyes into Riley’s back.
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” he mumbled.
Hearing a burst of laughter, Dean shifted his eyes to Ben and Dawn. Ben glanced at his pager.
“That’s me,” he said. “Got to get back to work, it was fun hanging out with you Dr. Dawn.”
Dawn beamed a goofy smile as Ben nodded to Buffy before drifting by Dean. Ben returned a wave to Dawn. Dean scrutinized Ben, edging up next to him as Buffy and Dawn huddled by the seats.
“Dude, she’s fourteen,” he grunted softly.
Ben flashed an odd look at Dean before shuffling away.
A long time later, Joyce wandered down the hall and smiled when she saw her two girls waiting. Dean stopped pacing and wrapped up his conversation as Buffy rushed over to her mom and embraced her.
“God mom, I was so worried, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine, more embarrassed that you had to go through it all,” Joyce lamented. “Sorry sweetie for worrying you. The doctors are done pricking and prodding me.”
Dean drifted over as he stuffed his phone in his pocket. Joyce beamed an appreciative smile at him, cupping his cheek.
“Thanks for watching over my girls Dean.”
“No problem, you get a clean bill of health?”
“Well, I won’t get the results for a few weeks but the doctors all said they didn’t see anything wrong with me. I’d really like to go home now.”
Buffy and Dawn hovered anxiously around their mom. Joyce drew her arms around her girls as Dean absorbed the family picture in his mind.
“Yeah, let’s blow this joint,” he said.
Back at the house, Buffy and Dawn gathered around the couch with Willow.
“Okay, I’ve got crosswords, some Oprah Book Club recommendations and Women’s Day magazines,” Willow said as she sorted through a pile in her arms. “I mean, who says you should starve a cold, I say feed it literature, it might stir the good vibes in the brain to make you feel better.”
Joyce was sprawled out on the couch, a blanket draped over her with a bowl of soup on a tray beside her. Buffy and Dawn took turns fluffing an endless amount of pillows stacked behind their mom’s head and back. Joyce drew an appreciative smile at all the girls.
“Thank you Willow, but I’m fine.”
Dawn wedged herself onto the couch next to her mom.
“I always want chicken fingers when I feel sick, you know with mustard.”
“Yes, you do,” Joyce conceded. “I have some in the fridge, I can get that for you.”
Buffy shook her head fervently.
“No, no, you’re couch bound today mom,” she stressed. “You’re going to relax right here and we’ll take care of you.”
“But I feel so useless just sitting here,” Joyce moaned.
“Well, um, maybe we could make it fun for you, some fun game, a quiet game of course about sitting....quietly and resting....” Willow replied.
“Girls, I appreciate all your concern but really, I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about you.”
“Yes, we do,” Buffy insisted. “So you stay on that couch.”
“Well, who’s going to make dinner for you and Dawn? Who’s going to do the laundry?”
When Dean emerged from the kitchen with a sandwich stacked with meat and a side of chips, Buffy took his plate and smiled at her mom.
“See? Dean made you a sandwich in case you didn’t want soup....because he’s making sure you don’t need to get up for anything either, right Dean?”
Dean glanced mournfully at the sandwich that had been viciously stolen from his hands.
“Uh.....right,” he muttered reluctantly.
Joyce shifted over the determined expressions shared by the group.
“It looks like I don’t have a choice in this matter,” she said.
The next afternoon, Buffy wandered through the cafeteria and bolted in surprise when she noticed Graham approaching her. She shined her curiosity as he displayed a large bruise on his forehead.
“Graham? What....what are you doing here?”
“You haven’t seen Riley by chance?”
“Uh, no, what happened to you?”
“It’s not important, I need to find Riley. He’s in trouble.”
Graham drew an intense expression as he edged closer to Buffy when crowds of students flocked by. She widened her eyes as he related the situation to her, the surrounding chatter and noise falling away.
“So he took off and now you can’t find him, but you haven’t told me what’s happening to him.”
“I’m not allowed to disclose that,” Graham stated flatly.
Buffy hardened her expression and clenched a fist.
“Disclose,” she demanded.
