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 coming back! Some revelations contained within…. These last four chapters were my favorites to write of this story. I hope you enjoy.
To buy the truth and sell a lie
The last mistake before you die
So don't forget to breathe tonight
Tonight's the last so say good-bye
30 Seconds to Mars, Modern Myth
He could feel Sam in his arms; feel the weight of his brother against him. It was too heavy. It wasn't right, the way Sam just fell…just hung there. Like there was nothing holding him up except Dean. Like his heart simply wasn't in it anymore.
"It's not even that bad...it's not even that bad, alright? Sammy, Sam!"
But Sam wasn't saying anything. Wasn't saying a word. He was just resting against Dean. As if he'd gone to sleep. But he wasn't asleep. Dean could feel it…life…leaving him. Even as he held him tight. Even as he pressed his hand against the wound in his brother's back. Even as he willed it not to be so.
He felt it leaving.
"Hey, listen to me. We are going to patch you up okay... You'll be as good as new. Huh? I'm going to take care of you! I gotcha. It's my job, right? Watch after my pain-in-the-ass little brother..."
Nothing. Not a word. A breath. A moan. Not a who's a pain-in-the-ass retort. Not a who's gonna watch out for you comeback. There was just weight and cold and emptiness in his arms.
And then Sam was there, staring back at him with tears soaking his face, looking utterly destroyed but alive alive alive alive.
Sam would live. That made this okay. That made what was coming – and oh, God, but Dean was afraid of what was coming – bearable because Sam would live. He'd saved his brother and that's all that mattered. It was the only thing that mattered.
Then the clock stopped ticking.
And the Hellhounds were ripping into him.
And the pain was nothing like he'd ever felt before.
It was white-hot and bright and hard-edged and went on forever. Dean screamed and went away, closing his mind to the pain, to the reality that he was dying. He was dying.
Holy shit, this was it and he was dying and everything he knew and fought for and wanted and loved and needed and held onto was gone…slipping away, going dark, gone.
"Easy, Dean. Hey, don't do this, kid. You hang in there with me. I mean it, goddammit."
There were hands on him, holding onto him, holding him down. He felt himself shaking, the uncontrolled rebellion of his muscles tearing into his resistance, breaking down his will. He was burning...burning from the inside out, but the hands brought relief...wet on his lips, against his burning face. The hands were cold...
It was cold here. Dark and cold. And those sounds, oh, fuck, those sounds weren't real, were they? They weren't human. They couldn't be.
Hell. He was in Hell. Hell was real and he was there and they were ripping him apart. Tearing him up. And laughing about it. They were laughing.
Every insult, every rebellious word he slung their way, they absorbed. They enjoyed. They took as viable suggestions. He thrashed against their hold. Against the hooks tearing into his skin. Against the knives cutting through his flesh. Against the heat – the unbearable heat – of their brands and iron.
"Dean, don't! Easy, breathe…just breathe, kid. You're not being tortured. I promise. No one's gonna cut you…I won't let them. I promise. Breathe…that's it…breathe…."
His chest was so tight, the air a thin slipstream through his body. He bucked, trying to find more, trying to free his body from the bands of iron crushing him, pinning him down, holding him tight in the world of pain. He just wanted it to stop...everything. All of it. Just...stop. No more pain. No more burning. No more fire.
He felt the searing pain of fire on his shoulder and then a nauseating jerk that led him to darkness. Complete. Whole. Suffocating. And he could taste dirt. And feel wood.
Feel. He could feel. Not with his soul. Not with his mind. Not with his memory. But with his hand. His arm. The skin along his back. He could feel.
Feel, but not breathe. He was thirsty for air. It was so hot. So goddamn hot. He was tired of being hot. He needed air and water and cool…he needed it to be cool….
"I gotcha kid. That's my hand, okay? You got that, Dean? You keep hold of that. I'm not letting you give in. I'm not letting you quit, you hear me? Not after I…. You keep breathing, you stubborn bastard. You keep breathing through this!"
He couldn't pull himself up, couldn't pull himself out. All he could do is not fall further into the black. There was no one in the black. The black was empty and filled with razor-sharp edges and if he fell there again, he'd be lost. Alone.
Sam. Sam was here. He was back and Sam was here.
Big and strong and alive and he was crying and hugging Dean and shaking with shock and happiness and wonder and none of it mattered because he was here and Sam was here and there wasn't any pain or blood and ripping and knives and he was back and Sam was here.
"I wish I knew, kid. God, I wish I knew where Sam was. I would get him here in a second if that would keep you here."
Tired. So tired of fighting. So much work just to breathe. Just to stay. Just to keep the light bright enough to chase away the dark.
Sam had a wicked right cross.
Dean should know. He taught Sam how to make a fist so the punch didn't break his thumb. Dad taught them how to fight, but Dean taught Sam how to hit. And Sam learned well.
He hit hard, too. Hard enough to ring through Dean's ears until his heart cracked. Hard enough to knock his will to the ground and stomp on it. Hard enough to send Dean spiraling back to the moment he'd held Sam against him, heavy and quiet and dead.
Hard enough to make him wonder if he'd made the right choice.
"Whoa, whoa, hey, okay…hey, don't you do this. Dean! You can't, okay? You don't let this beat you, kid! Not this time. I won't let it. C'mon. Come on, kid!"
The heat choked him. It wrapped around his throat and gripped. He couldn't claw it off, couldn't pull it away. It was going to take him. It was going to win. And if it didn't, the cold would be waiting for him.
"Thing is, the problem's not the demon blood, not really. I mean…what I did, I can't blame the blood or Ruby or...anything. The problem's me. How far I'll go. There's something in me that...scares the hell out of me, Dean."
After everything, after all of it, Sam was walking away. Sam was alive. He was alive alive alive and leaving. Sam walked away to protect himself.
To protect the world. From his weakness. From his power.
Dean watched Sam walk away.
And he didn't make a deal.
And he didn't hold him tight.
And he didn't step in front of him.
And he didn't protect him.
And he didn't stop him.
He didn't stop him.
