Ch. 63 Behind the Door
A/N: Involves episode “No Place Like Home”
Two weeks later:
Buffy widened her eyes in dread when she heard a sickening thud when Dean flew through the air and crashed into a metal ‘Private Property’ sign, making a large dent from the impact. As he slumped against the chain link fence and groaned, Buffy shaded with worry.
Dean wiped the spot of blood flowing from the corner of his mouth as he swallowed the intense pain flaring through his body. He flashed a disgruntled frown as he clutched his side and eyed the big, bald biker vamp snarling down at him. Through his swimming vision, he kept icy eyes on the demon.
“Just kick his ass,” he grunted.
Buffy sprung off her feet and threw a series of brutal punches at the big biker vamp. The vamp’s head rocked back like a speed bag as Buffy quickly followed with a roundhouse kick to the gut. The vamp stumbled back a few steps, growling ferociously at her.
Buffy glanced around the vamp to check on Dean. He was sitting against the fence now with his eyes shut, groaning very softly. She glowered deeply at the biker vamp as he slowly circled her.
“You know I REALLY don’t like when you mess up my boyfriend!” she growled.
“That’s not as bad as what I’m gonna do to you, Slayer,” the vampire taunted.
The vampire grinned wickedly and lunged at Buffy. She cart wheeled to her right just a hair before he made contact. The vampire stumbled forward and roared in frustration. When he whipped around, Buffy rained a combo of punches, blowing him back into the chain link fence. Dean groaned from the vibrations of the fence exasperating the pain in his body. Buffy pinned the vampire to the fence and deepened her glare.
“Huh, all talk and no action,” she quipped sharply.
Buffy rammed her stake through the vamp’s heart, turning him into dust. Dean opened his eyes and frowned when he felt something blowing over his face.
“Great, thanks for the dust facial,” he grumbled.
Buffy heaved several breaths of exertion as she stashed her stake away. Dean sucked in a slow breath as he pushed himself up along the fence. Buffy tucked herself between his legs and gently folded her hands around his face, looking him over with deep concern.
“I’m fine,” he insisted. “There are six of you standing here right?”
Dean flashed a small, wry smile as Buffy grew more concerned.
“We should get you checked out,” she stressed.
“I said I’m fine,” he replied firmly. “I mean, this night out was really starting to suck because I hadn’t yet been hit, or thrown or given my normal knock to the head by some demon so yay.......”
Dean found himself squinting when a sharp beam of light hit his sights.
“Move it along now,” said a voice.
Buffy swung around to see a night watchman on patrol. He studied Buffy and Dean with mild suspicion.
“You two adventurous spirits need to get your thrills elsewhere,” he chastised lightly. “I can’t have anymore of you types undressing and getting into it out here in the open, on private property.”
Buffy and Dean stared with disbelief at the night watchmen before exchanging looks.
“Oh, uh, right,” Buffy said.
Buffy feigned her embarrassment as Dean played along.
“Yeah sorry sir, we’ll get into it, somewhere else,” Dean added as he smacked Buffy on the ass.
Buffy shot him a scolding look as the night watchman still held his flashlight on the two.
“Well, if I was in charge, I wouldn’t care what you do out here,” he replied. “I mean, I
can understand the attraction since this place isn’t even being used. But I’m not in charge, so I got to do my job......”
The night watchman waved toward the exit with his flashlight. Buffy and Dean nodded in understanding, maintaining the night watchman’s assumptions. Buffy looped her arm through Dean’s and pried a toothy smile across her face.
“Say no more,” Dean said.
“Yeah, sorry, we’re outta here,” Buffy said.
After a few steps, the night watchman called out in a sharper tone.
“Wait a minute.”
Buffy and Dean both tensed in apprehension before they slowly shifted around.
“Don’t forget this,” the night watchman said.
He crouched down and swept up a strange, glowing ball and handed it to Buffy. Buffy feigned an acknowledging smile as Dean bit back his wonder.
“Oh, yeah, thanks,” she said.
The night watchman snorted in amusement.
“Is that the new mood lighting for your generation or what?”
Buffy just smiled back before shifting her sights forward. After they made some distance from the factory, Dean lowered his eyes to the glowing ball.
“Great ball of fire,” he cracked.
Buffy raised an eyebrow in incredulousness.
“That’s the best you can come up with?”
Dean flashed an annoyed frown as rubbed the back of his head.
“What do you want? I was Tubby the Vampire’s playtoy,” he groaned.
“I didn’t tell you to be bait,” Buffy pointed.
Dean bolted in his tracks and deepened his annoyance.
“Really? Well, thanks for letting me know NOW,” he snorted sardonically.
Dean rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“And you think I have problems communicating,” he muttered.
The following morning, Dean let out a yawn as he shuffled out of Buffy’s bedroom. He stretched his arms out as Dawn emerged from her bedroom. The two yawned in unison and filed down the stairs toward the kitchen to find Buffy behind the stove.
Buffy scooped two pieces of French toast from her pan to a plate and set it down on the counter. Dean drew a silly smile as the sweet aroma hit his nose. He rubbed his hands together and picked a fork up. Buffy scowled as she yanked the plate away just as Dean was about to cut into the toast.
“No, that’s not for you,” Buffy moaned.
Dean sighed with disappointment as she set the plate on a tray.
“Oh, okay, well.....where’s mine?”
Buffy blew out a breath as Dawn drew a snarky smile.
“Aren’t you too clumsy to play Martha Stewart?”
Dawn chuckled at her crack as she noticed a vase of flowers on the tray. She picked at the arrangement and started transferring a few more flowers into the vase.
“Mom’s not feeling well so I wanted to treat her to a breakfast that doesn’t come straight out of a box,” Buffy stated. “So don’t touch.....”
Dawn shoved two flowers into the thin vase, causing it to tip over and roll along the counter. Dawn eyed the water spilling out of the vase and gulped.
“Whoops,” she muttered.
Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation.
“Touch anything,” she finished.
Buffy set her empty pan in the sink as Dean leaned over the fridge door and scoped the contents. He let out a sigh as he swung the door shut and moved to the coffee pot to pour a cup. Buffy rinsed out her pan and then pushed a plate covered with a lid toward Dean. He eyed her curiously before removing the lid to reveal a plate of warm French toast with a couple of pieces of bacon layered between slices. There was a little cup of syrup on the side as well.
“That’s for you,” she said softly.
Buffy shined a sweet smile as Dean sparked with glee as he plucked up the bacon French toast, dipped it in the syrup and then shoved a big piece in his mouth. When he moaned with pleasure, Buffy let out a soft giggle as Dawn simply rolled her eyes.
Joyce shuffled into the kitchen in her bathrobe and drew a smile when she saw everyone.
“Morning everyone,” she chimed as she took a seat at the counter.
When she noticed the breakfast tray, she widened her smile.
“My goodness, is that an ‘I love you’ mom breakfast tray? Did you two go to all this trouble?”
Dawn grinned and nodded emphatically.
“Buffy did a little,” she said.
Buffy glared at Dawn in deep annoyance and scoffed.
“Uh, hello, I didn’t do just a little,” she snapped.
Joyce waved casually as she looked over the plate.
“Oh hon, it’s the thought that counts.”
Buffy balked loudly as Joyce picked up the cup of juice. After a sip, she shaded with apprehension.
“Is this just a gesture or is it something else?”
Joyce glanced at Dean sipping his coffee and eating his breakfast treat. She shifted her eyes to Buffy.
“Are you dropping out of school or running away or.....pregnant?”
Dean widened his eyes and nearly choked on his bite when he heard the last part of the question. He bellowed forward and coughed into his fist for a second. When he looked up, he saw Buffy, Dawn and Joyce staring at him in wonder.
Dean threw his eyes to Buffy and frowned.
“Don’t be rude to your mom, answer the question,” he urged.
Seeing the flare of dread in his eyes Buffy rolled her own. She glanced at her mom and shook her head.
“No to all three,” she confirmed.
Dean let out a huge sigh of relief as he picked up his coffee and headed to the kitchen table.
“Jesus, what a way to start the morning,” he muttered to himself.
Buffy leaned across the counter and shined her concern.
“We know you haven’t been feeling stellar lately......”
Joyce nodded and smiled in appreciation.
“Thank you girls,” she said. “I’m afraid the temporary headache wasn’t so temporary,
it’s back and bigger and stronger.”
