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The Lamb


Chapter 4. It Pours From Your Eyes. It Spills From Your Skin.

Dean pulled up into the mostly vacant parking lot. He slammed the car door and walked inside, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket, the collar flipped up to block out the gust of cool wind drifting over the plains. The bar was almost empty. A couple of ranch hands sat at a table in the back, drinking pints and flipping cards over. A young woman sat at the bar, a sweaty bottle of brew in front of her. Dean shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly and went up to the bar to sit near her, one stool between them. He pulled off his coat and sat down across the stool, nodding to the bartender for a pint of whatever was on tap. He picked at the bowl of pretzels sitting on the counter, tossing a few twists into his dry mouth.

Twitching an eye in her direction, he studied the woman. She was attractive with her slender pointed nose and her pale pink skin. She wore a pair of dark blue jeans and a black top with a black leather jacket. A simple silver cross lay against her breastbone. Dean’s eyes admired her slight curves, the way her pant legs tapered around black boots. Strapped to her ankle, visible in shadow beneath her pant leg, he spotted a knife. It was a good-sized weapon with a long handle. Interesting. With her jacket hanging open the way it did, he could see a small clear flask in her inside pocket, clear water sloshing around inside it. Glancing at her face a second time, he noticed the scar over her brow.

“Working a case or just passing through?” Dean asked casually, taking a swig of the beer in front of him.
“What?” Buffy looked up and past her shoulder at him. Her thoughts scattered to the four corners of the room.
“Well, either that, or you’re an undercover nun.”
“You caught me. South Dakota is dripping with sin. I’m just trying to break into the scene.” Buffy smirked. She touched the cross on her chest thoughtfully.
“Actually, I was referring to the holy water in your pocket. Do nuns carry holy water? I guess I just assumed.”
“This?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the flask. Tenderly, she set the bottle down on the counter and looked at it. “It could be vodka. Or gin. You don’t know.”
“So you’re a nun that likes her gin. Or vodka. I guess you’re just a proud and devout drunk.”
“The cat is out of the bag.”
“Alright. Well, I like the outfit anyway. It’s very Sound of Music meets The Terminator.”
“Whereas you’re more of…hm, rebellious cop posing as a mechanic,” she smiled, reaching out behind him to grab the butt of the gun protruding from his back pocket. She set it heavily on the bar.
“Right on the money,” Dean nodded.

They sat in silence for a beat, their eyes poised on one another. Buffy admired the state of his hands, scraped and raw. Dirt gummed up the spaces under his fingernails. His eyes were slightly rimmed with redness, but the green irises were dull and sad. He wore a peculiar little brass pendant against a dusty black tee shirt. There was a hole in the right knee of his jeans.
“Those knuckle scrapes are the worst. They take forever to heal and you’ll always have a couple of scars.” She held out her own hand to show him a few hairline scars.
“Bar fight?”
“Not exactly,” Buffy shrugged. She drew back her hand and looked down at it. “I was digging around in the dirt.”
“Gardening,” Dean smirked. “I hear that stuff’ll tear you up.”
“So, do you have a name, Officer?” She swigged the last few drops of beer from the bottle and pushed it away.
“Dean Winchester.”
“Buffy Summers,” Buffy replied. “Look, I don’t mean to sound forward, but I’m a long way from home and there aren’t many places to spend the night in the middle of…wherever it is we are.”
“I knew I sat down in the right place. Not many places on earth where a nun asks to come home with you.”
“Yeah,” Buffy shrugged. “At least I know that gun will keep the crazies away.”

Dean threw a couple dollars on the counter and slid off his stool, depositing the pistol in the back of his jeans. Buffy walked out with him, zipping up her coat as they reached the exit. Dean popped open the passenger door for her and turned down the volume on the radio before he stirred up the engine.
“So what are you hunting?” Dean asked casually, pulling out of the lot.
“Nothing,” Buffy shrugged. “I’m retired.”
“Can you really just retire? Can you give it all up?”
“It’s for the best.” Her voice sounded final, and Dean decided not to pursue the conversation. He pulled up to the creaking old house in the middle of the salvage yard and shut off the engine.
“I’m staying with an old family friend, Bobby. He shouldn’t mind you shacking up overnight.”
“Bobby Singer?”
“You know him?”
“Not exactly. He’s a friend of a friend.”

