A/N: This is the final chapter of this particular story, but by no means is it the final chapter of this story (if that makes sense). I don't want to give anything away, so please read the notes at the end of the chapter.
I do want to thank everyone who read and reviewed. If I haven't personally responded to your reviews, it is definitely an oversight and a huge bad on my part. I have appreciated each and every one more than you can imagine. I also, as always, want to thank my beta reader isugirl and of course Joss Whedon and Eric Kripke for creating such wonderful universes and characters.
P.S. If you haven't read the Harry Potter series, you may not recognize the word 'apparate'. It basically means teleporting. I just picture Willow as a big Harry Potter fan. That world obviously belongs to J.K. Rowling
To be on the safe-side, Buffy tightened her grip on Dean's pistol hand. If he was feeling even half as annoyed as she was right now, Willow was in real danger. She used her free arm to cover her chest and started to open her mouth to ask Willow just what the hell she was doing here when she was cut off by Dean's booming voice.
"What the hell?" he exclaimed. "You know this chick?"
"Unfortunately," Buffy answered with a groan. Uttering a deep sigh, she made the introductions. "Dean, this is Willow. Willow say hi to Dean. Willow's my best friend," she explained, "although I may have to re-evaluate the 'best' part."
"Hi," Willow said, addressing Dean hesitantly. "I guess this might seem a little strange… Sort of like I magically appeared… Of course that's just crazy," she added with a forced and almost hysterical laugh. "Nope, no crazy here. I-I knew that Buffy was staying here, so I talked the desk clerk into letting me in. Just wanted to sneak in and surprise her… So, surprise!"
"Give it up, Will," Buffy replied in a flat tone, "he has an extremely annoying magically-appearing-friend of his own."
"Is she-" Dean started to ask.
"An angel?" Buffy finished for him. "No, just a very powerful witch, but I have a strong feeling she's going to need an angel in the very immediate future. A guardian angel," she emphasized. "Possibly three or four."
Buffy had been looking at Willow while she was speaking and missed the expression of disgust that crossed Dean's features when she mentioned the word 'witch'. Willow, however, most definitely witnessed the man's obvious feelings of distaste toward her and strongly wished she could disappear again. It was so tempting to do a memory charm to erase the last two minutes from the pair's mind and then apparate the hell on out of there. But, number one - she had promised Buffy she would never perform another memory spell on her and number two - she really needed to talk to her. Dammit!
"I'm sorry," Willow offered, her face as red as ever. "Really, really sorry."
"Willow, why are you here?" Buffy demanded in a quiet but firm tone (the scary, Slayer-Buffy tone). "For your sake, I hope the entire city of Cleveland is on fire."
"I… uh… well," Willow stammered as she wrung her hands anxiously. "Buffy, I'm sooo sorry… this is really awkward."
"Ya think?" Dean bit out sarcastically.
Willow flinched a little at the acid in the man's tone. If it was possible, the guy looked even less thrilled with the situation than Buffy. He met her eyes with a sharp, assessing gaze that made her memory wipe/apparation plan suddenly more appealing.
The Slayer sighed deeply and turned to face Dean, who looked dangerously unhappy with his jaw tightly clenched and both eyes still narrowed steadily on her friend. Damn, he looked sexy when he was angry. Ugh, she groaned to herself, why Willow? Why now?
"Dean," Buffy said, attempting to break his concentration. "I'm going to let go of your wrist now," she explained slowly, "but you can't shoot Willow. She's my friend, so I get the privilege of killing her."
After releasing Dean's wrist, Buffy pondered her best option for getting off of his lap with some dignity intact. It was a bit of a challenge, since she was determined to keep her chest covered. I mean, sure, Dean had just seen her topless and after years of friendship, which included many marathon sessions of 'which outfit makes me look thinner', Willow had seen pretty much everything Buffy had. But this was different and she felt very exposed. It was a lot like the real life version of the classic 'naked in public' nightmare.
"Both of you close your eyes," Buffy ordered. "I'd like to get back on my feet without the entire world knowing what color of panties I'm wearing and no peeking," she added, especially for Dean's benefit.
Once the two had followed her orders and shut their eyes, she climbed down from Dean's lap and pulled her camisole back on. She found she had no problems doing so whatsoever. It was funny how being so thoroughly mortified had removed all of the soreness from her shoulder.
"Okay," she announced, "you can open your eyes now."
Willow apparently hadn't heard the Slayers announcement, because she still had her eyes tightly shut and both hands clamped over them for good measure. She seemed very determined not to let in even the tiniest sliver of light.
"Will," Buffy said, "it's okay, the coast is clear."
"Just making sure," Willow replied as she cautiously uncovered her eyes.
