* Warnings: graphic depictions of violence, graphic depictions of wound suturing
As You Are – Part 2
The gas station was in the middle of nowhere, a peaceful countryside.
Dean was leaning up against the driver's side, waiting for the Impala's tank to fill up. He was looking in the direction of the other gas pump currently being used by a motorcyclist. The guy was driving a sport model, fast and fancy-looking.
Dean scowled when the throttle was revved. Hmm, and obnoxiously loud, too. He watched the guy peel out of the station as if he were racing someone. The scowl fell away, being replaced with forced neutrality.
As if on autopilot, he fished his cell from his pocket, unlocked it, and proceeded to flick through his contacts. His fingers were dancing across the screen before he knew it. "Hey hows it been," he typed. "Havent heard your voice in -"
He immediately hit backspace, because that sounded lame, if not blatantly stupid. He scoffed to himself. How was it that, after so long, she was never far from his thoughts? Still, he felt compelled to try again. "I got your back if you need it. Just lemme know."
There was a pause.
Finally, he backspaced again and put his phone away with a muddled, indecisive sigh. He knew better than to contact her. She'd been crystal clear as to why it wouldn't be a good idea, to which he agreed.
Why the fuck did he ever agree to it?
The click of the passenger door almost made him physically jump out of his own thoughts. He craned his neck to glance behind him.
His brother was tossing some road snacks into the back seat and placing drinks in the cup holders. "You ready," Sam asked him, holding up the obituary section. That newspaper was one that they'd been trying to track down to help them with their current case.
Dean sighed through his nose. He removed the pump nozzle, put the cover back over the gas cap, and they both got in the car.
"You okay," Sam asked.
"Super," Dean grunted as he started the ignition. He didn't need to look at his brother, fully aware of how piss-poor that answer was. "I'm sleep deprived," was his explanation. "This case is kinda shitty."
Sam scoffed under his breath. "You're not wrong. Let's just get in, get out, and find a motel to crash in."
They sped out of there, on their way to a small town to handle a run-of-the-mill vamp case.
About an hour down the road, they passed a local bar. Dean caught a glimpse of the sport bike from the gas station parked out front, amidst a row lined with other motorcycles. And his phone suddenly felt heavy in his pocket. So, for his own sanity, he tossed it in the glove box, ignoring Sam's bemusement. He tried not to think about her, her motorcycle, or her number he'd saved in every single one of his phones.
At the time, her logic had made perfect sense, and he'd done whatever he could to help her. He knew she could take care of herself, but not a day went by where he didn't feel the worry sitting in his gut. This should feel normal to him by now. And yet, with every passing week and month, the need to touch base with her only got more and more involuntary.
He hadn't spoken to Riley in years. And he was the one who had willingly helped her disappear.
Dean took to the Men of Letters bunker rather quickly. He finally had a room to himself, a safe place to keep mementos, a garage for his baby, and an awesome shower. And the place was freaking huge! Just like how Sam attached himself to the library and file rooms, Dean found a shooting range, the kitchen, a few armories, and so and so forth.
Even now, months later, there were still things to find. It felt like bunker went on forever. Of course, that also made it easy to lose things. Small things especially. At first, Dean kept carelessly leaving cell phones here and there. And he quickly realized that he had to keep all of his phones in one place, lest he keep forgetting where he put them.
Similar to how he stored most of them in the Impala's glove box, he also kept a good portion of his phones in a locked drawer in his room. He thought he'd rounded all of them up, until he heard a single text chime.
He followed the sound to the kitchen, and he found it on the floor, hiding underneath the table after having dropped it at some point. It was an old flip phone, one that held sentimentality. It was one of the very few things he still had from when his dad was still alive. Unfortunately, due to how obsolete it was, he long ago had to do a factory reset on it just to save it. He lost all contacts from it, but kept it around in case anyone needed to call it.
"Hey dean," the text read. "Hope you still use this number"
"Yeah," he responded. "Who is this"
"I dont think you'll remember me," they replied. And then they sent another text beneath that one. "You used to call me weirdo lol"
They were still typing, but Dean immediately put the phone up to his ear. He had never hit 'call' so fast in his entire life, and he could hear his own heart racing. He muttered something impatient under his breath as it rang, until she finally picked up.
"Hey," she said, a light chuckle in her voice. And it was definitely her voice all right.
Dean's chuckle was louder, more breathless. "Ri."
"Son of a bitch," she breathed. "It's so good to hear your voice."
"Oh, you got no idea," he said. He leaned back against the kitchen counter. "Um, how-how are you doing? You okay? God, it's been…"
"Years, yeah. Way too long."
Dean nodded. "Too damn…" He faltered, noting the exhaustion in Riley's voice. That same worry settled in his gut once more. "Where're you at? What's going on?" There was a bout of silence on the other end. "Ri?"
"I'm fine," she said. "Just tired. It's…These last few years felt like they were never gonna end. It's been a nightmare."
"What can I do," he asked without hesitation.
"Nothing. I'm hunkered down, and I just need to make sure the dust has settled."
