Disclaimer: I don't own them. More's the pity.
Spoilers: Set immediately after All Hell Breaks Loose 2, though with the way Season 3 began, it doesn't stray enough to be considered AU. At least, I don't think so...
a/n: This story was originally written in June 2007 for the fanzine "Rooftop Confessions," printed by GriffinSong Press. It was only recently released for posting. I've not changed anything; if you purchased the zine and read the story, I thank you very sincerely. If not, I truly hope you enjoy.
And I don't know where to look
My words just break and melt
Please just save me from this darkness ...
-- Make This go on Forever, Snow Patrol
"We've got work to do."
Dean punctuated his statement with a decisive slam of the Impala's trunk. Bobby watched Sam look at his brother, a smirk curving his boyish face into an expression of tolerant disbelief. Dean's echoing grin made Bobby hopeful and inexplicably sad at the same time. Not twelve hours ago, Dean had willingly handed his life over to a demon, but seeing him stand next to Sam – a very much alive Sam – Bobby was hard pressed to find any form of regret in Dean's hazel eyes.
In fact, all Bobby could see on Dean's face was fatigue and relief. Witnessing the horrific emptiness that had hollowed out his young friend in that abandoned house after Sam's death had left an after-image on Bobby's heart. He never wanted to see that kind of emptiness in Dean's eyes again.
"You okay?" Sam's voice pulled Bobby back to the present.
"Fine." Dean waved a dismissive hand at Sam.
Bobby suddenly realized that Dean was swaying. Ellen stepped forward, away from Bobby's side, her hard-as-nails, cast-iron bitch persona faltering in the face of need.
Dean seemed to notice her approach and used his other hand to brace himself against the Impala. "Let's get out of here."
"I'm driving," Sam said, his flat tone leaving no room for argument.
"I said I'm fine, Sam."
"And I said I'm driving," Sam argued.
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Bobby muttered. "Get your asses in the car. I'm driving."
Both boys turned to him; their identical expressions of surprised confusion would have been comical if they weren't so obviously exhausted.
"You?" Sam asked.
"Dean, I saw you about Ninja-split that tombstone with your forehead, boy. No arguments. Get in the car."
Dean opened his mouth to protest again, but Ellen stopped him by climbing into the front of the car. She closed the door, crossed her arms over her chest, dropping her head back onto the seat.
"Dude, I'm not riding in the backseat of my own car."
Sam sighed. "Get in the car, Dean."
He gently pushed Dean toward the rear passenger door. Dean stumbled, glared at Sam, but acquiesced. Bobby didn't miss the wince that crawled across his face. Dean Winchester could talk a good game, but he was as human as the rest of them.
Sam shut the door after Dean, glanced at Bobby, then headed around to the other side. Bobby nodded once, looking back over his shoulder at the quiet battlefield. Two bodies lay sprawled as a reminder of the price. Two evils had been destroyed. And countless more had been released.
Work to do ain't the half of it, son, Bobby thought dismally. He got behind the wheel, held his hand out for one of the Winchesters to give him the keys, then headed East, back to his place in South Dakota.
The interior of the car was silent. Bobby was mildly surprised when Dean didn't pipe up after ten or so miles and demand music. He glanced in the rearview mirror. Sam was looking out the side window, a serious, pensive scowl bisecting his brow. Bobby shifted his eyes to Dean, who was slumped sideways in the seat, bloody forehead resting against the window, eyes closed.
"He's asleep," came Sam's soft reply.
Bobby shifted his eyes to the road quickly, then back to Sam. "Don't let him sleep too long, Sam."
"I got it, Bobby," Sam said, meeting Bobby's eyes in the mirror.
"Where are you heading?" Ellen asked suddenly, her smoky voice soft and tired.
Ellen nodded. "Gotta head back to the Roadhouse tomorrow."
"Nothing left of the Roadhouse," Bobby said gruffly.
"We gotta bury…" Ellen paused, swallowing before going on. "And hunters will be showing up, Bobby. Hunters who don't know."
"You hear from Jo?"
Bobby caught the quick movement of Sam's head in the rearview mirror at his question.
"No." Ellen shook her head. "She hasn't written in awhile. Think she's in Minnesota somewhere." She shifted stiffly. "Thank God she wasn't there…"
"She's in Duluth," Sam said.
Ellen turned slightly in the seat. "How do you know that?"
Sam blinked at her. "I, uh… we met up with her."
"Awhile back." Sam swallowed. He met Bobby's eyes in the mirror. "She didn't tell you?"
Ellen shook her head, shifting around to face front again, then turning her head to look out the side window. "She okay?"
Bobby watched Sam pale and look away. "Yeah," he said roughly. "She's fine."
They lapsed into silence once more, the Impala eating up the road. Bobby had to appreciate the sleek handling of the machine; Dean certainly kept her in top shape. He'd watched the boy rebuild her from the ground up. Sam's assertion that they wouldn't give up on the Impala if there was even one working part had saved his brother's life in ways Bobby thought neither Winchester realized.
Ellen sighed and reached for the radio after another hour of driving. Bobby didn't blame her; there was too much weight in the silence of the car. The darkness of Wyoming seemed to swallow them. Ellen continued to slowly turn the dial, looking for a station that wasn't a political rant or the fuzzy sound of rain on a tin roof.
Dean's startled cry made Bobby jump and he looked back at the boys. Ellen twisted slightly in the seat. Sam reached over and laid his hand on Dean's shoulder as his brother worked his way back to full consciousness.
"Right here, man," Sam said, his voice low and even.
"You sure?" Dean blinked, confused, looking around.
Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure. Take it easy."
Dean's eyes rested on the back of Bobby's head, then shifted up to meet his look in the mirror.
"Where are we?" he asked, now fully awake.
Bobby cleared his throat. "'Bout two hours from my place. Just crossed over the border."
Dean looked over at Sam. "You okay?"
Sam nodded, not removing his hand from Dean's shoulder. "How's your head?"
Dean's mouth pulled into a tired grin. "It's still on."
Bobby shook his head, closing his eyes briefly. He hadn't wanted Dean to sleep too long in case he had a concussion, but he could see how weary the boy was by the set of his jaw, the shift of his shoulders. He needed rest. Not just sleep. Rest. But now… it didn't look like any of them were going to get that.