Dean stretched out on the sofa and kicked his feet up on the armrest. He stuffed the pillows around his head and rolled onto his left side, his skull tucked into the cushions. Sleep was difficult, pierced with nightmares and screams. The damned trickled from the recesses of his memory and swarmed toward his eyes, pecking at the veins and muscles with what felt like prodding hot pokers. Dean tossed and turned maniacally, throwing away the jacket he’d pulled across his torso. He woke with a sudden start, his arms and legs flailing. A few rays of moonlight drifted into the living room, sprawling across the floorboards. The kitchen light flooded the hallway and voices seeped down along with it.

Unable to shut his eyes again, Dean swung his legs over the edge of the couch and stood up. He rubbed a hand over his face, wiped his eyes with his fingers, and slumped down toward the source of the yellowed light. Buffy Summers sat at the kitchen table. She’d removed her jacket, and Dean immediately noticed the slim musculature of her arms, the softness of her figure, and the sharply contrasting hardness of her eyes. She looked tired, as tired as Dean felt having awoken in the middle of the night. Her lips moved and the voice followed sometime after, like a movie played out of sync with the soundtrack. Another voice, a man’s voice, replied to her in kind.
“Sammy?” Dean called out, his voice gruff and dehydrated. Buffy’s head turned to face him. She didn’t smile in acknowledgement, but seemed almost to frown.
“He’s here.”
“Dean,” said the second voice. It came from a man, a man with short, messy brown hair and bright blue eyes. He wore a long khaki trench coat over a simple blue suit. His eyebrows turned down, giving him a sad facial expression. He stood near Bobby’s kitchen sink, a few feet away from where Buffy sat. His hands hung limply at his sides.
“Who the hell are you?” Dean choked.
“I am Castiel.”
“Did you let him in here?” Dean growled at Buffy, pointing his finger dangerously at the intruder.
“No,” Buffy sighed. “He followed me.”
“Dean. Do not be afraid. I am an angel of the Lord. I am the one that gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition.”
“Bullshit,” Dean swore, narrowing his eyes. “There’s no such thing.”
“I do not understand you humans. You have no faith.”
“It is really that hard to understand, Cas? Take a look around.” Buffy sneered at him bitterly.
“Do you know this guy?” Dean blinked, looking between the two of them.
“He’s really an angel,” Buffy sighed. “Wings, halo, extreme desire to be brutally honest, and completely clueless.”
“I have fought with Buffy before.”
“I lost,” Buffy frowned, narrowing her eyes.
“Is this why you wanted to come home with me? To introduce me to your friend?”
“I told you, Dean. He followed me. I didn’t know he was looking for you.”
“And you brought me out of Hell? Why?”
“We have work for you.” Castiel looked between the two of them, his eyes stern and bright. “I have come to bring you redemption.”

