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The Road to Hell

Chapter Text

“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.

“Brews Brothers.”

“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!”

“Yeah?”

“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.”

Chapter Text

They wouldn’t admit it in a thousand years, but Buffy had spent enough time around Spike to know when he was in the process of making a new friend. Particularly a male friend. While he and Dean had gotten off to what could only be called a terrible start, they were on the fast track to becoming actual buddies. Which was good, especially given Zack’s absence from their daily lives at the present—something that bothered Spike more than he’d ever let on.

In the world before, Spike hadn’t had friends. It hadn’t been until he’d come to Los Angeles to rescue her from Wolfram and Hart that he’d found people who treated him like something other than a demon, particularly when he’d befriended Zack Wright. Those connections to others were among the things that kept him grounded. It was one of the reasons she’d been so keen to spend as much time in Los Angeles as possible in the early stages of their relationship—he’d had something there that, love her friends as she did, he’d never gotten at home.

Right now, Spike was regaling a captivated Dean with stories from his days with the original Rat Pack, particularly a tale where he’d taken a swing at Frank Sinatra after the legendary singer had made a pass at Dru.

“You fucking hit Ol’ Blue Eyes?”

“’Course I did. Gave him a nasty shiner, too, if memory serves,” Spike said after throwing back a gulp of his third blood beer. “Held back a bit, though, seeing as I didn’t want to break the boy. He had a gig the next night and, tosser or not, I wasn’t about to miss it.”

“Awesome,” Dean replied, looking a bit star-struck. “What about Bogie? Ever take a swing at him?”

“No, but he did bum a smoke off me one time in Vegas.” He grinned and wedged a cigarette between his lips. “Think that was the same weekend I had to talk Dru outta vamping Judy Garland. She was keen on The Wizard of Oz and was sour that little Dorothy had grown up. Won’t lie—the lady was a bit cross with me after Garland kicked it, went on for weeks about how she coulda saved her.”

Buffy, who had heard these stories a time or twelve hundred, turned her attention to Sam, who was parked at the yet-to-be-opened bar, thumbing through the latest tome that Quentin Travers had sent him. While not training Rosalie, doing his own case-related research, or going on the hunt, Sam had been reading the old Watcher’s Diaries with dedication and fervor that made Giles proud. Giles had been a bit wary of Sam Winchester as a watcher when he’d first arrived, and could occasionally be caught grumbling about standards and protocols and all the training he’d had to go through before being awarded the position. But Sam’s steadfast sense of right and wrong, combined with his work ethic and devotion to the job, had won her curmudgeonly watcher over rather quickly.

“So what’s this case you want Rosalie on?” she asked. “Dawn mentioned that you were concerned you might miss opening weekend if you took it.”

It would have been impossible to detect were she anything but a vampire, but since she was a vampire, Buffy was intensely aware of how Sam’s heartbeat sped up whenever someone mentioned her sister. She also heard his blood pound harder, which in turn made his cheeks darken just a shade. She had yet to mention this to Spike, who had only recently stopped jumping out at Hunter every time he saw the opportunity, but it was only a matter of time before her mate clued in that Sam Winchester had a crush on his Nibblet. Dawnie was in her mid-twenties now, though, and had already gone through her share of heartache. Of all the guys Buffy could have chosen for her sister, Sam was probably at the top of the list.

Only Dawn didn’t seem to react to Sam the same way. Or she was just better at masking her physical reactions whenever in the presence of vampires. She’d certainly had more practice.

“The Heart of the Dragon,” Sam said, clearing his throat. “Dean and I ran into this a few years ago and we thought we’d banished him.”

“Him?”

“The spirit of Yoshio Nakadai, a Ronin warrior. He was framed and executed, then his spirit was converted into a demon. We released his spirit and sent the demon back to Hell back in ’09, and that should’ve been the end of it, but…”

“The dead don’t stay dead.” Buffy spread her arms. “I’m walking proof.”

“Right. This demon’s a bit different than the others she’s faced. He’s immune to exorcism, for one thing, and Devil’s Traps don’t hold him for long.” Sam paused and glanced at Rosalie. “He was a hard guy to get rid of last time. I think he’d give her a good challenge, but… I don’t want her to miss this. How did you balance life and slaying?”

Buffy snorted. “I died, Sam.”

“Well, let’s try to find another way.” He blew out a breath. “Might be better if Dean and I handle it on our own, anyway. This demon can snap necks telekinetically. Not sure if it’s a good idea for Rosalie to be around that, anyway. She’s a bit, uhh…”

“Headstrong?”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“Spike and I can handle it, you know. While snapped necks aren’t exactly my favorite injury to walk off, it takes more than that to kill us.”

“He can also control fire, though.”

“Yeah, and we have these.” Buffy lifted her hand to show off her ring. The same she’d vowed to never remove ever again, particularly after the revelation of a couple of months ago—that the rings, in addition to rendering her invulnerable, protected her mind from magical manipulation. “Really, this is the kinda date Spike and I enjoy the most.”

Sam stared at her for a moment before breaking off with a laugh, the sort that made the premature signs of aging that marred his otherwise handsome face dissolve. “You two are a weird couple.”

“We like what we like,” Buffy replied, shrugging. “Took me long enough to admit that I find fighting a lot of fun. Especially those that present a challenge.” She nodded at Rosalie. “She has a leg up on me, there. Learned to like the hunt well before she was called.”

He considered this for a moment then inclined his head. “Well, if you and Spike wanna handle it, feel free. Between me, Dean, Cas, and Dawn”—more of that flushing—“we should be able to keep the peace if things get out of control. There’ll be other odd-duck demons.”

“Honestly, I don’t see this taking more than a day. We’ll be back in time to be your impromptu bouncers.”

Sam arched an eyebrow and snickered. “Overconfident much?”

“Realistic much,” Buffy replied sweetly. “Seriously, Sam, you’ve seen us in action. Stop being surprised by how much ass we kick. I know you and Dean are used to failing and dying a lot, but that’s really not the way we roll.”

Sam rolled his eyes, but smirked. “Fair enough.”

*~*~*

Friday

The jellyfish tree, native to the Mahe Island of the Seychelles, was critically endangered. Fewer than ninety species were thought to be thriving in the wild. In terms of hard-to-come-by ingredients, you didn’t get much more exotic than that.

And Willow needed seeds from the fruit of three different jellyfish trees to complete her spell. Just three little seeds separating her from unlocking the memories she’d erased from her mind—from her friends’ collective history. And she had it on good authority that MACUSA’s Director of Herbology kept samples of endangered nonmagical plants in his office. Why, she didn’t know. Perhaps the man was another Arthur Weasley and collecting NoMaj plant species was his way of exploring his fetish. All she knew was she had a good chance of completing the spell if she could get five minutes alone in Roger Snitch’s office.

And that in order to get those five minutes, she’d have to take advantage of Percy. Worse, Hermione. The one person who had kept her grounded over the past two months, who had supported her unflinchingly as Willow had navigated the space of trying to accept the things she’d learned about herself.

Not that the others hadn’t been helpful—they had. Harry more so than Ron, and Ginny more so than Harry, if only because she tended not to hedge her words as Harry did. But being that Hermione had been the one who had broken the news that had broken her soul, she’d become Willow’s most vocal champion. She was also the one who helped ensure Willow didn’t go more than a few days without seeing her son, even if being around Sam Seaborn—even just breathing his air—made her hurt in ways she hadn’t known she could.

At first, Willow had thought she’d be able to find her way back to some semblance of normal. The revelations that had hit her that day at the Hyperion, just hours after she and Sam had made optimistic plans to try to co-parent their child, had been tough to swallow but she could swallow them. She’d wanted to desperately. She’d chased the version of herself that thought she could be in a real couple, but every time she thought she had a handle on what had transpired, she’d think of Tara and some part of her—the part she’d buried under layers of magic manipulation—would scream.

The things she recalled about Tara were foggy even now. A reflection, Hermione had suggested, of the sloppiness of the original spell. A thing pieced together from bits and fragments of whatever dark magic she’d been able to get her hands on. And given how grief-stricken Willow had been at the time, she likely hadn’t done a very thorough job of casting. So her Frankensteined-spell had been poorly executed, which was why so much of it had seeped through the cracks in her mind over the years. Why Tara’s face had haunted her—just her face at first, and then her name. And then this idea, this feeling, that there had been something there. Something that went beyond life-changing—life-defining.

And she needed to know what it was. Desperately.

Willow wasn’t stupid, though. She knew whatever she discovered would be painful, but the not knowing was almost worse. If she’d never been able to cement her feelings about who Tara had been to her, if Tara had remained a question mark, a what-if, she might have been able to move on. At the time, Willow hadn’t thought getting an answer about that period of her life had been possible—either that or she’d been too chicken-shit to try. Blaming Wolfram and Hart had been easy, too. There was no sense detangling that mystical mess because, evil lawyers were behind it and what did the past really matter anyway?

A lot, as it turned out. It was one thing believing that something had been done to you—it was another thing altogether, discovering you’d done something to yourself. Whether or not she remembered the years she’d erased from her own timeline, they had helped shape her into who she was today. And Willow needed to know that person. If she was going to ever be a proper mother to Oz, she had to know absolutely everything about herself.

“It’s important that we are punctual, Willow,” Percy said when she joined him by the fireplace. She’d almost forgotten that he was there—unlike his siblings, Percy tended to contain his anxiety. A byproduct of the Second Wizarding War, Ron had told her once. More specifically, losing Fred. Fred had been joyous that Percy had cracked a joke, and that distraction had cost him his life. The lesson Percy had learned had, apparently, been that any outward emoting was bad—that he’d been estranged from his family up until Fred’s death likely didn’t help matters.

Most of the time, Willow didn’t mind Percy. Today, though, his clipped, no-nonsense attitude made her want to knock him square in the nose.

But that would have been telling, so she didn’t.

“I’m ready,” Willow said, turning her attention instead to her business suit, looking for rogue wrinkles. Unlike the British Magical population, American witches and wizards dressed to blend. Hermione had told her to select today’s outfit based on what she thought would be suitable for attending a colleague’s funeral. Somber and serious, yet not overly flashy.

“I needn’t impress upon you how important it is that this meeting go well,” Percy went on, helping himself to a pinch of Floo Powder. “It has taken Hermione weeks to—”

“Perce, these are all things I know. It’ll be fine. Trust me.”

Somehow, she managed not to wiggle too much at the lie.

Once she was inside the MACUSA headquarters, it was just a matter of finding Roger Snitch’s office for those last ingredients.

Hopefully by this time tomorrow, the hazy corners of her mind would be clear and she could finally, finally, look to getting on with her life. With her son.

And maybe even with Sam.

*~*~*

Much to Sam’s chagrin, it turned out that Buffy was right. She and Spike handled the Heart of the Dragon in the span of about ninety minutes, though the description of the hunt tended to get taller every time Spike told it. The first time, also known as the real time, had been pretty impressive already. The demon had tried to light them both on fire, and like the Mother of Dragons herself, they had both walked through that stuff. Then the demon had tried to snap their necks—he’d been successful with Spike, who had popped it back into place with a growl.

Buffy and Spike were novices to banishing spirits and performing exorcisms, and they were a bit shaky on how either would work seeing as they were technically both demons, themselves. Since Buffy had the soul between them, she’d volunteered to give it a try, despite Spike’s protests. But the ring had kept her immune from the holy water and—they’d discovered—the Devil’s Trap. Or at least that was their best guess, as Buffy had discovered that the same could not be said for Spike.

“Do you have you any idea how much work this would’ve saved me when I was a teenager?” Buffy had asked the day that Sam had shown her how to draw a Devil’s Trap. “At least two apocalypses could have been avoided altogether.”

After capturing the Heart of the Dragon, Buffy had managed to banish the spirit and send the demon to Hell. And given the increasingly explicit innuendos they’d subjected the others to after returning home victorious, she hadn’t been lying. She and Spike really did consider monster hunting a good time. Toward the end of the night, they had started recreating the highlights of the hunt on each other, which had culminated in Spike throwing Buffy over his shoulder and marching off to their room, where the crashing sounds had lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

As such, Buffy had been indisposed when Sam had heard back from a local contact on a matter that interested them both—the great-grandnephew of a slayer from generations past had claimed to have special insight regarding the bracelet that had consumed Faith’s power more than two months prior. It was likely a dud, as every other lead regarding the bracelet had been, but given the big vat of nothing he’d been able to uncover over the past few weeks, he didn’t feel like he had the luxury of turning it down. Which was how he ended up recruiting Dean—not Dawn, because he couldn’t quite stand the knowing looks Dean sent his way any time he so much as acknowledged Dawn existed—to coming with him.

Which reminded him, again, that he wanted to ask her about the whole inter-dimensional key thing. Somehow he hadn’t had time over the past two months. Also, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. The one and only time there had been any mention of it had been during that introductory-meeting-from-hell with Travers. Buffy had been adamant that Dawn was safe, mystical origin or not, and that had been enough for him. The next few weeks had been a race of initiation, training, and trying to keep the new residents of the bunker from killing each other. There had been more immediate concerns than learning what Dawn was—or wasn’t.

“So tell me who we’re going to see again,” Dean said, taking a particularly sharp turn with ease that Sam figured he’d never master, no matter how long they lived here. “This old slayer relation?”

“A great-grandnephew,” he said. “To Melanie Bulstrod, who was active between 1941 and 1943. According to the Watcher’s Diaries, she is the reason we’re not all speaking German.”

“Yeah, but did she kill Hitler?”

“No, Dean. She did not kill Hitler.”

“Just as long as we know who’s more impressive.”

“Well, I—”

An explosion of white cut off whatever he’d been about to say. Dean swore loudly, the Impala giving a wild lurch as the road ahead of them vanished. Tires squealed and a horn from a nearby car tore through the air, followed by the muffled sound of someone screaming. Then something crashed hard in the backseat, hard enough to make the car rock.

“What the fuck?” a woman rasped, breathing hard.

A woman?

“What the fuck?” Dean echoed.

It seemed like it lasted forever, but eventually, the white flooding Sam’s eyes faded and he could see again. He glanced to Dean, who was twisted in his seat, staring slack-jawed at something in the back.

Sam looked first to the rearview mirror, but whirled around to verify what his eyes were telling him.

Yeah, there was a naked chick in the backseat.

And she looked pissed.

The chick glared at them for a moment like they had done something wrong. Then she looked down as though only just realizing that she was sans clothing.

“Oh, fuck this.”

That much seemed to jerk Dean out of his stupor. “Who—”

But before he could bark out the question, the air split with the crack of shattering glass. Had Sam not been watching, had he not seen it, he never would have believed it. He knew intimately how hard it was to punch out a car’s windows. Any car’s.

This girl managed it with one well-aimed kick. Then she was moving, sliding over shards of broken glass and launching herself onto the street. And Sam, stunned stupid, could do nothing but stare. Even as Dean started screaming at him, at the road, at anything that would hear him. Sam couldn’t move.

That was until his gaze fell on the thing lying among the shattered glass in the back.

The velvet bag in which he kept the bracelet—or what was left of it. It looked like something had burst from the inside out. And the bracelet itself was gone.

“Oh my god,” Sam said to himself. “Dean…”

“Welcome back, Sammy,” Dean snapped. “What the hell was that?”

“I’m pretty sure that was…Faith.”

“Faith? Faith? How the fuck was that Faith?”

But Sam didn’t have an answer.

“Call Nick,” he said instead, his voice thick. “Think Rosa Lee’s grand opening might need to wait a week.”

Chapter Text

The world seemed to stop in an instant. He couldn’t hear or think or move. Somewhere in the far corner of his mind Nick could hear Dean’s voice through the phone still placed at his ear.

Faith is alive.

Reality had changed in a moment and two months of grief and mourning and pain suddenly were a nightmare.

Unless this was just a dream and he was going to wake up and have to face losing his best friend all over again.

He didn’t think he could handle it. Not today. Not after all the work he’d done over the past two months to try and make peace with the past. To make a fresh break from all the darkness he’d buried inside himself since a child and try for a future with Rosalie.

Faith is alive.

“Where?” He croaked. He hadn’t noticed the tears. The way his body was shaking. Part of him was expecting to wake up in a cold sweat with Rosalie giving him a knowing look. Just another dream.

“Not far,” Dean answered. “Like I said, we were heading south on 181. Just outside Downs. She busted the window and ran before we could stop her.”

“I’m on my way. Find her.”  He ended the call and headed to the door.

“Whoa there, pumpkin spice,” Lorne said. “We aren’t done moving these tables into place. We’ve also got to fix that wire on the big speaker. And don’t forget rehearsing your number. You still doing the Beatles?”

Nick almost made it outside before he realized he didn’t have keys. Rosalie had driven this morning. Whirling around, he contemplated going into the back and finding her, but then thought better. No, he didn’t want to get her hopes up on the off chance it was a mistake.

Instead he marched up to Lorne, stuffing his hands unceremoniously into the demon’s front pockets.

“Don’t get me wrong, sugar. You’re hella hot, but I think we both know it’d just be a fling.”

Clasping the metal, he pulled out Lorne’s keys and then ran out the door. He heard shouts. First Lorne and then Rosalie. It didn’t matter. He had to go.

Faith is alive.

Revving up the engine, Nick squealed the tires on the convertible when he hit the road. He didn’t know if they could find her. If she wanted to be found. If she needed him nearly as much as he needed her.

His phone rang. Reaching in his pocket he saw ‘Rose’ on the ID. With a heart full of regret he rejected the call. Tossing his cell in the passenger seat, he hit the gas and put both hands on the wheel.

A couple minutes later the phone rang again. A quick glance told him it was Lorne. He didn’t care. Didn’t care if the guy wanted to pull out of the deal right now. He could pack it all up and head back to L.A. if he’d like. He wasn’t turning around now.

Faith is alive.

There had been a small part of him that knew it was always a possibility. Fuck, the majority of his housemates had literally come back from the dead. And it wasn’t as if she’d left under normal circumstances that night. With no body, it never was clear exactly what had happened to Faith.

But the Powers were cruel. He’d finally gotten his greatest wish: Rosalie’s love. If seemed befitting his life that he would have to lose the only other person he had ever truly opened his heart. Gain the love of your life, but lose your best mate that had helped you find it. He was resigned to being Karma’s bitch.

“Bloody hell!” he growled when the phone rang again. He should have expected Rose not to take a hint. If anything, she probably was more pissed than concerned.

Unknown caller. Rolling his eyes, he ignored it. He didn’t know why though, but his mind told him to pick the phone up and take a closer look.

Downs, Kansas. The call was from Downs. Quickly processing the possibility, he answered the call and pressed the speaker to his ear. “Faith?”

The line was silent except for heavy breathing. Heavy breathing he recognized. “Faith! Can you hear me?”

“How the fuck?”

He veered onto the shoulder as tears blinded his sight. Panicking, he swerved back to the road and crossed the yellow line. “I don’t know! All they said was you were in the backseat. You broke the window and ran. Are you bleeding? Where are you?”

“I didn’t understand half you just said through your blubbering. I meant how the fuck did you know it was me?”

He paused. He could have said something lame like ‘he just did’ or ‘he always knew it would be him,’ but this was Faith. “I don’t know anyone in Downs and that’s where you were when you ran.”

“Oh, that makes sense. Which is weird because none of this makes sense, Nick.”

“Right?” He barked a watery laugh.

She didn’t respond. After several seconds he began to think he’d lost signal. “Faith?”

“Nick?” He heard the fear in her voice for the first time. “Help me.”

*~*~*

“Well, that was the opposite of fun,” Zack said as he slid into the seat and shut the door of the truck.

“C’mon!” His brother replied, starting the engine. “Besides,” Wright said throwing a punch to Zack’s shoulder. “Not only did we get paid, but you got a girl’s number.”

“She’s an eighty year old Japanese lady.”

“Well, I suggest you go back and turn her. You don’t want to wait and see if the next ghost doesn’t give her a stroke.”

“Yuck!” Zack whined, burying his head in his hands.

“Just think. When you’re eighty, Mrs. Nakamura will only just look it. By then she’ll be way past a hundred.”

“God, I hope you get another gay guy.”

“There is nothing wrong with homosexuality, Zackary,” Wright deadpanned.

“I fucking hate you sometimes.”

Wright dissolved into a fit of giggles. “You two could mate!” Tears began to form in the creases of his eyes. “The kids could call her Mommy Grandma!”

“Technically it’s obachan in Japanese.”

Wright paused in his laughter. “How the fuck you know that?”

Zack shrugged. “My friend Jessie took a class in high school. I can also tell you the word for stapler.”

“Whatever. Just makes my point, Little Buddy.” He then resumed his snickering.

The second Wright’s phone rang, Zack reached across the cab and snatched it off the dash. “Saved by the cell,” he murmured as he answered the call.

“Zack?” Cordy asked before he could speak.

“Z Two here. What’s up, Sis?”

“Speaker. Now.”

“Yup,” Zack said without hesitation. He knew by the tone it wasn’t good. He just hoped it was another desperate client with cash.

“What’s up babe?” Wright asked.

“Buffy just called. I guess Sam called Dawn who then called Buffy who then called me because she didn’t know if Rosalie had yet called me or maybe you.”

“Okay,” Wright said in a voice that carried an unspoken warning. “You’ve now mentioned our daughter so you need to get to the point, Cordelia.”

“Faith’s back.”

“Now in English,” Zack responded.

“Faith. Faith Lehane. Faith is alive. She broke out the bracelet and is somewhere near the bunker in Kansas. They don’t know how or why, but she’s back.”

“That’s awesome!” Zack cried.

“Change of plans, baby.” Wright had already turned the trucking into a parking lot and was driving back the direction from which they had just come.

“What are you doing?” Zack asked in a low voice.

“We won’t be home tonight,” Wright told his wife.

“Zack,” Cordelia said through the phone. “Everyone agreed that you and I can’t go to Kansas for a few more months. We can’t give Wolfram and Hart a hint on where she’s at.”

“Excellent point. I don’t give a fuck.”

“Zack—”

“Cordy, if all of a sudden Faith pops up after two months and nobody found a spell to do it, then it means something or someone else is playing with the magic up the next to Rosalie. After they fucking tricked me last time, they aren’t fucking keeping me from being there to protect her again!”

“Okay,” his wife said in defeat. “Just keep an eye out for anyone tailing you. I’m telling everyone but Kelly that you two took a case up in San Francisco.”

“Do I get a vote in this?” Zack asked in annoyance. “Isn’t this kidnapping? It’s worse when you cross state lines, you know.”

“No. You don’t get a vote and feel free to jump out the fucking window. You’re immortal. Tuck and roll and you’ll be fine.”

“Uhh…Cordy? Tell my wife we’re gonna have to postpone the trip to The Shag Shack, if you don’t mind.”

“Don’t think I didn’t catch how you are making me tell Kelly what’s going on. Ass-face.” She ended the call on that note.

Zack sighed, leaning back in his seat and tossing Wright’s phone into the space between the two men. “You know this is a bad idea, right?”

“Don’t fucking start, Morris. We both know if it was your Rosie instead of mine that you would do the exact same shit.”

“Yeah. And we both know this smells like a trap. Maybe the plan is this. Maybe WH expects you to make a mad dash and lead them straight to the Slayer. Manipulate you in the opposite direction this time.”

Wright seemed to hesitate at that. For a moment Zack could feel that his brother had eased up on the accelerator. “So?”

Wright took a moment to answer. “So, you’re probably right.”

Zack nodded. “Good.”

“It’s early enough in the day that we’ll make it by nightfall.”

Zack blinked. “No, that’s not the answer of a guy who knows it’s a bad idea. That’s the answer of a dumbass.”

“I’m both. Now get comfy because we aren’t stopping until I gotta fuel this thing up.”

*~*~*

Giles sat up and began searching absently for his glasses on the bedside table. “S-slow down, Buffy.”

“Are you asleep?”

“I would not have answered,” he muttered as he found his spectacles and put them on.

“It’s like mid-morning, Giles. Why would you guys be in bed?”

“We’re not!” He nearly shouted his denial loud enough to be heard in the next room. Mary rolled over and gave him a weary look. “We just finished in Texas last night and have driven all night. Traffic here around Wichita is hectic. Midwesterners do not know how to navigate.” He flashed an apologetic look at the woman lying next to him.

“Okay,” Buffy said, buying his treachery. Reality was that he and Mary had finished in Texas earlier in the week and had spent the last two nights at a Raddison in Wichita. It seemed the easier alternative than trying to explain to their children the fact they were in a currently undefined sexual arrangement.

While inconvenient, it was better than telling Buffy, Dean and Sam that their parents were currently in an open relationship as they explored the possibility of a more serious status. Both had just exited from what Mary labeled ‘poor life choices.’

“I said Faith is back.”

“Back? How did it happen? Did Rowena or Willow find the counter-curse?”

“That’s the thing. Nobody’s owning up to it. Sam and Dean were driving down the road with the bracelet in the backseat. Apparently Sam had another lead from some relative of a slayer back some long-ass time ago. They were moving right along and then poof.”

“Poof?” Little moments like this were what reminded him that he was not her biological father.

“Poof!” Buffy repeated. “Big ball of light blinded them and then poof. She was there.”

“What is she saying?”

“Well, she freaked. Busted out a window and ran.” She paused. “Though it’s Faith so it’s hard to tell if that’s a big deal. It could be bad or she could have really wanted out. Needless to say, they were close to the bunker so Nick already went off. Spike and Cas just left and Sam and Dean are also looking.”

Giles sighed. So much for utilizing the late checkout he’d already paid for. “We’re on our way. Should be there in a couple hours.”

“Good,” Buffy said with relief. “One quick question.”

“Yes?”

“Why would she be naked?”

Giles choked on his sharp intake of breath. “Who?”

“Faith. Duh.”

“Well, I honestly can’t say. Hopefully we will get all the answers once we locate her and determine how she escaped from the bracelet.”

After saying their farewells, Giles hung up and looked to Mary.

“I heard,” Mary acknowledged immediately. “Your phone volume’s not too stealthy.”

“Right,” he agreed. “So I guess we best shower and start toward Lebanon.” They weren’t dumb enough to not realize the vampires had extraordinary olfactory systems. They’d kept the relationship quiet for the better part of a month.

“Yeah,” she replied without moving. “Unless we first—“

“Quickly.” Leaning over, he kissed her as he lay down by her side. “Too long and they may question.”

“Agreed,” Mary responded, rolling herself atop him. “Quick is good.”

Giles took his glasses off and tossed them back on the nightstand. “Indeed.”

Chapter Text

There was something about being without shoes that made Faith feel super vulnerable. More so than the naked thing, which she also wasn’t wild about, but the lack of footwear drove her current situation home. That said, if John McClain could shut down terrorists on Christmas Eve with his feet split open and bleeding, Faith figured she could last long enough for Hunter to find her.

Faith sat by the payphone she’d found—outside some gas station that apparently wasn’t of the 24/7 variety—staring at the shiny coins she’d collected off the pavement. No one seemed to be out tonight, which was either extremely fortunate or rotten ass luck. In the state she was in, she’d be liable to put some poor schmuck in the hospital out of desperation for clothes, money, or anything else that would help her feel remotely human.

All she had to do was wait. Hunter would show up. He’d get her clothes and shoes, keep her from going nuclear on some poor citizen’s ass, and help her understand just exactly what the fuck had happened.

Faith clenched her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut, trying hard to fight that thought back because she knew once she cracked it open, she’d spiral, and that was something she really couldn’t afford to do right now. Except her brain could only remain occupied with the naked and shoeless thing for so long—the larger part kept tugging her back to the last thing she remembered. Fighting in a cemetery alongside witches and wizards and people she now called family. Wesley on his knees before her, losing his ever-loving mind and trying to yank off the bracelet she’d taken from Rosalie. The one that was supposed to kill her and gift-wrap her power to Wolfram and Hart. The one he’d given her willingly, knowing what it would do. The one he’d tricked her into putting on because the kid trusted him implicitly, and he’d used his dead fiancé’s name to seal the deal.

Faith had knocked Rosalie unconscious. She remembered that. She’d knocked her out, taken the bracelet, and lit out of the Hyperion with intent. Things had been so clear then, in that moment. She might have been an epic fuck-up in life, but that meant shit if she got to choose the way she went out. And to die saving Rosalie Wright, the girl she thought of as a sister, was the best a slayer could hope for. Big gesture and all, fighting the good fight for the right people and the right reasons. Might be enough to earn her unworthy ass a seat at the Pearly Gates after all.

Not that Faith had wanted to die—she hadn’t—but the decision had been simple, and she’d felt good about it. As good as a gal could feel after learning the guy she’d caught feelings for had betrayed her. Even if Wes had had a come to Jesus moment after, hadn’t realized that he was signing Rosalie’s death warrant by giving her that bracelet, it didn’t change shit.

She wasn’t supposed to be here. She didn’t even know where here was.

The sound of tires squealing had Faith jerking her head up, her heart in her throat. Thank fuck Nick had been near wherever she’d landed. She’d worry about the how later. Right now, she was just—

“Fuck,” she muttered as the car attached to the squealing tires came into view. The passenger-side window had been shattered, blood-streaked shards of glass rimming the bottom.

Not Nick. The sick fucks who’d had her, then. Wolfram and Hart lackeys, knowing her luck. She wracked her brain, trying to recall if Nick had mentioned these guys or what might have landed her in their company, but her brain was still stuck on the holy shit, not dead loop, and also giving itself proper kudos for remembering Nick’s cell phone number. If Nick had mentioned these guys, said brain hadn’t had the bandwidth to save the info.

Which meant, if she wanted to stay alive—and she very much did—that she had to assume they were lackeys.

Faith stood on wobbly legs, wincing as concrete bit into the open cuts on her feet. The girlish impulse to cover her breasts arose from nowhere, and she resented the fuck out of it. Death hadn’t been able to give her a complex the first time around—she sure as hell wouldn’t let it now.

Two doors slammed and two silhouettes appeared against the headlights. One tall—like Angel-tall—and the other on the leaner and meaner side. Not vamps—her slayer-tinglies were quite certain of that. Didn’t mean they’d make this easy, though.

The taller one raised its hands in what it probably thought was a placating gesture. “Faith,” came a man’s voice. “We’re friends.”

She snorted. “Not sayin’ it wouldn’t be the first time I woke up buck-ass naked in the back of some dude’s ride, but honey, you gotta do better than that.” She raised her fists. “If you know my name, you know I ain’t the kinda girl you wanna fuck with. So how about you get your asses back in that car unless you’re aimin’ to have them thoroughly kicked.”

The leaner shadow spoke next. “We’re with Nick Hunter. And Rosalie Wright.” A pause. “And Buffy Summers and her Billy Idol boyfriend. And Dawn Summers.”

Faith fought the urge to burst out laughing. Yeah, all of that sounded super likely.

“Dude,” the taller one said, apparently agreeing with her, “you sound like you’re reading names out of a phonebook.”

“We are with them!” the lean one shot back, looking frustrated and, Faith had to admit, brimming with the sort of tension that she loved exhausting. Too bad she didn’t do evil anymore. “Sammy here? He’s one of those Watcher things. With the Council. Like your friend Nick was?”

And suddenly nothing about this was funny anymore. A watcher? Faith snapped her attention back to the tall one—Sammy, apparently—and narrowed her eyes into slits. The first thing the fucking Watchers Council would do would be eliminate Rosalie Wright and the threat she presented. Compromised little girl and she and Nick knew it. He sure as hell wouldn’t be stupid enough to rescue her from Los Angeles and lead her right back to the fucking Watchers Council. The same asshats who had attempted to kidnap her when she was at her weakest, who would have killed her—as Nick had confirmed—had Buffy not still been so keen on playing the hero. A violent slayer was more dangerous than most of the creepy crawlies that went bump in the night and a slayer behind bars was fucking useless. They’d have had no choice but to kill her to get someone else up to the plate had Little Miss B not known when to quit.

So a slayer that was contract-bound to Wolfram and fucking Hart? Yeah, even though Rosalie was the ideal fucking candidate for the gig, she’d be too much of a liability to keep alive. Not when there was a line of others waiting to be tapped.

“I’ll say this one more time,” Faith said. “Unless you boys wanna get hurt, get the fuck back in your car and drive away.”

“Or we can do this the hard way,” the lean one said, and before she could blink, he’d whipped out a gun and was aiming it at her head.

Sammy looked appalled. “Dean!”

“It’s either this or she starts punchin’, and I’ve been tossed across the room a time too many over the past few weeks by a baby slayer just learnin’ her strength. This bitch could make it actually hurt.” Dean tilted his head, waving the nozzle of the gun up and down. “Don’t wanna shoot, darlin’, but I will if you make me.”

Sammy was shaking his head, his hands up and his eyes wide. “He won’t shoot you.”

“Yeah, I will. Not sayin’ it’s my first choice.”

“Dean, we didn’t hunt her down just to kill her again.”

“Of course we didn’t. But we’re also not gonna burn hours playing tag when we don’t know why the fuck she’s suddenly not dead anymore. Or if this really is Faith and not some trick pulled by those evil LA lawyers. I’ll put one in her leg to save us some time.” He favored her with a lazy smile. “And word to the wise—a bullet in the leg hurts like a son of a bitch, even if you have magical slayer powers. I’d avoid it if I were you.”

Faith looked from one to the other, then to the gun. There was a chance, a great one, that she could move and have good ole Dean pinned to the ground before he got trigger-happy, but being that she’d been back from the dead for all of an hour, she didn’t want to risk it.

But she also didn’t love the idea of spending her first night back in the real world standing buck-ass naked in front of a closed convenience store, held at gunpoint by a couple of GQ models. A girl had pride, after all.

Before she could make up her mind, though, another pair of headlights announced the arrival of another car. It jerked to a halt beside the Impala, and then a voice she knew—a voice she trusted—tore into the air.

“Faith! God, it is you.” The next thing she knew, Nick had plowed right on past the Watcher wannabes and taken her into a bear hug. He sniffed and she realized he was crying. Hell, she was too. The part of her that had been shut up tight since making the phone call was out at last, and the unreality of the last hour crashed down around her.

“I didn’t believe it,” Nick said, pulling back and cupping her face and peering into her eyes. “Kept expecting it to be a lie. Can’t believe it. I…” He released her, turned, then seemed to realize they had an audience.

An armed audience.

“Dean,” Nick said, his voice a low growl, “care to explain why you’re holding my best mate naked at gunpoint?”

*~*~*

Willow checked her watch for the third time in ten minutes. Also for the third time in ten minutes, she wondered if she was out of her freaking mind. Particularly after the meeting with Toadmore and his lackey, who turned out to be the witch who had shown up a couple of months back to modify everyone’s memory. Sabrina Deanne, her name was. She’d been less uptight today—pleasant, even. Not the no-nonsense woman Willow remembered storming into the Hyperion and scaring her out of her ever-loving mind.

“I’d like to thank Mrs. Granger-Weasley for everything she’s done to make this meeting possible,” Sabrina had said, nodding at Hermione. “After the…unpleasantness a couple of months ago, we agree that it is in everyone’s best interest that we remain as open as possible.”

“There are concerns,” Toadmore had chimed in. “Particularly in regards to the International Statute of Secrecy, as well as our own additional secrecy measures, especially regarding your relationship with the NoMaj governor Samuel Norman Seaborn.”

“A relationship that has ended,” Willow had replied, not without a pang. Some days were harder than others—this one just so happened to be rougher. Perhaps because she knew that whatever came next, if she acquired the seeds she was after, the line in the sand would be drawn insofar as Sam was concerned. That by pursuing this course at all, she was taking their relationship out of hold and either fixing it or killing it entirely.

“We understand he is the full-time guardian of the child you bore him,” Toadmore had said. “We are…concerned about what may happen if the child shows signs of being something other than NoMaj.”

“But that has to happen all the time,” Hermione had interjected, flushing brightly. “Even among NoMaj families. I, myself, am Muggle-born.”

“Yes, we know,” Toadmore had replied dryly, and given her a look that more than spelled out how he felt about Muggle-born witches and wizards. “And of course, it happens here as well. Even among politicians, though thankfully those occurrences are rare. However…” He’d leaned back, lacing his fingers across his broad stomach. “Governor Seaborn’s associations with Ms. Rosenberg have caused quite a bit of alarm for the Magical community as it was. He has also been resistant to becoming a client of Wolfram and Hart, a law firm that specializes in—”

“We know exactly what Wolfram and Hart specializes in,” Hermione had replied coolly. “Being that they attempted to murder Willow, Harry Potter, and others.”

“They are merely protecting the International Statute of Secrecy. And they do an admirable job. I think the Ministry of Magic could learn a thing or two from them.”

The conversation had gone predictably downhill from there, with Hermione becoming increasingly heated and Toadmore giving back as good as he got. Sabrina Deanne had remained quiet, more or less, and stayed behind when Toadmore stormed out, muttering about foreigners and NoMaj witches who were in over their heads.

“Mr. Toadmore’s superior is working directly with Percy Weasley,” she’d said apologetically. “He knows he needs to play nice if we’re going to make any headway. But he is rather prejudiced against…” She’d waved at Willow. “I’m afraid we weren’t prepared for NoMajes who were…well, magical. You’re a bit of an unknown.”

“And what happens if my son does display signs of being a wizard?” she’d replied. “Sam and I decided together that Oz was better off with him for now. I’m…not in the right place to be a full-time mother.”

That much she hadn’t meant to say, but hadn’t been able to keep in, either. She felt a compulsive need to explain why she, a mother who very much loved her son, would relinquish custody of said son to the father without a fight. There were days when she regretted it entirely, but most of the time knew it had been the right call.

Times like the present, when she intended to follow a disastrous meeting by stealing something from the Herbology department. When she’d use what she stole to undo the magical binding that had erased huge chunks of her life…and when she didn’t know how she’d react to it.

She was too dangerous to be Oz’s mommy right now. But still, it hurt.

And the look Sabrina had given her hadn’t made her feel any better.

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” she’d said. “But between us, I hope we never do.”

That had been hours ago. Willow had spent the time after trying not to freak out, with Hermione assuring her that all would work out, improve as their relations improved. She’d taken Willow back to Percy’s office toward the end of the day—Percy had been in a meeting and away, which was luck no one could have wished for—and told to wait. For whatever reason, it was government policy that the person who brought a visitor to MACUSA be the same person who left with them. Hermione was officially working as an extension of the Ministry of Magic, which spared her from kowtowing to the rule. But she hadn’t known how long Percy might take in his meeting—Percy had a way of losing track of time while working—and had been very apologetic about leaving Willow alone.

Willow, of course, had wanted to be left alone, but had done a reasonably good job pretending like she didn’t. After assuring Hermione that she wouldn’t feel abandoned if she headed off to meet Ron for dinner, Willow had sneaked back into the halls and made her way toward the Department of Herbology.

Three little seeds were all that separated her from her memories. From truly understanding what had driven her to erase her own mind and those around her.

From remembering Tara.

And, if she were being honest with herself, it was that, more than anything, that pushed her forward.

And made her wonder what sort of future she had with Sam, if any. What sort of future she wanted. If he even wanted her anymore—if she was the sort of person who could want him, too, knowing what she did about herself.

Tonight was her chance to find out.

*~*~*

Rosalie was starting to ask questions. Well, not starting. She’d been asking questions for the better part of two hours. The most pressing of which had revolved around, “Where the hell is Nick?” and “Where the hell is everyone else?”

Rosa Lee’s opening night was minus its owner, her Watcher, the resident angel, her uncle, and Dean. Whatever Dean was to Rosalie. And for some stupid reason that made absolutely zero sense to Buffy, Nick and Sam had both agreed that telling Rosalie what was going on was a bad move. Something about getting her hopes up, which yes, Buffy could understand. But she’d also been on the receiving end of not receiving information, and knew that both Nick and Sam were buying more trouble than they were saving by keeping her in the dark.

The phone in her pocket went off. Buffy glanced around the empty bar—no sign of Rosalie—then whipped it out and answered.

“Tell me something good,” she said by way of greeting.

“Don’t think Cas is gonna have a chance to sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ tonight after all.” There was a pause. “Dunno how good you consider that, Slayer, but we take our wins where we find ’em.”

Buffy closed her eyes and released a long sigh. “Still nothing?”

“We’re lookin’, pet. Would be a spot easier if the bloody angel would let me take the bloody wheel.”

Castiel muttered something in the background about valuing his wings too much to subject himself to the hell that was Spike’s driving.

“Oi,” he replied. “I’ll have you know I’ve never crashed a sodding car.” A pause. “Not by accident, at least.”

Buffy sighed. “Spike—”

“Think their witch might try a location spell?”

“They don’t have anything of Faith’s. We already asked.”

“The bloody bracelet oughta do in a pinch, right?”

“Well, if Sam and Dean get back before Nick finds her, then—” A scent hit the air, and Buffy’s stomach twisted. “I gotta go. Something’s wrong.”

“Slayer—”

“Bye.”

She turned and made a beeline toward the back, nearly running down a stricken Lorne, who came hurtling out.

“Oh thank heavens,” he said when he saw her. “It’s bad.”

“What?” Buffy said, not slowing down. But she already knew. The scent in the air was tears, and Rosalie was on the floor, holding her head and sobbing.

“The cat has jumped way out of the bag,” Lorne said, coming up behind her. “And she is pissed.”

Rosalie looked up, tears streaking down her face. “Is it true?” she asked, her voice hoarse. “I Saw her. Is it true?”

“What did you see?” Buffy asked, kneeling beside her.

“Faith. Hugging Nick.” She made a face. “Naked but…maybe that’s the past? But it didn’t feel like the past. Buffy, is that where he went? Where all of them went? Tell me.”

“The naked thing isn’t a he’s cheating on you thing,” Buffy said, because she remembered being a teenage girl and knew the exact leap she would have made if the PTB had decided that being the Slayer wasn’t enough—she needed visions as well. “We don’t know why…she’s naked.”

Rosalie rose to her feet, wiping at her eyes. “But it’s true. She’s back?”

“Something’s back,” Buffy said, mindful of her words. Just in case this turned out to be a massively unfunny joke played by the Powers or Wolfram and Hart or some other asshole. “We… It came out of the bracelet. Sam and Dean were on their way to visit some long lost slayer relation, then Faith just kinda…exploded into their backseat, busted a window, and took off.”

“And Nick…went after her.” Rosalie’s mouth hardened into a line. “Tonight. Without telling me.”

“He didn’t want you to get your hopes up.”

Rosalie’s eyes glittered. “How bad is it if I kill a human? On a scale from one to ten? Because he might just be a dead man.”

Buffy released a breath, feeling some of her tension going along with it. She slung an arm around Rosalie and drew her in for a hug. “Spike will help you hide the body.”

Speaking of…her cell started ringing. She’d wondered how long he’d let her go without calling her back. Buffy answered with a soft smile, brushing Rosalie’s hair out of her face. “It’s good,” she said. “Rosalie just…got a line from the PTB about what was going on. Seems they didn’t think she should be in the dark.”

“Uncle Spike, I need your help hiding Nick’s body. Because I’m gonna kill him.”

“Well,” Spike replied in a downright jovial tone, “turns out to be my kinda night after all.”

Chapter Text

“You care to explain why your best mate is naked and here?” Dean countered, though he did lower the gun mostly.

Nick turned back to Faith. “No bloody idea.”

“Well, that’s fucking fantastic,” Faith responded. “Because I don’t even know where the fuck we are.”

“Kansas,” Sam answered. He then turned to his brother. “We really need to do something. Somebody drives up and finds three guys, a gun and a naked and bloody woman and we have a sexual assault case to deal with.”

“Right,” Nick agreed. He pulled his tee over his head and then held it out to Faith. “Here, love. Until we can get you properly dressed.”

“Wait a minute!” Dean said, raising the gun barrel once more. “Look, we don’t even know if she’s Faith.”

Nick gave him an incredulous stare. “Who else was trapped in that bracelet?”

“He’s right,” Sam said hesitantly. “That bracelet was designed by Wolfram and Hart. We really can’t be sure without running some tests.”

“Tests?” Nick balked. “What can a witch who never saw her before do compared to me?”

“He has seen all this before,” Faith said gesturing to her now half-naked body.

“Yeah, trust me we’ve heard,” Dean muttered.

“I know!” Nick said whipping around to Faith once more. “Tell them. Tell them something nobody knows about me.”

She arched her brow. “You really wanna go there? I got shit you couldn’t live down.”

His cheeks reddened. “Don’t tell anything like that. Just something…mildly humiliating.”

“How are we going to tell?” Dean asked.

“Just wait,” Nick said holding his gaze to Faith. Truthfully, he too needed this verification.

She looked down at the ground, seeming to be searching for a proper answer. “Star Wars,” she said slowly.

“Nice try,” Dean drawled as he raised the gun all the way. “You’re wearing his fucking Han Solo shirt.”

She looked up to Nick’s eyes. “You called in to work to go audition in London. You actually got a callback, but didn’t make the final cut. You were going for a storm trooper.”

“No fucking way!” Dean said lowering his weapon in complete shock. “That’s fucking awesome!”

Nick felt the tears starting again. This was his girl. Wrapping his arms around her, he kissed her cheek and buried himself in her neck. “Faith,” he whispered in pure relief and joy.

“I almost told them how you like to say a little blonde’s name when you come,” she whispered in his ear.

He pulled back with a blush and a smirk. “Well, that one isn’t an entire shocker anymore.”

“Great!” Sam called out. “Let’s call in the search and head back. Again, before we get spotted.”

Nick took Faith’s hand and led her toward the car. “How long has it been?” Faith asked.

“A little over two months now. We’re in Kansas. Rosalie and I never returned to Los Angeles. Sam and Dean have a bunker and we are there along with Buffy and Spike.”

“And the bracelet?”

“Was brought back with them,” Nick said, gesturing to the guys getting into the black Impala.

“That explains the how, but not the why. And…” She paused as she looked at the convertible door Nick opened for her. “How the fuck did you afford this?”

Nick gave a nervous chuckle. “I borrowed it. Forcibly.”

“Watcher Boy is gonna be in trouble,” Faith singsonged as she sat inside.

He shut the door. “You have no fucking idea.”

*~*~*

Sam adjusted his black bow tie nervously. It was straight until he played with it. Fidgeting, he fixed it again. Or unfixed it. He really wasn’t sure anymore.

“Jesus Christ!” Toby snapped. “You’re like a virgin on prom night.” He was glaring from his seat across the limo.

“It’s L.A.” Sam whined. “I hate being back. Plus this is my first night away from Oz since taking him to Sacramento.”

“Hurry up and get it out of your system because we’re pulling in.”

Sam looked out to see The Beverly Hills Hotel coming into sight. He’d changed into his formal wear in the airport lounge since arrival was so close to the start of the fundraiser. “C.J. and Danny still coming?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t say anything to them about Oz?”

“No,” Toby responded.

“Because Danny’s still is a journalist and—“

“I know,” the older man growled. “They still think the interview’s the whole story. So shut up.”

“Yeah,” Sam said absently as the limo stopped in front of the red carpeted entrance to the hotel. With a resigned sigh, he opened the door and stepped out into barrage of lights and cameras.

Sam wasn’t at all fazed by the press or the attention that came from his political status. He’d been a close aid to the President for four years before embarking on his own elected career.

These nerves were all tied back to the apparent PTSD he suffered as a result of everything he’d lived through in L.A. a couple months ago. Compounded on was the fact he knew that he was having to act a part to Wolfram and Hart and MACUSA, he wasn’t entirely sure he could pull off.

Because he knew they were watching. Likely, they were both here tonight.

After getting inside and downing a couple drinks, Sam began to relax as he mingled with an assortment of friendly faces. Seeing C.J. helped to calm his nerves, always grateful to have his surrogate big sister in close proximity. She’d helped him with a few introductions with contacts from her former public relations days.

He might have turned into a fanboy when he got the chance to have a conversation with Bill Nye the Science Guy. He would have been embarrassed if the man hadn’t asked for a selfie after they talked about Sam’s current plan to join the Pacific Energy Initiative, even if the White House couldn’t gain enough votes in Congress.

Taking a break from all the obligatory shmoozing, Sam wandered off to the bar to grab a drink before the speeches began.

“Rum and Coke,” he told the bartender.

A rather nice looking woman strolled up next to him. “Rum and Coke,” she said to the man behind the counter before turning to him with a shy smile. “Hello, Governor.”

“Hi,” he returned in kind.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said with a bashful grin. “But I really wanted to take a moment to thank you.”

It was Sam’s turn to blush. “Well, thank you. I don’t know if I deserve it, but I appreciate it nonetheless.”

She shifted slightly on her heels, which Sam noticed she definitely didn’t need. She was possibly taller than C.J., but a little younger with curly light brown hair. “I really appreciated how you handled the whole situation with your son’s mother. Most guys would have taken the opportunity to play the knight in shining armor. You were really clear in stating that she hadn’t needed a man to rescue her, but chose to have you help raise your son together.”

Sam swallowed hard. He was glad it had come off as he had intended. “Well, thanks.”

“Sorry if I said too much. Obviously, I’m sorry that she’s unwell, too.” She grabbed her drink from the bar and nodded. “I just wanted to thank you for that. As another independent woman.”

He could definitely tell that last part. He smiled and extended his hand. “I never got your name.”

“Jessica. Dr. Jessica Spano. I teach Women’s Studies at Stanford and am also on the board of the California Planned Parenthood.” She took his hand and gave it a firm shake.

“Well, Dr. Jessica Spano, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

*~*~*

“The show must go on!” Lorne had announced as the bar officially opened at seven. While he had been able to keep on keeping on with the schedule, Rosalie could not.

She was a complete and total wreck. She’d been on pins and needles waiting for this moment to come. And Nick wasn’t even here.

While she outwardly displayed her anger, she was also equal parts hurt, scared and nervous.

The fact that he hadn’t told her Faith had come back was the main source. He might have thought he was protecting her, but being the last to know had been humiliating. The fact that he hadn’t taken a moment to talk to her after he’d left was just painful. After everything they’d been through, she knew she deserved better than a rejected call.

Which then begged the question of what happened now. He and Faith had been close. Closer than Rosalie wanted to think about. But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. And if what she heard was true and Faith had actually memorized Nick’s number to have him rescue her…

What if Faith’s time away changed her? What if going to wherever she’d gone made her realize what an amazing a man Nick truly was? Well, except for when he was an ass like right now. What if she realized she wanted Nick as more than a friend with benefits?

As much as Nick claimed to love her, was it really more than he loved Faith? Could she compete with the woman he’d first opened up to? His best friend?

Surprisingly, a couple of patrons actually showed up shortly after the doors opened. One looked like a hunter looking for action and another was what Lorne had warned as a werewolf. Both had ordered drinks and set themselves up at separate tables.

Dawn was filling in for Nick at the bar. She’d been noticeably relieved when both men had simply ordered alcohol.

The door swung open and a vampire and an angel walked into the bar. Any other time and Rosalie would have probably commented on the fact they were the setup to a joke.

“Kitten beer, kitten,” Spike called out when he saw his sister-in-law behind the counter.

“Not fucking likely,” Dawn replied, reaching down to pull up a brown bottle.

“There goes your tip,” Spike teased as he walked up and took the beverage.

“Have Dean and Sam returned?” Cas questioned.

“Nope,” Buffy answered as she walked in from the back, a pint glass half full of blood in her hand.

“Nothing sexier than a wife bringin’ her man a drink after a long hard day,” Spike purred.

Buffy rolled her eyes and reached over to snatch the bottle from her husband’s grasp. “Six dollars,” she said as she finished filling the glass with beer.

He made a noise of discontent, but fished a wad of cash from his pocket. Slapping down a ten, he held out his hand for the drink. Buffy handed him the glass and then proceeded to down the rest of the beer from the bottle.

“Pretty sure that was mine,” Spike remarked.

“Married. What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine.”

“Buggered that up a bit, love,” he replied with a smirk.

“Don’t think I did,” she said putting her elbows down on the bar and giving him a challenging smile.

Three unknown vampires entered the bar. Rosalie sensed them almost as quickly as Buffy and Spike sensed them. One of the two males let their fangs drop and gave a growl.

“Try anything and I’ll dust you in the lot,” Spike warned.

“Play nice!” Lorne chirped as he walked over from the stage. He looked at the potential customers. “Let me get you set up with a table and drinks.”

As he led them away, two more men walked through the door. “You try anything and I’ll take you in the lot, too,” Spike teased.

“Sure,” Sam said dismissively as both Winchesters went straight to the bar.

“Where’s Hunter and Faith?” Buffy asked.

“Just pulling in,” Dean answered as he slipped his wallet from his back pocket and gave Dawn a nod and a wink. “Double shot of Jack and a beer.”

Rosalie lost track of the conversation. Her eyes and brain were solely focused on the door. Her heart was pounding so fast she was beginning to have trouble breathing. It took all of her control to keep from running outside to hug Faith and beat Nick into a puddle of boyfriend goo.

Her mind paused at the fact that he may no longer actually be her boyfriend after tonight.

The door finally opened and Faith and Nick walked inside. Faith was hobbling, covered in blood, barefoot in only a t-shirt. A tee Rosalie recognized from her and Nick’s first shopping trip to Walmart.

Nick was obviously shirtless, his arm wrapped firmly around Faith’s waist. It was unclear if she needed physical help or he was simply unable to keep from touching her. Both his recent tattoos showed starkly across his pale chest. His anti-possession symbol Sam and Dean insisted everyone get was on one side. The other was a single white rose that he had gotten the same day. The rose that was to symbolize that no matter what might happen, his loyalty would always be to Rosalie.

A sharp, hot knife of jealousy plunged into her gut, and Rosalie couldn’t contain herself any longer.

“Hi,” Nick said looking up at her tortured expression with a sheepish smile. “Surprise?”

She marched right up to his smug, stupid face and cocked her fist. She was so focused on the look of realization in his eyes that he was about to get his ass kicked that she didn’t register the shouts from everyone else.

It wasn’t until she was flying backward that she remembered the damn protection spell. Luckily, instead of hitting the ground, Spike had reacted in time to catch her.

“I kinda figured the first swing would be for me,” Faith said in response. “Considering I knocked you out and stole your jewelry.”

Rosalie looked at Faith with awe. A part of her wanted nothing more than run up and hug the woman she had mourned the past two months. But another part of her was dying as she realized the life she’d just started to build as an adult could be crumbling under its very foundation.

“Rose,” Nick said wearily. “I think we should head back to my office and talk.”

“You work in a bar now?” Faith asked.

“Not quite,” he responded, his focus remaining on Rosalie. “Please?”

Rosalie swallowed. Why was this suddenly the worst day of her life? Nodding, she turned to start walking to the back of the bar.

“Look on the bright side,” Faith called out to her. “For once Nick actually put clothes on me instead of taking them off. Granted, pretty sure the night’s still young.”

Chapter Text

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Zack, who had been dozing, jerked his head up at the exclamation. He glanced at Wright, who was staring out the windshield, his jaw slack. Zack followed his gaze, and a bark of laughter exploded off his lips.

Rosa Lee’s Cantina.

“It could be a coincidence,” Zack said, knowing damn well that it wasn’t.

Wright was rigid, gripping the steering wheel so tightly Zack almost expected him to rip the thing right off. At length, the burly demon hunter shifted and withdrew his cell-phone from his pocket. He pulled up his contacts and hit Spike’s name without taking his gaze off the gaudy neon sign.

“Zangy,” Spike greeted with enthusiasm. “It’s been a minute.”

Zack squirmed and tried not to succumb to jealousy. Even though he knew the events had been out of Spike’s hands, it still smarted to hear his best friend refer to his other best friend by a nickname that had once been his alone.

“Tell me that little shit didn’t name his bar after my daughter.”

There was a pause. “Guessin’ you already know the answer to that. If it makes you feel better, no one here’s lettin’ him hear the end of it.”

“It’s…kind of sweet?” Zack offered. He threw up his hands when Wright shot him a glare. “Just saying. Some girls get promise rings—this guy gives her a bar.”

“Zangy Number Two!” Spike said, sounded delighted. “Trust you to be the romantic sap.”

“Spike,” Wright interjected quickly, “do me a favor. Go grab Nick and hold him still until I get in there. I don’t care how sweet it is, I owe that boy at least one good punch just on principle.” He glanced up, meeting Zack’s eyes. “When some twenty-something pops your Rosie’s cherry before she’s old enough to vote, you’ll understand.”

Zack shook his head. “I understand well enough now.”

“You mean to tell me you boys are here?” The excitement in Spike’s voice was hard to miss. “This night just gets better n’ better—oi! Watch it, Slayer.”

There was a slight shuffle, then Buffy’s voice rang over the line.

“What the hell do you mean, you’re here? Wolfram and Hart, big evil, wants Rosalie dead. Any of this ringing a bell?”

“Wolfram and Hart, big evil, zapped up Faith’s superpowers, Faith magically regurgitates within spitting distance of my daughter. Do I need to go on?”

Buffy was quiet for a moment. “Just how many speeding laws did you break to get here so fast?”

“All of them. Only got pulled over once. Had my brother flash some fang and the cop went screaming back to his car. Have you found Faith?”

“Yeah, and she’s definitely Faith.”

“How the hell do you know?”

“Vampire, Zack. Do you have any idea how hard it is to mimic someone’s smell?” Buffy sighed. “Besides, she already passed Nick’s dork test, from what Sam says.”

“Yeah, well, that doesn’t mean she’s safe. Wolfram and Hart could’ve tracked that bracelet.”

“Hold on—Spike, what?”

Another shuffle. Spike had apparently reclaimed the phone.

“Got beautiful bloody timin’, mate,” he said. “Your girl’s beau just made her cry. Wanna pop him good and proper? Stay outside. I’ll get him to come to you.”

For a moment, Zack thought Wright might actually crush the cell-phone, he was holding it so tight.

“He. Made. Her. What?”

More shuffling, then Buffy again.

“It’s nothing,” she said dryly. “Rosalie’s a pot of teenage hormones and she’s feeling a little insecure about the fact that her boyfriend’s old fuck buddy showed up wearing his T-shirt. Trust me, Zack—hey!”

“Don’t come in here guns a blazin’,” Spike said, having evidently reclaimed the phone. “Jolly Green and the Winchester Wankers’ witch-on-call got this place properly mojo’d so no one can have any sodding fun. You wanna knock the little git’s teeth out, I’ll get him to come to you.”

“Spike!” Buffy grumbled in the background.

“Slayer has no room to talk,” Spike continued. “Shoulda seen her the first time some dickless prat made Nibblet cry.”

“That is not the same thing!” Buffy protested.

“Love, the bloke was thirty minutes late because Dawn wrote the time down wrong. Wanna rethink that?”

“Well…you’re the one who threatened to kill his family!”

“Bloody right I did. Wanker made my Nibblet cry, didn’t he?” When Spike spoke again, his voice was a bit clearer. “Whaddya say, Zangy? Wanna make sure the little tosser bruises?”

For the first time since they’d hit the road, Wright looked something other than determined and terrified.

“Send that little fucker out.”

*~*~*

It wasn’t that Faith didn’t get it. Well, it was a little that Faith didn’t get it because she’d never been the typical teenage girl, moony-eyed over anyone. The closest she’d come to loving anyone when she’d been around Rosalie’s age had been Mayor Richard Wilkins III, and in a very, very different context. The guys she’d been with then—boys, mostly—had been arrangements of convenience. Or just random as hell, as had been the case with Xander Harris. She’d never gotten dopey enough about anyone on an emotional level to feel threatened.

But she had been super jealous of Buffy. Super B with her little squad of heroic friends. The good Watcher on her side, Little Miss Could Do No Wrong. Faith had blown into and out of Sunnydale as the problem child, and yeah, that had smarted. Still did to some degree, and she wasn’t sure how long they’d be able to keep the peace if they were all living under one roof. It had been that jealousy that had inspired Faith to go after Angel all those years ago, and then Riley while she’d been wearing her Buffy suit. Hell, she’d even made a pass at Spike. All of those encounters had basically reaffirmed what she’d already known—that Buffy was the center of their worlds, even before Spike had admitted it to himself.

And yeah, for a period, she and Nick had been the center of each other’s. Not in a gross, romantic way, but as each other’s anchors. What one needed, the other gave, and vice versa. That they’d also fucked like bunnies made the relationship hard to understand from the outside, but it had always made perfect sense to them. Granted, there had been the odd time or two when Hunter had worried she had feelings she didn’t, normally because of fears other people put there, but he’d go all red when she laughed in his face and not mention it again until the next time someone—namely Rosalie—made him feel the need to check.

Rosalie was a teenager, a barely legal one at that. Her little life had never been normal but everything over the past few weeks had been topsy-turvey. The man she thought of as an uncle had tried to kill her, the woman she’d looked up to—then, at least—had died in her place, and the guy she liked had finally decided to bone her. An unplanned resurrection was sure to throw anyone’s world off-kilter, but fuck if it didn’t hurt that the first thing she’d seen on Rosalie’s face hadn’t been elation or love.

Anger. Fear. Jealousy. Hell, maybe the girl even hated her a bit now. Hated her the way Faith had hated Buffy back in the day—having all the cool toys and friends and generally being the best at everything. That anyone could think of her like that was tragically fucking funny. Be careful what you wish for, and all that shit.

Still, Faith was grateful when one of the new faces—Sam, he’d said—had turned to her, seemed to realize she was half-naked and covered in blood in a place where both of those things were a bad idea, and offered to take her back to “the bunker” for a shower and some clothes.

When she stumbled out of the shower twenty minutes later, dressed in a pair of sweats and an AC/DC T-shirt Sam had pulled from his brother’s room, she found him waiting at what had to be the main meeting table, glued to his phone.

“You were right,” Faith said by way of greeting, pulling on the waistband of her borrowed sweats. “Bit loose but I ain’t gonna complain.”

They had decided to raid Dean’s wardrobe for a number of reasons—Buffy was too lean, Dawn too tall, and Rosalie already too sensitive to take anything from them. The other option had been Mom, but Sam had paled at the thought of going through his mother’s things, muttering something about not wanting to find anything that might confirm she was actually in a relationship with Giles. Plausible deniability was the best bet there.

Not that that had made any sense, but Faith hadn’t given a fuck. Dean’s stuff fit her fine.

“Good,” Sam said, fitting his phone back into his pocket. “Feeling any less…?”

“Dead?” Faith just barked a laugh. “Considering I left this world in good ole sunny LA and woke up in the Twilight Zone where I’m pretty sure I might’ve just lost one of the only people I give a fuck about just by showing up, I’d say this feels closer to Hell than Purgatory.”

Sam pulled his face into a frown. It was, she had to admit, a nice face. He was also built like a motherfucker and probably knew how to use that in all the right ways. And here she was with all this pent up tension just aching to be burned off.

But that baby-face, honest-to-fuck earnestness in his eyes had her mentally pegging him as a lousy lay, which was a damn shame, considering the piece of art that was his body. Plus hopping in the sack with the girl’s watcher—for the second time—was probably not the way to make nice with Rosalie.

There was that pang again.

“It’ll be okay, Faith,” Sam said, and she saw he meant it. Or believed it, anyway. Great. A boy scout. Not her type anyway. “Rosalie’s been through…a lot in a short period of time.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that like? Turns out this is actually my very first fucking rodeo and that excuse doesn’t make me wanna break that pretty nose of yours.” She barked a laugh and spread her arms. “Really? Platitudes from a guy I’ve known less than an hour? Fuck you.”

“Look—”

“Just point me in the direction of the nearest cemetery, hoss. Find I really need to kill something.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “You…you can’t leave yet.”

“Wanna watch me?”

“We don’t know why you’re back, or who might know. I know you’ve been through something traumatic but now is not the time to do anything rash. And once Rosalie calms down, she’ll want to talk to you.”

“Fine,” Faith replied shortly. “She can do that after I’ve slain a vamp or twelve. Not talkin’ about leavin’ the state, but if I don’t blow off some steam soon, your little treehouse here is gonna be ground zero in something I know you boys aren’t prepared to handle, whatever you think of yourselves.”

Sam’s jaw hardened. “I’m sorry. I can’t let you leave.”

She just laughed at that. “Wanna try and stop me?” She let her eyes roam up and down his body, and reconsidered. What the hell? What was one more crime on her rap sheet? If Rosalie had a problem with her fucking the Boy Scout, she could deal with it like a goddamn adult. “Go ahead, Sam,” she said, letting her voice drop as she sauntered forward. “Try to stop me. Try it hard.”

Sam’s baby face went slack with shock and he began to back up. Like she was a dangerous animal or something. Which, in the moment, not a comparison she hated. “Faith… Ahh, that’s not a good idea.”

“No? ‘Cause I got all this energy I need to burn off somehow. You want to keep me here. Do it. Otherwise, my very fuckable ass is out that door.”

“Your…ass?”

She laughed again, the sound coming out as a cackle. “Oh, you are a Boy Scout, aren’t you? Sure. You make me come hard enough one way and you can earn a backstage pass to paradise.”

“I—that is. I mean…” Sam looked at her, his pulse noticeably pounding in his throat. He whipped out his cell-phone and made a call without breaking eye-contact. “Cas? Yeah. I need you here. Right now.”

“Someone ordering a threesome? From zero to wild child. I like it.”

“Hello, Sam.”

That voice came from behind her. Faith whirled around, too proud to admit she’d been caught off guard, and found herself blinking at a not-unattractive guy wearing a beige trench-coat and looking like he had an epic case of constipation.

“The fuck did you come from?” she sputtered.

The man looked at her, but his expression didn’t change. “Sam requested my assistance.” He glanced back to Sam. “You sounded urgent. What is wrong?”

Sam motioned vaguely to Faith, who just arched an eyebrow. “What?” she said. “You actually called in reinforcements? Oh, honey. This guy looks like a stiff breeze could blow him over.”

“Castiel, this is Faith, the Vampire Slayer. Recently back from the dead.” Sam was backing toward the door. “Faith, this is Cas. He’s an angel of the Lord and more than capable of keeping you here. I’m going back to the bar to check on Rosalie. You…stay here. You.” He looked to Cas. “Don’t let her leave, whatever you do.”

Sam was gone then, like that fucking cartoon rodent. Faith wasn’t sure whether to be amused, annoyed, or enraged. But if the angel thought he could lasso her, he was about to learn just how hard she could punch.

Faith turned to Cas, eyeing him again.

Hell, that might even be fun.

*~*~*

Honestly, Willow had expected the theft to be more, well, eventful. As it turned out, getting into Snitch’s office was the opposite of challenging. She’d been prepared to curse the door open, but the dang thing hadn’t even been locked. And once she was in, finding the jellyfish tree seeds had been super easy. Snitch was what the NoMaj population would call anal retentive. He had everything labeled and alphabetized, and even included little note cards for proper handling of the rarer species. The trickiest part of the night had been magically replicating the seeds so Snitch would be none the wiser. Sure, he was bound to notice if he actually tried to use them in something, but it was more likely he was just a collector. NoMaj plants couldn’t have been of too much interest.

When she returned to Percy’s office, it was still empty. He didn’t join her for another forty-five minutes, and when he did, stumbled a bit as though surprised to see her.

“Oh, sorry,” he said. “I, ahh, rather forgot you were with me.”

“Gee, thanks, Perce,” Willow replied, trying to affect an annoyed tone, when she was buzzing with excitement. Tonight she could begin to spell-cast; for the first time since leaving the Hyperion, she felt completely in charge of her own destiny, and it was a heady sensation.

One nothing could take down.

Not even when she saw the father of her child on television when she got home. Being that she was now a California resident, it was rather difficult to go more than a few days without seeing Sam Seaborn’s pearly whites smiling up at her from a screen or newspaper. The first dozen or so times had been like a kick in the gut. When his spin team had released the story regarding how he’d come to be a single father, Willow had curled herself up in a ball and refused to get out of bed for three straight days, hating herself and missing him and missing their son and the story they’d once told themselves about their future. It seemed like that world belonged to someone who didn’t exist, or perhaps never had.

It had gotten easier after that, though. She’d watched Sam’s poll numbers dip and rise again, forced herself to sit through several uncomfortable press conferences that had started off as feeding frenzies only to become the next internet meme of “how to kick ass, take names, and look good doing it.” Sam seemed more popular today than he’d ever been before. In a weird way, having a baby out of wedlock might have been the best thing he’d done for his political career.

So yeah, it wasn’t surprising when she saw him on television anymore.

But the candid shots of him looking extremely chummy with a pretty strawberry blonde that CNN identified as Jessica Spano of Stanford University and board member of Planned Parenthood, along with some snide remarks from the pundits…yeah, she hadn’t expected that. The sight or what it did to her heart.

Willow looked down at the ingredients she had spread before her. The ones connecting her to the past, to Tara, to possibly the great love of her life. Then she looked up again in time to see Sam throw his head back and laugh at something the professor had said.

It meant something that it hurt, she thought. Meant that she wasn’t ready to give up on him—on them. On the version of her she was when she was with him.

Or maybe it hurt because she knew she could never go back. Alea iacta est. The die had been well and truly cast.

She didn’t know. She both loved Sam and hated him for letting her walk away, for agreeing with her when she’d said it would never work. For not standing by her when everything had come crashing down around her. And she appreciated the hell out of him for that, too. For recognizing what she needed and being so willing to give it to her. For not hesitating to take their son when it could have been, even should have been political suicide. She hated him and loved him and missed him and never wanted to see him again.

And part of her was downright terrified of what the spell would reveal because of it.

Which made her all the more determined to get it done.

*~*~*

It was too bloody easy.

Spike let himself into the back office without bothering to knock. Not that the dainty little human ears would have heard, anyway, considering the thunderous yelling coming out of Bite Size. To the git’s credit, little Nicky seemed to be standing his bloody ground, not apologetic but not exactly angry either, more exasperated and desperate.

“Not now,” Hunter snapped when he saw Spike in the doorway.

Rosalie wheeled to face him, her eyes sparkling with tears that punched him right in the gut. Still, when she spoke, her voice didn’t quiver a bit. “Haven’t killed him yet. Will let you know when I need the body dumped, Uncle Spike.”

Spike inclined his head. “Good to know watcher’s still on the menu, but I thought it might be of interest to the owner that some teenage blood-bags wanted to celebrate openin’ night in style.”

Nick stared at him for a moment, closed his eyes and seemingly willing for patience. “What?”

“Well, for starters, the name of this place, accordin’ to the outside is now Rosa Lee’s Cuntina.”

“Bloody hell!” Nick gave Rosalie a searing look, then tore out of the office like the proverbial bat out of hell.

The fire seemed to deflate from Rosalie at that, and after a moment, when she made to follow, Spike held up an arm and prevented her from leaving the office.

“Still mad at the wanker?”

She studied him for a moment, then nodded miserably. “And myself. And him. Mostly at him.”

“Then what you’re about to see is gonna be bloody cathartic.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

Spike just grinned and nodded toward the front. “Follow me, if you please.”

Sadly, his uncly duty to make sure the girl was all right caused him to miss the actual swing, but he got there for afters. Found Hunter on the ground, bruise around his eye already forming, and Wright yelling his head off about consequences and pervy twenty-somethings. Zack had out his phone and seemed to be recording the full thing.

When he saw Spike, Zack looked up and flashed him a toothy grin. “Didn’t want you to miss this.”

Pride and affection burst in Spike’s chest. He came over and thumped him on the back. “Bloody good to see you, mate.”

“Dad?”

Wright stopped glaring at Nick and dragged his gaze upward. The second he met Rosalie’s eyes, the fury that had contorted his face faded away into a mask of love and relief. He favored her with a half-grin, then spread his arms wide. “Surprise, Posey.”

Rosalie looked from him, to her moaning lump of a boyfriend, clearly torn on whether or not this was a good thing. Then her expression hardened, likely as she remembered she was brassed at the git, and when she looked up again, there was nothing but relief and joy.

“Dad!” she cried, and flung herself into his arms. “I’ve missed you so much!”

Wright crushed her to his chest, and all the tension that had been lining his body melted away. “Kid, you have no fucking idea.”

Spike turned toward the door as Buffy and Dean came through. “You left the Nibblet by herself to tend bar?”

“She’ll be fine,” Buffy said, taking in the scene with an air of resigned amusement. After a moment, she walked over to Nick and offered him her hand. “Let’s get you on ice.”

“You knew that was going to happen, didn’t you?” Nick said sourly.

“I had a hunch.”

“And you let me go through that door anyway.”

She shrugged. “Got it over with, didn’t you? There was really no way Wright wasn’t going to hit you, even if you hadn’t made Rosalie cry.”

At the words, Wright tensed and aimed another glare at Nick, his arms tightening around his daughter.

“Bloody hell,” Nick said. “Just had to remind him, didn’t you?”

Dean snickered and clapped Hunter on the back. “Nicky, I ain’t a father, but there was no fucking way he was gonna forget that. None.”

“None,” Wright mouthed, unblinking, expression stony.

At last, Rosalie drew back, wiping her eyes and beaming up at her father. “What are you doing here? I thought it was too dangerous.”

“You really think I wouldn’t drop everything the second I heard that bracelet went off?” Wright replied, wiping hair out of his daughter’s face. “No fucking way.” He paused, then glanced over at Nick. “Well, now that that’s settled, what do you have for drinks around here?”

A weary-looking Nick edged back into the bar, careful not to put his back to Wright.

Spike turned to Zack, clapped him on the back. “Now, let’s watch that video, yeah?”

*~*~*

Dean wasn’t sure what to expect when he returned to the bunker. Shortly after the excitement outside, Sam had pulled in, looking a bit harried and unsettled. He barely reacted to Wright or Zack’s presence, rather went straight to the bar.

“How’s the newest houseguest?” Dean had asked.

“Uhh, aggressive.” Sam had tipped back a beer, then, smirking slightly, favored him with a look. “I think you’re gonna like her.”

Dean hadn’t lasted long at the bar after that, though he did stay long enough to belt out “Eye of the Tiger” on stage to uproarious applause—at least in his head. When he left, Spike had been on his third or fourth blood beer and he and Zack, who couldn’t be more obviously delighted to be back in each other’s company, were enthusiastically karaoking to “Young Lust.”

When Dean entered the bunker, he found Castiel sitting at the meeting table, his hair ruffled, one eye swollen and a cut down his cheek. The trench coat was rumpled and streaked with dirt. The dude looked like he’d been thrown into a wood-chipper and spat back out.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel said without looking up.

“Dude. What happened to you?”

“I prevented Faith from leaving.” He still didn’t look up. “I have never fought a slayer before. She is stronger than I thought.”

Dean’s eyebrows winged upward. “You…fought her?”

“I had no choice. She needed to fight.” A touch of pink brightened Castiel’s face. “Or to have…relations.”

Oh, no freaking way.

“Don’t tell me…”

“Angel boy couldn’t find a clitoris with two hands and a map,” Faith said grumpily as she strolled into the room, looking disgruntled and…wearing Dean’s clothes.

Dean looked between the two of them, uncertain whether to be outraged or tickled. He settled on tickled. “Oh, this is too good.”

“Glad someone got some satisfaction out of it.” Faith rolled her shoulder, wincing. “Boy wouldn’t even hit me right and it ain’t any fun swinging if they don’t swing back. So I went with door number two and goddamn, there’s a reason B fucks demons and not angels. First lay back from the dead ought to at least come with one orgasm.”

A laugh erupted through Dean’s throat. He glanced back to Castiel, who wouldn’t look at him.

Faith paused, eyeing Dean up and down in a way that killed his amusement right quick.

“Still got your gun, big guy?”

“Always.”

“Good. I really need to kill something and I think that might be the kinda thing you’d like to watch.” She paused, throwing an annoyed glance at Castiel. “Unless you’re gonna put up a fight, too.”

For a moment, Dean considered what a fight with Faith might entail. He remembered the way she’d moved in the cemetery the night she’d died, how fluid and graceful she’d been, confident and sexy as fuck, right up until the end. And yeah, she could kick his ass, but that in itself was kinda hot.

Okay, really hot.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to explore that any further just yet. Especially since she’d just gotten out of the sack with Cas. Dean didn’t have too many standards when it came to bedmates, but fucking the same girl his best friend had fucked, satisfactorily or not, on the same night would be a bit weird.

Next best thing? Watching her sexy ass in a fight.

So he grinned and gestured to the door. “After you, darlin’.”

Chapter Text

“You know it’s just the two of us, right?”

Donna gave a snort of laughter that would have mortified a woman less confident in her relationship status. She had no worries of chasing Josh off this late in the game. “There’s four. Oz and baby Groot.”

She wasn’t ready to start playing the name game yet. She and Josh decided to wait until they found out the gender, which couldn’t come fast enough.

“Well, neither one can tell if we make a little noise,” Josh said in what he believed was a seductive tone as he moved closer to her on the sofa and attempted to put an arm around her shoulders.

“Hey!” She said as a live shot went to the fundraiser in Los Angeles. Donna leaned forward to snag the remote from the coffee table.

“This is probably the one time I’ll beg you to turn off CSPAN.”

She increased the volume. “You used to make us leave it on while we had sex, Josh. You really can’t say you don’t like it.”

“Whatever,” Josh muttered. He folded his arms and sank back into the cushions. “Fine. I don’t want to see LA okay? It’s freaking me out that he went.”

She understood. She wasn’t exactly thrilled either. But this really was the best strategy going forward to convince all the bad guys that everything was hunky dory. “Does she look familiar to you?” Donna asked slowly as her eyes remained fixated on the screen and the lady being tagged with Sam.

“You know I met Wolfram and Hart through one of these things? She could be an agent!”

Donna shook her head. “I don’t think so, but…” Her brain was definitely telling her something about Dr. Jessica Spano. “Seriously, Josh, look at her.”

He quieted and followed her direction. “Hmm…yeah, not the White House, but she does look familiar. Did she come to that women’s thing Lady Santos did last year?”

Donna frowned. “Maybe? Maybe that’s it. It says she’s with Planned Parenthood. They did bring a large delegation.”

Josh released a sigh of relief. “We’re being silly. It’s a damn Dem fundraiser. We know the whole room.”

Donna relaxed. Of course. That made absolutely perfect sense.

But she still had a weird feeling when she looked at the woman that there was something wrong. Something she just couldn’t quite remember.

Josh leaned over and snatched the remote from her grasp. Clicking off the power button he tossed it down on the table. “Seriously, let’s go have some sex without worrying about the guys for once.”

Rolling her eyes, she stood up. Men were so predictable.

“Fine, but I gotta pee first.”

So were pregnant women.

*~*~*

He had imagined this night for the past couple months with a variety of scenarios, both good and bad. The current situation hadn’t been anticipated or prepared for.

And it fucking sucked.

Nick had found another T-shirt in the back, this one an unofficial uniform and advertising print Lorne had ordered in bulk. He’d put it on before heading to the bar to relieve Dawn from her voluntary bartending time.

The only good note is that everyone was actually paying for their drinks. At least while the mean, green, mind-reading machine was still on the premises. He expected he’d be going bankrupt shortly after Lorne returned to LA. Without Rosalie’s support, the odds of controlling her family were slim.

Which pissed him off, to be honest. Not just at her, but with the whole lot. It was probably for the best he kept his eyes down and mouth shut. Zack Wright and his gaggle of vampires would love nothing more than to drag him outside and use him as a punching bag and scapegoat for everything wrong in the world.

“Jack and Coke,” Rosalie said as she leaned up against the bar, slapping down some cash.

“You’re underaged,” he said curtly, not bothering to look up. Actually, using all his restraint to not let himself look up at her.

“That’s funny!” Dawn slurred, pointing at Nick. “You didn’t care a couple months ago!” She smacked Sam on the back and dissolved into giggles. At least Sam had the decency to look apologetic when Nick looked over at them seated at the bar.

“My dad,” Rosalie replied, apparently finding the joke as funny as Nick did.

Snatching the cash, he began the order. Anything to avoid dealing with Wright again tonight.

“So, how’s your face?” Rose asked conversationally.

He stopped mid-pour. Looking up, harnessing the angriest and coldest look he had ever targeted in her direction. If he didn’t love her so much, he likely would have retorted with a very insulting name. Instead, he shook his head. “Don’t, Rosalie. Just don’t.”

He saw the hurt fill her eyes. But goddammit, it was her fault she was still upset. Had she’d given him a chance to apologize about not answering her before and just explain…fuck it all.

Forcefully, he smacked the drink down on the counter. He’d expected her to take it and stalk off toward her father. Instead she picked it up and tilted it back against her lips, draining the contents.

Well, his anger was gone. His eyes widened in shock.

“Fuck!” She gagged as she put the glass down. “How can Coke be made so yucky?”

He couldn’t help himself. He had to smile at her as she stuck her tongue out in disgust, wiggling as though it would make the taste dissipate faster. “You never sipped from Daddy’s bottle I take it.”

She steadied herself against the bar as he assumed the alcohol went to her head. He’d poured Wright a double. “No,” she choked. “Mom always said I wouldn’t like it. Let me have her wine a couple times.”

“Yes,” he said, doing his best to remember he was still pissed off. “I’d say you’d prefer something a little sweeter.”

“Try a daiquiri,” Dawn suggested. “Or a sex on the beach.” She then turned to Sam and started giggling again.

Nick grabbed the glass and quickly remade the original drink. Then he poured a Sprite, adding grenadine and topping it with a couple maraschino cherries. “Shirley Temple. More your style.” Keeping his gaze on the drinks, he slid it across them across the bar toward Rosalie.

She reached out and took his hand. Again he stopped his movement and looked up at her. “Can we talk?” she asked. When Dawn made an interested noise she added, “Alone.”

Nick nodded, pulling back and gesturing to his office. Neither one spoke until they closed the door inside.

“Look…” she began with an awkward shuffle.

“Rose,” he sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer your call. I didn’t want to tell you until I could verify it. And I wanted to make sure it was safe before we brought her here to you.” He paused. “Well, that’s not entirely true. I saw her and assumed it was all right, but Sam and Dean reminded me that it could all have been a trap to get to you. But never for a second was I doing anything to hurt you. Bloody hell, my whole sodding existence revolves around your ungrateful ass!”

That last bit may have been a bit much. Before he could apologize for the flash of pain he saw behind her eyes, she responded. “I know that, jackass! But you got to remember that you and her were a thing way longer than you and me!”

“How many times do I have to tell you, Rosalie Wright, that Faith and I were—“

“Fuck buddies. Friends with benefits. Besties with orgasms. I fucking know!”

He gestured in exasperation. “Then why are you fucking mad? You’re pissed off that she’s alive?”

“No!” she shouted, picking up stapler off the desk and throwing it at the wall directly behind Nick’s head. “I’m happy she’s back!”

He gave a humorless laugh. “Right way to show it, love.”

There was a knock at the door. “Uhh, is everything okay in there?” Sam’s voice said through the barrier.

“Yes!” they shouted in unison.

“Yeah…” the current Watcher said hesitantly.

Rosalie took a shaky breath, attempting to calm herself. “Seeing you two together…I saw you holding her before you had given her your shirt…it reminded me of all those times last year I’d catch you guys. It reminded me how…how I could never compete with her if you two ever…changed your minds.”

His jaw fell slack. For a second he forgot how to speak. The first words that came to mind were not his most romantic. “You’re stupid.”

Her eyes flared in anger. “Excuse me?”

He shook his head. “You’re bloody stupid, Rose.”

“Fuck you!” she spat, reaching toward another loose object upon the desk.

This time he laughed in earnest. “Look around, love. I gave up the promise of a lifelong career. I opened a bloody demon bar in nowhere and named it after you despite the fact that everyone thinks I’m a total wanker for it. I’ve put up with your intolerable uncles and completely disrespectful father and wholeheartedly ungrateful entire bloody family solely for the chance to be near you. I’ve confessed my love when I’ve never loved anyone in my bloody life before you. Not even my own mum.” He stopped to catch his breath. “Rose, I honestly don’t know what else I can do to prove—“

Before he could finish, Rosalie rushed forward and wrapped her hands behind his neck, pulling his lips down to crash against her mouth.

Finally his world started to make sense again. Slipping his arms around her, he dipped in tongue between her lips, savoring the lingering taste of the whiskey and feeling himself quickly grow drunk on her kiss.

He hadn’t realized they had moved until he felt her edge up onto the desk, wrapping her legs around him and rubbing herself against his jeans. “Mmm,” he replied when he felt her hands firmly grab his ass and pull him tighter against her body.

Fumbling, he slipped both hands up the back of her shirt, one coming forward to grasp her breast while the other tried to unhook her bra.

There might have been a knock. He wasn’t sure.

He was sure when the door broken open, cracking off its hinges. Nick and Rosalie turned their heads in the direction of the noise to find Zack Wright huffing from where he’d apparently kicked his way in. Spike and Zack were standing behind, both showing their vampiric form.

“Dad!” Rosalie cried, quickly scrambling to unwrap herself from her boyfriend’s body. “What the fuck?”

Wright’s eyes first flashed in pure fury before becoming softer and more embarrassed. “Sam said there was shouting. And something hit the wall,” he responded uncharacteristically sheepish.

“We were…talking,” Rosalie replied lamely. Giving Nick a brief look of fear, she folded her arms across her chest.

He had just managed to unhook her bra before they were interrupted. Nick gave a nervous cough and took a step back, aiming his guilty gaze to the floor.

“That’s not talking,” Spike said lowly.

“That’s inappropriate,” Zack said with disgust.

This seemed to trigger the Slayer. “Inappropriate? Do we really want to talk inappropriate?”

“Not really,” Wright muttered.

“Yeah, like boning Faith when she was underage was appropriate. Or Spike boning Buffy when he was like a million years older.”

“Hey!” Spike snapped. “Not hardly.”

Rosalie rolled her eyes and ignored him. “Or the time Uncle Zack molested me? That was totally appropriate.”

Nick looked up to see complete shock and horror on the faces of the men in the doorway.

“So yeah. Getting busy with the boyfriend who loves me and is only like seven years older is where we draw the line.”

“I’m getting a beer,” Zack said weakly. “Guys?”

“Yup,” Wright responded, quickly turning around and heading back toward the bar.

“Agreed,” Spike said, following suit.

When the others cleared, Nick released the breath he had been holding since Rosalie’s last verbal punch. “That was the Jack talking, right?”

“Think so,” she said as she reached back to refasten her bra. “Maybe we skip the part where we tell them that.”

“Trust me, I’m not saying a word.”

She leaned over and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. “Did we just finish our first fight?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m dying during our second.”

*~*~*

It was totally unhealthy how much watching a woman kill things turned him on.

There was something more than sexual in the way she moved. Though it was definitely sexual. She was overtly sexual in her moves and even her noises as she dusted one vampire after another.

Faith danced as she fought. Like a prima ballerina with her kicks and flips and thrusts. It was like watching an artistic performance, but being in the middle of the stage.

“Duck,” Faith called out.

Dean blinked in confusion. She hadn’t said anything since she went to work in the cemetery. Not that he minded. Between watching her, he’d silently been contemplating where the hell all these vamps had come from. Until tonight, this place had been literally dead.

“Duck!” she shouted again.

“Goose?” he answered back lamely. Realization hit him over the head as a vampire whacked him from behind. “Duck,” he muttered as he tumbled to the ground.

Before he could pull himself to his feet, Faith had bounced over and made short work of the demon. “Oh my god,” she said as she reached out a hand to help him up. “You’re the dumb fuck from the cemetery. Back in LA.”

He groaned, but took the proffered help as he stood up. “Apparently I’m a slow learner.”

“I’ll say,” Faith replied taking a look around. Seeing the coast clear, she released a whistle and dusted herself off. “Whew! Hadn’t had vamp tussle like that in years. Don’t think I’ve seen that many deadies pop up like that in a night since my Sunnydale days.”

“Sunnydale?”

“Hellmouth,” she answered absently. “Total demon magnet. Made nights fun. Got one close?”

“No,” Dean responded, not even sure if ‘Hellmouth’ was a real thing. “I guess this is all due to the cantina.”

Faith shook her head. “Nope. I mean unless it’s different when a sanctuary bar first opens. Caritas draws a lot of baddies, but these were all newly risen vamps. Those happened in LA sure, but this was like a party or something.”

A thought crossed his mind that he didn’t really want to voice. That being said, there was no point playing dumber than he’d already looked tonight. “What if it has something to do with you?”

The woman gave him a dirty look. “You think it’s my fucking fault? Pretty sure you’d’ve been dinner if you had ventured out here solo, prick.”

“Defensive much?” Dean said rolling his eyes. “Not your fault, but what if this is tied to whatever brought you back?”

She didn’t have a smartass reply for that question. Instead, she gave the cemetery another visual inspection before tucking her stake into the waistband of her sweats. His sweats, he reminded himself, unable to keep from finding that pretty hot. “Yeah, I got the memo that nobody wanted me back earlier.”

“Fuck,” he responded. “Didn’t want you back? We all fucking researched for weeks trying to find some spell or shaman or voodoo priestess that knew how to reverse that curse. Hell, I think Sammy and Giles read every book in the bunker. Every night Hunter would come in from working on the bar and join them. Dawn and Rosie started some hotline on Reddit or Tumblr or something looking for tips from the dark web.” He shrugged. “Rowena told them that some younger witches were big on the internet or something. Even Cas went looking for his angel buddies to see if they had a clue on what to do.”

Faith was quiet for several moments. “Well, I didn’t see any welcome home signs tonight. Especially from the slayer sisters.”

“From what I’ve heard, you have quite the reputation with the fellas.”

“Something wrong with that?” she challenged.

“Nope,” Dean said. “At least not in my opinion. Life is short. We both know that from personal experience. Why the fuck should it matter what we do to take the edge off? I think saving the world is the bigger deal. I’m just saying that the teenage girl saw you half-naked and hanging on the guy you used to diddle. If you were in love with a dude, you might get a little jealous, even if it was your idol who was flashing her pussy.”

“The shirt was long enough to cover my pussy, thank you.”

“Point is, Sharon Stone, that you might cut a girl a break. She may have had a drama queen moment, but she’s been missing you like crazy. Not sure how many times I’ve caught her and Hunter tearing up over you being dead.” He paused. “Or whatever you were.”

“Are you always this lippy?”

“Are you always this bitchy?”

Dean figured he was due the punch he expected as she marched over to him. He was pleasantly surprised when instead she cupped his face in her hands and dragged his mouth down to her own.

She was a bomb of passion detonating against him. As their tongues began to dance, she leapt into his arms, wrapping her legs around him and rubbing herself against his abdomen. Dean didn’t realize he was stumbling backward until he felt the cool marble of a mausoleum against his back. Flipping around, he pressed Faith against the stone, grinding himself against her.

“Fuck,” she gasped, pulling back for air.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to bang you tonight,” he muttered.

“Well, you’re definitely not my type,” she replied as she released her leg lock from his body.

“Because I don’t need a map?” he retorted.

Then her lips covered his once more and their tongues began another duel for dominance. He felt her cup his growing erection through the denim of his jeans, grasping him just hard enough to squeeze any logic from his brain. Slipping a hand between them he dipped his hand beneath the waistband of her sweats and traveled down to the apex of her thighs.

When his finger traced the warm wetness of her slit, she pulled her mouth away with a gasp. He hesitated then, realizing he had been a complete fucking dick to assume she wanted to go this far. Looking at her, he slowly snaked his hand back.

Locking her eyes with his, she grasped his wrist, pressing it downward. “I thought you said you didn’t need a map.”

“I normally get more verbal confirmation before this point.”

Faith gave him a smirk. “I figured you could read the body language there, Ducky, but I guess you’re the type that likes them begging.”

“What can I say? A guy likes to feel needed.”

“What I need,” she said as she pushed his hand against her damp flesh, “is you to hurry the fuck up.”

That was all he needed. Dipping a finger between her wet folds, he showed her he indeed knew where the clitoris was located. After rubbing her until she began to squirm, he sank two fingers inside her tight hole and began to pump in and out. “Fuck,” she moaned, letting her head fall back against the stone.

“Fuck,” he replied in kind as he worked a third digit inside, turning his palm to rub her clit with every thrust inside her dripping pussy.

“Yes!” She gasped, whipping her head up to look him in the eye as he finger-fucked her. “Harder!” As he obliged, he felt her muscles tense and soon she was grasping his shoulders and bucking uncontrollably as her long-awaited orgasm finally arrived.

Dean slowed his pace as he felt her body start to come down. While pleased with the handiwork, he wasn’t at all satisfied.

Apparently neither was Faith. Pulling his hand out of her pants, she kissed him deeply as she felt her begin to fumble with the fly of his jeans. “Tell me you have a condom,” she murmured against his lips.

“In my wallet,” he answered.

“Good ducky. A girl likes a boy who’s prepared.” He felt her tug down and his pants and underwear went near his knees. Scrambling to find his back pocket, he watched her drop her sweats and kick them off. She grabbed his wallet when he pulled it out and made quick work of locating the Trojan.

“There’s fast girls and then there’s you.”

“You better believe I’m one of a kind, Winchester,” she said taking the foil packet and tearing it open with her teeth, dropping his wallet to the ground. “Now get ready for the ride of your life.”

And as Dean sank himself inside her hot, slick pussy moments later, he met Faith’s eyes and was more than eager to accept her challenge.

Chapter Text

“So,” Spike said, lifting his beer bottle to his mouth, “how long you two think you’re stayin’?”

Wright and Zack exchanged a glance. “We didn’t exactly talk about it,” the latter said. “You could even call it a vamp-napping. For the second time in three months I was the hostage of a lunatic.”

“Oh, quit complaining. You were excited to get here.” Wright nodded at his brother. “Think this one’s been missing you.”

“Shut up,” Zack snapped.

“Aw, Zangy, I’m touched.”

Zack rolled his eyes back, but couldn’t quite kill his grin. “Like you haven’t been bored outta your mind here in Bumfuck Nowhere. Seems kinda like torture for a vamp who hates sitting around.”

“Honestly, mate, not much borin’ around here at the mo’,” Spike replied, setting his bottle on the table. “Some days move slower than others, yeah, but the Slayer and I have taken a couple of what the Winchester Wankers call cases when that happens.”

“So you’re a hunter now?” Wright asked, his lips twitching. “That’s… Damn, Spike, that’s hilarious.”

“Mate, I’ve been a traitor to my kind for nearly a bloody decade. Don’t think there’s much you can say that I haven’t already told myself.” He snorted. “And these cases are sodding jokes after all we’ve seen. Take this Heart of the Dragon spook that Bite Size’s watcher sent us after. Took us longer to park than it did gettin’ rid of the thing.”

“I heard it snapped your neck,” Sam said, dragging up a chair and straddling it from behind. “And I didn’t send you anywhere. Buffy volunteered to go.”

“What are we blaming on Buffy now?” the Slayer in question asked, sliding gracefully into Spike’s lap. He purred his content and wrapped his arms around her middle to pull her back against him.

“Little adventure earlier in the week, pet,” Spike murmured into her throat before dropping a kiss there. “The one the baby watcher was so worried about.”

“Not sure how I got the blame for that, but okay.” Buffy shrugged and wrapped her arms around Spike’s shoulders before looking back to the others. “So…when do you guys head back?”

Zack snorted, shaking his head. “Nice to see you too, Buff.”

“I’m just saying, big evil in LA. The point of us hunkering down out here is to keep off their radar.”

“I’m not going anywhere until I know what brought Faith back,” Wright said, glancing to Rosalie, who was working in tandem with Nick behind the bar. “And that she’s really okay.”

Spike felt Buffy tense in his arms before she released a long sigh. “Zack,” she said softly, leaning forward. “She’s never going to be okay. You really need to just accept this.”

Wright blinked at her dully. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“But she’s, right now, about as okay as any slayer in the history of all slayers,” Buffy went on. “Just look at the support system she has now. A boyfriend who used to be a watcher who has already proven he’ll do about anything and put up with about anything to be near her.”

A scowl crossed Wright’s face. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“Maybe that you’re about as subtle as a train wreck,” Sam murmured before lifting his own beer to his lips. He paused, then winced when he looked up and caught the vampires looking at him. “Forgot about your super hearing.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and went on. “Then she has a demon hunter watcher, his demon hunter brother and their demon hunter mom, then me, Spike, Dawn and Faith. And that’s just in Kansas. In California, she has you and Cordy, plus Zack, Kelly, and…” She paused, her face hardening as it did whenever her thoughts drifted to Willow.

