Disclaimer: Standard stuff… I don't own 'em and I'm not making a dime off of them.
A/N: This is the first real multi-chapter story I've done in a while. I have quite a bit of it written and the rest of it is almost worked out in my head so there shouldn't be a lot of time between postings. Right now it's looking like at least five chapters so buckle up and enjoy the ride. As always, I appreciate your feedback and would love to know what you think as we go along. Thanks to Kelli for doing beta duty and to Karen for the feedback on what she's read so far.
Dean Winchester had probably never been in love. Who had time with the kind of life he led? He had evil spirits and demons to fight. He had credit card scams to run. And he had a younger brother to protect. Besides, moving from place to place, never being anywhere long enough to make connections didn't allow for falling in love. He wasn't even sure it was possible for him to love anyone other than his brother and his father; they were the only ones who had been his life for as long as he could remember.
He was four when his mother died, when she'd been ripped from the family by what they now knew was a demon. He'd been too young to remember much about her, but he did remember some things. He remembered that she always smelled good. Sometimes even now, he would get a whiff of the perfume she used to wear and he'd think of her. He remembered the soft sound of her voice when she would sing to him. He also remembered the feel of her arms around him when he would sit on her lap. It wasn't much, but he cherished each memory.
Dean met Kristine when he and his father were traveling to a potential job in South Carolina from Tennessee. They were on a back road, intending to spend the night in Asheville, when they came across Kristine's mother, Julia, standing next to her disabled car on the side of the road. John got it running and they followed her to the garage in the small town where she lived.
If it was possible for Dean to fall in love, it would be with Kristine Ryan. He felt an immediate connection to her, even though she wasn't his usual type. His tastes ran to tall, leggy blondes who flirted a lot and were willing to do just about anything. Kristine wasn't particularly tall and could have been classified a light brunette, but definitely was not a blonde. She spoke to him, but didn't flirt. Kristine took her education seriously and found the same enjoyment in horror movies as the proverbial chick flick. Ironically, she was probably more Sam's type than Dean's.
Her sister died the same way his mother did; pinned to the ceiling over her six month old son's crib. Instead of what happened in Dean's family, no one was able to save the baby. Kristine lost her sister and her nephew in the same night. Dean wasn't even sure how they ended up sharing their family secrets, but once they realized what they had in common, they knew there was a bond that couldn't be broken and because she had the same supernatural experience, Dean was able to talk to her in a way he'd never been able to with anyone else. Except maybe Sam. His brother had gone off to college just a few months before and Dean missed him. Sam's absence probably made him a little vulnerable and he needed something to fill the void he'd left.
John Winchester felt a connection as well; to Julia, Kristine's mother. Nothing, however, would deter him from his mission. He had spent over twenty years trying to find out what killed his wife, and he had no intention of stopping until the thing was destroyed. Not adhering to the pattern John didn't even recognize until later, the demon killed Julia a few months after their meeting. He came to realize that it was as a warning to him, but like most every other warning, he ignored it and continued on his quest.
At John's insistence, he and Dean began to work small jobs apart and Dean stayed with Kristine as often as he could. John recognized the tell-tale signs of a crush and he surprised himself by wanting Dean to enjoy it for a while. It also gave him the opportunity to follow up on some leads about Mary's death without Dean knowing what he was doing.
He was with Kristine just before leaving for New Orleans, where he was when John went missing two years ago. It was months before he told Sam about her and only did when it seemed North Carolina was the only safe place they could go. Feeling guilty over Jessica's death and teetering on the edge of emotional collapse, Sam needed help that Dean couldn't give. Kristine's brother-in-law, Patrick, lost his wife and son to the demon and could understand how Sam felt in a way that Dean couldn't.
After her mother's death, Kristine turned her family's house into a place for hunters to rest and recuperate from their injuries. She made herself a part of the underground world of hunters and would often pass along information from one to the next and could recommend other "safe" places for them to stay. She was also a trained therapist and was able to provide counseling when necessary.
Patrick and Kristine had been able to help Sam and although the brothers kept in touch, they hadn't seen them for months. After learning the secret that Sam may become evil and John's subsequent death,, Dean wanted to hide from the world to keep his brother safe. He considered going to North Carolina, but the pain he felt over losing his father and being saddled with another responsibility he didn't want caused him to shut down and kept him from his friends. Besides, Kristine and Patrick were practically the only allies the brothers had left and Dean didn't want to endanger them by being with them.
