. . . .
"Dean, you need to get up."
. . . .
"Dude, no offense, but you reek. When was the last time you took a shower?"
. . . .
"Dean - did you drink that bottle of Johnny Walker I hid under the sink?"
. . . .
"Dean. It's three in the afternoon. Please get up."
. . . .
"Have you eaten today?''
. . . .
"Dean - "
He opened two surly eyes and pulled the blankets down from over his head just long enough to glare at his little brother. "Frak off, Sam," he growled. "And get the hell out of my room."
The hunter tugged the blankets back up without waiting to see if his brother would follow orders. There came an irritated sigh, and then the heavy tread of Sam's ginormous feet crossing the floor. The door thudded closed, and he was once again left alone in the darkness.
March 5th, 2015, Lebanon, Kansas, 9:30 a.m.
"Get out, Sam."
"Sure. Fine. The wake's in two days. If we wanna make it, we should leave today."
March 7th, 2015, Lebanon, Kansas, 8:25 a.m.
This time when the door opened, Dean didn't give Sam a chance to start in on him. "Get out," he demanded from beneath the pillow currently smashed down over his face. When the door did not immediately close, he repeated, "Out, Sam. Now."
"We're not Sam."
Brief panic lanced through him like lighting, racing its way from his guts to the top of his skull, and then he recognized the voice. That was Lily. Someone flipped the lights on.
"Up, Dean." The blankets were ripped away from him, and Becka tugged the pillow out of his grasp. Tossing it to the floor, she regarded him with her steely gray gaze.
Furious, Dean pushed himself up on this elbows, a tirade of invective already half-formed on his lips. The snarl died away into silence when he actually got a good look at the Slayers. In dark jeans and matching black sweaters, they were a double image of grim disappointment. Lily's always-perfect eyeliner was smudged horribly beneath her left eye. As for Becka, he caught sight of what looked like a half-healed razor mark streaking its way across her wrist.
"What?" he snapped, but most of the anger had vanished from his tone.
"Wake's tonight," said the engineer firmly. Her eyes narrowed as she followed his gaze, and she yanked the sleeve of her sweater down over the still-healing cut. "Time for you to get moving. Flight to LA leaves from Grand Island Regional in three hours. We're all gonna be on it."
"I don't fly," replied Dean, watching as Lily began digging through his dresser in search of clean clothing.
Jaw rigid with tension, the blonde looked up, a pair of his jeans tucked into the crook of her arm. "We don't care. Get your ass out of bed."
"Sam told us everything." Becka abandoned all pretenses of a conciliatory tone. "We know what you've been doing since you talked to Spike. And Lily's right - we don't care."
Dean said nothing, merely shook his head. They didn't understand. He wouldn't - he couldn't. Between the flight and the vultures waiting on the far end of the tarmac, there was no way he was getting anywhere near that plane.
"Get up." Lily threw the jeans halfway across the room, and they smacked into his face, one of the rivets in the pockets cutting his lip. When the hunter still did not move, that seemed to trigger her.
"Get up!" the blonde screamed, and she flew at him, grabbing him by the neck of his t-shirt and hauling him to his feet. Although the hunter had a good sixty-plus pounds and half a foot of height on her, Lily lifted him as easily as she could have lifted a child.
"Put me down," Dean commanded gruffly, although it was difficult to be convincing when the toes of his socked feet were dangling three inches above the ground.
"You shut up," she spat through gritted teeth, shaking him like a rag doll. "Shut. Up. You are not the only one in pain. You are not the only person who lost her. You think we want to go to that? Me? Or Becka? We know it's going to be a cluster of epic proportions. We know it's going to be drama and mess and apologies that come too late to do anyone any good. But it doesn't matter. We have to go. For Faith. So there's someone on her side to witness the utter ridiculousness of it all."
She lowered him to the floor. "And Faith would want you there. This isn't about you, dumbass. It's about her. Play nice, and I'll give you these on the plane." She pulled an orange prescription pill bottle out of her pocket. "Keep being an idiot, and the Xanax stays with me."
