Title: The Exiles
Summary: Two years ago, Kate Lockley was kicked out of LAPD because of her obsession with the things out there in the dark. Now she’s a deputy in a small California town and something she knows isn’t human has abducted a young woman. Kate tracks the thing to its lair but she’s not the only one hunting it. When she runs into John and Dean Winchester, she comes to realise that despite her experience fighting vampires, demons and zombies, she ain’t seen nothing yet.
Notes: Gen, though it can be read as UST if you swing that way :)
They drove to an empty field a few miles from town for their lesson.
John didn’t bother teaching Kate to aim and fire. She was accurate enough with the .38 that he didn’t need to worry about her aim. A shotgun fires in a cone shape, the buckshot – or, in this case, rock salt – spreading out, so as long as she was roughly on target and not too close, she would hit what she aimed at.
It was her ability to fire more than once that troubled him.
Kate was a quick study. By eight that evening she could open, reload and prime the shotgun blindfold. Her best time was three seconds and she was averaging five, but John was satisfied.
Outside the cemetery, John took his bag of supplies from the rear of the truck. “Head to the school and take a look around. If we’re right the children are there, but you won’t be able to find them until the spirit is gone. I’ll call your cell when I’m done. You call me if anything happens. Clear?”
“Sir! Yes, sir!” Kate barked, snapping off a salute with the wrong hand. She knew it was the wrong hand. And she appreciated him saying we.
“Funny,” John growled, but she could see the twinkle of amusement in his eyes. Kate was beginning to like him.
“I’ve got it, John. You can trust me.”
Something flashed across his face and for a moment Kate understood that he didn’t trust easily. John gave a nod that could have meant several things, and tossed her the keys to the truck. Kate caught the keys with a grin and watched him walk away into the dark graveyard.
By moonlight the school looked like a haunted house, a great, hulking building towering over the empty grounds. There was sure to be a caretaker, but Kate had seen no sign of a house within the grounds.
She took the shotgun and filled her pockets with rock salt rounds. Was it really necessary? Kate couldn’t help thinking John was over-cautious but she remembered thinking the same thing about her first partner back when she was a rookie cop. It took a broken arm before she’d learned the difference between paranoia and caution and she’d been lucky it wasn’t a broken neck. So she would trust John’s judgement until she had a reason not to.
Kate walked toward the rusted gate and kept to the shadows as she approached the school building. She carried a flashlight on a loop around her left wrist but John had cautioned her not to use it unless she really needed to: the light could draw unwanted attention.
The school building was dark: no sign anyone was around after hours. When Kate reached the main door she could see the blinking LED of the security system just inside. There was a terrace that seemed to run all the way around the building, so Kate turned away from the door, intending to walk the perimeter first. If I were a crazy, child-abducting ghost, where would I be? she thought, but the question didn’t help at all. She had no clue. John hadn’t been able to give her much guidance about this. He knew what she knew; in fact, Kate knew more about Cecily Grainger than John did because she’d done the research.
If I were the ghost of Cecily Grainger, stealing children to replace the baby I never got to raise, where would I be hiding? Framing the question that way gave her a beginning. It would be a place that the ghost associated with children. The nursery? Somewhere inside the school was the old nursery. It wouldn’t be a nursery any more and Kate had no idea where in the school she might find it, but the ghost might not even see the school. She was probably still moving through her old home, stuck in her own tragic past. So the nursery should be the logical place. Were ghosts logical?
There were other places Kate should search. The site of the old family plot: the place where Cecily Grainger and her son had been laid to rest. The bodies might have been moved but the place would still hold meaning for the ghost. And there was the crossroads. Kate didn’t know what significance the crossroads had to Cecily Grainger, but she remembered that John’s EMF meter lit up like a Christmas tree there. It was what led them to the school in the first place.
Kate suddenly felt very stupid. Of course: she needed the EMF meter. It would tell her where the ghost had been. She was a third of the way around the school building. She decided to go back and do the circuit again. The EMF meter was in the back of John’s truck. She studied the device under her flashlight. It seemed simple enough. She pushed the button that turned it on and immediately the device lit up, squealing. Kate turned around, holding it up. It quieted as she moved. Was that supposed to happen?
Kate closed the truck, locked it and walked back to the school building. She walked all the way around the building, the terrace leading her steps, but she never got more than a quick flicker from the EMF. So much for that plan. She tried the school door but found it locked. Should she break in and do a sweep inside? She had a feeling that’s what John expected her to do, but Kate’s police training was too strong. She needed probable cause to break in. Not legal probable cause: she wasn’t thinking that much like a cop. But some reason, some indication that breaking into the school was the right thing to do. The EMF meter was quiet in her hand.
