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Atlanta Never Looked the Same

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Tyra's looking for her birth certificate when she finds it. Well, she finds her own birth certificate, and another clipped to it, same birth date, same mother and father listed, but instead of Tyra Ann, it says, Jessica Lee.

She holds the strange piece of paper up and says, "Mom?" like she means business. "What's this?"

"What's what, honey?" Her mother looks hunted, guilty, furtive. Tyra recognizes the look--she's seen it on her own face often enough. But she doesn't let it go.

Tyra waves the stranger's birth certificate under her mother's nose and her mother grabs hold of a corner, but Tyra doesn't let go. "This."

"Oh."

"Yeah, 'oh.' Could you not decide on a name or something?" Her mother lets the silence stretch awkwardly, and Tyra breaks it herself, finally. "I guess it's 'or something,' huh? Always is, with you."

*

These days, most of Tyra's money goes directly to tuition at Dillon Community College, but she has enough cash saved--she was going to go to Paris with Julie next summer, which is why she'd needed the birth certificate in the first place, to get a passport--to hire a private detective to track down her long-lost twin sister.

It takes him about a month--the Collettes never did anything official when half-assed would do, and so there's no real paper trail to follow. Of course, that also means there's no government agency standing in the way once the trail is found.

"I'm sorry," the detective says, handing over a brown pressboard file folded open to a photocopy of a newspaper article. Student dead in mysterious fire, says the headline, and there's a picture of an apartment building, second floor blackened, fire trucks parked out front.

"Thank you," she says, and hands him a check.

*

She heads west to California, the way she always wanted to, always knew she would. She spends the last of her Paris money on a Greyhound ticket to Palo Alto. She's got to see it, see Stanford, see what her twin had, what she lost.

She gets some strange looks, hears a couple of people whisper when she walks by, but the only one who says anything is the bartender at a local dive when she stops in to get herself a drink after a day of wandering the campus.

He doesn't even hesitate. "You look just like--"

"Jessica?"

He nods, pours her shot of tequila, puts a lemon on the napkin. "Didn't know she had a twin."

"Yeah, she didn't either." Tyra laughs. "You knew her?"

He nods. "Her boyfriend worked here, so she used to hang out. Poor guy. She was, she lit up a room, you know? I guess you do."

"Not so much, actually." Tyra knocks back the shot, sucks the lemon, thinking of the way everyone always watched her ass, glad to see her walking away, but only a handful of people ever bothered looking at her face. "The boyfriend, he got a name?"

"Sam. Sam Winchester."

She nods. Same guy from the article, then. He's on her list. "What happened to him?"

"He quit school. Last I heard, he was on some kinda road trip with his brother."

She leaves him a decent tip and smiles her thanks.

*

Detective Gonzales does a double take when Tyra rises to shake his hand in the waiting area. "Nobody mentioned a twin," he says as he leads her to the cluttered metal desk at the back of the squad room.

"We didn't know," she says, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. She's a lot better at hiding her anxiety around police now than she used to be, but she can't help fidgeting with her hair. "My mother couldn't afford to keep both of us, and the Moores were having trouble conceiving, so...." She trails off, shrugs a shoulder. "I only found out a few weeks ago myself."

"And then you found out she died."

"Yeah." Tyra's trying not to resent her mother for keeping this secret, and she's trying really hard not to resent Jessica for dying before Tyra could meet her and find out if she liked to put maple syrup on her sausage, or if she could only sneeze when she looked up at the light. If they were more the same than different, if life in Dillon would have somehow been better if they'd had each other, the way she and Mindy never had, not after Mindy discovered boys. "I was hoping to learn more about what happened."

"Well, what happened was an electrical fire. Our investigation didn't turn up any sign of foul play, despite what the local tabloids would have you believe."

"The tabloids?" She smiles a little, plays dumb. She's good at that, has years of practice, years of believing maybe she was dumb, and that's why everyone treated her that way, and though it's been a long time since she's believed that, it's not hard to slip back into that skin. It's a little too easy, actually, but she tries not to think about that.

"There was some speculation that her boyfriend and his brother killed her, but we didn't find any evidence of it." Detective Gonzales leans back in his chair, crosses his arms over his chest. "Maybe we should have looked harder." He shakes his head. "I'm sorry I don't have more to tell you, but it was just a freak accident."

"Thank you, Detective. I just, I needed to know, you know?"

He nods. "Closure. I get you." He smiles and leads forward.

She can feel the invitation coming and stands quickly to head it off. "Thanks again. Don't get up. I can show myself out."

She eases her way around the crowded squad room, and once she's back out on the street, she goes looking for a Kinko's, because she has some research to do. Maybe the police are satisfied with their explanation, but Tyra needs something more. She still hasn't found out who Jessica was, and maybe finding out everything about how she died can tell her.

