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! This is the final showdown with the vamps, but not the end for Dean by far. Also, heads up: this is the longest chapter in the story. I could have broken it up a bit, but…I didn't want to. *grins* I hope you enjoy.
Honest to God I'll break your heart
Tear you to pieces and rip you apart
30 Seconds to Mars, Night of the Hunter
The night was tangible.
Dean felt it wrap around him like a cloak, enfolding the edges of the crumbling house, the fading embers of the vampire pyre, and the werewolf-hunter by his side in a suffocating embrace. He stared out at the reflecting eyes moving away in the dark and felt his heart hammering at the base of his throat. Everything seemed to stop as he stared into the void.
Time itself was in shock.
He'd faced crazy odds before, both in terms of number and might. He'd survived – often by the skin of his teeth – but in each of those times, he'd had Sam with in him the fight. That or he was fighting for Sam. Now, though, it was just him and a hunter his father would have put down on principle alone against fifty vampires. Or more.
There was little doubt in his mind that he was not going to make it through this fight alive.
Dean curling his shaking hand into a fist, denying the tremor. He was exhausted, hurting, hungry. He knew what he needed to do to survive this, but for one completely honest moment, he acknowledged that he didn't have it in him. Not this time. He could taste fear at the back of his throat. It tasted like blood.
In a flash of desperation, he wanted to call Sam. Say goodbye. Tell him that he didn't blame him for leaving. Wish him luck. Tell him to stay away from this life for as long as he could. But his phone was back with the Impala, and there was no time to retrieve it.
Or the extra dynamite stored in the trunk.
"Aw, shit," Dean breathed.
"What?" Noah asked, his eyes still on the space the creatures had been moments ago. Dean was pretty sure Noah could see further into the dark than the dying firelight allowed his human eyes to penetrate.
"There's more dynamite in the Impala."
Noah shot him a look. "You didn't bring it all?"
Dean turned away. "I wasn't planning on them calling in the reserves, y'know."
"Fuck," Noah exhaled, sagging against the doorway. "I could get there and back on the motorcycle, but it's gonna eat into our time."
"I'll go," Dean volunteered. He wasn't keen on giving the keys to his baby over to Noah in any case.
"Right," Noah scoffed, his eyes sweeping Dean from head to toe before he turned toward the stone fireplace and picked up a stake.
"Don't give me that shit, man," Dean snapped, knowing Noah thought him too weak to make the ride. "If I have to get it, I will."
Noah rolled the top of the stake in the melted silver, the firelight reflecting in his blue eyes. "More dynamite isn't going to matter," he said, "if we can't get them clustered in one place. They could scatter and surround us."
Dean slid down the wall, letting his legs fall straight before him. He could remember only one other time he'd felt this beaten, this tired, hurt this much from the inside out. And that had ended in a crushed Impala and his father making a deal to save his life. At the thought of his father's sacrifice, Dean fixed his eyes on the ground, working to steady his breathing, slow his racing heart.
John Winchester hadn't died for nothing. Dean hadn't died for nothing. He'd not been hauled out of Hell by an angel just to die at the hands of some nosferatu-style vampires. Destiny aside, he was a hunter, dammit. A hunter with a job to do. And he couldn't do that job if he was dead.
Pressing his hands flat against the floor on either side of his legs, Dean closed his eyes, centering his focus on the worst of his pain – his neck and throat – and forced himself to dismiss it. Forced himself to ignore the dull, throbbing ache in his over-extended shoulders. Forced himself to shove the sting and burn of the cuts on his back and chest into a well deep inside him where all of his darkness sat waiting, frothing, hungry to claw its way upward and tear into anyone or anything it could. He needed to pull himself together to get out of this, get back to the world.
He needed to be in one piece to continue on. Fight the good fight. Because if he didn't, he was pretty sure Sam would.
If his brother ever got wind of Dean having gone out fighting vampires…. Dean didn't want to think about it. If nothing else, he had to survive this so that Sam could stay living his normal life. Stay out of the game. Get clear of his blood addiction.
Sam wasn't the one with the destiny. He could leave.
"…was just gonna go in, take out the sentries, find Luke, poison the food supply. Never really thought about them calling in reinforcements."
Too late, Dean realized Noah had been talking. Lamenting really, Dean realized, watching as the other hunter continued to roll the same stake in the melted silver until it was triple coated.
"I think you got it, man," Dean said quietly.
Noah jerked at the sound of his voice, clearly caught in his own thoughts, then looked down at the tip of the stake.
"Dammit." Noah set the stake aside and pushed to his feet, shoving his hands through his hair. "This is so fucked up. I should never have gotten you into this mess."
Using the wall behind him for support , Dean struggled to his feet. He refused to acknowledge the tremble of his legs, the ache in his chest. Once standing, he leaned against the wall, working to steady his vision.
"I shoulda just used the wolf…gone in there last night," Noah continued. "Gone after them. Shoulda never come back here. I shouldn't have stopped until they were gone, all of them."
Remembering how the wolf had barely made it back to the abandoned house before collapsing, Dean frowned. "Hang on," he said, trying to grab Noah's attention. "This is my fight, too—"
"NO!" Noah whirled on him, advancing quickly, causing Dean to press back against the wall. Noah shoved a hand against Dean's wounded chest and Dean bit back a gasp of pain at the rough contact.
