Title: Time Marches On
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies. Kevin Parks is mine, but I'm not that possessive, really.
Author's Note: This story is set after the events of "Faith" and "Route 666". Portsmouth, New Hampshire is real, Strawberry Banke is real, Penhallow House is real. If you are familiar with any of the above, please forgive any artistic license.
Chapter One: Something Not Quite Right?
Looking back I'm not surprised it took us a while to notice that something was different. The visit to the faith healer – hell, even the circumstance that brought us there - had thrown us both off balance. Even with the insulation of years passed I can still feel the fear and loss that the anticipation of Dean's death caused, even though it's a feeling I haven't experienced since then. Memories of the relief I felt when he was healed still have the power to overwhelm, although they are now tempered with sadness. It took more years than I like to count to admit to myself that what seemed to be our salvation for so long was really a terrible mistake.
Of course, there was an initial cost for both of us when Dean's heart was repaired. We both had to live with the knowledge that the price for Dean's life was an innocent man's death. While Dean struggled with the question of why he was chosen – out of all those people – to be saved, I held onto my own guilt; secretly knowing that if I had it to do over again I'd do exactly the same thing – innocent lives be damned. Neither of us knew at that point that there was still a price to be paid.
Sam had heard that New England was beautiful in the fall, but this was his first opportunity to see it in person. A call from one of their father's old friends had brought them to the seacoast town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a trip that didn't promise much time for sightseeing. He had watched the trees fly by and caught a couple glimpses of the ocean, but he didn't hold much hope for more than that. Dean was in one of his moods, completely focused on the job ahead and, as he drove, frowning at the road in front of them, Sam knew better than to talk about foliage or cruising the coastline. Instead he stared out the window and idly wondered why they didn't travel into the northeast very often. The train of thought didn't take him far, and he finally gave up with a sigh, turning to look at his brother.
"So, do you know this guy we're going to see?"
"Yeah," Dean nodded with a quick glance at him. "Old Army buddy of Dad's. He's an archaeologist or something. We helped him out a couple years back at a dig in New Mexico."
Sam waited for more, but apparently Dean felt he'd provided enough information. It wasn't that he begrudged Sam the answers – he answered any questions asked – but he had been practicing this strange economy of words for a couple of weeks. Sam wasn't sure if it had started as a result of the faith healer or of leaving Cassie behind. Hell, it could have been something else entirely. He didn't know what the issue was, and he hadn't figured out how to talk to his brother about it. Leaving it alone, for now, he stuck with the current topic.
"What was in New Mexico?"
"Hodag," Dean answered succinctly.
"And what's this guy's name, again?"
Sam was ready to scream in frustration by the time they hit the New Hampshire toll. Instead he handed his brother a crumpled dollar bill and directed him to their exit at the Portsmouth Traffic Circle, where Dad's friend had booked a room for them at the local Holiday Inn. Sam eyed the liquor store across the circle, thinking cynically that their father would have been right at home.
Dean followed his gaze for a minute before cuffing the back of his head and striding into the building. Sam turned his back on the rapidly gathering dusk and followed his brother inside.
The Holiday Inn wasn't really fancy, but it was certainly upscale compared to the roadside motels they were used to. Sam unpacked their things while Dean secured and protected the room. Watching his brother finish up and cross to stand at the third floor window, Sam recognized his concern. They were accustomed to first floor rooms with doors that opened to the parking lot.
"Listen," Sam crossed to his brother's side, "the room's protected, it's the cleanest we've had in a long time, and we're not paying. It'll be fine."
Dean turned to him with a frown on his face. "What about the car?"
Sam laughed out loud, not bothering to hide his disbelief. "You have separation anxiety from your car?"
"Dude, don't mock. That car's never let me down. What if someone messes with it?"
Trying not to flinch at Dean's implication that the car was the only thing that had not disappointed him, Sam glanced out the window then shot his brother a tight grin. "Look, we'll pull the car around and park it in this side of the lot, right under the light. We can keep an eye on it from here."