"It's a little late for that," Buffy replied with obvious irritation. "Seriously, would it kill you to pick up a phone?"
"I tried! But you didn't answer, and I thought 'hey, not worried – Buffy just lost her phone again'. But then Dawn didn't pick-up either… and Giles was polishing his glasses a lot, like really a lot. I think they're technically just frames now, he rubbed all the glass away. He kept saying, 'ring her again, ring her again' and then…" Willow suddenly cut off her ramble after following her friend's pointing finger to the telephone that was sitting on the table beside the sofa.
"Oh no," she groaned, clearly horrified. "I completely forgot that people still use landlines. Honest! I haven't had one in years. Not since I left home."
"Uh huh," Buffy said, crossing her arms in front of her. "And something tells me you didn't exactly rack your brain for options before you decided to pull the ultimate pop-in."
"I did too," Willow said a bit defensively. "I've been really good. I don't do major magic unless it's absolutely necessary. And missing chief Slayer - kind of an emergency. I mean, I didn't expect… I just thought… I thought you'd be sitting here with Dawn, watching a movie. I'd pop-in, maybe make you spill your popcorn. You'd be all 'that wacky Willow with her crazy antics' and then it would be hilarity all around."
Buffy was not convinced by her friend's defense. Yes, Willow had been much better about not using magic unnecessarily, but she also knew that there were certain magical things that Willow just loved doing, meaning she'd jump at any opportunity to justify their use. Unfortunately, appearing out of thin air was one of those things.
Willow looked nervously back and forth between her very irritated best friend and the stone-faced man sitting on the couch. "Did I mention how sorry I was?" she asked in a sad, pleading tone, giving them her best sad, puppy-dog face. Somehow they both seemed immune at the moment.
Buffy just shook her head. "I'm going to go put an actual shirt on," she said as she headed toward the bedroom. "When I get back," she glared at Willow, "you're going to give me a damn good explanation for this."
With a stab of panic, Willow realized that she had just been left alone with Dean. Talk about awkward. She tried giving him a friendly smile.
"It's nice to meet you," she said uncertainly. He just cocked an eyebrow at her and gave her a murderous glare. That's when she noticed the pistol sitting on the table beside him and knew immediately that it wasn't Buffy's. "I'll be uh…I'll be right back," Willow announced nervously, turning quickly and following the Slayer into the bedroom.
"I don't think he likes me," Willow confided quietly to Buffy, who was searching through the dresser drawers for a shirt.
"I don't like you very much right now," Buffy said dryly.
"Oh Buffy, I'm so-"
"Sorry?" Buffy finished for her. "Yeah, I got that, but you'll have to give me a minute to stew in my violent, self-righteous anger. Do you have any idea how long it's been since…? Never mind," she said with a wave of her hand. She'd spotted a light purple, button-down blouse that looked like it would pair well with her skirt and began pulling it on. "Your timing sucks, by the way," she added with a pout as she buttoned up the blouse.
"I know. I'm a wretched, horrible friend," Willow said in a dejected tone. "I-I deserve to be stripped naked, covered in boils, and mocked in the town square."
"As long as you're aware," Buffy replied with a half-grin.
"He is cute," Willow said, inclining her head toward the other room and giving her friend a hopeful smile. "You have to fill me in. Who is he? How did you meet? How did he get a black eye? I need the full scoop… and ooh, did you say something about angels?"
"Later," Buffy said. "You still have some explaining to do."
"Yeah, I know, but did you see that scar?" Willow whispered. "The one on his shoulder that looks like a handprint? I wonder where that came from?"
"I don't know. It's definitely… different. That's for sure."
"Well," Willow stated in an earnest whisper, "to leave a mark like that you have to be working some heavy-duty mystical mojo. I know that much."
Buffy shrugged and started to leave the bedroom. "We all have our secrets."
Willow tugged on Buffy's sleeve to stop her from walking away. "Is he human?" she asked quietly.
"Yes," she replied defensively. "Why? Is that shocking?"
"No… I mean…well, yeah, a little."
Buffy frowned at her friend and took another step toward the doorway.
"Buffy," she said hesitantly, tugging on her shirt sleeve again. "Why does he have a gun?"
"I know, I know – later."
Willow chose to sit on the loveseat, leaving the couch to Buffy and Dean. It was best, she decided, to give the man a wide berth since his mood did not appear to have improved. Okay, he did have a reason to be grumpy, but he should still give her a chance. Willow just hated it when people didn't like her.
Much to her relief, Buffy sat down on Dean's right, which put her between him and the table where the gun lay. She watched as her friend rubbed the man's leg and whispered something in his ear. Whatever Buffy said, it seemed to ease his tension a little, because he actually smiled and stretched his arm out on the couch behind her.
