Title: From Yesterday, Chapter 17
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer/Summary: See Part 1: Prologue
Author's Note: So, I tried to get this posted early, but between work "emergencies" and family issues…it didn't happen. But at least I'm basically on time! *smile* And it's another long chapter.
Just a heads up: there are two mature scenes in this chapter – one more so than the other. Please read with that in mind. Hope you enjoy!
Part 1: Prologue - Chapter 9, Part 2: Chapter 10, Part 2: Chapter 11, Part 2: Chapter 12, , Part 2: Chapter 13, , Part 2: Chapter 14, , Part 2: Chapter 15, , Part 2: Chapter 16
art by thruterryseyes
Dean fired, the bullet finding its mark as Murphy's growl kicked up from menacing to full-on-freak-out. Crowley barely flinched with the impact, looking down at the hole in his black suit jacket with a flutter of distress creasing his forehead. Glancing back up, he flicked his fingers toward Murphy and the black dog immediately cowered with a pained whimper.
"Hey!" Dean barked, stepping forward between Murphy and the doorway.
"Dean!" Sam warned, shoving out his hand and catching Dean across the chest before he could exit the house. "He can't come in," he said, having connected the dots to why Crowley simply stood on their front stoop before Dean.
Dean shot him a glance, then looked back at Crowley, his eyes tracing the sigils they'd placed on the door frame and floor. If Crowley stepped over the threshold, he'd be trapped, and the demon clearly knew it. Exchanging a glance with Sam to check that his brother still had Crowley covered, Dean lowered his weapon and bent to put a reassuring hand on Murphy, trying to ease the dog's discomfort.
"Oh, look. The Winchester boys got themselves a pet," Crowley said snidely.
"Lay off him, Crowley," Sam ordered.
"Or what?" Crowley asked.
Sam shot him, this time hitting the demon in the center of his forehead. Crowley's head snapped back and he bounced forward a bit slower than he had with the first shot. Face folded into a frown, he rubbed at his temple as the hole slowly closed.
"Ow!" he complained.
Dean stood up, Murphy flat on the floor at his feet, and lifted his gun, finger flexing on the trigger. "We can do this all day," he informed the demon.
Crowley lifted his hands. "Fine," he muttered, tilting his head slightly in concession. "I didn't come here to play with your dog."
Murphy immediately stopped whining and sat up, tongue lolling as he panted through his confusion. He looked up at Dean for reassurance and Sam watched as his brother shifted so that his leg pressed lightly against Murphy's body, unable to hold his gun and pet the dog. His right hand balanced the weapon without actually gripping it; Sam wondered if Crowley would notice this adjustment and exploit it as a weakness. He stepped forward, drawing the demon's attention to him and away from Dean.
"Why did you come here, then?" Sam demanded.
Crowley's smile was charming, though his eyes told a different story. Sam felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and sense Dean squaring off for a fight next to him.
"Can't an old friend swing by for a visit?" Crowley asked.
"Stow the crap, Crowley," Dean growled. "I'm about two seconds from grabbing the holy water."
"No need to get snippy," Crowley said mildly. "Besides," he smiled at Dean. "That's like threatening to put me in handcuffs made out of shiny paper."
Sam chambered another bullet.
"Oh, bollocks," Crowley sighed. "I've come to…broker a deal."
"No," the brothers replied in unison.
"You haven't even heard my terms."
"You got nothing we want," Dean snapped.
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Crowley replied, lifting his chin in a challenge. "I am, after all, the King of Hell. And, after word got 'round of your whole pistols at dawn routine with Lucifer, well…let's just say I'm buying up real estate right and left."
Dean's frown was formidable and unyielding, but Sam lowered his weapon. "The demons know about Stull?"
Crowley lifted an eyebrow. "Moose, if you think you could cage the ultimate beast and keep it under the radar, then I've seriously underestimated you."
Dean began to lower his weapon.
"Ah, see? That's better," Crowley said, relaxing his shoulders. "How about you come out here and we can have a chat?"
"Not a chance," Dean replied. "You want a sit down? Step inside the Devil's Trap, you bastard."
"I assure you, I know exactly who my father was," Crowley shot back. "And if you're going to play rough, I can bring out the whips and chains."
Sam sighed, rolling his eyes and following suit as Dean slid his weapon into the back of his waistband.
"Now, if you'll recall, I was pro-Winchester in this little show-down of yours," Crowley reminded them. "Since then, things have been, well…let's just say chaos is too small a word to truly describe what's been going on either side of the righteousness border."
"Either side – what, you mean like in Heaven?" Sam asked, confused.
"Since when do you care what happens in Heaven?" Dean demanded, his brows pulled close across the bridge of his nose as he stared at the demon through the opened doorway.
"Since, uh…what's today, Friday?" Crowley matched Dean's frown, tilting his head mockingly. "Okay, let's see…since, mind your own business."
Sam lifted an eyebrow, crossing his arms over his chest. "Pretty sure the King of Hell caring about what's going on in Heaven is our business."
"Is that right, Moose? That why you've been off playing house for half a year?"
Dean stepped forward once more, bringing himself nearly to the threshold of the door and way too close to Crowley's reach for Sam's comfort.
"Okay, enough," he said, drawing Crowley's attention. "Spill it before I exorcise your ass right here."
"I'm wounded," Crowley put a hand to his chest, ironically covering the bullet hole in his jacket. "After all we've been through."
Dean looked over at Sam, his jaw flexing in a way Sam hadn't seen in some time, even with the threat of the draiocht looming over them. He could tell his brother was close to the edge, and Sam didn't want to see him slip over it.
"If you don't mind me saying so," Crowley continued in a conversational tone, "you look like hell. Not you, Moose. You always seem to bounce. But this one got marked up a bit. Didn't you, Dean?"
