Spoilers: Season 2, set after 2.15, Tall Tales and before 2.16, Roadkill. Anything prior to the first appearance of that darn Trickster is fair game.
Summary: The trickster left the brothers in need of a clean hunt. An explosion turns a routine spirit hunt into anything but clean. Dean must deal with the ramifications, while Sam tries to finish the job and help his brother pick up the pieces.
a/n: The fun thing about writing to an outline is that even with a plan, I end up surprising myself. I thought this would be a four-chapter story with an epilogue, but as this chapter rolled out of me, I realized I was going to need a bit more space to tell the story I had planned. So while it might not be my standard 8, it's gonna be more than 5. *is amused at self*
Beta is back! All typos and forgotten words are now fixed. I hope.
*music plays on*
Only that in you which is me can hear what I'm saying.
- Baba Ram Dass
For a moment, he almost forgot.
The pain upon waking the first time was enough to encourage him to roll back into the black, floating on a gentle ebb of whispers, cradled in shapeless arms that simply felt safe.
The second time he woke, however, the peace of darkness eluded him. The aches in his back and legs, across his shoulders and neck, in his jaw all cried out at once, demanding attention.
He worked to stifle an immediate groan, only realizing when it wouldn't be quieted that he'd once again gained awareness in a world that was, for him, wrapped in silence.
Opening his eyes a fraction, Dean found that Sam had turned all lights off except the small lamp in the far corner of the room. With the heavy curtains pulled, he had no concept of time, no idea how long he'd been sleeping.
"Sam?" he called, feeling the edge of his voice dig into the soft flesh of his throat. He was so thirsty.
He blinked, his vision swimming, and raised a heavy hand to bat at what felt like cobwebs strung across his face as the remnants of drugged sleep began to slowly fade away.
I hate those damn pills, he moaned silently. Feel hungover without the party…
Pushing himself carefully over onto his back, Dean flung out his hand to rid his sweaty, grimy, smoke-saturated body of the covers Sam had apparently wrapped him in after he'd fallen asleep.
Passed out is more like it…
"Where the hell… Sam!"
Raising himself to his elbows, he looked around the slowly spinning room, feeling the sensation of fluid shifting and rolling in his ears. Knotting his face up in disgust, Dean reached up and wiped at the wetness that seeped from his left ear, looking down at the pillow where he'd been laying on his right side. It was damp.
Using the back of his hand, he dried the remnants of the drops Sam had put in his ears, noting how tender his neck was to the touch, just below his earlobes.
Shuffling drunkenly to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, Dean catalogued the protests of his muscles, promising himself the heat of a shower as soon as he could get the earth to cooperate. It spun lazily, tipping first one way, then the other. Dean closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his nose, working to steady himself, stilling the trembles that began in his belly and traveled through his chest to escape from his fingertips.
Curling over, he propped his elbows on his knees and dug furrows through his short tufts of hair, resisting the growing pressure on the inside of his head by holding his fragile skull together with his palms. His ruined suit pants were bunched uncomfortably around his calves, his white button-down un-tucked and twisted around his waist.
The odd, ozone-like smell of the air conditioning unit met his nose and once again he felt the kick in his gut at not having heard the all-too-familiar snap-click of the unit switching on when the room became too warm.
He felt a rumble at the base of his throat, somewhere between a growl and a moan. He needed to take control, to regain his balance. Rolled in a semi-ball, he felt himself rocking a bit with the rhythm of his own heartbeat as it pounded through his body, timing his breath to the throb of his head, trying to mask the pain with motion.
Hospital… Mike's truck… Impala… music… hotel room… birds…
There hadn't been… birds in the hotel room.
He pressed his fingertips over his eye lids, feeling the soft, fragile skin, the sting against his eyes. He had seen birds. A bird. Big and black with yellow eyes and talons that had been ready to rend him apart. Wings… wings had spread from beneath the arms of someone reaching for him. Someone he thought he knew…
"Sam!" he called once more, not understanding why his brother hadn't responded. Straightening up, Dean looked around, locating the bathroom on the other side of Sam's empty bed. He could see by the reflection in the mirror that the bathroom door stood open, the interior of the small room dark.
