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Pain and Longing

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Although this story is primarily about the video for the Guns N' Roses song "November Rain," it also contains elements of the short story "Without You" by Del James (on which the video is based), G N'R's "Don't Cry" music video, Aerosmith's music video for "Crazy," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It is also a fusion with the TV show "Supernatural."

I know this fusion is a little out there, but it grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go. I hope it isn't too weird for you. :)

Thanks to Ari for inspiring the name of the band, and thanks to Vae for the beta!

Character Key:
Stephen - Fictional Axl
Saul - Fictional Slash
Michael - Fictional Duff
Elizabeth - Fictional Stephanie Seymour

 

The life of a touring musician is already something most people cannot fathom. What it feels like, how the bulk of your time is spent, what it can do to a relationship. There are few jobs like it. But if those same people knew what Stephen Bailey did on his days off, he thought they'd find the touring life to be perfectly normal.

They weren't an incredibly famous band, yet. There were diehard fans who came to see them every time they passed through town. There were even a few who followed them like they were the fucking Grateful Dead or something. Flamies, they were called. They had three albums under their belt. But The Flaming Dishtowels would probably never make it in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. Especially not with a name like that.

Still, every one of them made more than a decent living, enough to be called "rich." Saul had even made enough to buy a new house for his mom, who had inspired the band's name all those years ago when she came running through the living room with a flaming dishtowel in her hands.

"My baby sister's birthday candles did it," Saul McKeegan would say as he told the story to someone new who actually hadn't heard it yet, chuckling so hard that the cigarette almost fell from his mouth. "Mom leaned over the cake with the towel in her hand, and suddenly we hear 'AHHHHHHHHH!' from the dining room, and here she comes running through with that thing dangling from her hand. Just flaming away."

Here, the other person would always start laughing too, and Saul would continue.

"Me and Steve were sitting on the couch watching TV, see, and while my mom's screaming in the kitchen, trying to put that thing out under the faucet, Steve just coolly says, 'Flaming Dishtowel. That sound like a good name for a band to you?' And I nearly killed myself laughing."

They had known each other a long time, Steve and Saul, and Michael Hudson too, the band's bass guitarist. The drummer seemed to change often, too often to really become a part of the gang, but those three were always in it together. Saul and Michael knew of Steve's troubles, the awful thing that had happened to his parents, and how it still haunted him in his adult years. There probably wasn't another person whose personal problems they had ever gotten this involved in, that it pretty much risked their very lives.

What the world didn't know, what the fans or press or even most of their family didn't know, was that Stephen Bailey was not just a musician. On his off days, he was also a hunter.

That's what they called people who stalked evil. A simple, understated label for men and women who literally saved people's fucking lives. But it fit. Most people wouldn't have believed him if he told them, because they didn't believe monsters were real. If monsters existed, they were twisted versions of human beings. Monsters were child molesters and terrorists and parents who starved their own children. Monsters who stole into the homes of decent families at night and ripped little boy's parents apart did not exist. But they did for Stephen Bailey. They would always exist for him.

At first, that night when Steve got drunk and started crying as he described what the creature had done to his parents, Saul hadn't believed him. He had no idea the stories around the campfire would turn into this. They were just teenage boys camping in the woods, for Christ's sake. But the dark of the forest and the handmade gravestone they'd found out there had gotten Stephen brooding, and it only took a six-pack to get him talking. Saul and Michael had just sat there in their canvas chairs and listened, saying nothing for a long time, a cigarette stuck to the dried saliva on Saul's bottom lip.

He would never forget Steve's face, the way the firelight danced in his tears as he sobbed harder than Saul had ever seen him cry (until Elizabeth died). Steve couldn't stop babbling. They dared not stop him. "The window was open, and I remember how those long white curtains flapped in the breeze. The sheer kind, right? Only they weren't just white anymore. They were splattered with blood." Here, Steve had paused because he started crying again, too hard to breathe. Holding his stomach and his body wracked with sobs. "Great big splotches of it in some places. And my fucking mother is lying on the floor there with her guts ripped out! Her fucking intestines are coiled along the floor!"

"Fuck," Michael had said. His eyes bulged at the story. Saul wondered at the time how Michael could have believed such a story right off. Sometimes he felt guilty that he hadn't.

"And the creature is there, it's right there in front of me. I heard a strange noise downstairs and I crept on down there to see what's going on, and this... this thing is stooped over my mother and it's eating her fucking intestines, man. I mean, I was only eight! And it's got these sharp teeth and it's making these noises, these slurping noises as it bites off hunks of her goddamn lower intestines."

Michael made a gagging noise. "Dude, fucked up," he said.

Stephen nodded. "I see this and I start yelling, 'Daddy, Daddy, where are you? Monster! Monster!' And I ran into the kitchen and he's there, tied down to the table, with another one of these things leaning over him. And there's blood in a bowl. The thing is drinking his blood, and his throat is just all laid open, man. I can see my dad's windpipe and shit and he's so dead at this point that I just start screaming."

Finally, Saul found his voice. "Steve, man, are you serious? Are you, like, totally on the level here?"

"Do I look like I'm telling a fucking story?!" Stephen said in a tone so intense and hurt that Saul instantly regretted asking the question.

"What'd they look like?" Michael asked. Saul was grateful for the shift in focus, off of himself.

"Like some kind of horror movie monster, with sunken cheeks and dark grey skin and these horrible beady black eyes. Little pinpoints of light in the middle of all that blackness, just dots. They were way too thin. Like one of those starving children in Africa they always show on the news."

"And sharp teeth," Michael added.

"Yeah, like a mouth full of big, silver needles. The kind they use for vaccinations." Stephen shuddered, his face pained. "I don't know if a creature that thin could ever get enough to eat."

The look on Steve's face... Saul worried for his sanity at that moment. He believed every word he was telling them. "How'd you get out of there alive?" Saul asked.

A wave of pain rippled across Steve's face. His lips curled back into a sneer as he continued his story. "The thing that was eating my father turned to me when I started to scream, and it suddenly became my father. It was like some kind of sea monster shedding its scales or something, you know? Like, from the head down, its skin changed into an exact replica of my dad, even the same fucking pajamas and the way he used to comb his hair over the bald spot. The last thing to change were its eyes, so like, for a moment, it was my dad with those horrible eyes. It turned to me with blood all over its lips and spoke to me in my father's voice..."

"Holy shit, Steve," Michael exclaimed. He leaned forward, a half-empty beer clutched between his hands. "I think I woulda lost my fucking mind right there."

"I almost did." Stephen laughed bitterly. "Maybe I did and I just don't know it."

Shaking his head, Saul assured him, "You're not crazy, man." He wasn't even entirely sure why he said it, after the things he'd been thinking about Steve while he was telling this insane story.

"Sometimes, I think you're right. Other times..."

"So what'd the monster say to you?" Michael asked.

"It told me to go back to bed," Steve said, an ironic little laugh in his voice. "And it knew my name."

