Charlie stood outside the bunker door, shifting her weight from one foot to another. She wasn't sure what her reception would be… from anybody. But she had the feeling that she was needed, so here she was, duality be damned.

She banged her fist against the metal door for the third time, hoping someone inside would hear her and let her in, since neither Xander nor the Winchesters were answering their phones.

Her poor hand was definitely going to bruise from the blows.

When a bearded man opened the door, Charlie stepped back in surprise. This stranger was so totally unexpected, that she was at a loss for words. What was he doing in the Winchesters' sanctuary?

She noticed him holding his hand to his head and blood oozing through his fingers.

"Dean?" he asked before he looked up, saw her, and backed up a few steps into the bunker, settling into a rather awkward fighter's stance.

"Wow, you really must have hit your head hard if you think I'm Dean," Charlie said, taking in his shaky stance.

"Who the hell are you?" he rasped.

This time it was Charlie's turn to stumble backwards. The man's face changed; sharp, shark-like teeth filled his mouth. Oh, fuck! Leviathan! she pulled a pint-sized bottle of liquid borax from her purse and splashed him with it.

No burning… he just stood there, dripping onto the floor, looking rather flummoxed at her action.

Okay, then. Not a Leviathan. Charlie tried to think of all the monsters she'd read about in the Supernatural novels as he swiped his sleeve across his face to dry off, spitting a bit of the vile fluid from his mouth with a look of disgust; his now normal, human-looking teeth.

No! Maybe? Vampire? Not like any vamp she'd ever seen before, either in Sunnydale, or any other place she'd hung her hat.

"Are you like Lenore?" Charlie asked, sounding somewhat hopeful. Maybe he wouldn't try to kill her, which was a good thing.

"Lenore?" His expression, if anything, grew more confused. Guess he hadn't read those novels.

"Good vampire? Tried not to kill humans?" She wondered if sunlight would stop him from lunging at her.

"My name's Benny," the vampire offered, his voice gaining strength as his eyes cleared. "I'm a friend of Dean's." He opened the door further, silently inviting her in, when they both heard the sound of a muffled explosion coming from deep inside the bunker.

Worry for whoever was inside made for strange bedfellows, and they both ran towards the sound, only to be greeted by… Xander and Dawn… and some guy in a trenchcoat.

"Vi? What the heck are you doing here?" Xander asked, desperately trying to keep his robe closed.

"I thought…" she took a second look at Mr. Trenchcoat. Was he… could he be Castiel? Her cheeks pinkened at the thought of the fanfic she'd read involving Dean and the angel. There are folks out there with rather interesting imaginations. "I-I thought that Sam and Dean needed help," she stammered.

"And what? We didn't? I did call you, remember?" Xander's tone was accusatory, and Vi/Charlie (and yes, her head was gonna explode over her own duality) could see that he wasn't too happy with her at the moment. Neither was Dawn, though she had yet to utter a single word.

"Buffy's a slayer, Spike's a vampire. They can look after themselves and anyone around them. Dean and Sam? They're… they're like you, Xander. They're human – totally without powers. They just don't have that preternatural ability to survive against all odds. Not forever," she amended. "All it takes is for a demon to have a good day, and it'll be all over.

"Besides, they're my friends. And Dean's my handmaiden; it's my duty as his Queen to keep an eye on him."

The "huh?" was obvious on everyone's faces, but she wasn't going to explain. It wasn't important to what was going on right now.

"My god, Vi!" Dawn finally stepped forward, enveloping her into a warm embrace. "We haven't seen you in forever. And how do you know the Winchesters?" she added; a perplexed look marring her pretty face.

Vi bowed her head, relishing her friend's closeness for a moment, before she saw Benny raise his head out of the corner of her eye.

"What's wrong?" she asked, eyes darting around the room.

A suited woman appeared out of nowhere, causing the others to go on high alert.

Vi didn't understand what all the fuss was about, except for the fact that she appeared out of nowhere. She was a hottie, too, in that repressed librarian way, with her hair pulled into a severe bun. Sorta made a woman want to unleash her inner-wildcat, but there was no reason for fear that she could see.

"Slayer," the woman said, pointing in her direction.

Vi whipped her head around to see who she was talking to. She hadn't been a slayer in years.

"I was told that the Key was in the hands of the Warrior of the People."

Dawn shrunk back slightly into Xander's embrace.

"I was led to believe that the Warrior lineage would be able to protect the Key."

"Now... that's not quite what I said." A man in a fedora and a cheap suit popped in right beside the woman.

"I don't care what you say, demon. The meaning behind your words was clear."

"Naomi, be reasonable," the demon said.

"I'm being far more reasonable than I should under these circumstances. You, slayer," Naomi said, pointing at Vi. "Your blood is needed to protect the key."