Dean opened his eyes, surprised to find himself staring up at stars. They were brilliant, clear, and so close he felt he could reach out and touch them. The air was crisp; he could almost smell them. Smell the stars.
He thought he could make out the three stars that made up Orion's belt. Orion the Hunter. Whose exploits people will always remember because he was captured in the sky. Maybe he could be a constellation some day. Dean Winchester. The hunter. Forever commemorated in the sky.
God…I must be drunk….
"Not drunk," said a voice to his right. His head followed the sound in a slow turn. "Alive. But not drunk."
"D'n't think that wassout loud," Dean slurred. His tongue felt heavy, his lips almost numb. And his throat….
Someone stirred in the shadows, coming closer to him. It occurred to Dean that he should be concerned – his memories were mixed up…could be a vampire…or it could be Sam – but he simply didn't have the strength left to fight. If they wanted him, they could have him.
But it wasn't a vampire. And it wasn't Sam. It was Noah Kincade.
"Kid, after the night we've had," Noah said tiredly, slouching next to him, his face pale, drawn, and thin. "I should know what you're going to say before you do."
"Night we've…had?" Dean asked, cautiously. His body felt strange. Weightless. Completely without strength.
His shoulders were on fire, muscles stretched beyond their limit. His throat was blood-raw. His face swollen and achy, his chest and back throbbing. He literally hurt all over, but the pain felt oddly detached, as if he knew it was his but decided to set it aside for awhile and deal with it later.
"You beat the vamp poison," Noah sighed, sagging against the dirty stone wall at Dean's feet, his eyes bright in the shadows from the candles. He sounded exhausted, surprised, and oddly a little angry.
Noah nodded. "You did. First time for everything, I guess." He dragged a hand down his face, not looking at Dean. "Lost every one I tried to save. Every single one. They just… it was too much. The fever. The nightmares. The chaos in their mind. They couldn't take it."
Dean looked away. He'd taken that and more. And he remembered every moment of it. Every moment of pain he'd experienced, and every moment of pain he'd visited upon other souls as payment for freedom from the rack.
"Thought I lost you a couple times," Noah confessed, voice going ragged. "But you're stubborn, I'll give you that."
"What'd you…put on…me?" It had burned, he remembered.
"It's a…a salve. That's all I know. Herbs and magic and shit. Got it from a voodoo priestess who told me it would draw out the poison of the undead…," Noah rolled his bottom lip against his teeth and dropped his head back against the wall. "I wanted it for something else. This is the first time it's worked on someone they fed on, though. Most folks wouldn't have made it through that kind of a night."
Dean didn't want to hear any more about what he could survive. He knew he wouldn't reach his limit while there was still a destiny to achieve. In fact, he suspected on some level if he did reach it, Zachariah would just haul his ass back out of oblivion.
"I figure that's 'cause," Noah continued, not drawing his head away from the wall, "you're not exactly like most folks. Are you, Dean?"
So you know, Dean thought.
"Tired," Dean said, allowing his eyes to slip closed once he was sure Noah wasn't going to kill or eat him. Either was possible lately, it seemed.
"Yeah, I'll bet," Noah conceded.
Dean forced his eyes open, peering at the other hunter. He looked like hell. Dean decided to tell him so.
"Thanks a lot," Noah grumbled. "Turns out keeping hunters alive isn't easy."
"I know," Dean sighed, his voice barely audible, even to his own ears. "Went to Hell for one."
"So I gathered," Noah said, his voice wary. "Sleep. But when you wake up, you're answering some questions."
"Makes two of us," Dean whispered before a dreamless, complete sleep claimed his wounded mind.
When he next opened his eyes, sunlight had replaced the stars. Beams of it spilled over the edge of a broken roof above his head, catching dust in its arms and filtering it down until it danced across the dirt and broken furniture shoved against the wall, out of the way. Dean breathed it in, drinking the warmth into his tired, aching body. He felt cold and stiff; like he'd been hit by a truck and left on the side of the road. He wasn't sure he could move. Blinking hurt.
But his body was quick to remind him the staying still wasn't going to be an option for long. He didn't know how much water Noah had poured down his burning throat last night, but he had to pee. He slowly rolled his head to the side and saw Noah clad in only a t-shirt and jeans slouched against the opposite wall, eyes closed, mouth open, snoring softly. A bucket sat next to him; draped over the edge of the bucket were strips of what looked like a flannel shirt.
The area around them looked as if a tornado had ripped through the abandoned house. Dean wondered how much of it they'd caused, and how much was here before. He swallowed, his throat on fire, and reached up with an uncoordinated hand to gingerly touch the torn skin of his neck.
Dean jumped, startled.
He darted his eyes over to Noah, surprised to see clear eyes staring back at him. "How long?" he tried, his throat closing up around the words. It hurt a lot worse this time around.
Noah leaned over, opened a bottle of water and tipped it to his lips, cupping the back of Dean's head and helping him slowly swallow the warmish liquid. It felt like heaven on his tortured throat. He nodded gratefully at Noah's questioning glance as the other hunter eased his head back down.
"You were in and out all night. You remember getting out of the mill?" Noah asked him.
Dean nodded. He remembered the meat locker, the cuts on his body, the mouths…he shuddered, editing that part of the movie in his mind, skipping over it and everything else around it until the dynamite.
"Brother," he rasped, unable to get anything else past his wounded throat. He had a feeling he'd said a lot more in the night, though.
Noah nodded. "Yeah, brother." He pointed at Dean. "I showed you mine. Now you show me yours."
"Mine's…not a vampire," Dean said, taking the cool strip of flannel Noah offered him and laying it across the torn skin of this throat. He couldn't remember a time when his throat hurt this bad.
"Yeah, I figured as much," Noah sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "You were pretty talkative when you didn't realize how much it hurt," he informed Dean. He dropped his hand, staring at his palm as he spoke. "Let me see if I got this straight. Your brother, Sam, died. And you…you went to Hell? As in…fire and brimstone Hell?"
"Made a deal," Dean rasped.
