Ch. 65 Lean on Me When You're Not Strong
A/N: this update combines episodes ‘Fool for Love’ and ‘Shadow’
Buffy grunted victoriously as she blocked a vampire’s punch with deft skill. The long haired vampire spun back a few steps but quickly gained his footing, lunging toward her.
“Okay, I can’t stop wondering......”
Buffy stepped aside, grabbing the vampire by the arm and twisting it behind his back.
“Were you this smelly when you had a heartbeat?” she finished.
The vampire snarled and took a swing but Buffy dipped gracefully out of range. She countered with a spin kick to the head, blowing the vampire into a headstone.
“I mean, if this is just the natural progression of rotting in a grave, okay, you can’t help that and whoops bad me,” she mused dryly. “However....”
The vampire charged toward her with fists swinging. Buffy blocked his attack and followed with her own, raining punches in his face until he tumbled back over the headstone, crashing into the dirt.
“If you’ve been around since the invention of the shower or bathtub and BREATH spray and you just choose to ignore these simple, daily grooming tasks then bad you.....”
Buffy sliced her stake through the air, going in for the kill. As the tints of victory began shading over her face, the vampire suddenly sidestepped, spun around until he was behind her, grabbed her arm and slammed it into her.
Buffy blinked rapidly in mass astonishment as her eyes took in the stake protruding through her side, piercing the flesh under her ribs. As the vampire grinned at her, she shoved him back and then carefully pulled it out, uttering a small whine.
Before she could take in what happened, the vampire bounded toward her, hot with bloodlust and victory. Buffy steered away and took off running, biting the pain swelling through her side. She scoped out the cemetery, looking for Dean, trying to recollect where he had crash landed after a trade off of brutal blows with the vampire. A short distance away, she saw him, still insensate, his booted feet peeking out from behind a headstone.
Buffy shifted her sights behind her to find the vampire had disappeared. She veered her eyes forward and bolted to a stop when the vampire towered over her, smiling maliciously.
“Leaving so soon?”
Buffy stumbled back quickly as the vampire advanced on her.
“The fun was just getting started,” the vampire taunted.
Buffy stumbled further back until she was pressed against the wall of a tomb as the vampire grinned and closed in on her.
Dean uttered a deep groan as his eyelids fluttered open. He slowly sat up as his bleary vision settled into focus. Feeling a sticky substance on his face, he batted at it and glanced at his bloodstained fingers. Heaving another groan as he pushed onto his knees, he cupped the back of his head and tensed with alarm at the eerie silence in the cemetery. Just a few minutes ago, he had been tag teaming with the Slayer, fighting one obnoxiously stinky vampire, their war grunts echoing through the cemetery.
Dean pulled himself onto his feet and took a frantic scope of the cemetery. His sights took pause on the vampire closing in on Buffy as she hugged the wall of a tomb. He swiftly leaped over the headstone and quickly bounded toward the vampire.
As the vampire snarled at Buffy, Dean barreled into him full force, tackling him to the ground. The vampire roared and flailed as Dean took out his stun gun. The vampire elbowed him hard in the face, sending Dean sprawling back. Dean clambered to his feet as the vampire leaped over a headstone. Dean whipped his eyes around to see the vampire had disappeared.
“Sonofabitch,” he groaned.
When he heard a faint cry piercing the air, his eyes veered toward Buffy, as she slumped down the tomb wall. Dean spat out a wad of blood from his mouth as he rushed over to Buffy, catching her before she hit the ground. Buffy winced and whimpered as she slowly removed her hand from side to show Dean.
Dean widened his eyes when he saw the large gaping hole in her gut. Panic speared through him when he saw the dark streaks of blood pluming her hands.
Buffy answered with a soft cry as her eyelids rolled open and shut. Dean frantically scooped her up in his arms and hauled ass through the cemetery.
When he reached the car, Dean fumbled with his keys struggling to unlock the passenger side door. His eyes shifted rapidly from the door, to Buffy and back and forth until he forced himself to take a breath. After swinging the door open, he gently set Buffy against the seat and checked her vitals. He let out a sigh of relief when he felt the steady heartbeat vibrating behind the flesh of her neck. He shut the door and rushed around to the driver side, reminding himself to keep breathing. As he gunned the engine, Dean fumbled through his tape collection, stuffing Metallica’s “St. Anger” into the deck, cranking it up when “Some Kind of Monster” started playing.
As he veered sharply around a corner, Dean glanced down at Buffy, noticing the color fading from her face. When her rolling eyelids fluttered to a stop and her cries ceased, Dean checked for a pulse, letting the music flush back the panic swarming his system. He gripped the steering wheel and hummed fervently along to the song until his hammering heartbeat slowed to a normal rate.
A few breaths later, Buffy released a low groan as her eyes fluttered open and shut for a moment. As her eyes remained steadily open, she heard a grating heavy metal song flooding the car, along with a familiar voice humming along.
“Dean?” she said faintly.
Buffy looked up to see a familiar tight jaw line, then a familiar pair of eyes angling down at her, raining deep concern. He broke his gaze briefly to lower the volume and eye the road before meeting her sights again.
“Hey, don’t pass out on me again, okay?”
As the memory of her fight with the vampire stirred in her mind, Buffy gingerly probed the blood on her wound, wincing deeply, hearing Dean humming along to the song again. She heard the whir of the Impala’s wheels streaking around street corners and the low roar of the engine pushing speed limits.
“Just hold on, I’ll be at Memorial in.....less than a minute....”
Buffy heard the foot of his boot slamming deeper onto the gas pedal as he cradled her head in his lap. She felt his hand cupping her cheek as he veered around another corner.
“No, not the hospital,” she said weakly. “Just take me home. You can patch me up there.”
Dean glanced at the shade of new blood seeping through her shirt.
“You need more than stitches, you need Xrays – you could’ve punctured an organ or something,” he said gravely.
Buffy slowly bobbed her head from side to side.
“You have to fix me up,” she pleaded. “If I go to the hospital, they’ll just call my mom and I don’t want her to worry about me when she’s not feeling well. Please Dean.”
After a moment of hesitation, Dean heaved a sigh before jerking the car around into the opposite lane, heading toward Revello Drive.
Once back inside the house, Dean crept up the stairs, cradling Buffy securely in his arms. When he settled her onto the bed, he set out his first aid kit and quickly peeled off his jacket. Buffy slowly eased up against the headboard, grimacing in pain. Dean snapped on the bedside lamp before rolling up Buffy’s tee shirt.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, right?” Buffy asked.
Dean heaved a breath as he rifled through his kit and yanked out several bandages. After he dunked some antiseptic onto a clean cloth, he began gingerly cleaning the wound.
“I still think we should get you checked out,” he said. “We’ll set you up with a fake name,
fake insurance, fake contact information....”
“And if they kept me there for hours? My mom would start to wonder where I was. She’s already going through enough with her illness. She doesn’t need this.”
Sometime later, Dean bit the end of the string off after he finished stitching Buffy’s wound up. Buffy anxiously propped herself up on her elbows and glanced at the patchwork.
“Hey, hey, take it easy,” Dean stressed. “I’m not a surgeon, I may have zipped you up, but there might be a few things I missed.”
Buffy shook her head and flashed him a smile of satisfaction.
“Who needs a doctor when I’ve got you?”
Buffy peered into Dean’s duffel bag as he stuffed his first aid kit inside. She snagged one of his navy flannel shirts and started to peel off her bloodied shirt.
“Hey, what did I just say about taking it easy?”
“I can’t keep this shirt on,” Buffy pointed.
Buffy shifted on the bed as Dean assisted her in removing her bloodied tee shirt. As she slipped into the flannel, she flashed a sheepish expression.
“Did I really pass out?” she asked.
Dean let out a deep breath as he tore off a small square of bandage and applied it over the wound. After taping the square securely, he pushed away the stray tendrils plastered to her face.
“For awhile, yeah,” he confirmed. “Don’t ever do that again.”
Absorbing the dread flaring in his eyes, Buffy beamed an assuring expression.
“I’m fine now,” she said. “I’ve got accelerated healing powers, not to mention a fabulous boyfriend with handy medical skills.”
Buffy cupped his chin and smiled at him appreciatively.
“Well, I guess having freaky DNA is all upside,” he said.
Buffy let out a slow breath as she pushed the sleeves of the flannel up to her elbows.
“So fill me in on what exactly happened between the time I got knocked in the head – and when Stinky made you a kebab?” Dean asked as he tossed the bloodied rag in the trash.
“Well, it was a bunch of ‘hit-dodge’, ‘hit-fling’ and then ‘ahhh there’s a hole in my gut’. I guess he was just got the advantage over me.”
Dean shined his disbelief as Buffy recalled another detail.
“Maybe it was his seriously lame Van Halen-y hair do thingy that threw me off.”
Dean balked with a frown.
“Woah, woah, first of all, it’s not ‘Van Halen-y’. Secondly, never use Van Halen and ‘seriously lame’ in the same sentence ever again,” he groaned.
Buffy snorted in amusement before the motion aggravated her wound.
“And lastly, how the hell did one vamp get the jump on you? I mean, you smelled him from the foot of the cemetery and he BEATS you?”
“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “I’ve been at the top of my game, the best I’ve ever been and......I.....I really don’t know.....”
“Maybe you should bring it up to Giles tomorrow,” Dean said through a deep yawn. “Or I can whip you into shape.....”
As another deep yawn spilled from his mouth, Dean shook his head, trying to stay awake.
“You could try,” Buffy said in a teasing tone. “But I’d most likely kill you.”
Feeling the effects of a long drive and the stress of the Slayer’s close call, Dean picked off his boots and eased back onto the bed, but still tried to keep his eyes wide open.
“That could be fun,” he said through another yawn.
Buffy opened her mouth to toss a playful remark when she noticed Dean had quickly fallen asleep. He already looked so tired when he showed up at her door a few hours ago. She drew a sympathetic look as she draped his arm around herself, scooting her body against his, giving him a kiss on the crook of his jaw. She slowly drew the covers over her and Dean before easing down on the bed, letting the quiet and comfort coax her to sleep.
As the early morning approached, Buffy slowly stirred awake, pushing herself up against the headboard. Her movement on the mattress aroused Dean from his slumber as he greeted her with a deep yawn before his eyes slowly rolled open. After a minute, he peeled up Buffy’s shirt and checked the stitches with a gentle finger press. In the serene silence, Buffy watched Dean as he replaced the bandage over her wound. She passed him an appreciative smile when Dawn abruptly mowed through the door. Buffy scowled as she cinched her unbuttoned shirt shut.
“Couldn’t you knock?” Buffy grumbled as she buttoned up her shirt.
“You’ll have to go back to your sexfest later,” Dawn said snidely. “Because....”
Joyce appeared under the doorway and peered inside.
“Mom’s here,” Dawn muttered under her breath.
“Good morning,” Joyce said. “I didn’t hear you come in last night, so I hope everything’s okay?”
Joyce gazed at Buffy expectantly as Dean raked a hand through his tousled hair before combing out the wrinkles in his tee shirt.
“Hi Mrs. Summers, how are you doing?” Dean asked with a smile.
“I’m feeling fine so far,” Joyce answered. “In fact, I think I’m teetering toward effervescent. I think tomorrow I’ll be downright zingy.”
“Oh, that sounds....awesome.”
Joyce shifted her eyes to Buffy as she extracted a folded up piece of paper from her pocket.
“Sweetheart, I need to sit down with you when you have some time,” she said. “I finished the list of grocery items we need for the next two weeks and I also need you to swing by the gallery and collect a few things for me.”
“Of course mom,” Buffy replied. “I can do it now.”
Joyce batted the air with a hand.
“It’s not urgent,” she said. “Just when you get a second.”
