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 5.04 The 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 for returning! Those of you who said it's been awhile – you're right. *grins* The last couple of months were pretty tough ones in Real Life; writing is my solace and working on this story kept me sane during some rough days. It hasn't turned out to be a 'typical' Supernatural story for me, but I have really loved writing it.
Also, I appreciate those of you who focus on more "Sam and Dean-centric" fics giving this one a chance. One of the things I love about Original Characters (be that in fics or in the show) is that we get to see our heroes through the eyes of another, and get to see our heroes reacting to and behaving around people different from their brother. That's what I've tried to bring to life here. You'll be the judge if I've done it "right."
I truly hope you enjoy what's to come.Prologue and Chapter 1
I tried to be someone else
But nothing seemed to change
I know now, this is who I really am inside.
30 Seconds to Mars, The Kill
Noah had recognized the kid as a hunter the moment he'd turned his back to the bar, surveying the room. He had a wild scent about him, something only another hunter – one who'd been at it as long as Noah had – would detect. The kid seemed to shimmer just outside of normal light, his energy wary, his eyes never still; even when they turned inward, where old wounds and history ticked beneath the surface of consciousness, his eyes had roamed, not lingering, not wanting the reminder.
He was younger than many of the hunters Noah had encountered in the past. But he had a worn look about him. Something that said he'd been around more than one block in his brief lifetime.
Noah was patient; he kept a close eye on his prey – so close that as the evening thinned, he wondered if the kid would pick up on it. But four pints and about six shots in, he recognized that the kid was focused on using Ali for information and hadn't widened his search. Noah listened as Ali told the younger hunter about the cult theory, watched as he took in the information, filed it away, and moved on.
It was clear where this interrogation was leading as Ali lingered near the hunter's stool, leaned close to him while talking, ignored other patrons as they saluted her with empty pint glasses. Noah would admit to a certain amount of jealousy; he'd been in the bar repetitively for a few weeks now and Ali hadn't once looked at him with the interest that had her eyes glowing as she took in this new guy.
Those days are long gone, Noah reminded himself as he cautioned Ali to be careful walking home. He turned to leave, purposely meeting the wary eyes of the hunter he knew would accompany her.
There was a time he could have been this kid. A time when human contact such as the kind the kid was seeking mattered, was craved…needed. A time when he cared about having a bed and three squares a day. When he still fought to hold tight to a regular life – a mortgage, bills, sex twice a week – despite the fact that the curtain had been pulled away and he knew what was out there, what was waiting for him in the dark. There was a time when he thought he needed the regular aspects of life to remind him of who he was.
But the world had reshaped him, like water on rock. The old needs no longer fit.
He left the bar, knowing the one he'd been watching would be the last to leave, and climbed the fire escape of the building next to The Bottleneck, crouching there and watching from his perch, the brilliant moon his companion as he surveyed the lot, waiting.
He wanted a cigarette.
His blood hummed just beneath the surface of his skin, aching for that hit of nicotine, the buzz of numbness that took the edge off of his perception. But he resisted. He needed the heightened awareness, even if sometimes the world was too sharp, too real, too here. Plus, vamps have a wicked sense of smell. Couldn't sneak up on one if his smoke gave him away.
So he sat. And he watched. And waited.
The night was cold; he shoved his fingers into the pockets of his denim jacket, his jaw aching from hyper vigilance as he kept his eyes pinned to the front door. He knew what time The Bottleneck closed, knew just how long he'd have to wait.
The door opened and two people stumbled out followed by Ali and the young hunter. He thought he'd heard the kid give Ali his name, but it was escaping him. He'd never been good with names. It took him three nights of visiting the bar to remember Ali's without having to listen for someone to call on her.
The couple stumbled away, moving as if they were both three sheets, though he knew it was only true of one. He waited, needing to time his move for when the couple was far enough away from Ali and the hunter to not put them in danger or expose him. He shifted his stance, ready to climb down from the fire escape, when he felt the kid's eyes on him.
Noah froze, for one brief minute certain that he'd been seen. But the moon worked in his favor for once and tossed well-positioned shadows, concealing him. The kid turned his attention back to Ali and Noah tried not to think of the interlude he knew would be commencing the moment they reached Ali's small house.
As the drunken couple moved toward town and Ali and her hunter headed up the hill, Noah slipped from his perch. He paused a moment, eyes following the hunter, noticing how the kid somehow managed to walk next to Ali and put himself between her and the dangers of the night at the same time. It seemed crazy that he'd not picked up on the vampire just down the bar from him. But there it was. He was walking away and Noah was going after it.