Dean gazed down at her stonily. "So you're saying I have no choice."
"No, you have a choice," cut in Becka. "You always have a choice." The brunette crossed her arms in front of her. "Your choice is this: benzos or no benzos. So, what's it gonna be?"
As he took in the ironlike adamant of their faces, the hunter finally admitted defeat. He retrieved the pair of jeans that had fallen to the floor. "I can be ready in fifteen."
Becka raised an eyebrow. "Showered and shaved?"
"Come on, then," said Lily brusquely as the hunter finished gathering his clothing.
It was Dean's turn to raise his eyebrows. "You coming in with me, Lil? That the way we're doing things now?"
"No." The blonde grabbed him by the elbow and frog-marched him into the hallway. "But I'm gonna sit outside the door and make sure there's no funny business. Now, move it, Buster Brown."
As the kitchen door creaked open, Sam looked up from the stove, where he had a pan of half-finished grilled cheese sandwiches cooking in a cast iron frying pan. "Hey," he said gently, noticing Becka's pursed lips and tightly crossed arms. "How'd it go?"
Sighing, the brunette collapsed into a chair at the industrial steel table. "He's getting cleaned up. Lily's supervising. I know you said that he hasn't tried anything yet, but since we're going to have to push him a little harder than usual today, we figured better safe than sorry."
He set a glass of milk and a freshly-made sandwich in front of her, along with a jar of pickles. "Here."
"Thanks." Becka raised the glass to her lips. As she did so, the sleeve of her sweater fell down to her elbow, revealing the four thin cuts just below her wrist.
Sam's eyes followed the movement and then stopped when he saw the marks. "Becka . . ."
Swallowing, the Slayer tugged her sleeve back into place. "Rough week."
The hunter did not say anything, simply kept looking at her, his hazel eyes impossibly soft.
Becka broke the eye contact first. Staring down at her plate, she took the first bite of her grilled cheese. Halfway through chewing, she paused. The brunette pulled the sandwich away from her mouth and examined in more closely. "Are there chiles in here?" she asked rhetorically.
Sam shrugged. "Faith always liked 'em with chiles and pickles. I figured you might do the same."
"I do. Thanks," she repeated, and she exhaled heavily. "It's not a big deal. The cutting. I used to do it, back when I was in high school. When I first found out about the Slayer thing. Lotta pressure. Not a lot of control. So, I cut."
Returning to her sandwich, she continued speaking between bites. "Stopped doing it when Faith - when she took me under her wing. She was, she was like our Watcher, but better. She's the reason Lily and I got to live. And I don't mean just in a 'she saved our asses' kinda way. I wouldn't have gone to college without her. I'd've been consumed, the way Slaying always wants to consume you. But she fought for us, for us to go to school, to balance Slaying with work, to live something like the way we'd dreamed of before the call came - at least a little. She made it not a death sentence.
"And now . . ." Her tone shaking, Becka took another sip of milk and angrily brushed at the milk mustache forming on her top lip. Her eyes glimmered with held-in tears. "She's gone. And I never said thank you. I never told her how - how much -" She gave up on her grilled cheese, and the held-back tears began to fall - one, two, three - from her eyes onto her plate.
"Hey." And then there was Sam. Tall, kind, irritating, confusing, solid, present Sam standing beside her chair, his heavy hand resting on her shoulder, his thumb moving slowly across the seam of her sweater. Becka dragged herself out of her chair and allowed him to pull her in with those long, strong arms. She buried her face against his chest, her shoulders shaking.
The hunter drew her in closer and gently stroked her hair. "It's okay," he told her quietly. "She knew. Faith knew."
Dean showered as he did everything these days - without thinking. There was still half a bottle of Listerine in the bathroom cabinet, and he downed two quick swallows before getting started. True to his word, he was ready in fifteen.
He opened the bathroom door to find Lily sitting guard across the hallway, her back against the tile wall, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her eyeliner had smudged itself further, and two thick trails of shining tears tracked down her cheeks. She sniffled loudly when he stepped out of the bathroom, her blue eyes thoroughly miserable.