Somewhere in the back of his exhausted mind he registered that this was the first time he'd told someone who didn't already know. It felt strangely like setting down an anvil. Telling someone he'd been to Hell and back wasn't like talking about a trip to Detroit. Most people would think him crazy. But Noah wasn't most people. He was a hunter; he'd seen behind the curtain. And Dean wanted to trust someone with this weight on his shoulders. Even if they weren't able to carry it for him, he wanted someone to see his burden. See his journey. In a way that Sam could never see because Dean was too afraid to show him.
"To go to Hell," Noah repeated.
Noah blinked at him. "You made a deal…with a demon…to go to Hell…to save your brother?"
Dean swallowed. Nodded. Stared at Noah.
"Why?" Noah's question was soft, weighted, as if he needed to know for more than just the sake of the story. He needed to know if it had been worth it.
Dean's throat was on fire – breathing was tearing it up – but he searched for a way to tell this man that Sam was all he had. That Sam was everything to him, always had been. That Sam had been his responsibility since Dean could clearly form memories. His brother had been the one constant in a life of chaos. Dean had one job – to keep his brother safe – and even if Sam wasn't with him now he was alive…he was in the world…and that's all that mattered.
How could he find a way to share a lifetime of love and sacrifice with a virtual stranger in a way that could make him understand why he'd had no choice? Why he was willing living a half-life – hellish nightmares keeping him company in the dark, an aching pit where his heart tried to beat – now that he was topside? Why it had been worth it?
"He's…m'brother," Dean finally said.
Noah's eyes flinched. It was the only word Dean could think to describe it. Something in the man's expression told Dean that he got it. He knew. And that knowledge caused him pain.
"How'd he take it?"
"Yeah, I bet. I would be, too."
"What, you mean you came back," Noah clarified, after a moment.
Dean shifted his eyes away, thinking of Cas, of the hand print burn on his shoulder, of how complicated everything was now because an angel pulled him from the Pit.
"Rescued," he said simply.
"Well, no offense, but," Noah offered him a sad smile, "doesn't look like you have it much better here."
"Sam…left." Now that he'd started, he couldn't seem to stop. He felt a strange sense of bleeding out, of surrender.
Noah was quiet for a long time. Dean closed his eyes, concentrating on swallowing, hoping the saliva would sooth the swollen, torn tissue on the inside of his throat.
"You didn't want him to," Noah said finally. "But you let him."
Dean opened his eyes.
"I'm a good listener," Noah shrugged. "You learn things."
"Long story," Dean tried.
"Not that long," Noah replied. "Some people…no matter how big their hearts are…when they're hurt, or scared…they can't deal with anyone or anything else. They have to focus on themselves or they…disappear."
Dean blinked at the lanky hunter, surprised to hear the truth in those words. He wanted Sam back. Wanted him here. But not because Sam needed to be here. Because Dean didn't want to be alone. Didn't want to be without his brother. Screw the job – he was alone. And he didn't do alone well.
But that was exactly why Sam couldn't come back.
Dean nodded without thinking.
"I have aspirin, but I'm hesitant to give it to you…if you start bleeding again…."
"Have to pee." Dean confessed quietly. Having to admit it was humiliating, but there was no way he was getting up by himself. He could barely lift his arm to gingerly touch his split lip.
"Oh. Oh!" Realization turned Noah's reply comical. He pushed himself up and came over to Dean, sliding his boots back onto his feet – leaving them untied – and then easing him forward.
Oh, holy Christ that hurts, Dean groaned inwardly. The cuts along his back and chest were no longer on fire, but his muscles, his ribs, his shoulders – sonofabitch, his shoulders – were live wires of pain.
"Can you get your feet under you?"
Dean nodded, though he honestly wasn't sure. With aching precision, he put an arm across Noah's back and leaned sideways letting Noah take his weight as he stood, wavering as he found his legs.
He felt all sorts of unbalanced. He was weak, but the need to remain tough and in control was oddly missing. When Sam was in Noah's position, Dean worked to be upright and okay as soon as possible. He had to be: Sam needed him to be. Or so Dean thought.
But there was something about having a peer – one he wasn't responsible for – that allowed Dean a level of honesty he wasn't accustomed to.
"You," Noah answered. "You smell like death."
"Awesome." Dean sighed, resigned.
Noah led Dean outside. The slight breeze that caught them when they left the protection of the house chilled Dean, telling him with more certainty than the aches stretching his body tight that he was still clinging to dredges of the fever that took him over last night. He pulled the fresh air into his lungs, taking note as Noah moved them over a line of disturbed leaves looking an awful lot like a salt ring.
Once Dean felt he was sturdy enough, one hand against a tree trunk for balance, Noah released him and stepped away so that Dean could take care of business. Dean caught the other man carrying the wooden bucket to a pump-action well and filling it up. Dean watching curiously as Noah ducked his head under the flow of water and drank as if he were Ahab.
Shaking his head at that, Dean returned to the task at hand. The woods around them were quiet, but not unnaturally so. Dean heard birds, squirrels, the usual wildlife chatter. Not the utter silence that indicated they were in a shit pile of trouble.
When Dean was done, Noah approached him with water. Dean rinsed his mouth, spitting blood from his shredded lip to the ground, then drank deeply, soothing his throat. Noah offered the bucket of well water and, between the two of them, Dean managed to wash the rest of the blood from his hair and face, soothing the rope-burned flesh of his wrists, but leaving the make-shift flannel bandage around his torso in place. He noted that the smell of vampire – or death – that had clung to him was more subdued as they made their way back into the house.
"Thanks for not taking me to a hospital," Dean said quietly as Noah helped him back inside and eased him carefully down on the quilt. It still hurt to talk, but if he spoke low and quiet, he could get more words out.
Noah huffed out a laugh. "Only a hunter would say something like that."
"Nightmare and half," Dean nodded in agreement, sinking back to rest against the wall. "Fake names and paperwork."
"Insurance scams and AMA," Noah chimed in.
"Bet you don't have to worry about all that, though," Dean tried, testing Noah for weak spots.