He made his way cautiously around the bar, vaulting the low fences that surrounded back yards, ignoring the scents of earth, home, and family that assaulted his acute senses as he worked around to cut off the duo. He quickly found the alley he'd pegged as the trap the vamp had set for its prey. Keeping low, moving quickly, he slipped on a pair of thin leather gloves and pulled the silver-tipped wooden stake from its sheath beneath his denim coat.
He didn't want to have to use it – not this time. He was after something bigger than one vamp: he wanted the nest. He'd gotten close once, a long time ago. But they'd gotten wind of his pursuit and escaped, evaded, relocated. They shifted locations every few years, and hid well enough no regular hunter would simply stumble across them.
After years of searching Noah was no closer to locating the nest, and it was everything. It was the grail. And if following this vamp to find it meant sacrificing an innocent….
Collateral damage, he justified.
He moved quietly into the alley ahead of the couple. The sour smell of the trash dumpsters drifting down the length of the narrow lane was strong enough he pressed his nose against his shoulder. Hopefully that smell would mask his scent; he figured the vamp was counting on that as well. Once it started feeding, a vampire gave off an odor of death strong enough it would catch the attention of any passer-by.
Noah skirted a water-filled pothole, his boots slipping on some loose gravel until he found an alcove in the passageway and pressed himself flat against the cold brick wall of one of the buildings framing the alley. He held still, barely breathing, and waited.
The couple moved into the alley – he heard the word shortcut – and he closed his eyes, working to slow his heart rate, knowing how easily the vamp would hear it if alerted to another presence. A soft oomph came from several feet down and he opened his eyes, watching as the vampire pressed her catch against the opposite wall of the alley. If anyone passed by the opening, it would merely look like two people ready to get it on as she rubbed against her victim, her mouth moving from his, down his jaw to his neck.
The man groaned, his hand fumbling along her back, making a half-hearted attempt to hold her or push her away, it was unclear. The female vamp looked up, and in the moonlight Noah could see her razor-like teeth bared, her eyes pale, pupils having turned to cat-like slits. The man with her was too drunk to catch on, slumping against the wall and patting her awkwardly.
"'S nice," the man slurred, his eyes closed, head canted back.
The guy was more than drunk, Noah saw. A thin red line leaked from his neck where the vamp had been feeding, the heady, erotic sensation of her bite overpowering any of the pain inflicted and keeping the man momentarily ignorant of what was actually happening to him. Noah felt his belly tighten as she looked around, licking the man's blood from her lips as she did so.
"I know you're there," she snarled, her voice raspy and her face going round – no longer resembling the attractive curves and angles of a modern-day Anglo female – her mouth widening, eyes turning red.
Her race of vampire was ancient, Noah knew, and the taste of the man's blood was drawing her true form forward. He'd seen enough vamps in his time as a hunter that he was rarely fazed by their true appearance, but this race repulsed him. They were primeval. The ancient ones were more animalistic – he'd only seen a few in his years hunting them, but the ones he'd seen repulsed him with their clawed hands, bat-like ears, red eyes and full-lipped mouths filled with deadly teeth.
Even the newly-turned took on the traits of the old ones: the dank scent of rot, the pale, beast-like countenance, the snake-like hiss of their voices – when they bothered to speak at all. Their sense of hearing and smell was acute, making up for the blindness of their narrowed eyes. And they were strong – stronger than most.
"I smell you." She turned her face toward him, the bloodless pallor of her skin shining in the moonlight.
Dammit, Noah cursed silently. He'd gotten too close.
He held still, barely breathing, watching from the shadows as she pressed her hand against her victim's throat, pinning the man to the wall in a blurry, confused mess. Noah knew she didn't want to kill the guy – not yet, anyway. She wanted to taste him, own him, take him back to the nest as food for the rest. They'd feed on this guy for months.
"Kinky," the man muttered, coming around enough to realize she'd stopped putting out and that something wasn't right.
Noah watched as he reached for her and she tightened her grip, her nails elongating and digging in to his throat. The man choked, eye going from intoxicated and aroused to desperate and terrified in a second. Noah stepped out from the shadows, cursing the instinct to protect.
"Let him go," he growled.
"Back off, hunter," the vamp hissed.
"Don't really see that happening, do you?" Noah asked, rolling the stake in his palm and widening his stance, squaring off, ready for her attack.
She tilted her head, stiffly, like an animal studying him. The man in her grasp had gained his feet and was attempting to push himself upright, his eyes clearing as he reached up and felt the blood running down the side of his neck. She held him causally, her eyes on Noah – which made him nervous on two fronts. If he had any hope of saving this guy and not end up breaking cover for no reason, he had to act now. But she was clearly ready for him.