“Well, what did your doctors tell you?”
Joyce rummaged into her pocket and pulled out a bottle of prescription pills.
“No more than four of these.....things in one day, rest and then come back in for more
Buffy drew a heavily skeptical frown.
“So in other words, they gave you some standard shpeel they learned in med school to candy coat the fact that they have no idea what’s wrong with you,” she moaned.
Joyce didn’t seem as concerned, waving her hand through the air.
“No, but I’m sure they will. They know what they’re doing.”
“No, they DON’T, otherwise we’d have some clue to what is going on,” Buffy posed sharply. “We should go see another doctor.”
“I didn’t really see a first doctor sweetie, it was one of those nurse practioners,” Joyce clarified.
“Well then we’ll go see an actual doctor,” Buffy said emphatically. “Go on and get dressed and then Dean and I will take you.”
Buffy sprung up from her seat at the counter as Dean glanced at his watch. Joyce pulled Dawn into her arms and squeezed her.
“Oh hon, I know you’re worried about me but really, you shouldn’t,” she stressed. “I mean, I’m the mom and I’m the one that should worry and I have reason to. You slay vampires....”
Joyce squeezed Dawn affectionately again.
“And this one is my widdle punkin’ pie,” she chirped.
“Oh mom, you haven’t called me that since I was a kid,” Dawn moaned.
Joyce pinched Dawn’s cheek.
“You’ll always be a kid to me,” she said.
“I’m fourteen,” Dawn whined.
Buffy observed her mom and Dawn’s brief bonding moment.
“What did you used to call me when I was a kid?” she asked.
Buffy shifted her sights to Dean when she heard his familiar snort of amusement. When he opened his mouth and pointed a finger to answer, she glared at him.
“I meant MOM, not you,” she groaned.
Joyce beamed a loving smile at Buffy.
“I didn’t have one for you sweetie, you were just.....my Buffy,” she said.
Joyce sipped some more juice as she regarded the time.
“Wait a minute, why are all of you here? Shouldn’t you be at Mr. Giles’ big thing? That is today, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s a pretty big thing,” Buffy acceded. “His grand opening.”
“Oh! Well you should head over there! Go on.”
“Well, alright, but what time is your doctor’s appointment?”
Joyce flashed Buffy a knowing look.
“What? I’m just curious,” she reasoned. “Anyway, just relax today.”
Dawn bounced in her seat as she tangled her arms around Joyce. Buffy tugged Dean away from the table. He quickly refilled his cup before heading upstairs to shower.
“You can read my report on rain forests,” she offered. “Oh and we can play backgammon or.....”
Buffy frowned with disapproval as she ushered Dawn away from their mom.
“I thought you told me I couldn’t go,” Dawn groaned.
“Well, now you can.”
A short time later, Buffy and Dean walked into the Magic Box, hearing the bell chime ring when they pushed through the door. They paused to take a look around the newly stocked shelves and displays.
“I gotta say, this place ain’t too shabby, you would never know how often demons crash and party here,” Dean cracked.
He looked down at the brand new carpet and drew a dry smile.
“And look at that, the carpet is dead guy free.”
Buffy shifted her eyes around until she saw Giles in the center of the shop. Dean did a double take when he saw Giles smiling proudly, dressed in a purple wizard’s hat and cloak adorned with yellow stars and crescents. Buffy stared at Giles as Dean spent all of a half second to check his vision. His face burst with a grin as he folded over and laughed hysterically for a long minute. When his amusement finally settled, Dean wiped the tears of joy from his eyes and straightened. He opened his mouth to dish out a comment. When nothing came to mind, he widened his eyes and scratched his head.
“Oh god,” he gasped. “I think my brain just exploded from the twenty million jokes that just spun through my head.”
After some silence passed, Giles let out a sigh as he removed his funny hat and cloak and set them aside. The shop rang with the high pitched bell as Dawn rushed through the door, breathing heavy from exertion.
“Nice try trying to give me the slip,” she said, sticking her tongue out at Buffy.
Dawn looked around and noticed the lack of customers.
“So when’s your official grand opening Mr. Giles? You know for people who actually PAY to waste your time.”
Dawn threw a snarky look at Buffy.
“Today, as of nine this morning,” Giles stated.
Buffy rolled her eyes and charged over to Dawn.
“Go find or book or something,” she groaned. “But don’t....”
Dawn rolled her eyes this time.
“Break anything I know,” she moaned. “You don’t have to tell me fifteen million times a day Buffy.”
Dawn huffed as she wandered off into the shop. Dean browsed the front area of the shop as Buffy conversed with Giles at the register counter.
“I am not worried about the less than desirable first day sales,” Giles said with confidence. “It won’t be long before word of mouth spreads and then business picks up.”
Buffy looked off and waved her hand through the air.
“Yeah, yeah, no worries.”
Giles shaded with concern when he gauged Buffy’s lack of interest.
“Is something wrong Buffy?”
Buffy blinked rapidly out of her daze and noticed Giles staring at her.
“Oh, uh, no, not in the world in of slaying, I’ve got a handle on it,” she said. “It’s my mom, she’s still feeling under the weather and we don’t know why.”
“Has she seen a doctor?”
“Yep, she went in, took some tests and then they gave us a big, fat prognosis of ‘diddly squat’,” Buffy spat with a frown.
“That is unfortunate,” Giles replied with concern. “Perhaps with a little more time......”
The high pitched chime of the bell cut through the shop as Willow skipped through the door. Willow moped when she noticed Giles’ change of attire.
“Hi! Hey, what happened to your cloak and hat Giles?”
Dawn strolled back to the front of the shop, clutching some trinkets.
“Hi Willow! Look at what I found!”
She grinned at Willow and waved her findings.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Buffy said as she dug into her bag. “I found something too on patrol last night.”
Dean wandered over to the register as Buffy removed the glowing orb. He cracked a goofy grin and smacked his hands together. Buffy flashed him a strange look as she cupped the glowing orb at her side.
“How’s it hanging?”
Buffy sighed and shook her head in dismiss while the rest of the group showed no amusement. Dean frowned with disappointment.
“Oh come on! Nothing? Damn, I’m too young to be losing my touch,” he grumbled.
The gang gathered around Buffy to assess the strange orb.
“Okay so, a little round table discussion guys, what do think this is?” she asked.
Giles took a pensive study of the glowing orb.
“It has paranormal origins,” he assessed.
“Wow, you can tell just by looking at it?” Willow asked incredulously.
Giles shrugged. “It’s shiny.”
“Well, whatever it is, there are probably clues where we found it. We’ll hit it up again tonight,” Dean said.
Buffy veiled her apprehension as she forced a nod.
“Yeah, will do,” she said.
Dawn sputtered with a scoff as she eyed Dean.
“Buffy said you’re not allowed to patrol with her anymore,” she blurted.
Dean shined his mass surprise.
Buffy fidgeted in her stance, masking her admission as she glared at Dawn.
“Uh, I didn’t say that.”
“Yeah huh,” Dawn replied. “You were saying that you prefer patrolling alone because then you don’t have to watch out for anyone’s a.....”
Buffy cut in sharply. “You misinterpreted what I was saying and I didn’t mean Dean couldn’t patrol.....”
“You said you hate how often Dean gets hurt on patrol cause he’s only human and you wouldn’t want in your gag worthy words, ‘that delicious goo making face’ to get messed up.”
Dawn gagged several times as Buffy widened her eyes in horror. Dean narrowed his sights on her while the gang glared at Dawn. Dawn shined her cluelessness at the collective stares.
“What are you all staring at me for?”
After another second of stares, Giles broke the silence with a sudden recollection.
“Dean, the heavy bags need a bit more slack, if you could assist me for one moment,”
Dean turned to Buffy and flashed a dry smile.
“Gee, I don’t know Giles, this inferior, lowly human with a delicious ‘goo making’ face might get hurt doing that, better ask ‘Patrol Monitor’ if it’s okay.”
“Dean, I didn’t mean....” Buffy started to moan.
But Dean turned and followed Giles into the back of the shop before she could explain further. Giles perched in the doorway and eyed Willow.
“Willow, would you please tend to any customers.....”
“Yep,” Willow said emphatically. “Consider me the designated tender.”
Buffy threw an annoyed glance at Dawn.
“When they’re done, we’re going,” she said sternly.
Dawn rolled her eyes and charged over to a display shelf.
