Disclaimer/Spoilers: See chapter 1. Please note: from this point on in the story, there are some scenes that may be considered potentially "racy" as well as some harsher language and scenes. I am keeping the rating at "T" or "PG-13," but ask that you keep this in mind as you read.
a/n: As this will most likely be the last chapter posted prior to the Christmas Holiday, I wanted to wish all of you a Merry Christmas—or the equivalent for the holiday you celebrate—and thank you most sincerely for your support, your encouragement, and your time throughout this past year. I write these stories for myself, yes, but I also search for your thoughts and wait for your feedback with bated breath, smiling again once I've seen your reviews.
Thank you for always giving me something to smile about.
Many thanks and sincere appreciation to my beta, Kelly. She is an angel. Terry, you are my light on so many different levels. Thank you for jerking a knot in my tail when needed, the virtual smack when necessary, and the praise that I know I don't deserve. Sojourner, your friendship has taught me so much about myself, and I love you for it. Thanks for the read, girls.
With that, I give you the 2nd chapter of a story that I've been dying to tell ya'll.
I have heard the thunder rolling across the sky. I have crossed the waters that keep them miles apart. Now I know the time has come to make a brand new start…
--Evil Wind, Bad Company
On some level, living as a human contradiction kept him amused.
It offered him the chance to change his mind at will, make excuses for rowdy behavior, justify time spent in somewhat nefarious activities. But, as Dean glanced up at his rear-view mirror and watched his brother's face recede in the background, he felt a quake in his chest on the verge of shimmying out through his lips as a whimper.
He turned on the radio, not caring that the only sound filling the rapidly cooling interior of the Impala was the drone of a commercial. He just needed some other sound around him beside the harsh guffaw of his own conscience. He followed Calhoun's police cruiser back past the police station and down a two-lane highway, absentmindedly worrying his lower lip in thought.
His confession to Sam had taken on a sour taste in the back of his mouth as time tripped on. He'd hoped that he'd feel some relief sharing the burden of his fear. But soon after the words escaped—seemingly of their own free will—they turned to lead and sat at the base of his heart like weights intent on drowning him in guilt and remorse.
Sam's ever-watchful eyes had shimmered with relief; his brother's entire being had relaxed the moment Dean had said, "I don't want to go to Hell."
And in that moment, tension tied a slip knot around his chest, quietly slipping down the length of the mental rope he was sure he'd hang himself from before the year was up. Leaving Sam—even for a moment—felt like falling overboard in the middle of the ocean. But at the same time, he needed to swim or risk being suffocated by the combination of his fear and his brother's worry.
Dean sat forward gingerly, his elbows resting on the edge of his steering wheel as he kept the still-tender flesh of his back from meeting the unyielding bench seat. Calhoun passed a truck stop and Dean glanced to the side, Sam's uncharacteristic warning about the Impala pressing on his memory. Shaking his head to clear it, he continued on, turning the volume of the radio up when Pearl Jam's Blackbeat back the silence.
Anything, man, he groaned internally. Anything but what I'm hearing…
You're gonna die, Dean… and this is what you're going to become.
Dean turned the music up louder. Enough so that he felt his body shake from the inside out with the thunder of the bass.
"Oh, and twistin' thoughts that spin round my head. I'm spinning, oh, I'm spinning. How quick the sun can drop away, and now my bitter hands cradle the broken glass of what was everything. All the pictures have all been washed in black, tattooed everything..."
Dean's eyes caught on a gauge in the Chevy's dash. The unseasonable, oppressive heat was taking its toll on the car's refurbished engine. Frowning, Dean switched off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows. Sweat immediately gathered along his hairline and upper lip, working a path down the valley in his back as his muscles tightened.
He wanted desperately to shrug out of the black suit coat, but knew that it was essentially the only thing keeping the filter of belief between his lie and the rest of the world. As he continued to follow Calhoun into the town of Toby, he heard the unmistakable rumble of a motorcycle approaching even over the roar of Eddie Vedder's pained growl.
Watching with mild curiosity as the gray and red Indian sped past him, followed closely by a well-used, dusty red Ford F-150, Dean felt a spark of remembrance ignite in? the back of his mind. His attention was pulled forward once more as Calhoun turned into a seemingly empty lot, pulled up to a stop, and turned off the sirens that Dean had almost forgotten were on. Dean followed suit, turning off the radio before shutting down the Impala.
The dirt lot was flanked by large signs declaring it for sale, all 58 acres, for the tidy sum of $175,000. Dean took this in as he scanned the surroundings carefully, his father's training as much a part of him now as the natural act of breathing. Know your territory, know your enemy, but most importantly, know your exits.
The backside of several houses faced the lot, and Dean could see the makeshift outline of a sandlot ball diamond scratched in the earth. Grabbing his intricately-detailed, yet no-less fake FBI badge, he stepped from the car and rolled his shoulders carefully, pulling the material from the seeping wounds as best he could without drawing attention to himself.
"Game on," he whispered, heading toward the square-jawed deputy.
"Ross isn't joining us?" Dean asked as Calhoun lifted the yellow crime scene tape and held it for Dean to duck under.
Calhoun shrugged. "Someone's gotta hold down the fort, yeah?"
"Guess so," Dean replied, eyes tracking to the carefully positioned bodies. His brows pulled close and he caught his lower lip between his teeth, forcing himself to pause for a moment before commenting. "I don't think this is your crime scene, man."
