Sam folded the missing persons poster and stuffed it into his pocket. Holy shit! There was only one reason his father would be carrying that poster around: that missing girl was the Slayer. Sam was beside himself with excitement. Anne was Buffy and Buffy was the Slayer! He could hardly wait to tell Dean.
Back in the Winchester's room, John noticed Dean's stiff movements. "Kid, what happened? You're moving around like an old man."
"It's nothing, really." Dean's mind raced to find an acceptable cover story. "It's just a sunburn. I fell asleep by the pool the other day." In his head, Dean repeated 'please buy it, please buy it'.
John shook his head; at least once a summer, while Dean was growing up, the boy would burn. John thought that by this age Dean would know better. "Having yourself a nice little vacation, huh?"
"No sir, just that studying for this test is boring and I kinda fell asleep in the sun."
His dad looked at the test manual Sam left open on the bed. "When's this test?"
"Day after tomorrow."
"Hmm," John nodded. "We've got to get going and get Sam signed up for school."
"Where are we going? Sunnydale?"
"I don't know. All I know is I need a shower and some sleep. I don't even know in what order. You think you can take that book outside to study without getting burned?"
"Yes, sir, no problem. Glad you're back."
Rushing back to their room, Sam was wondering how he could let Dean know what he had discovered without their father finding out that the Slayer was the girl that had just been in their room. Suddenly, Sam was hit with a troubling thought; why had the Slayer left Sunnydale? If he told Dean Anne's true identity, Dean would tell their dad. Dean thought their dad was infallible and their dad would probable confront the girl and try to force her back to Sunnydale. After Anne had risked everything to save his brother's life, Sam was not willing to endanger her.
Sam found Dean leaning a chair against the wall of the building, reading the test booklet. "Hey Sammy, Dad's trying to get some rest, so hang out here for a while, okay?"
Sam nodded, "Yeah, sure. Did you see if Anne went to work yet?"
"Don't know, didn't see her. Why?"
Thinking quickly Sam answered, "Uh, there was some girlie stuff left in one of the dryers, thought it might be hers. I'll go on up and ask."
"Maybe it belongs to Walter or Jonathon," Dean suggested with a grin.
"Dude, thanks for that troubling image." Sam shuddered.
Dean laughed. "Hey, told Dad I fell asleep in the sun and got real bad sun burn," Dean added in a hushed voice.
Sam nodded his understanding as he climbed the steps to Anne's room.
Buffy welcomed him with a cheerful smile. "What can I do for you, Sam?"
Sam brushed passed her into her room, looking around for Lily. "Lily here?"
"No, she's talking to Jonathon about a job. Why?"
Sam pulled the poster from his pocket and handed it to her. "My dad had this in the pocket of jeans."
Buffy stared at her picture and sat on her bed. "Oh." She went numb. They were looking for her, at least. Her heart broke when she took notice of the phone number listed on the flyer. It belonged to Giles. Her mother wasn't looking for her; her job was. She took a stuttering breath then plastered on a fake smile. "Why'd they have to use my yearbook picture? Yuck."
Sam wasn't put off by her attempt at a joke. "Look, Anne, Buffy, whatever, I need to tell you something. See, my dad is a hunter. Dean and I have grown up in this life, you know, knowing what's really out there." He ignored Buffy's surprised expression. "I won't tell anyone, not Dean, not my dad; but you should stay away from them. I don't think my dad recognized you when he saw you before, but, if he has any more of these posters, he'll show them to us and ask if we've seen you." Sam paused and ran a hand through his hair. "I know Dean. He's dad's golden boy, his perfect little soldier. He won't lie to dad about something this important."
Buffy stared at Sam. Dean had kept his promise; he hadn't even said a word about her identity to Sam. "Okay," she said at last. "I can't exactly move out, but I can stay away from you guys."
"Good. Sorry, though, I liked hanging out with you," Sam admitted with a sheepish smile. But, he noticed how tense she looked. "If this was my dad's top priority, he wouldn't have left it in the pocket of some jeans; we'd have heard about it the moment he walked in the door."