"No, it's not your fight," Noah protested. "Yeah, I get it. You're a hunter. They're all your fight, but this one? This one is mine."
There was fear in Noah's eyes, Dean realized. Not anger, not conviction – fear. Seeing those creatures creeping through the dark into the nest, knowing what they were up against, it scared Noah as much as Dean. And there was balance in that realization. Dean's own fear began to dissipate and he suddenly felt inexplicably calm.
Dean put his hand on Noah's wrist, his anger at being handled battling with his understanding of Noah's frustration. "Dude, back off," he said quietly.
But Noah was beyond quiet reminders. He was hurt and angry and Dean could see him losing the tight grip he'd maintained on his patience. Noah didn't remove his hand, even when Dean squeezed his wrist tighter. Instead his jaw jumped with tension, his eyes growing almost unnaturally bright as he pulled his lips back in a snarl.
"You have no idea what I've survived," Noah growled low, his voice rumbling from his chest, "no idea how I've had to live, just to make it to this moment."
"You want a medal?" Dean shot back, thrusting his face forward, closing out Noah's personal space. "Trying to earn your survival badge? You think you're special?"
"HELL YES," Noah roared, his hand twisting into a fist of Dean's clothes, pulling Dean slightly away from the wall with the force of his grip, the waxing moon cutting half his face into light. "Yes I think I'm fucking special. How many hunters do you know who've survived two wars? Huh? How many hunters have killed over a hundred vamps?"
"NONE!" Dean yelled back, his damaged throat protesting by closing off his air for a moment, forcing him to swallow hard, thirsty for air. Reaching up, he grabbed the loose folds of Noah's sweatshirt with both hands, fueled by his own story, his own indignation, his own survival. "You want to know why? Because they're all fucking dead!"
Dean pushed hard against Noah's chest, shoving the other hunter back, causing Noah to slip on the blood paste, stumbling backwards.
"They're dead because when they get stabbed by vamp claws, they bleed out," Dean rasped, his wounded throat giving out under his wrath as he stepped forward, his hold on the other hunter backing him up with every step. "They're dead because when they are attacked by demons, their bodies can't handle it. They're dead because they're beaten. Shot. Burned. They're dead because they're human."
Dean's last word was a breathless rasp, but his body was strong, sturdy, as he shoved Noah back. His anger burned hot, fueling a strength he didn't really have. He kept his grip on Noah's sweatshirt, knowing instinctively that the moment he lost that contact he would stagger, losing his edge.
"They're the special ones," Dean rumbled, his destroyed voice burning his ravaged throat. "The ones who keep fighting despite the odds. The ones who go on even when they know it's gonna end bloody. Even though they may not come out of this one alive."
"Like you, you mean," Noah quietly pointed out, his hands covering Dean's fists.
At that, Dean deflated, his energy slipping free with the truth that death had no dominion over him. Not anymore, not really. Not after crawling free from his own grave, scars of his past erased with an angel's touch. Not with angels wanting to use his body as a vessel. He let his hands fall loose from Noah's sweatshirt and stepped back once, twice, until his back hit a wall behind him. Crossing the room, Dean had moved unknowingly into the shadows of the house, turning his wounded body into a phantom, a disembodied voice curling toward Noah from the darkness.
"There's so much shit you don't know, man," Dean whispered. "I'd give anything to be like that now."
Noah stood quietly for several minutes. Dean watched his face work through a myriad of thoughts in the moonlight. "Hell didn't beat you, Dean," Noah stated.
"It's not just Hell," Dean confessed. "It's the ones who pulled me out."
Noah looked down, then away, his voice, though quiet, was like a slap against the night. "You were…rescued…for a reason, I take it?"
Dean nodded, though Noah wasn't looking at him. He couldn't bring himself to say it. It had been hard enough confessing Hell. And that had only really worked because he'd been beaten bloody by vampires and was talking to a werewolf. That wasn't the kind of truth spoken while sitting in a coffee shop with college coeds. It wasn't the kind of truth that people who lived the nine to five, white picket fence life could accept.
It was twisted and unnatural and bizarre. And it was his reality.
Adding angels and Armageddon into the mix…he was pretty sure even Noah would call bullshit.
"They, uh," Dean dropped his gaze to the smear of blood across the floor and out through the doorway, "they think I owe them."
"Owing someone is worse than Hell," Noah commented, subdued.
"You got that right," Dean agreed.
They stood quietly for a moment, the fire from their initial reaction to seeing the seemingly insurmountable numbers approach the abandoned mill escaping slowly like the release valve on a steam boiler. Dean stared in Noah's direction, not really seeing the hunter, not really seeing anything as he thought of their options, scrolling mentally through his father's journal, seeking Bobby's advice in his head, and finally thinking carefully about what Sam would do in this situation.
The solution hit him so hard he almost stumbled.
"They can't scatter and surround us if they don't escape in the first place," Dean muttered.
"What was that?" Noah stepped forward, his eyes reflecting the moonlight.
Dean looked up at him, peering out through the shadows of the house, the dying embers of the vamp's pyre glowing at the corners of his eyes. "They can't surround us," he repeated, slowly, "if they don't escape in the first place."
