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Pillars of Sand

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Pillars Trilogy". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Sequel to Pillars of Salt. Dean is trying to live the “normal” life he promised he would after Sam’s leap into the cage but he is plagued with guilt, regret and memories that shouldn't be. Enter Buffy with a few souvenirs that shouldn't be of her own...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > Buffy-Centered > Pairing: Dean WinchesterBreFR1816143,9584366,00110 Nov 1222 Jul 14Yes

Chapter One

Pillars of Sand

by Bre

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters or parts of this story line. They belong to the brains of The Whedon and The Kripke.
Spoilers: SPN S6
Rating: R/FR18 (very dark themes, violence, torture, sexual content, language)
Distribution: Please ask me first.
Author’s Notes: Second story in The Pillars Trilogy. I highly recommend you read Pillars of Salt before you read this. I tried to cover some ground from that fic although it might confuse more than help if you haven’t read PoS1. This story will be darker than PoS1. I am taking elements from the first episode of SPN S6 - please think of this fic as a sort of lead into what S6 becomes although there are spoilers for later S6. I used some elements of the book The Lost Slayer by Christopher Golden as well.
Author's Notes 2: Contains some Lisa/Dean.
Author’s Notes 3: Italics indicate flashbacks/dreams.
Timeline: Set in the year between S5 and S6 of Supernatural. Post S7 of Buffy. I don’t go into comic canon.
Feedback: Always appreciated! Thank you for the response to Pillars of Salt, I hope this one doesn’t disappoint!

Summary: Sequel to Pillars of Salt. Dean is trying to live the “normal” life he promised he would after Sam’s leap into the cage but he is plagued with guilt, regret and memories that shouldn't be. Enter Buffy with a few souvenirs that shouldn't be of her own...

*

“I guess… the feeling that I wasn’t really here. It was like… when I clawed my way out of that grave, I left something behind. Part of me. I just… I don’t understand…”

Illustration


Chapter One

The door opened with a whisper.

Moonlight bathed everything inside the empty house with stark white light; the shadows bounced to life, the abandoned furniture loomed large underneath white sheets. Rats scurried away from the intrusion, their claws scrabbling on the chocked hardwood before disappearing into decimated walls.

The doorjamb was dusty where her fingers touched it. She rubbed the stained fingers against her thumb, the noise of the aged dirt chafing against her skin the only sound filling the air. The empty field where the lone house rested was deadly quiet, not even the sound of crickets or little creatures in the brush - it knew evil lingered in this house and wanted nothing to do with it.

The echo of her rough leather holster snapping loose rushed through the hallway and she felt the familiar cool metal of the iron knife at her hip. Running her fingers over it, she moved to grip the handle, her fist tight and ready as she stepped through the doorway.

A rush of bright light tickled the edge of her vision and the hair on the back of her neck rose as she turned to catch it when a scream erupted against her eardrum. She turned in time to see the spirit's fingers reaching out for her and she moved on instinct, twisting quickly with the knife. She jammed it into the spirit, the icon slicing through the empty air with a loud hiss.

A rush of angry fire burned along the fine hairs on her arm before the spirit disappeared.

But it wasn't gone.

"Come on, buddy," she rasped. "Let's get this over with."

Wrinkling her nose at the smell of the surrounding decay, mold and dead rodents, she moved further into the dark house, flipping the knife as she searched the rooms for the spirit's remains.

*

Month Two

Dean Winchester stood at the open window, the stagnant night air touching his face, a warm breeze brushing past him. He barely felt it. His eyes stared at nothing. The glass in his hand was forgotten, his mind a thousand of miles away, back in a piece of crap forgotten cemetery where everything had gone wrong.

It was a constant movie projector of the Worst Winchester moments running through his head. All he saw when he closed his eyes was Sam. All he saw when he opened them was Sam. All he thought about was the horror, the sickness, the guilt as he watched his brother tumble into the hole, Lucifer on lockdown inside …

He watched Sammy falling away, sucked into the ground. Gone.

Forever.

Dean took a shaky breath, rubbing his burning eyes. It never changed; Sam always fell. Sam was always gone and there was nothing he could do about it. He was stuck here on this earth, alone, and his brother was locked away, somewhere he couldn't reach, couldn't touch. He was just… gone, while he was here, alone and he couldn't do a goddamn thing about it.

Closing his eyes, Dean bowed his head against the night, the familiar guilt in his chest filling him to the brink.

It was a white hot pressure inside, waiting to burst and send him into oblivion, but that part never came. It was always there, leaving him in anticipation, letting each moment slide by, feeling like it was getting bigger and hotter, but never reaching the boiling point. Sometimes it ebbed into a gentle, constant pressure and sometimes, like right now, he felt like someone was jamming a knife through his chest and twisting it as he pictured Sam's face the moment he shoved Lucifer down.

The calm when Sam realized what was happening, what he had to do; the determination in his eyes. A million words unspoken.

"It's okay, Dean. It's gonna be okay. I've got him…"

"Damn it, Sammy," Dean replied, a tear slipping down his cheek. He groaned. "You stupid son of a bitch."

Forcing himself to take a deep breath, Dean blinked the blurriness away, glancing up at the sky. Empty stars twinkled back at him.

How many times had he called Cas, and how many times had he been ignored? There was no on up there who would help him and there was not a damn thing down here to tell him what to do. He hated it, this feeling of being stuck with nothing to hold onto. His brother was stuck in a cage with the damn devil while he was up here in a life that was nothing.

He just wanted Sam, alive. He wanted to be on the road, moving. Christ, he wanted to hunt a damn ghost or ghoul or something - anything - as long as it meant having Sammy back. Even if it meant trading places.