Taking a quick breath, he launched forward, the silver-tipped stake gripped low, ready to slam it home to what had once been her heart. She brought her free arm up and backhanded him before he had a chance to touch her, sending him crashing roughly against the opposite wall, driving the air from his lungs and making his head spin. She continued to stare at him, her pale face lined with confusion and curiosity as he coughed, shaking his head slowly to get the world to slow the hell down.
"What the fu-" the man choked, clawing at her grip as Noah rolled shakily to his knees, grabbing for air with thirsty breaths.
Noah looked up just as the man's efforts at resistance began to sound wet. He instinctively raised his hand toward the vamp. "No, don't!"
She tightened her grip, crushing the man's throat and pulling his windpipe out with a soggy rip. For a moment the dead man stayed upright as the vamp turned toward Noah, his windpipe dripping from her fingers, then his face fell blank and his body crumpled in a heap of empty human shell.
"I know what you are," the vampire hissed at him, keeping her eyes on his face as she licked the man's blood from his dangling windpipe like some macabre lollipop.
Noah pushed himself to his feet, using the wall for support. He'd maintained his grip on the stake and held it in front of his body, hoping the silver tip would be enough of a deterrent while he fought to get his bearings.
"I don't want to kill you," he told her.
She grinned, her jagged teeth stained red. "The feeling isn't mutual."
"I just want the nest," he tried. "Tell me where it is, and you can walk away."
At that, she outright laughed. Noah had to admit as he leaned heavily against the wall, hand still shaking from his impact with the brick, that he didn't pose much of a viable threat. But, then again, a vampire – of all creatures – should be well-aware that looks can be deceiving.
"You are no hunter," she purred. "I am going to tear you apart."
"Take your best shot," Noah growled, ready.
She moved impossibly fast and was on him before he'd pulled in his next breath. But he'd not survived this long without having learned a few tricks of his own. Noah juked sideways at the last second, causing the vampire to overshoot and stumble as he spun around, slamming his elbow into the nap of her neck and shoving her face-first into the nearest dumpster. She flipped, turning with a teeth-bared hiss and dove at him, nails first.
Noah took the hit, gritting his teeth against an instinctive cry of pain as her nails dug into his side, using the vamp's momentum to thrust the stake upwards, the silver tip parting her skin right below her sternum and arresting her movement, her claws still embedded in his side. The wooden weapon paralyzed her, freezing her face in a grimace of hate, her teeth bared and dripping another man's blood down his neck.
"Now," Noah panted, holding still as her weight bore down on him, the pain in his side from her nails building until he felt it at the corners of his eyes, "you got two choices…," he took a step forward, turning her, then pressing her against the brick wall opposite the man she'd just killed. "You tell me where your nest is," he shoved the stake in further, causing her to drop her head back, her face going slack, "and I'll pull this fucker out. You don't…and I don't have to tell you what's next."
He was breathing hard, his heart slamming against the base of his throat, his side aflame, his skin retreating from her nails. She rolled her eyes down to meet his, one side of her mouth turning up in what might have been a grin when she'd been human. He twisted the stake, knowing the silver was burning through her, knowing it was turning her blood to fire even as the stake stilled her movements as effectively as a straight jacket.
She closed her eyes and Noah grunted as she sluggishly tugged her hand away, her nails tearing his skin like a paper being ripped from a notebook. Blood trickled down his side and he shook her, once, as he accepted that she wasn't going to give up the location of her nest and if he pulled the stake free, she'd literally tear him apart.
"Have it your way," he breathed, pulling a small machete from a harness at his back, lifting it in an arc, and separating her head from her body in a clean cut, the blood pooling at the blunted end of her neck.
As her head hit the pavement, a hollow knock echoing against the opposing walls, Noah pulled the stake free, letting her body fall to the ground. He bent down and wiped the blood from the tip of the stake onto her jeans. Rising, he quickly resheathed both weapons, forcibly ignoring the pain at his side. He stumbled across to the body of the man he'd been willing to sacrifice, digging through the pockets until he found a wallet.
Bruce London, twenty-five. He was local. The cops would find his body soon enough, Noah knew. He cleaned out the wallet of its cash, tucking the bills into his pocket, knowing they wouldn't do Bruce any good now, then tossed the wallet against the wall, hoping the cops would take it as a mugging gone wrong. He snagged the vamp's head by the hair, grabbed her body by her wrist, and started down the alley, dragging her behind him.
No good would come from local LEOs looking into a beheaded woman; that's all she resembled now, in death. Whoever she'd been before some randy vamp had turned her, she became once more in death. A young, impressionable female, ready to be told she was beautiful, wanted, desired. Too bad someone hadn't told her she'd also be a soulless creature intent on the ruination of lives well beyond her lifetime.