Dean sighed through his nose. "Which means…you're still lyin' low."
"We got a place, now. It's home. You can lie low with us. I'll make up a room for you."
"No," she replied firmly. "It's technically not even a good idea for me to be calling anyone just yet. I'm sure everything is fine now, but I can't take chances by putting anyone in line of fire right now."
Dean tore the phone away to grip it against his chest. Seconds of pure frustration ticked by, his worry and helplessness far too heavy for his liking. When he heard Riley call his name, he brought the phone back to his ear.
"Where are these sons of bitches at right now," he snarled.
"Across the pond," she said calmly. "And if I did everything correctly, then that's where they should stay."
He let out a breath, or at least half of one. "Are…You are safe, right?"
"Yes. I'm using one of my little safe-houses, if you wanna call it that. It's seen better years, but it's got a shit-ton of warding and other measures." Then, he could hear a smile in her voice. "And a small dirt bike track that needs some TLC."
He finally let out the other half in the form of a laugh. "Hey, you remember that time you smoked that one douche-bag by making him eat your dust on a racetrack?"
She snorted. "That was fun. Didn't mean for the dude to wreck, though."
"Pfft. That was barely a wreck, and it's not your fault he couldn't handle that berm."
"You're just pissed because of how much of an asshole he was being."
"Yeah, you're right. I should've just ran him over with his own bike."
He could almost picture Riley rolling her eyes at that. "Well, speaking of, I gotta do some maintenance on mine. She's…She's seen better days."
There was something in her voice, a troubled concern, one that he sometimes felt towards the Impala. "Yeah, no problem," he said, though his chest tightened at the thought of having to hang up. "Call me if you need any help with it."
"Will do. I'll call you later."
"Wait," he realized. "Why call me at all? Especially if you're still on edge."
There was a pause. "I wanted to see how you were doing. I…needed to hear your voice again." Another pause. "I can't tell you how many times, these past several years…I had to keep my phone hidden away, 'cause I kept being tempted to pick it up and that just would've screwed you over and-"
It wasn't often that she rambled, and he wouldn't admit out loud how endearing he always found it. Unfortunately, he had to interrupt her. "You got no idea how much I needed to hear your voice," he murmured. "It's been so damn long, not hearing from you, and I had gotten so damn used to you being around and…" Well, now he was rambling, and he smiled shamelessly to himself. "I'll…I'll see you later, right?"
"You will," she affirmed. "I'll let you know. Bye, Dean."
"Just," he needed to say one last thing. "Just don't go radio silent on me again, okay?"
"No," she replied with conviction. "No. I can't do that again."
Admittedly impatient, Dean was the one to call her first. If she didn't want to talk, he'd understand. He remembered well what her introvert battery was like and just how social she was willing to be on a given day. But to his relief, she was feeling talkative.
And talk they did.
Over the coming weeks, they talked and texted nearly every other day, just happy to hear from each other. Dean would've liked to say that it was as if no time had passed, but that wasn't true. Time had passed, years and years worth. They had much too catch up on, so much so that it could've made heads spin. Though, they didn't rush it, simply filling each other in on anything that came to mind.
As always, Dean was the more talkative one. He told her about Hell, and purgatory, among other things. He left out some of the particularly grittier bits. Not necessarily for her benefit – hell no, nothing ever fazed her – but more for himself. If he ever felt emotional around her…he'd much rather it be in person than over the phone. And he didn't even want think about how comforting that was, so he skimmed.
Riley was similar. She told a few stories, like how the UK's monsters seemed to be stealthier and cautious than the ones in the US, or how she had to use her escape artist skills nearly the entire time she was over there. Truth be told, she kept things even vaguer than him. She told him it was because she didn't want to put him in any danger, if there still was any. And Dean couldn't tell whether that excuse sounded half-assed or not.
He opened his mouth to ask her if she still felt safe, when there was a knock. He looked up to see Sam standing in the doorway. "You've been on the phone for hours. It's after midnight," he commented. There was a yawn in his voice, but his brows were scrunched together with concern. "Everything okay?"
Dean eyes flickered to his phone. "Seems like it, yeah."
Sam nodded once. "Uh, who is it?"
Dean knew it was only a matter of time before his observant little brother asked about all the phone calls he'd been making recently. He wanted to give Sam a straight answer, but he couldn't. He had promised Riley a long time ago that he would help to keep her hidden until she was safe again.
Dean gave Sam a sarcastic smile. "Just one of my many girlfriends," he responded haughtily.
Sam nodded again, left it at that, and rubbed his tired eyes. "Just try and keep it down okay? Night."
"Yup." When Sam closed the door and walked away, Dean put the phone back up to his ear. "Sorry." He paused. "Wait. Did you hear what I said to him just now?"
She chuckled. "I did, yeah."
He cringed. "Shit. I'm sorry, uh-"
"I'm not offended," she stated. "You were just telling him what he'd probably wanna hear. Thanks, by the way."
He rested his elbows on his desk. "I couldn't live with myself if I ever broke that promise."
