Characters: Dean, OC (with appearances by Sam, Bobby, and Castiel)
Rating:PG-13 for language, violence, and one mature scene in chapter 1
Spoilers:Season 5, bridges episode 5.02 Good God, Ya'll to episode 5.04The End.
Summary:Hunting isn't something Dean can simply quit. Even if his family walks away; he's survived worse than loneliness. He's survived Hell. But when an ancient and dangerous breed of vampires and a mysterious hunter cross his path, Dean learns that Hell was just the beginning.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title of the story comes from a 30 Seconds To Mars song of the same name.
Warning: This story is definitely PG-13 and might be considered borderline R in some parts for language, violence, and one mature scene in the first chapter. I trust you know your tolerance level.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for your reviews. Your words are gold to me. Some of you have reviewed without logging in and I'm not able to directly reply to you; I want you to know your comments and time are very much appreciated. Hope you enjoy what's to come; the case is going to get a bit more complicated – and more personal – from here.
You could smell it
So you left me on my own
To complete the mission
Now I'm leaving it all behind
30 Seconds to Mars, Hunter
"Bobby, I'm telling you, man, these things aren't like anything we've seen before."
Dean stopped the Impala in a recess of the motel, near a maintenance shed. He shoved the gear into park and sat back in his seat, exhausted. The inside of his nose was still coated with the stench of burning flesh, his face and hands were sooty and dirt-streaked from digging a pit and then burying the ash and bone. His palms were raw from the shovel handle. And his eyes burned, shedding reactionary tears when he closed them.
"They were more like…30 Days of Night than Vampire Diaries."
"What you need is more TV."
"You sound like Sam." Dean's voice was gruff, but he couldn't help the small tug of a smile.
Bobby was quiet for a moment. Long enough for Dean to count five heartbeats. "You hear from him at all?"
"No. The President. Of the United States of America."
Bobby muttered something that sounded like smartass but didn't reply. His non-answer was enough and Dean let the moment evaporate, releasing Sam for the hundredth time since his brother had walked away.
"Okay, so vampires."
Bobby sighed on his end of the phone. "So, you're saying they were more…what?"
"They were…bat-like," Dean supplied, remembering the way the eyes of the one he'd killed on the Impala's hood had narrowed to slits, the curve of its hands as it had reached for him, the jagged teeth set inside a bloodless face. And the hissing. "They hardly resembled humans."
"You're gonna have to give me more to go on."
Dean sighed, rubbing his eyes. The events of the evening replayed behind his closed lids like a poorly-edited movie. Forty years in Hell had taught him one survival technique that had gone a long way to save his sanity: separate from the moment. Turn it into a movie, into something that happened to someone else, into something not quite real.
He knew it would become real soon enough, but if he had to replay it, if he had to think about it, it was easier to do so if he could pretend it had happened to someone else – a nameless, faceless person with no heart and no mind and no soul.
"They…hissed. But it was more like they were talking to each other, not just…y'know…making noise. And they all reacted at the same time – the same way – when I ganked the first one."
"They all?" Bobby repeated. "How many were there?"
"I dunno. Ten?"
"I didn't get them all. I got…two, I think. Noah got a couple. The rest ran off."
"Dude, don't you check your messages?"
"You think I sit around just waiting for you to call? I been busy."
"Yeah, yeah," Dean muttered, climbing stiffly out of the car.
Time was he wouldn't have felt the effects of a fight right away. Or at all. He figured the years were starting to weigh on him since, technically, he'd now lived twice his lifetime. Maybe not in this body, but his memory, his heart, his soul…they were all worn out. Worn down.
For the briefest of moments – a breath on the surface of time – he couldn't remember why he was even still doing this.
He kept moving; it was the thing that had kept him grounded when life tossed him sideways. Keep moving, and they couldn't get him. Keep moving and he wasn't in one place long enough that he could let anyone down. It was part of the legacy his father had left him. It wasn't something John had consciously taught his son, but Dean had always picked up a lot by watching, and he'd never really taken his eyes off of his father when he was growing up.
He made his way over to the garden hose he saw coiled up on the side of the building. As he continued to describe the vamps to Bobby, he pulled the hose to the grill of the Impala, then went back to the maintenance shed, picked the padlock, and looked through the contents until he found a few rags, a bucket, and some soap.
"They were rank. Smelled like…death. Literally. And their eyes were slits."
"Slits? Like cats?"
"Yeah, basically," Dean agreed.
"Okay, gimme a minute. Call ya back."
Dean nodded instinctively, not really caring that Bobby couldn't see him. He closed his phone and stuffed it back into his jean's pocket before turning on the water and pressing his thumb over the opening of the hose to flatten the spray of the icy water. In the muted light of the security lamp that illuminated a portion of the empty back lot of the motel, he watched the water run pink from the Impala, the blood from the vampire - and some from Noah, he knew - that coated the hood loosening and washing free.
Fatigue crept up on him with ninja-like grace and he was swaying on his feet. He blinked slowly, staring with vacant eyes through the windshield of his car to the front seat within. If he unfocused his gaze, he thought he could almost see people inside. John behind the wheel, elbow up on the windowsill, fingers drifting across his mouth to try to hide an expression – amusement, fear, worry, anger – that was never far from his eyes. Sam sprawled in the passenger seat, all lanky legs and sullen scowl.