Sam saw the poorly veiled gratitude in his brother's eyes and realized that Dean hadn't been taking a shot at him. For his brother it was simply a statement of fact – when everyone had disappeared from around him, the car had still been there. The fact that he felt guilty was his problem, not Dean's.
As Dean went to move the Impala, Sam grabbed his coat and headed for the lobby. Dad's friend would be meeting them shortly to explain his problem over dinner.
Kevin Parks was a trim, muscular man in his late forties. Thin wire-framed glasses, perched on his nose, gave a scholarly appearance but, beneath that, Sam got the sense that the man was ready for anything. Both brothers were impressed by his matter-of-fact acceptance of what they did.
Taking them across the river to a seafood restaurant in Maine where he was greeted by name, Kevin requested – and was granted – an out of the way booth where they could talk freely.
Explaining that he was currently freelancing as a consulting anthropologist for the Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, Kevin described their project to restore one of the old houses that was part of the museum. The work on the interior of the Penhallow House had been plagued by mysterious accidents, injuries, and even a small fire in the basement.
The brothers exchanged a glance. "Poltergeist?" Sam suggested.
Dean shrugged noncommittally. "Could be. What's the history?" he asked, looking at Kevin.
I've got the basics for you. There's a library on site if you need to look deeper," Kevin responded, producing a sheaf of papers from his briefcase.
Sam collected the papers and skimmed through the information as they waited for the check. Kevin reached into his briefcase once more and produced two ID badges.
"These will give you access to the site as my graduate assistants. The museum is open 10 to 5 until the end of the month, but the badges will get you in early or let you stay late. My crew is usually in around 8am."
Kevin picked up the tab for dinner, thanking them effusively for responding to his call. He spoke highly of their father as he drove back to their hotel, sharing old Army stories until he dropped them off. Dean seemed to genuinely enjoy the tales, but Sam found himself trying to reconcile the fun-loving Army prankster from the stories with the angry, withdrawn man who had raised him.
It had looked like Dean was shaking free of his moodiness over the course of the evening, so Sam was disappointed when – upon arriving at their room – his brother glanced out at the Impala then shut himself in the bathroom to get ready for bed. Emerging a few minutes later, Dean tucked himself into the bed closest to the door.
"'night," he muttered, turning his back to Sam.
"Good night," Sam responded. Sighing, he settled on his own bed with the laptop. He wasn't tired and he wasn't ready to confront Dean, still hoping he'd snap out of it on his own. Research was definitely the answer.
Sam woke up as the sun was rising. The laptop was gone, and the spread from Dean's bed had been tossed over him at some point in the night. He felt good thanks to an uninterrupted night's sleep. Glancing over as he stretched, he saw that Dean was still sleeping soundly and decided not to risk waking him by running the shower. Instead he checked on the car, standing by the window as he dressed quickly, and tiptoed out to track down some coffee.
Less than two hours later the brothers were on their way. Sam rolled his eyes as they walked into Strawberry Banke and Dean continued to mutter about leaving the Impala in a public parking lot. Their plan was to check out the restoration site, visit the museum's library, then return to the hotel to form their conclusions and make plans for the night.
The museum consisted of a cluster of period houses and out-buildings dating mainly from the 1700's. They had arrived prior to opening, and there were few people on the grounds. Consulting the map that Kevin had provided in the information packet the night before, Sam led Dean across the green to the far end of the property.
"It should be that house, straight ahead," he informed his brother.
None of the workers were visible outside the house, but someone had seen them coming and Kevin met them at the door. There was a small group of four or five workers on the first floor and Sam could feel curious eyes on them as Kevin led them through a quick tour, but no one commented on their unusual equipment. Sam carried the video camera, watching the display closely, while Dean turned on his modified walkman and monitored it as they walked from room to room. Kevin watched closely with obvious interest, but seemed reluctant to speak, as if he was afraid he might interrupt something.
