Characters/Pairings: Dean, Sam, OCs
Rating: PG-13, but note: there are some mature themes/scenes
Spoilers: set directly after 3.10, Dream a Little Dream of Me. Includes references to characters and situations from previous stories.
Summary: An unreal heat, an unusual enemy, and an unresolved relationship buffet the brothers through the storm of Dean's deal. No wound is healed without leaving a scar.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: So, turns out I've been doing it wrong here in the LJ world. Many thanks to bayre for helping me with the code and whatnot. I hope this is better for ya'll.
Chapter 1, A and B
Chapter 2, A and B
The impact against his wounded back sent Dean’s senses spiraling through a star-studded tunnel of gray, his breath escaping in one harsh rush. In a confusing mix of motion, he felt the side of his face brush against the sandpaper like texture of what seemed to be a brick wall, then he was turned and pressed back harshly, his vision swimming as he fought to keep his feet.
With one surprised swallow, he felt the unmistakable point of a knife against the exposed hollow of his throat and his vision snapped to immediate and extreme clarity.
Darkness shadowed the man in front of him, but Dean saw clearly by the haloed edge of street lights that his brother was on the ground, his hand at his face.
Oh, hell no…
"Coimhéad fearg fhear na foighde," the man holding Dean against the wall growled.
Dean watched Sam struggle shakily to his knees.
"You want him dead, by all means, keep moving forward.” The scent of old tobacco on the man’s breath was nauseating, and Dean blinked quickly to relieve his burning eyes.
"What do you want?" Sam asked.
Atta boy, Dean thought, carefully easing his hands up from where they’d been bracing his bruised body against the wall.
"Kid, there are so many answers to that question, I wouldn't know where to start."
Mentally, Dean frowned. He knew this voice. There was something familiar about the accent, the arrogant spin of words…
"What do you want with us?" Sam’s irritation was evident in his tone.
Dean’s lips quirked in appreciation. The man’s knife pressed deeper. Dean instinctively sucked in a breath, trying ineffectually to scoop his skin from the point of the blade.
"I want you to go away."
From the moment he could hold a gun level without the barrel trembling from the weight, Dean had been most at peace around instruments of death. He knew their strengths and their weaknesses. He knew weapons better than he knew himself.
He knew by the curve of the blade against his throat which way to move so as to keep his pretty head attached to his shoulders. The moment he shifted, bringing his arm up to slam into the inside of his attacker’s elbow and collapsing his arm, Dean realized by the unexpected flash of light sliding across the man’s eyes that his attacker knew it, too.
Sam’s bark of alarm was lost in a red haze as Dean’s whole world narrowed to the space of the alley between the buildings. With a grunt of effort, Dean followed the thrust of his palm with a harsh slam of his elbow and heard the knife hit the ground. The man used his now-empty hand to belt Dean squarely in the jaw, gripping his jacket in an attempt to gain leverage.
Using surprise as his ally and pain as an enforcer, Dean pushed away from the wall, his wounded back screaming in protest, and shoved the man into the opposite wall. The neon light from the tattoo parlor across the street cast psychedelic shadows of green and blue across the man’s face, only serving to enhance his ferocious scowl.
“You son of a bitch,” Dean gasped, pushing away and taking a step back, his face tight with a cocktail of anger and pain.
“Holy, shit,” Sam breathed, pushing himself to his feet, the cast-off knife in his grip. “Griffin.”
Panting, the surly hunter nodded at Sam, but kept his eyes on Dean. “Boys.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Dean demanded, reaching up to gently probe the throbbing skin of his new tattoo.
“I could ask you the same question,” Griffin pointed out, squaring his shoulders and tugging his long canvas slicker straight.
Without looking at his brother, Dean held out his hand, immediately feeling the satisfying weight of Griffin’s knife in his palm. He expertly spun the blade first toward then away from him, displaying both knowledge and dexterity. He watched with pleasure as the realization that Dean knew what the hell he was doing with the knife registered with dark appreciation on Griffin’s face.
“I asked you first,” Dean replied.
Griffin’s dark eyes slid from Dean to Sam. He licked his lips, then glanced out to the darkened, empty street. Dean saw the long scar that ran down the length of the man’s face and hefted the knife in his hand. He’d felt the burn of a knife’s blade many times. Scars like that one were caused by anger, and Dean felt a small stab of pity for the hunter.
“I’m looking for a guy,” Griffin replied.
Dean turned his lips down, his eyebrow raising. “And here I took you for one of us.”
Sam tapped him with an elbow.
Griffin’s scowl deepened, digging lines of irritation around his mouth. “A wizard,” he clarified.
“Oh, I see,” Dean bobbed his head. “You got a thing for wands and capes, that it?”
“Dean,” Sam warned.
“Look,” Griffin whirled, pointing a finger at Dean, his eyes snapping with barely-concealed frustration. “You and me, we both got jobs to do. I stay outta your way, you stay outta mine.”
Dean schooled his face, keeping his expression blank. “You were the one that jumped us, Hoss. You want us out of your way, there’s better ways to do it.”
Griffin stared at him, his expression unreadable. Dean stared back. He felt Sam tense next to him, felt the slam of his heart against the same point in his throat where Griffin’s knife had pressed, felt himself ease into the moment, waiting.
