“You’ve got to be joking,” Buffy said as she hopped out the passenger side and shut the door. “This is a joke, right?”
“I highly doubt it,” Spike drawled, grabbing a cigarette from his duster pocket the moment he closed the driver’s door.
Moments later, the Impala pulled up in the unpaved parking lot. “You’re shitting me, right?” Dawn laughed as she got out the passenger front.
“Right?” her big sister returned in kind.
“Wow,” Sam said as he exited the car. His boots crunched as he came up next to Dawn. “He went full pun. Full, terrible pun.”
“Dudes!” Dean said, hopping out the car and pointing his phone to the building. “That’s fucking awesome!”
Everyone blinked first to the hunter and then to the neon red sign for ‘Rosa Lee’s Cantina.’
“Did you know your brother was so lame?” Dawn asked Sam by tilting her head upward with a smile.
“In my defense, yes I did.”
“It’s a bar!” Dean said defensively. “They’re supposed to have bad names. The Alibi, Nowhere, The Drunken Monkey, The Pour House… Seriously, it’s genius.”
“Not the adjective I’d use,” Buffy muttered under her breath and they began to follow Dean as he practically skipped to the door.
“Where’s Mom and Dad?” Dawn asked her sister.
Buffy cracked a smile. If Dean had been in earshot, he would have protested the nickname Spike had dubbed every time Mary and Giles were together. As far as she could tell, the two just seemed to get along and enjoy going out on a hunt. Dean was comically defensive in anything related to his mother. The first month had been nearly unbearable on everyone once Spike had learned Mary and Ketch had once been intimate.
“Dad texted they were finishing up that shapeshifter down in Amarillo. He promised to get back before opening night.”
“Sam found a case earlier,” Dawn said in quieter tone. “He really thinks it’s one Rosalie should take, but isn’t sure if it’ll be wrapped up by the end of the week.”
“Hmm…maybe Spike and I could take it.”
“Don’t know if we should leave her and Cas running the show in the superhuman department on opening weekend.”
“It’s Bum Fuck Kansas, Dawnie. News travels fast, but I can’t imagine a full demon extravaganza from the get-go.”
Dawn shrugged as they crossed the threshold. It wasn’t posh by any stretch of the imagination. Truthfully she remembered the Bronze having a more modern setup. Since it was an abandoned dive bar, it still had the same feel. Lorne had given it a flashy touch up by adding a stage with a complete band of instruments set up and ready for live music. The lighting and sound systems around the stage and dance area also looked brand new.
All in all, Buffy was impressed. Two months hadn’t been long to find a spot, get it bought, licensed and stocked. She’d heard countless complaints from Rosalie about how little she and Hunter had been able to be together between her constant training and his constant working.
It actually made the bar name pretty romantic. Totally lame. But really sweet that he was doing all this just for her to have a way to slay without having to travel all the time.
“I want a blood beer!” Spike called out to the empty room as he took a drag on his smoke. “AB positive!”
“Stop it,” Buffy snickered.
“Sorry, sexy pants,” Lorne drawled as he stepped in from the door behind the bar. “Haven’t gotten the human juice in yet. We have pig, goat, dog, and kitten.”
“No!” Dawn said in horror.
“Kitten?” Sam looked queasy.
“How old is the dog?” Spike asked without blinking an eye. “Breed?”
Dean made a gagging noise. “You’re serious?”
Lorne shrugged. “This ain’t no Applebee’s. Demon bars take all kinds of kinds.” He turned his focus to Spike. “My guy said labradoodle. Full grown.”
“Kitten beer for me and my lady.”
“Nope,” Buffy said emphatically. “Just give me pig. Nothing cute and fluffy that I asked my mom for as a child.”
“Then you probably shouldn’t go in the back,” Rosalie said in lieu of greeting as she came out the same door behind the bar. “There’s a pet shop back there and it’s freaky to think that things actually pay to eat hamsters and bunnies.”
“You used to play with them, Rosie Posey,” Lorne pointed out.
“Because I thought you had pets! I didn’t know I was playing with the appetizer menu!”
