Title: The Cave
Rating: PG-13 – for many bad words and some gore
Characters: Dean, Sam, Castiel (cameo) -- GEN
The rain fell hard and fast, wind swirling around the cavern like a wild thing caught in a trap. It saturated Dean's clothes, chilling his skin, stinging the open cuts on his face, and apparently washing him free of the amnesic properties of the Olitiau's saliva. Sam sat shivering next to his outstretched legs and Dean knew he should be doing something, saying something, but he couldn't find anything that fit beyond…remember.
Family don't end with blood, boy.
Sam reached out a trembling hand, gathering up Dean's left one in his chilled grip as though simply needing the contact, but Dean was swimming, lost inside himself. Instead of the orange and brown walls of the cave, he was seeing Bobby, his face determined as he stood stalwartly next to Castiel in the middle of Stull Cemetery and fired the Colt, trying desperately to save Dean from Lucifer's attack.
They say you can't protect your loved ones forever…but I say screw that, what else is family for?
He was seeing Jo, her young eyes determined as her life bled out of her from the Hellhound wounds. He was seeing Ellen, unwilling to leave her daughter's side as she told him to kick it in the ass.
"Dean, you with me?" Sam's voice barely permeated the haze around him, memories sinking into him with the rain water.
His wrist ached, his body shivering enough that it jostled the broken bones. His felt the hand that Sam gripped twitching, remembering the weight of a sawed-off shotgun, the lead that seemed to travel up his arms as he watched the first creature die by his hands.
Then it was a knife. And a throat. And fire. And water. And screams and blood and death and—
"Keep seeing it…," Dean whispered, rainwater splashing from his lips.
"All of it." He shuddered. "'s like a movie…."
His hands, a glint off a blade, a man burning from the inside, streams of black smoke shooting from a gaping mouth.
"C'mere, man," Sam muttered and Dean allowed himself to be shifted as Sam pulled him close against him, his brother's big hand resting on top of Dean's head, his back against Sam's chest.
"It doesn't feel real," Dean whispered. "It…it can't all be real."
Sam nodded and he felt his brother's chin rub against the top of his head.
He knew Sam was scared, hurt, tired, but he couldn't focus on anything but the overwhelming surge of images crashing into him like waves. Sam on his knees in Cold Oak, blood soaking his back. Sam in a panic room, eyes red-rimmed and desperate. Sam channeling the power to banish demons, slamming his fists against Dean's face, staring at him with soulless eyes, staring at him with tear stains on his face.
Sam angry and devastated, laughing and relieved, tear-stained and broken.
"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered, feeling a stab of pain in his side as though his ribcage was shrinking away from his skin.
Rain fell, the cave frothed up a river thick with dirt, wind whipped down into the cavern, pulling at both of them, and Dean lay helpless in his brothers arms, blind to everything except his past.
You're gonna die, Dean. And this is what you're gonna become.
Battles fought on Earth bent and twisted into memories of the Hell, then folded into Purgatory. Blinking away those images only brought up others, dancing before his eyes like a macabre scrapbook of his failures and accomplishments. Of his sin and salvation.
I've got a hell of a lot more running through me than just demon juice.
He felt the power of an angel's sight, staring down Zachariah as he shoved the blade through the angel's chin. He felt the healing relief of Castiel's touch as his friend repaired the wounds the world pressed into his skin. He felt the rush of release as his eyes turned black and he moved through the world like the edge of destruction.
You don't know what I've done…I might have it coming.
"Easy, Dean," Sam was saying.
Dean could feel his brother's words rumble from his chest, feel Sam's hand press against the bleeding hole on his side. He gasped at the pain, but it was detached, removed, as though it were happening to someone else.
Someone not consumed by a lifetime of memories downloading in minutes.
"Breathe, okay? It's a crazy rush, I know," Sam's voice was a constant hum in his ear, a reminder that he wasn't alone, "but it'll be over soon. Just breathe through it."