Dean sighed.

And he wanted someone else, someone he couldn't have. Hell, he couldn't even find her.

He'd just let everything slip right through his fingers and hadn't done a damn thing to stop it.

The front yard was bathed in moonlight, but all Dean could see was daylight. The daylight of the day he had arrived in that cemetery. The daylight where Lucifer twisted Sam's body like a sick puppet on strings, eradicating everything that his little brother was… He saw the daylight where Sam had conquered, but where Dean had lost everything…

"Masochistic bastard," Dean breathed, closing his eyes. But his memories moved without him. Dean saw the daylight of the next day, waking up alone in that crap motel room, next to an empty, untouched bed. None of Sam's crap in the bathroom, none of his crappy morning protein bars or the special conditioner he bought for his stupid hair. None of Sam.

No more Sam.

No more anything.

Dean bit his tongue, pursing his lips, looking at the front yard he had the right to officially call his own because it was in front of his house. Although he wouldn't really call merely existing within some walls a right to ownership.

He hadn't been able to bring himself to find this place for a few weeks after that day. How long had he wandered around, looking, checking leads, finding someone - anyone - who might know where to find her?

It hadn't even been a question after he lost Sam: find Buffy.

The need had beat inside his head like a relentless drum, urging him on, promising him things he knew rationally he could never have. But if he could have had just a moment, just one split second, to put an end to the constant ache, the constant gaping hole in him where Sam had been…

But she was like a damn ghost.

And what would have happened had he even found her? What comfort could she had have given him, what would she had even said?

He wanted with a driving need a woman that only existed in his head.

The woman he had met in 2014 - the woman he had spent a lifetime with, the woman who had worked her way into every crease and crevice in his being like some super glue mold - was gone. The person he carried around in his heart was literally a phantom, a phantom that dick Zachariah had created to torture him, to make him say yes to being Michael's angel sock.

Well he was getting the torture part down, nice and snug, the stupid dead bastard because that Buffy didn't exist. The minute Zach had snapped his fingers and sent that mystery soul back into whatever freaky place he had gotten it from, Dean knew she would never exist because those five years would never happen…

The woman he had gone to sleep with that night and the woman he had woken next to… she was gone the minute the second soul had been ripped out. He hadn't even had five seconds to figure any of it out before it all slipped away from him.

Hell, the last time he had seen her, the Buffy she'd turned into had only been worried about her car. And getting as far away from him as possible.

It was Dean who had the memories of 2014: the anger, the hate, the lust, the entire goddamn relationship...

And he had lost it all.

He hadn't even tried to find her or reach out to her afterwards, because why would he? It had been a blip on the radar, a few days out of years of crap, another angle the angels tried to get him against Sammy, and none of it should have mattered anyway. So he had let things go, let the memories of his future self fade into the background and let himself pretend things were okay - because he had his little brother again and it was them against the world.

And then he had lost Sammy too. And then all logic left the building. So he had tried to find her. He hadn't even been thinking about what he was doing, he just needed her. It wasn't until a few weeks later, when he was barely eating and hardly sleeping, that he realized how goddamn stupid and hopeless it all was.

So he had come here to Lisa because Sam had asked him to.

Because he knew Sam would hate that Dean couldn't stop thinking about how easy it would be to suck down a bullet or find something to hunt and let himself slip a little, let his prey turn into the predator and give it a damn good night. That the longer he stayed away from something that had the tiniest potential to ground him, the more likely he was to let those things happen.

Sam hadn't known about Buffy, about the prices paid and maybe there really was a part of him that actually wanted this normal life.

But he had mostly come because he had made a promise; despite it being a stupid, underhanded promise that he had only said to placate… he had made it and he wasn't going to dip out on it.

So he was living in two different worlds: the one he wanted and yearned for in his mind and then there was the harsh reality, secretly knowing he was only there because Sammy had asked him to be. It was a twisted sort of loyalty tethering him to it, but he didn't have the guts to cut it.

He was supposed to find happiness, normalcy, love, joy, rainbows and whatever other crap you read about in fairytales. Crap that wasn't real but that everyone dreamed about in little floating fluffy clouds of lies.

Dean took a deep breath, checking on what he had come for in the first place. The salt line around the perimeter of the house was sound, buried around every inch of the property, refreshed every single night. That had been a silent battle when Lisa's gardening had started suffering, but he was adamant. He knew what was out there. What came to kill you in your sleep when you least expected it, were least prepared for it…

"Dean?"

Dean stiffened, clenching the glass a little tighter. Lisa stood at the top of the stairs, silhouetted by the hall light. Her hair was down and around her shoulders, brushing the top of the shirt she wore - one of his - and she came down a few steps before pausing. It was a gentle reminder that he had someone waiting for him upstairs.

"Yeah," he replied, his voice dry. "I'll be up in a minute."

She didn't move. He had already shut off all the lights so he couldn't see her face, but he could imagine it perfectly: the crinkle between her brows, the tiny sad, knowing smile on her lips before pushing it into a real one. He had it memorized because he saw it on a daily basis: pity, sadness and looking lost because she knew something was seriously wrong but she didn't know how to help him.

"Okay," she said and he could hear the way her voice changed when her lips pulled back in that damn smile as she turned back to the room.

Dean exhaled. He closed the window, shut the blinds and pulled the curtains over.

He had cracked the first night he'd arrived. The exhaustion, the despair and grief, it had all burst inside him like a dam shifting and he remembered curling up around Lisa, not able to sleep but finding something akin to peace for the first time in so long. But it hadn't lasted; maybe a day or two before he found his equilibrium again and his mind boomeranged back as he realized the only distraction he had had against all the memories, emotions and thoughts from 2014 that he had worked so hard to push down was gone when Sam died.

