Chapter 1: 1
From the very first moment he opened his eyes, he knew he was lost.
It was the first thing that came to him, which ended up being the only thing he could resource himself with since there didn’t seem to be much else. The world around him was grey, muted colors that looked like they’d been drained from what had once been full of color and life. A layer of frozen grime laid beneath tossed papers and discarded waste as a thin sheet that decorated what would otherwise be cold and ill-fitting concrete slabs.
He was in an alley between two dark streets, leaning back against a dank and solid brick wall as if someone had simply propped him there and left without a word. Everything seemed to hurt, but after taking quick stock of himself, he knew it was nothing serious. Head was pounding, breathing was slightly labored, but otherwise, nothing was out of place.
Not that he knew why anything would be out of place to begin with.
He was dressed in a casual suit and what had once been a brownish looking coat that reached past his knees if he were standing, both of which were in tatters and barely holding together by the threads that had made them. He was missing one shoe, and his clothes were dirty and stained with what looked like dried blood. A half burnt tie fell haphazardly in a line down his chest, also stained and long past its intended use.
He wasn’t sure if it was his own blood, but the stains looked old. If it was his, he’d apparently survived.
If it wasn’t his, he didn’t know if that should concern him.
There were strong smells all around, and it was very cold; the winter air filtering through the tunnel of the alleyway and finding every little nook and cranny between his ruined clothing to chill across exposed skin. He shivered, pushing himself away from the wall and getting to his feet slowly, taking another quick look at himself but finding no wounds that could possibly have made the stains. It was a good sign, he supposed.
But on the other hand, he also knew that he was lost, which wasn’t such a good sign.
And that pretty much encompassed the last of what he knew.
Where was he? A city, perhaps? How did he know that? He ran a hand across his forehead and back into his hair as he tried for a moment to collect his thoughts. There were a few vague hints that seemed like they were memories floating just out of reach in the back of his mind, but his head hurt so much that he couldn’t access them. His hair was short, choppy and dirty, also caked with dried blood, and he had the vague sense of possibly getting hit in the back of the head. Injuries like that could cause confusion, he knew, though he wasn’t sure why he knew that.
Someone had told him?
He moved past the dumpsters and the steaming manholes of the alley before slowly approaching one end of the street that opened out into a sidewalk. It was quiet for a city, but not enough so that the sounds of life could not be heard. He wasn’t sure if it was really late or exceptionally early, and whether or not that made a difference. A car or two drove past, a dog barked. He could hear music thumping with antagonistic rhythms somewhere to his left. All things that he could identify and name as he heard or saw them, but he still had no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there.
He stumbled, tripping on his one shoed foot before catching himself on the brick wall beside him. His feet hurt, he recognized, one of them tucked into a fairly uncomfortable shoe while the other limped along in a cold and soaked sock that was quickly going numb. He knew that he needed something more; that it would be wise to find clothing that was warmer and not wet, but he didn’t know how he knew that.
A man walked past, his shoes clacking rhythmically on the sidewalk, but didn’t look at him.
He made his way to the other end of the street, slowly having to come to terms with the fact that he either needed to make a decision of where to go, or continue to simply wander and possibly get nowhere. The only problem was that he didn’t know what he was looking for.
Warmth would be good, possibly a place to lay down and rest, although he wasn’t sure if he felt tired. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Food would also be good, he knew. He also felt the odd desire to find a weapon of some kind just to have it on him, but that seemed more out of reflex for ‘just in case’. It was a strange feeling, however, as he wasn’t sure he knew what to do with one if he had it.
But food seemed like something foreign as well, and that didn’t make much sense.
There was another alley that opened up a little further down the street, next to a dingy and dirty looking bar that sat across from a twenty four hour liquor store. He glanced in, expecting to see nothing more than what was in the alley he’d come from, but was surprised to see the addition of a faintly glowing fire coming from an old rusted barrel.
A single, elderly man stood beside it, his gloved fingers holding both a cigarette and a bottle of some unidentifiable drink that was being nursed languidly. He was gazing into the flames as if they were speaking to him, and he couldn’t help but be drawn into the alley towards what promised to be warmer than what he’d seen so far. If there was anything he should have been afraid of by approaching, they didn’t seem to occur to him.
He shivered again, but for some reason, it felt forced.
The man looked up as he approached, a dark beard growing heavily down to his clavicle and eyes that were dulled, but alert with age and wariness. He was dressed in layers that didn’t match, but looked suitably comfortable enough with a knitted hat that rested over scraps of black hair and covered his ears. Thin and cracked glasses sat upon the end of his crooked nose and his skin was weather worn and leathery. A man of the street.
He shuffled towards him silently, his tattered appearance no doubt bargaining ill news, but leaving very little in the way of offense. He meant no harm, and one grey, grim face spoke to the other without words as the old man silently shuffled to the side with a silent invitation. He approached eagerly, frozen fingers reaching towards the flames but not really understanding why he knew them. Why he recognized that touching them would be hazardous, but reaching towards them would be ok. Why they felt so achingly familiar but foreign at the same time.
There was someone that had taught him this, but he could not see their face.
“You look like hell, friend.” The voice was gruff, seasoned and tinged with the taste of alcohol and bitterness. But it was open, as well, and promised conversation if only to avoid the obvious. There was no roof and no salvation for those who dwelled these streets tonight.
Hell was something he knew, so the statement was incorrect, but he did not argue, instead glancing down at himself and wondering why it was that he knew that. This man was speaking English, but he knew that that was one of many languages. He wondered if he knew any others, but didn’t dwell on it for very long, as thinking made his head hurt more. He disliked pain a great deal.
“I believe something serious happened to me, but I don’t know what that is.” He responded honestly, hearing the sound of his own voice but not really recognizing it. His gaze was drawn to the hand-made looking scarf around the man’s neck that appeared to be far warmer than the wasted collar of his own coat. He wished he had one, but wondered why he needed it.
“Looks t’r me like you were in a fight ‘er sumthin’.” The response was matter of fact, but spoken carefully. Distrust still lingering along with a faint curiosity. “Fall on bad times then? You from the Heights?”
He shook his head, not knowing what or where that was.
“I don’t know. I don’t…think so.”
The man grunted, his eyes narrowing as he stood for a few minutes in silence, staring quietly at him in contemplation. He stared back in return, holding his fingers out before the fire and shivering as a few small flakes of snow started to fall gently and quietly around them.
The old man turned suddenly, setting his cigarette into a groove around the rim of the barrel before reaching towards a pile of weather worn, broken down, cardboard boxes behind him. They were assembled strangely, in a way that almost looked like it was a nest made of garbage and cloth that had been discarded from use. It was this man’s home.
He yanked at a bit of fabric until it pulled free, revealing a dirty and mangy looking coat with patches for sleeves, more than half of the buttons missing and a partly ripped hood all in black. It looked like it had once been beautiful, but had long since lost its charm from those who’d loved it; just like the old man.
He offered it to him with a questionable, furry eyebrow, and he in turn reached his hands to take it without hesitation. This seemed to remove the distrust from the man’s eyes and he watched in satisfaction as arms were pulled into the sleeves and the front was yanked closed as if it was the only thing he’d been looking for all night. It was already warm.
“M’names Eaton, what’s yers, kid?” He asked him, hands moving back to pick up the cigarette, but not the bottle, and take a slow pull of smoky air. A car rumbled past with its music turned up to indefinable levels that echoed through the alley way. He looked towards it, his eyes unblinking and his fingers still slightly shivering. Then the sound was swallowed into the city, ground into the asphalt and concrete of a large and unfamiliar place that was familiar yet not with its oversized buildings and sleeping occupants that he did not know and could not identify.
He knew all of this, recognized it in tiny bits that fit into a large picture that had no name. Understood that he recognized it all, but was missing one very important piece that, more than anything else, told him that he was well and truly lost.
“I do not know.” He said, and that frightened him.
Eaton spoke to him for hours afterwards, explaining to him things that he had already been able to surmise on his own, but did not interrupt to tell him so. He liked the sound of this man’s voice, liked hearing what he had to say even if it didn’t really help him. He had given him a coat, and although he had no other shoes to offer, his socked foot was now dry and wrapped securely with a long piece of fabric that was part of a cloth tarp. He didn’t mind, it was warm and that achingly numb feeling had soon faded.
They were in a city named Detroit, but he wasn’t sure what that meant.
It was December, and hazardous for anyone on the streets to be out without some kind of warmth, so Eaton was happy to share his fire. His life had been long, and he missed his family, but he’d lost them a long time ago. He explained that there was a soup kitchen just around the corner that the two of them could go to in the morning to get something to eat, but that they had to wait until it was open. There was also a community center nearby that didn’t mind when a few of them dropped by for a service or two to warm up. It was a place he seemed to speak highly of.
Eaton complained that it was too bad he didn’t have a name, as he was having a hard time referring to him, or asking him questions.
Not that it mattered what he asked him, seeing as there wasn’t much he knew. Eaton said he had amnesia and he wondered quietly if he should be more concerned about that than he was. It didn’t seem like it was as much of a curse as Eaton claimed it to be. He was in no hurry, he couldn’t remember if there was something he should be doing, he was just there. Keeping warm was important, so it was his priority. Eaton told him he was funny for thinking that way, but he didn’t laugh at him.
Which was interesting because he knew you were supposed to laugh at things that were funny. Someone had told him that, once. Someone important.
“D’ya remember yer home?” Eaton asked him as they pulled together more newspaper around his haphazard bed.
“No. I don’t think so. I remember… light.”
Eaton laughed. “That was prolly yer noggin gettin slapped, not yer home kid.”
He wasn’t sure why Eaton called him kid, he didn’t feel younger than him. But he didn’t argue or correct him, it didn’t seem necessary.
“Someone’s prolly out there lookin fer ya though. We got the whole day ter look round before the snows start hittin, or so I heard.” He winked before he smiled, his beard and mustache curling in a warm grin that was more beautiful on him than any fine suit or expensive metals ever could be. He had been a father, a brother and an uncle for a long time, and if not for ‘them damn debts’ or ‘that damn fire’, Eaton would've been nowhere near this place.
“You have a good heart.” He said simply, and it made Eaton laugh.
“Yer sumthin else kid, aintyou ever gonna smile? Or’s this ol man just not funny ‘nough anymore, eh?” He joked, slapping him on the arm jovially before settling himself into his bed wrapped in dirty clothes and newspaper that were warmer than the largest comforter. Or so Eaton claimed.
He sat down across from him, doing the same before wrapping the scarf around his neck that Eaton had handed him without letting him argue. He sat there for a moment, feeling the chill ebb and listening to the sounds of the street beside them before turning back to Eaton and smiling.
“Now aint’ that sumthin. You ain’t a robot after all.”
It sounded so achingly familiar, but he couldn't place it. He let himself smile instead and tried not to think about it, it was easier than he thought it would be.
Eaton told him later that he reminded him of his son, then right before falling asleep he called him Daniel and said good night.
When he woke up the next morning, he was covered in snow.
The world was achingly cold, and almost surreally quiet beneath a blanket of white, but he didn’t freeze to death and he knew he had Eaton to thank for that.
He leaned over to wake him, but paused, knowing just by looking that Eaton had passed on.
The soup kitchen was right where Eaton said it would be, and he informed them that there was a man who had frequented there that was two alleys down the road and had died in the night. A young, frazzled, but kind looking girl let him know that they’d take care of it and offered him food. She had recognized the name, and her tears assured him that Eaton would be taken care of, and missed. He thanked her, then decided he should eat, so accepted what she had to offer him. He wasn’t sure if he was actually hungry, but she was very kind.
He sat down at one of the many tables inside, glad to be out of the new fallen snow of the already bustling city. He was across from a woman that couldn’t see him, but seemed to know he was there anyway as she smiled when he placed himself there. Her name was Georgette and she used to be the most beautiful thing this side of the city, or so she told him. Her hair was bushy and wild, and her eyes were a milky covered blue, but she was harmless, so he sat and spoke to her.
She asked a lot of questions about where he was from, but they were answers he didn’t have. It concerned her, she said, but not for very long as she was more than happy to fill up the space in between with her long life as an actress on the stage. He didn’t know if this was true, but he didn’t argue.
Georgette’s smile was cocky, covering for the long years of hardship that went unspoken and the burden of guilt that had settled on the edges of her worn eyes.
It reminded him of someone, but he didn’t know who.
More than once she reached for his hands, and he let her, unafraid despite how little he actually knew of the world at the moment. She told him he had the hands of someone who wasn’t used to being confused, and he wondered if he should correct her. She also told him that there was something about him that was very different from everyone else. That he didn’t belong there and needed to figure out what he was missing. He couldn’t have agreed more.
By the time he was ready to leave, Georgette had moved herself on to someone else, telling the exact same story the exact same way. He liked listening to her, she was similar to Eaton but hadn’t once offered a word about whatever family might be missing her.
As he stood, she seemed to notice. He wasn’t sure how.
“What’s your name, son?” She asked sweetly, her words a drifting song along the edges of a forgotten life.
“Daniel.” He answered, and thanked her for the conversation before turning to walk back out into the cold.
Daniel wasn’t sure where he was heading after that, but he now knew more about the strangers he had met than he did about himself. His chest ached for the death of Eaton, but he didn’t know what to do to relieve it, if anything at all.
His head was throbbing after a few miles, and he probably needed more rest than he’d had, but he was fed and didn’t want to push his luck. The snow was just deep enough that it was getting into the tarp wrapped around his foot, and his other shoe was useless for snow. So wandering the streets just wasn’t going to be such a good idea after all.
“You got any smokes?” A man asked him that was standing idly beside a bus stop.
Daniel shook his head, assuming the man was looking for cigarettes.
“Ah well, you wouldn’t be the first. Where you headed?” He was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes and Daniel didn’t feel like he could call the man’s expression friendly. He looked back down to the road, at his soaking feet and his bared hands that were red and frozen. There was nothing that he had to offer to anyone else that could be of any use.
The other man was clad in much more proper clothing, but it didn’t look to be anything expensive. A heavy coat that looked like military wool, with no holes and all its buttons, but it was far from new. Boots were laced up his feet and there was a hat on his head that didn’t cover his ears. His face was young, but not young enough to be afraid of men twice his age.
“If your intent is to rob me, I assure you, I have nothing of value.” Daniel said simply, still standing with his shoulders slightly slumped and shivering in the snow. He must have looked a plain sight then, because the man looked slightly taken aback at the comment. Then he laughed, and Daniel saw his eyes light up with more amusement than he’d previously had.
“No, no, I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention at all. What’s your name?”
“I don’t actually know…but I like Daniel.” He replied honestly, which earned him raised eyebrows and a question that went unsaid.
“Nice to meet you Daniel, my name’s Kiefer. Are you lost?”
He wondered if it was obvious.
“I think so. I don’t know where I’ve come from and I don’t know where I’m going.”
Kiefer laughed, but it wasn’t mocking him. He was pretty sure he recognized the difference, but couldn’t recall why.
“You’re very honest, you know that? There’s somethin’ about you though…listen, I actually work at the church community center up the road, you lookin for a job or something?”
Daniel thought about it for a second, but didn’t weigh his options any further than whether or not he believed Kiefer. He had nowhere else to go, and it wasn’t like he could remember why he was there to begin with. A job meant money, something indoors out of the snow, and possibly the ability to find clothing that wasn’t stained or tattered.
“Yes.” He answered simply, to all of the questions. He followed Kiefer through the snow and up a short hill to a large, flat, one story building that announced on the sign out front that it was a community center. Once inside, and finally out of the cold that had nearly seeped into his bones at that point, Kiefer led him to a room where people had donated clothing in order to help the homeless. He said that Daniel qualified, and since he couldn’t really remember if that was true or not, he said nothing.
He was allowed to pick through and find something in his size, and after a swift and grateful thanks, he did so without any argument or hesitation. Searching first for something to cover his feet in place of the wrecked footwear he was more than happy to discard.
Daniel smiled at Kiefer, thanking him twice more afterwards as he pulled on a sweater that was warm and thick without holes or blood stains. He’d gotten a few curious glances when he’d peeled the ruined fabric from his pale skin, but Kiefer didn’t ask and Daniel was grateful.
“I’ve never seen someone so happy to get new pants before.” Kiefer grinned, his dark brown eyes smiling more than his lips were. “You really can’t remember what happened to you?”
Daniel shook his head, pulling a belt through his new pant loops and cinching it as far as it would go to keep up the pants that were just a little too big for him. He stopped for a second, his eyes unfocused for a moment as he felt a few images flash in the back of his mind that were scattered and unorganized. Someone’s face, yelling at him, worried, smiling. A bright flash of light, pain on the side of his head before there was screaming, then nothing.
“I’m not sure. It’s all broken pieces. Like a puzzle I should be piecing together, but without a picture.” Daniel said simply before looking down at his hands as if they somehow weren’t his own. He could feel the ghost of someone else’s hands on his, strong fingers that held fast and secure. It was all such a confusing mess, though, that he didn’t know where to make heads or tails of it.
“Well then, I guess it’s a good thing I asked you for a cigarette.” Kiefer replied, as if it was all he could think to respond with, and really, that was all he needed to. Daniel wasn’t asking for any more help than he was already being offered. And it made him smile.
“Except that I had nothing to offer you.” And it was that, more than anything else he could remember of his two day existence, that bothered him the most.
Kiefer gave him a job cleaning the floors and windows of the building. It was something that he would do himself along with a plethora of other things that were more than a single man should have been doing in the first place. Or so he explained. It was simple work, keeping something clean that would spend the day being touched and run through and played upon throughout every normal day.
Seeing as Daniel had nowhere else to go aside from where he was, the pastor who was charged over the nearby church had granted him special permission to sleep there. It was something he was more than happy to accept, especially since the alternative meant spending another night on the street. That and the only payment they allowed in return was his service in assisting to keep the place clean.
He didn’t think he was a stranger to work, or following orders, as he did them rather well regardless of what was asked of him. Working diligently and without question, he found a steady beat to his daily tasks that eventually became more and more consistent and involved more and more responsibilities. Daniel didn’t mind, taking every request with an honest opinion to whether or not it could be done and then keeping his promises. In return, he was fed, housed and befriended by regulars who weren’t afraid to approach or speak to him.
After two weeks, Kiefer stopped trying to figure out who he really was and started to accept him for how he appeared. The bloody clothing had long since been forgotten, though Daniel had stored it away somewhere instead of pitching it, and it was never brought up in question again. He began to smile more, to show more expression than he had, even with a tendency to yell whenever someone was doing something he knew they weren’t supposed to be doing.
Kiefer poked fun of his odd, detached emotions, but Daniel argued him off saying that a very wise man had once proclaimed that he wasn’t a robot.
“How wise of a man could you have met when you only have memories of the past two weeks?”
“I didn’t even need two weeks. Met him on the first day I can recall, where he clothed me from the cold and told me that it was not what I was forgetting that was important, but who.”
“But he couldn’t tell you the answer to that, could he?”
“No, he couldn’t. So instead he gave me my name and a place to sleep so that when I woke up the next day, I could walk to find you.”
Kiefer laughed. “Alright then, you win and I agree, he sounds like a very wise man indeed.”
And for the first time that he could ever remember, Daniel laughed with him.
He dreamed every night, or he assumed he did. It was hard to keep track when sleeping by itself felt like something he didn’t really need to do. He would see things when he dreamed, disjointed and shattered memories or creations that his mind tried so feverishly to feed to him, but were so achingly confusing that it was hard to retain.
There were flashes of places that it was impossible for him to have been. Deserts of sand and wastelands of ice that stretched into civilizations both of modern and ancient times. Languages he shouldn’t have known, people that were long since dead and places that didn’t even exist anymore. All of it flooding through him, but never allowing him to hold onto it enough to give him any sort of clue as to why he had them.
The only constant was a man that seemed to walk beside him everywhere he went. Through all that he saw and experienced and tried to remember, the man was always there. His face was impossible to see, but Daniel remembered his hands. Remembered touch. So familiar yet just out of reach as if not even his own head wanted him to complete the picture.
He would speak sometimes, but Daniel couldn’t hear anything more than what sounded like cries for help. Asking where he was, and why he’d left.
He’d wake from nightmares sometimes, alone in his small room and single bed in the far corner of the building where no public activities ever reached. The meager space he called his own, but was thankful for each and every night where he didn’t have to wake up buried in snow.
The thought terrified him; remembering Eaton and the way that the snow had seemed to snuff out his life just as easily as it had taken the warmth of the fire that had introduced them.
Daniel remembered this, and for the first time he could remember, he wept.
Not for Eaton, but for someone else.
It wasn’t so much that Eaton had been more than a friendly stranger who’d lived to a decent old age, despite a life of hardships. It wasn’t that Daniel had been all that attached to him either aside from being grateful for his help and his wisdom. He wasn’t sure why, but as each night ended, it was all reminding him more and more of something important he should remember. Something terrible that had happened to someone he’d once known, or cared for, or even loved.
Cold arms wrapped around themselves and he shivered, drawing his knees into his chest in his rumpled bed sheets as he tried hard not to think about it. He wanted so much to know what his life had been before this, but at the same time, the thought was terrifying, and so heartbreakingly sad.
Something about him was wrong and different from everyone else, he could feel it but he had nothing to compare it to. What was natural to others, to Kiefer, to Pastor Robert or to the friendly woman named Beatrice who gave him cookies and played that beautiful organ every Sunday…what they did on a daily basis, what was normal and easy for them, seemed so difficult for him. So forced.
Was it supposed to be like this for some people? Daniel didn’t think so, but he wasn’t sure what that very large thing was that he was missing.
Or why the man in his dreams made him miss someone that he couldn’t name.
He continued with his day as he always did. Cleaning the floors after a basketball game and wiping the windows that a few of the younger, kindergarten children had decorated indiscreetly with crayons. He stacked the chairs that had been pulled out for a short, praise team concert practice and re-wrapped all of the wires they’d used for their instruments, putting them neatly back into the storage closest they’d come from. The front door needed its hinges fixed, the front step needed more salt so that no one would worry about slipping on the ice, and that was all before the afternoon volleyball game.
Carpets were vacuumed, shelves were dusted and he was greeted quite often by the regulars that knew him by name. All the while, Daniel ignored the nagging sensation in the back of his head that he seemed to feel every single day that he was still lost.
Kiefer relieved him around five with his usual smile and small conversation before Daniel found a quiet place to sit and eat his dinner alone, still not ever really feeling hungry.
Everything changed the day that the inebriated man had wandered into the community center, one cold day in April.
He looked like Daniel had, on that first day months ago, wrapped in clothing that didn’t match that was soiled with unrecognizable stains and possibly burns. He was stumbling, yet trying very hard not to as he kept himself to the walls for support with shifting eyes and a look of confusion as he glanced around him wildly. There was a dirty satchel on his back, and a paper bag in his hands that was the suspicious shape of a bottle. He was leaving heavy footprints as he moved and a small, dribbling trail of blood.
Daniel saw him first, informing Kiefer before the two of them together tried to decide what the best course of action was to do. It was a place that was more than willing to welcome those in need, Daniel being a prime example of that, but at the same time the man appeared to need more help than they could offer. It was thankfully early enough on a Monday that there were only a few people inside, but it was still a concern that the caretakers of the center would need to approach quickly. Keeping the place clean was in the standard job description, but the both of them had a general understanding that they were also there to keep the place safe.
They split up momentarily, Daniel moving to phone the authorities as Kiefer approached the man. It was a decision that made sense, seeing as Kiefer was much bigger and broader than Daniel, giving him the advantage of being more authoritative. He was quick, making sure to inform them that the man had both been drinking and was injured, before rejoining his friend in the lobby of the church facility. A few people had gathered in the main hallway, but were thankfully keeping their distance.
“Hey man, I know it’s cold out, but this ain’t the place to go if you’re lookin for help.” Kiefer offered diplomatically, his hands in front of him in the universal sign of peace. Daniel stayed between them and the rest of the guests, not really sure where he should go but refusing to leave his friend, his comrade’s, side.
