Disclaimer: My thanks to Kripke for creating characters fascinating enough to bury their claws into my imagination and draw forth tales with a need to be told. Still don't own them. More's the pity.
Title is from Days of the New song of the same name.
Aside from some of the locations and the Gaelic spoken in the story, pretty much everything from the bad guys to the resolution is fabricated. To quote Chaucer from A Knight's Tale, "I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
Spoiler: This takes place right after episode 3.10 Dream a Little Dream of Me. Anything prior to that is fair game.
a/n: Sorry it's been awhile, guys. RL has been a bit of a handful lately.
This story returns the character of Brenna Kavanagh to the boys. I introduced her in Holding On to Let Go, and she appeared in both Within My Hands and Into the Fire. I fully understand that OFC's are not extremely popular in this fandom, and wanted to warn you up front. However, as with all stories that Brenna is in, this is ultimately a story about the brothers. I've also brought back a couple of other OC's from some of my previous fics, but I've tried to keep them contained so that if you're not familiar with the story of their origin, you can still enjoy this one.
When you dig my grave, could you make it shallow so that I can feel the rain?
-- Gravedigger, Dave Matthews Band
Time was a fluid force that brought forth pain and joy inside of one very real heartbeat. It captured and shunned, persevered and punished. It was at the same time both plausible and unreal, and it never stopped.
It never stopped.
But he needed to make it stop. He needed to control the effects, the ravished effects such a force wrought upon the only thing that mattered to him. The only one that mattered to him.
The payment for such control no longer mattered to him. He'd hide, he'd seek, he'd cease to live what had once passed for his life if in exchange he gained this power. His world was surrounded by books, spells, weapons, and wounds. He breathed, he bled, he existed, but he no longer truly lived.
And he wouldn't live until he'd won. Until he'd found the source. Until he'd found the control.
Sam shifted in the seat, staring at his brother's profile, acutely aware that the air inside the Impala had just stilled. The fine hairs on his cheeks and the back of his neck came to attention. The bruises on his legs—that he'd yet to tell Dean about—throbbed painfully.
And his mouth went dry. "Yeah?" He very nearly whispered the word.
Dean was staring at the top of the steering wheel, a muscle in his jaw twitching with the death throes of denial. Sam was aware of his brother's hands. It seemed like a strange thing to notice. The world was motionless, but Dean's hands still moved; blunted, powerful fingers ceaselessly grazing the ridges of the Impala's wheel.
Dean cleared his throat, setting Sam on edge, his breath stalling at the base of this throat.
"I've been doing some thinking. And…" Dean paused. "Well, the thing is… I don't wanna die."
What did you see when you left me in your dream? Sam thought. What were you really looking for, Dean? It wasn't me. I know that much.
Dean looked at him askance, his eyes so full of raw honesty that Sam felt his skin tighten.
"I don't wanna go to Hell." His brother's voice was hushed, but had the same effect as if he'd screamed the words.
Sam nodded, feeling a giddy rush of true relief. At last, his heart beat. At last he'll fight with me against this. At. Last.
"Alright," Sam said, nodding confidently, looking to infuse the motionless air with a sense of assurance. Looking to slow the nervous twitch of his brother's fingers. "Yeah. We'll find a way to save you."
Dean's mouth tripped up in a weak, hopeful grin and once more the world turned. "Okay," he said, looking forward again. "Good."
Sam saw him shift his eyes to the side, the shadow of fear slipping smoothly across his brother's features like cloud cover.
"I, uh… I've been thinking, too," Sam said, drawing Dean's eyes and gaining a curious lift of his brow.
Sam nodded. "We don't have any leads on Bela," he started. "She could be half-way across the world by now."
"What's your point?" Dean said, hidden anxiety forcing an edge to his voice that Sam knew he didn't mean.
"I think we should focus on, uh… on you," Sam ventured.
"Yeah?" Dean asked, his face a scattered puzzle. "How?"
Sam licked his lips, suddenly offered the opportunity he'd been seeking for weeks. "I want to go back to Buffalo."
Dean tipped his chin to the side, his gaze darting to the front window, then slowly tracking back to Sam. "You lost me."
"To Dad's storage unit."
Dean opened his mouth, then closed it with a click of teeth. Sam waited a beat; he knew he'd caught his brother off-guard, as was his intention. Dean argued the strongest when he'd already anticipated Sam's suggestions.
"There was a ton of stuff in there, Dean. I mean, we barely searched through it, once we found out that curse box was missing."
Dean nodded slowly.
"And," Sam continued, "I've read every book Bobby has. I've talked to contacts and, well, I just think… I think maybe…"
"You think we're out of options," Dean said, his voice purposefully empty.
"No!" Sam turned, fully facing him, and leaned forward, his voice strong, forceful. "No, I don't. Not at all. I told you I was gonna get you out of this."
Dean shook his head once. Sam wasn't sure if it was in disbelief or denial. Stretching an opened hand toward his brother, Sam said, "Listen. You said it yourself. We spent all our lives with the guy, and neither of us really knew Dad. There's no telling what he's got hidden in that unit."
"Yeah, but… you're talking about a miracle, Sam."
"Not necessarily," Sam dropped his hand, resting his curled knuckles on his knee. "Dad knew about stuff like… crossroad deals. I mean, he taught us about 'em. He could have known about other… y'know, kinds of deals. Could have had… I don't know, leads, or spells, or…"
Dean narrowed his eyes. "But don't you think he'd have told Bobby, if—"
"No," Sam replied quickly. "I've mined that source, man. I've pumped Bobby for more information than the man wanted to give. If Dad knew, he didn't tell Bobby."
