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 :)
Trinity Bluff, California, 2003
Kate parked her car at the side of the road and reached up to retrieve her backup gun from above the vanity mirror. She checked the clip, chambered a round and pocketed a spare clip before sliding the gun into her shoulder holster. Forty four bullets. She was out of uniform, carried no badge and could expect no backup on this job, but if she needed more than forty four rounds she was probably doomed.
She set off down the track toward the old, abandoned house. There were a few scraggly trees on either side of the track; enough to conceal her from view as she approached. The road was just tyre tracks in the dusty ground with a few tufts of grass growing in between the grooves. The trees cast long shadows in the moonlight and Kate shivered. Whatever was at the end of this road, she was pretty sure it wasn’t human.
The house had been white, once. Now it stood grey and broken in the moonlight, the windows dark hollows like eyes. There were tiles missing from the roof and the framework showed through in places. Kate would have assumed no one lived here, except she’d seen it go into the house. Then again, it wasn’t a person, was it?
First things first. Find the hostage. If Renée Fossett was still alive, getting her to safety would be Kate’s first priority.
Kate crept up to the nearest window. Keeping herself flat against the wall, she peered through the glass. She saw nothing inside. She moved on to the next.
Through the dusty glass of the third window, Kate saw something moving inside. She held her breath and drew her gun. She moved closer to the window for a better look.
A low growl sounded behind her. Kate froze. Her heart beating like a wild thing, she turned around slowly. Behind her was the biggest leopard she had ever seen. It stared at her with eyes that seemed to glow in the dark. It growled, low and menacing, baring sharp, white teeth. Kate’s mouth went dry. Those glowing eyes held intelligence…and hunger.
Kate opened the safety catch on her gun. She started to raise the weapon. The leopard leapt at her. Kate threw herself to one side, even as she tried to get the gun aimed. She fired, point-blank. Claws pierced her coat, sliced into the flesh at her shoulder. The leopard’s snarl was inches from her face, its weight on her chest, its foetid breath surrounding her. Kate fired again. And again.
She heard another gunshot, from somewhere to her right. The leopard reacted, whining in pain. The unknown gunman fired again and the leopard’s weight on her chest was gone. It lay on the dusty ground beside Kate, bleeding and still.
Kate raised her gun without missing a beat, looking for the source of the shots. She saw two men running toward her. They were far enough away that she had time to get to her feet and shift to a two-handed grip, bracing her body for recoil. One of them, maybe both of them, had shot the leopard and saved her…but that didn’t mean they were the good guys.
“Freeze!” she shouted, the order sounding a lot more confident than she felt.
Neither man obeyed, but both looked her way. The elder of the two slowed his pace and pushed his gun through his belt, making sure Kate saw him do it. The other man moved to flank him. The younger man held a gun, too and made no move to put it away. He watched Kate warily.
“Who the hell are you?” Kate demanded.
“Dean,” the older man said, “check inside.”
The younger man – Dean – glanced at Kate, then turned away. Kate opened her mouth to shout after him, then caught sight of the dead leopard. It wasn’t an animal any more. She stared. There was fur, leopard fur, but she also saw pale, human flesh. The limbs ended in hands and feet, not claws.
“What the hell is that?”
Kate didn’t realise she’d spoken aloud until the older man answered her. “Skinwalker. They revert to human form when you kill them."
Kate studied the man through narrowed eyes. He looked like a man in his fifties, his black hair and beard greying, his eyes determined. But Kate had learned the hard way that appearances can be deceiving.
“You know who’s responsible for the massacre,” the vampire insisted.
Kate was through letting him dance around the subject. She met his eyes, letting him see her anger. “Yeah. But I can’t figure out why Forensics is telling me it looks like the suspect or suspects didn’t break in. They had to breakout. The victims were locked in that wine cellar with their attackers.”
The son of a bitch didn’t even flinch. She knew he had locked that door. He knew that she knew. And he didn’t care. She couldn’t prove a damned thing. “I am done helping you now,” she spat at him, and stalked away.
“What are you?” Kate challenged.
He actually smiled. “John Winchester. I’m human. I’m a hunter.” He looked down at the dead skinwalker. “And you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
Dean called from the house. “It’s clean, Dad. But the girl’s dead.”
Kate’s heart sank. Shit. She holstered her gun and turned toward the house.
“Wait!” Winchester snapped. “Slow down. You’re a cop, aren’t you?”