Spike pressed his lips to her shoulder and waited. They hadn’t discussed Willow all that much, or what all Giles had learned two months prior. There was the business with their memories being mucked with and he reckoned Buffy hadn’t dug too deep for fear of what she might find. At the moment, they were at a loss at what was real and what wasn’t.

That wasn’t even getting into the things they’d been meant to believe about themselves, each other, and the world. It had been bad enough last year when they’d discovered Wolfram and Hart had planted false memories meant to drive them apart. That a friend could do it, a good friend, one of Buffy’s best, was something Spike knew she had yet to recover from.

The last clear memory he had of that period was the time he and Buffy had spent at the Hyperion following the gang’s return from Pylea. Then, according to what one of the witches had dug up, they’d gone off to England to fight Glory. And he could trust none of the memories that followed that—not up until the moment he’d first slipped the ring he’d been given by whom he’d believed to be Albus Dumbledore onto his finger.

That penny would drop one of these days, and they’d have to suss out what was real from the wreckage.

“The point is,” Buffy said a moment later, her voice a bit thicker, “Rosalie might never be entirely okay, but she’s never going to be alone. And she needs her dad to trust her more.”

“I trust her just fine,” Wright replied coolly. “It’s everyone else I don’t.”

“But Wolfram and Hart might know where she is now. So maybe you should try trusting us just a little.”

Wright sat back and threw his brother an exasperated look, one that only became more exasperated when Zack didn’t jump in to his defense.

“Really?” he demanded.

Zack threw his hands up. “I’m just saying, it was kinda reckless. Plus the Hyperion’s not exactly super-staffed anymore. Kel and Gunn can hold everything down for a bit, but Rosie gets into more shit every day and William’s enamored with her, so he follows her everywhere she goes and Kel can’t keep an eye on them twenty-four-seven. Plus the baby—”

“All right, all right, I get the picture.” Wright released a long sigh and looked at his daughter. “I’ve never been apart from her this long before. Don’t think I knew how hard it’d be. And when I heard about Faith… Fuck, my head just snapped and I knew I needed to get here fast to make sure she was okay.”

Sam nodded stoically before thumping the hunter on the back. “You know we’d call for you if we needed help. But…I gotta say, I think Buffy is right. Losing our heads is what these people want. Makes us sloppy. Rosalie does have a small army around her now.”

“Uh huh.” Wright’s face had gone slack in such a way that Spike knew, without turning around, that Nick was moving.

Spike sighed, then turned to see what was going on, taking Buffy with him. He watched the little sod clamor up to the stage, ignoring the line of uglies vying for their turn. He approached the mic with solemn determination.

“Hello,” he said. “I’d like to thank everyone who joined us for Rosa Lee’s grand opening. This has been a more eventful night than we thought.” He paused, then grinned and motioned to the shiner Wright had left on his face. “As you can see.”

The demons guffawed. Spike glanced back to see Wright looking a mixture of proud and sheepish. He didn’t envy the man in the slightest, trying to navigate the knowledge that little Rosalie was all grown up and being shagged on a nightly basis was bizarre enough for him. For her father, it had to be downright torture.

“It’s not a proper bar if there’s not a fight over a girl on the first day, I think. So I’d like to take a moment, and the stage, to sing something about the cantina’s namesake.” He turned and grinned at Rosalie. “Just to get everything in the clear, yeah? Lorne, if you would.”

There was a pause, then the first chords of a familiar song split the air and, before Spike could help himself, he’d barked a laugh.

“What?” Buffy asked in a hush. “I don’t know this song.”

“Just wait, love…”

Nick had taken the mic and was gripping so tight it wouldn’t shock him if the thing went shooting out of his hand.

“Well, she was just seventeen. You know what I mean.”

Buffy burst out laughing. So did Sam.

“And the way she looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another when I saw her standing there?”

“Dammit,” Zack said, his voice a bit awed. “I think I might end up liking this kid before the night’s over.”

“Well she looked at me, and I, I could see that before too long I'd fall in love with her. She wouldn't dance with another. When I saw her standing there.”

Rosalie had come out from behind the bar and was torn between gazing at Nick with a combination of teenage infatuation and womanly want and checking the corner table to see if her father was brandishing a weapon.

“Well, my heart went boom when I crossed that room and I held her hand in mine. Whoah, we danced through the night and we held each other tight. And before too long I fell in love with her.”

Hate to admit it as he did, Spike found himself conceding that there might not have been a better way to cap the evening’s spectacle than by addressing the bloody elephant in the room. It was the first time he could recall that Nick hadn’t gotten all red-faced and sulky, and even though it’d graciously been over a century since he’d been human, Spike hadn’t forgotten what it was like being the punch-line to every joke. Nick had licked his wounds and turned what could have easily been fodder for another decade’s worth of ribbing into a joke before anyone else had the chance. That took stones.

Spike came to a decision then, and nudged Buffy until she understood that he meant to stand. She balanced on the floor and tossed him a curious, somewhat concerned look.

 “Now I'll never dance with another when I saw her standing there.”

 “What’s wrong?”

Spike nodded to the bar. “Need a top off. Want one?”

She made a face and shook her head before reclaiming his empty seat. Spike made his way toward the littlest Summers and waved her over.

 “Well, my heart went boom when I crossed that room and I held her hand in mine.”

“Another blood beer?” Dawn asked.

He shook his head. “Whatever the watcher boy drinks. I’ll take one.”

Dawn’s eyebrows shot skyward. “Actually going to pay?”

He swore lightly but dug a hand into the pockets of his duster and procured a twenty—one he’d used three times already tonight but resigned himself that this time he likely wouldn’t be able to filch it back.

“Whoah, we danced through the night and we held each other tight and before too long I fell in love with her. Now I'll never dance with another since I saw her standing there.”

Dawn held up the bill deliberately, apparently looking for a watermark, then put it in the cash register.

“Oi. You owe me change.”

“You’ve given me this twenty four times now. Pretty sure you owe the bar another fifty or so.” Dawn arched an eyebrow, then slid over a bottle of piss water that passed for beer. “I’m only doing this because I’m curious.”

Spike smirked, took the bottle, then put his back to her.

“Oh since I saw her standing there. Oh since I saw her standing there.”

Spike was at the stage by the time Nick took his bow. He waited a moment, then, when the little wanker looked his way, thrust the peace-offering bottle into his hands and smirked. “Admire a bloke with stones. Welcome to the family, Nicky.” He paused, then nodded to the beer. “Enjoy it. It’s the only thing I’ve paid for all night.”

Then he walked back to the table without saying another word.

*~*~*

It turned out that putting the image of Sam and the blonde woman out of her head wasn’t as easy as she thought. Which was how Willow, after staring at the assortment of ingredients she had compiled for her spell, trying to find the nerve to do the next part, found herself reaching for her phone. The CSPAN coverage of the event had concluded but that didn’t mean the thing was over. Which meant if she called him, she didn’t know what she might be interrupting. An important conversation with a donor. Some policy discussion with people who could actually make a difference. Or some post-fundraiser nookie with a certain leggy professor.

Had she mentioned how much she really, really hoped it wasn’t that last thing?

Bad idea or not, her mind wouldn’t let go of the prospect. The thought of doing this spell without having some closure on her relationship with Sam—good closure or not—didn’t sit well with her. So, rather than getting with the mystic chanting and waving of smelly herbs, Willow reached for her phone and pulled up Sam’s number.

It rang long enough for her mind to be a genuine jerk and flood her with thoughts of what he might be doing. Then, just as she was sure it was about to go to voicemail, she heard her name.

“Willow.”

Willow swallowed hard, her heart hammering. “Uhh. Hi.”

There was noise in the background—enough noise that she thought he might still be schmoozing with the politicians and donors. Which meant he likely wasn’t about to get laid. At least not at the moment.

“Willow, is everything okay?” His voice was low, like he was trying to keep from being heard. And, she realized, he totally was. Wouldn’t do well to be caught talking to the baby mama who was supposed to be MIA while there were cameras around.

“I…I just…” She licked her lips. “You’re in LA.”

A pause. “How’d you know?”

“Well, your face is on CSPAN. Or was on CSPAN. It’s not anymore. On CSPAN.”

“You just said CSPAN three times.”

“I know.” She released a heavy breath. “I…I wanted you to know that I’ve found a way to unlock my memories. Well, maybe everyone’s memories…so I know exactly what happened back then.”

He said nothing for a long moment. “One moment.”

She heard him excuse himself, tell someone that the substitute nanny he’d hired for the evening had a question about baby Oz’s feeding schedule. Then the background noise faded and when Sam spoke again, his voice was clear in ways it hadn’t been before.

“A way to unlock your memories,” he said in a frustratingly unreadable tone. “Memories of a loss so painful you nearly wiped out a continent in your grief. I’m sorry, but in what way does that sound like a good idea?”

“I have to know. There’s this huge period of my life that I don’t remember.”

“Because you designed it that way!”

Well, this was certainly not going the way she’d thought it would. “That was clearly a mistake,” she replied, trying to keep her voice under control. “A mistake that did a lot of damage to a lot of people. And here I thought you’d think that facing what happened would be a good thing.”

Another silence, save for Sam’s heavy breaths. She tried and failed not to remember hearing those breaths against her in a far different context.

“It is a good thing,” he said a moment later. “Facing what happened. But I don’t see how more magic is going to solve anything. It seems every time you try…”

He didn’t finish the sentence but he didn’t need to. The argument itself struck a chord within her—something familiar but not enough that she knew why.

“I can’t face what happened if I don’t know what happened.”

“Willow, you know what happened. Hermione told you. Facing it means accepting it—accepting the decision you made ten years ago and trying to move past it. It doesn’t mean reopening the wound.”

Well, that was certainly easy for him to say. “What would you do if you found out something like this? If you found out that there was something so ugly and dark inside you, even beyond your own comprehension, that it put millions of lives on the line? Would you want to just hope it never came out or try to understand it more so you knew how to keep it from ever happening again?”

“Is that what you’re doing? Trying to keep it from happening again?”

“The times I’ve gone dark have been fabrications. That’s why it always seemed so distant to me. So…false.” Willow swallowed. “I need to know the truth. What actually got me there. It’s safer for everyone—they’ll be able to see the signs and hopefully do something about it before I can do too much damage.”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility? Going dark again?”

The fear in his voice made her stomach twist.

“I don’t know,” she said hoarsely. “These past two months have been…the worst I can remember. All I can think of is how to fix it. I miss my son and I miss you. But I also kind of hate you for letting me do this.”

“Letting you do what? You ripped out my heart, Willow. Not the other way around.”

What the actual fuck?

“Oh, is that how it happened? You didn’t even try,” Willow shot back. “I learned this awful, awful thing and you bolted. The first thing you said to me after Hermione was done talking was that you were taking Oz to Sacramento.”

“You agreed with me!”

“And you let me just walk away. You said, your words, that you were taking our son away from his mother. So explain to me again how I broke your heart, Sam. Once you knew everything, you couldn’t get away from me fast enough. I’d just learned this huge thing and your answer was to make tracks.” Willow felt her blood pressure spiking; the lights in her apartment started to flicker and the television, which had been off, popped back on again without warning. “I was calling to inform you of my intentions, not get your permission. I was calling because part of me still believes everything you said that night, idiot that I am. So sure. Go ahead and tell yourself I ripped you apart. But I’m clearly not the only one who’s trying to rewrite the past. I’m just better at it.”

She slammed her thumb on the end call button before she could say anything else—more importantly, before he could say anything else. It didn’t have the visceral satisfaction that had once come with slamming phones on the receiver, so she followed it up by hurling the device against the nearest wall.

She had a spell to cast, dammit.

*~*~*

It was too much to hope that the bunker would be empty when they returned, but dammit, Faith had hoped anyway. She felt like she had packed at least a year’s worth of emotional turbulence into the past few hours and she wasn’t looking to add anything just yet. Thanks to Dean, she’d landed on something close to a high note. Before the shit hit the fan tomorrow, she’d like to have the chance to just fucking bask.

But the universe wasn’t in the habit of handing out favors, especially to her. And the jury was still way the fuck out on whether or not being mojo’d back from the dead counted as a favor. Thus far, she hadn’t seen much to make her think so.

“So did the whole LA operation move to the fucking Midwest?” Faith drawled, stepping into the room. Wright and Zack looked up from where they’d been talking with Sam and Castiel about something. Dawn Summers favored Faith with a cool nod, which was really the cherry on top of the bullshit sundae she’d been given upon her return. The kid had never forgiven Faith for the whole body-swap-trying-to-kill-you thing that had happened with Buffy, even though it seemed everyone else had.

“Faith,” Wright said, offering a soft smile. “It’s…good to see you.”

“Feelin’ it,” Faith replied, patting her chest. “Right here.”

“Faith,” Castiel said with a nod, not looking at her.

Behind her, Dean snickered. When she tossed him an annoyed glance, he replied with an unrepentant grin that did more for her than she wanted to admit at the moment. There had been so few human boys she could count on to get her to a happy place. Nick had never had consensual sex before her, but he’d been eager to learn once he realized he enjoyed it, and she’d had enough time to teach him.

You’re welcome, Rosalie, she thought bitterly.

Wes had been up there, too, much as she hated to admit it, especially now. But before tonight, Faith would’ve said no one could have beaten Zack Wright. They’d met at a low point in both their lives and their mutual self-hatred had made them explosive—they’d taken out their rage and loathing on each other. It had been hands down the most physically satisfying night of her life. And maybe one of the reasons Wright had a hard time looking at her—knowing what they’d done then, or perhaps the reasons why they’d done it. Maybe she was just a walking reminder of the man he’d been before he’d found a home.

She hadn’t known what to expect when she’d launched herself at Dean tonight, but it hadn’t been what he’d given her. He’d fucked her like he didn’t give a shit that she was recently back from the dead, like he understood that her time gone meant she needed it to hurt just a little. Hell, she was pretty sure he’d bruised her hip and that was…worth remembering.

That he could go from doing that to snickering at Castiel was also worth remembering.

Sam cleared his throat, favoring her with that earnest puppy-dog look of his. “Where were you?”

“Patrolling,” Faith replied, rolling her shoulder. “Had some energy to burn and nothin’ here was hittin’ it.”

Castiel turned red.

Zack, the only vampire in the room, smirked. “If at first you don’t succeed…”

“Find someone who can get the job done,” Faith agreed, smirking right back at him. “Where are Nick and…”

But she didn’t say her name. Not yet. She wasn’t ready.

“Closing up shop,” Sam said, also somewhat red. Whether because he’d figured it out or because the angel had flapped his trap, she didn’t know or particularly care. “Things went better than any of us were expecting in terms of opening night. Guess Lorne’s, ahh, call out really worked. Apparently, he’s spent the past six weeks hitting local demon haunts in the area to drum up business as a surprise to Nick. Explains why we were so busy.”

Faith nodded, relaxing some. Good. She wasn’t sure she wanted to see Rosalie just yet. No matter what Dean had said to her on patrol, the fact remained that she’d given her life up for someone whose first instinct upon her return was to be angry. And not even for the right fucking reasons. Hell, she’d been prepared to take a punch for knocking the kid out and dying on her, but fuck.

“What about B and blondie?” she asked instead.

“Patrol,” Dawn answered. “Someone came in and said there was a bunch of activity in the cemetery.”

Dean barked a laugh. “Fuck yeah, there was, but it was dead as fuck when we left.” He nodded to Faith. “Sammy, wait’ll you see her on the field. I’ve never seen anyone who moves like that.”

Faith turned to him, grinning. “You want me to show off my moves to your brother?”

The amusement on his face faded almost at once, and then he looked annoyed.

“Oh my god. Really?” Dawn rolled her eyes as everyone looked back at her. “Really, Faith. It wasn’t enough that you jumped over poor Cas, but you did Dean too? Are you going for a bingo with Sam? One more lay and you’ve fucked everyone in this room?”

“I am not comfortable discussing this,” Castiel said. “I believe I will retire for the evening. Sam. Dean.”

He vanished with what sounded like the flap of a bird wing.

“Dawnie,” Faith said, moving forward, “really thought college and getting laid at least once woulda unstuck that stick up your ass. At least big sis finally learned why it’s fun to get your naughty on. And the last time I checked, I don’t answer to anyone in this fucking room, whether or not they’ve been in my snatch. So thanks, all, for the warm welcome. Next time you need someone to die to save the world, I’ll be sure to remember that.”

And she stalked off down the hall without another word. The sound of voices followed, but she didn’t bother listening. Not that she knew where the hell to go, but with a place as big as this, she’d find a corner sooner or later.

Then there were footsteps behind her. She turned, arm raised, ready to punch whoever the hell had run after her right through the fucking wall.

Dean stopped, bringing his hands up. “Whoa there, cowgirl. I come in peace.”

Despite herself, despite the anger pumping through her veins and the twisted mess of ugly emotions taking up residence in her chest, she found it in her to smile. “That ain’t how I remember it.”

“Well…you don’t exactly play fair, do you? Those muscles…”

Her smile turned into a smirk. That had been a fun thing to teach him. Dean was one of the few human men who could take her contracting her slayer muscles around his cock. He’d bucked and sworn and nearly gone cross-eyed, then begged her to do it again, which had pleased the fuck out of her. She’d gotten out of the habit of using those muscles in the time she’d been Nick’s fuck buddy—he’d yelped the first time she’d squeezed him too tight and lost his wood for the rest of the night, which had left them both pissed off for very different reasons. Actually, now that she thought about it, Wright was the only human guy she’d been with who’d appreciated what all a slayer body could do. Something in Dean had tapped that same sense of wild abandon where she didn’t care if her partner got hurt, and that he’d asked for more was…

Well, she’d jumped his bones thinking he’d be a fun one-time lay, but maybe that had been short-sighted.

“Where’s your room?” she asked.

“My room?”

“Did I stutter? It’s the least you can do, Ducky. I need a shower and a place to crash.”

“And you chose my room. Didn’t peg on you getting all clingy on me.”

Faith snorted. “Did I say you’d be in it?”

“Felt that was implied. Being that it’s my room.”

“Let’s get one thing straight—I don’t give a shit where you sleep.”

Dean smirked and stepped toward her. “What about if I sleep?”

“Ducky, you might be strong, but you’re human. Know for a fact you can’t last all night.”

He eyed the fist that was still raised, considering. “I’ll let you hit me.”

Let ain’t gotta thing to do about it.” But damn if that didn’t turn her on. “Fine. But shower first.”

Dean chuckled and edged past her. “That oughtta be fun.”

Chapter Text

“Did…” Sam frowned, looking over his shoulder down the hall where his brother and Faith had disappeared. “Did she really sleep with everyone in this room?”

Dawn snickered and glanced to Wright and Zack, who were suddenly very interested in the floor, walls, and ceiling. “She’s a slayer slut bomb,” she replied. “Tried to bang Angel when she first came into Buffy’s life, did bang Riley. And from what Rosalie has told me, she did Zack while he was soulless. And then got busy with Wes, which…gross. I couldn’t think of a more unlikely pair.”

At that, the door to the bunker opened and a very haggard but worried looking Giles and Mary Winchester came in.

“Where is she?” Giles asked, running up to the table. He paused, only seeming to notice Wright after a moment. “And what the hell are you doing here?”

“Same thing as you, I imagine.”

“Same as… Were you close, then, when you got the call?”

“Only if you call Los Angeles County close.”

Giles sighed, rolling his head back. “Why do I even bother? So…where is Faith? Where is the bracelet? Do we know anything just yet?”

At that, a loud crashing sound echoed down the hallway.

“Yeah,” Dawn said dryly. “We know that death apparently makes people horny.”

*~*~*

Sam wasn’t a heavy drinker. That was why heading straight to the bar after talking to Willow wasn’t a good idea. He’d already generated a buzz throughout the evening, but now he was ready to hit drunk.

Ordering a double rum and Coke, he slammed it back in one hardy chug before ordering another. Then, he decided that he needed to mingle. Maybe Toby or C.J. or Bill Nye could talk his mind away from Willow and the stupid plan she had. The stupid things she had said about him.

“Hello again, Governor.”

Sam whipped around to see Dr. Spano once again before him. Once again looking like a new friend in a sea of sharks. “Jessica, you’re still here!” He smiled and nodded before throwing back his glass and draining the contents.

“Well, the free bar is closing so I figure I’m about to call it a night.”

Sam looked down at his empty glass and frowned. “Well that fucking sucks.” Then he looked up in horror at his words. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

She gave a laugh. “I agree. Fucking sucks.” She paused and looked to the ground. “You know there’s a few bars around here that are still open.”

He shook his head. “I really can’t go out in public now.”

“Well, we could always use the minibar in your room?”

Sam wouldn’t realize until the next day what she had really meant with that suggestion. In his inebriated mind there had been no solicitous intention other than finding another person to help in drowning his emotions. “Sure!” he chirped. “Let’s go!” Grabbing her hand, he headed toward the door.

If he hadn’t stumbled when trying to place down his glass on a table by the elevator, they may have made it inside before a firm hand grasped his shoulder. Turning around, he swayed as his equilibrium wavered. “Toby!”

“What are you doing?” Sam could tell he wasn’t happy, but couldn’t determine why.

“Going to grab another drink! Care to join? This is Dr. Spano. Jessica, Toby here is my best friend.”

“Jessica,” Toby said in a soft tone brandishing a small smile. “It’s nice to meet you, but Sam and I need to go to bed now.”

“It’s cool,” Sam said giving Toby a sloppy pat on the back. “We’re going to my room so I can go to sleep when I pass out.”

Toby’s face formed a scowl. He looked at Jessica. “You understand I’m not letting you up there, right?”

Sam didn’t get the big deal, but before he could respond Jessica nodded. “Yes, I really should go.” Then she turned to him. “It was nice meeting you, Sam. I hope our paths cross again.” She leaned over and gave him a chaste peck on the cheek before giving Toby a second nod and walking away.

“That was rude!” Sam said in a harsh whisper.

“You’re wasted,” Toby grumbled as he took Sam’s arm and dragged him inside the now open elevator.

“Willow—“

Toby reached over and slammed a hand against the other man’s mouth. “Shut up!” he hissed.

It wasn’t until the lift moved that he released Sam. “Willow blames me,” he whined. “She called and said that I didn’t stand by her. I thought I did exactly what she wanted me to do! I only took Oz back to Sacramento because I thought she wanted the space. I didn’t fight because I didn’t want to push! I didn’t want to force myself on her when she…” His voice cracked as tears formed in his eyes. “How the hell am I supposed to know what she’s thinking? I can’t even figure out normal women.”

The doors opened and Toby grabbed his arm, leading them to the room they were sharing for the night. Silently, Toby opened the door and shoved Sam inside. Only once the door was shut and locked did he speak. “You talked to her tonight?”

“She saw me on CSPAN.” He gave a watery laugh. “Do you think that means she still cares about me or was she just worried about Oz?”

“Hell if I know,” the older man responded, scrubbing his beard with a hand. “But let’s just call Donna and check in then go the fuck to bed, okay?”

Sam flopped down on one of the beds, burying his face in the pillows. “I wonder if she’s done it.”

Toby sighed and took off his suit jacket. “Did what?”

“The spell,” Sam answered as he worked to wiggle off a shoe.

Toby was quiet a moment. “What spell?”

Sam turned his head to keep from suffocating in the fabric. “She wants to unlock all the memories she repressed. Something stupid about needing to really know what’s she done. Like Hermione didn’t already tell her. Bet somehow that’s my fault, too.”

Sam was only somewhat aware of Toby cussing and shuffling around for something. The bed and the alcohol were working double time and Sam felt himself quickly falling asleep.

“Donna,” Toby’s voice was fading in his ears. “Donna, I think we have a problem.”

*~*~*

Sabrina was exhausted. An evening surrounded by pretentious NoMajes was a terrible assignment, but since Sam Seaborn had been part of the group she had been charged with securing a few weeks ago, she’d been ordered to conduct a follow up.

At least she would be able to put a happy ending to that report. By all appearances, Sam Seaborn was clean as a whistle. While she’d only admit to herself that she didn’t remember feeding the story to him, he seemed to fully believe Willow Rosenberg was out of his life and off somewhere in Asia.

Thankfully Willow hadn’t tried to crash the party tonight. Sabrina had been concerned that could have been a thing. Luckily, Willow had taken everyone’s advice and was lying low and staying quiet. Sabrina just wasn’t convinced the witch wouldn’t eventually become a problem again.

She knew she should just slip off home and call it a day. But she was all dressed up and not quite ready to be alone. So instead of Apparating to her apartment, she popped up outside her new favorite spot.

Caritas was the most amazing place on Earth. She’d never seen so many demons and witches and wizards coexist in a single place. There were a fair share of NoMajes, but they all seemed to be hunters or half-demons or just extraordinarily eccentric humans.

And there was karaoke. Which Sabrina couldn’t help but be enamored by. It was really funny how many creatures thought they could carry a tune. It definitely beat television.

After getting inside, she bought a glass of wine and settled down at an empty table. Slipping off her heels, she was finally ready to relax.

“Hello.”

She recognized the voice before she turned to face the owner. A small jolt of excitement coursed through her. While she hadn’t planned on meeting him here, she had secretly hoped. “Hello, Wesley.”

The man smiled as he pulled out the chair across her and sat. “You look rather lovely tonight.”

She hated how bad that made her blush. “It was a work thing. Nothing special.”

“Well, all the same.” He was quiet several moments, looking back and forth between her and the room.

“Wesley?”

“Every time I see you here I feel as though something is amiss.”

Part of her constant visits hadn’t just been for the terrible karaoke. She knew that first night that messing with a hunter’s mind was bound to be dangerous.

“Forgive me for asking, but are you a witch?”

Shit.

*~*~*

Rosalie wasn’t shocked to see her father sitting in a chair next to the bunker door once she and Nick pulled into the garage. She also wasn’t surprised to see him cleaning his crossbow.

“For fuck’s sake,” Nick grumbled as he shut off the car’s engine.

“Keep cool. He’s just bluffing.” She paused and gave a weary look to her dad. “I think.”

“Rose, I swear—”

She cut him off by opening the car door and hopping out. “A little overkill, don’t ya think?”

“What?” Wright said before following her eyes down to the weapon in his hand. “Oh, this? Honestly, I just got bored waiting out here.”

Nick had slowly exited the vehicle and came up behind her. “Do I have to be shot to go to bed?”

Wright chuckled and propped the crossbow up against the chair. “I should after that little musical number, but no. Just go inside, Hunter. I’d like a word with my daughter.”

Nick made a noise of protest, but Rosalie nudged his ribs with her elbow. “Save yourself while you can.”

Her boyfriend was very displeased. Whether it was abandoning her or having to walk within spitting distance of her father, she wasn’t sure. Likely a combination of the two. But he did as requested and soon Rosalie was left alone with her dad.

“What?” she said with a perfect degree of teenage attitude, folding her arms across her chest in completion of the stereotype.

“Cut the tone,” he said as he stood up. “Age doesn’t give you a free pass to be a shit.”

Unfolding her arms, she rolled her eyes. “What, Dad?”

“One, not cool that little outburst back at the bar.” He held up a hand in protest. “Yeah, I probably deserved it, but let’s not throw that bit of past back and forth again. I know it’s weird for you because it’s weird for me, so let’s just agree that we’ll stop it now.”

She couldn’t agree more. “Deal.”

“Two, Dawn let loose the fact that you threw back a drink tonight.”

“Seriously?”

“You lied and said it was for me or else I would have actually shot your boy a minute ago.” He shook his head and sighed. “You’re the Slayer. I get that. I get that I can’t protect you and all that shit. But you’re a target. And drinking makes you a sloppy target. So if you drink, do it here or stay in the bar until you’re sober. You understand me?”

“Oh my god. You’re giving me a legitimate Dad Talk.”

“You and Nick are using protection, right?”

“Fucking hell, Dad!”

He shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t like this anymore than you do, dammit. But as your old man I’m obligated by law to fulfill this part of the parental contract.”

She was mortified and awed in the same moment. He was far from perfect, but Zack Wright was the best dad any kid could ask for. “Mary and Dawn took me to get an IUD when I turned eighteen.”

Zack’s eyes went wide and he held up a hand. “A fucking yes was all I needed, sweetie.”

She blushed. “Yes.”

“Cool.” He looked down awkwardly at his hands. “So, coming here probably wasn’t my smartest move.”

She couldn’t lie. “I’m glad you did.”

He looked up at her. “Yeah?”

“I missed you.” She paused. “Maybe not this conversation in particular, but I missed you.”

“Fuck, I’ve missed you, Rosie.”

In a heartbeat they had closed the distance and were holding each other, releasing the tears and emotions they had done so well to hide back at the bar.

Well, he did. She’d been a spastic mess. But that didn’t matter because for the moment she was Daddy’s little girl again and she relished every second.

Finally they broke apart, Wright sniffing loudly and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. “So, I know I should go, but I’m not feeling good about Faith coming back unannounced.”

Faith. She didn’t want to think about how badly she’d fucked up things with her. Not until a few solid hours of sleep could finish clearing the hormones from her mind. She’d owed Faith all the gratitude in the world, but had greeted her with a ginormous ‘fuck you’ instead.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“That until we know who brought her back and why, we can’t rule you out as a target.”

“Does that mean you’re staying?”

“Until someone convinces me otherwise, you’re stuck with me.” He hugged her again. “Please for the love of God keep any…any shenanigans where I can’t see or hear or know they exist.”

“Shenanigans? How old are you?”

“Old enough not to care that you judged me. Just…I won’t break down any doors if you promise not to let me walk through any to catch you two…”

“Just remember to always knock first and we got a deal.”

Wright gave his daughter a pained expression. “I think I’m old enough to have a heart attack, so be careful.”

Chapter Text

“You’re droppin’ your shoulder, Slayer.”

“You’re not my watcher, vampire.” Buffy smirked and took a swing at the love of her unlife, and barely kept herself from doing a victory dance when the over-confident ass sailed across the room and smashed into the opposing wall. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if Spike critiqued her sparring style because he actually thought he was helping or because he got off on getting his butt kicked. It might be a bit of both, but she wasn’t about to complain.

Spike rebounded with a toothy grin, his yellow eyes flashing and his tongue doing things to his fangs that ought to be illegal. “Baby likes it rough,” he growled, then roared and charged at her again. This time he managed to land a punch before she dropped him on the ground—a punch that might have winded her back when she’d been a squishy human, but one she barely felt as a hardened slayer-turned-vampire.

“Do you remember when you were actually a challenge to me?” Buffy taunted, dancing around his grabby hands. “’Cause I really, really don’t.”

That did it. The amusement in Spike’s eyes faded and when he snarled the next time, it was for real. He rushed her using the vamp speed he typically didn’t tap these days, and tackled her to the ground the next instant, his mouth at her throat.

“What was that you were sayin’, love?” he murmured into her skin. “’Cause I could take a bite outta you right now.”

“Yeah, but you’re forgetting one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I am much, much stronger than you.” Buffy smashed her head into his hard enough to knock him off balance, then rolled to her feet with a grin. “Ready to give up, William the Bloody?”

He growled again, dabbing at his bloody nose. “There are times when I kick myself for not killin’ you when I had the chance.”

“Sweetie, you never had the chance.” She giggled when he rushed at her again, but when she went to kick him in the gut, he dropped to his knees and performed an elegant limbo-like move under her leg. His arms went around her thighs as he swept her, literally, off her feet, and wound up with his face pressed into her sex.

“Well,” he murmured, nipping at her, “that went better than I coulda planned.”

Buffy bit her lower lip hard enough to break the skin, tossing a glance over her shoulder. It was too late to be night anymore but too early to be morning, meaning everyone with a pulse—plus Zack, who kept human-child hours—was tucked in their beds. Neither she nor Spike had been too eager to go to sleep after the thoroughly unproductive patrol and had decided to burn some excess energy sparring before they burned it off another way. Vamp or not, Buffy needed to get her fight on every now and then just to make sure her reflexes still kicked ass and took names.

“We shouldn’t do this here,” she said, then whimpered when he pressed his nose against her mound. “Impressionable…young people. And Castiel.”

Spike pulled back and arched an eyebrow. “Way I hear it, the angel could use a lesson in how to properly shag.”

“Well, I don’t wanna give it.”

“Uh huh.” He slid his hand around her leg and under the waistband of her pants. “But you wanna get it. You smell divine.”

Oh yeah. The bloom was still well and bloomy on this rose.

“You’re a bad influence.”

He glanced up, running his tongue down his teeth. “You love it.”

“We should go to our room.”

“Too far. Want you now.”

“Bad, bad influ—” The floor dropped out from under her, a wave of dizziness smashing into her head without ceremony. Buffy moaned, her muscles going slack and the rest of her following suit. She toppled over and hit the floor with a hard thud.

Distantly, she heard Spike bark her name, worried, but then he moaned too. From the corner of her eye, she saw him clawing at the floor as though trying to anchor himself, but it was no use.

Then the memories came. Hard and fast and awful.

She and Spike had been at the Hyperion for two weeks when the call came. Glory was in England. She knew the Key was a person and, in her desperation, had become more dangerous than ever. Buffy and Spike had begun making travel arrangements almost immediately, Gunn and Wright volunteering to come along for muscle. They’d found a flight, made accommodations for vampire travel, and left to save the world.

They’d arrived in time to bury Joyce. Oh god, that was where it’d happened. Despite the Council’s best attempts, they hadn’t been able to save her mother, and Buffy hadn’t gotten to say goodbye. She and Dawn had held each other, sobbing as they lowered the casket into the ground. Spike had been oddly stoic, holding onto her hand with such force it almost hurt. And Ben had been there for some reason—not at the funeral but in London. Ben, the nurse from Sunnydale, and she’d thought how weird that was but her grief-stricken mind hadn’t been up to the task of unraveling the mystery. That was until Ben had morphed into Glory and sucked out Tara’s mind. Buffy had watched it happen—Willow had watched it happen. And neither of them had been fast enough to stop it.

Ben was Glory. Glory was Ben. They shared one body. Only the others didn’t know, didn’t remember. She and Spike had spent hours trying to drill this into her friends’ heads, but the mojo that kept them sharing a body was too strong for logic. Except Willow…Willow got it into her head that Ben was somehow involved with Glory, and in her rage, had ripped off Ben’s skin, trying to find what he was hiding.

And that had been it—the end of Glory and the end of Willow too. Because without Glory, Tara couldn’t be healed. Willow wouldn’t accept it—nearly destroyed the Watchers Council trying to find ways to reverse the damage done to Tara’s mind. She’d sucked up the magic from their books and it hadn’t been enough. She’d sought help from darker sources, and when that hadn’t worked, she’d sucked them dry too. Then she’d visited local covens for help, increasingly unstable but unwilling to accept that there was no help for Tara. The coven had been sympathetic but ultimately unhelpful, and in her rage she’d consumed their magic too. Whether or not she’d known she was leaving them for dead was anyone’s guess—Buffy, Spike, and Wright had arrived at the scene too late, finding only hollow husks of what had once been people.

The power she’d consumed left her connected to the world in ways no other witch had ever been—and her grieving soul had been a homing beacon for the pain of grieving people everywhere. Overwhelmed, Willow had decided to end the world, end the suffering, so she wouldn’t have to live with her pain and no one else would, either.

That was the first and only time Buffy ever cursed Spike for turning her into a vampire—even though it hadn’t been his choice. Willow was out in the sunlight, accumulating enough energy to destroy the world from the inside out, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. Instead, she, Spike, and Dawn were hunkered down like civilians while others did the work. It had been a different kind of hell than the one she’d endured at Wolfram and Hart—there she’d been powerless and here she’d had all kinds of power but no way to use it.

Except the world hadn’t ended. The ground had trembled and the skies had opened, and for a moment it had seemed like all would be lost…but it didn’t end. Xander saved the day.

Then the Watchers Council had called. Something about the Ministry of Magic. Containing Willow’s power, helping her learn—

“Oh my god,” Buffy gasped, grasping at her head. “Oh my god.”

When he spoke, his voice was weak and shaky. “Buffy?”

Tears filled her eyes and she looked at him. He seemed so far away then—she reached for him, grounding herself when her fingers slid over his hand. “Do you…?”

Spike was quiet for a moment, then nodded. “All just flashed through me. Everythin’…”

“My mom.” The wound was open and raw, like a bone that had healed only to be shattered all over again. A sob tore off her lips. “Oh god…”

Spike had her gathered in his arms the next second, even though she could tell he still felt a bit wobbly, himself. “I know, love. I know.”

“Why?” She shuddered. “It’s like a door unlocked and everything just… Why did it all come back?”

There was nothing for a moment. Then, in a growl, Spike said, “You know why.”

And that was the worst part. She did.

Willow had done another spell.

“How?” she choked, clinging to Spike like he was her lifeline. “I thought…the rings…”

“Dunno,” Spike replied as he tightened his arms around her. “Could be that the rings don’t prevent real memories from returnin’, just new ones from bein’ planted.” He kissed her brow. “Sounds…possible, right?”

But Buffy didn’t respond, had nothing to respond with. She shook her head, images and scenes from a forgotten past whipping through her mind, and losses she’d never had the chance to grieve weighing her down.

“Willow,” she said a moment later. “She has to be stopped.”

Spike didn’t say anything, just growled.

The words barely made sense to her but they felt right. Every time Willow encountered a problem, her response was to address it with magic. From not being able to cope with her own failure and grief to this, returning the memories that had been ripped away. Doing it without consideration of what it’d do to others. Thinking only of herself.

She had to be stopped.

But god, Buffy didn’t know how.

*~*~*

Whatever else, Wesley wasn’t an idiot. Sabrina had known that right off about him—that and a number of other things. And she’d known, being that he wasn’t an idiot, that this day would likely come sooner rather than later. The only memories she’d altered had been of his traumatic past, nothing to do with the world around them—the world to which she was fast becoming addicted.

If Toadmore knew she’d made a habit of frequenting places like Caritas, she’d be out more than her job. She might be out her mind. Or her life. While the government had become less barbaric over the course of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, government employees—those people who ought to know better—were still susceptible to worst of all possible punishments.

Another reason coming here was stupid.

“A witch?” Sabrina asked, plastering on a wide smile. “I can’t decide if I should be flattered or insulted.”

Wesley arched an eyebrow. “I take that as a yes. What I don’t understand is why you’d keep something like that from me.” He waved at the bar around them. “As you can tell, I’m not exactly prejudicial. In fact, one of my close associates is a vampire.”

Yes, she knew. And perhaps the smart thing to do in that moment would have been to continue playing dumb, but Sabrina hadn’t gotten where she was by doing the smart thing. So she sighed and gave a small nod. “All right, yes. I am a witch. And the reason I haven’t been forthcoming about it is that, well, if my employer knew where I was, I’d be in a world of trouble.”

Wesley nodded, his expression not changing. “You’re with MACUSA then?”

She blinked. “How—”

“I know Harry Potter. Not well, but well enough. And Willow Rosenberg—I’ve known her for years. Though she isn’t like your traditional witch, as I understand it.” He offered a flat smile. “Willow lives here in LA. Potter and his wife, plus their friends, also temporarily relocated State-side to help her navigate some complexities involving both the United States’ and Britain’s magical government.” He tilted his drink on the table, eying the contents. “I suppose you could say I know the signs.”

“The signs of what?”

“Well, for one thing, your wand is sticking out of your handbag.”

Sabrina blanched and looked down, mortified to see he was right. “Oh my god, I’ve lost my mind,” she muttered, stuffing it back. “That party must have taken it out of me.”

“The party you attended because of Sam Seaborn, I presume?”

Great. It got worse.

When Wesley smiled this time, there was something warm in his eyes. “I am well aware of the governor’s connection to the magical community.”

“Well, keep your voice down. No one else is.”

“You’re certain about that?”

“I’m the witch who performed the memory modification charm on him. Not to mention your partner, Mr. Wright, his wife, his niece and nephew, Mr. Charles Gunn, the human nurse who works with you, as well as Mr. Seaborn’s associates.” She pressed her lips together. “I was supposed to do the same to the Winchester brothers, but that order never came.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Wesley blinked. “What sort of memory modification charm did you put on them?”

“MACUSA policy is that anyone outside of the magical community must remain ignorant to its existence. Particularly high-profile NoMajes, such as the governor and his associates. But even those like you, who…well, have lived in the real world.” She felt her cheeks warm. “That much I didn’t know at the time—I didn’t know NoMaj people like you existed. Otherwise I very much doubt I would have removed Mr. Wright’s memories, along with his family’s.”

Wesley frowned, and a dark shudder went through her body.

“You removed Wright’s memories?”

“Yes. I thought he had been compromised by Ms. Rosenberg, Potter, and the Weasleys. It wasn’t until I did some digging that I discovered he was inducted into the magical world fifteen years ago when—”

“His wife was butchered by Darla.” Wesley nodded, but the concern in his eyes didn’t abate. “Sabrina…might we continue this conversation elsewhere?”

It was the opening she’d been secretly waiting for ever since he’d walked away from her that night, but not whispered in the manner she’d wanted. If anything, her trepidation kicked up a notch or twenty.

But none so much as when he continued.

“You see, I don’t think anything has been modified at all. Except for Wright’s attitude toward me.”

Her heart jumped. “What do you mean? That can’t be right.”

“Business has been very much of the usual, which, if his mind had been altered, wouldn’t be possible. The only difference I’ve noticed is in how he treats me. He seems…angry.” Wesley looked at her dead-on. “And I believe you might know the reason why.”

*~*~*

She’d thought it couldn’t get worse. Goddess, what an idiot she’d been.

Every time she closed her eyes, she saw them. Any of them. The witches whose lives she’d claimed. The watchers she’d wounded. Tara blinking at her with vague recognition, saying her name in that sweet, naïve manner as though she were a child. Because that was what Glory had reduced her to—a toddler stuck in a grown woman’s body.

And then there was Tara herself. That first meeting on the campus of UC Sunnydale. The burgeoning feelings that had both frightened and excited her. The knowledge, deep down, before she’d been able to admit it to herself, that she didn’t view Tara as another friend. That the sensations she’d evoked had been much stronger, more passionate, and life-changing.

There was Oz, coming back from his search in Tibet. Her wonderful, sweet werewolf whom, over the course of his departure, she’d managed to fall out of love with. That last heartbreaking conversation in his van, when he’d told her he’d been foolish to think she’d wait for him. When she’d told him that part of her always would be—unsurprised if she turned a corner and saw him again sometime down the line, if ever their paths were to cross. But that she had fallen in love with Tara and she wasn’t the same witch he’d left behind.

How Tara had made her feel. How much she’d loved her—in a hard, probably unhealthy sort of way. How she’d been Willow’s everything and they had fought the day Glory had ripped her away, fought because Tara hadn’t understood, hadn’t appreciated, just how much Willow truly was hers. Had thought that perhaps Willow would hop back on the bus to boy-town once her college experimentation days were behind her.

And wasn’t that what she’d done? Resurrected Oz’s memory to replace the memory of the woman she loved. Jumped firmly back to driving stick—entangled in a relationship with the governor of freaking California. A man with whom she shared a child. A child.

Sam.

Willow was curled in on herself, her arms wrapped around her legs, the pain in her chest so intense she would have thought someone was trying to pry it open had she not known better.

There was a reason she’d buried these emotions. These memories.

All that was left of her was hurt.

*~*~*

Faith had never been an eight hours of sleep kinda gal, even when she tried, though that was mostly due to the hours she kept. Therefore she wasn’t surprised when she awoke sometime close to six in the morning and couldn’t find her way back to sleep. Also, she’d just been snoozing for two months. Maybe her body was all caught up.

She glanced over at Dean, who was conked, jaw slack, a bit of drool trickling down his chin. And despite herself, she grinned. She kind of liked this ducky, but that much she’d keep to herself.

Either she’d worn Dean out good—which was always a possibility—or he was a hard sleeper, because he didn’t so much as twitch as she made her way out of bed and plucked loose garments off the floor. The sweats Sam had given her the night before, along with the AC/DC shirt and the sneakers he’d stolen from his mother’s clothing supply. Odds were that sneaking out were against the rules—Sam had been rather adamant on her not going anywhere solo, but she was hungry and last time she’d checked, she answered to no one in this place. Of course, a gal was short on cash—recent deadness and all—but she figured as long as she brought something back for her bed-warmer, he wouldn’t miss the twenty she pulled out of his wallet.

And if he did, well, his loss. Faith was so not into cheap guys.

The town she’d been brought back to life in was about as small as small could get, which made the previous night’s excursion in the cemetery all the more eyebrow-raising. There were a selection of vehicles outside, one being the sweet Impala she’d busted through the night before, but she had enough energy that she didn’t feel the need to waste time searching for keys. A good walk did the body good.

A half hour later, Faith let herself back into the bunker, holding a large sack full of greasy, artery-clogging goodness and a monster cup of coffee. She stopped short when she saw Dean seated at the main table, looking ruffled and a little bruised but otherwise satisfied. When their eyes connected, his shoulders dropped just enough that she knew he’d wondered if she’d just up and split and was glad to see she hadn’t.

Faith glanced down at herself, wrinkling her nose. “Priority number two—get me some new threads. Preferably heavy on the leather.”

“That can be arranged.”

“Good. ’Cause this body ain’t for hiding behind baggy tees.” She tossed the sack of grease onto the table and took the seat across from him. “Pick your poison.”

The corner of Dean’s mouth kicked up. “Aww, honey. You bought me breakfast.”

“Actually, you bought me breakfast.” She shifted, withdrew the wad of singles remaining from the stolen twenty from her pocket, and slid them across the table. “There’s your change. And don’t you even think about taking both breakfast burritos, motherfucker.”

Dean snickered, peering into the bag. “Looks like I bought the entire goddamn house breakfast. How much shit did you get?”

She reached over and snatched the bag back once Dean had claimed a breakfast burrito and a box of hash-browns. “Girl hasn’t had a decent meal in two months and if you didn’t get the memo last night, I go through a lot of calories.” She unwrapped a breakfast sandwich and took a monstrous bite. “Fuck, this is the shit,” she said around her mouthful.

When she glanced up, Dean was just looking at her, a curious grin on his face.

“What?”

“Pretty sure I’ve never seen a girl eat like that.”

“Like she ain’t allergic to food?”

“Like no one’s watching.” He motioned to his mouth. “You got something there.”

Faith smirked and swallowed, then dragged her hand across her mouth in the least ladylike way she could manage. “Ducky, I got no one here to impress.” To emphasize this point, she stuffed the rest of her breakfast sandwich into her mouth and held his gaze as she chomped her way through it.

“I really shouldn’t find that hot,” Dean muttered after a moment. “You’re kinda disgusting right now.”

Faith shrugged and snatched a second breakfast sandwich from the bag. “Like I said, no one to impress.”

Which, naturally, had her thoughts going back to Rosalie. Her stomach tightened.

“So,” Dean said a moment later before popping a bite of hash-brown into his mouth, “gotta ask, being that I’ve done the dead thing a time or a thousand, do you remember anything?”

She arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean, you’ve done the dead thing?”

“Occupational hazard.” A shadow fell across his face. “Jetlag from Hell is a bitch.”

Faith took a bite of her sandwich, forcing her thoughts back, something she’d managed to avoid doing since bursting into being in the back of the car. Mostly because she wasn’t sure that she hadn’t imagined the whole thing, strange as it had been.

“White hallway,” she said. “Like a super white hallway.”

Dean blinked, something flickering behind his eyes. “Yeah?”

“Pretty sure it was a fever dream.” She wrinkled her nose. “Some guy was there, dressed like a stoner. Said a bunch of shit that made fuck all sense.”

Dean leaned forward. “What kinda shit?”

“Something about a redemption arc and how my story wasn’t over, whatever the fuck that meant.” Faith shrugged and took another bite of sandwich. “Wasn’t like the first time I died—don’t remember squat from that, but this time was the real deal, so maybe my fucked up head was trying to make sense of it. Who knows?”

“Faith.”

She glanced up.

“This stoner…did he have a name?”

She thought back. The encounter with the stoner wasn’t entirely fresh, but enough that she remembered the spark in the guy’s eyes and his odd enthusiasm. And yeah, he had said his name.

Then it hit her, and her eyes went wide.

“Pretty sure the bracelet fried my brain,” Faith muttered, tossing her sandwich onto the wrapper. “’Cause I think he said he was God.” God as a stoner. She snickered. “Except that ain’t right. He gave me a name.”

“Chuck?”

There was no way she’d have landed on that name on her own, but the second she heard it, she knew it was right. “That was it! He…” Faith paused, frowning. “Wait…how the fuck do you know about this?”

Dean released a long breath. “Well, I think I know who brought you back. Good news? Ain’t tied to evil.”

“And what’s the bad news?”

“He’s a real fucking dick.”

Chapter Text

Oral Latin examinations were words that could strike fear into the heart of any young student. Knowing after the presentation you would be forced to publicly partake in a question and answer exchange was the stuff of nightmares.

Nick had vomited twice since waking up.

The classroom applauded when Adam Hayes finished his exam with Professor Melton. Nick wiggled in his seat with dread that only one student was to go before his turn. Hunter would follow Hollingsworth in the alphabetical order of names in this particular class.

Nick had been too distracted by his mental recitation of the life of Tiberius Claudius Nero to have heard the first wave of commotion outside the room. Once the chatter picked up among the children did Nick look up and notice Professor Melton’s frightened expression.

There were screams coming from somewhere close. The loud crashes and sounds of shattering glass could be heard through the closed door.

“Listen very closely,” Melton said quietly. “You must all exit and head toward the east gardens. Do not go toward the library and do not go toward the Council Room.”

That was all they were told before Melton rushed the door and took off down the hall. The exact way he had just warned against.

Most of the children heeded the instruction without thought. Nick had every intention of following orders, but just as he walked out the room, Ashley Lockmiller tore off toward the west.

“What are you doing?” Adam snapped. “He said go east!”

Ashley never thought rules applied to her. Her father was one of the Council’s chairmen and she always was quick to whip it out for personal advantage. “My father will tell me what’s going on.”

Another loud commotion came from the down the hall somewhere near the library by the proximity. Adam shook his head and started to run to the east gardens.

Which was exactly as Nick should have done. Maybe it was curiosity or maybe the fact that despite her terrible personality, his teenage libido still found her attractive, he found himself following her down the hall.

Once they rounded the corner and made it to the outside of the library both slowed their pace. Everything was broken. The furniture, the display cases and even the pictures on the walls had been destroyed. There were broken people as well. Some were running away while some could only hobble. Some weren’t moving at all. All seemed injured in one fashion or another.

Another set of screams erupted in the library. This with a flash of light that came out the entrance. Nick saw Melton then. He was poised in the doorway holding up a…

“Blimey!” Nick whispered to Ashley. “Melton’s a wizard?”

But Ashley hasn’t heard. Or perhaps she hadn’t cared. Her eyes were focused on the swarm of people rushing about in every direction. As she started to slowly move toward the library, Nick reached out and grabbed her arm. “We need to go,” he reminded her.

“My father!” she cried.

“He’d want you to be safe.”

He’d never forget the nasty look she cast toward him as she jerked her arm back. “You don’t understand, Orphan Nicky.”

Fuck if she wasn’t such a bitch. Like most of the posh kids he lived with, they all liked to remind themselves that he was the outsider. He was the boy without a home.

He let he go, but stupidly followed in some delusional for of chivalry. Ashley made it to the door and attempted to slip past Professor Melton, but with his windless arm he shoved her behind him. Nick came up as close to her back as he dared and tried to peek inside the room.

Expecting a demon or a monster, he was shocked to find a woman. The bright light he had seen before was all around her, radiating from her. But the scariest part wasn’t the blood and bodies that surrounded her or even the tattered and decimated books that covered every inch of floor. It was her eyes.

Her jet black eyes.

He only saw them a second as she looked toward Melton. He must have tried something with his wand because in an instant a red flash of light bounded toward them and he felt himself flying. Pain seared his left arm but he was hitting the wall across the hall and everything went dark.

He hadn’t any idea how much time passed before he began to hear voices. There weren’t screams anymore, but still some shouts and panic. He tried to open his eyes to see, but they stung as something got in his eyes. Fumbling for his face with his right hand, he found he was covered in something wet and sticky.

“Hey! We got a live one!” He felt someone, a man from the voice, come up beside him and grab his left arm. When he recoiled in pain, the man swore softly and let go.

“Harris! Gimme your jacket!” The voice shouted so close that Nick flinched. Then he felt cloth rubbing across his face. “Fuck, you’re a kid?” the man said once the stickiness had been wiped away.

“I-I’m fifteen,” Nick stammered. His head was spinning and nothing was truly in focus. Even his own voice sounded miles away.

“Jesus, my daughter’s bigger than you.”

Nick didn’t know how to respond. “Okay.”

“Buffy!” The man shouted again, causing Nick’s head to throb. “She took down kids!”

“I know,” a blonde woman said as she came up. She was crying.

That’s when Nick looked first at the blood-soaked jacket the man was holding. Then his eyes trailed further and saw Ashley.

She’d been ripped to shreds, her body a mangled mess except her face. Her once beautiful face was twisted in horror as her lifeless eyes stared blankly toward the wall.

“Come on,” the man said, hoisting him off the ground in his arms. “Fuck, you weigh more than my daughter.”

“I’m fourteen,” he admitted like it mattered. “Until Saturday.”

“Gotcha,” the man said absently. “Got a party planned, kid?”

“A party?”

The guy looked down with concern. “Party. Presents and cake and shit. You got a concussion, but seriously?”

Nick blinked, trying to remember. “I’ve never had a party.”

“You know what cake is?”

“Yes.”

“Presents?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Friends and balloons and shit?”

“Y-yes.”

“A party. You gonna have a party?”

Again, he was confused. “I’ve never had a party.”

The man stopped and Nick felt himself being lowered down. He found he was on a table in what served as their dining hall. There were other people here, some lying on tables and some sitting in chairs.

“This one’s fourteen. He’s got something wrong with the left arm and a bad concussion. Pretty sure most of that blood isn’t his though.”

Nick watched the man give him a nod before turning toward the door. A woman then poised herself above him, holding a wand up toward his face. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll have you fixed in a jiffy.”

Nick awoke with a jolt, bolting up to a sitting position as he desperately gasped for air. Nausea and panic has enveloped his senses.

“Nick?” Rosalie whimpered. Her voice was weak and trembling.

“Rose, I—“

She clumsily grasped his arm in the dark, fumbling with some need for physical contact. “Willow. Nick, Willow tried to end the world.”

“I know.” He clutched her hand and held it tight against his chest. “I know.”

*~*~*

He figured it out.

Faith was like one of those Hardee’s ads he’d watched on TV. The sexy chick in a bikini who sat on the car hood and ate a burger while letting the sauce and toppings drizzle all over her hot body.

Taking an absent bite of his burrito, he watched her shovel food in her face and realized if she was eating a burger right now he’d possibly bust a nut.

Pie.

Faith. A bed. Pie. “Fuck,” he murmured to himself.

She looked up at him with eyes that told him she knew he liked the view. “That boner under the table for me or my burrito?” She took another bite.

He gave a goofy grin. “You and pie actually.”

She cocked a brow. “Am I pie?” she muttered with a mouth full of half-chewed food.

“No. You and pie.”

She swallowed. “Is the pie like a sex thing? Whip cream and chocolate sauce kinda game?”

He paused. Damn he hadn’t thought of that. His fantasy just when up several notches. Unfortunately before he could explain his new idea, they were interrupted.

“Buffy?” Giles exclaimed as he burst into the kitchen.

Dean noted the way Faith’s expression immediately hardened. “Sorry, G. Just the disappointing step-slayer.”

“Faith?” He said in equal parts surprise and dismay. “I’m so sorry I never got to speak to you earlier, but right now I speak to Buffy about an event with Willow some years ago in London.”

Faith nodded. “The whole apocalypse thing. Gotcha.” She picked up her drink cup. “Hey man, congrats on the new girlfriend. Did Zack cry when you dumped his mom?”

Dean noticed for the first time his mother had been right behind Giles. Laughing, he snatched her cup and sucked a drink from the straw. “Dude, that’s not his girlfriend. That’s my mom.”

Faith gave him a condescending smile. “Dude, they both ran out here in their nighties and she’s in a Sunnydale High tee. Seems to me that you and Sammy are getting sisters.” With that, she reached over and snagged the cup from his limp grasp.

“Nuh uh,” he responded before turning his wide eyes to his mother. “Tell her nuh uh.”

“Dean,” Giles said with a heavy sigh. “Now is not the time for—“

“You’re not my dad!” Dean spat like a raging child. He couldn’t help if his emotional maturity concerning his mother was a little stunted. He’d only had about six years of practice.

“You tell him, Ducky,” Faith teased.

“I just unlocked the memories behind Willow’s downfall in London,” Giles declared before looking at Faith. “You remembered?”

Faith shrugged. “I wasn’t there, but I was with a Council guy down in Panama doing some rehab shit. Didn’t get many details. Nobody really talked about it after so I figured you all just forgave and forgot. Another free pass to those who weren’t me.”

“Forgot, yes. But, no Faith. I don’t believe it was of voluntary volition.”

“Meaning what?” Mary asked.

“Meaning someone, Willow I presume, first blocked those memories and now has chosen to release them.”

“Why does this sound like a very bad thing?” Dean asked.

Faith looked at him and he caught the hint of fear in her steely eyes. “Because whenever Red plays with magic, shit goes wrong. For a good guy, she’s really bad.”

“Yes,” Giles agreed solemnly. “I believe you’re right.”

Chapter Text

It was the cracking sound that did it—jolted him from the uneasy sleep he’d suffered through to awake.

The room went sideways when Sam opened his eyes. The sort of sideways that made him instantly seasick, and did things to his stomach that made him wish for death. He rolled over and found himself in the middle of the mattress, on top of the blankets and fully clothed, and not entirely sure where he was. The air didn’t smell like baby formula and poop, which was pretty much the norm these days. And while it wasn’t entirely quiet, the sounds that reached him weren’t of the Josh-and-Donna variety.

He blinked again and again wished he hadn’t. The room-tipping trick had only intensified.

“Oh god,” he moaned, rolling over again, this time with purpose. He needed to get to the bathroom before whatever the hell he’d poured down his throat came up and went all over the bed. Not that the rolling helped all that much, but it was better than trying his legs at the moment.

Somehow, some way, Sam found the end of the bed. He peered over the side to gauge the distance to the floor, which gave him an immediate sense of vertigo, and then the party was over. He gagged and barfed up what had to be the contents of the mini-bar onto the floor. It went on an indecently long time, his stomach in full riot-stage now, and not satisfied with just whatever he’d consumed the previous night. No, it seemed to want payment in interest. There was every possibility that a corndog he’d eaten at the local fair when he was thirteen years old made an appearance.

The only good thing about throwing up was the immediate relief it gave the stomach. When at last the spasms finished, Sam moaned pitifully and flopped onto his back, sweaty and with a terrible taste in his mouth, but also relaxed for what seemed like the first time in centuries. He blinked at the ceiling as details about the previous night began to trickle in. Not that he was sure he wanted them to. Whatever had driven him to drink that much had to be terrible.

“Feeling better?”

Sam yelped and bolted upright so fast he thought he might toss up whatever was left of his digestive system. Of all the things he could have imagined happening this morning, finding Willow Rosenberg in his hotel room had to be at the bottom of a very long list.

“Willow,” he said, smiling somewhat goofily, even as the clouds in his mind fought to part. He knew something was wrong—she shouldn’t be here, and things weren’t okay, and she was probably the reason he’d woken up by vomiting the summation of twenty-years worth of meals—he couldn’t kill the part of him that launched over the moon whenever he thought of her. The part that was a smitten kid with a crush.

Of course, the goofy high didn’t last long. No sooner had he said her name did the mental levies break and the flood of awful that had tagged him last night flood inward. The smile faded from his lips at once.

“Willow,” he said again. His stomach gave a mild lurch.

The first time he’d met her, she’d been a vibrant beam of pure energy and light with an infectious, somewhat mischievous smile, dazzling eyes, and fire-red hair. It had been difficult to imagine anything bad could happen to a woman so darn bubbly. She had seemed the type of person who could take all the bad in the world and twist it into good.

The past two months, Sam hadn’t seen much of Willow. Hadn’t let himself. Yes, she’d been by the house for supervised visits with Oz, but he’d done his best to make himself scarce. Too painful looking at her, not knowing how to help but being desperate to. And yeah, there had been anger as well. Anger at her and himself and the situation and a thousand other things.

The woman sitting curled up in the chair across from the bed looked nothing like the Willow from his memories—neither the bubbly girl he’d met nor the shattered woman he’d left at the Hyperion. Her pale skin was almost waxy, her vivacious hair flat and dull. Large circles framed her eyes and her face looked thin, almost gaunt. She looked at him through eyes, which had always been bursting with life, that were vacant. Lights are on but nobody’s home, as Josh would say. Like someone had parked Willow here, then up and left the premises.

Vacant wasn’t even the right word. The right word was dead.

Sam opened his mouth to speak, then winced at the taste of day-old road-kill. “I’m…gonna go brush my teeth.”

Willow jerked her head forward in an imitation of a nod but otherwise didn’t speak. He looked at her a moment longer before planting his feet on the floor and forcing his wobbly legs toward the bathroom. As he plodded by the mess he’d made evacuating the contents of his stomach, it vanished. Presto. There, stinking up the room one second, and gone the next. One would think he was beyond being surprised by magic anymore, but he wasn’t. Especially when it came without a bang or a light show. Just casual, like it didn’t matter.

Except it always mattered, especially with Willow. Though his head was pounding and thinking at the moment hurt, Sam forced himself to replay the events that had led to his rather spectacular bender the night before as he scrubbed the vomit taste from his mouth. The high he’d been on and the hard plummet that had followed, discovering that Willow blamed him for their current situation. That the words he’d spoken two months earlier, when he’d been reeling as much as she had, hadn’t been the lifeline he’d intended.

Then drinks. Lots and lots of drinks. And…

He paused and watched his cheeks go red in the mirror.

That Jessica woman had propositioned him. Were it not for Toby, there was every chance Willow would have caught him this morning with a woman in his bed. Not that he’d had sex on the brain at all last night, but he knew how agreeable he was when drunk.

Thank god for Toby.

Sam stumbled back into the main room, feeling a bit more human but a thousand times more confused. He half-expected Willow to have disappeared but she was still there, looking little more than dead.

“How…how did you get in here?” He was fairly certain Toby would have made sure to let no one in his room, even and especially the estranged mother of his child.

“Apparated,” Willow said, her voice as dull and lifeless as the rest of her.

That explained the pop that had awakened him. Sam had become intimately familiar with how witches and wizards got from place to place over the past few months. Hermione was usually good enough to send a text message before she made an appearance, though.

“You haven’t been here before,” Sam said.

“No,” Willow agreed.

“Isn’t that…dangerous?”

He knew the answer, based on those conversations with Hermione. Destination and deliberation were two of the three D’s of Apparating—the person doing it needed to be able to visualize their destination.

At that, Willow turned and made eye-contact, and what he saw—or more accurately didn’t see—there chilled him to the bone.

Then something else slid into place—the missing piece from last night.

“You did it, didn’t you?” he asked hoarsely. “The spell to remember.”

“I remember.”

“Willow… Whatever you’re going through, I can help. We can get through it together.” He paused. “I thought I was doing this the way you wanted—the way that was best for you. When I took Oz, it wasn’t because I didn’t want… It was because—”

“No. You were right. About everything.” She turned again, the motion slight but enough to pull her eyes off his again. “I thought knowing would be better. That I could understand it—what went wrong before.” A beat and he watched her eyes go shiny with tears. “What went wrong before was me.”

The heartbreak in her voice nearly did him in. Sam didn’t realize he was moving until he knelt beside her, his heart in his throat. “You went through something…unimaginable,” he said. “But I know, Willow… I know you were never the problem.”

She stared at him for a long moment, just stared.

Then she lifted her hand to his face, and for a second he thought this might be it. Why he thought that, he didn’t know, only that he’d thought about this, her, nonstop for two months. Wondering and hoping and living in a world between worlds.

Despite whatever she believed, Sam had never given up on her. Not once.

She ran her fingers through the hair at his brow, along his sides, and he let his eyes drift close. He might still feel like a human garbage disposal from last night, but Willow—

Then her fingers pressed against his temple, a bit too hard for a loving caress. Sam’s eyes flew open as memories began flooding his head. Terrible memories. Memories that weren’t his.

Memories that…

Oh god…

*~*~*

“Wow…and this chick’s your friend?”

Faith faked a cough to hide her snicker, but didn’t miss the wink Dean threw her way. Nor did she miss the way her chest tightened at that wink. Maybe she could have ignored it—fuck knows she wanted to—but the fact that the boy had been slobbering over her as she’d decimated a breakfast burrito was heady knowledge. Most guys she unleashed her true self around were the hit-it-and-quit-it types. Except Nick, but he didn’t count, because they’d been thrown together by circumstance and beggars can’t be choosers.

Granted, thinking of Nick made her think of Rosalie—she’d done a decent job of ignoring the both of them as they’d padded into the main hall. Not that Nick was necessarily on her shit-list, but she didn’t want the baby slayer to develop a complex over eye-contact. Not when there were bigger and apparently redheaded fish to fry.

“We knew all this thanks to Hermione Granger,” Giles said. And true to form, the guy was in full glasses-polish mode. Though that might have been due to the fact that when Dean wasn’t eye-fucking her, he was eye-beating-the-crap out of the old Watcher. Apparently her new bedmate had mommy issues.

Fun.

“I’m still not used to hearing that name spoken in reference to a real person,” Mary muttered before giving Giles a soft smile. “I might have to meet these people to believe they exist.”

“Mom, you were dead for most of Harry Potter. Keep it in your pants,” Dean snapped.

Faith snickered again but didn’t bother to hide it this time. Nor did she keep from beaming a brilliant grin at Dean when he aimed his glare at her.

“Yes, ahh, well, moving on…” Giles polished his glasses harder, bright red tingeing his cheeks. “Suffice to say that, this morning, it seems that we who were affected have all had our memories restored.” He glanced around the table where the occupants of the bunker had gathered. All save Buffy, whom, according to Spike, was currently decimating the training room Nick had established for Rosalie. The occasional crash or shatter of glass seemed to support the story. “I need to know who among us now remembers things they did not remember this time yesterday.”

One by one, hands went up. Spike, Wright, and Dawn were obvious, but Faith was a bit surprised to see Nick’s hand shoot skyward. Rosalie, too—the kid wouldn’t have been near ground zero when all that mess happened. Zack just shuffled a bit, looking uncomfortable, like he should be joining the party but didn’t meet the specs.

She didn’t miss the narrowed glances Dawn and Wright threw her, either, when she failed to raise her hand.

“And we know Buffy did,” Giles said, his words punctuated by the timely sound of something thumping to the ground.

Nick sighed and looked to Spike. “I just got that room the way I want it.”

Spike shrugged and fished a cigarette out of his pocket. “From the sound of things, you didn’t cough up the dosh for the really good stuff. Might be the Slayer’s sparin’ Bite Size from breakin’ her neck on some wobbly piece of rot. Oughta be thankin’ her.”

“So you don’t have new memories,” Dawn said bluntly, glaring at Faith. “And we’re sure she’s not evil?”

Faith shrugged. “Did evil for a while. Grew out of it. And I’m guessin’ my mind didn’t get fucked with because I wasn’t part of the little Scooby Gang then.”

“The what gang?” Dean asked.

“The Scoobies,” Sam answered, then turned a bit red himself when his brother arched an eyebrow. “That’s what Buffy’s friends called themselves before.”

“Also, I wasn’t anywhere near London, like I said. Heard about the after, though.” Faith glanced to Nick. “You were, though. But you didn’t know any of the Slayerettes then, did you?”

Though Nick had his gaze on the ground, he seemed to know she was speaking to him and shook his head. “I was fourteen and at the Watchers Council. It was right before my birthday. I don’t know why I remember that, but I do.” He shook hard, balling his hands into fists. “She…destroyed… They sent us away. We had exams that day. My professor told us to run and I was going to, but then Ashley…bloody stupid bird…went toward the screams. I followed to keep her from losing her head and…”

“Shit,” Wright breathed, his eyes widening. There was something in his face Faith had never seen before where Nick was concerned—really, where anyone but his own kid was concerned. He was staring at the guy like he’d never seen him before. “You’re…the kid who’d never had a party?”

Nick’s eyes went wide too and his face flamed red.

Rosalie glanced from her boyfriend to her father. “What did I miss?”

“Shit,” Wright said again, shaking his head. “Shit, I…” He dragged a hand down his face.

“Nick,” Rosalie whispered loudly, but he gave her a warning look and she dropped it.

“I guess I don’t understand why this is a big deal,” Sam said, holding up his hands when everyone turned to glare at him. “I mean—yes, obviously, it’s a big deal, but didn’t we learn about this two months ago when Giles arrived?”

“Not the problem, is it?” Spike snapped. “Problem is we remember it now. All of it. Feelin’ something’s a bit different than knowin’ it.”

Dawn nodded, tears brimming in her eyes. “I…didn’t know what happened to Mom. Neither of us did. Until last night.”

“Whoa, hold up,” Faith said. “Willow offed your mom?”

“Joyce was getting treatment for a brain tumor,” Giles said before Dawn could snap at her. “She had an aneurism. No one could have predicted it. But in blocking out our memories, it seems Willow also stole the memory of what became of Joyce.”

“Not only that,” said someone from behind him. Buffy came into view, her hair a mess and her eyes haunted, “but it…feels like it just happened. We didn’t get to grieve her. Or Tara.” She nodded at Mary, holding Sam’s gaze. “Imagine the pain of losing your mom hitting you in the middle of the night without warning like it was the first time.” She pressed her lips together and turned to Giles. “But it’s more than that. Willow… The kind of spell she’d need to do to unlock these memories isn’t on the small side.”

“No,” he agreed. “It’s rather large…and dangerous.”

“She’s messing with people’s minds, Giles. And this isn’t the first time. Spike and I have these rings that should keep us immune, but what if she decides to do this again? Or something else? Something larger? What if…”

But she didn’t seem to be able to say what she was thinking, and stopped herself.

Faith had no such reservations. “What if she goes full on evil again? That’s what you’re all too chicken-shit to say. The witch leveled the Watchers Council. Killed thirteen there. Also life-sucked fifty-some-odd witches from a local coven and that wasn’t enough. The Watchers hit her with everything they had, and when that didn’t work, they called in the big guns. Wizards who’d fought their own big bad came out and hammered her with everything they had but their magic wasn’t like hers and that didn’t work either. You know what did? Fucking Xander Harris.”

“Well, you’d know,” Dawn muttered.

Faith rolled her eyes. “All right, Pipsqueak, I know you got beef with me but really? This ain’t the time.”

“Excuse me for not forgiving she who tried to kill my sister.”

“Dawn,” Buffy said with that undeniable Buffy authority, “Faith is right. This isn’t the time.”

Dawn rounded on her sister then, and for a moment, she looked all of fourteen years old again—like the version in Faith’s memories, even if said memories were another sort that didn’t actually exist. “Well, look what happened with Willow! Yes, the memories were gone, but we did know something had happened. There was enough truth in it—hell, she got the job at Hogwarts because she came close to ending the world. And we’ve just been okay with that, even not knowing what exactly they were talking about, just because Wolfram and Hart had done something to our memories. Except it wasn’t Wolfram and Hart, Buffy, and you were too scared to admit that. You let her go and she’s out there doing god-knows-what again. Haven’t you learned your lesson?” She glanced back to Faith. “People don’t change. So no. I won’t shut up.”

“Nibblet,” Spike said, his voice shaking, “watch it.”

“Oh, get over—”

“You spout off like that again and I’ll rip out your tongue,” he snapped. “Dunno what’s got your knickers in a twist about Faith is and I don’t give a rot, but you’re standin’ here because people did change. Even when it went against their bloody natures. Think a hundred years ago I ever figured I’d be in a room with three sodding slayers that I don’t fancy killing? Ripper’s done his share of bad magic, Zangy used to be a useless prat—”

“Thanks,” both Zacks intoned, apparently unsure which he was referencing.

“—and your sis, when I met her, she was sixteen sodding years old. ‘Bout the age you’re actin’ now, point of fact. If you don’t think she changed from then—”

“Spike…” Buffy was at her vampire’s side, tugging at his hand. “It’s—”

“She came after me!” Dawn screamed, effectively cutting off whatever her sister had been about to say.

“I did not!” Faith snapped, affronted. Though honestly she couldn’t remember if she had or not. She knew she’d tied up Joyce at one point and, yeah, she’d shoved Dawn into a closet that night. Only she really hadn’t because there had been no Dawn. So even if she had, she hadn’t.

“Willow,” Dawn clarified, wiping at her face. “Willow came after me. I was how she was going to end the world, Buffy.”

Buffy was shaking her head, though, looking to Spike for support. He looked just as startled. “No, we were hiding with you. It was daylight and—”

“That…that wasn’t me. She…she told me about that. About how Buffy wasn’t coming to save the day because she didn’t know I was in danger. She created a dummy me out of me to fool you—scent and all.” Dawn was shaking so hard now she looked like she might burrow her way through the floor. “She was going to open me up and use me to end the world. That’s when Xander…”

But whatever was left, Dawn couldn’t say. She’d dissolved into tears, folding herself into her sister’s arms. Buffy looked thunderstruck, sort of lost between shock and pure fury. Spike, on the other hand, had let his demon out and stomped up to Giles, eyes blazing.

“You best get Red on a leash,” he snarled. “I mean it, Rupert. She sniffs around here and I’ll tear her to bloody pieces myself.”

Giles was polishing his glasses again, though the color had drained from his face. “Spike, as much as I share your anger, we cannot forget that it’s been ten years—”

“I don’t care,” Buffy said, having extracted herself from Dawn, who was now clinging to a bewildered-looking Sam, apparently having not noticed the scene change. “Spike’s right. Faith is right. Willow has all this unchecked power and she just…unlocked that part of herself. We don’t know what it’s doing to her. She has to be stopped. And I have to ask you to do it.”

Giles blinked at her in shock. “Me? Why—”

“Because I don’t trust her Hogwarts friends to do it. They couldn’t stop her from doing this spell and if Faith is right, they weren’t powerful enough to stop her at all the last time. She’s always looked up to you, though.” Buffy shook her head. “And I…can’t. I’m afraid I might actually kill her if I see her. You have to go.”

“I do, too,” Wright said, glancing to Zack. “Willow’s in LA.”

“Kelly,” Zack muttered, his eyes going wide. “The kids…”

Wright nodded, still pale, and glanced back to Faith.

“She’s cool,” Dean interjected, apparently reading the look on his face. “Actually, uhh, before all this started this mornin’, we were talking and I think we solved the mystery of what brought Faith back.”

“You did?” Nick demanded.

“Uhh, yeah.” He looked to his brother, who was still trying to calm Dawn. “It was Chuck, Sammy.”

Sam blinked, but seemed to take this in stride.

“Who the fuck is Chuck?” Wright demanded. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

“Chuck is the preferred name of God Almighty,” Castiel said. “While he rarely bothers himself with earth, there is precedence for it.” He leveled a look at Dean. “Are you positive it was Chuck?”

Dean glanced back to Faith and nodded. “Go ahead. Tell them what he was like.”

“Looked like a stoner. Jeans, some band T-shirt. Talking about stories and redemption arcs like that was supposed to make sense.”

Castiel nodded. So did Sam. “That sounds like Chuck,” the latter agreed.

“And you’re just now mentioning this?” Wright asked.

“Hey, I thought it was a weird-ass dead dream,” Faith replied. “It was all I remembered and too fucking weird. Who expects Heaven to be a hallway, goddammit?”

“Or for you to go to Heaven,” Nick chimed in, though he was grinning. “So it wasn’t a spell gone wrong. It was…divine intervention.” He turned to Rosalie and smiled softly. “Best possible outcome, love.”

Rosalie looked like she wanted to say something, but Faith wasn’t in the mood to hear it. Or really to be in the same room with her right now. Seemed everything had been worked out and the group scene didn’t require her continued presence, anyway. She shook her head and started down the hall toward Dean’s room.

“Where are you going?” Dean called after her.

“To change and go shopping. Told you, a bitch needs a new wardrobe.” She turned and met his eye. “I’m taking your wallet. Throw up a fight and I’ll take your car, too.”

To her surprise, and utter amusement, a shadow that was no parts amused and all parts serious crossed Dean’s face. “You keep your hands off of Baby, you hear?”

Baby? Oh, this was too good.

“Well, when you put it that way, you’re welcome to try and make me,” she replied, then winked and continued on to his room.

Chapter Text

“I need to go to work,” Nick muttered before turning abruptly and swiftly exiting the room. There was too much to process and Faith had the right idea about escaping the situation.

“Nick!” Rosalie called after him. He picked up his pace and went toward their room to grab his keys. He’d worry about changing clothes later. “Wait!” She wasn’t even winded as she caught up with him and grabbed his arm.

Instinctively he jerked himself free, not liking her surprised response. “I need to go.” He paused, keeping his eyes squarely on their feet. “Work.”

“It’s not even nine yet,” she said softly before gently reaching out to him again. “What happened?”

All he could do is shake his head. The memories were too fresh and too raw. “Rose.” He sighed. “Rose, I…I said what happened.”

He knew this answer wouldn’t stick. “There was more. Something with my dad. I’m sorry, but I think I oughta know.”

“Hey,” a different voice called from down the hall.

“Dad,” Rosalie said turning around. Nick cheated and used the opportunity to escape to the bedroom.

Once inside he had to fumble through his dirty jeans to grab his keys and wallet. Turning around, he was surprised to find Zack Wright standing in the doorway, sans his daughter. He dropped his gaze immediately.

“Where—”

“I told her to give us a minute. Suggested she see how bad the training room suffered.”

Nick nodded, focusing on the keys in his palm. He gripped them to the point of pain. “Right. Well, I’m just…stepping out a bit. Check the books and what all.”

“Nick.”

He’d never said his name like that before. Like he gave a fuck. Hesitantly, he raised his eyes to look at Wright.

“Nick, I…I remember. That girl. Those people.” He swallowed audibly. “You.

Nick shuffled uncomfortably, releasing a humorless chuckle. “Bet you regret it now, eh? Probably woulda finished the job had you known where we’d end up?”

“No,” he said thickly. “I wouldn’t.” He sighed and took a step inside. “Look, we both gotta lot of shit to process. I got hit with a lot more dark memories than just that day, but fuck! You were a boy and I remember how it killed me inside seeing you two lying there. Fucking kids!”

“I was nearly fifteen,” Nick muttered with embarrassment.

Wright gave him a small smirk. “Yeah. Newsflash, son, that’s really not better than fourteen. Just means the hormones are working double time.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t really have anything to say.

“Faith had mentioned in passing you hadn’t had a Brady kinda childhood.”

His face reddened as his embarrassment intensified. “No,” he said curtly.

“It wasn’t your head. You really hadn’t had a party, had you?”

Fuck it all if he got emotional now. He was not about to let this man know how much that bit of life still hurt. Truth was he still hadn’t ever had a birthday party. Not like it really mattered.

“I know I’ve been hard on you.” Wright’s eyes widened slightly when Nick involuntarily snickered in response. “Too hard. I let myself focus on the age thing when Rosie was right. You two are pretty close all things considered. And I know you love her because you already told me. Plus you named your place after her.” He flashed a grin. “Cheesy as fuck, but I know she loved it.” He paused as his expression darkened. “What I’m trying to say is I’m sorry. Not just for the shit in London, but for the shit here too. I’m gonna head out here in a bit and I know my girl is protected. She’s got a team of badasses at her back, but more than that, she’s got you.”

“Thank you,” Nick choked. He was dangerously close to letting the tears in his eyes fall. “For saving me.” He swallowed. “For Rosalie.”

Both men were way more emotional than either felt comfortable with. Nick coughed and looked down as Wright cleared his throat and shifted his feet.

“If you tell anyone aside from my daughter about this, I’m denying it and punching you again.”

“Obviously,” Nick nodded.

“And I still am okay with giving you that shiner. My girl was just seventeen, you know what I mean.”

Nick tried and failed to hide a smirk at the lyrics from his number last night. “Yes, sir.”

“Be good to her, Nick. And don’t let her boss you around too much. She can be a bit of a bully.”

“I promise.”

Wright gave a nod and made his leave. From the hall Nick heard his last words. “Son, we both know she’s the one in charge.”

Alone, Nick smiled, whispering to himself. “Yes, she bloody is.”

*~*~*

Zack felt completely useless. Wright had headed after Rosie and her boy while Giles and Sam went off talking about research with Mrs. W in tow. And while he knew nothing to comfort Buffy or Dawn, the bond to his sire made him feel the pain you get while watching the ones you love grieve.

Spike gave him a nod as he wrapped an arm around his wife. Dawn has taken back over Buffy’s focus as they held each other and cried. “You headin’ out soon?” Spike asked quietly.

“Yeah. Hopefully we can get a trail on her before she skips town.”

Spike nodded again. “Be careful, Zangy. She’s just remembering she’s got more mojo than she thought.”

“Yeah, I’m getting Hermione only shared the Cliff Notes.”

“Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake burst from Zack’s pocket and he gave a sheepish smile as he reached for his phone. “The missus,” he explained before hitting the speaker button. “Hey, baby.”

“Tell me you two are on your way back?” Kelly’s voice sounded through the room.

“Just about. Think Z’s saying his goodbyes.”

“Cordy and Gunn are a mess. Something happened and they’re suddenly remembering all the crap that Willow did like a decade ago. That stuff Hermione warned her about before she flaked out a few weeks ago.”

“Yeah,” he said slowly, casting a weary look at Spike and the girls. “Theory is Willow did a reversal spell on the block she put up. It’s…not really good right now.”

“Is everyone okay?”

“Pretty upset. Angry and betrayed. I’ll explain later.”

“Yeah…and why does a Japanese woman keep calling the work line asking for you?”

Zack’s eyes widened. “Don’t give her my cell!”

“Is that the old lady with the crush Cordy told me about? If so, I just might.”

“Not cool, Kel.”

She giggled. “Just hurry and get home.” Then she lowered her voice to a whisper. “The package we ordered arrived yesterday and the toys look fun. I can’t wait to see how you react when I try the—“

Zack hit the red button, ending the sentence before she could finish. Much to his horror, three sets of eyes were focused on him. Seems he’d accidentally helped in making the girls break from their sorrow.

“Call her back!” Spike snapped. “You don’t get to leave it there.”

Buffy gave him a smirk. “Toys? Really?”

Dawn’s response was the most shocking. “Is it for her or you? What she’s gonna try?”

Like hell he was going to say. “So, it looks like this is where we say adios. I’ll tell the kids hello.”

“I’m totally calling her once you leave,” Buffy warned.

“You do that and we’re both in trouble, B.”

“Don’t let the kids play with your toys,” Dawn teased.

“I love you guys, but fuck off.” He walked over to give the girls each a hug before stopping to shake Spike’s hand.

Spike gave a small smile and pulled him into an embrace, whispering in his ear, “Anal beads, innit?”

“Goodbye,” Zack said pulling back with a scowl.

“Butt plug? One of those vibrating ones?”

“Tell Z I’m in the truck,” he said turning and walking away.

“A big, black dildo?” Spike shouted at him. “Don’t tell me it’s just a cock ring!”

Dammit if he wasn’t going to miss his dick of a best friend.

*~*~*

Dean was actually surprised when Faith didn’t physically fight him for the keys to Baby. Possibly it was the reminder that a busted and bloody window would draw unnecessary attention or maybe she sensed that was a hard line he wasn’t about to cross.

Likely the first one. She didn’t seem like a girl with many fucks to give. And while he was perfectly okay having his body used and abused, his wheels were not on the offering table.

Baby was his excuse for hanging down in the garage. It had nothing to do with wondering if after handing over a car, a hundred bucks and his cell-phone, she might make a getaway. She didn’t seem exactly chummy with any of her old buddies.

He’d steered her west toward the closest Dollar General, warning a Walmart was an hour the other direction. There were definite disadvantages to having a secret lair in the middle of nowhere and good food and retail were the top of the list. He figured neither DG or Wally World would have the kinda threads a chick like Faith would wear on the regular. Leather and fishnets seemed more her style.

“Fuck!” Dean hissed as he almost dropped the pane of glass. His palms grew sweaty with naughty images of what Faith would wear on a night out at an LA club. As much as he was enjoying his new booty call, he didn’t care for how distracting he found her. It was hard to love ’em and leave ’em when she was going to be under the same roof. Maybe the newness would wear off pretty quick and they’d fizzle into the friend zone.

Maybe she wouldn’t come back at all.

Dean lowered the glass into place and began screwing the door frame back together. As long as her next notch wasn’t his little brother, he’d be able to play it cool. Thinking about Sam and Faith taking a tumble actually made him nauseous.

Another thing he didn’t really like.

He didn’t look up when he heard the garage door open. He recognized the sound of the motor and was pissed at how relieved to hear the purr of the engine. Focusing on the job at hand, he finished with the frame and gave the window a test drive, rolling it up to determine it had stayed on track.

The engine shut off and he heard the door open. “You actually keep spare parts on hand?”

Dean looked over at her, a small smirk on his face. “You have no idea how many times she’s been rebuilt. Every six months or so I grab a beer and Sammy’s laptop and search online auto salvages. Go for the windshield next time. I got two over in the corner.”

Faith walked over and dumped an armful of bags on the hood. “Well, she’s pretty sweet on the outside. How slick are her insides?”

Dean scoffed, marching to the front of the car and snatching up the bags. “Baby is not a clothes rack, woman.” He thrust the bags at her.

“Whoa there, Ducky. Didn’t mean to insult your girl.”

“Don’t judge me. You’re just jealous.”

Faith snickered. “Well, someone just showed their Achilles Heel.”

Dean shrugged, knowing he was caught. She was like a shark in sensing blood in the water. “It was my dad’s.” He turned back to double check the bags hadn’t scratched the paint. “Nicest thing he ever gave me.” He paused. “Only real thing he ever gave me.”

“Mommy and daddy issues. Sadly I can relate.”

He waited to see if she’d expound, but that was about as open as she planned to be. “So,” he said turning to nod at the merchandise is her hands. “You had a successful shopping trip. Don’t expect you have any change for me.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she responded, walking over and depositing her yellow bags through the open window of the front passenger seat. “And these are just temporary. Gonna need that credit card after all. This didn’t cure my retail therapy.”

Dean barked a humorless laugh. “My credit card? You owe me a hundred and twenty and a back passenger window. How you expect to pay back?”

Faith shrugged. “Sex?”

He sneered. “Honey, I don’t pay for sex.”

“Saving your ass?” she countered.

“Saving my ass?” Oh, now he was getting pissed.

“Did I stutter, Ducky?”

“I saved your ungrateful ass, bitch. I’m the one who found that bracelet in Wolfram and Hart. I’m the one who kept your naked ass from popping up in the middle of some evil law firm.”

“Well, I’m the one who saved your ass not once but twice. You about got it the night I went upstairs and you about got it last night, too. So suck it, Trebek!”

“Ha! Joke’s on you, sweetheart. Both times I was only there because your stupid ass likes to do nothing but cause trouble.”

“I just saved the fucking world, you prick!” She rushes up and shoved him into the side of the car.

“Welcome to the club. You want a cookie? We’ve all saved the world. It’s kinda our thing.”

“Yeah, but I fucking died for it. What did you do?”

“We get prizes for that? Because my trip to Hell should come with something.”

She punched him hard in the gut. “Stop fucking trying to outdo me!”

“Well stop acting like you’re the only one with a shitty life!” He paused and processed how hard she could hit. “And ow! Bitch, you got super strength.”

“Yeah,” she said taking a step back and giving him a sheepish look. “Well, you deserved it. Cocksucker.”

“Pretty sure you’ve done it more times than I have.”

A mischievous look flickered in her eyes. “Exactly how many cocks have you sucked?”

“If you include that time in Tijuana…none! Come on!”

She snorted. “Was his name Pedro?”

“Girl, are we gonna fight again?”

“Hector?”

“Man, you’re giving me a headache.” He started to walk away, but she stepped forward, pushing him against the car.

“Eduardo?”

“You’re enjoying this too much.”

She smirked. “You’re hard,” she said reaching between them to cup the erection he hadn’t even realized he’d had.

“Fuck,” he moaned, closing his eyes and leaning his head down to rest against her brow.

“Looks like the pot was too busy calling out the kettle to realize he was boiling.” She gave him a gentle squeeze that cause him to groan in response. “You ever do it in the backseat?”

He opened his eyes and stared into her own. “What do you think?”

“Ever do it with a slayer in the backseat?”

Reaching over to open the back door, he gave her a warning. “You bust out the window again and you’re paying back in BJs.”

“Believe it or not, that’s not the worst job I’ve ever worked.”

Chapter Text

Sabrina worried her lower lip and navigated her way around the sofa. For the past twenty minutes, Wes had been sitting with his elbows on his knees, his fingers threaded through his hair and a look of manic desperation about him.

He’d taken the truth about as well as could be expected. Denial at first, but with that sort of awful understanding that said plainly he knew it was the truth. The memories themselves remained locked away—she wasn’t sure if restoring them was even an option. It wasn’t for her, as she wasn’t a trained Obliviator, but perhaps that was for the best. Knowing what he’d done seemed to have all but crippled him. Feeling those emotions again, that place he’d been… Well, it might be worse.

“And somehow,” Wesley said, his voice choked, “Zack hasn’t managed to kill me. Either one of them.”

It was the first thing he’d said since she’d stopped talking. She wasn’t sure if he was asking her a question or muttering to himself.

“They know the place is being watched, I suppose,” he continued a moment later. “And if you believe their memories were tampered with, they would need to…play the part.”

That much didn’t sit well with her, because the alternative meant someone had played with her mind too. Granted, it wasn’t difficult to figure out who—Harry Potter, Hermione Granger-Weasley, and Ron Weasley had all been present—but still, that smarted her pride a bit. What little Sabrina knew of them came from whispers within MACUSA and, of course, the Harry Potter novels, which were required reading because of the danger they posed. She still wasn’t sure how much of those books were fact, but a stunt like that seemed par for the course with the characters Rowling had described.

There was something else, too. Something had happened to Wesley shortly after she’d dropped her truth bomb—something that could have been related to what he’d learned, but somehow she didn’t think so. He’d sounded pained, desperate, and when he’d come back to himself, he’d been disoriented to the point where she knew he hadn’t been entirely aware of his surroundings.

Magic caused that sort of disorientation. Particularly the sort of magic wielded by those NoMajes like Willow Rosenberg. Sabrina had had a bad feeling in her gut about Willow since the day before when she’d been at MACUSA Headquarters. At the time, she’d chalked it up to her predisposition to distrust the witch, but now…

“Wesley,” Sabrina said softly, reaching over to touch his shoulder. “Wes…did something else happen?”

He was quiet for a moment, then scoffed. “You mean aside from my discovering that I nearly killed my best friend’s daughter and was responsible for the death of the woman I…” He shook his head and looked away. “Yes. Apparently this is the day that all secrets come out.” He rubbed at his forehead. “Something unlocked in my head. At first I thought it was my memories—the ones I asked you to take—but this…was different. Happened years ago in England, an incident where Willow Rosenberg—”

“Shit.”

Wesley arched an eyebrow. “So I take it you know Willow.”

“Willow is a live bomb waiting for someone to brush her just the right way. If she’d been on US soil when that incident occurred, we would have put her to death. She’s too dangerous.” Sabrina swallowed and looked away, feeling a bit self-conscious. She wasn’t sure if she was part of the we anymore, if not in occupation then definitely philosophy. Death seemed such a permanent, extreme solution. “But MACUSA did not have jurisdiction and her protection at Hogwarts was too strong. Even when she came here last year and pulled off what NoMajes saw as a hell of a light show outside of Los Angeles. Because of Minerva McGonagall and Harry fucking Potter, she’s untouchable. Or she was until the Ministry of Magic severed ties two months ago. Even they wised up enough to realize they can’t control her.” Sabrina released a long breath. “If Willow has restored the memories she took… Nothing good can come of it.”

A moment to think. A snap decision.

“You need to get out of town.”

Wesley blinked at her, looking somewhat dazed. Not that she could blame him—the blows just kept coming. “I’m sorry?”

“Me too, but you need to leave.”

“What do you mean—”

“I mean if Willow accessed the sort of magic that she’d need to in order to restore those memories, then she might…” Sabrina looked away, searching for words. “She is more powerful than us,” she said at last. “That’s why MACUSA wants her dead—a NoMaj witch with more firepower than the entire fucking government. That’s why she’s so dangerous. Without the Ministry of Magic to protect her, we’re going to have to come at her with everything we have, and that amount of power could level the city.”

“I’m her friend,” Wesley argued, though he had gone even paler than before. “I can help.”

“No. You need to leave the city. Get as far away from here as possible. Start over.” Sabrina placed a hand on his shoulder, feeling reckless and brave in ways she never had before. The past two months stealing moments with Wes had been…well, exhilarating. She hadn’t realized how dull her life had been until then—how much embracing this whole other world had changed her. And Wesley, flawed and fucked as he was, was part of that change. From what she saw, he was a good man who had made some truly terrible choices, but he was trying.

And so was she.

So she acted without thought, seized him by the cheeks, and drew his mouth to hers. He was still for a second—a second that stretched into several—before he was kissing her back. Until they weren’t just kissing, but full-on making out. Making out led to groping, which led to body parts rubbing against each other in all sorts of naughty ways that had her center on fire and her heart racing. It was supposed to be a small kiss, truly, but now that he was ripping off her shirt and she was helping him out of his pants, she decided this was better. Two people clinging to each other when neither had anything left to lose. And maybe that was what this was—Wesley embracing an empty future, but for tonight, she wouldn’t care.

He’d be out of her life tomorrow, anyway.

*~*~*

“Rawr,” Buffy said, running her hand along the back of Faith’s new leopard-print wrap dress.

Faith shrugged her hand off and tossed her a dirty look. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” she said, glancing down to the neckline that was cleavage-city. “But if you like it, B, the threads can be yours for fifteen dollars and a visit to Dollar General.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose and settled next to Faith at the bar. “Once upon a time, when I was a wee slayer, I took my daddy’s credit card to Rodeo Drive. Pretty sure this would be a dramatic step in the down direction.” She glanced at her own outfit, which had been procured at a Target on one of her and Spike’s trips out of Lebanon. “Not that I have much room to talk.”

“Rodeo Drive, huh?” Faith motioned to Nick for a refill once he pulled himself away from chatting with the pretty redhead vamp at the other end of the bar. “It really was the hard knock life for you, wasn’t it?”

Buffy snorted. “I was what you’d call a nightmare at age fifteen.”

“I seem to remember you being a nightmare at eighteen, too.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow and stared until Faith barked a laugh, nodded her thanks to Nick for the refill, and polished it off. “All right,” she admitted. “So I wasn’t a saint.”

“Faith, you—”

“This is one trip down memory lane this girl so does not need. I know what I was.” She stared at the contents of her glass. “Emphasis on was. Been white-hattin’ it for a while now. Even caught up to you on the death scale. Managed to save the world once, too.”

“You don’t have anything to prove.”

It was Faith’s turn to snort. “Who’re you trying to kid? I’ve been back from the dead for about twenty-four hours. When I bowed out, I had people I loved. People I thought loved me. Not sure if Chuck just really likes kickin’ a girl while she’s down, but I ain’t seein’ the half-full of being back among the living.”

Buffy released a long sigh, and motioned for Nick to refill both their drinks this time. Yeah, the past day had been a big bucket of crazy—so much crazy she had officially quit trying to unpack everything she’d learned for the day. After so many weeks of chasing lame leads and killing even lamer demons, the full-speed-ahead insanity that had started with the bracelet and had yet to stop left her feeling winded.

