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Chapter 2 of 4
Tessa made short work of getting rid of the person on the phone so she could give these boys her full attention. It didn’t seem safe somehow to be distracted around them. She caught a little of their hushed conversation even as she was blowing her caller off and now thought she understood. It’s not the first time someone used that slur in relation to her and her work. Occupational hazard.
They were huddled together murmuring quickly, Sam leaning his tall frame into his brother’s space. It seemed to her to be a well rehearsed dance.
“Maybe she doesn’t know what she is?”
Dean gave his brother a sideways look.
“Fine. Then you come up with something better!”
“A demon got to her.”
This time Sam’s face scrunched into the incredulous.
“What? It happened before.”
“So why are we still here? Why hasn’t she attacked? Okay, maybe not me, but you?”
“I don’t know Sammy. This is an all new level of weird. Even for us.”
“Eh-hem,” she said clearing her throat to remind these two goofballs that the object of so much conjecture was still standing right in front of them.
She inhaled and sought her inner calm. This had happened before from time to time. Well, not exactly this. But something close enough. While she helped the dying she wasn’t always a favorite around those left behind. It was normal for people to displace their anger. And she was the easiest possible target.
“I understand. I do. It’s hard to lose someone. To let go. Maybe I, or someone just like me, was the last thing you saw as your loved one slipped away. So you transfer those emotions, some of them harsh, to me. Did it happen in the hospital? Was it recent?”
Even as she asked she didn’t think there had been a very recent event. But there were losses. Many of them. She looked at both brothers intently. It made no sense. They each seemed to have lost the other.
Dean turned to Sam face open.
After a minute of eye contact Sam said, “I got nothing.”
“Me neither,” Dean retorted. Then he turned back to Tessa. “Lady you are the strangest reaper I’ve ever met.”
She recoiled. That was such a nasty slur. “I wish you wouldn’t use that word.”
“Huh?” Dean asked.
“Reaper. I know some people use it casually like ‘head shrinker’ for a psychologist but really in our profession it’s rather derogatory.”
Sam’s mouth twitched in almost amusement. “It’s derogatory in your profession to be called a reaper?”
For heaven’s sake how insensitive were these men? The green-eyed one blinked once and suddenly seemed like he had a clue. Eyes huge he stared at her with a mixture of incredulity and amazement.
He spoke to his brother but his eyes never left hers. “I think … I think she’s human.”
She giggled. Yep, guess he really was the sensitive one. What a huge discovery. But his expression remained awed and she could see neither of them thought that statement even remotely humorous.
Sam broke the silence first speaking very slowly as if she was a child or mentally impaired. “Eh. Tessa. Please, if you don’t mind, can you tell us exactly what profession you are in.”
“I thought you knew. Isn’t that why you—”
“Humor us. Please,” Sam said.
“I work for United Hospice Services.”
Sam shut his eyes a second and ran his hand through his bangs exposing a strong boned forehead.
Dean tilted his head slightly and let out a soft, “Huh.”
Something wasn’t right. She didn’t know what it was just that it was wrong. Who were these two men? How had they known her name? Why were they staring at her as if she’d just come back to life? Her eyes flew back to Dean’s. Why did he look like he’d lived so many more years than his age would indicate?
Lost for a moment she reached toward him without touching. “What happened to you?”
A wave of pain, fear, gut wrenching grief flashed out of him like a runaway spark. And then his face shut down. Sam looked between them awkwardly.
“We’re sorry to have bothered you, Miss. It was … a misunderstanding.” Turning to Dean he touched his arm. “C’mon.”
His brother stood still a moment longer. Face blank he shuffled a second between feet. “Yeah,” he said without feeling. And without going anywhere.
“Dean,” Sam called again.
Tessa straightened her spine to gain as much height as she could. Both brothers were taller than her but Dean was more accessible than the younger one who seemed like he was in the clouds. “Who was she?” she asked.
“Who was who?”
“Tessa. The other Tessa.”
“She … helped me once.”
Sam stared at his brother at this admission. Dean looked down, clearly uncomfortable now that it was out.
“Were you near death once?” she asked even though she already knew the answer. Truthfully she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was more than near. It just didn’t make sense.
“You could say that,” he replied. “I’m kinda hard to kill.”
She moved slightly so that she could try to catch his gaze again. “That’s good. Isn’t it?”
Dean didn’t reply which tore her heart just a little more. How could someone so beautiful have such ugliness raging inside?
She looked up to meet Sam’s soft hazel stare. Regret. Resignation. Love. It flooded her into almost overload. “Yes. It is,” Sam said softly.
Something about Sam’s quiet words stirred the spark back into Dean and he visibly seemed to shake himself out of whatever chains had temporarily held him. “Times a wastin’ Sammy. Sorry we bothered you.”
“Wait. Dean, we have to be sure.”
“She’s human Sam. How much more sure do you need to be?”
Sam turned away from Tessa a moment and lowered his voice. “No. I mean the Shtriga … just because it didn’t attack that boy doesn’t mean …”
Dean turned back to Tessa quickly. “Have there been many children dying lately?”
She looked at them oddly. “Last month. It was strange because they hadn’t been sick before. It was so quick. I was called in almost too late. There wasn’t time for a hospice. They just …”
“Died,” Sam supplied.
“Last month,” Dean said hushed to Sam. “Think its moved on?”
“Guess we were too late.”
Dean shut his eyes a second at this and Tessa felt herself almost assaulted by the lash of self loathing.