Calhoun's neck actually popped as he whipped his head to the side to stare at Dean. "What?"
Dean stepped forward, indicating the specifically placed poles—no higher than the top of the victim's heads—just far enough apart that the victims could clearly see one another, but not touch.
"Any reason two random poles would be stuck in the ground in the middle of a vacant lot?"
Calhoun removed his hat and scratched his hairline. "Uh, no."
"Well, the killer obviously put them here," said a voice to their left.
Dean glanced up to see a slim man with large, thick glasses, a thin, twitchy mustache, and a navy blue wind breaker with the words Medical Examiner stitched on the right side. When the man stopped just shy of the bodies and regarded Dean and Calhoun, his nose wrinkling with obvious distaste, Dean bit the inside of his cheek.
"Just like with every other crime scene," the mousey man finished.
"Before or after he killed them?" Dean pointed out. "Those houses can't be more than 100 yards away," he continued, jerking his head to the side. "Don't you think they might've heard two people getting cut up?"
"One," the Medical Examiner corrected him. "And who knows. People hear a lot of things they don't report."
Dean lifted a brow, then stepped even closer to the bodies, his head tilted in thought. "Sounds like you speak from experience, Mr…."
"Carter. Adam Carter. And yes," Carter nodded brusquely. "I do speak from experience. Now that we've covered me, who are you and what are you doing here?"
"Carter, this is Agent Ford from the FBI. He's investigating these murders," Calhoun informed him.
Carter frowned, dropping his pack and bending down to select two latex gloves from a small box. Dean's hands began to sweat even more at the thought of having yet another layer covering him in this heat.
"FBI comes out to Toby? After two deaths?" Carter's doubt was apparent.
"Actually, we came out to Brookville," Dean said, squatting down next to the little man and cautiously regarding the bodies. He tried in vain to ignore the dull hum of gathering flies. "And it's not just been two deaths, has it?"
Carter looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"
"This all happened fifteen years ago, didn't it?" Dean asked. "Kind of a strange little coincidence isn't it?"
"You part of some special FBI squad or something?" Carter asked, pulling out a thermometer.
Dean's answering grin didn't meet his eyes. "You could say that."
He straightened as Carter began to focus on his job, assessing approximate time of death, removing the bodies from their bound positions against the posts, bagging the hands and feet for any residual evidence.
The bodies were tied to the posts at the wrists, a gag in the mouth of the man, the woman's chin on her chest. Dean could see slash marks along the woman's legs along the inside of her thighs, stopping just short of her groin, then continuing up her belly and along her breasts. He tore his eyes from her, swallowing the bile that rose at the sight of such targeted cruelty.
Walking around the area carefully, Dean found himself glancing to his left where Sam so often was, taking notes and nodding seriously. He spared himself an internal eye-roll and noted the lack of blood on the ground in direct contradiction to the amount of blood on the male victim.
"So, one victim, in this case the woman, is cut," Dean muttered loud enough that Carter could hear. "And the other victim—the dude—bleeds to death."
"Now I see why they sent you," Carter replied, sarcasm coating each word. "What would we have done without your astute observation?"
Dean ignored him. "Is the blood on the victim their own?"
Calhoun removed his hat in what Dean was starting to recognize as a nervous gesture. "Come again?"
"Are they actually bleeding? Or is it the blood from the one that was cut?" Dean clarified.
Carter sank back on his heels. "You're suggesting… that the killer cut the woman up, saturated the man with her blood, and then drug them both out here to stake out until we found them?"
Dean shrugged. "Is that any more unbelievable than bleeding from no apparent wounds?"
Carter looked up at Calhoun. "Did you give him the autopsy report?"
"I gave it to his partner."
"Why isn't your partner here, then?" Carter asked Dean.
"None of your damn business, that's why," Dean snapped. "What am I missing?"
"Well, for one, Mr. F.B. I. Agent," Carter drawled. "The bloody victim's cause of death is exsanguination. As in bleeding to death."
"I know what it means," Dean growled. "What about the other one?"
At that, Carter sighed, looking at the woman's slumped form. "Shock. Or so it seems. There's no indication of any drug used, or other torture aside from the myriad of cuts on the body. It's simply as if the heart… stopped."
"Because it was willed to…" Dean said softly, staring at the tragic forms splayed out before him.
"What was that?" Carter looked at him over his shoulder.
"Nothing," Dean shook his head and took a physical step back. He looked up at Calhoun. "You have any idea how the first two victims were connected?"
Calhoun shook his head. "We're still looking into it."
"Well, look faster, man," Dean ordered. "The more you know about how he's choosing them, the more you're gonna be able to anticipate his next move."
"I know," Calhoun whined. "I've just never… dealt with this stuff before."
"What, death?" Dean scoffed. "You picked the wrong line of work, dude."
"No," Calhoun scratched at his hairline. "Occult. Black magic."
Dean caught Carter's flinch out of the corner of his eye as he looked at Calhoun. "Yeah, you said that before. What makes you think this has to do with magic?"
Calhoun shrugged. "Ross, mostly. Guess that's what it all came down to last time."
Dean nodded, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "Would certainly explain this damn heat," he muttered.
"It would?" Calhoun asked, eager for some sort of plausible explanation for the unreality around him.
