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.
Chapter 9: Part A
Dean pressed his back against the wall next to the entrance of the mill, waiting for Noah to finish spreading the fuel around the perimeter of the mill. He had expected to be terrified, to have to force himself to calm his racing heart. Instead, he was cold, his heart almost sluggish.
If he thought about what they were up against too long, it would paralyze him. So he focused instead on the plan. With his Colt in one hand, he rested his other on the end of one of his stakes and nodded at Noah when the other hunter joined him, tossing the bucket aside.
The morning sun burned bright and hot against their blood-smeared faces. Dean released the stake and grabbed the matches, watching as Noah pulled his Beretta, then mouthed one, two, three. With Noah's nod, Dean lit the book of matches, flinging them onto the fuel-covered dried grass and watched with satisfaction as the flames crawled hungrily around the building.
Noah slipped inside and Dean followed, moving in reverse, his back to Noah's, covering them from both sides. It seemed their vamp blood camouflage was working: they were able to get almost to the center of the big room before two sentries confronted them.
Dean felt Noah move away from him as he pulled his machete free, beheading the vamp with a strong swipe. His shoulder twinged and he realized quickly that he was going to have to conserve his energy. He turned and continued forward, keeping abreast of Noah, as three more vamps rushed them from the shadows.
"Stake!" Noah shouted.
Dean grabbed one of his stakes from the holster and without slowing or stopping, drove it through the heart of the first vampire he reached. He'd stopped seeing them as the people they'd once been. Now they were all the featureless, hissing monsters reeking of rot and death. He left the staked vamp to quiver, paralyzed on the floor and shot the next one three times with silver bullets.
Two more dropped down directly in front of him and Dean shot one, ducking the blow of the next, then swiping with his machete and missing his aim, slicing the attacking creature across the face. The vampire shrieked and Dean heard an echoing shriek above and below him. Tossing his Colt and machete from one hand to the other so that he could swipe with his stronger right hand, he beheaded the screaming vamp, then looked up.
Hanging from the rafters above him were dozens of vampires, all ages, both male and female.
"Oh, shit," he breathed, stretching out the word as he backed up.
"Dean!" Noah yelled. "Set it!"
"But what about—" He looked wildly at Noah, watching as the hunter produced a knife from somewhere down the sleeve of his jacket and stabbed a vampire in the throat, ripping the blade through the creature's flesh and leaving it to choke.
"I'll find him. Just set it."
Noah whirled as more vamps dropped down between them, their faces no longer human, ready to kill, to feed, to rip and tear and destroy. The closed-up air inside the mill suddenly reeked of death, the stench rolling off the creatures as they moved to attack, causing Dean to gag as he ran forward, seeking a center point to set the bomb.
He was nearly at the room Noah had blown up last time when four vamps burst through the door, their faces very much human in appearance. Dean recognized Luke right away.
"Noah!" he yelled.
"This one is mine," Luke hissed at his companions. "Wake the others."
The three with Luke turned back through the door and Dean had one second to see them drop down through a hole in the floor – evidently created by the previous explosion – before Luke lunged at him.
Dean blocked his blow, rolling on his shoulder to turn away and not strike Luke. He knew this was not his kill; he couldn't take this from Noah. But if the other hunter didn't show up soon, Dean wasn't going to have a choice.
Luke back-handed him and Dean felt himself suspended slightly with the force of the blow before crashing down, landing painfully on the stakes in his holster. The world spun drunkenly around him as he scrambled to his feet, catching sight of Noah in the middle of three vamps, a fresh cut across his forehead bleeding freely, blending with the dried vamp blood.
"Noah!" Dean shouted, grabbing one of his stakes and throwing it toward the other hunter before Luke caught him in a flying tackle and drove him to the floor.
Dean didn't see if Noah caught the wood or if he noticed who Dean was fighting. He was too busy trying to keep Luke's mouth away from his ravaged throat.
Grunting with effort, he got an arm between Luke's throat and his own, bringing a knee up for leverage. He managed to get the vamp off of him and rolled sideways, jumping to his feet and grabbing his machete, holding it out in front of him as Luke circled. Behind him, he heard another vamp drop from the ceiling. Without thinking, Dean turned, swiping the sharp blade of the machete through the neck of the vamp, then returned his focus to Luke.
"What the hell are you waiting for, huh?" Dean gasped, his voice sounding nothing like himself.
Luke's full mouth twisted up in a grin, vamp teeth descending, though his face remained human. It was disconcerting. He didn't answer Dean, just continued to turn them in a circle until Dean's back was to the door Luke had come through. Dean felt the hairs standing up on the back of his neck.
Something was really, really wrong.
Taking a chance that Luke wasn't going to immediately attack, Dean pulled his attention from the grinning vamp and reached for the dynamite-wrapped dust bomb attached to the holster. But before he could grab it, he saw what Luke had been waiting for.
Wake the others….
"Son of a…. Noah!" He yelled, backing away from the door, toward where he'd last seen his friend neck-deep in monsters. "We're gonna have company!"
