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 10, Part A
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that night
The edge of twilight had nearly given way to night when they pulled into the junkyard behind Bobby's place. Dean had checked the date on a newspaper at the last gas station and reassured himself that it was still roughly a week before the next full moon. If Noah was still here, at least he'd be here in human form.
"Y'know, sometimes I really miss Rumsfeld," Sam commented suddenly.
Dean leaned forward, peering around the seemingly abandoned lot before turning off the engine. "You hated that dog," he commented.
"Nah," Sam shook his head, also checking their perimeter, "he just liked you better."
Dean glanced at his brother, surprised. "Yeah?"
"Guess he recognized a kindred spirit," Sam said, a small grin tugging at his mouth.
"Bitch," Dean remarked good-naturedly.
"Jerk," Sam amiably replied, then opened his door.
As they approached Bobby's back door, Dean cleared his throat. "Listen, Sam," he started. "There's something I should probably—"
"Took your damn time getting here." Bobby's grizzled voice cut through Dean's confession. "You take the scenic route?"
Dean stepped up to the door where Bobby sat in his wheel chair, a sawed-off shotgun across his lap. The light from the study tossed shadows across the hallway behind Bobby, his ever-present trucker hat revealing nothing but his bearded chin. Dean smiled. Returning to Bobby's always felt a little like coming home, no matter the reason.
"Bobby, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Bobby tipped his chin up. "Picked up a straggler, did ya?"
"Hey, Bobby," Sam said from behind Dean, his voice almost shy.
Dean swallowed. "He still here?"
"He is. He's out there wandering somewhere," Bobby muttered, indicating the junkyard behind Dean with a tip of his chin. "He does that once in awhile. Gets restless, I guess. Don't think he's used to staying in one place so long."
"He? He who?" Sam asked.
Dean ignored Sam for the moment, waiting for Bobby to back his wheelchair into the hall before following the older hunter inside.
"Liked to give me a heart attack, his showing up like he did," Bobby said over his shoulder. "Thought he was a zombie. Especially with the way he was all torn up."
"Glad you didn't try to stake him," Dean commented dryly.
"Tried everything else," Bobby said, turning his chair next his old desk and looking back at the brothers.
Dean stood in the center of the room, resting his weight on one leg. Sam moved to sit on the couch beneath the big picture window.
"Only thing he reacted to was silver, but by that time, I figured he wasn't here to kill me."
Dean rubbed at his bottom lip. Thinking.
"You're looking good, Sam," Bobby said. "Retirement suits you."
"I'm coming out of retirement," Sam commented.
Bobby glanced at Dean. "You responsible for this Lance Armstrong maneuver?"
Dean shook his head. "Tell him, Sam."
"Uh, so…," he cleared his throat. "I'm, uh, Lucifer's vessel."
Bobby sat quietly and started at Sam for almost a full minute. "Well, ain't that just a kick in the balls."
"Pretty much," Dean muttered. "Listen, Bobby, there's more."
"There usually is."
"Wait," Sam held up a hand, standing and moving toward Bobby's desk. "Who is the guy wandering around Bobby's junkyard?"
"Uh, that'd be me," came a rough voice from the hallway.
Dean turned on his heel, eyes seeking out the source of the voice. Noah stepped forward from the shadows, his face a bit thinner, slightly pale, a two-day old scruff framing his jaw, but alive. The side of his mouth turned up in a small grin at Dean.
"So much for being right behind me," Dean growled, but felt himself smiling in return.
"I was behind you," Noah defended himself. "Just…a lot further behind than I realized."
Dean dropped his hands at his sides, turning his palms out almost beseechingly. "I thought you were dead, man."
"I know," Noah replied softly.
"I thought…I thought you'd burned up with—"
"I didn't," Noah broke in, taking pity on Dean's suddenly fragile voice. "You look a helluva lot better than I thought you would. Your neck doesn't even look—"
"Yeah, well…I know this angel."
Noah narrowed his eyes. "This the same angel who hauled you out of hell?"
"You look a lot worse than I thought you would," Dean returned. "What happened to those magical healing powers of yours?"
Noah lifted a shoulder. "The silver," he told Dean. "In the bomb. I breathed it in and…it's kinda taken my body a bit longer to rebuild than usual."