Buffy rushed over to the Magic Box after making a round of phone calls to the gang. By the time the sun was dipping into the horizon, Xander and Anya were strolling in as Buffy paced anxiously around the shop. She eyed the clock as all but Dean had arrived and settled into seats.
“Okay, I don’t know what’s keeping him,” she moaned.
When the door chime wailed, all eyes shifted to Dean as he ran in, heaving sharp breaths. He absorbed all the stares and shaded with an apologetic expression as Buffy narrowed her eyes on him.
“Sorry, traffic, your little sister mostly,” he reasoned. “So what’s the big emergency?”
Almost a half hour later of relating the details, the gang displayed a mixture of reactions. Dean struggled to digest the information while also drawing his heavy dismay over the subject matter.
“Say that again? Finn’s suffering from hypo-what?” he posed.
“Hyper-adrenal overload,” Buffy reiterated. “It basically means his system is in overdrive from all the drugs the Initiative fed him, he’s faster and stronger than normal but his heart won’t be able to take it for too long.”
“How horrible,” Willow lamented.
“Have you checked his apartment?” Giles asked.
“Yeah, he wasn’t there or his usual places,” Buffy stated. “Wherever he is, he made sure it’d be hard to track him down.”
“So he’s MIA,” Anya said.
“Yeah,” Buffy acceded. “And we don’t have a lot of time according to Graham. They’ve got a special doctor waiting to operate on him. So we got to start moving.”
Buffy turned toward Xander, her face thick with conviction.
“You and Anya take the docks,” she instructed.
Xander saluted and slipped out of his seat. Willow stepped forward with an eager expression.
“Tara and I will check out the high school, he camped out there before. It’s dark and roomy, so maybe um, it feels familiar.”
“Actually, now that you mention ‘dark and roomy’ in a freaky kind of way, we should check out the Initiative caves too. But I’m not very familiar with them.”
“Ah, well do know someone who has experience in maneuvering through those labyrinths, but it might take some monetary convincing....” Giles suggested.
“Oh great, this night just gets better and better,” Dean grunted.
“I really don’t want to deal with Spike either,” Buffy groaned. “He’s getting really annoying in that I’m gonna shove my stake in your heart way.”
“Where’s the fun in that? Me, I’d tie him up, shoot him a couple times near his heart just so it burns really bad....like nasty, I’m gonna shit my pants kind of bad......”
As his fantasy killing played out vividly in his mind, Dean beamed with a wicked grin for a long minute until he noticed the gang staring at him with odd looks.
“Let’s all get going,” Buffy pressed.
The gang dispersed through the magic shop and broke off in different directions.
As they bounded through the cemetery, heading toward Spike’s crypt, Buffy studied Dean for a minute, taking in the intense distance in his eyes. Feeling her examining eyes, Dean shifted his sights to meet hers as his expression darkened.
“Are you gonna brood all night Dean or are you going to TALK to me about what’s bothering you?”
After a minute, Dean let out a long breath as he bolted to a stop in the cemetery.
“Is all of this really necessary? I mean, it’s just funny how every time one of your exes gets into some kind of trouble, you’re the first on board to lead a search party or hike it out to L.A,” he remarked brusquely.
Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed as her face knitted with hurt and frustration.
“You’re going to bring this up again Dean, really?”
Buffy crossed her arms across her chest and glowered up at Dean.
“This isn’t about my history with Angel or Riley,” she admonished. “This is about Riley being a hair’s breath away from having a heart attack. He could DIE Dean and it’s not his fault what’s happening to him. The government made him this way and he shouldn’t have to pay the consequences.....so if you can’t get passed your bruised ego and help someone out because it’s the right thing to do, then I’ll go look Riley myself. You can go.....wherever.”
Buffy pushed off her feet and brushed by Dean, storming toward Spike’s crypt. A minute later, as she prepared to kick the door in, she noticed Dean stepping beside her.
Spike drew a snarky smile as he settled atop a coffin. Buffy and Dean charged into the crypt, sharing collective frowns of annoyance as Spike widened his smile.
“Look Spike, here’s the deal,” Buffy started.
