A/N: All good things must come to an end. Or in this case, more of an intermission-type thing of indeterminate (but not too long) length. I hope you guys have enjoyed the ride as much as I have :D
. . .
Sam started to stand up. “I’ll go after him.”
“I’ve got it,” Xander said.
“He’s my-“ Sam started to protest, the sentence dying in his throat.
“See? You can’t even say it to us
,” Xander pointed out. “And as freaked out as you’re feeling right now, that’s not even a fraction of what he’s going through, and he’s barely gotten started. So unless you’re prepared to go out there and tell him that none of this matters and he’s still your brother no matter what, you’re going to let me go talk to him. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve been through this before, and believe me, he doesn’t need your guilt or your doubt, and he sure as hell doesn’t need your apologies.”
Sam’s pained expression told Xander all he needed to know.
“Your friend,” Bobby said hesitantly before Xander could leave. “She said he was human. Said he was real.”
Xander nodded. “He’s still Dean. He’s exactly who he’s always been, it’s just that always for him hasn’t been as long as it has for the rest of us.”
Bobby grunted to show he’d heard, the faraway look in his eyes suggesting he was lost in thought. Xander suspected he’d be cracking into his books before the day was through, though he didn’t know how much information they’d have for him. He left the two of them to wrestle with their thoughts and hoped Dean hadn’t gone too far.
He needn’t have worried; Dean was resting his hands on the crumpled hood of a half-dismembered Chevy Impala, head bowed and shoulders tense. Xander hung back for a few minutes, giving the other man what looked like some much-needed privacy. Finally Dean stood up straight, but before Xander could announce his presence, Dean grabbed a nearby crowbar and viciously attacked the already battered car. There were no words, just a few savage grunts and shouts as he let loose his rage and frustration.
Xander waited until Dean tossed the crowbar to the side and sat in the dirt to step down from the back porch. “Feel better?”
“Fuck you,” Dean muttered, leaning his head back against what used to be the front bumper of the Chevy. “You know what would
make me feel better?”
Xander plopped down next to him. “Shooting the messenger?”
“As a general rule, we ask that you not
do that. We’re picky that way.”
“I’ve never been much for rules, personally.” He paused, scowling. “That I recall, anyway. This is seriously fucked up. You get that, right?”
“Yeah. I get it.”
An easy silence rested between them for a few minutes. Silence was something Xander had become more comfortable with over the last couple of years, and he was surprised at how comfortable it was to share the quiet with Dean.
Still, he’d gone out there for a reason. “So I’m going to tell you a story about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well, it’s not about her, exactly, but we’ll get to that.”
Dean opened his eyes and lifted his head to shoot Xander a quizzical look. “Who the what now? Tell me I didn’t just hear you say ‘Buffy’.”
“Yup. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Do me a favor and mock her name to her face some time, would you?” he challenged with a grin.
“And what, pray tell, is a ‘Vampire Slayer’?” Dean said, drawing out the phrase to emphasize his incredulity.
“Um… it’s a girl who’s mythically empowered to, you know, slays vampires,” he answered with a shrug. “Kind of self explanatory.”
“And kind of hot,” Dean considered. “How come I never knew about this chick?”
“She doesn’t advertise. But back to the story.”
Dean leaned his head back against the car and gestured for Xander to continue. “Knock yourself out.”
“Right. So there’s this girl. Sophomore year of high school, she shows up out of the blue. Small town, everybody notices that kind of thing. I, for one, noticed so hard that I skateboarded into a railing.”
Dean grinned. “That cute, huh?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe. And confident, not to mention witty. Had this whole mysterious vibe going for her, too.”
“Blonde?” Dean asked with a predatory smirk that Xander ignored.
“Yup. I was doomed. And- here’s the weird part- she was interested in hanging out with me. I mean, part of it was because Willow and I were the only other students who knew about vampires and her whole destiny to slay them, but I took my victories where I could find them. Sure, she wasn’t so much interested in dating me as she was sucking face with her creepy stalker, but the point is, we were friends. She, Willow and I, we were a team, you know? Best friends. Still are, even if the team’s gotten a little bigger and weirder over the years.
“Unlike the rest of us, Buffy had this great family. Sure, her parents were divorced and her dad wasn’t so great at keeping in touch, but her mom and her sister? They cared about each other. Even when they were getting on each other’s nerves or fighting, which was pretty much always, they were there for each other. I mean, Dawn practically idolized
Buffy. I think she would have given her left kidney to be a part of our group. She was constantly following Buffy, which was a little problematic, given Buffy’s whole ‘one girl in all the world’ shtick. I can’t even count how many times she had to stop patrolling early to bring Dawn home after we found her hiding out behind tombstones.”
