Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters or parts of this storyline. They belong to the brains of The Whedon and The Kripke.Chapter ThreeMonth Nine
Another warehouse. Another cold lead followed by another dead end. Buffy scowled at the dank space, flipping open her phone and hitting redial.
"You got anything for me?" she asked, kicking over an empty crate.
She heard a deep annoyed sigh on the other side. "Nothin' but the same crap I told you last time." Silence. "Buffy, these things don't just up and change their habits without a good damn reason." She still didn't respond, staring a hole into the floor as she once more followed her prey's pattern in her head. "There's a reason it's circling… like I said."
She heard a book slam shut from his side and his chair shoving back. "I don't know what else to tell ya, kid."
"I've been following this thing for weeks now and I've got nothing on it so far… It's here. I know it."
"Then start thinkin' outside the box," he replied and Buffy rolled her eyes, chewing on the tip of her tongue as she once again hit a dead end in her mind.
"Whatever. I'll start over." She took a deep breath. "I know I don't have to-"
"You don't, so stop sayin' it," he said, cutting her off. "None of my business. Besides, he's ain't being so forthcoming himself."
"Right. Thanks," she said before snapping the phone shut, not bothering to wait for his response.
Piercing her lips, Buffy looked around before glancing up where a set of hooks were hanging from the short ceiling. Gritting her teeth, Buffy glared at them, thinking about the people that had been there, the innocent idiots who let themselves get caught and slowly killed like the sheep they were…
With a snarl, she grabbed a crate from the floor and flung it against the wall where it shattered into multiple pieces.
*Dean woke with a start, his eyes popping open. For a moment, he had no idea where he was, couldn't remember laying down there much less falling asleep and then he recognized the cracking wood of Bobby's ceiling, the large picture window covered in dirt and old sigils letting murky moonlight spill on him. He sat up, staring at the familiar stacks of books all over the living room, Bobby's desk in front of his ill-used fireplace littered with pages, a few open tombs and three empty, smudged glasses.
Throwing the shabby throw off of him, he swung his legs off the couch, rubbing the back of his neck before checking to see if she was still in the room.
Dean smirked at her where she laid in a large recliner in the opposite corner, curled up under her jacket, a few pieces of hair falling on her cheek. She breathed deeply as he watched her, wondering how she had ended up there and not on the couch with him. Bobby had long ago disappeared into other parts of the house, around two in the morning, and Dean remembered falling asleep not long after that to the sight of Buffy at Bobby's desk, paging through a few books, researching in the soft, dim light of a reading lamp.
Looking over his shoulder, Dean saw the sky was still dark, the sun not even peeking over the horizon and he figured he'd been out for only a few hours. Standing with a little groan, he listened to his back crack as he stretched before shuffling towards her. She didn't move as he leaned over, brushing her hair away from her face, one finger caressing her scar before he leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead. A few months ago, that would have earned him a punch in the junk but now she made a little sound before settling.
Dean marveled at how easy that habit had become since she had gotten lost in the woods with that wendigo. It made him feel better, knowing she was actually sitting there, real and not just his screwed up imagination. That had been the longest damn week of his life when she had disappeared before he found the wendigo's cave and he had made sure she knew that. He made his way to the bathroom.
A moment later, he came back out, wide awake, wondering if it was kosher to wake her ass up and christen Bobby's couch when he noticed the shadows in the room were darker… longer. Not the same as he had left it.
Dean frowned, glancing around before turning to Buffy and he saw something shift next to her. Something that seemed to be sucking all the light in the room towards it as it hovered next to the recliner.
His hand instinctively went to his back where he usually kept his gun before remembering he had taken it out when he’d fallen on the couch. The thing didn't even notice him and Buffy didn't react to its presence. It was the damn creature they had been researching; the thing that had gotten a snag on Buffy before they managed to get away earlier.
Dean felt a roar of rage and fear course through his system but he forced himself to stay still as the thing's face got closer to hers. He ignored the urge to step up and pull her away and start hammering on the sucker. Instead, he stayed still, waiting for a chance…
Until he saw something dark and long snake out of what he assumed was its mouth and Dean lost it.
"Buffy!" he shouted, already moving towards her, his socked feet slipping on Bobby's hardwood floors. Buffy's eyes snapped open, alert and ready and she moved without thinking, instinctually reeling her arm back and slamming her fist into the chisna's face. He reached her as the thing reared back with an ugly roar before disappearing, melting into the shadows and out of the room.
Dean grabbed her arms as Buffy moved to follow it but he didn't let her get far, wrapping his arm around her waist to keep her back.
"Dean, what the hell are you doing?" she snapped, her voice still laced with sleep as she struggled against him but he swung her behind him.
"Stay," he barked, pushing her back as he reached where he had left his gun. "That thing's got a goddamn hard on for you and I'm going to gank that mother before he comes near you again."
"Oh, please," Buffy said with a roll of her eyes. She shoved his shoulder away. "Don't pull that misogynistic crap on me."