“Not smart to mess with me, boy,” Griffin said, lifting his lip in a snarl. “I’ve killed enough evil sonsabitches to know how to do it without leaving anything behind.”
The hairs on the back of Dean’s neck came to attention. “Well, since we’re pullin’ them out and measuring—“
“Hey, guys,” Sam interrupted. “This going someplace or what?”
After a pause, Griffin asked, “You notice how it’s not exactly autumn weather ‘round here, Winchester?”
“Did seem a little warm.” Dean shrugged.
“Yeah, well,” Griffin looked at Sam, then back to Dean. “The wizard I’m after, he’s the reason. He’s not… normal.”
Dean huffed out a laugh. “Hear that, Sam? He’s after an abnormal wizard.”
“What do you mean?” Sam asked Griffin, a base on the acid of antagonistic humor Dean was building. “Is it some kind of spell?”
Griffin shook his head. “Not exactly. He… feeds. On a cycle. And if he doesn’t get fed, the place heats up.”
Dean caught Sam’s glance of disbelief, but said nothing. Sam was better at the Q&A. And just the sight of the burly hunter left a bad taste in Dean’s mouth.
“Feeds on what?”
Griffin narrowed his eyes, peering closer at Sam. “You know something.”
“Maybe,” Sam hedged. “Don’t think we’re quite at the I’ll show you mine, you show me yours stage.”
“Ni dhiolann dearmad fiacha,” Griffin spat.
“What the hell does that mean?” Dean shot back.
Griffin stepped forward, threatening. Dean subtly lifted the blade of the knife, catching the silver in the street light.
“A debt is still unpaid, even if forgotten,” Griffin replied.
Dean felt anger surge, hot and ready. He gripped the knife. “What. Debt.” He ground the words through teeth clenched in restraint.
Griffin stepped forward once more, his chest touching Dean’s, his face a breath away. “You took my revenge, took my kill.”
Dean stood firm, acutely aware of Sam’s proximity to this man. The memory of their last encounter with the hunter was like a sudden weight in his head and he wanted desperately to shove Sam in that vault, spin the lock and hide him inside.
“You crazy bastard, we saved your worthless hide!” Dean snarled, tendons standing out in his neck as he resisted the urge to push Griffin away. He wasn’t about to give the man the satisfaction of reaction. “You almost got my brother killed!”
“Your brother killed the dearthair!” Griffin thrust two fingers, hard, into the hollow of Dean’s shoulder, just above the fresh tattoo.
Dean grunted as fire shot across the skin on his chest. “You’re fuckin’ crazy, man.”
“The spirit killed my brother,” Griffin went on, poking Dean once more, backing him up a step. “And it was my kill.”
Sam’s voice, deep, hard, an edge to it that Dean had only heard a handful of times in his life, slapped against the tension that spanned the space between Griffin and Dean. Griffin pulled back slightly.
“What was that?”
“I said, you’re wrong,” Sam repeated, pivoting so that instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Dean, he now faced the two hunters, creating a triangle of bodies.
Dean barely breathed, the anticipation of blows hanging tensely on a cusp of air. He shifted to better see Sam in the shadows of the night, feeling his boot tip off the shallow, broken cement walk into the dirt of the alley floor.
“Say that one more time,” Griffin challenged.
Sam smiled. There was no humor in it, and the light in his brother’s eyes was laced with danger, but the smile was there. And it worried Dean more than the intentions of the big hunter.
“You killed your brother,” Sam calmly reminded the man. “The dearthair may have attacked him, but you’re the one who killed him.” The righteous tone of Sam’s voice was unmistakable: don’t think we’re gonna forget that.
“You son of a bitch,” Griffin growled, his entire body telegraphing the punch he attempted to throw at Sam’s face.
“Hey!” Dean barked as his arm flashed out, gripping the hunter’s coat sleeve and twisting his arm down.
Griffin, however, was beyond reason. Sam’s reminder, his smug expression, his entire demeanor seemed to push the older hunter over the edge and it was all Dean could do to restrain him. Dean dropped the large knife, the blade sticking loosely in the dirt, and shoved Griffin up against the wall. The hunter pushed back, fisting Dean’s shirt in his fingers and shaking him slightly.
In the space of a heartbeat, tempers skyrocketed and Dean once more lost focus of everything but dodging the hammer-like fists aimed with worrisome accuracy at his face while planting sharp jabs and thrusts into the soft flesh of Griffin’s middle and sides.
He didn’t notice exactly when Sam joined the fray, but he soon realized that they were in the middle of a near-silent brawl, cloaked only by the opaque shadows cast by the old brick buildings they’d sequestered themselves between.
A bwap of sound pulled all three up short. Panting, the hunters turned to the opening, slinking further back in the shadows as a police cruiser passed slowly, shining a light along the darkened storefronts and down the alley. Dean inched his toes from the edge of the light’s beam, his back bumping into Sam’s front as they waited for the danger to pass.
“You two,” Griffin panted. “Leave town.”
Dean spat blood and saliva to his left, dragging a dirty hand across his mouth. “Hell with that,” he said. “We got a job to do.”
“Just stay outta my way,” Griffin ordered. “There’s too many hunters in this town as it is.” He bent and picked up his discarded knife, sliding it back into the hidden sheath along his boot, beneath his denim pant cuff.
“Too many?” Sam asked, picking up on an inference Dean had missed.