Silence rested awkwardly between them for a moment.
"It's worth a shot," Dean said softly, his eyes down, face pulled close in thought.
"Yeah," Sam exhaled, hope wrapped around the word. Please, Dean, please. Give me this. Give me this chance. I can't lose you.
Dean nodded slowly, a hand snaking from the steering wheel to rub unconsciously across his ribcage. "What about Bela?"
"She took the Colt for a reason," Sam said. "She's either gonna sell it, or she's gonna use it. Either way, we're going to have to do some tracking to find her."
Dean lifted a brow, pulling his head up with the motion. "No reason we can't multi-task."
Sam nodded, his face relaxing with a grin. "Exactly."
Dean's confession of fear had put his brother in the very rare situation of looking to Sam for guidance, and Sam was more relieved than he wanted to admit that he had a direction to point them in.
"Wanna tell Bobby?" Dean tucked his bottom lip in against his teeth.
Sam thought of the weary worry that pulled their old friend's face into hollows and shadows and shook his head. "He's been through a lot, Dean. I mean, not that we all haven't, but—"
"No, you're right. We can tell him later." Dean twisted the keys and ignited the engine.
Sam rolled his neck, sliding one arm across the back of the bench seat, propping his other elbow on the windowsill and tenting his fingers on his thigh. Dean's need to check in with Bobby tugged at his heart. Even after all this time leading, his brother still needed a general to follow, a touchstone, a home base. Sam's base sat next to him, but Dean's…
Dean's had been lost to the universal struggle between good and evil, and even now he sought to replace it.
"Find me some road music," Dean said, nodding toward the box of cassette tapes they'd slowly been replacing since the accident. "If I'm gonna make it to Buffalo, I am gonna need me some tunes."
Sam leaned down as his brother shifted to drive, picking up the box of tapes and ticking through the plastic cases. "Why?" He grinned, eyes on the names of the bands. "You tired or something?"
Dean shot him a bite me, smart ass look. "Haven't been sleeping much lately."
Sam plucked a case from the box, slipped the tape into the player, then sat back as music immediately drummed through the interior of the car.
"…are you deaf; you wanna hear some more? We're just talking about the future, forget about the past. It'll always be with us. It's never gonna die. Never gonna die…"
"That's the stuff," Dean sighed, turning up the volume loud enough that Sam felt the beat inside his bones, his body almost visibly shaking from the power.
He relaxed, watching the roadside slip by as Dean pointed them toward New York. His legs ached, but not to the point he couldn't bear. He figured the bruises there would get worse before they got better. His jacket sleeves covered the tale-tell show of rope burn.
Rope burn from a dream rope.
Rope burn from the imagination of a twisted, damaged mind.
A mind inside of a person that Sam had killed, just as surely as if he'd felt Jeremy's beating heart slow and stop beneath his hands.
A mind that was wounded and tortured and hopeless—
He jerked awake at the sound of his brother's sharp voice.
"What?" He pulled close to the door, retreating from the weight of the hand on his arm.
"Easy, man," Dean was saying, his stern, worried eyes shifting between the golden halos of streetlights splitting the dusk and Sam's sweaty profile. "Take it easy."
"What happened?" Sam muttered, straightening up and wiping his face, surprised to find his hands like slippery ice.
"You fell asleep," Dean said, reaching for the radio and turning the music down. "And then…"
Sam looked over at him. "Then?"
"Sam," Dean shifted his eyes to the side, his face a demand for truth. "How did you get rid of Jeremy? No bullshit, man."
"I already told you," Sam sighed, dropping his head back against the seat and closing his now-burning eyes. "I… conjured… or whatever the hell you want to call it… his Dad."
"And that's it?"
"Basically, yeah." Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why?"
"'Cause you whispered I'm sorry in your sleep," Dean said, his voice a low growl.
Sam was silent. Looking out through the side window, he curled his fingers tight against his palms, feeling the weight of the bat, the crack of the impact with Jeremy's head.
"Don't know what to tell you," Sam said. "Guess it's my Catholic guilt."
"Guess so," Dean muttered. He waited a beat, then, "We're about twenty miles out. I'm gonna get some gas. Want anything?"
"I'll run in," Sam offered, stretching his hands out in front of him as Dean pulled off the highway, exiting at a Gas, Food, Lodging sign. They passed two no-tell motels before they reached the gas station.
Sam sighed, searching through the glove box for the stash of cash, thinking that he could probably describe the interior of each location down to the décor. His childhood was peppered with disjointed memories of motels, his youth saturated with their smoke-stale smell, his adulthood dependant upon their anonymity.
"Lemme guess," he yawned, looking over at his brother as Dean opened the door, moving stiffly. "Coffee and Peanut M&Ms."
"And one of those Hostess fruit pie thingies," Dean grinned. "Gas station pie. Awesome."
"You're a freak, man."
Dean swung a leg out, glancing over his shoulder. "Takes one to know one."
Sam lumbered slowly to the gas station mart, gathered their supplies, then stepped up to the counter. "This, and whatever goes in the black Chevy out there," he said to the attendant.
The older man nodded, not taking his eyes from a small TV tucked under the counter, a talk-show TV audience cheering loudly as someone yelled, "Is that what you want? Huh? You want me to tell you I slept with him?"