Noah stepped forward, tilting his head curiously. "Say more."
Dean's eyes darted around the darkened room cataloging their weapons, assessing what they would need. It just might work….
"Vamps hate fire, right?"
Noah nodded, narrowing his eyes as he watched Dean think.
"I say we surround the mill with fuel, light it up and trap them inside."
Dean nodded. "We head in, light it behind us, plant the bomb, escape through the back. After you kill Luke."
"There's gotta be fifty, sixty vamps in there," Noah said, shaking his head. "How are we gonna get in to find Luke before they swamp us?"
"Gimme a break, man." Dean frowned, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm making this up as I go along."
But Noah had caught the fire of Dean's idea and was starting to pace in a tight four-step pattern. "Blood."
Noah gestured to the floor. "Vamp blood. It's everywhere."
"Thank you, Captain Obvious."
"Don't you get it?" Noah crouched down and rubbed two fingers in the paste. "They'd smell us coming – you especially. They have your scent now."
Dean pulled his brows close, not closing the logic gap quickly enough, watching as Noah rubbed the blood paste between his fingers. And then it hit him: cover their scent with the vamp blood.
"There's not enough," he muttered, eyes tracking the floor. "And it's all…," he waved his hand at the dirt-and-blood mix.
"Not out here," Noah motioned his head toward the doorway.
He stood in one fluid motion, his movement effortless as he hurried toward the doorway. Dean suppressed an envious growl as he stiffly followed. With the firelight dying off, the near-full moon illuminated the clearing around the house, turning the ground silver. Noah gestured to a depression of rock where a pool of vamp blood was still mostly liquid. Dean looked from the blood pool to the darkness beyond where he'd seen the eyes.
"It won't work for long," he commented, his skin crawling with the idea of voluntarily coating his skin with the blood from dead vampires.
"Long enough to get us in," Noah argued.
Dean nodded once. "So, we get in, you find Luke, I set the bomb, we grab as many as we can, get the hell out."
"Wait, what?" Noah looked at him sharply. "Grab as many what?"
Dean frowned. "Victims."
Noah lifted his hands in mock surrender, shaking his head with a disbelieving, humorless grin. "Ah, no. No, no, no."
Dean rotated, squaring off in front of the other man. "What do you mean, no?"
"Kid, they're gone. They can't be saved."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Dean snapped, his breath clouding before his face as the heat from the fire vacated. He could barely rasp above a whisper but Noah was close enough he felt he was practically shouting. "You got me out!"
"I wasn't…," Noah stopped, closed his mouth with a click of teeth, then executed a perfect about-face and headed back into the dark of the house.
Dean followed slowly, stopping in the doorway, the light of moon stretching his shadow out before him. "Wasn't…what?"
Noah had his back to him, one hand on his neck, his shoulders bowed.
"Noah?" Dean prompted, realizing that it was probably the second time he'd said the man's name.
"I wasn't planning on getting you out," Noah confessed, his voice muffled. "I was going to…leave you there."
Dean felt his eyebrows go up. That put a different spin on things.
Noah turned around, one arm wrapped around his body like he was holding an invisible shield. "You gotta understand," he started, one hand up, palm out toward Dean. "I tried so many times before – tried to save someone they'd been feeding off of. And it never worked. It was," Noah shook his head, rolling his lips against his teeth as he looked away. "It was horrible. They'd scream in pain and fear and they'd burn up from fever right in front of me and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it." He looked down. "Not a damn thing."
"Well, then, why…?" Dean asked helplessly, leaning against the doorway, distorting his shadow and throwing moonlight across Noah's face.
"You warned me," Noah said his eyes bright as they found Dean's face. "You called out to me. Told me to get out. I couldn't just…I couldn't leave you there."
Dean was quiet for a moment, memory swimming through a sea of confused and painful images, thinking back to the meat locker and the moment he'd realized he was going to live. A shadowed figure. A desperate hope. Sam.
"Son of a bitch," he whispered.
"What?" Noah asked, brows pulled close, face tense.
Dean closed his eyes, dragging a hand down his cheeks, rubbing at the three-days growth of beard. He wanted to say he'd known it wasn't Sam the moment the hands pressed against his chest; he'd spent too many years moving in stride with his brother to not recognize his grip. But the truth was, he'd known it wasn't Sam simply because there was no way Sam would have found him, could have saved him.
"I thought you were Sam," Dean confessed quietly.
"You thought I was—"
Dean opened his eyes and looked at Noah. "I saw someone moving, knew it wasn't those bat-freaks…I thought it was Sam."
"And you were," Noah looked down, realization softening his voice, "you were warning Sam off."
Dean chewed on his lower lip a moment. "No way I was gonna let him get killed trying to save me. Not after…." He couldn't finish the thought; the very idea of Sam dying to save him turned him cold. "Still, the point is, I survived. If I did, someone else could, too."
Noah tilted his head, looking sad. His voice cracked slightly as he said, "Don't think it works like that, kid."
"You didn't survive because the voodoo paste finally worked. It's not like you were lucky number twenty-three or something."
Dean looked away, knowing where Noah was going with this, not wanting to hear it. A cold fist wrapped frozen fingers around his heart.
"Let me ask you this," Noah said, his chin tipping down, eyes on Dean. "How many other hunters know you've been to Hell and back? How many know you've died, Dean?"