Dean sprayed the glass, trying to banish the images, but the filtered light caught the mist of water and an odd sort of prism formed, sending his mind back, recalling times past when he and Sam had been younger, living in the back seat of this car, playing with green plastic soldiers and chunky Lego blocks. So much time with his brother had been spent in and around this car. So many secrets shared here that they simply couldn't tell anyone else.
Dean, I went all the way with Sheila McMannis...
Dad's been gone too long this time, Sam...
Dean, I got accepted into Stanford; you gotta help me tell Dad...
I couldn't live with you dead, Sam, I couldn't do it...
You were gone. I was here. I had to keep on fighting without you...
How I feel... This... inside me... I wish I couldn't feel anything, Sammy. I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing...
Dean took a sharp breath as his memories took a decidedly left-handed turn toward a place inside of him that was filled with knives and pain, loneliness and cold...so, so cold. He pressed his thumb - the tip of it almost numb at this point - and focused the spray of the water on the windshield, willing the memories away, forcing himself to see the emptiness inside the Impala. No brother, no father. Nothing. There was nothing there. And he had to be okay with that. Sam was gone and that had to be okay.
He and Sam once idly talked about what they'd do if they ever left hunting. Dean had said he'd open a bar. Sam, though…he'd not been able to come up with anything. Dean wondered if his brother would return to school, finish becoming the lawyer he'd once dreamed of being, but Sam had just slowly shaken his head, an almost resigned expression in his hazel eyes.
He hoped Sam was doing something head-achingly normal right now. Waiting tables. Working at a library. Maybe driving a taxi. Something that screamed regular life. He wanted Sam to have found an apartment, a regular car, an identity that didn't involve insurance scams. He wanted Sam to have to pay utilities and punch a clock and buy groceries and eat fucking Lucky Charms every morning. He hoped anonymity was his brother's closest companion. Because otherwise, Dean knew, Sam would eventually come back.
And Dean wasn't sure he'd be able to turn him away, even if it was for his own good.
Dean's gaze strayed once more to the passenger seat, his mind's eye rushing through the movie reel of moments until his heart started to crinkle at the edges, making breathing difficult.
Shaking his head to clear it of the memory cobwebs, Dean blanked his mind, soaping the Impala's black metal skin and running the rags lovingly over the surface until all traces of blood - both hunter and vampire - were gone and she was gleaming with teardrops of water. Returning the bucket, rags, and hose to their respective places, Dean slid behind the wheel once more, prepared to pull the car back into a parking spot before heading to his room.
The vibration of his phone in his jeans pocket had him jerking violently in surprise.
"Jesus…!" He dug out the phone and opened it up, not bothering to say hello.
"It's an ancient race of vampire, ya idjit."
"Oh, wait," Dean frowned, his brows meeting across the bridge of his nose. "I know this. I thought it was just a fancy word for vampire."
"Yeah, well, it is if by 'fancy word' you mean 'practically prehistoric'. It's from the Greek word nosphoros which means 'plague carrier'."
"Can we do the language lesson later? How do I get rid of them?"
"Same way as any other vampire. Chop off their heads."
"Bobby, there's a lot of them. Dozens. Maybe hundreds. Who the hell knows? The ones tonight," Dean shook his head, "they were just the tip of the iceberg. You could tell – they were just the scouts. I swear they were hunting."
"Snatch and grab – take the body back to their…nest, or whatever, and use it to feed the rest of them."
"Well, they're as vulnerable to fire and silver as any other vamp. Dead man's blood, wooden stake paralyzes them, I mean it's the basics. Oh wait. Here's something."
Dean rolled his neck, feeling the joints pop in quick succession, then turned the ignition. "Come again?"
"They live below ground. The old one hibernate, burying themselves in the ground, using the newly turned ones to get them food. Or whatever. And they can live a long-ass time underground."
"Well, that's just awesome."
Pulling into a parking spot in front of his room, Dean narrowed his eyes at the door. Something wasn't right. He shut off the car, exited, and approached the room door. The curtain, he realized, the hairs on the back of his neck rising in warning. The curtain covering the tiny window in the center of the door was pushed slightly aside.
Someone had been in his room.
"Bobby, I'm gonna have to call you back." He hung up once more without saying goodbye, put his phone away and drew his gun.
The door was still locked; he turned the key, twisted the handle, pushed the door open with the toe of his boot and pointed the barrel of his Colt through the opened doorway. The dark of the room was broken up by the reddish glow of the neon Vacancy sign outside and the digital clock on the nightstand within. He scanned the room quickly, then hit the light switch with his elbow, narrowing his eyes against the glare.
It was empty, everything in its place, and yet….
He kicked the door shut and locked it, then moved to his duffel bag, the zipper opened wider than he remembered, John's journal shifted from where he'd tucked it against the side. A muscle in his jaw bounced as he clenched his teeth, turning toward the table. The files on the victims that the M.E. had sent over had been shifted, obviously looked through.
"That son of a bitch," Dean muttered.