Kate turned back to him. She wore no uniform, carried no visible badge. “Yeah,” she admitted.
“It shows. So don’t go in there. Come back when we’re gone and you’re in uniform.”
“You’re crazy. What – ”
Winchester moved toward her, his eyes intense. “Because there’s a crime here, but people can’t know the whole truth. Most people can’t handle it. We’ll take care of this…” his gesture indicated the dead skinwalker, “and tomorrow you can treat this like any other crime scene.”
Kate frowned. It actually did make sense. Hell, she’d come here knowing it wasn’t a human criminal. She’d come planning to kill it.
She knew what she was risking. Trinity Bluff was a small town and the people wouldn’t tolerate a cop who believed in demons and monsters any better than they had in LA. Her obsession with the things out there in the dark had cost Kate her career in LA. She'd lost her father. She almost lost her own life. She couldn’t go through that again. She didn’t want to get sucked back into a world where she couldn’t tell the darkness from the light. But neither could she stand by and do nothing when that woman was abducted.
Kate nodded, not happy, but she didn’t have a better plan. “Alright. But make sure no one can trace you to this. I’ll have to run it by the book.”
“You’ll never know we were even here,” Winchester answered confidently. He turned to Dean, who had just emerged from the house. “Can you handle this one without me? Burn that thing, and clean up?”
Dean frowned. “Uh, sure, but – ”
“There’s a bar a couple of miles down the road,” Winchester said to Kate. “Let me buy you a drink.”
Kate narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Not interested.”
“I’m not tryin’ to get in your pants, lady. I think we should talk.”
Kate’s hand still hovered near her gun, but she nodded. “Alright.” She did have questions.
“We’ll take your car,” he announced. “Dean, you can join us when you’re done.”
“Yes, sir,” Dean answered. It made Kate wonder. He’d called the other man “Dad”, but he took orders like a soldier. One more question to add to the list.
John insisted on looking at Kate’s shoulder before they entered the bar. She laid her jacket on the hood of her car and waited patiently while John drew her bloody shirt away from the wound. She kept a basic first aid kit under the dash and John cleaned Kate’s wound with an antiseptic wipe that stung like hell. Then he examined the scratches carefully. Finally he pulled her shirt back into place.
“You might want to get an antibiotic shot,” he advised gruffly. “Those claws can carry all kinds of things. But the cut is shallow. You’ll be fine.”
She would be fine. Kate pulled the jacket on over the bloodstained shirt; the jacket was dark blue denim and in the dim light of the bar no one was likely to notice the blood on it.
Someone died on Kate’s watch tonight. Someone she’d been there to save. Had she waited too long, dithering over her fear for her reputation? If she’d gone out there before dark, would that woman be alive now? Kate had never wanted a drink so badly as she did that night.
“Lemonade,” she said when John asked. “Or Coke.”
“Teetotal?” he asked, more curious than intrusive.
“Alcoholic,” she answered honestly. “Two years sober.” Kate remembered vividly the last time she’d had a drink. It was the day she got fired from LAPD. She’d cleaned out her desk and gone home. At first, she only wanted a drink. But then she’d seen the photograph of her father. Most of the evening was a blur after that, but she knew she’d swallowed a handful of sleeping pills and chased them with all the vodka she had left in her apartment. She remembered waking up in Angel’s arms, fully dressed under a cold shower. He’d called 911 for her. He’d saved her life.
John nodded without commenting further and ordered the lemonade she’d requested with whiskey, straight for himself. He carried both drinks to a corner table that afforded them some privacy.
There were three bars in Trinity Bluff; the one John had chosen was outside the town, the place folks came for cheap booze, illegal drugs traded in the toilets and a bartender who would tolerate the fighting as long as only people got broken, not furniture. It was not the place Kate would have chosen for a drink with a stranger, but it did have one advantage: the chances were good no one here would recognise her and if they did, they wouldn’t want to be noticed by her. She was a deputy, after all.
Kate accepted the lemonade and sipped it wishing it were vodka. “Thanks.” The jukebox in the corner of the bar clicked on, playing something that sounded vaguely Hispanic.
“You’re welcome.” He drank his whiskey. “I’m John Winchester.”
He’d already told her his name, but Kate realised she hadn’t returned the favour. “Kate Lockley. Would you please tell me what that thing was?”
“It was a skinwalker.”
“What is that? Some kind of demon?” She was proud of the way she said that. Like it was okay to be sitting here talking about demons.
