What makes a Responsibility
Disclaimer: Don’t own either. Woe.
A:N- Following on from chapter 6, so we’re on the Hellmouth again. :)
Sam had seen his dad angry lots of times- John Winchester was expressive and he especially didn’t like it when his children got hurt or worse: needlessly put themselves in the path of oncoming danger. This time, though, John wasn’t just mad he was furious- Sam had never seen him turn that shade of purple before and though he couldn’t hear what his dad was saying, he was pretty sure that none of it was pleasant.
Sam and Faith had been sent to the backyard the moment the Impala pulled into the drive and John had ordered Dean into the house. They’d been in there for twenty minutes already and though Dean looked to be holding up well under pressure, John was only getting started. This was the shouting segment of the dressing down- there’d be the running bit and then the push-ups and then, maybe, the sparring bit. Sam or Faith would be drafted in to spar with Dean, though. John hadn’t trained with either of the boys since Dean was thirteen- the boy had missed a block and John’s fist had connected. Sam remembered the bruise that had blossomed across Dean’s face. It had lingered for days and John hadn’t been able to look at Dean without wincing.
This was all his fault- he’d been the one to convince Dean that he needed to get back to school. He’d convinced them to go in, and he’d even been the one to ask to see the library. Faith seemed to notice his misery and she smacked him, carefully, across the back of his head.
“It’s not your fault, doofus. Dad’s pissed because we disappeared without telling him what we were doing and he woke up and we were gone. You know what he’s like- he needs to have the skinny on every move we make or he freaks the fuck out.” True enough.
“He only started yelling when he heard where we were. You can’t tell me that I’m not the reason we were at the school.” She groaned and nodded, just a little.
“If I accept that, then you have to accept that there’s no way you could have known that the other Slayer would be at school there.” Sam wasn’t psychic, after all- she was the one with prophecy dreams. “Besides, we were doing the same thing we do in every new town- Dad is throwing his little shit fit because Dean came so close to a Watcher.” They were all agreed that it hadn’t been ideal- they were lucky that Dean had realized the truth before they’d accidentally stumbled across some secret Slayer meeting or whatever. Sam was pretty sure that the next Watcher Faith met was going to be on the receiving end of some serious bodily harm. It was a toss-up between Faith, John and Bobby about who had been more pissed about Dean’s injuries. Sam had been there, right with them and pissed too- until Dean talked to him; explained why he’d done it and why he’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Faith was more important than a few bruises. She didn’t really believe that, so she was angry. John and Bobby were angry because they hadn’t been there to stop it. Dean was mad, sure, but he wasn’t going to do anything stupid and he’d promised to kick Sam’s ass if the younger boy acted on it himself. They were on the Hellmouth and there was a nasty Vamp descending who had a jones for Slayer blood- they had more important things to worry about. Sam could worry about the Council after they were sure that his little sister wasn’t going to get eaten by Vampires- priorities, right?
“Yeah. I suppose.” He turned to look at her; she was staring into the house with an expression on her face that he’d only ever seen on his dad’s. “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid?” That was enough to catch her attention. She glanced at him, her expression confused. But Sam knew her and he could tell that she knew exactly what he meant. “Don’t run off half-cocked to kick the crap out of someone. We don’t know if the Watchers that hurt Dean are anywhere in town. The watcher here is working with a Slayer and I’m sure she needs him healthy.”
Healthy did not necessarily mean unharmed. Faith didn’t point out the difference.
“If I so much as see a picture of that bitch in his photo-album, all bets are off.” But she’d be good. “I’ll behave myself, Sammy. I swear.” He nodded, satisfied, and turned back to the scene in the house. It seemed John was calming down; Dean was allowed talk now, at least.
“Wanna sneak up to the house and find out what Dean’s telling Dad?” They’d need their stories straight for later- Sam had no doubt that his brother was taking all the blame for this one and John would grill them all about it later.
“I dunno. I can hear just fine so it’s only your ass that’s on the line, sweetheart.”
Bitchface was an appropriate response to any sibling teasing, it seemed. Faith didn’t know what he was getting fussy about- she told him everything anyway.
When John stopped shouting and started asking questions, Faith and Sam knew it was time to make their way inside. Dean was sketching a layout plan of the school and marking the routes to and from the library with the ease of someone who had planned more than one getaway in the past. His siblings sat either side of him and pointed out little details that he’d missed or skipped over; they ignored the glower that their father aimed at them, hoping that if they ignored him hard enough, he wouldn’t start shouting at them.