No wonder Kincade had shown up so quickly at the campus. Dead or wounded, didn't matter to Dean. This guy was about to get a piece of Dean's mind. He called the front desk.
"Yeah, this is, uh, Detective Buckner. Can you connect me to my partner's room?" He waited as the phone rang several times. When no one picked up, the hotel clerk came back on the line. "Listen, I need to get in there. We got separated and I…I think something might've happened to him. Can you just give me the room number? He wasn't able to before—Great, great, thanks so much."
Holstering his gun, Dean exited his room and made his way down several doors to the room Noah was staying in. He knocked once, not expecting an answer, then picked the lock, easing the door open, hitting the light immediately.
He saw at once that Noah wasn't there, hadn't been there recently either. No blood, no bandages, nothing indicating a severely wounded man had stumbled back to patch himself up. It was as Spartan as Dean's room, save the lack of victim files. A large backpack and a bedroll sat on the table, the denim jacket he'd seen Noah wearing at the bar draped across a chair.
Dean poked his head in the bathroom and saw that Noah had the usual toiletries stacked on the edge of the sink. It was almost eerie how much of a mirrored image this hunter's room was to his own. Mouth tense, eyes narrowed, Dean opened the backpack and begin to carefully nose around inside. Not much there aside from extra clothes, a couple books – one classic that Dean had never read but was sure Sam had, and one dog-eared paperback copy of Stephen King's It, which Dean was sure Sam had definitely not read – a knife and a wallet.
He pulled out the wallet and thumbed through it, noting a decent amount of cash, a few credit cards in different names, and a black and white picture. Removing the picture, Dean stared at it in confusion. It was of a woman in a dark bathing suit sitting on a beach chair with her head tilted back, looking over at the camera as if it caught her by surprise, though it was obviously posed. She was beautiful – flawless skin, large dark eyes, and black hair.
It was the hair that first threw him; it was styled in the manner he'd seen in the old World War II movies. And the bathing suit was definitely old school.
"Dude carries around a picture of his mom?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to make a crack, but suddenly an image of Mary plastered itself across his memory – not pinned to the ceiling, not in the faded photograph John tucked into the corner of every mirror in every motel they ever stayed, but of his mother smiling, vibrant, happy as she had been when the djinn sent Dean into an alternate reality. If he had a picture of her from then – even if it hadn't been real – he would have kept it, too.
Everyone has a story, Dean. He could almost hear Sam's chiding voice talking him off his judgment ledge.
He tucked the picture back into the wallet, showing more respect than he had taking it out, then returned the wallet to the backpack. If Noah were still alive, he'd most likely want that back. Pulling his phone out once more, Dean called Bobby.
"Sorry," he offered by way of greeting. "Someone had been in my room. Went through my bag, files, all of it."
"You still in one piece, there, Goldilocks?"
"It was Kincade."
"Who the hell is—"
"The other hunter Rufus said was on this job. Noah Kincade."
There was a distinct pause on Bobby's line, long enough for Dean to take note.
"You said…Noah Kincade?"
"Yeah," Dean replied, his frown turning from one of irritation to concern. "Why?"
"He an older guy? My age maybe?"
"No. Early thirties. If that."
"Well hell. Didn't know he had a kid."
"Whoa, there. Skip back a few pages. Who had a kid?"
"I knew a guy named Kincade. Back in 'Nam. Well, right after 'Nam. He was with Special Forces. Was a hunter before I knew what hunting was. Young guy, real serious. Hunted vamps, mainly, though I knew him to take out a werewolf or two."
"Well, like father like son, I guess." Dean said, looking around the room one last time before he switched off the light and headed back to his room. "When did you last hear from your friend?"
"Never said he was my friend. Said I knew him. Kincade didn't have friends. Said they were a liability. Never saw a guy more alone."
Dean's steps faltered slightly, his breath catching in the back of his throat at Bobby's words. He had to square his shoulders against the pang of his heart before he was able to open the door to his room.
"If you're working with him on this, tell him to find that underground nest."
Noah's choked follow…the nest…rang in Dean's ears. He dropped his head back tiredly, his shoulder sagging.
"Yeah, there we might have a problem. Noah got staked by one of the vamps."
"Damn." Bobby's curse seemed genuinely disquieted.
"It didn't kill him. Yet," Dean amended. "I pulled it out and was going for bandages to patch it up – he wanted to go to the hospital 'bout as much as the rest of us – and when I got back, he was gone."
"Must not have been that bad of a wound."
"That's just it, Bobby. It was deep, and the stake was the size of my…, well, it was big, let's just say that."
"It couldn't have been that bad if he got up and walked away, Dean."
"Well, I was just in his room and he ain't there, so maybe he had to hole up somewhere."
"Your best bet is to hook up with this guy and use him. His daddy was a hunter, just like yours, and if memory serves, the Kincade I knew was raised by a hunter as well. And if they all focused on vamps, that's a damn sight better resource than any book I got for ya."
Dean sighed, sitting heavily on the edge of his empty bed next to his seemed to give off cold. Like a whispered reminder that he was alone. Alone alone alone.
"Okay, well, I'll letcha know. If he's gone, I'm gonna need…I don't know. An underground vamp detector."