Dean didn't reply. Couldn't. This guy was getting to the heart of his paralyzing self-doubt: the fear that he was as much of a supernatural creature as those he hunted. It was, he realized now, what stayed his hand when he saw Noah's truth. When Noah had faced him in his werewolf form, his wild eyes filled with despair and pain, Dean had seen himself reflected there. Had recognized in the wolf's howl the scream that echoed every day in his heart.
"You try to save those guys, you're just gonna throw your life away." Noah shook his head. "I can't let you die for something like that."
"But that's kinda the whole point," Dean said quietly. His throat was on fire. Swallowing hard he looked up and pinned Noah with a steely gaze. "It's not just about revenge. It can't be. The world's gonna end bloody, man. I know it. You know it. But if we don't at least try to save one…just try…then why bother with any of this?"
Noah didn't reply. Dean tried to figure out what the other hunter was thinking, but there was too much swimming in Noah's eyes, too much history in his expression. The only thing Dean knew was that somewhere in this mess of a night, kill them all became meaningless if he forgot about those he might save by doing so.
"Aw, for fuck's sake," Noah finally growled, rubbing his face rigorously.
He turned and kicked at a broken piece of chair, sending it flying across the room, shattering against the far wall. The motion seemed to trigger something in the hunter and Dean held still as Noah grabbed up another piece of broken furniture, throwing it hard against the wall with a low roar of anger. He snapped two chair legs that had not yet been turned into stakes like matchsticks, throwing them through the one remaining window and shattering the glass. Then he stood, chest heaving from his exertions, hands hanging limply at his sides, his back toward Dean.
"Feel better?" Dean ventured.
"A little. Yeah," Noah gasped, rolling his shoulders.
"I'm going with you," Dean said quietly. "And I'm going after the victims."
Noah glanced over his shoulder. "Your Jedi mind tricks won't work on me."
Dean felt a grin jerk at the corner of his mouth.
"Besides," Noah continued, looking down, "the back cave entrance is collapsed. I cut it off when I went in the first time."
"So I'll take them out the front. We can handle a little fire."
"We used most of the lighter fluid on the pyre."
"We'll empty the motorcycle tank," Dean countered, pushing away from the wall. "Listen, man, you don't have to like it. But this is happening."
Noah pivoted to look directly at Dean. "You gonna make me watch you die, Dean?" he asked softly.
Dean swallowed, remembering vividly the night he'd held Noah's bloody hand, sure the other man was going to bleed out in front of him. "Not if I can help it."
Noah looked away and Dean watched his eyes track up to the moon, as if seeking the familiarity of a companion. "This how you get Sam to listen to you? Relentless resistance?"
Dean huffed out a laugh. "Sam doesn't listen to me. Not anymore."
Noah slide is eyes to Dean, not saying anything.
"He used to," Dean allowed. "When he was a kid. But…then I took his choices away."
Noah frowned, his stillness an invitation for Dean to continue.
"I couldn't live with him dead," Dean shook his head, touching his throat gingerly. The damaged skin seemed to burn as he continued to talk. "I was…selfish." He looked at Noah, the man's eyes still on his face. "I don't regret it, though. None of it. But, yeah. I kinda lost my I'm older so I know better card when I died in front of him and left him alone."
"So, this need to save people is what? Some kind of twisted survivor's guilt?"
Dean shrugged. "All I know is, Sammy would try. So I've gotta."
Noah dipped his head. "You ever tell him any of this?"
"Hell no," Dean said, a sad smile ghosting his lips. "And if you say anything, I'll deny it."
Noah's smile was warm, genuine. As if the thought of one day meeting Sam shifted something inside of him.
"All right. We do it your way. But I take point."
Dean tossed him a salute.
"What's the scariest fight you've been in?"
Dean was so tired. He wanted to curl up and sleep for just an hour. But Noah was still moving, getting supplies ready, checking and re-checking ammo. And Dean knew that if he did lie down, he might not get back up again. So he talked. Sam always said Dean was the noise of their family. So he made some.
"As a hunter?" Noah replied, his tone suggesting he'd clued in to Dean's coping mechanism. He sounded casual, relaxed, despite the fact that he was currently rigging up a spare belt to be a holster for silver-tipped stakes.
"Or not," Dean said, continue to shave silver from the pile of bullets to add to his dust bomb.
Noah had forced him to sit, drink two bottles of water – the man apparently thought water cured everything – and rest as much as he could while he worked. He'd also downed four more ibuprofen, trying to head off the worst of the aches. But sleep was what he really needed.
"Honestly, and don't kill me for this," Noah glanced up at Dean briefly before setting his belt aside and leaning over to finish emptying his backpack, "after I figured out what I was…I was never really scared in a fight as a hunter."
Dean tipped his head in concession, watching as Noah pulled clothes, a pair of thin leather gloves, an old canteen, and beat-up notebook from the bottom of his pack. His dog tags had fallen loose from his T-shirt and were swinging with the motion from his body, catching the light of the moon and drawing Dean's exhausted eyes. Seeing them made him miss the familiar heavy feel of his amulet. In a way, that identified him as much as any set of dog tags would.
"Guess when you can't die, it kinda redefines what you're afraid of," Dean commented.
