Sorry if you guys got the notice on this. I hit upload too quickly.
This has been floating in my head for a while now and it's taken me forever to do it. I've been overwhelmed with Cahokia. This is more of a retelling of Something Wicked (which I swore I wouldn't do) but it just seemed to make more sense this way.
My eternal thanks to Geminigrl11 for helping beta this. Also to my buds Tracer2032, MaddieM, Pixel-O, Tweedleduh and HTMarie. Check out their stuff!
Thanks for reading and for your patience!
They say in the moments before your death, your life passes before your eyes.
In that split second, you would think- hope- that some of your personal canvas would be painted by the good things in your life.
A normal person would see love and understanding, growth and companionship. Happiness from a sense of accomplishment: a graduation or wedding, the birth of a child, even a family vacation where you caught a fish the size of Detroit. Even something as simple as the smile of a loved one might steal of moment of your time as it quickly rushed by.
Not so for Sam Winchester.
There was just something odd about this job. Something that gnawed at the back of his head. Not in a menacing way - not yet - just in a why did Dad do this to us, again, and where the hell is he now? sort of way. He searched every local paper and website and every road led to a dead end and a big steamy pile of nothing.
That was what bothered Sam. There was nothing here.
Dean, on the other hand, didn't think twice about following their father's orders. He had complete faith in the coordinates, even though Sam questioned them. Dean never doubted. For whatever Dad might be asking them to do, he had his reasons. That was good enough for Dean.
They arrived in Fitchburg with no more information than the coordinates their father had forwarded. But then the pieces started to fall into place. Young children were succumbing to pneumonia overnight - too many to be coincidence.
The latest victims, two young girls, were in comas, along with the six other children that had been brought in over the last several days. The father of the girls was a mess. He explained how a window must have been left open to the girl's room. Pneumonia struck both his children in 24 hours.
It made no sense.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing. That guy we just talked to? I'm betting it'll be a while before he goes home," said Sam as the brothers made their way to that corner of town.
Dean looked at him, realizing that Sam was suggesting that they break in. Not a typical Sam-move, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Once there, they entered the home with caution, checking out each area of the bedroom. Sam was just about to call it a day when he noticed the burnt imprint of something non-human on the windowsill. "You were right. It's not pneumonia."
Dean's face paled. He knew what this was. Memories from his past swarmed instantly in his mind. Dean had seen this exact imprint before. His father had chased this thing sixteen years ago and now it was back.
"I know why Dad sent us here. He's faced this thing before." Sam cocked his head at the revelation. Dean looked to Sam and concluded, "He wants us to finish the job."
As Sam's impending death approached, everything that passed before his eyes was filled with death and chaos; fear and hatred. Every image was pain. Pain of loss, pain of understanding, pain of reality. Pain.
They headed for the local hotel to set up base. Dean had not given up a lot of additional information in the car, so Sam decided push a little harder.
"So what the hell is a Shtriga?"
"Kinda like a witch, I think. I don't know much about it," replied Dean, avoiding his brother's gaze.
"Well I've never heard of it and it's not in Dads journal." Sam pushed the facts back at Dean.
"Dad hunted one in Fort Douglas, Wisconsin about sixteen, seventeen years ago. You were there, you don't remember?" he stole a glance at Sam, wondering at his response. Cause I sure do.
"I guess he caught wind that the thing's in Fitchberg now and kicked us the coordinates." Dean focused on getting the gear from the trunk, hoping that Sam would take the hint that the conversation was over.
Sam wasn't done playing twenty questions, though. "So wait, this "
"Right. You think it's the same one dad hunted before?"
Dean was getting uncomfortable. He wasn't willing to share what he knew with his brother, not yet. "Yeah, maybe."
"But if Dad went after it, why is it still breathing air?" Sam pressed, still not happy at the answers he was receiving.
"Well, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe Dad didn't have his Wheaties that morning," Dean quipped trying to get his brother off his back. He was going into dangerous territory.
Sam wasn't buying it. He knew his brother too well, and Dean was hiding something. "What else do you remember?"