A short time later, Dean emerged from the back of the shop with Giles, wiping the grease from his hands on a rag.
“Well, that didn’t take too long or require much effort, so, you don’t have to bribe me this time Giles.”
Giles drew a peevish frown. “Oh, so glad you are willing to provide such selfless service.”
Dean shrugged as he tossed his dirty rag in a can. He glanced at Buffy and Willow huddled by the register. He studied Buffy’s deeply irked expression before his sights followed the sounds of a loud crash. Dawn shaded with a sheepish look as she stood over the remnants of a broken trinket.
“Uh, sorry,” she mumbled.
On the drive back to the Summers’ house, Dean cranked the volume every few seconds as the sisters argument lingered on and on.
“I heard you ten times before Buffy!” Dawn growled from the backseat.
“If you really did, you wouldn’t have broken something,” Buffy snapped.
Dawn huffed as she crossed her arms. “I was bored waiting for you to finish talking about me.”
Buffy balked with offense as Dawn shot her a look.
“I know you were talking about me,” she groaned. “It’s not like I was in another country....I heard you.....”
Dean stifled his own groan, shifting the volume dial even more. Buffy frowned with exasperation as the blaring sound of a guitar riff struck her ears.
“Dean? Can’t you see I’m trying to have a conversation here? Turn that down!”
“Uh, I’d rather not.”
Buffy fumed through her teeth, prompting Dean to reluctantly lower the volume. He stomped down on the gas pedal trying to get back as soon as possible.
A few minutes later, Dean sighed with immense relief when he pulled to the curb of the house. Buffy and Dawn continued to lobby back and forth as they strolled through the door. The sound of the television wafted from the living room as Dawn rolled her eyes as Buffy’s last chastising remark.
“It’s not my fault I don’t have special Slayer reflexes,” she moaned.
Buffy let the comment roll off her as she wandered through the house.
“Mom, we’re home! Mom?”
Buffy bolted at the sight of her mom lying on the couch, looking very pallid and wincing with pain.
“Mom!” she squealed in fright.
Buffy and Dawn rushed to her side as Dean snapped the television off to cut the noise in the house.
“Mom, are you okay?” Dawn asked.
Joyce grabbed her temples and winced deeper.
“This headache again,” she said. “It’s a bit worse than the last one.”
Dean shined his concern as he took out his cell phone.
“I’ll call your doctor,” he said.
Buffy shook her head and gently clutched her mom’s arm.
“No, we’ll take you to the hospital,” she urged.
“Oh, no, that’s not necessary I’m okay,” Joyce said assuredly.
“You can’t be sure!” Buffy protested. “The doctors don’t even know what’s going on and if you’re in pain, we should get you some help, so momma please, let us take you......”
Buffy looked over her shoulder at Dean. Dean absorbed her shaking lips and the dread swelling in her eyes and felt his concern rising.
“Yeah, maybe we should get you checked out Mrs. Summers.”
Joyce drew an appreciative smile.
“I’ll be fine,” she stressed. “All I need is a refill and this headache will go away.”
Buffy bit her lip in hesitation before snatching the empty bottle from her mother.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can,” she said.
After flying out of the hospital pharmacy doors, Buffy bounded toward the exit, her face knitting with another degree of dread. As the main doors swung open, Buffy impulsively charged forward without looking. Dean widened his eyes at the medical team wheeling a gurney around a corner, nearly colliding with Buffy. He gently pulled Buffy back and out of the way as the medical team rolled the gurney around. Buffy blinked out of her distracted state and absorbed her near miss. She looked up at Dean, who still had a hand protectively cupped over her shoulder and saw the fear flaring in his eyes.
“That was close,” he muttered.
“I.....I didn’t even notice,” Buffy admitted.
Buffy sank against Dean as one of the staff members on the medical team smiled at her.
“Hi, uh, Buffy, right?”
Dean glanced warily at the smiling young guy while Buffy displayed her puzzlement.
“Uh....” Buffy started, furrowing her brows.
Dean hitched his head up and beamed a sardonic smile.
“Well, if it isn’t the friendly neighborhood intern,” he cracked.
Ben absorbed the dry remark with an amicable nod.
“Name’s Ben,” he stated. “Or, Hey You, Man Nurse, as I’m more often addressed by.....well everyone.....”
Ben guffawed at his self-deprecating comment and then stopped when neither Buffy nor Dean shared his amusement. The patient on the gurney abruptly whipped forward and began convulsing violently.
“Easy there!” Ben said.
Ben struggled to hold the flailing man down with all his physical might but failed miserably.
“Let me go you fascist beasts!” the man growled.
As Ben rattled off medical treatment instructions to another staff member, Buffy instinctively reached over and pinned the man against the gurney, holding him firmly down. The team gathered around to start strapping him securely to the gurney. Ben eyed Buffy with a look of amazement.
“Uh wow,” Ben gasped. “You are one seriously strong girl.”
Buffy released her grip on the patient and backed away.
As she tried to think of something to say, she felt a hand sharply snagging her wrist. She scowled as the man on the gurney sputtered incoherently while staring at the bottle of pills in her hand.
“What’s this? What’s this? What’s this? That won’t do you any good!”
As Buffy swatted at the guy, Dean narrowed his eyes when his mind struck with recognition.
“Wait a minute....we’ve seen this dude before......the other night.....”
Buffy took a long look at the man and blinked with recognition at the night watchman.
“Oh,” she acknowledged. “But.....he wasn’t talking crazy like this before......”
The night watchman firmed up his grip on Buffy’s wrist, widening his eyes.
“Watch out missy!” he cried. “Keep your eyes open! It could be anyone! They’ll use your family to get to you! That’s how they do it!”
As Buffy clammed up from the unnerving ramblings, Dean smacked the night watchman’s hand off of Buffy’s arm. The bottle of pills flew from her hand and rolled along the floor.
“Crazy, party of one,” Dean grunted as the night watchman continued to rant.
Ben nodded at the medical team to wheel the night watchman away as Buffy slowly lifted out of her daze.
“No....wait,” she finally said. “What are you talking about?”
As the staff rolled the man away, he laughed eerily and twisted his head in an odd angle to look back at her.
“Uh sorry,” Ben said to Buffy with an apologetic look.
Dean swept up the bottle of pills as Buffy stared blankly down the hall. Ben eyed the bottle of pills before regarding Buffy.
“You were at the pharmacy? I take it your mom’s still not feeling well?”
As Buffy drifted back into her daze, Dean questioned Ben sharply with his sights.
“Obviously not Intern Man Nurse,” he chastised lightly. “And none of your fellow white coats have a clue as to what’s wrong with her.”
“No, but I think I’m getting a sense,” Buffy said.
Dean eyed her curiously as she tugged him toward the exit doors.
After delivering her mom’s medicine, Buffy flew back upstairs and dug out the glowing orb, staring at intently. Dean caught up to her and watched as she turned the orb over in her hand.
“Okay, you want to tell me now what’s going on? What this ‘sense’ of yours is?”
Buffy threw her eyes cautiously into the hallway. She closed the door and sat down on the edge of her bed.
“I think something is making my mom sick,” she said hurriedly.
“I know, we just don’t know what is.”
Buffy shook her head as she picked up the orb.
“I think it has to do with this,” she said.
Dean glanced at the glowing orb before shifting his sights on Buffy.
“The glowy ball thing is making your mom sick?”
“You saw the guy at the hospital, the night watchman; he was normal and fine last night and now he’s mad and it’s because of this, whatever it is, it did something to him so that he knows things, he said something is hurting my mom.....”
“You’re gonna believe some crazy talk?”
Buffy shaded with frustration as she shot to her feet.
“Didn’t you hear what he said Dean? They get to you through the family. My mom is sick and no doctor can figure out what’s wrong, so it’s not something natural causing it,” she spat.
Seeing the flare of skepticism in his eyes, Buffy huffed deeply.
“Do NOT tell me that I’m crazy,” she cried.
“I wasn’t going to,” Dean stressed. “I was just going to say.....maybe
Buffy shook her head as the worry lines thickened around her eyes.
“I’m not,” she stated firmly. “We find this orb thing, that night watchman goes crazy, my mom is still sick. It has to add up to something. You can’t tell me this is a coincidence.”
Dean gazed at her for a second, soaking in the heavy fear flaring within her eyes.
“Okay, yeah, I don’t believe in coincidence but it’s possible these things might not be related.”