"You sound beat, kid," Bobby said gently.
"What time is it?"
"'bout two in the morning. Here."
"Fantastic," Dean groaned, lying back on the bed. He was starving. Dirty. Aching. Exhausted. He couldn't decide which to take care of first.
"Get some rest. You gotta watch your back, kid. Especially without….," Bobby trailed off, and Dean exhaled slowly.
Without Sam, his brain finished for Bobby.
"Catch you later," Dean told his friend as he closed the phone.
The quiet in the room was like another presence. He could hear himself breathing. Hear his heartbeat. Hear the steady drip of the bathroom faucet. The water running through the pipes in the room above him. The hum of the highway. His body twitched with weariness.
It wasn't just that he was alone. It wasn't just that he didn't have anyone to watch his back. It wasn't just that he was outnumbered and outmatched.
He missed his brother.
"Fuck," he sighed, dragging his hand down the length of his face. That kind of sentimental bullshit was going to get him exactly nowhere. Sam had left and Dean had a job to do. The plain truth of it had his body settling deeper into the bed with an imagined added weight.
He knew he should get up, get showered, check his weapons supplies, find some food. He was going to have to retrace his steps, check out the campus in the daylight, maybe talk to Ali again. But first he just wanted to lie still. Just not move for a moment.
The splash of heat across his belly jarred him, causing him to tense in anticipation, reminding him of what came next. The cold steel ran up his side with sharp intent, a low, mirthless laugh following the path until he felt breath on his throat, the laugh ghosting across his ear. He turned his face away, holding his breath against the fetid odor of his torturer. He knew what came after that laugh, knew the promises that would be whispered, the hands that would be both fire and ice against his face, and then the ripping—
With an inarticulate cry of unadulterated fear, Dean sat up abruptly, body trembling, sweat mixing with the ash and soot clinging to his skin. He looked around, confused, disoriented.
Room, weapons, duffel. Back. Here. Now. Not then…not there.
"Son of a bitch," he whispered, his voice hoarse as it skipped out of his dry throat.
He hadn't meant to fall asleep. He hadn't even realized he'd dropped off. There'd been no slow decent, no grudging anticipation of what awaited him. He'd simply fallen back into Hell.
Standing slowly, Dean groaned at the stiffness of his body, his hands still trembling as they wiped the grime from his forehead. With a slightly unsteady stagger, he made his way to his duffel, pulling out a silver flask filled with Jack Daniels from his last liquor store run. He took a hit, letting the alcohol burn down his throat, roll to fill his belly with false warmth. Exhaling, feeling like that breath could catch on fire, he took another long pull on the flask, the container lessening in weight as the liquid slid into him, uncoiling him, clearing his head, dulling his senses. He didn't really want to feel. Didn't want to feel a thing - especially not the remembered chill of metal on his skin, the fire of his flesh being parted.
Capping the flask, he dropped it back into the duffel, then, feeling slightly steadier, headed toward the bathroom and leaned against the sink to stare with heavy eyes at his reflection.
"You look like shit, Winchester," he muttered.
Stripping, he stepped into the shower, then turned on the water, letting the icy shock of the first hit of spray wake him further before the water gradually heated and worked the aches from his body. He pressed his hands against the tiled wall in front of him, hanging his head low beneath the intermittent intensity of the water sluiced down his face, collecting in a river across his bottom lip and falling in a rush toward the drain as he stood, mouth open, body thirsty for comfort.
He had no idea what time it was, but if he tried to go back to sleep at this point, he'd end up curling up on the floor, cocooned in the comforter or out in Greeley seeking the company of anyone just so that he didn't have to be alone. For a moment he considered calling for Cas, but just as quickly as the thought came, he banished it. Cas was an angel. And right now, he didn't want to be reminded of his epic destiny as a vessel for one of those guys.
The vampire soot now swirling down through the plumbing of the motel, Dean dressed in jeans and a gray T-shirt, then dug Sam's old laptop from the bottom of his duffel. He'd rarely had occasion to use it; Sam always handled the research. Liked it. Needed it.
Dean needed the action, the motion. Doing anything other than sitting still, letting thoughts creep in and gain ground.
As he powered up the machine, he noticed the worn spots on the keyboard, where Sam's palms had rested, certain keys used so much the painted-on letters were missing. When the wallpaper popped up – a blurred image of a highway, the yellow lines smeared and stretched thin – Dean swallowed. It was fitting his brother had chosen a road as his wallpaper. Nothing concrete, nothing solid. Something always moving, always leading someplace else. It was the story of their lives; it was what kept Dean in one piece and what had broken Sam apart.
Nothing about Sam being gone was right. None of it was as it should be. It was bullshit and there was jack he could do about it. Dean felt a muscle in his jaw bounce as he clenched his teeth. They were supposed to do this job together. They'd been raised to do it together.
We're better as a family, Dad, you know we are.
I just want us to be a family again.
Are you under the impression that family's supposed to make you feel good? They're supposed to make you miserable! That's why they're family.
Dean slammed a fist against the table. "Stop it," he ordered himself. This was getting him nowhere. He was just tired, that's all. Tired and dealing with a shitload of vampires. "Do your freaking job, man."