Dean turned away, his left hand going to the back of his neck and squeezing the tight muscle there in an effort to maintain his composure. Sam simply glared at Crowley, neither of them bothering to say a word about the demon's observation.
"Right then," Crowley said, clearing his throat. "Here's how it is. Rumors abound above and below this mortal plain of a new angel power running amuck after the big take down. Since Lucifer's minions are either dead – thanks ever so to you both – or running in pathetic circles, I'm stepping in and taking over. It's the least I could do, really."
"You can say that again," Sam grumbled, keeping one eye on Dean, who still hadn't turned around, and one on Crowley, who was watching Dean closely.
"As you can imagine, getting everyone singing from the same song sheet, as it were, is hard enough without the threat of the Winchesters suddenly jumping back on the grid and pulling the trigger on this angelic weapon – whatever it is – so I'm here to hit the problem head-on." He paused, shifting his eyes to Sam. "I want to make a deal."
"Not a chance," Sam replied decisively.
"You might want to rethink that answer," Crowley replied, his tone shifting just enough that Murphy stood, the hairs along his back on end, and Dean turned around. "Especially if word gets out just where this new angel power is located."
"Fine," Dean replied. "You show us yours, we'll show you ours."
"Really, Dean?" Crowley returned, his brows puckering. "I'm trying to conduct a professional negotiation here and you want to talk dangly bits?"
Dean narrowed his eyes and tilted his head, warningly.
"Here are my terms," Crowley continued, all business in the wake of Dean's glare. "You eliminate this power – do whatever you have to do, but make it gone. In exchange, I won't grind those you love between my teeth."
Sam felt himself grow cold.
"And what if we decide to use this power against you, assuming we have it?" Dean challenged.
"Then avoiding Armageddon was just the opening act," Crowley replied. "I will bring my host of minions down upon you, and I assure you, we will annihilate you and everything you hold dear."
Sam looked at Dean's profile, slightly in awe that his brother's only reaction was a bouncing muscle in his jaw. Dean's expression was cold and void of fear.
"You have yet to annihilate us," Dean told him calmly.
"Ah, but that was because you always had an angel on your shoulder, didn't you?" Crowley returned. "Your little tussle took care of Castiel as well; I meant to thank you for that, by the way. Saved me heaps of trouble."
Dean's left hand curled into a fist.
"Without your Heavenly hosts on your side," Crowley's glance now included Sam, "you're just two denim-wearing boys from Kansas playing with guns."
"Yeah, well, they're really big guns," Sam replied.
Dean and Crowley shot him looks of disbelief that mirrored each other so closely, Sam almost hung his head in contrition.
"So let me get this straight," Dean looked back at Crowley, narrowing his eyes. "You want us to destroy this weapon you've been hearing rumors about, and all we get back is your promise that you won't hurt anyone we love?"
"Not just a promise," Crowley replied, reaching into his pocket and pulling out what appeared to be a scroll. "A binding contract."
"If you think I'm kissing you, you're outta your damn mind," Dean informed him.
"This is not a soul exchange," Crowley returned, pausing and tilting his head to regard Dean with intrigue. "Though I will say the prospect is somewhat appealing. Always did hate that one of my lesser demons caught your crossroads deal way back when. I would've negotiated better terms."
"Enough," Sam interjected, seeing the slight tremble in Dean's right hand at the mention of the crossroads deal. "We don't even know what this weapon is."
Crowley shifted his attention from Dean to Sam and the look of a cat with a bowl of cream slipped from his expression. "Nice try, but I have evidence to the contrary. In fact, one of my associates has been compiling quite a lot of evidence of you having actually used this weapon."
Sam shot a nervous look toward Dean, but his brother didn't return his glance. He was staring daggers into Crowley, his jaw flexing.
"I can appreciate the magnitude of this decision," Crowley allowed, "so I will give you forty-eight hours. If I haven't heard from you by then, there may be…collateral damage."
Sam frowned, but before he could reply, Crowley smiled at them.
"Cheers," he said, blinking out and leaving them staring out at the empty doorway.
After a beat, Dean grabbed the edge of the door, slamming it so hard both Sam and Murphy flinched.
"Son of a BITCH!"
Sam found it hard to catch his breath. "Dean."
"Collateral damage," he repeated, catching his brother's horrified glance. "He's been here before, man."
In unison, the brothers pulled out their cell phones. Sam held his breath until Stella answered. The relief hearing her voice left him dizzy. She promised she would be over in minutes. Hanging up, he heard Dean telling Mason to copy the Devil's Trap symbol that he'd painted on the mat in the back room on the doors and around the windows in whatever color paint he felt wouldn't scare off customers, then implored him to do the same at his home.
"Tell Jackson to do the same thing," Dean said. "Yeah, I'm okay. Just…wound up. Yeah, I might. Not a bad idea. Sure, okay. See ya in a few."
Dean hung up and turned to face Sam.
"You going over to Mason's?" Sam asked.
Dean chewed his bottom lip, distracted. "Yeah, maybe. Gotta get food for Murphy anyway."
At the sound of his name, Murphy stood up and moved over to stand next to Dean. Sam felt his brother chasing threads of logic, trying to find the trap doors and dangers in any choices he might make from this point forward. Sam tried to follow him – he was the logical one of their partnership, after all.
But he was lost and suddenly felt very, very small.
"What are we gonna do, man?" Sam asked.
Dean leveled unreadable eyes on him. "He doesn't know."
"Crowley," he elaborated. "He doesn't know what the weapon is – doesn't know that it's the amulet."
Sam nodded slowly, thinking back through the conversation. "He doesn't know it's you."
Dean shook his head, rubbing his right hand along his pant leg. "And…he doesn't know that we don't know how the hell to harness it."