And the fuckers came back with a vengeance.

He hadn't felt that peace he had found in Lisa's arms that first night since then. She knew it, he knew it. Maybe in a different life, maybe in a different world where there was no Buffy in 2014 waiting to destroy his sanity, things might have been different, and he could have found some semblance of happiness here.

But meeting Buffy that night - when she had darted into the road, running from a werewolf, and he had hit her with his car - had changed things. Whatever he had found with her in 2014 it had branded him with a white hot poker. A woman he had met in high school for a few brief weeks and then saw again for a few days once upon a time was stuck inside him thanks to Zachariah: in his head and in his heart, he carried around a thousand more days worth of memories.

And without Sam here to concentrate on, it made it that much harder to keep the 2014 crap at bay. The feeling that he was missing something, the feeling that he wasn't living his life dogged him: a life without Sam, a life without Buffy?

He felt like a ghost himself.

Dean returned to his nightly routine. He checked the windows, the locks. He checked the painted lines at every entrance - devil's traps - and found his jug of holy water under the sink; he ran his fingers over the gun he had taped to the back of the fridge and made sure his knife was still stashed under the plant in the living room.

Finishing off the rest of his bourbon, Dean rubbed his eyes, dropping the cup off in the kitchen before checking the front door again on his way upstairs.

A flash of white flew through the front yard.

Dean whipped his head around so hard and fast his muscles strained to keep up as he looked out window parallel to the door. He stopped - stopped moving, breathing, thinking - staring outside, but there was nothing. And then another white flicker danced on the edge of his vision and Dean didn't have to command his body to move, it just did.

With a twist of the bolt, Dean stepped outside, pulling it closed behind him, ignoring the stark chill of the porch on his bare feet.

Lisa did an amazing job with gardening - she had turned the lawn into a mini-forest full of all sorts of weird concoctions. It was supposed to be pretty and homey… but all Dean could see was cover.

Dean jogged down the small steps off the porch and started shoving plants aside, pushing leaves out of his face, unearthing any secret hiding place as he searched through the foliage. The flash had had a shape, a body shape. Something was out there. Dean searched faster.

A distinct chill danced over his shoulder and Dean turned, expecting to see Lisa staring at him from the porch.

But nothing was there.

And nothing was in the yard.

Dean paused, his hands wet from the damp plants, his toes freezing in the grass, the hems of his pajama pants getting wetter with each passing second. He scanned the area. He had seen it, a white… Dean closed his eyes, trying to find it in his head again but it suddenly came up blank like it hadn't even happened.

"Awesome," he whispered to himself, shaking his head. Was he imagining crap now? "Just awesome."

His eyes roved over the foliage again, but he didn't see anything but the night's darkness.

Foolishness blossomed like a black disease in his chest. Mumbling curses, Dean turned and headed back inside. That's what they needed, the neighbors chit-chatting about the weird pajama-clad guy attacking plants. Christ, he probably looked insane. When he reached the door, he glanced back one more time, his eyes sweeping the street and the neighbors' houses but there was nothing but… nothing.

Clenching his jaw, Dean growled at himself and went inside, shutting the door.

It was only as the warmth and silence of the house pressed against him that Dean realized his heart was galloping at a wicked pace through his veins, his arms strumming with adrenaline. He tightened his fists, slipped the door's bolt back into place and forced himself to go upstairs.

The last hunt he had been on had been to find Sam and Adam; in all his weeks looking for Buffy, it hadn't occurred to him that he might have slid through a town with more than a job or two ready to be taken care of. He hadn't really fucking cared. He had been done with all of it at that point.

Wasn't his brother's death enough damn sacrifice for this piece of shit world?

Nobody knew where he was, not even Bobby. He had been more than careful covering his tracks, making sure nothing followed them when they moved and making sure nobody recognized him, for Ben and Lisa's sake. He was just… seeing things, drinking too much, thinking too much about Sam, about empty spots at his side, about gut-sucking holes in the ground that pulled everything you held dear into it without apology…

Dean checked on Ben. The glow-in-the-dark stars plastered on every surface made everything glow with an eerie light. The kid slept deeply - the kind of sleep only someone who hadn't see what can hide under a bed can sleep. Dean had made sure he heard the stories, understood his warnings and even Lisa's, but he’d held back on the gory details - he didn't want to give him nightmares. And hearing and seeing were very different things.

As Dean watched his chest rising and falling, blissfully ignorant, Dean wanted it to stay that way forever. Just a thought, not a reality.

An eerie darkness settled on his shoulders when he wondered if he would be the one to bring darkness into the house someday. Dean shut the kid’s door, telling the voice in the back of his head to shut up.

Lisa wasn't asleep when he finally pushed open the door to the bedroom. He slipped off his wet bottoms, and slid into the bed with her, adjusting the comforter as he slipped into the spot she had kept warm for him. He felt like a robot going through the motions as he adjusted. She moved with him, waiting for him to settle before moving into his arms.

Lisa laid her head on his chest, wrapping her arm around him and he let her tug him closer.

"Goodnight," she whispered.

Dean did what he did every night; he leaned down, pressing his face into her hair and taking a deep breath, feeling the ready ping of disappointment when he smelled the wrong shampoo before kissing the crown of her head. He found himself noticing the strangest things now that he had time to notice them - the smell of her lotion, how soft her hands were, the laugh lines around her mouth, the single piercing in her ears, her painted toenails…

All different.

"Night," he replied, turning to stare at the ceiling as he pushed thoughts of the wrong woman out of his mind and let his mind hit replay on all the tiny moments that had led to the worst moments.