It seemed to work, distracting him with details and what they’d learned about the school and the other Slayer. Sam had to bite his tongue to stop himself from reminding his father that he could actually learn all these things himself- all he had to do was walk into the building to sign off on their transfer paperwork. Details like that sometimes escaped their father though and it was entirely possible that Dean had already signed John’s name anyway. He’d done that before, on report cards and the occasional bad grade. He’d managed to hide that he was flunking senior year for months because of the quality of his forged signatures. Sam was pretty sure they’d scraped through without punishment when Bobby started loading for bear as John studied the town maps. Conveniently, whoever had left the maps in the hunter bolt-hole had outlined all the cemeteries in bright pink highlighter, making charting a route a simple affair.
Unfortunately, that simplicity meant that there were hours of daylight to burn before they could go anywhere- John planning to hit the demon bars as soon as the sun set and start a patrol of the town afterwards. The teens sat quietly, hoping that he wouldn’t remember that he was angry. Dean was cleaning weapons in the living room and studiously ignoring them both, for once. Whatever they’d been attempting didn’t work, anyway. Three minutes into his planning, their Dad glanced up and saw them watching him, innocent expressions completely out of place on both faces.
“Outside, both of you- you both need the practice hand-to-hand. Dean, watch them.” Their brother, in the other room, heard the order with no trouble, stalking through the kitchen and out the backdoor without a word. Faith darted out after him, hoping that speed would aid her escape where silence hadn’t worked. Sam was the only one of them that heard their father mutter something about crazy, suicidal children giving him grey hairs and headaches and he fought back a grin. Whatever anger he’d had seemed to have abated without anything harsher than extra PT. Though… he was definitely getting the short end of the stick- sparring with Faith always meant bruises, even before she was Called.
Willy’s bar was, as always, dimly lit and smoke-filled. He’d always claimed it helped the ambiance but really, the stench of cigarette smoke helped to cover the stench of rot, decay and demon slime that was often carried into his bar. Toward seven o’clock, the bar was half-empty but busy enough with the early evening crowd, stopping in for a drink or two before heading out on the town or whatever. Whatever, because Willy didn’t ask many questions and he sure as hell didn’t want to know the answers. When he knew the answers, he ended up bruised and battered. Not knowing things meant that it was only the Slayer he pissed off- everyone else left him more or less alone.
Despite his reputation as snitch- gods, he hated that word- his bar still pulled a good crowd, especially at the weekends. It wasn’t just demons either. Plenty of humans spent their evenings propped up on his bar stools. The humans in his bar were normally of a particular type- Usually the bad-guy set; sorcerers and chaos mages and whatever else could masquerade as human and sip whiskey from a dirty glass. So, no, humans weren’t unusual.
Hunters though… hunters were definitely not the norm- so the second those two walked into the bar, eerie silence fell. There were a couple of Vamps, several demons and a human blood-whore and they dropped their eyes to the ground and practically stopped breathing. Willy knew Hunters when he saw them- they carried themselves with an air of readiness that no other human in his bar ever quite managed. So when the first Hunter on the Hellmouth in more than a year walked into his bar, Willy paid attention. He was in his forties, at least, dark hair and muscled, wearing flannel and denim and leather and armed to the teeth, though his hands were empty. That actually made it worse- empty handed Hunters meant confident Hunters and confidence was usually won from years of winning fights with things that are bigger and nastier than you.
Willy was afraid of the Slayer- no question there. He knew that she was stronger, faster and tougher than anything that he would ever be able to throw her way. But the Slayer lived by rules and a code of honour and respect for human life and that meant he knew she’d never hurt him; not really. The last Hunter in town had been Cain and Willy had never been afraid of him, either. He’d show-boated into town, wearing that ridiculous necklace and he’d carried a machete in one hand every time he stepped into the bar.
“You the barkeep?” Voice low and contained, like a dog growling. The barkeep in question swallowed heavily and his voice shook when he spoke.
“Yeah, I’m- this is my place.” The man smiled slowly and that was kind of scarier, somehow, than the blank expression he’d been wearing before.
“Good. I need you to do me a favour.” Willy forced himself to take a deep breath and his shaking stopped.
“Sure, sure. Anything to help.” Around them, the patrons relaxed- whoever he was, the guy was here for something; looking for help. He wasn’t likely to start a fight until he got what he wanted. They all tensed again, seconds later, when the guy reached into his jacket- it was ridiculous, he knew to have so many supernaturally strong and fast killers quaking in their boots over one stinking human. Of course, most of the lower level demons were afraid of humanity- they were vastly outnumbered and they knew it- but they very rarely let it show so obviously. The barman couldn’t help but wonder if they all knew something that he didn’t.
“Deliver this to the Slayer for me.” A crisp, clean white envelope was pushed across the bar in his direction and Willy grasped it carefully, as though it would explode.
