"Dumping bodies. Bleaching things. The family business..."
"Friggin' Winchesters," Kieran—my partner-in-grime—pushed past me, his metal bucket whacking me on the calf with a bang as he went by. "I hate these guys." Inside the bucket, his mop handle swung around, nearly smacking me on the head.
I was ready for it though, and ducked. "Stop whining, Kier. At least they burned the bodies, this time."
"Oh yeah, sure. Brilliant job. Did they bother to be sure all the bones burned? The skulls? The fangs? Did they bury the ashes? Nope. They just drove away in that souped-up antique like the pretty boys they are." He slammed the tin pail down on the concrete floor of the warehouse; the sound echoed creepily around the empty building, bouncing off the brick walls and metal shelves. "Freaking cowboys."
"I like cowboys," I said, but not loudly enough for him to hear me.
Kieran was right about one thing, at least. The Winchester brothers sure were pretty. Especially the oldest one. I shivered as I pictured him swinging his machete at the vamp he'd killed, his green eyes blazing and his lips set in a determined scowl...
Yeah, I know. Not pretty in the traditional sense, but seeing the man at work could take your breath away; he was so beautiful. All that intent and fluid grace, and saving the world besides? Made a girl's insides all gooey. The cowboy-moniker only made it more so. (It also made me imagine him in leather chaps and no shirt, maybe some cowboy boots and some leather gloves...and a hat... maybe little sweaty and smudged from doing cowboy-type stuff. Shirtless. In leather chaps. But I digress.)
I put my own bucket down more carefully, even though what I really wanted to do was wing it at my cousin's head. With my luck, though, the handle would get caught in his hair and I'd have to listen to him bitch about that as much as about how he hated the Hunters. Kieran's hair was long, black, and it was...well. Not practical for our line of work, but it fit his face and gave him kind of a pirate-type air, which I had to admit was pretty cool. In fact, he was rocking the dreds this week, or something like them, because his hair was more silky than dreddy. But he'd wrapped strands of it in red cloth and clattering gold beads and braids in a kind of Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp (minus the eyeliner) effect.
At this moment, however, it just annoyed me.
Sort of like Kieran. It wasn't his fault that I found him exasperating and petulant, most of the time. After my father's brother, my Uncle Pat, adopted him, we were sort of shackled together because we're just about the same age. His siblings were too old and mine were too young, but our parents felt we were juuust right. Like Baby Bear's porridge. And that was that. The fact that we were of different genders didn't matter much, apparently; neither did the fact that we are opposites in many ways.
We'd spent practically our whole lives together, and we'd certainly spent too much time together lately, packed like a pair of mooks in the van filled with Cleaner supplies, spell catchers and spook books, and the few personal items (like Kier's hair products) that we'd brought along when my dad had sent us out on our assignment a few months previously.
~*~ A few months previously...~*~
"You've been assigned to the Winchesters," Papa had told me.
"No! LLew!" My mother had risen like a wraith from behind the kitchen counter where she'd been organizing cupboards or something. (Because even in what was supposed to be her down time, my mom cleaned. She never took a break. She said she found it "relaxing". Personally, I think she was just a bit nutty from being married to my dad and living in an RV for twenty-five years. But that's a different story.) "I don't want Isolde to—"
"Bella!" My father had snapped out her name like a wet towel skimming someone's ass, and she'd slid back out of sight, returning to organizing paperclips or whatever she was doing. (Quiet, out of sight and out of mind. That's my mom. If only I took after her.) "Izza will be with Kieran. She will not have any contact with them. And besides, she knows the rules."
He speared me with his silvery-grey eyes and all I could do was shiver and nod. Despite the fact that what I really wanted to do was make contact with the Winchesters—lots of it—and especially with Dean, who really deserved as much contact as I could possibly make with him. Preferably naked. Not that we'd been naked together—in fact, we'd barely spoken, but a girl could dream.
At this moment, however, I swallowed and tried to appear indifferent even though tingles of excitement—and probably lust—raced along my skin. "I know the rules, Papa. Cleaners and Hunters. Never shall their paths cross." As long as you never find out, I amended.
"You must be like a breeze behind them. Whisking away their work until nothing remains of what they've done. No one not of our ilk shall know of the world of the supernatural and the Hunters will not know of us. The Hunters hunt. The Cleaners clean. And never shall pass a word in-between."
