Characters: Dean, Sam
Spoilers: Set in Season 1. Timeline is one week after the events that take place in Shadow.
Summary: Sometimes it's not the leaving that's hard.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
a/n:This story was written a little over a year ago for the Rooftop Confessions 3 zine, March(ish) of 2008, printed by GriffinSong Press. If you read it there, I thank you! Many thanks to the GriffinSong Press for the opportunity. Rooftop Confessions 4 was just printed and includes stories by some fantastic writers. I am honored to have a story included.
“Our situation hasn’t exactly improved.”
“Just... gimme a second to think.”
“That’s gonna take... more than a second.” Sam ground the last bit out through teeth clenched against currents of hot pain shimmying down his arm.
“Ha fuckin’ ha,” Dean panted, forcing his tired, stiff fingers to release the metal gate that lined the interior door of the old elevator and, turning on his heel, dropped down beside Sam’s sprawled form. “Lemme see.”
Before Sam could protest, Dean had grabbed his wrist, pulling his bloody arm toward him, turning it gently in the wan light, his fingers like bands of iron, his actions a dichotomy of might and contrition.
Gritting his teeth, Sam watched his brother’s face in the muted, yellow light drifting down from the bare bulb in the ceiling of the elevator car. The light wasn’t effective for much besides casting shadows in the corners of the small space and toying with Sam’s imagination. Dean frowned, his eyes raking over the slash on Sam’s arm, his brows meeting in pissed-off agreement over the bridge of his nose. Sam felt his overheated body chill at that expression.
“Well, it sure ain’t good,” Dean muttered, flashing quick green eyes up to Sam’s face. The marks left by the daeva’s attack last week had nearly healed, but the purpled paths they’d left behind rippled as Dean’s forehead creased. “Don’t move.”
Sam nodded wearily. Dean stood, shrugging out of his long-sleeved flannel shirt with quick, sure movements, then bent and with steady, concise motions, began to wrap Sam’s arm.
“Damn, Sammy,” he whispered. “Bitch did a number on you.”
Sam stiffened, cursing under his breath against the flash of heat, instinctively pulling away from Dean’s sure hands as his brother wrapped the black and tan material around the deep cut that ran from the top of his shoulder to his elbow, effectively filleting the skin nearly down to the muscle and soaking his arm, hand, and chest with warm, sticky blood.
"Hold still," Dean commanded, his voice tight.
Dean gripped Sam's arm, trying to close the wound and wrap it tight at the same time. Sam felt water gather in his mouth, fought back the acidic bile that struggled to the surface in reaction to the pain.
"Ah! Damn, Dean!"
"Sorry." Dean's voice gentled and his touch became lighter as he continued to wrap.
“Wh-what hit me?” Sam swallowed, flicking his eyes up to Dean's tense face.
“Fingernails, I think,” Dean growled.
Watching Dean's hands, Sam tried to replay the last few minutes in his head, trying to figure out how he'd let the spirit get that close. His thoughts ricocheted, settling on quick sensations, scattered sounds: the burning slice down his arm, Dean's yelled command to go, move, the roar of the shotgun. Then he was pushed, forced, shoved into the elevator car, landing in a tangled heap of legs, pain, and blood.
Sam blinked, shifting his gaze up to Dean's face. The light in his brother's green eyes had turned almost feral; the person Sam usually saw reflecting there was shadowed by fury. When he was younger, Sam had thought the look in Dean's eyes was anger at him—he thought Dean had been upset with him for bobbing when he should have weaved, dodging left instead of right, basically messing up.
It took watching his father react the same way when Dean had been hurt for Sam to see that it was fear and not anger fueling the heavy voice, the rigid jaw, the sharp eyes. Fear of loss. Fear of losing.
“You’re supposed to keep this red stuff on the inside, you know,” Dean said, his voice softening at Sam’s low groan of pain.
“S-so they tell us,” Sam quipped back. “Somebody forgot to tell the spirit.”
“This should hold it for awhile,” Dean said, nodding with satisfaction at his field dressing of the wound. “But we gotta get out of—”
Just as Dean tied off the end of his make-shift bandage, the elevator car shook, hard, knocking him sideways, off his feet. Sam shot wide eyes around the narrow space, holding his wounded arm against his stomach, his other arm sweeping out to press flat against the wood paneling framing the walls.
Dean rolled quickly to his knees, a curse quaking his lips, silenced by caution. Sam slid his eyes over his brother’s crouched form. Dean balanced on the balls of his feet, one hand stretched out toward Sam, the other braced against the floor like a runner in starter position. Dean’s eyes bounced quickly around the car, shooting up to the ceiling, then back to the gate-lined elevator door.
“Where’s the shotgun?” Sam breathed, afraid to speak any louder.
“Bitch knocked it out of my hands.”
“Right after I shot at her.” Dean looked at him out of the corners of his eyes, and Sam realized that by shoving him into the elevator car to get them away from the spirit, Dean hadn’t had time to retrieve their only weapon.
Sam dragged in a trembling breath, heat from his wounded arm sliding over him like vertigo. He rested his gaze on Dean, working to steady himself, his head, his eyes, the hard thrum of his heart. Dean somehow looked… wrong… without a gun in his hands. The elevator car shook again, and Dean went to one knee. They both held still, silent. The barely-healed cuts on Sam’s cheek suddenly itched, but he didn’t dare move to scratch them. Dean was his benchmark; he wouldn’t move until he saw his brother do the same.