*

She's in the Motel 6 parking lot, getting her bag out of the trunk, when she hears the click-clack of footsteps on asphalt. Her heart races, even though there are other cars around, and the motel desk clerk is within screaming distance. She shivers; she can still feel the rain on her skin, the heat of that bastard's body shoving her against the car, the memory so close she can taste it, bile climbing the back of her throat. Even knowing he's dead and gone doesn't really help. She holds her keys so tight they feel like they're cutting into the skin of her palm, and turns around.

It's a blonde girl, half a head shorter than she is, and she's pointing a gun. At Tyra.

Tyra puts her hands up. "I don't have a lot of money," she says, "but you can have what's in the bag."

"Jess?" The girl's hands are shaking just a little, which makes Tyra even more nervous.

"No. I'm her, her twin--" the word is still strange in her mouth "--her sister."

"Jess didn't have a twin."

"No, well, yeah, she did, but we were--" Tyra shakes her head. "My mom gave her up for adoption. I didn't know myself until a few months ago. I don't know who you think I am, but I swear, I'm not--"

The girl ignores her, so Tyra decides shutting up is probably wise. The girl is still pointing the gun at her, still shaking, one-handed now as she pulls out a cell phone and starts dialing. She doesn't look too happy about what she gets on the other end of the line.

"Sam, it's me, Becky," she says, and her voice is shaking, too. "I think there's another one of those things walking around," and Tyra wants to protest being called a thing, but she's not the one with the gun, though she thinks she could totally take this girl, especially the way she's trembling right now. "It looks just like Jess. Call me back as soon as you can."

Tyra tries again. "I'm not who you think I am. I'm just--I'm trying to find out--I wanted to find out about Jessica."

A car pulls into the parking lot, headlights playing over the scene, and Becky flees, tucking her gun into her purse. Tyra stands frozen in place until a woman leans out the passenger side window and says, "Are you okay?"

Tyra nods. She's the one shaking now, and her words get stuck in her throat. She manages a hoarse thank you, and then races into her room, slamming and locking the door behind her.

She doesn't sleep well that night, dreams of being held down, buried alive. When the rain starts spattering on the window sometime around four a.m., she gives up trying to sleep and gets out of bed. She rereads the file the detective gave her, and the notes she's made since then, and wonders what it is she's really looking for.

*

It's tempting, after that, to go home, to forget about Jessica, to give up on finding out what happened to her, to forget she ever existed and go back to the way things were before.

She calls her mother just to hear her voice, even though their conversation is full of guilt and recriminations.

"Come back home, Tyra."

Tyra wants to say, Yes, I will, but what comes out is, "I can't. Not just yet."

"I need you here."

"I know you do. But I--I need to find out who she was, and what happened to her. Don't you wanna know? She was your baby girl."

"You're my baby girl, Tyra, and I miss you." Her mother's voice is thick and muffled, and Tyra has to blink back her own tears in response.

"I miss you, too," she says, and means it. "But I have to do this."

Her mother sighs, and Tyra waits, listening to her breathe for a few seconds, before she hangs up.

*

After what happened with Becky, Tyra realizes she can't just show up on the Moores' doorstep and expect them not to freak. She finds the number in the phone book, dials it over and over, hangs up before it connects. Lets it ring once, twice, hangs up again. She's not made for this. She doesn't know what she wants from them, doesn't know that she has anything to give them but heartache.

The seventeenth time she dials, she's not fast enough and after half a ring, a soft voice answers, "Hello?"

"Hi, Mrs. Moore?"

"This is she."

"My name's Tyra Collette. I'm calling--My mom told me--" She stumbles, silently curses at herself for not having planned what to say in advance, for not being quick enough to hang up.

"You're Angela's girl?"

"Yes, ma'am." There's a long pause on the other end of the phone, and Tyra can hear Mrs. Moore's breath hitch. She squeezes her eyes shut, forces herself not to cry along. "I've caught you at a bad time." Stupid. Like there could ever be a good time for this. "I just--"

"No, no," says Mrs. Moore. "It's just so unexpected. Are you--are you free for dinner?"

"I--" Tyra knows it's a bad idea, but she can't resist. "Okay."

She takes down the directions and spends the rest of the afternoon trying not to throw up.

*

They haven't even sat down to eat and Tyra's ready to leave. Her face is all over the living room, staring back at her from the coffee table, the bookshelves, the wall above the piano--kindergarten, eighth grade, senior prom. It can't be any easier for the Moores--they look like they've seen a ghost. She can't blame them. She feels like she's looking into an alternate universe.

There was a time she'd have been envious of the nice house, the private school and ballet lessons, the first-rate college education and the stand-up boyfriend Jessica had had, and of how much her parents seem to miss her. But as determined as Tyra is not to turn into her mother, she also knows her mother loves her, and that gives her strength. She knows how easily the situation could have been reversed, how much more likely it was that she'd end up the dead girl, and all the nice things in the world don't make up for a painful, early death.