“Ain’t this a church?!” The man bellowed, his deep voice echoing in the small space and angering Daniel as he watched with trepidation. Men on their own were creatures of many emotions and conflicting thoughts that often led them to lapses in judgment. Alcohol only made everything worse.
“A place where aaaaalll men should be welcomed?! Am I right? I’m here fer some prayin padre, don’t pass me off already!” His speech was slurred and he emanated with the striking smell of chemicals and street as his voice raised with mocking invitation.
“This isn’t a church, friend, it’s a community center. The church is just a little bit down the road if that’s what you’re looking for, but I’m afraid this place is more for sports, bingo and kids. There isn’t anything here that can help you, I’m sorry…” Kiefer was good with his words, and although Daniel knew he was probably nervous as hell, he didn’t show it. He had a wife with no children of his own, but he loved kids anyway and wasn’t about to let anything dangerous happen to them. Daniel respected that about him.
“What’s with yer lyin padre, you ain’t suppost ta lie…”
“I’m no priest, padre or pastor, I’m just a janitor. God’s honest truth. Did something happen to you? You look like you’re hurt…”
“Ain’t nuthin gone wrong! I got everythin right here and no one but me ‘n God’re gonna take care of it now!” The man laughed with a singsong, a loud guffaw that made Daniel shiver as he swallowed thickly with an unblinking stare. The man turned his attention on him suddenly, staring coupled with a staggered gait as he took a few steps in. He was bleeding heavily.
“Whatsup with yer friend here, eh padre? You Canadian er sumthin, kid? How come yer glowin all the way o’er there? You got a light on ya? Gonna set me on fire again, eh? I see how it is…”
Daniel’s eyes widened, the man releasing his bottle to let it shatter onto the linoleum. It puddled where it lay in a reddish orange soaked liquid upon the recently scrubbed floors. There was no light anywhere near where he was standing, so it appeared that the man was inebriated far more than Daniel had originally thought. Bad news all around.
“We do not wish for trouble here. You require medical attention and we must please ask you to leave…Authorities are on their way.” Daniel replied for himself, his voice more convincing than he thought it would be. The man smirked at him as Kiefer backed up towards them and tried to keep as close as he could without endangering himself. Daniel didn’t blame him.
“You called da cops on me? You worthless little glowy piece o’ shit, what the fuck?! Da fuck I ever do ta you, eh? Who’d I ever hurt, ain’t never hurt nobody…” The man was lurching on his feet, starting to slide sideways. Kiefer reached a hand out, anticipating the man’s fall and hoping to be helpful as the man suddenly jerked back in surprise, brandishing a knife from his pocket and swiping it at Kiefer with dangerously wide arcs.
“Dontcho fuckin touch me padre! Dontchoo EVER fuckin…Get BACK!”
But it was clumsy, and ended up pulling the both of them in the wrong direction as the man grabbed a hold of Kiefer’s shirt at the same time he was trying to push him away. The knife swiped dangerously close to Kiefer’s face and Daniel cried out in sudden fear, running forward without thinking and reaching his hands out to try and pull the two apart. Get them separated, take the knife, knock the man out, it didn’t matter so long as he was doing something aside from watching it happen.
Kiefer screamed at him, as did the man, and it was all mixed in with the sound of sirens blaring from just outside the door as Daniel felt the air get knocked out of him. His gaze suddenly unfocused and he fell backwards from the two, landing badly on his backside. Eyes were wide with shock and his hands moved to a suddenly distinct pain in his stomach that soon began to blossom into a red stain on his clean clothes and spread quickly.
The drunken man froze, dropping his knife with a clatter and stumbling back into the wall as he cursed and mumbled before sliding to the floor. Kiefer had glanced between them for a split second in case the man would leap again, but then quickly moved to Daniel once it was obvious he wouldn’t get up again.
Daniel’s breath was hitching, his heart racing and pounding in his head as he tried hard to hear what was being said to him. The world seemed brighter than it had been before, and he looked down to his hands that were now soaked with a brilliant red. It was beautiful, and terrifying, clashing horrifically with his pale skin and giving him such a horrible feeling of déjà vu that it made him gasp.
“Stay with me Daniel…can you hear me? Stay with me! Don’t close your eyes!”
“Don’t close your eyes Dean…stay with me!”
Daniel cried out, hearing the startling crash of glass shattering before collapsing backwards into Kiefer’s arms. The door slammed open and more people ran in than he could keep track of, their footsteps loud and squeaking with rubber on wet floor. Hands were on him, gentle but forced, flattening him to the ground and pulling his fingers away as he tried hard to keep them there.
He had to keep pressure, he had to stop the bleeding. Humans could die from these kinds of wounds. They were painful, deadly, especially when it was done with a knife…or a bullet…
“Daniel? Daniel can you hear me?”
“Don’t go…please Dean…just stay alive…”
Daniel opened his eyes slowly, and all he could see was white.
The world was no longer spinning, nor was it loud and filled with nervous voices or screaming sirens. It was blessedly slow and quiet aside from a steady beeping sound to his left. He turned his head, realized gladly that the white was a ceiling and came face to face with someone he recognized.
It was the first time that had happened.
“Hey Danny, you ok?” Kiefer asked him quietly, and his concern made Daniel smile. His friend looked nervous, and was barely making eye contact, which made him feel guilty for scaring him.
“You’ve never called me that before. It must be bad.” He joked, hands moving before he noticed that there was an IV leading out from the top of his hand. He couldn’t recall ever having one before. Daniel moved his other hand to his stomach, wary enough not to touch yet as his fingers hovered over where he knew he’d been stabbed.
“I’m sorry.” He said simply, the past events colliding in his head and ending with him running into something he should never have gotten involved with. It had been stupid and reckless, despite the fact that the very sight and chance of his friend getting hurt had made him react as if on impulse. Anything to make it stop, he hadn’t even thought about it.
Kiefer let out a small huff of a laugh that didn’t sound like it was out of amusement and Daniel met his gaze curiously. He felt strangely pain-free, despite what had just occurred and wondered what kind of drugs they’d had him on.
“Kiefer? What’s wrong? Is it…am I that bad off?” Daniel asked in confusion, his voice tightening as his fingers shook slightly in trepidation. He didn’t like pain, that was something he’d learned from day one.
“No…no Daniel, you aren’t…it’s not bad. Promise.” His friend stated honestly, but he wouldn’t meet his eyes anymore. Daniel swallowed, staring hard at his friend but waiting patiently for what came next, if anything.
“What happened?” He asked softly, trying hard to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of his head that told him he’d missed something. Something important. He reached his hand towards his friend, but stopped suddenly as Kiefer started to pull his own hands away, as if there was something about his touch that frightened him. Daniel’s eyes widened and he pursed his lips. What was going on?
“When…when that guy stabbed you…when everything went to hell, Dan…I dunno, maybe, maybe I just wasn’t seeing things right.” Kiefer started, brown hair falling into his eyes and shadowing them as if it would be some kind of personal shield. His face was alight with conflicting emotions, age lines drawn along a stubbled chin. Daniel waited, listening to the external sound of his own heart.
“You fell, and then you cried out someone’s name…and all the windows just…Jesus, I don’t even know. Daniel, I’m not even sure what the hell really happened back there but…”
Daniel moved his hand again, this time finding the warmth of his friend’s fingers without being denied them.
“Please.” He said and Kiefer finally shifted his gaze to match his own, a look of hesitation and nervous indecision lingering there that Daniel had never hoped to see. Not on someone he could call friend. The beeping of his heart monitor started to go faster.
“He stabbed you, Daniel. With a pocket knife, I saw it…I saw it go in you… I saw the blood and I watched the ambulance guys come in to help…but you…damnit, you ain’t even got a scratch on you man.” Kiefer shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe the words he was saying once they’d passed his lips. “You ain’t even got a bruise.”
Daniel’s hands quavered as he stared at his friend in disbelief, the beeping speeding up faster before he finally forced himself to move. Shaking hands reaching for his stomach, and Daniel pushed himself upwards as the blanket fell, fingers exploring and pulling at the fabric before he finally lifted the hospital smock he’d been dressed in. It didn’t hurt, none of the quick motions he’d just made and there were no bandages or stitches or anything that should have been evident after such a wound.
Clear, unblemished and pale skin greeted him in return and Daniel stared down at himself in confused horror. He gasped in his breaths, ignoring the angry sounds from his heart to stare back at his friend in disbelief. As if Kiefer would perhaps have the answers. As if anyone would…it was just impossible.
But there was nothing to respond to. Nothing more than unanswerable questions and no other sounds but the telltale beeping of an impossibly saved man’s heart.
From then on, the world was different.
What Daniel had learned in the small few months of memories were now meaningless because no one looked at him or treated him the same as they had before. His new home wasn’t a home after all, and with far too much to deal with already, Daniel decided he should probably continue on.
“Where will you go?” Kiefer asked him, his friend still there despite it all. The hint of distrust and confusion was there whenever he looked at him, though, and Daniel found that he was saddened by what this had done to their friendship. What his strangeness had done.
“I’m not sure. It’s warm enough now that I won’t freeze to death on the streets, but maybe south would be a better option.” He collected his things together in a small bag that Pastor Robert had happily provided, though there wasn’t much in this world that belonged to him. It was something else that gave him that strange sense of repetition. Something he’d seen before, even if he hadn’t done it himself.
At the bottom of the pack was the stained and tattered clothing he’d been wearing when Kiefer had first found him. It seemed important to hang onto. He was dressed simply, old and faded jeans beneath a warm, collared shirt that was layered appropriately. On the bed beside his bag lay the coat that Eaton had given him, so many months ago, now sewn up and laundered courtesy of one of the kind and talented church quilters. It had made Daniel happy; he really liked the coat.
“Do you have any hint, or memories, or anything of some kind of a family? Someone you could go out and find?”
Daniel knew in his heart that he wanted to do just that. There was someone he wanted to find, but he couldn’t remember just how or why. It gave him pause as the memories he’d pulled from that terrifying and eye opening affair had lingered in the aftermath of his panic. Something he could finally keep after so long of being cursed to hold nothing.
“I’m not sure.” He said honestly. “When that man stabbed me…when I saw the blood on my hands…it gave me a memory. Albeit a small one, but something that had been important, I know it. Maybe one of the last memories before I ended up here…” He released the bag onto the small bed and moved his open palms up in front of his face, staring down at them as if they held the answers he sought.
“I was holding someone…someone very important to me. He was bleeding, but…but I don’t think I saved him.” Daniel turned to glance at his friend, knowing his expression was saddened by these memories. “I think he died in my arms.”
Kiefer mirrored that look of sympathy, but Daniel had no way of knowing just how much he terrified his friend anymore. Whatever luck, or power that he had, it wasn’t something that good people like Kiefer had any reason to deal with.
“I will miss you, my friend.” He said, and it was an honest statement. More than Daniel could have asked for.
He pursed his lips, hugging his friend in return before hefting the small bag of his small existence up over one shoulder and grabbing his coat. It gave him pause to think that he was leaving the only true home he could remember, but at the same time, there was relief deep within him that he would no longer be stationary. There had to be some higher purpose that he was meant to be doing, but working in the small Detroit community center just wasn’t it yet.
“And I you. Thank you…for everything. I hope our paths cross again.”
And Daniel left, ignoring the curious glances and stares as the short week he’d been out of the hospital had already spread rumors like wildfire. He would miss this place, but it would not be the tearful kind.
It wasn’t like before; not like walking through the streets hurt and confused with barely enough to keep him warm and no memory to aim his path.
Daniel had a name now, and even though something in his heart told him that name was now gone, it gave him purpose to find it anyway so that he might then perhaps find himself along the way.
“Dean.” He said quietly, and smiled as he pushed open the front doors, and walked out into the sunlight.
Chapter 2: 2
Traveling proved to be far less stressful than staying in one place.
Daniel grew to enjoy it very quickly, even when he was trudging alongside of a road in the middle of nowhere with rain so thick that he could barely see two feet in front of him. Since he was still so far north, it was a cold rain, but Daniel didn’t mind. It wasn’t snow, it wasn’t dangerous and he knew it wouldn’t harm him, so he enjoyed the peace of it. His memories didn’t allow for whether or not he’d ever walked in the rain before, so everything seemed to be new anyway.
He also learned rather quickly what it meant to know the difference between what was a good ride and what was a bad one. After a few highly unfortunate miscalculations, Daniel found that his judgment was starting to get much better as to whether or not he should simply walk instead of taking any ride that was offered. He may not have had memories of his life, but there were some experiences that he was certain he hadn’t been one to leap right into.
It cost him a few cuts and bruises along the way, but it could have been worse. What bothered him the most afterwards, however, was that the smaller cuts, the dark black and blue bruises, they remained right where their givers had planted them. Even days after, when his skin had gone all yellow brown with the sign of a healing wound, it remained until his body healed it.
Not like the knife wound. Not like Detroit.
There was no real destination for the first month or so as he moved from one traveling companion to the next along the long and flat roads of Indiana and the northern states. The most common travelers that were willing to give him a lift were those who were transporting something from one faraway place to another and had seen more than their fair share of both roads and people. A lot of them spoke, but most of them didn’t, leaving him to himself as he watched the scenery and listened to whatever voices or music that happened to be on the radio.
A few of the broadcasts had caught his attention once he realized there was a common trend to them, and some spoke rather distantly about a recent war of some kind. Strange events coupled with deaths in high numbers, that couldn’t be explained but were still considered a battle by those who had been in them. It was even shared over the personal radios of the truckers themselves. Things they’d seen, horrors they’d witnessed. So much that had been lost.
There was something that struck a chord in him whenever he heard it, but Daniel couldn’t remember why that would be. He didn’t think he was a soldier; didn’t really have the build or the skill for it. There was still some part of him that wished he had a weapon of some sort, but the idea drowned away when he thought about the knife and the look he’d seen on Kiefer’s face.
He decided that sharp objects just shouldn’t be near him, even if he was wielding one.
On the other hand, despite the fact that so many people had been killed recently and so much of the country had burned in its wake, life had continued down these empty roads regardless. Shipments still needed moving and people still needed to travel, so it all went on deep within the heartland of the country while the rest of them grieved.
A very kind truck driver named Stan had told him this, and Daniel couldn’t help but agree that it was true. He didn’t know much about history or location, but their kind seemed far more resilient to such things than he would have initially believed. Stan had heard his lost tale, listened with great interest to the lengths of which he would go in order to find what was missing, and commented whenever he deemed it necessary as to what else Daniel should do to get there.
Before they parted, Stan had told him he’d pray for his safe journey, and Daniel had thanked him.
Indiana was a large state, and although his previous intention had been to go south, Daniel soon found himself climbing back up the state of Missouri in July on the I-44, headed towards St. Louis and Illinois with a shipment of large, steel rods that were being taken upstate to rebuild a bridge.
He’d walked more recently than he could ever recall, but the shoes that Kiefer had given him were far better than the one he’d awoken in. The soles were rubber, and although they were hardly waterproof, it was less likely for him to have blistered feet at the end of the day after a good thirty or so miles under his belt. He knew he was thinner than when he’d started, but that was because he kept forgetting to eat when there was nothing to remind him that he was hungry.
Not to mention being exceptionally poor and rarely affording food.
The same would go for sleeping, although it was starting to catch up to him rather quickly.
Falling asleep in a trucker’s cab could be hazardous if he didn’t trust the driver, and that was a rare trust that wasn’t often given. He’d fought his way out of a few misplaced hands when his exhaustion had gotten the best of him, and it was never without its repercussions. It wasn’t as if Daniel thought he would mind the company of another warm body, but most certainly not the bodies he’d been beside so far. Not just men either, as some of the women that had taken him a couple hundred miles were more demanding and terrifying than any of the men had been.
After awhile, Daniel stopped scolding himself for being picky.
It was one such altercation that ended badly, after waking up rather rudely to another man pressed down upon him as if he intended to squeeze out his last breath through lips alone. Daniel had fought his way out from under his meaty paws and out of the truck only to end up with a broken wrist. The man had cursed at him angrily before he’d left, throwing his bag at him and causing an ugly scene that no one seemed to notice before leaving him at the truck stop on his own.
Daniel had just been grateful that he’d left without trying for round two.
His arm was in awful pain however, as he’d cradled it to his chest and took note of the purpling skin around his forearm. It was soon becoming swollen with the over-twisted, abused muscle and bone.
But as Daniel continued to walk forward, heading swiftly toward the truck stop building to possibly seek out some assistance, the pain slowly began to ebb and fade itself gradually away. He clenched his fingers, trying hard not to look down with each relieving step, but the longer he avoided it, the more he felt his heart sink deeper into his stomach.
By the time he reached the dirty, rust stained bathroom, there was nothing left around his forearm but a bruise, lingering just over the top of his wrist like he’d simply knocked it against something. The bone had set and healed itself.
Daniel sank to the dirty floor and buried his head in his arms, cringing when someone walked in but was blatantly ignored as he secluded himself within the small, dark space. He didn’t know what it was that kept him in one piece, even though he was grateful not to feel the pain of it, it seemed to make him less and less human each time.
If not human though, then what the hell else could he be?
By mid-August, he’d gotten into the habit of keeping his ears open for anything that might possibly help him that he didn’t already know. He ate whenever he could afford it, bathed and laundered his clothes when he had the chance, and did the odd job here and there to scrounge up enough for at least one decent meal a day. There had been a few who offered him money for more private things, but Daniel still didn’t see the need to agree to them.
He didn’t love these people, didn’t even like half of them, so there was no point in pretending like he did.
It didn’t apply to all of them however, as he made good friends with a woman named Suri who liked the way he told his stories and would never be caught dead touching him inappropriately unless he was a woman too. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and showed him the pictures of her two, grown children that she was helping to put through college after she’d gotten rid of the ‘useless penis that had assisted in giving them life and nothing more’.
Suri took him up to Minneapolis where she was transporting dog food for the large company chain that resided in that area. All the while, telling him just how much she wished she could help him find what he was looking for. He hadn’t expected more of her than the ride, but there was honesty in her wish and he respected that. Especially when she told him about her beloved Sarah, who had died in the strange epidemic that had struck through the country last year.
Apparently, there had been far more victims than if it had been an actual war, seeing as there didn’t seem too much in the way of an opposing side. No one who called it a war could tell him who they’d been fighting.
And Daniel remembered none of it, if he’d even known to begin with.
He found nothing in Minnesota except for cooler temperatures, despite the fact that it was deep into summer. Travel was still plentiful and occasionally there were still those rare few that would offer him a meal or two for a kind ear.
It seemed like such a simple thing, and it was always something he could offer. He was told that he had kind eyes that made it easy for people to talk to him. As if he understood it all, even if his own mind was still far too lost for any sort of understanding. He offered advice when he could, but no one was ever able to give him more than what he knew, and that wasn’t much at all.
Big cities were starting to wear on him, so he avoided them if he could, still hitchhiking whenever his feet began to hurt just a little too much and still searching for any sort of clues to help him. No one ever seemed to recognize him though, and it wasn’t like he had anything more to go on than a first name and a feeling. He didn’t even really know his own name.
It was hardly enough to ask around for, but Daniel didn’t want to stay in any single place if he could help it. If anything, his experience in Detroit had been enough to stifle the want of ever having more than a single ride friend. It just wasn’t worth the heartache.
By the time he’d made his way back down toward Illinois, there was talk of a place that had taken a great deal of damage in the strange war/battle/outbreak that could never seem to be correctly named. It was a city called Pontiac, and it was the first thing that had given him even the slightest feeling of recognition, as small as it may have been.
He’d gone for so long without feeling anything but the steady increase of impatience, only to finally hear something that might perhaps be a place he’d known. Somewhere that existed in the memories he no longer had, but was still enough to give him pause. And certainly to grab his interest.
The first chance he had, Daniel found himself someone that was going near Pontiac on their way out to Indianapolis. He was one of the quiet ones, keeping mostly to himself, so Daniel was hardly going to be one to make a bother. He wracked his brain for awhile with nothing more than the familiar rumbling of the engine as they traveled, trying for the thousandth time to pull up some kind of information that might possibly assist him. But there was nothing. Always nothing.
The dreams had continued, nearly every time he slept actually, but it had been nothing more than the bits and pieces of impossible things he’d seen before, along with the last few moments of his real memory.
The person in his arms, dying, never with a face.
But he still had a name.
The blood on his hands.
The more he had the dreams, the more he was starting to truly believe that his Dean was dead. It seemed more likely, considering where he’d ended up. But there was something he couldn’t let go of, not just quite yet, and that was the voice. It was never a part of the dream itself, always outside of it, and always asking him where he was. Pleading for return, for his help.
That voice gave him hope.
He fell asleep on the way, but was fortunate enough that the man he was traveling with did not have the intentions some others had. He woke Daniel when they arrived in Bloomington, where the roads connected between his destination and the driver’s. It was where they’d agreed to part ways.
“Thank you.” Daniel had offered simply and honestly, pulling his small bag into his arms and opening the cab door at the exit’s gas station.
“You’re welcome.” He replied, fixing Daniel with a thoughtful look as he watched him step out of the truck. “Pontiac is northeast of here, straight up the 55 about 40 miles.”
“Again, I appreciate it. Safe journey.” Daniel responded politely, offering a small smile since they had never exchanged names. It was returned to him but with a look that appeared to have more sadness than joy.
“To you as well. This will be the start of some difficult times, my friend. Some memories, some knowledge, is better left forgotten. God be with you.”
And he’d reached over and pulled the door closed, leaving Daniel staring wide eyed and silent as the truck lumbered over the potholes and rocks of the run down station and away from him.
Daniel felt his breath catch, knowing for a fact that the two had barely spoken aside from an exchange of locations and that he had never once told him the reasons he would be going this way. It had startled him enough that he had been speechless and he could almost kick himself for the missed opportunity now that the truck was too far away to reach.
Had he known him? Or had he just pretended he did? Maybe it had just been vague enough to sound like it pertained to him?
If not, then how could he know?
Daniel tried hard to refocus himself towards his destination, a nagging feeling in the back of his mind all the way that there was something about that man that he should have picked up on faster than he had.
There had been no one willing to pick him up or even slow down as he’d made his way towards Pontiac, but it didn’t really bother him. Daniel had spent the majority of his memories keeping himself company and walking had become something he was good at. His coat was rolled up and tied to the top of his pack as he walked, with his sleeves curled to his elbows and the warm wind blowing through his short hair.
Something he had only recently thought about, or even noticed, was the fact that his hair didn’t seem to grow. Nor could he recall ever needing to shave.
He’d stood naked in front of a mirror once for hours, late at night in the safety of the community center, and rememorized everything about himself. The shape and color of his blue eyes, his nose, his mouth. Blemishes on his skin and the way it layered over the muscles of his arms and thighs. How the black hair on his head seemed to go wherever it pleased, no matter what he did to it. It all felt like it wasn’t his, but he excused that with the fact that he couldn’t remember himself very much.
No childhood memories, no relatives or family that might have pictures. No years of school or awkward phases. He was simply, there. A man who couldn’t remember why he looked the way he did.
It had never occurred to him that perhaps the lack of hair growth or lack of change in general might be a sign to pick up on, a warning of an irregularity, but considering what he had to compare it to now, it didn’t matter much. His hair stayed out of his eyes and he remained daily with the hint of stubble across his chin for more than half a year, and it was just one less thing to worry about. No one knew him for long enough to ask anyway.
The city wasn’t small by any means, but it wasn’t even half the size of Detroit. There was an old feeling to it that registered only slightly with him, but not enough to give him anything to go on. Daniel wasn’t even sure what he was looking for, but just being there had to be a step in the right direction. It was easy to see that this place had seen its fair share of trauma, and recently too, considering that half of the buildings were destroyed and large sections of land were black and scalded. Dark homes lined the streets in silence; long since abandoned.
There was still life, and it was trying to rebuild piece by piece, but there was also a very obvious scar.
