In a shocked gasp, Buffy jolted awake calling out to him as they were ripped apart and thrown back into consciousness. Her breath was staggered and heavy. Eyes searching the room, she found only her little sister present. Dawn moved from her chair to take a seat at the edge of the bed.
“Buffy, it’s alright, just relax,” she comforted her older sister, brushing sweat soaked hair from her cheeks, and shouted towards the dining room, “Guys, she’s awake.”
Still very shaken, she attempted to establish her reality from the one which she had just been violently ejected. The lingering memories and feelings attached to them left a hollow longing in her stomach. Reeling and just a bit nauseous, she struggled to distinguish what was real and what had not come to pass. No matter how honest it felt, none of that had ever happened—she told herself that she could not cling to what she had seen. The Angels had changed so much with just that moment missing from their lives, and the result was the uncontrolled spinout of her life and those she held most dear-- all who had been taken due to their actions. Footfalls from the living room gave way to a pile of frantic people trying to push through the door frame.
“How long have been out?” Buffy managed, voice gravelly and deep from sleep.
“Nineteen hours,” Bobby said glancing at his watch.
“You were starting to scare the hell out of us,” Willow added, taking a seat on the chair that Dawn had just left.
“The amulet… where is it?” her eyes still scanning the room for the one face she did not see, “...Where’s Dean?”
“The amulet’s safe—Willow hid it in a parallel plain for now where no Angels or Demons could find it,” Xander assured.
“As for the Idjit,” Bobby spoke answering the second part of her question, “He was gettin’ restless, and left a couple of hours ago.”
“I’ll give him a call,” Sam stated pulling out his cell phone.
Buffy nodded her thanks, and when she moved her head she noticed the stiff tension of her skin, and could feel the dried remnants of her own blood in spots on her forehead.
“Sorry about the hasty clean up job, but we didn’t expect you to be out this long,” Dawn apologized.
“I just want to take shower…” she moaned, pushing herself to the edge of the mattress, every enervated muscles protesting, “Ugh… if I can even stand.”
“Here,” Dawn extended her arm to shoulder Buffy and help her to the bathroom, “God knows how many times you’ve cleaned blood off of me.”
Together, the sisters made their way to the only bathroom, located in the hall, and the others spilled back out into the dining room, taking their seats again at the table. At the bathroom door closing and the sound of running water, Xander pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket.
“Alright, money on the table,” he announced as the others pulled out cash from pockets and wallets, tossing it into a loose pile in the middle of the table, “Closest without going over wins.”
They heard the door open and Buffy call out just as Xander exclaimed, “And, we have a winner at eighteen hours!” followed by an assortment of curse words from the group.
Shamefully turning towards the sound of her name, Willow responded innocently, “Yes, Buffy?”
“Did we do a load of towels?” Buffy asked, eyes narrowed, “… if you tell me where they’re at, I can get them so you can count your winnings.”
“No, I… uh… didn’t win,” She dropped her eyes as she hustled down the hallway towards the washer and dryer.
“Really?” Buffy questioned the group, hand on her hip, “You were taking bets on how long I would be out?”
“We got a little bored,” Xander shrugged, giving her a nervous smile, “Not a lot of information on an antique slayer amulet with negative ten to constitution, Buf.”
“Don’t worry, Sis,” Dawn shook her head at them, patting Buffy’s arm reassuringly, “I refused to participate.”
“Thanks, Dawn,” she acknowledged flatly.
“Not a problem,” Dawn replied, “Who wants some chump pocket change? The real money was on you not waking up—I’ve been waiting to cash in your life insurance policy for years.”
Taking the towel offered by Willow, Buffy pushed Dawn out of the bathroom, and slammed the door in their faces.
“Just FYI—it was Spike who called 18 hours,” Xander mentioned quietly, “In case anyone was curious.”
“Where is Spike, anyway?” Willow asked.
“I haven’t seen him since before Dean left…” Sam voice trailed off, distracted by redialing his phone, “And, Dean’s cell has gone to voicemail twice.” *** *** ***
When he roused, Dean was laying on a bench, the sun breaking the horizon, casting long shadows and coloring the playground in shades of amber. Rising with a start, Buffy was the last image burned into his mind. He met Castiel’s eyes, full of whatever passed for empathy for Angels.
