The little coffee shop in San Diego was just a temporary stop while they figured out where their next hunt would be. Dean sipped at his coffee watching as Sam scoured the Internet on his laptop. His time was running out, they both knew it but they refused to talk about it. Dean knew that Sammy was still looking for a way for him to get out of the contract, trying to find out more about Lilith. Dean was pretty much resigned to his fate but he knew it was worth it. Sam would be alive, safe and able to keep hunting. When he looked up again, Sam was staring across the café.
“Dude, pretty girl?”
Sam shook his head, and then nodded towards the line at the register. “If it weren’t high noon, eighty degrees, cloudless and sunny, I’d swear that was Lenore.”
Dean twisted around to look. Dark hair, same build, but when the woman looked up from her purse Dean stopped breathing. “Not Lenore,” he said.
He got out of the booth, standing and staring. “Tara.”
She must have heard him because she looked over at him after she got her drink. “Dean? Dean Winchester.” She smiled and came over to him, hugging him with her free arm. He hugged her back, breathing her in, all his memories of her flooding back to him. She let go, stepped back and really looked at him. She got a sad look in her eye and brushed a hand against his cheek. “Oh Dean, what have you done?”
Sam gave him a glare; Dean just gave him a small nod. Sam tilted his head but nodded back. “I’ll just go get us refills,” Sam said, exiting the booth.
Dean guided Tara to the booth, his hand on the small of her back. The electricity from that small touch returned as if the years between them were nothing. When he sat across from her, she took his hands. “Dean, why?”
“It’s a long story, but I have my reasons. You’re looking great, Tara. It’s been what? Six years?”
“Almost eight. That’s Sam, the mysterious younger brother?”
“Yeah, that’s Sammy.”
“And your dad?”
It still hurt, thinking of his dad. “Gone.”
She squeezed his hand. “I know it’s been too long, but I need to know, Dean. What was important enough to bargain your soul?”
“How do you know that? How does she know that, Dean? I was gone for less than two minutes and you’re telling this girl everything?”
They both looked up to see Sam standing there, holding the two coffees. Dean released Tara’s hands, glaring at his brother. “She’s a woman, Sam, a very special woman. She just—knew.”
“I read auras,” Tara said. “It’s all over his. Your brother is very special to me, Sam.”
Sam set the coffees down on the table, crossing his arms against his chest. “I’m sure he is. Dean’s special to a lot of women. What did he save you from? Vampire? Ghost?”
“Got it the wrong way around there, Sam. Tara saved me. Remember the time we were out here, doing all those jobs centered around that one town?”
“Sunnydale, I remember. You went out on that poltergeist gig. You called and said you were holed up recovering from some injuries. You never mentioned her.”
“Wasn’t relevant at the time. Sit down, Sam, Tara kinda knows what we do, she’s a…,” he stopped, looking over to Tara. “Do you call yourself a witch?”
She smiled. “I do, I run part of a small shop in town selling charms and healing items. You did it for Sam, didn’t you? When you’re together, your auras are linked. I’ve not seen anything like it in a very long time.”
Dean didn’t know what to say. He’d honestly never thought he’d see Tara again. Running into her, talking to her, hell, just being near her brought all kinds of feelings he thought he’d buried after Cassie. Truth be told, his few days with Tara had probably helped him love Cassie. Under pressure Dean might admit Tara was the first woman he’d loved, even if he hadn’t realized it at the time.
“Dean, we should go,” Sam said.
“Do you have to?” Tara asked, reaching for Dean’s hands again.
He really hated seeing the sadness in her eyes. He was tired. They’d been going from hunt to hunt, driving all over so they, okay so he, wouldn’t have to think about the bargain he’d made. The fight with the demons Lilith sent had taken a lot out of both of them. He was exhausted, mentally and physically. The world would survive if the Winchester brothers took a break.
“No, we can stay,” he said. “But we’d have to find a hotel or motel to bunk at.”
“Nonsense, I have an apartment above the shop. There’s a spare room and a couch. You can tell me everything.”
“Just a minute,” Sam said. “Dean…can we talk?”
“I’ll be just outside,” Tara said.
Dean nodded and watched as she slid out of the booth, her own drink in hand. Sam sat just as soon as she was gone. “What the hell, Dean? She’s a witch?”
“A good one, Sam. She used her magic to get me fixed up quicker. I trust her.”
“You slept with her.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Fuck, yes it’s my business, Dean,” Sam hissed. “What, do you think she’ll be able to find some way out for you? I’ve been looking for months and haven’t found a thing, neither has Bobby.”
“Doesn’t stop you from looking, does it?” Sam didn’t have an answer for that. “Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. I’m tired, Sam, you’re on edge, we need to stop for a few days. She’s offering us a place. She can cook, Sam, her pie is to die for.”
Sam tried not to smile, but the corner of his mouth lifted just a little. Dean could see that he was thinking about it. “Okay, maybe she’ll tell me how she got Dean Winchester to stay put long enough to get well.”
Dean cuffed Sam on the shoulder. They left the booth, coffees in hand and went out to find Tara. She was leaning against the Impala, soaking up the sun. Dean swallowed hard, pushing down the really dirty thought that had popped up. She grinned when she saw him, not helping with the bad thoughts. She patted the car.
“I see you still have her.”
“Yeah, she’s been through a lot, but she’s still with me.”
Sam rolled his eyes. Dean just elbowed him as he opened the door for Tara.
When she’d heard her name, Tara hadn’t thought about whom the voice had belonged to. She had a lot of regular customers who constantly stopped her no matter where she was to ask her a question or get her advice. She’d always wondered if Mr. Giles had suffered the same fate running the Magic Box. But when she saw Dean Winchester, her heartbeat sped up, her whole being filling with memories and joy. When she hugged him he smelled just as she remembered him; leather, dust and all man. The years had been good to him, despite the lines on his face. Then she’d taken a good look at his aura.
She was glad he’d agreed to stay; they really did have a lot to talk about. Sam’s aura spoke of anger, frustration, but mostly worry. Tara hoped that she’d be able to convince him that she only wanted the best for Dean, like he did. As they drove to her building, she took a deeper look. The loss of their father was etched deep, but healing. The loss of his soul colored Dean’s aura in grays and black that bled into Sam’s because of their connection. Sam’s aura sported an array of colors and patterns, and something that hinted at both darkness and an ability of some kind. They pulled in behind her building and Tara led the Winchester brothers up the back stairs to her apartment.
“It’s not much, but its home,” she said.
“You kept some of the furniture from the house,” Dean said. “What happened to that place?”
“I sold it,” she replied. “After I left for college it didn’t seem like home anymore. The money helped me get this place and a stake in the shop.”
“I’m sorry you had to leave your gardens behind, I know how much work you put into them.”
“It’s okay; I made sure the family that bought the place like gardens. The mom was thrilled to have them. Now, the spare room is through there, the couch pulls out into a bed. You two will have to figure out who gets what. Bathroom down the hall, you can wash up while I make us some food.”
Tara left them to themselves. She’d make sandwiches for now, the chicken she had in the slow cooker would serve for dinner but she’d have to say goodbye to the leftovers she’d planned on. It didn’t matter because she’d needed to go grocery shopping anyway. Dean was the only one at the table when she brought out the platter.
“Sam’ll be out in a minute,” he said. “You still bake your own bread?”
“When I can,” she said.
Dean leaned forward to help himself, several chains falling out of his shirt. Tara recognized the charm she’d given him hanging from one.
“You kept it.”
He followed her gaze, his hand coming up to enclose the small disk. “Yeah, I…uh didn’t think a small hole would affect it.”
“No, it wouldn’t. If you’re here, I know it kept you safe.”
“What kept him safe?” Sam asked, walking in, sitting down and grabbing a sandwich. He noticed Dean’s hand enclosing the charm. “That thing? I thought it was just for decoration. And he’s not exactly safe now is he?”
Dean started to say something but Tara stopped him with a hand. The underlying anger between the two permeated their auras. “The charm doesn’t work like that.”
“Some witch you are,” Sam said.
“Sam,” Dean growled.
“Boys,” she said sharply, putting a little bit of her power behind the word. They sat back, chastened. “The witches you’ve dealt with more than likely worked in the black. I’m strictly a white witch; our magic is a little more nuanced. We work with nature, with the power in the earth to subtly shift things. There’s only so much we can do without going black. The charm won’t affect anything natural; heart attacks, old age, that kind of thing. It also can’t overcome anything the person using it chooses to do of their own free will. Dean made a bargain freely, there’s nothing any charm I made could do.”
“You should have just left me dead,” Sam said, pushing back from the table nearly knocking the chair over as he stood. “I’m going to go get some sleep.”
Tara watched as Dean’s aura rippled and changed in response to Sam’s words. She moved her chair closer to him. She wanted to comfort him, to hold him but she wasn’t sure how he’d respond to that. Instead she put her hand on the table close to his. “What did he mean by that?”
