Chapter One “The Past Best Left Buried”
It was only a trick of the light, and Laurel should have been over it by now, but she couldn’t shake the image of her reflection in the computer monitor staring back at her with black eyes. It didn’t help that she had been thinking more on her time as a demon’s wardrobe. Unusual things had been happening around the city—supernatural things.
Everyone else thought it was another superpowered villain, but the brutality and strangeness of it made Laurel suspect something more sinister. She had a grotesque collection of Ruby’s memories, and they all screamed at her that this was something otherworldly.
The thought of going up against whatever this thing was sent chills down Laurel’s spine. She could be brave about so many other things, but when it came to demons, she would rather forget they existed. She would rather pretend the world was just a little safer than that.
But people were getting killed, and it would only get worse. The Winchesters were the only ones who could help.
Laurel sighed as she dialed Sam’s number from her office phone, hoping he was alive at the moment to come and help. His voicemail picked up and informed her that she should call another number. This went on for a while until Laurel got one that was actually attached to a human.
“Yeah?” Dean’s gruff voice came over the line.
Laurel had been hoping to get Sam. More sympathetic. Also more alive last time she checked. But it wasn’t like she could back out now.
“Hey, you don’t know me, but you may remember a demon who once possessed me,” Laurel said.
Dean didn’t miss a beat. “Ruby?”
“Wow, didn’t think my voice was that distinctive, but okay.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“No. Stop being so grumpy all the time. I thought that was just her perspective.”
“Her? You’re Ruby one-point-oh?”
“My name is Laurel Lance. I was possessed by a demon named Ruby. I’ve been trying to forget about it, but something has come up. Something... in your wheelhouse.”
“How did you even get this number?”
“I called a bunch until I found one that worked. Are you interested or not?”
“How do I know this isn’t some kind of trap?”
Laurel sighed. “The demons are gone. I don’t know what happened to them, but I’ve been all me for years now. And I never would have called if I didn’t think it was important. Look, friends of mine could be in danger, and they don’t know what they’re getting into. I can’t just explain that I was once possessed and know witchcraft when I see it. They’d think I was nuts. If they don’t already.”
Dean grumbled something Laurel couldn’t hear before bringing the phone in range again. “Okay, what’s this job? Something about witches?”
“I’m not positive, but there have been several strange deaths in Starling City during the past week. Which I’m sure you can Google. It looks either demonic or magical in nature. You’re the expert. Just tell me you’ll look into it.”
“And what are you gonna do?”
“Try to keep anyone else from dying. Not that they’ll listen to me.”
“I didn’t even know she was alive,” Sam said with a guilty hitch in his voice as Dean drove down the highway.
“I’m guessing you were preoccupied,” Dean replied, keeping his eyes on the road.
“But I never even checked. I just assumed she was dead. Did she say how she survived?”
“Nope. Just that there’s a case, and she needs our help.” Dean fiddled absently with the radio dial.
“Could be a trap.”
“I figured that. We need to know what’s going on either way. She sounded legit, but I guess Ruby did too.”
“But it can’t be Ruby. She’s dead.” Sam said it almost as if to convince himself.
“That much we know. So, it probably is what she says it is.”
“When did you get so trusting?”
“I didn’t. I just don’t see what kind of game this could possibly be. If it was a trap, you’d think they’d use someone we actually liked.”
“Well, who knows. I mean, this Laurel person might be all right.”
“If she is, then why would it be a trap?”
“So, what did you find about this place?”
“Starling City? Nothing good. In the last three years they’ve had terrorist attacks, prison breaks, a masked vigilante.”
“Sounds like a bad movie.”
“That’s what I thought. But whoever this Laurel is, she was right about one thing: there have been six strange deaths in the last week. Some happened in the uglier parts of town, so they didn’t get much coverage, but one was a well-respected banker, and another was a soccer mom.”
“Any ideas what’s doing it?”
“The killings could be ritualistic, but they don’t share much in the papers, and I didn’t have time to hack the coroner’s office files.”
“We can work on that when we get there. How far apart were the killings?”
“It seemed random. There were two one day, none the next, one after that, and it goes on. No pattern.”
“Great, so someone else could die while we’re on our way there.”
“Someone could always die, Dean. We’re going anyway, so there’s no use worrying about it.”
“I never said it was useful.”
Felicity was getting a creepy feeling about this case. She didn’t want to think too hard about it. They had enough problems with mass murderers and metahumans without worrying about the supernatural. Statistically speaking, though, there should be some activity in a city this size; a ghost here, a vampire there. So far Felicity had seen none of that. It was one of the reasons she chose to stay in Starling City so long. It was safe.
Felicity actually laughed at that thought.
“What?” Oliver’s voice reminded her she wasn’t alone.
Felicity turned from her computers to see Oliver looking up at her from his work reorganizing the weapons cabinet.