Smoothing his black hair away from his face, the swarthy hunter looked at Sam with chagrin. “That damn red-head and her damn knife… telling me she can help me find the wizard… I don’t need any help.”
Dean froze as Griffin continued to speak.
“Not this time. I made that mistake once before, and I ain’t getting no more blood on my hands that I didn’t put there myself.”
“We’ll do our job,” Sam informed him. “And if that has something to do with your wizard,” he shrugged, “we’re not gonna let that stop us.”
Griffin spat. Resting his hands on his hips, he looked first at Sam, then at Dean, leveling his eyes. “This is my hunt, Winchester. Keep that in mind.”
Dean raised a brow. “You heard my brother.”
Curling his lip in a snarl, Griffin pushed past them, heading for the opening with a tense rolling gait that spoke trouble for anyone who tangled with him. The brothers watched him walk away, then turned to face each other. Dean reached up and tipped Sam’s face to the side with a finger to his chin. In the neon light, he could see a bruise already rising where Griffin’s elbow had caught Sam’s cheek.
“Gonna have a pretty shiner there, Mr. FBI Agent.”
Sam touched the bruise tenderly with the pads of his fingers. “Yeah, well, you look like you kissed a lawn mower.”
Dean grimaced, touching the tip of his tongue to a cut at the corner of his mouth. “What a bastard, huh?”
Sam nodded. “C’mon,” he said tiredly. “Let’s get out of here.”
They stepped from the alley, instinctively glancing both ways for any potential witnesses, then walked in step toward the Impala, both caught up in their own thoughts. Dean couldn’t stop himself from replaying the fight in his mind, thinking about everything he could have done differently, thinking about the information he should have gotten from Griffin.
“Hey, Dean?” Sam probed the silence with forced casualness.
“Who do you think the red head is?”
Virgil hadn’t waited for her this time.
When she returned to the diner, his truck was gone. For one brief moment, she felt a flash of relief, replaced swiftly by regret. As the gut-check moment subsided, Brenna realized that he wouldn’t have gone far. Virge was as dependable as the night. She knew it was unfair of her to continue to take him for granted, but she was caught between what he wanted from her and knowing that if she gave it to him, everything she was holding on to so tightly — her freedom, her identity, the safety she felt in the solitude of keeping herself away from a real connection — would disappear.
She wasn’t ready for him to be gone from her life, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask him to stay.
She took her time heading back to the Milton, driving around until all that was left of the sun was a liquid shimmer of light edging the horizon, hoping that the wind and road would free her of Dean by the time she walked through the hotel room door. The cool air of the A/C hit her and her skin drank in the relief. The doors that separated their adjoining rooms were open, and she could see Virgil stretched out on his bed, his red baseball cap tipped down over his eyes, chest rising and falling gently.
For one heady moment she considered crossing that threshold. She took two hesitant steps across the hotel room, approaching his door, then caught sight of her own reflection in the large mirror above the flat-topped dresser, and stared.
Dean was everywhere on her.
Like an after-image on a photograph, his touch had burned into her and she knew she couldn’t shake herself hard enough to get rid of it. She could still smell the tangy sweat from his warm skin, feel the rash of stubble scrape across her lips. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she reached up to touch the base of her throat, feeling her heart hammering against the delicate skin there.
Opening her eyes, she startled at the unexpected sight of Virgil standing in the doorway between their rooms. His bright blue eyes held hers, sad and knowing.
“I’m… tired,” Brenna said, her voice ragged with unrealized need. “I’m gonna turn in.”
“Have you eaten?” Virgil asked.
Virgil simply nodded, turning back to his room. He paused, half-turning to her. “Y’know… the day’s gonna come for you to make a choice, Bren.”
She nodded, though he wasn’t looking directly at her. She didn’t trust her voice.
“I’ll check on you later,” Virgil said softly, pulling the adjoining door nearly closed as he stepped into his room. Brenna heard his radio click on, Johnny Cash’s ancient, mournful voice lamenting through the clarity of age.
“What have I become? My sweetest friend. Everyone I know goes away in the end…”
Brenna rubbed her face, suddenly too tired to do more than shuck her boots and jeans. Tossing her jeans across the back of the chair — she wasn’t to the drop them on the floor in a pile stage quite yet — she adjusted her panties, frowning at their seemingly intolerable constriction, and crawled to the head of the bed, relishing the feel of the cool sheets on her flushed skin.
Someday… we should really think about doing this in a nice, big bed. The memory of her own voice taunting her, Brenna rolled over with a frustrated groan, pulling one of the pillows from the assortment over her head, pressing it close, smothering her ridiculous conscience.
“What was I thinking?” she muttered to herself, her voice muffled by the down-filled cotton. “Why did I push him away? Because he gets around?” It wasn’t as if she didn’t have her own chances. Hell, all I have to do is walk in the next room…
“What if I can’t find him again? What if that was my last chance? What if he’s just… gone…”
Flipping over once more, Brenna tossed the pillow to the floor and stared at the ceiling. Stop it stop it stop it… So many nights she’d been afraid to sleep because of the violence that visited her in her dreams — the sight denied to her with the touch of another slammed into her with unrelenting force when she slept. And all she saw was blood and knives and the terrified, fearful eyes of the sufferer and the witness.
