One Way or Another
A/N: Sorry for yet another delay in updates, but RL struck again. *ominous music* Unfortunately, it’s not really going to let up any time soon, which leads me to this question: would you rather I continue to update when I can or
wait until I have a couple chapters (or even the rest of the story) pretty much ready to go before I post again? As a reader myself, I know it’s less than ideal to get chapters so far apart that you basically have to reread the whole thing every time there’s an update just to remember what the heck is going on. On the other hand, it will take me quite a bit of time to get a few chapters together (and I cannot stress ‘quite a bit’ enough). If you have a strong preference, let me know. I’ll do whatever the majority says!
And on that note, big, big thanks to everyone who’s stuck with this story, and especially to those who have reviewed and recced! And a special thank you to kerrykhat and AwesomeGeek for always lending an ear and helping me break through that pesky writer’s block whenever it rears its ugly head!+++
"Right here, on the left. Park by the back door."
Dean looked at the building Buffy was pointing at and promptly did a double take. He had thought the address had sounded familiar when she first told him, but they had been passing by an animal shelter at the time – which meant that while he had heard what the address was, all he could see was the way she looked at the shelter’s front door, like she was checking to see if it was open.
Maybe he should’ve paid closer attention, though, because now he could barely hold in his laughter, and his darling wife did not
But, c’mon, the local Bowl-O-Rama?
"So this is where it all goes down, huh?" he guffawed. "Man, I thought demons had more self-respect than this
"It was the best Clem could do on such short notice," Buffy huffed. "He's really going out on a limb for us here—"
"Something that's still boggling the mind," Dean couldn’t help but add. Because seriously.
Strangely enough, his comment didn’t help the situation.
“Not all demons are evil, Dean,” Buffy lectured. “Clem is a good friend, one who called these demons to meet us here with practically zero time to do it.”
“Well, what else are they going to do on a Monday morning? Go for a stroll in the park?” he muttered. Feeling the heat of Buffy's glare, he blew out his breath and reached for the door handle. "Alright, alright. I’ll play nice. Now can we get this show on the road?”
Without waiting for her answer, Dean pushed open the door and got out of the car. After a beat, Buffy followed suit.
Their eyes briefly met across the roof. Then Buffy made a face at him – right before she turned on her heel and began walking toward the back entrance without him.
Dean strode around the car to catch up to her with a grin, not feeling sorry in the slightest.
It didn’t take long until he pulled even with her; short of running, her stride was no match for his. Still, she didn’t acknowledge his presence until they stood at the back entrance, her hand hovering over the heavy steel door.
"You're sure your place is good to go?" she asked, her voice all business.
“And then some,” Dean nodded, snapping into work mode himself. “Me and Sam have a few places all over town that we keep just for times like these, like the building on Chapman.”
Satisfied, Buffy rapped on the door and waited. And then waited some more. But nothing happened.
Frowning, Buffy knocked again, this time a little more forcefully – as in, she practically put goddamn dents in it. But it got results.
They both heard scuffling behind the door almost immediately, followed by the distinct sound of footsteps coming toward them.
Right before the door opened, Buffy grabbed Dean’s arm, like she just remembered something. “Whatever you do, don’t stare. Clem’s a loose-skinned demon so he looks a little… different,” she hissed under her breath.
Dean rolled his eyes. “Please,” he scoffed. “It’s not like I’ve never seen a demon before.”
Then the door creaked open, and wouldn’t you know? Dean stared. It wasn't that he'd never seen a demon like this before, it was just... the dude was fugly
“Clem,” Buffy said warmly, somehow managing to give Dean a swift kick while stepping forward to hug the demon.
As Dean fought the urge to rub his sore shin, he watched the demon – sorry, Clem
– briefly return the hug before pulling away, the anxiety clearly written all over his face.
“Buffy,” Clem hedged. “Uh, now might not be a good time. The guys are here, but they’re a little… cranky. If you give me a little more time, maybe I can find someone else. Come to think of it, I know a demon who knows a guy who knows a—”
“Sorry, Clem, but we need to talk to them now
,” Buffy interrupted in a voice Dean knew better than to argue with.
