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:Life teaches us daily lessons, doesn't it? My current lesson seems to be on how much one person can handle before cracking. But I'm still here! Take that, Life. Thanks to everyone for reading and sticking with me. You have no idea how much your comments brighten my day, no matter when they come through. And thanks, too, for your sweet comments concerning last chapter's author's note.
*Covers heart with hand.*
One man's quiet is another man's din.
He had been shaking.
Dean, who was always smooth, always in control, always with the confident outward appearance masking any fear or uncertainty, had been shaking. The cuts mended by Mike had been artfully covered by bandages, but the wounds breached the edges of the white, and the heat of his skin made it difficult to touch.
And Sam had left him.
Left him lying, eyes closed against reality, ears deaf to danger, body wounded and bleeding. Left him with a stranger.
I had to.
Sam sat on the small couch in George and Wren's hotel room, elbows braced on knees, punishing his right fingers with the grip of his left hand. I had to, he repeated to himself. Dean was convinced that the ala was back. That Wren was a killer. That the job that Sam had practically forced them into wasn't as simple as they'd first thought.
Birds. Dead birds. Dozens of them. All over that room. Wren's room… And the ala… with the true form of a bird… what the hell are we dealing with here?
"She'll be out in a minute," George said, suddenly appearing in the narrow doorway that separated the small living room area from one of the two bedroom suites. "Just needed to, uh, freshen up a bit."
Sam nodded, straightening up. He rubbed his sweaty palm on the top of his thigh, holding his bandaged hand close to his waist.
Mike is a professional. Dean's gonna be okay. Pissed… but okay. Mike'll look after him better than I could… Sam's internal justification did nothing to ease the cinch around his heart or quiet the rolling of his stomach.
"Bit late to come calling," George commented, his wiry gray eyebrows lowering over his watery blue eyes, judgment spilling silently around his words.
"I know," Sam said, swallowing a smile at the sweetness of such an old-fashioned, and out-of-place, term. He glanced down at the tightly-woven red and beige carpet,
"But, I really need to talk with her."
"You don't have a gun on you, do you?" George gruffed, his lips quirking just enough to show Sam he was kidding.
"Yeah, uh, I'm sorry about that," Sam offered George an apologetic look. "I wish I could explain that better. Dean's just… not himself."
It was odd to think of his brother as…less. Broken. Not whole. But that was the direction Sam's thoughts strayed. To a place he didn't want to linger. A place that left him living this life—hunting, fighting, surviving—without Dean in front of him. Without Dean's eyes watching for the demons outside and inside of him.
George rubbed a hand across his lips. "Seems almost familiar in a way."
"How so?" Sam frowned.
George shook his head slowly, memory creeping into his eyes, drawing shadows on his face. "Camy, she… she wasn't acting like herself that day. Was anxious and… nervous. Kept telling me she wanted me alone to talk, but… I thought she was just… y'know, worried about Wren being at the picnic. In public…"
Sam, the ala is back… Dean's words had been so certain. So sure. But Sam wasn't sure. He had no memory of an ala before the cemetery a few days ago. He had only Dean's word that their father had fought one years before—that it's true form was that of a bird, and that Wren, of all people, could be involved.
"George, how did Wren come to live with you and Camilla?" Sam asked, watching the old man's face intently.
"She was at the state home," George said, going over old information. "Didn't really fit in there, they said."
George shrugged, his eyes clouded, confused, as if the details Sam was digging for were hidden too deep. "Um, you know. The… ones in charge."
George shifted, his aged hands trembling as they clenched. Sam felt pity stir in his heart. He was tempted to let George off the hook, quietly sit and wait for Wren, but there was something inside of him pushing for answers. Something not satisfied with seeing the Coopers as victims. Something that sounded an awful lot like his brother's voice.
Someone planted oleander around the house, Sam…
"Don't worry, George," Sam said softly. "I'll just talk to her. Figure some things out."
"You figure out the deal with that poem?" George looked away from Sam, his gaze seeming to penetrate the curtain-covered window.
Sam frowned, tilting his head a bit to the side in confusion. "Poem?"
"The spirits and veils thing," George moved slowly from the doorway and lowered himself into the diminutive armchair across from Sam. "It's a poem."
"I, uh… didn't realize," Sam quietly chided himself. It hadn't even occurred to him to look up the words he and Dean had heard. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his fingers roughly across his forehead. "You know which poem?" He asked, hearing the rough tang in his voice that betrayed his weariness.
"Not sure, actually," George said. "I remember the writer was something… Crutch? Cran?"
"Cranch," came Wren's soft voice from the doorway. "Christopher Pearce Cranch."
Sam stood as she slid around the edge of the doorway, her fingers playing along the wall to feel her way forward.
"It was… a favorite of… someone I was close to," Wren continued, her voice catching.
Sam blinked. "I, uh… I thought George said you didn't—"
"She said it came to her when we got back from the house," George interrupted. "That business with your brother and his damned gun… scared it out of her, I guess."
Wren simply nodded, seeming to take them both in with a sigh, her empty, luminous eyes burning an odd light in the dimly lit room.
"Thanks for talking with me so late," Sam said, watching her glide forward, her movements so quiet it was as if she were more ethereal than human.
Wren lifted a shoulder. "I'm happy to do it. Is your brother okay?"
Sam glanced at George, then back to Wren. "He's… been better."
"You two don't stay out long," George huffed, pushing himself to his feet. "I'm too old to be watching the clock."
Wren put out a hand, waiting for George to catch it. "Thank you, George," she said softly, tipping her cheek for an expected kiss. George complied, nodding at Sam, then retreated to his room, the door closing behind him with a decisive click.