"I know I'm supposed to stop asking questions," Willow began hesitantly, "but where's Dawn?"
"She's with Sam," Buffy replied. "He's Dean's brother. Speaking of Dawn," Buffy said as she turned toward Dean. "Maybe we better check in on her. It's hard to tell what she's gotten your brother into."
"I'll call him," Dean said, reaching to pick up his phone. With a pointed look at Willow, he added, "we might as well tell 'em to come on over."
Great, Willow thought, another one. Considering the run of luck she'd had today, this one would probably end up being even scarier than Dean. She wouldn't be surprised if he came in waving an Uzi around.
"What's goin' on?" Dean said into his cell. He paused for a moment, listening. "Yeah, well it's gotten pretty damn weird over here too," he grumbled. "Just come on over. You can tell me about it when you get here," Dean said as he disconnected the call.
"What did Dawn do?" Buffy asked with a groan.
"Nothing, they're on their way over," he replied frowning. Something was definitely up with Sam though, he didn't sound right. "
"Okay," Buffy replied uncertainly. Something was up, she just didn't know what. Anyway," she said, turning her attention back to Willow. "Time to dish. What's the what?"
Willow gave Dean a quick glance and replied uncertainly, "Well, a couple of things actually."
"It's okay, Will," Buffy assured her. "He's in the secret club. You can speak freely."
"Oh," she replied and then paused for a moment, her wheels obviously spinning. "OH!" Willow exclaimed. "That explains a lot. Dean's one of the mysterious masked men."
Buffy and Dean exchanged confused glances. "I'm what now?" Dean asked.
"One of the masked men," Willow said excitedly. "Those kids, the ones that were kidnapped in the Canyon. They claim they were rescued from a bunch of monsters by four masked superheroes. It's all over the news. We knew the two women had to be Buffy and Dawn, but the two guys had all of us stumped."
"Masked, huh?" Dean said. "I'm impressed. Those kids really took that superhero bullshit I was flinging to heart."
"You guys weren't really wearing masks were you?" Willow asked.
Buffy didn't reply, but instead threw her a 'what the hell do you think?' look.
"Right," Willow said, answering Buffy's non-verbal reply, "stupid question." Then her eyes fell on her friend's bandaged shoulder and she winced. She couldn't believe she'd missed that. Of course Slayers and bandages were a common sight and there had been a lot to take in (to put it mildly). But it just made things seem worse since she'd already stomped all over Buffy's privacy. Apparently she wasn't just an inconsiderate friend, she was also cold, callous, and unconcerned to boot. Maybe it would help if she tried to show Buffy that she did actually care about her wellbeing. She couldn't quite bake cookies at the moment, but she could at least ask her about her injury.
"Is your shoulder okay, Buffy?" Willow asked sheepishly. "I guess you got it hurt saving those kids, huh? Sorry I didn't mention it before. I just… well…"
"I'm fine," Buffy replied, waving off her injury. "I'm just curious how you knew I was involved."
"It's a funny thing," Willow replied. "Maybe not funny per se, but certainly interesting. Well, Xander sure thought it was funny," she added with a slight shrug. "Of course, he can be easily amused. Just be glad you haven't been around for Weinergate," she confided with an eye-roll. "Xander is completely obsessed. I'm seriously considering jinxing him. He's driven me to it," Willow stated earnestly, "and I'm pretty sure that even Giles will be completely on board - it's that bad."
Buffy cleared her throat impatiently.
"Your scythe is on national television," Willow spat out.
"No it's not," Buffy denied with a gasp. "It's locked in the trunk of my car. I swear. At least I think so… It better be!" she added with a note of panic in her voice.
"Breathe Buffy," her friend said soothingly. "I didn't mean the actual scythe. It's just a picture, a drawing, actually."
"Seriously?" Buffy asked.
"No doubt about it," Willow nodded as she reached for the television remote. "I'll show you."
Willow quickly consulted the complimentary list of channels the hotel had left on the coffee table and flipped the television on to the first 24-hour news channel on the list.
"There," she said pointing at the TV. "See. That's definitely the scythe."
"Holy crap," Dean breathed as he stared at the image on the screen, which was overlaying an amused commentary from the newscaster regarding the children's wild imaginations. "That's a hell of a lot of detail for a crayon drawing," he added. "That kid has some talent."
That kid, Buffy noticed, without surprise, was Rachel Henderson, she had signed the drawing in red crayon. Only a Slayer – or a potential one – would've remembered that much detail about the weapon. It seemed the little girl was officially obsessed.