"Don’t be such a goddamn moron," Dean replied, holding her arm when she tried to return to the chair. "Buffy, we just got done-"
Dean didn't have a chance to finish as a blur of black, matted fur swept past them and slammed into Buffy. She fell to the ground with a loud whoosh of air as the thing on top of her growled. Dean was already moving, shouting her name, tackling the chisna where it hovered over her, slamming it into the couch. He groaned in disgust when he felt the cool goo that coated its fur sticking to him as the chisna wiggled away and vanished once more.
"Damn it," he breathed, lying on his back, the crap on the chisna's fur feeling way too gross to contemplate. He felt Buffy's little hand reach out to slap his shoulder as hard as she could and he turned to glare at her.
"What was that for, I just saved your ass," he bit out, rolling to stand and slipping as his gooey palms slid on the floor. He grunted in annoyance, watching Buffy do the same thing albeit with more grace. They found their feet and Buffy was already moving for her own gun.
"Teamwork," Buffy replied, her voice heavy with sarcasm as she mocked his words from their last hunt. They were about six months into trying this whole 'hunting as partners who happened to have sex nine times a day' thing and it wasn't going smoothly. They both liked taking lead. It led to issues. "Let's play nice and everything will be all better."
"Shut up," Dean groused. "That was before you took off to play hero with that wendigo."
Buffy didn't bother replying, checking the clip on her gun before shoving it into the back of her pants. She leaned down and came back up with a machete. She glanced at Dean. "How much does Bobby like clean walls?"
Despite his annoyance and the extreme urge to reach out and rattle her senseless, Dean smirked and Buffy shot him a little smile before disappearing around a corner. And then the annoyance and fear part was back with a vengeance as Dean grabbed his gun, wiping his hands off as best he could before following her.
"Buffy," he said softly but there was no response and Dean looked up and down the long hallway, not seeing her. He clenched his jaw to restrain himself from calling out her name. "You gotta be freaking kidding me."
Stepping out, Dean examined the shadows, keeping his breathing to a minimum as much as he could as he listened for that wet breathing. He didn't hear anything for a moment and he wondered how the hell Bobby was sleeping through all this ruckus - the man had to sleep like the dead. He didn't even hear Buffy and he wondered where she had gotten off to when he heard a loud slam coming from back in the kitchen and Dean broke into a sprint.
Dean saw red when he saw the chisna pinning Buffy to the table, her machete pressed against the thing's neck but it wasn't moving away from her. She grunted loudly, struggling with it and Dean moved in behind it, reaching forward and grabbing her knife and pulling it against its neck.
Dean let out a little whelp when the thing stood up, knocking him back. The fucker was strong but Dean was quick as the machete sliced some of its skin and with a loud howl, it was gone again. Dean scrambled to his feet, reaching down to grab the machete from the floor, checking the blade, seeing the blood with the light green tinge to it. He smirked before glancing at Buffy who was breathing heavily on the table.
"Man, that baby likes you," he said with far too much amusement, the high from leaking some blood soaring inside. "That sweet Buffy juice-"
Buffy was glaring at him when her eyes widened as the chisna roared up behind him, knocking him down. Everything was a blur for a moment as Buffy shouted his name, leaping from the table to attack the chisna. Dean tried to roll to his feet but was slipping in that damn crap on its fur before he got the upper hand and then he slammed the machete into its side before pushing it away from Buffy and pinning it to the wall.
Vaguely in the background he thought he heard Bobby saying, "What in the hell?" as the chisna roared in his face before slipping from his grasp. Dean reached out instinctively to keep the thing in place, his grip like steel as he grabbed it and flipped it over, slamming it onto the table where it had slammed Buffy but not before it slipped easily through his grasp, his maw open as he aimed for his throat…
Dean he woke with a violent start, sitting up in the recliner, his breath heavy and panicked, his eyes flying around the room. The words reverberated in his head as he quickly stood, turning in a slow circle, his body tense. The silence of the room was deafening; he couldn’t see anything, the darkness in the room suffocating him and he felt a tendril of fear spike through his chest as he wondered what the hell was happening. He felt like he was moving through thick glue as he moved and he wondered where Buffy was…
He looked down at his hands, still feeling the slick goop that had been coating the chisna's fur as well as the hot sticky blood he'd drawn…
But his hands were dry.
The room was empty save for him and his heavy breathing and he furrowed his brow before roughly rubbing his face. He saw spots when he opened his eyes and they slowly adjusted to the dark living room. The TV was there, the couch… not Bobby's couch. Not Bobby's house.
"Christ," he breathed, closing his eyes. It had been so real, like he had been living it again for the first time. He saw Buffy in his mind's eye the way she had been that night - angry and frightened. The sound of her voice calling his name when the chisna had tried to take a bite out of him and her and Bobby tackling it to the ground where Buffy cut off its head… although the latter part of that night was fuzzy and unclear… faded.
And not real
because they had never happened…
Because 2014 Dean had never happened, because everything with Buffy had never happened and because he was losing his goddamn mind.
What in the blue hell were these dreams? Where were they coming from, why were they so goddamn vivid? He was so sure that they had really happened instead of the fantasy world Zachariah had shoved down his throat but…
"Get the fuck out," Dean growled under his breath, holding his head painfully as he sought to push the memories back. Away. They had never happened, they had never come to pass… So why did they feel so real, so potent? It felt like it was getting worse, getting harder to separate himself from them as time passed… A constant veil, a constant reminder, a constant presence…
Dean dug his palms into his temples as he tried to burn the images away but all he saw was Buffy…
All he ever fucking saw was Buffy.