They were alone. But Sam felt George listening. Something about his proximity made Sam feel off balance, protective… jealous.
"Want to, uh… take a walk or something?"
Wren smiled, looking in the area of his throat, her vacant eyes following the sound of his voice. "I'd love to."
She reached out a hand, and Sam instinctively took it, feeling the intoxicating softness of her skin, the warmth of her fingers trailing across his palm, up the inside of his wrist, resting on the curve of his forearm, flexing over the muscle there.
For one insane moment he wanted nothing more than to seek out more of her skin, bury himself in the warmth of her flesh, listen to the catch in her voice as she said his name.
Sam shivered, physically shaking himself free of the freakish hold of desire.
"You okay?" Wren asked. "You felt… like you went somewhere else for a minute there."
God, don't guess, don't guess…
"I'm okay," he said, trying to concentrate, feeling a vague fog seeping through the corners of his focus. "Just, uh, worried about Dean."
Wren's mouth formed a perfect bow of sadness as she frowned, nodding slightly. "He seems to be in a lot of pain," she sighed. "And I don't mean just from the explosion."
Sam led her to the door, escorting her through with a hand on the small of her back, then letting her take his arm once more as he closed the door behind them. They walked quietly out of the hotel, letting the silence say more than unfilled words. Sam's thoughts tripped over reason, Dean's desperate voice hammering against his ears. She's not right…
"Where do you want to go?" Wren asked when the night settled around them.
"Doesn't matter," Sam said looking around the nearly-empty parking lot, eyes catching on signs at the entrance to the hotel. "Slaughter Beach isn't far."
Wren smiled slightly. "What a terrible name for such a beautiful place."
Sam moved forward, the light from the half-moon illuminating the sidewalk that stretched from the hotel parking lot, along the slip of road, to the rock-strewn path that led to the beach.
"I remember," Wren said, her voice sad. "I remember the sea."
Sam swallowed. "You, uh… think you'll ever see again?"
Wren shifted against him, her fingers tightening. Sam felt his skin quake, pulling away and reaching out at the same time. He hadn't felt this aroused since… Jessica. He glanced down at Wren's porcelain skin glowing in the moonlight, her eyes half-mast, her mouth bowed in memory.
He was hungry for her. And he had no idea what to do with that. Or where it came from.
"I don't know, Sam," she was saying. He tried to track back to what he'd asked her. "I don't know that I want to see this world again. Not after…"
Sam cleared his throat, guiding her from the sidewalk to the rock-strewn path, letting his hand linger on the base of her spine. He could smell the ocean: salt, fish, wet sand.
"Do you remember the accident?"
"I remember… a different life. I remember feeling whole." She shuddered slightly. "And then… I remember pain and screams."
"But not what happened?"
"I dream about it. I see it then. Clearly." She swallowed convulsively. "I see bodies. I see blood… so… so much blood. It… they hurt, the memories."
Sam nodded in sympathy, the pain of his visions very real even days after they'd passed.
"It's almost as though I can see too much when I dream. But…then…" She lifted a shoulder. "Then I find peace in darkness."
Sam heard the steady breathing of the ocean as the tide climbed the earth, reaching keen fingers further inland, looking to conquer. Instinctively, he lifted Wren at the waist, enjoying the feel of her small hands gripping his wrists, and set her up on one of the larger boulders.
Looking to his left, he saw stringy tendrils of pumpkin-colored seaweed shimmy as the salty water teased it with the illusion of motion. It wrapped around the base of the grayish boulders, clouding the water. Beyond that, he could only see the silver path of the moonlight on the black water and the lacy edges of the waves as the water curled back in on itself.
"It has no memory, you know," Wren said softly, sliding her hands up Sam's arms to rest on his shoulders. Her face was turned from his, in the direction of the water.
"The sea," she said, her voice drawing him in, making him want to rest his forehead on her chest, nuzzle close to her throat and breathe her in. "It simply is. It breathes, taking what it wants to, seducing, captivating, capturing, but the moment the conquest is over… it forgets."
"Yeah?" Sam asked lazily, reaching up to twist one of her short wisps of black hair around his index finger. The motion reminded him of something… Something he was supposed to be doing…
Somewhere he was supposed to be…
He tried to grab the memory, but words seemed to fall from his mind the moment they surfaced. Almost as if he could watch them vanish. Words like brother, hunt, ghost… words like solve, pain, fight, protect… words like blood and fever.
He sighed into the night, letting the peace and coolness of the salty ocean air settle into his skin, letting everything that had wound him so tight simply drift away with the forgotten words. Letting the amnesia of the ocean sift through him as comforting as Wren's touch.
Wren moved her right hand from his shoulder to his neck, her palm soft and warm. Sam stepped closer to the boulder, her height now even with his. She turned back to him and he registered that there was something about her eyes… something unusual about the way she was looking at him.
"Sam," she whispered, her lips parting ever-so-slightly as his name tumbled free. "I never wanted to hurt anyone."
"I know," he replied, his eyes on her mouth. Watching it move, absorbing the sound that seemed to blend with the breath of the ocean.
"I so hate to be alone."
Her sorrow ate at him, made him want to wrap around her, protect her, own her. Keep her with him so neither of them would ever be alone.
"Me, too," he confessed, his voice catching on something that tasted like truth.
"Are you alone, Sam?"
More words surfaced, bold and black in his mind. Like projected light on a movie screen, they tried to burn into him, draw him back from the peace her darkness offered. Family… brother… Dean…Dean… Dean…
He leaned close, her breath soft on his face. His eyes fluttered closed; the night pressed close, as if there were hands at his back, encouraging him closer to her. Her hands slipped up his neck to cup his jaw, her thumbs skipping along the time-rough stubble on his cheeks.