"Wait, bomb?" Sam spoke up. "Someone want to tell me what the hell is going on here?"
Dean watched Noah's eyes flick from him to Sam and back. "Is that…?"
Dean nodded. "My brother, Sam."
"Hey," Sam greeted, nodding once.
"Hey, Sam," Noah said, then tilted his head slightly. "My name's Noah. And I'm a werewolf."
Sam's exhale was equivalent to someone landing a fist in his gut. Dean winced, then looked at Noah.
"You were right. Not the best approach."
Noah nodded. "Told you my way was better."
"Oh, right," Dean scoffed. "Much better to see you rip a vampire's heart out—"
"Hold up. Wait." Sam stepped forward, hands out. "Werewolf?"
"It's a long story," Dean told him.
"Well, until we figure out how to kill the Devil," Sam snapped at him, "I think we've got time."
Dean rubbed his face. "I need a drink."
"I'm on it," Bobby spoke up. He pulled a new bottle of Jack Daniels from his lower desk drawer. "When your old 'Nam buddy shows up after thirty years and hasn't aged a day, you stock up."
Dean went to the kitchen and grabbed four glasses. When he returned he saw that no one had moved, but that Sam's steely-eyed gaze had practically pinned Noah to an invisible display board.
"Sam," he said quietly. "Stand down. It's okay."
"Okay?" Sam whirled to face him. "He's a goddamn werewolf, Dean. And not only have you not put him down…you're…you're friends with him?"
"Sam, it's not like that—"
"Dad would've put a bullet in this guy on principal!" Still looking at Dean, Sam gestured to Noah with the flat of his hand.
"I'm not Dad," Dean shot back, an edge crystallizing on his voice. "This is different. It's not like with Madison."
"Don't," Sam snapped, pointing at him. "Don't you bring her up."
"Why?" Dean challenged. "Isn't that why you're pissed? Because of what this job made you do? Made you give up?"
Sam closed his mouth, eyes hot. Dean was aware that Noah hadn't moved. He held perfectly still, eyes on Sam, taking in the whole scene.
"We have sacrificed so much because of this job, Sammy," Dean continued, his body weary. He leaned a hip on Bobby's desk. "We've lost so much. Maybe it's just time we got something back."
Sam turned to Bobby. "Why didn't you kill him?"
Bobby shrugged. "Because he saved Dean's life."
"How'd you know that?"
"He told me."
Sam's eyebrows went up. "And you just…believed him?"
Bobby's voice leveled, offering no room for argument. "Yeah, son. I did."
"Sam, listen," Dean stepped forward. "It's a shock, I know."
"You should've told me." Sam stared at him, chin trembling.
"You're right. I'm sorry. But I…, dammit, Sammy, so much has happened since you walked away that I…," he paused again, setting the glasses down and running a hand over the top of his head. "I wanted you to suffer for a bit, I guess. You left, man. And I did the best I could."
"It's not like I went to Disneyworld, Dean," Sam muttered. "I had my own shit to deal with, y'know."
Dean nodded. "I know. And you're right. I should have told you before. But I'm telling you now."
The room was quiet a moment. Dean heard his own heartbeat, heard Sam breathing, felt Noah and Bobby's eyes on them.
Sam looked at Noah, who offered him a small smile. "You saved my brother's life?"
"In all fairness," Noah said. "He returned the favor."
Sam's eyes raked Noah, then shifted to Dean. "You gonna pour that stuff or what?"
Once glasses had been handed out, Dean and Noah began talking. Noah elaborated on what he had been when he and Bobby met in 'Nam; Dean could see by Bobby's easy eyes that he was well ahead of them in that respect.
"Explains how you managed to get out of that vampire hut," Bobby commented.
Dean shot a look in Noah's direction. Noah waved him off. "Not the time."
As they delved into what had happened with the nosferatu, Dean continued to refill his glass, letting Noah do most of the talking. He filled in the parts he needed to, but living through it the first time had been hard enough. The only way he'd been able to stave off the nightmares, really, had been to force himself to not remember.
Don't think about it and it can't hurt you.