“I have nothing but time, Dean. They say confession is good for the soul.”
“I don’t have mine.”
“It’s an expression. Tell me everything, it will do you good.”
She watched as he thought about it, every emotion displayed in his eyes. He took a deep breath, covered her hand with his and began. “It started when Dad went missing.”
He told her everything; his mom’s death, the yellow-eyed demon, Jessica, the Colt, John’s death, Sam’s powers, Sam’s death, his deal with the crossroads demon and what little he knew about Lilith. Tara just listened, asking questions every now and then. She was right; it felt good to get it all out in the open, to share it all with someone other than Sam and Bobby.
“Well, that explains the spot on Sam’s aura that I couldn’t place,” she said. “It might have something to do with demon blood, but you both put a little too much stock into it.”
“But it explains his powers.”
“Maybe, but there is the possibility he had the powers all along, maybe all of the kids this yellow-eyed demon chose did. The blood probably just activated them at a certain time. All it would take is an incantation at the time of ingestion.”
“So he’s not evil?” Dean asked, some hope beginning to flower.
“No, not necessarily, but it is problematic. Give me some time to research it.”
“He’s got time, thanks to me.”
“I’m so sorry, Dean. I think Sam might be right, I don’t know if I can help. I have some connections I can get in contact with; they have access to some more obscure materials.”
“Not exactly, they’re—friends.”
“Ones you met in Sunnydale? I’ve told you everything about me, what about you?”
“We can save it for another time; you should try to get some sleep.” She stood, started to pick up the platter to put it away but he stopped her, bringing her close.
“At least tell me that you were happy.”
Dean ducked his head. “Maybe, I know I have no right, but I cared for you, Tara. I still care.”
“I was happy, in love for a while. I made friends, got stronger emotionally, mentally and magically. I made a difference.”
“Who was it? The person you were in love with? Why only for a while?”
She smiled wistfully, sadness in her eyes. She bent down and kissed his head, something that reminded him of his mom. Not a connection Dean wanted to make. She moved back, grabbing the platter. “That’s a story for later. I’ll bring you something to help you sleep; it will keep the dreams at bay.”
Dean wanted to ask her how she knew, but she was gone. Tara Maclay was still a mystery, one that Dean still felt compelled to solve. But she was right; he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since making the deal. It was getting worse the closer he got. Lately there had been the howl of dogs chasing him through endless fields. If anyone could help him block the damned dreams it’d be Tara.
He was adjusting the sofa-bed when she came back out carrying a mug. “Tea? Not that nasty willow stuff I hope.”
She laughed stirring up long buried feelings in him. “No, chamomile with something to block the dreams.”
She handed it to him and he took a sip, not too bad. “Tara,” he started, not sure what he wanted to ask.
“Just drink that and get some rest, Dean. We have time to sort things out, I promise.” She was at the hall before he found his voice again.
“Was he good? The one you loved?”
She turned, grinning. “You’re still the only man I’ve ever been with, Dean Winchester,” she said before disappearing into her room.
Dean nearly choked on his tea. Pride, curiosity and a whole host of pornographic images played through his head as he drifted off to sleep.
Sam paced the small room. Dean might trust Tara, but he knew nothing about her. Hell, all Dean knew was that she’d healed him and they’d slept together. Okay, yeah sure he was different around her, but to Sam that meant squat. Dean had been different around Cassie and Lisa (and with her it was probably because Dean thought her kid might be his too), but that didn’t mean that Miss Tara Maclay was anything special. Dean sure acted like she was though. Sam wanted to throw something, anything, but he took a few deep breaths to calm himself. He needed to think logically. His bag was on the bed, his laptop peeking out of the top.
He pulled it out, moved his bag to the floor and booted up. Sam knew his way around the internet; he’d have information on her in no time. Fifteen minutes later and he was ready to toss his laptop aside in frustration. She was a mystery. He’d found her name in a high-school database, she’d been enrolled there and done well. She was also in the database for UC Sunnydale, but hadn’t graduated, instead transferring to a community college here in San Diego. Tara Maclay was also listed as part owner of the shop below, so she hadn’t been lying about that. Everything about her seemed on the up and up.
He found her father, brother and a cousin, but it looked like both she and they had nothing to do with each other. The most unusual thing he found on her was two professional affiliations. She was listed as a member of a Coven in Devon, England. The coven had a very basic website, basically stating they were people who believed in witchcraft and confirming that any member listed was someone who could be trusted. Sam noted that they went out of their way to not blatantly state they were witches. Her other affiliation was with something called the ICW but he couldn’t get past their homepage.
He rubbed a hand across his face. Dean was right about one thing, he was tired. They’d been hunting for so long; ignoring anything to do with Dean’s deal, right up until Hendrickson had caught them. Now they had Lilith to deal with and Ruby had gone MIA, Sam just didn’t know what to do. He’d stay here, rest like Dean said, but he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Tara Maclay couldn’t help his brother, no one could.
Dean could have his reunion, but eventually they’d both have to face the fact that they were up against a deadline. They needed to find out which demon held the contract on Dean’s soul.
When Sam woke up it was to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. He blinked, looking at his watch. He’d slept the whole night, a solid nine hours. He sat up, grabbing a shirt, suddenly realizing what was wrong. He hadn’t heard Dean. Usually sleep was interrupted by Dean having a nightmare. God, had his brother gone and spent the night with that….that witch?
Sam went out of the room and straight for the living room, where Dean was still fast asleep on the pull out couch. Huh. He heard noises in the kitchen and followed the smell of….”Are those cinnamon rolls?”
Tara turned as she pulled a cookie sheet out of the oven. “Freshly baked, want one?”
“Uh, sure,” he said.
“Help yourself to some coffee, cups are in that cupboard,” she nodded to the one right above the coffeemaker.
Sam made himself a cup and sat at the table. He watched as she frosted the rolls, leaving them to cool for a moment before joining him. “You worry about Dean,” she said.
“Of course,” he said. “He’s the only family I’ve got. I don’t know what you mean to him and I’m not sure I care. All I want to know is that you aren’t going to give him false hope.”
“I care for him, Sam. I wasn’t lying when I said that. A part of me loves him, he’s—special to me,” she smiled. “I do know people I can talk to, they might have answers, but I can’t say until I talk to them.”
“Your friends at the coven or the ICW?”
“You’ve been busy.”
“Dean’s my brother, family is everything to us. I protect my family. So who or what is the ICW? And who are you, Tara Maclay?”
“Sammy, leave the woman alone, it’s too early in the morning for a full on interrogation.”
Sam turned to see Dean in the doorway, running a hand through his hair. “Dean….”
“No, Sam, isn’t my word good enough? I said I trusted her. She doesn’t have to explain herself.”
“How did you sleep?” Tara asked, handing Dean a cup of coffee and putting a plate of the cinnamon rolls on the table.
“Fantastic, thank you,” he said, grabbing a roll. “Forgive Sam, looks like today is one of his being an ass days.”
“No, it’s fine. You do both deserve to know about me, what happened since I last saw you.”
“Yes, please explain why the city you used to live in is now a huge crater,” Sam said.
“Well, you know about vampires, demons and all the other supernatural nasties out there,” Tara said. “So let me tell you about Hellmouths, Watchers and Slayers.”
“Slayers? Those are myth,” Sam scoffed.
“Tell that to my friend Buffy,” Tara replied. “You see, there used to be one girl in all the world….”
Tara didn’t blame Sam for being protective or skeptical. She knew that she would eventually have to tell Dean about her life since he’d left her, she owed it to him. He’d told her his story; it was only fair she share hers. She explained everything to them; Willow, the Scoobies, Glory, why she left, how the Hellmouth had been closed. She’d kept in contact with Giles after she’d left; he was the one who put her on the board of the International Council of Watchers. She kept an eye out for activated Slayers, a line on demonic activity. He kept her up to date about how her friends were doing. Dean was quiet throughout her story, but Sam, he asked questions. She knew he would.
“So you’re saying there a bunch of super powered girls out there fighting evil?”
“Exactly, they’re scattered throughout the world, a lot of them in Cleveland where there’s another Hellmouth. I’m actually surprised you’ve never run into one of them before now.”
“Look, it’s a nice story and all, but that’s all it is, a story,” Sam said, standing. His aura was quickly turning violent colors, reds and blacks in whirling and spinning patterns. “If these—these Slayers exist, why are there still demons and werewolves and vampires out there? If there are witches out there as powerful as you claim, why haven’t they rid the world of everything nasty and bad? I’m sorry; you can sell your wares to someone else.”
He grabbed his coat which Tara had hung on the coat rack by the door and stormed out of the apartment. Dean called after him as the door slammed shut. He started to get up, follow Sam, but Tara stopped him.
“Let him be,” she said. “He’s frightened, angry. He’ll be back.”
Dean nodded. “I know, but he does kind of have a point.”
