Warning: Non-explicit sexual situations and nudity, language
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural. Written for fun, not profit. The title of this story is based on the song by Mumford & Sons.
A/N: Thanks for reading!
The rumble of his baby was a comfort, the only one available to him at the moment. He took a hand off the wheel, rubbing the grit out of his eyes.
Dean wasn't one to admit to nerves before a hunt, but he was feeling edgy today. It was barely dawn, a crisp, renewed cold to the air that had been absent the day before, and he was running on too few hours of sleep, but such was friggin' life, or whatever the hell people said. He hadn't been able to go back to sleep after the first time he'd woken up, realizing his too-big bed was actually too-small and his hand was pressed against Tessa's arm.
She'd looked so peaceful, like she was enjoying her sleep tremendously. Which made sense, since this was the first night she'd ever had the pleasure. Dean knew the situation should be more awkward. Hell, it was usually more awkward with normal women, but for some reason that part of his brain that should have been on high alert wasn't. He was relaxed, comfortable, next to Tessa.
And then it had all come crashing down on him, how he was here, in the middle of nowhere with a woman who had been a supernatural creature twenty-four hours ago, while Sam was a few states away, presumably, trying to decide whether or not he was leaving the hunting life for good.
No, Dean hadn't been able to sleep after that, and he kept telling himself worry was the only reason he couldn't close his eyes and that it had nothing to do with that split second where he'd forgotten who and what Tessa was, where he'd just thought he was in bed beside a beautiful woman who wanted to be there next to him.
Such is friggin' life, he reiterated.
He pulled the Impala into a tucked-away drive off the main road. The victim's house, a cabin far too close to the "cult" shack for comfort, was about quarter a mile off, and Dean hadn't spotted any cops making their morning rounds. He reached for the door handle and hesitated.
"I still don't think you should go," he voiced.
Tessa shifted in the passenger's seat, and he could feel her glare, even if she wasn't looking directly at him. "We went over this, Dean. I know more about Ankou than you."
"You're human now—"
Tessa's brow wrinkled in frustration. "Yes, I realize I'm just as fragile as you are…"
"A.) I'm not fragile," Dean snapped, "and B.) you might be a human but you're not a hunter. I am. I don't like taking someone who can't protect themselves out on a hunt."
Tessa shook her head, pulling the zipper on her coat up to her neck to block out the cold seeping into the idle car. "And what if you miss something important because you don't know what to look for? I'm going with you."
Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, warding off the ache that came too little sleep. When he looked up, Tessa's expression was pleading, despite her set jaw and pursed lips. He could see the desperation in her eyes, and he realized that, even if he didn't need her for this, she needed to be there. To try to fix whatever the other reaper had done—this was family business for her.
Dean sighed. And maybe he was wrong. Maybe he did need the back-up after all. "Do I need to show you how to use the sawed-off again?"
"Got it in one," she said, her lips curving slowly.
"Good, then let's go."
Dean felt as if he'd been on this trek before. The gray morning leeched the color from his surrounding, and the woods were oddly quiet. He could take a guess as to why—the normal didn't like the abnormal invading their turf, which meant Ankou was probably still nearby, waiting for them.
Dean was on high alert, but his body was loose and ready for a fight. This felt familiar, reminded him of the quiet before an attack in Purgatory, where birds and squirrels weren't quite an issue.
He caught a glimpse of Tessa at his side, slowly maneuvering her sawed-off up higher as they walked. She felt it too then.
Dean tucked his handgun, loaded with silver, against the small of his back, trading it for the demon killing knife nestled inside inside his jacket. He'd cussed a blue streak when he'd seen the knife still in weapon's bag, but now he was happy Sam had left it behind for him. After all, he had no clue what the hell was going to work on this thing. The knife wouldn't kill a reaper, but Ankou didn't quite hold that rank anymore—no wonder the guy was pissed—and all supernatural entities had weaknesses. Silver, iron, salt…one of them had to work. And if not? Dean's fingers tightened around the handle.
Maybe we'll get lucky.
Dean stopped, the cabin, crime scene tape included, in sight, but he wasn't paying it much mind, his eyes roaming the forest instead. Checking out the scene of the murder, since it was closer, and then the shack where the spell had went down, had been his plan, but he couldn't ignore the warning prickle at the back of his neck.
Change of plans.
"Do you think he's moved on from here?" Tessa asked, her voice hushed.
Dean glanced at her, frowning. Nope. But he didn't answer the question aloud. "The shack is a half mile south. How are your feet feeling?"
Tessa stared at him a moment before it sunk in. She nodded her agreement, and when his steady walk turned into something quicker, she kept pace.