"Nothing, I was a kid," Dean answered and entered the door with a quick look back. Man he can be a pain in the ass.
Why did it always seem like he was looking to Dean for memories his brother wasn't willing to share? Just as he had been in Lawrence, he was struck by all that he didn't know about his own family history. And Dean was the only one who could fill in the blanks. But Dean wasn't offering any more information now than he had then.
Sam watched Dean completely avoid the question and head to the front desk. Dean was talking to the young boy who seemed to be in charge when he shot Sam a meaningful look. Sam could see a touch of worry on his face. Something about this gig scared Dean and he didn't want Sam to know why.
Why won't you talk to me? What are you protecting me from? Sam was all too familiar with the big brother syndrome and he was liking it less and less by the minute.
He saw his mother burning, blood dripping from above his crib, feeling the anguish of the loss, even though he could barely remember her. He'd been only six months old when it happened -- too young to remember. But now, the image was burned in his memory. Now he understood.
Sam took his familiar place at the computer and searched Dean's theories on the Shtriga. The witch fed on spiritous vitae, the breath of life, choosing young children as its preferred source of nourishment due to their stronger life force. Sam continued paging through his internet sources and discovered that the Shtriga could not be killed by anything made by God or man. That didn't bode well for their current weapons stash.
But Dean interrupted to reveal she could be killed while feeding by shooting her with consecrated rod irons; something he had learned from his father during their last encounter with the Shtriga. Sam wondered what else he still wasn't telling him about the hunt sixteen years ago. He opened his mouth to pursue the line of questions, but decided he it wasn't the right time to press the issue.
Jessica was on the ceiling, crying out to him as she burst into flames. He was too late. The love of his life was consumed by evil; the same evil that took his mother. He screamed and tried to reach her. It's my fault
What little information they could find led them back to the hospital, feeling that that was where they would find their witch. But their search for the Shtriga in an elderly patient brought nothing but embarrassment to the young men, and they quickly left; tails between their legs.
Arriving back at the hotel, they found the young boy from the desk, Michael, sitting outside the office. The boy was beside himself at the sudden illness that had overtaken his little brother. Pneumonia, again. Dean offered to drive Michael's mother to the hospital, while Sam went off to do more research.
"If you leave, don't you come back. Do you hear me?" He heard his fathers biting words pierce him as he slammed the door in his wake. Alone. Kicked out with no home to return to.
This was the thing that Sam enjoyed best about their gigs: the research. While Dean enjoyed killing all the evil sons of bitches, Sam found solace in books. He was certainly a skilled hunter, and could hold his own, but putting together the pieces to destroy something evil - especially a bastard going after young children - was part of the reward of the job. He had a knack for finding the right information in these old books, and he was bound and determined he wasn't leaving until he figured out what this Shtriga's pattern was.
As Sam continued flipping through book after book, then finally to the microfiche, he felt an odd sense of deja vu. He could find no reason for it, but as he found the articles on Fort Douglas, something hit him that he couldn't explain; a feeling of anger and sadness. There was a quick tightness in his chest. He tried to follow the feelings down the path they were leading him, but nothing made sense. He quickly brushed it off as attachment to the current case and went back with renewed vigor to find the source of the witch.
Sam hit pay dirt while paging through one of the articles. His eyes lit on a picture of a group of doctors hovering around a young child. Among the caste of physicians was none other than Dr. Hydacker - the same doctor who was caring for the pneumonia victims now, a mere 113 years later.
They had their witch.
'You're a selfish bastard you know that? You just do whatever you want. Don't care what anybody thinks," Dean came around the other side of the Impala to confront his brother. Their father and his motives was always a hot topic, and it just boiled over.
"That's what you really think?" Sam looked at his brother incredulously.
"Yes it is."
He grabbed the rest of his gear from the back of the car and slung it over his shoulder. Decision made. "Well this selfish bastard is going to California." Sam turned on his heel and made his way down the road, away from Dean.