Dean waved a dismissive hand at him. "Forget it," he sighed. "Listen, I'm gonna need all you two get on these deaths, and the two from earlier in the week. And if you still have those other bodies on ice, I'm gonna need to see them, too."
"They're back in Brookville," Calhoun said.
"Where are these two going?" Dean asked, waggling his hand between the two bodies without actually looking at them.
"Brookville," Calhoun and Carter replied in unison.
"That rail car thing you put us up in have a phone?" Dean asked.
"You call me as soon as you have them back in Brookville," Dean ordered, pointing his index finger at the officer and turning from the grisly scene to head back toward his car. "And I want to talk to Ross!" He yelled over his shoulder.
"Hey!" Calhoun called after him. "Where are you going?"
Dean looked back over his shoulder just as the shrill whistle of a train cut the air. "Back to my partner," he said. "We've got work to do."
He paused at the driver's side door and shrugged from his heavy jacket, hissing as he was forced to roll his back and shoulder muscles to free his arms from the sleeves. Tugging his tie free, he unbuttoned the top button of his white shirt.
"Oh, hell with it," he muttered, glancing quickly to his left where the officer and coroner were still working on the crime scene. It was hotter than hell. No one should be expected to wear a freakin' tie. He jerked it off and threw it and the jacket into the back seat.
Sinking onto the heat-softened leather of the Impala's seat, he realized he could actually see the mirage of shimmering air along the dashboard. He pulled the sleeve of his shirt over his hand as he gripped the hot keys and turned on the engine. The Impala shuddered slightly, causing Dean to hold his breath in worry, then caught and rumbled to life.
"Atta girl," Dean encouraged, throwing the gear into reverse and slamming the accelerator to the floor.
"Quit blaming yourself."
The order was accompanied by the splash of ice water as a red plastic glass was clumped down in front of her.
"I trusted the bastard," Brenna sighed. "And he stood us up."
"I'm not talking about that Griffin guy," Virge revealed, sitting down across from her in the red vinyl booth, his work-worn hands meeting at the fingertips to make a steeple. "I'm talking about those people in Toby."
Brenna sat back, her fingers finding a tear in the vinyl seat and digging in, pulling the white foam padding from the worn-out depths. "I don't want to talk about that."
Virge tipped his fingers back in a shrug. "What if I don't care?" he challenged. "What if I want to know what you don't want to say?"
Brenna looked at him, pulling him in. She wanted to touch him, ached to see inside someone once more. But she was walking wounded, seeing the world with as much insight as anyone else. She felt as if she were wrapped in cotton, unable to feel anything, unable to truly take a breath.
"What?" Virge asked suddenly.
"Nothing," Brenna pulled her eyes away, resting them on the empty stretch of road that waited for her on the other side of the glass.
"You were… what were you looking for just then, Brenna?" Virge asked.
She could never deny the sexy draw of his voice. If she closed her eyes and simply listened to him talk, she could image herself rolling into his waiting arms and allowing him to care for her as she knew he so wanted to.
But she kept her eyes wide open, thirsty for what she could no longer see.
"You wouldn't understand," she informed him. "I've tried to explain it before and you… you don't get it, Virge."
"Well, try again," Virgil prompted. "I'll listen harder."
Brenna huffed out a laugh, leaning forward and pressing her hands flat on the table top. Her right hand landed in the sweat from the glass, slipping slightly before she found a grip. "It's not you, Sinatra," she said with a sad half-grin twisting the side of her face into a mask of acceptance. "It's me, okay? I'm… broken."
"It's this… this druid thing, right?"
Brenna nodded, leaning as close as she could to the edge of the table, her eyes wide as she searched his cobalt gaze. "Right. The druid thing. Hundreds of years of heritage and power. Hundreds of years of knowledge and sight. Hundreds of years of blood and tears and war and peace and love and loss and history and it's all fuckin' gone."
As she spoke her voice became lower, raspy, sandpaper wearing down her throat with the confession of reality.
To his credit, Virgil didn't flinch away from the raw pain in her words. He simply sat and watched and listened. She saw him fighting to understand, wanting to be the one who made it better for her. But there was only one person who could fix this—and her only lead to that person had left her standing on the outskirts of an abandoned lot staring at death.
"Why is it gone?" Virgil asked softly, not letting her look away. He dodged his head to catch her eyes once more. "I mean… have you ever thought that maybe… maybe this is what was supposed to happen? That you had that… that gift for a purpose. A reason. For just a little while and then—"
"But it wasn't just a little while," Brenna said, sitting back and covering her face with her hands, feeling the wet trail from the ice water track down the side of her face. "It was my whole life. And then… Declan died, and Dean left and…"
"And you changed," Virgil said.
"Yeah." Brenna dropped her hands. "Yeah, I changed. I used to be able to see people, Virge. I could touch you and know you from the inside out. I could look at you and know in a breath if you were lying to me. I… I felt people shimmering all around me…"
Virge was silent, waiting. Brenna swallowed, trying to will the lump in her throat to dissolve and the burning in her eyes to abate. She would not cry in front of him. Not him. Not the man who loved her with his eyes even as he resisted the obvious desire to touch her. Not the man who had shadowed her relentlessly through these months of searching for a place to belong, a ground.