Joyce started toward the doorway until she paused abruptly and turned around, frowning curiously.
“Honey, were you cleaning something with disinfectant?”
“Was I what?”
Joyce nodded toward the bottle of antibacterial sitting on the bedside table.
“Oh I used it.”
Buffy and Dean shined their surprise as Dawn batted her hand through the air before picking the bottle up. She picked up a cotton swab, dunked some of the bottle out and then dabbed her fingernails with it.
“I was experimenting, thinking I was gonna love the polish half on, half off look,” she said. “Oh well.”
Joyce brightened with an encouraging smile as she brushed a hand over Dawn’s head.
“That’s my eager little envelope pusher.”
Joyce shuffled out into the hallway and then peered back at Buffy.
“So, talk to you in a bit?”
Buffy nodded and smiled.
After Joyce disappeared down the hall, Dawn flashed a boastful grin.
“Woah, so I like totally covered for you on a Slayer thing right?”
Buffy and Dean discreetly eyed each other as Dawn chortled.
“Ha! I so did, didn’t I?
“Alright, so you did,” Buffy groaned.
“Congratulations on lying through your teeth,” Dean said sardonically. “We’re proud of you kiddo.”
“You didn’t come up with anything,” Dawn snorted.
Buffy let out a slow breath as she steered Dawn’s attention.
“I’ll let you look if you don’t say a word,” she said.
Dawn made a cross motion over her heart. Buffy lifted up the flannel shirt to reveal the bandage on her stomach.
“Sweet,” Dawn chimed. “No, ick. Or, no, sweet and ick. So are you like all gushy behind that?”
“Yeah,” Buffy acceded. “Which is why you CAN’T say anything to mom. So, can you please help me out with the household duties?”
Dawn huffed and rolled her eyes.
“Are you serious? I covered for you and what do I get as a nice reward? Your bulk of the chores.”
Buffy let out a huff as Dawn charged toward the door.
“That’s not what I.....”
Dawn held a hand up as she reached the doorway.
“Whatever Buffy,” she grumbled. “Your secret is safe.”
Dawn glared at Buffy’s wound and huffed again before storming out of the room. As Buffy sputtered with exasperation, Dean pushed off the bed and collected his jacket.
“Alright, so indoor duties are covered. I’ll take the outdoor duty tonight. See if I can sniff out Stinky.”
“You’re going to patrol alone?”
“I have roamed plenty of cemeteries at night you know.”
“I know, it’s not that I think you’re not capable,” Buffy stressed. “It’s just that with mystery super woman out there, I’d feel better if you had the gang backing you up if something happens. Put the mind of your pretty, recovering girlfriend at ease?”
Buffy drew a pout as Dean lingered in the doorway.
“Alright, I’ll round up the troops later.”
Dawn charged through the hall and peeked into the bedroom at Buffy.
“Can I go too?” she asked.
Buffy shifted into a stern expression as she adjusted her weight on the bed.
“No,” she answered.
Later in the evening, Dean led the Scoobies on patrol, blending into the shadows as he crept through the cemetery, his crossbow leveled in front of him. He paused abruptly when he heard a rustling and then loud munching behind him. He shook his head as he pushed toward a large headstone. After he crouched behind the headstone, he scoped out the terrain with cautious eyes.
After a quick sweep, he swung around to regard the gang, hanging out a few feet away. He pointed a finger at the gang and then two fingers at his eyes before pushing a few paces ahead.
Xander, Willow and Anya frowned in confusion as they huddled together. Xander stuffed a handful of chips in his mouth as he eyed the girls.
“What was that he just did? Have you ever seen him do that before? Are we supposed to know what that means?” he asked softly.
Xander crunched down on his chips, the loud sound echoing through the air. Anya shrugged as she took the bag of chips from Xander.
“He’s just showing off because Buffy’s not around to steal the spotlight,” she replied flatly.
“It’s a secret signal,” Willow said. “I’m pretty sure it means “I’m watching you.”
Xander scratched his head as he watched Dean, his back facing the gang, perched behind a tombstone.
“Huh? But how can he when he’s looking that way?”
“He probably wants us to watch something. Or he wants us to wait before we follow,” Anya whispered.
“Maybe we should just ask him,” Willow suggested softly.
Xander nodded as he cupped his hands around his mouth.
“Dean! Hey! What was with that pointy eye thing?!” he hollered.
Dean flinched when he heard Xander’s booming voice cutting through the silence. He turned on his boot just as Xander mimicked his hand gestures. He heaved a sigh as his eyes rolled over the gang. Xander was outfitted in a bright blue Hawaiian shirt, Willow wore a florescent purple blouse and Anya had a sunflower yellow sweater on. Instead of crouching behind the barrier of a tombstone, the trio simply stood under the beaming moonlight in the middle of the cemetery.
“I was trying to tell you to keep your eyes open and lay LOW but since you three already look like a rainbow, just stand there and be bait,” he said with a wry grin.
Xander moped and glanced at Willow as Dean turned his sights back to the cemetery.
“You made me ask him and now he’s annoyed and mocking us,” Xander moaned.
“Hey, at least I wasn’t yelling, Mr. Lay Low Hawaiian Shirt,” Willow argued.
Dean sunk with another sigh as he glanced over his shoulder at Willow and Xander bickering.
“I didn’t do anything,” Anya stated.
Dean shook his head as he crept over to the gang.
“Hey girls and boy, how about we take a different approach to this okay? I’m gonna take a quick pass on my own and if I need help, I’ll just YELL really loud, got it?”
Dean flashed another wry grin as Xander, Willow and Anya winced with remorse.
“We’re not laying low enough are we?” Anya asked.
“Sorry about that man,” Xander lamented.
“Yeah, so sorry,” Willow replied.
“We’ll lay lower, I swear,” Xander declared. “We can lay on the ground if you want us to.”
Dean looked over their genuine apologetic expressions and let out a deep breath.
“Alright, alright,” he sighed. “But keep moving and no chatting.....and no chips.”
Xander, Willow and Anya nodded in unison.
“You got it,” Willow said.
Willow snatched the bag of chips and stuffed a huge handful in her mouth, as Anya and Xander quickly followed after Dean. After a few steps, Dean bolted in his tracks when he heard the distinct sound of loud crunching again. He heaved a sigh as Xander and Willow gulped.
“Sorry,” they said ruefully.
Dean shook his head as he pushed ahead of the gang. Xander observed Dean as he stalked along the side of a mausoleum. When he pulled out a long machete, Xander cocked his head as he huddled behind a tombstone with Willow and Anya.
“Don’t you think he looks a little like Crocodile Dundee? You know, with the leather jacket, rough and tough demeanor, big knife, all he needs is the hat. He looks so cool like that. Why can’t I be cool like that?””
“Oh Xander, you are cool like that,” Willow replied quietly.
A short time later, after trekking to the other side of the cemetery, Dean peeked around the wall of another mausoleum as the gang chatted quietly behind him.
“Oh wow, so you’re the boss of them?” Willow asked.
“Actually, the construction company that pays them is the boss of them,” Xander clarified. “So technically no, but I’m the manager of that crew so when I want something done, most of the time, they listen to me and get it done.”
Xander beamed a goofy grin of pride.
“But a lot of times, they mess it up and then Xander has to get all scolding and glaring but in a reasonable manner,” Anya added. “It’s a bit hot.”
“Hey gang,” Dean interjected softly.
Xander, Willow and Anya scrambled along the wall to join Dean.
“You find him?” Xander whispered.
“Yep, one smelly hair band worshiping vamp,” Dean confirmed.
A few minutes later, after tailing the vampire through another section of the cemetery, Dean held the group back, huddling behind a bank of trees. After watching the vamp saunter into a tomb, Dean motioned at the gang to remain behind the coverage of trees before stalking off. Hearing low murmurs echoing from the tomb, Dean stayed low, pitching his eyes over the edge of a small dirty window. After taking a head count, he quietly crept back to the gang.
“What’s going on in there?” Xander asked. “It sounded very....lively as far as undead guys go.”
“Oh yeah, three’s a crowd but five’s a party,” Dean reported dryly.
Willow widened her eyes in dread.
“Five vampires? That’s a lot,” she gasped. “So what’s the plan?”
“Don’t really have one but.....with that many vamps having a party, I say we have a little ‘bombfire’ ourselves,” Dean said.
“You mean a bonfire,” Xander stated.
“Nope, I mean a BOMB-fire,” Dean clarified, drawing a wide smirk.
“Uh, that could be dangerous,” Xander gulped.
“Most definitely,” Dean acknowledged with a wider smirk.
“Um, but Dean...Buffy wouldn’t want you to blow stuff up,” Willow pointed.
Dean let out a huff as his smirk sharply faded.
“Well, she’s not here and I’m in charge, and I say we blow ‘em into the sky.”
When he was met with collective looks of hesitation, he huffed again.
“Oh fine,” he moaned. “We’ll come back later with more weapons and a non blowing stuff up plan.”
The three nodded fervently, partaking in more chip eating while Dean stuffed his weapons in a burlap bag. Willow glanced at her watch and bounced on her toes.
“Oh!” Willow gasped. “If we hurry over, we can still catch the last showing of that happy man slash crying girl movie.”
Xander gulped as Anya frowned in wonder.
“Which movie is that?” Anya asked.
“You know that Korean movie? We saw the poster last month with that crying girl and the happy looking guy. You said it reminded you of when you were a vengeance demon,” Willow noted.
“Oh, you mean the ‘angry because he’s a cheating bastard’ girl and the ‘clueless and idiotic’ smiling fool? Yes, I know which movie now,” Anya affirmed.
Anya hooked her arm around Xander, starting to steer him toward the exit of the cemetery.Xander widened his eyes out of view of the girls, shooting a pleading look at Dean. Dean absorbed the conspiratorial look and drummed up an excuse, prying a hurt expression over his face.
“Hey, wait a sec Xan, what about that thing you were gonna help me with man? You said you’d help me the next time I swung into town, you know with that thing.”
“Right! That thing!” Xander said emphatically as he hitched a finger in the air.
Anya and Willow eyed Xander, frowning with curiosity.
“What thing?” Anya asked.
“Oh, just a very, tedious, boring thing,” Dean replied. “I told Xan about it awhile back and he offered to help me to care of it and it has to be done, TONIGHT, like, during the time you gals are at the movies....but if you’re gonna bail on me Xan, I guess I’ll just grin and bare it and do this thing on my own.”
Dean heaved a deep sigh, exaggerating his disappointment.
“Oh, you shouldn’t leave him hanging out to dry Xander,” Willow moaned. “I mean, we did make too much noise and stuff while he was being all Crocodile Stealthy.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I’d never leave a buddy hanging,” Xander said. “Let’s go do that thing!”
Willow and Anya strolled away as Xander lit up with a grin of relief and rubbed his hands together.
“No problem, the second I heard ‘crying girl movie’, I smelled a chick flick,” Dean replied with a grimace. “I felt your pain.”
Dean patted Xander on the shoulder with a sympathetic expression.
“So, now that the girls are off bonding over some lame movie, how about you and I partake in some real unadulterated male fun huh?”
Xander fidgeted apprehensively as he kept his tone low.
“Are you talking about going to a.....naughty girl establishment?” he inquired discreetly.
Dean blinked rapidly in surprise at Xander’s question before he released a deep chuckle.
“Not at the moment but, dude!”
Dean sputtered with another bout of laughter as he rummaged through his bag of weapons.
“I meant, let’s go party crashing,” he clarified. “I just need a couple more supplies and then we can have a real ‘blast’ you know?”
Xander widened his eyes, digging a hand into the back of his neck.
“Uh, but what happened to the ‘non blowing up stuff’ plan?”