---
“Hey, Dean, wake up,” Sam beckoned, shaking his brother’s shoulder. Dean groaned and opened his eyes slowly, blinking to correct the blurriness in his vision.
“Sam?”
“Yeah, hey,” Sam nodded. “Look, I’m sure you were having some great Busty Asian Beauties fantasy, but we have a guest.”
“Castiel,” Dean grunted, sitting up. He rubbed the back of his head with one hand. He tried to remember the course of events from the previous night. When had he gone back to sleep?
“No,” Sam frowned. “It’s a girl. Bobby knows her. She said you brought her home from a bar?”
“Buffy.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, did you know she’s the Slayer?”
“The what?” Dean got to his feet and followed Sam into the kitchen. Buffy was still sitting in the same seat at the table. A cup of steaming coffee sat beside her, untouched. She looked up when Dean and Sam walked into the room. The tiredness in her eyes was still visible, as though she hadn’t gone to bed last night. Had she really sat in that same chair all night long?
“Was I dreaming?” Dean asked, splashing coffee into a faded blue novelty mug. He glugged down some of the acidic liquid and coughed at the taste.
“What did you dream?” Bobby asked quickly.
“It wasn’t a dream,” Buffy sighed. She finally got to her feet, taking the coffee mug with her. She leaned back against the kitchen counter and sipped at the drink, using both hands to hold the container.
“Could someone please explain?” Sam sighed, irritated.
“Castiel was here. He’s an angel. He was standing here in the kitchen, talking to us, last night.”
“An angel?” Sam gasped. “That’s…that’s incredible!”
“Buffy? You’ve seen him too?” Bobby blinked, taking off his hat as if he’d walked into church.
“Unfortunately, yes.”
“Back up. Sam said you’re the Slayer. What’s the Slayer?”
“I’m not the Slayer anymore. I’m retired.” Buffy looked down into the last of the mud at the bottom of her cup. She set it down in the sink and ran water into it. Brown sewage spilled over the sides of the mug and down the drain.
“The Slayer is a hunter, like you guys,” Bobby interjected. “Instead of picking up the practice circumstantially, she’s chosen by fate to kill demons, vampires, ghosts, and whatnot. The Slayer is always a woman, and usually short-lived. Buffy is the longest living Slayer in history.”
“Oh that’s only true if you count consecutive lives, Bobby,” Buffy replied bitterly. She turned off the faucet and looked back at the Winchester brothers. “If you look at it another way, I’m batting average.”
“Okay, so we have a Slayer and an angel?” Sam blinked, flabbergasted.
“He said he pulled me out of Hell. Is that even possible?”
“He’s an angel, Dean! If he picked you up out of the Pit, it had to be for something important! You’ve been saved! All this time we were worried you were picked up by a demon, and it turns out you’ve been specifically selected by God.”
“I’m just a guy, Sammy. What the Hell does God want with me?”
“Trust me on this,” Buffy interrupted before Sam could open his mouth again. She shoved her hands in her pockets and turned to walk out of the room. “It’s nothing good.”

Sam slapped the keys on his laptop furiously while Bobby leafed slowly through the pages of a large and dusty volume. In full research mode, there wasn’t much for Dean to do. He had always considered himself on the action end of the demon-fighting Winchester team. Sure, if push came to shove, he could submit to those endless hours of library index cards and old newspaper clippings, but today, there didn’t seem to be any need. Sam bit thoughtfully into a carrot stick as he thumbed through page after page of angelic lore. His eyes went wide and every other minute he’d yell “Hey guys! Listen to this!” Invariably, the small insight he provided had little to do with Castiel and more to do with how angels are great and lovely and have pretty wings. Dean could only stand so much of his throaty adoration. If he loved them so much, he could deal with them, Dean thought. Muttering something about fresh air, he followed the weary path of Buffy Summers and ended up outside on Bobby’s moldy front porch.

“It’s like an Evangelical telethon in there,” Dean groaned, letting the screen door slam shut behind his foot.
“I’m surprised you’re not bouncing up and down about it too.” Buffy didn’t look up. She’d perched herself on the top porch step, her knees drawn up against her chest.
“You don’t know me very well,” Dean shrugged.
“Likewise.”
“So, how do you know him? Castiel, I mean.” Dean leaned against the porch railing and looked out at the hazy brown day.
“We worked together once, on a…case.” Buffy muttered. “I don’t want to talk details.”
“Okay…”
“But there’s something you need to know about them, about angels, about Cas,” Buffy continued. She got to her feet and turned around, her arms crossing her chest. “You can’t trust them. They’re not looking out for you. They’re just following orders. If they were actually trying to help us out, why would people like you and me exist in the first place?”
“The way I see it, God’s a busy guy,” Sam interrupted, popping out of the house with a slight bounce in his step. He pushed his cell phone into his pocket and tilted his head to flick his hair out of his eyes. “We’re just doing our part to make his job a little easier. Anyway, it’s time for a greasy food run. Any requests?”
“Pie,” Dean grunted.
“Got it. Buffy? You want anything?”
“I’m fine,”
“Don’t forget the pie, Sammy.”
“Dean, in twenty-five years, have I ever forgotten the pie?”
“No, but there’s always a first time.”

