Ghost Rider takes place immediately after Demon Hunts, or would, if it was canon instead of fanon, but it’s definitely fanon, because it also definitely owes something to the Supernatural watch-binge I’ve been on lately. It does also kind of wrap up a character storyline from Walking Dead as well, so, y’know, it…definitely doesn’t count in the canon storyline. :)
More importantly, this ridiculous little short story is my thanks to all of you. Over the past year, you’ve bought one of my self-published books off Amazon EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. FOR A YEAR!!! THAT’S AMAZING!!!!!!
(I can’t tell, because the analytics run differently, if the other platforms have also had a sale a day. They might have in aggregate, although not individually. EITHER WAY! IT’S AMAZING!!!!)
THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!!! I hope you enjoy Ghost Rider, which certainly amused me to write, anyway. :)
* * *
Ghost Rider – C.E. Murphy
Wednesday, January 3, 11:57 A.M.
I had not gotten drunk on New Year’s Eve.
In retrospect, maybe that was a bad idea. If I had, I might not have chickened out when I’d ended up under the mistletoe with my boss at midnight, which was as primed a moment for a kiss as the universe could possibly provide. But I hadn’t, and Morrison hadn’t either, not being the type to go around taking advantage of his employees, a stance which I, of course, fully approved of.
Anyway, I hadn’t gotten drunk on New Year’s Eve.
I had, however, gotten absolutely obliterated on my best friend’s birthday, which happened to start exactly one second after New Year’s Eve ended. Morrison and I had driven over to the Hollidays’ home just after midnight, Gary picked me up and hugged me, Billy poured me a drink, and over the next four hours or so I got more wasted than I’d ever been in my life. Except maybe that time when I was fourteen, but my head still hurt thinking about that one, so I didn’t.
Point was, three days later I was just about done with the world’s most epic hangover, and all I wanted in Heaven or Earth was to spend a week putting the manual drive into my beloved Mustang, whom I’d reluctantly surrendered to the safe, warm confines of Chelsea’s Garage for the worst part of the Seattle winter. Chelsea didn’t even mind if I fell asleep on the creeper, although she had issues with people passing out beneath lifted cars. Something something car falls you dead something something, was the gist of it. I couldn’t entirely hear her through the hangover.
Somebody drove another vintage muscle car into the shop while I was working on Petite, by which I mean, sleeping on the creeper. Still, the rumble of an old V8 engine woke me in a sort of oh yeah lemme hear that baby sort of way, which now that I heard myself thinking it, was hornier than I meant it to be. Everything was hornier than I meant it to be just then, though. I’d had a sex life for a glorious four days in December and was mourning its demise, especially since there was no particular chance of resurrection any time in the near future.
“Hey.” One of Chelsea’s mechanics, a broad-shouldered woman named Gina, pushed the creeper and sent me sliding across the garage floor. I was awake enough to notice, which I hadn’t been last time. A video of the garage crew playing floor hockey with me sleeping on the rolling pad had gone viral Monday evening, after I’d passed out working on Petite. I’d woken up in a closet. “You sober enough to take a look at something?”
“I’m plenty sober. I just wish I was dead.” I rolled off the creeper, which in turn rolled off across the floor, taking my hopes and dreams of a longer nap with it. “What’m I looking…ooh.”
A black 1967 Chevy Impala, heat waves still rising from the hood, had rolled in while I was napping. I said, “Ooh,” again, and went to make a lap around it, admiring the lines with every step I took. It was in great condition, except a ding in the right front fender. Pale interior. No crap cluttering up the dashboard. Kansas plates. I trailed my fingers across the hood as I walked around it, murmuring, “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you, ba…oh!”
“What, did you get a shock?” Gina sounded like she’d been trying to set me up for one, and given the dry air and metal everywhere, it hadn’t been a bad bet. “Anyway, I thought you might want to work on it. I know classic cars are your thing, even if it’s only a ding in the fender.”
I hadn’t gotten a shock, though. Not a static electricity one, anyway. But I’d seen this car before, just a couple of weeks earlier, and I’d said the same thing to it then, about being a long way from home. It belonged to a couple of guys who were absolutely not, despite what their ID said, Federal agents. I remembered them clearly, because one was really really tall and the other was really really cute and—possibly more importantly—they’d been hunting the same wendigo I’d ended up taking down. I said, “Yeah,” out loud. “I’ll work on it. Is the owner still here?”
“In the office.”
“Thanks.” I went into Chelsea’s office, stepping over a short stack of car batteries and edging my way around a windshield that, for reasons that were no doubt very important, had been living beside the office door for about three years now. There were beefcake fireman calendars, some dating back to before I hit puberty, on the walls, a fake leather chair, its cracked surface letting foam escape, and a desk mostly dominated by a CRT computer screen all stuffed into about eight square feet. Chelsea’s office was not an inviting space; you had to go outside to change your mind.
Which is what the Impala’s owners had done. They were out there arguing over something with the kind of familiar, exasperated body language that indicated a long-term relationship. It was daylight. I’d thought it was night. Cold out, too: I could see their breath on the air, and the taller one kept retrieving a canvas bag that was trying to make an escape across a thin sheen of black ice. I squeezed around the desk and out the front door, calling, “Hey. You don’t really want somebody else working on your baby, do you?”
Both of them turned toward me, caution flashing across their faces. Then a crooked smile of recognition appeared on the really really cute one’s face. “Hey! Hot chick! It’s you! Sam!” He smacked the taller guy’s chest with the back of his hand. “This is the hot hunter from the wendigo case a couple weeks ago!”
