Chapter 2: What Is It Good For?

 

After nearly a week had passed, Tabitha was finally beginning to feel like she’d regained some semblance of control over her emotions.

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And finally coming to accept the new twists in their lives. Bobby was officially confined to a wheelchair. The Apocalypse had begun. Lucifer was somewhere out there. And she and her brothers were in the center of it all.

But hardest of all, was that Castiel was alive and well. Even if she still hadn’t seen or heard from him to know that herself.

She was happy and relieved that he was alive, she really was.

That didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt, too.

She found herself wondering if all joy had to be mixed with pain. Did that somehow make it real? Validate it in some way?

The long days helped to make great strides in controlling that hurt though. Even if she still found herself wondering why she couldn’t seem to shake a certain angel from her thoughts. She’d all but convinced herself that what he’d told her before he’d…died…had only been because of that impending doom. She couldn’t hold him responsible or accountable for making dramatic proclamations when he was about to die. No one would be so foolish as to take that to heart. Right?

No matter how many times she tried to convince herself of it though, the question floated back to the surface, But if he did mean what he said; why haven’t I seen him since? He showed up to my brothers! But not me!

“Err!” she growled as she slapped the wall that she was leaning against. “He already told you what you need to know! He all but said he wasn’t capable of it.”

“Who isn’t capable of what?”

Tabitha sucked in a surprised breath as she twirled to face Sam. She’d been so lost in the argument with herself that she hadn’t even heard her younger brother walking up behind her in the hallway.

“Nothing,” she quickly replied. “Just talking to myself.”

Sam looked at her suspiciously, but finally let her dodge pass. “You get anything to eat yet?”

Shaking her head, she answered with a wrinkled nose, “No. I hate hospital food.” She looked around the hallway. “Where’s Dean? He stay at the motel?”

Sam glanced around as well before shrugging away any concern. “He was eyeballing a nurse as we walked in. Probably chased after her in hopes of fulfilling another fantasy or two.”

Tabitha shared her brother’s laughter, knowing he was probably more than close to being right.

“How’s Bobby doing? Any better?” he questioned.

“What do you think?”

Sam followed her gaze through the open door of Bobby’s hospital room. The man was upright and in his wheelchair, but he’d been sitting with the same vacant stare out the window for more than an hour.

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After a moment, Sam softly suggested, “Why don’t you head to the motel, get some rest. Dean and I will take the next shift watching Bobby.”

He’d spoken lowly, but Bobby proved there was nothing wrong with his hearing when he grumbled, “Balls! I’m not a dern baby that needs looking after by the likes of you two.”

He hadn’t looked away from the window or moved though, so Tabitha and Sam chose to ignore his rumblings.

Dean approached just as Tabitha was about to give in to Sam’s suggestion of some shut-eye. “What’s it been—like, three days now?” he observed, trying to hide the concern in his voice as he strolled up to his siblings. Bobby hadn’t spoken since the last doctor had confirmed that he’d be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. “We got to cheer him up,” he continued. Then he turned to give his sister a little smirk. “Maybe you could give him a back rub.”

“Dean,” Sam reproachfully scolded before Tabitha could speak.

“Well, what, then?” he demanded in return.

“Look…we might have to wrap our heads around the idea that Bobby might not just bounce back this time,” Sam tried to reason. Changing the subject, he nodded curiously towards the large envelope stamped “x-ray” in Dean’s hands.

“Went to radiology. Got some glamour shots.” Sam reached across to take the x-ray film, holding it up in the air as he and Tabitha looked up at the image of symbols carved into their brother’s ribs.

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Dean continued as his siblings examined the film. “Let’s just say the doctors are baffled.”

“Holy crap,” Sam muttered.

Tabitha discreetly ran her fingers along the side of her own ribcage as she cautioned her older brother, “I hope you took any copies they might have had. If those start passing around, they might try to make a human Guinea pig out of you.”

With a dry look at Sam, Dean replied, “Yeah, well, Sam’ll have to be careful, too, Cas carved him one, as well.” He looked down and caught the discreet motion of Tabitha’s fingers running along her ribs. “He’ll probably carve you up next time we see him. Unless that bracelet of yours is just as good.”

She cleared her throat uncomfortably and kept her eyes on the film in Sam’s hands as she admitted, “He…ah…sorta already did.”

“Excuse me? What?” Dean demanded in a tight voice, his arms crossing disapprovingly over his chest.

She steeled herself and met his gaze as she told him, “He carved my ribs a while back. He was worried about why the demons were after me.”

“But this protects against angels,” Sam quickly pointed out.

With a frown at his sharp memory, she expounded on her explanation. “Yeah, and Cas was worried about why the demons were after me and me seeing reapers and such, and he said I’d be safer if angels didn’t know about those things.”

“Anything else you’d like to share with the class?” Dean bit out.

“Nope. Can’t think of anything,” she quickly answered, grinding her heel into Sam’s foot when he shoved a pointed elbow into her side at Dean’s question. She knew Dean needed to know…about her blood…but now just didn’t seem like the right time to tell him yet another thing she hadn’t shared with him right away. She’d do it…when the time was right.

Tabitha stepped into Bobby’s room when Sam’s phone rang, grateful for the opportunity to step away from the conversation she was afraid her younger brother might launch into whether she was ready for it or not.

“How you doing, Bobby?” she tried asking the man, but he continued to ignore her. She’d had a little hope earlier in the day that they’d been able to get him into the wheelchair and that he’d even asked for his baseball hat, but her glimmer of hope had been short lived, because he’d gone immediately to starting out the window and not speaking to them.

She stood behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder when he continued to ignore her question and her very existence. Then, his hand reached up to his shoulder, folding over her fingers in a loose, but steady grip as he held her hand to his shoulder.

Not saying a word, she bent down behind him, wrapping her other arm around his collarbone as she whispered in his ear, “We’ll always be here for you, Bobby, and we’ll figure this out somehow.”

He gave a little grunt, but otherwise remained motionless.

She’d ignored her brothers’ voices as she leaned over to continue hugging Bobby from behind, but snapped to attention when she suddenly heard Castiel’s voice behind her as he apparently answered something one of her brothers had said. “You’re hidden from angels now—all angels.”

Tabitha quickly stood and turned to look at her brothers and the familiar sight of the trench-coated-angel that hadn’t been far from her thoughts, and was now filling the doorway.

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Even Bobby seemed suddenly animated, releasing her hand and turning his wheelchair to face the same direction she was as they listened to Castiel continue.

“I won’t be able to simply—”

“Enough foreplay,” Bobby suddenly growled, cutting off whatever Castiel’s explanation had been. “Get over here and lay your damn hands on,” he ordered. “Get healing—now.”

His behavior suddenly made a bit more sense to Tabitha now. He’d been silent and staring out the window. But it hadn’t been that he was broken—he was waiting for the angel to come heal him.

“I can’t,” Castiel told him in response.

Tabitha stared at the angel in shock, thinking of the times he’d healed her and the injury he’d previously healed Bobby of so many months before when she’d asked him to.

“Say again?” Bobby tersely questioned before she could speak.

But she quickly found her voice. “Please, Cas,” she entreated.

Castiel’s eyes flicked up to her for the barest moment. The first time since she’d watched him explode in front of her, but his eyes quickly cut away as he focused on Bobby, stepping towards the man as he explained, “I’m cut off from Heaven and much of Heaven’s power. Certain things, I can do. Certain things, I can’t.”

“You’re telling me you lost your mojo just in time to get me stuck in this trap the rest of my life?!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Shove it up your ass.” Bobby angrily turned his wheelchair back towards the window, staring out it again as he ignored the presence of anyone else in the room.

“Well, at least he’s talking,” Dean told Sam.

“I heard that,” the man growled without facing them.

Castiel still ignored Tabitha as he turned to face her brothers once more, telling them, “I don’t have much time. We need to talk.”