The car keys traded hands and Sam walked to the Impala. He looked out across the matte black hood at the hunters on the steps. Buffy Summers had probably been a pretty girl once, but something had changed her. Her skin was almost gray and her green eyes were bruised and pink and puffy. Her one rugged visible scar suggested more tucked away beneath her gristly clothing. What did Dean make of her? He’d probably attach himself to her temporarily… but after that? Sam hoped he’d turn her loose. Something about her rough raggedness suggested trouble.

Suspicion wiggled through Sam’s thoughts as he drove into town. A gas station with pumps occupied by trailer trucks sat on one side of the street. A billboard hovered over the town, exclaiming “Jesus” in simple block letters. At the outskirts of town, a dingy motel dozed in the shade of a 1950s diner, plated in bright red vinyl and chrome. In the alley between the buildings, Sam parked the car and pushed open the door. In the blazing morning sun, Ruby stood beside a bus bench, her dark brown eyes fixed on the pavement. From a distance, she wasn’t a demon. Had she ever been? Sure, she possessed someone, and yes, she had been to Hell, but the soul trapped inside was a good person, a strong woman, a fighter. The beauty of her determination stretched past the exterior demon parts and touched Sam’s heart. They’d send Hell screaming back into the Pit and emerge triumphant. Maybe that was why the angel had popped up. He’d come to tell Sam that he and Ruby were on the right track.

Sam got out of the car and acknowledged her with a nod. Ruby lifted an eyebrow and cocked her head, calling him over to her motel room. They still had to be careful. Eyes were watching. Not everyone would be happy to see them working together- at least not yet. He locked the car and followed her upstairs to room 214.

“Dean was brought out of the Pit by an angel!” Sam gushed excitedly as soon as he’d pushed the door shut and locked it.
“Don’t sound too happy, Sam. This is bad.”
“What do you mean?”
“Angels are bad news, Sam. If they find out we’re working together… Sam, they’ll send me back to Hell.”
“But why? We’re on the same side!”
“Angels don’t ask questions. They follow orders.”

Ruby’s eyes darted anxiously around the room, as if the angel were hidden in a corner, waiting to strike. Sam reached out an arm and pulled her into his chest. His lips dipped into her hair protectively.
“I’m worried about Dean,” he murmured into her scalp. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to keep up with us.”
“They torture people in Hell, Sam. Dean’s a changed man.”
“He picked up some girl the other night at a bar, brought her back to Bobby’s. She’s pretty quiet, keeps to herself. She’s a hunter. Her name is Buffy.”
“Buffy Summers?” Ruby chuckled, tossing her head back to look up into Sam’s face.
“Yeah…how’d you know?”
“The Slayer is staying with you now? Hah! I bet that angel thinks she’s worthy of this fight. Buffy Summers couldn’t kill her way out of a paper bag!”
“Well, we probably need all the help we can get…” Sam frowned uncertainly.
“You’re the only thing we’ll need to kill Lilith, Sam. Dean and Buffy Summers are weak. They’ve been beaten down so many times… they’re not sure they know how to stand up again.”

---
Dean dusted off his knees and opened the screen door to head back inside. His stomach groaned uncomfortably, and fleetingly, he wondered what was taking Sam so long with the pie. The door whined and slammed shut behind him as he let it go. Buffy lifted her eyes at the sound. She’d been so lost in her own thoughts that’d she failed to notice Dean sitting behind her. Exhaustion reared over her shoulders, tempting her to sleep. She pushed the feeling away with a low, annoyed groan. The nightmares that had plagued her for nearly a year were still waiting for her under the sheets, in the folds of the pillow. She had no desire to stir them back up now.

Rubbing the insistent sleep from her eyes, Buffy raised her head to look out at the windy afternoon. A dust ball kicked up at one edge of the towering lot of vehicles and drifted to the other side of the fence. A white pickup truck trundled past on the highway, probably doing seventy-five. There weren’t too many police officers way out here. There was no one around to mind the speeders. Occasionally, she noticed a tractor putt-putt down the road at an even ten miles per hour, but the massive vehicles were few and far between. Somewhere between the dust and the quivering sky of midday, a figure stood out amongst the cars.