Noah looked away and Dean watched as a muscle worked in his jaw. Dean could tell it was going to take a bit more than a surprise confrontation with a brother who just so happened to also be a vampire to get Noah to open up to him.
"Look," Dean said finally, weariness pulling at him with hungry fingers. "We're hunters. And you don't get to pick a new career. This job…changes you."
Noah looked back at him, his blue eyes hiding secrets that Dean knew instinctively would be important to their survival.
"I, uh…," Dean started, trying to think of how to confess something to a virtual stranger he'd never really shared with his closest companion. "I made a deal to save my brother. And I don't regret it. No matter where he is now. Or why. He's alive, and that's all that matters to me. But…that's not to say I don't wish every day…every day," Dean had to swallow, hard, as his rough voice caught on his wounded throat, "that it had never happened. Because…I'm not the same guy I was before…before Hell."
"Don't expect anyone would be," Noah offered, sliding down the wall to once more sit opposite Dean.
"Yeah, well," Dean sighed, closing his eyes. "I don't much like the guy who got pulled out." He lay quietly for a moment, his body sinking deeper into the quilt, his throat ticking like a cooling engine. "You're taking this well," he commented to Noah, opening one eye to regard the hunter.
"Kid," Noah said solemnly, "when you've seen as much as I have…the idea that someone can literally go to Hell and come back isn't unbelievable."
Dean nodded, accepting that, knowing that Noah would share his secret soon enough. Something told him that neither of them had a choice in the matter. They were quiet for a minute, Dean working to swallow, Noah refreshing the cloth he held at his throat. Dean accepted the bottle of water Noah handed him gratefully, taking small sips as instructed, though he wanted to down the whole bottle and then shove his head in the bucket next to Noah.
He wasn't shivering as badly as he'd been last night, but everything felt tight and achy. He would give his left arm for a shower. A soft bed. Six ibuprofen. Coffee.
Wordlessly, Noah crawled forward and peeled back the flannel that wrapped around Dean's midsection. Looking down, Dean saw the slices on his skin were sealed, having not been very deep in the first place, but around them were odd, circular bruises like giant hickies and the salve seemed to have turned the non-sliced skin a sun-burned red. Noah's cool fingers dabbed at the cut, testing, it appeared, for infection.
"Don't think you lost too much blood," he said. "They didn't have you long enough to drink—"
"Do we have to talk about it?" Dean muttered.
It was horrifying, degrading, embarrassing. He'd been taken and used by the very things he hunted. He should have cut through them, all of them. Gone down fighting until there was nothing left of him.
"No," Noah told him. "But it's not like you did anything wro—"
"Just…don't," Dean shook his head once.
Bottom line, he had to be better than that. If he was going to hunt alone, he had to be better. The best there was. No shocked sentiment at seeing a former lover turned into a monster. No nostalgic remorse about how it would have been had his brother been with him.
Just kill them all.
Noah was looking at him. Dean lifted his eyes, letting the wall down for a moment as payment for saving his life. Letting this hunter see the reflection he'd caught just before leaving to find Ali, the reflection Dean had seen stretched across Noah's face. Letting him see the pain, anger, shame, loneliness, conviction buried deep inside of him.
This is what you saved…this. How d'ya like them apples?
"Kid, I…," Noah paused, swallowed, then looked down, away. Shaking himself slightly, he covered Dean's chest with the flannel again.
"You were right, y'know," Dean whispered.
"Ali. They...turned her." And I couldn't stop it.
Dean skipped his eyes away from Noah's frown. The man was watching him too closely. Dean focused in on his duffel. On his weapons. On the things that were his and were real. There was dull ache in his chest at the memory of Ali's face shifting, changing into a monster—
"You know that wasn't your fault."
Dean kept his eyes trained on the duffel.
"She wasn't your fault any more than the rest of them were," Noah continued.
Dean heard truth in his words, but didn't really want to. He needed to save one. Just one.
"You told me," Noah said, as if the quiet between them was too heavy, "when I hauled you out of there and left the others behind…you told me you would have done the same thing."
Dean looked over at Noah, surprised. He didn't remember saying that, but it was true. If he could've only saved one, he would have done anything to make sure that one got out alive.
"Yeah," Dean rasped, swallowing. "So?"
"So…you gotta let her go. Like I told you." Noah looked down and grabbed one of the strips of flannel, wetting it with the well water. "You can't save them all. And the only way you can stop bad things from happening to them," he looked up and Dean felt the dull ache spike to a sharp pain, "is to stop the bastards doing it."
Dean nodded, but didn't reply. Eyes on the weapons bag, though not really seeing it, he touched the tip of his tongue to the wound on his lip. He was too tired to argue, too tired to try to explain to this man that Hell burned up so much of what Dean had always been able to trust inside himself.
Sometimes he felt like hypocrite when hunting.
"You don't own the corner of Guilt Street and Regret Avenue, you know."
"What?" Dean asked, meeting Noah's eyes with confusion.
The corner of Noah's mouth lifted in a sad smile. "I'm just saying…," he shrugged a shoulder, repeating the words he'd said to Dean just the day before, "use it. Don't let it use you."
Dean blinked, the bruises around his eye throbbing suddenly. Damn, he was tired.
"Listen," Noah sighed. "The wounds aren't bad. You burned through the fever last night." He flapped a hand in the direction of Dean's face. "Rest of that will heal up…just gonna take some time. You're gonna be sore as hell, and pretty weak for awhile, but you'll live."
"Thank you," Dean said, meaning it.
"Well, don't thank me yet. You may only live until it gets dark and they swarm us."
"That makes me feel much better."
Noah gave him a tired half grin, the light of it hitting his eyes, and suddenly Dean decided he liked this man. He'd not been entirely sure up to that point – even though Noah had pulled him from that meat locker, even though he'd fought alongside him, even though he'd brought him through that hellish night. Dean knew Noah was working his own agenda, and knew it was one that the hunter was fully aware could get him killed.
But agendas he could work with. He had one, too, after all.