"Nothing yet," Sam said as they finished with the first and second floors. The comment was mostly for Kevin's benefit, since the brothers knew that activity was unlikely during the day. "Does this place have a basement?"
Kevin nodded. "It's more like a root cellar. This house was moved here in the 1860's, probably placed over the existing cellar." He led them to a corner of the first floor, indicating a trap door.
The brothers exchanged a glance before Dean grabbed the inset metal ring and heaved the door open. A short, narrow, wooden staircase took them into a small room with stone walls and a dirt floor. There was no light in the space other than what little natural light filtered down from the room above. Dean fumbled through their ever-present bag and produced two flashlights. Handing one to Sam, he shined the other around the tight space.
"Whoa, what's that?" he asked suddenly, training the beam on a jagged opening in the wall behind the stairs.
Kevin shrugged before realizing they wouldn't see the gesture in the darkness. "I'm not sure. We found that shortly after the project started. It looks like a tunnel, but we haven't explored it. It's really narrow, and our job doesn't include the cellar at this point."
"Does anyone know how long it's been there?" Sam asked as Dean moved to shine his light into the opening.
"No one from the museum knew anything about it when we brought it to their attention," Kevin answered, "but the pieces from the wall were all over the floor when we started here, so it must have been made relatively recently."
Sam absorbed this for a minute. "And your guys haven't seen anything clearly." It was more statement of fact than question.
"No," Kevin responded. "Just smoky, murky shapes. It was tough getting them to admit to that much."
Sam grinned wryly in the dim light and opened his mouth to reply, only to close it as Dean interrupted.
"Sam, come check this out!"
It was only two steps to his brother's side and Sam found himself staring into the opening. The beam of Dean's flashlight only penetrated a few feet. He could see the rough, packed-dirt sides of the hole, then darkness.
"Yeah. It's a hole," he said, tone laced with sarcasm. In response, Dean held up the walkman in his other hand, and Sam could see the lights jumping.
"Dude, hold the light for a sec while I get the shotgun. I'm gonna take a closer look." Dean handed him the flashlight, adjusting his hand so he was pointing it at their bag. Sam was so startled by the idea, that it took his brain a minute to formulate a reply.
"No way! Dean, we have no clue what made that hole – we don't know how to kill it! You're not going in there alone, you idiot. We'll do some research, come back tonight and see if we can draw it out – face it together." Sam put his hand on Dean's arm, lowering his voice, "You don't have to do this alone."
Dean's eyes flickered, and for a moment Sam thought he'd won. Then Dean hoisted the shotgun in one hand. "I won't be alone," he said with a grin.
Sam rolled his eyes in exasperation, but the grin won him over; it was vintage Dean – from before the strained silences. "Hell, you probably won't fit," he laughed, flapping his arm for Dean to go ahead and try. "You're gonna regret all those cheeseburgers."
"Bite me," Dean responded, breaking open the shotgun.
"You don't know what it is," Sam pointed out again. "So how do you pick the ammo?"
Dean held up a cartridge. "Salt," he said, sliding it into one barrel. He held up a second, "Silver." He finished loading the weapon. "Covering as many bases as possible." Balancing the gun on the edge of the hole, he reclaimed his light from Sam.
"Shouldn't you take more ammo?" Kevin asked, inching up beside Sam.
"Got some in my pocket," Dean told him. "But it'll be useless unless it widens out in there. No room to reload." He laughed, turning back to the hole. "Good thing I don't miss."
Kevin looked to Sam for confirmation. He smiled wryly and nodded, pride in his eyes. Yes, Dean was cocky, but he was also that good.
Pushing the shotgun ahead, Dean wriggled – arms first – into the hole. After forcing his shoulders in, he paused when he reached his waist. "I think I can get in, but it's gonna be slow coming back out."