The bulb above them flickered, snapping and fizzing as their only source of light lost its valiant fight for survival. The old elevator car was plunged into pitch. Sam heard Dean pull in air. Sam tried to open his eyes wider, hoping to see something... anything. Trying to see Dean.
Black ate black.
Darkness built upon darkness and soon Sam’s eyes watered from the need to blink. He licked his lips, shuttering his eyes, wetness seeping from the edges and gathering on his lashes. It was completely silent, save for his heartbeat. He couldn’t even hear Dean breathing over the clamoring sound.
Sam felt sweat trickle slowly down the back of his neck, tickling the hairs there and slipping silently beneath his T-shirt collar to chase the length of his spine. He tightened his shoulders. The darkness seemed to grow, absorbing reality. There was no sound. No light. No air... the darkness was killing the air, sucking it up and pulling it away.
He was suffocating.
A sure, steady hand gripped his lower leg and Sam jerked.
“Easy.” Dean’s voice was low and calming. “Just take it easy, Sammy.”
And suddenly Sam could breathe again. Dean kept his hand on Sam’s leg, his powerful fingers—so like their father’s, Sam realized—tightening reflexively as he shifted. Sam could feel Dean move slightly as he searched for something.
Two quick shnicks and Dean’s face was illuminated by the warm light from his Zippo. Sam felt weak from the uncanny relief of just seeing his brother’s face. Seeing his brother's eyes reflect reassurance back out at him. Sweat glistening as it ran down Dean’s temple to smear the grease and dirt gathered on his left cheekbone from where it had impacted with a wall less than an hour ago.
“There you are.” Dean grinned.
Sam smiled back, feeling the tremble of fear on the edges of his lips. “It’s doing this. The spirit.”
Dean let the lighter go out.
“Probably,” he said, his voice casual in the darkness.
Sam held still, not wanting to inadvertently dislodge Dean’s hand.
“Dean,” Sam said, cursing the weak shiver of air that wrapped around his whisper. “Those people—“
“They’re okay for now,” Dean replied, and Sam heard his voice sway as he turned his head in the direction of the elevator door.
Don’t go, Sam wanted to call out. Stay. Stay right here. But he said nothing.
“As long as they stay inside that salt ring, anyway.”
“That Allan guy—“
“I know,” Dean interrupted. “He could be a problem.”
Dean’s sigh was heavy. The slight increase of pressure on Sam’s leg carried with it the weight of responsibility Dean had shouldered so many years ago, going it alone without realizing there was someone else there able to carry the load. That weight increased when innocents were endangered. Even if those innocents were arrogant, loud-mouth, bastards like Allan Foley.
“You think he’ll step out of the circle?” Sam asked, swallowing, suddenly thirsty.
“I have no idea,” Dean replied wearily. “We told him—all three of them—what would happen.”
“Hell, they saw what would happen,” Sam said softly, thinking of the fourth member of the party they had been trying to get out of the building.
The small group of people had recounted to Sam and Dean how they had all watched helplessly as the spirit had grabbed Sean Andrews, one of the building contractors renovating the old five-story hotel into apartments. Sam remembered the realtor, Jen, describe how, with a choppy tilt of its head, the spirit had burrowed with talon-like nails into Sean’s chest, stopping his heart with a vicious clench of its fist.
The elevator car jerked violently a third time, and without warning dropped several feet, sending Dean lurching to his side, across Sam’s legs. Sam’s stomach bounced nauseatingly to the base of his throat before settling back into place.
“Shit,” Dean spat out, trying to untangle himself from Sam in the dark. Sam heard something crack against the wall next to him. “Son of a bitch.”
“No, I’m not okay,” Dean complained. “I’ve had it with this fuckin’ spirit.”
“Well, we’re not exactly in a position to do much about it right now, man,” Sam pointed out.
“Like hell,” Dean said, his voice low, dangerous, and Sam felt a chill as Dean’s hand left his leg. He held his breath, listening as Dean used the wall to Sam’s left to gain his feet.
“Dean, we don’t know where the bones are,” Sam called out. “We got a hundred year-old, renovated building, three people trapped on the fourth floor, and we’re stuck in a broken elevator.”
“Thanks for the recap,” Dean snapped, and Sam heard his voice traveling away from him as he felt along the walls toward the door.
The threadbare industrial carpet that Sam rested upon absorbed very little sound and Sam listened as Dean’s boots marked off space. He knew Dean was trying to figure out how much area they had to work with inside of the elevator car. He'd always counted on Dean's constant motion... and the purpose within the movement.
“Sam.” Dean’s voice came out of the darkness to rest on Sam’s ears, pulling him from his reverie. Near as Sam could figure, Dean was standing next to the elevator door in front of the control panel.
“Those letters... the ones on the tail-end of the coordinates Dad sent us...”
“O-T-I-S,” Sam supplied.
“Yeah...” Dean’s tone was soft with thought.
Sam tilted his head in an automatic gesture of question even though he knew Dean couldn’t see his own hand tickle his face in this blackness. He quelled the instant rush of resentment that he’d been struggling against since receiving the coordinates just five days after John had left them, beat-to-hell and bleeding, in the alley behind the apartment building in Chicago. Left them because he was vulnerable with them.
Bullshit, Sam rebelled silently. You just didn’t want to stay…
“Otis is the name of the spirit, right? Thought we already discussed this.” Sam’s tone carried the hard edge of his thoughts.