Faith had returned to a place she didn’t know in the middle of a teenage love drama, then been immediately sidelined by a catastrophe ten years in the rearview mirror. As far as Buffy knew, her sister slayer had yet to make up with Rosalie, which Buffy knew was probably responsible for Faith’s malaise, and she couldn’t exactly blame her. Nor could she blame her if she was avoiding the girl, which it seemed she might be doing. Even if Faith knew the better of it, Buffy had died enough times to appreciate just how much it would suck to come back to a world where the person you loved more than anything seemed to resent you.

Which was why she was here, making friends. Well, one of the reasons. If the big emotional blowout with Dawn had taught her anything, it was that some hatchets desperately needed to be buried, and she wasn’t sure that she and Faith had ever had that sort of talk. There had been the Mayor, the coma, the body-swap, the escape to LA, prison, and then…just suddenly, she was back in their lives, reformed but not trusted. Neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Granted, there was a lot to forgive, but Faith was right—they’d forgiven Willow. Numerous times.

“I talked to Dawn,” Buffy said softly. “About earlier. And I told her what I’m about to tell you.”

Faith tensed but didn’t say anything.

“The past is past and…I want to be friends.”

There was nothing for a moment. Then Faith barked a laugh and shook her head. “You looked deep down within your soul and the best you could come up with was you wanna be friends?” She threw back another drink, laughing still, though there was no malice in her voice or in her eyes. “Fuck me, you’re lucky givin’ speeches ain’t a part of the gig.”

“It is sometimes,” Buffy replied dryly, but she was smiling too. “So yes, I am lame, but I stand by it. I’ve told Dawn to cool it on the running commentary. Don’t know if she will or not—there are things she’s not ready to forgive, but I think she will be one day. But insofar as you and me? Past is past. I’m not the same person I was then and you aren’t either.”

“You’re welcome, world,” Faith agreed with a laugh. A pause, then, “If I never said it, B, I am…you know. Sorry. For all that shit. I think I will be until I die.”

“Well, given how prone you are to dying these days, maybe you won’t have to suffer long.”

Faith looked at her out of the corner of her eye, smirking. “There’s the half-full.”

They sat for a moment in a companionable silence as Rosa Lee’s came to life around them. The previous night’s crowd had been decent, all told, but tonight, the crowd was so large it was hard to forget this was the first Saturday the place had been open. Nick had recruited Dawn again for bar service, and being that she was steadily trying to pay back Giles for the tuition money she’d essentially stolen, she’d decided to make tending demon bar on the weekends part of her new trade. Though she was still adamant that the Winchesters kept her in the loop on hunts.

Spike was currently across the room, trying to get into a hand of poker that had spontaneously sprung up among a hodgepodge of vamps, werewolves, and one Chivargo demon. Maybe two. It was hard to tell from this angle. Cheating at cards was one of the only ways he got his evil on anymore—outside of the bedroom, at least—and Buffy had long given up trying to convince him to play legitimately. Plus, he usually made sure to get her something pretty or deadly or both with whatever he pocketed.

Giles, Mary, and both Zacks had taken off around noon, Giles ducking accusatory glares from Dean and Dean had wondered, loudly, why Mary needed to go with Giles to LA, seeing as she didn’t even know “that Willow girl” and Giles had plenty of help, what with the three stars of the Harry Potter franchise as backup. Mary had rolled her eyes, hugged her boys goodbye, then slid in beside Giles.

Now, Sam was talking to Rosalie and Castiel about something at the other end of the bar. The last time Buffy had seen Dean, he’d been near the poker table, looking torn between killing everyone sitting there and asking to join in. Dean’s acclimation to the softer side of demons still had a ways to go, but he’d made remarkable progress. Having three live-in slayers probably helped.

Which reminded her…

“So,” Buffy said coyly, dragging her finger around the rim of her drink, “you and Dean, huh?”

Faith barked a laugh. “Me and Dean what?”

“You know I’m a vampire, right? I can smell you two all over each other.”

“No one asked you to sniff me, B. And here I thought Blondie kept you nice and satisfied.”

Even across the room, Spike perked his head up and looked at her as though daring her to say otherwise. Buffy stuck her tongue out at him; he arched an eyebrow and nodded toward the back. She shook her head and blew him a kiss. He pouted, then winked and blew one back.

“All right, gross,” Faith said, her hands coming up. “Ya’ll don’t need to be nauseatingly cute all the time.”

“I kinda think we do,” Buffy said. “But we’re not talking about me and Spike. You. Dean. Spill it. You guys seem awfully chummy.”

Faith seemed to consider this for a moment, then lifted a shoulder and tossed back her drink. “Girl comes back from the dead, she needs to know her plumbing still works,” she said. “Took a spin on the angel and it didn’t take. Didn’t think it was me, but you can’t be too sure. So when Dean got mouthy with me later on, I got mouthy right back.” She paused and grinned. “I’m guessin’ you and Blondie don’t hold back for shit, right? Him being a vamp and all, you don’t gotta worry about being careful.”

“Umm, no. I mean, I’m still stronger than him—like very—but he gets off on that too. If it hurts a little.”

At this, Spike whipped his head up again and, again, motioned toward the back, with a more bit desperation. Buffy snorted and shook her head again, and his answering pout was less playful this time.

Faith, watching this, obviously, chuckled. “Been with only the one vamp—Morris, you know. Which, and can we just take a minute to say, how is it that the goody-two-shoes slayer got more undead action than the black sheep?”

Buffy snickered. “Well, I became the undead, so that helped with part of it.”

“Still, though. Damn, girl.”

“You fucked him while he was soulless, out for blood, and his wife was waiting at home. Pretty sure that still makes you the black sheep.”

“You can’t give me anything, can you?” Faith playfully shoved at her shoulder. “Aside from that one wild night with Wright, I hadn’t been with any guy who could take me at full strength. Though he’s all domesticated now—might be he only liked it because it hurt. Wild child that he was. Could be he’s all about sweet, tender lovin’ these days. Though I can see Cordy being pretty fucking wild, too.” A pause. “But Dean seems to like it. The full-on slayer strength thing, I mean. Most I’ll say on the matter. It’s a nice change of pace from certain”—she nodded at Nick, who was chatting with Rosalie and Sam, a goofy-ass look on his face that Buffy had come to associate with his being utterly smitten—“other guys, at least.”

“And that’s it? Just the extra muscle usage and such?”

“What the hell else would it be? I’ve known him for less than a day.”

“And still managed to sleep with him more than once.”

“Like you and Blondie never had marathons.”

“Sure we do. But we love each other. And we’re mated.”

“And I’m freshly back from the dead. Like I said, gotta see what all still works. See if it’s still just as easy as riding a biker.”

“You mean a bike.”

Faith gave Buffy a look, and, to Buffy’s delight, missed the fact that Dean had just come from the back and was eagerly listening to the entire thing.

But then he leaned into her, his mouth near her ear, and though he spoke in a tone that made it obvious he only intended Faith to hear, Buffy’s vamp-sensitive ears didn’t exactly have an off-switch.

“I prefer cowboy,” he muttered. “Just so you know.”

He walked—or rather, strutted—off before Faith could respond, looking much too pleased with himself.

Faith watched him go, then turned her narrowed gaze to Buffy. “How long was he standing there?”

“Long enough to hear you dig using all your muscles on him.”

“And you let me talk. Not the best way to start this friendship, B.”

“I’m sorry, it was funny.” She wasn’t and it had been hilarious. “He had this goofy look on his face. I think he likes you.”

“Of course he likes me. I’m the best sex he’s ever had.”

“Did he tell you that?”

Faith rolled her eyes. “He didn’t need to. I am and he knows it. Guys like him try to hold onto good pussy when they find it. Don’t mean nothing.”

“When they find what?” asked Nick, coming back to their end of the bar. Rosalie and Sam seemed to be inching their way too, the young slayer eyeing Faith like she was just bursting to say something. For her part, Faith didn’t so much as look in the girl’s direction.

“Good pussy,” Faith repeated, holding out her glass. She glanced to Sam. “He’s a manwhore, right? Your brother?”

Sam flushed, looking everywhere but at Faith. “I… Dean likes girls. Yes. A lot. And they seem to like him. Also a lot. But…we’re on the road so much and in this life, you don’t get to really settle down. So he doesn’t, ahh, date. Not really. There was a woman a few years back he liked but it didn’t work out.”

Faith snorted and threw back a drink. “Even more reason to hang onto good pussy. Though he better watch out or else I’m gonna pop him in the nose next time he sneaks up on me.”

Rosalie opened her mouth to speak. “I—”

“Hey,” Faith said suddenly, slamming her glass onto the counter. “I love this song.” The song had been playing for nearly four minutes and was winding down. “You and me, Boy Scout, let’s bust a move.”

And before anyone could say anything else, Faith had seized Sam by the arm and dragged him off to the makeshift dance floor. Rosalie watched her go, her face falling, but she turned back to Nick before she could actually cry.

“I really fucked up with her,” she muttered, staring at the bar. “Really…really fucked up.”

Buffy sighed and rounded the corner to put her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “It’ll be okay,” she said. “Maybe not, you know, right now, but eventually.”

Nick met her eyes and gave her a weak smile before looking back to the younger slayer. “Buffy’s right, you know. Just give her some time.”

“What’s the statute of limitations on flipping your shit out when you discover the person who died for you isn’t so dead anymore and you respond by ignoring her and being mad at your boyfriend?” Rosalie moaned and dropped her forehead into her waiting hand, sighing the hard sigh of teenage drama. “I never even said thank you. Or hugged her. Or anything.”

“No, you tried to punch me in the face,” Nick replied bluntly.

“Did you have to say it like that?”

“Is there another way to say it?”

She thought for a moment, then deflated again and shook her head. “No, that’s the only way.” She glanced to Buffy. “How long do you think this’ll go on?”

“I think you’re gonna have to corner her,” Buffy replied, then brought her hands up when the remark earned a glare. “Sorry, honey. On some level, I think Faith understands. I mean, someone has to have told her all we did to try and find her before Chuck or…whoever the hell he was decided to bring her back. Sam at least, if not Dean. But…” She hedged, really not wanting to say this next part because it’d hurt Rosalie but needing to all the same, because slayers couldn’t hide from truth, no matter how badly they wanted to. “Faith…has always been on the outside. Always. When I first met her, she tried to make nice with my friends and me and…well, she was also a teenage hormone bomb, but she… I think one of the reasons things went so bad with us was because I had the support system. I had the Watcher who loved me, my friends, my mom, and at the time a steady boyfriend. Faith came from a crappy background, had no family worth mentioning, watched her first Watcher get killed by a nasty vamp, her second Watcher tried to kill her and her third Watcher… Well, he tried to box her up and send her to the Watchers Council for programming, and this was a good decade before he killed her via magic bracelet. Suffice to say, family isn’t something Faith’s ever had. The closest thing she had to a father was a mayor who turned into a giant snake, and the way he got her on his side was by giving her the thing she wanted more than anything.” Buffy glanced to Nick. “Think, after she got out of jail, you might’ve been the first constant in her life.” Back to Rosalie. “But then she fell in with your family and it was… I dunno, Faith and I have a really screwy history but I kinda get her. I think she thought she had something like a family for the first time. A healthy one, or as close to as she could get. That’s why she was so willing to die for you. And despite knowing that you’re a teenager and prone to acting like one sometimes, it’s hard to walk off a lifetime of not being good enough.”

Rosalie was crying in earnest now, looking absolutely devastated. Nick seemed torn between irritated at Buffy for saying anything and irritated at Rosalie, though for what, Buffy couldn’t say. Might be symptomatic of their age difference—or whatever else they had quarreled about the night before. Or maybe he was pissed on Faith’s behalf; though Buffy didn’t know much about Nick, she did know that he and Faith had connected over their mutual shitty pasts.

“I’m sorry, kiddo,” Buffy said. “I am, but…that’s the truth as I see it. And I think that’s what you need to know for when you two make with the amends. It’s not just you she’s upset with—it’s a whole lifetime of being let down.”

“But I was the last person to do it.” Rosalie wiped at her eyes. “Before she punched me and took the bracelet, she told me she loved me. I knew something bad was going to happen then, but…” She shook her head and glanced over her shoulder. Faith and Sam were still dancing; Sam was laughing now at something Faith had said, loud and boisterous. He also looked a bit surprised, like she’d taken him off guard. “I’ll find a way to make it better,” Rosalie swore softly.

“I know you will,” Buffy replied. “But give her time. We don’t know how much she’ll need.”

*~*~*

Well, he guessed he’d had this coming.

This being that the hot redhead he’d escorted out of Rosa Lee’s had shoved him against the exterior wall the second they were clear of the sanctuary spell and gone all fangy on him. And ass that he was, Dean didn’t have a piece of wood on him. Or even in him—he hadn’t been all that jazzed about fucking the girl anyway, but something had gone off in his head when he’d seen Sammy and Faith tearing up the dance floor, moving together like they were meant to. Him fucking laughing like he rarely did. The fact that seeing it had pissed him off had pissed him off even more, because who the fuck cared who the bitch bedded? Certainly not him.

And what better way to prove that than to take the little redhead who’d been making eyes at him all night up on her nonverbal offer for a quickie?

The fact that the girl’s forehead had done that freaky-still-not-used-to-it bumpy shift shouldn’t have been a surprise because, hello, demon bar. Aside from Nick, Rosalie, Dawn and Faith, the Winchesters were probably the only humans in the whole place. Idiot.

Dude, Spike had even tried to warn him. As the redhead had led Dean out the door, Spike had caught his eye and shaken his head.

“Wouldn’t do that if I were you, mate, ‘less you fancy wakin’ up full of holes.”

Idiot Dean had just shrugged him off, thinking that if Faith had a problem with him getting his freak on with someone else, it was just that—her problem. Because did he care? He certainly did not. Don’t believe him? Just step back and watch.

Honestly, if this was what the woman had done to him in twenty-four fucking hours, he deserved to die like this. Hands pinned above his head—these new vamps were hella strong; would’ve been nice if someone had mentioned that—and fangs nearing his very favorite neck.

Then something happened—a sound he was now thankfully familiar with, thanks to the few times he’d tagged along with Sam and Rosalie or Spike and Buffy on their so-called hunts for real vamps. That there was the sound of a stake being introduced to the bitch’s heart. He barely had time to appreciate the way the redhead’s yellow eyes flared wide with surprise before she crumbled into dust.

Dust that he partially swallowed, because Idiot Dean also had his mouth open. Like an idiot.

And standing on the other side of the dust cloud was Faith, her expression unreadable.

Well, maybe he’d get to make his point after all.

Though…it bothered him that she didn’t look bothered. Girl ought to feel some sense of ownership, right? He’d heard her bragging to Buffy about how good the sex was—didn’t she get proprietary about that kind of shit?

“Next time,” she said conversationally, “check for a pulse. Might not be here to save your stupid ass.”

Dean flashed her his patented panty-dropping grin. The same to which she seemed strangely immune. “And thank you. Guess I can knock one blowjob off what you owe me.”

The second the words were out, he knew they were a mistake. There were certain things even Idiot Dean couldn’t miss.

Faith stared at him for a moment, then snorted, her mouth twisting into an unpleasant sneer. “You know what? No.”

“No?”

“I know I made the joke earlier, and that’s all well and good as long as you know that’s all it was. I don’t owe you shit, asshole. I don’t care how many precious windows on that goddamn car I smash or how much cash I need to borrow to get my life back together. I am not your fucking whore. And fuck you.”

What the fuck was this shit?

“It was a joke!” Dean bellowed, storming after her when she started away. From the look of things, she wasn’t heading back inside, either. “Jesus Christ. Like you said, you made the same damn—”

“That’s right,” Faith snapped back, whirling around. “I made it. Me. My body. My decisions.”

“I never said otherwise!”

“Just so’s we both understand that.” She glared at him a moment longer, then turned and broke into a run in the direction of the bunker.

And being that she was the Slayer, her version of a run was everyone else’s version of the fucking Roadrunner. Dean wasn’t exactly in bad shape—hell, he’d never been in better shape—but he knew better than to try to keep pace with her while wearing jeans and sporting a hard-on.

Because yeah. His dick officially hated him. Nothing for the redhead, even before she’d gone all fangy, but Faith mouths off at him about pretty much anything and he was ready to put those slayer muscles to the test.

The fact that she looked hot as fuck running—especially in that scrap of a thing she called a dress—didn’t make anything better.

“Fuck!” he yelled, and stormed around the building as he dug out the keys to Baby.

If they were gonna fight, they’d fight about what had actually just happened. Not some bullshit.

Maybe this was just the thing he needed to get her out of his system for good. Then, then, friends, would Idiot Dean retire indefinitely.

*~*~*

Faith had already all but torn apart Dean’s room before she remembered that everything she owned was still in the shopping bags she’d brought back from the Dollar General Store. The clothes she’d started to think of as hers were actually not hers, which meant this whole dramatic pack-up-her-shit-and-move-out statement wouldn’t really hit home because the only thing that had moved in was her. She’d been spat back into this world without a stitch of goddamned clothing.

“Fuck.” She muttered, brushing her hair out of her eyes. Then she eyed the dresser and decided to vent her frustration by kicking at it. The wood splintered and the lower drawer dropped awkwardly to the right, and that gave her a moment of satisfaction before she heard the telltale slam of the bunker’s entrance.

Let it be B and Blondie, ready to go at it like dogs. Let it be anyone but

“What the fuck are you doing to my room?”

Faith tossed Dean a glare and smirked. “Just movin’ out, Ducky. Needed to grab my things.”

“Your things.” Dean made a show of looking around the room. “You have no things, Faith. Except the dress you’re wearing which, if you do plan on paying me back, is technically mine until you do.”

“You want me to give you my dress. Really?”

“No, I’m just saying…you have no goddamned things, all right?!”

“I fucking know that!”

“Then what the fuck are you doing in my room?”

“I…forgot.” Goddammit, now she felt like an idiot. “I forgot that I don’t got shit because I was dead for two months and landed back on my very naked ass in a car halfway across the goddamned country and everything I had to my name is gone. Sorry. Next time it happens, I’ll write myself a note.”

Dean looked torn between pity and amusement. Both just pissed her off.

“But don’t worry,” she said, throwing her hands up and making toward the door. “I’m all kinds of outta here. Go see if I can hunt me down some new digs. Or maybe your brother wouldn’t mind a bunkmate for the night.”

She honestly didn’t know why she said that last thing—maybe because he’d pissed her off so much that commonsense had flown out the window. Or maybe because she’d caught him sending her and Sam the occasional death glare back at the bar and had known that would bother him. Maybe because when Spike had told her to go after her newest plaything before he got himself killed, she’d been mad enough to kill him herself.

Or maybe it was just all of it. The emotional baggage of being alive again in a world so different from the one she’d left, but still somehow so similar that she felt like an asshole for being so off her game.

Either way, she’d said it.

And Dean responded by turning and slamming the door shut.

“You’d fuck Sammy?” he asked, his back to her, shaking.

Answer to that was no, but she didn’t want to admit it. “Is it true they call him the pretty one? I can see why.”

Dean turned around and the thing in his eyes made her forget momentarily that this guy was in fact a human. He didn’t look it at the moment.

“Fuck you,” he spat.

“No thanks.”

“Bitch.”

“Cunt.”

Dean closed the space between them in two strides, closed his hands around her arms, and assaulted her mouth with his. Biting and nipping and growling and, whoo boy, he made the best sounds. Faith seized him by face, intending to pull back just enough to leave him with one hell of a headbutt, but somehow ended up sucking his lower lip between her teeth as he walked her back to the bed. The backs of her legs hit the mattress and she went down without a fight. This jostled their mouths apart and gave her a clean break for the door, but her hands decided that helping Dean rip off his shirt was a much better use of her time.

They went for his belt at the same moment, but she got there first and whipped it free. And as Dean moved to shove down his jeans, she seized the initiative to loop the leather twice around his throat.

“Fuck me,” Dean gasped. She tugged back until he had no choice but to flop onto the bed, and then she was astride him, tightening her grip on the belt enough that all he could do was sit and watch her as she ripped the condom out of his pocket.

“Bad Ducky,” she snapped, pulling tighter still. His face began to go red.

“Holy…shit,” he gasped, watching as she rolled the latex over his shaft. “You are awesome.”

Faith smirked, reached between them to shove the crotch of the panties she’d admittedly bought thinking they’d be ripped off sometime tonight, and impaled herself on his cock. “I know. I kick all kinds of ass.”

She loosened her grip on the belt just slightly as she began to ride him, watched him as he watched her with hooded eyes and a look on his face that made her feel things. Dangerous things. Things she wanted to avoid. Things that, last time around, had gotten her killed.

Best keep the belt where it was so it kept Dean where he was. A safe distance from her. Her live-in vibrator. That was all, goddammit.

But at some point, Dean seized her by the shoulders again and managed to flip her under him. She might’ve been surprised, but she hadn’t the time, because he began pounding into her so hard that yeah, those were stars she saw.

And when he kissed her, it wasn’t in anger. Or it was, but not entirely. That distance didn’t seem so safe now.

Maybe in the morning she’d remember why that was a bad thing.

Chapter Text

The last twenty four hours were a numb blur in his mind. In the years to come he doubted he could ever fully recount his words or actions during the entire last day. Everything from the moment Willow had touched his temple and flooded him with the most gut-wrenching and tragic series of memories he could ever imagine had seemed inconsequential.

More than the memories she’d given was the one she left imprinted on his mind forever. The terrified and tortured look in her eyes as she’d stared at him afterward before vanishing into thin air.

He’d screamed for her. Cried out to the empty room for her to come back. He’d needed her to explain why. Not why she’d done everything she had, though he struggled with those questions as well. Why she’d given him those memories. Why she had possibly thought he could do to help.

Toby assumed he was still drunk when he found him lying on the floor. He seemed to assume it was the alcohol that had made him listless and closed off the rest of the day. But it wasn’t a hangover that he could merely overcome with hydration, pain killers, and sleep. A part of Sam had changed forever in that moment and he wasn’t sure how to begin processing it.

He’d been a terrible father last night. He hadn’t looked at Oz since making it back to Sacramento. As soon as he’d broken free from work and made it home, he’d gone straight to bed and locked the door. Staring at the ceiling as images of pain and grief and anger and a poor woman he’d never met, but knew was the love of his love’s life played on a continuous loop until exhaustion finally gave him relief.

The familiar cry across the baby monitor had been the key to bringing Sam back from the past. Back from a life he’d never actually lived.

Unlocking the door, Sam ventured across the hall to find the nursery awash in a sea of bubbles. It looked as though Oz had run a bath and overrun the room with a soapy wall of white. With a deep breath, Sam took a step into the foamy mass and felt his way toward the crib. Once there, he scooped up the baby and spun around to walk back across the room and into the open air.

“You’re adorable,” he muttered to the squirmy bundle now cooing in his arms. Dipping down, he planted a kiss on his son’s crown before resting his head in the crook of his neck. “I love you. No matter what, I’m going to love you. All the bubbles or balloons or monkeys in the world won’t stop that.”

Unsurprisingly, Oz was not impressed. He whimpered and drooled against his father’s skin in his nonverbal command to be fed. Sam took the hint and headed downstairs, ignoring Toby and Josh and their morning routine.

Silently, he made a bottle and then decided to skip his morning coffee and conversation to take Oz back upstairs. Once he shut the door and settled down on his bed, he looked to the baby sucking formula in his arms and said, “I need your advice.”

Sam hadn’t expected a response so he continued. “Your mother—” He choked at the words. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “You’re mom is amazing. Don’t ever let them tell you otherwise. Ever.” He sighed as Oz blissfully continued his breakfast. “She’s the most powerful person in the world.” He gave a little chuckle as realization hit him. “Unless that’s actually you. For all we know, you may be even more so. I could be feeding Lord Voldemort right now.” He shook his head. “But I don’t think I am. Because you’re mom is a good person deep down. And I think I’m a good person, too. And we’re going to raise you to be good and kind and caring.” He paused. “But even if you go evil and try and destroy the world, I’m still going to love you.”

Pulling the bottle back, he propped Oz up for a burping. Patting his back, he continued talking. “Which doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. I always wondered how parents of serial killers could say they still loved their sons after finding out the truth. How you could love a monster. But I honestly think you could murder an orphanage of babies and I’d still love you.”

He pulled Oz back to look him in the eyes. “Do not do that. Understand I give no permission to be a serial killer. Or a murderer. You hear me?” Oz burped and dribbled formula in response. “Good.”

Sam resumed the feeding. “Your mom did some things. Some very bad things.” Once again he released a heavy sigh. “But not because she’s bad. I don’t think she’s ever been bad. Wrong? Hell yes. Misguided? Hell yes again. A complete and total stubborn pain in the ass? Still hell yes. Which I’m sure you’re going to grace me with all of that in the years to come.” He smiled at the thought of all the magical insanity he was bound to endure with a little wizard.

“I wonder if you get a letter from an owl. I should probably check on that. Might be strange to have one pop up at Chuck E. Cheese or Disneyland. We might make different plans that day.” Shaking his head, he got back on topic. “What I’m trying to say is that people are going to talk about your mom. They’re going to say she’s bad, but she’s not. I know she’s not. I saw she’s not. She’s just…” He didn’t know what. “Hurting. Mourning. Loving.”

That was it. “Loving,” he said again. “Your mom loves too much. More than she can comprehend. And she lost someone she loved more than anything. And I don’t know how to help her. How to help her know that it’s okay. Because it’s not okay. You know?”

After the empty bottle was pulled from Oz’s mouth, the baby proceeded to spit up all over himself. “Exactly. That was exactly my reaction too. And here I thought you were going to figure this out for me.” Oz giggled in response. “Yeah, well, it’s funnier when someone magically cleans it up.”

*~*~*

Zack had to begrudgingly admit seeing the looks of pure joy and excitement on Rosie and Will’s faces upon seeing Giles walk into the Hyperion was worth losing access to the Shag Shack for a few days. He just hoped the old guy didn’t find the box of “toys” Kelly had stashed under the bed.

The last couple of months had been an adjustment. Getting back with his wife and finding peace with the shit show last year had been the highlight. Finally sitting down and connecting with his half-brother was also pretty cool. A lot of the rest had ranked on the suck scale.

The kids had a hard time adjusting to losing so much of their family in the course of a bad weekend. While Papa G, Uncle Spike and Aunt B all had tried to maintain a connection through FaceTime and phone calls, his mother had essentially died once she’d chosen to walk away and have her memory altered. And while they had told the kids Nana had gone out of town for a while, they still asked from time to time when she’d be back. He didn’t have the heart to give a straight answer yet.

It had also been strange without Faith, Nick, and Rosalie around the place. Baby Kelly had had the hardest time without those three and spent a couple weeks crying for her sister every so often.

Then there was Wes. That had been a world of awkward. While Zack was all too eager to put the past to rest, Wright most definitely was not. Watching his brother fight to keep from outright killing the man was nearly painful. Knowing Wes was oblivious to the cause of Wright’s hatred was another page in his family’s tragic story.

But Faith was alive and it appeared to be of a non-Wolfram and Hart agenda, so yay for a victory. But Willow had boarded the train to Crazy Magic Town, so all signs pointed to another deadly adventure. Zack figured that was par for the course with his life now for eternity.

The vampire wasn’t at all surprised to find Giles deep in conversation with Harry Potter when he walked down the stairs to grab a cup of morning bloody brew. Which was honestly an image Zack never would have expected in his youth. His father figure chatting it up with the most famous wizard in the world. Kinda along the same lines as seeing Hannibal Lecter ice skating in a Little Mermaid costume. Some shit you don’t really plan for in life.

“Tell me you two got this whole thing covered and we can all just take a day at Disneyland,” Zack said as he strolled over to the unlikely duo.

“Not hardly,” Harry said, extending his arm for a handshake. As Zack grasped the man’s hand, he admitted it still got to him how he’d suddenly landed himself a spot at the grownup’s table after everything that happened. Earning respect from the magical team and being Wright’s go to second in command at Wright & Pryce Investigations had given him a sense of responsibility he’d never really had before.

All in all this adulting shit was kinda cool. Not so much that he regretted a lifetime of slacking off, but he didn’t mind putting on a different pair of shoes for a while. In about fifty years he suspected he and Spike would have a chance to get back to their shenanigans of scamming and irresponsibility.

“We’re waiting for Hermione to arrive,” Giles explained. “She’s been communicating with both administrations to determine what exactly is known about Willow’s status at the moment.”

“And we’re just assuming she didn’t take the day to head over to Disneyland? Seems kinda presumptuous to me.”

Wright popped his head out his office door. “What the fuck is up with Disneyland, dude?”

Zack grinned and shrugged. “Kinda felt like a churro.”

His brother rolled his eyes and gestured him to come his direction. He obliged and stepped over to the boss’s office. “What’s up?”

Wright gave him a dark look. “Wes. He’s MIA. Hasn’t been heard from in over a day. Never came home the day we took off to Kansas.”

“No chance he just went to Disney for a churro?” His brother growled in response to the question. “Watch it. Humor’s my defense mechanism.”

“Would work better if you were funny.” Wright sighed and flopped into his desk chair. “Can you just go out there and find out how fucked we are on this? You know this plus Willow points to shit hitting the fan.”

Zack had to agree. “Yeah. No chance Gunn has already started a search?”

Wright shook his head. “Him and Kel have been swamped with calls. Cordy noticed, but with wrangling the phones and the kids, she couldn’t do much. She waited until this morning to fill me in. Guess that was her way of cutting me a break. I just worry it cost us time.”

“I’ll head out and see if I can pick up his scent at any of the usual hunting grounds. Make a couple calls. Maybe Little Pete down at the magic shop will know some gossip. Or Johnny over at Caritas. We know Wes has been popping over there a bit.”

While Wright nodded his head in agreement, Zack could tell he still wasn’t satisfied. “What?”

“My wife informed me she wants to work in the field today. Despite my adamant objections. She says I ‘owe her’ for our Kansas trip.”

“Don’t say our anything. I was kidnapped.” He paused. “Which happens to me more than is really cool to admit, now that I think about it.”

“Yeah, try to avoid that while I’m trying to keep Cordy alive today. I can only save one ass at a time.”

“Somehow you managed to make me grateful for a solo job. Thanks.”

“Get out,” Wright growled.

Zack chuckled as he turned to leave. It was the small things that helped ease the impending doom that awaited them as the day moved forward.

*~*~*

Rosalie awoke as usual for her morning workout and training. Some naughty mornings a certain someone was already awake next to her. Those days she was late meeting Sam, but managed to get in bit of cardio before hitting classes at Slayer University.

Today was not one of those mornings. Nick was sleeping so hard there was a thin line of drool between his open mouth and the pillow. “Yuck,” she muttered, gently closing his pie hole. It wasn’t sheet day yet.

Rolling out of bed, she stretched her muscles and slipped into her workout apparel. Her brain operated on autopilot as she made her way to the closet. Sam had a thing for morning jogs and she usually grabbed a jacket. Upon opening the door she noticed her current favorite hoodie had slipped off the hanger. Bending down she came face to face with a cardboard box.

“You fucking idiot,” she murmured to herself, abandoning her hoodie and morning routine. Knowing the box she wanted was on the bottom, she grabbed the one on top to move aside. A stack of DVDs Nick had stupidly stashed away tumbled to the floor with a crash. “Shit,” she hissed.

Nick groaned and rolled over. “Rose?” he slurred. “Okay?”

“Fine. Go back to sleep.” She grunted as she put the box on the floor.

“What the hell?” He sounded only slightly more awake.

“Your fault. Why haven’t you unpacked your books?”

“They’re duplicates. I think the library here has copies of them all.”

“Whatever,” she grumbled as she dove back inside the closet.

“Seriously, Rose, what are you doing?”

“Remember how Mom and Lorne arranged to ship us stuff after we started putting together the cantina?”

“You mean the two boxes of mine and the twenty of yours.”

“Eight,” she corrected as she stood with the box she wanted. “But actually seven. This one isn’t mine. It’s Faith’s.”

Nick appeared to fully wake up at that. “Really?”

Rosalie sat the box down on the corner of the bed. “I asked Mom to send it. You and I were her next of kin and I didn’t want them to throw it out to make room for somebody else.” She paused as a blush warmed her cheeks. “I wanted us to go through it together someday. Maybe find something appropriate to share with our first kid when they were old enough to understand.”

Nick’s eyes widened with panic. “Rose?”

“Shut up, Hunter! I said someday. As in years from now.” She turned her head in embarrassment. “I just wanted them to know about the woman who saved their mom’s life. My hero.”

“You want kids?” Nick had apparently missed the greater part of the story.

“Yeah. Someday.” She paused. “Wait, do you not want kids?”

“Honestly, until this moment the thought had never crossed my mind.” After a beat he asked, “Is this something you think about a lot?”

“No!” she responded. “It was just always part of my plan. Get married, have two kids, go to Italy…you know, life goals.”

“Two? You want two?”

She gave him a dirty look. “You say that like I said I want a threesome with you and Hayden Christensen.”

“You do want that threesome, you already told me.” He sighed. “I’m just saying it’s a lot to throw at a bloke running on hardly any sleep.”

“Well, you can stop worrying,” she said as she walked over to her nightstand and rummaged through the drawer for a pen and paper. “Consider the conversation officially tabled until further notice. The song goes first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.”

“Right,” he said slowly.

“And if it’s that much of a dealbreaker, it’s fine.” After she scribbled her message down, she tossed the pen and remaining sheets of the notepad back in the drawer. “Seriously, Nick. I’m not sending you some secret message. I don’t have baby fever. It was dumb to even mention it. Let’s move on.” She looked up at him. “Okay?” She gave him her best reassuring smile.

With a nod, he gave her his goofy grin. “Okay.”

“Good.” Leaning across the mattress, she gave him a quick smack on the lips before taking the paper and box and heading out the door.

Sweet baby Jesus, that had turned down a road she hadn’t meant to drive.

Stopping in front of Dean’s room, Rosalie gingerly sat the box down and placed the note on top. It was simple, but she didn’t think Faith was ready to hear her excuses. All she could hope was this would work as a peace offering to begin to bridge she’d created the other night with her stupid hormonal drama.

I’m sorry

- Love, Rose

Chapter Text

“Good god,” Cordelia said, twirling around with her arms outstretched, her head tipped toward the sky. “I feel like I’ve been in that blankety-blank hotel for a thousand blanking years.”

Wright struggled not to grin. Also not to give her the side-eye, lest she see his smirk. Ever since discovering she was pregnant, and especially since the baby had been born, Cordelia had been trying—emphasis on trying—to sanitize her language. But they’d found themselves in a lot of situations over the past year that had been of the four-lettered variety, which had thrown a giant wrench into her plans. However, ever since the business with Wolfram and Hart had quieted—ever since they’d recovered their daughter and sent Rosalie across the country—she’d resumed her quest. It was not in Wright’s interest to find this adorable, but he did anyway.

“So…” Cordelia tucked into his side and seized his hand. “I’ve let you go way too many hours without demanding answers, so you better pay up. How is she?”

At that, Wright inhaled and squeezed her hand. Leaving Rosalie had been tantamount to torture—much like letting her go had been. It was a day he’d known would come eventually, preferably in a couple more years once she decided on a college and shipped out. But that had been before Faith’s impromptu death—the first one, anyway—and before Rosalie had been Chosen by the PTB. Thinking of the scrawny thing he’d carted with him from state to state as an adult woman making adult decisions and doing very adult things behind closed doors would be something he figured he’d struggle with for the rest of his days.

But this trip to Kansas—spontaneous and likely ill-conceived as it had been—had enabled him to see a few things he hadn’t before. Two months was the longest he’d gone without seeing Rosalie, and when she’d stumbled out of the bar that first night… Hell, she’d looked so much like her mother he’d wondered briefly if he’d been zapped back in time. But that fighting spirit of hers was one-hundred-percent the result of growing up in a household with Cordelia Chase. In that, Rosalie had become the perfect marriage of both her mothers. The realization was bittersweet.

While some part of Wright would love Amber until he was in the ground himself, he knew that the man he was today wasn’t compatible with the woman she’d been. The man he was today couldn’t see himself with anyone but Cordelia. Amber had been docile and sweet, eager to please but also easy to mow over. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but she’d just been a passenger throughout their relationship, there to be taken but not to guide. To provide support but never to lead. Never to challenge. She’d been, to put it nicely, a doormat. And doormats were fine things, but they tended to get ugly over time. And that was what would have happened to Amber—that sweet disposition of hers would have been trampled into something unrecognizable.

That Rosalie was more Cordelia’s daughter than Amber’s had been something of a shock, because she did look so much like her mother. But Wright wouldn’t have it any other way. The Ambers of the world weren’t fighters or survivors—they were bystanders. And his daughter was not a bystander.

“She’s great,” he answered, a bit hoarser than he would have liked. “Well, great with some teenage drama thrown in. She reacted like the other woman, apparently, when Hunter brought Faith in and is worried she fucked up that relationship. And she’s handling…all these fucking memories well too.” That reminded him. “Cordy…do you remember that kid I told you about when Gunn and I got back from England after the incident? The one who survived the attack on the Watchers Council and hadn’t had a birthday party?”

Cordelia frowned. “Uhh, vaguely. That was ten years and at least two mind wipes ago.”

“How is this our life?”

“Do you really wanna go down that road, sweetie?”

He supposed not. “Well, there was this kid we pulled from the wreckage at the Watchers Council. Lucky to be alive. He was fourteen but could pass for eleven. Fucking miracle he didn’t get crushed to death.” He paused. “Turns out that kid is now banging my daughter.”

Cordelia tightened her grip on his hand and pulled him to a stop. “No way.”

“Yeah. Nick was in England when Willow went nuclear. And damn, that kid…I don’t wanna think about what kinda life he was leadin’ then, Cor. He had no one then. Pretty sure Faith was his first family.” He frowned. “And he’s made Ro his family too, so there’s that.”

She smirked up at him, her eyes twinkling.

“What?”

“You like him.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes and pressed a kiss against his lips. “You big dummy, it’s not a bad thing to like the guy who, as you so delicately put it, is banging your—our daughter. She has good taste which she, by the way, so did not get from you. Let’s face it, Ro could’ve easily been the next Faith were it not for yours truly. Daddy issues plus teenage years equals—”

“Hey! She so did not have daddy issues!”

“Zack, you were dragging her from motel to motel, chasing demons, and leaving her for hours at a time with your first wife’s sister who was totally in love with you. If you hadn’t come to LA when you did, you’d’ve been killed in action and Rosalie would’ve grown up with Nikki as her sole role model and, not to speak ill of the dead, but yikes. She was going to have major daddy issues. Instead, she fell in love with some hodgepodge of Giles and Xander Harris.”

“If you want me to like the guy, the last thing you need to do is draw comparisons between him and Xander Harris.”

“Hey, I dated Xander.”

“I know and I’m still trying to forgive you for that.”

Cordelia stuck her tongue out at him, then turned and pointed at the building they were approaching. Harry had given them an idea of what to look for—a non-descript no-nonsense building with a hot dog truck parked outside, where you were to order an Americorn Dog Special to signify you were there to visit MACUSA headquarters.

But that wasn’t what they were doing, because that would be stupid. Instead, Wright reached into his back pocket and fished out the photo Giles had provided of Willow. “Excuse me, sir,” he said to the hot dog vendor. “I’m Zack Wright with Wright and Pryce Investigations. This is Cordelia Chase. We’re looking for—”

“Me!” a voice shouted from nowhere. Wright and Cordelia whirled around at the same time as a petite but well-defined woman with a messy brown bun and wide eyes stumbled toward them on the sidewalk. She looked vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until she was up close that Wright recognized her as the witch who had stormed into the Hyperion two months ago with the intention of zapping their memories.

“You,” Wright said, then oofed as Cordelia elbowed him in the side. Right, he wasn’t supposed to remember.

“Yes. Thank you, Mr. Wright, Ms. Chase, for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.” The woman waved at the hot dog vendor. “I have them, Griff. Tell your wife hello.” She turned her attention back to Wright, and jerked her head toward a small table situated under an oversized umbrella. “Follow me, please.”

Wright stared after the little witch, a bit dazed at what to do. He glanced at an equally baffled Cordelia, who, at length, turned to him and shrugged before following.

Yeah, there wasn’t a damn thing about this he liked.

Muffliato,” the witch said as Wright and Cordelia stepped inside her circle, waving her wand surreptitiously under the table. When she finished, she sighed and raised her gaze to them. “I can’t believe you were stupid enough to come here.”

Well, that was a fantastic way to end up on Cordelia Chase’s shit list. “All right, bitch, you wanna go?”

“Honey, she has a wand. I think she can take us.” Wright forced a smile to keep up appearances, placing his hand on top of Cordelia’s. “So, is there any point in pretending we don’t know who you are?”

“No,” the woman replied, a bit sourly at that but not as much as he’d have expected. “I know someone, probably Hermione Granger-Weasley, prevented me from completing the Memory Charm. I also know a Memory Charm was placed on me to make me… Well, we can skip the recap. What the hell were you thinking coming here?”

“We were thinking that Willow Rosenberg is in a world of trouble and it’s better if we cover our bases to find her before something apocalyptic happens,” Wright replied, smile still in place.

“You walk into MACUSA HQ, they get any whiff that you know anything about our world, and it’s my head,” the witch replied. “Literally. On a pike. And maybe yours, too. I don’t know.”

“So having this conversation out here seems like the best possible option,” Cordelia replied, rolling her eyes. “Are all American magic people so blanking stupid?”

Wright couldn’t keep his lips from twitching at that. He had the strongest, most reckless impulse to tip Cordelia back and kiss her breathless. It was almost painful to ignore.

“I’ve cast a charm that, if you’d read the stupid Harry Potter books, you’d know means we can’t be heard.” The witch leaned forward nonetheless. “Which is why I need to see you. I know you’re still in contact with the Potters and the Weasleys. I need to establish a meeting. Somewhere safe. The Hyperion is being watched.”

“And why should we help you at all?” Cordelia asked, crossing her arms. “Ms. Memory Wipe?”

“It’s Sabrina. Sabrina Deanne. And you want to listen to me because once MACUSA gets wise to what’s happened to Willow, they will use every resource at their disposal to take her out.”

“And we’re supposed to believe that’s something you don’t want to happen?” Wright replied dryly.

“That’s something everyone doesn’t want to happen,” Sabrina snapped. “Because if they come at her with their firepower, she’ll fire right back. And the last time that happened, she nearly wiped out a continent. So unless you two are okay with wiping out the west coast, maybe a little less sarcasm and a little more sense, we can avoid Armageddon.”

*~*~*

They were looking for her.

Willow had missed a day and a half of meetings. She was supposed to accompany Percy Weasley back to MACUSA to continue her talks with Toadmore and the rest. She should have met Hermione yesterday evening before Sam had arrived back in Sacramento to steal a few minutes with her son. Ginny Potter had unleashed a tracker spell that nearly betrayed her, but Willow had managed to create an apparition-double of herself that had served as a quick distraction.

The truth was she didn’t know what she wanted to do. After leaving Sam’s hotel room, she’d been rather aimless. Lost in the past, replaying that last awful fight with Tara again and again. Seeing Glory’s smirk when she’d realized how much taking Tara had hurt her. And then that terrible moment after she’d ripped Ben’s flesh from his body when she’d realized that she’d doomed the woman she loved forever.

But there had to be a way. There had to. She was capable of great and terrible things, after all. Truly great and terrible. And that had been ten years ago—what had she learned in the past decade that might be able to rescue Tara from the prison of her own mind? Prove to her that she’d never given up?

Except she had. The spell itself was evidence of that. And that’s what hurt the most.

No. No. That was not what hurt the most.

Willow pressed her eyes shut. Not that it did any good.

The details had always been muddy—what exactly she’d done that had been so evil. How she’d nearly destroyed the world. And at the time, she’d had a convenient culprit for that. Wolfram and Hart had screwed with her memories—with everyone’s memories. Some truth was buried there among the dung, but it was too vague to take shape. And while that had been true, she’d been able to divorce herself from her guilt. There had been fear, of course—fear of becoming the Big Bad Willow again, but the fears had been built on a pile of question marks.

But there was nothing to question anymore. The ugly thing that lived inside her, that had gnawed at her, pushed her to find a way to undo the damage she’d rained on the woman she loved had consumed not only her mind but her soul. There was so much blood on her hands. Men, women, children, Muggles, witches, wizards… God, she’d tried to kill Dawn. Her best friend’s little sister.

Willow sat on the rented bed in her motel room, staring at the television. She’d come here straight off after leaving Sam, awash in her memories and attempting to contemplate her next move. Only that wasn’t true. She knew what her next move would be. She’d known the second she’d Apparated to Sam’s hotel room. That was why she’d left him with her memories—so that when someone asked why, he would have the answer. He deserved to know if no one else, especially since she was leaving him with a piece of herself.

They were looking for her, but they wouldn’t find her. Not in time for it to mean anything, at least. The protections she’d established on the room would vanish the second it was over. And if they didn’t find her immediately, they would after housekeeping came by and made the discovery.

It was just a matter of working up the nerve to do the next bit. Willow tore her gaze from the television to the thing sitting in her lap. Getting one had been easy. Just as stupidly easy as Sam was always bemoaning. The guy behind the counter had barely glanced at her as he’d rung up the sale. Under the table, because of things like waiting periods, but flash an extra bit of cash and no one gave a shit.

There were magical ways to do it, of course, but Willow felt sick of magic. She’d barely been able to stomach the spells she’d whispered when she’d checked in—those keeping her off the radar. And magic also had some sort of dignity. She felt she didn’t deserve dignity. What she deserved was an unremarkable death in an unremarkable place by unremarkable means and to be discovered by unremarkable people.

She would have liked to have seen her son one last time. Apologize to him for the things she’d done, for not being a better person. For leaving him behind. But she’d worried that seeing him would weaken her resolve, and neither she—nor the world—could afford that.

There was only one way to protect the people she loved. Protect her son.

Willow opened her mouth and, with a shaking hand, tipped the nozzle of the gun back so it rested against her tongue. She didn’t even know what kind of gun it was—it hadn’t mattered. Just one with a bullet.

A tear skated down her cheek, chased by another. Her hands felt sweaty and the weight of the metal was greater than she would have imagined. She hoped she’d stop shaking enough to make it clean. Call her a coward but she didn’t want to suffer.

Willow pressed her eyes closed, bit back a sob, and squeezed the trigger.

The gun definitely went off—the bang was too loud to have been in her head. An explosion of what she could only assume was gunpowder assailed her mouth, covering her tongue flooding her with the taste of copper and lead.

And there was someone else in the room.

“Well,” the someone said, “that was certainly dramatic.”

A man’s voice. A man who hadn’t been here a second ago. Trembling, Willow straightened her head and lowered the gun, her disbelieving eyes falling on a middle-aged guy sitting now where her television had been, his expression affable, a small smile on his lips. He sat with his hands in his lap, his ankles crossed, studying at her as though she were some scientific experiment gone wrong.

“And, sure, if you wanna do it later, fine. I won’t stop you.” The guy raised a hand and made a come-on motion with his fingers. Willow stared at him, unsure whether or not she was hallucinating. Or maybe she’d only managed to give herself some devastating brain injury, and she was lying in a hospital right now as doctors attempted to piece together what remained of her skull.

Then she gagged, and something came out of her throat. A small something—and she knew what it was before she saw it. Knew but didn’t understand. Couldn’t.

The bullet floated before her eyes, spinning in midair.

So not a brain injury. A wizard, then. Another magical Muggle like herself. There weren’t many who could pull off that bit of sorcery.

“Not a wizard, my dear,” the man said, plucking the bullet out of the air and studying it. “I’m something much, much better.”

Willow panted out a breath, gripped the edge of the bed and stared up at him in wonder.

“My name is Michael,” the man said solemnly. “And I am an angel of the Lord. And I’m here, Willow Rosenberg, to deliver your ticket to redemption.”

*~*~*

So it turned out that being ridden like a bronco was all it took to turn Dean into a cuddler.

Yesterday when Faith had awakened, there had been a clear dividing line on the bed. Dean on his side, Faith on hers, a nice sliver of mattress separating them.

Today, though, Dean was all up in her business. He was behind her, spooning of all things, one of his legs tangled with hers, one of those wicked strong arms around her middle and the other hugging her to his chest. Faith had never been big on cuddles. Okay, so she’d fucking hated them—found them intrusive and sweaty and not for the fun reasons. Not that she’d had much occasion to wake up in bed with someone. There’d been the odd time or twelve when she and Nick had exhausted themselves too much to sneak back to their respective rooms, and the one morning she’d awakened with Wes in her bed, but typically, once the sex part was done, she was off. Or he was off. And the times that she had awakened with someone else, she’d felt cranky and gross. Too much other-person-heat on her skin. Not enough room to stretch and sleep like she liked.

The fact that Faith had fallen asleep last night and actually slept soundly—not just soundly, but like the goddamned dead, and she should know—had her freaked.

Maybe because Dean had her pulled to him like she was some kind of anchor, like he actually wanted her there and that was the reason he’d wrapped himself around her. And fuck, if it didn’t feel nice to be wanted by someone. Like she mattered.

Granted, that was probably a side-effect of all the sex. She was pretty sure last night had definitively dethroned Wright as the best lay she’d ever had. Dean had been fucking possessed. And insatiable. Every time she thought he was about to tap out and cry uncle, his jaw had clenched and he’d flipped her over and started all up again. Human men didn’t have that kind of stamina, and yet. Hell, she actually might be a bit sore today.

Not bad for a ducky.

But, Faith thought, starting to shift to pull herself out of bed, nothing to get used to. Been there, tried that, fucking died. And she didn’t know this guy, not really. He had a smart mouth, a fuck-you attitude, and a wicked cock but… Well, she didn’t know. Except at the moment, aside from B, he seemed to be the only person in the goddamned world that gave a shit she was alive, and most of that was likely due to the sex.

She made to sit up then, and Dean’s arms tightened around her.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he rumbled in her ear.

“Pretty sure no one’s up yet,” she replied. “Figured it’d be easier to find a new room now. Just kinda pick an empty one.”

He was still for a moment, but a loud kind of still. Like she could hear his brain ticking.

Finally, he said, “You want that, then? Your own room?”

Faith frowned, her heart doing something she definitely did not approve of. “Yeah, maybe I gotta figure if I’m stayin’ first. Not that I have much of anywhere to go. Suppose I could head back to LA and see if Wright could use the muscle. Half of his fucking staff is out in Kansas now.” She twisted so she was on her back and could see his face. This might be the longest they’d gone without sassing. “And the kid don’t need me. Hell, might be easier on her if I split.”

Dean stared at her a long moment, his jaw set. “I wasn’t talking shit the other night, you know. That girl loves you.”

Faith looked away. “Ever notice how it’s easier to love a memory than a person? Memories are static. People can always disappoint you.”

“Look, I know the kid messed up. Hell, the kid knows the kid messed up. But I also know somethin’ about coming back from the dead. It ain’t easy on anyone. Add to the fact that she’s a tangle of teenage hormones and I’m not sure why we expected anything different.”

Faith rolled her eyes and sat up, disentangling herself from Dean entirely now. “I ain’t mad at Ro,” she said, kicking her feet over the side of the bed. “Girl had a right to move on. Everyone did. That’s why I did it in the first place. And look at what she has now. A super slayer complex me and B woulda killed for, a watcher, a retired slayer and her slayer-expert vamp, a staff of demon hunters and a motherfucking angel. What the hell good am I here to anyone? Even if B and Blondie high-tail it back to sunny California, the kid’s more than taken care of.” She sighed and rolled her head back. “Your friend Chuck sent me back but he was kinda vague on the why. Maybe if Ro needed help, I could see it. Even Nick, but he doesn’t need me, either. Been back for two days now and I’ve spent more time with a guy I didn’t know before I kicked it than I have with any of the people I kicked it for.”

She felt Dean shift behind her, then his hand running down the center of her back. “Do you wanna leave?”

The answer to that was hard and instinctual. A foreign pressure burned up her sinuses. “Not sure where to go, but it’s not like evil has an address. Plenty of shit to kill across the globe.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Yeah, she’d kinda hoped he wouldn’t notice that. Faith tightened her hands into fists and set them in her lap, breathing hard. It’d be easy to lie but there was no point.

“I don’t want to leave,” she said at last, at once feeling more exposed than she had in years. Possibly ever. “But I don’t want to be anyone’s burden, either. Spent too much of my life that way—showing up and fucking shit up. Trying to fit into a family that ain’t mine. Just breeds resentment and bullshit. I dunno what all Nicky and Ro told you about the way things were back in LA, but it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies. I’ve never been anywhere or with anyone where I wasn’t a stand-in for someone else. Except Angel.”

At that she couldn’t keep the tears back. It had been a long time—a damn long time—since she’d let herself think of Angel, the reason she was still alive at all. He’d helped her navigate her way back from the darkest things she’d done, given her the chance no one else would, and she hadn’t been able to save him from his own worst nightmare. Of everyone in her life, he’d understood her the best, because he’d lived it too. Knew what it was like to face each day with the ghosts of the past weighing you down and hope that eventually the good you did could possibly balance out the bad. And that had been all her for Angel—he’d stood up to Buffy for her when no one else with half a brain would have. He’d visited her in jail. He’d been a friend, and not the way Nick had been. With Nick, it had been the blind leading the blind, and he’d been too lost in his own shit to see through the wall she put up around him. And then later, she’d been a stand-in with him, too. She’d told herself it hadn’t bothered her because she didn’t have gushy feelings for him, and while that last part was and always had been true, she couldn’t deny that it had smarted not being enough for someone.

Wes had been her chance to pay forward the gift Angel had given her, but she hadn’t been enough for him, either. She’d been the thing men used to try and forget something or someone else.

“I know you don’t know me all that well,” Dean said at last, sitting up as well. “But…for what it’s worth, I meant what I said last night.”

“What, that you prefer being called a cowboy?” Faith replied, her defenses flaring. It sounded like he was about to say something important and she didn’t know how she felt about that. “Or that one blowjob’s off my tab? Or that I’m a bitch who doesn’t have anything?”

Dean swore under his breath. “Yeah, I was an ass. But you were kind of bein’ a bitch.”

Faith twisted to glare at him, but he just grinned.

“I kinda like it when you’re a bitch.”

“I’m always a bitch.”

“Yeah, well, guess that means I kinda like you.” Dean cleared his throat and looked away. “When I said you’re awesome, by the way. That’s what I was talking about. And…slayers and vamps and all that aside, Sammy and me could use extra awesome around here.” A pause. “Sammy’s got his hands full with the kid anyway, so a lot of the time I’m going out solo. Wouldn’t mind the backup. Especially since you do kick so much ass.”

He was having trouble maintaining eye contact now, and some color had risen to his cheeks. Faith didn’t know what to think or say, but that awful, exposed feeling she’d had a moment ago had started to recede. Mainly because Dean had just done the same thing, putting them on even footing.

That was something she knew didn’t come easy for him—he kept himself well guarded, much like she did. And the fact that he’d done it just now, for her…well, that meant something. But like last night, she scared shitless about examining it further.

Also scared shitless about leaving it behind. Something she realized then she didn’t want to do.

“Gonna need some coffee to feel human,” Dean said. The mattress dipped again and then he was on his feet, pulling on a pair of sweats. “And to take a shower.”

“Yeah. I need one of those too.”

“Well, didn’t wanna say anything, but you smell a bit ripe.” He was ready with a smirk when she arched an eyebrow at him, then pulled open the door…and almost tripped over himself.

Faith snorted, tension receding for a moment. “Ducky, you are one clumsy motherfucker.”

But he was bent over, picking up something she couldn’t see, a frown on his face. When he straightened, he had a box in his arms, one with a sheet of paper attached. He studied the paper for a second before meeting her gaze, all teasing gone.

“What?”

He didn’t reply, just walked over and deposited the box on the bed. Faith rose up on her knees to check it out, and when her gaze caught the note, her breath hitched.

“Open it,” Dean said softly.

Faith stared at the note a beat longer, completely at a loss. “Maybe she got sick of Nick and decided to give me his head,” she murmured, then pried the box open. “There’s a peace-offering for you.”

But it wasn’t Nick’s head. It was a collection of things she’d left from her old life. Her favorite pair of jeans. The yoga pants she wore for workouts. A handful of tank tops and her old leather jacket, and the matching pair of leather pants. A collection of bras and underwear, and goddamn, her favorite blade, along with a few of the stakes she’d sharpened herself.

They hadn’t tossed her stuff away. Hadn’t tossed her away.

The tears came again, and this time there was no fighting them. Faith sat back, covering her mouth as the last two days came crashing down on her. She felt weak and shitty and hated that she was crying, but hating it only made the tears come harder, until something was pressing so hard on her chest she thought it might just crack. Faith had only had one other breakdown in her life—that night forever ago when she’d been pounding on Angel in the rain, screaming at him to do the decent thing and kill her because certainly death would be better than living as she was. She’d wanted to die so badly that night and he hadn’t let her.

Now she wanted to live and she didn’t know how. Didn’t know where to start or what was left for her.

The door closed, and for a moment she thought Dean had decided to give her some space, but then his arms were around her and he was reeling her into him. And Faith, without thinking, let him. Hell, she buried her face into his shoulder and let loose as she hadn’t in years, appreciating that there was someone to hold her up even as she resented it. It and him and that Chuck asshole and this stupid situation and every rotten step and decision she’d made that had brought her here.

He didn’t tell her it was all right, which was good ‘cause she would have broken his nose. He didn’t tell her to let it all out. He didn’t whisper comforting little platitudes or shush her or do any of the shit she’d have expected from pretty much anyone else. He didn’t tell her to do anything. Just let her cry.

Just held her like he cared.

And son of a bitch if that didn’t make her cry harder.

Chapter Text

“You’re awfully quiet this morning,” Sam panted as he and Rosalie jogged down the road between the bunker and the main part of Lebanon.

“Yeah,” she responded simply.

“Hanging back with me? You’ve usually lapped me twice.” While the pace pushed his limits to run and talk, he knew this was just a leisurely stroll for a slayer.

He garnered the response he was looking for. She took off in a sprint and was soon so far ahead he could no longer see her. He wasn’t sure this morning if she would turn around and run back in a few minutes or just wait for him some point down the road. She seemed to be harboring some of her currently familiar teenage angst this morning. Maybe Buffy would whip her out of it later with combat training.

Sam was beyond grateful that Buffy was here to help him out. Truth was he was ridiculously under qualified for his job. Two months in as Rosalie’s Watcher was still as strange as day one. Giles and Hunter’s crash course had been overwhelming with knowledge and responsibility. Those two trained years for their roles.

Granted, he had too, in a different way. Years of hunting, research and dealing with some really apocalyptic shit had left him a few things he could pass on to help Rosalie on her journey. Though most days he felt more like a motivational life coach or big brother than an actual mentoring guide through the supernatural, he still hoped there was something beneficial he could teach. Even if it was a list of what not to do in a crisis.

She’d stopped in the middle of the road, hands on her hips as she looked toward the horizon ahead of them. Coming up next to her, he took a break, bracing his hands on his knees. “Better,” he huffed.

“You know I always thought I was mature,” she said without moving. “People started telling me I was wise beyond my years even before I could tie my shoes.”

“The visions,” Sam agreed, remembering she had been a Seer long before the Slayer.

“The visions,” Rosalie repeated with disdain. “But also just the way I handled things. First with my mom and brother, then with my life as a hunter’s kid on the road.”

“I remember that actually. You were pretty young when we met, but you didn’t run around like a little kid. Didn’t you pull a knife on Dean that night he snuck into your room to see Nikki?”

She turned to him and smiled at that. “Scared the shit out of him.” After a moment her smile faded and she turned her head forward once more. “Really all through everything I was pretty grown up. Even after I was Chosen, I think I handled it better than most because I’d already been living my life with both eyes open. Nobody needed to explain vampires or slayers or that with great power comes great responsibility. I’d been shouldering responsibility since I was four fucking years old.”

“Definitely.”

She looked at him with glassy eyes and a pained expression. “So why am I being such a dumbass immature bitch now?”

“Whoa. A little harsh?”

She shook her head. “Seriously. I handled puberty better than I’ve handled the last few days. God, just this morning I tried to fix one problem and started another.”

“How so?”

“Ever have a girl bring up having babies out of the blue?”

His eyes went wide. “You didn’t!”

She rolled her eyes and flung her hands in the air. “If it was any other guy than Nick, I’d be expecting he’d be gone by the time we got back. Nick just knows I’d track him down and drag him back to Kansas if he ever tried to get away.”

Sam smiled. “That and he’s totally in love with you.”

“For now. If I keep this shit up, I’m sure I can fuck that up too.”

He walked over and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “I seriously doubt it, Ro. But even so, you’re years away from causing that kind of damage with him. Pretty sure he embodies the definition of for better or for worse.”

She scrunched her nose in disgust and stepped back. “Jesus, you sweat like a pig.”

“Well, now you’re fucking up this moment,” he teased.

She gave a watery laugh. “Whatever.” She took a few long breaths before continuing. “I can’t believe I screwed things up with Faith so bad. Some stupid flashback to all those months her and Nick played Hide the Penis and suddenly I turned into the crazy girlfriend.”

“Well, truthfully I can’t really blame you.”

“Yeah?”

He nodded. “It’s normal to be jealous of seeing your partner with their ex. Even if you know he’s happier with you or that they were just friends with benefits.”

She snorted. “Normal? Nothing around here’s that.” She shook her head. “No, I know better, too. Nick loves me and I know he’d never cheat. And Faith loves me and would never hurt me. Well, at least she did. Before I slapped her with a big ole dose of immature hormonal petty bullshit.”

“I’m sure she still does. You got to remember she’s processing a lot with coming back. Trust me, it’s tougher than you think popping back from the dead and seeing how life carried on without you. She’s just lucky she was up in the happy place. Hell has a whole other level of shit to adjust to.”

“Which a better person would have realized. Fuck, she saved my life. Sacrificed herself for me. And the first thing I should have done was thanked her. Hugged her. Tell her how much I’d prayed to see her face again.”

“Even you aren’t perfect. We all make mistakes. And it’s not too late. You still have time to make it up to her.”

“I know.” She sighed and wrung her hands. “I left her a peace offering this morning. I’m so nervous about how she’ll take it that I’m nauseous. Honestly I stopped running because I thought I might throw up.”

Sam didn’t know why the thought crossed his mind. Maybe because she’d said something about it earlier. “Are you pregnant?”

Rosalie’s eyes flew wide with abject horror. “Fuck no!”

“You sure?”

“All the no’s in the fucking world!”

“Because…well it all could just be normal, but the hormones, the nausea, the random thoughts of babies…”

“The baby thought was just about giving my future kid a stake. Telling a story about the woman who’d saved my life. Not…that!”

“I’m just saying, you and Nick still using protection?”

“I have a birth control implant, so yes.”

“But how effective is it? Did you two wait the right amount of time before going commando? I know from my old girlfriend Jessica that you have to wait a few days before the medicine is fully active.”

“I hate you, Sam Winchester!”

“I’m just saying.”

“I’m already a stupid pile of teenage drama and you throw a baby scare in my face? Now?”

“Maybe you should check and make sure.”

“Well, now I have to, you giant moose ass!” She took off running back toward the bunker. Just before she was out of earshot she screamed. “I hate you, Sam fucking Winchester!”

On the bright side, after this she’d realize that she wasn’t the only one who could say stupid shit they regretted.

*~*~*

Well, that was awkward.

Dean has experienced a lot of mornings after. And yes, while some had ended in tears, it had normally been the result of him pulling the plug on any future nights before.

Two days. Two measly fucking days and he was already doing stupid shit like getting all up in his feels with words and the touchy feely shit. He’d tried to walk out when he saw the waterworks, but had shut the door with him on the wrong side. He’d gone and held her while she cried not because she was naked in his bed, but because he’d wanted to show her she wasn’t alone. That he cared.

Why the fuck did he care? Why the hell had he dreamed about her? Over and over the last couple months, he’d relived that night in the cemetery. Watching time and time again as they’d fought in vain to stop the inevitable. To stop her disappearing in a magnificent ball of white light.

It pissed him off really. First, that he couldn’t save her. He’d been right there. Surely a few more seconds and he’d been able to pull the bracelet off. At least pry it open enough to stop the spell from working. Now he was pissed that he liked her. And he’d told her that he liked her. And he knew she understood the fact that was a more than friends declaration just as much as he knew she was the kind of bitch that was bound to throw it back in his face at the worst possible time.

Slamming the cabinet door shut, he wanted to punch himself in the face. The woman had more baggage than a cargo ship. Amazing sex aside, that alone was enough to make a smarter man run the other direction. Add in the fact she was a closed off, mouthy little bitch who hadn’t said two nice things about him in the past forty-eight hours, and he was just sick. A sick motherfucker who was a glutton for pain and suffering. He needed a shrink. Or a drink. Or a swift kick to the head.

“Someone’s extra broody this morning.”

Dean whipped around to find Dawn in the doorway. “Just needing my morning brew,” he lied.

“Agreed.” She walked over to the coffee pot and turned it on. “Actually remembered to preload it last night. I rewarded myself with a cookie.”

“We got cookies?”

Smiling, she padded over to one of the cabinets and whipped out a package of Oreos. She tossed them his direction. “If you eat them all, I’ll cut you.”

Fumbling with the cellophane wrapper, he snagged two chocolaty circles and immediately popped one in his mouth. “Mmmm,” he said closing his eyes to relish the sweetness. He’d forgotten the fact that he hadn’t eaten dinner before starting in on his marathon with Faith. He really needed to carb up more in the evenings. She’d worked him sore.

No, he chastised himself. He needed to stop messing around with her. Let her get her own room. Hell, let her leave altogether. Get her out of his system and his head back to focusing on hunting, drinking and banging lots of different chicks.

Chicks that lacked the skills of one particular brunette. Lacked the passion. Lacked the muscles that squeezed his dick so hard it hurt. It hurt so good. And fuck if he didn’t want to do it again and again until…

“Hey!” Dawn snapped, grabbing the pack of cookies. “Stop making out with my breakfast.”

He swallowed and gave her a smile. “Mes like cookies,” he said, impersonating Cookie Monster. He shoved the second one in his mouth before dusting the crumbs off on his sweats.

With the Oreos under her arm, she turned and poured a cup of coffee before making her way over to the table and having a seat. “If you don’t have another foodgasm, I’ll share.”

Dean grabbed himself a mug of brew and joined her. They sat in comfortable silence for a couple minutes, sipping their drinks and dunking cookies in their cups. “You know she’s trouble, right?” Dawn said quietly.

He started to pretend he didn’t know who she was, but he was dumb enough naturally and didn’t need to play games. “I know you aren’t her biggest fan,” he returned in kind.

“No. I’m not. Did she tell you why?”

Dean shook his head, focusing on the crumbs floating in his coffee. “Doesn’t really need to.”

“Really? Did you know she murdered a guy, Dean?” Her voice remained calm, but he caught a flicker of anger behind her eyes when he looked up at her face.

“Did you know I’ve murdered, too? More than once, Dawn.”

She shook her head. “This guy was innocent.”

“So were they,” Dean responded lowly, watching as her eyes widened slightly in surprise.

“Well…you changed.”

He gave her a smirk. She was losing her argument. “Yeah, I have. I’ve learned to live with the blood on my hands. Seems to me Faith’s doing the same. Plus, sacrificing yourself for the greater good kinda wipes your slate. At least in my book.”

“Your book?” she teased, obviously trying to diffuse the tension.

He liked Dawn. She was a good girl. Smart, funny, sassy and pretty sure the object of his little brother’s fantasies. She’d grown up in the world of the crazy, so in Dean’s opinion, made her a perfect potential match in the Winchester family. Sammy needed to find a woman who wasn’t evil or easy to kill. “The Book of Dean,” he declared before taking a big gulp of coffee.

“Seriously?” She snickered. “You named it?”

“There’s an entire chapter on why angels are dicks.”

She cocked her head. “What about Cas?”

“Oh, he can be a dick. Trust me.” He chuckled. “But Cas is a chapter all his own. You know it takes an entire liquor store to get him hammered? Just keep him from Nick’s back room and it should be okay.”

“You’re bluffing.”

He laughed at that. “If I had enough money to reimburse Nicky, I’d take you up on the challenge.”

Rosalie burst into the kitchen, looking out of breath. Dean figured his brother was probably still a couple miles out. “Morning, Sunshine,” he greeted. He wasn’t going to get into how the package she’d left outside his door had been received.

“Hey.” She was flushed from exercise, but he saw her cheeks color a little more as she looked his direction. “How’s it going?”

“Cookie?” Dean asked in redirection. He held up an Oreo before shoving it in his mouth. There was still some in the package.

She shook her head. “Dawn, can you run me to the store? Like now?”

The older woman frowned and looked down at herself. “I’m still in my jammies, Ro. Why don’t you just go yourself?”

“Just grab your keys. I won’t tell Nick how you let Spike drink for free again last night.”

Dawn turned to Dean and gave a guilty smile. “Looks like I’m going to the store. Want anything?”

“Breakfast.”

She arched a brow. “What was the half pack of cookies you just ate?”

“Dinner.”

“Cookie Monster,” she chastised before grabbing the Oreos and following Rosalie from the kitchen.

Well, now what was he going to do? Going back to his room was currently not an option. Pouring another cup of coffee, he decided it was time to look for a case. Something far away that hopefully would take a few days. Days he needed to break the spell Faith had cast on him. Because while she’d already gotten in his head, he’d fight like hell to keep her from his heart.

*~*~*

Zack hadn’t solved the mystery by the time his brother texted him the bat signal to come back to the office. He had made some progress at least.

His first stop had been a no-brainer. With the quiet tabs they’d been keeping on Wes the last few weeks, Caritas was one of his usual haunts. The regular bartender had remembered him from a couple nights before mainly because he’d walked out with a hot little human in an evening gown. Zack was expecting to be texted surveillance footage as soon as they had time to pull it up.

His second stop was a rougher establishment. This one was not a human friendly zone, but Zack knew these guys were good at keeping tabs on the hunters about town. They also were a good source of gossip.

There was a game of kitten poker that had been going all night. Zack used some of the company cash in his pocket to buy his way into the game. Unfortunately, he wasn’t coming up with anything useful on Wes or this mystery woman. He did hear about some shifty cargo coming in from China shortly that sounded a little bit like Wolfram and Hart. He made a mental note to see if they couldn’t hit the docks and fuck some shit up next week.

Zack was pretty disappointed when Wright pulled him back to home base. He was up on the table and cashed out six kittens ahead. He pocketed the seventh, a cute little orange tabby with blue eyes. Wright and Kelly were going to kill him, but the kids had been asking for a pet. They were on the cusp of agreeing to a goldfish.

He couldn’t help but give an evil chuckle as he strolled into the Hyperion half an hour after Wright’s text, kitten stowed in his jacket pocket.

“What did you find out?” Giles asked as he made his way over to the powwow that now included the remaining members of the Hogwarts gang, Cordy, Wright, Mary and Gunn.

“Besides the fact that a Fungus Demon and a Kovitch Demon shouldn’t play kitten poker after going on a bender?”

“What’s kitten poker?” a little voice behind him asked. Whipping around, he saw his wife and kiddos had entered the scene.

“Yeah, Dad,” Kelly said with a frown. She wasn’t a particular fan of games that involved the potential eating of live baby animals. “Tell your daughter what kitten poker is.”

He laughed. Oh, he was in so much fucking trouble, but it was gonna be worth it. “Kitten poker is where you play cards to win kittens.”

Rosie gave a curious look. “Why do you want kittens?”

“Because they’re fluffier than fish.” He reached down and pulled the orange ball of fur from his pocket, extending it out for Rosie and Will to run and grab.

“You did not just do that,” Kelly growled.

“Fucking hell!” Wright snapped. “No way is that nasty furball staying. Cordy and I said no pets.”

If he wanted his wife to back him up, he was disappointed. Cordelia ran over to crouch down next to the kids. “Awww, look! It has little blue eyes!”

If looks could kill, his brother may have just dusted him. “I. Hate. Cats.”

“I know,” Zack said with a smile. “Consider it payback for the vamp-napping.”

“Hey, guys!” Harry snapped. “We can settle...” He tossed a hand toward the kitten. “That later.”

“You’re right though, mate,” Ron said to Wright. “Cats are the bloody devil.”

Hermione smacked him on the shoulder. “Ronald,” she grumbled under her breath.

Harry rolled his eyes and continued. “Sabrina Deanne has requested a meeting. Offsite, as the Hyperion is allegedly being watched. She knows her memory wipe failed, but seems to be more concerned about finding Willow before MACUSA.”

“Sounds like a trap,” Ginny warned.

“That’s why we’re assembling the Avengers,” Wright explained. “The four of you plus two vampires and me. Gunn’s staying here with Mary and Cordy to watch the kids. I’d like Giles to stay too, but—”

“As it pertains to Willow, I find that counterproductive,” Giles said.

Wright nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Well, I don’t love leaving this place so unguarded.”

“I can stay behind, too,” Ron offered, glancing at Hermione. “And Ginny.”

“You’re volunteering me now, are you?” Ginny snapped. “Thanks ever so.”

“Sorry, not my bloody fault you can throw a good hex. Besides, I thought this place you were headed had some provisions.”

Zack looked to Wright. “Where are we heading?”

“Not high on options,” Wright replied, “so…Caritas, mostly due to their sanctuary spell. Lorne phoned into to tell Hector that the place has to clear out by two o’clock.”

“So it makes more sense if Ginny and I stay here,” Ron said. “Also makes more sense if you get one of those sanctuary spells on this place. Ever consider it?”

From the look on Wright’s face, he had not. And he was put out that it had taken someone else to bring this to his attention.

“Caritas, huh?” Zack said to lighten the mood. “Literally just came from there.”

“I’d feel a lot worse about that if you hadn’t brought in a fucking cat.”

Chapter Text

Buffy was in an odd holding pattern. She didn’t want to leave the bunker in case Giles and Mary were able to dig up information on Willow, but she was also getting restless. The most she could hope for was that Rosa Lee’s got a bit out of hand tonight and some demon asses decided to take the party outside. As much as she loved sparring with Spike, it had been a bit too long since she’d gotten to kill something.

Spike was still zonked out from the night before, which had involved karaoke, drinks, a lot of poker, more drinks, and then a very goofy sexy dance that he’d performed while stripping. Apparently, the cards had been hot and he’d managed to win—if his drunken account could be trusted—at least four figures in cash. Cash as in not kittens or ferrets or guinea pigs. He always got a little boozy when on a hot streak, and with Dawn slipping him drinks all night, he’d been all too happy to take advantage.

Which meant that he’d need an extra helping of blood when he awoke. Buffy mixed her own into a protein shake before warming up a couple of bags to bring to her mate. He’d want more later, possibly to drizzle over some Frosted Flakes to or something, but the first couple should be as close to from-the-tab as possible.

Dean had been on his way out when Buffy left the kitchen—looking like a man on a mission. He’d snapped something about how Dawn had taken Rosalie to the store and how he’d have to miss breakfast because he’d found a case that couldn’t wait. Nick and Sam were discussing some Watcherly thing and hadn’t paid her much attention, though Sam had stopped to ask her if she’d be open to lending a hand in combat training that afternoon, muttering something about Rosalie’s sour mood. Since that was something to do, Buffy was more than happy to oblige, and tried not to note too hard about the somewhat railroaded look on Nick’s face, like he was somehow to blame for her teenage hormones.

Buffy turned down the hall to head back to their room—a larger one from the one they’d initially landed in after paying for Dean’s old mattress—and found a freshly showered Faith standing by the door to Dean’s room, looking a bit lost. She had a box in her arms and a Dollar General Store bag dangling from one elbow.

“B,” she said the second their eyes met, “you know where a girl could find a spare room around here?”

Buffy frowned and cast a glance to the right, where Faith had spent the past two nights since her return to life. “You…wowza, this room reeks.” She pulled a face and glanced back to Faith. “How in God’s name is Dean still alive?”

“Fuck if I know or care,” Faith muttered, though she glanced up and to the left as she did this, something Spike had long ago told Buffy typically meant someone was lying. “This thing with him’s been fun but I need to cut my losses before the guy gets clingy. Too much of a good thing, and all. So…” She bounced the box a bit in her arms. “Can you point me in the right direction?”

But Buffy wasn’t paying attention. Instead, she was staring at a scrap of fabric just inside Dean’s room that looked suspiciously like the leopard-print dress Faith had been wearing the night before. Or what was left of it, as it seemed to have been ripped in half.

Faith frowned, then turned and followed her gaze. When she turned back, she rolled her eyes and smirked. “Got in the way after a bit,” she said. “Easiest way to get it off was to rip it down the center.”

“Who did the ripping?”

“Think I did, but he tried to lend me some muscle. Though he bitched about it for about an hour since technically he bought the damn thing. Until I gave him something else to do with his mouth.” She winked, all cool Faith and confidence. “But for real, I think last night was it. And I really don’t wanna give the guy the wrong impression by lounging around his space.”

The girl’s scent hit the air a fraction before her voice did. Buffy had no time to warn her sister slayer.

“I had a room,” Rosalie said from behind. Buffy turned and found the girl standing in the mouth of the hallway, her timid eyes going from Faith’s face to the box in her arms and back again. “I mean…they gave me a room. But then I kinda just…shacked up with Nick and never went back in there.” She swallowed hard. “I-it’s right beside mine and Nick’s room if you…if you want it.”

For a long moment, Faith said nothing, just stared at the girl with a stony, unreadable expression. Then, after a moment, she nodded. “All right,” she said.

Rosalie looked like she might start crying. Her lower lip wobbled and her face screwed up…and that was when Buffy noticed the thing she was holding.

“Are you pregnant?”

Rosalie jumped and glanced at the test she had in hand as though it had appeared there on its own. “No. No, no, no, no,” she said in a hard rush. “Definitely not. Definitely. But…I’ve been, ahh, extra touchy the past…” She glanced to Faith, gulped, and back again. “Well, and this morning… See, I made a bad joke and then Sam scared the shit out of me, and—”

“Hold up, Ro,” Faith said, and again, being addressed directly by the other slayer seemed to have Rosalie ready to sob. “You’re making Nicky wrap it, right?”

“I have the implant!” Rosalie snapped. “I can’t be pregnant!”

Faith arched an eyebrow and turned to Buffy, and for the first time since she’d been back, Buffy saw some of the old mischief spark behind her eyes. And she knew, without needing to be told, what was going to come next.

“Didn’t need to drop cash on the at-home test,” Faith replied, nodding to Buffy. “B here can tell you if you have a bun in the oven.”

Rosalie swallowed. “Sh-she can?”

Without missing a beat, Buffy nodded, doing her best to keep her face stoic. “Oh yeah. Heartbeat, and all. If it’s there, I’ll be able to hear it.” She took a few steps closer. “It’ll be faint, so let me put my ear against your belly.”

Now Rosalie looked just plain terrified, but she didn’t move as Buffy lowered herself to her knees and pressed her face against Rosalie’s stomach. She waited a moment, then drew in a sharp breath and staggered to her feet.

“What?” Rosalie demanded, her eyes manic. “There’s nothing there, right? Nothing!”

Buffy didn’t reply, just frowned thoughtfully at Rosalie’s midsection. Then she turned to Faith. “You know him best. On a scale from one-to-ten, how badly is he gonna wig out?”

Faith chuckled and shook her head, turning back to Rosalie. “Damn, girl. You’re in for it.”

“No. No, no, no, no.” Rosalie abruptly shot past them, cursing the entire way.

Faith didn’t start laughing in earnest until the sound of a slamming door rang through the bunker. “Aw, man. I kinda feel bad about that.”

“You feel bad?” Buffy replied, trying to sound stern like she hadn’t been in on it, but laughing too hard to come close. “I’m supposed to be the good one.”

“That’s what you get for shacking up with Mr. Soulless. Get down with your bad self.” Faith shot an amused glance down the direction Rosalie had disappeared. “If she asks, I’ll just say we’re even. Her old digs down this way, then?”

Buffy barked a final laugh and nodded. “Come on. It’s on the way to our room.” She paused as they passed Dean’s room. “You tell him you were moving out?”

“Might not know it for lookin’ at him, but the boy ain’t dumb,” Faith said as she fell into place beside her. “Survey says he’ll find out tonight when I don’t fuck his brains out.”

“Aww, I was kinda hoping you guys would… I dunno…”

Faith arched an eyebrow. “That ain’t me, B. Never has been. And I don’t think it’s him, either.”

“And yet you’re leaving because he might get clingy?”

She shrugged. “It ain’t him, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. Don’t wanna run that risk.”

Buffy offered a stoic nod, though she found that rather telling. Never in her life had Faith been the type of person who gave a shit what the men she bedded thought of her. She’d deflowered Xander and then, when he’d thought they’d had some kind of connection, almost choked him to death. Every guy who’d been since then, she’d shrugged and rolled with it. If they thought something was up, she’d set them straight, usually by laughing in their face. That she was the one creating distance…

Well… Buffy wouldn’t press the issue. Not when she and Faith were getting along.

Besides…

Rosalie popped her head out of her room just as they approached, her face set into a scowl. “I hate you both,” she said, holding up the decidedly negative pregnancy test.

Buffy and Faith met each other’s eyes, then started laughing again. “Sorry,” Buffy said. “It was…let’s just say, way too easy.”

“Can you really hear heartbeats?” Rosalie asked, wrapping her arms around herself. “Like, prenatal heartbeats?”

“Yes, I can,” Buffy replied. “And I don’t need to press my ear to your belly. Let this be a lesson to you: Slayer, be less gullible.” Then, still grinning, she pointed out the empty room for Faith and bounced the bagged blood she’d brought for Spike in her other hand. “I got a cranky vamp to feed. You two good?”

She didn’t realize how loaded that question was until there was nothing she could do to take it back. So instead, she watched as Faith and Rosalie locked gazes, the former appraising, the latter a mixture of annoyed but heart-on-sleeve nervous.

At last, Faith winked. “Yeah, B. We’re five-by-five.”

*~*~*

Sabrina managed not to shake too much when the door to Caritas opened and a steady stream of people who didn’t like her very much filed in. There was Wright, looking suspicious and wary as he had this morning, then the two vampires—Wright’s brother and sister-in-law, followed by Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. The man she knew to be Rupert Giles completed the party, and when he turned to close the door, the resounding thunk couldn’t help but make her think of that scene in Indiana Jones where the Nazis had locked Harrison Ford and his girlfriend in with the snakes.

She forced her throat to work, summoning that spirited courage that had gotten her this far. “Thank you all for meeting with me. I know, as far as you are concerned, I am not the easiest person to trust.”

“Why ever would you think that?” Mr. Giles said in a way that was so completely British she had to snap back the response that wanted to come out—something about Boston Harbor and unscheduled but very influential tea parties.

Better to start this conversation by addressing the elephant in the room. Namely, herself.

“As Mr. Potter and Mrs. Granger-Weasley know, MACUSA policy is quite different from Britain’s. We have survived this long because we are overly cautious in whom we allow to know our secrets.”

“That’s not true,” Hermione said bluntly.

“Excuse me?”

“I said that’s not true. You have survived this long and you are overly cautious. One did not cause the other. That’s a logical fallacy.”

Giles nodded, his mouth twitching. “Indeed. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.”

“Gesundheit,” Zack Morris offered, then winced when his wife elbowed him.

“The Magical Congress of the United States of America has no concept of what life in this country would look like if their policies were more similar to ours,” Hermione continued rather coldly. “I understand that is not for you to decide, Ms. Deanne, but better that we don’t start out with an outright lie.”

All right. Sabrina straightened her shoulders and spread her hands. “Yes, that is correct. And actually one of the many issues I have…contemplated since I realized just how involved certain sections of the NoMaj population are with the magical world. When I realized that depriving you of your memories, Mr. Wright”—she nodded at Wright—“would essentially leave you without a means of supporting your family, or without any familial connections. I have actually done quite a lot of research over the past few weeks, and it seems that our government has a long history of allowing certain…NoMajes to live. Those like Mr. Wright, who were demon hunters. And others like Mr. Giles, who were watchers for the Slayer.”

“In other words,” Harry said, his voice also icy, “anyone who helps keep your secret is good enough to live.”

“Yes. That is the conclusion I came to as well. Demon hunters help contain the demon population, which ensures that most NoMajes have no idea how complicated their world actually is. The same with the Slayer. So, knowing this, the next logical question was—”

“Why target us,” Kelly Morris said softly.

“Yes, and I believe I know the answer to that as well.”

Wright snickered and glanced at his brother. “I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.”

“Wolfram and Hart,” Zack replied.

“If it’s not, I’ll name my next kid after Nick Hunter.”

Sabrina nodded as though she understood why this was such a radical statement. She might not know the details of everyone’s personal relationships, but she could read the cues well enough. “Yes,” she said. “MACUSA is Wolfram and Hart’s largest client.”

Wright rolled his head back and groaned. “Of course they are. Who needs one evil organization when you can get two for the same price?”

“MACUSA is not evil. It’s—”

“I would say wiping memories willy-nilly isn’t exactly virtuous,” Hermione snapped. “How many lives have been ruined because you separated families? Cost someone their job? MACUSA might not set out to do these things, but they are the very real consequences of actions they have taken.”

“Don’t you think I know that? It’s why I’m here now.”

“I thought you were here because of Willow,” Mr. Giles said softly. “Were we mistaken?”

“No.” She looked at all of them, dropped her shoulders with a hard sigh. “No, I am…quite concerned about this mess with Willow. The only bright side I can see at the moment is MACUSA remains unaware that she reversed her memory spell. As long as that is true, we might be able to save a lot of lives.”

“So MACUSA doesn’t know about the memory spell,” Zack Morris said slowly, “but you do. How is that?”

“Good question.” Wright crossed his arms, his eyes narrowing. “Lady, I don’t remember you in London, unless you did some of that funky wand stuff to my head.”

This was the part she’d been dreading the most, though why, Sabrina couldn’t say. Perhaps because she had grown rather fond of Wesley over the past few weeks, and she knew the people in front of her did not share that fondness. Moreover, she didn’t want a reason to not like him. The things she knew he’d done had been horrible enough—horrible, but understandable on some level.

“I know because I was with someone who was under the spell when it was lifted.”

There was a long pause, then Zack Morris’s eyes went wide and he pointed at her. “Wes!” he practically shrieked. “You’re the human who’s been sneaking around with Wes!”

If possible, the glower on Wright’s face darkened and he muttered an oath. “Great. Just great. This just keeps getting better and better. You also the reason we can’t find him?”

No sense lying. “I told him to get out of town. Since you can’t find him, I assume he agreed.” She swallowed. “He found me the night after I… Well, after you altered my memories. He rescued me from a vampire attack—”

“Rescued you,” Zack Morris echoed dully. “A witch.”

“A witch who hadn’t expected a vampire attack,” Sabrina shot back defensively. “I told him I would have to modify his memory and he… Well, he seemed relieved, truth be told. There were things he’d done that he didn’t care to remember. A woman he loved and lost. And another woman he loved and…got killed. Along with the daughter of his best friend, whom he’d nearly gotten killed in his quest for revenge. He wanted me to remove those memories and… Truthfully, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is the reason I’m here. He’s the one who made me question everything I thought I knew about my job and what we do. I was curious as to what would happen to him afterward and…we might have started meeting. Here. He approached me—I never intended to approach him—and we became…friendly.”

Wright looked about ready to rip her head off. “You’re the reason I couldn’t kill the bastard.”

“He felt terrible for what—”

“Good!” Wright snapped. “He should feel terrible. He should want to die. He should be made to suffer because he almost cost my seventeen year-old daughter her life over a grudge against my brother, who, in case you hadn’t heard, didn’t have a goddamned soul at the time when he killed my friend.”

“We are not here to discuss Wes,” Sabrina said, her voice cracking. “Willow is the threat. And if MACUSA learns what she has done—if she does anymore magic on that scale, they will fire everything they have at her and if England is anything to go off, she will fire back. The entire state is in jeopardy. Perhaps the west coast.”

There was a long silence. Then Mr. Giles cleared his throat.

“So, Ms. Deanne,” he said, dropping his glasses into a waiting handkerchief, “what is it you propose we do regarding Willow Rosenberg?”

Sabrina sighed. At last they were getting somewhere.

“Find her first,” she said. “And take her out.”

*~*~*

Getting a new room wasn’t enough. She still had the stink of her earlier breakdown all over her, and that was something a girl couldn’t just shake off. Particularly since she’d gotten all weepy around a guy, of all things humiliating. Worse yet—a guy she was fucking. On the regular. After talking to him about her feelings. It was gross and unnatural and Faith needed to get the fuck away. First by showering the whole ordeal off her, as though some hot water and soap would erase the fact that she’d sobbed herself hoarse, then by hauling her shit out of his room—something that should given her more satisfaction than it had. Hell, she’d even found time to make up with Rosalie in the interim. Not that everything was peaches and rainbows with the kid, but all things considered, yeah, Faith felt pretty damn five-by-five about the whole thing, which was a far cry from where she’d been that morning.

So, after getting everything set up in her new room, she’d searched for something to do. Lo and fucking behold, she’d found a laptop opened to a news article that screamed otherworldly shit. And look at that. Less than four hours away.

After finagling access to Spike’s car—an old-school mustard-colored Oldsmobile that actually drove like the fucking wind—Faith had hit the road.

And now she was in Osage City, in an alley, staring at the decimated husk of something that had once been a human. Its mouth was open and set into a mask of frozen horror. Clumps of melted skin, tissue, and blood streamed down the man’s cheeks and two blackened burn marks was all that remained of his eyes. Worse still, he covered in smoking yellow puss that seemed to be eating through what was left of his skin and clothing. It was, in a word, disgusting, and not in her wheelhouse.

Faith wrinkled her nose and fished out the cell phone Buffy had lent her. It was Spike’s, so the first contact icon thankfully went to the Slayer in question.

“That was fast,” Buffy answered on the first ring.

“I gotta thing here. It’s eight kinds a nasty.” She knelt beside it to get a closer look, but was a bit wary of touching the puss. “I’m lookin’ at a dude, all kinds of dead. He’s covered in this yellow gunk and his eyes are burned out. Sound familiar?”

“Ick, and no. I… Wait a minute.” There was muffled conversation. “Spike asked if it looked like he…melted.”

“Yeah. Like, you ever see that second Child’s Play movie? The end of that.”

“I so don’t wanna know, but Spike… Okay, yellow puss, burned out eyes. Spike thinks it’s something called a Kraelek demon. Hold on.”

There was a shuffle, then the blond Brit’s voice came over the line.

“Kraeleks are right nasty buggers, pidge,” he said. “Mercenaries. Actually fought one the night I met Bite Size. We reckoned Wolfram and Hart sent it after her and Zangy.”

“Okay, how do I kill it?”

“Go for the head, but watch the eyes. It looks you dead on and out go the lights.”

“Great. Like Medusa. And the puss?”

“Goes down the throat and melts all the inside bits. Bloody horrible way to go. Even for vampires. They melt our innards and then we can’t eat properly.”

Faith sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Okay, so I got a thing that’s probably just a lackey for something worse that I can’t look at but need to behead before it sprays me with its acid puss.” She thought on this a second, then decided it was worth the trade-off of getting out of the bunker. Away from Dean. Monsters she could kill—feelings were a different beast. “Looks like I got me a party. Tell B not to wait up. Mama might be a while.”

There was another shuffle, then Buffy was on the line again. “Want help?”

“You kiddin’? I’m just happy to have me a challenge.”

“Don’t die again, okay?”

“Aww, B. You’re goin’ all mushy on me.”

“Just call if you need backup.”

“I won’t.” Faith disconnected the call before Buffy could say anything else, then rose to her feet. Thankfully, she’d had the foresight to pack an artillery of weapons she hoped wouldn’t be missed at the bunker. In the Olds was a sword, a double-barrel shotgun, a pistol, a hunting ax, a handful of stakes, several bottles of holy water and a cross or two. On her person was the knife Rosalie had returned to her this morning. The sword or the ax should do just fine to take this beastie out, but when she found the ringleader?

Damn, what a girl wouldn’t do for a flamethrower.

“Gotta remember to put that on my wish-list,” she muttered, right before hearing a timely growl from behind.

The growl first, then the scent. Rotten and cloying and everywhere.

“Oh fuck me,” she muttered, keeping her gaze to the ground as she turned. Periphery vision would be her friend in this fight. Faith seized the familiar handle of the blade, popping her neck.

“All right, big guy. You have your dancin’ shoes on? ‘Cause I was hoping to find me a challenge.”

She was just about to leap into action when something skidded to a halt at the mouth of the alley. Faith whipped around in time to see a gun pointed at her head, and catch the eyes of the person holding it.

For a second she was too shocked to do much more than stare.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Dean Winchester snapped like she’d done something wrong.

“Gotta say, Ducky, you have some hella good timing,” Faith said, both irritated and relieved to see him, then more irritated that she was relieved. Another growl from behind her reminded her she didn’t have time to chat. “Don’t look it in the eyes, whatever you do.”

“Huh?”

But she’d slammed her eyes shut and back-flipped into action, blade at the ready.

Chapter Text

Well, this was disappointing. All the rumors downstairs were this chick was the key to Armageddon. She definitely had the power. She actually threw off such a strong signal that demons were working to avoid her at all costs.

He had not been intimidated. He’d been excited.

But Lucifer’s excitement waned when he realized she was about to off herself. You can’t be evil and suicidal. That just made you sad.

“I know what you did last summer, Willow,” he said. “Well, it’s been a few now.”

“Michael? As in the Bible?” Her eyes grew wide. “Are you here to smite me?”

He chuckled. “Hell no.” He paused. “See what I did there?”

She tried and failed at a smile. “I just don’t know what you want. With me.”

Showtime. “Willow, Willow, Willow. Wanted by heaven and hell. While you’ve been a naughty girl, Daddy knows you didn’t mean to.”

“H-He does? God knows I’m not evil?”

Yeah, he was disappointed. He’d hoped she’d be ready to go full Dark Side, but his backup plan would work just fine. He hadn’t earned the street name Prince of Lies for nothing. “He sent me, didn’t he? His favorite son. And he sent me with a message.”

“What?” she asked breathlessly.

Damn, this girl was desperate for redemption. Guilt was such an easy emotion to target. “You can fix it, Willow. All of it. The past. The present. The future.”

She shook her head. “No, I can’t. Last time I tried, I nearly ended the world.”

He smiled. “I know. But last time you didn’t have me.”

She frowned. “And what can you do?”

“I’m an angel, sweetheart. You ever hear of time travel?”

“I was told the only way was through Time-Turners and those had all been sought out and destroyed. I know. I looked.”

“Yes, well I’m a Time-Turner.” He tapped his chest. “Comes with the full Grace Package. Got a lot of other neat tricks, too.”

“So you can bring Tara back?”

“We can bring her back or even go back and redo the whole shebang. Whatever you want.”

She wasn’t as dumb as he’d hoped. He saw the doubt and mistrust hit her face. “Why? Why would God… Why would you do that?”

“Because Jesus loves you, Willow,” he said with so much sweetness he nearly gagged on the words. “God gave you these gifts and he wants you to use them for good.”

“Really?”

“Yes!” He stood and walked toward her. “The world is in danger. Lucifer walks among us.”

“Lucifer? You’re joking.”

He laughed. Oh, if she only knew. “Trust me, he’s closer than you think. He has a plan. A plan that only you can stop.” Or start, as the case actually was.

“You…you and God want me to stop Lucifer? The Lucifer?”

“There’s a Hellmouth in Lebanon, Kansas. It’s been dormant for over a century now. Actually the oldest in North America. Big, strong and itching with all kinds of baddies. Think you’re familiar with a little group called the Men of Letters, right? Why do you think they put a bunker out in BFE?”

He saw the wheels turning in her mind. She was buying it.