Conversation was kept to a minimum mostly consisting of Dean wearing Ellen down until she put in a Led Zeppelin tape for the remainder of the drive. With Nobody's Fault But Mine humming in the background, Bobby navigated the narrow dirt roads leading to his house.
The early morning sky was gun metal gray, clouds heavy and low. Bobby could feel the approach of a storm. He flashed his eyes to the quiet back seat. Dean was awake, head resting back, eyes out the side window. Sam was asleep, body shifted slightly sideways, head tilted on Dean's shoulder.
Bobby pulled the Impala to a stop when they reached the house, the sudden absence of the familiar rumble waking Sam. The weary party exited the vehicle. Bobby caught the grateful pat Dean brushed across her hood as he made his way into Bobby's house.
"Ellen gets the spare room, you boys have the sofa," Bobby said in a gravely voice. "We'll head to the Roadhouse tomorrow."
Dean's head shot up. "Roadhouse?"
Ellen nodded, leaning on a cluttered bookshelf. "You were asleep. We're heading back. Check for hunters."
Dean looked at Sam, then Bobby. "We, uh…"
"Don't worry, Dean," Sam said. "We'll be quick. Low key. They won't even know we're there."
"Who?" Ellen pulled her eyebrows together.
Dean and Sam shared a look. Bobby watched an entire conversation take place in those fifteen seconds. Clearing his throat, he grabbed Ellen's attention.
"The boys gotta lay low," he explained. "Might be there's some hunters looking for them."
"Yeah, but," Ellen pulled away from the bookshelf, "you and Dean went there before. That's how you knew…"
"That's different." Bobby looked at Sam, then dropped his eyes.
"Ellen, I, uh—" Sam tried.
"Why isn't really important right now," Dean broke in. "We'll head back with you, bury the bodies, then we'll be on our way."
Ellen raised an eyebrow at Dean's tone.
Bobby looked at Sam, watching as the boy dropped his eyes, a muscle in his cheek jumping. Bobby knew Sam wanted to tell Ellen what had happened when he was possessed, but he said nothing.
Dean turned to the sofa to remove the cushions and pull out the bed. As he bent over, he suddenly shoved one hand out to balance himself, the other hand going to his forehead as his face collapsed in a grimace of pain.
"Dean?" Bobby stepped forward. "Another vision?"
"What?" Sam's eyes darted from Dean to Bobby and back.
"No," Dean's gruff, strained voice asserted. "Just… just dizzy is all. Got any aspirin, Bobby?"
Bobby nodded. "Help him with the bed, Sam."
"Dean, you had a vision?" Sam asked, not moving.
Dean sighed, shrugging out of his leather jacket. Ellen stepped from the room, heading toward the kitchen.
"I guess," Dean said, tossing a cushion to the ground.
"That's how we found you, Sam," Bobby informed him.
"It worked," Sam breathed, grabbing the other cushion from the couch. "Andy sent it to you."
"Well, I do not envy you, man." Dean shook his head. "Damn near split my head in half."
Sam backed up as he pulled the sofa bed from the couch. His lips curved into a rueful smile. "Yeah. Kinda hoping since the yellow-eyed demon is gone… y'know, that they're gone, too."
Dean dropped heavily onto the bed, looking up at Bobby. "Aspirin?"
"Right." Bobby turned from him and nearly ran down Ellen. She was returning with a bag of ice, clean rags, bandages, and a bottle of ibuprofen.
"I got this," she said to Bobby. "You get some rest."
Bobby leaned against the wall for a moment, watching as Sam sat slumped on the bed, close enough to his brother that their shoulders touched. Dean closed his eyes, allowing Ellen to clean and bandage the cut on his head. She wiped the blood away gently, her mouth hardening when Dean flinched.
Bobby could see from where he stood that the cut needed stitches, but Ellen simply applied several butterfly bandages. When she was finished, she handed him the bag of ice, four pills, and a glass of water.
"You boys did good tonight," she said softly. "Your Daddy would have been—no, he was proud of you."
Dean looked at her, holding the ice against his forehead. "You saw him?"
Ellen's smile was a sad echo of memories. "Yeah. Yeah, I saw him."
"He saved us," Dean said.
"No, Dean." Ellen shook her head. "You did." Her gaze widened to take in Sam. "You both did."
She lifted her hand as if to touch Dean's face, paused, dropping it again. With a slight smile, she turned and walked from the room.
"You still here?" Dean asked Bobby, blinking tired, bleary eyes up at him.
"I'm going," Bobby answered, watching as Sam stretched out on the bed, hands resting on his chest. He frowned. Dean followed his gaze and looked at Sam. Bobby watched the subtle shudder course under Dean's skin.
"Shove over, man," Dean groused good-naturedly, forcing Sam to roll onto his side and no longer mirror the position he'd held in death.
Dean toed off his boots, then lay on his side next to Sam.
As Bobby watched, Sam relaxed into Dean so that their backs touched. At the contact, the line of pain that bisected Dean's brow softened, smoothed, and within moments, Bobby could tell he was asleep. He nodded once. Maybe they'd ride this out. Maybe they'd find their rhythm. But Sam had died and Dean was going to die.
Bobby felt the fear rolling from the boys all the way back to his bedroom.
The rain began with a low roll of thunder soon after they filled the Impala with fuel, Dean behind the wheel. The day was evening-dark and the rain a staccato beat on the metal roof. Dean kept the wipers going at a constant speed, bouncing his fingers in time to Kansas' Angels Have Fallen.
He felt good. Better than good. He felt… unreal. He could see each raindrop as it fell and splashed onto the Impala's window. He counted each swish of the wiper blades like a beat of his heart. A beat of Sam's heart. Sam was alive, that yellow-eyed bastard was dead.
Dean was happy.
"Oh, God," Ellen breathed from the back seat next to Sam as Dean pulled to a stop in front of the charcoal husk that had once been her home. "It was still burning when I left, I…"
She trailed off, staring bleakly at the ruins of the Roadhouse.
"There are… bodies in there?" Sam asked softly.
Dean nodded. Gonna be a bitch to bury in this rain…
"Think we need to, I don't know, call someone? Tell someone?" Sam asked, his voice sounding impossibly young.
"These guys spend their lives avoiding detection," Ellen sighed. "I don't even know who all…"
"Just seems wrong to…"
"We can't just leave them in there, Sam," Dean pointed out.