The taller guy—Sam—gave me this sort of weird goofy smile of recognition, like his whole world had just settled into a comfortable space. “Hey.”
I said, “Hahhhhghahh,” because now that I saw him up close—I hadn’t, back in December—it turned out they were both really really cute. Sam was cuter. The other one was prettier. Sam had great hair. Great. Hair. Shoulders like a linebacker. Legs that went on for.ev.er. Tall. So tall. Soooo tall. I was a hair under six feet in height myself, more with the shit-stomping boots I was currently wearing. He was…tall. Even to me. Tall. And he had a crooked little smile just like the other guy’s, and if they were boyfriends I was just going to kill myself because that would not be fair. After a while I managed to turn my gurgling into, “Haaaii. Jo. Joanne. I’m…Joanne. Walker. Hi.”
The other one looked at me, looked at Sam, got a smirky little grin, and said, “Dean. Nice to see you again. How’d you know Baby’s name?”
“Haaaahgh?” I looked back at him, and…yeah, no, he was definitely prettier. Also tall. Taller than me. Not as much taller than me. Also good hair. Not great hair, but good hair. Not sink-your-hands-into-it-forever hair like Sam’s, but grab-hold-and…I cleared my throat, trying to drag my mind out of the gutter. “Bay…oh. Oh! I didn’t, she’s just obviously somebody’s baby. Mine’s in there too. Dean. Hi. Dean.”
“Your baby’s in there?” Sam looked over my head toward the garage. Looked over my head! That never happened! And then looked back at me. “A, uh, a baby-baby, or a car baby? Are you out hunting with a kid? That’s a hard life.” The way he said it suggested he knew a thing or two about the topic, and I had a weird bit of a moment where my entire life story almost poured out in response.
I held it back, though, because this was a short story, not a novel, and besides, “I’m not a hunter. Or I don’t think I am. Not like I think you guys are. I’m a shaman. And it’s a car. My baby, I mean. Is a car. Petite. 1969 Mustang,” I said to Dean, almost desperate to shut myself up.
Dean said, “Ooh!” just like I had when I’d seen the Impala, and started off toward the garage like a man on a mission.
Sam grabbed his arm. “Dean!”
“What? C’mon. Just a minute. It’ll only take a minute.” He shook Sam off and the bigger man did this whole complicated facial expression of widening eyes and pinching lips and a slight forward thrust of his whole head that, taken together, just screamed ‘disapproval’.
I accidentally said, “Please tell me you’re brothers,” out loud.
“What? Yeah. What?” Dean directed two of those words at me and made a very similar face back at Sam, except with the addition of a forward-shifting shoulder lift that expressively conveyed ‘exasperation’. I thought I could sit there and watch them communicate non-verbally all night, while I pondered the ethics of trying to hook up with brothers. Separately, because a perfectly normal pre-teen VC Andrews obsession aside, that was not particularly my jam. But there were very important moral considerations to, uh, consider. Like, would I have to tell them that I’d banged the other brother, or would that just make things awkward?
That was a ridiculous question. Of course it would make things awkward. I definitely shouldn’t mention it to them. I could just work on how to separate them from one another long enough to have my wicked, wicked way with them, and it would all be fine.
It was just slightly possible that my definition of ‘fine’ needed some work.
Dean threw his hands up and said, “Fine!” in a tone that suggested his definition of ‘fine’ needed some work, too, as their silent argument came to a close. To me, he said, “I’ll have to see your baby later. We got a case to work. And no, I don’t really want anybody else working on Baby, but the thing we’re after knows the car and I trust a mechanic’s shop a lot more than a parking garage.”
I held up the correct number of fingers to enumerate my commentary. “One: you, me, and Petite. It’s a date.” There, that was one ‘separate the brothers for potential seduction purposes’ action sorted out. I would just overlook the fact that my seduction abilities were extremely limited. Dean didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who needed a lot of convincing, anyway. “Two: I’ll tell Chelsea to leave Baby alone for right now. Three: what’s the case? Four: can I help?”
The brothers exchanged glances, then pulled identical ‘yeah, sure, why not’ moues, and we all walked an extra dozen steps away from Chelsea’s Garage, without consulting each other about it. As soon as he thought we were far enough away, Dean said, “Pretty sure we got a revenant on our hands. How’s that sit with you?”
It sat like a lead brick swallowed sideways. “Reven…that’s an undead thing, right?”
Sam’s eyebrows went up. “Yeah. I thought you’d know.”
“No, I…don’t really do the undead.”
“Well, that’s good, ’cause that’d be gross.” Dean rocked back on his heels like he thought he was funny. Sam gave him a look that said he wasn’t, but I kinda thought he was, and we shared a smirk.
“My partner—I’m a detective—he’s the one who sees dead people,” I offered. “Should I call him?”
“Nah. If it’s not your thing, we can take care of it. Nice meeting you again, though. C’mon, Sam.”
This did not bode well for my powers of seduction. I blurted, “I can probably See where it is,” and they both stopped, looking back at me. I spread my hands. “You need to track it, right?”
“Yeah.” Dean came a couple steps back toward me. “Problem with revenants is they don’t know they’re dead, and you can’t kill ’em.”
“Silver slows them down,” Sam volunteered. “Silver and salt.”
On very rare occasion, life handed me a perfect moment, and even more rarely, I realized it at the time and seized it.
This was one of those moments.
Even though it was broad daylight and people could be watching from the garage, I gave into the most glorious temptation ever and drew my magical rapier from its usual resting place under my bed, and said, all casually, “Silver like this?” as it glinted in the mid-winter sun.