She would try the grounds first, and come back to the school only if she found nothing there.
What had once been the sweeping driveway of a wealthy mansion was now the school parking lot. Beyond the parking lot, asphalt pathways led to the playing fields in one direction and into a garden on the other side. Kate hesitated, trying to remember where the old chapel had been. She decided to head toward the playing fields; that seemed like the right direction. There was a hedge on Kate’s left side as she walked, trimmed to about shoulder-height. It provided her with some cover, but she didn’t turn on the flashlight. John had stressed that she shouldn’t let herself be seen and she could see well enough in the dark, and the shape of the asphalt beneath her feet provided some guidance: the path was concave, so she could feel when she wandered near the edge.
Kate walked slowly. Every now and then she stopped and moved around with the EMF meter. The reading wasn’t very strong – just the first three green lights – but it was stronger here than it had been at the school. Occasionally the reading dipped into the red and she used that to tell her which way to go, following the EMF reading like a trail of breadcrumbs.
After a while the trail led Kate away from the asphalt path. Kate felt the crunch of gravel and then the soft unevenness of grass beneath her feet. She saw the dark shape of some building ahead of her, but couldn’t tell what it was.
The EMF meter squealed and spiked to red. Kate stopped, adrenaline making her look around wildly. She raised the shotgun, shifting to a firing position. The ghost ought to be right on top of her!
She saw nothing and her heart rate slowed down again. Kate set the shotgun down, leaning it against her leg so she had a hand free. She pulled the flashlight out of her jacket and shone it at the building ahead of her. It was a whitewashed brick shed, the window covered with a wooden shutter, the paint peeling away from the wood. It was a tool shed, Kate decided, probably for the school gardeners. The EMF reading seemed to be leading her toward the shed, but she couldn’t see a door on this side. She would have to go around. She shone the light on the ground: it looked uneven, and the grass hadn’t been trimmed for a while, but she saw no obstacles. Kate clicked off the flashlight, pocketed it and headed toward the side of the shed.
Kate reached the side of the shed. The shed threw shadows in the dark and she wished she had three hands so she could use the flashlight, EMF and shotgun all at once. But she needed the EMF and John had convinced her that she needed the shotgun. She would just have to manage in the dark.
It was a mistake.
Kate stepped forward into…nothing. Where her foot should have encountered the ground, she found nothing there. Taken by surprise she didn’t right herself quickly enough. Her momentum carried her forward and she found herself falling! Instinct made her throw out her arms to save herself, and she dropped both the shotgun and the EMF. She heard a clatter as the shotgun hit the ground and in the same instant her knee struck something very hard. The impact of her body on the ground drove the breath from her body.
For a moment, Kate lay still, overwhelmed by the pain. She lay on her side and there was something hard against her back; the wall of the shed, perhaps. She couldn’t think about it then. She drew in a breath of cool air. Oh, god, she was hurt.
Her panic lasted only a moment before her training kicked in. She was hurt, but it couldn’t be that bad. She was conscious and breathing. Still lying on her side, Kate gingerly raised her hurt leg up toward her chest. Flexing the knee sent a fresh dart of pain through her. She whimpered and hated the sound of her own voice. She ran her fingers over the knee, probing carefully, wincing as she deliberately applied pressure above and then below the kneecap. It wasn’t broken. Badly bruised, probably sprained, but not broken. She needed a cold pack and a few days rest…but first she had to get out of here. And before that, she had a job to do.
Kate knew she should call John. He was her backup and he’d told her to call if anything went wrong. But he was likely to be knee deep in Cecily Grainger’s grave right now. He would call her when he was done and then she could tell him she needed help.
First, she would try to do her job.
When did she start thinking of this as her job? It was John’s phrase, and her mind had just picked it up. But it felt…right. Weird as hell, but right.
Where was the shotgun? Kate reached out, feeling around blindly until her hand encountered smooth metal. She ran her fingers along the bore, confirming it was the shotgun. Good. She pulled the gun toward her and reached toward the wall with her other hand. She rolled onto her front and got her good knee under her. Then she used the wall to pull herself upright, resting all of her weight on her good knee. Even manoeuvring herself that far tore a cry of pain from her. She tasted iron in her mouth.
Kate hung onto the wall, her breath coming in short, sharp pants as she fought to control the pain. She could do this. She had to do this.
She picked up the shotgun and turned it around so she was holding the barrel. Using the gun the way she’d use a crutch, and the wall on her other side, Kate managed to get to her feet. Well…foot. Not until she was sure she was steady did she try to put her weight on her injured leg. She shifted her weight carefully, slowly. She could stand. That was a relief: it confirmed her earlier conclusion that the leg wasn’t broken. But walking was going to be a challenge.