"I know," Sam looked at him, "I know… it just…" He didn't continue.
Dean watched him in the rearview mirror for a moment.
Ellen spoke up. "I'm gonna have to deal with next of kin… insurance… police…" She rubbed her face. "Not looking forward to that."
"Well, it doesn't look like this rain's gonna let up any," Bobby grumbled, looking out the front window at the rain. "Let's get this over with."
Dean stepped out of the car, the rain instantly soaking through his blue jacket and into the black and tan flannel beneath. He joined Sam at the trunk of the car, grabbing one of their two shovels from his brother.
Sam shoved his wet hair from his forehead and shifted his eyes over. Dean saw something dark hidden in his gaze. He tilted his head in question, but Sam pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded toward the Roadhouse, his answer clear: Later.
They joined Bobby in moving the burned-out beams away from the skeletal remains. Dean didn't let himself think about who they were uncovering, didn't focus on the fact that one of these bodies belonged to the only person he'd thought could help him find Sam, didn't focus on the fact that they had killed the yellow-eyed bastard one day too late to save any of them. He just moved. He blinked water from his eyes, shook it from his ears and hair as the rain increased and he moved. Sam was here, next to him, moving with him. That's all that mattered. Sam was here.
As they worked to clear the debris from the bodies, Ellen walked slowly among them, partially covered by Bobby's big overcoat, collecting whatever identifiable personal effects she could find, and surreptitiously writing down information in a small spiral notebook. Dean tried not to pay attention to her, tried to not pay attention to what she was doing. He tried not to think about the only things identifying him being the gold amulet that never left his neck and the silver ring adorning his right hand.
Ellen suddenly stopped cold, and Dean dropped the charcoal remnants of a support beam, watching her.
"Dean," Sam's strangled voice pulled his head up. "That's… I think that's Ash."
Dean looked down at the body twisted in an unnatural angle at Ellen's feet, recognizing the watch on the corpse's wrist.
Ellen crouched, gently removing the watch from Ash's arm, then stood. Dean looked over at her as she tucked the small notebook inside of Bobby's coat, letting the canvas shield drop away from her. She faced the burned out room, her brown hair quickly plastered against her face, rain traveling in trails of tears down her cheeks, staring at the destroyed bar with shattered eyes.
"You boys!" Bobby yelled over the rain. "Finish up here!"
Dean straightened up, looking at him. Bobby moved toward Ellen, turning her gently from the room and back toward the Impala. He glanced back at Dean and Sam, nodding once.
"C'mon, Sam," Dean said, nodding back at Bobby, motioning for Sam to help him carry the body away from the building to an empty lot. He knew they could dig a grave for Ash there, that he would be at home there.
"You're just gonna…"
"What?" Dean looked at Sam, confused. His head was pounding. "Bury him? Yeah."
"No… no words or anything? We knew this guy, man."
Dean blinked, rubbing at the butterfly bandages on his forehead. "We'll come back, Sam. Put up markers."
"Well, that's decent of us," Sam grumbled.
"What's with you?"
"I don't know." Sam shook his head, his wet hair sticking to his cheeks. He pushed the wayward strands back. "It just feels… wrong. This feels wrong."
Dean straightened. "What does?" Rain water splashed off of his lashes as he blinked up at his brother.
"Everything." Sam spread his arms out. His lips trembled slightly, and he looked up at Dean, eyes laced with uncertainty. "Me…"
"You're not wrong, Sam." Dean stepped closer to him, pitching his voice low, using the tone he'd used so many times before to calm his brother down. "You are you. You didn't come back… wrong."
Sam glared at him. "How do you know?"
"Because I know you," Dean yelled, pointing to Sam's chest. "I know you, Sam. I know you better than anyone."
Sam swallowed, looking away.
Dean grabbed his arm, turning Sam to face him. "Hey!" he shouted over the rain. "HEY! Listen to me!"
Sam rested his eyes on Dean's.
"You're my brother, Sammy. We're all we got. That hasn't changed."
Sam pressed his lips together and nodded.
Dean let go of his arm, then turned back to Ash's body. "Besides," he muttered. "It was part of the deal."
The cock of a shotgun stilled any retort from Sam. Dean straightened abruptly and Sam put his hands in the air.
"Where is she?"
The man holding the shotgun was dressed in leather and denim, his eyes slits of black in a deeply-tanned face, long black hair pulled back in a wet pony tail. He held the shotgun low, water running down his face and dripping from his chin as he stared at Dean and Sam.
"Uh… who?" Dean hedged.
"Ellen Harvelle," the man replied. "The woman who runs this place."
"She's in the car," Sam said, flicking rainwater as he waved his fingers toward the Impala.
"What happened here?"
The demand was barked in a harsh, militant manner – a tone both Dean and Sam were accustomed to hearing. Dean saw his squared-shouldered response mirrored in his brother's posture.
"Who are you?" Dean retorted rather than answer the question.
"Griffin?" Bobby's voice broke through the roar of the rain.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Bobby stumbled through the charred ruins of the Roadhouse toward the man holding the shotgun. Dean and Sam slowly lowered their arms, watching Bobby.
"Needed some help with a hunt." Griffin slowly lowered the shotgun, peering at Bobby through the veil of rain. His right eye narrowed. "What the fuck, Bobby?"
"Demon," Bobby said. "Took 'em all."
Bobby tapped the air with his hands, water flicking from his fingertips. "They're okay. Jo left awhile ago. Ellen's—"
"Right here." Ellen's voice drew Dean and Sam's attention as she stepped through the remains of the doorway and crossed the soggy, charcoal-covered ground to stand in front of Griffin.
The hunter dropped the shotgun. "Everything? Everybody?" Griffin's voice shook, his eyes flicking across the charred remains.
Dean lifted an eyebrow, exchanging a glance with Sam.
"Almost." Ellen flicked strands of wet hair over her shoulder as she looked back across the remains toward the Winchesters. "They're on our side, Griff."
Griffin's dark eyes flicked up from Ellen's slight build to Dean's face. His expression immediately hardened. Dean emptied the emotion from his eyes, staring back at Griffin with equal challenge.
"I don't like 'em," Griffin stated, keeping his eyes on Dean.