Now, however, she was afraid that if she closed her eyes, if she gave in to the beckoning call of oblivion, Dean would be waiting for her on the other side. Dean and his guarded eyes, once so open to her. Dean and his scars. Dean and his mouth. His hands, his tongue, his…
“Stop it stop it stop it!” she said aloud.
“Brenna?” Virgil called.
“If I could start again a million miles away I would keep myself, I would find a way...”
“Go to sleep, Virge.”
Taking a deep breath, Brenna forced herself to close her eyes, using a calming technique she had perfected in her youth when she’d been unable to shut out the world and its sensations. Toes, sinking. Feet, sinking. Ankles, sinking. Legs, sinking. By the time she mentally reached her shoulders, her breath was slow, deep, drowsy. She rolled into sleep thankfully, needing the release it could offer her.
The dream began with a stark clarity unlike the others. She smelled the wet earth, felt it squish beneath her feet. Looking around, she didn’t recognize her surroundings, seeing only darkness and mud.
She jerked, looking to her right, and let out a startled cry at the sight of Sam Winchester, lurching forward, a hand grasping a dislocated shoulder. She’d never heard the voices in her dreams before, but she heard his now. Heard the hope and relief and oh, thank God and he’s here he’s here he’s here in it.
Brenna stumbled back at the sound of Dean’s voice, looking wildly to her left, unable to see him, yearning to do so, just once more. The smell of blood warned her, but she was unable to warn him. Turning once more she saw, as she knew she would, the flash of a knife reflecting from a hidden source of light, the dagger long, the edge studded with diamonds, the hilt dangerously beautiful.
Before she could even cry out in denial, the blade was shoved into Sam’s back, felling the hunter, his eyes clouding with pain and disbelief seconds before the image of his brother appeared, catching him as he fell, holding him, rocking him, soothing him.
“No,” Brenna breathed. “No, this isn’t right. This isn’t it.”
She could hear Dean’s voice; hear the tremble, the resistance, the denial. She couldn’t discern his words, but the pain in them sliced into her. She felt the sting on her arms, her torso, her belly. Looking down at her body, she saw the shocking brilliance of blood quickly covering her, and she sobbed, once.
“SAM!” Dean’s cry stabbed into her and she bent from the pain of it, her eyes lifting to find him, searching for him as her heart had been for the last two years. His back to her, he held his limp brother in his arms, shaking him, shaking them, shaking.
“No,” Brenna cried out. “No, this isn’t right!”
As if she’d said the words aloud, the sound of her voice yanked her harshly from sleep. Sweat matted her hair to the sides of her face, running in tear-like rivers from her forehead to her eyes.
Virgil’s voice sought her in the darkness and she pushed upright in bed, shoving her heels into the tangle of sheets until she bumped the headboard with her back, her hands laid flat as if they were still bleeding.
“It’s okay, Bren,” Virgil soothed, “it’s just a dream.”
“This was different,” she whispered, her voice shaking along with the tremble of her body, raspy with the edges of tears. “This was… wrong.”
“Easy, honey,” Virgil continued, edging closer. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll figure it out, okay?”
Brenna swallowed, trying to steady her breathing, unable to shake the images that had crawled inside of her as if she’d been… as if she’d been touching someone. As if she’d been touching one of the brothers. Dean…
“Let me just turn on the light here, okay?”
“No!” Brenna tried, but was too late.
Virgil flicked on the lamp next to her king-sized bed, easing a hip on the opposite side from where she sat scrunched up against the headboard. She saw him see her, saw him instinctively flinch away.
“Holy, shit… what… what’s going on with your eyes?” he asked, frank horror in his voice.
Nausea hit her like a tidal wave and she launched from the bed to her bathroom in a second. She was sick in the sink, unable to lift the lid of the toilet in time. Trembling, sweating, she turned on the water to wash the evidence of her dream down the drain. Bracing her hands on the cold edge of porcelain, she raised her face to meet her own reflection.
Her eyes had physically widened, the oddly-colored gold irises large and predatory, like that of a bird of prey. She hadn’t seen herself like this in quite some time. She knew Virgil had never seen it.
“I-I think my… my sight,” she tried, clearing her burning throat. “I think… I think it’s coming back.”
“Oh.” Virgil’s reply was that of someone who had been left standing alone in a once-crowded room. “That’s… good, right?”
“I don’t know,” Brenna whispered. “God help me, I don’t know.”
Splashing water on her face, she registered one thing clearly: someday wasn’t good enough. Dean had been right. She had to find him.
He’d found the cavern 25 years ago. After his first harvest.
The mine had been closed for years, the miners and the owners simply walking away, boarding up the entrance, never to return. When they were children, Lane had teased him about the mine shaft being haunted, daring him to enter, daring him to cross just one more line, take one more step. It wasn’t until Lane was gone that he’d fully embraced the idea of exploring the mine.
Rail cars that brought the ore from the depths of the earth to the light of the day were still and silent on cobweb and rust-covered tracks. A room for the miners’ equipment had been left, fully stocked with picks, lighted helmets, canned food, small burners for cooking food. Another room with bunks had even held some mementos from the miners themselves—love letters, diaries, bank books.
He’d kept them all, each week delving deeper into the cloistered recesses of the earth, the tomb-like darkness wrapping around him like a lover’s embrace. He felt closer to Lane the deeper he went, picturing him lying, peaceful, in the confines of the coffin, the earth cradling him.