Sam leaned forward, elbows on his knees, listening intently as he stared at Dean with large eyes. He looked sick, hurt, shocked by what Dean had survived, but he didn't say a word. As Noah talked, Dean watched his brother, remembering the same little-boy-lost expression ghosting Sam's features when he'd confessed to remembering Hell. In those moments, Dean felt something shift between them, course-correcting their partnership.
"I had been hunting that nest for so long," Noah said in a quiet, broken voice, "that when I found them…when I found Luke…I didn't really know how to let it go, let it be over."
"How'd you get out of there, man?" Dean asked. "I lay outside that ring of fire until the next morning. I never saw you."
"I didn't see you either," Noah replied. "The floor collapsed and I…I couldn't…I think I passed out. One minute I was yelling at you to go and the next…I was in Hell." He glanced apologetically at Dean. "Or, what felt like Hell. It was just…fire and screaming and every time I took a breath the pain just…." He shook his head. "I forgot that I was breathing in silver."
The room was quiet. Dean poured himself another drink, swallowed it fast, then refilled his glass. He'd lost count of how many this made, but he didn't care. He wasn't alone right now with no one to watch his back. He wanted to be comfortably numb, able to let the memories slide off an alcohol-saturated mind.
"I almost didn't…I almost stayed. I mean, I was done, y'know. It was over. I didn't so much care what happened to me. And you were out. Safe." Noah pulled his lips against his teeth in a grimace. "But I was burning."
Dean grit his teeth, pulling in a breath across parted lips. He didn't want to know anymore. He didn't want to hear. And yet…he had to.
"It's weird, y'know," Noah continued, his voice taking on a ragged tone. One that all three men listening reacted to by instinctively closing off. Dean wrapped an arm around his chest, leaning heavily on the edge of the desk. Bobby gripped the wheels of his chair. Sam crossed his arms, his back to a wall.
"I've survived plenty of things over the last eighty years. Got gut-shot in 'Nam," Noah glanced at Bobby, who nodded, face gray with memories. "That was pretty awful. Been stabbed, staked, poisoned by silver…. But never burned. I never thought about fire not being able to kill me. God, I wanted to die."
He held his glass out for more whiskey and Dean obliged.
"Something made me…," he shook his head. "I couldn't just…."
His voice faded and he stared at the floor in such a way Dean shuddered to think of what he was seeing. There was something there, something Noah wasn't saying. Couldn't say. Sometimes a man's reason to survive isn't something that can be easily categorized.
"Sorry," Noah said, clearing his throat. "I don't know what…. Words just don't…y'know, cover it."
Dean pulled his brows close, swirling whiskey at the bottom of his glass. He got it. By the silence wrapping around Bobby and Sam, he guessed they got it, too. Words rarely did what he wanted them to, anyway. Sam was so good at it, but Dean couldn't always find the right ones to translate his emotions so that others felt what he needed them to feel in order to understand. Words were just words. Tools. And sometimes they were a shotgun blast when a knife worked better.
Noah took a breath and lifted his eyes, finding Dean's already settled on him. Dean nodded. I get it, man. You just go on and you don't even know why until you're halfway down the road.
"Anyway, there was this shallow creek not far from the mill," Noah said, his voice cutting through the quiet. "I hadn't seen it before – it was on the opposite side from the house. I literally fell into it. And just…laid there. No idea how long."
"Your body started healing," Dean stated.
Noah looked down at the glass, turning it in the palm of his hand in a repetitive, nervous manner. "Yeah, mostly. The burns started to heal first. My arm was wasted, though. I wasn't really thinking clearly, y'know? I should have made my way to the house first, but…."
"How'd you get here," Sam asked, his voice soft, finally sounding like the person Dean knew his brother to be when people were in pain.
"There was still some stuff in my room," he said. "When I got back. Enough stuff that I could change clothes, since the ones I had on were pretty much gone. I still had all the files from the M.E.," he looked up at Dean, "and that's when I remembered you talking about this hunting guru friend of yours. The only name I could ever really remember from 'Nam. From any time after the curse, really."
"Gee, I feel so special," Bobby groused.
"I called information, found out where he lived."
"Wait, how did you know which one was our Bobby?" Sam asked.
"The journal said South Dakota," Noah offered.
Sam shot a look at Dean. "You showed him Dad's journal?"
