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: The shadow Dean saw in the prologue will now be revealed, though answers to some of your questions will have to wait until the next two chapters. It's no fun if I give you everything right now! *smile*
Until the truth becomes a lie
Until you change, until you deny
Until you believe
- 30 Seconds to Mars, Savior
The moment he opened his eyes, Noah knew something was wrong.
He was laying face-down on the rough, matted carpet of the motel room where he'd been staying, the smell of dust, mold, and cigarette smoke pressing into him. He shoved himself swiftly upright, sleep – or outright unconsciousness – having given his body the time it needed to heal. His strength returned, he felt his blood hammering through his body with a lusty rush that had him as jittery as if he'd downed five espressos.
Rubbing at his stubble-covered jaw, Noah looked around his room, getting his bearings. He was still wearing the blood-encrusted clothes from the day before. His backpack was where he'd left it, seemingly untouched, and his bed hadn't been slept in. Near as he could tell, he'd barely made it inside the motel room after the kid – Winchester – Dean – had dropped him off before he passed out cold.
Holding himself completely still, Noah listened.
Water running through pipes. Muffed voices. A loose muffler pulling out of the parking lot. An owl. It was not yet dawn, he could tell. When Dean dropped him off, the near-full moon had been high in the midnight sky. The kid should be back from scouting the campus looking for Ali.
Pushing himself to his feet, a strange sort of suspicious panic kicking his heart rate up a notch, Noah grabbed for the door knob, forced to blink a few times to steady his vision. The energy thundering through him in the wake of his body healing was sending his periphery spinning into ripples that fanned out and made it necessary to spend more energy on minute tasks. He gripped the knob, jerked the door open, and stepped out into the night. The minute the night air wrapped around him, he knew he was out of luck. The black Chevy hadn't returned.
Which meant Dean had gone after them. Alone.
"Goddammit," he growled to the darkness. He pivoted and kicked at the door frame with enough force to splinter the wood. "Son. Of. A. Bitch."
He'd told him. He'd fucking told him not to do it. Not to go after them on his own.
Noah stomped back into the hotel room, slamming the door behind him, rattling the HVAC unit under the window. Shoving his hands through his short, dark hair, he turned in a slow circle around the room, staring sightlessly at the bland wallpaper, the untouched comforters, the dial TV, the time-worn dresser.
He'd told the kid and now…. Noah drew a shaking breath. It wasn't so much worry for Dean that had his chest constricting. It was the fact that he could practically feel his chance slip through his fingers. He had been close before and he'd ruined it.
They'd picked up on his scent; his blood had betrayed him, both figuratively and literally. The only thing that had kept him sane all this time was the knowledge that he was using the curse – it wasn't using him. He was using it to exact his vengeance and end the misery that had haunted him for so long.
And now one hunter was going to fuck it up.
Noah moved fluidly to his backpack and pulled it open, stripping his motorcycle jacket and ruined shirt off and tossing them onto the bed. He grabbed a T-shirt, flannel shirt, jeans, socks, and boxers, setting them aside and tugging his belt from his waist, ignoring the blood staining the leather. He'd need to shower; even dried, the vampires would be able to smell his blood.
But then he would find Dean and—
He stopped midway through shucking his filthy jeans. Something was off. He reached into his backpack and picked up his wallet. Maggie's picture was crooked, a position he would never have left it in. It had obviously been removed and replaced.
"What the hell?"
Noah pulled her picture out carefully, holding it in the palm of his hand as gently as if he were holding her once more. It rushed at him, then. The skill and experience of the younger hunter, everything he'd taken for granted. Of course the kid had been in here; it would have been obvious to him that Noah had scoped out his room first. But if he'd seen Maggie….
"What must you have thought, kid?" Noah wondered aloud, unaware that he was already thinking of Dean in past tense.
Mentally he retraced his steps to the moment he ran into Dean in the doorway of The Bottleneck. What else had he given away? Could the kid have suspected? He'd acted as if he knew something about Noah, though not entirely sure about the truth. Is that why he'd lied, gone rogue, hunted the vamps alone?
Gently stroking his thumb across Maggie's image, Noah carefully slid the picture back where it belonged and dropped the wallet into his backpack. He hurried to the shower, unsettled by the feeling of time slipping away from him. He'd gotten accustomed to having a surplus of time, he mused as he washed the blood stains from his smooth skin, scars never lingering for long. He'd been forced to watch time literally stretch out, causing the pain to linger, the memories to bend and distort and become phantoms of the moments they represented.
He tipped his head under the water, drinking it in, hoping, as he did each time, that the more he drank the longer he could delay the inevitable. The curse made him endlessly thirsty, his body captured by an insatiable disease that worked him over for weeks, coiling him from the inside out until he all-but exploded from the need it created.
It was one reason he wasn't able to get intoxicated anymore: his thirst couldn't really be satisfied. He'd searched for reasons, solutions, possibilities and the only thing he'd found was the slim likelihood of water satiating the curse. It never really worked; was really just an old wives tale.
But then again, to some, so was he.
Tucking his dog tags beneath his white T-shirt, Noah dressed quickly, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt and the denim jacket instead of the leather one as he knew the white stripes that ran along the sleeves of the leather would show up in the moonlight. He removed a few items of superfluous clothes, filled up three water bottles, and made sure his weapons were packet away.
Noah stepped outside, the burn of dawn just beginning to take a breath around him, and only then did it occur to him that Dean could have been taken by surprise, overpowered. Until that moment anger had seethed through him, the thought that he'd been betrayed much easier to accept than the thought that this brood had taken yet another hunter.