Michael and Saul goggled at him. It was the creepiest story they'd ever heard, for something that supposedly happened to someone they actually knew.

"It looked at me and said, 'Stevie, go back to bed now, son.' And then it added, 'We'll get to you later.'"

"When they were hungry again," Michael threw in, then shuddered himself.

Steve just nodded. "'Course, I didn't go back to bed. I started cryin'. And the thing came toward me with its bloody mouth and its fingers curled into claws and I could see those little pinpoints of light in its pupils. I thought I was going to lose my fucking mind.

"That's when the guy came in through the window. He knew these creatures were in the area but he got there too late to save anybody but me. The dude pulls out a shotgun and blows both their heads off. That's how you gotta kill 'em. I stood there while the guy just swooped in like some kind of superhero and killed both those monsters for ripping up my parents. And he saved me," Stephen explained.

"Who was this guy?" Saul asked.

Sniffling and chuckling, Steve replied, "I'm still not sure. He told me his name was Bobby. There were more of those things, and before he could even say boo, there were three more of them coming in after him. He said they were ghouls."

"I've heard of those," Michael said. "I didn't think they were real."

"I'm living proof that they are. Bobby later said that they were probably all from the same family and they came running when they heard the gun shots. He had to get both of us out of there before he was so outnumbered that he'd run out of bullets, so he picked me up and ran.

"We had to lay low for a couple of days. Bobby thought the ghouls might track us down. I was in shock, man, I was totally wrecked. Just laid there curled up like a baby, all numb and quiet. The dude tried to get me to talk, but I just couldn't believe what I had seen. Bobby brought me food, gave me a cap, talked to me even though I wouldn't really respond. He told me about some other boys named Sam and Dean and the trouble they got into when he was babysitting 'em. I liked those stories. Wish I had told him that.

"Late on the second day, Bobby took me out and buried a box. I don't know what was in it, but he said it represented my parents. Said I needed to memorialize them so I could move on. We made them a little grave together." Stephen looked out into the night, in the direction of the makeshift grave they had found out in the woods. It wasn't the grave he and Bobby had made together, but it certainly reminded him of that grave. "I finally cried."

"What really happened to your parents' bodies?"

Steve looked at Saul. At first, he did not speak, and the only sound was the crackling of the campfire and the chirping of crickets. "The police came," he finally said. His voice cracked with emotion. "They didn't know what to make of the scene. On the third day, I watched some TV. The police were looking for me, and they were trying to blame things on the easiest target they could find. They couldn't tell the truth. No one believed that things like ghouls existed." Stopping momentarily, Stephen folded his hands together and leaned his chin on the upraised fists. "A witness saw Bobby running through the yard with me. The police posted a sketch of him on TV."

"Were they blaming him for your parents' deaths?" Michael asked, incredulous.

"He was wanted for questioning," Steve answered.

"Fuck all," Michael growled, and slammed down his beer can.

"I finally spoke then. I told Bobby it wasn't fair, because he'd done nothing. He saved me. He hadn't killed anyone."

"What did he say?"

"Bobby explained to me that he was a hunter, that there were whole groups of people who hunted the supernatural. They killed the things that went bump in the night."

"Like ghouls."

"Like ghouls, and all the other evil shit that exists out there."

Michael and Saul looked at each other, then out into the night that surrounded them. Suddenly it wasn't as innocuous as they'd thought when they'd entered the woods.

"Bobby said that because people like him killed all these creatures that weren't supposed to exist, sometimes they got conveniently blamed for the deaths of the innocent. He actually shrugged over it." Steve shrugged himself as he related the casualness of Bobby's attitude. "It was a risk he was willing to take."

"Wow. A guy like that is a hero," Michael declared.

"Yeah." Stephen looked up at them. "Yeah, he was."

"So he took you to your grandparents, right?" Saul knew that Stephen's maternal grandparents had been the ones to raise him after his parents' deaths; it was a likely end to the story.

Nodding, Steve said, "Yeah. He told me he couldn't keep me forever when I had family looking for me. It wouldn't be right. So he gave me a hug goodbye, told me to take care of myself, and let me out on the corner of my grandparents' street." Steve leaned back in his chair. "You know the rest."

"Shit. That's an incredible story, man," Michael said, shaking his head and taking a swig of his beer.

Saul nodded his agreement.

Stephen eyed them both. "It doesn't have to end, though."

Saul eyed him back. "What do you mean?"

"We could become hunters."

Michael began to cough as his beer went down the wrong pipe. Saul clapped him on the back. The blond teen doubled over into his lap, sputtering, and choked out, "Dude, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Us. You, me, Saul, we hunt the supernatural. We could be heroes."

"How we even supposed to find things to hunt?"

"Bobby scoured the news. Whenever he found weird deaths, he'd go there and hunt whatever caused them. We could do that too."

Saul didn't like the light in Stephen's eyes when he talked about this. His best friend was losing it. "Steve, I know you feel bad for your parents' deaths, but you've never even shot a gun. We'll just get ourselves killed."

"But we could learn," Steve responded, a small whine in his voice.

"Dude, I hide my face during horror movies." Michael was shaking his head. "You're talkin' cuckoo bananas."

Stephen opened his mouth to protest, but Saul interrupted him. "Steve, we're supposed to become rock stars, remember? Get the band going, play some live shows, sign a record deal. Remember? Me on guitar, Michael on the bass, and you the singer. You're such a good singer, Steve, really."

Michael nodded in agreement.

"How are we supposed to do this hunting stuff when our pictures are plastered all over rock magazines? People would recognize us." Saul thought it was a good argument at the time. He had no idea it would one day apply to their actual lives. "Do you want to kill a ghoul or something like your friend and wind up going to jail?"

Steve was shaking his head long before Saul finished. "I don't care. We'll work around that somehow."

"Steve, it's just not going to work. We can't do both!"

Reaching behind him to one side, Stephen angrily swept the remaining unopened beers off the little camping table. One of them sailed into the campfire, making Michael and Saul jump up and frantically work to fish it out before it exploded. "Steve, what the hell are you - "

"If you won't help me, I'll do it by myself!" Steve yelled. The tears threatened to return; his voice already quavered. "I gotta do something, man! I can't go the rest of my life and just do nothing. Those creatures murdered my parents, for fuck's sake! And Bobby came and he not only kept them from killing anyone else, but he also saved my life. I gotta do something to pay him back. I gotta do something to pay the world back!"

"Steve, come on..."

"I still have nightmares. Did I ever tell you that? Several times a week, I see them dying all over again. But sometimes, they sit up and they point at me, and they say I'm a good-for-nothing punk who should have died with them, because I never do nothing but drink beer and bum around town. I want to make something of myself. We could save lives, Saul. We could save some other kid from going through what I've been through."

Coming back to the side of the campfire, Michael sat down. "Aw Steve, man, I'm sorry. You shouldn't feel like that about it. Your parents don't really feel that way toward you."

"It's just a dream," Saul added.