"When I started to dream about this guy," Brenna looked out through the window once more, "I thought it was a warning. That my vision had returned and I was seeing something dark inside of me. Or… you, maybe."
"Me?" Virgil pulled back, pressing against the red seat with a creak of plastic.
"You were the only one close enough to me when the dreams started." Brenna said, not looking back at him. "And, sorry, but I don't know everything about you."
"Not for lack of me trying," Virge muttered.
Brenna ignored him.
"There was always so much blood and these weird flashes of light—took me awhile to realize it was the blade of a knife reflecting. And this voice, constant, like a song or a chant." She looked down at her hands laying open in her lap, palms up and exposed, almost in supplication to her own will. "I didn't really get that it was a message… a warning… until we heard about Griffin from that Ellen lady."
Virgil sighed, and Brenna felt the table tremble slightly as he dropped his head in his hands. She looked at the top of his red hat, feeling her chest tighten with an unnamed, unidentified need. She curled her fingers in against the palms of her hands, squeezing her fists tight enough to leave crescent-shaped indentions on her own flesh.
How can you want someone and loathe someone so much inside of the same heartbeat? She wondered. Virgil was now a constant. A guardian. A protector. He loved her, she knew. Completely without complete understanding. And she almost hated him for it.
"I let those people in Toby die," she said softly.
"Stop it, Bren," Virge said, his voice echoing softly against the table.
"I saw it, I knew it was going to happen," she kept her eyes on the top of his head, willing him to look up, hoping she could push him far enough that he'd stand up and walk away. "I almost wanted it to happen in a way… then maybe I could find the owner of that kni—"
"I said stop, for Christ's sake!" Virgil snapped, bringing his head up sharply, his eyes hot. "You can push all you want, you stubborn bitch, but I made a promise. I'm not walking away from you, from this. Somewhere in that screwed up head of yours, I gotta believe you know that. I gotta believe…"
With that, Virgil stood from the far corner booth they occupied inside the truck stop's diner and headed toward the other side of the truck stop, pushing through the glass doors that separated the diner from the shop. Brenna watched him go, then slid her eyes back toward the road. As she watched, a black Chevy blazed past the truck stop. She blinked slowly, tiredly, thinking of Virgil.
"You'll walk away," she quietly predicted. "One day, you'll walk away."
A subtle tremble through her large, black body was his first indication that something was wrong. It felt like an intake of air that shuddered out like a quake of fear. Frowning, he tightened his grip and focused his eyes on her dash, checking for more warning signs.
His shirt clung to the muscled contours of his chest and back, sticking with painful clarity to the seeping wounds left behind as a reminder of just how much his father cared. He felt a bead of sweat follow a familiar path down the side of his face, shimmying when it hit the scruff of beard along his jaw.
When the steam filtered like curling tendrils of languid thought before his eyes, Dean pounded his fist against the hard metal beneath his fingers.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean felt his heart flinch as his voice bounced around the interior of the oddly-quiet Impala.
The oppressive heat, a heavy blanket of humidity lying over the world, had seemed to sap the battery power of the Chevy. In an attempt to keep her going, Dean had turned the radio and the air conditioning off, the windows down, on the return trip from Toby, but the abused machine finally submitted to the elements, spewing steam and fluid through the seams in the hood as though giving up her life's blood.
"Dammit," he growled, looking in his rear-view mirror quickly, then darting his eyes ahead once more. Nothing. No one. Only grass, dirt, and sad, sagging trees. "Well, that's just fuckin' great."
The car limped to the side of the road as Dean pulled as close to the shade of a large tree as he could get. Shutting off the over-heated engine, Dean stepped from the relative protection of the shaded Impala into the intense sunlight. Grabbing his suit jacket from the back seat and wrapping it around his right hand, he moved around to the front of the ticking car and released the lever to raise the hood.
He stumbled back several steps, automatically throwing his hands in front of his face for protection as scalding-hot steam billowed from beneath the hood. Wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, he approached the Impala cautiously, eyes scanning her engine for latent bursts of scalding liquid.
The unseasonable heat should have done more than fray his already raw nerves. If he'd listened to Sam instead of his own pride—instead of running away like a pussy—he would have picked up a gallon of radiator fluid from that truck stop they passed on the way to Toby.
Pulling in a breath through his nose and exhaling it through his lips, he argued silently that he hadn't really planned on being in overheated Pennsylvania on the cusp of winter. Hell, he hadn't planned anything, it seemed, in the last nine months. He was a pinball ricocheting through what was left of his life, hoping to hit a buzzer and not fall through the cracks.
Biting his lip, Dean resisted the overwhelming urge to kick the front tire. Instead he took two bouncing steps back, grabbed an errant stone from the ground near his feet, whirled, and threw it down the empty road with the force of a major-league pitcher. His wounded back pulled tight in protest.
"SON OF A BITCH!"
His frustrated scream was echoed by the startled cry of a circling hawk. It was childish, he knew, but yelling had felt good. Tension burbling in his chest released like a valve over his heart. For good measure, he kicked another rock with the inside of his foot, sending it spiraling down the road.
Sighing, he ran his calloused hands through his short, sweaty hair, then turned to face the Impala.
"I'm sorry, baby," he said softly, feeling her silent disappointment. "I'll be back."