“Yeah, well.” Dean’s voice reflected back to him in a muted timbre as he turned his back to the elevator doors and faced Sam. “Don’t know about you, but I saw a chick.”
Sam blinked, thinking. “Yeah... it’s definitely female.”
“You know any girl Otis’?”
Sam shook his head, his thoughts jumping like a stone skipped over a still pond, searching for the end point, reaching fingertips of logic toward the solution.
“There’s a plaque... thingy above these buttons,” Dean said. “Feels like letters...”
“Holy shit,” Sam breathed, feeling Dean standing close.
“Didn’t some dude named Otis invent the elevator?”
“Elisha Otis,” Sam said softly. “Invented the pull system.”
“It’s the friggin' elevator, Sam.”
Sam nodded in agreement, knowing instinctively that despite the pitch-darkness Dean felt it as he felt every response, every refusal, every rebellion, every reaction that Sam had ever made throughout his lifetime. Dean simply listened to him on a different level than the world, than John, than even Jess had.
“Dad was trying to tell us—“
Sam didn’t get to finish his sentence.
The car shook again and Sam braced himself against the wall for another plummet, but this time the elevator shot up, fast, hard, jerking to an abrupt stop. Sam bounced roughly against the floor and heard the distinct crack of a body hitting the ceiling then felt the impact as something—an arm?—crashed across his outstretched legs.
Sam ducked, swearing, as the burned-out light bulb and a square of ceiling tile fell away, dropping on top of him. He shook the glass out of his hair and shoved the tile away from him—in the opposite direction than he’d heard Dean land.
“Hey, Dean, you okay, man?”
The darkness felt suddenly thick around him, as if the jarring elevator had shaken murk from the corners, filling the space inside with nothing, yet leaving no room for them. Sam leaned forward cautiously, reaching out and down with his good arm, searching for his brother. His long fingers tracked down the dusty denim of his legs until he felt the warm skin of Dean’s limp arm.
“Dean?” he whispered again, shifting so that he could grip Dean’s arm, shaking it. “C’mon ...”
Dean’s arm twitched under his hand.
Sam felt along Dean’s arm to his brother’s T-shirt-clad shoulder, wincing as the increased movement reverberated fiery pain through his own wounded limb, causing his fingertips to quake. His hand found Dean’s neck, his hair, his ear, his cheek. Blood, unmistakable in its slick stickiness, flowed freely from a gash that Sam could feel paralleling Dean’s eyebrow.
Dean twitched under Sam’s exploration once more and this time the movement was accompanied by a low groan.
“Hey, man,” Sam whispered, relief making him weak.
“Son of a...” Dean moaned.
“Can you move?”
“Yeah,” Dean forced out through clenched teeth.
Sam kept his hand on Dean, sliding it from his brother’s face to his shoulder, down his arm, and then finally breaking contact as Dean slowly pulled himself to a sitting position, slumping against the wall next to Sam.
“This isn’t an elevator,” Dean muttered, and Sam felt him shift, his bare arm resting against Sam’s. “It’s a fuckin’ Jiffy Pop popper ...”
“The spirit’s haunting the elevator,” Sam pointed out helpfully.
“No shit, really? I’m so glad you’re here to tell me these things,” Dean grumbled.
Sam ignored him. Knowing that Dean's sarcasm usually increased in direct correlation to his level of pain, Sam continued, “If the spirit is focused on us, maybe those girls will be okay up there with Allan.”
“Asshole,” Dean muttered. “One of these days we’re gonna bleed because we’re saving someone who actually deserves it.” Sam heard him pull his knees toward his body. “I could handle that. Bleeding for assholes is getting old.”
“What about the girls ...Jen and Carina?” Sam heard Dean sigh. “We’re bleeding for people like them, Dean.”
“Always the silver lining with you, isn’t it?”
He felt Dean move again in the darkness and heard the shush of his cotton T-shirt rubbing against the wall of the elevator as his brother stood.
“Whoa.” Dean’s exclamation was heart-lurchingly weak.
“Gimme a ...gimme a minute,” Dean muttered.
Sam reached out to his side and found Dean’s legs. Fear stabbed low in his gut at the tremble he felt there.
“Why don’t you sit back down?”
“’Cause we’re not gonna be able to just ...will ourselves outta here,” Dean said, his voice clipped. “Unless you picked up another superpower I don’t know about.”
“Not lately,” Sam said, breathing a bit easier when he felt Dean’s leg steady.
“Okay,” Dean said, taking a breath. “So ...Dad was trying to tell us that the spirit was tied to the elevator.”
Sam felt the muscle in his jaw flinch. “Would have been nice to know before we, y’know, hid in it.”
“Nah, Sammy, you were right. This is perfect.”
“How do you figure?”
“If it’s focusing on us, it’ll leave them alone. And we can get rid of it.”
“Get rid of it?" Sam's voice was incredulous. "We lost our weapons, we used all of our salt to protect those people back there, and we have to destroy an elevator car. That we just happen to be sitting in.”
“I take that silver-lining comment back.”
“Face it, Dean.” Sam slumped back into the corner, gingerly pulling his wounded arm across his body. “We’re screwed.” He could feel fresh blood warming the flannel material Dean had so carefully wrapped around his wound.
“No way, Dude. When I'm screwed, I know it."
Sam blinked silently in the darkness, letting the quiet speak for him.
"Shut up," Dean grumbled. "You know what I meant."
“So what’s the plan then?” Sam challenged.
“I don’t know,” Dean tossed back. Sam could hear him moving around the car again. “I’m making this up as I go along.” Implied in his pinched tone was the plea to work with me here, Sammy.