Deep down he'd suspected that Dean hadn't planned on coming back for him. He'd been too tired to pick up on the warning note of conviction that had, in retrospect, been clear in Dean's voice. Really, he wouldn't have done any differently if the tables had been turned.
Dean was a hunter. Even if he didn't have as much riding on this job as Noah did, this was still his job. And Noah hadn't given him anything other than a few angry, pleading words that might alter the hunter's natural inclination to just go after the bastards.
Pulling the last moments of night air into his lungs, Noah gave the setting moon a cursory glance and scoped out the options in the parking lot. Two pick-up trucks – probably diesel and therefore too loud to sneak away in a small lot such as this – some modern thing that probably had to be plugged in, and a motorcycle.
Noah grinned. He hadn't been on a bike in way too long.
The owner hadn't locked the wheels and it didn't take him long to dislodge the kickstand, push the bike to the road, jam the screwdriver from his Swiss Army knife into the ignition and head toward the last place he remembered as Dean's destination: Saint Elizabeth's campus. The bike rode smooth and its owner had helpfully left it with a full tank. Noah spared a quick burst of remorse for stealing it, but then the fact that the owner had made it so easy for him somehow justified the theft.
He'd had to survive way too long on way too little to feel sorry for whoever was now stranded at the White Pines motel.
It took him a moment to remember that he didn't know the true way to Saint Elizabeth's; dropping his head lower to cut down wind resistance, Noah banked left and took off through the woods to the back side of the campus. He came out just down from where Dean had parked the Chevy. Smirking in triumph, Noah parked the bike, dismounted, and peered into the car windows.
Empty. The tightness that had crept into his chest when he first woke gripped him once more and he caught his bottom lip between his teeth, eyes on the wadded up fast food bags in the back seat, map of Pennsylvania in the front. He believed what he'd told Dean about Ali: the hunter was either dead, turned, or food. And if he was food, he was as good as dead anyway.
Flipping the hood of his sweatshirt up to shield his face, Noah straightened and looked around the nearly abandoned lot. The sun's rays had begun to crest the horizon pushing the moon down below the tree line and turning the space around him a muted grey. He listened as the world woke up, breathing in the damp morning chill and marveling for a brief moment at the difference in the feel of the air between dark and light.
A security guard came around the corner, yawning and scratching his ample middle. Noah dropped, crouching behind the grill of the Chevy, eyes tracking the guard as he circled the chapel, paused and glanced toward the gazebo, shook his head and continued on. Noah looked over at the gazebo, flashes of two nights ago, of crawling away from the voices while in agony, assaulting his memory. He blinked, shook his head to dispel the clinging sensation of being pursued, then cautiously straightened up.
Hurrying forward, alert for any other security monitoring the area, Noah made his way to the brick path, ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and crept up to the gazebo. Almost immediately, his eyes caught on the smear of blood on the white railing in what looked like the shape of a hand print – too small to be Dean's, he saw. It looked like a woman's.
"Ali," Noah whispered to himself.
Instinct told him that if Dean had come this way – had seen this – he would have followed the path of disturbed underbrush into the woods. It's what I would have done, Noah reasoned. And Dean had even more of a vested interest in finding out Ali's fate than Noah did.
"Here goes nothing," he muttered, vaulting over the rail and following the clear path of footprints and disturbed underbrush.
He could make out the drag marks from his earlier escape, but knew they would have been impossible to see at night, even with a flashlight. Unless he'd known to look for it, Dean wouldn't have noticed anything different than the rest of the forest floor debris. Noah followed Dean's trail down the hill, his descent controlled, his body almost vibrating with energy and the need to move, attack, avenge.
He knew what tomorrow night was. Knew that was why his body was a lit fuse. Knew he had to funnel that intensity or it would overtake him, overpower him, and turn him into something he wasn't.
The evidence of a fight was clear when he reached the dry creek bed. Noah remembered falling there night before last. He dragged his hand down his now clean-shaven face remembering how the silver had seared the sensitive skin beneath his eyes on its escape from his body. There was blood everywhere – along the trunks of the trees, smeared in the dirt, scattered across the leaves. Near the base of one tree, he saw the khaki-colored outline of a duffel bag.
He started to retrieve it when his boot made contact with an oddly-shaped rock. Peering down, he kicked away some leaves and recoiled slightly at the sight of the severed head of a forty-something man.
Frowning, he looked around until he saw the body. A hefty male, powerfully build.
"Nicely played, hunter," Noah said appreciatively as he toed the body.
Dean was nowhere to be found, which had to mean they'd taken him. And they had left their comrade behind, which had to mean they'd been in a hurry. He'd seen it before. They were stocking up to go to ground. They'd move the brood, feeding off the victims they'd captured as long as they could, and resurface elsewhere. He'd seen it happen twice before.
He had a few days – at the most – to wipe them out for good this time.
Noah crouched down next to the duffel and unzipped it, whistling low as he took stock of the contents. This kid is not messing around. He picked up one of the sticks of dynamite and regarded it solemnly.
His plan had always been rather simple: attack the nest at mid-afternoon when the vamps were the most vulnerable. Take out the sentries one by one. Then poison the food source. He'd spent years training his body to be able to silently move, fight, kill. He'd trained himself to be a weapon so that he wouldn't need to carry many. And he'd studied vampire poisons. Dead man's blood was the quickest, silver the easiest, but there was one that burned the vamps from the inside out.