“Who are you? How did you know about the children? What do you mean too late?”
“Too late to save them,” Dean answered honestly.
Sam looked at him harshly, putting a hand on his arm. “Dean …”
She ignored Sam and kept her focus tight on Dean. “Could you have saved them?”
He looked at her a second and a universe of souls that still walked flashed before her. Walked because of him. Her eyes widened at his small nod.
“That’s amazing,” she said before realizing she’d spoken.
“Dean,” Sam snapped. “What the hell is this? Have you been possessed by Dr. Phil? Enough with the sharing. Time to go.”
“Lay off Sam … She looks just like the only person I was able to …”
“What?” Sam yelled back. “Die with?”
“No Sam. Rest. Just rest.”
Energy bounced between them in sparkling reds and purples. She knew what love was, adored her parents to pieces, had even been in love once. This, she couldn’t begin to describe.
Breaking the tension she said what had to be said. “There are still children in the hospital who became suddenly sick. The doctors are baffled. If you know something. If you can help them …”
The brothers looked at each other.
“Is there a motel nearby? Not too expensive?” Dean asked finally.
Sam said, “Excuse me. Dean. A word.”
They took a few steps back. She heard most of it.
“She’s very perceptive,” Sam said.
Dean just looked at him.
“What are we going to say?”
“As much as we need to get the job done. Like always. Look, this is good news. Maybe we aren’t totally too late.”
Sam nodded. “I know. But Dean. She looks just like … what’s that about?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the real, the other Tessa, ran into her, you know … given her job and all. And she liked her … look.”
Sam looked skeptical. “Dean. I only spent a few minutes with her … Tessa … reaper Tessa… still, I get the impression it’s more than that. This woman reminds you of her, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah. She didn’t just pick up this woman’s physical looks. It’s … everything.”
“And you can handle this?”
“Was off my game a minute. Not going to happen again.”
“Dean. I know how tired you are.”
“Sam. Don’t. Let’s get the job done and get out of here.”
They turned back to Tessa who kept her face neutral despite what she’d heard. She gave them directions to the motel.
Dean looked at Sam a moment, hesitated, then spoke to her. “Can you get us into the hospital tonight? After regular hours when there are less people around?”
She didn’t need to look at Sam to feel the disapproval cross his face. “I can. Will it help the kids?”
“Maybe,” Dean answered.
She studied him. Truth. He shone with it.
“I’ll help you. But only if you let me help, too. I deal with death all the time. Don’t mind it. It belongs. It can even be good. But last month, some of the children. It was wrong. I’d never felt that before. So if we can stop it then I have to be there. Because I couldn’t for the others.”
She knew her eyes were wet but refused to let the tears fall. Swallowing and breathing she fought for the self control that had been the mantra of her life.
Sam looked hesitant. Dean met her stare head on. “Okay,” he said.
She let out a breath. “I’m sorry,” she told Dean before he could walk away.
He looked at her puzzled.
“I’m sorry I look like her. That it’s hard for you.”
His stare turned inward. “Don’t be,” he said. “I’m not.”
This morning she was a normal hospice worker given an assignment and fully equipped to do her job well. Now she was skulking around locked hospital doors with two of the oddest and handsomest men she’d ever seen. Her eyes drifted back to Dean. Hot did not begin to describe that man. And he knew it, sort of. Something about the way he’d catch her looking and returned her gaze with a little smirk. But there was no conceit. In fact there was abundance of the very opposite which puzzled more than anything.
Sam was more an enigma. He noticed her only in as much as she related to Dean. It didn’t hurt her ego because he was younger than her and that had always been a bit of a turnoff. But she liked him. There were those seconds when he’d look from her to Dean and something akin to wonder passed through his expressive face. So many questions. She hoped he found his answers some day.
Her pass key worked and they were inside the records room fishing for the light switch. Sam was on the keyboard in a flash. She stared at his immediate familiarity with the hospital’s archaic and she would have thought proprietary filing system.
“Always was a geek,” his brother volunteered.
The words seem to pass through Sam who was busy pecking away in search of a pattern.
“What about you?” she asked. “Is he the brains and you the brawn?”
Sam made a scoffing noise. Dean looked from Tessa to Sam. “It’s a pretty even … partnership.”
That got Sam’s attention and for a moment the brother’s eyes met. A plethora of hurt, confusion, betrayal, sorrow, rage, love, blinding and absolute, threatened to consume her again. She took a step back away from them.
“You okay?” Sam asked as Dean peered down at her concerned.
“Yes. I … sometimes … never mind. You’ll think me spookier than you already do.”
“We don’t think you’re spooky,” Sam said softly. “Why would you think that?”
Dean didn’t say anything. The way his eyes avoided hers she figured she’d hit something right. Interesting how they reacted to her gifts differently. She met the older brother’s gaze and forced him to hold on. He knew. Sensed it somehow. She wondered if it related to his near death experience. And whoever this mysterious other Tessa was.
“I only meant because of my job. Dealing with death so much. It makes some folks uncomfortable.”
“We been around death plenty. Doesn’t … Let’s get on with this. Sam?”
“Got it. Six unexplained illnesses in the last two weeks. Four are still alive but in critical condition. Doctors don’t think they’ll make it.”
“No. Not that easy this time.”
“There’s got to be something linking these kids Sam.”
Sam gave his brother a pained look. “There is.”
Dean seemed annoyed. “Out with it.”
“They all were assigned a counselor from United Hospice Services.”