"But… but… I'm not a slayer," Vi insisted. She wasn't, not anymore.

"Do not lie, slayer - your essence tells what your words do not."

"My powers were taken from me, years ago," she tried to insist once more. It was hard not to quail under that voice.

"You will be a small sacrifice to ensure the safety of the Key," Naomi continued.

"Sacrifice?" she squeaked. Oh shit. She remembered every fantasy book she'd ever read; every sci-fi movie she'd watched... sacrifice rarely meant anything good. Asking her to skip lunch for a week probably wasn't what Naomi had in mind.

The woman raised her hand and laid it on Vi's head. She immediately developed a full-body tremor, paralyzing her limbs. The pain was excruciating, and she cried out.

Worse than her own pain were the echoing screams she heard coming from Dawn.

Vi realized she'd fallen to the floor at some point, and struggled to get back up. She could see that Xander had run to Dawn's side, holding her as she screamed, so she aimed herself at the creature (because no human woman could cause pain like that), hoping to return the favor.

She just couldn't stop her own screaming long enough to lay a hand on Naomi. She tried not to think, even as her body fought against her, and yet something else – something familiar - was just within reach, something useful, if only she could harness it.

Charlie could see the slightest bit of fear in Naomi's eyes as she struggled to her feet, and suddenly she could feel it right down to her fingertips. Taking a deep breath, she just let it fly. Her fist connected with Naomi's head, sending the other woman to the floor.

No sooner did Dawn's screaming stop, than the bunker door flew open.

The sight of Buffy rushing in, followed by Spike and the Winchesters made her heart sing, even as her hand felt like she'd shattered bones.

Buffy immediately homed in on the stranger. "What the hell did you do to my sister?" she spat, fire gleaming in her hazel-green eyes.

Vi looked at her with relief flooding her system. "My hero," she muttered, before passing out cold.

Buffy hurled herself into the room, straight to her sister's side. "Are you okay, Dawn?" she asked, frantically running her hands over Dawn's body, checking for injuries.

"Let me guess," Spike grumbled. "Bitch is another one of your angels?"

"Head bitch," Dean agreed.

"Guess Heaven is an equal-opportunity employer," Spike said as he pulled a shotgun from beneath his duster, cocked it and aimed. "Can't touch the bitch without frying, but I can do this from afar."

Sam shook his head as he tapped Spike on the shoulder. "Don't bother. It's a waste of ammunition."

By then, Buffy noticed Vi, passed out on the floor.

"Go, Buffy," Dawn murmured. "I'm okay, really. Make sure that Vi is."

Buffy hesitated for just a second longer before she made her way to Vi, wondering how and why the girl the girl was here. They hadn't seen or heard from her in nearly a year, and suddenly she popped in just where they are.

Vi came to in her arms, her cheeks devoid of color. "You're here to save the day again," she murmured, her eyes not exactly focused.

"What were you doing?" Buffy asked Naomi, wondering if Spike could get the scythe to her from across the room. It was damned good at killing most demons she'd come across.

A flash of movement behind Naomi caught Buffy's eye. "Whistler! Why the hell are you here?" she asked. "I thought we left you at Willy's."

"Keeping up my part of the bargain," he said as he tipped his hat in Buffy's direction.

"So... is my sister safe to leave? Can she leave? That's what you promised," Buffy said, still holding tightly to Vi. "Remember when I promised to turn your ribcage into a hat all those years ago? I keep my promises, too."
"That's what I was just trying to arrange with Naomi, before she decided to sacrifice one of your slayers to keep the Key protected."

"I can see how well she listens to you," Buffy spat. "So what the hell are you? Dean keeps telling me that you and your suited pals are 'angels'," she said, making air quotes as she turned to Naomi. "That you're from 'Heaven'. Then she smiled, as saccharine-false as when she pretended to be the Buffybot. "I don't believe him. I've been in heaven, and you and your cronies, whatever the hell you are, would never be found there. You have no idea how in the mood for a good slay I am. Nobody threatens my people."

"Because you were happy, safe and secure." Naomi said. "Because your most beloved memory – the one you relived over and over while you were in our custody – was that of being in your mother's womb."

Buffy froze. How could she possibly know?

"It is nothing to be embarrassed by," Naomi continued. "A lot of human souls choose that as their preferred heaven. It fosters tranquility beyond anything their life had to offer.

"I am a Seraph, first class," Naomi added, haughtily, as if that was supposed to mean something to Buffy.

"A serf?"

"Seraph, like Castiel, only higher up in their bureaucracy," Whistler explained.

"I've met mind-readers before, lady. You'll have to do better than that to convince me." Buffy tried not to show just how hard the thing's words had hit her; the memories of peace and finality she'd dredged up.