They don't have much to talk about--she sits on the striped sofa in her best button down shirt and black skirt, ankles crossed and hands clasped like she's a little girl in church, and listens to Mrs. Moore talk about Jessica, how sweet and smart she was, and how everyone loved her, and Tyra must know all about that. Tyra smiles and demurs. She wonders if her twin was another Lyla Garrity, and cuts that line of thought off abruptly. Lyla turned out okay after everything, and it wasn't like she didn't have her own set of problems Tyra wouldn't wish on anybody. They still exchange Christmas cards, and smile in the supermarket when Lyla comes home for the holidays.

Mr. Moore is silent and withdrawn; he puts his glass of iced tea down on a coaster and walks out about five minutes into the conversation, and Tyra is itching to follow him, out of the conversation, and out of the house. But she started this, so she'll see it through.

When she can't sit still any longer, she gets up to look at the pictures more closely, trying to see something of herself in them--she and Jess have the same face, but Jessica looks happy in the pictures, even when she's not smiling, and her hair is long and curly, soft. Everything about her is soft, and Tyra feels like she's made of angles and edges, cutting right through whatever scars have formed from their loss and opening the wounds up fresh.

There's a picture in which Jessica is sitting on the couch where Tyra's been perched; she's curled up next to a cute guy and they're smiling at each other like no one else exists in the world.

"Is that--"

"Sam," Mrs. Moore confirms. "He was devastated. And then what happened with his brother." She sniffs and shakes her head. "The poor boy can't help where he comes from, I suppose."

Tyra's ears perk up. "His brother?" The police had mentioned a brother, but the articles she'd found hadn't talked about him at all.

"He was killed by the police in St. Louis. A case of mistaken identity, or so Becky says, but someone killed those women."

Tyra freezes for a second, takes a sip of her iced tea to cover it. She has to clear her throat before she says, "Becky?"

"She was a friend of Jessica's at school."

Tyra nods; it's not like she can say anything about what happened in the motel parking lot. She studies the face in the picture--shaggy hair, bright eyes, wide smile--Sam looks like a good guy, like the kind of guy who would tutor a girl in algebra, or hold her when she cried. She wonders if he's the kind of guy who'd help hide the body, because she has the feeling there are bodies hidden somewhere, and he's the key to finding them.

"So you don't think he--"

"Sam loved Jessica. It was faulty wiring," Mrs. Moore says doggedly, the same way Tyra's mother would say she was sure this next job would work out, or her new boyfriend wasn't going to be as messed up as the last one. All fervent belief with no regard to whether or not the facts back it up.

Tyra's read the newspaper articles, even got a copy of the insurance report for her Paris money, and sure enough, the forms all claim it was faulty wiring, but the boyfriend disappeared and the brother's a killer and while Tyra's got enough skeletons in her closet to make her hesitate, she also knows when something doesn't add up right, and Jessica's death is not adding up right. Only her inborn distrust of the police stops her from calling Detective Gonzales again.

She finishes her iced tea and puts the glass down on the coffee table next to Mr. Moore's.

"I shouldn't have come," she says. "I'm sorry. I can't stay for dinner."

Mrs. Moore looks up at her with sad eyes and says, "I know, dear. I'm sorry."

*

That night, she calls Julie, needing to talk to someone who knows her name, who doesn't look at her face and see the ghost of a dead girl.

"What about school?" Julie asks. "You've missed almost a whole semester, and after you worked so hard for it."

"It'll still be there when I come back." Tyra says when, but they both know she means if.

"I suppose." Julie sounds doubtful, but then, she's having the time of her life at UT-Austin, and can't imagine the dingy reality that is Dillon Community College. "I hope you're having fun, at least. Let me know if you meet any cute guys."

Tyra laughs, and it feels good. She'd always planned to leave Dillon somehow, but she never thought she'd miss it once she was gone.

"They're not exactly knocking down my door, Jules."

"I have a hard time believing that."

"It's true."

"If you say so. Then you should come back to Dillon. Landry's pining for you like the heroine of a nineteenth century novel."

She stops laughing, closes her eyes against the pangs of guilt threaded through with homesickness and the desire to run back and forget everything she's learned so far. "I can't," she says softly. "I just--this is something I have to do."

Julie sighs. "I know."

It's a sound Tyra's gotten used to hearing from everyone she speaks to. Makes her less likely to call when she knows all the conversations will end the same way. Instead, she sends postcards: to Mindy, to Mom, to Landry, Julie, Tami, and even to Tim. Scribbles notes about the local attractions and the crazy weather. She never says, wish you were here, though sometimes, when she's folded up in the window seat on another Greyhound bus that smells like unwashed socks and day old tuna, legs cramping from sitting for hours in the same position, she longs for a friendly face, a familiar accent, the smell of the backyard after the rain tamps down the dust.

But then she thinks about Jess, and how nobody seems to know how she died, or why, and how easily and completely her boyfriend seems to have disappeared, as if he's dead himself, and it makes her keep going, at least as long as she's able to scrape up cash to keep moving. She can wait tables anywhere, after all; Dillon doesn't have that market cornered. And she needs to know what happened, as if knowing how Jess really died can tell her how she should live.

Tyra's never been the kind of girl who looks back. She knows exactly where she's been.

