A/N: Eek! Sorry for the horribly long delay! Like I’ve warned before, summer kinda gets hectic for me. But to make up for the horribly long delay, I have a super long, lemony chapter for you. 🙂
And like before, this is the censored version. If you meet the height requirements, you can check out the ride with the uncensored version under my bonus chapter story, Angels With Only One Wing. 😉
Also, I try to follow the timeline of the show, and there’s a link to the timeline I use. But at this point in the show, there’s some discrepancy as to how long the boys are apart doing their own thing while Castiel looks for God. Either they’re apart like a week, or three months. Huge spread, I know. And I fall on the side of the argument that it was three months. For one, it’s not very long to be apart and for emotions to settle for the boys, and for another, it’s not very long that Cas has been looking for God before he comes to Dean for help. But there are arguments for both. And since the longer time fits my plot better, that’s what we’re going with.
And on another note, the stuff I have written about New Orleans, and continue to write about New Orleans, is not canon from the show. Everything I’m writing about what hunting and voodoo are like in New Orleans, and Momma Cecile and Etienne is all me. That’s all from my warped mind. 🙂 So I’d appreciate nobody taking that for being real in the show, and also not stealing it from me, since that stuff is my original work.
Chapter 4: Separate Ways (Censored)
Tabitha pulled her helmet off and balanced Cort’s motorcycle between her knees as she turned off the bike in his driveway. She wasn’t surprised to see him almost immediately open the door to stride out and meet her partway. His Harley was loud. He’d probably heard the familiar roar and recognized it from a block away.
“You look damn fine on that thing,” he drawled as he paused to lean against one of the white pillars of his covered porch, his arms crossed over his chest as he gave her a smoldering look.
She took her time admiring the sight of him as well. But shook her head at the way he always grinned and puffed up when she did give him more than a cursory glance. He was a good-looking specimen of a man, but he was unfortunately all too aware of it.
Some of the teasing left his tone as he told her in a more sedate voice, “Wasn’t sure if I’d ever see you again.”
After pushing the kickstand in place, she swung her leg over the back of the bike, stalking up the porch stairs and tossing the helmet to Cort. He caught it as she pulled down the zipper on her leather jacket. “I left all my stuff here. Of course I was coming back.”
“Clothes are easily replaced,” he pointed out.
With a chuckle at his uncharacteristic insecurity, she lightly hopped up to sit on the railing to his left as she reminded him, “But my mother’s bible isn’t. And I left that here with you.” She glanced back at his motorcycle. “And I wasn’t just going to steal your bike like that, even if it was tempting. That thing is a lot of fun. Almost as much fun as my Mustang. Now, if I could have figured out a way to bring both it and your bike back, I would have. But I figured you’d want to see me bring your baby back to you.”
“I’d of let you keep the dang thing if you wanted it. I was more worried about you not coming back than losing something that’s far more easily replaced.”
He uncomfortably cleared his throat and shifted from foot to foot.
“It’s been more than a month,” he confided in a subdued tone. When she frowned, he added, “I know. I know. Nothing serious here. I was merely worried as a friend.”
Her frown didn’t disappear at the way he stressed “friend,” because she knew no matter what he told her and what they agreed to, deep down, he was still hoping for more.
“It took a lot longer to get Bobby settled in at his place than I thought it would,” she admitted. She’d only been at Cort’s place a week when she found out from the hospital where Bobby had been that the old hunter was ready to be discharged. And despite the crotchety man’s protests, she’d been there to see him home and get him settled in.
“How’s he handling things?”
She snorted at the question. “Back to his bossy self. He was there every bit of the way as I installed ramps and such at his place. Being a general pain in my butt.”
Cort shot her a surprised look. “You, installed them? Why not just hire some carpenters to do it. Wouldn’t have taken a month then.”
“Bobby let hired help into his place? You must be joking,” she shot back with an annoyed look. “Wouldn’t have taken me a month either if I hadn’t had him at my elbow trying to correct my every hammer swing.” She held her hands up to display a few bruised and purple fingertips and nails. “I forgot how painful it can be working with that grumpy old man. But I eventually got it all done more or less to his satisfaction. I even managed to get him busy researching so I could finish working in peace.”
“He find anything?”
“No,” she replied with a frustrated huff. “Nothing on an angel named Pam—though I figured it wasn’t her real name—but nothing much at all about a sister to Michael and Lucifer. Nothing for sure anyway. I mean, to angels, they’re all brothers and sisters.” She darted a glance at Cort next to her. “You find anything useful here while I was gone?”
“No,” he admitted, giving a matching sigh of frustration as he hopped onto the railing beside her, his long legs still touching the floorboards while hers dangled in the air. “I took that bible of yours to every university in the five state area looking for a professor that could translate that passage. No dice. Though I did have several offers on the book should I wish to sell it. They were very intrigued by the primitive Aramaic.”
“Good thing you don’t need the money, or I might not have had any reason to come back,” she teased, but sobered and continued, “No word yet from Momma Cecile either?”
“No word there either.”
“It’s been more than a month,” she whispered with an edge of frustration, but beginning to fear that even the mysterious voodoo priestess couldn’t help her.
Cort could only shrug and offer, “Maybe whatever spirits she’s talking to are being difficult.” He gave her a curious look. “Bobby was okay with you just taking off again?”
Tabitha shrugged and nervously tapped her fingers against her knees. “He kept pushing me to go find my brothers, but I told him we obviously needed the time apart. And then he wanted to know if I’d ‘acquired’ that motorcycle in New Orleans.”
Cort winced as they both glanced at the Harley. The license plate read Vermont.
“So Bobby knows you’re here with me. I didn’t think he’d recognize my bike, but I guess he did. Not easily fooled by a fake license.”
“Yeah,” Tabitha sighed. “He didn’t seem real convinced when I told him I stole it somewhere on the east coast. But it’s not a big deal that Bobby suspects where I really am.”
Cort let out a disbelieving laugh, seemingly changing the subject as he asked, “He in one of those motorized wheelchairs or one of those old-fashioned push types?”
“A manual push one. Why?” she wondered, turning towards Cort and crossing her arms over her chest as she waited for his answer to such a bizarre question.
“Just wondering which to be watching for. A motorized one makes some noise, gives a fella some warning, but it’s also faster. Then again, the push one might be slower, but it’s quieter. He can sneak up on me better when he comes to kill me.” He dropped off the railing as he spoke, walking across the porch to peer at the siding of the house as he’d found something intriguing.
Tabitha laughed at his paranoia. “Why would he kill you? Wait…is that why you wouldn’t come with me up to his place? Are you afraid of Bobby? What on earth for?”
“Not afraid…exactly,” he hedged, his eyes darting away from Tabitha as he leaned sideways against the house, causally crossing his feet. “Just…cautious.”
“Cautious about what?” Tabitha demanded, a grin tugging on her lips at the thought of Cort running scared from Bobby.
“Well…he may…or may not…have promised to kill me if he caught me ’round you again,” Cort answered in a blasé tone, scratching at his chin as he avoided her eyes. She absently noted that the scruff beneath his fingertips was a bit longer and fuller than when she’d left, though it hadn’t quite strayed into the territory of unkempt. It only added to his ruggedness.
Even though she found it a bit entertaining that Cort had been threatened by yet another member of her family of the male persuasion, she couldn’t help the little sigh of disappointment that escaped. “He threatens you a decade ago…and you’re still walking on eggshells over it,” she ruefully noted.
“Decade?” he laughed. “Try a couple of years ago. He told me that if I didn’t skin out of Virginia right away, he was going to do some very ungentlemanly things that I’d rather not repeat in front of a lady.”
“Virginia?” she repeated, surprised by that news.
“Yeah. I came to watch your graduation from Quantico. But I ran into Bobby, and he suggested that I leave before your daddy found out I was there or they would both do some very creative things to me.”
She stared at him, lost in a stupor for several moments. “You were at my academy graduation?” she repeated in surprise. Uncertain what to make of it, she shook it off and laughed a little to herself as she commented, “I can’t believe how many people apparently showed up that day when I didn’t think anyone came to watch just me. You guys did realize that it wasn’t some secret society thing, right? There was actually a pretty big party afterwards you all could have come to. Beer, drinking, the whole nine yards.”
Cort gave her a pointed look. “Could you really have imagined any of us rubbing elbows with the Fed types that were at that thing? Besides, I figured Bobby was right and I should take off before your daddy or brother saw me. They weren’t big fans of me anyway, and me being there wasn’t going to score any points with ’em.”
Looking down and fidgeting with her hands, Tabitha wryly commented, “Yeah, I guess it wasn’t worth trying to pick a fight with Bobby, my dad, and my brother just to say hi to me or something.”
Before she had time to look up, Cort’s presence surrounded her, his arms circling her as he gripped the railing on either side of her, and his head dipping down to the crook of her neck as she gulped in a surprised gasp of air.
His breath was hot as it blew across her skin, making her shiver with emotions she didn’t want to name, but his body didn’t quite touch her. Goose bumps pimpled her skin at the warm caress of his gentle exhale, but his lips never touched her flesh as he fiercely whispered, “Don’t you ever think you weren’t worth the trouble or fight it would have been, Chérie. You were just about to start your new career, so you didn’t need me reappearing in your life just then. And if I hadn’t agreed with Bobby and your father, I’d of gladly taken them on. Don’t you ever sell yourself short, Tabitha. You’re worth a fight. A hell of one.”
Her eyes had shut when Cort’s presence had surrounded her with his body, but they snapped open when she felt him step back from her just as suddenly. Disappearing so fast that the skin at the base of her neck and shoulder still felt hauntingly warm from his breath.
Although she felt like she’d just run a mile at a flat-out sprint, he hardly looked affected, only a smoldering look in his suddenly darkened gaze as he stared down at her from across the porch gave any indication of his emotions.
“You still wear my charm,” he suddenly told her, a predatory grin lighting his face.
She glanced down at where she’d crossed her left arm over her right. Her charm bracket had turned enough so that they could both see the old-fashioned revolver charm he’d given her a decade ago to commemorate their first date. It had been one of the most memorable she’d ever been on.
At seventeen, she hadn’t been interested in him taking her drinking or dancing when they’d met up again and it had become apparent that he was drawn to the woman hunting had matured her into. Rather than such frivolous things, she’d wanted him to take her to the shooting range so she could prove her prowess to him.