Noah breached the edge of the alley and looked both ways, pulling back into the shadows as he saw the young hunter making his way down the hill from Ali's house. He'd thought for sure their fling would take all night. He'd obviously read the hunter wrong; now he had to wait. Hope the kid left the area, stayed oblivious. He wasn't feeling up to a big reveal right now; his side hurt like hell and he was working on a wicked headache.
He could explain this to the kid, sure – especially if the hunter had dealt with vamps before. But he didn't want to. The kid hadn't picked up on the female vamp back at the bar and Noah didn't need some rack 'em and stack 'em hunter getting in his way.
He had to find that nest.
Noah tucked himself back into the corner, the vamp's head dangling from one hand, her body from the other, the sting in his side throbbing like a latent heartbeat, his body ticking down with exhaustion, and watched as the hunter walked down the hill, hands buried in his jacket pockets, his eyes at the ground. Noah could see the kid's radar was going nuts, hypersensitive to each sound, each movement caught from the corners of his eyes.
The hunter jerked his head to the left, pausing his movement, his hand going to his back waistband, then relaxed as a cat strutted across his path. If Noah didn't know better, he'd guess the kid was minus a partner – and the loss was recent. No one was this vigilant unless they were used to having someone at their back. This kid was going to wear himself out inside the next week if he didn't find another way to stay aware.
As Noah watched, the hunter made his way to a big, black Chevy, unlocking the door and easing himself inside. Noah waited….and waited. The engine never turned on. Frowning, glancing around him in the thin hours of what was left of the night, Noah dropped the vamp's head and arm, and angled himself along the wall of the building, working his way up to a tree near to where the Chevy was parked. It was a boat of a car, late sixties or seventies model; he'd never had an eye for cars.
He didn't get too close; he knew if the kid had been a hairs breadth from shooting a random cat, he would be taking his life in his hands if he startled the weary hunter now. But the fact that he'd left Ali's before the night was over and yet wasn't driving away…it gnawed at Noah. Something wasn't right.
Silently, on cat-like feet Noah stepped away from the tree, slipping just close enough to the Chevy that he could see inside the driver's side window. The hunter was sitting behind the wheel; his head canted back, his hands in his lap, fingers wrapped around a pistol. He looked exhausted and Noah felt something tug inside of him where long ago his heart used to be. The kid was worn out. Done in. Whatever had driven him from Ali's bed had quit on him the moment he thought himself safe. Noah didn't have the heart to wake him.
Part of him knew that this hunter was here for a reason. Noah had managed to turn Rufus away, but knew the cagey old hunter wouldn't let it lie. Too many deaths under suspicious circumstances; that kid was here to take out some vampires. And that meant he would have to confront this kid sooner or later – not to mention stay one step ahead of him if he was going to get to the nest before the kid got himself killed or his efforts chased the brood to a new nest.
But as he watched the hunter sleep, his fingers flexing spastically around the grip of his gun, Noah knew there would be another chance. Hunters might think they were superhuman simply because they knew what lurked in the shadows, but they were as fragile as anyone else. They could break.
Exhaling slowly, he put his empathy for the hunter behind him. There was no place for that here. No place for that in his life. He crept back to the alley, grabbed what was left of the vamp, and made his way down the alley, toward the opposite end. He needed a clearing to rid himself of his kill. And then he would need to start all over again.
Because without the nest, none of the rest of this mattered.
Not the pain, not the loneliness. None of it.
Dawn's light felt different than the cold, yellow glow of the street lights. At the subtle shift in perception, the moment the sun's rays breached the horizon scouting for their host, Dean woke, the transition from sleep to awareness instantaneous. He opened his eyes, his body stiff, shivering, covered in sweat, the dregs of a nightmare clinging like a cobweb he'd accidentally walked through.
A thin film of early frost had crawled across the base of the Impala's windshield shielding Dean from view as if she were trying to keep him secret, safe. The sky was ribboned with bands of light and the dregs of night; the lingering clouds holding the nightmarish images and faces from his dreams as if they were something he couldn't see no matter how long he stared at it.
Gradually the rush of dream noise that had chased him to awareness subsided and he could hear the world come slowly alive around him – insects greeted one another, birds claimed territory, and the intermittent rev of a car engine down the block toward the interstate told him that it was time for the early-morning white collar workers to say goodbye to their two-point-five kids and depart their white picket fences for the grind.
Dean turned his head, blinking blearily. His neck ached from the angle against the back of the seat. He'd slept like this one too many times. Usually with Sam next to him, head resting against the window. In his mind's eye he saw himself reach over and smack his brother with the back of his hand, speaking too loudly for Sam to rise and shine, Princess…evil waits for no man.
This time, he woke alone…except for the lingering sounds of scythes and spears clanking against the cold, metal rack, the rip of skin from muscle, the screams of pain from himself and others.
He rubbed his face and rolled his neck until it popped.