He wasn't sure Steve was hearing him anymore. The boy lowered his head and hugged his stomach, beginning to rock himself. "Sometimes I dream that I'm down there with my parents, in the grave. It's like a big, dark, cold cavern, and I can't find them, and for some reason, I'm naked. There are doves flying up toward this faint light, and I try to escape the grave with them, but all I can do is imitate their wings with my hands." Stephen formed his hands into the dove's wings, looking at them, mesmerized by them. "I wish I could fly."

His voice broke, and a keening whine began to build in his throat. Concerned, Saul went to his friend's side, taking a seat on a log next to him. Steve allowed himself to be acted upon, putting up no protest as Saul leaned him over, his head in the Saul's lap. Michael blinked at the action in surprise. Saul knew it might be a little too intimate a position for two teenage boys, but at that moment, he didn't care. He just wanted to take that broken look off Stephen's face.

"Come on, man, it'll be okay," Saul said. Steve hugged himself and closed his eyes, rocking and letting out small, wounded sounds. Saul began to stroke his long red hair. "You're not in the grave. You're alive. You lived because you were just a kid, and it wasn't your time."

Michael just watched them curiously, concerned and perplexed at the same time.

With a sigh, Saul made a promise he wasn't sure he could keep. "If you find something that needs killing, I'll be your hunting partner, okay? You're my bud 'til the end. We'll figure it out together."

"You mean that?" Steve asked. His voice shook.

"Shit yeah."

Not wanting to be left out, Michael joined in with, "Yeah, yeah, sure, Steve. We're all in this together. I could, I don't know... drive the getaway car." He shrugged.

Saul didn't fully understand his own actions that night, not any more than Michael did. All he knew was that over the years, he'd developed a protective streak over his friend. Steve, who had lost his parents at such an early age. Steve, who was pale and a little frail looking and wasn't as muscular as Saul had grown to be. Sometimes, he sat outside with a beer and a cigarette and looked up at the stars, wondering if he had actually fallen in love with Stephen Bailey. Is that what it meant when you would do anything to protect someone from themselves?

For years, Saul wondered what really happened to Stephen's parents. He snuck off to the library and looked up old newspaper articles on what the press had come to call the "Bailey killings." It was as Steve had said -- no one understood what had happened, or the savagery of the murders, or why there were two extra bodies in the house that had shriveled up in a most unnatural way. Everyone was happy that Stephen had come home safe, but no one believed his wild stories or felt that the man who had taken him was a "hero," as Steve insisted. They just wanted this man found so he could not only pay for what he had probably done, but answer their many bewildered questions.

Saul didn't know what really happened to Stephen's parents. He did know that he would accept whatever Stephen believed, because Stephen believed it, and his fragile psyche was so heavily connected to those memories that they had the potential to break him. For everyone's sake, Saul hoped the band thing would work out so maybe Steve would give up on his dream of saving people, hunting things. It was a crazy idea that could wind them all up in prison.

Or worse. Saul was more worried about the worse.

For the two years that followed, the band began to make a name for themselves, at least locally, and their popularity grew. Steve didn't talk about his parents or the monsters that had taken their lives for a long time. He acted as if he was quite satisfied with where the band was going and what that meant for his future. It seemed like the hunting thing had been completely forgotten. No one was happier about this turn of events than Saul.

But his assumptions were wrong.

One night, Steve came running into Michael's garage where they usually rehearsed, waving the local newspaper. "Guys, we got one! We finally got one!"

"What?" Saul took a long drag off his cigarette.

"A hunt!"

Michael and Saul looked at each other, and they both sighed.

Confused, Steve glared from one friend to the other. "What's with the attitude?"

The two young men locked eyes one more time before Saul was the one to admit how they really felt. "Man, we're just worried about any of us getting hurt at this. That's all. We kinda hoped you'd forgotten the idea."

"What?" It was obvious Steve was hurt by this revelation. "Well I haven't. You told me you'd be right there with me when I found something that needed killing."

"Yeah, I know, and I meant it."

"I never said I'd be killing anything," Michael threw in. When he saw Steve's hurt look, he amended, "But I'll go anyway. I can back you guys up somehow."

Steve rolled his eyes. "Don't back out on me now."

"We're not." Saul snatched at the newspaper. "What've you got there?"

Pulling it out of his tenuous grasp, Steve furrowed his brow angrily at him and then began summarizing the article. "Five people have been found dead in the last two weeks. All had puncture wounds in their necks and thighs, like fangs." He shook the paper in their faces. "Vampire fangs!"

"Oh you gotta be kidding me..." Saul ran a hand through his dark curly hair. "It couldn't just be animal attacks?"

"They can't identify the bite marks. They're not from any known animals."

With another sigh, Saul now ran both his hands through his hair, pacing a small circle around an oil stain on the garage floor. "Jesus. Well, first we gotta do an investigation, so we can be sure, right?"

Steve visibly brightened up with excitement and possibility. "Of course."

"Okay, then." Rubbing the back of his neck with his hands, Saul said a quick, silent prayer. "Let's do it."

Michael rolled his eyes in frustration. "Oh, fuck."

Their first hunt. In some ways, it was a disaster, and they were lucky to get out alive. In other ways, it was glorious, how they came together like cogs in a well-oiled machine.

There were three vampires, three who had committed all the murders. They traveled in a pack. As the trio of would-be hunters stalked them, Saul's heart filled with dread that they were about to commit murder, the murder of human beings. These people looked no more like vampires than anyone else on the street. But what were vampires supposed to look like anyway? That shit about them sparkling certainly wasn't going to turn out to be true.

Both Stephen and Saul knew that their friend was terrified, but he wouldn't be left behind. Saul decided to load up Michael with every cliché vampire weapon he could think of. On the night they were to make their move, Michael was not only decked out in a string necklace of garlic, but was also given a large wooden cross to brandish as well, one that had been sharpened into a stake on both ends.

The night before, Michael had picked up a nail gun and said, "I read somewhere on the 'net that the nails that were used to crucify Jesus have supernatural powers over evil." He looked at his friends from the other end of Saul's garage, holding up the tool. "You think if we blessed these, they'd act like those nails?"

"What, you mean read something from the Bible to bless them?" Stephen asked.

"Yeah, something like that."

A cigarette dangling from his mouth, Saul walked across the garage and grabbed the nail gun. "We don't need to read anything from the Bible." He addressed the nail gun directly. "I bless every nail in this gun with the power of God, so they may destroy evil. Please grant them the power for which I ask." Then he closed his eyes in prayer.

Stephen and Michael followed suit, praying as seriously as they had ever prayed. "Amen," Michael added.

While Michael had his nail gun, Steve and Saul brought their own crosses and two sharp machetes. Less than an hour later, they were creeping up on the place where the vampires had set up house, the place Stephen kept referring to as their "lair."

It didn't take long for Saul to be convinced of the authenticity of the supernatural. As Stephen stepped into the living room with his machete leaning against his shoulder and announced that they were there to kill the undead filth, one of the vampires turned to him and showily bared his fangs. The cigarette dropped from Saul's mouth for the first time ever. He was stunned to see that these vampires were not only real, but they did not have two fangs on either side of their mouths like the ones in the movies. No, these vampires had a whole row of teeth on the top and the bottom, like some sort of human piranha. Razor sharp teeth. Saul and Michael both froze at the sight of those teeth, but Stephen didn't. He rushed right in.