Dean watched his sibling storm away from him, anger brewing inside. "I'm taking off. I will leave your ass. You hear me?" he called in a threatening tone.
Slowly, Sam turned to face his brother for what could be the last time. "That's what I want you to do."
A stare down ensued, neither man willing to waver. Dean shook his head at the gall of his brother, evident that he was done with the conversation.
"Goodbye, Sam." With that, Dean slammed the trunk with ire in his eyes and made his way to the driver's seat. He stole a last glance at his brother and drove off into the deep fog, leaving his brother in his wake.
The brothers met back at the hotel, where Dean paced with a fervor that made Sam uncomfortable. He knew his brother was on edge because of this gig, but he still didn't know why it was to such a degree. Dean was hiding something from him, and it was time Sam found out what.
Dean grew more and more agitated as they discussed plans of attack. Sam tried to work with him, but had to draw the line when Dean suggested using Michael to lure the Shtriga in.
"Are you nuts? No! Forget it! It's out of the question!" Sam couldn't believe Dean would even consider it.
"Its not out of the question, it's the only way." Dean got in Sam's face "If this thing disappears it could be years before we get another chance."
"Michael's a kid," Sam shot back, "and I'm not going to dangle him in front of that thing like a worm on a hook."
At those words, Dean wheeled on Sam. "Dad did not send me here to walk away."
"Send you here? He didn't send you here, he sent us here."
"This isn't about you Sam, alright?" Dean turned from his brother to avoid his gaze. He walked a few feet and stood with his back to him. "I'm the one that screwed up. It's my fault."
Dean's voice cracked with suppressed emotion. "There's no telling how many kids have gotten hurt because of me."
Sam watched his brother's walls slowly come down, brick by brick. He knew Dean was finally almost ready to talk to him. But he had to choose his words carefully. "What are you saying, Dean? How is it your fault?"
Crickets. That didn't work.
He sighed loudly and tried again. "Dean, you've been hiding something from the get-go." The older sibling made his way to the edge of the bed and sat down. "Since when does Dad bail on a hunt? Since when does he let something get away?"
Sam could see the body language in his brother. He was getting through. Time to be gentle. "Now talk to me man. Tell me what's going on."
It was obvious that Dean didn't want to continue. But he took a breath and finally told Sam what he needed to know.
"Fort Douglas, Wisconsin," Dean began, sitting on the bed, not looking at his brother. It would be hard enough to face up to his mistake without looking at those puppy dog eyes. "It was the third night in this crap room, and I was climbing the walls and I needed to get some air."
Dean was on the floor, clutching his chest that had just been pummeled with rock salt. Sam could feel the rage still pulsing through him, filling his mind and sharpening his senses. He cocked the gun as he looked down at his brother, an evil smirk twisting his mouth. "I have a mind of my own. I'm not pathetic like you," he whispered. And he pulled the trigger.
It pained Sam to watch Dean struggle with guilt; the guilt of a child that made an innocent mistake.
Dad had gone on a hunt, leaving Sam and Dean alone -- again. Sam vaguely remembered being in Fort Douglas, but after a while, one motel room looked like another. To the six year old, the only things that had mattered were being around Dean and getting his daily cartoon fix.
Dean, though, had shouldered a much bigger responsibility. Sam couldn't blame his brother a bit for wanting to sneak out and play a few video games after he had put his younger brother to bed. But Dean couldn't cut himself the same amount of slack.
Dean agonized as he recounted the sight of a horrible monster draped in a black cloak with spindly fingers that touched his baby brothers face. A glow had seeped from its mouth; an airy mist that the young boy knew was beyond evil. Dean had raised the gun as he watched with horror, seeing the figure loom toward Sam in attack, but then froze in terror, not knowing what to do.
The creature began its final descent to the sleeping Sam and a trickle of light left his brother's mouth, giving a tasty appetizer to the Shtriga.