It looked cool. I didn’t just think and hope it looked cool. I knew it looked cool. It looked like magic, and I never got to show off magic in front of people who didn’t need it explained to them.
Dean’s face lit up like a kid given an ice cream cone as big as his head. “Oh my g—did you see—where did that—how did you—can I see?” He made grabby hands and I tossed it, blade up, to him as Sam made a noise of despair and tried to put himself between us, the sword, and anything that could possibly see us. Since he wasn’t spherical, that didn’t work very well. Dean caught the sword and backed up a few steps, slashing the air with it and beaming so widely his face probably hurt. “What are you, man, a Highlander?”
“No, I took it off a god a while back.” I said that all casually, too, and even I could tell I was racking up Cool Kid points like there was no tomorrow. Sam’s eyebrows made a crinkly wave of surprised confusion, and Dean’s grin got even more awe-struck.
This was amazing. I needed this a lot more often in my life than people rationalizing magic away, or having to explain it to people who didn’t want to believe. Dean said, “Did you kill him?” eagerly, and a flush of heat ran through me as I remembered every intimate detail of my encounter with the god.
“We worked it out.” I hoped I didn’t sound as croaky as I thought I did, because that would wreck this glorious moment of being a cool kid. “It’s part of my arsenal now.”
A sly grin slid across Dean’s face. “You ‘worked it out’, eh? Heh.” He handed the rapier back and shoulder-bumped me hard enough to make a lesser woman stumble. “You go, girl.”
Honestly, I was totally okay with really really cute and really really tall thinking I was worthy of nailing a god. Surely that put me in their league, at least. “So how do you get rid of a revenant, then?”
“Ideally you find out what’s keeping it here and help it resolve the issue so it can move on. Otherwise, you stake it with silver and bury it deep,” Sam said in a professorial tone. Really really tall professor with great hair. I could work with that.
It was twenty-three degrees out, and I was gonna need a cold shower at this rate. “Do you know who it is? Or was?”
Sam said, “We think it was a guy named Charlie Groleski,” and all my Cool Kid feels drained away.
Dean saw it, and sharpened. “What do you know about Groleski?”
“He got eaten.” I put my sword away, closer to hand than beneath my bed—it could come with me, just not visibly, and I could see Dean just dying to ask, but the case took precedence. “The wendigo you were hunting, the one I took care of. It ate him. You can’t not know you’re dead if you’ve been eaten, can you?” I closed my eyes and took a step back, holding my hands up to stop the boys from approaching me. “No, I’m sorry. You’re wrong. Either he’s a chewed-up risen body or a ghost, and either way I don’t think it’s possible. It can’t be Groleski, or any of the wendigo’s victims. She ate their souls. There’d be nothing left to…ghost with.” Somewhere in there I opened my eyes again, hoping to find confirmation, or at least agreement, in the brothers’ gazes. “And she also ate part of his arm, guys. If he rose from the dead, wouldn’t that be a clue that something was wrong? Who pointed you at Groleski?”
They exchanged glances again, before Sam said, “He’s the only one not in his grave.”
I didn’t want to know. I said, “And you know this how?” anyway.
The look they gave me told me I already knew, which, of course, I also already knew I knew. I said, “Right,” to the sky, “Let me get my coat. It’s freezing out here,” to the boys, and went back to the garage, the drift of their conversation following me a few steps.
“I dunno, it doesn’t seem bad to me.”
“You’re wearing five layers of flannel, dude.”
“Oh, you should talk!”
Thank god they were brothers. I yelled, “Nobody mess with the Impala, okay? I got it taken care of, but I gotta go do a thing for a minute,” to the garage at large as I grabbed my coat, and two or three female voices responded in the affirmative. By the time I’d stomped back outside, Sam had picked up the bag that had been sliding around at his feet, and they were both waiting expectantly for me. “There’s a doughnut shop about a mile from here, and I’m barely done being hung over. We can figure it out over breakfast.”
Dean said, “Toldja she was cool,” and I put another mark in the Cool Kids column as we stumped off to The Missing O.
* * *
By the time we got our doughnuts, I’d called Charlie Groleski’s next of kin in a professional law enforcement capacity and learned there’d been a huge fight over what to do with his remains. The woman I spoke to was still furious that an empty coffin had been buried, and I could hear her mother-in-law shrieking in the background about keeping Charlie’s ashes so he’d never really be gone from her side. I hung up incredibly relieved I wasn’t part of that family dynamic, and shoved most of a maple bar in my mouth while saying, “If it’s a ghost it’s outside of Billy’s and my jurisdiction, because we usually get those cases ’cause he can talk to them.”
It may not, I admit, have been quite that clear, but Dean ate half a bear claw in one bite and Sam had the beaten-down expression of a man accustomed to interpreting commentary made through mouths full of food. He had a cup of coffee and a bagel, which was as close to health food as was available at the O. “He can talk to ghosts? Do they talk back to him?”
“Don’t they talk to you guys?”
“Not really. Mostly they try to kill us.”
“Oh. That sucks.”
Dean shrugged his eyebrows in agreement, swallowed enough coffee to choke the pastry down with, and cleared his throat. “So not a revenant, maybe not a ghost. What else you got going on in Seattle these days?”
“Old gods, banshees, cryptids—” I’d only learned that word recently and was proud of myself for remembering it— “more old gods, zombies, the occasional ghost, a few mediums, some witches…” I frowned at my next doughnut, a cinnamon pershing also drowned in maple frosting. I’d had a busy year. And it had been a year, too. I’d flown back from my mother’s funeral in Ireland a full year ago tomorrow.
