She knew she couldn’t stay in the parking lot and lament her injuries or her now lost job. Or even the lives lost on this night. If she didn’t want to be arrested for the murders of a security guard and fellow agent, she’d have to make a run for it.
Keeping mostly to side streets, Tabitha drove the familiar route to Casey’s apartment in Richmond. If she still wanted to figure out what was happening, she was going to have to hurry before the police and Feds got on her trail. And her place in Varina would soon be swarming with cops and Feds, too.
And while she needed to stop there before she disappeared, she had to make a stop at Casey’s first since it was on the way. She could only hope the police would be slowed down by the inevitable bickering for jurisdiction with the FBI and further slowed by having to watch the security footage to see just what happened and who had shot an agent and security guard in the FBI building.
Tabitha drove by the apartment building twice looking for anyone staking out the area, and then parked in an alley across the way from the apartment complex.
Silently praying, Tabitha looked to see if either of her brothers had called her back yet. Her phone screen was blank. No voicemails, no missed calls, no texts.
But as she stared at the phone, Pamela’s number flashed across the screen.
“Hey,” she quietly answered, marveling at the psychic’s uncanny timing.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” the psychic immediately demanded.
“Demons,” Tabitha succinctly replied, wondering if it was her tone of voice the other woman read, or something she’d “seen” or sensed. Tabitha still was unclear how her friend’s “ability” worked.
The other woman cursed on her end of the line. “That’s what I was afraid of, Tab. You need to get the hell out of there, girl. I don’t know what’s brewing, but those demons have got a hard-on for getting ahold of you.”
“Do you know why?” Tabitha whispered, her arm throbbing as she lightly held it across her stomach.
“Nothing specific, Tab. Just that those demons want ahold of you. ‘Course, they want your brothers, too, but they’re used to it, so do yourself a favor and get your little ass back to wherever they are. You’ll be safer when you guys are all together to watch out for each other.”
“I will, Pam. I will. I just have to make two more stops, and then I’m out of this town.”
Pamela sighed in frustration. “Just can’t take the target off your back, can you? Do whatever it is you absolutely have to, and then get the hell out of Dodge. Where are your brothers at, anyway? Why aren’t they watching your ass?”
“Carthage. We split up so I could head up this way. Didn’t know it was a trap. I haven’t been able to get a hold of them for a while to be honest,” she admitted fearfully.
“I’ll look into it,” the psychic replied, the line abruptly cutting off.
Unwilling to wait to hear back from the psychic, Tabitha dialed Dean’s number once more, closing her eyes as leaned her head back heavily against the headrest of the driver’s seat, listening as her call went straight to his vague outgoing message.
“Hey,” she started, and cleared her throat when her voice came out slightly broken. “Hey. Where are you guys?” she whispered in the deafening silence. “I’m worried. I don’t want to hear that you’ve been eaten by a Rugaru; that’ll just seriously piss me off,” she mirthlessly chuckled. “Plus, it’ll just cap off one hell of a fucked up night. So, please… be okay.” She paused as she considered ending the call, but some need drove her to explain more, perhaps to fill the empty space. “I’m in a bit of trouble here, guys. Demons set a trap for me at the FBI office… and… it’s bad. Look… don’t come to Virginia. I don’t want anything to happen to you guys. And I’m gonna clear out anyway. I just need to swing by my place to pick up a few things. And then, I’m out of here… I’ll call you later with a location to meet.” She almost hung up but whispered, “Please be okay.”
She shoved the phone back in her jeans pocket.
When she stepped out of the car, she heard the tinkling of loose glass falling to the pavement, and took the opportunity to shake her clothes out as best she could. To hide the mess she knew she looked like, Tabitha pulled her hood up and stretched her sleeves over her hands to hide the cuts that had at least stopped bleeding. She could only hope the darkness of night hid the blood on her dark blue sweatshirt.
With only her gun and a lock-pick set, she carefully eased into the alley behind the apartment building and up to the service door. She’d complained to Casey several times that while his doorman at the front provided some measure of security, the locks on the service doors in the alley were abysmal at best.
He’d only laughed. “Who would break into a Fed’s apartment?” he’d asked. Who indeed.
But abysmal lock or not, it still took her nearly five-minutes to pick the lock with one blood-streaked hand and the occasional use of her throbbing left hand as she muttered curses and bit back gasps of pain.
She made her way up the long flight of steps to the fifth floor and Casey’s apartment. Pushing midnight as it was, there wasn’t anyone around in the halls. The apartment door still had crime-scene tape across it, but Tabitha yanked it down and fished out the keys she had in her handbag, quietly letting herself into the apartment. She could see the marks where the lock had been jimmied, but it hadn’t been damaged, nor had it been replaced yet.
Nothing had changed in five months; she wasn’t sure why that surprised her. Perhaps it was because of all the things that had happened to change her in the intervening time. It suddenly seemed like longer than five months. Even more like another lifetime.
With her left hand supported in the sweatshirt pouch across her stomach, Tabitha slipped through the living room and tidy kitchen, noting a few knick-knacks and papers that seemed out of place, but overall, not much seemed disturbed.
She tiptoed into the bedroom, a somewhat familiar room to her, though in truth, Tabitha had only spent a handful of nights in Casey’s apartment. It had somehow seemed more illicit to sneak around as they had been inside the city of Richmond where they worked. Somehow, she’d felt more confident in not being caught when they stayed at her place in Varina further from the city.
But she did know the layout of Casey’s place. The impersonal bachelor pad, she’d always told him. With watercolor prints in his modern decor bedroom having no more character than hotel art and decor.
She pushed the bi-fold door of the closet back with her fingers, immediately seeing that a piece of paneling in the side of the closet was out of place. Kneeling, she pulled the section back to find that the safe behind it hadn’t been shut all the way.
And she knew she’d shut it months ago when she had emptied out the safe in honor of the promise she had made her partner.
“No one else knows about the safe,” she whispered to herself. “Or what the combo is.”