What had she asked him? Was he alone? Wasn't everybody?
He felt the silky caress of her lips as they glided across his. Odd, unsettling flashes, like a strobe light in his brain, hit the backs of his eyes. Smiling blue eyes, long blonde hair, innocence shattered by hidden truth. Sharp green eyes asking nothing, giving all… waiting, knowing.
She swallowed his protest as her fingers threaded through the thick tangle of hair at the back of his head, pulling his mouth onto hers, crushing his lips close. He sucked air in through his nose, slipping his hands around her, feeling her legs close around his waist. Her tongue stroked the back of his teeth, the roof of his mouth, erasing his resisting and leaving pieces of him behind.
He wasn't sure when he'd picked up this habit, but now, movement was the only method he had to combat the fog his taxed system worked to wrap around him. The only way to channel the scream that rolled from his belly through his heart into something productive and not simply primal.
He'd taken Sam to a zoo once, when he was eight and impossible to entertain in the confines of a motel room. Slipped in with the maintenance crew to avoid the entry fee. Kept his little brother occupied for several hours wandering around. Sam had been captivated by everything, but Dean had been haunted by one sight. The Siberian tiger pacing behind the bars that were secured in place to both protect the world from it, and it from the world.
The muscles under that sleek colored coat had rippled as the large animal watched them through sullen yellow eyes, its black lips pulled up in the slightest hint of a snarl, as if showing its disdain for those with the audacity to think they could hold it captive forever. Dean had been rooted to the spot, oblivious to Sam's tugs on his clothes or insistence that they see something else. He'd stared at that pacing animal, felt his stomach tighten with recognition and his heart recoil with denial.
He'd seen his future in that cage and to this day could only emulate it, no matter how badly he wanted to resist. The heat in his shoulder and at the back of his neck was nothing compared to the heat in his heart, climbing his throat to rest with wiggling satisfaction behind his eyes. He'd been wrong about something.
About something vitally important.
The ala had nothing to do with this. It was a mistaken memory, an imprint of a vanquished foe, the only connection his fractured mind had been able to make between the void of before and the reality of now.
Talons, wings, feathers, the sharp yellow eye of pitiless death. It hadn't been the ala as he'd told Sam. As he'd been so sure…
"A fuckin' siren," Dean spat out on stride six as he continued his soon-to-be worn path across the hotel room. He turned when he reached count eight and headed on increasingly unsteady legs back toward the laptop.
The screen saver had not yet taken over and waiting for him was the last bit of information he'd pulled up about the enemy they were apparently facing. Sirens were not the thing of myth and history as he'd thought. They were as real as vampires. As real as spirits. As real as he was. They were immortal, endless, drawn back through time to the era of pagan gods.
They wanted nothing more than companionship at the price of a human soul. They knew only need, and were nearly impossible to satiate. They didn't bow to convention, or hold to any truths save desire; if they decided that they wanted someone, they manipulated their environment to win.
The siren's song destroys will, defeats reason, and crushes hearts. Those who hear the true voice of the siren will cry tears of blood before their life is stolen. And the only way to defeat the siren was to return them to the sea.
"How the hell are we gonna do that?"
The words on the monitor mocked him, swimming, letters mixing and blending as the room tunneled in front of him, sweat breaking out on his upper lip, the back of his neck, his forehead.
"No!" He barked into the empty room. "No, I can do this… I can do this."
He gripped the back of the chair placed before the laptop until his knuckles turned white. Sam was with a siren. He was not going to pass out now. Not when his brother needed him. His shoulder burned and he felt his stomach cave as he gave in to the quick release of a moan. He was so fucking tired of his body betraying him.
The motion of the door opening into the room, shifting the line of salt he'd taken for granted, caught his eye and Dean straightened. Too suddenly. He was on his knees before he registered the change in elevation, his vision graying out, heat wrapping around him with a chaser of cold chills.
Dean blinked, his lashes fluttering against his cheeks as he worked to banish the haze overtaking his vision. Mike's face surfaced through the fog, his lips moving, dark eyes worried as his sure hands seemed to move over Dean like a wraith. He instantly registered the tangy scent of Mike's warm skin.
"Ge'off me, man," Dean slurred, pushing Mike's hand from his face with a clumsy swipe. "What the hell?"
It took him a moment to register that he was flat on his back, on the floor, that the collar of his T-shirt had been torn, and that Mike was doing something with the wounds on his shoulder. Mike spoke again, lines folding around his mouth and sketching darts between his brows.
Dean blinked. It didn't take him long to realize that Mike was asking him a question.
"I'm fine," Dean spat out. "Quit messin'."
Mike shook his head once, trying to keep Dean on the floor.
"I said I was fine," Dean roughly pushed Mike away, rolling carefully to his side, swiping out blindly again when he felt the weight and warmth of Mike's hand on his side. "Get. Back."
Mike frowned, his brows meeting and shadowing his eyes, drawing lines through his face that gave him an air of danger. Still working to at least get to his knees, hating the helpless feeling of being down while an almost-stranger loomed over him, Dean glared back.
"Dude, don't even try," he said, feeling the weakness in his voice as the air crept through his throat. "In the poker game of attitude, I will win every time."
Mike rocked back on his heels, a muscle jumping in jaw, his hand still resting on Dean's arm. Dean pushed harder against the hand extended in help and resulting in restraint. He felt the sigh that slipped between Mike's lips as the older man backed away, leaving Dean to his own devices as he tried to get to his feet.
Fisting his fingers in the bed covers, Dean gritted his teeth, using the bed as leverage to pull himself to his knees, ignoring the feel of Mike's eyes, the tremble in his own limbs, the sweat on his brow, and focusing instead on the new sound thundering through him as he moved.