He shook his head. “Not a demon. A skinwalker is a shapeshifter. That thing was human once. It sacrificed someone, probably its brother or its son, to gain the power to shapeshift. Once a skinwalker has that power it can turn into any animal. All it needs is a skin.”
“That was a person? A person killed Renée Fossett?”
“It’s not a person any more. It can live like one, well enough to pass for human in a place like this, but inside it’s just a killer.”
“But if it’s a human – ” she began, not seeing the distinction he did.
“You’re thinking you could arrest him? Kate, while you’re trying to get together enough evidence to make an arrest, it’s out there killing people. Sure, you take away its leopard skin, it would seem like just another serial killer. But what are you going to tell a jury? That he used fake claws to slice up his victims? If you can’t produce the murder weapon what are the chances a jury would let the bastard walk?”
It had the feel of an often-repeated argument, and Kate wondered who he usually had this debate with. The other man, Dean? That didn’t feel right, though Kate didn’t know either of them well enough to know for sure.
She sipped her lemonade. “Okay. You’re right. The system doesn’t always work.”
“With things like that, the system can’t work.” John leaned forward over the table. “Kate, you screwed up badly out there. Dean and I made your stakeout. You didn’t even have the right ammo.”
She started to get up. “I think I’ve heard enough.”
John grabbed her wrist. He was very strong. “No, you haven’t. I’m trying to help you, Kate. Sit down.”
She stared at him a moment longer, then sat, more to avoid making a scene than because she wanted to hear him out.
John released her. “If you want to be a cop, then be a cop,” he said harshly. “Stay clear of things like this, at least until it’s time to pick up the pieces. If you want to hunt these things, you’ve got a lot to learn first. Go in half-cocked again and you’ll get killed.”
John’s drill-sergeant manner reminded Kate of her father, but she was shaking her head before he was halfway through his speech. “I’m not making a career out of killing evil things. I left LA to get away from all that!”
“LA, huh? I’ve heard it can get bad there.”
She finished her lemonade. She was thirty seconds away from ordering vodka.
“Want to tell me what happened?” John asked, and his voice was gentle suddenly.
Kate looked at him. His understanding look calmed her. “It’s a long story.”
“If you don’t want to talk about it, just say so. But I’ve got time.” John raised his whiskey glass, swirling the golden liquid around. “Most of us have lost someone to evil.”
Kate glanced around them, but there was no one close enough to overhear anything she said. None of the other patrons was even paying attention to them.
“Vampires killed my father,” Kate blurted. She braced for his reaction, expecting laughter, disbelief.
John simply nodded.
“After, I…I got a bit obsessive about the things out there. Underground. I kinda got a reputation for being the cop on the scene if anything weird happened. But there was this guy. He was a vampire but I thought…he convinced me he was different.”
“Easy mistake. Vamps used to be people. A lot of them are good at hiding the monster inside.”
She let her breath out, relieved. “That’s exactly it. I didn’t completely trust him. I mean, I knew what he was, but I thought…he was okay. Or not pure evil.”
“He hurt you?”
Involuntarily, Kate found herself touching her neck, her fingers tracing the scars left by Angel's bite. “Not just me.” Kate answered curtly.
She remembered the crime scene: thirteen bodies in Holland Manners’ wine cellar. The cellar had been locked from the outside. The bodies were drained of blood, a few of them ripped apart as if whatever did it had searched frenziedly for more. Angel hadn’t killed them, not directly, but Kate knew he was responsible. Everywhere he went, people died. Like her Dad.
John didn’t press for details. He drank his whiskey in silence for a while.
Kate was grateful for the space to remember and to banish the memory. “My round,” she offered. “Whiskey neat, right?”
Kate wanted a drink more than she’d wanted one since she quit. She ordered lemonade, but she didn’t think she’d be able to resist again. It had been a crappy night.
John took the whiskey from her hand. “I lost my wife,” he volunteered. “I never found the thing that killed her, but I kill what I can.”
“He’s my son,” John said, as if that explained everything. To him, it probably did. To Kate, it explained nothing. “Listen,” John went on, “about what happened out there – ”
“In the morning, do whatever you have to do to get a cop out there. You can say it’s a tip from an informant, an anonymous call. Anything. Then just be a normal cop. There’ll be no evidence to tie it to me or Dean; just make sure they don’t pin it on some innocent patsy.”
“I know how it works,” Kate began and stopped at a gesture from John.