“But they might be,” Buffy said emphatically. “The doctors are stumped by my mom’s illness and then the night watchman just happens to go crazy? If something is coming after me through my family, I have to find out what or who. We’re talking about my mom Dean!”
Buffy bit down on her quavering bottom lip as anxiety boiled through her veins. As the weight of a family threat sank into his system, Dean let out a deep breath, drawing himself onto the edge of the bed.
“Okay, let’s go over this.......”
Dean blew out several more breaths to stave off the rising tide of his own apprehension. He forced his eyes to the glowing orb and pondered over the details.
“If this thing causes madness to those that are exposed to it.....we probably should get measured for our straight jackets.”
Buffy blew out a breath and analyzed her senses.
“I don’t feel any different.”
“Well, your freaky girl DNA probably wouldn’t be affected but me, a lowly human.....”
Buffy rolled her eyes and frowned.
“I’m just saying, I’m more likely to be the next one dining at the crazy farm.”
Dean stared more intently into the glowing orb until Buffy set it aside.
“I’ll keep my eye on it and you,” she said.
“Well, if something happens, be prepared to rough up this, ‘goo making’ face,” Dean cracked with a smirk.
Buffy deepened her frown as she crossed her arms.
“My mom is being targeted by something and you’re making jokes!” she barked.
Dean heaved a sigh as his smile was blasted away.
“I need you, now more than ever,” Buffy said shakily. “If something happens to my mom.......”
Buffy looked away as tears swarmed her eyes. She felt a set of hands gently cupping her shoulders. She inhaled a deep breath before shifting her sights up to Dean. She watched his face draw tight with conviction.
“Nothing’s gonna happen to her,” he said. “We’ll figure out what’s going on and if it’s some nasty, mean, evil sonofabitch behind it all, we’ll kick its ass to the other side of Hell.”
Early the next morning, Buffy hurriedly dressed and paced around the room gathering her things. As her trepidation grew, she roughly shook Dean until he emitted a low groan. His eyes fluttered open as Buffy slipped into her jacket.
“I need to talk to Giles,” she said.
Dean let out a yawn as he sat up.
“I don’t feel crazy.....or crazier than usual.”
Buffy hung under the doorway with an impatient look.
“I can go without you,” she replied.
After soaking in her immense determination, Dean swiftly tossed the covers and slipped out of bed.
“Just gimme a sec,” he said.
“I’m gonna check on my mom and then be downstairs.”
As soon as the Impala hit the curb next to the magic shop, Buffy flew out the passenger door before Dean shifted into park.
Buffy spotted Giles and quickly weaved through a handful of customers strolling around the shop.
“Good morning,” Giles chimed.
“I need to talk to you Giles,” Buffy urged.
Buffy swept her sights around the people in the shop as Dean trekked through the door and spotted her.
“I think I know what’s going on with my mom,” Buffy continued, keeping her voice low.
Giles nodded toward the back of the shop where it was less crowded. Buffy and Dean followed along, retreating to a secluded corner.
“Oh, the doctors finally determined a diagnosis?”
“No, they never will.”
Anya and Willow strolled over as the customers in the shop dispersed out the door.
“What’s making my mom sick has to do with something supernatural,” Buffy replied.
Buffy retrieved the orb from her bag and held it out to the group.
“The guy who gave this to me, the night watchman, I saw him at the hospital, he went mad in the span of twenty-four hours. I think it was this.”
Willow, Giles and Anya stared at the orb before taking several steps back.
“We probably shouldn’t lay blame on the nice glowy ball,” Willow gulped. “We might make it angry.”
“This didn’t cause his madness,” Buffy clarified. “I was exposed to it last night and so was Dean and we’re both fine.”
“So far,” Dean added.
“You should have heard the things he said Giles,” Buffy said.
“Like what?” Giles asked.
“He said - they go through the family to get to me.”
“They? Who is they?”
“I’m not sure but I’m going to find out,” Buffy replied adamantly “This guy was able to
see things that the rest of us don’t. He knows that something is out there and it’s after me.”
“We must be open to all possibilities, however,” Giles stressed. “If this man went mad, we cannot be sure what he truly spoke of.”
“It’s worth a shot,” Buffy said with more determination.
She yanked several texts from a shelf and set them on the table. Dean perused a few other shelves as Buffy settled into a seat.
“There must be something in here. I’m going to find it.”
“And when you do?” Willow asked.
“I’ll hunt it down and hurt it very, very badly, before I kill it. NO ONE messes with my mom,” Buffy said sharply. “NO ONE.”
A short time later, as customers flooded the shop, Willow broke from the research session to tend to the register. Anya stood stiffly next to her while Giles assisted a customer in the center of the shop. Xander stumbled through the door, wedging passed the thickening crowds as Buffy and Dean diligently pored over books, stamping out the noise flourishing around them.
Xander strolled over to Buffy and Dean. Dean looked up from his book and nodded in acknowledgment, while Buffy kept her nose buried in her research.
“Looks like someone misses the book building of yesteryear,” Xander cracked with a jovial smile.
Buffy pulled her eyes up from her book and flashed Xander an all business look.
“Something is hurting my mom, gave her an illness that no doctor can diagnose.”
Xander winced with concern.
“Yikes, some demon has upped their game, any ideas about who or what it is?”
“Oh, yeah, only about a hundred – or so,” Buffy moaned.
Buffy heaved a sigh as she glanced at the piles of books littering the table. Dean shifted in his seat to dig out his buzzing cell phone. He glanced at the number on the caller ID.
“Hey dad.....sorry I can’t hear you....Hold on a sec.....”
Dean pushed his chair from the table and drifted to a quieter area of the shop. A few minutes later, Dean returned to the table to find Buffy collecting various items from the store. She dumped everything on the counter and double checked a list.
“What’s all that for?”
“I’ll fill you in on the way home.”
On the drive back, Buffy filled Dean in on the details on what she had learned through Giles and Anya.
“So you want to do a spell?”
Seeing the lines of skepticism gathering around his eyes, Buffy shaded with concern.
“You don’t think I can do it? Or that it won’t work?”
“Well, you know how I feel about spells and magic. I mean, based on past experience, there’s always been some kind of.....fallout.....when it comes to....magic....”
Dean reluctantly flashed onto a particular moment when his ears filled with the very faint sounds of a horrible song spilling out of his mouth. He grimaced and shuddered as he buried the memory away.
“I know what I’m doing,” Buffy assured firmly. “I’ve been training hard in all aspects. I can do this.”
When the car hit the curb, Buffy once again climbed out before Dean cut off the engine.
Dean glanced at Dawn as she shuffled out from the kitchen. He gave her a nod as he slung a bag over his shoulder. Buffy was setting out several incense holders on the floor when Dean ambled into her room. He peeked out into the hall before shutting the door. He set the bag down beside the bed and removed the shotgun.
Buffy snapped her eyes up to Dean as he loaded the shotgun with salt rounds. She frowned with curiosity as flicked the barrel shut.
“What’s that for?” she asked.
“Fallout,” Dean replied succinctly.
Buffy sighed in dismay. “I told you that I can....”
“I know,” Dean cut in. “It’s just precautionary. While you’re mind tripping in the nether realm, I’ll keep watch in this one.”
Buffy let out a huge sigh of relief as Dean pulled out a sack of salt and stuffed it in one of his pockets.
“Thanks,” she said with a grateful smile.
“Alright, let’s get this magic show on the road. Happy tripping. Here’s hoping you come back in one piece and if not....hope it’s one of your good pieces that’s left behind.”
Buffy spurted with a laugh as she dimmed the lights and struck a match. As she lit up the incense sticks, Dean double checked all the ammo in his pockets. Buffy picked up the leather pouch of magic dust and unloosened the string around the mouth. She dumped the bright colored dust in a circle and then took a seat in the center of it. She inhaled several deep breaths, coaxing her body into a meditative state. As soon as she rolled her eyes shut, a knock on the door cut through the silence.
“What are you guys doing in there?” Dawn asked from behind the door.
Buffy snapped her eyes open and glared at the door in annoyance.
“Each other!” she barked.
Buffy blew a breath out, trying to regain her meditative state broken by Dawn’s interruption. She shut her eyes and forced out more breaths when she heard her sister griping from the other side of the door.
“You’re so not!” Dawn groaned. “You guys are doing a spell or something, huh?”
“I told you what we’re doing now go....somewhere!”