“I didn’t really have one of those either,” Dean admitted. “But look at it this way, you could either be hanging out with Willow and your girl at some boring, sappy movie that ain’t even in English – nodding your head with a forced smile, saying how much you LOVE watching chicks emote on screen when in reality you’d rather claw your own eyes out, OR you can hang here with me and kill some vampires.....”
Xander cocked his head as he let the comment settle into his mind.
“When you put it that way,” Xander said receptively.
Dean lit up with a gratified smile as he clapped Xander on the back.
“Awesome,” he said. “And what’s even better man, if you’re not enjoying the experience, you don’t have to hide it, just be a man and say you’re miserable. I won’t make you feel bad.”
Xander nodded emphatically.
“Yeah! I’m a man!” he roared. “We’re men!”
Dean tensed when he heard an eerie echo in the air. After a quick sweep around, he threw his eyes to Xander in a scolding manner.
“Sorry,” Xander whispered.
“Come on, let’s go get ready for our party crashing.”
Once back at the cemetery, Xander crouched behind a headstone as Dean unloaded the charges he had assembled at Xander’s place.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Xander asked as he eyed the charges Dean set on the ground.
“As long as you don’t get trigger happy before I give the signal, this should all go according to the plan.”
“Right,” he said.
“Okay, I’m gonna set the charges up, stay here and keep a lookout,” Dean instructed quietly.
Xander nodded as Dean made his way toward the tomb, staying low and discreet. In a few quick strides, Dean reached the tomb and quickly hugged the edge, creeping along the walls until he perched beneath the dirty window. He dipped his head back, peering into the window as the five vampires sat in a circle, conversing with each other.
“If you really killed the Slayer, where’s her body huh?” one vampire challenged.
Dean eyed Stinky the Vampire as he shrugged off the disbelief.
“I dunno,” Stinky remarked. “She probably dropped dead somewhere after she ran away from me and now her loved ones are sobbing over her bloodstained body. You shoulda seen how scared she was of me!”
Stinky chortled loudly as another vampire interjected.
“Why didn’t you eat her? I hear when you eat a Slayer, you get their psychic powers, that could be useful.”
As the three other vampires looked incredulous, Stinky plucked out a stake from his pocket. Dean narrowed his eyes on the bloody stake as the vampires looked it over.
“This was hers and I took it right outta her hands and stuck her with it!” Stinky lauded.
“I should have this bronzed!”
Stinky chortled obnoxiously again as Dean carefully edged away from the window.
“Dude, sniff it,” Stinky said. “That’s grade A Slayer right there!”
Dean bolted abruptly in his tracks when he heard a heavy sniffing sound wafting from the window.
“Ohhhhh, she smells so tasty, you shoulda gotten a lick of her,” one vampire moaned.
Dean clenched down on his jaw, his face tightening with outrage as he heard more sniffing through the window.
“I wanna smell her now, pass her over here,” another vampire demanded.
“I’m not done with her, I want to put my mouth on her, feel her between my teeth.”
As he bristled in silence, Dean nearly charged back into the vampires’ tomb but caught Xander watching him from a few feet away.
Dean pushed out his fury in a slow, deep breath before he padded softly back to Xander. He slumped down against the headstone, fervently disassembling the bag of explosives.
“Okay, slight change of plans,” he announced softly. “We can’t just blow those sonofabitches into the sky. I gotta go in there and get something first.”
Xander shined his disbelief as Dean rifled through another bag of supplies.
“And I thought blowing up a building was crazy,” Xander remarked.
“No that was just fun, but now, now it’s personal,” Dean grunted. “Come on.”
After making a few adjustments to his explosive devices, Dean led Xander back through the cemetery. Xander stared with mass trepidation as Dean tested the timer on his ring of explosives.
“Alright, it’s time to party,” Dean said as he zipped up his jacket.
“Uh, any last words? I mean, what would you like me to tell Buffy if your guts are spread all over the cemetery?”
Dean stuffed something in his pocket and then patted Xander on the shoulder.
“Always good to know you have such faith in me Xan,” he said sardonically.
“It’s just...you know Buffy will wig in a major way if she finds out you’re going all kamikaze.”
“Well, let’s not tell her then, okay?” Dean proposed before he bounded away.
When Dean reached the door to the tomb, he heard Stinky’s annoying chortles echoing through the window. He pulled a doe eyed look over his face as he stumbled into the entrance of the tomb.
“Woah, this place is SPOOKY! Neat!”
All the vamps whipped around in surprise as Dean feigned interest in an elaborate spider web draping one corner of the tomb.
“Wow, that web looks authentic! You guys went all out for this fiesta huh?”
As the vampires exchanged looks, Dean staggered a few steps forward.
“Sorry I’m late dudes, I got kind of lost, the invite just said look for the old big building in the cemetery. You’d never guess how many old big buildings there are around here!”
Dean narrowed his eyes when the vampires began hissing with bloodlust.
“Hey, what’s with your face? You got some kind of disease man?”
When the vampire responded with a vicious snarl, Dean exaggerated a wince.
“Geez, sensitive huh?”
Dean eyed Stinky, who had the stake back in his possession. Dean forced out a chuckle as he pointed at the stake.
“That’s a big toothpick!” Dean roared.
As one vampire rushed him and pinned him into a wall, Dean feigned a deep mope.
“Hey, hey not cool,” he groaned. “Is that any way to treat someone who brought you an awesome gift?”
Dean lifted out of his mope and shaded with a murderous glare, peeling back the flaps of his jacket. The vampire gripping him curiously looked down to see the explosives strapped to his chest, a timer gauge quickly ticking toward zero. When the timer hit zero, the vampires scurried around, frantically looking for cover. Dean gave a satisfied sigh watching all the vampires running around in fear. After a second, the vampires exchanged looks of confusion when the timer flashed zero but nothing happened.
“Aw man,” Dean moaned as he tapped on his explosives vest. “Those guys at the surplus store told me these things were real. What a ripoff!”
In a heartbeat, the five vampires darted toward him, raging with bloodlust. Dean narrowed his eyes on Stinky.
“I’m taking that back,” Dean grunted, nodding at the stake in Stinky’s hand.
“I’ll put it IN your back,” Stinky snarled.
Stinky lunged into Dean, sending him down to the ground. Dean pummeled his fists hard into Stinky, dislodging the stake from his hand. The two shuffled around the tomb, exchanging brutal punches as the other three vampires dove in.
As the vampires dog piled on top of Dean, he elbowed Stinky several times in the face, keeping his fangs at bay. Stinky roared in fury as Dean yanked out a grenade from his pocket.
“You hungry? Eat this!” he growled as he pulled the pin and chucked it hard into Stinky’s face.
Stinky blinked in surprise as the grenade dropped to the ground and rolled away. The four vampires recoiled from the pile and dove toward the grenade as Dean fished up the stake on his way out of the tomb.
Dean hauled ass out of the tomb as a fiery explosion erupted behind him. He dove for cover as debris and flames kissed his back. When the air went still, he looked behind him to see a large black cloud billowing from the tomb. He whistled gleefully as he got to his feet and bounded back to Xander.
“Finally, after all these years, I got to blow something up,” he cheered.
Xander stared at the fiery tomb as Dean padded himself down from head to toe.
“All my parts are in tact and accounted for.”
Xander gawked a bit longer at the destruction. Dean chuckled at Xander’s expression, patting him on the back.
“How’s that for male bonding?” he said. “That was way better than suffering through some stupid French crying girl movie.”
Xander scratched his head as Dean steered toward the foot of the cemetery.
“You mean Korean crying girl movie,” Xander corrected.
Dean widened his eyes for a brief second before he pulled an innocent look over his face.
“Uh, yeah, yeah, I meant Korean crying girl movie, totally,” he lied.
As Dean plucked off the timer from his explosives vest, Xander shined another look of awe.
“I can’t believe you strapped a fake bomb to yourself,” he gasped. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re kind of crazy?”
“By crazy do you mean genius? Cuz come on, a bit of paint, plastic tubing, modeling clay and a flashing ticker for effect and I had those bastards running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It was awesome. Anyway, my work is done, time to call it a night.”
As they made their way toward the foot of the cemetery, Dean hitched his index finger up.
“And remember Xan, by participating in tonight’s.....vamp destroying festivities, you have agreed to keep this between you and me as part of....the ‘bro code’, so not a word to the Slayer or the other Scoobies about this.”
“You want me to keep a secret?” Xander asked apprehensively.
“Don’t think of it as a ‘secret’, more like a vow,” Dean pointed. “And the vow between guys is ‘bros before hos’, so that means you can’t rat me out if we’re bros.”
Dean held his fist out, thumb facing up and waited expectantly as Xander gulped.
“Dude, come on, I spared you from a lame chick flick,” Dean moaned. “Not to mention the hours afterwards of heady debating over the ‘themes’ of that stupid flick.”
Xander heaved a breath, curled his hand into a fist and tapped his knuckle against Dean’s. As they continued strolling through the cemetery, Xander scratched his head when a thought surfaced.
“What if they ask me about the coming back later part? I mean, I’m not as good of a liar as you are, no offense.”
Dean shrugged as he took one last scope of the cemetery.
“None taken man,” he said dismissively. “I’ve had years of practice. Anyway, just tell Anya and Willow that you and I decided to go back and take care of it, cuz technically, we did.”
Seeing the apprehension still tugging on Xander’s face, Dean let out a sigh.
“If they don’t mention it, don’t bring it up,” he advised.
After he stepped off the curb, Dean turned his sight around and grinned at the black smoke still billowing from the tomb.
“I rocked those vamps world,” he cheered.
A short time later, after settling all the groceries away, Buffy emerged from the kitchen, running into Dean as he passed through the front door. She met him at the foot of the stairs and looked him over, shading with relief when she saw no major injuries.
“So patrol went okay,” she sighed.
“Yep, better than I expected.”
Buffy furrowed her brows in wonder as Dean grinned with satisfaction.
“What does that mean?”
“It means I did my job so gimme some sugar,” Dean said as he gingerly pulled Buffy into his arms.
After a brief kiss, Buffy pulled away and shined her curiosity.
“Why do you smell like smoke?”
“Uh not important, what have you been up to?”
Hearing rustling upstairs, Buffy turned her eyes to the landing.
“I was out picking up the things mom needed. I should let her know it’s all done.”
As they walked up the stairs, Dean leaned closer to Buffy and inhaled a whiff of her hair.
“Why do you smell like smoke?”
Buffy paused under the doorway of her mom’s bedroom as her mom rifled through a dresser.
“Mom, I picked up all that stuff on the list,” Buffy said as she walked inside.
Joyce looked up from the dresser, pushing a drawer shut as Dean lingered under the doorway.
“You did? That’s wonderful, thank you so much sweetie.”
“How are you feeling?” Buffy asked.
“I’m just fine.”
“Going somewhere Mrs. Summers?”
Joyce glanced at Dean and then the suitcase on her bed.
Joyce turned to Buffy and shaded with a bewildered look.
“Do you know where my travel size conditioner might be hon?”
“Um, have you checked the cabinet under your bathroom sink?”
Joyce nodded in acknowledgment and shuffled to the bathroom. When she emerged from the bathroom, Buffy shaded with concern.
“Mom, what’s going on?” she asked, eyeing the suitcase.
Joyce heaved a sigh as Buffy waited expectantly. Feeling an intimate mother-daughter moment approaching, Dean backed into the hallway and gave a polite smile.
“I’m gonna hit the shower.”
Joyce let out another sigh and shook her head, sitting on the end of her bed.
“No, no, it’s okay, I’d like you to hear this too Dean,” Joyce said. “Buffy, come sit with me for a second?”
Buffy nodded as she moved to her mom’s bed, sitting beside her. Dean ambled through the doorway, leaning against the dresser as Joyce took Buffy’s hand.