He would work, hunt, do the job. He would deal with the angels, keep Zachariah from turning him into a Holy Chew Toy, and stay away from Sam. Stay away so that if nothing else, he kept his brother safe from Heaven's plan.
With a renewed sense of energy, and ignoring the fact that he hadn't slept since the rest he'd grabbed in the Impala after leaving Ali's house, Dean spent the next several hours researching anything he could find about nosferatu. How to fight them, kill them, find them. Near as he could tell, the nest could be anywhere. And they could inhabit it for years without coming above ground as long as they had a steady supply of blood. Noah had been right: he needed to follow one back to the nest.
Once there, though, he was going to need more than a machete and a clip of silver bullets. He began making a list, regretting how long it would take for him to gather it all on his own: silver pellets to melt down, dynamite or C4, fuse, wood….
"The things you can find on the internet these days," Dean commented as he eyed the blueprint for the kind of bomb he thought he would need, then wrote down the additional supplies he knew he could find at a local hardware store.
By the time his list was ready, the sun had long since heated up the curtains pulled close over the front window. He grabbed his jacket, gun, a knife for his boot, and his Bowie, leaving his clothes and computer in the room, then headed out to the Impala.
It took most of the day to gather up the items he needed to execute his plan – the explosives were the most difficult. Apparently folks in Greeley, PA, weren't too keen on blowing things up. But Dean hadn't gotten this far in life by rolling over or calling for help when he hit a roadblock. He cornered himself in the back of a diner two blocks down from The Bottleneck, grabbed a phone book, and started down the list.
"Hello there, my name is Alan Parsons. I've got a…a project outside of town and we're short some supplies for our demolition team. I was told – oh, you don't? All right then. Thanks for your time."
He turned his back to the curious passer-by who was heading to the men's room.
"Good evening, Sir. I'm looking for a demolitions expert for a building site we're scoping in the next month and I heard you might have someone…Bahamas, really? Two months. Lucky bastard."
He tossed a glare at the business man who appeared to want to use the phone when he was finished. The man stepped away.
"Yeah, listen, my boss tol' me I gotta find a dozen sticks of dy-no-mite, know what I'm sayin'? Who, my boss? Ah, yeah, that'd be Mr. Page. Yeah, listen, mister, I don't come back with this and he'll have my ass and I gotta keep this job. Dude said he'd pay whatever it cost…you do? Aw, man that's awesome. Yeah, okay, we'll be around to get it tonight."
The explosives finally secured, Dean decided to wander over to The Bottleneck. He usually wasn't one to try for a repeat performance, but even if she wasn't interested – though, how could she not be, he thought – he could still do a pulse check of the community. It took all of a minute inside the bar for Dean to realize that something was off.
He made his way across the subdued room, noting the fact that fewer people were in the room, and wondered first at the time, then at the day. Bars lived and breathed for weekends. The only thing he was constantly aware of was if it was dark enough for the spooks to come out. Dates and time…that had always been Sam's department.
Leaning against the bar between two stools, he tipped his chin in the direction of the male bartender, motioning to the Sam Adams. The man set the pint in front of him and Dean nodded his thanks.
"Ali off tonight?"
The man – late forties, early fifties, puffy bags under his eyes with dark purple capillaries broken along his cheekbones, and a tired, graying mustache covering his upper lip – looked at Dean with mild surprise.
"Never showed up for work today," he answered.
Dean frowned. "That like her?"
The bartender shook his head. "Hasn't missed a day in five years."
"Anyone go check on her?" Dean inquired, trying to keep his tone mild while his blood pressure began to climb.
The bartender shook his head. "Heard she left with some pretty boy. New guy. Figured she's holed up in his love shack."
Dean frowned. It had been two nights since he walked Ali home.
"This pretty boy have a name?"
The bartender frowned at him – or at least Dean thought he did. It was hard to tell under the Yosemite Sam facial hair. "You want something from her?"
Dean lifted a shoulder. "She, uh…left with me a few nights back is all."
The bartender chuckled half-heartedly. "You ain't with her now, you're wasting your time, man. Ali's a one and done type."
"My loss then." Dean gave the bartender a tight smile, then sipped his pint, his sense on high alert.
Something was wrong. It wasn't just a love nest rendezvous keeping Ali away. He glanced around the bar, noting a business man, seeing the group of middle-aged men watching a ball game, and it hit him – there wasn't anyone here under thirty.
It could be the time of day, he reasoned. Perhaps it simply wasn't late enough. Plus he had no idea what day of the week it was – maybe there was another bar the younger crowd visited. But it didn't feel right to him. He paid for his beer, then headed toward the exit, intending on picking up the explosives and then going to the campus for a stake-out.
When Noah Kincade opened the door of the bar, Dean couldn't have been more surprised if he'd been Sam stepping toward him.
Noah, trying to adjust his vision from the security light of the outdoors to the shadows of the bar's interior, watched as the hunter's face unfolded in a blatant expression of shock, his body pulling back as if in resistance to what he was seeing, before everything slammed closed again – his eyes, his mouth, even the set of his shoulders.