Tossing the now-ruined jacket into the back seat, Dean unbuttoned his suit shirt and slid it from his sweaty arms, the white T-shirt beneath it plastered to his skin. Rolling up the windows, but leaving the hood propped up to cool the engine, he locked the car, tied his extra shirt around his waist, and started the long walk back down the road to the last vestige of civilization he'd seen.
He walked with his head down, the sun beating a tattoo of radiating heat against his exposed neck. The wetness of anger in his mouth began to slowly fade as he watched his feet move forward, replaced by a thick, sticky dryness that began to make his tongue swell.
Hotter than Hell…
A sarcastic laugh tumbled out of him before he could catch it. He squinted down the road to check his progress, then dropped his eyes to keep walking. The skin on the back of his arms began to pull tight as the suns rays burned him.
Wonder how hot Hell actually is, he mused as he walked. Plodded. Left right left right. Dusty boot after dusty boot slipping into his line of sight. Rocks kicked to the side, tufts of gravel dust blossoming up, then dying in his wake.
Maybe Hell is cold. Sam's Dante book says it's cold.
Bobby says Hell could just be a state of mind—separation from God. Pretty damn far from God here… maybe this is Hell.
Nah, Sam's here. No way this is Hell. Hell's definitely a place.
He stumbled on a discarded, flattened soda can, shaking his head a bit as he regained his balance. Tiny white spots shimmered brightly at the corners of his eyes, then faded to be replaced by the surreal setting of landscape drenched in too-bright sunlight.
Yeah, it's a place I'm gonna go. Guess I'll get to see first hand if it's hot or cold. So, I've got that going for me. Which is nice.
He chuckled softly to himself. Laugh and the world laughs with you, right?
Sam had promised him. Promised they'd find a way out of this. And with that promise, Dean's eyes were opened to how hard Sam had been trying all year, how he'd been turning himself inside out to find a solution, literally leaving no stone unturned. An odd chill slid through Dean, even as the suffocating air pressed tight around him.
He would not lose Sam to this deal. No way. He did his job—he took care of Sam, brought him back, saved him. Sam was more important—he meant more to the world, to the greater good. He was needed here. Dean's job was—had always been—to make sure Sam stayed. Safe.
Bringing his head up once more hoping to see the truck stop's metallic roof reflecting in the distance, Dean conjured a mental picture of a bank vault. The old-fashioned kind with the multi-pronged door lock. Dropping his eyes after seeing nothing but empty blacktop, he imagined stuffing Sam inside, slamming the door on his protests, spinning the lock.
Licking his dry lips, he wondered why he never thought to climb inside himself. He was always on the outside, hoping, waiting, trusting, bracing himself for the worst. He reached up and wiped the corners of his mouth with the tip of his index finger and thumb. He hated that white gunk that gathered at the corner of his mouth when he was thirsty.
Shit, how far did I drive? He looked up again. Nothing.
The air was so still he could hear his breath in his throat before it escaped his body. He could hear his heartbeat. He glanced to the left at the tangle of flora. To his right the road shimmered with a mirage of heat. He could very well be the last man on earth.
Sam is out there, you dumbass. The heat is frying your brain.
Reaching up at that thought, he brushed the top of his head. His hair was so hot that he jerked his hand back in surprise. Frowning, he fashioned a long bandana from his extra shirt, tying it around his head. His T-shirt clung to him uncomfortably, but he didn't dare take it off. The pain from peeling away the semi-clotted wounds was not something he wanted to deal with out here on the backside of nowhere. Plus… sunburns were bad.
Sam is waiting for you to get back. So cowboy up and get this handled.
Triggered by his internal pep talk, Dean picked up his pace, shimmers of heat starting to play with his vision. Every moment apart from Sam felt like years. Before Cold Oak, before feeling the odd heaviness of his brother's lifeless body, Dean had moments where he would gladly take a break from his constant companion.
But since The Deal, since the clock started ticking, he hadn't even minded that Sam waited outside in the car for him while he… enjoyed the finer things in life.
Dean grinned at the memory. There was something life-affirming about the feel of a woman. Wetting his lips again with a tongue that now felt two sizes too big for his mouth, Dean thought about seeing Lisa in his dreams. Not simply Lisa, but the idea of a woman's companionship. Stability. Body. Warmth.
What the hell is wrong with me?
His thoughts had been wandering, the way they always did when he didn't have a path or a mission. Left to his own devices, ideas of a possible—or now impossible future—crowded out the specs of his .45, the feel of his balanced Bowie, the smell of burning fuel and salt.
Burning salt—and the bones they consumed—was not a scent he could easily forget. Yet, thinking about the dream of Lisa, about what she represented…home, family, a life beyond him. A child. A human reflection of his soul out in the world, walking around on its own… it tripped him up. Melted his breath inside his lungs and incinerated rational thought.
Get it together, Dean.
A glint caught his eye. He jerked his head up. The truck stop hovered like an oasis in the distance.
"It's about freakin' time."
He felt as if he'd been walking for hours, but the sun was just as intense as when he started. The heat of his own skin sent a chill racing along his arms, leaving goose bumps behind like breadcrumbs.
He looked down at his hands, noting how fat his fingers suddenly felt. He'd lost track of the distance, the space between here and back there, but his body told him that coupled with the balls-to-the-wall rush of the last several days, a walk without water in the heat of the day had not been wise.