He continued on foot until he finally reached the outskirts of the city and decided it was time to stop, his weary feet begging for a new pair of shoes but with far too little money to afford them. He sought out the nearest truck stop he could find instead, cleaning himself up enough to pass in a public place and getting as much to eat as he could with the last of his change. It would have to do.
There was little else to do at that point than what he’d always done. Find the nearest local place where people gathered and hope that something would come back to him. It was a ritual of sorts and had almost turned into a game of people-spotting, noticing trends and recognizing relationships without daring to ask or intervene.
He found he liked watching people from a distance, so it was never as much of a chore as he thought it would be.
Two days passed by uneventfully, but it wasn’t as though he was expecting something to simply jump out at him without working for it. Daniel slept on a park bench after the third day with his coat pulled over top of him and his knees curled up, something he had quickly gotten into the habit of doing. He could fall asleep anywhere, and that was an advantage. What was the disadvantage was waking to either being robbed or being pushed to move by authorities or others vying for his space.
Daniel wasn’t the only one sleeping in the park that evening however, and remained undisturbed. Being homeless wasn’t so uncommon in this place, whether it be through poverty, bad luck or simply having nowhere else to go.
He dreamt of a blonde, crying woman, holding her daughter protectively to her as she was smothered by a thick, black fog.
And of a man that had been buried alive.
Daniel woke with a start, his limbs aching and his heart speeding up so quickly that he had to fight to keep himself from panicking. Cold fingers clutched at his coat for safekeeping and weary eyes darted around in order to spot what was coming before it came, only to lay eyes on a man that was standing nearly ten feet from his bench with an odd look of confusion.
He sat up slowly, hair falling in its normal disarray and clothing rumpled from just another one of the uncomfortable beds he’d owned for a night. He clutched at both the coat and bag now, unwilling to trust anything yet, even if the man looked harmless.
“What?” Daniel responded groggily, his voice deep and husky from sleep.
The man’s eyes narrowed and he took a few steps toward him suspiciously. He had blond hair that was sleek and well trimmed, matching the thin mustache and beard beneath his small, round nose. His eyes were light blue, and were staring at him as if he were a ghost. He was dressed far more richly than Daniel could ever recall being privy to.
“Jimmy…is that really you? That’s gotta be you…”
And Daniel felt his grogginess suddenly clear as he remembered where he was and why he was there.
“You know me?” He asked hesitantly, barely daring to hope. Was that his name? Did he finally know? It didn’t feel like it…but maybe that didn’t mean anything. Someone had recognized him!
“Well, yeah… we uh, we used to go to the same church. It’s me, Brian. I mean, it’s been a few years but…wow, what the hell happened to you? Your wife said you’d left for good.”
Daniel felt his chest clench and ache, an unblinking gaze settling with the man as if salvation itself were upon his shoulders. He had friends? A wife?
“I have a family?” He asked quietly, barely able to push the words past his lips. But it didn’t sound right. None of it was giving him anything, that odd feeling he’d get just wasn’t there, and he couldn’t hold onto it like he had the name of this place. What was missing?
“Well…you did, but…Christ, where’ve you been?” There was something on Brian’s face, something that made Daniel uncomfortable and nervous. He stood to his feet, letting his coat and pack fall onto the wooden slats of the bench as his focus centered entirely on the man before him.
“But what?” He asked sternly, trying to swallow down the lump that was forming in his throat.
“But…you know what, Jimmy. You left, and they…they were both killed. In that pandemic that went through here last winter. Your wife and your daughter died over half a year ago…I figured you knew. Or that you were dead yourself or something…”
Time felt like it was slowing down.
It couldn’t be right, there was no way. He’d known from the beginning that there was a ring on his finger, but there was no name inside, no inscription of any kind aside from a date. This was information that was unsettling, at best, but it didn’t drag him into it as his other clues had. The name, the place, the destination and the man in the truck…all of it had given him a sense that he was on the right path, but this…this wasn’t it.
“Amelia told me you had run off to South Dakota or something…is that where you’ve been?” The man pried, still somehow determined to figure out where he’d been for so long. Daniel felt bad that he had nothing to tell him, but it wasn’t until Brian had mentioned a new place that the feeling suddenly returned. As if his heart had just been waiting to hear something that it knew, even if it wouldn’t tell him what that was.
But he’d felt it again, that odd sensation that told him he’d heard a clue that should register recognition. Daniel surged forward and the man took a step back, startled by his sudden attention.
“Where? Where in South Dakota?” He asked fervently, his heart beating faster than it should, even as it ached for the deaths of those he should remember.
“Whoah hey! I-uh…I don-…maybe, I think it was Sioux Falls or something…maybe…”
Daniel smiled gratefully, feeling the energy pulse through his veins as, once again, something was named in particular that signaled the next step. He didn’t know what it was, but he was past caring so long as it took him where he needed to go.
He turned around quickly, grabbing his bag and rolling up his coat in order to reattach it to the top as quickly as he could, fingers fumbling with the strings.
“Thank you Brian. I may not be who you expected me to be, but you have helped a great deal.” He smiled honestly, walking up to put a solid hand on the shoulder of a friend he must have once had, but couldn’t even begin to remember.
Brian stared at him in startled confusion as Daniel turned to leave, everything he owned once again on his person and a new destination filling his heart.
“Hey! Not who I expected? Who are you then?” He called out, his voice flustered and shrill.
Daniel turned around as he continued to walk in almost a backwards jog, grinning again and shaking his head.
“I don’t know!” He called out, already glad of the distance between them. “But I know I’m not Jimmy.”
It amazed him, after awhile, just how much traveling he’d actually done over such a small area of the country. He’d generally stayed closer to where he’d awoken in Detroit than he thought he would, circling around the northern states from one major highway to the next.
Daniel hitched a ride as soon as he could find one, tempting fate by choosing a rig with a man dressed in leather that looked like he could crush his skull with a single hand if he wanted to. But Daniel had little other choice. The man, Travis, was heading to Rapid City on the opposite side of South Dakota and, as luck would have it, would be traveling right through Sioux Falls. For a few miles or so, Daniel couldn’t stop staring at the tattoo of a bloody barb wire that spelled out ‘Vigilante Justice’ around the circumference of his shaved head.
Travis said he’d lost a bet, and Daniel believed him.
Ironically, and completely disproportionate to his appearance, Travis was actually a great deal better company than Daniel could recall having lately. He wasn’t any older than forty, and he was good looking with old and new ink designs on tanned skin that disappeared beneath his dark clothes, each telling a story as they went.
He talked for a long time, and Daniel let him, listening to him speak of his travels and of his relatives, the money grubbing bastards he worked for and the damn politicians that ‘hadn’t done shit’ to clean up the mess from the war. Travis had been a marine once, a soldier, and said he’d seen things recently that would terrify the hell out of a kid like Daniel, so they were best left unsaid.
Daniel wondered why it was that nearly everyone seemed to feel the need to leave details unsaid.
And why everyone generally assumed he was younger than them. He certainly didn’t feel younger.
Travis liked to sing, and he was far better at it than anyone else he’d ridden with so far. His voice was soft and melodic and it relaxed Daniel so that he could finally unwind just enough to think about the last few hours and let things sink in.
It saddened him when he thought about the tragic fates of the woman and child. The wife and daughter that had been left behind as faceless victims long before a time that he could recall. He didn’t know if what Brian had said was true, and in his heart he could feel no attachment to them as he did to Dean, but there was sadness just the same. Condolences for an unpardonable neglect, be it by he or the universe itself.
He slipped off the ring from his left hand, twirling it for a moment between his fingers and watching the sun glint across the smooth gold. He knew it was something that was worth money, and could possibly buy him meals for a good while as well as a room with a bed for the night. He could sell it, but that didn’t seem right to him, nor did it seem right to keep it any longer.
Daniel slid down in his seat, propping one leg up in front of him as Travis continued to sing to some soft country song on the radio. It was peaceful, and he cherished every peaceful moment he was granted when he believed that things would only get more complicated from there. He stared at the ring for a second longer, before making the decision to reach an arm up and release it out of the open window.
It disappeared at 80 mph on the I-74 through Illinois. Just outside of Peoria.
Whatever had been left in Pontiac, if ever any of it was true, there was nothing left for him to return to.
And nothing left of him that was Jimmy.
The drive took nearly the entire day, but it wasn’t an unpleasant one, so Daniel kept his impatience as deep and minimally quiet as he possibly could. It wasn’t as if he even knew where to go once he reached Sioux Falls, but his luck had been good so far and he was trusting in that. A horrible thing to trust in, he knew, but he seemed fairly good at making it up as he went.
They cut straight across Iowa before bordering north right up along the edge of Nebraska towards South Dakota. Daniel had gotten so used to the level fields and flat land that were Indiana and Illinois that he was happy to see mountains when they crossed the border. He suddenly wanted to know what the rest of the states looked like, and wondered whether or not he’d get to see them once he’d found what he was looking for.
That single goal was beginning to consume him, but it wasn’t like there was much else. He had no identity, no records of ever existing aside from a single person that had called him by a name he didn’t recognize. He may as well have been from another country, or another existence entirely for how little impact he was in the world.
It made him feel small, but he didn’t mind that.
By the time they reached Sioux Falls he was exhausted and more than ready to get back on his feet for some well-needed moving around. Daniel had long since gotten used to traveling the roads, but didn’t like when he was forced to be still for so long.
Travis was the exact opposite, though he appeared only a few years older than Daniel himself, he had been driving for nearly his entire life by that point. Something he’d explained to him at great length with his first gas-powered vehicle being a tractor at the age of seven that he’d crashed into a barn.
Daniel had gathered his things together when they reached the familiar scene of a truck stop, before turning to give his single-ride friend a smile of appreciation for his kindness. As he did, he realized that the man was holding out a twenty dollar bill towards him, and it took him aback slightly.
“You’re gonna need it, Danny.” He said honestly with a kind smile, and although Daniel felt as if he’d given him enough already with the ride, he hadn’t eaten in more than twenty four hours. He reached forward for the offered bill, which settled into his fingers just as Travis’s hand moved to grip slightly around the circle of his wrist, and he pulled him forward.
Surprise kept him from reacting, since Travis hadn’t really seemed the type, but as his lips met Daniel’s there wasn’t so much fear as a rush of warmth shared between them. It felt like it was something being freely offered instead of harshly forced; something he could pull away from if he needed to.
Travis smelled of leather and gasoline, and tasted of coffee; and the entire sensation was enough to nearly make Daniel’s head explode as distorted imagery flashed behind his eyes at lightning speed. It was something that was so recognizable, so achingly familiar, that it hit him even harder than any other feeling he’d had so far. Not these hands, and not these lips, but the rushed and desperate need behind them that he knew he’d experienced before. Knew it, and had cherished it once, in what seemed like a long time ago.
Something he missed.
Daniel closed his eyes for a second, but only a second, taking in a deep breath through his nose and storing the memory so that it could never be taken from him again.
And then it was over, just as soon as it had started. Travis left the bill in his fingertips, the hint of the kiss still on his lips and startled wide eyes that gazed in surprise at the driver before him.
“No offense,” Travis said just after, clearing his throat for a moment. “just somethin for a cold night. I hope you find the guy you’re looking for.” He said it with a smile, and his eyes were just as honest as his words. He’d had no ill-intent in mind.
Daniel had blinked for a moment before nodding silently and recollecting his things. He opened the door to the cab and stepped out into the fading light of the late summer’s day, slinging his bag onto his back and turning to Travis.
“Safe journey, my friend.” He said up to him before he closed the door, and he’d meant it.
Daniel found himself in the middle of a city, but it wasn’t where he wanted to be.
There was something that didn’t sit right about being in such a large place with so many people, and he had the feeling that what he was looking for wasn’t even in the city itself anyway.
After getting himself some well needed food and then bartering at the local Salvation Army for a new pair of shoes, Daniel made his way out of the city limits by foot in order to get to more open countryside and fresher air.
His new shoes were fantastic, and it helped to keep his spirits lightened in what had otherwise been a rather good, if not surprising, day. The pair that Kiefer had given him were finally ready to be tossed, and Daniel had even been surprised to see the very large holes in the bottoms of them. He hadn’t removed his shoes for so long, for fear of losing them, that he hadn’t even noticed. The rubber bottoms were barely a centimeter thick in the soles and long past their expiration.
Walking was so much easier after that, and Daniel didn’t regret the money he’d spent.
Or the kiss to earn it.
Once outside of the city, he wasn’t sure exactly where to go anymore. There were other cities bordering around the area, but it very quickly became long stretches of farmland and wilderness that was a maze of country roads in and of itself.
He’d hitched a ride for a few miles out towards East Sioux Falls in a beat up, old brown station wagon that had seen better years and had once been yellow. Its driver was a young, black woman with braided hair who said her name was Liza, and she warned him that if he was going to be traveling around the area for long, he should always be wary of demons.
“Demons?” Daniel asked, slightly taken aback. That was a new one, though he wasn’t as surprised as he felt he should have been.
Liza nodded, her young face worn with unnamed hardships and it was hard to tell how old she was because of it. This was the face of someone that had looked death in the eyes but lived to fear it’s return.
“Demons, hon. There ain’t nothin more dangerous, or more scary, I can tell you that for sure. My entire family was killed cause of them bastards, and that was before the war ‘d even started.” There was a wild look to her eyes, and Daniel wondered if there really was any truth to what she said, or if trauma had pushed her further than she could return from.
“How do you know about this?” He asked softly, keeping the interest lingering. It wasn’t something he’d yet heard in all of his travels and knowledge of the war so far.
Liza laughed, but it wasn’t with amusement. “I ain’t had no choice! One minute I’m standin with my brother, doin what we do, and the next minute, it just ain’t him no more. His eyes went all black, like in the whites of them? And he came at me like I was the devil himself need to be killed. Ain’t no one need to see shit like that Dan…that just ain’t right.”
She shook her head, hands tightening on the wheel in her frustration and sadness. Daniel didn’t know what to say as he had no memories of what happened to share his own fate.
“You got family?” She asked, her smile returning, though it was a sad one.
“I don’t really know.” He replied, turning to catch her curious brown eyes. “Whatever happened…I don’t remember it. I woke up on the street at the end of last year and that’s all I have. Anything before that…is lost, I guess.” His words trailed off as he turned to watch the bright green trees pass quickly by outside his window. The heat of the sun was glowing off of the road and making it look like water in the air.
“If that ain’t the saddest thing…so what’re you gonna do now? My daddy may not have made it to better days, but he was at least kind enough to leave me a bit o’ somethin to live offa. You lookin for anyone here?”
Daniel shook his head turning back to her with a solemn expression.
“I honestly don’t know.” And there hadn’t been a single person he’d met so far that he hadn’t had to say that to.
It was a small, quaint town where he and Liza parted ways, her lingering reminder once again repeated into the air between them for him to be careful. She was genuinely concerned and truly believed that it was demons that had destroyed the very foundations of her lifestyle.
Daniel wondered if this was just how war looked to different people.
He kept himself as busy as he could for the week following, lurching into September with a hopeful heart but still with far too little to arm himself otherwise. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t know what goals he had, but that no one could see the images he could, or know the feelings he felt. He couldn’t just transfer that over to another person in order to get their help, so how did one explain to another what they were missing by any other way?
After nearly five days of barely affording food, he soon found himself a part time job working ‘under the table’ as they’d put it, in a bookstore at the edge of a group of country townhouses and apartments. It was decent enough pay, and so long as he wasn’t starving, then he could still get himself from place to place without too much concern.
Daniel had tried the motel room thing, just as soon as he’d saved enough, but he didn’t like it at all. Something about being confined to the small space and smelling the Cloroxed sheets had unnerved him, and he’d barely slept at all that night. The next evening he didn’t return to it, but instead found himself an abandoned fabric store that still had a good bit of its trash out back that was more cloth than waste. None of it had really molded, so it worked, and Daniel needed nothing more after that than his coat.
He’d curled up beneath it the next night and slept like a baby.
In the end, it saved him money anyway.
He was also learning a great deal from the store itself, finding that he enjoyed reading just as much as he’d enjoyed walking and wondered why he’d never tried it before. It wasn’t like the many places he’d been to hadn’t had libraries, he just hadn’t found the time.
Working in a bookstore, especially one in the country, had more free time available to him than he’d had in Detroit, so he was more than happy to fill it while looking through whatever he could find.
It wasn’t until he’d remembered Liza’s wise words, however, that he started leaning more towards the obscure books. They weren’t unpopular, as it seemed that there were a great many people in this part of the state that were talking about the war with the demons, but it didn’t seem like many people were all that apt to research them. Daniel wasn’t sure exactly what he thought he was getting into, but there was that lingering sense everyday in the back of his mind that this was something he should have known anyway.
That he was a part of it, no matter how human he believed himself to be.
The day that the elder mechanic in the ball cap came into the store, Daniel was crouched in the back with his knees pulled to his chest and a book held securely beneath his nose. He was eating an apple, his customary lunch that week, and although he’d heard the bell chime of someone entering, he didn’t realize that Kevin, his co-worker, had taken his break.
So he remained there in silence, more focused on the words beneath his eyes than the man who approached down into his aisle.
“Boy you are really into that book, aintcha?”
Daniel startled, nearly losing his apple as his back hit the wall and he stared up at the man in shock for a confused moment. He swallowed hard, glancing around the man’s legs to see the empty table before covering his startlement with a quick grin. He coughed unnecessarily and snapped the book closed.
“I apologize! I didn’t realize no one was up front to help you…” He pulled himself to his feet, placing the book back onto the shelf and dusting his hands off before moving to catch eyes with the older man. He stopped after a second, however, when he realized that the man was staring at him with a peculiarly odd look that didn’t seem rationalized.
“Is…is something wrong?”
And Daniel realized he had an odd feeling himself, even as he asked. That strange feeling in his gut telling him that there was something in front of his face that he should take notice of.
The man wasn’t as old as he appeared at first glance, but he was another one of the people that Daniel had seen so much of recently who’s scars were both inside and out as they bore years on their lives that they had yet to live. He had a mousy brown beard that matched his frown shaped moustache and there was faded grease up both of his arms that made it obvious he worked with something that required oil.
The baseball cap he was wearing advertised for one of the local bars just down the road, though what year it was advertising, Daniel couldn’t quite tell anymore.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” The man asked him with narrowed eyes, and although it sounded polite, there was a hint of distrust in his tone that put Daniel slightly on edge. He may have been taller than this man, but he was a far cry from having any muscled weight to throw around.
“I don’t…I don’t know.” He replied honestly, and the scrupulation was making him more and more uncomfortable. He tried hard to ignore the feeling that was almost starting to become painful in his gut, despite how much he still wanted to find another one of his missing pieces. If this was it, it was far more intimidating than he’d expected.
“I been comin to this store for well over twenty years now and I don’t think I ever seen you here. What’s yer name, kid?”
And there it was again, someone assuming he was a kid. It would be irritating if Daniel was actually bothered by it, but he ended up being more curious than annoyed. Did he seem that young to everyone else because he merely had less than a year’s worth of memories?
“I go by Daniel.” He stated simply, wanting very much to move around the this man instead of staying visually pinned to the wall in the corner of a store that barely anyone frequented at that hour. The interrogation he’d managed to slip into wasn’t going well so far.
“Go by? What’s that supposed t’mean?” The man asked, and Daniel swallowed hard, wondering if he was going to have a shotgun pulled on him at any moment. Was that something he could heal from as well? Just how much damage could he take before someone finally figured out how to kill him? That was a pleasant thought. And why was this man so familiar?
“It means that that is the name I respond to. I don’t know my real name.” His voice was stronger than he thought it would be and he took in a deep breath, moving to reach for the stack of books he was meant to be sorting before skirting quickly around the confused looking man. “Is there something I can help you with? I’m sure Kevin will be back soon if you’d rather-“
“Naw, s’ok kid. Daniel. I knew what I was comin in here for, you were just sittin’ on it.” He joked with a quick half grin that didn’t reach his eyes before he turned back into the aisle and disappeared down it.
Daniel stood and stared at the empty space for a second before busying himself as a distraction. There was still something he hadn’t done, something that this man represented that was his next clue, but he had no idea why. What was he supposed to do? Speak to him as he would have to one of his single-ride companions? Tell him the story and hope he had something to say back? How would that work with someone who came in to the store regularly?
He resigned with himself that if he pushed too hard, this would likely be the last day he’d work in that bookstore or stay in that place. Not that he’d grown all that fond of it sentimentally, but it was nice having so much freedom and not starving.
But Daniel was tired.
Tired of not knowing and chasing the tails of something that he knew was already in the back of his mangled and distorted head, but just out of reach.
He was tired of being lost.
The man returned to the counter after a few minutes, laying a book before him that had been one of the ones that Daniel had read earlier in the day. It was based around the occult of angels, and he had found most of it to be preachy and cryptically boring. What little had been good didn’t warrant the rest of it, in his opinion, but he kept it to himself.
“So yer new then, eh? Where you hail from?” The man asked conversationally, but Daniel could tell that his heart wasn’t in it. He was just trying to get him to speak.
“Lots of places, actually. I’m fairly nomadic.” Daniel replied, playing the game by his own rules as he gave the man a stern and cryptic look that told him he knew what he was doing. That only seemed to make the man more interested.
“Oh yeah?” And it didn’t sound like a question at all as simply something to fill in the last word. Daniel let him.
He rung him up for the book, taking the money owed and closing the cash drawer slowly as the man idly swiped a hand down the spine of it and glanced over the cover as if he’d never seen a book before. It was stalling, Daniel knew, and it was going to have to be now or never if anything was really going to be said before the man grew tired of trying and simply left.
He pursed his lips, taking a breath.
“May…may I ask…” And his words caught there, stumbling behind a hesitation that seemed to have developed since that morning. Or more specifically, since he’d met the man.
He raised a bushy eyebrow, obviously not in a hurry to leave.
“What’s up, kid? Ya know, I swear I’ve seen you somewhere-“
“Do you know of a man named Dean-?”
Daniel blurted it out quickly, and his sentence stopped short since it felt like he should have been saying a last name but didn’t really know it. He hadn’t even bothered making a last name for himself, he realized. It was a shot in the dark, but what else did he have left to ask? His entire existence seemed to center around finding the source of that name, at least until he could finally recall why it was that he needed to know it.
But the man’s expression changed almost instantly. Not to curiosity, but to annoyance and disbelief. Daniel very nearly held his breath, staring with an eagerness that probably did make him look like a child.
“Aw hell, ya kiddin me?” He exasperated, his hands falling to his sides as he seemed to glance up to the heaven’s themselves for salvation from that very question. “You ain’t no hunter, I can tell that just by the sight of ya…but, damnitall. Yer one of them hero worshippers, ain’t ya? Thrill seekers. I’ve shoved your ass offa the property before, haven’t I? Cause I know I’ve seen yer face…”
Daniel stared, wide eyed and confused, the conversation not going where he’d expected it to, even in the worst of scenarios.
“What? A…a hunter? No, no I don’t think so…and…hero what? I don’t…I-” He was unfamiliar with the terms, and fairly bewildered by the man’s rant. Did that mean that he knew who he was talking about? That, even though it was only a first name, there was recognition there?
“You damn, sonofabitch troublemakers have had it easy this far…” He practically growled as he pointed a finger at Daniel. “but if there happens to be a second time that I find the likes of you kids on my porch or in my garage touchin that car, I am coming out with a damn shotgun that ain’t gonna be rocksalt, I can promise you that…”
“How many times do I gotta tell you idgits that Dean and his brother are DEAD before you catch the damn hint?!”
And the world suddenly fell out from underneath Daniel’s feet.
He stared blankly, unable to breathe or think, as his hands moved slowly to the back of the table and gripped there as if that alone was keeping him standing.
Dead. So it was true. He really was gone.