Sam sighed. “Okay, well ...aside from the fact that it’s tied to the elevator, what do we know about this spirit?”
“It—she—was killed by that Doctor Whosit ...”
“Yeah, him, back when this building used to be a hotel. We knew he brought a patient with him to stay—just assumed it was Otis.”
Sam sighed, rubbing the heel of his hand against his right eye. He was tired. He hadn’t slept well since... since the Benders grabbed him. Since they burned Dean. Since they made Dean choose. Sam shivered. He couldn’t help but think that sleep might have come easier if John had still been with them. If they hadn't separated. If he had stayed despite what Dean had said.
It was suddenly too quiet.
“You okay, Sammy?”
“Yeah,” Sam lied.
“What is it?”
Sam opened his mouth, but closed it again almost immediately. How could he tell Dean something he didn’t truly understand himself? How could he explain how in one moment the broken puzzle of his fucked-up life had coalesced into a complete picture with the sight of his father’s rugged smile, the feel of his father’s arms, and then shattered again with the words you’ve got to let me go and the image of taillights receding in the distance?
Dean had been just as broken by John's departure as Sam—more so, Sam suspected, as Dean was the one to point out that John had to leave. That staying would only bring him pain. And Sam knew that for Dean, bringing their father pain was worse than anything he would suffer in the meantime.
Sam swallowed, deciding to change tactics. “So, this doctor killed the patient how? By throwing her down the elevator shaft?”
“No, don’t do that.” Dean’s voice pitched low, and Sam heard him lean against the wall to his left. “Spill it, Sam.”
“’Cause you’re the let's-talk-this-through one.”
“You never... spill it.”
“Doesn’t help me.”
“How do you know if you’ve never tried?”
“It’s Dad, isn’t it?” Dean said, slicing through the bullshit, through the evasive maneuvers, vectoring in on the target of truth as Sam knew he would.
Sam nodded silently in the darkness. Dean was quiet a moment. Sam knew Dean’s head had to be beating a rhythm of pain unique as his own heartbeat. He cringed in empathy. The silence continued for almost a full minute, then Sam heard Dean pull in a breath, deep, as if it might be the last one he took.
“It’s my fault, Sam.”
“What?” Sam leaned forward in surprise, forgetting his arm for a moment. He hissed at the sharp reminder of his wound and melted back against the wall.
“I called him. I fell for Meg’s trap and called him.”
“I didn’t stop you,” Sam pointed out.
“He left me to go hunt this demon, Sam,” Dean said quietly. “It was the possibility of finding the demon that brought him to Chicago. Not me—er, us.”
He left me ... Sam blinked at that. Dean hadn’t spoken about John’s decision in any other terms than we have to find him. Sam had often found himself wondering how the departure had ultimately happened. Had there been words of anger and betrayal reflecting the night he’d left for Stanford before the moment John disappeared? Had Dean had any idea that he would wake up alone one morning?
“It’s not your fault,” Sam said quietly. “He was never gonna stay, Dean.”
“I sent him away, Sammy.” Dean's voice was soft and resigned.
Sam bounced his eyes around the darkness, wanting, needing to see Dean. But all he saw were the images his mind cruelly tossed before his eyes. John’s tired smile when home from a hunt after days away. John’s tense face when he and Sam were toe-to-toe about something so important at the time that Sam had felt the words rake his insides with sharp edges as they tumbled into reality. Dean’s quiet eyes as he calmed Sam down, talking until their Dad's face lost the lines of anger around his eyes and mouth.
I just want us to be a family again...
“Dean, it’s not your fault, okay?” Sam shifted his stiffening back, pulling one leg under him, keeping his arm steady. “You did what you were supposed to do. What he trained us to do, man. You called him because we thought the demon was there.”
“It’s not the first time I called him. Asked him to come.”
The words were soft, the voice low, but something behind them screamed at Sam. A wordless scream that sounded like his brother’s soul was bleeding.
“Well, yeah, I know, I mean, hell, I called him after the Rawhead—“
“I called him from Lawrence,” Dean interrupted.
“Yeah.” Sam heard Dean shift against the wall. "I didn’t... I was pretty sure it wasn’t, y’know, our demon in the house, but... it was something and... I didn’t want to face it without him.”
“Jesus, Dean, I—“
“But the thing is... I did. We did. You and me.”
Something new slid into Dean’s tone, pulling Sam’s head sideways in question.
“After Jess... Sam, you could have gone. You could have left me. But you didn’t. You stayed.”
“Well... I had to.”
“No, you didn’t. You’re a good hunter, Sam. You could have gone after the demon, just like Dad. You could have gone your own way.”
I would never have made it, Sam thought. Not without you. He sat silently, listening to the quiet sound of Dean’s breathing. Matching his own breath to his brother’s rhythm. In wonder at the honesty darkness could entice into the open.
“Sammy, you and me...” Dean paused. “You were right when you said it’s never gonna be like it was before. I didn’t realize... that could be a good thing, y’know?”
“It’s my fault Dad’s not with us because... because right now... it’s more than just him being vulnerable when he’s with us. We’re better off without him.”
“What?!” Sam couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d suddenly found himself nailed to the carpet.
He heard Dean sigh, as soft as a confession. When he spoke, his voice was tight and Sam could imagine the grimace of pain folding his brother’s green eyes together as blood flowed from his forehead.