“Okay,” Dean agreed.

“Your plan to kill Lucifer.”

“Yeah, you want to help?”

“No. It’s foolish. It can’t be done.”

Tabitha had never been one to allow a man to ignore her for any reason, and she wasn’t about to start with the angel. But his cold and detached demeanor had been enough for her to shove away any lingering hope for something between them. At least for the moment.

“It’s a plan, Cas,” she defended her brothers as she stepped into their circle, sliding a little closer to Sam when Castiel seemed to almost flinch at her nearness when she drew even with him. “We’ve got to do something.”

“It can’t be done,” he reiterated as he stared ahead, looking only at Dean.

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“Oh. Well, thanks for the support,” Dean retorted.

Still not seeming to grasp sarcasm, Castiel forged ahead. “But I believe I have the solution. There is…someone…besides Michael strong enough to take on Lucifer—strong enough to stop the Apocalypse.”

“Who’s that?” Sam asked.

“The one who resurrected me and put you two on that airplane. The one who began everything. God. I’m gonna find God,” he told them with an eager conviction.

Dean immediately closed the door to Bobby’s room as if they were discussing military secrets of grave importance. Or more likely, like they were discussing something that might get them tossed into the nearest loony bin. “God?” he questioned.

“Yes.”

“God.”

“Yes. He isn’t in Heaven. He has to be somewhere,” Castiel explained to them as Sam began to pace in the room and Tabitha stepped away as she tried to process it all.

“Try New Mexico,” Dean sarcastically answered. “I hear he’s on a tortilla.”

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The angel waited a beat as he considered it and then with all seriousness told Dean, “No, he’s not on any flatbread.”

“Sarcasm, Cas. It’s sarcasm. He’s not serious,” Tabitha reminded the angel as she rubbed at the headache building behind her forehead.

Though he still wouldn’t look at her, the angel did seem to remember some of her lessons with him on human expressions. But he said only, “Oh,” in a soft voice.

“Listen, Chuckles, even if there is a God, he is either dead—and that’s the generous theory—”

“He is out there, Dean,” the angel interrupted.

Dean ignored him. “…Or he’s up and kicking and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any of us. I mean, look around you, man. The world is in the toilet. We are literally at the End of Days here, and he’s off somewhere drinking booze out of a coconut. All right?”

“Enough,” Castiel commanded after Dean’s diatribe. “This is not a theological issue. It’s strategic. With God’s help, we can win.”

“Fine, Cas,” Tabitha broke in, trying to make the angel see reason. “But if it’s not theological but it’s strategic, can’t you see the futileness in wasting our time and resources on finding someone who doesn’t seem to care and doesn’t want to be found?”

“It’s a pipe dream, Cas,” Dean chipped in.

Castiel took a few angry steps towards Dean, staring him down as he lectured, “I killed two angels this week.” He glanced at Tabitha as he stressed, “My brothers. I’m hunted. I rebelled. And I did it—all of it—” Castiel leaned back slightly from where he’d squared off, leaning back from Dean’s face as he stared into Tabitha’s eyes meaningfully. Holding her eyes intently, he finished, “For you.” Then he tore his gaze away to focus on Dean, his eyes shifting so quickly, Tabitha doubted her brothers would even notice where the angel had been looking.

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Castiel’s voice dipped even lower as he raggedly told Dean, “And you failed. You and your brother destroyed the world. And I lost everything—for nothing. So keep your opinions to yourself.”

Tabitha gently laid her hand on Castiel’s shoulder to draw his attention away from Dean. “Everything isn’t lost. We can still figure out how to deal with all of this,” she told the angel.

Instead of turning towards her as she had expected, Castiel jerked away from her as if her touch had burned him, refusing to meet her eyes.

In the uncomfortable silence the followed, Bobby finally spoke. “You didn’t drop in just to tear us a new hole. What is it you want?”

Ignoring her once more, Castiel turned back towards Dean, telling him, “I did come for something. An amulet.”

“An amulet? What kind?” Bobby asked.

“Very rare. Very powerful. It burns hot in God’s presence. It’ll help me find him.”

Tabitha wrapped her arms around herself as she hesitantly moved across the room to stand closer to her younger brother. Sam looked dubious as he questioned, “A God EMF?”

“Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I got nothing like that.”

“I know you don’t,” Castiel answered Bobby. He gave Dean a pointed look and then drew his gaze down to the necklace the oldest Winchester always wore. A gift from Sam in their childhood. For a moment, she glanced down at the necklace she wore. It had been a gift from Sam that same Christmas, but it was just an ordinary key. Nothing special, other than as a pleasant memory. But then, they hadn’t thought Dean’s necklace was anything special either.

“What—this?” Dean asked as he looked back up.

“May I borrow it?”

“No,” Dean automatically replied.

“Dean. Give it to me.”

For a few moments, Dean and Castiel had a silent stare-off, but Dean finally relented, saying, “All right, I guess.”

He handed the necklace almost hesitantly to the angel, yanking it back at the last moment to warn, “Don’t lose it.”

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Dean seemed uncomfortable when he’d finally relinquished the necklace, shrugging as he tugged on the edges of his coat and murmured, “Oh, great. Now I feel naked.”

“I’ll be in touch,” Castiel laconically told them.

Tabitha felt the stirring of power that she knew to associate with Castiel arriving and disappearing, so before he could, she silently threw at him, Wait! I need to talk to you. Alone.

He hesitated, but she feared he either hadn’t heard her or was going to continue to ignore her, and then as the air whooshed and he disappeared, she heard his voice drift across her mind, Outside.

She shook herself from her stupor at him actually answering her after how he’d reacted to her in Bobby’s room, but threw a quick excuse to her brothers about needing to catch some fresh air and jogged out of the room.

As she jogged down the hall, she heard Bobby call out to the angel, “When you find God, tell him to send legs!”

She looked around the hallways as she exited Bobby’s room, but when she didn’t spot the angel, quickly made for the nearest exit and walked out onto the grassy knoll dotted with a few modest trees and cheap park benches.

But she didn’t spot the angel. Finally, she decided to sit on one of the benches and hope that Castiel still intended to show up and wasn’t ditching her. Though from his reactions earlier, it wouldn’t have surprised her.

“You wished to see me?” he asked as he appeared on the bench next to her.

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Her breath hitched, but only slightly at his sudden appearance. “I think I’m getting more used to you popping in like that,” she told him.

When he waited silently for her to continue, she sighed in exasperation, but did go on. “You’re alive.”

It wasn’t what she had meant to say, but once she’d uttered it, she couldn’t think of anything else.

“Yes, I am,” was Castiel’s only reply.

“That’s it?! That’s all you have to say?!” she demanded as she sprang to her feet, angered by his blasé response.

The look of utter bewilderment on Castiel’s face brought her anger up short. “You don’t even understand why I’m mad, do you?” she asked him in shock as her hands settled on her hips.

“No,” he said as he shook his head, staring up at her and waiting for her explanation.

“You’ve been alive for days, Cas, and you never said anything to me. Didn’t send word or come see me to let me know you were okay. Nothing. I think I deserve more than that…” She trailed off as she angrily stabbed at the tears dribbling past her lashes. “I thought after what you said…that maybe there was something between us.”

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Castiel’s face closed off as he transformed into the impassive angel statue she so loathed, but he did stand to face her. “What I told you was true. All of it. Yet, I am an angel. I’m not capable of the emotions you seek. And such things don’t matter after the mess your brothers have created. I can’t afford distractions. I must find God.”

Tabitha forced herself to harden as well, determined not to allow another tear to fall for this angel. “Distraction?” she repeated in a stark voice. “Screw you, Castiel.” She looked away as she felt her mask of anger slip, hardening herself again before she looked back. “Don’t you dare call me a distraction like I was just some trivial little thing, or like I was an annoying pest that forced you to do something against your will. You were with me every step of the way. And more than willing.”