"Son of a bitch," Dean swore, feeling the wind around them pick up.
An angry howl cut through the trees, and there was no mistaking it for an animal. Dean chanced a glance over his shoulder and spotted Ankou for the first time. The creature was towering, but Dean could recognize it for the reaper it once was. Its skeletal face glared at him, seeking him out like prey, and tendrils of white smoke rolling off its robed body. Instead of being the spectral being Dean had seen the first time he'd met Tessa, in the hospital where he almost died, this creature was solid. Fugly had been an understatement.
It opened its wide, hinged mouth and howled at the two again.
"You didn't mention…it could fly…" Dean breathed, picking up speed and putting a steadying at Tessa's lower back in hopes that she'd do the same.
"Levitate," Tessa corrected, almost stumbling. She winced. "Sorry."
The shack came into sight, its useless front door hanging from one hinge, and Dean hoped this little sprint hadn't been for nothing. "You really think he's stupid enough to leave it there?"
He didn't get an answer. Tessa grimaced, her damaged feet slowing her down, and Dean grasped the back of her shirt, pushing her along beside him. They reached the front steps before she turned, raising the weapon in her hand, and firing.
The wide spread of the salt hit Ankou, and he slowed, skeletal fingers scratching where the salt had pinged off his twisted form. The creature growled, in either pain or anger, but he was far from finished.
"Inside!" Dean snapped, shoving her through the doorway and turning to block it. "Get the statue!"
Ankou's clouded eyes widened in surprise, and he stared past the hunter, watching Tessa disappear into the shadowed shack. "No!" it hissed.
Dean took that as confirmation. "So you are that stupid," he muttered. He took a step out, closer, holding his knife at the ready as the creature charged. "Why don't you concentrate on the person standing in front of you, you ugly son of a bitch."
Dean's answer was a burst of wind that tossed him to the side. He groaned against the dirt and felt a chill crawl up his spine as the reaper creature closed the space between them. Knowing he'd hesitated a second too long, Dean rolled over, knife blade out for attack, but he froze the moment he saw what had stopped Ankou from finishing him off. Tessa was on her knees at the foot of the meager porch, a small bloodied statue in one hand. She lifted her arms, holding the skeleton statue above a flat rock protruding from the ground.
"Don't!" the creature called out, its voice slow and slithering. "You'll undo what has been done!"
Tessa's finger were white against the bloody stone surface, but she lowered the statue slightly, confusion written across her face. "That's what you should want," she said, quietly. "Look at what you've become."
Ankou cackled, his skeletal grin too earnest for Dean's liking. The hunter pushed himself up onto his knees, but not quickly enough. The creature raised a hand, throwing a cold wind at Tessa. She fell over with a cry, sliding against the earth until she was far from the shack and the statue was rolling free from her grasp. The relic shook and then flew through the air toward Ankou. The reaper caught it, a hard, clucking sound shaking his body. A laugh, Dean realized.
"Yes, and I would be even more powerful, if you hadn't interfered," he said, levitating higher, so he could tower over Tessa's sprawled form. "But there is no need to reverse what can be fixed… As soon as I have your new soul, I should be able to repair the spell."
Dean lunged up, shoving the knife into the reaper's leg. The screech was deafening, but Dean held on a moment longer, watching the white energy crackle from the wound, up into the blade, before he had to drop his arm and leave the weapon behind.
Ankou rose up, losing his grip on the statue. Dean caught it as it dropped, tucking it in close to his chest, but by the time he looked back up, the creature had flown off toward a cusp of trees, leaving his prize behind.
Dean reached down, grabbing Tessa's wrist to pull her to her feet. "You okay?"
She stared at him, dazed, before nodding.
Dean's grip slid down to her fingers, locking on to her more gently. "Come on, Tess—we need to go. Now."
Tessa had never considered silence to be heavy, but it was during their ride back to the motel. She could feel it on her chest, sitting liking a weight above her heart. Neither of them spoke, Dean's eyes bright and alert as he watched the window, looking for any signs of pursuit, and Tessa distracted in her own way as well, by the statue sitting in a shopping bag beside her.
Stepping into their room didn't change that, not for her. She watched the hunter move with efficiency, double checking each window's salt line, and, with a flourish, tossing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves so he could dig through his weapon's bag. He laid out a two guns and began to count out ammo.
He looked up a second, before going back to task. "Yeah, I know, the salt probably won't hold him very well, but he didn't seem to enjoy the round you sent his way, so I figured we should try—"
"Wish I could have put a silver round in him too, but—" His voice broke off when he saw the expression on Tessa's face. "What's wrong?"