“He came to us when he thought it would help him, Sam. Not when it would help us. I mean... don’t get me wrong. The man is a hero. And I miss him, man. I miss him like hell. But… he’s gotta want to stay. He’s gotta believe that we’re stronger as a family. Or he’ll... break us.”
Sam was denied his chance to reply by the violent shake of the elevator car. His silent question of whether Dean was on his feet or not was answered when he heard his brother hit the floor with a curse. Sam clutched his arm to him, his teeth clenched against the bone-deep ache spreading from his wound, across his clavicle and into his jaw.
Cold began to seep into the elevator car. A familiar cold. A chill that warned of old death, of danger.
“All right! This chick is toast!” Dean spat harshly, his voice directed toward the floor.
“Dean?” Sam whispered.
“I’m gonna show this bitch how we do things downtown,” Dean growled.
Sam heard him grunt with effort as he stood.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going topside.”
“What? No, Dean, you can’t go out there—“
“You stay here, you hear me?” Dean’s voice had an edge to it that demanded obedience.
But Sam rebelled. “What the hell are you gonna do, huh? You can’t shoot her… can’t burn her bones...”
Dean was panting. Sam strained to pick up any visual of his brother. The darkness deprived him of even the tiniest glimpse.
“What are you doing? Dean? Dean!”
“Climbing the walls,” Dean gasped. “Spidey makes it look so easy.”
“And then what?” Sam felt sweat gathering at the base of his throat and along the waistband of his jeans. He felt his fingers tremble from pain. He felt his breath hitch.
Dean was leaving him.
“Ya think Spidey can see in the dark?”
“Fuck Spidey!” Sam yelled. “You're not going out there without me!”
“Hey.” Dean’s voice was once again commanding. “Listen to me. Sam? You listening?”
“Yes,” Sam replied sullenly.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m getting out through the top... somehow... and I’m heading back to the girls and Allan. They’re gonna get you out of here, okay?”
"I'm coming with you." Sam shifted his weight to his good arm, leaning forward. He tried to ignore how harshly his body shook with even that little movement.
"You can't, Sam. Not with that arm."
“What about you?” Sam asked plaintively.
“I’m gonna take out this elevator car...”
“How the hell...”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out,” Dean muttered.
“This is one of the stupidest ideas you’ve ever had, man,” Sam complained.
“Ain’t gonna argue with you there.” Dean’s voice was strained.
Sam heard the shink of Dean’s Zippo and suddenly the room was once again warm—not by the meager flickering light from the flame dancing in Dean’s hand, but by the sight of his brother’s eyes.
“You look like shit, Sam.” Dean grinned.
He was standing, braced, on the rail that ran along the middle part of the elevator walls, his neck bent at an uncomfortable-looking angle to get his head under the still-intact ceiling tile. Blood traveled down the side of his face as if it knew the path—Sam wondered if the crack against the ceiling tiles had simply re-opened the wound inflicted by Meg less than a week ago.
“Thanks.” Sam shook his head, unable to tear his eyes away from the light that framed his brother’s face.
“These tile thingy’s,” Dean grunted, keeping the Zippo lit and pushing up on one with his shoulder. “They move pretty easily...”
“Careful...” Sam grabbed the rail above his head, pulling himself to his knees, shifting toward Dean's balanced figure.
Dean glanced at him once. “You stay here. I'll be back. I promise.”
“Dean—” Sam’s chin trembled. He pulled a breath in. He let the air back out. He stared at Dean.
“I promise,” Dean repeated.
Sam started to push himself to his feet, his legs trembling like a new colt. He couldn't let Dean go out there—alone—and face this thing. He had to find a way to fight. He saw Dean open his mouth with the obvious intent to force Sam back with words. He wasn't given the chance.
An arm suddenly snaked down through the hole in the ceiling tiles that had been created by Dean’s ricocheting body and reached toward Dean’s neck. The skin was grayed and mottled; long, yellowed nails curled like talons as they dug into the exposed flesh beneath Dean's chin.
Sam had time to gasp at the sight of the purplish face and hideous jaundice of the eye that peered out at him from beneath dirty strands of black hair before the Zippo went out, dropping, dead, to the floor of the elevator car. Dean’s cry of surprised pain was cut off as Sam heard the spirit pull him up through the loose ceiling tiles and onto the roof of the elevator car.
“Dean!” Sam yelled after his brother. The car shook with the struggle that ensued above him. Sam clutched his arm, working to get to his knees, needing to help and helpless to do so.
Dean was gone.
And Sam was alone.
The feel of the cold, decaying flesh on the hand around his neck enticed Dean’s stomach into performing pirouettes as he twisted to break free from the spirit’s grasp. He could hear Sam calling for him, his brother’s terrified voice fueling his fight. In a moment of chance, he worked himself loose; the spirit’s nails leaving grooves down the side of his neck.
The opened entrances to the elevator shaft in the partially-renovated building filtered pale light down on him from above and up to him from below. Dean grabbed the thick cable that suspended the car in the shaft and looked wildly around for the spirit. He spied her perched on one of the steel supports across from and above him.
“Nimble little minx, aren’t you?” Dean muttered, gingerly touching the wound on his neck, thankful that the spirit hadn't had either the time or the leverage to fillet his neck as neatly as she had Sam's arm.
The scratches stung and blood seeped from the wounds, but he'd been lucky. More than lucky; the spirit had given him more than furrows in his neck when she’d released him—she’d given him an idea on how to get out of the elevator shaft. The trick was going to be doing so without joining her in death while also keeping her away from Sam.