“Lucifer has been trying to open it for weeks.” Months actually, but who’s counting? “He’s getting close.” Really, he’d hit a dead end and needed more magic juice than he could muster. “But you can stop it.” Or open it.

“How?”

“There’s a spell. It would basically put a permanent lock on the Hellmouth and keep it from opening forever.” Which was complete and utter bullshit. There was no such thing and she couldn’t find it anywhere to prove him wrong.

“So, you’re saying that if I save the world from Lucifer by locking down this Hellmouth, God will save Tara? Even fix everything so that I never did anything to hurt anyone?”

“Exactly! Call it a miracle.”

She frowned. “It sounds too good to be true, honestly.”

Well, that’s because it was. “Willow, you must have faith in the Lord. Through him all things are possible.”

Slowly, she nodded. “They say that. I’ve heard that before.”

“Yes, they do.” Idiots. “So whadaya say, Willow? You ready to show Lucifer what you can do?”

“Okay.”

The devil was heading down to Kansas and he had a Hellmouth to steal.

*~*~*

“Take her out?” Zack asked. “As in go all mobster on her ass? You can’t be serious.” He looked around the room to gauge everyone’s reactions.

Giles looked ready to lose his shit on this little witch. “That is not an option.” His face was red as he placed his glasses firmly on. “We are not assassinating her for merely performing a memory reversal.”

“Agreed,” Harry responded. “I understand she’s a threat—”

“Do you?” Sabrina asked sharply. “Do you really? Because record has it you were originally on the Auror team sent in to stop her a decade ago.”

Harry’s cheeks flushed with color. “Yes, But those orders changed once it was determined she wasn’t a threat.”

Sabrina barked a laugh. “A threat? Harry fucking Potter was assigned to guard her.” She cast her angry eyes toward Hermione. “Weren’t you asked by the Ministry to come work specifically because they thought as a NoMaj-born, you’d be the best at watching for any signs of trouble? Befriend her and make sure to put her down if she showed any signs of magical rabies?”

“That was not my assignment,” Hermione huffed.

“Really? Because that’s exactly what was in the report sent to MACUSA. That’s why the Ministry went in afterward and reinforced her memory blocks. It’s why they went and wiped everyone in the Watchers Council from remembering what she’d done. To ensure that she wouldn’t go off like a magical bomb and destroy half of Europe.”

“Wait,” Wright said holding up a hand. “You guys have been playing like this was all news to you.” He looked to Harry and Hermione with shock. “Is she saying that you guys have been in on it the whole time?”

“Not…exactly,” Harry said slowly, turning to meet Hermione’s eye.

“We weren’t given all the details,” she said in a rush of words. “Even Harry didn’t know everything she’d done and every memory she’d altered.”

“Right,” the wizard responded with a nod. “And our orders were merely to watch her and keep her from anything that may cause her harm.”

Kelly turned to Giles. “I don’t get it. Who are the bad guys?”

He sighed with defeat. “I don’t know.” He looked from Harry and Hermione, to Sabrina and finally back to Kelly and Zack. “I honestly don’t know anymore.”

*~*~*

What the actual fuck?

Dean processed her words and quickly switched his gaze from the fucking crazy looking monster to the crazy looking woman swinging a knife back and forth in front of it.

“Faith, what the fuck are you doing?”

“Climbing Mount Everest wearing a scuba tank. What the fuck do you think, Dean?”

Oh, he was thinking a lot. But now wasn’t the time to start a back and forth banter match. Instead, he raised his pistol and tried to aim for the ugly fucker growling at his fuck buddy. Keeping his eyes focused only on Faith, he tried and failed to get a good shot.

“Are you going to help or just stand there and watch my ass?”

She was bobbing and weaving from the monster’s grasp so fast it was impossible to pick up on a pattern to her movements. The fucker had to be as confused as him as he watched her bounce around, thrusting the knife forward with each step.

 “I can’t…” He took his chances and looked the monster full on. As he’d hoped, the creature was more focused on than the Slayer with the knife than the dude with the gun. He wasn’t sure how to kill this thing. Chances were head or heart. Just as Faith lunged forward and landed a stab in the fucker’s abdomen, he double-tapped the trigger.

He knew she’d jump back before the bullets landed, but had held his breath until he saw the flesh tear open on the monster’s chest. He quickly focused on Faith, first to make sure one of the bullets hadn’t gotten her and also because he was pretty sure the thing would be looking at him now.

“Goddammit, Ducky!” she screamed. “The fucking head, you fucking fucker!”

SON OF A BITCH!” He didn’t know if he was angrier at her for not telling or himself for guessing wrong. “You could have mentioned that!”

“Busy here!”

“You had time for Mount Everest in scuba gear, but not head shot?”

The creature made a new kind of growl. Dean didn’t dare look up, but saw Faith take a giant flip backward and toward the left. Then he saw a giant stream of…something fly to where she had stood moments before. “The fuck?” he cried. “You okay, babe?”

“Yeah.” She’d lost her bitchy tone. Dean was officially freaked now.

“Did you know they did that?”

“Kinda.” He heard a little breathiness in her voice. It wasn’t sexy now, but terrifying. “Didn’t know it was so projectile.”

“Right.” Dean took a few steps forward, poising himself to turn and shoot the motherfucker’s eyes out. “Do you think he knows English?”

He saw her eyes look up at him briefly. Under the fear, she still had her snarky spark. “I don’t know. Forgot to ask where’s he’s from.” She turned her head to the monster and closed her eyes. “Hey, Demon, tu hablas inglas?”

Puta,” Dean responded.

“I heard you, cabrón,” Faith snapped.

For his part, the demon didn’t seem to respond any differently to English or Spanish. “Gira a la izquierda,” he said, telling her to go left.

Si,” she replied with a nod.

Tres, Faith?”

“‘Kay,” she responded. She dove forward to grab the demon’s attention.

Uno.” He kept his voice low and calm.

Faith danced around, avoiding the goo on the ground as well as the grabby claws of the pissed and wounded monster.  “Dos,” she said with a quick nod.

He let her work. Provoking and distracting the fucker from remembering Dean was still aiming a gun its direction. She landed a few piercing stabs, but it wasn’t doing much to slow it down.

Tres!” He shouted just after he turned his eyes directly to the monster’s ugly head. He saw Faith tuck and roll off to the side as he pumped every remaining bullet in his clip through the chamber. He saw he’d destroyed half the creature’s face before he lowered his eyes to Faith jumping up off the ground.

Well, he was pretty sure he was the monster’s new target. Backing up quickly, he heard the creepy growl that signified more evil vomit. Stumbling as he ran backward, he saw the stream of goo flying his direction. It landed ahead of him, but he was only millimeters away from getting caught in the splash zone.

Panic was disorienting him as he tried to run away from the demon charging him. He heard Faith release a growl of her own and tripped over his feet as he tried to look up, but avoid the demon’s face.

He lost the ability to think as he tumbled to the ground. He was paralyzed with shock, awe and gut-wrenching fear as he watched Faith leap in the air and come crashing down on the monster’s back. Both demon and woman cried out as she wrapped herself around it and plunge her knife into its neck.

The monster howled in pain, thrashing about in a vain attempt to stop her. She sawed away with a primal roar of determination, not slowing down as she swung about on the demon’s back.

It took longer than he expected. Granted, the knife she was wielding was much too small for the job. How she avoided its mouth or the final spew of poison vomit, he didn’t know. What he did know was that as she crawled up to her feet after the monster’s ugly head was severed from its equally ugly body, she was completely covered in blood and bits of tissue.

And she was officially the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his life.

“Good job,” he said lamely, unwilling to express how amazing he found her in the moment.

Gasping for air, she first looked to the bloody knife in her hands before beginning to give herself a long once over. Finally, she looked up at him. Her eyes were filled with emotions—pride, disbelief, anger and excitement—as she gave him a wide-eyed stare. “You’re in a suit.”

Blinking in confusion, he looked down at himself. Since he’d just come from checking out the victim and questioning the local cops, he’d been wearing him FBI costume. “Yeah?”

“Is that why you didn’t help?”

Fuck that. “What? Do you not remember who shot the fucking thing?”

“Look at you, then look at me, Ducky. Who the fuck killed this thing?”

“Thanks to me! You were never gonna get its head off with that knife alone. You couldn’t even look at his head without me distracting him.”

“Maybe not, but I could slip him and take him with an ax pretty damn easy. I certainly didn’t need you sneaking around all Secret Service protecting me. I got by a long ass time slaying shit without needing a fucking babysitter following me around.”

“Wait.” He held up the empty gun in his hand. “I’m not babysitting you, you fucking stalker! I took this case to get away from you!

“Bullshit.”

“Oh yeah? Whatcha driving? Because when Baby and I pulled out, all the cars were in the garage except Dawn’s.”

He barked a laugh when he saw her eyes darken with bitter defeat. He’d beat her to it. She was following him.

“Well, I was only late because I was too busy moving my shit out of your room. Seems I was wanting to get the fuck away from your clingy ass, too.”

“Clingy?” He scoffed. “I left you.

“Doesn’t count if I left you before I knew you were leaving me.”

“I got here first!” he bellowed. “This case is mine, so go away!”

“Dude, I’m the one with blood on my hands. In the literal. So back the fuck up and let the professional handle this one. I’m sure there’s a ghost out there you can manage by yourself. Casper is sometimes friendly. Maybe you can find a new fuck buddy.”

He’d seen the victim at the morgue. It hadn’t resembled anything like the tortured body lying in the alley. There was something else here. Another monster Faith likely didn’t know about. “Yeah, well, fine,” Dean answered. “This case looks pretty closed anyway. I’ll head west and you can head east. That way you can’t claim to accidentally stalk me next time.”

She gave him a crooked smile. “No worries, Winchester. You go on. I’ll clean up the mess.”

Turning around and walking back to the street, he snickered to himself. He’d finish the case and get to avoid disposing of demon vomit. Oh, Karma was a beautiful thing.

Chapter Text

“I wanna fuck you.”

Faith fought to keep her grin in place. No shit, Sherlock. Ever since she’d entered the club—which was appropriately named Rising Dawn—the dhampir had been all up in her business. And that was just the way she’d planned it.

The few hours since leaving the alleyway with the Kraelek carcass and his mud-puddle victim had been the right kind of thrilling. Even back in LA, when she and Hunter had picked up the slack at Wright and Pryce Investigations, she’d always been the muscle rather than the private dick. Investigating and detecting were tasks left to Wright, Wes, Cordy, and Gunn—which, at the time, had suited her just fine because she’d had her hands full in slayer-training. Plus keeping an eye on the kid to make sure she didn’t get in over her head. Whenever there was a big baddie to cut down to size, though, she’d been all to happy to hit the streets with her ax. Or whatever weapon happened to be the most appropriate.

But after Dean had stalked away, all pristine and clean in his costume, Faith had remembered what Spike had said about the Kraelek—that it, like her, was typically the muscle. Which meant the fucker that had hired the beast was still out and about, and might have more than one snot monster to contend with. The only piece of evidence she’d had to go off was the melted goo that was the Kraelek’s victim. True, the vic had been more silly putty than skin and bones by that point, but the head and chest had taken the majority of the damage. The legs—and more specifically—the pockets had been more or less intact. Inside had been a wallet with a license, a few credit cards, some spare cash, and a business card for one Reese Bellsworth, owner and proprietor of Rising Dawn.

Since she was short on cash—having bummed a couple hundred dollars from B before she’d hit the road—she’d done the morally ambiguous thing and stuffed the dead dude’s paper currency in her pocket. It was hardly the worst thing she’d ever done, and it wasn’t like this guy would need the money anyway, but taking it had bothered Faith more than she would have thought. But if she was to find out why the guy had died, she needed some do-re-mi, and being that she was pretty sure she and Dean were officially no longer a thing, stealing his cash would probably be considered less cute and more hostile.

The fucker had hit the road to get away from her. Like he hadn’t had the time of his fucking life over the past couple of days. And why the fuck did she care, anyway? She’d made the decision, after losing her shit all over him, that their unspoken arrangement had run its course and she needed to pull the plug in a big ole way.

The reason? She liked the guy more than she should. He called her on her shit, fought back when she pushed, and when she’d gone all weepy woman on him, he hadn’t run for the hills or blown smoke up her ass. He was fun to look at, more fun to ride, and he didn’t treat her like broken glass. Or like he was using her whenever they fucked—substituting her for someone he really wanted or trying to escape his shit life for a little while.

In other words, he wasn’t broken like the men she tended to gravitate toward—or if he was, it was a different kind of broken. Her kind of broken, which…hell, she’d never encountered before. When he was with her, he was with her. She’d thought she and Wes might have had something like that once, but goddamn, what an idiot she’d been. Colossal fucking idiot. Not doing that again and not only because she’d ended up a freaking firework.

The fact that she’d missed the mark so badly with Wes had hurt for a number of reasons—reasons she didn’t really wanna dwell on but couldn’t help. Because once you got past the bracelet shit, the willingness to mortgage your best friend’s daughter as a gambling chip—even if you thought it was for the greater fucking good—and use your dead fiancée as your cover story, there was still the fact that on a personal level, Faith had felt a thing she’d known was stupid but had felt anyway. Had pursued anyway, despite a whole host of reasons not to. And just when she’d thought she might be ready to take a leap, the guy she’d decided to leap for had essentially… Well, he hadn’t broken her heart because she hadn’t been in love with him, but he’d broken the part of her that had believed, however briefly, that girls like Faith Lehane could ever catch a break. That she’d ever have that bone-deep trust that B had with her blond stud or Wright with Cordy. That connecting with someone on a level beyond the physical was something she would ever experience, and damn if that didn’t make her feel lonely as fuck. That she lived in a world full of vamps, demons, shifters, and apocalypses, but trust was the thing that didn’t exist. At least for her.

The thing was, whatever she’d felt for Wes had started with a genuine desire to hang around him. Make him laugh. Argue over stupid shit, talk about stuff that mattered—be the person he needed and not some fill-in for someone else.

There was no fucking reason to feel that way about Dean, a guy she’d known for going on fifty-some odd hours, just because he seemed to actually give a shit. But he couldn’t give a shit because who the fuck was she to him? Some chick who’d randomly appeared in his fucking car, who happened to screw his brains out, but that was that. And the fact that he’d hauled ass out of town just to get away from her drove the point home like nothing else could. So yeah, good to move on. Focus on things that mattered. Like killing shit.

Well, she supposed that was how she’d gotten here. First to the motel, where she’d staggered in covered in dried blood, dirt, grease, and with bits of demon guts in her hair.

She’d tried to ignore the fact that a familiar Impala had been parked at the same motel, though something in her had told her to pack up and find somewhere else in a big hurry. One glance at her reflection in a nearby window, though, had convinced her that A) she wasn’t going to let anyone, especially Dean Winchester, dictate where she could and couldn’t go and B) she’d be fucking fortunate to find another motel where the staff didn’t give a shit about a woman who looked like a horror movie reject. She’d marched on to take a shower—lukewarm because that was the kind of place this was, then headed out again.

Faith had never been a research junkie, but she knew her way around Google. She’d hit a local library to look up this Rising Dawn place and Reese Bellsworth, the vampy-looking motherfucker who owned it. Reese had previously been an owner of Vein, another club in town, but from the admittedly amateur sleuthing she’d done, he’d had a nasty falling out with his partner, Victoria Swan, and had set out to launch his own place.

The second she’d stepped into the place and caught a glimpse of Reese in the flesh, her slayer senses had started blaring warning bells. Not a vampire, but one of those ugly hybrids that were a bitch to kill. A dhampir. And a dhampir that had bee-lined to her in a big ole way because, even if he wasn’t a full-fledged vamp, he could smell her superior blood from across the room. He’d whispered something in her ear, then taken her onto the dance floor where they’d been for the past half hour or so.

Right now, the plan was to get him alone so she could ask about the Kraelek. But she knew what happened when girls looked too eager, even if the guy was there for it. The longer she drew it out, the thirstier he’d be for her, and hopefully he’d be too fucking horny and hungry to watch what he said. Dhampirs might not be as easily led by the fangs as their vampire cousins, but if worked up enough, they could get just as desperate—therefore careless.

Reese was a ballsy, not to mention handsy, motherfucker. He’d started slow enough, grabbing her hips from behind to pull her back against his chest as he rocked his pelvis against her ass. It hadn’t taken him long to feel bold enough to let her feel his erection, and when she hadn’t shied away from him, he’d moved his hands from her hips to caress the underside of her breasts. Faith and squirmed a bit to show she wasn’t that easy and he’d backed off…for a few minutes. They’d continued this back forth until she made a sound like she was caving, but by that time he wasn’t interested in just the undersides. Right there on the dance floor, he cupped her breasts and pulled at her nipples through the admittedly thin tank top she’d slid on after her shower—one of the ones Rosalie had returned to her.

And that was how Dean had seen her when he showed up, which of course he had, because her life was a fucking laugh-riot these days. He’d stumbled in, no longer in his FBI Halloween costume, and zeroed in on her and Reese like he’d been looking for her. Which of course he hadn’t—the shock, irritation, then outright fury on his face had transmitted that loud and clear. Faith had rolled her eyes and looked away, then, just to be ornery, taken one of Reese’s hands off her breasts and slid it down her belly until it was at the clasp of her leather pants. She hadn’t been looking at Dean directly at the time, but she’d heard him stomp his way to the bar.

“Did you hear me?” Reese rasped into her ear, sliding his hand beneath the waistline of her pants far enough that he fingered through the curls at her mound. “I wanna fuck you. Now.”

“Right here?” she replied, keeping her voice low and husky.

“Follow me to my office.”

“Your office?” she echoed in her best oh, you work here? tone.

“I’m the owner.” He nipped at her earlobe hard enough to draw blood. Then he moaned and sucked it between his teeth. “Fuuuuuck, you taste amazing. Come on. We’re doing this now.”

The hand down her pants abruptly pulled back, seized her by the waist, and began hauling her toward the back. Faith managed to kill her smirk—she needed to remain in character—but didn’t manage to avoid meeting Dean’s eyes. The look he sent her was hard to read—something like disgust or disappointment or anger, or maybe all three. She didn’t know. But she didn’t let herself linger on it.

Reese was about to find out just why her blood tasted so good, and she was going to get some answers about the demon who left people puddles wherever it went.

*~*~*

The meeting could have gone better.

A lot better.

Okay, it had basically been a shit-show.

Sabrina had known her solution to the problem of Willow Rosenberg would be met with resistance. Of course it would be. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger-Weasley had withheld valuable information for a reason, and being confronted with that fact was never going to be pleasant. Still, she’d been at least somewhat mollified at Wright and Mr. Giles’s reaction to this news because, dammit, the Golden Trio—a name that had been born from NoMaj Harry Potter fans that MACUSA had all-too-gleefully adopted when internally discussing Potter, Granger-Weasley, and Weasley—couldn’t be trusted. No one from the Ministry of Magic could be trusted when it came to Willow Rosenberg.

The past few weeks had been enlightening for Sabrina in a number of ways. And she could appreciate that these people had a soft spot for Willow—that what Willow herself had gone through had been traumatic in ways Sabrina could never fully appreciate. But when it came down to the life of one unstable witch and the lives of millions along the west coast—and perhaps the country itself—the choice was clear. Willow had to be put down.

The Caritas meeting had left them essentially nowhere, and time had run out before they could discuss further. After all, the karaoke bar had been issued to them on loan, so the hour they’d been allotted hadn’t done much. Except now, though they didn’t trust each other for shit, they had agreed, tentatively, to pack up and meet again at the Hyperion with the understanding that Sabrina would surrender her wand upon walking inside and no one would point anything lethal at her head. That meeting was still to come; Hermione would be in touch when they had a firm time.

But Sabrina wasn’t about to sit back and wait for them to decide they wanted to talk. Time wasted was time Willow was potentially gathering power and resources to finish what she’d started in Europe.

If the LA monster hunters weren’t going to assist her, she’d have to look elsewhere.

Sam Seaborn, like the rest of the NoMajes at the Hyperion, had walked away from the hotel with his memories intact. And while he was the father to Willow’s child, she remained absent from his life. Sabrina wasn’t sure if this was due to the fact that he’d learned the truth and had made the sensible decision to cut her out of his life or if Willow had done the cutting. If Sam were a smart man, he’d be afraid of the danger Willow posed to his constituents, not to mention his friends and family, and be working on ways to neutralize the threat. But given that the woman was also the mother of his child, Sabrina couldn’t bank on Sam being smart about anything.

Thankfully, there were other options. Though Josh Lyman had cut ties with Wolfram and Hart shortly before Governor Seaborn had announced he’d fathered a child out of wedlock, he’d remained in the area and, conveniently enough, was staying at the governor’s mansion.

After leaving Caritas, Sabrina returned to MACUSA and filed a request to access one of the regularly scheduled Sacramento Portkeys for the purpose of reconnaissance on the governor. By use of Polyjuice Potion, so she could see what he was telling people in his inner circle. Toadmore had been delighted by her ingenuity and insisted she go at once. Sabrina might be new to this whole double-agent thing, but she’d learned enough by watching others that sticking as close to the truth as possible would be how she stayed alive. As it was, the only hard part of her plan had been luring the now visibly pregnant Donna Moss outside of the governor’s mansion and summoning the courage to put the woman under the Imperius Curse—something Sabrina had never thought she’d do to anyone, but she needed the real Donna to not bust in at an inopportune moment, and she was too nervous about potentially harming the woman’s baby to try a spell or curse that was less Unforgivable.

Sabrina, once she had assumed Donna’s identity, sent Donna to window shop for baby supplies, then entered the home and eventually found her way to Josh Lyman.

Or rather, he found his way to her.

“I know pregnancy brain’s a thing,” Josh said, rounding the corner to the living room, “but you went off to find potato chips like a half hour ago.”

Sabrina went rigid. “Joshua Lyman.”

He blinked at her a bit stupidly before what she assumed was supposed to be a sexy smirk crossed his lips. “Donnatella Moss,” he replied, taking a step forward.

Sabrina recovered the step in the other direction. “You should know I am not Donna Moss.”

“Oh. Who are we today, then? Maybe an abstinence-only country girl who found herself in the family way and has nowhere else to go except her very understanding pastor?” He clasped his hands as though in prayer. “All sins can be forgiven, my dear, if you allow the power of Christ to come into you.”

What the hell did that mean? Wait, no, she knew what it meant—it meant these people had depraved sex practices. Sabrina wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “No, I mean my name is Sabrina Deanne. I am from the Magical Congress of the United States of America. Donna Moss is currently out shopping for baby supplies. I needed to speak with you and this was the best way.”

A myriad of emotion clouded Josh’s face then—horror, embarrassment, disgust and outrage all had their part. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

“I am here about Willow Rosenberg.”

At this, Josh’s eyes went wide. “No. No, no, no, no. I am not getting involved with this again. Willow is out of Sam’s life and—”

“And she just cast a spell on herself and everyone affected by the memory spell she conducted ten years ago to reclaim those memories, which means that, wherever she is, she is probably in a very volatile state.” Sabrina planted her hands on her hips, which made her gut clench. This was the first and last time she would assume the role of a pregnant woman while imbibing Polyjuice Potion. “MACUSA doesn’t know yet, but it is only a matter of time before she makes a move that elevates her to the top of the threat list. And when that happens, they will mount an offense to take her out.”

Josh just gaped at her, the color having drained from his face. He looked at once like he might be sick. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. I gotta tell Sam. This is—”

“That is the least of our concerns. Whatever they throw at Willow will fail. She is too powerful.”

“Then what the hell are you doing here?”

“Because throwing all of their firepower at Willow puts everyone in danger. Especially when she fires back.” Sabrina released a long breath. “I have approached Willow’s friends in Los Angeles, including Harry Potter. They refuse to see reason. Mr. Lyman, I am here because you were brave enough before to do what was necessary, no matter the cost. I don’t want a repeat of what happened in England on American soil, and I know you don’t, either. Our only option is to find Willow before MACUSA realizes what has happened and kill her ourselves. I need you to help me convince those who know her that this is the way to save the world.”

*~*~*

The second Reese closed the door behind her—which took some doing, considering he was sucking on her neck just hard enough to hurt—Faith flattened her palms against his chest and shoved. The big dhampir stumbled back until he hit the desk that sat in the middle of the office, his black eyes shining and his open mouth revealing his shiny set of fangs.

Dhampirs were a bit of a bitch to kill and, in Faith’s experience, not all deserving of the fate. Unlike vampires, they kept their souls and most tried to blend in with the world at large. Some did the nest thing—strength in numbers—and others just tried to get by in polite society. There weren’t many of them, because creating a dhampir was difficult. The first she’d known about had come from a freak accident in which a vampire had gotten a witch pregnant. The witch had done some kind of spell on herself to revitalize the vampire’s sperm and lo and behold, a half-vamp, half-human had been born. All of the perks of being a vamp and none of the weaknesses. Made for one bitching army, which legend had it was what the witch had been after.

The guy standing across from her now, panting like oxygen was going out of style, definitely had the undead allure going for him. He was broad-shouldered with long black hair, a strong jaw, come-hither eyes, and a GQ smile. He’d also dressed the part of a vampire club owner, his black silk shirt somewhat untucked from his black jeans, the first few buttons undone. And he was sporting massive wood in the crotch region.

The look in his eyes told her that this particular dhampir was not a guy used to hearing the word no. That didn’t necessarily mean he was responsible for the Kraelek but it did mean she might have to seriously kick his ass.

“Oh, so now you wish to play hard to get?” Reese drawled and ran his tongue down a fang. “Your blood is…the best I have ever tasted. Care to tell me your secret?”

“Care to tell me why I found your business card in Howard Bolton’s wallet?”

The dhampir clearly had not expected this. “Howard is…dead?”

“Super dead. Melted into a little puddle of Howard dead.” Faith tilted her head. “Kraelek demons are big with the messes. Guessin’ Howie was a friend of yours?”

“He was my accountant…” Reese gripped the edges of his desk, a range of emotions playing across his face. Shock, disbelief, then finally rage. “That fucking bitch. She knew I was taking him with me and she brings in a Kraelek?”

“She being Victoria?”

He whipped his head up, snarling. “You know Vickie?”

“No. All I know is there’s a dead puddle of gross a few blocks from here and he had your name in his wallet. So what can you tell me?”

For a moment, she thought he might actually help her out. It was clear that whatever bad blood was between him and Victoria Swan had them at each other’s throats. Could be that Reese was a decent guy.

But when he looked up and she saw his eyes, any hope of that being the case died a quick death.

“I will handle Vickie,” he said, pushing back to his feet and taking a step toward her. “But at the moment I am more interested in handling you. And that pretty neck of yours.”

“Sorry. Not really into the whole chew toy fetish.”

“I don’t recall giving you a choice, sweet thing.” The next second, Reese was against her and her feet were off the floor, her back to the wall and his hand at her throat. He pressed in close, inhaling deeply near the place he’d knicked her earlobe. “I dunno what you are but I’m going to fuck you raw, then drink you dry, and I’m gonna enjoy every fucking minute.” This he punctuated by dropping his other hand to her pelvis so he could rub her pussy through her clothes.

Great. This guy was a rapist and a murderer. And probably still not the ringleader.

“No,” Faith choked around his grip. “You’re really, really not.”

“Oh, I like you. Might have to keep you around a while.”

Faith clawed at his hand, which only made him grin wider. And left him totally unprepared for the kick she slammed between his legs. A second later, he yowled and dropped her, but she was there and ready. She twirled and landed a roundhouse kick to the chest, and this time he went flying over the desk, papers scattering, various office instruments hitting the ground. But he’d recover fast, so she had no time to stop. Instead, she ripped her trusty blade free from where she’d had it strapped to her ankle and was ready when he reached up to pull himself to his feet. The second his hand appeared on the desk’s surface, she plunged the business end through the back of it, pinning him in place.

“Fuuuuuck!” he screamed, not remotely handsome anymore.

“You’re not my type,” Faith replied, leaping onto the desk and smashing her boot down on his face with such force he went flying into the waiting office chair behind him, which careened into the back wall. The action had the knife in his hand ripping through bone and tendon as the appendage tore free with the force of the blow. He screamed again, but the music outside hit a timely crescendo, which likely kept the sound contained to the room. Faith squatted to pluck her blade without taking her gaze off the dhampir. When he finally tore his eyes from the mangled remains of his hand, he hissed at her, one-hundred-percent monster.

“I am going to eat you alive, little girl,” he snapped.

“Fun as that sounds, it’s gonna be kinda hard to do that without a head.”

Faith leapt at him, landing in his lap with her blade pressed against his throat.

“Gonna have to do better than that,” he said before lunging for her neck.

Which was stupid because the forward motion had the teeth of her blade cutting into his throat. She guessed he’d expected her to flinch or draw back at the attack, or for her arms to not have the strength to hold him at bay, which proved he was a slow learner, much like her ducky. Faith gritted through and pushed back, enjoying the shock and surprise that filled Reese’s eyes when he realized what he’d done—and moreover, what she was doing.

“Wait—” he gasped, but it was too late. She pushed forward until her blade met the back of the chair, and his head rolled to the floor with a squishy plop.

Faith sat there for a second, breathing hard, trying to collect her bearings. Two decapitations in one day. Both with the blade Rosalie had given back to her. And damn fucking fortunate thing she had. There was a reason this weapon was her favorite.

She raised the blade to eye-level. “Forget diamonds. You are a girl’s best friend.”

It was probably dangerous, killing the boss and then hitting the bar in his club, but dammit, Faith needed a drink.

And honestly, with the day she’d had, heaven help the fucker who tried to take her out next. She was on a goddamned roll.

*~*~*

Honestly, Wright didn’t know how to feel now, except exhausted, bone-weary, and pissed off. He’d expected some of the shock and anger to have worn off after they left Caritas and returned to the Hyperion to discuss matters, but instead, it had gotten stronger.

Now everyone was in the lobby again, save for Kelly, who had volunteered to watch the kids while Wright and everyone else brought Cordelia, Gunn, and Mary up to speed. The resulting argument had been going on ever since.

“This is why you’re never supposed to meet your heroes,” Cordelia said wisely, glowering at Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

“For the millionth time, it wasn’t like what that woman said it was,” Harry said. “Willow is our friend. We love her. We’re here because we love her.” He released a long breath. “Yes…there are things we didn’t tell you.”

“Like the fact that you were there from the bloody start,” Giles snapped. All of signs of his fan-worship had died with the revelation that famous Harry Potter had withheld information.

“We couldn’t tell you that.” Harry shook his head, looked to Hermione for help. “We were learning about Willow alongside the lot of you when that happened. We had no idea what she was at the time—that Muggles could even have powers was beyond us. Then she conducted that bloody spell and was all right again—the threat was over. We couldn’t take her to Azkaban because who knew if it’d have any effect on her? The Ministry and McGonagall came to an agreement.”

“I still don’t get this,” Gunn drawled from where he was reclined against the check-in counter. “This chick nearly destroys your country and you respond by giving her a job.”

“We needed to understand her,” Hermione replied. “She was a very powerful witch, but, as it became completely clear, a good person. The Ministry wanted to lock her up but we had no means of doing so and we”—she indicated herself, Ron, and Harry—“refused to help them do that.”

“And they just listened to you?” Giles said.

“When you’re the Boy Who Lived, yes, they listen to you,” Harry shot back. “When you defeat Lord Voldemort, yes, they listen to you. When you’re the head of the Auror Office, yes, they listen to you. Willow had removed all memory of her actions from herself, which to us indicated she regretted them. We didn’t know how powerful she was so attempting to apprehend her seemed like a good way to get people killed. I assumed responsibility.” He heaved a sigh and ran a hand through his messy black hair. “McGonagall agreed to keep watch of her at Hogwarts—a controlled environment that was well prepared for magical carnage.”

“Around kids,” Cordelia muttered.

“It wasn’t perfect, but we were dealing with something we’d never seen before,” Harry all but shouted at her. “Our world had just barely begun to recover from what we went through with Voldemort and he at least had been a known enemy. Willow Rosenberg presented a completely different type of threat. So yes, we watched her—Hermione, Ron, and me. We visited McGonagall often. And then something none of us expected happened—we became friends with her. We love her. That’s why we hauled arse across the stupid ocean to follow her here.”

“And you knew she’d gone bad briefly last year,” Zack said. “When she was on her way here to put my soul back in and Wolfram and Hart put up that invisible wall.”

“Yeah, mate, that scared us,” Ron agreed. “But she overcame it, didn’t she? Got through it. All on her own, mind. None of us were here to talk her down—she did that on her own.”

“But that’s still the reason you came,” Cordelia said.

“It was a reason,” Harry said. “Not the reason. The reason was because we were invited by American schools to guest-lecture. Then we got over here and you know what happened.” He glanced at Hermione. “It wasn’t until we arrived in Los Angeles and Wolfram and Hart got involved, got MACUSA involved, that any of this came up. Until our bloody Ministry decided to give her the boot. We’ve been with her for years and she’s never exhibited any sort of bad magic, which is why Hermione got the go-ahead from McGonagall to tell her the truth. We all believed she could handle it.”

“How bloody careless,” Giles said softly.

Mary reached out and stroked his arm. “Rupert…”

“This is quite easy for the lot of you, isn’t it? Watching from the sidelines, making calls after the fact. Never mind that Willow’s fragile state might have been better handled by the people who knew her. Who were there with her from the start.”

“We couldn’t take that chance, old man,” Ginny spat. “Voldemort nearly tore our world apart. We weren’t about to let that happen again.”

“So instead of trusting those people who might understand Willow and others like her better than you, you decided to play god and keep us all in the dark.” Giles shook his head, now almost vibrating with rage. “You let us continue to believe her lie rather than bring us, the people who know her best, into the fold. And you lied to her. How do you think Willow will react to learning that her very close friends, people she trusts, are only in her life to study her like she is some bloody lab experiment?”

“Please, Mr. Giles,” Hermione said, her eyes swimming with tears. “Harry wasn’t lying—we do love Willow. She’s become one of us, part of our family. However it is she got there, that much is the truth.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure she’ll understand. You knew this about her, about all of us, and kept bloody mum. If anything goes wrong now, it’s on you. All four of you and your whole bloody government.” Giles glanced to Mary, then to Wright and Zack. “We have to find her before that Sabrina girl does. Or before these four decide to make another unanimous decision for our own good.”

“That’s not fair—” Harry began to protest.

“Oh, stuff it, Harry Potter,” Giles snapped. “The four of you have buggered this up quite nicely. And, even though it is not my place to say, I believe it is time you take your magical arses and get the hell out of this hotel.”

Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione all looked to Wright, who glared at them stonily.

“Well,” Cordelia practically shouted, waving at them, “you heard the man. Get the fuck out of my hotel.”

*~*~*

Today just kept getting better and better.

Well, at the moment, at least, it was looking up. Or it should have been looking up, considering Dean had his tongue down the throat of some hot little blonde and he knew Faith had seen them, namely because he’d positioned himself in a place to be seen. It had taken a moment longer than he would have liked for her to notice—she’d been in a bit of a daze after her fuckfest with Reese Bellsworth. Hair a mess, which wasn’t surprising given the crashing sounds that had come from the back, and a few bruises on her pale arms—also not surprising given the guy was a fucking vamp. Or whatever the hell the vamps Dean had spent years killing actually were, in the world according to Cas and the Slayers.

He’d known Faith didn’t discriminate much when it came to bedmates, but fuck, the thought of her with that fang banger had him…pissed. And pissed that he was pissed. And more pissed that she was still in this fucking town, that she’d ignored their earlier agreement to leave—even if he’d never intended to leave, himself. That, at least, hadn’t been a surprise. Not after spying Spike’s car in the motel parking lot. One phone call to Buffy had confirmed the yellow Olds was currently being driven by Faith Lehane, and wasn’t that swell. She was on a case like one of the team.

So when Dean had walked in, following a lead he’d picked up from the morgue, and seen Faith, that hadn’t been a surprise. What had been a surprise? Seeing her getting all felt up by a fucking vamp in full view of everyone. If the girl was staying with them, and it looked like she was, he’d known she’d eventually move on and let other guys between her legs, but call him stupid, but he hadn’t been ready to see it tonight.

Like that.

He’d hung around because he needed to talk to Bellsworth, get his side of things and figure out how the snot monster from earlier figured into any of this, if it did at all. But Faith had walk-of-shamed her way out of the fucker’s office more than fifteen minutes ago and here he was like a fucking buffoon, staring at her as the twig of a thing he’d decided to kill time with started to stick her hand down his pants.

Dean started and pulled back. “Whoa there, darlin’. Whatcha doin’?”

The little thing smiled all prettily up at him. Demure and sweet in a way that should totally do it for him but didn’t. His dick hadn’t stirred much at all—something he’d have to worry about later. Right now he’d blame it on the fact that his attention was split between the case and whatever the fuck had happened with Faith and the vamp.

“I thought I’d suck on it like a lollipop,” the girl said, popping the ‘p’. “See if we could have some fun.”

Dean stared at her for a full ten seconds, willing his brain to jump in and do something. Then he glanced up to where Faith had been sitting. She wasn’t there.

“What do you say?” The blonde reached into his pants and wrapped her hand around his cock, which had begun to stir—knowing the motions if not the player. Then she leaned in and whispered, “I can tie cherry stems with my tongue, you know.”

“Now that there’s a nifty trick.”

Dean whipped his head to the left, not sure whether to be relieved, elated, or annoyed when he saw Faith standing not two feet away.

His dick, which was apparently already trained to respond to her proximity in any context, went from half-mast to full in half a blink.

“I gotta question, though.” Faith grinned and leaned toward the blonde. “Can you still do that if I rip that tongue out? ‘Cause that—that would be a skill worth putting on a resume.”

The blonde blinked. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Oh, have we not been introduced? My name is fuck off. Why don’t you toddle on off so the grownups can talk?”

The blonde stared at her for a moment, then turned her eyes back to Dean, who just nodded at her, lacking the ability to do anything else.

“Uh, fine.” The blonde rolled her eyes and brought her hands up, which unfortunately left Dean’s junk hanging out. He rushed to correct it. “Your loss,” she told him before she sashayed away.

Faith watched her go with an arched eyebrow, giving Dean the time to decide this was not cool. Just not cool at all.

In fact, this had gotten a step past not cool and was firmly in what the fuck territory.

“What the hell was that?” he snapped when she shook her head and turned back to him.

Faith had the audacity to stare at him like he’d done something wrong. “Oh, I’m sorry. Are twelve year-olds your thing? That girl had statutory written all over her.”

“Who I fuck is none of your business.”

Just like whoever she fucked was none of his. Even if it was a fucking vamp less than twelve fucking hours since he’d been inside her. Because Dean Winchester did not give a shit.

Faith brought her hands up. “Whatever,” she muttered, and turned to walk away.

“No, no. Not fucking whatever.” Dean grabbed her wrist and jerked her back to him. “You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to screw whatever the fuck you feel like and then go all jealous girlfriend on me when—”

“Excuse me, what?”

“Well, that’s what this is, ain’t it?”

“Get the fuck right over yourself,” Faith snapped, but her tone was harsher than before—harsher than he’d heard, actually. If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was on the defensive. Which meant he was right.

“Just callin’ it like I see it, sweetheart,” he replied, something ugly and unrestrained burning in his chest—something that had been there since he’d walked in and caught the vamp feeling her up. Something just itching to explode. “Statutory, really? Did you see the ass on that girl?”

“Did you? ‘Cause ever since I came back out, you’ve been over here glaring at me.”

“Something you’d only know if you were watching me like some jealous stalker chick. Weren’t you supposed to get out of town?”

“Yeah, well, plans change. I decided to follow a lead.”

“Yeah. Follow or fuck? ‘Cause from where I’m sittin’, that seems to be your signature move.”

Faith stared at him for a long moment, long enough that the part of him that remembered just how strong she was—just how easily she could flatten him—gave off a little warning. But the look on her face was something beyond anger, though anger was there, no doubt. Hell, if he didn’t know better, he’d think he might have actually wounded her with that barb.

Fuck, had he? The thought made his chest hurt.

“You’re right,” she said at last, her voice somewhat detached. “Gotta do what you’re good at, right?” She took a step back, shaking her head. “Good news? I softened him up nice for you. Your witness, Ducky. I’m out.”

And before he could understand what had just happened, Faith turned and headed toward the door, looking small and somewhat defeated, which made something inside of him scream. Dean wasn’t a stranger to hating himself, but this felt different. After a long moment, during which he listened to the pounding in his chest and tried to keep from replaying what had just happened, he shoved himself off the wall and stumbled back toward the office.

Focus on the case. Whatever that was can wait.

That thought died when he pushed open the office door and took a look at the wreckage inside.

“Fuck.”

Chapter Text

Sam closed his eyes and took a deep breath, doing his best to try and remain calm. “The bitch said what?”

Yeah, he failed to keep from losing his cool.

“I know,” Josh said shaking his head. “Seriously, I couldn’t believe that she’d come to me after everything that had happened. I may have made some mistakes, Sam, but I would never betray you or Donna again. It was one thing trying to keep you and Willow apart.” He held up a hand when Sam’s flew his eyes open to aim a nasty glare his direction. “And I was wrong! That’s already been settled!”

“She wants…” Sam was grateful he didn’t have Willow or Oz’s magical abilities. He honestly thought he could shatter glass with the anger vibrating through him. “To. Kill. Willow.”

“I thought it was as bad as you! That’s why I called you here as soon as she left.”

Sam sighed in exasperation, running a shaky hand through his hair. “And did you tell her to go fuck herself?”

“I told her I’d think about it.”

“Josh,” he growled, taking a step forward to possibly strangle the man.

“I’m not thinking about it, you dumbass. I said that to buy us time. Time for you to get a hold of Willow and warn her that this Sabrina witch is trying to get to her. She said something about a spell and something about memories that if MACUSA found out, there’ll be a full scale magical war to apprehend her.”

Oh god. He wished he didn’t understand what that meant, but he did. He really, really did. He pulled out his phone.

“You calling her?”

“No,” Sam said softly, scrolling through his contacts. “Willow is… She’s very upset right now. With me. With herself. With the world. She’s looking for something to blame and I’m afraid she might kill this dumb witch bitch before she has time to control herself.”

“Really?” Josh asked. “You think she could murder?”

“I think I’d kill this woman myself if I had the power right now, Josh,” he admitted before calling the only person he could think of to help.

“Hello?”

“Hermione, I think you and Harry need to come to Sacramento. Now.”

*~*~*

Dean had bailed Rising Dawn after discovering Reese decapitated in the back. Pissed and full of emotions, he stopped at the closest convenience store for beer and a burger. He left with a fifth of American Honey.

Sitting in his car, he kept taking a shot every time he glanced at the fucking yellow Olds. Fucking bitch not only fucked the son of a bitch, but had killed him before Dean could question him. Now he had no idea if the case was closed or if Reese had known about the pus-spewing Kraken—or whatever Sam had told him about after he’d called for research help.

And that shit in the bar—the whole jealousy act—who was she trying to fool? She’d just come from fucking and fucking over that vamp. Did she really think he thought she gave two shits about him? Bitch hadn’t known him half a week. Three days, three dicks.

Yeah, this was bullshit. Dean Winchester didn’t play games. No, this bitch needed to get out of his case and out of his bunker. She could take her pogo stick pussy back to LA.

He looked down at the bottle clenched in his hands. He’d already drank half. Time to give Faith Lehane a piece of his mind.

Twenty bucks later he had her room number and was pounding on her door.

Her hair was damp and flowing down her shoulders. She’d changed into a tank top and sweats. “What, Winchester?” she snapped.

“Fuck you!”

She blinked at him. “That’s it? Okay, goodnight.”

He slammed his hand against the door when she went to shut it. “That’s not it. Fuck you for pulling that shit with me at the bar. Fuck you for pretending you were jealous because I was playing with a different girl. Fuck you for fucking that motherfucker after you saw me walk in and a giant fuck you for killing my lead!”

She didn’t react for a moment, just stared at him with an unreadable expression. “Pretty much everything you said was bullshit, just so you know.”

He barked a humorless laugh in her face before taking another shot from the bottle.

“I didn’t fuck him,” she said in a small voice, turning to shut the door after he pushed his way inside. “Yeah, I played it up to get him alone. Let him get more handsy than I liked.”

“Really?” He wasn’t buying it.

“I didn’t want his hand down my pants,” she snapped. “Unlike you and that blonde bimbo.”

“Don’t you start in with your fucking mind games, Faith. Get back to lying about fucking the fang banger.”

“I started questioning him and he started trying to rape me. Happy?”

That wasn’t a turn he’d expected. “What?”

“That’s right, Ducky. He let slip a little intel about who was behind the Kraelek demon—his ex-partner, FYI—because after he raped me, he planned to kill me.”

Blind rage consumed him. No way would he let some son of a bitch hurt her and get away with it. “Grab your keys,” he growled.

“What?”

“Grab your keys! I can’t drive.” He held up the bottle. “I’m gonna go fucking murder that motherfucker for trying to hurt you!”

She smiled at him. She fucking smiled. It wasn’t a smirk or a gesture after one of her jabs or jokes. “Ducky, I kinda already took care of that part.”

“Oh.” Yeah, he remembered the headless fucker now. “Well, good for you, girlfriend. ’Cause no means no. Hashtag me too.”

She rolled her eyes. “Hashtag you’re drunk.”

“Well…doesn’t change the fact you lied.”

She held up her hands. “What the hell? I just told you the truth!”

“Look, honey, I don’t do relationships for this exact reason. I don’t play fucking games and I don’t like being used as some toy for mind-fuck amusement.”

“Excuse me?” Her eyes filled with anger.

“Pretending to be jealous just to fuck me over? Petty game I don’t fucking want to play.” He took another hit of American Honey. “Yeah, I got some fucking weird crush on you and yeah it pisses me the fuck off. Three days in is already longer than my norm, but this morning I was fucking holding you while you cried. And what freaked me out was how that didn’t freak me out! What freaked me out was I upset. I didn’t like seeing you fucking cry because I didn’t like seeing you upset!”

Faith swallowed hard. “Really?”

“Yes! Why the fuck you think I went on a case? I was trying to get the fuck away from you! From…” He flapped his empty hand in exasperation. “All these weird feelings and shit.”

“Me too,” she said in a low tone.

“Huh?”

“You think I like being attracted to your stupid ass? I did the exact same fucking thing! First, I moved out of your room because that breakdown…” She shook her head. “I don’t do that. Maybe twice. As in ever. And in front of some random guy I barely know? That’s fifty shades of fucked up.” She looked down at the floor, wringing her hands. “And the bar wasn’t a game. I don’t fucking play games. Which doesn’t make sense because I also don’t do jealous. Certainly not with some dick I barely know.”

His mind was officially blown. “What are we doing, Faith?”

She looked up at him and he saw she was just as confused, angry, and terrified as he was. “I don’t fucking know!”

He was probably too drunk to be having this conversation. Definitely too drunk to come up with a good plan. “Fuck it,” he said, taking one last drink before offering her the bottle.

“Fuck it?” She took the bottle and chugged back a few shots of whiskey.

“So we don’t like it. You hate liking me and I hate liking you. So fuck it.”

She smirked. “You ain’t making sense.”

“Let’s just do it. Go all Nike on this bitch of a thing.”

“Seriously,” she snickered. “You’re wasted.”

“Let’s run the wheels off this thing between us. Call it lust or attraction or just fucking weird. Whatever it is, there’s no sense beating ourselves up over it.”

She took another drink and then nodded. “Okay. Now I’m picking up what you’re putting down. We just let this thing run its course. Neither one of us are into long-term. So, we just go along until we get over it.”

“Exactly!” He smiled briefly before he remembered a deal-breaker. “But as long as this thing is a thing…I don’t want sloppy seconds. It’s you and me and no three. Understand?”

“You were the one getting the hand-job tonight, little Ducky.”

“I may or may not have been trying to get your attention.”

“It may or may not have worked.”

“So we got a deal?”

She sat the bottle down on the nightstand and looked him in the eye. “Depends,” she said before lifting the tank top over her head and revealing her naked breasts. “Did you remember to put a Trojan back in your wallet? Because you made me hella horny and I’m definitely gonna need something to ride.”

“Thank fucking god I’d already planned on fucking you again yesterday.” He reached in his back pocket and tossed her his wallet before starting the scramble to disrobe.

At least if they were going down, they’d go down swinging.

*~*~*

So things remained awkward and tense for nearly a full minute after the Hogwarts Posse left the building. Unsurprisingly to Zack or likely anyone else in the place, he was the first nut to crack. “Where do we go from here, Boss?”

Zack realized his brother might have assumed he meant him, but he didn’t. His eyes were trained on a different guy. The real man in charge.

Because when shit went down, Rupert Giles transformed from mild-mannered Watcher/librarian who had his cup of tea and cutesy British colloquialisms to one badass motherfucker complete with his own set of magical abilities.

Giles gave Zack a look of confirmation before speaking. “First, we need to contact Buffy and inform her of the latest developments in the situation. As angry and hurt as she feels, none of us can afford to push Willow away if she reaches out. It’s imperative we locate her before any of the others.”

“Then what?” Wright asked.

“One step at a time, Zackary,” Giles admonished. “Finding her will be no easy task.” He turned to Mary. “Summon the angel. As much as it pains me, he may be of use.” Then he turned to Wright. “Contact Nicholas. Inform him that we may need use of a witch named Rowena. As long as the price isn’t unreasonable, pay her to also try and locate Willow.”

“Hate to be a buzzkill, but what do we do when—”

Giles cut Zack off with a dark look. “Go to Samuel Seaborn. Willow may intend to contact him or Oz. You will be the least confrontational to her since everything happened before your arrival in the family. Also, you have the most experience with regrettable actions.”

Wright held up a hand. “Look, G, I need him tracking Wes.”

“Wesley is inconsequential at this point,” Giles said curtly.

“No,” Wright snapped. “He tried to murder—“

“Your daughters and you brother,” Giles said coldly. “We know. We also know he has some intimate connection to Sabrina Deanne. Whether he’s working with her, MACUSA or Wolfram and Hart is of no matter. He holds no information of use since he is unaware of Rosalie’s location or even the fact that Faith is back. The worst he could do is tell about the memory altercations, which he will likely only do on Sabrina’s command. He’s useless.”

Wright shuffled his feet in irritation. “Well, I don’t like it.”

“Any I don’t bloody well care!” Giles all but shouted before turning his back on the group and heading toward the door.

“Hey,” Zack called. “Where are you going?”

“My flat. I have ingredients there to perform my own location spell.”

“Really, Rupert?” Mary questioned.  “Between Cas and Rowena, is another one necessary?”

“No.” His tone was softer, but still firm. “We need to locate someone else. Someone who proved critical to getting through to Willow before. Someone I still don’t fully understand their absence.” He shook his head. “I believe Xander Harris holds a much bigger role in this situation than we yet know.”

And then he was gone. No discussion. No pep talk. No nothing. Just orders.

“Well,” Mary said into the stunned silence. “Is it just me or is it hot in here?”

*~*~*

Work went smooth, considering it was a demon bar. At least the new customers coming in were greater than the ones being killed outside.

This had been the plan from the start. If Lebanon didn’t have a monster problem for Rosalie to handle, they’d bring the monsters to her.

Not that Nick really liked it now that concept had become reality. He hadn’t thought about the fact that he was stuck inside all night with no ability to watch over his Rose and make sure she didn’t take on more than she could handle.

Spike and Buffy were right there with her. For now. He knew eventually they would likely get tired of the scenery and move on. Maybe go check out that Hellmouth in Cleveland so many patrons seemed to be gossiping about. Nick was pretty sure half his clientele had popped up because they’d been kicked out by bigger rivals at the Hellmouth.

But tonight had been a good night. Thankfully it looked like business wouldn’t slump too much on a school night. Most of these blokes weren’t working a nine to five shift anywhere.

By closing time, Nick was ready to lock up and head home. He might’ve actually turned a profit since Spike had remained outside most of the night patrolling with the slayers.

He knew Rosalie was avoiding him. He also knew why.

Dawn wasn’t a very good secret keeper, especially when she found the subject hilarious. And in her defense, it would have been hilarious to him if it hadn’t been his barely legal girlfriend who had a pregnancy scare. After giving him a pregnancy phobia in the early hours of his morning.

Still, he couldn’t find too much outrage in the situation. In his own special way, he liked to think he’d helped bring Faith and Rosalie back together. It was just not a way he had expected or desired.

By the time he made it to the bunker, she’d already come home for the night. She was showered and eating a carton of ice cream in the kitchen. “Good evening,” he said to her as he leaned against the door frame, admiring how adorable she was when she did the simplest things.

She whipped her head up, spoon still in her mouth. He cheeks turned fiery red and she pulled the metal utensil away from her face.  “Hi,” she said thickly as a small smidgeon of mint chocolate chip dribbled from her mouth.

“Busy day, huh?” He folded his arms and continued to stare her down.

“Mmmhmm,” she said with a nod before swallowing the confection and wiping her mouth her arm. “Buffy and Spike are still out.” She wrinkled her nose. “Foreplay.”

“Right.” He also didn’t like thinking about what turned those two on. “So anything exciting happen?”

She looked down at the carton in her hand, stirring the contents. “Uhh…we caught a vamp and a werewolf having sex. Just so you know they get really angry when you interrupt them. Doesn’t look like it’s going to work out between them. You know, since they’re dead.”

“Yes, that would put a damper on any future life plans. Like getting married. Or maybe…having children.”

She looked up with wide-eyed horror. “Oh my god.”

Dammit if he couldn’t help but laugh. He really had wanted to draw this out. Pay her back for all the hours of sheer panic he’d caused her today.

“Who told you?” she demanded.

“Who do you think?” he chuckled. “Maybe come to me next time, love. Dawn is a bit of a tattle.”

“Great,” she said, tossing the ice cream down and burying her head in her hands on the table. “I can’t even do a pregnancy scare right.”

“Is there an actual right way to have one? I mean except the obvious part where you don’t end up pregnant.”

“Yeah,” she said raising her head. “Not letting everyone know! Not letting you know!”

He walked over and snagged the ice cream off the table. “This is new for me too, Rose.” He took a bite. “Remember you’re my first real relationship, too.”

“I know,” she acknowledged before reaching out for her food.

He took a step back. This was currently his dinner. No way was he giving it up without a fight. He took another big spoonful. “I’m not saying I don’t want children.” He swallowed. “Child. Let’s start small.” He smiled. “Just that I don’t think either one of us has finished properly growing up yet.”

“Speak for yourself.” She leaned over to try and grab him, but he jumped back before rewarding himself with another bite.

“So, let’s stop worrying about the future and focus on the now. We have the rest of our lives for all that rubbish.”

She stood up. “Aside from the fact you just called our future marriage and potential kids rubbish, you’re right.”

He dipped the spoon into the ice cream before sucking on the utensil. “I’m sorry? Could you repeat that last bit?”

“Gimme my ice cream, Hunter,” she said in a low voice.

He pulled the spoon from his lips with an audible plop. “What’s the magic word, Miss Rosalie?”

“I’ve had a rough couple of days so give me the fucking ice cream before I blacken your other eye.” Then she gave a sarcastic smile. “Please.”

Pouting, he thrust the carton toward her. “Spoilsport,” he muttered.

“Look on the bright side,” she said after recapturing her food. “I’m not pregnant.” Shoveling a giant spoonful into her mouth, she turned and headed out the kitchen.

*~*~*

Faith stretched and yawned as her body slowly came back to life. She was hot, sticky, and sore as hell. But dammit if she wasn’t purring like a kitten.

Last night had been…intense. Even by her standards. They’d banged the headboard so hard a picture had fallen off the wall and shattered. Pretty sure they’d also destroyed a lamp.

She’d expected the night to end once he filled the condom, but Dean Winchester was full of surprises. Instead of crashing, he’d started a new game of Fondle the Faith. First, his fingers touched every square inch of her flesh—he’d even tickled her toes—before he brought his mouth into play.

Once he demanded she “sit on his face so he could fuck her with his tongue” they ended the night with a 69 session that would have gone viral on Pornhub.

Yeah, she didn’t mind riding this cowboy while it lasted.

Opening her eyes, she stared into his chest. Bringing her hand up, she lightly traced the strange symbol tattooed above his left pec. He squirmed and cracked open an eye. “Tickle?” she teased.

He groaned and rolled over on his back. She continued to run her finger along the black ink until he wiggled and grabbed her hand. “Stop,” he whined.

Giggling, she ceased her assault. “Million dollar question, Ducky. How much of last night do you remember?”

With a grunt, he turned his head to face her, only one eye still open. “What do you mean?”

“You were wasted.”

He opened both eyes and gave her a lazy smile. “Nah. I’m what normal people would call an alcoholic. That was just a typical Sunday night.”

Faith released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. This would be a helluva bad morning after if he didn’t remember their arrangement. Wanting to avoid any more of the deep emotional shit they’d covered before the sexcapades had started, she looked back down to his chest. “What’s your tat?”

He was slow to answer, obviously still waking up. “Anti-possession sigil. Protects from demons hitching a free ride.”

“Huh?” She leaned over to give it a closer inspection before giving into temptation and giving the mark a soft kiss.

He moaned lightly in response, but didn’t initiate any further making out. “Actually, it’d be wise if you got one yourself. Rosalie, Nick, and even Dawn got one. Spike and Buffy have their secret decoder rings, but everyone else has one.”

“Makes sense.”

“Mine…mine’s upside down actually,” he admitted quietly. “It inverted when I…well I became a demon for a while.”

“Say what?” Dude had died and gone to Hell and had once been a demon? “What happened?”

He gave a weak smile. “I got better.”

She shook her head and laughed. “Okay, when this case is over, we’re sitting down and trading some stories.”

“I guess if you’re looking to get this thing over quick, that’s the way to do it.”

“Something tells me we ain’t gonna scare each other that easily.”

They lay there in silence for a couple minutes, just staring at one another. It was oddly intimate as she focused on his long lashes and hazel eyes flecked with an assortment of brown, gold and green. The way he looked at her—in her—left her feeling more exposed and vulnerable than any sexual act before.

While she really liked it, she really didn’t. “So?” she said breaking eye contact. “Case.”

“Yeah,” he replied thickly before clearing his throat and rolling over to sit up on the edge of the bed.

“Reese had a partner. Victoria Swan. They ran a place called Vein before splitting up. Apparently, he got the accountant in the divorce and she retaliated by having him killed.”

“The Kraken? That thing from the alley with the whole Chucky 2 vibe?”

“Yes! I was trying to remember which one! Child’s Play 2.”

“Okay, first tattoo parlor and then DVD store. Now I want to watch the series.”

“No. First we go kill this Vickie Swan and any of her Kraelek cronies. Then, we stop and buy more condoms. Then we do those other two.”

“Faith, I believe this is the beginning on a beautiful friendship.”

Chapter Text

Spike lifted his glass of blood to his lips, eyes trailing the Slayer as she sauntered into the kitchen. She wore the smirk that drove him batty—well, one of the many that drove him batty. There was something about Buffy Summers pleased with herself that never failed to make his chest tighten.

“Get the canary, then?” he asked, leaning against the back counter. “Yours is heatin’ up, by the by.”

Still grinning, she approached to plant a kiss on his lips before turning her attention to the cabinets behind him. “Did Dawn happen to get cinnamon while she was out?”

“Not unless you reminded her, I’d wager. Not much stays up in the Little Bit’s head.”

The grin faded into a pout. “Fine,” she grumbled, and reached for a box of Frosted Flakes. “I’ll make do.”

“Gonna have to share, kitty.”

“I always share.”

“I mean why you strolled in here lookin’ so bloody smug.”

“Oh. That canary.” The microwave went off and Buffy went through the motions of fixing her breakfast. “Faith called. Seems she’s gonna leave the Olds at her motel when she heads out.”

Well, that was perfect. Spike rolled his eyes and tossed back another mouthful. “Bloody knew better than to give the bitch the keys, didn’t I tell you? How’s she gonna head out without a set of wheels?”

“And there, my friend, is why I was grinning.” Buffy stirred up her blood and cereal concoction before spooning up a helping. “Seems she and Dean are going to take another case after they deal with the Kraelek’s boss. He got an alert for something in Kansas City and they’ve decided to go together.”

“All very interesting, I’m sure, but it leaves me without—”

“Oh, give it a rest.” She rolled her eyes and took a bite of nosh, turning to face the entry just as Sam came through, smelling like a bloody gym locker, as he always did after his morning jogs with Bite Size. “Can we borrow Cas? We need to go pick up Spike’s car in Osage City.”

Sam froze, his brow furrowing. “Osage City? What’s his car doing there?”

“Faith borrowed it. Saw something that had her slayer senses going off and decided she needed a break from teenage drama fest and all things your brother.”

“Uhh, Dean went to Osage City too. For a case.” He cleared his throat. “Something called a Kraelek.”

Spike shuddered. When the others looked at him, he scowled. “Nasty buggers, aren’t they? The sludge they vomit eats through skin. When Dru and I were in France, a witch sent one after some after some Nazis. Left bloody puddles behind.”

“Not gonna feel too bad about dead Nazis,” Buffy said dryly.

“’Course not, but still didn’t make them any bloody fun to look at. Given all I’ve seen, that oughta tell you a lot.”

Buffy just rolled her eyes at him and turned back to Sam. “Faith killed the Kraelek and followed a trail to some club owned by one of the vamps-who-are-not-vamps. Guess she and Dean ran into each other there and have decided to buddy up to finish this case and take on another. Hence why we need someone to take us there to pick up the car.”

“Who needs what now?” Dawn asked, stumbling into the kitchen.

“Cas is gone,” Sam said. “Giles, uh, needed him in Los Angeles.”

Spike arched an eyebrow and glanced at Buffy, whose eyes had gone wide. “Giles…asked for Castiel?” she echoed. “What’s going on?”

“Guessing you didn’t check your messages when you got in last night,” Sam said.

No, they hadn’t. Spike and the Slayer had been doused head-to-toe in demon guts from the right brilliant spot of violence they’d had in the alley behind Rosa Lee’s. They’d stumbled into the shower, slaphappy with the thrill of the hunt, and hadn’t managed to wear each other out until late. Too bloody late to wonder about missed calls and the like.

Buffy glanced at him, then away again. “No, we didn’t. There was…err…an issue with cleanliness.”

“You realize my room is right next to yours, right?” Dawn drawled. “Was the cleanliness issue that you felt so dirty screaming things like—”

“Giles phoned before you guys got in from your patrol,” Sam said quickly, his cheeks going pink.

The bloke was easy to fluster, but more so when Nibblet was around. Particularly when she put her lack-of-filter to good use. If the wanker ever gained the stones to do something about his crush on the littlest Summers, Spike would have to have a talk with him. Not that he didn’t care for Sam—despite his unfortunate resemblance to Angel, the big git was right useful. But he wouldn’t be doing his job as the Bit’s protector if he didn’t make any would-be suitor piss himself.

“If Giles asked for Cas, then things have gotten apocalypty,” Buffy muttered. “Is it Willow?”

“It’s…a lot, actually,” Sam said. “Willow’s gone radio silent. A witch from—and I can’t believe I’m about to say this—the Magical Congress of the United States of America apparently caught wise to Willow’s reversal spell and is concerned that with everything so fresh, she might try to do a repeat of whatever happened in England.”

Buffy frowned, inclining her head. “Not an unreasonable worry.”

“Apparently, this witch wants to kill Willow before that can happen.”

At that, Buffy went stock-still. “What?”

“She and Wright had a meeting—well, everyone there had a meeting. Apparently, the American version of Harry Potter world is not as nice as the British, and if this witch’s superiors get wind of what happened, they might throw all their firepower at Willow. Who will, according to this witch—”

“Return the favor,” Buffy muttered. “God, we need to go back. This is—”

“No, Giles was pretty adamant that you need to stay here. I think their plan is to try and get Willow out of California before anything like that can happen, and believe me, we’ll need help.” Sam ran his hand through his hair. “So…Cas is out and Nick should’ve gotten a call last night or this morning, but we’re supposed to find Rowena to see if she can help.”

Buffy deflated, setting her breakfast on the counter. She ignored the looks of disgust her sister and her sister’s would-be suitor aimed at the mug. “And I was so giddy just a few minutes ago.”

Dawn frowned. “Why?”

“’Cause Faith’s falling for Dean and it’s fun to watch.” Buffy sighed and turned to Spike. “So…how do we wanna get the car? If we’re just gonna be grounded here, better to keep busy.”

Sam cleared his throat. “I can take you. It’s a drive but not a terrible one. And I think Rosalie threatened to punch me through a wall if I didn’t give her a day off. Something about wanting to see a movie with her boyfriend like a normal teenager.”

Buffy quirked a smile. “Ahh, yes. I remember those days.”

“I’m coming with, then,” Dawn said. “Better to road trip than have nothing to do here except third-wheel on their date.”

Sam seemed to brighten at that. “All right. Yeah, it’ll be a tight-fit in the truck, but we can do that.”

“The vamps can take the back seat,” Dawn said, smirking. “Farther from the sun.”

Buffy narrowed her eyes. “We have rings, you know.”

“Yeah, but still. Unnatural. Plus this way, you can play footsie without causing all of us to gag.”

Spike just shrugged when Buffy turned to him. “Girl makes a decent point,” he said, then leaned in and muttered, “Can do a bit more too, if you keep quiet.”

“Please don’t have sex in my truck,” Sam said. “Please.”

Bit late for that. It was Spike’s turn to smirk and Buffy’s to wiggle.

“How…when… No, I don’t wanna know.” Sam turned to Dawn. “Might have to get the thing detailed while we’re in Osage City.”

“I do not blame you a bit.”

*~*~*

Zack didn’t really know what to expect upon arriving at the governor’s mansion. It wasn’t as though he and Sam Seaborn knew each other well. Or really at all—at most they had been in the same room with a bunch of mutual acquaintances. He wasn’t sure they had ever actually spoken to each other; if they had, the correspondence hadn’t exactly been memorable. And no matter what you thought you knew about the supernatural community, a vampire showing up on your doorstep was bound to be a bit unsettling.

At first, Zack had thought to sneak his way inside to bypass security. Thanks to Spike, he had a veritable arsenal of breaking and entering tricks up his sleeve, and he hadn’t had much occasion to use any of them recently. But as it turned out, the ring that kept him from spontaneously combusting under the glow of the sun and prevented redheaded witches from further fucking with his memories did not nullify the rule about entering without an invitation. So he spent an inordinate amount of time talking to some beefy security guys who refused to believe that a guy in jeans and a Willie Nelson T-shirt was a friend of the governor’s. It wasn’t until he caught glimpse of Josh Lyman—cradling an assortment of beverages close to his chest, as well as a bag of Funions—walking by that he caught a break.

It took Josh longer than he would have liked to place him, but place him he did. Which was how Zack found himself hauling enough snack food to feed a small army to an interior room.

“Thanks, man,” Josh said. “Saved me the trip. You have kids, right? I can’t decide if Donna is having actual cravings or if she’s just fucking with me.”

“Well, I can tell you that that is a great question to ask if you don’t want to have sex for about nine weeks,” Zack replied dryly.

“Noted,” Josh replied, opening the door to the room in question by pressing his back against it. “Got more reinforcements,” he announced as Zack came in.

Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny all froze when they saw him. And he froze right back.

“So,” he said, keeping his tone light to break the tension, “I take it you guys are all caught up on what’s going on with MACUSA.”

“If by all caught up, you mean some bitch wants to kill the mother of my child, yes, consider me caught up,” Sam snapped.

Zack nodded, swallowing. He walked to a table to deposit the food stuffs he’d been tasked to bring, then turned back to the wizards in the room. “Look,” he said, bringing up his hands, “for the record, I’m Switzerland.”

Ron frowned. “You’re what?”

“It means he’s neutral, Ronald,” Hermione replied, rolling her eyes. Then she turned to Sam. “Our friends at the Hyperion did not take the news that we had known about Willow’s prior incident as well as you did. Mr. Giles in particular seemed quite…”

“Mental,” Ginny supplied.

“Hey,” Zack said, feeling a bit less Swiss. “Giles has known Willow longer than anyone else there. Except Cordelia, so I can understand why he was pissed.”

“Sure, but has he ever worked in government?” Josh said. “There are some things you just don’t put in a press release, and I’m guessing that much is the same no matter if the government is run by regular people or freaks.”

Ginny threw Josh a nasty look at that.

“But thank you,” Hermione said quickly, flashing Zack a bright smile. “For…being Switzerland. Sam called me because, apparently after leaving the Hyperion, Ms. Deanne paid Josh a visit.”

Zack’s eyebrows shot skyward. “Oh?”

“She Imperiused Donna to do it, too,” Harry said a bit hotly. “Anyone who uses an Unforgivable Curse because it’s bloody convenient is a threat to more than just Willow.”

“Bottom-line, apparently we got the same sale’s pitch,” Josh said. “We’re discussing next moves.” He turned back to the others. “I still say I should play along with this girl. See if I can get the inside information so we know how to respond.”

“Why are you here?” Sam asked rather bluntly, his gaze now on Zack. “Have you heard something?”

“Giles asked me to come,” Zack said. “In case Willow showed up here. He thought that I—ahh, might have special insight into what she’s going through since…well, I lost my soul a year ago and have to live with everything I did during that period for the rest of my life.”

Yeah, talking about his stint as a soulless killer was a bit of a wet blanket. No one knew where to look.

Then Ron cleared his throat and said, “Well, mate…not exactly the same, is it? Losing your soul’s one thing, but Willow had hers, didn’t she?”

Sam whipped around to Ron. “How is it different?”

Ron blinked at him as though not understanding the question. He glanced to Hermione for help, but Hermione also looked perplexed and didn’t have anything to add. “Well, it’s like I said. She had her soul.”

“She had just lost the person she loved more than anyone else,” Sam replied hotly. “Who’s to say that doesn’t kill a bit of your soul?”

“I am,” Harry said, an edge to his voice. “I love Willow—she’s become one of my best friends, but that argument is rubbish.”

“You don’t know what she felt!”

“Right, because my life was a right piece of cake. I’ve lost loads of people without managing to nearly end the world.”

“Right,” Ginny said, rubbing his arm, “but you were bit of a git because of it.”

He glared at her.

“I’m just saying. And it’s different, isn’t it? I lost Fred—Ron and I did. We all did. But that was in battle.”

“Exactly. That was in battle. Willow went bad because she felt responsible for what happened. You don’t think I know what that’s like? Sirius would’ve lived if I hadn’t been thick,” Harry snapped. “Cedric didn’t need to die, either. I know—”

“But it wasn’t just that,” Sam screamed, going red in the face. “It wasn’t that Tara died. It was that her brain was sucked out of her head. She lost her mind and because Glory died before she could reverse it—because Willow sought retribution anyone here would have sought—the condition was irreversible. And it’s not the same when it’s someone you love like that, someone you want to build a life with. You lost your parents and your godfather and friends, but what would happen if something happened to Ginny or one of your kids? Something you thought there was a chance you could undo? Make better? What wouldn’t you do to bring them back? To make them safe? I can tell you right now that if anything happened to Oz and I thought I could fix it, if I thought there was an answer, I’d level the goddamned city trying to find it. Because he is my soul. He is and so is Willow, and if something happens to either of them then yeah, I’m lost.”

No one said anything for a long moment—rather just stood still, trading glares and daring each other to move.

At length, Josh walked over to the table where Zack had dropped the snacks, picked up a couple of beers, and brought it to the vampire. “I think that’s Sam’s way of saying he’s glad you’re here,” he muttered.

After a moment, Ron turned to Hermione and muttered, “She still had a bloody soul.”

Unfortunately, this was not so low that Sam didn’t hear it. The governor looked downright mad, his jaw clenched, teeth bare, eyes wild—and then he was in motion. What he planned to do to the wizard once he reached him was anyone’s guess, and Zack moved too, pinning the man’s arms to his sides and lifting him off the floor to keep him from doing something stupid.

“Well,” Zack said to Ron, “I hope you’re happy. You broke the governor.”

“I will kill him!” Sam promised, thrashing. “Put me down!”

“Sam, you can’t kill someone in the governor’s mansion,” Josh said.

“Just in the governor’s mansion?” Donna asked, plucking the Funions off the table and opening the bag.

“Well, it’d be harder to explain here.”

“I think we can all agree that tempers are running high,” Hermione said, then slapped Ron’s shoulder. “But we’re not going to get anywhere by fighting with each other. Who had a soul or who didn’t doesn’t matter in the here and now. What does matter is finding Willow before Sabrina Deanne does, because we’re all here because we love her.”

Zack glanced to Harry, who still looked somewhat mutinous, but he at least had the good sense to let the topic drop. Though Ginny, who was gripping his hand so tightly it had to be painful, might have had something to do with it.

At last, Sam seemed to calm—the flailing subsided and the hard thumps of his heart began to slow. Still, Zack could taste his anger and knew better than to just let him go. The last thing they needed right now was for the governor to be turned into a toad or something, and he worried that was where this conversation would end up.

“Governor,” he said, “I’m going to put you down now. Understand if you do something rash, I’m gonna have to stop you. This isn’t helping Willow.”

Sam stiffened, then sighed and nodded, and Zack felt the rest of the fight go out of him. Still, he remained on alert as he lowered Sam back to the ground and released his hold, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. But the worst of the outburst seemed to be truly behind him. Now, he just looked sad and defeated.

“Right,” Hermione said, relaxing and sending Zack a nonverbal thank you. She turned to Josh. “Now, Sabrina Deanne believes you might be an ally. How do we press that to our advantage?”

*~*~*

It was refreshing, not to have to pretend to not drink in every fucking line of her body as she strolled up to the back entrance of Vein with an ax slung carelessly over her shoulder. She caught him looking, too, and just grinned, which made Dean go a bit light in the head region. It had been a gamble, putting everything on the table last night—and honestly not one he would have made lightly had there not been booze involved, but hot damn if it hadn’t worked in his favor.

Also, knowing this chick was into him too? That it wasn’t just a one-sided thing? Yeah, that did things to him.

“How many cases you wanna work after the KC job?” she asked by way of greeting. “’Cause I don’t think I can go back to Lebanon for a while.”

This he hadn’t expected. “Huh? Why? Thought you and the kid were all made up.”

“We are, I guess. Haven’t talked much since I bolted yesterday, but she ain’t who I wanna avoid.” Faith rolled her eyes. “It’s B. She’s been givin’ me shit about you and if that phone call was anythin’ to go by, I need to keep my distance until I’m sure I won’t stake her.”

Dean tried to hide his smile. He failed. “Right, well, she has that ring, doesn’t she? Keeps her from dusting.”

“Yeah, which means she’ll be in one piece and able to kick my ass. Just got back in this skin, Ducky. Ain’t in a hurry to lose it.”

He thought of the way she’d leaped on the Kracken-whatever the day before, and the decapitated supervamp at Rising Dawn. “You don’t think you could take her?”

“B’s stronger and bitchier than me. Not sayin’ I wouldn’t put up a fight, but I ain’t gonna live long if I’m not honest with myself.”

“Darlin’, there ain’t nobody bitchier than you.” And because he could, leaned in and kissed her, and grinned when she grinned.

Yeah, this was nice. What’s more, it felt right. Natural. And yeah, maybe that was kinda scary but it was also kinda awesome. Running away from whatever this was hadn’t done him any favors, and he knew how these things went. Hot and heavy and fun as fuck for a while before the novelty wore off and they went back to their lives. So until that happened, he’d enjoy the ride.

And if it meant getting to steal kisses with the girl he was banging while on the job, then he’d do it. He’d carpe the fuck out of that diem.

“One question,” he murmured against her lips. “What’s a guy gotta do to see a chick fight like that?”

Faith snickered and pulled away. “Keep dreamin’. Me and B might be buddies now, but that’s a door you don’t wanna open.”

“Oh, I very much do want to open it,” he said. “How about some mud wrestling? For my birthday?”

“I’m guessin’ it’d be hard to end up in a coma that way,” she replied. “But in the meantime, Ducky, we got ourselves a dhampir to behead.”

Dean wanted to chase the coma comment, but had enough presence of mind to realize this wasn’t the time. So instead, he turned and gestured at the back door. “Lady’s first.”

She smirked, raised a foot, and smashed the door in with a kick that reminded him just how strong her legs were. “Ain’t no lady, but I’ll go first anyway.”

“You realize if we wanted the element of surprise, you just kinda blew it. We don’t even know if this Vickie chick is here.”

Faith shook her head. “She’s here,” she said before disappearing into the dark.

It was easier to follow than to argue, and he was beginning to think arguing with Faith was a fool’s errand, anyway. While he hadn’t been on the frontlines with Rosalie, he’d overheard enough from Sam’s training lessons and Buffy’s slayer-lectures to know that slayers had spidey senses not shared by mere mortals. They could sense when things were lurking around, in particular, vamps. And while this was a different sort of vamp, it seemed reasonable that they shared enough similarities to have triggered Faith’s inner alarm.

As it was, he didn’t need to do more than follow the sounds of a struggle, though he approached with his customary caution—weapon drawn, pointed at the floor, steps slow and methodical. That was until Faith went flying out of an open doorway and landed on her back, clutching the ax to her chest in a way that made the situation a whole lot less fun and a bit more frightening.

“Having trouble?” he asked.

She kicked back to her feet in one of those fancy-dancy moves he’d only ever seen in ninja movies. “Mighta bruised my tailbone,” she said, then winked at him. “You can kiss it better later.”

And without further ado, she launched back into the fight, and then he saw it. Another one of those fucking Kracken things, only this one only had one eye, the left side of its face an open wound. Faith had apparently done a little cosmetic surgery with her ax before he’d arrived.

Fuck, the woman was crazy and brave and beautiful. Dean looked away, heart in his throat, as she made another flying leap, wanting to watch but also terrified, knowing the wrong kind of eye contact would put him out of the fight. That this chick had leaped on two of these motherfuckers in less than twenty-four hours was all kinds of nuts, but she had a better weapon this time.

“What can I do?” he yelled.

“The bitch ran down the hall,” Faith yelled back. “Keep her from getting far. I’ll be there in a sec.”

She sounded so confident. And, he learned, with good reason. He’d barely had time to inch by the open doorway when the floor shook with the unmistakable thump of something hitting it hard. Heart in his throat, he looked up—he couldn’t help it.

Faith was doubled over, hands on her knees, panting, the ax on the floor. Behind her was the monster, its head separated from its body.

Then she looked up, saw him standing there gawking at her, and scowled.

“Ducky!” she snapped. “The dhamp!”

Dean blinked, shook his head, and nodded. “Right,” he said, and they started running together. Again, she was faster, and she seemed to know where to go without needing to worry about things like looking in rooms or checking corners. After a few seconds of lagging behind, Dean gave up and decided she knew what she was doing.

This dhampir, or whatever the fuck it was, wasn’t exactly bright upstairs. Any other reasonable night creature would have made for one of the windows or doors, but when he rounded the corner into what had to be the woman’s office, he found Faith had pinned a blond fangy thing to her desk and was holding her down with what appeared to be relative ease.

She glanced up and smirked at him. “So…do you usually go for a confession or can I just take this thing’s head? I mean…” She leaned over and, with her non ax-hand, plucked something off the desk and held it up. “Ain’t exactly scoring points for stealth. Bitch actually wrote Kraelek contact and a hit list.”

The bitch in question roared and bucked back, hard enough that Faith actually staggered a step. “I’m gonna rip your throat out!” the dhampir screamed. Might have been a looker when she wasn’t all fangy, but the view from this angle wasn’t pretty.

Dean raised his gun, knowing already he wouldn’t fire. The thing was too close to Faith for comfort.

Faith, for her part, didn’t look worried—rather smashed a kick to the dhamp’s midsection and sent her flying back across the desk. Then she was moving, all sleekness and grace, sliding over the surface of the desk in a fluid, almost choreographed motion. The ax came up and tore into the dhamp’s throat, and then it was over. A clean cut that, had Dean not been watching, he wouldn’t have believed.

They stood there for a moment, staring at the body, panting.

Then Dean raised his head and narrowed his eyes. “Are you ever gonna let me make the kill?”

Faith just grinned and shrugged. “Gotta fly faster, Ducky.”

“You have superpowers.”

“And I know how to use ‘em.” She winked and dragged the head of the ax against her pants to wipe the blood off. Something else he shouldn’t have found sexy but did. He was beginning to think this woman could get him hard by flossing.

“And since you have a thing for me and I have a thing for you and we’re bein’ all open about that now, I don’t mind telling you that was fucking hot.” Dean grabbed her by the back of the head and drew her in for a hot kiss that had him wishing they’d stopped to restock on condoms before hitting the club. Not that he wanted to drop trou here, but it’d be nice to have the option. “But, babe,” he said after they pulled apart, “I so get to kill the next one.”

Faith grinned and nibbled on his lower lip. “Ducky gots to earn it,” she said. “Like I said, fly faster, little ducky.”

“Little?” He wanted to look stern, but couldn’t keep from barking a laugh. “Bitch, I’ll make you pay for that.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it.”

Chapter Text

“Rupert.”

“I know,” he muttered, not in annoyance, but concentration. “Just checking a theory,” he said as he dropped the last ingredient into the bowl and began reciting the incantation for the location spell.

Relief and excitement shot through him when the results confirmed his hypothesis. Xander was heading toward Los Angeles. The same spell that had affected everyone else had triggered something in the boy. Without any other means of contact, the reasonable conclusion would be to go to where answers may be found. In this case it would be Wright and Pryce Investigations located within the Hyperion. “Good.”

“Good?” Mary asked. “As in maybe you will come back to bed and sleep a minute?”

He turned to give her a small, warm smile. She truly was a vision of beauty lying there with a sheet barely covering her naked breasts. Even with the frown she wore as she attempted to guilt him back to bed, she was every bit the gift from Heaven she actually was.

It really was funny how things between them had developed. She was coming off of a very unhealthy relationship as well as adjusting to being off Earth for over twenty years. He was coming off a very unhealthy relationship with a woman who’d been trying to rebound from a very unhealthy relationship of more than twenty years.

After Faith had so bluntly removed the cover he had Mary had so delicately lain across their relationship, they had a decision to make. The long drive from Kansas to LA helped them assess the situation thoroughly and privately.

It was going to be a very awkward conversation sitting down with Dean and Sam after this mess was all over. One didn’t exactly plan to explain to two grown men about how he planned to marry their mother.

But that was a problem for another day. “Xander is on his way here. They were in Oklahoma when I located them last night, but are nearly out of Nevada this morning.”

“They?”

“I am sure his partner Anya will be accompanying him. Their breakup is about as likely as my returning to bed.” He gave her an apologetic smile. “You already have caused enough distraction by following me here last night.”

She rolled her eyes. “I called Castiel and Sam after you couldn’t reach Buffy. Zack One was calling Nick when I left and Zack the Vampire was leaving for Sacramento. There was nothing else to do but wait.” She flashed a devilish smirk. “Besides, I got pretty hot watching you take charge. Can I put in a request to have you do that more often?”

“You’re downright incorrigible.”

With a sigh of defeat, she rolled over to fish her discarded clothing from the floor beside the bed. “So back to the Hyperion we go?”

“Yes, I believe I should be there when Xander arrives.” He paused and shuddered. “Even if he will be there as well.”

“I’ll do my best to keep you and Cas separated,” she grumbled as she leaned further to retrieve a garment from under the bed. “Hmm,” she said as she slipped a box out. “What’s this?”

“Haven’t a clue,” he answered as he turned to start fetching fresh clothing from the closet.

“Holy fuck, Rupert Giles!” Mary cried out.

He turned to see her looking a mixture of shocked and hysterically amused. She was holding up a…

“That is not mine!” he shouted in horror.

“Really?” she said skeptically, barely containing a laugh. “Because the name here says…” She flipped down the lid of the box to look at the label. “Fuck me! Kelly Morris?”

“Put that down!” he snapped.

“Ew!” She dropped the ‘toy’ and slammed the box shut. “That’s the vampire woman, right?”

Giles groaned. “I never should have lent them access while I was in Kansas. Now go wash your hands…and try to never think of this moment ever again.”

Mary snickered as she slipped on her shirt. “Yeah, that’s not likely.”

*~*~*

“That was,” Dean said between gasps of air, “nice.”

“Nice?” Faith panted.

No, nice had been how absolutely adorable he’d looked when he came sauntering back to the Impala after twenty minutes, a white Walmart bag swinging in each hand. Nice had been the smirk he’d given the couple who’d passed him as he approached the car with a strut that radiated some major Big Dick Energy. Nice had been the way he’d hopped in the car like a kid at Christmas ready to show he’d bought three boxes of condoms and the entire set of Chucky movies.

Having a quickie in the backseat of the car in the middle of a Walmart parking lot during the middle of the day was not nice. It naughty and reckless and possibly the tackiest place she’d ever gotten her freak on.

“Fun?” Dean offered.

“Get off me,” she said with a playful shove.

After getting their pants back on, Dean waited until the mom with three little brats had pulled out across the row before getting out and slipping the latest used condom in the trash can by the cart corral. Then she crawled into the front seat while he got in and drove the Impala out the lot.

“Three boxes, Ducky?” she asked as she started rifling through the first of the bags. “Feeling a little overconfident, are we?”

“Safety first,” he said as he reached over and snagged the open box. He took out two foil packets and stuck them between his lips before reaching over and opening the glovebox. With his eyes never leaving the road, he crammed the box inside the compartment and forced it shut. After he grabbed the two in his mouth, he spoke. “That’s for Baby sex. Which is twice now.” Digging in his pants, he pulled out his wallet. “These are for surprise sex.” He handed her the wallet and the condoms.

“Aren’t we just a little Boy Scout. Did you earn a badge for safe sex?”

“If that was a badge, I might’ve been a Boy Scout. Instead I just longed to be a Girl Scout. They got the cookies.”

“So the other two boxes are just for evening entertainment?”

“Well, we need something to do after we watch the movies.”

She snickered. “Yes, because nothing gets a girl hornier than Chucky.”

“Says the woman who just begged me to fuck her in a Walmart parking lot because she was needing some dick after killing a Kraken and a hybrid vamp.”

“Whatever,” she scoffed, tossing the bag of condoms to the back seat.

“You said, and I quote, ‘those two got me horny back there so shut up and gimme your dick’.”

“I also said ‘shut up and don’t question me’.”

“And I didn’t. I’m just saying that your standards for a date night may be a little lower than you’d like to admit.”

“Fuck off and tell me what the plan is for KC.”

He gave an evil chuckle. “Just wait. We did Osage your way. Now we’re gonna play by my rules.”

She laughed. “Yeah right. You think you got a better way of getting this shit done?”

“Depends. Do you know the definition of the word subtle?”

*~*~*

Willow bit her lip and stared at the screen of the phone ringing in her hand. She had two options: answer or let it go to voicemail. Both sounded equally appealing, but it the end she realized she was a pathetically weak-willed woman and wanted to hear his voice.

“Hello?” she said trying and failing to sound casual.

“Willow! Thank God!” Sam’s voice was trembling with emotion. “Please.” He sighed deeply. “Please let me know how you’re doing. Are you…I know okay is a stupid question, but I can’t really think of a better one at the moment.”

Well, she’d just tried to commit suicide before being interrupted by an angel who had told her of a mission to save Earth and fix the woman she’d loved so much she’d tried to destroy the world in grief. “Oh, you know, just getting by. Haven’t gone all evil, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You’ve never been evil, Willow,” Sam admonished softly.

She barked a humorless laugh. “I know what I did, Sam. What I showed you.” She paused. “I’m sorry for that, by the way. Probably wasn’t my best idea. Definitely not my worst.”

“No. No, I’m glad you did. Well, not glad because again that’s not the right world. I’m…grateful? Because I didn’t just see your memories, Willow. I think I felt them too.”

She gasped at that. She hadn’t known she’d done that. Hadn’t even known she could do that. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry. I…I know I didn’t feel exactly what you felt. As much as you felt. Just…a piece maybe? Enough to say for certain that you, Willow Rosenberg, are not evil.”

She disagreed. In fact she’d argue it profusely if there wasn’t an angel standing in front of her tapping his fingers to his wrist.

“Showtime, sweetheart,” Michael said, slightly impatient.

“Who was that?” Sam asked. “Where are you?”

“I’m…I’m safe,” she answered. “Trust me.”

“I do,” Sam said without hesitation. A gesture so small, but so completely shocking to her after everything. “It’s just…Willow, you may be in danger. Some people are angry about what happened.”

“I know they are,” she lamented. “I know Buffy and Dawn and Giles and probably Hermione and Harry too all hate me for what I’ve done.”

“Not…hate,” he said slowly. “But I think they’d understand better if you came and talked to them. Did what you did with me.”

“No,” she said firmly. What she’d done to Sam had caused her physical pain. Remembering was almost too much to bear. If she relived it again she might actually shoot herself…again. That wasn’t something she could afford to do now that she was on a literal mission from God. “I can’t do that, Sam.”

“Please, Willow!” he begged. “Just come here. Come see Oz.”

Damn him. That was a cheap shot. She wanted to hold her baby so bad that tears instantly began to fall from her eyes. “I can’t. Not yet.”

“Oh, honey,” Sam responded. “Please don’t do anything you might regret.”

“No. I’m going to fix this. All of this. I can’t tell you what and I can’t tell you how, but you’ll see. Everyone will see. I promise. I promise, Sam. I’ll see you and Oz soon.”

“Willow—”

“Tell him I love him, Sam. And tell him…I’m sorry.” She ended the call before Sam could say anything more. Say something that made her change her mind and go rushing off to Sacramento.

“Jesus Christ, that was a waste of time,” the angel grumbled.

“Did you just…blaspheme?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t count if you know the kid. Now then,” he said before slapping his hands together. “We got a little prep work to do. There’s a couple ingredients left to gather before we take care of business.”

She nodded. “Okay? What do I do?”

“Well, I’ve got some of my subordinates working on getting a couple pieces. In the meantime, there’s a priest I need you to talk to. He’s corrupted by a marking that has him tied to the devil. Once we remove it from his body, we should be able to break the spell and figure out where he’s hiding the last ingredient to the Hellmouth ritual.”

“And you need me to do it? Why can’t you?”

“He’s a clever fella. He’s worked some magic to keep me and my gang from getting near him. But you can.”

“Okay, then. Let’s go save the world.”

“Yes, Daddy is gonna be so excited.”

*~*~*

“This isn’t gonna work, Winchester.”

He bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Just come out here and let me see.”

“I feel like an idiot,” Faith replied from inside the dressing room. “I look like an idiot.”

“Highly doubt. Now come out, Lehane.”

She opened the door slowly and stepped out and fuck if he didn’t want to bang her in the middle of JC Penney’s. There was something about seeing her dressed in a business suit that was sexy on a whole new level. “You don’t look like an idiot.”

She gave him a dirty look. “A skirt? You expect me to do my fucking job in a fucking skirt?”

“No. I expect you to research and investigate. Maybe let me slip a hand up there. Then we change and go kill the monster.”

“Is this just some kinky fantasy of yours? Because I’m thinking pants are a bit more practical.”

“Well, it wasn’t until now, but it’s also still practical. Showing off them calves will help open a few extra doors with some of the dirtier cops.”

“Don’t objectify me,” she snapped as she placed her hands on her hips.

“It’s called using our assets. And you are one giant asset.” He gave her a wink. “Come on. I know a guy at Kinkos that owes me a lifetime of favors. Got rid of a poltergeist for him a few years back.”

“There was a poltergeist at a Kinkos?” she asked skeptically.

“His house, sugar tits. Now come and let’s have some fun.”

“Doubt this is going to be fun until you slip the hand up the skirt.”

“We still got the drive to Kinkos.”

Chapter Text

Giles had given up trying to get any significant reading done. The books that were best at keeping him occupied were in Wright’s office, and he didn’t want to get up lest Xander Harris, he of the incredibly piss-poor timing, decided to show up then. So instead, he had to contend himself with one of the entertainment magazines Cordelia left strewn across the coffee table. Seemed Jennifer Aniston had suffered another failed relationship. More’s the pity.

Across the room, a safe distance away, stood Castiel, chatting quietly with Mary. How the woman could stomach the bloody angel was beyond him, but he supposed that no one, even the future Mrs. Rupert Giles, could be perfect.

The sound of the front door swooshing open was heralded by the sound of a very familiar voice.

“Tell me you have some answers, G-Man, because I am going to need to crash and hard and I’d feel a lot better known this apocalypse was under control.”

Giles grinned in spite of himself as he rose to his feet and turned. Standing in the doorway to the Hyperion was Xander Harris, Anya by his side. Xander looked more than a little tired, but happy, and Anya beamed her same pert smile when they made eye contact.

“Seriously,” Xander said, moving into the hotel, “we were hunting this chupacabra thing in Oklahoma when bam—all these things I’d just…forgotten come tumbling back into my head. So what’s the sitch? Where’s the party? Better yet, where’s the Buffster? Seems like something that requires her very special knowhow.”

Giles opened his mouth to reply, but another voice cut through the air before he could decide where to start.

“Ah,” Wright said, coming down the staircase, “it is Xander Harris. Cordy, I told you I recognized that smell!”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Great. He’s still here?”

“Still my name on the sign, boy.” Wright snickered and turned his attention to Anya. “You’re still wasting time with this buffoon, then?”

“Hello, Zackary,” Anya greeted with a large smile and, to Xander’s chagrin, crossed the room to give him an official-looking handshake. “You’ll be pleased to hear I am still one-hundred percent human, so there is still no reason to kill me.”

Wright gave her a bemused smile but shook her hand all the same. “You know I don’t kill indiscriminately, right? I mean, my brother is a vampire. So’s my best friend.”

“I find it helpful to keep all potential threats to my person informed of my status as a red-blooded American,” Anya replied curtly. “Better safe than sorry, that’s my motto.”

“Anyanka?”

Giles bristled at the sound of the angel’s voice. Honestly, how was it that no one else heard that but him?

Anya frowned and squinted at Castiel. “Do I know you?”

The angel drew nearer and Giles moved on instinct, giving the wanker a wide berth.

“My name is Castiel,” the angel said in his dry, monotone voice. “We met in England during the execution of—”

“Anne Boleyn!” Anya said, her face brightening. “Castiel! My, I do admire your new skin suit. A vast improvement of the one you wore then.” She turned to Xander. “He had Plague.”

Castiel shifted slightly, going red in the cheeks. “As I told you then, it was an allergic reaction to wool.”

“I am unaware of any allergic reaction that causes violent projectile vomiting.”

“Ahn, maybe exnay on the omitingvay for those of us who just wolfed down eakfastbray urritobays?”

Anya blinked at Xander. “Huh?”

Xander sighed, met Giles’s eyes, and shrugged his shoulders in a what-are-you-gonna-do motion that was so reminiscent of their days in Sunnydale that Giles could almost get nostalgic for the Hellmouth. Almost being the operative word.

“So what’s the big?” Xander asked, running his hands through his hair. “These memories that came back all have one person in common. Where is Willow?”

“The question of the hour,” Wright muttered, turning to smile at Cordelia as she descended the stairs. “Look who showed up, honey. Out of the blue.”

Cordelia crossed her arms. “Well, we had one of your exes living with us for a while. Guess it was just a matter of time before one of mine showed up.”

“Stay away from Xander,” Anya said, her voice rigid. “He is not here to give you orgasms.”

Cordelia snickered and arched an eyebrow. “Honey, the fact that he can give any woman an orgasm is news to me.”

“Could we maybe not talk about orgasms?” Xander asked, going red.

“It was my understanding that Rupert Giles intended to contact Xander Harris, believing his presence was necessary in our discussions regarding Willow Rosenberg,” Castiel said in his stupid angel voice. Bloody nails on a bloody chalkboard. “Therefore his arrival here couldn’t be considered out-of-the-blue.”

Xander arched an eyebrow and looked to Giles. “You tried to reach me?”

“We didn’t know where you were and… Yes, the situation with Willow is…”

“There’s always a situation with Willow,” Anya muttered.