Dean glowered at the floor before stalking into the kitchen. Switching the light on, he grabbed the glass he had left by the sink and the bottle of whiskey he had stashed on top of the fridge. Dropping the glass with an angry thud, he spun the top of the bottle off, making it fly away and onto the floor with a sharp twang. He poured a healthy amount in the glass, slammed the bottle down and threw back the drink. It instantly burned his gullet as he drank it without breathing before slamming the glass down.
He couldn't get rid of her, he couldn’t escape her.
He had honestly never thought the day would come when he wanted nothing more than to eradicate her from his mind, just erase her from his memories. Where once upon a time, she had been a strange and calming balm, she was now turning into the bane of his existence… Over time, the memories had started to die out, go away… and now, without Sammy here to distract him, with his mind unraveling further and further every single goddamn day, she was everywhere.
Dean sloshed some of the whiskey on the counter as he poured another glass, drinking it down without censor before growling at the liquid on his fingers. He slammed the bottle on the counter again, closing his eyes in frustration as the dream washed over him.
It had been so real… he could see her, smell her, touch her. He remembered with perfect clarity the feeling of her scar under his fingertips as she slept, the heat of her forehead when he pressed his lips to her, the intimacy borne between them… and the rattling fear when that damn chisna appeared out of nowhere, the fear that he was going to lose her again, that he had just gotten her back and that he couldn't have handled that. He had lost Sam and now Buffy too…
"Damn it!" Dean snapped, slamming his palm on the counter. None of it was real! It was all in his head! But then why the hell did it all feel like it had just happened yesterday?
"Not. Fucking. Real," he mumbled to himself, pouring another glass. He absently realized with a humorless chuckle that he was missing the glass most of the time before slamming the bottle down once more. He looked down at the glass… in his mind's eye, he saw the glass he had been drinking from with Buffy and Bobby… the sense of familiarity and belonging and comfort and everything else that was foreign and wrong in his life at that moment.
None of it had been his - it had all belonged to 2014 Dean - and yet here he was, remembering it like it had happened to him. Dreaming
it, like it had happened to him. Dean scowled at the glass, at the amber liquid staring back at him mockingly…
None of it was helped by the intense desire to take Buffy's face in his hands and kiss her again. It was the most vivid part of the dream, the fear of the chisna and just wanting to make sure she was okay… he vaguely remembered doing that from the memories of 2014 Dean but the dream hadn't gotten that far… like the refresher course ran out and he was shit out of luck - left with the desire for something he couldn’t even fucking do. He had just wanted to make sure she was okay, like he had when they had been in Bobby's house… like she really was in the other room, like he wasn't standing here, alone.
With a snarl, Dean grabbed the glass and threw it against the kitchen wall where it shattered, the whiskey drenching the paint. Glass flew everywhere as the alcohol started dripping down, the sound piercing the quiet of the night and he took a deep, shaky breath.
He was really losing his fucking mind.
Dean closed his eyes, the same exhaustion that had been dogging him ever since the first night he dreamed of her closing in around him and he leaned over on the counter, burying his head in his hands. What he wouldn't give to reach into his mind right now and rip out whatever crap had been shoved in there. They weren't his memories but they felt like his. He had never felt these things but he felt like he had felt those things. That he was still feeling those things. He loved the absolute shit out of this woman and with every day that passed, it was getting harder to see past that, harder to see what was in front of him.
Harder to remember that he was no longer a hunter. That he no longer had his brother at his side.
“Damn it, Sammy, why the hell did you have to leave me…”
God, he missed Sam. He missed his brother so much… he missed seeing him, seeing him in his dreams. Hell, he'd take watching him fall in the hole over and over - anything over the torment she was creating inside him…
Dean stood abruptly, knocking the bottle of whiskey over where it sloshed onto the counter. Lisa stood at the entrance of the kitchen, her eyes wide and cautious as she stared at him. Dean grabbed the bottle absently, his eyes flying to the mess on the floor before looking at her again. She hadn't moved. She hadn't said anything.
And she didn't need to; he could read it all over face.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her voice soft, even.
Dean took a breath, closing his eyes as the words ached to come tumbling out: no, I'm not okay. I'll never be okay. I can't be okay again. Not without… Sam, not without my brother in my life. Not without… her.
"Yeah," he breathed out, giving her a lame smile, ignoring the nauseous feeling in his stomach as it turned, the alcohol burning his insides.
Lisa still didn't move. She looked frozen as she stared at the glass on the floor, the spot on the wall where it had impacted, the whiskey everywhere…
"Nothing. It was… nothing. I just… dropped it."
Lisa nodded slowly, not responding to his lackluster words. She glanced at the glass before looking back at him, her face shuttered and stiff. When Dean met her eyes, she frowned before looking away again. She didn't say anything as she moved in, making her way to the broom closet.