“Yes and if he’d stayed I would have answered him. When Willow did the spell to activate all the girls who had the potential to be a Slayer she unbalanced the forces of good and evil. Nature loves balance. That’s why there’s been increased activity in the last few years. Good cannot exist without evil; it has been the way of the world since creation.”
“You’re talking Adam and Eve and all that junk.”
“In a way, the Bible does have certain truths to it. In Jewish mythos, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, his equal. It’s not surprising the demon took her name, or even could be her.”
“Great, I got a historical chick after my ass,” Dean said.
“It is a nice ass,” Tara replied with a smirk. “If you really want to you could go after Sam, I won’t mind. I have a meeting scheduled.”
“Your friends from that Watcher’s Council?”
“Friend, yes; he’ll be able to give me more information, or point me in the right direction.”
Dean stood, fishing the keys to the Impala out of his pocket. “He’s probably just stalking down the sidewalks scaring everyone. I’ll buy him a cup of coffee; try to talk some sense into that thick head of his.”
“Be back in time for dinner, its meatloaf.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Dean grinned.
She watched as he left, butterflies in her stomach. She’d had the memory of that grin to get her through the beginning of classes at UC Sunnydale. Seeing it again brought up feelings she wasn’t sure she was ready to face again. She didn’t need anyone in her life; she was a strong independent woman again. But it would be nice to have someone to talk to again. She sighed and cleared off the table, preparing for Giles.
At exactly 12:30 there was a loud pop that came from her living room as a result of displaced molecules and what have you. Giles stood there, blinking and wavering. He disliked teleportation but had taken Tara’s call for help seriously enough to make a personal visit.
“Giles, welcome back to California,” she said, walking over for a hug.
“Tara, it’s good to see you. How are you doing?”
“Well, thank you, considering my last day. I’ve got tea, your favorite blend.”
Giles smiled, following her to the kitchen. “Bless you, I do so hate doing this kind of thing, but your message did sound kind of urgent.”
“I hope I didn’t take you away from anything important, Giles. I just wanted information to help out a friend who I ran into after many years apart.”
“Yes, this…,” he took a notepad out of his jacket pocket, “Dean Winchester and his brother Sam. Why don’t you tell me more about them?”
She poured the tea and gave him the basic outline of Dean’s bargain and the spot she’d seen on Sam’s aura. “They both seem to think they’ve run out of options for Dean. I thought with the Council’s archives that you might have more insight.”
Giles set down his cup, his look thoughtful. “If Sam’s abilities have not functioned since the death of the demon in question, then the influence of the blood has long since dissipated. You may be correct that in your assumption that they are natural, he just needs the confidence to access them. I can have Andrew look up some books that might help with that. Dean, however, that’s something I will have to research further. You haven’t gotten the poor boy’s hopes up have you?”
“No, I just told him you were a different avenue of research. Thank you for doing this, Giles.”
“Nonsense, Tara,” he said. “You so seldom ask anything of me; it’s a pleasure to finally be able to pay you back for all the help you’ve given us.”
She ducked her head in slight embarrassment. “So, how goes the training?”
“Slowly, we get at least one new Slayer every day. But we’re handling it, one of our newest girls, Jenna, is a math whiz. She came up with some formula that shows we should be slowing down on the number of Slayers coming in. A saturation point she called it.” He glanced at his watch and stood. “They’ll be pulling me back shortly.”
“It was nice to see you, give my love to everyone,” she said.
“Shall I extend that to Willow as well?”
Tara sighed. “She knows why I left, Giles. I know she’s moved on and so have I. We may never have the same closeness we had, but I still respect her.”
“I am sorry that you had to leave,” he said, enveloping her in another hug. “But I am glad that you’re thriving here. Perhaps you should think about having someone in your life as well. I may not read auras, but you shine when you speak of Dean.”
He nodded and let her go. “Remember that I am only a phone call or e-mail away should you need to talk.”
He stepped back, gathering himself for the teleportation. Another pop and he was gone. Tara missed him already, but she had a meatloaf to prepare.
Dean found Sam just around the corner behind building. He was pacing, mumbling to himself. Dean just let him blow off more steam, leaning against a wall. Sammy had been getting more agitated the closer they got to the deadline. Dean sometimes wished he could help, but he’d do the trade with the crossroads demon again, no questions asked. He was the big brother, the protector, even more since Dad died.
Sam finally spotted him and stopped pacing. “Dean,” he began.
“Sam, listen, there’s an explanation for everything, if you’d bothered to stay. Tara would have told you.”
“I’m sorry, Dean, I just—if there are these –these—girls out there how come we’ve never run across one before?”
“Way Tara explains it, there only used to be one at a time. Weren’t you listening?”
Sam sighed. “I guess not. It’s just…I’m frustrated, Dean.”
“I know, Sam. But what could it hurt for Tara’s friends to look into this? I owe her. And it’s not like Lillith’s going to be after me anytime soon.”
“Okay, okay, we’ll stay. I could use the sun.”
Dean grinned. “We both could. Come on, Tara’s making meatloaf. It’s to die for.”
“Count on you to think with your stomach in a time of crisis.”
Tara was glad when the Winchester brothers returned smiling. “Meatloaf will be a few minutes.”
“Great,” Dean said. “How was your meeting?”
“Good, my friend Giles is going to look into it. He’s sending over some books.”
“The answer’s in a book?” Sam said.
“Not for Dean, for you. We might be able to bring your abilities back. We both agree you might have had them naturally.”
“My abilities won’t help Dean,” he said, turning angry.
“Sammy,” Dean said.
“Well they won’t, what we need is to know the name of the demon holding your contract!”
Tara stepped between the two of them. “Wait, a specific demon is holding your soul?”
“That’s what the crossroads chic told Sammy,” Dean said. “We just don’t know the name of the demon.”
“Not through lack of trying,” Sam said.
Tara placed a calming hand on Sam’s arm. “I have a few contacts, people not on the Council who might be able to help. It will take me a day to get together what I need, but maybe I can find out for you.”
“You know people who know demons?” Dean asked.
“I know a lot of people who know a lot of things,” Tara said. “Come on there’s meatloaf to eat and pie for dessert.”
The rest of the evening went fairly well, Dean and Sam sniping playfully at each other as they told Tara stories of hunts. The next morning she left coffee brewing and fresh muffins out for the boys while she ran some errands and found someone to watch the store. Tara went back upstairs and found Dean watching TV.
“In the bedroom, checking something on his laptop. Want me to get him?”
“Please, then come on down to the store.”
She went back down and prepared the circle. She lit the candles and set out the charms. Her assistant Stephanie showed Dean and Sam into the back room. She closed the door and shut the blinds.
“What’s all this?” Sam asked.
“Just watch,” she said. “Stand over there.” They moved back and Tara began to chant. The circle filled with smoke and she could feel the power grow. Then the smoke dissipated and a purplish figure with horns stood there.
“Whoa, what the?” Sam said.
“Tara?” Dean said.
She shot them a look over her shoulder and faced the demon in the circle.
“Greetings, D’hoffryn, master of Arashmahar.”
“Miss Maclay, it is always a pleasure to see you. Why have you summoned me this time?”
“I’m calling in the favor that I am owed.”
“A demon owed you a favor?” Sam said.
D’hoffren looked at the Winchester brothers. “I see that you have visitors. And if I am not mistaken, very well known in my circles. You did not tell me that you knew the Winchesters.”
“Dean’s an old friend. He’s the reason for your summoning.”
“Ahhh,” D’hoffryn nodded. “This is about his soul. I cannot free him from his bargain. I do not have the power.”
“I understand. But if you knew the name of the one who held it, I would consider us even.”
“That I can give to you,” he said his expression one of distaste. “Lilith.”
“Lilith holds my soul?” Dean said.
“You’ve met her?” D’hoffryn` asked.
“No, but we’ve been witness to her work,” Sam said.
“I do not like her,” D’hoffryn said. “You wish to find a way to destroy her or break the bargain.”
“No, if Dean does something to break the bargain, Sam will die,” Tara said.
“Then I am not sure if there is anything else more that I can offer you.”
“Anything you could tell us would be helpful,” Tara encouraged.
D’hoffryn thought for a moment before bowing his head. “There are two things that I can offer to you before I depart. The first will fulfill my debt to Miss Maclay, the second I offer with no debt owed because it is not often that a denizen of Arashmahar meets people as well known as the Winchesters.”
“I take your offer in the spirit in which it is offered. Your debt to me will be wiped clear,” Tara said.
The demon nodded. “The first is about Lilith. Because she occupies a human child,” Dean growled in the background. “She often takes a sabbatical.”
“Demons take vacations?” Sam asked skeptically.
“Of course,” D’hoffryn said drily. “But Lillith’s isn’t exactly a walk in the park. I do not know where she is, but if you are going to face her, the next two weeks are the best time to do so. “
“We can find her,” Dean said. “What’s the second thing?”
“It involves you, Dean.”
“What now?” he sighed.
“You are marked, Dean Winchester and not just by your bargain. There have been rumors and rumblings which I only just recently confirmed. The mark is an angelic one.”