And just like every other night for the last two months since Sam had jumped, Dean listened to Lisa fall asleep while he stared into nothing.

*

She was running.

Her lungs were burning from breathing too much and too hard, and her legs felt like they were about to give out any second, but she couldn't stop, she could never stop because when she stopped, it caught up to her, and if it caught up to her… she was dead.

Her throat felt like it was on fire as she rounded another corner. She didn't know how much longer she could run; she'd been running for so long. The long hallway that greeted her made tears blur her eyes, but she pushed herself to keep going. She couldn't stop, she could never stop.

The darkness was at her back, pushing against her, promising the one and only thing it could deliver, and it kept coming. She was staying ahead of it for the moment, keeping pace, but if she stopped for just one second…

She didn't know where she was or how she got there. There were only long hallways and corners, like she was in a maze. The walls were made of pocked concrete and were rough; she had scrapes on her arms and legs from cutting corners too quickly. The ground was covered in weeds and dead grass and every single corner she took, every new hallway she found, the weeds seemed to be growing heavier, covering more, hindering her. Her feet slipped on a dead plant before she found her momentum again and forced herself to put on a burst of speed.

God, she was so tired.

She turned another corner, the tiniest relief hitting her when the darkness lost sight of her for just a moment before she ran face-first into a wall. She smacked into the concrete, a torrent of blood rushing from her nose with a sickening crunch and she didn't have a second of time to react as the darkness at her back fell on her.

The force was wrenching. She was shoved helplessly into the wall; her senses scrambled, trying to pinpoint the threat but it felt like it was everywhere, disembodied and it surrounded her.

A small hand found the back of her neck with a vicious grip, shoving her face into the concrete again. She shouted in pain, her skin mottling and she tried to shove off the wall, tried to turn to protect herself but she wasn't strong enough.

It was too strong, too strong for her.

And then something sharp stabbed her in the back, severing her spinal cord, twisting to pierce her heart.

She screamed.


She woke with a choked gasp, the scream dying on her lips as she bolted up on the couch in the abandoned house, jerking herself to her feet blindly. She swung her arms around, her fists closed and ready to hit whatever was attacking her but they slammed into nothing but dead air.

Her heartbeat thrummed wildly in her chest, slamming against her chest plate as she floundered across the room before her back hit a wall. The room spun, shadows leaping out at her from every angle. With a shout of alarm, she closed her eyes as tight as she could, covering her head with her arms as the shadows descended on her…

Silence.

When she opened her eyes … she was alone.

Her lungs still burned from breathing too hard and her palms ached from where her fingernails dug into them, but she didn't let go. Her right shoulder was alive with pain, bright and hot and burning into her bones…

There was nothing else in the house with her…

Just her.

She took a shaky breath, the act burning her lungs from the inside out before sliding down the wall, collapsing on the floor in an exhausted heap.

She was alone.

"Son of a bitch," she growled, her voice cracking, her hands starting to shake as the adrenaline started leaking away. "Goddamn it!"

A sharp burst of anger flamed to life in her chest and she jammed her arm into the plaster she leaned against, her elbow busting through the cheap material and hitting the two by four on the other side, the sound of cracking wood echoing in the empty room.

*

Month Four

Fingers snapped in front of his face and Dean jerked his head back, looking at his table mate. Sid - his new official drinking buddy and neighbor - sat opposite him, waving his fingers at him. Dean offered a lame smile.

"Dean, man, you are the ultimate king of zoning the hell out," Sid said.

"Yeah, sorry about that," Dean replied, taking a sip from his beer. "I've just got a lot on my mind."

"Well, come on, talk to me," Sid said, waving his hands to indicate himself and then their surroundings. Dean glanced around. "This is the place of zen men attitude, man." Sid paused, watching Dean give him a tight smile and he sighed, all amusement leaving his face as he leaned forward. "Is it Lisa?"

"What? God no, no. No, she's been amazing," Dean replied, shaking his head. "More than I deserve, that's for sure. No, I'm fine, man."

Dean took another heavy pull from his beer and avoided eye contact. Instead, he gazed around the bar where he had taken to joining Sid almost every night after work since they had moved into their new neighborhood. It was neat, clean and upper scale compared to the rat traps he used to occupy on the road. He actually liked it - it was different and that made it a little easier to forget… well, everything.

But that didn't mean the condensating beer in his hands didn't remind him of Sam. That didn't mean the hard-backed stool in which he sat didn't remind him of Sam. That didn't mean the jukebox in the corner of the bar didn't remind him of Sam.

Dean closed his eyes as the black hole in his chest burned a little hotter.

When he opened them, he saw Sid staring at him, and he offered another smile that probably looked like he had strings attached to his muscles to do the work for him. Sid shook his head.

"Alright, that's cool, man." Sid gestured at him. "I understand. So what about that barbeque this weekend, huh? Your place, right?"

"That's the plan."

"Don’t look too excited over there," Sid replied with a grin and Dean chuckled. He liked Sid. Sid was easy, he was… nice. He lived next door and his wife had brought them an actual fruitcake when they moved in. He was a cool guy, an uncomplicated guy, and uncomplicated was on the menu these days.

"Haven't really been a big BBQ guy, that's all." Dean took another sip.

"What kind of childhood did you have?" Sid asked with a laugh. Dean laughed with him, but the sound was false to even his ears. Sid slapped the table. "Well, we're gonna change that, Winchester."

Dean just smiled at him, taking another drink until the bottle was nearly empty, hating himself for wondering how Sammy would have grilled a tofu burger. Little health freak nut.