Leaving the safe door as it was, Tabitha sprinted from the room and back down the stairs, carefully cradling her arm to her stomach as she flew down the flights of stairs.
Someone had been looking for something in Casey’s safe.
The contents of which were now in the safe of her own house.
Which had also been broken into.
An old gravel road ran behind the woods that bordered the backyard of Tabitha’s place. It had once been an access road for farmers getting to their fields, but as the area became a bedroom community with new homes for people working in the city, the gravel road had mostly become abandoned. Making it the perfect location to park her “borrowed” car so she could creep up behind her place. She hadn’t seen any activity around her white, two-bedroom, farmhouse style home—just more yellow tape—but she knew it was only a matter of time until the place would be swarming with authorities looking for a suspected murderer.
Creeping across the leaf-strewn patio in her backyard, she absently reminded herself to sweep and rake the leaves before winter. And then remembered that she’d likely never be back to this place to see the dusting of winter snow.
“Focus,” she reminded herself as she lifted a loose brick at the corner of the patio, retrieving her spare key for the patio sliding door. She had keys to the front with her, but for obvious reasons, decided not to risk someone seeing her slip in the front.
Once inside her slightly musty smelling house, she fumbled in the nearby cabinet for a flashlight. As she aimed the small flashlight about her living room, she marveled at the carnage. The place had truly been ransacked. Papers and books flung everywhere; even her furniture and rugs had been pushed around out of place and toppled over. The little house hadn’t been anything fancy, but it had been warm and inviting. And all together hers. A simple white house, with warm, homey wood floors, lots of thick rugs, and even an old-fashioned rock fireplace in the living room.
She felt sick at the sight of her once meager but tidy home, but pushed forward, stepping gingerly on books, papers, and parts of broken lamps as she crept into her guest bedroom.
Here too, everything was thrown about. Extra blankets and linens tossed from the closet, and even the bed shoved back against the far wall.
But it was the sight at the center of the floor that held her attention. The floorboards were pulled up, revealing her hidden safe beneath.
The safe had been another teaching from Casey. Somewhere to always keep personal case notes in case they were needed some day in court. And to also keep safe anything else that might come up. He’d made her promise to take his case notes and keep them if anything ever happened to him, and she had kept her promise. But Dean had died so shortly after Casey had that she’d never gone through the box from Casey’s safe. Had just shoved it in the safe she’d once previously lamented being too large and empty.
She stepped closer, and heaved a sigh when she saw that her safe was still securely locked. And thanked her lucky stars she had shelled out as much as she had to get a top of the line brand and model. Unlike Casey, she truly had kept things in her safe she didn’t want the normal person to find.
On the floor of the closet, she found one of her old, leather messenger bags, and snatched it up before she knelt by the safe. After entering the electronic code, she pressed her thumb to the reader and opened the safe. On top was a bundle of IDs, cash, and a clean cellphone; all of which she had kept handy from the day she and Sam had left together so many years before. Much as she had enjoyed her “normal” life, in the back of her mind, she had always feared that her so-called normal life would one day come crashing down around her. And that day had come. Only it hadn’t crashed around her, it had crashed directly on her head.
Shoving the bundle into her empty messenger bag, she next grabbed an old photo album of her mother’s that she had always hung onto, and slid it into the bag as well, along with some other family mementos.
In the bottom of the safe was the box she had taken from Casey’s safe, as well as several notebooks with her own case notes. She left her own notebooks in the safe, but pulled out the box with Casey’s things, struggling to lift the weight with only one hand.
With the flashlight held in her mouth, Tabitha knelt over the box and began pulling out Casey’s case notes.
And then, she spotted what she was looking for in the bottom of the box, spitting the flashlight out of her mouth as she fell back in shock.
“Oh, Casey, what were you doing?” she whispered as she carefully retrieved the official FBI case file from the bottom, able to read the official FBI stamp in the moonlight. Thumbing through the pages and thick stack of photos, she recognized the case they’d come back from before they started working on the string of robberies case in north Virginia that he’d been killed on. The file was the very same case with the dead and missing children, the case he’d taken so hard. The one that according to Castiel, he’d been possessed shortly after. The same case that her partner seemed to have erased from the electronic FBI database.
“Why’d you steal this?” she whispered.
“Tabitha? What are you doing here in the dark?”
She jumped at the noise, springing painfully to her feet as she spun to face the doorway, hiding the file behind her back.
“My god!” Cheryl gasped, “What’s happened to you?”
“What are you doing here?” Tabitha returned, ignoring the question.
“I thought I saw movement in your place and came to check it out,” she explained, waving the matter away as she stepped closer. “What happened to your hands? They’re all bloody. And what’s wrong with your arm?”
Tabitha couldn’t help the awkward way she held her arm to her torso, and she didn’t have any good answers to give her friend. Not if she didn’t want to implicate the woman in her troubles.
Kneeling again to shove the file in her hand and Casey’s corresponding case notes into her bag, she muttered over her shoulder. “You don’t want to know, Gracie Lou,” she affectionately explained. “You should get your beauty queen ass out of here.”
“Not a chance, Harley,” the other woman cheekily returned, squatting next to her.
Tabitha felt a small smile form at the familiar banter. She’d always teased Cheryl for her beauty queen looks, and Cheryl had always teased her back for her mannish, biker footwear. But Tabitha maintained doors were easier to kick down in boots than in heels. Though she wore them as well when duty and occasion called for them.
“I mean it, Cheryl. You don’t want mixed up in this.”
Cheryl ignored her, pointing at the now closed messenger bag. “Were those the missing case files OPR is looking for? You took them from the safe at Casey’s place?”
Tabitha tensed, whispering, “How’d you know about Casey’s safe? Better yet, how’d you know I was here? I came in the back, stayed away from windows, and didn’t turn on any lights.”
She slowly stood as she spoke, just starting to back away as Cheryl rose to her feet as well.
Sighing deeply, her eyes flashed to black orbs as Cheryl said, “Always have to do things the hard way, don’t you?”