“Angels?” both Winchesters said.
“Why didn’t I see it?” Tara asked.
“It would not show on the aura until Dean was ready, until the time was right.”
The boys were bickering in the background, so Tara decided to wrap things up.
“Thank you, D’hoffryn, master of Arashmahar, for granting me an audience. Our debt is settled. I release you.”
Smoke began to gather around the demon. “Miss Maclay, if you happen to speak with Miss Rosenberg, let her know my offer still stands.”
With that D’hoffryn disappeared. Tara blew out the candles and broke the circle.
“Sam, Dean,” she said. “We obviously have things to talk about. Let me give Stephanie a heads up and I’ll be up in a minute.”
Dean nodded, giving Sam a glare when he was about to say something. Tara took time to put away her things as she thought about D’hoffryn’s second piece of information. Angels. She’d have to talk to Giles again.
“Angels? Angels?” Sam barked at Tara the moment she walked in the door.
“Give the woman a chance to speak, Sam, before you get on her case,” Dean said.
“But angels, Dean? And what’s with this Arashmahar? How the hell are we supposed to trust her, when she gets help from demons?”
“You got help from Ruby,” Dean pointed out.
Sam wanted to say something, but Dean was right, he had relied on Ruby, a demon, for help. He muttered an apology under his breath.
Tara ignored him and went to sit at the kitchen table. Obviously she was going to wait for him to calm down before she said anything. Sam took a breath and then headed over to the table, Dean following. They sat and waited for Tara. After a minute or two of silence, she smiled at them. Then she settled her gaze on Sam.
“Arashmahar is a small section of hell. The demons there specialize in vengeance; we’ve had dealings with D’hoffryn before, hence the debt owed to me.” She took a moment, and then shifted her gaze off of him specifically. “You know demons, vampires, werewolves and dozens of other bad supernatural beings exist but you balk at the thought of angels?”
“Come on, have you seen one?”
“Did you believe in vampires before you met one?”
Sam wanted to answer, but she kind of had a point.
“It’s as I explained before, there has to be a balance. With evil there is always going to be good. So if you have demons, why can’t you have angels?”
“What does an angel want with me?” Dean asked.
Tara shrugged. “Anyone’s guess. Until you made your bargain with the crossroads demon, you were a force for good. You still are, fighting evil and maintaining the balance. That might be the reason.”
“But why me? Why not Sam? Or another hunter?”
“I don’t know, Dean. I’ve sent my friend another message. He’ll be here tomorrow. Maybe he’ll have answers.”
“Guess you’ll want us to clear out again,” Sam said.
“No, you can stay. I think he’ll want to meet both of you.”
Dean wondered about Tara’s “friend”. The way she spoke about him, this person was more knowledgeable in the supernatural, kind of like her version of Bobby. But he didn’t know anything else other than she admired this friend. He hated to admit it, but staying with Tara, being around her made his feelings for her stronger. So maybe he was feeling a little jealous of this friend.
In a different life maybe he’d try to settle down with her. But that was a dream, he was a hunter, always would be a hunter. And now, he had hope, something that had been missing from his life for too long now. Way he figured it, they’d gank Lilith and the whole soul deal was null and void. He and Sam would be okay. A small part of him wondered about the welching aspect of the deal, he couldn’t lose Sam again. Maybe this friend of Tara’s would know.
Dean was on the couch, watching Tara make tea to go with the little cookies she’d put out. Sam was fidgeting behind him, trying not to pace. Dean squashed the urge to tell him to stop. He took a quick glance at the clock on the wall. One minute until two, Tara’s friend would be here soon. Just as he looked away, the air around the sofa began to feel different. Dean stood slowly, Sam coming around the couch to stand next to him. There was a faint hum and then a loud pop and someone was standing just feet in front of him. Dean reached for the gun that wasn’t there because Tara didn’t want weapons in her home.
Tara came over as soon as she heard the pop. “Giles, sorry you had to come again so soon.”
“No, it was important,” the man said. He turned around to face Dean and Sam. “These must be the Winchester brothers.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Tara said. “Rupert Giles, Dean and Sam. Boys this is Rupert Giles, head of the International Council of Watchers and my good friend.”
This Giles character held out his hand. Sam shook and then Dean the same, appraising the guy. Old enough to be Tara’s dad, but had a friendly vibe, tall, strong and lean. He was appraising them as well.
“Okay, let’s sit and talk,” Tara said, guiding them all to the table.
“I believe we have a common acquaintance,” Giles said as they sat.
“Oh?” Dean said.
“Yes, Robert Singer.”
“You know Bobby?” Sam said.
“He was a great help with information on certain demons that only reside here in the US. Give him my regards.”
“Sure. So Watcher, huh?”
“Yes, it’s in the family, I’m sure you understand. But I didn’t come here just to trade pleasantries. I have some information. You are correct that by killing Lilith you will nullify your contract with her. Is it true that you possess Samuel Colt’s gun?”
“We, uh, lost it,” Sam said.
Giles frowned. “I don’t think there is time to try and find it. There is another way to make sure that she dies instead of just leaving her current host, but I’ll do a little more digging.”
Dean licked his lips nervously. “Killing Lilith, that won’t… I mean….”
“There’s a catch in the deal,” Tara said. “If he tries to back out, Sam dies.”
“Sam will be fine. Killing Lilith nullifies all aspects of the bargain. If done quickly enough she won’t have time to enforce that clause. With her mind occupied elsewhere you have the advantage.”
“What about the other thing?” Dean said.
“Ah, yes, the angelic mark,” Giles said, sipping his tea. “Angels are real; there is documented proof of them in the Council records.”
“So those stories in the Bible are true?” Sam said.
“To an extent, they are. I gather that angels cannot appear to us in their natural form or the person would go crazy. But they can take hosts.”
“They possess people?!?” Dean nearly shouted.
Giles made a calming gesture with his hands. “It’s done willingly, a person must say yes before an angel can enter. I think that’s why Dean is marked.”
“An angel wants my body? Hell no.”
“Not just any angel, but an archangel, they are the only ones that leave a mark. Only certain humans can host an archangel.”
“Lucky me,” Dean said. “Why?”
“That I can’t say, but I have an incantation that will call an angel, any angel to you. They might have the answers you seek. But perhaps that should wait until after you’ve dealt with Lilith.”
There wasn’t much else that Giles could give them, but he wanted to talk with Sam for a moment about his abilities. Tara gave Dean a look and they moved away from the kitchen table. There really weren’t many places for them to go to give the other two privacy, so Tara led him to her bedroom.
“Tara, I don’t think it’s appropriate to try and sleep with me with those two out there,” he joked.
She glared at him. “They just need some privacy and going down to the store seems a little extreme.”
She sat down on her bed and he stood around uncomfortably for a moment before sitting on the opposite side of the bed.
“So, uh, tell me about the demon,” he finally said.
“What about him?”
“What’s the favor he owed you? Gotta be an interesting story, you having a favor owed to you by a bad guy.”
“D’hoffryn isn’t exactly bad. He’s kind of…morally gray.”
“Whatever. Favor, spill.”
She thought for a moment, but it would pass the time. “Okay, sure. Back in Sunnydale, I knew one of D’hoffryn’s former employees. He recruited her when she was known as Aud; she’d turned her husband Olaf into a troll.”
“Was she a witch?”
“No, he was just a cheating bastard. Which was pretty standard for a Viking.”
“Are you going to let me tell the story or what?” she asked. He gestured for her to continue. “She became a vengeance demon, changed her name to Anyanka and granted wishes to scorned women. She came to Sunnydale to grant a wish, but lost her powers thanks to Giles. She was human for a few years; fell in love with my friend, Xander. They almost got married.”
“I’m guessing something happened.”
“He left her at the altar. She returned to being a demon for a while, but D’hoffryn punished her and made her mortal again. I’m a little fuzzy on the details. But during the battle that made Sunnydale a crater, she got hurt. D’hoffryn was able to rescue her before she was buried in the rubble. He came to me to save her.”
“Dude’s got a soft spot for her,” Dean snorted.
“Apparently. I saved her and she’s living a normal human life with no memory of anything that happened before. So D’hoffren owed me.” She could still hear Giles and Sam talking. “So how are you going to find Lilith?”
“Bobby can figure that out. We’ll have to go out and see him, catch him up on everything. “
“Where does he live?”
“Oh,” she said. “I guess that means you’ll be leaving soon.”
The silence hung between them for a moment. Then Dean leaned across the bed, hand touching her arm. She turned and leaned towards him.
“Come with us,” he said.
“Come with us,” he repeated. “Come meet Bobby, come with us to find Lilith. We’re gonna need someone with serious mojo to do this spell Giles is talking about. Come with us.”
She shook her head. “Dean, I can’t.” Not that part of her wasn’t seriously thinking about saying yes. “I have responsibilities here. The shop, keeping an eye out for Hellmouth activity….”