At the sight of his friend raising his machete and the vampire knocking him aside like a rag doll, Saul rushed into action too. They were both thrown around the room at first; Saul wondered where these creatures had gotten such inhuman strength. But they got back up and returned to the fight. When Saul was thrown down again and the female vampire pounced on him, he thought there was no way he was getting out of this alive, but the vamp suddenly cowered back with a hiss. That was when he saw the cross Michael had shoved in her face. It worked! Crosses really worked! But maybe it was like it was in the movies - as long as one had faith in their religious relics, they were a weapon against evil.

Michael looked terrified, but he would be damned if he was just going to stand idly by and watch his friends get killed when there was something he could do to help them. The female vampire cowered at first, but once she noticed the frightened expression on Michael's face, she grinned and rushed at him, hissing. Wide-eyed, he did his best to fight her off.

Saul jumped to his feet as a scream sounded behind him. He turned to see Stephen with his machete halfway through the neck of one of the bigger vamps. The other descended upon him, and it was obvious Steve was having trouble garnering up enough strength to fully cut off the vampire's head. Saul, however, would not have that trouble as he watched the second vampire reach for Stephen's shoulder.

He cut the vampire's head off in one sweep of his weapon. His arms would ache for days for the power he put into that swing, but he'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Steve looked back at him in surprise. "Can you give me a little help?" he asked.

Saul shoved the other vampire over and put a foot on his head. The creature began to convulse and gurgle; the sounds the dying vampire made were horrible. With a wince, Stephen put both his hands on Saul's shoulders for balance, then stepped up on either end of the machete and jumped up and down on it once. The sharp blade fully cut through the vampire's neck, separating his head from his body. Both hunters cringed at the sight.

Across the room, the female vampire howled as Michael punctured her chest with one end of the cross stake. To his surprise, she did not turn to dust or shrivel up in any way. It was obvious he was hurting her, but she wasn't dying. The vamp leaned forward, her fangs seeking his neck, when Michael brought the nail gun up and sank one of the blessed nails into the middle of her forehead.

She reeled back, screaming, smoke coming out of the hole in her head. Amazed, Michael realized that yet another trope of vampire legend was true: A blessed item could hurt them. While the vampire was distracted by her pain, Steve came up behind her and knocked her to the floor. He had trouble cutting off her head too, but he figured that was something that would come easier in time.

They were all a little hurt and sore. The three friends looked at each other, glad that was the worst they'd gotten, and then surveyed the damage they'd done. The sight of heads separated from bodies aged them a bit at a time, even when they saw it again and again in their nightmares. Michael promptly turned and threw up.

"Did I really just nail gun that woman in the head?" he asked afterwards, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"No, you were seeing things, dumbass," Saul kidded. He ruffled Michael's hair.

From that moment on, Saul believed every word Stephen had told them about how his parents had died.

Over the next few months, they got better at it. Saul even got to the point that he could fight without dropping his cigarette; Steve and Michael wondered how he did it. Saul just told them, "Superglue." He even got to the point that he could hold a creature by the hair and quip casually about how he was going to kill him while his cigarette bobbed up and down on his lip.

It was six months down the road when they got some attention from a record executive. The label he represented wasn't widely known, but there was no way they would pass up the opportunity. Although he had gotten into the rhythm of hunting, Saul still found himself glad that they could get back to making music. He sort of hoped this would mean there would be an end to the hunting and a beginning to their careers as musicians.

Things went exactly that way for over a year. They were too busy recording their first record and promoting it for Steve to care anything about hunting. He seemed happy. As a band, they were also a well-oiled machine.

But it was when they went on tour that Stephen became restless. He insisted they spend extra days in some cities, and there he would scour the paper for strange deaths, something that would set off his "hunter sense," as he called it.

That was how he met Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Campbell. She had hit on one of the same news stories they did, and had shown up shortly after Stephen had been thrown down a flight of stairs by a possessed girl. None of them had ever met a female hunter, and certainly not one who looked like a glamorous supermodel, even in jeans. She had known how to perform an exorcism, and saved the girl. As they carried Stephen out of the house to get him to the hospital, Elizabeth followed them out, apparently concerned.

Stephen turned out to be bruised, with a twisted ankle and concussion, but nothing more serious than that. Still, Elizabeth had stuck around in the emergency waiting room.

He invited her back to the hotel.

They had chatted all night. About her life, how she came from a long line of hunters, how Stephen had gotten into hunting himself. She said it was a cliché, to get into this wild, dangerous life because of the death of a family member, and instantly regretted the comment.

"I'm sorry. That was callous," she said.

Steve waved it off. "It's okay. You're probably right. But many clichés for behavior are clichés because they're good reasons."

They both agreed this was true.

In a way, Saul wished he could be in there, shooting the shit about hunting with them, but the atmosphere had told him that Stephen wanted to be alone with her. To have private moments with her. His interest in Elizabeth wasn't just friendly, and it made Saul a little jealous. Steve was his hunting partner. He didn't like being deliberately left out. In reaction, Saul went up on the roof of the hotel and chain smoked a pack of cigarettes, his knee bouncing in place nervously as he imagined what Steve and Elizabeth might be talking about.

When they left town, Stephen kept in touch with her; they talked on the phone every other day, at least. It was two months later when he began flying her into town to be with him while still on tour. It was six months later that Stephen sat down next to Saul on his bunk in the tour bus and showed him a navy, velvet box.

"What's that?" Saul asked, putting aside his copy of a motorcycle magazine.

"Open it."

Before he even lifted the hinged lid, Saul already knew it was a ring. An engagement ring.

He joked, "Oh Steve, I didn't know you cared."

Stephen just snickered and elbowed him in the side. "I really love her, you know. Next time I bring her into town..."

"Are you sure, man? You haven't known her that long."

Nodding, Steve replied, "I'm sure. To quote a cliché, some things you just know."

Saul stared at the lovely diamond ring in silence before saying, "If it will make you happy, Steve, then I'm happy for you." He hugged his friend around the neck and patted his back.

"Thanks, man." Taking the ring back, Steve played with it, turning the box over in his hands. "The job of Best Man is yours if you want it."

Saul grinned. "Wouldn't pass it up for the world."

Having received a very enthusiastic yes, Stephen began planning his wedding with his bride-to-be. Saul and Michael weren't sure how they were going to make this work, with the band being on tour most of the year, but Steve and Elizabeth planned things well. They were married six days after the tour ended.

Steve bought her the most beautiful wedding he could afford. He'd invested his share of the record and tour money and nearly doubled it already; the money bought them a lavish ceremony in a beautiful church, with a vintage groom's jacket for him and an extravagant reception for all. Elizabeth's father had insisted his family buy the wedding dress, though, out of tradition and pride.