Sam waited patiently, feeling his will fold in on itself as the attendant slowly rang up his purchases, the man's attention riveted to the happenstance of the random. Sam forced a smile across stiff cheeks, telling himself that his issues were unknown to this man who was moving like molasses in wintertime, uncaring that he was in a universe of hurry.
Sam's reasons for being on constant alert were a secret, his frustration at finding nothing—nothing—in all this time irrelevant to the world. He pulled in a slow breath, handing over the money and waited for change, glancing out through the double doors to see Dean leaning against the Impala, one hand pressed to his chest, his head bowed.
I think we both saw more in that dreamscape than we're saying.
Gathering the food and drinks, Sam headed to the Impala, nodding back at Dean as he got closer. It was on the tip of his tongue to offer to drive, but Dean swung around to slip behind the wheel before Sam could gather enough courage to bring it up. Despite the purplish smudges of exhaustion beneath his brother's green eyes, despite the tired curve of his shoulders, or the stiff motion of his arms, or the slow-assed blink that sent shivers of worry down Sam's neck every time there was a gap of darkness between the streetlights on the highway, Dean would drive.
He would drive because they were once again headed to dig deeper into the biggest unknown of their lives: their father's past.
And Sam knew that regardless if they found a possible lead—or, God help him, a solution—in the hunt to save Dean from hell, the search alone would tease up memories neither of them were in any condition to contend with.
I don't wanna go to Hell…
Sam took a breath, working to refocus his thoughts on the hunt, and not the contemplation of life on Earth without Dean. Without his family.
When his dad was alive, he survived because of him.
He watched, he waited, he listened, he loved, he saved. There were conversations, there were talks. But it was only after John was no longer accessible, no longer simply not calling back, no longer just being stubborn, that Dean realized he'd never really known his father.
Now that his dad was dead, he simply survived.
He'd made sure that Sam had survived as well. As they rode in the service elevator to John's storage unit, Dean found himself wondering if the man he'd grown up with, the man he'd loved, would have approved of what he'd done. Would have seen it as a worthy sacrifice. Or if letting Sam go had been the point of John's cryptic deathbed message all along.
"You okay?" Sam's voice was hushed, as if they were visiting someplace sacred.
Maybe we are.
"Yeah," Dean pulled his heavy head away from the wall, stifling another yawn and blinking his eyes wide. His chest ached, but Sam was watching him too closely. Easing the ache with a helpless hand now would give away a weakness. "Know what time it is?"
Sam shrugged, his hands stuffed deep into his jeans pockets. "After sunset, before sunrise."
"That's helpful," Dean rotated to face the opening as the compartment slowed. "What would I do without you?"
"Eat your weight in pie," Sam grumbled.
"Ha fuckin' ha," Dean heaved the gate up and held it in place as Sam ducked beneath. He followed, letting the gate fall closed. He shivered slightly in the cool enclosure of the storage facility, regretting leaving his leather jacket back in the Impala. Glancing at his brother, he held out a hand. "Got the extra light?"
"You said you were getting it," Sam returned.
"Did so!" Sam stood with his arms spread. "You said, got a light."
Dean thrust his chin forward in disbelief. "Yeah, as in… got a light?"
Sam stared at him a moment, then waved a dismissive hand toward his face. "Forget it, man. We only need one."
"Give it here."
"No way," Sam held the heavy, black flashlight aloft as they stopped in front of the unit door. "I brought it, I use it."
"You're a real pain in the ass, you know it?"
Sam tipped his chin toward the lock. "Just open the door, Jerk."
Dean crouched in front of the lock as Sam shone the beam of the flashlight on the opening. Lock pick clenched between his teeth, he couldn't resist muttering, "Bitch," in response.
In moments, he heard and felt the spring of the lock give way, and they stepped into the dusty container, the beam of Sam's light skidding over the rust-colored bloodstains from the earlier attempt to bypass John's 'security system.' Feeling his way along the wall, Dean searched for some sort of switch to help illuminate their surroundings. He came up empty.
"Nice, Dad," he muttered.
"What?" Sam swung the light around and shot it toward Dean's eyes.
"Dude!" Dean squinted, raising a hand in defense. Sam lowered the light. "How the hell did he work in here without any lights?"
"Maybe he didn't," Sam shrugged, moving past the wire mesh wall and skimming his fingers through the dust that covered the land mines. "Maybe he just… came in, put stuff down, walked away."
Dean sighed, following Sam's light and the careful path of his brother's fingers. As Sam left him behind in the shadows, Dean felt blindly along the table until he found an opened box of bullets. Picking one out, he rubbed the pad of his thumb over the tip, the corner of his mouth ticking up in a rueful grin as he felt the hatch marks of a cross.
Silver bullet… In some ways, John was as predictable as a broken clock. Carving crosses into the tips of bullets was almost a signature.
The room felt tomb-like, the air stale, old, secret. As if all of the darkness that his father had trapped inside of the curse boxes stored on the far shelf was simply waiting for the right moment. The memory of his father was so strong inside of these walls that Dean closed his eyes, imagining the purposeful stride, the sound of the well-placed steps he'd grown to count on in his youth, moving through the darkened recesses of the room, keeping the world safe from one more evil.
"Hey," Sam called.
Dean lifted his head, making out Sam's silhouette in the dusty twilight that haloed his brother's imposing form.
"I think… I think there's another room here, man." Sam shone the light on the floor, tracing a path.
Dean stepped forward. "A room?"
