"My mother thinks you're evil," Lane says. She's half in, half out of Rory's window. She drops to the floor with a grunt and brushes snow off her mittens. "Roughly on a par with Britney Spears, but not quite as bad as Satan."
"I'll take that as a compliment. I think," Rory says. "The not as bad as Satan part, anyway."
Lane nods. "I think you've actually gone up in her estimation lately, with the whole saving people thing going on, even though you date boys—"
"A boy," Rory interjects. "Just Dean. That's one boy. Singular."
"Yeah, well, you know Mama. You see one boy, she sees sex and drugs and babies and the complete moral decline of America."
"It's a shame you can't get glasses to fix that."
"That'd be really cool. She could put them on, and suddenly chips would be tasty snacks instead of death in a bag, and rock music would be harmless entertainment for the masses instead of one of the evil schemes of the devil."
"A scheme of the devil? Really?"
"Yeah. Her words. Well, strictly speaking, they're Paul's words in the Bible, but I don't think he was specifically talking about rock music."
"Probably not," Rory agrees.
"So, how do you make this stuff look easy?" Lane says, falling back onto the bed and pulling off several layers of clothing.
Rory looks at her homework. "Trig?" she asks, puzzled.
"No. Breaking and entering. Is it one of the special Slayer powers?"
"I think, technically, you were just entering. There was no breaking going on. Was there?"
Lane pats herself down. "No, no breaking. But it was close."
"I don't think it's a special Slayer power. More of an inherited trait, from Mom. Although I think her special skill was breaking out, not breaking in. Anyway, why the stealthy entry? Was there a problem with the door?"
"No, no problem. Just thought I'd get in some practice. You never know when it might come in useful."
Rory closes her notebook. "Done," she says. "So, why does Mrs. Kim think I'm evil this time? Anything new, or just the usual?"
"The usual, plus there's something funky going on at Chilton, so she's convinced you're behind it."
"Mrs. Kim used the word funky?"
"No. She said unsavory and unchristian and various other un-things. I just summed them all up as funky. I thought you might prefer the short version."
"Good summary," Rory says approvingly. "But what sort of funky? Demon funky and I need to put my Slayer boots on, or just Tristin up to no good?"
"I don't know. Might be nothing — Mom was talking about evil and boys and sex and boys and evil, so I tuned out a bit — but there was something weird I noticed earlier. I was scrying for my This is the Voice CD — I didn't lend it to you, did I?"
Rory thinks about it for a moment. "No."
"So, well, anyway, when I hung the pendant over the map, it went all crazy over Chilton."
"Maybe it's all the hormones there — they can do crazy things."
"Or maybe there's something demon funky going on." Lane sounds hopeful.
Rory thinks of her plans for the evening. "Wouldn't you like a quiet evening, nothing demon or funky about it? Just you and me, enough junk food to make us mildly nauseous, some CDs and a strawberry scented face pack?"
"Actually, it's kinda cool, now, you being a Slayer and all. Besides, strawberry scented anything is guaranteed to get me in trouble with Mom — she'd be convinced it was a boy magnet."
"Your mother thinks everything is a boy magnet."
Sam sits up in bed, still faintly disoriented from his dream. Dean's fast asleep — which means Sam wasn't actually screaming in his sleep — and for a moment Sam feels bad about waking him. Not so bad he doesn't try again, louder. "Dean!"
"Nnngh?" Dean shakes his head and stuffs his face further into the pillow.
Sam leans over the side of his bed and picks up a sneaker. His aim's good. It hits the back of Dean's head.
"What the fucking fuck? It's—" Dean looks across at the huge digital display on the alarm clock, and if Sam were more awake he'd have thought to turn that around. "It's three fucking a.m., Sam."
"I had a vision."
Dean sighs. "Was anyone being killed in it?"
"Then tell me in the morning," Dean interrupts, but Sam carries on talking.
"There was a boy. He couldn't have been out of his teens. He was stripped half—" Sam doesn't get to finish the sentence before Dean's doubled over in bed, laughing so hard his bed's shaking. "It isn't funny, Dean."
"Dude, you're killing me here! Got a wet patch in your bed? Because that's not a vision, it's your gay wet dream."
Sam glares, gets up and grabs Dean by the shoulders, pushing him up against the headboard. "It. Was. Not. A wet dream. I had a vision, Dean, and we're going to do something about it. The boy was tied up and he'd been beaten — there were bruises all over him, and he was scared shitless, okay? And no, I don't get my rocks off on stuff like that."
"Stop glaring at me like a pissy little bitch. Any clues as to where he was to start with?"
Sam closes his eyes and tries to picture the scene. "He was wearing a tie; looked like a school uniform tie. With a crest. I can draw it, I think. And he was wearing a medallion."
"What else?" Dean asks, and he's all business now, sitting up, switching a lamp on, and reaching for a notebook.
"He was in a library. Could have been a school library. It was empty though, apart from him and whoever had taken him."
"Closed for the day empty, or abandoned?"
"Just after closing time. The shelves were full of books still, and there was an envelope on the table." Sam can almost see it; tries to remember what it said.
"Can you see a name?"
Sam shakes his head. "No, but it said Stars Hollow."
"Okay, that's a start. How about who took him?"
"I don't know. I—I didn't get that. Just shock and fear. And fire."
"Fire? Like, the building burning down?"
"No, more like—creatures made of fire? Maybe?"
"Want to be any more vague?"
"I'm doing my best, okay?!" Sam's tired too, and barely awake, and he's not in the mood for dealing with Dean bitching at him.
"So, you gonna start drawing that crest now?" Dean asks, handing over his notebook.
Sam takes it and nods. He's halfway through the sketch when he remembers something. "There was a day calendar on a desk. It said January 8th."
"Sunday. So we've got two days."
Sam nods again.
"In other words, you woke me up for nothing."
Sam ducks a fraction too late to avoid the shoe Dean throws his way.
"Hi, Rory," Luke says without turning around.
"It's freaky, the way you do that," she replies, perching on a stool at the counter. Lane sits down beside her.
"You've got your Slayer powers, I have my Watcher powers," Luke replies. He puts a large blue and white spotted mug of coffee in front of Rory, and raises an eyebrow in question at Lane.
"Better make it a glass of water," she says. "Never know when Mom might show up. She's got this sixth sense about me consuming anything that's not organic and tasteless. It's her super power."
"Some super powers are suckier than others," Rory says sympathetically. "You can share my muffin — that way we can pretend it was just me eating it."
"Is that your incredibly subtle way of ordering a muffin?" Luke asks.
"Shouldn't you already know I want one? Or is your power limited to caffeinated beverages?"
Luke sets a plate with a large blueberry muffin, neatly cut in two, in front of them. "You know there's something strange going on at Chilton, right?"
"Lane said something of the sort, though her description was funky. And apparently Mrs. Kim thinks I'm behind it."
"You're a teenage girl. Teenage girls are strange creatures. Ergo, my question."
Rory can always tell when Luke's been at the books too much. He starts using words like ergo. "Mom says I'm a forty year old teenager, and I haven't been up to anything funky. At least," Rory corrects herself, "nothing more than my usual, Watcher approved funkiness. Patrolling, staking, researching and yet more patrolling. So, what exactly is going on at Chilton?"
"I'm not sure yet. Taylor's been looking nervous, though, so it's not something he's behind for once."
"You think Taylor's behind all the evil in Stars Hollow."
"He usually is," Luke replies gloomily.
"Not that I want to interrupt this thrilling conversation," Lane says, "but I'm going to have to get home sometime soon, or my mom will be sending a search party out after me."
Rory fishes in her pocket and pulls out a packet of gum. Cinnamon flavored — it must be Dean's. "Here," she says, handing a piece over. "It'll disguise the shocking carbohydrates you've been eating."
"Shoo, run. Remember what happened last time you missed curfew."
Lane pulls a face, but grabs her bag and rushes out.
Rory turns back to Luke. "So, it's not one of Taylor's tricks then. Something new in town?"
Luke shrugs noncommittally. He never likes admitting anything might not be Taylor's fault. "How about you scope the place out tomorrow?"
"It's Saturday tomorrow," Rory says, and she can't help it if she sounds whiny. She has plans. More to the point, she and Dean have plans, plans that involve just the two of them, somewhere quiet. Alone.
"Exactly. So the school will be empty, and you'll be free to look around."
Rory sighs. There's no point arguing — Luke will only pull the Watcher card if she does. "Okay. I'll call Dean and get him to drive me there in the morning."
Luke points to the sign behind the diner, and when Rory pulls her cell phone out, he taps the sign. "No cell phones applies to you, too. Especially you," he adds, and narrows his eyes.
Rory ignores him as usual.
The door jingles as she dials Dean's number. It's only Kirk. She starts to smile at him, then remembers that he won't notice, so she turns her back to the diner and talks to Dean.