He could hear his heart beating.
It's about freakin' time…
Lips parted, Dean drew in breath in a quaking, shuddering gasp, hearing it echo slightly at the back of his mouth before tumbling down his airway to fill his lungs. His head felt hollow, his body gutted, but he could hear his heart. He could hear his breath.
I can do this… he coached himself as he pressed his hands on the edge of the bed, rising slowly to his feet. I will do this.
Swallowing, moving carefully, afraid to shake the sound of life away, he turned to face the glowering Mike, belatedly realizing that another figure hovered in the doorway, arms wrapped around her body. Dean tracked the form of the jean-clad legs, to the darkly painted nails adorning trembling, tanned hands, past breasts that were shaped for touching, to a throat that flashed as she breathed.
"Sadie," he acknowledged, his eyes lingering a moment on her lips before meeting her, large, worried eyes. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He could smell the sweet, cinnamon scent that seemed to tiptoe from her and drift through the stale hotel room air to tease his mouth dry. She darted her tongue out in what he now recognized as a nervous gesture and wetted her bottom lip. Her mouth trembled up in a hesitant smile, and he saw her eyes dart to Mike for reassurance.
Dean felt his lip curl. The last time he'd seen her, he'd been kissing her. He imagined in a town where everyone knew everything about everybody, she simply wanted an update. He looked at Mike, too, aware that he owed the man a debt of gratitude, and hating both that he was compelled to thank him and that he still needed him.
"Where's Sam?" Dean asked, wondering what it was in his voice that caused Mike's lips to tighten.
Mike looked back toward Sadie, and Dean rested his leg against the end of the bed, pulling the destroyed cotton of his T-shirt closer together when he felt Sadie's eyes drop from Mike's face to his chest. He saw her eyes catch on his scars, the history of his life, and had the urge to hide the evidence of his fight.
Sadie blinked, her lips moving, her eyes softening as she skipped them from his exposed chest to his face. Mike was still turned from him and Dean watched Sadie look at him, shaking her head forcefully, negating something he was saying. It was like watching an argument through binoculars. He could see the battle of wills, but was living in a muted world. Watching them talk, Sam nowhere around to help bridge the gap of understanding, was a suffocating feeling. He started to sympathize with Camilla Cooper rolling over in her grave, wanting to turn away from the hope of escape when the reality was, there was no way out.
Mike turned back to Dean, his face a dark cloud of frustration. Hands waving at his sides in an attempt to convey whatever he was saying, Mike stepped forward. Dean felt his muscles tighten as he resisted the urge to back away.
"HEY!" Dean pushed out, hoping it was as loud as it felt. "Just… just stop, okay? I don't know what you're trying to tell me, but… it doesn't matter."
Sadie stepped forward, hand reaching out, lips pursed in a shushing motion. Mike turned to her, catching her arm, stopping her from approaching Dean. Growling with a dismissive wave of his hand, Dean turned his back to the duo, shrugging carefully out of his tattered T-shirt and grabbing a gray Henley from his duffel.
He hissed slightly as he pulled the shirt over his head, crinkling the stitched cuts at the top of his shoulder. He had no memory of the person who'd hit him, no memory of being hit. He remembered only Sadie's lips, blinding pain, then Sam.
He didn't know how long his brother had been with Wren, if he'd come to the same conclusion Dean had, if he were safe… Dean shook his head, adjusting the edge of the shirt over his waistband. He'd know if something had happened to Sam. He'd know.
Sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed, his back to the rest of the room, Dean leaned over and pulled on his boots, slipping the small throwing knife he was never without into the homemade sheath on the inside of his left boot. He straightened slowly, hating the rough slosh of fluid in his ears as he lifted his head, but relishing the harsh slam of his heart against the back of his eyes. It hurt, but he heard it.
A gentle hand skimmed across his lower back, causing him to flinch, stand, and turn. Sadie stood behind him, her expression open, waiting.
"I have to find my brother," he said to her. "He's in trouble."
Dean looked up at Mike. "You can believe what you want," he said, noting the exasperation in Mike's expression. "But it's the truth."
He turned the monitor of the laptop toward Mike, watching the man's dark eyes skim across the information about the siren, his expression growing more concerned as he read. When he'd reached the bottom of the screen, Mike looked up, slowly shaking his head in disbelief.
"He's in trouble, man," Dean repeated, feeling the world swim as he found himself uttering words he hadn't said in a long time. Not since Kathleen and the Benders. Not since he'd been brought back from the brink of death for the sole purpose of saving his brother. "Help me. Help me save my brother."
Mike ran a hand over his face, looking at Sadie. She shifted her eyes from Dean, to Mike, clearly not following the significance of the conversation. Mike spoke to her and Dean ached to understand, to follow, to have some way of connecting to them aside from the smell of their skin.
Sadie nodded in agreement to whatever Mike asked her, then stepped in front of Dean.
Take care of you, he saw as she placed her hands on either side of his battered face, drawing his attention to her full mouth. With that, she pushed up on her toes, brushed her soft, warm lips across his, slid her face on a pillow of breath to the base of his neck and kissed the edge of the bandage there.
Drawing back she said, I'm so sorry.
Then she turned from him, nodded to Mike, and stepped from the room. For a brief moment, Dean was sorry to see her go. As quickly as that thought struck, another took its place.
"You know where he is?" Dean asked, grabbing the room key from the table and following Mike from the room.
Mike shook his head and pointed to the door down the hall. Dean nodded, ignoring the heat, the pull of the cuts on his shoulder, the burn of his skin. He swallowed hard, combating the pressure building steadily behind his eyes with the force of his own will.
I will do this.