"Yeah, there are grooves in the floor…" Sam bent to the side, grunting as he pushed against the shelf of curse boxes. "Like this shelf has been moved a few times."
Skirting the cobweb-covered bench that had been home to Sam's soccer trophy for so many years, Dean reached for the other edge of the shelf, trying to discern some kind of doorway-like shape. Sam tucked the flashlight under his chin to free his hands. Together, they carefully moved the shelf a few inches to the side, keeping the boxes balanced.
Sam moved further around the other side of the shelf, peering through the gap.
"There's definitely a room back here, Dean."
"Can you see anything?" Dean asked when Sam moved the flashlight to the narrow opening.
"Doesn't look very big… I, uh," Sam shifted, the beam slipping down toward the floor. "I can see some… boxes."
Dean saw the glimmer of silver wire reflect in the bouncing beam.
"Sam, don't move."
Instinctively turning toward his brother's voice, Sam lifted his eyes. "Wha—"
As Sam turned, his weight pushed the shelf a bit further out, away from the hidden room.
Dean charged forward, knowing with absolute certainty that if the room had been hidden, and secured with a tripwire, the results would be disastrous.
For a moment, time slowed, almost ceasing all together. Dean registered the surprised intake of air as his shoulder slammed into Sam's bulk with enough force to tip his brother forward and down. He heard the cluck-swish of a triggered mechanism releasing, felt the vacuum of air press close around them for the space of a blink, and then his world was an explosion of sound, dust, and tiny pellets of pain.
With a muffled cough, Sam shifted beneath him and Dean felt the world spin. He rolled off of his brother, lying on his side, working to breathe. As if caught in a sludge of frozen air, oxygen beat a harsh tattoo against his rib cage, working to inflate his lungs.
Dean felt Sam's hand clumsily smack the air, looking for purchase. He lifted his arm and relaxed when his brother's long fingers wrapped around his wrist.
"Dude!" Sam gasped, dragging in the air Dean's tackle had forced from him. "What. The. Hell."
"Tripwire," Dean grunted.
"What?" Sam pushed himself up to his elbows. The flashlight Sam had managed to hold on to through the strange blast clattered free and rolled, the circled end of the beam cresting the far wall with a dizzy arc of light. "I mean… what?!"
Dean pointed, but in the gloom of the shadowed room, he knew Sam couldn't see. "There was a tripwire across the doorway." His voice was strained as the pain in his back intensified.
"Some kind of… blast or something."
"You okay?" Sam's voice grew tight.
Dean took a tentative breath, feeling his abused skin weep in reaction. "Not sure."
Dean licked his lips, tasting salt and dust. He could feel sticky wetness that could only be blood trailing down his back; it was on fire in a hundred different places. "Yeah. You?"
"Not really. How bad?" Dean felt Sam lean toward him with the question.
"Not… sure," he grunted, pushing himself to his knees and deflecting Sam's inquisitive hand. "Take it easy. I'm okay."
"Find your light, man," Dean said, his voice suddenly sharp as panic swept through him. The room around them was a jumble of displaced boxes and bent and mangled metal shelving. "We have to check those boxes."
"Oh, shit," Sam muttered, and Dean heard him scramble in a crab-crawl toward the light. "Why the hell did Dad put a… bomb or whatever behind a shelf of curse boxes?"
"To protect something pretty damned important," Dean said softly, glancing up once as Sam shone the light on his face.
"You look like crap, dude," Sam said, moving over to the boxes.
"At least it wasn't an incendiary device," Dean said, standing carefully and gripping the toppled shelf and sliding it to the side, away from the destroyed doorway. "I think it was filled with rock salt or something."
"Tastes like it," Sam commented, spitting. "He had this whole place rigged up to keep the bad guys away."
Together they crouched, the flashlight resting on the floor between them, and turned over each box, checking to make sure the lids were closed and locked. When they had all of the boxes back on the partially-mangled shelf, Dean took a relieved breath, then winced as his chest and back protested in unison.
"Ready to see what the big deal is?" Sam asked, picking up the flashlight and shining it at the now-exposed doorway.
Dean nodded once, suddenly not trusting his voice. John had always been an enigma when it came to hunting. Telling them what he felt they needed to know to do their jobs and stay alive, but not very forthright when it came to revealing exactly how he got all his information. There were whole facets of the hunting life Dean and Sam had never been exposed to—the Roadhouse for one.
The idea that John may have had something in this dusty, secret storage unit that was so important he not only hid it behind a wall that appeared to have been constructed from cinder block, but protected it with a trip-wire triggered land mine filled with rock salt made Dean both hopeful and fearful.
What if there's something there that could save me?
"Let's just do this, Sam."
Leading with the light, Sam stepped into the closet-like enclosure, carefully searching the floor, walls, ceiling for any other surprising keep out or else weapons. Dean stuck his head in, watching as Sam cleared the room, finding nothing in the small space to their right. Sam backed into the empty space, giving way to Dean.
He stepped in, then looked to his left at the stack of wooden boxes marked 'grenades.'
"You don't think those are… really grenades… do you?" Sam asked hesitantly.
"One way to find out," Dean muttered, moving forward, the flashlight tossing his shadow across the boxes. Carefully, he started to separate the stack.
On top of each box was a strip of wide, white medical tape, one word written in John's neat block-letter handwriting. Weapons, Spells, Boys, Campbell.
"Dean…" Sam started, his voice tight.