For a few minutes, there was silence on Riley's end. Not a bad one. It was one of her silences in which she needed to process something. Dean knew she was just absorbing his words, but he often wondered if she could use her abilities to analyze him over the phone. Hell, if she could analyze him over distances. Speaking of which, he was looking forward to when there was none between them again.
He cleared his throat. "So. When do you wanna start hanging out again?"
"No timestamp on that yet."
He nodded. "'Cause there's this bar, not too far from the bunker. Best cheesy bacon fries I've ever had. And their beer chips? Mmm!"
He smiled at her laughter on the other end. "God, that sounds amazing." There was another pause, one that Dean instantly picked up on and didn't like.
"I'm not putting you on the spot here," he quickly assured her.
There was an exhale. "I…appreciate that." Though she said that, Dean could hear the tinge of sadness in her voice.
This was something they'd often talked about in the past. It didn't necessarily come between them, but it was still something they had to consider and think about. But now, with how much time had passed, and going too long not knowing whether she was alive or otherwise…He'd had so long to consider it.
"Sorry," he replied. But he didn't know what to say, or how to broach this with her over the phone.
Riley talked before he could. "Oh, hey. I came across another rusalka while in London. Wanna hear about that?"
"Sure, fire away."
Shamefully, he was happy for the distraction from his own thoughts and emotions, if just for a little while.
A few weeks later, Dean and Riley were on the phone again, as per usual now. Well, specifically, their phones were on, but that was it. Dean was finishing changing the oil on the Impala, and Riley was soldering an exhaust pipe on her end. It had been more than half an hour since a word was said. They listened to the clanging of tools and the occasional rev of the motorcycle.
They were providing each other with a form of white noise, a soothing background buzz of familiar activity. Words weren't needed.
Another half hour later and just as Dean was cleaning up, Sam walked into the garage. "Hey. I think I found us another case. Colorado."
"One sec," Dean said, tossing a dirty rag away. He picked up his phone and told Riley he'd call her back.
"No problem. You two stay safe," she said.
Dean and Sam sat on a bench not too far from the coroner's office. For a while, they didn't say much, just trying to process their confusion. Sam was scrolling through the pictures he'd taken of the bodies and the filed reports. Dean watched him do this.
"So, it's not a werewolf," he mused. "But where the hell did their hearts go?"
Sam nodded. "And how did they even lose them to begin with?"
The bodies were shredded with rips and cuts from obvious claw marks, but the wounds weren't deep enough to slice all the way through the chest or back. The autopsies told an interesting story. In each victim, the hearts were missing, as if they'd never even had hearts begin with.
Sam put the phone away. "I did some internet searching last night and nothing was jumping out at me. Maybe we should head back to the bunker. There's gotta be something in there."
"Maybe," Dean frowned. "But then it's a ten hour drive there, and another ten hours to get back here." He was thoughtful for a few moments, until he reached into his pocket for his phone. He didn't necessarily want to bother her with this, but they were hitting dead ends.
"Who're you calling," Sam asked.
"Friend of mine," he said, listening to the dial tone.
"That was quick," Riley said when she picked up. "Just another milk run?"
"Nope, we're still on it," he said. "Got some ideas to bounce off yah. If you got the time."
He explained the situation, the bodies, the reports, and how the lore searching didn't offer much. He offered to send her the pics from the coroner's office, but she didn't need them.
"Son of a bitch," she grumbled under her breath. "I'm wondering if there's an eclipse coming soon. Have you guys heard the news or weather lately?"
"Actually, yeah. We heard about a lunar eclipse on the radio on our way here, but you know how overhyped those are. Why, what are you thinking?"
"I know what this is," she stated. "And I'm looking into it myself right now. Are…" She chuckled a little. "You guys are in Colorado, aren't you?"
He snorted. "I would say 'lucky guess', but when it comes it to you I'm not surprised. So, what is it?"
"I was wondering why I was in such a good mood today," she said cryptically. There was a contemplative silence. "I…With you guys being in the area…Let's team up," she decided. "It'd make things a hell of a lot easier."
Dean couldn't help but sit up a little straighter, realization dawning on him. "You…You wanna meet up. Finally?"
"Finally," she confirmed, a smile in her voice. "No one's after me anymore. They've lost my trail. And I can't remember the last time I worked a case with you."
"I don't know about you, but I can't wait to change that," he said, trying to sound casual and not at all too eager. Trying and probably failing.
"Hell yeah," she said. "The cabin I'm staying in is near the base of the mountains. A little far out, but it's the perfect location for this monster. I'll text you the address. See you soon."
"Yeah," he said. "See you soon." They hung up, and as Dean waited for her text, he finally noticed Sam smirking at him. "What?"
"You got the biggest shit-eating grin on your face right now," Sam remarked. "So what's the word?"
He jostled his phone. "Just got a lead. Riley knows what this is."
"Riley," Sam asked. "That the mystery girl you been talking to nonstop?"
"Yup," he answered. As they got up to head towards the Impala, the smile had yet to leave his face.