“I thought I could hold off on this,” she started. “I know I’ve been telling you the past few weeks that this whole feeling off thing was just ‘nothing’. Well.....there’s a chance it might be more than nothing.....”
Buffy gently squeezed her mom’s hand as her heart flooded with dread.
“So they know what’s wrong?” she asked softly.
“I’m having a cat scan taken.”
Buffy absorbed the revelation as Joyce got up and continued packing.
“They’re only keeping me overnight,” Joyce added. “If they do find something, it’ll be something they didn’t find before. I’ll be okay.”
Buffy forced herself to breathe as her mom gave her a loving smile.
“Yeah, you’ll be just fine.”
Joyce cupped her cheek, beaming a maternal expression. Buffy veiled the dread tugging in her eyes and pushed a loving smile over her face. Still feeling out of place, Dean cleared his throat, eyeing the suitcase.
“Let me know when you’re all packed Mrs. Summers and I’ll drive you over to the hospital.”
“That’s okay Dean, I can manage,” Joyce said politely.
“I know you can,” he said. “But I insist on driving you over, it’s late and you’ve had a long day so when you’re ready, just let me know.”
Joyce beamed her appreciation as Buffy slowly rose from the bed.
“If there’s anything you need me to do, just ask,” Dean added emphatically.
With quiet restraint, Buffy shuffled into the hallway, barely hearing her mom’s response as she struggled to keep the rising tide of shock from overwhelming her system.
“Well, I’m all packed,” Joyce continued. “I think I’ll get some reading materials together this time. I’ve had my fill of last year’s gossip magazines from the hospital lobby.”
“Okay, then I’ll take this downstairs for you.”
“Thanks Dean, you’re always such a big help around here.”
As the muffled voices continued, Buffy pushed her feet forward, having no destination in mind. She wandered aimlessly through the house, letting her feet take her somewhere as she felt a heavy pall of dread in her heart. A painful numbness flushed through her veins as she stepped onto the back porch. Even though the air was crisp and cool, she couldn’t feel anything but the shock prickling her system.
Buffy suddenly bellowed a soundless gasp as her knees began shuddering. She folded down onto the porch step, burying her head in her lap. For a long moment she felt so alone, so vulnerable, so small in the world. She heaved another soundless gasp as the porch light beaming over her was blotted out by a shadow.
Buffy lifted her head up from her lap and through a sidelong glance, caught Dean as he stood in the doorway, observing her curiously. As her eyes grew glassy, her brows furrowed and her face crumbled with fear. In one stride, Dean was on the porch step, sitting down beside her. He pulled her against him as she shuddered with tears, crying softly into his shoulder.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he soothed. “Your mom, she’s gonna beat this.”
Paralyzed by her worst fears bombarding her mind, Buffy stopped sobbing out loud as tears continued to stream down her face. Dean stroked the back of her hair, curling her tighter against him as the night air went still. He kissed the top of her head as her body convulsed with anxiety.
As the silence rolled on, Dean suddenly tensed up after hearing a very subtle rustling in the trees. With his free hand, he cupped the pistol tucked beneath his jacket, turning his eyes to the line of trees.
Dean darkened with annoyance as Spike sauntered toward the house.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
Dean caught a glance of a shotgun tucked inside Spike’s duster and quickly extracted his pistol, leveling it at the vampire.
Buffy pulled herself out of the fog clouding her mind and lifted her head off Dean’s shoulder. After taking in his icy expression, Buffy veered her sights up to see Spike.
“What, are you mute now too?” Dean pressed impatiently.
Buffy heaved a sigh as she wiped the dampness from her eyes.
“Is something wrong?” Spike asked, his attention directed solely at Buffy.
“Take a look in the mirror,” Dean said rancorously. “Oh wait, that’s right, you can’t cuz you’re a damn.....”
“Let’s not do this now,” Buffy cut in, her tone shaky but still assertive.
Dean relented by drawing back his pistol, but his icy glare remained.
“Yeah, I’ll kill him later,” he vexed.
“Can I.....help with something?” Spike offered.
Dean scoffed loudly, struggling to bite his tongue as Buffy patted at her damp cheeks. Hearing rustling in the kitchen, Buffy and Dean peered back into the house to see Joyce perusing through cabinets. Buffy rose to her feet and collected herself, drawing in a long breath before she walked into the kitchen. Dean glowered at Spike as the vampire seemed to be watching Buffy move around the kitchen.
Dean backed up to the doorway, pulling the door within a few inches. He waved his pistol at Spike, deepening his acrimonious glare.
“Go crawl back into the sewers,” he snarled.
Spike simply glared back at him for a second before pivoting toward the street.
“And if I ever find you lurking in the bushes or peeping into bedroom windows again Spike, you’ll be EATING that shotgun, you understand?”
Dean bore his eyes deeper into Spike as the vampire snorted dismissively in response. When the vampire walked off, Dean gave him one last long look before tucking his pistol away and going inside.
As Buffy gathered coats for her and her mom, Dawn trekked down the stairs and let out a yawn. Dawn perched at the foot of the stairs and eyed the suitcase, then her mom and Buffy under the doorway of the kitchen.
“What are you doing up?” Buffy asked.
“I got thirsty and saw all the lights on. What’s going on?”
As Buffy shaded with a stern look, her mom shuffled over to Dawn and curled an arm around her.
“I’m just going to the hospital for a test sweetie,” Joyce replied. “I’ll be home sometime tomorrow.”
Dawn clung to her mom, stifling a yawn.
“Can I come too?”
“I don’t know why you’d want to honey, you’ll just be waiting around for awhile.”
“I can keep you company,” Dawn said eagerly.
Joyce squeezed Dawn affectionately, beaming a maternal smile at her. Dawn hurried upstairs to change as Dean strolled out of the kitchen, stuffing snacks in his pockets.
A few hours later, Buffy and Dawn huddled together as they watched their mom undergoing the routine check-in process at the hospital. They followed her as a staff member greeted her, took her vitals and made notations on a medical chart. Joyce eyed her girls and smiled lovingly at them as a lab tech walked in and introduced himself. As Joyce was escorted back into the lab rooms, Buffy and Dawn clutched arms, taking in the assuring smile their mom passed them before disappearing through a door.
Buffy strolled back to the waiting area where they had left Dean. She looked around the empty hallway as Dawn took a seat near a mounted TV. Dawn passed a glance at the blank TV screen as she burrowed into her seat.
“Um, I’ll see if someone can turn that on,” Buffy said.
Buffy wandered down a hallway, looking for a staff member, trying to keep her anxiety and fatigue roped in. When Dean emerged from the opposite end of the hallway, she anxiously drifted over to him. Her brows furrowed with wonder when she noticed the headphones plugged in his ears and the cassette player hooked to his waistband. He had a black plastic bag tucked under one arm and an auto magazine in his hands.
“Hey, your mom all checked in?”
“Yeah,” Buffy replied softly. “Where were you?”
“Oh, I’ve just been roaming around, checking things out.”
“You mean you were hunting?” she asked, eyeing the cassette player.
Taking in her look, Dean cracked a small smile.
“No, no, this is an actual cassette player,” he said. “But, that’s not a bad idea, I mean, ghosts in a hospital, not far fetched.”
Buffy let out a sigh as she leaned against the wall, rubbing the chill from her shoulders.
Dean removed the headphones from his ears, parking them on his neck as he noticed Buffy staring off at Dawn.
“I stopped by the gift shop, picked up some of those magazines you girls like,” he said.
Buffy glanced at Dean as he plucked the plastic bag out from under his arm.
“Oh, um, thanks. I don’t feel like reading right now but....Dawn might......Dawn...I was going to find someone to turn that TV on for her.”
Buffy straightened and pivoted in a few directions, heaving a flustered sigh.
“I’ll take care of it,” Dean offered. “Go sit with Dawn. Take these and these.”
Dean rifled through his pack and yanked out a pair of soft drinks and a handful of energy bars.
“The cafeteria was closed and the vending machine is out of order so if you’re hungry for something solid, I’ll have to run out.”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.”
Buffy took the bag of magazines and soft drinks from Dean before he wandered away. As she strolled back through the hall, she noticed Dawn fidgeting in her seat, trying not to seem bored or anxious.
Buffy held out the soft drink and nudged Dawn in the shoulder with it. Dawn looked up and took the soda as Buffy settled into a seat next to her. After a brief moment of silence, the girls popped the tops of the soda cans and took small sips, staring off.
“So mom’s getting a cat scan,” Dawn said softly. “Do you know what that is?”
Buffy shrugged as the a few medical staff ambled through the hallway.
“Um, not really,” Buffy replied. “I think it’s some sort of advanced X-ray.”
“Oh, well how come it’s called a CATscan?” Dawn pressed.
Buffy issued a sigh instead of answering. She couldn’t muster the energy to process in depth thoughts or carry on a conversation.
“There has to be a reason,” Dawn continued. “Did they originally scan cats for something? Oh, or maybe the machine whines in a cat like way?”
As her lungs began to heave another flustered sigh, Buffy stamped it out after soaking in the deep flare of vulnerability and fear in Dawn’s eyes. She bit down on her lower lip as she realized that Dawn’s impulsive rambles were not meant to grate on her nerves but an outlet she desperately needed to cope with their mother’s illness.
Buffy let out a breath as she draped a comforting arm around Dawn. As the silence lulled, Dawn glanced at the bag in Buffy’s lap.
“What’s in there?”
“Huh? Oh, Dean got us some stuff to read,” Buffy divulged. “I’m not in the mood but help yourself if you feel up to it.”
Dawn took the bag and rifled through the magazines. She rolled her eyes when she saw a bright colored magazine with a kid on the cover.
“Are you kidding?” she moaned. “Highlights? Am I eight?”
Buffy pulled her eyes from the doorway where her mom had gone through and regarded Dawn’s mope.
“Highlights? Oh, um, I guess he just remembers you reading those a lot when you were younger to pass the time.”
“Yeah, when I was eight,” Dawn said.
“Well, there should be a People or something.”
Dawn settled for a National Geographic as Buffy went back to staring off at the doorway.
Dean beamed a winning smile at the young nurse after she fished out the television remote from a drawer in the triage station. The young nurse reciprocated with a friendly smile as she placed the remote on the counter. Dean picked it up and retreated down the hallway toward the waiting area where Buffy and Dawn were camped out over the row of chairs.
Dean aimed the remote at the mounted TV set and snapped it on before glancing at the girls.
“I still need that shower so I’m gonna run by the house, you girls want anything while I’m out?”
As Dawn clicked rapidly through the TV stations, Buffy glanced at the clock just to the left of the unit.
“Dawn needs her schoolbooks,” she said.
Dawn frowned in protest.
“You HAVE to go,” Buffy said sternly. “Mom wouldn’t want you to skip school.”
Dawn relented, letting out a sigh as Buffy listed a few other items.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a little while,” Dean replied.
A short time later, Dean bounded up the walkway to the Summers’ house, letting out a deep yawn as he rifled through his keychain. When his eyes noticed the front door was partially ajar, he tensed with alarm. Upon closer inspection, he saw the wood along the hinge had been splintered, evidence that someone had jimmied it open.
Cupping a hand on his pistol, Dean quietly shouldered the door open and slipped inside. After shutting the door, he pulled out his pistol and studied the immediate area, checking for any disturbances of the décor or furniture. He took a long pause when something rumpled at the foot of the stairs caught his eyes. He crouched down and hooked a finger underneath an old wool blanket, noticing several holes tinted with scorch marks.
As the realization hit him, Dean darkened with a sour frown when his ears picked up the sounds of creaking floorboards above him. He quickly and quietly charged up the stairs, raising his pistol.