"Well, we'll just take our toys and go home then," Dean muttered.
"Dean," Bobby reproached softly.
"Why are you here?" Ellen asked, wiping rainwater from her eyes.
Dean saw that she was starting to shiver. He glanced quickly around. There was no real shelter, save the Impala. They needed to finish this and get out of here.
"Looking for help," Griffin replied, dropping his eyes to Ellen. "I need Ash."
Ellen dropped her head, and Dean stepped forward. "Listen, man," he started.
"Hey," Griffin snapped. "Don't think I was talking to you."
Dean pulled up short, clenching his jaw. "Well, I'm talking to you."
He felt Sam step up behind him, close.
"Some bad shit went down here, man. Ash… Ash is gone. Lots of hunters are gone."
Dean blinked when Griffin's tanned skin blanched at his words. The tall man took a step back.
"Ash is gone?"
"Demons burned the place to the ground," Sam said softly. "Ellen was lucky to get out alive."
Griffin rubbed a scarred hand over his face, flicking water away. He wore a silver ring not unlike Dean's. He looked at Ellen, rubbed his hand over his dark hair and turned away.
"Griff, wait!" Ellen called, reaching out a hand to him. "We can still help you."
Griffin half-turned to her, not meeting her eyes. "No, you can't."
Bobby stepped up behind Ellen. "What did you need Ash for?"
Griffin looked at him. "I have to find a deartháir."
Dean pulled his head back, looking at Sam.
Sam shrugged, folding his lips down in a frown.
"A Celtic spirit?" Bobby asked.
"Why you messin' with them?" Bobby shook his head, rain water running in a steady stream from the bill of his hat. "Bad news, Griff."
Griffin turned around, facing Bobby. "I'm just after one."
"Ah, one, well, there you go, Bobby," Dean said. "He just needs one."
"Dean," Sam warned.
Griffin stepped forward, passed Ellen and Bobby, right up to Dean.
Dean didn't move, just blinked the rain from his face and stared back at Griffin. He was suddenly itching for a fight – to hit something, hard. Pound it senseless, until his hands bled and his lungs burned and he couldn't raise his arms.
Griffin seemed like a good candidate for just that purpose.
"Griff," Bobby called.
Dean heard the man's attempt to diffuse the situation in his low tone. He and Griffin were boot to boot, staring at each other with angry eyes. Dean felt his knuckles crack as he curled his hands into fists.
"Why this one?" Bobby asked.
Without removing his eyes from Dean's, Griffin replied. "It took my brother."
Dean went cold. The emptiness in Griffin's voice spoke more to him than if the man had screamed in pain. Dean shot his eyes to Bobby.
"I'm sorry to hear that—"
"Yeah, well," Griffin turned from Dean and nodded to Bobby, "I didn't come here for your pity. I came for help to find that son of a bitch." He moved away from Dean, heading toward the direction he'd come from.
"Griff, don't go," Ellen said. "We could still help." She reached out for the man's arm. Dean stepped up behind her.
"How?" Griffin turned to face Ellen, advancing on her and causing her to back up until she stopped against Dean's chest. "Ash is the only one that could even find the damn things. Otherwise it was chance. Or bait. And now Beck is gone…"
"Wait, it… it killed him? Your brother?" Dean asked, his hands on Ellen's shoulders, feeling her tremble through her soaked clothes.
Griffin lifted his dark eyes to meet Dean's. "Deartháir don't kill. They destroy. They poison. They ruin. Beck was just a kid… He was my responsibility."
Dean swallowed. "We'll find it."
"Dean," Sam and Bobby urged in unison.
Dean ignored them both.
"Right," Griffin scoffed.
"My brother and me… we can help you find it. Help you kill it."
Griffin gripped his shotgun, leaning close to Dean's wet face, his eyes dark and dangerous. "I don't want to kill it, kid. I want to eliminate it."
Dean lifted a shoulder. "We can help you do that, too."
"Who are you?"
Dean shot his eyes to Bobby. "We're hunters. Been doin' this a long time."
"You better be pretty damn good, talkin' like that." Griffin leaned back.
"We are," Dean said. He shifted his gaze away from Bobby, purposefully ignoring the warning look in the elder man's eyes.
Griffin looked at Dean a moment longer, his black pony tail dripping water behind him. "Fine." He looked over at Bobby. "Be at the Circle T bar in three hours."
Bobby nodded tiredly.
As Griffin walked away, Ellen looked at Dean over her shoulder.
"That was decent of you," she said. "Griffin isn't… exactly… likable."
Dean looked over at Sam. "Well, I meant what I said." He dropped his eyes to Ellen. "We got work to do."
"Dean, you have no idea what you just did," Bobby grumbled. "Do you even know what a deartháir is?"
Dean shrugged. "Celtic spirit. You just said."
Ellen stepped away, shoving her hands in her wet hair.
Dean looked from Bobby to Ellen and back. He opened his hands in question. "What, Bobby?"
"The deartháir take the youngest from the clan," Bobby said, looking at Sam.
Dean tilted his head slightly. Bobby looked back at him. "They take them and poison them. Some legends just say poison them against the family, others say… well, poison them."
"Why the youngest?" Sam asked.
Bobby took his hat off, scratched his forehead, then put his hat back on. He turned away, looking back at the Impala. "Because the youngest is the heart of the family."
Dean shot his eyes to Sam. Not this time… not again.
"I'm going to find Jo," Ellen said suddenly. The three men looked over at her. She was staring at Ash's body. "She's gonna want to hear about this from me. 'Sides, I need her help to sort all this… mess. She's in Duluth you said?"
Dean looked over at his brother. Sam met his eyes, shaking his head. Dean blinked in reply. Sam hadn't told her about what had happened in Duluth.
"She's working at a bar there," Dean said. "You, uh, you need a ride?"
"I got it handled," Ellen said. She looked at Dean, then at Bobby. "Take care of him."
Dean blinked, then realized she was talking about Ash.
"We will," Bobby answered.
Ellen walked out of the ruined building. Dean peered into the gloom. Moments later he saw a large black truck, eerily familiar in its build, drive toward town. He surmised she'd hitched a ride with Griffin.
"Let's finish this," Bobby muttered, water dripping from his beard. He stepped toward Ash's body. He and Dean lifted the slight remains and carried him away from the burned-out building.