“The deal should be that you learn to wait for someone to answer the door instead of kickin’ it in,” Spike spat. “We vamps have to wait around for an invite, why can’t you? Rude, rude, rude.....though I’ll forgive you for say, a couple of ‘em pretty green papers.”
Dean hardened his icy glare as he flashed his dagger at Spike.
“Forget it,” he barked. “You spill the beans, or I’m spilling your guts, I mean it, I’m tired of you existing......”
Buffy extracted a wad of cash from her pocket and waved it in front of Spike.
“Woah, woah, woah,” Dean protested. “You are NOT blowing that for THIS.”
“Riley’s really sick and needs help and Spike is the only one who knows those caves like the back of his pasty hand.”
Buffy shot her eyes up to Spike.
“If you see him and get him to the fourth floor of the hospital, all of this is yours.”
Spike mocked a look of worry.
“Oh, say it ain’t so, Captain Cardboard has come down with something eh? That’s bloody awful.”
Spike lifted out of his mockery and transitioned into a genuine glare.
“I hope he dies.”
“This is getting nowhere,” Dean grunted.
“Aw, did I make fancy face all mad?” Spike snorted.
Dean let out a huge huff as he edged closer to Spike flashing an acrimonious glare. Buffy wedged herself in front of him. She grabbed Spike by the collar and glared murderously at him.
“Enough, Riley’s not the only one in danger of dying,” she barked.
Spike looked over Buffy’s shoulder and grinned.
“Well, if it’s that important for you to find him, I think I should get half now, to motivate me.”
Buffy glared up at Spike with disgust as she tore the bills in half.
“Here’s your half!” she growled before charging toward the door.
She posed under the doorway as Dean and Spike traded glares.
“Dean, come on!”
Dean heaved a sigh as he reluctantly shifted toward the door and exited with Buffy.
After a quick hike through the woods, Buffy and Dean split off in different directions through the labyrinth of caves. Raking his flashlight beam through the darkness, Dean strained his hearing for any odd sounds as he lurked down a pathway. He froze with caution when he heard the sounds of pebbles and dirt scraping along the cave floor. Dean impulsively extracted his gun with his free hand before soundlessly skulking around the corner.
“If you’re not a rat, I’m gonna shoot you,” he warned.
Riley emerged from the darkness, breathing raggedly, his face knitted with frustration and sweat. Dean lowered his pistol as he looked over Riley’s pale complexion.
“How do you do it?” Riley asked.
“Jesus, you don’t look so good man,” Dean noted grimly.
Riley tightened the frustration on his face as he curled his hand into a fist. Dean stepped back cautiously when he saw Riley raising a fist. He gripped his pistol but kept it at his side.
“How do you do it?” Riley repeated.
“Keep up with her,” Riley said.
He bellowed several rapid breaths as more perspiration sprung over his face. He wound his fist back and struck it hard into the cave wall. Dean blinked in surprise as pebbles and debris rained around Riley. Riley stared at his bloody fist as Dean pocketed his pistol.
“Look man, you are in bad shape and need to get to the hospital, there’s some kind of specialist waiting to operate on you.”
Riley kept staring at his fist and bellowing ragged breaths.
“I didn’t even feel that,” he lauded. “Didn’t even flinch.”
Dean shot Riley an odd look as the ex soldier turned to face him.
“I could take on a cemetery full of demons,” Riley stated.
Dean gave a flat smile as he pivoted toward the mouth of the cave.
“I get it, you feel like the King of the World and all that, but seriously dude, your heart ain’t equipped for all those super vitamins the Initiative was lacing in your meals, so, let’s get ya some help....”
“Help, from a government doctor I’d assume?” Riley posed dryly. “The same kind of doctors that made me this way?”
“I know it sounds crappy,” Dean acknowledged. “But your buddy Graham thinks he can help.”
“Why do I need help? I’m faster and stronger than I used to be, I crushed a wall with my bare hand like it was nothing.”
Dean bit back the immensely disgruntled frown tugging sharply at his face as Riley flashed a boastful smile.
“Riley! There you are!”
