Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Set in Season 2 dove-tailing the end of Episode 2.12, Nightshifter. If you're just joining the fun, spoilers up to then.
Summary: On the run from the FBI, the brothers are sidelined by a snowstorm and find themselves at the mercy of a sheltered town filled with secrets. Staying alive means staying together as they fight to stay on the surface.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
...continued from Part 4A...
"What the hell happened to you?"
Sam bullied his way through the door, pushing Cooper aside. He glanced down at Dean only now seeing blood on his brother's lips, smeared down his chin. Cooper followed Sam's gaze and Sam heard him swear.
"Get in here," he all-but growled, slamming the door behind them.
"Sam," Dean gasped. "Cop."
Sam nodded, gripping Dean tighter as he looked at Cooper. "The cop that Mead sent…he didn't make it."
"What?" Cooper breathed, his eyes going wide. Too many blows in too little time were shifting the man's balance and Sam was afraid for a moment that they were about to lose their ally.
"He's in the back of the truck," Sam closed one eye against the bright lights of the office as his head kicked at him. "Oh, and," he reached up with his free hand and pressed the heel of his palm against his tender temple. "You might want to send the fire department or whatever you've got out to the old cabin."
"Don't put it out," Dean said, his voice sounding hauntingly like John's with the order.
Sam shook his head gingerly as Cooper continued to gape at them. "No, let the cabin burn. Just…might want to keep the trees from catching."
Cooper made an obvious physical effort to close his mouth, the sound of his teeth clicking together audible over Dean's rough breathing. Sam watched him blink twice, his pupils going from wide to narrow as he wrestled himself under control.
"First things first," he declared. "I need to call an airlift to Madison for—"
"No," Dean shook his head. "Can't."
"Son, I don't know if I—"
"Cooper, please," Sam said as he felt Dean start to pull away, his brother's instincts kicking in over his weakened body. "We can't go to a hospital, not now."
Cooper stared at Dean, pushing out his lips as his eyes began to narrow, the lines framing them drawing in like parentheses. Dean grew heavier against Sam, his trembling visible even in the warmth of the office. Sam's head began to pound with a vengeance and he wanted nothing more than to slide down the wall and close his eyes. Just rest.
But Dean was still holding his own. He was leaning on Sam, but he was still carrying as much of his own weight as he could. And Sam wasn't about to give in while his brother was still standing.
"This have anything to do with that fax?"
"What fax?" Sam asked.
Cooper lifted a shoulder, pulling a piece of paper from his back pocket and unfolding it. He turned it around to face the brothers.
"Fuck," Dean breathed, dropping his head, and bringing up his blood-stained hand to wipe at his mouth once more.
Sam saw Dean's mug shot from Baltimore with the words WANTED on suspicion of murder, grave desecration, and armed robbery beneath it. Lower still Sam saw that Dean was to be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Agent Hendrickson's name and a number to reach him was below that, as was a hand-written promise to follow up within twenty-four hours of the fax.
"Cooper," Sam said, his voice thin, "we can explain."
"Thought you said you had no problem with cops."
"We don't," Dean whispered. "They've got a problem with us."
Sam thought about the dead cop in the back of the truck. He closed his eyes and he and Dean swayed back until their interlocked shoulders were leaning against the wall.
"It's not what you think," Sam said, eyes still closed. "This Agent guy has it all wrong."
Silence ticked by for a few seconds and in the quiet Sam heard Dean's breathing rattle loudly. He heard the heat kick on in the office. He heard a calloused hand rasp across a bearded face.
And he heard surrender in a sigh.
His shoulders relaxed almost imperceptibly but he felt Dean shift against him and knew his brother had picked up on it, too.
"Well," Cooper said finally, "it's probably a good thing that I grabbed this before Matthew saw it."
Sam opened his eyes, looking back at the M.E. with gratitude.
"But looks like you got twenty-four hours before this agent calls to follow up."
"We can deal with that," Dean said.
"But first," Cooper started, reaching over and taking Dean's weight from Sam.
Sam's legs nearly gave out. He pressed his hand against the wall, not realizing how much he'd also been leaning on Dean for balance. He looked at his brother, Dean's shaking more evident now that he was staring directly at him. Dean glanced back, his eyes hooded and fever-bright.
"We need to get you two fixed up as best we can," Cooper finished.
"Don't have much time," Dean said. "Colin—" His explanation was choked off by a rough cough.
With a glower at both of them, Cooper turned and hauled Dean down the hall toward his exam room. Sam followed, listening as the M.E. growled angrily, "I don't much care what that ghost of yours might have planned. You're my priority now."
Sam stood in the exam room, unsure where to go, what to do. Someone had made them a priority—had taken the responsibility from their shoulders. And he was at a loss.
"What am I supposed to do?" he asked, his focus vague.
He saw Dean look over at him, his eyes strangely sharp.
"Sit down, Sam," Dean ordered.
His voice, though quiet, had no less of a punch than it normally did. Sam found himself reacting to his brother's instructions instinctively. He sank slowly into the nearest chair, his head swimming with a slightly disconnected sensation, his legs ticking like a cooling engine. He looked down at his hands as if they belonged to someone else.
"Good Lord, boys," Cooper muttered. "You are beat to hell. How often does this happen?"
Sam realized the M.E. was looking over at him. Part of him wanted to laugh. Part of him felt like crying. The end result was a pleading stare.
Cooper seemed to gather himself, helping Dean up on the exam table. Sam watched as Dean slumped forward, his trembling hands gripping the edge of the padded table, his eyes down-cast. Something about his posture frightened Sam. He needed his brother's eyes.
As if on a string, Dean's head lifted, his gaze finding Sam.
"It's okay," Dean whispered. "We'll be okay, Sammy."
Long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you.
Sam remembered the promise like he remembered how to break down and clean a gun, like he remembered how to get rid of a spirit, like he remembered how to breathe. It was a part of him now and he trusted it—he had to.
Cooper glanced between the two of them, and Sam saw something shift on his face. A slide from determination to sorrow so profound that for a moment Sam wondered what had brought the man to this town—alone, apparently—and what he'd left behind.
"I want you both to do exactly what I say," Cooper told them. "No arguments, no protests. Am I understood?"