My expression must have changed, because Sam said, “What?” with a combination of sympathy and intensity that made me wonder how often he asked questions like that.
I said, “Nothing,” in a way that sounded just like ‘Something’, to me, and obviously did to the boys, too. “This all started a year ago for me. I just had the horrible thought that maybe the anniversary is related to whatever you came to hunt. What’re the signs, anyway? I mean, what drew you here?”
Sam shrugged. “The usual. A lot of deaths in the same place, with an unusual M.O. It could be witches,” he said to Dean, and I said, “Or maybe bunnies,” which made Dean stare at me and Sam laugh. He said, “It’s from—”
Dean said, “I know what it’s from,” in the sort of deadly tone that would normally strike all hope from a girl’s heart. At the moment, however, I was so pleased with myself for having made Really Really Tall laugh that I could weather all the deadly looks Really Really Cute wanted to throw at me.
“Is that really ‘the usual’ for you?” I asked Sam. “Lots of ugly deaths?”
“Pretty much. Sounds like it is for you, too, though.”
“I guess. Maybe I’ve been trying not to think of it that way.” I finished my pershing and sent one of the baristas a grateful smile when she brought me a drink, unasked for. Being a regular had its perks.
Dean said, “Is that coffee?” and tried to take it from me. Sam said, “Dean!” like an outraged mother, and I smacked the back of Dean’s hand.
“It’s mint hot chocolate and you can get your own.”
“Eeigh.” He withdrew his hand, looking puppy-dog injured, which green eyes didn’t usually do as well as brown, but…I was willing to make an exception in this case.
Not enough of an exception, however, to give up my hot chocolate. “What is the M.O., anyway?”
“Classic cars.” Dean waved a hopeful hand at the barista, who was about as immune to Really Really Cute as I was, and came over to see what he wanted. “Coffee,” he said, all sparkling eyes. “The biggest one you got. And could I maybe get some more of those cinnamon rolls?”
The girl smiled. “Sure. Anything for you, big guy? Officer?”
I said, “I’m good,” as Sam sighed the sigh of a put-upon health-food-junkie and shook his head.
“He wants an egg white omelet,” Dean told the barista with the exact amount of distaste I would have injected, and she gave Sam a totally dippy smile.
“Wish I could help, but we just have baked goods. I could get you a fruit scone.”
“You know what? That’d be great.” Sam tossed his hair out of his eyes and gave her a quick smile before she went back to the counter and I said, “My dudes, this place does not have table service, you know that?”
“She brought you a drink!”
“I’m a regular!”
“And I’m cute.” Dean gave me a smarmy smirk that should have made me want to punch his face in, but instead made me laugh.
“I bet you were a monster as a little kid. Look, what do you mean, classic cars? How can cars be an M.O.?”
“They’re getting smashed up,” Dean said. “One a night around here, since Halloween.”
“I’ve mapped out all of the crashes.” Sam took a computer out of the canvas bag and opened it. “If there’s an epicenter, I can’t find it. Do you know the wifi password?”
“RollingO, capital R, capital O at the end. Halloween was the zombies. Why haven’t the cops noticed a bunch of classic cars getting wrecked? How have you?”
“Most of them aren’t fatal.” Dean’s coffee arrived and he gave the barista a toothy grin that should’ve been cheesy but was, again, kinda cute. She set Sam’s scone down, too, and he said, “Thanks,” with a quick smile that made her all but wiggle with delight as she headed back to the counter.
I muttered, “Oh my gawd,” at both of the men, neither of whom seemed to notice anything untoward. Presumably they were accustomed to women falling at their feet. I took a few points off the odds of getting to seduce anybody, and waited for Dean to finish a large slurp of coffee so he could continue explaining the link between classic cars and their hunt.
Sam picked up the slack, though, while buttering his scone. “It’s not the kind of thing we’d usually pick up on, but we saw the revenant—or ghost, I guess—on our way out of town. Dean swerved to miss it.”
“I banged Baby’s fender,” Dean growled. “I’m gonna kill that thing.”
Sam turned the computer toward me, nodding at the screen. “I started looking in to whether there was a pattern. These are the wrecks that I’ve been able to find reports of. About eight of them were fatal, and another half dozen were totaled. The rest have ranged from ‘complain about it on social media’ to major insurance claims.”
A frisson scampered over me and I put the hot chocolate aside so I could type on Sam’s keyboard, a phrase which suddenly seemed like it should carry some double entendre weight, but which I suspected really meant I needed to take a breath and get hold of myself. Either way, I typed in the name Daniel Doherty, and then, muttering, added Seattle and death record to the search results, which were otherwise…not helpful.
“What?” Sam turned the screen back toward himself just far enough to see what it said. “Who’s Daniel Doherty?”
“He’s an insurance fraud claims guy. Adjudicator. Thing. He was investigating me in October when the zombie thing happened.”
“How’d we miss that?” Dean asked Sam, who shrugged.
I had the answer, though. “It was kind of an overnight thing, and I don’t know what happens after you guys deal with your monsters, but when I’m done, people try really hard to forget what they saw.” I did an Obi-Wan hand gesture and got a grin of recognition from Sam. “Anyway, Doherty had a really bad couple days with me and Petite, and I was thinking maybe if he was dead it could link up classic cars and vengeful ghosts, but…he’s not.”