Noah nodded, finally finding what he was looking for: a Swiss army knife. He smiled at it, then held it up for Dean to see. Etched in gold on the side were the letters L. A. K.
Dean narrowed his eyes, hazarding a guess. "Luke's?"
"Yeah," Noah said. "He gave it to me when I left for the war."
"What's the A stand for?"
Noah swallowed, his throat bobbing. "Andrew."
Dean felt his air leave him, and looked down at the silver shards coating his fingers. Family is supposed to make you crazy, Bobby had said. It was probably the truest thing Dean had ever heard the man say. There was a connection with family – with blood – that defied logic. It was the most unnatural natural thing Dean had experienced. Family had beat him, betrayed him, abandoned him, saved him, loved him, known him.
Family had hurt him more than anything he'd ever experienced in his life – including Hell – and yet there was a bond there that held him up when he wanted to sink to the bottom. It was impossible to deny the fact that when it came down to it, he'd die for his family in a second if it meant sparing them pain.
"You sure you want to do this, man?" Dean asked, not looking at Noah. No matter what Sam did, Dean couldn't imagine hating his brother enough to kill him.
"Yes," Noah said quietly.
"You could walk away—"
"Ardennes. Christmas Eve of '44," Noah interrupted him.
"What?" Dean asked, caught off-guard.
"My scariest fight." Noah said, rubbing his thumb across Luke's initials. "I'd just turned 21 a couple days before. It was cold…I'd never been so fuckin' cold. And we just…we kept digging trenches and then having to bail out of them when the mortars came in. Ramsey and Banker were with me that night and we just…huddled." His voice dropped to a tone barely above a whisper. "Saw two guys blown in half. Faces gone. One guy's leg landed on me. The trees were so thick around us – half the time it wasn't the shelling, but the falling trees we had to avoid."
He busied his hands rigging up the belt, but Dean just sat, the dust bomb complete in front of him, silver shavings coating his hands and jeans, and listened. Every battle he'd fought in the unending war of his life had been against an enemy most people would deny even existed. Nearly every soldier who'd fought by his side had been someone he loved and was connected to by blood or devotion.
He felt kinship with those who'd fought in recognized wars, in battles against a human enemy, but until he heard Noah's quiet, rough voice eking out information in his staccato manner of confession, Dean hadn't really thought about the toll war took on the human psyche.
It was one thing to blow away a monster. It was another when that monster was human.
"It got dark real fast and for a few hours there, we couldn't find our Captain," Noah continued, almost as if he'd forgotten Dean was in the room. "Shells were landing all around us – the world was just…exploding dirt and snow and blood. A big tree fell over the top of our hole and a branch stabbed me – not bad, but it hurt like a bitch. Banker pulled me out and we were just…running. Our guns didn't mean a damn thing; what the hell were we gonna shoot at?"
Dean nodded, caught up, though Noah wasn't looking at him. Dean didn't think he was looking at anything here right now.
"Ramsey shouted something and then Banker was pulling me sideways. I couldn't really run in a straight line; everything was all fuzzy and I couldn't breathe…," Noah wiped a trembling hand across his mouth, his eyes a million miles away. "We fell into this empty ditch – well, we thought it was empty. But then this German guy jumps up and shouts at us, waving his Luger. We were all shouting back at him, pointing our rifles, nobody knew what anyone was saying, it was just…noise."
Noah shifted, lifting one of his knees, draping his arm across it. "And the thing I remember most is that over all that noise – the shelling, the screaming, all of it – I heard someone chamber a round. It was like how I hear now…with the wolf…only it was long before that happened. I heard it and I turned and there was this kid. A German kid. Looked like he was maybe fifteen. And he was standing outside the ditch with his rifle trained on Ramsey and I just…I froze. I don't think I'd ever been so scared in my life. Not even when my Pop was killed."
Dean narrowed his eyes at that, knowing there was a story there, unable to ask. When Noah stopped talking, Dean frowned. "So what happened?"
Noah cleared his throat. "Shell hit."
"Hit the kid?"
Noah lifted a shoulder. "Near enough. Ramsey shot the other guy. We stayed in the ditch until morning."
With the dead German, Dean realized, feeling an odd sort of horror creep over him. He'd dug countless graves, staked a zombie in its coffin, been covered in fresh vamp blood, and the idea of staying the night in that ditch made his heart shiver.
"Didn't realize it," Noah said, pushing to his feet, "but we'd run about forty yards across enemy lines. And we only ran into two Germans."
"A Christmas miracle," Dean commented wryly.
"Always a silver lining," Noah smiled humorlessly. "Here, stand up."
Dean moved the dust bomb off of his lap and tried to push to his feet, dismayed to feel his legs rebel with weakness. Noah reached out a hand and unthinking, Dean grabbed it. The effect was immediate.
"Ah! Son of a bitch!" Noah gasped, jerking his hand away and stumbling back. Dean fell to his side, pushing up on an elbow and looking, confused, back at Noah. The hunter's hand was red, shaking, and Dean could see thin tendrils of smoke curling up.
"Oh, shit," he breathed, looking at his own hands. Silver. Covering his fingers. "Oh, man, I'm sorry."