Tabitha tried to spin away, but Cheryl’s hand darted out to clamp down on her injured arm. And as her fingers dug in, Tabitha dropped to her knees, crying out in pain as Cheryl’s fist sailed down through the air at her temple.
It had to have been hours later, but Tabitha wasn’t sure just how many hours. As she opened her eyes, all she knew was her body ached so badly she had to swallow back the bile that suddenly rose, and blink furiously at the sunlight. I wish people would stop hitting me in the head, she thought to herself.
She tried to roll to her side, but even the slightest movement shot pain through her left arm as she lay on her back on the unforgiving floor. Looking down, she saw her arms were laid across her stomach, her wrists tied together with rope. The awkward angel of her tied hands was causing the most trouble, cranking what had been a dull ache in her arm to a pounding roar.
“Well, look who’s finally awake,” Cheryl drawled as she walked in the room. “You’ve been sleeping nearly all day. It’ll be dark soon.”
Tabitha immediately began chanting in Latin, “Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus—”
But her words were cut off as Cheryl jumped forward, the backhand hit across her jaw feeling more like a strong left hook with the help of the demon’s strength. Her head bounced painfully against the hardwood floor, and even her arm jostling painfully with the hit.
“You mutter one more word of Latin and I’ll bust that jaw.” Then she smiled almost gleefully. “Or better yet, I’ll just cut out your offending tongue. Don’t need that to still be useful.”
“Untie me,” Tabitha said in a flat voice as her eyes glanced pointedly at her hands. She knew she had to give up trying to exorcising the demon, at least for the moment. She’d never get through the spell before the demon made good on her threats. Even the backhand hit from the demon had split her lip, causing blood to slowly trickle from her mouth.
Cheryl paused as she considered the request.
Tabitha jerked her booted foot in the air, shaking her foot to rattle the length of chain around her ankle for affect. “I’m obviously not going anywhere, and having my broken arm tied like this hurts like a bitch.”
Cheryl stepped closer again and squatted beside her, pulling out a knife that she casually caressed with her hands. “No,” she agreed, “I don’t suppose you are going anywhere. And the boss did say to bring you back unharmed.” She carelessly shrugged and added, “If possible.”
With that, she roughly sliced through the rope, standing with a laugh as Tabitha rolled away, biting back a scream of pain, and cradling her arm once more.
When she could breathe again, Tabitha scooted over and sat up against the side of the bed she was chained to. Drawing her knees to her chest while sheltering her arm, she glanced up once more at Cheryl standing and watching her as though her pain was entertaining. Perhaps it was to the demon.
“Do you promise to behave?” Cheryl smirked as she continued to toy with the large blade in her hands.
Tabitha bit back a sneer as she stared at the demon, wishing that she didn’t look like the same beautiful woman who had been her friend. Cheryl was dressed in dark slacks, heeled—but feminine looking—boots, and a soft white sweater with a v-cut to display her assets. She didn’t look anything like the nasty creature that was riding her.
“Who are you?” Tabitha decided to ask.
Cheryl didn’t look at her, seemingly bored. “You could say I’m the boss of someone you once knew.” She finally looked up from the knife and grinned at Tabitha. “Someone you knew intimately. At least for a while.”
The blood ran from Tabitha’s face as she stared up at the demon. “Casey,” she whispered in disbelief. “You were the boss of the demon riding Casey?”
“That’s right. I was,” she confirmed, looking bored again. “Until something blew him to kingdom come that is. Strange that,” she continued, glancing up with a raised brow, “since killing a meat-suit normally does nothing to a demon. Hmmm.”
“What do you want with me?”
Cheryl laughed as she pushed away from the wall, crouching in front of Tabitha as she tapped her captive’s drawn up knees with the knife. “It’s not me that wants you, dearie. It’s my boss that does.”
“Your boss?” Tabitha repeated in surprise.
Cheryl turned her attention back to the knife as she idly played with it again, seeming like a child with a short attention span. “Sure,” she answered. “It’s kinda like a pyramid scheme, with bosses above everyone making demands, and minions below serving.”
“So who’s your boss serve?”
Cheryl grinned as she looked Tabitha in the eye again. “Oh, my boss doesn’t really serve anyone. Top of the food-chain, you could say.”
Gulping, Tabitha asked again, “So what’s your boss want with me?”
But the demon rose to her feet, walking away as she paced. “Now, why ruin the surprise? You’ll find out when you meet.”
She walked away and to the smooth stone fireplace in the room. Tabitha hadn’t noticed before, but now recognized that she was in the master suite of Cheryl’s house.
“How’d you even get into my house?” Tabitha asked conversationally.
The demon finally frowned, looking away and not meeting Tabitha’s eyes as she tried to casually explain, “I was stuck at first, the second I walked through the front door. A neat trick placing one of those traps under the rug just inside your door with that silly invisible black light ink. But one of my underlings was nearby and able to break the trap.” Though the demon was trying to seem unaffected, Tabitha could see the strain of irritation in the soft lines around Cheryl’s eyes and mouth.
“Well, I’m glad to have caught a demon with it. Even if I wasn’t there to exorcise you. Maybe next time.”
The demon’s head whipped angrily to face Tabitha before she caught herself and forced an unconvincing shrug as she looked away again, pretending that Tabitha hadn’t struck a nerve.
“Aren’t you afraid of the FBI finding me here?” Tabitha asked, hoping to get the demon talking again as she glanced down at the heavy chain wrapped around her ankle. The lock might not be too hard to pick.
If Tabitha had her lock-pick set.
Or two functional hands.
And no demon watching.
“Nope,” Cheryl answered as she stirred coals in the fireplace, setting another log on top. It was the first time that Tabitha registered all the items laid out on the hearth in front of the fire: herbs, bags, tools, and other things she couldn’t identify from her vantage. “They were easy enough to send on their merry little manhunt. But they seem quite certain of your murderous ways, became just like your brothers they think,” she continued with a self-satisfied smirk.
Tabitha also saw a bowl on the metal grill over the fire that was intended for cooking.