*

Sometimes, as the weeks stretch into months, she thinks about dumping it all on Mrs. Taylor, thinks she's the only one who might be able to untangle everything she's feeling and make sense of it, but as she delves deeper into looking for Sam Winchester, she realizes she can't do that. Not with the way bad things follow the guy around.

She uses all of the skills Landry taught her for researching papers to dig up records and newspaper articles, follows the trail of links littered with weird deaths and weirder stories. Flirty smiles and long legs open a few doors, and mouths, in county clerks' offices and local sheriffs' departments.

Some people clam up when she mentions the name Winchester, but those who are willing to speak to her as she follows Sam's trail across the country insist that he helped them. They also insist his brother was with him, which she knows can't be true. She has a copy of Dean Winchester's obituary in her file now, along with a list of other crimes he's supposedly committed, and it should scare her, the stories of ghosts and darkness, of two guys who either kill scary evil things or are scary evil things--nobody, least of all Tyra, is sure which--but it just makes her more determined to find out the truth.

*

In Boise--she doesn't spend much time in small towns if she can help it, even though that's most often where the Winchesters' trail leads; they remind her too much of the home she pretends she doesn't miss--she shares shifts at a brewpub with a girl named Jo.

Tyra recognizes a lot of herself in Jo--the struggle to be more than another blonde girl with a forgettably pretty face, the frustrated desire to do something, be something. Something more. Something different.

Neither of them fit in with the crowds of students looking to get drunk and laid, and Jo shakes her head and laughs when guys hit on her, turns them all down, even though sometimes she gets this longing look on her face as she watches them walk away. Tyra doesn't go home with any of them, either. She understands that longing look, sympathizes, even--it's been a long, lonely few months, with only her vibrator for company--but she's wary, has been since the night of the attack, and nothing she's learned since she's been on the road has reassured her that she's anything like safe.

"You got a boyfriend waiting at home?" Tyra asks one night after the bar is closed and they're leaning against it doing shots instead of cleaning up like they're supposed to.

"No. You?"

Tyra shrugs. "Landry is--"

"Landry? Seriously?"

"It's Texas," Tyra says, and Jo nods. It's explanation enough.

"Big ol' football player, then?"

"No. Well, yes. He played. But he's not like that." She shakes her head. "It's complicated."

Jo laughs. "Always is."

"It's just--You ever been through something with somebody that nobody else will ever understand?" Jo nods and looks away, pours them each another shot of tequila. "Landry and I--it's like that. So even though we're not...he's not--"

Jo knocks back the shot and sets her glass down on the bar. "What are you really looking for, Tyra?"

"My sister. Whatever killed her." She tells Jo the barebones outline of her story. It's easier than she expected to talk about it, after weeks of not saying anything much to her friends and family when they call.

"So let me get this straight," Jo says, pushing herself up on her elbows from her slumped position on the bar. "You had a long-lost twin sister who died, and you think her boyfriend killed her, so you're trying to find him."

"I don't know if he did or not." Tyra shakes her head, still not sure what she thinks. "But he disappeared after, and I--I need to find him."

Jo snorts in disbelief. "So he can kill you, too?"

"Because he's the only one who knows what happened." Tyra's hand shakes a little as she pours out another pair of shots, and after she sets the bottle down carefully, she clenches it into a fist. "Because I need to know."

"How she died?"

"And how she lived." Jo shakes her head and Tyra has had enough. "Are you gonna tell me to go home, that it's not safe and not smart, and I shouldn't worry my pretty little head about it? 'Cause I've heard just about enough of that from everyone else and--"

"God, no." Jo straightens up completely. "I would never. It's just--it's not safe, Tyra. Some of the things I've seen." She shakes her head.

Tyra stops breathing for a second, then asks, her voice low and urgent, "Things you've seen?"

Jo meets her gaze squarely, seriously. "My mother owns a bar." She glances around at the shiny mirrors and pennants from the local college football team on the walls, the neon signs advertising Bud and Miller Lite. "Not like this. A bar for hunters. I grew up there."

Later, Tyra isn't sure how much she believes and how much is the tequila talking, but some of the things Jo tells her match up with some of the things she's heard from other people, so she writes it all down, adds to the growing number of pages in her file, making her handwriting small and precise so she can fit as much as possible on each sheet of paper, though she has almost all of it memorized by now. Landry would be proud of how she's using the study skills he taught her. She wants to call him, but she knows the only things she has to say at this point are Thank you and I'm sorry, and neither is what he wants to hear.

Instead, she climbs in between the itchy sheets of her motel room bed, pulls out the road atlas she bought when she realized this trip was going to take longer than expected, and plots her course.

*

By the time Tyra hits Nebraska, her lone credit card is maxed out, her checking account balance is in the single digits, and the cash she made at her last waitressing job is long gone. But that's okay, because she's exactly where she wants to be. She walks into the roadhouse like she owns it, places like this all too familiar, and ignores the way everyone stares at her as she walks to the bar.