The brothers nodded in unison.
"We'll deal with the bones and the ghosts and the cops and all that shit later."
Sam blinked, focusing harder on Cooper. He didn't know if he'd heard the man swear before.
"And I'll respect your decision to keep you out of the hospital and off the grid," he glanced at Dean, "unless I determine that I am not enough to save you."
Dean swallowed and nodded.
"I'll be right back," Cooper told them. "Do. Not. Move."
They nodded again, watching him leave.
"How'd you figure out it was Wallace?" Dean asked when Cooper left.
"What? Oh," Sam rubbed gingerly at his face, resisting the urge to scratch at the itch on the side of his head. "Cooper called when I was on the way to the cabin—and I'm sorry I didn't get there sooner, man. I could've followed the road and been there in half the time, but I followed your path through the woods, and…damn, Dean when I got there and the cabin froze over and I could hear you inside—"
"Sam," Dean halted him. "It's okay. We're here."
Sam took a breath. "Right, okay, sorry. Anyway, Cooper called and said that there were two sets of bones in the debris—all tangled together…and I just…I thought about that letter you found and I thought about how long it had been…and I couldn't figure out how a stroke victim would have survived out there and Mead was all it's impossible and looking at me like I was eight kinds of crazy—"
"Dude, land your plane."
"It just made sense. It had to be Wallace." Sam looked at his brother, seeing his head hanging low once more.
"I think all…of this is…Wallace."
"What?" Cooper asked, entering the room with a canvas bag loaded with supplies Sam didn't bother trying to identify. "What is all Wallace?"
Dean looked at the M.E., his eyes red-rimmed, his voice breathy, torn. "The killings…don't think it's all Colin…."
Holding up a hand to stop Dean's explanation, Cooper gave Sam a small mirror, a bottle of antiseptic and several pads of gauze. "I want you to clean out that cut on your head while I deal with your brother. Think you can do that?"
Sam nodded wordlessly, knowing that if the M.E. had any idea how many times he'd sewn up his own body the glare he'd get from the man's sharp eyes would be formidable.
He sucked in a pained hiss at the touch of the cold antiseptic to the cut on his scalp, feeling the raised welt along his hairline. It had stopped bleeding, but it hurt like a mother as he cleaned it out. He divided his attention between the mirror and Cooper's ministrations on Dean.
Cooper began to peel Dean's wet coats and shirts off, moving carefully as Dean's face pulled tight in pain as the bruised muscles along his back and chest apparently protested. He dropped them in a damp pile next to Dean, then grabbed a vinyl cuff and wrapped it around Dean's arm. Cooper swore under his breath as he took Dean's blood pressure, then checked his pupils and listened to his chest.
"You are a stubborn son of a bitch, you know that?" Cooper finally asked as he dug out a small oxygen tank and face mask from the canvass bag.
"I know," Dean rasped. "Come by it honest."
"You can say that again," Sam muttered.
"There is no reason for you not to be in a hospital," Cooper continued, cupping the back of Dean's neck and turning him so that he lay back against the propped-up, padded exam table.
Dean simply shook his head weakly, his eyes almost painful for Sam to look at.
"Has anyone said 'no' to you?" Cooper asked, carefully positioning the oxygen mask over Dean's nose and mouth as he adjusted the levels on the small tank.
"Sophie McKinley," Dean said, his breath clouding the clear mask. "Tenth grade."
Cooper's head tilted and Sam almost chuckled at the look of frustrated amusement on the M.E.'s face. He heard a buzzing sound from another room and frowned.
"Hold still," Cooper told Dean, grabbing up the wet clothes and disappearing around the corner only to return seconds later with an armful of blankets.
Sam could smell the heated warmth of dryer sheets on them. Cooper wrapped them around Dean's trembling body, tucked up tight to his neck, but pulled his right arm free. He wrapped a blue elastic band around Dean's upper arm.
"You are dehydrated, your system was slipping close to shock—and I don't know if you know this, but shock can kill you," Cooper glared first at Dean, then over his shoulder at Sam.
His face now devoid of blood, the itching soothed by the cleansing antiseptic, Sam stared back at him with a what did you want us to do expression.
Cooper sighed, turning back to Dean as he readied a needle and catheter, slipping the combination into a vein in Dean's arm. He attached a bag of clear liquid to the port, then hung the bag on a coat hook on the side of his cabinet. Sam watched as he twisted the port all the way open, then readied a needle and injected something into another port at the base of the bag.
"What is all of that?" Sam asked as Dean lay disconcertingly quiet on the table, cocooned in warm blankets.
"Saline solution and several anti-virals," Cooper nodded to the bag, "and some pain meds."
Dean's eyes shot over to Cooper and Sam picked up on his brother's panic right away. "He doesn't like pain meds, Coop," Sam informed the M.E.
Cooper looked down at Dean. "Don't guess you much like feeling like your lungs are being scraped out by a back-hoe each time you cough, either."
Dean looked over at Sam, and Sam knew what he was thinking: if he was out of it when the ghosts attacked….
"Don't worry," Cooper said. "This isn't the strong stuff. I didn't have any morphine on hand. This is basically like a liquid form of ibuprofen—shouldn't knock you out. Though you should sleep."
Sam watched Dean's body relax and wasn't sure if it was due to the pain medication or the reassurance that it wouldn't take him out of the game. He was troubled by how quiet Dean was, but imagined that getting oxygen easily after so long struggling for it was a blessing his brother didn't want to fight.
"You stay still," Cooper ordered, pointing a finger at Dean. "Do not move until that bag is empty, you hear me?"
Dean nodded, rolling his head to look at Sam.
"Now, you," Cooper turned to Sam. "Bet you've got a five alarm headache raging about now, huh?"
"I've had worse," Sam told him honestly, "but it's not fun."
"You want a shot, too?" Cooper asked, hauling his canvass bag over to where Sam was sitting.
"No thanks," Sam said quickly, already anticipating the burn and pull of the needle he knew was going to be required to sew his head back together.
Cooper handed him four pills and a bottle of water. Sam swallowed them, and braced himself.
"This is going to pinch just a bit," Cooper told him. Sam almost rolled his eyes. "But then it should feel better."