Apparently, Clem knew it, too. After a pained sigh, the demon nodded.
“Alright,” he reluctantly agreed. Then he peered down at Buffy’s hands, obviously looking for something. “I hope you at least brought some kittens… not for me of course, because I’m still kitten-free these days, but—”
Now it was Dean’s turn to cut in.
“I’m not in the business of providing three squares to demons,” he stated flatly.
Instead of looking offended, Clem’s eyes lit up, like he was just noticing that Dean was standing there.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. How rude of me! I’m Clem,” he said, holding out his hand, which Dean took after a beat. The demon didn’t seem to notice, though. He just continued on without even taking a breath. “You, of course, must be Dean. I’m so glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you! And can I just say that it’s nice to finally put a face to the name? It’s so nice to see that you got that wart problem cleared up, too.”
Dean glanced over at Buffy. By the look on her face, she wasn’t the one who had talked about him. He had a feeling he didn’t want to know who it was, either.
And dude, warts
Thankfully, Clem didn’t pick up on any of this. Of course, that might have been because he was caught back up in his own shit.
“Well, let’s get this over with,” he said, twisting his hands nervously. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Clem stepped aside to let them in. Then he guided them down a narrow hallway, walking a short distance until they came to the first door on the left. He paused for a second, looking more nervous than ever. Still, to his credit, he just took a deep breath and walked through the doorway.
“Hey, guys! Look who dropped by to say hello,” Dean heard Clem exclaim with painfully false cheer.
Though he was dying to see who was in the room, Dean motioned for Buffy to go first since she would obviously have a bigger impact on this group than he would. Then he stepped inside.
Dean knew better than to stare this time – even if the sight of three demons straight from the local creature feature hanging around, throwing back some beers was one of the weirdest things he had ever seen.
Clem hadn’t been kidding about their crankiness, either. The second they spotted Buffy, they all leapt to their feet with their fangs and claws – and whatever the hell that was sticking out from the green demon’s chest – bared.
Before they could make any other move, Dean had his gun drawn, cocked, ready, and pointing at the nearest demon.
He promised to play nice
, not dead
Buffy crossed her arms over her chest in annoyance, though it wasn’t directed at the demons or at Dean. It was at herself
Even though she had talked a good kitten game to Dean, it had been more for shock value than anything else; she was firmly against the eating of any household pet, even if it would’ve made this situation a heck of a lot easier.
And yet as she stood there, with the room brimming with barely restrained violence, the first thought that entered her mind was that maybe they should’ve stopped at that shelter after all.
Hence the annoyance.
Seriously, what did she expect? It wasn’t like she thought they would roll out the welcome mat for her. Besides, for all the posturing that was going on at that moment, no one was actually attacking
Buffy sighed. She’d have time for kitten guilt later. Right now she had to find a way to take the situation down a DEFCON or two.
Without saying a word, she looked over at Dean and caught his eye. After a moment, he lowered his gun, though clearly he wasn’t thrilled. Still, he said nothing; he just stood back and took in the room, making sure that all the demons in the room were in his line of sight and his gun was within reach.
Honestly? She expected nothing less.
Now came the hard part.
“We didn’t come here for a fight,” she began, holding her hands up as a sign of peace.
“We didn’t have any part in those attacks,” one demon, a Codger, blurted out, to the disgust of the other two.
“I know,” she quickly reassured them. “I— Wait, attacks
, as in plural?”
The room was filled with a heavy silence. She didn’t care, though. She simply stared them down until finally the Kungai gave an indifferent shrug.
“Word on the street is that someone has it in for slayers. More than usual,” the demon added, and Buffy could’ve sworn she saw a smirk under the bumps and ridges. “Some of yours were attacked this morning.”
Buffy forced herself not to react. She couldn’t afford to, not here and definitely not now.