They made quick work of digging the grave, and Dean didn't notice that Sam hadn't followed until they were nearly done filling the soggy hole. He looked over his shoulder, eyes searching, heart thudding. Sam stood where he'd left him, staring at the space where the pool table had once been, a bleak expression on his face. Dean left Bobby to finish and slogged back over to Sam.
"What is it?"
"Why did you take that job, Dean?"
The look in Sam's eyes cut into Dean. Putting a grimy hand on his chest in an automatic reaction, as if to hold his heart in place, Dean knew he'd seen that look on Sam's face before. Once. Promise me… you have to do this… you're the only one who can…
"Guy needed help," Dean said. "It's our job."
"No, it isn't." Sam shook his head, rain flicking from the ends of his hair. "Not anymore."
"What are you talking about, Sam?"
"It's over Dean." Sam spread his arms. "I mean, right? Shouldn't it be over? He's dead. You killed him."
"Dad's free. That yellow-eyed son of a bitch is dead. We're… I mean, you're…"
Sam's chest was heaving, and Dean could see his lips tremble.
"Sam, you were there. You saw how many demons got—"
"This isn't a demon, Dean," Sam yelled, shifting so that he was facing Dean squarely. "This is something else entirely. You just… launched into a hunt because…"
"Because it took his brother," Dean said softly.
Sam swallowed. "You can't save everyone, Dean. You've only got one soul."
Dean felt the air leave his body and he blinked rain back at Sam.
Bobby stepped up behind them. "You boys ready to get out of here?"
They didn't move. Sam's lips trembled, his eyes hot pools of tears. Dean's jaw hardened, his gaze unwavering.
Bobby sighed. "I don't know about you, but I'm getting pruney," he continued, eyes darting between Sam and Dean, working to pull their attention from each other.
Without a word, Dean walked away from Sam, leading the way to the car. Climbing inside, Dean winced at the water from their bodies that was soaking the leather of his seats, but said nothing, simply made a mental note to detail the Impala the first chance he got. They had just buried a friend.
Bobby directed him to the Circle T bar. They checked into the motel two blocks down from the bar, taking time to warm up and change into dry clothes. Bobby came down to their room while Sam was showering, his eyes heavy with questions.
Dean resolutely ignored him, flipping repeatedly through the five channels the motel's TV offered. The bandages from his forehead had slipped off from the effects of the rainwater and Dean gently rubbed at the exposed cut.
"He's not like you, Dean," Bobby said suddenly, hands shoved into his jean's pockets, leaning against the door of their room. The shower hummed in the background.
Dean shot his eyes over to Bobby. "I know that."
"I don't think you do."
Dean sat forward on the bed, remote forgotten. "What are you talking about, Bobby?"
"Don't think I don't remember, boy." Bobby's voice dropped. "Jake didn't just kill Sam with that knife." Bobby stepped forward, challenging Dean. "You sold your soul, Dean. Don't think I don't see it dogging you."
"I'm fine, Bobby."
The shower shut off.
Dean tipped his head forward. "And as far as Sam is concerned, I'm gonna stay fine."
"For how long?" Bobby whispered back, his hands out and open.
Dean shifted his eyes to the bathroom door, then back to Bobby. "One year."
Sam stepped out, wrapped in a towel, nodded at Bobby, then went to his bag. Bobby sighed, leaning against the door once more.
"Get a move on, Princess," Dean said, pushing up off the bed. He started to turn toward Sam. "We gotta hunter to—"
His words died in his throat at the sight of the purple scar running down Sam's spine. Physical evidence that it had all been real; it all was real. Sam had died, it had really happened, it hadn't been a dream, it hadn't all gone away. He suddenly couldn't breathe; the thud of his heart was so loud he was sure the people in the next room could hear it. He fisted his hands, fighting to get control of himself, fighting to pull air into his lungs.
At his sudden silence, Sam half turned, looking at him. "Got a hunter to what?"
Dean felt himself losing his fight. His body started to betray him. Dark spots danced at the corners of his eyes and his head swam. He blinked at Sam, feeling the cold sweat gather on his upper lip, the weak tremble in his belly.
"Dean?" Sam turned to face him, his eyes darting, concerned, over Dean's face.
I guess that's what I do… I let down the people that I love…Dean took a step back, air leaking in through his lips. He saw Bobby take a step toward him, his brows pulled together. He had to get out, get out, get out.
Dean turned, grabbing Bobby's shirtfront and shoved him away from the door. Wrenching the door open, he heard Sam call out to him once more, but exited the claustrophobic motel room for the relative safety of the rain.
Only when he was outside, feeling the cold storm beat against his face and his body, could he breathe again. The crash of the rain against the earth echoed the scream that had started in his soul the moment Sam had collapsed in his arms in Cold Oak. The scream that hadn't died when Sam breathed again. The scream that only increased in volume as his time slowly ran out.
"Bobby," Sam said as the motel door slammed shut behind Dean. "What happened to him when I… was gone?"
Bobby was looking out of the motel window, presumably at Dean. He shook his head.
"Just get dressed, Sam."
"Tell me," Sam ground out, his jaw clenched.
Bobby looked down. "It was…bad."
Sam dressed, keeping his eyes on Bobby's back. Waiting.
"Sam, you…" Bobby swallowed, then turned back to face him. "You really need to talk to your brother about this."
"He won't talk to me," Sam groused, pulling his jacket on.
"You haven't really tried," Bobby pointed out. He grabbed the doorknob. "He, uh… it was bad, Sam."
"Bobby," Sam said, stopping the elder man's retreat. Bobby looked over his shoulder at him. "You think I came back… wrong?"
Bobby released the doorknob, rubbing a hand over his mouth, pulling at his beard. He stepped up to Sam, looking up into the younger man's face. He reached out and laid a hand on Sam's shoulder, unconsciously mirroring the position his old friend had taken with Dean the night before.
"Sam," Bobby said, his voice rough. "You are a Winchester. Wrong or right, you are you. You aren't some soulless zombie, or partially evil hybrid. You are whole. Your brother made sure of that."
Sam swallowed, looking down at his hands. "I gotta get him out of this," he whispered.
"Well," Bobby released Sam's shoulder, "if anyone can, it'd be you."