“You said you were only part owner, get the others to step up,” he said. “When was the last time you had a vacation? And maybe Giles can send someone else to keep an eye on the crater for a while.”
He did have a point. She hadn’t really taken any time for herself in far too long. “Dean, I….”
The way his voice cracked on please nearly broke her heart. He was hurting, not just for Sam but for himself, though he would never say so. He squeezed her arm and she felt a jolt of electricity. If she let herself, she could fall hard for Dean Winchester all over again. He was just staring at her, his eyes not holding anything back. His aura was a whirl of colors and patterns. Then he leaned in closer.
“Please,” he said.
“Yes,” she said, leaning closer to him. “I’ll come with you.”
He smiled slowly, moving forward as if to kiss her. She closed her eyes and waited for the rush of emotions she’d feel kissing Dean again.
“Tara?” Giles’ voice came down the hall. Dean swore under his breath and she moved back to a sitting position.
“One moment,” she replied.
“Fabulous timing,” Dean muttered before looking at her. “Did you mean it?”
“I’ll come with you, Dean,” she said. She took in a deep breath and stood. “Let me go see Giles off and we’ll talk about it more.”
Sam wasn’t sure what this Giles guy wanted to talk to him about, but he was going to listen, if only to show Tara he wasn’t a complete and utter douchebag. There was something between her and his brother and it might just be good for Dean. He got up and went for more coffee, tilting his cup towards Giles.
“No, thank you,” he replied. “I’m sure you’re wondering what it is that I can offer you.”
“Something like that,” Sam said.
“I understand the obligations that you and Dean feel, to be hunters. I never wanted to be a Watcher; I wanted to be a pilot or a grocer.”
“I was only ten at the time,” Giles said. “But I don’t regret my choices. Even the choice to rebel, to leave my studies and practice dark magic.”
Sam raised an eyebrow at that. “Dark magic?”
“I got involved with some people; we took to calling up demons. Until we called up the wrong one and someone died.”
“It’s been a while, but I returned to my birthright. As did you.”
“Only because of Jess,” Sam replied hotly. “Then I find out I got mickied by Azazel and I’m supposed to be this super-powered…thing. Until we killed him.”
“You’ve probably had the powers all along, you were born with them.”
“Then why doesn’t Dean have them? Or Dad?”
“Powers like telekinesis aren’t necessarily genetic. Or if they are they can skip generations. Perhaps someone in your ancestry had them or something similar. If you are willing, you could be taught how to access those powers again, without the use of demon blood.”
“You’d teach me? Why?”
“Yes, I could, or I know of several others who could. As for why, it’s because I see a lot of my younger self in you. I want to prevent you from wandering into the wrong things, like black magic. You are surrounded by supernatural things; it could be easy for you. All I ask is that you think about it.”
“Sure, it’d be kind of cool to fight off things with my mind.”
Giles grinned. “Yes, it is rather cool.” He got up to go call for Tara and Dean.
It took two days for Tara to get everything in order and for Sam to get up the courage to talk to her. He waited until she had sent Dean off on an errand. She was in the kitchen, sorting through various jars that she’d brought up from the store; probably ingredients for the spell that Giles had mentioned. He sat down at the table and waited for her to notice him
“Are you ready to go?” she finally said, putting the lid on a jar.
“Yeah, not much to pack,” he said. “Look, I know that we got off on the wrong foot….”
“I never would have guessed,” she interrupted, tapping leaves or something into a plastic baggie.
Sam sighed. “It’s just that I don’t know you, yeah I know the facts that I dug up on the internet, but I don’t know you. But Dean trusts you. Whatever happened between the two of you, it left a mark on him, because I haven’t seen him like this in---years. So if Dean trusts you, I’ll trust you.”
“To an extent,” she said, continuing to sort things into baggies.
“Sure,” Sam said. “If you really do care for Dean, don’t hurt him.”
She looked up at him, really looked at him. They stared at each other for several seconds before Tara finally looked back down at her jars and began gathering them up. “He’s had far too much of that in his life already, Sam. Even from you. If you want to trust me, then take my advice; let him follow his own path. He’s smart enough to make his own choices.”
Then she swept past him and out of the apartment. Sam sighed. He really hoped that Dean knew what he was doing.
It felt a little weird to look into the rearview and see Tara sitting in the backseat, Dean thought. But it also felt right, just like it had felt right to ask to her to come along. His heart and his stomach were doing weird gymnastic like things, but in his head he felt at peace. Tara belonged in his car; she looked like she belonged there. He didn’t know what that meant; he just knew it was perfect.
He’d half expected an argument from Sammy about bringing her along, but surprisingly there wasn’t. The tension between them was still there, but not as bad as before. Dean thought maybe they’d talked, which was good. He wanted Sam and Tara to get along. Sam had agreed that Tara was the best person to be performing a spell, while they were fighting off any other nasties to protect her. So two days after the meeting with Giles, they’d headed out of San Diego. Now Dean was entertaining thoughts of what might happen if, no, when they killed Lilith. He was going soft.
“Where are we?” Tara asked softly. .
“Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming,” Sam said.
“We made good time,” Dean said. “We’ll stop for the night, get to Bobby’s tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait to meet him; he sounds like quite the character.”
“He is,” Sam agreed. “Can’t wait to see what he makes of you.”
She smiled and turned to watch the scenery go by. The sun was setting and Dean soon spotted a sign for a motel. He hoped they had two rooms free. The last place had only a single and he and Sam spent the night out in the Impala. Never let it be said that Dean Winchester wasn’t a gentleman. They parked and Sam went into the office to rent the rooms.
“Do you think Sam will mind if I borrowed his laptop?” Tara asked.
“Probably not, but I doubt there’s Wi-Fi out here. Why?”
“Giles said he’d e-mail me details about the spell.”
“Bobby’s got internet, you can check there.”
“Tara….” Dean wanted to say something about the almost kiss in her bedroom, but Sam returned.
“Two rooms,” he said, holding out a key to Tara.
She took it and grabbed her bag. “Good night boys.”
Sam waved and opened the door to grab his bag. “Something wrong?”
“Nothin’, just tell me there’s a shower.”
“Dude, I’m not telling you anything until you tell me what’s going on. You’ve been weird since before we left.”
Dean growled. “This is not a chick flick and I am not sharing my feeling with you in the middle of a motel parking lot, Sam.”
“And I’m not letting you get anywhere near the shower until you do, Dean. I know that it’s got something to do with Tara. You’ve been weird since we ran into her. If it’s any consolation, I think she’s a great woman. You could do worse.”
“Like I need your approval for anything,” Dean snorted. Then he closed his eyes and sighed. Sam wasn’t going to let up until he talked. “I nearly kissed her.”
“So, it’s—it’s—I don’t do normal, we don’t do normal, Sam.”
“Maybe you could. Just because Dad gave us a fucked up childhood doesn’t mean we can’t have a normal adulthood.”
“You tried to do that, Sam,” Dean pointed out. “Look out well that turned out.”
“Tara isn’t Jess. Azazel is dead and gone. Lilith will be too. Damn it, Dean, why can’t you try and be happy?”
“Everything I touch turns bad,” he said, pounding the steering wheel. “Even in the dream world the djinn showed me. She deserves better than that, Sam.”
“Have you asked her what she wants, how she feels? I mean she did agree to come with us, that’s got to tell you something.”
“Not now, Sam. I can’t….she can’t be distracted. The spell’s gotta be her first priority. Now let’s go get some shut eye.” He started to get out of the Impala, but Sam touched his arm to stop him.
“One thing first, how do you feel, about her?”
Dean looked at his brother. “I love her, Sam. God help me, but I love her.”
“Seriously?” Sam said. “Wow….that’s…wow.”
“I know, just…don’t go acting all weird. We gotta deal with Lilith first.”
“Sure, gotta make sure you live so you can walk down the aisle,” Sam chuckled.
Dean whacked him in the arm before getting out of the car.
Tara woke up to the sound of the alarm clock. Her body was a jangle of emotions, her muscles tight and trembling. She blamed it on the dream as she took in deep breaths to calm herself. Ever since the near kiss she’s been dreaming of Dean; of touching him, tasting him, taking him into her bed and her body. Every single one was interrupted before the big finish. She made her way to the shower, turned it to cold and stepped under the spray.
She’d much rather have her trusty vibrator with her but that got left behind. And jumping Dean didn’t seem like a great idea at the moment.
He’d gotten under her skin. Or more precisely, he’d gotten into her soul, her heart. She’d built a wall around herself after Willow, told herself she was better off single. Love wasn’t in the cards for her, but it seemed that someone or something out there in the universe had other ideas when they put Dean Winchester in her life again.
She turned off the water, grabbed a towel and dried off. She had some time before she had to meet the brothers. She sat on the bed, scooting into the middle of it, sitting cross-legged. She began to pray; to the goddess, to God, to Allah, to whoever would hear her.