Dean threw his eyes rapidly from room to room as he stalked down the hall, clutching his pistol in one hand, the wool blanket in the other. When he heard the faint sounds of a low moan echoing from Buffy’s bedroom, Dean made his way over, perching under the doorway. He widened his eyes in disbelief when he saw Spike standing in front of Buffy’s dresser drawers. Spike had his back facing Dean as he uttered another moan. Dean noticed the disarray of the dresser, the drawers pulled out and the clothes in rumples.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
Spike jumped in startle before pivoting around. Dean deepened his icy glare as he stepped inside the bedroom, chucking the blanket on the ground. Flustered with surprise, Spike hid the sweater in his hands behind his back and shaded with an innocent look.
“Nothing, nothing,” he stuttered. “I wasn’t doing.....”
As Dean glowered at Spike, the vampire suddenly snorted with offense.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing huh? You don’t live here,” Spike retorted with a snide grin.
Dean waved his pistol at the opened dresser drawers before leveling it between Spike’s eyes.
“I’m sniffing out sewer rats,” he grunted.
Spike threw a repugnant frown as he backed away from the dresser.
“Well.....so was I,” he countered.
“Oh yeah? Are you blind now? Cuz that’s one fluffy rat you got behind your back,” Dean challenged as he nodded at the pink sweater.
Spike scoffed as Dean held his assessing glare. Spike snorted a sigh as he brought the sweater forward and shined a defiant look.
“That’s exactly what it is!” Spike barked. “It belongs to the Slayer, my enemy and this, this’ll give me the advantage in our next deadly tango.”
Spike held his head high in confidence. Dean simply cocked an eyebrow as he drew back his pistol. Spike took a whiff of the sweater, displaying a fierce expression as he let out a growl.
“Advantage? How so? You plan on using that as a buffer when she clocks you in the face?” Dean said with a wicked smirk.
Spike snorted in disgust as Dean moseyed over to the bedroom window, prying it open. Dean took a seat on the window sill as Spike crumbled the sweater into a ball and shook it.
“This disgusting thing is filled with Slayer musk, aggravating, too confident for her own good muskiness....”
Spike growled as Dean checked the ammo in his pistol, completely unconvinced. After he clicked the safety, he swung the pistol at Spike, lining up his sights.
“You can’t kill me with a gun,” Spike said with a snarky expression.
“That’s okay,” Dean said coolly. “I don’t want to kill you right away. I thought I’d put a couple rounds in your kneecaps first, then shoot off some of your fingers and toes, hell, even your teeth so you’ll stop flashing that annoying grin. You’ll be bleeding and hopefully crying and pissing in your pants and beggin’ me to put a stake in your heart. Does that sound good? Cuz to me that sounds friggin’ fantastic.”
Spike balked as Dean flashed a malicious smile at him.
“You think you’re all bad ass because you have a shiny trinket?” Spike said in defiance.
Dean responded by dipping the pistol at Spike’s left kneecap. After a long moment, Spike tossed the crumbled sweater aside.
“Come on now,” Spike moaned. “The Slayer doesn’t have a problem with me anymore.”
“Really? Then she won’t have a problem with me turning you into Swiss cheese, cool,” Dean said flatly.
Dean waved the pistol between Spike’s kneecaps and hands.
“Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo........” he taunted.
Spike sputtered with protest for a moment before he lobbied an offensive attack.
“No, you’ve got yourself a problem,” he shot back haughtily. “Cause that girl of yours has a bit of a spending habit when it comes to her enemies. She bought me a round of drinks and a meal last night. So there, the little missus was out wasting your hard earned money on me instead of having cuddlies with you!”
Spike bounced off his feet, drawing a smug smirk at his mind blowing revelation. Dean simply stared back at the vampire, his face neutral. He knew the vampire was trying to get under his skin but years of hustling at poker had given him an advantage in keeping any surprise expressions from cracking over his face.
“Yeah, I know,” he said impassively.
Dean subdued his satisfaction when Spike’s boastful smile flooded away. The vampire huffed and shook his head, but refused to look defeated.
“Alright, I’ll give you another,” Spike said. “I can think of two times in the past that she had her witchy friends cast an uninvited spell on this house – both of ‘em for vamps. Why has she not bothered with me?”
When the vampire grinned at him, Dean remained unaffected, setting his pistol on the window sill.
“She’s got bigger problems than taking charity upon some pathetic homeless neutered sack of bones like you. That’s what makes her a bigger person. But me, I’m not above putting you out of your misery. Cause peeping into her window, sneaking around her house, sniffing through her drawers, looking for a reason for me to take you out - that just sounds like a cry for help, so, I hear you Spike and I’ve come bearing gifts.”
Dean clapped a hand over his pistol and simply grinned at Spike. After a long, tense moment, Dean removed the pistol from the sill, tucking it away behind the waistband of his jeans.
“But fortunately for you, sadly for me, I’ve got a lot on my plate this morning, so even though I promised you a mouthful of lead, I’m forced to take a rain check.”
Spike snorted in amusement as he sauntered closer to Dean.
“Hmm, seems I was right. That pistol is all for show,” Spike snorted. “But me, I don’t need one or even me fists to shake someone up. I’ve got a neat growly face to put the fear of God in people.”
Spike demonstrated his fierce look, shaking his head until his fangs flared and his eyes shined yellow. Dean stared at Spike for a brief moment before shaking his head.
“That ‘Growly Face’ is all for show, especially if I do.....this.”
Dean sucker punched Spike hard in the face. Spike growled as he impulsively threw his fist out but was paralyzed with agony. He howled in pain as he clutched his head. Dean rocked back over the window sill, chuckling hysterically.
“What have you really got behind that shiny armor and annoying grin?” Spike posed sharply. “Toys and grins don’t make a monster and let’s face it Pretty Boy, Buffy likes her men ‘growly’ and vicious and in the same ranks of her ex fang.”
Dean stopped laughing and gave a hard, sidelong look at Spike.
“She’s sweet on you and all that,” Spike added. “But come on, if Angel found a loophole in that ‘losing his soul would be deadly’ clause, you know she’d go running straight for him. Maybe you should ask yourself if she’s just biding her time with you until that loophole comes about, eh?”
After a long moment, Dean got up from the window sill and glowered at Spike.
“Shut up,” he grunted. “I’m tired of listening to you.”
Spike chortled and drew a gratified grin.
“Cause you have asked yourself that,” Spike cheered. “Angel’s still got a fang in her heart and that just kills you.”
Dean scoffed as his glare lingered. As Spike strolled closer to Dean in a defiant manner, Dean sprung off his feet and slammed the vampire into the wall, pushing him toward the open window.
“The only thing that kills me is that I don’t have the time to waste you!” Dean snarled.
As he held Spike out the window he watched with pleasure as the vampire flailed under the bright beams of sunlight. Spike roared in agony as he tried to loosen Dean’s grip around his collar with an elbow to the face. When waves of pain rang through his head, Spike recoiled and wailed some more.
“You bloody wanker!” Spike barked. “Let me go!”
“Okay,” Dean replied emphatically.
Dean smirked at Spike, prompting the vampire to shade with realization.
“No! No!” Spike bellowed.
Dean hurled Spike out the window and watched the vampire rolling off the roof, crashing into the bushes below. Spike moaned loudly as the bushes provided little shade. Dean leaned out the window and grinned.
“Blanket! Blanket!” Spike yelped as he stepped out of the bushes and pulled his duster over his head.
Spike yowled as the sunlight washed over his hands. Dean reappeared in the window, waving the blanket in a teasing manner.
“Come on! Come on!” Spike groaned.
Dean rolled the blanket up and chucked it through the window, purposefully aiming it toward the curb. Spike scowled from under his duster as Dean chuckled in vicious glee.
“Whoops!” he hollered out the window.
Dean ripped with laughter as Spike rolled up in the blanket and scurried away.
Buffy stood apprehensively outside an exam room, staring at the door for several minutes. She had no recollection of how long she had been standing there, nor did she have much sense of the exact time. She shifted her feet, still trying to muster the strength to walk into the room. She inhaled a deep breath and managed one step forward when she felt a hand gently clapping on her shoulder. Her eyes turned up to see Dean in a change of clothes. His hair was still a bit damp as he chewed fervently on a breakfast sandwich.
“Hey, sorry that took longer than I expected but some stuff came up,” he said. “I brought some breakfast, coffee that doesn’t taste like a wet sock and Dawn’s school books. Call me a one stop shop for all your needs.”
As Dean flashed a supportive smile, Buffy drifted into his arms and let out a grateful sigh.
“I just need this right now,” she said softly.
Buffy let out another sigh of relief when Dean curled his arms around her.
“Well, I’ve got plenty of that,” he exclaimed.
After a long moment, they pulled apart. Buffy took the cup of coffee from Dean but passed on the breakfast sandwich.
“So, any word yet?” he asked.
Buffy shook her head before her eyes turned to the exam room door.
“The CATscan results came in awhile ago,” she informed. “Mom’s been in with the doctor, I was going to check on her......”
Buffy wilted slightly as stress and fatigue wound tighter around her nerves.
“Will you keep Dawn company for awhile?”
“Yeah, you bet.”
A short time later, Buffy walked out of the exam room, heaving a huge breath as she shut the door behind her. For a long minute, she stared off blankly, a thick cloud fogging up her mind. As anxiety flushed through her veins, she shuffled down the hallway, heading back to the waiting room. She paused at the foot of the waiting room, struck by the sight of Dean pulling a blanket from his pack and draping it over a sleeping Dawn. Buffy continued through the waiting room as Dean reached up to the mounted TV and lowered the volume.
Buffy stopped beside Dean and leaned against him, trying to contain the wealth of emotions stirring in the pit of her stomach. Dean cupped his arm around Buffy and planted a kiss on the top of her head.
“What is it?” he asked softly. “What’d the doctors say?”
Hearing the heavy concern in his tone, Buffy suddenly burst with a set of tears, her lips quavering.
“They found um.....a shadow,” she answered meekly.
“They’re doing a biopsy now.”
Buffy inhaled a deep breath as her glassy eyes looked up at Dean. He rubbed the back of his neck as his eyes flared with conflict. After a moment, he cleared his throat and pushed an assuring expression over his face.
“You gotta stay positive,” he said. “Catching this ‘shadow’ earlier than later, that’s a good thing, so you just have to focus on that.”
Buffy barely managed a nod, before sinking against Dean. He coaxed her into sitting down beside Dawn before he took a seat. When he settled into a chair, Buffy hung her head on his shoulder, biting down on her lower lip as it started to rattle.
“It might be awhile, you should try and get some rest.”
“I can’t sleep,” Buffy replied.
“Well, close your eyes for a second.”
“But what if my mom comes out of surgery, or the doctor?”
“I’ll wake you.”
Feeling anchored by the arm around her shoulder, Buffy allowed her fatigue to soak in for a time, rolling her eyes shut.
As the agonizing silence and waiting period drifted on, Dean quelled his bouts of boredom by perusing through the three car magazines he had purchased from the hospital lobby. Every few pages he shifted his sights between Buffy and Dawn, both still resting as the morning matured. After a few minutes of sitting in more silence, Dean gently adjusted in his seat to get to his cell phone, careful not to disturb Buffy as she hung against him. When her hair fell over her face, Dean pushed the locks clear and took in the agitation beaded around her eyes.
Dean pulled up his contact list and began scrolling through names, stopping on his dad’s number. As he glanced around the sparsely staffed waiting area, the news of Joyce’s operation began to weigh heavily in his mind. He bypassed his dad’s number and kept scrolling until he paused on a name from the past. Sam.