Noah wasn't nearly strong enough for a confrontation; he needed to get to the motel to recoup and grab his supplies. He desperately needed sleep – without it, his body would simply shut down without his consent until it had gathered enough strength. But the ride he'd hitched was heading here, and he knew that if nothing else, Ali would take pity on him and give him some water – God, he needed some water – before calling him a cab to get back the motel and get his supplies.
The last person he expected to see was…aw, hell, what was it? Colt? Remington? Winchester!
"Winchester," he greeted, needing to validate his wavering memory.
"Dude," the hunter uttered almost breathlessly. "What the hell happened to you?"
The swarm of mental pictures from the past eighteen hours waged visual assault on Noah and for a moment all he could see was the interior of the abandoned house, waking up in a pool of sweat, feeling the tender skin on his face and hands where the silver had bled from him, crawling further into the house's shadows and sleeping until his body no longer beat with its own rhythm of pain, until he could stand almost without swaying, until he didn't feel like every breath was going to turn him inside out.
"I…it's a long story," Noah started, pulling the leather motorcycle jacket tighter around his bloody clothes as he remembered the sound of footfalls on leaves in the slowly dying light of day, the way he'd had to crawl to the doorway of the stone house as there were no windows, the sight of the vampire moving through the woods alone, like a zombie in search of flesh.
He'd followed it for several minutes – his weakened body moving on instinct alone – and was still reeling from the complete shock at seeing the rock formation butting up to the back of what had once been a mill of some kind, the entrance so obvious once exposed but so invisible to the naked eye, and the knowledge – the shocking, dizzying knowledge – that he'd found it.
He'd found it. So many years of tracking, hunting, searching and he'd basically stumbled across it in the dark while outrunning a group of college kids.
"How's your side?" Winchester asked, quick green eyes zeroing in on the blood stains still visible on Noah's jeans.
Noah shot a glance past the hunter's shoulder. "It's…tender."
He didn't see Ali. He needed to get out of here. Rest. And he needed water. He ran his tongue across his dry bottom lip, feeling the anxious, unfamiliar sensation of running out of time wrapping around his heart.
"I'll bet," Winchester muttered. "What are you doing here, man?"
"Needed to see Ali," Noah snapped, catching the kid's eyes. "Mind letting me by?"
"She's not here," Winchester replied, and Noah suddenly felt something roll off of the hunter. Anger. Worry. Fear. Pain. It was so potent that Noah almost checked him for visible wounds.
"Where is she?"
Winchester shifted his shoulders, his head tilting a bit in a challenge. "Don't know." He pressed his lips tight, then seemed to decide something. "I was about to head up to her house."
"Mind if I tag along?" Noah didn't know where the words came from. Last thing he needed was to further delay getting to the motel…a bed…his supplies…the nest.
Winchester blinked, his face exposing nothing; his eyes, though…there was something lurking there that warned Noah to be careful. He raised his hands at his sides. I come in peace.
"Yeah, okay," Winchester replied.
He moved past Noah, stepping out into the night. Noah took a breath and followed, stopping abruptly when Winchester turned under the streetlight, facing him, the overhead light tossing ominous shadows across the younger man's face.
"What?" Noah asked, wary.
"How…what?" Noah evaded.
"You know damn well what," Winchester all-but growled, his eyes hard. "I saw that wound, man. You should have bled out."
"Well," Noah lifted a shoulder, his breathing shallow, keeping his heartbeat as steady as possible, giving nothing away. He can't find out…not yet. "What can I say? I've always been a quick healer."
Winchester narrowed his eyes slightly. "Yeah, you and Buffy," he muttered.
"Who's Buffy?" Noah asked. "Another hunter?"
At that, the hunter's lips twitched in what Noah might've taken as a smile had the kid's eyes not been so dead. "You might say that." He turned, heading up the hill toward Ali's house, letting Noah follow or not as he chose.
Noah was weak; the walk to the road from the abandoned house took more energy than he wanted to admit. He'd been damn lucky to catch the sympathy of a passing trucker, and it had taken a supreme effort to keep the driver from noticing his blood-stained clothes. It was going to take him several more hours for his full strength to return, assuming he didn't mix it up with another pack of vamps.
"You been at this awhile," Winchester said suddenly – not so much a question as a demand to validate.
"Slow up there, Winchester," Noah called out, quick gasps for air punctuating his words. He was too winded to keep up a conversation, even on the short walk to Ali's house.
"It's Dean," the hunter corrected, turning to face him. "Just…call me Dean. And from what I hear, you're a third generation vampire hunter."
Noah stopped, forcing himself not to sway on his feet or reach out to brace himself on the chain-link fence. He blinked in mild surprise at Dean's reveal. "You've been checking up on me?"
"Pays to know who I might have to work with," Dean replied. "So, if you've got all this vast experience with these bastards, how come you haven't found their nest yet?"
Because they sensed me…because he's with them…because I want it too badly…pick a reason….
"Look, Winch—uh, Dean," Noah corrected himself, "I don't know who you've been talking to, but they got me mixed up with someone else. My Pop worked in a factory and my granddad was a farmer. And my mom…," he shook his head once. Just…no. "No hunters here 'sides me."