Sam leans on the Impala and looks out over the square, bare trees softened with snow and fairy lights. The shops around the square - bookstores and antique shops and bakeries - are all lit up and welcoming, and even the air smells sweet, like syrup. There's a huge banner over the road, announcing the coming Spirit of Stars Hollow Festival.
On the corner, there's a guy with a guitar, like some old fashioned troubadour.
"Wow," Dean says, eyebrow raised. "Bet the burgers will be a rip off here."
Sam just nods. For a moment he imagines living somewhere like this, walking across the square with Jess' mittened hand in his, laughing at some secret joke. He'd buy her a crepe and then steal bites from it as they walked home, and she'd pelt him with snowballs in retaliation.
Dean's voice cuts in. "You still with me?"
"Yeah, just—" Sam shrugs. They're here to find a kid and rescue him, not indulge his stupid, white picket fence fantasies. "Let's go eat."
Dean nods his head towards the road. "Looks like we've got some work to do first," he says gleefully.
There's a creature ambling blindly across the road in front of them. Arms out, vacant look. There's only one thing it can be.
They race to the trunk. Dean pulls out a machete and runs his fingers along the blade, as though he doesn't already know it's honed to perfect sharpness. "Ah, you beauty, you've been wanting some action," he says to it, like Sam's not standing right there listening to him talk to his knife.
"You might want to get a move on," Sam warns. "Your zombie's heading towards that coffee shop."
"Fuck. It's moving fast for a zombie."
Dean slams the trunk shut, and they race after it.
They're too late. The tinkle of the bell above the coffee shop door hangs mockingly in the air as the door closes behind the creature.
"Fuck," Dean repeats.
Sam expects screams and a stampede, but there's nothing. No one rushing out, no sign at all that anything's wrong.
Dean motions Sam to the side of the coffee shop, and peers in.
"You're never going to believe this," he says slowly.
Sam peers over his shoulder.
The coffee shop is about half full. There's a kid at the counter chatting on her cell, a surly-looking guy in a backwards baseball cap behind the counter, and a group of middle-aged women clustered together at the best table to catch all the gossip. All perfectly normal. And, at a table near the counter, the zombie. He's sitting quietly at the table, looking expectantly at the counter, and the guy behind it is looking for all the world as if he's about to come take the zombie's order.
Dean shrugs. "Hell if I know. I mean, that definitely is a zombie, right? There's no way I mistook something else for a zombie." Dean sounds horrified at the possibility.
"No, no doubt about it. It's a zombie, all right."
"So—what—?" Dean gives up. "Looks like we're going in."
"Dean, you're holding a machete. You can't walk into a diner with that in your hand."
"I'm not going up against a zombie unarmed," Dean says belligerently.
"I'll wait here, keep an eye on things. You go back and get us some more discreet weapons. And Dean—"
"You know what discreet means, right?"
Dean flips him the finger, but heads back to the Impala at a fast jog. He's back again in under a minute with a couple of sheathed blades in his hand, and an odd shaped bulge under his jacket. Sam secretes one of the blades under his jacket and pretends not to see the bulge.
"Ready?" Dean asks, and Sam hides a smile. Dean's like a kid at Christmas over the promise of some zombie action.
"Yes," Sam says, then holds Dean back a moment. "We can't go in there swinging, you know."
"I'm not an idiot, Sam. I know that."
"Just, I know how you get with zombies. We're gonna have to get it outside before we can do anything."
Dean gives him the stink eye. Sam just stares back, because it's true, Dean does go all gung ho around zombies. And this isn't the sort of town where you can just act like there aren't zombie parts all over the floor, and even if there are, you had nothing to do with it.
Inside, it's warm and smells of coffee and cinnamon and chocolate. Dean's stomach rumbles loudly.
"Might as well fill up while we're here," he says, and heads for the counter, skirting the table with the zombie warily.
They take seats at the counter, Sam slantwise to keep an eye on the zombie, Dean next to a plate of donuts, all attention on them.
"Be with you in a minute," the guy in the baseball cap says. He's carrying a bowl of something Sam can't quite see, and he's heading back to the zombie. Sam reaches under his jacket, hand on the hilt of his knife. Dean's in the same pose, donuts forgotten for a moment.
"Here you go, Kirk," the guy says, and puts a bowl in front of the zombie. A bowl of—steaming hot cauliflower?
What the fuck? Sam mouths to Dean, and Dean just shrugs his shoulders.
The zombie, Kirk, digs in, hands full of cauliflower, and stuffs it in his mouth, making little appreciative noises. He actually sounds not unlike Dean with a particularly good slice of pie.
Sam saves that thought for a later date.
"Okay, what can I get you guys?"
Sam swings around and tries to act like he's not just been staring at a zombie eating vegetables. "Um, we'll have, um—" he says, still stuck on the vegetable-eating zombie.
"What my learning disabled brother is trying to say, is that we'll have two coffees, and four donuts to go, thanks."
"You related to the Foresters?" the guy asks out of the blue, and the girl at the counter turns around at that, still on her cell. She stares at Sam like she doesn't even know she's doing so. "I'll call you back," she says into her phone, and closes it, not taking her eyes off him.
"What?" Sam asks. This place just gets weirder and weirder. Now he's got a girl — an incredibly pretty brunette — staring at him like he's a ghost, a bunch of women exclaiming and muttering to each other (and he's sure that's about him too), and the guy behind the counter has an eyebrow raised in query. Sam rubs his hand over his chin, just in case he's got something on his face, and checks — his fly's done up, and there's no blood on his hoodie or jacket.
"Come again?" he asks this time, still waiting for an answer.
"The Foresters? Dean Forester? You any relation?"
"No," Sam says warily. And maybe he shouldn't ask, but the looks are freaking him out, so he has to. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing," the guy says, though he's still staring. "You just look like him, that's all. Uncanny, really." He puts the coffees and a bag of donuts on the counter.
"And there you thought you were unique, huh, Sammy," Dean says, patting him on the shoulder as he gets up and nudges his stool out of the way. "Come on, time to head out."
"But—" Sam says, and tries to point discreetly at the zombie with his elbow.
Dean ignores him.
"If you're looking for a room for the night, you should head over to Lorelai's place. The Dragonfly Inn. She does special rates for hunters."
Sam swallows. Obviously he didn't hear right. Or there's some logical explanation. "We're not hunters," he says. "We're, um, traveling salesmen," he adds lamely, and winces as Dean glares at him.
They elbow each other getting out of the door, then stand on the sidewalk and look at each other.
Sam takes a deep breath. Zombies don't eat vegetables. Zombies don't sit quietly in cafes in civilized small towns in Connecticut and wait to be served. But—
"We need to rethink this one."
"Really? You think?"
Rory turns to Luke.
"That was freaky, right?" she whispers. She knows without looking around that Miss Patty and Babette are listening in - their table is far too quiet.
"There was a certain resemblance," Luke says dismissively.
"A certain resemblance? Seriously? Where are your glasses? You just told him the resemblance was uncanny. He was the image of Dean, just—older. And that doesn't strike you as weird? Like," and she drops her voice even lower, even though trying to keep anything secret in this town is a losing battle, "supernatural shape shifting dopplegänger monster I need to kill kind of weird?"
Luke mutters something that sounds like never any peace when a Gilmore's around (which Rory thinks is a bit hypocritical considering he was the one who told her she was a Slayer) and starts fiddling with the coffee machine.
Rory talks to his back instead. "What I can't work out is why a creature would shape shift to look like Dean's older brother, especially if he then insists he isn't related."
"Shape shifters always copy people exactly," Luke mumbles into his coffee pot.
"And if he were a dopplegänger, he'd be a perfect match. So, not a dopplegänger either." The only logical explanation is the simplest one — there's a guy who looks like her boyfriend, and he's just driven into town. "Occam's Razor," she mutters. "But it's still freaky."
The troubadour's standing on the sidewalk by the Impala, like he's waiting for them. He launches into Carry on My Wayward Son when he sees them.
"Man, this place is freaky," Dean says, and pulls out sharply.
Five minutes later, they're pulling up in front of the Dragonfly Inn. The inn is a beautiful old building with a long porch, and under its coat of snow it looks like a Christmas card illustration.
They look at each other.
"There's gotta be somewhere else," Dean says.
"If there is, it's probably five star, Michelin guide, black tie for dinner, and would drain a credit card in one night. So it's the Inn or the car. Your call."
Dean looks as though he's seriously considering choosing the car option. Sam silently prays he picks the Inn — he doesn't care if it's full of froufrou knickknacks, or if the owner thinks they're gay antiquers, or even if there's a compulsory communal sing-song in the evening followed by cocoa. Tomorrow they can find the captured kid, and work out what the hell's going on with a vegetable-eating zombie, but right now he just wants a bed with a mattress, and if it's long enough for him he'll count it a bonus.
"Come on, Sammy, move your ass," Dean says eventually. Sam sends up a wordless thank you.