"Lisa, no, I got it," Dean said gruffly, avoiding the glass to intercept her. He reached out, grabbing her shoulders to stop her and she immediately flinched away from him, giving him an indecipherable look that made him pause. He frowned. "Lisa-"
"Dean, don't," she said, holding her hand up She stared at the glass on the floor before looking up at him. She tried to move around him again but he grabbed her arm, holding her in place.
"Lisa, come on, it's fine-"
"It's not fine," she snapped angrily, snatching her arm away and taking a few paces back. Dean stared at her, unblinking as she shrugged, looking lost before drilling her eyes into his. He felt his stomach pinching as she stared at him… like she didn't know him. Like she didn't know what she was doing or why she was doing it but she was doing it anyway… Dean felt a sinking feeling fill him as he saw the last few months reflected on her face as she stared at him - unraveling. He was unraveling. She didn’t know him. She didn’t know anything… "It's not fine... You're not fine."
He closed his eyes. "I… Yeah… I know."
"You know?" she repeated, her voice coloring with accusation before she swallowed it down, looking away. She crossed her arms, the struggle on her face. "No, I don't think you do."
"I've got a kid upstairs, Dean," she said, her voice stringent. "And you're down here… I don't… I don't even know what you're doing and…"
"Lisa, I'm… I'm sorry," he said, his voice sounding dead and she shook her head. He wanted to defend himself. He wanted to fight for whatever was left of this relationship, with her, with Ben. He wanted to want this life; he wanted to put everything to bed, to rest… He wanted to see Lisa. He wanted to take comfort in Lisa. He wanted… he wanted a lot of things…
She didn't say another word. Instead she stared at him, sadly… before she turned to leave the kitchen. She pinched her lips, shaking her head again, almost like she was shaking her head at whatever she was thinking before she looked back at him.
"I'm sorry too," she said softly before leaving him.
His fingernail picked at the peeling label on his beer bottle, slowly but surely getting underneath the stickiness and pulling it back in little bits. He didn't notice the pile of trash he was leaving on the table or that his beer had gotten warm. He just stared at the label, picking at it, his mind slowly going through the motions of sitting, drinking, sitting, drinking, sitting, drinking…
Sid was somewhere in the bar, he knew that much. He had said something about needing to get home for some dinner with his in-laws but Dean couldn't remember. All he remembered was seeing Sid sitting across from him, his mouth moving but all he could think about was Buffy.
She was like this noxious cloud of fumes that wouldn't go away inside his mind. He couldn’t escape her. Everywhere he looked, there was Buffy. He caught her out the corner of his eye, he saw her driving in a Jeep in front of him. He saw her walking next to him if he didn't pay attention and when sleep came…
With a deep sigh, Dean closed his eyes, setting his bottle down. He leaned forward, resting his face in his hand. He hadn't thought about Sam for weeks now. Whenever his lids shut, he saw her blonde, scarred face. Whenever he tried to think about Sam, all he saw was Buffy. He couldn’t escape her. She was everywhere.
He felt a deep, gnawing pull of guilt in his gut as he thought more and more about his brother before seeing Buffy right over him, like an overlapping image. If he had had a mind to think about it, he would say he was cursed as hell right now. He couldn't get away…
He missed Sam. God, how he missed Sammy. He missed his presence, his voice, his desire to eat green things… he just missed his brother. Missed how annoyed he felt when Sam gave him 'that look' when Dean ordered a beer. Missed that warm feeling he felt whenever they met up after a hunt apart, knowing he was alive. He missed making sure they stopped at the store for his stupid protein bars. He actually missed the dreams, the pain, the horror of watching him struggle with Lucifer before falling… And now he couldn’t even think about him, much less mourn him, much less do anything.
Dean released his face, turning to see Karen standing next to him. She smiled softly and he forced one to his lips. "Hey, Kay."
She raised an eyebrow at the mess he was leaving. "You want another?"
"Uh, no. No, I'm good."
He stiffened when she rested a hand on his arm but he forced himself to relax. She rubbed his shoulder a bit as she looked at him. "You doin' okay?"
Dean paused for a moment, looking at her hand before glancing back at her. Was he okay? Stupid question. He gave her a short nod. "Yeah. Dandy."
Karen grinned at him, leaning in like a conspirator to something he had completely missed. "Okay. Well, shout if you need something."
"Yeah," Dean replied, his eyes glued to the table where he had left a pile of his label scrapings as she headed to the table next to his, collecting bottles. He felt her eyes on him but he didn't look up as the scrapings started looking like Buffy.
"Yeah, I'm gonna go," he murmured in a low voice, his eyes feeling scratchy but he didn't want to close them, rub them. Because when he did that, all he saw was her face. And he was starting to get to that point where he wanted to slam his head into a wall - anything to erase her from his mind. Anything to erase everything from his mind. The damn memories, the damn last year, the last five years - hell, everything. He just needed a goddamn five minute reprieve.
He needed to breathe. And he couldn't.
Dean felt like he was moving in slow motion as he stood, pulling out his wallet and slipping out a few bills, dropping them on the table. He felt someone slap their palm on his back and he turned to see Sid standing next to him. He was talking, saying something and Dean frowned, nodding despite not hearing him.