“Can I come in and see?”
“Oh come on Buffy, pretty please with sugar on top?”
As the doorknob turned, Buffy growled in her throat. Dean rose from the bed, mussing up his hair and shirt a little as he ambled to the door. He tucked the shotgun in the small of his back as he slipped out the crack of the door, pulling it shut. Dawn scowled at him suspiciously as he blocked the door with his body.
“Wow kid, your timing is.....awesome,” he said.
Dawn crossed her arms over her chest and deepened her scowl.
“I know you’re doing magic in there, so don’t bother trying to cover it up by making me think you guys are having sex,” she spat.
As Dean was taken aback by the blunt comment, Dawn glared at the door.
“The hallway reeks of incense you know!”
Dean faked a clueless look at Dawn as he fixed his hair.
“Incense? That’s not incense, it’s just a really stinky...candle......that I.....keep handy for.....stuff......”
Dawn flashed her heavy skepticism and huffed.
“Right, I’m not a stupid kid, I know what incense smells like!” she snapped. “I’m SO telling mom.”
“Fine!” Buffy yelled through her side of the door. “Tell the world! I don’t care!”
Dawn stared at the door, flaring with a moment of hurt before she noticed Dean
lingering in the hall.
“You uh got homework or something? Or uh, you want to watch a movie?”
Dawn rolled her eyes and charged off to her room, slamming the door behind her.
A little while later, just after the sun sank into the horizon, Dean peeked out the living room window and scoped the exterior. He tugged on the window lock as Joyce pitched the blanket from her lap and got up. He drew concern when she started to get up.
“Did you need something Mrs. Summers? I can get it.”
Joyce flashed a smile of appreciation.
“No, no, you’ve been so accommodating lately Dean,” she said. “I should be asking you if you need something. I mean, you make such a long drive to see my daughter and then you’re coaxed into looking after me. It’s just not right.”
“I don’t mind, considering all that you’ve done for me and my family. It’s the least I can do.”
“Your mother would be very proud of you,” Joyce exalted.
Dean sucked in a shaky breath when he thought of his mother. Joyce pressed a hand on his shoulder and beamed a warm smile.
“Thank you for always looking out for my girls,” she said. “Now, I’ve been an accessory on this couch for far too long. I need to stretch my legs and see the rest of the house.”
“Okay, but, don’t push yourself too much Mrs. Summers.”
As Joyce headed upstairs, Dean rapped his fingers on the handle of his Colt tucked beneath his jacket. He surveyed the sounds in the living room and when nothing tugged in his gut, he bounded into the kitchen. After he checked the backyard, he secured the lock on the door. He paused by the fridge as his stomach rumbled with hunger. He picked out a leftover sandwich and stuffed it in his mouth before continuing his patrol of the house.
Buffy slowly got to her feet and looked around. The room was awash in a brighter contrast of colors and all the incense candles had burnt out. She stumbled toward the door and entered the hall. After shuffling into the living room, she noticed the empty couch.
Buffy darted around to see her mother behind her, buttoning up a coat.
“There you are,” Buffy sighed.
Joyce studied Buffy and frowned with concern.
“Is something wrong sweetie?”
“You’ve got a coat on. Where are you going?”
Buffy examined her mother in her trance state and saw only a slight shimmer in her appearance. There was no demonic presence hovering around her and no odd mist or light.
“Well, by some miracle, my medication is actually doing what it’s supposed to because I’m feeling much better. Since I’ve been cooped up here, I’m feeling a little anxious to get some fresh air for a bit.”
Buffy narrowed her sights, studying her mother with much more scrutiny. After a long second, she sighed in disappointment when nothing strange affected her mother’s appearance. She muttered under her breath as Joyce gave her an odd look.
“Are you sure nothing’s wrong honey? You’re acting a bit.....off.”
As Joyce waited for a response, Buffy took notice of a strange flickering emanating from a photograph behind her mother. Buffy gazed deeper at the photograph of her, Dawn and her mother as the flickering continued.
Buffy blinked briefly out of her daze, forcing her eyes away from the photograph. She met her mom’s questioning sights and passed a hand through the air.
“Yeah, everything is good,” she dismissed. “I’m just....tired, it was a busy day. You enjoy the fresh air.”
Joyce beamed an affectionate smile at Buffy.
“My little Buffy is so mature now,” she said.
As Joyce strolled out the door, Buffy fell back into her trance state, picking the framed photograph up for an even closer study. She brushed a finger along the frame while keeping her eyes on the photo. Dawn’s image faded in and out, sending sharp tendrils of dread along Buffy’s spine. She dropped the photo and went back upstairs, heading toward Dawn’s bedroom.
Buffy stared at the door for a brief second before pushing it open. She stepped inside and sucked in a breath when the environment shifted from a seemingly normal looking teenage girl’s bedroom adorned with posters of pop idols, to a storage room filled with cardboard boxes marked with various descriptions.
Buffy heaved a huge breath and slowly turned around, absorbing her sights as the room continued to shift. As her mind flared with alarm, she barely registered the small, faint voice calling out to her. The voice fluctuated in volume and clarity as Buffy drifted deeper into her trance.
Buffy pivoted around to see Dawn leaning in the doorway. Buffy stared at Dawn as she oscillated in and out of reality. Dawn frowned in irritation as she stepped inside.
“What are you doing in MY room?”
Buffy hardened her expression into a calculating glare.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
Dawn snorted in annoyance as Buffy fully broke out of her trance state.
“Oh ha ha Buffy, like I want to acknowledge being your sister,” Dawn moaned.
Buffy pounced forward and pushed Dawn to the ground. She pressed her hands hard against Dawn’s collarbone, pinning her into the floor. Dawn winced and yelped in pain.
“Answer the question!” Buffy barked. “WHO SENT YOU?!”
Dean ambled out of the bathroom and then tensed with alarm when he heard a scuffling down the hall.
“Buffy, let me go!”
Dean bounded toward Dawn’s room as he heard Buffy’s war cry echoing down the hall.
“If you want me, you come after ME, not my family! Stop hurting my mother or I WILL KILL YOU!”
“Buffy, stop it!”
“You hear me?! Who ever you are, I’m coming after you!”
Dean rushed into Dawn’s room to see Buffy roughly shaking her little sister.
“What the hell is going on in here?!”
Dawn shot her eyes to Dean as his widened in shock.
“Dean, she’s hurting me and she won’t stop it!” Dawn cried.
Dean burst from his reeling state and quickly intervened, prying Dawn from Buffy’s grip. As Dawn staggered toward her bed, Dean bore his eyes into Buffy.
“What just happened?”
“Buffy’s just a freak!” Dawn snapped as she rubbed her collarbone.
As a tense silence lingered, the two sisters glared at each other for a long minute. Dean glanced at Dawn and then Buffy, waiting for an explanation. After another round of glares, the sound of a ringing phone snapped the tense silence. As the phone rang incessantly, Buffy huffed before charging out of Dawn’s bedroom. Dean stared off at her in wonder until Dawn grumbled under her breath. He walked over to Dawn as she rubbed her collarbone.
“You okay Dawn?”
“No,” Dawn groused. “My sister’s a crazy freak! She comes into MY room and then attacks and threatens me but because she’s ‘The Slayer’ she’ll just get a little pat on the hand!”
“I’ll talk to her.”
“Like that’ll help,” Dawn muttered.
Dean ambled out into the hall and down the stairs as Buffy hung up the phone in the living room and flew toward the door. She completely ignored Dean when he reached the foot of the stairs.
“Woah, wait just a second.”
“I have to go,” Buffy grunted. “I need you to stay here and watch Dawn. I’ll be back soon.”
Dean scoffed with offense as Buffy hastily threw on her jacket.
“I’m not the friggin’ manny,” he vexed.
Buffy shined her exasperation when Dean backed her into the door.
“More importantly, why the hell did you just give your sister the beat down? And don’t say it was over a pair of shoes or something because that was more than just some sibling spat.”
“I can’t explain it right now,” Buffy replied sharply.
“Then explain it on the way to wherever it is you’re going,” Dean asserted.
Buffy opened her mouth to rattle off a vague excuse but as Dean sharpened his questioning look, she knew it was pointless given their long history.
“Fine,” she relented.
Dean stepped back, allowing her to open the door. Buffy caught sight of Dawn at the top of the stairs, frowning with intense animosity.
“Where are you going? Not that I care.”