Buffy crinkled her brow with worry. "Giles wants to kill me, doesn't he?" she asked Willow with a defeated whimper. "I'm never, ever getting another day off."
"No, no he's not angry. I promise. He was just… well… a little shocked is all. The scythe is pretty distinctive. Not something you see on TV every day."
"Yeah, I can see him polishing his glasses now," she groaned. She wasn't completely convinced that Giles wasn't more upset about the situation than Willow was letting on. After all, he had suggested she leave the scythe behind when she left for vacation. Will was more than likely sugar-coating things because she was afraid Buffy was still mad at her (and she was, a little).
"So what was the deal?" Willow pressed curiously. "What kind of monsters?"
"Yuck," Willow cringed, "glad I missed it, but I bet Xander will be disappointed. Remember the Praying Mantis Lady?" She paused for a moment, as if considering the situation, and then grinned mischievously. "Truthfully," she added, "I'm actually sorry he wasn't with you today. It would serve him right for all the corny wiener jokes."
"Very true," the Slayer agreed in a faraway tone, as if her mind was on something else. "Those things had an official name," she continued, biting her lower lip in thought, "but I can't seem to remember what it was. Do you remember?" she asked Dean.
"I don't know," he shrugged. "Fancy Cas-speak for 'ugly-ass ant people'.
"Wait, I remember now," Buffy said. "It sounded like the Nathan Fillions… or something like that," she frowned.
"Do you mean the Nephilim?" Willow asked, sounding excited. "The actual Ant People of Orion? Are you serious?" she continued, not pausing for an answer. "I studied them in my class!"
"Will's working on a Master's degree in Native American Folklore," Buffy explained to Dean. "In her free time."
"This is huge!" Willow gushed. "The ant people are like the rock stars of Hopi folklore. You guys are telling me they're real?"
"They were real," Dean replied, "until we ganked their asses."
"Oh," Willow said, sounding clearly disappointed. "I don't understand. They were supposed to be all nice and helpful and stuff. The legends say they taught the Hopi how to plant crops."
"Sorry, Will," Buffy replied. "They had to go. What can I say? Those guys definitely weren't looking to be our neighbors in Farmville. Maybe hiding out in a cave for a few centuries made them cranky?"
"Well what was their cave like?" Willow asked, brushing off her disappointment. "I bet it was fascinating," she continued, answering her own question, her speech getting more and more rapid with her excitement. "Supposedly they had these hieroglyphs and all kinds of intricate tunnels and stuff. I just can't believe it," she added wistfully her eyes taking on a faraway look. "This is the most exciting thing I've heard in ages."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, it was thrilling. They were a real fun bunch."
"You know what?" Willow continued, ignoring Dean's snide remark. "I bet if you guys took me to that cave I could find some really excellent research material. I could write my dissertation on it, become a full PhD!"
Dean just stared at the redhead in awe. This chick was the definition of freaky.
"Research excites her," Buffy explained, noting the expression on Dean's face. "It's like a drug."
"Sorry," Willow said, her face turning a little pink. "I'm babbling again, aren't I? I think I've had too much coffee today. I didn't get much sleep last night," she added.
"Which leads us to?" Buffy prompted, leaning forward in her seat, as if she expected Willow to come up with a brilliant revelation.
"I should consider switching to decaf?" Willow replied, obviously unsure of what her friend was getting at.
"No, Will, I was trying to ask why you didn't sleep well last night. I assume that's your real reason for showing up unannounced. Because I have to tell ya, if the Crayola scythe picture is all you got, we have a problem."
"Oh yeah, that. There's definitely more," Willow said hesitantly.
"Let me guess. Giles sent you here to confiscate the scythe didn't he? I can't believe this!" Buffy snapped. "Am I twelve now? I've actually lost my scythe privileges? Because that's the most…"
"That's not it," Willow interrupted, cringing at Buffy's tone. Boy she had a hair trigger temper today. "Buffy, listen, it's not like that at all. Just give me a chance to explain. Okay?"
"Okay, fine. Whatever," Buffy said, sounding a lot like a sulky teenager. "I'm listening."
Before Willow had a chance to explain herself, the room was filled with the sounds of the opening riff to The Edgar Winter Group's Frankenstein.
"That's Sam," Dean said, reaching for his cell and hitting the answer button. "Yeah," he said a little irritably as he held the phone to his ear.
Dawn's voice replied on the other end of the line. "Are you decent?" she asked.
"Dawn? What the hell? Where's Sam?" he asked anxiously, remembering how strange he'd sounded earlier.
"I chopped him up and fed him to the fishes," Dawn replied sarcastically. "Where do you think? He's sitting right here beside me. We just pulled into the parking lot."
"Well, let me talk to him."