The man he’d seen in his dreams since the first of his memories began. The man that had pleaded with him to return, to find him, to answer his prayers…
And Daniel had never felt so lost as he did at that moment, as the universe suddenly became much too big for him and he was far too small.
“Whoah…hey kid, you ok? Yer actually lookin kinda pale there…I seriously just don’t want you guys gettin hurt where you don’t belong. It ain’t a public memorial or anythin like they got in Lawrence…” The expression on the man’s face had altered completely as he stared at him, concern taking the place of his annoyance at whatever expression Daniel had. He didn’t know how to describe what he was feeling, there was just so much there.
And there shouldn’t have been anything. He was a robot, after all, who never smiled or laughed or cried.
“He…he’s really gone.” He almost whispered, releasing his shaking hands from the counter to hold them up in front of him just as he’d done when he’d last seen Kiefer. When he’d pictured what had been there so long ago as if it had just happened.
“I actually…I really did watch him die, didn’t I? I let him die…in my hands...two bullets through his chest and blood everywhere…” Daniel’s gaze was unfocused as he spoke, instinct kicking in when he wasn’t thinking about it and suddenly replaying something in his head that he hadn’t known existed.
It was a memory.
“What?!” The man said, louder this time, and he gasped with a sudden intake of air. A hand went to the man’s mouth and he stared in shocked realization at Daniel, shaking his head slowly.
“Ho-ly…you gotta be fuckin kiddin me…no wonder I recognized…Jesus fucking Christ…”
Daniel lurched forward, all of the blood drained from his face and the hope he’d been clinging to going out along with it. He didn’t care if he fell, didn’t care what he hit, considering it would probably just heal itself back up anyway so what did it matter? He wasn’t human.
The moment he’d started to fall forward, however, the man reached out a hand and grabbed onto his shoulder to keep him from going any further. It was a polite reaction, but touch was the last thing Daniel could deal with and it startled him back into a panicked and shocked awareness.
“Don’t touch me!” He jolted back angrily, knocking the man’s hand aside as he threw his arms in front of him. He practically doubled over as soon as he moved, feeling sickness rise in his throat with the spinning of the room. He fought to keep it down and breathe at the same time, blood and heartbeat pounding in his head.
The man’s words echoed through him, reverberating and destroying everything he’d dared to hope. He’d thought it was possible before; had feared it might be true and known that it was likely that the man was gone. But now, now actually hearing it, it was more than he could bear.
“Dontchoo EVER fuckin touch me!” He screamed at the floor, and it wasn’t his words so much any longer than the angry, drunken cries of the man that had once stabbed him. Lost, hurt, alone with the world against him, Daniel suddenly understood why it was that he had ever stepped foot in that community center to begin with.
All Daniel wanted right then was for someone to make it all go away. Go back to the way it was before he destroyed something.
“Whoah, whoah! Holy shi-…calm down! I ain’t gonna…don’t you know who you-“
But Daniel didn’t want to listen any longer. Couldn’t bear to hear the man say it all over again.
He fell to his knees and screamed.
And the windows of the bookstore suddenly all exploded outwards with a terrifying and ear-splitting crash of sound.
By the time Daniel recognized what was going on around him, he was more than a hundred miles away from Sioux Falls.
Chapter 3: 3
It was a day’s worth of travel before he realized what had happened.
Daniel sat forward in his seat, turning to take in the sight of an elder woman with tight, grey curls and a generally sour expression, that he only barely remembered asking for a ride from. Hadn’t really cared about the destination at the time. She’d agreed, and he thought she’d said that she was heading towards Oklahoma City, but he couldn’t quite recall.
It just hadn’t seemed important. Still didn’t, really.
She watched the road with her head tilted down as her thin rimmed glasses sat unused on the end of her pale nose. She also didn’t seem to be able to sit back in her seat.
He looked down between his legs and was thankful enough that he hadn’t been too out of it to forget his bag. It was nestled beside his ankles just like usual, the dark streetlamps of a recognizable highway setting passing by his window like drifting shadows of light. It was familiar, almost comfortable to him now.
He noticed his jeans were fraying; large, thinning strips of fabric stretched over his knees and showing through to scabbed and raw skin in more areas than one. Showing both their age and use after being worn nearly every day and only washed when he’d had the opportunity. Daniel wondered for a moment whether or not he’d be able to sew them if he needed to. Then he wondered if he would even know the first thing about sewing if he was handed a needle and thread.
He knew what it involved, knew what the components were, but whether or not the execution had ever been performed was completely hidden from him. Lost. If someone were to ask him if he’d ever sewn something before, he couldn’t even honestly say yes or no.
He shook his head in frustration, knowing he must have been on autopilot since the moment he’d fled from the bookstore.
Daniel was still numb, he could feel it deep in his chest, but there were worse things to feel. Worse situations to be in and far more dangerous places to be. This was something he knew, now. Something that didn’t require him being much of anyone but a nameless man bumming a ride.
He thinks maybe the woman’s name was Barbara.
They parted ways once the large rig had pulled into a rest stop on the edge of Edmond just outside of the city. Barbara hadn’t been much of a talker, and Daniel was grateful for his luck, as he hadn’t really felt like doing much talking in return.
He was ashamed of himself; for the way he’d reacted, for expecting more than what he’d already known, for hurting someone again. He remembered the look on the man with the ball cap’s face, the sound of the glass shattering and the wreckage he’d made of the store after only a small moment of releasing some of his grief. It had only been that little amount of what was hurting within, and look at what he’d done.
Whatever was inside of him, he couldn’t control it. It healed him when he was hurt and blasted out of him when his all too human emotions became too much. Monsters didn’t have emotions, it felt unfair that he should have to deal with both. It was a nuisance and a bother, and something Daniel wished he’d never discovered of himself. He wasn’t even sure, but was hoping that that was the extent of it and that there would be no more surprises than what he’d seen.
Something told him that he wasn’t going to be so lucky.
The less he thought of Dean, the better.
But he still had the same dreams. Still heard the voice calling to him, almost every night now, telling him he was missed and wishing for his safe return.
It was agonizing.
Once in Oklahoma City, it was obvious that as soon as he would need to leave from there, it would be more than easy to catch another ride. The city itself had become a center point for the wayfarers of the mid-west and all of those who’d survived the war without anything to return to.
What had once been a normal, large and bustling metropolis was now something that had nearly been decimated by fire, like a large bomb had been planted in the middle of the city the previous year and left to destroy at will. Now that it was almost a year later, however, those who had called it home had turned their want for justice inward and rebuilt a place that would enlist any and all who wished to help others across the country.
Trucks were in and out of the city constantly, like clockwork, taking both perishable and rebuilding supplies to nearly every state as it was needed on a twenty four hour clock. Daniel had never been treated so normally before as he had been shuffled in with the rest of the homeless that were there looking for work, or food or salvation. He’d been fed, offered a place to clean up, was well-treated, and was asked only for a bit of labor in return before he was sent on his way.
He’d seen the maps they used and the technology that was cataloguing and anticipating what was needed the most, where. Like a second form of government that had emerged by the people themselves who weren’t there so much to rule as they were to assist. The map had spread out from Oklahoma City like a spider web, reaching to every nook and cranny while even spreading up into Canada and down into Mexico. They were funded by themselves, because ‘themselves’ meant everyone.
If you had a contribution, you gave it; if you needed one, you were given it.
It was a good place to be, so involved and busy with everything happening at once that he didn’t have the time or distraction enough to think about himself.
All Daniel had to give was whatever he could do with his hands, so he did so without question. It felt good to work hard labor and to do as he was told, working to load and unload the trucks and replenish the supplies as they came in and out. Payment in that place wasn’t so much money as a barter, and that made it easier for those like him who didn’t have coin so much as working hands.
He’d have stayed under any other circumstance, but lingering in a single place had been bad luck for him twice now. Daniel didn’t make friends so much as acquaintances, and it wasn’t so difficult to say goodbye to them.
He felt guilty when he thought about what poor Kevin would have returned to with his bookstore windows now in ruins. He’d been grateful to the man for the job and spent more than a few lunches with him. Another friend left behind in disappointment. Daniel wondered if this was something he’d done to people before all of his memories were gone, or if it went hand in hand with his curse.
As soon as he informed the other workers that he was leaving, and that his position was open in the truck garage at his departure, it was filled just as quickly, and the cog kept its turning pace.
It made him smile, the first time in two weeks, watching what was happening in this place and how these people were making the most of themselves after such a costly tragedy. They hadn’t folded, they hadn’t sat alone and cried for someone to help them, they’d helped themselves.
He greatly disliked that he continued to miss someone that was long since dead, and tried hard not to think about it.
The first truck he came upon ended up being the best one. Daniel met and befriended the smiling and joyful ‘Mama’ Molly on her way to take water and food out to Little Rock, Arkansas then Memphis, Tennessee. She was more than happy to give him a lift, especially since he didn’t mind where he was going, and she had a motherly sense about her that put Daniel at ease. He was grateful for a smiling face.
The trip was uneventful, and despite the fact that they could have parted ways in Little Rock, Daniel stayed with her until they reached Memphis. She had so much happiness that it was hard not to be happy with her. She’d survived the war barely, ‘by the skin of her teeth’ after she’d been possessed by a demon and forced to watch herself do the most terrifying and inhuman things she’d ever seen.
Daniel still wasn’t sure what to make of the demon theory, but there had been so many people in Oklahoma City that swore by it. Enough so that it felt silly to even attempt to ask otherwise. He didn’t know what he was meant to be believe, but considering the things he was witnessing in himself recently, demons and demonic wars may not be as impossible as he once believed.
Molly had been pregnant at the time she was possessed, and the demon riding her had cut out her child prematurely to use as a sacrifice of some sort. To use its blood and summon others. Daniel had gazed at her in horror, even as she showed him the jagged scar across her belly that looked like something out of a nightmare. She didn’t know how she’d survived it, but she had, and she thanked God and all his angels every day that she’d been blessed enough to keep on living.
“How do you smile after something like that?” Daniel had asked her, weariness and grief creeping up on him again after such a disheartening story.
But she’d simply laughed, shrugging her thin shoulders and tossing her messy black curls back behind her lean neck.
“You find something better, Daniel. There’s always something better. What’s done is done, and nothing you pray for or hope for will ever change that. God don’t work that way. He gives you little hints, something to work with so that you can earn it back on your own. Even if what’s in front of your face is telling you that nothing will ever be good again…you gotta watch for those clues, and find something better.”
She’d ruffled his hair, but it didn’t do much more than shift it from one messy direction to another.
He liked Molly.
After Memphis, Molly decided she was going to take a quick run to Birmingham, Alabama to meet up with some relatives of hers and take them back with her to Oklahoma City. She called it Home Base, something that Daniel remembered hearing every so often by other truckers on his journey in the northern states, but hadn’t known what the reference was.
He decided to stick with her until then, where he’d be able to find another ride and possibly make his way into Georgia or the Carolinas. There was no feeling in his gut anymore telling him where to go, and he’d already been given the answers as to what had become of the man he’d been missing, so it was random pickings from there on out.
Daniel had no memories of being on the East Coast, so he figured it was a good a time as any as the seasons were swiftly changing from summer to fall. It was mid-September, and he could hardly believe that he still didn’t have more than a year’s worth of memories from when he’d started.
It felt like a lifetime instead, yet still managed to feel stiflingly limited.
There was something building inside of him that he refused to allow out. A grief he had yet to manage or express now that he knew for certain that Dean was gone. He didn’t want to experience that grief, didn’t want to acknowledge it was even there, so he shoved it down as far as it would go.
It didn’t help that the repeating dreams with Dean had stopped a few days after Sioux Falls. The voice was gone. No more pleas for help, no more asking why he’d left. And in return, no more answers.
They’d just passed the border from Mississippi to Alabama on the 78, Molly’s voice raised high in off-key song as Daniel tried very hard not to laugh at her.
She’d been kind enough to ask very little of him after the first few questions had been so difficult. She’d seen enough to know when someone was having a hard time facing their own story, so she didn’t pry. He wondered how long it had taken her to become so comfortable with herself again. There would always be scars, he knew, but her outlook was enough to give him just a bit of his hope back.
Humans were resilient creatures, and so was he.
They were startled from their musical interlude, however, when one of the rig’s back tires suddenly exploded, going off like a bomb that was loud enough that Daniel actually ducked in his seat.
Molly grabbed tightly to the wheel, the muscles of her arms tightening with sheer stubborn willpower in order to keep the entire truck from swerving too much through the wreckage of flying rubber and debris. As quickly as was safe, she maneuvered her truck with enough skill to get it pulled over to the side of the road, Daniel’s head vibrating painfully as eight of the wheel’s jarred over the rumble strips on the edge of the highway.
They came to a stop, and Daniel gazed around with wide eyes, unsure of both what had happened and what he was supposed to do. He’d been in only one other truck with a blow out, but that had been only briefly and he’d been told to stay in the cab and not touch anything. It had been just as loud, but there’d been more people traveling that highway than there was on this one. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since they’d been passed by another car.
It was nearing dusk and the road around that area was obviously ill-kept and lined with autumn painted trees. There was an exit sign he could see that pointed towards Hamilton, but the sign was half broken, burnt and spray painted with ‘POPULATION: DEMONS’ across the front of it. Whether or not that was accurate, he wasn’t sure, but it was hardly comforting.
Molly let out a small laugh, more out of relief than amusement.
“Well don’t that just tell all? It’d be my luck, right? Good thing you’re here, I’m bout to pull on my big girl panties and change a tire. Wanna help?”
Daniel had smiled and nodded. He liked the way she spoke to him.
They both pulled themselves out of the cab, Daniel stepping to the shadowed ground on the opposite side just as he heard a cry suddenly come from the driver’s side. He spun on his heel, turning back to look into the cab, but Molly had already shut her door.
“Molly?” He called out, moving in a quick jog to round the front of the ticking truck engine and get to where he could see. As he got around it, his eyes widened to take in the sight of five other people that were suddenly standing beside the trailer, all somehow appearing out of nowhere when he’d seen no other vehicles pass that way. He slowed his gait in confusion, coming to a stop as his eyes caught sight of Molly being held menacingly with a knife to her throat.
“Hey there Danny boy.” Came the voice of the man at their head, and it made Daniel jump to hear his name. His eyes were as black as the night and his gaze menacing. He was dressed as if he should have been riding on a motorcycle, or in a truck with wheels three feet off the ground. But there were still no other vehicles.
Four men, one woman. Appearing completely out of thin air.
“How do you…”
“Oh I know who you are. Or who you think you are. I get the newsletter.” He sneered, eyeing Daniel slowly from head to toe as he licked his lips. It sent shivers down his spine and he couldn’t help but stare at the soulless eyes in front of him. Was this actually happening?
And they laughed, each and every one of them. They all looked so different from one another. Different skin, different ages, different styles of clothing. Like they’d been plucked out of their distant homes and pulled to that location in the middle of whatever they’d been doing. He wondered just how far off the truth he was.
He felt his fingers clench into fists, both in fear and a revulsion that he couldn’t explain.
“Oh you got that right, Danny. We may not have won the war, but there are battles that will never be over. Especially when the likes of you are still down in this shithole trying to be human.” The man tilted his head to the side in a verbal challenge, and Daniel swallowed hard, unsure of what he was supposed to do or say. What could he possibly do against a batch of demons? Scream at them? He didn’t want to hurt Molly…
“I don’t know what you’re-“
“Oh I know you don’t. That just makes it more fun. I’ve been dyin’ to get my hands on one of you for centuries now. It don’t make a difference whether or not you know what you are.”
Daniel bristled, taking a step forward with his hands pulled into fists in front of him. He was pretty sure he didn’t know how to fight, not effectively anyway, but the threats to Molly and himself were uncalled for. What was he talking about?
“Stop saying that! Let her go! She’s got nothing to do with me or any of you!”
He wasn’t sure where the bravery was stemming from, but he was suddenly glad it was there. Molly didn’t deserve to go through this all over again, not after she’d worked so hard to pull herself to her feet. Not after what she’d already lost.
The man sneered unmercifully, turning to glance at the quivering woman who’s wide, green eyes were darting from demon to demon with unbridled fear. Daniel didn’t blame her.
“Whelp, the lightbulbs got a point, don’t he guys?”
They laughed again as Daniel watched between them, wondering what was going on and what he was missing. There was no way it was that easy, something was wrong. He didn’t have time to think about it for too long, however, as the demon girl suddenly released Molly and pulled the knife from her throat. She staggered forward a few steps, her hand moving to the tender skin before she didn’t waste another second in getting to Daniel’s side.
He held a hand up towards her, but didn’t touch, making sure that she was ok before glaring back at the group before him.
Just as he made eye contact, however, he realized that the man who’d been speaking to him was holding a gun, and it was pointed at them.
Before anything was said, it fired, and Daniel blinked, hearing Molly cry out and drop to the ground at his side as if it was all happening in slow motion.
He gasped in a breath of air, crying out her name before dropping down beside her on the dirty, hot asphalt of the road. He wasn’t sure what to do, hadn’t a clue how to perform any sort of medical assistance and definitely didn’t know what to do when someone had been shot.
“Two bullets…in the chest…blood everywhere…”
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut for a second, trying very hard not to scream. He moved quickly, getting Molly’s hands out of the way as she gazed up at him in shock and tears, and placed his hands down firmly on the wound. Something he knew out of instinct to do, it seemed, but not much else. The bastard had shot her in the stomach.
“Why?!” He cried out, keeping his hands on her but twisting his head around to glare at the menacing crew that were simply standing there and watching him. The gun was gone, so it didn’t look like they’d had any intention of shooting him too. What had been the point then?
“Why are you doing this? What purpose does it serve?!” His anger superseded his panic and there was an urge deep within him to reach out and grab a hold of each one of them, to burn out whatever evil it was that had nestled inside their human prisoners. He wanted to see them burn, and his blood felt like it was on fire.
Molly cried out beneath him, his hands tingling but still firmly held in place to try and stifle what was inevitable. There would be no help coming, and the road was desolate enough that they’d both be long since dead before anyone found them. There was no winning this fight.
“Cause I was bored, feather-brain. Why else do we do anything? You’re lost and she’s just another swipe on my bedpost to piss off the other side. Ya know, you’d think they’d have come back if one of their own had gotten left behind, but…” The man took a few steps toward him, his boots clacking on the pavement and his black eyes shining in the minimizing light. He crouched down beside Daniel, and it took all he had not to smash his fist into the bastard’s face.
“You really think you’re human, don’t you?” He sneered, and Daniel startled, his eyes widening.
“I am human!” He cried out, not sure anymore if he was going to curse or sob. Useless, so incredibly useless and small. An inconsequential vagabond who was left to forget the world just as the world forgot him.
The demon raised a curious eyebrow at him, his smirking face looking pointedly from Daniel down to his hands where he realized belatedly that Molly had stilled beneath them.
Daniel stared for a moment back at him before being unable to stop from following his gaze, fearing the worst. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do if he found her dead; another body helplessly falling victim to dying in his hands.
Someone else he couldn’t protect.
As he turned to look at her, however, he was surprised to see her staring up at him with wide, pain free eyes. The front of her thin shirt was torn, and covered in her blood, but she was taking slow deep breaths that should have been labored. She wasn’t cringing under his touch, nor was she trying to pull away. The color had returned to her face.
And she was staring up at him in absolute fear.
Daniel slowly pulled his hands up, the fingers curling and stained red as they shook nervously above Molly’s stomach. He swallowed, unblinking eyes trained on the wound that he’d tried so desperately to stifle and wanted so much to have disappear and go back to the way she’d been. Long, jagged scar and everything…
And it had. The wound was gone, and only the mess remained.
Daniel yanked his hands back as if he’d been burnt, falling back on his knees before shoving himself away entirely with an stifled cry. The demon man had moved out of the way, as if he’d known it was going to happen, but all Daniel could do was stare terrifyingly at what he’d done. What his hands had done; his power. His inhuman power.
Molly slowly pulled herself up onto her elbows, her eyes wary and distrustful as she moved a hand to her stomach and smoothed out the damp and ruined shirt over a wound that no longer existed.
“Get the fuck outta here, bitch.” The demon spat, walking up quickly to take a swift kick in Molly’s direction as if he was shooing a dog. It succeeded in getting her to move, the woman quickly climbing to her feet as she shook with nervous, almost laughing sobs. Her bright eyes moved from the demon, to his holstered gun, to Daniel, all without saying a word before she suddenly twirled herself around and ran for the cab of her truck.
The semi roared to life as Daniel stared down at his hands, the blood still so bright and new that was now the only evidence that anyone had ever been harmed on that deserted highway.
Or ever been healed by mysterious hands.
The truck pulled back onto the road and quickly ramped up to speed, even with the blown tire that was still scattered back behind them in frayed pieces. The road was long, and straight, but it didn’t take long for Molly’s rig to be nearly out of his sight.
He was glad of it. She didn’t need any more freakish ‘accidents’ in her lifetime. She needed to keep smiling.
“Hey…wake up there, lightbulb. You still with me?”
Daniel felt the boot shove into his leg forcefully, and cringed as it returned with a harsh kick to his side and sent him doubling over. He stared straight ahead of him, noticing that his bag had been tossed onto the road on the opposite side after Molly had gotten in. It struck him suddenly that it was probably the least she could do for him now, if he ever believed she’d owed him anything to begin with.
Shadows surrounded him, and he knew they were probably going to beat him senseless before they killed him. He knew how gangs worked and how bullies acted when their prey was down. Daniel was no stranger to being on the wrong side of a badly aimed fist or shoe, even if this was the first time he’d been ganged up on by more than three. It didn’t matter what species they were, mobs were all the same.
“Get away from me.” He growled, despair still on the edge of his voice as it boiled in the back of his throat like a tangible thing.
He was dragged to his feet suddenly, the man who’d shot Molly yanking him into his face close enough that Daniel could see the stubble of his chin and the freckles across his nose. It gave him pause for a moment, but the grip the demon had on him was starting to make him choke.
“You listen when I’m talkin to you you holy piece of-“
Daniel suddenly moved, a cry of outrage exploding from his throat before his hands moved to grip the sides of the man’s sun burnt face with a force enough to bruise. He wasn’t sure what made him do it, but there was a rage in him that was so deep, so righteous, that he was no longer going to tolerate having to bend to these creatures.
His fingers shook with a power he couldn’t control, and there was suddenly light everywhere that bore into the sides of the man’s head and straight into him, beaming out of his eyes, nose and mouth like a search light.
The man screamed, freezing in place just as the others did at the sight when he was no longer able to let go of Daniel. It looked like he was being electrocuted. He wasn’t sure what he was doing to him, but it sure as hell looked like burning from the inside out and he really didn’t feel all that badly about doing it. He cried out loud enough to match the demon, but it lasted for barely four seconds before the light was suddenly extinguished and the two of them fell together in a heap on the ground.
Daniel could barely hear, the blood thrumming through his ears like a drum beat as it amplified the sound of his fast beating heart. He was suddenly exhausted, trying hard to move and get himself off of the demon he’d just fried but barely able to even move. He opened his eyes just long enough to see that there were no other feet around him, and no other bodies waiting to scrape up what was left of him now that he’d ‘kicked the crap’ out of one of their own.
The saying made him smile, for some reason he couldn’t recall.
They’d all run for it, and his smile became a laugh, the sound shrill and manic in the fading light of the sun as Daniel was finally able to roll himself off of his attacker and fall face first onto the road.
The sound of his heart grew louder, and he thought it almost sounded like music before he blacked out entirely.
When he opened his eyes, it was just as dark as he’d expected it to be, but not as still.
He was on something with moving vibrations, and it took him a moment as he shifted around slightly to figure out that it was the familiar rumbling of an engine somewhere nearby. He was in, or on a vehicle, but it didn’t make sense because he was lying flat on his back and there was plenty of room around him. The vehicle wasn’t moving, but it was definitely on.