Dean stared at the name with melancholic eyes for a long moment. His mind whirred with
a flurry of memories when Sam had been around, his little brother, the kid he practically raised on his own. As his thumb rested on the CALL button, a mixture of emotions splintered through his heart the longer he thought about Sam. When Buffy nestled deeper into the crook of his arm, Dean gazed at the girl he had known most of his life, before his sights regarded Dawn, who had always, until a few weeks ago, reminded him of the burdens of being an older sibling. But that had all changed in a short time. Everything he knew was slowly breaking away.
Dawn wasn’t real and Buffy’s mom had been diagnosed with some kind of shadow. And despite having the strength of ten men, Dean could clearly see in Buffy’s eyes that she was barely holding herself together. She was trying to stay strong in front of Dawn, to show no fear and no defeat. In turn, Buffy had looked to him to help her keep her balanced, as she had in the past when the pressures of her life became too much.
Dean knew all too well what that pressure felt like, having to take care of Sam when Dad went away for weeks at a time. As he looked back at the name on the screen, Dean let out a heavy sigh. Sam had walked out on him and Dad, choosing a normal life over his flesh and blood. Dad never talked about that day anymore and very rarely ever brought up Sam’s name.
Dean couldn’t recall the last time he had pulled up Sam’s name in his contact list, since the kid never returned his messages anyway. Who knew if Sam even checked them? Who knew if he even cared to know what was going with a girl he grew up with. Sam didn’t have a clue that Dawn wasn’t real, or that a mysterious demon woman was after her, or that Joyce Summers was fighting her own physical battle. Would he really care? Sam wanted to be engrossed in the college life, severing his ties to his family and people from the past. He didn’t need his family anymore, didn’t need his brother, so why should Dean have bothered him? Dad was inclined to just leave Sam alone but Dean had a hard time digesting the fact that he wouldn’t want at least a MESSAGE from his blood kin to let him know they were alive. As a sour feeling floated through him, his ears registered the faint sound of Buffy groaning.
Dean shoved his grievances back into the depths of his mind as Buffy shifted in her seat, slowly drawing her eyes open. Dean put his cell phone back in his pocket as Buffy folded upright in her seat, quickly looking around.
“How long was I asleep?” she asked wearily.
“About an hour,” Dean imparted.
Buffy glanced at Dawn, still dozing off in her chair, when her eyes suddenly pulled forward. Dr. Isaacs, a man in his fifties, strolled through a set of double doors at the far end of the waiting room.
Buffy shot to her feet as another degree of anxiety wrapped around her nerves. As she bounded toward the doctor, he noticed her and gave an acknowledging nod.
“The operation was very successful,” Dr. Isaacs announced. “Your mom is being moved to the recovery ward.”
“What have you found out?” Buffy asked anxiously.
Dr. Issacs flashed a polite expression as he pointed to some chairs.
“Maybe we could sit and....”
Buffy shook her head, impatience and apprehension knitting her face. Dean drifted over to Buffy and Dr. Isaacs, sensing the tension drawing between them. Dr. Issacs passed Dean a look as Buffy deepened her frustration.
“I don’t want to sit,” she snapped. “I’m tired of sitting around for hours waiting to hear something. If you know what’s going on, then tell me, right here, right now.”
Dr. Isaacs exuded a forgiving expression. “What we found is called low grade glioma,” he intoned.
Seeing Buffy choking on a well of frustration, anxiety and sleep deprivation, Dean cut in, eyeing the doctor.
“Uh huh,” Dean said. “And for those of us who didn’t go to medical school, you wanna give us the layman’s diagnosis Doc?”
Dr. Isaacs gave a brief nod, shading with a grim look as he glanced at Buffy.
“I’m afraid your mother has a brain tumor.”
Buffy rocked back on her heels and gasped inaudibly, feeling the wind completely knocked out of her. As her knees shuddered violently, her eyes glazed over and her head felt heavy. Nearly stumbling off her feet, Dean hooked a hand behind her back and steadied her balance as Dr. Isaacs continued to rattle off the clinical diagnosis.
“.....the good news is that the tumor hasn’t spread to another area.....”
As her breathing turned ragged, Dean kept his hand firmly planted against the small of her back. Buffy leaned against him as a thick numbness blanketed her mind.
Dr. Isaacs removed a pen from the outer pocket of his lab coat and placed it against his clipboard.
“I realize this must be difficult to process,” he said. “And I’m sorry to add that due to this particular grade of tumor, your mother’s condition may progress very rapidly.”
Feeling another bombardment of shock, panic and numbness blowing over her, Buffy sucked in a long breath, clasping a hand around Dean’s forearm to steady her wavering balance.
“What do you mean ‘progress’?”
“She’ll experience any number of symptoms, from lack of appetite or vision, mood swings.........”
Buffy held her hand up, cutting him off.
“Well, what can be done?”
Dr. Isaacs rapped his pen against the clipboard.
“Honestly, we can’t really do much – once we’ve determined the tumor is operable, I can give you a better sense of the outlook.”
“What about until then?” Buffy pressed. “There must be something I can help with?”
“There are a number of pamphlets and in depth literature you can review if you like,” Dr. Isaacs said. “If surgery isn’t an option, we have other avenues, some new methods of treatment that can be effective....”
Popping with his own impatience, Dean waved his hand in a ‘hurry up’ motion.
“So bottom line Doc, Mrs. Summers is gonna beat this with flying colors?”
Dr. Isaacs hesitated for a moment as he glanced between the two.
“Well, technology has come a long way in just a year,” he said. “We’re able to find and do a lot more with these sophisticated tools and enhanced equipment. If the tumor is inoperable, I’m confident your mother has a very strong chance.”
Dean frowned with dismay at the doctor’s long winded and cryptic answer. As Buffy tightened her grip on his forearm, he blew out an impatient breath.
“Define ‘strong chance’,” he pushed.
After another brief moment of hesitation, Dr. Isaacs answered.
“Statistically speaking, one of three with low grade glioma make a full recovery,” he replied.
As her knees caved in, Buffy felt her nerves rapidly crumbling. If she had faced the doctor alone, she was certain she would have fallen completely apart in the waiting area. In her state of mind, she couldn’t see passed the word ‘tumor’ stamped on her mother’s face. As her heart and mind began drowning with anxiety, she lost her footing and felt herself veering toward the ground. She was sinking fast, the last of her courage shedding away.
When she felt a strong pair of hands catching her, Buffy looked up to see Dean, her anchor, her life vest, keeping her afloat. She passed him a look of gratitude as he eased her onto a chair and crouched in front of her, cupping a hand on her cheek.
“I can have copies of your mom’s MRI and pathology reports made for her insurance, unless they’re not needed?” Dr. Isaacs asked.
“Um, I don’t know,” Buffy said weakly as she stared off.
“If you can find out as soon as possible and let me know, I’d appreciate it,” Dr. Isaacs replied. “While I’ve got you, I’d like to ask a few questions concerning your mom’s habits, home life. Like, is your mom frequently on a cell phone?”
Noticing her eyes growing glassier, Dean looked over his shoulder at the doctor, darkening with irritation.
“Do you have to do this now?”
“These questions are all pertinent in researching aspects of her condition,” Dr. Isaacs replied firmly.
Dean heaved a sigh as Buffy slowly surfaced back to answer the question.
“No, not often, mostly for work,” she managed to say. “She uses that ear bud doohickey.....”
Dr. Isaacs made a notation on his clipboard.
“Alright, what about power lines or chemical plants, are they in close proximity to your house?”
Drifting back into her daze, Buffy gave a foggy look, her brows crinkling in confusion. Dean stood up and put a hand on her shoulder, settling his eyes on the doctor.
“No and no,” he answered.
“Any waste disposal facilities in the area?”
“There’s a city dump but it’s on the outskirts of town.”
Dr. Isaacs made another notation on his clipboard as Dean took notice of Buffy leaning forward in her seat, placing her face in her hands.
“Let’s see....” Dr. Isaacs continued.
Dean let out an exasperated huff as the doctor seemed clueless about the duress he was putting upon Buffy.
“Look Doc, I understand you’re trying to be thorough, but can’t you just give us something to fill out and we’ll give it to you later?”
“I just have a few more....”
“Dr. Isaacs, there you are.”
Dr. Isaacs let the remainder of his request die off as he swung around to acknowledge the voice. Dean recognized the young guy in a lab coat and scrubs and discreetly frowned.
“Sorry to interrupt you but they need you in the ICU.”
Dr. Isaacs frowned with wonder as he checked the phone clipped to his belt.
“Well, this is the first I’m hearing of it.”
“I know, I was sent to find you and deliver the message in person.”
Dr. Isaacs scratched his head as he beamed an apologetic look at Buffy.
“My apologies,” he said.
Buffy deepened her foggy look and nodded.
Dr. Isaacs quickly steered away. Buffy lifted her sights to the guy in the lab coat, her mind faintly recognizing him. He gave her a friendly smile as Dean walked behind Buffy’s chair and leaned slightly forward, slipping his hands over the top, on either side of her.
“I figured you needed a little breather. Dr. Isaacs is a great doctor but he’s a bit thick headed when he’s in that Q and A mode.”
“Oh um, they didn’t need him?” Buffy asked softly.
Dean narrowed his eyes on the grinning guy, silently studying him.
“Well, he’s a doctor, at some point, he’ll be needed. Anyway, thick headedness aside, he is a fine doctor so your mom is in excellent care.”
Buffy let out a small breath of relief as Dean hovered over her, deepening his wary look.
“I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name at the moment,” Buffy lamented.
“Intern Man Nurse, right?” Dean said with a wry grin.
“I go by Ben mostly.”
“Or that, if you want be technical.”
Dean stared at Ben for a long moment as the man nurse glanced at him curiously. Determining the humor in his remark, Ben beamed that annoying grin and guffawed. Dean begrudgingly smiled and laughed along. When Ben turned his sights to Buffy, Dean shook his head and muttered deeply in his throat.
“Is there really nothing I can do to help my mom?”
Ben beamed a compassionate look and nodded.
“Pretty much,” he acceded. “You should take a breather. It’s going to be at least seven hours or so until your mom wakes up. It might do you some good to just get out of here for awhile, check back in tonight for anything new. Just my advice.”
Ben flashed a good natured smile before giving a cordial wave as he walked off. Dean lifted out of his polite look, shading with a frown.
“No one asked you,” he mumbled.
Buffy slowly rose to her feet as her brain warmed over with various thoughts.
“I’m going to see Giles,” she stated. “Will you get Dawn to school?
“Yeah but don’t you want me to drop you off first?”
“No, Ben had a point.”
Buffy glanced at Dawn as Dean rolled his eyes at the mention of the man nurse.
“I could use some fresh air. I’ll walk over and meet you at the magic shop later.”
Buffy heaved a sigh as she gave Dean a long hug.
“Thank you for being here,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
After a brief kiss, they strolled over to Dawn, both staring at her for a moment.
“Don’t say anything to her about mom,” Buffy requested. “If she asks you....just say.....just.....”
Tripping over her thoughts, Buffy bellowed with a sigh of surrender. Dean gave an understanding nod.
“I’ll figure out something out.”
A little while later, Dawn stared off sullenly through the passenger side window as the car neared her school.
“What’s wrong with my mom?” she asked meekly.
Dean tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as Dawn met his eyes. He was amazed that even though she wasn’t real her eyes flared with that same inquisitiveness of her sister.
“They don’t really know anything yet,” he said.
Dawn shifted her eyes back through the side window and sighed softly as Dean eased the car along the curb of the school entrance.
“Okay, study hard, learn lots.”
Dawn hung against the passenger side door, hesitant to get out.
Dawn sputtered with a breath as she looked through the contents of her book bag.
“I don’t have anything for lunch,” she said. “Mom usually makes me something or gives me some money.”
Dean shifted in his seat to get to his wallet. He pulled out a couple of small bills and handed them to Dawn.
“Here you go.”