Buffy stuffed the poster in her uniform pocket as Lily walked in the door. "Sam, Anne, guess what? They gave me the job. You're looking at the new maid." Lily bowed as she made her announcement.
"That's great, Lily. I'll see you later, Anne," Sam said as he pulled the door shut behind him.
John Winchester lay on the bed making notes in his journal. Sunnydale had been quite the experience; he wasn't keen on returning any time soon. He hoped the slayer returned soon, one hunter had died and a few more had been injured while she was gone.
Dean's question earlier had made John think. Should he return to Sunnydale with the boys? Dean could probably hunt with him while Sam attended school. He flipped through some news clippings. Sure, he thought, Sam could go to school there, as long as it wasn't Sunnydale High, the school with the nation's highest mortality rate.
Later that night, Dean stood up from the couch, which had become his bed since his father's return, and out of habit, grabbed the room key from the top of the television. "Where are you going?" John demanded as Dean's actions attracted his attention.
Dean blinked at his father's question. He had been so used to his routine, he had forgotten about explaining it to his father. "Anne's shift is almost over. Sam and I walk her home at night. You know, not a good neighborhood and all."
"You both don't have to go."
"Right," Dean sighed. "Sam, you go."
Sam stood, took the key from Dean and headed out the door. "No, Dean. Sam's been running all day doing laundry then picking up our take out. You go, make yourself useful."
Sam sighed and returned the key. Dean shrugged at his brother and left.
Buffy smiled the moment she saw him take a seat in the booth by the door. "I wasn't expecting to see you."
Dean returned her smile. "I still have to make sure you get home safely, Anne."
"I'm leaving, Mitch!" Buffy shouted over her shoulder as Dean stood and held the door open for her.
Once out on the sidewalk, Buffy quickly said, "Sam knows I'm the Slayer."
"I didn't -" a shocked Dean began, but Buffy pulled the poster from her pocket.
"I know, Sam showed me this."
Dean studied the poster. "Where'd -"
"Your dad left it in a pocket or something," she answered before he even asked.
"Shit." Dean dragged a hand over his head. "My dad must not have remembered this or he'd have recognized you in our room earlier."
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, that's what Sam said. That's why I was surprised to see you."
"Surprised, why? What else did Sam say?"
"That I should stay away from all of you so that your dad doesn't recognize me and you don't turn me in."
"Turn you in?" Dean huffed, paused and shook his head in disgust. "I can't believe he thought -" Dean blew out a breath and Buffy noticed the immediate change in his demeanor. "Sam doesn't trust me," Dean said with a note of disbelief in his voice.
"You didn't tell him about me, either," she offered in defense of Sam and in the hope it soothed Dean's feelings.
"Because you and me had a deal, not because I thought Sam would tell our dad." He handed the paper back to Buffy who folded it and stuffed it in her pocket. "Well, at least you know they're looking for you, want you back."
"Not my mom, though. That's my watcher's number. My mom," Buffy's voice broke and she felt tears burn in her eyes. "My mom told me if I left, I should never come back." She looked up at Dean, hoping he would understand. "But I had to leave. I had to do my job."
Stunned to see her tears, Dean put a hand tentatively on her shoulder. "Hey," he murmured while rubbing her shoulder. "Hey, is that why you left? Something happened with your mom?" He asked so softly, so sympathetically Buffy began to cry harder. Dean wrapped an arm around her and led her out of the path of sidewalk traffic to rest against a building. She buried her face in his chest and cried until his shirt was damp.
Once she felt that she had cried herself out, Buffy pulled away from him and wiped her eyes. "Sorry," she croaked as she returned to their path home with her arms wrapped around herself.
Dean walked next to her in silence for a minute. "Hey, look, I know I don't know exactly what happened, but maybe it's not as bad as you think."
Irritated with what she thought was condescension; Buffy sniped, "Not bad? Do you even know what my job is? Do you know what I had to do to save the world and stop it from going to hell?" Buffy barely kept her anger in check but she lowered her voice. "I had to kill my boyfriend, the first guy I ever loved. I had to kill him so that he wouldn't open a door to hell and destroy the world."