Buffy rushed down the cave tunnel toward Dean and Riley.
“Thank god,” she gasped. “We need to get you to the hospital! There’s something wrong with you, you need to see the....”
Riley held a hand up to cut her off.
“There’s nothing wrong, I’ve never felt better,” he said dismissively. “So just go away, the both of you.”
Buffy stood tall and firm, her face thick with determination.
“No, you’re coming with us,” she said. “You’re in serious danger Riley and if you don’t let us help, you could die.”
“If I go with you and be a guinea pig for the government again, what’s to say they won’t make me worse?”
“What could be worse than dying?” Buffy asked with a frown.
Riley shrugged as he wiped a coat of sweat from his face.
“Being normal, being just like everyone else......”
Dean huffed and shook his head at Riley.
“Get over it,” he grunted. “Or get dead, those are your options.”
Buffy shot Dean a disapproving glare.
“What? He’s not listening and you’re losing time.”
Buffy released a heavy sigh as she regarded both guys.
“Riley please,” she stressed. “Graham is worried about you, I’m worried about you, the gang is worried about you. We’re still friends despite what’s happened, and I care about you....”
Feeling a glare weighing upon her, Buffy shifted her sights briefly on Dean before regarding Riley again.
“As a FRIEND,” she clarified. “So if you’re not coming with us willingly, I’m going to have to force you........”
Buffy shaded with an intense glare of conviction.
“I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”
Buffy shook her head as Riley slowly pivoted toward the tunnel leading out of the caves.
“We don’t have much time,” Buffy stated.
A brief time later, Buffy, Dean and a flushed Riley shuffled toward the neurological surgery room. After moving through a slightly opened door, they took pause when they noticed an armed guard sprawled on the floor with an apparent head wound. Dean crouched down and checked the guard’s pulse.
“He’s alive,” he announced.
Dean straightened as a low groan cut through the silence. Buffy turned on her heel to see Graham behind an upended table, slumped against a wall. Riley flashed his concern at his friend, swiftly approaching him while Dean took notice of the thrashed room.
“What happened?” Riley asked as he held up two fingers. “Number of fingers I’m holding up, how many?”
Graham lingered in a daze before slowly shaking his head. He winced as his head throbbed with pain.
“It was seventeen,” he muttered. “And blonde.”
Dean paused from looking around the destroyed room to stare at Graham in disbelief.
“Uh, a seventeen year old blonde chick hit you and went all rock star on the room?”
“Hostile,” Graham said. “Seventeen. With blonde girl.”
Buffy groaned deeply in her throat with realization.
“Great, Spike and his pathetic partner in crime Harmony struck again.”
Dean shook his head and drew a contemptuous frown.
“God dammit,” he grumbled. “The longer that douche bag exists, the more trouble he causes, chip or no chip, I say tonight we finally dust him.”
Graham slowly pushed himself to his feet and glanced around.
“Dr. Overheiser is gone.”
Dean threw a second glance around the room.
“Well, that’s one body unaccounted for,” he assessed.
“It doesn’t make sense to take him out of three,” Buffy mused. “Unless they needed him for......”
Buffy groaned deeper when it hit her.
“The chip,” she said. “Spike wanted the doctor to get the chip out.”
“That seals the deal then,” Dean said anxiously. “Spike gets a new pair and we’re back in the business of viciously torturing and killing him.”
As Buffy absorbed the glint of excitement in his eyes, she heard a stirring behind her. Riley leaned against an examining table, clenching his jaw as his face failed to mask his pain.
“I’m fine,” he declared when he noticed the collective looks.
Graham discreetly leaned toward Buffy.
“We got to move fast,” he whispered. “If we can’t find the doc, Riley’s isn’t going to get through the night.”
Buffy sputtered with an apprehensive breath.
“Alright, Spike is looking for a little cranial makeover, he’s going to need a place with medical equipment.”
“This is a big place,” Graham gauged.
“No, not here, it’s too busy and too much risk,” Buffy replied. “I need you to call in your boys and have them canvass all the medical facilities including vet clinics....”