Climbing up through the hole in the floor – like a swarm of ants spilling from a hill – were the ancient nosferatu. Their naked bodies were covered in translucent, leatherish skin, veins traversing their torsos. Their feral, almost feline features made them practically identical. Extensions of skin connected their arms from the elbow to their rib cages, their ears were elongated and ridged, their eyes narrow slits, and their teeth….
Dean gripped his machete, firing left-handed into the swarming mass of hissing bodies that poured out of the hole, crawling up the walls, across the ceiling.
Their approach dislodged several of the hanging vamps, dropping the human-like creatures to the floor around Dean. He emptied his clip, but they kept coming. He felt them surge around him, lifting him up, clawing at his arms, his legs, moving him across them as if he were crowd surfing. He wasn't able to scream: his throat closed almost completely. He thrashed, trying to get to one with his machete, trying to get to his stakes, but it was as if he had no control over his body.
Their hands, their strength, their claws, their smell – he just had to keep their mouths away from him. Just keep their mouths away. He wouldn't survive the feel of their mouths sucking, pulling his blood from him.
He threw one wild look toward where he heard his name and saw Noah standing in the middle of a pile of dead vamps, one arm ravaged and hanging useless, his Beretta pointed at the swarm. More vamps were falling from the ceiling above him.
"Shoot!" Dean rasped, hoping Noah had heard, had understood.
He would rather die than go back to that meat locker. But that was just where they were taking him, he realized. He heard the crack of Noah's gun, but didn't feel the impact of a bullet. Instead, he felt his body dip as they dragged him head-first, back through the hole in the floor and into what had almost become his grave.
But as soon as they were below, in the dark, the creatures dropped him, scattering and retreating to small burrows dug into the side of the cave walls. Dean looked around, confused. It was as if they were recharging. Dean wondered how much of an effect the sunlight had on these creatures in comparison to their younger companions.
He pushed up to his hands and knees, feeling the sting of new cuts on his arms and legs where their claws had dug in. His head was pounding, his lip bleeding from Luke's backhand. He braced himself, refusing to give in to the shock threatening to consume his body. He swallowed hard, looking around the meat locker. The hole above him offered some light and what he saw staggered him.
It was a rebellion.
The racks that where human victims hung suspended from their arms and throats had collapsed – most likely from the combination of dynamite explosions – and the people left alive had freed themselves. The three vamps sent down to wake the ancient ones lay dead on the ground. Behind the survivors was a horrifying pile of human remains. Two men and one woman stood facing Dean, emaciated, bloody, ropes still attached to their wrists and neck. He could tell by their eyes that they weren't all there, not all together sane.
But they weren't vamps. And they weren't dead.
"Help me," he rasped, pushing to his feet. He removed the bomb from his holster. "Help me and I'll get you out, I swear to God I'll get you out."
The man closest to him pulled back his lips in a grimace, stepping forward. His eyes were wide, bloodshot, and wild. Dean took a step back, trying to see everywhere at once, knowing the nosferatu were close and hungry.
He felt them. His skin shivered with their nearness, pulling tight in memory of their mouths. The creatures began to hiss and the half-dead man in front of Dean echoed the sound as if he couldn't help himself, more vamp than human at this point.
Aw, fuck me….
The man took another step forward and Dean saw a tattoo on his bared chest – one that looked vaguely familiar. Dean wracked his brain, trying to pull the puzzle together. Darting his eyes back to the man's face, taking in the condition of the man's body – the fact that he was in the best shape of all the survivors – the pieces fell into place.
"Alec?" He whispered. The man stopped hissing. "You're Alec, right? Ali's brother?"
"Ali?" the man rasped.
One-by-one, the nosferatu started to crawl from their burrows, climbing the walls, their nails skittering along the rock with a familiar chittering sound. Dean set the bomb down on the ground at Alec's feet. He unrolled the long fuse – designed to give them enough time to escape – then grabbed his extra clip from his belt, dumped the empty one and shoved the new one into the butt of his Colt.
"I'm gonna get you outta here, Alec," Dean promised. "You're gonna be okay."
He couldn't quit thinking about what was happening to Noah. He took a breath, looking over at the other two victims, then closed his eyes briefly. He had to try.
"You follow me, okay? All of you. Move when I move and do not stop. Do you understand?"
They just stared at him. The horror visited upon them had hollowed their eyes. Noah had been right: they were lost. All but Alec. He managed to nod.
Here goes nothin'.
Dean pulled out Noah's lighter and lit the fuse. Dropping it he turned to the closest vamp and fired directly into its face, felling it but not killing it. The wounded creature shrieked, the others – including Alec and the other human victims – echoing it. It was a sound from his nightmares; it was part pain, part indignation, part promise.
Dean wanted to cover his ears, curl up in a ball until it was quiet again, but he forced himself to ignore the way the sound made his skin try to turn inside out to get away, and grabbed a stake from his holster, driving it into the sternum of the next creature that crawled toward him.
He gaped, shocked, as that creature writhed and screamed – literally screamed – as the silver on the stake turned its veins black, its body following suit, shriveling and curling up like a dried-out corn husk.