"Wha—" Before Sam could finish his question, he realized that the M.E. had given him a shot, just under the surface, near his wound and almost immediately he felt the ache and sting of the broken skin ease.
"What was that?"
"Lidocaine," Cooper replied. "Thought it would help with the stitches."
Sam slid his eyes to meet Dean's. "We are so stocking up on that, man."
Cooper shook his head. "How have you boys survived this long?"
Sam dropped his head back, giving Cooper access to his wound. "Our Dad trained us," he said, hearing his voice slur a bit with exhaustion. "He was a Marine. When our mom died, he made sure we knew how to hunt."
"Hunt?" Cooper asked, tipping the desk light to further illuminate Sam's head.
"Ghosts, banshees, werewolves, vampires, wraiths, kappas, sirens…I mean, you name it. If there's lore about it, it's out there," Sam continued. He glanced up quickly at Cooper's face, trying to assess how the man was assimilating this information.
Cooper's face was set, his eyes trained on his task; he gave nothing up. Even his voice was steady as he asked, "And he told you how to kill all of these things?"
"Yeah," Sam said.
"Who told him?"
Sam dropped his eyes, checking on Dean. His brother stared back at him, quietly watching.
"He learned wherever he could—reading, researching, other hunters." Sam shrugged. "He was a survivor."
"Because a demon took our mom from him," Dean rasped through the mask.
Cooper half-chuckled. "A demon?" He looked back over his shoulder at Dean and something he saw there had him sobering quickly before turning back to Sam. "Really?"
"Really," Sam replied. "Our lives don't make sense to other people, but…." He rolled his neck as Cooper straightened, stitches complete. "We have a job to do."
"Why do you have to do it, though?" Cooper asked, his eyes scanning Sam's battered face.
"'Cause we can," Dean said.
"We know how," Sam echoed. "And we've seen what's out there."
Cooper sighed, rubbing his neck, then started packing up his supplies. "I assume with your father's military training he always went in with a plan?"
Sam exchanged a look with Dean. "More or less."
Cooper arched an eyebrow at Sam. "And what's the plan this time?"
Sam rubbed his forehead gingerly, marveling at how well the lidocaine shot worked to numb the pain in his head. "Well…mostly it involves not dying."
"I like this plan," Cooper said. He looked back over at Dean and the nearly-empty bag of fluid. "I called Sheriff Mead about the cabin and Johnson when I was grabbing supplies. I told him to get one of his men to take the body to the morgue."
"Might want them to move the body someplace else if the bones are there," Sam told him.
Cooper shook his head. "Bones aren't there."
"What?" Dean asked, pushing himself up to an elbow.
Cooper moved closer to ease Dean back down, checking the bag once more. "Mead heard your brother talking about burning them and had his men put them in the jail for safe keeping until they could be identified."
"You know who they are," Dean growled.
"I'll tell you what I know," Cooper snapped, keeping his hand on Dean's chest.
Sam stood, making is way over to the exam table, instinctively knowing that he needed to be near Dean.
"I know that Sheriff Mead, William Tolliver, and Mayor Jones put the former sheriff in a nursing home and forgot all about him. Mead as much confessed to that. I know that the man's son was honorably discharged from the Military and promptly disappeared. Mead confirmed that after you left the beachhead. And I know that Sanderson's daughter's body was found in our lake."
Dean pulled the oxygen mask down, shoving Cooper's hand from his chest as he sat up, keeping the blankets around his shoulders. Sam moved around the table to grab his brother's shirts, feeling the urgency in Dean's movement as if it was his own.
"And you don't think that another body in that same lake with dog tags on it could be Colin Sanderson?"
"It's possible," Cooper conceded. "But I won't have proof until I identify the remains."
Dean reached for the IV in his arm and Cooper stopped him.
"What are you doing?" Cooper protested.
Sam glanced at the IV bag, seeing that it was empty. It was no wonder Dean had his third wind, with all of that medicine in his system.
"You want proof?" Dean asked, dropping the blankets, the scars and bruises that traversed his chest standing out on his bare skin in the garish light of the fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling. He lifted his arms. "Look."
Sam and Cooper blinked at the purple bruises in the shape of fingers on Dean's biceps, similar to the ones that had appeared on Tolliver and Jones. Only…Sam couldn't quite place what was different.
"I saw it—saw what happened. He held me against the wall and I saw it all," Dean said, his voice gaining strength as he spoke. "McAvoy promised Josephine they would hold off blowing the dam until they could convince Wallace that it was all gone—Colin had returned from Iraq to help his sister move Wallace to the old cabin." His gaze pinned Cooper. "You saw that proof in the letter on Tolliver's computer."
Dean looked at Sam, the pain that brimmed the edge of his eyes raw, real.
"Wallace lost it. He killed Josephine—hit her from the looks of it—and held Colin from behind…gripped him so tight Colin couldn't break free." Dean rubbed his face. "And then the water came."
Sam shuddered, unable for a moment to take a breath, horrified at the thought of Dean experiencing Colin's death, remembering the sight of him pinned to the wall.
"I thought Mead said Wallace had a stroke," Cooper said.
Dean shrugged, lifting his eyes. "He was strong enough to keep Colin from moving, that's all I know."
And then it hit Sam—the difference in the bruising. It was the direction of the fingers. He gently turned Dean's arm, looking closer. The bruises on Dean's skin were from someone holding him against the wall, standing in front of him and forcing him to bear witness. The bruises on Tolliver had been from behind, as if someone had wrapped around him and held him in place.
"So…Wallace killed these men?" Sam asked, circling back to Dean's earlier statement.
"I saw him," Dean whispered, looking away, his jaw muscle bouncing with memory. "In the lake. Just before you pulled me out. He was…like…darkness."
Sam closed his eyes. "And then again in the cabin," he said, remembering.
"Colin and Josephine…," Dean looked at Sam, then at Cooper. "They might have been the only thing keeping Wallace from taking apart this whole town."
Cooper dragged a hand down his face. "This is…I just can't—"
Before Cooper could finish his declaration of disbelief a muted cry wafted up through the air vents, causing all of them to turn in confusion, looking around.