"See. I didn't cut myself. Or escape. You happy?" he snapped sarcastically, still too irritated to cut the Slayer any slack.
Lily shook her head, and a tear dripped off her chin to land on her knee. "I can't stop crying," she admitted, rubbing at her eyes and smudging her makeup even more. "Haven't gone to rehearsal all week. Just keep lying in bed waiting for the front door to open. Hoping that Faith will walk in and ruin all my weekend plans with a Hellmouth problem. I keep thinking I hear her on the stairs, but I never do. And I can't stop crying."
She pushed herself up to her feet, using the wall for support. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you earlier. I just . . ." She flailed around with her hands. "God, I'm supposed to know how to express things. I do it on stage every night. But this . . . I can't. I don't know how. It just hurts."
Uninterested, Dean made a show of checking his watch. "Don't we need to leave for the airport?"
Lily inhaled sharply, as if he had hit her, and then began walking quickly down the hallway. Dean followed, catching up with her when she came to an unfamiliar turn and stopped.
"Come on." He reached for her hand and tugged her to the right. "This way."
No one spoke in the car on the ninety-minute drive to the airport. Becka texted away furiously in the back seat while Lily slept beside her, her blonde head pressed up against the glass window. Up in shotgun, Sam held the map open on his lap, and his brother drove.
When they finally reached Grand Island, getting through security was a mess - Dean had thrown a bitch fit about leaving his personal arsenal in the Chevy, and Lily had forgotten to remove a switchblade from her backpack. After a flurry of improvised explanations and a fresh round of tears, the TSA agents let them through.
"Amazing what you can do with those baby blues," Dean grumbled at Lily when she and Becka reemerged from the bathroom, having hastily removed her smeared eyeliner.
"Cut it out, man," Sam interjected before he could say anything else.
The Grand Island airport was minuscule, and they arrived at the gate soon after the girls' bathroom pitstop. At last, the Slayers relinquished two 0.5 milligram pills of the promised Xanax. Dean downed them with a sip of water from the fountain.
On the flight, they had three seats together and one in the row behind. Wary of the wild look in his Dean's eyes, Sam volunteered to sit by himself. He folded his long legs into the narrow space between seats and closed his eyes. It had been a nightmare week.
Just a handful of days ago, they had discovered a way to close the gates of Hell, but now his brother was trapped in a hell of another sort, and the first person - the only person - Sam could have asked for help was dead. Sam missed Faith. He needed her. And without her, he had no idea what to do next.
Half an hour later, when the stewardess came around to offer beverages, both Becka and Lily purchased two nips of tequila. Sandwiched in the middle seat between the two of them, Dean watched as they tossed back the liquor with a straightforward vigor that under other circumstances would have made him proud. Then, as if by some unspoken agreement, the Slayers each took hold of one of the hunter's arms, locking their elbows around his.
Becka was the first to fall asleep, her head cocked to one side, her shoulder pressed against Dean's.
The hunter glanced over at Lily. "You two restraining me now?" he asked quietly so as not to be overheard by the rows in front of and behind them. The Xanax had done the trick, washing over him like a magic tide that removed everything. For the first time in a week, he could breathe. He had got to get himself some more of this stuff.
Her face dry of tears for once, the blonde looked up at him with a face cleared of makeup and all the younger for it. As he met her eyes, Dean's jaw relaxed. "Go to sleep," he said in a kinder tone, and he patted her on the knee. "I'm not gonna run anywhere."
Lily nodded, curling her arm more closely around his and resting her head against his shoulder. "I know," she said, just louder than a whisper. "There's nowhere for you to run."
In spite of himself, Dean smiled, although it was a thin thing that did not reach his eyes. "You're hers all right," he observed, patting her knee again. This time, he left his hand there for a long few seconds. "She trained you good."
The Slayer squeezed his arm. "So did you."
At his querying look, she chuckled sleepily and squeezed his arm tighter. "What? You think Faith's the only one I got my moves from? I've been watching you since I was fifteen, Dean. Sometimes a girl needs heroes. You and Faith, you were mine."