"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed in utter surprise, grabbing another stake. He glanced around as the other creatures shrank back, the shrieks in the cavern becoming almost white-noise they were so loud. He looked at Alec and the others. "C'mon!"
Turning, Dean headed for the door. He ran up the short flight of steps and flung it open. To his dismay, two human-like vamps stood in the way, one of them Luke.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," he muttered, backing down one of the stair steps that led to the door. If Luke was here, chances were, Noah was gone. God, Noah…I'm so sorry.
The vamp next to Luke charged, hitting Dean at the chest and carrying him down the steps with the force of his attack until they both landed, hard, on the dirt floor below. The breath was driven from Dean's lungs; he couldn't move, couldn't think. He was so dazed it took him a moment to realize that the vamp had staked itself on the silver-tipped spike in Dean's grip when it slammed Dean into the ground. The creature was unable to do more than growl, paralyzed by the stake. Weakly shoving it off of him, Dean sat up, grabbing air in great gulps.
Images were slipping, his focus sliding, but Dean saw Alec standing nearby, staring at him like a wild thing, eyes not tracking with what was happening around him.
"C'mon," he breathed, unable to force his voice any louder. He staggered to his feet, making his way once more to the stairs. The fuse to the bomb was slowly burning and Luke still blocked the doorway, but Dean had to try.
"You're not still trying to win, are you?" Luke asked, his voice mild, as if he were genuinely curious. "Can't you see you're beaten?"
Dean swayed on his feet, pulling another stake from his holster. He only had one left after this. He'd lost his machete somewhere along the way, but he still gripped his Colt.
"Give up, hunter," Luke suggested gently. "You can't win."
"No," Dean rasped. He took a step forward, and Alec followed as Dean had instructed. "You…won't beat…me," Dean managed to get out.
"I already have," Luke replied smugly, his face shifting into the monster version of himself, the stench of rot unbelievably spike even with the amount of death in the cavern.
The sight triggered the human survivors still in the meat locker. Dean heard a wail from somewhere behind him and beside him, Alec became unglued. Before Dean could stop him, the weakened survivor charged past him, up the stairs, reaching for Luke with fingers bent into horrible claws, ropes trailing from his wrists, and a sound somewhere between a sob and curse rolling up from his gut.
"No!" Dean cried, running up the stairs after him, reaching for him, but it was a wasted motion.
Luke caught Alec by the throat and broke the man's neck like he was snapping a twig. He flung Alec's lifeless body aside, staring at it with contempt. Dean felt breath leave him. The movie reel was slipping. He'd tried so hard to save one…just one. And Luke had killed him as if swatting a fly. Dean was losing ground, his will working to gain a toe-hold, working to stay in the game.
"Fool," Luke spat.
At that, Dean felt his expression harden, his lip curl, his eyes empty. His whole being screamed enough. He lifted his Colt, firing from the hip, his bullet tearing into Luke's gut, forcing the surprised vampire to stumble back. The moment Luke stepped from the doorway,Dean gaped in shock as he saw someone standing at the base of the first set of stairs.
Covered in blood, left arm shredded and useless, forehead slashed open and blood running into his eyes, Noah stood like a specter, a silver tipped stake gripped tightly in his right hand.
"'Bout time…you sh-showed up," Dean gasped, unable to keep himself from swaying. Relief flooded through him, making him dizzy and weak. He could feel the blood from the cuts on his arms and legs soaking into his clothes and his hands were beginning to tingle.
"D'you set it?" Noah's voice was a low growl, sounding less human than Luke's had.
"Yeah," Dean rasped.
"Good. Get the hell out."
"Not without you."
Luke, gasping, hand pressed to his belly, pushed to his feet. "So touching."
"Shut up," Dean and Noah snapped in unison, not taking their eyes off each other.
The challenge was clear in the air. Time was rapidly running out. It was live or die time.
"Where are the rest?" Dean asked.
Noah glanced over their heads, but didn't elaborate. He looked to be saving his breath. Dean heard a macabre chorus of hissing below him and saw Luke come to attention, looking down the stairwell behind Dean in horror. Whatever message contained in that hiss had struck fear in Luke and was reverberating throughout the room above.
Face transforming fully into the creature that he now was, Luke lunged at Dean with claws out, a furious roar replacing his hive-minded hiss. Dean instinctively flinched back, but he needn't have worried. Before Luke could reach Dean's throat, the vampire froze, his face registering shock and pain even through the deformed features. Legs now useless, he fell back, caught by his brother's arm, as the silver-tipped stake drove deeper into him through his back.
Dean watched, barely breathing, as Noah slid down to sit on a step, holding Luke against him as Luke's face twitched and shifted, becoming human-like once more. The vampire couldn't move, paralyzed by the stake, the pain of the silver from the stake and Dean's bullet ratcheting through him.
"N-Noah?" Luke's voice sounded young, confused, garbled with the poison in his body.
Dean listed to one side, unable to hold himself straight, watching Noah as he held the thing that had been his brother and in the few, spare moments saw the memories of two lifetimes traverse his friend's face. Tears burned Dean's eyes at Noah's broken, tragic smile as he looked at his brother. He saw Noah remember who Luke had been, what Luke had done, and what Luke was now.