Dean reached for the one marked Boys. Flipping the latch, he carefully opened the wooden lid, licking his lips nervously. No grenades were inside, but he found himself almost wishing for something to explode and relieve the pressure in his heart.
He sank to his knees.
"Sam," he tried, his voice wavering. "Look."
Sam crouched next to him, the flashlight illuminating pieces of their past.
"These… these are ours," Sam said, emotion turning his words into syrup.
The soccer trophy and sawed-off shotgun had been the tip of the iceberg. Inside the wooden box, protected in this hidden room, were items from their childhood that Dean had been convinced were left behind at various motels and hide-outs.
Dean's first report card without any C's. Sam's letter from the dean of a school complimenting him on academic excellence. The card Sam had made for John for Father's Day when he was five. The letter Dean had written to Mary when he was eight. A deflated soccer ball, a bullet mold with the letters D and W carved into the bottom. A picture of his family Sam had drawn that caused a pivotal parent/teacher meeting one year. The cast from Dean's arm that Pastor Jim, Caleb, Bobby, John, and Sam had all signed.
"He kept them," Sam said, the tears in his voice now evident on his dust-streaked face. "He kept them all."
Dean could only nod. Running his palm down his face, he swiped away the salt and dust particles from his eyes, making them sting from more than pent-up tears. Leaving Sam to stare at the box of memories, he turned to the box marked Campbell. The label was older than the rest. Worn, faded. He knew that had been his mother's maiden name and found himself once again holding his breath as he opened the lid.
Inside were pictures. Polaroid's, photos, and negatives. Dean reached in and pulled out a handful, hearing the ting of a small piece of metal falling from his grip.
"Sam," he called. "Shine that light over here."
Sam complied and Dean saw the glimmer of silver on the cement floor.
"I think it's Mom's," Dean whispered, picking up the tiny object. He slid it to the top knuckle of his pinky. "Small hands."
Dean shook his head. "No, she probably still had that on when… anyway there's some design on it."
"What are the pictures of?" Sam crawled closer.
"Us. Them. Everything," Dean said, flipping through the images of a life lost. "Everything. Sam… he hid it all back here. He… hid us back here."
Sam sniffed, nodding. "Pretty amazing, huh?"
Dean started to nod, but the rush of anger that surfaced turned his tears into steam and dried his throat with vengeance. "No. No it's not amazing," Dean shook his head, pushing himself to his feet, ignoring the protest of his body. He felt his body grow almost rigid with the need to release the tension building in his gut. "I think it's pretty fucking un-amazing, actually."
"You have any idea he saved all this, man? 'Cause I sure as hell didn't!" Dean kicked the box of pictures, feeling satisfaction at the sight of it skipping across the floor to bounce against the wall. "The man was a coward, Sam."
"What?!" Sam's voice was hushed with shock.
Dean turned to face his brother, his hands out to the sides in helpless frustration. "He. Was. A. Coward. He was afraid of himself, of us… he was so fucking afraid of telling us how much he cared that he put everything in a box and hid it in the back room of a storage place we never knew about."
"Maybe he was planning on telling us someday," Sam hedged.
"Before or after he decided to sell his soul to save me?" Dean shouted without thinking.
Sam was quiet. Dean swallowed, the chill left behind in the air after his words sucked the heat from the room making him shiver.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Dean said softly. "I… I didn't mean—"
"Forget it," Sam said sadly. "Let's… let's take these boxes back to the car. Go through them later."
"Yeah, okay," Dean agreed, suddenly exhausted.
His body had been slowly ticking from the moment he and Sam had jerked awake in the car after Jeremy had been defeated. He had felt it ticking. He realized now that the ticking had slowed. The last adventure with the rock-salt land mine almost stopped it all together. He bent to pick up the box marked Weapons and nearly toppled as a wave of dizziness swept over him.
"Whoa—" Sam reached out quickly, gripping his shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Dean said, his voice slurring despite his efforts to keep up the front. "Just tired."
"Your back is a mess, man," Sam shone the light on it. "Looks like it took the most of the hit."
"Yeah, well," Dean shrugged, forcing the side of his mouth up into a half-cocked smile. "Who's gonna save my pretty ass if I let you go and get yourself blown up, huh?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Not that pretty," he muttered, turning to heft the box marked Weapons into his arms.
Dean tilted his head, frowning. "It's kinda pretty," he said, gathering up the box of photos. "Or so I've been told…"
Obscenely, he found he enjoyed watching the red, blue, and brilliant white lights of the police, fire, and ambulance on scene dance across the narrow walls in the small, dirty alleyway. They illuminated the narrow passage, tossing shadows on the brick buildings and turning the dead of night into the middle of the day.
Dead of night…
He chuckled at his own gallows humor, unconsciously caressing the scar that slipped down the side of his once-handsome face, marking him as one of the unwanted. The feared. Crouching on the shadowed, upper parapet of the mangled steel fire escape, he mused that he felt a little like an avenging angel, watching, listening, judging.
He was enough in the shadows to remain hidden, but enough in the scene to absorb every detail.
"You seen anything like this before?"
"'Bout fifteen years ago. My first case."
He listened to the hushed exchange between the rookie and the veteran cop, watched their body language as they took in the scene at their feet. The young cop kept his hands near his weapon as if the bodies might suddenly reanimate and leap up at him. The vet, however, simply stood, hands at his sides, shoulders bowed, having seen too much darkness and too much death.