"So, if you and dad knew her," Sam wondered. "How come I've never heard of her?"
"Look," Dean said vaguely, a little too vageuly. "It's her business, but she needed to keep a low profile. She was dealing with…a lota bullshit, and she needed to disappear. ASAP."
Sam raised a brow at him. "You don't even know what that bullshit was, do you?"
Sam stared out the windshield, mulling it over. "And you helped her disappear. You did it to protect her."
He didn't look at his brother. "It was the only thing we could think of at the time," he muttered. Nothing else was said for the next few hours.
Dean would've never found the driveway if Riley hadn't told him exactly where it was. It was a quarter mile-long dirt road, and as much as Dean hated driving the Impala over these, he actually didn't mind for once. Not only were all the potholes filled in with fresh gravel and as well maintained as it could be, Dean was also too eager to get to the end of it.
The cabin itself was as small as a one-room schoolhouse, with a short dirt bike track adjacent to it. Dean could see an opened shed with one or two muddy bikes. There was also a third bike in the driveway, and Dean parked behind it.
Only a couple feet away, sitting on the porch adjusting some fletching on an arrow, was Riley. The scar on her face stretched with her smile as the boys rolled to a stop behind her motorcycle.
Dean had barely put it in park before he was out. Dirt and stone crunched under his boots as he made his way towards her, just as she was stepping off the porch. He didn't know if he was actually running to her. All he knew was that in a couple long quick strides, he'd be there. And she met him halfway, until they collided.
Without a word, they threw their arms around each other.
Dean felt Riley's hands grip the back of his shirt for dear life, in that odd but familiar Riley-way of hugging. He held her tighter, both of his arms wrapped completely around her back and middle, her head tucked underneath his chin.
In this moment, it felt like no time had passed at all.
Sam slung a duffel bag over his shoulder, smiling and watching the exchange from a respectful distance. Dean was a hugger, but Sam couldn't remember the last he'd seen his brother embrace anyone like this.
Dean and Riley lifted their heads to get a proper look at each other. He could see a couple more scars here and there, but still none that matched the badass vibe from the one on her cheek. And though she was still quite scrawny, he could feel a slight bit of extra muscle in her shoulders. Appearance-wise, he hadn't changed much either, if only gaining a bit more muscle himself. But that's not what Riley was looking for.
Dean smiled widely as her eyes searched his, analyzing him, recommitting him to memory. All the while, her own smile grew wider.
Eventually, she shook her head with mirth. "If I ever say that I need to disappear again," she said. "Just tell me to shut the fuck up."
He laughed. "Maybe I should've." They stepped back from each other, but he wanted to prolong the contact. He cupped her cheek. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," she nodded. Suddenly, her brows came together, her eyes searching right through him. Then, she stepped around his broad frame to finally notice Dean's brother. She smirked. "What the hell are you just standing there for? You must be Sam."
Sam nodded once and made his way over. He was about to bring an arm up, thinking that she was a hugger as well, when she instead stuck out one of her hands for him to shake. "Name's Riley. Nice to finally meet you."
"Yeah," he greeted. "Nice to meet you, too."
She nodded to the cabin. "Come inside. It's not much, but it's home for right now."
When Dean had told Sam that Riley had 'nerd-tendencies' just like him, he wasn't kidding. The cabin was single-story, had a futon, a kitchenette, and a few closets. But the bulk of the interior was lined with book after book along the walls, including the books on the round dining table next to the couch. Those books had subjects on the monster they were up against.
"The lore on tiangous seem pretty straightforward," Sam commented as he set the duffel bag full of weapons down.
"Not entirely," she clarified as she showed the boys one of her favorite lore books. "Most texts have the basics; a monster only active during an eclipse that feeds off of the energy from the sun and moon. That's what these creatures used to do. Modern day, they're more animals than anything.
"Over the centuries, they developed a healthy fear of humans after constantly being shot at during traditional festivals. Disposition of black bears. They had to evolve and eat the vital organs of animals for energy all year round just to survive. They don't need an eclipse to be active anymore. But every now and then, one goes rabid from sheer hunger."
She took a step back to let Sam scan over the book, unintentionally stepping closer to Dean. "The tiangou population in the Rockies is a peaceful one. Which means we got a rogue one on our hands."
Dean looked at her. "You mean that these mountains have always been infested by these things?"
"Well, infested is a strong word," she said. "There're hardly any left anywhere in the world."
"Ugh," Dean griped. "Another needle in a haystack. How do we kill it?"
"The lore here says…" Sam read. "That bow and arrows are the traditional way."
Riley nodded. "Silver-tipped, just to be safe. I've already started whittling arrows. Just gotta make a few more."
Tiangous were nocturnal creatures, with no trace left in the daytime. The plan was to wait until dark, giving Riley enough time to make up the arrows. Dean helped her out, wearing down silver bullets to make the arrow tips. All the while, Sam sat at the table, map spread out in front of him as he penciled the best routes for them to take in the dense woodlands.