It's pretty much as bad as Sam expected inside. Tasteful and comfortable, complete with a snooty concierge in a dark suit hovering behind the counter. The concierge looks tempted to take a brush and sweep the two of them straight back out the door.
Dean doesn't notice — he's instantly distracted. "MILF, ten o'clock," he stage whispers to Sam, and nudges him for good measure.
Dean's MILF is a tall woman in her early thirties. She's in a business suit but there's something about her that says she's more comfortable in jeans. And she has a knockout smile. She must be the Lorelai the guy in the diner mentioned.
"May I help you?" she asks.
"I sure hope so," Dean replies, oozing charm so thick you could cut it with a knife. Sam winces. "We're looking for a room for a couple of days, maybe longer."
"You must be the hunters in town. Luke called and told me to expect you," she says, ushering them towards the counter as she talks. She seems equally unperturbed by Dean's flirting or the fact that they're hunters.
Sam winces again, and Dean splutters. He's never great with off-the-cuff lying. And okay, Sam's not much better — traveling salesmen wasn't the sell of the century — but at least he doesn't look like a deer in the headlights.
"Oh, it's okay," she says, interrupting. "We're perfectly open-minded here, aren't we, Michel?" she adds, and there's an intriguing bite to her words as she turns to Snooty Guy.
"I will give them the discounted rate," Michel says in heavily accented English, looking as though he'd rather swallow a nest of wasps than do so.
"They don't think we're a gay couple, do they?" Dean whispers. "You know, with the whole open-minded thing?"
"I think that's just the hunter issue. Apparently they don't have problems with us being hunters," Sam says, and shrugs, then gives Michel a huge fake smile as he takes the keys off him.
"Have a nice stay," Michel says through his teeth.
The text message is short and simple. Rescue me.
Rory smiles. Not a 911, but she puts on speed across the square anyway, crunching through the snow and avoiding the icy patches as best she can in the dark. Dean's at Miss Patty's, picking up some curtain fabric for Lorelai to transform into Spirit of Stars Hollow Festival costumes, so it's not hard to guess the reason for the plea.
When Rory walks in, Dean is sidling awkwardly away from Miss Patty, clutching a bag of drapes, face pink and flustered. Trying to move away, at any rate, though with Miss Patty's arm lovingly around his waist (and hand slipping lower) he's having a hard time.
Rory calls out to catch their attention. "Sorry, Miss Patty," she says, "but I'm going to have to steal Dean away from you."
His look of relief is so pathetic Rory nearly laughs out loud. Miss Patty just looks disappointed, and pats Dean firmly on the ass. Her hand lingers, and Dean looks more scared than he did the first time he came face to face with a vampire. Rory probably shouldn't be enjoying this so much.
"Come back soon, you gorgeous boy," Miss Patty croons, and Rory would swear he blushes on top of his blush. "And you, Rory, I hope you appreciate this tall drink of water."
"Oh, I do, Miss Patty. I promise," Rory says, and takes Dean's arm.
"She's evil, isn't she?" he asks as soon as they're safely out of hearing range. "What is she? A succubus? Something worse?"
Rory just laughs.
"She pinched my butt," Dean says indignantly, and elbows her when she simply laughs louder.
There are maple syrup snowflakes on the pillows, potpourri bowls with protective sigils on the side, and the hugest, softest towels Sam has ever seen.
There's also only one bed, which does add weight to Dean's theory about them being taken for a gay couple again.
"Dibs on first shower," Dean calls, which is unfair as they only ever do that after a hunt, so Sam didn't even get a chance to call dibs.
When he lies down on the bed and sinks into layers of softness, he forgets about the shower and forgets to care about having to share the bed. He's not moving for the rest of the night.
They drop Miss Patty's fabric off in the kitchen, tramping in snow on their boots, and shaking it off their jackets.
"Shouldn't we brush this out or something?" Dean asks, pointing to the snow trail.
"Definitely 'or something'."
"Nothing." Rory beams. "The snow will melt, and then it'll evaporate, and then it'll be as though it was never there."
"I brought my daughter up well," Lorelai says approvingly from the doorway. "Is that from Miss Patty?"
"Gained at great cost to Dean's dignity."
"Will pop tarts and cocoa be sufficient repayment for the loss of dignity?"
"Did I mention she pinched my butt? Repeatedly."
"Marshmallows in the cocoa?"
"You won't get a better offer," Rory points out. She opens the cupboard. "And we even have chocolate pop tarts left."
"Dignity comes cheap these days," Dean says sadly.
"Cheap, but tasty," Lorelai says.
"That came out wrong," Lorelai says, not looking particularly repentant.
"I'll be in the living room," Dean says, and retreats, blushing again.
Rory tries not to smile — it only encourages her mom.
"You go and make it up to Dean for being molested."
"Are you authorizing making out on the sofa?" Rory asks hopefully.
"G-rated making out. Nothing Donna Reed's daughters wouldn't do."
Rory wrinkles her nose. "That's fairly limiting."
"You're no fun."
"That's what the mom label says."
Dean's sprawled out on the sofa, his legs taking up three-quarters of it. He's shot up again this winter, broadened out at the shoulders, and just looking at him makes Rory's stomach do somersaults. She curls up into him and slips one hand under his sweater. He smiles fondly at her, even though her hand's cold against his waist.
"What time do you want me to pick you up tomorrow?" he asks, holding her face up to his so he can kiss her. He runs his fingers through her hair and kisses her slowly, like they have all night for this. Rory could do this forever, just melt into him.
"Tomorrow?" she asks hazily. She's never good at thinking when Dean's kissing her.
Dean pulls back a moment and smiles. "You wanted to go to Chilton tomorrow. Check out something for Luke."
Rory sighs. "Yeah."
"Ten o'clock okay?" Dean suggests, and Rory nods.
She's half asleep when Lorelai brings in the cocoa and pop tarts, but sits up and takes her mug anyway.
"So, Dean, do you have a relative in town? Sam Shaw?"
Dean looks puzzled. "No. I don't have any relatives called Shaw, as far as I know. Why?"
"Oh, nothing. Just, a customer at the Inn, and his partner. One of them was the image of you, just a bit taller, a bit—" Lorelai mimes broad shoulders.
Dean shakes his head. "All my family are back in Chicago," he says.
"Taller than Dean?" Rory asks.
"Yeah, Dad's height, easily."
"I saw him earlier," Rory says. "In the diner. Both of them. They were staring at Kirk. It was freaky, how much the taller one—"
"Sam," Lorelai interjects.
"How much Sam looks like Dean. Luke thought they were hunters. And they went all stuttery and awkward and denied it, but they were totally lying."
"In that case, definitely not my family," Dean says. "We're all boringly normal."
Sam hates waking up to Dean singing. It's always earworms, and Sam always ends up humming it for the rest of the day.
This morning it's Wake Up, It's a Beautiful Morning. Not a song Sam would have expected Dean to know all the lyrics to. Even with a pillow (an incredibly thick and soft pillow) over his head, Sam's not going to get back to sleep.
"Rise and shine," Dean says, breaking off from his song long enough to bounce on the bed. He's got his boots on already.
Sam sits up. "What's the plan?" he asks.
"Breakfast, Sammy. That's the plan."
"I meant the plan for the hunt? Demons, boy in danger, that hunt. You remember?"
"Can't hunt on an empty belly, you should know that by now. Priorities. And Mr. Roth is treating us to breakfast."
A few mouthfuls into breakfast, and Sam has to admit Dean's made the right choice. The bacon is maple smoked and just the right amount of crispy, the bread so fresh it's still steaming, and he's never tasted better eggs.
"D'you think we've died and gone to heaven?" Dean asks, mouth full, a slice of bacon hanging out of the side. There's a blob of butter on his chin. Sam resists the urge to wipe it off. Dean tends to get cranky when he does things like that.
"I think they probably expect table manners in heaven," Sam says. "There's no way they'd let you in."
Dean just chomps his food even more noisily, and steals a slice of Sam's bacon when he makes the mistake of looking away for less than a second. He doesn't get the chance to steal it back, not unless he wants it half chewed. He doesn't.
"Can I get you anything more, gentlemen?" The waitress holds a pencil poised over her notepad.
Sam has a horrid moment when he's sure Dean's about to belch, but he just rubs his stomach and looks regretful. "All good here, thank you, darlin'. My compliments to the chef, though. This was manna, ambrosia, food of the gods."
The waitress smiles at Dean as though she's charmed by him. Sam hopes she's simply doing her job, not that stupid. "I'll pass on the compliments to Sookie. She's our chef," she says, and heads back to the kitchen.
Two slices of toast later, a cheery-faced woman in a chef's jacket appears. "I hear you're enjoying your breakfast," she says, and positively beams at them.
"You must be the chef," Dean says, and Sam knows this worshipful look.
"Yes. I'm Sookie," she says and picks up one of the napkins on the table. She folds it, unfolds it, folds it again, and then seems to realize what she's doing and puts it down again.
"I'm Dean. And now the introductions are over, will you marry me, Sookie?" Dean asks.
