Groaning, Dean’s hand went to his head. He had no idea what the hell was going on. One minute he was fighting for his life. Against a werewolf that had somehow jumped him on the way to the vending machines. The next, he was flat on his back in some dark place, and he couldn’t see a damn thing.
At least, no one was trying to take a bite out of him or rip his heart out. Yet.
All he could hear was his own ragged breathing.
Sam! Sammy! He’d left him alone in the motel room. As long as the kid didn’t open the door for anybody, he should be all right. But he had to get back to him! Who knew when their dad would be back? It could be days or a couple of weeks. They never knew when he’d happen to show back up.
Dean bolted upright and came to the stunning realization that nothing hurt. Frantically, he patted down his chest and arms, searching for the slashes he’d gotten from the werewolf’s claws.
Nothing. No blood. No gashes across his chest. His shirts weren’t even torn.
He stared at his hands. They were clean.
He’d managed to stab the thing in the ribs, but the beast had snarled and backed away, slapping the silver knife away. Dean had lunged for the monster, reaching for its neck. It was a big male, larger and stronger than he was, but he wasn’t going to give up. A Winchester never gave up.
His hands had been covered in blood—his own and the creature’s.
It was all gone.
Finally, he started to look around. He could see himself, but he couldn’t see anything else. He knew he was sitting on a hard floor, but he couldn’t see it—not even when he reached out to touch it. It was so black.
It occurred to him if he could see himself, how could he not see the floor? Where was the light coming from?
Glancing wildly around, he scrambled to his feet in a panic. All around him was nothing. No lights, no walls, no ceiling. The deepest, darkest, inkiest black he’d … well … couldn’t see.
Not having any sort of frame of reference, a blast of vertigo struck him and he staggered, throwing his arms out, reaching for the nothing he was surrounded by.
Until someone took hold of his arm with an iron-like grip.
Feeling real fear for the first time, he gasped and attempted to wrench his arm away.
A woman had his arm and, though wary, he suddenly wasn’t afraid anymore. She was … she was a hot. Black sparkling eyes and full sensuous lips curved in barely a hint of a smirk.
A glorious halo of black shining curls framed her beautiful face and cascaded down to her shoulders.
The leather jacket, tight blue jeans, and knee high boots were just the icing on the cake. Besides the slight glow around her.
“Hi … uh, who ….?” He stuttered out, still shaken. “Uh, where …?”
The mystery woman let go of his arm and eyed him up and down. “You’re early, Dean Winchester,” her low voice purred. She clasped her hands behind her back and began to saunter slowly around him, studying him like he was an ant under a magnifying glass.
“How’d you know my name?” He twisted around to keep her in sight as she circled him, much like a cat stalking a mouse. “Early for what?”
“You’re barely more than a child.”
Puffing up his chest in indignation, Dean blurted, “Hey! I’m fourteen years old. I ain’t a kid!” He felt a chill crawl up his back and neck under her unwavering gaze, but he looked her bravely in the eye. “How did you know my name?”
“Oh, we know all about you Winchesters.” The answer that really wasn’t one, and the twitch of a smile on her lips, sent another icy jolt through him.
She came to a stop, smoothly crossed her arms, and cocked her head to the side. “But I think I was sent here a bit too soon. Or you were.”
Raking his fingers through his hair, Dean let out a frustrated snort. “Look, you know my name, but who are you? I can see myself, and I can see you, but there’s no light. And I don’t even know where I am, so how can I be early?”
“My name is Billie, and I’m a Reaper, Dean Winchester.” One perfectly-shaped eyebrow arched as she tilted her lovely head upward. “And this place,” she gestured delicately, her fingers gracefully fanning outward, “is that brief moment between life and death.”
“R-reaper? As in Grim Reaper?” Dumbfounded, Dean gaped at her for several long moments. “You … I … like … you don’t look anything like … I mean, you’re a fox, you couldn’t be a—”
“Expecting a rotting skeleton in a tatty hooded robe? Carrying a scythe?” Billie chuckled darkly and began circling him again. “No, we don’t look like that, Dean, unless the dearly departed deserves it. Most of the time we look just like anyone else.” She blinked and smiled seductively again.
