Disclaimer,Summary & Rating: See Chapter 1
I THOUGHT I SAW
"Deeean." Sam ground out the word more harshly than he intended, but his own stomach was experiencing a major butterfly infestation of nerves and the too-familiar underlying feeling of nausea; he didn't need the panther's intransigence.
But he could understand Dean's agitation and share it. Today was 'D-Day'; barring any traffic hold-ups they would reach the kahuna's home around lunchtime.
Unfortunately that knowledge had led to the prelude of a stressful night. Sam had dozed lightly and restlessly on the saggy bed with every worn-out spring apparently deciding to gang up and follow his shifting body around the bed to ensure maximum discomfort.
Dean had curled up at the bottom of the bed, about the only bit of the mattress capable of supporting his weight, but every time Sam opened his eyes (each time with them feeling grittier and more sore) Dean had either been sat upright on his haunches with his tail twitching or else silently padding in the cramped room, his repetitive back-and-forth pacing distressingly reminiscent of that psychotic condition that used to be seen in zoo animals kept in concrete cages without space or with no stimulation.
Sam had had to get up at about half-seven when he was so tired he was in danger of dropping off into real sleep, and did his ablutions in lukewarm water as the pipes groaned and chugged alarmingly when he turned the faucet on.
'Breakfast' likewise consisted of a cup of cheap, bitter coffee from the room's portable 'coffeemaker', a machine so incredibly ancient that Sam wouldn't have been surprised to find 'Methuselah woz 'ere 1656 A.A1' graffitied into it...Or if it had exploded when he switched it on, which was why he kept a healthy distance from the shuddering machine.
The coffee tasted as if it had been in the sachet longer than the coffeemaker had been there, but Sam knew his stomach wouldn't tolerate much in the way of food. Dean had growled and turned his head away when Sam offered him the other half of the cup.
But now it was time to leave, Dean was just standing there as if his paws were glued to the carpet, swinging his head and tail back and forth in rhythmic unison; Sam felt for him, but they had no choice here.
"We're at the point of getting you back to your egotistical bipedal self," he pointed out and then encouraged, "Dude, I'm talking about back to driving the Impala and being able to inflict that mullet rock racket onto the ears of innocent bystanders."
Dean bared his teeth at Sam but slowly padded out of the door that Sam closed behind him - there was no sign of life at the motel front office and the clerk would find the key when they came to the room later.
Sam drove in silence, not wanting even his favourite music disturbing him - and which would only aggravate Dean further. On the passenger seat the panther was so tense he was almost vibrating, his eyes glowing emerald.
As if the cosmos had decided to turn the screw for a bit more fun, traffic was surprising light for SoCal - but they hit every red light going, each one of which refused to change to green for at least an hour - or so it felt - each time. Also, unusually for Cali, they were heading into weather that was duller and more cloudy than typical, which Sam desperately tried to ignore as any sort of 'omen'.
But at 1.30pm he turned down a residential street in Bakersfield and pulled up on the front yard of a single-storey house. It had a long front porch and pastel-painted trim, with a neatly manicured lawn, and a trim border of brightly-hued bedding plants.
Sam licked his lips nervously; although Californians were supposedly – almost - as legendary as Texans for their laid-back acceptance of 'whatever floats your boat dude', there were limits to everyone's laissez-faire. But the street was quiet and appeared deserted; Sam could only hope most residents were at work - or at least not close enough to distinguish that what could pass as a Rottweiler-type breed was actually a leopard.
Oh well…Semper Fi, suck it up and deal or whatever Dad's trite Marine version of keychain wisdom crap would have been. Moving quickly, Sam walked up and knocked on the door briskly – and jumped when it opened almost immediately. He was disconcerted to find himself gazing into a pair of deep-set Spanish-brown eyes level with his own, so conditioned to automatically looking down; the kahuna was taller than general for Polynesians, but he had the big, stocky built typical of Samoan/Hawaiians.
"Er…" Sam drew in a breath
"Sam Winchester, and his brother Dean," the Kahuna's voice was a bass rumble reminiscent of James Earl Jones – how could it be anything else coming out of that chest? "Sullivan called. Come in."
With Dean pressed against his leg like superglue (not that Sam was complaining and would have edged closer to the cat in any case), Sam obeyed the invite, closing the door behind him and following 'Kala' inside. Like many SoCal homes, the house was open-plan with wood or tile floor, washed walls and blinds rather than heat-trapping carpets and curtains.
As he followed the Kahuna out to the back porch, Sam scanned the interior with demon hunting eyes. To the ordinary observer, the house was standard, average and normal, but to the trained eye, clues to the inhabitant's mystical status were easily visible. The spindles on the stair banister rail were ornately carved with seemingly random patterns that though Sam couldn't understand all them, he knew were anything but. Likewise the living room walls had been whitewashed in fresh cream-white and decorated with, again, seemingly random swirls – that really were random paint splodges, except that the spaces between the swirls formed protective sigils.