Daniel tried to lift his head, but it felt incredibly foggy and full, like it had been filled to the brim with water that he was trying with difficulty not to spill. Any other thoughts of moving shifted from his priority, but he wasn’t sure exactly what had been done to him to keep him so immobile. It didn’t feel like he was tied down, or held beneath anything but a blanket…but that didn’t make sense either.
He groaned, lifting a hand and dragging it slowly from beneath the blanket up towards his head. His face felt strange; in fact, his entire body felt strange. He could feel heat on his stomach, like he’d been sitting in the sun for too long, but at the same time he was incredibly cold and it was making him shiver from the inside out.
“Shhh…easy. Don’t try to move just yet.”
The voice was soothing, but Daniel jumped as he heard it with the memory of what he’d just faced still fresh in his mind, along with the gushing of Molly’s blood. He cried out, trying to pull himself away with the sudden fear that quaked him, but the hands upon him were currently stronger than he was, even if they didn’t really feel it.
“Whoah, it’s ok. Hey, hey it’s alright. You’re safe. No more demons…” The voice spoke to him as if they were reading his mind, and Daniel squinted into the dark, trying to see who it was that was reassuring him. Had they done something to him to make him feel this way? It felt horrible.
“No more demons, ok? You’re sick. We found you, but you’re sick and you gotta work on getting better before anything else. You’re safe.”
It was exactly what he’d needed to hear, speaking for the sake of speaking in his benefit, and despite the fact that his body continued to shiver uncontrollably, he was too exhausted to keep fighting. He wanted very much to turn onto his side, to curl his knees up beneath his jacket and sleep until everything was ok again, but the hands wouldn’t let him move.
Daniel didn’t have it in him to argue, so he went back to sleep.
He was sure that there were other times that he could barely recall being conscious, but it was all jumbled together and disjointed. Hard to make out around the miasma of fog settling over his skin and dwelling within him.
A lamp had been turned on, and despite the fact that the light was low and muted, it still hurt his eyes, so his vision was limited before he’d pass back out.
It was still something he wasn’t sure was actually happening or a dream.
He recalled seeing at least two people; a teenager that looked like he was almost the age of being a man, and then a young boy, both with highly freckled faces and clipped, messy auburn hair, who seemed to take turns looking down at him in concern. He wasn’t sure why they were so worried about him, and he thought he was speaking but he couldn’t remember what he said.
Then he saw what he knew was Dean, the man without a face. Hands reaching toward him with fingers outstretched in a way that was strained, but just not close enough to touch. Daniel tried to call his name, but it was also taken from him. Stolen straight from his lips just like the rest of him had been stolen from his head. He was empty and confused, his heart aching for the source of a name he couldn’t say.
Nothing was making any sense, and Daniel pleaded with anyone who could hear him to stop letting him dream.
The next time he opened his eyes, the lamp was off, but it was a little bit lighter around him, and his head didn’t hurt as much.
The world was a faded grayish-blue, when it was still too early for sunlight but dawn was breaching into the night sky in order to ward off the darkness.
He tilted his head to the side, licking his dry lips before his eyes caught sight of the young boy he thought he’d seen earlier, who was now sitting cross legged beside him and staring intently at a small console in his hands. He was pressing the buttons with purpose, and Daniel thought that maybe it was a game of some sort before he suddenly coughed, and after a moment the movement caught the boy’s attention.
He glanced up at him, setting the console down and giving him a soft smile before he scooted forward and placed his hand on Daniel’s forehead. He closed his eyes as he felt the cool skin of the boys hand, and it was soothing. He wasn’t sure why he was so hot, but he assumed it probably had something to do with someone telling him he was sick.
Daniel had seen his fair share of sick people, but this was a first for him. Another first, among a list of many that he’d had no preparation for or previous knowledge in recognition. He wondered if his family had ever cared for him while he was sick. Whether he’d had a mother or a father to keep him safe until he was well again.
The boy removed his hand before looking down at him with the same soft smile again, and Daniel turned his head away to let out a short string of painful coughs. He groaned and licked his lips, hating that his mouth was so dry.
“Thank you…for your help.” He said softly, his voice graveled and deep, barely sounding like what he was used to. “But if I could bother you for some water…” He trailed off, losing the will to continue halfway through as his lips felt numb and painfully dry.
The boy stared down at him in confusion, swallowing hard as his fingers twitched before finally standing to his feet and quickly walking away.
Daniel shifted himself, watching the boy leave and tilting his head to follow the motion as he finally took in what was around him.
He was in an RV. A mobile home that was almost like a small apartment that moved around like a truck would. He’d seen them before, but had never been in one, being told that it was a vehicle for families and it was highly unlikely for them to pick up hitchhikers. Especially from someone who looked as he did, from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ as Liza had once put it.
He was on a small cot, mere inches from the ground with another small bed up beside him and a visible, short kitchen cupboard just beside his feet. So it wasn’t one of the really large ones, but had plenty of room to stand up and move around.
If Daniel hadn’t felt so bone achingly terrible, he’d have been curious enough to explore it.
His gaze fell to the boy once again, who was standing beside what Daniel assumed was his older brother and moving his hands. The elder of the two was driving the vehicle, his lean and freckled arms barely visible in the slowly increasing light, but he was looking back and forth between his younger brother and the road.
Daniel watched them, something feeding him information of their quiet conversation but not being able to think straight enough to process what was wrong. He could hear it in his head and see it with their hands, but couldn’t really hear their voices speaking. The younger one was asking for his brother’s help to figure out what it was that Daniel needed. The elder shook his head, keeping his eyes more on the road than his sibling.
It wasn’t until the elder brother actually spoke that things made more sense, and it made Daniel jump slightly. He wasn’t sure what had just happened.
“I can’t do both! You figure it out!” And that had ended the conversation as the younger brother looked at his sibling in frustration and stamped a foot. He turned on his heel, moving to pad softly back towards Daniel in his socked feet and too big clothing. Kneeling beside him, he gave Daniel a curious look, as if he was expecting him to say something, and that he’d have to pay really close attention this time.
Daniel swallowed hard, trying to move the sand in his throat but unsuccessfully. Something was registering in the back of his mind that this boy had another language, but not a spoken one. Without thinking about it, Daniel pulled his arm up slowly from beneath the blanket, hating how sluggish and uncomfortable he felt in his own skin. The boy tried to stop him at first, but paused when Daniel pressed his thumb and pinky finger together, making a double-u shape with his fingers and moving them to tap his first finger against his chin.
The boy stared at him wide eyed, a large smile suddenly stretching across his young face before he nodded and practically leapt to his feet to stand on tiptoe and reach for a cup at the sink.
Daniel gladly worked with him to sit up slightly as the boy helped, and was even more grateful that the boy held the cup as they bounced around whatever road lay beneath them that he couldn’t see.
Feeling slightly better, he pressed his finger tips flat to his chin before moving an open palm towards the boy, letting his hand fall back to the blanket afterwards at the child’s glowing smile.
“Thank you.” Daniel said, and drifted back to sleep.
A crash of sound woke Daniel again, and he blinked groggily as he noticed that the interior of the RV was now filled completely with dull light.
It was muted only by the windows, but he could tell that it was somewhere near mid afternoon. Everything was much clearer than it had been and he didn’t feel like his head was going to drop off of his neck anymore. A glass of water had been set beside him, and the engine to the RV was off, stilling the room around them as if it really was just in a building somewhere. It was oddly surreal.
He shifted himself upwards slowly, taking each motion cautiously just in case that awful feeling decided to simply come back without warning and hit him again. That was something he hoped he would never have to repeat, even after the rare experience of someone taking care of him. It didn’t matter, no amount of special care in the world was worth feeling so awful.
Movement caught his eye, and he looked up to see the elder of the two brothers moving to set something into the sink nearby. The sound was a clang that shifted the dishes inside and answered what had previously awoken him. He turned to look at Daniel in slight surprise, wiping his hands on loose fitting jeans and moving to his side.
“Hey, you’re awake. How’re you feeling?”
Daniel pursed his lips, leaning forward with his hands settling in his lap before he looked around cautiously, glad that the dizziness was gone enough that he could do that.
“Much better, thank you.” He responded softly, one hand moving to wipe at the fuzz lingering in his eyes.
The boy nodded, a small smile on his face, but it looked almost forced. Like he wasn’t used to it, or hadn’t done so in a long while.
“So you can hear.” He stated, matter of factly. “Shannon said you were signing to him earlier, but I think he was seeing things.” The smile broadened, and Daniel assumed that it was because he was speaking of his brother. There was a slightly familiar warmth there, something barely lighting within him like it was the memory of a memory and all he was allowed was the feeling it produced.
He wasn’t sure what to say, however, as he didn’t know what the boy meant.
“My little brother. The scrawny redhead you’ve seen crawling around here with that DS of his. We’ve been taking turns watching over you, you had a hell of a fever there for a few days, but I think it was just the normal stuff. Not like that demon flu or anything…” He trailed off, and although there were quite a few things he was saying that Daniel didn’t really understand, the message still got across. He’d gotten used to that, and was resigned to the fact that there would be many things he may never understand.
“My name is Daniel.” He said instead, leaving the horrors unsaid between them.
“Sam.” The boy grinned, his smile much brighter than it had been before. “And this is our home.”
He felt like the name the boy said should have meant something, his eyes narrowing for a moment as the feeling grew at the sound of how he pronounced it. But it was only for a moment before it was gone again. Daniel took in a slow breath.
“I appreciate what you’ve done. I don’t know where I would be now if not for your kindness. Can I ask where we are?”
Sam laughed, almost in disbelief.
“Wow, you’re like, really polite. We’re in Fort Collins, Colorado. My brother and I are on our way to Wyoming. Just another stop on the long line of the new Trail of Tears, right? There’s a school there that I’m gonna take him to so he can get the help he needs.”
Daniel listened carefully, filtering through what he did and didn’t comprehend. He’d once been close to the eastern coast, but was now a good distance to the west in a state he’d never been in. It explained why the air was so dry and why he had to take deeper breaths to get in a lung full. Someone had told him once that Colorado was all mountains and the air was thinner. It was also a bit cooler than he’d been used to recently.
But he didn’t understand what it was that they were traveling to. A school he could understand, he knew that children attended them in order to learn from their elders, but had he missed something?
“Why? Is something wrong with him?”
Just as he asked, the door was suddenly wrenched open and Shannon came bounding in, his hair lit up to almost a fluorescent red by the light of the sun. He pulled the door closed behind him and greeted them with a large, toothy smile.
Sam made a strange noise and Daniel looked back at his expression of disbelief.
“Wow, you must have really been out of it, you kidding me? Shannon’s deaf. He can’t hear a damn thing.”
Daniel tilted his head slightly, eyes moving from one brother to the other as Shannon suddenly lifted his hands up and started to move them.
It was effortless, something that he didn’t even need to think about as his eyes watched the motions and read them as if he was reading from a book. Shannon pointed to Daniel before dragging his middle finger up the center of his chest, eyebrows raised in question.
Daniel gave him a small nod, giving him a thumbs up and touching his fingers to his chin before offering the open palm. All while speaking at the same time.
“Much better, thank you.” He repeated, saying the same thing he’d said to Sam.
“Hey!” Sam said, his hands suddenly moving too, now that his little brother was in the room. “You said you didn’t sign!”
Daniel shook his head in confusion.
“I said nothing. Is this what you meant?”
“Well, duh. How do you know how to do that?”
“That. Sign language. Talking with your hands. Communicating through motions. The thing you are totally doing, like, right now.”
Daniel looked down at his hands and it was as if it was just occurring to him that he was doing anything different. He paused, looking down at himself before looking back at Sam with wide eyes.
“I don’t know.”
Sam and Shannon had been traveling for nearly a month on their own. Another broken family that had lost what was important to them, while realizing what was important at the same time.
They were nearly eight years apart, looked very much like each other, and took care of one another rather fiercely. Especially with the ‘disadvantage’ that wasn’t a handicap so much as it was a bother to everyone else, they said. Because it didn’t bother the two of them one bit.
Daniel didn’t know how to explain why he could understand them, or how he knew the things he did about ‘sign language’, but it was just going to be another one of those things. The two had been traveling from Florida to the opposite side of the country with the only home they had left and each other. Everything else, Daniel assumed had to be left behind.
He found that he was fascinated with the way they dealt with one another. He hadn’t had much interaction with families or children aside from what he’d seen at the community center, and that had been from a great distance. They annoyed and relied on and loved each other all at the same time, and it was dizzying to try and comprehend how that worked.
Maybe he’d had a brother, or a sister that couldn’t hear. A child who couldn’t, perhaps. He still didn’t see much association with the child that Brian had mentioned of Jimmy’s, but that didn’t mean that one didn’t exist somewhere. Or that he’d lost it all in the war just as everyone else seemed to have.
What he did know, was that he was alive, and feeling much better now that whatever had ailed him had run its course.
He was trying with great difficulty to ignore the nagging feelings that kept creeping up on him, however. Those reminders and memories of the horrors that had taken place on the deserted highway in Alabama. When he’d asked Sam about the man that he’d been with on the road, he’d shaken his head with an unreadable expression, lips pursed. It was enough for Daniel to know that the man had died.
Whether or not it had been by his hands or the demon inside him, he would never really be sure, and it chipped another bit off of the humanity he was desperately clinging to.
The boys had somehow blessedly grabbed a hold of Daniel’s backpack when they’d picked him up, and he couldn’t believe how far his luck had gone with it. All of his life was within that small, fraying satchel, and it had been more or less the equivalent of security to him. It was the only thing he still had from Detroit, and inside were the only things he’d kept from his previous life.
The life he didn’t remember; where he wore a casual suit with a tie and a tan trench coat overtop.
He left them in the bottom of his pack where they’d been since the day he’d put them there, choosing instead to pull out the worn and faded map that had been his traveling companion since the beginning. The boys were both outside of the RV, Sam with the keys of course, and were getting some well needed exercise according to Shannon.
Since Daniel was still recovering, he’d vouched for staying where he was for a day more, hoping that the queasiness would leave him now that the fever had and he’d be able to eat normally again. At the moment, he was enjoying the luxury of saltines and Gatorade, and hating every second of it.
He unfolded the map on the floor in front of him, watching as his entire world opened and with the colorful sections of the United States lingering beneath him. There were lines drawn over a great deal of the major highways, all that he’d traveled down, and he pulled out a marker from his bag in order to finish the line he’d started with Molly.
It saddened him for a moment when he thought of her, and how she must picture him now, but he was more concerned that she be safe than what she thought of her strange companion. He hoped she didn’t think ill of him, though he had essentially saved her life, he hadn’t meant to and especially hadn’t meant to scare her.
It was an odd sensation, knowing what he could do without actually knowing it at all. Like watching his reflection move in a mirror when he thought he was standing still.
He focused back on the map, realizing that he wasn’t really sure what roads Sam took in order to get them there, and it wasn’t like he remembered the journey anyway. He circled Fort Collins instead, scribbling in their first names as small as he could and leaving it at that. Each of the drawn lines had a name on them, but it was only ever a first name and nothing more. There were hundreds of them.
Daniel placed his finger idly on the map, pointing to Denver which was the closest large city before following 70 back towards Kansas and the direction he’d originally been heading. He had no real interest in going to Wyoming, so once he was back to himself again he would part ways with the brothers and had told them so.
They knew that he was missing the memories of nearly his entire life and that he was on a search across the country to figure out who he was. It was a broad description, but it worked, and they seemed to accept it without asking anything more.
Nothing was ever asked about how they’d found him, or why he’d been covered in blood. Daniel almost didn’t want any memories back of this horrible war if seeing and accepting something like that had become the norm.
He’d offered whatever he could to them in exchange, but neither of the boys had let him do anything aside from take up space. There was something about being able to help him, being able to treat him and have him get better with their help, that meant the world to them.
Daniel could respect that.
His thoughts derailed slightly just before he got his finger across the map to Kansas City, silently reading a city name that suddenly made his stomach curl in slightly in a way that had nothing to do with being sick.
His finger had stopped on Lawrence, Kansas. A small city that was in between two large ones on the I-70 that shouldn’t have meant much of anything to him. But it had, and he stopped for a moment to run through what he might possibly know. Was he still getting those feelings after all? That he should be doing something, or there was still something he’d missed?
His eyes narrowed, and he thought back to recent events. The demons in Alabama, nothing really eventful or interesting in either Tennessee or Arkansas, the time he’d spent in Oklahoma…nothing was really ringing a bell. What was before that?
And then he remembered, an odd sensation when he’d been able to access so little else.
The man in the ball cap, when he’d been going off on his rant thinking that Daniel was just another fool who wanted to invade his privacy. He’d mentioned that there was no memorial at his place like the one that was in Lawrence.
A memorial to whom? To Dean?
The door opened and Daniel jumped, capping his marker quickly and placing it back into his bag. Sam walked up and into the RV, clicking the door behind him and looking absolutely worn out. He shook his head muttering irritatingly about annoying little brothers, and how he can never keep up even though he really isn’t that old, and shouldn’t be having these problems with a damn ten year old midget who thought he could take over the world.
It made Daniel smile.
“Shannon will probably be taller than you when he is older too.” He said, unsure where exactly he was getting his information from, but it sounded like it was correct.
Sam stopped and stared at him.
“What?” Daniel asked, unsure if he’d said something all that offensive.
“So you speak Spanish now?”
“When I walked in the door, I was speaking in Spanish, a language that isn’t English, and you understood me. How many languages do you speak, man?”
Daniel couldn’t reply with anything more than an ‘I don’t know’, as it hadn’t occurred to him that there was anything else being spoken but English.
Daniel said his goodbye’s the next day, still not feeling back to his old self, but glad enough to be back on his feet in general. Sitting around just didn’t work for him, as he’d rather be involved with something than sit on his hands and let the world pass by. It seemed like there was still too much left for him to do, so he made the decision to go.
He felt he would miss Shannon, as the two had enjoyed their conversations together and had shared a great deal. The child was only ten, but had more memory of his lifetime than Daniel did. It made it easier for him to ‘speak’ to him than anyone else he’d met so far, and their views on the world were actually rather similar.
It reemphasized to him why it was that people kept calling him ‘kid’, as that may very be the reason entirely. In a way, he really was one.
He refrained from touching the brothers as much as possible, be it by a hug or a handshake, or even passing something to them, Daniel was starting to fear what his touch would do to others. He didn’t like how skittish it was making him to avoid it, but the alternative seemed less likely if his power wasn’t invoked upon.
There was no anger he felt towards the brothers in the slightest, but the powerful vengeance that had built up within him at the sight of Molly’s bleeding stomach had fueled a righteousness that he couldn’t begin to understand the source of. He wanted to believe that he was still human, and in doing so, was ready to deny the strangeness in him as often as he possibly could.
But it was getting more and more difficult each time.
He didn’t know what he was going to find in Lawrence. But honestly, and since he really did have nothing more than a name and a feeling, he was hoping that since it was a memorial that had been erected there, maybe he would finally be able to see what Dean had once looked like.
Completing the only broken picture that seemed in his power to fix.
Chapter 4: 4
It was the first day of October.
It didn’t really seem like it was getting so close to the end of the year already, but the cool weather that was settling over the state of Colorado like a fog was hard to ignore. It was still fall, but areas like that, that were high elevations, had a tendency to be chilly mostly year round. Let alone when it even actually was winter and was covered completely in snow.
Daniel had no huge urge to see any more snow.
He did take the advantage of being able to wear his coat again, however, and wrapped the thick fabric over his cool skin as if he’d been waiting the entire summer to pull it comfortably back on. It still smelled of the detergent that Molly had offered him when they’d stopped for laundry in Memphis. Her entire life had been in the back of that rig, which consisted of about three times more than Daniel had, but it still wasn’t much. She’d had the kind of truck that you could sleep in the back of, which he had always been fascinated by but never really had the opportunity. That luxury was the driver’s, and the driver’s alone.
The road out of Fort Collins wasn’t all that busy, and there didn’t seem to be very many that would be willing to pick up a hitcher down that particular highway, so Daniel resided himself to walking. He didn’t mind, it gave him the excuse to strengthen what he’d lost after being sick for a week.
Which was also why he was more willing to button up his coat as far as it would go, covering his neck and allowing him a place to put his hands for warmth. If he’d learned anything else recently, he was certainly in no hurry to be sick again. That was an experience he definitely could have done without.
By the time he was able to find himself a ride, Daniel had nearly reached Denver, and he was absolutely exhausted.
It didn’t make much sense to him, especially since he had spent the majority of his time in the RV sleeping, why he could still be so incredibly tired. He knew he had pushed himself just a bit, mere days afterwards too, but he was hoping he’d be able to bounce back quickly.
Why his strange powers seemed to be so picky about certain things pertaining to his health and well-being, he wasn’t quite sure.
Daniel almost knew now that if he was to get severely injured, it would not be a wound that lasted for long. On the other hand, if he fell and scraped his knee, or fell ill to the elements along the cold, Colorado highway, that same power would do nothing but wait. It was weird, and annoying, and he wondered if he should start trying to figure out what kind of guidelines and specifics to watch out for.
Mean or hurtful humans didn’t send off warning signs, but demons definitely did. His body would heal itself without conscious thought, but he wasn’t so sure about healing others. It was plausible, but would it always happen by accident? He didn’t even want to think about testing that. He’d put his hands on Shannon’s ears just to see what would happen, but the boy had simply laughed at him as if he was playing a joke. He still heard nothing afterwards, but seemed perfectly content about it.
Daniel’s dreams made no sense anymore, but it wasn’t like they ever had to begin with. He could scream and cry out like any human, but it was only at the worst of his grief that his cries became a force all their own. Like something inside of him that had yet to be addressed but was still hurting so terribly much.
Daniel wondered if it was Dean’s death that had done this to him. If perhaps he was in shock of some kind.
But then he remembered that he’d awoken on the streets of Detroit with his head bleeding and that horrible ache every time he tried to recall something useful. He didn’t get headaches anymore, at least.
Or maybe he was just something else. Something that was human-like, but not quite. Who had been to war once, hopefully assisting on the side against demons, but had the advantage of special powers. Like one of the superheroes from Shannon’s video games.
The thought made him laugh. And as Daniel moved to pull his exhausted body up into the tractor trailer that had pulled off road to offer him a ride, he knew that that couldn’t possibly be right.
Superheroes didn’t get this hungry when they couldn’t afford food.
The man that had picked him up was named John, and he was on his way from Denver back to Home Base after unloading a very important shipment of supplies to northern Colorado.
He was a tall black man, with very large hands and a stern face that looked like he hadn’t accepted any sort of foolishness in his presence for as long as he’d lived. Daniel had accepted the ride gladly, despite first impressions, if just because he was so weary after an entire day of walking that he needed to sit down. John had assured him that he meant no harm, but that it was a now or never shot, and that was all the convincing he’d needed.
John wasn’t much of a talker, however, and Daniel was okay with that. Not everyone had a story they needed to tell. Sometimes, it was easier to understand them just by what they never said.
There was a long scar going from John’s hand to his shoulder, with names tattooed beneath it like they were cities on a map.
Daniel just couldn’t figure out how the man wasn’t as cold as he was.
Against his experienced instincts, he’d slept for a few hours at first, waking up only after John had pulled over for a pit stop in Colby to refill his truck’s tank and ‘empty his’. Daniel had taken the opportunity to stand up and stretch, refilling a water bottle and doing what Sam had instructed of trying to keep himself hydrated. He’d been convinced that that was why he’d had gotten sick in the first place by not taking care of himself, but Daniel didn’t want to think about the real truth of it.
Humans got sick, therefore, so did he.
There were a few families at the rest stop, and a great deal of cars where people headed in all different directions were taking the chance to relax for a few minutes. Daniel had always liked rest areas, where people of all ages, shapes and colors mingled around one another without ever knowing the destinations of the person beside them.
Sometimes people would meet there, sometimes people would be lost there. It was just a place where everyone came through and no one stayed. An oasis that offered more than repetitive music and cold asphalt to the weary traveler.