She hugged her arms around herself as Castiel continued his impassive stare, seeming unaffected by her words as she continued. “But I guess you were right after all. Angels just aren’t capable of emotion. You’re not capable of any sort of feelings. Not like a human anyway. You might as well just be the freakin’ statue you always seem to be imitating.”

Castiel’s face darkened a little as he told her, “I’m doing my duty—what I must to save this world. If Lucifer has his way…if the battle with Michael begins…every human on this planet will die. I can’t allow your whims or the whims of your brothers to stop me from my goal.”

“My whims?! All I wanted was to know you were still alive!” She clenched her jaw shut so tightly it began to hurt. “Screw you!” she ground out. “You wanna blame me and my brothers for what’s happening, then fine, blame us. But we’re trying to stop it, too. And don’t forget the hand your brothers had in helping to launch this mess. So let’s don’t start blaming each other’s brothers here. What your brothers did was worse. They knew what they were doing.

“And if you wanna run around the world looking for God, then be my guest. But don’t you dare act all snide to me just because I wanted to know you were okay. It tore a hole in my heart to think you were dead, and the least courtesy you could have given me after everything was a call to say you were alive and okay. But I guess you just can’t understand any of this, can you? I know you can feel Cas, so don’t give me that BS that angels have no feelings. But you can sure be a cold and unfeeling bastard when you want to. You have no idea what it’s like to have a hole in your heart that was torn open because of the loss of someone you cared for. Someone who obviously didn’t care back.”

He gave her a hard, fathomless stare before he whispered, “I have no intention of finding out.”

The angel disappeared before the words finished echoing in her ears.

She felt numb to the world as she walked away from the empty park bench, and wasn’t even sure where she intended to go as she walked to the hospital parking lot. All she knew was she needed to get out of there. Somewhere. Anywhere.

There were a lot of things she needed though. Not the least of which was to snap out of whatever ridiculous notions she’d held about her and Castiel. Once more, she was left confounded as to where they stood, what they were to each other, and just what they were doing.

It was impossible for her to deny—at least to herself—that she had somehow come to develop some kind of feelings for the angel. Perhaps he truly wasn’t capable of the same for her though. And maybe it didn’t matter.

But he’d been right about one thing: the Apocalypse was nigh, and that had to take precedence. Her feelings…whatever they were…needed to be shoved aside.

“It’s foolish anyway,” she whispered to herself as she stopped beside the Impala. “We’re just too different. He’s an angel and I’m human. We had some fun, and that’s that.”

Her body sagged a little as she leaned down to brace her arms and head against the roof of the car, wondering to herself if she would ever really believe that. Maybe if she reminded herself enough times.

In the end, she realized it didn’t matter if she believed it or not. She’d never been one to live in fantasies of what could be. Life had taught her that more often than not, you had to live with the hand you were dealt, even if you didn’t like it.

“Hey, glad we caught you before you left,” Dean called out behind her.

More than anything, she wanted to remain with her head lying against the roof of the car, but she was no ostrich to bury her head in the sand, so she turned to face her brothers and whatever put the urgency in his voice head on.

“What’s up?”

Sam looked worried as he explained, “Got a call from Rufus. Something’s up in River Pass, Colorado. Couldn’t catch most of what he said, but Bobby said what he heard sounded bad. Something about a lot of omens popping up there.”

With a resigned sigh, Tabitha opened the back door of the Impala, crawling in as she tiredly replied, “Of course there is. What would the Apocalypse be without some fun times like that? Can’t have End Times without fun times.”


River Pass, Colorado

Tabitha followed her brothers’ lead as they fanned out along the deserted street of what she was sure had once been a normal looking small town. It could now pass more for the scene of some horror/zombie movie flick.

“Keep your shotgun tight and at the ready,” Dean warned her.

She sped up slightly to close the distance between her and Sam ahead of her, throwing an annoyed look over her shoulder at Dean. “I know what I’m doing.”

When she drew even with Sam, he glanced down at her with a smirk as the two silently commiserated with each other about the pains of their protective older brother.

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They sobered as they approached yet another abandoned car, the sight of the dark blood on the pavement outside the open driver’s door drawing their attention.

Tabitha knelt to look at the blood and the baby stroller that was partially crushed under the front wheel. Thankfully, the stroller appeared to have been empty. She reached down to touch the blood with her fingertips, finding it tacky, but not dried. “This can’t be too old,” she told them from her crouched position with her shotgun braced across her knees. “It hasn’t dried yet,” she continued.

Her brothers started silently fanning out away from the car as she rose to her feet, but they’d only taken a few steps when all three of them heard a gun being cocked behind them.

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They turned around together, and as Tabitha suspiciously demanded, “Who the hell are you?” Sam asked in disbelief, “Ellen?”

“Hello, boys,” the dark haired older woman greeted. Her brown hair fell loose to her shoulders, and she was dressed in dark jeans and a black leather coat, but she wasn’t familiar to Tabitha even though her brothers seemed to recognize the middle-aged woman, calling her by name.

Sam and Dean lowered their weapons, but Tabitha held hers braced against her arm and shoulder as she questioned them. “Who the hell is Ellen?”

The woman released the hammer her pistol and lowered her arm as she advanced on them, throwing Tabitha a clipped answer of, “Old friend.”

Dean immediately jumped in. “Ellen, what the heck’s going on here?”

His answer was a dosing of holy water to the face. Tabitha had begun to lower her aim a little when it appeared the woman really was a friend, but raised the gun again when the other woman took aim once more on Dean.

“You better step off, bitch,” she warned the woman.

Her brother allowed the water to slide off his face for a moment before he stated the obvious. “We’re us.”

Ellen glanced at the barrel Tabitha had stuck inches from her face before finally lowering her pistol again. When Tabitha appeared reluctant to do so as well, Dean placed an arm on her forearm to push the barrel towards the ground.

“She’s a friend, Tab. Ellen Harvelle. Used to run the Roadhouse. It was a hangout for hunters, I guess.” He turned to Ellen to complete the introductions. “Ellen, this is our sister Tabitha.” Tabitha nodded to herself, having at least heard of the woman from Rufus, Bobby, and a few other hunters over the years when she’d helped them with her FBI connections. The fiery—and ballsie—woman before her hadn’t been quite the quiet barkeep she’d imagined over the years though.

Ellen nodded briskly to Tabitha. “I’d say ‘nice to meet another of John’s kids,’ but the circumstances really aren’t that nice.”

Without another word, the dark haired woman strode past Tabitha and between her brothers, making her way towards a small church as her brothers readily followed. Tabitha fell in step with Sam as she lowly asked him, “You’re sure she’s okay?”

He nodded, though he grimly admitted, “Yeah, she’s a friend. Just not sure what she’s doing out here hunting.”

As they entered the nearby church over a salt line and through a Devil’s Trap, Ellen seemed to finally let down the guard she’d been holding up. With a shaky exhale, she greeted them with, “Real glad to see you boys,” grabbing Dean to hug him as she spoke.

She pushed back from him and gave him a once over before pulling her hand back and slapping him across the cheek. “The can of whup ass I ought to open on you,” she lectured in cross tones. “You can’t pick up a phone? What are you—allergic to giving me peace of mind?” she railed. She looked around Dean at his sister and continued, “Didn’t you at least ever teach them any better manners? I’d smack you, too, for not calling, but you get off with just a warning since we haven’t met yet. But you darn well better keep them in line and keep me informed about what’s going on from now on.”

Tabitha was stupefied into muttering an apologetic, “Yes, ma’am.”

But Ellen wasn’t finished, hardly acknowledging Tabitha’s response as she turned back to Dean. “And what the hell are you doing dragging your sister back into these kinds of messes. Wasn’t she working a real job with the Feds or something? How’d you let her get drawn back into this shit? And why did I have to find out that you’re alive from Rufus?!”

“Sorry, Ellen,” Dean apologized when she finally took a breath from lecturing him.