Xander released a deep breath and tossed her a patient look. “Ahn, don’t start.”

“Well, why not, Xander? You know it as well as I do. You knew it the second we remembered. Who else would have buried those memories? Who else would have given them back? Willow attempted to end the world and then she made us forget about it.” Anya turned to Giles, crossing her arms. “I assume that is why you wished to contact Xander? Why you have an angel here?”

“Nice to feel needed,” Xander muttered.

“Oh, whatever,” Cordelia snapped, rolling her eyes. “You showed up here a year over a year ago when Willow had a little flare up and then disappeared again all on your own. Forgive us for not keeping you on speed dial.”

Xander opted to not acknowledge this much. Instead, he looked to Giles.

“How bad is it?”

There was the question of the hour. Giles sighed and, hardly aware he was doing it, removed his glasses to polish. “Did you know Willow was now a mother?”

“I thought she was a lesbian,” Anya said.

“Lesbians can be mothers,” Castiel input. “Though it usually requires donated semen. At least, this is my understanding.”

“She’d just discovered she was pregnant when I saw her last,” Xander said, shooting a glare that Giles heartily appreciated in Castiel’s direction. “And there are lots of ways lesbians can me moms you…freaky freakazoid.”

Giles snickered. Mary tossed him a warning look and he forced himself to focus. “Part of the false memories Willow implanted were to remove that aspect of her life as well,” he went on. “I haven’t spoken with her to know why, but I imagine, when she was casting the spell, that she wanted to make her mind as foolproof as possible against remembering what had happened. She erased not only Tara from her memory but her…ahh…sexual proclivities. From what we have learned, she was placed under the supervision of Minerva McGonagall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, and befriended by Harry Potter and Hermione Granger-Weasley and their families on orders from the Ministry of Magic. She met and entered a romantic relationship with Sam Seaborn—”

“The governor?” Xander demanded, jaw dropping.

Giles chose not to verbalize how surprised and proud he was that Xander knew the governor’s name. “Yes,” he said. “There were…incidents that occurred here a few months ago that placed Willow under the microscope. She was prohibited from returning to England and…for reasons that are bloody beyond me, McGonagall decided she could know why. Willow did not take the news of her actions…well.”

Xander snorted. “Go figure.”

“From what we can gather, and from what we have been told by the friends who betrayed her, Willow was unable to move on from learning the truth. I believe she was attempting to understand what had happened and why, which was why she lifted the spell she’d cast on all of us.” Giles breathed out a long breath. “Xander… We don’t know where she is or what she’s thinking. The American Magical Government already had reason to mistrust her and should they discover that she conducted a spell of this magnitude, there is every reason to believe they will attempt to kill her. We have to find her first.” He put his glasses back on. “You may well be our only hope at reaching her.”

Nothing followed this pronouncement for a long beat.

“Wow,” Cordelia said at last. “We’re so fucked.”

*~*~*

Faith blinked at the still hot-off-the-presses ID Dean had pressed into her hands. “Do I look like a Janet to you?”

Dean just grinned as he slid in behind the wheel. “In that skirt, babe, I think I’d believe just about any name you gave me. So yeah, the name’s Janet.” He met her gaze and, grinning like a little boy, did a little shoulder dance. “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty. Which you definitely are.”

It was only then that she saw the surname on the ID. “Are you fucking shitting me? Janet Jackson? I thought we needed these assholes to take me seriously.”

“So you share a name with an icon from the eighties. Ain’t like either name’s all that unusual.” Dean started up the car, still grinning. Hell, he exuded a buoyant energy Faith had never seen before—like he was downright giddy. It was a bit startling but also—and fuck she couldn’t even believe she was about to think this word—cute.

“It’s all about confidence,” he continued as he pulled into the road. “Give them that scary no-bullshit face of yours and they’d believe you were the Virgin Mary. Well”—he laughed at that—“maybe not her. Actually, definitely not her. That was a bad example.”

“This shit actually works for you and your brother?” Faith asked, shaking her head. “Fuck, these assholes are just begging to be made suckers.”

“There’s the spirit.” Dean tossed her a grin. “I’ll do the talking on this one, until you get your footing.”

She arched an eyebrow. “You don’t think I can handle this.”

“I think you can handle the grunt work just fine. Making nice with the locals takes a bit more finesse.”

“And that’s something you can do. You. Dean Winchester.”

The son of a bitch winked at her. “Baby, it’s what I do best.”

“You talkin’ to me or to the car?”

“You, Doubting Thomas.” He drew his face into a mock-pout and stroked the dashboard lovingly. “Baby already knows.”

Faith wasn’t sure whether to be amused or exasperated, but one thing she did know was she wasn’t bored. And that was a little disconcerting. In truth, after Dean’s little speech the night before, part of her had expected to start trekking hard in the other direction. Knowing she shouldn’t do something and doing it anyway was a different kind of rush from doing something she had given herself permission to do. So now that she and Dean were going with the flow, she’d thought the fuzzy feeling she had for him would become collateral damage. Prove that it wasn’t like that thing she’d felt for Wes before, that coming back from the dead had fucked up her wiring and though it had taken a couple of days, she was back to the person who made sense.

Very few of her sexual relationships had been more than just sex. Really, the only one she could think of, aside from Wes, was Nick. He was the only guy she’d been with and also hung around in her free time, but truth be told, as much as she valued their friendship, he was kind of a wet blanket. If he made her laugh, it was by accident. Or because he’d tripped on something. Aside from shitty childhoods, they had very little in common, which had made their conversations fun in a superficial way but nothing sustainable, unless they were talking about fighting or Rosalie, or fighting about Rosalie. Honestly, sometimes she’d ended up jumping his bones just because listening to him talk was about as much fun as a root canal, especially if he started in on one of his geeky obsessions, which he always took personally.

This part, the sitting with a guy and enjoying herself, even if he was an insufferable ass, was different. New. And she liked it. A lot. She liked the way he talked to her, the way he looked at her, the way he teased her and the way he could take all of that and then some when she threw it back. And yeah, like she’d told B a couple of nights back, she liked that he got off on how strong she was. More than that, that he wasn’t threatened by it—that he was just fine letting her run into situations that were crazy, trusted her to handle herself, but also cared enough to worry.

It was the way Blondie was with B. The way she hoped Nick was with Ro. And fuck, if that was the way Dean was with her, she didn’t know what it meant. And maybe she didn’t need to right now. But hell, she was having fun, even in this ridiculous getup he’d dressed her in. Even with the stupid ass Janet Jackson ID and the make-believe play he expected her to go along with.

Though the paper had pegged the incidents close to Kansas City, the actual case was located in a more outlier community that seemed completely oblivious to the fact that it was a ten-minute car ride from a thriving metropolis. It was odd because it was so insular—Faith wasn’t used to suburbs looking like little towns from the old west. But she’d also not spent too much time in this region, so what the hell did she know?

Dean pulled into the parking lot of the local sheriff’s office, killed the engine, and turned to her. “Resting bitch face,” he said, bopping her on the nose. “You get the giggles, you excuse yourself.”

“Excuse me, the what?”

“Like you’ve never giggled.”

“Ducky, I don’t fucking giggle. Think you’re confusing me with the Barbie you tried to bone last night.”

He shrugged. “Truth be told, don’t remember a lot of giggles from her, either. And you’re cute when you’re jealous.”

“I am not—”

He grabbed the back of her head and kissed her hard. He liked doing that, she’d noticed. His palm above the nape of her neck, his fingers in her hair, holding there to him as he did what he wanted to her mouth. Like he was afraid she’d pull away if he didn’t keep her right there.

“So cute,” he said against her lips. “Now come on, Miss Jackson.”

“I am so kicking your ass later.”

He opened the door, winked at her again, and slid out. And she did the same, trying to shake off her grin.

Once inside the sheriff’s office, though, playful, flirty Dean disappeared and all business, fake-agent Dean came out. He approached the front desk like he had every goddamned right to, and hell, even before he said anything, she could see what he’d meant in the car. It was all about confidence.

The receptionist, a twenty-something pimply beanpole of a thing, almost squeaked when he looked up and saw Dean hovering over him.

“I’m Agent Houston,” he said, flashing his fake badge. “This is my partner, Agent Jackson, FBI. Is the sheriff in?”

The squeaky beanpole shot out of his seat like someone had lit it on fire. “What’s this about?”

“Just go get the sheriff.”

The kid did so, and the second they were alone, Dean perked his eyebrows at her and gave her a grin. “Having fun yet?”

“Should I be?”

Before he could reply, the receptionist returned, a handsome and surprisingly young officer at his side. Faith figured the sheriff must be out on business somewhere, and had to swallow her surprise when he introduced himself as Sheriff Cruise.

“What can I do for you feds?” the sheriff asked. He’d held onto her hand a second too long after shaking it.

“I’m Agent Houston and this is Agent Jackson. We’re here about a string of church break-ins in the area.”

Cruise’s eyebrows shot skyward. “Really? The feds want to know about the break-ins? Must be slow going for you folks.” He nodded at Faith with an appreciative leer. “Or are you just breaking in the rookie?”

Her fist. His face. The two should meet.

“It involves an ongoing investigation that may be occult related, since the break-ins don’t seem to be motivated by money.” Dean waited, looking a little less patient than he had a moment ago. “We saw a string of these in Georgia last fall and things got messy there. We’re just trying to stay ahead of the curve.”

The sheriff hadn’t taken his eyes off Faith. “What do you think about all this, miss?”

“It’s Agent, actually,” Dean said, his voice a bit rougher than before.

“We’re just being careful,” Faith said, keeping her tone even. “Like Houston said, the Georgia sitch got all kinds of messy. We’d hate to have that happen here.”

Dean coughed hard and nudged her. She ignored him.

“We don’t like messes around here,” the sheriff agreed, now ogling her legs.

Good god.

Well, Dean had said to use her assets. Given the way the sheriff was staring at two of her best assets, she figured this might be the way to go. So she thrust out her chest a bit and leaned forward. “Is there anything you can tell us about these break-ins?” she asked, dropping her voice an octave. “Anything…unusual?”

“Nothing was taken in any of the break ins,” the sheriff told her breasts. “Or vandalized. We just figured it was some kids looking for some fun.”

Dean cleared his throat. “One of the churches reported something was missing. Said so in the paper.”

“Pastor Lukas decided he was wrong,” the sheriff said. “Thought at first the kids might’ve made away with some salt.”

“Salt?” Dean echoed.

“Had it in the pantry, you know, for church potlucks and the like. The secretary there thought she’d restocked, but they came to the conclusion that it’d make no sense for anyone to bust into a church and take nothing but table salt they can get at the grocery store.” Another proclamation he made to Faith’s breasts. He was lucky they were such good note-takers.

She crossed her arms to push her cleavage together, not missing Dean’s scowl. “Is that all, Sherriff?” she asked in her bedroom voice.

“Sorry you folks came all this way for nothing.” Cruise at last dragged his gaze from her boobs and met her eyes. “You staying in town tonight, honey? Wouldn’t mind showing you the highlights.”

At that, Faith would have sworn Dean actually growled, but that couldn’t be right. It wasn’t very subtle.

“Thanks for the offer, Sherriff, but my first name ain’t honey.” She flicked her gaze to Dean then back again, unable to keep from smirking. “It’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.”

Then she turned without another word and sauntered toward the door.

She heard Dean utter a quick goodbye before he rushed to join her.

“That was a goddamn shitshow,” he muttered as they made their way to the Impala. “And I answered my own question—you don’t do subtle. Maybe next time keep your tits in your bra.”

“Maybe next time don’t dress me like a horny librarian,” Faith replied, sliding into the passenger side.

“Aww.” Dean turned to her with an exaggerated pout before eyeballing her breasts. “You’re no fun.”

“Can’t have it both ways, Ducky. Either you let me be me or get used to me using my assets.” She cupped said assets and squeezed them together for him. “Is the salt thing important?”

Dean didn’t answer. He was staring at her breasts like he hadn’t had his mouth on them just a few hours ago.

“Ducky!”

“What?” He shook his head hard and blinked as though he’d forgotten where he was. “Right, the salt. I’d like to hit the other churches, see if they were missing it too and just didn’t report it ’cause, who the hell would? Then we might wanna stake out one of the other churches. See if one of them gets hit.”

“Gotta tell you, this is kind of a downer after the dhamp. You and Sam make a habit of chasing down twelve-year-old vandals?”

“Come on, it’s weird. And salt’s hella useful stuff. If they’re hitting churches, they might be looking for something specific.” Dean threw her an exasperated look. “We gotta worry about the small things too, you know. Not every case is a fuckin’ Kracken.”

“Kraelek.”

“Whatever.”

“Aww…” Faith scooted forward across the bench seat until she was pressed up against him. She enjoyed the way he tensed, enjoyed more the way his throat worked when she ran a hand over his thigh. “Sounds like Ducky might be a bit salty.”

Dean outright laughed at that. “God, you’re a bitch.”

There was no venom in his tone. Actually, he spoke like it was a great compliment.

And she decided to take it that way.

*~*~*

There were times Dawn was certain she would never understand men, which sucked because they seemed pretty damn straightforward. At least the men in her life had always been that way. Like Xander—he’d never once had a thought he’d decided not to share with the world. Spike was a walking mood ring, and Giles had three settings—worried, exasperated, and research. Before meeting Sam Winchester, Dawn would have sworn that the only guy she couldn’t read was Angel, but that had been because his default mode was brood.

Sam took hard-to-read to heretofore undiscovered levels. For a while there, right after she’d moved in, she could have sworn they’d been vibing. Of course, he’d fast discovered she wasn’t a real live girl at all, rather a mystical Key made up of pure energy, which would freak out most guys, but she’d thought he was different. And over the past few weeks, there had been flirtage. At least she’d thought it was flirtage. It had been serious flirtage on her end.

But the entire car ride back from Osage City, he’d done little more than listen to the radio and tap his fingers on the steering wheel. She’d thought maybe he was trying not to think about the places in the truck where her sister and brother-in-law had done the nasty, but even when she’d tried to broach that subject, he’d been Mr. Aloof.

Buffy and Spike were spending the day training with Rosalie, trying to work on the girl’s special vamp senses. Sam and Nick had made some elaborate obstacle course through which Rosalie was supposed to navigate blindfolded, armed only with a stake. See if she could rely on instincts not tied to eyesight. Dawn had thought about hanging around there, but seeing as she wasn’t a watcher or the Slayer’s boyfriend or a vampire or a vampire slayer turned vampire, she’d felt all kinds of useless and had decided to hit Rosa Lee’s early to do some inventory.

Mostly to see how much booze she needed to restock and how the numbers matched the register tickets. Given her penchant for slipping Spike free drinks, she might never get out of the money pit she’d dug for herself with Giles.

Everyone had something to do around here. Or at least someone to share it with. Dawn was starting to feel some major fifth-wheel vibes. Hell, even Faith, who had been back less than a week, had managed to get further in with the Winchesters than Dawn had.

Also, she wasn’t sure how much she loved sitting here in one place with Willow out there, possibly thinking of new ways to harness her Keyness for world endage. Maybe it’d be better to hit the road, return to the solo life.

“Hello, darling.”

The voice was cultured and gravelly, and had it not come from absolutely freaking nowhere, Dawn might have even added sexy to the lineup. But no voice, no matter how British, was sexy when she was supposed to be alone. Even worse, it made her scream. Her, Dawn Summers, badass Key, sister of the legendary Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hunter of monsters, scream like she was still that clueless fourteen-year-old who managed to get kidnapped every other week in Sunnydale.

When she whirled around, she found herself face-to-face with a pleasant-looking man who was a bit on the stocky side, dark hair and a smattering of facial hair. He favored her with a smile that seemed nonthreatening, but given the fact that he’d materialized out of nowhere, smart money was on demon.

And she was in Rosa Lee’s, which meant he couldn’t touch her. That provided some level of comfort.

“We’re closed,” she said, mustering as much of her dignity as she could and turning her back on the demon. A dangerous move anywhere else but she was determined to show him that, though he had surprised her, she wasn’t easily rattled. “Come back at seven.”

“Not a customer, moppet. I am actually looking for Dean Winchester.” There was a pause, then she felt his hand stroking her hair. Not in a creepy perv way, but like she was a dog in a window somewhere in search of a new owner. “And aren’t you an interesting little dolly? All that sparkly energy. What are you, exactly?”

Another voice—this one familiar at least. Dawn felt some of her apprehension recede.

“Crowley,” Sam Winchester said, appearing in the doorway to the stock room. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Chapter Text

Sam had been kicking himself for being a total creeper moments before he saw Crowley pop up and startle Dawn half to death. He’d come in the back because he’d assumed she’d be using the office. When she hadn’t answered the knock, he used his skills at picking locks to come inside and check on her.

After he realized she’d left the bunker, he’d had the urge to come find her. Maybe he was trying to make up for the way he’d totally choked on the ride back from Osage City. He hated how he always seemed to turn into a bumbling schoolboy virgin every time he was alone with her.

“Moose,” Crowley grunted. “If I wanted to see wildlife, I’d’ve gone to Yellowstone.”

He stalked up behind Dawn and shoved away the hand Crowley still had near her head. “Back off and get out.”

Dawn took a step and pressed her back against his chest. Focusing on the King of Hell, he subconsciously wrapped an arm around her waist.

Crowley gave a condescending smile. “Of course you’d be attracted. You always have been a special boy.”

 Sam’s breath hitched. Out of all the creatures that had passed through this joint, why did he have to sense there was something supernatural about her? “What do you want?” he asked, attempting to keep any panic from his voice.

Crowley chuckled. “Later? A little chat with your girlfriend. I have many questions,” he said looking down to where Sam’s arm was touching her midsection. “About how a girl like her is with a moose like you.” His eyes flicked up to Dawn’s face. “You wouldn’t care to share what shiny prize is hiding in your creamy center, darling? I do love surprises, but I’m pressed for time at the moment.”

“Eat me,” Dawn snapped.

Crowley’s brows shot up as he looked to Sam. “Well, fuck me, Winchester. You’ve found yourself quite the little lady.” He smirked. “Though I suspect she’s more than you can handle.”

Sam didn’t have time to be flustered by his insinuations of something romantic between him and Dawn. “Don’t make me call your mother,” Sam warned. “Get the fuck out, Crowley.”

His quip had hit the mark. The demon bristled at the mention of the witch. “Bloody hell, Moose. I’m here trying to do you a favor. Figured you’d like to stop Lucifer as much as I would. Then again, you always did have a knack for trying to end the world.” Crowley looked to Dawn. “Has he told you how many times he’s actually triggered the apocalypse? He freed Lucifer and let him wear him to the prom you know. Least he could do is try and stop him from opening a Hellmouth.”

“Enough!” Sam roared. He wasn’t sure what Dawn had learned about his past, but he damn sure didn’t want the King of Hell’s spin on events.

“Wait,” Dawn said, taking hold of his arm around her waist. She grasped his forearm and squeezed. “What do you mean, Hellmouth?”

Crowley clicked his tongue. “We see who’s the brains and the beauty. Lucifer wants to open a new gateway to Hell.”

“And why do you want to stop him?” Sam asked. “Figured that’d be good for your business.”

“Normally, yes,” the demon drawled. “But Lucifer opening a Hellmouth will gain him more groupies. Something neither of us want to deal with, you moron.” Wouldn’t be a visit from Crowley without some name-calling. “Besides, the location is less than ideal. It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

“Where?” Dawn asked. Sam had an urge to shove her from the room to keep her from continuing to engage the demon in conversation, but resisted.

Crowley gave her a small smile. “Little town that just opened a demon bar in the middle of Kansas.”

“Here?” Sam balked. “You’re joking.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Moose, you fucking idiot. Why do you think your Men of Letters put a secret lair here? The ambiance?”

Fuck. “So what do we do?”

“We? I don’t want any help from you. Rumor has it you are with the Watchers Council nowadays, training that baby slayer. I don’t need them or her mucking this up in usual fashion.”

“Then what are you doing here?” Sam snapped.

“Squirrel.” He made a gesture of looking about the room. “Where’s your partner in crime? I have an errand for him.”

“Not here,” Sam answered curtly.

“Obviously.” Crowley sighed. “Tell your big brother I have some information. There’s some activity outside Kansas City he needs to look into.”

“Kansas City?” Dawn turned to look at Sam, panic in her eyes. “But that’s where he and Faith—” Sam nudged her to stop talking, but the damage was done.

“So it’s true? Faith Lehane is alive? And mucking around with a Winchester? My how you boys have grown in your quest for self-destruction.”

“We never said it was Faith—“

“Enough,” Crowley said cutting him off. “This conversation is boring me and it irritates me to be unable to hurt you.” He looked to Dawn. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my dear. Fancy sharing your name?”

“Get. Out.” Sam’s patience was on its last threads.

Crowley grunted and turned around. “Try to die before I come back, Moose.” With that, he vanished.

Dawn looked up at him, her eyes filled with trepidation and guilt. “Who was that and what have I done?”

He wanted to be mad at her, but couldn’t. Without the threat in the room, his mind finally registered how close their bodies were. He dropped his hand from around her and took a nervous shuffle backward. “Crowley, Dawnie. You just blabbed to the King of Hell.”

She stepped forward and smacked his shoulder. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

“Because…” Because he had a huge crush on her and he turned into a dumbass every time she talked.

“Dammit,” Dawn said turning to walk to the bar. She leaned against the counter and stared down at the wood. “I really hate having to call my sister to clean up my shit. Do you know how embarrassing it is?”

He gave a low, humorless chuckle. “Considering I have to call my brother to tell him I sent Crowley his direction, I can relate.”

She turned her head to look at him. “This was my fault.”

He walked over to stand beside her against the bar. “We’re both to blame.” He paused. “Can I get a drink?”

Without looking she reached below the counter and selected a bottle at random. “Here,” she muttered as she placed a bottle of Jose Cuervo in front of him. “We’ll add it to my tab. I currently owe two months of free labor. What’s the point in charging now?”

Sam snickered as he opened the bottle and grabbed a couple glasses. He poured two doubles, sliding one to her and picking up the other. “Well,” he said raising the glass to toast, “here’s to Dean and Buffy.”

She raised her tequila up in kind. “And their stupid siblings, Sam and Dawn.”

“Cheers.”

*~*~*

Technology was a wonderful thing. Of all the times in history to be alive, Zack was grateful to be in the present. He really hated the idea of a world before toilet paper and internet porn. Skype was up there with indoor plumbing.

“Hey,” Wright greeted once the computers connected. “You got something?”

He could tell his brother was picking up the laptop in his office to walk into the foyer. He was currently in the governor’s home office, sitting next to the leader of the state. A congregation of witches, wizards and the other occupants of the mansion were standing in front of them off-screen. “Yeah, we got a little shit for the fan.”

“Zackary?” The image on the screen jerked wildly all about and almost gave him motion sickness. Giles had assumed possession of the computer. “What’s happened?”

“Well, I’ll start with the good news. Sam got a hold of Willow and she doesn’t seem hellbent on ending the world.”

A vaguely familiar face photobombed the camera. “Hey! Is that the governor?” He smiled. “I totally voted for you before I realized you knocked up my best friend.”

Zack looked to Sam to see his face awash in realization. “You’re…you’re Xander.”

The goofy guy in Giles’s frame grinned wider. “Hey! I have an assault charge from killing a werewolf a few years back. Any way to get a pardon for that?”

Giles shoved the guy back with a grunt. Rolling his eyes, he assumed control of the conversation. “What did she say?”

Sam cleared his throat. “She said that it was all going to be okay and that she was going to fix everything.”

“Great,” Ron muttered. “Another bloody spell.”

Zack flicked his gaze over to Hermione, silently begging her to muzzle her man. Now wasn’t time for comments from the peanut gallery.

“Zack,” Giles said lowly. “Was that Ron Weasley?”

The vampire chuckled nervously. “Would you believe a group of Harry Potter cosplayers came to tour the governor’s mansion?”

“Fuck!” Giles bellowed in the most unGilesy outburst he’d ever witnessed from the guy.

The video feed from LA shook violently once more before settling on a new image of Mary Winchester holding the computer next to a very irate Watcher. “Hey, Zack,” the woman said lightly. “Governor.” Her voice couldn’t hide her bemusement at addressing the leader of California. She gave a nod and continued. “Let’s get back on track. Willow said she was going to fix it? Was she calm or hysterical? Did she say anything about how?”

Sam swallowed hard enough it thundered in Zack’s ears. “No. No, she didn’t say how, but she was calm. Almost hopeful. Like she truly did think she was doing something that would make things better.”

Zack instantly recognized the dry, gravelly monotone of the angel he’d met back in Kansas. “If Willow performs any magic of consequence,” his voice grew louder as he approached the mic, “I should be able to track her location.”

“I swear to God,” Giles snarled as he turned to Mary, “if he comes any closer I will rip his bloody throat out.”

“Rupert,” Mary quietly snapped. “Honey, pull yourself together or go take a walk.” She turned her focus back to the screen. “Was that it?”

Sam cleared his throat once more. “No. I heard a voice—a man’s I believe—so I don’t think she’s doing whatever she’s doing alone.”

“Told ya maybe Wes was gonna be a problem.” Zack didn’t need to see his brother to recognize the voice.

Giles growled and made to move. The video wobbled as Mary worked to steady the computer in one hand and grabbed a hold of Giles’ arm with the other. “Don’t make me tackle you, Rupert.” When the man flashed her an angry glare, she just smirked. “We both know I can and I have.”

“Uhhh,” Sam said loudly. “I know it wasn’t Wes. I would have recognized that voice. This wasn’t someone I’ve met. Sounded American, maybe?”

Maybe it was Mary’s veiled and kinky threat or maybe it was the new information, but Giles snapped back to his normal grumpy self. “American? Has MACUSA found her?”

Zack shook his head. “Doubt it. Sabrina made her way up here to try and recruit Josh Lyman for her cause. He’s thinking of trying a secret spy scheme to keep tabs on her plans.”

“I will kill her,” Sam warned. “If she hurts Willow I will use the National Guard to find her and destroy her.”

Mary aimed an irritated stare into the camera. “Do not make me drive up there just to tackle you, too.”

Zack laughed. Damn, this woman was the opposite of his mother. And definitely a better match to run in this circle of crazy. He’d have to tell Papa G later that he gave his blessing to keep this girlfriend for the long term. “I got the governor handled.” He looked at Giles. “So, you think Lyman should do it?”

The man removed his glasses in classic contemplation. “It’s risky.” He sighed and began to polish his spectacles on the hem of his shirt. “But it also currently seems our best option in keeping an eye on Ms. Deanne and her bloody scheme.” He popped the glasses back on his face. “Yes, I believe we should let Mr. Lyman play his part. He does have experience being a double agent and I imagine the lying would come naturally to him.”

“Hey!” Josh exclaimed in offense. Thankfully, Donna aimed a perfect elbow to the ribs that rendered him speechless.

“Sounds good,” Zack replied. “Well, it’s been real and it’s been fun. Nobody can say it’s been real fun, but at least we have a move forward.”

“Wait! If that was Ron, does that mean the Hogwarts squad is up there now?” Damn his sister-in-law for having the sense to pay attention. Where was that damn kitten when he needed it?

“Yeah, Cordy,” Zack said sarcastically. “Thanks for coming in today. You really made a difference.”

“Bite me, asshat,” she called back, lacking the venom behind her words.

“So yeah, they’re here. I’m working the ambassador angle. Nobody is getting along, but maybe through diplomatic talks and treaties we can avoid a nuclear weapons discharge.” He grinned as he looked to Sam. He was pretty proud he remembered that much from his college political science class.

Wright cleared his throat. “What? You’re Switzerland?”

“Exactly.”

He heard his brother’s chuckle. “Well, to quote my wife, we’re fucked.”

“In my defense, you all should have realized that the moment you made me any part of this serious situation. But as it stands, I’m pretty experienced in the charming and scheming. It’s not completely fucked, yet. Maybe a 60/40 split.”

“Okay, Swiss Cake Roll, just keep us posted,” his brother said close to the mic before the screen went black. Zack guessed Wright closed the laptop and ended the conversation.

“So?” Zack said looking up to the room. “Let’s get this bad decision started to try and fix all the bad decisions we’ve all made already. Badly.”

*~*~*

Dean sighed and rubbed his temples once they climbed back into the Impala. All the fun of running around playing dress up with Faith didn’t change the fact that this wasn’t really making any sense. He was gonna be pissed if she had been right from the start and there was nothing here to gank. He felt a headache coming on and was really ready to start in on his daily drinking.

“Is it too soon to say I told ya so?”

“Is it too soon to shut the fuck up?” he snapped before flashing her an apologetic grimace.

For her part, she didn’t seem offended. Which was something he was still getting used to in a way. He’d never been intimate with a chick where he hadn’t had to watch his words and hold himself back. She seemed to take his mood swings from silly to surly in stride. It was kinda awesome to let his guard down around someone he was banging on the regular. He hadn’t even really reached that part with Lisa. Not completely. Which freaked him out a bit if he thought about it because he had loved her. What did that mean about what he felt toward Faith?

“Ducky,” she said, “it’s gonna be dark soon. How about we grab a bite, find a room and change out of these fucking ridiculous costumes.” She reached a hand over and rubbed his crotch. “If you’re a lucky ducky, Miss Jackson might get a little nasty with you and this skirt before I take it off.”

Well, that helped with the headache. Moaning at her touch, he reached over and pulled her flush against him in the seat. “Maybe we just get the nasty started.”

“That can be arranged,” she said with a seductive waggle of her brows, grabbing his hand with the one not currently attempting a handjob through his slacks. She took him by the wrist and led him right up her skirt and up against her damp panties. “Get nasty,” she commanded before leaning over to meet his lips in a passionate kiss.

One thing he had learned was never question her in her hornier moments. When she said jump, he’d just start hopping. If it wasn’t high enough, she’d let him know.

Sucking his tongue into her mouth, Dean slid the crotch of her panties aside to gain access to her pussy. He felt her clit throbbing between his fingers as he gently massaged it with his thumb and index finger. The way she squeezed his dick told him that he needed to jump a little higher. Taking two digits, he slipped down inside her pussy hard and deep.

“Yes,” she gasped against his mouth. “Fuck me like that,” she begged before biting his lower lip.

He felt her begin to undo his belt. The sound of the metal clasp jingling filled the car as he began to slowly thrust in and out of her body, pausing to grind her clit against his palm with every stroke.

“Mmmhmm,” she encouraged as she sucked on his lip.

“You like that, Miss Jackson?” he asked in a husky voice. “You want it fast and hard or slow and hard?”

She nodded vigorously before releasing his lip from her mouth with a gentle nip. “I’ll let you steer this round, Ducky. You want it fast or slow?” She made short order of getting his dick out and gave it a slow stroke from base to tip.

He intended to take it slow as he worked a third finger inside her, but the way she rubbed his head and squeezed her slayer muscles around his hand made him forget. Soon they were both working at a frantic pace to get each other off.

“Dean!” She cried into his mouth as her body tensed and he felt the shudder of orgasm overtake her minutes later.

“Faith,” he gasped as watching her come sent him over the edge. She kept pumping him as he blew his load all over her hand and the steering wheel.

The car was silent for several blissful seconds aside from their panting against each other’s lips. He opened his eyes to see she was staring back at him, the same look of satisfaction and desire he felt inside. God, how was he ever going to get tired of this woman?

“I think I need a cigarette,” a voice that was definitely not Faith said into the air. “You might want to wipe up back here when you go to clean up. Got caught up in the moment.”

Dean whipped his head to the backseat, equal parts horrified and outraged. “Goddammit, Crowley!”

“Hello, Squirrel.” He turned to give Faith his attention. “And a very merry hello to you, my love. Let me just say, the pleasure is all mine.”

As though their minds were perfectly synced, Faith and Dean both made way to reach across the backseat and strangle the man in the same instant. Crowley just sneered as he flicked a finger and they both froze in place, momentarily stunned. Then, in an act of sheer arrogance and pervasion, he grabbed Dean’s wrist and brought it up to his face. “Fuck me if she doesn’t smell divine. Is that a Heaven thing or a slayer?”

Dean’s eyes went wide as he realized it was the hand that had just been knuckles deep in Faith’s snatch. “Fuck you,” he snapped, regaining the ability of motion enough to jerk his hand free.

“Gross, motherfucker!” Faith growled as she too was released from the momentary spell. She knocked the bastard with a punch that made Crowley’s head whip back. When he looked at her again, his lip was busted and a small trickle of blood was trailing down his chin.

Instead of anger, he just laughed hysterically. “Oh, Winchester. She’s way out of your league.”

Dean couldn’t argue that. Instead he countered with, “What the fuck are you doing here, Crowley?”

“You know this fucker?” Faith asked hotly. “All your friends this pervy?”

“Not my friend,” Dean said quickly.

Crowley grasped his chest and gave a mock gasp of shock. “Squirrel, you wound me! Remember all the fun we had back when you were a demon? Back when I saved your ungrateful little life?”

“Shut up,” Dean spat before catching a glance at something he’d never wanted to see. “And put your fucking dick up!” He shuffled as he realized he needed to follow his own advice. Stuffing his junk in his pants, he gave an apologetic look to Faith.

“Well, as much fun as this was,” Crowley drawled once he’d made himself decent. “I’m here on business.”

“What?” Dean growled. Crowley’s business was never good.

“Wait, no introductions? I so wanted a little more interaction with Heaven’s favorite slayer.”

Dean grunted in disgust. “Faith, Crowley. He’s the King of Hell and a bag of dicks. She’s a pistol when she’s in a good mood and lethal when she’s pissed.” He sighed. “Now what the fuck are you doing here?” 

Faith growled. “Guess which one you made me, cocksucker.”

Crowley flashed her a charming smile. “Really, you are way too good for him. Just one night with me and I promise you won’t regret it.”

“Hard pass,” she snapped back. “Though I do have regrets.”

Dean tried to keep that one from making his chest tighten. He failed as he glanced over at Faith, masking his hurt with irritation. “Nice,” he quipped.

She gave him a look. While her face was still a stony semblance of wrath, he saw her eyes flash him a look of amusement for a fraction of a second. She turned to Crowley. “Not killing your ass a minute ago.”

“You’re here in Missouri. My guess is you heard about the church break-ins then?”

“Yeah,” Dean answered. “You got more info than a bunch of stupid teens running around being vandals?”

“Demons,” Crowley responded. “All those meat suits have been occupied by friends of Heaven’s Most Wanted.”

“Son of a bitch,” Dean grumbled. Like they didn’t have enough shit going on without Lucifer making another stupid play for world domination. “Doesn’t he ever get bored with the whole evil super villain shtick?”

Crowley shrugged. “Do you ever get bored pretending you’re Batman atoning for your sins? Everybody has their hang ups.”

“Care to share?” Faith interjected. “Who exactly we dogging on?”

“Lucifer,” Dean said softly, noting the way her eyes brows rose in response. “Yeah, let’s just say he isn’t on either of our Christmas card lists.”

“Salt. That’s the only item gone from each location, right?” Crowley asked.

“Why the fuck are demons looking for salt in churches? Neither one sounds like a typical demon’s MO.”

“Gossip says the last remaining salt from Lot’s wife is around here. One of the last ingredients he needs to open the dormant Hellmouth in your backyard.”

Fuck if that wasn’t a lot of knowledge to unpack. “Lot as in the dude from the Bible?”

“Hellmouth,” Faith said. “That’s a much bigger deal than some salty bitch.”

“Yes, the Bible. Yes, the salty bitch. Yes, a Hellmouth. Yes, in Kansas where the Men of Letters put your bunker. Glad we covered all that.” Crowley rolled his eyes. “You need to stop them. If he gets the final ingredients it’s all but over. Unless you can kill the witch he plans on using to do the spell.”

“Great,” Dean grumbled. “So they haven’t found it yet?”

“Why else would I be wasting time on you? The free sex show?” He leered at Faith. “You may want to double check the curtains tonight before you and Squirrel do your mating dance. Though, the walls are usually thin at the trashy motels he likes to frequent. Listening to you come again would be worth the fleas and roaches.”

He was a dick, but he wasn’t dumb. He caught the fist she flew toward his smug face. He gave one last look at Dean. “Don’t fuck this up.”

With that, he vanished. Dean grunted and turned to sit down in the driver’s seat. Faith made a noise of disgust and flopped down next to him. She wiggled out of her jacket and wiped his jizz off the wheel.

Oh, yeah. That happened. He blushed as he took the garment from her and tossed it in the backseat. “Well, at least I was right,” he said at last.

She snorted and slid away from him, crossing her legs and folding her arms. “Hope that brings you comfort tonight when we get separate beds. You ain’t getting Janet or Jackson.”

He was pretty sure he could get both if he wanted, but he was smart enough not to issue a challenge. “So, you said something about food and a change of clothes. Sounds like a good place to start.”

This was gonna be a long night.

Chapter Text

Buffy had known when she’d received the phone call to come to Rosa Lee’s ahead of opening that something bad had happened. In all honesty, she’d expected to learn that Dawn had run out of kitten blood and needed Spike to round up some of the feral cats that roamed the streets of Lebanon, since Lorne’s next shipment wasn’t due to arrive until next Thursday.

Not that Buffy had been looking forward to hunting kitties, but she’d happily snap all the feline necks in the county area to make what her sister had told her not true.

There were times that Buffy would swear time had, in fact, not budged at all. That she was actually still back in Sunnydale, faced with news that her dumbass sister had accidentally invited a vampire into the house or shoplifted from one of her favorite mall hangouts. When it seemed impossible that Dawn was actually now in her mid-twenties because the decisions she made and, more importantly, the missteps, were so freaking huge they could be seen from outer space.

“I didn’t mean to!” Dawn said for the third or fourth time now. Buffy had lost count.

“I didn’t mean to,” she repeated, glancing to Spike. “I guess that makes it all better then. It’s okay, Dawnie didn’t mean to tell the demon where to find Faith and Dean.”

“To be fair,” Sam said, “Crowley isn’t…like a lot of other demons. If he was looking for Dean, he was going to find him eventually.”

“You said this guy was the King of Hell.”

“Yeah.” Sam gave Dawn what could only be an apologetic look. “We have a complicated relationship. But if he’s right about the Hellmouth, then…I can see his coming to us to stop it. He’s no friend of Lucifer’s.”

Kings of Hell. Lucifer. The devil. And somewhere across the country, Willow was possibly gearing up to kick off her own apocalypse.

Buffy’s temples pounded. “And did you talk to Dean? Or Faith?”

“Yeah.” Sam swallowed, going a bit red in the cheeks. “Got Dean just as they were checking into a hotel. Confirmed Crowley showed up and gave him the same story he told me and Dawn.”

There was more to that story. Sam’s heartbeat had picked up and his pulse was pounding.

“The bloke catch them mid-shag or what?” Spike drawled.

“Uhh, yes. That’s… Dean yelled a lot and I heard Faith snapping at him in the background. Apparently Crowley…”

But Sam had apparently hit the point of being too damn embarrassed to continue talking.

Dawn rolled her eyes. “If what Faith was saying was true, Crowley showed up in the car in time to stroke the bishop to whatever they were doing. And by the way, Sam, again, high marks on having classy friends.”

“I think I’ve been clear in the fact that Crowley is not a friend,” Sam said, still beet-red. “He’s sometimes an ally and sometimes the guy who tries to kill us. It’s a weird relationship.”

At that, Buffy glanced to Spike and couldn’t keep from grinning. “I dunno,” she said. “Put it that way and it’s kind of romantic.”

Dawn snickered. “You two are twisted.”

Spike smirked and fished a pack of cigarettes out of his duster pocket. “This the kinda not-enemy that also wants to shag one of you senseless?” he asked Sam. “If so, might have to off the git on principle. Don’t fancy anyone sellin’ that story but me.”

“Crowley doesn’t want to sha—he doesn’t… No, and please never suggest that again.” Sam released a long breath. “He said Lucifer has a witch with him. Or that’s what he told Dean, anyway. And there’s a ritual involved to open a dormant Hellmouth here. If that happens, I am officially out of familiar territory. Until we met you, we’d never heard the term Hellmouth before…which, considering we’ve been battling the actual devil for years now is kind of surprising.”

“Well, I lived on the actual Hellmouth for years and never once ran into the devil,” Buffy replied, shrugging. “This dormant Kansas Hellmouth had to have been extremely dormant, because our Hellmouth only opened like, twice, and Sunnydale was still a big ole demon magnet. Lebanon hasn’t been a kicking place until Nick opened the bar.”

“Good ole Sunnyhell wasn’t always open, love, but it was always active,” Spike said. “I’d wager whatever these Blokes of Letters or what all did when they built their little hideout managed to lull it to sleep. Much like Big Red did back in the day.”

Right. Willow had used a crap-ton of power to pull the plug from Sunnydale. All of this after she’d nearly destroyed the world and erased their memories of it. But how long would that spell hold? Especially now that Willow was…

God, Buffy didn’t want to think about it. One crisis at a time.

“What can we expect?” Sam asked. “If this…Hellmouth thing opens?”

Buffy glanced to Dawn. “All manner of demons pouring into this world, for one,” she said. “And if it stays open, apocalypse. But it won’t come to that.”

“It won’t,” Sam said, though whether or not he was agreeing with her or just repeating her, she didn’t know.

“No. Because while Lucifer might be old hat to you, Hellmouths are old hat to me.” She turned to Spike. “We need to call Giles. I know he is up to his elbows in this Willow stuff, but Hellmouthy things are Giles territory.”

“Just keep dolin’ out the good news, Slayer.” Spike pushed off the counter and strolled to the front exit. “Wager we better skip the party here tonight, too. The hotter that thing gets, the more big nasties it’ll attract. And this pissant place isn’t full of enough tasty towners to start losin’ the population.”

Sam swallowed and glanced to Buffy. “What does that mean?”

“Sunnydale had a high mortality rate,” she said. “It was big news that my graduating class had the lowest mortality rate of any other graduating class. They made a big deal about it. My first day of school at Sunnydale High? Dead guy in the locker.”

Sam looked horrified. “Oh my god.”

“Yeah. Kinda ruined fourth period.”

“You…they didn’t cancel school?”

Buffy again looked to Dawn, and they snickered at the same time.

“Oh, Sam,” Dawn said, rubbing his arm. “Sam, Sam, Sam…”

“If they canceled school every time there was a dead body, neither one of us would have ever graduated.” Buffy hopped over the bar and jogged up to join Spike, who was nearly at the door. “And Dawn? I’m leaving you to call Giles.”

“What? No, he’s your watcher!”

“You made the mess with Crowley, this is your punishment.”

“That is so not fair!”

Buffy whirled around, crossing her arms. “Not fair is the fact that I have to go patrol yet another Hellmouth and that I can’t count on my very adult sister to not act like a child and keep her mouth shut around strange demons. Plus, this will be an excellent time for you to give Giles an update on the money you owe him.”

“I hate you so hard.”

“And yet, out the door I go.”

Buffy avoided Spike’s eyes as she fell into stride beside him outside.

“Bit evil of you, love,” he said, seizing her hand and giving it a squeeze.

“Learn from the best,” she replied.

*~*~*

Faith honestly wasn’t even sure why she was mad. But she was mad. On a logical level, she knew Dean hadn’t had anything to do with the creeper who had randomly popped into his car—point of fact, if the phone call from Sam had been any indication, she had Dawn to thank for that. But the fact that it had happened at all pissed her off…which was unlike her because Faith was many things, but shy and private about sex wasn’t one of them.

But dammit, that moment in the car with Dean had been…well, hers. Theirs. And some smarmy ass motherfucker had not only watched, but used them as his personal porn channel.

The least Dean could have done was warn a girl that he knew some shady ass people who could do that shit. She wasn’t used to dealing with demons who weren’t overly loud and obnoxious. A vamp on a good day might be able to sneak around, but no one just popped out of thin air like that. At least no one she knew.

Faith paraded out of the shower without a stitch on, her hair hanging around her face in damp ringlets. Dean was hunched over the small table by the window, peering at his laptop. He didn’t look up until she had her black leather pants buttoned up and her bra over her tits.

He looked her up and down. “Going somewhere?”

“Out,” she said shortly.

“Anywhere specific?”

“Figure I might as well go get that tatt.” Which reminded her… She grabbed the phone she’d borrowed from B—which was now just hers, she figured—strolled up to Dean and lifted his shirt. “Say cheese, Ducky.”

“What—”

She snapped a few photos, then stepped back and flicked through her gallery. “Artist needs inspiration, right?” She showed him the screen. “Gotta give him something to work with.”

Dean frowned, rising to his feet. “Mine’s no good. It’s inverted. Remember, I was a demon for a while.”

Faith studied the image on her screen for a second. “Is it broken?”

“What?”

“Does it work, Ducky? Will it keep demons from making you their life-size puppet?”

“Well…yeah.”

She shrugged, pocketing the phone. “Then who gives a shit?”

“You weren’t a demon ever. You shouldn’t have that kinda mark.”

“Is this a special club or something? Do I need to learn the secret handshake?”

“This isn’t a fucking joke, Faith,” he snapped, and hell, she could tell she’d really pissed him off. Or maybe he’d already been cooking—Crowley’s impromptu visit had put them both in shitty moods. Granted, he hadn’t been griping at her as much as she had him about it, but she’d figured that was just him exercising uncharacteristic restraint.

“When I say I was a demon, I mean I was a fucking demon. I wasn’t possessed, it was me, okay? I did things that I still have nightmares about. I tried to kill my fucking brother and I enjoyed every sick minute of it. So when I say that mark ain’t for you, that’s what I mean.”

Faith just stared at him for a moment, trying—really, really trying—to hold onto her anger from earlier, but she couldn’t. The pain in his eyes was real. It was pain she knew on an intimate level—pain she made a point of revisiting as often as she could, no matter how much it hurt, because she knew she deserved it.

“I think it is,” she said at length, her voice hoarse. “See, Ducky, I’ve done a world of bad. Bad I don’t think you know about, or if you do, you don’t really. ’Cause all the shit I did? I did. And fuck, I liked it. A lot.” She blinked and looked away. “The guy who was like a father to me wanted to end the world and I was right there helping him do it. If B hadn’t put me in a goddamned coma, I might’ve gutted her to help him ascend. Tried to, in fact. Then I stole her body, boned her boyfriend, and skipped town. The people I’ve killed? Didn’t have a reason beyond the fuckers were in my way. So yeah, I think I’ll take the demon mark. ‘Cause maybe I need that reminder of what I’m capable of.”

She turned her back on him to find a shirt and fit on her boots, unaware that her hands were shaking until she missed the foot hole. Hell, she had not meant to do that and she really wasn’t fucking prepared to see the way he’d look at her next. While she was reasonably certain Dean knew she had a troubled past, both from what the others had told her and the few things she’d said over the last few days, there was troubled and there was fucked. And everything about her was fucked.

“Here.” Something slipped over her head, and the sound of his voice made her jump, much closer than it had been a moment ago.

Faith glanced down. He’d fitted a necklace over her head—a necklace that looked an awful lot like his tattoo. “What’s this?”

“Keep you from getting possessed until the tatt’s on.”

“You realize I’m literally on my way there.”

“I don’t wanna think about what a demon could do in this body,” he murmured, dragging her hair over her shoulder. “And if Lucifer is out and about, we can’t be too careful. It’d be our kinda luck for you to get hijacked while you’re on your way to get the tatt.”

That wasn’t an unreasonable point. Faith gave a short, jerky nod and headed for the door without looking at him.

“Faith.”

She stopped right before she reached the door, her shoulders tense. And here it came. Maybe we oughta cool it for a while. Your bad plus my bad can’t equal anything good. Fun while it lasted though, right?

What she wasn’t prepared for was for Dean to whip her around, make with the head grab, and kiss her. She was still for a second, a heartbeat, before her resistance melted and she gave him back everything he fed her. Hot and intense, and just this side of desperate. He pressed her against the door a second later, and she thought it was over, but he didn’t let up. If anything, the strokes of his mouth became more intense, like there was something he needed her to understand but couldn’t tell her with words.

But they didn’t have the luxury of time to make out or fall back into bed, because if Lucifer was involved, this salt thing needed to be addressed.

“I better go,” she said thickly.

“Yeah,” he agreed, not moving away. “I’ll see if I can narrow down who might have the special salt.”

“All right.”

“Faith.”

“Yeah?”

The corner of his mouth kicked up. He studied her for a long second, then released a breath and shook his head. “Just…that ain’t you, either. Okay?”

“It was.”

“But it’s not now. And…it’s never that simple. It’s never just that you were bad. Things made you like that.”

Shit, was that what he was going to tell himself? “Listen—”

“I know it’s on you. Whatever you did. Same as what I did is on me. Demon or not. The choices I made got me there. Shitty, yeah, but they seemed right at the time. Dunno if I’d do it different, to be honest, and that scares the piss outta me, but I wasn’t high on options.” He paused. “You would, though. Do it differently, if you could.”

“Seem awfully sure of that.”

“’Cause I am. Whatever you were then isn’t you now.” Dean stepped back, flexing his hands. “But yeah, get yours inverted too. Maybe we both need to remember where we came from.”

Faith just looked at him, her heart pounding. After a beat, she gave herself a shake and him a nod, turning the doorknob behind her. “Be back soon,” she said absently. Then, before she could talk herself out of it, whirled back around and gave him a soft kiss goodbye.

The fact that she’d had the impulse at all left her feeling shaken. But she couldn’t say she regretted it.

*~*~*

None of her conversations had gone the way she’d thought they would. Which was how she guessed she’d ended up here—at a NoMaj bar, throwing back whatever the bartender slid across the counter. Sabrina had found herself immersed in more NoMaj culture the past few weeks than she had the whole of her life. Turned out, aside from Fire Whiskey, NoMajes had a better grasp on how to get a girl nice and hammered. Also, being around them had an unusual affect on her.

Where she came from, in the Magical world, it was easy to denigrate everyone outside of it as other. NoMajes were a danger to their way of life, therefore should be avoided at all costs. Yes, they used NoMaj technology and magical substitutes in order to blend, but that was about the extent of it. Easier to keep under the radar when there weren’t owls flying in and out of windows. What Sabrina wouldn’t admit, however, was that she actually preferred having a cellphone to the old way of doing things. That she enjoyed Netflix and Uber Eats and a slew of other things that, once inside the confines of her own home, she was no longer obligated to use.

And, as it turned out, she enjoyed tequila. Perhaps more than she should, which was how she found herself, in a NoMaj bar, throwing back shots, and staring at her phone’s contact screen.

They’d agreed it was likely for the best if they cut off all communication, but she had no one else to talk to about any of this. And dammit, she missed the conversations they’d had at Caritas. Missed the way he could take her out of her miserable mind if only for an hour or so.

Fuck it.

Sabrina clicked the phone icon next to Wesley’s name and raised the device to her ear.

“What has happened?” he asked by way of greeting. “Are you all right?”

Hell, just his voice was enough to have parts of her melting. “Hello,” she replied, feeling a bit choked. “I’m fine. How are you?”

There was a pause. A considerable one. She didn’t blame him—she wouldn’t know what to say to her, either.

“Are you sure you’re all right? I thought we decided not to… That it wasn’t safe for us to talk.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve stopped doing the safe thing. I’m your secret keeper, so the only way anyone’s going to find where you are is if I tell them, and I’m not going to do that.” Sabrina nodded her thanks at the intuitive bartender who slid her another shot. “They don’t understand,” she whispered. “About Willow. None of them do. I spoke to your old partner, to the Golden Trio… Hell, I even reached out to Josh Lyman, who was at least smart enough in the past to understand what was at stake. They all think I’m a monster.” Tears burned the corners of her eyes. “Am I monster, Wes?”

“No.”

No hesitation. No waffling. He just answered.

And while the conviction in his voice made her heart swell, she didn’t believe him.

“I don’t want this,” she said, sniffing. “I just don’t see any other way.”

“Has anyone found Willow?”

“No. She’s gone completely dark. And without alerting Congress to what has happened, I can’t use any of MACUSA’s resources to locate her.” She swallowed hard. “But it’s only a matter of time. She was supposed to continue her meetings with Toadmore as per the agreement to keep her from being terminated. She missed today and they’re already starting to talk. When she continues to miss, they’ll know, and they will hunt her down. And when that happens…”

Sabrina cast a glance around the bar, at the couples who were out on first dates. The fathers stopping in to tie one off before heading home. The brokenhearted looking for a place to drown their sorrows. The friends killing time before heading to the movies. All of these people and millions more like them would die.

“Do I need to come back?” Wesley asked.

Panic shot through her at that. “No. Absolutely not.”

“Sabrina, you shouldn’t have to go through this alone.”

No, she shouldn’t, but her bad choices had gotten her here. “Just…be careful, Wes. Knowing you’re out there, that you’re safe… It’s getting me through.”

Well, that was nice and dramatic. Nothing like going overly clingy on a guy after spending one night together.

“Can I ring you?” he asked after a long silence. “Since we’re no longer being careful?”

“It’s not smart.” He might ring her while she was in with Toadmore. MACUSA didn’t believe in things like privacy, particularly when it came to NoMaj technology. “But I can call you again. If you like. When it’s safe to.”

A long sigh shuddered through the line. “I’d like that. I’d like that a great deal.”

“You’re staying safe.”

“Safe as I can. You do the same.” A beat. “Sabrina—”

The line beeped and the phone vibrated with the notification of an incoming call. Sabrina pulled back and, when she saw who it was, her heart gave a flip.

“Wes, I have to go. I’ll try to call you tomorrow.”

“Please do try. It’s…very lonely out here.”

And maybe that was all this was—she was his only link to the life he’d left behind. It had nothing to do with the night they’d spent together, the way he’d kissed her, or how it had felt when he’d been inside her. Wesley was on the road, friendless, and she was the only person out there to reach for.

“I will,” she said. “Goodbye.” She pulled the phone away again and, with trembling fingers, swiped to accept Josh Lyman’s call.

*~*~*

“Dawn!”

What now?

Dawn popped up from behind the bar. Nick and Rosalie were set to arrive at any time, having spent the remainder of the day doing coupley things, from what Dawn gathered, after the vamps had been pulled away from the Slayer obstacle course. She didn’t know what Buffy might have told them, but she so wasn’t looking forward to another round of scolding. After making an idiot out of herself in front of Sam, then Buffy, and that awful call to Giles, she figured she was due at least one break. At least until Nick checked the inventory logs and realized how much free booze she’d been slinging.

Again, the thought occurred to her that she might just be better off hitting the road again. But she also knew that if there was a hellmouth here in Lebanon, she was one of the few people with the experience to handle it.

Stupid devil.

“Dawn!”

“Stop yelling,” she snapped, coming around the front of the bar. Sam was marching toward her with wide eyes and a somewhat scandalized expression. Great. Another emergency. “What is it?”

“I need… I found something in my truck and I think it might be your sister’s.”

Well, that was nice and anticlimactic. “And?”

“And…just come out here.”

Dawn rolled her eyes but did as she was asked. Mostly because following Sam gave her a rather fine view of his ass.

He rounded the back of the pickup and motioned to the bed. “Up there,” he said, not looking at her.

She waited for him to elaborate, but when he didn’t, rolled her eyes again and climbed into the bed. It didn’t take long to find the thing that had him flustered, but when she did, she couldn’t help keep her laugh inside.

“What?” Sam asked.

“You’re scared of my sister’s panties?”

“So that is what that is?”

“My god, you’re a dork.” Dawn bent over—giving him a nice view of her ass now, because sharing is caring…not that Sam seemed to give a crap—and plucked the ripped scrap of silk out of the corner. “Yeah. Definitely Buffy’s underwear. Spike has a thing about ripping it off of her. Sometimes tearing it off with his teeth. We never all lived together, but the few times I stayed with them after they were a couple, I found these all over the place. Buffy bitches about it but she keeps on buying them. Pretty sure she likes it when he does the ripping.”

When she turned to face Sam, she found him roughly the color of a ripe tomato.

“Seriously?” Dawn waved the panties at him. “You couldn’t do this yourself?”

“It’s…your sister. Just seemed wrong.”

“My dude, I am starting to think you must be the hunkiest virgin who ever lived.”

At that, Sam blinked. “Excuse me, what?”

“Anytime something remotely sexual is discussed, you go all red and you can’t make eye contact with anyone. Either you’re a virgin or you have more hang-ups than a preacher’s kid. Which, given what you do for a living, all kinds of hilarious.”

“I do not have hang-ups,” Sam said. “And I am not a virgin. I have had plenty of sex.”

“Uh huh.”

“Plenty. With women. Demon women, even.”

“Not buying it.”

“Why?”

Dawn waved Buffy’s underwear again. “Exhibit A. Also…” Hell, she was going to go for it. She might be a blob of green, glowy energy in a person package, but she felt very much like a woman. So she gestured at herself. “Hot twenty-something who has been throwing you every signal in the goddamn book for the past two months and not one little nibble. I know I’m not ugly and I’ve seen you checking me out, so what gives?”

Sam just stared at her for a moment, mouth gaping like a fish.

“Well?” She crossed her arms. Buffy’s underwear ended up wedged in her elbow.

“I… I’ve been with demons, Dawn. I’ve been soulless. I’ve done horrible, terrible things.” He swallowed, and she trailed the way his throat moved. It was an obnoxiously sexy throat. “I’m… I’m not good for you.”

Oh lord. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, stomping toward him so hard the bed of the truck rattled. Sam moved back as though she might jump on him when she was within jumping range, but Dawn was so not going to waste time going down this road.

“That is such bullshit,” she told him, hopping to the ground. “It was bullshit when Angel said it to Buffy a million years ago and it’s never stopped being bullshit. Only difference was, Angel was a major ass-monkey and you… Well, you are also a major ass-monkey. Just admit it—the Key stuff wigs you out.”

Sam couldn’t have looked more shocked if she’d slapped him across the face with Buffy’s panties. “What?”

“We were vibing just fine before you learned I’m not actually a real girl.”

“Believe me, Dawn, you look real enough to me.”

“Right. Because I’m an interdimensional Key who has the power to end the world if I turn the right lock. I’m the younger sister of Buffy the freaking Vampire Slayer, I’ve been around vamps my whole life, been in god-knows how many apocalypses, and, oh yeah, dropped out of college to hunt demons.” She crossed her arms again. “And being that a soulless vampire kidnapped, raped, and killed my sister, I can’t possibly understand what it means to be soulless. Since my brother-in-law is also a soulless vampire who, before he became my brother-in-law, tried to kill my sister on numerous occasions, I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be with someone you know you shouldn’t. The first guy I ever had a crush on married a Vengeance Demon. Spike, slayer of slayers, used to be my babysitter. And I’m too good for you because once upon a time you banged a demon? Just who the fuck hasn’t?”

Sam just gawked at her. “I… What?”

Dawn patted his cheek. “I grew up in a house where dating the dead was pretty much the norm, sugar. Work that out by yourself.”

And without another word, she turned and stalked back into Rosa Lee’s.

She might regret having done that later, but at the moment, Dawn had plum run out of fucks. Better to have everything on the table.

*~*~*

Dean tried not react when he heard Faith fumbling with the lock, but dammit, his chest tightened without his permission. So he made a point to hunch over the laptop extra close so it would look like he’d actually done something other than replay their last conversation on repeat since she’d left.

Faith closed the door and made her way over to the bed without looking up or saying anything. Slung over one arm was a plastic bag containing something delicious-smelling and cylindrical. This she tossed onto the bed, not breaking her stride as she headed toward the bathroom.

Dean rose to his feet. “Is…is that pie?”

“Uh huh.”

“You brought me pie?”

She appeared in the doorway to the bathroom, an eyebrow arched. “No,” she said, “I bought me pie. Be a nice ducky and I’ll cut you a slice.”

“Faith…I have a thing about pie.”

“Yeah, I know. I saw the T-shirt.”

Dean practically floated over to the bed. He’d swear his feet didn’t touch the floor. “What kind is it?”

“Apple with snickerdoodle cookie crust.”

Holy fuck. He might have just come in his pants. Casting a quick glance to the bathroom, just to make sure she wasn’t standing guard, he pried open the sack to take a look. And maybe a bite. Okay, definitely a bite.

There was a receipt on top of the container—one not belonging to any pie shop. He frowned and plucked it out, gave it a once over.

Tattoo place. Right.

Only there was something else listed there.

“What’s…an anti-Venus seed?”

Faith stalked back into the room at that, scowled at the receipt in his hand. “You make a habit of lookin’ at things that aren’t yours?”

“Well, yeah. It’s kinda part of the job.”

“Even when you know the owner is two feet away and can kick your ass?”

“That just makes it sound exciting.” He nodded to the slip of paper, hoping she wouldn’t notice that one of his hands was inching toward the pie bag. “So what is it?”

Unfortunately, Faith had those slayer reflexes of hers, which she demonstrated by snatching the bag off the bed and taking it to the table by his laptop. He watched as she cracked open the plastic lid, scooped out a generous helping of the best-smelling stuff he’d ever been around, and started munching on it like it was a pizza.

Fuck. He glanced out the window. They did not have time to fuck before they left.

“Watchers Council has a bunch of old horndogs,” she said before licking at a bit of apple filling off the corner of her mouth. “Those who ain’t whorin’ are usually banging some slice of something on the side. Anti-Venus seeds are the most effective form of birth control out there. Tattoo place just happened to have a bunch of them for sale.” She shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal. “Impulse buy.”

Dean didn’t know what to say. His mouth opened and his brain worked but something failed to connect. All he could do was stare at her as she polished off her handful of pie.

“That oughta do me, Ducky,” she said, nodding at the container. “If you can finish the rest of it now, it’s yours. If not, we’ll save some for later. You mind if we walk to this church? My ass is kinda sore.”

“Your…” He swallowed hard. “Your ass?”

“Uh huh. From the tatt.” She smoothed a hand down her left ass cheek. “Slayer healin’ oughta have me back to a hundred percent in a few hours, but this little ‘burb is small enough that everything’s close to everything, so we can walk, right?”

At the moment, Dean wasn’t sure he could speak, let alone walk. He just stared at her.

And then remembered the way she’d kissed him before she’d left. Faith had never done that—not once. Kissed him spontaneously, just for the hell of it. Anytime she initiated, it was always with an end-goal in mind. Always because she was about to fuck his brains out. And sure, he’d kissed her several times just because, especially since they’d decided on their current arrangement, but… Hell.

She’d kissed him and brought him pie and bought some type of mystical birth control.

What did this mean? What did he want it to mean?

Fuck, maybe now wasn’t the time to think about this.

But, as he neared to gorge his face full of the best smelling pie he’d ever come across, with Faith standing there with an unreadable expression, bits of sugar still clinging to her lips, he found he could think about little else.

Chapter Text

“Well?” Josh asked as he hung up the phone and laid it on the table. “That sound convincing enough?”

The crowd was much smaller now. Only Josh, Donna, Sam and Zack were in the room. “Yeah,” Zack answered. “Sounded like you deserved a job in politics.”

Come to think of it, he would make a great politician. With the ring, who cared if he’s a vampire?

“So what did she say about Willow after you mentioned the call?” Sam asked.

Josh shrugged. “She doesn’t know who the mystery guy is either. Said she was going to try and do some snooping around MACUSA to see if anyone else could be looking into her. Guess she missed a meeting and she’s nervous that people are going to start looking for her.”

Sam turned to Zack, eyes wide and desperate. “We have to find her before anyone else.”

“Yeah,” Zack agreed. “Let’s try some old fashioned shit. I don’t know anything about wielding magic, but I was a bit of a troublemaker even in my human days. If we can get her back on the phone, maybe we can trace the call.”

Donna scoffed. “Willow is smarter than you think. She has computer skills and magic ones.”

“Maybe,” Zack allowed. “But I’ve been around enough magic folk to know they get cocky. Something about using their mojo gives them a high. So maybe she has been too busy thinking about spells and voodoo to remember phone trackers and GPS.”

“Maybe,” Sam said skeptically.

“I bet a bag of blood that these MACUSA bitches haven’t thought of it.” He paused and turned to Donna. “By the way, you don’t know where a fella could find a bag of blood in this town? I skipped breakfast and am starting to get a little hangry.”

“How hangry?” Josh asked nervously.

“Enough that you’re starting to look like a Happy Meal with legs.”

Josh yelped and jumped up, nearly tripping over his chair in the process to scramble toward the door.

“God,” Zack roared with laughter. “I love it when the mouthy ones are the biggest babies!” Still chuckling, he turned to Donna. “But yeah, you know a good butcher shop around here?”

“Come on,” Donna replied, turning to open the door her nervous man was shaking by. “We can call a place and set up a pickup. Delivery is out of the question, obviously.”

“Yeah, rumors of the governor’s blood lust may make the papers.” Zack couldn’t help himself. As he followed Donna out, he walked past Josh and burst into game face just as they stood toe to toe. The curly man screamed, but Zack shifted his fangs back into hiding before anyone could see.

Fuck if he didn’t love being a vampire.

*~*~*

Dean was a head full of emotions, all of the distracting.

He was nauseous. Eating half a pie had seemed a good idea at the time, but fuck if he wasn’t in his thirties now, and that much sugar on an empty stomach wasn’t smart. Hopefully there would be a burger joint open later.

He was also horny. Side effect of his current addiction to Faith Lehane. Bitch could get his mind in the gutter without even trying. She was walking faster than him currently—side effect of the pie gurgling in his stomach—so he had a perfect view of her fine ass as she made her way down the sidewalk. The fact she kept subconsciously rubbing her newly tattooed butt-cheek just made him want to rub himself all over her cute little body.

“Dude,” he murmured to himself. He really needed to get his head on straight.

“What?” Faith said, stopping to turn back at him.

“Nothing,” he quipped back. “Just not sure why we had to walk all this way.”

She rolled her eyes and returned to her march forward. “Grow a pair, Winchester,” she called over her shoulder.

The kiss. The convo. The pills. That’s what had happened in the last couple of hours to spur his latest existential crisis. All of which were pretty simple on their own. The convo was a result of the tatt. The kiss was the result of the way he’d talked after the convo. And the pills…well, that was just coincidence. While he’d just stocked up on rubbers, she’d seen an opportunity to score some back-up. Which with as rough as they both seemed to like it, kinda made sense. While a pregnancy scare was funny when it was Rosalie and Hunter, it was fucking terrifying to imagine on a personal level.

Fucking hell, their child would be the most fucked up in the history of the world. But he had to admit, as he watched Faith once again rub that fine ass, it would be a fucking badass gorgeous motherfucker.

“Stop,” he quietly snapped to himself. Now he was just fucking freaking himself out more.

“What?” Faith asked, whipping around to stare him down.

“I said nothing,” he snapped in response.

She placed her hands on her hips and arched a brow. “You talking to yourself, Ducky? Because maybe you are crazier than I gave you credit for.”

Fucking hell, he was. But he wasn’t about to admit that. He gave a pout. “My tummy hurts.”

He saw the way she tried so hard to give him an irritated glare, but at the last minute her lip quivered and a twinkle danced across her eyes. “How old are you?”

“Old enough to know better, but not old enough to make good life choices.”

She shook her head, but he caught a glimpse of a smile as she turned around. “It’s right up here, dumbass. Let’s find a spot to stake out the joint. Hopefully you made a good life choice in picking this as their next target.”

“I bet a cheeseburger would make me feel better.”

“Too bad.”

“Maybe you could rub it and make it feel better?” Now he was just yanking her chain.

“I’m going ‘round back. You take front. You can rub yourself to feel better.”

Yeah, he was being ridiculous. Nothing had changed between them. They were still doing the whole easy breezy deal they’d arranged. Just because they had a couple meaningful conversations didn’t mean they were going to start making moon eyes at each other and holding hands. He just needed to relax and let this fling runs its course.

Now if he could just make the pie cooperate.

*~*~*

Sam had slipped home after Nick had showed up at the bar. He’d needed a bit to process everything Dawn had verbally thrown at him.

She liked him. She really liked him.

Fuck, he did sound like a teenage virgin.

That’s it. He was done standing back. If she wanted a piece of his crazy cake, he’d throw caution to the wind and give her a slice.

He showered, changed into some of his least worked-in attire and made his hair look hella good, if he did say so himself. Honestly, it was the first time in months that he’d put a real effort into making himself look like a man who was looking for a woman.

Because tonight he was going to prove to Dawn Summers that he was no virgin.

He might have had a few shots of liquid courage before heading to the bar. Reckless, maybe, but a little buzz seemed a lot better than walking into Rosa Lee’s and turning into a red-faced buffoon one more time.

By the time he arrived, the bar had opened and a dozen cars were already in the lot. It was kinda amazing how much activity had popped up in such a short amount of time. It was scary to consider what crowds a Hellmouth could attract.

Nick was behind the bar when he walked in. Sam strolled over, casing the joint for any sign of Dawn.

“Pick your poison,” Nick said as he tossed a white hand towel over his shoulder.

“Whiskey sour. Double,” he replied as he whipped out his wallet.

“Excellent selection,” the young man quipped as he started to make the drink. “Did you see Rose out there?”

“No. She patrolling solo?” The watcher in him didn’t like that.

“No, thank God.” The boyfriend in Nick didn’t like it either. “Buffy and Spike are on duty.” His eyes narrowed as he slid the glass to Sam and plucked the bill from his hand. “Though they have an annoying habit of slipping off to play Hide the Stake.”

Sam chuckled. “That’s a Rosalie one, right?”

Nick blushed. “Faith coined the phrase, actually.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of which, any word from her or Dean?”

“No, not yet. That area of the country has more churches than people to fill them. Plus there’s no clue as to which denomination to help narrow it down. They just had to pick one at random that’s in the same vicinity as the other break-ins.”

“Maybe we should shut this down for a few days,” Nick said taking a look around the room. “Demons, Hellmouths and Lucifer seem a might more important than luring in a few monsters to slay.”

“Yeah, I see your point, but I’m pretty sure your pocketbook wouldn’t go for it.”

Said pocketbook was currently belting out a number over at the stage.

“You’re handsome, smart, and tall. Makes me really hate you sometimes,” Nick replied with a smirk. He glanced down at the glass that Sam had already downed. “Another?”

He nodded. Looking about room. “Where’s Dawn?”

“Oh, she insisted on changing clothes. Said the T-shirt wasn’t getting her enough tips.” Nick rolled his eyes. “She doesn’t think I know about all the missing liquor. Lorne already covered her tab.” He smirked. “Don’t tell her. Chances are Spike will do it again. This way we’ll just have an insurance fund established.”

Sam chuckled and took a drink of his new whiskey sour and nearly choked. Dawn walked out and literally took his breath away.

She’d upgraded from the T-shirt. Tonight she wore a pair of tight jeans that had to be painted on. The black tube top left little to the imagination as it clung to every curve. And the pair of black heels perked her ass up in a way he hadn’t thought possible.

She’d brought her A-game.

“Hey,” he said once he could regain the ability to speak.

“Back at ya,” she replied, her cheeks warming as she stepped up to the bar. “You look sharp.”

“You look…hot.” He went for broke.

“And that’s my cue to leave,” Nick said tossing his towel on the bar and walking off.

They shared a nervous giggle before she reached over to run her finger along the rim of his glass. “Skipping the beer tonight?”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Felt in the mood for something stronger.”

Her gaze flicked up from the glass to his eyes. “Really? Are you telling me all this time all I needed to do was make a…” She lifted the glass and took a drink. “Whiskey sour?” She set the glass back down.

He chuckled. The alcohol definitely helped ease his nerves. “The conversation earlier may have helped.”

She looked down at the glass once more. “Am I being too forward?”

“No!” he balked. “If anything, I’ve been too slow.” He sighed. “I like you. And while that hasn’t been good in the past, you’re different.”

The look he received was not what he expected. “I knew it,” she spat. Anger flashing in her eyes. “I knew it was about the Key.”

He shook his head vigorously. “No,” he shot back. “It’s really not. You’re not weak…or evil. You’re strong, mentally and physically, and you’re good.” He paused and gave her a smirk. “You’re sassy and smart and kind of a smartass. But I like it when you aren’t making me feel like a dumbass.”

The anger washed away from her face, her eyes growing wide and hopeful. “You mean it?”

He smiled at her. “Of course.”

She leaned across the bar, so close he could feel her minty breath on his face. “Maybe tonight, after their bar closes, you and I could—”

“Could what?”

Sam looked over his shoulder to the voice that had issued the question. Spike was standing right next to him, his face as close as Dawn’s. Sam pulled back in shock and unease.

“Interrupting something?” the vampire asked, giving an unreadable look back and forth from Dawn to Sam. “Just was curious about the sitch. We talking research party? That’s always fun.”

“Spike,” Dawn groaned, standing up and folding her arms. “This is an A and B conversation. So C your way out.”

“What?” The vampire chuckled and slung an arm around Sam’s shoulder. “Come on, Lil Sis, don’t hog all the fun.” Very quickly the hug was turning into a chokehold. “Sammy here is much too much fun not to share.” He gave a little shake as his grip started to squeeze Sam’s airway. “I’ll tell the Slayer. Make it a thing.” He released Sam, who had to gasp to regain his breath. Spike gave him a slap on the back that stung like a bitch. Sam had to question why that didn’t trigger the violence enchantment.

“You think you’re funny,” Dawn responded.

Spike gave her a wink. “I’m hysterical. Now, kitten beer, love.”

She held out her palm.

“You wanna high five?” Spike asked. “You haven’t even made the drink, yet.”

“Money.” She wiggled her fingers. “Upfront. No more complimentary drinks for you.”

Spike snarled and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket, slamming it down on the bar. “Happy?”

Dawn started making the drink while Spike leaned over to Sam and whispered, “I’m killing you later.”

“No you’re not,” Dawn countered calmly as she handed him a beer. “We both know Buffy has you by the short and curlies.”

Spike scoffed. “Where’s my change?”

Dawn shrugged. “Tip.”

“There was a twenty in that wad. I saw it.”

“Do you really want me to tell Buffy about all the booze you’ve been stealing from the bar? The bar for your best friend’s daughter. Robbing Wright’s little girl blind.”

“You…” Spike said, pointing an angry finger her direction. “Are a brat.” He turned to Sam. “And if I catch a whiff of your scent anywhere on her body, I will drink you dry.”

“Well,” Sam said as Spike walked out the bar. “What were you saying about later?”

“Shut up,” she snickered as she turned to help another drinker who’d made their way to the bar.

It honestly didn’t surprise him. Nothing in his life had ever gone right. Now he just had decide if a night with Dawn was worth a death sentence.

When he downed the rest of his drink, the whiskey told him it was.

*~*~*

It was much easier to work without Dean being a big ball of distraction. Maybe the working together wasn’t a good idea. They were hornier than two teenagers with their parents out of town. Yeah, she was still pretty pissed about that demon fucker earlier.

The problem was she liked Ducky. Not just when he was all on her like white on rice. She liked his voice and most of the shit he said. And he seemed to like it right back. Which was weird because she’d really never liked the non-sex parts of men.

Maybe she was just Stella right now. After her stint in Heaven, she needed time to get her groove back. Made sense that she’d need a little time to get back to her old self. So, it was time to end all this internal melodrama and get back to living la vida loca.

Faith saw a flash of light from inside the church. Her spidey senses tingled and she knew this was go time. She took a step toward the back door of the church, but then felt a pair of arms grab her and send her hurtling in the air.

The landing knocked the breath from her lungs as she crumbled to the ground. She looked up to see two black-eyed bastards making a beeline her direction. “Okay,” she huffed as she hopped up to her feet. “You made me land on my ass. That actually kinda hurt. Now I’m going to kill you extra dead.”

It was sorta fun taking on two demons at once. She hadn’t really encountered these type of fuckers before, so it was interesting learning how they moved. They were a lot like dudes cranked up on meth. Hella strong and hella fast, but nothing too special.

It wasn’t until she heard a pane of glass shatter behind her in the church that she started getting serious. If she was out here, that meant Ducky was in there going solo. With a few quick swipes of her machete, she was looking down at a couple headless sons of bitches.

Faith was turning toward the church when the sound of slow clapping behind made her stop in her tracks.

“That. Was. Hot.”

Her skin broke out in goosebumps as alarm bells rang out in her head. That voice wasn’t her Ducky.

Whipping around, she saw what seemed to be the figure of a man standing amongst a small thicket of trees and brush. “Honestly, I’ve heard of slayers, but never seen one in action.” She heard his sharp intake of breath. “That’s what you are, isn’t it? Funny though. I heard you were blondes.”

Well, if this fucker didn’t have a death wish. “Who the fuck are you?” she snapped.

“Right now? You’re biggest fan. So which are you? Rosie or… Sorry, but the other name was silly. Bunny?”

Later, she was gonna have to give B some shit about Bunny the Vampire Slayer. Right now though, her patience grew thinner every time another loud crash sounded from the church. “Neither, so if you don’t mind, let’s skip the chitchat and get right to the point where I chop your head off.”

She took off in a charge toward the bastard, but a bolt of force slammed into her and made her completely immobile. Her eyes looked on in sheer panic as the monster stepped from the shadows and approached her.

“Shut the front door!” he cried, clasping his hands in excitement as he walked up and stood before her. “Faith? Faith Lehane? Are you an angel? Because you must be Heaven sent.” He snickered before raising his hand to gently caress her cheek. “I was surprised as you that you made it up the stairs. Been wanting to meet you for a while. Stuff came up.”

She still couldn’t move. Why the hell couldn’t she move? Her panic was quickly turning to outright fear.

“It’s okay,” he said with a soft smile. “I’m not going to hurt you.” His eyes flickered toward the church. “You friend is another story. I can’t keep the kiddies from breaking their toys.”

He caressed her cheek once more before taking a step back to examine her up and down. “My, my, my. What nice everything you have.” He looked her square in the eyes. “So why did he send you back? What little trick is up Chuck’s sleeve? Because if it’s with you, it’s gotta be a good one.”

She heard a loud crash. “Faith!” Dean howled out into the dark. “Faith! Faith!”

The man rolled his eyes. “You have got to be kidding me? Seriously, of all the dicks in the world, you’re running around with Dean Winchester? Oh baby, we are going to have to work on your standards. There’s self-loathing and then there’s”—he gestured toward the church—“that.”

With a sigh, he turned around. “I hate to go, but duty calls.” He whipped his head back to give her one last smile. “Goodnight, my little angel.”

As soon as he vanished into thin air, Faith suddenly was able to move again. She stumbled a bit as her mind had forgotten her legs had been running at the time. She was trembling and dropped the machete as she tried to steady her racing heart.

“Faith!” Dean’s scream was painful to her soul.

“Here!” Her voice was so shaky she wasn’t sure the volume carried.

Apparently it had, because moments later Dean was panting before her, covered in blood.

“Are you hurt?” they asked in unison.

“No,” she croaked.

“I’ll be fine,” he rasped. She barely had time to register the scratch across his cheek or the blood-soaked cloth around a slash on his arm before he grasped her and pulled her into a tight hug. “Fuck,” he whispered hoarsely as he buried his face in the crook of her neck.

She wrapped her arms around him, finding solace in his embrace. They held each other until their breathing returned to normal. Then her brain turned back on. “Shit!” she said, pulling back. “The salt!”

Dean shook his head and wiped his bloody face with his cleaner sleeve. “Not here. I took out two demons. Exorcised the third. I watched them ransack the place before I made a move. They had bupkis.”

“You mean all that and we still got nada?” Goddamn, this wasn’t cool.

Dean shook his head. “I say we hit more churches in the morning. Talk to the pastors and priests. Maybe they know what they’re hiding and maybe we can convince them to hand it over to save the world.”

“When has it ever been that simple?”

“Never. So I say after thirty years hunting I deserve a break.” He took her hand and gave it a gentle tug. “Come on. I need a cheeseburger and a fifth of something hard.”

She looked at his arm. “You maybe want to get that checked out?”

“I got a kit in the car.” He pulled her forward as he started toward the road. “Which reminds me, how’s your sewing skills, Betsy Ross?”

Oh, god. She knew he was serious. “We better make it two fifths.”

Chapter Text

They were talking themselves in circles. There truly was only one immediate solution, and he bloody hated it.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and heaved a sigh. The others in the lobby immediately stilled and looked at him with the sort of open-eyed expectation to which he’d been accustomed since first entering the library at Sunnydale High.

Over the years, he’d found that, after receiving particularly bad news, his first thoughts—no matter how much he didn’t care for them—were often the right ones. And his first thought after getting off the phone with Dawn earlier had been to suggest something he’d really rather not, but the more he mulled it over, the more certain he became that it was the right course of action.

Zack Wright had very little appreciation for what it meant that a Hellmouth was brewing in Lebanon, aside from said Hellmouth’s proximity to his daughter. Though he’d been with Cordelia Chase for more than ten years, and Cordelia had no shortage of Hellmouth stories of her own, it seemed rather unlikely that they had spent too much time contemplating the nature of Hellmouths when Los Angeles kept them plenty busy. But Xander knew, as did Anya. And that much had spurred a conversation and a series of stories that had left Wright increasingly panicked, and for bloody good reason.

“Mary,” Giles said, his voice soft but carrying. “I think you must return to Lebanon at once.”

Mary didn’t balk—one of the many things he loved about her. If she received unexpected news, she took it with aplomb, digested it, and then asked relevant questions. He wasn’t sure if this was a reflection of the fact that she, like her sons, had died at least once or her age. Perhaps both.

“Oh?” she asked.

“From what this…Crowley person told Sam and Dawn, the Men of Letters intentionally located their bunker there for the purpose of managing or, at the very least, addressing the existence of the Hellmouth.” Giles sighed again, his temples starting to throb. “I am confident that had any record of the Hellmouth’s existence remained in the bunker, your Sam would have uncovered it in his hours of dedicated reading. I believe it is safe to assume that if books on the Hellmouth exist in Lebanon, they are in an area your boys have not yet discovered. We need to know what the Men of Letters did to keep that Hellmouth not only closed, but inactive.” He met her eyes solemnly. “I’m so sorry, my dear, but I need you to facilitate a meeting with Mr. Ketch.”

Again, no reaction. Though he knew she loathed the man—and for a damn good reason, if he did say so himself—she didn’t recoil. Rather pursed her lips and gave him a nod, the sort that made him think she’d arrived at the same conclusion ahead of him and had just been waiting for him to catch up.

“Who’s this Mr. Ketch?” Wright asked.

“He’s with the British Men of Letters. They are part of the Watchers Council, but how much information is shared between the two is debatable. Until recently, the Watchers Council had rather let the Men of Letters act independently, to the detriment of both organizations.” Giles nodded at Mary. “Mr. Ketch and Mary have a…history.”

Mary smirked and glanced to Wright. “We fucked. He tried to kill me. I succeeded in killing him. But nothing in our world stays dead very long.”

“Except Fred,” Cordelia said, crossing her arms with a scowl. “Seems the criteria for returning from the dead as far as the PTB are concerned is you have to have been an asshole at some point in your life. Or have a sacred calling. Or hell, why not both?”

Wright frowned and reached over to pat her shoulder.

“Or make a deal with a crossroads demon,” Mary muttered.

“I’m just sick of it,” Cordelia said, rolling her head back. “And I know, massive sidebar, but what the hell? I’m sorry,” she said to Mary a moment later, apparently realizing she’d essentially called her and her sons assholes. “Really, but…in our world, getting second chances post-mortem is pretty damn common. You’re right. So who gets second chances? People like this Ketch person. Or Darla.” She turned to Wright. “Who’s on her third chance now, if we’re keeping up. Buffy got vamped, but from the way you and Spike have told that story, she should have been well past the point of being resuscitated. Faith came back twice now. There’s that Slater person your brother’s always talking about. And your sons, of course.” She looked back to Mary. “But not Fred? Not someone who, by coming back, might have saved us a crap-ton of shit with Wes and Rosalie? If Fred had come back, Wes probably would never have gone to Wolfram and Hart and both our daughters would still be here and not anywhere near a goddamned hellmouth. Tara didn’t die, either, but if it’s that simple to bring someone back, it has to be that simple to restore someone’s mind. So who decided not to do that, and to let Willow go off the freaking rails and put the entire world in danger, again? Who the hell is up there making these bullshit decisions?”

Castiel and Mary exchanged a glance. “I could tell you,” Castiel said, “but I doubt it would be of much comfort.”

“Go figure,” Cordelia huffed.

“Regardless,” Giles said, not unsympathetic to Cordelia—actually entirely sympathetic—but determined to remain in point, “Mr. Ketch might have insight into how the Lebanon Hellmouth was managed. And, ahh, I do not wish to speak ill of your sons, but…”

The corner of Mary’s mouth ticked up. “Well, the one you’d really have to worry about is on the road, from what Sam told me. But I see your point.”

Xander, who had been quiet as he absorbed the conversation, sat forward. “What about her sons? Isn’t she the one who killed this guy to begin with?”

“Yes,” Giles said. “That is why I want her to go back.”

“You’re making the kind of sense that’s not.”

“Sam and Dean hate Ketch in principle,” Mary said.

“The principle that he tried to kill you,” Anya offered bluntly.

“Well, they also weren’t wild about the sex.” At this, Mary grinned at Giles. “But yes, it was more that the Men of Letters was corrupt and… Well, that’s a long story that we shouldn’t get into now.”

“Thank you,” Anya said, smiling. “I do not like being bored.”

Giles cleared his throat. “The point is, while Sam and Dean might be more, ahh, reactionary to Mr. Ketch’s presence, Mary will not. Nor will she refrain from taking the appropriate measures if need be.”

“If he needs to be put down again,” Wright said.

“Precisely.” Giles was quiet for a moment, then heaved another sigh, this one filled with tension because he truly did not wish to say the next part. “It has also become even more important that we locate Willow, this business with MACUSA and the memory restoration aside.” He looked to Xander. “You know why.”

Xander swallowed hard and nodded. “Willow closed the Sunnydale Hellmouth and made it inactive.”

“Yes. To my knowledge, she is the only person in the world with that sort of power.”

“So we’ve gone from being afraid Willow will do big magic to needing to find her so she can do big magic.” Wright looked sick. “Near my daughter.”

“I am hopeful that Mr. Ketch will know something, or have access to someone who knows something, so that is not our only option, but yes.” He tensed further and forced himself to look at the blasted angel. “You must remain here to help us locate her. If she does magic, and I do believe she will, you are our best hope of finding her. Just as Xander is our best hope of reaching her.”

Mary smiled and patted him on the back. “Good job, honey.”

“And you.” Giles looked to Wright. “You or your brother or Mr. Gunn are the damned angel’s best hope of not being pummeled or worse by yours truly. So please, especially with Mary departing, keep me from killing the prat.”

Xander frowned. “What do you have against angels?”

Giles sighed. “Oh, do not get me started.”

“Don’t,” Mary agreed. Then leaned over and kissed his cheek. “That’s a story for another time.”

“I, for one, will be glad to hear it,” Castiel muttered.

“Oh, stuff it, you winged blighter.”

*~*~*

The second they were inside the room, Faith turned to Dean and began tearing at his shirt.

“Whoa,” he said, holding up his hands. “First-aid first, then we can talk.”

She met his eyes with a roll of her own, stripped his overshirt off his shoulders and pulled the tee over his head. Then, reminding herself to be gentle, she lifted his wrist so she could inspect the cut on his arm more closely. Not that she had a very good view—too much blood in the way, and she didn’t want to start poking at it.

“All right,” she muttered, stepping back. “You got that kit in the car, right?”

“Yeah. You up for it?”

To be honest, no. The cut looked wicked nasty and she didn’t love the idea of causing him more pain. From the way he winced when he thought her attention was elsewhere, she gathered this thing hurt like a motherfucker already.

But it was this or let him do it himself, and that was worse.

“All right. I’m gonna go get some hooch and some food. You shower and get that clean so I can get all nursey on your ass when I get back.” She held out a hand. “Keys?”

Dean blinked at her, somewhat dazed. Then he shook his head. “Huh?”

“Keys, Ducky. Think my ass can take sitting down now since some motherfucker threw me on it.”

He frowned and ran his good hand over said ass. “You hurt?”

“I already told you no. Now keys.”

“You want the keys to my car. To Baby.”

Faith felt her temper rise a notch and tightened her jaw. She’d known he was a bit precious about the car but hadn’t figured on him being downright stupid. Such to the point where he was standing in front of her, bleeding, and reluctant to let her take a spin at the wheel to get the things he’d said he wanted. “Fine,” she snapped, stepping back. “I’ll order a pizza and go to the liquor store across the street. Wouldn’t want to sully the Impala.”

“Hey—”

“Nope. I’m gone.” She plunged a hand into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Be back in a flash. Get yourself clean.”

“Faith, it’s not you—”

“Yeah, yeah.” She was out the door the next second, pulling her cellphone from her pocket and Googling the closest delivery place. She ordered meat lovers, figuring it was a safe bet, but also not giving a fuck at the moment if Dean liked it or not.

She didn’t linger at the liquor store, rather grabbed a bottle of whiskey and counted her lucky stars that they also had over-the-counter pain reliever. She debated going for shot glasses, but decided that Dean was likely a drink-from-the-bottle guy, and if he wasn’t, he would be tonight. By the time she negotiated her way back across the parking lot, she had more or less let go of her annoyance at his reticence to let her drive his precious car. The image of him stumbling into her line of sight, covered in blood, was more powerful than frustration.

Fuck, it had been a long ass time since she’d been that scared. Well, maybe not that long. She’d been that scared when she’d learned what the bracelet would do to Rosalie…and hell, the fact that she’d even made the mental comparison was enough to give her a different kind of scare. She shook her head to clear it and decided a moment later that what she’d felt then had been amplified by the freaky ass demon that had popped out of nowhere.

Dean was still in the shower when she entered the room, which was fine because she still needed that first-aid kit. She snatched his jeans off the floor and retrieved the car keys—debated for a moment taking the Impala for a cruise around the parking lot just to fuck with him, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth a bullshit argument. The kit was in the trunk, along with a whole assortment of goodies she hadn’t gotten to play with. She’d have to ask which were the best at decapitating the kind of demons that could seize command of her body at will, because those were the fuckers who really needed to die.

When she reentered the room a second time, Dean was standing by the bathroom, wet and wearing nothing but a towel. The cut on his arm was still bleeding but looked a little less gnarly.

She met his eyes as she kicked the door shut, then nodded to the bed. “Park it. Let’s get this over with.”

Dean didn’t move at first, instead watched her deposit his car keys on the table by his laptop before she grabbed the bag with the booze. He looked like he wanted to say something—maybe apologize for being an idiot about his car, but she wouldn’t hold her breath. In the end, he opted for nothing and moved to sit at the foot of the bed.

Faith tore open the kit. Rubbing alcohol—good, they wouldn’t have to waste any of the drinking kind—bandages, burn ointment, body-adhesive tape, band-aids, gauze, tweezers, scissors, eye-dressings, antiseptic cream, three packs of floss and a selection of needles. She frowned and held up the floss. “You use this?”

“It’s more durable than the alternative, so yeah.”

“All right.” She grabbed a selection of things from the kit and made her way to the bed, then backtracked for the bottle of whiskey and the pain killers. The latter she tossed to Dean before heading to the bathroom to grab a few towels.

“I ordered a pizza,” she said upon returning, finding it hard to look at him for some reason. “Meat lovers.”

“Awesome.” He sounded genuinely pleased.

“I’d like to have this done before they get here.” She laid out a towel on the floor before dropping to her knees in front of him. “You take the Advil?”

He held up the bottle. “Thanks for this. Though I think we had some in the kit.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t check before I left.”

Faith grabbed the rubbing alcohol and dabbed a sizable portion onto the washcloth. She was overly aware of herself, the way his arm felt against her left hand as her right took gentle swipes of the wounded area. He jerked a bit but didn’t otherwise betray he’d felt a thing, though the sensation of his eyes on her face became a bit much for her, so she scoured her mind for something to talk about that would distract him from what she was doing.

“Just how many of your demon buds can pull that freeze frame bullshit? 'Cause I gotta say, not a fan.”

Dean went rigid. “What?”

“Same trick as your friend from earlier,” Faith muttered, threading the needle with floss. “Different asshole, though. And I gotta add, I don’t know how to take the fact that they all seem to dig me. I know I have a type, but I also have fucking standards.”

“What are you talking about? Did something happen?”

She sat forward and at last looked up, and was startled to see real worry on his face. Worry and something else.

“Couple black-eyed demons jumped me,” she continued a moment longer. The needle was threaded; all that was left to do was the actual sewing. Goddammit, she had a stomach made of iron, but the idea of piercing Dean’s skin had it ready to rebel. “Right around the time I heard shit going down inside the church, this lanky-ass motherfucker comes outta nowhere and gets super familiar. Puts me on pause like that British asshole did earlier and gets all up in my business.” She wrinkled her nose, fighting off a shudder. It took a lot to creep her out, but something about that guy had done it. “Knew who I was, too. Said he’d wanted to meet me, that he was surprised I went up and not down and—”

“Son of a bitch.” Dean sat forward so rapidly she was fucking thankful she had yet to pierce his skin. He seized her chin with his good hand and jerked her head so their eyes met. “He didn’t hurt you? Touch you?”

“How many times do I gotta say it?” She jerked her chin free. “I ain’t hurt. He touched my face like a creeper but that was about it. He knew you, too. Didn’t seem to be a big fan but your friend from earlier—”

“Faith, that was Lucifer.”

She blinked and sat back on her legs. “Excuse me?”

“That was Lucifer. Shit.” Dean lurched forward, dropping his forehead against the palm of his uninjured arm.

The words made sense in that she understood them but not much beyond that. Faith sat still for a moment, aware that her heart was pounding and her ears were ringing. It was one thing to be ogled by demons—honestly, she was used to it—but for the actual devil to be into her? God, what sort of person did that make her?

You got into Heaven, she reminded herself, drawing in a fortifying breath and leaning over Dean’s injured arm again. And Chuck or whoever he was called you by name, so it wasn’t like he thought you were someone else.

Faith shook her head and forced herself to refocus on the task at hand, puncturing the skin at Dean’s arm with the needle and managing not to jump when he did.

“Jesus,” Dean snapped, reeling back. “A little warning!”

God, maybe she should just clock him and do it while he was unconscious. “Dean,” she said through gritted teeth, “I’m about to stick a giant-ass needle threaded with fucking dental floss into your arm. Consider yourself warned.”

This he ignored, though he winced and hissed when she started working in earnest. “What all did Lucifer say to you?”

“That was about all of it. He’d always wanted to meet a slayer—well, me in particular. Oh, and that I’m hot shit with bad taste in dick.”

“Fucker’s just jealous,” Dean muttered. “I’m Michael’s true vessel, you know, and Lucy has all kinds of big brother issues.”

“Am I supposed to know what that means?”

“Just…keep sewing, woman. And tell me what else he said.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re even more of an asshole when you’re hurt?” Still, Faith pulled him closer. She was grateful to see the process of sewing him up went quick once the initial hurdle was behind her. “That his minions were gonna kill you, basic bad guy blowhard junk.” She finished tending the wound with a sigh. “I’ll go get scissors. How’s that?”

Dean stared at her for a moment before glancing down. “Good,” he said, his voice clipped. She couldn’t tell if he was angry with Lucifer for talking to her or her for being targeted by Lucifer, though if it was that second thing, he could kiss her ass.

She seized the scissors out of the kit and marched back to where he sat. She tied off the floss, snipped it, rubbed some antiseptic cream over the area just to be safe, then applied the bandage.

“There you are, Ducky. Good as new.”

Dean seemed to stir out of himself at that. “You’re a fucking pro,” he muttered, studying his new dressing.

“Unlike some people in this room, I am a fast learner.”

He looked up, blinking. Then, as though his previous tension had been a figment of her imagination, broke out into his flirtiest smile. “Most nurses give stickers to their patients,” he said. “The best ones, anyway.”

“Sorry. Fresh out of stickers.”

“That’s okay.” He trailed his eyes down her body. “Lemme see the new ink on your ass and we’ll call it even.” He met her eyes again. “Pretty please, Nurse Faith?”