Dean turned slightly, wiping his blood-smeared hand on his jeans, and reached for the steel support beam behind him, maintaining his grip on the cable that held the elevator in place. He was forced to stretch; his arms spread wide, his teeth clenched as he worked to keep his balance. The chill that had permeated his thin T-shirt inside the elevator car wrapped around him with sudden vehemence and Dean had one moment to rock back to a solid stance on top of the elevator before the spirit dropped the car down the empty shaft once more.
Dean heard Sam’s cry from below him and he flattened his body on the cold steel hoping that when the car jerked to a stop he wouldn’t tumble off the side. The car continued to fall and Dean shifted his hope from don’t fall off to the car stopping before he and Sam became smears on the basement grunted when the spirit jerked the car to a stop just shy of the bottom floor, then pulled it up toward the top floor with equal speed.
“’S not... a... fuckin’ yo-yo...” Dean gasped out as the pressure of movement pinned him against the roof.
The car came to a stop with a head-rattling jolt.
Dean groaned. “This has been fun and everything, but...” He pushed himself to his knees, working to steady his spinning vision. “I’m ready to get off this ride.”
The spirit was in front of him before he could gain his footing. She hissed, her fetid breath making him gag. Stumbling to his feet, he stepped back, the heel of his boot tipping off the edge of the elevator car. Dean flung out a hand on pure instinct, gripping the steel support beam above him. Using that grip to his advantage, he turned, stepping off of the rail car, and pulled himself toward the open doors leading to the fifth floor of the old hotel.
His arms began to tremble as he pressed his elbows against the edge of the flooring, maneuvering his suddenly heavy body out of the shaft and into the empty hall. He desperately swung his legs up, gasping, clawing his way forward until he was able to roll onto his back, blinking in the dim neon light filtering in from the street outside.
The hiss of anger was his only warning before the elevator shot up past the opening and then once again plummeted down before bouncing up toward him. Dean winced.
“Hey! Hey, you freaky bitch!” he yelled into the opening for the elevator shaft. “I’m gonna burn you, you hear me? The elevator fun ride is closing down!”
The elevator slowed to a gradual stop on the floor below him. The distinct smell of rot and decay wafted around him, mingling with an unnatural cold.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Dean whispered. “Stick with me, honey. We’ll go out with a bang.”
Pushing himself to a wavering stance, he stumbled over the construction materials left behind when the renovation from hotel to apartment building was halted after the unexplained deaths of several contractors. Using one arm as a guide along a dimly lit corridor, he searched for the stairwell. He knew he wasn’t on the right floor. They’d left the girls and Allan on the fourth floor, and there hadn’t been any construction materials on the fourth floor. He just didn’t know how far he had to go to find them.
This demon is a scary son of a bitch. I don’t want you caught in the crossfire, I don’t want you hurt...
The memory of his father’s rugged voice came to him, unbidden. Dean shook his head roughly, the image of John's smile suddenly teasing the edges of his hazy vision. He’d been so happy to see his dad, to feel for himself that John was in one piece, that he’d completely missed what John hadn’t said. The meaning behind the words that Dean usually heard loud and clear: I don’t want you with me... this is my fight and I don’t want you with me...
Dean came across a door, tried the handle. Locked. A sharp-edged shove from behind caused him to stumble past another door. He pulled up short, looking over his shoulder. A small sign reading stairs flanked the door.
“Not such a clever girl after all,” Dean muttered, pushing through the door.
A big, black number five painted on a white-washed wall greeted his eyes. He launched himself at the downward stairwell, taking them two at a time. His thoughts tangled his tongue, but he kept talking as if by allowing the words to escape into the open he was fueling his tired legs, propelling his beaten body down the stairs and toward a possible way out for Sam.
“Gotta get Sam out get the people out destroy the car how the hell am I gonna destroy an elevator car? Never mind worry about that later—AH!”
Just as he reached the fourth floor, something grabbed the back of his shirt, pulling him roughly back and slamming him against the stairs. Dean blinked in the shadowed passage of the stairwell. The spirit of Doctor Rand’s patient stood over him. With a quick, choppy motion, she straddled him. She sat on his chest, impossibly having weight, and reached for his sternum.
“Oh, hell no,” Dean gasped out, and in desperation, he swung his sweaty arm sideways, slicing through her image as though it were smoke. When she vanished, he took a breath, not bothering to wonder if the salt on his skin had actually been enough to momentarily dislodge her, and lurched to his feet.
Pulling the door open he practically fell into the hallway, trying to remember thedirection of the room where they’d left Allan and the girls inside of the salt ring.
“Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey,” he whispered, glancing both ways. “No, wait, that’s jar lids...”
He picked right and started a slow jog... into a dead end.
Turning, he nearly ran headlong into the spirit, her stilted, stuttering movements raising goose bumps on his flesh.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” he muttered. “A little short on time here—“
This time he didn’t even feel her skin, her nails, her touch. He was simply in the air one moment then slamming against a closed door the next. The door gave way with the force of his body and he fell to the dusty floor, gasping for the breath that had been driven from his lungs. The spirit twitched into the room, swinging her leg over him once more.
Dean coughed as his lungs fought for air. His mind was spinning; he couldn’t focus on one image, one thought, one sensation. His chest felt flattened, a crushing weight pressing him to the floor. He closed his eyes against the vertigo; his head had completely split open and he was cold, achingly cold.