"D-Do it, b-brother," Luke gasped.
The last word seemed to unravel Noah. He bent forward, pressing his bloody forward against Luke's, and squeezed his eyes closed. "Fuck," he whispered. "I can't…."
Dean's heart fell. He stomach followed. They had to get out of there. Now.
"Wanted you…to be with…me," Luke confessed, struggling to move his lips against the paralyzing effects of the stake, the poison in his system ravaging his face with pain, exposing the illusion of youth.
"I hated you," Noah voice was regret and sorrow wrapped in a fury so bright it practically lit the air around them. He lifted his head, his blood smearing Luke's pale face. "I hated what you turned me into. You took everything from me. You took my life."
He freed his only good arm, reaching into his breast pocket and drew out a knife. Dean felt his heart slamming at the base of his throat. Time was bending around him. How long ago had he lit the fuse? A minute? Five minutes? If they didn't leave now, they weren't going to leave at all.
But he couldn't move.
Noah was shaking – from pain or emotion, it wasn't clear, but it caused the blade in his hand to tremble. He lifted it, looking at his brother's eyes.
"Please." Luke's voice was suddenly clear, his face seeming to age.
Without another word, Noah brought the blade down. Dean closed his eyes, unable to watch, flooded with memories of his own – Sam in the panic room, Sam walking away from him as he lay bleeding on the floor, Sam at the edge of the seal as Lucifer rose. If things had gone differently, Dean realized, opening his eyes to the gore that now covered his friend, the stairs, the floor around his feet, this could have been him.
That thought pushed Dean forward, up the stairs. Wordlessly, he grabbed the back of Noah's collar, tugging the man upright, Luke's body rolling from Noah's lap to land with a wet thunk on the floor below. Noah was pliant, quiet, the fight and fire gone from his body. Dean tugged harder, forcing Noah to climb the stairs faster as the hissing below turned to shrieks and Dean could only surmise the nosferatu had found the bomb.
The two hunters stumbled through the door at the top of the stairs, Noah leaning heavily on Dean, his ravaged arm dripping a blood trail as they moved. Dean wrapped his gun arm around the man's waist, supporting him around the edge of the hole the vamps had dragged Dean through and out into the main room. The carnage that greeted his eyes was unfathomable. The vamps that weren't staked or beheaded were cowering at the edges of the room, hissing and clawing at the walls, wanting desperately to escape.
The smoke from the fire outside had found its way in and Dean could see through the doorway that some vamps and tried to escape and had been caught by the flames. Noah stumbled, going to his knees, pulling Dean with him.
"Move," Dean urged.
In his mind's eye, Dean could almost see the fuse reaching the initial stick of dynamite. His whole being was focused on one thing: survive. He pulled Noah upright, his hand slipping in the hunter's blood, and dragged him forward. Ignoring the bodies of the vampires around them, he forced his body forward, making his way toward the opened door.
And then a hand grabbed his ankle. Dean went down, hard, nothing to break his fall. Rolling, dazed, to his back, Dean looked down the length of his body to see a vamp, face nearly cut in half, using his legs like a rope to pull itself forward, its teeth bared.
"NO!" Noah roared, the cry rolling up from his gut.
He grabbed the stake from Dean's limp hand and shoved it into the creature's eye, causing even Dean to flinch back and away. Two vamps peeled themselves from the wall and launched themselves at the hunters. Dean lifted the Colt – it seemed to weigh a hundred pounds – and fired, driving one back. Just as the other one reached Noah, they felt the floor beneath them roll as if cresting a wave.
The bomb. The cave had protected them somewhat, but their time was up.
The vamp jerked back, writhing as the ancient vamps in the cave below shattered and burned, destroyed by fire, force, and silver.
"Go!" Noah yelled, looking wildly over his shoulder at Dean. "Go, go, go!"
Dean struggled to his feet, trying to tug Noah upright. Noah staggered once, pushing Dean away as the vamp renewed its efforts to take a hunter out with it. Dean pulled his last stake and Noah grabbed it from him.
"Go!" He urged. "I'm right behind you!"
He turned and Dean saw him shove the stake through the vamp's chest. Dean ran, throwing himself out through the doorway as the building shifted and shook, the force of the explosion and fire destroying it from the inside out. He covered his face with his arms and ran through the fire break, past the charred vampire bodies, falling to the ground and rolling to extinguish the flames that caught his shirt and jeans on fire.
His clothes smoking but not burning, Dean came to rest on his stomach, panting and still, looking up just in time to see the mill collapse in on itself. He flinched and ducked as a mushroom cloud of flames and silver ballooned up from the center, the wood hungrily consumed. Gasping, eyes burning, Dean strained to see his friend emerge from the flames.
But Noah wasn't behind him.
C'mon, man. C'mon...please...
Dean continued to stare, every cell in his body willing Noah to stumble from the wreckage, knowing that the silver in the bomb wouldn't kill him, knowing he could heal from his seemingly devastating wounds.
Nothing. No one.
Noah was gone.