Dean heard the click of heels on the floor behind him and he watched Sid's visceral reaction, watching him watch the voluptuous woman walk by before he turned back to Dean, an incredulous look on his face. "She didn't even notice I existed. Like I wasn't even here. What the hell is it about you, man?"

Dean shrugged, his eyes looking over to where the woman was headed. She shot him another interested look over her shoulder and he looked away, shaking his head. "I don't know. It's like they specifically know I'm unavailable."

"Hey, I'm unavailable." Dean smirked, but didn't respond and Sid shook his head at him. "I don't know about this whole hanging out together thing anymore. You're kinda stealing the little thunder I had." Sid let out a loud laugh, turning back to check out the woman where she had settled with a group.

And yet another reason why Sid was good to have around - he was nothing like Sam. He was nothing like anyone he used to hang out with, when he did get the chance to hang with someone. A nice side effect of this whole normal life thing was that his new friends didn't have a death cloud hanging over their head, a dark presence waiting for the right moment to swoop in and emotionally mutilate everyone around that person. Like Sam. Like Jo and Ellen. Dad…

Another woman stood quickly, catching Dean’s eye, and turned her back to him before swiftly exiting the bar. She slipped out the door before Dean could even blink but his entire body tensed, his stomach clenching in both anticipation and dread as he was assaulted with familiarity.

It couldn’t be, there was no way… what were the odds?

Buffy.

Dean moved without thinking to follow her, but he moved too quickly. His arm swept across the table and slapped into his beer bottle. It flew off the table, smashing into the ground with a loud crack. Beer splashed everywhere and he heard Sid's boisterous reaction but it got lost in the hazy white noise filling his head. Dean stared at the now empty doorway, his heart racing, his limbs suddenly going weak as his mind whirled through the possibilities…

Sid grabbed his arm, shaking him and yanking him back to reality. "Dean! Hey, Earth to Dean in there."

"What?" Dean's eyes flew to Sid before seeing the new bartender picking up the shattered pieces of his bottle, mopping up the spoiled beer from the floor with a stained rag. "Oh, damn it, I'm sorry."

She offered him a thin smile but he barely caught it as he turned back to the door.

"No problem," she said, brushing past him with her unwanted booty.

Sid cocked his head. "Are you okay, man?"

She didn’t come back. Dean blinked rapidly, rubbing his face as he nodded. "Yeah, man, I'm sorry, I just… I thought I saw somebody."

Sid turned to the door where nobody had been for the last minute and he frowned back at his new friend. "You look like you just saw a ghost."

Dean let out a heavy breath, Sid's words sending a chill down his spine. "Yeah. Maybe."

"Well, okay then," Sid said, nodding his thanks to the bartender when she came back to finish the job. She walked through Dean's line of sight and Sid frowned when Dean moved to look around her. "Do you wanna get another?"

"What?" Dean finally turned to him and he frowned. "Oh, no. No, um… I'm gonna take off actually."

"What? But we just got here."

"Yeah, sorry, I gotta… go." Dean grabbed his jacket from the back of his seat and left without another word. He didn't feel Sid's confused eyes following him while he shrugged the jacket on, shouldering the door open and stepping into the cool night air.

He immediately looked both ways, up and down the street, but he saw no one. He spotted a woman walking towards her car, but she wasn't what he had just seen. Dean turned in a slow circle, his breath fogging in front of him, and he made a frustrated noise, running his hands through his hair. He knew what he had seen, damn it, he knew exactly what he had just seen.

Buffy. It had been Buffy.

How many thousands of memories walked through his brain like it was an amusement park? How many times could he pull from the deep recesses that exact walk, exactly what she looked like when she walked away from him - just like that woman had - in the five years Zachariah had force-fed his brain? There was no rhyme or reason to it. The farther out he got from that day in the cemetery, the more rampant the memories were becoming. It took just a simple thought or action for his mind to unlock a memory that wasn't his… but it was his at the same time.

It was 2014 Dean's memories, shoved in with his own, so vivid they felt like someone was slapping him in the face with a different reality , taking him back to a time he hadn’t even lived.

Just like watching that woman walk out the door.

He could have sworn it was her.

But that was impossible.

Dean rubbed his eyes.

It didn't take a genius to know that it was getting worse. He didn't have anything to focus on, nothing to shift his emotions to, his anger towards. He was left with the mush his brain had been turned into, mush that made him constantly remember things that he didn't remember ever doing, but 2014 Dean had done.

Like the first time he had called Buffy a whiny bitch or finding out that Bobby knew her or when he had found her hanging from that goddamned rope when Lucifer got Sammy or the last time he had been with her in 2014… For some reason, the memories were coming back with more velocity, more power - so real he could taste it.

He was losing his goddamn mind because none of that had happened in this world, and it would never happen. But damn it, it felt so real because it had been real to his future self…

It was a damned clusterfuck and it was getting more clustered the more time passed. Shouldn't it be doing the exact opposite?

"Son of a bitch," Dean whispered, turning once more, unsure if he should start walking, try to follow a path, see where it took him, try to find her. It had to have been her. But go where exactly? What the hell was he even doing?

"Hey," Sid said, slipping out of the bar behind him. His amusement melted into concern when Dean turned to him, his mouth gaped and God only knew on his face. "Whoa, man, you really don't look so good. Are you sure you're okay?"

Dean shoved his face into his hands, instantly regretting it when the first thing he saw was Sam standing over him, Lucifer reflecting in his eyes as he raised his fist for the final hit…

Dean popped his eyes back open. That little black hole that he liked to fool himself into thinking he had under control grew a little bigger and he swallowed past the lump in his throat. How twisted was it that his conscious thoughts were of Sam and his subconscious thoughts revolved around her?