First, she needed light. Trying to manage without the flashlight had gotten her into this. She clicked on the flashlight, examining the ground ahead of her. She saw the EMF meter lying in two pieces. She didn’t have time to regret the loss. Leaning heavily on the wall, Kate half-walked, half-hopped forward. She came to the end of the wall and shone the flashlight ahead. She saw a courtyard fenced in on two sides, with one side open and the fourth taken up by the shed. The shed door was padlocked but stacked along the wall outside the door were a range of gardening tools: she noticed a spade, a grass rake and a hoe among them. Kate hop-walked over there and grabbed the hoe. She turned it around so the metal part was at the top and leaned on the shaft as heavily as she could, testing its strength. It would make an adequate walking stick.
But she still had only two hands. She wouldn’t get anywhere without a staff to help her walk, so that was one hand used up. She had to choose between the shotgun and the flashlight. Kate thought it over. She was injured because she’d tried to manage without light. But John had been absolutely insistent about the shotgun. Her police .38 was useless against a spirit. If it attacked her, she needed the shotgun with its rock salt. Well…the spirit didn’t make her fall. So far she hadn’t even seen it. So the greater danger seemed to be the lack of light.
Her decision made, Kate laid the shotgun against the shed wall and headed on past the shed.
This was stupid. She was no hunter. She was out of her depth. She was hurt and she was alone, hunting ghosts in the dark. This was crazier than anything she’d done in LA.
Kate laughed, a high, almost hysterical sound. She had to laugh or she’d start crying. What on earth did she think she was doing out here alone?
She must be crazy.
That was when Kate saw her. The ghost flickered into view a short distance ahead of her. Kate saw a woman covered almost head-to-foot in a long cloak. A lady in a blue cloak, she remembered. She couldn’t tell if what she saw was blue, but she saw the pale oval of a face within the dark recess of the hood. This had to be Cecily Grainger. It had to be the ghost she was searching for.
Kate had expected the ghost to be…well…ghostly. She’d thought it would be translucent or white or maybe glow a little. But other than the old-fashioned cloak, the figure looked like a regular person.
As Kate stared, the ghost turned away from her. She began to move, walking slowly away across the grass.
Kate followed. Every step hurt and she had to stop more than once. The ghost moved at a steady pace, but she – it – was getting ahead of Kate. Kate tried to hurry, but she knew she couldn’t catch her. Not this way.
Damn it! She was breathing hard, hurting not only in her knee, but in a dozen other places: her fingers cramped where she gripped her hoe, her back twinged, bruises down her side ached. At last she fell a second time, her good knee buckling with exhaustion. She managed to lean her weight on the hoe as she fell, which lessened the impact and let her take it on the good knee, causing no further damage. She stared ahead at the ghost and knew she was going to fail.
Failure frightened Kate more than anything else. She’d come here to do a job, to save two children. Now, because she’d made a stupid mistake…what would happen to those kids? Why had she thought she could do this alone?
She dropped her gaze to the ground, breathing hard. Tears stung her eyes but she blinked them back, angry with herself. She shook her head. What are you gonna do, Katie? Stay here and cry like a baby?
She raised her head and stifled a scream. The ghost was right there, leaning over her, and Kate had no shotgun to defend herself.
Thanks to Kate’s careful research and their earlier recon, John had no trouble finding the Grainger family plot in the cemetery. She had been right: all of the family graves had been moved. He located Cecily Grainger’s grave and started work at once.
It had been a long, hot summer and the ground was hard and dry. Before long, John had stripped off his jacket and was pausing every few minutes to wipe sweat from his face. He missed having Dean at his side: jobs like this went much faster with two doing the digging. But John was fit and though the digging was hard work it was work he was used to. It wasn’t long before he reached the coffin.
This was the tricky part. Usually, you could trust a grave marker, but these bodies had been moved from another location. When that happened, the gravediggers frequently stacked the coffins two or three deep, depending on the number of bodies. John brushed the dirt off the coffin, searching for a plaque or something that would indicate whose remains the box contained. He found nothing.
Of course, that would have been much too easy. John lifted the coffin lid. Although he’d done this a hundred times since he started hunting, he still had to suppress an inward wince at what he was doing. The edges of the wood crumbled under his fingers. The body was old enough that there was no smell…but what was left of the clothing was most definitely male. Damn it!
John straightened up for a moment, rubbing the ache in his lower back, then picked up his shovel and returned to work.
The glass hit the wall above her and Katie let out an involuntary scream. Shards of broken glass rained down and whiskey poured down the wallpaper.