The guest list was eclectic. A combination of musicians and hunters, for the most part, and the DJ who had played their first demo on his radio show in heavy rotation. At the reception, Elizabeth's older brother, Christian, had slipped a good luck talisman into the front pocket of Steve's jacket, patted his chest, and told him to treat her well.

After Saul had done his Best Man duties, barely able to keep up with their wedding bands, he stood and watched them get married off with sadness and the most jealousy he'd ever felt. It wasn't that he disliked Elizabeth; on the contrary, she was an amiable, fun, beautiful girl and a capable hunter, but he'd been dealing with this secret attraction for Stephen for so long that he couldn't help but wish that somehow he could express how he felt, and that he had any chance of getting a favorable response. Saul looked at Steve, so handsome in his fancy wedding jacket, and longed to be the one kissing him. It was the first time he'd admitted to himself that his deep concern for Stephen's wellbeing had a physical component, that he did want something romantic to happen. When Steve and Elizabeth shared their first kiss as husband and wife, Saul imagined himself going outside and playing out his pain and longing on his guitar, with nothing but the desert hawks to hear him and acknowledge the emotions in his music through their cries to the sky.

It rained the day of their wedding. Stephen would later say it must've been an omen.

The next year, The Flaming Dishtowels released their second album and embarked on another tour. Elizabeth traveled with them much of the time. Saul missed sharing a hotel room with his friend, back when they had less money and Steve wasn't married, but now it just wouldn't be appropriate.

As a little bit of fantasy fulfillment, Saul often asked to have the room next to theirs, so he could hear them through the wall. Sometimes he could work it out so their beds were head to head across the wall, which made it easier for him to hear them, and then he would wait until the sounds of lovemaking came from the other room. Then, Saul would put a little lotion into his hand and masturbate to those sounds, the music of Stephen's moans getting him off. At times, he would put his free hand against the wall and imagine that Steve was touching it back from the other side.

Saul spent more and more time on the roofs of hotels, smoking and nursing a beer and questioning his own sexuality. He still liked women, that he knew. Big tits still turned him on as much as they ever did. So why the jones for his male best friend? No other man had ever made Saul feel that way. No one else had ever made him fantasize so vividly. Was he bisexual, or was it just this one man who did it for him?

One night, Michael came up on the roof, apparently looking for him. He sat next to Saul and bummed a beer from his six-pack. Shortly after, he said very simply, "Why don't you just tell him how you feel?"

Strangely, Saul wasn't surprised that Michael had figured it out. Just because someone spent more time observing a situation than talking about it didn't mean they were oblivious. "Like that would go well."

"How do you know until you try?"

Scoffing, Saul shook his head. "There's no way, man."

Michael nodded somberly. "I'm sorry."

It was the only time they ever talked about it.

There came a night that Stephen later called the second omen. He and Elizabeth were cuddling in bed with Saul and Michael still in the room, all doing a little drinking and chatting about nothing important. For some reason, Steve asked her what she would be doing with her life if she hadn't become a hunter.

"I dunno. I might've pursued a career as an Olympic diver."

"An Olympic diver?" Michael repeated with a laugh. "Where'd you pull that one from?"

Shrugging, Elizabeth said, "I used to be pretty good at it."

Now Steve was intrigued. "When?"

"When I was a teenager." Her head on Stephen's shoulder, she smiled at the memory. "My dad realized how much I enjoyed it so he allowed me to join the swim team in high school. Coach said I had mad potential."

"Aw... I coulda had my own little Michael Phelps."

Grinning, she looked up at Steve with a scolding look. "That's swimming in races. I'm talking diving."

"You'll have to show us in the hotel pool tomorrow."

"Their board isn't high enough." Elizabeth slipped out from under the covers and stood up on the bed. All three men snickered at her cute little pajama shorts with a pattern of little piggies on them. She stood straight as a board with her hands at her sides, as straight as she could stand on a bed, anyway. "I'll show you how to swan dive. First, keep your legs tightly together to the point of squeezing your thighs and calves against each other. Even your butt cheeks should be tensed."

Michael let out a barking laugh and even snorted afterwards.

She just grinned in reaction. "Make a nice, straight line with your body. Point your toes. Do not stick out your chest like Supergirl. 'We are not Supergirl.' That's what my coach used to say. Do not cave in your chest. Make a graceful, straight line with your body. Take five steps, gaining power as you go." Elizabeth took the five steps, stopping short of the end of the bed. "Of course, I can't really jump because there's no pool, but here's what I would usually do - you're supposed to jump up, making the swan arms..." She raised her arms above her head in a graceful arc. "As you go into the dive, you sweep your arms behind you, making a circle with your arms." Elizabeth imitated her own instructions. "And then as you begin to descend, you make the swan arms again." She did. "You want to enter the water on a completely vertical descent." Elizabeth gracefully jumped up and off the bed, landing on the floor. "And that's the swan dive."

All three men clapped for her. "It was beautiful, baby," Steve said. "Especially that part about the vertical entry. I could go for some of that about now."

Michael laughed again, covering his mouth.

Hands on her hips, Elizabeth looked scoldingly at her husband again. "You just had to go there."

As Saul watched the swan dive, Elizabeth's grace and her dark brown hair cascading over her shoulders, he realized why Steve found her so physically attractive, and he wished for the first time that they could have a threesome. But it was something he would never ask for, because he knew he would want to focus on Stephen too much, something he thought Steve would never be ready for, something he would never understand. It wasn't a thing he wanted to put himself through, the deliberate avoidance of kissing and touching the person he really wanted.

Their encounter with the necromancer was the third and final omen. The man had been responsible for raising three young women from the dead and using them as his personal sex slaves. The girls all worked at a daycare owned by the necromancer, and they had to suck the life force out of the children to stay pretty; otherwise, they began to look exhausted and lifeless, like the undead corpses that they were. The children were turning up sick and lethargic to such a degree that it drew the attention of Stephen and his gang.

The revenants had to be taken out first. When the group entered the necromancer's home, the three girls dutifully protected their master, attacking the group of hunters physically. It took less than ten minutes for their heads to roll, Stephen and Saul standing over them, panting. They did not bleed blood, but embalming fluid. Elizabeth crouched next to each body and sprinkled them with her family's special recipe for anti-resurrection, a rose-colored fluid in a perfume bottle. After they dealt with the necromancer, they would burn the bodies.

This would be the first time they had ever killed a human. Although the necromancer was too evil and amoral to be allowed to live, he was still a person, and the idea of his murder had split the group down the middle. In the end, they had decided it would be for the best, Saul being the last one to be convinced to change his vote.

As if demonstrating how human he really was, the necromancer entered the room then and shrieked at the sight of the headless women. He knelt down next to one of them, the one with red hair, and cradled her head to his chest in a macabre show of grief. Elizabeth almost felt sorry for him.

Steve crept up on the man. "I'm sorry, but you had to know this was wrong when you brought them back."

The necromancer turned on him, tears running down his face. "This one was my wife!" he cried.