There's a guy with a box of groceries in his arms, glaring at them across the room. Sam nudges Dean. "Dean. I think Sookie's already spoken for."
"Ah, well," Dean says, and smiles at Sookie. "If you ever want to trade him in for a new model—"
Sam would hit him for that. Sookie just winks at him. Then giggles. Actually giggles.
"You'll be the first to know, Dean," she says. "I always like to cook for a man who appreciates good food."
"Oh, I do," Dean says, and his leer says he appreciates more than that. Sam rolls his eyes.
The guy across the room is turning a dangerous shade of beet red.
"Breakfast's over," Sam says. He gets up, grabs Dean by the arm, and practically drags him out of the dining room. As they go out the door, he catches what sounds like you can't go killing customers, Jackson. Sam sighs. He's lost count of how many of those arguments Dean's started.
Rory isn't awake yet. Walking, yes, but not awake. She needs coffee, a large quantity, but first she needs a shower.
She stumbles into the bathroom, tripping over her pajama bottoms, landing face first into—Luke?
"Oh my God, no! Boundaries!" she shrieks, and if her voice is too high pitched for the time of day, that's totally not her fault, not when there's a half-naked Watcher in the bathroom. Her Watcher. Half-naked.
"Oh, sorry," he says, as calmly as if this happens to him every day.
"Rory, don't go in the bathroom," Lorelai shouts from the landing. Too late.
Rory closes her eyes and backs out, and then realizes it would have been easier to have turned around and kept her eyes open. "Mom! You couldn't have warned me a minute ago? Before I learned just how hairy Luke is?" Rory says plaintively.
"I'll get Luke to fix the lock later," Lorelai promises.
"I bet other Slayers don't have to deal with their mother dating their Watcher. It's probably unethical, you know," she says, following her mom into the kitchen.
"Luke made coffee," Lorelai says, handing her a steaming mug. "And muffins. Double chocolate chip muffins."
The muffins are still warm — Rory can smell them, sweet and chocolaty.
Maybe not completely unethical, she decides.
Luke doesn't stay for breakfast, which is a relief. It isn't that Rory doesn't like him — she does — it's just, well, weird. He's been Luke at the diner forever, a grumpy face behind the counter begrudgingly serving her coffee. And she's getting used to him being her Watcher, a grumpy face behind a pile of books. But finding him in the bathroom in the morning, having him around so much, it's taking some getting used to. Which she will. It's just going to take a while.
In the meantime, she can't help wishing he'd sneak out the window in the morning, like Dean does when they've stayed up late researching and fallen asleep on top of her bed and she doesn't want to have to explain to her mom why he's still there the next morning.
She's on her third coffee, beginning to feel human, when the phone rings.
"It's for you," Lorelai calls. She holds out the phone like it might bite her. Never a good sign.
Rory takes it. "Hello?" she says warily.
"Oh, Rory, thank God it's you. Not that I want to speak to you of course — let's face it, you're the last person I'd ever want to ask for help — but I have to ask someone. And people talk, you know, and they say stuff about you, like you're maybe into weird stuff, can help out with things that no one else can."
It's Paris. Breathless and talking virtual nonsense. Great. Just the way Rory wants to start the weekend. Three coffees aren't enough to deal with Paris. No beverage created is enough to deal with Paris when she's clearly in full on freak out mode.
"Paris. Take a deep breath and start from the beginning. And you can leave out all the bits about not wanting to speak to me because trust me, it's mutual." It's too early in the day for Rory to try to be nice, especially to Paris.
"It's Tristin," Paris says, then swallows and stops talking. It's not entirely silent on the other end of the phone though. There are uncomfortable gulping sounds and little—sobs?
Paris is crying. Paris Gellar, the toughest girl Rory's ever met, and she's crying on the other end of the phone. Rory wishes more than anything that she could just hand the phone back to her mom and say you deal with her, please. But it's clear that Paris is calling Rory as a Slayer — and really, way too many people know, it's getting ridiculous — so Rory the vampire Slayer needs to answer. She steels herself.
"What about Tristin?"
"Missing how? Not answering his phone missing, on a date with another girl and didn't go to bed last night missing, or what?" Rory bites her lip. She's not doing too well
"I think a demon took him," Paris says, and now she starts sobbing.
"Oh," is all Rory can manage.
There's a click on the phone line, and after a few seconds of silence broken only by a muffled sob, Lorelai comes back into the room and nudges Rory. "Invite her over," she says.
Rory puts her hand over the phone. "You were listening in?" she whispers.
"It's a good thing I was. Weird goings on at Chilton, and now Tristin's disappeared, possibly taken by a demon. Spot the connection?"
Rory feels like an idiot for not instantly joining the dots. She can't even blame being under-caffeinated, just her dislike of Paris and a lack of interest in Tristin's life. Not forgivable.
"You'd better come over," she tells Paris, trying to sound welcoming. "Where are you?" she asks, an afterthought.
"In my car," Paris says, slowly as though she doesn't want to admit it. "I've spent the night driving around. I didn't know what to do."
"We'll find him," Rory promises, and hopes she can keep the promise.
Paris pulls up outside the house with a screech of brakes ten minutes later, and hammers on the door as though she's trying to wake up the whole street.
Lorelai calls out bye and heads into the kitchen. "Coward," Rory shouts after her, and drags her feet as she heads for the front door. She debates turning tail and running out the back, but takes a deep breath instead and opens the door.
She's barely opened her mouth to say come in before Paris is pushing past her and into the house.
"It is true, isn't it, that you're some sort of—?" Paris trails off, obviously not accustomed to being lost for words.
"Vampire Slayer," Rory fills in for her. "And other demons and monsters as necessary. Yes. It's true."
"Oh." Paris sits down as though her legs won't hold her up any longer. "Oh, okay." She's an unflattering shade of pale, with a distinct greenish tinge. Rory never realized before that people could actually go green. Well, not without some sort of magic or demonic shenanigans being involved. But Paris is definitely looking green.
"Do you want a cup of tea?" Rory offers. She's fairly sure that's what you're supposed to do for shock.
Paris doesn't look impressed by the offer. "I came here for help, not tea. If I'd wanted tea, I'd have gone to that grubby little diner your mother's boyfriend runs. I'm not going to sit here drinking tea while Tristin's tortured by demons."
Rory ignores the insult to Luke's diner (whatever faults it has, it's never grubby) and concentrates on the important issue. "They were torturing Tristin?"
"How would I know? I'm not the demon expert," she snaps, then drops her head as though all the bravado has simply drained out. "Isn't that what demons do? Torture people? Flay their skin off while they're alive, or—" Paris comes to a choking halt.
The one thing Rory's sure of is that Paris wants reassurance. That Tristin's still alive, and that he's not being tortured, and that Rory will be able to get him back safe and sound.
Rory'd like to be certain of that too. She just knows better. So she doesn't offer any false promises, but at least manages to put on her best optimistic tone.
"We need to work out what kind of demon it is first. The more we know, the better chance we've got of rescuing him. So," and Rory's all business now, "what did you see?"
Paris twists the hem of her skirt between her fingers. She's still in uniform. "It came out of nowhere. This thing, it just suddenly appeared."
"What were you doing?"
"We'd stayed behind to start work on our history presentation. Tristin asked to work with me, you know," Paris says. She sounds rather pathetic.
"Yes, Paris, I know." Rory does feel sorry for her, it's just all mingled up with irritation.
"Tristin went to get a drink of water, and I looked over my notes while I was waiting."
Rory gets out her notebook and starts making notes. Luke will expect all the details. "Okay, good," she says encouragingly. "Keep going."
"And I might have looked at an old demonology book. Just for research, of course, nothing else."
"Why don't you chat up the French waiter, see if you can learn anything from him?"
"He's a concierge, Dean, not a waiter."
Dean does that irritable little shake of his head he always gives when Sam picks him up on semantics. "Pffft. Same difference. Anyway, he's had his eye on your ass, so we might as well take advantage of it."
Sam splutters, and Dean's halfway up the stairs before he can come up with a worthy response.
Much as Sam hates to admit it, Dean's idea isn't the worst one he's ever had. The concierge is sure to know the area well, though quite how Sam's going to feign an interest in local schools without looking like a pedophile, he isn't sure.
He decides to go for the direct approach. "What are the schools like in the area?" he asks, and hopes he's projecting a calm and casual curiosity.
"Empty wastelands, dens of vice, pits of monsters. And that is merely the children." Michel manages to imbue the word children with the kind of horror normally reserved for serial killer or rapist.
"Okay—" Sam says. Maybe Michel wasn't the best person to ask.
"If it's demons you are interested in, there are rumors that there is something strange happening at Chilton School." Michel makes a little moue of disgust.
That was scarily easy.
"So, Luke, you know how you always say that teenage girls are the worst kind of evil?" Rory's learned not to waste time on pleasantries like hello or how are you when she's phoning Luke.