Faith snorted, though she couldn’t deny being relieved to be back on more familiar footing. Flirty Dean she could handle with ease. At least she knew what this version was thinking. So she rose to her feet and kicked off her shoes, then undid the clasp of her pants. She turned, sliding the material down until her ass was exposed.

Dean released a heavy breath. “Fuck. I have never before found this thing sexy.” He brushed his fingertips over the skin surrounding the mark. “Not sure how I feel about this.”

Faith smirked and turned back around, then laughed outright at the exaggerated pout on his lips. “Oh, poor Ducky,” she said…right before her gaze dropped to the tenting towel over his crotch. “Poor…horny Ducky. And here I thought it was only vamps and slayers that got off on pain. You sure you're human?”

Dean followed her eyes, then snorted himself. “I have a kink for role play. What can I say? Naughty nurse is a favorite.”

Oh, was that right? Faith glanced to the door. No headlights around the blinds. No running motor. No sound of a car door opening or closing. Maybe they had enough time before dinner arrived…

“Naughty nurse?” she replied, turning back to him. “The kind that sucks the venom out of your snake bite?”

Dean’s throat worked, the look on his face now a mixture of disbelieving, hopeful, and turned on. His dick responded by swelling up further so it was nearly pointed due north. “Yeah,” he said hoarsely. “Something like that.”

Faith held his gaze for a moment, then allowed her lips to stretch into a saucy smirk. “That is an awfully bad snake bite, Mr. Winchester,” she said, dropping to her knees in front of him. This wasn’t like anything she’d ever done before, but hell if the look on his face didn’t make it worth it a thousand times over.

She was used to men looking at her like they wanted to devour her alive—came with the territory—but there was something else in Dean’s eyes. Plenty of heat, yes, but that wasn’t all. It wasn’t even most of it. More like he legitimately couldn’t believe she was going along with it and was afraid she’d vanish if he blinked.

Faith grinned and leaned over, dragging the towel off his lap and grinned when his cock sprang toward her. She wrapped her hand around the base and gave it a good squeeze, and Dean let out a moan that went straight to her clit.

“Be a good patient for me now.”

“Honey, I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”

She snickered, then drew a circle around the head of his cock with her tongue. “Well, it looks like I got here just in time.”

“Shit. Shit, Faith.”

Fixing her eyes on his, she slowly worked him into her mouth. A long, trembling breath rattled through his body and he just looked at her, watched, as she pulled back and down again. After a few seconds, she released him with a wet plop. “This is an experimental treatment,” she told him straight-faced. “Not sure if it’ll save your life but I’m willing to give it a try.”

Dean nodded hard, his breath hitching. He funneled his fingers through her hair. “Worst comes to worst, I’ll die happy.”

Faith grinned wider and tongued the underside of his cock. “All right, then,” she said, lips lingering at the head. “Guess I better suck the poison out.”

She closed her mouth around him, her heart leaping when he hissed her name, and again when she felt him tighten the grip he had on her hair. Truth be told, Faith wasn’t a big lover of blowjobs. Well, giving them. After she’d become sexually confident, she’d stopped offering to most guys unless they were good to do her at the same time—reciprocal and mutual. But there was something about putting her mouth on Dean that had her blood heating. The way he looked at her, the sounds he made, how he smelled—all of it that was singular to him. She truly couldn’t imagine doing something this with anyone else of her own volition and enjoying herself. But Dean made it impossible to not enjoy herself.

She took her time, bobbed her head, savored the sensation of him sliding against her tongue, drawing him in far enough to hit the back of her throat, then pulling back again. Dean’s breathing became more labored, intense, and his eyes never left hers. There was that, too. He kept watching her as though trying to convince himself this was really happening, which was heady as fuck, because she knew he had a reputation for not being choosy when it came to partners—same as she did. That she could put that look on his face while doing something rather basic… Well, it made her think that maybe this much was just hers.

“Faith…shit. Shit, I’m—”

Faith abruptly released him from her mouth, sat back and pulled off her top and her bra in one swipe. Then she closed her lips around him again, tonguing the head of his cock, the dip there at the tip, stroking him hard with her free hand. And when she felt him tense, she pulled back and watched as white ropes of semen splattered across her breasts.

“Holy…fuck.” Dean was panting, that strange glow still in his eyes. “Faith.”

She just gave him a smile and rose to her feet with a dancer’s grace. It wasn’t until she made to head to the bathroom that he spoke again.

“Where…are you going?” He pawed weakly at her ass. “Get back here. Pants off.”

“Nah, I think that’s enough excitement for my ducky tonight.” Faith flicked on the light over the sink, took a moment to admire the strikes of cum on her tits, then wetted a fresh washcloth to clean herself off. “We want that arm to heal up.”

“Babe, I got a free hand and a mouth. You won’t hurt me.”

“Good to know.” She turned back around, kicked off her pants and watched Dean’s eyes go wide. “But I got two good hands if I need to take care of anything. And I’m good. I’m the only person who’s ever gotten me off one-hundred percent of the time.”

“Now I know that’s a goddamned lie. If I didn’t make you come each time, you’d punish me.”

“True. Guess I should say, scores are tallied at the end of the run. We’re still in it.”

Dean snickered. “All scores but your own.”

“Of course,” she said, slipping one of Dean’s tees over her head. “The judge is biased.”

Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the sound of a knock at the door. “Anyone order pizza?”

Hell, she’d forgotten about that. She turned to aim a smirk at Dean, grabbed a pair of sweats from his bag and hopped into them as she made her way to the door.

“Ah, good,” she said. “My meat has arrived. Better put that towel back where it was, Ducky, unless you want the delivery guy to think we’re making naughty films in here.”

Dean glanced down, snickered, and grabbed a pillow from the head of the bed. It wasn’t much, but it’d keep the delivery guy from getting the full eye-full.

And though it was likely nothing the dude hadn’t seen a dozen times, Faith made sure to tip generously.

*~*~*

In all honesty, Dawn was pissed more at herself than at Spike. Because, well, Spike being an ass and getting all up in her love life was just a thing Spike did. He’d been insufferable when she’d first started dating—insistent on taking all potential suitors into a dark room so he could flash some fang and essentially do whatever he could to make them piss themselves. It had only been after Dawn had pleaded with Buffy to find this behavior annoying and not cute that her big sister had stepped in…only to then lose her shit because Dawn had been dumb enough to write down the wrong time for her date and had made a big to-do about being stood up.

Spike’s response to her complaints had been to shrug and say that any decent wanker wouldn’t be scared off quite so easily and he was just helping her see that none of those blokes were worthy of her time. If they couldn’t take a few not-so-veiled death threats, then they definitely couldn’t handle dating the Slayer’s sister, who just so happened to also be a mystical Key.

That had made an annoying amount of sense, though Dawn had never admitted it.

So Spike threatening Sam was just par for the course, and Dawn should have realized the second she started flaunting her stuff that her brother-in-law would take it upon himself to scare the man away. The fact that Sam hunted demons for a living didn’t earn him any points in vampire logic—if anything, Spike would put him through even more tests to see if he wimped out or decided Dawn wasn’t worth it.

And considering it had taken literally flashing panties at Sam—never mind the fact that they weren’t hers—to get him to admit he had a thing for her, Dawn didn’t love her odds. Not that Sam was necessarily afraid of Spike, because she doubted he was, but that he’d see the vampire as another obstacle.

When Buffy came into Rosa Lee’s an hour or so following Spike’s performance for his worst-timing-ever award, Dawn all but flagged her sister down.

“Bloody Mary?” she asked with a bright I’m-so-innocent smile the second Buffy walked up.

“Who’s the blood from this time?”

“Pretty sure an actual cow named Mary.”

“Then sure.” Buffy situated herself on the stool across the bar. “So…what’s up?”

“What?”

“Well, Spike came back to patrol with a beer and a grin. The beer was self-explanatory, but he was oddly quiet about what put him in such a good mood.”

Dawn sighed, mixing the drink. “Sam asked me out. Kind of. We were on the way to major sparkage when your stupid undead boyfriend—”

“Ah.” Buffy smirked. “I see.”

“Buffy! I really like him.” And god, didn’t that make her sound like the hormonal teenager.

“Judging by your slutwear, yeah. Points to the obvious.”

Dawn glanced down at herself. Unlike her sister, she had been blessed in the boob department and this tube top did all kinds of good stuff for the girls. Probably another reason Spike had been so obnoxious. For a guy who literally ripped panties off his mate everywhere he went, he was oddly Victorian about how much skin those girls he considered under his protection showed. But hell, he’d gotten over Hunter and Rosalie, and Rosalie was seven damn years younger than she was. At least there was no chance Sam could be arrested if they ever did the naked tango.

“Things are happening,” Dawn said in a low, steady voice. “And come on, Buff. Of anyone I’ve ever liked, Sam is the best. He’s practically a boy scout.”

Buffy snickered. “That’s actually why Faith said she wouldn’t hook up with him.”

The thought of Faith putting her sluttastic hands anywhere near Sam made Dawn wish she could trigger her Key power. “He wouldn’t with her anyway,” she snapped, though she didn’t quite believe this. If the reason Sam had been so reluctant to pursue whatever was between the two of them was his stupid belief that Dawn was too good for him, then yeah, she could see him being okay with Faith.

“Well, not now,” Buffy agreed. “I think there’s a code between brothers. If there’s not, there should be.”

“Like there was a code between vampires from the same family?”

“Uhh, hell to the no. And stop trying to deflect.” Buffy leaned forward and grabbed the drink Dawn had just finished making. “Put this on Spike’s tab.”

“You mean don’t charge you.”

“Well, Nick did say that slayers drink free and I haven’t heard him walk that back, so cheers.” She lifted her glass and took a healthy swallow. “Look, Sam is pretty much the best of the best, as far as I’m concerned. You could and have done a lot worse.”

“So tell Spike to back off.”

Buffy looked like she was fighting off a grin. “He loves you. He just wants to make sure whoever you end up with deserves you.”

“By trying to scare them away?” Though Dawn already knew the answer, having just mulled this over.

“If they’re easy to scare, they don’t deserve you. Especially someone like Sam who already knows about the real world and is capable of taking care of himself.”

“You know what you are?”

“Of no help whatsoever?”

“Among other things,” Dawn agreed.

Buffy shrugged and lifted her glass. “It’s what big sisters are for. Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have a vampire to find.” She slid off her seat and disappeared into the growing throng of demons crowding the place, making an intuitive beeline toward where Spike was currently bilking a bunch of clueless demons out of their probably stolen money.

Stupid vampires.

“Stupid vampires,” she muttered.

“Fight with big sis?”

Dawn looked up, her heart doing that leapy thing it had a tendency to do when Sam was in proximity. He flashed her his most disarming smile and she felt herself start to melt.

Dammit, if Spike messed this up for her, she was going to stake him. Repeatedly. The ring would keep him alive, but that would have to get annoying after a while.

“Spike has corrupted her,” Dawn replied bluntly. “She seems to think his hassling you is a good thing.”

Sam frowned and tossed a look over his shoulder as if to verify they were talking about the same Buffy. “Huh,” he said, looking a bit dejected. “And here I thought she liked me.”

“She does. That’s why she wants you to keep being harassed.”

The frown deepened. “This is some twisted older sibling logic that normal people like you and me will never understand, isn’t it?”

“Definitely. The point of it being, if you let yourself be scared off by Spike, you are unworthy of the awesomeness that is me. He’s essentially hazing you.”

Sam seemed to consider this and, to her delight, the longer he did, the more the frown marring his pretty face lessened.

“Spike didn’t count on something,” he said a moment later, leaning forward with a downright flirty grin.

Dawn’s heart did a fluttery thing and all her nerves sprang to life. She wanted to get laid. Big time. And from the look on Sam’s face, he was more than up for the job. “What’s that?”

“Dean Winchester is my big brother. So whatever he has in mind, I’m prepared.”

*~*~*

It was kinda heady, the fact that she could stuff her face like she was training up for some kind of competitive eating shindig and Dean still looked at her like she was the thing that needed to be devoured. Of course, that might have been the residual high from the blowjob.

They polished off the pizza in a cool twenty minutes, both starved by that point. Dean’s earlier tummy ache had broken at some point, though she imagined it’d be back if the looks he aimed the remainder of the pie were any indication. They’d taken turns washing down the meat explosion with swigs of whiskey, not talking much but somehow still saying a lot. And yeah, that had her scared too.

Scared for a whole host of reasons.

After the food was gone, she decided to curb any more serious contemplation by calling it a night. They had churches to hit tomorrow and her ducky needed his rest. Poor guy didn’t have the luxury of slayer healing—had that cut been on her, it would have looked a few days old by now.

Dean seemed to be of the same mind. He did his business in the bathroom, then crawled into bed.

Faith kicked her legs back up on the table and settled into the chair, waiting for him to turn off the light. It wasn’t the most comfortable place she’d slept, but she’d definitely had worse, so this beggar was not gonna be choosy tonight.

After a few minutes, though, Dean broke the silence. “What are you doing?”

“Waiting for you to turn off the light and pass out.”

“Why are you over there?”

Faith peeked an eye open, scowling. “Uhh, your arm.”

“Are you planning on slicing it open again or something?”

“I can be a hard sleeper, Ducky. And by hard, I mean violent.” Though she hadn’t had any nightmares since she and Dean had started sharing a bed—something she decided not to tell him. “You’ve caught a break so far, but tonight ain’t the night to test it. I’ll be fine over here. More comfortable than my jail cell was and that’s good enough for me.”

Dean studied her for a long, quiet moment. And she thought that’d be the end of it.

“You’re gonna be one cranky jerk tomorrow,” he said. “And we got a lot of shit to cover. I’ll take my chances. You hit me and I’ll hit you back.”

“Yeah and I’ll probably put you through the wall.”

“Well, it’ll give you a reason to play nurse again.”

Faith smirked at that, lowering her feet to the ground. “You’re gonna try to get me to hurt you now, aren’t you?”

“Umm, hell yes.”

She shook her head, snickering, and made her way over to the bed. “Freaky duck,” she muttered, sliding under the covers.

“Clever duck,” he fired back.

“Whatever,” she said, on her side now, her back to him. “Just turn off the light.”

He didn’t for a long beat, and she would have sworn she felt his eyes on her back. The air grew thick, like he wanted to say something, but ultimately he didn’t. The moment passed; he let out a long breath, there was a click, and the room plunged into darkness.

Chapter Text

Sam was drunk.

Way too drunk to being making important life decisions. Important decisions like having sex with the woman he’d been crushing for the last few months.

He hung around the bar until closing, continuing to imbibe more whiskey and beers. Much too much to make it home on his own. But that had been part of his plan.

Nick released Dawn from duty after the doors were shut. Sam and Dawn had been sharing enough heated glances through the night to send up smoke signals to anyone who had eyes. She politely volunteered to drive him and his truck home after she tossed her apron aside and stuffed her tips in her purse. 

And then they started making out the moment they were alone in the cab.

“Oh holy nightlight,” Dawn gasped the first time they came up for air.

“Dawnie, I want,” he responded between panting breaths. “You. Just you.”

Their mouths joined back together and their hands began to wonder over and then inside various articles of clothing. Dawn looked around the empty lot and had the sense to move away from the bar. Somewhere between the bar and the bunker, she turned off on a county road before making a few turns down some dirt and gravel paths.

It sounded like a bad country song. He found love in the back of his pickup truck, under the stars, in a farmer’s field. It was pretty funny how simplistic it was considering who they were and how very complicated everything was in their lives.

But it was perfect. Even drunk he could realize it. Maybe Dawn was the Key. The Key to his heart.

“Oh my God,” Dawn snickered as they laid there naked in the back of the truck, her body pressed to his as the night breeze caressed their skin. “That is the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“I’m a little drunk right now,” he giggled.

She pulled herself back from his embrace to try and make eye contact in the moonlight. “Were you too drunk for this, Sam? Did I just take advantage of you?”

“No,” he said before pulling her down for a kiss. “And I promise to be sober next time.”

“You are already planning a next time?”

“Dawnie, don’t smartass me into a dumbass.”

She chuckled and snuggled closer. “I want a next time, Sam.”

“Good.”

Everything was a fuzzy blur of happiness from the time he hopped in the truck with Dawn at Rosa Lee’s until they slipped into their separate rooms in the bunker nearing sunrise.

It was pretty much a scene written for a romance movie.

Except for one little part. The part where he slipped her panties in his pocket as they got dressed. Dawn assumed they’d fallen into the rows of corn that surrounded them while they scrambled to undress. She’d told him that she didn’t care enough to go crawling around in the dark without any pants on. Sam just smiled.

Because he had a plan. A little bit of payback and a word of warning to a certain blond vampire that he wouldn’t scare so easily.

When they hit the parking garage, he noted that Spike’s car window was rolled down. When Dawn turned to open the door, Sam grabbed the wad of fabric from his pocket and launched her panties into the Oldsmobile.

He giggled until Dawn kissed him breathless before they went in their separate rooms. He fell asleep with a mind full of Dawn Summers: Key to his Heart.

He woke up to Spike Pratt: Key to his Suffocation.

Perhaps he had made a poor life choice provoking a soulless vampire about his baby sister.

*~*~*

Dean bolted up in the bed and scrambled for his gun.

Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you?”

“The fuck!” he gasped, aiming his gun around the room.

Faith too had sat up, dazed and confused.

“Sweet home Alabama, where the skies are so blue.”

Reality hit him when he saw the flashing alarm clock by the bed. Some motherfucker here yesterday had woken up at 7am.

“Sweet home Alabama, I’m coming home to you.”

He slammed the clock with the butt of his pistol, likely breaking the damn thing, but Dean didn’t really care. Tossing the gun on the nightstand, he braced his hands on his knees.

Faith grunted and he felt her flop back on her pillow.

“I agree,” he muttered in a thick, sleepy voice. While they’d turned in earlier than ever, he felt more exhausted than he had since the night he’d first seen Faith ganking vamps in that cemetery.

Lucifer. The fucking devil had been running through his nightmares for nearly a decade now. And now he’s got not only another plan for fucking up the world, but he had a taste for his Slayer.

One day. One fucking day without crazy witches or nasty Krakens or pervy demons of fucking biblical super-villains. Why couldn’t he have been an ice cream inspector or a roller coaster tester? Something fun.

“Hey,” he heard before his felt Faith’s hand on his back. “How’s the arm?”

He gave it a look. The bandage was pink with blood, but he knew the stitches had held up. “You found a new talent. If not nursing, you could be Buffalo Bill’s understudy.”

Her fingers trailed a path downward until she pinched his exposed butt cheek. “So what’s the plan, man?”

He sighed. What he wanted to do was run the fuck away. That wasn’t really an option. “I guess we get dressed and start hitting these other churches on the list. Demons aren’t afraid of daylight and now that Lucifer knows we’re in town, we don’t really got any options but to get this salt before he does.”

“You really know how to sweet talk the ladies, Ducky.”

He really wanted to pretend like everything was fine and good, but it really wasn’t. And the more he thought about how bad this could go, the more nervous he got. And the more nervous he got, the angrier he started to get at himself for letting the devil get under his skin. And somewhere in there was a whole other circle of shit about being worried about Faith, but annoyed about it and too proud to want to show her how worried and nervous and just fucked up he really was.

With a grunt of self-loathing, he stood from the bed and walked his naked ass over to his bag. He didn’t really see the point of putting the suits back on, but at the same time knew that it may be easier. Unless instead of playing the authority angle, they’d play potential parishioners. That would give them better access to their weapons as well as not having to worry about washing Faith’s jacket. He sure had popped his top on her yesterday twice…

“This isn’t going to work,” Faith said hotly.

Dean stopped in his thoughts and whipped around, underwear in his hand. “We don’t have time for nookie this morning.”

She chucked a pillow at him. He let it hit his chest and fall to the floor. “It wasn’t my fucking fault!” she snapped. “I didn’t tell him about me or you or what the fuck we were doing here!”

He took a deep breath. “I never said you—”

“So he asked if I was Ro or B. Bunny, actually. All I said was no. What the fuck was I supposed to say, Winchester? He knew who the fuck I was and he even knew where I came from. You can’t blame me for any of this because I was frozen like a fucking doll!”

“I’m not—”

She hopped up out of bed and came marching at him. “And last night I played your fucking naughty nurse fantasy. I stitched your sorry ass up even though it was fucking gross. And I watched you as I sucked your dick and you loved every fucking minute of it!”

“Faith—”

“So don’t be pissed at me. Don’t you fucking dare!”

That was it. Tossing down his boxer briefs, he reached out with both arms and hauled her body up against his before slamming his mouth against her lips. His injury whined in protest, but fuck if he cared as he grasped her nape and drove his tongue inside her mouth. She resisted for more seconds than he would have liked, but eventually he felt the tension leave her muscles as she wrapped her arms around him and returned the kiss.

But it wasn’t going to be enough. Not today. She wasn’t going to let a look or a gesture make his argument. As she pushed her hands against his chest, she broke the kiss and took a step back, the fire burning still in her eyes.

“I’m not mad,” he said in a small voice. “I’m scared,” he nearly choked.

They stood there in silence for several moments before Faith whispered, “I am too.”

He bit his lip, contemplating the idea of throwing her down on the bed and just fucking her until they both forgot confessions and Lucifer and this whole crazy mess. Either that or hauling her over his shoulder and hightailing it to the Impala to run away, underwear be damned. Neither one of those seemed like viable options.

“Well, this is awkward,” Faith said with a shadow of a smile.

He couldn’t help the nervous bubble of laughter that escaped him. “Try doing it naked.”

She snickered at that. “I think if I stripped down now we’d just end up having sex.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“So, we’re good?” He saw her flinch slightly as she tried to go for casual. “I mean about what I said to him. You aren’t mad?”

He shook his head. “No.” Then he smirked. “The world doesn’t revolve around you.”

“I’m pretty sure we both can agree the best parts of yours most certainly do.” She knelt down and picked up his underwear, tossing it up his direction. “Come on, Ducky. Let’s go save the world. Again.”

“Or die trying. Again.”

*~*~*

Rosalie had been coming to taunt Sam for being late for their morning jog. Nick had come home snickering about her watcher finding a new girl to “watch” last night at the bar. He’d wagered her a trip to the movies that Sam and Dawn had “gone down to Pound Town” last night. Considering the scene she found when she looked inside the doorway to her watcher’s room, she begrudgingly had to settle for another date night in the bunker.

That said, she also had to stop Spike before he killed her watcher. “Goddammit,” she growled as she bounded over to the bed. Spike had Sam pinned between his thighs and was sitting atop the larger man, throwing one punch after another.

“Gonna fuckin’ rip every piece off, boy,” Spike snarled. “Starting with your little knob.”

Whoa. She didn’t really want to tangle with an actually angry slayer killer, but murder wasn’t something she could sit around and let go down. Channeling her inner mojo, she grasped Spike by the shoulders and pulled him back. She may have been a bit too with the Slayer juice as he went flying into Sam’s dresser, wood splintering as he crashed.

Spike instinctively growled, jumping up in a flash, but the yellow in his eyes dimmed as the man behind the demon recognized her. “Stay back, Bite Size. This isn’t your fight.”

She cast a weary look at Sam bleeding on the bed, crumpled up in a broken ball. “Doesn’t look like a fight at all. What the fuck, dude?”

The commotion had obviously disturbed everyone else within the bunker. Rosalie noticed with a glance that Buffy, Nick, Dawn and… “Mary?”

“Yeah. I can see what Rupert meant about leaving you children unattended.” Mary flashed a dark look at Spike before pushing past the other spectators and entering the room. “Make sure to attack me, William, before you start again on my son.”

“Your son? Your son…” Spike roared.

“Hey!” Buffy snapped. “What the hell happened? You said you were stepping out for a smoke.”

When Spike spotted his mate, he calmed enough to shift his bumpies back to his more adorable self. He was definitely still mad though, so Rose kept her guard up. “This”—he gestured toward the bed—“wanker threw Bit’s knickers—her dirty, dirty knickers—into my car.”

“Oh. My. God.” Rosalie heard the mortification in Dawn’s voice without looking over Buffy’s shoulder.

“Oh my god,” Sam groaned. “Oh my god, I did that.” He tried to pull himself up, but collapsed on the bed, covering his face with his arm. “Oh god, Dawn. Kill me.”

“Don’t you worry,” Spike spat. “I can finish the job.”

“Stop,” Buffy said, Rosalie noting there was definitely a hint of bemusement in her voice. “Dawn gets first dibs on the murder act right now.” She arched a brow to her mate. “Big brother duty is successfully completed. Come on.”

While he let Buffy take him by the hand and out of the room, everyone heard him tell Dawn, “One word and I’ll tear his pecker off. I’ll even let you watch.”

Rosalie looked up to see Nick looking at her, his eyes full of laughter. “Pity mate,” he said casting a brief glance to Sam. “I really liked you, Winchester.”

“Go away,” Mary admonished sternly.

The amusement died in Nick’s eyes. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied before turning away.

Rosalie had to bite her cheek to keep from giggling. Her boyfriend was an adorable pushover. Instead she focused on Dawn, who had looked too horrified to yet run away. “Don’t kill him until I find a new watcher, D. I’m really running low on options. Honestly, I think my next one would be Dean and I don’t think I could handle another one of Faith’s fuck buddies as my guiding star.”

“Nobody is killing Sam,” Mary said. “At least not until after the meeting we are setting up.”

“What?” Sam croaked. He still hadn’t uncovered his eyes.

“I need you alive. At least long enough to call Ketch here.”

“No.” Rosalie heard Sam and Dawn echo her reply in unison.

“Rupert believes the Men of Letters have hidden the information about the Hellmouth somewhere inside the bunker. Without busting into the walls, he’s our best option.” She gave an apologetic look to Dawn. “Once we decipher anything we find, I’ll hold him down while you strangle him.”

Sam lifted his arm enough to peek through with a blackened eye. “Dawn, I’m so sorry.”

Mary sighed. “Yeah, Samuel. I would have expected something so crass from Dean, not you.”

“Oh god,” Sam whimpered. “I’m Dean.” He made a noise of disgust. “I’m killing myself.”

“Not until after the meeting,” Mary said. “Now get up, panty thief. We have work to do.”

Chapter Text

Sabrina fought to keep her smile in place, certain she’d heard wrong.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”

Toadmore favored her with a bored look that all but screamed she wasn’t worth his time. “Willow Rosenberg has been acquired as an asset of Wolfram and Hart,” he said, over enunciating each word like she was a child. “Which means she is officially no longer our problem.”

“How is she an asset?”

“Wolfram and Hart have an interest in some land in Kansas. Willow has teamed up with one of the senior partners to aid in the acquisition. Her brand of magic”—this he said with an expression that suggested he’d smelled something foul—“is reportedly a better fit for them than ours for this particular task. And good riddance, so say we all. Wolfram and Hart can keep her contained.”

Okay, so she hadn’t heard wrong.

Just a few short weeks ago, this news would have been a relief to her as well. A major relief. Anytime Wolfram and Hart were able to assume the burden of maintaining the International Statute of Secrecy meant cutting back on red tape and returning to business as normal.

That had been before she’d met Wesley. Before she’d learned what Wolfram and Hart had offered him to exact revenge and what they had attempted to do to the Wright family.

That had been before she’d learned the law firm was staffed with people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill children to get what they wanted. Before she’d started questioning her own loyalty to the organization to which she had dedicated her life.

“That is…terrific news,” she said brightly, hoping he couldn’t hear how hard her heart was hammering. She began backtracking out of Toadmore’s office, never taking her gaze off him. “Then the Golden Trio”—this she said with an eyeroll as was expected—“and Percy Weasley may return to England.”

“Merlin willing,” Toadmore muttered, having already shifted his attention back to his desk. “Thank you, Ms. Deanne. You may see yourself out.”

The second Sabrina was out of his line of vision, she started sprinting down the hall toward the exit. She had no thought except to get outside. Get to where she could pull out her cellphone and blend with the NoMajes. Call Wesley.

Then she remembered she was a witch and could Apparate. Which did with a loud crack. When she opened her eyes, she was confined with the walls of her apartment and let out the first free breath she’d taken since Toadmore had called her into his office.

Only this place wasn’t exactly safe either, was it? Government property, purchased through the real estate division of Wolfram and Hart.

God, was there nowhere?

Then she thought of Caritas and was flooded with actual relief.

The second she was inside the bar, within its sanctuary spell, she jerked her phone out of her pocket and tapped Wesley’s name.

He answered on the first ring.

“They have Willow,” she blurted inelegantly.

“What? Who? Are you hurt?”

“Wolfram and Hart,” she said, and only then realized she was shaking from head to foot. “Toadmore confirmed that Willow is no longer a MACUSA problem, that she is working with one of the senior partners to help with a matter in Kansas.”

Wesley released a string of curse words that turned her blood hot for all the wrong reasons. “If Wolfram and Hart is involved—”

“I know. I know.”

He was quiet for a moment, but it was a loud quiet. A quiet she could tell he was using to think. Then, after a beat, he said slowly, “Sabrina…I need to know how you feel about MACUSA at the moment.”

So did she. Sabrina managed nothing more than a harsh laugh, her eyes stinging with tears. “Why?”

“Because we need to know how deeply their ties to Wolfram and Hart run. The way I imagine it, MACUSA believes that they are the authority in this relationship, being that they govern the magical population…but I suspect it is the other way around. Wolfram and Hart is a much older, ancient branch of evil. They would be in no position to dictate terms to the government if they did not have the upper hand.” A long breath whispered through the phone. “Sabrina, can you access the contract with Wolfram and Hart?”

“I’m not an archivist.” Plus she had no goddamned idea how to go about it. Espionage against her government was something she’d never thought to once consider, let alone do. “And I have no idea what I’m looking for.”

“Are there others within the organization who could help you?”

No one. All toed the line regurgitated by the government officials. She knew of no one who had any sort of access breaking into a government building.

Then she thought of something. Someone. Three someones, in fact. And despite everything, she started to laugh.

“Sabrina?”

“I have no experience breaking into government buildings,” Sabrina told him. “None whatsoever. But…there are three people in Los Angeles who do.”

There was a beat. “You’re going to approach Harry Potter.”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“No. Actually, I think that’s rather brilliant.”

“Well, let’s hope he agrees,” Sabrina said. “Wes, I need to call Josh Lyman. Let him know what’s going on with Willow. I’m not sure if he can get the NoMaj governor to do anything to help—if there is anything they can do to help…but I am open to suggestions.”

“I rather doubt Sam Seaborn will be open to talking with you given that you intend to kill Willow Rosenberg. No matter what happened there, she is the mother of his child.”

Sabrina pressed her lips together, nodded. Only Wes wasn’t here to see that. “Perhaps we don’t need to kill her. She is obviously contained at the moment. The threat I thought she posed might not exist.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“So do I.”

Particularly since she was going to ask Josh Lyman for an audience with the governor. And then reach out to the Golden Trio to beg their assistance in doing the impossible.

*~*~*

Oh, how so much could go to shit in just twenty-four hours.

At least the numb stage was behind her, along with the mortification. Dawn knew this was the exaggeration of her brain, but she felt like she’d been an awkward teenager for roughly twelve thousand years. And she’d always been the Slayer’s pesky kid sister, the girl who got herself kidnapped every other week and in general made life not so much fun for everyone. When Buffy had been turned, the dynamic had changed, though not as much as she would have thought. After Willow had nearly wiped out half of Europe—and everyone was under the memory modification—things had been more or less normal at good ole Sunnydale. Buffy and Spike had split their focus between the Hellmouth and Los Angeles due to the new friendships they’d forged, and the Scoobies had somewhat dismantled. Xander and Anya off doing their own thing, Giles moving wherever he was closest to Buffy, and Dawn in the periphery until she’d been old enough to ship off to college. It was only there, among others her own age, that she’d started to feel more or less like an actual person than a thing created by a bunch of monks.

Perhaps that was why her initial instinct had been to cut her losses and get out of Dodge when people started coupling off. Because what inevitably happened whenever she was around Buffy—and Dawn loved Buffy with everything she was—but she became the punchline. The girl who needed rescuing. Never mind that she’d been rescuing herself and doing a damn fine job of it for years now, but even the guy she thought might be The Guy had turned her into a joke. He’d taken something that had meant a lot to her and managed to undermine the confidence that had taken years to build. And now here she was.

Part of her kind of wished Spike had succeeded in taking Sam’s head off. She and Spike shared this sort of thing, she supposed. He’d spent his human life the laughing stock of his peers, and when he took someone under his protection, he fucking meant it.

A knock sounded at her door and she tensed. Dawn might not have vamp sense of smell, but she still somehow knew the person on the other side was Sam. What she didn’t know was whether or not she wanted to talk to him, now or ever again.

There was a beat, then another knock. Then, “Dawn…can we talk, please?”

Dawn blinked at the ceiling, having not moved once since retreating to her bedroom while Sam made the call to Ketch. She’d hoped that the meeting Mary had insisted on would be an immediate thing, but if Sam thought they had time to squeeze in a heart-to-heart, that likely meant they had at least an hour.

Just enough time to complete her humiliation.

“Dawn?” There was a thunk against the door. She imagined him hitting it with his forehead. “Dawn, I am so sorry.”

Well, that just pissed her off. And hey, anger was better than mortified. With a surge of energy, Dawn bounded to her feet, closed the space between her and the door, and threw the thing open.

“You’re sorry?” she snapped, allowing herself a moment to take in the sight of him. He had two black eyes, a swollen cheek, and his lip was split. A lip she’d spent a good amount of time sucking on the night before, among other things. Ugh, she was such an idiot. “What are you sorry for, Sam? Fucking me or fucking me over?”

“Dawnie—”

“No. You don’t get to Dawnie me. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was? How cheap you made me feel? Spike once let himself get the stuffing tortured out of him to protect me from a hellgod. Did you know that?”

Sam shook his head, working his throat. “No.”

“She thought Spike was the Key, because he and Buffy were mates by that point and always together. So she kidnapped him, tortured him to near dust, and he let her. The soulless guy. Yeah, he’s overprotective, but he’s my brother. He’s supposed to be overprotective. And after last night, I say, good for him. Maybe his way of going about scaring off everything with a penis is actually effective.” Dawn whirled around and kicked the wall beside the door, tears stinging her eyes. “I liked you. I liked you so much and idiot that I am, I told you. And here’s the kicker, I thought you liked me too! That you were cute and bumbly and had no idea how to act around me, and somehow that translates into taking something private and taunting a guy who took a beating from a hellgod to protect me with the knowledge that you got some?”

“Dawn,” Sam said, choked. “Dawn, I… You’re right. About everything. I don’t… Whatever that was, between you and me, that was me. What happened after was… I dunno. I’m not that person. I have never been that person. Not once. Never. And…that I made you feel anything like that is… I will never be able to tell you how sorry I am.”

Yeah, she knew he was sorry. She’d seen it that morning when he’d realized what he’d done—a regret that had nothing to do with the fact that a vampire half his size had mopped the floor with his overly pretty face. She’d seen it in the dozens of looks he’d shot her way, and she saw it now. The horror in his eyes was real, as was the regret. And dammit, she still liked those eyes. And those hands. And that mouth, split lip and all.

Dawn crossed her arms. She’d already proven herself to be a giant moron—might as well go all the way. “Try.”

“Try…”

“To tell me how sorry you are. I want you to try.” She inhaled a deep breath, willing herself to remain composed. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Sam looked at her, his expression waning between self-disgust and hope. “I think it’s clear I wasn’t. In my stupid drunk Sam logic, it was… I think I meant it to be a message to Spike that he could try whatever he wanted to scare me off, but it wouldn’t work.”

“It wouldn’t work.”

“Right. Also…Buffy’s underwear in my truck… I thought it was fair.”

Dawn blinked at him. “So your answer to the most humiliating morning after of my life, in which you provoked my family, is you wanted to show them that you wouldn’t be scared off, oh, and gotcha back.”

“My answer to this morning is I am an idiot who is never drinking again.” He closed his eyes. “Dawn… I never in my wildest set out to hurt you. It kills me that I did. Because I am kinda crazy about you and…”

“You are a moron.”

“Yes. Yes I am.” Sam took a step back, a pained look crossing his face—one completely separate from the bruises and cuts there. “And…knowing that I screwed this up before we even got started is going to be one of those things that stays with me. For everything, Dawn, I am sorry.”

He had turned and was moving down the hall. And Dawn realized this was one of those moments—the sort that would either go down in the annals of Dawn Summers history as the time she kicked ass, took names, and stomped down the patriarchy, or took a chance on something with no guarantee that her gamble would pay off. Had she just met Sam, Option A would have been the clear winner. But she hadn’t just met Sam—she’d known Sam for more than two months now, had spent time with him, gone on hunts with him, laughed with him over breakfast, teased him about his hair. The Sam that had humiliated her was incongruent with the guy she knew—the guy she thought she could fall in love with.

And that Sam, sober Sam, was the one walking away now.

She spoke without realizing she’d made a decision, then mentally patted herself on the back, knowing it was the right one. “Sam?”

He stopped but didn’t turn.

“Are you sure you weren’t a virgin?”

There was nothing at this, then he turned and just stared at her.

“Just saying, the whole ‘bragging that you got some’ thing? Total move of the recently deflowered.”

He stood so still, gazing at her unblinking, that she thought she might have actually broken him.

“It’s cool if you were,” she went on, and started down the hallway toward him. “I mean, I’d never been with a virgin before.”

“Dawn—”

“What I’m saying is, if that was a stupid way to tell the world I popped your cherry, I can trust that it will never happen again, as there is no remaining cherry to pop. It’s no longer headline news.”

She watched, and saw the instant her meaning became clear. Saw the lines on his face recede and, while he still looked like he was nursing some heavy self-hatred, there was something else there too.

A hint of a smile.

Sam spread his arms. “You got me. V-card officially punched.”

“Which means…”

“Which means I got the stupid out of me.”

Dawn strolled down the hallway until they were just inches apart, then took his wrist. “You better hope that’s right,” she said, threading her fingers through his and tugging him back to her room. “Because if there’s any stupid left, I will carve it right the fuck out of you.”

“I will deserve it.”

“You already do.”

“I know.”

“Good.” Then, releasing the last of her anger, she gave him a smile and brushed a kiss across his uninjured cheek. “Then let’s see if we can get the swelling to go down before Ketch gets here. And you have to make nice with Spike.”

At that, some of the light dimmed in Sam’s eyes. He swallowed hard and nodded. “I will.”

“I’m worth it.”

“I know you are.” A pause. “Dawnie, really, I—”

“I know. It’s…over,” she said. “The fight. The me being mad at you thing. Let’s just try to make our second fight about something actually stupid.”

Sam released a long, shuddering sigh, pressing his eyes closed. “I so don’t deserve you.”

“That is so completely obvious. Now come on and I’ll go get an icepack.”

*~*~*

Faith wasn’t stupid. She knew that Dean Winchester admitting he was scared was a big damn deal, and one he’d likely be kicking himself over for the next few hours unless she did something to diffuse the tension.

Because, hell, Faith had been scared plenty. It wasn’t something she liked to advertise, but she knew from the past that keeping her emotions bottled led to bad things. Things like human men punctured by wooden stakes, or tying up someone and torturing the shit out of them just to push a vampire close enough to the edge that he wouldn’t think twice before doing the decent thing and snapping her neck. Part of prison had been rehabilitation, coming to accept the dark part inside her. Part of her work with the Watchers Council following prison had been the same.

Though they had a list of churches to hit, Faith had made Dean first stop at the local Walmart so she could find something parishioner-appropriate—something they hadn’t considered when they’d done the FBI dress-up thing the day before. He’d been surly about it, but acknowledged after a moment that her normal attire of leather pants and spaghetti-strap camis weren’t going to win her much favor with the locals. She’d promised to make quick work of her shopping and she had. When she rejoined him, she wore a flowery yellow sundress with a white cardigan and white strappy sandal heels. She’d also purchased some hair accessories and the sort of makeup that B used to wear. Soft colors with a major emphasis on the pink.

Dean gawked at her openly as she slid into the Impala.

Faith didn’t acknowledge him, rather lowered the visor and started fixing herself up. After a few minutes passed, during which time he did not start the car, she gave him the side-eye and arched an eyebrow. “Can I help you?”

“You look like someone I know, lady, but I think you got in the wrong car.”

She smirked, winked, then dragged the skirt of her dress up her leg so he could see where she had her blade strapped to her thigh. “You sure about that?”

Dean didn’t answer. He was staring at her leg.

“Ducky, you’re the one who said we were on a time table here.”

He snapped back to himself, gave his head a shake, and started the car. “Not my fault you distracted me with the peep show.”

“Not my fault you had to be an ass about the new threads.”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Honestly, not sure whether to be impressed, freaked, or turned on right now.”

“Then my work here is done.”

By the time they pulled up to the first church, Faith had succeeded in styling her hair in a more demure fashion—the front half pulled back in a loose pony-tail and the back half resting against her neck. She also had applied sparkly pink lip-gloss and the barest whisper of eye-shadow.

“You’re freaking me out,” Dean said as he exited the car. “You look so…sweet.”

Faith flashed him a grin, bubbly this time, and circled the Impala to take his arm. “Thanks, hon,” she said in overly girlish voice, and leaned in to kiss his cheek.

“Seriously, you’re scaring me.”

“We’re at church,” she said primly. “It’s important to be on your best behavior.”

“Like we were yesterday.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Stop the apocalypse, then screw each other’s brains out.”

Dean barked a laugh. “Yeah. You good girl.”

The streets of the little burb seemed fuller today than they had yesterday, complete with at least three of those oversized tour buses. Faith guessed that something was happening in the city, though she couldn’t much figure why any tourist would hit these particular churches. The crowd seemed to be contained to the cathedral across the street at the moment; all she could do was hope they were gone by the time they were finished touring the Southern Baptist hellhole.

“Let me do the talking,” Faith murmured into Dean’s ear.

“Fuck. No.”

“I’ll be good at this.”

“Babe, love the enthusiasm, but this is too big a thing to fuck up. No taking the reins.”

Faith flicked her eyebrows and pressed her lips to his in a quick kiss. “Just watch me.”

“Faith—”

But she was too quick for him, practically exploding into the church, Dean shuffling behind her to keep up.

“Look, it’s not that you’re good at this,” Dean said in a low tone. “Well, it is. That performance at the police station—”

“Bite me, Winchester.”

“Glad to, but first let’s save the world.”

“God’s good grace be with you, friends,” came before she could reply. It was a soft voice, but it carried.

Faith turned in time to see a man strolling down the line of pews. From first glance, she’d peg him as being somewhere in his mid-fifties; he had an affable smile, thinning salt-and-pepper hair, and was dressed in a pair of dress-slacks with a dress-shirt and a tie.

“And with you,” Faith replied, tightening her grip on Dean and flashing her best trust me smile. “Are you with the church?”

“I am the pastor here. Name’s Ralph Jameson.” He stuck out his hand, and Faith took it. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yes!” Faith said before Dean could intervene. “I’m Janet, and this is my fiancé…” She eyed him. “Brad. We’re new to the area and looking for the perfect church to exchange our vows.”

Ralph smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes. He glanced between the two of them. “You two live together?”

Dean opened his mouth. Faith beat him to the punch.

“We do, but strictly separate bedrooms until the ceremony.” She patted Dean’s arm. “Brad here was just hired as the Executive Director of Marketing at Waystation Enterprises.”

“Oh! You’re the new guy, huh?” Ralph’s smile was one-hundred percent again. “In from that big time agency in Portland, right?”

Dean was still for a moment, like he’d lost the script. At length, he met Faith’s eyes and nodded. “Oh, yeah,” he said. Then beamed a brilliant smile and threw his own arm around Faith’s shoulders. “We’re looking forward to starting a family here.”

“We’re hoping to get hitched real fast,” Faith agreed. “Which puts us in a bit of a pickle.”

“Big wedding,” Dean added.

“Monstrous.”

“How do you feel about glitter? Because we want to substitute glitter for flowers and bird seed as much as possible. Just make the world as sparkly as this little filly has made me.” This he said, squeezing Faith so hard to his side that she wasn’t sure if he was amused or annoyed, but she didn’t care. She was, however, thankful that she’d ended up on his uninjured side, because this would definitely pop his stitches.

“How soon is this wedding?” asked Pastor Ralph.

“May 23rd,” they answered in unison as though it had been rehearsed. Faith almost burst out laughing at that, and it looked like Dean was having the same problem.

Pastor Ralph favored them with a conspiratorial grin and leaned in. “It just so happens we had a cancellation for May 23rd. Divine intervention at work, my children. For you, at least. Not for poor Patrick. But then, we all knew Marie was…one of those.”

Faith gave a perfect mock-gasp, if she did say so herself. “A lesbian?”

“Worse,” Pastor Ralph replied with a shudder. “A…Mexican. But Patrick’s loss is your gain. As I said, divine intervention.”

Faith and Dean exchanged a glance. “That has to be it,” Dean said, the corner of his mouth twitching.

“We must ask a few questions to be sure you are the right fit for us. I am glad to hear you have taken the appropriate precautions with your current living situation. You see, while we are all sinners in the eyes of God, we cannot condone the marriage of adulterers.”

“Of course not,” Faith said at once. “I’m waiting until marriage, and my Brad is, too.” She tugged on his arm. “Aren’t you, honeypot?”

This time, there was no mistaking it. He was definitely fighting a smile. “You should see her in action,” he added, a tremble to his voice that she hoped to fuck only she heard. “Just last night, she was on her knees in service of the big guy.”

At that, Faith couldn’t help it—a blurb of laughter escaped. She hurried to turn it into a cough. “I do my best to keep the big guy happy. That pretty much means making sure my mouth is always moving.”

Dean turned away, stifling a chuckle into his hand. When he turned back, he looked like he might be in pain. “Just… She teaches me so much about what it means to be a good person, you know. That kind of relationship…with the big guy.”

Thank fuck the holy rollers tended to be dense-ass motherfuckers. Pastor Ralph just kept on smiling at them. “That is certainly wonderful to hear. May your mouth remain in constant motion in service of”—he winked—“‘the big guy.’”

That would have been the death knell in this schtick, Faith was sure of it, had Dean’s phone not gone off and startled him out of what would have undoubtedly been a cover-busting bout of the giggles. Dean looked equal parts relieved and annoyed, but gave her what she supposed was supposed to pass for a loving look. “Sorry, shnookums. It’s my brother.” He looked to Pastor Ralph. “He’s very troubled.”

“Take it,” Faith said with a nod. It might be news about the Hellmouth.

Dean brought the phone to his ear and answered. “You’ve got Brad.”

Faith took the opportunity to turn back to the pastor. “Would you have time to show me around? I’m sure this is the place we’ll want to have the ceremony, but I have a very distinct vision for the photography—”

There was a roar of laughter. Dean had collapsed into the nearest pew, his shoulders shaking. “You threw them…where?” He met Faith’s eyes, his own shining with tears. “Sammy and Dawn.”

Faith arched an eyebrow. He nodded, still laughing so hard it looked painful.

“You threw her underwear in Spike’s car, you say!”

Their flimsy cover story was about to go up in smoke. Faith bit the inside of her cheek to keep from busting up. Well, if worst came to worst, she could excuse herself to use the bathroom and get lost on the way back. At least Dean was laughing, though.

Pastor Ralph’s good humor seemed to have faded. His expression now was downright grave. “I’m sorry, who do you say this was?”

“Brad’s troubled brother,” Faith said, trying her best to keep her expression somber.

“He’s so going to Hell,” Dean cackled. Then his face went slack and all humor vanished immediately. “What the”—he flicked his gaze to the pastor—“tarnation do you mean, you’re calling Ketch?”

All right. Apparently that conversation had taken a hard left turn. Faith whirled back to Pastor Ralph. “Could you show me around? While Brad finishes his conversation with his brother?”

Pastor Ralph was still studying Dean like he didn’t know what to make of this underwear business, so Faith fell back on trusty Plan B. She pressed herself close, close enough her nipple—unencumbered by a bra—brushed across the pastor’s arm, and lowered her voice. “I’d really, really appreciate the tour, Ralph.”

Pastor Ralph looked down at her, at first as though he were surprised by how close she’d gotten. Then his gaze fell to her mouth, then down over the column over her throat, and lower still until they were fixed on her breasts.

“Yes,” he said hoarsely. “I’d…like to give you the tour.”

Faith grinned and winked, then turned to Dean. “Brad, honey, the pastor’s gonna show me around. Will you be okay here?”

Dean looked up, his previous grin completely gone now, exchanged for a dark scowl. He glanced from her to the pastor and back again, and she saw the instant he got it, both because his eyes widened and because the scowl went a shade deeper.

“You’ll be okay here?” Faith repeated, smile frozen in place. Take the hint, Ducky, and look around.

“Yeah. I’ll just…finish counseling Sammy through his personal crisis.” He darted his gaze to the pastor once then back to her with a look that read, “Clock the motherfucker if you have to, goddamn hypocrite.”

Faith blew him a kiss, then let Pastor Ralph usher her away.

Twenty minutes and one well-timed use of a camera-phone later, Faith returned to the sanctuary, finding Dean waiting and looking a little pissed and a lot dejected.

“Checked the kitchen and all the associate offices.” He looked to where the front of her cardigan was open, accentuating her breasts. “Where’s Pastor Ralph?”

“Where I left him. On the phone, explaining to his wife why he was about to motorboat a stranger.” She held up her phone—the pastor’s face had gotten close enough to her chest that she’d felt his breath there, but she’d managed to shove him back before he’d so much as grazed.

Dean studied the photo with a mixture of amusement and disgust. “Okay, so maybe you’re not so bad at this. But…”

Faith rolled her eyes and slipped the phone back between her breasts.

“Tell me that’s not where it was before.”

“It’s not, but I know you’ll guard this area if need be. And Ralphie knew nothing about salt. Got that outta him while I was debating which local news stations to send the photo to.”

“And you just took him at his word?”

“Fuck no. Checked his office. Looks like it’s a bust.” She turned and nodded toward the exit. “You gonna let me do the talking across the street?”

“You gonna get on your knees for the big guy tonight?”

Faith rolled her eyes. “Fuck you, Winchester.”

“Dammit Janet, is that a yes or a no?”

She snickered and shook her head as they descended the steps back to the parking lot.

Then something caught her eye. Not something—someone. A very out-of-place someone. Faith just stared for a moment, sure she was seeing things, then her heart jumpstarted and took her legs along for the ride.

“Faith?” Dean yelled after her. “Hey!”

“Willow!” she yelled. “Willow!”

The redhead turned, and yeah, it was her. Her hazel eyes went wide when she saw Faith bearing down on her, the look on her face stricken. She whirled around—and that was when Faith saw the guy behind her. Someone shouting things at the witch, and Willow’s expression morphed from stricken to outright panic. The redhead whirled back around and thrust her hands out—

Faith hit something hard, an invisible something with the force of a hurricane. It tore her off her feet and sent her body whipping through the air in reverse. She heard Dean scream her name—or maybe she only thought she did, she couldn’t be sure. Scenery flashed before her eyes in a hard blur, then there was the sound of shattering glass and an explosion of pain at her back. She released a cry, couldn’t help it, and moved to cover her head, but the force of air against her arms was too strong to combat. She thought a bone might snap and hell, maybe one did.

Then, just as quickly, she smashed against a hard surface and fell to the ground. Glass cracked and, in the distance, she heard horns honking and people screaming, but she couldn’t convince her eyes to open to figure out just what the hell had happened.

Until she did manage to open her eyes…and immediately wished she hadn’t. The world was tipping up. Metal groaned and bent, and Faith had slammed into the back of what she belatedly realized was one those travel buses. Her shoulder was screaming and glass danced through the air, because the bus was moving. Rocked off its front wheels and back, and now glass was falling and the floor became the ceiling. The last thing she was aware of was the stab of pain in her left shoulder before her body bounced from one surface to the next. The bus, seized by gravity, completed its somersault and fell back to the pavement.

Then all was still.

Chapter Text

Dean had witnessed a picture-book of nightmares in his life. The moment the invisible Hellhound had mauled him to death. The moment that Sam had killed Lilith and released Lucifer. The moment the towering Darkness had been unleashed on the world. Faith crying out before dissolving into a blinding burst of white light.

None of that compared to watching Faith fly through the air and total an entire bus. He’d already watched her die once. He didn’t know if he could handle it again.

He saw him. Lucifer. He stood behind the bitch—wasn’t that the Willow everyone had been looking for—and had obviously ordered the attack. While his brain told him that he needed to run toward the devil and try to thwart the next assault, his instincts took control and he sprinted toward the carnage. Toward Faith.

There was twisted metal and dangling shards of glass everywhere as he crawled inside what had once been a tour bus. There were scattered bags and articles of clothing among the debris, but he only had one thing he was looking to find: a yellow sundress.

There she was, near the back of the wreckage. Broken. Bleeding. Unmoving. He barely registered that the strangled sob he heard was his own as he tried to call her name. He couldn’t find words.

A part of him knew she was dead. Slayer or not, there was no possible way a body could survive something so traumatic. When he made it to her, he collapsed at her side, unable to make himself check for a pulse.

“Baby?” he whispered, tears nearly blinding him as he looked at the giant shard of glass protruding from her shoulder. “F-Faith?”

Even though she was torn and broken, Dean couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was. She honestly was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever laid eyes on. Shaking, he tenderly cupped her cheek in his palm.

Then she groaned. It was barely a sound, but enough to tell him she was alive. Enough to to tell him she could still be saved.

He didn’t know if moving her would help or harm, but he couldn’t leave her here. As gently as he could, he lifted her from the wreckage and slowly trekked his way out, trying to keep from dislodging the glass before he had a means to control the bleeding.

There were people shouting and crying and running about, but he didn’t care. Fuck covers and discreet. Fuck everyone who shouted he needed to wait for an ambulance. He made his way to the Impala, her limp body cradled in his arms. He managed to unlock and open the backseat before laying her down. As he saw her suit jacket strewn across a Walmart bag in the floorboard, he released a small cry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not now. Not like this.

It wasn’t until he was driving away that he realized he didn’t know what to do. After fumbling for his phone, he dialed the first number he could think to call.

“Dude, look, Ketch is about to be here and I don’t have time for—“

“Sammy,” he whimpered. “Sammy we need help.”

*~*~*

Sam stood in shock as he listened to his brother recount the situation. Honestly, he wished the panty thing was still the source of drama. Life was easier when Spike had nearly killed him a little over an hour ago.

“She’s a slayer, Dean,” Sam said in his best attempt at remaining calm. He took off in a near sprint. He needed to get to Buffy. Or Mom. Someone needed to call Cas and someone needed to validate to him that a slayer could actually be slammed into a bus and survive.

“Sammy, she isn’t moving! She’s…broken.”

God, he hadn’t heard Dean so scared in years. It had to be bad, but he couldn’t admit that to his brother. “Where are you?”

“Still here in fucking Kansas. We just…”

“Just what?” Sam asked.

“She just…she just…” Sam couldn’t hear, but heard Dean’s muffled voice. “She just asked…for Nick.”

“Oh,” Sam said at a loss for words. “Umm…let me find him.”

Sam heard more shuffling and Dean’s voice again say something he couldn’t here. There was silence. “Dean?” Nothing. “Dean!” he shouted into the phone.

“Never mind,” Dean said clearly. “She wants Nick to find me.” He released a nervous chuckle. “That’s a good sign, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “Go back to the motel. We’ll call Cas.”

“Hurry,” Dean said before ending the call.

Sam paused, looking down at the phone and taking a steadying breath. He needed his brain to focus. If he hadn’t already sworn off alcohol, the hangover he was trying to overcome would have been cause alone.

“Well, Winchester, looks as though someone’s fists made acquaintance with your face. To whom do I owe my gratitude?”

Sam looked up with revulsion. Ketch was really more than he could handle in this moment. Looking around, he noted he’d made it to the main meeting room. His mom, Nick and Rosalie were seated at the table. Dawn was in the corner next to Spike and Buffy.

Great.

Sam ran a shaky hand through his shaggy mane of hair. This was all happening too fast. “Uhhh…”

“Don’t tell me this is why you called. Surely your slayer could beat up your bullies? Unless…” Ketch turned his smirk to Rosalie. “Did you do it to him? Did he think you had a watcher fetish and made the wrong move?”

“Fuck off,” Rosalie spat in response.

Ketch merely shrugged. “Just fancying a guess.”

“Uhh, Buffy?” Sam stammered. “Might I have a quick word?”

“Not the time,” Dawn warned as she broke from the vampires and headed toward him.

“Not that,” he stage-whispered. “Just…” He aimed a pleading look at the eldest slayer. “Seriously. Like now.”

Buffy gave him a long, hard look before signaling her agreement with a single nod. Sam wasn’t surprised when Spike followed at her heels or Dawn trailed her brother in tow. Sighing, Sam turned and led them to the hall.

“I thought you learned your lesson, boy,” Spike hissed.

Sam shook his head. It wasn’t time for a pissing contest. “Faith’s been hurt.”

“What?” Buffy’s eyes widened as anger was replaced with shock.

“Dean thinks it was Willow…with Lucifer.”

Spike whispered a curse as Dawn reached out and grasped Sam’s arm. “Oh, god. Did I do that?”

“What?” Sam said as he clasped his hand over hers. “No! But it’s bad. Faith. Like I’m not sure how long she has bad.”

“What do we do?” Buffy asked in a steely tone.

“Call Cas. Or Giles. They’re at the Independence Inn outside Kansas City. Room 137.”

Dawn spoke. “How do you know the room?”

Sam looked at Buffy. “Now!” He’d take another ass kicking from Spike later for snapping at his wife. “Dean and I always tell each other exactly where we stay when we hunt apart.”

He really didn’t mean to be short, but there really wasn’t time for exposition. As Buffy placed her cell to her ear, Sam grabbed Dawn’s hand and walked back to the room with the others.

“Bloody hell,” Ketch stated with an eye roll. “Don’t tell me Dawn Summers has been tainted by Sam Winchester and his deadly shaft.” He cast a disappointed look at Dawnie. “I had rather hoped to court you before you signed your death sentence.”

Sam wasn’t in the mood. Not ever, but certainly not now. He gave Dawn’s hand a gentle squeeze before dropping it and taking a step forward. “Let’s cut the shit. Where’s everything on the Hellmouth?”

Ketch blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Hellmouth,” Sam repeated, his patience evaporating. “Talk.”

“I’m sure the former residents of Sunnydale can inform you of the subject,” Ketch said breezily. “Not sure why you’d need to—“

Sam was ready to get violent as he took a couple more menacing steps toward the evasive fucker. “Fucking talk!” he shouted.

“Sam?” his mother asked wearily. “This isn’t—“

He whipped his head to meet her eyes. “We don’t have time for nice,” he said cutting her off.

“What happened?” His mother wasn’t dense.

“Dean…” No. He shook his head. He wasn’t bringing up Faith here. Not when Ketch wasn’t yet aware she was alive.

Apparently, Sam had activated Mary’s mother instincts. At the mention of her eldest son, she stood up and pulled the pistol she’d been carrying at her back. Keeping her concerned gaze on her baby boy, she cocked and pointed the gun at Ketch.

“Mary?” Surprise dripped from Ketch’s voice.

“Talk. Now.” She turned her eyes to Ketch. “The Hellmouth here. Where are the Men of Letters hiding the records?”

“Mary, you have seen the archives and know what is available.”

The gun-blast was deafening as a bullet went sailing past Ketch and into a clock upon the wall behind him. Mary didn’t flinch as she tilted the barrel slightly. “Final warning. Don’t make me kill you again.”

Ketch was a dick, but he wasn’t dumb. Nobody who met Mary Winchester would say she was one for empty threats. He held up his hands in surrender. “Yes. Fine. It is on record that there was once an active Hellmouth here. While I’m not exactly sure where the information is located, I can guess there are a couple possibilities based on other bunker designs.”

She lowered her weapon. “Good. Show Buffy and Spike.” She turned to the vampires who had returned to the room. “Feel free to kill him if he starts acting suspicious.”

“Of course,” Spike answered coolly.

“Feel free to kill him afterwards if he starts acting obnoxious,” Mary added.

Spike smirked. “Thought that went without saying.”

Sam released a sigh as the trio made their way from the room. Please let Castiel have made it in time.

*~*~*

Willow was still in shock at the sight of Faith running toward them. Was that actually Faith or had it been someone using Polyjuice? What had she heard about shapeshifters?

All she knew was Michael had said to stop her and she had. Then the scene before her blinked away and she was transported to a new location.

“Stupid bitch!” the angel spat before using magic of his own to hurl her across the room where he’d first found her about to end her life.

She tumbled upon the bed, equal parts shocked and upset. “What?” she cried in disbelief as she caught her breath.

“You weren’t supposed to hurt her! Just stop her. Do you even know how to control yourself?”

Willow blinked. “You just called me a bitch?” This was supposed to be an angel?

He paused at that and took a deep breath, obviously trying to temper his anger. “Look, Dad just took the time to bring her back. Do you think he’s gonna be happy if you break his new favorite toy?”

“So that was Faith? She’s alive?”

He rolled his eyes. “I hope so because I don’t know how many times he’s gonna keep sending her back down here.”

Now she was more confused. “If God sent her back, why were you trying to stop her?”

He stared at her a long, uncomfortable amount of time, his expression completely unreadable. “She’s corrupted,” he said at last. “I saw she was with Dean Winchester.”

Willow knew that name. “Wright’s hunter friend?”

“Dean is much more than that. He tortured souls in Hell under the demon Alastair. He bore the Mark of Cain, first murderer on Earth. He unleashed The Darkness and nearly destroyed the world. Dean Winchester has brainwashed Faith. Likely he is using her to stop us from acquiring the salt.”

Holy crap. If experience had taught her anything it was Faith could be manipulated. It had happened years ago with Mayor Wilkins and just recently when Wes has tried to trade Rosalie for a shot to kill Zack Morris. “What do we do?”

We do nothing. I’m going to go and secure the salt. Hopefully my guys have figured out where our last ingredient is hiding. You,” he said, shaking a finger at her, “are staying put. Consider this a cosmic time out. Next time, let’s use our indoor magic and not blast our slayer with nuclear energy.”

He disappeared in a blink, leaving Willow alone and filled with worry and guilt. She had to know if Faith was okay.

Willing her mind to remember where they had been, she focused and Apparated. Surveying the scene, she could tell quickly that Faith wasn’t there. While people and police wandered about the area in shock and awe, there were no paramedics tending to Faith or anyone else.

Willow closed her eyes, trying desperately to locate any residual magic from her previous spell. If she couldn’t focus on that she could at least search the area for anything strong enough to be a slayer’s special signature. The energy with the Chosen bloodline was strong and distinct. It was used by vampires and demons to seek out the power. If she was alive, Willow could connect with it and figure out where she had gone.

Faith was alive. She sensed her presence and focused her magic on going to her. She needed to make sure she was going to be okay. Maybe she could save her from making any future bad choices.

She Apparated herself into another motel room, this one much more worn and dingy. Faith was on the bed, seemingly unconscious. A man—the Dean Winchester Michael has warned her of—was leaning over Faith’s broken body. It looked as though a belt had been tied around her shoulder in some form of tourniquet and a bloody shard of glass was lying on the bed.

Dean looked up at her, holding a knife in one hand and what appeared to be the shredded remains of his shirt. Was he making bandages? She wasn’t sure. Dean dropped the cloth as he seemed to recognize her immediately. His eyes filled with a wild rage as he stood up and hoisted the knife up dangerously. “Get back, you fucking cunt,” he snarled, quickly placing himself between her and Faith. “Witch or not, I’ll fucking slit your throat.”

That’s when she saw the mark upon his chest. It was the pentagram-like symbol Michael had asked her to remove from the priest’s chest. Except this one was upside down. Possibly this meant that Dean was more corrupted by evil than had been the man trying to hide the salt from God. “Let me have Faith,” Willow commanded.

Dean’s eyes grew darker and more sinister. “Over my dead body, bitch.” He took a step forward, preparing to lunge at her with the knife. “And you better make sure I’m dead because if you take her, I will hunt you down and kill you. Slowly.”

No. There was enough blood on her hands. Willow wanted to save Willow—wanted to save everyone—but she couldn’t murder. She doubted God or her own conscience could tolerate the act.

With a sigh of defeat, Willow took a step back,  closed her eyes and Apparated back to her room. She’d have to figure out another way to rescue Faith. At least for the moment Dean Winchester seemed intent on keeping her alive.

*~*~*

Dean jumped as Willow disappeared with a distinctive crack of sound. He honestly thought he’d punched his timecard in that moment. Pretty sure after what he’d witnessed with Faith that Willow had the mojo to turn him into a Jackson Pollock splatter on the motel wall.

“Ducky?”

Shaking, he turned his attention back to his slayer. “It’s okay,” he said softly, making his way back to her side. “She’s gone.”

He saw her try to stir, but she was too weak and broken to do more than twitch and moan in pain. “Don’t move,” he said, picking up one of the straps of his former shirt he’d cut with the knife she’d had strapped to her thigh earlier. The other bandages he’d applied were already soaked with the blood still weeping from the wound at her shoulder from the giant shard of glass that had impaled her from the bus. Quickly he tied another strip of fabric around the gaping cut.

He heard a slight groan and shuffle directly behind him. Faith’s blade still clutched in his hand, he swiftly pivoted and jabbed the knife with all his strength. He felt the familiar sensation of stabbing flesh and twisted the knife as he drove it as deep as possible. This fucking cunt was going to die.

But it was a male’s grunt that sounded in the air.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel gasped before grasping his hand on the hilt of the blade.

“Fuck!” Dean howled, releasing the knife and stumbling back. Scrambling to process, he realized that Cas and Giles were now standing before him.

“It’s okay,” Cas said before pulling the metal from his abdomen with a wince. He held out the bloody blade, turning the handle to Dean. “I believe this is yours.”

Giles released a small snicker. “Been wanting to do that for weeks.”

Dean blinked. “Seriously?”

Giles gave him a smirk. “Seriously.”

Castiel seemed unfazed by the situation. He looked about the room. “Where is Willow? I sensed her magical signature.”

Dean shrugged. “Bitch popped in, threatened to take Faith, then left when I went to slice her throat.”

She must have heard him speak her name. “Ducky?” Faith whimpered for him.

“Did she say ‘ducky’?” Giles asked with a perplexed expression.

Cas looked from Faith to Dean. “Is ‘ducky’ in reference to something with Willow or Lucifer?”

No way in hell was Dean about to admit his special nickname. If embarrassment didn’t kill him, the Slayer would. “Uhhh…no. Pretty sure it’s side effects from knocking over a tour bus with her body. Which means you need to fix her now.”

Cas nodded and stepped to the side of the bed. Gently he laid his hand upon her forehead and did whatever angelic voodoo allowed him to heal. Slowly the cuts and wounds across her body began to fade and as she opened her eyes, Dean released the breath he’d been holding since Cas began his spell-work.

“What the actual fuck?” Faith said as she looked up at Castiel’s face in confusion.

“Welcome back, Miss Kitty,” Dean replied as relief overwhelmed him.

“Miss Kitty?” she questioned as she shoved away Cas’s hand and scooted herself up to a sitting position.

Dean couldn’t help but smile. “Sweetheart, you must have nine lives. Pretty sure I’ve seen you use up two now.”

She met his eyes and frowned. “That was…”

“Willow,” Giles finished for her. “Yes.” He shifted his weary gaze from Faith to Dean. “And you said she was with Lucifer?”

“Yeah,” Dean spat. “It was definitely that fucker in his old meat suit.”

“If Willow is working with Lucifer and Lucifer is attempting to open the Hellmouth in Lebanon, the situation is much worse than we originally evaluated.”

“No shit,” Dean and Giles responded in unison to Castiel’s obvious deduction. Dean almost gave an appreciative smirk to the man before remembering he was the dude banging his mom.

Cas ignored the insult and continued. “I can continue to attempt to locate Willow through her magic. Unfortunately I am unable to make a sustainable connection when she Apparates, but I should be able to trace her when she does significant magic in a single location.”

Giles grunted in acceptance of the angel’s words. “Hopefully Mary and Samuel have successfully ascertained the whereabouts of the Men of Letters’ Hellmouth records from Ketch.”

Dean scoffed. “Before or after they kill him?”

“Let’s hope before,” Giles replied. “I doubt the Council will send more ambassadors if we murder him.”

Cas looked to Dean. “I will put up warding on this room to keep demons, angels or witches from entering until you leave. I suggest you two don’t stay here overnight. Now that you’ve been located by Willow, we can only assume they will be sending reinforcements.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed. He wanted to look at Faith, but didn’t think he could resist the urge to jump her if he did. He really needed to kiss those glossy lips. “We’ll clean up here and then head back to base.”

“Be careful,” Giles said to them as he followed Cas to the motel room door.

“Aww, G,” Faith teased. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“I do,” he responded as Cas opened the door and walked out. “About you both. So resist something reckless and foolish, as much as it goes against both your natures.” He didn’t wait for a response as he exited the room and shut the door behind him.

Dean marched over and locked the door. When he turned to make his way to Faith he found she had already stood up and walked up behind him. “Fucking hell, baby,” he muttered before grasping her nape and pulling her to his mouth.

“Ducky,” she sighed as she moaned against his lips. He felt her nails dig into his back as she clung to him.

Cupping her cheek against her palm, he honestly couldn’t believe this was the same woman he’d thought he’d lost no more than an hour ago.

They moved in a fury of motion as they tore the clothing from each other and tumbled onto the bed. It wasn’t until he was poised above her, his cock nudging her clit that he realized they were gonna have sex.

“Ducky,” Faith impatiently hissed.

He didn’t need a condom. The thought only made him harder. Dipping his dick to her entrance, he was amazed to feel she was soaking wet. It was likely slayer-related, but he told himself that she was aroused for him. She needed his body as bad as he needed her.

“Dean,” she moaned as she thrust her hips in offering. As he plunged inside her pussy, he didn’t know which he liked more—her special nickname she privately called him or the way she said his given name when she lacked her usual sarcasm and sass.

They fucked hard and fast, slamming their bodies together with wild abandon. The feel of her slick flesh without the layer of latex was more than he thought he could bear. “Faith,” he gasped between thrusts. “Baby, I—”

Taking the hint, she stopped and pushed him back. Seizing him by the shoulders, she threw him down on the mattress and swung a leg over to straddle his thighs. She paused a moment, giving him a chance to come back from the edge before grasping his dick and lining it up with her slit. Then, slowly she lowered herself until he was buried inside her completely. “Fuck yeah,” she moaned as he felt her pussy clench his shaft.

She braced her palms against his chest as she began to bounce herself up and down his cock. “That’s it, Ducky,” she said as she quickened the pace.

Yeah, he wasn’t going to last. Slipping a hand down to where the bodies joined, he found her clit and began flicking it with his fingers. “Yes!” she responded. “Faster!”

Following her command, he rubbed her frantically as she impaled herself on his dick. “Come for me, baby,” he begged. “Come for me, Faith.”

She threw her head back and released a scream that might have made him blush had he not been too busy spilling his load. She kept thrusting as he felt her body tense and the tremors of orgasm overtake her control. She kept riding until the waves of pleasure ceased to crash, collapsing atop him.

He wrapped his arms around her as he felt her tremble against his skin. The spasms of her muscles around his cock slowly began to lessen as they clung to one another and fought to regain their breath.

“Whew,” she said at last, pushing herself up enough to rest her forehead against his crown. “Maybe I should about die more often.”

He wasn’t sure he was to the point of finding the situation amusing. It didn’t stop him from smarting back. “Maybe we sit down and make a list, Miss Kitty. Not sure how many more chances you have before your passport expires.”

She smirked before dipping down to give him a kiss, teasing him with her tongue before pulling back. “Sounds like fun. We can do that on the ride back to Kansas, Dorothy. But for now, let’s wash up before the Wicked Witch of West tries to drop any more houses on our asses.”

Chapter Text

Honestly, Josh wasn’t sure what he was going to do with all this good news, except try to find a way to share it with Sam.

The first call had been promising, actually. Not that what Sabrina Deanne had told him was without its own downsides, because learning that Willow was now considered a Wolfram and Hart asset was a major downside. But the little witch’s plan seemed sound—at least as sound as plans involving Harry Potter and an impossible heist could. It was a place to start, at least, and that was what Sam needed—something to do other than worry about the mother of his child. And though Sabrina was hardly Sam’s favorite person at the moment, there was a chance he’d be reasonable enough to at least speak to the woman without trying to have her arrested or executed on the spot.

But the call he'd just received from Giles…

Yeah, there was no half-full. It was just a giant shit sandwich of bad. 

And he got to break the news. Lucky him. 

Josh released a deep breath and made his way to the living area of the governor's mansion where the others waited for him. He tried and failed to keep from flinching as he made his way past the vampire. Granted, if Morris would make good on his threat, then Josh wouldn't have to relay any of what he'd just learned. 

So it was either death by vampire or death by being the shot messenger. Rock, meet hard place.

Donna knew something was wrong the second she met his eyes, of course. And he hated that he put that look there—the fear. They'd been through so much in such a small amount of time. What he'd put her through, intentions aside, had him in a state of perpetual wonder that she hadn't kicked his ass to the curb. Sometimes, more than he was comfortable admitting even to himself, he worried that she'd stuck it out just for the sake of their unborn child. And he was too chickenshit to ask.

“What's wrong?” she asked.

At that, Sam tore away from Toby and threw Josh a half-pleading, half-terrified look. “Have they found her?”

Josh blew out another deep breath and steeled himself. “Yeah, they've found her.”

Sam nearly tripped over himself, rushing to Josh. “Who?” he choked. “Giles?”

God, if only.

“MACUSA,” Josh said. “She's fine,” he added hurriedly. “Actually… No, none of this is fine. Sabrina said that she is now considered an asset of Wolfram and Hart. That she's helping one of the senior partners with a real estate thing in Kansas.”

Sam went pale. “What? No, she wouldn't.”

Toby made a sound somewhere between a groan and a growl.

“Explains the man you heard her with,” Zack said, his expression dark.

“There's been a mistake,” Sam insisted. “Willow sounded…hopeful when we talked. Said she was going to make everything better. In no world does this mean working with Wolfram and Hart. She wouldn't, not after everything we just went through with them just to… No.  If she's with them, it's because they're forcing her to do something.”

Zack cleared his throat. Sam glared at him. 

“Look,” Zack said, throwing up his hands, “I want you to be right. I've known Willow a lot longer than you; she's a friend. But…this is what Wolfram and Hart does. Wesley had been fighting them for years, but they capitalized on his grief and hatred to get him to do something he wouldn’t ordinarily. They were at the right place at the right time with the right message. Whatever Willow's been going through makes her the perfect target for manipulation. Wes rationalized what he did thinking it was the right thing. Maybe Willow is the same.”

“After everything we went through two months ago?” Sam snapped. “After they nearly killed Wright's daughter? After they kidnapped a child?”

“It could be easy,” Josh said softly. “Lilah Morgan is dead. All they'd have to do is say she went rogue and her actions don't represent the company.”

“That's—”

“Sam, there's more.” And it was worse. So, so much worse. “Willow was recently spotted in Kansas. She tried to kill one of the slayers.”

Zack's head snapped up. “Buffy? Rosalie? Are they okay?”

“Yeah, they're both fine. It was the other one.”

“The one you like,” Donna muttered. “The slutty one.”

Josh gave her a look. They didn’t have time for this fight right now.

“Faith?” Sam asked, looking to Zack. “I thought she was dead.”

“She was brought back,” Zack said. 

“By who?”

“According to our new friends in Kansas… God.”

Toby snorted and rolled his eyes. “All right. That's it. We've officially left the world of rational thinking. Vampires, witches, slayers, evil law firms… Now you're telling me there's a direct line to the almighty? It's—”

“Not going to stop being true just because it freaks you out,” Zack fired back. “Faith is back—I saw her myself. And according to our new friends, the Winchesters, the guy who brought her back was God. And honestly, man, if that is your line in the sand, then what the hell are you even doing here? The truth is no one knows how big the universe is. Hell, I thought I’d just about gotten it figured out when we ran into these Kansas boys and they cracked it open wider.”

“Kansas,” Sam echoed, snapping back to Josh. “This real estate deal is in Kansas.”

“Yes. We believe we know what that is.” And the good news just kept coming. Josh pinched the bridge of his nose. “There’s a hellmouth in Lebanon, Kansas, where these…Winchesters apparently live. Hellmouth being the same thing that was in Sunnydale, California. What we believe is Willow is helping open it.”

Sam looked like he might be physically ill, and Josh would have done just about anything to walk back what he’d just said. Or to not have to say anything to make it worse.

As though sensing that the bad wasn’t over, Zack met Josh’s eyes. “Do they know who the senior partner is? The one with Willow? My brother tells me that no senior partner has ever been seen—they’re mostly a shadow organization. Ancient evil manipulating the world through Wolfram and Hart.”

“Yeah, we know who the senior partner is.” Josh swallowed and forced himself to look at Sam head-on while he said this. He owed the man this much. “They believe it’s Lucifer.”

Sam stared at him. “Lucifer. As in the devil.”

“Yes.”

“Willow…is helping the devil open a hellmouth and she thinks this is a good idea?” Sam looked around the room, as though begging someone to jump in and scream how ridiculous this was. “Does this make sense to anyone? None of you saw what I saw, felt what I felt. The pain she’s in… She would never—”

“Try to end the world to make to make it all better?” Josh said, not realizing he meant to say it until the words were out there, but once they were, he couldn’t walk them back. “Sam, that is exactly what she did the last time. And she has the power to do it. Throw in the devil and the mouth to Hell and it’s pretty much a done deal. Maybe she thinks it’s for the best and that’s why she sounded okay when you talked to her. I don’t think Willow is evil—I don’t, but we all know what grief can do to a person. Would a Willow who was thinking clearly do this? Of course not. But everyone in this room knows that Willow hasn’t been thinking clearly for weeks. Can you, Sam, tell me that she was in her right mind when she dosed you with all her memories?”

In all his life, Josh doubted he’d ever been closer to being punched in the face by his best friend than he was at that moment. What made it worse was he saw the answer in Sam’s eyes, the one he didn’t want to accept.

“So what do we do?” Sam said a moment later, sounding utterly defeated. “Josh… I know it’s crazy but I do love her. If there’s any way of reaching her, we have to try it. We just have to.”

Josh nodded, his heart thundering. “I think we start by meeting—meeting—with Sabrina Deanne. She wants to see how deeply MACUSA is tied to Wolfram and Hart. If we know what we’re dealing with…maybe…”

The suggestion alone seemed like it might push Sam back over the edge of reason, but after a few seconds, the clouds behind his eyes cleared and he nodded. “As long as she understands killing Willow is off the table.”

An uncomfortable silence settled over the room.

“Mr. Governor,” Zack said a moment later, “if it’s between Willow and the world… Think of your son.”

“My son needs his mother.” At this, Sam choked a sob and seemed to collapse in on himself, and Josh knew all conversation had halted for now.

Which was for the best. He wasn’t sure where to go from here. If there was anywhere to go, or any conversation to have beyond the one he knew Sam would never be ready for.

*~*~*

It wasn’t until they were crowded together in the small bathroom that Faith noticed that the place she’d stitched up on Dean’s arm just the day before had vanished.

“How long was I out?” she asked, running her fingers over the stretch of clear skin there as he reached to turn the shower on.

Dean jerked and looked to her, his expression still somewhat far away. The look he’d given her after Giles and the angel had split was one of those things she figured she’d remember forever for the way it had shaken her. And all she’d known in that moment was she’d needed to touch him all over.

“Your arm’s all healed,” she said, lightly tickling the area on question. “Didn’t get the idea that I’d been out all that long, but then I once woke up thinkin’ I could make it to high school graduation eight months after B blew the place sky fuckin’ high.”

Dean followed her gaze and stared at the place she indicated. “Huh. Must’ve done that while I was focused on you.”

“Who?”

“Cas.” He snickered, shaking his head. “Figures. I knife the guy and he stitches me up when I’m not looking.”

“So that’s what happened—the angel’s your personal EMT.”

“Comes in handy.” Dean pushed Faith into the shower and followed. He’d been oddly quiet since they’d pulled apart on the bed, giving her the idea that the entire near-death experience had left him more shaken than he wanted to admit. In truth, she was a bit shaken too. Not at nearly dying, which was old fucking hat, but at how quickly it had happened. At least the other times she’d died or come close, it had been expected. This had come out of the blue—hell, she’d never been Will’s favorite person, but most of their baggage was yesterday’s news.

Granted, if she was working for the devil…

And there was something else—something here. Something that scared the shit out of her that she wasn’t sure she could go on ignoring that had everything to do with the guy standing so close to her she could feel the heat rising off his skin. He switched the shower on and weak motel water sprayed down on both of them, but for a long moment, neither moved.

Then Dean reached for the crappy motel soap and tore the package open with his teeth. The little bar looked ridiculous in his big hand, but he started lathering up before she could think to say anything. Once he was done, he ran his hands over her shoulders and down her arms, over her hips and stomach, up her abdomen until he was cradling her breasts and teasing her nipples with his soap-sudsy thumbs.

“Pretty sure the way you’re going about this shower business isn’t going to end up with either of us very clean,” she said a little breathlessly. Faith dropped her head against the wall and released a long sigh. “Didn’t Cas say we needed to bolt?”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed. “And he’s right. We should hit the road.”

Instead, he sank to his knees before her and hiked one of her legs over his shoulder.

“Ducky, we—”

He had her clit sucked between his lips before she could figure out what the hell she’d intended to say, and then pretty much everything emptied from her head. Faith hissed, her head hitting the wall this time hard enough that it throbbed in protest. Dean just growled into her pussy and added tongue to take long laps of her soaked flesh. He dug his fingers into her hips to hold her to him, drawing slow circles around her clit with his pointed tongue before sucking on it in earnest.

“Dean, Dean.” Faith shuddered and grasped at his shoulder, trembling all over. She didn’t know why—she’d been eaten plenty, but never like this. Dean didn’t seem so much like he was hurrying to get her off, rather exploring her slowly. Not even that—drinking her in like she was something to be savored. It was so far removed from what she was used to that she felt herself nearing the edge at a damn near embarrassing speed.

It was when he whimpered into her cunt, when he said her name like a prayer against her flesh, that she seized up and spiraled. Somehow her hands ended up twisted in his hair, nailed raking along his scalp as he licked and sucked at her, and then she was spasming hard and bucking, needing something inside her to clench and ride. He seemed to understand, for the next instant, he’d risen to his feet again, hiked her into his arms and thrust into her just as she tipped into an explosion.

“Fuck,” Dean said against her lips. “You feel so fucking incredible when you come.”

Yeah, and now she wanted more. Faith wrapped her arms around his neck and rolled her hips so he pushed deeper inside her. “Do it again.”

“Which part?”

“All of it. Just do it with your dick this time.”

He grinned, squeezing her ass. “You like my dick, baby?”

“I like all of my ducky.”

That much she hadn’t meant to say—like at all, ever, in a thousand years. Hell, she could kick her own ass for admitting as much. But the words seemed to invigorate Dean, for he whimpered, buried his face into her throat and began to move with purpose. It wasn’t like the frenzied fuck from earlier or really any of the times they’d gone at each other. Like it was more about sensation than destination and everything contributed. The feel of the water on her skin, the wall at her back, Dean’s breaths against her throat as he worked his cock in and out of her.

And after a moment, Faith forgot the stupid thing she’d said and let herself go, her legs wrapped around his waist, pushing on his ass every time he withdrew from her, grasping at his shoulders, raking her fingers through his hair, and then, when he lifted his mouth to hers, kissing him like she’d never kissed anyone else. Needy and hot, yes, but at some point, he’d stopped being just anyone. Hell, maybe he never had been. But for the first time she let herself focus on the fact that she wasn’t just kissing a guy, wasn’t just being fucked by a guy, but that it was Dean. Who seemed to need something beyond just a warm female body—seemed to need her.

Or maybe all that shit was in her head. Maybe Willow’s blast had knocked her senses all the way out. But right then, as Dean began slamming into her harder, she hoped not. Fuck, she really hoped not, and that thought, more than anything—more than the feel of his flesh against hers, his fingers at her clit, his cock striking deep within her, his balls hitting her skin—had her tightening around him again and screaming his name in a voice that didn’t sound like hers. Then she felt him tense and follow her over, and yeah, she loved this too. The spur of the moment purchase that she’d second-guessed up until she’d seen his eyes the second they were alone. Because she loved knowing there was nothing between them, that part of Dean was still inside her when he pulled out. It made her feel closer to him, which was also scary as fuck, but in a heady way—a way that had her trembling for reasons that had nothing to do with the aftershocks of her orgasm.

After a moment, Faith blinked lukewarm water out of her eyes and grinned up at him, feeling a little shy. More brand fucking new territory for her.

Dean smiled back at her, then leaned in and kissed her lightly. And that was it—they washed up together in silence, moving in a sort of natural rhythm that should have surprised her but didn’t. He seemed to know when to move so she could access the spray, when she needed the shampoo, and even pushed her back to help her ring out her hair. He tossed her the first towel when they were finished, stared at her ass rather blatantly as she dried off—reminding her she had a new tattoo there—then followed her into the main room so they could resume the business of packing.

It wasn’t until they were loading up the car that the silence broke. Dean let out a snort when he saw the bag containing the mammoth supply of condoms he’d bought just a couple of days ago.

“How long does your pill thing last?”

“Seed,” she corrected. “And three years.”

He blinked at her in surprise. “Three…three years?”

At his tone, some of the warmth from earlier melted away. Faith tensed a bit, her spine straightening. “Yeah,” she agreed, unable to keep the sharpness out of her voice. “But I’m gonna insist on condoms going forward anyway. The seeds are only good against pregnancy.”

“You’re gonna insist?” He sounded disappointed.

“Yeah.” She looked at him. “After you and I are done and we’ve ridden this thing out. Don’t know where other dicks have been, Ducky, and I don’t much like to gamble where health is concerned. That’s one thing I can control, right?”

Faith held her breath, not sure what she wanted or expected but knowing she definitely wanted something. Something she didn’t get.

Some of the light in his eyes dimmed and he offered a jerky nod. “Right,” he said. “Of course.”

“Right.” She cleared her throat and tossed the last of her stuff into the trunk. “So don’t throw those away. The good ones last a few years, yeah? Might still get your money’s worth.”

She felt his eyes on her as she slid into the passenger side of the Impala but didn’t look back. And Dean didn’t press her—not as he got behind the wheel or started the engine. And fuck, she didn’t know what she wanted him to say. The things in her head sounded ridiculous enough. What, that what had happened out here had changed things? That the deal they’d struck before needed to be amended?

Faith wasn’t stupid—she’d had arrangements like the one she and Dean had made before. And they did fizzle out after a while, though she and Nick had kept at it just because it had been easy and convenient. And that had been the root of those arrangements—convenience. She found someone physically attractive, they found her attractive, they knocked boots and kept knocking them. Eventually, though, she’d stop finding the person physically attractive, usually the more she got to know him. Once he became a personality and not just a face. That didn’t necessarily put an end to the sex—a good hookup was a good hookup—but it had made things a bit bland after a bit.

With Dean it was going the other way, only more intense. And in none of her arrangements had she ever agreed to exclusivity. That kind of talk usually made guys think they had some kind of pull over her and they didn’t. If anything, demanding that theirs be the only dick she rode was the fastest way to get her to cut the whole thing short and walk away.

When Dean had told her they were going to be exclusive fuck buddies, she’d been relieved. Fucking relieved. Something she’d never once considered doing for any guy and she’d been relieved.

Well, she might have been there with Wes. They’d never actually talked about whatever the fuck they’d been doing—only it had felt different.

Different, yeah…but not like this. Faith was pretty damn sure whatever she was feeling now was something she’d never felt before. When she’d had the same realization about Wes, that had terrified her—so much that she’d almost jumped Nick in the apartment that had become his just to confirm she didn’t feel anything squishy. Would have, actually, had he not pulled the brakes and called her on her bullshit.

Whatever she felt for Dean, though, didn’t make her want to run out and bone someone else. It was warm and exciting and awesome and scary as fuck, but she was a junkie for the rush most of the time. Then there were the times like now, where she had the ghost of all the good stuff but, more than anything, felt…alone. Because the good stuff was only good when she thought he might feel it too.

All of this made her think they ought to stop this altogether, because Faith could come back from a lot, but this was new territory and she didn’t love her chances.

Well, that was a downer.

Faith sighed, crossed her arms, and pulled herself up into a ball. Might as well get some shut-eye now. She had no idea what to expect when they returned to Lebanon when it came to anything—the Hellmouth, Willow, Lucifer, or whose bed she’d be in that night.

At the moment, though, she didn’t want to think about any of it.

*~*~*

Spike wasn’t an idiot. Even though Mary Winchester had given her blessing to off this git if he so much as walked funny, he knew the only call that mattered was the Slayer’s. There were days that bothered him more than others, and given how today had gone, he found himself missing the sodding Initiative chip. At least then he’d known he couldn’t actually tear into a bastard’s throat—knowing he could and having to restrain himself was a different sort of hell.

Much like letting himself get pulled off the giant sod that had sullied the Nibblet. Not just sullied—Dawn was her own bloody woman, much as he hated to admit it—but set out to humiliate her with it. Reminded him of some of the conversations he and Buffy had had when they’d first gotten together, how Angelus had belittled her to her face after popping her cherry, how bloody Parker had used her and tossed her aside the second he’d gotten what he wanted.

Thing was, Spike had liked the overgrown Winchester sod. Not a ton, by any means, but he seemed to be downright respectable. Looked after Bite Size like a good watcher, listened to Rupert when he had input, didn’t let himself get bossed around but also didn’t push Rosalie outside of her comfort zone. More a mentor and a friend than a leader or guardian, which was the way Spike thought it ought to be. And yeah, he’d been sniffing around Dawn a bloody long time so figuring the two of them would end up shagging hadn’t been much of a stretch. But him being an absolute wanker with the Nibblet? That had been a bloody Angelus move if Spike had ever seen one.

From what Dawn had told him and Buffy, she was giving the git another shot. A shot he hadn’t bloody well earned but Spike knew he’d have to just accept it because that was what was expected of defanged Big Bads. The Summers women had been calling the shots in his bloody unlife for fifteen years now and that looked to be something that never changed. If Dawn thought the wanker was worthy of taking that kind of chance on again, then he’d have to trust that she was smarter than he’d been at her age. Cecily had batted him back and forth more times than he cared to recall—often just to make him the butt of another joke.

Yeah, once this mess with the Hellmouth was sorted, Spike was going to have to tell the Slayer that if the big sod made Dawn cry one more time, he was burying the fucker and fuck anyone who tried to talk him out of it.

All of this pent up anger made the task of not sinking his fangs into Ketch’s thick throat downright painful.

“Everyone is wound up a bit tightly, aren’t they?” the sod asked as they made their way down yet another level. This bloody place was a bloody maze. “Does it have something to do with whoever made Samuel’s face easier to look at?”

“Keep. Walking,” Buffy snapped, this time adding a bit of a growl behind the words.

So far, the bloke had been leading them in circles. There were marks on certain walls that had a ring of home to them, in that Spike could recall seeing them on buildings back in Sunnyhell. These marks had led to levels of the bunker that he doubted even the Winchesters knew existed, one in particular that had been uncovered by nudging a stone in the rock formation. And the farther down they went, the more Spike was convinced that they weren’t going to find books on the Hellmouth.

He was pretty sure the bunker had been built here to contain the bloody Hellmouth. That the gate had been under their feet for weeks. From the set line of Buffy’s mouth, he wagered she’d landed on the same conclusion. There was a bloody riot of a conversation to have with the others.

Nice place you got here. Fancy being swallowed into Hell?

This last hallway had a bit of finality to it—a long stretch of white aligning a descending staircase that led to a blood-red door. No adjoining halls, no way to double back if a certain walking snack decided to double-cross the vamps he’d been sent here with, a thought Spike knew Ketch had had more than once for the way the man’s pulse skipped. The wanker had been eyeing his surroundings in a way that left little to the imagination. Checking for clues of ways to bugger off left by past generations of spineless gits, and the only reason he was still with them was he hadn’t found any.

“I think you ought to go first,” Ketch said, peering down at the door. “Being that you are demons and all.”

Spike gave the wanker a little shove, then seized him by the shoulder before he could take a spill down the stairs. “Bein’ that we’re a bit more welcome here than you, think we’re gonna let you have the honors.”

“Even though Spike rearranged Sam’s face this morning, Mary actually likes us,” Buffy added sweetly.

Ketch blinked at him. “Oh, that was you! Nice job, if I don’t—”

“Ketch, your name’s about to become hella ironic when you trip and there’s no one down there to break your fall.” Buffy also pushed him, and waited a beat longer than Spike had to seize him by the lapels of his cheap suit to prevent him from taking the tumble he so richly deserved. “Oh, and if you try to run, you won’t ever see daylight again.”

“Try to run? Miss Summers, I—”

“We’re vampires, moron,” she snapped. “I can hear your heart pounding. It tells me exactly what you’re thinking when you’re thinking it. Let this be a lesson to you—I have a soul, Spike has a conscience. And I’m it. So if I tell him to chow down, what’s going to happen?”

“Spike gets a nummy treat,” Spike agreed, rocking a bit on his heels. He leaned closer. “Do me a solid, mate, and give running away a go. Haven’t had a proper meal in years.”

Ketch gulped, flashing his gaze back to Buffy. “You’ll keep him from eating me?”

“Just. Walk.”

Ketch turned, the sound of his thundering heart now almost deafening, but it was accompanied by the sweet scent of the bloke’s fear, and hell, Spike had to admit how much he missed that. He gestured for the Slayer to precede him down the stairs, unsure at the moment whether he’d be able to keep his fangs to himself, as worked up as he was. And when they reached the bottom of the stairs and the world seemed farther away than it ever had before, he could almost fool himself into believing he was about to get a taste of the old Spike.

Ketch tried the red door. It didn’t budge. Of course not.

He looked over his shoulder, fake contrition spread across his face. “It—”

Buffy rolled her eyes, seized Ketch by the collar, and tossed him into Spike’s arms. Then, without ceremony, she lifted one of her legs and kicked a dent in the door. Then another. It was reinforced, which made it a bit of a chore, but his slayer was nothing if not persistent. And so strong at times she’d suffocate him with her thighs if he needed to breathe, which was a bloody turn on. As was this—watching her take down anything, from big bad hellgods to doors to the Hellmouth.

At last, the hinges on the door gave way and crumpled. Buffy was able to kick what was left of it aside and stepped in.

“Yeah,” she called over her shoulder. “Spike, we got ourselves a Hellmouth.”

Spike shoved Ketch forward. The room that opened up was circular and carved out of cave rock. The walls were etched with hieroglyphics. In the center of the room was an inlaid crest, surrounded by lines of what Spike knew to be Enochian.

“So,” Buffy said dryly, “who gets to tell the Winchesters?”

*~*~*

Dean tried not to look at her when she sighed and shifted again. He failed. He’d been failing for the past thirty minutes or so since Faith had drifted off to sleep. Just as he’d failed to keep himself from replaying the last few words they’d exchanged on repeat, like he was some lovesick blowhard.

Except the absolute terror of nearly losing her had kind of robbed him of the ability to distance whatever it was he was feeling from himself. Hell, part of him wondered if he’d see it for years—Faith smashing into that bus and the bus rolling over. The cold horror that had commanded his body as he’d rushed through the wreckage and how fucking sure he’d been that he’d never see her sassy smile or sexy smirk again.

And yeah, he’d been a bit clingy after. He recognized that. He’d followed her into the shower like a puppy and hadn’t been able to stop touching her, because touch told him what eyesight alone couldn’t—that she was in fact real, that she was in fact alive, and she was in fact his for the moment.

But that was the bitch of it, wasn’t it? For the moment. Something she’d been in a hurry to clarify before they’d set on the road. And that was all right, wasn’t it? That was the plan they’d agreed to and one near-death experience didn’t change shit.