“Yeah, you better be. You better put me on speed dial, kid,” she looked around to encompass all three of them as she added, “All of you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they intoned together.

Ellen seemed to finally have run out of steam, nodding to them before turning to lead them further towards the basement of the church as if she hadn’t just cornered and lectured the three of them like naughty children caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Dean looked over his shoulder with a slightly bewildered expression as Sam and Tabitha shrugged in return.

“I think I’m slightly terrified of that woman,” she whispered to her brothers. “And kinda impressed as hell, too. Scary combination,” she added with a chuckle. There weren’t many people that could put even one of them back on their heels like that, let alone all three of them.

Oh, she’s terrifying,” Dean agreed in a tone that he’d meant to be sarcastic, but she had the feeling hit a bit closer to the truth.

Dean looked ahead towards their guide as he asked her, “What’s going on, Ellen?”

She glanced over her shoulder, admitting, “More than I can handle alone.”

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“How many demons are there?” Sam wanted to know.

“Pretty much—whole town, minus the dead people and these guys,” Ellen answered with a careless gesture towards a closed door in the basement. She stopped suddenly at the closed door, turning towards them to hesitantly ask, “So…this is it, right? End Times?”

The Winchesters shared an apprehensive look.

“It’s got to be,” Ellen continued, seeming a little more certain.

Afraid that her brothers might lie to the woman she was coming to quickly like—and feeling the need to stick up for another tough-as-nails woman—Tabitha quietly confided, “It sure looks that way.”

Ellen jerked her chin down once, and briskly turned to rap her knuckles on the closed door. “It’s me,” she announced.

A crude peephole was uncovered briefly before the door swung open. A well-built man with a closely trimmed beard opened the door, a rifle tucked close to his body and carried in a manner that screamed ex-military to Tabitha. While the man at the door gave Tabitha a brief ray of hope, a sweep of the room quickly took it away. Filling the basement was a small and motley crew of scared people, including a pregnant woman, an old gray-bearded man, and even the preacher.

“This is Sam, Dean, and Tabitha—they’re hunters. Here to help,” Ellen announced to the frightened gathering.

The guy with the military vibe looked Tabitha up and down with a doubtful eye as he asked, “You three are hip to this whole demon thing?”

Tabitha returned the favor of assessing him with a critical eye. “Yeah, we’re hip to a lot of things. Question is, are you?”

A middle-aged man spoke up from the table, fidgeting with his hands in an almost nervous manner as he said, “My wife’s eyes turned black. She came at me with a brick. Kind of makes you embrace the paranormal.”

Dean’s eyes lingered thoughtfully on the group, but then he dismissed them and turned to Ellen to say, “All right, catch us up.”

Ellen gave a weary sigh. “I doubt I know much more than you. Rufus called—said he was in town investigating omens. All of a sudden, the whole town was possessed. Me and Jo were nearby—”

“You’re hunting with Jo?” Dean broke in, clearly surprised by that piece of news.

With a little nod, Ellen informed them, “Yeah, for a while now. We got here, and the place—well, the place was like you see it. Couldn’t find Rufus. Then me and Jo got separated. I was out looking when I found you.”

Tabitha leaned closer to Sam to whisper, “Who the hell is Jo?”

“Ellen’s daughter,” he whispered back.

Dean glanced over his shoulder at his siblings, adding to Sam’s explanation. “Jo’s father was a hunter. Hunted once with Dad.” He glanced at Ellen with trepidation as he finished. “It didn’t end well. Jo’s been wanting to hunt, but Ellen had been keeping her out of it.”

There was a bone-weary look in Ellen’s eyes when she confided, “I got tired of trying to chase her down and bring her back. Finally had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to keep her out of it. But if she’s gonna be out there, I’m gonna be with her.”

The woman was tough, and obviously used to playing up her rough exterior, but all three of the siblings could still hear the worry in her voice for her daughter.

“Don’t worry. We’ll find her,” Dean promised.

“Either way,” Sam interjected, “these people cannot just sit here. We got to get them out now.”

Ellen immediately shot the idea down. “No, it’s not that easy. I’ve been trying. We already made a run for it once.”

“What happened?” Sam asked.

“There used to be 20 of us.”

The Winchesters looked quickly around the room, noting that their numbers had been more than halved.

Dean tried to keep upbeat. “Well, there’s four of us now.”

“You don’t know what it’s like out there. Demons are everywhere. We won’t be able to cover everybody.”

“What if we get everyone guns?” Sam asked.

“What—are you gonna arm up baby bump over here?” Dean demanded jerking a nod at the pregnant woman who cringed away in fear.

Sam nodded. “More salt we can fire at once, more demons we can keep away.”

“Nothing more dangerous than a mother—even a mother-to-be—anyway,” Tabitha agreed with her younger brother.

Dean glanced dubiously around the room, but obviously had no better plan. He dropped his gear bag as he spoke. “There’s a sporting-goods store we passed on main on the way in. I bet they got guns.”

Sam cleared his throat as he advised Ellen, “All right. You stay. We’ll go.”

The woman immediately protested. “What about—”

Sam quickly headed her off. “If Jo and Rufus are out there, we’ll bring them back.”

The boys started out of the basement, but Dean turned back to push Tabitha towards Ellen. “You should stay here and help Ellen get these people ready.”

“The hell I am,” she instantly denied. “You’re not putting me on the bench. I’m just as capable as you two.”

White lines appeared in Dean’s cheeks as he clenched his jaw, but he managed to softly tell her, “Jo’s already missing. I don’t want something happening to you, too. Stay here and stay safe. Just for now.”

Tabitha glanced back at Ellen, seeing the woman watching with an eye of interest. But Dean’s wording told Tabitha a lot about Dean’s feelings towards Ellen’s daughter. There was definitely something there. Whether it was just brotherly protective feelings that lumped Jo together with her, or something more, Tabitha wasn’t sure. But just because his protective hackles were up, didn’t mean she was letting the two of them leave her behind.

“You’re going after supplies and looking for two missing people. If all three of us go, we can carry more supplies and keep more eyes out for Jo and Rufus. I’ll be fine, Dean.”

Her brother turned on his heel and stomped out of the basement, muttering, “Stubborn…mouthy…little…” His voice faded away until she couldn’t catch more.

“Had a feeling I’d like you,” Ellen drawled beside her with a little smile. “Those boys could use a female presence in their lives that doesn’t just sit back and listen just because they smile charmingly and tell a girl to do something.”

Tabitha let out a little chuckle. “That how you really feel about your daughter not listening to you and hunting anyway?”

The woman’s grin split even wider. “‘Course not. If you were my daughter and sassed me like that, I’d tan your hide. And it’d probably be just as effective as it is with Jo.”

She made two steps towards the door before Ellen’s hand reached out to stop her. The woman’s grin had disappeared behind the mask of a worried mother as Ellen asked, “Please bring Jo back to me. If you can.”

“We’ll do our best,” Tabitha promised.

Her brothers were still arguing about who should go and who should stay when Tabitha caught up with them. Both were arguing that the other should stay back with her.

It soon became apparent that Dean’s reasoning was wanting to keep her safe, as well as not quite trusting Sam. Sam however seemed to be feeling the need to go alone to do some penance, as well as seeming somehow nervous about Tabitha going.

Brushing by her brothers, Tabitha jogged up the stairs, reminding them, “Supplies aren’t going to get themselves, and the longer you two stand around arguing, the longer those demons have to figure out some kind of plan to get in here.”

She was on the street by the time her brothers caught up. Dean was silent, and even Sam seemed to be keeping a healthy distance from her. It seemed strange, but she shrugged it off and continued scanning around for any movement.

As she crossed the street near Sam, she noticed the slightest way he stiffened as she drew close. “What’s your problem?” she whispered to him.

“When are you finally gonna tell Dean what’s going on with you?” he snapped in an angry whisper.