March 7th, 2015, Los Angeles, California, 7:45 p.m.
Upon arrival in LA, they met a tired-looking Willow near the baggage area. She hugged first Lily and then Becka, and finally turned wide-eyed to the Winchesters. "You're . . . not the hugging type, are you?" she guessed aloud.
"Not exactly," said Becka for them. She nudged Lily with her elbow, and the blonde withdrew the orange pill bottle from her coat pocket. She tipped two more Xanax into her palm and then passed them to Dean.
"Here. For your headache."
Dean swallowed the pills dry. "You parked out front?" he asked the witch, gesturing towards the exit doors with his chin.
"Yeah," the redhead took the cue. "I'm just this way. Follow me."
On the ride over to the wake, Dean found himself once again squished in the middle seat between the two Slayers, this time for convenience rather than security. After an interminable twenty minutes, Willow slipped her tiny Prius into a narrow space between two black SUV's and shifted into park.
Gritting his teeth, the older hunter followed Becka out of the backseat and onto the sidewalk. He kept to the rear of the group as they entered a tall red-brick apartment building. It was a new place, the elevator nearly as shiny as the glossy BMW's parked outside it. Tenth floor. Apartment 'Q.'
The place was a large two-bedroom with a spacious living room and kitchen. A narrow balcony extended off the living room and over the sidewalk below. It was entirely packed to the gills with young women in their mid- to late twenties, red Solo cups in their hands. At first, Dean didn't recognize anyone in the room, but after a minute he caught sight of a few familiar faces - Andrew, Spike, Buffy, that eye-patched punk called Xander, the one who had told him about the dark Slayer's darkened past all those years ago.
All the hubbub seemed to be centered around a small table set up in the middle of the living room, where an old photo of Faith in a tarnished silver frame and a black stone urn were set up behind a long sheet cake, obviously store bought. The room hushed as their entrance was noted. Everyone fell silent and turned to watch the newcomers, and then they were engulfed in a wave of condolences.
Becka and Lily were instantly lost from sight, swamped beneath the rush of Slayers. Clenching his jaw still further, Dean shoved his hands into his coat pocket as his skin set to crawling. Sam hovered at his brother's side, attempting to make small talk as the Winchesters themselves became the next focus of attention.
The hunters lasted maybe five minutes before Dean lost what little remained of his patience. He pushed through the noise and the hubbub until he reached the door to the balcony, and he stepped at last into the brisk night air. Sliding the glass door closed behind him, Dean let out a long breath of relief. Finally. He was free.
His solitude did not last long. Barely thirty seconds after the door closed, it was pushed back open, and Spike joined him on the balcony.
The vampire passed him a silver flask. "Bourbon. And this." He opened the palm of his left hand to display a silver crucifix on a thin chain, a small green turquoise stone set in the middle.
Dean swallowed thickly. He knew that cross. Clearing his throat, the hunter held out his empty hand. "Thanks."
"Yep." Spike dropped the necklace into his palm. He clapped the hunter on the shoulder and then disappeared back into the apartment.
The blond had hardly been gone for more than a minute before there came a knock on the balcony door and someone else stepped out of the apartment. Glancing at him out of the corner of his eyes, Dean rocked back on his heels in surprise. "Angel."
Angel nodded but said nothing. He simply stood there, hands in the pockets of his long coat, and looked out over the street. After taking a long pull from the flask, Dean extended it in the vampire's direction. Nodding a second time, Angel accepted the bourbon.
For half an hour, they stood in an uneasy silence, passing the flask back and forth until it was empty. Then, for the first time, Angel spoke. "I'll top this up. You want something different this round?"
"Whiskey'd be good. If it's not crap."
"I'll see what I can do."
Three minutes later, and the door opened a third time.
"That was fast," Dean commented, turning to take the silver flask back from Angel. But his visitor was someone else, someone far shorter and blonder. Possibly the last person that Dean wanted to talk to, bar the douchebag pirate somewhere inside. "You're, uh, not who I was expecting," he said at last, when the blonde did not speak.