“Out,” Buffy answered succinctly.
Dawn footed a step and deepened her frown.
“I’m telling mom when she gets home.”
“I’ll be home first.”
Dawn huffed loudly as Buffy rushed out the door with Dean on her heels. She hopped down the steps and frowned with suspicion. Dean took in her look and swept his sights around. Buffy edged toward a tree near the front yard. In a flash, Buffy sprung around the tree and yanked something down to the ground.
Buffy and Dean frowned with dismay as Spike pulled himself back on his feet.
“Hey, I checked the exterior earlier for pests so, where the hell did you come from?”
Dean asked with a snarky smile.
“I don’t have time for this,” Buffy moaned.
In another flash, Buffy sucker punched Spike square in the face. Spike howled and clutched his jaw as Dean snickered and grinned with satisfaction.
“Nice,” Dean lauded.
“You have two seconds to tell me why you’re standing out here,” Buffy growled.
Spike snorted and scratched his head, trying to formulate an answer.
“I was......just passing through.”
“And you decided to stop in front of my house at night?” Buffy posed dubiously.
Spike shrugged casually. “I didn’t realize it was your house until...now. It happens to be a central pathway from one part of town to.....another....and as far as it being night, well, I would venture out in the day but, I’ve pretty much moved on from fiery death situations...”
Buffy pushed by Spike and edged toward the Impala.
“Just keep walking then Spike,” she urged in a sharp tone.
“Yeah, keep walking Spike,” Dean added. “And if you want to stop to tie your shoe make it right about.....”
Dean hopped off the curb and posed behind the car.
“Oh here,” he finished with a wicked smile. Just gimme a sec to ‘accidentally’ back up.”
Spike rolled his eyes as Buffy continued to glare at him.
“Oh bless your bloody hearts for giving me a pass,” he said snidely. “It’s all I really ache for now, to hear your tireless threats that make me shake in me bones. Does knowing that get you off? I hope it does because you got to have something more than just snogging HIM and I only let you live because of this chip in me head not because I actually like you or anything and.....your voice is annoying.”
Spike shifted awkwardly in his stance before he bounded away. Buffy stared off at him in confusion for a second. She shook off the weird moment and waited by the passenger side door of the car. As Dean drifted toward the front of the car, he spotted a glint of something at the foot of the tree where Spike had been lurking. He edged closer and saw three worn out cigarette butts stamped into the grass, and one on the sidewalk still burning ash. He looked up and frowned when from his position, he got a clear shot of Buffy’s bedroom.
“Dean,” Buffy said with urgency.
Dean pulled his eyes away from the house and shifted toward the car, kicking the cigarette butts into the street as he stepped off the curb.
“I need to get back to that factory where we found the Dagon sphere,” Buffy added.
Dean cocked an eyebrow in curiosity.
“Dagon sphere? So you know what it is?”
Buffy blew out an impatient breath as she tugged on the door latch.
“I’ll fill you in on the way, now let’s go.”
After Buffy related the details of her conversation with Giles, Dean sucked in a deep breath as he eased the car at a stop light.
“Okay, not to sound like a pessimist but that all adds up to something REALLY bad,” Dean said apprehensively. “I mean, this thing goes back to god knows when to ‘repel an ancient evil’ that has no solid description or name......and something like that.....has got to be big and nasty and.....probably something you’ve never faced before....”
Buffy shifted anxiously in her seat as she tried to will the red light to shift to green.
“Giles said that something unnamed is usually heavily worshipped or feared.”
“GREAT,” Dean groaned. “So it’s even WORSE than I imagined.”
As he let off the brake and sped through the intersection, Dean rapped his fingers on the steering wheel, trying to absorb the information.
“But Giles didn’t mention anything about how to kill this ancient evil?”
Buffy flashed her frustration as she shook her head.
“Well what about that little mind trip you took? Did you see something to clue you in?”
“Oh, it clued me in.....”
Dean took a sidelong glance at Buffy as she let the remainder of her statement die away.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “I mean, maybe that orb thing affected your....rational thinking?”
Buffy shot a resentful glare at Dean as he flew through another intersection. He brushed off her attempt to cripple his composure, shading with a steadfast expression.
“I’m just looking out for you and your family,” he pointed. “That’s been a standing order from my dad every time I come out here. You know that.”
Buffy eased out of her glare and sighed in acknowledgment.
“Let’s just find answers at the factory first and then.....I’ll deal with the Dawn thing later,” she stressed.
After trekking along the dark property, Buffy and Dean paused by the metal gates, fastened with a chain and thick lock. Dean banked his flashlight onto the dented metal sign.
“Not exactly the way I wanted to leave my mark in the world,” he said wryly.
Buffy flicked her flashlight over the lock as Dean examined it. He cautiously looked around before working his pick into the lock. Buffy waited all of half a second before she clipped her flashlight off, picked up a rusted pipe from the ground and whacked the lock until it snapped off the chains.
Dean shook his head and sighed as Buffy shoved the gates open and bounded onto the factory grounds. As they skulked into the main entrance of the factory, they listened for any eerie sounds echoing in the distance. Buffy swept her small flashlight beam across the dark floor as Dean threw his along the walls. The first floor was completely barren of any storage crates or evidence of passed property use.
Dean pushed through the stairwell access door, holding it open as Buffy drifted over. After creeping up a dusty, dank stairwell, they stalked through the door leading to the second level. Two flashlight beams cut into the darkness as Buffy and Dean explored the length of a small corridor. Buffy wandered underneath the archway of a very large door and listened intently for any odd sounds. She looked over at Dean as he ran his flashlight under the doorway. He paused when he noticed the demolished hinges before sweeping the beam up and around the perimeter of the doorway. As he absorbed the giant gap where the door had been, Dean widened his eyes in amazement.
“Uh, that’s a big friggin’ hole,” he gasped.
Dean widened his eyes even more as he pushed the flashlight further along the doorway.
“Whatever was behind this door was either pissed as hell or, strong as hell.....or both,” he said very nimbly.
Dean slanted the beam through the threshold looking for chunks of metal or wood. When he didn’t see any debris from his distance, he sucked in a breath.
“And where IS the door?”
Buffy stepped across the threshold as Dean padded his pockets and drummed up a quick inventory of his weapons. After he moved through the doorway, he planted himself on Buffy’s left, quickly slicing through the darkness with his flashlight. Buffy swept her light around, covering one side of the factory, while Dean covered the other. When Dean heard Buffy gasp, he snapped his eyes over her shoulder to see her flashlight illuminating the figure of someone tied to a chair. Buffy dropped her flashlight and darted over to the figure in the chair. Dean flanked the other side of the chair and slowly swung it around to see a man in a brown robe, barely conscious and bleeding from a gash in his forehead. Dean checked his pulse as Buffy tackled the man’s bindings.
“He’s alive but barely,” Dean stated.
Buffy noticed the man peering at her and met his eyes while Dean fished out his knife and began fervently sawing at the ropes.
“So you were the one who left that thing for me? The glowing sphere? Well, I got it and....not sure what you want me to do with it but, I’m going to take you to my friends, they should be able to help.”
The man stared at Buffy for a moment before opening his mouth to say something.
“I know I don’t look like much but trust me,” Buffy said with a confident expression. “I can pack quite a punch.”
The monk sputtered with a breath as his eyes went wide with fear when a figure emerged from the darkness. The figure jovially grinned at the monk while tiptoeing over.
“I have quite a lot of knowledge and experience in this type of stuff,” Buffy continued.
“And you know, looking this way has its advantages......”
Buffy discreetly edged a little closer to Dean as she kept her eyes on the monk. Dean pulled the remainder of ropes loose from the monk when something made his body tense with alarm. As he turned his sights over his shoulder, he blinked in amazement when Buffy shot her hand behind her and grabbed someone by the throat.
“Because people always underestimate how smart I actually am,” she finished.
Buffy whirled around to face her attacker, an attractive young blonde woman in a red dress. She glowered at the young woman as a tense silence rolled through the factory. Dean cautiously slipped a hand over the butt of his Colt as Buffy maintained her grip on the blonde woman.
The young woman drew a mild look of interest at Buffy, showing no surrender or fear in her eyes. In one effortless motion, she snatched Buffy’s wrist and pushed it off her throat. Within a blink, she snapped the back of her hand across Buffy’s face. Dean widened his eyes in dread as Buffy was jettisoned nearly twenty feet back until she crashed and embedded into a wall on the far side of the factory. As she slumped to the ground, plaster and wood rained down over her.