"Well, we figured out how use it once," Sam pointed out. "And you've managed to keep ghosts away with," he waved at Dean, "whatever is going on with your eyes."
"That's just it," Dean pointed out. "We don't know what the hell we're doing. It was all…chance. We gotta know how to do more than just fall down a hole and hope for the best."
"What are you thinking?" Sam asked, watching as Dean's eyes darted in thought.
"I'm thinking we can't just sit on our asses for the next forty-eight hours and hope that scone-eating bastard is bluffing."
"You want to go after him?" Sam asked, wary. They didn't have enough firepower to go after a hoard of demons, and he knew Dean wouldn't be willing to risk the friends they had left to go with them.
To Sam's relief, Dean shook his head. "No. I think we gotta be smart about this."
"So we do sit tight?" Sam asked, trying to keep up with the pinball bouncing around his brother's brain.
If he was tired, he knew Dean was more so; his brother hadn't slept more than four hours a stretch in months, not counting bouts of unconsciousness. They needed clear heads to go against Crowley and arming themselves to head out after him was not a survivable choice.
"We need Rufus," Dean said finally, rubbing his bottom lip with the tip of his finger as he pulled out his phone once more. He scrolled down through his contacts until he reached Rufus. As he put the phone to his ear, he closed his eyes, exhaling softly, "Man, I miss Bobby."
Sam frowned, carding his fingers through his hair. The loss in Dean's voice conveyed more than just a simple wish that the person they'd gone to for answers all those years had an answer for them now. It was the same loss of familiarity and stability he felt himself. He moved over toward where they'd dropped their duffels. As he took the bag of weapons back to the trunk in Dean's room, he heard his brother leaving Rufus a message.
"Look, man, we need you to get the hell over to Lawrence. Sam said you had some kind of angel summoning spell. Crowley's on our ass, and we need to talk to an angel. Call me back."
Moments later, another knock on the door had Sam freezing in his efforts to restock their weapons. This time, Murphy didn't so much as whimper. Sam heard Dean open the door and Stella's breathless question.
He was out of the room and around the corner inside the same heartbeat, grabbing Stella up against him, lifting her from the floor and burying his face in the bend of her neck as he cupped the back of her head with his palm, relishing the feeling of her arms wrapped tight around him. She felt small enough he could slip her into his pocket, but her grip was like iron. He didn't want to let her go, and she didn't seem inclined to release him anytime soon.
"It's okay," she whispered against his neck. "It's okay."
Sam hadn't realized he was shaking, but she tightened her grip as if to brace him. He felt the air trapped in his lungs shudder at her words. He knew then how much he needed her to be right.
"Okay, so," Dean was saying, clearing his throat. "I'm gonna go."
Sam, his eyes closed, face still buried, simply nodded.
"I'll take Murphy."
Sam nodded again.
"You guys just, uh…take your time."
Sam turned around, Stella still held against him, and moved toward his bedroom.
"I'll lock up," Dean was calling out from the living room.
Sam kicked his bedroom door shut behind him and the moment the latch caught, Stella was kissing him, her lips moving from his neck to his jaw and finally finding his mouth. He could barely breathe and didn't care. Her mouth was home and safety; fire and ice in one. He managed to find his bed, falling awkwardly to his side, Stella cradled in his arms so that he didn't crush her with his weight.
"You're home," she breathed.
"Yeah," he replied against his mouth.
"Yes," he said, without hesitation.
Yes, he was home to stay. No matter what happened with Crowley and the amulet, Sam wanted this to be home, here where it started. Here with Stella.
Stella was struggling out of her T-shirt, trying to remove her clothes without actually taking her mouth from his. Sam worked out of his jeans and boots. They ended up with her underwear caught on one ankle and Sam's T-shirt still around his neck, but the need for connection, for touch, overrode anything else. Sam didn't pull his mouth from her skin until they were finally laying side-by-side, sated and sweaty, working to slow their breath to a normal rhythm.
Melded against his side, her bare leg hooked over his middle, Stella gently traced the bruises on his ribs, her fingers fluttering over the red marks left behind by the healing taser burns. Sam reached over and smoothed a worried line from her brow.
"You weren't, though."
Sam pressed his lips tight. "It wasn't an easy hunt."
"Is this your life, Sam?" she asked him quietly. "Heading out to get bloody every time someone calls for help?"
He sighed, suddenly, achingly tired. "I don't know," he answered honestly. He had to find a way…a way that kept them true to themselves, to who they are, yet allowed them to live. Just…just live. "I don't know," he repeated softly.
Stella rested her head on his shoulder, quietly breathing against him, and then, "Did you…did I see a dog?"
Sam chuckled. "Murphy. He's Dean's."
"Friend of ours – the one who called? Thought a service dog might help with Dean's…nightmares."
Stella rose up on an elbow to look down at him, her long brown hair brushing his cheek. "That's a great idea!"
Sam blinked at her enthusiasm.
"I'm serious – I can't believe we didn't think about it before. I mean, it's not like your brother is going to be opening up in some kind of group therapy session."
Stella smiled. "And if he's got Murphy to help with nightmares…," she leaned over and kissed his cheek, then his closed eye, then his nose, hovering over his mouth, "he doesn't need you every night."
Sam smirked. "Took you about three whole minutes to come to that conclusion," he told her, tugging on a strand of her hair. He pulled her face to his, kissing her long before letting her up for air. "I missed you," he confessed. "More than I thought I would."
"Makes two of us," she replied. "Sam, I…," she sighed, slouching on her elbow and looking across his bare chest to his barren room. "I really thought I could leave. I've lived in Lawrence all my life. I always thought that once I sold the bar, I'd just…go. See where the road takes me."
"There's lots to see out there," Sam replied, cautiously.
Stella looked at him. "I don't want to see it by myself."
"Thing is," Sam frowned. "The road is all I really know. It's…where I grew up. That Chevy out there is pretty much my only home."