Sam cursed under his breath. It was already a bad situation. The thought of Dean trapped in the tunnel with God-knows-what was too much. Shining his light on his brother's waving legs, he was about to grab on and pull Dean out, regardless of the argument it would cause, when inspiration struck.
"Hang on a sec," he called, slapping his brother's leg for emphasis. Digging in the bag, he produced a length of rope. "Dean, I'm gonna slip-knot a rope around your legs. Yell or jerk on it if you need to get out in a hurry."
"Alright." Dean was muffled, but audible.
"You run out of rope and we're done," Sam told him as he finished with the knot.
"Yeah, yeah." Dean's voice drifted back as he inched his way down the tunnel.
Sam looked toward Kevin as he fed the rope into the opening. "You should get your guys out of the building, just in case."
Kevin hesitated for a moment, obviously interested in watching them work, but his responsibility to his staff won out, and he started up the stairs with a sigh.
"No one back in the house till we let you know it's clear," Sam called after him, leaning against the wall as he continued to feed the rope and wait for his brother.
In The Tunnel
It was a tight fit. The tunnel gave enough room for him to breathe and to inch himself along, but nothing else. Dean had to admit that Sam – with his scrawnier build – would have been a better fit, but there was no way he was letting Sam dive headfirst into this type of danger.
Using leverage created almost solely with his hands and feet, he continued, trying not to feel the dirt walls pressing against him from all sides or the occasional scrape of a jutting rock against his skin. He was pushing the shotgun ahead of him with one hand and the flashlight with the other. It wasn't much more than a minute before he saw a flat dirt wall ahead. Another couple feet and he found himself looking down into a dark crevice.
"I'm at the end, Sam!" he yelled back to his brother. "There's a drop-off." He shined his light over the edge.
There was movement below, and Dean's breath caught in his throat. He quickly set the light aside, leaving it on, and freed both hands for the shotgun. Staring through the dim light into the darkness below, Dean widened his eyes, watching for any hint of motion.
Enveloped in darkness, a creature opened its glowing red eyes and stared upward. It rose and stretched with sinuous grace, claws scraping against rock. It was not in any hurry, confident in its superiority as predator.
"Oh, crap," Dean muttered, aiming the shotgun at the glowing eyes. "Sammy!" he shouted. "Sammy, pull!" He heard the slithering of the rope behind him as Sam took up the slack, and quickly pulled the trigger, sending a spray of rock salt at the red eyes before he was jerked back from the edge. Dean thought he could hear the scrabbling of claws below, almost drowned out by his rapid breathing and his own passage through the dirt. His progress stopped abruptly as Sam battled with the rope, and suddenly the red eyes were in front of him again. They seemed to be just a few feet away, but he'd abandoned the flashlight and couldn't get a good look at the creature they belonged to.
"Sammy!" he shouted again, voice deep with warning, and then he was moving once more. Dirt and rocks dug into his skin. He fought to aim the shotgun, but without anything steady to balance it against, the motion kept jarring it off target. In desperation he jammed the gun against the top of his shoulder. A voice in the back of his mind pointed out that it was really going to hurt, but he brushed the thought away and pulled the trigger.
As the spray of silver lashed across its face, the creature started to glow, and Dean saw a confusing mass of claws and horns. He felt his feet pop out of the hole, and Sam's hands grabbed his ankles, but he couldn't take his attention off the being in front of him.
With an inhuman shriek it seemed to collapse in on itself then, just as quickly, it started to expand.
"Shit," Dean said aloud, mostly to himself. He let go of the shotgun to throw his arms in front of his face just as the creature exploded.
Sam heard the muffled 'shit' and yanked on his brother's legs. He felt the rumbling of the explosion and suddenly pieces of the wall were flying outward. He put all his strength behind one last tremendous yank, and Dean came flying out into his arms. Sam spun sideways under the weight and they both fell to the ground. His head hit the side of the stairs on the way down, and Sam joined his brother in unconsciousness.