"It's coming from below," Cooper said.
"The morgue?" Sam guessed.
The cry came again and this time they heard get me out…please, oh, please, God…get me out!
"Wait," Sam frowned. "I know that voice."
"It's Marshall," Cooper said, grabbing his cell phone and heading through the door.
Sam ducked into the side room he'd seen Cooper go earlier and grabbed Dean's clothes from the dryer. Returning, he handed Dean his T-shirt, flannel, and the dark hoodie he'd borrowed from Sam. Dean pulled the IV from his arm, grabbing a tissue and pressing it against the small, bright spot of blood, then pulled on the clothes. He slid from the table looking at Sam.
"Didn't Mead lock Marshall up?"
Sam nodded. "But the jail is connected to the morgue."
"And that's where the bones are," he said, grabbing the duffle. "What do we have left?"
"Your Colt, the Beretta, both out of ammo," Sam reported. "Shotgun with six rounds left. Gas can half full of salt."
Dean nodded, handing Sam the shotgun. "Stuff the rounds in your pocket. You keep those bastards off me."
"Wait. What are you going to do?"
"Cremate them," Dean said, determination shining in his too-bright eyes, fever coloring his pale, bruised face.
"I got your back," Sam nodded, and following his brother down the hall toward the stairs leading to the morgue.
Dean felt detached, as if his mind were outside his body, going through the motions, ordering him function, but not really feeling any of it. He didn't know if it was a result of the pain meds, the fever, or exhaustion, but he used it.
He blocked out everything but the job, focusing on his next step, their next move.
He needed to get this done and get Sam the hell out of there. He needed the familiarity of their home around him. He needed to ground himself in their version of reality, or he might slip his body completely and not worry about coming back.
They made their way down the steps of the morgue, the overhead fluorescent lights casting a medicinal glow over the pale, frozen body of Officer Johnson. Dean spared him a glance, feeling a stab of remorse that another innocent person had been caught up in a battle that had nothing to do with him.
"I don't see an incinerator," Sam remarked.
"I don't see Cooper either," Dean replied. "I figured he was calling Mead."
"Yeah, me, too."
Sam moved around him and led the way through a windowless door that led them to a long hall of metal doors, each looking like the front of a refrigerator. The door closed and sealed behind them. Directly across from them was another windowless door.
"Creepy." Sam remarked.
"I think this is, uh…where they store them." Dean rubbed his hand across his bottom lip.
"Oh, right," Sam nodded. "Think that's the door to the incinerator down there?"
Dean moved down the length of the hall to a door with a circular porthole window at the top. He peered through the window and nodded. "I see a big-assed oven. And I think some kind of generator or something. Coop's already got the oven fired up."
"He in there?" Sam asked, starting toward him.
Dean shook his head, turning. Just then he heard another scream for help and this time, Dean picked up on something else—something behind the begging.
"Oh, shit," he breathed, pushing past Sam and heading for the second door.
He wrenched it open and saw that across the length of the room, several pipes in the walls had been pulled through the tile, showering the space with a heavy spray of water. It was empty of furniture; only three cells flanked one wall, each cell holding a toilet and a cot. The toilets were bubbling over, water spilling along the floor.
Marshall was in the middle cell and a stretcher bearing a black body bag with what Dean could only assume were the bones of Colin and Wallace Sanderson was in the cell closest to them. Across the room, near yet another door with a glass porthole, Cooper lay slumped to the floor, water pooling up around his face.
"Oh, thank God! Get me outta here!" Marshall screamed the moment he saw them.
"Shut the hell up," Dean bellowed, splashing into the room and heading directly toward Cooper. He heard Sam behind him as he bent over the unconscious M.E., turning the man's face out of the inch of water and checking his pulse. "He's alive," he called out to Sam.
He shifted Cooper so that he was in no danger of falling back into the water, and kept a hand on him, reassured by the rise and fall of the man's chest.
"Where's Mead?" Sam demanded.
"Went for the keys," Marshall informed him.
Dean looked over his shoulder at his brother and saw him roll his eyes. "He didn't have them on him?" Sam asked.
"How the hell should I know!" Marshall squeaked. "Just get me outta here!"
"Relax," Sam ordered. "You're not gonna drown; the water isn't filling up that fast."
"I ain't worried about the water," Marshall said, pressing his back against the bars furthest from the body bag. "I don't want to be here when he comes back!"
"Who?" Sam and Dean asked together.
"That creepy-assed…old guy!"
Dean looked at Sam. "Colin," he declared, knowing Marshall had seen what Dean had mistaken as a Reaper.
Sam nodded in agreement, looking at Marshall. "Where did the old guy go?"
Marshall just shook his head, staring with terrified eyes at the body bag. Dean felt something inside of him snap and he stood up, stormed over to the cell, water splashing up around the ankles of his boots, and grabbed the shotgun from Sam. He pointed it directly at Marshall.
"Listen, asshole," Dean growled, chambering a round. "I haven't slept in three days. I'm coughing my lungs out. And I've nearly been drowned twice since I got to this craphole of a town. I'm about to set a new standard for not to be fucked with, you got it?"
Marshall nodded, his mouth hanging limp, his eyes round.
"Now, my brother asked you a question."
Marshall pointed out through the door leading from the jail room to another part of the underground maze. "He went that w-way…after—after Mead."
"Shit," Sam cursed.
Dean dropped the barrel of the shotgun from Marshall to the door and blew away the lock. Marshall yelped and jumped back, tripping over the cot and landing in the rising water with a splash.
"Get up," Dean ordered, feeling a cough build low in his throat and desperate to skip the pain of releasing it. "Get Cooper and get out of here."
Marshall pulled himself up and started toward the opened jail door.
"You get him someplace safe, you got it?" Dean growled.
Marshall nodded rapidly, moving toward the unconscious man and lifting him. Cooper started to come around. Dean turned and blasted open the door of the other cell. He tossed the shotgun to Sam who immediately reloaded it.
"I s-saw him," Cooper said, his voice weak. "He just…threw me…like I was nothing."
"You're gonna be okay," Dean told him. "Marshall will get you out of here."
"Boys…you boys be careful," Cooper implored as Marshall helped him to the door, tugging it open against the flow of the rising water.