Dean took a deep breath, shoving it all down.

"Yeah," he said with a jagged voice. "I'm good."

*

Holy water. Salt. Iron.

She leaned forward to see what was left of her holy water, sticking the eye dropper back in. Her face was empty as she straightened, raising the dropper to eye level and cocking her head.

"It's amazing that your eyeballs don't just melt or something," she said mockingly, turning back to the slumped over man tied to the metal chair with chains and rope. He lolled his head to give his captor an amused smile.

"It's amazing how stupid you hunters insist on being," he drawled. "You know this is just a costume part, right?" He used his head to emphasize the body he wore, especially the large tire iron sticking out from his thigh. He blinked his black eyes at her. "You're just damaging poor Todd's goods here."

"Sucks to be Todd then," she drawled back, not blinking an eye as she reentered the large devil's trap, grabbing the man's face and forcing his head back with her elbow. She wasn't sure if it was the human reacting or the demon but he instinctively shut his eyes and tried to angle away from her. She responded by prying one of his lids open.

She didn't miss the streak of fear that coursed through him… it made her smile.

"Now how about you start talking?"

A moment later an unearthly scream echoed from the abandoned condos, reaching nobody's ears.

*

Month Five

"It goes… right here?"

Dean smiled, nodding in approval. "Yeah, good job."

A delighted smile lit up the kid's face. Ben leaned further under the hood of the truck, his arm stretched to reach the back. Dean watched him, shaking his head in amazement at how quickly he was picking this stuff up. Dean wiped his hands on the oil-soaked rag he held before handing it to Ben.

He would be lying to himself if the delighted look on Ben's face didn't stab him right in the gut when he took the rag and wiped his hands as well.

"Boys, look alive," Lisa said from inside the garage and they turned in unison. "Dinner's done."

"Awesome!" Ben said, leaping down from the overturned bucket and racing towards the door.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up there, speedy!" Dean yelled at his back and Ben stopped, looking back. Dean gestured to the truck. "That isn't how you treat your baby, dude."

"What?"

"What?" Dean mocked, holding out a fistful of tools. "Here, put these away."

With an impatient sigh and shoulder slump that Dean was quickly leaning was very customary in sassy little teenage boys, Ben shot him a look before saying, "Fine."

Dean shook his head, wiping down the area they had been working on and shutting the hood, wondering if maybe he was rubbing off on the kid in too many smartass ways. Or maybe this was just how teenage boys were supposed to act: like little asses.

He didn't remember Sam acting like this.

The toolbox slammed shut behind him and Dean yelled over his shoulder, "And wash your hands, you know your mom has a cow when you don't," as Ben's quick feet took off inside.

"Yeah, yeah," Ben shouted back before disappearing.

Wiping off the hood once more, Dean took a deep breath, looking up at the light sky. The sun was setting, turning everything dusky. Turning his eyes towards the sunset, Dean squinted, an odd sense of calm sinking in. Dean leaned against the truck, staring into the sun, enjoying the slow cool down as it slipped over the horizon…

Suddenly the orange hue reminded him of hellfire.

Dean's gut twisted bitterly, his mind shattering the peace with images of what was probably happening to Sam right then.

Dean grimaced, turning away from the warmth. Slapping the rag against his hand, he soaked up the sharp sting of pain in his palm before heading into the house. Swallowing down the so-familiar hot pressure that was starting to ache all over again, Dean tossed the rag into the corner of the garage.

A glint from a passing car caught his eye and he turned. But it wasn't just any car.

Dean frowned at the backside of the Jeep - her Jeep, it had to be hers; the color, the scrapes and the dents - turning onto the next street, the tires squealing as it took the corner too fast. He didn't see the driver and Dean stopped, watching it speed off, the Sam ache growing to connect with the Buffy one.

Dean closed his eyes. No, he was just seeing things.

When he opened them again, the street was empty.

Dean slapped the button for the garage door to close hard enough to hurt and went inside.

*

Forests all smelled the same at night when the sun set, when the day creatures retreated for the night, when the predators came out…

She ran. She pushed herself harder, her eyes sharp as she watched her prey trying to escape. The long machete bound to her belt bounced painfully against her leg but she ignored it as she put on an extra burst of speed, ignoring the raging burn in her lungs, forcing herself to breathe evenly.

Using a rock as leverage, she vaulted herself through the air, tackling him to the ground with a loud crack. They fell unceremoniously, limbs lacing together as they both fought for dominance. The vampire slammed the back of his fist across her face, his knuckles impacting hard against her cheekbones, but she didn't pause. Swallowed the rush of blood from where she bit her inner cheek, she rolled with the blow, turning it around on him so she was suddenly straddling him on the ground.

In a blur, she had the machete out and pressed against the vampire's neck. He growled at her, his second set of teeth coming out to play. She smirked, pressing down harder on the large knife, and started sawing away at the cartilage and bone. The vampire bucked underneath her and she moved with him, not letting him get an inch.

And then he suddenly stiffened, his grip losing all its strength.

"Dead man's blood," she said simply, eyeing the blade where she had let the corpse bloody dry before she spat the blood pooling in her mouth into his face. He hissed, her spittle leaking into his eye, but he could do little more than just lay there helplessly as she shoved the blade in deeper, making him choke.

It always took longer to kill a vampire this way, sawing and hacking, struggling with them, but it felt better. Especially when the body went completely limp as the machete struck the ground and his head rolled away.

*

Month Six

Dean pushed the cart down the grocery aisle, eyeing everything critically. How was it possible that people could justify asking that freaking much for spaghetti noodles? Lisa grabbed two boxes instead of the cheap ones in the crinkly plastic right below them. He made a face at her and she smirked.