"Was," she corrected.
Sam smiled sadly. "Was my only home. I know where road takes me. I know how…endless it is. How," he frowned, remembering, "lonely."
"You're about to quote a Journey song, aren't you?" Stella teased.
Sam grinned. "You're a brat."
"Yeah, maybe," she smiled, looking down. "I guess, when you were gone, I realized it wasn't just that I didn't want to be by myself," she looked at him, "it was that I didn't want to be without you."
Thoughts of Crowley and a forty-eight hour deadline and an angel-summoning spell were banished from Sam's mind as he pulled her mouth down on his once more, letting himself escape into her, even if it was just for this moment.
Dean decided to walk to Mason's garage.
He needed the air, and the time to clear his head. And he needed to work the kinks out of his body. Brenna's balm worked wonders in speeding up the healing of his wound, but it wasn't a cure-all. He was sore, and tired, and could feel the tightness in his hip and back like he hadn't since sleeping sitting up at the firehouse in Argo.
Focusing on the hunt – on getting Sam back alive – had sent all the normal, everyday stuff like muscle aches and fault lines in bones to the back of his mind. But now, here where everything was seemingly still and nothing showed evidence of them ever having left, Dean felt the pull of the Earth trying to keep him from moving forward.
He stopped at the convenience store that was between their house and Mason's garage, telling Murphy to stay next to the ice machine outside the store, and went inside to grab a bag of dog food. Before he'd left, he'd grabbed a handfull of cash from the envelope the town of Argo had given them, leaving the balance on the counter for Sam, hoping when his brother came up for air, he'd want to make sure they had food in the house. As an after-thought, he picked up a six-pack of beer, paying for both, then heaving the food bag onto his shoulder before stepping out and calling to the black Lab to follow him the rest of the way to Mason's.
The music slipped over to him from the opened garage bay doors, greeting him like an old friend even before he saw Mason standing in the pit below a black dodge truck, draining the oil into an oversized funnel. As Dean watched, bemused, Mason lip-synced to Ted Nugent, using his torque wrench as a drumstick on air drums. He stopped just outside of the bay, the bag of dog food on his shoulder, shifting his weight off his sore hip, and waited until Mason noticed him. Murphy sat quietly beside him, head tilted in curiosity.
As Hair of the Dog rolled into Slash's opening guitar riff of Sweet Child of Mine, Mason turned back to the underside of the engine, catching sight of Dean and flinching back in surprise.
"Jesus Christ, kid," Mason exclaimed. "Scared the shit outta me. Where'd you come from?"
"I really think you could have a career in karaoke, man," Dean said with mock seriousness. "That was some performance."
"Oh, bite me," Mason grumbled, climbing out of the pit and wiping his hands on a pink shop towel.
He approached Dean, pausing just outside of arm's reach and stuffing the towel into the back pocket of the gray coveralls he had pulled up over a slightly grimy white T-shirt with a faded Linkin' Park logo on the front. His lips disappeared into his ever-present scruff as he scrutinized Murphy, his blue eyes reminding Dean once more of Castiel as they smiled.
"Please tell me this isn't Sam," Mason implored.
Dean huffed a quick laugh. "This is Murphy," he said. "Murphy? Mason. Mason? Murphy."
Murphy's tongue lolled and he panted happily as Mason reached over and rubbed the dog's ears.
"Pleased to meetcha," he glanced up at Dean. "He's no stray."
"Nope," Dean shook his head. "Friend of ours thought he might help with my, uh…head."
"A service dog?"
Dean nodded. "He was hard for them to place after his owner was killed in a car crash." He looked down at Murphy and grinned when the dog instinctively looked up at him. "He's almost blind in one eye."
"Is that right?"
Dean nodded again, letting the bag of dog food slip off his shoulder. "He's hungry," he said. "And, uh…I kinda needed to, uh…."
Mason stepped forward, slinging an arm around Dean's neck and rubbing his head affectionately. "You needed to get the hell in here and tell me why I'm decorating my shop with whirly-gigs."
Taking the six-pack from Dean's hand and freeing him up to grab the dog food, Mason led them inside and to the back room. Dean glanced around and saw that Mason had followed his directions: Devil's Trap sigils were painted around each opening with one larger one even on the ceiling of the garage.
"Nice. How'd you manage that?" Dean asked, pointing up.
"Used the lift," Mason replied, nodding to the flat lift currently supporting the Dodge. "Too much traffic in and outta here to put one on the floor." He grabbed two tin bowls and dumped out the screws and nails currently housed inside into a plastic bucket.
"Good thinking," Dean nodded with approval.
As Mason rinsed out the bowls in the shop sink, he called out, "Sent Mia and Tommy home for the afternoon after you called. Both of 'em wanted to see you, though, so just a heads up."
"Tommy wants to see me?" Dean replied, surprised. "Thought he'd want as far away from me as possible."
Mason turned, drying one of the bowls and tossing it to Dean. "Nah, kid was just going through some shit. What happened with his grandma's house turned him on his ear, yeah, but it also saved his life." He filled the second bowl with water, leveling his eyes on Dean. "You saved his life. You showed him that there was a different way and he's been after it since then."
Dean lifted a shoulder, dismissing the praise as he poured food into Murphy's bowl, watching as the dog dug in. He may have saved Tommy from becoming that ghost's victim, but that was pretty much it. He wasn't in the business of changing lives; he simply wanted to stop the bad guys from winning. Keep evil at bay long enough that good had a fighting chance.
"You want to talk about it?" Mason asked finally.
"Yeah," Dean replied, not looking up. He didn't elaborate, however.
"You want to work over the bag a bit first?" Mason offered.
At that, Dean did look up. Nodding, he toed off his boots, pulling his T-shirt over his head. Mason frowned at the bandages still around his middle.