"Hi," she says to the woman behind it, who looks as tough as Jo tries to sound, and maybe in a few years she'll get there, if she doesn't get herself killed first. "Jo mentioned you're looking for a waitress?"

*

She learns a lot at the Roadhouse, learns that Jo wasn't yanking her chain, that some of the stories she's heard aren't just stories, and everything she's believed about the world is turned upside down. Again. She should be used to that, but apparently, she isn't.

Ellen takes to her, teaches her the basics of salt and silver and fire, but Tyra's got no desire to hunt, just a need to know. She doesn't tell Ellen the whole story (she doesn't have the whole story, and isn't sure it's hers to tell, anyway), just mentions that she had a sister who died mysteriously, and she wants to understand why and how, and that Jo told her maybe Ellen could help.

She doesn't mention Sam Winchester at all.

She can't say she's forgotten him, or Jess, or what she's doing waiting tables at a crappy roadhouse in the middle of nowhere when she should be in college, the first Collette to earn a bachelor's degree instead of earning tips at bachelor parties, but she's trying to absorb everything she's seeing and hearing about the shadow world she never even knew existed. She wonders if Jessica knew, if it was knowing that killed her, or not knowing that proved more dangerous.

Tyra knows which one she prefers.

*

Hunters like to talk, and Tyra's an appreciative audience. She nods and smiles and makes encouraging noises and they sit at the bar and tell her things that, six months ago, she'd have laughed at, but she's seen the scars and heard the stories, even helped bandage the wounds one night when Jack Conlon got himself torn up by some kind of werecat.

There's talk about the Winchesters, too, the kind of talk that makes them sound like legends themselves, myths instead of men, though not all of it is positive. Tyra soaks it all up, the good ("The Winchester boys are damn fine hunters--they know their business.") and the bad ("Sure, they'll take down whatever evil sumbitch they're hunting, but they don't play well with others, and people have a nasty habit of dying in their vicinity."), and makes notes in her file, as obsessive in her way as these hunters are, though she's stalking different prey.

It's coming on spring when she leaves. The air is still crisp and cold, and there's always the possibility of snow, but the days are getting longer and the trees look like they want to bud, and Tyra hears Ellen talking to some guy named Dean on the phone. It doesn't register at first, until Ellen asks about Sam, and then she knows.

She buys a truck that's nearly as old as she is, from one of the Roadhouse regulars named Dwight, and packs up her stuff. She thanks Ellen, promises to keep in touch, and drives away. She isn't sure yet what direction she should be going in, but she heads south with the spring.

*

She's been in Memphis a week, has started thinking maybe she should just go home and forget about this whole crazy thing--she's lonely, after the familiarity of the Roadhouse, but talking to her mother just reminds her there's nothing waiting for her in Dillon either--when she finally catches up with the Winchesters. Or, to be exact, they catch up with her.

She sees the car first, as she pulls into the spot in front of her room. It's the kind of car every man in Dillon would have sold his soul for, black and sleek and gleaming like a shark under the yellow light of the parking lot. There are two guys packing the trunk. She doesn't make the connection at first, not until she hears a sharp, Sam rise above the low murmur of their conversation, and a few seconds later, an answer, Dean.

They're getting into the car, and after a few moments of internal argument, she turns her truck around and follows.

Tyra doesn't scare easy, but she has a few pangs of fear when they stop outside a cemetery and climb the fence, duffel bags tossed over in advance, thinks about turning around and driving away, to the motel. Straight back to Dillon. But she knows she's come too far to turn back now.

She knows the basics--to destroy a ghost, dig up the grave, salt and burn the bones--but she's still not sure she believes any of it, though seeing Dean Winchester alive and throwing himself over a fence when he's supposed to be dead and gone definitely makes her less inclined to be skeptical.

She sits in her truck for a bit, figuring it will take them a while to dig up the grave, and she's got to work up the nerve to climb the fence--it's not like she's never climbed a fence before, but it's been a few years, and truth be told, her hands are a little unsteady. But she does it, up and over, fingers and palms stinging from the chilly metal. As she stumbles over her own feet, she wishes she'd thought to bring a flashlight before she remembers the blue light of her phone, flips it open to guide her through the darkness.

The Winchesters aren't hard to track. Sound carries in the night air, and she can hear the rhythm of talking and digging from pretty far away. She watches from a distance, hidden by the bulk of a mausoleum, the stone draped with ivy and the chill of it bleeding through her jacket until she's got her arms wrapped around herself and her jaw clenched to keep her teeth from chattering. She's a little surprised, actually, because earlier it had felt like a nice spring evening, the kind that makes her miss home a little, when the humidity presses against her skin like a hug from her mother.

She's so busy trying to stay quiet and get warm that she doesn't even notice the silence until it's broken by a shout.

"Get down!"

She looks up to see a man who must be Dean Winchester pointing a shotgun at her, and instinct kicks in. She drops to the ground, teeth chattering, and looks up in time to see him shoot at a cloud of smoke that's coalescing above her. It dissipates and she feels a scattering of salt against her skin. She presses her face to her forearm for a few seconds, trying to process what's happening, and feels the chilly touch of the ghost--a fucking ghost, she thinks in shock--stirring her hair.