A criminalist moved carefully around the bodies, snapping photographs of each tiny piece of evidence, each cut, the pool of blood, the eyes caught with both death and terror.
"I don't get it, Ross," the young cop's voice turned into venom.
"What don't you get?" Ross replied, his voice devoid of emotion.
"This one is all cut up… cut up bad. But… no blood pool. This one… she ain't got a scratch on her, but she bled out."
Ross nodded, seemingly waiting for the rookie to come to a conclusion he'd already met.
"What are we dealing with here?"
Ross sighed. "You believe in… magic?"
High above, the observer stifled a laugh. He'd lived on the fringe so long, seeing the truth between the lines of lies that people told each other—told themselves—to get through each day that he sometimes forgot that they had to be convinced. That they didn't just believe.
"Magic?" The rookie sounded as though he wanted to laugh, but was afraid his superior wasn't kidding.
"Like, what? Occult stuff?"
"Maybe," Ross nodded.
"You believe in that shit?"
Ross turned toward him and paused, leaning close. "You don't?"
The rookie pulled back, obviously surprised.
"Calhoun, you been around as long as I have," Ross stated matter-of-factly as he began to move away from the bodies of the women, " you see the things I've seen… there ain't much you won't believe."
"Yeah, but… witches and shit?" Calhoun scrambled after Ross. "Seriously?"
Above on the parapet, the observer chuckled. "Seriously," he said quietly, waiting until the two policemen had moved a safe distance away, then swung down a few levels to get a better view of the bodies.
They had been tied to posts, close enough to see each other, but too far away to touch. He could tell they were sisters, or perhaps mother and daughter, by the similar fine-boned features, body type, hairstyle. The younger one had been cut multiple times on her arms, legs, and torso, her skirt hiked high around her waist to expose the tender, vulnerable point of flesh at the top of her thigh, and her blouse had been opened, though her bra remained intact.
Her face was turned away, death capturing an expression of sadness on the beautiful features.
The other was fully clothed, and the phrase covered in blood had never had more meaning. It was as if someone had soaked her clothes in blood and then re-dressed her. But, as Calhoun had so astutely pointed out, there were no visible wounds. Nothing big enough to have created such an exsanguinated mess.
It was as if her pores opened and released her life as she watched her loved one die.
"The sufferer and the witness," a soft female voice said from below him.
He jerked, surprised despite the fact that he prided himself on always being aware, always knowing when someone was approaching. It had saved his life on more than one occasion. Steadying his suddenly skittering breath, he looked down. In the shadows tossed across the buildings from the lights of the emergency vehicles, stood a woman. As he watched, she lifted her face, her eyes luminous even in the dark.
"Diadhuit," she said softly, surprising him once more. She had spoken to him in Gaelic, somehow knowing that he would understand.
He responded automatically, "Dia is Muire dhuit."
"I'm coming up," she said, and before he could protest, began to climb the fire escape carefully until she was perched beside him, balanced like a cat. He half expected her to twitch a tail.
She was small, he saw, but built. Strength resonated from her in such a way that he didn't feel the automatic desire to curl his lip in disgust. Women offered him nothing but trouble and heartache and he'd had enough of that in his life. He was happy to be done with them.
"I know who you are," she said.
Squaring his shoulders, he curled his hand around the small knife he kept at his waist. "That makes one of us."
"You're a hunter, Griffin."
He flinched when she said his name. This situation was taking a downward turn that he wasn't prepared for. He wanted out. Now.
And yet… he felt himself drawn to this iron-like waif with eyes too large for her face.
"I know hunters. I'm not one."
"What are you, then?"
She smiled her answer and Griffin felt suddenly wary. There was power in this girl. She was dressed simply: jeans, serviceable boots, long-sleeved shirt and jacket. Her hair appeared red, though it was wound up in a knot at the back of her head, pulled away from her face and exposing her unusual eyes to the night.
"You know what did this," she stated, tilting her head to the scene below, keeping her gaze on him.
"I do," he nodded. There was only one weapon in the world that could cause wounds such that killed these women.
"Do you know who did this?"
Griffin shook his head. "Doesn't much matter to me."
"Yeah, well… it does to me," she replied. "I'm here to offer you a deal."
At once Griffin was again balanced. Here was a language he understood. His body settled into an automatic pose of resistance, his eyes dulling, his lips twisting in a mock sneer. "What do you have that I could possibly want?"
"I can get you the Kestrel dagger," she replied, chilling him once more.
"You know about the dagger?"
She nodded. "And… I know why you want it."
Griffin narrowed his eyes. "There's no way you could—"
"Beck," she said simply, silencing him. "Ar dheis De go raibh a anam."
Griffin felt his breath still, lacking the strength to exit his lungs, to escape through the sudden barren wasteland that was his throat. Working to wrap his lips around coherent words, he said in a strangled voice, "There is no peace where my brother rests."
"You want the dagger?" she pressed. "You want to use it? You need the owner."
"What do you mean?"
"The dagger will only work with the right power. The owner has that power. And I need him."
She looked away. "I have my reasons."
Griffin watched her a moment. Watched the flash of her throat as she breathed, watched the tick in her jaw as thoughts bombarded her, watched the slow blink of her eyes as they rested on the bodies below.
"So what's this deal, then?" He said finally.
She looked back at him. "We work together."
"I work alone," he replied automatically. He had been alone since he'd lost Beck to the deárthair. And he meant to keep it that way. No more blood on his hands that he didn't intentionally put there.