It was in the mine shaft that he first accepted the fact that Lane wasn’t returning of his own accord. It was here that he first spoke aloud his love for his brother, love that most would say was immoral, unnatural, a sin. But in the dark, in the quiet, he could say it aloud, he could be honest, he could mourn as a lover would mourn, as a soul mate would mourn.
It was here that he attempted his first act of magic. It was here that he made his first kill. And it was here that he’d found the knife.
At first, he wasn’t aware what he had. He thought only that he’d found a treasure, a fortune. It wasn’t until much later that he realized he’d found the reason the mine closed. That he’d found a possible avenue for returning Lane to him. A way to live long enough that he could bring Lane back.
The connection was hidden not far from where he’d found the knife. It was an ancient paper, folded and pressed between the pages of a journal, tucked up in a make-shift pocket sewn to the underside of a dilapidated cot. Written in a language he’d never seen, by a hand that had apparently trembled, the script detailed a spell, a ceremony, the slices, the connection, the necessary elements to breathe in the souls, to add their energy to his own, to live forever.
The first time was awkward.
In his profession, he was accustomed to using a much smaller blade. The weight of the knife bent his weak wrists and it slipped from nervous fingers. He hadn’t thought to gag them, and their cries, pleas, reassurances to the other were distracting. He’d not expected the rush, the bone-crushing pleasure, the heat of the souls seeping into his. He’d not been ready, and he felt himself release as he only had before with Lane.
Afterwards, he wept. Kneeling in the pool of blood spilled only from the woman, not from her lover, he cried out his loneliness, his need of a connection like theirs, his loss of a soul mate.
And then… he was ravenous. He needed more. He had to be satiated. The spell talked of six, but he thought that couldn’t possibly be enough. It would never be enough. And yet, it was. He finished the six, hiding in plain sight, searching for a cove, a harbor, a hiding place.
He found it in the mine, in a pocket of earth built for just this purpose, he was certain. It was tall enough that he could reach his hand above his head and not hope to touch the top. He could cross from one side to the other in 20 paces. It was perfect. He knew he’d have to be careful—eventually, someone would suspect if he were perpetually twenty-six. He’d live in the shadows. Protected by night in the earth that became his home.
It wasn’t until much later, until he was mid-way through the third harvest of his elongated lifetime, that he realized he’d held the power to return Lane in his hands all these many years. The very thing that kept him breathing, kept him of this world, could bring his brother back to him.
And now he only needed two more for this harvest. Two more and he’d have enough power. Two more would stop time for him long enough. Just long enough to stay Adoamros.
“Adoamros,” he whispered to himself, sliding the diamond-encrusted blade from the soft suede sheath.
Candles burned, mounted on melted wax from years of burning, surrounding his cavern with a soft, deceptively innocent glow. The dirt floor was stained black with the blood of his sacrifices; his bed was a collection of discarded quilts curtained off from the altar of his own creation.
“I am Adoamros.”
He smiled to himself, feeling his lips stretch across his teeth.
“I am forever.”
They’d both been awake for awhile, neither inclined to move just yet. Outside, the sound of the third train to pass in an hour echoed through the still morning. Inside, water dripped rhythmically from the faucet in the small kitchen. Sam lay on the narrow bed in the equally narrow bedroom, staring sightlessly through the doorway toward the fold-out couch where Dean lay curled on his side, staring back.
“You’re quiet.” Dean’s comment rolled out in a sleep-rough voice.
Sam sighed. He wasn’t the one who made the noise in their family. That would be Dean’s job. His being quiet wasn’t all that unusual. But he knew Dean felt the difference, the quiet that was simply being versus the quiet of words intentionally left unspoken.
“Jesus, Sam, I told you she—“
“No, it’s okay,” Sam interrupted. They lay in the dark of the early morning, neither having slept much through the night, the space between the fold-out couch and the bedroom not too great that silhouettes couldn’t be seen and weighted sighs couldn’t be heard. “I get it, man.”
“I was going to tell you.”
“I know,” Sam reassured his brother, wanting to rid Dean’s voice of the plea that sat on the edge of falling into his tone. The plea that said trust me believe me know me. “Just like I was going to tell you about Griffin.”
“Well, that’s a little different.”
“Yeah, I mean, it was just something Bobby said, right? Not like you saw the guy.”
“True,” Sam agreed. “You’re right. You win. Your secret was worse.”
“Shuddup,” Dean huffed, rolling over on the couch with a swallowed groan of discomfort.
“Back hurting you?” Sam asked, regarding the outline of his brother as the gray light of dawn filtered through the semi-transparent curtains in the living area.
“Hell yeah,” Dean muttered, slowly pushing himself upright. “Doesn’t help that I slept on some support bar,” he groused. “Next time, you get the couch.”
“I won’t fit.”
“How is that my problem?” Dean snapped, standing.
Sam heard the crack of joints as his brother stretched his arms carefully over his head. He winced in sympathy as the discomfort of pulling the wounded skin on his back taut skittered across Dean’s features.
“Coffee? Or shower?” Sam asked, swinging his legs off of the bed.
“I can’t have both?”
“Not at the same time.”