Catching her look, Cheryl gestured to the bowl. “Wondering what that is?” Cheryl waited, but continued to answer regardless of the silence coming from her captive. “You’ll find out soon enough. Soon as it’s done brewing that is. Took me a while to find everything I needed.”
Swallowing hard, Tabitha continued talking, trying to get more information from the demon that she could use. “If this is going to take a while, what’s the harm in telling me why your boss wants me? Why’d you have one of your demons possess my partner to begin with?”
Cheryl sat on the stone hearth, crossing one leg over the other and folding her hands over her knee, the knife still loosely gripped in one hand.
“Well, he was supposed to watch you, of course. But then, he got a little more hands on than he was supposed to,” she admitted, smiling almost fondly as she spoke.
“But why? Why me?”
Leaning forward, Cheryl whispered conspiratorially, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t think you were anything special at first. Not worth any trouble anyway. But then, that’s why I’m not the head honcho.” She laughed as she spoke, leaning back as she continued, and pointing her knife at Tabitha. “I didn’t sense it, but I’m young—comparatively speaking anyway. At least compared to the boss. My boss is old. Very old. Said you smelled like something from a long long time ago.” She grinned as the silence drew out, and Tabitha scowled at the theatrics.
Finally, Cheryl relented and whispered, “Angels.”
Tabitha jerked back at that, wondering just what it meant. They could smell the angels watching her? And just what did an angel smell like?
“Of course, like I said,” the demon continued, “I’m too young to smell it or sense it. We nearly all are. But the boss wanted you watched after that. We knew you had to be important if you had an angel checking in on you. And wouldn’t you know it, shortly after we start watching you, my demon gets blown-up by something that shouldn’t harm a demon.” She flicked the knife under her fingernails as she stared at them. “Interesting, huh? Makes you wonder what that explosion really was,” she murmured.
Tabitha kept silent, not knowing what to say or what to give away. Would her chances for survival be better or worse if she just admitted that she could hear an angel’s real voice and that Castiel had—what did he say—smote her partner.
Cheryl stood and stalked closer again, crouching once more in front of Tabitha as she slid the knife along the other woman’s cheek almost sensually. “Must mean that you’re important to those feathered boys somehow, so we’re gonna make sure we’ve got our own foothold on you.”
She stood and walked back to the hearth, glancing inside the bowl in the fireplace before she grabbed a key from the nearby table.
“What does that mean?” Tabitha whispered as Cheryl stalked closer again, crouching down to unlock the chain around her ankle.
“Can’t possess you without cutting that annoying little tattoo on your ass off,” Cheryl answered. “Not that we want to possess you anyway. Too obvious. The feathered crew would notice that. No, we want something subtler. Something just enough so we always know where you are and what you’re doing.”
She reached out to grab Tabitha, but her head snapped to the side as Tabitha jabbed a punch at her, turning to roll away. But she was brought down hard on her side as Cheryl grabbed her leg, yanking her back.
Before she could fight back again, Cheryl clamped down on her left arm, squeezing until Tabitha cried out.
“Almost as good as hamstringing a captive,” Cheryl laughed. “I’ll have to remember this.”
She drug her by the broken arm to the stone hearth, roughly tossing her down on her side as Tabitha rolled over, once more biting back the bile that rose in her throat.
The demon jerked her back, rolling Tabitha onto her back by the fireplace as the demon yanked her broken arm up on the stone hearth, shoving her sleeve up as Tabitha moaned and fought.
“Sit still,” the demon growled. “You’ll only make things worse for yourself.” As she spoke, she took a long, thin needle and dipped it into the dark mixture from the bowl, and then started bending down over the exposed skin of Tabitha’s left arm.
“This will be over in no time,” the demon told her. “And then you can leave and find out for us just what those angels want.” The demon grinned viciously. “Too bad for you this new marking we’ll give you will seep into your very flesh and mark you as ours. We won’t need to possess you to make our own claim on you or force you to do our bidding.”
Fire erupted through Tabitha’s flesh as the demon pressed the needle into her skin. She tried to twist away, but the pain doubled with every movement as fear ate at her. If the physical pain was this unbearable, what else was it doing to her?
God, what have I done to deserve this? I don’t ever ask for help, but I’m asking now: Please help me. I don’t want to be marked by demons. Please, Castiel, someone, help! she silently prayed.
“Stop!” a deep voice suddenly shouted.
Tabitha opened her eyes to stare at the trench coat wearing angel striding across the room.
The demon dropped the needle and her hold on Tabitha, springing to her feet, a fearful look in her eyes as the angel approached.
With one hand, Tabitha snatched her messenger bag from the ground by the hearth, slinging it over her head and shoulder, and then grabbed the open FBI case file off the table as well. By the time she’d stumbled to her feet, Castiel had spread his palm across the face of the demon, a light seeming to spread from his palm as he grabbed Tabitha by her arm, shouting, “Close your eyes!”
The warning was unnecessary. As he grabbed her left arm and yanked her closer, the pain of the action drove her to her knees once more, forcing her eyes closed as she fought back a sob. She suddenly felt the strange surge of power she now associated with Castiel well up in the air around her, washing over her like a hot summer wind as a blinding light pierced even through her eyelids.
Suddenly, everything was silent, the air cold, and she felt hands gripping her shoulders, giving a gentle shake.
“Are you alright?” Castiel asked, his deep voice rumbling in the silence.
Tabitha forced her eyes open as she took slow breaths through her nose, seeing the angel kneeling before her. She shook her head as she fell back to sit on her butt, and then lowered onto her back, her good arm coming up to rest across her forehead as she stared up at the red streaked sky.
“Where are we?” she croaked, her voice rough and hoarse.
“Not far,” Castiel answered shortly. “Are you injured?”
She glanced down her body, looking at the throbbing arm across her stomach. She nodded. “Arm’s broke,” she whispered.
She sucked in a breath as Castiel carefully pulled up the sleeve that had fallen down again, exposing the swollen, and black and blue streaked flesh of her arm.