"Sam," he yells.

"I've got it," Sam yells back, and there's another shotgun blast, and when she looks up, the ghost is dissolving into flame that fades into the air, like it had never been there at all.

"You okay?" Dean says, offering her a hand up. It's warm and strong and callused, probably from using shovels and guns, and she squeezes a little tighter than necessary. It's been a while since she's touched someone else, since she's wanted someone else to touch her.

"Yeah, thanks." She nods and brushes the hair out of her eyes, before trying to dust the dirt off her clothes. When she looks up again he's staring at her and, instead of holding out a helping hand, he's pointing a gun.

"Sam," he yells again, and Sam comes rushing over and then skids to a halt, staring, his mouth slack and open in surprise. His flashlight is blinding her.

"Please," she says, holding her hands up in supplication, right hand going to shield her eyes. "Wait. I've been looking for you."

Sam finally looks away, looks over at his brother, and she glances over, as well, and part of her mind registers that Dean Winchester is one good-looking son of a bitch, but mostly she's focused on the barrel of the gun aimed in her direction.

"I knew I should've had a speech or something," she says, the words tumbling over themselves because they both have that hard look in their eyes, and she doesn't want to die in a cemetery hundreds of miles from home because she's been chasing that something that didn't want to be found. "My name is Tyra Collette and I'm from Dillon, Texas." She lets her bag slide down her shoulder. "My wallet's in here; you can check it out."

The Winchesters glance at each other, and in the exchange is a whole conversation she's not part of.

"You've been asking around about us," Sam says, and his voice is soft and hard at the same time, and something in it sounds ready to break.

"I need to know what happened," she answers, not completely successful at keeping the tremor out of her voice. "I need to know what happened to Jessica."

Dean says, "Is this some kind of sick joke, you shapeshifting freak?"

"I'm not--I swear I'm not a shapeshifter or whatever. Look in my bag, there's a file." She holds the bag out, and Sam takes it from her warily, Dean still covering her with the gun. "A few months ago, I found out that I had a twin sister." The words still taste funny on her tongue--sister she's used to, has always had an older sister, but twin is still so foreign it might as well be French, and yet she can't help but think of herself and Jess as bound together now, after so many long months with no other real company. "My mother--she couldn't afford twins, so she gave Jessica up and kept me."

Sam pulls the brown pressboard folder out of her bag and aims his flashlight at it; he flips through it, frowning, and some of the pages flutter to the ground. Tyra forces herself not to crouch down and pick them up, afraid if she moves, Dean will shoot her.

"So let me get this straight," Dean says. "You're Jess's long-lost twin sister, coming to avenge her death." He laughs, though the gun in his hand never wavers. "Wow. That's not the craziest thing I've ever heard, but it's pretty damn close."

"It sounds crazy, but it's true." Tyra hates the way her voice quavers, swallows hard and clears her throat before she speaks again. "You can call Mrs. Moore. She knows the truth."

"You mean you tricked her."

"No. She worked with my mother in Dallas, but she and her husband couldn't conceive, so when we were born, the Moores adopted Jessica, and my mother took me back to Dillon."

"There are two birth certificates here, Dean," Sam says, looking up from the folder. "If they're fakes, they're high quality."

Dean grunts but lowers the gun, and when he sees her looking at the pages on the ground, he tilts his head, giving her permission to move. She slips to her knees to gather the sheets of loose leaf Sam let fall, holds them against her chest like a shield, like they can keep her safe if these men are the killers the FBI says they are instead of the good guys she thinks they might be. She's always been a decent judge of character, even if she sometimes used to ignore her instincts.

"I'm still not sure I shouldn't plug you full of silver," Dean mutters, but he keeps the gun at his side.

"We've never seen a shapeshifter keep the same shape for so long," Sam says before Tyra can answer. He doesn't look at her, keeps his eyes on Dean or the file. "Becky left that message months ago, and apparently, Tyra's been following us around for a while."

"You could call Ellen," she says. "I worked for Ellen Harvelle at the Roadhouse, and with Jo in Boise."

"The Roadhouse burned to the ground a few weeks ago," Dean says, his voice hard.

Tyra feels her knees go weak, has to lean back against the mausoleum to hold herself up. "Ellen? Ash?"

"Ash is dead," Dean says bluntly. "But Ellen is alive."

Tyra breathes deep, blinks back the tears that are threatening to fall. "I don't--I don't know what to say."

Dean scowls and looks at Sam, who frowns and shrugs and tucks her folder under his arm. Another private conversation, and then Dean says, "Fine. You can tell your story walking." But instead of heading towards the exit, he and Sam turn back towards the grave they'd been digging.

"What--"

"We can't just leave it dug up. It's bad enough the groundskeepers will know it was disturbed," Sam says, walking ahead of her, and he's tall enough that she has to scramble a little to keep up, which is new, "but unless we have a good reason to leave it that way, we try to keep the mess to a minimum."