He pulled a phone from his pocket and answered it. “Dean.” John was quiet for a moment, then said, “Good. I’ll join you in a moment.” He snapped the cell phone closed and looked at Kate. “Dean and I are staying at the Victory motel. We’ll be there one more night. If you want to know more about what’s out there, take the weekend off and come find me. If you don’t…well, you’ll never see us again.” He drained his glass and stood up.
Kate nodded. “Okay.”
Dean reached across to the Impala’s passenger door and John heard the door creak as it opened from across the parking lot. He climbed into the Impala.
“She turn you down?” Dean asked with a smirk.
“Well, I figured I’d be sleepin’ in the car tonight.” Dean started the engine. John’s expression must have given him away because Dean added, “What? It’s about time you took some shore leave. And she’s cute.”
John gave him a look. “Dude, this wasn’t about getting laid.”
“Then what? Since when do we hang out with hunters we don’t know?”
John sighed. “Why do we do what we do?”
“To find the thing that killed mom,” Dean answered at once.
“Wasting that skinwalker didn’t help us find your mother’s killer. Try again. Why do we do this job?”
This time Dean considered the question before he answered. “Well…to save people.”
“Right. Now tell me why knowing a little bit about what’s out there makes Kate less worth saving.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Didn’t you? She’s not a hunter, Dean. She’s a person who knows just enough to get herself killed. She’s scared and lost.” Kate’s plight had touched a raw nerve in John. Some vampire killed her father. Then another vamp fooled her into thinking he was her friend, and somehow that ruined her life. John didn’t need to know the details. He knew what it was like to be groping around in the dark. Kate’s instincts told her to act, to save lives, but she was freaked to hell by what she knew. She was a cop: her training told her the rules of how the world worked. It was hard to let go of that kind of training.
Dean shook his head as he drove. “So, what? You gonna train her?” It was clear Dean disliked the idea.
“No. I thought you could,” John deadpanned.
Dean swerved the car violently. “You’d better be joking!”
John allowed himself a chuckle. “I am. I told her a few things. If she wants to know more she’ll look us up.”
“So you are planning to train her.”
“Just point her in the right direction. Did the cleanup go okay?”
Dean shrugged, giving John a look that said louder than words that he hadn’t enjoyed the job. Well, the boy would have to get used to it. John wouldn’t be hunting with him forever.
Back at the motel, John let Dean shower and change first while he checked the room. The map they’d used to track the skinwalker was pinned to one wall. Beneath it was a table piled high with discarded fast-food cartons and a couple of chairs. John gathered up the trash and dumped it near the overflowing trashcan. He pulled out his journal and sat down at the table.
Tucked into the back of his journal were press cuttings he had earmarked to check out. He riffled through the collection and extracted several, laying them out on the table in front of him. He turned to a fresh page in the journal and began to make notes. When Dean came out of the shower, John told him to get some sleep and went right on working.
By the time John had what he wanted, Dean had been asleep for hours. The quiet sound of his breathing reassured John, kept him calm and focussed while he worked. Eventually, John left his research where it was and lay down on the bed, fully dressed, for what remained of the night.
“It’s in Gannerville.” John laid the article on the table between them.
Dean looked up from his breakfast to read the article. “Axe murders?” he mumbled around a mouth full of sausage. “And it’s not even Halloween.” He swallowed and spoke more clearly. “All the doors locked. Nothing broken.” He nodded. “Spirit, right?”
“Seems likely. What do you think?” John finished his coffee and signalled the waitress for a refill.
“Uh…I guess we talk to some people. Look into the history of the house.”
“And the local area. The second article refers to it as ‘near the Lewis house’ – it might indicate some local legend.”
“When do we leave?”
John smiled at his son’s eagerness. “Think you can handle this one solo?”
“Really?” For a moment Dean’s answering grin made him look like all his birthdays had come at once. Then his eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Where will you be?”
“I found a job just over the border in Oregon. I’m going to stay here another night in case Kate shows. If she does, I’ll take her along on that job. If she doesn’t show, I’ll join you in Gannerville and we’ll go on to Oregon after the first job’s done.”
“You really like her, don’t you?”
John leaned back. “Son, I told you this is nothing to do with liking her. Dude, she didn’t even know to bring silver ammo last night. You know, when I first started hunting, someone helped me out. You boys might have been orphans if no one set me straight.”
Dean’s teasing smirk vanished. “Yeah. Okay.” He set his fork down, apparently no longer hungry. “Be careful with her, okay, Dad?”