“Any remaining innocence in my life has been completely destroyed,” Hunter said from the front threshold of the bar. He held the door as Rowena strolled past.
“There’s the part that thought the name was a good idea,” Rowena muttered as she walked over to give Lorne a kiss on the cheek.
“Stop!” Lorne cackled as he kissed her in kind. “It’s sweet and romantic and quirky enough to catch on.”
“The Pour House,” Dean said.
“Tequila Mockingbird,” Lorne countered.
“Dick’s Halfway Inn.”
“Dude! Where’s that one?”
“Rosedale, Maryland. There’s a place that makes the best lobster rolls down the street.”
“We get it!” Buffy cried. “Hunter comes from a long line of lame-ass bar owners.”
“Oi!” the man in question responded. “Rose and Lorne like it!”
“One of those two gets their happies from you,” Dawn teased.
“Don’t forget about Rosie,” Lorne added with a wink.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Think I’m ready for a beer.”
“Watchers drink free,” Hunter said as he went behind the bar.
“What about me?” Dean asked.
“Three dollars a bottle.” Then he snapped his fingers. “Oh I forgot!”
“Slayers drink free as well. Buffy, dear?”
“Fuck you,” Dean grumbled as he pulled out his wallet.
“As fun as watching the Winchester boys drink…again,” Rowena said with an eye roll. “I thought this was a test of the warding I constructed.”
“Right,” Hunter agreed as he popped the top off a bottle and slid it to Sam. “Rowena has replicated the enchantments Lorne used on Caritas.”
“The Furies did not want to schlep it out to Kansas. And my pocketbook didn’t want to try and persuade them,” the green demon said as he took post on one of the stools around the bar.
“Didn’t realize Rowena was the new Glenda,” Dean said tossing down three singles and snatching the beer Sam had yet to pick up.
“I did it for the money, you idiot.” She paused and gave Lorne a disturbingly sweet smile. “And the company.”
“Anyone else want to move on before that thought can develop?” Dawn asked. “Great. Good.” She looked to Sam. “So warding, huh? Please ask questions.”
He laughed as he pulled out his wallet. Nodding to Hunter, he paid for two beers, handing one to Dawn. “How exactly are we testing it?”
“Well,” Lorne said slowly. “The only real way is to try and break the rules. Since no violence is allowed, someone has to really try and get violent.”
“Sweet!” Dean said smacking his bottle down on the bar. “I’m in.”
Spike chuckled, tossing his cigarette down on the ground and slipping off his leather duster, handing it to his wife. “Any chance this doesn’t work is worth it.”
“Hey, punk!” Rosalie snapped. “Nick and I mopped this floor!”
Spike favored his niece with a condescending smile. “Sweets, this is prettiest this floor is gonna look. If all goes my way, Dean’s teeth will be next.”
“Nice try, Billy Idol. Pretty sure I still owe you a few blows for Mississippi.”
Spike rolled his eyes and cracked his knuckles. “And I still owe you for snagging my Doritos last week.”
“If you’re not prepared to share, don’t leave it in the weapons room.”
“It was implied I was finishing them when I got back! Everyone fancies an after slay snack!”
Rowena cleared her throat in aggravation. “Either attack each other or make out. At this point I don’t care which.”
Both took up the challenge and ran toward each other at full pace. Just as contact would have been made a previously invisible force field glowed brightly and both men were catapulted back in the direction they had come by several feet, landing on their asses.
“Brilliant!” Hunter sniggered as he and Lorne walked over to the area the warding took effect.
“You didn’t mention the reverb,” Dean grumbled as he scrambled to his feet.
“Yeah,” Spike agreed darkly as he took the hand Buffy offered and popped back to standing. “That seems unnecessary.”
“Helps diffuse the situation,” Lorne said with a shrug. He turned to Rowena. “Humans and demons are a go.”
“And slayers?” Sam questioned.
Lorne gave him a quizzical look. “One’s human and the other demon. Think the bases are covered.”
“Better check,” Hunter said before quickly adding, “Just in case.”
“Nuh uh,” Buffy said shaking her head. “Nice try, but I don’t want to look stupid, too.”