Shaking his head, Steve admonished him with, "Do you think that's something she really wanted you to do? I would never do that to my wife, making her suck the life out of innocent children to stay beautiful."

This was the moment Stephen would call his Great Mistake, because at that moment, he gestured toward Elizabeth.

The necromancer grinned dangerously. "She's your wife?"

Feeling immediately threatened, Stephen pulled a sword from the sheath on his back and held it at the ready. A sword that had been blessed with the Campbell family's best wards against the undead. He'd used this one to behead the necromancer's wife.

The man's face became very serious as he pointed to his own eyes with the index and second fingers on one hand, and then pointed with those same fingers at Elizabeth.

Steve looked at her, and realized that she had been caught by the man's gesture; he was pointing at her eyes. Her blue eyes, which had now clouded over with a milky white film, as if she had developed cataracts.

"Elizabeth!" Steve cried.

She shook her head vigorously, like shaking off a temporary lapse of her senses, and when she looked at him, her eyes had cleared.

Angry, Stephen turned back to the necromancer. "What did you do?!"

The necromancer only grinned. The answer he gave Stephen was cryptic, but with a clear threat behind it. "Will you be able to resist resurrecting your wife when she dies?"

Without a second thought, Steve raised his sword, ready to stab the man to death.

The necromancer waved his hand in a flourish like a Vegas magician. Instantly, a swarm of insects came from all sides of the room and flew into the faces of the hunters so they couldn't see. They cried out, waving frantically at the swarm in an attempt to scare them off. These insects were like none they'd ever seen, outside a few fringe videos of "rod insects" that were thought to be of possible extraterrestrial origin. Apparently, the necromancer had been able to bring them over from their realm and enslave them with his dark magick.

The rod insects had many wings which spiraled around their long, thin bodies; the frantic beating of these wings looked like waves moving toward the shore. It was mesmerizing. The motion made it appear as if they were sparkling, a cloud of sparkling, crashing waves.

In an attempt to break free of this blinding swarm, Stephen cut through it with the sword. The rods avoided the blessed weapon; each time it swished through the crowd they formed, the insects would separate like a busted zipper, then come back together again. Stephen yelled, "Grab onto me! I'll get us out of here!"

He waited until he felt three hands grab his shirt and then began cutting X's through the swarm. It allowed him to see well enough to make it to the door.

After the others had run outside, Steve took the time to look back. The necromancer was gone. It angered him that the bastard had escaped; he truly needed to die.

Back at the hotel, Stephen obsessed over what had happened to Elizabeth's eyes when the necromancer pointed at her. They couldn't be sure what he had done, so they called Elizabeth's family. Her father thought that the necromancer had cast the Evil Eye on her. It was a curse. Christian flew in the next day and performed a spell to counteract the curse; they couldn't be sure it would work, though. Everything would depend on how powerful the necromancer was, and just what his curse was supposed to do.

All they could do was wait and see. Once the curse showed its intended effects, then they would know how to proceed.

That night, Elizabeth began saying things that Stephen simply didn't want to hear. "If I die, you have to promise me that you won't resurrect me. I don't want to be like those zombie women."

"Stop talking like that. You're not going to die."

"But in case I do, you have to promise me."

Rolling his eyes, Steve replied, "Okay, I promise. But there's nothing to worry about." He took her face in his hands and kissed her soundly on the mouth. "You won't die. I won't let you."

A minute later, Steve was storming around the hotel room, pacing and cursing the necromancer's name. "How could this happen, Christian? In all the hunting I've done, I've been hurt, and I've been scared, but it's never touched me like this. No one's ever wanted revenge on me so bad that they've threatened someone I love."

"This is the first time someone's ever sworn revenge on you for something you did during a hunt?"

"Yeah."

"You haven't even been stalked by some beast out for your blood because you killed their monster friend or family or something like that?"

"No, never happened 'til now."

Almost impressed by Stephen's luck, Christian scoffed and went back to counting the pieces of pyrite in the anti-hex bag he was making. "Today, my friend, you are a hunter."

Several days went by with nothing changing. Elizabeth seemed fine, looked fine, and felt fine. Steve, though, was still on edge, ready for something to happen.

A week after the encounter with the necromancer, Christian came back to the hotel room shared by Steve and Elizabeth with the announcement that they had a new hunt to deal with. Two people had been found floating in the hotel pool the night before, all their blood drained, with two puncture marks in each neck.

"Vampires," Christian said. "We've got to find them before they kill anyone else."

Saul shook his head. "We took on some vampires a few years ago. They didn't have just two fangs; they had a whole mouth full."

"There are several different breeds of vampire," Christian explained. "These are closer to the classic version, with only two fangs and a major aversion to sunlight. It'll kill them."

"Oh." Saul looked at Stephen. "Learn something new every day."

"That means they only come out to feed at night," Steve added.

"Right."

"So at sundown tonight, we should start looking for them."

Steve looked at his wife after she'd said that, his face troubled. Saul knew exactly what he was thinking. He was frightened for her safety. If she went on the hunt with them, the Evil Eye could get her killed. If she stayed in the room alone, something could happen to her while she wasn't under Steve's watchful eye. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

As it turned out, they didn't have much work to do to take care of the vampires. Walking through the lobby, they heard a rowdy crowd hooting it up in the lounge, and went inside to see what was up. A young girl, couldn't have been more than eighteen, stood on the stage crooning a rock tune as part of the Amateur Night competition. During a break in the song, she threw off her jacket and pounced on the stripper pole in the middle of the stage's catwalk, doing a short spin-and-pose show around the pole. The men in the audience cheered her on. She seemed to have eyes for only one person, though, as she began to crawl alluringly to the edge of the stage and stroked the cheek of a man in the front row.

That man, however, soon stood up and removed his hat. He revealed that he was a she when they all saw her delicate, beautiful features and her long blonde hair spill down her back. A bit of gender play, then, the blonde wearing a man's suit. The crowd seemed to like it.

Although this show had nothing to do with the hunt, Steve and the others still took the time to watch; they made sure to scan the crowd, though, for anyone who set off alarm bells in their heads.

The two young girls won first prize.

A couple headed out of the lounge and toward the pool area. Less than a minute later, two men seemed to follow them out, predatory looks upon their faces. Steve and Saul looked at each other.

"We should check that out," Elizabeth then said.

Steve tried to keep her behind him all the way to the pool. He could tell it was annoying her, how much he was holding her back in an attempt to protect her, but he couldn't help it.

When they saw the two men hiding behind a wall, stalking the couple by the pool, they opened the guitar case Saul was carrying and took out several machetes, the perfect weapon for beheading these creatures. They couldn't make a move until they were sure, though. It wouldn't do to murder innocent people if these guys turned out to be run-of-the-mill humans. The group stayed well out of sight.

After a few minutes, the men made their move. They nodded to each other, then leapt out into the open and ran toward the couple, pouncing on the reclining chairs on which they lounged. The couple screamed. Both men went for their necks.

Yes, they were vampires. It was on.