She was surprised by the anger in his voice. “Why are you riding me so hard about this, Sam? We’re kinda in the middle of something here, so now’s not the time.”

“He needs to know what’s going on,” Sam continued as he nervously edged away from her.

That’s when she finally caught the fear in the way he had been avoiding her eyes and discreetly putting distance between them. As soon as they’d come into town, he’d been keeping her at arm’s length or more, but she hadn’t noticed it—or the reason for it—until now.

Her feet ground to a halt as she asked in shock, “You’re afraid to be near me, aren’t you? The mention of demons, and now you’re afraid to get too close to me. You think you might…” But she couldn’t finish the thought.

Sam closed his eyes as a grim expression settled over him. “I could have killed you, Tab. I just think you need to be careful. And it would help if Dean knew what was going on.”

Her head tilted back to stare at the sky when she realized her selfishness. She hadn’t wanted to tell Dean because of the reaction she knew he’d have, but she hadn’t realized that she was putting more pressure on Sam by keeping Dean out of the loop. Hadn’t seen how worried he was that he might hurt her again, and that he wanted Dean to be able to help stop him if he did.

She deliberately walked up to Sam and placed her hand on his arm, giving him a gentle squeeze as she told him, “I still trust you, Sammy. No matter what happened. It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.” She jerked her head forward to indicate for them to keep moving. But she acquiesced as they continued. “As soon as this case is over, I’ll tell Dean about it. But you don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”

“You don’t know that,” he woodenly replied.

They caught up with Dean as they neared a convenience store, but Sam didn’t seem to have settled any at Tabitha’s attempted reassurances. Instead, he seemed even stiffer as he held his shotgun higher and strode ahead of Dean, telling him, “I’ll get the salt. You guys get the guns.”

“We’ll go together,” Dean corrected.

“Dean, it’s right there. Can we at least do this like professionals?”

Having no other choice, Dean and Tabitha continued on when Sam broke off alone in the direction of the convenience store.

As the sporting-goods store came into sight, Dean finally spoke to his sister. “Do you think we’ve got a snowball’s chance of getting those people out of here?”

She didn’t look at him as she answered, instead continuing to scan the streets and buildings lining them for any threats, her shotgun still tucked close and lowered slightly towards the ground. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Feels wrong to even think about trying to take civilians out through a hostile area. Armed forces are all trained to have civilians lockdown in a secure area, and then call in for backup to take out any hostiles before anyone even considers moving untrained civilians. But the things that usually apply for the ‘normal’ world, almost never work the same when dealing with this stuff.”

“It’s going to be dangerous,” he grimly reminded her, seeming to still regret not forcing her to stay back with Ellen. Not that she wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing him try.

“Since when is it not?” she laughed bitterly. “Never expected Armageddon to be safe, Dean. We’ve just got to power through it and hope that we can get as many of us through it alive as we can.”

“Like Castiel?”

She faltered at that, glancing at her brother with a frown as she asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He shrugged. “I’m just trying to figure out the deal there. You would never say much about any of the angels for the longest time, I guess hiding that you could hear them,” he bitterly pointed out. “And then you seemed to absolutely hate the mention of all angels—remember your little drunken spat where you cussed out all angels and me for agreeing to serve them or whatever. But then Cas dies and you go all catatonic. Now he’s back, and he seems annoyed with you every time you get near him. You piss him off or something? Or did he piss you off? You hardly spoke the whole drive here.”

Tabitha started forward again, forcing Dean to hurry to catch up with her. “I guess it’s just taking me a while to really understand that angels aren’t like humans, Dean. I thought Cas was a friend, but I’m starting to realize that angels act very differently from humans. And we can’t rely on them like we can each other,” she told her brother, an edge of warning in her tone.

Under his breath he replied, “I’m not so sure about that.”

Fed up with his continued distrust and disapproval of Sam, she started past the sporting-goods store.

“Where you going?” he demanded, sounding miffed now with her.

“You can grab guns yourself, can’t you? They’re the shiny metal things. Usually behind the big glass cases,” she pointed out in a caustic tone. “You grab the guns; I’ll scout ahead a bit and see if I can’t spot anything or anyone that might lead to Jo and Rufus.”

“Dammit,” Dean grumbled to himself. “Fine. Do whatever you want. You will anyway. But don’t go far.”

“I’m well trained, Dean. I’ll be fine.”

“Training don’t mean much if you get ambushed or you’re outnumbered,” he reminded her.

“I’ll just scout the perimeter while you’re inside,” she relented.

“Be careful.”

“You, too.”

She was true to her word, and was cautious as she rounded the side streets around the brick building.

But even the best trained scout can’t see everything, nor can they see around corners. Tabitha had just peeked around the corner into the back alley when a rifle butt jutted out towards her face. Her body was still against the building, so she rolled back around the corner, letting the rifle butt skim past her face.

Even the butt of a rifle skimming across your face stings and momentarily shocks a person, though. Pain burst behind Tabitha’s cheek as she automatically yanked her shotgun into position, aiming it towards the corner she was backing away from so she had room to aim.

She never even saw the attacker slide up behind her or the blow that landed to the back of her head, making a burst of light explode behind her eyes.


When she woke up, her head was throbbing and her eyes were unfocused. But with a little effort, Tabitha managed to raise her head and glance around at her surroundings. There wasn’t much to see. It appeared that she was tied to a chair in the utility room of a basement. At least she assumed it was a basement from the cooler air and slightly musty smell that basements often acquired over time.

As much as she wiggled and pulled on her bindings though, she couldn’t slip her hands or feet from the ropes that tied her to the old wooden chair.

“You’re not going anywhere. I tied those knots myself,” a deep voice proclaimed from behind her.

Her head swiveled to take in the sight of the dark-skinned man that went along with the voice she knew belonged to Rufus.

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“What the hell, Rufus?” she demanded in surprise. “It’s me! Tabitha Winchester. What the hell are you doing tying me up in a basement? I had no idea that was how you rolled,” she nervously joked with the older man.

Rufus circled around her, pulling his hand back and cuffing her with the back of his hand. “Watch your mouth, you evil piece of scum.”

Her vision swam for a moment before she managed to shake it away and look up into Rufus’s eyes again. “I’m really not into the whole bondage thing, Rufus. And really not into being hit. So do me a favor, and untie me now! Before I forget that we’re actually friends.”

A girl she hadn’t seen yet came around into her field of vision, tossing water into her face before she had much of a chance to look the newcomer over.

Tabitha waited for the water to slip away before looking up at the blond girl who appeared to be a little younger than Tabitha was. A woman for all that counted, but still a bit of innocence in her eyes. “Not sure who the hell you are, but if you’re with Rufus, I’m gonna go ahead and hope you’re the Jo I was looking for. And while I’m glad to have completed that little task of finding you two, I can definitely say that we’re not going to be best buds if you continue to throw water in my face.”

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Jo looked up at Rufus in confusion. “How could it possibly know who I am? You said you knew her, but it can’t have figured out who I am from her.”

“What?” Tabitha questioned, confused by anything the girl was saying. She looked back to Rufus, who she at least knew from talking with him on the phone many times and had previously counted as a friend. “Come on, Rufus. It’s me. If you think I’m a demon, I can assure you, I’m not.”

Rufus stared at her, almost as if he wanted to believe her, but just couldn’t quite get there.

“Look, holy water did nothing, right?” she pointed out. “What about this: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters.” She waited for their shock to sink in a little. “See? Do you need me to go on, say the whole damn psalm? Or are you convinced that I’m me and not a demon?”

Rufus and Jo turned their backs to her as they whispered to each other. “This is one strong ass demon,” Rufus warned the girl. “I’m not sure what will work on it.”

“We could try the salt, too,” Jo pointed out.