Over the next few hours, they all sat in silence. Riley occasionally glanced Sam's way, with her eyes sometimes lingering in his direction for a few seconds. Hell, it often seemed like her eyes saw straight through him. It was a little unnerving. He was frequently tempted to ask Riley questions, to pick her brain, and to get to know someone who his brother seemed so attached to. But he kept stopping himself every time Riley looked away from him, and also due to how quiet the room was.
Dean and Riley sat side by side on the couch, working in silence, occasionally using hand gestures or gentle nudges to communicate. There was something peaceful that buzzed around them, a tranquility that Sam didn't want to break. So, he got back to work.
At some point, Riley stood up, grabbed a handful of arrows, and went outside for a minutes to test how they flew.
When she closed the door behind her, Sam finally spoke up. "She's not what I expected."
Dean stopped and looked at him. "How so?"
"I dunno, just…She seems really quiet." He also couldn't help but bring it up. "And does she also do that 'staring' thing with you?"
Dean snorted. "You'll get used to that. And, uh, I think it's a little different with me."
Sam nodded, grinning. "Oh, I can see that clearly." He swiveled in his chair to face Dean. "Anything…going on there at all?"
Sam shrugged. "You two seem really close, is all."
Dean inhaled, and then let out a deep breath as he ran a hand over his face. "No," he responded, his voice low with disappointment that he struggled to hide. "There's nothing going on."
Sam tilted his head, wondering just what the problem was. Instead of voicing that, he moved onto something else, knowing that Dean wouldn't respond to that kind of questioning anyway. "So, that staring thing she does. Why does she do that?"
He scowled, defensive irritation flashing across his face. "That's her business."
"He's right. It is," Riley said as she reentered the cabin. After tossing the arrows on the coffee table, she crossed her arms and stared at Sam, analyzing him, making him stare right back as if he were being challenged.
Without looking at Dean, she asked, "I can trust him, right?"
Without hesitation, he said, "Yeah."
She squared her shoulders. "In a nutshell, I'm a little bit psychic." She snorted when Sam raised a surprised brow at her. "If Dean trusts you, then so do I. Plus, I can sense that you're the sort of person whose thirst for knowledge never ends. You would've found me out sooner or later, so better it be on my terms."
Sam cringed guiltily. "Sorry."
"It's fine," she shrugged.
Dean cleared his throat. "How do the arrows fly?"
"They're perfect," she told him. "And with perfect timing, too. I think-" She was cut off by distant howling, making them all stop what they were doing.
"Well, that doesn't sound encouraging," Dean commented. "Who here is hoping those were just coyotes?"
She exhaled. "If only. Let's get going."
With bows slung across their backs and the arrows divided amongst them, they agreed to split up to go towards the areas Sam had marked on the map. They intended to meet back at the cabin every half hour to reconvene.
Before separating, Riley said, "We're looking for one specific tiangou. If it's shy and wants to avoid you, then that means it's not our monster."
"What do these things look like exactly," Dean asked.
"Black dog. Kinda looks like a coyote, actually," Sam said. "Gonna be hard to find in the dark."
"Eh," Riley grimaced. "The pictures in the lore books got that a little wrong, too. Picture a wolf-hellhound hybrid. They actually look more hellhound than anything."
Sam blinked. "You can see hellhounds?"
"Yup. And judging by the look you're giving me right now, I take it that's not normal." When Sam continued to stare at her in bewilderment, she only laughed at that. "Well, it's not every day I learn something new. Just keep an eye out for a huge creepy looking canine." On that note, she casually split away from them.
Crickets chirped here and there, owls occasionally sounded from the trees, and a light breeze stirred the undergrowth. Not a person for miles, as if civilization wasn't even a thing.
Riley thrived in this area. It was calm, without a lot of noise. And there was nothing to trigger her psychic abilities. Sure, she could sense the odd animal here and there, but her talents lied specifically with reading people, even when she didn't want to read them. She long-since taught herself how to block people out, but it was a chore to do so. And it was downright annoying, like a mosquito in the ear that one couldn't help but swat at.
This place also made for the perfect place to rest. Being second-sighted, she could sense if there was anyone nearby before they even found her. She could ready herself if need be. For the first time in many weeks, she now had people nearby. And she couldn't find herself to be annoyed one bit.
Sam's surface emotions and personality quirks were easy to get a read on. He was a genuine person, held a lot of guilt for god knows what, but still held on to compassion.
Dean still had his arrogant, over confident hunter attitude, but in the best way. He'd clearly mellowed out some, but with ever growing baggage. That was understandable, given all he'd been through the last few years. It was odd how a person could change and yet still be the same
As Riley hiked, she couldn't stop a goofy grin from forming.
One thing that had clearly stayed the same was how they regarded each other. Riley was just as delighted as he was when they'd hugged. She could feel it radiating off him in strong waves, causing her to cling just as tightly as he did. She still needed to look him in the eyes, reanalyze once more, finding that trust and familiarity that she hadn't known for too damn long now. She shook her head in an effort to get back on track.