"Son of a….," he groaned. His legs had gotten stiff overnight, his feet tingling with the pins-and-needles effect of sleeping upright. He stamped his feet against the floorboards and stretched his arms forward across the steering wheel.
He needed caffeine. Pronto.
Running his tongue along his teeth he tasted the film there, grimacing as he arched his back from the seat, curving his spine and stretching. Something tickled the back of his brain, and almost-memory, a forgotten word. He shook his head to clear it, certain it was simply a hangover from the nightmare.
If he hadn't parked in a somewhat residential area, he would have stepped from the safe confines of the Impala and relieved himself. As it was, he knew it would be poor form to say the least. He lifted the gun from his lap and stuffed it into the glove box, then turned over the ignition, thinking only to find the nearest diner and about fourteen cups of coffee.
It took until that moment for him to see the uniforms swarming at the entrance to an alley one block down from the bar he'd been in last night, three of them bunched together in what looked like a planning huddle.
"Well, shit," he muttered.
Last thing he needed was to be questioned by the law before he'd had a chance to whip out his fake persona. He shifted to reverse, backed up a block, then turned right, heading the opposite direction from whatever was happening in the alley.
He found a Denny's Restaurant and ducked into the restroom, brushed his teeth, washed his face, and changed his shirt. His boxers would have to wait. His charm had people willing to look past hygiene far more often than Sam would ever admit. And besides…Sam wasn't there to critique, was he?
He grabbed a booth and ordered coffee, pancakes, and bacon, snagging the morning paper from the empty table next to him.
Whatever had been going on in the alley hadn't made the early edition, but it seemed the police were no closer to solving the mystery of the bloodless bodies then they were when Bobby got wind of the hunt. Apparently, however, two people had been found barely alive the night before last, suffering from the same malady as what apparently took the lives of those in the morgue. He skimmed the article, picking out the words CDC and Federal aid.
That made his job easier.
After three cups of coffee, he had a plan, thanks to Ali's conspirator's whisper the night before. Heading back out to the Impala, he ducked into the trunk – the weapons carefully hidden by the false bottom – and pulled out his suit, laying it across the back seat. He headed to the nearest gas station and, after fueling up the Chevy, took his suit into the restroom, locking the door behind him.
Changing into his detective guise at the restaurant would have looked too suspicious. This way, he was a little like Superman: changing from average guy to whatever role was going to get the job done.
Grinning at his own ridiculousness, Dean pulled his shirt open, exposing his bare chest and Devil's Trap tattoo to the smudged mirror. The tat reminded him of Ali, and the night before, and his grin grew wider.
"Yeah, I still got it," he bragged quietly, swiftly changing clothes, then checking to make sure his fake badge was still in the inside pocket of the suit jacket.
Leaving the restroom, he glanced around the block as the town of Greeley slowly woke up around him. Everything felt…normal. Regular. People moving about, heading to work, dropping kids off at school, thinking about their plans for lunch, the deadlines they had to meet, the test they'd studied for. There wasn't a vibe of worry or panic, despite the story in the morning paper that whatever was harming the citizens of Greeley had yet to be found or stopped.
He dropped his suit bag in the truck of the Impala, then slid behind the wheel, wondering as he always did what it would be like to not know…to be oblivious to the darkness that waited at the edges of awareness, ready to pounce, to maim, to kill.
Don't keep them any safer, that's for sure, he mused as he made his way to the hospital, parking around the block and heading inside.
He found the information desk, asking to speak to the doctor whose name he'd seen in the papers that morning. The receptionist paged the doctor and Dean waited, leaning against the desk, looking around the nearly empty room. As the doctor's name was announced once more over the loudspeaker, Dean caught sight of someone leaving the waiting area, pushing through the revolving doors more quickly than the doors seemed to allow.
It was just a flash – dark hair, denim jacket – but the hairs on the back of Dean's neck told him he knew that person. He was about to step away from the desk to follow when he heard a mild voice say behind him, "You paged me?"
Slipping his game face on, Dean pulled his badge from his pocket and turned around.
"Hi. Detective Bill Buckner."
The doctor's bland expression gave no indication he picked up on the alias' similarity to the baseball player.
"How can I help you, Detective?"
"I'm here about those patients. The exanguinated ones."
The doctor frowned, but it seemed more due to the nature of the case than Dean himself. "I'm sorry to tell you this, Detective, but they are no longer patients. We lost one last night, the other just a few hours ago."
Dean lifted his chin, watching the man's face. "Can I assume they've been moved to your morgue?"
The doctor nodded. "I'll take you down. You can speak with Dr. Price, our city Medical Examiner. He's still on premises completing the autopsy of the first…er, latest victim."