He’d taken her to a paintball range instead.
Despite her initial dismay, it turned into the best date. Even so many years later. The hunting, stalking, and shooting allowed her competitive edge to come through, but in a more enjoyable and playful way than she could have imagined a date that involved stalking and shooting each other could possibly be.
But then, Cort had never been like any other man. And that was what she had loved about him at seventeen.
“It has fond memories,” she finally told him, folding her other hand over the bracelet.
“Me too,” he throatily agreed, his eyes snapping to hers as she hid the charm from his eyes.
She glanced away. Part of what she’d always loved was Cort’s self-assuredness. But it was also what she hated. Too often, it had left her feeling as if she was on weaker footing than he was. She didn’t have his confidence. And when he looked at her with that cocky, teasing smile, she couldn’t help reminding herself just how easily he could do better than her.
Her stomach twisted as an inner voice reminded her that she should have felt that way about Castiel. He was angel. But his ineptness, his uncertainty, put her at ease. Made her feel more confident. When he had stared at her with his intense blue gaze, she’d never felt the need to glance over her shoulder to see who he was really looking at as she often felt with Cort. With Castiel, she’d never doubted or questioned that he’d been staring at her and her alone.
Trying to lighten the intensity that his gaze still betrayed, he humorously reverted to the former topic, telling her, “Still…I’m glad to know that Bobby’s in a wheel chair now. Long as I stay in my house, he can’t get up the stairs into the place to make good on his promise. Now all I’ll have to watch out for is if he puts out a hit and tries to get another hunter to take me out.”
“He wouldn’t do that,” she replied, surprised by the sudden huskiness deepening her voice.
“You’d be surprised at the lengths a man would go to to protect a woman like you,” he meaningfully answered, his own voice dropping an octave as he held her stare.
Tabitha broke their eye contact, looking away and refusing to let herself think about the implications of his statement as she replied, “No. I mean that he wouldn’t let someone else do it. Bobby likes to do his own work.”
The tension eased a bit as Cort laughed, taking a deep breath and stepping back a bit more to put more space between them. Though he did observe, “The men in your life definitely are a protective bunch.”
It seemed an understatement to her. “Anyone in my family not threaten you with bodily harm over us briefly dating when I was seventeen?” she joked.
He pretended to consider it. “Don’t think Sam ever did. But I don’t think he ever realized what was going on back then, either.”
Almost to herself, Tabitha commented, “I wonder what it is about me that the men in my family think they have to go so overboard trying to protect me. I guess I seem particularly weak and needy to them.”
Cort shrugged and started walking back down the porch towards his front door. He paused to turn towards her again, leaning sideways against the house as he replied, “I wouldn’t take it as anything but a compliment, Tabby. Might not feel that way to you, but you’ve got to consider just how much they care about you that they try to protect you so well. It’s more’n a lotta girls have. And any man that cared one whit for a girl like you an’ was worth his salt would do what he could to protect you. Got nothin’ to do with thinking you can’t do it yourself. It’s caring enough about you to want you to never have to be tested that way.”
He turned and walked into the house. But Tabitha sat alone on the railing marveling to herself at the chemistry that still seemed to ignite between them, even when he hadn’t so much as touched her. Just his nearness ignited something in her she hadn’t known could still flare for him.
She sat for a long time contemplating not only Cort’s words, but also the manner in which he’d delivered them to her.
Her first love may have agreed to her request that they remain only friends, but he seemed determined to keep reminding her that he was only biding his time for more. And reigniting the sensations and feelings in her body that she was surprised he managed to elicit even after a decade apart.
And while her body screamed for her to throw emotions to the wind and reclaim the passion her body instinctively remembered, her mind pulled her back, lingering not on the darkened brown eyes smoldering at her only moments before, but blue eyes that continued to haunt her dreams.
“How do you stand this heat and humidity?” Tabitha asked when she broke the surface of Cort’s pool after swimming another set of laps.
He was hunched over several books spread out around him on one of the chaise lounges and didn’t immediately answer her. Or even look up.
“Cort?” she prompted as she folded her arms on the edge of the pool, lazily churning her legs beneath her as she waited for him to acknowledge her.
He finally glanced up, spitting out the pencil he’d been worriedly gnawing on. “What?” he asked.
“You find anything useful?” she asked, forgoing her original question.
“No,” he admitted, a pinched look darkening his face as he stared accusingly down at the old texts spread out around him. “I still can’t find a darn thing that’s useful. Nothing to help translate that passage of yours. And nothing about your angel either.”
Tabitha felt her heart skip a beat as her mind conjured the memory of blue eyes, but she shoved it away, reminding herself again that Cort was talking about “Pam” or whatever the angel’s real name was that had shown up in her dreams. Not Castiel. And not that he would ever be her angel.
She hadn’t seen the unknown angel again either to try to press her for more information about who she really was. The sum total of what she knew about that angel was that she was obviously a close sister to both Lucifer and Michael, and that Tabitha was meant to be her vessel.
That information had all come from the angel herself. They hadn’t been able to find one piece of useful lore or even mythology that might give them more answers.
Something niggled at Tabitha’s senses, telling her that the passage in her mother’s bible held some answers, but after nearly two months of trying to translate it—even with Cort’s help—they still hadn’t gotten anywhere. The language was so archaic, that at best, they were guessing at what certain words might actually be.
After spending yet another morning of staring at the passage and pouring over other old books written in Aramaic, Tabitha had finally thrown up her hands and taken herself and her headache for a swim in Cort’s pool. Even though she had spent the last two months in New Orleans with Cort, she still hadn’t quite gotten used to the heat and humidity that weighed the air so heavily in the late August days. So Cort’s lavish pool was a welcome relief to the heat.
The weather did wonders for her tan though, she thought with a small smile as she glanced down at her arms braced on the edge of the pool. As much time as she’d spent in Cort’s backyard split between sunbathing while researching, and then swimming in his pool, she’d managed to attain a deep golden tan that she hadn’t had since she was a teenager and had the time to sunbathe. She’d been so busy at the FBI and then hunting with her brothers, that it had been many years since her skin had bronzed to such a deep hue.
She wryly thought that at least her worries of skin cancer were a thing of the past. With the impending Apocalypse, skin cancer was at the very bottom of her list of things that might kill her.
“Maybe we should ply other means of trying to translate this text,” Cort thoughtfully spoke.
Tabitha looked back up from her musings about her tan to see him staring intently at her.
He shrugged, looking reluctant to admit what he was thinking before he finally gave a withering sigh and answered, “There might be ways to contact the spirit world and see if we can’t find a spirit that can translate this.”
Holding back her instinctive response, Tabitha forced herself to give it due consideration. She knew what her brothers’ responses to the idea would have been, an emphatic no. Probably even a hell no. And her response would likely have been the same when she’d still been with them. She could almost hear Dean lecturing her that they were hunters; they put spirits down, sent them back to the grave. They did not use them as helpers.
But it had been three months since she last saw or heard from either of her brothers. And while she still wasn’t comfortable with some of the hoodoo and voodoo stuff around New Orleans like Cort was, she’d learned to give it a little credit, too. She’d helped Cort with two cases where they’d put spirits to rest that had become angry and uncontrolled.
It was an unusual thing, Cort had assured her. The voodoo practitioners of the city apparently communed with spirits all the time, and in exchange for help from the spirits, they had the power to keep the spirits from becoming angry and vengeful.
One of the spirits they’d been called to put to rest had been in New Orleans for hundreds of years and serving several generations of one family. It had never been angry or vengeful. Had never lost its sense of self. Something that had seemed utterly fascinating to Tabitha who had only ever encountered angry and vengeful spirits trying to hurt others, or the pitiable spirits stuck in a death loop, experiencing their deaths over and over, never seeming to realize they had died a long time ago.
But something was happening in the city. The spirits that had lived there for decades and even hundreds of years were becoming restless, losing themselves. Cort told her that he’d heard from Etienne that the spirits were losing themselves in increasing numbers, too. The old man was apparently so busy with his own followers putting suddenly violent spirits to rest, that he’d actually asked Cort and two other hunters from the nearby area to enter his city to help a few times.
And though Cort never voiced it, she feared just as he did that the sudden, unexplained rash of previously sentient and peaceful spirits losing themselves had something to do with the coming Apocalypse.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea right now?” she questioned in response to Cort’s idea, worry creeping into her tone as she rested her chin on her folded hands.
Cort glanced away but then steadfastly held her eyes as he affirmed, “Maybe not, but we’re running out of choices, Tab. We’ve made no progress on this, and we need to know what’s going on. We need to know how to protect you from this angel, too.”
She nodded, knowing he was right but worried about what might happen if he contacted a spirit for help and it suddenly lost itself and became vengeful. But knowing that it might be dangerous didn’t stop it from being the only option they seemed to have left.
“What about Etienne?” she wondered, grasping for any other possibilities. She knew Cort knew some voodoo, even if he wasn’t an active practitioner like others in the city. “Maybe there’s something he could do? It might be safer.”
A derisive breath blew out in a short puff through Cort’s nose as he leaned back against the lounge chair, folding his hands behind his head as he responded, “One, Etienne’s been a bit busy, Tabby cat. And two, he ain’t been real pleased with me the last coupla times I talked to him.”
She noticed that he tactfully left out that she was the reason Etienne was angry with Cort, and that the old man blamed her and her brothers for everything that was happening.
“There has to be some other way we can get this thing translated,” she lamented as she angrily kicked backwards in the water, splashing water up into the air behind her.
Cort opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when they both heard the low chiming of the doorbell echoing inside the house.
As Cort scrambled to his feet, Tabitha easily lifted herself out of the water, grabbing her wrap to tie around her waist as she followed Cort’s apprehensive movements. In the two months since she’d been back from Bobby’s place, she’d never once seen anybody else at Cort’s house. They occasionally ran into people Cort knew from both the normal world and the supernatural one if they went out at night to drink or dance, but Cort was also very adamant about meeting those people at bars and such. He’d told her that his house was his sanctuary, and Tabitha had begun to think of it that way as well.
They were in the hallway to the front door when Cort snatched a handgun out of the drawer of a low table, throwing over his shoulder at her, “Stay there.”
Having never been one to follow growled orders, Tabitha followed behind him as he opened the door.