“Sure. Sure, no problem. She was here yesterday. Next time she’s in here I’ll-“
“No. You’ll deliver it personally.” The man’s eyes narrowed. “Now would be good.” Willy just nodded, paling under the scrutiny of an assessing glare- assessing and finding him lacking, and scooped up his car keys from behind the bar.
“Everyone out! The bar is closed for the night.” There were some grumbled complaints but no-one brave enough to challenge the decision- Willy just watched them leave and the Hunter stood silent by the bar, staring his own reflection in the mirror. Or watching the demonic patrons leave without having to meet their stares, maybe.
“Straight to the girl’s hand, Willy, or I’ll know you let me down.” Willy nodded once, almost shaking.
“No problem. No problem at all.” The Hunter was walking away from him, out the door and into the darkness and likely to chase down the very patrons that Willy had just sent packing. “Who should I say it’s from?” He certainly wasn’t going to open it to see if the man had signed his name. Whatever was in the envelope was nothing that he wanted anything to do with- but he knew the Slayer, and he knew that he’d get punched at least once if he had nothing to offer her but a vague description and a lousy letter. The Hunter didn’t pause; there wasn’t as much as a hitch in his step.
“Winchester.” And he was gone before Willy could ask him if he meant Winchester, like the rifle, or Winchester, like the crazy man who’d been routing demons across the continent for twenty years.
Hunters might not come to the Hellmouth much, but the demons on the Hellmouth sure as hell knew who they were and in the last two decades few of ‘em had earned as tough a reputation as John Winchester. And in the last year, the stories about the man had escalated- tales of him taking on demons that the Slayer herself would think twice about and walking away without a scratch.
Whatever was going on here, Willy was absolutely certain that he did not want to know but he understood, suddenly, just why his customers had been so wary. You don’t get to be a legend like Winchester without taking down some seriously bad shit. But that didn't mean he was going to risk the Slayer, either. She could come to him; with Hunters in town, she'd show up eventually.
The library, Sunnydale High.
“I swear- two old guys, a pair of flamethrowers and an ancient creaky car.” The blonde teen shrugged and rolled her eyes at her Watcher. “It was way weird but the Vamps got toasty so… yay?”
“Did you happen to notice anything else?” He managed to sound both pissed and amused and his Slayer grinned at hearing it. She’d been… away, all summer, and she’d missed him and his tone. From her seat at the table, she watched as he cleaned his glasses and was surprised by the bubble of warmth in her stomach. She’d really missed him.
“Nope. They were gone by the time I got there. All that was left was dust in the wind.” Humans, killing Vampires? Generally okay in her book but, you know, unusual. Especially humans who were good at it- that spelled bad in big, glittery letters.
“Oooh… are they Hunters like that Cain guy last year?” The redheaded witch shot a concerned glance across the table to their resident Werewolf. Oz just raised one eyebrow and the expression on his face might have been curiosity.
“I have no idea. Their toys were trés cool though- Giles, can I get a flamethrower?” Her Watcher didn’t answer, just shook his head absently and Buffy’s face fell. She really wanted one- how cool was that? “If they’re Hunters, we’ll deal with ‘em the same way we did Cain- this is our Hellmouth and they can go Hunt somewhere else. I’m sure there are lots of things to kill in, say, Detroit.”
“Why Detroit?” The dark-haired boy sitting opposite her asked absently, flicking through the pages of a dusty, smelly book with one hand. His other hand was wrapped in Cordelia’s, though hidden under the table so no-one would see. They might be officially a couple, but the popular girl had been listening to Willow’s suggestion that they not flaunt their coupleness since Angel had gone psychotic and Buffy had been forced to kill him. It would have been insensitive.
“Why not Detroit? There could be, like, haunted cars maybe? That’d be cool.”
“Cool right up until they run you down. Even Slayers can be killed by car accidents. Plus, ghosts don’t leave trophies and we know Hunters like their trophies.” Behind his desk, Giles rolled his eyes and suppressed a sigh, wondering for the millionth time how his life had managed to come to this. He was willing to bet that haunted cars were the only suggestion any of the children could proffer because that was all any of them knew about the city.
“Buffy, you should ask around tonight. If there are Hunters in town, the demon population will know.” He managed to slip the order in around a discussion on which shoes were the most comfortable for slaying- thankfully, that conversation didn’t include him. Buffy just nodded her agreement and returned to the debate, arguing for heels versus flats because she was already short enough, thanks, and sometimes pointy heels could be weapons. The librarian just went back to his books, hoping that the bell would ring soon and they’d leave him alone to get his work done. For once.