"Thought you looked a little too healthy," Mason commented.
Dean began to unwrap the bandages. "This was a weird one," he confessed, gingerly touching the healing pink welts that replaced the opened wounds left behind by the Wicker Man. The stitches could easily be removed, but he'd worry about that later.
"Thought you said it was a witch," Mason frowned, his eyes tracing Dean's probing fingers. "She need a serious manicure or what?"
Dean chuckled. "Wasn't that kind of a witch," he said. "Some deranged druid was controlling a Wicker Man."
"Wicker Man," Mason repeated slowly. "Like the British horror movie?"
"Something like that," Dean nodded. "Friend of mine has this herbal stuff she makes. Looks like purple goo. Works miracles on cuts." He tossed the bandages into the corner by his shirt and headed over to Mason. "You sure I'm not keeping you from anything?"
"That Dodge out there's the only thing I got going on right now," Mason said, helping Dean wrap his hands, "and the owner's in Wichita until the first of next week. Hold still, lemme get that right hand good."
Dean did as he was told, his thoughts a quiet buzz as he tried to work his way clear of the many things digging into him. As Mason helped him pull on the boxing gloves, Dean tuned his attention to the radio, listening as AC/DC rasped their way through Thunderstruck and matched his first few hits to the rhythm of the guitar. Mason held the bag steady and called out commands, easing him into the workout.
After a few minutes, Dean picked up speed, ignoring the twinge in his side, the protest of his hip, the gasp of his back. He just moved, listening to the smack of his glove against the bag, focusing on the rhythm of the orders Mason called out to him, working on increasing the power of each hit.
The image of Crowley's smarmy grin drew a hard left jab. The memory of Castiel exploding before his eyes demanded a right cross. The idea that Bobby wasn't here anymore forced an upper cut. The fact that Sam was denied the normal life he craved so much pulled a quick combination of jab-cross. And then there was Brenna….
"Breathe, kid," Mason said, rolling the bag away from him. "Take a break a second and breathe."
"So fucked up," Dean exhaled, panting and blinking sweat from his lashes. He bent over and rested his gloves on his knees, dragging in great gasps for air.
"Everything, man, just…all of it."
Dean shook his head, sweat flinging from the ends of his short hair. "Want to beat the shit outta something."
"How about a fact for every punch?"
Dean swallowed, looking at Mason, then nodded. Mason swung the bag toward him and Dean started in, hammering the bag with a burst of hits that pulled at the muscles across his back and made his side cry out, but felt good at the same time.
He wanted to wear himself out. He wanted to work his muscles so hard his body had no choice but to give him a break, let him rest. Backing off, he worked to catch his breath, and started telling Mason how the flashbacks got worse when he'd been on the hunt, every time he saw a body.
"I can't shut 'em off," he said. "And…sometimes I kinda know what's happening, but then others I just…."
"Go dark," Mason guessed.
"You got the mutt now, though."
Dean sniffed, looking over to where Murphy lay on his side, snoozing beside his empty food bowl. "Yeah."
"You don't think the dog will help," Mason hedged.
"It's not that," Dean said, swinging a hard left and sending the bag spinning as Mason released it. "There's just…more."
"There usually is."
Dean told him about Crowley. "He doesn't know the weapon he's looking for is me."
Mason tilted his head curiously, but didn't push, and for that Dean was glad. He wasn't sure how to work through the cold, suffocating fear that had been closing around his throat since Crowley blinked out. He let his hands fall to his sides, the gloves a weight that stretched out his shoulders.
"When I saved Sam out at Stull," he started, "I kinda…linked myself to this…amulet. It has…I don't know, some kind of angelic power."
"Angels," Mason said slowly, his brows pulling close over his blue eyes. "Thought you said demons messed you boys up that night."
Dean rolled his neck, then used his teeth to pull the Velcro from around one wrist, working his gloves off but leaving the wraps in place for the moment.
"I didn't exactly tell you everything about Stull," he confessed. Taking a breath, he looked up, meeting his friend's eyes. "Sam and I weren't there to just defeat demons," he said. "We were there to defeat the leader of all demons: Lucifer."
"Lucifer," Mason repeated, taking a step back as he blinked.
Speaking rapidly as if he could make it make more sense with speed, Dean continued, "It goes back to before Sam and I were born, and is too complicated to really explain, but the bottom line is that Lucifer wanted to use my brother as a vessel and Michael wanted me, and their plan was to fight each other for world domination or whatever."
"Michael," Mason said, sounding slightly shell-shocked. "As in…flaming sword, Archangel Michael."
"To use me as a vessel."
Mason looked at him out of the corner of his eyes. "You just messing around with me?"
"Believe me, I wish I was."
Mason took another step back until he was leaning against the wall, his face pale beneath his scruff, his eyes wide and pinned to Dean. "Go on."
"Hell yeah, I'm sure. You stop now I'll kill ya."
Dean rested his hands on his hip, shifting his weight to his right, and spoke to the floor, not able to meet Mason's eyes. "Demons can possess anyone. It's basically a rape of your soul. You get shoved somewhere to the back and they take over. And unless you're really lucky, that's usually the end for you. I can't tell you how many people who never came back because I had to kill the demon wearing them." He wandered to the center of the Devil's Trap painted on the mat, then began working his hands out of the wraps. "With angels…you have to agree. You have to actually say yes. And if they don't burn you up with their power, you get to be you afterwards."
"So…that's how come you were Michael and now you're…you?"
Dean looked over at him. "I was never Michael. I never said yes."
Mason lifted his chin, processing this. As Dean watched, a dawning realization crept across the man's expression. "But…I'm guessing Sam…?"
"Sam said yes to Lucifer," Dean nodded. "But only so that he could take that bastard back down to his Cage."