The guys glanced at each and did this identical head-twitch-mouth-purse thing that made them look extremely like brothers. Dean said, “It’s a lead, though,” and all of a sudden we were all wrapping up, finishing our drinks and pastries, putting stuff away, and, sort of anticlimactically, hailing a taxi, because I didn’t have a winter vehicle, and neither Dean nor I was prepared to go get our darlings out of the garage if somebody was trying to wreck classic cars. I called my insurance company on the way over to their offices, asking if I could make an appointment with Doherty, and the receptionist politely informed me that Mr. Doherty was on sabbatical.
I hung up, eyebrows elevated. Sam said, “On it,” and less than a minute later, had Doherty’s home address. We redirected the taxi driver through the glass barrier—all three of us were stuffed into the back seat, which meant I was crushed between two terrific sets of shoulders and had no complaints about anything—and I said, “As a professional law enforcement officer, I’m definitely not going to ask how you got that, but it would be extremely cool if you taught the classic cars buff version of me how,” to Sam.
“You’ve got access to law enforcement databases anyway. What’s it matter?” Dean had a perpetually gruff edge to his voice that I really liked.
“I’m sure it’ll come as a great surprise to you to learn that my superiors don’t really like me digging through databases on cases I can’t explain.”
“Really.” Sam made a face of mock astonishment. “I was sure it went over well if you were actually part of the establishment.”
“You’re cute, Sam, but you’re not a good liar.”
He actually perked up, with a little half smile and bright eyes, like he’d won a prize for being cute. Dean rolled his eyes so hard his whole head went with it, and I tried to decide if I was glad or guilty I’d just hailed a passing taxi instead of calling my pal Gary for a lift. Either way, he was going to kill me later for not having brought him along on this little…whatever it was. It was kind of low-key for an adventure, although if we were lucky, there was gonna be a ghost at the end, which was definitely adventuresome. And god knew he’d be my wingman if I needed it, although since my over-active imagination was now squished between two extremely attractive brothers, I was even more dedicated to the fantasy of somehow managing to achieve Quality Time with both of them.
“I actually am a good liar,” Sam told me, still bright-eyed and cheery. “We spent an awful lot of time lying to people.”
“Yeah, you and me both. Although I can read your aura, if I have to, which makes it a lot harder to lie to me in specific.”
“Is that what you were doing, back at the park?” Dean demanded. “When your eyes went all funky?”
“Funky?” Sam sounded despairing.
“I told you, man, she had funky eyes! They went gold! Not yellow,” Dean added hastily. “I woulda iced her before she even said anything, if they’d been yellow.”
“You would have tried,” I said, offended, and for about half a second I thought we were going to get into a dominance tussle in the back seat of somebody’s taxi. I definitely should have called Gary, if that was gonna go down.
Sam cut through our sudden bout of machismo…ness…by saying, “Can I see?” like a hopeful six year old.
I looked away from Dean’s green eyes into Sam’s, said, “Sure,” and blinked the Sight on.
He inhaled very sharply, all through his nose, and I tried hard not to do the same.
I hadn’t looked at him at all, with the Sight, back during the demon hunt. I’d barely looked at Dean with it, and he’d been lying to me at the time, so his aura had been all sorts of flat and distrustful of me and my gold eyes. Now I looked back and forth between them, hairs standing up on my nape.
These boys were messed. up. And that was the technical term.
Neither of them had power like I did. I’d known that, from when I’d Seen Dean, last month. They had huge psychic presence, solid and real and full of know-how about the world around them, but not magic, per se. Sam had vestiges of power, yellow streaks, arcing through his aura, but it had the sense of being old, unused, half forgotten. Dean didn’t have anything like that; it was as if someone had scrubbed away Sam’s connection with a magic he’d once been able to command, but Dean had never carried it at all.
Aside from that, though, their auras were strikingly similar: huge anger, better tempered by compassion in Sam than in Dean, but present as fundamental bases for both of them. Determination that felt like the steady strength of walls, unmovable and prepared to protect. Hope, threading through so finely that it flickered out of visibility if I looked at it too directly. Marks of healing, bright sparks like they’d come into contact with a power unlike any I’d ever met, touched those threads of hope.
But the scars.
I’d never Seen anything like their scars.
I had my share of issues. Things that shaped me, cut me, molded me. Things I was still working on. Things I might be working on forever, for all I knew.
I couldn’t help thinking that my troubles looked like walks in the park, compared to what had marked the boys’ auras. I couldn’t even begin to guess what had caused the black rips, the holes that never seemed to fill, the frayed edges that looked as if they were searching for something to hold on to. There were places where their auras just stopped, then picked up again, as if they’d walked right past the edge of death, gone silent for a little while, and come back again. I’d come close to that edge myself, but not…not like that.
Dean’s aura looked like he’d been through hell and come back out again, and Sam’s, somehow, was even worse. He looked like he’d fought—and lost—a battle to something that wanted to swallow him whole. I didn’t know how anybody could recover from that. I wasn’t sure he had, even if he’d survived it.
Those frayed edges inside their auras, though. They’d found something to hold on to: each other. To family. Sometimes those bonds were strained, but if they’d made it through anything, they’d made it because they had each other. I wouldn’t put money on the oldest gods I’d met against these two brothers, if it came down to it.
I thought of my own problems as cracks and bashes on Petite purple body. If I kept that analogy going, these guys were their Impala, and it had been smashed up in a compactor, pulled out, and stretched back into its original shape without much of the damage actually being dealt with. My hands actually itched with power, with the impulse to dive into the center of their souls and try to help, somehow.
Judging from what they’d survived already, I wasn’t at all sure I could do that, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to try without express permission. I closed my hands into fists, cutting off the magic coursing through me, and shook off the power of the Sight.