Sam Winchester was alone in the motel room he and Dean had rented earlier in the day when the stabbing pain of a headache hit him. It was the telltale sign of a vision and a moment later, images began to flash in his head. Visions like this were always somehow connected to the yellow-eyed demon that his family had been hunting for over twenty years; and with each vision, the headaches were getting worse.
He rolled from the bed onto the floor, holding his head as a moan escaped his lips. His long body was curled practically into the fetal position when Dean walked in a few minutes later carrying a pizza box. He tossed it onto the bed and rushed to his brother's side, helping him into a sitting position.
"Sammy?" he called softly, knowing his brother would be in pain. "You with me?"
As he often did when a vision struck and Dean was there, Sam grabbed his brother's shirt.
"Talk to me." Dean said, holding his brother's arms.
"We have to go to Asheville."
"Asheville?" he repeated, his mouth suddenly dry.
Sam nodded, looking at his brother sympathetically. "It's Kristine."
They were on the road ten minutes later, their gear quickly packed and tossed into the trunk of the Impala. Dean wasn't sure he was calm enough to drive, but the visions had after-effects. Sam would have a headache and be nauseous for at least a couple of hours and the headlights of oncoming vehicles would only make it worse.
"Tell me again what you saw." Dean said after several miles of silence.
Sam glanced at him. "Dean –"
"I have to know what we're up against." he said, his jaw clenched.
Sam sighed. He'd already told Dean everything he remembered twice. "I didn't see much. Just – just fire and Kristine."
"Was she --?" Dean wanted to ask if she had been on the ceiling; like his mother and Jessica.
"She was running. The fire was in the cottage."
Kristine lived in what used to be the gardener's cottage on the edge of her family's twelve acres of property. The cottage had been used for storage for as long as she could remember, but after her mother's death, she cleaned it out and remodeled it. She had no interest in living in the house where her mother died.
"Try her again." Dean said.
Sam pushed the redial button on his cell phone and after three rings, got Kristine's voice mail again. He called Patrick's phone with the same result. The Winchesters' network of contacts had been decimated due to the yellow-eyed demon and its minions; Sam could think of no one to call that knew Kristine.
"What about Ellen?"
Dean glanced at him. "Ellen doesn't know Kristine."
"No, but Ellen knows hunters. Maybe she can put out feelers for information."
The brothers found Ellen, an old friend of their father's, after his death. As seemed to be the case with most of his old friends, there had been a falling out and neither of them remembered John ever even mentioning her to them. She ran a bar that was frequented by hunters and, like Kristine, she was often the repository of information and messages.
Dean heard Sam's voice start to strain while he spoke with Ellen. He glanced at his brother and saw him rubbing his head. Sam ended the conversation quickly and dropped the phone.
"Keep driving." he said as he leaned forward.
"Sammy –" Dean quickly pulled to the side of the road as another wave of pain overtook his brother. Sam felt the car stop moving and, without even thinking about it, opened the door and fell onto the ground.
The car was between Sam and the road, and luckily there wasn't much traffic. Sam was on his hands and knees when Dean reached his side, his body being punished with dry heaves. The visions had been increasingly hard on Sam, but Dean had never seen this reaction. What seemed like hours later, but was really only a few moments, Sam collapsed and rolled onto his back. Dean laid a hand on his shoulder.
"We have to go." Sam choked out, trying to sit up.
"Hold on." Dean held him down. "We'll go, but not until you're better. Can you tell me what you saw?"
"It was Patrick." Sam managed.
Sam rubbed his head. "Patrick was after Kristine; he was trying to hurt her."
"That's impossible." Dean paused. "Unless he was possessed."
Sam managed to sit up. "We have to go."
Dean helped his brother stand and get into the car. Before closing the door, he squatted and looked at Sam. "You okay?"
"I'm okay enough. What about you?"
Dean looked surprised. "Me?"
Sam looked at him and Dean sighed. "Yeah. I don't much like this vision of yours, but I'll get us to North Carolina in one piece."
The brothers were on the road for almost four hours when Sam's cell phone rang. He had recovered from the vision and was able to grab the phone quickly.