Buffy got to her feet, surprised by the visitor. She wiped a hand across her sweaty brow and tossed her jacket onto the porch steps. The figure crept toward her, as if in no real hurry. She hadn’t seen anyone pull up, not since Sam had peeled out in the Impala, but she hadn’t exactly been paying attention either. No one could call this dreamy-eyed Slayer a watch dog.
“Hey, can I help you?” Buffy called out the approaching figure. At this distance, she could tell that it was a woman, a young woman. Her eyes and skin were dark brown, and her hair, tied into braids, fell against her shoulders. She wore a pair of faded blue overalls over a striped multi-colored tee shirt. One of her arms hung heavily at the shoulder, and as she got closer, Buffy noticed that the arm was mangled.
“Are you okay?” Buffy asked, slightly more concerned. The girl was young, probably not more than sixteen. Her eyes smoldered with anger, and her face scowled so deeply that she took on the look of a monster.
“Buffy Summers,” the girl growled bitterly. A wind picked up around them, displacing the shaggy blond hair that hung limply from Buffy’s ponytail. The girl didn’t even rustle. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
“Rona?” Buffy gasped, finally recognizing the girl. She’d been a Potential Slayer, a vocal girl, a frightened girl. She’d never been afraid to admit that she was terrified. She’d died like the rest of them, died at the hands of a mutant vampire.
“Oh, so you remember me? How kind of you! You couldn’t be assed to remember any of us when you threw us into the Pit with Aeshma’s minions!”
“I regret that decision every day, Rona…” Buffy whispered hoarsely.
“You regret it?! My mother is still out there, waiting for me to come home! Why didn’t you tell her that you let some animal rip out my throat?!”

The figure lurched forward. Buffy raised her arms in a fighting stance, more out of habit than any urge to defend herself. She lifted her arm to block a punch but Rona’s arm went through hers and connected solidly with her face. Buffy stumbled backward with a grunt, catching her footing on the lowest porch step.
“It’s your fault, Buffy! You killed me! I was fifteen years old! I didn’t deserve to die!” Another strike came, this one harder, more brutal. A ghostly fist careened through the air and slammed into Buffy’s nose, causing a gush of blood. At the same time, a kick as forceful as the hood of a car smashed into Buffy’s legs, tumbling her backward against the stairs.
“I wish I could take it back!” Buffy replied helplessly, trying without success to push back the ghost.
“Take it back? Take it back! I’m dead, you bitch! You killed me! You let me die!”

“Leave her alone!” Dean growled, firing a shell of rock salt through the ghost’s head. It dissipated instantly. Dean dropped down on one knee to help Buffy to her feet. The nosebleed had dried up, but her body was still in pain.
“What the hell was that?” Buffy groaned as soon as they were in the house.
“Ghost,” Dean replied with a grunt.
“Thanks, Sherlock.” Dean shrugged. He pushed a few more slugs into the gun and looked around the living room. Silence met them with no reply.
“Who was she?”
“A girl…” Buffy sighed, touching her face distractedly. “A girl I killed.”

“You know all about that, don’t you, Dean?” A woman smirked, appearing in the corner of Bobby Singer’s living room. Her blond hair fell around her cheeks, grown out from the last time Dean had seen her. Her eyes were as blue as the evening sky, a stark change from the depth of blackness that once occupied them.
“Meg?” Dean blinked, confused.
“Dean Winchester, how sweet of you to remember me. You are remembering me, right? The girl inside the demon? I died because of you, Dean! You could have saved me! You could have helped me before that demon killed me!”
“We did everything we could, Meg…” Dean frowned.
“Don’t argue with it, Dean,” Buffy muttered. She reached for the gun jutting from his jeans and held it out in front of her. In all the years she’d been fighting, Buffy Summers had never shot a gun. There were better tools for demon-killing. She pulled the trigger, and the Meg ghost disappeared in a brief gust of smoke. “Just kill it.”

“Dean!” Bobby yelled from upstairs. They heard his feet jostling down the steps and he ran into the foyer. Buffy lifted up her shirt to rub the spot Rona had kicked. It was still sore, but the pain was fading.
“We appear to have some ghosts, Bobby,” Dean smirked. “Talk about a homecoming.”
“Never thought I’d miss good ol’ fashioned vampire killing so much,” Buffy muttered.
“I know. I just had some while I was washing my hands. Two girls from a few years ago…they died before I could get to saving them.”
“Great,” Dean shrugged. “At least they’re spreading the love.”
“So…four ghosts blaming us for killing them, or at least, not preventing them from dying.”
“Well, they’re gone for right now…” Buffy sighed. She looked longingly back outside, where problems seemed to stretch out into the lonely South Dakota countryside.
“Yeah, and I was about to make a sandwich. Anyone heard from Sammy? I’d kill for a hamburger.”