Sam’s eyebrows crinkled, intensity that carried, but wasn’t defined by, worry, marking his face. “What’d you See?”
“A lot, but not really anything.” My hands still hurt, steel blue magic throbbing in my veins. “God help the fool who gets between the two of you, though.”
“Heh. Damn straight.” Dean caught Sam’s eye over my head and they exchanged the sort of smile that suggested I’d gotten that right, at least, before he said, “What’s with the glowy hands?”
“I’m a healer. You guys could, uh, you could use some work.”
“Seriously?” Dean picked up one of my hands and turned it back and forth, examining it, which, even under the circumstances, was a bit of a thrill. His hands were rough and very, very strong, and while mine didn’t look exactly delicate in his, they weren’t in his weight class. “Like how good a healer?”
“I can cure what ails you, but it can get intimate.”
He flashed me a grin that sent heat flaring from my collarbones to my hairline. This time Sam rolled his eyes so violently it moved his whole head, but before I could start making out with Really Really Cute, the damn taxi driver pulled up to Daniel Doherty’s house, and we had to get out of the car.
* * *
Honestly, I expected the door to creak open and for us to creep inside and find Doherty’s dead body sprawled on the floor, having been eaten by his cats, or something. Instead, we knocked, a voice called, “One moment,” from inside, and after a few seconds, a short, chisel-jawed man answered the door.
I’d forgotten how tiny he was. I had five or six inches on him, and Dean was taller than I was, and Sam was Really Really Tall, which, all together, made Daniel Doherty look Really Really Small.
He blanched, looking up at me, and legitimately tried to close the door in my face. Dean said, “Uh-uh,” and stuck his foot in the door while procuring an FBI badge from somewhere. “Agent Bonjiovi, this is my partner, Agent Sambora, we’re working with, uh—”
“Detective Walker,” I volunteered, to keep myself from laughing out loud at their agent names. “Mr. Doherty and I are acquainted.”
“You got your money!” Doherty wailed. “Your claims were validated! Go away!”
“I’m afraid we can’t, Mr. Doherty,” Sam said. “There have been a series of unusual incidents we have reason to believe you’re involved with. May we come in?”
“It was her! I didn’t do anything! All those—zombies—and—it wasn’t a movie! It wasn’t!”
The agents exchanged a look over my head—again with the over my head, that just never happened!—and Sam repeated, “May we come in, Mr. Doherty?”
Doherty deflated, which made him look even shorter, and stepped back, allowing us in the house. He led us to his living room, which was well-appointed, but less tidy than I expected of him, and sank into an expensive-looking chair to put his hands over his face.
He didn’t look great, actually. I didn’t like him, but when I’d seen him in October he’d been quite the Mr. Priss, with a sharply cut suit and shiny shoes, and his black curly hair neatly trimmed. It had gone a bit wild now, and he was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt that hadn’t been washed in a while. To be fair, he probably didn’t wear sharply cut suits at home, but the unwashed t-shirt was something of a giveaway about things being Not Okay in Dohertyville. Sam began, “Mr. Doherty,” and I raised a hand, interrupting him while I took a quick look at Doherty with the Sight.
His aura was flat and miserable, as if he was exhausted. Sharp spikes shot off it, random and dangerous-looking; if they could affect the real world, people around him would be getting stabbed. “Go ahead, Agent, uh. Sambora.”
Doherty lifted his head at that, as if he hadn’t caught the name the first time. “Sambora? Like Richie?”
“Distant cousin,” Sam replied without missing a beat. “Mr. Doherty, what can you tell us about the string of recent vehicle crashes involving classic cars?”
The insurance adjudicator gave me a genuinely bewildered look. He really did look tired to the point of being unwell. “What crashes?”
“For the past two months there have been nightly incidents in a two-mile radius around your hours, Mr. Doherty,” Sam went on. “What can you tell us about that?”
Dean and I exchanged a glance, but didn’t say anything, since I figured Sam had recognized the center of the radius and I sure didn’t know any better. Doherty shook his head. “I don’t know anything about that. I’ve been on leave for work for a couple of months now.”
“Mr. Doherty,” I said slowly, “when was the last time you got any decent sleep?”
He gave me a bitter look. “The night before I met you.”
Dean said, “Sweeeet,” sotto-voce.
It took an embarrassingly long time to fight off my grin so I could ask, “What happens when you do sleep?”
The flat response was pretty much what I expected. “Sidebar, Agents?” We all got up and walked into Doherty’s entryway, Sam ducking his head near mine to hear what I had to say. “Is there a such thing as a nightmare that manifests like a ghost?”
“I mean, sure, why not?” That gruff note was back in Dean’s voice. “Usually somebody’s gotta be psychic for that kind of thing to happen, but I’m listening.”
“Doherty’s not psychic,” I said with conviction. “But there’s arguably a lot of psychic energy floating around Seattle right now, and he was in the middle of a really big mess back in October. You think he could be projecting his fear toward classic cars? He really didn’t like Petite.”
“Why not just take her out, then?” Sam sounded less apologetic about the question than Dean would have, and I shrugged.
“She’s been at Chelsea’s since before it snowed, so he might not have had a chance. Did the ghost you saw look anything like him?”
Both the guys glanced toward Doherty. “I dunno,” Dean said. “He’s tiny. The ghost didn’t seem tiny.”
“But if it’s a nightmare manifestation it wouldn’t necessarily look like Doherty,” Sam pointed out.