A powder he'd acquired after a particularly long and lust-filled month in the French Quarter. It had been created to remove the monster from the human soul, he'd been told. But once the human soul was gone, and all that was left was the monster, the powder left nothing behind. Noah had seen how quickly it worked through a group of vamps. He planned to make his way through the front of the nest until he got to their food supply, cover the bodies with the powder…then hide and watch as the ancient, bat-like creatures burned up before his eyes.
He spun the stick of dynamite around his fingers. Or, he could use this.
They took him to feed off of, Noah knew.
That kid would never let them turn him; he'd kill whatever made the mistake of attempting, or die trying. Noah could tell from the first conversation he'd had with Dean that he'd been trained from a very black and white viewpoint. The grey exceptions in the supernatural world didn't have a place in the life of a hunter.
Noah knew that; struggled with it every day. Maybe Dean had made a concession once or twice along the way, but when push came to shove, the vampire was the enemy just like any other supernatural creature was the enemy.
And the job Dean had talked about with such conviction was to wipe them out. All of them.
Noah dropped the explosive back into the duffel bag and stood up. Grabbing the duffel, he shouldered the new load together with his backpack and headed off in the direction of the abandoned house he'd found. He didn't need to track Dean anymore; he knew where they'd taken him.
The only question was if he was going to attempt to get the kid out of there.
This is what you've been preparing for….
Taking out that nest is all that matters….
You have to end this. It has to be you.
He'd killed hundreds of vampires in his time as a hunter. He'd killed other creatures, too, but his focus was on vampires. One in particular. It didn't matter how many he took out to get to him. It.
This race was inherently evil – the bite took any goodness and decency the person had inside and burned it out. The soul was twisted, turned into something insidious. The person they had been was destroyed.
He'd seen other races of vamps that could almost pass as human, who were merciful, peaceful, even. He'd still killed them, but he'd registered the difference.
But there was no peace to be found with the nosferatu.
Even the newly turned became monstrous almost immediately. There was no hesitation, no latent training needs. He knew firsthand how quickly the bite eradicated any humanity, leaving only the awfulness that is inside every person.
Everyone was capable of evil, just as everyone was capable of good. The nosferatu simply enhanced the evil and Noah had seen the swath of destruction even one of these creatures could create.
When they fed, their saliva poisoned the victim. It was different than when they bit someone to turn them. Near as he could tell, it was like a preservative…something to keep the victim from bleeding out too soon. But the result was always the same: it weakened the victim and turned their reality into a nightmare that burned through them like fever until it drove them mad.
He'd tried to save too many only to lose them during one horrible night of suffering unlike anything he'd ever seen. He knew Dean was gone. He had to take his own advice; he had to go in there ready to let him go.
The problem was he liked this kid.
Dean was the first hunter he'd encountered in a long time who fought evil as if he had something to fight for, not just because it meant he could have free reign to kill something. To wreak havoc and violence without fear of prosecution.
Noah had met too many of the other kind. The kind who were like mercenaries, cutting through the innocent to get to their intended target.
Hell, he'd been the other kind once. Still was to some extent. And he hated that about himself. There'd been something about Dean that had reminded Noah of who he once was…and if things were different, could have been again.
As he dropped Dean's duffel and his backpack on the floor of the abandoned house, Noah wondered about the journal he'd seen in the hunter's duffel inside the motel room. Would anyone be looking for him? Would anyone miss him?
Noah had seen that name in the journal. If it was the same Bobby Singer he'd met after 'Nam, and that Bobby Singer knew Dean, then he'd want to know what had happened to the kid. He didn't remember many people by name, but he remembered this guy. He remembered Singer's anger. His fight. It had been evident in the jungle even before Singer had known what evil really looked like. And afterwards, Noah had kept enough tabs on the guy to know he'd channeled his passion for taking out the enemy into becoming a hunter.
Rubbing his face, Noah made a mental note to contact the old man and let him know that Dean had died a hero, helping eradicate a nest of ancient vampires.
The sun was bright, the heat of it burning off the early morning chill. Noah emptied some of his clothes and supplies from his backpack and transferred a few of the weapons and explosives Dean had packed in the duffel. Pulling on his slim, leather gloves, he checked the clip of his Beretta to make sure it was full of silver bullets. He positioned the wooden stakes tipped in silver so that he could grab them from his pack quickly, then slid his lighter into the front pocket of his jeans. Grabbing his machete, he spun it around the palm of his hand. The best time to attack would be afternoon, when they were all drunk on daylight and too sluggish to be at full power – all but the creatures that never left the underground.
But he was too wired to wait. And part of him wanted to put Dean out of the misery he knew the kid had to be in. The last of his supplies was the powder: he put that in the side pocket of his backpack so that he could grab it even if he couldn't get the pack off. He had enough to take out a brood twice this size – he just had to live long enough to poison the food supply.
With the explosives in his possession, though, he could spread the poison throughout the whole nest in one big-bang exodus. He wasn't sure what effect it would have on him, but Noah wasn't planning on living long after he ended this, ended him – it – anyway. In fact, he welcomed it. If they could kill him, he would go willingly as long as he saw the light leave that bastard's eyes first.
He'd had a plan, but now…he had explosives. Extra weapons. Ammunition he'd not brought with him this time around. All thanks to a hunter who was trapped beneath the surface – and whom Noah was prepared to leave if it meant he took out the heart of the nest.
Sweat ran down his hairline, tucking into his collar and turning his neck gritty. He flexed his fingers, tightening his fists once, twice, bouncing on the balls of his feet as if gearing up to storm a beach or take a field. This was the fight of his life; he could not fail this time.