Except that much had started to feel more and more like a lie he told himself. He’d known it when his heart had dropped as she’d asked for Nick, and how it had perked right the fuck back up again when she’d told Nick to find her ducky. And again, when he’d assured her that her ducky was right there, she’d asked her ducky to stay.

Faith had been hanging between life and death and she’d wanted him. And that had made him want to bawl like a fucking baby.

And then, earlier in the shower, she’d told him to his face that she liked all of him. That hadn’t been fucking pillow-talk, had it? Faith wasn’t the type of girl who whispered sweet nothings or said shit she didn’t mean. Not about the way she felt, at least. That was one of the things he liked most about her.

So had that bullshit talk earlier about condoms been saving face because she’d been honest with him or her trying to reestablish the terms of their agreement? And which did he want it to be?

Faith shuffled again in her sleep. Hell, she was right about one thing—she did move around a lot. He hadn’t seen it in the nights they’d shared a bed, but she seemed antsy now. Going through a fucking bus would do that to a girl.

How she’d managed to stay alive at all after that would be something he’d never understand.

At last, she flopped toward him inelegantly, stretching her legs across the bench of the Impala and resting her head at his thigh. It was only then that she seemed to settle. And though he didn’t want to, he felt himself relax in kind.

“Mmm,” she murmured. “’Night, Ducky.”

Dean glanced at her—and yeah, seeing her head in his lap was enough to give other parts of his anatomy ideas—but more than that was the small upward tilt of her lips. He released a breath and drew her hair over her shoulder before returning his gaze to the road.

“Get some sleep,” he said hoarsely, then did his best to focus on the music sounding through the car’s speakers and not at all on the girl using him as a pillow.

Like most things of late where Faith Lehane was concerned, he wasn’t successful.

*~*~*

The first time he’d seen Willow, Harry had thought she might be the first person he’d have to set out to kill. That was something a man didn’t forget, especially one who had spent his childhood evading death and managing to keep from taking lives while simultaneously saving the world from the darkest evil that anyone could imagine. He’d managed to bring about the downfall of Voldemort, head up the Auror department, and initiate real change within the Ministry without spilling blood. Not that blood hadn’t been spilled but he hadn’t had to do the cutting. That was the one saving grace he’d kept to himself in those years—while people had stood in front of him to die in his place, he had managed to not killed anyone himself.

But when he’d seen Willow, her eyes and hair black, dark veins standing stark against her porcelain skin, surrounded by a ball of living lightning that consumed the very earth it moved across, he’d thought he’d have to kill her. More than that, he’d thought he’d have to use the curse that had been used twice on him—the one he’d vowed to never utter.

Then there’d been a man there. A Muggle. An ordinary bloke, from the look of things. He’d said something to her and she’d blasted him with wild magic. Ron had groaned and muttered something about the poor, foolish git, and they’d both watched in amazement as the man had climbed to his feet and tried to approach her again.

Four times, the Muggle had taken a blast of magic to the chest. Four times he’d crawled to his feet. And something remarkable had happened in the interim—Willow had become less cold and detached. Shades of red began to bleed through her mane of black hair. Each magical burst seemed just a tad bit weaker, until finally they’d sparked to about nothing. She’d taken to pounding on the Muggle’s chest in absence of having anything harder to throw, before finally collapsing into his arms and sobbing.

Harry had never gone from loathing a person to feeling for them quite that quickly. There had been the visage of Voldemort in the dream he’d had between being hit with the Killing Curse in the Forbidden Forest and rejoining the Battle of Hogwarts, but that thing had been pitiful and inhuman. Willow, in the moment she’d broken, had been nothing but human. And he’d sworn then to do whatever he could to help her.

Of course, he’d later learn that she conducted a spell on herself to forget all of what he’d seen, which had made getting close to her something of a challenge. Every time he’d been around her, she’d been bubbly and sweet, reminding him at times of Hermione and at others of himself. In the back of his head, he’d had to keep the image of her with black eyes and dark veins fresh because reconciling one Willow with the next was bloody difficult.

Then something unexpected had happened—she’d become his friend. A true, genuine friend. Such a good one sometimes he’d find himself asking her if she remembered things like what Hogwarts was like when Gilderoy Lockhart was the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor only to realize, halfway through it, that he hadn’t known her then. It seemed unfeasible at times that she hadn’t been there with him and Hermione from the beginning. In fact, in recent years, he’d had to remind himself more often that part of what the Ministry expected him to do was keep tabs on her.

Which was how, he supposed, he’d found himself in this situation. Standing with a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, having to rationalize that Willow might be working with something as foul and evil as Wolfram and Hart.

“So, just to make sure I’ve understood all that,” Ginny said from his side, ever cool and in control. One of the million bloody reasons he was mad for her. “Your government works with an agency that has a proven track record of working in the Dark Arts, and you just now thought it might be worthwhile to question just whose side you’re on?”

Sabrina Deanne paled considerably, but didn’t back down. She wore the same tentative but stubborn expression she’d had since she’d shown up at his and Ginny’s flat, claiming she had news about Willow and begging for help. Ron and Hermione had hurried over at once, and they’d all listened as Sabrina had recounted what Toadmore had told her.

“You’re no longer on about the mad plan of killing her, are you?” Ginny asked, gripping Harry’s hand tightly. “Because I believe we made ourselves perfectly clear where that is concerned.”

“You all act as though I liked the idea of killing anyone,” Sabrina argued. “I thought it was the best course for everyone. Willow included. But I was expecting that to be more of a…situation like it was the last time.”

“And you know so much about what happened the last time because of all the reading you’ve done,” Ginny snapped. “You weren’t there, were you?”

“No, Mrs. Potter, I wasn’t there. I was a child, not too much younger than your eldest son,” Sabrina snapped back. “So yes, everything I know about that situation was taught to me. We learned about what happened as it happened. It caused an outright panic because she was one of ours—Willow Rosenberg grew up and lived not three hours from where we’re standing, and that was terrifying. The government started talking about rounding up all NoMaj people with magical abilities unlike ours and… Well, it caused quite an uproar. It was magic we couldn’t predict or understand and ever since learning about it, our world has never been the same. But one thing that did come from all of that was that Willow, when it happened, was out of her head with grief and rage. Unable to control herself or think clearly. All the propaganda MACUSA has issued on witches like Willow since then has hinged on that, making mental health one of the cornerstones of identifying potential NoMaj threats.”

“That sounds very forwards and backwards at the same time,” Hermione muttered.

“If MACUSA believes that Willow is an asset of Wolfram and Hart’s, it’s because they have reason to,” Sabrina continued. “And I believe you know better than I do what that might mean. Not for MACUSA…but for everyone. I need your help to discover what the relationship between Wolfram and Hart and MACUSA really is…and what they might be planning.”

“And we’re back to this,” Ginny said. “You want my husband, brother, and sister-in-law to break into your government headquarters, knowing full well if they’re caught it will cause an international crisis and possibly put our two countries at war.”

Harry seized Ginny’s hand and squeezed. “Darling, it’s for Willow,” he said softly. “And it’s not like we haven’t done this sort of thing before.”

“It’s a lot like you haven’t done it over here where people could give a fig that you’re Harry bloody Potter,” Ginny fired back.

“We’re not wanted fugitives this time,” Ron reasoned. “Shouldn’t require as much planning as it did to get into the Ministry. Or be as dangerous.”

“Ron…” Hermione looked torn, almost to the point of tears, and Harry knew what she was thinking before she spoke. “It’s not just our lives we have to think about this time. Rose and Hugo…”

And there was that. Harry blew out a breath. It had been too long since he’d seen his children. If they did this and were caught, he might never get a moment with them again.

But hell, if he didn’t do this, what would he tell them? That he’d given up on Willow without a fight? That he’d turned on someone who was sort of a fixture around the Potter household because it was the easy thing to do? Toe the Ministry line?

And in the back of his head, always lurking there, was the question he could never quite put to bed.

What would Sirius have done?

“It’s Willow,” he said. “And it’s what we do for friends.”

Hermione gave him a weak smile, the sort that meant she’d known what his answer would be all along.

“But we have to be smart about this,” he continued, looking to Sabrina. “None of it will matter if we get caught.”

They began planning from there. And Ron was right—it was a bit different than having to sneak into the Ministry with Death Eaters in charge and his own face staring at him from wanted posters. This would require stealth and subterfuge, but the sort that was a bit bolder.

Percy Weasley would suggest that Harry Potter give a guest lecture to disambiguate some of the rumors and stereotypes prevalent about him and his history. This would be the extent of Percy’s involvement, and he wouldn’t know anything about the real reason for the visit. Though the wand up his arse had been knocked loose during the War, he was still a stickler for rules and would be horrified to be caught conspiring in any international affair. Hermione would assume Harry’s place at the lecture, being that she was the best spoken of all of them, and Harry would play the role of a visiting British wizard who happened to bear the face of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce—apparently, Sabrina was confident she could secure some of Wes’s hair. Ron and Ginny would be in attendance of Harry/Hermione’s speech, but also as backup if need be. If anyone asked where Hermione Granger-Weasley was, they would claim she was home with a NoMaj ailment that she’d agreed to forgo treatment on as a favor to her Muggle-obsessed father-in-law, who wanted to know how cold medicine worked.

This remained the plan even after Sabrina dismissed herself to take a phone call from Josh Lyman, and returned with the news that the man Willow was known to be traveling with was apparently the devil himself, and the governor had asked to see her.

If anything, learning Willow was traveling with a bloke calling himself Lucifer just intensified Harry’s need to clear her name.

Because it seemed that more than just the fate of a couple of countries was at stake.

*~*~*

The first thing Faith became aware of was she was drooling. The second thing she became aware of was she was drooling on something solid and warm…and denimy. The third thing she became aware of was someone’s hand was in her hair. The fourth thing she became aware of was the now-familiar purr of the Impala combined with the similarly familiar sound of classic rock.

“Dean?” she asked hoarsely.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty.”

She blinked, wiped her mouth and turned. Apparently, she’d ended up with her head in Dean’s lap—something she couldn’t help but notice he seemed rather pleased about.

“Was just about to wake you up,” he said. “We’re about there.”

“Already?”

“You’ve been out for a while, babe. And I gotta say, having your head down there makes driving hella distracting.”

Faith smirked, feeling a bit better than she had earlier. Sleep had a way of doing that, she’d discovered. The tension that had been there was gone—though she wasn’t so dumb she didn’t think it wouldn’t be back eventually. She’d enjoy the respite while she could.

“Yeah, you making that face doesn’t help matters.” Dean hissed and shifted, and she saw he was telling the absolute truth. His cock was hard and straining against his fly. “We still have a few minutes…”

“You’re seriously asking me for road head?”

“You’re seriously surprised by this?”

Faith snickered and rolled her eyes, but turned anyway and began dragging down his zipper.

Dean inhaled sharply as she pulled him out of his jeans. “Wait—are you actually—”

She answered him by taking him into her mouth, all the way back, and working her throat around the head of his cock. Dean swore and swerved, making her laugh, which made him moan, so she did it again. And set about a quick rhythm around him, faster than last night but just as much fun. Perhaps more, because she felt when he was losing control not just in his body but in the way the car moved or swayed.

“Faith…shit, baby, I’m—”

She hummed around him to let him know she understood and sucked him all the way down again. Then he exploded in her mouth with a hard moan, and she continued milking him until the shudders subsided.

Then she sat back up, drew a circle around her mouth to flex her jaw, and settled on her side of the car before he had a chance to reclaim his breath.

Dean didn’t say anything as he pulled in at the bunker or as he tucked himself back into his jeans. But he did send her a heated look that told her they’d probably have set a new record by the time they crashed tonight.

“Come here,” he growled, and reached to pull her across the space of the Impala, but the sound of voices broke through the fog.

Voices calling her name. Voices belonging to people she knew she couldn’t ignore, even if her clit was throbbing. Faith turned to see Nick and Rosalie hurrying toward the car—both seemingly desperate for her, and hell, that sight warmed her up too.

“Hold that thought,” she told Dean with a wink, then edged out of the car just to be taken into a massive bear hug by Nick, who practically lifted her off the ground.

“Bloody hell,” he said, pulling back to allow Rosalie the same opportunity, “could you stop trying to die on us, love?”

“I dunno,” Faith replied, unable to keep from grinning at the way Rosalie had curled herself around her. “This last near-death experience might be my favorite.”

“You are not allowed to almost die for at least six months,” Rosalie said, stepping back and wiping her eyes. “I… We didn’t get a chance to…”

“I know,” Faith said, patting the girl on the shoulder. She’d been in such a hurry to get away from Dean that she’d skipped the whole kiss-and-make-up party. Which, considering her state of mind upon return, was not without its irony.

She turned just in time to see Dean strolling toward her from the Oldsmobile. She narrowed her eyes. “Looking for Dawn’s underwear?”

“Nope,” he said with a bounce in his step. “Just…wanted to check on something.” He glanced between her and Nick for a moment—Nick had gotten close enough again to throw an arm around her shoulder—and something in his face fell. Not by much but by enough that she saw it.

“You guys better hurry in,” Rosalie said, pulling on Nick’s hand. “Buffy and Spike just came back up with Ketch and…I’m guessing it’s not good news.”

“Nothing with Ketch ever is,” Dean muttered.

Faith frowned and, subconsciously, took a step toward him. Subconsciously put a step between her and Nick. “Who’s Ketch?”

“British, kinda cute, entirely an asshole, involved in the Watchers Council,” Rosalie supplied. “So…kinda your type.” She elbowed Nick playfully. “Except mine’s cuter.”

Dean stiffened even further. Faith met his eyes, rolled hers, shook her head with a snicker, then gestured to Rosalie.

“Think I’ve had my fill of British assholes, kiddo,” she said. “But thanks for the hard sell. Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

Sam took a sleeve to wipe his brow and brush the hair from his eyes.  He was sweating whiskey sour and beer so bad he guessed he smelled like a frat boy’s laundry basket. He heaved his second load of books from the basement of basements onto the map table.

“Did someone partake in one too many before or after Spike broke your face?” Ketch was also winded, but was obviously handling the exercise better than Sam at the moment.

He wanted to snap back, but he thought he might vomit if he opened his mouth. Luckily, he had Dawnie back in his corner. “You know I can have my brother do you like that. Probably worse because I’m betting Sam could kick your ass in hand-to-hand.”

Ketch lacked time to reply as there was a loud noise. Turning, Cas and Giles were in a place they had to have just landed. Apparently Giles had wobbled and knocked over a table. “Bloody hell,” Giles grumbled, yanking his arm from the angel’s grasp.

“Glad you could make it,” Mary drawled. “Figured you two would want to pause your Hollywood vacation for a peek at these.”

“Indeed,” the man replied with a small smile. Shit, was he crushing on his mom?

“Sam,” Cas said as he walked up to him. “You look terrible.”

“Yeah,” he grunted in response.

“You smell repulsive. A combination of alcohol and body odor.” Then, he laid a cool hand on Sam’s forehead.

Sam sighed in relief as the pain of his injuries and the symptoms of his hangover faded into memory. “Thanks, Cas,” he replied breathlessly when the healing was complete.

“Now that things are settled,” Ketch said hesitantly, “might this be the part where I leave?” He turned a bitter look to Mary. “Or shall we just repeat the part where you shoot a bullet at me and threaten to sic the local guard dogs?”

“Really?” Giles quipped, bemused. “And you said you were calmer than the children.”

“Hey,” Sam, Dawn, and Buffy snapped in defensive response.

“Shut up, Rupert,” Mary hissed.

Sam looked up to see Rosalie and Nick enter the room. “Thanks for all the help with the books,” he greeted sarcastically. “Not like one of you is a slayer or anything.”

“Whatever,” Rosalie said with a smile. If they had snuck off for a quickie in the middle of this, he was going to work her until she cried. But when she reached back for a hand, she didn’t grasp her boyfriend. “Surprise!” She announced as she tugged Faith from the shadows.

“Good,” Buffy said before taking off to wrap her surrogate sister in a hug.

Sam looked to see Dean heading up the rear. After looking to the slayer reunion with a warm smile, his brother looked up and locked gazes with his own. He didn’t say anything as the smile slowly faded. Pushing past people, they both covered the distance until they were entwined in a tight embrace. No one here understood the danger here better than them. No one understood the quiet fear inside both of them with the confirmed knowledge that Lucifer was back and in the wheelhouse. “Thank you,” Dean said in the faintest of whispers.

“You okay?” Sam asked. After one last squeeze, they broke the hug and took a step back. They normally kept the bromance moments private and very infrequent. Pretty sure the California crew hadn’t seen either of them that loving.

Well, except Dawn last night when they’d…

Dean cleared his throat. “Yeah.” His voice was more gravelly than normal. “You?”

“Yeah,” he replied quickly. “All better.”

Dean gave him a once over before shaking his head. “Dammit,” he pouted. “Did anyone at least take a picture?” He pivoted to Spike. “Come on! I thought you were better than that!”

“Dean Michael Winchester,” his mother snapped sternly. He caught his brother’s flinch in response.

“I did,” Nick softly announced, shooting a guilty smile Sam’s direction. “Sorry, mate. I was the last cold-cocked by a member of the family.”

Sam kinda wanted to slap Rosalie for not kicking the prick. She snickered as Spike said, “You know I got Daddy whipping you on camera, boy.”

Nick looked up to the vampire with a smirk. “Why else would I do it? Not exactly useful for anything.”

“Laughs,” Dean stated. “Lots and lots of laughs. For me. A nice bit of karma to the bitch who always gave me shit for drunken mistakes.”

“I believe we should save the laughter until after the Hellmouth is investigated,” Cas replied.

“Yes,” Mary agreed. She turned to the senior Watcher. “Mr. Giles.” She gestured a hand along the table. “I believe you and in charge.”

Giles assumed his role and began sorting the books. One pile contained the texts he had never seen or studied. The second and much larger stack of books were ones the man had accumulated from his years of research on the subject. Everyone grabbed a hardback and found a place to sit.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Nick asked after several quiet minutes of study. “Yes, there’s the obvious, but what are we hoping to find concerning this Hellmouth?”

“In those,” Giles said nodding toward the larger stack, “little to nothing. Possibly a reference or two. More history and theoretical speculation on the subject as a whole.” He then turned his eyes to the smaller, yet still vast bundle of texts before him. “These are where any answers lie.” He nodded to Nick and then Buffy. “Help search these. Dawn and Spike as well.”

“Excuse me?” Faith called, waving a hand in the air slightly. “Was kinda there for all the shit, too.”

Dawn snorted. “Yeah, do you even know how to read? Doubt you opened a book in Sunnydale.”

“Pretty sure she wouldn’t’ve blabbed you out to the King of Hell yesterday,” Dean snapped.

“Hey!” Sam called out in shock and mortification. He couldn’t believe his brother would be such a dick about it. “Dude! Don’t. Look you wanna blame anyone, blame me. I should have sent him away faster.”

Dean rolled his eyes before looking back down at the text he was researching. Faith gave a pissy glare at Dawn before snatching her book off the table to block Dawnie from her view. Dawn gave Sam a slight smile of gratitude before turning her focus to the work before them.

His heart skipped a beat at the sight of her friendly face looking at him. After what he’d done, he really wasn’t sure why she’d forgiven him. She deserved better than that. Better than him, stupid panty gag aside. He had to make it up to her. Some gesture to show her how much he cared that she’d taken a second chance on him. Only three other people in the world had done that for him—for some reason though, he really didn’t felt his absent mom completely qualified—and that made him feel something much deeper than the sloppy sex they’d had last night. 

As usual, he’d have to put his personal life on hold. Once again the world was on the verge of destruction and once again the Winchesters had a part in stopping it.

Hopefully they’d do a better job this time.

*~*~*

Sabrina shifted awkwardly as she listened to the phone ringing. She was nervous Wesley would deny her request. Possibly she was more nervous he would accept. Could she remain focused on business if she was alone with him again?

“Sabrina,” he whispered her name like a prayer. “Please tell me good news.”

She gave a small titter. “Uhh…good? Well, it would depend upon how much you’d like a visitor?”

He paused. “Who?” He didn’t sound exactly thrilled.

“Me,” she said with a nervous giggle. For fuck’s sake, she needed to pull herself together. She was acting like it was a booty call, not a matter of orchestrating a serious covert operation.

“Yes!” She heard his voice rise in excitement. “What do you need?”

“Your location. It’s going to take a bit. I can only Apparate so far at a time. I may have to use the Floo Network to get there.”

After she got the exact address, they ended the call and she began making her way to Oregon. He had found a cabin relatively remote and was taking time for solitary reflection. It was nearly three hours after she had heard his voice before she was knocking on his front door.

He hadn’t done much to clean himself up. His hair was mussed like he hadn’t showered for days. He had a beard where it had been stubble when she’d last saw him. And his clothes looked and smelled like scotch and old pizza. Despite it all, she swooned when he grinned at her. “I was afraid to step into the shower on account of your unscheduled arrival.”

“Sorry.” She winced apologetically before slipping inside and shutting the door. “The Portland terminal was delayed from traffic. Took longer than I wanted.”

He gave her a weary look. “I highly doubt this is a social call, but to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Quickly, she gave him the rundown on everything that had happened since their last conversation. She ended it by once again stating she needed a sample of his hair.

“I have a question,” Wes said after she quit speaking. “I’ve been rereading the Potter books.” He nodded to a table filled with those seven and many other texts. “Polyjuice Potion takes several weeks to brew. Do you just keep it on constant supply?”

Sabrina nodded. “At headquarters. You’re supposed to sign a form revealing who you are impersonating and for how long.” She gave a sheepish smile. “I won’t be signing the form this time.”

He chuckled lightly before his humor faded. “How are you?”

“Huh?” She hadn’t expected that question.

“I know the pain and bitterness one feels when they learn the object of their devotion has been less than flawless. It isn’t easy to accept.”

She swallowed back her emotion at his words. He was right. “Well, I think I have a little twinge of denial still holding on, but the truth will all be revealed shortly.”

She felt him reach out and cup her cheek, the rough pad of his thumb lightly caressing her smooth skin. They both stepped forward in unison as they brought the lips together in a kiss. She breathed his scent in as he slid his tongue into her mouth. He was dirty, greasy and tad smelly, but she was too far gone to care.

After an ungodly amount of time, oxygen deprivation resulted in an end to their make-out session. “Well,” Wes gasped, stepping back from her embrace. She expected a lame-ass apology to follow. “I should have brushed my teeth.”

Sabrina snorted in laughter. “I’d like to think you’d do it on the regular.”

He snickered in response. “Yes, well, I’ve been lacking in my personal hygiene the past few days.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Sweetie, that’s kind of obvious.”

Sabrina winced at her stupidness. Had she just called him that?

Wes didn’t comment on it as he gave her a guilty look. “Apologies. Haven’t exactly been the best of myself lately.”

She reached out and grasped his hand. “The first step is forgiving yourself. You were blinded by grief.”

“Much like Willow,” he countered. “And you yourself said the best measure was to end her life.”

“You’re not Willow!” she snapped. “You didn’t try and destroy the world.”

“Didn’t I? Isn’t that exactly what would have happened if that bracelet had harnessed Rosalie’s power? Somehow I must’ve known that would have killed her. I was on the sodding Watchers Council, Sabrina.”

“Nope.” She wasn’t going to listen to this. “Not the same. You have seen the error of your ways. And even so with Willow, killing her is hopefully the last resort.”

He looked ready to argue, but she leaned over and kissed him once again. This one was shorter and with a lot less tongue. “Hair,” she muttered as she stepped back.

“I know,” he said with an eye roll. “We already established I’m a mess, love.”

Holy fuck, she melted at the word. She caught herself from lunging herself into him arms by remembering that was a pretty common British nickname. It still felt hella sexy though. She smirked. “I need your hair for the spell, you dirty boy.”

“Oh,” he said in realization before the corner of his mouth tilted in amusement. “The spell.”

They scrambled about for scissors before Wes settled for using a knife to cut a small chunk of hair from his head. They found a box of sandwich bags in the kitchen and she secured the official reason for her visit in her pocket. “I don’t suppose you have time to stay,” Wes said afterward. “I could shower and we could…”

She wanted nothing more. “I can’t,” she said, unable to hide her bitter disappointment.

“I know.” He gave her a sad smile and a nod before placing his hands on her shoulders and pulling her against him for one final kiss.

All too soon reality overcame desire and they separated. “Good luck,” Wes said in farewell.

“Stay safe,” she said before turning around and walking out the door. She blinked back the tears she wanted to hide.

Shakespeare was pretty right about parting being such sweet sorrow.

*~*~*

Dean jumped a little when Nick slammed a book down on the table. “Bloody hell,” he grumbled.

“You find something?” Sam asked.

“No. Quite the opposite.” Nick sighed and stood up. “As unimportant as it sounds, I have to go serve demons alcohol now.”

“Crap,” Dawn muttered as she flopped her book on the table. “Bar opens in twenty.”

“Yes,” Nick replied. “Which means there’s a cranky green man sending angry texts as we speak.” He leaned down and planted a kiss on his girlfriend’s lips. “Feel free to figure everything out while I’m at work.”

“Uh oh,” Buffy said, turning to give a guilty look to Giles. “Bar time means Slayer duty starts.”

“Thank god,” Faith replied, shutting her book. “Honestly, I’d stopped reading about half an hour ago.”

Dean bit his cheek. He knew that because that had been about the time she’d started reaching under the table to pinch his thigh. It was hard to pretend to be still when you were trying to beat a girl at footsie. Especially when the chick was stronger. He’d wanted to reach over and shove her starting about ten minutes ago.

“Very well,” Giles huffed. “Mary and I will remain here. The stupid angel can deal with the stupid bugger if he gets out of line.”

“And me,” Sam spoke. “Not like I’m going to the cantina anytime soon.”

Dean snickered as he stood up and gave his brother a slap on the back. “I’ll have a cold one in memory of the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. Drunk at least.”

“Wait a minute,” Sam said, snatching his arm. “Where the fuck are you going? You don’t have work or slaying to do.”

“I’m gonna work on slaying me a dozen bottles of beer. I’ve had a fucking rough couple of days, no thanks to a very untimely visit from Crowley arranged by you. I am throwing a few back and throwing a few down on the karaoke machine.” He smirked as he pulled his arm out of Sam’s reach. “Besides, we all know I stopped reading way more than half an hour ago.”

While Hunter and Dawn scrammed to the bar, the Slayers hastened to change into ass-kicking apparel. Dean and Spike went to kitchen to wait and grab some nourishment. While the vampire started warming up a couple bags of blood, Dean settled for a ham sandwich and an unopened bag of Lays.

“Mmm,” Dean said after assembling his dinner and taking a large bite. “Food.”

“Funny how you forget to eat when you’re saving the world,” Spike joked as he ripped open his bag and drank it straight. At least Buffy usually had the decency to hide hers in a mug. “Or shagging a bird on the regular.”

Dean almost did a Mama Cas. He coughed as he attempted to keep from inhaling ham into his lungs.

Spike just snickered. “Please, like you two don’t reek of sex. Did she spit or swallow that load you popped off in the car?”

“What, B need some tips?” Faith said as she barreled into the room, making a beeline to the sandwich fixings on the table.

“Thanks for your concern,” the eldest slayer said seconds later as she entered the kitchen. “Pretty sure Spike was being more nosy perv than envious. Unless he needs another one today.”

“I always need another, love,” her mate teased as he tossed her a bag of blood.

“Gross,” Rosalie remarked as she came into the room. She didn’t stop as she pushed Dean aside to make her own sandwich. “Let’s save the copulation tales until after I ingest some dinner.”

Dean had to note with amusement how much things had changed the past couple months. Life had gone from years of him and Sam living on their own before Cas had raised him from Hell and entered their family and Mom had been pulled from Heaven by Amara. Now, he’d inherited a bunker full of wayward slayers, watchers and one very entertaining vampire. It was kinda like they had formed a new, blended dysfunctional family. Most of the time he actually enjoyed it, but he wasn’t about to admit it.

“Hey,” he said after Buffy crushed a couple handfuls of Lays into her bloody glass. “Don’t eat all the chips.”

They finished off the bag and the rest of their meals before heading out to the garage.

“Uhhh…” Dean hesitated when Rosalie followed him and Faith over to Baby. “You might wanna ride with Spike and B. Not sure how sanitary the backseat is at the moment.”

Rosalie gave a look of disgust. “Guessing you two had some car nookie?”

“Well, yeah,” Faith drawled as she opened the passenger door. “But we did it back there before we left for hunting. Pretty sure he means the blood from my earlier battle with a tour bus.” She paused. “Or the demon jizz from that asshole Crowley.”

“Eww,” Rosalie said, wrinkling her nose. “You win.” She turned to make her way to the Oldsmobile.

Dean heard Spike’s roar of laughter before he remembered the present he’d left him in the driver’s seat. Snickering, Dean slipped in the car and gave Faith a devilish grin.

“You making a pass?” Spike inquired as he leaned his face down into the Impala next to Dean, tossing back the dirty boxer briefs he’d left in offering.

Faith burst into hysterics as she figured out the joke.

This only served to make Dean more obnoxious. “Well, you do have amazing cheekbones.”

“And you’re mighty pretty yourself, mate,” Spike teased with a playful pat on Dean’s chest. “Next time just ask before throwing your knickers my way.”

As Spike shuffled off, Faith turned to him with tears of laughter glinting her eyes. “You’re such a dick.”

He giggled back. “The magical tale of Sam Winchester: Panty Snatcher is worthy of repeat. I think I’ll write it in one of the books when we get back so future generations can relish in his drunken stupidity.”

“Why do I encourage you?” Faith asked herself, failing at sounding anything other than amused.

“Because, baby, you’re kinda a dick too.” He gave her a wink. “One of your cuter qualities when it’s not aimed my direction.”

“Shut up and drive, you vampire flirt.”

“Well, you’re pretty warm-natured when you sleep. Vamps do have that cold, dead thing working for them.” He reached over and squeezed her thigh as he teased. “But I guess the rest of the time I prefer you hot.”

She laid her palm atop his hand. “Just remember, next orgasm is mine, Ducky. Don’t get too drunk to get it up later.”

He slid his fingers over a little closer to the apex of her thighs. “Don’t worry, Miss Kitty. Ducky will make you purr.”

“Stop it,” she said, shoving his hand off her. “Last thing I need is B talking about smelling my snatch or something.”

“I’d like to smell your snatch again,” he said, unable to resist messing with her.

“I’ll even let you taste it if you’re a good ducky and stop flapping your bill.”

Damn. This had been a rollercoaster of a day. Hopefully it would end as good as it had started.

*~*~*

Nick looked around Rosa Lee’s Cantina with pride at his many weeks of hard work. It was really satisfying seeing something he’d built from the ground up actually turn out as planned. It gave him hope that this latest apocalypse could be averted. Maybe he could even get the bloody courage to ask Rose to marry him one day.

“What’s your cheapest blood?” a Chaos demon gargled at him as Nick stood behind the bar.

“Bovine,” he informed dryly. Certain customers were more pleasant to see than others.

But money was money and currently he and Dawn were the sole breadwinners of honest income, along with Sam and his takeover of Nick’s old job. Thought of the Council reminded him he wanted to have a word at some point with Rose and the other ladies. It was the twenty-first century and long gone were the days where women lived by the grace of a man supporting them. Slayers deserved more money than anyone over in England and these three in particular deserved a whole bloody lot of back pay.

“Hey there, handsome.”

He looked up at his Rose with a loving smile. Her standing at the bar made the Chaos demon more tolerable just on principle. “And what might you like, m’lady?”

“Scotch on the rocks.”

Nick barked a laugh. “I watched you gag on Jack and Coke. Straight scotch might melt your throat.” He started making her another Shirley Temple, but slipped a little Rum in the glass when he thought nobody was looking.

“You’re a naughty boy,” Buffy teased as she hopped up on a barstool. “Gimme one with more rum.”

He’d just finished Buffy’s drink when Faith sauntered up. “How hard you hitting tonight?” he asked.

To the untrained eye, Faith might have come across as thoroughly bored or possibly invested in her work patrolling the joint. Considering he saw the way her eyes kept pausing on the guy chatting with Lorne by the stage, Nick knew better. The woman was scoping out Dean Winchester. He was a bit impressed she’d hung around him a week and hadn’t yet cut him off or started looking for another piece of man. “Beer,” she said absently, keeping her peripheral in Dean range.

Dean took the karaoke machine over shortly after and began in on the classic “Witchy Woman”. Nick again noted that Faith snickered at the start, but was watching with interest as the elder Winchester belted out the words. Nick also had to admit that Dean had a surprisingly nice set of vocals.

“Well, I know you want a lover. Let me tell you, brother, she’s been sleeping in the devil's bed. And there's some rumors going round, someone's underground. She can rock you in the night-time 'til your skin turns red.”

As he hit the chorus once more, Nick had to pry. “He talking about you or Willow?”

Faith turned and flashed him a smirk. “I was assuming Red, but there’s some scratch marks on his back that might tell a different tale.”

“Which reminds me,” Buffy teased, “let me get another one of these drinks before I begin my told ya so dance.”

“Let me get a couple more beers and we can go outside and I can begin my ass-kicking dance.”

Spike rushed up to the bar and grabbed Buffy’s drink then finished it in a single gulp. “Thanks, love,” he said a little breathlessly before giving her a quick peck on the lips.

“Did you bite something icky?” Rose mused.

“Made a bit of a deal with my new backup shag.” He gave Buffy a playful wink before turning to head to the stage.

All three girls cracked up in a way the let Nick know he had missed the joke. “Was he talking about Dean?”

Rosalie cackled and Faith snickered. “Looks like Sonny and Cher are gonna do a duet.”

Buffy giggled. “You know you’re sleeping with Cher in this scenario.”

“Obviously,” Faith countered with shrug.

Nick couldn’t help but snort when the chords of Bob Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” began to play. The irony of a hunter and a vampire singing they were “wanted dead or alive” was almost as cheesy as the bar name.

“Wow,” Buffy said in the end, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. “We’ve all found ourselves some dorky boys.”

“Yeah,” Rose said sweetly, looking over to Nick. “Pretty sure mine’s the dorkiest.”

“Agreed,” Faith and Buffy said in unison before breaking off into snickers.

Interesting… Not the part where he’d been deemed the king of the dorks. He had a Star Wars tattoo on his ass that basically solidified his spot. But he noticed a distinct lack of protest from Faith at calling Dean ‘her boy.’

Yes, very interesting indeed.

Chapter Text

The second Sabrina Deanne entered the Governor’s Mansion, Sam decided that he’d made a mistake. No matter what Josh or Zack had said, no matter how sensible it was, giving audience to the person who had suggested killing Willow went against every instinct in his body.

Were it not for the fact that he was pretty sure she could turn him into a ferret, he might have physically rushed the woman. Or shoved her out of the window. The press would eat that up.

As if sensing his thoughts, Zack Morris clamped a hand on Sam’s shoulder and applied enough pressure to ensure he remained seated.

The room was full of people on his side, Sam knew. Zack Wright, Cordelia Chase, and Kelly Morris had all ventured over to hear what the witch had to say, having left the other demon hunter and their live-in nurse behind to watch the kids. Donna, Josh, and Toby—the latter of whom was on his way to shitfaced—were there as well. The only people missing were the Hogwarts contingency, but Sam suspected this much was by design.

Sabrina at least had the good sense to look nervous, and at that, Sam felt a begrudging amount of respect for the woman. It couldn’t be easy coming into a place where you knew you were the least popular person. But she was here anyway, head held high.

“Thank you for requesting this meeting,” Sabrina said. She lowered her handbag to the ground, then withdrew her wand and held it up. “I’m holding onto this just for my own personal protection.” She tucked it into her back pocket. “That is all.”

“Think we’re gonna attack you?” Wright demanded. “Must not have the best news to share.”

“We’re beyond the point of news, Mr. Wright,” Sabrina replied coolly. “As I told Mr. Lyman on the phone, the situation has advanced beyond my purview. Especially now that the senior partner Willow Rosenberg has allied with is Lucifer.”

Toby released a shrill giggle at this, then snorted when everyone looked at him.

“There are many things we don’t know,” Sabrina continued after giving the man a long and not-undeserved side-eye. “We can assume based on the phone call Mr. Seaborn received from Willow that she is not being held hostage. That she believes she is working for the greater good. Unfortunately, there is a precedent with Wolfram and Hart manipulating emotionally compromised people into assuming their actions are also for the greater good…” She glanced to Wright. “As I believe you know.”

“So you’re here to score sympathy points for Wes.”

“He made a terrible mistake and he is aware of it.”

“There are mistakes and then there’s trying to kill my daughter. Or using my other daughter as collateral.”

“Wesley didn’t—”

“Look, lady, I don’t care that you’re banging him. Go right the fuck ahead. The women who end up screwing Wes tend to not live very long, and I doubt anyone here would really miss you if you keep up the tradition.”

Sam winced at that, surprising himself. Despite the fact that he’d been promising anyone with ears that he would kill Sabrina Deanne the first chance he got, Wright’s statement seemed a bit…well, mean.

Sabrina’s cheeks pinked but she didn’t respond by sending a curse in Wright’s direction, which had to say something for her sense of self-awareness.

“I am not here to discuss Wesley,” Sabrina said with as much dignity as a woman facing a firing squad could muster. “I’m here to let you know that Harry Potter and I will be infiltrating MACUSA.” She swallowed. “I am about to break national and international magical laws because I want to help Willow.”

“Don’t you mean kill?” Sam spat at this—he couldn’t help himself. “Because that was the plan, wasn’t it? Kill the mother of my child?”

Sabrina pressed her lips together, but she didn’t flinch. Instead, she looked at him head-on. “Yes, it was,” she said. “I had every reason to believe MACUSA would respond to the news that she had performed that scale of magic and was potentially unstable by firing everything they had at her. I also had reason to believe that Willow would respond in-kind. The only way to stop full-scale destruction of both our worlds, Mr. Governor, would be to eliminate one of those fire-powers. Being that one such fire-power was a government entity and the other was a single person, the choice was clear. I never wanted to kill Willow. I don’t want to kill anyone. Fuck, if we’re being honest, I don’t want to be here. But ever since I was sent to ensure the threat posed by all of you was contained, I have learned things about my government and about NoMajes that… Well, I believe MACUSA is corrupt. I believe Wolfram and Hart is running the show. And they have been for a long time. Quite frankly, I believe everything I thought I knew was a lie concocted to keep the magical population in line. I’m not sorry I suggested killing Willow—my goal was to save lives, Magical and NoMaj alike, from destruction that would make the bombs your government dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like child’s play. I am, however, very grateful to not pursue that course of action.”

“Okay, say that’s true,” Zack said, again squeezing Sam’s shoulder so tightly he couldn’t move. “What does knowing this have to do with helping Willow?”

“Exposing MACUSA’s corruption means changing the tide of public opinion against NoMaj witches and wizards, and all other manner of nonhuman creature,” Sabrina said. “Because if Willow is successful in whatever Wolfram and Hart have her doing in Kansas, if she conducts magic that endangers others, MACUSA can at their leisure use this as a rally point to stifle all NoMaj magical users and worse. Wolfram and Hart only protects those that protect their own interests—so vampires, for instance, whose interests are against Wolfram and Hart might have the full power of the magical government bearing down on them. I know you and your wife, as well as two other vampires, have rings that keep you from harm. Those rings can be removed. If MACUSA is emboldened to publicly pursue this, they will be able to justify about anything. Understanding their ties to Wolfram and Hart gives us ammunition for when they inevitably tire of Willow and set their sights elsewhere.”

There was nothing for a moment. Sam felt Zack’s hand relax a fraction. “Okay,” the vampire said. “That’s a good reason.”

“Thank you. I thought so.” Sabrina shifted her gaze to Sam. “Harry will be posing as a visiting official from the Ministry of Magic. Hermione Granger-Weasley will be posing as Harry Potter to give a talk to our government’s officials to help break down some of the stereotypes held by our people.”

“Harry’s…not going to speak for Harry?”

Kelly Morris snorted. “Hermione’d be better at it.”

Sabrina nodded at Hermione. “This was their belief as well. For our purposes, Harry will be assuming the face of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.”

Wright snarled. “So you are in contact with him.”

“I am, yes.”

Sam had to admit—he was a bit impressed by the way she owned this without batting an eye. Whatever else, she truly believed in Wesley. That was…interesting.

Sabrina shifted her attention back to Sam. “We will need a safe place to Apparate once we have broken into MACUSA’s archives. We can’t go to my place or to Harry’s, as both will be among the top locations MACUSA will search if they catch wise to what we’re doing. I am asking you to allow us to come here.”

Sam felt all eyes in the room fall on him, and realized that he’d arrived at a cross-roads without meaning to. The choice was clear—he could either hold onto his rage and resentment or he could put that behind him, no matter how difficult it was.

This was larger than him. Larger than Willow and Oz. It was about the future of people like the vampire at his side and untold millions more like them.

“Yes,” Sam said hoarsely. “Whatever you need.”

He felt rather than saw Josh relax. Zack clapped him once on the shoulder to express his thanks.

Sabrina smiled—a genuine smile that made her look rather beautiful. “Thank you, Mr. Governor. This may be the start of a brave new world.”

*~*~*

Honestly, Dean hadn’t set out to listen in on anyone’s conversation. He was an honest guy trying to get honestly drunk, and he’d honestly needed to drain the lizard. So what if that took him right past Faith, who had parked her sexy ass at the bar in front of her old fuck buddy and hadn’t moved. Didn’t matter to him. He was glad the two were reconnecting.

After he and the vamp had finished serenading the room, Spike had been dragged off by Buffy, who had volunteered them to take the first patrol shift since Faith had nearly died earlier that day. Which was nice and considerate of her. Faith had waved her off, then resumed her conversation with Nick. And given the fact that the mini-slayer didn’t seem too bothered by the attention, that definitely meant Dean shouldn’t give a fuck that two old fuck buddies were shooting the shit. Rosalie was a teenage girl and in love for the first time, so her freak out was to be expected.

Dean was not a teenage girl. He would not act like one. So he’d done the decent thing, parked his ass on the opposite end of the bar to give the two old buddies—fuck buddies—some space. Dawn kept the well filled and that was all a guy could ask for. Though he didn’t know that he cared for the somewhat pitying looks the girl kept throwing his way, like he was some pathetic, pining guy who pined pathetically. Which he wasn’t.

He also hadn’t meant to stop like a creeper in the fucking hallway the second he heard his name, but once he realized Nick was asking Faith about him, well, no one was perfect.

“So, you and Dean Winchester…”

There was a long pause. He couldn’t see her face, but imagined her giving her old fuck buddy that narrowed look she so often gave him.

“That a question or a statement?” she drawled at last. “’Cause if it’s a question, it’s missing the second half.”

“I’m just curious. I’ve never seen you like this.”

That much certainly did not have Dean’s heart reacting in any way whatsoever. Nope. Just the regular thumping. Keeping blood flowing through his body like a good organ.

Faith snickered. “You haven’t really seen me much at all,” she fired back. “There was the night I came back and I’ve been on the road since then. So yeah, maybe you caught him perving on my naked ass then. Boy’s human, Nick.”

“But you’re sleeping with him.”

“Yeah, and you outta everyone should know how seriously I take sex.”

Dean’s heart still didn’t react, but if it had, it definitely wouldn’t have given a whimper at that reminder. Nope.

“So you’re not… It’s not more than just sex, is it?”

“Well, look at you, getting all up in my business.”

“Well, look at you,” Nick shot back, sounding particularly British, “avoiding the question.”

“Nicky, I will wipe that smug ass look off your face so fast—”

“And defensive! Did I hit a mark?”

“I’m gonna hit something here in a second,” she muttered, almost too low for Dean to hear. Almost, but not enough. “You’re as bad as B, you know?”

“Yeah, well, I have the added luxury of knowing you a bit better than she does.” Nick laughed—presumably at a look Faith had thrown him. “What? She’s working off old data. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you two seem to actually be friends now—”

“Cue sappy music—”

“But she doesn’t know you like I do. Not yet, at least. So yes, I can see her playing kissy face with you two even if there was nothing there. Think being all mated up has made her a romantic.”

“Buffy’s always been a romantic,” came a new voice. This one belonging to Dawn. “Ask Faith. She should know.”

There was a pause. Dean could have sworn he felt the sigh that rattled through Faith at that. “Dawn.”

“But I see it too,” Nick said. “That’s the point.”

“Well, Dean’s a lot like Spike,” Dawn said somewhat flippantly. “And Faith does have a thing about stealing my sister’s boyfriends…”

Nick groaned. “Dawn, we really don’t—”

“Naw, let the kid talk. Eventually that chip on her shoulder’ll fall off.”

That was it. Dean made a point of clearing his throat and stepping—or swaying—forward. He offered a grin when Faith met his eyes, and he wasn’t so tipsy he thought he’d imagined the relief in her gaze.

“I do not have a chip on my shoulder,” Dawn snapped back, not bothering to acknowledge Dean’s presence. “Unless you’re telling me you didn’t try to fuck Angel’s soul right out of him just because he and Buffy were a thing? That you didn’t bone Buffy’s boyfriend the second you did that body-swap thing? Pretty sure Spike’s said you came onto him too.”

“You know, Dawnie,” Faith said, and Dean saw she was straining to maintain her temper, “if big sis is willing to let bygones be bygones, maybe you oughta, I dunno, move on.”

“I dunno,” Dawn replied, crossing her arms. “Maybe it’s just a Summers thing. You obviously can’t make a play for Spike again. He’d laugh your ass outta town and that’s not even taking the claim into consideration. But you’ve already tried to get Sam into bed.”

Dean couldn’t help it, he jerked a bit as his somewhat sluggish brain tried to recall whether or not he’d known this much before. And the larger, less secure and more teenage-girl part of him wondered just when this propositioning had occurred.

Faith rolled her eyes. “Honey, I didn’t try anything. I told him I needed to fight or I needed to fuck. He was free to help out with either. He decided to throw the angel at me.”

“Who you proceeded to bone. Back from the dead for what, an hour, and already whoring it up then?”

Okay. So this had happened the night she’d popped into the Impala. Dean felt himself relax, but only slightly. The thought that Sammy might have taken Faith up on her offer had his gut feeling the wrong kind of twisty.

“Dawn,” Nick said, his tone even and measured, “might be a good time to remind you that Faith’s my friend and I’m your boss. Go find some customers to serve.”

Faith snickered. “Don’t need protection, Nicky, but thanks. And Dawnie… It’s kinda nice, actually, seeing that the stick that used to be up B’s ass found a new home. You do big sis proud and keep it nice and safe.”

Without so much as a backward glance, she shoved off from the bar and strolled to the stage, ignoring the line of patrons waiting to take their turn at the mic. She marched right up to Lorne, pulled him down to tell him something, then all but shoved the ugly-ass motherfucker who was currently belting out “My Heart Will Go On” to the side, and earned a modest round of applause for her effort.

The demon she’d interrupted snarled at her, but then seemed to recognize her and raised its hands in supplication.

Celine Dion was abruptly replaced by a hard, pounding guitar riff, but it wasn’t until Faith eyed the mic like she wanted to kick its ass that Dean realized she actually meant to sing.

And it wasn’t until she actually started singing that he realized how hot he’d find it.

“I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation,” she sang-screamed into the mic. Faith’s voice was the right combination of husky and lyrical. “You're living in the past, it's a new generation. A girl can do what she wants to do and that's what I'm gonna do. And I don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation.”

Nick turned to Dawn, eyebrows arched. “Think she’s trying to make a point.”

Yeah, Dean agreed. Only it was a point he didn’t believe—not drunk or sober. The time he’d spent with her over the past week had pretty much proved to him she did care a lot about what people thought of her. She might not like that she cared, but she did. She also thought she deserved whatever shit was lobbed her way on a level he knew intimately. Whoever she’d been wasn’t who she was now, but she’d be making amends until she kicked it in a permanent way.

Dawn snickered, looking thoroughly unimpressed. “She just better watch herself.”

In that moment, he thought he might hate Dawn. Which, considering she and Sam had finally stopped dancing around each other and gone for it, probably wasn’t the best thing.

“I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation,” Faith sang, looking directly at Dawn. “You're living in the past, it's a new generation. And I only feel good when I got no pain and that’s how I’m gonna stay. And I don't give a damn about my bad reputation. Oh no, not me. Oh no, not. Not me, not me.”

As the song wound down, Faith turned and tossed Lorne her mic. She ignored the applause that broke out across the place, hopped off the stage, and made a beeline for Rosalie.

“Hey, kid,” she said. “Wanna go kill things?”

Rosalie’s face lit up. “Hell yeah! Like old times.”

Faith grinned. “Just like ‘em.”

Rosalie squealed and jumped down from the barstool. “Lemme go grab my stake.” She was in motion before she stopped talking, all teenage girl.

The second she was out of earshot, Nick leaned forward, his expression concerned. “Not just like old times, right?”

“Well, I ain’t hoppin’ in your bed after we’re done, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Dawn sniffed but didn’t say anything. Dean reminded himself it was considered bad manners to kill his brother’s girlfriend.

“Of course that’s not…” Nick blinked, searching for words. “You’re reckless with her!”

Faith rolled her eyes. “She’s alive, ain’t she?”

“That’s not—”

“Nicky, I didn’t let my ass go up like a firecracker just to watch her die in fucking Kansas. I’ll bring her home in one piece.”

Yeah, well, this morning Faith had almost died in fucking Kansas. How she could go from the wreckage of a thing she’d been to so confident it oozed off her, Dean didn’t know. But he didn’t love the idea of her heading out.

“Baby, you had a close call this morning,” he said, getting her to look at him for the first time since he’d stepped out of the hallway. “Maybe you oughta take it easy.”

He decided to ignore Nick’s answering snicker.

Faith favored him with that narrowed look of hers. “Cas patched me up just fine.”

“We don’t know where Willow or Lucifer are,” he felt compelled to add. “Could show up anywhere.”

“That’s true in here or out there. Not about to let the devil get in my way.” She studied him a moment before leaning in, “I’m good, Ducky. Okay?”

Yeah, that didn’t make him feel a whole lot better. But he knew he wasn’t going to win this one.

“Sam hasn’t let me patrol with this,” Rosalie announced as she rounded the bar, running with a double-headed battle ax. Which, in Dean’s opinion, made Sam’s reluctance to let her play with it only sensible. “But I am so decapitating some assholes tonight.”

Nick actually whimpered.

Faith grinned, threw her arm around Rosalie’s shoulders and steered her toward the door. “Let’s go let B and Blondie punch out for the night. How about it?”

“Let’s just hope they left us some good kills,” Rosalie agreed, practically vibrating with energy. “I can’t wait to see this thing in action.”

*~*~*

“This thing sucks.”

Faith managed to kill her snicker, but only just. As it turned out, the reason Sam hadn’t let the little slayer out with the ax was the ax’s head didn’t want to stay with the ax’s body. Every time Rosalie pulled back, like a batter at the ready, the head went swinging in the other direction. Which wasn’t without its uses—she’d actually wounded a vamp. Granted, she’d also provided said vamp with a lethal projectile weapon, but the wounding of the vamp was the focus of the night.

Better than the bullshit back at the cantina. God, she was so fucking tired. Tired of answering for crimes that were more than ten years in the past, feeling like she owed it to B or Dawn or, hell, maybe the world to continue to atone for things she’d just as soon forget. But Dawn had been a kid when most of the shit had gone down, and Faith knew better than most how those formative years could shape a person.

Plus, there’d been that time Faith had busted into Revello Drive, tied up Joyce and kid sis and threatened to kill them both. Dawnie had been a little thing then, thirteen or fourteen.

Except she hadn’t been. She hadn’t even been there—not really. She’d still been a glowing green ball of energy without consciousness or a concept of self. The memories Faith had of holding a pint-sized Summers at knife-point had been planted there by a bunch of holy monks who had decided to make the Key even more holier-than-thou than the Slayer she’d been modeled after.

“Faith, behind you!”

Faith dropped on instinct, swinging her leg out to knock whatever was back there off its feet. The snarling face of a vampire greeted her when she turned.

“Ro, toss me the ax.”

“I don’t—”

“Just what’s left of it.”

Rosalie did, and Faith plunged the rounded, wooden end into the vamp’s chest cavity. It took a bit more muscle, but she was glad to offer it. Gladder still when the vamp’s eyes went wide and he crumbled to dust.

“Ouch,” Rosalie said, rubbing her chest. “That had to—”

But the air split with the sound of a struggle, and Faith and Rosalie were on the move. For some reason, she wasn’t surprised when she rounded a gravestone and found Dean Winchester struggling with a vamp. And not doing a very good job of it, considering he was too drunk to walk straight, much less fight the evil undead.

“All good?” she asked, strolling up.

Dean, who was on his back, turned his head toward the sound of her voice and favored her with a very silly smile. “Miss Kitty, fancy seein’—”

“Dean!” The idiot had left his jugular exposed. Faith ran at the vamp and tackled it to the ground. When it was dust, she grumbled and flipped herself to her feet, then turned to her ducky. “What the fuck?”

“I softened him up for you.” Dean struggled to stand, wobbling a bit. “Thought I’d see how things were out here.”

“My ax sucks,” Rosalie said by way of greeting. “And that was the fourth vamp of the night. Spike and Buffy cleared out all the good ones. I think I might head back.”

Faith turned to the kid, her brow furrowing. They hadn’t talked much and about nothing important. Seemed Ro was a bit gun-shy about all that had happened before, and Faith couldn’t blame her. She viewed that as in the rearview, but hoped they would be back to their old rhythm soon. Those things took time, she supposed.

“I’ll walk you,” Faith said.

Rosalie looked offended. “It’s two blocks away and I’m the Slayer.”

“It’s the fucking Hellmouth and I died for your ass.” Faith grabbed Dean by the arm. “We’re all going. Now.”

“Kitty’s got claws,” Dean said with a giggle.

Rosalie didn’t put up any more of a fight, which was good because Faith was all fought out. She moped into Rosa Lee’s Cantina with the remains of her ax after giving Faith one final hug—the girl was all hugs today, it seemed—and left her walking Dean to the Impala.

“I am in no condition to drive,” Dean told her like it was breaking news.

“No shit.”

“Keys are in my front pocket, Miss Kitty.”

Faith blinked and paused to look at him. “You tellin’ me for a reason?”

“So you can take my drunk ass home.”

“Huh. So this is what it takes to get you to let me drive the car.” She slid a hand into his front pocket and snatched up the keys. “Wounded and in need of pain meds and food? No. Toasted off your ass? Yes.”

“Not completely toasted,” Dean replied, doing a little dance over to the passenger’s side. Then he stopped, adopted a serious look, and said, “My baby, meet my Baby. You both service me well, in very different ways. Be good to each other, you hear?”

Faith bristled, trying to ignore the warm feeling in her chest. “Into the car, Romeo.”

“What happened to Ducky?”

“He had a fuckton to drink.”

Dean giggled again and nodded before dropping into the passenger side. “Not too much that I forgot I owe you one,” he said when they were both in the car. Then his gaze dropped to her crotch. “Never done road head this way, but I’m willing to try.”

Yeah, because the way to get Dean to let her drive the Impala sober was to wreck it while he tried to find her clit with his tongue. Faith shook her head and shoved him back to his side of the car. Then, feeling somewhat devious, met his gaze as she inserted the key into the ignition. “I’m penetrating your car, Ducky.”

His eyes clouded over. “That is so…wrong. But hot.”

“And stroking her wheel…”

“Oh yeah. Liking this more.”

“You don’t mind if I take her for a joyride, do you?”

“Do you wanna fuck my brother?”

Well, that certainly came from nowhere and killed the mood. Faith rolled her head back, pressing her eyes closed. “What?”

“Back in the bar, Dawn said—”

“I know what Dawn said. Are you shitting me with this?”

“There might’ve been…words after you left. Nick might’ve told me it was in my best interest to leave.”

Great. That was just what she needed. Faith released a long breath.

“I think we can salvage this thing if you go tell Dawn you wanna fuck me and not my little brother.” A pause. “You don't want to fuck Sammy, right? And you do still wanna fuck me, right?”

“At the moment or ever again?”

“Well… I just started thinkin’ about…how it was that you and I started up in the first place.”

Yeah, she’d been thinking about that too. Particularly tonight when she and Rosalie had passed the crypt where Dean had given her the first of many orgasms. “What about it?”

“It’s like you said, right? Sammy could’ve scratched that itch but he didn’t.”

“Yeah…”

“And then with Cas…” He waited. “And a couple of nights later, you told me you’d go find Sammy since you and I were done.”

Faith hissed out a long breath and let her head drop again. “I said that shit because you’d pissed me off.”

“I had?”

“Ducky, you were about some vamp bitch’s snack that night, remember?”

“I remember and Sammy being awfully chummy on the dance floor. Just saying if this is a thing with you and Dawn, or you and Buffy, or—”

“I’m not doing this.”

“Doing what?”

“Having this conversation with you while you’re drunk.”

“I’m not that drunk.” There was a beat. “Just go tell Dawn—”

“No, stop it. I'm not gonna tell Dawn I'm not going to fuck your brother.”

Another beat. This time when he spoke, his voice was soft. “Because you wanna fuck him?”

Faith tightened her grip on the steering wheel, then loosened it, reminding herself that she wouldn’t score any points if she tore it right off the dash. “No, Dean, because I'm not fucking twelve. I don't wanna fuck him and I think my not trying to fuck him will get the message across all on its own.”

“Would you wanna fuck him if he wasn't with Dawn?”

“Question: are you still an option in this scenario?”

“Uhh, yes.”

“Then I think I'll pass, but thanks for lending out your brother's dick.” Faith turned the ignition and listened to the familiar purr of the engine. “And just for asking a bunch of stupid ass questions, I’m taking Baby for a joyride.”

“Dunno how I feel about this…”

“Tough shit. Then we’re going to the bunker, you’re going to stick your tongue up my cunt, then we’re watching one of the Chucky movies you bought the other day.”

Dean was quiet for a long moment, his brow furrowed like he was trying to do long division in his head. Then gave an exaggerated nod and flashed that drunken grin at her. “Sounds like an excellent plan.”

Faith studied him for a moment and felt herself soften, remembering the way he’d looked at her that afternoon in the shower. It seemed days in the past already, but it had only been a few hours. Then there had been everything that came with it—a slew of questions she wasn’t ready to answer or even unpack.

Still, she couldn’t seem to help herself. She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled him in for a soft kiss.

“What was that for?” he asked, his voice low.

She thought about it for a moment. “For me. Now buckle in, Ducky. Miss Kitty’s about to see what Baby can do.”

“Please, go easy on her.”

Faith tossed him a grin. “I’ll go easier on her than I will on you later.”

“Babe, that’s not saying much.”

“Yeah, but she’s a tough girl. She can handle whatever’s thrown at her.” She winked at him. “You’ve got a type.”

“You’re fucking telling me.”

Chapter Text

Sabrina had many fine qualities—her intelligence, her exceptional charm casting, her ability to mingle among NoMajes easier than most and she was the two time champion of the office dancing competition—acting was never her strong suit. A least not lying. At least not lying to her entire network of colleagues.

She came into the office early. Her scheme was relatively simplistic, which always seemed best in her opinion. Aurors did not require permission to receive potions from a distributing agent, therefore nobody should question hard as to why she went down to the dispensary before regular operating hours.

She sniffed a bit as she greeted various passersby, wiping her nose and coughing a couple times. Her form said she was taking out an elixir to cure a NoMaj sinus infection. She planned to nab two bottles of Polyjuice Potion before she walked back to her office and texted Hermione.

She stopped by her office to quickly fill out an authorization form to leave in the drop box before walking to the dispensary. Kicking herself for forgetting her bag, she left the form and grabbed the medicinal elixir she’d requested. Then, as there was nobody to witness, she went to the more regulated section and snatched two Polyjuice Potions for Harry and Hermione. She tucked them beneath her blouse and under each arm before making a hasty exit.

She released a sigh of relief as she rounded the final corner to her office. She ran smack dab into Percy Weasley, the force of the impact causing one bottle of Polyjuice to slip and fall to the floor between them. “Shit,” she hissed as she began to bend down and grab it, but he was much quicker and picked it up and stashed it in his pocket.

“Miss Deanne,” he cocked his head. “Just who I was looking to see. Might we have a word in private?”

Oh my god. She’d ruined the plan before it even started. “Of course,” she said as she tried to maintain her composure.

The moment they shut the door inside the office, Percy blew her mind. He grabbed her, pulling her against his body in a fashion that made her believe he was about to force himself upon her. He had whipped his wand out and quickly muttered a stream of spells so low she couldn’t quite make them out. Once he was done speaking, he released her and took a sizable step back. “Apologies,” he muttered. “I disabled any spell or Muggle device that could monitor or record or speech or sight. If anyone asks, we merely state that we are having an affair.” He gave a sheepish smile. “My brother George has taught me a few tricks over the years.”

“Oh.” She was surprised and relieved. “So you talked to Harry? About the plan?”

“I knew it,” he declared, fishing out the Polyjuice and handing it to her. “When Hermione said Harry was volunteering to give a presentation, I immediately suspected something afoot.”

“Well, shit.” In the brief time she’d been around Percy he’d struck her as straight-laced as they could come. 

“I’m assuming this concerns Willow. I doubt anything less pressing would cause Harry and Hermione to risk a breach to the International Treaty of Magical Cooperation.”

“Yes. The plan in—”

He held up a hand, his eyes wide. “Don’t tell me! Any details I am obligated to report back to the Ministry.” He sighed. “I trust them with my life, quite literally. And I assume they will make a report to the Minister if there is any information deemed necessary to report.”

She gave him a look. “You don’t care that they’re spying basically. You just care they don’t get caught.”

“Toadmore reminds me of Minister Fudge. A very racist and bigoted Fudge. No, I’m not impressed with your government nor do I believe they have been fully honest with the Ministry.”

“Well, hopefully we can have some answers in a few hours.”

Percy nodded. “Tell Ron… Tell him I’m here if he needs me. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.” He turned and placed his hand on the doorknob before looking back at Sabrina. “And please try to avoid word getting back to my wife. She’ll be severely brassed when I explain I forged an affair to save my brother.”

“Right,” she replied as he exited. Now let’s hope she could do the next part without screwing up.

*~*~*

Dean awoke with a throbbing headache and an onslaught of aching muscles and joints. He peeked open an eye to find he was staring at a puddle of drool on his pillow. Shifting his gaze he caught sight of the raven beauty sharing his bed. Oh yeah, he was tapping that.

He winced at the pain his smile brought him. It had been a long-ass time since he’d had a hangover. While he’d been dumb enough to stumble his way into a vamp-infested cemetery at night, he luckily had quit drinking in time to be able to recall the night with all of his memories intact yet fuzzy. Like the way he’d made Faith come on his tongue and his cock before passing out somewhere during the first part of Child’s Play.

Fuck if making her orgasm wasn’t his new favorite sport in life. Every time he thought the wheels were about to stop rolling between them they seemed to find another gear and take off again down this crazy road they were on together.

Looking at her now, he wanted to reach over and cop a cuddle, but decided she needed the rest. She could joke all she wanted, but nearly dying fucked with your head. Cas might be able to heal the body, but it didn’t do shit for the emotional toll that took out of you. She’d been running since she landed back on Earth. She deserved a fucking lazy morning.

He decided to be a gentleman. He’d go find a bottle of Tylenol and down it, maybe make her some breakfast and apologize for getting a little too sloshed last night. It was a solid plan. In theory.

Stealthily, he swung his leg back and down off the bed toward the floor. She looked pretty deep asleep and didn’t twitch as he felt the firmness of the floor. He’d hop up gracefully and make his way to find some clothes.

What he didn’t know was his feet were tangled in the fucking bedsheet. When he went to stand he was stuck in a web of cotton. He crashed to the floor was a thud just after his head cracked against his nightstand. He released an involuntary groan of pain as he reached up to check his forehead for blood.

Faith’s head popped over the edge of the bed to stare down at him. “Are you still drunk?”

He shut his eyes as new pain layered over his hangover. “I wish,” he grunted. “Wouldn’t hurt so bad.” He shuddered. “Or be as embarrassing.”

He heard her snicker. “Dean Winchester, bested by a bedsheet.”

“Fuck,” he grunted.

“Silly Ducky,” she teased before grasping his arm and tugging him up off the ground. Pathetically, he climbed back on the bed with a huff. “There, there,” she mocked before reaching over to kiss his brow.

“The worst part was that was me trying not to wake you,” he admitted pitifully.

She snorted. “Smooth move, Ex-lax.”

“Shut up.” He reached over to cop his cuddle now, pulling her down to his chest. He felt her stretch before she wrapped an arm around him. He slipped his own between her and the mattress to cradle her against him. “If anyone asks about the noise, it was rough morning sex.”

“Agreed,” she murmured before giving his nipple a playful nip. “Not explaining I just have a thunky ducky.”

“More like hunky.”

“Definitely thunky.”

“Go to sleep, woman.”

“Don’t boss me, bitch.”

“Shut up.”

“Make me.”

“Fuck off.”

“Fuck you.”

Their banter got more slurred and quiet with every exchange until he felt himself falling back asleep. “So’s your face,” he muttered.

“That’s what she said,” Faith whispered groggily.

“Your momma…”

“Rubber and glue…”

He would have laughed, but his brain hit the snooze button and he was out like a light.

*~*~*

Dawn fluttered her eyes open to find an empty spot on the bed where she’d last seen Sam before drifting off to sleep. After coming home to finding him passed out on a stack of books, she’d led him to her bed where they had made love.

She hadn’t realized how hard it was to have quiet sex, but she really didn’t want any of the bunker’s occupants walking—or in the case of her overprotective brother, barging—in. Sober Sam was a whole lot better than drunk Sam though, and she’d done her fair share of screaming into a pillow last night.

That’s why it hurt so bad to see he’d left her. Last night had felt like it was their official first time, more than the back of a pickup with a guy who’d had trouble finding the right hole to stick his dick. What they shared in her bed was more personal. More special. At least it had been to her.

A flash of movement caught her eye. Across the room, sitting at her desk, was Sam. He wore nothing but his boxers and appeared to be reading a book with the light of his cellphone. All her earlier dismay vanished. Not only had he not left her, he was being a dork by not turning on the light.

“If you’re looking for tips, you can stop,” she teased. “You did a good enough job on your own.”

She saw him turn and flash her a guilty smile. “I’m sorry.” The light of the phone made him look boyishly adorable. “I woke up and remembered I was getting close to some information before I passed out.”

“Yeah, research fatigue is real.”

He picked up the book and walked over to sit next to her on the bed. Leaning down he gave her a slow, long kiss that left them breathless. “Round two?” she asked hopefully.

“Would I be an ass if I said hold on? I just found where they opened the Kansas Hellmouth.”

Rolling over, she switched on the lamp beside her bed. “Not an ass. If you figure out how to keep it from opening, I’ll reward you with a blowjob.”

Sam laughed at that. “Then don’t distract me.”

Dawn laid there watching him read. He was really hot as he furrowed his brow in concentration. Ever so often he’d give a small frown or make a slight noise of discontent. After close to five minutes her patience wore out. “Update?”

He blinked as he looked up at her, obviously trying to formulate his summary. “So, this is an account from one of the Men of Letters. While he doesn’t really explain how it opened, he’s documenting all the bad that happened as a result. Actually, he’s just referenced a Slayer who has just arrived here with her watcher. She’s eighteen and named Cassandra Hart. This guy says he and the watcher have devised a plan.” He smiled. “That’s where I’m at.”

Dawn sat up beside him. “Read! It sounds like you’ve found it!”

He gave a slight chuckle before turning back to the text. After a minute he said, “Okay. So this guy—Larry Barrick—says that he and the watcher determined it could only be closed with…”

“With what?”

Sam shook his head. “No.” He flipped a page, scanning it frantically with his eyes. “No,” he repeated.

“Sam?” She did not like that look.

He shut the book abruptly. “Nothing,” he said quickly.

She gave him a narrowed look. “Liar.”

He shook his head and she could tell he was trembling. “Sam?” she asked, wrapping herself around his closest arm.

She heard him swallow. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because we won’t let them open it. They can’t get inside the bunker and down to the opening so it doesn’t matter.”

“Sam, you’re officially freaking me out. Tell me how they closed it.”

“It was blood, Dawnie. Slayer blood.”

Her heart stopped. “Like a cut?”

“Like she jumped in. Cassandra Hart closed the Hellmouth.”

They shared a long, terrified stare before Dawn’s brain blinked into action. “Giles! We gotta tell Giles!”

“Yes!” Sam said in hasty agreement.

They scrambled out of bed. Sam threw on his pants as she grabbed his T-shirt and slipped it on before grabbing her jeans. After Sam scooped up the book, they took off down the hall. Just as Sam was about to knock, a low deep moan sounded from the other side of the door followed by a small exclamation. “Oh, yes!”

Dawn grabbed his fist before it made contact. “Did you hear that?”

When she eyed him she could tell he had by the wide-eyed mortification of his face. “Is he…watching porn?”

There was another moan, this time followed by Giles saying, “That’s it,” in a husky groan.

“Did the Hellmouth open?” Dawn asked. “I think I’m in Hell.”

From behind the door, “Fuck…Rupert…oh yes!” sounded in a low, but distinctive female voice.

“Is that…” Dawn felt dirty at the thought. “Your mom?”

“Fuck,” Sam gasped. “We’re in Hell.”

“I don’t want to be in Hell,” Dawn said pitifully. “Make them stop.”

Sam turned to give her incredulous look. “You make them stop! Your…dad…is…my mom!”

“Is everything okay?” Castiel’s voice startled both her and Sam as he spoke directly behind them.

“No!” Dawn and Sam snapped in unison.

“Make them stop!” Dawn demanded.

Cas looked to the door for a moment before looking to Dawn with a blush. “You aren’t serious.”

“Deadly,” Dawn declared. “S-Sam figured out about the Hellmouth here.”

“I think it opened,” Sam muttered under his breath.

“No,” Cas responded. “It has not.”

“Beg to differ,” Dawn replied. “B-but Giles needs to stop—I mean needs to know.”

Castiel looked obviously reluctant to cross the threshold of Giles’ quarters. He cast a weary look at Sam. “You have actually found out how to stop the Hellmouth from opening?”

“More how to stop it if it does.”

Another set of noises from the other side of the room informed the hall occupants that there was still inappropriate sexual content in progress.

Hesitantly, Cas reached forward and tried to turn the knob. Once determining the door was locked, he gave Sam and Dawn a very unhappy look before vanishing. Approximately ten seconds later, two gunshots sounded from the bedroom.

“Sam and Dawn are outside,” Cas could be heard saying. “They have found information on the Hellmouth and asked me to…interrupt you.”

“I’ll shoot him again, Mary,” Giles growled.

“Get out, Cas!” Mary snapped.

There was a rustle of noise behind the door.

“They’re coming,” Cas said flatly having reappeared in the hall with two bloody holes in his shirt. “Next time, knock louder.”

“What the fuck?” Rosalie’s voice sounded as Cas turned and walked away. Dawn looked to find her and Nick stumbling into the hall.

Buffy and Spike were making a beeline to Dawn from their room, which was the farthest away. “What’s happened?” Buffy said sharply.

“Gun!” Dean shouted as he swung open his bedroom door. He was aiming a pistol in nothing but a pair of Batman boxers. Faith was beside him, wearing only his T-shirt and holding a handgun at her hip.

“Uhh…” Sam said slowly, looking to Dawn for help. She could only offer a useless shrug.

The door to Giles’s room opened so hard it smacked into the wall. When the man stomped out—thankfully fully clothed—he bared the look of a man angry at the world. He cast a nasty glare first to Dawn before looking to Sam with utter content. “The angel? You sent the fucking angel?”

“Umm…” Sam said blankly.

“Hellmouth,” Dawn said remembering the bad before she’d denied her surrogate dad his happy ending. “News. Bad. Talk?”

When Mary stepped out into the hall, Faith burst out laughing.

“No way!” Rosalie cried.

“I’m confused,” Buffy said quietly.

Spike chuckled. “Seems Rupert’s been doing more than watchin’.”

“Great,” Mary sighed in disgust. “Can we do this not in the hallway?” She pushed past everyone and started making her way to the meeting room. “And can Dean and Faith please put some pants on?”

Well, Dawn thought, today was going to be interesting.

Chapter Text

Bad news regarding the Hellmouth. Buffy wouldn’t have thought it possible, but she felt an actual nostalgia pain for Sunnydale. Well, perhaps not Sunnydale itself, but the way things—even apocalyptic things—had seemed so much easier then.

And then she snorted at herself. Tell seventeen-year-old Buffy that running Angel through with a sword to save the world was easy and seventeen-year-old Buffy would have made you limp.

“Somethin’ funny, pet?” Spike asked, tugging her to his side. They had all convened around the table, but no one yet had taken a seat, even though, judging by Dawn’s face, this was news people would want to be sitting for.

“Just…thinking about home,” Buffy replied, then leaned in to kiss him. “Also food. I woke up earlier than we’d planned and my tummy’s telling me I’ve usually eaten by now.”

“Please don’t,” Dean said, wincing. “My head’s still pounding and watching you go to town on bloody Frosted Flakes might be what tips me over.”

Rosalie, who had grown up around vampires, snorted and shook her head. “God, what a wimp.” She looked to Nick for help, but judging by the look on his face, he sided with Dean on this one.

“Bloody hell, now you’ve done it.” Spike pressed a hand to his belly. “Tummy makin’ with the rumblies. Do we still have Frosted Flakes?”

Dean shook his head. “Seriously, no. Wait until I’m out of the room or I will hurl.”

“Given that we found your mom and Giles with their pants off, I’m just surprised you’ve lasted this long,” Faith said, giving Dean’s hand a condescending pat.

“Fuck. Why’d you have to put that image back in my head?” Dean shuddered and dragged a hand down his face. “Don’t suppose you’d go get me some Tylenol. You know, to make up for the trauma.”

Faith rolled her eyes but made to do just that. “You big baby,” she said, patting his back this time before disappearing to the kitchen.

“Thanks, babe,” he called after her, his mouth curled into a fond little smile.

“Wimp,” Rosalie said again, louder this time, though she and Nick shared a smirk that told Buffy they had noted the same thing she had.

Buffy had managed—mostly—to hold her tongue the night before, and though the temptation was upon her to start making kissy noises, she felt a bit like she’d stumbled across a deer in the wild and any sudden movement would cause it to bolt. Pointing out that Faith or Dean were being downright domestic with each other might make whatever they were doing come to a screeching halt.

“I’m gonna go ahead and get started,” Sam said after clearing his throat.

“Do,” Giles muttered. Buffy didn’t think she’d ever seen him so crabby. “I was having a right nice morning up until ten minutes ago.”

“Dude,” Dean snapped, headache apparently forgotten for the moment, “can you not say that about banging my mom? It’s gross.”

“Thank you, son,” Mary said dryly. “And here I thought you’d prefer Rupert to the alternatives.”

“Are you saying it was him or Ketch?”

“Dude,” Sam chimed in, also looking a bit sick. “Can we not talk about this?”

Buffy snickered, and when the Winchesters threw her identical looks, she brought up her hands. “No,” she said, “it’s cute the way you two are both…super weird about your mom.”

“Well, how would you feel if it was your mom?” Dean fired back.

Giles jerked his head to Buffy, his eyes wide with alarm. Please no, that look said. But there was no way she was letting this go.

“Oh, you mean how I would have felt if I learned they’d had sex on a police car—twice, I might add—and that my mother thought he was a stevedore in the sack?”

Mary dissolved into quiet chuckles. Sam and Dean just looked at her.

Then Dean whipped his attention to Giles. “Do you have zero self-control, man?”

“Yeah, because that’s a door you want to open,” Mary muttered. Then she met Buffy’s gaze and shrugged. “Your mother was right.”

“Mom!” both Winchesters yelled. Except then Dean winced and pressed his palm to his brow.

Faith reappeared the next moment, bottle of water in one hand and presumably pills in the next. Dean turned to her as though sensing her presence, took what she offered, with a quick, “Thanks,” and downed the lot in a cool seven seconds.

“Giles,” Faith said appraisingly. “You did the nasty with Joyce? How did I not know this?”

“In my defense,” Giles said, “it was the band candy.”

Dean blinked and turned to Buffy. “What candy was so bad that it was banned?”

“Not banned, like, restricted. It was candy we sold for—”

“People,” Castiel said in his gruff voice. Buffy had to say, for a guy sporting two gunshot wounds, he looked impressively put together. “We are here to discuss the Hellmouth, not the details of your very complicated personal lives. Sam, Dean, please, the matter at hand.”

At this, Giles looked rather conflicted. He raised his chin and said, “Thank you,” in a small voice. Then added, “Wanker.”

Sam waited a beat, then nodded his agreement. “Right,” he said and cleared his throat. He shot a quick look to Dawn, who offered a smile that looked more like a wince. “So…I was reading this morning, an account from one of the Men of Letters. It doesn’t go into detail as to how the Hellmouth opened but it did…describe how it was closed the last time. A slayer named Cassandra Hart—”

Giles inhaled sharply. “Oh dear.”

“You know the name?” Sam asked.

“Oh yes.” He looked to Nick. “You should as well.”

Nick had paled considerably, his eyes rounding. “Bloody hell…”

Faith leaned forward, glancing between the two former Watchers. “You boys wanna share with the class?”

“Cassandra Hart was a slayer in the late nineteenth century.” Giles paused and threw Spike a glare that reached all the way back to Sunnydale. “Called just after Xin Rong was slaughtered by William the Bloody.”

Buffy swallowed and clamped a hand around Spike’s. “We can do without the color commentary, Giles,” she said, fighting to keep her voice neutral. “Everyone here knows Spike has a history with slayers.”

Spike sucked in his cheeks and aimed a glare at some point on the horizon. This was such a precarious dance with them—one they did their best to avoid altogether. He had changed so much over the years, but there were certain things he only felt for how he saw they affected others. Like now, Buffy understood his response was not out of remorse, but for knowing how it impacted her. How it was shaped to make her doubt or question the decisions she’d made. It hurt him because the reminder hurt her. She was his conduit to human emotion.

Giles had come a long way, too, but his acceptance of Spike was one of those things that wavered depending on the day.

“Yes, well,” Giles continued after a beat, “Cassandra was, by all accounts, a brilliant slayer. So much so she lived much longer than was considered normal.”

This much made Sam snort. “She was eighteen.”

“Yes,” Giles agreed. “That’s what I said.”

Dean looked to Faith, his expression worried.

“And she stopped the Hellmouth from opening…” Buffy made a rolling gesture with her hand. “Come on, Giles. Everyone else isn’t getting any younger.”

But it was Sam who spoke, his gaze on Rosalie. “She jumped into it. Slayer blood closed the Hellmouth. She sacrificed herself to do it.”

The room fell silent.

Buffy released a long breath, rolled her neck from side to side, then looked to Faith. “All right,” she said with level calm. “You wanna flip for it? It’s technically my turn, but if you wanna fight me for it I won’t stop you.”

Faith snickered, crossing her arms.

Spike tightened his hold on Buffy. “Not funny, pet.”

“Yeah, I’m with him on this,” Dean said, glaring at Faith. “Or did I miss something?”

“It can’t be Buffy anyway,” Dawn blurted. Hell, even from across the room, Buffy could hear how hard her heart was pounding. “Buffy’s a vampire. She’s not the Slayer anymore.”

“One of those things you never really stop being, Dawnie,” Buffy replied. “But the demon blood thing might make Hell spit me back out. I’m sure they’re full of it down there.”

“Honestly, sounds about right,” Faith replied, shrugging. “Always is one of us. Well, usually you, B, but then you got your nice little undead escape clause.”

“Hey, I didn’t make you put on that bracelet.”

“Naw, but that’s something you woulda done if you’d been there.” She smirked. “Had that thought, too, while I was waiting to go up. Actually living up to the Slayer name for once.”

“Why aren’t you two more wigged?” Rosalie demanded, her voice shrill. “Because I am over here very, very wigged.”

Buffy shook her head. “Rosie, sweetie, I was sixteen the first time I was told I was going to die. Kind of part of the Slayer package. Violent life, violent premature death in the service of world saveage.”

“If you’re lucky like me and B, though, you get cosmic redos,” Faith added.

“Technically, the first time I died, Xander brought me back with CPR.”

“I was brought back by the good folks at Sacred Heart.” Faith turned back to Rosalie. “No worries, kiddo. You got two slayers right here who have exceeded their expiration dates by a lot. You can catch the next one, all right?”

“What the fuck?” Dean snapped, glaring at Faith as though she’d insulted him. “So that’s it? You and Buffy are just gonna duke it out to see who gets to live?”

“It has to be Faith,” Dawn said. “Buffy can’t—”

“We don’t know that,” Buffy said.

“Yes, we bloody well do,” Spike snarled. “Told you that you had a death wish once, but I thought you were past the point of wantin’ to cash it in.”

“If it’s me or the world—”

“You go down and I go down with you, love. That’s how this works with you and me.”

Buffy’s heart twisted. She knew he’d say that, knew he felt that way, but dammit, she couldn’t stomach the idea of Spike sacrificing himself just because. True, they had no idea how death would impact them with the claim—it could be that he’d have no choice—but if he did, he had to keep living. He just had to.

“No,” she said hoarsely. “Spike—”

“Not up for bloody debate, Slayer. Just the way things are.”

“This is stupid,” Dean barked. “The Hellmouth ain’t even open. And it won’t open while we’re here, so why the hell does it matter how it closed the last time?” He whirled on Sam, glaring at his brother as though this was his fault. “This is what you needed to tell us? How about how to open the fucking thing? Figure out what the last goddamn ingredient is so we can stop Lucifer before he comes to collect.”

Faith seized Dean by the upper arm. “Hey, lady on the verge, wanna dial it back a notch or twelve? This is the kind of shit we’ll need to know if things go south.”

“So you’re just planning on needing to Evel Knievel yourself to death again, is that it?” he yelled at her. “What woulda happened yesterday if I hadn’t called Cas to heal up your broken ass then? The kid goes? You’re telling me I did all that just so you could die when it was more fucking convenient?”

“Hey!” she snapped, shoving him back. “No one fucking asked you to save my ass.”

“Well, next time I won’t bother!”

“Fine!”

“Fine!” Dean roared, then stormed off in the direction of his room without another word.

Faith stared at the place where he’d disappeared for a long beat, her eyes shining and her chest heaving. She looked either ready to punch a hole through the wall or commit murder, and considering the fact that she’d done both, the odds were pretty even.

“He…has a temper,” Mary said diplomatically. “He’ll be better after he cools off.”

Faith snorted and shook her head, bringing up her hands. “Tell someone who cares, Mom.” She turned and pinned Sam with a look. “What your dumbass brother said aside, I’d really rather not toss my ass into Hell, so can we please find a fucking way to stop it from opening?”

“We never said we’re not looking anymore,” Dawn said, crossing her arms. “Apologies for ruining everyone’s morning by sharing what we felt was vital information.”

“Just how the fuck did you think this was gonna go?” Faith shot back. “You know B has a martyr complex—”

“Okay, wow, underserved,” Buffy said, her eyes narrowing. “And a little hypocritical, considering you literally died for someone else just two months ago.”

“Yeah, well, that’d be the part of you that’s rubbed off on me.” Faith glanced to Rosalie. “And it ain’t ever gonna be you, kid.”

“It doesn’t have to be anyone,” Sam said. “You’re right. Dean’s right. We can find a way to keep the Hellmouth closed. But Dawn’s right too—we needed to know this. Just so…everyone’s prepared.”

“No,” Rosalie drawled slowly, “we needed to know this so we could start picking the short straws. Faith’s right. Buffy’s right. If something goes wrong—if Lucifer gets everything he needs, we need a way to stop the apocalypse.”

Faith glared at the girl. “And you’re not it, so sit back down and let the grownups talk.”

“I am the Slayer!”

“Yeah, and I will call your fucking father faster than you can wet Nick’s whistle if you don’t stop that kinda talk.”

Rosalie’s mouth fell open. She looked to Nick for support, but found none. He was paler than usual, his expression stricken. “Sorry, love, I’m with her on this.”

Rosalie scoffed and threw her hands in the air. “So you’re just going to die for me. Again. Take the choice away from me. Again.”

“Not planning on it, Ro, but if it goes down like that, then you bet your ass.”

“My ass is still in this game,” Buffy interjected. “This isn’t all on Faith.”

“Slayer, I will tie you up in ways I bloody well promise you will not enjoy,” Spike snarled. “Dru once left me naked and hog-tied up in a cave. Took me three weeks to undo the bloody binding and another five to get home. Know where that cave is, though, and I won’t sodding hesitate to drag your lickable ass there and do the same thing.”

There was a pause. Dawn turned to Sam. “You gotta admire the way he can be totally gross and still super sweet at the same time.”

Sam blinked and looked at her. “Do you, though?”

“Had you…done something to piss her off or was this her way of rewarding you for good behavior?” Buffy asked. Spike had told her a handful of Crazy Dru stories over the years and it could honestly go either way.

“Neither,” Spike replied with a snort. “It was our anniversary.”

“Have I mentioned how severely up you traded?”

Spike pulled her tighter against him, trembling. “What I mean, Slayer. You’re not going anywhere I can’t follow.”

“And,” Faith added, “as Dawn pointed out, you’re probably out of the running anyway. And there’s no use you dying just to find out that vamp blood ain’t gonna do shit. I’m a sure thing. And I swear to god, if you make a joke out of that, Dawn Summers, I will fucking flatten you.”

“Hey!” Sam snapped. “Lay off—”

“Oh, fuck you, you big Boy Scout.”

“Children!” Giles barked. “That is quite enough. I know tempers are running high, but turning on each other will do nothing to solve the matter at hand. Should the Hellmouth open… Buffy and I have been here before. There must be another way, which I will research. In the meantime…” He turned to Castiel, flinched at the sight of him, but soldiered on, “I need you to go to Los Angeles and collect Xander Harris and Anya Jenkins. The Hellmouth is here, which means if Willow intends to open it, she will be here as well. Xander will do us little good waiting at the Hyperion.”

“Who’s Xander?” Sam asked, his attention split between playing the doting boyfriend to a fuming Dawn and glaring daggers at Faith.

“OG member of the Scooby Gang,” Dawn answered, also glaring at Faith.

“The what gang?”

“He helped save the world the last time Willow became the Big Bad,” Buffy said, exhausted, which was no small feat for a vampire, let alone a vampire who was once a slayer. “Appealed to her humanity. But Giles, I’m not sure how well that’ll work out this time. From everything we’ve learned, she’s not…out of her head with grief or rage. She’s just…working with the devil.”

Giles nodded, looking, at once, older than Buffy had ever seen him. “I know,” he said. “But having Xander here certainly couldn’t hurt.” He paused, glanced at Sam, then Mary. “I rather hope not, at least.”

“Why’d you look at me with that?” Sam asked.

“Because Xander… Ahh, he’s…”

“An overgrown manchild?” Faith volunteered.

“And another guy you doinked,” Dawn said with a smirk. “Got a nice collection going under one roof.”

And that seemed to be it for Faith. She glared at Dawn for a second, then turned and walked down the hall without another word.

“Honestly,” Rosalie snapped after she was gone, “can you chill?”

“You don’t know her like I do,” Dawn replied primly.

“No, I know her better than you do. So does Nick.”

“I’m sorry, weren’t you the one who was all pissy because she was back from the dead because of how well your boyfriend knows her?”

Sam sighed and ran a hand down Dawn’s arm. “Dawnie—”

“Yeah. I was dumb. And unlike you, I got over it. Everyone has gotten over it. Even your sister”—Rosalie waved at Buffy—“seems to be all kinds of over whatever shit happened in the past. And since it happened to her, maybe a little less with the catty megabitch?”

“Rosalie!” Sam snapped. “Go get your gear. We’re going jogging.”

Rosalie shook her head, flipped off her Watcher in true slayer fashion, dragging her bemused boyfriend along behind her.

There was nothing for a moment. Buffy and Spike exchanged glances with Giles and Mary. No one seemed to know what to do.

“Dawn,” Buffy said at last in her best big-sister voice, “this thing with Faith… You really—”

“Don’t,” Dawn said shortly. “Don’t tell me to get over it again. Everyone seems to have gotten amnesia where she’s concerned. But when a psycho holds a knife to your throat and threatens to kill you and your mom, that’s something you don’t really ever get over.” She shook her head, gave Sam a last look, then said, “I’m going back to bed,” before turning to presumably do just that.

Buffy sighed, which turned into a whimper when Spike ran a hand down her back. “Can we just go back to yesterday before we found the Hellmouth? Please?”

“There is that shining light among everything,” Giles said. “Knowing where it is gives us an advantage. There are ways to keep Lucifer out of the bunker, I presume.”

Sam swallowed. “Nothing that’s ever worked permanently, but we can buy time.”

“I can do my best to reinforce our wards,” Castiel agreed. “But Lucifer is unlike other angels. And Willow will undoubtedly be prepared to undo whatever we put up.”

“Hey, stop being so optimistic, Cas,” Mary chided. “You’re freaking me out.”

“And in the meantime,” Giles continued, turning back to Buffy. “We will look for alternatives. You and I have the added benefit of experience where Hellmouths are concerned.”

Buffy waved an imaginary pom-pom. “Yay experience.” She eyed Spike. “You’re helping.”

“Slayer, if any part of you is thinkin’ about jumping into the bleeding underworld, you bet your lickable arse I’m helping.” He kissed her temple. “Blood first though, yeah?”

She smiled, a calm that only he could provide washing over her. “Major with the yeah.”

“Good then,” Sam said, and cleared his throat as he looked at the mostly empty room. “Meeting adjourned.”

*~*~*

This was ridiculous.

Seriously, seriously ridiculous.

Sabrina had been around Polyjuice Potion for years. It had been part of her training to join the MACUSA ranks—not only using it, but identifying when others were using it. Memorizing speech patterns and body language and other things that couldn’t be faked as easily as a face and a voice. Hell, she’d used the stuff just a few days earlier to impersonate Donna Moss. She knew that the man currently striding down the hall beside her was not, in fact, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, but a very happily married Harry Potter, who didn’t care for her all that much.

Yet he wore Wesley’s face—a face she liked very much. And he’d borrowed Wesley’s body—a body she knew intimately. And when he looked at her, it was with Wesley’s eyes. She loved those eyes.

Good god, you are not a hormonal teenager.

“I’d really, really appreciate it if you’d stop that,” Harry said in Wesley’s voice. They’d gotten through the hard part—interacting with others. Since no one here knew Wesley, there was no way or reason for them to question Harry’s identity. He’d chosen the name James Black as his cover, an archivist from the Ministry of Magic who needed to cross-reference old files on the International Treaty of Magical Cooperation. The Ministry, according to James Black, had misplaced their old files by storing them with a load of confiscated invisibility cloaks, and, well, the inevitable had happened. Since stories regarding the Ministry of Magic’s inadequacies were as popular here as jokes about the Potter series, no one had bothered to double-check Harry’s forged “official” documents from Kingsley Shacklebolt. Not that they would have gotten anywhere with them—Sabrina had to admit that Hermione Granger-Weasley was one witch the whole of the magical community would be better off never crossing.

“Stop what?” she asked as they turned a corner through the maze-like archival files. Thankfully, the room was empty—though MACUSA officials loved to hate him, there was something about Harry Potter that drew them all like a moth to the flame. Everyone was taking a long lunch.

“Stop looking at me like you’d like to shag me into the ground.”

Oh god. He’d seen that? Sabrina felt her cheeks go hot and she forced herself to focus. “I’m sorry,” she said, keeping her gaze steadfastly straight ahead. They had passed the treaty files more than three minutes earlier, and the farther they walked, the more self-conscious she became. Most likely no one would stumble upon them here—the archival room was hardly the most exciting place. Nothing like the Department of Mysteries or the Hall of Prophecy.

There was a kiosk desk at the center with the various categories listed and expedited, magical means of finding the correct files, but that also left a magical imprint that could be reviewed at any time, which they wanted to avoid. Still, it would almost be as bad to be caught searching like NoMajes when they could have bypassed the manual labor.

Sabrina was becoming more and more convinced that the NoMaj concept of Murphy’s Law was more prophecy than anecdotal warning.

“Here,” Harry said, picking up the pace and drawing out his wand. Sabrina allowed herself a moment to appreciate the unreality of what she was seeing—Wesley brandishing a wand and looking very much like he knew how to use it.

“What do you see?” Sabrina asked.

“There.” He pointed to a silver credenza at the end of a long row of files. It had no markings aside from the images of a wolf, a ram, and a deer emblazoned on the side.

Wolf. Ram. Hart.

Sabrina’s heart began pounding harder. “I rather doubt Alohomora will open it up for us. Did you three ever come up with—”

“I have an idea, but I haven’t done it in twenty years or so.”

Well, that didn’t sound promising. “Which is…?”

Harry gave her a rather sheepish look which, on Wesley’s face, just reigniting her desire to kiss him. “Parseltongue.”

“Parseltongue? I thought you couldn’t speak that anymore. Ever since…”

Ever since Voldemort cast the Killing Curse on you for the second time. Sabrina nearly tripped over herself, hit suddenly by the realization that she actually was with Harry Potter, the man who had stopped the darkest wizard to walk the land when he’d been but a boy. It was one thing to read but another to experience. For some reason, this much had never occurred to her before.

“I can’t,” Harry acknowledged gruffly. “But Ron was able to get into the Chamber of Secrets by just hissing at the bloody faucet, so it might work here.”

“But there isn’t a serpent on that thing. And, believe it or not, we’re not as anti-snake over here are you are over there.”

“Parseltongue is a mark of a dark wizard,” Harry said. “Has nothing to do with Slytherin. Yes, there are Parselmouths who were not dark, but if the senior partners at Wolfram and Hart are involved with the magical world, and we know they are, it makes sense that Parseltongue might be among the languages they adhere to.” He paused. “At any rate, I’m not sure it’ll work. It’s all I have at the moment.”

“And if it fails?”

“I’ll come up with something that won’t.”

The utter confidence with which he spoke unnerved her, but was oddly comforting at the same time.

Harry stepped forward and knelt beside the credenza. He favored Sabrina with another sheepish Wesley look, and she had to bite her lip to keep from doing something really stupid, then again to keep from laughing when he started hissing and spitting nonsense at the thing.

“Do you even know what you’re saying?”

“I don’t know that I’m saying anything at all,” Harry muttered, wiping his mouth. “Feel free to try and open it yourself.”

“You did try the handle, I suppose?”

Harry glared at her before tugging on the thing in demonstration. She was pretty sure he hadn’t done that before he’d started speaking snake, but decided not to rub it in. Then he was hissing and spitting some more, and it was all she could do to keep from cracking up.

Then the credenza slid open and she stopped finding anything funny.

Harry rose to his feet with an I-told-you-so grin, which was somewhat diminished by the bit of saliva clinging to his face. He wiped his chin and slid the thing open all the way.

There was a mountain of work inside. Some old-school parchment, some thick tomes of books, some modern files. Sabrina released a small whimper. There was no way they were getting through all of this.

But Harry only looked delighted. He reached into his suit pocket and produced a small beaded handbag that looked entirely out of place for either him or Wesley, as well as his wand.

“Here,” he said, pushing the handbag into Sabrina’s hands. “Hold that open.”

“What?”

He pointed his wand at one of the books in the credenza. “Gemino.”

Sabrina held her breath as a perfect copy of the book popped into existence. Harry pointed his wand at the original. “Accio,” he said, and directed it toward the bag. The bag was much too small to accommodate anything so large, and Sabrina was about to ask just how in the hell he knew that was the correct book when it slipped right in.

“How—”

“Hermione’s bloody brilliant, that’s how.”

Sabrina gaped at the beaded handbag. “Is this what she used when you—”

“Yes.”