I nodded and wondered—not for the first time—why the rules were always intoned in that archaic, rhymy way. I mean, it wasn't prophecy. And you'd think someone would have updated the language and eliminated some of the double negatives by now, but nope. And who the hell says "ilk", anymore?
Most of all, what was the point? The Hunters knew all about us. Hell, they made fun of us. And with reckless abandon, they left their messes for us to clean up. Asshats, the lot of them. Except, of course, for Mr. Yummy McYummy. Not that he—or anyone else—knew I felt that way. It was my secret.
In keeping with the desire to keep my Dean Winchester-lust a private thing, I answered my father obediently. "Yes, Papa." Even though the rules were old-fashioned and sounded like they'd come from a stone tablet carved eons ago, I acted as though they were current and fresh and actually made sense.
But really. If we don't want civilians to know about the supernatural world (and I'm not exactly sure that would be a bad thing, either) wouldn't it be smarter if those of us who knew about it worked together instead of pretending the other group didn't exist? You know, like one big, happy, anti-Supe family? But my Papa stood there watching me, wringing his hands. And I wanted this assignment. A lot. "No one shall know."
And no one shall ever know that Dean Winchester and I already met. And passed words. And most importantly, swapped spit.
~*~About ten years earlier…~*~
It had happened when I was sixteen, one of the few times I'd managed to escape Kieran and actually go somewhere fun. He had what my mother politely termed "the grippe" (brought on by some bad hot dogs I'd impolitely dared him to eat, but she didn't know that). As usual, our family and Kieran's family had been shadowing some Hunters around the country in our beat-up camper vans.
The Hunters had created a base camp for an extended stay in a nearby motel. Lucky bastards. They get real beds and private bathrooms; we get camper vans and public showers. And no televisions.
At this point in the story, we had six kids, four of them under the age of sixteen. I was in the middle of the group, and I hated it. I always got stuck babysitting, or some yucky crap—I was expected to act older than I was and not complain or ask too many questions. Questions like, What the hell?
You have to understand, I still didn't know exactly what my parents or my clan did at this time. Honestly, I thought we were gypsies, something I'd read about while being homeschooled. Or RV-schooled, if you prefer. But my point is that pieces of my narrative might seem inconsistent as I give you information I couldn't have possibly known about at the time it occurred. Sorry. Suck it up and deal with it. Call me omniscient and either enjoy the ride or get off here, because I'm going to use exposition as I tell you this story. Stuff like—we were dealing with Hunters, but I didn't know it.
At any rate, we were stuck at this campground while my parents did whatever they did. And what made it worse was that we could see and hear a carnival right near our campground. We set my little sister after our respective dads so they'd take us. She had a way of making these puppy dog eyes that guaranteed adults would do practically anything for her. It was a gift, not a skill. (If it was a skill, it was one the rest of us could never master. Believe me, we'd tried.)
Anyhow, Papa and Uncle Pat took us to the fair. I escaped as soon as I could by claiming grippe cramps and ducking into a portable toilet, which even for Hunters and Cleaners is a place beyond Nasty. Still, my desire to get away from my clingy clan for a time led to this desperate act of defiance...and once I'd left the porta-john, bliss. Because I was alone. And I had freedom.
For me, freedom was riding the Ferris wheel. I love swinging in the cars high above the ground, the gentle ascent and the stomach-swooshing descent, and the way you could imagine what it would be like to leap off and fly in the silent air like a bird…
There was only one problem. The operators don't like empty cars. And there I was, a teenage girl in a strange town, with no friends...I swear, if there's such a thing as Adolescent Hell, being publicly declared "single" (aka "a friendless loser")-that's it. Right there. With the carny shouting, "Single!" and me, praying my Papa didn't see me alone in the line to ride the Ferris wheel when I was supposed to be locked in the Porta-Potty AND—more importantly-that no one in my peer bracket saw me singled out and branded a freaking, friendless loser.
And then, I hear, "I'm single!" and see this tall, drop-dead-adorable, green-eyed piece of yumyum boy standing right there. And I'm looking around thinking, "Who is he going to sit with?" and I realize-It's me.
I'm proud to say I neither squeaked nor squeed. I think I might have orgasmed a little, but really, who wouldn't? It was Dean Winchester. Spontaneous orgasms happen. Of course, at the time, I didn't know any of this. I just stood there, staring up at him. And then he sort of ushered me into the Ferris wheel car and we were off. Just the two of us. Alone with our shoulders rubbing and the outsides of our thighs pressed together and...