Sam lifted the corner of his mouth in a small, grateful grin. They left the motel room, joining Dean in the Impala. Sam shot a look at his brother in the rearview mirror and relaxed a fraction when Dean's hazel eyes met his reflection. They were calm, not exactly happy, but not shot-through with complete devastation, either. Sam didn't think he'd forget that look anytime soon. They drove in companionable silence to the Circle T. Once there, Dean shut off the car and looked at the entrance to the bar.
"What do you know about this guy, Bobby?" Dean asked.
"Griffin and Beck weren't raised as hunters like you boys," Bobby said, looking over his shoulder to Sam in the back seat. "A vengeful spirit took Griffin's wife 'bout ten years ago. Beck was in high school then I think. They've been at it ever since."
"Think he knew Steve Wandell?" Dean asked, not taking his eyes from the doorway.
"They didn't run in the same circles, if that's what you mean," Bobby said. "Griff and Beck pretty much stayed to themselves."
"Were they close?" Sam asked, watching a couple of people hurry into the bar out of the rain.
Bobby looked at Dean, then out the front window. "They were brothers."
At that, Dean stepped out and headed to the entrance.
Sam hurried after him, not watching to see if Bobby stayed close. He wasn't going to let Dean out of his sight. He'd seen him pale, seen the horrified fear that flashed across Dean's face in the motel room. He needed to keep him close.
"Griffin." Dean approached the table occupied by the dark-skinned man.
In the dim light of the bar, without the curtain of rain obscuring his vision, Sam could see that Griffin had a long scar running down the side of his face, puckering the corner of his right eye slightly. A long silver earring dangled from his right earlobe. Griffin lifted dark eyes at Dean's greeting, nodding to the empty chairs.
Dean signaled the waitress and sat down, watching Griffin. Sam watched Dean. He heard Bobby sit down next to him.
"Ellen tells me you've been at this awhile," Griffin said, looking at Dean.
"She okay?" Dean asked, ignoring Griffin's thinly laced question.
"Caught a bus to Duluth 'bout an hour ago," Griffin said.
Dean looked down and Sam saw his shoulders ease slightly.
"Yeah," Dean said.
"Yeah what?" Griffin nodded at the waitress when she asked if he wanted another beer.
Dean ordered a round of beers and sandwiches for the rest of them.
"Yeah, we've been at this a while."
"Ever fought a deartháir?"
Dean shook his head.
"Then how do you know you can help me?"
Sam heard Bobby's chair creak as he sat back. Sam kept his eyes on Dean, shifting them to Dean's hands as his brother leaned forward.
"Because we've fought pretty much every other evil sonuvabitch out there and we're still standing," he said in a dangerous voice.
"Sure you have," Griffin said, lifting an eyebrow.
Dean simply looked at him.
Sam sat back, lacing his fingers together, waiting for the fireworks.
"First one when I was fourteen," Dean replied.
"Too many to count."
Dean chuckled, casting a sideways glance at Sam. "Yeah." Sam smiled back at him in memory. They may not have known vampires existed until last year, but that didn't stop them from taking care of the situation.
Dean continued. "Also wendigos, hell hounds, deavas, shtriga…"
"Demon?" Griffin interrupted.
Dean glanced down. "More than I want to remember," he said softly. "Like I said, still standing."
Griffin looked at the wound on Dean's forehead. "Barely."
Dean cut his eyes to the scar running down Griffin's face. "You didn't get that shaving."
Griffin's mouth twisted into a rueful grin. "Maybe I like you after all."
"Wow." Dean lifted an eyebrow. "I think I need to go lie down."
"If you two are done flirting." Bobby sat forward. "Maybe we can talk about this hunt."
Griffin's eyes rested on Sam. "What about you, hotshot?"
"What about me?" Sam worked to mirror Dean's disinterested expression, unable to deaden his eyes as expertly as his brother.
"You as badass as your brother here?"
"Sam can hold his own," Dean spoke up.
"I wasn't talking to you," Griffin flicked cold eyes over to Dean.
Sam opened his mouth, but Dean leaned forward again, cutting off his reply by slamming his bottle of beer down hard, causing Griffin's glass to teeter. Griffin reached out quickly to steady the glass, then looked back at Dean.
"Listen," Dean said, his voice clipped. "We got our own demons to hunt, man. You don't want our help, fine. We'll be on our way."
"Didn't say that."
"Then enough with the third degree," Dean snapped. "If I say my brother is fine, then he's fine. He knows his job."
Sam felt his shoulders tighten. His chest seemed to collapse a bit as Dean's words shook loose a memory… a memory of Dean's voice, trembling with denial and assurance at the same time. It's not even that bad… hey, hey, it's not even that bad, alright… we're gonna patch you up, okay… I'm gonna take care of you… I got you… that's my job, right…
Sam shook himself, raising his eyes to Dean's. "Yeah."
"You okay? You kinda… checked out on me there for a sec."
Dean was leaning close, his eyes searching Sam's face.
Sam swallowed. He blinked back at Dean, but he could still feel his brother's hands on his face, could feel Dean's arms wrapped around him, could feel the numbing cold as it spread from the center of his body, enveloping him in a darkness so complete he'd known there was no coming back.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice took on a demanding tone.
"I'm fine," Sam answered. He leveled his eyes on Dean's, then looked over at Griffin. "When was the last time you saw the deartháir?"
Griffin was looking at him strangely.
Sam looked back, face blank, waiting.
Griffin looked over at Bobby, who was sitting back in his chair, then at Dean, who had turned back away from Sam and was twisting the beer bottle in his fingers.
"Three days ago," he said. "After it took Beck."
"How do you mean… took him?" Sam tilted his head.
"The deartháir only care about pain. Causing pain, feeding off of pain." Griffin tipped his glass and looked down to the bottom of the amber liquid. "Doesn't have to be physical."
He sat for a moment, then took a breath, squaring his shoulders. "It grabbed Beck – right in front of me. I was five feet away."
Sam watched Dean grip the beer bottle until his knuckles turned white.
"Poison's in its claws... looks like a banshee." He looked at Dean. "You ever come across one of those?"
Dean pressed his lips together and nodded. "Once."
"Well, the deartháir are, uh, similar."
"The banshee literally takes its victims away, though," Sam said, pressing. He could feel Griffin's secret, could hear the words the man wasn't saying. "The deartháir didn't take Beck away anywhere, did it?"