Dean narrowed his eyes as the doctor stumbled over the last word, but followed him toward the elevators. They descended in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. As the elevator doors opened, Dean felt himself mentally bracing. The air that greeted them was cold, still, and held a slight metallic taste.
He and Sam had been in enough morgues, crypts, and graves in their years as hunters that Dean was numb to the concept of seeing human remains. But there was something about seeing them in a morgue that always tangled something deep within him. The metal drawer, the Frankenstein-like Y-incision, the harsh, cold lighting – they all managed to twist Dean's stomach.
Dean followed the doctor down the empty hall, their foot-falls echoing off the tiled walls. The doctor waved his ID badge in front of an electronic access panel. Dean jumped slightly as the doors clicked open, but followed the doctor into the wide, sterile room without a word.
The doctor introduced him to the M.E., Dr. Price, an older man who looked to be standing upright simply due to habit. Price took Dean's outstretched hand and Dean inwardly winced at the man's skeletal grip, watching as he tilted his head in question.
"So soon? I thought it would be at least 24 hours."
Dean glanced from the doctor to the M.E. "Twenty-four house until…what?"
"Until you arrived. Your colleague was just here not more than thirty minutes ago."
Dean bit the inside of his lower lip, his brain kicking into overdrive. "My colleague, of course. We must have gotten our signals crossed. We'll have to sync back up…but until then, maybe you could go over your findings with me?"
Price shrugged. "Of course."
As the doctor left, and Dean followed Price into the cold morgue, his senses battered by the harsh, focused lighting and overpowering stench of decomposition, formaldehyde, and cleanser, his mind felt on fire with possibilities. Legit investigation or hunter? He thought back to the man he'd seen exit the hospital, then let his mind skip to the unrealistic possibility that it could have been Sam – Sam with second thoughts, finding out about the hunt through Bobby, heading to the city, looking for clues before he located his brother….
"…multiple lacerations, and what looks like ligature marks here, here, and around the neck," Price was saying.
Dean blinked, drawing his focus back to the body on the table. It was a woman, mid- to late-twenties, more emaciated than slim, her face untouched, but her body nearly dissected with narrow cuts. He saw that above her clavicle, across her belly, and down her sides puncture marks in the crescent shape of a bite stood out against her white, marbled skin. And she'd definitely been bound.
"Who is she?" Dean asked.
Price looked askance at him. "That was the first question your colleague asked as well." He picked up a file. "Surprised me, actually."
Dean glanced from the body to the M.E. "Why's that?"
The man lifted a shoulder. "Plain clothes cop like that…usually they want the facts, not the faces. Ah, here it is. Prints ID her as a Melissa George. Student at Saint Elizabeth's," he frowned down at the girl's body, "a Roman Catholic college nearby."
Dean was still chewing on the man's comment about the plain-clothes cop when Price moved to a drawer and pulled it open, revealing another emaciated body, this time of a young man, the decomposition having progressed much further than the girl's. The skin along the cheekbones was pulled taut, the eyes sunken into the skull, the body cloaked in the greenish-gray hue that said nature had taken over and science was their only ally. Price picked up a file he'd left on the chest of the deceased.
"What is it?"
"Well, I didn't put it together until you and your friend asked, but…," he moved away from the drawer and opened another door, pulling out another body and another file. Dean watched quietly until the M.E. had opened three drawers and held five files in his hand. "Of the five bodies showing the same signs of mutilation and torture, three were students at Saint Elizabeth's."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "That's more than a coincidence," he muttered. "And no one else picked up on this? No one reported a rash of disappearances from the school?"
Price shook his head. "This last victim was brought here just last night."
"Any idea how long she's been missing?"
The man moved to his computer, the keys rattling beneath his swift, latex-covered fingers. "She was reported missing two weeks ago."
Dean looked back over at the body, thinking through the hell that had to have been visited upon her during those weeks.
"She was the shortest, though."
"Come again?" Dean asked, frowning at the M.E.
"The shortest length of time missing," he clarified. "That one there," he indicated with his chin to the drawer nearest them, "has been missing for three months."
Dean worried his bottom lip with his teeth, his brain humming through the facts. "How long would you say he'd been dead when the body was discovered?"
The M.E. matched Dean's frown. "No more than forty-eight hours."
Dean moved over to the body, trying to school his features and avoid grimacing as he stared at the skeletal-like remains. The same marks on the neck and wrists…the same lacerations along the chest and bite marks on the torso….
"So, they took them and kept them."
"To torture," the M.E. concluded.
Or feed, Dean mused. He hadn't heard of vampires keeping their prey alive for that long in the past, but at this point, nothing would surprise him. He needed to get to that school, check out the grounds.
"Think I could get a copy of those files?" Dean asked.
Price nodded. "Of course. Should I just send them to your hotel?"