Sprinting across the small expanse of open field to the tree line, Noah followed the path he'd taken yesterday morning when tracking the weary vamp. In less than ten minutes the old mill was in sight, the dead moss that clung to the stagnant water wheel blowing eerily in the soft wind.
Noah took a shallow breath. He couldn't smell them, not yet. But he knew once he got close, once he got inside, the stench of death would cling to those that fed and those who were being fed upon.
Before breaking the tree line, Noah closed his eyes. For you, Maggie.
He pictured her curves, the way her hair glossed almost blue in the sunlight it was so black, the way her eyes almost disappeared when she laughed, big and loud, mouth opened wide, head tossed back. He could still remember her hands, the way her fingers traced his ear, the wry twist of her lips. He refused to picture her the last time he'd seen her. He couldn't. His mind skipped over the blood-splattered room, the gore, the slow swing of the potted plant, the stir of the curtains.
All these years, all this pain, it had started in that moment. And he'd been looking for one vampire – tearing through hundreds upon hundreds of them in his quest to find just one – for far too long.
This was it. This was the nest. And he was going to end this. Opening his eyes, Noah squared his shoulders, then jogged toward the mill.
There were only a handful of times Noah could remember making a choice that baffled even him. This was one of them.
Just as he reached the concealed entrance to the nest buried in a cave behind the mill, Noah stopped, turned. Rather than go through the front of the mill as had been his plan – taking out the sentries, working his way to the food storage – he gripped his machete in his left hand, his Beretta in his right, and slipped through the narrow cut of rock, turning the corner to the full entrance to the cave.
Once there, he couldn't let himself think, reassess, wonder. It was pitch inside, not one beam of sunlight breaching the entrance. One blessing of the curse, Noah mused, was excellent night vision. After a few seconds of acclimating, he could see the grey outline of the rock walls, the downturn of the natural path deeper into the earth. He followed the path for several feet. And then the smell hit him.
He stopped breathing for a moment so he wouldn't gag.
It was decay and putrescence and blood and piss and vomit. He felt despair wash over him in an almost physical wave from the victims trapped within. He stopped, bowing his head and gathering his wits before his power-tripping body propelled him forward sooner than his mind was ready to deal with what he was about to encounter.
He'd never been this close before. He had to be ready.
Slipping the Beretta into the back waistband of his jeans he carefully, silently lifted two sticks of dynamite from his pack, estimating how long he'd need to get out of harm's way once the fuses were lit. He'd spent a few years with a demolition team just after the war. He'd been in the mood to be destructive and as it turned out, he'd been good at it. Had a steadier hand than some of the other guys in his unit.
He pulled one fuse out until there was roughly a foot, then used the edge of the machete to cut the second fuse shorter. He knew the minute he stepped into the cave it wouldn't be just him and the victims. He knew there would be ground-dwellers crawling along the bodies, digging into the earth for their burrows, peering out with their ancient, red eyes….
Do this…do it now.
He never knew whose voice it was that propelled him from moments of human frailty into moments of hunter's action. His, Maggie's…it didn't matter. What mattered was the result. He was moving forward and curving around an outcropping to enter the cold underground Hell of the vampire's nest.
Without hesitation, he shoved one of the sticks of dynamite into the ground at the entrance. No one was getting out of here; not this time. He move slightly forward, readying the next stick when he heard a sharp gasp of pain, the skittering of nails against rock, and the unmistakable sound of something…sucking.
They were feeding.
Noah suppressed a shudder, breathing shallow as the smell he'd almost acclimated himself to suddenly spiked. A very human moan crested across his ears and he forced himself to ignore it. They were as good as dead, these victims. There was nothing he could do for them except end their suffering. Moving carefully around one body hanging by its arms, much too still to be alive, Noah started to plunge the next explosive into the ground when he heard a voice.
Raspy, rough, but very real and very close.
He held his breath, listening. Waiting.
"Get outta here."
Oh, fuck me. Noah's heart hit his boots, taking his stomach with it.
It was Dean.
He was alive, coherent…and talking to him.
Noah couldn't move. For a moment, he couldn't even think.
And then he heard the creatures again, a low, almost languid hiss followed by the vacuum-like sound of their mouths fixing to flesh. And Dean cried out – his scream of pain almost angry.
"Get outta here!" Dean yelled, louder, stronger this time.
Noah straightened, turning to face the sound of Dean's voice. He knew the kid was technically gone, but he was fighting, dammit. He was fighting and still trying to save lives. Trying to save Noah's life.
Are you going to make me watch you die, Noah?
Dean had saved him, had helped him. Noah couldn't just leave him there. Couldn't just use him as vamp poison.
"Please…," Dean whispered.
That word snapped something inside of Noah, shattering the careful control that had kept him alive through countless hunts. He shoved the dynamite into ground, his actions enough to draw the attention of the ground-dwellers. The skittering sound stopped. The sucking sound stopped. There was a quick impression of motion and then several pairs of red eyes turned his way.
Here goes nothing.
Noah exhaled, flicked his lighter and turned, touching it to the long fuse of the dynamite stuck in the ground at the entrance. Moving quickly, he lit the shorter-fused dynamite and shoved it into the wall several feet from the entrance. As it sparked and sizzled, he quickly maneuvered through the bodies hanging around him – old, young, male, female, dead, alive – and closed the gap between himself and Dean.