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “A series of random, unconnected thoughts that ended up being funny, but which would take far too much time to explain.”
Oliver’s eyebrows quirked. “Okay... You find anything on our guy?”
Felicity sighed and rotated her chair back to face the computer. “It would help if he displayed any kind of pattern.”
“I’d say killing multiple people is a pattern.”
“Well, yes, but not always the same way, not always in the same area, and unevenly spaced apart in time. If we knew why he was doing it, maybe I could figure out who he is.”
“Sometimes it’s better not to know why,” Oliver said.
“When have we ever had that luxury.”
Laurel twisted her napkin in her lap as she stared at her untouched coffee and blueberry muffin. They should have been here by now. Why did those boys have to be so disorganized? Years had passed, but Laurel still felt like she knew them, those two scared, desperate kids. They had to have changed since then, but she was still expecting gangly, awkward Sam and overconfident, swaggering Dean.
Maybe they wouldn’t come at all. For all they knew, this could be a demon set up. Laurel laughed humorlessly at that thought and took a sip of her coffee. She checked her watch. Only half an hour before she had to be at work. She had told the Winchesters to meet her at the cafe down the street from the DA’s office, but Dean hadn’t actually said they would come. He said they’d think about it.
Laurel sighed and picked at the edge of her muffin. She knew she should eat it, but the turning in her stomach prevented her from taking that thought seriously. She had to start considering what would happen if Sam and Dean didn’t come. How was she supposed to handle this on her own? She wasn’t a hunter; she was a victim.
Laurel took a sharp breath and set her jaw. She had to stop thinking like that. That was the sort of mindset that had her drinking away her problems and blaming everyone else. Knowing that didn’t make it any easier to chase away the thoughts, however.
“Did you do something different with your hair?” Dean’s voice was deeper and gruffer, but Laurel recognized it immediately.
“No,” she said, looking up at him. “The blonde was Ruby’s idea.”
“What is it with demons and hair?” Dean sat down across from Laurel, followed by Sam, whose hair had also gotten much longer.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” Laurel said.
“You were right about the deaths,” Sam said. “It does look like our kind of thing.”
Laurel could almost feel herself deflating. “I was hoping to be wrong.”
“It’s good that you called us,” Dean said. “At least now we can find the son of a bitch.”
“I can’t stay long, but you have my number. I work in the DA’s office and my dad is chief of police, so if you need anything—”
“Coroner’s reports,” Sam said.
Laurel nodded. “I’ll make a call and have them for you on my lunch break. Meet me back here at one?”
“Sure,” Sam said. “We’ll do some looking around until then.”
“Thanks. Oh, and one more thing, I know how much you boys love your bars, but stay away from a club called Verdant in the Glades.”
“Run by witches?” Dean asked with a cheeky smile.
“More like people who will kill you if you look too suspicious. Which you always do.”
Dean looked offended. “I’m not suspicious.”
Sam shrugged. “Yeah, you kinda are.”
Laurel actually felt herself smiling as she walked away. She hadn’t often been able to see this side of the brothers through the black cloud of Ruby, but it was nice to know that some things didn’t change.
Felicity jumped when her phone rang and let out a controlled sigh before answering. “Hello?”
“Felicity? It’s Laurel. Can I ask you a favor?”
“Oh, are we favor friends now? Are we friends?” Felicity mentally kicked herself.
“What?” Yes, Laurel definitely heard that.
“What?” Felicity parroted quickly.
“Did you get the coroner’s reports for those murders?” Laurel asked.
“If you mean, did I hack into the county records and steal them then... yes. I hope the NSA isn’t listening to this call.”
“Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering if you could show them to me,” Laurel said with slight hesitation. “I might have a bit of a lead, but it’s not something I can explain over the phone.”
“O—kay, what exactly did you have in mind?”
“You know the cafe down the street from my office?”
“Yeah, they have good muffins.” Felicity’s stomach growled.
“Meet me there around one today. I’ll explain more then.”
Laurel hung up, and Felicity sat there at her desk in the Arrow Cave wondering what had prompted this new change. She had long been a bit nervous around Laurel because any time she was around, there seemed to be conflict. Maybe it was a coincidence. Except Felicity didn’t believe in those.
Turning her attention back to work, Felicity saved the coroner’s files to a flashdrive for Laurel as well as printing out copies. Any help they could get on this case couldn’t hurt. Felicity considered whether she should tell Oliver about meeting with Laurel, but he was out looking for bad guys to beat up or something, so she decided to just go and tell him later. Which would have to be after her shift at work.
Work. Felicity almost forgot about her new “job.” Public humiliation was more like it. She had to be there at two this afternoon, so her meeting with Laurel would have to be short, and she would have to put on her uniform before she went. This day just kept getting worse.