Sam ducked slightly through the narrow doorway and met his brother in the tiny galley kitchen. They regarded each other ruefully for a moment, eyes automatically tracking to the sunburst sigil now permanently inked into their skin, providing a guarantee that no evil would take over their bodies, controlling them from the inside out. There was only what they chose, what they decided.
“Yours hurt?” Dean asked.
“It’s a little sore.” Sam pressed his fingertips into the hollow of his shoulder, tentatively rotating it to feel the skin pull. “Nothing I haven’t felt before.”
“Yeah.” Dean nodded.
Then sighed. Then leaned a hip against the counter. Classic signs of Dean Winchester Angst, or as close as he ever treaded to that line.
“I gotta find her, Sam.”
“Why?” Sam felt stomach tense at the vulnerability he heard in his brother’s voice.
“Griffin said she could help him, said she knew about the knife.”
Sam waited, watching as Dean worried his bottom lip, his shirt off, exposing both the tat and the edges of bruises from his back, his jeans resting loose on narrow hips, his hair as disheveled as sleep ever got it, his jaw line scruffy.
He looked both young and dangerous.
Sam knew that, though similarly attired, he just looked young. The only time he’d looked dangerous, he’d been possessed. Not exactly a confidence builder.
“She could have been telling him what he wanted to hear,” Sam pointed out. “She could have seen what he was after, if she touched him.”
“No,” Dean shook his head. “She… doesn’t have that, whatever it was, anymore.”
Sam frowned, leaning back to rest his pockets on the edge of the table, his hands hanging loose between his knees as he watched his brother. “What do you mean, she doesn’t have it?”
Dean lifted a shoulder, his eyes on the white and black checkered tile covering the kitchen floor. “She said she lost it sometime after Declan died—after we left. Woke up one morning and it was gone.”
“So… she touched you and…”
Dean looked at him. “Nothing.”
“You didn’t… spaz out?”
Dean straightened, his expression indignant. “I never… spazzed out.”
“She could knock you unconscious with a touch, Dean.”
“Only because I was usually part-way there anyway,” Dean argued.
Sam tipped his head. “Okay. Good point.”
“Anyway,” Dean turned and reached for the coffee maker. “The point is, she knew about the knife, and the guy who has it. She also knew that Griffin was after the wizard guy… or after the knife, I can’t tell.”
“So?” Sam probed, wincing at the sight of his brother’s bruised back. Most of the sores were closing, yellowish-purple edging the break in the skin. Two up by his right shoulder, however, looked wet and ugly, and Sam knew they had to hurt like hell every time his brother moved his arm.
Filling the coffee pot with water, Dean glanced at Sam. “So… how did she know about that? We literally stumbled on it ourselves. Not like it’s being advertised on billboards.”
“Maybe she started hunting,” Sam offered.
“God, I hope not,” Dean whispered, sagging a bit against the sink, arms crossed over his chest, eyes on the floor.
Silence fell between them, the only sound that of the percolating coffee.
“What is it, Dean?” Sam finally interjected, unable to take the line of tension drawing his brother’s face into a frown of muted memory.
Dean took a shaky, shallow breath, then lifted tragic eyes to Sam’s. “We have to find out more about that damn knife, Sammy,” he said, pulling the endearment from a place of need. “We gotta get there before she does, y’know?”
“She’s a big girl, Dean,” Sam pointed out, “she’s been on her own for a long time. She obviously knows what she’s doing.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean nodded, then rubbed a hand over sleep-puffy eyes before grabbing a large mug from the cabinet that proclaimed I Heart Trains and filling it to the brim with the fresh-brewed beverage. “I just can’t help but think… we kinda walked into her life, as screwed up as it may have been with those druid powers and all, and fucked it up even more.”
“We saved her life, Dean,” Sam protested. “That banshee was already there when we got there, man.”
“You ever think about that, though?” Dean sipped the coffee, facing Sam. “You ever think how these people we meet… these people we save… they didn’t know about any of this before they met us… and after…” He shrugged. “After they can’t not know.”
“You can’t blame yourself for whatever Brenna’s gotten herself into,” Sam said, feeling a sudden, powerful urge to knock his brother out, stuff him in the back of the Impala and drive far, far away. Before this hunt shortened their time to find a way out of the deal. Before this girl shortened the time he had left with his brother.
“I don’t… I just… I can’t help…” Dean paused, then took another drink. “Oh, hell, I don’t know what I’m talking about. We need to find out what the hell is going on with this damn dagger, then get the hell out of here.”
“After we see if it can save you,” Sam reminded him.
Dean met his gaze, and Sam saw there the truth that had been hiding from him since they left Jeremy. Dean was willing to fight for his life—to a point. And Sam saw the curtain pull back just slightly in that glance, revealing the limit his brother was willing to go.
“Whatever you say, Sammy.” Dean nodded. “I get dibs on the first shower.”
“Save some hot water for me,” Sam called after Dean’s retreating form.
Muttering something unintelligible in return, Dean waved a hand toward him over his shoulder. Sam rolled his lower lip in against his teeth. It has to work, he thought. I am not going to let him go to Hell on my account. I’m not going to let him go to Hell.
He had read the same sentence fifty times. The words were nothing more than black dots on white paper, the combination of letters no longer holding any meaning. He couldn’t get her out of his head. Seeing her again, so unexpected like that. She looked different, older. But, she’d felt the same.