"You're just lucky we only have two shovels, or you'd be helping," Dean says.

As she settles on a nearby headstone to wait, Tyra isn't sure lucky is the word she'd use.

*

They're fast and methodical--they've obviously done this before--and it doesn't take them long to refill the grave. She asks about the ghost, but Dean snaps, "This ain't your weekly stitch'n'bitch, sweetheart," and she decides it's not worth the effort. Not when she can see the gleam of the gun in his waistband.

They flank her on the way out; they don't even discuss it, but she knows she's still some kind of threat in Dean's mind, and Sam still won't look at her for more than a few seconds at a time, like he still can't believe what he's seeing, and if he looks directly at her, she'll disappear.

They walk her to their car and when she turns to go to her truck, Dean says, "No way, sister. You're coming with us."

She nods and swallows back the metallic taste of fear, slides into the backseat and tries not to freak out too much. Tells herself this is an adventure, and if Dean was going to shoot her, he'd have done it already, back at the cemetery, where they could have easily dumped her into the open grave.

Sam keeps looking at her in the rearview mirror, and she can't hold his gaze--he's got a haunted look in his eyes, and she knows she didn't put it there, but she damn sure ain't going to be able to take it away, either. So she looks out the window instead, aware that he's watching and trying not to be freaked by it.

They arrive at a Denny's in about fifteen minutes, and her stomach gurgles in anticipation. She laughs in surprise, and Dean looks over his shoulder at her with a half-grin that makes her stomach flip with a different kind of hunger, but she's not here for that.

Sam and Dean are both sweaty and streaked with dirt, and Tyra's got grass stains all down the front of her jeans and a mixture of salt and dirt on her jacket, but the waitress doesn't even blink, just leads them to a booth in the back, where Dean gestures for her to slide in first and then sits down next to her, as Sam takes the other bench.

They all stare at their menus in silence for a few minutes, and Tyra can feel the questions itching under her skin, the answers she's been looking for since she found that birth certificate right in front of her, and yet she can't seem to bring herself to ask, takes refuge in the tired waitress's request for their order.

"Pancakes," she says, "and coffee. And a side of bacon."

"What she's having," Dean says, beaming at the waitress, who looks flustered at the attention, "and a side of hashbrowns, too."

"Western omelette," Sam says, "and orange juice in addition to coffee."

Like they've been out drinking all night and are stopping off at the Alamo Freeze to carb up after. It's surreal.

The waitress leaves and Dean, tone still skeptical, says, "So you're Jessica's long-lost twin sister, huh?"

"So I guess you didn't actually die in St. Louis," she answers, and he laughs.

"Rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated. But give it another year and--"

"Dean--" There's something in Sam's voice she can't identify, and they stare at each other for a long moment like she isn't even there, and Dean looks away first.

"Whatever. Look, Tara--"

"It's Tyra, Dan."

"Whatever," he says again, shredding his napkin, though his mouth quirks in something that might have become a smile. "What the hell do you want?"

"I told you, I want to know." She takes a deep breath, tries to keep her voice and her hands steady. "You didn't kill Jessica, did you." She knows now, feels it deep in her bones.

"No." Dean gives a short bark of laughter that has no humor in it, and Sam just looks wounded.

"She died because of me," Sam says.

"But you didn't kill her."

"Of course he didn't kill her," Dean says, bristling.

"Whoa, there, big fella," she says, leaning away from him and holding up her hands to calm him. "I'm just--they couldn't find a reason for the fire, and it looked--"

"It looked suspicious," Sam finishes, his face set in grim lines. "Yeah."

They pause while the waitress sets their mugs of coffee on the table, and puts a handful of creamer cups in the center. Tyra dumps three sugar packets into her coffee and then grabs three creamers, pours them in and watches the cloud of milk spread, stirring the whole time.

"So what happened?" she asks when they don't say anything.

Dean takes a long gulp of coffee, no sugar or cream, and it's surely hot enough to burn his mouth, but he just looks like he's found heaven, eyes closed and face lit up with pleasure.

Sam stares down at his own mug, long fingers wrapped around it, not drinking at all.

"There was a demon," Sam starts.

At the same moment, Dean says, "It's complicated."

"No shit, Sherlock," she snaps back, and then what Sam said sinks in. "Demon? Like, 'my name is legion,' cast out by Jesus demons?" she asks, disbelieving and scared all at once, faded memories of Sunday school rising in her mind.

"Yeah."

"Are you serious?"

"As a heart attack. Look, not that it's any of your business--"

"She was my sister." There's a ferocity in Tyra's voice that surprises even her. "I never knew her, but she was still my sister. I've spent my college tuition, the money I was planning to use to go to Paris, and the last few months of my life trying to find out what the hell happened to her, because nobody seems to know, and nobody seems to care." She can feel herself getting angry, getting tearful, and she grabs hold of her coffee mug and takes a sip to calm herself down.