Dawn giggled a little. "Trust me. You'll hear plenty from him in just a couple of minutes. So, zip it up, we're headed your way," she said, cutting off the call.
Dawn's mouth fell open the moment she opened the door. "Willow? Oh my God! What are you doing here? No, wait, you don't have to tell me," she added with clear annoyance. "The world's ending again, isn't it?"
"I hope not," Willow said as she hugged Dawn hello. She was sooo happy to see a friendly face. Then she looked up at the man standing beside Dawn and immediately felt her little happiness bubble deflating. This one was scarier, way scarier. Not only was he bigger than his brother, but he also looked like he'd gone three rounds with Godzilla. Simply put, the man was ominous looking. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that she couldn't make out his features due to his nose being so swollen. Plus, he had two black eyes which currently appeared to be tiny slits.
"Sam," Dawn said, "this is Willow. She's one of our best friends. Willow," she said, pointing between the two, "this is Sam. He's Dean's brother."
"Hi, Willow," Sam said in a nasally voice, offering his hand and smiling broadly, which looked really strange on his busted-up face. "I'm Sam. Dean's my brother."
"That's the rumor," Willow said, returning his smile uncertainly and shaking his hand. She wasn't quite sure what to think about Sam. He was definitely friendlier than Dean, but he was also a little unsteady on his feet and kinda goofy.
Willow may have been unsure, but it took Dean maybe two seconds to diagnose what was up with his brother. "You're wasted," he stated.
"Very," Sam confirmed with another broad grin.
"What the hell have you two been doing?" Dean growled. He knew Buffy would be seriously pissed if his brother had taken Dawn out for more drinking. He also knew that Buffy would probably find a way to blame it all on him. After all, he was the designated pot-stirrer.
"I got him to take some of your Vicodin," Dawn confessed hesitantly. "You know, for his shoulder. I guess I should have paid attention to that little sticker that says not to mix it with alcohol. But he hasn't had anything to drink since we left the restaurant. I swear," she added vehemently.
"He's a lightweight," Dean said, shaking his head. "What the hell, Sam? Every time you get banged up I try to get you to take the good stuff and you never do. Why now?"
"She's cuter than you are, Dean," his brother answered, "and scarier too," he added with a nod, pronouncing every word very deliberately, as if he had to stop and think about each syllable.
"Right," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "Just sit your giant ass down before you fall on somebody."
Sam sat down on the couch beside his brother and waved enthusiastically to Buffy, who was sitting a whole two feet away from him on the other side of Dean.
"Hi, Sam," Buffy said, returning his wave and smiling. She may as well just go with the flow, because it looked like her night of passion was now officially cancelled. Oh well, at least wasted-Sam was more entertaining than magically-appearing Willow. Poor Sam, she thought, it was probably a good thing he was high, because he had to be in pain. His face looked horrible and… Oh my God, the doorman.
"Dawn," Buffy said sadly. "Please tell me that doorman guy isn't still downstairs."
"Oh he's down there alright," Dawn replied with a mischievous smile. "Sam invited him to join our secret underground fight club. Apparently we meet every Friday night at nine in the basement of the Waffle House on East 2nd Street."
"And every other Tuesday," Sam added.
"The Waffle House has a basement?" Willow asked, sounding very perplexed.
"Way to go, Sam," Dawn said cheerfully as she pointed at Willow. "Looks like you've got another recruit."
Sam gave Dawn a thumbs-up and another goofy grin before turning to Dean with a loud "Dude" and breaking into a ramble.
Dawn pulled Willow down onto the loveseat and glanced over at the three on the couch. Buffy and Dean seemed engrossed in what Sam was saying. He was currently going on and on about zombies in a very animated fashion, waving his arms around and swaying drunkenly in his seat. Dawn figured that meant she could safely interrogate Will without anyone listening in.
"So," Dawn began, "How did you get here?"
"I apparated," Willow said sounding momentarily pleased before catching herself and giving a somewhat shamed glance in Buffy's direction.
Dawn noted her friend's show of guilt and added that to the pinched and miserable expression on Dean's face. "Looks like you made quite an entrance," she said knowingly.
"Oh, Dawnie," Willow whined, "You have no idea."
"I think I do," Dawn said, taking another glance at Dean. "So, how bad was it?"
"It could have been worse. I mean, well, it was… they were only in the partially-nude state," she stammered before covering her face with her hands.
"That sucks," Dawn stated. "Poor Dean… hell, poor Buffy. You know she hasn't been laid in forever, right?"
"I know," Willow said mournfully. "I'm a terrible person. I should've thought before jumping on the hardcore magic bandwagon. I feel so guilty… I'm like You-Know-Who."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Dean might disagree, but I don't think this exactly rises to Voldemort's standards."