But, it wasn't on. Before Steve and the others could step even a foot out into the open, two girls came out of the darkness and landed identical kicks to the heads of the vampires. They both went flying back onto the concrete and tile walkway. It was the singer and the genderbender from the amateur show. They hadn't even had time to change clothes. The vampires started to get up, but both girls shoved a foot into their ribcages, keeping them down, and with a quick dart of a hand, they had stabbed each vampire in the heart with a wooden stake.

"Yah!" the girls cried, almost in unison.

The vampires burst in a cloud of dust.

Steve and the others watched in awe and surprise. "Did those vampires... just explode?" Steve asked.

"Yeah. They kinda clean up after themselves," Christian explained. He realized the two girls were looking at them. "I wonder if they're vampire slayers...?"

"Vampire slayers?" Saul didn't know what to be more amazed with, the way those vampires simply disintegrated, or the fact that there were people somehow designated to kill only vampires. "Are there really that many vamps around?"

The girls did not at first acknowledge what had just happened. Instead, the blonde pointed at Stephen and said, "Oh my God, aren't you Steve Bailey from the Flaming Dishtowels?"

"Yeah, and you're Saul," the brunette added.

The men looked at each other, realized how bad this could get, and lied. "No, sorry. We get that all the time."

"So you're not the Flaming Dishtowels?"

"No. My name's Sam," Steve said.

"Yeah, and I'm Dean," Saul told them.

Pouting, Michael cut in with, "So you don't think I look like Michael Hudson?"

Elizabeth kicked his leg.

"I could have sworn you were members of the band..."

Holding up his machete, Stephen asked, "Do you really think the Flaming Dishtowels would be hunters?"

"No, I guess that is silly." She looked at her companion, starting to laugh. "Like members of a rock band would have time to hunt vampires!"

Both girls had a hearty laugh over the idea.

"Are you slayers?" Christian asked.

"That and more," the blonde replied. "I'm Lisa, this is Aurora."

"Well, thanks, Lisa and Aurora, for doing our job for us. I guess we get the night off."

Lisa smiled, and held open the lapels of her suit jacket. "Once we get changed, do you guys want to hang out?"

The group held their own private party in the hotel's lounge, staying long enough to be in the way when the housekeeper arrived with the vacuum. Saul found the two girls very attractive; it wasn't like he was totally gay for Stephen or something. And they were only a few years younger than him. But they only seemed to have eyes for each other. As the lounge band played, Steve and Elizabeth swayed to the music on the dance floor, but so did Lisa and Aurora. It was an incredibly erotic thing to watch, two hot chicks dancing and embracing and rubbing against each other. But when Saul tried to join them, they just smiled politely and shimmied away, sometimes spinning around him to just wind up in each other's arms. Eventually, he got the hint and went back to the table where Michael was sitting, putting his feet up and folding his arms, in a dark mood.

Saul got it, they didn't swing that way, but it still stung when the two girls went up to bed and started kissing, dirty, in their doorway, like they were putting on a show. Lisa even rubbed aggressively at Aurora's breasts before pulling her inside and closing the door. The girls knew he was right there in the hallway, not ten feet away. It was like they knew how hot they were and enjoyed showing all the men what they couldn't have. Girls like that would try to get away with anything a man would allow.

Shortly after, from his own hotel room, Saul heard the beginnings of Steve and Elizabeth making love. In an effort to pull himself out of this funk, he got out his bottle of lotion and indulged himself to the sounds of the only man he would probably ever love.

It was almost five in the morning when Saul was awakened by noises coming from the hallway.

Aurora and Lisa were laughing, passing by his door. He could imagine them with their arms around each other, wearing something cute and teasingly revealing, half drunk on a marathon sex session. That brought some hot mental pictures to mind; Saul couldn't help it. Lisa going down on Aurora. Aurora's head thrown back, turned face buried in her long, dark hair. Elizabeth going down on Stephen. Stephen in the shower. Lisa and Aurora sucking Stephen's dick at the same time. Oh, the intensely sexy shit his mind could come up with when he was horny and only partially awake. Would he have to get the lotion out aga -

"Elizabeth!"

Saul knew instantly that something was horribly wrong when he heard the fear and alarm in his best friend's voice through the wall. My God, was it the curse?

Steve spoke again, but even louder and more horrified. "NO!" he screamed, followed by the sound of his feet running across the floor of the hotel room. Saul jumped out of bed. By the time he reached Stephen's room, someone downstairs was screaming; it sounded like it was coming from the street. Like two girls, maybe Lisa and Aurora. They were screaming in shock and horror.

When Saul threw the door open, he saw Steve standing on the balcony, leaning over the railing, panting. Then he turned and looked back at Saul, a look of absolute anguish on his face.

"He killed her," Steve choked. "The bastard murdered my Elizabeth."

Saul would always remember that face, and how the sheer white curtain liners had been flapping in the breeze from the open balcony door. He would always remember the horrified, tearful screams of the vampire slayers from the street below as they looked at Elizabeth's shattered body. He would always remember how the pool of blood from her head formed a shape similar to the state of West Virginia, and how some of it streaked out across the pavement away from her smashed face. Her once beautiful face.

It wasn't until they had run down into the street to confirm that Elizabeth was really dead, and Stephen had collapsed onto the curb that he was able to tell Saul what happened. He had gone to the bathroom, and when he came back, Elizabeth was inexplicably standing on the railing of the balcony. She had gone from dozing in bed to walking out on the balcony and stepping up on the rail, for what seemed to be no reason at all. But of course, they knew the reason.

Stephen remembered seeing a swarm of rod insects flying around her. The beating of their wings made them shimmer like a lake softly stirred by the wind. He remembered how they actually looked like sunlight dancing on the water. Perhaps the sight disoriented his cursed wife, who had to be disoriented already by the hold of the necromancer's curse. Either way, she raised her arms in the stance of the swan dive.

This is when Stephen had called out her name. And then, Elizabeth performed a perfect swan dive, and fell to her death.

Aurora and Lisa had been heading out to an all-night convenience store to get some munchies, and witnessed Elizabeth's jump. Now, they stood under the hotel awning, watching the paramedics collect her body, and holding each other, Lisa's head cradled to Aurora's chest. They were both crying. The girls had only known Elizabeth for a few hours, but she had made enough of an impression for them to be touched by her death.

They came over to Stephen, who was sitting on the curb and crying, inconsolable. "She was so beautiful," Lisa said, not knowing what else to say.

"What happened?" Aurora asked. At first, they thought this was a suicide.

Stephen set them straight, rambling out the whole story in a fit of anger and grief.

Stephen had given her a beautiful wedding. He made sure her funeral was just as beautiful, a true memorial to a life.

Her entire family came. Christian couldn't stop crying and saying to everyone that it was his fault, he should have been more vigilant, should have found the necromancer and forced him to remove the Evil Eye. Everyone hugged him and told him it wasn't his fault, but the oldest brother of the family often felt that he had to look out for his younger siblings to the point that he felt responsible for their hurts.