Dean looked at Sam. "I think we gotta split up."
"I know," Sam nodded, his lips pressed together.
Dean saw an unspoken fear lingering in his brother's eyes. "You'll be fine," he reassured him.
"It's not me I'm worried about right now," Sam told him, sniffing. "I'll go after Mead. You get rid of them." He gestured to the body bag.
Dean nodded, taking his brother in, memorizing his face, the look in his eyes, the power in his stance. He didn't like the feeling washing over him, soaking into him just like the water that started to gather around his ankles.
The feeling that he wasn't going to see his brother again.
"No," Dean shook his head quickly, decisively. "Stay together, stay alive, right?"
Sam frowned. "But…what about Mead?"
Dean pressed his lips tight. "He's either already dead…or we save him by ending this."
Sam moved quickly toward him and Dean caught the relief erasing the tears in his brother's eyes. They grabbed either end of the stretcher and shoved it toward the door leading to the storage hall and incinerator. As they reached it, however, the water suddenly surged, pressing against the door, rising rapidly as the toilets burst upward and the pipes sprayed with the force of a fire hose.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean cried as their clothing became soaked.
"Dean look!" Sam cried out pointing toward the door where they'd found Cooper.
A dark, wet figure, like malleable oil, rolled up from the gathering water—faceless but with spreading arms. It reached for them and Sam fired, instinctively.
"Again!" Dean yelled, pulling on the door, putting all of his strength into parting the water to allow their escape. "Shoot it, Sam!"
Sam fired. Reloaded. Fired again.
With the third hit the figure scattered and the surge of water weakened. Dean continued to pull, his arms shaking, his face tense. Suddenly, he felt a force from the other side push the door toward him, opening it and spilling the water from the jail into the hall of storage drawers.
"Marshall?" Sam yelped.
"Coop's got Mead and he's messed up, man," Marshall told them, pulling the stretcher toward him and out of the way.
"Mead's alive?" Dean shouted.
Marshall nodded. "Coop's turning off the main water valve," he told them. "There's a system of drains through the whole town that leads back to the lake. Someone shut them off."
"No shit," Dean spat, pushing Sam through the door and following behind. "How come you came back?"
Marshall lifted a shoulder. "Cooper said that if I helped you…you'd leave."
"Unbelievable," Sam shook his head, making his way to the incinerator door. "After all of this, you just want us gone?"
"That's what I've been sayin', ain't it?"
Dean pushed the stretcher toward the door Sam held open. "You're consistent, I'll give you that."
"So all we gotta do is burn these bones?" Marshall asked.
Dean saw Sam's face fall as he looked toward the incinerator. "Something tells me it's not going to be that easy."
The room with the incinerator was overly-warm, a window in the metal oven lit with bluish-orange flames. The generator Dean had seen was large and positioned near another door which no doubt led to another room in this underground labyrinth New Lethe's creators had set up.
Sam felt his wet hair begin to dry and curl from the heat. He glanced over at Dean and watched his brother fold his lips in, his eyes darting to the door of the incinerator, his face tight. And Sam knew why.
Colin stood in the center of the room, staring out at them with an unreadable expression.
Sam was relieved to see the face of the man who had saved him from a vicious beating and not the horrific countenance he'd glimpsed in the cabin—the face he was sure Dean had thought was a Reaper. Somehow, it made it easier to step forward, working to distract the former soldier from Dean as his brother pushed the stretcher off to the side, toward the incinerator.
"Colin," Sam said. "We know it was your father."
"I tried to save them," Colin said, his hands handing open at his sides, his eyes sad. "I tried to stop it."
"I know," Sam said, taking a step closer, pulling Colin's focus away from the three of them and turning it just to him.
"No, you don't," Colin shook his head.
Sam heard Dean pull down the zipper, catching the sight out of the corner of his eyes as Dean turned his face into his shoulder, covering his nose and mouth as a wet, rotting stench of death and lake weed escaped the bag of bones. Marshall gagged, turning away and facing the door. Ignoring him, Dean twisted the cap of the gas can and looked up at his brother before he started pouring the salt over the bones.
"I know if everyone had just left you alone, you might've been able to keep him under control," Sam said, lowering his weapon completely, the barrel pointed down.
Colin nodded, his eyes trained fully on Sam. Dean began to pour the salt.
"I know they broke their promise," Sam continued.
"They did," Colin said. And without warning, he was standing near Dean, across the stretcher that held his bones. "And now all bets are off."
Sam gasped, turned, and brought the shotgun up. Before he could fire, however, Colin thrust back his hand, sending Sam across the room, crashing against the side of the incinerator and rolling away, across the floor. He blinked, his vision blurring, the shotgun no longer in his grip. He tried to push himself up, but his arms trembled, his head spun, and his body gave in.
With a soft exhale of fear, Sam felt himself sink into a very dark, very deep hole.
The moment Sam hit the ground, his body going limp, Dean felt something explode behind his eyes. A lightning flash of anger erased all caution or sympathy and he was ready to kill.
"Oh, you son of bitch."
He lifted the gas can, throwing the remaining salt directly at Colin's face, watching with satisfaction as the image disintegrated.
Dean shoved the stretcher toward the incinerator door and dove for the shotgun Sam had dropped. Grabbing it he rolled to his back, chambering a round and pointing the barrel at nothing. Marshall whimpered in the corner near the door they came in. Dean looked over his shoulder and saw Sam laying still, his eyes closed.
"Marshall!" Dean yelled, his voice a ragged sound bleeding through the heat that filled the room. "The bones!"
"What about them?" Marshall asked, not moving from his protective crouch.
"Shove them in the incinerator!"
"No friggin' way!" Marshal shook his head, looking wildly around the room. "I'm not getting thrown across the room."
"I'll cover you," Dean promised, reaching back to put a hand on Sam, checking for his pulse, reassuring himself that the ghost hadn't broken his neck with that fall. Sam stirred under his touch.
"You do it!" Marshall yelled back.
"Grow some balls, man!" Dean growled. "You want us gone? Then get the hell up and burn these goddamn bones!"