“Katie!” Daddy yelled and she knew he was going to find her. She had meant to surprise him, but he’d come home in such a horrible mood…
She crawled out from behind the sofa. A shard of glass she hadn’t seen pierced her palm and she pulled her hand back with a cry.
By then Daddy was there, scooping her up into his arms. “Katie, what are you doing?” he scowled.
The anger in his voice struck her dumb. She couldn’t explain. She didn’t understand why he was so mad. Was it her fault? She raised her bloody hand and to show him and started to cry.
Kate scrambled back from the spirit, crawling backwards on her butt over the grass. It was a few moments before she realised the spirit wasn’t following.
She – it – stood there, simply watching Kate. Her face was beautiful in a Southern-belle sort of way: a pale oval face with rosy cheeks and blue eyes. It seemed to Kate that she shouldn’t be able to see that face as clearly as she did. It was dark, and without even a flashlight she shouldn’t see the artful curls escaping from beneath her hood, or the way a single tear glittered in her eye. A ghost crying? How was that even possible?
As Kate watched, the spirit flickered and vanished, to re-appear kneeling right beside Kate, close enough to touch.
The adrenaline rush drew a cry of surprise from Kate. She stared into those icy blue eyes. Could the ghost hurt her? Kate wondered. Of course, John had been very clear: ghosts could hurt. They could kill. That was why he was digging up Cecily’s grave to burn her remains. But could this ghost hurt Kate? All she was doing was watching her. She didn’t seem dangerous.
Then the spirit raised her pale hand to touch Kate’s cheek. A shiver ran though Kate’s body and she was
holding onto the railings as if they were the bars of a jail cell and she was a character in an old-style western instead of a gawky twelve-year-old standing on her school bag because she needed to be taller to see. She craned her neck to see further down the road.
Each time a car drove by she heard it before she could see, and stood on tiptoes, using the railings to pull herself up, each time hoping that this would be Daddy’s car. Willing it to be Daddy’s car.
But he never came.
“Stay out of my head!” Kate screamed at the ghost. Her hand, questing blindly, closed over the hoe she’d been using as a walking staff. In desperation she hurled it at the figure beside her, straight through the spirit’s insubstantial chest, like a javelin.
The spirit flickered, but didn’t vanish. And now Kate had no staff. She wasn’t sure she could stand without it.
She needed backup, Kate admitted finally, and fumbled in her pocket for her phone, not at all sure she had time to make the call.
Ice tinkled in the glass of scotch in Kate’s hand. “The old man would like us to believe that he couldn’t care less about all this attention and free booze,” she told the crowd, and got the expected round of chuckles from the gathered officers. “But I know him better than that. He put a lot of years in on the job, and he made a difference in a lot of lives.” She raised her glass.
Someone – she thought it was Jimmy – cheered, and others took up the cheer. Her Dad gave an embarrassed nod of acknowledgment and took his seat.
Kate could tell he wanted it to be over. He always hated these public events, but she knew he was proud of his record. She was proud of him, too, and she wanted everyone to know it.
“And now it’s over,” she said to the room as the cheers quieted. “That’s a huge deal, no matter what he says.” Kate looked into her father’s eyes and suddenly, all her carefully prepared words seemed trite and meaningless. “In fact I’m not really sure if he knows what he’s going to do with himself. He forgot how to be anything but a cop a long time ago.” She felt tears sting her eyes, the words spilling out even as part of her recoiled in horror from what she was saying. “And maybe, maybe that’s why I became a cop too. After Mom died, you stopped, you know? It was like you couldn’t stand the sight of me. Her face, her eyes looking up at you. But big girls don’t cry, right? You said, gone’s gone, and there is no use wallowing. Worms and dirt and nothing, forever. Not one word about a better place. You couldn’t even tell a scared little girl a beautiful lie.”
Kate was crying openly now, but somehow she just couldn’t stop. “God, I wanted to drink with you. I wanted you to laugh with me just once, the way you laughed with Jimmy here, or Frank. My best friend Joanne, her mom was soft, and she smelled like macaroni and cheese, and she’d pick me up on her lap and she would rock me. She said that I was good and sweet. Do you realize that you’ve never told me that I’m pretty? Not once in my life?”
Fumbling for her phone, Kate’s fingers closed over one of the rock salt rounds she’d brought along. Salt. Salt would force the spirit to vanish. Would it work without the shotgun? Kate had no idea, but she had nothing to lose. She pulled the small cylinder out of her pocket as she felt the spirit’s freezing touch on her skin.
Involuntarily, she looked up.
It wasn’t Cecily. The face beneath the blue hood hand changed, becoming almost Kate’s own face. They eyes were more grey than blue, the features more square…not Kate’s face, but…