Dawn pushed down on the latch and swung the door open.
“Make sure you go straight from school to the magic shop, no detours,” Dean said in a mildly stern tone. “Oh and don’t talk to ANY strangers.”
Dawn looked over her shoulders and looked back at him, her brows furrowing with annoyance.
“I’m just saying, be cautious and aware of your surroundings. Don’t trust anyone outside your family. If you get a bad feeling about someone, get away from them. Your sister and your mom, they wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
Expecting the usual snide remark or annoyed grumble, Dean was surprised when Dawn simply nodded back at him before getting out of the car.
By the time Dean ambled into the Magic Shop, he sensed a high amount of tension flooding the air. As he bounded over to the gang, gathered near the back of the shop, he took in all the variety of looks, from guilt, to awkwardness, to dread.
“Did I just walk into some BIG revelation? What did I miss?” he asked anxiously.
“Giles sold a deadly combination of magic items to your mysterious demon woman,” Anya stated flatly.
After a brief moment to absorb the news, Dean widened his eyes in shock.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty damn big revelation.”
After the revelation seeped deeper into his mind, his eyes snapped bigger with dread.
“So she came here,” he deduced.
Dean swung his eyes around the shop but saw no furniture damaged or upended.
“Well, it doesn’t look like she smashed anyone around.”
“We’re all fine,” Giles said.
Buffy heaved a breath as her face knitted with immense agitation. She paced a small length of the floor, trying to filter out her somber thoughts as Dean shined his immense wonder.
“So, Giles, why exactly did you let this uber demon bitch walk out of here with magical weapons of destruction?”
Giles balked defensively when Buffy stopped pacing and eyed him along with Dean.
“I did not LET her walk out here with.....”
“He pretty much did,” Anya said. “With a smile on his face too.”
Buffy and Dean held their gazes on Giles as he grew flustered, snapping off his glasses.
“I had no idea this was the woman in question,” he stressed. “How was I to know?”
“Anya was the one who realized what your demon woman is planning,” Tara put forth.
Everyone turned their sights on Anya as she imparted her knowledge about the magical items. After several minutes, Giles added in his own findings as Buffy and Dean let the details settle.
“.....the markings roughly translate to cobra.....” Giles finished off.
“Oh of course,” Dean moaned. “Evil demon woman wouldn’t conjure up a harmless little garden snake, she’s gotta go big.”
“At least we know a little more now,” Buffy said. “But what will this monster reptile thing do?”
“We’re not certain yet,” Giles said glumly. “We’re still researching.”
Buffy pounced off her toes, pivoting toward the door, her game face knotting tightly.
"Right, okay, you guys keep researching,” she requested. “In the meantime, I’ll go on a snake hunt.”
“Oh hell yeah, you know I’m in,” Dean said mirthfully.
Giles exuded his dread, opening his mouth to protest but Buffy threw him a sharp look.
“She’s going to unleash a monster, I have to stop it,” she grunted.
Xander added his own look of dread.
“But, she mopped the floor with you the last time you tangled,” he pointed.
“We weren’t expecting her, but we are now.”
As Willow tried to add her apprehensive warnings, Buffy held up a hand to all.
“I’m not just gonna sit around here Will,” she said. “If I can stop it, I will.”
Buffy bounced anxiously as she waited for Dean to unlock the passenger side door. She bolted onto the seat and then hit Dean with an intense look as soon as he got in.
“She’s gonna need a host of some kind right? So, the zoo?”
“That’s a good place as any to start, yeah,” Dean acknowledged as he started the car.
“We don’t really have any clue how to kill this thing though.”
Buffy tapped her feet on the floorboards, determination and stress knitting tightly over her face.
“Then we’ll hit it with anything and everything until it’s gone,” she growled.
Disquieted by the immense angst tinting her tone, Dean turned his eyes to Buffy as she tapped her feet more fervently.
“The light is green,” she said impatiently.
Dean slowly eased off the brake and plowed through the intersection, burying his concerns for the moment.
Once they reached the mouth of the reptile exhibit, Buffy and Dean stalked around a large barrier, hearing a male voice chanting in Arabic, his translation recited by a female voice. Buffy and Dean split off, each covering a side of the barrier as the chanting continued.
“Oh blah, blah, blah, blah,” the female voice moaned in annoyance. “Why are ancient incantations always have to be so overindulgent? How are you supposed to get excited about.....”
The young woman was abruptly cut off as her body was hurled into a fake cave wall. Buffy revealed herself from a pocket of darkness in the exhibit room. She glowered murderously at the young woman as she got to her feet.
“This?” Buffy finished.
Buffy pounced off her feet and charged toward the woman, her fists flying. The robed minion flattened himself against the far side of the exhibit wall as Buffy continued to rain punches on the demon woman, following quickly with brutal kicks.
The robed minion snuck along the wall, trying to stay out of the way when he bumped into something. He turned his eyes to see Dean raining an icy glare at him.
“You need to shut up now.”
The demon woman sputtered remarks in a feigned fearful tone at Buffy, growing more agitated by the second. Buffy continued attacking her without an ounce of delay between her punch-kick combos. The woman absorbed blows, calling out to her robed minion.
“You’re awfully quiet Dreg!”
The woman turned her sights to her Dreg, blocking Buffy’s punch at the same time. She glared at Dean as he had Dreg in a firm headlock, one hand covering his mouth. As Buffy lunged toward her, the demon woman threw a hand out, sending her sailing backward.
“Hey! I’m the only one allowed to make him squirm! Hands off him!” she roared, storming toward Dean.
Dean looked around at the incantation tools and swiftly raised his boot toward the ceremonial urn, keeping his grip on Dreg as the minion tried to waggle out of his hold.
“I said HANDS OFF him!” the woman growled.
The demon woman grabbed Dean by the shoulder and ripped him away from Dreg with very little effort. Dreg stumbled forward as Dean regained his footing and swiftly punched the demon woman in the face. She barely blinked as Dean threw a left hook across her chin.
She glared with annoyance as she rubbed her chin.
“Didn’t your mom teach you not to hit girls?!” she roared.
Dean snapped his fist out in response, knocking the demon in the face.
“You’re no girl,” he grunted. “You’re a bitch.”
The demon woman scowled as she hurled a fist into his face at lightning speed. Dean came back at her with a right cross but she caught his fist, drawing her knee upward into his solar plexus.
Dean cowered forward with a gasp of agony as he felt like he’d just been hit by a bus. As he struggled to breathe, the demon woman swung her arm across his collarbone, blowing him across the room. She watched him slam into a glass display class and crumble to the ground.
“Dreg, chant!” she commanded.
Dreg clambered to his feet and went back to reciting the incantation. The demon woman gave a satisfied look at Dreg, catching Buffy’s arm as she took a swing. Buffy let out a grunt as the demon woman got her in a vice grip and then flung her into a wall. Buffy groaned upon making impact as the demon woman plucked her up and flung her hard into another wall, splintering the faux material. The demon woman beamed with satisfaction as she hurled Buffy into another section of the exhibit room.
Dean let out a groan, clutching his head as his eyes rolled open. As he sat up, he heard glass debris crunching beneath his body, another crash echoing a few feet away, the demon woman’s annoying voice chattering something and then, a very subtle hissing sound. He froze when his eyes noticed a large python coiled near his feet, its mouth snapped open, fangs flared, watching him intently. As a few smaller, non deadly snakes slithered across his legs, Dean kept his eyes on the python and his movements slow and minimal.
Buffy hobbled to her feet, swallowing the pain ringing through her body as she barreled toward the demon woman.
“This isn’t over, you annoying evil bitch!” she growled.
The demon woman scoffed lightly, slapping Buffy in the chest as she closed in, sending her flying far back. Buffy smashed into a wall, plaster, paint and wood splintering around her as she whimpered very softly from the impact. The demon woman picked up the ceremonial urn as Buffy crumbled to the ground.
“It’s Glory, if you must know.”
As the python hissed through its opened mouth, Dean stamped out the sounds of that annoying demon bitch’s voice and the vibrations rumbling from the urn, focusing on the agitated reptile at his feet. When an explosion rang through the exhibit, Dean saw the python winding its neck back to strike. Using that brief opportunity, Dean rolled hard to his left a mere breath before the python lurched forward. Before the snake could recoil and attack a second time, Dean clambered away, inadvertently stepping on a few smaller snakes in his path.
When an eerie roar pealed through the exhibit room, Dean noticed all the snakes seemed to be spooked by the rising creature as they all scurried for cover. Bounding backward a few steps, Dean tensed up with mass alarm as the roar kicked up in volume. He slowly turned around as the reptile creature morphed into form, arms and three fingered claws blooming from its torso.
As the creature kept growing in height, Dean widened his eyes in awe for a brief moment before he looked around the room. Dreg stared at the creature in fascination and joy while Glory looked bored. Buffy was slumped against a wall, directly behind the creature. She propped herself up on one hand, but her arm was shuddering violently.
As the creature hissed, Glory commanded its attention. Dean wasted no time when the snake creature obediently weaved away from Buffy and toward Glory. Dean rushed over to Buffy, helping her to her feet as Glory spoke softly to her new pet. Buffy clung to Dean as he picked her up and high tailed it out the nearest exit door.
Once they reached the car, Dean slipped Buffy inside the passenger seat.
“That went swell,” he moaned.
Dean fished out the small first aid kit in the glove compartment and took out a roll of gauze, tape and an antibacterial packet before pushing the sleeves of her shirt up. As he began cleaning the blood off the wounds and dressing them with gauze, Buffy felt the intense stress flushing out the adrenaline in her veins.
“What time is it?” she asked.
Dean glanced at his watch before biting off a strip of duct tape with his teeth.
“Half past four,” he informed.
Buffy shot forward in her seat and grimaced deeply.
“Dawn will be getting out of school, she’ll be going to the Magic Shop and we’re not there,” she sputtered. “And mom....mom should be waking soon...I should be there when she does...I don’t want her to be alone.....”
As heavy agitation knitted her face, Dean gently propped her back against the seat, taping the last of the gauze on her arms.
“We’ll it figure out, just take a breath.”
Dean shut the passenger side door and ran over to the driver seat, quickly gunning the engine. As he flew out of the parking lot, he dug his cell phone out of his pocket and scrolled through his contact list, dialing the Magic Shop. As he turned east, heading toward Sunnydale Memorial, three rings passed before he heard the familiar British voice answering with a cheesy greeting.
“Giles, it’s Dean,” he cut in. “We’re heading over to Sunnydale Memorial.”
“My goodness,” Giles gasped. “Are you guys okay?”
“No, not really,” Dean groaned. “We just got another big fat can of whupass spoon fed to us. Damn bitch didn’t even flinch. Anyway, just a heads up that Team Slytherin’s mascot is on the loose and it’s big, not as big as Mayor Snake but big and fugly.”
Buffy shifted in her seat, taking the cell phone away from Dean.
“Giles, I told Dawn to meet me at the magic shop when she got out of school. She should be there soon. Please.....”
“Yes, do not worry,” Giles stated. “She will be safe until you get here.”
Buffy eased out a breath of relief, the agitation on her face lessening a few degrees.
“And one more thing, I haven’t told Dawn about how bad mom is,” she said. “She’s already freaked out enough and....”
“We won’t say anything,” Giles vowed.
As Buffy hung up the phone, Dean pulled sharply into the parking lot of the hospital.
Leaning against Dean as she got out of the elevator to recovery ward, she walked with a slight limp down the hall to her mom’s room. Dean hung back as Buffy perched outside the door, drawing in a deep breath before going inside.
Dean turned down the hall, hearing muffled voices behind the door to Joyce’s room. He checked his phone for any new messages and was disappointed that he still hadn’t heard from his dad. He hit speed dial and after one ring, voicemail picked up. Dean let out a sigh as he drifted down the hall.