Shuffling steps moved him forward; tiny clouds of dust in the still air heralded his approach. He shook his hands out, trying to release the unusual tension that stretched the skin across the back of them so tight he felt it would crack if he made a fist.
Get there, get fluid, get going.
He nodded at the wisdom of his plan, then paused, dry lips smacking together.
No, wait, scratch that. Get there, get water…and maybe some beef jerky…He smiled groggily. Mmmm beef jerky. Hunter's ambrosia.
Folding his lips down in a thoughtful, drowsy smile, he nodded again. Seriously, is there anything better than meat, dried and packaged? Take it with you anywhere. Could be hunting a werewolf in the woods, feel hungry? Hey, here's some beef jerky!
He rubbed his eyes, feeling them sizzle when he pressed the lids down, sparklers worthy of Independence Day shooting across the dark. Left right left right left…trip…
Open your friggin' eyes, Dean.
And he was there. Trying not to whimper aloud, he crossed the still-empty street, amazed that there were cars parked in the lot in front of the truck stop. He tilted his head. Cars and a motorcycle.
"Huh," he croaked.
He'd seen a motorcycle just like that pass him when he was driving to Toby. Stumbling closer, he brought the small license plate into focus. A silver band surrounded the official numbers. He tilted his head slightly, squinting against the sun's glare. There was a word inscribed on the band. Creideamh.
It couldn't be her. There had to be other people in the world who drove a '60's model Indian. It couldn't be Brenna Kavanagh… Could it?
In a dizzying rush of memory, staggering him with the weight of the images, Dean pulled her eyes, her lips, the feel of her skin, the harsh slap of her anger, the fine caress of her touch from somewhere deep inside of him. Somewhere buried under so much rubble he'd thought he'd never dig her out. And didn't know if he wanted to.
"Son of a…"
He turned to the entrance and pushed through the glass doors, the metal bar brand-iron hot from the sun, and felt his knees go weak as the cool air conditioning replaced the stifling humidity. Shaking his stinging hand he pulled off his shirt-turban, using a sleeve to wipe his face. He looked around quickly and saw her at a far booth, her back to him.
Of all the gin joints in all the cities in all the world…
Her hair was longer then when he'd last seen her, and she wore it twisted into a loose reddish-blonde knot fastened with what looked like a pencil stabbed through the mess. He stared hard at the back of her head. He knew it was her.
Knew even before her shoulders stiffened and he heard her coffee mug thunk on the Formica table top. Knew before she turned slightly in the booth, offering him a glimpse of her striking profile. Knew before her unusual eyes hit him like a punch in the gut.
"Son of a bitch," she breathed.
The room seemed to tilt around him and he felt the floor roll. Blinking, he staggered slightly as he headed toward the counter and tried not to beg when he said, "Water. Lots and lots of water."
Someone with coffee-stained fingers stood behind the counter. Dean didn't register if the person were large or small, tall or short, male or female. He simply saw the fingers disappear and reappear, gripping a glass of water. Dean downed the contents without a single intake of breath, slamming it down and ticking his finger at the empty glass.
"Hit me," he rasped.
She hadn't approached him. He could feel her eyes, but she hadn't moved. As he downed another glass, his knees stopped working entirely and he found his back pockets hitting the round-topped stool.
The last time he'd seen her, she had been almost hollow. Her whole world had burned away. Everyone and everything she'd known. And she'd stood in the middle of it, silently building her own wall of protection, figuring out how she was to escape the same fate.
She'd said they'd find each other. At the time he'd liked how the illusion of a promise had sounded, and had been broken enough physically to need to hear it. But he hadn't believed, not really.
And he'd forgotten it completely—had almost forgotten her—when his lips met the pliant, cold mouth of a demon.
He drank another glass and was grateful when the liquid was returned without his having to ask. He kept Brenna in his periphery, his entire body tight in the anticipation of her next move.
She seemed to sigh a bit as she stood, balancing herself. He felt her breathe. A chill raced along his arms again, drying the sweat streaks on his back, drawing his damp shirt close to his skin. He didn't turn her way; simply waiting for her to approach had started to liquefy his belly.
He'd always liked the way his name sounded in her voice—like she was tasting it. Even when she was pissed beyond measure, when she said his name, he knew it was safe in her mouth.
"Brenna," he replied, dropping his chin a bit and looking at her from the corners of his eyes. It was a reflexive, protective glance. One he knew brought about a certain reaction in women, and one that kept him just enough away from them that they had to choose to close the gap between them.
She was dressed in jeans, worn through to pale denim on the insides of her thighs, and a gray Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon T-shirt, the rainbow and the prism bending around her breasts. Dean darted his eyes to her hands resting loosely at her waist, thumbs hooked into her empty belt loops.
It had been months… months since he'd seen her. So much had happened, so much was pending… and all he wanted to do was drink in her lips. Here. Now.
Her eyes slid quickly over his face and took in his haggard, sweaty appearance. He knew how much she could really see; he knew she could see inside of him if she wanted to. If she touched him, all bets were off. And he wasn't ready for her to know.
"Hot out there," she stated matter-of-factly, her voice slightly rough, as if she'd been screaming.
"You could say that," he replied, tipping the crushed ice from his nearly-empty glass into his mouth, filling the hollow beneath his tongue and letting it melt there.