"'S okay," Noah breathed, leaning against the wall shaking out his hand, lips curled in a grimace of pain. "'S okay."
The hell of it was, Dean had almost forgotten. Sitting in the dark of the abandoned house, prepping weapons to take out a common enemy, he'd almost forgotten what Noah was. As he pushed himself upright, using the wall to gain his feet, he realized he wanted to forget.
Dean didn't want to have to remember that no matter how he might feel about having died and come back, the fact of the matter was, he wasn't immortal. He had no regenerative powers. He was human.
Dean stiffly made his way to the bucket of water and dragged it to the doorway, pouring the liquid over his hands, then rubbing his palms against his jeans, ridding his skin of the silver. When he was finished, he was forced to lean against the doorway, closing his eyes.
He was in trouble. Supernatural hunting partner or not, if he didn't rest before this fight, he wasn't going to make it very far.
"Let's see if this fits you," Noah said, his voice tight with latent pain.
Dean schooled his features. He didn't want Noah to see his exhaustion. He turned, lifting his chin and squaring his shoulders.
"Jesus, kid," Noah breathed, instantly seeing past Dean's facade.
"You're a stubborn bastard, you know that?" Noah stepped forward, holding up the stake holster.
"I'm still fine," Dean pouted, holding his arms up so that Noah could fit the holster around him. "Watch the jeans," he cautioned, knowing the remnants of silver that clung there.
"Thanks," Noah mumbled, stepping back as Dean fastened the belt, tying the strips of leather around his thigh like an old-West gun. "Looks good on you."
Dean couldn't help but grin. The holster held three stakes on each side, all within easy reach, had a place in back for his gun, a hook for the dust bomb, and a space in front for his Bowie or machete. "It's bad ass, man."
"Ought to buy you some time at least," Noah commented. "How's the bomb coming?"
"It's done," Dean said, looking at the contraption. "So long as we don't forget a lighter, we're set."
Noah chuckled. "Wouldn't that just suck?"
"No pun intended," Dean grinned. He took a step forward, intending on grabbing his machete to see how it fit in the holster, and swayed dangerously on his feet. He would have fallen had Noah not reached up and grabbed his shoulder. "Fuck," Dean breathed, blinking hard and rubbing his forehead. The world was tilting sideways.
"You need to rest," Noah stated.
"We don't have time," Dean argued, though his knees wanted to buckle. "I'll take some more aspirin or something."
"Hey, those aren't magic beans, kid," Noah muttered. "Dawn's not for two more hours. We have time for you to rest."
Noah started to guide him toward the pallet when Dean turned, grabbing the other man's forearm. "You stay. Right here, man."
Noah blinked, clearly surprised at Dean's outburst.
"I mean it," Dean growled, the rasp of his damaged voice working in his favor and making him sound dangerous. "Don't you dare leave me here to go fight these bastards on your own."
Noah's face went blank, all expression draining from it. "Lie down, kid."
Dean wanted to resist, but his body forced him to obey. He almost melted to the floor, sinking into the pallet as if it were made of down feathers. His fingers fumbled with the latch of the holster, trying to remove it so that he wasn't lying on the stakes. Noah, watched his efforts for a moment, then grabbed the thin leather gloves, pulling them on and reaching over to help Dean unfasten the belt.
"I mean it," Dean repeated, feeling himself sinking quickly and needing to stress his point. Werewolf or not, a part of him knew that Noah would die if he went in there alone.
"I won't leave you behind, Dean," Noah said quietly. "I promise."
"Good. Gonna take both of us to get out of there," Dean mumbled, his eyes heavy.
As sleep reached for him, Dean saw Noah's expression darken.
"Don't think we're both getting out this time, kid."
Dean was out before he could think of a reply.
He was standing in the woods, a pit of smoking ash before him. The trees seemed to cluster close, like sentient beings, bending and leaning, branches reaching for him, for the pit. He could hear them. Creaking like aged joints, groaning with regret and pain.
Dean stared at the pit, mourning a loss he couldn't remember. Sadness permeated him, bleeding out with every breath. Someone was gone. And he wasn't getting them back.
The smoke cleared a bit, wafting up around him like a wraith, clouding his vision for a moment before evaporating completely and he realized that someone stood on the other side of the pit. Someone with a familiar slouch as if ever-conscious of how much taller he was than his companion. Someone with a shy, almost reluctant smile.
Dean glanced around, trying to find the edges of the pit so that he could get over to Sam, but it seemed to grow, spreading wide on either side of him. He took a step forward, wanting to cross it, needing to grab his brother, feel him warm and real and solid. But the smoke rolled up again, this time curling around Sam's legs, climbing his body.
Sam looked at the smoke, confused, then up at Dean, pleading.
"Back off, Sam. Step away from the edge!"
It was like screaming into a hurricane. The sound of his voice was thrown back to him, echoing against his ears empty of meaning. He watched helplessly as Sam pushed at the smoke, his hands going right through it. He looked scared, panicked. Dean reached out, instinct driving him to stop this thing from happening to his brother.
And then the smoke turned into flames.
And the flames began to eat through Sam.
And Sam screamed.
Dean opened his eyes at the sound of his name. Consciousness was abrupt and instant. No clouds, no cobwebs, no smoke. Just a hammering heart, sweat-soaked hair, and gasping breath. He looked over and up, seeing Noah hovering close, not touching him.