Dean ran a tongue across his bottom lip. "Actually, haven't set up shop anywhere yet. I'll just come back to pick them up."
"Or, I could just send another copy to where your colleague is staying," Price suggested. "Won't be any trouble to send two."
Dean tilted his head. "Oh, right, the…." He lagged long enough, hoping the older man would fill in the blank and save him some footwork.
"White Pine Inn. Out by the lake."
"Of course, yeah. Do that." Dean smiled tightly. He shook the man's hand, thanking him for his time, then pushed the door open with more force than he'd intended.
Plain clothes, White Pine Inn? It wasn't Sam, that much was certain. No matter what, Sam knew the code: first hotel in the phone book. He was certain that even if his brother had elected to return, he wouldn't have hidden from Dean. Not like this.
Which made Dean both relieved and disappointed for the same reason: his brother hadn't followed him to this hunt. The conflicting emotions were strong enough that Dean sagged against the wall of the empty elevator a moment as he rode back up to the main floor. He'd hunted on his own plenty of times before – while Sam was at school, for example.
It wasn't that he couldn't do this. It wasn't that he didn't want to, even. It was simply that he had to. Each time he'd been on his own it had been due to someone else's choice. A hunter alone didn't have a long life expectancy that was common knowledge.
And yet…they still left. Dad, Sam…when it was right for them, they picked up and walked off, leaving Dean to live the life he'd been trained to live – the only life he knew. Sure he was capable, but it didn't make it sting any less. And the bottom line was, he felt…expendable.
He bounced his head against the elevator wall, trying to force the thought away, but it persisted like an itch at the back of his brain. He would never have left them – either of them, no matter what. And yet they'd both walked away. He said he understood; the logic of their individual decisions resonated with him. But there was a space inside of him…a place he didn't choose to pay close attention to…a place that caused him more pain than he wanted to admit…where he felt their absence like a missing limb.
Dean pushed through the elevator doors before they'd fully opened and shouldered past a surprised nurse, his tense face sending people out of his way as he approached. The hospital air pressed down around him, people in the hall nothing but blurred faces, muted conversations simply white noise.
It hadn't been Sam. And the fact that he'd wanted it to be Sam – even for a moment – pissed Dean off. So who the hell was tag-teaming him?
He made his way back up through the lobby, now more than filled with people, and pushed through the revolving door. The slight chill of mid-morning helped erase the false cold of the morgue; smell of death was replaced by exhaust and outside and people and life.
Dean took a grateful breath the moment he stepped into the sunshine. His exhale ghosted out in a thin fog and he felt his shoulders relax a fraction. The fresh air was marred by the tang of cigarette smoke coming from his right; Dean turned to find the source of the smoke and the moment he saw the figure he mentally kicked himself for not picking up on it an hour ago.
Noah leaned against the sun-drenched side of the hospital building, his shoulders rolled back against the brick as if soaking up the heat. He had one foot propped up, a hand draped casually in his jacket pocket, and was pulling in a drag from a freshly lit cigarette. He looked, Dean thought, as if he'd been waiting for Dean to emerge.
"Took you long enough," Noah commented, his accent catching Dean's ear once again. "You get their life stories or what?"
"You're the plain clothes cop," Dean scoffed, taking in the man's attire. "And they fell for that?"
Noah lifted a shoulder. "People will believe almost anything if you don't give them a reason not to."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Wow, thanks, Confucius."
He moved past Noah, heading to the Impala. Bobby had told him there was another hunter on the case; he'd picked up a vibe from this guy last night. Why the hell had it taken him so long to make the connection? He had to get focused.
"You sure you wanna go that way?" Noah asked him.
"Think I remember where I parked my car, thanks," Dean tossed back over his shoulder.
"No, that's—" Noah stopped mid-sentence and Dean heard a muttered curse as he continued to draw away from the other man.
"Kid. Hey, kid, would you hold up a minute!" Dean heard boots slap against the pavement and he half-turned, anticipating the man's grab. He ducked away from Noah's hand and stepped out of reach. "Whoa, okay, easy." Noah held up his hands. "I just want to help, is all. We're after the same thing, here."
"Is that right?" Dean lifted an eyebrow, not ready to give this guy an inch of respect until he'd earned it. "I don't even know you, man."
Something subtle shifted in Noah's blue eyes like quicksilver, turning his expression from bland and open to sharp and wary. He settled back on his heels, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm the guy that saved your ass from that female vamp last night."
Dean felt his brows pull close, moving as casually as his tense body would allow toward the Impala. "What the hell are you talk—"
"The blonde from The Bottleneck, left with her mark just before you…," Noah flicked an eyebrow, the side of his mouth ticking up, "walked Ali home."