Mike knocked on the door, head hanging low, face sad. Dean watched him for reaction from the room within, feeling pity stir as the knowledge that the innocent his friends had been harboring was nothing short of a demon. That she was probably responsible for the death of George's wife, Mike's friend, the reason their lives had been turned sideways.
Mike frowned and knocked again. Sighing, Dean stepped back, fully prepared to kick the door in. As he did so, however, a thought struck him. As Mike pounded a third time on the door, Dean looked at the key in his hand, running his calloused thumb over the number printed on the plastic scabbard. Glancing up at the door he huffed out a slightly bemused laugh.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered.
Mike looked at him, and Dean placed his fingers at the top of Mike's shoulder, easing him back.
"Allow me," he said smoothly, sliding the teeth of the brass key into the lock, and feeling the satisfying click as the lock opened.
Stepping into the room, Dean was almost overwhelmed with the various scents of the people who had existed within. The peppermint smell of joint rub warred with the burnt aroma of old coffee and underneath it all rolled a quiet scent of flowers. Lilies, he thought. Or… something close to it.
"Where is everyone?" Dean wondered aloud, moving carefully through the room, eyes scanning, absorbing, cataloging.
He felt Mike brush past him, moving into the rooms. Following, Dean glanced around what was obviously George's room, noting, with a pang of sadness he'd never cop to, a picture of a young, smiling Camilla in a gilded frame on the stand next to George's bed. Turning, he crossed the narrow hall and stepped into the adjacent bedroom.
He swayed in reaction to the almost non-existent feel of the girl who was supposed to be living here. Not a trace of scent, no scattered make-up, no sign of clothes tossed on the bed. Dean had been around enough women in his lifetime to know that even the most meticulous of them left traces of their existence behind.
Moving toward the bed, his eyes caught on something glinting in the faint light. Bending down carefully, Dean picked up a small silver locket from where it had snagged on the hem of the bedspread. Engraved on the round face was the wing of a bird.
Dean felt cold. Snapping the tiny clasp open, he saw that the locket was empty, except for an inscription.
…we are spirits clad in veils…
"What the hell?"
Turning, he sought Mike, intent on showing him what he'd discovered. He saw the older man was standing in the space between the rooms, a cell phone pressed to his ear, his free hand rubbing his face in a distracted, worried fashion. Dean tilted his head, trying to catch the motion of the man's lips, but unable to do so.
He stepped toward him, catching Mike's eye and watching as he flipped the phone shut and motioned toward the living room. Dean followed, aware of the pressure behind his eyes increasing, the tattoo of his heartbeat loud in his hollow ears.
Mike searched the room quickly, coming around with a small pad of paper and a stub of a pencil that looked like something left over from a golf course. He began scrawling a message as Dean impatiently wiped away the sweat gathering on his upper lip. Colors seemed to intensify, sharpening to an unrealistic quality, looking almost psychedelic as they swirled and morphed around Mike's bent head.
Turning the pad around, Mike held it up, his eyes scanning Dean's swaying form carefully. Dean ignored him, reading the note.
George gone. Found Sam. At beach with Wren. Coming back. Stay here.
"Wait…" Dean swallowed, blinking wide to help refocus his eyes. "Where are you going?"
He rubbed at his pounding head as Mike scribbled something else.
Get you more meds.
"I'm fine," Dean insisted. "Sam's coming here? How do you know? Were you just talking to him?"
When Mike nodded, Dean felt his heart turn to ice. He'd known envy before—envy of John's affection with Sam. Envy of another way of life echoing in the smiles of someone he thought he could care about, if given the chance. Envy of peace. But this affirmation that someone else—someone capable—had found his brother hit him like a punch to the gut and chilled him from the inside out.
Do the job, man. Focus on the job. There is nothing else.
"He's, uh… with… with Wren?" Dean reached back and rubbed carefully at his neck. God he hurt. He was so ready to just be done with this hunt. To just go home, sit behind the wheel of the Impala and feel the rumble of his baby slide through him.
Mike nodded again, then reached out and pushed Dean back onto the couch. Dean dropped heavily, unable to force his legs to hold him upright. He blinked again, willing the earth to slow, willing Mike to stop breaking into two figures, willing the fucking heat in his head to just back the hell off already.
Crouching in front of Dean, Mike rested his forearms on his knees, his hands hanging loose between his legs. Dean watched the rodeo healer watching him and waited. He wanted to fight him, pushing back, resist the care he saw evident on the man's dark face, but he couldn't. His brother needed Mike right now. Not someone who couldn't even stay on his feet. Not someone who couldn't hear danger coming past the sound of his own heartbeat.
Taking Dean's wrist between his stocky fingers, Mike pressed the pad of his index finger against Dean's pulse. With a quick check of his watch, Mike shook his head slowly, then lifted his hand towards Dean's face.
Dean smacked him away. "Stop, man. Seriously. I'm fine."
Mike pushed to his feet and Dean caught the familiar words of stubborn ass on the man's lips before he turned away and grabbed the pad of paper again.
Mike held up the pad of paper and tapped his fingers at the words stay here.
"Just until… until Sam gets here…" Dean whispered, dropping his head back, and reluctantly retreating to the corner of safety inside where the beat of his heart kept him company.
The road, 1994
"Get some sleep, Son."
"Not really tired," I say, looking over my shoulder to Sam sprawled across the back seat, his legs bent at a crazy angle to fit comfortably. Pretty soon he's not going to be able to fit there anymore.
"You're half asleep now," Dad comments and I hear amusement in his voice.
Instead of complying, I look at his profile. "How close did you get this time?"
I don't know what it is that he is hunting. But it's something. Something scary. Something he won't let us help him with. And I know that thing is why he left us. Again. Dad darts a glance my way, his fingers tightening on the wheel until I imagine he leaves imprints on the metal. I have often thought of fitting my fingers in the grooves he left behind, wondering if my hands will fit his.