Almost imperceptibly, Dean edged a little closer to her. It was just what she needed, and she couldn’t express how much it meant to her.
“We came for your help. We know who’s behind this – a demon named Bela,” she revealed.
Judging by the way they flinched, she knew her hunch had been right; they knew who she was talking about.
Taking a deep breath, she plowed on. “The problem is, we
can’t get close to her, but... one of you
might. All we need is for you to make contact with her and then tell us where she is. That’s it.”
“Yeah? And what do we get for helping you?” the third demon, a Froctor, asked.
“My gratitude,” Buffy evenly replied, making sure to look each and every one of them in the eye. Then she pulled out a piece of paper out of her pocket and tossed it on the table in the middle of the room. “You have one hour. We’ll be waiting at the address on the paper. Think about it. Clem, need a ride home?”
Because yeah, there was no way she was leaving him here with this crowd.
Sure enough, Clem nodded, quickly exiting out the room.
She and Dean weren’t far behind.
None of them said a word until they reached the car, and even then, it was only Clem, who was determined to make with the small talk to break some of the tension.
Buffy barely heard a word he said, though, her mind still worrying over what the Codger demon had said. Where did it happen? How did it happen? Who was there? Was anyone killed—
“Do you want to go back to your school?”
Buffy gave a start. Clem wasn’t in the car anymore, and they were sitting in front of giant garage in the middle of what looked like a grassy field, the pavement having stopped at the road.
And Dean was doing that staring but not staring thing as he waited for her to answer.
Wanting to be completely honest with him, she took her time in replying as she tried to gather her thoughts.
“Yes and no,” she finally admitted. “Ultimately, though, I think we should just stick to the plan. We need proof, and Bela’s our best bet at getting it. For all I know, this is just another trap to make it look like one of us is the First.”
“Yeah, but the First can’t touch anything if it’s incorporeal, right? That should be easy enough to prove,” Dean shrugged.
Buffy nodded. “Maybe, if we could get close enough before they went all berserker on us. It still wouldn’t prove that you’re not the vessel, though, and between the First and my choice in significant others, there’s major trust issues there,” she said bitterly. Then she mumbled under her breath, “And I really don’t feel like getting kicked out of the house again.”
Dean frowned, like he wasn’t sure he heard her correctly. Then his eyes grew really wide.
“Wait, you said it might make ‘one of us’ look like the First,” he frowned. “That means that you…”
Buffy fought the urge to bang her head on the dashboard. Yeah, she was doing better with the whole ‘honesty is the best policy’ thing, but her timing still sucked.
“It was only twice,” she weakly defended. "Can we not talk about this right now?"
“How did you come back?” Dean pressed.
Buffy bit her lip. She really didn’t want to talk about this, but if she were in his shoes, she wouldn’t stop until she got answers, either.
“The first time, some good old fashioned CPR. The second was… Willow,” she admitted.
Knowing how he felt about magic, she braced herself for the fallout. It never came, though. Nope, apparently Dean had his own boom to lower.
“I died, too,” he confessed. Then he grimaced. “Twice.”
Whoever said turnabout was fair play could kiss her small but perky derrière. +++
Dean almost had to laugh at the way Buffy was gaping at him. Hell, he probably would’ve, if there wasn’t a distinct chance she would throw him bodily from the car. So he just waited.
“What?!” she sputtered, when she finally managed to find her voice. “But… how
“The first time was to save Sam. I went to Hell for it until an angel pulled me out,” Dean explained.
He tried to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but judging by the way Buffy reached for him, he was guessing he failed pretty miserably.
They stared at each other for a moment. Then, to his surprise, Buffy let out a snort of amusement.
“You know, part of me thinks I should be upset, but really, it’s getting kind of hard not finding the funny in all this,” she commented wryly.
“Damn straight,” Dean agreed with a grin, because really, what else could they do but laugh?
“This is, what, the millionth time this has happened already, where we drop these not so coincidental coincidences on each other? Will it ever stop?” she mused aloud.