“I thought that was a Rowling invention.” As far as Sabrina and all of MACUSA was concerned, there were no such things as undetectable extendable charms to the degree Rowling had described. Lesser wizards had attempted to create them without success. Sure, trunks, tents, cars, and other objects could be bewitched to hold extra space, but not indefinitely. Not a bag that could hold everything, like she was Mary Poppins.

Harry shrugged. “And that’s the way the Ministry prefers it. Now hold that open. I have a lot to copy.”

It likely didn’t last as long as it seemed it did. Harry diligently copied everything within the credenza and sent the originals into Hermione’s bag. The originals he wanted because copies could be revealed as forgeries if given proper scrutiny, and if they were to expose anything damaging from Wolfram and Hart, their case against them could hinge upon document authentication.

After he was finished, he pressed the credenza closed. Sabrina was prepared for more of that funny hissing, but it locked itself just fine.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said. It felt like they’d been down here for hours.

“One more thing.” Harry extended his wand. “Accio Sabrina Deanne file.”

“What the hell—”

From somewhere across the archive, a cabinet flew open. And before she knew what was happening, Harry had caught thick leather parcel bearing her name and shoved it into the beaded bag.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Sabrina snapped, forgetting for a second to be quiet.

Muffliato!” Harry said, waving his wand again. “We need to know what your government has on you in case something happens. If you have to go into hiding—”

“I don’t plan on it!”

“Right, and I planned on camping my way across Europe when I was seventeen bloody years old. You’re risking your freedom at best and your life at worst—Hermione wanted to make sure we had ways to help in case you needed it, but in order to help, we need to know what they know. Now shove off and let’s get out of here.”

Later, Sabrina suspected she’d find time to be touched that anyone, much less the Golden Trio, gave a fuck what happened to her after this. But for the moment, she pushed that to the back of her head and focused on following the man who, at the present, looked like the man she thought about at night. Through the aisles of files, past the door, and into the still-empty hallway.

“How do you suppose Harry Potter’s talk is going?” Sabrina asked, feeling exhilarated in ways she never had before.

Harry ran a hand through Wesley’s hair, making it more unkempt than usual, then reached into his pocket for another swig of Polyjuice.

“Not sure. Don’t much care for the git, myself,” he replied, then grinned. “Fancy we go see what the Boy Who Lived is all about?”

“I’d be delighted,” Sabrina said, and took his arm so they could walk, dignified, to the atrium.

*~*~*

Though Faith had a pretty damn good idea who was in the other room, she still wrapped her towel around herself anyway because, knowing her luck, it’d be Sam and it’d get to Dawn that she’d strutted out of the shower bare-ass naked. Never mind that she was in her own room—the one she had yet to actually sleep in—and hadn’t invited anyone in.

But the person waiting for her on the bed wasn’t Sam, of course. Or Giles or Nick or B.

Dean sat with his legs splayed, his hands clasped between them and his gaze on the floor. She stared at him for a full second, then sighed and made her way to Dollar General bag she’d left here days ago. Somehow, all of her things had again landed in Dean’s room—mostly because she hadn’t packed too much before she’d left and they’d bought new stuff on the road. Not too much stuff, but enough that what she had left in this room wasn’t exactly the pick of the litter.

“Guess it’s your place,” she said as she plucked a pair of shorts and a tank top from the bag. “Let yourself right on in.”

“You stayin’ in here now?”

“That was the plan.” Back before she’d left. Before they’d made their arrangement. She didn’t know what the plan was anymore. Knocking boots didn’t necessarily mean cuddling, though Dean had definitely proved to be a fan of snuggle-time.

Hell, she was too. She just didn’t want to admit it.

“So we done?”

Faith turned to look at him, finding his eyes were on her now. “Done…?”

“You and me?”

She just stared at him for a moment before snorting and shaking her head. “Ducky, pretty sure me being pissed at you is how we end up in bed, not out of it. Unless you’re here to tell me we’re done, it’s all good on my end.”

“Hey, you piss me off too.”

“I know. And we fuck out our differences. Everybody wins.”

“Not sure if that’s what I’d call it, but…” He rose to his feet. “Well, maybe that is what I’d call it.”

Good. Because calling it something else acknowledged it was something else. The funny place she’d reached yesterday after they’d fucked in the shower, after she’d told him she liked him, had yet to consume her again in its entirety and she wasn’t ready for it.

“Not sure how to fuck this one out, though,” Dean continued in a low gravelly voice that made her very aware she was standing in front of him wearing nothing but a towel. “’Cause, baby, what the fuck was I doin’ yesterday if you’re planning on just getting yourself killed?”

Faith crossed her arms, and the towel rode down a bit. “I’m not planning anything.”

“Sure sounded like you were out there. We already know Lucifer knows about you—you said the other night that he had a thing for you. So I’m sorry if diving into his home sounds to me like giving him exactly what he wants.”

“Except he told Willow to kill me yesterday, so—”

Dean shook his head, cutting her off with a wave of his hand. “I don’t buy that. Not for a second. Didn’t tell you this, but Willow showed up at the motel after you… Well, after.”

“She did?”

“Yeah.”

“And…” She ran her gaze down his body, though that was stupid. She’d seen him naked several times since she’d awakened from her near-death experience, and he’d looked whole and well each time. Better, even, thanks to the work Cas had done on his arm.

“She didn’t hurt me,” Dean said. “She could’ve…still don’t know why she didn’t. But she was there for you. She wanted to take you with her. To Lucifer.”

This was all information it would have been handy to have had an hour ago. Faith shuddered. “Fuck, why didn’t you tell me that?”

“Because I didn’t wanna freak you out.”

“Well, nice job, Ducky.”

“Hey.” Dean closed the space between them, seizing her by the upper arms. “You had just been through some shit I happen to know ain’t easy to walk off, I don’t care how super strong you are. Dyin’ takes it out of you and you’ve been going full-speed since Chuck tossed you back. I have no clue why that redheaded bitch didn’t kill me—told her to if she meant to take you with her. So don’t tell me that was for nothin’, Faith. Don’t tell me I kept you alive just to fail now, okay?”

The desperation in his voice made something in her chest crack. “Dean…you haven’t failed at all. Whatever happens with this…it ain’t on you.”

He barked a hard laugh. “Sure. Right. Well, it definitely ain’t on you.”

“One of us has a sacred calling here.”

“You gonna rub that in my face forever?”

“No, shithead. I mean the PTB or Chuck or whatever the fuck you wanna call it specifically tagged me in and said the world’s mine to save or screw over. At some point, you and your brother, and Wright and Giles and Nick—you all had a choice whether you lived this life. B, Ro, and me? We never got that choice. We were Chosen. And when you’re Chosen, you’re kinda fucked.” She glanced down, unable to take the look in his eyes. “I know enough about hunters to know they think the life picked them most of the time, but Ducky, there’s a big fuckin’ difference between growin’ up in it and bein’ thrown into it with no way out. Ro told me last night that Sam tried to get out of the life, go to college, be Joe Normal. That right?”

Dean swallowed hard. “Yeah. Didn’t take. Tried it once myself. Also didn’t take. Calls you back. You can’t… It’s not like you can just stop knowing things. And if you know how to kill them—”

“This isn’t a pissing contest. I’m just sayin’ that as the Slayer, I have this responsibility whether I want it or not. There is no trying to be normal or walkin’ away. You heard B out there—prophesied to die when she was sixteen. You heard Giles say the Slayer that died the first time this sucker opened was older than most at eighteen. Ro’s eighteen. She live a good long life?” She shook her head. “Fuck, when I was Called, I thought it was time to party. Hot super-powered chick? Fuckin’ A.”

“Someone has a healthy ego.”

Faith looked up at him, smirking now. “I’m a hot piece of ass and you know it.”

The corners of Dean’s mouth twitched but his eyes remained serious.

“Didn’t get it until well after I met B—what it means to be the Slayer. She kept goin’ around like the weight of the fucking world was on her shoulders and all I saw was what we could do. I didn’t take it seriously and because of that, I got people killed. I killed people.” She pressed her lips together. “Stuck up bitch had it right all along. And hey, I ain’t looking to play hero. Dying fucking sucks. All about keepin’ the damn Hellmouth from opening or hoping Giles can do his Giles thing and come up with an another way to close it back up again that doesn’t involve takin’ a dive.” Faith released a long breath and edged a step closer so they were breathing the same air, and was relieved when he didn’t push her back again. “But B and me? We can’t not think about what happens if shit doesn’t go our way. Ro’s not there yet and I fucking hope she won’t be for a long time. Would be just fine with her letting me and B take it on. But if it’s Hell on earth or my life? What kind of shit person would I be if I chose me over everyone? If I let an eighteen year-old kid die? Would you let Sammy die in your place?”

Dean inhaled sharply. “No,” he said, his voice thick. “And I’ve made that call before.”

“Yeah. I figured. So I have to think about shit like that. I have to be ready. Buffy’s out on account of demon blood and Ro’s out on account that I won’t fucking let her. But I like I said, I kinda like living and I’d love to go a year without kickin’ it, so let’s just…find a different way.” A pause. “We look for another way, find another way, but have this ready in case things go sideways.”

There was nothing for a moment. He studied her, then tried for a grin—it was the saddest fucking thing she’d ever seen, the way he looked at her. There were tears in his eyes. “Can I just state for the record that this saving the world shit fucking sucks?”

“Definitely sucks.” She hesitated, then pressed her lips to his. It was meant to be a brief kiss, soft and reassuring, but he grabbed her and began tearing at her mouth like he was mad at it. It was all teeth and tongue and saying things without words, and tempting as it would’ve been to toss him back on his ass and ride him hard until they forgot everything they’d learned since they’d woken up, the part of her that very much wanted to live—the part of her that had grown up—managed to steal enough real estate in her mind to push back.

“Ducky,” she said, “we got an ingredient to find.”

“You’re wearing nothing but a towel. Come on.”

“We get this dumbass world saved and I’ll wear nothin’ but a towel for a week.”

“Holding you to that, Miss Kitty.” He kissed her again, then stepped back and looked around. “So, you just have the two bags?”

Faith glanced down. She hadn’t made much headway in getting dressed beyond taking out the shorts and tank top. “Uhh, yeah, and the shit I left in your room.”

“’Kay.” He nodded at her clothes. “Better get dressed. Don’t wanna know what might come out of Dawn’s mouth if she saw you in nothin’.” He picked up the bags and headed for the door.

“Where are you goin’?”

“Takin’ this shit back for now. Trust me…” Dean nodded at the bed. “You ain’t gonna get a good night’s sleep on that thing.”

Faith arched an eyebrow. “And I will in your room?”

“You sayin’ you don’t? First of all, I put you in a sex coma. And second of all, memory foam, baby. Relatively new, too. Spike and Buffy got my old one all gross with their vamp sex.” He wrinkled his nose. “Come on. If you’re gonna save the world, you need to be well-rested. Hunter 101 shit.”

“Shit. Also that thing you’re full of.”

“Just get dressed, woman.”

Faith smirked and dropped her towel. “Okay.”

Dean’s gaze zeroed in on her breasts. “Just had to do that, didn’t you?”

“Hey, you told me to get dressed.” She pulled on the shorts without bothering with panties, then slipped the tank on over it, sans bra.

“Okay, babe, you gotta do something about those things.” Dean waved at her tits. “That’s all kinds of distractin’.”

“I ain’t wearin’ a bra to research. Exercise some self-control.”

“Yeah, I have none of that.”

Faith strolled to the door, paused to give him a kiss, then headed out. “It’s a hard knock life for Ducky,” she called over her shoulder, and grinned when she heard him swear loudly and clamor after her.

Chapter Text

At least the bunker had quieted down since he and Rosalie returned from their run. The youngest Slayer was still a little pissy, but that could be any day that ended in ‘y’ when it came to that girl.

Speaking of kinda pissy girls, he was pleasantly surprised to find Dawn sitting cross-legged on his bed when he entered his room after a shower. “Hey,” he said as suavely as a guy in flannel boxer briefs with dripping wet hair could muster.

She eyed his bare chest in a way that made his ego jump to Dean levels. “Hiya, hot stuff.”

He gave a little chuckle. “Gotta admit, really liking this whole open crush thing now.”

Her gaze travelled up to his eyes. “Me too.” The fire in her stare dimmed. “So, I guess we should talk a little about my megabitchiness back there.”

He shook his head. “I get it. I really do.”

“Really?” she asked skeptically. “Because sometimes I’m doubting myself. Everyone keeps harping on about how Faith’s changed and we need to forgive and forget all that shit she did back then.” Dawn sighed. “And I hear it, but then I remember what she did. And I just…I can’t.”

Sam walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “I really do understand, Dawnie. And to be honest, it was the main reason I was afraid to approach you. I’ve…done things.” He looked down to the floor. “Not saying what Faith did wasn’t bad. Not saying it wasn’t wrong and fucked up and possibly unforgivable.” He paused. “But I’ve…I’ve done unforgivable things.”

“I know.” He couldn’t help but look up at her simple response. There was a softness in her eyes he definitely didn’t deserve. “There’s been a lot of late night talks around here about the Winchester boys and your many, many poor life choices.”

He tried to laugh, but it came out more a pitiful groan. “Nice.”

She reached over and touched his arm. “I asked Castiel about you.” She flashed a guilty smile. “I’d tried for weeks to get your nut to crack. To get you to open up and talk. He told me…he told me everything.” She sighed. “Well, I think everything.”

He was at a loss for words. If she was sitting here in his room, Cas must’ve left out the gory details.

Dawn squeezed his arm. “It started when your mom made a deal with a demon to save your dad. There was the whole mess with the demon blood and getting tricked by some Ruby to opening up the prison where Lucifer was held. You were even possessed by him for a while before you sacrificed yourself to lock him back up.”

“It wasn’t really a sacrifice when you were the one who let him out to start.”

“Yes, it was,” she countered. “And I know about your soul, Sam.” His breath hitched at the mention of the word. “I know how you were soulless when Cas brought you back. I know you did things you really wish I didn’t.”

Fuck, he felt his eyes begin to water. He really didn’t want her to know. “Dawnie, I—“

“Shhh,” she interjected. “I know about the torture you went through. How you almost died from the damage. Gadreel. All of that.”

“Then why—“ His voice cracked. He cleared his throat. “Why would you…why would you want me?”

“Because you’re a good man, Sam Winchester. You’re good and smart as hell and sexy as fuck and funny and sweet and a million other things.”

“But I’m also bad. And dumb. And dark. I’m a murderer. With my own hands and by the choices I’ve made. I’m…” he looked down at his hands. “You’re filled with this light…this Key energy. I’m filled with…I still have demon blood in me, Dawnie. Even now, I still crave it. Like an addict, I can function without it, but I still sometimes dream about how good it was. How much I liked it.”

“And I’m sorry. I really am. Because I don’t know how it feels to live with that struggle everyday. But I do know that it was never your fault. All of it? You realize you never chose to be bad. Even your mistakes were well-intentioned.”

Embarrassed, he wiped the tear from cheek. “I’ve never…I never really saw it like that. Not fully at least. Thank you.”

Uncrossing her legs, she scooted her body next to his. “Maybe if I’d known you then I’d see it different. We’ll never know. But as far as you and me, I don’t see you as anything more than another victim of Karma’s bitchiness. My problem is Faith didn’t have some demon poisoning her as a baby. Her evil was all on her. And I just can’t let that go.”

Gently Sam reached over and grasped her knee. “And I won’t tell you should. I can’t judge you because I’m the last guy who can judge.”

“I know we have much bigger shit to to focus on. We all want to stop this Hellmouth before it opens. And I’ll…try to dampen my inner megabitch.” She smiled at that. “But I’ve never exactly been good at controlling my internal monologue from popping out.”

He laughed. “Yeah. That’s the nice way of wording it.”

“Shut up,” she teased. “You have nice hair, too.”

He snickered. “I haven’t even styled it, yet.”

“I know. I think it’s cute how you have more products than I do.” She leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Just don’t be too upset with me if I lose my cool and make with the verbal bitch-slapping. Because I don’t like Faith and I never will. She’s evil and mean and manipulative. Buffy’s nicer than I’ll ever be. And Dean? I know he’s just blinded by the sex or whatever it is guys seem to like about her.” She shook her head. “I like your brother a lot. He’s a good guy. Kinda irks me that she’s probably just gonna love him and leave him like she does with everyone in her life.”

God, she was—to borrow Dean’s lingo—awesome. The way she sat here and accepted him completely as he was—flawed and broken—and the way she even cared about his brother and any potential heartache was really moving. He didn’t know quite how to express himself in words.

“So, now that I’ve officially ran out of verbal diarrhea for the moment, I guess we better hit the books.”

Leaning over, he gave her a long, passionate kiss. He tried to use his lips and tongue to say everything he couldn’t verbalize. Slowly, he pulled back to give her a warm smile. “I guess I should put on pants.”

“Yeah,” she agreed as she waggled her brows. “Don’t need to be distracting the ladies with my man candy.”

“Man candy?” He barked a laugh. “I like it.”

She gave him a quick smack on the lips before standing up. “Good. So now let’s go save the world.”

*~*~*

“You’re fucking shitting me.” Zack could hear his brother, but the sight of him was obstructed by the ginormous pile of files and books that had spilled from Hermione’s bag on command. Sam’s office was so crammed with pages of information that everyone was essentially stuck where they had been standing.

“I’m a speed reader,” Josh called out. “But this is fucking excessive. And I’ve drafted budget appropriations for the federal government.”

Cordy somehow had landed on Zack’s side of Book Mountain. She gave her brother-in-law a sideways glance before speaking up. “And this is all Wolfram and Hart? You didn’t accidentally duplicate the history of wolves and hearts maybe? Because this much shared DNA has to be bad.”

“Guys?” Sam called out. “I can’t move. Believe it or not I have a state to run. And a son that I’d like to eventually see again.”

As quickly as everything had appeared, it was more impressive to watch as all the papers began flying back into the little handbag thing in the witch’s hand. Once all the MACUSA intel was contained, Hermione snapped the clasp closed with a tiny click. “I’ve never been more jealous of a purse in my life,” Kelly muttered in astonishment. Zack noted bemused that Cordy, Donna and Sabrina also looked pretty green with envy.

“So what now?” Wright asked. “I just got off the phone with Rosie and Hunter. There’s already a research party going down in Kansas. Giles and the angel are staying there, no fucking question.”

“Really?” Zack asked. “Because I’m pretty sure Giles would get a hard-on looking at a stack like that. And that Cas could probably—“

“No,” Wright growled. “They’re staying in Kansas. Truth is, I may catch a flight to Wichita or something and head that way myself.”

Ron scoffed and rolled his eyes. “It might be helpful if the bloke who knows the most about Wolfram and Hart actually helps study the bloody material.”

Fuck. That dark and dangerous shadow crossed his brother’s eyes and he knew at once that shit was hitting the fan. “Oh, fuck me sideways,” Cordelia spoke first. “What is it?”

While there was much less murderous desire in his expression when Wright looked to his wife, Zack still saw enough wild instability to sound his inner alarm bell. “Nick told me what our daughter wouldn’t. Seems that the last time this particular Hellmouth opened, it only closed after this kid named Cassandra Hart pulled a Jesus and sacrificed herself to save the world.”

Zack rolled his eyes. “Of course. So now everyone there’s drawing straws hoping to be the next Apocalypse Idol.”

“It’s down to the top three,” Wright snarled back. “Cassandra was a Slayer.”

“Oh my God,” Kelly said expressing the sentiment of the room at large.

“No, no, no, no.”  Cordy grew more hysterical with every utterance of the word. “No! I don’t care if she is the active Slayer, she does not have permission to do that!”

Wright sighed. “Luckily that’s the majority opinion. Nick said he was willing to kamikaze himself to hold her back. Buffy and Faith pretty much told her to shove it up her ass and he’s betting Faith will knock her out again if it opens.”

“Okay,” Josh said. “So while it’s bad, it sounds like they got it covered.”

Damn. Zack had kinda liked the guy, but he’d officially just signed his execution warrant. “Covered?” Venom was dripping from Wright’s low voice as he slowly turned his death stare to the curly haired man. “Your woman is about to pop your baby and you still don’t get it? Nobody fucking covers your kid. Nobody—not your best friend, not even the love of their fucking life—protects your child like their parents.” He swept his eyes about the room to all the moms and dads who were present. “We’d fucking murder the Pope with a toothbrush if it meant keeping them safe.”

The room was quiet for several seconds. “He’s right,” Harry said at last, giving Ginny a long look. “I vowed never to use it, but if it meant saving James, Albus or Lily…” He shook his head. “I’d do it. I really would.”

“I don’t know if I’d flinch,” Ron admitted.

“I’d beat you to it,” Hermione remarked, a tiny hint of a smile as she looked to her husband.

“I wouldn’t need a wand or a spell,” Kelly replied. “I’d rip their fucking throats out with my teeth. And I definitely wouldn’t flinch.”

“They’re right,” Sam said softly, looking at his best friend. “I’ve barely been a dad a minute, but I can tell you that the first time you look at them and realize they could grow up to be a serial killer and you wouldn’t love them any less…” He looked over to Wright. “You do what you need to do. I know a private charter than can get you as close as the nearest runway.”

Wright gave a solemn nod. “Thanks. I’m gonna talk to my wife this time.” He gave Cordy a sheepish glance. “I got another baby back in Los Angeles that I’m really not feeling too good about. If Wolfram and Hart finds out what we’ve done…” He shook his head and looked over to his brother. “One of us needs to go back home. Gunn and Lisa can only do so much.”

“Yeah,” Zack agreed. “I didn’t sleep a wink last night wondering what they’d do if word got out about the empty nest.”

“Truthfully I think most all of us should relocate back at the Hyperion,” Hermione said. “This location is connected to the Floo Network and therefore vulnerable to MACUSA or worse.”

“We don’t know yet,” Ginny said. “MACUSA could be just as bad as this Wolfram and Hart. We haven’t read the files yet.”

“Yes,” Harry acknowledged. “But until proven otherwise, we have to assume MACUSA still believes Sam’s mind has been altered and nobody attached to the governor poses a threat. That would would allow the residents of Sacramento to proceed their lives as normal.”

“Normal?” Toby was sober today. Sober and very hungover. “Where the fuck is normal because it hasn’t been here in years.”

“Relative of course,” Sabrina spoke up. “But Harry’s right. As far as MACUSA is concerned, Hermione established that Floo Network connection to keep tabs on Willow’s offspring to ensure it shows no signs of magical ability.”

Sam gave a horrified look to first the witch talking and then the one mentioned. “Oz is literally a little bomb of magical ability. He casts little spells every morning when he wakes up.”

“And occasionally throughout the day when he gets cranky,” Donna added. “Last week he started zipping around the nursery like a rocket because he got gassy.”

Ron was the first one to laugh. “God, I miss babies.” He looked at his wife. “Remember when Hugo caught those chicken pox? He developed wings and crowed like a rooster for nearly a week. Bloody adorable.”

Hermione smiled at her husband for a beat before turning to Sam. “You’ve done well. You’ve kept his magical bursts contained. The first year is the most unpredictable. As they start to develop more self-awareness and an ability to understand the world around them, it gets much easier. You can generally make them control theirselves with guidance and discipline.”

“How does a regular guy control the little wizard of Oz?” Josh asked.

“Patience. And a lot of time outs,” Ginny explained. “Granted a good binding spell does come in handy.” She looked at Sam. “We’ll work on that down the road. In the meantime it sounds like we head back down to L.A. and get cracking on deciphering all this new information.” She threw her sister-in-law a smile. “Mainly you because this kinda is your cuppa.”

Hermione rolled her eyes with a good natured sigh. “You lot all know how to read as well. I’ve seen proof.”

“But you do it so much better,” Ron responded.

“Okay,” Zack said before the plan could get lost again in the banter. “So, we’re just all going back to our battle-stations? What if Willow pops up here?”

“We know Willow is focused on the Hellmouth at the moment,” Cordy replied. “If she manages to open it before we stop her, we bust up here and get Sam and Oz out and secure. We’ve got eyes in Kansas and my guess is that they’ll be figuring out a way to knock some major sense into Will. Hard if Buffy’s doing the knocking.”

“Yup,” Wright agreed with his wife. “So…” he looked to Sabrina. “How watched is the Hyperion right now?”

“They’re keeping tabs on you guys. Wolfram and Hart requested to know who entered and exited. I don’t know, but assume there are possible listening devices in proximity.”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Zack drawled.

“We can handle that,” Harry said. “Sabrina ran into Percy early this morning. He’s aware and onboard. He and Sabrina can trace from the inside and the rest of us can suss out any magic and disarm it.”

“We can’t start going and hexing their Aurors,” Ron said flatly. “Ginny.”

“Watch it, wanker,” she warned her brother. “I can outmatch you on your best of days. Try doing it with a broken nose.”

“Ron’s right,” Hermione gave the man a chance to revel in his satisfaction. “We have to be subtle. At least until we know exactly how intimate the relationship between MACUSA and Wolfram and Hart truly is.”

“Cool,” Zack concluded. “Now let’s go before Wolfram and Hart decides to kidnap me again. I’d kinda like to see my tiny juvenile delinquents today. If nothing else, watch them play with their kitten.”

“Fuck you again for that,” Wright said as he turned to leave the room. “Figure out how you’re gonna explain it went to live on a farm after I ship it to Spike for a tasty snack.”

Zack just let him run his mouth. Both their wives would kick his ass first. If not, pretty sure he had a girl who’d drive herself back to California to knock a new hole in her daddy’s head for being cruel to her baby sis and little cousins like that.

And thinking of Rosalie was the kick in the pants he needed. He’d never forget the trauma he’d inflicted on her when he attacked her that night. Or the lifetime on death row he’d sentenced her to when he’d killed Faith. So yeah, if this meant they might actually have a shot in taking down that fucking evil law firm once and for all, he’d sit down and read every fucking word on every fucking page.

He just hoped he wasn’t expected to comprehend it.

Thank fuck he knew Hermione Granger-Weasley. “Let’s roll.”

*~*~*

This was a giant crock of shit. Everyone was scattered around the place like it was fucking study hall, expecting to suddenly find the secret answer written in some dusty old book or scroll. Dean stood up and whipped his phone out of his pocket.

“Whatcha doing?” Faith asked, her eyes still staring at the same page she’d been looking at the last five minutes.

“Ordering a pizza,” he grumbled as he sent out a text. “Figure the delivery man might understand Latin.”

“It’s entirely possible,” Giles quipped. “Dead languages are about as useful as a philosophy degree.”

Mary smacked her book down on the table. “Don’t tell me you majored in philosophy. I’m not sure I could stand listening to that for the rest of my life.” She looked down at the open text before her. “However short that may be.”

“And that in itself is a philosophical quandary.” Giles smirked. “But alas, I did not.”

“Okay,” Faith sighed in defeat. “I’m gonna go check on the others. Maybe B’s had some luck if Spike hasn’t shredded her panties by now.”

“Vampires lurking in the shadows,” Buffy’s voice called from the next room. Dean didn’t see them at any of the tables, so he assumed they were sitting in some of the chairs off to the side. “Panties still fully intact if you’d like to check.”

“My bet’s on Bite Size being the first for a study break,” Spike rang out. “Or Harris. Can’t believe we brought him here so he could take a bloody nap.”

Faith sniggered. “Being that dumb has to be exhausting.”

“Stop it,” Buffy lightly chided. “Gunn kept Xander up all night working the backlog of jobs at Wright and Pryce. They’re missing over half the crew.”

Dean felt something jab him in the back. He turned around to find his delivery man holding a pizza box. “You missed the cutoff,” he snapped as he snatched the food. “Means it’s free.”

“Like I expected you to pay. Adorable,” Crowley drawled.

Faith walked up while the demon made with his usual dickish remarks and cold-cocked him a punch so hard he stumbled onto his ass.

“Hello, Sugar Tits,” Crowley said in a mixture of amusement and annoyance. “My guessing is Squirrel hasn’t given you your morning rub down.” He gave Dean a smarmy smirk. “If you called me for another peep show, I’m quite obliged.”

“Hold the phone,” Buffy said, walking up on the scene. “This is the local pervert?” She wrinkled her nose. “Gross.”

“Buffy Summers,” Crowley said as he hoisted himself upright and dusted off his black suit. “Big fan. Love how you took something so good as slayer blood and mixed it with vampire. Such a delicious cocktail.”

Spike growled and took up real estate between his mate and the King of Hell.

“Oh, William,” Crowley beamed. “Haven’t seen you since your slayer killing days. My how we’ve both changed.”

“Crowley,” Spike snarled.

“You know him?” Buffy asked before shaking her head. “Of course, you guys must’ve all been in the Evil League of Evil together.”

“He had a thing for your ex,” Spike said shortly.

“Angel?” Faith sneered at the demon. “What, you two were butt buddies back in the good ole days?”

“Not quite. Souls are kinda a turnoff for me. Very few exceptions.” He winked at Faith before darting his eyes to Spike. “That Drusilla though.” He released a low whistle. “She was a wild one, right?”

“Stop with the color commentary,” Dean snapped. “Not why I called you here.”

Faith whirled on him. “You called him here? What the fuck, dude?”

He met her angry stare, but really didn’t feel like another fight at the moment. He gave her an apology with his eyes. “He knew about the last ingredient—“

“The one you fucked up and let Lucifer get?” Crowley hissed. “Yes, I remember telling you not to fuck that up!” He roared.

“Well, you left out the part where the witch was Willow fucking Rosenberg!” Faith screamed back.

Crowley looked with indignation. “Like that would have changed anything?”

“It would have been nice to know,” Dean responded. He looked over to see that Sam was now standing in the doorway with a posse behind him. Apparently Crowley and Faith’s voices had carried down the hall.

“Was this really it?” the demon asked. “You texted me for a pizza and a tongue lashing?”

“No.” Dean realized he was still holding the pizza box and tossed it over to the table. “You knew about the salt. What’s left as far as ingredients?”

God, he hated asking Crowley for help. He never could do anything without going off on a fucking power trip. This was no exception as he watched the smug bastard look around the room with a cocky smirk.

“Hello, Moose,” he said as he spotted the man. “Funny again that it’s your brother asking me for help, isn’t it?”

“Not really,” Sam spat. “Considering you’re usually part of the problem.”

“So you saw him?” Crowley said turning back Dean. “Saw that Wolfram and Hart replaced his old meat suit?”

“Yeah. It was definitely old Nick’s face calling the shots in KC. So what fucking ingredients are left?”

“Just one,” Crowley said, holding up a single finger. “The blood of the last one who shut it.”

“Cassandra Hart?” Sam asked. “She’s long dead.”

Crowley shrugged. “Sources say there’s something lying around. A vial or some other contraption out there containing her blood. Haven’t read the spell for myself, but it sounds about right in a poetic sense.”

“So, if there isn’t any blood, there’s no chance of opening the Hellmouth.”

“There’s always blood,” Buffy said to Sam with an eye roll. “So now we find it first.”

“Lucifer is telling his minions to search the Men of Letters bunkers and chapter houses,” Crowley offered. “That’s the extent of my intel.”

“That’s it?” Sam cried, flashing Dean a frantic look. “There’s places all over the fucking map! We got St. Louis, Missoula, Ohio, Rhode Island and Roswell, New Mexico. How in the fuck are we supposed to hit five places and cover here at the same time?”

“I suggest teamwork,” Crowley simply replied. With that, he snapped his fingers and vanished.

“What a dick,” Faith grumbled under her breath.

“Yeah,” Dean agreed before turning to walk back to the table. Eyeing the box, he flipped it open and grabbed a slice, passing it to Faith before snatching one for himself. “Eat up. We’re hitting the road.” Taking a bite, he nodded to his brother.

“Who goes where?” Sam asked as he stepped in the room and went to grab a piece of pizza. Winchesters didn’t turn down a chance to fuel up before a hunt.

“Slayers stay closest to home,” Buffy suggested. “That way we can haul ass if something happens. So, St. Louis and…” She furrowed a brow. “I don’t know Missoula or Roswell.”

“Roswell actually,” Sam informed. “I’ve Googled this shit before.”

“Dork,” Dean said in passing. “So yeah. You girls duke it out,” he teased at both the slayers. “If it comes down to mud wrestling, I unfortunately request we reschedule for a later date and go with less erotic options like flipping a coin or drawing straws. Spike and I have to concentrate.” He gave the vampire a smirk and a nod.

“Lost my concentration at mud wrestling, mate.”

“Rosalie stays here,” Buffy stated loud enough for the youngest slayer to get the order.

“Seriously?” Rose whined, pushing past Nick and Dawn to enter the room. “Why?”

“Because we still have to lockdown this place, Ro,” Faith reminded. “You ain’t being given a shit job. This one’s kinda important.”

“Right,” Buffy agreed. “I don’t know. Maybe we call Zack and Kelly and have them drive to Missoula? Sam and Dawn can hit one?”

“Cas,” Dean said, looking for his buddy. He was likely off sulking from all the earlier abuse. “He can search Rhode Island between running his Willow tracker.”

“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “But I know we can’t wait around.” She looked to Faith. “Wanna call dibs?”

Faith shook her head. “Both sound equally shitty.”

Dean reached out and squeezed Faith’s shoulder. “Figure it out. I’m packing our bag and meeting you at the car in five.” He paused and whipped around to grab one more slice for the road. Then he changed his mind and threw his food down and snatched the whole box. It was his fucking pizza, technically. Closing the lid, he walked off with what was likely his last meal of the day.

At least this was better than sitting around reading.

Chapter Text

“This isn’t going to be good news, is it?”

Buffy winced as she slid into the passenger seat of the yellow Olds. The faint aroma of Dean Winchester’s boxers still lingered in the air…as did that of Dawn’s underwear. Something she could have happily gone the rest of her life without smelling. It was bad enough to know every time anyone in proximity was aroused or had recently boinked. Sitting with the smell was close to downright torture.

“We need you guys to do something,” she said.

Spike slid behind the wheel and cranked the window down. Hopefully the drive would give the car time to air-out—air-fresheners were the last resort of the desperate vamp, since the smell was typically on the intense side.

“Buff…” Zack sighed in her ear. “We literally just got landed with a metric ton of homework and it all seems pretty damn important.”

“Saving the world important?”

“Well…”

Buffy sighed and rolled her head back as Spike started the car. “Tell me.”

“Wolfram and Hart and MACUSA are connected. Harry and some witch you don’t know stole an assload of intel from MACUSA today and we need to work through it.” A pause. “But…is this about Rosalie? About the Hellmouth?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck.” It was Zack’s turn to swear. “What?”

“The Winchesters have a demon friend who knows what the last ingredient is that Lucifer needs and where we might find it.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” There was a muffled sound in the background. “Buffy, do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve seen my kids?”

She frowned and exchanged a perplexed look with Spike, who was, of course, listening to the conversation. “Umm, no? Been a bit busy over here.”

“Really? What’s that like?” he replied sarcastically.

“Oi, mate!” Spike snapped. “Don’t make pull bloody rank on you. Fancy havin’ a world where the tykes actually get to grow the hell up? Get yourself some wheels and hit the bloody road to Missoula.”

“What the fuck’s in Missoula?”

“Wankers of Letters compound. Might have some slayer blood stashed away. The sort that’ll open the bleeding Hellmouth. Aim to find it before the sodding devil does, and seein’ as you and the missus can sniff out blood from a mile off, you’ve been volunteered. So shut your gob and get moving.”

There was silence for a moment.

“I didn’t mean to be crabby,” Zack said in a smaller voice. “Just…all of this at once.”

Buffy placed a hand on Spike’s. “I know,” she said. “We both do.”

“And we don’t know what to do with the kids.” He barked a strangled laugh. “Wright and Cordy are likely catching a plane to Wichita tonight, but there’s baby Kelly to worry about, and Rosie and William… If MACUSA or Wolfram and Hart learn that we robbed them today, the kids are—”

“Send them away,” Buffy said shortly.

“Where? My mom’s had her mind erased and everyone I know is either chasing danger or already in it.”

Spike shot the phone a worried look, the sort that warmed Buffy’s heart. The past few years had been a rollercoaster, but he would always worry about Zack’s kids. The same way he would always worry about Rosalie, no matter that she was older now and a slayer to boot.

“What about the wizards? They have family?”

“Buffy, you have read Harry Potter, haven’t you? He’s like the most famous orphan in the world.”

“No, I haven’t. Been a bit busy the past few years and I don’t have small children.”

“What about the ginger? Bloke has a big family, doesn’t he?” Spike asked loudly. He met Buffy’s gaze and gave a sheepish shrug. “What? Bloody brilliant bit of reading, love.”

“When do you have time to read? And how?”

“Been doin’ it just fine for a century and a half, thanks,” he replied, his tone a bit dry. “A bloke can’t have hobbies?”

“Your hobbies are swindling demons and killing things.”

“Always been a reader, pet.” He waggled his brows. “Wouldn’t mind reading them to you, if you like.”

“Is…is this becoming a sex thing?” Zack asked. “Because we were just talking about my kids and it’s a little weird if this is a sex thing. Especially since the books are about people I know now in real life but when they were kids.”

Buffy snickered, but gave Spike an encouraging shrug. If he wanted to read to her in that low, sexy voice of his, she’d let him. “So is there a supporting character with a bunch of family, like Spike said?”

“Yeah, Ron,” Zack agreed with a sigh. “But…I don’t know how much of the books is real and how much was made up. None of the wizards are big fans of Rowling.”

“Well, ask, Zack,” Buffy snapped. “We need help.”

“You know what doesn’t help? That tone.”

“Zangy, you bein’ wanker for kicks or what?”

“Of course I’ll ask!” Zack replied sharply. “But it’s a little weird, going to a wizard I’ve known for five minutes and asking if our kids can stay with whatever family he has left, oh, a freaking continent away. You realize you’re suggesting sending the kids to people we’ve never met in a foreign country.”

“You understand that if the Hellmouth opens—”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said shortly. “Sorry. I’m just…”

But he didn’t say what he was just—he didn’t need to. Buffy understood. It was wiggy enough that the actual devil was the Big Bad at the moment—throw in anything Wolfram and Hart related, plus an unstable Willow, and small children to worry about, and she imagined things in California were about ready to go boom just from the stress level alone.

“It’s okay,” Buffy said a moment later, her tone softer. “I know it’s been… Well, nonstop fun, huh?”

Zack barked a laugh. “There’s a word for it. You guys staying safe?”

She snorted. “Never.”

“And… Wright said that if the Hellmouth opens, it can only be closed with slayer blood?”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Buffy said, cutting a glance to Spike, whose grip on the steering wheel had become rigid. They hadn’t had much chance to continue the conversation about what happened if the Hellmouth opened, mostly because Spike refused to listen to any talk that included her jumping inside to close it.

There was a beat. Then, “It’s Faith, right?” Zack said softly. “If it comes down to it. Faith gets the honors of dying. We’ve all agreed on that, right?”

“Yes,” Spike barked.

“No,” Buffy growled, throwing her mate what he called one of her if-looks-could-stake looks. “My blood might work just fine.”

“But it probably won’t, is what I’m saying,” Zack said.

“Right. So it makes no bloody sense for the Slayer to off herself if the other bird’s just gonna have to do it anyway. No sense losin’ both when we know for certain whose will work.”

“Right,” Zack agreed.

Buffy swallowed hard, trying to push down her irritation. She knew this came from a place of love—that Spike was terrified of losing her and hey, the thought of taking that dive terrified her too. Life since she’d awakened at the Hyperion as a vampire had certainly been unpredictable. Wonderful most of the time with rock-bottoms sprinkled liberally throughout. But everything that had come her way had been manageable because she knew she had him with her—even the worst things. Still, there were times when his lack of a soul smacked her in the face. It didn’t make her love him any less—rather, reminded her just how far he’d come—but there were things they would never agree on, ever. Spike would always choose her at the expense of someone else. That was just the way he was. And sure, in most situations if presented with the same stakes, she’d return the favor. But it would never be an easy decision for her. It would be something that remained with her for the rest of eternity.

She’d told him, right after they first got together, that she was done being the Slayer. And she’d meant it. Then and the million other moments that had spanned the years they’d been together when it had come down between her and the world. Buffy would live forever and she very much did not want to always be the one responsible for stopping the apocalypse. But she also couldn’t turn her back on it, nor could she be cavalier when discussing the death of someone else. Not too long ago, Spike had held her to him after she’d learned about Faith’s death, and she knew he’d meant that. She also knew he didn’t wish Faith dead, that the decision was personal only insofar as Faith making the leap meant that Buffy didn’t. All these things she knew.

“It’s not that simple,” Buffy said, her voice low and measured. She really didn’t trust herself to expand upon that.

Spike tossed her a look that promised this argument would come to a head—either when they arrived in Roswell or he’d pull over and they’d have it out. The line of his jaw firmed and his eyes hardened. Whatever happened would likely end with them having angry sex, which was at least something to look forward to, because the conversation itself was not going to be a fun one.

“Buff,” Zack said, “it’s not that I want Faith to die. I mean, I did actually kill her that one time, sure, but soul-having me has nothing against her. I just really don’t want you dead or my niece. I’m not going to be sorry about playing favorites.”

At that, her heart melted a little. Spike reached over and seized her hand, giving it a firm squeeze.

“Well,” she replied at length, “I’ve never once let a hellmouth best me and I’m not looking to start anytime soon. Giles is hitting the books, going over everything we did in Sunnydale every time ours started to act up. Odds are no one’s going to have to make the dive.”

“Slayer, I will personally shove Faith inside if it comes down to it,” Spike said, tightening his grip on her hand, likely in anticipation that she would pull away. She didn’t even try. “Bag me my third and save your lickable arse all in one go. Don’t sodding care if you hate me for a bloody century—got plenty of experience takin’ abuse from the women I love. As long as I keep you on this ground, that’s all I care about. You promised me forever and I’m not lettin’ you welsh on me.”

“And before you yell at him,” Zack jumped in, “I will help. Again, nothing against Faith, but I am playing favorites. Kelly will too.”

Buffy’s eyes stung. “Kelly hates Faith because of what happened when you were soulless.”

“It’s true,” Kelly said from the background. “And I imagine I always will, even if she did save lives that night by fucking my husband, the way you all claim. But even if I didn’t hate her, you’ll have me and Zack holding you back while Spike does the dirty work and I won’t even say sorry.”

Spike’s mouth tugged into a grin. “Thanks ever so, pidge.”

“Like either of us would let you take the brunt yourself,” Kelly said dryly. “You’re family. Rosalie’s family. Faith is not. End of discussion.”

“So you can kick all three of our asses if you need to,” Zack chimed back in. “We can take it.”

Buffy was quiet, her heart full of affection and appreciation for the Morrises, as well as bone-rattling dread for whatever came next. She squeezed Spike’s hand once in reassurance, though she knew he could read her well enough to know that the conversation wasn’t over. It hadn’t even really started. And god-willing, it never would. They’d find Cassandra Hart’s blood in Roswell. Or Zack and Kelly would in Missoula. Or Faith and Dean in St. Louis, Dawn and Sam in Ohio, Castiel in Rhode Island. They’d get ahead of this before tough decisions had to be made.

“Talk to Ron about the kids,” Buffy said at length. “Get them safe. We need your help.”

“We’re on it,” Zack said firmly.

“Love you guys,” Kelly added. Then the call disconnected and the car fell silent for a beat.

“Not gonna let you go, Slayer,” Spike said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Either I toss her in or I dive in after you.”

“Spike—”

“No. Won’t sodding hear it. Those are your choices.” He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Love you too much to do anythin’ but.”

Buffy released a long breath, the irritation dying. She scooted across the bench of the Olds and snuggled into his side. “I love you, too.”

“Soulless bastard that I am.”

“Yeah, but you’re my soulless bastard.” She pressed a kiss to the base of his throat near the mark she’d given him when they’d made it official. “We always find a way, you and me. No matter what.”

Spike huffed but didn’t reply. He lifted his arm and relaxed slightly when she took the open invitation and snuggled up beside him.

This conversation would continue, she knew, but for the moment, she could let it drop.

And hope that they were closer to a resolution by the time they needed to pick it up again.

*~*~*

The first thing Zack did upon reentering the Hyperion was storm up to his quarters to grab his kids—something Rosie did not appreciate, as it had taken her attention away from the kitten. The girl was a few years away still from being a teenager, but she had the attitude down pat.

She also had the intuition of a full-fledged adult, and though he knew this, it still kind of wigged him out when she used it.

“You’re going away again, aren’t you?”

Zack swallowed hard, looking at Kelly over his daughter’s head. “We need to help Uncle Spike and Aunt Buffy with something,” he said. “Something important.”

Rosie nodded against him, then pulled back and regarded him with adult eyes set into a child’s face. “Blood,” she said simply. “To keep Aunt Buffy and Rosalie from dying.”

Yeah, there were times when his daughter downright creeped him out.

Zack pressed a kiss to her brow to hide this, then steeled himself. The wizards had held off on Apparating here until everyone was back in the fold, for obvious reasons, but the cracks that sounded from downstairs told him that the cast of Harry Potter had arrived. He had to come up with a way to casually invite his children to stay with a bunch of strangers.

For the Zack Morris of old, this would be nothing. He’d once excelled at getting people to do his bidding while thinking it was their idea all along. And while those were skills that never truly went away, the fact that the stakes were so much higher now left him feeling self-conscious and about to burst out of his skin. It was one thing when trying to convince your principal to let his smarmy brother take the senior class white water rafting—it was another when trying to convince strangers to volunteer their homes to watch his children in case an evil law firm and possibly the magical government of the United States decided to come after them.

Still, he thought he had an idea in place. It was simple but hopefully it would work.

When he and Kelly rejoined the group downstairs, he found his brother stuffing a small arsenal into his weapons chest, cursing about how the hell he was going to fit his crossbow in along with the battle axes, throwing knives, assortment of handguns and double-barrel shotguns. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were giving the man a wide berth, Ron muttering things under his breath about barmy Americans and their obsession with firearms.

Cordelia, who was patiently repacking everything Wright threw into the chest, stopped short when she saw the look on Zack’s face. “What is it?” she asked, and everything in the room came to a standstill.

Zack sighed. Kelly squeezed his hand.

“Buffy called on the way here,” he said. “They have a lead on the last ingredient to open the Hellmouth.”

Wright dropped one of his rifles. Ron gasped and threw himself in front of Hermione, but the thing didn’t go off.

“What is it?” Wright demanded, storming toward him. “Is it—”

“The blood of the last person who closed the Hellmouth,” Zack said, holding up his hands. “So…the Slayer who jumped. The Winchesters have a demon friend who thinks it might be at old…” He frowned and looked to Kelly. “Spike said Wankers of Letters, but I’m sure that’s not right.”

“Men of Letters,” Hermione said, managing to get around Ron who still seemed to think the gun might fire on its own at any second. “They are a branch of the Watchers Council.”

“The compound where Sam and Dean are holed up is a Men of Letters thing,” Wright said, nodding. “So what about them?”

“Well, there are apparently other compounds around the country and everyone’s split up to go hunt them out. Buffy’s asked that me and Kel hit the one in Missoula.” Zack kept his hands up, anticipating an objection from the wizards, given the amount of reading they’d been saddled with. “We’re vamps. If there’s blood there, we’ll be able to sniff it out. So I’m sorry, but—”

“You’re going,” Wright said shortly, then rounded on the wizards. “This isn’t a debate. My daughter—”

Harry held up a hand. “We know. Just spoke a piece to that Lyman fellow about the same, didn’t we?”

At that, Wright deflated, looking both relieved and exhausted. “Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

“There’s more,” Zack said, and reached for the part of himself that had gotten him through high school and college. “Buffy thinks we should send the kids away since everyone’s going to be, well, everywhere and nowhere’s safe.” He looked down, sighing hard. “But my only family doesn’t know I’m alive anymore and she’d… Well, Wolfram and Hart found her easy enough the last time. Kel’s folks would be easy to find too.” He looked to Cordelia, beseeching. “I don’t suppose—”

“Oh no,” Cordy replied, shaking her head hard. “My parents suck and they live in Sunnydale. Not going to leave my daughter at another hellmouth. I don’t care how closed it is. But yeah, loving the idea of sending Kelly away somewhere, because if you’re not here, it’s down to just Gunn and Lisa.” She glanced at the wizards. “And you guys, but you can’t be here twenty-four-seven. I’d really love to not have to worry about my baby while trying to keep my teenager from being sacrificed.”

Zack fought a smile, though inside he was doing a happy dance. Damn, if he’d known Cordelia in high school, they would have made a spectacular power couple.

Kelly elbowed him as though she’d heard that thought.

“Err…” Ron cleared his throat. “I might be able to help, but not sure how much you fancy your kids staying with complete strangers. In a completely different country, mind.”

Zack did his best to look politely curious. Part of this was pretending not to hear Kelly's soft snicker.

“My folks would take them in a heartbeat,” Ron continued. “Dad would love it, actually. He's fascinated by Muggles and the chance to spend that much time with kids would tickle him. Lily and Rose're already there. Summer holiday's coming up and then the boys'll be there too, if we haven't gone home by then.”

Kelly cleared her throat, and Zack almost groaned. He had to fight the urge to growl at her before she blew everything. “That's very kind,” she said, “but Rosie's a handful for people she knows. Complete strangers? She—”

Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione collectively sniggered. 

Kelly arched an eyebrow. “I'm not kidding. She—”

Ginny held up a hand, smirking. “Kelly, my mum and dad raised Fred and George Weasley. There is literally nothing that your daughter can do that would shock them.”

It was Zack's turn to snicker. “She'll take that as a challenge, you know.” Even if this was the outcome they’d wanted, the only polite thing was to warn them.

“Fred has been gone twenty years and George rarely comes home. Our dad still can't lift the hex they placed on their room,” Ron added. “Hermione here got a black eye just by picking up one of their products once.”

Harry and Ginny chuckled; Hermione raised her chin and gave them all a reproachful look. “Still not funny,” she said.

“Right, and that’s the sort of house that Rosie’ll destroy.”

“That’s what I’m telling you, mate,” Ron said. “You can’t bloody destroy the Burrow. And if she crosses my mum, well, heaven help the little tyke, ’cause no one else will. Even Fred and George were scared of her.”

Zack and Kelly exchanged a glance, and he could tell she was thinking the same thing he was. Perhaps the Weasley household would do their daughter good.

“What about Kelly?” Cordelia asked. “She’s crawling now and might be more of a—”

“Mum can handle it,” Ginny said soundly. “I promise. As long as the lot of you are good with our parents watching your kids—”

“Honestly, the thought of putting an ocean between them, Wolfram and Hart and MACUSA might actually help me get to sleep tonight,” Cordelia said, looking to Wright. “If it’s all right with you… I won’t be able to do much in Kansas if I’m worried about Kelly.”

Wright’s expression was set in a frown that Zack didn’t know how to read. This would not be a decision he took lightly or necessarily felt good about making, whichever way it swung. Out of everyone in the room, he alone knew the pain of losing a child—something he kept buried but always within reach.

“It wouldn’t do to take her to Kansas,” Zack said softly. “I know you want to, but if the Hellmouth opens there, you’ll have her and Rosalie to worry about. And Lucifer and Willow too, never mind everything else they might throw at us.”

Wright met his gaze, nodded. “I know. Just…” He glanced at Ron. “Everything I know about your folks comes from the books. I don’t want to be an ass and assume that it’s true. That—”

“It’s true,” Ron and Ginny said together.

“Honestly, mate,” Ron said in a hushed undertone, “that Rowling bird got most of it right. Details here and there are off, but…there’s a reason we’re not fans. Would be a bit better if she were more like Rita bloody Skeeter—at least that much we could laugh off as rubbish. But people read Rowling and…”

“But not a word,” Harry said. “We don’t talk about it if we can help it.”

Wright relaxed then and nodded. “Okay. Then yeah, if my brother’s kids are going there, then I’d like Kelly to go too.” He glanced to Hermione. “Guess this means we’re not going to be of much help when it comes to research.”

Hermione barked a laugh, then shook her head. “Oh no,” she said, clutching the beaded handbag. “No, no, no. I got stuck doing homework for these two for six bloody years. No, you’re all going to take reading with you and keep in touch if you find anything of use.”

“What—how?” Cordelia nodded at the handbag. “Are you going to divvy that up? What happens if we lose it?”

Hermione gave her a look that Zack figured would earn anyone else a bitch slap, then shook her head, muttered something about Muggles, and withdrew her wand.

Fifteen minutes later, Cordelia and Kelly were examining their new beaded handbags with awe and wonder. Hermione had made perfect replicas of each, plus a third for Sabrina. On Cordelia and Kelly’s bags, she had placed an additional Charm called Engorgio, which had caused both handbags to swell to the size of a small suitcase.

“It’ll be a bit of a trick to get any of the documents out,” Hermione had explained. “We just do a Summoning Charm. But you both will need to physically crawl inside to get the reading out.”

Cordelia looked like she might cry as she studied her bag. “And…I can keep this?”

“Oh yes.” Hermione rocked on her heels, looking rather proud. “They’re both bewitched so that only a trusted party may look at the contents. So if you lose it, or of someone steals it, they won’t find anything of value in there. I also hexed the documents themselves—should they remain outside of either bag for a period longer than twelve hours, it will immediately vanish and reappear inside the bag.”

“So I’ll have to carry MACUSA and Wolfram and Hart documents with me everywhere forever?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “No. Once we have what we need, I can undo that hex and we can dispose of the copies.”

Wright grunted and made to snatch the bag from Cordelia. “This thing must be heav—” But he overbalanced in anticipation of a great weight and nearly stumbled over. He blinked, awed. “It feels…empty.”

“Magic,” Hermione said. She looked between Wright and Zack. “We can’t trust owls won’t be intercepted, so we’re going to have to rely on Muggle methods of communication. Harry and I both have phones. I’ve already programmed the numbers into all of yours.”

Kelly blinked. “How—”

“Magic,” Harry, Ron, and Ginny echoed, looking amused.

“I say we attempt to conference call every night at nine o’clock to discuss our findings,” Hermione added. “Obviously, this might not work every night, but I do think we should attempt to keep communication open. Oh.” She nodded at Kelly’s handbag. “And I’ve charmed that to duplicate at the touch of Rupert Giles. I know we didn’t leave on the best terms, but I assume he would prefer to have his own set of records to review, rather than rely on yours.”

“Hermione, you’re brilliant,” Zack said hoarsely. “Truly—”

“Yes, we know,” Ron said. “Bloody good thing Harry and I decided to find it charming when we were in our first years, otherwise the lot of us would be well and truly buggered.”

Hermione turned a bit pink but looked pleased nonetheless. Then she regarded Zack with a knowing look, the corner of her mouth turned up. “And you, Mr. Morris, are rather adept at getting people to do what you want.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m fairly certain you had Molly and Arthur’s in mind for your children before you joined us.”

If he could have blushed, he would have. Instead, he exchanged a sheepish look with Kelly, then shrugged. “That’s certainly possible.”

“Next time,” Hermione said wisely, though she looked thoroughly amused, “you can just ask.”

“Yeah, but my way’s more fun.”

*~*~*

They’d managed to steer clear of really deep subjects for the bulk of the ride to St. Louis, and it had only been after Faith had dared Dean to let her take a turn at the wheel while he was sober that they’d broken into an impromptu game of Truth or Dare. Given the restrictions of the road, Faith had a list of the dares they owed one another to complete when things calmed down.

On Dean’s list: karaoke Brittney Spears, go vegan for three days, and be cordial to Giles for a complete twelve hour period even though the man was doing his mom. Also, Dean was to refrain from mentioning the aforementioned relationship with his mom in any way that was argumentative, snide, or passive aggressive. Every time he slipped, the clock would restart.

On Faith’s list: karaoke Brittney Spears (not at the same time, and preferably not on the same night), kiss Buffy with tongue in front of Spike, and—

“You seriously want me to rank you? Are you that insecure? I’m still doing you, aren’t I? Think I’d waste my time if I wasn’t getting it good?”

Dean beamed at that and tossed her a wink. “Good to know, but yeah. I wanna know how I compare.”

“You gonna do the same for me?”

“Baby, you know you’re at the top. There ain’t no woman alive that could keep up with you.”

Faith grinned and winked back. “Yeah, but a girl likes to hear it.”

“Don’t let it go to your head. Like everything else, you have an unfair advantage.”

She smothered a laugh at that and leaned against the passenger-side door. “All right,” she said calmly. “There are only three guys in the world who’ve managed to get me off every time we’ve been together. And of those three, there’s just been one who I’ve been with more than twice.”

“Damn.” Dean tossed her a glance that was half-hopeful, half-nervous.

“That one was Wes,” she said. “The one I was with twice. First time we fucked, it came from nowhere. I was trying to distract him ’cause Zack was over and he was hurtin’ because of what happened to Fred. Kept running my mouth, trying to get him thinking of something else. He cracked up, which cracked me up, and the next thing I knew, we were goin’ at it like rabbits.”

The light had somewhat faded from Dean’s gaze. “I didn’t ask for the gory details. Just a number works.”

“We got road to kill, don’t we?” Faith drew her leg up and rested her elbow on her knee, studying him intently, trying to determine if the hard set of his jaw was jealousy or not. And hoping it was because she didn’t think any guy had ever been jealous of her formers before. She’d never let them get to that point. “Second time we were just supposed to talk and then clothes came off. The next day was the day I died. Wes was…surprising. But I kinda think both times were flukes. Would have to take him out for another spin to be sure, but that ain’t gonna happen.”

He glanced her way. “No?”

“Even if he knew I was alive and we were in the same state? Ducky, it turns out it’s kinda hard to get wet for the guy who got you killed.” Faith rested the back of her head against the window. “He didn’t dethrone my long-standing number one, though.”

“This is gonna be someone else I know, isn’t it?”

“Wright. I was a statutory thing then and high on hating myself. On the way to LA to see about a vamp. We crossed paths at a bar by a motel. This was back in his early days of hunting—before he found Cordy and settled down. I think it was because we hated ourselves so much that the sex was so good. I wasn’t a virgin or nothing when that happen, but he was the first guy who well and truly fucked me.”

Dean released a slow, measured breath. “Okay. Again, details aren’t exactly what I’m lookin’ for here, but thanks for putting everything in Technicolor.” He tossed her a glance. “Just tell me number three ain’t Nick.”

The thought alone was so ludicrous Faith burst out laughing so hard she hit the back of the window again, this time with enough impact to hurt. This only made the question funnier, and she wrapped her arms around her stomach as her fit intensified.

After a few seconds passed and she started to get a hold of herself, Dean broke in, his voice lighter. “Gonna guess that’s a no.”

“It’s a hell no. Nick was…fine. Beige. There wasn’t any fire behind it because all it was was a hookup.” These words were out before she could stop them, and damn, if that didn’t make her feel self-conscious, because just a hookup was supposed to be what she and Dean were. But fuck, she refused to back down, so she’d just have to hope that when he started to preen and gloat, he’d focus more on where he ranked than about what she’d said before she got to her new number one. “Reason it was good with Wright and Wes was there was fire behind both. Never any fire with Nick. We could fuck or we could not. It didn’t matter. He wanted to be fucking someone else most of the time we knew each other, anyway.”

“And that didn’t bother you?”

“Maybe a bit but not in the way you think.” When he looked at her again, she shrugged and directed her gaze out the windshield. “It was good with Wright because of the fire—like I said, we were both high on self-hate. But Wes was the first guy I was with who seemed to actually want me. Not just easy access pussy. And I think that’s what made it good, to be honest. Wright didn’t want me but he wanted something more than just a fuck—he wanted to feel something. Wes did too. With Nick, it was just a fuck. There was nothing else there. Dunno if I would’ve known the difference had Wes and I not been a thing for five minutes. It didn’t bother me that Nick wished I was someone else—it bothered me that I wasn’t wanted. That I could’ve been just anyone with just anyone and it wouldn’t have mattered. Fuck, I think that’s bothered me from the get-go.”

Jesus Christ, she needed to shut the fuck up. Hell, she should have just done the ranking thing like he’d said.

After a beat that stretched on a hair too long to still be comfortable, Dean cleared his throat and said, “So…number three?”

“Still wanna know, huh?”

“I’m a glutton for punishment.”

She snorted. Yeah, so was she, it seemed. “The cold truth, Ducky, is that my number three actually did dethrone Wright.”

Dean jerked his head toward her. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. But don’t tell him. It’ll go to his head and I don’t think I can fucking stand it.”

“Well, if he’s earned it, he’s earned it,” he said quickly. “Ain’t an easy keeping a slayer satisfied.” Now his chest was puffed out and he looked downright giddy. “Might be the highlight of his day to hear he’s a slayer’s best lay. When you think about it, it’s downright cruel to not tell the guy.”

Faith bit her lower lip to keep from snickering. “Yeah. And he’s had a rough day today.”

Dean gave an exaggerated nod. “Very rough.”

“The poor baby.”

He poked out his lower lip. “The poorest.”

“So, you have his number, right?”

The effect was immediate. Dean turned to her, his eyes wide and confused. “Huh?”

“Sounds like I need to call Cas. Make his day all better.”

“Ca—what. Cas?” The question came out somewhere between squawk and a shout. “I thought you said he was—”

Faith burst out laughing again—she couldn’t help it, and this time the laughter didn’t stop. And it felt good—really fucking good, especially after the fucked up day she’d had with emotions all over the fucking place and the threat of her next possible death on the horizon. She laughed so hard her stomach cramped and her sides ached, laughed until her eyes were stinging with tears and her lungs cried uncle. Laughed so hard the sound of Dean saying her name seemed muffled and far away.

It was only when she felt Dean cupping the back of her neck that the laughter died. And she realized they’d pulled over to the side of the road.

“Oh good,” Dean said shortly, though his eyes were bright. “Thought that might’ve broken you.”

“In my defense, it was fucking funny.”

“Yeah. Real laugh riot over here.” He thumbed away one of the tears that had spilled down her cheek, and she had to stifle another outburst before it erupted off her lips. “You’re gonna pay for that later, you know,” he said in a low tone.

“Why do you think I said it, Ducky?”

Dean smirked and pulled her to him for what she assumed was meant to be a quick kiss, but soon turned into one of the makeout sessions she knew would end them in the backseat if they weren’t careful. So, after a few seconds, she pushed on his chest until he took the hint and resituated himself behind the wheel, his lips swollen and his eyes a bit glassy. He flashed her a grin and started up the car again.

The air was quiet for a beat. Then another.

“Just for the record,” he said, “your new number one is me, right? I dethroned Mr. Hot Hate Sex. That’s what I got outta that.”

Faith rolled her eyes. “Fuck me.”

“Love to, bein’ your number one, but we got places to be.” He aimed one of those grins that managed to be mischievous boy and naughty adult all rolled up into one. “Just say it. You know you wanna.”

“Bite me, Winchester.”

“Is that how I got to number one?”

“You’re dangerously close to being cut off for life.”

“Nah, you couldn’t do that. Not to the best sex of your life.”

“You wanna try me?”

“That’s it. That counts. I’m calling it. You admitted it was me.” Dean did a little head and shoulder victory dance, the stupid-ass grin in place. “Ducky for the win.”

“Just drive, you cocky motherfucker.”

“Because the sooner we get this done, the sooner we—”

“That’s it.” Faith leaned over and started playing with the radio. “Not gonna land on a station until I hear Nickelback.”

Dean seized her hand before she could do more than hop a few stations. “All right. Back away from the radio and no one gets hurt.”

“You’ll be a good ducky?”

He nodded, though she saw the lie in his eyes.

Faith arched an eyebrow, then gave him a sweet smile. A super sweet smile.

“Okay, stop,” he said. “That’s freaking me out.”

“Just drive.”

“Yes, mistress.” But he smirked and tugged her across the bench so she was right up against him, and at that, Faith gave up.

For about twenty seconds.

“So,” she said slowly, “truth or dare?”

Chapter Text

“Is it just me, or are we all still kinda weirded out that Giles has a girlfriend?” Xander asked at random. “And that she’s younger and hotter.”

Nick cast a dubious glance first to Xander and then to Giles. “You honestly tell me this git helped save the world?”

“Hey now!” Xander snapped defensively. “I was just posing discussion topics to help pass the time.”

Giles gave the younger watcher an appreciative smile. “We were all shocked.”

The research group had thinned considerably since that smarmy demon had showed a few hours ago. Giles and Mary, this Xander and his partner Anya, and he and Rose. Nick had already texted Lorne to say he didn’t plan to open the bar tonight.

So, he wasn’t surprised when Lorne showed up at the bunker and looking meaner and greener than usual. “Nicky, you and I need to have a chat.”

“What the fuck?” Xander sputtered. “How big is this place? And where did he come from?”

Anya cocked her head. “Pylea I believe.”

“Huh?” Lorne gave her a curious glance. “Were you a demon at some point in the last millennia?”

Anya cracked a wide smile. “Thank you for noticing!”

“Lorne is Nick’s business partner,” Rosalie explained.

“Business partner is a loose term. You don’t have a business if you don’t open it for business,” Lorne snapped.

Dammit. He hadn’t wanted to mention anything to Rose. At least until after she noticed he’d never left for work. He rose from his seat at the table. “Can we discuss this anywhere else?”

“Sure. The bar. As you open it. In about,” Lorne glanced at the gold Rolex on his wrist. “About an hour.”

“He’s right,” Rose said, also rising to her feet. “You can’t just put life on hold because we’re staring at another apocalypse on the horizon.”

Anger hit him in the chest. He cast her a scornful look and saw by the way her eyes widened slightly that she knew he was close to a tantrum. “My life is you. That bloody bar is you. The whole reason I ever came to America was you. And this fucking apocalypse involves you. So how am I putting my life on hold by walking away from critical research to pour drinks to a bunch of demons and wankers, love?”

“I’m not on the list, remember?” His little Slayer clapped back. “Buffy and Faith proverbially grounded my ass.”

Nick took a steadying breath and pinched the bridge of his nose in attempt to calm himself. Jesus, he felt like they’d stepped back in time to the year of frustration he’d lived as her Watcher. “You’re always on the list. If anything happens to Faith” He looked up at her and emphasized himself. “Again!”

Rose folded her arms and whipped her head to Giles. “Tell him how wrong he is.”

Giles shook his head vigorously. “Do not put me into your lovers quarrel.”

Mary snickered before turning to the couple with a more serious expression. “Look, you’re both right. A series of somethings could go wrong and this thing opens and Rosalie has to close it. But there’s a lot of time between now and then so we shouldn’t just sit around and wait for it.”

Nick scoffed. “The research—“

“Is in very capable hands,” Mary finished by placing a hand on Giles’ arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Rupert has more knowledge and experience on the subject than anyone alive or dead.”

“Uhh…” Xander said weakly. “I was kinda there, too.”

Mary gave the guy a condescending look. “Yeah, but I said knowledge so that cut you out of the running.”

Giles snorted. “Bloody hell, I love you,” he said giving Mary an adorning look.

“Fantastic!” Lorne said at last. “I think things are settled. Come on, lover boy. Let’s get to work.”

Nick almost stamped his feet like a petulant child. “Things are not bloody well settled!”

“Yes, they are,” Rosalie said in her patent Wright family tone. “Tonight at least, you’re going to get your ass down to that cantina and you’re gonna open it and you’re gonna make us lots of money.” She took a breath. “And I’m going to go change and patrol.”

Fuck no!” Nick bellowed. “You are not patrolling alone.”

A dangerous look crossed her eyes. “Try and fucking stop me, Hunter. I dare you.” She unfolded her arms and took a menacing step forward. “That’s right. You can’t. And you don’t have Faith or Buffy here to be your muscle. You don’t even have Sam to threaten me with some stupid form of punishment.”

“Rose—“

“I’ve been living this life almost as long as Buffy and Faith. I was a hunter long before a slayer and I know damn well how to do my job.”

Giles cleared his throat. “It hasn’t been a full year since you were chosen. Slayer rules mandate—“

“Fuck the rules,” Rosalie huffed. “Besides, look around. Who’s here right now? Huh?”

“I won’t open the bar if you insist on going alone,” Nick threatened. “If not me, you’ll go out with someone else.”

“Giles and Mary need to research.”

“Fine,” Nick accepted. “Take Xander.”

“Uhh…” the man in question stuttered. “No offense, but I rather not. She kinda reminds me of her mom and it’s kinda freaky considering I dated her back in the day.”

Nick slowly turned to the man with a new surge of anger in his veins. “You’re attracted to her?”

“Not a lot…because I also see her dad and…well he kinda always scared me.”

“I’ll go,” Anya chimed in. “I find her neither attractive or scary. Also, slayers generally show off by killing all the demons and monsters before anyone else can participate. I do not mind this because it means I don’t have to put out much effort.”

Nick looked to Giles for help. In return he was met with a shrug. “She was once a vengeance demon.”

Nick glared up at his girlfriend. “You take the vengeance demon.”

“Former,” Anya added loudly. “I wish to clarify that to anyone who may have ability to kill me that I am now a full-blooded human.”

“I’m gonna ditch her,” Rosalie warned.

“And I will personally make sure you’re found.”

“Great!” Lorne chirped. “Sounds like you two lovebirds worked everything out. Let’s go, crumpet.”

He gave Rose one last look of contempt before allowing his business partner to drag him away. “I’m warning you, Rose.”

“And I’m ignoring you, Nick.”

He was relatively confident that Rosalie was the stubbornest of the slayers…and he’d met the competition.

*~*~*

Zack and Kelly had delayed leaving in order to pack the kids stuff and say their last goodbyes. Wright and Cordy had to go meet the plane to Wichita, so Kelly had also finished getting things ready for their baby niece.

Damn, it was hard. Zack had gave baby K snuggles and kisses before doing the same with his baby boy. Will was growing so fast, but he was still so quiet and shy. He didn’t do too good around strangers and Zack worried how hard it would be to adjust. “It’s going to be fine,” he whispered in his son’s ear after sitting down on his knees. “You get to go be inside Harry Potter. Truthfully, I’m jealous.”

“You are?” Will whispered back.

“Totally. Magic and fun. All the new toys and games. Man, you’re gonna get the coolest stories!” He pulled back to look him in the eyes. “Mom and I are just a phone call away. And we’ll try and call every day. Just don’t get worried if we miss one.” He kissed Will’s forehead. “I’ll buy you a present every day we miss, okay?”

That sealed the deal for the kid. Bribery was a key to any Morris heart. He wrapped his dad in a hug and gave him a kiss before running off to his mom.

Zack sighed as he looked up to see Rosie looking at him with those eyes that held a wisdom way beyond her years. He was still on his knees as he crooked a finger beckoning her closer. “You’re sending us away,” Rosie said when she approached. “You’re sending us away because someone’s going to die.”

“Do you know that?” He felt his breathing cease.

“No, but I know it’s bad.”

Zack sighed with relief. A vision was different than intuition or worry. “Well, unless you get a vision, try to keep the doom and gloom on the down low.”

“Are you really going to call like you told Will? You guys didn’t call before.”

“Last time was different. We were…” He didn’t really want to explain getting in touch with their inner vampire to his kid. “Camping.” Yeah, She didn’t buy it. “Whatever. Point is that yeah we plan on checking in.”

He felt like such a douchey dad with what he pulled from his pocket. He’d sent Lisa for it the second after the decision was made to send the kids overseas. Luckily, he was from California, the home of douchey dads. He was in good company. “Here,” he said placing the smartphone in her hands.

While a kitten was awesome to a nine year old, a cellphone was like winning the lottery. “Is this the iPhone XS Max?”

Zack looked down. “Fuck if I know,” he whispered. He looked up at her to watch her study the device with child-like wonder. “You know what this means?”

She was gone. Lost in her head and totally done listening to her dad. He cupped her cheeks with his hands and brought her face up to look at only his face. “Real talk, girlfriend.” She smiled and nodded. “I talked to Aunt Lisa and made sure I can track every call you make, every text you send, every app you open, every site you search and every move you make. You feel me?”

“Yes,” she said with an eye roll.

“I’m the king of schemes and cons. Remember that everything you think of, I’ve already done it twice. So no looking for any spells and black magic to pull any shit. And no porn.”

“Dad!” Rosie cried in embarrassment. “Porn? I’m nine!”

Zack looked up to see a room full of adults giving him the stink eye. Fuck them, this was his girl. “I’m just warning you.” He released her face and wrapped her in a giant hug. “Damn, I’m gonna miss you, baby,” he choked.

He smelled her tears as she started to cry. She wasn’t ever like other kids. She saved her tears for moments that mattered. And while it wasn’t the first time he’d had to leave her, this time was different. This time he was sending her away. “Please let me stay,” she whimpered into his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “But you know why you can’t.” He kissed the top of her head. “I love you until the end of time.”

“I love you until the end of time,” she said as she pulled her face back to give him a pouty frown.

He tried not to break at the sight of her puffy, swollen eyes and pink tear-streaked cheeks. His brother had been so right when he described being a parent earlier today. “Just remember, they lock up kids over in England so don’t get too wild.”

She gave him a skeptical look. “No, they don’t.”

“Yeah,” he said with an eye roll. “They do. Azkaban is for adults, but they have a juvenile detention facility.”

“You’re lying.” He almost smiled when he saw a glimmer of doubt cross her face.

“I’m just warning you. My passport is out of date since college. It’ll take me some time to come and bust you out.” He kissed her cheek. “So be good. Call me at every stop.” He rose to his feet and turned to give Ginny Potter a wink. “They’re all yours.”

“Nice touch,” the witch said with a smirk as Rosie and Will ran to grab the carryons.

“It only works if you can sell it,” he muttered under his breath.

“I’ve got three at home. Got it covered, mate.”

*~*~*

“You first.”

They were pretty close to the Men of Letters chapter house, and he figured she had to be as nervous as him. They had every chance of running into Lucifer and Willow again and it scared Dean shitless.

“Fine.” Dean had decided to keep things on the lighter side when he asked for confessions. “Sometimes…” Why did he think this was a good idea? “Sometimes…I like country music.”

“No!” She clutched a hand to her chest. “That’s as bad a Nickelback.”

“Fuck you,” he said wagging a finger toward her. “And no. But almost. I turn it on why I’m riding by myself. Sometimes the older stuff like Willie Nelson and David Allen Coe. Sometimes…” he blushed as he spoke. “Carrie Underwood.”

“Wow,” she said at last. “You actually made a confession.”

“You’re turn.” He gave her a demanding look. “And remember we agreed what’s said in Baby stays in Baby.”

“Shut up, Shania,” Faith teased before growing more serious. “Hell, I dunno.” She was quiet a bit. “Fine. My mom wasn’t one of those motherly types that sat you down and explained the facts of life. So when change came a comin’…” Damn him. “I called 911. I was home alone and thought I was dying.”

If she’d expected a laugh, she would be disappointed. That story was kinda…nope. She’d get mad if he gave her pity. “That doesn’t count,” he scoffed. “Of course you would. If blood starting coming out my dick, I’d call 911, too.”

“Seriously?” She shuffled uncomfortably. “You’re not just trying to be stupid and nice?”

He was, but not like he’d tell her if she didn’t figure it out. “Baby, if blood starts coming from my dick, I want you to call for help. Now give me a good one. Something funny.”

She sat back in the seat and stared out the windshield for a minute. “Okay. So I met this guy at a bar.”

His gut twisted. He didn’t judge her for being a woman who wasn’t afraid of her sexuality, but he could only take so many tales of Faith fucking. “Peachy.”

“Shut up, Ducky,” she snickered. “You’ll like this one.” She turned to brace her back against the door and cross her legs in the seat. “So, met guy, yadda yadda, we end up at his place. He takes me to the bedroom and the clothes come off.” She paused when he threw her a look of disgust. “Seriously! Let me finish. The dude starts getting all handsy and kissy. I figure he’s heading downtown so I’m all fine and dandy, but then he keeps going and all of a sudden he licks my foot.”

His brows perked up. “You got a foot fetish?”

She shook her head and giggled. “The opposite. Fucking tickled so bad I jerked my leg and knocked out one of his teeth.”

“No way!” He barked a laugh.

“Needless to say, night was over. But I learned something about myself that night.”

“So, little Miss Fay has ticklish toes.” He reached out to snatch her shoe and give it a wiggle.

“Watch it,” she joked. “I just told you what happened to the last guy who touched my feet.”

He smirked. “Well, I’m into a few things, but licking feet ain’t one.”

“Like what?” she asked. “It’s your turn anyway, so go ahead. I know about the naughty nurse. You got more?”

He could blow it off, but he had started the whole confession game. He shrugged. “Fine. Yeah. I uhh…kinda like a little role play in the bedroom.”

“Whatcha done?”

“Not much,” he admitted. “Maybe a little dirty talk with a stripper here and there. ‘You’ve been a naughty boy’ kinda thing.” He gave her a sheepish grin. “Because I can be a naughty boy.”

“Yeah, I know.” She rolled her eyes. “But you’re talking more, right? Like a sexy nurse or French maid costume. You wanna get into character, huh?”

“If you’re mocking me I will totally tickle you in your sleep.”

“I’ll hurt you and I’m not.” She braced her elbows on her knees. “Are they normal fantasies or weird ones? Like, are you a furry?”

“No!” He paused. “Well, I dunno…I kinda like anime.”

“You watch Sailor Moon?”

“You watch Sailor Moon?” he asked hopefully.

“No. Only nerds watched that. I just overheard enough to make fun of them like the bully I am.”

“Well…I don’t watch Sailor Moon. Per-say.”

She arched a brow. “What? You watch anime porn?”

He shifted uncomfortably in the seat, gripping the wheel a little tighter.

“Holy fucky, Ducky! You do!” She burst out laughing.

“Shut up!” he snapped.

“You’re the sexiest geek ever!” Faith cackled.

“Well, I’m the best you’ve ever had, so what’s that say about you?”

“Gimme a minute,” she said through her giggles. “It’s like learning James Bond plays Pokémon.”

Dean wanted to shoot himself. Who sat and told the girl they liked shit like watching anime porn? No wonder he stuck to random hookups. He shut up and focused on the road. This is why he didn’t talk about himself. Stupid motherfucker.

The car grew quiet as Faith’s amusement decreased in volume. He couldn’t stand to look at her at the moment. He felt like a goddamn fool and he didn’t need her snarky looks to rub it in.

“I’ve always kinda had a fantasy.”

Dean was pretty sure this was the start of a joke. He wasn’t in the mood.

“It started as soon as I was old enough to start…well, getting horny enough to masturbate. I dunno why, but it was always the same. Alone in my bed, asleep. I wouldn’t wake up until it was too late and the fire had spread to my room.” She paused. “The firefighter would burst through the window and grab me just before the flames touched me, pulling me from the flames. Holding me in his arms.” Her breath hitched slightly. “Rescuing me.”

Tentatively he snuck a peek at her and found her cheeks were flaming red, her gaze focused on the hands in her lap. “Laugh it up, jackass,” she muttered. “Faith has a white knight kink.”

He swallowed hard, searching for the right words. Instead of taking his moment of vulnerability and kicking it aside, she’d actually offered him one of her own. It may not seem like much to a normal person, but he and Faith weren’t normal. He knew her confession was in solidarity to his own. And to him, that meant a lot.

“So…you want the full outfit or just the hat?”

She looked up at him. “What?”

“I’m not committing arson, but I got an ax. I can break down the bathroom door in some motel room.”

“Are you fucking mocking me?”

“No,” he said in all seriousness. “Just figuring out how we’re gonna play this. Would candles help? What if I get some of those rubber pants with the overalls? Yellow?”

She studied his face for a moment before a grin cracked across her face. “Ducky, you’re fucking crazy.”

“I’m sure they gotta sell this shit on Amazon, right? Otherwise we just rob a fire station on our way out of town.” He pulled up to their destination. “Or?” He looked up at the building. “Maybe after we search the place we do commit some arson. I’m game if you are.”

She lunged across the seat to give him a brief but passionate kiss. She pulled back and then went in to give him one last peck on the lips. “Come on, my geeky ducky.”

Chapter Text

Buffy didn’t get creeped out anymore. Well, much. This place creeped her out. Mostly because she had no idea what she’d see when they crossed the threshold. There was every chance that she was about to encounter the devil for the first time, and even with all of her considerable experience at her disposal, this was one introduction she felt she could never have truly prepared for.

“You feeling anything?” she asked, tossing Spike a glance as they approached the door. While she’d been a vampire for going on a decade now, she felt inclined to defer to his experience when facing an unknown. Her slayer instincts and vampire instincts sometimes had a way of canceling each other out, or overriding the other so the result was difficult to read.

“Smells empty,” Spike replied. “Not sure how much I trust that, given those wankers who abducted you and Zangy few months back.”

That was true. She and Zack had been hijacked by demons who were virtually undetectable. And since Lucifer was apparently a senior partner at Wolfram and Hart, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that he’d use the same henchmen.

“Fangs out, love.” Spike seized her hand, his voice deeper, as it always grew when he vamped. “Be ready for anythin’, yeah?”

“Okay.” She also had a stake on her. Old habit and all. It might not reduce everything it came into contact with to dust, but she had enough muscle to put the hurt on just about anything with a well-aimed throw.

The second they were within range of the door, though, all of her instincts—slayer and vamp alike—went on high alert. She looked to Spike again, whose expression confirmed he saw what she saw. The door was ajar, and the area within pulsed with magic—not so much that it overwhelmed, but the small opening the door left enabled her to sense it. Whatever it was had been confined within the compound’s walls.

Buffy edged forward, her fangs sliding into place. With that came the heightened senses of her vampiric eyesight, as well as a tingle of awareness that hadn’t been there before. She ran her thumb over the ring on her finger to reassure herself it was there, then slipped inside.

The air was practically electric. Her skin buzzed, the hair on her arms standing at attention. And even though she didn’t need to breathe anymore, she felt her lungs constrict on instinct. The floor seemed to shift under each step, like she could see the molecules of air curling around her feet and responding. Had she been a human, this would have made her dizzy—since she wasn’t, the most it did was put her on alert.

Also thick in the air was a scent she knew very well.

“Willow?”

“Buffy!”

Something in her chest lightened. Her friend definitely didn’t sound like a witch on the verge. “Willow, wanna cool it with the Prince music video? It stinks in here.”

And suddenly, Buffy couldn’t move. Like at all. Her feet were planted to the floor, her arms locked, her hand still curled around her stake. The only parts of her that had any autonomy were her eyes and mouth. And the creeped-out sensation she’d experienced outside abruptly exploded into all-out fear.

“Spike?” she said, her voice higher than normal.

“Here, love.”

“Can you move?”

“Not a lick.”

Buffy focused on the dark ahead of her. “Will, can you can-it with the freeze-frame while you’re at it? We’re not here to hurt anyone.”

The voice that answered was not her friend’s.

“Aww, shucks.” Something moved in the dark, and then she saw two orange pinpoints of light at eye-level. Pinpoints attached to a face that matched the one Sam and Dean had described as Lucifer’s old meat-suit, which, gross but apt descriptor. “I was so hoping for the other one. But you… Aren’t you a little peach? I’m tickled—tickled, I tell you—to finally meet the famous Bunny the Vampire Slayer in person.”

A warning growl issued through Spike’s throat. The devil didn’t take his eyes off her, just gave her a resigned smile—the same Spike often gave her when he was entertaining something he found ridiculous.

“Much ado about vampires with souls,” Lucifer continued, dragging his gaze up and down her body in a way that made her crave a shower. “Lot of noise from both ends. But after a while, it gets a little boring.”

“Michael—”

“Quiet,” Lucifer said. “It’s not polite to interrupt…”

Michael? Buffy tore her gaze from the devil’s and looked over his shoulder. “Willow, whatever he’s told you, he’s lying.”

“Well, that’s nice and original,” Lucifer drawled. Then, rolling his eyes, shouted, “Looks like Dean’s worked his mojo over your friends, too. That boy is a menace. Though we were hoping to head him off here—figured Roswell would be a natural pick for him. So if you’re here, I’m going to guess that Dean and the Fantastic Miss Faith—how’s she doing, by the way?”

Buffy kept her mouth shut.

“Oh, it’s okay, sweetheart. I know she’s alive.” Lucifer clasped his hands to his chest and barked a laugh. “Thank Dad, right? That would have been embarrassing. But Faith is important to us. More important than, oh say, you. Also, if I’m being honest, I just like her more. She has something you just don’t.”

“Michael, Buffy could help—”

Lucifer raised his hand. “I believe I said to be quiet.”

A hard clack rang through the air, and though Buffy couldn’t see Willow, she knew what had happened. The devil had snapped her mouth shut.

“See what kinda company you’re keepin’, Red?” Spike yelled. “This wanker’s—”

“And this must be William,” Lucifer said, at last turning to look at Spike. “The vampire without a soul, playacting like he has one anyway. My, my, what happened to you, man? Just look at you. Housebroken and pussy-whipped. All that raw potential just…wasted. It’s sad.” He turned back to Buffy. “What do you say, Bunny, should I put him out of his misery?”

Buffy’s eyes went wide, and though her heart hadn’t jumped in years, she would have sworn she felt it take a dive. “You touch him and I’ll make you bleed.”

Lucifer favored her with a lazy grin. “See, that is the fire I’m looking for, William. I can kinda understand what you see in her.” He lifted a hand and looked again to Spike. “Can you even handle that kind of fire anymore? I think we should find out.” He paused, flicked his gaze over his shoulder, then added, “You know, in the name of God. You evil thing, you.”

The ring. Spike has the ring. Lucifer doesn’t know that.

But even still, Buffy had never been more terrified in her life. She was aware of herself in ways she never had been before—the hands she couldn’t move. The legs that refused to budge. The drop in her stomach and the bone-crushing fear lining through a body that couldn’t respond. Because if there was any force on this world that could bypass the magic of the rings, she was looking at it.

“Love you, Buffy. No matter what happ—”

Lucifer snapped his fingers, the sound of a small explosion filled the quiet, and the room was suddenly ablaze, and Spike screamed, and Buffy could do nothing but stand there. An awful pressure at her chest, tears stinging her eyes and every molecule of her body shrieked. In the light, she could see Willow now—Willow’s horror-stricken face yards behind the devil, the fire reflecting in her eyes. Spike engulfed, screaming, flames licking up and down his arms and in his hair and oh god, she was going to have to watch. She was going to have to watch the devil kill the man she loved.

Then Willow turned her gaze on Lucifer and raised her hands, and a mess of light burst from her palms and crashed into the asshole with such force he went flying into the wall at his right. At once, Buffy could move again. In seconds, she was at Spike’s side, screaming and crying over him, her hands mapping the charred, scorched lines of his arms, cupping his face, demanding that he answer her. That he tell her he was okay. That he not fucking die here, dammit.

It was only seconds, she knew, but it felt like centuries before he opened his eyes. “All good, love,” he said, then coughed. “Think the bloody ring took the brunt of it.”

Yeah, it probably had. Fire like that on most vamps would have rendered them to ash. Still, the fact that his skin was burnt and his hair was singed made Buffy aware of his mortality in ways she hadn’t since England. Since Glory had snagged him and tortured the stuffing out of him, first believing he was the Key then believing he knew where the Key was. Of everything the ring had done, including giving her back the sun, its greatest gift was the relief of knowing that the fear she’d felt that day would never again be necessary, because Spike had become unkillable.

“Don’t do that to me,” Buffy said, then took his mouth in a hard kiss. “Never, ever do that to me again.”

“Same goes, Slayer,” Spike replied, and flashed her a grin. And it was the grin more than anything that assured the beast in her chest that he was all right.

And once that fear was put to bed, all that was left was instinct. The instinct of the demon that lived under her skin—the one that had believed for a few awful seconds that her mate was about to burn alive. Buffy snarled and whipped back to the lump that was Lucifer, who moaned and sizzled from where he’d collided with the wall. Willow was there, too, looking stricken and hovering over him like a concerned mother.

A roar tore through Buffy’s throat, and the next thing she knew, she was moving, feet pounding against the floor. Willow turned just in time to flash her a startled look, then Buffy launched herself at the devil, buried her fangs into his throat and tore.

“Buffy!” Spike screamed from somewhere behind her. “Buffy, no!”

“Buffy, no!” Willow echoed, though in shock rather than fear. “He’s an angel. An angel. You can’t!”

For his part, Lucifer released a pitiful whimper, weakly shoving at Buffy but lacking the strength to do more than piss her off. Whatever Willow had hit him with had zapped him but good, which was the only reason Buffy had aimed her fangs at him and not her once bestie. So maybe she could end this here, now. Why the hell not? His blood tasted putrid and his skin smelled something like decay but not—he wasn’t dead but he wasn’t alive either, and everything was wrong.

“Buffy!”

Then she was flying through the air again, only in reverse, Lucifer and Willow zooming away from her at a speed she wouldn’t have believed before her back smashed into the wall on the other side of the room. The force of the impact had her fangs piercing her tongue, and the taste of her own blood filled her mouth. And though she could tell that she’d feel the force of the hit soon, at the moment, she was too jazzed on adrenaline and pure hate to slow down. Buffy leaped her way back to her feet in an instant and spat out a mouthful of blood.

She would have started running again to finish the job, but the space on the floor where her blood had landed glowed back at her, burning a bright vivid orange that hurt her eyes.

Across the room, Willow gasped. “Orange,” she whispered. “It turned orange.”

Lucifer still seemed a bit on the groggy side, but he was climbing to his feet, his eyes glowing as they had when he’d first stepped out of the shadows. Buffy was caught in an odd place between absolute dread and relief. Dread that the devil was up again, but relief—pure, unadulterated relief—at the fatigue on his face and the way he grasped at his neck. That he was stumbling around meant he could feel real pain.

Which meant he could be killed.

Buffy grinned. All she needed to do was get her fangs into his throat and finish the job.

This must have been all over her face, for Willow fitted Lucifer’s arm over her shoulder, her eyes wide and stricken.

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” she yelled across the spans of the dark bunker. “I’ll explain everything later. I promise.”

Oh no. No, no, no, no.

Buffy broke into a hard run, but knew it was too late. Willow was turning on the spot, as she’d seen her do so many times, and then there was a loud crack and devil and witch disappeared.

*~*~*

Willow was shaking too hard to maintain her balance. The second her feet touched the ground of her room, she wavered under Michael’s weight and stumbled toward the desk pressed against the wall, panting hard. Her mind was racing and her pulse pounded, and everything was confused and wrong.

Buffy’s blood had turned orange on the floor. Orange. The spell she’d cast there shouldn’t have affected her at all—meant solely to locate the ingredients needed to seal the Hellmouth for good. And it made sense that the last ingredient should be the blood of the Slayer—it had closed it before and would again. Michael had been certain that Dean and Faith would hit the bunker in Roswell and that this would be their chance to rescue Faith from Dean’s influence, get her on the side of good.

Instead, it had been Buffy. Buffy. And Spike. And Willow did not understand a damn thing she’d seen.

Buffy’s blood had glowed orange. Slayer blood was supposed to glow gold. Orange was similar to gold, but not quite the same. But did that mean something?

“You,” Michael said softly from where he was crouched beside the bed, one hand at the gaping hole Buffy had torn open at his neck. “You clumsy, idiotic girl. You attacked me.”

“You attacked my friends,” Willow shot back, her heart thundering. “Buffy is not evil. And Spike… Well, Spike’s evil-lite. And he’s mated to Buffy.”

“Buffy isn’t evil?” Michael laughed, climbing to his feet. He gestured at his throat. “Does she know that?”

“You had attacked her mate! You know vampires and mates—it’s all grr and instinct. And why the hell did you attack Spike?”

Michael blinked at her. “Oh, I’m sorry. I see a soulless vampire and I think evil. The fact that they were there at all means that Dean’s gotten his hooks into them. How was I supposed to know there were acceptable degrees of soullessness?”

That didn’t sound right. The things Michael had said to Spike before he’d lit him on fire had been more familiar than a guy meeting the vampire for the first time. But dammit, she couldn’t think of any other explanation. Michael had been on the money about everything else. And she had seen the demon mark on Dean’s chest with her own two eyes.

Just how powerful was this Dean guy?

“I don’t know what you kids have been telling yourselves about vampires, but there is no such thing as evil-lite. Even if Spike thinks there is, he’s a puppet waiting for someone like Dean to come along and pull the strings,” Michael said a moment later, his tone a deceptive type of calm that both reassured her and made her nervous. Because it sounded like he was back in control, only Willow would be the first to admit that Michael in control could be kind of wiggy. “Soulless demons can be convinced of about anything. They are inherently selfish creatures—all you have to do is sell them the right lie, which is something Dean Winchester excels at. And if Spike is indeed mated to his pet slayer, then he has a measure of control over her, too. Don’t you know anything?”

Willow just gaped at him, at a loss for words.

“I’ll take that as a no. Here’s an easier question: is Spike the one that made Buffy?”

Well, that story was a little complicated, but in terms of whose blood did the reanimation? “Yes.”

Michael nodded. “Well, there you go. Never, ever underestimate the ties that bind sires to the fledglings they make. Angels can see it, you know. That sort of ingrained blood magic. It was obvious to me the second she walked in tonight.”

“It was?” Willow had never heard of such a thing.

“Yes. And I needed to see how deep the corruption ran. That Spike is both her sire and her mate makes her especially susceptible. And strong.” Michael raised his head and fixed her with a blank stare. “If you had allowed me to end his life, we might have been able to use her.”

This was more information than Willow could handle—too large to be picked apart, yet terrifying in how much sense it made. Because no other vampire had ever behaved the way Spike did. Not one. And if soulless creatures could be convinced of just about anything, then it was possible Spike had allowed himself to become convinced that he’d changed, so he was blind to his own weaknesses. And yeah, if that was true, it was bad on levels that she’d never considered.

“What do we do?” Willow asked hoarsely.

Michael huffed. “We? My dear, we do nothing. Dean and Faith were not in Roswell…” He straightened and waved a hand over the area on his throat. A flash of white and he was whole again. “Guessing little Dean wanted to stay close to home base. Which means I’m St. Louis bound.”

Willow hurried forward, her eyes wide. “I can help. I—”

“Stop.” Michael held up a hand. “You just nearly allowed your friend to kill me. This is after you almost sent Faith back to dear old Dad. You’re back in timeout. And Missy, I want you to think about what you’ve done.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just… These are my friends. I don’t want to hurt them.”

“Well, throwing Faith through a bus wasn’t the best way to convey that. And we have big plans for her.” Michael offered a smile that she thought might have been his version of comforting, but it looked more like a wince.

“You need me to do the spell,” Willow said, thinking again of Buffy’s orange, glowing blood. And wondering. “What point is there in going to St. Louis if you can’t find the blood?”

Michael hesitated at that, a shadow falling over his face. A beat passed, then another, then he sighed and inclined his head. “All right. When you’re right, you’re right. Just try to avoid tossing Faith around like a ragdoll. Dean, on the other hand… Well, little witch, get as creative as you like.”

Willow wasn’t about to spill blood if she could help it, but then she thought of Spike. Of Buffy, who was attached to him. Of the ever-growing list of casualties. And she wondered.

But could she live with herself if she killed again?

Willow released a deep breath and nodded as the angel neared. With any luck, she’d never have to find out.

*~*~*

So far, this place was nothing but dust.

Faith wasn’t sure where one would keep something like a vial of dead slayer blood from more than a century ago. She’d done many a freaky thing in her time, but keeping around spare body fluids hadn’t made the list.

The St. Louis bunker was thankfully not as large as the one in Lebanon—probably because it’d be harder to keep on the DL here, whereas Lebanon had three people and two of them didn’t count. Still, she could easily picture Nick or Giles geeking their merry little hearts out over this place. And hell, there were probably books somewhere that hadn’t seen the light of day in ages.

But so far, nothing practical. Well, beyond the weapon’s room, which had more goodies to load up in the car. These Men of Letters asshats needed to learn to take better care of their toys.

“Anything, Ducky?” she called, then winced as the echo shouted back at her.

“This place is a bit of a letdown,” Dean replied, coming into view, shouldering a double-barrel shotgun and some live rounds. “Though I don’t mind the spare guns.”

“You gonna leave me any toys?”

He smirked at her. “Didn’t know you were the kinda girl who needed toys.”

“Well, you never know when someone’s gonna le