"Easy. It's just a dream," Noah said carefully.
"It was so real," Dean gasped, trying to catch his breath, his mouth dry. "It was so fucking real."
"Not real," Noah assured him, sitting back on his heels, his hands still raised but keeping a safe distance.
Dean nodded, sitting up slowly, rubbing his sweaty face. "Water?"
Noah handed him a bottle and Dean drank deeply. The darkness had turned gray, the world outside their crumbling safe haven waking up. "How long was I out?"
"Couple hours," Noah said. "How do you feel?"
"Like I need to shower for half a day," Dean grumbled, pouring a bit of the water on the back of his grimy neck. The cool liquid felt so good running across the damaged skin that he did it again until the bottle was empty.
"I got us some food," Noah told him. He still hadn't moved.
Dean looked over at him. "Did you sleep?"
Noah shook his head. "I won't need to for few more days. Perks of the curse, I guess."
"Where'd you find food?"
"Well," Noah stood, moving like water. Dean wondered if he ever moved as effortlessly or if he was too beaten down and broken by his life. "It occurred to me that we're in the middle of the woods."
"Yeah…," Dean intoned, curling his legs under him and trying to stand with as much grace as Noah had. He ended up staggering slightly to the side and using the wall as support, but at least he made it to his feet without his legs shaking like a newborn colt. "And?"
"And people have survived on what the woods offers for centuries."
"Guess you would know," Dean quipped, tossing the empty water bottle into a pile of clothes.
"So, what d'ya get? Bark and leaves?"
"How do you like your squirrel?" Noah asked, nodding toward the fireplace. "Medium or well-done?"
Dean glanced, surprised, at the hearth where Noah was roasting a squirrel over the fire. He hadn't smelled cooking meat, but figured the vampire pyre from last night had damaged his olfactory sensors a bit. The thought of eating squirrel had his stomach doing full-on double axels; some of his revulsion must have shown on his face.
"Listen, I know it's not filet mignon, but you're gonna need your strength," Noah argued.
"Sorry," Dean muttered. "I can't get the image of Rocky and Bullwinkle outta my head."
"Hey, it's not that bad." Noah moved toward the fire and pulled out his Swiss Army knife. "Believe me, I've eaten worse."
"Dude." Dean held up a hand. "Really don't need details."
Noah chuckled softly. "Not what I meant."
"Fine. Gimme a sec," Dean finally acquiesced.
He made his way out toward the back of the house, heeding the call of nature. After taking care of business, he pumped extra water to clean the sweat from his face and neck. The torn skin was healing slowly, crusting at the edges, tender to the touch, but wasn't burning quite as much. He was still tired, but just those few hours of sleep had offered him some energy he'd been sorely lacking. Returning to Noah, he accepted his pre-battle meal gratefully.
The plan was as simple as it was impossible. But Dean didn't see any other way. They were gambling on the vamps being sluggish in the morning. And based on the reinforcements they'd gathered, the odds of them winning that bet were pretty much sixty to two. After siphoning the gasoline from the motorcycle's tank into the empty water bucket, Dean checked the clip in his Colt, loaded an extra clip for Noah's Beretta, then strapped on the stake holster, tying the ends down around his thighs.
Sliding his gun and machete into place, he turned to watch Noah pull on his blood-stained denim jacket and begin to fill compartments with knives, impressed despite himself. It was becoming really clear how Noah had survived hunting alone all of these years.
"So you never said," Noah commented, evidently feeling the weight of Dean's eyes. "What was your scariest fight?"
Dean blinked, memories so thick around him he resisted the urge to reach up and brush them away. There had been plenty of times he'd been scared – when they were young and John was away hunting, when John had left him alone forcing him to seek out Sam, when Sam had contracted the Croatoan virus, seeing Sam hit his knees in the mud at Cold Oak, facing his demon self while tripping on dream root, waiting for the Hell Hounds – but those were all moments, instances. They weren't fights.
"There was this demon," he started, wondering how much he would rock Noah's world giving the hunter a glimpse of his, "named Lilith chasing us."
Noah didn't so much as raise an eyebrow.
"Sam and I got ourselves caught by this FBI Agent," Dean went on. "He had us in a cell in a small town in Colorado, waiting to take us back to Washington where he was jonsein' to throw us in jail and melt down the key."
"Why'd this guy have such a hard on for you two?"
Dean shrugged. "He saw the facts, y'know? Grave decimation, bodies left behind. Not like vamps conveniently turn to dust."
"Anyway, Lilith got wind of where we were and she rallied the troops. One of the FBI dudes got himself possessed and shot me."
Noah looked up at that, watching.
"But that led to Sam and me getting out of the cell, so it wasn't all bad."
Noah rolled his eyes and grabbed more weapons, refraining from making the sarcastic comment clearly balanced on the edge of his lips. Dean started to pack up the bomb as he talked.
"We knew they were coming for us, and we knew that we were trapped in that little sheriff's station with four civilians. Er, well, non-hunters at least. I had to get us armed up. So headed out to the Impala to grab whatever I could from the trunk. And just as I lifted the lid, the air, like…crackled." Dean stopped moving, remembering. "I mean, I'd seen demons before. Plenty of times. Seeing that black smoke shoot out of some poor schmuck's screaming mouth isn't something you forget."