"Shush," Willow said anxiously, putting a finger against Dawn's lips. "You know it makes me nervous when you say that."
"Voldemort," Dawn repeated with a sly grin. Willow did deserve a little torture. Besides, it was fun.
"Dawn!" Willow exclaimed. "Please don't do that."
"Come on, you know they're just books. I'm the one who turned you on to them in the first place, which was a huge mistake by the way."
"How can you say that?" Willow asked earnestly. "After everything we've seen, don't you think it's possible that J.K. Rowling knows something we don't? There are plenty of other dimensions out there."
"I know, I know," Dawn said sarcastically. "Entire worlds composed entirely of shrimp. Evil, dark wizard shrimp, no less. I bet they're all named Voldemort. It would be so confusing."
"Buffy!" Willow exclaimed. "Dawn's doing it again."
"Huh?" Buffy said, looking up and taking in both Dawn's smirk and Willow's panicked expression. "Please tell me we're not talking about Volkymore again?" she asked in exasperation.
"It's Voldemort," Willow corrected automatically. Her eyes widening, she immediately realized what she'd done and slapped her hands over in mouth in shock. Dawn pointed gloatingly and began laughing so hard that she almost fell off the loveseat.
"It's not funny," Willow sulked, giving Dawn a dirty look. "A name is a very powerful thing. You can do real damage if you know something's true name. Tell her Buffy."
Buffy nodded in mock seriousness. "That's right, Dawn, just ask Rumplestiltskin."
This made Dawn laugh even harder, causing Willow to deepen her pout. "Fine," she stated, her brows drawn together. "But you'll both be really sorry when the Dark Lord rises."
"Yes," Buffy agreed, "our shame will be great. But right now, it looks like the country has a sudden outbreak of vamps, wraiths, zombie hordes, and other assorted baddies. So, sadly, the Dark Lord will have to take a number."
"No kidding?" Willow asked. "And when you say the country, do you mean all this stuff is happening outside of the Hellmouth?"
"Yep," Buffy answered. "According to a friend of Sam and Dean it is. And, unfortunately, he sounds like a reliable source," she frowned.
"Yikes," Willow said. "So, maybe the situation in Cleveland is a little more serious than I thought."
"Yeah Will," Buffy agreed. "I think it's time you spilled the beans on that."
Willow found that every eye was suddenly on her, waiting for her to fill them in. "Well," she began, "the last week or so, things have been getting a little crazy, but nothing we couldn't handle," she added quickly when she noticed the Slayer's concerned expression. "We didn't want you to worry. It's just that the fangs are a little more grrr than usual. They've been showing up in larger groups. We should have had it all covered, but, the thing is, some of the girls are being really… Well, I guess the nice word is 'bratty' and things are starting to get out of hand."
"Let me guess," Buffy said. "Queen Bee Carrie and her loyal hive."
"Who else?" Willow confirmed with a heavy sigh. "I'm afraid Faith is about to commit murder, again."
"Sorry, Will," Buffy replied. "I'm just not seeing the bad in that."
Willow nodded in agreement. "Since I'm here on official Council business," she said, "I'm required to say that the Council generally frowns upon the murder of underage Slayers… but," she added, "if you'll wait until my shift is over, I'll totally help you bury the bodies."
"Me too," Dawn added. "Those two-faced bitches are another reason I can't wait to get out of Cleveland."
"Dammit!" Buffy exclaimed mournfully. "I guess this means my vacation is cancelled."
"How about postponed," Willow offered sympathetically. "It's just… if things hadn't gotten so crazy, I'd say let Faith and those girls fight it out. But things are crazy and now it sounds like the whole country's following suit. I'm really sorry, Buffy."
"I know," Buffy replied irritably. "Faith doesn't have my years of Cordelia training to fall back on."
"There's no substitute for experience," Willow admitted.
"Son of a Bitch," Dean ground out in frustration. "It's her… has to be!"
"Yep," Sam agreed.
"Her?" Buffy asked. "You'll have to elaborate on that, because I'm lost."
"A few weeks back," Dean began, "Sam and me worked this really wacked-out job. Anyway, we found this freaky book. It was written in some old-ass language-"
"And the pages were made of human skin," Sam interjected, sounding like he was talking with marbles in his mouth."
"Bobby translated it," Dean continued, shaking his head at his smashed little brother. "It was all about this ritual to raise something called 'The Mother of All', but some of the pages were missing. Supposedly she's like the queen bitch of Purgatory. It's the place where all the monsters go when they get ganked."