"Sam, it's Ellen."
He glanced at Dean. "Hey, Ellen."
"I'm sorry it took me so long, but I do have word from North Carolina."
"What is it?"
"Well, it came from the friend of a friend of a friend, but the house is still standing and the cottage is fine. There's no one around, though."
"At either place?"
"No. It looks like the house was abandoned pretty quickly; plates with food were still on the table. Pots and pans on the stove; that kind of thing. There are no vehicles parked outside the house or the cottage."
Sam tried to imagine something that would make hunters abandon a safe house. "Anything else? What about her brother-in-law's place?"
"No one there. Nothing out of place. "I've got people poking around, but considering what time it is –"
"Yeah." he sighed.
"I'll let you know if I hear anything else. How far out are you?"
"Maybe two hours."
"Be careful. Keep in touch."
"We will. Thanks, Ellen."
Sam slipped the phone back into his pocket and told Dean what Ellen had said.
"What makes hunters run?" Dean wondered, afraid of the answer.
"Sometimes the best thing to do is retreat." Sam said. "Reevaluate the situation and come up with a new plan."
"Thank you, John Winchester." Dean said quietly.
Sam smiled to himself and they slipped into silence.
Kristine actually lived in a small town about thirty miles outside of Asheville and those were the hardest miles of the trip to drive. There had been no more news and Kristine hadn't responded to any of Sam's messages. Dean was worried; she knew multiple ways of getting in touch with them and it made him very nervous that she hadn't used any of them. It didn't make him feel any better when Sam said the best thing being to retreat sometimes. What were they retreating from? In the past, Sam's visions were always connected to the yellow-eyed demon and the thought that it was after Kristine scared Dean.
Kristine wasn't a hunter, but her brother-in-law, Patrick, had gone down that road for a while after his wife's death. He started out very much like John Winchester; he found someone who introduced him to the reality of the paranormal and he gradually learned what he needed to know. His life as a hunter ended abruptly, though, when he tried to rescue Kristine's mother from the demon. An injury sentenced him to life in a wheelchair.
Even though she was not a hunter, Kristine's skills and instincts were as good as any of them. John made sure she understood what she was up against and taught her what he could while he was with her. Patrick also helped and, of course, Dean wanted her to know as much as possible. If she had gone into hiding, there had to be a good reason.
"Are we going to the cottage?" Sam asked as Dean turned onto the highway that would lead them away from Asheville.
"You want to meet up with the people Ellen sent?"
"I want to see the cottage and the house for myself."
Sam nodded. He had already decided he would follow Dean's lead unless his brother started making mistakes. They had never really talked about Dean's feelings for Kristine, but Sam knew Dean thought of her as special. Sam saw that Dean was different when Kristine was around; he was more calm, almost relaxed. If Sam had to put a word to it, he would say Dean was content and that wasn't something that happened very often.
Besides Dean's feelings, Sam had reason to like Kristine. She and Patrick helped him at a time when almost no one else could have. He was spiraling out of control and headed for a dark place he knew he couldn't have escaped from alone. His father's disappearance, the feelings of guilt over Jessica's death and being pulled back into a lifestyle he had tried to escape were too much for him. He couldn't admit his premonitions to Dean yet and the secrecy added to him being overwhelmed. It was also Kristine who managed to bring John out of hiding long enough to help his son.
Sam wanted her to be okay, but not just because of Dean's feelings for her. Besides being thankful for her help, he couldn't let anyone else die the way his mother and his girlfriend did.
Dean didn't even try to hide their approach. He parked right in front of the cottage and grabbed a weapon from the trunk before going inside. He appreciated Ellen sending people to check things out, but he knew things to look for that a stranger wouldn't.
Sam watched as his brother walked straight to the stereo in the living room. He opened the CD player, but it was empty. All of the CDs were arranged on the shelves and nothing seemed out of place, but Dean scanned the collection attentively.
"Dean?" Sam prompted.
"It's not here." Dean whispered.
"What isn't here?"
"Metallica's Ride the Lightning. That means she left on her own."
"What? Maybe it's in her car, or –"
Dean turned to look at him. "She doesn't listen to Metallica."