"Where's Sam," Brenna asked, looking past him. He saw the briefest shadow cross her face and his heart seized. "Is he—"
"He's fine," Dean interrupted. "We're… on a job," he glanced at the scattering of patrons too involved in their own lives to eavesdrop on the conversation between what probably looked like a weathered vagrant and a college student. "I had some supplies to get and I'm heading back toward him."
"On foot?" She raised an eyebrow, her lips quirking.
Dean curled his lips in, enjoying the feel of his cold tongue on the still-warm flesh. "I, uh, had some car trouble."
Her other brow met the arched one in a look of disbelief. "You?"
The way she said the word made him feel like he'd just admitted to kicking a puppy.
"Hey," he frowned, looking at the bottom of his water glass. "It happens."
He felt her finger press against the back of his arm before he could pull away.
"You got some sun," she said softly, leaning close to peer at the back of his neck. "Damn, Dean, your back is a mess! What the hell happened to you?"
He realized as he absorbed her scent that he'd forgotten to breathe for a moment when she touched him. Brenna's touch had always opened him up, left him bare, exposed things he worked all his life to keep hidden. Her grandfather had warned them that her druid past meant that they couldn't lie to her. But for Dean, it had gone deeper than lies. The abilities that fell to her because of her druid origins had striped his mask and shown her the layers of scars that went deeper than the tough outer shell of his skin.
"How did you…" he didn't know how to ask the question.
How did you just touch me without recoiling in fear? How did you not see the Hell that rolls inside me, the Hell that haunts me, the Hell that waits for me?
"You tangle with a cougar or something?" Brenna pressed, ignoring his half-spoken question.
"What?" Dean couldn't seem to pin a clear line of question to the wall of his brain.
"Your back—you have some bloody patches here," Brenna pointed, but didn't touch him again. He realized he was holding himself tense, pulling away from her.
"Oh," Dean looked over his shoulder, unable to see the wounds. "Yeah, I, uh, got hit by a rock-salt landmine."
Brenna shook her head, scanning his face with quiet eyes. "Of course you did."
Dean gratefully drank once more of his refilled water glass. He couldn't seem to get enough. He was bottomless, dry from the inside out. And she was making him thirsty for something water wouldn't quench.
"So… Sam's okay?"
"Yeah," Dean said, and tried to feel as though he wasn't lying. Physically, Sam was fine. Mentally, he was strung out. Emotionally he was abused. But, then again, he was a Winchester. "I gotta get some radiator fluid. Get back to him. "
A strong scent suddenly filled Dean's nostrils, sharp and tangy, like burning incense. Frowning, he glanced over his shoulder, away from Brenna.
"Oh, hey, Virge," Brenna said, greeting the figure who now loomed near them, just about to shut the door that separated the diner from the truck stop shop and showers. "Dean, you remember Virgil, right?"
Dean turned fully on the stool, taking in the sight of the blue-eyed paramedic that Sam had dubbed Sinatra. He was solidly built, dressed in worn jeans and a white T-shirt with the Coca-Cola logo across the chest, a red Dodgers baseball hat on backwards, hiding his lack of hair. His face held the lines of age, but his eyes danced with youth.
"Uh, sure," Dean tipped his chin up. "Hey, man."
Virgil nodded at Dean, his mouth tight. "You coming, Bren?"
"Not just yet."
Virgil narrowed his eyes. "Getting late. Not a lot of sun left."
"Could be a good thing, hot as it is out there," Brenna returned.
Dean felt the quiet conversation that wasn't happening, holding very still as a decision was made, not sure what the choices had been.
"Yeah, well, do what you think is best," Virgil said quietly, pushing his way out through the door and back into the trucker's area.
"Always do," Brenna said softly.
"You're… with… him?" Dean asked hesitantly as he turned back to face her. This close to her, he could see the lines that the sun had drawn around where her shades had protected her large, odd eyes.
Freckles, he thought. Has she always had freckles?
"We're traveling together," she replied, not really answering him.
His belly rolled with a unique heat, one he recognized and usually welcomed. As the warmth traveled lower, he felt alarm bells clang in his ears and launched to his feet, looking for a quick escape.
"Well, okay, listen, I—"
The slow spin of the world caught him off guard and he was forced to grab the counter top or fall forward on his face.
"Whoa!" Brenna stepped forward, grabbing his upper arms. "How long were you out there?"
Her eyes traveled his face, searching. He straightened. There had rarely been a time that he'd been whole around Brenna. Parts of him were always broken. And she seemed destined to try to put him back together.
"'M okay," he breathed.
"Sure you are," Brenna pushed him back on the stool. "Does Sam know you're—"
"Leave Sam out of this!" Dean snapped. "Why do you keep asking about Sam?"
Brenna leaned back on her heels, crossing her arms over her chest. "Because I can't remember a time when you two were separated for a good reason."
Dean stared at her.
"You're part of each other," she shrugged.
"Well," he said, softer this time. "He's fine. But he's gonna start to wonder where the hell I am, so I better get going."
"I'll take you." The words rushed from her as if she was afraid not saying them would leave a hollow between them that nothing else would fill.
"What?" Dean started to stand, but sat back down again quickly. "No."
Brenna lifted an eyebrow. "You're, what, gonna walk back to the Impala?"
"Dean, you look like you've been rode hard and put away wet," she shook her head.