Sam had already lived this, Dean remembered suddenly. Had been forced to recall the insanity of their lives alone, Dean staring at him like a stranger. He wanted to twist around and acknowledge that, apologize even, but he couldn't because he was seeing Chuck and Adam and Anna. He was seeing Kevin stubbornly working to translate the Enochian writing on the angel tablets. He was seeing Charlie's grin and grit and her broken body sprawled in a motel bathtub.
Read the Bible. Angels are warriors of the Lord. I'm a soldier.
He was seeing Castiel's calm eyes and the shadow of his wings against impossible lightning. He was seeing the spirit of his mother stopping a ghost from strangling Sam. He was seeing his father's tearful smile as he leaned across a hospital bed. He was seeing gravestones…so many gravestones.
"It's okay," Sam was saying, his arms pulling Dean close and it was only then Dean realized he was visibly shaking, his body unable to process the rapid download of his life. "It's okay, Dean."
"There's…it's so much," Dean tried, thinking of his father.
Of miles and miles of road and waking up in strange motel rooms and walking the halls of unfamiliar schools. Of friends who taught him the right way to sharpen a knife and how to make a silver bullet.
Of reading directions on cartons of food to learn how to cook and getting drunk before he was legal to drive just so he could block out the bad dreams. Knowing how to rebuild the engine of the Impala and yet failing geometry.
"How is this our life?" He heard the hitched sob catch his words and trap them close.
He tried to do what Sam said and breathe, but there was suddenly a small man with an angel blade crouching over him and the sharp, clean pain of dying. And waking to a world viewed through the eyes of a demon. Sam injecting him. Fire chasing itself beneath his skin.
"…hang in there, Dean," Sam whispered. "It's all real, okay? It's all real and it's all us. Just…hang in there."
"Proud of us," Dean choked out, tears burning his eyes and searing his broken body.
"What?" He felt Sam pull back, leaning slightly away. "What did you say?"
The rain began to taper. He felt the rush of water within the cave slow as he blinked rain from his lashes and tried to shift so he could see Sam.
"I mean it."
"You said that before," Sam reminded him and he saw then that the red in Sam's eyes wasn't from rainwater and that tears cut tracks through the dirt and blood on his brother's cheeks. "You said it before you died."
Dean nodded. "Meant it then, too."
"Okay, but…," Sam pressed his lips close, swallowing roughly and Dean realized he could feel heat shimming up from his brother's body. "No repeat performance, okay?"
Dean nodded. "Okay."
"You remember everything?"
Everything isn't your responsibility.
"Think so. Maybe?" He exhaled shakily as Sam shifted the hand pressing on his wounded side.
"The good stuff, too?"
You can't save everyone, my friend. Though you try.
He was quiet, thinking about Sam's recollection of their time in Philadelphia. Thinking of time spent as brothers that didn't involve hunting, killing, death. Thinking of those they managed to save.
The heel of Sam's hand pressed down as his brother tried to slow the flow of blood and Dean arched his back slightly in reaction, unable to stifle the automatic groan of pain. He felt cold, achingly cold. It slid beneath his skin and settled inside and caused him to tremble.
"We gotta get outta here, Sammy," he said instead of answering his brother. "We can't stay here—"
Sam shifted from behind him, helping him slump back against the wall. Dean saw that his right hand was wet with blood and he tried not to think about what that meant for him.
"Put your left hand here," Sam ordered, guiding Dean's hand to his side, then pressing his palm against the wound. "Just…just hold your hand here, okay?"
Dean nodded weakly, feeling the break in his skin with numb fingers, the worrisome warmth of blood on his cave- and rain-chilled skin. Moving to their sodden pack, Sam began rifling through their pile of supplies while Dean simply lay still and breathed.
"You're sick, aren't you?" Dean rasped, calling his brother on the heat he'd felt when lying against him.
Sam shot him a look, practically snarling, "Does it matter?"
Dean started to bite off a reply when Sam dropped his head forward, the coughing fit racking through him.
"It's that cave water," Dean guessed. "And…," he squinted, remembering something just before they'd headed to the cave. "Dammit, Sam."