Suddenly, a white-hot searing sensation shot through his chest, instantly clearing his head, bringing his world into focus. His eyes flew open, wide, and he gasped with the perfect wholeness of pain. She was killing him. She was reaching for his heart; she would crush it while it beat in his chest. And then she would go after Sam.
With a monumental heave, Dean rolled violently to his side, the spirit riding him as though she’d been a rodeo queen while alive. Dean screamed, pain wracking through him as her silent grip drove closer to his skin through his T-shirt. The unexpected blast that suddenly knocked the spirit free rocked him into shocked stillness. He curled slowly onto his side, pressing one hand against his chest and closing his eyes as he tried to remember how to breathe.
What the hell? Had Sam gotten out of the elevator? Found the shotgun?
It was a woman’s voice, trembling more from adrenaline than fear. Swallowing, Dean rolled to his back, blinking through blurred eyes at the figure of the slightly plump, very disheveled realtor standing in the doorway of the room, Dean’s sawed-off shotgun gripped in her hands and pointing at him.
“Can you...d-drop the barrel,” he managed.
Jen Cooper stared at him another moment, then looked down at the gun in her hands. “Oh!” She lowered the barrel to the ground and took a hesitant step forward. “Holy shit,” she breathed, soft brown eyes raking over him. “You look—” She stopped, swallowing as her eyes blinked from his face, to his chest.
“I’ve had ...b-better days,” Dean interrupted, attempting to sit up. He was still having trouble pulling in air. There was an unyielding stitch in his side every time he breathed that he knew from experience meant something was cracked... or worse.
“I’ll say.” Jen stepped further into the room, carefully reaching for his shoulder, and helped him roll to a sitting position. “Did I... is it... dead?”
“Was already dead,” Dean pointed out, pressing his hand flat against the floor and slowly curling his legs beneath him. “But you made it go away, so, uh, thanks for that.”
“Well, you were hollering to high heaven,” Jen said, bending over to hook an arm under his shoulder and heave him to his feet. “Scared the shit out of us.”
“You left the circle,” Dean said suddenly.
“Good thing, too,” Jen commented, staring up at him. Dean saw that her short, graying ponytail was crooked and there were streaks of black tracing the lines at the corners of her eyes.
“They okay?” Dean asked, his eyes darting toward the open door.
“Carina’s a mess,” Jen said, keeping her strong hand on his arm as he turned toward the doorway. “Allan’s busy worrying about how he’s going to sell apartments in a haunted building.”
“Friggin’ asshole,” Dean barked quietly.
“Nicely put.” Jen handed him the shotgun when he paused in the doorway, looking down at her.
Dean gripped the still-warm barrel and breathed a genuine sigh of relief. Finally, something to fight back with.
“C’mon,” he said. “We gotta get you guys out of here.”
He took a step forward, wavering on knees that shook from abuse and oxygen deprivation. His vision went white and he lurched sideways. He felt Jen grip his arm, easily shoving her shoulder under his arm.
“S’okay,” Dean slurred as the room tilted beneath him. “M’okay.”
“’Course you are,” Jen agreed sarcastically. “You look like you stuck your head in a garbage disposal and let it chew down through to your shirt, but I’m absolutely sure you’re okay.”
His vision steadying once more, Dean glanced down at her. The realtor had struck him immediately as a soccer mom, but he now could see she was the type that would be coaching the coaches on how to play the game. She moved him through the door and he returned his focus to the darkened hallway. Turning left, Jen led them down the hall to the room where he and Sam had left the straggling party of survivors.
The room was relatively empty save a large floor sander, two industrial-sized lights, a stack of leftover lumber, the dead body of Sean the contractor, and the two other people Dean was counting on to help him save Sam. Carina, the twenty-something prospective apartment buyer that had clung to Sam, weeping uncontrollably as he offered her comfort, sat in the center of the circle, arms wrapped around her knees, body rocking quickly back and forth. The fortyish building owner, Allan, who Dean wanted to plug on principle alone, paced the edge of the circle, muttering to himself.
They both stopped moving and looked up when Dean and Jen breached the doorway. Carina gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth when her large gray eyes landed on Dean’s bloody face. Allan ran a meaty hand over the top of the strands of greasy black hair that had long ago lost the battle for full-coverage of his shiny, white pate.
“Where the hell have you been?!” He demanded of Dean, his blue eyes pinpricks of panicked anger. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through? No cell phone reception in this place, no way to call for help. And you leave us in here with that—” he gestured without looking to the still, bloody body of the contractor in the corner of the room, “—and tell us to wait inside a fucking magic circle of salt—“
“Hey!” Dean barked. "Shut the hell up."
Allan blinked, his teeth clicking loudly as he closed his mouth.
“Are you okay?” Carina’s voice trembled softly from the floor. She had yet to untangle the knot of her body.
“Does he look okay?” Jen asked harshly, obviously hesitant to release Dean’s arm.
He looked over at her and nodded. “I’m okay,” he assured her. “You can let go.”
Jen did so slowly, her fingers extended toward Dean’s bare arm when she pulled away as if wary of him listing before her eyes once more. Dean stepped to the side, putting a bit of distance between himself and his rescuer.
“Go.” He jerked his head toward Carina.
Jen nodded, stepping over the salt ring and crouching down beside the frightened girl, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Allan watched, his upper lip curling in a disgusted snarl. “I’ve had enough of this shit. I’m out of here.”
“Stay where you are,” Dean commanded, his voice low. He didn’t look at Allan, merely shifted his shoulders square, tightening his grip on the barrel of the shotgun.