He cracked the door open, and then slid the gun into the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back, swinging the door open with a long sigh as he exasperatedly asked, “Tamera, what are you doing here? And how’d you even know where I live?”
Tabitha angled around Cort’s massive form, stepping closer to his back, but enough around him so that she could still reach for where he’d tucked his gun, but also see whom it was he’d addressed.
She forgot all about her weariness at someone showing up at Cort’s house when he had been so insistent that no one was welcomed there but her. The tall, gorgeous beauty standing on the porch had chased all thoughts from Tabitha’s mind.
The woman’s skin was a dark, warm colored mocha, with long legs lifting her to almost Amazonian heights. Her tall heels punched her up several more inches, letting her stare slightly down into Cort’s eyes, but Tabitha figured she was still one of the few woman that could challenge Cort’s tall frame even without those tall heels.
“I come to speak with’d you, Cort,” she huskily drawled, her voice a low, couldn’t-melt-butter-in-your-mouth resonance that matched her full, pouty lips. Tabitha put her French Creole accent as French Quarter, but the slinky designer dress molding to her curves put her into a more uppercut division than any of the people Cort had introduced her to when they’d gone dancing at Cajun bars in the Quarter.
“What about?” Cort asked her, his words brisk, but underlying warmth in his voice that made Tabitha give the other woman another look over.
She had more curves than Tabitha did, her full breasts almost seeming to spill over the low scoop of her bronze hued dress, but narrowing to a slim waist before swelling out to full curved hips. The tall heels made her long legs stretch even longer, and display firm sleek calves.
“You goin’ to keep me waitin’ on you porch, Cort? Where’d you manners be?” she asked him, pursing her full lips more as she questioned him in sultry, seductive tones, her long fingers reaching up to toy with a few strands of the tight cornrowed braids that fell over her shoulder and hung nearly to her waist.
“I didn’t invite you over, Tamera,” he reminded her. His tone was chiding, but almost teasing at the same time.
It shouldn’t have surprised Tabitha, but his twinkling eyes and teasing tone confirmed what the sultry gaze of the dark-skinned beauty was already telling her: that these two knew each other. Intimately.
She told herself that it didn’t matter and that she didn’t care, but it still stung a little to stare up at the statuesque woman who looked like she’d just stepped off the runway and have both her and Cort virtually ignore her.
Telling herself that she was only annoyed at being ignored, Tabitha held her hand out towards the woman, offering, “Hi. We haven’t met. I’m Tabitha.”
The woman flicked her eyes over her before finally accepting the hand Tabitha held out, lightly touching her fingers before pulling away with one last withering look as her lip slightly curled.
Tabitha self-consciously looked down, suddenly wishing she were wearing something more than the simple white bikini she’d pulled on and not standing barefoot in the entryway of Cort’s house. What she wouldn’t have given to be wearing a tall stacked heel to combat her suddenly diminutive height, and a pushup bra that might make her B-cups appear more like a C. Anything that would give her some armor against the derisive and dismissive glance the other woman and flickered over her.
Never had she truly considered herself a vain woman—she knew and accepted her assets and her weaknesses—but that was when comparing herself to a normal woman. She knew now what most little girls must feel like when they tried to hold themselves up to models. Most models she’d seen had nothing on this Tamera and worse yet, Tamera knew it.
“Charmed of course,” Tamera finally responded, her voice still that warm, husky tone, even if her eyes were cold as they skimmed over her one last time.
As her sultry gaze fixed on Cort again, Tabitha fought the urge to reach up and smooth her hair, knowing it was wild and wavy from her swim in the pool, but determined not to let this woman see her squirm again.
Cort glanced uncomfortably between the two women, either sensing the undercurrents suddenly swelling between them, or finally realizing himself the awkwardness of standing between two of his former lovers.
Clearing his throat, he addressed Tamera again, subtly stepping back enough so that his body was angled just slightly behind Tabitha’s, not touching her, but making a statement nonetheless as he maneuvered himself closer to her and further from Tamera.
Tamera’s nose wrinkled delicately in response, not missing the unspoken statement either, but she flipped the mass of delicate braids back over her shoulder as she loftily held her head high, meeting his gaze over Tabitha’s shoulder as she shortly told him, “Grandfader has asked for you. Bot’d of you.” Her tone had lost the husky quality to it, but was still deep and resonant as she relayed the message, though Tabitha gave a small inward huff of laughter at the sheer nerve Cort seemed to have, dating Etienne’s granddaughter. Not that she hadn’t always known that Cort didn’t have much fear of anything.
The woman dropped her eyes one last time, glancing down to meet Tabitha’s gaze again, imparting the last of her message. “Momma Cecil will see ya now. Doe’ent keep h’er waitin’.”
Turing on her high stilettos, the woman began to stalk away, her gait more of a sway than a walk. But she paused at the top of the stairs to the porch, turning over her shoulder to tell Cort, “I’s still be here when you’d be ready. But I grows tired of waitin’, Cort.”
Cort cleared his throat again as he stepped around Tabitha to shut the door, turning to lean his back against it as he stared down at the floor between them.
“I…ah…used to date Tamera. For a while,” he almost stutteringly admitted, a blush, surprisingly, creeping over his cheeks.
Without the resplendence of the other woman’s beauty staring her in the face, Tabitha was able to relax a bit and remind herself that it really wasn’t any of her business.
“We’re just friends, Cort,” she pointed out for both their sakes. “Who you…date…is none of my business. Besides, I don’t know how any guy could help himself with her. She’s…gorgeous doesn’t even begin to cover what she is. Believe me, I get it.”
She’d tried to keep the bitterness and envy out of her voice, but something of it must of slipped through, because Cort’s eyes snapped up to hers, narrowing as he admonished her. “Don’t you ever disparage yourself to me or yourself, chérie. Even in thought. Tamera is a beautiful woman, but she’s got nothing on you.”
He pushed away from the door as he spoke, stalking towards her with a sudden hunger that had Tabitha frozen under his predatory gaze, yearning to look over her shoulder to see who he was really looking at. He reached down to lightly brush a few wild strands of blond over her shoulder, his fingers barely grazing her flesh but making her shudder at the inexplicable heat left trailing the light touch.
“No other woman drives me to such longing and yearning,” he whispered, his voice rough with a huskiness that rivaled anything Tamera had been able to lace in her words.
But as the words registered in her suddenly sluggish mind, Tabitha jerked her eyes from her shoulder where his fingers had brushed against her to stare up into the dark eyes that loomed over her. Promising more fire and passion.
A harsh laugh escaped as Cort loomed closer, his voice becoming rougher still as he told her, “And what’s more, there’s such innocence in you. Even after all these years an’ everythin’ you’ve seen. You don’t even realize what you do to me.”
Tabitha drew a shuddering breath, her mouth suddenly dry as she took a shaky step backwards. Followed by another as she tried to put distance between them again. “Cort—” she started to say.
But he cut her off, a laughter made harsh from something other than lust this time escaping as he interrupted her, looking away as he said, “I know. I know. You don’t need to say it again. We’re friends. Of course.” His eyes found hers unerringly as he told her with a voice full of dark promise, “But it’s not always going to be just friendship between us. I won’t stop letting you know I want more.”
Afraid to touch the subject with a ten-foot pole, she shrugged and told him, “We should get changed. We probably shouldn’t keep Momma Cecil waiting. I’m guessing she’ll be expecting us right away from what Tamera said.”
He snorted as if she’d stated the obvious, which perhaps she had, but gave her one last warning before he left her in the entryway. “It won’t always be just friendship between us.”
That was what Tabitha feared most. No matter how many times she’d tried to talk herself into it over the past two months, she didn’t think she could ever go back to the way things had once been with Cort. And he wasn’t the kind of man that would settle for always being second place in her heart, but that was where he’d been relegated.
An angel had supplanted him, shoving himself to the forefront, even when he hurt her or disappeared for months at a time. He was always present there in her heart.
The harsh truth that she was beginning to fully realize was that even if Castiel would never be capable of feeling something for her, she had damnably started to feel…something, for him. Even if she could never really have him.
She knew she couldn’t have him. He was an angel and she was human.
She also knew that whatever she felt for Castiel, it would cost her Cort. It would only be a matter of time until his words were proven right. But while he wanted more than friendship, she knew that she would lose him completely when he finally accepted that she couldn’t go back to loving him as she had when she was seventeen.
And then, even his friendship would be gone. Leaving her with nothing but that ever-encroaching loneliness that always seemed to stalk her. Waiting to swallow her whole once more.
Tabitha absently noted that she wasn’t the only one silent and glum as they walked down the sidewalk in a residential area of the French Quarter. They’d taken a cab part of the way, but Cort always insisted they walk as well so that it was harder for anyone to track their movements to or from his house.
And even though the weather was still hot and humid, Tabitha was glad for the extra walking time to spend alone with her thoughts. Grim and glum though they were.
A young man dressed in black slacks and a pressed white shirt walked towards them on the sidewalk, bible in hand.
“The end is nigh!” he emphatically shouted. “And He said, ‘I will show wonders in Heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass – That whoever calls on the name of The LORD shall be saved.'” He stopped in front of Cort and Tabitha, reaching out, trying to grasp her hand. “Have you given yourself unto The Lord and his angels? Do so, and you shall be granted paradise.”
Tabitha snorted as she pulled away from bible thumper. “Buddy, if I give myself over to the angels, no one is getting paradise.”
Cort pushed the young man away, raising the back of his hand warningly when the man tried to follow them. “You get now. Believe me, we’ve had plenty talk of scriptures. Don’t need more o’ yours.”
He shook his head as they continued past the man, muttering to himself, “Times like this just bring out even more of the crazies.”
A strange look passed over his face as they walked.
“Does your fella know anything about this world? What’s really out there I mean. Or is he just some normal guy?” Cort asked unexpectedly.
She nearly stumbled at the sudden question, desperately wishing that Cort had left her alone to her thoughts. Grim though they were.
Still, she wouldn’t insult him by pretending that she didn’t understand who he’d meant.
With a darting glance at him, she shifted the bag on her shoulder and told him, “Uh…yeah…he ah…knows about what’s really out there.” He knew everything that was really out there. And he was out there somewhere, too.
They continued in silence for a few minutes as Cort absorbed the information in thoughtful silence.