Dean stared at him with an unreadable expression another heartbeat before turning on his heel and heading up Ali's walk. Noah hung back, watching Dean advance to her door, knock, wait, peek in a side window, then draw out a slim lock pick kit and make quick work of the door.
Impressive, Noah thought, tilting his head to get a better view of Dean's hands. He'd met a good many hunters through the years. Some were old and cocky, some young and stupid, but they'd all had one quality that this kid apparently lacked: arrogance. Fighting monsters and surviving on a regular basis seemed to turn people into something they weren't. It gave them egos that eventually got them killed. Dean Winchester was confident, infuriating, and angry, but he was also one of the more level-headed hunters Noah had ever encountered. And he had wicked-fast hands.
Noah watched as Dean drew his weapon before entering the house and took a minute to steady himself. The kid was right, Noah knew: he should have bled out. He practically had, not that it would have mattered. It was a stupid mistake, letting that vampire get the upper hand – and it was a mistake that could have gotten him caught or killed had Dean not been there. His instinct was to berate himself for such a costly slip, but he'd been at this too long to not realize that exhaustion, distraction, and desperation created a deadly combination and he'd been battling all three since he first arrived in Greeley.
He needed sleep. And water. Lots of water. Neither of which he was going to get standing here waiting for the other hunter to check on his girlfriend. But there had been an edge to the room when Noah had stepped into the bar – a low hum of tension that hadn't been present any other time he'd been there. He knew Dean had picked up on it as well by the fact that they were leaving the bar to check on Ali - a girl that, as far as Noah knew, Dean had only met once.
Head buzzing a bit, Noah looked up at the ink-like sky dotted with pinpricks of dead light. The moon hadn't risen high enough to dampen the stars and Noah found his eyes tracking to old friends: the lazy "W" of Cassiopeia to the North, the four-square of the Big Dipper in the West….
"Hey," Dean called to him from the interior of the house. "You gonna stand out there all night?"
Noah shook himself and brought his focus back to the problem at hand. He made his way forward, the world taking on a fuzzy, distanced feeling as if he were walking through a thin cloud toward the house. He stumbled up the stairs and leaned against the opened door. He could see Dean standing in an empty kitchen staring at a dry erase calendar fastened to the front of the freezer door.
"Whatsit?" he tried. He tongue was too heavy. God he needed water. And sleep. It was getting damned hard to think.
Dean shot a look over his shoulder. "What's the matter with you?"
"Jus' tired," Noah replied, flapping a hand in the kid's direction. "Been a long-assed day."
Dean lifted his eyebrows as if to say welcome to my world. "You know what day it is?"
Noah blinked, thinking. He didn't actually know. Time had long ago worn down to nothing but seasons and lunar cycles. He never really needed to know what day it was. "Uh…," he said. "Saturday?"
Dean shook his head, frowning. "Bar was too dead for a Saturday."
"Wednesday?" Noah tried. It was difficult to remember what the days of the week even were at this point.
Dean looked at him again. "You just gonna keep saying days hoping to get it right?"
Noah shrugged. He felt drunk. Or what he thought he remembered drunk feeling like. It had been a long time since—
The kid could move fast, Noah would give him that. He no more than felt his knees buckle before Dean caught him across the chest and helped him slide down the wall in a more-or-less controlled fall. The dark of the house suddenly took a breath and grew, erasing the edges of Noah's sight, crawling across Dean, and turning Noah's vision into a tunnel.
"Hey, hey, easy there, man," Dean was saying, his cold fingers tapping Noah's cheek. "No passing out. I do not want to carry your ass outta here."
Noah felt Dean's hands on him, trying to check for the wound the hunter knew to be there, trying to see how bad, but Noah pushed him away, his movements clumsy, his vision wavering. He couldn't let the kid see...not now...not yet.
"W-water," Noah croaked. If he could hydrate, he had a shot at getting back to the motel on his own power to sleep until his body regenerated. "Lossa water."
Dean moved away from him and Noah heard him muttering something about Ali and being sorry he was poking around in her cabinets. Then he was back and Noah smelled the water in the glass and drank until he was choking, ignoring Dean's gentle protests. He could feel it filling him up, seeking out pockets and crevasses in side of him that the curse dried out, made hollow. He finished the glass and shoved it forward, gesturing for more. He drank with his whole body, needing the liquid to soothe the ache, the pain that seemed to radiate up through him in sonic waves. Needing the hope the water gave him that he could hang on just a little longer, that he would stay here and real and stable as long as possible. This was repeated three times before Noah's vision began to clear and he felt his balance returning.
Drinking the fourth glass slower, Noah looked at the younger hunter. Dean was watching him with evaluating eyes, seeing past whatever fragile shell cloistered Noah's heart, protected his self. Something about this guy unnerved Noah. He had an…an age on him. Something that belied the youth of his features, something that Noah knew only someone like him could recognize. It was tucked just beneath the surface of Dean's control and it set Noah off balance.
Dean swept him with a calculating look, mouth set, face grim. Noah tried to pull his jacket close, but his hands were shaking and he realized it didn't matter. Dean had seen the dried blood that had plastered his shirt to his skin, crackling along the seams of his jeans, caking his belt. He'd seen and his expression had shifted to one Noah was beginning to fear.