"… and I definitely feel fine enough to handle the hell-in-laws now," he continued, chuckling to himself, turning to wave to Karen. "See you later, Kay!"
"You boys be careful," she responded and Dean turned back to look at her where she winked at him. He shrugged on his jacket, heading outside with Sid. He looked around, rolling his neck a bit as Sid turned to walk to the opposite side of the building where they'd parked that night. Dean moved to follow when he saw a group of women approaching him. He barely glanced at them, shoving his hands in his pocket as they brushed by, all three talking about someone in their office when Dean heard her.
He heard Buffy. It was Buffy.
Dean spun around, his eyes wide as he started after the group. "Buffy-"
And then he stopped when he saw the only blonde in the group, her back torn to shreds in long, angry scratches down the length of her back, the skin stripping off in bloody chunks through the dark green jacket she wore. Her long blonde hair was tangling in the bloody mess as she walked away from him and Dean shook his head in disbelief.
"Buffy!" he said loudly, moving quickly to follow them, his heart pounding as he got closer, the blood brighter in the dark night and he thought he could see the bone of her ribcage… "Buffy."
Dean grabbed the woman's arm, spinning her around and he felt his heart stop when he saw it wasn't her. Dean blinked slowly, shaking his head before forcing her to turn around so he could see her back.
There was nothing. No blood, no ripped skin, no green jacket…
"What the hell, guy?" the woman demanded, wrenching away from him, stepping back. He didn't realize he had been gripping her so hard when he saw her rub her arm and he stepped back, holding his hands up.
"My bad," was all he could say, his eyes still searching her face. He had been so sure it was her. Her voice, her back, her… everything. Dean felt something dark tugging deep inside as he stared at her, willing her to be who he thought she was. Who he had been so sure it was. It had to be.
"C'mon, Liene," one of her friends said, all three of them giving him cautious looks as they backed up and headed into the bar. Dean watched them leave, his eyes wide before rubbing his face. He didn't hear or feel Sid next to him until he placed a hand on his shoulder, making him jump.
"What was that, man?" Sid asked cautiously, trying to turn Dean to look at him but Dean wouldn't, never taking his eyes off the woman until she disappeared from his eyesight. "Dean."
"Yeah?" he asked distractedly. He turned back to Sid, coming back to the moment. He looked back at the entrance to the bar, a tug of panic settling in his stomach. He forced himself to smile at Sid. "Sorry. Just thought I knew her."
Dean shook his head, biting the tip of his tongue at the sound of her name on someone else's lips. He was sure it should have made him feel less insane but it only amplified everything inside his head. He was going fucking crazy.
Turning back with Sid to head toward their cars, Dean shoved his hands in his pockets again, staring at the ground, his mind going over what he had just seen. Just like he always did - it had been so real.
He remembered that wolf attack like it was yesterday. That had been a "real" memory - something he had experienced with Buffy, not the crap that Zachariah has shovel-fed his brain from 2014 Dean. He knew that had been her… but it hadn't been. Dean felt his chest tightening as he started thinking about what it was he was doing, his breathing getting heavy and he made himself breath evenly as he reached his truck. He heard Sid saying something again and he nodded, responding but he wasn't sure what he said.
He heard Sid get into his car, start it up as Dean did the same. The truck's engine turned and he looked up, his eyelids thick with a debilitating exhaustion. Across the street where the beginnings of a small park with way too many trees began, he saw a man standing in the shadows on the sidewalk.
He could barely see him but he knew he was staring at him. He could feel the burning sensation of eyes drilling and he felt his mind whip into focus.
Dean frowned, shutting the truck off. Neither moved as the silence got heavier with each moment, feeling like a pressure sitting on Dean's chest as his mind fought to put two and two together when the man finally moved. Dean instinctively moved for the gun underneath the seat as the man stepped into the lighted circle of a streetlight.
He watched, his mouth dropping as his brother - who was supposed to be dead, who was supposed to be in the goddamn hole with Lucifer - took the spotlight and smiled at him from where he stood…
And his eyes were black before he cocked his head… and then disappeared.
"I'm just…" Dean was at a loss for words as he roared down the highway, his headlights cutting through the dark night of the forest he drove through. They danced across the sides of the road, seeing nothing but darkness. No Sam. No dark figure. "I need to check this out."
"Okay, Dean…" Lisa paused on the other end, her voice sounding far away. "You know, I've been pretty… okay, considering, with everything that you're going through. I know I can't understand-"
"It's not about that, Lisa."
"But I'm trying," Lisa said, ignoring his sharp words. There was a long pause as Dean drove, unsure of what to say, his grip on the steering wheel tightening. "Sid called."
"He said you…" Dean could imagine Lisa's face as she fought for the right words. He could hear the struggle in her tone as she continued, "You were acting weird. He was concerned."
Dean felt a trill of ice fly through his system at her words, remembering the way she looked at him anymore but he nodded, keeping his tone light, knowing he sounded like a moron as he said, "Yeah. I thought I saw somebody I used to know. It wasn't anything… weird."
"You have Bobby's number, right?" he pressed on, wanting to hang up the phone to escape the hesitation all over the other side.