It's your fault. You killed Jessica." He watched himself in the mirror, blood pouring from his eyes, insides tearing apart. "Those nightmares you've been having of Jessica, dying, screaming, burning. You had them for days before she died. Didn't you!"Sam gasped as the truth hit him like a ton of bricks. You were so desperate to be normal, to believe they were just dreams. How could you ignore them like that? How could you leave her alone to die?"
Dean finished the story, telling how their father had suddenly appeared, how he had shot the Shtriga and how it had escaped through a window, vanishing into the night. Sam could vaguely remember his father shaking him awake, hovering over him with fear in his eyes. The young boy wondered what had happened, never to receive a straight answer about the evening.
Sam's head hung as he listened to his brother finish the story. It all makes sense. He is blaming himself for something that was out of his control. It took everything he had to hold back and not grasp his brother into a much needed hug, but he knew that Dean would shy away. Not only because Dean was not that kind of person, but that he needed to beat and batter himself for almost letting his brother get killed. It was how Dean reconciled the situation in his own mind.
"He looked at me different, you know; which was worse. Not that I blame him," Dean said, still unable to look at his brother, guilt oozing from every pore. "He gave me an order and I didn't listen and I almost got you killed."
"You were just a kid," interjected Sam, trying to console his brother's heavy heart.
"Don't" Dean stopped, not allowing the words he needed to hear (but could not accept) brush past him. "Don't. Dad knew this was unfinished business for me. He sent me here to finish it."
Sam nodded his understanding of the situation and tried to empathize with his brother. All this time, Dean held the guilt of a mistake. It finally made sense why Dean always listened to his father.
"But using Michael. I don't know Dean. I mean, how about one of us hides under the covers. We'll be the bait."
Dean was still upset, but determined. "It's got to get close enough to feed. It'll see us. Believe me I don't like it but it gotta be the kid."
"You and I…you and I were chosen."
Sam found another like himself; the same paths with different crossroads. This young man had had to walk down a road of abuse and hatred. Sam watched him kill his father and uncle through his own painful visions, in cold blood. Now, Max's stepmother was next with Dean as a an unfortunate sidenote.
Sam poured out his passion to this tortured soul to no avail. His now empty words hung in the still air as Sam watched Max Miller turn the gun on himself, ending his life.
Sam wondered if his fate would be the same; leaving no choice but to stop the unending pain by taking his own life.
The hunters approached Michael and laid the truth on the table.
He thought they were crazy, and they thought they would have to re-group and try to come up with another plan. But then, there was a knock at the door.
"You said you're a big brother?" asked Michael, with fear in his eyes; not only for himself, but for his younger sibling.
"You take care of your little brother. Do anything for him?"
Dean paused as he looked at the boy standing in front of him. "Yeah. I would."
"Me, too." Michael said with resolve in his voice, taking a step forward offering his assistance in the destruction of the Shtriga. "I'll help."
Sam felt the anguish of both older brothers. Michael could have stopped the Shtriga from taking Asher, but his own fears and disbelief caused the near fatal error in judgment.
Dean had faced the same conflict. Sam had almost died because he hadn't listened to his father's orders. Sam knew Dean wanted to kill this thing for his father, to prove himself worthy again, but mostly because it almost took the thing most precious away from him - his brother.
Sam heard the crash of the lamp behind him. He turned to look and the cord came viciously around his neck, choking him. He dropped the satchel and grabbed for his throat, trying to ward off the attack. Sam reached again for the pouch of herbs to punch into the wall to rid his old home of the poltergeist once and for all, but his airway was restricting and the world around him was becoming darkness. His thoughts fell to his brother as he realized he failed him.
The hunters quickly set the stage to survey every inch of Michael's room. Nothing would get into the space without their knowing it. Nothing would harm the boy; not tonight under their watch. Not again.
Minutes grew to hours and the brothers waited patiently for any sign that the Shtriga was coming for its midnight snack.
"He's sure got issues with you," the skinwalker began, circling Sam like a wild animal making its final preparations for a feast. "You got to go to College. He had to stay home." The fake Dean stopped and corrected himself, throwing his bag to the ground. "I had to stay home. With Dad." The creature got into Sam's face. "You don't think I had dreams of my own? But Dad needed me. Where the hell were you?"