"It was my choice," Sam uncurled, crawling forward through the puddle of water surrounding them with wet socks he'd pulled from the pack in his hand. "Okay? My choice."
Dean gasped, cursing liberally as Sam used the socks to press against the bloody wound on his side. The pressure turned his ribs inside out and his eyes fluttered closed involuntarily in reaction, a memory sliding over him like silk.
"So, Larkin is going to lead us out to the—what is wrong with you?"
Sam darted a guilty look his way. "Nothing."
"Uh, I've seen nothing and it looked completely different. That looks like aspirin."
Sam tossed the white pills into his mouth and took a pull from the water bottle in his hand before slinging the straps of the duffel bag over his shoulder.
"Just have a headache. It's nothing."
Dean narrowed his eyes as he shoved an extra clip of marked bullets into his jacket. "Cas just healed us, dude."
"That was weeks ago. It's not like it's magic, Dean."
"It's actually exactly like that." Dean grabbed his FBI badge, quickly checking the one that Sam flashed at him to make sure he'd selected the right one. Wouldn't do for Larkin to suspect they weren't who they said they were half-way to the cave. "Is that why you didn't want to go into the cave? 'Cause you're sick?"
"I'm not sick," Sam protested with a huff and a roll of his eyes. "I'm fine. It's nothing. Let it go."
But Dean had his teeth in it now and wasn't ready to give in quite yet. He followed his brother from the hotel room to the Impala, sliding behind the wheel and waiting until Sam slammed his door shut before continuing.
"You weren't a fan of this hunt from the jump," Dean pointed out, starting the engine. "Were you sick back at the bunker?"
"Oh my God."
"I thought you sounded funny when we were interviewing Larkin the other day."
Sam twisted sideways in his seat as Dean backed away from the hotel, one hand out for emphasis. "Look. I didn't want to go on the hunt because the idea of a giant cave bat just sounded stupid."
"Uh, if by stupid you mean awesome, then I'm totally with you."
"And I sounded funny when we were interviewing Larkin because the crazy dude he was booking at the time smelled like…bologna."
Dean wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, he was pretty ripe."
They drove for a few seconds in silence. Then, "So you're not sick."
"Dean, I swear to God—"
"Because if you need to sit this one out—"
"I'm not sitting it out. I have a headache. And if my pain in the ass brother would shut the hell up, it'll go away."
Dean couldn't suppress his grin. The drive to the rendezvous point with Larkin—way the hell out in the middle of Nowhere, Appalachia—was silent save the static-filled music from the radio. Dean parked in front of the sign that read Vespertilio Caverns, 4.5 miles and sighed. Sam didn't give him a chance to make a comment, though. When they got out of the car and Sam once more shouldered the duffel, Dean stole a quick look at his brother, trying to assess if he actually should be worried. Sam could still play him every once in a while.
His brother's Fed-worthy smile when Larkin climbed out of his pick-up truck convinced Dean that Sam was right: it was nothing.
"Ready to track this bastard?" Dean called over the roof of the Impala.
Larkin looked at both of them with narrowed eyes, then nodded, his expression grim and suspicious. "Just hope you're right about it being some kind of creature killing people 'round here and I'm not leaving a crazed serial killer running loose in my town while we're wandering around the Vespertilios."
"Larkin, you gotta trust us," Dean said, leveling steady eyes on the man.
"Son," Larkin replied, "I don't trust my priest. I sure as shit ain't gonna trust some pretty-boy FBI Agent who says some creature is eating people in my town just 'cause he says so."
Before Dean could shoot back the retort simmering at the back of his throat, Sam broke in.
"Sherriff, do you know what Vespertilio means?" He pointed to the sign at the start of their apparent path.
Larkin shook his head, his lips thinning.
Sam lifted his chin, the solid confidence of his reply Dean's reassurance that all was well.
"It's Latin for bat."
Continued here: Chapter 5: Don't Fear the Reaper, Part 2