The woman rested her forearm on her bent knee, tilting her face to the side inquisitively. "Aren't you wondering how I found you, Griffin? How I know who you are?"
He stared back at her, his curiosity strong enough to boil his blood, but he was too stubborn to ask.
"I can find things," she said. "I know things."
"Anyone with a library card can say that," Griffin shrugged.
She smiled again, and Griffin felt his stomach tighten. As if she'd reached a decision, she nodded once, then straightened, forcing him to tip his head up to keep her in his sights.
"You change your mind, I'll be at the Milton. Ask for Patti Smith."
"Hey," Griffin called in a stage whisper as the girl turned and wrapped slim fingers around the grip of the fire escape ladder. "That your real name?"
With a low chuckle she lifted her head, pinning him with her eyes once more. "No," she said, then climbed down to slip between the shadows and escape the scene.
Griffin watched her go, then turned his attention to the young coroner below them that approached the bodies beside Calhoun.
"What a mess," the coroner said.
"Tell me about it," Calhoun muttered. "Don't envy you, Chief."
"Carter," the coroner corrected, his voice irritated.
"Whatever," Calhoun shrugged. "You wrap 'em up and let me know when I can send the criminalists in here to pack up their evidence."
Calhoun moved away and Griffin watched Carter sigh, then crouch beside the sliced-up woman. Gently, he lifted her hand and slipped a plastic bag over her fingers, preserving the fingernail evidence that may have been left behind. Griffin watched the small man work for a few more moments, then climbed back up to the parapet, glancing back once more.
Patti Smith. The Milton.
This night just got a lot more interesting.
There were a few things Sam counted on in life. Things that were simply true, that he never had to wonder about, that he measured his life by.
One such thing was his brother's stubborn resolve to keep moving forward despite his body's protestations to the contrary. So, it didn't surprise him when they finished loading the boxes into the back seat of the car that Dean quietly slipped his navy blue jacket on over his wounded back—to protect the car seats from his blood—and settled himself behind the wheel.
It also didn't surprise him that Dean peeled out of the lot, Brian Johnson screaming that they'd been thunderstruck, while the morning sun began to chase the twilight from the sky.
What did surprise him, though, was the stutter of the car's motion a few moments later, the swerve of the Impala across the road, and the slump of his brother's wounded body against the driver's door.
"Dean!" Sam cried out, reaching for the steering wheel and sliding across the seat in one motion. "Dean, put your foot on the brake. Put your foot on the brake!"
Dean roused slightly, shifting beneath Sam subtly as Sam struggled to get his long leg under the steering column and slow the car.
"Dean! You stubborn… son of a… bitch!" Sam found the brake pedal and slammed it to the floor, eyes darting to the rear view mirror to make sure they wouldn't be rear-ended. He awkwardly pulled the car to the side of the road, shoved the gear into park, and sagged forward, catching his breath.
After a moment, he looked over his shoulder at his unconscious brother.
"You idiot," he muttered, reaching for Dean's chin, and tilting his pale face away from the window. "You're a mess, man."
Sliding back across the seat to the passenger door, he opened it and climbed out stiffly. His legs throbbed; he dreaded looking at the bruises, knowing they would be deep, dark reminders of the beating he'd suffered at Jeremy's hand.
With a slight limp that he felt was more in his head than out of necessity, he moved around the back of the car to the driver's side, then carefully opened the door, an arm out to catch Dean as he slumped loosely into the gap of air. Sam bent, taking his brother's weight against his chest, and tried to ease him over without putting too much pressure on Dean's wounded back.
Dean's head fell back against his shoulder. As he scooted his brother's solid body across the seat, Sam saw Dean's T-shirt begin to hitch up, exposing first his belly, then his chest.
"Oh, my God," Sam breathed as the rucked up shirt revealed that Sam wasn't the only one keeping bruises a secret.
Sliding into the car behind the wheel and moving Dean over until his forehead rested against the passenger window, Sam reached for Dean's shirt, pulling it the rest of the way up and exposing a circular pattern of bruising that looked sickeningly like the blast from a shotgun.
"What the hell, man?" Sam whispered. "What happened to you?"
Dean didn't respond. His breathing was steady, regular, but he was completely pliant, sagging against the door. Sam knew his brother was exhausted from staying up for so many days to avoid confrontation with Jeremy after inadvertently taking the dream root. He knew his body was hurting, especially after the rock salt landmine incident. Dean might not know when to say when, but the human body could only take so much. Sam pulled Dean's T-shirt back down, then shifted the car into drive.
"We've got some explaining to do," Sam said, checking over his shoulder for traffic, then pulling out onto the road.
He stopped at the first motel with a Vacancy sign spitting neon light into the early morning air and found a room with two queen-sized beds. He also grabbed extra towels and a take-out menu from the clerk.
By the time he'd unloaded the car, stacked the grenade boxes in the room and dropped their clothes duffels on their respective beds, he was exhausted. But he still had Dean in the car, slumped against the door, oblivious to everything by the sweet peace of darkness.
Easing the door open, Sam narrowed his eyes against the glaring light of the early sun. He caught Dean before his brother could tumble out, then crouched next to him so that he could fling an arm over his shoulder. His brother was way too heavy to be carried, but Sam saw little choice. Gripping Dean's wrist in one hand, and his belt loops in the other, Sam kicked the car door shut and dragged him into the motel room, dumping him rather unceremoniously on the bed, face-down.
