Hello? Anyone still out there? I'm sorry about the delay but enjoy!
A Soldier's Last Stand.
Whispers in the night.
Fire. Hot raging, burning and twisting into demonic shapes. There's no way out. Something's blocked the window and the doors on fire. I'm going to die. But in the midst of hell, there's someone else with me. Standing quietly, watching me struggle and gasp. He doesn't offer to help and I realise why a moment later. His eyes flash a soulless black as he sneers at me and cackles a laugh. He brandishes my leather jacket tauntingly, pulling it over his shoulders and striking a pose. I snarl and try to grab him but he just steps back with another laugh. But then he falls and the window crashes open. I stagger to my feet, coughing and burnt and make a wild dash for the window. A cloud of smoke slips fluidly over my shoulder and disappears into the night.
The quiet, almost inaudible plea nearly stops me in my tracks. I know that voice but I can't place it. Who are you? The man is consumed in the flames already and I can't get to him to save him. He whimpers loudly and thrashes his head weakly.
"Help me." He begs again.
"I can't. I'm sorry."
He moans, a deep animalistic sound and then he screams. Loud and agonised, searing his pain into my mind forever. A tendril of fire licks at me and I throw myself out of the window and away from it.
Nick's Diner is burning. People are screaming and crying. In the distance, I see Nick and Tessa, calling and wailing. Tessa's in her night dress, the white material fluttering in the breeze, her hair's a knotted mess. Nick's clad only in his plaid pyjama pants, his arms wrapped around his bare torso. He's oddly calm as he watches his life's work crumble. But he's looking for something in the blaze; his eyes are leaping and waiting for something. I think he's waiting for me and he's growing more distressed with every minute. But I can't go to them. I just let a man die a death that should have been mine. I turn away from them, condemned and hurt, and melt into the darkness and confusion of the fire. There was a demon to hunt.
I will always remember those last few minutes of the fire. The pain, despair that morphed into a relief to be alive and a terrible heavy guilt that was thick in my gut. I can't really excuse what I did, leaving that man to die. It wasn't his fault the demon got to him but I still did nothing to save him. I suppose that makes me a murderer or maybe something worse than that. I don't really know. And I really don't want to ask in case they felt the same.
Seeing Nick again had erased some of the lingering sadness and hopelessness that night had left in me. He reminded me that I had done some things right these last few months. I had saved him and Tessa. I had missed him. I missed Tessa.
"When can I see Tessa, Nick?" I questioned.
Nick glanced up from his phone and smiled softly. "Later buddy. She's sick so maybe in a few days."
I frowned and gathered my knees underneath me. "Since when?"
"She called me this morning and said she felt bad. She doesn't know about you yet. I'll tell her when she's better."
Accepting his words, I shrugged and settled back down to watch an old horror movie on the television. Sam had a huge science text book resting crookedly on his lap, his eyes lapping up every complicated word on the page.
"What are you going to do now, Nicky?" He questioned suddenly. "You don't have a business anymore."
Guilt tugged at me and I glanced timidly up at Nick. I expected him to be angry and bitter over losing everything but he wasn't. He smiled and pushed his phone back into his pocket.
"Insurance has it covered. I'll have enough money to start up another Diner."
"You should call it 'Dean's'." Sam supplied.
I laughed. "Yeah!"
Nick chuckled and shook his head. "I'll defiantly think about it. But it'll be in the better half of town."
"Well then, you'll never see me there." I teased.
"Ah! You'll get a discount, Hot Shot." Nick promised.
"Score!" I cheered.
I loved the laughter of my friend and my brother. Things weren't healed, not completely. The kind man Sam called Dad was still a stranger to me and there was still tension between them but I thought maybe...I was wise enough not to run away. I thought, maybe I could be strong enough to stay.
"What really happened in The Diner, Dean?" Nick questioned.
I looked up from the Impala's engine and glanced at my friend. He met my gaze and held it, determination and something else warring in his eyes.
"I don't remember." I shrugged.
"Yes you do."