The waitress, seemingly oblivious to the tension, sets their plates down on the table, and Tyra is torn between nausea at being denied answers after she's come all this way, and hunger, because it's been about ten hours since she last ate, and it's the middle of the night and she might just break down and cry.

Sam and Dean exchange another look, and then Sam says, "This demon killed our mom when I was a baby. We spent our whole lives hunting for it."

"And it killed Jessica because it was trying to get back at you for that?"

"We think it was because Dad had found its trail, finally," Dean says, in between shoving forkfuls of hashbrowns into his mouth. He eats like a little kid, all hunger and mess, and it makes her bite back a laugh, even amid the gravity of the conversation.

Something flickers across Sam's face, but all he says is, "I was gonna marry her. Settle down, become a lawyer." It's his turn to laugh, and it's a bitter sound. Reminds Tyra of Jason Street right after his accident, his whole life suddenly turned in a totally new direction. Jason's done okay for himself--he always did--but he'd had a lot of help, and a lot of people pulling for him. Tyra's not sure what Sam has, aside from his brother and a crazy-ass life hunting evil. She doesn't know if that's enough. For his sake, she hopes it is.

She reaches out, wraps her hand around Sam's. "I'm sorry," she says, and she means it. "I wish--I wish I'd known her."

"Yeah, well, that and a buck fifty...won't actually get you much of anything, these days," Dean says.

Sam smiles sadly, though, and squeezes her fingers. "Thanks. I wish you had, too."

"So this thing is still out there? And you're still chasing it?" she asks, ready to offer her help, though she has no idea how.

Sam shakes his head. "No." He drains his glass of orange juice, but only picks at his eggs.

"We finally killed that yellow-eyed son of a bitch. Got a few other problems to deal with, but that one's checked off the to-do list."

"Oh." She deflates a little. "Good. That's good. So it's over."

"It is for you," Dean says. "We've still got some business to take care of--evil doesn't take vacations, so neither do we--but you can go home now, get back to your life."

"It doesn't have to be," she says. "I could help you. I--" I'm not ready to go home, she thinks, but knows she can't say it, knows she'd sound like a petulant child if she did.

"Go home," Dean repeats, sticking his fork into Sam's plate and starting to eat his eggs. "You're not trained, and this is no kind of life for a girl like you. You have--"

She draws herself up straight and cuts him off. "A girl like me? You don't know the first thing about me."

"You're right, I don't, and while normally I wouldn't mind getting to know you biblically, if you know what I mean," he waggles his eyebrows at her and she itches to slap the leer off his face, digs her fingernails into her palm to keep from doing it, "this is no business for amateurs. Have you ever even held a gun?"

"I'm from Texas," she answers.

He shrugs. "So?" He shakes his head. "It's a shitty job with long hours and no pay. You'd have to be crazy to want it, if you've got other alternatives." He looks at Sam, and for a second, something softens in his eyes. "Seriously, go home."

"My whole life, people have been making assumptions about me, and telling me what I can or can't do based on them. Don't you do it too."

Dean looks at her, and for a second she thinks he looks sorry, and a little sad, but he just shakes his head and calls for the check.

Tyra finishes her bacon and half her pancakes, and when she offers to pay for her meal, Dean waves her off. He gets up to go to the restroom and Sam says, "So what do you do, in Texas?"

"I'm a waitress," she says. "I'm going to community college, or I was. I was hoping to transfer to UT-Austin in September, be the first Collette woman to graduate college, but--" She shrugs. "I ended up here."

"You can go back," he says, and she's not sure she's imagining the emphasis he puts on the 'you.' "You'll be safer."

She thinks about the guy who tried to rape her, the ghost that attacked her tonight. The stories she'd heard at the roadhouse. "Will I?"

It's Sam's turn to shrug. "I'd like to believe it," he says, and she nods. It's more comforting than believing the alternative, even if it's a lie, even if they both know how easily that lie can be stripped away.

*

They drop her back at her truck and she follows them to the motel, radio tuned low to keep her company, drown out her thoughts.

She falls into a deep, exhausted sleep, and wakes to the sound of car doors slamming in the parking lot. Again, she catches the Winchesters packing the trunk, notices that they don't have much more stuff than she does, even though there are two of them, and their whole lives are packed into those duffels.

She stands in the doorway of her room and watches for a few minutes before she says, "Be careful."

They both stare at her legs, bare under her t-shirt, and Dean mutters, "Twins," and shakes his head like he still can't believe it. She smiles at him for the first time, wide and bold, enjoying his reluctant appreciation. He turns away before he smiles back, but he wants to. She can tell.

She gives them her cell number, takes Sam's in return. Dean doesn't offer, which shouldn't surprise her, but does.

They drive off in a rumble of engine and the screech of guitars pouring from the open windows, and Tyra wonders what to do next.

Her phone rings while she's drying her hair.

This time, when her mother says, "Tyra, baby, come on home," Tyra says, "Okay."

She doesn't know if she'll stay when she gets there, but she thinks she can figure that out on the way.

end

~*~