He could hear Lisa's frown in her voice. "Yeah, but… Are you… going somewhere, what are you doing?"
"Yes. No. Well… I'm not going anywhere. I'm just checking stuff out. I just… I saw something" - something real, he had no doubts - "and I want to make sure… I'm just checking something out. You know how I get with these things."
"Just a little OCD," Dean joked. His hand gripped the steering wheel tightly as he followed the gentle curve of the road. He had no idea where he was going. He had absolutely no clues, nothing to fall back on. He didn't want to go home to check and see if there were any demonic omens. He didn't want to stop anywhere. The minute Sam disappeared, he had started his truck and he just drove. He just… drove.
The strange calmness that had taken over him rivaled the ill-placed joy at seeing his brother. He could feel his mind whirling through the possibilities but he kept pushing it back, pushing it down… He’d been seeing a lot of strange shit lately… Maybe someone really was fucking with him.
Or maybe he should be driving to the nearest loony bin since he was not only clocking blood-covered Buffys but demon-filled Sams.
Dean squeezed his eyes shut.
"Okay. How long will you-"
"Just tonight," Dean replied immediately, finally allowing himself to think about what he was doing. He felt a little foolishness creeping into his mind the more he talked to Lisa, the more she talked like a reasonable, sane human being while he sat here, telling her he was taking off to go chase his dead brother who was possibly also a demon and who was also possibly a figment of his freaky damn imagination... "I won't be gone long, I promise. Just want to check it out, make sure everything's okay."
"Alright… Well, you know Ben has his match this weekend and he wanted you there."
Dean shook his head at her insinuation. "I said I'd come, I wouldn't miss that."
"Okay," she said, her tone quietly cautious.
"Okay. Uh, I have my phone and-"
"Dean," she said, her voice soft. He paused. "Are you …" Dean frowned as she took a deep breath, sounding tired. "Just come back in one piece, okay?"
"Yeah," he replied, his voice just as soft. "I will."
"Good. Okay… See ya."
She hung up. Dean stared at the phone for a moment, the bright screen flashing the "Call Disconnected" symbol at him before he snapped it closed, squeezing it tightly in his fist before dropping it in the passenger seat.
What in the blue fucking hell was he doing? Dean gritted his teeth, holding onto the steering wheel, breathing in deeply through his nose. What was he doing? Dean shook his head at himself before rolling down his window, sticking his hand out in the cool air as the cab suddenly felt stuffy and hot; like he couldn't breathe.
For a moment, he drove fine. The road stayed clear, the headlights stayed focused as he followed the curves of the road that was leading him deeper into the woods. He wasn't sure where he was going and he knew that eventually he would need to turn around to head back into town.
Dean wasn't sure exactly what he had seen. He felt his chest tightening all over again as he thought about seeing Buffy. He had been so damn sure that was her, he could have sworn it was her. He had reacted without thinking, said her name without thinking. He hadn't uttered her name consciously in years and here he was, chasing some woman down the road because he thought it was Buffy? A bleeding, torn up Buffy? The same Buffy whom he had run into a few years ago, the same Buffy that put him on this path of insanity, the same Buffy who put him in Zachariah's crosshairs more than he already was…
And then what the hell was that with Sam? Had that been him? The more he tried to concentrate on it, the blurrier the memory became, to the point where he wasn't sure what the hell he had seen. Buffy was perfect; crystal clear. The man in the road… Sammy… not so much.
"Damn it," Dean snapped, slapping his palm on the steering wheel before slowing the truck down, pulling it to a dead stop on the side of the road. A cloud of dust rose up around him, fogging up the air in front of his headlights. Dean breathed heavily, bowing his head, leaning on the steering wheel for a moment. "What the hell are you doing?"
Talking to himself like an insane person. Rationalizing seeing a woman who only lived in his head. Feeling an outrageous amount of anger towards that woman because she was all he could see. Every single time he closed his eyes, there she was. He no longer saw Sam. He thought about Sam, remembered Sam but... He wanted to see Sam again.
And he had…
No. Sam was… dead, Sam was dead.
Dean took a deep breath, closing his eyes before leaning his head back. Sam was dead. Buffy was probably dead considering the highway to hell she had been so hell bent on following… Dean ignored the wrench inside his stomach at the thought, forcing his eyes open as he tried to breathe normally.
"What is happening to me?" he whispered to himself, closing his eyes when he felt a deep burn before rubbing his face painfully. That panic was coming back tenfold…
A rustle from across the street caught his attention and Dean whipped his head to the sound, blinking away the film of tears to focus on the wooded wall he stared at. The silence of the night pushed down on him as he stared, his ears straining, his eyes trying to see what had made the sound before he shook his head at himself.
“Animals live in forests, jackass,” he said to himself, turning to stare out the windshield. A long moment passed before he rolled his eyes. “And crazy people talk to themselves.”
Another rustle reached his ears before he heard a distinct sound like a footstep in the brush. The sound was close enough to cause the little hairs on the back of his neck to stick up. Dean stiffened, turning to study the trees again. But, just like before, there was nothing.