Remember how I mentioned I love the Ferris wheel? Well, as usual, I started looking around enjoying the view and thinking about flying. And him? He started squirming and the next thing I knew, his hand was gripping my knee really hard.
"Hey," I said, ready to flip him out of the car no matter how yummy he was because—you know—personal space. But then I looked at his face and realized he was terrified. Because his face was a funny pale color, and he was biting his pretty pink lips and his emerald green eyes were wide and his long-lashed lids were fluttering… "Dude. You look like you just swallowed a bug."
"Mhfm," he choked.
"Holy crap. Did you? Did you just swallow a bug?"
He shook his head and blinked at me. "I—I think—I think I don't...like heights."
What? Seriously? I looked down. "We're only about a hundred and fifty feet up and...ow!" His grip grew impossibly tighter and I realized I was going to have some hard bruises to hide. Fingertip shaped ones. On my thigh.
Great. This is going so well…
He looked down at his hand and though he didn't let go, his grip loosened. "Sorry," he said.
"It's…" Crappy, really, but I'll figure something out— "Okay." Still. I pushed my hand under his and wrapped my fingers up around his fingers. He had callouses, which is something Kieran had, too, but mostly it's unusual in sixteen-year-old boys. Maybe he was older. "How old are you?"
"Eighteen," he said, sounding a bit defensive.
I realized he was defensive because he thought I was inferring he was a baby since he was so obviously scared, so I hastily told him why I'd asked. "Not many guys our age have hands like yours."
He lifted his left eyebrow at me and quirked the corner of his mouth into a half-dimple. My heart made a weak sort of flutter-thud, because he was so. Damn. Cute. "How's that?" he asked.
"You know, rough. Like you do work."
He pursed his lips, my heart went thud, flutter, thud, bump, and he nodded. "Yeah. I work."
"What do you do?" I realized that we'd stopped moving. I mean, the car, not us. We were still moving. Sort of. As much as you can move in a Ferris wheel car two-hundred feet off the ground.
"Uh...we...uh…we...stopped...we're..." He appeared to realize we'd stopped moving too, and were hanging there at the top of the wheel, perched at the pinnacle at the top of the ride. The wind fingered his hair, the car creaked and swung. From below, we could hear the music from the Rock'n'Ride. AC/DC, I thought. It sounded far away. And the ride itself, with all its passengers, looked tiny. Unlike his pupils, which had suddenly dilated with panic. I could feel his pulse through our joined hands, and it was racing.
You know, desperate times call for desperate measures. Especially from desperate girls. Without thinking about it too much, I leaned forward and pressed my mouth to his. His lips were warm and soft and tasted like gummy bears. And suddenly his arms were around me and I realized...Uh oh.
Because Mr. YumYum and I might have been almost the same age, and he might have been scared to death, but he also had way more experience kissing than I did.
Not only that, he was good at it. Like, really good. His kisses were not too wet, but not at all dry, and he did this thing with his tongue (in my mouth!) that I could feel all the way down to my toes and in my belly and especially in places like my—Oh. Boy.
And then I realized one of his calloused hands was making its way under my shirt and slipping under my bra. So I haul off and socked him one. Right in the cheek.
"Whoa!" he said and reared away. His lips were slicked with my spit, like they'd been glossed; there was a tiny red mouse on his left cheekbone where I popped him with my knuckle. I'm not stupid; I started kissing him again in case he thought I didn't want to. But at least I'd gotten my point across. He couldn't be all handsy when I didn't even know his name. Maybe later, when I did. But I wasn't about to waste time learning his name when there was kissing to do.
We made out for the rest of the ride and then rode it again. And again. And then I realized my Papa would probably be looking for me and I needed to pull myself together and not look like I'd been sucking face with a boy I didn't even really know for nearly an hour. He helped me straighten out my clothes. (I'll be honest, he was a persistent bugger and didn't take 'no' for an answer easily. He did, however, take repeated punches which says a lot about the type of guy he was. And now, knowing him for the consummate Hunter he is, I realize it says everything.)
Riding down that last time, he shifted against me (his arm was around me at this point and I was leaning into him wishing the Ferris wheel could go around forever) and he looked at me. "Hey," he said. "I forgot to ask. What's your name?"
"Isolde McShae." I told him. "What's yours?"
"I'm Dean. Dean Winchester." He grinned and his eyes lit up. "Wait. What's your name again?"