"What have you done?" Luke sounds like he expects the worst.
"Not me!" Rory's offended. "Why would you think I meant me? I'm offended," she says, just in case her tone hasn't already told him.
"So does this have anything to do with the supposed weird goings on at Chilton?" Luke asks, though he asks as though he knows the answer already. Rory's never sure if that's a handy trait, or a really annoying one.
"Yep," she says. "You remember Paris?"
"Freaky girl, long hair, talks like she's a CEO?"
He left out the bit about hating Rory, but it's a pretty good description otherwise. "That's Paris. Well, she's summoned a demon. Or possibly more than one."
Luke doesn't say anything, but Rory swears she can hear his surprise down the phone. She smiles — catching Luke by surprise is always satisfying, like a mug of cocoa and a large bag of Oreos after a late night's patrol around snowy graveyards.
He recovers quickly. "You want me to find out more about the spell she used, work out what kind of demon it might be?"
"You know I can't see when you're nodding," Luke says. Rory rolls her eyes. "But I can always tell when you're rolling your eyes at me."
"I'll put the coffee on," Rory says, because she knows that nothing will get Luke here quicker than saving himself from Rory's coffee making skills (which are good enough for everyone apart from Mr. Particular Danes), and hangs up.
She has no intention of going in the kitchen if she can help it. Last time she peeked around the door, her mom was looking pained and Paris was sobbing on her shoulder. Rory's far better at wielding stakes, or her new crossbow, than handkerchiefs.
Luke's truck pulls up in less than five minutes, and Luke gets out, laden with books.
Rory meets him on the front stoop and takes the top two books off the pile. "Paris is in the kitchen, the coffee pot is empty, and you'll earn major points with Mom if you can make coffee and interrogate Paris at the same time."
Luke grunts something under his breath and heads inside, just as Dean pulls up.
She gives him the Cliff Notes version.
"Why can't we just be glad Tristin's gone, and leave it at that?" Dean asks hopefully.
"Because—" Rory wrinkles her nose, and has to admit that the idea is tempting.
Dean sighs, and answers for her. "Because it's what you do. Because you're Rory the Vampire Slayer, protector of the innocent and pains in the neck. And I wouldn't have you any other way."
"So you'll help?"
"You know I will," he says and kisses her on the forehead. "Now, what do you need me to do?" he asks.
"Research," she says, and tries to give the sort of smile that'll convince Dean that she's just proposed something exciting.
The look on his face tells her she's failed.
"You know, sometimes I can't help but miss the days when a date meant a movie and popcorn and a kiss goodnight on the front porch. Or curling up on the sofa watching cartoons. That's good too," Dean says as he closes the first book she handed him. A waft of dust floats into the air.
"You've got to admit, this is a whole lot more exciting," Rory says.
"The demon slaying bit, yes. The reading up about demons in extremely old books, not so much. I mean, what language is this even in?" he asks, pointing at the next book on the pile.
Rory peers at it and sighs. "No idea," she says. She flicks through it. "It's got pictures," she says, a forlorn attempt at seeing the bright side.
They look at each other. "Rock, paper, scissors for it," Dean suggests. "Loser gets it, winner gets a book in English."
Dean picks rock, Rory picks scissors.
It's going to be a long day.
"So, did your new French boyfriend deliver the goods?" Dean asks.
"Oh, yes," Sam says, and smirks.
"Just spare me the details, and tell me what I need to know," Dean says, looking like he's just bitten a lemon. Way too easy.
"So you don't want to know what I had to do to get the information?"
Dean just glares.
"Ah, well, at least I'll always have the memory," Sam says with a sigh.
Sam gives in. "He said that if we're after demons, there's something weird going on at Chilton, a posh private school a few miles away. And I did some research, and guess what the school shield looks like?"
"The crest you saw in your dream."
"Sounds like it's our place."
Luke looks pale and irritable when he walks in the sitting room. He hmmphs loudly, which Rory thinks is totally unnecessary. Yes, she and Dean are making out on the couch, but it's not like there's anything else they could have been doing to help. They've gone through all the books Luke left, even the ones in weird old languages (they just checked the pictures in those — mostly gruesome, nothing that looked relevant).
"Any idea what the demon is?" Rory asks, hoping it's dealing with Paris that's made him go pale, not the prospect of whatever type of demon it is she's conjured up.
"Which she called up because—?" Dean asks, just as a red-eyed Paris walks into the room.
"That's none of your business," she hiccups, and wipes her eyes angrily.
"She wanted a boyfriend, and thought the demon would grant her wish," Luke says, and Rory winces. Tact has never been Luke's strong point.
Paris flushes. "It isn't as though I was desperate or anything," she says, then trails off because obviously she was desperate, and everyone in the room knows it. "The spell just went wrong."
Rory can't help herself. "You think?"
"There's no need to be sarcastic."
"There's no need to be stupid either, but apparently that didn't stop you," Rory retorts.
Paris glares, and Rory glares back at her.
Dean nudges her. "Be nice," he whispers. Then louder. "Looks like Rory and I had better head over to Chilton."
Luke pulls out his keys, but Rory shakes her head.
"It'd be better if you stayed here, do more research, just in case it's not a straightforward rescue."
Luke looks as though he wants to protest Dean going along, and any moment her mom's going to come out of the kitchen and doubtless protest Rory going, so she grabs Dean's hand and makes a run for it.
Getting into Chilton is easy.
"Impressive," Dean says when it takes Rory less than five seconds to pick the lock on one of the side doors. "And sexy."
Rory doesn't blush. Much.
They head towards the history classroom — the site of Paris' spell casting — running down the corridors as quietly as possible. There isn't likely to be anyone here on a Saturday, but Rory doesn't want to risk getting caught. Explaining away Slayer business is always tricky. Much better to avoid being seen.
They're nearly at the history classroom when their luck runs out.
"These places always smell the same," Dean complains. "Too rich and too privileged, with a strong undertone of hormones and stupidity."
Sam snorts, amused. He can't remember Dean ever putting a foot inside a private school before.
The EMF meter is bleeping noisily, but it seems to be random, nothing to go on direction wise. "Anything from your vision that might help?"
Sam closes his eyes. "Yeah," he says, recalling flashes of the vision. "Books, shelves of them. The kid was in a library."
"Damn place can't have any signs?" Dean mutters.
"What's up? Being in a school really spooking you?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact. I hate schools," Dean says, and stomps off angrily. Sam follows, resigned to dealing with a bad-tempered Dean for the rest of the day. Maybe they can have dinner at the inn this evening — another meal made by Sookie should improve his mood, and Dean Roth's credit card can take it.
It's only because he's distracted and Dean's glued to the EMF meter that they don't hear the footsteps until they round the corner and literally run into—
Sam skids to a halt and Dean canons into the back of him.
"What the—" he starts, and then just stares. There's the girl from the diner yesterday, the one who stared at him like he was a ghost. And now he can see why, because the guy she's with could be his twin, if he weren't clearly a few years younger.
"Oh," the younger version of himself says, and Sam's got nothing coherent to add to that.
"What are you doing here?" the girl asks. She's eying them both far too keenly for Sam's liking.
"We could ask you the same thing," Sam counters. He puts his shoulders back and tries to look like he's meant to be here.
"I go to school here," the girl says. "So I have a perfect right to be here. What about you?"
Ah, tricky. He needs to get the kids out of here before things get dangerous, but he and Dean haven't actually worked out a cover story for being in the school. They'd thought it would be empty, which Sam now realizing was painfully short-sighted of them. "We're—" Sam starts, struggling to think while he's got a boy with his face staring at him.
"Pest control," Dean says, waving his EMF meter around as though it's obvious.
"Pest control?" Sam's double says, not even trying to hide his disbelief. "Seriously? That's the best you could come up with?"
At any other time, the look of offense on Dean's face would be hilarious. Now, though, they have a boy to rescue, and the added complication of two civilians to deal with.
"Look, it's difficult to explain," Sam starts. "But. Well, the thing is, there's something dangerous going on here, and you really need to leave now, for your own safety.
The girl actually rolls her eyes. "Hunters," she mutters — and what's with that? Does the entire town instantly recognize hunters when they see them, or are he and Dean wearing lapel cards with HUNTERS in block capitals? — then seems to come to a decision. "Are you here for the ifrit?" she asks.
Sam looks at Dean. Dean shrugs his shoulders. "Um, the ifrit?" Sam asks, helplessly, because it's one thing her recognizing hunters, but knowing about ifrits, that's just weird.
"Are you telling me you rushed in here after something and don't even know what you're hunting?" She sounds thoroughly unimpressed.
Dean makes an irritated sound, and Sam kicks him discreetly. Dean coughs, and manages what Sam's certain is an edited version of the reply he wants to give. "We're more than capable of handling whatever we find here. You, though—" he waves his hand towards Rory, with the obvious implication that she isn't.
Her eyes narrow. "Look, we don't have time to argue. I'm going in, I'm dealing with this thing, and I need you two to keep out of my way."