“Bitch, you pour salt on me, and we’re really gonna have problems. I already have problems with dry skin,” Tabitha growled at their backs, wondering to herself if that was what all hunters looked like to a demon when they turned their backs to discuss something. Did they all talk that loud? If so, it wasn’t exactly an intimidating show for the demon.

“I’ve got more salt upstairs,” Jo suggested as they ignored her. “It’s worth a shot.”

They left together, still ignoring her and leaving Tabitha completely amazed at how they could have possibly been so sure that she was really a demon. But somehow, they truly seemed convinced of it.

Tabitha began looking around the room, absently noting the familiar Devil’s Trap drawn in white chalk on the ceiling above her head. She knew she couldn’t wait around for the pair to come back and discover that salt didn’t work on her, either. It wasn’t the salt that she feared, but what other creative steps they might decide to take when the salt didn’t get the results they were expecting from a demon.

“There’s no way out of here.”

Tabitha froze as she looked up to see a familiar face strolling into the small room she was held in. “You!” she uttered in shock. “I saw you back at that church with Ellen’s group. How the hell did you get here?” And why the hell wasn’t he tied up if they were so suspicious that anyone might be a demon?

The man gave her a self-satisfied grin as he bowed theatrically. “Right you are. Don’t miss much, do you?”

“Who do they think you are?” she asked, realizing that he had to be somehow mixed up in or the very cause of the entire mess going on.

His grin widened. “You can call me Roger.”

“Is there a real Roger out there?”

He chuckled as he strolled around in front of her chair, dragging another wooden chair from a corner and setting it in front of her. “They just brought your brother in. Did you know that? The tall dopey looking one,” he taunted. “Wasn’t hard to stir them up of course. Ever protective of their sister, those two are. Of course, the tall one, Sam, he mostly feels guilty that you wandered off alone. Thinks it’s his fault. What do you think?”

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She raised her chin and replied, “I think you can go to Hell.”

He shrugged. “Not so bad a place, really. Especially what with the proprietor finally up and about again.” He braced his hands on his knees as he leaned forward to tell her, “And he’ll be happy to see you. I’ve been wondering what to get him. You know—as a little thank you for getting this show on the road so I can see my brothers and reunite with them. But then you dropped into my lap, and I realized you’d be just the perfect gift. I happen to know he’d love to get his hands on you.”

Tabitha fought the sudden shudder that tore through her, but “Roger” still spotted it.

“You’d be dumb if you weren’t afraid. But don’t worry. I hear his orders are to take you alive.”

Finally finding her voice, Tabitha managed to ask in a voice devoid of emotion, “I thought the demons wanted me dead. What’s changed?”

He laughed and gave her an indulgent smile as he fiddled with the ring on his hand. “Oh, the demons may think it’s safer to tear you to shreds so no one can use you, but I’m guessing that Lucifer knows what an asset you’d actually be. You should be thankful I’m sending you to him instead of leaving you out there anyway. From what I hear, you’ve got quite the price on your head from both sides. Most of the demons would like to kill you in a misguided attempt to protect their big daddy, but I hear a bunch of the angels want you even worse.” He made a rolling gesture with his hand as he continued. “To kill that is. They’d like to see you ripped to shreds and spread out throughout the universe.”

“What about you?” she pushed out, amazed that her voice kept from shaking. “Or these mysterious brothers of yours? What side do you fall on?”

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“Me?” he questioned, leaning back in his chair and crossing one leg over his other knee. “Well, me and my brothers don’t really buy into the hype. But like I said. I owe Lucifer one for allowing me to be reunited with my brothers, so I’m willing to gift-wrap you for him. He’d probably like you better than a toaster anyway.”

She knew she needed to keep him talking. Whoever—and whatever he was—he seemed chatty, and she could use that to milk him of all the useful info she could for when she finally escaped. If she escaped.

“Brothers? Who are they?”

He held up three fingers. “Well, I’ve got three of them. And when we finally hook up, we’re gonna have such a blast. This—” he spread his arms out to encompass his surroundings, “—this mass slaughter is gonna seem like child’s play when we combine all of our unique forces.”

His wording finally rang a bell in her mind. Mass slaughter. Three brothers. Apocalypse.

She shook her head in disbelief, wondering what else was going to become real because of the Apocalypse. Would the Easter Bunny become more than just the harbinger of crazed children on candy highs?

“War,” she whispered to herself.

“What is it good for?” he laughed as she began to understand.

“You know, you’re just exactly the kind self-involved, conceited ass I might have expected to be War,” she snapped in return at his pleased laughter.

He stood, twisting the ring on his finger again as he told her, “Well, I should really go check on that brother of yours. But don’t worry. I’m sure your friends will be back here shortly.”

Tabitha renewed her efforts to struggle free as soon as he sauntered away. Things were so much worse than she had thought. This wasn’t just a town full of demons; War was obviously turning people against each other just for kicks, and sitting back to watch the carnage. She was beginning to realize that there probably weren’t any demons at all in town. Just scared people killing each other. Which was somehow more terrifying.

She couldn’t know for sure that they had caught Sam as well, but she couldn’t risk that the horseman actually was telling the truth. One way or another, she needed to break free and try to help her little brother.

“Easier said than done,” she grumbled to herself. The ropes wouldn’t budge. Had they been just a bit looser, she might have been able to finagle a hand free. She had small hands and knew a little something about using them to slip a knot. But Rufus also knew a little something about tying them.

More than an hour passed as she continued to struggle. She thought she could hear Sam shouting from somewhere upstairs, but being in the basement muffled things so badly that she couldn’t say for sure who she had heard or if it was just her fear and imagination messing with her.

Finally, she gave a violent jerk on her arm, tipping the chair a bit sideways in the process. After glancing down, she realized her chair wasn’t bolted to the floor. Not that the revelation helped much. Even if she could scoot the chair to a wall, there was nothing she would be able to reach to use as a weapon.

Desperation gave rise to great ideas. As well as a few stupid but necessary ones.

Seeing no other choice, she rocked her weight to her left, and then heaved her body to the right. The chair tilted, and then balanced precariously on two legs before beginning its descent to the concrete floor.

Her hand she managed to slide around to the inside of the arm of the chair, but there was nothing she could do to avoid her shoulder taking the brunt of her impact. But the chair took a large portion of it as well, and the creak and splintering of wood more than made up for the painful throbbing of her shoulder.

She listened carefully to see if anyone had heard the crash, but no footsteps sounded down the stairs. So she set to the task of prying on the loose arm of the wooden chair until the carved wood popped free at the joint, allowing her to slip her hand free and untie herself.

By the time she’d crept upstairs, it was unsettlingly quiet. The voices of Rufus and Jo brought her to a living room where they seemed to be planting homemade pipe bombs rigged to the windows.

Shaking her head, she silently turned to continue searching the house. She couldn’t leave until she either found Sam, or had proven to herself that he wasn’t there. After clearing the main floor, she continued on to the upper level.

“Sam?” she quietly called when she found a hunched over figure tied to a chair just like she had been only ten minutes before.

“Tab?!” he called out in surprise as his head jerked up. “You’re alive!”

“Shh!” she shushed him as she crouched in front of him to pull at his bindings. “Of course I’m all right. You boys should have more faith in me. I was just having a little conversation with Rufus and his little bitch about proper manners when having guests over. Bondage is so last year. But I think he’s a little rusty on social interactions since he hadn’t left his house for so many years.”

Sam seemed to ignore her babbling, appearing more grateful about being untied than annoyed by her nervous babble. “You mean Jo?” At her nod, he reproachfully told her, “She’s not so bad. It’s not Jo or Rufus’s fault. They think we’re demons. It Roger doing it. He’s—”

“War. I know,” she interrupted. “He and I already had a little chat.”

Tabitha freed one of Sam’s hands, and moved on to the other, knowing she’d make quicker work of the ropes than he could with one hand.

“You’re hurt. You’re bleeding, Tab,” Sam told her, his voice low and tight.

She glanced up from where she’d leaned over him, startled by the strange hitch in his voice.