Frowning, Dean started to push himself out of bed, his hand landing on something different in texture from the cotton sheets. He looked down, finding a piece of paper with Sam's unmistakable handwriting scrawled across it.
"What the hell…"
Squinting in the dim light of the shadowed hotel room, Dean held the paper close, trying to make out the words.
Didn't want to wake you. Found Camilla's grave. Taking care of this now so you can heal up. Don't worry, I'll be right back.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean balled up the paper, throwing it across the room at the intense protest of his shoulder muscles. "You gotta be kidding me!"
Pushing himself to a wavering stance, Dean stumbled across the room to the curtained windows. Light from a half-moon illuminated a nearly-empty parking lot several floors below, showing him that just as Sam's note implied, the Impala was gone.
Gripping the curtains in tight fists, Dean leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the window. His eyes down, he saw the line of salt stretching across the length of the windowsill. Without looking, he knew another one would be at the base of the door, despite the fact that it opened into a hall and not the outside. Sam had been taught well.
Damn you, Sam, I am a part of this.
Twice before, Sam had left him. Once of his own accord. Neither time had there been a note, but the hollow feeling that scooped out his lungs was the same now as it had been then. Sam was gone, leaving him behind when he couldn't protest.
And this time, Dean was wrapped in silence.
Growling, Dean stepped back, ripping at the heavy, dark curtains, popping them from the metal fasteners. He tumbled to the floor with their weight, the brightness of the moon illuminating the room around him, bathing his face in quiet light, dazzling his eyes.
Pressing the palm of his hand against his head, he swore roughly, viciously. He couldn't hear the venom in his voice, but he felt the words vibrate in his chest, bounce at the base of his throat. He tried it again, pressing the air out harder, faster, meaner.
Spots of white light and dark blurs of shadow danced at the corners of his eyes and his pulse hammered against his temples. His instant of euphoric release was replaced with the unmistakable taste of bile at the back of his throat. Scrambling on his hands and knees, Dean made it to the bathroom, slamming the toilet lid up and gripping the cold porcelain sides as he heaved.
The muscles across his back and along his ribs protested the violent motion and sweat coated his skin, chilling him. He kept his eyes closed and when he was once again hollow, he reached up and depressed the lever, flushing the evidence of his weakness away.
His body empty, his mouth sour, his throat dry, Dean fell limply back against the stem of the pedestal sink, pressing his sweaty palms flat against the small tiles of the floor, digging his fingertips into the grouted edges.
Taking care of this now... dammit, Sam...
Logic told him the nausea was from the concussion, but frustration had him blaming Sam. For the pain, for the sickness, for the whole damn reason he'd been hurt in the first place.
Get a grip, Winchester.
Reaching above him to grip the edge of the sink with a shaking hand, Dean pulled himself slowly to his feet, then twisted the faucet. The water fell silently into the basin. He stared at it in the dim light sneaking around the corner of the bathroom from the now-exposed window.
It sparkled. Tilting his head to the side, Dean let his eyes lose focus as he watched the water separate into individual drops catching the luminescent glow of the moon and fall in quiet slow motion to swirl around the outer edge of the drain, tumbling down the pipe in a rush to whatever reservoir would capture it for eventual return.
Carefully lifting his head, wary of too swift a movement, Dean's eyes skimmed over his rough reflection in the mirror and looked at the shower. Turning off the water in the sink, he used the tiled wall for balance and stumbled toward the curtain, pulling it back, knowing there was a metal-on-metal shink, but not hearing it. He twisted the larger faucet and pulled the shower tab.
In the shadow of the bathroom door, hidden from the moonlight, the water fell from the shower head. He knew what the sound should be. Knew the waterfall rush it should have made, knew the hollow plunk each drop should have echoed in the plastic cavern of the bathtub.
The world was muted.
Staring at the almost-invisible water, Dean felt his breath pump through his chest, increasing in speed and forcefulness as panic took hold. He began to pant for air, pressed his bracing hand as flat against the wall as the curve of his palm would allow. His vision dipped and his throat rasped.
When you can't figure out which way to go, take away one of your senses. Use the others.