Daniel had been a weary traveler for as long as he could remember. Silent, and hidden save for the story in his eyes. He wondered how many others he might have passed by without knowing they were like him. It wasn’t like he advertised.
Daniel and John parted ways in Hedville, a few hours into Kansas, since John would be moving from the 70 to the 135 towards Oklahoma City.
He felt much better after sleeping a bit longer and had emptied his bottle of water dutifully just as he’d been instructed to do. So he was hoping that the extra rest and hydration would be more than enough to keep him on his feet for travel.
There was nothing to the town aside from a few gas stations and a tiny grocery store that was advertising whole pigs for sale. If there were any developments there, he couldn’t see them past the wall of trees on either side. He was in middle America now, where the fields stretched out as far as the eye could see and Daniel still couldn’t tell the difference between what was a corn field and what was soy beans. He’d never actually been told the difference, he just knew that it was the majority.
As he walked back towards the highway itself in order to find himself another ride east, Daniel was surprised to see that he wasn’t the only one walking that road.
Ahead of him, standing near to the exit onto the main highway was a young woman. She was standing with her side to him, staring ahead of her at the passing cars and holding out her thumb as he himself had done on such occasion. She was wearing a dulled, but warm looking jacket over her lithe frame, dark blue jeans that were spattered with mud and had deep red hair that fell just past her shoulders.
Daniel couldn’t help but stare as he approached, heading in that direction anyway and somehow curious since he hadn’t noticed her standing there before. She had a small bag that slung over her back with a rolled up blanket attached to the bottom of it, and he got an odd feeling that she looked almost like a mirror of himself.
He didn’t want to startle her, but it didn’t look like it mattered since she turned towards him as he approached and didn’t look concerned in the slightest. In fact, she smiled at him.
And she had a lovely smile.
“Hi.” She said softly, hazel eyes light and open in the mid-day sun. Daniel gave her half a smile, still wary of others on the road, but not completely terrified of getting attacked again. Demons could take any and all shape or form, but he didn’t want to go the rest of his life being afraid that it could be anyone. If he did, he’d never get anywhere or meet anybody.
“Hello.” He said simply, staying about five or so feet from her to be polite.
“Doesn’t look like much more than a one horse town, huh?” She stated, marking the obvious that he readily agreed. John had told him it wouldn’t be much, but he’d at least hoped for a truck stop of some kind so he could clean up a bit. He still felt like there was a layer of grime on him that only road travel had the ability to create.
“Agreed. Where you headed?” He asked, knowing it was a personal question, but it wasn’t like he was making her answer it. She grinned starting to take a step more towards the highway itself than being on the entrance ramp. Daniel moved to step with her.
“Oh, here and there. I’m not really that picky. Yourself?”
“Bout the same, actually. Although at the moment, I’m hoping to find someone headed towards Kansas City.”
The woman smiled, but her eyes were oddly detached from her expressions, like she knew all the motions but couldn’t put much behind them to show for it. It was strange, but Daniel had seen far too many people in that single year to have any right to judge. People-reading was something he knew well, but it didn’t necessarily mean he was good at it yet.
“Sounds like an adventure. My name’s Anna.”
“I like that name. You named after someone important?”
Daniel swallowed, giving her a small smile as he steadied himself for the blow. It never got any easier, explaining to people how little he actually knew of himself. Part of him wondered if he should just start making things up so that people didn’t feel so sorry for him. He didn’t want sympathy, he wanted answers.
“I’m not actually sure. It’s not really my name.”
“No, it isn’t.” She stated simply, her eyes moving over him as if taking in all of the facts by sight alone. “You don’t really look like a Daniel.”
That made him smile.
“What does a Daniel look like then?”
Anna laughed without answering, and there was amusement there, but it didn’t sound like her heart was in it. Daniel couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something he was missing, but too much had happened to him recently for him to sort it all.
“Are you lost?” She asked.
Daniel paused, his chest clenching slightly at the question as his eyes moved from her to the ground. He swallowed again, taking a deep breath and hating that it was something he couldn’t even hear without it reminding him of how small he was.
“Yes.” He answered. And something told him that she understood it had nothing to do with his location on any map. The more he walked with this woman, the more he felt like he knew her, and that didn’t make sense at all. He didn’t want to frighten her off by asking either, especially if that feeling was completely unprecedented.
“Well that’s not good. Anything I can do?”
“Not really, unless you can tell me what I was doing this time last year.” He gave a small huff of a laugh, adjusting his bag on his back and pulling up his collar. Even with the sun nearly at the highest point in the sky, it was still cold.
“Would that really do you any good though? I mean, it’s not like you could change it.” Anna said wisely, and it reminded him of the advice that Molly had given him.
A large tractor trailer went speeding past them, but didn’t slow down. Daniel watched it go with a weary gaze, wondering if he should pull out his map to find the nearest city. Small places like Hedville wouldn’t have food to offer someone as poor as he was, but bigger cities made it easier to find temp work. He couldn’t remember having to worry so much about being hungry a few months earlier, and it made him wonder what had changed.
“True. But it would tell me who I am. Aren’t we shaped by the actions of our pasts?”
“Yes. But that knowledge wouldn’t change who you are now, would it?”
Anna smiled at him again, and it struck Daniel just how odd the conversation they were having was. Something was nagging at the back of his mind that he should be paying more attention, but he was drawn in completely to staying just a few feet behind her. Like she’d willed him into it just for that very reason.
“What are you really looking for, Daniel?” She asked, stopping on the side of the road and turning to him full face. She was small, her head only coming up past his shoulders, but she seemed far bigger than he was for some reason. Like she knew everything he didn’t, but that he wouldn’t find out what that was unless he asked the right questions.
“Do you know me?” He asked instead of answering, before pursing his lips. It made his stomach curl slightly and he suddenly knew that he was on the right path.
“You do, don’t you. You were waiting for me on that entrance ramp. Who are you?”
Her smile was sad this time.
“A friend, someone who watches, but nothing more.”
“Are…are you a demon?” He asked hesitantly, worried that there were very little places for him to run if he needed to. The closest line of trees were nearly a mile away and the rest was open field. Daniel could see the makings of a storm starting to brew from the west, but there wasn’t much else around. He stared at her eyes with trepidation, as if they would go black at any moment.
“No. I’m not a demon, I promise. I’m not here to hurt you, just to help.”
“If you want to help me, than tell me what happened to me. Tell me why I’m like this and why…” He trailed off, unable to bring to voice everything that he’d been fearing. Why was he so different, why was he being punished, why couldn’t he find even a trace of the life he’d had before?
Why had he let Dean die?
The thought had been boiling to the forefront of his mind ever since he’d watched Molly stand up and run, in perfect health after being shot. After his hands had healed her and made everything bad go back to the way it should be.
If he could do that, then why hadn’t he done so when it meant the most?
“I can’t tell you.”
Daniel suddenly felt furious, the urge to grab a hold of Anna and shake her being very hard to resist as his trembling fingers clenched at his sides.
“Why?! What did I do? How much longer am I going to be wandering across the Earth wondering if I even belong on it?! Why am I still HERE?”
“Because the war is over, Daniel.”
He paused, his anger halting in the midst of his confusion as she stood so calmly and resolutely before him. He knew, now, that she knew who he was. Possibly where he came from and why he was there and what had happened, but it didn’t look like any of it was registering on her face anymore. Like she’d already known beforehand that he would demand it of her but that she would say nothing to help him.
It was so frustrating and terrifying at the same time, meeting someone who knew more about him than he did.
“The war ended. Angels, demons and humans battled on the Earth, and lots of people died, but the world went on. It always will and that’s just the way it works. Everything is the way it should be…everything but you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
Demons he’d seen, but there were angels too? Where were those angels when demons had attacked Molly? Where were they when he’d nearly been killed by them? Daniel’s arms twitched and he raised his hands slightly, reminding himself not to touch and hating that it was something he had to watch out for. Hating that he was different enough that he could actually hurt people without even thinking about it.
As if sensing his distress, Anna took a step towards him, barely a foot of space between them.
“He’s not in Lawrence, Daniel.”
Daniel’s breath caught, and he looked down at her to see the expression he hadn’t wanted to. To see that she felt sorry for him and that there was nothing she could do.
“I know that.”
“Then why are you going there? You want so much to be human, then live a human life.”
“It’s not a choice! I am human!” Daniel cried out, enraged with his fear and his misgivings and everything else that he couldn’t stop from bubbling to the surface. He was so sick of justifying that very thing, but he couldn’t stand the thought of being something else, something other, that the people around him might be afraid of.
Because if he was human, then being helpless would make sense.
Daniel jumped when he felt Anna’s hand on his cheek, but it succeeded in drawing his attention back to her. He felt like he was trapped there, and there was a power to her that was increasingly familiar. Like something inside her small, human form was calling to him. Singing, almost.
“Why was this done to me?” He asked softly. “Am I being punished for something I can’t recall?”
Anna shook her head, pursing her lips.
“The only one punishing you, is you. No one did anything, Daniel. You did it to yourself.”
Daniel felt his eyes sting, the clouds that he’d seen in the distance slowly covering more of the blue sky with an inky grey as they lit up behind Anna like fireworks. It was probably going to rain soon, a thunderstorm, and the traveler in him knew that he should find somewhere else to be instead of barely on an entrance ramp to the highway. He was going to need food soon too, and possibly a place to refill his bottle, just like Sam said he should…
“No, no Daniel, don’t do that. Don’t ignore it, don’t push it all down. You can’t keep running from this, or it’s going to overwhelm you.”
He shook his head, trying to physically pull himself back but being unable to. Daniel couldn’t deal with this, not after everything he’d seen already.
“I want to find my home.”
Anna nodded, her expression softening, changing slightly from compassion to determination as if she’d been waiting for him to say exactly that.
“And you will, as soon as you are ready to. But you gotta stop running.”
He couldn’t, it was all he knew and all he’d been able to do when nothing else had been provided. The knowledge was there, but the memory that should have gone hand in hand with it was missing. Or misplaced, or stunted somehow like it was on the other side of a wall that he couldn’t reach the top of.
Standing still meant heartache, and hurting people. Starving or freezing to death, just like Eaton had. It meant disappearing into the air like he’d never existed in the first place and there’d be no one left to remember him.
She leaned upwards on her toes, her head tilting slowly as she kissed him gently on the lips, just long enough for it to relax him slightly but not enough to mean more than that. He could tell she cared, even if it wasn’t the way he usually read people. She seemed otherworldly to him now, like something that was shining in the middle of a rolling fog. Still hard to see, but easy to follow.
“Just tell me if he’s really dead.” He pleaded, his voice breaking slightly. “Tell me if it’s true…”
She smiled, gazing at him for a quiet moment as if searching his eyes for something he couldn’t see. Then she moved two fingers to his forehead and planted them there as it forced his eyes shut.
A split second later, Daniel was standing beneath the carport of a truck stop, now thirty miles down the road and staring at the down pouring rain.
Lawrence, Kansas wasn’t what he’d expected.
According to the woman that had picked him up at the truck stop, Lawrence had once been one of the largest battlefield’s in the war. The third biggest of five, she’d said. So not everything had happened all at once, it had been a gradual rise from bad to worse to apocalyptic.
It had been an unwinnable war, she’d said. Between creatures that didn’t fall to guns, or knives or anything that any military could bring. They took you from the inside out and made you fight each other. There was no telling if the person next to you was actually on your side, nor if the person offering you safety had any inclination of the sort.
The entire year had, literally, been Hell.
Those who had fought on their side, fought for the sake of humanity, were called Hunters. They were the ones that had changed the tide of the war.
Not everyone knew, or believed this, because the majority was still apparently in denial. Barely a fraction of the population had actually witnessed the blood shed in their front yards, and how did you honestly explain to the masses that the world had been populated by angels and demons fighting for dominance? It was insane to even think it, but that was precisely what had been happening. Apparently for a long time, just building and building beneath their ignorant noses before it finally exploded.
She’d explained this all to him, and Daniel didn’t feel like he could deny it anymore. He’d seen and heard too much, and this was a world that involved him even if it terrified him. There was a truth that he was missing about himself, something that he’d once hoped would make him whole again, make him a person like everyone else.
But the truth was starting to become much more involved than he’d thought it could. Regardless, he still didn’t have anything to return to, so he kept going.
Like Oklahoma City, Lawrence was also a place where the residents had taken it upon themselves to rebuild and refit to structure their future. It was still in a long process of putting back together what had come apart at the seams, but it was progress and it was working.
In the center of Lawrence had once been the University of Kansas that had been ground zero of the battle and had taken the most damage. There wasn’t much left of the school. In its place was now a memorial of sorts, erected on behalf of those that had given their lives for the cause, or had lost them in the process.
Thousands upon thousands of pictures, flowers, candles and letters had been placed around the structure, layering it with a feeling of both loss and warmth that surprised Daniel at the sight. He wasn’t sure exactly what he’d been expecting, but this was the first place he’d been to where the people weren’t mourning their dead so much as honoring them.
People were filtering in and out of it constantly. Some bringing things, some rearranging, some just there to walk amongst it all and look. He could see nothing guarding it and no one trying to fence or patrol the area, so he simply made his way down into the center and joined others there.
Unfortunately, however, despite how glad he was to see such a place and what the survivors had done for it, he didn’t even know where he could look to find anyone specific. It wasn’t like there would be any sort of monument erected or categorized pictures or anything, but he’d hoped that there would at least be something that would draw his attention.
Though like Anna had said, it wasn’t like Dean would be there.
“You look lost, kid.”
Daniel startled, turning to see a man standing near him wearing a large, woolen coat and steel toed shoes. He was a bit older than Daniel, and his ash colored hair was pulled back into a ponytail with a matching mustache down the sides of his mouth. He was smoking a long, black cigarette that smelled of spice.
“Isn’t that why people come here in the first place?” He asked, his hands moving to clench around the straps of his pack. “Because they’ve lost something.”
The man smiled, which wasn’t so much with his mouth than it was with his mustache. His eyes were a deep blue, and looked far older than he was. Daniel could see the outline of a knife hilt in his boot and the handle of a gun beneath his jacket. This was a man who’d ‘seen a few things’.
“True indeed. But I didn’t say you’d lost something, I said you looked lost.”
Daniel gave him a half smile in return before nodding, glancing back down at the small memorial he’d been staring at without really looking. It was for someone’s mother, that had also been a sister and an aunt. But it wasn’t asking for information about her, it was honoring her memory.
“I hear that quite often, actually, but I’m not really sure what that means. What does that look like? Before even speaking to someone and knowing for sure, how can you tell by just looking at me?”
The man took a long drag from his cigarette, letting the breath out slowly that was a thick fog dissipating in the air before him. It was a combination of both the smoke and the air from his lungs, seeing as the air alone could create small puffs of white from Daniel’s breathing.
“Because you’re good at tellin it to people without even speakin. I may not know ya, or know why you’re here, but if I didn’t know no better, I’d say you’d not just planned on visitin this place, but also sleeping damn near close to it too. I doubt you drove here on your own, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that everything you own in the world is in that bag you’re holding onto right now.” The man finished, pointing a gnarled finger towards the pack on Daniel’s back as his hands tightened reflexively on it.
“A drifter, I’m guessin, but not the type that knows where he’s goin. You got a name, kid?”
“Daniel.” He answered simply, unsure what else to say. Just by looking at him, the man had dissected him completely and practically summed him up in a single sentence. There wasn’t anything else to him, having only a year’s worth of life to lead, so there really wasn’t much else to say. It wasn’t like he could honestly argue.
“Nice to meet ya. My name’s Alder. You got someone you’re lookin for?”
Daniel swallowed, watching the man take another small puff of his cigarette before placing it back between his teeth and letting it sit there. There was something about him that was familiar, but not the person so much as how he appeared. The way he was standing maybe, or acting, the weapons, or maybe the way he’d been so quick to correctly dissect everything Daniel was, just by sight alone.
“Sort of…but I’m not really sure how to find him. Or to find anything for that matter…I don’t even have a clue where to start, there’s just so much here.” Daniel said honestly, gazing around him and taking in all that there was to see. The small memorial at his feet was literally one of thousands, and there was no semblance of organization. If he was in here somewhere…
“What’s the name? Victim or…”
“Dean. A hunter…I think.” And he really did think that. He wasn’t sure if it was correct or not, but there was a strong feeling in him that told him that his Dean had once been someone who had saved other people. Fought for other people.
Daniel froze, his eyes widening as his vision tunneled for a moment and everything felt like it was slowing down again.
Winchester. He knew that name…knew it and had spoken it many times. A name he’d learned sometime long ago when he had arrived looking for help. Seeking out someone that he knew would assist him because that was what righteous men did. He’d come to save him, but as it happened, they’d saved each other.
Daniel blinked, realizing a bit too late that there was a hand on his chest and that he was staring at the ground a few feet from his face. His head was pounding, eyes wide and unblinking before he realized he’d forgotten to breathe.
He took in a deep and gasping breath, his vision still blurring and his heart racing as the images that had been flashing through him became just a little more distinct and a little more clear. It still wasn’t something he could decipher, but there was a clue in front of him that was bigger than any he’d gotten so far. What had just happened?
“Whoah, whoah, hey, breathe Danny. Just breathe. You ok, man?”
Alder, the man he’d been speaking to, that’s right. Daniel glanced down to see the same gnarled fingers that were now supporting him and he felt a flush of embarrassment. Had he just passed out? Really?
“I’m ok. I’m ok…I’m sorry…” He said softly, feeling the hand linger there for a moment longer before it was pulled slowly away. Daniel noticed before it moved that the man was wearing a silver ring with the sigil of a five pointed star. There was something relevant about that, but it took him a moment before he realized it, everything coming together of what he’d noticed previously.
“You’re a hunter.” He said as a statement, balancing himself from the sudden vertigo before turning to face Alder crouched behind him. “That’s how you read me so quickly…how you know that name. You’re a hunter as well.”
The man’s eyes narrowed, his lips pursing as he took a slow breath before replacing the cigarette back between his lips. The smell of spice was even stronger now and Daniel wasn’t sure what to call it. It didn’t smell like any cigarette he’d ever seen.
“It wouldn’t have mattered that I am one to know that name, kid. Them Winchester boys’re famous. I’m not sure what you think you might know, but I said that name and you damn near went white as a sheet.” He stood to his feet, reaching a hand down to help Daniel stand as well, still a bit embarrassed that it had happened to begin with. Then Alder stood and stared at him for a curious moment, a question on his face that went unspoken with his hands now stuffed deep into his coat pockets.
“I…it’s a difficult story to tell.”
“Do I look like I got anywhere to go?”
Alder walked with Daniel for the entire rest of the day, in and out of every crevice of the memorial that the hunter apparently knew by heart. All the while he spoke of his journey, unafraid of what he was saying simply because he didn’t feel as if he had anything to hide. He’d met plenty of private people, and he himself had had times where he hadn’t felt comfortable speaking of what he’d been through, but there was only so far that would take him.
He did not, however, speak of the strange powers he possessed. The last thing he needed was for this Hunter to think him a demon and shoot him on sight.
It ended up that one of the biggest reasons that Daniel had nearly passed out wasn’t just because of the name, however, but because he’d once again forgotten to eat. The old hunter had laughed at him before handing him a granola bar, which Daniel had happily devoured.
Alder listened quietly, making a comment here and there, considering that the story wasn’t all that involved with only the last year to feed it. It felt good to Daniel, however, to simply lay it all out. One fact after another with only a few small things changed for the benefit of keeping himself human.
He was always doing that, too. Making excuses, believing he was normal.
Anna had scolded him for this, and he knew he’d deserved it. But advertising; giving in to the abnormalities of his hands and heart, where would that take him? Home? Home where?
Getting towards the end of daylight, Daniel finished where he had now left off. Standing in a decorated cemetery with no bodies but plenty of misfortune and memories. He’d mentioned what little he could about Dean, but there wasn’t much.
He wondered why he felt so strongly with so little to go on. Was that how human’s loved? If so, then at least he was doing something right.
By the time he finished speaking, it was then that he realized that Alder had led him to a small building that was off to the side of the memorial. It looked like it had once been a greenhouse for the University, but was now in ruins with broken glass windows and faded signs that were both falling apart and burnt. It didn’t look like a place that had been well-kept, especially since it was a bit off the beaten trail through the area itself, but still significant.
Alder stepped inside and Daniel followed, his eyes adjusting to the lesser light before he focused on a small alter-like area that had been set up as its own unique memorial of sorts. There weren’t as many pictures or flowers in this place, but it wasn’t the same as the thousands outside the door.
“This ain’t the same thing as what we’ve been lookin at.” Alder said grimly, his fourth cigarette now planted between his lips as he spoke around it. He stared down at the small batch of gathered words, flowers and pictures like it was more important to him than anything outside.
“These were the hunters that fought in the war here.”
Daniel walked up beside him, crouching down and picking up a picture atop what had once been a tier to hold blossoming plants. It was a picture of a young man, with shaggy brown hair that curled up at his neck and a large smile on his face. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans that covered his long legs while flicking off the camera. His eyes looked familiar.
“That’s Sam Winchester.” Alder said, pointing to the picture in his hands. Daniel swallowed, taking the image to memory. He wished it was more familiar, but there was only that feeling again and nothing more.
“Dean’s brother.” He said, more to himself than to the Hunter. He placed the picture down slowly next to a small batch of flowers that had long since dried. Daniel scanned around the area with his eyes, hoping to see something nearby it that might possibly stand out or remind him of something else. Something…
“But you won’t find Dean here.”
Daniel turned to look up at Alder with small surprise, his heart somehow moved to his throat without him noticing.
“Because Dean Winchester didn’t die here. They were on two different battlegrounds when the shit hit the fan last year.”
Daniel swallowed, holding down his disappointment, but glad enough that he at least knew what one of them had looked like. That alone was a step in the direction he’d been intending.
“Do…do you know how they died?”
“Both shot, I think. Both died the same way, just hundreds of miles from one another.”
Daniel tried not to let anything show on his face.
“How? What happened?”
Alder sat himself down on the nearest bench with an aching groan that was the plight of an old man, taking a slow drag of his cigarette again before letting it out slowly through his nose. It seemed to Daniel that this was what the man did when he was trying to think. He wondered if it helped.
“Sam was the younger of the two, but that didn’t mean much. They’d been brought up by a damn good hunter from birth, and it was all they knew. These are things that nobody really knew about them boys until afterwards, after the war and their deaths. Stuff that had only been rumors, of the like. Once so many demons, and then them damn angels started flooding this place, it was hard to argue with any Winchester anymore. Cocky bastards.”
Alder laughed, but it was at a memory, at something he was picturing that Daniel couldn’t see. He felt envious of this, but said nothing, eyes still fixed on the hunter determinately.
“They’d both been fighting this war long before the rest of us, but it didn’t make no difference. If not them, then those otherworldly sons of bitches woulda found someone else to do their dirty work. I didn’t believe it at first even, but it’s hard not to when it’s barreling through your front door set to kill. Damn bloody ignorant, really.”
Another drag of the cigarette, Alder wasn’t really looking at him anymore.
“By the time we realized just what was really goin on, it was too late to step back from it. Doorways to Hell opened up in five places across the US. They were bent on settin what they could here, before movin on to the rest of the world, but they needed a home ground first. Somewhere they could build and destroy before branching out.
I was with a few other hunters here when the first of the fires started. It was damn terrible, watchin this place burn and not being able to do a damn thing about it. Homes were destroyed, lives with em, and all the rock salt in the world wasn’t enough for what was comin.
I remember when Sam Winchester showed up here, it was their hometown, actually, and he took the lead without askin or tellin nobody. Not that anyone argued cause he was damn good at what he did. The boy was half demon, something that had also only been a rumor once, but he didn’t like them assholes anymore than we did.
We held our front, but we were shootin our next door neighbors, our friends and our relatives. It was crazy. Kids with black eyes, not enough people who knew how to do any exorcisms, and even if they had, as soon as a body was free it was snatched back up again. Only those of us with wards could get around that, but sometimes I wondered if it would just be better to ward them off with a bullet to the brain instead. That’d keep em outta there.