"No," Dean muttered, pouring another drink. "He broke in to my room. The bastard."
"Anyway, I was used to jumping trains, so I hopped a freight train west, bailed when I got near Sioux Falls, and just…hoped he didn't shoot me on sight."
Dean glanced at Bobby. "Thanks, man."
"Don't go getting all mushy on me, cupcake," Bobby grumbled. "Still not so sure I like the idea of a werewolf running amuck in the world."
"A werewolf that kills vampires," Dean pointed out.
"When he was hunting that nest," Sam countered, looking at Noah. "Now that you're all filled up from revenge, what happens next?"
Dean leveled his eyes at Sam's slightly caustic tone, watching his brother glance quickly his way, then back at Noah. He knew what Sam was thinking: that his wanting redemption was not the same thing. But Dean found it hard to draw a clean line between redemption and revenge.
Noah swallowed, his eyes moving from one hunter to the next, appearing to weigh his answer carefully. "Seems there's a bit of a ruckus going on out there right now," he said finally. "Something about the apocalypse?"
Dean exchanged a look with his brother.
"Someone told me demons don't like losing," Noah continued.
"You got that right," Bobby muttered, narrowing his eyes at Noah.
"Well," Noah rolled his shoulders, then tossed the rest of his drink to the back of his throat, baring his teeth as he swallowed the burn. "Figure you could use another soldier. Especially one who's pretty damn hard to kill."
"How do we know you won't go rogue?" Sam countered.
"I told you, kid," Noah looked at Sam, his face emptying of expression, his tone stating clearly that he'd been patient to this point because of who Sam was, but he was wearing thin, "I control the hunger."
"Now," Sam pushed. "Who knows what could happen down the road?"
Noah tilted his head, taking a step forward. Dean watched Sam's shoulders square up, but he didn't make a move to step in. Instead, he swallowed another shot of whiskey. He knew Sam was speaking from a personal fear, and his concerns were legitimate, but his brother was a grown man. If he wanted to challenge Noah's claims, he would have to handle Noah's response.
"You think that after fifty years of channeling a strength and power that could wipe out the three of you inside of a minute into one night of destruction dedicated to a single species of evil I'm going to just say fuck it and start sampling the goods? That it?"
"Well, I—" Sam faltered as Noah took another step forward.
"Kid, if I wanted to kill humans, I would have done it a long time ago." It came out in a low growl. Dean saw Noah's hands flex at his sides, his left one shaking a bit. "I would have done it in Cambodia when I saw the desecration of entire villages. I would have done it in South Central LA when I saw gangs and drugs annihilate kids before they knew what hit them. I would have done it when countless idiots got between me and the fucking evil I was trying to save their asses from. You think I'm going to throw all of that away now just 'cause the mission's changed?"
Sam shot a nervous look to Dean, who shrugged and lifted his glass in salute.
"I suppose not," Sam finally replied.
"No," Noah agreed. "No, I'm not."
"Want to back off him a bit, now, tiger?" Bobby quiet suggestion came out like an order. "Pretty sure you made your point."
Noah looked down as if just realizing that he'd basically backed Sam against the desk.
"Sorry, kid," he said, patting Sam's shoulder, then moving back across the room.
"'S okay," Sam replied, sagging against the desk a bit.
Noah looked over at Dean. "You got my picture?"
Dean nodded, his body starting to go numb from the alcohol. "In the Impala. C'mon."
Without a word to Bobby or Sam, he headed outside, his stride not quite steady, the bottle of Jack Daniels still clutched in his hand by the neck. Noah followed him. The night was cold; their breath puffed out before them in tiny clouds of condensation. Dean squinted up at the high, bright moon crowding out the lesser stars and turning the sky around it a luminescent gray. In a week it would be full.
And Noah would turn into the monster Dean had seen tear apart vampires. And Dean wouldn't be there to make sure that's all he tore into.
He basically had to trust the man…or kill him.
They reached the trunk of the Impala and Dean opened it, digging into his duffel bag to retrieve Noah's wallet and notebook. He had to lean on the bumper of the car as he turned; the world had started a slow, languid spin.
Noah's smile was genuine when took the wallet from Dean. "I missed her," he said, sliding Maggie's picture out of its pocket.