Similarly, the polished butternut varnish of the hardwood floor had thicker and lighter streaks in some places that 99.9 percent of folks would never notice; Sam, remembering when 'Meg Masters' shadow demons had murdered those people born in Lawrence, recalled how Dean had taken that duct tape and joined the blood-spatters to form a sigil. Sam would lay odds that were he to stop and overlay those streaks on this floor, he would find himself looking at some sort of occult marker, or even a Devil's Trap.
On the back porch that overlooked a neatly tended garden nevertheless packed with all sorts of mystically useful flora, not least of which hemlock, wolfsbane, foxglove, maidenhair, holly, mistletoe, etc., the Kahuna sat down and gestured for Sam to be seated. Dean sat next to Sam's chair, eyes fixed alertly on the Kahuna.
"Sullivan said you may be able to get rid of the curse?" Sam appealed.
Kala raised his eyebrows, "Surely you have been at this long enough to know that you don't break a curse, you just get out of its way."
Sam bit back an impolitic retort, "Yes sir," he conceded, "but I just want my brother back…and not hacking up hairballs all over the place." Even as he jerked his leg away from the snapping teeth he relaxed as a grin flickered over the kahuna's previously impassive face – for all Sullivan's confidence, and Dad's, it made Sam feel better that the guy had passed one of his own personal 'tests' of a person's character.
Something in the Kahuna's eyes made Sam suddenly nervous that Kala wasn't fooled by his witticism one iota, but the big man then turned his gaze upon Dean thoughtfully.
"The curse cannot be removed entirely, but I can – and must – implement some damage control, for it is assuredly very much broken in the practical sense," Kala decreed. "Sullivan told me about the 'twig caught in random river currents' analogy and it is very apropos."
"Whatever you can do to help…" Sam began with heartfelt gratitude.
"I cannot stop Dean from transforming again in the future, or from that happening without warning, randomly," Kala cautioned. "Nonetheless, what I can do is bring some order to chaos, by making it so that Dean will only stay in panther form for a set amount of time and then he will revert back to human form…I think…" he pursed his lips slightly, "…about forty-eight hours."
Dean made a soft appealing noise that Sam accurately translated for him, "Er…how about eight hours?"
The Kahuna smiled briefly but then shook his head. "No. The period of 48 hours is a happy medium. Although Dean may not have felt tremendous pain when he transformed, such shifts from one form to another are very stressful – were-creatures, such as werewolves, for instance, have a much shorter…natural, for want of a better word…lifespan than other supernatural creatures due to the physical toll taken on their bodies by the lunar cycle transformation, and the stress it does to their minds is also well-documented. It is also why demons will continue to inhabit even a badly-injured possessed body and why even Tricksters rarely change form – there is great strain involved even for them."
Sam nodded, realising the point. For Dean to change and then change back in such a short time-lag would not do him any good physiologically.
"Forty-eight hours, or two days, will be enough of a window for Dean to recover from the physical effects of a transformation, whilst limiting the period of inconvenience caused to him and you by being transformed to the minimum." Kala explained.
"Works for me."
Kala led the way to what was obvious some sort of study and inside he had already drawn a circle on the floor, surrounded by slow-burning candles and bowls of some sort of scented herbs. "Dean, please enter the circle and remain as still as possible throughout the ritual."
The cat didn't move.
"Dean," Sam prompted.
The panther looked at the circle with enigmatic eyes, then up at Sam, as if considering something.
"Dean…" Sam bit out more harshly than he meant to, but this was no time for Dean to be taxing the Kahuna's goodwill. So far Kala hadn't brought up the unpleasant subject of money, but Sam could guess his services as Kahuna came with a hefty price tag – one which the brothers Winchester would certainly struggle to pay. "Come on."
But then Kala stepped forward and, with a fluid grace that belied his bulk, crouched down in front of the panther. "Dean, the ritual will not work if you do not want it to."
The panther growled softly, tail tip flicking in agitation – Kala shot out his hands and grabbed the big cat's head so it could not look away.
"Hey!" Even as Dean roared and twisted back, Sam jumped forward, lashing out at Kala's arms and interposing himself between kahuna and cat. "What the hell do you think you're doing!"
Kala rose smoothly to his feet, completely imperturbable in the face of Sam's battle-ready stance. "The eyes are the windows of the soul, as you should now. Dean is considering remaining in feline form…permanently."
"What?" Sam demanded incredulously. "No – why?"
"He believes he can better do his job as a panther."
"A demon-hunting panther…" Sam retorted, "Who can't drive, can't hold a gun, can't stitch himself or me up when we get – " He stopped as he heard the echo of his own words; Kala was looking at him steadily, knowingly…because, of course, as far Dean was concerned, his job wasn't to be a demon hunter, that was just a secondary role. In the whacked world of inside Dean's head, his raison d'etre was solely to protect Sam.
Dean, stop being an idiot, would probably not help – as well as sounding the height of ingratitude, and Sam felt a deep-seated sensation of comfort – never to be acknowledged as 'the warm fuzzies' – because his big brother was as always focussed on what he thought was best for Sam, as opposed to his own condition. But how to convey all this to Dean in a suitably masculine way? Sam knew for sure that he better not turn this into any 'chick-flick' moment…
Squatting down on his haunches, Sam reached out an arm and placed it on the panther's ruff as he smiled into the glowing emerald eyes watching him warily. "Dude, not that I'm flattered you would seriously give up women and bar-hopping for your lil bro', but even if you staying a leopard was a good idea – which it's not – it just wouldn't work."