Finally, he asked, “So if this guy knows what’s really out there, why isn’t he here helping you out? He must know the kind of trouble you’re in, right? So where is he? For that matter, why aren’t your brothers here helping you?” His tone turned starker with his anger, until he’d reached out to grab her arm, hauling her to a stop and turning her to face him. “But I’ve been here for you. Me. Just me.” He huffed as he ran his hand through his tangled hair, pushing it back from his face as he continued a little more calmly. “Just tell me what it is about this guy that has you still hung up on him, even though he hasn’t been here for you.”
How did she answer something she wasn’t even sure she understood? She shoved her hands into her pockets and shrugged, not sure anything she could say would make Cort feel better anyway. “I wish I could give you some kind of satisfactory answer, Cort. I’m not even sure I know why I’m still hung up on him.”
“He hurt you, didn’t he?” he whispered, his head turning as he looked back down the sidewalk, but darting curious looks at her.
She gave another noncommittal shrug. Cort held enough of her respect that she didn’t want to lie, but admitting it changed nothing about the way things were. He’d hurt her, and yet…he still filled her thoughts.
“You love him?”
“I don’t know.”
“He love you?”
His gaze was locked on some distant point as he asked the question, but she knew his attention was focused on her.
The memory of the last time she’d seen Castiel almost three months before surfaced in her mind. Him telling her that her “whims” were a distraction and that he could never give her the kinds of emotions she wanted. She didn’t doubt the veracity of what he’d told her then—or at least didn’t doubt that he believed it—so why didn’t she simply accept it and move on with her life? Move on with someone like Cort who continued to make it plain as day that he was only waiting for her to give him an opening?
“He said he couldn’t,” she admitted in a soft whisper.
A derisive snort escaped from Cort though he still didn’t look back at her. “He must be something to still have such a hold on you.”
“Yeah,” she darkly laughed. “He’s something else.”
“What ’bout your trouble-making, apocalypse-starting brothers? Why aren’t they helping you?” he dejectedly asked, still staring hard at the concrete under their feet.
Her eyes narrowed at his name-calling of her brothers, but she flatly answered, “I left messages for both of them right after ‘Pam‘ showed up in my dreams. Neither of them is answering though. Guess they’re taking the whole time apart thing seriously.”
He frowned in response, but wisely didn’t disparage her brothers further. She was more than ticked with them herself for them not calling her back, but she was their sister. She was allowed to call them names by virtue of loving the stubborn fools so much.
Still, if another month passed without them calling her back, she was going to track them down and knock some sense into them. In the fun, physical way.
Not wanting to dwell on any more touchy subjects with Cort, she jerked a nod down the street. “We should keep going. Don’t want to keep Momma Cecil waiting, right?”
“Right,” he sighed, resuming his pace as she fell in step beside him, a slight smile tugging at her lips at the way he automatically adjusted his large stride to accommodate her. So simple a thing. But it made a world of difference.
Tabitha’s brows rose as they stood outside the wrought iron fence surrounding an immaculately manicured and landscaped, white-sided house. Unlike much of the area where houses were sandwiched between each other, the house they had stopped at had a modest yard spreading around it, encased by the ornate iron fence that she and Cort had stopped at.
Gesturing at the hand-carved sign outside the gate, Tabitha read, “The House of the Rising Sun? Don’t tell me, this Momma Cecil is a fan of The Animals.”
Cort laughed, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes as he held open the iron gate and waited for her to pass through.
“This place has been called The Rising Sun since the late seventeen-hundreds or early eighteen-hundreds, long before the song ever even became a folk ballad. And that was long before The Animals ever came into being, too.”
She stepped sideways as she looked back at Cort, asking him, “You’re not saying the song is about this place, are you?”
“That’s the story,” he shrugged. “Some swear it is. This place been everything that they say the song is about. Been a whorehouse, been a gambling house, and been a hotel. Was even a prison once. Hell, it was even a speakeasy during prohibition. It’s only been in recent years that the family changed the name to the song title.”
Tabitha began walking forward beside Cort again as she glanced at the stark white siding of the house with new eyes. On the outside, it just looked like another house—albeit a very nice one—but there was nothing to indicate it was a business or ever had been anything of historical significance other than the one hand-carved sign by the gate. “So, what is it now?”
“Momma Cecil lives here. She used to tell fortunes and such here for rich, socialite type ladies of the city. Now that’s mostly fallen to Tamera since she was the next one born with the gift. It’s been a lot of years since Momma Cecil did a reading for anyone herself.”
When they’d climbed the steps onto the covered porch, Cort wasted no time in raising his hand to knock on the door, but before his knuckles could connect, the wood and leaded glass door swung open, revealing Tamera in her devastatingly beautiful glory. Tabitha felt her teeth grind together, wishing she’d worn something other than loose cargo pants and spaghetti strap tank top.
But Tamera paid her no more mind than she had at Cort’s place, instead reaching out to grasp Cort’s still raised hand, lightly clutching it between them as she pressed her lips to Cort’s cheek, as though staking her claim.
Tabitha stared at the pair for a moment, thinking to herself how beautiful a couple the pair actually made. Both tall and devastatingly beautiful. And Tamera’s designer clothes bore testament to the fact that she was more than acquainted to the wealthy lifestyle Cort had come from. The pair could have stepped right off a magazine cover together. They certainly made more sense together than she and Cort did.
After letting Tamera brush her plump lips against his skin in a brief hello, Cort released her hand and stepped back, once more angling himself behind Tabitha in a silent but blazingly blatant statement.
Tamera’s eyes flicked back to Tabitha with the same regard she might have given a buzzing fly: something that was merely an annoyance.
“She will see ya now,” Tamera told her. Spinning on her tall heels, she left without another word, apparently expecting Tabitha to simply follow her.
Cort nudged her shoulder, telling her, “Go on.”
She took a breath and stepped over the threshold, somehow knowing that she would get some answers here, for better or worse.
Tamera weaved through several hallways in her swaying gait, never looking back to see if Cort and Tabitha still followed her. When she finally stopped at the wide entrance to a spacious interior room, she theatrically held one arm out in a silent command for them to step into the room.
Cort stepped past Tabitha when she balked, silently taking her hand in his and tugging her with him as he made his way to the center of the room and dropped down to the floor, easing down on a large square cushion that had been laid out on the hardwood floor.
Chairs lined the outside of the room, but Cort’s easy confidence told her it was standard for guests of Momma Cecil to sit in the middle on the floor.
Following his example, Tabitha lowered herself onto the flowered cushion beside him, grateful that he held her hand in support, even after the discussion they’d had on the way over. Without his hand holding hers, the heavy silence of the room might have eaten at her nerves until she fled back the way she’d come, damn any answers she might receive there.
She’d just begun to wonder if they would be made to wait forever with baited breath in the spacious room when two small girls began to lead a stooped over woman into the room. She was dressed in modern black skirt and a blouse, but her white hair was wrapped atop her head more in a more old-fashioned scarf.
The girl in pigtails Tabitha instantly recognized from the voodoo shop where she’d met Etienne several months before, but when the head of the other girl with her hair pulled back into a ponytail glanced up, Tabitha was startled to realize held the same face. The two girls were identical twins. And they both flashed her the same, familiar, but tentative smile.
When the young girls at last had the woman settled on another large cushion a few feet in front of them, Tabitha finally got a good look at Momma Cecile, surprised by not only the ancient look on her face and the hard lines of wrinkles etched into her skin—making her think she hadn’t been far off her remark that Etienne’s mother had to be a hundred and fifty—but also by the milky white gaze that blindly passed around the room. The two girls knelt behind the old woman, flanking her on either side as they waited with their gazes downcast.
Leaning closer to Cort, Tabitha whispered to him, “Just how is this old lady supposed to see anything that will be of use to us?”
Cort tensed like lightning might strike them down even as the old woman threw back her head and laughed.
Almost primly, but still chuckling, the old woman gently reprimanded her, “You best be careful of your words around a blind woman. Even one so old as me. We tend to hear better than we’re given credit for. And I still see things others can’t.”
Wishing she could swallow her own tongue, Tabitha winced and apologized, “Sorry about that. I don’t always think before I speak.”
The woman gave a little chuckle that almost seemed to politely say she was in complete agreement.
For several minutes, the silence stretched on as the ancient looking woman stared blindly at Tabitha and Cort. She remembered that Cort had described his only meeting with the old woman being similar, but Tabitha didn’t have the time or patience for whatever kind of power plays the old woman was aiming at.
The woman leaned back slightly. “So you’re what all the fuss is about? You have stirred up a hornet’s nest, girl. Things have never been more dangerous for you. If the demons do not get you, the angels will.”
“Did you have something important to tell us?” Tabitha pressed, not wanting to think about the fact that War had already informed her about being wanted by both angels and demons. She felt Cort squeeze her hand warningly when she opened her mouth.
Momma Cecile closed her eyes as she listened to Tabitha speak, tilting her head as she responded in a reasonable tone, “Have you some pressing place to be? Must you young people always be in such hurries?”
Tabitha huffed, yanking her hand away when Cort gave an increasingly painful warning squeeze, leaning towards the old woman as she told her, “You called us here. After three months. I figured it meant you finally had something useful for me. Or are we just all gonna sit around staring at each other? ‘Cause not all of us can do that, ya know.”
Milky white eyes snapped open, pinning Tabitha in a blind stare that had Tabitha fighting the urge to shrink away from it.
A short, disbelieving laugh escaped as Momma Cecile said almost to herself, “Ya have no fear of me, do you?”
An eerie feeling seemed to crawl up Tabitha’s spine, telling her that she really should not only fear this woman but also run screaming from her, still, she bluntly responded, “I’m terrified. But I’m terrified of a lot of things. Demons, angels, and the Devil himself to name a few. Cowering like a scared rabbit at everything that scared me would mean I’d never even get out of bed.”
Tamera came further into the room then, kneeling on another cushion to Momma Cecile’s right, and though her movements were silent, the old woman’s milky white eyes tracked over to the young woman as if she could see her.
“Many people fear me. Most as a matter of fact,” Momma Cecile continued in an almost conversational tone as she looked away from Tamera. “Laveau woman are well used to it.”
Tabitha frowned. She knew the shop Etienne worked out of had Laveau in the name, but she’d assumed it was a cachet thing in the voodoo world to use the name of the infamous Marie Laveau. Right along with his exaggerated accent, which she’d almost been surprised not to hear in Momma Cecile. Her accent was French Creole, but a more stilted, upper-crust accent. Her consonants tended to sound French influenced, harder, sometimes her S’s even sounding like Z’s.