“I don’t suppose you’d be a friend and just cut that off for me, would you?” she whispered lightly, hoping it was a smile on her face and not a painful grimace. “I’m getting sick of people grabbing me by it.”
Castiel shook his head. “I can do better,” he softly explained, reaching towards her and touching her forehead with his fingertips.
Tabitha gasped at the warm sensation that spread through her, and then marveled at the almost euphoric feeling of every single ache and pain in her body from the abuse of the last several weeks disappearing.
She sat up to face the angel almost cautiously, expecting any second for the fiery pain to return. But it didn’t.
“Better?” Castiel asked, a small smile growing on his face.
But as Tabitha sat up, she saw the smoldering ruins over his shoulder. The very ground where Cheryl’s house had stood. A burning reminder of all that had happened.
She shook her head in reply to the angel. “Not unless you can turn back time and keep people from being used and killed because demons were trying to get control of me.”
The angel grabbed her shoulder with one hand. “What?” he demanded. “What happened?”
She explained what the demon had told her as quickly and succinctly as she could, watching as Castiel pulled back her sleeve again to look at the arm the demon had tried to mark.
There was nothing there now, but the demon had said it would seep into her flesh.
“What does this mean, Cas?” she pleaded quietly with him. “What is it that the angels want with me? What is it that would drive demons to so much trouble to lure me back here and try to mark me or whatever?”
“I wish I knew,” Castiel whispered, his eyes fixed on the flesh of her inner arm. “But it’s good the demon couldn’t finish marking you. Perhaps you’ll suffer no ill effects from their scheming.”
Tabitha threw an angry gesture towards the ruins behind him. “‘No ill effect!’ People around me keep getting possessed and then killed by either you or me. Which reminds me, I’m now wanted for murder! They’ll never stop hunting for the rouge FBI agent who leaves a trail of bodies in her wake! What the hell do I do now? Jesus, it would have been better if you’d left me in that house to blow up, too!”
Castiel jerked back from her like he’d been slapped, sitting back on his heels as he threw a horrified glance at the ruins behind him.
Exhausted and frustrated, Tabitha covered her face with her hands. “I’m sorry,” she apologized in a whisper through her fingers. “I didn’t mean to sound so ungrateful. I was praying so hard to be saved, and then you show up out of nowhere and save me, then I throw it back in your face. I just… I don’t know what to do now. I’ll always be hunted by the law now.”
She felt warm fingers cautiously pull her hands from her face, tightly gripping them as she opened her eyes and looked into the blue eyes of the angel. “Perhaps I can help with this matter as well. If I take a bit of your blood, I might be able use it to conjure enough blood and bone material that your forensics shall believe you perished in the house as well. I can’t change what’s been done. But I can ensure that you aren’t hunted by the humans for something that isn’t your fault.”
“You can do that?” she whispered.
Castiel only nodded, his eyes holding hers intently.
She nodded in return, watching as he carefully pushed her sleeve up her arm and then with a knife that appeared out of nowhere, made a shallow cut across her inner wrist.
The pain was nothing compared the broken arm she’d been struggling with for nearly a day, but she still bit her lip to remain silent. A bowl suddenly appeared in Castiel’s hand as he collected her blood, his other hand soothingly rubbing circles against the skin of her inner arm as he held her wrist over the bowl.
Tabitha’s exhaustion only seemed to increase with the intimate feel of the angel’s thumb stroking her skin, and her head fell forward against his shoulder, listening to the steady sound of his breathing and heartbeat beneath her ear.
Finally, the bowl was filled, and Castiel slid his fingers across the cut, healing the wound with that simple warm caress.
“I’ll be back,” he said softly, pushing her back from leaning against his shoulder. By the time she looked up, he had disappeared.
Tabitha stood, surprised to see that the messenger bag was still with her, and the case file she had grabbed was open on the grass. It seemed pointless now to have grabbed it, but she shoved it in her bag, also ensuring that surprisingly, everything else she had placed there was also still present. Of course, the demon had stripped her of the things she’d had on her: her gun, cellphone, and lock pick set. But those were easily enough replaced. The things in her bag weren’t.
“It’s done,” Castiel said, showing up at her elbow suddenly.
“Thank you,” she whispered, looking down. “I don’t even know how you showed up when you did, or why you’re doing all this for me, but thank you.”
Castiel reached out for her left hand, drawing it between them as he stared again at where the demon had tried to mark her. “I came because you prayed for me to come. I heard your prayer to me.” He finally looked up and met her eyes, such regret and sorrow shining there that Tabitha’s breath caught at the mournful sight. “And I could do no less to repay the harm we’ve done you. In trying to protect you, we’ve only made you a bigger target for demons. And I’m sorry for that.”
Tabitha stared at the angel for a minute, part of her torn with the desire to be mad and blame him for everything that had happened. But then she saw that grief shining so brightly in his eyes. Eyes that spoke such volumes.
“Did you know it would put me in more harm?” she whispered.
“No,” he emphatically shook his head.
“Would the demons have come for me anyway?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, glancing away.
Tabitha sighed and stepped forward to lean her head against his shoulder again, wishing the exhausting past days were already over. “Then I can’t blame you for what’s been done. But thank you for saving me again,” she whispered into the rough material of the angel’s trench coat-clad shoulder.
Castiel didn’t move, but she had the distinct feeling he was uncomfortable by her closeness, so she stepped away, looking back at the smoldering ruins of her former friend’s house as she listened to the growing sounds of the sirens getting closer.
“I get that you showed up because I prayed for you to, but what happened to the angel that’s supposed to be watching me? I mean, I get what you said about angels being soldiers, not guardians, but as long as that demon had me for, you’d think my personal angel would have shown up.”
Castiel shifted behind her and whispered, “She was killed on the field trying to help save a seal. I doubt she’s been replaced yet.”
Tabitha turned to face the angel, forgetting herself and reaching out to squeeze his hand when she heard the pain in his voice. “I’m sorry, Cas. I didn’t know. ” She paused. “The seal?”