She’d felt exactly the same.
Sam reached out and grabbed the ink pen from his hand, effectively silencing the nervous clicking he hadn’t realized he’d been doing.
“You’re the one who said we had to find out more about the knife,” Sam pointed out in a harsh whisper.
“You’re the one who said we had to find the knife in the first place,” Dean reminded him, matching his tone.
Sam sighed and sat back. “Research never was your strong suit.”
Dean lifted his eyebrows, folding his hands out and open as if to say no shit, Sherlock.
“So, what do you want to do?” Sam tossed the pen into the fold of the book. “Wander around and look for Brenna?”
Dean looked at his watch. “It’s quitting time somewhere.”
Sam rested his hands on his thighs, his head dipping forward in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”
“Listen, Sammy.” Dean closed his book, shoving it toward his brother. “When you weren’t around, I did just fine in the library. Found out what I needed and used it. And, dude, I wouldn’t take that pleasure away from you for a million bucks.”
“You’re so thoughtful.”
“I try,” Dean grinned, pushing to his feet and shoving his chair in, the legs bouncing off of Sam’s slightly. He grimaced slightly as the movement from so many hours stationary reminded him that he wasn’t completely healed. The wounds on his back had opened in the shower that morning, seeping all over the rough, white towels stocked in the miniscule bathroom.
He’d simply been too annoyed, and too proud, to ask Sam to help him bandage them. “I have my own brand of research,” he said, reaching back semi-casually to adjust the slipping gauze patch that he’d fit between the open sores and his T-shirt.
“Yeah, it’s called hustling some locals out of their money and barely getting out with your life.”
Dean tossed his brother a mock frown, and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair, digging into the inside pocket to pull out the two FBI badges. He tossed them on the table, then slid his arm into the sleeve.
“I can’t remember — am I Agent Ford, or Agent Hamill?”
Sam chuckled, tipping back on the rear legs of his chair. “Like you’d ever be Hamill.”
“Right.” Dean grinned. “Ford it is, then.”
He plucked the badge from the table, opened it to verify that the picture was indeed his, then slipped it back into his jacket. “Be good, Sammy.”
“Wait!” Sam called. “Where are you going?”
“Morgue,” Dean answered. “See if those victims can do more talking than the cops around here.”
“What about me?”
“I talk to you all the time.”
Dean grinned over his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Princess, I won’t leave you behind for long.”
He turned the corner from the alcove room they’d been camping out in for most of the day, swinging open the main door, completely missing the figure of a dark-haired man slipping quietly into the chair he’d just vacated.
The unnatural Pennsylvania heat slapped him hard the moment he stepped from the library, making him regret putting on his jacket. As he headed to the Impala, he slipped the leather off, tossing it into the backseat, then turned on the car and started toward the police station and the county morgue. They’d opted out of wearing their suits, the heat of the previous day turning the material into a rank, sweat-wrinkled mess.
Knowing the blue jeans and T-shirt look wasn’t going to gain him much in the way of respect, Dean swaggered into the police station with confidence and an air of importance seeping from every pour.
Calhoun, predictably, was there to greet him. “Agent Ford.”
“Hey there, Cal,” Dean tipped his head up in a greeting.
“What happened to your face?” Calhoun asked, his eyebrows up. “You look like you’ve been in a fight or something.”
“Well,” Dean crossed his arms over his chest, settling his face into a stern frown. “It’s a dangerous job, Cal. Thought I told you I wanted to talk to your boss.”
“Yeah, uh,” Calhoun shot a nervous glance over his shoulder. “He’s been… busy.”
Dean nodded, looking around the sparsely-decorated reception area. “Busy, huh? Well, then I guess I won’t bother him; I’ll just head to the morgue.”
“Morgue?” Calhoun squeaked. “Why’re you goin’ down there?”
Dean leaned close, bringing Calhoun toward him, and whispered, “’Cause that’s where the bodies are, Cal.”
“Yeah, but, Ross didn’t approve of any… I think we need some official papers or… hey, wait!”
“Go get your papers, Cal,” Dean called as he pushed through the door leading to the stairs, having already located the morgue on the fire escape floor plan mounted on the wall next to Calhoun’s desk. “I’ll sign ‘em when I get back up.”
Closing the door on Calhoun’s sputtering protest, Dean took the stairs two at a time, detecting as he got closer to the frosted window with black lettering identifying the morgue that someone behind that door was playing music. Loud music.
Loud emo music.
“I think of you when you're sleeping, of all the secrets that you're keeping…”
Swell, Dean thought as he pushed through the door, immediately confronted by the sight of four waist-high metal gurneys, each with a body covered by a white sheet. From beneath the sheets protruded the victims’ feet, pale, almost wax-like in appearance. He stepped to the closest.
Mara Whiting. Age sixteen.
His lips pulling down in an automatic frown, he backtracked to the first body.
Celeste Whiting. Age forty-two.
Mother and daughter, he thought, moving toward the victims he’d seen in the abandoned lot. As he reached for the tag, a door on the other side of the room banged open, startling him.
Dean adjusted his face into a benign smile at the sight of the slight, bespeckled Medical Examiner. “Carter, right?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Carter set the tray of shiny scalpels and other instruments on the table, scowling ferociously at Dean. “I didn’t give you permission to be down here.”