“Dean,” Bobby frowned, following him into the kitchen. Behind them, Buffy took the stairs to the second floor to wash her face. “I don’t think this is over. Ghosts don’t tend to pop in for a visit, throw around accusations, and then leave.”
“Yeah, I know, Bobby, but what are we going to do? I say we wait until they show up again, and then go into research mode. Maybe Sam’ll be back by then.”
“Listen, ya idjit…” Bobby started. Upstairs, something thudded heavily against the floor. The sound echoed with a creak across the ceiling. Dean’s head darted up as he spread peanut butter over a piece of slightly stale bread.
“Buffy?” Dean called. “Buffy!”

Buffy shut the bathroom door behind her. She looked at her face in the mirror. The bruises under her eyes had deepened to shiny purple pits of sleep deprivation. She’d failed to sleep for months, disturbed by the dreams she was now living in Technicolor. Maybe that’s the punishment, she thought wearily. When you put the dreams off, they come at you while you’re awake. She’d heard the term somewhere before-maybe from Giles. Waking nightmares.

The last drops of blood had dried against her skin, their rusty remains looking strange against her anguished white face. All the color had ebbed away, even as she lived day after day in the hot Nevada desert. There were lines around her mouth and eyes, lines as deep as the faults that wiggled through Sunnydale. The skin crawled on the back of the Slayer’s neck, and she stood at attention, aware and ready for another fight.
“You’re always looking in the mirror, Buffy.” The voice sounded skippy, almost peppy with joy. “Are you looking for your soul?”
“I guess I am,” Buffy replied aloud, catching the face that solidified behind her. It had brilliant green eyes and a mop of pretty red hair. It smiled pleasantly until the lips pulled away and the teeth shone in a violent sneer.
“You won’t find it, Buffy.” It jeered mockingly. “It isn’t there.”

A hand came up behind her head and slammed her viciously against the mirror, cracking the glass. Buffy stumbled away from the mirror, dazed by the impact. She threw both fists at the figure, trying helplessly to fight back against the ghost. She was another Potential Slayer, a victim in Lilith’s rise. A foot, at once solid, threw her back against the wall, smashing a hole in the dry wall. Buffy grappled for Dean’s pistol as the ghost came on again.

“You killed me! I trusted you! I followed your orders, and I trained hard! You threw me into the Pit and you killed me!” Her name was Vi, and she’d been so sweet and friendly. She was a hard worker, a good fighter, and as dead as the rest of them.

Buffy wrestled the gun free as another punch came battling forward. The pistol went off as Dean and Bobby threw the bathroom door open. Salt splattered the walls and the ghost disappeared. Buffy exhaled a loud breath. She relaxed against the wall and reached up to brush what felt like a bead of sweat from her forehead. Without drawing her hand away, she knew that the sticky liquid was blood. Great, she thought. That’s just great.
“You alright?” Bobby asked as Dean helped her to her feet and handed her a towel.
“Never better,”
“Six ghosts,” Dean frowned.
“Maybe we better think about retreating to the…” Bobby started. His voice trailed off to silence as the three of them stepped out into the hall, coming face to face with another old friend.

“Dean Winchester,” Victor Henricksen grimaced, standing in front of a window on the second floor. He looked as prim and proper as the day he’d died, at the hands of Lilith.
“Agent Henricksen…” Dean replied warily. He held out his hand for the pistol in Buffy’s grasp.
“You didn’t just kill me, Dean,” Victor growled, closing the gap between them before Dean could wrap his fingers around the butt of the pistol. “You killed all of us. You condemned us. Do you think Lilith just…blew us up? Do you think it was that easy?” A fist came forward, catching Dean across the mouth so hard that he took a few steps to the left to make up for it.
“She tortured us, Dean. She mutilated us. That poor secretary? Nancy? She was completely innocent up until the moment of her death, when Lilith defiled her. It’s your fault, Dean. You killed us. You killed all of us!”