We were aiming for headshots like it was the damn zombie apocalypse, just so they wouldn’t get back up again as someone else.”
He shook his head, and Daniel didn’t know what to say, if anything at all. He’d seen war in his dreams, knew that what had happened couldn’t have been anything good, but it was different hearing someone else speak of it.
“By the time December rolled around, there was little else to do but give up. I was with a group that had been fighting for months, but we were freezing, starving and runnin outta ammo just like the rest of the country. We’d set ourselves up in a church that was warded all to hell, but that was nothing more than a prison we’d erected for ourselves. Sam was in constant touch with his brother, and from what I understood, things were going about the same on his end.
What made it a bit different though, was that Dean was workin with angels. There were rumors that there were both good and bad angels mixed in with all them demons, but it wasn’t like you could just lift up their skirts and tell. There were a few rogues that had joined our side though, and most of em with Dean since he’d been dragged outta hell to lead em anyway. Don’t even get me started on that bizarre tale.
Anyway, Dean and one particular angel friend of his had found themselves a couple of prophets who were workin on a way to close the doorways and cut off the demon’s supply. If you could cut the bloodline, you could stop the heart, so to speak.
So it became their main focus, and we didn’t hear from that area again for about a week. Each of the five cities were just as bad as we were, but were all holding out the hope that something would come through. Our provisions were down, we were low on people who were warded from possession…Hell, I cannot even begin to tell you how many protection sigils I burned into people as we went. But that’s war for ya, I guess.”
Daniel could have openly agreed with him on that, knowing what he did now and from the people he’d met who’s stories were just as awful. This was the closest he’d ever heard from someone on the front line, though. And Daniel knew that was where the worst of it was ever going to come from.
“By the time Sam got word from his brother, we were told that the doorways had been closed. It was kind of a shock of information, especially since we hadn’t heard much around us for a few days aside from the normal amount of screams and taunting. The whole place was burning, but there was no one really left to put out the fires. It was hard for the whole lot of us, since we’d all been used to workin on our own and fightin our own battles. Being helpless didn’t do us well, and we’d lost a few hunters because of just that.
Sam was taking the worst of it though. He missed his brother, but they’d split up for a reason. Something about making sure that they spread themselves out enough to cover more ground, I don’t really even know. But that day, when we’d heard that the upper hand was ours, that was a damn good day. Dean had gotten his hands on a prophet, apparently, that found the key they needed. An older guy that had been possessed by both an angel and a demon at some point and knew more than he should have.
There’re more details there, but I didn’t know em. Still don’t. Regardless, we were able to start weeding out what was left and fight back. Oklahoma City was sending out ammo in armored and protected trucks to the other four cities now that they were making it themselves. We’d finally gotten the bastards on the run and the war had turned so damn quickly in our favor that they didn’t know what to do.
The worst of it was on Dean’s end, though. That was where Lucifer was, yeah, Lucifer himself if you can believe it, and that was going to be the real deciding factor of whether or not we survived it. There are too many stories at this point, and too many people arguing that they know what happened, but I don’t think anyone really knows anymore except for us.”
He took in another slow drag, a deep breath filling his lungs with cold air and smoke as the light faded and they were surrounded by nothing more than the light of the candles. Daniel shivered, still watching and listening intently despite how cold he was getting. He shifted up his collar and pulled his knees to his chest.
“That angel of his was something special, that I knew. He was supposed to be helpin the baddies but had chosen to stick with Dean instead. Unfortunately, though, because he got cut off from his buddies up north, the angel was left unguarded and got himself possessed by Lucifer right up at the end of it all. Not on purpose, mind you, it wasn’t something he’d planned on doing.
Dean couldn’t kill him. It woulda been like killin his brother at that point and he couldn’t do it. So the possessed angel, man that sounds weirder every time I say it, the possessed angel shot him, twice. Right in the chest with Dean’s own gun, like it was poetic or something.
We didn’t find out until later that day, when Sam had been actin funny and throwin himself recklessly into stupid fights that should have been handled with more strategy. We were all tired, we were all hurting, but he found out about his brother and just lost it. Ended up getting himself shot in the back by a possessed hunter when he wasn’t payin attention. Or so I heard, didn’t actually see it happen. Damn pointless if you ask me. But they died the same day.”
Daniel swallowed hard, feeling the tears on his face before he even noticed that they were starting. He didn’t move to swipe them away, instead placing his nose into his folded arms and staring unblinkingly at the candles behind Alder’s silhouetted form.
“How did the war end?” He asked softly, his voice muffled by the cloth on his arms. “If the Winchester’s were dead, how did they defeat Lucifer?”
“The angel did, actually. I don’t think I ever learned his name. He went batshit after Lucifer made him shoot Dean and just exploded with some crazy, holy power. After that, that old prophet that had figured out how to close the doorways forced Lucifer into a human body where he’d be helpless to do anything more but watch and be human. He made the devil possess him, then kept him there, the crazy old bastard. But it worked. I don’t even begin to know how, it just did.”
Daniel worried his lower lip, trying hard to process everything that he was being told when it started to fit into bits and pieces of his glass shattered memories. Not all of it made sense, and some of it seemed slightly different, but the general idea was the same. He wasn’t entirely sure where he’d fit into it, but something was telling him more and more that he was just trying hard not to see the obvious.
“After that, those bastards started to clear out, bit by bit. The smaller battles were still being fought in the surrounding towns, still kinda are actually, but their reason for fighting had disappeared and they were now the ones runnin out of resources. The war was officially over at the end of December.”
Alder smiled sadly, leaning himself back against the glass wall and hearing it creak slightly with his weight. Silence filled the air between them for a few minutes as Daniel almost felt like there was too much information for him to organize.
“What…what happened to the angel?”
Alder shook his head.
“Not a damn clue. I heard that Lucifer took a large chunk outta him as a parting gift before he let go. Whatever human he’d been possessing was killed in the process. That and the angel damn near wore himself to death trying to fight back. He wasn’t so high up in Heaven’s graces much, so I heard he just kinda disappeared. But I ain’t heard nothing more after that. It was just as well.”
Daniel wiped his face on his sleeve, his eyes closing as he took in a slow breath.
“And the prophet?”
“Which one, the one who beat big ol Satan?”
“No idea either. I hear he died right around then, takin Lucifer with him I guess. Damn good man too, prolly woulda made a good hunter.”
Daniel nodded, his gaze still settling on the flickering candle flames in the lingering darkness.
“What was his name?”
“The old guy? Uh…” He scratched the back of his head before readjusting his own coat, a cold breeze filtering in through the cracks of the old greenhouse.
“Davis, I think. Or something like that. Eaton Davis. He’d joined the war after he’d lost his son, and did one of them holy retribution things for revenge. I’d say he got it, more than anyone else really… hey, you ok?”
Daniel stared at him with wide eyes, his focus having moved from the flame straight back to what little he could see of Alder’s face. He sat forward, his crossed knees pushing back behind him as he pushed himself upward and felt the blood drain from his face.
“What?!” He said with exasperation, his heart suddenly leaping back to life with a panic.
Alder stared at him for a moment in startled curiosity.
“What’s the matter?”
“Eaton…the man’s name was Eaton? With a son named Daniel?” He didn’t recognize the sound of his own voice, and his entire body was starting to feel numb.
“Well, yeah. Why?”
“Where were the other battles? The worst of them, in the five cities that had doorways to Hell. Where did the final one with Lucifer take place?” Daniel’s words were rushed, and he almost stuttered through them, begging silently to himself that what he was thinking couldn’t possibly be true.
Alder’s eyes narrowed.
“Well there was this one, in Lawrence. Then Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Arizona, Great Falls, Montana, and then the biggest one, the one where Dean died, was in Detroit, Michigan.”
Daniel felt the blood drain from his face, his hands falling uselessly into his lap as the silence that stretched around him became far too loud for him to hear anything else.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He didn’t have the heart or the courage to return to Detroit, despite the fact that he knew he should.
Instead, Daniel avoided it by any means, thereby avoiding himself in the process. He couldn’t handle it, the answers he’d been seeking for so long now sitting there in front of him and he was pushing them away like a bitter child. Like he’d gotten just what he’d asked for then changed his mind at the last minute.
He wasn’t sure why it hadn’t occurred to him sooner that what he was looking for may not be the best thing to discover of himself. Not that he even had any definite idea of what ‘himself’ meant anymore, but now he knew what had happened to those around him.
Those who continued to run through his memories like they were trapped there.
It wasn’t even a clear picture. With all that Alder had told him, and the few pieces of the puzzle that Daniel had managed to put together about Dean, everything else was still a gaping maw of confusing space. He’d been able to put the frame into place, bordering around him like a trap, but still not giving a good picture of where he fit in it. Who and what he was, in the grand scheme.
Anna had told him that he couldn’t have both, but what was one without the other?
Who was he without a name?
He’d left Lawrence and Alder just as soon as he could, barely thanking the man as he’d let his shock settle into his gut like a lead weight.
The hunter had looked concerned, but it wasn’t like Daniel was his responsibility. Stories had been shared, and they’d parted ways, probably never to meet again.
Why hadn’t Eaton told him? He’d never spoken a single thing about the war, nor had he offered anything to Daniel about whether or not they’d fought together…or what had happened to Dean and how. Had they been together, in the end? And had Lucifer still been inside of Eaton when he’d died that freezing night in the snow?
It terrified him to imagine it. He’d been so new and so lost, unable to help or even ask about anything else other than himself. If he’d known then what he knew now, could he have helped him?
Daniel felt incredibly selfish and horribly wretched.
And he knew he should go to Detroit.
Still bordering on the line between responsibility and cowardice, Daniel headed north, but not in the direction he should have gone.
Instead, he went back in the direction he came, taking the first ride available that was going towards Denver so that he could make his way up and into Montana, where Alder had said another of the large battles had taken place. It was cold, now mid-October, and it became even more so as Daniel went further north, unsure why he was punishing himself with the cold when there was a simple solution to head south.
But Daniel had no interest in going to Phoenix. He was afraid he’d be too comfortable there, or find something else that would drive him a little more over the edge. Either one was non-negotiable.
When he arrived in Great Falls, he was an absolute mess. Exhaustion creeping into his thin frame after a day or two without eating and not enough sleep to make up for it. He wasn’t trying to waste away on purpose, but the dreams had ramped up to a horrifying clarity and he was losing the will to fight them. To fight what he knew he was, in the back of his head, despite all arguments to the contrary.
It was raining in the city, a cold and bitter chill that had soaked into his coat and made him shiver from the inside out. He didn’t want to be sick again, but he didn’t have it in him to worry about it. After all, if he was such an otherworldly thing, why not challenge it? Why not see how far he could take himself before those damn powers of his took over?
Maybe he could heal the damn world.
Unable to think straight enough to work himself out, and against what he knew was his better judgment, Daniel made his way to the first bar he found. He was delirious, confused and practically hysterical as he quickly made ‘friends’ with a small gang that were traveling through on their motorcycles and found him too amusing to pass up.
They could probably tell that there was something wrong with him, but at that point, everyone had seen their fair share of people driven to the edge by the war and everything that happened. So what was he but another bitter soldier who’d lost too much.
Daniel drank heavily for the first time in his life, and it took him less than an hour to lose everything else.
When he woke up the next day, he was in an alley very similar to the one he’d woken up to in Detroit. Only it wasn’t as cold and he wasn’t covered in blood stains or tattered clothing. His head felt like there was a lead weight in it, and he groaned as he sat forward, half damp from the rain and dirty from the ground. It had to have been the worst way to wake up he’d ever experienced. And that included being sick.
Daniel pulled himself to his feet, already regretting the motion before he turned towards a trash can and promptly rid himself of nearly everything he’d had to eat or drink for the week. Which was more drink than anything else, but it felt ten times better to get it out of his system.
He staggered forward after that, wiping his sweaty brow even as he shivered in the cold and clutched to his bag of belongings like it was the only lifeline he had.
He didn’t get far, crashing into the next alley and leaning back against the wall with a heavy head and nothing left to push him forward. His ankle was killing him, and it itched terribly. Daniel scratched at it with an angry hiss before he pulled the pant leg up to find a small wound that had been inscribed in the simple shape of that same, five pointed star in a circle that he’d seen on Alder’s ring.
He groaned, letting the cloth cover it again and scrubbing a hand over his face in irritation. He didn’t remember any of it, and that just wasn’t acceptable. He hadn’t gone all that way only to start forgetting things when it was in his control not to.
That would be the first, and absolutely last time, that he ever drank.
He slept for a good bit of the morning after that, waking again after being startled by a honking car horn and hating how badly his body was rebelling against him. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done it to himself, but Daniel suddenly wished he hadn’t been so eager to be punished. He still couldn’t recall the specifics what he’d done or why, and had been far too quick to jump to conclusions than he assumed necessary.
He should have thought about that man in the community center in what had seemed so long ago. What alcohol did to good people was a lesson he’d learned. Something he probably should have heeded as well.
“Well hey there, angel. You ok?”
Daniel jumped, his bleary eyes turning to look at the silhouette of a woman who was standing over him, holding a white umbrella with red polka dots and blocking the haze of the rain. He blinked up at her without saying anything, his hands shaking in the cold.
She looked about the same age he was, with a sweet, round face and brown hair that curled around her ears. She was wearing a black coat that reached past her knees overtop of simple jeans and what must have been a hooded sweatshirt beneath. She wasn’t thin in the slightest, but not a large woman either. Just a normal, average, everyday person who was stopping in the rain in an alley to ask him if he was ok. He could have cried.
She leant down in front of him, brown eyes looking into his as her fingers touched his forehead, just as Shannon had once done to check his temperature. Her fingers were warm, and he ached for touch. He assumed this was what it meant to be at the lowest possible point he could go.
“You don’t feel like you’ve got a fever, but you don’t look so hot either. Are you lost?”
And Daniel couldn’t help it, the tears flowed like they had when he’d heard the truth of Dean’s death a week ago. Like it was something that needed to come out of him or he’d simply explode otherwise with the weight of his grief. He cried and she let him, even though she didn’t even know who he was or whether or not he was a danger to her.
She’d called him angel when they’d met, but Daniel thought maybe it was the other way around.
Her name was Alice, and she worked at a small, free clinic in the first rebuilt part of the city of Great Falls. She’d set up as soon as she’d had the chance, a history of war already settling across her young features along with a determination to make it right at the same time. She was one of the ones who’d found it upon themselves to make do with what was left, no matter how bad things had once been. There was nowhere else to go but up.
She’d taken him back to her clinic and cleaned him up. Washed his clothes for him, fed him and generally given him the space and time to get himself back on his feet. He’d stood beneath a shower for nearly half an hour, unable to remember the last time he’d had the advantage of being so clean and glad to indulge in the scalding water on his weary frame.
Alice had scolded him for being so thin, giving him a large sandwich that was stuffed full of tuna and other things that he couldn’t really identify, but it had tasted glorious. There were a few others that were in the same clinic, all who seemed to have been pulled of the street just as he had, but they kept mainly to themselves. Horrors read so easily in their eyes that some seemed like they wouldn’t even acknowledge the world anymore.
He was grateful he hadn’t let himself get to that point.
Alice had also been kind enough to give him aspirin, which suddenly became the most wonderful invention in the world to his aching, hung-over head.
He slept for the first full night in weeks there, with no dreams to taunt him that he could remember.
Daniel was stalling, and he knew it.
He had been given what he’d needed, the final clue of where to go, but was hiding within the sanctuary of someone who didn’t judge and didn’t ask questions of him. He was thankful to have not gotten sick, and that Alice was so kind and giving, asking for very little in return, but he knew it wasn’t where he should be.
After the first few days of being cared for, Daniel couldn’t stand it anymore and started cleaning the place whenever he had the opportunity. Alice scolded him, but he wouldn’t have it, taking care of things while she wasn’t looking and generally earning his keep as he felt he should.
She complained for the first week, but afterwards, it just became a thing he did that she accepted without argument. Daniel had a sneaking suspicion that she was glad of the extra help.
There were a few other doctors that came and went, working for free and offering their services where it was needed, but Alice was the only constant. She told him about what had happened when the fires had first started, burning her hospital to the ground along with her home and everything she’d ever loved. Her siblings had been spared on the opposite side of the city, but they’d fled to avoid the worst of it.
She had stayed, joining with the hunters that were leading the retaliation there and offering her services as a medic to any who needed it. Alice had been one of few.
After the war had ended, and when things had started getting rebuilt around her, the hunters who had charged themselves with ridding the last of the demons from the city, had made sure to find her a place where she could continue to do the work she’d desired. A man named Robert Singer had sanctioned with what was left of the city council, and she’d been given her own small piece of what was being rebuilt after she’d promised that it would be a free place where any would be treated.
Because of that, she was tax-free, rent free, and would be set for the rest of her life in that small space. She said she still wrote to that kind hunter to let him know how things were going. She hadn’t heard from him in awhile though, and prayed that he had made it back to his home in one piece.
After a month and a half of living in Great Falls, and ignoring the rest of the world like it would chew him up and destroy him at any moment, Daniel felt numb.
Alice had kissed him once, running her pale fingers through his hair and smiling before their lips had met and she’d fallen asleep afterwards nestled into the crook of his shoulder. They’d been watching a movie of some sort, but Daniel couldn’t recall what it was about.
The next day, she kissed him again, but it had been different this time. He’d let her do it, but she was seeing something in him that he had been trying so desperately to ignore. Something he hoped was hidden along with everything else he’d fought to deny.
“Hey angel.” She said, her nickname sticking for some reason, even when he’d asked her not to the first couple of times. Alice was nothing but stubborn when she’d set in her ways.
“You’re still waiting on somebody, huh?”
Daniel’s shoulders slumped, his gaze moving away from hers, but she pulled it back to him with her hands on his cheeks. She was a mere inch shorter than him, and hard to ignore at even the best of times. Daniel had liked that about her.
He nodded, and that was his acceptance.
She said goodbye to him the next day, and left to take care of her patients.
Daniel packed up his things, his coat cleaned and his jeans patched together with a few small tricks that Alice said she’d had ‘up her sleeves’ to make them last longer. His hair was still no longer than the day he’d woken in the alley a year ago.
He hitched the first ride he could find headed towards Detroit.
It was the middle of December.
Daniel was lucky enough to find someone that was going so far as Minneapolis for the first part of his journey. A younger man in his twenties or so named Pete, who was driving the first rig he’d ever owned across the northern part of the United States with a shipment of recycled paper.
Pete hadn’t been involved in the war, had grown up in southern California his entire life but couldn’t stand how that part of the country was ignoring the rest of the country’s problems. Daniel recalled that not everyone had been willing to believe the story about demons or that there had even been fighting so much as a country wide sickness.
He wondered at first how people could do that, ignore what was right in front of their faces. But then he remembered that he’d been doing the exact same thing.
Pete liked to collect things as he went from state to state. A shot glass here, a mug there, something that reminded him of all of the places he was going to, or had visited while he was on his newfound journey. There was a growing collection of these knickknacks in the back of his rig, and it amused Daniel to think how much longer he’d keep doing it when there was no room left to lie down.
He liked listening to the young ideals the man had, and how passionate he was about getting deep in to help out with whatever he could and protect his country. Be it from anywhere, even from Hell itself, the kid had wanted to fight but had been kept at home by his denial ridden parents.
Daniel told him about Oklahoma City, and the boy looked like he’d just been told that Christmas came early.
He dropped him off in Minneapolis after making his delivery, then turned south to head towards Kansas. Daniel couldn’t help but feel like he’d made a small contribution somehow, and it made him proud.
The next time he found a ride, Daniel didn’t get so lucky.
The man hadn’t said much, aside from the fact that he was going in Daniel’s direction and wouldn’t mind the company. He was a much larger built man named Wayne, but Daniel had learned not to judge by appearance alone, and there were religious crucifixes and symbols decorating the inside of his truck in a halfway tasteful manner. He decided he may as well, as cold as he was, and climbed inside.
The first ten hours had passed by in almost silence, aside from a religious radio program that had music every so often, but had otherwise been more boring than informative. Daniel didn’t think he was all that religious personally, aside from generally believing in God, but there was something about the people speaking on the radio show that didn’t make much sense.
They screamed about the hostilities of man, and how the recent war had been due to how far down the beaten path that humanity had gone. Crimes against Christ, sinners, non-believers and those who went against the teachings of the bible had all aided in the invitation to the evil creatures who were taking over the planet one country at a time. The United States being the first of those that deserved it.
Daniel said nothing as he stared out the window, seeing Wayne out of the corner of his eye with his curly black hair and tight expression as he nodded after each person said something that was particularly offensive towards people in general. He didn’t think it wise to offer his opinion, and thankfully, Wayne didn’t really ask. Choosing instead to stay in his own world of that group of people who thought that humans needed to die in a fire or plague of some kind, cause that would teach ‘em.
By the time they’d reached Ann Arbor, Daniel was seriously considering finding someone else to take him the rest of the way, just so he wouldn’t have to listen to it anymore.
He’d been dozing for just a bit, not realizing that the rig had stopped until he’d opened his eyes with a start to find Wayne on top of him.
Daniel started to cry out, only to have a hand slap over his mouth almost immediately, stifling his cry. Eyes darted to the windows, but Wayne had parked them beside the dark cover of pine trees that were right up next to his door and basically blocking anything from getting in or out. It was sometime in the evening, but the sun had long since gone down, leaving little more than the distant highway lights to illuminate within.
He knew he was trapped, and hardly in a position that he could fight back with too, since Wayne had positioned himself so that he was straddled over Daniel’s lap. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t noticed what was going on sooner, but it was too late to debate on that now. Wayne had his arms pinned with one hand above his head, the other over his mouth with a thumb trailing across his lips like he was petting him.
It turned Daniel’s stomach, and he squirmed in protest.
The hand over his mouth suddenly pulled back and swung forward in retaliation, knocking stone-hard knuckles into his eye that flashed white and painful across his vision, dazing him.
“Don’t you say a damn word, faggot. You hear me? Don’t you say a damn word.” Wayne hissed moving in to drag his tongue up the side of Daniel’s neck, which elicited a disgusted groan from deep in his chest with how little he wanted to be where he was anymore. It wasn’t worth the ride, he’d walk the rest of the way if he had to.
Apparently Wayne didn’t like that sound either, and hit him again, making him see stars as he gasped aloud with the pain that radiated through his head. He’d already been so easily subdued by this man, his will forced into submission because there was no muscle to fight back with and no enemy to destroy. He wasn’t a demon, Daniel knew, despite how much he wanted to burn the jerk’s eyes out if he could. His head was too fuzzy to think straight and it wasn’t like he could just call upon that power of his if needed it.
This was going to be something he just couldn’t get away from, and it terrified the hell out of him.
Wayne, on the other hand, looked like he was ecstatic, and his free hand moved to Daniel’s waist while his arms were still pinned above his head. He licked his lips and it made him cringe, wanting to cry out but knowing it would just get him hit again.
Something warm was traveling down the side of his head and it reminded him of that feeling he’d had so long ago. When his head had felt like someone had bashed it into a wall a few times like a fresh egg. Daniel squirmed, unable to help it with the revulsion pumping through him, and Wayne didn’t seem to like that at all.
“You hold yourself fuckin still or I’ll do it for you, faggot. You just sit there and you take it. You like it, and the fires of Hell will lick up your spine on the day of judgment and burn you from the inside out.”
Whatever reason Wayne had to speak the way he did, Daniel didn’t like any bit of it. He tried hard to focus his eyes, the meaty man’s hands already digging down into his pants as Daniel suddenly called out angrily and startled him. His expression went quickly from surprise to anger, and he pulled his arm back again for another hit just as Daniel closed his eyes and pleaded with anything that was listening for him to be somewhere that wasn’t there.
He dropped to the ground. Hard.