At least Christian was talking. Steve said very little. He spent most of the funeral looking down, seething with anger, and then glaring up at the sky. At other times, he seemed sad and withdrawn.

Christian delivered the eulogy over Elizabeth's casket. It was open, covered in flowers. A mirror had been placed along the length of the casket, parallel and contour to Elizabeth's body, hiding the left half of her face. It had been shattered, ruined, in the fall. The mirror made it seem as if she died with a full face. Stephen thought she would have wanted it that way.

The next few months were rough. Stephen slept too much, drank too much, took too many pills to keep calm. A small rock magazine ran a story about how the wife of the lead singer of The Flaming Dishtowels had committed suicide. Stephen began legal proceedings to sue them, because it had been ruled an accident by the coroner. Of course, they would never know the truth, that it was murder.

Saul looked after his friend as best as he knew how. They spent more and more time with Stephen's head in his lap, Saul stroking his hair, while Steve related nightmares he'd been having about Elizabeth.

"I keep dreaming that she's swan diving into a pool full of razors, and then it's a pool full of rattlesnakes, and I try to stop her, I call out to her, but my voice comes from down inside a tunnel," Stephen ranted. He always cried during these talks, which Saul preferred to the withdrawn nature of Elizabeth's funeral. "Other times, we're having a picnic in a cemetery, and her funeral procession goes by. I start to shake, because I don't want to admit that's her in the hearse, I mean, she's sitting right there next to me. So which Elizabeth is the real one? Then I stand up and I float off after the procession, completely against my will, leaving her alone. I reach for her, but I just keep going forward."

"Lots of symbolism there," Saul remarked.

"Yeah. She was so beautiful on our wedding day." He took their wedding photo off the nightstand, looking at it fondly. "It was a gorgeous ceremony."

"A fucking beautiful wedding, man," agreed Saul.

"Yeah. A beautiful wedding, and a beautiful funeral. Elizabeth deserved it, every bit of it."

"Fuckin' right."

His eyes drifting through memories, Steve touched Elizabeth's image, his fingers making trails in the dust on the glass. "And it was an absolutely perfect, beautiful swan dive." This brought on fresh tears, hard, mournful, anguished tears that rocked his body, and Saul wrapped his arms around Stephen's neck and shoulders and held him, cradling him, rocking him gently.

"I know, man. Everything she did was beautiful," Saul said, beginning to cry himself. His friend's pain was so tangible and raw, it ripped out his heart.

A year passed like water under a bridge, sometimes calm, sometimes like raging rapids. The group put out a third album, dedicated to Elizabeth, with a song about her death entitled, "Without You." They embarked on a small tour.

No one thought it would be a good idea for them to go back through Las Vegas, where Elizabeth had died, but Steve insisted. Saul and Michael both knew he was probably hunting the necromancer. Whatever happened, they would back him up.

On their third day in the city, Lisa met Steve in the hotel lounge. Saul was surprised to see her; this was something Stephen hadn't told him about. Her face was grave and serious.

"We found him," she said. Lisa slipped a sheet of folded paper across the table. "He's there."

Stephen opened the sheet of paper. On it was written an address. "You're sure?"

"Yes. It's him." She brought the newspaper out from under her arm and opened it on the table, pointing to an article about children coming up sick at a daycare in a nearby city. "He's been hiding in plain sight."

"Did you find...?"

Nodding, Lisa handed him another piece of folded paper. On it was written a phone number.

Stephen looked at it, closed his eyes, and sighed. When he reopened them, he seemed calmer than he'd been in a year. "Thank you. This won't be forgotten."

Lisa stood. "Let us know if you need our help... Sam."

She no longer believed he was "Sam," Saul knew that for sure. Even though she recognized him, Lisa didn't mention who he really was. This wasn't about that. It was about justice.

The night before they planned to strike, Stephen picked up the phone and made a call to someone he hadn't seen for almost fifteen years. He didn't even know the man's last name until Lisa gave him that paper.

Bobby Singer.

They spoke for two hours in which Steve related his life story since the age of eight. Near the end, he found himself choked up, cell phone to his ear, looking down at the floor.

"I just needed you to hear that I'm thankful for my life," Steve said. His voice shook. "If I don't make it out of this alive, I need you to hear how thankful I am that you saved me all those years ago. At one point, I wanted to die so I could be with my parents. I don't feel that way anymore."

Bobby was silent for a few seconds, choked up himself. "I'm glad that you've worked out those issues, son. I'm sorry about your wife."

Swallowing hard, emotion clicking in his throat, Steve replied, "You gave me the years that I had with her. I will never forget that."

"Hell, kid, all I did was my job. You made the recovery."

"Yeah, I guess. If there's ever anything I can do to repay you..."

"Well, you can do something for me." A smile crept into Bobby's voice. "Can you send me some autographed Flaming Dishtowel albums? I've got a friend who loves you guys."

A wide, amused grin spread across Stephen's face. "You got it."

Before they hung up, Bobby said, "You take care of yourself, kid. Get out of this life before you get killed."

"I got something to do first, Bobby." Swallowing down more threatening tears, Steve amended, "But I'm always going to take care of me and mine."

The night they struck, Stephen wore the cap Bobby had given him.

The necromancer didn't see them coming, but he still managed to deal out some hurt before they gained the upper hand. Several of his undead women now lay sprawled on the floor, beheaded, stabbed with the blessed sword, whatever it took to take them out. Steve, Saul, and Michael were all bleeding, panting, angry, and more ready for this day than they had ever been. Saul and Michael held the necromancer prone as Stephen approached him with the blessed sword.

The man struggled and hissed. "I remember you," he growled. "Did you resurrect her yet?"

Steve ran his eyes up the length of the sword. "No."

"If you let me go, I can do it for you." When he didn't get an immediate response, the necromancer added, "You miss her, don't you?"

"Yes. Very much." Without warning, Stephen's eyes flared and he stabbed the sword a few inches into the chest of the necromancer.

He snarled in pain. "No, stop! I can bring her back! You'd have trouble finding anyone else as powerful in that vein as myself."

"Elizabeth would kill me if I let you do that." Steve wrapped both hands around the hilt of the sword. "So go to hell."

The necromancer howled as Stephen ran him through, pushing the sword through his heart.

Outside the man's residence, the three friends sat on the edge of the porch in a row; they were quite a sight with their bruises and lacerations. Blood had run down the left side of Steve's face, some in his hair.

Saul flipped open an old-fashioned silver lighter and lit himself a cigarette.

"We should probably get out of here before the neighbors see us," Michael commented.

"You got a good point."

"No." Saul took a long drag off the cigarette. "I think the necromancer got the good point." He touched the bloody end of Stephen's sword.

They all snickered.

"So, what now?" Michael added. It was almost as if he had read Stephen's emotions after the conversation with Bobby Singer.

Steve clapped his friend on the back. "Now, we take a vacation from all this blood and death."

"And do what?"

Steve and Saul looked at each other, and grinned. "Rock n' roll, man. Rock n' roll."