He shook his head. “Broken. Like far too many,” he lamented, staring at her hand. He seemed to stare so often if she reached out to touch him, and she wondered if angels never even touched each other, for he stared almost greedily at the contact she made, seeming hungry for even simple touches, but at the same time, uncertain and uneasy.
“Are you okay? Was she a friend?” Tabitha asked.
Castiel shook his head again, the action looking almost automated as he continued staring down at their joined hands. “We were not in the same garrison. But all angels are considered brothers and sisters,” he quietly explained.
“Are you okay?” she asked again.
His eyes finally broke away, only to move that stare to her eyes, holding them as a surprised look flitted through his blue orbs. As though he were surprised by so simple a question being asked of him.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, seeming almost startled that he’d even answered. “It’s difficult to suffer such losses time and time again.”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized again. “I can’t even imagine.” She paused and then continued, “It’s not going well, is it? Stopping the seals from being broken, I mean. ”
“No,” he admitted, pulling away. “Another of our failures.”
Tabitha didn’t try stepping closer, instead, turned back towards the smoke. “You’re trying. That counts for something. And we’ll stop it before the end. We have to.”
“I can take you to your brothers,” Castiel whispered, changing the subject as he stepped beside her, staring at the ruins as well.
“What, like poof me there or something? Is that how we got out here?” Castiel nodded without looking at her, so she continued, “I wasn’t sure if I passed out or what happened.”
Silence lapsed and Tabitha wondered if her brothers were even all right since she hadn’t been able to reach either of them the last several times she’d tried calling.
“You should at least call them; I can reach out and feel their frantic emotions for you.”
Knowing he was right, and relieved to hear Castiel say they were indeed alive, Tabitha reached into her bag and took out the burner phone she had kept in her safe.
There was silence on the line as the call connected.
“Hey, Dean,” Tabitha finally managed to whisper.
“Christ, Tabitha!” Dean cried when he finally heard her voice.”We’ve been going out of our minds trying to get a hold of you. Where are you? Are you all right? Stay right where you are, we’ll be to the Richmond area before you know it,” her brother frantically ordered. She could hear the loud roar of the Impala’s engine in the background as he sped down the road, no doubt making record time from Carthage.
“I’m okay, Dean. At least, I’m okay now. I’ll tell you more later. But don’t come into the Richmond area. I don’t think that would be a good idea right now. I’ll meet you somewhere okay?”
She could hear Sam in the background making demands and Dean’s quick replies to him before he continued to her, “To hell with that. We’re coming to get you. Just tell me where you are.”
Tabitha shook her head and she replied, “No. That’s not a good idea. Listen, just pull over, and I’ll call you back in a bit with where to meet, okay?”
She hung up the phone before he could respond.
“I can’t ever come back here, can I?” she whispered to Castiel, eyes still fixed on what might as well have been the ruins of her life. At least the life she’d so carefully built. But it had been a façade, and now the façade had crumbled.
The angel didn’t answer her. He didn’t need to.
“Can you take me somewhere else first? I need to go somewhere and say my goodbyes before I can leave for good.”
Castiel finally turned to look curiously at her.
“I need to go to the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.”
Taking her hand in his, Castiel pulled her closer beside him, and suddenly, she was standing in the rolling hills of the famous Southern cemetery.
Casey hadn’t been buried in one of the ornate mausoleums common to the historic cemetery, but buried with a simple granite headstone to mark his memory on a little hill overlooking the James River. Tabitha only had to walk a few feet to stand at the grave she hadn’t visited since her partner’s burial. The headstone hadn’t been there then. But Tabitha could see him in the simple but elegant scroll of the engraving.
She’d found Casey’s burial in the famous Confederate cemetery ironic at his funeral. He had been from a family in Iowa, a state that had been strongly Unionists, and yet, over one-hundred years later, Casey had requested in his will to be buried in arguably the most notorious Confederate cemetery in the country.
But he’d always said he loved the view of the James.
“It must be difficult to lose someone you love,” Castiel whispered beside her.
She turned a startled glance up at the angel. “I guess it is. But it’s difficult even when you lose a friend, too.”
Casting a glance out of the corner of his eye, Castiel spoke almost hesitantly, “You loved him.”
“No,” Tabitha denied, looking at the angel once more before turning back to the grave. “Casey and I were friends, but I didn’t love him. Not like that. And he didn’t really love me.”
“I don’t understand such human relationships,” Castiel hesitantly told her. “If you didn’t love him, why did you lay with him as a man and wife are meant to?”
The question was posed with such an honest earnestness as he stared into her eyes, looking for the answers he didn’t understand, that Tabitha found herself just as earnestly answering, “I’m only human, Cas. And humans crave affection, but most of all, we crave companionship. I guess… I was just lonely. And he was, too. Can’t you understand that, Castiel, what it’s like to be lonely?”
He shrugged as he looked away from her and back down at the grave. “I don’t understand the emotion. I was trained to be a soldier. Emotions are unwanted in soldiers,” he stoically replied.
Tabitha was silent for a minute, staring at the angel beside her as she tried to fathom such an existence. But he finally turned to look at her, seeming expectant for some kind of answer.
“I don’t believe that you don’t feel emotion. I’ve seen that you do. But I can also see that you don’t understand what you feel.” She sighed and tried to find the right words. “Being lonely,” she tried to explain, “is like you’re being swallowed whole by an endless pit, but no one around you can hear you scream. No one around you even notices that you’re fading away. And sometimes, the struggle to find someone to see even a piece of you to keep you from fading to obscurity—it can become all consuming. It’s all you can think about. But you can’t love someone who doesn’t see all of you, and so, you still feel like pieces of you are melting further and further away. That’s what being lonely feels like, Cas. And I’ve never been good at being lonely.”
Castiel stared into her eyes for several moments as he absorbed her words. “I only feel that sensation—that feeling, this loneliness—in Heaven,” he whispered.
“In Heaven?” Tabitha questioned in surprise.