Dean could only stare at her, overwhelmed by what she had just confessed. "Shit, Buffy, you're just a kid."
"Just a kid?" Buffy glared at him in anger.
Dean ignored her rebuke. "You're seventeen. You should be worrying about prom and pimples and shit like that. But, instead you've got to," he paused, still unable to believe the girl in front of him had to do what she was forced to do. Buffy's anger began to fade as Dean continued, "You have this huge responsibility of saving the whole fucking world. How is that fair?"
They walked in silence for a block; both too busy thinking to talk. "You know what my job is?" Dean asked, interrupting quietly. "For pretty much my whole life, my job has been to look after Sammy."
Dean stuffed his hands in his pockets and his voice became quieter. "When I was seventeen, my dad left me in charge and went on a hunt in Santa Fe. I'm way more interested in girls than in babysitting Sammy. I hardly pay any attention to the kid; Sammy gets tired of being ignored and takes off. I can't find him anywhere. I went out of my freakin' mind looking for him. Hell, I thought he was dead. When my dad came back and I still hadn't found Sammy, he- ." Dean's breath hitched and he looked away. His voice became very quiet, "Well, he let me know that if something happened to Sam, I'd wish I ," Dean coughed. "So, can you imagine how I'd fuck it up if I had to do what you do?"
"Your dad did that to you?"
Dean didn't answer he just looked anywhere but at her.
"Dean it wasn't your fault Sam ran away."
"Yeah, it was. If I had done my job and looked after him, Sam wouldn't have left. I let him down. Let my dad down. I guess it figures Sam wouldn't trust me. I'm an expert at disappointing people that depend on me."
"Dean." Buffy said quietly, wanting to erase the broken look on Dean's face, but she didn't know how.
"Don't." Dean sighed, looking away, unable to stomach the look of pity on her face. "Sam and my dad, they're all I've got. And the thing is when Sam turns eighteen, he's gone. He's never wanted to be a hunter; he wants a normal life - go to college, get a job. Once Sam's gone, my dad won't need me around anymore. Then I've got nothing. All I know is hunting, it's all I've ever been good at. At least, I thought I was good at it, until I needed you to come save my ass." He smirked as he finished, but it wasn't playful like before.
Buffy considered what Dean was telling her. If he was being this honest, she could be honest, too. "Dean," Buffy began again, "it was my fault my boyfriend tried to end the world. He lost his soul because of me. He turned into a monster, because of me." The curse and Angel's soul and how he lost it was a story Buffy wasn't ready to explain.
Dean studied her for a minute. "No, I don't believe that. Maybe you made a mistake, but you didn't force him to become evil, Buffy. He chose to do what he did. You can't blame yourself for what someone else did."
"Then neither can you, Dean." Buffy replied quietly.
As they approached the small motel, Dean turned to her. "I bet your watcher altered the flyer. I'm sure the guy wouldn't want a bunch of skuzzy hunters calling your mom and scaring her to death."
Buffy's expression turned the slightest bit hopeful. "Really? You think so?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, of course. It's something my dad would do." When they arrived at her door, Dean added, "Well, I guess we should follow Sam's plan which means I won't be seeing you anymore. It's not like you need someone to protect you and walk you home, right?" He gave her a small smile and walked away. Turning back he said, "Take care of yourself, all right? And don't worry, I won't tell Sam you told me anything."
The next morning, Buffy looked out her window and saw the big black car that belonged to Mr. Winchester was gone. Bounding down the stairs, Buffy was determined to let the brothers know that they didn't need to keep secrets from each other. She was going to return to Sunnydale.
After no one answered their door, Buffy hoped they were only gone for breakfast. Climbing the stairs to her room, Buffy was stopped by Lily. "If you're looking for Sam and Dean, they checked out this morning. Sam gave me this envelope to give to you."
Opening it, Buffy found a note that said she should keep in touch, an address for Sam Winchester and phone number scrawled across the bottom.
a/n: Though I never thought John Winchester was an abusive parent, there's a scene in 'Dark Side of the Moon' in which the boys talk about the time Sam ran away. I blame Jensen's acting for making me think that John may have taken things too far that time.