Sam's seriously impressed, he has to say. Whoever she is, she's got no shortage of confidence.
Dean isn't so impressed, apparently. "Don't be an idiot. As though you—"
Sam's look-alike interrupts, probably wisely. "Rory can handle it. Believe me, if anyone can find Tristin and get him out safely, it's Rory."
"Tristin goes to school here, right?" Dean asks.
The girl — Rory — nods.
"Do you know where Tristin is?" Dean asks, pointedly.
"No, but we'll find him," Rory says.
"The thing is, Sam here does know where your missing schoolboy is. He knows exactly where he is. So why don't you leave this to us."
Sam winces at the tone Dean's using. It isn't going down well on Rory and Sam's double either.
"Look, why don't we work together?" Sam suggests. "We know where Tristin is, you obviously know something about demons. Maybe we can help each other."
Dean snorts, unimpressed with the suggestion, and Rory doesn't look too happy with it either. "Okay," Rory says eventually.
"Dean," Sam says, looking pointedly at him.
Dean looks as though he's got a lot to say to Sam when there's no one else around, but he mutters a reluctant okay.
"Good," Sam says. "That's settled. Now we need to head for the library."
"It's this way," Rory says, and points along the corridor.
Sam halts outside the double doors when they get to the library. "In my—okay, so Tristin probably isn't going to be alone. And he might be in a bit of a rough way," he warns Rory. "If he's your boyfriend—"
"He is not her boyfriend," Sam's look-alike says, possessively, and now Sam's thinking of it, it's obvious these two are together, the way they look at each other.
"Also, the demon's probably going to be there."
"I'll deal with that," Rory says, in a tone that doesn't brook argument.
Dean looks as though he's going to argue anyway, but there's something about the girl that convinces Sam she's more than she looks. He nods. "Okay, you do that, and we'll get Tristin out."
"I'll just provide the snacks," look-alike boy says.
The doors are locked. The sort of big old key lock that's going to be a devil to pick. Sam straightens up from checking it out, and is just about to suggest they try to break it down instead, when Rory steps up, kicks it, and the door falls down.
"I'm stronger than I look," she says, and runs inside without waiting for Sam to pick his jaw up from the floor.
"Wow!" Dean says and follows her, Sam close behind. Look-alike boy is right beside him, despite his quip about the snacks.
It's hot inside the library. Far too hot. No school wastes power like that. That's Sam's first thought. His second is fuck.
They all skid to a halt.
They'd expected a demon, and they'd expected a schoolboy. What they hadn't expected was a line of schoolboys, all staring fixedly to the front, as though they're possessed.
They are possessed. There's no doubt about that. For one thing, there are fire demons in the room — Sam can't see them when he looks straight on, but he can catch glimpses of them out of the corner of his eye, flickering there malevolently. He can't tell how many, but their little rescue party of four is definitely outnumbered and outpowered.
"Oh, fuck," Dean says.
"Which one is Tristin?" Sam asks Rory, but she's staring in horror and shaking her head.
"He's not here," she says. "But I know most of these boys; they go here. I think they're all on the football team — they must have had practice this morning."
The boys are walking towards them, and somehow the slow, steady pace of their walk is more unnerving than if they'd charged at full speed.
"We can't deal with this now," Sam says. "We need to get out of here and come back better prepared."
"We can't leave without—" Rory starts, and for the first time, she sounds like a teenage girl, scared and unsure.
"Yes, we can," Dean says. "We have to—" he starts, and then he's shaking, and Sam just knows. It's too late, and they need to run, and they're going to have to leave Dean behind. He turns to grab Rory's hand, only she's staring at her boyfriend, and when Sam spares him a glance, he has the same glassy-eyed stare Dean got the instant he started shaking.
Sam can't waste time being nice. He grabs her by the arm and pulls her back, and when she starts to resist he shouts at her. "The only way we can save them is if we get out of here now."
He expects tears and he's prepared to pick her up and carry her out if he has to, but she's pulling him now, running out of the library, through the smashed-in door, and down the corridor.
She's fast, so fast he can barely keep up, which hardly seems possible given her size, but then neither did the whole door-smashing thing either. He doesn't look back to see if they're being followed. He doesn't need to — he can hear the sound of running feet and the hair on the back of his neck is prickling.
"Our car," he shouts when they get outside, offering up a silent apology to Dean for what he's about to do to it. He smashes the driver's window with his elbow and jumps in, opening the passenger door ready. But Rory's got her back to him now, the fucking army of possessed boys drawing up in front of her, Dean and the look-alike blank-eyed among them. One moves forward, and she launches into a kick, felling him instantly.
She's buying him time, but even with skills like that she's not going to hold off that many. Sam bends down and grabs wires — it's been a while, but he can still hotwire a car in under 10 seconds — and the Impala's roaring.
The second she hears the sound of the engine, Rory breaks away from her fight and races round to the passenger side. She's barely inside before Sam floors it.
"Okay, research mode," Rory says, trying to calm herself. Everyone's here: her mom and Lane, Gypsy (Luke must have called her), Luke and Sam. Even Paris, who Rory could do without, but who refuses to leave.
"We know they're ifrits, right?" Sam asks, and somehow it makes it worse — hearing Sam's voice, seeing him there, when Dean's been taken. Rory wants to curl up in bed and cry on her mom's shoulder. But she can't, not until Dean's safe, both Dean's are safe. Then she can have a marathon freak-out session and eat all the ice-cream in the house. Until then, she has to keep it together.
"Yeah, Luke identified them," she says, pointing to Luke.
Luke grunts, and Sam nods at him. "So we need to find a way to get the ifrits out of everyone," Sam says. He's poring through what looks like an old diary as he talks, but he keeps shaking his head in frustration. He's clearly not finding the answer he's hoping for.
Gypsy looks deep in thought. "I don't have anything that powerful in the shop," she says. Sam looks at her questioningly. "I own a magic shop," she tells him.
Luke gets up and goes to a box he dumped on the table earlier. "Dig in," he says, and pulls a large, old book out.
"This is not my favorite part of being a Slayer's best friend," Lane says as she grabs a book and a dead spider falls off it.
"I'm sorry," Rory says, and she's finding it hard to hold back the tears.
"Oh, Rory, no, I didn't mean it like that." Lane drops the book and hugs her tight. "Dean's going to be fine, you'll see. Really."
"Everyone wants to be here, hon," her mom says and strokes her hair. "You know that, right? We'll do whatever it takes."
Rory holds on to Lane for a while until she feels a bit better, then pulls back and nods weakly at Lane and her mom. "Pass me a book," she says to the room in general.
A cloud of dust comes out of the book Gypsy passes over. "How long since you opened these, Luke?"
"A while," Luke says, not lifting his head up from the page.
After that it's quiet apart from the sound of pages rustling. Lorelai goes out into the kitchen and comes back with a plate of left-over pizza, but Rory feels too sick to be hungry. It was bad enough with Tristin missing, but with Dean taken, watching his eyes glaze over as the ifrit possessed him and being helpless to stop it, she just feels empty and lost.
"Dean's going to be fine, baby," her mom says, like she can read Rory's mind.
Rory nods and manages a watery smile. "Yeah, he is," she says. And hopes it's true.
This has to be the weirdest research session Sam has ever experienced. It could pass for a small town book club if you didn't look too closely at the books. There are snacks and soda on the table. Rory's mother — who turned out to be the MILF from the inn (Sam is going to kill Dean for making him think of her as that) — introduced Sam to everyone, and it's all ridiculously, weirdly normal.
After two hours of reading, Sam's glad of the constant supply of coffee, soda and food. He's less grateful for the presence of the long-haired girl who is apparently not Tristin's girlfriend either — he'd received a death glare from her for asking — but who keeps snapping at everyone. Not Tristin's girlfriend, but she definitely has a crush on him.
"I've never heard of so many ifrits working together," he says to Luke, taking a brief break from The Great Grimoire of Pope Honorius III (an English translation from the Old German), which he graduated to after his dad's journal yielded nothing useful.
Luke shakes his head. "Me neither." The guy doesn't talk much, but then Sam imagines he doesn't get much chance with Rory and her mother around.
"Is there anything around here they could be after? Some reason they've gathered?" Sam asks. If they can learn why they're here, maybe that will help.
"Not unless they like antiques," Lorelai says dryly. "Or small town festivals — we've plenty of those."
"Not the usual sort of things demons go for," Sam says, and the bizarre thing is he actually says it seriously. This place is so peculiar it's hard to tell what's weird and what isn't.
"Well," Rory says reluctantly, looking apprehensively towards her mother. "There is the Hellmouth."
Her mother looks at her. It's not a happy look. Sam gets the distinct feeling Lorelai doesn't know anything about the Hellmouth. He thinks he'd better run interference.
"Hellmouth?" he asks, just as Lorelai says the same thing, only with considerably more bite.