It was emptiness that destroyed Dean. Emptiness like they'd found in Gordon Walker. Emptiness that had been present in Travis – before the rugaru ate him, that is. Emptiness Dean feared Sam was on the edge of falling into. A nothing that consumed them until all that was left was death and blood and existing.
It was an emptiness Dean knew he straddled – one that Hell had dragged him into and threatened to trap him in. Dean didn't see such emptiness in Noah. He saw conviction and denial and need and pain. And to Dean, that made the man real, someone he could relate to.
"Those bullets didn't kill your brother, y'know," Dean said suddenly.
Noah's smile vanished like a cloud covering the sun. "I know."
A thought struck Dean. "You got that salve for him, didn't you? To draw out the poison of the undead, you said."
Noah sat back on his haunches, looking up through the ceiling again, for all the world appearing as though he were sniffing the air, catching a scent. Dean felt his brows pull together at the odd, animal-like posture of his companion.
"You should rest your voice," Noah said quietly. "You sound like hell."
"Dean," Noah shot him a look, one that closed Dean's mouth with a clack of teeth. "You made a deal to save your brother." He pushed to his feet, eyes flinty, looking down at Dean. "I vowed to kill mine."
Dean blinked, swallowing again. It was a lot to take in. And he was so tired. All he wanted to do was curl up and sleep for a year. He closed his eyes, shutting out the cold look on the other hunter's face.
"I need to get you out of here," Noah announced, causing Dean to open his eyes and stare at him, hard.
"The hell you will."
"You're weak, you're shaking, your face is black and blue, and you look like you've been hung." Noah's eyes narrowed and he caught his lip in his teeth. He seemed agitated, jumpy. Dean watched the as the hunter began to pace in a tight four-step pattern within the clear space where they'd spent the night. "No way you can handle what's coming."
"You just said I'd live."
"Live, yes. Fight—"
Dean swallowed hard, pushing himself to his elbow. "'m stronger than I look."
Noah stopped pacing looked at him, then up through the broken roof and around again like he was listening for something. Or to something. His hands, Dean noticed, were twitching with pent-up energy, his thumbs tapping an irregular rhythm against the seam of his jeans. His eyes darted to the open doorway, and there was something about the general aura of alertness that reminded Dean of something…he just couldn't put his finger on it.
"I don't like it," Noah shook his head once. "I wasn't planning on you being here for this. I wasn't planning on you being here tonight."
Bracing himself on his elbow and fighting to keep his shoulder from visibly shaking, Dean tried to grab the hunter's attention with his words, but his voice was a crushed sound in his ears. "No offense, but I wasn't planning on you, either."
"Kid, you don't—"
"Hey," Dean cut him off, pushing up to a slouched upright position. He knew he didn't pose much of a physical threat at this point, but there was no way he was leaving Noah to this fight – no way he was leaving this fight at all. He let that conviction shine from his eyes. "You don't know what I can do, man. I may look like hammered shit, but I'm in this fight."
Noah stared at him for several long minutes, his entire body thrumming with energy, his eyes snapping with alert anxiety, making Dean anxious simply looking at him.
"I was sent here to do a job," Dean reminded him.
"You'd still be in that nest if I hadn't pulled you out," Noah pointed out.
Dean tilted his head in concession, then let the emotion slip from his eyes as he said, "And you'd be joining me if I hadn't shot your vamp brother to get us out of there."
Noah winced, looking away, up, out through the door. He bent suddenly and grabbed one of the water bottles, drinking greedily until the suction of his lips pulled the sides of the plastic bottle in to meet in the middle. The crackling sound of the bending plastic made Dean flinch, forcing him to look away. It was too close to the sound of nails on rock, metal on metal, a threat approaching but not yet there….
He shivered, forcing down the bile that rushed forward and burned the edge of his wounded throat. Looking back at Noah, he watched the man weigh his options. Dean didn't know where the house was in relation to the nest – though it couldn't have been far as Noah had carried him here – but he did know that it was a long way back to campus. And he was in no shape to make a walk like that. Not today.
"Fine. I'm going to get us some food," Noah said finally. "And maybe something for your throat, if I can find it. You need your strength. You can't go through what you did last night and keep going on bottled water."
He has a point, Dean conceded, relieved that he'd won this round. He sagged back down against the make-shift bed. "What time is it anyway?"
"It's…," Noah looked around, up through the broken roof, out through the shattered door - a series of motions that was becoming disturbingly familiar at this point, "daylight."
"Think they followed us here?" Dean asked, resisting the urge to clear his throat. He hated how weak and rough his voice sounded, but knew that action would rip his wounded tissue to shreds.
"No. They would've attacked last night if they had. But they won't stay down long. If I'm not back before dark, they'll follow the scent of your blood."
Dean nodded tiredly, almost past the point of caring. "You see a McDonalds around here or something?"
"Funny," Noah commented dryly. "Edge of campus is about six klicks north of here. Figure I can get us some supplies and be back before dark."
"You think you can run eighteen miles before sunset?"
"Kid," Noah grinned, this time reminding Dean of himself, "if I couldn't do that, my CO'd have my ass."
Noah grabbed his blood-stained, dirty denim jacket and slipped it over his T-shirt. Dean caught sight of dog tags as they bobbed against Noah's chest. They were the old-school kind, Dean realized. Not the modern-day tags that were edged in black rubber for protection. Not the kind his father had in 'Nam.
Dean frowned at that.
Digging through his back pack, Noah began handing Dean weapons. "I laid down a perimeter last night – it won't keep them out forever, but it burns them if they cross it, so it'll buy us some time. You have my Beretta and your Glock, both with silver bullets. You know that only slows them down, though."
"I know," Dean whispered, his voice finally giving way to the damage.
"Here's the machete, and the rest of the bottled water. And some clothes, if you feel up to changing."
"Hey," Dean called softly as Noah turned away, backpack slung over one shoulder.
Noah paused, looking back over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Make sure you come back," Dean told him, feeling exceedingly vulnerable slouched on a make-shift bed, wrapped in a tattered quilt, his aching arms too tired to lift the machete lying in his lap. "I…uh…. I need you to come back, okay? People… people tend to…walk out on me."