“Keep him safe. Let me be strong enough to help him. He deserves to live. He’s done so much good in this world. He’s a good man. I can’t bear the thought of my life without him in it. I love him.”
She choked on a sob, her heart lighter now that she’d said it aloud. She had told Sam that part of her loved Dean, but she understood now she loved him completely. She smiled, her eyes turned upward, her arms wrapping around herself.
“I love him,” she repeated. “I love him. I love him. I love Dean Winchester.”
She swiped at her cheeks, the tears happy ones. She got dressed, her step more confident today. She was going to kick Lilith’s ass. No demon was going to keep her from the man she loved.
The boys were a little quiet when she met them, but it livened up a little at breakfast when Sam began telling her stories about Bobby. It was nice that he was making an effort to get to know her and make her feel included. Dean would add in details and commentary, but he spent most of the meal looking at her and trying to make sure she didn’t notice. Oh, she noticed and it made her happy. When this business with Lilith was over and done with, they were going to have a talk.
She was a little taken aback when Dean turned down a road that seemed to lead to more nowhere. When the broken down husks of cars began to litter the area on either side of the gravel, she wondered if maybe they’d gone in the wrong direction. Then she chided herself about making assumptions and resolved to greet Bobby with an open mind. They pulled up to a house and attached garage with a sign out that proclaimed it to be “Singer’s Auto Salvage”. The door to the house opened and a man about Giles’ age exited. He looked like he belonged in a country and western video, but she shouldn’t judge by looks.
“That’s Bobby,” Sam said.
“I guess it’s time to meet your version of Giles,” she joked.
She waited for them to get out first, following a moment after. She watched as Bobby hugged the two of them as fiercely as she’d ever seen anyone hug. Though they weren’t related by DNA it was obvious they were family. It reminded Tara of being around the Scoobies and how they had made her feel. When you were outsiders, you made your own family. Dean stepped back and turned to her, she moved forward.
“Bobby this is Tara Maclay,” he said.
She held out her hand and Bobby hesitated a moment before taking it.
“It’s nice to finally meet you. The boys have told me a lot about you.”
“Hope you take it all with a grain of salt,” he said.
“Oh I do,” she laughed. “We also have a friend in common, Rupert Giles.”
Bobby’s eyes lit up and he grinned. “Ripper? How the hell is the son of a bitch?”
“He’s well,” she said. “And he says you still owe him a bottle of whiskey.”
“I owe him?” Bobby half laughed. “Come on and let me tell you why your stuffy Watcher friend is completely wrong.”
Dean and Sam seemed relieved that Bobby liked her and Tara followed him into the house to hear some stories about Giles.
“So there we were, surrounded by the Vrat’s and I’m out of ammo,” Bobby said, gesturing wildly with his fork.
“What did you do?” Sam asked.
“Ole Ripper just starts chanting, in Sumerian. I’m standing there, holding off the suckers with an empty AK and he’s chanting. Next thing I know the damn things start expanding like they’re balloons or something. Then POP,” Bobby slams his hand on the table for emphasis, “They explode. And there’s more than just blood and guts everywhere, there’s goo.”
“Goo?” Tara said.
“Goo. Viscous, thick purple stuff. Took us hours to get it washed off. Never did figure out what Ripper was saying, he still won’t tell me.”
Bobby shook his head and took a bite of food. Tara smiled and started in on a story of her own.
After dinner Tara took Sam’s laptop to check her e-mail. Dean went about restocking the trunk of the Impala. That left Sam to help Bobby clean up. They were quiet for a while, washing dishes in silent rhythm before Sam spoke.
“Do you think this had a chance of working?”
“If anyone can help Dean, it’d be Rupert,” Bobby said. “And if he trusts Tara, so do I. She seems to have a good head on her shoulders.”
“She’s….” Sam started, not sure if he should get Bobby involved in Dean’s love life. “She’s special.”
Bobby put the dish he was washing down before turning to Sam. “What’s between her and Dean? And don’t tell me it ain’t my business. You boys are family, I deserve to know.”
Sam sighed. “He loves her. They met years ago, got involved. I don’t think he’s ever forgotten her.”
“I think she loves him. But with everything that’s going on….”
“They’re both too stubborn to say or do anything,” Bobby snorted.
“Yeah, sounds about right.”
“I gotta idea how to fix that,” Bobby said and they began to plan.
Tara made her way out to the living room, finally finished chatting with Giles about the spell. She’d brought most of the ingredients with her but she would have to find a few of them, maybe Bobby had them. The house was quiet; Bobby and Sam were nowhere to be found. There was a note on the end table. She looked up when the door swung open; Dean came in, wiping his hands on a cloth.
“Hey,” he said, looking around. “Where are Bobby and Sam?”
She held up the note. “They went to town, supply run.”
“Right,” Dean snorted.
“Well, we do need a few things; I gave Sam a small list earlier. Maybe they wanted to get things now, before we were out on the road.”
Tara watched as Dean shook his head at her. She knew it was a set up as much as he did. But if he wanted to believe she was still naïve then she’d let him. Maybe it was for the best, keep them distant. While she certainly knew her feeling for Dean, she didn’t know how he’d react to any declaration.
“Well, why don’t I see what there’s to eat?”
Dean put down the cloth he’d been using, moving across the room, closer to her. He looked—she wasn’t sure, but she waited as he approached her.
“Tara, look…,” he hung his head for a second, taking a deep breath. “I know that it’s been a long time since I…since we….”
“Slept together?” she supplied.
“Uh, yeah,” he said and she could have sworn he blushed. “But I want you to know…this past week….”
She moved over next to him, putting a hand on his arm. All the starting and stopping and blushing, it was charming. This was a side of Dean she suspected he didn’t let many people see. “We can talk about it later, Dean. I promise.” She stroked his arm lightly then let go, moving towards the kitchen.
Then his hand shot out and grabbed her, pulling her back towards him. She had her magic ready in an instant, ready to strike when she saw his eyes. Dean’s eyes belied the non-expression on his face. Fear, desire, uncertainty all warred for dominance. Tara let her magic fade, a breath of relief leaving her lips.
“Dean,” she said softly.
He pulled her closer, their bodies almost flush. She could feel his desire, but she said nothing, did nothing, waiting for Dean to make the first move. His hand was on her cheek, bringing their faces closer. She dared to whisper his name again.
The kiss wasn’t hard and fast as she expected. His lips ghosted over hers slowly before they finally touched. Dean took his time, his other hand moving from her arm to her hip, pulling her up against him. He’d been a good kisser before, now he was a master. She let her hands wander over him, tracing the planes of his chest, the muscles of his arms.
Without breaking the kiss, she felt him lift her up into his arms. A part of her wanted to giggle, but instead she wrapped her arms around his neck. He carried her to his room, lowering her to the bed, breaking the kiss for a moment to look at her.
“Tell me no,” he said, his voice gruff.
She smiled up at him. “I won’t. And before you ask, I’m still safe.”
His whole body relaxed a little as he stood up, removing his shirt. She watched, her own hands unbuttoning her blouse as she drank him in. He had more scars and an interesting tattoo she’d have to remember to ask about later. Dean knelt on the bed, helping her with her bra.
“Still beautiful,” he said.
He remembered the spot on her neck that made her shiver. His hands ran over her body, divesting her of her pants. She arched up as his fingers brushed under her panties.
“Dean, please,” she said.
“Gonna make it good, it’s been a while, you said so,” he replied, moving his thumb in circles over her clit.
He slipped a finger inside of her and she gasped. He watched her as she came, her eyes fluttering shut. She felt his hand leave her but heard the rustle of clothes. Then he was beside her on the bed. She turned and opened her eyes, looking straight at him. She reached between them to caress him.
“Tara,” he groaned.
“Let me do this,” she said, pushing him onto his back.
He nodded, still watching her as she slowly crawled up his body. His eyes never left hers as she straddled him, taking him in. His hands came to rest on her hips, not moving as she stayed there. She caressed his chest, her fingers playing over the tattoo. Dean just stayed there, trembling under her, not moving as she leaned forward to kiss him.
Then she rose up, and he sighed, his hands moving up to her back. She thought he might roll them, but he just touched her as she moved. He bucked his hips up slightly, she ground down onto him. It went on like that for a while, the slow and steady rhythm of their bodies gliding towards a crescendo. She climaxed with his name on her lips; he pulled her into a kiss as he reached his. He rolled them so they were lying on their sides. He tried to say something, but she put a finger on his lips.
“Later, Dean, just let me stay with you tonight.”
He nodded. She smiled and cuddled up next to him. She listened to his heartbeat, felt his arm wrap around her. They just lay there, the quiet of the night surrounding them. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
When Dean emerged the next morning to find Sam on the couch and Bobby in the kitchen, he was relieved they both had the decency to stay quiet. Sometime later on he’d find a way to thank them. He and Tara had needed the night together. They’d gone a couple more rounds, one involving a pillow fight and lots of laughter. He kinda hoped he could have a repeat of that one in the future. Bobby came out with a tray of coffee cups.