Looking back at the road, Dad said on a growl, "Close enough to smell the sulfur."
"You think we'll ever get it?"
"I know we will."
It's quiet in the car once more, the radio humming static as we drive through a dead zone. I think of so many things I want to ask him. I think of so many things to say. I can't bring my mouth to release one of them. It's as if there is a giant canyon inside of me with truth at the bottom and Dad on the other side, and I want to cross to him, bringing honesty with me, but it's just so far down…
I begin to sweat. There is a knot in my neck that I ache to rub out, but refuse to give myself away. Dad will see. Dad will know.
"I know what you saw… that day."
The sweat trickles down the sides of my face. I stay silent, waiting.
"I know you saw it."
"I'm not the only one," I whisper.
"It was just a spirit, Dean. Just like any other."
No, it wasn't. It had wings under water. It had talons. It was reaching for Sam.
"You can't be afraid of these things, Dean," Dad says, sighing like he's reluctant to tell me something I should already know. "You have to be strong."
"You know we're better than these things. You know they can't get us."
I don't know that. I don't know why he's telling me this, either. I hear Pastor Jim's words in my head, telling me that it's okay to need someone. It's okay to ask for help. I look over at Dad and see strength battle weariness in the lines on his face. I see him dart his eyes to me quickly, checking to make sure I am getting his point. His point that we can't ever be weak. That we can't ever let them see our fear.
But fear is all around me. Fear for Sam, fear for Dad. Fear that one step left when we should have stepped right will bleed us out. They can get us. And the fact that Dad won't admit that… scares the hell out of me.
"I know, Sir."
"Good. Remind Sammy. When you give him the dream catcher."
"You know about that?" I ask, surprised.
Dad grins softly, and for a moment I see the man that used to tuck me in at night, ruffling my tangled hair and calling me his boy.
"Of course I know," he says. "I'm your Dad. I know everything."
Not everything, I want to say. You don't know what it's like to be me.
"I'll tell him," I promise, glancing once more back at Sam. I'll tell him that the ala was dead, that Dad saved us just like he always would. The bad things couldn't get Dad, and we wouldn't let them get us. That as long as I was around, nothing bad was going to happen to him. I would make him believe it.
Because, with Sam, I had purpose. I had a reason to keep the bad things away.
Dad turns up the radio as the music filters back in and I lean on the cool glass of the window, looking out into the night, suddenly missing the feel of the soft flannel sheets and the comfort of a place I called home for a short time.
He heard the soft tone of bells chiming through his hazy senses as Wren's mouth captured his again and again with heat and need and the dizzy sensations of release. It took him a moment, but the rhythm of the bells was suddenly familiar enough to break him from her.
Wren whimpered as Sam drew back, panting, his lips vibrating from her touch.
His cell… it was the ringtone from his cell phone.
"Sam? Mike. Where are you?"
"At, uh…" Sam looked around, feeling as though he were waking from a dream. The rush of the ocean hit him with a grounding burst of reality. "I'm at the… the beach."
"What the hell are you doing there?"
"I'm…" Sam looked back at the slim figure of the dark-haired girl perched on the boulder, her lips puffy and red from his kiss, her eyes staring bleakly toward the sound of the water. "I'm with Wren."
"You need to get her somewhere safe and get back here.”
"What?" Sam was suddenly focused. The strain in Mike's voice was more than obvious. His gut clenched. "What's wrong? Is Dean okay?"
"He's been better. Look, he is convinced that Wren's some kind of… mythical creature and that you're in trouble. He's hurt enough right now that he's not going anywhere fast, but you know him better than me…"
"Shit," Sam turned his back on Wren, feeling suddenly free. He pulled in a deep breath, rubbing his forehead in thought. "Okay, I'll bring Wren back. Stay with Dean."
"He needs more pain meds and antibiotics. His shoulder is inflamed."
"I won't be long." Sam dropped his hand and barked into the phone. "You stay with him."
"Listen, kid, you guys know what you know, and I know what I know. You guys do your ghost hunters thing, I'm gonna make sure your brother doesn't keel over on me."
But the line had gone dead.
"Dammit." Sam turned back to Wren. Dean thought Wren was a mythical creature? He'd said he thought the ala was back… The true form of the ala was a bird… Sam shook his head. Dean was wrong. He simply was.
Wren might not be telling the whole truth, but Sam refused to believe that she was a Serbian storm demon in disguise. She was too… human… for that.
"We have to go back," Sam said, taking Wren's arm gently and pulling her attention back to him from the ocean.
"Back?" She asked, her voice dipping with reluctance. "But… I don't want to leave…"
"I can't let you stay here alone," Sam said. "And my brother needs help."
"I remember the sea," Wren said softly. "There's no screaming in the sea…"
Sam frowned. Her face had a wistful, longing expression. Sadness like sandpaper wore down the edges of her luminous eyes and Sam felt it seep into him.
"Listen, I'm sorry," he rubbed gently at her arm, raising goose bumps on her skin with his touch. "I am, but… my brother… he needs me."
"You're not alone," she said, her mouth hardening. "You said you knew—"
"I said I hated to be alone," he corrected her. Dean would never leave me… not like I've left him. I never have to be alone.
"I'll be fine," she said, her voice matching her mouth. "Just go."
"Wren, I'm not—"
"I said go!"
"I got her," came a soft, time-worn voice from behind Sam.
He turned quickly to see George emerge from the halo of the streetlight, lumbering up to them, his eyes on Wren.
"I'm here, honey," he said to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and allowing her to lean close. "You can go now, Sam."