Marshall's lip curled up at Dean in protest, but he stood and hurried to the heavy door of the incinerator. Dean climbed to his knees next to Sam, keeping the shotgun pointed at the air around Marshall as the big man used the edge of his coat to protect his hand from the heat of the metal handle. Throwing the latch, Marshall opened the door and Dean felt the temperature of the room rise exponentially, his clothes drying, his eyes watering from the heat.
Sam groaned and Dean put his hand gently on the back of his brother's head.
"What'd I hit?" Sam moaned, pushing himself up so that he sat with his head hanging low, his forehead cradled in his hands. Dean slid his hand down to Sam's shoulder, helping his brother catch his balance.
"Nothing much. Just an incinerator." Dean gestured toward Marshall as the man began to clumsily shove the stretcher forward.
"Damn," Sam practically moaned, squinting around the obvious pain in his head.
The scream that suddenly tore through the small, hot room was an echo of the one that had shaken Dean to his soul inside the cabin. He let go of Sam and gripped the shotgun with two hands, standing slowly as he scanned the room for the darkness he knew would soon follow.
A groan, like that of a dying lion, echoed at once inside of him and all around him.
Dean shifted, stepping back as he turned, his eyes wide in the dancing light of the incinerator's flames. He saw Marshall on the floor, away from the incinerator, covering his head. He looked down and saw Sam staring around as well, so he knew he hadn't imagined the sound.
A wordless cry shook through the room, a supernatural Doppler Effect that had him turning, following the sound with the barrel of the shotgun.
And then the dark formed from a corner of the room, somehow, impossibly, beating back the light from the flame, finger-like tendrils growing thicker the faster it moved. It ate up the room, creaking like the joints of an old door, rolling as if it were made of the sinew and muscle of a living thing until it swarmed over Marshall, cloaking the stretcher bearing the bones.
Dean stood still, unable to draw a full breath, unable to move to defend himself as the darkness drew closer, reaching for him, calling for him.
And then it began to climb Sam's body. Sam cried out in horror, backing away as the darkness coiled up his outstretched legs, climbed his chest, and reached for his throat.
"NO!" Dean bellowed, firing into nothing, beating it back from Sam.
He fired again in a different direction, simply hoping he wasn't hitting Marshal—if Marshall was still alive—with his hap-hazard aim. The dark recoiled, pulling up, but not retreating.
"Don't you touch him," Dean snarled, reaching down and grabbing the last two shells from Sam's pocket, and slid them into the barrel. "You can take your lake," Dean said, firing again, pushing the darkness back, "and shove it up your—"
The dark reached out and grabbed him, wrapping around him like a whip, pulling him close as if in embrace. He heard Sam shout his name and then there was nothing but a feeling of complete emptiness. It pulled at him, bending him, taking him low. He couldn't breathe, his damaged lungs no match for the power tightening its grip. He couldn't see; the black surrounding him was utterly complete. He couldn't hear anything but the eerie shushing of his body being pulled against his will along the cement floor.
The darkness tugged on his strength as if feeding, dragging him forward until his arms crashed into something immovable.
Drawing a burst of strength from a light inside of him that he rarely paid heed to, Dean fought the pull of the dark; he reached up and shoved the stretcher with all of his might until he heard the dull clang as it hit the side of the incinerator, the bag of bones shifting slightly until it was half-way tipped into the flame.
A shriek echoed through the small room and Dean saw the crackle of power dance in the dark, felt it pulling back, falling away. He tried to push himself up, but found his reserves depleted, his body shaking from the effort of fighting back.
And then he saw Sam.
His brother was at the incinerator, shoving the bag further into the flame. The dark reached for him, an arm-shaped grasp of desperation. Dean fired the last round from the floor, blasting rock salt across the front of the incinerator. The dark faded like smoke and Sam used his coat-insulated arms to slam the door closed.
The flames inside spiked up high as the fire took the bones, purified by salt. From his vantage point on the floor Dean saw the darkness withdraw completely until there was nothing but firelight and the shadows it tossed against the walls.
He tried to once more to at least sit up, but his arms gave beneath him and he lay spent, gasping for breath, his body at its limit. As Sam sank to his knees next to him, panting from exertion, Dean saw a set of dog tags on the ground, directly in his eye line.
"Sam," he whispered, lacking the strength for anything louder.
But Sam saw them.
Dean watched his brother reach for the dog tags, watched Sam's fingers slide through them, watched them fade as the flames receded in the incinerator window, the bones now nothing but ash.
"It's done," Sam said softly. "It's over."
And Dean closed his eyes, allowing himself surrender at last to darkness.
"It's over?" Marshall bleated from his cowered position.
Sam ignored him, reaching for Dean's face, turning it carefully. His brother's skin was hot, but he couldn't tell how much was from the room and how much was fever.
"Dean?" He encouraged softly, patting Dean's cheek gently, trying to bring him around.
"Is he dead?"
Sam jerked his gaze over. "No!"
Marshall was on his knees, looking at them like a giant child.
"Go get Cooper," Sam ordered, gathering Dean up in a loose grasp of heavy limbs, holding him awkwardly against his chest. "Tell him we need help."
"Cooper's with Sheriff Mead," Marshall reminded him unnecessarily.
"Just get him!" Sam snapped, his patience gone.
His body ached, his head hurt, and he was so tired he wasn't sure he could stand—there was no way he was going to get Dean out of this room on his own.
"I…I can help you," Marshall offered. "Get him upstairs at least."
Sam blinked at him. "I thought you wanted us gone."
"I do," Marshall said. "But you're not going far if you can't get out of this room."
Sam nodded, trying to remind himself that the man had just witnessed something most people would never see.
"Thanks," Sam said.
Marshall stood and made his way over to them. He crouched gently lifting Dean from Sam's grasp as though he were transporting a sleeping child back to bed. His head hung back over the edge of Marshall's arm. Sam's mind slid over the fact that earlier that same day, Dean had knocked this man unconscious to stop him from beating Sam into submission.
Watching the big man carry his brother now, Sam felt his heart hurt that their lives were filled with such irony. He picked up the empty shotgun, pushed to his feet and followed Marshall, his stride wavering with exhaustion, his sight blurry from pain. They moved from the incinerator room and down the hall of storage lockers, the floor still wet from the flood in the jail.