Tessa shook her head, shed her coat, and eased down onto the edge of the bed, back to holding the heavy bag between her hands. "Dean, you know what we should do."
Dean frowned. "You want to destroy the statue."
"It'll fix this. You heard him."
"Yeah, and breaking it might make this permanent, too. Bastard could have been lying. Could have been telling you what you wanted to hear." But Dean's expression said he didn't believe his own words. The hunter left his weapons behind, sitting down beside her and pulling the heavy load away. It landed on the table with a clunk.
"What I wanted to hear…Why would you think that's what I wanted to hear?"
Dean sat up a bit straighter, his knee brushing against hers, and she could feel his eyes on the side of her face, bringing the heat to surface. "You don't want to be a reaper again?"
Tessa turned, taking in the shape of his frown, the line above his brow, the curiosity in his eyes. "I don't hate being a human," she said. "It…I guess it might have its perks."
Dean swallowed, hard enough for her to see, and she smiled sadly at him. "But, I'm not fully human, am I? Never will be. You can't undo what you really are with a spell. You'll never see me as just a woman."
She moved to stand, but Dean's hand slid over hers, holding her in place.
"Look at me," he ordered. And she did, surprised by the hardened gaze on her. "You bleed. You eat food. You sleep…a lot. You breathe." He reached up, resting his calloused fingers against her neck. "You're human, Tessa. And I might not ever see you as just any woman, but I don't think seeing you as something more is such a bad thing."
Tessa didn't want to lean in against him. She wanted to argue. She wanted to remind him that these things never ended well. She wanted to put an end to this and smash that damned statue into a thousand pieces. She wanted to touch Dean Winchester more, though.
Tessa pressed her lips to his, her eyes closed as she took in the scent of him, the taste of him, the feel of him—soft, rough, wanting. He deepened the kiss, and she moaned against him, enjoying the sweeping brush of his tongue. Tessa acted on instinct, tugging at his shirt so that she could reach the warm, taunt skin of his stomach beneath.
He broke away, letting her breath, and before she realized it, her clothes were forming a pile on the floor next to his. He cradled her back, leaning her down onto the bed but never pulling away from her body.
"Tell me what you want, Tessa," he whispered.
She could feel his breath against her neck, and it sent a current down her body that caught fire by the time it reached her stomach. Every brush against him left her yearning for the next flame.
"I want to be like this," she answered, raising her chin so he could press a kiss against her chest. His hands slid down her body, strong but gentle, and she felt them pause on her thighs, promising more. "I want to be like this forever."
Dean let out a shallow breath, trying to slow the pounding in his chest. Sweat clung to his skin, leaving him with a chill now that the heat was abandoning his body, but her warmth still blanketed him like an afterglow. Her slender arms wrapped around his body, one leg thrown over his hips beneath the cover, sound of her own winded breaths a comfort to him.
He reached up, resting a hand against her dark hair before craning his neck to kiss it. "You're happy."
He was startled by the surprise in his voice. He hadn't meant for that to slip out, but he didn't take it back.
Tessa pulled herself up, pressing him deeper into the pillow so that she could stare down at him. "I am," she confirmed. She smiled, sadly, her eyes wet.
He studied her a moment longer, not trusting himself to reply until his pulse slowed. "I'm not going to like how this ends, am I?"
She swallowed and shook her head. "I don't think we have a way around it, Dean. We have to destroy the statue, no matter what it does to me. We can't let Ankou have the power it contains."
Dean frowned, rolling her over onto her side so he could push up onto his elbows. "He won't have it, because I'll protect you. And, and the statue. I have a place we could put it, so it would be safe, and if that son of a bitch is stupid enough to come after you—"
Tessa cut him off with a soft kiss. "Dean, it's not enough."
"It—" Dean broke off, and then slipped out of the bed, pulling his shorts up over his hips as he moved. "This isn't really about that, though, is it? This is about order, and balance, and keeping things on the right path…All the shit that has screwed Sammy and me over our whole lives."
Tessa's fingers caught his. "Dean, I'm sorry. You're right. This is about the order. We've been down this path before—you've been down this path before."
"I know." Dean bit out the words, but he could feel the defeat laced between them, and it left him hollow. His eyes stung for something he couldn't have, and he turned away from her, not letting her see. He pushed it down, hoping it wouldn't show in his voice. "Okay…So what now? We destroy the statue, and you'll…If Ankou goes back to reaper form, he's going to be an even bigger bitch to deal with. You get that, right? You'll be facing him on your own."
"Dean, if there was any way—"
"Yes, she's aware of that, Dean." The interruption caught them both by surprise, and Dean froze in place, almost afraid to turn and see the visitor sitting at their small breakfast table. But he knew. Without a doubt, he knew who was there. He'd recognize that voice anywhere.