Something unreadable swept Noah's expression and for a moment Dean wished fervently that he could suck those words back in, cursing the pain and weakness that made him make such a confession. But then Noah nodded once. His almost-smile reassured Dean that he wasn't going to be left to fend off a brood of pissed-off vampires alone before he stepped through the door and out into the afternoon light.
They clicked. Something about them always clicked – nails, feet, knives. They rattle against surfaces that had no name outside of Hell. They announced their approach fearlessly, creating terror with noise. Noise like those he heard every day. Noises that reached in without remorse and toyed with his dreams, strumming his heart with a hammering cadence.
Dean woke with a start. Sweat made his face gritty, gathering along his upper lip like a salt ring.
He hadn't meant to fall asleep; he was alone in an abandoned stone house, situated in the middle of nowhere, roughly ten minutes from a vampire nest. Sleeping wasn't the smartest idea.
But he'd been so tired. So very, very tired. And without someone there to stay alert for or someone to talk to, he'd succumbed rather quickly to the absolute exhaustion amassed from the last several days. And Hell – his constant, faithful companion – had found him once more. He couldn't keep going like this – something was going to quit on him.
Reaching blindly for the bottle of water he knew Noah had left near the quilt, Dean drank deeply, feeling the liquid fill him up and spread through his limbs like a balm. Once sated, he shakily pushed himself upright, the damaged muscles in his shoulders shaking in protest. His stomach rolled with the change in elevation, causing him to close his eyes once more, steadying himself. The last thing he wanted was to get sick, not with his throat hurting like this.
Legs crossed at the ankles, he slouched, blinking blearily around the empty, quiet ruin of a house. The shadows had shifted; he estimated he'd been asleep for a couple hours. Long enough for dusk to come to the woods, even if the sun hadn't quite dropped to the horizon.
This isn't good.
Shrugging off the musty quilt, Dean unwrapped his torso, looking at the thin red lines traversing his ribs, and grateful that his skin didn't have the sensitive or stretched feeling of infection. Moving carefully, he dug through the clothes Noah had left behind, pulling on a white T-shirt and a long-sleeved, dark green Henley. The darker the better, he figured. Enough to keep him in the shadows.
He was starving; his hands were shaking from the abuse his body had sustained. But he felt better than he had even two hours ago. Rubbing his hair roughly, he rolled to his knees, then used the wall for support to gain his footing, instinctively grabbing his Glock on the way up. The quiet that surrounded the house seemed to have weight, pressing down. Dean leaned against the wall, gathering his breath, willing the vertigo away, and hoping his battered body could run fueled on adrenaline alone.
Every instinct screamed at him that something was wrong. As the shadows grew through the woods around him, the sensation climbed his spine and filled the back of his head, wrapping around him and surging through his bloodstream. The muscles along the back of his neck tightened and he pushed away from the wall.
Frowning, he took one step toward the disintegrated door and stopped cold. A shadow loomed in the doorway, the angle suggesting that the person stood several feet away from the house. Dean swallowed, chambering a round in his gun. He had no idea where Noah was, when he'd be back, but the hunter had taken the backpack with all the dynamite, leaving Dean with three weapons and a protected parameter.
Dean had learned long ago not to trust anyone unless he wasn't given a choice. He'd had to trust Noah with his life last night. But now…his suspicious nature had him wondering if this had been part of Noah's plan all along. Set Dean up as bait while he circled back to the nest and took it out, killing the rest off one by one.
Show time, he told himself. Waddaya got left?
Taking a chance, Dean broke cover, turning to face the shadow's owner, his gun pointed directly at the person's chest.
"You!" Dean exclaimed, incredulous as the unnaturally bright eyes he remembered from his pain-blind retreat out of the mill met his.
"Where is he?" Luke demanded, his young face pale in the dying light. Dean blinked, surprised at how much this vampire resembled his brother. Same squared jaw. Same blue eyes. Luke's hair was longer, but there was no mistaking the family resemblance.
"He's not here," Dean told him. "So…you can just…go now."
Luke smiled, the motion automatic and cold. "I don't think we'll be doing that."
Dean heard the sound of rustling to his left and shot his eyes around Luke, but saw nothing. Adrenalin giving him energy, Dean darted to the side and grabbed Noah's machete, then resumed his position in the doorway, gun pointed at Luke. Luke hadn't moved.
"Listen, this is between you and Noah, so—"
"You're in this now, hunter," Luke interrupted. "You didn't just trip over us."
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Yeah, well…," he conceded. "You were killing people."
"Hunting. Same as you."
"No," Dean snapped, his voice hard. He shook his head once. "Nothing like me."
"Humans hunt to survive. To eat."
"Yeah, animals," Dean protested.
"Food source," Luke countered, red lips tipping upward in a confident grin, exposing partially distended fangs.
"I could argue semantics with you all day, dude," Dean replied calmly. "Fact is, you ain't drinking another human."
"I wouldn't bet on that," Luke said and then was gone. He moved so fast, Dean did a double take.
The shadows were gathering telling Dean that the sun was falling fast and soon the woods would be thick with night, the only source of light the pale reflection of the full moon. Dean stepped away from the door, eyes darting around the unprotected areas of the crumbling house. The parameter of protection Noah had left behind seemed to be working, but there was a lot of noise and movement outside the house.
"Come on out, hunter!"
He heard a smattering of laughter follow the taunting cry and he turned one way, then another, trying to see all around him at once.
"I want to taste you."
Dean rolled his eyes, pressing the flat of the gun's barrel against his forehead as he shook his head. This was not good. This was so not good. He waited, listening to the rustling, the murmurs, the quiet planning happening around him. He checked the clip of his Glock, and he waited. There was nothing else he could do.
Either Noah would return and blow everyone to hell, or they would break the perimeter and attack him.
Either way, Dean was in no condition to make a run for it. He could barely make three steps without his legs trembling. He could take out a few with the silver bullets, but they'd just regroup and find him. They had a taste of his blood now; they had his scent. They'd find him anywhere.
"Heeeeere, hunter," one called. "Let me see that pretty face."