Daniel cried out, his backside and his elbows tingling with the sudden pain of falling to the ground from five feet in the air. He twirled himself around and stared in confusion at the large, front wheel tire of the rig he’d been in, unsure what had just happened, but hardly one to argue his luck.
He sat up quickly, leaning down to untie his bag from his ankle, which had become a habit of his when he knew he might fall asleep, and slung it quickly over his shoulder. There was an angry bellow from inside the cab, but Daniel had run for it as soon as he could stand. His head was still spinning, and ached from the two hits that had been hard enough to knock something out of place, if they’d hadn’t already.
Somehow, he’d just gone from one place to another without so much as a thought and a hope for safety. Whether or not it was something in his power to do, he wasn’t sure, but the fact remained that he was no longer in that seat, no longer in danger, and no longer anywhere near being underneath Wayne.
That was a power he was more than happy to accept.
Daniel decided to walk from there.
Neither asking for nor accepting any rides, despite how awful he felt. It just wasn’t worth it, and he’d had enough of a scare for that week to think better of it.
After running for as long as his lungs would support him, Daniel had stopped at a truck stop, still keeping a wary eye out for a bright red rig or a large black haired man, with frightened and wary eyes. He cleaned himself up as much as he could, but there was an ugly bruise around his eye and up his forehead. The cut had bled a great deal, but it wasn’t anything serious. He had learned from Alice that head wound’s bled like crazy but were only serious if they were deep or had a concussion to go with them.
Daniel wasn’t so sure about the concussion, but he could at least tell that he wasn’t going to bleed himself to death. He still looked a fright with the painting of color down his face, however, and his head ached worse than it had with his hangover, but he’d live. There were worse things, after all. Others had gotten further trying to abuse him in such ways, that had just been the first time he’d managed to zap himself out of it in time.
He wasn’t sure what to make of that power, but didn’t really dwell on it. It was just another thing in a long list of what would probably never be explained. Detroit was about fifty miles from where he was, so he slept in a hidden corner of the truck stop that night, knees curled up to his chest beneath his jacket, and set out early the next morning.
Alice had given him just a small bit of money, and he’d promised her that he wasn’t going to starve himself anymore if he could help it. It was a promise he was going to try hard to keep.
When Daniel finally reached the city limits of Detroit, it was only then that he saw what he’d apparently missed the first time he’d been there.
The city was a mess.
What had once been buildings that stretched up towards the sky were now only half there. Detroit was right on the edge of Canada across from a large stretch of water that connected Lake Erie with Lake Saint Clair. He’d heard about the great lakes from Keifer, but had been so new and so confused that there wasn’t much information that had seemed significant. He’d also, apparently, been so lost in his lack of memories that he’d failed to notice what was wrong with the entire place.
It was more than obvious that a battle had taken place there. One even worse than what he’d seen in Oklahoma City, Lawrence or Great Falls. Large, burnt craters had taken the place of where buildings had once stood, and each of the ones that had fallen had also taken out ones around it as well.
It made sense why so many people had come to the community center, and so often. It was one of the few places in that area that was offering a sanctuary for children to come and be somewhere that wasn’t destroyed by the war. To ignore it all and pretend like everyday life was still happening someplace else.
It also explained why Kiefer had been so willing to offer him a job there. Even when all he’d done was spoken to him on the street. Everyone had probably looked somewhat like he had. Lost and war shocked with little else to turn to.
That, and the people there had seen otherworldly creatures before. Seen them kill their families and burn their homes after healing from knife and gunshot wounds. He was amazed he’d gotten as far as he had after healing the first time.
Daniel hadn’t planned on going straight to that place immediately, but he ended up down that road without even thinking about. He hadn’t left the community center very often, staying deep inside his small sanctuary while he was still afraid of the rest of the world, but he seemed to know where he was going now anyway.
It was the worst part of the city, and was a horrible mess that seemed to be the very core of where the last of the fires had taken place before the war had ended. Daniel was ignored by those he passed, his cold fingers tightening on his pack with the hesitation of having to face it all over again.
He knew it was probably an irrational fear, especially since the last time he’d been there was before he knew a great deal of the things he knew now. Still, it was like having a fear once as a child then being forced to face it as an adult. Knowing full well that it made no sense, but still harboring that child-like terror when there was no one left to turn to but himself.
He paused for only a minute, knowing he was at the right spot and knowing that it had basically been a year to the day that he’d last been there, before turning and walking in.
It was exactly the same.
He wasn’t in the alleyway that he’d woken in, but where he’d last seen Eaton, the man’s crinkled smile and weary face still easy to see above the shadows of flames in the now empty and fire-less container.
Daniel swallowed hard, taking a few steps in with his shoes scuffing across the cold cement. His eyes were drawn to the space where Eaton had made his bed. Where he’d flattened and created a space for Daniel as well before wrapping a cloth around his neck and telling him to take care of himself.
He’d smiled then, a knowing smile, and though Daniel hadn’t known him at the time, Eaton probably had.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked softly, crouching down between the barrel and the cardboard that was nothing more than a pile of trash to anyone else.
“If I was so important…if you were…then why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped you.” Daniel wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but he liked to believe it was. He leaned forward and placed his fingers on the cold cardboard, angry and frustrated and sad all at once. He wasn’t sure what exactly he’d come there to find.
“You’re a difficult man to track, you know that?”
Daniel startled, falling backwards before scooting himself back a few feet, his eyes wide and his heart beating frantically as it recalled the last time someone had snuck up on him.
There was a man standing at the end of the alleyway, about twenty feet from him with a heavy coat and brown hair that curled up around his neck. He was very tall, and was looking down at Daniel with a curious expression. He took a few steps toward him, but Daniel shoved himself back again and he stopped, putting his hands up as if to prove that he was holding nothing that would hurt him.
“Whoah, it’s ok dude, I’m not gonna hurt you.”
Daniel swallowed, pushing himself into a crouched position slowly before standing to his feet, never once moving his eyes from the man. He looked strangely familiar…in a way that was making his stomach do back flips, but hadn’t noticed with the initial fear.
“What do you want? I have nothing worth stealing…nothing of any value.” That at least, was the truth. People had tried to rob him before, but never found much more on him than a small bit of pocket change. Even in his travels, he’d never acquired anything more than the small amount that was in his pack. It hadn’t really seemed necessary.
The man laughed, but it didn’t sound menacing, a grin curling up the side of his face as he took another few steps into the alley. Daniel stood his ground.
“We weren’t looking for you to rob you, we were just looking for you. It’s Daniel, right?”
Daniel felt his insides jerk, wondering just how badly he’d managed to get himself into trouble already. He nodded, eyes wide as they darted to the entrance of the alley, expecting someone else to be there.
The man nodded, a sympathetic expression on his face that made it look like he was trying to appear diplomatic. Daniel felt slightly ill, trying hard to recall why it was this man looked familiar. There was a memory just on the edge of his aching head, but he couldn’t access it. Never could when he really needed to.
“Yeah, actually. Though right now it’s just me, ok? A friend of ours met you a couple of months back, an older man wearing a ball cap. In a bookstore?”
Daniel swallowed, his throat suddenly made of sand. Oh God…
“I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, he…he’s ok, right?” Daniel asked quickly, hating the thundering ache on the side of his head from the swollen purple and blue bruise that was Wayne’s parting gift to him. A bruise the day after was always the worst.
“Oh no, no it’s ok. I’m not here to attack you or anything, and he’s fine, so don’t worry. He was more concerned about you. Well, irritated, but also concerned. Wow, he really wasn’t kidding. Do you…do you know who Jimmy is?”
Daniel felt his heart sink. How many times was he going to go through with this? How many of his mistakes was this questioning man going to make him pay for? How long had he been following him?
“Yes. I know who he is. If you’ve come looking for him, I…I know I look like him, but I’m not. I’m just…not. I don’t know how I know. There’s a city in Illinois where his family had once…”
“Yeah, yeah I know, Pontiac right? That was one of the first places we’d gone looking for you, actually.” The man gave him a kind smile, but it still put Daniel on edge.
“Why?” He asked, ready to take another step back if he needed to, glad that it was a two way open alley. “Why are you looking for me? You…you aren’t…are you…” And then he did take a step back, his eyes focusing on the man’s eyes as he waited for the second they would turn black. He seemed to recognize the fear, seemed to know what it was that Daniel was afraid of and shook his head quickly. His feathered hair falling into his face as he did.
“No! no, no I’m not a demon.”
“How am I supposed to know that? They look like everyone else…and they knew who I was and were looking for me just like you are…how do I…”
“Do you know who I am?”
And that stopped him short. The panic in his heart making him breath heavy, but the prospect of being approached by someone else who thought they knew him was too much to ignore. His eyes narrowed and he tried to imagine where else he could have seen him. In a town he’d been in perhaps…on the road…in a picture…
“My name’s Sam.” He said, and the last piece clicked into place.
Daniel’s breath caught, and his hands moved up in front of him slightly. To what ends, he wasn’t sure, but this had been the last thing he’d been expecting.
“Sam…Sam Winchester?” The picture he’d seen was at the forefront of his mind, and Sam smiled as he said it, as if to match the image he’d seen in that memorial graveyard.
“But…but you’re dead! The man in the ball cap said so…and Alder said you’d been shot in the war…”
“Alder? Louis Alder? Jesus, you really did get around, didn’t you?”
“That…that doesn’t…how’re you…the end of the war, he’d said…”
Sam took a step forward at that, his expression becoming a bit more serious and it was slightly startling.
“You don’t remember the end of the war?”
Daniel shook his head, swallowing and licking his lips. The urge to run was starting to become overwhelming.
“No, no, should I? Was I there?”
“What do you remember?”
“Nothing! I don’t remember anything! I haven’t since the day I woke up here a year ago today and I still don’t know anything more than I did before, except that people died! And you’re supposed to be one of them! And Dean…” Daniel choked on his words, his chest shaking as the emotion boiled over and he moved a hand to the aching side of his face.
“Whoah, easy. You, uh…you’ve got one hell of a shiner there dude.” Sam stated the obvious, and it made Daniel laugh in the way that wasn’t out of amusement or happiness at all.
“Why do you think your name is Daniel?” He asked softly, trying to keep Daniel calm, he noted, and it frustrated him. What was the point of asking him these things? Why couldn’t he just stab or shoot him and get it over with?
“I don’t think it is. I never did. An old, exhausted man gave it to me and told me I reminded him of his son. Right before he died, he called me Daniel…” He was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and tired of running.
Tired of being lost.
“You really aren’t a demon.” Sam said, more to himself than to Daniel and it irritated him. No, he wasn’t a demon, obviously. He was beat to hell and had no upper hand whatsoever. Sam was a tall and skilled Hunter. If he wanted to, he could take Daniel out without anyone ever hearing his cry. Maybe that was why he’d been tracking him anyway.
“And you lost all your memory.”
“I think I’ve figured that out by now, thanks.” He said bitterly, hands moving to clench around his pack as he shivered in the cold. “Listen, I don’t know why you’re alive when everyone thinks you’re dead, but I have nothing to offer you. I’m sorry if your search for me ended in disappointment, but obviously there isn’t really much to me to begin with.” Daniel turned away from him slightly, offering the hint that he was finished with their conversation and wanted to leave. He wasn’t even sure why he’d come back to Detroit in the first place.
Sam’s eyebrows raised and he shook his head.
“Wow, this is weird. You…” He pursed his lips, shifting his stance slightly as if the argument in his head was battling with his ability to stand still.
“You don’t know what you are, do you?”
Daniel froze again, forgetting to breathe for half a minute before he dragged in a breath of air. Did he know? Had he seen him, maybe? Seen those horrible things, and what he could do? Was he actually hunting him?
“No…no, I’m not anything. I’m human. I don’t…” He took a few steps away from Sam Winchester, the panic building in his throat like a scream.
“Holy shit…” Sam breathed, a hand coming up as he took a few steps towards him, as if he were expecting to stop him from falling over somehow. Or stop him from running. Daniel’s panic flared. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, he didn’t even want to be there.
“Wait…Daniel, wait a sec!” and he surged forward again just as the warning signs went off in Daniel’s head and he bolted.
He heard Sam cry out for him, heard it but didn’t stop, every inch of him wanting desperately to get away and to ignore another piece of what he was missing that had come to find him.
“No, no Daniel, don’t do that. Don’t ignore it, don’t push it all down. You can’t keep running from this, or it’s going to overwhelm you.”
“Even if what’s in front of your face is telling you that nothing will ever be good again…you gotta watch for those clues, and find something better.”
“Some memories, some knowledge, is better left forgotten.”
“I didn’t even need two weeks. Met him on the first day I can recall, where he clothed me from the cold and told me that it was not what I was forgetting that was important, but who.”
“Now ain’t that sumthin. You ain’t a robot after all.”
He felt his heart stop, which in turn sent the feeling immediately down to his feet where they decided to stop doing what he told them and one foot tangled in the other. He fell, hard, the air getting knocked out of him as his hands scraped across the cement in a vain attempt to break his fall. All in the span of about a few seconds before he came to a jarring stop.
He lay there and breathed for a minute, everything aching but none of it really processing as all thought had somehow seemed to stall. He heard his own breathing catching up with itself, and he heard footsteps. Someone was running, someone else was walking, but definitely two sets, and the voice that he’d heard wasn’t Sam’s.
The word…the name that he’d heard…he knew it.
Slowly, he twisted himself to the side, watching with blurred vision that took him a second to clear since all the blood was rushing to his head from the fall. Someone was running towards him, and it was familiar. He knew it, and had seemed to know it forever, but couldn’t recall when in the last year he’d seen anything like it.
It wasn’t in the last year. It was before then. It was before everything.
The figure stopped running about five feet from him, wide eyes staring down at him with an expression that was difficult to read. He’d seen this man before, but never completely. Not in any pictures or anywhere else in the large world that he could reference. But he knew he’d seen him. Everything but his face.
“Dean.” He breathed, and it was barely audible.
Sam was standing beside his brother, looking down at him sympathetically but without any sort of malice or distrust. Whatever he’d come to ask of him had finished, his interrogation decided. He spoke to Dean for a second, low voices sharing something he wasn’t privy to before Dean placed a hand on his brother’s arm and squeezed before letting him go.
Sam looked down at him, still lying on the pavement, and he smiled and nodded. Then he turned with one last glance at his brother, and left the alley completely.
They were alone.
Dean took a few steps forward; careful steps that he recognized so as not to startle him.
“You were dead.” He said, unable to push himself any higher than where he was.
“So were you.”
There was silence for a moment, and the sounds of the city started to come back slowly, despite how little either of them were paying attention to it.
“I thought I’d killed you.” And that at least, was true. It was one of the few memories that had been returned to him.
Dean looked surprised at first before he took a few steps forward, crouching down in front of him so that he no longer looked as intimidating as he had before. In fact, now that he could see him, Dean looked just as tired as he felt.
“Yeah, I know. I’ve got the scars to prove it, too.” He said, grinning in a way that was almost out of relief. It didn’t reach his eyes, in fact, his eyes looked wary and protective. Like he was expecting to be hurt at any moment. He didn’t look bitter, however. Didn’t look like he blamed him at all.
He swallowed, not knowing what else to say. He knew Dean had probably heard his conversation with Sam. That his brother had been sent in as the negotiator to figure out whether or not he was who they thought he was. And that meant that Dean knew he didn’t remember anything. Knew that he was lost, and had been searching for himself…for him, ever since he’d woken.
Ever since that day a year ago.
“What’s my name?” He asked him, pulling himself forward so that he was sitting up as his fingers froze on the cold pavement of the dirty alleyway.
Dean stared at him for a moment, licking his lips before his eyes moved from his down to the ground and back up again. It was an expression he couldn’t read.
“Castiel.” He said softly, between them. “Your name is Castiel. You’re an angel and…and aside from my brother, you’re my best friend. You saved my life when Lucifer tried to kill me before he turned on you. Before he…” Dean trailed off, shaking his head as he leaned his knees forward so that he was now kneeling.
He pulled his legs in so that he was sitting cross legged, scooting himself forward a little bit with rapt attention so that he was only a few feet from Dean. Dean didn’t try to move away. The name was his, he knew that, knew it and accepted it almost immediately despite how little else that provided him. It was something. Finally, it was something that was his.
“Before he what?” He asked hesitantly, eyes imploring. He didn’t want to see Dean look so sad.
“He ripped you in half. Pulled you away from the fight where I couldn’t follow, and I didn’t have a clue what happened to you. We all assumed you were…” He stopped, although the words had already been said.
“I’m not dead.” He said unnecessarily, with what little he could offer. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. The one he thought he’d never see because he’d been told over and over by the rest of the world that Dean was gone and that he should just get over it. Move on. Do something else.
“When I asked about you…everywhere I went…people said…”
“Yeah, I know. It was a cover. Bobby’s the only one who knows we’re alive and we’re gonna keep it that way. Too much damn publicity, to be honest. Especially with the rebuild goin on.” He gave a small smile, and it was wonderful to see. “Bobby didn’t recognize you, otherwise he’d have never said…”
“I understand.” He filled in quickly, not needing more of an explanation than that.
The two stared at each other again, the awkwardness more than apparent.
“Do you…” Dean started, pursing his lips for a second before swallowing. “God, just look at you. You’re thin and…and cold. Scared, even. You look so different, so…human. You don’t remember…”
He shook his head, knowing that question already since he’d been answering it over and over again for far too long.
“I have bits and pieces. Fragments that never made much sense.” He said honestly. “I used to dream about you once…you were asking where I was…asking if I was ok, but I didn’t know what to do with that. Didn’t know if it was actually you…”
Dean laughed incredulously. “Seriously? Wow, you’d be mocking me for that usually…cause that was, well. I was kinda sorta praying, if you can believe it. Well, I guess you could since you don’t really…” He coughed, scratching the back of his neck and it was familiar enough that it made him smile. Dean caught it and smiled back at him.
“Damnit, Cas…” He said softly.
And there was a jolt that that one word suddenly shot through him like a bolt of electricity.
He fell backwards, Dean crying out to him as he felt hands on his chest and shoulders, but couldn’t see anything anymore. The ground was freezing beneath him, but it faded away as he arched upwards with taunt muscles and clenched hands. Pain erupted through him, opening a part of his head that he hadn’t noticed before, hadn’t ever even thought was there until it was suddenly flooding into him with too much information.
The world faded out around him, along with the tops of the buildings and Dean’s frightened face.
He remembers Hell.
The feeling of it as it singes his wings and makes him sicker the longer he stays there. He is fighting, charging his way in for one purpose and one purpose alone. To find Dean Winchester.
Dean can’t hear him, so he finds himself someone whom he could. A body that didn’t need to be anyone in particular aside from a devout man. Anything else makes no difference, and he looks upon Dean for the first time through human eyes.
He shows Dean his past in order to warn him of his future. All the while, knowing what was going to happen to his brother but doing as he was told regardless. It was all for the greater good, but it hurts Dean.
Dean stops him from destroying the lives of innocent people. Despite what his orders had been. He is relieved to have been told to listen to him, even if he tells them to leave.
The man frustrates him, but he deals with it. The man taunts him, but he takes each visit in stride.
The man was infuriating, but he is fascinated.
His brothers are dying, the war is going badly and there is someone on their side that is killing other angels. Someone he may know. He doesn’t like what he tells Dean to do, doesn’t like what Alistair does to either of them, and his heart breaks when he finds out it was Uriel.
Everything is circling down, and it’s ending with Dean in the center.
He feels guilt.
He wants to tell him, wants him to understand why it is that he’s doing what he is. What the purpose is for his brother and why he was told not to tell him. But his brothers find out before he can, and he is punished. He doesn’t like pain, doesn’t like it one bit and can’t escape it soon enough, so he agrees to say nothing.
He is weak, and Dean is strong.
The war begins, Lucifer is free.
But he chooses the right side, with the Winchesters against Lucifer. With Dean.
Sam has to leave Dean, and they have to let each other go, otherwise more people will die. They have to split up so that more hunters find them. More people know the truth. It eats away at Dean, but he is there to catch him when he falls. He doesn’t leave, he doesn’t run, and he doesn’t disappoint any longer.
Dean kisses him, and everything suddenly makes more sense.
The fascination makes more sense, and he wonders why he never noticed it before. Probably because he wasn’t human. Dean doesn’t seem to care.
He calls him ‘Cas’ and it feels more like his name than anything else ever did. Something that actually belongs to him when little else in Heaven ever had.
The angels hate him, aside from a few that join their cause. He doesn’t hear God, he doesn’t know for certain if what he’s doing is right, but it feels right. It makes sense but makes him want to scream at the same time.
Dean takes his hand, and he doesn’t feel so alone anymore.
Lucifer has him.
They’d worked so hard to close the gates. To cut off the reinforcements and finally hold the upper hand against the minions of Hell, but he’d caught them off guard. Caught him off guard. He’s pushed down into the body and trapped there as his vessel screams and dies. There’s no one else there anymore, and Lucifer tears him apart from the inside. It’s agony as he rips him to pieces, shoving everything that he’s ever known into the recesses and leaving him with nothing left.
Lucifer doesn’t win, but he defeats him before he goes. Defeats him and leaves him for dead like he was an empty shell.
He leaves him human, and trapped.
Then the fallen, angry seraph within him shoots Dean with his hands, and all he sees is blood.
It’s all he can do, the last thing he knows how to before it’s all pulled away from him. He pulls out the bullets, forces the body to stop bleeding. Forces the air back into Dean’s lungs and blood back into his heart. He fixes what he’s done, but he can’t fix himself.
It knocks him somewhere else, and he doesn’t know what’s happened anymore.
Doesn’t know anything.
Castiel opened his eyes.
He was warm, and safe, a feeling of contentment somewhere within him despite the fact that he knew there was still a great deal of himself that had been taken away. Removed from his angel soul and being suppressed with a force that was something he’d never overpower.
It was probably permanent, everything else that he’d lost.
It took him a second before he realized that he was in a bed. Probably in a hotel room, although he hadn’t a clue where that would be. His knees were drawn up to his chest, just as he always did, and there were arms wrapped protectively around him.
He uncurled his legs, twisting himself slightly so that he could move within the circle of the arms without pushing them away. As he did, he could feel that the person behind him was awake, and that they were letting him move as he would, without helping or pulling away.
Letting him remain there as if the very thought of letting go would mean he’d disappear.
Castiel didn’t blame him.
He turned himself around the entire way and came face to face with Dean Winchester. Hesitant hazel eyes stared at him sleepily, but focused, with an arm still draped over Castiel’s as if any argument he might possibly have had wasn’t going to get him to move it.
That wariness, that hesitation, it wasn’t necessary.
He leaned his head forward, tilting until he could place a kiss softly on the lips of the man before him. A chaste kiss that was similar to the one that Dean had given to him in what seemed like another life.
Dean responded, the hesitation clearing just enough that he moved into him as his hand gripped the angel’s forearm and clung with a hold that told him everything he needed to know.
I thought you were dead, I missed you, I’m sorry.
Castiel pulled himself back after a moment, the message clear, before smiling again, and was soon joined by Dean’s grin that was never easy to resist.
“You ok?” He asked tentatively.
“I will be, yes.”
Dean let out a huff of a laugh, his hands moving to Castiel’s face before running up through his hair then tracing hesitantly over the bruise still lingering on the side of his face. Castiel closed his eyes as he did, letting him see him and feel him and knowing that it wasn’t a dream or even a memory any longer. It was real, and it was now.
“What happened to you?” He asked, pursing his lips. Castiel shook his head, a hand moving to Dean’s chest where he could feel the scars of two, healed bullet wounds that would be something he’d regret for the rest of his existence. Dean’s hand moved to cover his.
“It doesn’t matter.” Castiel said, and he meant it. “It’s been a year, exactly a year to the day.
But I’m not lost anymore.”
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
-Henry David Thoreau
if you didn't already know; for the title, 525,600 minutes is how many minutes there are in a year.
Thanks for reading everyone <3