"Purgatory?" Buffy said curiously. "I thought that was for souls in limbo between heaven and hell, like unbaptized babies and stuff. What?" she asked defensively in response to Dawn's astonished expression. "I do know a few things about church and religion and all that. I'm not a complete heathen."
"That's the Catholic version of Purgatory you're thinking of, Buffy," Willow said absently. She was now wearing an expression of deep concern, her skin even paler than usual. "This one is a lot older," she continued. "It sometimes goes by other names, but it's like Dean said, the afterlife for monsters. If somebody opened a door to that place…." She trailed off, shaking her head.
"We're all screwed," Dawn finished for her.
"That would be my guess," Willow agreed with a nod.
"Dude!" Sam said suddenly, breaking everyone out of their intense thoughts regarding the upcoming apocalypse. Leaning in close to his brother, he said, "I almost forgot what else Bobby told me."
"What? That I'm buying groceries for the next two months?" Dean said sarcastically.
"How did you know?" Sam asked, sounding amazed.
"Because he's a grouchy old bastard and he's predictable. Seriously, Sam, is that really what you wanted to tell me? Cause, in case you didn't notice, we have more important stuff going on right now."
"You two shouldn't fight," Sam said sadly.
"Who's fighting?" Dean scoffed. "We're talking about two stupid slices of bologna. Man, you know Bobby's always on my case about somethin'. I think we'll work through it."
"But Dean," Sam slurred, "Bobby's the only actual living person on this entire planet who cares if we live or die."
"I care Sam," Dawn said, sounding both amused and puzzled by the younger Winchester's sudden change of mood. "And Buffy cares too," she added. "Don't you, Buffy?"
"I do," Buffy assured him, giving Dean's leg a squeeze. "I'm full of caring."
"That's nice," Sam said hopefully, "because nobody likes us anymore. Well, actually, it's mostly me they don't like," he confided in what he probably believed was a hushed tone. "Everybody would be cool with Dean if I wasn't around. I'vecaused way too much trouble," he whispered loudly, swaying heavily against his brother.
The Summers sisters exchanged confused looks with one another.
"Sammy," Dean said tiredly as he pushed his brother back into a sitting position. "Please don't turn into a crying drunk. I'll have to kick your ass."
"No, you won't," Sam stated as he gripped his brother by the shoulder. "You won't. I don't think you can, actually," he added with a lopsided grin.
"You wanna try me?"
"No, dude, I don't. You know why? Cuz I love you man," Sam said as he wrapped his arms around Dean.
"Jesus Christ," Dean grumbled as he struggled to push his brother away. It was like trying to do battle with a giant wet noodle. "Get your freaky octopus arms off of me Sam! I mean it."
Sam let his brother go and leaned back against the couch cushions. "You're a dick sometimes, Dean," he said, "I love you, but you can be a major dick." Sam dissolved into a fit of laughter at his own revelation and then suddenly his mood shifted back to serious.
"Don't get me wrong," he slurred, leaning over his brother to talk to Buffy. "Dean's a great guy, but you have no idea what he's been through… what we've been through. There's a lot you don't know. A couple years back he went to…"
"Shut up, Sam!" Dean warned sharply as he rose from the couch. He had an overwhelming (and very unfair) impulse to break his little brother's nose again, so he realized it was best to put a little space between them. "Would you please just pass out!" he thundered in frustration.
It was obvious to Buffy that Dean's stress level had just risen substantially. New lines of worry had appeared on his face and he rubbed the heel of his hand against his forehead as if trying to ward off a headache. She watched in concern as he pulled out his phone and turned to face her.
"I need to call Bobby," he said tightly. "Maybe I can get a clearer picture of what's going on from him. Hopefully, he's a little more sober than Sam." He then inclined his head toward the bedroom. "Do you mind if I…?"
"No," Buffy assured him softly, "I don't mind. Help yourself." She watched after him with a worried expression as he went into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
"Time to roll," Dean announced tiredly as he emerged from the bedroom several minutes later. "We're headed to Pittsburgh."
"Pittsburgh?" Buffy asked, sounding startled. "Tonight?"
"Yeah. According to Bobby there's a full-on Romero flick goin' on up there. He and Rufus – another hunter we know – are already on their way. I can't let those two crotchety old farts go in there alone. They'll get their asses killed."
"You better not say that to Bobby," Sam warned. "He'll be pissed."
"Thanks for the tip," Dean replied dismissively. "You think you can manage to walk out of here?" he asked his brother gruffly. "We need to get movin'."
"Okay," Sam said a little uncertainly as he rose from his seat and gave everyone an awkward wave. Aren't we being rude? he asked himself. He was very confused by the sudden turn of events, but his head was way too clouded to respond properly. He had a distant feeling that he'd said something to upset Dean. He just couldn't put his finger on it. It was like the world around him wasn't quite real.