“If it’s a nightmare shouldn’t it look like a big damn horse?” Dean demanded. Sam’s entire center of gravity dropped about two inches, along with his shoulders, while his gaze and jaw lifted toward the ceiling, until he looked like a great big punctuation mark of exasperation.
“I take it you don’t do nightmares,” I said to them.
“Not usually. Not like this.” Sam corrected his posture, and we all turned to look at Doherty, who was watching us with the expression of a man whose soul had been drained of all hope.
“Well, the only time I have, it involved a god and got complicated,” I muttered, then went back into the living room. “Mr. Doherty, I know this sounds bizarre, but I’d like you to go to sleep for me.”
“I’d only have nightmares if I could, but I can’t anyway. Every time I try I jerk awake again, until I’m too exhausted to stay awake another minute.”
“I think I can help with that, if you’ll let me.”
The bitter look returned. “With your magic.”
There was really no way around that, so I shrugged and nodded. “Yeah.”
His gaze skittered to the boys. “Do you trust her?”
“Yeah.” They spoke together, surprising me.
Doherty said, “There were zombies,” and Dean shrugged.
“It happens. She got you outta there, right? So what’s not to trust?”
“Fine.” Doherty curled into his armchair, which was a little heartbreaking. “I need the sleep.”
I walked over and touched my fingertips to his forehead. Behind me, Dean hissed, “Is she gonna do a Cas?”, and I heard the solid thunk of Sam whacking his shoulder. Dean made a more-insult-than-injury sound, but by then I was looking for a way into Doherty’s mind, searching for a trigger that would let me put him to sleep. This wasn’t my usual wheelhouse, and he was resistant, which made it take longer than I hoped, but after a minute or two he relaxed enough to let a trickle of healing magic wash through him, and then he was out.
Almost immediately, a new shape formed in the living room. Taller and grimmer than Doherty, it glared at me like I was at fault, while Dean and Sam very very softly yelped, “Crap! Salt!” and started scurrying around the living room. “That’s it!” Dean hissed at me. “That’s the thing that tried to take out Baby!”
I’d never seen a manifestation of a nightmare, not like this. It looked sort of dazed, like it didn’t understand what it was doing out in daylight, so I imagined Doherty had mostly taken his catnaps at night. It also didn’t look like it had a plan, and I wondered what, exactly, was drawing it to classic cars.
As if my thought triggered an answer, a whole scene sprang up around me. I didn’t know if the boys could see it, but I recognized it. Roughly, at least; the details were hazy, as dreams tended to be. A cemetery, writhing with zombies, lay in front of me. I was there, in sort of horrible bleached out colors of doom. So was the girl who’d been with me that night, although she was more of a wisp, hardly there at all; she didn’t count as much in this story as I did, I guess. Chaos erupted all over the place, horror-movie vibes even stronger than they’d been on the actual night.
The one thing that was genuinely clear, absolutely sharp and real, in the whole scenario, was Petite. Every sparkly purple inch of her 1969 lines, down to the license plate with her name on it, stood out like a beacon in the midst of the nightmare’s reality.
The nightmare itself rushed the car, hands literally clawed as it tried to slash my beloved Mustang to bits. Its scream of frustration rang in the small bones of my ears. After a couple of tries, it obviously gave up, but it still wanted to destroy something. It slammed toward the walls of the house, clearly intending to go farther, in search of prey it could actually affect.
Lucky for anybody in a classic car right then, Sam and Dean’s salt circle stopped it. Sam shouted, “Can you stop this thing?” at me, and it whipped around, apparently deciding if I could stop it, I was the thing that it should end right now.
“Probably! Can you keep it distracted?”
“Sure, great, sounds like fun!” Dean gave me a perfectly filthy look, and despite myself, I laughed and turned to the sleeping insurance adjudicator.
There was a channel into his mind already, from the sleep-inducing healing touch I’d used. I slipped through it, down toward the core of Doherty’s being, toward the center of the soul that I thought of as a garden. Awake, he would have resisted me; asleep, I was able to step right in, trying to tread lightly, as I knew I was, at best, a semi-welcome visitor. “Daniel?”
His garden grew up around me, with, no kidding, silver bells and cockle shells lining pretty paths that were well-tended, English-garden-like, and quite pleased with themselves for being proper and true. Its lawns were nicely manicured without being cut to the earth, and trees large enough to support hammocks cast shade over the main grounds. It had a faint hint of fastidiousness to it, but in a much more pleasant way than I would have expected. The only trouble was the signs of wear and exhaustion, with flowers drooping and the grass starting to brown in places. Daniel Doherty was pretty comfortable with himself, overall, and happy with the life he’d built. I wouldn’t have been happy accusing people of insurance fraud, but whatever floated his boat, I guess.
“Detective Walker?” Daniel’s voice came from behind one of the enormous trees. I made my way there, assuming he didn’t want to come out. “What are you doing here?”
I sighed. “I’d like to try to help you with the nightmares. Frankly, it looks like the whole zombie thing in October gave you some PTSD, or whatever the magical version of that is. When you’re sleeping, your subconscious is trying to deal with what you saw, and you’re taking it out on classic cars because you can’t affect Petite. I guess because you weren’t ever able to, since you approved the insurance claims and everything. I don’t know. It’s a lot.”
He gave me a sour look. His features were so fine, and so chiseled, that he was technically even prettier than Dean, although far less my type. But ‘sour’ made him look gaunt, even ghost-like, which I supposed fit, given the circumstances. “What do you think you can do?”
“Either help you let go of the reality of what you saw, or help you accept it, I guess. Which would you rather?”