She stopped in a small clearing, tuning herself into her environment. Hmm.
Sam was nearby, probably on a trail not too far from her. Although, despite Dean definitely being farther away, she could sense him much more clearly. She didn't know why this was, but she speculated it was due to how much time they'd spent together.
She tilted her head. The boys seemed fine, if not very tired.
She turned her sights upward to observe the moon in the beginning stages of the eclipse, causing her to frown. This didn't make sense. If it was a rogue tiangou, that it should've made itself known by now, sloppy as it should be.
Riley made to leave the clearing, watching the wind brushing the vegetation. She stopped dead in her tracks. She could see bushes and grass moving all around her, but couldn't feel it.
Which meant there was no wind.
Just as she took out a bow and nocked an arrow, something razor sharp snagged her foot, forcing her to the ground. She quickly rolled around to face the beast, whose massive paw pinned her down at the shoulder. Claws dug into her skin, keeping her there as she thrashed. It roared and snarled, spit flying in her face, blinding her. It had been hunting her.
Her bow had fallen away when the tiangou crashed into her, but she still kept a death grip on the arrow in her hand. Better than nothing, and she didn't want to find out how this thing was able to devour hearts.
With her free hand, she blindly reached up and yanked the tiangou's ear to wrench its head sideways. With the arrow in her other hand, she stabbed the side of its neck. The beast roared again, claws digging in deeper as it nearly pitched sideways. Once she wiped the spit away to clear her vision, she stabbed again, through the eye this time, as far as it could go.
The tiangou wailed and stumbled. Its claws caught and ripped her shoulder in the process, causing Riley to cry out. As soon as the tiangou was off of her, she was up and standing. She raised the arrow, readying herself just in case.
The tiangou staggered, its fight draining out of it, until it finally collapsed lifelessly on its side.
Riley gasped as the adrenaline took its sweet time fading out of her. She turned away from the tiangou's body, retrieved the discarded bow, and went back down the trail. As she used her hand to apply pressure to her shoulder, she jokingly thought to herself, Eh. It's been about thirty minutes anyway.
There was more rustling in the bushes just ahead of her, but she didn't feel threatened. Sam jogged into view, the concern in his face growing when he noticed all the blood. "What happened?"
"Found our monster," she explained. "We're done here."
He nodded at her, and then he pointed to her shoulder. "We can take care of that back at that cabin."
The remainder of the hike was about half a mile, a largely quiet one as Riley and Sam walked back. Blood was visibly dripping down her shirt, and she was acting like it was a leisurely nature walk. Sam chuckled a little. No wonder Dean held her in such high regard. Riley glanced at him out the corner of her eye, but didn't say anything. This didn't go unnoticed by Sam.
"Trying to read me," he asked.
"Just for a moment," she said. "Just wanted to know what was so funny."
"Nothing really," he said. "It's just one hell of a wound, that's all."
She half-smirked. "So, making fun of my pain, are we?"
"Oh," he backpedaled. "Uh, no, that's not what I was getting at-" He stopped when she heard her snickering, making him roll his eyes. "Right, you totally knew I wasn't making fun of you. Psychic."
She shook her head. "Not completely psychic. I'm second-sighted. I only catch surface stuff, or things that are happening in the moment. Like that tiangou. It's not like I know exactly what you're thinking or anything."
Sam nodded. "Anyway, what I'm trying to say is…Well, I know what Dean sees in you."
She nodded, the smile on her face slipping. "There isn't anything going on there."
"No, you really don't." She took a sharp breath. "With Dean, I…Me and him… I always think about it, and you have no idea…"
Sam looked away. "I won't pry."
Her gaze jolted to him for a brief second, and then she exhaled some of the uncertainty away. "It probably wouldn't work, me and him. I don't have a sex drive. Never had one."
Sam's mouth formed an 'o', his eyes widening slightly.
Riley continued. "I like him a lot, but…Yeah."
Nothing more was said for a long time. Eventually they reached the cabin. Dean was leaning over the hood of the Impala with a flashlight, giving the map another onceover.
Riley turned her head to look at Sam. "Thanks, by the way."
She hummed a noncommittal 'I don't know' and left it at that. "Hey, Dean," she called to him as they approached. "We found the tiangou. It's taken care of."
"Awesome," he exclaimed, crudely folding the map and shoving it in his pocket. "All right, let's get the beer out of the-" He instantly stopped when he saw all the blood. "How the hell did that happen," he demanded as he closed the distance.
"Well, the damned thing logically put up a fight."
He batted her hand away, shining his flashlight to try and get a good look. "Son of a bitch," he growled. He dug into his pocket to pull out a rag. "And you're sure that bastard's dead?"
She nodded. "As a doornail."
He pushed the rag firmly against the blood, his jaw ticking when he heard her sharp intake of breath. "Let's go inside. I'll help you take care of this."