Graham nodded as Riley edged up next to him as Buffy and Dean led the way out. Buffy clenched her fists as they bounded down the hall.
“I swear, I’m gonna wring Spike’s neck,” she growled softly.
Dean lit up with a pleasant grin as they ambled through the hospital main entrance.
“Oh yeah? And then what? A little bloodletting just to make him cry?”
Buffy hardened her expression, clenching her fists tighter.
“Worse,” she vowed.
Dean soaked in her fierce look and felt a bounce in his step.
“Finally,” he cheered. “Let’s go kill ourselves a vampire!”
Some time later after searching the medical facilities on the way to campus, Buffy glanced up at Dean as he whistled cheerfully. Dean caught Buffy staring up at him and drew an enthusiastic expression.
“Do me one favor, let me get a few good shots at him before you stake and dust, I mean, I’ve been waiting a long time to take him out, so don’t steal my thunder.....”
Buffy simply rolled her eyes before checking on Riley as he trekked a few feet ahead of them.
As they approached the lecture hall, Buffy heard several voices behind the door.
“He’s here,” she grunted softly as she raised her leg in the air.
After a swift kick into the door, it ripped open and she and Dean charged inside with Riley keeping right in step. Spike swung around and beamed a wicked grin when he noticed the three.
“The Slayer and her two bumbling sidekicks,” he said. “Ah well, I’ll have me fun taking all of you out!”
Dean deftly spun his dagger in his hand and threw Spike an icy glare.
“Bring it,” he grunted.
“Put your face on Harm, we got company,” Spike said as he flashed into his vamp face.
Buffy, Dean and Riley slowly advanced toward Spike and Harmony as Dr. Overheiser tried to sneak away. Buffy kept her sights trained on Spike as she snatched the doctor by the arm and tossed him into a corner.
“You’re not going anywhere,” she barked. “When we’re finished here, you’ve got work to do.”
The doctor cowered violently in the corner, giving a meek nod. Spike leered on the operating theater floor as Harmony leveled her crossbow.
“So glad you showed up Slayer,” Spike taunted. “You’ve been on me mind and I wanted you to be the first to hear the news. No more pesky chip zapping me head anymore.”
“It’s a dream come true,” Dean chimed with a malicious smile. “I could cry tears of joy.”
Dean faked a sniffle as Spike snarled in his vamp face.
“Oh, you’ll cry alright fancy face,” he sneered. “But not tears of joy, pain, lots of it....”
“Can we get to the part where I kill you?” Buffy asked roughly.
“You can surely try,” Spike growled. “But you won’t.”
As a standoff unfolded between sides, Harmony flinched, sending a bolt flying across the room. The bolt slammed into Riley’s right leg but he simply glared back at Harmony without wincing. He launched off his uninjured leg, springing toward Harmony, taking her down.
“And it’s been brought!” Dean roared as he followed suit, advancing on Spike.
Buffy observed Riley fighting Harmony in hand to hand combat. His face was dripping with sweat as his chest bellowed with breaths of exertion.
“Riley! Watch it!” she said apprehensively.
Distracted by the sight of Riley fighting Harmony, Spike drew a snarky grin at Buffy.
“Aw how cute, still feeling all warm and fuzzy for the former trophy boy eh?” he sneered.
Spike felt his head whip to the right as a fist struck his face. He blinked in surprise and shifted his sights as Dean swiftly followed with a hard uppercut. Spike seethed through his fangs as Dean wound his fist back for another attack while Buffy launched her own offensive, striking with a kick to the side. Spike stumbled back before regaining his balance. He leaped into the air and landed on a table.
“Hope you two had one last shag cuz I’m about to kill you both very badly,” he said with a menacing grin.
Spike roared as he sprung off the table and knocked Buffy to the ground, pinning her down. Dean rushed over and delivered a series of brutal blows into the back of Spike’s head. Spike growled as he absorbed the blows, determined to take a sweet drink from the Slayer’s neck first. As his fangs neared the flesh, he grimaced and yowled.
Spike clutched his head and bolted off Buffy, staggering back in agony as a soft humming rang through the chaos. Buffy and Dean exchanged looks as Spike moaned some more.