They’d all grabbed one, leaving one for Tara.
“So, uh, how was the trip?” he asked, breaking the awkward silence.
“Good,” Sam said. “We got everything on Tara’s list.”
“I’ve got some more to add to it,” Tara said, walking into the room slowly. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Her hair was wet from the shower and she looked—happy. Dean wanted nothing more than to go over and kiss her, but he just sipped from his coffee cup instead. He wasn’t about to give Sam or Bobby the satisfaction of knowing they’d won.
“No problem,” Bobby said, handing her coffee. “We can get it on the way.”
“To where?” she asked.
“I was waiting for everyone to do the location spell,” Bobby replied. “Come on, the sooner we know where the bitch is, the sooner we can kill her.”
They gathered in Bobby’s office while he set up some contraption over a map of the States. He set it in motion saying a few words over it. The pointer spun and swung, finally hovering over a small dot in Indiana.
“East it is,” Sam said. “Everyone ready to go in an hour?”
There were nods all around. Dean followed Tara into his room, giving Sam a glare when his brother gave him a huge grin and thumbs up. She began gathering her clothes to stuff in her bag when he sat on the bed, right in front of her.
“Can we talk now?”
“Dean Winchester wants to talk? I’ve heard that doesn’t happen very often,” she joked.
“I’m serious, Tara. There are things I want you to know in case everything goes totally FUBAR.”
She turned to face him. “What makes you think things aren’t going to work out?”
“I—I don’t, but I want to be prepared.”
“I wasn’t aware you were ever a Boy Scout.”
“I wasn’t. But a good hunter is always ready for anything. And the people---his family, they know what he’s facing. They don’t need words.”
“I don’t need them, Dean,” she said, stroking his face. “Save them for later, when you have the rest of your life to look forward to.”
“Don’t you trust me, Dean?”
“With my life,” he said. He also trusted her with his heart but she interrupted him before he could say anymore.
“Then trust me now, trust that I can do this spell, that I can remove the demon Lilith from the child she inhabits. Trust that she will be gone from this earth forever, never to return, never to claim your soul. Trust in me.”
Dean nodded, pulling her in for a kiss. Sam’s voice called out for them, and he broke away. She smiled at him, standing up and zipping her bag closed. She left the room without another word. Dean cursed under his breath before stuffing things into his bag. If there really was a God out there, he sure owed Dean after all the shit he’d been through. He hoped he lived to collect on that.
Tara ended up riding with him and Sam. Bobby drove his truck, taking them first to a medium who also dabbled a little in magic. There Tara picked up the last ingredients she needed for the spell. Everyone was tense; there were no attempts at small talk. Dean glanced in the rearview every now and then and saw Tara concentrating. She probably needed lots of quiet and time to get ready, from the sound of it, there would be some serious mojo flying around to make Lilith gone.
They’d left early enough that they’d be in Indiana by early evening, probably in New Harmony around dusk. They’d take a lay of the land and go from there. It would be him, Sam and Bobby keeping Tara safe while she cast the spell. It wasn’t a done deal. If Lilith got even the smallest whiff of what they were planning—Dean didn’t want to think about the consequences.
The car was too quiet, so Dean pushed in a tape and turned the sound just barely up. He began absently drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the song. Sam began tapping his foot and he could see Tara in the back, nodding her head. She pulled out the bags of ingredients and began adding things together in an empty bag. How she could do that without spilling anything made Dean just appreciate her more. When the next song started playing, he sang along under his breath. After a few lines Sam followed, a little louder. By the time the chorus kicked in, Tara had joined them and they were belting out Bon Jovi at the top of their lungs. Dean grinned as they crossed into Illinois, hope rising in his chest.
Tara saw the spinning red and blue lights just as they crossed county lines, getting closer to their destination.
“Dean, that’s a cop, you probably should stop.”
Dean cursed under his breath. “Damn it, why now?” But he pulled over and waited for the officer to step out.
Before the man could step close to the driver side door, Dean got out, knife in his hand and stabbed the officer.
“Dean!” Tara shouted, but she saw a flicker as the knife drove into the man’s flesh. His eyes flashed and then he collapsed as Dean withdrew the knife. She scrambled out of the car, barely noticing as Bobby’s truck pulled up behind the Impala. She knelt down beside the cop, but felt no pulse. “He’s dead,” she said flatly.
“What in the hell’s gotten into you boy?” Bobby said, as he surveyed the scene.
“He wasn’t human,” Dean said. “He—he was possessed, I saw the demon’s face.”
“Huh,” Sam said, coming to stand next to Dean. “A side effect of being close to the deadline? Like hearing the hounds?”
“Could be,” Dean said.
“Handy,” Bobby pointed out.
Tara glared up at all three of them, making them all take a step back. “Don’t any of you care that a man is dead?”
“He was possessed, Tara,” Dean said.
“I heard you the first time. But that doesn’t mean you had to kill him. You could have wounded him, tied him up and come back to exorcise him later.”
Sam shook his head. “No, he would have been able to communicate with other demons, probably Lilith. We’re close enough that we’re going to see a lot of people like him. And who knows how long he’s been host to the demon. Even if we had freed him, he could have suffered from PTSD. I’ve seen it.”
“I. Don’t. Care,” Tara said, enunciating every word. “He was still a human being. Are you going to kill every possessed person you run across?”
“If they’re trying to kill me, or get between me and Lilith, hell yes,” Dean said.
Tara turned back to the cop. She knew that she and Dean lived in different worlds, but she had fallen for him anyway. To actually see the kind of life he led… she didn’t know how to process that. Living in Sunnydale she’d seen too many innocent people die. Buffy had tried to keep the collateral damage to a minimum, but it seemed that Dean didn’t operate on the same level. Rationally she knew that what Sam had said was right, if they had tied him up, the demon inside the man could have made contact with others. Emotionally she just couldn’t see the Dean she knew as the killer of the man who lay before her. She would still help him, because she had promised him she would. But afterwards---that was in the hands of fate. She whispered a prayer to the Goddess that the cop’s soul would find peace. Then she got up, stalked back to the Impala and got in without a word to the three men still standing there.
They pulled off the road on the outskirts of town. Dean tried to look at Tara, but she was still ignoring him. Why did he have to go and fall for a woman with principles? He hated that he had to kill innocents, but he really was doing them a favor, he just wished Tara could see that.
He climbed out of the car, Sam and Bobby joining him by the rear of the Impala. Tara followed a moment later.
“So, ready to go over the plans?” Sam asked.
Bobby pulled out a small map of the town. “Near as I can figure, Lilith is holed up here,” he pointed to a road right in the middle of the suburb. “There’s a main water line running right through and the house she’s in has a sprinkler system. I get in and bless the water, trigger the sprinklers.”
“Anyone possessed gets stuck behind the holy water and we’re free to concentrate on Lilith,” Dean said.
“Where will I be?” Tara asked.
“With us,” Sam said. “There’s a garage attached to the house, it’s probably the best place for you to cast the spell.”
“You mean the safest,” she said.
Dean looked her in the eye. “Yeah, Sam and I will keep the nasties off you so you can do the mojo. We need Lilith dead.”
“I know my part,” she said. “Just do yours.”
She went back to the door and got into the Impala. Dean wanted nothing more than to go to her and apologize, but time was running short. He was sure he was hearing the barking of dogs, even though there wasn’t a canine in sight. He shrugged off the uneasy feeling he had as he said,
“Let’s do this.”
They parked a couple of blocks away, Bobby going off to do his part. Sam led Tara closer to the house, Dean had the knife. He could hear the rustling of footsteps, and soon he could see them. People coming from darkened alleys and the shadows of nearby houses. But they weren’t people, not to him. All he could see were the demonic faces laughing at him. Then Sam reached the switch and the sprinklers came on. Dean got a little wet, but as the first person approached the wall of water, he could hear the familiar hiss of flesh and the woman screeched in pain. He nodded to Sam and they began to approach the house. Another demon came towards them, but was forced back by---something. Dean whirled around to see what was going on. Behind the wall of water he could see dozens of women holding off the possessed, Giles was there too, flanked by a blonde and a brunette. They must have missed the sound of them teleporting in. Dean guessed that Giles had worked some mojo to get the demon clear. Tara’s eyes widened in surprise.
The blonde turned and gave them all a big smile. “Thought you could use a hand. Now go to whatever you need to, we’ll hold these people off.
Giles will de-demonize them. We’ll keep them occupied.”
“Slayers?” Dean asked as they headed off.
“Yeah, but don’t worry, they’ll try not to hurt them, just keep them away from the melee while Giles does the exorcising.”
Dean put a hand on the small of her back, half expecting her to shrug him off, but she let him guide her to the garage. He opened the door for her, Sam going off to find a door to the house. He was going to say something, but she shook her head.
“Go on, find Lilith. I need you to distract her, we don’t have much time,” she said, kissing his cheek.
“Good luck,” he said.