He nodded once. “In Heaven, I am just another angel. Just another soldier. There, I’m nobody in particular, Tabitha. Just another solider.”
She felt her heart skip at the sound of her name rolling almost foreignly off Castiel’s tongue. His deep voice gave it a strange inflection, and she realized that in the time she’d known him, he had not once said her name. Until now.
Tabitha glanced down and realized her hand was still gripped tightly in the warm palm of the angel, she hadn’t even noticed that he hadn’t released her hand when he’d brought them to the quiet old cemetery. It had just felt natural.
Impulsively bringing their joined hands to her chest, she told him, “Everyone’s special to someone, Cas. I don’t have many friends. Especially not anymore. But my friends are special to me. And you’re a friend, Castiel.”
“I don’t have any friends,” he whispered, staring at their joined hands pressed to her chest.
“You’ve got one now.”
Castiel stared down into her eyes with a strange sort of wonderment, and just as he opened his mouth to speak, her phone rang, shattering the peaceful calm of the cemetery.
Tabitha glanced away nervously, pulling the phone from her pocket and muting the call even as she continued to hold Castiel’s hand to her chest with his other hand. Only Dean had the number—because she’d called him from that phone—and Tabitha decided she would call him back when she’d finally come up with a safe location to meet.
“Where do you want me to take you?” Castiel quietly asked.
She looked back up into his face—once more impassive—shrugging as she said, “There’s an old, out of business truck stop west on highway 60. I can wait there for my brothers.”
She glanced away from the angel’s stare to see the old abandoned truck stop she had just described.
“You work fast. Thanks,” she said, as the angel released the hand still grasped around his and pressed close to her chest.
As he released his hold on her hand, he backed away until his fingers slipped from hers, her fingers clinging almost mournfully at her sweatshirt in his absence.
Eyes still holding hers, he quietly explained, “I must go,” and then vanished from sight.
With a shaky exhale, Tabitha stepped over to a dilapidated picnic table beneath the spreading boughs of a huge oak tree, mournful and bare in the autumn wind. Hopping to sit on the table, she called to give her brothers her location.
A half-hour later, the Impala screeched to a halt in the gravel lot, her brothers rushing out of the car as she waited for them at the table.
Sam wrapped her in a fierce hug as she remained sitting, but Dean launched right into her.
“Where the hell have you been? What the hell happened? We’ve been trying to reach you for hours!”
Tabitha turned her head away from Sam, resting it on his shoulder as she tightened her arms around his torso.
Sam let her cling to him, but tapped the front of her blood-spattered sweatshirt as he tried to look down between them. “Are you alright, Tabby? Are you hurt?” Sam whispered in her ear.
She held Dean’s eyes as he waited for her to answer Sam’s question. Shaking her head awkwardly against her younger brother’s shoulder, she whispered, “No, I’m okay, it’s not all my blood.”
“‘Not all your blood?'” Dean furiously contested. He stepped forward, grabbing her closest arm and shoving the sleeve back to look at her arm and hand. But while her sweatshirt was spattered with her blood and the blood of others, her skin beneath it was unblemished. No trace of the broken arm or the marking the demon had begun drawing remained.
Tabitha reluctantly pushed away from the comforting embrace of Sam’s large frame, pulling her other sleeve up to prove to the eldest Winchester that she was indeed fine. “I’m fine now, Dean. Cas healed it all,” she explained.
“‘Cas?'” he repeated, one brow arching in question.
“Castiel,” she clarified. “He showed up and killed the demon and healed my arm and hands… and well, everything, I guess. He saved my ass, too.”
Dean shook his head as he ran a hand through his hair. “Start at the beginning. What the hell happened? That psychic, Pamela Barnes, called us out of the blue and said you were up here in a shit-storm of demon trouble, and as we got closer to Virginia, every radio station was reporting on the manhunt for FBI Special Agent Winchester, wanted for questioning in two homicides. What the hell happened? And why was Pamela Barnes calling us?”
Tabitha pulled her feet onto the bench of the picnic table, her hands clapping over her knees as she tried to quickly explain, “I’ve been in touch with Pam for a while. Something felt wonky when I got into Richmond, so I called Pam to see if she knew anything. Somehow, the demons set a trap for me. When I showed up at the FBI building to look into the files OPR was looking for, two demons showed up and tried to grab me. In the scuffle, I shot them both and managed to exorcise one, but the other took off.” She shook her head mournfully at the memory of the men she’d killed. “Anyway, I needed to get some things from my place before I could leave, but a demon showed up there, too, and had possessed a friend of mine. The demon got the drop on me, and I woke up again a little before dark this evening.”
Sighing once more, she bit her lip, trying to decide how much of the story to tell her brothers. She still didn’t understand why the demons wanted her, or what it really had been attempting to do in “marking” her.
“Anyway,” she hastily continued, “then Castiel showed up, killed the demon, healed my cuts and such, and here I am. Joining my brothers in their murderous ranks and infamy.” She smiled wickedly as she said it, finding at least some cruel, sinister humor in the twists of fate.
Dean looked away, “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Tabitha’s face scrunched as she tried to figure out what he could possibly be sorry for, but he continued before she could speak.
“We should have realized a long time ago that the demons after our asses might try to grab you, too, to use you. We never wanted you drug into this mess, but we should have realized those demon bastards would come for you sometime.”
She opened her mouth to tell her brother that the demons wanted her for altogether different reasons, but no words would come out. Much as she wanted to ease his conscience, she didn’t know how to explain the truth. And she didn’t want to see the same suspicion in his eyes that she saw when he looked at Sam when he looked at her. She glanced at her left arm. The demon hadn’t finished marking her, but whatever it had done was now in her. Just like the demon blood was in Sam.
“It’s probably a miracle they didn’t come after me sooner,” she truthfully answered out loud. “I always knew the day might come when this life would catch up with the one I’d tried to create. I was probably foolish to have tried living so long under my real name. It was only a matter of time before something caught up with me.”
Dean finally looked up to meet her eyes, his gaze heavy. “I’m sorry you got drug back into this. You realize you can never go back to that life now?”