His mouth went dry. The words hard and wet seemed to slow as her lips parted to release them. He closed his eyes briefly, pulling in a calming breath. He needed more time if he was going to walk back. He needed help if he was going to be coherent enough to keep up with Sam on this hunt once he told his brother about the bodies back in Toby.
"…obviously hurt and I'm not going to just let you walk out of here into that heat," she said sternly, having continued her argument as he folded inside himself, weighing his options.
"Why? Because I—wait, what did you say?" She paused mid-rant.
"I said fine."
"Oh," she blinked. "Well, okay then. Go and get your…" She waved her hand vaguely.
Dean stood carefully, waited for the world to right itself, then stepped away from the counter as Brenna paid her bill. He walked into the truck stop section of the building, ears instantly assaulted by blaring TVs, arcade games, and Muzak piped over the speakers.
What the hell am I doing, getting a ride from her? He wandered the rows filled with oil and engine supplies, eyes searching blankly. This is not the time for distractions. This is not the time for seeing what might happen. This is not the time for—his eyes hit the rows of feminine supplies and condoms. Oh, you've gotta be kidding me…
Dean jerked his head up at the dark rumble of the voice to his left. Sinatra.
"Hey," he greeted simply.
"She's got her own baggage to deal with," Virgil said, his bright blue eyes glittering slightly.
Dean lifted an eyebrow. "You warning me off?"
"I'm just saying," Virgil shrugged.
"You with her, man?" Dean asked Virgil the same question he'd posed to Brenna. He bit the inside of his cheek as Virgil looked away. That was answer enough.
"Just be careful," Virgil said.
"I'm getting a ride and getting back to my brother," Dean said. "Simple as that."
Virgil looked down at his hands, then lifted his eyes to Dean. "With Brenna," he shrugged a shoulder, "nothing's simple."
He walked away, leaving Dean to stare at the rows of condoms. "Son of a bitch," Dean growled, stomping down the aisle to the radiator fluid, grabbing up a jug and making a bee-line to the check-out counter.
"Anything else?" The bored-looking attendant asked.
"No," Dean snapped.
I do not want condoms. I don't want anything. I just need to get my girl up and running and get back on the job. I need to get back on track. I need to… dammit… I need to stop thinking about her damn mouth.
Pocketing his change, Dean turned on his heel, slipping out through the back door and contemplating heading down the highway. The waves of heat that slammed into him from all sides changed his mind. His body was too worn from the last several days, too hollowed-out from the truth the dream walking had revealed to him—you're gonna die, Dean, and this is what you're gonna become—and too bone-dry from this unnatural heat to bear the brunt of the return trip.
The suffocating stillness sucked the air from his lungs as though a vacuum cleaner hose had been shoved down his throat. He nearly gagged from the lack of breeze as he searched the lot for Brenna. He saw her just as she swung a long leg over the back of her bike, settling her nicely-shaped ass on the seat, the slim curve of her back making him swallow a groan.
She shot him a look as he approached. He couldn't read it and didn't want to.
"You can put that jug in my bags," she said, pointing to what looked like saddle bags. "I don't have an extra helmet."
Dean did as she instructed, then shrugged. "I have a hard head."
"Climb on," she said, strapping the black helmet under her chin and waiting until he settled in behind her to kick the engine on. "You might want to put that extra shirt on over those wounds."
Silently arguing that he was just fine, dammit, and didn't need any suggestions from her, Dean did as she said.
"Damn, it's hot out here," she sighed.
"Sam says it's not a normal heat," Dean informed her.
"Sam's a smart guy," she replied.
Dean had been on the back of a bike before, but never behind someone. Never behind Brenna. The thrill of the rumble between his legs only served to amplify his already heady senses and as she pulled out he realized he had two choices: hold on to the tiny bar just under his rear-end, or hold on to her waist.
Swallowing his enormous pride with an almost-audible gulp, he set his hands at her waist, trying to block out the scoop of her shape, the memory of how she moved against him, how her skin had felt as it glided smoothly over the hard planes of his belly.
Get a fuckin' grip, Winchester.
Dean leaned forward. "She's a few miles down this road. On the right."
"We'll find her," Brenna shouted back.
Dean pulled back slightly, his eyes catching on the Celtic tattoo on her neck. The Gaelic word for faith. Something she claimed she'd never had in herself. Something he'd seen her exhibit multiple times. Saving him. Saving Sam. Helping them to save each other.
Safety and danger wrapped around Brenna like a vine, pulling him close to her and pushing him away at the same time. He felt twisted and torn. Excitement and dread began to battle in his chest, making it hard for him to take a deep breath.
He pictured the vault. Sam's vault. With Sam safely inside. He pictured the wheel lock. He watched his hand reach for the lock, spinning it, opening it, seeing Sam standing there on the other side, whole, happy. He closed his eyes and subconsciously leaned forward, his chest resting lightly against Brenna's back.
He wanted inside. And he couldn't move.
After they'd ridden for a bit in silence and memories, Brenna called out, "There she is."
Dean jerked back, gripping her sides tighter in reaction. As they slowed, Dean realized the wind that had been cooling the sweat on his neck was simply from their speed and not from any release of oppressive heat.
"Yep, that's my baby," he said, his smile genuine as Brenna pulled off the road behind the Impala, stopping the Indian in the shade of the large tree.
*** Continued in Part 2B, found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/31867.html***