"Yeah," Rory says. "Stars Hollow was built on one. That's why so many wacky things happen here, and why demons and all sorts of supernatural creatures are attracted to the place." She manages to make it sound perfectly normal.
"And how long have you known about—" Lorelai starts, when Lane makes a little excited squeak.
"Eureka!" she says, then looks embarrassed. "Sorry, just, I've always wanted to say that. Anyone know where we can find a black cat with a white tail?"
"Why?" Luke's the first to ask.
Lane looks triumphant. "Because that's going to be the key to us unpossessing everyone," she proclaims.
"You've found something? Something that will work?" Rory asks, and practically trips over Sam's feet in her haste to see Lane's book. Sam feels as relieved as Rory looks.
Lane nods in excitement. "Yes, I've got it."
Rory raps on the door. Three sharp knocks, then another three to make sure. Splinters of wood fall onto the snow-covered porch, and the door vibrates.
"We're not waking the dead, honey," Lorelai points out. At least she doesn't sound mad, though Rory knows there's going to be a conversation about the Hellmouth and keeping secrets, and it's not going to be fun. Rory can't even think about that now.
The door opens suddenly, and a frantic Babette appears in the doorway, wrapped up in a voluminous pink bathrobe.
"Are you all right, doll? The house isn't on fire, is it? It is, isn't it?" she rushes, not giving Rory a chance to deny it. Babette turns around and calls out. "Morey, the house is on fire!"
Lorelai steps in quickly. "No, Babette, the house is fine. We just, well, we need some cat hair, from Pepper."
"Oh, you should have said. It's okay, Morey," she shouts again, then turns back to Rory and Lorelai. "Is this for one of Rory's things?"
Lorelai nods, and when Rory glares at her with a Babette knows too? look, she just shrugs, and sends a what can you do? look back.
"Then of course, schnookums. Come on in and make yourselves comfortable a minute. It'll take me a while to find him. He likes to go wandering sometimes. He's a free spirit, that cat."
Morey nods. "Pepper's nothing like Apricot," he says, pointing to the cat asleep on the piano stool.
Lorelai sits down, and pulls Rory down with her onto the overstuffed sofa. Babette keeps talking as she's looking.
"He's the reincarnation of my grandfather, you know. He traveled all over the States, visited every single one, and crossed Canada too, and now he's doing his best to keep on traveling, though his little legs won't carry him so far these days. Aha," she calls, "Got him."
"She's carrying her grandfather by the scruff of his neck," Lorelai whispers, and Rory almost smiles.
The plan is set. Everyone knows their task. Sam is trying not to panic about the fact that Dean's safety relies on a motley bunch of townsfolk. At least he knows one of them is a Slayer, which is apparently a big deal and explains Rory's speed and strength, and one's a witch (the good kind, Lane had insisted vehemently) and one's a Watcher (which is apparently some sort of research and backup job for a Slayer). He tries not to think about the fact that half the team are also just schoolgirls.
They park at a distance and Sam and Rory check out the approach. Sam can't see anyone at the windows, and Rory says there's no one outside — she'd hear them. Sam believes her.
She signals the rest, and they head for the gym. They need space for their plan to work, and the gym is at the opposite end of the school from the library.
Gypsy hands out sticks of chalk and photocopied sheets covered in sigils. "These should hold them for a while. Probably. If you do them right." She shrugs pessimistically.
This isn't Sam's part of the plan. "How long will it take to get all set up in here?" he asks.
Gypsy looks around. Luke, Paris and Lorelai are on their hands and knees in three of the four corners of the gym, scrawling chalk over the floor. "Give it five minutes. Say six to be safe, and we'll be done and out of here."
Gypsy heads to the final corner, and Sam goes back to Rory. She's hovering over Lane who's sitting cross-legged on the floor next to a plan of the school, dangling a crystal necklace over it.
"Are you sure the map's good enough?" Rory's asking. She and Paris drew it on the back of a strip of wallpaper, arguing incessantly over the relative dimensions of rooms until Lane had assured them that drawing it to perfect scale wasn't necessary. But Rory's obviously worried and nervous.
Lane somehow manages to concentrate — she must be used to Rory — and eventually looks up with an answer. "They're back in the library," she says. "Look." The crystal swings normally when she passes it over most of the paper, but when it passes over the library it jitters around crazily. "I'm scrying for Dean, you see, um, Rory's Dean, that is, because I don't know your Dean and it's harder when you don't know someone or have something of theirs to use, but then you probably know that already because you're a hunter and— Sorry, babbling." She takes a deep breath and carries on more calmly. "The demons are throwing off the scrying process, but that's okay, because it means they must all be there. Together. That's good, right?" she asks hopefully.
Sam nods. "Great work," he tells her, and she smiles wide at him. "And yes, that's good, having them all in one place. It'll make it much easier."
"Okay, so, what do I do now?"
"Wait for the others, and when they're done you've all got to go straight back to the cars," Rory orders. She looks like she's coming into her own now, smart and determined even in the face of danger. He thinks her Dean's a lucky guy.
He and Rory head to the door, ready for the next stage in the plan.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asks, and Sam's touched by her concern.
The answer's no, he doesn't want to do this, but it's Dean in there, and a bunch of school kids who don't deserve to be toyed around with by demons, and so he has to. He'll do whatever it takes. He thinks maybe that shows on his face, because Rory just nods.
"Run fast," she says.
They didn't pay a lot of attention to this part of the plan. Sam offered, Rory nodded and Luke agreed, and that was that.
Now that he's here, he's nervous. He fingers the medallion around his neck. It's identical to the one he saw on Tristin in the vision, and hopefully it should stop any ifrit who tries to possess him. Gypsy seems to think it will, and Paris confirmed that it's identical to the one she bought as a gift for Tristin. It's a gamble, though; if they don't see him as tasty bait, they're screwed, and if the medallion doesn't work, he's screwed.
He opens the library doors and gulps. It's entirely possible he's screwed anyway. There's an entire football team lined up, plus both Deans, and they don't look friendly.
At least it doesn't look as though he's going to have any problems getting them to follow him. They look like a pack of dogs who've just caught scent of a fox.
Sam turns tail and runs.
Rory hates waiting, especially when there's nothing she can do. She doesn't even have a book with her to read — not that she could have concentrated, but just having a book in her bag might have made her feel better.
Instead, she paces. She has a lighter (Gypsy's) in one hand, and a handful of cat hairs clutched in the other, and she paces back and forth across the gym, carefully avoiding the chalked sigils.
It seems like forever before she hears the heavy sound of footsteps running, though the clock on the wall insists it's less then five minutes. She takes up position behind the door.
Sam's breathing hard when he races through the door, but he doesn't stop until he's at the far end of the gym. He looks trapped, but then he's meant to. The demons need to think they've won.
They do. They slow down to a saunter once they're in the gym, laughing to themselves. It's horrid, seeing a vicious smirk on Dean's face that doesn't belong there, isn't him at all. Rory holds her breath and waits until they're all inside, then slams the door behind them. No more need for subterfuge.
She clicks the lighter, and at least one of the demons must realize what she's about to do. It screams, high-pitched and wrong, not the voice of the boy it's possessing. Rory ignores it and lights the hairs, dropping them to the floor as they burn.
If she'd thought a roomful of demon-possessed boys were bad, it's nothing to the confusion and chaos now. The demons are being forced out, black trails of smoke all over the room, and the swirls are getting furious as they realize they're trapped.
There's no time to be gentle. She grabs the first boy she can reach who's no longer possessed and pulls him out of the sigil-marked circle, then another and another. Sam's across the room doing the same, and then Dean's by her side, shaking his head as though he's not quite awake, but sharp enough to work out what needs doing.
They've a library full of captured demons and a hallway full of bemused schoolboys and the rest of their rescue team. Sam's just turning to look for Dean when he gets a clip around the ear.
"Ow," he says. Not that it particularly hurt, but it's the principle.
Dean glares at him. "What the hell were you thinking? Playing bait to a whole — what's a group of demons called?"
"A passel?" Rory offers. "A pack? A covey? A blast?"
"A pandemonium?" Lane suggests.
Rory shakes her head. "No, that's parrots. A pandemonium of parrots. But, yeah, it would work well for demons, too."
"She has a copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary," look-alike boy explains.
"Thanks," Dean says politely, looking bemused, and turns back to Sam. "A whole pandewhatsit of demons. Seriously, Sam?"
Sam shrugs. Dean would have done exactly the same, and they both know it.
"So, what now?"
"We blow up the school?" Dean offers, hopefully.
Rory looks horrified. "I go to school here."
"No, Dean," Sam sighs. "We can't blow up the school. We send the demons back to hell."
"That's where we come in," Luke says, motioning to Gypsy and Lane.
Paris is scary when she's angry. Rory thinks the football team are less perturbed about the time they spent possessed by demons than Paris Gellar bearing down on them with a very determined look on her face.
"Where is Tristin?" she asks the one who's unlucky enough to be in the front.