When the building shifted in once more, sinking further into the cave system below, burning everything trapped inside, Dean dropped his head into his arms, the breath he'd held escaping in a groan of pain and grief.
Tears of exhaustion that had been kept at bay were given freedom to spill unchecked down his dirt- and blood-streaked face.
It was dark when Dean opened his gritty, swollen eyes.
He was numb, empty. Alone. He'd finished the job, but he hadn't been able to save even one of the victims. And he'd lost a friend.
He rolled to his back, the dying light of the still-burning mill enough to see that he was alone. No one from the town had come to investigate the sound of the explosion. He lay looking at the stars, finding the constellations, wondering about the people he worked so hard to keep safe.
He closed his eyes, uncaring that he lay exposed in the middle of the woods. The vamps were gone. Noah was gone. Sam was gone. There was no reason to hurry anymore. Sometimes, survival wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was cold and dew covered his face, hands, the ground he lay upon. Turning his head stiffly to the right, he saw the first blush of dawn cresting the horizon, soft pink hues stroking the underside of the twilight and turning it blue. He lay still, watching the sun stretch and groan its way above the tree line. He didn't move until he felt himself begin to shiver.
Basic bodily needs gnawed at him.
Rolling to his side, he managed to get to his hands and knees before a wave of sickness washed over him. All the blood, the strain, the effort, the exhaustion slammed into him over and over, buffeting him and sending him spinning. He retched, but nothing coming up because he was so hollow.
After a moment the world settled down and he managed to make it to his feet. He walked in the general direction of the abandoned house, mildly surprised when he found it again. Stumbling around to the back, he primed the pump until water flowed. He shoved his head beneath the cold, mineral-heavy liquid and drank, letting it wash the blood, sweat, and tears from his face, letting it cool his battered neck and soothe his throat.
Shivering, soaked, he staggered back to the house, collapsing onto the pallet. Part of him knew he was in shock, fever from his wounds threatening to roll him under, but his only defense was to let sleep claim him once more.
He awoke once, his half-conscious mind playing with his vision. He was willing to swear that he saw Noah standing over him. Another time, it was Sam. When he opened his eyes a third time, morning had come once more and he'd lost track of days. His stomach cramped from hunger, his throat was parched, and his hands trembled from the abuse his body had managed to survive.
He knew he had a choice to make.
He'd decided to survive the nest. Now, he had to deal with it. Either he lay here and let his body expire or he got the hell up and got on with life.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Winchester?" he growled at himself, shocked at the sound of his destroyed voice.
Pushing upright, he stripped off his ruined clothes, stumbling naked to the well behind the house. There was no one around to see. Using the T-shirt he'd been wearing, he carefully washed the scabbed-over cuts on his chest and back as best he could, then cleaning the sweat, soot, and blood from the swallow cuts on his limbs, grateful they didn't look infected. They stung when the cold water hit them, and one or two could use some stitches, but they weren't going to kill him.
Returning to the house, he dressed in Noah's clothes, having none of his own left. It felt both strange and comforting. The way wearing Sam's slightly-too-big hoodie always felt. As if he was deciding to be someone else for awhile. Which was just fine with him because Dean Winchester wasn't someone he really wanted to be right now. Packing up whatever he could salvage from the cabin into his duffel, he went through the rest of the pockets in Noah's backpack.
When his fingers brushed Noah's wallet, his knees buckled and he had to sit down. He pulled out Maggie's picture, smiling sadly back at her image.
"He did it," he told her. "He finished it for you."
Exhaling slowly, he put the picture away, then shoved the wallet into his duffel, down deep where it wouldn't fall out. He grabbed the notebook, promising himself he'd look at it later. The motorcycle Noah had stolen was worthless without fuel, so he began to walk. It took a few hours to get back to the Impala; he had to stop several times to catch his breath and force the world to stop spinning.
When he saw her he took a quick breath. Her black body shimmering in the late day light, she seemed to be waiting for him. Saying, I'm still here…I've always been here…I've never left you. It felt like coming home.
With trembling hands, he unlocked the door, slide behind the wheel, then leaned back, letting her hold him. His phone was in the glove box – so near. He could call Sam. Just to hear his voice. He could call Bobby. Tell him the job was done.
But Dean just sat there, head back, body aching. There were things that needed to be done. Basic Hunting Survival 101 dictated what should happen next. But Dean was tapped out. He wanted to cry. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to scream, hit something, drive recklessly fast, let music drown out the memories of the last few days.
Slowly, he decided to do the least damaging thing. Turning the engine over, he ejected the Led Zeppelin tape Sam had given him and let the music from the radio fill the nearly empty interior of the car, a male voice lamenting along with the sound of a soft guitar plucked by expert fingers.
"I've seen inside the devil's dreams where young men die, and graveyards open up their arms for mothers left to cry. I have seen the bleeding and I hate what we've done, but just like every other fool I'll keep marching on…."