As they made their way through the morgue, Dean's arms and legs swinging loosely in the big man's grip, Sam made himself look away from Officer Johnson's body. There was nothing they could have done to prevent the man's death, but it didn't make the sting of his loss in this fight any less potent. He followed Marshall up the back stairs to Cooper's offices.
Marshall headed to the room where Dean and Sam had napped earlier that day and carefully laid Dean on one of the couches.
"Thanks," Sam said again.
He felt himself swaying with fatigue. He couldn't even think of what he should say next, let alone do.
"Take that couch," Marshall said, putting a hand on Sam's arm in a surprisingly simple gesture of care. "I'll tell Cooper…. Hell, I don't know. Something."
Sam nodded numbly, dropping to the couch as if his legs had suddenly disappeared. He glanced once at Dean, his mind misfiring on all of the things they were supposed to do when the hunt was over. He was asleep before he'd figured out how to complete a thought.
"Sam. C'mon, open your eyes. Need you to wake up, now."
The voice was insistent, irritating.
And not Dean's.
Sam blinked to consciousness, surprised by the sunlight streaming through the window above the other couch. He peered with narrowed eyes at the person leaning over him; it took him a moment to place him in his memory, so foggy was his brain.
"Cooper?" He asked, his voice thick with sleep.
"Hey, kid," Cooper nodded, a bruise on his cheekbone evidence of his part in last night's battle. "Sorry to wake you—Lord knows you two need your sleep."
Sam felt the last several days catch up with him in a rush, pushing him forward into a sitting position. He rubbed his head gingerly; his entire body felt wrung out, hollow, bruised, but his head was throbbing.
"Guh," he muttered, holding the sides of his face, trying to keep his head fixed firmly to his shoulders. He glanced over, instinctively looking for Dean, and was surprised to find the other couch empty.
"I woke him first," Cooper told him. "His fever…it spiked up pretty high. I had to give him some more meds."
Sam looked over. "Is he okay?"
"No," Cooper shook his head, "but that's not the biggest problem right now."
"What do you mean?"
Cooper put a hand at his elbow, encouraging him to stand, balancing him once he did.
"Matthew found the fax—in my jacket," Cooper told him.
"Fax?" Sam asked, confused, his head swimming with the change in altitude. He let Cooper lead him toward the exam room.
"The one from that Agent," Cooper clarified. "Sheriff Mead found it this morning when we were…um…cleaning up."
"Oh, shit," Sam breathed, sitting in the chair he'd occupied last night. Now he remembered why he'd felt there was something they needed to do after the hunt last night: Hendrickson. The man was not giving up.
He looked up to see Dean situated much as he had been the previous afternoon: IV, oxygen mask, blankets. Only this time his eyes were closed.
This time he wasn't looking at Sam.
"How much time do we have?" Sam asked, trying to focus.
He took the ibuprofen and water that Cooper handed to him, swallowing it gratefully. Next, Cooper handed him a thick, porcelain bowl filled with oatmeal, dried cranberries, and nuts.
"Eat," Cooper ordered. "I made your brother eat something, too. He's…a bit stubborn."
"Tell me something I don't know," Sam said around a mouthful of oatmeal.
Cooper sighed, hitching a hip on the edge of his desk, sighing tiredly. Sam wondered fleetingly if the man had slept.
"Mead is putting Johnson's death on you two."
Sam resisted rolling his eyes only to save himself the headache.
"He saw the fax and called this Hendrickson fella who apparently gave him an earful."
"So why aren't we in jail now?" Sam asked. "Other than the fact that it's pretty much destroyed."
Cooper tilted his head, pushing out his lips as he regarded Sam. "Seems like you have a new fan."
"A what?" Sam asked, scraping the bowl clean and washing down the oatmeal with the rest of his water.
"Marshall told Mead he'd seen you heading out West of town after the shit hit the fan."
Sam blinked. "Wait…Marshall?"
"Didn't see that coming," Sam muttered in amazement.
"So, I figure we got about three hours to get you out of town, unbury your car, and get you heading East before Mead gets wise and calls this…Hendrickson guy."
"How do you figure that?"
"'Cause the place he told them you went? Is about an hour and a half from here."
Sam nodded, taking a breath and looking at Dean. "He's not doing too good, is he?"
Cooper shook his head. "Like I said, you both should be checked out at a hospital. And I'd like your brother on IV antibiotics and fluids for at least two more days."
"We can't go to a hospital," Sam sighed, swallowing hard. "Not now."
"I know." Cooper handed him the canvass bag. "I packed you a med kit. And Mandy gave you some food for the road. You should be set for awhile if we can get you out of here."
"What if these don't work?" Sam asked quietly, looking down into the bag, then up at his brother.
Cooper was quiet for a moment, his voice torn with suppressed emotion when he finally spoke. "Listen, I want to do more. I want to help you. But…your lives, they—"
"Hey, it's okay," Sam said, raising a hand to stop Cooper's speech, not ready to hear the truth quite yet. The truth that they were once again on their own, tasked with bearing the burden of their own fragility, despite the reasons they were broken in the first place. "We're used to taking care of ourselves. It's okay, really."
He tried to offer Cooper a smile, but felt the edges of it tremble.
"I'd just draw more attention to you if I left," Cooper said. "The best way to protect you is…to get you out of here."
Alone. Sam nodded, setting the bag on the chair hand moving over to Dean.
Dean woke with a jerk when Sam touched his shoulder. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy. When he reaching up with a clumsy hand and to pull the mask from his face, Sam saw his lips were chapped and pale.
"Sammy. You okay?" Dean asked in a painfully gruff, tight voice.
"I'm okay," Sam answered as truthfully as he could. "Cooper tell you?"
Dean nodded, pushing the blanket away. He allowed Cooper to remove the IV and took his coats from Sam, pulling them on with agonizing slowness. Sam saw the energy drain from his brother's face the longer he stood there. His skin was pale, his eyes shadowed, his breathing shallow.
But when he looked up at Sam, his expression was determined.
"Let's go get my baby," he said.
Cooper frowned at Sam in question. Sam waved a hand at him.