"Aw, fuck, Dad…" Dean gasped aloud, closing his eyes against the memory of his father's voice. "Fuckfuckfuck."
The panic drew fresh beads of sweat across his upper lip, spilling it in a spider-like crawl down his neck. The silence was so loud it seemed to press on him; the air itself was pushing him to the ground. Falling to his knees, Dean wrapped his arms around his head tucking his chin to his chest.
The hard tile bruised his already battered legs, the chill from the air conditioning in the outer room seeped through his now-sweaty clothes, but Dean didn't move. He curled as tight as his wounded body would allow, trying to block out the quiet, the lack of balance… the absence of Sam's voice.
Forcing himself to breathe in through his nose, out through his mouth, Dean narrowed his focus to that one memory: the sound of Sam's voice. He'd know his brother anywhere. Know him in the dark. Because he could hear Sam. Could hear him think. Knew the pattern of his breathing, knew the level of worry by the way Sam said his name.
Slowly uncurling, aware of the humid cling of steam now filling the bathroom, Dean squeezed his closed eyes as tight as he could, focusing on the way Sam's face looked when he said Dean. The way his lips seemed to stretch flat when it was said in panic, the way his chin dropped with a slight tick when he said it in annoyance, the tremble of his bottom lip when he said it as a plea.
Dean knew many things by touch: guns, ammunition, the Impala, women. But his brother had always been sound to him. The cry of a nightmare, the bubble of a laugh, the nasal tones of a discontented whine. The crash of a slamming door. The whisper of a promise, an apology.
The sound of need.
"Focus," Dean said, just to feel his lips move. To feel the caress of air across his sticky tongue.
Shifting up in a sitting position, back against the base of the tub, feet against the tile, elbows on knees, fists pressed into his eyes, Dean drew a mental picture of his brother.
Sam's hands poised over a keyboard, fingers flying, eyes darting as information on a printout or monitor was absorbed. Lip curling in anger. Arm raised to strike, eyes full of wonder as an angel spoke to him.
"Okay… okay," Dean nodded frailly, filing more away as he continued to narrow his focus.
Carhart jacket, denim shirt, jeans without holes, sneakers, too-long hair. No rings, no amulet, nothing else that made him Sam except… except those eyes. Those damn cat eyes that showed too much and not enough. Those eyes that could gut Dean while simultaneously pissing him off. Those eyes that were all Sam.
The cool hand on the back of his neck sent Dean's heart shooting from his chest to the top of his head. He jerked violently back and away from the unexpected touch, bouncing off of the edge of the tub and slipping on the now-damp tile floor.
Crouching in front of him was a pale-skinned girl with short, dark hair wisping away from her face in tufts. Trying to catch his breath, Dean put a hand up, keeping her away.
It wasn't until she moved forward, despite his warning hand, that he saw her eyes. Clear, china-blue, wide, and completely blank. They stared just over his shoulder, reflecting no light or awareness of any kind.
She paused, and nodded.
"How the… what are you… is Sam with you?"
Dean pushed himself to his feet, still backing away from her until he was pressed into the corner between the pedestal sink and the bathtub. Wren shook her head, a line appearing between her dark brows. She started to speak, her face animated, lips moving, and stepped toward him once more.
The spill of silent words between them, offering him explanation, offering warning, telling him what he needed to be ready for, what he needed to fight, was too much.
Launching himself forward, he grabbed her arms, forcing her back against the opened bathroom door, bouncing the handle against the wall as the weight of their bodies collided with the wood.
"How the hell did you get in here?! Where is Sam?!"
Wren jerked back from the velocity of his words and pulled her face away, twisting in his grasp, trying to escape. Her lips moved rapidly, only serving to infuriate him more with their empty meaning. He shook her.
"Where is Sam?!"
Twisting her arm roughly with a surprising display of strength, Wren pointed toward the hotel room. Dean looked away from her too-pale face toward the dimly lit, still empty room and saw that the door was standing open, the line of salt he'd known would be there now scattered in a sweeping arc at the base.
He looked back at Wren. "How'd you get it open? Thought you were blind."
Wren didn't look up. Her eyes rested on the button of his shirt just below his throat, her fingers nervously twisting in his sleeves as he held her arms in an iron-like grip. His jaw began to ache as he worked to maintain some semblance of control.