“Huh, still a chip head,” Dean said.
He shrugged and punched Spike in the gut while Buffy threw a few hits to the face. After a minute, Buffy hurled Spike through the air until he crash landed in the corner next to the doctor. Dean gloated in Spike’s misery as a noise caused Buffy to shift her focus.
Riley staggered back and collapsed against a gurney. Harmony stared at her fist with a sheepish expression as Riley tumbled to the floor. Buffy darted over with concern as Riley displayed a significant amount of bruising on his face, his injured leg bloodied and his breathing growing shallow. Buffy draped his arm around her and tried to help him up but his weak state weighed him down. Buffy checked his pulse as he was unresponsive.
“Help!” she cried.
Dean averted his watchful eyes from Spike after hearing the distress in Buffy’s tone. Spike sprung to his feet in a flash heading for the station where the doctor had operated on him. Dean was about to advance on Spike again when Buffy’s call tugged his eyes back on her.
“Dean, I need your help!”
Dean blew out a breath as he pivoted toward Buffy and helped her maneuver Riley onto a gurney.
Spike scowled when he scooped out a penny from a bowl. Dr. Overheiser gave a flat smile at Spike.
“Hey doc! Stop wasting taxpayers’ money and get over here!” Dean barked.
Dr. Overheiser fled toward Buffy and Dean as they got Riley situated on the gurney. As the doctor gathered tools, Dean glanced over his shoulder to see Spike and Harmony flying through the door.
“Dammit,” he grumbled.
He shifted anxiously in his stance as his eyes swung to Buffy and the doctor hovering over Riley. Buffy met his eyes as he pivoted toward the door, prepared to hunt down Spike and Harmony.
“Just let it go,” she urged. “We’ll deal with them later.”
Dean heaved a sigh of reluctance.
“Yeah, yeah,” he surrendered.
Almost an hour later, Graham emerged from the operating theater and ambled over to Buffy and Dean seated at a table. The two rose to their feet as Graham approached.
“Hey, how’s he doing?” Buffy asked.
“Doc got to him just in time,” Graham said with an appreciative expression. “Riley wanted me to thank the both of you.”
“Well, I’m glad we were able to do something,” Buffy said. “We’re gonna head out. I trust you’ll look out for him?”
Graham nodded as Buffy drew a polite smile before pivoting toward the campus exit.
When they arrived back at the house, Dean collapsed on the couch in the living room while Buffy snuck upstairs to check on her mom. A few minutes later, Buffy descended the stairs and padded into the living room. She folded down onto the couch and curled up next to Dean. She pressed her ear against his chest and took comfort in the steady beat of his heart. She let out a grateful sigh as her eyes drifted up to Dean. She scooted her body up and pressed a tender kiss on his mouth. When she parted, she rapped her fingers against his chest and simply absorbed the glow of his eyes as he gazed back at her.
“There’s nothing wrong with normal,” she stated softly. “I don’t need you to keep up with me – I just need you.”
“Yeah, you need me to help you save your ex boyfriends from imminent danger,” Dean cracked with a dry smile.
Buffy moped deeply as she snuggled closer to him.
“It’s not like it was an excuse,” she stated.
Dean lifted out of his sarcastic expression and shaded with sincerity.
“Yeah, I know....it’s what you do, help people who are in danger,” he said.
“So, we’re good?”
“Yeah, we’re good,” he assured.
After a long minute of passionate kissing, a thought drifted through Dean’s mind. He pulled away and cupped Buffy’s chin as he drew a sardonic smile.
“BUT, if you ever bang Spike, that’s it, I’m done. If he needs help, he can just shove a stake in his heart,” he grunted.
Buffy scowled with offense.
“First off, major EWW,” she groaned. “And second, that will happen....NEV-ER.”
She rolled off the couch and to her feet, drawing her hand out to Dean. He took her hand and shrugged.
“I’m just saying as far as irritating old guys that had a thing for you, it could happen,” he posed.
Buffy shaded with immense disgust as she led Dean up the stairs.
“Only in my worst nightmare,” she said sharply.