"I know," Dean said quietly.
"You look beat, kid," Noah commented, putting the picture away, and tucking his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans.
"I am," Dean confessed, the liquor turning him a bit maudlin. "It's not like it was before…having Sam back."
"Don't imagine it would be," Noah said. "You've both been through a lot."
"Yeah, but," Dean sighed, taking a pull on the bottle. "We've always been through a lot. All our lives, y'know? From Mom dying to Dad hunting…I mean, it was just Sammy and me. And then Dad got killed by that damn yellow-eyed bastard. And Sam died. And I died. And Sam started to use the Force and had to go cold turkey from the demon…from the demon blood…."
Noah took the bottle from Dean's hand. "Jesus, kid. This is practically empty."
Dean felt a sloppy grin waver at the corners of his mouth. It had been a long time since he'd allowed himself to be drunk. "It's been a helluva week. I mean, time travel ain't easy."
Noah gave him a look that Dean couldn't figure out. But he needed Noah to understand that it was more than just the vampires. It was everything. All of it. A destiny too big for any human to accept. A guy just wanting to live a normal life. And so much pain.
"See, I didn't say yes," he told Noah. "And Sam did, and the world was shit. It was shit."
Noah simply nodded, starting at Dean with sad eyes.
"And I turned into this…this person without a soul. I wasn't me, but I was, y'know? And I didn't have Sam with me. I let him go and I shouldn't have." He closed the trunk, and took a stumbling step toward Noah, surprised that the driveway was so uneven in that spot. He pushed his fist against Noah's chest. "I shouldn't have let him go."
"He's back now, Dean," Noah pointed out. "He's with you. Whatever you want to change…you can."
Dean nodded. "I can, right? I mean we can. Sam and me. Do you know how much we've been through? How much we've done?"
Noah shook his head, closing his fingers around Dean's fist, gently turning Dean until he sagged against the Impala's trunk. Dean suddenly felt a bit more balanced.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, kid," Noah replied, smiling at the slur of Dean's words.
"You told him you hated him."
Noah frowned. "What now?"
"In that stairway, you told Luke you hated him. Not hate. Hated." Dean stared at Noah intently. It was important he know this. He just had to find the right words for the question he was trying to ask.
Noah had started to breathe funny. Dean wondered if the silver was still bothering him. He waited.
"I did hate him."
"But that's not what you said," Dean pressed. "You almost didn't do it. But then he said please and…then it was over."
"How the hell do you remember so much damn detail when you're three sheets?"
"I've got a freaky memory. Answer the question."
"What is the question?"
Dean swallowed, trying to pull the double image of Noah into one, working to steady his voice. "Did you forgive him?"
Noah stared at him, incredulous, for nearly a minute, and then Dean saw his eyes begin to well up. "Yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, I think I did."
"Because…," Noah swallowed, giving Dean a weak, watery smile. "He was my brother."
"He killed your wife."
"The vampire did that. Not Luke. I think I realized…somewhere in there…in all that talk when you were fighting the fever…I think I realized that Luke's big sin was basically…not waiting for me to come home from the war."
"But you still killed him."
"Yeah." Noah nodded. "Yeah, I did. I couldn't let the vampire in him live anymore. Cause anymore pain."
Dean stared at tip of his boot, dusty and scuffed in the light of the moon. It dawned on him that his fist was still resting against Noah's chest and that his body had started to sway sideways.
"Sammy wants to know if he can be forgiven."
Noah nodded carefully. "Do you want to forgive him?"
Dean dragged his eyes up. They were so damn heavy. "I never blamed him. I mean…he hurt me. And I'm mad. But…I'll get over that."
"Did you tell him?"
"Nah," Dean shook his head. "I can't tell him that shit."
"What about how you felt when he left you?" Noah raised his voice slightly. "How you thought it was him in that meat locker? How you went through every memory of every pain he'd ever experienced when the fever ate through you?"
Dean looked at Noah, slightly puzzled. He was being incredibly specific. And loud.
"No, man. None of it."
"Well," Noah rotated, managing to get Dean's arm over his own shoulders. "Maybe he already knows."
"Yeah," Dean mumbled. He was so tired. The ground was looking pretty comfy right about now. "He's pretty smart. He figures shit out all the time."