Death didn't bother to look up from the greasy concoction he was currently unwrapping. "However, Ankou is no longer her problem," the horseman continued. He kept his eyes politely averted from the pair as he lifted his pastry, taking a steaming bite from it before sitting it back down. "Fried Moonpie," he noted. "I brought you one, too, Dean. As well as something else you seemed to have misplaced."
Dean's eyes widened when he saw the demon killing knife sitting at the center of the table. Tessa slipped off of the bed, standing next to the hunter, a sheet wrapped around her body.
Death glanced her way once. "Hello, Tessa." He turned his attention to Dean, head cocked in mock interest. "How is it I'm not surprised that a Winchester managed to find my absent daughter? Do you recall, Dean, what I told you at our last meeting?"
Dean blanched. "Uh—" He tried to smile but abandoned the idea quickly enough. "Can't we just, uh, move past that?"
Death didn't answer immediately. He dabbed a napkin against his mouth. "You," he finally replied, "are very lucky you didn't attempt to contact me again." He reached out, picking up the bloodied statue and giving it a meager glance, as if were a stapler he'd misplaced. "But I have no doubt that, between you and your brother, you're going to be very tempted to call upon me when you soon attempt what you're planning to attempt."
"Wait, do you know something about the—"
Death raised a warning hand, and Dean shut his mouth. "I always know something about something, Dean. What I told you before," Death said, "still applies." He lifted the statue up to eye level. "I had thought that fool Mictlantecuhtli would no longer be causing problems, but these things do happen. Now, I suppose we should get to the business of righting wrongs. I'm pleased to hear that the two of you already understand why this must be done."
He lowered his gaze on the pair, as if he'd just now taken in their unkempt appearance. His frown tightened, and he rolled his eyes. "Don't bother with goodbyes, children. They're tedious and unnecessary, as I'm sure, eventually, you will die, Dean. Come, Tessa."
Dean felt Tessa's fingers squeeze his hand a split second before the statue crumbled midair, its hundred or so pieces falling to the carpet. Dean stared at the spot where the mess landed, not realizing until then that Tessa was no longer beside him and that Death had left the room behind.
Dean was alone.
Tessa watched the hunter move across the room, slipping into a fresh pair of pants, pulling a shirt over his shoulders. The lost look on his face made her ache somewhere deep, in a place she didn't think she'd feel anymore. When he finished, he sunk down into his chair, staring at weapons he'd left out. He picked up the demon killing knife, holding it loosely between both hands, as if wasn't quite sure what he should do with it.
Death stepped beside her, humming to himself. "He and his brother are the two most troublesome mortals to have ever lived," he said quietly, as if noting the weather.
"They do cause trouble," Tessa agreed, but her voice came out softer than she expected. "This isn't good for him, is it?"
Death sighed, swallowed down another bite of his moonpie. "He and his brother are on a new path, far different from the one intended for them, but a path we could follow, nevertheless. And your presence…I'll admit it might have thrown him off. It isn't a good thing, when a man looks forward to his own passing, and I believe Dean Winchester now has more than his usual reasons for looking forward to my mercy, don't you?"
"What should I do?" Tessa asked.
Death gave her a measuring stare, tilting his head to the side when she didn't continue. "You've always been rather good at what you do, Tessa, but, on occasion, you severely lack a proper understanding of all that I created you for. I do believe this day you spent as a human has better educated you on the use of free will?"
Tessa smiled down at the floor. "It has," she admitted. "You heard me, when I asked for advice before… concerning Purgatory. You heard, but didn't answer. You wouldn't have answered if I'd called for you yesterday, either."
"I expected you to figure it out on your own," he said, then shrugged. "Next time, perhaps you won't hesitate to make a move to right the balance. Now, I have to get back to work, as do you. Hurry this along."
He blinked out of existence, leaving Tessa behind. She knew he couldn't see her, but she stepped up to Dean, nevertheless, and propped against the windowsill beside him.
"Dean." She reached out, resting her hand on top of his head, and if he felt a thing, he didn't show it. "I know you wouldn't want me to, but I have to take this from you. As much as it means to me, you can't carry this memory. It's too dangerous for you. But I'll give it back one day. When I have to take you, I'll give it back."
When she pulled away, Dean hesitated a moment before moving back to his weapon's bag, packing the ammo away. Tessa knew what he would be doing next. He would leave this place, drive back to a cabin and to a brother who'd already be waiting for him there. He would mention a hunt that was a bust. He would step back onto his new path without her.
And she hoped she wouldn't have to see him again too soon.