Scanning the area, Dean turned and leaned into the backseat, pulling out the duffle bag he kept stashed on the floor. He dropped it on the passenger seat, tearing open the zipper as he looked around once more before turning to the bag. Holy water. Knives. His favorite sawed off shotgun. He pulled it out, checking the chamber before looking back into the forest when he saw him.
Dean had no doubt in his mind that he was looking at the same man he had seen before but all he could see was the vague outline of him, standing farther in the woods. It could be… He was tall but he could be anybody… and he was walking away from him, silently.
Dean leaned out his window and shouted, “Hey!”
The man paused, turning his head to glance back over his shoulder. Dean felt a chill fall down his spine, knowing instantly that he hadn’t seen Sam earlier… This wasn’t Sam as he imagined the smile on the man’s face before he turned back to walking away from him.
Dean growled under his breath, turning back to his bag, grabbing a bottle of holy water, a package of salt, his silver knife and the shotgun. Wrenching the door open, Dean shoved everything into his pockets before leaning down and grabbing his handgun.
He didn't notice the lone figure a couple hundred yards behind him, the bike pulled to the side of the road as she stood, watching him. He only saw the shadow in the woods, the man that was taunting him, chasing him… using his brother to get to him…
Dean ran into the woods.
“Damn it,” he mumbled, pushing through the trees. A branch swiped out, slapping him across the face and he angrily pushed it away, crashing through the trees without direction. He paused for a moment, breathing heavily, squinting in the darkness, trying to find him but he was nowhere to be seen. “Hey!”
“Show yourself, you spineless dick!” he shouted again, his voice carrying. Still nothing. Dean’s breathing started picking up again and he shoved his shotgun under his arm, rubbing his face with both hands. He couldn’t explain the sudden surge of panic that slammed into his chest as he realized he was standing in the middle of a forest he knew nothing about, by himself, chasing a shadow. He had done this countless times but right now… Dean shook his head before squaring his jaw. He dropped his shotgun into his hand, narrowing his eyes.
Dean pushed forward, slower this time, looking around. For a few minutes, he kept going, hearing nothing more than his own boots in the damp ground, the leaves crunching softly beneath them. He heard a rustle and when he turned he saw a creepy little owl staring right at him.
"Look somewhere else, you little bitch," he grumbled at it.
Finding a small clearing, Dean stopped, turning around slowly in confusion as he watched the scene around him adjust…
He was inside a perfect circle.
“What the...” he murmured to himself, studying the lines before moving out to investigate. The brush at his feet had been cut in perfect, correct lines, forming a large circle. The grass inside was even flattened, almost like those crop circles from those hokey UFO shows. There was more to it and as Dean moved closer to the outer edge, he saw more lines. Very familiar lines.
He was standing inside a perfect devil’s trap.
“What the hell?” he said loudly, looking up to look around and noticing that the trees around him had moved farther out, looking like they were suddenly miles away. Dean’s stomach dropped as he turned quicker, his eyes flying around. No, no... he had just moved faster than he thought, that was all. Pressing his palms to his eyes, Dean shook his head before dropping his hands. “Screw this.”
Dean moved to get out of the circle, ready to break out into a sprint the further the trees seemed to be getting away from him – what in the blue fucking hell? He felt a hot burst of fear in his chest - when it felt like he ran into a very large, very painful and very clear brick wall.
Dean cursed, his face ramming into something, his nose making an ugly crunching noise and he hissed, stumbling back before falling on the ground. He looked up, confused, at where a wall should be. That sure as hell felt like a damn wall. Dean touched his nose, cursing again when he felt the hot mulch his skin had become. He felt a trickle of something hot and warm falling down his face and he rubbed his sleeve across his nose.
When he pulled his hand back, it was coated in blood.
“Oh god,” he mumbled. “What the hell?”
Pulling himself to his feet, Dean held out a hand as he pushed towards the edge of the circle again but instead of going through the clear air as he saw it, he felt something stopping him. What had felt like a punch in the face just a second ago now felt like he was pushing through tar. Dean tried to push through it with both hands but nothing happened and he felt a rush of fear-filled panic pulse through his body.
“No,” he said, his voice cracking as he looked around again. He was inside a devil’s trap. He was stuck inside a devil’s trap. That goddamn sucker had tricked him. Something was wrong. This shouldn’t be happening…
“No!” Dean pushed again on the invisible wall, his hands just stopping in midair as he pushed on it. But nothing happened. “No!”
Dean whirled around and he felt his chest hollow out.
"Hello, Dean," his brother replied softly, his eyes gentle as he stood before him, wearing what he had been wearing when he had taken the jump… The serene smile on his face was the same as the one Lucifer had warped at him that day… that goddamn day when he took his brother away from him. Dean opened his mouth to speak, to question, to rail him about whatever the hell was going on… to make him stop, to make him… be real.
Because he wasn't. He couldn't be.
Dean shook his head, stumbling away from him when he heard footsteps directly behind him.
Dean whirled and came face to face with himself. Dean’s mouth dropped as he took himself in: his doppelganger was coated in a mixture of blood and dirt, cuts and bruises decorating his skin like it had danced inside a meat grinder, a cold smirk on his face as he stared at him. Dean tried to breath but he felt like he was breathing water.