Noah chuckled low in his throat and began to move them back the short distance toward the house. Dean stumbled up the stairs, seeing a shadow lurking at on the porch.
"Hey, Sammy," he greeted blearily.
"Hey, Dean," Sam replied, an odd note in his voice.
Dean was too tired to figure it out. Didn't matter anyway. Sam was back, Noah was alive, Dean was finally freaking drunk enough to forget the feel of mouths on his skin, the sound of nails skittering across stone. They were all safe at Bobby's and for one night, nothing else had to matter.
No angels, no demons, no destiny.
He let Noah maneuver him inside, trying valiantly to make his feet cooperate, but his limbs were completely uncoordinated.
"Couch?" Dean heard Noah ask someone.
The reply was apparently in the affirmative because the next thing Dean knew, he was being eased down onto the couch in Bobby's study, rolling to his side and dropping a hand to the ground to try to keep from falling off the world.
Someone tugged off his boots. Someone else draped a blanket over him. He waited to pass out completely, but oblivion was slow to oblige. Voice spun around him, speaking softly, drifting in and out of meaning.
"Been awhile since I've seen him this far gone."
"He's gonna have a helluva headache in the morning."
"He's had worse."
He could hear Sam and Noah. Idly he wondered where Bobby was.
"You get all of that out there?"
"I got the important parts."
"Your brother's a good man, Sam."
"Huh, yeah. I think he's the only one who doesn't believe that."
"You are, too, y'know."
Dean held still, listening, the buzzing in his body rushing to carrying him away.
"You don't know me."
Sam's reply was so filled with self-loathing that Dean automatically protested. It came out as sort of a low moan. The men speaking around him ignored it.
"I know how he sees you," Noah replied, nudging the couch and sending the world spinning once more. "That's enough."
Whatever Sam said in reply was lost to the alcohol-induced haze of nothingness. Dean fell into the void gladly, seeking a few hours of peace before the world bit into him again.
As it was, even Jack Daniels wasn't strong enough to combat Dean's memories.
There was a hand on his chest, heavy, warm, familiar.
Belatedly, he realized he'd been calling out – seeking help, solace, rescue from the torment of their mouths, the knives, a bizarro-world mix of the nosferatu and Hell's rack. He'd been strapped down, sliced into, and then they had started to feed.
He wasn't breathing right. Air would go out, but then he couldn't suck it back in.
"Just a dream, Dean."
Sam. That was Sam's hand on him, steadying him, grounding him.
Dean obeyed, finding it easier to do. He wasn't gone. He wasn't there. He opened his eyes, taking another breath as he tried to quiet the screams still pressing out through his skull. The weight on his chest suddenly made him feel trapped and he pushed Sam's hand away, struggling upright, his head pounding, stomach churning.
"Get off me." He was sweating and shaking, and his mouth tasted foul.
"All right, hey, backing off."
Dean shot his eyes around the room. The gray of early morning filled the room, hazy yellow rays beaming at him through the picture window. He took stock of what his eyes landed on, all images yelling safety.
They were at Bobby's. Sam was with him.
And he had the mother of all hangovers.
"Yeah, I got it," he snapped, angry with himself for thinking that he could drown the memories. All he ever ended up with was a wicked headache and the inability to eat red meat for a day afterwards.
"Fine," Sam grumbled, irritated.
He felt Sam start to pull away and reached out instinctively, grabbing his brother's wrist. "Hey, wait."
Sam paused, dropping back down on the folding chair where he'd been sitting.
Sam shrugged. "'S okay. You're never really fun to be around the next morning."
"You sleep?" Dean asked, gingerly rotating until his feet were on the floor.
He rubbed his face and then balanced his head in the palm of his hand, his elbow on his knee. If he wasn't very, very careful, he was pretty sure his head would simply detach from his shoulders and roll across the room.
"Yeah. It's early. Don't think Bobby's up. Not sure where Noah is."
Dean swallowed thickly.
"Here," Sam said, handing him three ibuprofen and a bottle of water.
"Oh, you saint," Dean groaned, taking both gratefully. He drank slowly, not relishing the journey to the bathroom if anything decided to make a reappearance. "How'd you know to come in here?"