Just as he reached the hunter – he could tell it was Dean by the ragged breathing, the reek of vampire, and the anger rolling from the hunter in physical waves – the first stick exploded, knocking Noah off his feet and sending the ground-dwellers into a frenzy of hissing pain.
The explosion caught several of the hanging bodies, sending flesh and bone against the walls and collapsing one of the rusted scaffolds from which the human food sources had been suspended. Noah looked with new horror at the hellscape around him, cursing the fact that he was able to see the mutilation and destruction. The emaciated, gray figures of the vampires caught in the blast – their faces bone-thin, fanged teeth bared, bat-like ears pressed back against their skulls – momentarily shrank from him, their cries undulating from muted whispers to screeching calls. The human victims still alive and able thrashed and screamed as the shaking of the Earth subsided.
Noah stood, reaching for Dean's bloody torso. "C'mon, kid," he gasped. "We gotta move."
One of the ancient ground-dwellers bushed past Noah, its nails dragging along the back of Noah's legs. Noah turned, bringing his machete down, hard, cutting off the creature's screech as he beheaded it. The other creatures screamed – it was the only way to define the sound. Their collective shriek sounded like a woman crying; it was pain and horror in one awful sound.
Noah rotated, looking for more creatures, feeling time speed up as his eyes searched the cloying darkness for more threats. The second stick of dynamite would go off soon and he knew it would collapse the cave entrance. There was only one way he was getting out of there and that was up through the mill. He only hoped he caused enough chaos and confusion to make it through the sentries above.
Seeing nothing coming at them, Noah reached for Dean; the hunter tensed at his touch, holding still as Noah slashed at the rope tethering his neck first, allowing his arms to drop. Dean pitched forward, his exhausted muscles no longer able to support his weight, and Noah caught him around the chest, hand slipping in the blood oozing from cuts across Dean's ribs. Just as Noah turned to take the brunt of Dean's weight, a second explosion rocked the cave followed by a rumble of falling rock that cut off the back entrance to the nest, sending both hunters to the ground.
Noah scrambled quickly to his feet, grunting as he manhandled Dean's loose-limbed bulk upright. The scream of the creatures caused Dean to cry out, instinctively pulling close to Noah in an attempt to protect his taxed system from the cacophony. Noah wanted to cover his own ears, but he had one hand gripping Dean's belt loop and the other holding his machete out like a beacon. Dean had managed to wrap an arm around Noah's waist, unable, it seemed, to raise his arm high enough to cross Noah's shoulders.
"Hang in there, kid."
"Go," Dean rasped.
Noah spared a glance at the hunter and saw that though his eyes were barely open, blood turning his features into that of a ghoulish specter, Dean was focused on the exit, expression set with determination.
Seeing the exit looming close, Noah tightened his hold on Dean, climbing the stairs and rearing back to kick the door open. The splinter of wood offered them escape and Noah hauled Dean forward, knowing they had minutes maybe before the vampire brood descended upon them.
The daylight would make them slow to respond, but he'd literally just rocked their world; they weren't going to stay still long. He risked a glance back down in the hole at the destroyed bodies, the hopeless souls still hanging helplessly, and refused to let himself feel anything. Not one moment of remorse, regret…there was nothing he could do for them.
There was probably nothing he could do for Dean, but something inside wouldn't let him not try.
"Lookout," Dean slurred, his voice destroyed by the damage the rope still wrapped around his throat had done.
Noah looked up and saw a bald, tattooed vamp descending the stairs, confusion and pain clearly etched on its face. The scream of the ground-dwellers had summoned and disoriented it. The power that surged through Noah's body controlled his motion and the vamp was relieved of its head before Noah had taken another breath.
He lost himself in the moment as he pulled Dean along, the kid stumbling next to him, head lolling, breath rasping. They managed to make it up the next set of stairs, the entrance to the basement left open by the tattooed vamp. Noah almost let himself believe they would make it out of there, slip past the slumbering vamps and out into the sunlight, until he rounded the corner from the doorway and saw six vamps blocking his exit, all looking equally pissed, and none of them the one he hunted.
Reacting instinctively, Noah backed away, pushing Dean behind him, against the far wall and standing in front of the kid like a shield, machete out in warning.
"You killed our elders," rasped a vampire who resembled Noah's first Army captain. It was disconcerting to see them appear so human. As horrifying as their monster-faces appeared, it was easier to fight and kill something that looked like that.
"Yeah, well, they were eating my friend, so…." Noah lifted a shoulder in a shrug as if to say, guess we're even.
The group in front of him hissed as one. Noah tried to keep a hand on Dean, keep him standing, and watch the vamps movement at once. It was then he noticed a familiar face in the group: Ali.
Aw, damn, he groaned inwardly.
He'd told Dean to let her go, every instinct screaming that she'd been lost, but it was still tough to actually see the evil overtake what had once been such loveliness. As he watched, Ali's beautiful face shifted, broadening, turning round and animal-like. Teeth bared, she took a step forward. Behind her the rest of the creatures tilted their heads as if listening to something far away, looking every bit the animals they were.
"Wait," Noah said, drawing his last card. There's no going back from this. "You don't want to do this."
He felt Dean stirring behind him, but couldn't tell what the hunter was doing. He pressed him tighter against the wall with his back, hoping the kid's legs didn't give out all together.
"We are going to tear you apart," Ali hissed.
"Well," Noah hedged, "you might want to rethink that."
He thrust out his arm, shrugging the sleeve of his jacket up to expose a bit of his skin. He drew the sharpened blade of the machete across the flesh, a line of blood burbling up and following the blade, the smell of it hitting the group at once.