He found Sam at the kitchen door and they eased into the house. Everything was too quiet. There was a dead guy in the doorway to the hall, probably the dad. Dean hoped the death had been quick. No signs of any other family. He was about to nod to Sam that they try the stairs when they heard a sound. They stalked towards the living room, finding a familiar, if unwelcome face.
“Ruby,” Dean said. “How did I know you’d be here?”
“Maybe she came to help,” Sam said.
“I doubt that,” she said, turning. Dean could see that her eyes as white as snow. “Dean Winchester, time to pay up. I believe you owe me a soul.”
“That’s Lilith,” Sam said. “Where’s Ruby?”
“Oh, just hanging around,” the demon said, laughing. “Come on, let’s not play boys, my hounds are hungry. Just lay down the knife and let them take you, Dean. It will be so much easier.”
“Think again, bitch,” he said. He took a step forward but she lifted a hand and an invisible wall seemed to spring up in front of him.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, Dean,” she wagged a finger at him. “Just because you have Slayers out there battling my minions and a Watcher trying to exorcise them, doesn’t mean you get to wiggle out of this. You’re mine, Winchester. Stop trying to be the hero.”
They could hear the baying of dogs getting closer. Dean shivered, but faced Lilith, Sam by his side.
“I’m not going,” he said.
“You’ll have to get through us both,” Sam said.
Lilith laughed harder, her eyes blazing. “I’d love to see you try and stop me.”
“They won’t, but I will,” Tara said, stepping into the room. There was a ball of light hovering just above her outstretched hands. “You may have claim on his soul, but I have claim on his heart.” Dean could feel the air around them hum with power and when Tara spoke again, her voice was louder, deeper. “Lilith, betrayer of man, I banish thee. Lilith, mother of evil, I banish thee. Lilith, seductress and temptress, I banish thee. By the power of three, so mote it be.” Tara held up the ball of light like a softball. “So long, bitch.”
She hurled it towards the demon, hitting Lilith square in the chest. Lilith screamed, her eyes rolling into the back of her head. She fell to her knees, quaking and quivering before her mouth opened and white smoke came streaming out. But instead of streaking away to whom knew where like Dean expected, the smoke coalesced and gathered into itself. It grew into a smaller and smaller shape before it vanished with a small pop.
Everything was very quiet after that.
“So, uh, is it over?” Sam asked tentatively.
“She’s gone,” Tara said. “Dean’s free.” She nodded over to the woman, “She’ll be out for a while, and hopefully she won’t remember being possessed.”
Dean looked up, giving Sam a look. They could hear some shouts and cries from outside.
“I’ll just go check on the Slayers,” Sam said, leaving Dean and Tara alone.
Dean scuffed at the floor with his foot before shuffling over to where Tara was standing. “Was that true?”
“Oh, yes, I’m sure Lilith’s gone. I’m not sure which dimension I sent her to; I hope it’s the one with all the shrimp.”
“I’m not even going to ask,” he said, smiling. “No, I meant what you said. About having a claim on my heart.”
“It’s true. I know you’ve been trying to tell me but I didn’t want you to say it. I didn’t want to feel like I was pressuring you or anything.”
“I love you, Tara,” he said. “Don’t know what I did to deserve a woman like you, but I’m kinda glad you’re on my side.”
She grinned. “Just don’t forget that.”
“I won’t.” He took her face in his hands, kissing her gently. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer.
They might have kept on kissing, but a loud sound, like the flap of wings, interrupted them. Dean looked up. Tara followed his gaze and let out a small gasp. There was a very rumpled looking guy in a trench coat standing at the other end of the room, against the wall was the shadow of wings, like they were growing out of his back. Dean heard footsteps and Sam came in followed by Giles and his two bodyguards.
“Hello, tall and scruffy,” said the brunette as she looked the man up and down.
“Faith,” Giles chided sotto voce. “I think that’s an angel.”
“Angels, Giles?” the blonde scoffed.
“Buffy, surely you believe after what you’ve been through.”
“I would advise you to listen to your Watcher, Miss Summers,” the man said, his voice intense and powerful. “We have met before, though the memory of that meeting has since been taken from you.”
“Excuse me,” Dean said. “I hate to break up the reunion here, but exactly who the hell are you?”
“I am Castiel, an angel of the Lord and I know you very well Dean Winchester. I have been watching you for some time.”
“It wasn’t enough I had an ancient demon chick after me, now I got an angel stalker,” Dean said. “What is with you people?”
“I have been watching you because certain events were in motion, but with the banishment of Lilith, it seems that things will not be as we thought.”
“We?” Sam asked.
“The angels, there were plans in place for both of the Winchester brothers,” Castiel said.
“You’re talking about the mark on Dean,” Tara said. “Sam has one too?”
“Yes, Miss Maclay. D’hoffryn is not as informed as he likes to pretend he is.”
“Whoa, whoa, both of us are supposed to host archangels?” Dean said.
“Yes,” Castiel said plainly. “We had thought there was going to be an apocalypse, one that would be set off by something that Dean would do in hell.”
“Well, obviously that’s not happening,” Dean said.
“Eh, apocalypse’s are a dime a dozen,” Buffy said. “So if he’s not angel housing any more, what are you doing here?”
“I came to tell the Winchesters that the marks will be lifted. By banishing Lilith you have done a service to Heaven. No longer will you be needed as hosts for any of the angels. Your lives are your own now.”
“Thanks, but it was Tara’s doing,” Dean said. “She should get the reward.”
Castiel nodded in acknowledgement. “Miss Maclay seems to have already been rewarded. Love is one of God’s greatest gifts; do not squander it, Dean Winchester.” And with that he just disappeared.
Everyone just blinked and said nothing for a moment. Then Giles cleared his throat.
“I guess you won’t need the spell to contact an angel after all,” he said.
“Guess not,” Dean replied. “Thanks for the backup. Bobby should be around here, if you wanna catch up.”
Giles seemed to perk up at that notion. “Perhaps I can collect on the whiskey he owes me.”
“Whiskey, Giles?” Buffy asked.
“It’s a story for another time, come along, we have to round up the others.”
“Hey, G, can I get a hold of the angel spell?” Faith asked.
“FAITH!” Both Giles and Buffy exclaimed, whirling to look at her.
“What? B can get hot and heavy with two different vamps but I can’t hook up with Mr. Hot and Heavenly? That’s some seriously messed up shit right there.”
Dean and Tara watched as the three of them walked off. Sam was nervously shifting his feet. Dean looked up at his brother. He looked from Sam to the Buffy chick and the light went on.
“Why don’t you go make sure everyone gets to where they need to be,” Dean suggested.
“Sure,” Sam replied quickly. “Call me if anything comes up.”
Tara laughed as Sam rushed off after the others. “I think he might be taken with Buffy.”
“Not every day you meet a Slayer,” Dean said. “So, I, uh, guess I’m forgiven for the cop thing.”
“Just a little,” she said. “I kind of get a little upset when someone tries to kill the man I love.”
“Didn’t notice,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a diner around here someplace. We can eat, talk about what’s next.”
“I think I’d like that,” Tara said.
Dean grinned and led her out of the house. Maybe his reward was more than having the angelic mark removed.
Hunters from the mid-west knew about Harvelle’s Roadhouse, it was the place to go for information, for a cheap beer, or just to mingle with other hunters. Everyone grieved when it burned down. The older generation knew John Winchester, heard about his boys. Now through the grapevine, old and new hunters alike heard about another Roadhouse, built on the same spot as Harvelle’s. They heard it’s called Winchesters. The jukebox plays rock from the seventies and eighties, the walls have wards painted into them, but you can still get a cheap beer and a friendly smile.
Now that’s not to say that John’s boys have stopped hunting, oh no. Demons, vampires and other things that go bump in the night still fear the name Winchester. But they don’t travel as often as they used to, or as far. Word is that the oldest, Dean, finally settled down. They say his wife is a white witch, does some healing, offers up potions and such to those who need it. There are even rumors that the Winchester line is going to live one. Many of the older guys say it’s a pity John isn’t around to see his grandbaby.
Bobby Singer is said to frequent the place, telling stories and joining in for the occasional hunt. He’s still got his garage out in the Dakota’s but there’s talk of him moving down to be nearer the boys. He’s family and there are many who’d love to have him closer to civilization. Watch out for when the Englishman is in town though. Apparently he and Bobby get drunk and argue over past debts but without any violence.
Now the younger boy, Sam, he’s doing well for himself too. Finishing his degree by computer, or so the gossip mill says. Going to be a lawyer, maybe set up a small practice inside the roadhouse. He’s got a woman in his life too, but they say she is a little skittish about settling down. Small blonde thing, works as the bouncer for the roadhouse. She’s got some weird Californian hippie type name, but don’t let that fool you, she can kick ass.
So if you’re ever in Nebraska, stop on by, the Winchester’s would welcome you with open arms. Just don’t make threats to either of the boys. You might not like what happens to you.