“You may experience residual emotions for a period of time, or have trouble discerning this reality from that which you just witnessed.”
“Just get the hell out of here, Cas,” Dean grumbled, pushing himself to his feet, “Otherwise, I’m liable to punch you in the face for guilt by association.”
“Dean, I understand that was uncomfortable—“
“Uncomfortable!” Dean snapped, pushing Castiel so that he stumbled a few feet backwards, “My entire fucking life just flashed before my eyes, except I never lived any of it! My whole family, Buffy’s family—you destroyed a bunch of innocent people’s lives for all this?”
“I can assure you that I in no way participated in Zachariah’s plans. Once I uncovered his treachery I immediately went to the Fates, and we began working to set right the wrongs done to you and yours.”
“The Fates have been working overtime for you guys, Dean,” Anna interjected, “They want everyone back on their intended paths, but some things just can’t be changed, some lives can’t be—“
“No! Anna! Just shut your hole right there!” Dean interrupted, exploding in anger, “That’s bullshit, and you know it! You have used your powers to send me into the past and the future, so I know you have the power to make this right!”
“Too much has been irreparably altered at this point,” Castiel explained, his words falling on stubbornly deaf ears, “We can only work within the restraints of this reality.”
“Well, that’s just too damn bad, Cas! I’m not going sit it out while Zachariah and the Fates make us their bitch!”
“Grow up, Dean—we’re all fate’s bitch!” Anna chided, “The Moirae don’t like it when others play in their sand box. They tethered you two together to do something otherwise thought impossible—do you think they’re just going to let Zachariah kick over their sand castle without a fight? Do you really think it was God that brought you and Buffy back all those times?”
“And, every god damn day, I wish just a little bit more that they hadn’t!” he spat, taking off in the direction of the apartment.
He had only made it about halfway across the playground, leaving the two Angels behind in his wake, when his cell phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. The screen indicated he had already missed two calls from Sam.
“Dude! Where the hell have you been?” Sam’s voice think with worry, “I called twice already.”
“I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes,” he sighed, “I will explain when I get there.”
“She’s awake, “Sam added as Dean was drawing the phone away from his ear.
“Not very— suddenly, she just sat straight up in bed,” Sam said, “… and, she was calling your name.”
Dean just shook his head, “Fucking Angels, man…” *** *** ***
Deep under the very streets Dean was walking back to the apartment, Spike was traversing the moldering, dripping tunnels of the Cleveland sewer system. Arriving at a T-junction in the pipes, he saw Angel sitting on the concrete ledge.
“We’re bolloxed, mate,” Spike declared coming to a stop at the junction, “Followed Pretty Boy, and happened to overhear a conversation between him and a couple of Angels. Turns out Buffy and the Winchester prat are tethered.”
“You can’t be serious!” Angel shouted, banging his first on a low hanging pipe in frustration.
“Accordin’ to the God Squad, some senior harp player’s been playin’ marionettes with the Slayer,” Spike scoffed, “This Zachariah wanker is throwin’ a pissyfit waitin’ on the next Apocalypse. He’s been alterin’ destinies until he found the fast track.”
“How is that even possible?” Angel asked, “Only Lachesis can write and control destinies.”
“Right, but, remove enough obstacles, or in this case, important people, and you’ll twist up a destiny so bad it’s unrecognizable. Can’t imagine Atropos and Clotho are all too happy about that bit.”
“Do you think Crowley knew about this?”
“Are you kiddin’? Why else would he make a deal this good with us? The last thing the Regent King of Hell wants is the rightful heir to inherit the throne. If Lucifer is released, he has more to lose than anyone else,” Spike explained, clearly agitated at the situation, “Above all else, he’s a crossroads demon. He’s probably in a fit of giggles over the irony that if we want to keep our end of the bargain to prevent the Apocalypse and keep Buffy safe, we gotta make sure she gets with the Pretty Boy.”
“I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to request an appearance at Hell King’s court.”