As he watched, they reacted first with desire, then with revulsion. His blood wasn't exactly poison to them, but it wouldn't do them any good, that much was certain. It wouldn't stop them from ripping him apart if they attacked as one – when they were at strength – but he knew it would cause them to hesitate. Ali hissed wickedly as the group drew back and away.
Just then, Noah felt Dean's hand fumbling in his front jean's pocket.
What the fu—
He didn't get to finish the thought as the kid found what he was looking for. Dean drew out his lighter and suddenly Noah knew what the hunter had been doing. He'd dug out a stick of dynamite from Noah's backpack.
"Now," Dean choked out through his ravaged throat.
Moving like water, Noah rotated, wrapping an arm around Dean's torso as the kid tossed the lit stick of dynamite into the group of vamps. Noah hurtled him out of the room just as the stick exploded in a mess of screams, vampire blood, and crumbling wood. The room they'd been in collapsed on top of the vamps inside; Noah and Dean fell face-first into a large, empty room, dust flying around them.
Dean's coughs were wet and raspy; his body beneath Noah's shaking from shock, exhaustion, and pain. There was only so much one human body could stand and Noah was pretty sure this guy had reached his limit.
Noah knew his plans had officially changed. The moment he'd heard Dean's ragged, whispered please he'd shifted from search and destroy to search and rescue.
He didn't know where the rest of the vamps where – it was daylight; they should be tucked away in their nest waiting for night – but he was thankful for the small favors karma was granting them. He stood, pulling Dean's sagging form up next to him, gripping him tightly around the middle.
Now that he knew where the nest was, he wouldn't let them leave. These monsters weren't getting away – he wasn't going to let them escape again. But Noah had made his choice, had listened to the quiet voice of humanity that he rarely let speak anymore. And now that he had, he couldn't not hear it.
He needed to get the kid out of here. Then he could regroup and attack, taking the whole place out. Take out the one who'd changed everything, destroyed Noah's life. He could avenge Maggie. End this whole fucking saga. With Dean in held against him, Noah turned, blinking through the dust that clouded the open room.
And he was there. He was right fucking there.
Staring at him with familiar eyes. Eyes so human and right and real that the yawn of years between them erased. Time stopped and started again. It was right and wrong and Noah couldn't breathe.
All the pain, the decades of pain, coalesced into this one moment and Noah wanted to cry out, wanted to cry period, but he couldn't remember how. He was so on edge he could feel his arches lifting from the floor even though his legs were still. There was something he knew he had to do; something that he couldn't leave without doing, but his body wanted to run.
Then the eyes changed, narrowing, turning foreign and feral and wrong. And the heft of the hunter in Noah's arms returned and the years collapsed into him and his legs trembled with the weight. Dean shifted, fighting pull away from him, but Noah could only stare and stare and stare while the creatures closed in and the shadows gathered and freedom retreated.
No. Just…no. This wasn't Luke. This thing wasn't his brother. This was a creature of the night. A manifestation of evil. A malignancy on the face of humanity.
"Oh, the way you look at me…. Like you're not just as much of a monster."
Luke's mouth twisted into an empty grin as he exposed the connection that had given Noah away every time he'd gotten close. His brother knew him. Knew what he was thinking. Even now, after all this time, Luke could read him as surely as if he'd heard Noah's thoughts.
"No," Noah choked out, his voice dry, raspy, aged.
"You've made my life hell, Brother," Luke growled, sounding almost petulant. He lips pressed out, his pale skin almost glowing in the anorexic beams of sunlight.
Noah felt himself tremble – from fear or anger, his mind was too muddled to discern – at Luke's words. This creature who had once been his brother, who had shared his life, who had looked up to him…who had taken everything away from him. "You don't know what Hell is."
Luke's bright blue eyes – once mirrored in Noah's face – widened and stretched. Noah knew it – he…brother… no – was about to strike. The scent of death and rot grew sharper as Luke dropped his shoulders, readying himself.
And still, Noah couldn't move.
It had all come down to this – to killing this…thing – and now that the moment presented itself, Noah was paralyzed by time, by memories, by blood.
By his own fucking blood.
"I've wanted this for a long time," Luke hissed.
And then suddenly Luke jerked backwards, the look on his face one of total shock. Noah's expression mimicked it as he looked wildly to his left to see Dean standing with a Beretta in his hand – his Beretta, Noah realized, the one that had been tucked into his waistband – listing to the side, covered in blood, and pulling the trigger again.
Noah looked back at the vampire that had once been Luke and watched as it fell backwards, the impact of the silver bullets not enough to kill, but certainly enough to incapacitate. As Noah watched, dumbstruck, Dean rotated and fired again, hitting another vamp, then another. He kept firing as they kept coming, his aim true, and they fell, each one, until the clip was empty and the screams of the writhing creatures around them nearly overwhelmed Noah.
He felt Dean sway against him and turned, grabbing the empty weapon and putting his shoulder against the kid's wounded midsection, lifting Dean up and over his shoulder, his body supported on the shelf the backpack offered. Noah stumbled through the melee of fallen vamps and billowing dust to the closest door. Stepping into the sun, he paused a fraction of a second to take a breath, then headed off toward the abandoned stone house, feeling Dean's weight increase as he half-ran, half-walked.
"Hang in there, kid," he pleaded. "Don't you give up on me now."
Noah's head was spinning. Luke. He'd been searching for so long, for so many years without seeing him, but it had been Luke. He'd known this was the right brood, but seeing him – it…him – was confirmation he hadn't known he'd needed.