"Uh," he says, and Rory thinks he might be about to start stuttering. Paris grabs him by his collar and he tries to back away. "I, uh—"
"He's in the basement," the large guy next to him says quickly. Rory thinks he might be the quarterback or halfback or whatever the team captain is called.
Paris doesn't stop for pleasantries like thank you. She heads off at a run, and really, they've only just got a whole bunch of demons captured, there could be stray ones left in the school, and Rory can't let her go off on her own. She has a one second reverie about the benefits of Paris getting eaten by a stray monster who might've followed the ifrits to Chilton, then goes after her, tugging Dean with her because she can't let him out of her sight, not yet.
They're only a few seconds behind Paris when she reaches the basement, but apparently a lot can happen in a few seconds. They walk in on Paris, sitting on Tristin's lap, hugging him like she's going to crush him. That's not particularly unexpected. What is unexpected is that he's very eagerly kissing her back. What's more, he's half-naked and kissing her, and Rory doesn't need to have this image in her brain.
She coughs, loudly.
"Ah, Mary," Tristin says. "A bit late to the rescue — Paris beat you to the spoils."
Dean mutters something under his breath, and Rory tries not to vomit. "It's Rory. And as though I'd touch—" she starts, and can't bring herself to finish. "I'd untie you, but I don't think I'll bother now."
Paris turns around. "It's all turned out perfectly," she says, and waves at herself and Tristin.
Rory turns to Dean. "Let's go before I punch someone," she says.
They all end up back at the coffee shop, Luke behind the counter, serving coffee and burgers, the rest of them at two tables they've pulled together despite Luke's glares.
"So, that zombie we saw here when he arrived in town?" Dean starts.
"Oh, yeah, that's Kirk," Luke says, and turns back to his burgers as though there's nothing unusual at all about having a zombie in his coffee shop.
"Kirk?" Sam repeats, because somehow the idea of a zombie having a name is just plain weird.
"Yes," Rory nods. "He used to be the assistant manager at Doose's Market, the DSL installer, a photographer and a swan wrangler. Until he was killed and became a zombie."
"And you've tried to take him out?" Sam asks.
"Oh, no! He'd never hurt anyone," Rory says, sounding horrified at the very idea.
"Though it's not very nice when he sleepwalks," Lorelai says.
"Naked," Rory adds.
"He has night terrors."
Lane wrinkles her nose. "It was bad enough before he became a zombie, but now, well—"
"It's kinda gross." There's a mass shudder — it looks like everyone's had an eyeful of naked zombie.
Sam can imagine. Unfortunately.
"Though Lulu does try to keep him in at night," Lorelai says.
"Lulu?" Sam asks weakly.
"His girlfriend," Rory's Dean says.
"He has a girlfriend?" Dean asks, echoing Sam's own disbelief.
"Oh, yes. They do movie-night together at their house — they mostly show horror shows, and the kids all think he's an added attraction. I'm not sure if they think he wears really good makeup or if they know he's actually a zombie," Lorelai says.
Dean, of course, has to ask. "So I can't kill him?"
"No!" everyone shouts.
Lane's staring at Sam. And not discreetly, either, but wide-eyed, mouth-open, very obvious staring.
"Lane!" Rory hisses.
"Yes?" Lane answers, but doesn't stop staring.
"You're staring, Lane," Rory whispers.
"Oh, yes, didn't realize." Lane turns around, and leans in towards Rory. "But, I mean— Just look at him. So tall and hot and sexy and tall. He's like Dean, but sexy."
"Lane!" Rory's offended.
"Well, he is! He's all dark and dangerous and brooding. And so handsome."
"Dean's tall and handsome. And dangerous," Rory adds.
Lane doesn't even try to hide her smile. "Yes, Rory, he's really dangerous," she deadpans.
"Well, he could be. If he wanted to be." Rory feels she has to defend Dean's honor, even though she actually loves the fact that he's not dangerous. Unlike Sam, who probably is.
"I wonder if Sam's into music. And what sort," Lane adds speculatively.
"You do know he's a hunter, right? And he's not going to be hanging around."
"Yeah, I know. But there's no harm in looking, is there? I've got to get my thrills somewhere. And if you won't let me live vicariously through you and Dean—"
Rory smiles. "Yeah, no harm in looking."
There's just her, her mom and Dean left at Luke's. Paris and Tristin didn't stay long, which was a good thing, because Luke wouldn't have been happy if Rory had thrown up in the diner. Sam and Dean left half an hour ago, followed by Gypsy, and Lane realized she'd be grounded for the rest of the winter if she didn't get back home soon.
Luke's sorting out invoices, but he keeps coming over to top up their coffee.
They ought to go, but it's nice, somehow, the four of them. Luke's being friendly with Dean — or at least not being rude — and everyone's safe. It's a good feeling.
"Anything you want?" Dean asks, heading towards the counter.
"I'd like a fairy godmother who'll grant me all my wishes, and then go poof in a cloud of smoke whenever I don't want her around. I'd also like my mother to go poof in a cloud of smoke whenever I don't want her around. I could have a special signal, click my fingers or twitch my nose like Samantha, and she'd just vanish," Lorelai says brightly.
Rory smiles at her mom, and turns to Dean. "I want world peace, no one to go hungry ever again, and a kitten," she says, and gives him a beauty pageant smile.
"You need to learn to ask the right question," Lorelai says.
Dean sighs. "Is there any particular food or beverage, available on the menu, that I can order for you?"
"Ah, see, now you're learning," Lorelai says approvingly.
"I'll have a soda," Rory says.
"That's debatable," Rory says under her breath.
"Daughter!" Lorelai does a good hurt exclamation.
"Okay, so I'm not Snow White."
"If I say you're my princess, will you shut up?" Luke asks.
Lorelai beams. "Yes." Then, "You've got to actually say it."
Luke rolls his eyes. "You're my princess. Now finish your coffee and get out of here so I can close up."
"Ah, my Prince Charming."
"So, I hear you are something of a hero," Michel says. He's looking at Sam as though Sam's covered in chocolate sauce and he wants to lick it all off. Sam preferred the you're dog poo I've just stepped in and need to clean off my shoe look.
Dean coughs loudly, but Michel's attention is firmly on Sam. His hands are firmly on Sam, too.
Sam eases away.
"We're, um, just leaving," he says.
"We can stay longer, if you'd like, Sammy," Dean says, not bothering to hide his grin. "Enjoy the winter festival. What is it, the Spirit of Stars Hollow?"
Sam glares at him. "No, Dean, we're in a hurry, remember? That urgent job in, um, Michigan." He hopes his tone adequately conveys the idea that if Dean disagrees with him, next time he gets possessed, Sam'll leave him to it.
"Oh, that job. Nah, Sam, it's not that urgent."
"Yes, it is. Very urgent. Life or death." Sam's going to cut off Dean's balls, fry them, and feed them to the zombie if Dean doesn't cooperate.
Apparently his plan comes through in his look. "Oh, yes," Dean suddenly agrees and picks up his duffel. "That urgent job. You should have said. We'd better get going."
They crunch through the snow to the car and Sam flings his bag onto the back seat.
Dean pauses and looks over the Impala. "That little girl, what was her name, Lon—?"
"Yeah, that's the one. She was really into you. Couldn't stop staring at you in the diner."
Sam had noticed. "She's still at school," he points out.
"She's legal." Dean wiggles his eyebrows as he eases the Impala out onto the road.
"Just drive, Dean."
He takes one long look in the rear view mirror as they leave Stars Hollow. "I still can't believe we didn't get to kill the zombie."
"So," Sam asks, attempting to sound casual. "When you were possessed, what exactly happened?"
Dean stiffens, and turns the tape up.
Sam turns the tape down.
"I think we should talk about it, Dean. Let your feelings out, get it off your chest. It'd do you good."
"You want me to turn right around and tell Michel that you couldn't bear to leave so soon after all? Or tell Lane you want to trade Facebook details?"
Sam turns the tape back up.
"Are you sure you're okay," Dean asks, wrapping his arm around her and settling her against his side. The sofa is comfortable, but Dean's arm is even better.
"I should be asking you that. You're the one who got possessed. I'm sorry," Rory says. "Stuff like that never happened to you before you met me."
"Hey, no moping," he says, and kisses her. "Life's more exciting since I met you."
"You're not just saying that to make me feel better?"
"No. You're worth it. Besides," Dean smiles, "I'm not ifrit of the dark."
Rory groans and cuddles in closer. "So, what exactly was it like, being possessed?"
Dean stiffens and gulps. "Don't remember," he says, and moves in to kiss her again.
Rory puts a hand on his chest to still him. "Really?" she asks.
Dean sighs. "No. But Monday morning, first thing, I'm going to Gypsy and getting her to cast an amnesia spell or something."
"That bad, huh?"
Dean closes his eyes and shudders. "How about you help me forget?" he says, looking hopeful, and Rory can definitely do that.