The young woman flashed a cavalier grin as Buffy folded onto her knees.
“You want to rethink that whole ‘smart’ bit?”
The young woman grabbed Buffy by the head and hurled her toward another wall. Buffy smashed landed into the wall, causing more plaster and wood to fall to the ground. Dean snuck up behind the young woman, drawing his gun to the back of her head. She whipped her sights around at lightning speed and smacked the gun from his grip. Dean threw a hard punch toward her face but she dodged before he made impact. With a flick of her wrist, she smashed the back of her hand across his jaw. Dean stumbled back as blood splattered from his mouth. As he steadied his balance, the young woman grabbed him by the collar of his jacket. In another seemingly effortless motion, she flicked him over her shoulder, catapulting him across the factory.
Buffy heard a body crashing thunk and then a low groan echoing in the air as she bounded onto her feet. As she turned her sights, the young woman advanced on her, flashing an annoyed look.
“You know something,” she began.
The young woman snatched Buffy by the wrist and propelled her into a column. Buffy shook off the impact as the young woman grabbed her by the neck and twirled her into another column.
“Beating the crap out of you until you die really wastes a lot of time,” she finished.
Buffy absorbed the vibrations ringing through her body as she threw a sidekick toward the woman’s head but she missed by an astounding distance. The young woman lit up with a grin as she grappled Buffy’s arms in each hand.
“I’ve always wondered if this would work! See, you take a worm, grab each end and tear it apart, and then you have yourself another worm? Think I’d get two of you?”
Buffy flared with rage as she head butted the brash young woman. The young woman displayed her abhorrence as she staggered back. She gripped her nose and rubbed it.
“What the.....you smashed your head into me!”
She shed a few tears as she deepened her appalled expression. Buffy swiftly attacked in a series of kick-punch combos, unleashing all strength. The young woman stumbled back with each blow, but showed no signs of fatigue or surrender.
“You can’t just smash people in the face!” she roared. “Were you born in a cave or something? Where are your manners?! And speaking of, there is such a thing as SHUTTING UP once in awhile!”
Buffy responded in contempt, drawing back her arm to deliver another set of brutal blows to the woman’s face. The young woman snorted derisively as she caught Buffy’s fist in her hand without much effort.
“Well, guess you have SOME manners after all.”
The woman sprung her hand forward, shooting Buffy back into a column. As soon as Buffy slammed into the column, the young woman was in her face again, throwing a punch. Buffy dodged out of the way as the woman’s fist hit the column. A chunk of cement broke off and fell to the ground as the woman struck her fist at Buffy again. Buffy averted the blow as the column took another hit from the woman’s fist. The woman snorted but remained undaunted. She clasped a hand around Buffy’s throat.
“Oh, I get it now, you’ve got superpowers huh? Wow. How neat! That means you don’t
need a cape to fly, huh?”
The woman hurled Buffy clear across the factory and smiled with satisfaction. Her smile shifted into a scolding expression as she whipped around at lightning speed and grabbed Dean by the throat. She lifted him into the air and examined him with the same mild interest.
“You tried to sneak up on me? That’s not very nice. You’ve got the same manners as Blondilocks over there huh?”
Buffy picked up a splintered chunk of plaster as the woman turned her eyes over her shoulder.
“I’ll crush his throat,” she said flatly.
Buffy spied a glance at Dean as the woman tightened her grip. Dean gasped desperately as he felt the walls of his throat collapsing. Buffy tossed the cement chunk aside. The young woman grinned smugly and turned her eyes up to Dean.
“Well, manners can be learned.....”
Buffy sprung toward the monk as the young woman slammed Dean face first into a column. He emitted a soundless groan as pain rang through his body. The young woman drew a playful smile as she smashed his face a second time into the column. When she released her grip on Dean, he slumped down to the ground and moaned in agony.
“You’re nothing but a ragdoll, a dumb ragdoll.”
The young woman sighed in boredom until she heard a faint groan. She shot her sights to Buffy as she escorted the monk out of the factory.
“Hold on a second! That’s my man of the cloth, get your own!”
The young woman shaded with a full blown frown of fury. She charged toward Buffy, knocking her face first to the ground. She lifted a red heel and pinned Buffy’s face to the floor.
“I have yet to pop an eyeball out its socket,” she said menacingly.
As she pushed the heel toward Buffy’s eye, her head snapped around to see Dean charging her with another cement block.
“What is it with you two?”
She batted an arm at Dean, blowing him off his feet and to the ground. Buffy jumped on the distraction, prying herself loose and quickly lunging at the young woman. As the two sparred, Dean slowly folded up and winced when he felt an ache in his ribcage.
“Dean! Get the monk and get out of here!” Buffy grunted.
Dean swallowed the waves of pain bombarding his system as Buffy threw brutal blow after blow at the young woman.
“Dean! Go!” Buffy growled with more urgency.
Buffy stumbled back from a hard punch to the face. Dean sucked in a breath as he scrambled over to the monk and helped him to his feet. Buffy glanced at Dean as he passed through the doorway with the monk.
Dean pulled in his fading vision as he assisted the monk down the flight of stairs. As he shouldered the exit door open and staggered toward the gates, he heard a loud crashing sound above him. He settled the monk down against the gate and then looked up to see a flash of blonde flying through the air. Shards of glass assailed the air as Buffy landed hard on the cement. A breath later, Dean collapsed against the gate and passed out.
Buffy heaved a breath as she pushed onto her feet and dusted herself off. When she heard a loud rumble behind her, she swung her sights to see the roof imploding. She sucked in another breath as she bounded over to the gates. She crouched beside Dean and the monk, looking them both over. For a brief moment, Buffy cracked with worry as she examined Dean. Dark blood flowed from the corner of his mouth as swelling and bruises began to permeate over his face. Buffy bit down on her shaking lower lip as she pressed her ear against his chest. She sighed in immense relief when she heard the rhythmic beat of his heart.
When the monk whispered inaudibly, Buffy lifted her head and sidestepped in front of him.
“It’s going to be okay, you’re safe now,” she said.
The monk slowly shook his head but the action prompted a grimace of pain to pull over his face.
“It is not me you need to keep safe,” he uttered.
“Don’t talk, just take it easy,” Buffy urged.
“Please, you must listen,” the monk stated emphatically. “It is imperative that you protect the Key – keep it safe.”
“Uh huh, the key got it. Now, once we get you to a safe place, we can start with the key protecting stuff.”
The monk mustered all his energy to sit up straighter against the fence.
“Many, many lives depend on you protecting the Key.....”
Buffy soaked in the dread flaring in the monk’s eyes. She glanced up at the destroyed factory, then Dean, then the monk again.
“Okay, Cliff Notes version, what exactly IS the key?”
A short time later, Dean released a deep groan as his eyes slowly fluttered open. He felt enormous pangs resonating through every fiber of his body as his vision sharpened in focus. He looked up to see a pair of familiar hazel eyes flaring with deep wonder. He pulled his eyes forward and peered out the open door of the backseat.
“Huh? How’d I get here? Where are we? What happened?”
Dean lifted his head out of Buffy’s lap and shot forward. He winced when his head throbbed from the abrupt motion. When he saw the factory from across the street, his mind flashed with the harrowing fight against the mysterious red dress woman.
“Oh right, we had a throw down with another super powered crazy bitch,” he grumbled.
As he scoped the second floor of the factory, he noticed the roof was completely gone.
“Huh, at least tell me she got buried in that.”
Dean swept his sights over the monk, leaning lifeless against the gates. When Buffy remained uncharacteristically silent, Dean shifted his sights around to see that same wonder deepening in her eyes.
“What’s going on?”
After a brief moment, Buffy broke from her cogitative state and eyed Dean.
Dean frowned with resentment as he patted the blood scab on the corner of his mouth.
“Gimme a break. I feel like I just went twenty rounds with a friggin’ brick wall and the wall WON,” he moaned. “So don’t you for one second try to pass me off an ‘um
nothing’. Something is bothering you, HAS been bothering you ever since you woke up from that damn trance spell and you STILL haven’t told me what. I think after all this, I deserve SOME kind of explanation about what the hell is going on.”
“It’s about Dawn,” Buffy said softly as she stared out her window.