“You’re saying you’re descended from Marie Laveau? The voodoo priestess everyone around here thinks walked on water?” she asked, her skepticism clear.
She heard Cort curse and mutter to himself as he warningly told her to stop talking, but Momma Cecile seemed to have the same humor for Tabitha’s question that she’d had for everything Tabitha had said.
“Ya doubt me?” she chuckled. “I am an old woman…not quite a hundred and fifty…but it’s been many long years since someone doubted me to my face.”
Tabitha quit breathing. Surely it had been a coincidence that she’d thrown out the number one-hundred and fifty.
The words were spoken softly, but the shutters to the windows suddenly slammed shut like claps of thunder, cutting off the natural sunlight as candles and oil lamps flared to life.
Tabitha had clamored ungainly to her feet before she even realized she’d moved, but went no further than to stare speechlessly at the old woman now bathed in warm candlelight.
Momma Cecile calmly reached her hands out towards Tamera as if nothing had occurred, accepting a white china cup with some kind of steaming liquid that Tabitha hadn’t noticed the other woman had brought into the room.
“How’d you do that?” Tabitha whispered in shock.
“My family has our own unique talents. Same as your family has,” Momma Cecile answered, pausing to blow across the surface of the steaming liquid.
“Sit,” the old woman gestured impatiently at Tabitha before taking a sip. “If I meant you harm, I would have done it by now. As I said, not many people don’t fear me, and despite what you said, you still don’t fear me. Not even now. Not really. You’re wary, but you won’t let yourself be truly afraid of me. I respect that. Most people would have been running screaming out the door by now—” she nodded beside Tabitha, who turned to look down, seeing Cort crouched low to the ground, as though ready to flee himself if she did, “—but you want answers, so you won’t let yourself leave until you get them. I respect that. And I’ve known very few women in my life that I respected. Even among my own family. I’ve often wished there was a woman of my line with your courage and…gumption, I suppose.”
Tamera’s nose wrinkled delicately beside the old woman, but she didn’t seem particularly surprised by the woman’s words, giving no other physical response to them. It didn’t seem to be any kind of news to her.
Tabitha considered proving Momma Cecile wrong and letting her feet carry her out the door like they itched to do, but grudgingly admitted to herself that the old woman was actually right. She wanted answers, and if this crazy old woman had them for her, she wasn’t leaving until she got them.
She cringed at the errant thought even as she placed an assuring hand on Cort’s shoulder and sat beside him once more, pushing him down onto his own cushion.
Momma Cecile gave an elegant shrug in response. “I’ve been called and thought of as worse,” she admitted.
“That’s kinda creepy that you can hear my thoughts,” she muttered. Then, another thought struck her on the heels of her words. “How can you even hear them?” With her left hand held up, she jangled the charms on her bracelet. “I thought this thing was supposed to protect me from such things.” Castiel certainly hadn’t been able to hear her thoughts like he could other humans. And neither he nor the other angels could use their powers on her. Although she had wondered how Pam managed to find her in her dreams when Castiel had told her she was hidden so well that even he had difficulty finding her in her dreams.
Momma Cecile waved carelessly at the bracelet. “Those charms protect against many kinds of magic. But not against everything. My…magic I suppose…is different. As for the other…she cannot find you, but why could she not find your dreams at the least? You were made for her.”
Tabitha tensed at hearing that proclamation again, but nodded in the ensuing silence. It made sense why some things worked on her and some didn’t, but her bracelet wasn’t what she’d come to Momma Cecile about.
“No, it isn’t,” Momma Cecile agreed to Tabitha’s thought. “You are quite correct; I did not ask you here to ‘shoot the breeze.'”
Her thoughts spoken aloud back to her made Tabitha cringe. “I’m trying to control what I think,” she softly apologized.
With a light wave, Momma Cecile dismissed the matter. Setting her now empty china cup aside, the old woman took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and without preamble, softly began chanting in French.
For the umpteenth time, Tabitha wished she knew more than the Miranda Rights in French, because she could only silently wait to see what Momma Cecile was doing.
When the ghost of a woman that appeared to be from the eighteenth century solidified beside Momma Cecile, Tabitha nearly jumped to her feet again, only Cort’s hand on her elbow stopped her.
“Oui, Madame Laveau?” the ghost asked in a soft voice, kneeling deferentially next to the old woman, tucking her long skirts under her knees.
“Laveau?” Tabitha dazedly repeated as she stared at the ghost. The woman spoke with the typical French Creole accent of New Orleans, but her speech pattern felt a little more stilted and proper—a lot like Momma Cecile’s.
“Yes,” the old woman answered. “I am directly descended from Marie Laveau, my great-great-grandmother. I am Celine-Mary Laveau. The women of my line have always kept our family’s name.”
Tabitha swallowed hard as Momma Cecile disregarded her and turned back to the waiting ghost, continuing to speak in the French Tabitha couldn’t follow.
Unable to understand their words, Tabitha was left to study the ghost. She’d been young still when she died, perhaps barely into her early twenties. Her clothes reminded Tabitha of many of the old paintings she’d seen of slaves and freed slaves in New Orleans at that time period. Her white blouse was off the shoulder, but covered by a thick shawl. And her black hair was piled on her head and covered by a thick scarf wrapped around it. Her creamy brown skin was flawless and unmarked by age or hardship, and Tabitha continued to wonder how this pretty girl had died.
And how she continued to serve Momma Cecile when younger ghosts in the city had begun to lose themselves and turn violent.
“Madame Laveau makes it so,” the ghost suddenly told her, her French flavored accent making her consonants hard like Momma Cecile’s, and meeting Tabitha’s gaze meaningfully before she turned back to Momma Cecile.
The old woman gave a gap-toothed grin that still managed to seem slightly predatory. But she didn’t resume speaking in French to the ghost.
“I have communed long hours with many of my loyal followers, and I have finally decided that you shall be allowed to remain in my city until you see your future ring.”
Tabitha gaped wordlessly in the following silence, waiting for Momma Cecile to impart something else. Something more.
At the very least, something she could understand.
“That’s it?” she incredulously bellowed in the stretching silence. “I thought you brought me here to tell me something. To give me some kind of answers.”
“It is not my place to give the answers you most want.”
“Then why the hell did I even come here?! You could have called me to tell me that I was allowed to stay in the city. Or hell, sent a text.”
She jerked her arm away from Cort as he began tugging warningly on her again, but did remain sitting beside him as she shrunk back from the withering, milky white stare suddenly pinning her down when she would have stood.
“You are here because I wanted to take measure of you.” The words were spoken in an angry hiss with more strength than Tabitha would have thought the old woman could muster. But then, her withered hands smoothed over the folds of her black skirt as she visibly calmed herself.
With an almost appreciative nod, the old woman calmly continued, “Truly, you have no fear of me. And in return, I will grant you a boon.”
With gnarled fingers, she reached out and gestured impatiently at the messenger bag still slung across Tabitha’s body.
“Let me see what you’ve brought.”
Tabitha hesitated, loath to allow a woman she didn’t really trust to lay her hands on her mother’s bible. And uncharitably wondering how the blind woman could translate what dozens of scholars couldn’t.
“It is prophecy,” Momma Cecile warned her. “And prophecy is a language all its own. One I speak well. You’d do well to remember that.”
Reluctantly, Tabitha pulled the old bible from her bag into view, noting how the old woman’s breath caught slightly.
“Open it to the passage you need,” Momma Cecile almost breathlessly commanded.
Tabitha did so, and then slid the book across the floor towards her when Momma Cecile impatiently gestured for it.
The old woman held a gnarled and aged hand over the text, her fingers dancing in the air in a manner that reminded Tabitha of a pianist, even as Momma Cecile almost lyrically muttered to herself.
Just as Tabitha was going to ask her what was going on, Momma Cecile looked up, for a moment, Tabitha swore color bled into the old woman’s eyes, but then they cleared to their previously white state, and Momma Cecile began to speak.
“Is prophecy here for sure. Strong prophecy. Dark prophecy. Prophecy of the End.” Her eyes bored into Tabitha’s making her lean back away from the woman as she added in a whisper, “Your prophecy.”
Her eyes dipped back to the page as she lyrically recited, “‘As the bitter struggle surges evermore, Graceful Beauty shall be the final and everlasting undoing. For He so said that the End Times shall be abolished not by squabbling and hate, but for love for the Serpent and love for the Sword. And so the Roe Deer shall obliterate the Kingdom and the Otherworlds, and silence shall ever reign.'”
Before Tabitha could blink, Momma Cecile snapped her fingers at Tamera, who silently produced a heavy looking parchment and old-fashioned fountain pen without being asked. As the room silently watched, Momma Cecile scrawled something onto the parchment, and then blew across it before shutting it into the bible.
With a stronger shove than her bony fingers should have been capable of, Momma Cecile sent the heavy book sliding back across the floor to Tabitha, telling her, “You’ve got the answers you want and more. Now go. But remember, you’ll only stay in my city until you see your future ring. Then you must leave.”
She made a dismissive gesture and Cort snatched up the book from the hardwood floor, hauling Tabitha to her feet and herding her towards the door as if the old woman might change her mind and never let them leave.
She and Cort halted reluctantly, and then slowly turned in the entrance of the spacious room at Momma Cecile’s imperious call.
“The ability to stop this all, thereby saving this world, lies in your brothers’ hands. The ability to end it all lies in your hands. They are the light and the fire…you are the darkness. But the ability to save your brothers and keep us all alive, also lies in your hands. Only you can stop this prophecy. You can save them, and save us all as well, or you can bring it all down. I see many possibilities in my mind—many choices to be made—but the end will be decided by your strength, and the strength of your brothers.”
The withered woman sat silently for a moment, contemplating her words, but she gave one last final nod, one that seemed to say both goodbye and good luck as she added, “Remember: strength lies not in the power within you, but the love without you.”
The ghost had been silent until this moment, but she too looked up from staring at her bent knees to darkly warn Tabitha, her words dipping into a more informal Creole accent. “We all depend on ya, Tabitha…child of grace.” She stressed Tabitha’s name with some unfathomable meaning. “All of us. Even me an’ my kind depend on ya an’ yer brothairs. We all be doomed if ya fail.”