“What—”

Before she could get the question out, a small explosion shook the house, throwing her against Sam’s chest as she lost her footing. Her brother steadied her by her left shoulder with his free hand. She winched at the pain the fall had caused her right shoulder, but knew from experience that although it was painful as hell, nothing was broken.

When the last rope was finally untied, she backed up to give her brother room to stand, but was halted by his arm still gripping her left shoulder and holding her close.

Warning bells went off as she finally registered his deep, labored breathing as he tried to control himself.

“Easy, Sam,” she gently told him, reaching up to try uncurling his fingers from her upper arm. They only dug in harder. “Sam. It’s me. It’s Tabby. You need to dig down deep and find your control. Because you don’t really want to hurt me again.”

Her brother suddenly snatched his hand back, scrambling up from the chair as he backed away.

Tabitha chose to pretend nothing had happened, because he had found his control. And nothing had really occurred. “We need to find some weapons and skin out of here while they’re confused by that blast. I’m not sure how to stop all this, but I’d say killing War seems like a great first step.”

“Yeah, but how?” Sam asked, still breathing deeply through his nose and looking anywhere but at his sister.

“We’ll figure it out.”

When she heard shouting outside, she stepped to the window to look out on the street, seeing the ex-military looking guy leading the group from the church towards the house they were in. “Where the hell is Dean?” she wondered when she saw the group.

Before an answer came, a barrage of bullets arrived, peppering the side of the house as Sam yanked Tabitha back from the window. And right back into their former predicament. Only worse than before.

Sam’s arms clamped around her like iron bands, holding her arms against her sides. Fear finally crept over Tabitha as Sam leaned down to inhale the blood still trickling through her hair from the wound to the back of her head.

“Sam? Sammy?! It’s me. You’ve got to let go of me,” she told him in a shaky voice.

Dean’s shout was a welcome relief. “Sam! What the hell are you doing?! Let Tabitha go.”

She scrambled away when Sam’s arms released her, turning to see that Dean had slammed their brother against the wall with his forearm braced across Sam’s throat.

That her younger brother didn’t fight Dean allowed him to collect himself and cautiously release Sam. But Tabitha knew now wasn’t the time for explanations, though it had nearly disastrously been proven that she owed Dean one.

“We’ve got to kill Roger. He’s—”

“War. I know,” Dean finished. “Was he what caused this?” he asked, gesturing back and forth between her and Sam.

“Now isn’t the time,” she hedged. “We need to figure out how to kill a horseman. Pronto.”

“The ring,” Sam whispered, staring at the floor. “That’s got to be how he’s controlling people.”

“The ring. The ring—that’s right. He turned it right before he made everybody hallucinate and go hellbitch,” Dean remembered.

“Right,” Sam agreed.

“Well, if we’re all on the same page, let’s go stake his ass or something,” Tabitha eagerly suggested, peeking out through the window and jerking back when more bullets struck the side of the house. “Because people are going nuts down there.”

“Let’s move,” Dean ordered, ushering his siblings out of the room. Tabitha hung back a little though, letting Dean go first and keeping him between her and Sam. She kept telling herself that she wasn’t frightened of her brother, but she knew caution and fear was a fine line that was sometimes hard to define.

Tabitha paused inside the house as her brothers hit the main floor and made to exit, yelling at them, “You guys go after War. I’ll stay to help Rufus hold things down here.” When Dean hesitated, she shouted, “Go! There’s no time to stand around arguing!”

Sam glanced back to finally meet her eyes, softly telling her, “I’m sorry, Tab. But this was why I wanted Dean to know. It’s too dangerous.”

“What?” Dean demanded as he stared between his siblings in confusion.

Shaking her head, she ordered again, “Go! Talk later!”

Pointing a commanding finger at her, Dean ordered, “You damn well better be okay when we get back. Or I’m dragging your ghost back up and kickin’ your ass.”

“You say the sweetest things!” she shouted over the increasing noise of gunfire.

Rufus and Tabitha nearly collided as he strode back into the house from the porch, a rifle in his hands.

He stared at her for a moment before dryly observing, “So, you’re really you? You’re really Tabitha Winchester?”

“In the flesh,” she confirmed. “I tried to tell you guys before.”

He nodded and thrust the rifle into her hands. “Then I expect you know how to use this. Try to stop what you can. Non-lethal if possible. And keep your damn head down. No sense getting it blown off now that I’ve finally met you in person.”

She accepted the rifle and eased over to the open door to the porch. With a glance back, she told Rufus, “You keep your head down, too. You’re not half bad when you’re not trying to keep me tied up in a basement.”

A pained noise caught her attention, and she saw the preacher from the church fall to the ground outside as he was shot from someone in an upper level of the house.

“Someone still isn’t getting the memo to stop shooting!” Rufus bellowed.

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Tabitha nodded in understanding. “You go hand-deliver the memo, I’ll see if I can’t help get the padre out of the line of fire.”

Ellen and a dark-skinned girl had already reached the preacher when Tabitha made her way to them from the cover of the house. Ellen was calmly applying pressure to the man’s wound while trying to convince the frightened girl that she wasn’t as harmful as the hallucinations apparently suggested.

“You got him, Ellen?” Tabitha asked as she kept herself turned away from the trio, looking around for possible threats.

“Yeah, we’ve got him,” Ellen confirmed behind her. “Glad to see you’re still alive and well. Those boys were fit to be tied when they had to come back without you.”

She smiled a little, somehow glad to know that they’d been upset about her disappearing. “Oh, you know them,” she lightly laughed. “Get upset anytime I step out of sight even to fix my hair or something. You’d think I get kidnapped every time they’re not watching me.”

She’d barely finished her teasing jest when she heard the light footsteps of someone fast approaching. Hands grabbed at her shoulders to spin her around, but she was prepared for the attack from behind this time, stepping back into her attacker and thrusting her head backwards into the attacker’s face.

Between the pain to her already injured head, and the obvious skill of her attacker, the two found themselves still evenly matched. As Tabitha turned to pull the sight of the rifle to her eye-line, ex-military-buff mirrored her motion, looking down the scope of his high-powered rifle as they squared off with their barrels only a foot from the face of each other. His eyes were dark as pitch, but Tabitha looked away from his eyes, knowing that it wasn’t real, and needing to convince him that anything he was seeing wasn’t real either.

“You’re fast,” she complimented him, hoping to catch him off-guard. “And you handle that thing like a man that knows his way around an M16 rifle. I’m impressed.”

“Shut up, demon,” he barked at her.

But she ignored his order and continued speaking in a soothing tone. “We’re at a stand-off here, and neither of us wants to end up dead, so why don’t we both put down our rifles. I can tell you’re a military man. You don’t want to hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it any more than I do.”

His eyes narrowed as he suddenly pulled the trigger. Tabitha felt her heart stop for an uncounted time that day when the pin clicked down on an empty chamber.

Moving before he could, she changed the grip on her rifle and twisted the butt towards the man’s face, clipping him across the cheek as he dropped his empty rifle. But he caught her off guard as well, latching onto the barrel and twisting the front of the rifle back towards her to shove her off balance. She stumbled as he rushed her, falling to the ground underneath him as he yanked a knife free and swung it down towards her torso.

Crossing her arms over her body, she caught his arm in the V created by her crossed wrists, blocking his stab at her chest.

Before he could attempt another assault, he was launched sideways as something connected with the side of his head.

Tabitha let her head fall back in relief at the sight of Ellen standing over her with the dropped rifle in her hands.

“You really have a way with the men,” Ellen laughed.

“What can I say,” Tabitha darkly chuckled, “I just can’t fend them all off.”

Ellen reached down to offer her hand, pulling Tabitha to her feet. “You’re all right,” Ellen laughed.

“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment coming from you.”

The two women looked around at the sudden silence that filled the air.

“Think those two boys actually did it?” Ellen hesitantly asked.