Dean lifted his head at that, looking at Sam, then over at Griffin, waiting.
"No," Griffin muttered. "The poison works quickly. I could see it moving through him… he shook so hard from it. I didn't know how to—"
"Heather," Bobby interjected.
"Heather – it's actually poisonous. It'll make you sicker than a dog, but it stops the deartháir poison."
"Dude, you outta write a book," Dean muttered, shaking his head in amazement at Bobby.
Sam was watching Griffin. The dark look that crossed the hunter's face was understandable – to have found out there was a cure after he'd…
"You killed him, didn't you?" Sam asked softly.
Dean looked at Griffin, his body stiff, his hands still. Sam knew he was waiting for the man to deny it.
"The poison eats at its victim until there is nothing left of them – until they don't know themselves, don't know you, until they are empty, insane, violent."
Griffin licked his lips, then raised his glass. "I did what I had to do," he said, then took a long drink of his beer.
Dean swallowed, then stood up, his chair pushing back with a loud scratch against the wooden floor. Sam looked up at him, but Dean's eyes were on Griffin, who was staring resolutely at the table. Without a word, Dean left the table, heading behind them to the bar. Sam watched him settle onto a seat and signal the bartender for a shot. Taking a breath, Sam looked back at Bobby.
"How do you kill a deartháir?"
Griffin also looked at Bobby, waiting.
Bobby looked back at them. "I don't know how to kill it," he said. "I know how to banish it…"
"That's gonna have to be good enough," Sam said, looking over his shoulder at Dean who was hunched over his drink at the bar.
"Like hell," Griffin snapped. "I want this thing dead."
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Then you figure out how to kill it, hotshot."
Griffin clenched his jaw. Sam sat back, his fingers resting on the edge of the table.
"Because as far as I can tell, you're out of aces," Sam continued. "You want this thing gone, we'll help you banish it. And then my brother and me are out of here."
Bobby blinked at Sam, then his mouth twisted into a slight smile. Griffin looked over at Dean.
"What's his deal?"
Sam followed Griffin's look. "He's fine." He just has a different idea about sacrifice than you do…
Griffin shifted his eyes to Bobby. "What do you need?"
Bobby took off his hat, rubbing his face. He looked at Sam. "Well… Roadhouse probably would've had everything I need…"
"Plan B?" Sam shrugged.
"Need an antique book store and an apothecary," Bobby said, his eyes shifting in thought. "Not a lot of places to get heather in Nebraska."
"How are we gonna… summon it?"
Griffin looked at Sam. "We use you as bait."
"No way in hell," came a dark voice from Sam's right.
Sam jumped slightly, then looked up at Dean, who had moved from the bar and was standing behind him, his weight shifted to one leg. His face was shadowed, the lights from the bar reflecting in his eyes giving him a dangerous, feral look. The wound in his forehead had started seeping.
"It comes after the youngest—"
"You're not using my brother as bait," Dean interrupted.
Griffin pushed away from the table. "Then what do you suggest?"
"Bobby?" Dean asked, not taking his eyes from Griffin.
"There, uh, might be a summoning spell…" Bobby hedged. He kept wary eyes on Dean.
"And if not?" Griffin asked, a muscle in his jaw jumping.
"We'll worry about that later," Sam interjected, standing up next to Dean. "Come with me, man."
Dean looked at him. "Where?"
"Fix your head," Sam said, nodding toward the bathrooms.
Dean looked at Griffin one last time, then followed Sam. They paused at the bar as Sam asked for bandages.
"We don't have to do this, you know," Sam said as he pressed Dean's wound together, using the two band-aids the bartender had been able to give him to try to seal the wound shut. He grimaced as he felt Dean stiffen, but said nothing.
"Then why are we?"
"Because…" Dean sighed. "Because we know how. Because Dad would want us to. Because it's the right thing."
"Because you don't know what else to do?" Sam guessed.
Dean looked at him, his eyes raw. Sam swallowed at the sight of Dean's heart. "We have to start somewhere, Sam."
"We got one year, man," Sam replied, feeling cold as he said those words out loud. "We should start there. With that."
"No." Dean shook his head and turned away. "We hunt evil. You said it yourself. Back with Gordon."
Sam remembered. He could picture Dean's face in that moment, the conflict, the pain, the struggle. At the time he hadn't understood, but now he knew that Dean had been carrying the crippling weight of John's sacrifice coupled with their father's last words. A weight that Sam was beginning to understand.
A weight that Sam was beginning to bear.
Dean pulled the door open, glancing back at Sam. "When we don't know what else to do, we do the job."
He walked back out into the bar, leaving Sam trembling with a chaotic mixture of fear, rage, and helplessness.
"It's gonna be a bitch to trap it in this rain," Dean grumbled as they followed Griffin's black truck to an open, soggy wheat field about five miles outside of town. "Remind me why we have to do it in the open?"
"The banishing spell only works if there are no structures made of man inside the circle," Bobby said. Again. When Dean didn't want to do something, he was worse than a toddler.
"And the circle has to be…"
"Fifty yards in diameter," Sam replied. "How is it you remember every word to every Led Zeppelin song ever made but when it comes to spells, you draw a blank?"
Bobby grinned from the back seat.
"Because Zeppelin makes sense," Dean retorted.
"And, apparently, so do spells. And rituals," Sam said.
Dean shook his head. "No, they don't. They may work, but they don't make sense."
"What's the difference?"
Bobby covered his mouth with a hand, enjoying the conversation. Enjoying the normalcy. He missed these boys.
"You're the college boy, you tell me." Dean shot him a glance.
"Fine then." Sam shifted his arm to the back of the seat. "It's about you."
"Damn right." Dean nodded. "Wait, what?"
"You like it, it makes sense. You don't like it, it's shit."
"That's not true." Dean frowned.
"Name one spell you've willingly recited."
Dean scratched the back of his head.
"That's what I figured." Sam sat back.
The brake lights from the truck in front of them cast a red glow over their faces. Bobby looked out of the window. He could barely see through the gloom of the rain. The summoning spell called for a setting sun; he would simply have to depend on his watch for that.
"Well," Dean said softly. "Game on."
"Yeah," Sam echoed.