He shook her again, but not as hard.
"Are you blind or not?!"
She flinched at his voice and spoke, pointing again to the door. Anger began to build, hot and tight, in his chest. He felt the pull of his muscles across his back and tightened his grip on her arms in rebellion.
"Hope you're not telling me the door was freakin' open, 'cause I know that's not true."
Wren lifted her face, her eyes still not on his, the bend of the moonlight casting odd, wing-like shadows across her face from her hair. Her expression was serene and oddly, completely still. Everything about her was suddenly still.
Dean frowned, stepping back and slowly forcing himself to release her arms. If he closed his eyes in this moment he wouldn't know she was standing here. What the hell?
"I… can't even… smell you…" he muttered, realizing that his own scent—ashes, fire, sweat, leather—permeated the entire bathroom.
Dean watched the moonlight dance across her features and whispered, more to himself than to her, "What are you doing here?"
Her throat flashed as she took a breath, a quick heartbeat of movement, and Dean froze. Wren closed the space between them, stepping close enough that her coolness combated with the steam wafting around them. She reached up, fingers fumbling first at his collar, then glancing across his throat to meet his jaw line.
Dean caught his breath. For just a moment as she touched him, he heard the wind. He heard it rushing through his ears like a familiar friend, the calm before the storm, the cool on a summer's day.
Wren's fingers wavered a bit, skipping over the coarse stubble that framed his chin, sliding softly across his lips. Her other hand followed in a twin path until her fingers found his cheekbones, her thumbs almost caressing the upward path of his nose to the bridge between his eyes.
His lids fluttered closed as the tips of her fingers brushed his lashes, smoothing the worried creases at the edges of his eyes. She finished the journey of his face as her palms found his temples, pressing gently and easing the incessant ache there.
Dean parted his lips to ask her what the hell she was doing when inexplicably he heard a voice, a whisper of words, as if it was already inside his head.
"We are spirits clad in veils…"
He opened his eyes and sound slammed into him. Everything—his heartbeat, his breathing, the sound of Wren swallowing, her feet shuffling back away from him, the water hitting the tile in the bathtub, even the stir of salt in the open doorway as the air conditioning reacted to the steam from the shower—hit him with painful immediacy.
"Son of a bitch," Dean gasped as the pain rode over him, bringing his hands to his tender ears and his knees once again to the tile floor. "Oh, damn…"
It was too much.
There was no filter, no guard. He couldn't hear anything over the noise of everything. His head filled with sound until the pressure would surely make it burst. Crying out once more, he curled in, pressing his forehead to the damp floor, oblivious of Wren's stumbling flight from the room, uncaring of her ability to break into their hotel room.
Lost in the cacophony of noise he cried out for the relief of the one thing that frightened him most: silence.
I am watching Sam sleep.
I can hear the repetitive tick of Pastor Jim's round-faced alarm clock marking the seconds that I sit here, awake, aware, while Sam is at last wrapped in oblivion. It was another bad one, this nightmare. It took everything in me not to call to Pastor Jim to help.
But I did it. I got him quieted down and now I'm watching him sleep. I find myself wondering if I will spend my life watching Sam. If I'll be sitting up, reading something to pass the time, one eye on him while he sleeps, peacefully or trapped in a nightmare, when we're in our twenties. Our thirties. When we're old.
I can't imagine anything else. How could we know what we know, do what we do, and ever live differently than this? This will be my life. Sam's life. I'll always have my brother.
And I hate that with a fierceness that I can't even explain to myself.
Pastor Jim's soft call from the doorway startles me and I have my hand beneath my pillow before I've fully registered that it's him.
"Come here," he commands, and I hear an endearment swallowed. He used to call me 'son' when I was a kid, but I stopped that. I'm not his 'son.' Only Dad can call me that. Only Dad.
"What?" I whisper back, belligerently.
"Just, come here."
"Sam's sleeping," I say.
"Exactly," Jim replies.
I stare at him a moment and he stares back. I can't read his eyes. It is one of those things that unnerves me about Pastor Jim. He has dark brown eyes, like Dad's, but they aren't sheltered. I see no judgment, no pride, no expectation in them. Just peace.