Eyes growing wide, Dean gulped. “Between life and death … I-I’m dead?” It came out almost as a squeak. He wasn’t even embarrassed.
Looking up at her, searching for the lie, he took a step toward her. “I can’t be dead. That werewolf didn’t bite me. He didn’t even rip my heart out! I-I stabbed him and then he—I gotta watch out for my little brother. I promised!” He took another step, reaching for Billie. “I’m not dead! I’m right here! I’m not even bleeding!”
Billie took one step back, preventing Dean from touching her. “No, you’re not exactly dead, but you’re not exactly alive right now either.”
“What the hell is going on?” Both hands gripped his hair, and he spun away from her. “I gotta get back. I don’t know where the hell Dad went, and Sammy’s all by himself, and—” He turned to her, arms outstretched, pleading. “You gotta put me back!”
“Oh, I think you’ll be going back. Like I said, it’s not your time. Yet.” Eyes twinkling like stars in the night sky, the dark Reaper glided forward and placed one fingertip on the desperate boy’s chest. “Until we meet again, Dean Winchester. And we will. Have a nice life.”
Groaning, Dean’s hands went to his pounding head. His breath caught as he rolled to his side and tried to push himself up from the rough concrete sidewalk. His chest and left arm burned. They felt like they were on fire.
His clothes had stuck to the dried blood. His hands were covered in it and they felt stiff and tacky like days old gum he’d chewed all the flavor out of. Sucking air in through his teeth, he peeled his father’s old flannel and his T-shirt away from his chest and stared down at the slashes. Fresh, bright red seeped from various spots. He probably shouldn’t have done that.
He’d been attacked by a werewolf and, by some kind of miracle, had survived. He’d been knocked out, but he lived, and he was pretty sure he hadn’t been bitten. Chuckling humorlessly, he shook his head and winced as a whole new agony sliced through his skull.
Blinking to try and focus around the jackhammers going to town on his brain, he spotted his weapon but not the werewolf that had almost killed him. All that remained of his fight for life was a puddle of rusty red.
With another groan, he fumbled his knife into the sheath at his lower back and hauled himself to his feet. Swaying a bit, he staggered back toward the little room he shared with his brother, dragging his hand along the rough bricks of the wall to help him maintain his balance.
When he arrived at the room he was pretty sure was his, he pounded on the door, leaving faint reddish imprints of his fist on the faded and chipped green paint.
There was a quick flicker movement of the curtains and then the steel door was flung open.
“Dean! Where have you been! You’ve been gone forever!” Sammy yanked him into the room and slammed the door shut. “What happened to you? Lemme get the first aid kit out of the bathroom!”
Dean dropped onto the corner of the unmade queen-size bed and rested his aching head in his hands. “I just went to get something from the vending machines.” He blew out a breath and raised his head to watch his younger brother race back from the bathroom, weighted down with thin towels and their own battered first aid kit.
“A guy jumped me. He was a werewolf.” He sucked in a pain-filled breath as he cautiously worked, first the ruined flannel shirt, and then the shredded T-shirt from his body. “He came outta nowhere. Musta knocked me out.”
“There’s blood all over you.” Sammy grimaced as he dabbed at the scratches, which didn’t seem to be too deep despite all evidence to the contrary. “Maybe you should take a shower first, then we can smear them with the antibiotic stuff.” He tossed the wash rag toward the sink and sat back on his heels. “But why were you gone so long? I can’t believe nobody saw you and called the cops.”
He jumped to his feet and spread his arms wide. “You were gone a whole day, Dean!” Pacing between the door and the sink at the back of the room, he continued venting at his big brother. “I stayed in the room, even though I wanted to look for you, but I didn’t know where to look.”
Halting in front of Dean with tears in his eyes, the smaller boy grabbed his shoulder and spoke in a harsh whisper. “I was scared you weren’t coming back.”
Eyebrows drawing together, Dean tightly gripped his brother’s hand. “I’ll always come back for you, Sammy. I swear.” He patted his hand and rose stiffly from the bed. “I feel like crap. I’m gonna get a shower.”
“Wait.” Towel in hand, he stopped just outside the bathroom door. “A whole day? Twenty-four hours?”
Twisting his shirttail in his hands, Sammy just nodded.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Dean mumbled, “What the hell happened?”