Throughout most of her life, Riley had taken care of most of her injuries on her own. However, this time, she admittedly did need help for once. The creature had raked its claws from right behind her shoulder and down towards her collar bone. The wounds were deep, with a hint of bone gleaming through at certain points. She would have to twist her hand and wrist at awkward angles in order to properly close the three long gashes.
She stood under the light of the kitchenette, leaning against the counter for support, and taking a single shot of whiskey to dull the pain. Dean had to cut a portion of her shirt in order to work. It wasn't like she was naked, but he still stood in front of her, modestly shielding her from Sam's view just in case he woke up.
His little brother had helped gather first aid supplies and the alcohol. After Riley encouraged him to help himself to leftovers in the fridge, he asked if he could also rest on her couch, where he was now passed out.
With nothing much to do in that moment, Riley watched the needle and thread criss-cross and tug at her skin. She reached behind her, poured some whiskey into her empty glass, and held it out to him. "Take a break for a moment."
Dean's eyes flickered to hers and he shook his head. "Almost done." She nodded, and set the glass down. "You okay," he asked.
She shrugged. "Coulda been worse. I'm sure it'll hurt like a bitch come morning."
He shook his head again, a grimace appearing. "How could you not have known this thing was nearby?"
She gave him a deadpanned look.
His grimace faltered. "Right, not an exact science. Yeah, yeah." When her look didn't let up, he exhaled harshly. "I don't blame you, I blame that thing, but…I dunno, maybe I shoulda gone with you."
"I take care of myself," she said neutrally. "Always have."
He forced himself to don a neutral expression as he tied the last of the sutures. "I need that drink."
Before he picked up the glass, he pulled a flannel shirt from his bag and held it out to her, to which she gratefully put on. He sat on the counter. As he drank, he held out his hand, encouraging her. She grasped it, and used it to hop up and sit beside him.
"Are you okay?"
She raised a brow. "I just said-"
"Not about the tiangou," he interrupted. "You're tough. I know you'll be fine. I mean, are you sure you're not in danger anymore?"
She nodded assuredly. "Considering I had to fake my death just to get away from them, yes."
He shook his head slowly. "Man, what the hell even happened? What was going on? You never gave me details."
She looked away, resisting a cold shiver. "It's late, and I don't wanna talk about it right now. I'm…" She squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm still trying work through it all."
A hand cupped her cheek, and she made her face relax in order to open her eyes again. He was staring directly into her eyes. "So let me help with that. Look, I know I ain't the poster boy for the touchy-feely crap, but you got me." He chuckled, and Riley could feel his warm breath ghost across her face. "Hell, you've always had me. Even when you fell off the radar."
She nodded, not realizing she was leaning into his palm. She missed looking into his eyes, missed how instinctual it was to seek out his presence and energy. As if he, too, was second-sighted, he agreed with her. "I missed you," he whispered.
Their faces were already so close, and getting closer…
Almost at the exact same time, they stopped.
Sighing through her nose, Riley dipped her head, making his hand fall away.
The silence that followed was an uncomfortable one. Neither knew how to approach this with the other, how to move forward. Why were they finding this so difficult?
Dean finally dared to glance at her. And when he did, he saw that her eyes were closed again. The makings of a scowl tugging at the corner of her lip as her shoulder spasmed of its own accord. Begrudgingly, he decided that this conversation could wait. He couldn't stand how empty his arms felt.
He wrapped one around her waist, tugging her closer and letting her head fall on his chest. As he massaged the ache in her shoulder blades with the flat of his hand, he rested his chin against her hair.
"Don't ever be afraid to…" He trailed off, not liking associating the word 'fear' with Riley. "You know you can tell me anything."
She exhaled some of the tension from her shoulders. "I know. It's good to be back." She tilted her head to get a better look at him. "I'll talk about London eventually, just…not now. Please not now."
"I get it." He held her impossibly tighter. "I get it. You got no idea."
The next morning was a bright one.
They had a light breakfast of bacon, potatoes, and pancakes before Dean and Sam started packing things away to head back to Kansas. Riley wanted to help by picking up a few bags, whilst ignoring the protest in her shoulder. Dean saw right through her, yanking the bags from her hands and trying not to fuss over her at the same time. As he packed things away, a cold realization hit him like a careening bus.
He was saying goodbye to her again.
He shook his head in an effort to clear his sudden anxiety. It wasn't like how it was before. He could call her anytime, come visit anytime, but something still didn't sit right with him.
Riley was standing on the porch, having a conversation with Sam about the lore books she kept. Dean observed her from the car, uncertainty clinging to him. He'd thought about it, about everything about her. He knew what his decision was, but now it was a matter of talking to her about it. And damn himself for struggling with this!
When Sam was done talking with her, he went down the steps towards the Impala. Dean blew out a puff of air. Just talk to her, he reasoned to himself. Stop acting like you don't know how to talk to this woman. With that, he strode past his brother to join Riley on the porch.
"How's the shoulder right now," Dean asked for quite possibly the hundredth time that morning.
"Pfft," she responded. "Can barely feel it."
He raised his hand. "Can I see?"