The panther gave a low, distinctly disgruntled growl.
"You've got to know how lucky we were to make it to Kala's without being pulled over by the cops," Sam argued persuasively. "How far do you think we'd get in the future with me having a full-grown panther in the front seat, or trying to check into a motel with 'what-in-hell-is-that?!' going on? Without you in human form, who's going to stitch-up my cuts after we've taken out some fugly? Without you human, I'm going to have to do all the driving – although, actually, that means I get to play decent music…"
With a sharp snarl signifying 'not likely!' Dean shook himself, dislodging Sam's hand and padding into the circle, where he plonked himself down in a sitting position decisively, eyeing Sam through narrowed eyes.
Ah yes, threaten air pollution in the interior of his baby, Sam heroically did not smirk, helped by the fact that his primary emotion was one of relief…and anticipation. He didn't care how babyish it sounded, and it was in the safety of his head, but he wanted his big brother back to bipedal with that old battered leather coat and insouciant grin present and correct.
Having remained silent to one side, Kala now stepped forward again. Facing the panther, he began to chant sonorously as Sam sensibly kept quiet. As the ritual progressed Sam felt a tingle as realised how powerful the big, unassuming man must be…Kala's voice had a subtly compelling quality, a barely noticeable rhythm that was strangely hypnotic. Such a voice was a weapon, just as much as a knife or gun.
There was a strange noise that Sam, ever after, could only call an anti-sucking sound – a thousand times faster than the blink of an eye and Dean was gone to be replaced by what looked like a sweater-grey cloud, but which wasn't; it was if something had turned Dean into free-floating molecules and was now thrashing them around in a cocktail shaker. Involuntarily Sam blinked and there was a familiar figure – jeans, jacket, silver charm necklace, spiky brunette hair with way too much gel… "Dean!"
Dean pressed both hands to his chest and then quickly patted himself down. "Yes! I'm back, Sammy!"
"Thank-you," Sam began sincerely to Kala.
"No thanks are necessary," Kala smiled at the antics of the elder brother who was still checking that all vital anatomy was present and correct. "We need all the hunters of your calibre we can get."
Dean also expressed his own thanks to the Kahuna, who genially came out to wave them off after refusing Sam's tentative approach on the subject of payment. Sam sniggered as Dean practically skipped down the drive and firmly set himself in the driver's seat. Jabbing at the tape-deck and muttering something about 'emo crap', he whipped out Sam's tape and flicked it into the back as he hummed Metallica cheerfully.
"Hey!" Sam protested from the passenger side as his only tape of Rites of Spring shot past his ear.
"Driver chooses the music," Dean began in a sing-song tone, "shotgun shuts his cakehole!"
"Well the driver best remember that Kala said he would turn into a panther again at some point," Sam snarked, "and then the shotgun might just go and spill coffee all over someone's mullet rock."
"…You wouldn't dare…"
"Are you ready to bet your only copy of Ride The Lightning on it?"
There was a moment of fulminating silence… "Bitch!"
And the world was once more as it should be.
© 2007, C D Stewart
Apologies for the length of time this has taken but finally, finito! I have also extensively rewritten False Memory and hope to post that to completion in the near future.
1 According to Bible chronology, Adam was created by God in October 4026 BC (that is, 4,026 years before the birth of Jesus Christ), almost – but not quite – at the end of the 6th creative "day"2.
Methuselah, Adam's great-great-great-great-great-grandson (in turn the grandfather of Noah) was born in 3339 BC and died aged 969 in 2370 BC, several months before the start of the Great Flood (which began at the start of November 2370 BC and subsided in 2369 BC). Of course nobody knew anything about, or of course counted time, as being before an event that would not happen for over 2,000 years, so time was counted as After Adam['s creation. Thus, to Methuselah, the year 2370 BC was the year 1656 AA.
2 Please note – the doctrine of 'literal creationism' (i.e., six 24-hour-long Earth solar days) is not and never has been a Biblical doctrine. This idea was invented over 200 years after the death of Christ/the Bible had been written by a small, but unfortunately influential, minority of church theologians who insisted that everything within the bible was to be taken as "literal" – even those scriptures where the biblical writer specifically stated he was being symbolic in meaning, such as for example Revelation 1:1 and Hebrews 2:4.
This vocal group was unhappily further 'helped' by the fact that the only Bible translations used at that time were in Latin and so the meaning and nuances of the original Bible languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were lost; in all these the word translated 'day' in English could mean anything from a literal 24-hour day to several thousands of years depending on the surrounding context or the subject under discussion.
In the original Hebrew and Aramaic, Bible chronology indicated that the Earth was billions of years old, that each of the creative 'days' was 7,000 solar years long (totalling 42,000 years) and that some of the creative acts were gradual processes that continued over several "days". If you were able to go back in time to the era of Jesus Christ – or back to the life of Moses who wrote Genesis - and told them that a 'literal 24-hour day' was meant, they would have laughed themselves silly at such a ridiculous notion.