Panting a bit with his exertions, Sam gathered the supplies he'd need to clean Dean's wounds, then set about his task. He worked the sleeves of Dean's jacket off of his brother's arms, then peeled it away from his bloody back. The flannel shirt was in tatters, as was the white T-shirt beneath it. Sam decided he'd just cut them off and worry about the ramifications later.
Sam pulled out Dean's Bowie, carefully sliding the sharp blade beneath the clothe, pulling upwards and slicing the clothing apart. Dean didn't make a sound. He was so still, in fact, that Sam paused every few minutes to make sure he was breathing. When the shirts were off, Sam took a moment to take in the sight of the wounds on his brother's back—wounds he'd absorbed so that Sam wouldn't have to.
It wasn't as bad as he'd feared, but it wasn't good, either. Six or seven large red spots—about the size of half-dollars—would soon turn into purplish bruises, and in the center of those spots, a gouge of skin was missing, blood still seeping from several holes. Sam winced a bit when he saw two wounds still had bits of salt embedded in the flesh.
Sam closed his eyes for a moment, fighting the urge to scream out the raw, frustrated anger that was hovering just below the surface of his control since the moment Dean had uttered the two words that broke his heart: one year. In the space of time between that moment and this, he'd been walking around with emotions like shattered glass slipping and slicing around inside of him, cutting him off from meaning, from reality, from anything that had to do with life outside of saving Dean.
"Dead inside…" Dean suddenly muttered, startling Sam into opening his eyes.
"What?" Sam asked, leaning closer. Dean's mouth was parted, his breath coming out in shallow pants, his brow furrowed, folded slightly by the weight of his head on the bedspread. "What did you say, Dean?"
Sam frowned. He was obviously dreaming, and though he wanted to pull his brother from such ideas, he needed to fix his back with minimal struggle first. Shifting out of his long-sleeved shirt so that his arms were freer, Sam retrieved the heavy-duty tweezers from their first aid kit, then wet one of the extra towels with warm water and soap, and one with just water.
Carefully, he pressed the soapy rag against Dean's shoulder, pausing as his brother flinched at the touch, then stroked slowly downward, cleaning the dust and salt from the wounds. The towel was soon pink, catching the seeping blood and smeared stains from the wounds. He followed the soapy path with the clean rag until he was satisfied that he'd caught as much of the salt particles as he could.
Biting on his lip until he could taste blood, Sam carefully plucked the small chucks of salt from the wounds on Dean's left shoulder, hissing in quiet sympathy when Dean jerked, his muscles shuddering automatically from the invasive touch.
As he applied the antiseptic to the cuts, his stomach muscles tightening each time Dean's skin shivered and shook in reaction to the pain, he tried not to think about Roosevelt Asylum… about having to do this to Dean's chest. About inflicting the damage in the first place.
He was cursed, he knew. Cursed to witness the person he loved most in the world suffer because of him.
"Couldn't protect his family…"
Sam continued to chew on his lip while Dean's muttering increased. He applied ointment and gauze patches while Dean railed.
"Wasn't there for Sam…"
Who was Dean talking about?
Finishing with the wounds on his back, Sam gingerly rolled Dean over to get a better look at the bruises on his chest. Dean frowned in his sleep, his legs and hands twitching with unconscious motion. Sam flattened his lips, examining the bruises. They were deep, edged with yellow, and centered on his sternum as if he'd been shot in the heart.
Sam tilted his head. Shot with what?
"Can't escape," Dean muttered, his head rolling loosely on the pillow, the line between his brows deepening. "Can't escape."
Watching his brother caught in the dream, the nightmare, suddenly felt intrusive, wrong. Sam stood, backing away from the bed, unable to take his eyes from Dean's form. Remembering what it had been like before to watch Dean laying wounded and helpless, unable to stop the pain or the torture.
Rubbing his fingers over his face, Sam dug the heels of his hands into his burning eyes, trying to erase the memory of too many close calls, too many just made its, too many what ifs.
He jumped at the coherent sound of his name. Dropping his hands he looked up, realizing he'd backed across the entire room and was leaning against the wall next to the air conditioning unit, as far from Dean's bed as he could get.
Dean blinked groggily, his movements sluggish, his expression confused. "Where the hell are we?"
"When… how…" Dean tried to roll to his side, attempted to push himself up to his elbow, but stopped with a hiss of pain. "Holy shit," he groaned, easing back onto the bed. "Kill me now…"
"You're not going anywhere for awhile," Sam said, still not moving away from the wall. "You passed out. Driving the Impala."
"What!" Dean's face went pale.
"She's okay. I stopped her."
"Thank God," Dean sighed, relaxing back into the bed. He closed his eyes for a moment. "I passed out?"
"There's only so much even you can take, man."
Sam watched Dean unconsciously rub at the bruises on his chest, then realize he was shirtless. "Where the hell—"
"I had to clean up your back," Sam said, moving a bit closer to the bed. "You had some rock salt bruises there. But that…" Sam nodded at the cluster of bruises over Dean's sternum. "That wasn't from rock salt."
Dean swallowed, turning his face toward the curtained windows, a splice of sunlight shimmering through the seam and drawing innocent lines across his features.
"No," he finally replied.
"Want to talk about it?" Sam asked, pushing the duffel from the foot of the bed and sitting down near his brother's feet.
"Dean," Sam said, looking down. He pulled up the leg of his leans, exposing the angry welts and bruises put there by Jeremy's bat. "I think we need to talk about it."
PART 1B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/30558.html