Just before sundown, the blonde slayer sauntered into her first stop of the night- Willy’s bar, the stinky, disgusting haunt favoured by the slimy and the gross. The barman wasn’t the only one who watched her stroll up to the bar- there were half a dozen various demon-y types and a pair of Vamps hiding in the backroom. No humans though, unless you counted Willy. Most days, Buffy didn’t.
“Slayer! What brings you to my humble abode?” His voice dripped with false cheer and she matched his forced grin with one of her own.
“Why am I ever here, Willy? Why don’t we skip the foreplay and get straight to the part where you tell me about the new players in town.” Willy laughed, high-pitched and utterly fake, and he shook his head in what the Slayer assumed was dismay.
“I know nothing about any new players- same old, same old lately.” Buffy just stared at him from the other side of his bar, waiting. She looked… bored.
“I can wait here all night, you know. Lots of demons here to slay.” As expected, the little man caved quickly- he couldn’t allow her to kill his customers, could he? He was an upstanding member of Sunnydale Chamber of Commerce- protecting his customer base was the key to maintaining his profit margin. And stuff.
“Okay, okay, I may have heard a rumour about some new people in town. Human types.” Around them, the demons tensed but Buffy forced herself to ignore the tingle at the back of her neck.
“And? What’s the skinny?” Willy’s forehead beaded with sweat and she wondered, briefly, what could scare the man who served her worst nightmares beer and pretzels.
“Word is that they’re Hunters and that they’re here for a reason. Most of the lower demons are in hiding and the uppers… well. They aren’t exactly aching to be spotted either, if you know what I mean.” She didn’t; not really.
“I don’t remember anyone worrying all that much when the last Hunter rolled into town.” Her tone was nonchalant, but her eyes were watching every movement- the demons were twitchy. That was never good. To her surprise, Willy laughed- and he wasn’t the only one. Several of the demons made sounds that, with humans, would have been considered laughter.
“Sure, sure, Cain was a Hunter. But… comparing these guys to Cain is like comparing a Lion to a house-cat, yeah? He was all easy fights and taking the low road and these guys, they’re more blood and fiery vengeance, you know?” For just a second, Buffy thought she saw something human in Willy’s eyes- something more like empathy and fear than greed and distrust. But it was just a second and then it was gone. “They’re ruthless and they’ll kill anyone who gets in their way and that’s all I know... except, maybe they left something here for you.” He glanced around him quickly as he handed over the pristine white envelope, before turning away and effectively dismissing her. Buffy just thanked him quietly, took it and left, her thoughts running wild. She didn’t see the Vampire who watched her leave; his dark skin and dark suit blending into the shadows at the back of the bar.
Fingering the envelope, she was as oblivious to her surroundings as a Slayer could ever get. There was worse than Cain out there? She’d thought he’d been a fool, sure, but a dangerous fool. The thought that he was a mild-mannered version of the Hunter variety made her skin crawl. What the hell did these guys want, then? Vampire blood? Demon fangs? Slayer-on-a-stick? She needed to talk to Giles, ASAP, and her feet turned her in the direction of the library and she picked up her pace.
She wasn’t sure she could kill humans, even to save herself. They were men; just men. She didn’t want to take that step and become something other than protector. But… she’d learned her lesson with Angelus- wearing a face she could trust wasn’t enough anymore. She’d condemned Angel’s soul to an eternity in hell because she hadn’t been able to end Angelus when she had the chance. She’d cost Jenny her life and Giles had been tortured; countless innocents had been killed.
She’d have to be sure, but next time, if there was a next time, she wouldn’t hesitate to make the killing blow.
As the sun set, Xander retreated from the yard into his house, school books under one arm and moving slowly. Inside, his mom and dad were engaged in their nightly shout-it-out and he could really have lived without hearing about how bad their sex life was and whose fault that was. Scarred for life. Badly. As he stepped inside, the sound of laughter down the street caught his attention and he glanced toward the source. Kids, two of them, about his age and playing tag in the street. Xander envied their carelessness- he hadn’t that safe after dark in Sunnydale in years, not since he’d learned the truth of what really bumped in the night. He thought about warning them to go inside; to get off the road before proper night fell but before he could act, their heads snapped to the house in unison and they were gone in seconds, disappearing inside and Xander just felt relieved. They were new; neighbors came and went pretty regularly on this side of town but he knew he hadn’t seen them before, and the newbies were always the easiest prey.
He was sick of funerals; sick of the crappy casseroles that his mom made him deliver whenever one of the neighbors disappeared and turned up dead, or worse. His heart was heavy as he stepped over the threshold and heard his mother screeching that she should never have married his father. Sometimes, living on the Hellmouth was just one great big ball of suck.
A/N: This started as two chapters but somehow merged into one. If there are continuity errors, that’s why, and apologies for missing ‘em.