And without another word, Cort tugged her outside The House of the Rising Sun.
“Did you understand any of that?” Tabitha dimly asked as she continued passively allowing Cort to tug her onwards, just as he’d done since they hailed a cab and had taken it into the Garden District. Had she been in the right frame of mind, she’d have objected to his leading her around by the hand like a child, but at the moment, she was still too dazed to voice any complaints.
“No,” he tightly answered as they turned up the walk to his house. “I didn’t understand that any more than you I expect. But we’ll have time to sort it out.”
“At least she translated the text. But she gave us nothing about that demon marking me or what it meant,” she absently noted.
As they went through the door, he finally turned and handed her the bible he’d been carrying since they left Momma Cecile’s house. She glanced down at the cover as she aimlessly trailed after Cort, following him as he led them into his kitchen. It had become one of the rooms they spent the most time in. Without her having to say it, he seemed to know that she preferred the informality of the kitchen to the other antique filled rooms of his house. At least when they weren’t outside by the pool.
“What’d she put in there?” Cort asked her, nodding towards the bible in her hands.
She paused, but gingerly set the bible on the counter of the center island, opening the book and leafing through it to the page that had confounded so many.
The parchment stared up at her, words written in a beautiful and old-fashioned scrawl that Tabitha never would have guessed had been penned by a blind woman.
“It’s just the same thing she recited to us,” Tabitha explained, holding up the parchment for him to see.
He came around the center island until he could look across one corner to gaze at the parchment she held up.
“So it is,” he agreed. “Now, we can work on translating just what the heck it all means. It may be English now, but it’s still doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “About all I get out of this is that a ‘roe deer’—whatever kinda deer that is—that loves a serpent and a sword will somehow be the key to stopping it all or something.”
Cort shook his head. “Not a lot to go on, but that last sentence—” he moved around to read the parchment over her shoulder. “‘Obliterate the Kingdom and the Otherworlds,'” he quoted. “I think that’s talking about something worse than the Apocalypse.”
“Worse?!” she repeated, cringing at the high pitch her voice had taken on. Clearing her throat, she continued, “How could it be worse than the Apocalypse. We’re talking the end of the world here.”
Cort stared at her for a moment, his eyes almost pitying as he seemed to weigh whether or not to tell her what was on his mind. At last, he sighed and explained in a stark voice, “The Apocalypse is just the end of this world. From what all the scriptures and lore says, all humans will find Paradise in Heaven afterwards.”
“This here is talking about the end of the Kingdom and the Otherworlds, Tabby. The Otherworlds being Heaven and Hell, at least in scripture. This prophecy’s talking about the end of all things.”
Tabitha felt suddenly weak and fell back onto the stool behind her as the last part rang in her head. Silence shall ever reign. No wonder Momma Cecil said she had to stop it. This was so much worse than her wonky blood. She wished she could go back to that as her only worry.
“That’s what I have to stop?” she fairly screeched. Shaking her head, she continued more sedately to herself, “It’s too much. I can’t be expected to be responsible for keeping everything from ending.”
She stared at the old bible in front of her. “I don’t get it,” she whispered to herself. “The Apocalypse was bad enough, but now this? What does this even have to do with the Apocalypse? This is way worse than anything my brothers were responsible for starting.” She turned to stare up at Cort, desperately imploring him, “Is this my fault? Did I do something to cause this? Or is this somehow all tied into Lucifer rising?”
Cort opened and closed his mouth several times, but no words came out to assure her of anything. When he moved to place a comforting arm around her shoulders, she lurched away, darting for the kitchen sink as she felt her stomach retch.
My brothers might be responsible for starting to Apocalypse, but I might be responsible for ending everyone and everything, she dismally thought to herself as her stomach heaved.
Cort stood behind her, pulling her hair away from her face and rubbing her back as he crooned to her in French. She didn’t understand him, but his deep voice was calming. When her stomach had quieted, she allowed him to pull her back into the shelter of his embrace, his long arms wrapping around her from behind and pulling her flush against the support of his chest.
“We haven’t figured out what the rest of it means, Tabby,” he reminded her as his lips lowered to brush against her ear. “There’s likely more to the rest of it that helps explain it all. But mark my words, none of this is your fault. So don’t internalize that and start thinking that way. This is just a job, same as any other. We’ll research it, and figure out what it all means.”
“Unless I destroy the world, Heaven, and Hell first,” she glibly reminded him.
“Enough of that,” he warned in her ear, his grip tightening. “Matter of fact, that’s enough doom and gloom altogether for one day. Let’s head down to the Oyster Bar and get some food. And then we can head to the Blue Moon Bar afterwards. The Howlers are playing there tonight. We’ll do some dancing and just forget it all for the night.”
She slipped from his arms and turned to face him. “Now’s really not the time for drinking and dancing, Cort.”
“Now’s exactly the time, Chérie,” he argued, stepping forward to cup her face with one large hand. “You can’t keep pushing yourself so hard without taking some time for the good stuff.”
With an indulgent smile, she briefly turned into the warmth of his large palm. She knew she should argue with him and stay to figure out what the passage that Momma Cecile had translated meant. Just as she should have argued with him the last several dozen times he’d cajoled her into going drinking and dancing.
But like every other time, she felt her resolve slipping away at his charming, almost boyishly infectious grin. It was one of the other things she still loved about Cort, that his smile and charm were enough to convince her to blow off her responsibilities and let loose. She’d had far too little of that in her life. Under the watchful eyes of her father and brother, she hadn’t had many opportunities growing up to run wild. And then she’d gone to college with Sam where she’d watched over him, studying diligently and only rarely taking time for fun. Then she’d had even less time and inclination to have a good time once she’d finally become an FBI agent.
Despite the possibility of the world ending, she really did want to cut loose a little. If it all did end, she wanted some good, lighthearted memories before it was all over.
Sighing, she relented, just as Cort knew she would. “Fine. Oysters, a few drinks and a little dancing, but we’re not staying out ’til dawn again,” she warned him.
“Come on and dance with me, chére,” Cort charmingly pleaded with her, tugging on her hand as he tried to entice her away from her comfy bar stool.
Tabitha groaned as he dipped low and kissed the back of her hand like a gallant prince at a ball. His gesture may have been gallant, but there was nothing courteous about the wicked gleam in his eyes.
She held her half-drank bottle of beer up. “I just want to sit and enjoy my beer,” she fairly whined. Then she patted her stomach. “Plus, I’m way too stuffed with oysters to dance.”
Not giving in to her excuses, he leaned closer, bracing one hand on the bar as he dipped down to whisper in her ear, “I only know two good ways to burn off excess oysters. I’d be more than obliged to help you with either. Dancing is good, but so is the other. And you know oysters are great fuel for both.”
He pulled back just enough so that she could see the devilish twinkle under his dark lashes, and then he let out a deep chuckle at the blush his words had incited.
“Fine,” she grumbled, shaking her head at his predictable flirtatiousness after a few beers. “We’ll dance my stuffed belly away. We’re not doing the other thing.” He laughed behind her as he dutifully followed.
She held his hand as she pushed through the crowded bar and out onto the nearly equally crowded dance floor. Any type of dancing when the floor was so crowded would have proven difficult most of the time, but Cort’s commanding presence cleared some space around them. A lucky thing, too, because Cort liked to dance. And not just jump up and down bobbing his head. Cort danced.
Tabitha had danced some growing up. But it hadn’t been until Cort had started taking her dancing in New Orleans that she really learned to dance. He’d taught her how to two-step, jitterbug, Cajun zydeco, but his favorite, was to swing dance.
Swing dancing was never something she’d attempted, but between her natural athleticism and training, and his height and brawn, they were well matched.
There weren’t many men that would have been tall enough or strong enough, but Cort was plenty of both to expertly swing Tabitha over his arms, across his back, and throw her through the air in about any direction. They’d had a few mishaps early on in his teaching her to dance, but they’d become a seasoned pair.
And Tabitha had to admit, the feeling of swinging through the air or being spun around was pretty damn exhilarating. That was probably part of the reason she didn’t fight Cort so hard when he wanted to go dancing all the time.
They’d barely begun twisting together on the dance floor in some zydeco moves when the house band changed tunes from an upbeat Cajun tune to a familiar sounding Rock ballad. Tabitha paused at the thrumming electric guitar and drums as she finally placed the old Journey song, allowing Cort to pull her close for a modified jitterbug.
At first, the words of the song flowed past her ears, but then, Cort pulled her closer, no longer spinning her away from his body, but holding her pressed close to him, gripping her hand to press against his chest as he stared down with eyes darkened by emotion and unrestrained longing.
The words of the song flowed over her then as she recognized the chorus of the Classic Rock song pounding away from the band.
Someday love will find you
Break those chains that bind you
One night will remind you
How we touched
And went our separate ways
If he ever hurts you
True love won’t desert you
You know I still love you
Though we touched
And went our separate ways *
He bent low at the end of the chorus, his breath tickling her ear as he fiercely promised, “True love won’t desert you. You know I still love you. Just give us a chance, chérie.”
She leaned back away from him to stare up into his eyes. It wasn’t surprise at his words that made her pull back—he hadn’t been subtle in his goals to that point—but it was surprise at the sheer force and absoluteness in his voice that made her pull back.
“I can only be your friend, Cort,” she whispered up to his looming face.
He blew out a disbelieving puff of air as he yanked her closer, melding their bodies together as they came to a complete standstill in the middle of the dance floor.
“Tell me we’re not still good together. Tell me you don’t still want me,” he dared her, laying the challenge down in his own line in the sand.
She knew how easy it would have been to simply give in and relinquish to what he wanted. He was more than right. Physically, the chemistry still sizzled between them. And more than that, she had a good time with him.
Instead, she yanked away, disappearing through the crowded dancers as she ran onto the street, not looking back or answering the shouts of her name as she raced for the nearest taxi.
Her breathing was still labored as she gave the driver the address and leaned back against the seat of the taxicab. Again and again, she berated herself for letting a friendship with Cort continue when she knew he wanted more. It wasn’t fair to him, and it wasn’t fair to her that she continue trying to walk such a fine line so as to not give him any wrong ideas.
Not that it had seemed necessary. Cort had all his own ideas.
When the cab pulled up in front of Cort’s house, she absently tossed the driver several bills from her pocket, her feet scuffing the pavement as she slowly walked up to his house.