Dean swallowed, listening, then shifted into drive and headed back to the hotel. He drove on instinct, autopilot. He wasn't quite sure how he remembered where the hotel was, but he managed to locate it before passing out behind the wheel. Parking outside his room, he spared a glance down the way to where he knew Noah had checked in, wondering what the hunter had left there, if anything. Aside from the man's dog tags, which had burned with him, Dean knew he had Noah's most prized possession in the duffel bag. He grabbed the bag, unwilling for the moment to let it too far out of his sight, then made his way into the hotel room.
Stepping into the room – the modern conveniences, and the fact that his stuff was still there and the room hadn't been rented out from under him – unnerved him a bit. He dropped the duffel next to his clothes, then made his way to the bathroom, the shower calling to him like a siren. He stripped down and paused to regard himself in the mirror for a moment.
He'd lost weight; he could see his cheek bones protruded above a reddish-brown beard. Blood – his, Noah's, or the vamp blood from their camouflage – clung to the edges of hair that framed his face. His collar bones were more prominent, and the slices along his ribcage – basically separating the skin between his ribs – were pink, the skin around them a yellowish faded bruise. The cuts and punctures on his arms and legs were the greedy nosferatu had clutched at him weren't any worse than what he'd done to himself when they'd needed blood for a ritual.
But looking at them had him remembering the terrifying sensation of being propelled along a sea of death, carried to another grave. He swayed, gripping the edge of the sink to gain his balance.
Don't think about it and it can't hurt you. Don't remember. Don't remember.
He turned on the hot water in the sink, lathered his face with shaving cream, and rid his skin of the rough beard. Once his jaw line was smooth, he stepped beneath the hot water in the shower, standing still and letting the water run over his bruised, battered body for nearly an hour before exiting, wrapped in a towel, to dress in clean sweats and an AC/DC T-shirt.
He ordered a pizza, then lay on the bed, staring at his cell phone. He should call Bobby. He knew he owed his old friend that much. But he didn't know what to say other than the job was done.
How could he tell Bobby or Sam what he'd done – what he'd not done? How he'd not only let the other survivors die, but had lost a friend in the process? How the hell could he explain Noah? How could he make them understand who Noah was? What he was? How he'd saved Dean? How Dean had thought of him as friend before the end?
How could he tell them that Noah had killed his own brother because of what he'd become?
Staring up at the ceiling, eyes tracking to the holes scattered across the tile, Dean thought of Sam. Thought of him walking away from everything familiar, everything grounding, everything real. He thought of Luke's choked confession, wanted you to be with me. He thought of brothers and family and the natural and the supernatural and the twisted truth they all lived every day.
Dropping a hand across his eyes, Dean blanked his mind, burying everything he felt about the other hunter, every memory he had of the complicated tangle of werewolf and man, and slept until the pizza arrived. After eating his fill, he lay back on the bed, the silence of the room battling with the chaos in his mind.
Exhaustion was the deciding factor and Dean slept more, seemingly unable to get enough rest, letting the clock cycle through twenty-four hours. When he woke he lay still for several minutes, the decision to function, to keep moving forward, harder than it should have been. Lacking a better idea, he showered again, cleaning his cuts, his healing throat, letting the hot water ease the ache in his sore muscles. Each time he cleaned a cut on his body, he remembered how Noah had fought to save him from the fever. How he could have killed Dean multiple times and instead forced him free of the vampire's nest.
Don't think about it and it won't overwhelm you. Don't think about it and it can't hurt you. Don't think about it, period. Don't remember. Don't remember. Don't remember.
When the hum of the HVAC unit startled him, Dean realized that it had literally been days since he'd spoken with anyone aside from ordering a meal and smiling at the front desk clerk. He decided to venture out to eat at a diner and grab a paper to orient himself to when it was once more. He was shocked to realize it had been over two weeks since he'd see or spoken to his brother.
He needed to reconnect with Bobby soon. Or call Cas. Someone.
He couldn't become Noah. Hunting alone. Always alone. No relationships, no connections. Keeping a safe distance, keeping everyone safe from him.
Don't remember. Don't remember.
There was a difference between being a loner, and being alone. And he'd been alone for too long to feel balance, normal. Dean knew he'd go crazy without some sort of personal contact. But he didn't want to call Sam. Not now. Not when the reality of what he witnessed was so close, so possible. Sam needed to stay away. Stay safe.
Dean was a better hunter if Sam wasn't around. He'd almost convinced himself of that fact.
He slept for a few hours, his body too tired for nightmares, his exhausted, wounded mind given a chance to recharge. The following afternoon, after refilling his supplies, Dean took stock of what he had left in the clothing department and decided he was going to have to clean the blood- and dirt-stained garments he had left; he wasn't much of a shopper. None of them really had been. They just repaired and made do.
Gathering up his green canvass jacket, he carried it over to the sink in at the kitchenette, and grabbed a washcloth to clean off s smear of grease. He'd just started rubbing out the stain when something caught his eye in the mirror above his head. Glancing up, he jerked in surprise to see Castiel standing over his shoulder, face as tranquil as always.
"God!" Dean dropped his head, thumping his hand on the edge of the sink before turning off the water. "Don't do that."
Oblivious to the effect his sudden, soundless appearance had on Dean, Castiel greeted him with a quiet, polite, "Hello, Dean."