"Screw that; I want to see his pretty ass."
A smattering of laughter followed the cat-call and Dean peered out of the doorway. "Really? That's what you're going with?"
"Oh, he's a feisty one."
"I like it when they fight."
"No wonder you assholes are ground-dwellers," Dean called back.
They laughed and he leaned back against wall, crossing his arms over his sore chest, trying to ignore the muscle-fatigue that was causing his hands to shake from holding the weight of the weapons so long. Then a sound that made his blood freeze pulled his gaze upward. A vampire shimmied up the trunk of a nearby tree like a spider monkey and peered down at him through the destroyed roof.
Son of a bitch, Dean thought. Noah hadn't protected the roof. Of course not…because who would have thought these bastards could fly?
Dean raised his weapons, taking aim. As the vamp launched itself from the tree, he fired, his bullet tearing across the creature's arm and causing it to scream in pain, the others around the house and in the woods answering the call with anger, their voices echoing in the dying light. The vamp Dean shot dropped to a crouch in front of him, raising narrowed eyes, its animal-like face marble in the rising moonlight, its teeth razors in a black mouth.
It hissed and Dean fired, hitting it square in the chest. As the creature fell back, he swung the machete, lopping off the head in a spray of gore. Dean's shoulder cried out, strumming a chord of pain deep in his gut, causing him to stumble, but the vamp was dead, and that's what mattered. Shoving the Glock in his jeans, he grabbed the head by its black, oily hair and threw it out of the opened door.
"Anyone else?" He yelled, a warm feeling of satisfaction setting in his heart at the keening sound of their group pain. "I'll take you out one by one if I have to!"
"You won't last forever, hunter," one called.
"I wouldn't bet on that," he said, throwing Luke's words back at them. "I've survived worse," he whispered. "I survived Hell, you bastards."
And he'd made it out of that meat locker. He'd had help – just like in the Pit, he'd been rescued – but he'd survived. They hadn't won. They hadn't beat him.
And they weren't going to beat him now.
He heard another one climb the same tree and he turned, firing multiple rounds until the creature fell through the roof, landing with a sickening crunch on the floor at Dean's feet. Unable to bite back a low cry a pain, he nevertheless beheaded it before it had a chance to rise, then kicked the head into the corner.
"Bring it!" He called out through the opened doorway, his raw throat bleeding in protest. "You want a piece of me?!"
"Oh, yes," came a female voice directly behind him.
He turned, shocked, wavering as his body wasn't able to keep up. He hadn't heard her climb the tree; she'd just dropped in on the heels of the one before.
"Ali," he rasped. "Thought you were dead."
"You tried pretty hard," she told him, stepping around him in a slow circle. "Dynamite. Effective."
"Apparently not enough."
Dean swallowed. She looked so…real. So human. But he'd seen her new form. Seen the way her face changed as she prepared to feed.
"So what are you waiting for?" Dean asked. The Glock had three bullets left; he would need time to reload before the next vamp dropped down through the ceiling. And the Beretta was out of reach.
"Could ask you the same question."
"Maybe I want to give you an out," Dean tried; no way he was going to admit he didn't think he had the strength to raise the machete another time.
"Hardly." Ali's laugh was husky. The same sound she'd uttered as they lay next to each other, hearts hammering, skin sweaty, bodies liquid. "I sicken you." She looked almost delighted by the prospect.
Dean pressed his lips tight, his face stone, his eyes empty.
"Do you think of what we did together?"
Dean didn't reply, just kept his gun trained on her as she continued to circle him. His ears were perked for another tree climber. If he emptied this clip into her, he'd have to be able to get to the other gun and fast before another dropped in on him.
"You ever made love to a vampire, Dean?"
"You weren't a vampire then," Dean spat out, his skin crawling at the thought.
"I'm not talking about then," she purred, moving close to him with impossible speed. Before he could blink, she had closed the space between them, her hand on the back of his wounded neck, her forehead touching his, the gun pressed against her chest. "I'm talking about now."
Her breath was cold and odorless. He expected it to smell like blood, but all he felt was a chill as she exhaled across his mouth. He wasn't sure why he held so still, why he let her touch his face with the flat of her hand.
"I stopped them, Dean," she whispered against his mouth. "I stopped them from killing you. I wanted you to have a choice. The same choice I had."
"By feeding me to the bat-vamps?" Dean scoffed.
She smirked, so close to him that her features were blurry. "That was temporary."
"Is there anything of Ali left in there?" he whispered. "Is there anything of you in there?"
At that, her eyes narrowed, turning almost feline, and her face broadened shifted. "This is me," she replied as the scent she gave off spiked high of rot and death. "This is all I am."
Dean swallowed as her mouth ghosted over his lips, her cold fingers flexing on the taut muscles at the back of his neck. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said, then pulled the trigger. Once. Twice.
She jerked back, stumbling over the body of one of her brood, crashing backwards against the wall, surprise clear on her monster-like face.
"Silver bullets won't kill a vamp," Dean told her. "But I bet they hurt like hell, don't they? Burning through you like fire."
Ali arched her back, her eyes rolling, her animal like teeth descending as her features became unrecognizable.
"I liked you," Dean continued, stepping closer. "The other you. The one that you let them take away. You gave me some peace. I don't get much of that."
Ali hissed at him and reached one claw-like hand. Dean raised the machete and cut off her head, staring down at it, utterly spent. Maybe Noah was right – maybe it wasn't his fault she'd been turned. But a part of him was glad he'd been the one to put her down. At least now her half-life was over.
He wasn't offered more than one brief moment to fully register what he'd been forced to do before two more vamps dropped through the opened roof.
"Son of a—"
Dean exhaled, weariness complete, head pounding. In that moment, he released it all: fear and resistance left his body. He had nothing left but instinct. He simply moved, turning, bringing up an elbow, sweeping downward with the machete, firing his last bullet through one vamp's eye. It wasn't until the second vamp began to stumble backwards, looking for escape, that he registered something else was going on outside of the house.