“Dad, I’m just checking in,” he said softly. “And.....I thought I’d give you an update on Buffy’s mom......it’s.....it’s a.....”
As the memories of his own mother stirred within the depths of his mind, Dean bellowed with a sigh before continuing.
“It’s pretty bad, Dad.....” he said shakily.
Dean sucked in a heavy breath, flushing back the moisture gathering in his eyes and throat.
“I’m in one piece and just waiting to hear back from you.”
With that, he hung up and stuffed his phone in his pocket.
As the sun settled into the horizon, Buffy strolled through the door of the Magic Shop, no evidence of a limp in her stride. Dean bounded in behind her as she crossed over to Dawn, sitting at a table. Dawn shot to her feet and ran over to Buffy, throwing her arms around her and clutching her tightly. Buffy shined her surprise for a moment before accepting the embrace, hugging Dawn back with equal fervor. As the girls conversed softly, Dean drifted over to Giles and the gang, lingering a few feet away.
“Okay, after the epic failure of today’s events, PLEASE tell me you’re passing out snake jerky treats with every purchase.”
Dean let out a sigh of disappointment when Giles’ glum expression said it all.
“Total bust,” Willow answered. “We searched high and low but the big bad snakie didn’t turn up.”
Suddenly, a loud smashing sound thundered through the shop. Buffy and the gang jumped in startle as something crashed through the front window. Buffy turned toward the broken window as the snake creature moved inside. Buffy charged toward the snake monster, but it quickly swatted her away, knocking her back into some shelves. As the monster weaved further into the shop, it seemed to be looking around at all the members of the Scooby gang.
Dean backed up, swiping a medieval axe from an open display as the creature moved toward Dawn. Dawn screamed in fright and backed into a display as the snake monster lurched forward. Dean wedged himself between Dawn and the monster, swinging the axe in the air. Dawn continued to scream as the creature batted a clawed arm at Dean. Dean ducked as the creature’s arm passed over his head. The creature reared back and hissed in anger. As Dean advanced on the creature, it veered sharply away, flinging its tail toward his ankles. Dean jumped over the tail as the creature swung its head toward Dawn, inhaling her scent. The creature reared back again, opened its mouth wide and let out an eardrum shattering shriek.
The gang clapped their hands over their ears and winced as the shriek elevated in pitch and volume. Buffy pounced to her feet and prepared to charge the creature when it abruptly stopped shrieking. The gang let out breaths of relief as the creature whirled toward the window and took off in a flash. After shock and confusion settled in, the gang huddled together.
“That’s weird,” Willow remarked. “It seemed like the snake ran away when it saw Dawn.”
Buffy widened her eyes and gasped inaudibly, drawing Giles’ attention. Suddenly hit with the realization, Dean stared out the window as Buffy took off through it.
“Oh crap,” he muttered before flying out the door.
Buffy was already racing around the corner by the time Dean hit the curb. He fumbled with his car keys and quickly took off down the street. He peeled the Impala around the corner and caught a flash of blonde as Buffy darted into an alleyway. He jerked the steering wheel and cut through a side street behind a row of restaurants. When he emerged from the street, he caught a glimpse of the creature’s tail disappearing around a corner as Buffy bounded out of the alleyway, racing after it. Dean squeezed the car through the back alley, leaned toward the passenger side door and pushed it open as he pulled up alongside Buffy. He let off the brake as soon as she dove into the car and took off down the alleyway. As a service door in the alleyway suddenly flung open in direct path of the Impala, Dean cussed under his breath as he barely cleared it.
Dean heaved a breath as the car fishtailed around a corner and sped through another narrow back alley. As the Impala quickly gained on the monster’s trail, Dean stamped deeper on the gas pedal, sending it soaring through the alley. He cracked a smile as the car roared like a lion chasing after its prey.
“This is what you were made for, right baby?!”
When the car closed in on the snake as it veered out of the alleyway, Dean patted the steering wheel affectionately and drew a jubilant grin.
“Yeah! That’s my....”
The last word died away as two dumpsters tumbled toward the car. Dean widened his eyes in horror as he frantically spun the steering wheel, swerving the car out of the way just before the dumpsters smashed into the hood. Before he could ease a sigh of relief, his eyes stamped wider when he saw a wall of cardboard containers in his path.
“Oh come on!” he wailed as the Impala burst through the wall.
As containers hit the air, Buffy kept her sights on the snake as it edged away.
Dean locked his sights on the snake as it seemed to gleefully skitter away. He rolled down the window and dipped his head out, glaring down the street.
“I’m gonna stir fry your guts you scaly bitch!” he growled.
“If this thing gets back to Glory, she’ll know Dawn’s the key,” Buffy said frantically. “We can’t lose it!”
Dean watched the monster as it smashed through the south gate of Hillside Park. When he encroached upon the main entrance of the park, Dean jerked the car over the curbside, veering through the wide gates.
“We won’t,” he grunted.
Buffy leaned against her door, her hand on the latch, ready to bust out as the Impala bounced over a grassy hillside, then plowed across a little league baseball field, keeping parallel with the monster’s path. Dean shifted his eyes between the path ahead of him and the snake weaving in and out of trees lining the adjacent soccer field. The snake smashed through a chained gate, leading to the south end of the hiking trail. Dean cut the car across a gravel lined bike path and skipped the wheels over a rocky outcropping, gliding over the north side of the hiking trail, looking out for any night walkers on the path as he pushed the car toward the south side. As the snake came into their sights, it spotted the headlights and split off the path.
“Let me out!”
Dean slammed on the brakes as Buffy shot out of the car and charged toward the snake. In a few strides, she gained on its tail, quickly launching herself off a park bench and into the air. As she crash landed onto the snake’s back, Buffy latched onto the chain tangled around its torso and yanked it up to the neck. With a hard tug, the snake reared up, shrieking, flailing and bucking like a wild horse. Buffy choked up on the chain and held on tight as the snake squealed louder.
When Dean saw the Slayer latching onto the snake’s back, he cut the engine, and then bolted out of the car. As he reached a grassy clearing, shuddering with hard breaths, his eyes widened in amazement at the sight of Buffy on the snake’s back, gripping the chain with two hands. As he watched the snake continuing to thrash and buck, bouncing Buffy up and down rapidly against its back, he found himself oddly aroused at that moment. When the sound of Buffy emitting a deep groan hit his ears, Dean practically choked with hot air stirring from the lower half of his body. He shook away the images as the snake uttered a raspy croak before it lurched toward the ground.
Dean pushed off toward Buffy as she hit the ground. She sprung deftly to her feet, fueling with a spur of determined energy. As the snake hissed weakly at her, Buffy wound her fist back and struck it hard in the head. Dean heard a series of popping sounds as the snake’s jaw splintered open. Just as he was about to add in his own kicks of annoyance, Buffy raised both her fists and began relentlessly raining punches into the snake’s head.
As she continued to pummel the snake’s head, clouds of blood and tissue splattering her, Dean noticed the heavy angst, that same angst he had picked up on earlier, was riddled all over her face now. Her eyes were glazed over with tears of rage and her heart was screaming out loud to him. She needed this.
Dean resolved to give her exactly that. So despite his own desires to make good on his threat, he pocketed his long dagger and took a step back, watching Buffy as she channeled all of her anger, all of her anguish, all of her dread into every punch into the snake’s head.
Dean could tell the snake had been dead for several minutes, for its body was completely still and its eye sockets were oozing with blood but Buffy kept delivering brutal blow after blow into its cold flesh, clearly not done letting it all out. After a few more minutes of ramming her fists into the dead creature, Buffy dropped to her knees, heaving ragged breaths as Dean stood over her, gently planting his hands on her shoulders. She didn’t look back at him or even speak. She simply slipped her right hand over his left and squeezed it tightly as she kept bellowing with breaths. Dean gave a satisfied nod as he stared at the monster’s bloody, broken body, knowing she had just said, thank you
After disposing of the snake body, Buffy and Dean strolled back to the car. Buffy climbed into the passenger side and began cleaning off the blood and tissue in her hands. Dean circled the car, inspecting it for any damage. He let out a breath of relief when he found no visible dents or scratches. When he settled into the driver seat, his nostrils were hit with a pungent smell. After taking a quick whiff of himself, he leaned over to Buffy, sniffing at her snake blood tainted shirt.
Buffy drew her eyes to Dean when she heard the distinct snort of amusement tugging in his throat.
“Well, I think this is the first time you smell worse than me,” he cracked, with a brief laugh.
When Buffy just stared back at him with sober eyes, Dean dropped out of his amusement and fired up the ignition.
“Yeah, I know, ‘shut up and drive Dean’,” he sighed.
Dean glanced at Dawn as she waited outside her mom’s hospital room. As the bouts of waiting lingered, Dawn took out a copy of Highlights and flipped through it, a glimmer of nostalgia and innocence tinting her face. Dean heaved a breath as he observed Dawn clinging to a time from her past, a past that wasn’t even real. Despite retaining that knowledge, at that moment, as Dawn took out a pen and began filling out a crossword, she was just a fourteen year old girl trying to cope with her mom’s mysterious sickness, not a centuries old mystical “key”. He was used to keeping secrets, understood the reasons why he had too, but this one – this was pretty damn big – as big a mystery of who the demon was that killed his mom. Glory was after the Key, after Dawn and whatever she wanted it for, it wasn’t going to be good.
Dean stepped away from Dawn, leaving her to bask in the memories of her childhood – it didn’t matter that it never happened – it was all she knew and there was no way in hell he wanted to tear her world apart. He remembered what it felt like to have your innocence ripped away in a heartbeat and he’d never want any kid to go through it. As he let out a heavy breath, he fished out his cell phone, hoping to see a message from Dad but still, there was nothing. Knowing how hard Dad threw himself into cases, Dean didn’t worry too much. It had only been three days since they split off after a job in St. Louis and Dean had already had two task oriented voicemails from his Dad since then.
As the door to Joyce’s room swung open, Dean watched Buffy strolling over to Dawn, giving her a supportive arm around the shoulder.
Dad had no idea about Dawn, neither did Sam. This was the first time he had to keep a secret from his own family, but he knew it was imperative the less people who knew, the better. Sam was off at college having a normal life and Dad was barely around, when he was conversation was always about business never personal. Over the past couple of weeks, Dad had been doing job after job, pretty much on his own – leaving Dean to just wait around for instructions. So Dean found himself waiting around more and doing less. Sometimes Dad never even came BACK from a job, just moved to the next one. Dean didn’t even require a pass to take off to Sunnydale anymore since Dad’s only demand when he left was: let me know you’re alive
. If it weren’t for those two voicemails from the previous day, Dean wouldn’t have known Dad was alive.
Dean let out a deep huff as Buffy drifted over to him. As she acknowledged him with a look, her eyes flooded with a mixture of vulnerability and apprehensive wonder. She was still barely holding herself together and as she walked into his arms, Dean felt immensely grateful that someone in his damn life actually needed him.
Buffy lifted her head off his shoulder when she heard her name echoing from her mom’s room. She broke from Dean, brushing her fingers across his as she strolled back to the room. Dean took a long look down the hall, watching Buffy and Dawn huddled around their mom, a family unit. He let out a deep sigh as he glanced at his phone and started scrolling through his contact list, stopping again on SAM. As he debated leaving a quick message, he brushed off the temptation. What the hell would he say anyway?
“Dean? Mom wants you to come in here too.”
As Dean stared a little longer at the highlighted name, Buffy called out to him again, snapping him out of his daze. He stuffed his phone back in his pocket, pivoted around and drifted down the hall, meeting up with Buffy as she hung in the doorway. Those soulful, inquisitive eyes threw him a grateful look as he walked into the room.