I don't know what to do with peace.
Sighing, I rise and shove the tangle of flannel sheets behind me, moving on silent feet past the foot of Sam's bed. He's snoring slightly, his thick hair stuck to his forehead in sweaty strings left over from the fight against the dark.
"We won't be far," Jim says to me. "You'll hear if he needs you."
Nodding, I follow him from the room, down the short, dark hall, and to the front door. The screen is open and the cement stoop is almost white from the light of the full moon. Jim leads the way outside, sitting down next to what looks like a tackle box, his legs hanging over the edge of the stoop, toes touching the ground.
"Sit," he says.
I stay standing, watching him. It's just after midnight, and the air is chilled. The moon allows for enough light that I can see the whole area around Jim's house. I shiver slightly as the night wind stirs the treetops. I'm wearing a pair of Dad's old sweats, cut off just below my knees, the draw string pulled tight, and a black AC/DC T-shirt with a cannon on the front. My feet are bare and the cement is cold and rough against my toes. I shuffle my weight.
"Dean, sit down."
I move to the edge, putting the tackle box between us and sit on the stoop. My feet don't come close to touching the ground. At fourteen, my body has started to betray me in ways I hadn't expected and have little experience dealing with. The most disconcerting aspect being clumsiness. I feel like my legs and arms are too long, and the muscles that my Dad makes Sam and I work each day are wrapped around bones and protected by skin—but nothing else.
I'm skinny and awkward and I do my best to hide it.
"You remember the first time you came here?" Jim is asking.
I pull my attention away from my bony knees, the muscles from my thighs jutting out around the edge.
"I was five," I say.
"I didn't ask how old you were," Jim says, lifting his face up as if asking someone for patience. I feel slightly contrite, knowing I push him.
"Yeah, I remember," I say.
We had gone to stay with Mom's relatives for a bit after the fire, but something happened. I know now that Dad started looking into the demon, but at the time, all I knew was that the adults were yelling and words filtered into the room where I sat in Sam's crib, holding him.
Words like, "take them away from you" and "never see them again."
I was scared the first time Dad put us in the truck, Sam's car seat in the middle between us, and we started driving into the night. I wanted my bed, my room, my Mom. I got Pastor Jim instead. We didn't stay here long, but back then, as now, while we're here, Dad isn't.
And I am always lonely.
"You had bad dreams, too," Jim says.
"You still have bad dreams, Dean?"
I don't answer him.
"You remember what I gave you?"
"Still have it?"
"It's in the Impala," I reply.
Everything is in that car. Everything that matters.
"I want you to make one for Sam."
"Huh?" I look over at him, surprised out of my sullenness.
With the tip of his blunt finger, Jim reaches over and taps the gold face of the Egyptian amulet Sam gave me for Christmas a few years ago. He'd meant it as a gift to Dad, but, disappointed once again that Dad didn't follow through and live up to Sam's almost-impossible expectations, he'd changed his mind and given it to me.
I never cared that I wasn't meant to be its original owner. I never take it off.
"That's a symbol of protection," Jim states matter-of-factly.
"So, your brother gave it to you, right?"
"Right," I hedge, not tracking.
"He wanted you protected, even if he didn't realize what he was doing. He wanted a way to show you that you are necessary in his life. Needed. A way for him to know that no matter what, you'll always come back to him."
I nod stiffly, not sure what I might be walking into if I agree too quickly. I'm staring at him. At his casual clothes and rebellious hair. He may dress like a hunter, but a stranger would know it isn't his day job. There is just something about the way he…breathes. The way his hands move. As if he has a secret.
Jim takes advantage of my attention. "Listen to me, Dean," he says, his voice like Dad's. Gravel-rough but somehow mellow. Comforting and chilling at the same time. "You are just his brother."
I pull my head back. "I know that."
"You are not his father, not his savior."
I frown. He has said something like this to me before. When we came here after the shtriga. He tried to convince me that Sam almost getting killed wasn't my fault. I didn't believe him then, either.
"What's your point?" I snap.
"One day, Sam's going to be able to take care of himself."
I shrug. "Okay…"
"You're going to have to let go when that happens. You're going to have to…not come back."