“I did not look stupid,” Spike pouted.
“Good,” Rosalie said stepping forward. “Because I say you pick up that butt or I kick yours.”
Spike cocked his head and gave a dramatic sigh. “Little Bit, even on your best day, in a room full of sunshine, you could never kick my—”
He didn’t get a chance to finish. Rosalie ran at him and leapt in the air, aiming her kick directly at his chest. Upon contact, the vampire went flying into the wall, causing a hanging picture to come shattering to the floor.
“Fucking A!” Dean shouted.
“Bloody hell!” Spike groaned as he remained slumped against the wall, having slid to the floor with his feet in front of him.
Buffy swirled around just in time to watch Hunter hand some bills to the witch, who promptly stuffed them in her bra. “You cheated!” She howled, pointing her finger squarely at the pair.
Neither one looked ashamed enough to deny it. “I gave you a chance,” Hunter said cheekily.
“Not cool!” Lorne said as he turned to scowl at the dynamic duo.
“I dunno,” Rosalie chirped as she walked over and planted a smack on Hunter’s lips. “I thought it was pretty awesome.”
“Rosie Posey, I’m disappointed!” Lorne admonished.
As Lorne forced Rowena to perform the enchantment to keep slayers from partaking in violence within the perimeter, Spike got up and marched over to the young offenders. “I can kill you in your sleep.”
Rosalie batted her eyelashes and gave him an innocent smile. “You know you love me, Uncle Spike.”
“Fine. I can kill him in his sleep.”
“Killing him would make me sad, Uncle Spike.”
“Well, we all have disappointments in life, you cheeky little minx.”
She leaned in and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a big smooch on the cheek. Then she whispered, “Now pick your trash up off my floor.”
Sam didn’t bother looking at the clock when he heard Oz cry through the baby monitor. Throwing back the covers, he crawled from bed and trotted next door. He didn’t even react when he saw a colorful assortment of balloons floating above the crib. “One morning I would appreciate it if you could sleep in,” he grumbled.
Oz did not like this response. The balloons began bursting as he let out an angry cry, the blasts thoroughly ruining any chance Sam had at going back to bed after feeding time. With a sigh of defeat, he snatched up his little wizard and started for the kitchen.
“Was that gunshots?” Donna asked breathlessly as she swung open her bedroom door.
“Balloons today,” Sam explained. Hermione had said the constant bursts of magic would fade over time, but so far a cranky wizard of Oz was still a PR nightmare.
“No monkeys?” Donna asked hesitantly.
“No monkeys,” he reassured as he headed toward the stairs.
He heard the TV and wasn’t surprised to see the two guys already sipping coffee and watching the morning news. Five in California meant DC was already at work.
“Was that gunshots?” Toby asked without looking up from the screen.
“Balloons,” Sam repeated.
Josh did look up and gave him a concerned look. “Monkeys?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “No monkeys!”
“Hey! You didn’t have one of those things sitting on your face!”
“One pooped in my shoe,” Sam reminded as he walked on to the kitchen.
Yes, the last couple months had been a whole world of change. Playing dad while also trying to run the largest state in the union already felt like a circus without his son adding balloons and primates to the mix.
Donna had first agreed to come stay with him in Sacramento. Not only was she an underrated political genius, but she also was able to help with Oz when no nanny or other staff member really could. Considering she was also dealing with a baby, it was the ideal situation for both of them.
Josh had been different. Even after everything, he wasn’t very keen on repairing the damage between them. It had been easy to thrust the blame on him, though Sam eventually realized that Josh had really done the best he could with the hand he was dealt.
Donna asked if he could stay the night about a month after relocating to governor’s mansion. He came over once and never left. Sam had too much on his plate to put up a fight.
Coming back to Sacramento with a broken heart, baby boy and a barrage of paparazzi photos depicting him in a fight with a guy outside a Los Angeles restaurant had been unbelievably hard. Telling his staff that he was definitely not going to run for president had physically hurt. He seriously contemplated resignation the first few days, but through lots of loving words of support from Donna and Hermione, he decided that staying governor was the safest choice for him, Oz and Willow.