"Wait, Sam thought he was stronger than Lucifer?" Mason asked, incredulous.
"You gotta understand, we were out of options. The world was literally ending," Dean said. "Sam is the strongest person I've ever met – he's the best of us. If anyone was going to win, it was going to be him."
He was rubbing his scarred hand along the seam on his jeans, trying to ignore the blood that he knew was there but his mind told him wasn't real.
"So…then, how come you…?"
Dean moved to the cot, dropping down on it and turning his hand over so that he could see the scar, see the blood. "I've taken care of Sam my whole life. Watched out for him. Went to Hell so he could live. I couldn't just let him face that big of an enemy alone. And if he was gonna die," he looked up at Mason, "I wasn't going to let him die alone."
"But he didn't die."
Dean shook his head. "No. And I changed us."
"You…turned yourself into this…weapon."
"In a manner of speaking," he said. "I had an amulet – Sam actually gave it to me when we were kids – and as it turns out, it was a beacon for God's power. When I used it, I had to repeat a phrase in Enochian."
"The language of the angels."
"I didn't know it at the time, but I didn't have the whole spell," Dean said, slouching back against the cool cement wall. "I…fused the amulet to me, but I don't know how to use it. Sometimes it just…happens."
"What do you mean?"
"You remember that stuff Tommy was saying about my eyes?"
"Yeah, that they were glowing?"
Dean nodded. "Well…he's right. That happens. And when we were in Argo, I was able to use the light in me to kill the Wicker Man."
Mason rubbed a hand across his mouth, pushing away from the wall. He walked slowly across the mat to the other side of the room, then turned around to look back at Dean.
"And now this Crowley guy – who is a demon – wants you to neutralize it so that he can go rule the underworld, or whatever, and not worry about it being used against him."
"You need to call Rufus," Mason said, crossing his arms over his big chest.
"I did." Dean shot Mason a surprised look. "How would you…?"
"What, you think you're the only one who has contacts? Turns out your friend and I have a lot in common."
Dean was puzzled. "Did you talk to him after that time he was here?"
"Called him the first time Sorenson stirred up trouble," Mason reported. "And after my sister's friend saw a ghost in her living room."
"Wait, what?" Dean stood up. "A ghost, you sure?"
"Cold spot, flickering lights, the works."
"And you called Rufus?"
Mason lifted a shoulder. "You guys were busy, and…well, I figured I could handle one ghost."
Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "Son of a bitch. And Rufus, what…just helped you land the plane?"
"Yep. Done and done."
Dean shook his head. "Well, I did call Rufus. He says he has a summoning spell for us to talk to an angel and get some answers about all of this."
"Why didn't you do that before?"
Dean shrugged. "Didn't know it was possible. I always just…prayed to Cas and he would come. And after Stull…we weren't sure who we might get. Or what they might want from us."
"Castiel…. He is – was – a friend of mine." Dean rubbed his forehead, his jaw starting to ache. "He pulled me out of Hell. Lucifer killed him at Stull." He shrugged. "Or, rather…killed his vessel. All that blood they could never identify? That was his."
Mason pinched the bridge of his nose. "So…you summon this angel, find out the deal about the power, and use it to get rid of Crowley."
"Would be nice if it worked out like that, yeah."
Mason peered at him. "But you don't think it will."
"When you've been doing this as long as I have," Dean kept his chin down, but glanced up at Mason, feeling an uneasy sense of vulnerability seeping through his words as he spoke, "you kinda stop believing in happy endings."
"Maybe this time'll be different."
Not wanting to argue, but needing his friend to know why he'd told him all of that, Dean looked away, rubbing his hand against his leg distractedly.
"There's something else," he said, sitting slowly back down on the cot.
Mason sighed and covered his eyes with a hand. "Where's that beer?"
Dean pulled a can from the plastic ring and tossed it to Mason, grabbing one himself. It had warmed a bit since he took it from the convenience store cooler, but the hops hit the back of his tongue and slid down his throat in a welcoming rush. He swallowed half the beer before he took a breath and readied himself to continue.
"Okay," Mason pressed, crumpling his empty beer can and tossing it across the room to bounce off the cement wall and hit a white plastic trash can. "So what's the next thing? Aliens? You gonna tell me Fox Mulder was right all along?"
Dean pressed his lips together, looking at the silver top of his beer can. "I'm a…I've got a kid."
At Mason's complete silence, Dean looked up. The big man was staring at him with unreadable eyes. Dean wanted to look away, but found he couldn't. He needed to know what his friend would say.
"Now, I know you weren't gone long enough for that."
Dean laughed nervously, gratitude for Mason not immediately chastising him clear in his hesitant smile. "She's four."
"Oh, Lord help us, a girl, too."
Dean nodded. "About seven years ago, I met her mother, Brenna. She's the one with the goo," he said, pointing to the stitches in his skin. "She's a fireball, man. Like no one I've ever met. And I've, uh…met a lot of women."
"Last time I saw her, it was before my crossroads deal came up. Before I went to Hell."
Dean noticed that Mason skimmed right over the mention of Hell, though he was fairly certain he'd never gone into detail about it with the big man. He knew someone had mentioned it to Mason the first time he flashed back, here, in the man's garage. He could only assume that Mason's conversations with Rufus extended beyond rock salt and grave desecration.
"Kind of a last night on Earth moment, huh?"
"Sort of," Dean lifted a shoulder, "but what happened would have happened anyway."
"And she says her daughter was the result."
Dean reached into his back pocket and pulled out the folded picture of Aislinn that Brenna had let him keep. He handed it to Mason and watched the man's eyes soften at the sight of her.
"Damn, kid. She looks just like you."
"I know." Dean finished his beer and sent the empty can on the same trajectory as Mason's.
Mason handed the picture back to him. "Beautiful girl," he said. "So…why isn't she here with you?"