Luke looked the same. He looked exactly the same. Which, Noah reasoned, so did he, but it felt wrong with Luke. He'd been so young. For twenty years, Luke's human life had been fueled on nothing but rebellion and anger and loss and then…this.
Dean groaned, bringing Noah back the present. He stumbled through the shattered door of the house and eased the hunter down on the dirty floor far into the shadows cast by the half-destroyed ripped off the gloves, dropping them and the backpack on the floor next to Dean as he dropped to his knees.
Dean was shivering. Shock, Noah knew. He had to hurry.
"C'mon, kid," he breathed. "You can't go all Rambo and then quit on me."
"Lethal Weapon," Dean rasped, eyes closed, voice shaking.
"M-more…Lethal Weapon…th-than Rambo," Dean said, his face fisting in a knot of pain.
An odd surge of relief and guilt blasted through Noah as he shrugged out of his denim jacket and covered Dean's bare chest. If the kid was coherent enough to correct him on movies references, then he wasn't beyond hope…and yet Noah had almost left him.
He'd almost left him to die with the others. All those others.
Collateral damage, his mind tried to argue as he lurched to his feet. They were beyond help. There was nothing you could do.
His heart hammered with pent up adrenaline and poisonous guilt and his stomach rolled with the memory of those bodies – so many bodies – hanging helplessly.
"God," Noah groaned, covering his face as he sagged against the doorway, trying desperately not to get sick.
"D-did wh-what you h-had to."
Dean's ruined voice came at him from the murk of the house's shadows. Noah turned to face him, seeing the kid's denim-clad legs lying sprawled in the sunlight that filtered through the broken roof as his upper half was tucked safely in the shadow. Dean's eyes, though, were bright and glassy and stared back at Noah with a feverish intensity.
"W-woulda done the same," Dean said, absolving him, his voice shivering as violently as his body.
Noah shuddered, unsure how this kid – for he truly was a kid in Noah's eyes, despite what he might've seen, killed, survived – could know what he'd needed to hear in this moment just to get him moving again. He grabbed his backpack and pulled out several packs of special herbs, salt, and some shards of consecrated iron. Moving quickly, he created a perimeter around the house, layering the doorway with the concoction.
There was no indication they'd been followed; Noah had to work on the assumption that they'd caused enough damage the creatures would have to regroup before attacking. But he hadn't survived this long on assumptions.
He moved inside, tearing through the remnants of furniture and cabinets, covered in years of dust, bird feces, animal bones, and mold until he found some candles, a large bucket, and two heavy quilts. He hurried back to Dean and kicked away the pieces of what might have once been a chair and table to clear a space in the shadow, folding one quilt and saving the other to cover Dean. He then pulled his jacket from across Dean's chest, bent and lifted the wounded hunter so that he was lying on the quilt, not the filthy ground. Dean groaned but didn't fight him.
Next, Noah lit the candles, positioning them around the edge of the sheltered portion of the room, exposing the sweat-slicked skin and bruised countenance of the hunter. He grabbed his knife and gently cut away the rope from Dean's neck, carefully pulling it free from the raw skin beneath, wincing in sympathy at the blood and particles of flesh that clung to the coils. Then he removed the ropes at the kid's wrists. The skin there was rough and raw, but not as much as his neck. Dean weakly wrapped his arms around his body, shivering helplessly.
"You with me, kid?"
He barely registered Dean's nod.
"Have to see how bad it is," Noah said apologetically.
There were two slashes along Dean's ribs – each razor thin, not deep, but about five inches long. Pulling Dean toward him, he looked at the kid's back and saw three more cuts of similar nature there, all somewhat masked by the blood that smeared his skin. With these cuts it wasn't the blood loss that could destroy him, Noah knew, but the poison in Dean's system from the preservative in the vampire's saliva.
Turning the kid's face to the light, he saw that there were several abrasions, a deep laceration along his hairline, and bruises swollen enough to be shiny, but no bones appeared broken. He knew Dean's shoulders and wrists had to be aflame with pain, but nothing appeared dislocated. Right now, Dean's biggest problem was going to be the fever.
And Noah had lost too many to the damn fever….
"Okay, kid," Noah exhaled. "They worked you over good, but something tells me you've had worse. Still, we're gonna be in for a long night. And if you die on me, I swear to god I'm gonna kill you."
Or something that makes more sense, he amended in his head, but he was too busy digging through his pack to grab the powder to worry about clarity. Not to mention Dean was too far gone to be listening anyway. He found what he was looking for, then glanced back at Dean.
"I have to find water. Don't want to use the bottled stuff – we're gonna need that. It can't be far – this place had to've had a well or something. 'Specially with that mill so close."
Dean's eyes were closed tight, his chest heaving from rapid breaths, his brows drawn close. Swallowing hard, Noah grabbed the kid's hand, both heartened and dismayed when Dean gripped back tightly, his skin burning and dry.
"Breathe, Dean. Just keep breathing."
"'m trying," Dean gasped.
"I'll be right back."
Noah stood, grabbing the bucket and hurried out of the house. They still had plenty of daylight left before they had to truly on guard, but he wasn't wasting any time. Circling the house, he saw a crumbling, covered cistern and the pump affixed to it. As he ran toward the well and started pumping, he did something he hadn't done more than three times in the stretch of years since Maggie died: he prayed.