Dean shook his head ruefully. “Probably not. Hell, we wouldn’t have even met if it wasn’t for this. Sam and I were only in Cincy on a hunt,” he confessed. "That cop that night, he was actually looking for me. Sam and I were salting and burning a ghost in a cemetery not too far from there."
Buffy’s eyebrows rose. “Really? I was there, too, breaking into a crypt,” she admitted. She gave him a small grin. “Did you know that I staked a vampire in the alley on our first date? I thought for sure you were going to find out then.”
Dean blinked as he remembered that night. “But then how come I didn’t find the body?” he wondered.
Buffy frowned, clearly confused. “Huh? What body? I saved the girl, remember?”
“The vamp body… I only got there a minute after you, and I checked that alley. I didn’t see anything,” he said.
“It was there… in particle form,” she explained slowly.
It took a minute for Dean to realize that she was being serious. “Right, because vamps just evaporate into thin air,” he chuckled.
Buffy drew her lips together in a thin, very unamused, line. "I think I’ve killed enough vampires to know what happens once they’re staked," she snipped.
Dean brushed off her annoyance like it was nothing. Seriously, if confessing that they both had died hadn’t brought them down, he sure as hell wasn’t going to let this
do it. Besides, he was curious now.
“How many have you taken out?” he asked.
“What?” she asked, obviously caught off guard by his question.
Dean shrugged. “Well, Sam and I do a decent job, and that’s without super powers,” he replied. “I’m just curious. How many have you gotten?”
All of a sudden, she looked really uncomfortable.
“Well, I lived on the Hellmouth. I practically couldn’t swing a stake without hitting some baddie,” she hedged.
Dean frowned, wondering what the hell had gotten into her. “Rough estimate,” he insisted.
Buffy hesitated. After a second or two, though, she hung her head in defeat. “Well, two vamps a night for ten years, plus the yearly apocalypse that usually involved an army of some kind…”
Dean gaped at her. “That’s awesome!” he exclaimed.
Buffy’s head flew up. “That number isn’t, like, inversely proportional to your manhood or something?” she asked incredulously.
"Are you kidding me?" Dean laughed. His smile faded when he saw the uncertainty in her eyes still, and it all clicked. "Wait, did someone have a problem with it?"
“Maybe,” she quietly said, staring at her lap again.
Dean reached for her, gently cupping her chin and tilting her face up so he could look her in the eye.
"Well, then he was an idiot," he declared. Then he waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. "I’m just pissed I’ve lived with Wonder Woman for so long and didn’t know it. But making up for lost time could be kinda fun, too. You know, we could play 'Save the Human', you in leather, me the grateful victim..."
Buffy tried to frown, but he saw the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
“C’mon,” she said, grabbing the door handle. “We’ve got to get moving. Dropping Clem off took longer than I thought. We don’t have much time.”
Dean nodded, and they both got out of the car. Buffy was right. They had a shitton to get done before—
"Get down!" Dean shouted as he ducked behind the car.
Trusting him implicitly – something that didn’t escape his notice – Buffy dove back inside the rental, just as a gunshot rang out. It hit the side of the car, right where Buffy had been standing.
“Oh, I'm sorry. Was this a private party? It's just that I heard you were looking for me,” Bela mocked, stepping from out of the shadow of the garage. In her hand was the Colt, still smoking from that last shot.
Dean smirked. Oh, he was going to enjoy this part.
“Actually, you were the guest of honor all along,” he revealed.
His smirk turned into a full-blown grin at the scowl that formed on Bela’s face.
“Well, it’s a good thing I brought more guests then,” she said lightly.
Dean squinted as he swept his gaze around the garage. Sure enough, he was just able to make out something standing behind her in the shadows.
uglies from the Bowl-A-Rama.
“‘Not all demons are evil, Dean,’” he said, mimicking Buffy’s words to him earlier. Then he snorted. “Yeah, they’re fucking Boy Scouts, all right.” +++