"George? How did you—"
"Wasn't gonna let her out of my sight too long," George pressed his lips tight, stamping out expression. "Lost too many things in my life because I wasn't watching."
Sam took a breath, feeling lost, feeling as though he'd failed something he didn't even know he'd been tested on. Backing away, he felt the lure of her peace decreasing with each step.
He turned from the pair, hearing Wren's melodic voice bemoan, "I thought he knew."
"It's okay, honey," George comforted her. "I know. You're not alone anymore."
"Don't leave me, George."
"I won't, baby girl."
Sam broke into a run, needing to get back to his normal. Needing to get back to Dean. Needing a solution to this hunt gone wrong, this odd twist of reality. He was so wrapped up in his tangled thoughts that the truck was almost upon him before both skidded to a halt.
Sam reached out a trembling hand and rested it on the Ford emblem inches away from his body.
"Are you crazy, man? I almost hit you!"
Mike slammed out of his truck, stalking around the front and shoved his finger into Sam's chest.
"What do you think you're doing out here in the middle of the—"
"I was trying to get back to Dean!" Sam yelled, smacking Mike's finger away. "George has Wren, and I was trying to get back—"
"Wait, George? George is out here?"
"Back at the beach," Sam said, indicating over his shoulder.
Mike rubbed his close-cropped hair and huffed out an exasperated sigh. "You know I wasn't even supposed to be working that night?" He muttered, staring at the ground. "I picked up a shift for a friend so she could go to her kid's recital. And ever since I met you and your brother, my life has been… ghosts and graves and dead birds and sirens."
"Wait, what?" Sam grabbed Mike's sleeve.
Mike turned from Sam, heading back into the truck. "C'mon, I'll give you a ride."
Sam swung into the truck, slamming the door behind him. "What's this about sirens?"
Mike started the big diesel engine, turning down the radio. "Your brother showed me some stuff he had on his computer about sirens."
"Holy shit," Sam breathed, the realization that Dean had stumbled across the true root of their supernatural problem staggering him.
"Yeah! I mean, seriously… ghost… maybe, but this is like, something out of… Homer."
"Exactly," Sam breathed. "Exactly… oh, shit!"
"What?" Mike turned toward the pharmacy.
"Her voice, man. She… she seduces with her voice… she… she kills with it."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Mike shut off the engine, staring at Sam, incredulous.
"It's Wren," Sam looked at Mike, mouth dry, skin pulling close in horror. "Dean knew… he knew that she wasn't right and I didn't pay attention to him. I didn't believe him." He pounded a fist on the dash of the truck. "Dammit!"
"Hey!" Mike protested. "Ease up on the truck, dude!"
"We gotta get back to him," Sam reached for the keys.
"Just… hey! Just hang the fuck on!" Mike yelled at Sam, grabbing the keys back. "Greek myth or no Greek myth, your brother's not gonna be good to anyone without these meds. You asked for my help, so just sit on your hands for a minute while I give it to you!"
Sam clicked his mouth shut, watching helplessly as Mike exited the truck and loped into the pharmacy.
Hang on, Dean…
He traced the lines of his gun from memory.
He wasn't quite asleep, wasn't quite awake. Drifting in the gray world of fevered reality, Dean sought something he knew, one thing that didn't need him to hear it to work, to respond, to obey, to protect. His weapon. He mentally stroked its barrel, running the pads of his fingers down the grip and rubbing the etching with his thumb.
When he felt the soft touch of lips, his first thought was that Sadie had returned. He could still taste her kiss goodbye. Her lips were the last things that had touched him before fire exploded behind his eyes. Her skin had been soft, warm, inviting. He'd wanted more of it, wanted to touch, to savor.
He responded by leaning into the caress, letting the tongue slide into his pliant mouth and pulling the wet warmth close, letting the touch stir feelings of conquest and need. He instinctively reached forward, wanting the touch of skin, wanting the escape, wanting the ecstasy.
Breathing in, he froze. He couldn't smell cinnamon. He couldn't smell anything.
His eyes flew open, and he tried to draw back, but hands held him fast, pressing him against the couch. Soft fingers skimmed his jaw, and Dean growled low in his throat, trying to pull his lips away from those touching him, resisting the kiss.
Too close to focus, Wren's suddenly clear blue eyes met his in a blurred reality and her lips spread in a feral smile of achievement. She spoke, but was too close for him to even attempt to read her lips.
"You can't kill me, you freak," Dean spat, jerking against the restraining hands. He suddenly realized that he wasn't alone in the room with Wren. There were too many hands on him. Too many grips keeping him in place. "You won't win."
Wren blinked slowly, her eyes almost drowsy with desire. With a sudden rush of motion, she straightened and Dean's head was pulled roughly back by the hair. He groaned as the cuts on his neck protested and reached up to claw at the hands restraining him. Wren spread her arms, the expression on her face victorious.
"Don't… don't know what you're so fuckin' happy about…" Dean managed. "You can't sing to a deaf man."
Wren dropped her gaze and Dean watched her smile in triumph. Before his horrified eyes, her fingers spread, nails curling and hardening into talons, hands softening and blurring until feathers coated her from fingertips to shoulders, body rippling and shaking until before him stood the bird-woman of myth. The transformation was even more frightening as he thrashed against silent agony.
Dean had a moment of clarity blast through him like the pain that resulted from hearing everything at once. This is what he'd seen in the house the moment before the explosion. This was the evil that they had been combating. This was the reason Camilla was dead, the reason he was in pain, the reason Sam wasn't with him.
"You won't win," Dean breathed out in a harsh gasp.
And darkness brought a companion to the silence.
Strangely, the door had been open.