"What?"

"You really buy these?"

Lisa chuckled. "I don't see you complaining when I make spaghetti and meatballs."

Dean opened his mouth to retort before conceding. But he stared at the price. Maybe this is why he never went on these stupid shopping trips - it was a hell of a lot easier to buy everything already made. At least then the price was justified.

"But really," he said, gesturing at the shelf. "$5.99 for that tiny box? $5.99?" He reached out, grabbing the noodles below, waving them in her face. "These are only $3.24."

Lisa rolled her eyes, bumping her hip against his with a small smile before moving on. Dean tossed the package back onto the shelf and followed, pushing the cart down the aisle. Another row of noodles came up and those were $7.99.

"Who in the hell prices this crap?" Dean grumbled to himself, wondering what in the hell had possessed him to come along today. He didn't shop and he was beginning to learn he hated shopping. But Lisa had asked, he had said sure… it was like the domestic thread in his life was wrapping tighter and tighter, and he wasn't doing a damn thing about it. Christ, he might even be enjoying it… except for the shopping.

The sound of feet slapping the linoleum echoed behind them and Dean and Lisa turned in tandem to see Ben running towards them, his arms full of random items. Dean watched, his face twisted in amusement, when Lisa spotted the candy and her face fell flat instantly.

"Ben, I said grab more mayo, not the entire candy aisle."

"It's only Twizzlers," Ben replied, giving Dean a 'can you believe her?' look to which Dean responded with a wink. Ben threw the licorice into the cart, but Lisa intercepted, pushing them all back into his hands. "What? Mom, come on."

"No, don't even think about trying that on me, mister, go put those back."

"But we never get Twizzlers!" Ben said, dropping half of the booty into the cart. "Two?"

Lisa narrowed her eyes, picking them up again. "No. Put them back, Ben."

"Oh, no, I don't think so," Dean interjected, stepping in and taking away the candy from both of them. They both looked up at him - Ben with hope that Dean was on his side and Lisa with hope that he was actually interacting in a way someone fatherly would. He almost paused and thought before he spoke, but the words were out, “This is poker food, baby.”

Ben shot her a mocking smile. Lisa opened her mouth to argue and Dean pointed at the kid. “Which means not Ben food.”

“What? That’s not fair.”

“Oh yeah, buddy,” Dean replied with his own mocking smile, dropping the candy in the basket. “Life sucks.”

“It does freaking suck."

“Ben, watch your language," Lisa said, turning back to her list.

Dean stared at Ben where he stood with his arms crossed, glowering at the floor. Not even a few months ago he would have let it slip that Ben had no damn idea how good he had it and that he should be grateful to have a mom who loved him and let him eat Twizzlers because the first time he was allowed to have them was on his own watch when he stole them from a gas station… but Dean refrained.

He was learning to refrain.

Ben didn’t know what it was like growing up in motels, living out of old cans of SpaghettiO’s and moldy cereal boxes and being responsible for your little brother while your dad disappeared for weeks on end, shoving them into schools here and there before coming back to blaze out of yet another town, leaving behind potential opportunities and relationships…

Dean looked at the ground, swallowing the memories down, turning back to pushing the cart, but Lisa stopped him.

“Hey, you okay?”

Dean stared at her, not understanding what she was asking before he realized he had been staring at Ben like he had three heads for too long. Dean smiled at her and turned to Ben, chucking the kid on the shoulder when he saw the sullen look on his face. “Yeah, I’m fine, everything’s good.”

Lisa nodded, that familiar tiny smile popping up. “Okay. Good.”

Dean’s smile slipped as Ben walked past them, his shoulders slumped. He wanted to ask what they put in the water to make kids so damn moody because he sure as hell didn’t remember acting like that but he stopped himself again. That sounded like a jackass thing to say, which meant it probably was.

He sucked at knowing what to say and what not to say and when to say it and when not to say it. Or rather when to stare and when not to stare because his brain ran off on him.

This whole faux-parenting thing? Kind of a kick in the ass.

An hour later, Dean pushed the cart through the parking lot, the crappy wheels jerking in and out of the cracks in the asphalt. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Lisa and Ben standing in line at the coffee cart outside the store entrance. Lisa’s arm was wrapped around Ben’s shoulder as they talked and he frowned, hating the tug of worry inside that he just messed up a perfectly good shopping trip.

And this is why he kept these kinds of activities at a bare minimum.

Where was the freaking “Non-Hunting Teenagers for Dummies” book?

Maybe he’d donate two of those Twizzler bags to the kid when Lisa wasn’t around, Dean thought as he started tying the grocery bags and piling them into the bed of his truck. That’d be easy enough if that was what was bothering the kid - Hell, that kind of crap cheered him up too.

Dean was leaning into the bed when the gunshot rang out into the air behind him, immediately echoing out against the surrounding buildings.

“Holy…!” Dean snapped, dropping to the ground in a low crouch, gripping the truck for balance as he spun on his heel to find the source. Breathing heavily, he didn’t see anyone waving a gun around like a lunatic or anyone surrounding a bleeding cart guy. There was nothing.

Another gunshot slammed through the still morning air and Dean didn’t care if he couldn’t see anything, it sounded damn real enough. He moved on instinct. His ears were ringing with the shots as he jammed his key into the door lock, swinging the door open. His hand was already moving towards the holster he kept hidden underneath his seat - the same insurance as in the house, as in Lisa’s car - when he saw it.

The reassuring metal touched his fingertips as he glanced up out the windshield and everything froze, the air punching out of him in a giant gust. A waif of a woman with long blonde hair pulled back into a messy braid was running down the street, away from him. She ran like her, moved like her… her hair, her body… and was that a gun holster on her leg?