"Sorry to break it to you, Buffy, but they really are angels. They're dicks, but angelic ones. And believe me, if you'd have asked me about all this six years ago, I'd have believed it about as much as you do now. It doesn't mean she can be trusted, and I'm pretty sure one of her faces has to be a snake. But angel or Dimensional wavelength of celestial intent, it's all the same line of crap."

Buffy glared at Dean. She really didn't want to believe Naomi was some celestial being. A demon she could slay would have been way better.

"Great," Buffy muttered. "Another damned snake monster. Angelic, to boot."

"I do not have the face of a snake, Dean. I wear the face of an eagle." Naomi actually looked affronted. And then she turned back to Buffy. "And I am not one of the mongrels you have fought in the past. My kind far preceded the old ones. We were created at the dawn of the universe. Compared to us, this world is just a blink in the eyes of God."

Vi managed to sit up by herself, which left Buffy free to stand and stare down Naomi. Or up, really, since she was the taller of the two of them.

"Yeah, right. Like we haven't heard bragging like that before," Buffy muttered.
Spike, the Winchesters, even Whistler grew tense. Apparently, even they could feel the power building up in Naomi in response to Buffy's lack of tact.

"You are not sacrificing one of my girls - not even for my sister. There has to be another way," Buffy insisted.

"There are only two ways to tie the Key to the Slayer lineage, Ms. Summers. To spill the lifeblood of a Slayer, or to sacrifice a mystical object of immense emotional importance." Not giving Buffy a chance to interrupt, Naomi continued, "The Scythe your vampire has hidden on himself may have great mystical power, but neither you nor any of the other Slayers have more than the slightest emotional connection to it," she chuckled.

"Besides, the Scythe was already used as a link to the Slayer lineage," Naomi continued. "To do so again may end the lineage all together."

Buffy closed her eyes, trying to gather her patience and her strength. When she opened them again she saw that Castiel had entered the room, still leaning up against Benny for support.

"Naomi, this has to stop. You can't continue to use people... even slayers for your own ends," Castiel said. "I won't allow it."

"Why yes, Castiel, I'm well aware of what you will or will not allow. The spilled blood of your brothers and sisters showed us that."

"Well?" Buffy stood strong, hands on her hips. "Does anyone here have a mystical, emotional goo gah that'll take the place of a human sacrifice? Come on, folks… trying to save a life, here."

Dean stilled; he turned as pale as any vampire.

"What about the Impala?" Vi asked, turning to Dean, who looked as if someone'd just asked him to throw his brother down a ravine. "The books said that it's the most important man-made object in history, right?"

"Son of a bitch," Dean whispered. "No. No, no, no way in hell," he said, this time more forcefully. "Nobody touches that car."

"Look, Dean, I know it's your security blanket, but..."

"Dean... she's going to kill Vi, or some other innocent girl who doesn't deserve it," Buffy whispered. "And there's no way I'm going to allow it… even if I have to give up my own life." She might not understand the car's value to Dean, but in no way could it take precedence over a human life.

Naomi began to walk towards Buffy and Vi, obviously intent on carrying out her mission.

Buffy pulled herself straight and gathered her emotions close before she spoke again. She looked first at Dawn, then Vi, and lastly at Spike.


She ignored his heartfelt plea and stared at Naomi, her chin held high and defiant. "If a slayer has to die to ensure my sister's safety, then I offer my life. It's not like I want to die," she said, looking at her loved ones once again, "but I want her to live, more."

"Buffy, no!" Dawn cried. "Please… don't do this again. I can't do this again."

"Are you freakin' insane, woman?" Dean looked at Buffy as if she had three heads. "I mean, I get that you'd do anything for your sister. I'd do the same for Sammy, but as much as the Impala means to me, it's not worth your life." He turned to Naomi, his hands rooting around deep in his pocket and pulled out his car keys.

Buffy still didn't understand what was so damned important about a hunk of metal and wheels, but the angel was practically salivating at the thought of getting her hands on it. Maybe, Buffy thought, just maybe it was because of the sheer heartbreak on Dean's face. Some creatures thrived on the pain of others.

"The Impala, the heart of your family's love," Naomi said. "It will make a beautiful necklace once it's sacrificed."

Dean hesitated, though Buffy could tell he was totally resigned to giving the car up, when Sam cleared his throat.

"I have something to offer that fits the bill," he said, digging his hand into his pants' pocket. He held up what looked like a necklace – black cord with a weird, gold pendant. "Mystical, and means the world to me."

"The Beacon." The angel re-focused her attention on the younger Winchester.

"We were told the amulet lights up in the presence of God," Sam said, holding the thing aloft. "That fits the bill as mystical, doesn't it?"

"Oh, it's so much more than that," Naomi murmured.