Buffy didn't know what to say. She'd hoped to get a chance to at least talk to Dean before she had to leave, but now he seemed like he couldn't get away from her fast enough. He looked really closed-off and she was pretty sure she knew why. Talk about your disastrous Buffy-dates. This one just might take first prize.
First, her best friend pulls a David Copperfield act (at the worst possible moment) and then her sister decides to drug his brother. She'd be shocked if Dean ever wanted to see her again. Why, why, why couldn't the Powers let her have at least one night with him before he was rudely introduced to the chaos that was her life? You can't just drop this kind of craziness on men. They have to be eased into it.
"You ladies take care," Dean said with a flick of his hand and a nod toward Buffy. He then picked up his pistol and made sure that the safety was on before stowing it away in his waistband.
I'm such a dumbass! Dean thought to himself. He couldn't believe he'd thought for one second that he could have anything with a woman like Buffy. He couldn't even manage to spend one night with her before all hell started breaking loose. His big-mouthed drunken/drugged-out brother was certainly a new twist to the story, but at least Sam's painful ramble had reminded him of all the reasons why he needed to stay away from relationships. What made it really hard for him was the fact that he badly wanted to give this one a shot – which meant he needed to get the hell out of here quickly, before he really screwed-up and allowed the full weight of the Winchester curse to come crashing down on Buffy and her sister.
Dawn watched the entire scene in total confusion. What the hell was going on? She gave a concerned glance in her sister's direction and jumped to her feet. She wanted to, at least, say goodbye to Sam before his brother drug him out the door.
"I guess I'll see ya, Sam," she said uncertainly as she stepped in front of him. Sam smiled and surprised her by pulling her into a hug.
"Have fun at college," he said. "Remember what I said about eight-o-clock classes."
"Don't worry," Dawn replied, "I don't plan on taking anything that starts before ten."
"Good plan," Sam agreed as he stepped unsteadily away. "And watch out for those frat boys," he added.
"Buffy's already warned me," Dawn smiled, waving goodbye. "You two be careful in Pittsburgh."
"We will," Sam assured her. "No more ant farms, okay?"
"Never again," she agreed sadly as she watched him fumble with the door handle. Man, he was trashed, she thought guiltily. That, she decided, probably had a whole lot to do with Dean's foul mood.
"Dean," Dawn said hesitantly, drawing him aside before he could make his escape as well. "I'm sorry about - you know - the thing with Sam. I really didn't think he'd get so messed up."
"It's okay," Dean replied, not sounding angry. "It's not your fault. Sam's a big boy. Truth is, I woulda done the same thing. He just happened to actually listen to you is all."
"So, he'll be okay?"
"Yeah," Dean assured her with a half-smile. "He'll be fine. He just needs to sleep it off."
"Dean!" Buffy exclaimed, suddenly coming to her senses. All of this was happening too fast. She rushed forward and stood uncertainly in front of him. She wasn't sure how to begin.
"Willow's going to get Giles on this 'Mother of All' thing tonight," she finally said. "If we find anything, we'll let you know."
"Sounds good," Dean agreed, raising his hand as if to touch Buffy, but then letting it drop back to his side. "You take care of yourself, Buffy," he said with obvious sadness in eyes, before turning toward the doorway again.
"Wait, I wanted to give you this," she said as she held out a business card.
Dean took the card from her hand and read it. It simply gave Buffy's name, office address, and phone number. "You have a business card?" he asked, actually cracking a smile.
"Yeah," Buffy said sheepishly. "It's lame, I know, but I have this office supply fetish. You should see my exciting collection of Post-it Notes. I have every color and size ever invented. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that you can call anytime." She paused, thinking of what else to say. Damn he must think she's desperate. "I mean," she added, "if you ever run into anything you need a hand with, we'll be glad to help. The Council is big with the knowledge and we've got plenty of muscle. So… just give us a call."
"I will," Dean assured her, although he doubted he'd ever talk to her again. She had enough on her plate without worrying about his problems too. He simply couldn't trust himself to be around her. He'd never be able to keep things professional.
"Be careful out there, Dean," Buffy said softly.
"You too," he replied, before disappearing quickly through the door.
Buffy just stood and stared at the closed door for a moment. She wanted to go after him, but she didn't want to make a bigger fool of herself than she already had.
"What just happened?" Willow asked her from the background.
Buffy turned around, a very dejected expression now on her face. "You just witnessed the Buffy Summers first date curse in action," she replied sadly.
A/N: I know, it sucks to leave a story hanging, but there is a completed sequel that is very Buffy/Dean. It's called Take the Long Way Home.
Thanks for reading!