The ghost closed in on them, pushing them down the hallway with Dean at the head of their party. Buffy raised the gun and fired, grazing Dean’s ear with the bullet casing. The ghost disappeared like a dream, and Bobby hauled Buffy and Dean down the front steps.
“Did you see that thing on his hand?” Dean gasped as they continued down the stairs, down into the depths of the house.
“I was too busy loading the gun, Dean,” Buffy muttered.
“It was some kind of symbol…” Dean paused, looking up at a massive steel door blocking half of Bobby’s basement. “Uh, Bobby?”
“Bomb shelter?” Buffy blinked.
“I got bored one day. Come on,” Bobby unlocked the door and shoved it open, yanking everyone inside.

The walls were covered with markings of every size, shape, and religious affiliation. A simple cot sat in one corner, covered with fresh sheets and a cozy-looking pillow. A well-stocked First Aid kit hung from one wall beside a bookcase sagging with large, dusty volumes. Bobby plucked one such book from the shelf and tossed it open on a low desk. He flipped through the pages and stabbed a picture with one insistent finger.
“Is this the symbol you saw, Dean?”
“Hey, yeah,” Dean nodded, wiping the corner of his mouth with one hand.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. They call this the Rising of the Witnesses. It’s not just here, of course. There are probably other people, other hunters that have experienced the same thing.”
“What? Ghostly visits that can leave you with bruises?” Buffy dabbed at her forehead with rubbing alcohol.
“Actually, they’re trying to kill you,” Bobby shrugged thoughtfully as he read. “The Rising of the Witnesses is a sign of the apocalypse, the end of the world. It’s Biblical, prophetic. The spirits of the people we tried to save and couldn’t… they’re coming back for revenge.”
“What Cas said this morning…” Dean reflected.
“End of the world. The apocalypse. God, I have so done this song and dance already!” Buffy scowled.
“So what do we do, Bobby? How do we get rid of them?”
“Gotta spell here somewhere…”

“What’s the deal with the room, Bobby?” Dean asked, wandering the basement shelter while Bobby leafed through his books.
“It’s demon-proof and ghost-proof. Devil’s traps of every variety on the floors, walls, and ceilings. Whole room is made of silver, even the locks. And we got enough salt to last you to the end of the world.”
“The snacks aren’t all that great…” Buffy frowned, looking at a pile of spam and canned beans.
“Spam is just about the only kind of meat I like that comes out of a can,” Bobby grinned, rubbing his stomach for added effect.
“Speaking of snacks, where the hell is Sammy with my pie?”

“Ah ha, found it,” Bobby nodded, rubbing his scruffy beard with one wrinkled hand. “You guys ready to face the ghouls again?”
“Only if I’m armed,” Buffy muttered. Dean tossed her a gun loaded with salt rounds. She cocked the weapon and held it out in front of her. A cold grimace spread across her pale pink lips. Dean opened the shelter door and ushered them all back out into the basement.
“Buffy…” a female voice called behind them. The Slayer didn’t pause to listen to another word. She fired mercilessly into the dark, scattering ghostly remains.
“Nice shot, Slayer,” Dean nodded. They followed Bobby up to the living room. Dean drew a circle on the floor in salt and pulled Buffy and Bobby inside with him. The spirits began to circle them, each one more menacing than the last. They all carried brands on their hands, the same symbol that Bobby now drew on the floor with white chalk.
“Dean, you killed me…” Meg moaned in agony.
“And now I’m going to do it again,” Dean replied triumphantly, shooting a round of salt at the apparition.

Shot after shot banged through the room, almost drowning out Bobby’s rambling spell casting. He’d drawn up a fire in the sagging fireplace and every so often, he threw herbs or salt into the flames. Now they’d reached a fearsome height, and each flame licked at the marble mantle covered with pictures and memorabilia. Buffy shot another round into the spirits dancing before them. They edged closer and closer to the salt circle, pulling at the hunters’ clothes, trying to drag them free of their protective barrier.
“Any day now Bobby,” Dean urged as he reloaded his weapon.
“Free us and be free yourselves! Witnesses, witness no more! Absum!”