Bobby looked at their profiles. Both were still, stony, determined. They opened their doors in unison and stepped out into the rain. Bobby swallowed. He knew he wouldn't be able to stay close to them all year. He knew their lives would take them where the demons went. He knew they would fight, they would win, and then, ultimately, they would lose. And it was a loss that would be felt deeper and by more people than any of them knew.
He got out of the car. Griffin stood next to his truck, shotgun out, butt resting against his hip, barrel up.
"Gonna drown your salt," Dean commented casually to Griffin.
Bobby smirked when Griffin lowered the shotgun so that rain no longer fell down the barrel.
"Let's get this over with," Griffin groused. "What's first?"
Bobby motioned to Sam with his chin. Sam went to the trunk of the Impala and got out the bag of supplies for the circle, handing Bobby a leather-bound book. Bobby nodded his thanks, leading the party to the empty field. The ground was spongy from rain, their clothes instantly soaked. He looked over at Dean, noting how he was standing, ready, braced, alert. A flash of the pale face and tragic eyes from the other day hit Bobby and he blinked.
"What?" Dean asked.
"Nothing," Bobby shook his head. "Everyone has to take one of these bags, put them equal distance from each other, one in each direction: north, south, east, west."
"What's in 'em?" Griffin asked.
"Does it matter?" Bobby asked.
Griffin lifted a shoulder. "Not as long as it works."
"This will trap the spirit," Bobby said, tossing a bag to Sam, Dean, then Griffin. "We set up the trap, then we summon it."
Dean looked to Sam, and they both took off, taking east and west. Griffin took south, and Bobby watched, then headed north. When they were done, they converged once more at the center. Bobby took a breath.
"Here's where we see if this spell is worth the price we paid," he whispered.
"If it doesn't, you know what we'll have to do," Griffin said darkly, looking at Dean.
Bobby watched Dean cast a look at Griffin. He knew that if it didn't work, Dean would be ready to grab Sam and stuff him in the Impala before Griffin could use his brother as bait. Dean's payment had been steeper than any debt he'd owed. When it came to Sam, risk was a four-letter word.
"If it doesn't work, and you come after my brother," Dean said, his tone matching Griffin's. "I'll put you in the ground."
"Yeah, well." Griffin looked away. "We'll see."
"You boys get on back out of the circle," Bobby commanded.
Dean shook his head. "We're not leaving you here alone, man."
"If you want this to work," Bobby looked at Dean, "you're gonna have to."
Dean looked at Sam once more, then turned and led the way to the edge of the open field. Bobby took a breath, wiping rainwater off of his watch, counting the beats of the second hand, waiting for the sun to set. At 7:08, he began to read. The change in the sky was subtle – no dramatic shift of the sun from light to dark, no feeling of the day falling into night. The heavy rain clouds continued their steady beat of water against the saturated earth, soaking through Bobby as he read.
Please let this work…
He finished the spell. He looked up, around. Silence. No deartháir. Nothing.
"Goddammit," Griffin bellowed, and Bobby heard the wet splash of his shotgun as he slammed it against the earth. "I knew this wasn't going to work. We have to bait it."
"Move away, man, I mean it." Dean's voice was hard.
Bobby turned and headed toward the threesome. Dean, he'd noted, had moved instinctively in front of Sam, his face plainly saying I hate it when I'm right. Sam was facing Griffin, his brother's slighter build blocking the older hunter from actually reaching out for Sam.
"Hey," Bobby barked. "We tried, Griff."
"Well, that's not fucking good enough," Griffin bellowed. "I'm killing this thing, Bobby, you hear me?"
"Well, you're doing it without my brother," Dean said in a dangerous voice.
"Why, Dean?" Sam said suddenly, grabbing Dean's shoulder and turning him around just as Bobby reached them.
"What?" Dean looked at Sam, incredulous.
"Why keep me from this?" Sam stepped backwards, subtly moving toward the center of the circle. "Why not let me bring this thing here, let him banish it because I brought it here?"
"Are you crazy?" Dean yelled, approaching Sam, seemingly unaware that Sam was leading them toward the center of the circle.
Bobby stood next to Griffin and watched, the fear he'd felt rolling from the brothers the night before spiking as Dean walked toward a retreating Sam, his shoulders lowered, rolling, predatory.
"I'm not gonna let you do this, Sam."
"Why not, Dean?" Sam yelled. "You're the one that said we do the job when we don't know what else to do."
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO, DEAN!" Sam screamed at him. "I was dead. DEAD, man. You watched me die!"
Bobby saw Dean flinch as if Sam had hit him. Dean stumbled forward, following his brother, not letting more than two feet come between them.
"You don't have to remind me, Sam."
"Maybe I do," Sam said, circling his brother so that his back was to Bobby, and Dean faced him. "Maybe I need to remind you that for months you beat yourself up about Dad. For what he did for you. For his fucking sacrifice – and then you go and do the exact same thing for me."
"I told you, Sammy," Dean said, water running from his face, blinked from his eyes, his lips trembling. "You're my brother. I have to watch out for you."
"So you trade your soul for me, that it?"
"I didn't have a choice, dammit!"
"Yes. You. Did." Sam punched the space between them with an accusing finger.
"No, Sammy." Dean shook his head. "No – I did what I had to do," he asserted, unconsciously echoing Griffin's earlier statement. Bobby felt Griffin still next to him and he looked over. Griffin's dark eyes were pinned to the brothers, listening. Listening to pain that the Winchesters felt so keenly they didn't even realize they had an audience.
"What about me, huh?" Sam spread his arms wide, rain dripping from his fingertips. "What the hell do I do?"
"You live, Sammy! That's what you do. You fucking live."
"And you're gonna die! You're gonna die and leave me here." Sam fisted a hand, leaning closer to Dean. "And I don't know what to do about that. So I'm gonna do the job."
Sam started to push past Dean, the flat of his hand against Dean's shoulder.
"No." Dean grabbed the front of Sam's wet shirt, shoving him back. "I won't let—"
Sam's fist came out of nowhere, a sharp force of power and pain, cracking across Dean's jaw and sending him stumbling backwards. He didn't fall, but Bobby could see the blow had rung him. Dean put a hand to his jaw and shook his head, blinking in surprise at Sam.
"What the hell?""Rain check," Sam growled, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, his stance ready, waiting, challenging.
Read Part 1B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/21713.html