Dean took a breath, turning to face the angel and found Cas mere inches from him, his height making it so that they were practically nose-to-nose.
"Cas," Dean said patiently. "We've talked about this. Personal space?"
He swore sometimes it was like speaking to a child.
Castiel stepped back. "My apologies."
The sight of the angel had Dean spinning, the alternate reality to the one he'd been living for the last week and a half sending his internal compass sideways. In a rush, everything he hadn't been paying attention to crashed into him: Lucifer walking the earth, Michael's sword, Zachariah's threats, four horsemen of the apocalypse, destiny, denial, Armageddon. He fought for a breath, noticing how Castiel's eyes swept him, taking in the still-healing bruises, wounded neck, trembling hands.
Grabbing his still-dirty jacket, Dean made his way to the duffel on the spare bed. "How'd you find me?" He asked, rubbing his ribs. "I thought I was flying below the angel radar."
Castiel nodded. "You are. Bobby told me where you were."
Dean frowned, making a mental note to ask Bobby for a heads up next time. It wasn't that he sorry to see Cas. In fact, after several days alone, resting, healing…he was restless. And lonely.
Not that he'd ever admit that to anyone.
He needed a job. A hunt. And a friend.
He glanced at Cas, watching as the angel's guileless blue eyes and serene features – so different from the fire and desperation etched into the face of the last person Dean had been around – took in the hotel room.
"Where's Sam?" Cas asked.
So, Bobby will tell him where I am, but he won't tell him about Sam to spare me the job, huh? Without thinking, Dean slid his arms into the sleeves of the jacket he'd planned on cleaning.
"Me and Sam are…taking separate vacations for awhile. So…."
He looked at Cas. The angel looked back.
He'd almost forgotten the way Cas had of forcing Dean to drive the conversation. It was a different rhythm than Noah. So much different from Sam. With his brother, Dean knew how to move, what to say, how to breathe and Sam rolled with it.
He missed that.
Don't think about it and it can't hurt you.
"You find God yet?" Dean asked the angel. "More importantly, can I have my damn necklace back, please?"
Seeing Noah's dog tags had him feeling the absence of the amulet more than usual.
Castiel stared at him. "No, I haven't found him. That's why I'm here. I need your help."
Dean needed a hunt. He needed action. He needed to focus on something other than what wasn't there. He needed to redeem himself, save someone, stop something. Cas was his friend, and his friend needed help, and he needed that help from Dean. Listening to Cas, Dean realized that anything that got him away from Greeley, PA, would be welcome.
Then he heard that Cas didn't need him because he was a hunter, or a friend, but because he was a vessel.
Going after an archangel, one Castiel was convinced would know where God was – which in any reality other than the one Dean was forced to reside would sound eight shades of crazy – was not going to be easy, and Castiel needed a shield. One that the other archangels wouldn't harm out of fear of Michael's wrath.
It was on the tip of Dean's tongue to resist. Castiel had the power to force him, but after the day in the room with Alistair – with the demon almost killing Dean because of the assumptions of angels – Dean didn't think Castiel would resort to that. He didn't want to put his friend in that position, and truth be told, he needed someone else calling the shots for the moment.
Don't think about it and it can't hurt you. Don't think about it and it won't be real.
Once Dean agreed to go – driving, this time – Cas didn't say a word about the wound on his throat, the bruises on his face. He simply touched Dean's shoulder – right where the faded scar from where he'd pulled Dean from Hell still resided – and Dean's wounds were gone. Healed.
As if they'd never been there. As if he'd not hung in a meat locker full of other human victims he'd been forced to leave behind. As if vampires had never fed off of him.
Looking for Raphael with Cas felt like a different time, a different reality, a different Dean. But, despite what he kept trying to convince himself of, he knew from personal experience that there was no real escape from his past. Angel vessel or not, he was the same guy who'd been saved by a werewolf. The same guy who'd fought an overwhelming number of vampires.
Alone in the car, after they'd interrogated Raphael to no avail, Dean simply drove into the night. Thinking about the aura of sorrow and disbelief that had clung to Castiel after they'd left Raphael trapped in a ring of holy fire, Dean glanced to the right – to Sam's side, the passenger side – and took in the empty seat the angel had vacated, his own words still hanging in the quiet of the car in heavy, black font.
It's funny, you know, I've been so chained to my family, but now that I'm alone, hell, I'm happy.
With a soul-shifting reality check, Dean realized those words were actually starting to be true.
Something had changed since Sam walked away from him at that rest stop. He still missed his brother, missed the familiarity, the knowledge that no matter what else life threw at him, he still had a job to do. He missed the companionship of simply having his brother by his side. But…he didn't quite need it like he used to.
He'd been able to talk to Noah about more than he'd ever been able to share with Sam. He'd been able to talk to Noah about Sam. He was relaxed with Cas. He'd…he'd actually laughed with Cas. Sure it was at the angel's expense, but that was beside the point.
He hunted, he fought, he bled and killed. But he'd been able to be…real. Honest. Dean. He hadn't had to be responsible for either of them. Watch their every move. Second-guess their every word.