This guy was the real deal: a hunter who'd seen behind the curtain. There was only so long Noah would be able to hide.
"So what is it?" Dean asked him finally, his eyes holding Noah prisoner, his whole body still as he waited for the truth.
"What's what?" Noah croaked, his voice not his own as he tried to reclaim control of his rebellious body.
Dean tipped his chin down, his sharp eyes moving from Noah's face to his blood-covered side as if to say, you know what.
And Noah almost told him.
He hadn't told a soul the truth in so long. And he'd spent so many years alone because of it. He'd kept the world at arm's length, always careful, always cautious. And he was tired...he was so very, very tired. But the fourth glass of water brought more clarity and he was suddenly quite aware that he was sitting in the opened doorway of a girl's home – a girl Dean had slept with and Noah had wanted to – and he was not in a place to defend himself if the truth took this whole situation sideways on him.
"Not the time, kid," Noah sighed.
Dean opened his mouth to protest, but seemed to think better of it and looked away, a muscle bouncing in his jaw. "Tell me this," he said, glancing back, "if I work with you…if I help you get this nest…you going to gank me the minute we're done?"
God, he sure knows something, Noah registered with dread. "No," he replied. "No ganking."
Dean watched him another moment, then looked out through the opened door, as if watching for someone.
"Why'd you want to know what day it is?" Noah asked, suddenly curious. He had a feeling this kid rarely asked a question without a reason.
"Her calendar," Dean replied without looking back at him. "She wrote meet Alec at Saint El on the 13th."
"Saint El…," Noah mused. "Saint Elizabeth's?"
Dean nodded, eyes on the night. "Maybe. But I don't think that's where she is. Or where she still is."
At that, Dean did look at him. "Mustache Man back at the bar said she didn't show up for her shift. Said it wasn't like her."
"You're thinking the vamps went back to the campus," Noah concluded. These vamps would return to the same hunting ground for as long as they could, stocking up on food enough to feed them through a forced hibernation. "They went back there and she got caught in their net."
Dean sighed, dragging a hand down his face, looking as worn out as Noah felt."These vamps, man," he started, then shook his head. "They're like the unholy love child of Godzilla and Mothra."
Noah bit the inside of his cheek, keeping himself from laughing. Strangely, he found himself agreeing with the kid's unorthodox assessment. "What's worse?" he ground out, bringing Dean's eyes back to him. "They flock. Like...birds. Or raptors."
Dean nodded. "This is not going to be easy."
Tell me about it, Noah sighed inwardly, sipping the last of the water from the glass clutched in his trembling hand.
"I'm gonna go look for her," Dean suddenly announced. Noah realized as soon as the kid said the words that he'd been waiting for this declaration.
"I'm going with you."
"Hell you are."
Noah felt fire lick that back of his eyes, his jaw going tight as he stared at Dean. "You don't know what these things are capable of, kid."
"I'm a fast learner," Dean retorted, pushing to his feet and reaching down for Noah's hand.
Noah allowed himself to be helped up, but had to grip the door frame for a moment as gravity exerted its formidable power. "You're not going without me."
"You're a liability," Dean told him. "I take you, we're both gonna get killed."
Noah steadied himself and pushed away from the wall, stepping into Dean's space, desperation fanning the flame of his anger, adrenaline giving him energy. "You're not going without me," he repeated. He felt his heart slam against the base of his throat, imagined the other hunter could see it as his blood rushed through his veins in reaction to his sudden need to be heard, understood, agreed with. "You've got no idea what I've…what I've given up because of these fuckers. What they've taken from me."
He clenched his jaw, breathing hard through his nose to try to calm his racing heart. He almost told Dean the truth. Almost. "I have been looking for them for too long…. Sacrificed…too much. I can't not be part of this." He was leaning forward, his voice low, dangerous, but he felt as if he were yelling, neck muscles straining with the impact of the words. "If this is the end of it, I'm taking them out. You get me?"
Dean didn't move, not once throughout his whole tirade, but Noah saw something shift in his eyes, something that looked like recognition, understanding.
"Noah," Dean said, his voice gentling as if speaking to a wounded animal or frightened child. It simultaneously irritated and calmed Noah. "I'll just scout the place. Just look for Ali. I won't go Full Metal Jacket on them, okay?"
Noah lifted his chin, eyes never leaving Dean's, weighing the kid's words.
"'Sides, you're dead on your feet," Dean pointed out. "Catch a few hours sleep and we can figure out the next steps together…once I know what we're dealing with." He let his mouth tip up in a grin, eyes crinkling slightly, though the humor didn't touch them. "And who knows if she even went there? Neither of us has any idea what day today is."
"You believe she went there?" Noah challenged him.
Dean paused for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. I do."
"Me, too," Noah whispered in response.
A dread filled his gut, cold and heavy, and began to spread throughout his body. He followed Dean's eyes to the night outside the threshold of the door and worked to breathe around the knowledge that what was about to come might possibly be worse than all that he'd survived before.
Continued in Chapter 5
a/n: Thanks for reading. Next week Dean finds out just how evil ancient vampires can be. Hope to see you there!