John frowned. “Spit it out, Dean. What’s troubling you?”
Dean shook his head.
“Come on. You know something about this girl I don’t?”
Dean’s frown deepened. “I know she’s no hunter. I ain’t happy about you relying on some clueless chick to watch your back.”
John arched an eyebrow. “You tellin’ me how to do my job?”
“I’m just sayin’,” Dean muttered.
John let it go.
John let the curtain fall back, smiling to himself. Kate had been sitting out there in her car for at least an hour. John knew it wasn’t easy for her. He had guessed, from the few things she told him the night before, that she paid a high price for her involvement with the supernatural in LA. It was natural she would hesitate to get involved again. He was not going to push her into it. Hell, it was probably better that she stay out of this life. He only wanted her to understand that she couldn’t do this halfway. She’d gone after a skinwalker without even packing silver shot. The next one would kill her, or worse.
He was packed and ready to go. Most of his gear was already in the truck, but he’d left his research for the skinwalker hunt on the wall of the motel room, and the lines of salt at the door and windows for the motel staff to clean up. He would leave as soon as he knew what Kate was going to do. He didn’t care much either way. He’d offered his help, the way Daniel Elkins once helped him, but if she chose to reject the offer John would go on his way, losing nothing by it. But he hoped she’d find the courage to come to his door.
He could only take so much daytime TV, and John was almost ready to give up and leave when he heard the slam of a car door outside. He moved to the window and saw Kate coming toward his room. She wore a tailored shirt, indigo jeans and a wide belt. If she was armed, it had to be an ankle holster. Her blonde hair was scraped back into a ponytail and she wore no makeup at all. She looked like she was walking into her worst nightmare: her jaw set, no colour in her cheeks. John was impressed. She was scared, but she was still doing it.
He waited for her to knock before he answered the door. Kate looked up at him, saying nothing at first, and he could see her struggle to keep her expression neutral.
John stepped back from the door with a welcoming gesture. “Come in.”
Kate stepped over his salt-line without comment, though he knew she saw the salt. She strode into the room and turned to face him. “I checked you out,” she announced.
John closed the door. “I expected you to.” She opened with a challenge to cover her fear. That was good. She had guts.
“And?” Kate challenged.
John shrugged. “And what? I know what’s on my record. It goes with the job.”
“Uh-huh,” she responded. She looked around the room and could hardly have missed the collection of articles and notes pinned to the wall. John sat down on the bed, letting her examine it. He tried to see the display through her eyes: newspaper articles, each linked to a map, handwritten notes scrawled on stationary from half-a-dozen motels, photographs, a weather report, arcane symbols, co-ordinates and his own, private shorthand. Would she find the display confusing or might she understand what it all meant?
She turned her back on the display, half-smiling. “It makes you look like a stalker.”
John nodded grimly. “You’re not far wrong. Doing what I do takes…obsession. But I’m not hunting innocent girls. The things I ‘stalk’ deserve to be taken down.”
“All of them?” she asked.
John remembered she’d been friendly with a vampire. He stood and crossed over to the research display. “These articles are all about young people who have disappeared or been killed. The bodies that were found were torn apart, partially eaten. I followed the trail to this area – ” he tapped the map “ – and started looking for the thing that was doing it. These things don’t get noticed until people start dying, Kate. So, yeah, all the things I hunt deserve to die.”
She moved closer to the display and to him. “What about the innocents who get caught in the crossfire?”
“Innocents like you last night? Give me a break. You weren’t there to make an arrest, Deputy Lockley. What I do, I do in secret. I don’t involve others.”
“You ever stake a vampire?”
John managed not to laugh. “Stake? Are you kidding?”
Kate frowned. “Uh…I wasn’t.”
John took a pen from the table and, moving very slowly so she couldn’t misinterpret his actions, he thrust the pen toward her chest as if he were trying to pierce her heart. “To get close enough to drive a stake through a vamp’s heart, you have to put yourself in the danger zone,” he demonstrated. “Not to mention, it takes a lot of strength to drive a piece of wood through flesh and bone. If you miss the heart…you’re screwed.”
Kate shrugged. “I used a two-by-four. Seemed effective to me.”
John grinned. “Yeah, I can see that would do it.” She had the instincts of a hunter. “But seriously,” he added, “I’d recommend a machete next time. Decapitation is a lot safer. So. You coming with me?”
“Where are we going?”
“To find the next evil son of a bitch that needs hunting.”