“If they didn’t, I’d hate to think that this is the calm before the storm.”


Dean had demanded a little sit down before they left town like most of the rest of the remaining citizens was currently doing. Not that Tabitha could blame occupants. There were a lot of unexplained and unexplainable things that happened in that town for normal people to be comfortable hanging around.

Even Rufus, Ellen, and Jo had already made tracks for parts undisclosed, and Tabitha was ready to do the same. All she wanted was to put River Pass, Colorado in the rearview mirror and pretend that her multiple near hits with death hadn’t actually occurred. And more importantly, that several of them had nearly been at the hands of her younger brother.

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“We seem to have a lot to discuss,” Dean wearily told them as they sat around an old picnic table. “You two want to start with what was going on when I arrived back there? Or what the hell you two were talking about that I apparently am the last to know about?”

Unfairly, Tabitha looked to her younger brother for help, but he stared steadfastly at the top of the picnic table.

“I think I finally know, at least partially, what that demon was marking me with after they grabbed me,” she finally admitted, staring down at her hands as she nervously wrung them on the tabletop.

“Wait…what?” Dean stuttered. “You talkin’ ’bout back in Virginia when you said that demon was trying to like, brand you or something?” She nodded. “What’s that got to do with this?”

She swallowed hard as her legs nervously began to bounce under the table and her fingers began studiously picking at the dried and flaking stain covering the old wood under her fingertips. “I think there was demon blood in it,” she whispered.

Several silent minutes passed as she waited for it to sink into Dean’s mind and for him to puzzle all the pieces together.

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“So Sam smelled it in your blood?” he whispered in a low voice.

Not able to stand the suspense, she finally risked a glance up, only to see Dean’s face blank and impassive as he stared at the top of the table, just as she and Sam were.

“How long you been keeping this to yourself?” he asked in a too quiet and flat voice.

More fearful of the flat, emotionless voice than if Dean had blown up and yelled, Tabitha admitted, “I’ve been wondering for a few months now, I guess. But Sam’s reactions kinda cemented it.”

“So you’ve known for sure since the last time he attacked you—knew how dangerous it was—and decided just to keep it to yourself and not tell anyone who could help keep you both safe? You both decided not to tell me that it’s pretty freakin’ dangerous for the two of you to even be left alone together?!”

Sam winced, but didn’t point out that it wasn’t his idea, that he’d actually been pushing her to talk.

“Sam told me to tell you,” she jumped to defend her little brother. “I told him I wanted to wait for the right time. There’s been kinda a lot going on. Lucifer rising. Apocalypse. Horsemen popping up.”

Dean pulled out the ring he and Sam had cut off of War’s finger, holding it up in the air as he looked at it and laughed bitterly. “So, pit stop on Mount Doom?” he asked, effectively changing the subject.

Sam finally broke his silence. “Dean—”

“Sam, let’s not,” Dean broke in. “I’ve had enough of the two of you today.”

“No, listen. This is important,” Sam insisted. “I know you don’t trust me. Either of you. And you’re both right not to. You especially, Tabitha,” he continued, glancing up at his sister who couldn’t help but wince at even the small reminder of what had happened.

He continued in a hesitant voice. “Just…now I realize something. I don’t trust me either. From the minute I saw that blood in the convenience store, and then smelled your blood, Tab, only thought in my head… And I tell myself it’s for the right reasons, my intentions are good, and it—it feels true, you know? But I think, underneath…I just miss the feeling. I know how messed up that sounds, which means I know how messed up I am. I attacked my own sister. Twice. Thing is, the problem’s not the demon blood—not really. I mean, what I did, I can’t blame the blood or Ruby or…anything. The problem’s me. How far I’ll go. There’s something in me that…scares the hell out of me, guys. And the last couple of days, I caught another glimpse. And I can’t risk being a danger to my own sister. My own family.”

“So what are you saying?” Dean softly asked.

Sam swallowed hard before telling his siblings, “I’m in no shape to be hunting. I need to step back, ’cause I’m dangerous. Maybe it’s best we just…go our separate ways.”

Tabitha waited for Dean to shoot Sam down, but somehow wasn’t that surprised when he responded, “Well, I think you’re right.”

Her arms wrapped around herself as she looked over at Dean sitting down the bench from her, and watched as Sam struggled with himself to reply, “I was expecting a fight.”

“Truth is, I spend more time worrying about the two of you,” he harshly explained, “than about doing the job right. I just can’t afford that, you know? Not now.”

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“I’m sorry, Dean,” Sam whispered. “I’m so sorry, Tab.”

“I know you are, Sam.”

Tabitha silently turned around on the bench, refusing to watch her little brother brokenly walk away. Alone. And hated herself for not trying to stop him. Hated herself even more for the relief that coursed through her at his departure. She loved her brothers more than anything, but she wasn’t sure how to reconcile her love for them with the fear that still burned brightly when she thought about how easily Sam had snapped when he smelled her blood.

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When had things fallen apart so badly? The friend and angel she’d once thought she could always count on had let her down too many times, and then pushed her away. And now the brothers she’d fought so hard to hold together, were splitting up.

And she was doing nothing to stop any of it.

“Hey,” she heard Dean call to Sam, generously offering, “you, uh…want to take the Impala?”

“That’s okay.” He stepped further away. “Take care of yourselves, guys.”

“Yeah, you too, Sammy.”

Tabitha swallowed around the lump in her throat, rasping out, “Be safe, Sammy.” Every word felt traitorous as they passed her lips. Only adding to the guilt she felt in not only letting her brother walk away, but in being relieved that he did.

Several minutes later, she lurched to her feet, telling her remaining brother, “I’m leaving, too. I can’t stay. Not with things the way they are and the way they have been. It’s wrong. That we let him walk away like that.” She glanced over to where Dean still sat contemplating the beer can in his hands. “How did this family get so broken again? It’s like it was before when we were all still together with Dad. Only worse. I think I need some time to get myself together, too.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” he told her in the same flat voice he’d used with Sam. He finally turned to glance up at her. “Where will you go?”

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She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.”

When Dean didn’t respond, she nodded almost to herself, telling him, “Take care.”

“You, too,” he told her as she made her way to the Impala to get her bags.

For three days, she hitchhiked and rode two greyhound buses to reach her end destination.

But when she finally stood on those steps at long last, she wasn’t sure if she could bring herself to actually press the doorbell. Pushing away the apprehension, she raised her hand to jab at the buzzer, hoping her sudden appearance wasn’t coming at a bad time.

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She looked shyly down when the door swung open, her stomach tying itself into knots of uncertainty as she rushed to explain, “I really hate to impose, but I was hoping I could stay here for a few days…or weeks…hell, I don’t know how long. I just didn’t know where else to go.”

A warm hand reached under her chin to tilt her head up. Her answer came as he leaned down to eagerly capture her lips with his, leading that familiar dance as he wrapped strong arms around her and pulled her into the warmth and safety of his embrace.

With a sigh, she leaned into him, letting her bags fall from her shoulders as she wrapped her arms around his waist and savored the feeling of strong arms around her again.

It had been too long since she’d been held and kissed so eagerly and desperately.

“You’re welcome to stay as long as you want, Tabby cat. Don’t ever leave if you don’t want to.”

She could feel his smile against her lips as he hungrily kissed her again.


A/N: Yes. I’m well aware that I’m evil. 😉 That comes as no surprise to me. I’ve been trying to tell people that for a long time, but they always act surprised when they finally understand.

Lol. Oh! The feels! The angst! The kisses… Hmmm… Just who was that anyway?

You’ll find out. Next time!

Be sure to leave some review love! It’s my heroin. And it’s okay to enable my addiction! My sponsor said so. When I forced him to. 🙂 But no worries, I stuffed him in the closet, so don’t fret about him finding out. It’ll be our little secret. 😉

 

Chapter 3: The Devil Can Wait

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