This time, Tamara will die. It’s a vampire this time, and as it hangs over her, breath stinking of cheap whiskey and worse, she spares an instant to find some relief in that: it’s not a demon. She’ll not fall to one of them. Never.
The vampire’s grip is iron, however she struggles. Its knee is planted between her thighs. Its rictus grin stretches wider as it considers her, and it infuriates her with the same old white-hot rage - but she’ll not burn her way out of this one.
“Kinda old,” the vampire says, words misshapen around its teeth. “Kinda tough.” It leans in closer, so that she’d have felt the heat of its breath, if it were human. “But not tough enough.”
Tamara just sees something out of the corner of her eye – a black shadow against a nearly black sky. It’s silent, and it swings something high and brings it low again, and with a squelch, the vampire’s head falls onto Tamara’s chest. Its body slumps on top her, pinning her.
“What the bloody hell,” she says, all that useless fury spilling over now. She shoves at the body, and she can’t quite move it but she can shift herself out from underneath. Free, she rolls over and up onto her knees. She doesn’t know where her knife is. She can’t quite see the person – or thing – that just did her the favor, but she can hear the shift of their weight on the forest’s pine-needle floor. “Put a hand on me, and you’ll regret it.”
Her savior hasn’t spoken a word, and yet now she hears a pause, and then— “Tamara?” The voice is male. The tone of it rings a bell, but a very faint one.
“That’s right,” she says warily. She’s damp with the monster’s juices, spurting sluggishly from its neck, and as she moves she feels the dent in her hip from the branch she fell on top of. That’ll be tender for weeks.
“It’s me,” says the voice. “Sam Winchester.”
It takes her a second or two. “Oh fuck me. It would be.”
He helps her up. Offers her a ride and a drink. “I’ve got a ride,” she says.
“Sure,” he says. So polite. Was he polite before? She doesn’t remember.
He’s already one step into a retreat, but she’s bruised and sore and too tired to hang onto old grudges. “I’ll take that drink, though,” she says.
“Sure,” he says again.
They seem to be headed out of the woods at roughly the same angle, so they walk together. Tamara notices Sam’s gait isn’t quite steady. “You hurt?” she asks. If he’s bleeding, it’s like chum in the water for any other vampire in the vicinity.
There’s a pause. “Oh,” he says finally. “No. It—It’s old.”
“Aren’t we all,” she says, and he laughs. She pulls her knife again and holds it at the ready, just in case someone else turns up.
They arrive without incident at Sam’s truck, which turns out to be parked within sight of hers. “Follow me?” he says, like he knows where he’s going.
She expects him to head to the nearest watering hole – she saw a bar on the edge of town that had the vibe of a hunters’ rest - but they pass right through and out the other side, onto a dirt road that winds through the trees. At one point something prickles across her neck: a ward. A sturdy one, too.
Eventually they pull into a clearing. A cabin sits at the edge of it, its porch illuminated by a naked bulb above the door. Tamara gets out of the truck. “Is this your place, then?”
“Yep,” he says, turning, and by the porch light she sees him properly for the first time. Crows’ feet radiate from the corners of his eyes, and gray streaks through the hair pulled back into a ponytail and peppers his five o’clock shadow. But his grin’s got a of boyishness to it that feels a little bit familiar.
It’s a bachelor’s house, she sees as soon as she gets in the door. Papers and books are piled on all the horizontal surfaces, and old dishes sit atop the papers. “Sorry,” he says, following her gaze. “I wasn’t expecting company.”
“Looks a lot like mine,” she says, and enjoys the blink of surprise.
“You, uh.” He retreats further into the house, and she follows. “You have a home base, too, these days?”
“I’m too old to live on the road full-time.”
He laughed again. “Yeah.” He rummages in a cabinet. “Whiskey?”
She considers that, and that’s all it takes to see the vampire looming over her again, unwashed and stinking of rotgut. She shakes off the image. “Beer?”
“We got that, too,” Sam says, heading for the refrigerator.
“Well.” He shrugs shoulders only a little thinner after all these years. “Me and myself.”
“And I?” she finishes.
“Nah.” He hands her a cold bottle. “Three’s a crowd, you know.”
There’s an odd note in there she can’t read, but his back is turned, and she lets the comment lie. She twists the cap off her beer and takes a swig. It doesn’t burn like she wants right now, but it doesn’t make her think of vampires, either, and that’s enough. “You’re local, then,” she says. “You the neighborhood watch?”
“Close enough, I guess.” Sam settles at the kitchen table, and Tamara takes the other chair. “And you? I wouldn’t have thought this would’ve hit the big papers yet.”
“I was in the area. Pair of ghouls, couple of towns over.”
“Pretty well entrenched – hard to tell how long ago the victims had passed. Might’ve been years.”
“What’d they do for food?” Sam asked.
“They ran the morgue,” Tamara said.
Sam barked a laugh. “I’ve heard that trick before.”
“Mm.” She doesn’t ask why he didn’t hear it this time. The signs were there, for those who knew what they were looking at. He can’t have been looking at all. She doesn’t ask about his brother – what was his brother’s name? It was on every hunter’s lips twenty years ago, during that business with the angels. Was it Dan? Dan Winchester, she thinks, that sounds right.
She drinks her beer, and she doesn’t ask. Courtesy, one hunter to another. She reaches the end of the bottle, and Sam says, “You want another one?”
One drink is courtesy, but two is something else. Tamara gives Sam Winchester a long look. He wasn’t an ugly kid, even back when she hated him, and the boyishness suits him now. She could find worse ways to spend the evening. But there’s a light in his eyes that she doesn’t understand. Three’s a crowd worries her, too, and so does the ward she felt coming in and the growing conviction that somewhere in this cabin there should be a dog, though she’s seen no evidence of one.
“I’ve got a long road,” she says instead, and he nods, understanding. He follows her to the door and lets her out. No one stops her, nothing happens, and yet she feels the prickle of that ward on the back of her neck all the way out to the highway.
“Fuck the Winchesters,” she says, vicious and maybe not quite fair, and she doesn’t slow down until she hits the state line.