Dean shrugged. “Last time I checked, FBI trumps local M.E.”
Carter’s eyebrows met over his narrow nose in a scowl and he mumbled something to himself. Dean chose to ignore it.
“So, Carter,” he moved toward the slim man, away from the bodies. “Anything you can tell me about our victims?”
“You mean besides the fact that they’re dead?” Carter snapped, turning away from Dean and organizing his instruments.
Dean’s smile froze in place. “I see you’ve identified the first two,” he commented, raising his voice over the ending crescendo of Carter’s music selection. “Any idea where the killer found them?”
Carter paused, straightening. “Why?”
The blaring music stopped for a few beats.
“Well,” Dean yelled into the sudden quiet, then, quieter, “Well,” he looked back at the bodies. “If we can figure out where he found these four, we might be able to stop the next one.”
“What makes you so sure there’s gonna be a next one?” Carter tilted his head curiously to the side, his mild eyes snapping with curiosity.
Dean smiled smugly. “That’s… classified.”
Carter rolled his eyes. Another song started with a series of drum beats that made Dean think instantly of Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher. He felt the beginnings of a grin pull at his cheeks just as Carter reached over to a dial on the wall by his desk and turned the music off.
“Well, Agent,” Carter replied snidely, pushing his lips out and causing his mustache to twitch. “From what we can tell, the last place the Whitings were seen was at the train museum.”
“And these other two?” Dean asked, tilting his head toward the gurneys.
Carter lifted a shoulder. “A bar.”
“Any idea which bar?”
Carter looked at a file on his desk, lifting a paper. “Uhhh… says here it was the Iron Bar.”
Dean huffed out a laugh. “Iron Bar?”
Carter regarded Dean with contempt. “You don’t do your research, do you, Ford? This town used to live and die by iron. There’s a mine just outside of town that employed every man in this town, once upon a time.”
Dean lifted his hands. “No offense, man,” he explained. “Just in my line of work, an iron bar has… a different meaning, that’s all.”
“Whatever you say,” Carter turned back to his desk, picking up a mask and tying it around his neck. Before he lifted it over his mouth, he looked at Dean. “You planning on staying to help?”
“Thought you already knew what killed them,” Dean said, feeling the beginnings of nausea twist his gut.
Carter turned to the closest body, pulling the white sheet down to the shoulders of the victim. Dean saw that it was the woman, slices and cuts cleaned, skin unnaturally pale, an oxygen-deprived blue tinge around her lips.
Carter tilted his head as he spoke, his voice a soft sigh of puzzlement. “We know that one was drained of blood and the other’s heart stopped, but…”
Dean stepped forward. “But what?”
“I don’t know why the heart stopped,” Carter shrugged, pulling the sheet completely off of the victim, setting it aside, and leaving the woman exposed. “Tox screen came back normal.”
Dean averted his eyes, feeling at once the need to escape and the need to sit down.
“You’re new at this, aren’t you?” Carter asked.
Dean shook his head, feigning casualness. He felt his voice strangle in his throat as he proclaimed, “Not my first body.” He forced himself to look back, wiping his fingers across his sweaty lip.
Carter started the Y incision, and Dean fastened his eyes on the mousey man’s profile, and not on the fact that he was essentially skinning a human in front of him.
“So, someone took a few swings at you, hmm?” Carter asked.
“Huh?” Dean bleated. “Oh, yeah, uh, well, y’know… dangerous job and all…”
What the hell is wrong with me?
He’d witnessed autopsies before. Seen more dead bodies than he cared to admit—some of them getting that way because of him. But watching Carter break the woman’s sternum and clip the rib bones for ease of removal almost had him searching for the nearest sink. His head swam and his back - goddamn Dad and his goddamn rock salt bomb — was burning. He felt the gauze patch slip to the waist band of his jeans, the open wound sucking the cotton of his T-shirt against itself.
“How long have you been playing FBI agent?”
That caught his attention.
Carter paused, holding up two latex- and blood-covered hands. “I said, how long have you been pretending to be an FBI agent?”
Dean schooled his features. “Think you’ve been down here too long, Quincy. I’m not pretending to be anyone.”
Carter lifted a brow, then turned back to the body. “Well, our fourth victim wasn’t poisoned. Her stab wounds didn’t bleed. Not one drop. And as far as I can tell, her heart was healthy. Right up to the moment it stopped doing its job.”
“So…” Dean quirked his brows in confusion. “What killed her?”
“She did.” Carter lifted his shoulders. “If I had to guess… I’d say she just… decided to stop living.”
Dean dropped his chin, looking at the slim M.E. through his lashes. “You’re telling me she killed herself?”
“Essentially, yeah,” Carter nodded. “The mind is a fascinating tool, Agent Ford. If she believed she was dead, or that she should die, or if she wanted to die badly enough… she could.”
Carter looked at the gurney waiting on the other side of the man. “She watched him bleed—more and more—with every cut. She watched him dying right in front of her. She was powerless to stop it. And I can’t imagine these wounds felt all that great.” He looked at Dean askance. “If you were going through that with someone you loved… would you want to live?”
Dean swallowed, his memory graying out any logic. What am I supposed to do?! “I see your point.”
Carter looked back at the woman, speaking softly. “She did the only thing she could.”
Part 3B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/34214.html>