Dean looked away, eyes darting in thought. "Wait, the blonde…?"
A rush of adrenaline surged through him, hot then cold, as if he'd narrowly escaped a direct hit. He knew he'd missed something. It had been a slow burn at the back of his mind as he walked to and from Ali's house, working its way through his Hellish nightmares to taunt him with an indistinguishable, whispered reminder.
"Son of a bitch."
"So, if you're going to try to go after these things—"
"Hold up." Dean brought his chin up, eyes hard as he stared at the other man. He was so not in the mood for this. "I'm not going to try anything. I'm gonna waste these bitches."
"You're going to get yourself killed," Noah muttered, shaking his head as if Dean just wasn't getting it. Insulted, Dean took a step forward, but Noah wasn't finished. He dropped his arms, leaning forward, lowering his voice and pointing at Dean to make his meaning clear. "These things are ancient. They don't care who they take or when. They will tear you up and spit you out and no one will ever know what happened to you."
Noah's words spilled cold reality down Dean's spine for more reasons than one. Except for Bobby – who was several states away – no one knew where he was or why he was there. Unless he was able to get a message to Castiel, Noah's prediction could very easily come true.
He swallowed hard, staring back at the hunter's angry features. He'd finally placed the accent – East Coast. Boston, maybe. These vampires were killing in this guy's back yard, so Dean could give him some personal investment here.
But when it came to evil, there was no such thing as jurisdiction.
"You about done, here, Will Hunting?" Dean narrowed his eyes at him. "'Cause as it turns out, I've been doing this awhile."
"Kid, listen—" Noah put his hand out as if to placate Dean.
Dean pushed it away. "Cut it out with this 'kid' bullshit. You're about two minutes older than me. And if you've got a beef with these things? I get it. I do." He thrust his chin forward. "But it's not gonna stop me from putting them down."
Noah's voice was hard, his words like bullets as they shot out toward Dean through clenched teeth. "You go after these things one by one, you're gonna get a lot more people killed."
Dean turned away, intent on getting into the Impala and getting on with it. Noah grabbed his arm, pulling him back and turning him around. Dean reacted instinctively to the touch – it was foreign and unwelcome. He turned, fist raised, and caught Noah off-guard, connecting with his jaw and sending him stumbling backwards.
"Lay off, man," Dean snapped.
With a frustrated growl, Noah rubbed at his sore jaw. "You are going about it all wrong. It's not about the ones taking victims from the school – it's about where they're taking them to!"
That brought Dean's head up. Noah saw and latched onto it. He moved forward, brows pulled close, face intent, into Dean's personal space, crowding him and setting him off-balance.
"They're classifying victims: young, strong, relatively alone. Someone who wouldn't be missed immediately, but could feed them for months. But that's easy to figure out. You need to figure out where they're taking them if you want this to stop."
Dean ignored the last of Noah's words, remembering the ligature marks on the bodies, the cuts along the torso, and his blood went cold.
"Feed them?" He'd been right. Dammit. Sometimes he hated being right.
His question seemed to trigger Noah, causing the other hunter to grab the front of Dean's suit jacket and shoved him against the side of the Impala. "You have no idea what you're dealing with," Noah growled, his eyes seeming to go hot and flat at once.
Dean grabbed Noah's wrists, surprised by the iron-like strength of the man's grip. He dug his fingers into flesh, and said in a low, dangerous voice, "If you want to actually walk away from this, let go now."
Noah took a shallow breath, shifting his eyes to either side as if suddenly realizing they were standing on a public sidewalk. He let go of Dean's jacket, then took two steps back.
Dean straightened up, then put his hand on the Impala's door handle. "You got your way of doing things, I've got mine."
Noah shook his head once, a rueful, sickened expression crossing his face. "Kid, your way is going to get you killed." He looked away, shaking his head again, then rested his hands on his hips. "You're gonna fuck it all right the hell up, aren't ya?"
Not waiting for Dean to formulate an answer to that one, Noah walked off, practically stomping across the street and disappearing around the corner.
Dean stared after him for a moment before jerking the door open with a soft, "Jackass."
He slid behind the wheel and fished out his cell phone, scrolling to Bobby's number and hitting 'send.' He got Bobby's voicemail and growled into the receiver, "Bobby, what do you know about the other hunter on this case? Think I just ran into him."
He flipped the phone shut, staring after the direction Noah had disappeared before shaking his head, turning on the car and pulling away.
Continued here in: Chapter 3
a/n: Thanks for reading! Those of you missing Sam…while he influences Dean's mental and emotional state, he's not going to be present for awhile. I'm keeping the brother's connection and interaction as close to cannon as possible, so watch for him to be back in the final chapter.
The case is starting to heat up. And these vamps are about to mess with Dean's head on multiple levels.