Sam gave him a sad half-smile. "I could hear you."
"It's okay. Don't think anyone else did. Besides, if anyone knows about nasty dreams…."
Dean smiled weakly. "You're a good brother, Sammy."
"So are you, Dean," Sam replied sincerely.
Dean looked away, not quite up to his brother's level of familial angst. "Noah out wandering around or something?"
Sam shrugged. "He brought you in here last night, then headed back out. Didn't have anything with him, so I assume he's still around. I just went up to…well, I was going to say our old room." He chuckled.
"Need to get my ass in gear," Dean muttered, rubbing the top of his head.
"You're gonna let him go, aren't you?" Sam asked suddenly, without malice.
Dean squinted up at his brother. "Don't think I really have a choice."
"What if he kills someone – someone not a demon, or a vampire, or, y'know…evil. I mean, he's a werewolf, Dean."
Dean hung his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "What if we do?"
Looking back at Sam, he said. "What makes you and me any different, man? When we're in it…who's to say there won't be…collateral damage? Not to mention, we've both been dead and come back. I've done time on the demon side of Hell." He cushioned his head in his palm once more. "To some hunters, we're no different than Noah."
Sam looked down at his hands, hanging loosely between his legs. "Yeah, I guess you're right. And…it's not like he wasn't doing it for fifty years before he met you."
"Just…feels weird, I guess."
"Weird like letting Lenore live?" Dean countered.
Sam shrugged. "That's different. She wasn't killing anyone."
"So she said," Dean pointed out, finishing the water bottle. "Damn, I need coffee." He pushed to his feet, swaying a moment and steadying himself on the edge of the couch before shuffling toward the kitchen. "When it comes down to it, Sam…all any of us got is our word, y'know?"
When Sam didn't reply, Dean pivoted slowly to regard his brother.
Sam looked up, shifting uncomfortably to be caught in his own thoughts. "Yeah."
"You okay, man?"
"Yeah," he smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Just…y'know. Lot to take in."
"No doubt," Dean turned back to where Bobby kept the coffee percolator on the kitchen counter.
He knew there was even more he had to lay on Sam – the reality of what he'd seen in the future was something that could be avoided, if they worked together – but that was going to have to wait until coffee. Everything would have to wait until coffee. He leaned against the counter, holding his aching head in his hands, as he waited for the coffee to bring him back to life.
"That coffee I smell?"
"God, Bobby, not so friggin' loud," Dean groaned.
"You owe me a bottle of Jack, kid," Bobby returned, wheeling his way to the table. Dean just shot him a look. "You two figure out what you're gonna do next, now that Sam's back?"
Dean frowned. "Haven't got that far yet."
"Well, if you want to say good bye to your friend, drink your coffee fast, 'cause it looks like he's ready to go."
Dean's frown intensified as he straightened up, peering through the window. Noah stood on the front porch, a back pack over one shoulder, hoodie tied around his waist, his short-sleeved T-shirt exposing still-healing marks on his left arm. He was looking down the road as if trying to determine which direction he should start.
"Sam," Dean called. "Where'r my boots?"
He heard them hit the floor near his feet and fought back the nausea as he bent down to pull the on. Sam was on his heels as he headed out to the porch, the screen door banging shut behind them. The sun was high enough in the sky to have burned off the morning fog and the air smelled clean, fresh. It was just warm enough that Dean felt the nightmare sweat that had dampened his T-shirt begin to dry.
"Hey," Dean greeted.
Noah rotated and smiled at them. "Winchesters," he replied.
Noah nodded. "Bobby gave me this pack last night," he said, shrugging the shoulder with the backpack. "I got enough clothes and supplies to last me awhile. Figured I'd taken up enough of his time." His eyes shifted to the doorway and Dean knew Bobby was sitting there, watching. "Only so many war stories you can share, right?"
"You know where you're headed?" Dean asked.
"Not really," Noah said. "Been on the trail of that one nest so long…not sure what else is out there, to be honest. Thought maybe I'd head back down to New Orleans. Stock up on more of that voodoo powder."
Dean pressed his lips together, nodding slowly. He knew Noah had really only been waiting for him to show up; it wasn't as if he'd been planning on staying.