Dean chuckled. “What, you guys just hung out in cemeteries all the time or something?”
“We went where the vampires were; slaying doesn’t exactly lend itself toward a normal social life. Now, Dawn may have been a brat, but like I said, she would have given anything to be part of the gang. She was always trying to help out during research sessions, asking questions, bringing us cookies… The cookies were probably more for me, though. She had a pretty massive crush on me for a few years. I remember one year,” he chuckled, “I made the mistake of buying her a journal with a picture of a heart on the cover for her birthday. The next time I saw it, the heart said ‘Dawnie+Xander 4ever’ in giant, sparkly letters.”
“Oops,” he said, wincing sympathetically.
“Yeah, I got teased a lot for that one. But then a funny thing happened when Dawn was fourteen. Buffy’s mom got sick, and she decided that someone must have been trying to get at her through her family. So she did this spell that was supposed to help her see magical influences. Now her mom, her mom was clear. No bad mojo there.” He paused, the memory still surprisingly painful. “But Dawn…”
Dean swallowed, knowing where this was going. “Little Dawnie wasn’t real, huh?”
“Turns out these monks were trying to protect something from this crazed Hell Goddess. They figured if they turned it into a person and gave it to someone strong enough, it’d be safe. Of course, they never asked Buffy, but there you go. Instant sister, memories included.”
“So how’d Buffy take it?”
“Not great at first, but she got used to the idea. Didn’t take her too long to get back into overprotective older sister mode,” he said, smiling wistfully. “See, once she thought about it, she realized that it didn’t matter where Dawn came from or whether the memories were real. The way she felt
, that was real enough for her.”
Dean snorted. “And Dawn?”
“Dawn cut her wrist with a kitchen knife, burned all her diaries, and broke into the magic shop to hang out with a vampire.”
“Well, gee, I’m fresh out of freaking diaries,
but oh yeah, I’m not a teenage girl.”
“And then she got over it, too,” Xander finished. “She’s had a few existential crises over the years, but who hasn’t? And no matter what, Dawn knows that at the end of the day, she has a family that loves her.”
“It’s a beautiful story. Really, I’m fuckin’ touched. Were there rainbows and kittens, too?”
Xander made a face. “There was a kitten, but she didn’t exactly have a happy ending. Quick word of advice: crossbows and kittens are unmixy things.”
“You’re freaking weird, you know that?”
“So I’ve been told. But I’ve had a long time to think about his kind of thing. And the way I see it, where you came from? That doesn’t matter so much. Hell, I’m only here because my parents were drunk and too lazy to use a condom. The point is, it’s what you do once you’re here that means anything. So, yeah, you only exist because your brother decided to air his grievances to the wrong demon, but so what? You’ve got a life now. You’re here. You’ve got to deal with it, same as the rest of us. Even better, you’ve got family to help you through it.”
“You don’t know the first freakin’ thing about my family,” Dean said darkly.
“I know your brother cares about you.”
“Spare me the after school special,” he growled. “My dad is dead because of me.”
“Way I heard it, your dad is dead because of some demon.”
“My dad made a freakin’ bargain with ‘some demon’ so I wouldn’t have to die. But I suppose you’ve got another piece of fortune-cookie wisdom for that, too?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” he said calmly. “Buffy sacrificed her life for Dawn. Took a swan dive off a rickety tower so her little sister wouldn’t have to die. And she did it knowing full well what Dawn was. Don’t sell your dad short. Even if he had known where you came from, he might have made the decision. And yeah, it sucks that you’ll never know, but it’s not going to change anything.”
“Thought you said Buffy was still around,” Dean reminded him.
“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when your best friends are selfish enough to tear you out of heaven just for the pleasure of your company,” Xander said grimly.
“Heaven, huh?” his tone rife with doubt.
“Yeah, I’m not a big believer either, but she was happy. And I can only hope that she will be again someday, but enough about my screw-ups. Your dad obviously thought there was something about you worth dying for.”
“You know, it’s funny,” Dean said with a humorless chuckle that suggested it was anything but. “I always would have thought he’d have chosen a shot at the Demon over me. Way I remember it, my whole life, I was the one holding this family together. When Dad got too wrapped up in the hunt, or lately, when Sammy’s all about revenge, I’m the one who cares that we all make it out alive. Because that’s the bottom line for me. This fuckin’ family.
“See, I’m the one who stuck around. Sammy, he took off. Went to college. Figured he was better than this whole hunting thing, I don’t know. But me, I was there.