Sam nodded. He and Dean had their share of code words and other tricks to communicate if they became separated so it only made sense that Dean would have made sure Kristine had the same tools. Not to mention that some of her training came from the same place theirs had; John Winchester.
"Any idea to tell where she was headed?" Sam asked.
Dean wandered around the room, looking at everything carefully. "Why don't you check out the next room? Look for the same kinds of things we'd leave."
Dean finished the living room and walked upstairs. Everything seemed to be as it should and Kristine's suitcase was in her closet. He found Sam in the kitchen.
"I didn't find anything." he said. "You?"
"You're sure about that album?"
Sam leaned back against the counter. "There are protection symbols everywhere."
"Yeah." Dean said quietly. "But we put some of them there ourselves."
"Looks like she was scared of something." Sam insisted. "Some are fresh."
"Why wouldn't she call if there was something going on?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know."
Dean stood next to him and rubbed his face.
"Now what?" Sam asked.
"Let's go to the house. Then Patrick's."
It was nearly dawn when they finished searching the other houses, without finding anything else helpful. Sam talked to Ellen and found out her contacts had checked into a small motel in the next town, but unless the brothers wanted their help, they weren't planning to stay. Sam knew that Dean didn't come by trust easily and wouldn't accept assistance from people he didn't know; especially when it came to helping someone close to him. He conferred with his brother anyway and got the answer he had expected.
They drove to the only lodging in town; a bed and breakfast situated next to a small creek. It wasn't the kind of place they would usually stay, but it was one of the properties left to Kristine in her mother's will and they knew the manager. Dean wasn't looking for a room; the manager didn't know everything about Kristine's connection to the paranormal, but she knew enough to potentially be helpful.
They could see a light on in the kitchen when Dean parked in the small lot off the alley. He knocked on the back door, Sam standing behind him.
"Dean?" Alicia Raymond opened the door after peeking out of the curtain. "Sam! Come in!"
Alicia was almost sixty years old and had spent nearly her entire life working at the inn. She started out as a maid when her mother was the manager and learned every aspect of the business.
"Sit down, I'll get you some coffee. I'm glad you're here."
The brothers exchanged a look.
"Why is that?" Sam asked.
Alicia set fresh brewed coffee in front of them as they sat at the small corner table. A woman they didn't recognize walked into the kitchen before Alicia could answer the question.
"This is Tammy, our new cook. She's quite good." Alicia smiled. "Tammy, this is Sam and Dean. They're friends of the Ryan family."
A moment of pleasantries followed the introductions and Alicia suggested they move into the living room for more privacy.
"Kristine left an envelope for you. She said you might be by."
Dean's heart quickened. "When was this?"
"Just over a week ago."
"A week?" Dean repeated.
"Did she say where she was going?" Sam asked.
"She said she had a conference in Atlanta and would be gone for a couple of weeks. I'll go get the envelope from my room."
"That doesn't seem likely." Sam whispered to his brother. "A conference?"
"None of this makes sense. I hope she put something in that envelope that will help." Dean said and took a long sip of the coffee.
"Have you seen Patrick lately?" Sam asked innocently when Alicia walked back into the room a few minutes later.
"I haven't." she said, handing the envelope to Dean. "But that isn't all that unusual. It's odd that Kristine wouldn't leave this with him, though."
Dean opened the standard, business-sized envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper. A key fell out when he unfolded it and Sam reached for it.
"So how have things been going out at the house?" Sam asked when Dean started to read. Most of the townspeople knew vaguely that Kristine had turned her family's estate into some type of treatment center, but Kristine never spoke much about it. She was from a well-respected family and no one thought to press the issue. Alicia knew more than most, but still not the entire story.
"Okay, I guess. Kristine told me she'd stopped accepting new residents for a while. The last are supposed to be leaving in a day or so and I'm supposed to get a cleaning crew in there."
"A day or two?" Sam repeated.
Alicia nodded. "That's what Kristine said before she left."
Sam glanced at his brother as Dean stood up. "Thanks, Alicia."
"Is everything all right?"
Dean faked a smile. "Sure. We'll probably be in town for a couple of days, though."
"Do you need a room?"
Sam followed his brother to the car.
"Hey –" he reached for Dean's arm. "What's going on?"
"I'll tell you on the way."
"The way to where?"
"Just get in the car, Sammy."