"Dean." She stepped forward and tried to put her hand on his arm. "How you holding up?"
"How am I . . ." He let the words trail away, moving out of her reach. "This isn't what she'd want," he complained to change the subject, nodding towards the hubbub inside. "You at least should have the sense to know that."
Buffy did not seem offended by the rebuff. "Yeah," she admitted, stepping up toward the iron railing of the balcony. "I didn't put this together. It's . . . It's kind of the Slayer tradition."
The hunter ran his tongue over his top teeth. He could still taste the dregs of the bourbon. "Well, it blows," he said bluntly. "Our way's better."
"Yours . . ." The blonde wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Salting and burning the bodies of the people you love? Yeah, that sounds loads better."
"Then at least it's you doing it, not some damn crematorium. You lot make sure there was salt involved?" When she did not immediately respond, he shook his head again. "Unbelievable. Am I really gonna have to fix this myself? Go back and do it all . . ." he paused for air, "all over again?"
"It's done, Dean," the Slayer hurried to reassure him. "We took care of it. She'll be at peace. I know . . ." Buffy hesitated and then continued, "I know how much Faith meant to you."
His hands tightening on the wrought-iron rail, the hunter turned his back to her and said automatically, "She wasn't my girlfriend."
"She's dead," said Buffy, her voice pained. For once, she sounded like she actually cared. "You can say the truth when people are dead. The stuff you couldn't or didn't say before. And you don't have to date people to love them."
"Yeah, right," he scoffed. He looked back towards the apartment and gestured at the packed living room. "You think any of them loved her? You think any of them even knew her? G-d." He snorted. "You Slayers can be real pieces of work, you know that? She is - was - the only one who made sense. She was - "
The Slayer cut him off. "She loved you. I knew Faith for years. She was never that way around anyone but you. Not me, not Angel, not anybody. She loved you. And you loved her. We all saw it. So you can quit with the denials."
Saying nothing, Dean turned his gaze once again to the street.
Buffy lashed out with the back of her hand, catching him hard on the bicep. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to demand his attention. "She's dead, Dean," she repeated, tears welling at the brim of her lower eyelids. "So for God's sakes, be man enough to stop denying the truth."
A throat cleared behind them. "Am I interrupting something?"
Dean swiveled on his heel. It was Angel, brandishing Spike's hip flask. He easily edged his way between the hunter and the Slayer, pressing the alcohol into the man's hand.
"No." Tossing her head, Buffy retreated from the balcony railing. "We weren't talking about anything. Take care of yourself, Dean." With that parting salvo, she returned to the apartment.
"Becka says just another twenty minutes, and then you should be good to leave. There's a red-eye from LAX to Lincoln. Lily's already booked the tickets. She says you can rent a car there, and it should get you back to Grand Island."
"Ah." Dean took a long, deep pull of the whiskey. The liquid washed over his tongue like an old friend. It was all coming together now. "So you're playing for their team tonight."
Angel rested his elbows on the edge of the iron railing and leaned out into the night. "Wouldn't quite say that. Thought you could use some air, that's all."
"Thanks." Ducking his head, the hunter drank deep from the flask. He had never thought he'd look forward to a flight, but already he was counting down the seconds until he was back on a plane, headed for his baby. That reunion could not come soon enough.
Feeling like he owed Angel for rescuing him from Buffy, he attempted to continue the conversation. "So, you come to these things often?" the hunter said lamely.
The vampire chuckled darkly. "You don't have to . . . Look, I know you've never liked me much. And that's fine. End of the day, I'm not doing this for you. Or for me. I'm doing it for her."
"Fair enough." In a way, it was a relief, not having to pretend. Dean inhaled deeply, then took another sip at the whiskey. He held the flask up towards the night sky, too obscured with smog and city lights for any stars to be visible. "To her."
Angel tilted his head to the side, regarding the hunter strangely. "To Faith," he said, the words almost a correction.
"Yeah." Dean drank again. "Like I said, to her."