Dean’s jaw dropped as he jerked forward, squinting against the glaring sun and his chin slammed into the steering wheel.

“Damn it!” he growled, an icy fist gripping his heart. He whipped his head out of the cab, staring at the direction she had been running, but she was gone. Dean’s lips were already forming her name and he was moving to go after her when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Jesus!” he yelped, turning around wildly. Lisa stepped back quickly when he glared at her, the worry lines on her brow deepening. His eyes flew to Ben who stood behind her, his hands in the bag with the bright red packaging of the Twizzlers, both of them staring at him.

Dean forced himself to calm down, to stop, to think. He turned back to where he had seen her running but there was nothing.

“What? What’s going on?” Lisa asked, looking across the street as well.

“Nothing,” Dean replied immediately. "Nothing."

A rush of memories swept through his body as he thought back to what he had seen. Running… being chased by demons, by vampires… That woman loved to hunt her vampires.

“Dean?”

“Nothing, it was nothing, sorry,” Dean said, shaking his head to refocus on them. He plastered a smile on his face and swallowed roughly before gesturing towards the parking lot. “Thought I, uh…” Dean rubbed his hands together. “I just heard something.”

“Yeah,” Lisa replied slowly, staring at him. “That car backfiring?”

“What?”

Lisa nodded towards a rusted bucket of crap that was sitting on the side of the road across the street, somebody’s saggy ass sticking out from under the hood while a young woman sat in the driver’s seat, looking frustrated as the guy yelled something at her.

Dean frowned. That sure as hell hadn’t been a backfire. He had heard two distinctive shots… and what had she been doing here, or had just imagined that? Dean’s brows were knitting themselves together as he stared at the couple shouting at each other… The fact that he was even considering the possibility that he was seeing things unnerved him. What the hell was going on?

Dean felt the burn of two pairs of eyes on him and he forced himself to turn back to them. He smiled.

“Yeah. It caught me off guard, I guess.” He ignored Lisa’s look, knowing she was seeing right through the falsehood of his smile as he clapped his hands. “Why don’t you guys gets in and I’ll finish loading.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow but Dean didn’t give her a chance, leaning in for a quick peck on the lips before gesturing to the truck. She shrugged slowly. “Okay.”

As they got in, Dean turned back to the broken down car, noticing the girl was turning the key but the engine wasn’t catching. His eyes involuntarily slid back to where he had seen the woman running… like she had been an echo or something. The image of the woman was burned into his mind’s eye and he felt a chill fall down his spine.

His gut was telling him he had seen her. But there was no one there.

Dean clenched his jaw painfully, rubbing his forehead before moving to throw the rest of the bags into the truck. He pushed the cart off into the parking lot with too much force. It rammed into another cart, knocking it over. Climbing into the cab, Dean turned the key, the truck coming to life. He heard Ben chattering in the backseat, Lisa responding, reality settling back in…

He looked one more time at the sidewalk where he’d seen her running. His fingers burned slightly where they had touched the gun.

Dean slowly put the truck into gear.

He was losing his goddamn mind.

*

“You know what I like about witches?”

She licked her lips, her eyes closed, ignoring the words. She concentrated on stitching the wounds back together. What was normally a simple endeavor was quickly sapping all of her energy as she chanted inside her head. Of course, being strapped to a wall with iron chains for so long she’d lost count of the hours had that effect as well.

“They’re human,” her captor continued, her voice rough and bleak; she paced in front of the wall where she was laid up. The scuff of the woman’s boots stopped in front of her. “They hurt. They suffer. They bleed.”

The woman slowly slipped her knife into her gut and Amanda Churnise gagged. The knife turned ever so slightly, enough to make Amanda want to scream bloody murder as the blade inside her stomach tangled with her organs. She wanted to beg, beg her to stop…

There was another thing about this witch that this woman knew: it took a long time to kill her. And her captor had the time to ensure it.

“I don’t-”

“Know,” her captor finished. Amanda’s eyes fluttered open in agony. The woman’s face was blank and pale. The long jagged scar across her face made her look deranged. “I got that part.”

“Please…”

“Nope, you already tried that.”

“I don’t know anymore, I swear it. I already told you, she’s not here, I tried.”

“Try harder,” the woman snapped, pulling the knife out swiftly.

Amanda let out a small cry before clamping her mouth shut. She swallowed painfully, the continual chant in her mind not stopping. She could already feel her tissues mending inside her, the pain ebbing slightly but not enough to get rid of the cloud in her mind. She was losing too much blood too quickly.

“You said it was about my soul,” she said, urging Amanda on.

Amanda frowned. “Please-”

“You know, whoever invented that word probably had an idea it would be used a lot when it comes to torture. It’s the number one hit that people keep playing, but guess what? It only works when you have an answer for me.”

“Please,” Amanda whispered again without thought, the pain coming in sharp increments as her chants wavered.

“Wrong answer.”

Buffy Summers cocked her head, staring at the witch on the wall. Her limbs were spread out, her wrists and ankles shackled to hold her limp body up. The chains were special, laced with a few hex bags, a few tricks she’d picked up along the way.

Another thing she liked about witches: they didn’t trust each other.

It looked painful and uncomfortable. Buffy felt something inside her churning darkly as she raised her bloody knife, staring at it without expression. This witch was the first to mention anything as far as an explanation… and she wasn’t leaving until she got more.

“I’ve always wondered if there was a black market for witch blood.” Buffy’s eyes ticked back to her captive. “Guess today’s my lucky day.”

Amanda’s screams could be heard a block away.

*

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