Dean’s eyes focused on the end of the gun barrel. He froze. He saw the finger tighten on the trigger, starting the squeeze that would fire a bullet from the chamber. That bullet would kill him. A loud bang and a flash announced the coming of the slug, but instead of the pain of the bullet striking his chest, he felt a jolt from his right, knocking him to the ground on the night club’s lighted dance floor.
He sat upright in bed, jolted awake by the impact with the floor in the dream. It had been a dream, right? He looked around his room in the darkness. He was disoriented until he realized he was in the new apartment. A movement next to him caused him to look down and see Ashley lying in bed next to him. The dream receded into faint memory as he looked at his girlfriend. She was an angel — literally. She was a member of the Eldara race that served as the messengers and representatives of God among humans. She pulled the blankets up to her chin as she rolled over.
Dean climbed out of bed, still feeling the adrenaline coursing through his body from the nightmare. It had seemed very real, more real than most of his dreams, at least those he remembered. Dean tried to remember the details of the dream. It could be important. He hoped it wasn’t prophetic. He didn’t recognize the location but it was some type of nightclub. When he tried to concentrate on the face in the shadows behind the muzzle of the gun, the memory swam out of focus. Whoever it was, he knew they were determined to kill him and had almost succeeded. Then, just in time, someone or something had pushed him to the ground.
Walking to the kitchen, he poured himself a glass of juice from the refrigerator. He knew where he was now. He was in an apartment in the Nightwing building downtown, a guest of the Vampire Lord of Elk City. James Lee and his human girlfriend, Dean’s supervising paramedic Brynne Garvey, had convinced Dean to move in here. That had come after a series of attacks on the Unusual patients he served with the other paramedics at Station U. Their patients were the hidden creatures of myth and legend that lived among their human neighbors, unknown except for a small group of humans who knew of their existence. Some of the more bigoted humans had formed a group of homegrown terrorists that decided to drive the creatures of nightmares from the community, striking with hate crime attacks against those served by the Station U paramedics. There was fear that Dean and the other paramedics were at risk.
He walked back through the dark apartment, sipping his juice. He peered through the bedroom doorway at Ashley sleeping there. He was so lucky that she had come into his life and provided him a level of stability he sorely needed during this stressful time. As well, there was the love, an intimacy they shared, that had filled a hole in his life. This Eldara Sister, one of a collection of mythical healers, was currently a nurse in the Emergency Room at the Elk City Medical Center. She had told Dean that he was integral to unraveling the mystery of the attacks happening in the city, and to ending them. He was supposed to do something, eventually. The problem was that no one seemed to know what that action would be. The attacks intensified, driving him and Ashley to move into two apartments here in James’ secure building. Dean felt the pressure to end this drama but didn’t know how.
He looked at his watch and snorted. He might as well stay up; he had to leave for work in about an hour and a half. Returning the empty juice glass to the sink, Dean gathered his uniform for the coming day and went in to take a shower.
As he left the station the night before, Brynne announced to him that he had reached the end of his probationary period as a new paramedic at Station U. That meant there was to be a brief ceremony at the beginning of his shift, including the presentation of his paramedic badge, replacing the probationary badge he had been wearing for the last weeks of training. He was proud of having that distinction. It meant that he was equal to Brynne and the others, and up to the task of taking care of their challenging patients – whether it be a fairy, a vampire, a werewolf, or a genie half-stuck in a bottle.
Turning on the shower and testing the water temperature, Dean knew he should be proud of this milestone in his career. That pleasure was tempered, however, by the fact he couldn’t shake off the feeling of dread from that dream. He decided to let the warm water of the shower try to wash that feeling away. He stripped down and climbed in.
* * *
Ashley was just getting up when he grabbed his keys to head out to work. He wanted to leave early and stop by his old apartment to pick up some things he had left behind. There were some items that he might need if he stayed at the Nightwing apartment for any length of time. He really should have packed better the previous evening, but he had just grabbed a few changes of clothes and a uniform for the next day. He didn’t think it would hurt to go back to his apartment and pick up things as he needed them.
He went over and gave Ashley a kiss good morning as she rose from the bed. She didn’t have to be at work until seven AM, while his twelve-hour paramedic shifts started at six. She mumbled something about needing coffee and hoped he’d have a good day, then headed for the bathroom. He watched her go and closed the door, still amazed at his luck connecting with such an amazing woman. He took off for his pickup truck, parked in the secure underground garage below the building.
Twenty minutes later, in his old apartment, he grabbed a small suitcase and started throwing clothing and some personal items in it. It didn’t take him long, and he looked around at the spacious apartment he rented, situated over the garage owned by an elderly couple on the outskirts of town. The residential neighborhood was quiet, and his landlords were kind. He had to remember that he still needed to check in from time to time and help out with their yard chores. It was part of his lease agreement with them, but also something he enjoyed doing. Mr. and Mrs. Baxter had adopted him as if he were their own son and had in some ways taken the place of the parents he didn’t have in his life anymore. Dean had been on his own for a long time and had thought he didn’t need that kind of relationship in his life. The Baxters had proven him wrong.
Zipping up the full suitcase, he went out onto the small porch at the top of the stairs and pulled the door shut behind him, locking it and checking to make sure it was latched. It had just been a few nights before when the former paramedic Zach had attacked both him and Ashley in that apartment. It had been an act of desperation, after his actions as a member of the hate group, The Cause, had exposed him to authorities. The Cause was determined to expose the monsters living among the humans, and drive the Unusuals from their community. Zach was now being hunted by the police, following his exposure on surveillance video firebombing a local restaurant owned by a member of the Unusual community in Elk City. Based on his statements to Dean and Ashley during his attack on them, The Cause was displeased with him getting caught on camera.
Ashley had disarmed Zach, even while he held a knife to her throat, by using her innate Eldara powers to overwhelm him. The former paramedic had fled the apartment in fear. That attack had finally persuaded Ashley that she and Dean needed to take James and Brynne up on the offer of a safe place to stay downtown. Dean wondered where Zach was now. Ashley had announced to Zach during the attack, with startling finality, that his time on the earth was short, stating that The Cause member would not live out the week. She had told Dean that she sensed his lifeline shorten as soon as he made the final decision to refuse their offer to surrender and accept their help. Instead, he tried to kill Ashley. Wherever he was, Dean hoped he didn’t do anything else dangerous or stupid in his desperation to change his fate. Grabbing the suitcase by the handle, Dean headed down the outside stairs and tossed it in the passenger seat of his white pickup truck. He glanced at his watch. It was time head into work.