"How about you two?"
Dean glanced over at Sam, not surprised to find his brother watching him. Meeting Sam's eyes he searched an answer, a balance that had always been there before Hell and demons and angels and destiny sought to destroy it. He saw the same questions in Sam's eyes and felt himself smile.
"Still working that part out," he replied. He let his gaze take in Bobby, watching them from the doorway. "All I know is we're not going down without a fight."
Noah cleared his throat, turning to face the younger hunter. "Sam. I'm glad I met you."
Sam's smile was surprised and Dean smirked watching his brother struggle to find something both polite and sincere to say in response.
"It's been…educational," Sam replied.
Noah glanced through the screen door. "Corporal," he nodded at Bobby. Dean saw Bobby toss Noah a salute.
And then he looked at Dean.
"I feel like this is the end of Wizard of Oz or something," Dean grumbled, finding the emotion that tightened his throat warring with his raging headache. "You gonna miss me most of all?"
Noah grinned and Dean saw that it lit up his face – the weight, the worry, the guilt of his mission to find and eliminate the nosferatu nest was gone. In its place, Dean saw the person Noah had been before the curse.
"Good luck, Dean," Noah said, holding out a hand for Dean to shake. "I hope when this is all over, we run into each other again."
Dean shook Noah's hand and then exhaled in surprise when Noah gave his hand a sharp tug and pulled him in for a one-armed hug. He slapped Noah on the back and said into the man's shoulder, "Next time, no vamps."
Noah released him and nodded. "Deal." He headed down the stairs and turned west. Just before he walked away, he turned.
"Hey," he called, drawing both Dean's and Sam's eyes. "Nothing trumps family. The one you're born with or the one you choose. When it comes down to it…nobody can take that from you."
Dean smiled slightly, raising his hand. "See ya, man."
His aching head was spinning on the axis of Noah's words. Noah waved back, then turned on his heel, walking with that coiled grace Dean had admired.
"You think we will see him again?" Sam asked.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Dunno. Hope so." He glanced at Sam. "Don't really have a lot of friends, you know?" Looking back at Noah's retreating figure, he mused, "Would be nice to hang on to at least one."
As he watched Noah walk down the side of the road, he felt Sam shift his weight next to him, staying close. It wasn't going to be the same, Dean realized, but maybe it wasn't supposed to be. They'd been through too much to go back to the way things were. They needed a new normal. One that was big enough to take on every nightmare, every scar, every celestial battle.
And something inside of Dean had shifted since meeting Noah…a scarring over of a wound that had been so raw it had been bleeding out for months. The fact that Noah was walking away from them -- and not in a grave with a silver bullet through his heart -- gave Dean a kernel of faith that the world wasn't all tunnel. There was light.
There was the possibility that redemption – if not revenge – could win.
There was the possibility that this struggle – this perpetual, uphill battle – would end.
"Y'know your friend? The one who said anyone could be forgiven?"
Sam shuffled his feet on the wooden boards of the porch. "Yeah."
Dean turned to look at his brother, eyes serious. "I think she was right."
Sam's grateful smile told him that it might take a while, and they may have to course-correct a few more times, but they were going to get there.
"You two are breaking my heart," Bobby grumbled from the doorway. "Can we please get that coffee now?"
"Oh, hell, yeah," Dean grinned, clapping his brother on the shoulder and following him inside.
They had a future to change.
a/n: Thank you so much for reading. Apologies for the delay in replying to your reviews! I will respond to each – just wanted to get the story finished and posted before the premiere on the 3rd. *smile*
I have truly enjoyed writing this story; the character of Noah will live beyond fanfiction in an original story of his own called "Kill Creek Road." Come back around (in a year or so) when I've finished it and see if you remember him.
Also, next up is "From Yesterday," a multi-chapter AU of Swan Song which will also return the character Brenna Kavanagh to the boys. What if the amulet wasn't just a failed God-beacon? What if Sam never went to the Cage? And what if two hunters were left on their own to pick up the pieces, try to heal, and live in a world where it seems even the demons had gone quiet? Though the angels take away the upper hand, evil still finds a way and Sam and Dean Winchester are pitted against a powerful force – with no back up, no resources, and only their faith in each other to keep them alive.