She knew she should leave, but she didn’t want to suddenly disappear with things so unsettle between them.
Truthfully, she didn’t really want to leave him. Losing his friendship would hurt too much.
Standing inside his house, she didn’t know what to do. Walk up the stairs and pack her things…or…stay?
The door swung open with a thud as Cort tore through it, seeming out of breath as he determinedly made his way toward her, his hand running through his hair in a nearly frantic manner as he approached her.
“Tab,” he sighed. “I’m sorry. Alright? That was probably the beer talking. I know you just want to be friends. And I’m sorry for pushing it.”
She stared up at him as he loomed over her, knowing she should turn away and leave, for both their sakes. But as she stared up into his dark, panicked eyes, she knew she would lose him completely if she walked away. Cort would never truly settle for just friendship. He’d always want more.
And she’d already lost so much. He was the last friend she had left. Her brothers had been gone for months, and neither would so much as return her messages.
Then, there was the angel. Castiel… She didn’t even know if she would ever see him again. He would certainly never…feel…whatever she felt for him. He was as good as lost to her as well.
She didn’t want to lose Cort, too.
Throwing all thoughts to the wind, Tabitha stepped back into Cort’s embrace, roughly jerking his head down to meet hers as her lips crashed against his.
For a moment, Cort seemed stunned by her actions, but then, a warm hand curled behind her head, holding her closer as he hungrily and eagerly met her assault.
Tabitha closed her eyes and savored the kiss. Savored the sensations of arms holding her so close and so desperately. Sighed as a hand settled on her hip, squeezing as his lips slid down to the exposed column of her throat.
Her arms slid up his back to fist in his shirt as she gasped at the sensations.
Strong arms suddenly thrust her away as Tabitha stared up in surprise at Cort’s pained and startled eyes.
“‘Cas?'” he repeated in a harsh whisper.
Her fist covered her mouth in shock as Tabitha realized what she’d said, tears filling her eyes at the utterly wounded and anguished look in Cort’s eyes.
“I’m…” But she didn’t know what to say. Sorry seemed too menial. Didn’t know how to explain herself. She loved Cort as her first lover. And she loved Cort as a friend. But there was still one thing stopping her from actually being able to love him. One angel.
A sound like a wounded animal might make escaped as Cort turned towards the nearest wall, his fist striking out and slamming into the white paint and plaster, connecting with the wood supports beneath it.
She cringed at the sound and at him so suddenly striking out. But she didn’t reprimand him and she didn’t try to comfort him as he stared down at the bleeding knuckles of his right fist.
“He’ll hurt you again,” he savagely swore, not looking up from his bloody fist.
“I’ve become rather accustomed to the men in my life hurting me.”
It slipped out before she could catch herself, and she wanted to bite her tongue at the painful noise that Cort released, his head dipping down until his chin fell to his chest.
“I would take away your pain if I could,” she told him in a throaty whisper.
Still staring at the blood trickling from his fist onto the pristine white carpet, he starkly replied, “I don’t think you can.”
“I’m sorry. I never meant for you to get hurt, too.”
He turned to look up at her, his eyes flat and dull now. “That’s not up to you,” he answered, sounding like there was something caught in his throat. He looked away. “I’m gonna go take a walk.” He waved a hand back towards her, not looking back as he told her, “We’ll talk more in the morning. When neither of us is under the influence.”
She nodded at his retreating back, even if he couldn’t see, and watched as he stepped out the door, the ornately carved thing shutting with a soft click that seemed to echo throughout his empty house.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered again. Her arms wrapped protectively around herself as she trudged up the stairs to her bedroom. Cort’s spare bedroom. Loneliness settled over her heart once more, coiling around her as it reminded her that her brothers were gone, she’d just lost her last friend, and her angel…
Numbness had settled over her as she stepped into the bathroom suite attached to her bedroom. Like so much of Cort’s house, the bathroom was elaborate, expansive, and beautiful. The large steam shower was no different. Five people could have easily lain down on the floor to sleep, and that didn’t even count the bench across one wall.
But while she’d relished the multiple showerheads and oscillating jets that could massage her worries away, this time, she knew nothing would chase her loneliness away.
She turned the water on and stood under the warm spray, bracing her palms against the slate wall in front of her as she hung her head, her hair falling forward in wheat colored sheets to block out her view as she attempted to lose herself in the beating spray at her back.
There was no sound to warn her—at least none she heard over the roaring water in her ears—but there was still the unmistakable sensation that crawled across her skin. And she knew exactly who elicited that particular shiver in her.
But she didn’t move to acknowledge his presence. Didn’t lift her head from under the spray that pounded at her back.
And he didn’t move or speak to break the loaded silence first.
“How’d you even find me?” she finally asked, tasting the warm water as it trailed across her downturned face and dripped from her lips.
“Your brother didn’t know where you might be, but Bobby said you’d likely be here,” Castiel answered, his voice almost hard and tight.
She jumped slightly at the closeness of his voice, surprised that it sounded like he stood inside the shower not far behind her.
Eyes still closed, she let the silence around them fill her, tasting the weight of it. It was heavy with anger…and something else.
When only silence answered, she stated, “You saw me kiss Cort.”
From even closer behind her, Castiel hissed, “Yes.”
Finally, she lifted her head, but only enough to hide her face and emotions by the spray of the water. Dipping her head down again, she replied, “Even when I wanted to prove that he might be enough…it was only you in my mind. I feel like there’s nothing left of me. You’ve utterly consumed me and I’m just…empty.”
Pressing closer to her ear, Castiel’s voice softened as he asked, “Is that why you kissed the human? To fight this…emptiness?”
She nodded, her hands fisting against the slate wall of the shower in front of her. “Sometimes, I think there’s nothing left of me…but then…you appear…and none of it matters because you’re here.”
She shook her head. “Until I remind myself that I mean nothing to you,” she bitterly added, pressing her palms flat again as her arms flexed and she pushed harder at the slate wall, as if to punish it for her own foolishness.
“Why are you even here?” she whispered.
“Perhaps I don’t wish to feel empty, either,” he told her, his hands suddenly smoothing across her shoulder blades.
At one simple touch, she melted back into his arms, her head falling back against his shoulder as his arms ran down hers to twine strong fingers over hers, holding them in place against the slate.
She shuddered at the feel of the warm body pressed along hers from behind, nothing separating them as his head dipped down to her shoulder, his teeth biting almost painfully at her joint.
Unable to deny him anything, she tilted her head away from him, exposing the side of her throat as he trailed his lips up the curve of her neck, nibbling and laving kisses as he went.
Later, she would know that time had passed while they’d been in the shower, but she couldn’t precisely say how. Knew only that the shower door had been shattered in Castiel’s haste, and that the rest of the bathroom was the worse for wear. Yet, all that mattered to her was Castiel carrying her into the bedroom.
She was breathless when he suddenly dropped her on the bed. But he didn’t immediately join her. Instead, he stood over her, water dripping from him as he stared at her with hooded eyes. She writhed on the bed, the cold air making her wet skin shiver as it blew across her, increasing the sensations of her most sensitive skin. Her left hand trailed over her head as she arched her back invitingly, smiling at the hungry growl it elicited. With her right hand, she reached out to beckon him closer. Silently begging him to rejoin her. He took a step and grasped her hand, but pulled it to the side out of his line of view while he continued his hungry stare, as though trying to memorize her.
It was that look that she loved, that made her shiver. That made her yearn for more. More than she feared he could give her anyway.
Part of her would always love Cort as her first lover, but every time he gave her a heated look, she had the urge to look over her shoulder for the woman that caused it. His flirtatious and teasing nature was a part of the charm that she loved, but it was also the part that never allowed her to really believe that he could settle for her.
But when Castiel stared at her, she never doubted where he was looking. His eyes told her with certainty that he was looking at her and her alone. That he wanted no one else. And neither did she.
In response to him holding her hand away, she opened her legs and hooked her heels behind his thighs, tugging him closer, guiding him where she wanted him to be.
He allowed her to pull him only so far, stopping when his legs hit the foot of the bed, all while still staring down at her as if she was a feast laid out for a starving man. She wished he’d let go of his restraint and devour her.
But his pause gave her time for questions to bubble up in her mind.
“Why are you here after so many months, Cas?”
Eyes flicking up to hers, he steadily answered, “Dean said I couldn’t just sit quietly on my last night. He took me to a den of iniquity, but the woman became angry when I only tried to talk to her. Dean asked what I did want to do on my last night, and I realized there was only one thing that I have ached to do.”
“Den of iniquity?” she repeated, some of her passion cooling as she pushed up to her elbows. “What, he took you there to get laid?!” she demanded.
His head tilted at her words. “She tried to make me lay down, yes, but her touch was immoral.” His voice dipped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I think she was what you call a prostitute.”
Her anger suddenly fled at his absolute innocence, even in the midst of their own activities. With a light chuckle, she drew her arm down to cover her chest, asking him, “And my touch isn’t immoral?”
The words were meant to come out lightly, but she feared they came out with a sad edge to them.
The angel shocked her when he suddenly leaned down over her, bracing one knee between her thighs as he reached out to push her arm away from her chest, opening her body up to his view again.
He shook his head, drops of water flinging around, some landing coolly on her skin and causing her breath to catch as he insistently told her, “No. Your touch isn’t immoral. Your touch…feels…right.”
His hands gripped both of her wrists now, pressing them flat against the bed as his lips descended to her neck again.
Trying to ignore the delightful feel of his kiss, she instead latched onto something else he’d said. “What do you mean your ‘last night,’ Cas? Why would Dean ask you what you want to do on your last night and then take you to a whorehouse?”
He shook his head against her neck, releasing her wrists to run his hands across her arms, and as his hands continued their path, all coherent thought was forgotten.
Mostly with Cas, it had been slow and sweet, with her leading the pace. The lead change wasn’t bothering her though, not when it gifted her with such divine results. He touched her like a man on fire. Like a man denied his greatest wish for too long. And he stared at her as if he might never see her again.
But she didn’t give pause to the thought. Didn’t wonder about where he’d been for so many months, and how soon he might disappear again. For the moment, he was there with her. And that would have to be enough.
Hours later, she lay sprawled across Castiel’s chest, feeling physically wrung out, but wonderfully sated.