Dean stared longingly at the barely nibbled muffin on the table. Sam was saying something about where they should start looking for the killer, but Dean wasn’t really listening.
“Dean, did you hear me?” Sam spoke louder.
“Huh?” Dean said.
“I was saying we should check out the last crime scene. Did you remember to iron your suit?”
Dean scoffed. “Of course I did. I’m a professional.”
Sam got that amused little smirk on his face. “You were just gazing affectionately at a muffin.”
“We didn’t stop for breakfast.”
“Yes we did. Two hours ago.”
“That wasn’t breakfast. It was... pre-breakfast.”
Sam shook his head. “No such thing unless you’re a hobbit.”
“Hey, those guys had it figured out.”
“Whatever. Are we going?” Sam got up from his chair and straightened his jacket.
Dean took another look at Laurel’s muffin and decided to go for it, ignoring Sam’s disgusted stare as he devoured it in three bites.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Dean said.
Sam had experienced less eventful mornings, though he couldn’t remember when. Considering their main source of information, he had anticipated a much weirder case. But after visiting two of the crime scenes, they found none of the usual signs of supernatural activity.
“Maybe this is all a wild ghost chase,” Dean said as they left the second house.
“I don’t think she would have called us if it wasn’t serious,” Sam replied.
“How would you know? Maybe Ruby scrambled her brains or something.”
Sam shook his head. “I know what it’s like to be possessed, Dean, to have someone controlling you. That’s not something you want to relive. Laurel doesn’t want us here; she just didn’t have any other choice.”
“You got all that from a thirty second conversation?”
“Didn’t you see how nervous she was?”
“I thought maybe the coffee was bad.” Dean rested his arms on top of the car and looked across at Sam. “So what do you think? Keep looking around or head back?”
Sam checked his watch. “We have to meet Laurel soon anyway. Let’s just go back.”
Dean nodded, and they both got in the car. They were across town from their starting point, so it took a while to get back to the cafe. When they arrived, they could see Laurel sitting at the same table on the patio. Only this time, she had company. Sam could only see the woman’s blonde ponytail and the large folder she was handing Laurel as they approached.
“This the call you had to make?” Dean asked with that smile in his voice that said he was about to try to flirt with someone.
The woman turned her head, and Sam suddenly forgot about everything else. Laurel was talking, but he didn’t hear her. There in front of him, wearing the glasses she always hated because they made her look nerdy, was Jessica.
Sam tried to say her name, but nothing came out. He could only stare at the apparition and think that this was some kind of crazy dream.
“Son of a bitch,” Dean muttered under his breath. So he was seeing it too.
Jessica stood up. “I have to go,” she said. It was her voice. She was real.
“Jess,” Sam managed to say.
She looked back, but not at Sam. “Don’t mention any of this to Oliver,” she said to Laurel.
“Felicity—” Laurel said.
Jessica turned and left the restaurant. Sam started to follow her, but Dean grabbed his elbow and pulled him back.
“What the hell is going on here?” Dean directed the question at Laurel.
“That’s not your dead girlfriend, Sam,” she said, looking nervous. “That’s Felicity. She’s my friend. I think.”
“You think?” Dean asked.
“About the friend part. She can’t be Jessica.”
Sam still watched the way she had gone, holding the memory of her voice in his head, her smell as she passed by. “Yes she is,” he said.
Felicity wasn’t sure when she started running, but she almost ran past her car. She was going to be late for work. Although, right now, she really wanted to say screw them all. This couldn’t be happening. She wasn’t sitting in her car hyperventilating because Sam Winchester had just showed up in her life again. He wasn’t supposed to be here. That was all supposed to be over.
There had to be some practical way of dealing with this. Felicity just needed to calm down and think. She could handle that. But as she did, a flood of memories came rushing back to her.
It was the night after Halloween, and the smoke still burned in her lungs and stung her eyes. It had to be the smoke. Her deal with Brady—or whoever the demon possessing Brady was—had been very specific. Sam would believe she was dead. Forever. They could never see each other again. Part of Felicity was actually okay with that. She didn’t want to get pulled into this life again. She didn’t want to see monsters in every shadow and demons behind everyone’s eyes. But another part realized what she was giving up: Sam. Felicity had never meant to fall in love with him, and she certainly didn’t know about his past when they first met, but the signs began to pile up after a while. She should have gotten out on her own a long time ago, but she stayed, and she never really knew why.
Sooner or later this was bound to happen. Starling City couldn't be the only place on Earth exempt from supernatural forces. For so long, Felicity had convinced herself she didn't live in that world anymore, that the only demons were the metaphorical kind that everyone seemed to have enough of as it was.
Felicity started her car and pulled out into the street. She made the mistake of looking in her rear view mirror where she saw Sam alone on the sidewalk, staring out at nothing in particular.