“Sucks, huh?” his doppelganger said, stepping away from him to indicate the circle. “Wondering what’s going on there, Dean-o?”
“What?” Dean rasped in confusion, watching himself chuckle.
“The human mind is so interesting,” his other self continued, his voice calm and amused. “It’s amazing what we can make ourselves believe when we really need it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about this.” Dean watched his dark self step in, get close, his face contorted in malicious glee.
“You never left Hell, Dean," he heard Sam say behind him.
Dean choked, the moist air leaving his lungs in a whoosh. “What?”
“You never left Hell,” his other self continued before he watched in disbelief as he shifted into someone smaller, softer... blonder. His eyes widened as Buffy cocked her head, staring up at him. She smirked, making the scar on her face deepen and he felt a deep tug in his chest as he watched her. It was her. He knew it was her. Suddenly a waft came towards him that was only Buffy. Only ever Buffy. Dean felt a mixture of disbelief and relief flood him and he found he wanted to step up and hug her. Pull her in. Never let her go... tell her to never let him go...
“You never left, Dean,” she said, her voice soft. “You tortured, you killed, you maimed... you killed yourself. None of this. Me. You... Sam… None of it was real. None of it was real... You never left.”
“What? No...” Dean didn’t feel the tears until he felt one escape and he felt his mouth quivering slightly as he watched her lips form the words, over and over again. She had been real, it had all been real, he was sure of it…. Sam, Bobby, Buffy… Hell, Lisa and Ben… But Dean couldn’t ignore the growing pit in his stomach as that little voice in the back of his head whispered, “What if…”
What if he had never escaped Hell? What if Cas had never ventured down there? What if he was still torturing people, killing people… losing himself? What if this was some fucked up fantasy in his head to save himself from himself…?
She stepped towards him, her arms crossed, her face serene as she said, “None of it was real...”.
Dean jumped, spinning around at the sound of his name to find Sam gone and in his place Buffy, her arms crossed just as she had been, her face cold as she stared at him. Dean blinked, shaking his head before turning around to see if the other Buffy was there but she wasn’t. Dean turned back, swallowing hard. This Buffy was dressed differently, covered head to toe in black, a heavy leather jacket encasing her upper half. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail as she stared at him. Dean frowned.
“Come with me.”
“What?” Dean asked again, turning once again to see if the other Buffy was there but she wasn’t. Dean’s eyes danced around the small open space, the trees back in their spots, the perfect lines of the devil’s trap gone. He choked out a breath as he realized he had been imagining it.
“Damn it,” he mumbled to himself, shaking his head when he heard the noise behind. “No. No, you aren’t real. None of this is real. None of it was real.”
He didn’t turn at the voice, feeling something like a vice starting to twist his chest to pieces as he closed his eyes. Her voice. It was hers. It was colder, emotionless though. Dark. But familiar. And then Dean shook his head, chuckling to himself.
“Man, Winchester, you know how to go off the rails like the best of ‘em,” he mumbled to himself, still not moving. His eyes were locked on a piece of dead trunk laying a few feet away from him. He frowned at it, shaking his head before looking up at the sky. “Looks like I’m taking the trophy for biggest basket case home, huh, Sammy?”
“Don't be a moron,” she said behind him and this time, she touched him. Dean jerked away where she gripped his shoulder, stumbling a bit as he reeled away from her, his eyes wild.
“What the hell?” he ground out, his eyes narrowing. She wasn’t disappearing. She wasn’t going away. Dean closed his eyes, trying to make the image disappear but when he opened them again, she was still there. “What the hell?”
“Stop it,” he snapped, closing his eyes. When he opened them, she was still there. He shook his head. “You aren’t real.” She opened her mouth to speak and Dean - for a perfect, incomplete moment - lost himself in a shock of memories as he stared at her. He had forgotten how goddamn beautiful the woman was. How much he had missed the scar, her eyes, her nose... How much he had craved her smell, how much he had really just wanted to fall into her arms and let her tell him everything was okay... Dean screwed his eyes shut again, slamming a palm into the side of his head. "Goddamn it! Screw that Zachariah asshole.”
“Fuck off,” he growled at her but she didn’t move. She didn’t hardly react but to raise her eyebrow at him and cross her arms, looking annoyed. Dean shook his head before flexing his hands, wondering what he had done with his shotgun. And then he remembered he hadn’t come entirely unprepared. Reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket, he slipped out his gun, cocking the hammer and holding it up. “You aren’t real.”
“I hope you’re joking,” was all she said, barely flinching at the gun in his hand and Dean knew without a doubt that he was dreaming. This Buffy was too calm. His Buffy would have ripped him a new one. This Buffy was in his head. His finger itched on the trigger before he felt how badly his hand was shaking.
“You... you took Sam from me,” he said, his voice rough as he closed his eyes, his hold on his gun wavering. He missed the confused look she shot him as he shook his head. “You... get the fuck out of my head. You are not real.”
And then she smirked, rolling her eyes at him. “I am real.”
Dean frowned at her before she shifted positions, tilting her head and blinking.
And when she opened her eyes again... they were pitch black.
Thoughts, intrigues, questions, concerns...? Feedback appreciated! Thank you!