She nodded, staring down at her hands between her knees. “I’ve been sitting here for the last half-hour trying to come to grips with that myself. I know I can never live a normal life as Tabitha Winchester again,” she sighed.
“The law will always be looking for you,” Sam added in a heavy voice.
“No,” Tabitha denied with a shake. “They’ll soon decide that Tabitha Winchester died in an explosion. One eerily similar to her partner’s death—probably blame that one on me, too—but they’ll stop looking for me soon enough.”
“How do you figure that?” Sam asked, crossing his arms in disbelief.
“Castiel said he took care of it. They’ll find enough blood or bone fragments or something of mine to rule that I died. Or at least that’s what Castiel said.”
“And you trust the angel?” Dean scoffed
Finally hopping to her feet, Tabitha squared off with her brother. “Let me think about that. Hmm, I’d be dead or worse if he hadn’t shown up when he did. And oh, yeah, he drug my brother out of Hell. So, yeah, I’m trusting the angel on this.”
Dean stepped away, placing a hand against the imposing oak as he leaned heavily against it his back to his siblings. The old truck stop parking lot weighed heavily with the crushing silence.
“Look,” Tabitha finally spoke, “we need to get out of here, and I need to lay low until this blows over some. So we should get moving and stick to side roads until we’re clear of Virginia at least.”
Dean didn’t turn around as he quietly spoke, “We’ll take you to Bobby’s and you can stay there until he can find another place for you to settle down with a new name.”
“What!?” Tabitha incredulously demanded. “You’re not ditching me at Bobby’s. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. I’m still in this. Even more so now. Those bastards have used and killed good people, friends. And I’m not going to spit on their deaths by just walking away. I’ve got a stake in this now, too.”
Dean whipped around at her words and continued staring at his sister, but the youngest Winchester stepped between them. “Come on, Dean,” he began, “Tab’s right about one thing: we need to get her out of the area. We can talk about the rest later.”
Tabitha nodded curtly and turned to follow their younger brother to the car.
She’d only made a half-dozen steps when Dean’s hand clamped down on her shoulder, spinning her around. For a moment, she glared up into his emotion filled eyes, but then was engulfed in his arms as he gripped her in a bone-crushing embrace.
But the tighter he squeezed, the more she melted into his arms, needing the support and understanding he had always offered.
Even when he was mad.
Even when she was mad.
Tabitha could put on a brave face and pretend to Sam and the world that she was fine, but Dean read her better. He saw the guilt and sorrow she felt for the deaths and for what she’d lost.
And arguments between them or not, he still offered his comfort and strength.
Perhaps even seeking to assuage his own fears as he held his little sister close.
“When we pulled into your neighborhood,” he whispered against her hair, “I was so damn terrified when I saw that billowing smoke. And even when I realized it wasn’t your address, I couldn’t stop the terror beating in my chest. Even though you’d finally called us and said you were all right, I knew I couldn’t believe it until I saw you. I don’t think I can take the heartache of even thinking I’m losing another sibling. Don’t put me through this again, Tabitha.”
Pushing back, Tabitha looked into her brother’s eyes. “Then return the favor and don’t either one of you put me through another lost brother,” she earnestly answered.
“I’m trying my best here, Tabby.”
“I am, too.”
Dean looked off into the distance, his eyes unfocused, but the weight of the world in them.
“Dean,” Tabitha whispered, reclaiming his attention, “you have to stop taking so much responsibility for everything. For Sam and me. We’re not children anymore. We can look out for ourselves now. You don’t have to take the weight of the world onto your shoulders.”
Dean laughed bitterly as he looked away again. “According to the angel, the weight of the world is on my shoulders. I have to stop Lucifer from rising, remember?”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to do it alone. Sam and I will always be here.”
Dean’s eyes skipped over to where the youngest sibling waited patiently by the car. His eyes paused on Sam as he considered him. “Sam’s not all the way back yet,” he confided to Tabitha. “But at least he promised to stop the mind crap.”
Tabitha glanced over her shoulder at Sam as well. “Good,” she said, turning back and sliding her arm through Dean’s as they walked together to the car.
“So what happened with the Raguru?” she asked. “It doesn’t escape my notice that the two of you look worse than when I left you in Carthage. And I couldn’t get ahold of you guys.”
“We were a little tied up. Had to take out Jack,” Sam supplied as they stopped at the car. “He turned and we didn’t have any other choice.”
Tabitha saw the resignation and slight fear in Sam’s eyes, so she decided to change the topic. “Well, you’re both here now, and we’ve delayed long enough. We should hit the road.”
Dean walked around to the driver’s door, pausing to ask, “It’s just about impossible now, but is there anything you need that you left behind at your place?”
Shaking her head, and tapping the leather bag against her hip, Tabitha explained, “Everything I really needed is right here. My house, car, guns, and everything else back there, belonged to FBI Special Agent Winchester. And she’s dead now. All that’s left is Tabitha Winchester, hunter. And most of what she needs is right here.”
A/N: Hope you guys liked it! I’m trying really hard to write original stuff and not just copy the episodes, so I hope this is holding everyone’s interest. I will be coming a bit more back to the episode canon in future chapters.
And hopefully you noticed it, but we see our first reference to the meaning of the title of this story. Did you catch it? If not, take another look. It’s there. I do have meanings in mind for all my story titles, and they’re almost always known phrases, quotes, or even song titles that will resonate throughout the story.
Thanks for the reviews! And as always, lay your thoughts on me!
Also, question for my readers: What do you like in length for chapters? My initial couple were 12,000+ words to lay the groundwork, but the last several have been 5,000-6,000. And now this one was 10,000+. What do you like for chapter lengths? Longer, shorter, what I’ve been doing? Please give me your thoughts. Some will still probably end up both longer and shorter based on their content, but give me an idea of what you like so I can try to plan somewhat accordingly in the future.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! And be sure to spread some review love to me and all other authors. It’s the best Xmas present fanfic writers will receive this Christmas/Holiday season!