"He's just a kid," I shake my head, dismissing the notion of not being around Sam with a quick wave of my hand.
Adults can be so dramatic sometimes. One day and now are worlds apart. So Sammy is going to take care of himself one day, that's not now. Why do I have to think about letting him go now when he still needs me?
"I just want you to realize that it's okay."
"That what's okay?"
"To let him go."
I sigh. "Listen," I shift on the cement, resting a hand on my thigh. I never call him 'Pastor Jim' to his face. It feels too separate, too removed from what he was to me. I just make sure he's aware that I'm talking to him. "I know you care about us, okay? I'm real grateful for that. I knew this is where Sam needed to be after we saw… well, after. I just… I don't need you telling me this stuff, okay? Sam's mine. We're okay."
Pastor Jim blinks at me. I settle my mouth in a straight line, amazed that I surprised him. He just seems to… know everything.
"You wanted to come here?" he asks.
"What did you see, Dean?"
I look away. The image of that…thing…reaching for Sam, only pulling away when Dad hit it with the blood-tipped arrow…I swallow.
"Doesn’t matter," I say.
"Maybe it does," Jim offers.
"It doesn't," I assert. "I just knew that if Dad was going to… to leave again," I find it strange that my mouth is suddenly dry, "Sam needed to be where he could… y'know, get over the dreams. Like I did."
"Yes," I answer quickly. "I'm fine."
"It's okay to need someone once in awhile, Dean."
I roll my eyes. "God," I mutter. "Why are you always giving me permission to be weak?"
Jim blinks again. I almost smirk, but catch myself. I've caught him by surprise twice in one conversation. This is a new record for me.
"Telling me things that I did wrong aren't my fault, or that it's okay to need someone… you're like… Obi-Wan to Dad's Darth Vader."
"Forget it. You've probably never seen Star Wars."
"Actually, I've seen it several times," he says, surprising me this time. "I'm just wondering why you compare your father to Darth Vader."
I close my mouth with a click. I hadn't meant it that way, but when he says it, I realize that part of me thinks it's true. We sit in silence for a few moments, Jim not bringing up my slip, me not venturing further into what that might mean.
I feel Jim letting his words sink into me, and I resist them. I know my job. I've known it since I was six years old. Watch out for Sammy. Dad fights the monsters. We fight the monsters. I watch out for Sammy. I just wish…
"What do you wish, Dean?" Jim asks softly.
I jerk slightly, not realizing I'd said that out loud. "Nothing."
"No, it's okay," Jim encourages. "You can tell me."
"I wish…" I whisper, afraid to speak the words out loud, afraid of their implication. "I wish that Dad saw me when he looked at me."
Jim lifts a hand as if he means to rest it on me, but changes his mind. I'm relieved. I don't want his comfort at the moment.
"He sees you, Dean."
"Yeah, sure. Okay."
"Your Dad loves you more than you'll ever know," Jim says softly. "More than anything."
I nod, finding it difficult to swallow. I want to talk about something else. I want to open that tackle box. I want to go to bed. I want…
"How about we work on Sam's dreams a bit?"
I nod, curious what we could do here in the moonlight at midnight to help my brother sleep. A ritual? A spell?
Jim opens the tackle box and pulls out a slim, green stick, still damp from cutting, strips of leather, fishing line, and three green beads.
I lift my eyebrow. "Dude… arts and crafts?"
Jim chuckles slightly. "Protection. You said you remembered your dream catcher—the one that's in the Impala," he reminds me.
"I made that for you," Jim says.
He made a dream catcher for me, to help me with the bad dreams. Thinking back, the only time I can remember not having nightmares is when I am in the Impala.
"Yeah, okay," I nod, eager to have something to do that's not diving head first into my psyche. "Let's get started."
With Jim quietly directing the motion of my hands, I bend the green twig into a circle, slowly wrapping the loop in the soft, pale leather. As I work, I think about my brother. I think about my father. I stop just short of Mom. Our family is what it is. And keeping this family together will keep the nightmares away.
I find myself murmuring this promise as I twist the fishing line into the intricate net that will catch Sam's nightmares.
Part 3B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/17302.html