"Brenna's…well, saying she's strong-willed is like calling a tiger a house cat. She has to decide what comes next."
"And are you part of her list of possibilities?"
Dean leaned forward, resting his head on the palm of his left hand and letting his right dangle between his legs. "That's the thing. How do I bring them here…into all of this?"
When Mason was silent, Dean lifted his face, unaware of the plea in his eyes, just needing someone to tell him what to do next.
"I have a demon after my ass and angel powers I can't control. I blank out, have nightmares, and my primary skill is killing. How is that an environment for a kid?"
"Do you want to be part of her list of possibilities?" Mason asked, his voice gentle.
Dean swallowed, his eyes burning.
"Don't think about it, kid. Just answer. Do you want Brenna and your daughter to be part of your life?"
"Yes," Dean replied. "But…how?"
Mason sighed, uncrossing his arms and rested them on his hips. "We'll have to figure that one out." He tilted his head, regarding Dean. "Besides…you're a damn good mechanic, don't forget. That's a marketable skill."
Dean grinned sadly. Just then, Mason's phone buzzed. He pulled it from his coverall pocket and peered at the screen.
"Text from Rufus. Says you're not answering. Will be here tomorrow morning."
Dean frowned and patted his pockets. He pulled out his phone and flipped it open. "I must have turned it off."
"Well, that should give you some time to get some rest before you have to…dance around the fire and chant angel-words, or whatever the hell."
Dean chuckled. "You're probably not far off."
"I got another text here," Mason frowned, scrolling down. "Came in earlier, but I missed it. Jackson says Sorenson is down at the station and claims to be heading over here to talk with me. Doesn't know you're back."
"Good," Dean pushed to his feet, wincing slightly as the skin across his ribs protested. "Been meaning to have a talk with that guy."
"And by talk you mean…?" Mason hedge.
"I mean…talk. Figure out what's got him so focused on busting me and Sam."
"Well, wash up, then," Mason said. "If they headed out after he sent that text, he could be here any minute."
"Hey, Mason – you mind helping me with these first?" Dean asked, looking down at his stitches.
"You don't want a doctor to do it?" Mason frowned.
"Pull 'em out?" Dean shook his head. "Nah. I'd ask Sam, but…well, that's a longer story and I think I might've filled my quota of 'holy shit' moments for you today."
Mason barked out a laugh, heading toward his office. "I think I upped my quota soon as Jackson found you two out at that cemetery."
Grabbing his clothes and whistling for Murphy to come with him, Dean followed Mason to his office where he remembered seeing the first aid kit. Once there, he texted Sam as Mason cleaned the small scissors from the kit. He probably didn't need Sam present, but he knew that no matter how busy his brother was with Stella, he'd want to know about Sorenson.
"Wait, so it wasn't a witch?"
"Not exactly," Sam replied, watching as Stella fastened her bra beneath her breasts, then twisted it around before slipping her arms through the straps that held it in place.
Women and their contraptions had always fascinated him. He continued to stare openly at her, the sheets from his bed twisted around his middle as he slouched sideways against the headboard. She pulled on her jeans and grabbed her T-shirt from the bed post before twisting her hair into a bun and fastening it – somehow – with an elastic band.
"How is someone not exactly a witch?"
"He was a druid who had sold his soul for power," Sam explained. "So, yes, in a way, he was a witch because he was human and used spells to bring bad things to life and hurt people. But…the fact that he was a druid kinda put this whole spin on it."
Stella tilted her head, her bemused smile exposing her crooked front tooth and drawing a grin from him in reply.
"You need a database to keep it all straight."
Sam chuckled. "Well, my dad always had a journal, but—" he stopped, his thoughts screeching to a halt as the memory of sitting up at the table in the Argo fire station, the light from his laptop turning everything an odd blue, watching as Dean twitched in his restless sleep from a nightmare, hit him full-force. "Oh, my God, you're brilliant."
Stella drew her head back, confused. Sam rose from the bed, the sheets falling away, and cupped her face, kissing her forehead with a loud smack.
"You're a genius!"
"It's good of you to notice," Stella laughed. "Let me know what I did so I can make sure to repeat it."
"A database," Sam repeated. "A way to catalogue all the evil in the world!" He moved past Stella toward the living room in search of his laptop, oblivious to her amused stare. "History and lore and weapons and the ways to kill it and protect yourself…I mean, we know all of this!"
Sam half-turned, his arm elbow-deep in his duffel, searching around for his laptop. "What?"
"I love your enthusiasm, but, um," she pressed a finger to her lips. "Maybe…clothes? Might be a good idea?"
Sam looked down at himself. "Oh, shit." Grabbing his duffel, he hurried back to the room and dressed quickly, talking to Stella the whole time. "I started the database to help us figure out who the draiocht was back in Argo."
"Draiocht," Sam corrected. "It's Gaelic. Basically means dark druid."
"Okay," Stella replied, stretching the word out like caramel as she watched him move around his room like a Tasmanian devil. "What are you looking for?"
"My dad's journal," Sam replied. "Dean always has it with him; it has to be in one of these—here it is!" Sam pulled out the journal, grabbing his boots and jerking his head toward Stella. "C'mon," he implored, leading the way out to the kitchen. "I've been trying to think how we can do this – live actual lives and not stop hunting."
"You…you don't want to stop?" Stella asked, moving toward the coffee maker, keeping her hands busy as Sam opened his laptop.
At the hesitant fear in her voice, Sam paused, taking a breath. "It's not just a job," he explained. "It's who we are."
Frowning Stella moved toward the fridge, opening it and staring inside at the empty shelves, near-empty case of beer, and the bottle of ketchup.
"It's who your brother is," she said. "But…is it who you are, too?"
Sam took a breath, looking down as he answered. "Yes." He waited a beat. "Are you going to be okay with that?"