An unusually cool breeze drifted through the room, licking across her skin and making her shiver, but it wasn’t enough to rouse her into pulling up one of the sheets they’d pushed down the bed in their earlier activities.
Castiel lay quietly beneath her, not even out of breath or flushed to hint at their past several hours of activity, but his fingers drew little patterns on her back in lazy, contented motions. It was another reminder that he wasn’t human like her. His body looked human, but within him…
She stiffened at the reminder of what else was within Castiel. Who else. It had never been far from her mind since she’d discovered Jimmy’s presence, but when Castiel had shown up, she’d selfishly shoved it and everything else away.
Sitting up, she turned away from Castiel on the bed, his hand falling away from her back as she scooted to the edge, pulling her knees to her chest.
After her discovery of Jimmy being stuck inside his own body with Castiel in charge, she’d sworn to herself that she wouldn’t infringe on what little freedoms the man still had while he was locked inside himself with the angel. She’d known how morally wrong it was that she’d been sleeping with Castiel for months even without knowing Jimmy was stuck along for the ride, but having no choice in what she and Castiel did with his body.
For months, she’d convinced herself that the right thing was to abstain from touching Castiel that way when Jimmy had no choice in the matter.
But one touch from Castiel was all it took for her to shove those decisions away. To selfishly choose her own happiness instead.
She felt Castiel slide across the bed, his hand gliding gently up her back as his voice rumbled, “What’s wrong?”
Her body shivered at the feelings even so chaste a touch evoked in her, knowing that even with Jimmy stuck somewhere inside that body, that if Castiel pulled her back onto the bed, she’d willingly go. Enthusiastically even.
With a saddened sigh, she stood from the bed, Castiel’s hand falling away once more as she dragged one of the sheets from the bed to wrap around her body, moving to stand by the open balcony doors. New Orleans was quiet tonight, and the lights of the city blocked her view of the stars, but she closed her eyes and imagined them in the sky anyway.
Castiel didn’t speak, yet she could feel his eyes on her back, watching her, and waiting for her to speak.
“Have you ever had a moment where you realized that you’re not the person you once thought you were? After telling yourself all along that you’re a certain kind of person and that there were certain lines you would never cross. Then a moment comes along, where you’re staring at that line, and then without hesitation, you just blow right by it. Like there was never even any other choice or alternative. And then you realize you’re not the person you thought you were, the person you once prided yourself as being. Who always made the right choice. The moral choice. In the end, instead, you make the selfish choice. Because, you’ve had so damn little happiness of your own, that you just want a little taste of it, even at the expense of someone else.” She turned to look at Castiel lying sideways on the bed, his head propped up by his elbow. “Have you ever had that moment where you realize you’re not the person you always thought you were?”
He held her eyes silently for a moment, giving her words due consideration before he stood and walked towards her, headless of his undressed state.
For once, the sight didn’t cause a hitch in her breath; she felt almost desperate to know if he could even understand what she was saying.
Drawing even with her in the balcony doorway, he leaned against the other side of the entrance, looking out on Cort’s back yard as he slowly explained, “I am an angel that has cast off the yoke of my superiors, denied their orders, and Fallen for the sake of the humans under my protection. And I have killed my brothers and sisters to do it. All to stop something they say must happen. Because I’ve chosen to believe in three humans over all other angels.” He turned to give her a wry look. “I very much understand the feeling of realizing that I am not what I once thought I was.”
Instead of comforting her to know that Castiel at least understood her self-realization, it saddened her to think of how far they’d both fallen…and for the choices they’d made, both together, and for each other.
“I don’t think I could have made any other choices,” she admitted in a fearful whisper.
“I don’t think I could have, either.”
She looked out across Cort’s back yard. “I really am not the person I thought I was,” she continued, her fingers toying with the charm on her bracelet that Cort had given her. “We never should have done this in Cort’s house.”
Castiel shrugged dismissively, eyeing her actions. “The human heard nothing, he hasn’t returned.”
“That’s not really the point, Cas,” she tiredly explained, her hand dropping away from the charm. “It still wasn’t right.” But it was another choice she’d made. And one she wouldn’t have made differently.
Silence filled the air between them, but it was a comfortable, companionable silence.
“All these months you’ve been gone looking for God, Cas,” she finally spoke. “Did you ever find him?”
“No. He’s proven more elusive than I anticipated.”
A bitter laugh escaped. “Welcome to being human. We all find that God is elusive.”
She shook her head. “Have you made any progress on finding him, or have you given up? Is that why you’re back?”
His tousled brown locks fell across his forehead as he shook his head. “I’ve not given up. There’s one angel that might know God’s current location. Dean’s helping me to trap him and then hopefully he will be able to continue the search for God after we’ve questioned the angel.”
Tabitha twisted a quarter of a turn to lean her back against the doorjamb as she stared at Castiel, her forehead wrinkling in confusion as she pulled the sheet tighter to her chest. “I don’t understand. Why would Dean continue the search for God?” His words from earlier in the evening came back to her. “You don’t think you’ll survive this. That’s why Dean took you to a…den of whatever…isn’t it?”
“Raphael is a very powerful archangel. And perhaps one of the few that may know God’s whereabouts. Trapping him isn’t likely to make him happy. And he’s not likely to be fond of me anyway…at least any fonder of me than the last time he killed me.”
Stepping forward, Tabitha took one of Castiel’s hands in hers, insistently telling him, “Then don’t do this. It sounds foolish, Cas. Don’t do something that’s only going to get you killed.”
He held her hand between them, raising his other to cup her cheek. “Only you have ever worried so about me, shown me such concern. But this is something I must do. My Father can stop this. He can make it right again. No humans will have to die. You…and your brothers will be safe this way. No vessels.”
She suddenly remembered some of her discussions with Cort, and learning from him that he’d left her all those years ago under the notion of protecting her, even though it had hurt her in the process.
“Is that what you’ve been trying to do?” she asked Castiel, turning her head into the angel’s hand at her cheek. “When you left months ago—every time you’ve pushed me away—you were actually trying to protect me? Even though it hurt me every time?”
When the hand fell away from her cheek, she opened her eyes to look up into Castiel’s confused and pinched face.
“If you were hurt, at least you were still alive to hurt,” he roughly told her, his hands falling to his sides.
“True,” she agreed. “Not knowing didn’t make it hurt any less though,” she explained.
“Is that why you are here with this human?” he suddenly asked, something unnamed creeping into his voice. “Because I…hurt…you?” he carefully asked.
“No,” she quickly denied, placing a soothing hand on the angel’s chest. “Well, not exactly. I came here because I felt lonely. And I needed a friend. Someone I didn’t think would turn me away. Not after my own brothers turned away anyway. I just needed a friend. There hasn’t been anyone else for me since you showed up and whispered in my ear for me to go back for my badge and saved me from blowing up.”
Castiel reached down to pick up one of the charms lying across his chest, holding up the revolver charm that Cort had given her. “The human feels more. He feels…lust for you. He…loves you. And you still keep his charm.”
“What, are you jealous?!” she incredulously demanded. “Is that what you finally showing up was all about?!”
His chest puffed up defensively, but he didn’t answer. He also didn’t deny it.
She tugged her left hand away from him, replacing it with her right hand over his heart. “I keep it to recall good memories. Whatever love I once had for Cort was that of a girl who didn’t yet really know herself. He wanted me to go my own way and grow up—and I did—but the woman I became doesn’t have the same love for him anymore.” He was replaced in my heart by someone else. But she didn’t voice the thought. “It’s just a silly gift given by a man to a girl. Nothing more.”
“Yeah, guys often give girls gifts and trinkets, you know, to win their favor and affections I suppose.”
“I would give you a gift,” Castiel suddenly told her, opening his hand between them, a silver charm laid on his palm.
She leaned closer to look at the small wing, long and curved, exactly like a single angel’s wing.
“Do you freely, and willing, accept and bear this…amulet…this…trinket from me?”
“Of course,” she readily answered, but surprised as she watched him turn his hand over her wrist, clamping down around her bracelet, and then pulling away to reveal the wing attached next to her other charms.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, pulling her wrist closer to admire the silver charm. When she ran a finger over the charm, her skin tingled with the familiar vibrations that licked across her skin at Castiel’s touch.
“Thank you for thinking I was something special…even if only for a while,” he whispered, leaning down to brush his lips across her forehead.
She forgot the bracelet and looked back up at him. “This is crazy, Cas,” she insisted. “There’s got to be another way. I don’t want to lose you.”
Fighting back tears, she took a moment to look away and gather herself. When she turned back towards Castiel, he was dressed again in his familiar rumpled suit and trench coat.
He reached up to brush feather light fingertips across her cheek. “I feel…regret that I’ve hurt you in the past. But I cannot lie and say that I wouldn’t likely continue to hurt you in the future. We are different. And there are a lot of things I know I don’t understand about humans. In the end, you would only continue getting hurt.” He stepped back and let his hand fall away. “It’s better this way. I’m very grateful to have been allowed to share one last night with you. And I’ll do everything in my power to protect you…and your brothers.”
Before she could step forward to stop him, he’d disappeared.
Without looking down, she pulled the sheet tighter around her with one hand and grasped the angel wing charm in her other, feeling a slight thrum of familiar power as she clutched the charm tightly in her fist.
She was coming to understand that with Castiel, there might never be the wonderful bliss she felt with him, without the excruciatingly painful blows he also dealt her, but she was beginning to realize that it, too, was a line in the sand that she was more than willing to blow by. They came from worlds apart, and he would likely always behave in ways that would frustrate or hurt her, but she knew it cut both ways. She’d hurt him, too.
Still, going their separate ways was beginning to cut a hole in her heart.
Clutching the charm, she whispered, “You’ll never walk alone. Take care…”
A/N: Again, I’m so sorry for the horribly tardy update. August just really got away from me. Since I last updated, I turned a year older, one of my female dogs had her litter (for those that don’t know, I raise Pembroke Welsh Corgis) my other female also came into heat, I bought another female pup in the hopes of keeping up with my crazy demand for pups, and that’s all on top of working my normal job and trying to get landscaping projects done when the weather’s nice. So basically, my house has gone to the dogs and I’m crazy busy!
And I really needed to do this chapter justice. So I hope I at least came close.
Thanks for reading! And I have more good stuff planned for the future 😉
* Separate Ways lyrics © Journey – Weedhigh Nightmare Music