“Why would I want to think monsters were real?”
“I don’t know, man.” I waved a hand around the garden, although I really meant to indicate the outside world where the boys were presumably distracting the nightmare. “You’ve apparently got some native ability to focus your energies in a way that bridges the occult and the real world, so you might want to run with that, I don’t know. Or maybe you’re just contaminated with leftover Jo juice—” That sounded super wrong. “—and need it cleared out and then you’ll be fine, I dunno, but either way you can’t go on like this. For one, you need sleep. For two, it’s dangerous to other people. So which do you prefer, knowing or not knowing?”
“Can I ever really forget?” His voice was small.
I sighed again, more dramatically this time. “Most people do on their own. They convince themselves it couldn’t possibly have been real. They don’t need me to suggest it was a horror movie set. So I don’t know, maybe you are sensitive. I know some people I could introduce you to, if that’s the case, and you want to keep it. But boy, I’d get it if you didn’t want to. I’m pretty sure I can convince you, from in here, that it was actually just a horror movie being filmed, if that’s what you want.”
“Please.” He closed his eyes, looking tired, then opened them again. “But if I ever start wondering, if I ever start to decide I want to believe it’s real…can you put a reminder to go talk to you about it in my mind?”
“I…can try…” I drew the first word out, then shrugged. “Yeah, I can try.”
“Great.” His shoulders sagged. “What do we need to do?”
“You just sleep, man. You get some rest.” I touched his forehead again, finding the too-vivid memories of Halloween at the front of his mind. It wasn’t too hard to add the suggestion of film crews and extras to the memory, mostly because he desperately wanted to believe that’s all it had been. He sighed and went to one of his garden’s hammocks, stretching out to sleep while I added the impulse to call Detective Walker if he ever started getting occult-curious. Then I stepped out of his garden, exhaling heavily with relief.
The living room was a mess, salt everywhere, although nothing a good vacuum couldn’t pick up. There was some property damage I definitely wasn’t going to pay for, and there was Doherty, sleeping peacefully now, in his armchair. No more nightmare, no more Petite, no more cemetery full of the cauldron born.
There were two very attractive men staring at me. Dean said, “What the hell was that?” and Sam did a little head-bobble-spread-hands thing that said he would have been more polite about asking, but wanted the answer, too.
I looked around again, but even on the second glance, nothing seemed particularly amiss. “What was what?”
“The—the garden!” Sam spluttered. “Where’d that come from? What was it?”
“You ssswww—!” The word turned into a splutter of my own as I tried to rein spit back in. I’d never had an outsider able to see what I’d done when I went into someone’s garden. On the other hand, I’d never tried going into somebody’s garden while in the middle of a physical manifestation of their nightmares. “What’d you see? And can we get out of here? I don’t really think it would help him if I’m here when he wakes up.”
“Yeah.” Dean winced, stepping over the salt circle, and muttered, “Sorry about the mess,” to the sleeping insurance guy.
A minute later we were all safely out the door, if once more without a vehicle. I called Gary for a lift this time, ’cause he was going to want to meet these two, and we all idled our way down the sidewalk, trying to get out of view of Doherty’s house. “That’s part of what I do,” I said once we were a ways down the street. “A lot of my magic is about healing, and I see people’s…their souls, I guess, as a garden that I can talk to them in. Usually nobody else can see it, unless they’re also a shaman and can go on the spirit journey with me.”
“So that’s what you meant by intimate.” The leer was gone from Dean’s voice.
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Can anybody learn to do it?” Sam sounded eager. Maybe even hopeful.
“I don’t know. I have a natural talent for it, but with the right teacher, maybe. Why, you wanna come hang out in Seattle for a while and see if you can pick it up?”
Sam glanced at the sky, then at Dean, before looking back at me with a bit of disappointment in his eyes. “We’ve got kind of a lot on right now, so I don’t think I can. Maybe another time, though.”
“Well, my door’s open. I should get your numbers. Speaking of numbers, my fine dudes, may I suggest you at least go with Bryan and Torres instead of Bonjiovi and Sambora? I mean really.”
Sam said, “She might have a point,” and we stood there on the corner, exchanging phone numbers like a bunch of teenagers, until Gary showed up in his taxi and leaned out the window to look at me, Really Tall, and Really Cute.
“You went out having fun without me again, didn’t you, doll?”
Dean’s eyebrows went up. “‘Doll’, huh?”
“Don’t even think about it.”
Sam, exasperated, said, “Get in the car, Dean,” and we all got in, me making introductions and them making googly eyes at me having an old white guy sidekick who got to call me ‘doll’.
“Chelsea’s, please, Gary. Dean and I have a quarter mile date waiting for us.”
Dean absolutely lit up and elbowed Sam hard enough to make him grunt. “I told you she was cool, man!”
“What am I supposed to do while you two are off comparing di—uh, engine, sizes?” Sam had just enough pout in his voice to make me suddenly certain he was the younger brother.
I turned to grin over the front seat at him. “You can loop Gary in on whatever the ‘a lot’ you’ve got on is, so we can help, if you need it. Then when Dean and I are done outracing the cops, he and Gary can share war stories while I see if I can give you some kind of crash course in shamanism. Deal?”
“You are the cops! But yeah.” Sam’s brow furrowed. “That sounds great, actually.”
“So it’s good that I’m really, really good at outracing them, isn’t it. Cool. Great. Excellent.” My cunning plan was coming to fruition. I was gonna get both the boys alone in compromising circumstances. A girl could hardly ask for anything more.
And heck. I might even let Dean win.