"Please let there be water…please let there be wa—"
The pump handle suddenly resisted and he felt the surge of water up the pipe and into the bucket. A wild, slightly insane laugh broke through him and he pumped until the bucket was full, shoving his face under the tapering flow of water to drink some in before hauling the water back to the house. Shrugging out of his flannel shirt, he ripped up the sleeves, using the strips of rags to carefully clean the worst of the blood from Dean's face, torso, and back, then grabbed the packet of the foul-smelling powder he'd dug from his backpack and took a breath.
"I don't know if you can hear me, kid," he started, mixing the powder with the water from the well in the hollow of his hand, "but I got this stuff from a voodoo priestess down in New Orleans…probably before you were born. It's the only thing I know that's supposed to draw this kind of poison out of your body. Problem is…it hurts like hell."
Dean rolled his eyes open as if his lids each weighed a ton. "Do it," he ordered, sounding as if he'd swallowed gravel.
"All right," Noah took a breath. "Hang onto something," he whispered, watching as Dean took him literally, fisting his bruised knuckles into the moth-eaten quilt beneath him.
He pulled the kid up against him, starting with his back. At first it didn't seem so bad, but when the salve hit the second cut, Dean let out a cry that shook through Noah's bones. The hunter's muscles locked up, bowing his spine and snapping his head back at the neck.
"Easy," Noah intoned. "Easy, easy…."
"Aw, fuck…fuck that hurts," Dean gasped, his voice as strong as it had been since Noah first found him. Pain had a unique way of cutting a path of clarity.
Noah coated the third wound, holding Dean against him as the kid bucked; he realized that Dean was biting his lip to keep his cries of pain subdued, tears leaking out through his tightly shut eyes. Noah kept talking, clueless as to what he was actually saying, just keeping a low hum of words going as he wrapped the flannel shirt around Dean's back and eased him down against the quilt so that he could treat the cuts on his chest.
"Almost done, man, you're doing great, hang in there, just a little—ah, no, don't squirm away …." Noah applied the last of the salve and he felt Dean's skin heat up as the hunter kept up a litany of curses, turning the air around them blue.
"Told you it would hurt like hell," Noah said, his face folding in sympathy as he wrapped the rest of the flannel shirt around Dean's chest, then bent to remove the hunter's boots, trying to make him more comfortable.
"Hell was worse," Dean gasped, his eyes rolling wildly, as if searching for something to land on. "Sonsabitches liked their fuckin' knives."
Noah frowned. "What's that?"
Dean thrashed his head to the side, his face contorted in pain, his bruises standing out against a mixture of fading sunlight and the candles that surrounded them. Sweat matted his hair to his head and gathered his lashes in clumps. He was shivering violently from the fever and pain and while it wasn't the cleanest thing, Noah draped the remaining blanket across Dean's body, hoping to offer the hunter's weary muscles some respite from the constant clenching and shivering.
"Pulled the rack tight…dug in…liked the auger the best…liked to dig into my gut…hurt so fuckin' much…couldn't get it to stop…wouldn't stop…."
Noah stared at him, completely at a loss. Dean was talking about torture. He knew because he'd seen the results of what the kid was describing during the war.
"Easy, kid," he tried, resting his hand comfortingly on Dean's shoulder, his skin hot beneath Noah's hand. But Dean was lost to the pain and whatever memories were contorting his face into a fist of misery. "It's gonna be okay."
Dean shook his head weakly. "No…. Sammy's gone. 'S not okay…."
Sammy? Noah leaned forward. "Who is Sammy, Dean?"
Dean's face folded, his lips dipping down, his closed eyes pulling together as a wave a pain shook through him. "Brother."
Noah felt his stomach drop as if someone had gut-punched him. Brother.
We've got more in common than I realized.
Dean shook violently for a moment, then relaxed into the quilt. Noah cupped the back of Dean's head, lifting it gently as he rested an opened water bottle against his dry, cracked lips.
"Drink, Dean," he implored. "C'mon, kid."
Dean swallowed, slowly at first, then greedily as the cool of the water wet his lips and coated his wounded throat. Noah winced as the kid stretched his neck to get more water, the angry red of the rope burns exposed to the light. He eased the water back – not wanting to choke him or make him sick – and took another piece of his now ruined flannel shirt and soaked it in the bucket of water, laying the cool cloth across Dean's wounded throat. He needed soap. Or some antibiotic salve. Something.
"They sure did a number on you."
"Sam…," Dean rasped, turning his head toward Noah's voice.
"Sam's not here, kid," Noah said, his voice heavy with regret. "I'm sorry."
Dean's brows pulled close, but he didn't turn away. Noah dragged a hand down his face, the past several hours swirling behind his eyes. Vampires, bodies, explosions…Luke.
And now a brother named Sam.
"S'okay, Sam…s'okay…I gotcha…," Dean mumbled, turning his face away from Noah.
"Jesus, kid," Noah choked out. "You better not die on me."
Continued here in: Chapter 7
a/n: Thanks for reading! More to come next week as Dean fights the fever and learns the secret his rescuer has been keeping for a long time.
Also, just a sidebar: writing these characters in previous seasons is an interesting challenge. We all know where Dean's head is and why post Season 7. We all know what's to come for him after this story ends. But as I worked to climb into his head so soon after the events of "When the Levee Breaks," and "Lucifer Rising," I felt Sam's leaving in "Good God, Ya'll," would have a ripple effect that would take several days and some Winchester-esque drama for Dean to get to the headspace we see him in during "The End."
As you read the last four chapters of this story, know that I worked to ground this character's emotions and reasoning in an internal struggle we never really saw but all guessed at. I hope the way I've done it works for you.