"You don't want to know."
Dean slumped against him as they road three abreast in the truck, Sam's long legs tucked sideways next to Dean's to avoid the gear shift. Sam felt gritty and tired. He knew under his layers of clothes he had to be pretty ripe after three days without a shower. Dean coughed weakly next to him, his shoulder rubbing Sam's as his body jerked slightly. His brother exuded heat. Sam could smell it rolling off of him, the dryer-sheet perfume of his clothes unable to mask the scent of sickness.
The five miles that had taken hours to walk two days ago were traveled in minutes. The snow had retreated slightly with the warmth of the sun, leaving exposed wheel ruts on the sparsely-traveled road. The landscape was quiet and cold; the sun turning the miles of unbroken snow into diamonds.
"There she is," Sam called out, spying the black roof of the Impala tucked up against a mound of slowly melting snow near the tree line.
"You sure did a number on her, didn't you?" Cooper commented.
"We didn't hit the trees," Dean pointed out.
"So I see," Cooper climbed out, drawing the cable from the winch to the front axle of the Impala. He returned to the truck. "One of you is going to need to get in there and steer."
"I will," Dean said, digging the keys from his jeans pocket.
"Dean," Sam said softly, holding his hand out. "I got this, okay?"
Dean lifted his eyes and Sam felt something shift inside of him at the look of pained helplessness swimming in his brother's gaze. He swallowed, not knowing what to say that would erase that expression; he had a feeling that nothing would help at this point—nothing except getting back on the road, and getting Dean well.
Dean reluctantly dropped the keys into Sam's open hand. Sliding across the seat, Sam trudged through the thick snow, unlocking the car and readying himself for Cooper to retract the winch.
The Impala skidded and slipped, tires fighting for traction, but soon Sam felt the car jerk, catching and move forward until it was nearly kissing the front of Cooper's truck. Sam got out, pulling his collar up in deference to the bite of the day. Strangely, as he stood waiting for Cooper to unhook the winch, he realized he could hear the skritch of a squirrel, the pierce of a hawk's cry.
Life had returned to the woods surrounding New Lethe.
The cable retracted, Cooper grabbed the jumper cables from the back of the truck and flipped his hood up. Sam did the same with the Impala, only noticing Dean's quiet presence next to him the moment he leaned over to clip the cables to the Impala's battery.
"Black on black," Dean said, his voice so thin it wasn't his own.
"I know," Sam replied, fixing the copper alligator clips to the battery mounts.
"Rev her slow, Sam," Dean instructed.
"I've done this before, y'know," Sam snapped, tiredly.
"Not on my baby you haven't," Dean replied, bracing himself against the car as a cough hit him.
"Dean—" Sam started to fire back, but saw Dean straighten slowly, one hand weakly gripping the roof of the Impala for balance, the other wiping a small smear of crimson from his lips. Biting the inside of his cheek, Sam kept quiet, revving the engine slow, just as Dean instructed.
After a moment of the engine gathering juice from Cooper's truck, Sam climbed out and unhooked the cables, handing them back to Cooper and closing the hood. He reached out a hand. Cooper put the straps of the canvass bag in it, carrying the duffle around to the back seat of the Impala and tossing it in.
Sam set the bag of supplies next to it and looked back up at the M.E.
"I was trying to say goodbye," Sam told him.
"Don't much care for goodbyes," Cooper said. "'Sides…you two basically managed to turn my world sideways. So, uh, yeah. Thanks for that."
"Appreciate all you've done for us," Dean said, swallowing and clearing his throat in an effort to keep another cough at bay.
"You take those meds, you hear?" Cooper pointed at him. "I don't want to hear about you dying by the side of the road somewhere."
Sam saw Dean's sad half-grin. "Believe me," Dean sighed, moving around the back of the Impala to climb in the passenger side. "When we die, it'll barely be a blip on the radar."
Sam frowned at that, looking down as Dean shut the door. He glanced up at Cooper. "Don't mind him," he offered. "He's tired and—"
"And sick and on the run for something he didn't do and he just saved the asses of a bunch of people who will never know about it," Cooper finished. He looked at Sam. "You both did."
Sam shrugged. "It's our job."
"Kind of a sucky job, kid," Cooper said, sighing. He looked back over his shoulder toward New Lethe. "You better get going. Stop as soon as you can. Hide out and rest. You need it. I'm just sorry—"
He didn't finish. Looking down, he raised a hand at Sam and moved toward his truck.
Sam tossed Cooper a salute and climbed behind the wheel, watching as Cooper backed up and turned around on the tight road toward New Lethe. Sam sighed, throwing the gear into reverse and doing the same until they were heading back the way they came two nights ago.
"East, right?" Sam said, looking over at Dean, frowning when he saw his brother huddled against the door, arms wrapped around himself.
He turned the heat up, needing to do something to alleviate Dean's discomfort. They'd lost their extra blankets when Dean fell through the ice. There wasn't much else he could do to stop his brother's weak shivers until they found a motel.
A motel far enough off the grid and away from New Lethe that Hendrickson wouldn't find them.
"'S what the man said," Dean replied. "Don't think it's gonna matter all that much."
"Why? What do you mean?"
Dean coughed, then rolled his head along the seat to look at Sam with fever-bright eyes. "Hendrickson's gonna find us. And when he does…it's not going to be pretty."
Sam pressed the accelerator down as they reached a crossroads, turning left and gripping the wheel tightly. "Maybe," he conceded. "But it's not going to be today."
Dean closed his eyes and Sam took a shaky breath, more scared in this moment than he had been when the darkness filled the incinerator room. He was hurting, his head pounding, his body aching. And Dean was just this side of fading completely.
They were walking wounded. And they were on their own. Again. Fighting to survive their real life was more terrifying than surviving a fight with the dead.
"We're gonna be okay, Dean," he said out loud, needing to hear the words.
Dean's rattling breath was his only answer.
a/n: One chapter left to go—and some parts in this next one that my heart simply had to see on paper. Always need the comfort to go with the hurt…otherwise there's not much point, is there? And right now, both brothers need some TLC. And there are always final questions to answer. I look forward to your thoughts.
Concluded in Part 5: gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/111132.html