Frowning, he let the second vamp scramble free, his machete dripping with the blood of four vamps, his sleeve gory with the results of his fight, his entire body trembling from adrenalin and exhaustion. On hollow legs, he stepped toward the open door and his mouth fell open.
There was something else going on outside the house all right and it was tearing through the vamps like a missile.
Before he'd truly registered what he was seeing, Dean had dropped the empty Glock and grabbed the Beretta filled with silver bullets. He stood just to the side of the doorway, peering out in wonder as the full moon's light illuminated patches of the land below, shadows dancing from the trees and catching the pale, bluish skin of the vamps as they took turns retreating and attacking the creature ripping them apart.
It was Noah, Dean realized with an odd echo of knowing dancing around his brain.
It was Noah. Or what had been Noah.
The growls the creature was emitting sent chills up Dean's spine. They were wild, vicious, angry. Noah was bare-chested, his muscles coiling and bunching as if his skin was barely able to contain their might. His hands had turned to claws, hair traversing his wrists, his arms, his back. His face was fierce – his blue eyes seeming to reflect the moonlight, his mouth that of a lion with teeth dripping the blood of the vampire he was currently tearing apart.
As Dean watched, Noah grabbed the vamp that Dean had allowed to escape by the throat, ripping the creature's windpipe out Roadhouse-style and tossing it aside, then without so much as a pause in action, tore open the vampire's chest and shoved his face into the gore, raising his blood-stained head with the vamp's heart caught in his teeth.
Two more vamps – their hissing protests loud enough to turn to white noise against Dean's ears – jumped at Noah.
Noah threw the shell of the vamp he'd killed aside, reaching over his shoulder to grip the vampire on his back and tossed it against a tree. The other one shoved its razor-like claws into Noah's side and Dean couldn't help but wince as the hunter – hunter? creature? – roared in pain. Without thinking, Dean took aim and shot the vamp, allowing Noah to pull the claws from his flesh before turning to the dazed vamp still against the tree and ripping its head off with an almost effortless motion.
Dean caught his breath as Noah turned to face him, his face and chest covered in blood, his muscles heaving. Something akin to human despair crossed his wild features and Noah lifted his face, a desolate howl cresting the night and breaking against the wall Dean had constructed so tightly around him – the wall that hadn't let him care about anyone except Sam in a long, long time.
For a moment the two stared at each other, eyes wide and shocked, and then Noah ran off after the retreating vampires. Dean sagged against the wall, letting his arms finally drop, the machete falling from his uncooperative fingers, the acid in his muscles from forced exertion burning through him.
He shuddered as he blinked, his eyes stinging. His stomach rolled, bile burning at the base of his tortured throat. He pulled in deep breaths, refusing to be sick.
"A goddamn werewolf," he whispered.
It made sense. Now it made sense.
Only it didn't. None of it did, but yet, there it was.
Dean kicked at the decapitated bodies of the vampires, wanting them away from him, out of there, but lacking the strength to drag them into the open. He settled for clearing a space around the make-shift bed Noah had made for him and sat down heavily, the Beretta trained on the unprotected doorway.
He couldn't move…couldn't think. He'd seen a great deal of violence in his lifetime. Had visited that violence upon others. But nothing matched what he'd just watched Noah do to those vampires.
Or, rather, the werewolf.
"This can't be real," he muttered through numb lips. "This can't be real."
He realized he might be in shock. Of course it was real.
Just like Madison had been real when Sam was forced to kill her. Just like Lenore had been real when they let her go. Just like every spook and monster and demon and angel was real.
It was all real.
But Dean's mind was slipping the movie reel again and he was bouncing over what he wanted to register and what he couldn't. He sat still for a very long time, for hours it seemed, staring at the open door, at the moonlight, at the gathering shadows, and simply listened to the sounds of the night. His aching body grew stiff, his throat hot and desperate for water, but he didn't move.
When he heard the rasping breath approaching the cabin, he didn't move. When he heard the stumbling, dragging footsteps through the forest debris around the house, he didn't move. When he saw the clawed, hair-covered hand grip the doorway, he didn't move.
When Noah's animal-like face came around the corner, Dean chambered a round, relieved his body still responded to him.
Noah dragged himself into the house, his illuminated eyes trained on Dean. He was bloody from head to foot, but Dean couldn't tell how much of it was his and how much belonged to the vampires he'd destroyed. He didn't move toward Dean, didn't speak – Dean wasn't even sure if he could speak.
He just stood and stared and breathed.
Dean didn't lower the gun. Every hunter's instinct in him screamed to pull the trigger. This was what he did. This was the job. The one that was so damn important he had to focus on it and not on Sam's need to truly get over the demon blood.
This was why he let his brother walk away.
Shoot him…shoot him…shoot him.
Silver would kill a werewolf, if he hit the heart. Otherwise, it would act as a poison until it worked through the creature's system. But he couldn't do it. He couldn't lower the gun, and he couldn't pull the trigger.
The only thing he could do was watch Noah gasp for breath.
After several moments, Noah's knees buckled and he slid down the wall, eyes still on Dean, but drooping as if he were hurt, exhausted. Dean resisted the crazy urge to go to him. The only concession he allowed was to lower the gun until his trembling arms rested in his lap.
He watched as the night released its grip, the moon gliding from its dominance of the sky, giving way to the first rays of the sun.
And in those moments, the wolf retreated, slipping from Noah's body like a knife being pulled from flesh. His body shook, back arched, lips pulled tight in a grimace as his muscles returned to normal, his hands went slack, and his teeth retracted.
A mourning dove cooed in peace from the top of the ruined roof, looking down on the headless bodies of three vamps and two beaten, broken hunters. Dean sat with Noah's Beretta in his lap, his eyes gritty with fatigue, body thrumming with the pain, staring at the slumped, unconscious body of Noah. He was covered in blood, chest barely moving with breath, but he was once again human.
"What am I supposed to do?" Dean whispered. "What the holy hell am I supposed to do now?"
Continued in Chapter 8.
a/n: So the secret's out! Dean has to decide how to answer his own question. Hope to see you return because the next chapter answers some more questions...