Stella frowned, not looking at him, and he saw her worry her bottom lip. "Are you going to come back bloody from every hunt?"
"Not if I can help it."
Stella worked her lips outward, clearly trying to hold back words.
"Just say it," Sam implored. "Please. Don't hold back from me. I need to know what you're thinking."
Closing the fridge, she turned and crossed her arms, facing him but not looking at him. "It's kind of like…dating a cop, right? Or a soldier?"
Sam frowned. "Yeah, kinda."
"You go out on…missions, or whatever, and I won't know what you're facing or if you're coming back…and I'll have to be okay with that."
Sam sat back, watching her, feeling his breath catch at the base of his throat, heart hammering with anxiety. "Do you think you could be?"
Lips pressed out in a thoughtful pout, Stella nodded slowly, but then said, "I don't know." She looked up at him. "I want to be…but…I don't know."
Sam nodded, looking back at the screen. "What…would help you know?"
"Maybe this database," she said, brow puckered. "Maybe if I knew what you were facing, how you were fighting it. Maybe that might help me trust that you'll…come back to me."
Sam swallowed, and pushed out the chair next to him, forcing himself to remain calm, keep his distance for a bit. "Okay, well, take a seat."
"You said there were other hunters, right?" she asked, sitting down cautiously.
"What if you plugged their names in there and just…like, assigned them jobs?"
Sam shook his head. "Doesn't work like that," he said.
"Why not? It could!"
"It's not like a…bunch of consultants," he told her. "People don't just wake up one day and decide to live this life. Something causes them to do it. Something…triggers it."
"What triggered it for you?"
"I grew up in this life," Sam told her, sitting back and rubbing his thumb along the edge of the table, staring at it, but not seeing it. "My mom died when I was a baby – killed by a demon – and my dad spent the rest of his life, and most of mine, searching for that demon."
"You never knew anything different?" Stella asked, her voice sounding sad and sorry.
Sam half smiled. "Dean did his best to keep me a kid for as long as possible. I was about ten when I found out the truth of why we moved so often and why dad was gone all the time."
She as quiet for a minute, then said in a small voice, "You don't owe him."
"What?" Sam looked over at her, confused, dragged up from his memories.
Stella met his eyes. "Just because Dean gave up his childhood for you doesn't mean you have to give up the rest of your life for him."
Sam took a slow breath, then licked his lips, turning in his chair to face her. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and took her hands in his.
"I need you to listen to me, and I need you to believe me, okay?" His voice was low and serious.
"This is not Dean's choice. It's not his decision. It's mine. I'm a hunter. I'm good at it, and it means something to me. Saving people from the darkness I've seen…it's important." He held her eyes with his. "Living a regular life – a normal life – is important, too, and I am going to try to redefine normal and find a way to do both…but I'm not doing this for Dean. I'm doing it for me."
Stella listened to his words, her dark eyes large, and nodded slowly.
"What I need to know from you is…are you going to be able to accept that?"
She took a slow, shaky breath. "I want to."
Sam nodded. "I want you to, too. But…," he felt his eyes go soft and sad. "I can't make you."
"So," she licked her lips and stared at the computer. "Why can't you put the names of other hunters in there, figure out who's closest to take the case?"
"Well," Sam sighed, resting his fingers on the keyboard. "For one…if a demon or vamp or witch or something were to ever get ahold of the database, it would basically become a hit list for hunters."
"Oh, I…didn't think about that."
"And for another…hunters are nomadic. Some have home bases and are in general locations, but for the most part, there's no telling where a particular hunter might be—" He broke off when his phone buzzed in the pocket of his jeans. He pulled it out and frowned at the display. "It's Dean," he said. "Looks like Sorenson is on his way over to Mason's garage."
"Sorenson?" Stella frowned in question.
"The cold case guy who has been after Dean and me for some reason," Sam explained. He continued to peer at his phone. "Oh, damn, I have some more texts here from our friend, Rufus," glanced up at Stella. "Another hunter."
"Another job?" she asked nervously.
He shook his head, absorbing the list of supplies Rufus needed for the summoning ritual. It appeared Rufus had mixed up their numbers, thinking he was texting Dean. Sam saw that they had most of the needed items, a couple of things he was going to have to head to the herb shop on Mass to grab, but the thing he found most concerning was the fact that Rufus was adamant Dean be the one to perform the spell.
"Listen," he said, "I need to go help Dean with Sorenson. I want you to stay here."
"Why?" Stella frowned.
"It's safer," he hedged.
"Than my own house?"
Sam sighed. "There's a…guy who wants something from us."
"A guy who's also a demon."
"You've got a demon after you?" Stella's eyebrows went up.
"It's complicated," Sam said, pulling on his boots. "But the house is warded. You'll be safe if you stay in here."
Stella stood up with him. "Sam, I'm not sure I want—"
"Stella," he interrupted, grabbing hold of her shoulders. "I promise I'll explain everything. But…for right now, can you please stay here?"
"You don't have any food," she pointed out. "What if I went to the store and came right back? I'll promise to be here when you get back."
Sam stared at her a moment, weighing his options, knowing the only way he could make her stay was if he chained her to something that was bolted to the floor. And that wouldn't be winning him any favors. It certainly wouldn't get her to accept a hunter's way of life anytime soon.
"Okay, but please go straight there and back," he implored. "Wait," he loped back to his room, grabbed a charm, then returned to her. "Wear this, please," he asked.
"What is it?"
"It's a protection charm. It'll keep you safe from possession."
She took it with a wry grin. "This is the first piece of jewelry you've given me."
Grabbing some money from the envelop Dean left on the counter and handing it to her for groceries, Sam shrugged.
"What can I say? I'm a romantic."
Chapter 17 continued here in post 18-B.