I was about to tell him when he stiffened; he pulled his arm from around my shoulders and sat up straight. "Uh oh. That's my dad. And my little brother. I forgot they'd be looking for me. I'm so gonna get it."
I looked down to see a dark-haired, big man with a shaggy-haired kid emerging from a tent that had a fortune teller sign; the kid was hugging a giant stuffed banana that he must have won from some game stand. When Dean saw him, he snorted. "What a geek. I'm not walking anywhere with him if he's holding that thing. It looks like a big yellow dick."
I had no comment. I was a young and naïve sixteen; I wasn't ready for dicks at that point, or conversations about them, either. So I just stared. Besides, I'd just noticed my Papa coming out from the space beside the fortune teller's tent.
And the weirdest thing happened. His dad looked right at my papa, and their eyes met. Papa ducked his head immediately—Dean's dad reached out to touch his sleeve. He said something, and a smile crossed his face. But Papa pulled away and practically ran in the other direction. Dean's dad turned, too, and watched my father going away. When he faced us once more, he wore a sad and somewhat disappointed expression.
I couldn't speculate about it after he appeared to notice me and Dean on the Ferris wheel. His eyes widened momentarily, then narrowed to mere slits under heavy, black brows. He strode to stand by the platform, Dean's little brother and the giant banana beside him, and glared.
"I gotta go," Dean said then, and he stood, and started to get out.
"Hey! Wait until the ride comes to a complete stop!" The ride operator shouted and Dean stopped. But not because he'd been told to. Instead, he turned, bent, and gave me one more sweet kiss. "Thanks for the ride," he said, pressing his forehead and the tip of his nose to mine. "If I could have you with me anytime I'm up high, I wouldn't mind at all."
"It was like...flying." I told him, and nibbled at his lower lip, something he'd taught me during our make-out session.
"If that's what flying's like—I'd do it anytime. With you," he said. And then he was gone.
We left the next day.
I wondered about that weird interaction between my papa and Dean's father. A few weeks later, I overheard my Papa telling Uncle Pat about his almost-meeting the Hunter, John Winchester. And that, dear reader, is how I learned about what my parents—my family, my clan—did. And about Hunters and Cleaners and later (when my parents thought the time was right) how to get an ectoplasm stain out of a Berber carpet or blood off flocked wallpaper (because you can't leave any DNA behind; that's how ghosts are created), and who I was going to call when I needed to remove sulfur from a dry-clean-only fabric, or where to find the important but rare ingredients for a phenomenal supernatural-goo cleaning potion.
From then on, I waited for the day when my path and Dean Winchester's would cross again; I knew it was inevitable. Our destiny. And I knew in my heart and soul that we would finish what we'd started all those years before.
So here I was, partnered with my whiny cousin, Kieran, who pulled his hair back from his face and tied it into a bejeweled and beribboned ponytail before he got to work; his faux—diamond stud earrings glinted in the dim overhead lights.
You want to know the thing that annoyed me the most about my cousin? He was beautiful, in the way that only a man could be. Six-foot-three, broad shouldered, slim-hipped; even when he put on the steel-toed combat-style work boots and the orange jumpsuit we Cleaners generally sported, he somehow managed to make it look like a cool fashion choice.
At five-foot-just about nothing, I just looked like an incarcerated Oompa Loompa in combat boots.
"The Impala isn't just an antique," I told him. "It's a classic muscle car, a 1967 Chevy—"
"Blahblahblah," he growled, and spit on the floor with disgust. "Pah! Gas guzzler."
"Oh. But our geriatric panel van is so green? What is with you, Kier?"
"I'll tell you what's with me. Crap like this." He leaned and plucked a piece of razor wire up from the floor; it was gooey with dried blood. Pieces of skin and globby bits of flesh hung from it; it looked like a nasty piece of Christmas tinsel.
Which reminded me—there were only a few days left until December 24th. "Do you think we could just get busy and get out of here? I want to make cookies for Magda's for Christmas Eve."
Kieran ignored my request and said, "This place opens in less than five hours. You'd think they'd manage to at least pick up some of the mess. We had to sift the ashes and clean this shit and now—" Suddenly, his face turned red. "What the—oh, this is just the last fucking straw!" He stomped across the room. "We have to rebuild this whole wall!" He spat again, this time on the ground at his feet. "Fucking asshole Winchesters! Next time, I hope the monster gets them first!"
But not, I hoped, before I got to get Dean.