On the condition he gave a public interview to clear the air.
Which he did. Much to Donna’s dismay, he didn’t sit down with Oprah. That woman wouldn’t make him cry. Instead he sat with Anderson Cooper, who much to his ego’s disappointment, still make him shed a few tears.
It started out pretty factual. He and a woman named Willow had entered a brief, consensual and monogamous relationship. After a time, she returned to her professional career and he returned to him. Several months later they reconnected and she told him that he was the father of her unborn child.
He’d done a pretty solid job in his opinion of emphasizing that there was no ill will toward her for not disclosing the pregnancy. He told the world he had found it admirable that a strong, career focused woman felt no necessity to depend on anyone to take care of her or her child. But he had asked if he could take on a parenting role and she had agreed.
Then he’d had to lie. Not simply for the fact that the truth was fucking crazy, but also because according to MACUSA, Sam’s mind had been altered. He’d told Anderson and the world that Willow had fallen ill shortly after giving birth, rendering her incapable of caring for Samuel Osborne Seaborn. Battling an extremely rare autoimmune condition, she had been forced to travel to Asia for treatment. While he hoped Willow would one day be able to help raise Oz with him, currently he hadn’t spoken to her since a few days after Oz’s birth.
The masses had bought it. Initially his national poll numbers soured. That’s when Toby reached out to him. While his mentor hadn’t been able to convince him to run for president, he had persuaded him to allow him to come to California and head up his re-election campaign for governor.
Truthfully, he had seen Willow quite a bit over the past couple months. Hermione had established a secret stop in the Floo Network that connected to the governor’s mansion. This had allowed Willow the chance to come in to visit and care for Oz.
It had been awkward though. Any talk of their future together had ended that fateful day in the Hyperion. Since then, seeing her was pretty painful. Not just because she had broken his heart, but because he could tell how unhappy and unhealthy she was. She seemed a shell of her former self, unable to come to grips with the information she’d learned about her past.
Sam knew he couldn’t help her, so instead he focused on helping their son and their state be as safe and healthy as possible.
After mixing up the formula and heating it exactly twenty-three seconds in the microwave, he nestled Oz in his left arm and propped the bottle perfectly against his chest. Then, he reached gingerly for a mug and poured a cup of coffee before gracefully walking back to the living room in a dance of multitasking he had learned to perfect.
“This is your fault,” Toby growled as he gestured to the television.
“Hoynes announced his candidacy,” Josh explained.
“Pretty sure he’s on you,” Sam said sitting down and taking a gulp of caffeine.
“If you were running, we wouldn’t have the rejected repeat trying again,” Toby said.
Sam sat his cup down and repositioned the bottle. “And if Josh hadn’t done so well the first time, he never would have been Bartlet’s VP. See how I can spin it? I went to school too.”
“Shut up,” Toby responded as the other two quietly smirked at each other. “Do you need me to write your speech for the DNC fundraiser or not?”
“The day I need you to write my speech is the day I retire.” He paused. “But yeah, I don’t have time with the budget meetings this week. Where is it anyway?”
Toby leaned over and grabbed his laptop. “Los Angeles.”
Sam’s blood went cold. He hadn’t been there since…
“Phone it in,” Josh said quickly. “Tell them you wanna stay near home base until appropriations are finalized. Send in the lieutenant and call it a thing.”
“This is a fucking Hollywood fundraiser, Josh. You think Spielberg and Howard are going to be satisfied with a guy nobody recognizes? They want Sam.”
“He’s right,” Sam responded softly. “If I back out, it also raises unneeded questions.” He looked to Josh. “You and Donna can stay here with Oz. I go down, act like everything’s normal and pop back the next morning. Nobody questions a thing and we all go back to business as usual.”
Josh looked petrified. “MACUSA and Wolfram and Hart are based there!”
Sam looked down at Oz, just as nervous as Josh. “Both think my mind was altered. They don’t even know I know they exist. As long as I can act like I don’t know that I know they know…well, you know.”
Toby stood up with his laptop and coffee mug. “Just so you know, we know you better not blow this.”
Sam couldn’t even smile at the pleonasm. “I know.”