"I imagine not," Noah commented softly.
Dean shook himself a bit. "Anyway, I was standing out there, and I look up and the sky is purple and the clouds are…rolling. Like snakes. They're black and they're twisting around each other and snapping with electricity, and they're coming right for us. And all I can think is get Sam and get the hell out, but we can't leave those people, y'know?"
Noah didn't say anything. Dean grabbed his throwing knife from his duffel and slid it into his boot. Probably wouldn't make one bit of difference, but it made him feel better.
"I get back inside and we bar up the doors with salt and this mass just slams against the building. It was like standing in the middle of a tornado."
"Did they go away? Once they couldn't get inside?"
Dean glanced at him. "You haven't dealt with many demons have you?"
"Not one," Noah replied.
"Well, they don't like to lose," Dean informed him, grabbing Noah's gold lighter and a book of matches that had been stuffed into the side pocket of Noah's backpack, shoving both into his pocket. "So…next thing we know, the whole town is demonized and coming for us."
"Wait, you mean…like possession?"
"Got it in one."
"How'd you kill them?" Noah was standing, armed to the teeth and looking about as threatening as a history teacher. Dean had to give it to the man; with him, lethal force was a well-kept secret.
"We couldn't kill them," Dean said, picking up a rock salt filled, sawed-off shotgun from the duffel and tossing it to Noah, who caught it one-handed. "Sam recorded an exorcism for us to play over the loud speaker, we armed the FBI Agent and the others in the sheriff's office with rock salt-filled weapons, and we opened the doors."
"You let them in?"
"Who's crazy idea was that?" Noah half chuckled.
"I should have known," Noah muttered, moving toward the door. Dean watched as he crouched in the doorway and dipped his fingers in the vamp blood, spreading it across his face.
Looking down, Dean shook his head once. "It was crazy for awhile there. I didn't know where Sam was, if he was okay. I was just trying to keep the people I ran into from tearing me up until the exorcism could do the trick. It was just a…mass chaos of running and firing and running. I somehow ended up against a wall next to Sam when it was all done. I didn't want him to know it, but, man, I don't think I'd ever been so scared during a fight."
"What happened then?" Noah stepped aside, letting Dean bend down and dip his fingers into the blood.
Dean frowned at the cold, slimy feel of the vamp blood. He began to cover his face and hands, thinking of Victor Henrikson and how he could have been an ally, and a friend. "They let Sam and me go. But we found out that Lilith finally made it there. And she wiped them out."
"Everyone?" Noah asked, his voice betraying his shock.
"Everyone at the sheriff's station," Dean told him, standing and staring at the other man.
The dark blood covering Noah's face contrasted sharply with his blue eyes, making him look slightly manic. Dean wondered if he looked as dangerous as the hunter standing before him. He felt dangerous. He felt tough, scary, deadly.
"Kinda makes me glad I've never run into a demon," Noah confessed. "I thought vamps were evil."
Dean chewed the inside of his lip. "Y'know, this one time, I was talking to my dad about demons and I called them animals. He said that it was dangerous to think of them that way. Said we had to respect them a little to be able to fight them."
Noah held still, listening.
"He said that most of the bad guys we fought were just like animals, but demons were different. They actually thought what they were doing was right, and that righteousness made them more dangerous than any other monster."
"Your dad sounds like a smart man," Noah said.
"He was," Dean replied, resisting the urge to rub at the pain in his heart.
"That Lilith's bad news, huh?"
Dean felt a cold smile cross his face. "She got hers. Sammy killed her."
"Sam?" Noah exclaimed. "Your brother, Sam?"
Dean's grin spread, as if proud. He didn't bother to mention that killing Lilith also broke the last seal and because of that, Lucifer was once more walking the earth. For someone who hadn't fought one demon, Satan was probably a bit too much to handle.
"You guys live a crazy life," Noah said finally, turning to face the direction of the mill.
"Says the werewolf hunter with a vampire brother," Dean retorted.
Noah tilted his head. "Nobody's perfect."
They stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, the clearing seeming to stretch out before them, Dean wrapped in a holster filled with silver-tipped stakes, Noah with a sawed-off shotgun resting on his shoulder and multiple weapons secreted on his person, both covered in vamp blood.
"You ready for this?" Noah asked. "Get in, kill them all, get out."
"Just like Beggar's Canyon back home," Dean nodded.
They didn't move.
Dean took a breath. Without looking at Noah, he said, "You're getting out of there with me, man."
Noah turned to him, the blood on his face making him look at once terrifying and vulnerable. He held out a hand to Dean. "No matter what happens in there, it was an honor to know you, Dean Winchester."
Dean wanted to scoff, push the man's hand away, deny that this could end in anything other than victory. But he saw in Noah's eyes that this was the man's last shot. If he didn't take out the nest this time, Noah wanted to die trying. He'd been living with the ghost of his brother's actions for too long. He took Noah's hand.
"Likewise," he replied, swallowing his emotion.
Noah bent and grabbed the handle of the bucket full of fuel. Then, with a collective breath, ignoring any trepidation, burying pain and ache and weariness, they stepped forward as one.
Continued here in Chapter 9: Part B.