I met his eyes from under the hood and felt my defences rise inside my mind and something snap locked. I wouldn't tell him what I had to do to survive, how could a man like Nick understand my world? It wasn't his world. Even now as he hovered on the edge of it, he didn't know. I would fight anything that tried to take that security from him. I wouldn't tell him. I knew it and one look at Nick's bright eyes showed me he knew the same.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, so drop it."
"Try me." He taunted.
"I said drop it!" I snapped and turned away from him.
The silence between us seemed to stretch out endlessly and I fiddled with a wrench absentmindedly for a moment. Nick sighed loudly and suddenly I felt the weight of his hand on the small of my back. I stilled but couldn't make myself turn to him.
"I'm sorry, kid. I'm just trying to understand what happened. How you survived?"
"The window broke. So I got out. There isn't anything else to say."
"But the body? Who's was it? Did you invite anyone over that night?"
I snapped around to face him and dislodged his hand violently. Nick took a hasty step back and I prowled to the workbench in the corner of the garage.
"I don't know anyone in AutumnDale beside you and Tessa." I reminded sulkily. "Not counting Zack and his goons. What happened to them?"
I was half joking and not really looking for a response, my attention already captured by a bolt on the table. But Nick's quiet, pain filled voice stopped me.
"Zack's dead." He announced.
I whirled around with a manically beating heart and wide eyes. "What?"
Nick licked his lips and pressed the tips of his fingers together. A secret. Nick had a secret. I recognised that look; I had seen it on my face more times that I could bare to remember.
"He confessed to setting the Diner on fire but somehow...he got burnt. He died in the hospital."
To my shock, Nick crashed to his knees at my feet and buried his face into his hands. There was a gentle quiver to his shoulders and he gasped loudly.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He wept.
The blonde man looked up at me and I didn't understand the heartache or guilt in his eyes. Tears crystallized on his lashes and dripped down his cheeks. I stared down at him in bewilderment and reached out to touch his shoulders briefly.
"This is all my fault."
How could this mess be his fault? He wasn't the demon, wasn't the faceless man I killed.
"I knew Zack. He used to be my best friend and I...I walked away from him. H-He was so angry with me but I didn't think he'd do anything. But then he saw you and he always had a rotten temper so I guess his got jealous. And he tried to kill you. I'm sorry."
I stilled and couldn't take my eyes away from the man confessing his deepest secrets to me. My first instinct was to be angry, I had been caught in a fight that wasn't my own and it had nearly killed me. But then I realised that it wasn't Nick's fault. Zack was a monster, human or not and something I doubt Nick could have controlled. I knelt down before Nick and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. Nick clutched at me and drew me tighter against his chest.
"It's OK, Nicky. It wasn't your fault. Zack was just messed up. I would say I'm sorry he's dead but I'm not sorry."
Nick let out a watery laugh and patted my head gently. "Yeah I'm not surprised somehow."
"You can't control what he did. I don't blame you but you need to make better friends. Like me!"
"You got that right."
"Did you know it was Zack, Dad? He started the fire." I questioned later that night when everyone else was safe in bed. Nick asleep on my bedroom floor.
Dad turned to me and nodded once. "Yeah, I knew. I went to see him before he died."
"He was a Demon, wasn't he?"
"Probably for a few months."
"The entire time I was fighting with him, he was really a demon? No wonder I couldn't win. Why is he dead then?"
Dad shrugged. "I guess the demon got tired of him."
Zack wasn't the man in the fire. The man was to small and his voice to high. Who was he?
"Zack told us that something was wrong. That the demon recognised you and that it was angry." Dad confided.
"So I've pissed off a Demon, what's new?"
"Just be careful, Dean. We don't know anything about this demon or where it is."
Sometimes, I thought I could almost feel dead eyes on me, enraged and plotting. Maybe I'm still on edge and imagining make believe eyes or maybe...the clock is running out for real this time...
"I can't do this anymore. I won't!"
"You will. Remember what will happen if you disobey me. I will hurt her."
"No! Please, don't! I'll listen."
"Good boy. Now, tell me, where is the hunter?"