I was with Dad every step of the way, until he decided to take off, too. Went chasing after the demon on his own, just freakin’ left me with the car and the coordinates for a hunt he was too busy to take care of. And I couldn’t figure out what it was about me that had everyone running off, you know? So I guess now I know. And maybe that should be some kind of relief, but it’s really, really not. All I ever wanted was to be part of this damn family, messed up as it is. And I don’t even want to start
thinking about how much of what I want is because of some demon bitch.”
“But you know what’s even worse? How much my dad trusted me at the end. Trusts me to finish this thing, to look after Sam, to-“ he stopped, biting off the end of his sentence. “And I don’t know how much of that was real and how much was forced on him by a damn spell.”
“You seem pretty trustworthy to me,” Xander said, his voice softly serious.
“I didn’t earn it, though. I couldn’t have. Not in four fuckin’ years. That’s… he put a life’s worth of trust in to me, going like he did.”
“You can’t change what he did. All you can do now-“
“Yeah, I get it. Except you seriously underestimate just how fucked up our little family is. I finally
get what I always wanted, I finally get him to freaking believe in me, and he asks me-“ he broke off, looking away and trying to hide the fact that he was blinking back tears. “You keep telling me I just gotta live life forward or whatever, but I gotta tell you, I’m not sure I even want
to. Not this life. Not with all the shit I’m drowning under.”
“You want to know what I think?” Xander asked.
“I think that if a fourteen-year-old girl
can do it, you should be able to figure something out.”
Dean burst out laughing. “Yeah, well, screw you. I don’t know why I’m even telling you all this shit.”
“I have an honest face.”
“No, you have a ridiculous
face,” Dean corrected.
“You should see me without the glass eye.”
“No shit?” Dean exclaimed, leaning forward to get a better look. “Dude, you have got
to learn to duck better. What the hell happened?”
“You know that nursery rhyme, the one about Little Jack Horner? Sat in a corner, liked plums?”
“…eating his Christmas pie…” Dean muttered thoughtfully before a look of horror crossed his face. “Wow. Harsh.”
Xander shrugged. “You get used to it. But anyway, look. I know that nothing I say is going to magically make everything better. That’s not the way it works. You’re going to be screwed up about this for a long time. You’re going to second guess your entire life, you’re going to feel guilty, you’re going to feel angry, you’ll have nightmares, and sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re on the verge of going insane. And that sucks.”
“That sucks out loud
,” Dean agreed. “But what can you do?”
“You can try not to do anything monumentally reckless or stupid, for one thing. Barring that, though…” he paused to stand up and offer a hand to Dean. “You could always start by talking to your brother.”
“Yeah, I guess I’d better,” Dean said, sighing deeply before accepting Xander’s hand.
“You can always call me, you know,” he said quietly before they stepped inside. “Heck, you can even call Dawn if you want to talk to someone who understands.”
“Yeah? She hot?”
“I refuse to comment on that, seeing as her overprotective sister just happens to have the mystical strength of, like, fifty men. And she knows where I sleep.”
The two walked into a silent living room. There was no sign of Bobby, but Sam was right where they’d left him.
“I’m… I think I’m going to go, actually,” Xander said softly. “Unless…” he looked at Sam, who offered up a weak smile.
“I think we’ll be ok,” he said, managing to sound like he believed it.
“Right. Ok, then. Um, here’s this,” Xander said, pulling a card from his pocket and handing it to Dean.
“You have business cards
?” Dean asked incredulously.
“What kind of fake PI doesn’t have business cards?” Xander countered, grinning. “Just… if anything comes up, you know?”
Dean turned the card over in his hands a few times before pocketing it. “I know. So, listen, about the wish…”
“I thought you said you gave the leftovers to that, uh, Hoffinator guy.”
“D’Hoffryn. And, um…,” Xander scratched the back of his head self-consciously. “I think maybe I’ll hang on to this one. If you don’t mind.”
“Thank you,” Sam said softly.
“Dude, you’re such a freaking girl,” Dean grumbled, punching his shoulder. “And you, get out of here before I let Bobby shoot you.”
“I heard that,” Bobby’s shouted from upstairs.
“Right. Leaving now,” Xander said. He paused with his hand on the front doorknob. “You’ll really be ok?”
Dean and Sam looked at each other long and hard. “Yeah,” Dean finally said. “I think we’ll do alright.” He didn’t sound as if he completely believed it, but it’d have to be enough. Xander had done as much as he could, at least for now.
The sun was finally starting to think about setting as Xander got into his dusty car. He’d have cell service in a few miles or so, and he’d be able to call Willow and update her on the situation. He spared one last look at the house before pulling out on to the road, surprised to find himself honestly hoping that he’d end up out this way again in the future.