Dean leaned out the back door and spat out a clot of blood. He folded back onto the seat as his face knotted with agitation.
“Yeah, I get that it’s about Dawn, I want to know WHAT it is,” he said sharply.
Buffy kept her eyes trained out the window as she struggled to settle the infinite amount of questions rippling in her mind. Dean probed his ribcage with a hand, trying to gauge the severity of his injuries.
“She’s not real,” Buffy muttered.
Dean stopped his self-examination as his mind analyzed Buffy’s answer.
Dean glanced at Buffy in wonder as she stared off, lost in her own thoughts.
“What do you mean she’s not real? That doesn’t make any sense. Are you saying she’s a ghost or something? No, she can’t be a ghost or your senses would have picked up on it a long time ago.”
As more questions assailed her mind, Buffy forced out a long breath to stave off the unsettling feeling encroaching upon her nerves.
“She’s not my sister Dean,” she clarified softly.
Dean narrowed his eyes and studied Buffy. When her expression was painted thick with sincerity, he shined his bewilderment.
“That still doesn’t make any sense.”
Buffy blew out another long breath before she pulled her eyes away from the window.
As Dean stared at her expectantly, she scooted closer to him, feeling her composure rapidly collapsing.
“Dean.....Dawn is.......the Key.”
Seeing the immense confusion on his face, Buffy inhaled a deep breath before conveying the details the monk had imparted to her.
When she was finished, nearly a minute passed in silence as Dean simply gawked at her in response. As the revelation settled into his mind, he burrowed into his seat and sprung his eyes wide.
“Holy crap,” he gasped. “As if my head isn’t spinning enough.”
As he reviewed parts of the information, an abundance of questions popped into his head. He raked a hand through his hair and threw out a deep breath as his mind whirled and whirled.
“So everything I remember about Dawn, fixing her bike, debating with her about the Tooth Fairy, all those memories were planted by these monks?”
“Yeah,” Buffy acknowledged softly.
“And Dawn is the Key that opens a door,” Dean related. “So that begs the question, what the hell is behind the door huh?”
Buffy wrenched her hands together in apprehension.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, maybe Giles has an idea.”
Buffy dropped a hand on his arm and shook her head.
“No, you can’t tell anyone about this,” she urged. “Not yet, Dean I......I don’t know what to think of this– one minute I have a sister and the next....”
“She’s a centuries old mystical energy thing,” Dean finished.
“She’s something I don’t even understand quite yet. She was sent specifically to ME,” Buffy said shakily.
Buffy leaned against Dean, pulling his arm around her. She dropped her head on his shoulder and sighed in frustration.
“There are just too many questions and no answers,” she moaned.
“Yeah, no kidding.”
As Buffy clung tighter to him, Dean pondered over a disheartening thought.
“So......the orb thing doesn’t have anything to do with your mom’s illness,” he said gently.
“I guess not,” Buffy replied.
Dean sucked in a breath when he clearly gauged the disappointment laced in her tone.
“Well, your mom is strong, she’ll be feeling better in no time,” he said. “Whatever’s ailing her, she’ll beat it.”
Buffy brushed away all the negative thoughts that crept into her mind as Dean managed a small stroke of her hair without exacerbating his injuries. She squeezed Dean a little tighter in appreciation and then flinched when she heard him gasp in pain. She hitched her head up to see the sheer agony flaring in his eyes.
“Sorry,” she moped.
After pulling to the curb beside the Summers’ house, Dean cut the engine and flashed a concerned look at Buffy.
“I still think you need to run all this stuff by Giles,” he said. “I mean, you can’t figure all this out by yourself, you need his expertise, his guidance, that’s what he’s there for.”
Buffy sighed in acknowledgment. “I know.....I will, I just need a little time to.....let it all settle.”
Buffy climbed out of the car and glanced at Dean as he grimaced after shutting the door. She rushed to his side and moped when she saw the bruises on his face darkening.
“I could have driven us back you know.”
Dean popped his eyes wide in horror.
“Only if I’m in a hearse,” he moaned. “And even then my coffin would probably tumble out as soon as you cut a corner.”
Buffy rolled her eyes as Dean flinched with agony.
“Jesus, it even hurts to laugh in my damn mind.”
As they both limped into the living room, they saw Joyce and Dawn huddled together beneath blankets, skimming through a stack of magazines. Joyce glanced over at the two, looking like they had just been in a rowdy bar fight.
“My goodness!” Joyce gasped.
Buffy helped Dean onto the couch as Joyce scooted over to make more room.
“Should I call an ambulance?”
“No, no, I’m fine, nothing a good night’s sleep won’t cure.”
Dean rested his head against the back of the couch and rolled his eyes shut.
Dawn scowled at Buffy as she threw off her blanket and got to her feet.
“I’ve just been keeping mom company, not bugging her or anything,” she spat.
Dawn charged out of the living room and headed up the stairs. Joyce watched Dawn disappear up the stairs before glancing at Buffy.
“What brought that on?” she asked.
“Who knows,” Buffy said.
Joyce displayed her skepticism as Buffy peeled off her coat.
“It’s a sibling thing,” Buffy added.
As Dean uttered a groan, Buffy gently swept a hand through his hair.
“I’ll be back in a few,” she said.
Buffy snatched the blanket from the floor and gingerly draped it over Dean before heading up the stairs.
“I think there’s more tea on the stove, can I get you some?” Joyce offered.
“No, thank you, I’m fine Mrs. Summers, really.”
As muffled voices grew louder, Joyce looked up at the ceiling.
“I guess that’s more sibling stuff,” she said. “Do you think those two will ever get along? I guess that’s just part of the dynamics between siblings.”
After a minute, the muffled voices went quiet. Hearing footsteps moving down the stairs, Joyce peered over to see Buffy with her arm around Dawn. Joyce beamed a smile of delight.
“Well, it looks like you two worked out your differences.”
Dawn plucked down into her mom’s lap as Buffy huddled over Dean.
“Can I get you anything mom?” Dawn asked.
“No, but I think there are four bowls in the kitchen that are begging to be filled with ice cream,” Joyce said with a smile. “What do you say?”
Buffy looked at her mom and nodded.
“I’ll get them.”
As Buffy strolled into the kitchen, Dawn lit up with recognition.
“You used to do that a lot when we were younger,” Dawn said. “Tell us about the lonely bowls in the kitchen that needed to be filled with something.”
Dawn giggled as Joyce gave her a maternal squeeze.
“Oh, Dean, you used to tell Buffy about lonely plates in the kitchen – remember that one time when you brought us home from school and I was hungry and asked her to make me something – but she said no and you got out a bunch of plates and told Buffy how sad they were that she was neglecting them and that as the older sibling it was her job to tend to the needs of those lonely plates....I thought it was kind of lame.....”
Dean rolled his eyes open as Dawn grinned at him. Despite seeing the memory clearly in his mind, he knew it was merely a device built by monks. As Dawn and Joyce waited for him to acknowledge the memory, he forced a smile over his face.
“Uh, yeah, I remember,” he said.
As Dawn sputtered with more memories, Dean looked on while Joyce laughed at each reflection from the past. Buffy returned to the living room with a tray containing four bowls of ice cream and an assortment of toppings along with a small first aid kit.
“Everything okay in here?” she asked.
Dawn bounced in her mom’s lap as Joyce looked at Buffy.
“Yes, Dawn has been taking me through memory lane,” she said.
Buffy shot a glance at Dean as he continued to discreetly study Dawn.
“Oh um, that’s......nice.”
Buffy squeezed onto the couch between her mom and Dean as Dawn fetched up her bowl of ice cream. As Buffy picked up the first aid kit and began cleaning the blood off Dean’s face, Dawn sputtered off more memories from her childhood.
“Remember that Buffy?”
Buffy and Dean exchanged looks as Dawn chuckled.
“Um, yeah, I remember it well.”
Dawn chuckled again as her mind raced with more memories.
“What was that annoying nickname you gave Buffy that time she fell into the mud wearing a new dress? You know, you were walking us home from school and it was raining and she fell and started crying and you called her something...... ”
Dawn directed her eyes to Dean.
Dawn hitched her head back and chortled deeply.
“Oh yeah! That was funny!”
Buffy bit back the urge to debunk the memory, drawing a mope instead.
“It really wasn’t.”
“No, it was, it so was,” Dawn said.
As Dawn posed another memory to her, Buffy sucked in a breath and nodded in acknowledgment.