He'd been himself for the first time since he'd returned from Hell.
Dean rubbed his forehead, unsure of where he was heading, just knowing that he needed to go somewhere. Part of him wanted to go back to Bobby's, just to check in with his old friend. Part of him wanted to fall off the grid and make it impossible for even Cas to find him.
If God had left the building, Sam had quit hunting, Noah was dead, and Cas was going rogue trying to prove his brother wrong, maybe it was as good a time as any for Dean Winchester to disappear.
"Yeah, but that's not gonna happen, is it, baby?" he said softly to the interior of the Impala, the night like a familiar weight on him.
He decided to head to Bobby's. He wasn't sure where else to go. When his phone buzzed, he jumped, caught off guard. Swearing, he scrambled to grab it before it stopped ringing, surprised to see Bobby's number. He flipped open the phone.
"Y'know how weird it is when you call me right when I decide to head your way?"
"Call the psychic hotline," came Bobby's snarky reply.
"So, Cas found me," Dean informed him, trying to remember the last time he'd spoken to his friend. If he recalled, it was back when Bobby identified the nosferatu.
There was something on the underside of Bobby's voice. Something the other hunter wasn't saying, but knew he needed to. Dean switched the phone to his other hand so that he could rest his elbow on the window and balance the steering wheel, shifting the majority of his attention from the road to the call.
"What is it, Bobby?"
"I, uh…I got a visitor here. Thought you might be interested to know."
Dean couldn't help it. At the thought that it might be Sam, his heart flinched. He didn't even know if it was because he wanted to talk to his brother…or was afraid to. It had just been so long and so much happened. What would he say? Did he want to come back to hunting? Did Dean want to let him?
"Uh, who...who is it?" Dean asked, trying to settle his voice.
"It ain't Sam, kid," Bobby said, sounding instantly contrite, as if it hadn't occurred to him that Dean would have immediately gone there. "I'm sorry."
Dean tried to make his voice sound nonchalant. "Eh, didn't think it would be him anyway."
He opened his mouth to ask who the hell else he'd be interested in when Bobby spoke up.
"Gotta say, I was pretty…pretty shocked to see him. Didn't recognize him at first; he looked half dead. Hell, was half dead."
Dean felt his heart slow, his stomach dropping. He glanced into the rearview mirror and, not seeing any cars behind him, slowed and pulled over to the shoulder of the road. A cold sweat broke out across his body.
"There something you want to tell me about your last hunt, Dean?"
Dean swallowed. It couldn't be. The explosion…the fire…. "I—"
"You have some help getting rid of those nosferatu?"
Dean had to lean forward, pressing his forehead against the steering wheel. "He's alive?" His voice was a breathless croak, forcing its way past the lump in this throat.
"Alive, yes," Bobby confirmed. "Figured out pretty quick he wasn't a demon, but he sure ain't a fan of silver." The suspicion was thick in Bobby's voice. Dean could practically see the hunter sitting with his rifle across his lap.
"Don't hurt him, Bobby," Dean pleaded without thinking.
"You think I have a habit of letting people sleep on my couch and then offing them?"
People, no…. Werewolves…?
"How the hell'd he get there?"
"Says he took a train," Bobby replied.
"That sounds about right." Dean rubbed his forehead, breathing a word of thanks that Bobby hadn't shot first, asked questions later.
Why had Noah gone to Bobby's? Dean wondered.
And then he knew. Bobby Singer was the only name from his past that Noah could remember, and once Dean had left the hotel with Cas, there would have been no way for Noah to find him.
"Can…can I talk to him?"
"He's asleep. Guy sleeps like the dead."
"He say why he's there?"
"Said you have something of his. Guess he figured you'd be by eventually."
Dean nodded against the phone. "I…I thought he was dead."
"You and me both, kid."
Words started to stack up inside of him, shoving against his throat, choking him in their hurry to escape, to reveal. "Bobby, listen, I didn't want to—"
"Hey. I wasn't there. I don't know what went down on that hunt. But now some dude I fought in a war with thirty years ago is sleeping on my couch, drinking my beer, and he hasn't aged a day. So, get your ass over here and help me figure it why that is."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Dean promised. "Might take me a couple days. Bobby, just…." He tried to remember what day it was, when the full moon would rise. "Just keep an eye on him."
"I won't let him outta my sight."
Dean hung up the phone, stuffing it into his pocket with a trembling hand as he rolled through the memories of the fight and explosion. Noah was alive. That was a game-changer.
He pulled back onto the road, his brain spinning as fast as his tires as the Impala chewed through the dotted yellow lines.
Continued here in Chapter 10
a/n: Thank you for reading! I hope you'll return for the final chapter and a reunion of our favorite brothers.
Just a note about Noah's scariest fight. My husband's granddad was a medic in the Battle of the Bulge, which took place December 1944 through January 1945 in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg; we were privileged one New Year's Eve to sit down and listen to him tell the story of the troops and survival during that time. Soldiers – in any era – have my humble gratitude and admiration.
Soldier's Eyes by Jack Savoretti