"Okay, where the hell did they go?" Sam blasted as he stomped through the empty motel room where Mike claimed he'd left Dean. "George was going to bring Wren back… you said Dean was here!"
Sam whirled to face Mike.
"Where is he?" Sam bellowed.
Mike lifted his hands helplessly. "I don't know! I left him right there—on the couch."
"Well, he's not there now!" Sam began to circle the room, searching, eyes darting. C'mon, man… give me something… "I'm going to check our room."
"He didn't have a key," Mike said.
"What do you mean, he didn't—"
"The key he grabbed… it was the extra one for this room."
"Dammit," Sam snapped and slammed out of the room.
"Sam, wait!" Mike called after him.
"WHAT?!" Sam yelled. His patience was paper thin and his anger flushed hot in his cheeks. He imagined that if his skin were to be cut, his anger would bleed out like acid and burn him alive. "He's out there, somewhere, man, and I—"
"Would you just shut up a minute!" Mike yelled back, unwilling to back down. "Look."
"What?" Sam grabbed the silver filigree from Mike's grip. It was a locket. "What…"
"Just look," Mike insisted.
Sam opened the clasp of the locket.
…we are spirits clad in veils…
"Wait… wait… I know something…"
"Well, that's a relief. I was getting worried," Mike said dryly.
Ignoring him, Sam flipped the chain around his hand, turned and headed to the room he shared with Dean. Unlocking the door, he stalked inside, directly for his laptop. His breath caught at the picture floating across on the screen saver. Dean and John, shotguns raised to shoulders, both grinning like idiots, aiming at something off camera. Sam remembered that day. Remembered the moment.
He tapped the touchpad and removed the memory, ignoring the information about sirens Dean had left for him. He didn't need it now. He knew his brother was right. His brother knew people. He could read them. A skill Sam had yet to perfect.
I should have trusted you… Sam cursed himself as his fingers flew over the keypad.
"Oh, my God," he whispered.
"What? Would you stop with the cryptic exclamations already!" Mike circled behind Sam, peering at the monitor. "I don't get it."
"Enosis," Sam whispered. "She said it was a poem. By this dude Cranch. She's been trying to tell us… all this time…"
"Who has? Tell us what?"
"George said it was Camilla, but… I think… I think Wren has been trying to tell us…"
Mike's nostrils flared as he drew in a sharp breath, finger joints popping as he curled his hands into fists. "I went to medical school. I know how to take you apart. Slowly and painfully. Do not push me, man."
Sam tossed the locket on the table, turning to his duffel. "Wren has been trying to tell us that she's a siren."
Sam dug through the bag, searching for something, anything, that he could use as a weapon against a mythical monster. "A siren," he repeated. "Created by Demeter to find and protect Persephone. C'mon, man. You went to college."
"Demeter? Wren's last name?"
Sam rolled his eyes, smacking his palm on his forehead. "Oh, my God!" He turned and pointed the barrel of Dean's sawed-off shotgun at the monitor. "Look. Look at the poem."
Mike tore his eyes from the business end of the shotgun and read aloud, "…We are spirits clad in veils: man by man was never seen. All our deep communing fails to remove the shadowy screen…"
"She lost someone… maybe her parents, maybe her mate, who knows. And when she did, she forgot what she was."
"You got that from this poem?" Mike raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
Sam tossed the shotgun to Mike and reached back into the bag for another. "From the poem, from some stuff she was saying… it just makes sense."
"No… no it doesn't," Mike shook his head, surprising Sam by expertly checking the weapon in his hand for shells. "What was Camilla trying to tell George before the picnic? Why was her body rolled over? Why was George hearing their song?"
Sam sighed. "I don't know man, okay? I just… I don't think Wren is completely evil is all."
Mike shook his head. "You got a thing for her."
"I do not."
"Yeah, you do," Mike nodded, his face serene in his confidence. "You don't want her to be bad, so, you're gonna figure out a way to make it so she isn't."
"Shut up," Sam snapped, clenching his jaw. "That's not true." He stormed past Mike.
"Sure looks true from where I'm standing," Mike retorted, following him out of the room. "Where you off to, all loaded for bear?"
"Cooper's house," Sam replied.
"'Cause Dean's there."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause he's not here. And the Impala is. And he's determined to figure this out with or without my help. And that's where it all started. And if you don't stop asking me questions I'm gonna knock you out and tie you up in the back of your own damned truck, I swear to GOD!"
Sam's voice rose in volume as they walked ending with him facing Mike in the darkened parking lot, leaning forward with the effort to get his point across.
"All right then," Mike nodded, his calm a direct opposition to Sam's ferocity. "Your car or mine?"
Sam opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked at the Impala, a tightness building in his chest at the thought of being in there with Mike… and not Dean.
"Yours. We may need the truck bed."
Mike climbed up, waiting until Sam had closed his own door before starting up the engine.
"Hey, Mike?" Sam asked suddenly, the flurry of unanswered questions beating against his mind like frightened birds.
"You know anything about oleander?"
Mike looked at him, brows pulled together in question as he exited the hotel parking lot. "Why would you ask me that?"
"It's planted around the Cooper's house. Dean saw it."
Mike seemed to pale in the sporadic light of the highway.
"What is it?" Sam pressed.
"I didn't… I never put it together until now, but…"
"Camilla asked me about it once… she'd read some book she said and wanted to know if it was really poisonous."
"Camilla planted it?"
"I don't know!" Mike snapped. "Thing is… oleander sap, it… it can cause—"
"Heart attacks, yeah, I know," Sam said softly.
"What have you guys got me into?" Mike muttered, pressing the accelerator to the floor.
Sam let his head snap back, hitting the rear window with a soft thump.
wwwPart 5B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/19061.html