“Or you’ll do what exactly?” Allan challenged, stepping forward, his bulk twice the width of Dean. The toes of his shoes edged the salt ring loose. “You and that other guy ...” Allan raked his eyes down Dean’s frame with obvious contempt. “Nothin’ but trailer trash hustlers ...” He glanced once over his shoulder at Jen and Carina who stared back at him in shock. “I mean look at them, Jen! I’ve been telling you this whole time that they got no idea—“
Dean’s eyes were empty of all emotion when Allan turned back around. Whatever he had started to say died on Allan’s lips in the wake of Dean’s stare. Dean felt the muscle in his jaw coil across his jawbone, threatening to crack his teeth. He’d heard worse insults than this his entire life—directed at him, Sam, their father—but he was tired and he was bleeding and he hurt and his brother was still in very real danger and he didn't have the patience to deal with this.
“Listen,” Dean said, his tone dangerously controlled. “I may not put on a tie when I go to the office, but right now I’m the only thing standing between you and a shit-ass nasty way to die, so why don’t you cut me some freakin’ slack?!”
Allan swallowed, taking a step back from Dean.
“What can we do?” Jen asked quietly.
Dean shifted his eyes from Allan to Jen, automatically softening them as he took in the quiet glare she was directing to the back of Allan’s head. Taking a breath, Dean used the heel of his hand to wipe some of the blood out of his eye.
“Okay, well, your shot dispersed the spirit for a bit,” he said, glancing around the room, “but I don’t know for how long, so—“
“Are you kidding me?” Allan interjected. He stepped across the salt ring, bumping Dean’s chest with his own, leaning his sweaty face forward into Dean's. Dean didn't budge. “Dispersed the fucking spirit, huh? All you had to do was shoot it and we could get out of here?”
“Allan—“ Carina started, but Jen shushed her.
Dean lowered his chin, his eyes cold and deadly. “Don’t do that again.”
“Why not?” Allan challenged, raising a wiry eyebrow. “What are you gonna do about it, big shot? Huh? What could you possibly do to me?” He reached out and pushed two fingers into Dean’s chest right above the shredded marks left behind by the spirit’s nails.
Dean felt an instant calm rush through him like liquid gold. It swarmed his legs, belly, arms, and brought his right hand up in a fluid, accurate swing, cracking his fisted knuckles against the underside of Allan’s jaw. The big man dropped like a felled oak, a huff of air breaking free from his flat lips.
“That,” Dean said, shaking his throbbing hand. He looked at the girls. “I need your help to get Sam out of here.”
Jen nodded, instantly on her feet. Carina stared at Allan.
“Is he okay?” Carina asked.
“I could give a rat’s ass at the moment,” Dean snapped, his eyes finally finding his duffel on the floor behind Carina. “My brother is bleeding and trapped in a haunted elevator. My job is to get you guys out of here—get him out of here—and destroy that spirit.”
“How are you—“
“Hand me that bag,” Dean ordered.
Carina seemed to break free of her trance and grabbed the bag. She stood, approaching Dean. He reached out for it, setting it on the pile of lumber and pulling it open. They’d left most of their weapons down in the Impala, bringing only what they thought they would need for this supposedly simple salt-and-burn.
Should have known better... when has anything been simple for us...
He pulled out the remaining shotgun shells—four in all—and reloaded the gun that was gripped tightly in his hand like a lifeline. Grabbing his .45 from the bag, checking the clip and nodding in satisfaction that he had a sufficient amount of bullets, he looked over at Jen who stood waiting for orders, unconsciously shielding Carina’s seemingly fragile form with her strong shoulders.
“Take this,” Dean said, thrusting the shotgun toward her and simultaneously shoving the .45 into his back waistband. Jen grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, shifted the grip to her hand, pointing the barrel toward the floor. “This spirit isn’t going to take much longer to, uh, pull itself together, so you need to listen and move fast, okay?”
The girls nodded mutely, their eyes riveted to his face.
“Sam’s in the elevator. I’ll get the door open for you, but you need to get him out of here, down the stairs, and away from the building.”
“What if it...”
“You see the spirit,” Dean bit out, feeling the heat of pending battle flash behind his eyes, “you smell anything rotted, you so much as feel a shiver, you shoot. You got me? You shoot first, ask questions later.”
“But what if it’s you?” Carina asked. “Or Allan?”
“It won’t be.” Dean shook his head, casting his eyes around the nearly empty room.
Gotta torch that elevator ca ...think, Dean, think... He bent over, groaning a bit as his chest protested and his head throbbed, and grabbed an errant screwdriver, spinning it in his hand like a knife and holding it gripped in a slashing position. What I wouldn’t give for my Bowie...
“But, what if it is?” Carina insisted, tears on the edge of her voice.
“Well, if it is, you won’t kill us, okay?” Dean snapped. He rubbed his chest over his torn shirt. “Believe me. But you will harm the spirit.” He looked hard at Jen. “Do not hesitate.”
Jen nodded her head mutely in agreement.
“Okay.” Dean took a breath. “First things first.” He turned toward the doorway. “People before spirits.”
“You gonna just leave him here?” Jen asked, stepping over Allan’s unconscious body to follow Dean out of the room.
“For now.” Dean nodded, his sharp eyes peering both ways down the corridor before stepping free of the room.
Carina squeaked at that. Dean suppressed the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes.
“I won’t let him die,” he promised. “Let’s roll.”
Part Two can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/42156.html>