When she nodded, he stepped in front of her. Moving some of her shirt collar aside, he could see the bruising and swelling around the suture, but par for the course. Nodding once in satisfaction, he moved her shirt back into place and stepped aside to give her an inch or two of space back.
"So, what's next for you guys," she asked.
His heart rate picked up. Now or never. "Well," he started carefully. "That's up to you."
Her brows came together suspiciously as she leaned her elbows against the railing. "Oh?"
He nodded. "There's room in the bunker."
"I have no problems coming to visit-"
"It's home," he calmly interrupted. "You have a home there. With me."
She shook her head with uncertainty. "Dean…We've talked about this."
"Yeah, and you asked me to think about." He stepped towards her, just enough to close the remaining distance. "I've had, what? Five to ten years to think about it? And the only thing I could think about was you." He leaned against the same railing to look in her eyes. "I just got you back."
"I know," she said, shaking her head slowly. "I just don't want you to resent us all because we want different things out of a relationship. This is something that I will never give you, Dean."
"And what makes you think that that's all I'll ever want from you?" She opened her mouth, but he forged on. "Yeah, I like sex. But…I think I like you more." He pushed off the railing. "And if you think it's possible for me to resent you, then you need to read me again."
Riley was about to look away, until Dean caught her face in both hands to stop her. "Seriously. Read me. Just like always."
His request was firm and imploring, but he had to know by now that he didn't need to request that. It was involuntary for her by this point. Even when they were apart and she was halfway across the world, she'd still often attempted to tune into him as best she could, to no avail. Now, they were together again, and feeling that same conviction and adoration through his energy almost overwhelmed her. And she gladly absorbed every bit of it.
She tilted her face upward as if to get an even better look at him, and bringing their faces ever closer in the process. "Y…" she began. "Are you sure?"
"We won't know until we give it a try. I've thought it about." His breath whispered against her skin. "Have you?"
Her brows came together, clinging on to that last bit of uncertainty that warred with Dean's inviting, familiar presence. Her steady gaze flickered from his eyes to his lips, licking her own.
His thumbs stroked over her cheeks, with the one gently tracing her scar. "You have me. You always have."
"Bullshit," she whispered, brows relaxing. "We got each other." She closed the remainder of that distance.
Their mouths worked against each other. Slowly, savoring. He let one of his hands drop to wind around her waist, pulling her flush against him. For a split second she stalled, before sagging against him. There was no rush, no tension that needed to be eased. The entire world and the chaos within it hushed, falling away and allowing them this moment.
They had to come up for air sometime, so they eventually pulled away.
When Riley saw the hopeful elation in Dean's eyes, she mirrored that, equally as ecstatic. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that."
"Oh, believe me," he chuckled breathlessly. "The feeling is mutual."
She placed her hand over his, still not quite sure where she should be touching. "I can't wait to see where this goes, but…I don't think I can live with you guys just yet. I'm so used to…"
"Being alone," he supplied. "Yeah. It makes sense." He glanced at the door of the cabin. "At least you got this. Not a bad place."
She exhaled, her breath tickling his wrist. "Wish you didn't have to go so soon."
He shook his head. "I don't, I-" That's when he looked towards the Impala, an idea coming to mind. "How about you come with us for a bit? We'll find some cases, save some folks. Just like old times. We can wait a few days for those scratches to heal up, first." Working jobs was how they'd started bonding, and he couldn't think of a better way to reconnect her. All the while, he was looking forward to all the other ways they could bond.
She smirked cleverly at him. "Sure. Why not? It's been too long since I've sat in the Impala."
"Hey, she just got an oil change, so she's good to go." He hoped that came out sounding smooth and casual, but more than likely sounded a bit lame. All the same, it encouraged Riley nonetheless.
She locked up the cabin.
With one of his hands protectively covering her injured shoulder, they walked back to the Impala together.
Sam was there, patiently waiting as he leaned over the roof. "So," he smirked good-naturedly. "How'd it go, guys?"
"Shut up," his brother grumbled.
"'Cause from here, it looked like things were going well-"
"Hey," Dean remarked as he let Riley go in order to open the driver's side. "If you keep making fun of us, that cabin seemed pretty cozy to yah."
Sam showed his hands in surrender, a humorous smirk still plastered on his face as he got in the passenger seat. "What's the plan?"
"Let's find us a few jobs, see where that takes us." He adjusted the rearview mirror, mainly for show. He wanted to get a good look as Riley got in the back. He thought about convincing Sam to get in the back instead, but he didn't want to hear him bitching about the leg room.
Riley sat back, grinning from ear to ear as she took everything in. With the way her eyes searched around, it was as if she trying to get a read on the car itself. Dean wondered if that was even possible. When the Impala roared to life, her grin remained, eyes brightening. His own smiled hadn't left his face as he reached for a cassette. As Summer of '69 came on the speakers, Dean watched Riley recline back and close her eyes in a state of calm bliss.
This wasn't the bunker, or the cabin. But that didn't matter in that moment.
Dean put it in drive and pulled out of there, onto the next case.
To him, Riley was home.