The spirits vanished suddenly, poofing out of existence and back into the realm of the dead. Buffy wiped a few drops of sweat from her brow and set the gun down on the floor against the fireplace. Dean stepped out of the salt circle and rubbed his shoulder thoughtfully. His stomach growled as he heard the Impala pull up outside. Bobby whirled around as the front door opened and Sam Winchester turned the corner into the overturned room. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, holding a bag of to-go boxes in the other hand.
“Hey guys,” Sam gaped, looking from one bedraggled face to the next. “What happened?”

---

Buffy turned her spoon through the thick brown liquid that constituted coffee at Bobby’s. It looked unappetizing and smelled worse, but it would keep her awake for another night and that made it worth stomaching. She’d put as much milk in it as she could stand, added enough sugar to give a child wings, and slugged it all down in one long gulp. Dean shuffled into the kitchen, nodding to her briefly before opening the refrigerator. He retrieved the last of the strawberry pie that Sam had brought home, and set it down on the kitchen table.
“Couldn’t sleep?” He asked, half-awake.
“I don’t sleep much,” Buffy shrugged.
“You should both sleep more,” Castiel frowned sadly, appearing in the corner of the kitchen. He stood stock still, awkward but with a sense of belonging. Dean dropped his fork on the table with a clatter. A bit of strawberry glaze splattered the front of his black tee shirt. “It will help you fight. It will keep you strong.”
“So does drinking a lot of milk, Cas,” Buffy muttered, annoyed.
“How the hell did you get in here?” Dean gasped.
“I go where I am ordered.” Castiel replied simply. He looked down at them, sitting at the kitchen table, and took the seat across from them. His back straight and tall against the wooden chair, he folded his hands upon his lap.
“The Rising of the Witnesses is a sign of the Apocalypse.”
“We’ve been over this end of the world stuff already, Cas. I’ve done this part. Let’s just get on with it.”
“Do not let your past jade you, Buffy. This is like nothing you have ever faced.”
“You faced the apocalypse?” Dean blinked. He pushed the pie plate away. The pit of emptiness in his stomach had turned from hunger to fear.
“You probably have too,” Buffy shrugged. “You just didn’t know it.”
“As you both know, Lilith walks the Earth.” Buffy seemed to wince slightly at Castiel’s words. Dean watched her reaction before submitting his own.
“Yeah. She bought my soul.”
“As I have told Buffy, so shall I tell you, Dean. Lilith is the first demon ever created in Hell, the first Evil. She is Lucifer’s favorite, his first born.”
“Whoa! Lucifer? As in the Devil? Satan?”
“The Big Bad,” Buffy included.
“Yes. Lilith is my brother’s daughter. She plans to bring her father to Earth by opening the seals and unlocking the Gates of Hell.”
“Seals?” Buffy asked.
“Think of them as locks on a door.”
“How many?”
“She must open sixty-six of them,” Castiel continued, involuntarily swallowing the saliva collecting on his tongue.
“Out of how many?” Dean pushed.
“Hundreds,” Castiel sighed.
“So how many does she have so far?”
“At least two.”

Buffy got to her feet. She paced down to the end of the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of beer from the fridge. Popping it open, she took a long swallow from the neck of the bottle and set it down on the table. Dean grabbed it instinctively and finished the rest. He didn’t even stop to breathe.
“So you’re telling us that we have to figure out which seals she plans to attack and beat her back successfully until she, what, gives up and goes home?” Buffy moved to grab the bottle again, but tossed it away when she found it empty.
“Yes.”
“Excellent,” the Slayer winced. “I should have stayed in Reno.”
“Lilith must be stopped. You have been chosen to do this task. It is your destiny to fight back Hell.”
“Don’t start with the destiny crap, Cas. I don’t believe in that. Whatever happened to free will anyway?” Dean munched on another strawberry. He spoke with his mouth full.
“I have faith in you.” Castiel spoke simply. He was gone as quickly and quietly as he appeared. Buffy looked out the window, as if she might catch a glimpse of him taking flight. There was only blackness, not even a light shining through the window.
“Well,” Dean shrugged. “At least somebody does.”

Chapter Five: Sit Back and Watch the Bed Burn