Punch after punch, blow after blow. An even match until the skinwalker jumped Sam and he landed back first into the glass coffee table. He struggled to catch his breath only to receive two brutal blows to his face. Then it came; the fingers grasping around his throat. He looked into the eyes of the killer - his own brother. Dean's earlier words flooding back to him. The pain in the voice of the thing that had taken over his brother's inner thoughts and feelings, spilling them to Sam's captive ears. Could it be? Are his issues that deep? The fleeting thoughts went in and out of his head and the air left his lungs, once again. I've hurt the only person left who would do anything for me. How could I have been so blind? The grip tightened around his esophagus and the stars came to greet him.
Sam sat in silence, wondering at everything that he had learned over the past several hours. All the times that he questioned Dean for being a good little soldier all came suddenly clear. Dean did it out of fear; the fear that almost lost him his brother. If he disobeyed their father's orders, someone else would get hurt. It was brainwashing to the nth degree, but it all made perfect sense in the world that Dean lived in.
"Hey Dean, I'm sorry," Sam began, feeling the need to and make amends
"You know, I've really given you a lot of crap for always following Dads orders." He looked to his brother, letting him know with his eyes how he felt. "But I know why you do it."
Dean was not in the mood for this kind of talk. He was never in the mood.
"Oh God, kill me now."
Sam snorted at how Dean could change a subject with a simple phrase or inflection of his voice.
Suddenly, both men were at attention as the Shtriga made its way into the room. They waited, and waited, and the moment arrived. Into the room they sprang, yelling at Michael to get under the bed. They unloaded a half a clip each into the witch. It fell over the bed, onto the floor seemingly lifeless.
Dean's heart swelled, but he knew better than to assume it was dead. The young hunter wasn't about to take any chances. He carefully approached the monster lying on the ground, riddled with bullet holes, gun aimed, waiting for any quick movements. Sam stood in cover position, looking for the all clear from his brother. They exchanged glances and Dean lowered his gun.
That's when the attack came at them with full force.
The Shtriga lurched for Dean, throwing him effortlessly into the bookshelves on the wall. Sam watched in horror as the attack occurred.
Then the witch turned on Sam with lightning speed, whisking away the gun in a single blow and tossing Sam like a rag doll. He bounced from the wall and onto Asher's bed. The creature was on top of him in a split second.
Sam fought to push the demon away, while at the same time reaching for the gun that would end its life. He worked between the two options, hoping that one would give him what he needed. The Shtriga grabbed with its boney fingers and made a V around the corners of Sam's mouth. He struggled as it grabbed at his face firmly, leering for a taste of his essence.
Suddenly, this moment felt familiar; for both Sam and the Shtriga. The creature had tasted this life force before.
Here, before it, was the one that got away.
Suddenly it didn't matter that he was old; it was a sweetness of revenge and fulfillment. It opened its mouth and began to feed.
When Sam locked eyes with the monster, everything melted away. There was no strength left for him to struggle. For a brief moment, he remembered the feeling, but somehow it was different as a child. There was no pain, or sadness then; just existence. Then, his father had rushed into the room and scared it off. Sam never even realized it had really happened until right now, when the awareness returned to him.
This time it was different.
He watched his life flash before his eyes, filled with devastation. Devastation that he had caused.
All the moments that passed before his eyes were encompassed in some form of evil, like it was part of his soul, reaching out to take hold of one of its own. It scoffed at him, daring him to break free from its grip, knowing it had won.
It all became perfectly clear to Sam. This was how it was supposed to end. He was evil. The demon chose him that fateful night twenty two years ago for a reason. This creature had found a way into Sam's soul and released what he had been hiding all along. Every image, every moment was pain and suffering. Everything he touched was doomed.
When the Shtriga went in for the final kill, Sam knew that he deserved to die. He did not fight it. The guilt was overwhelming, but now it would end. His canvas was complete; filled with darkness and destruction. Let it come. It's all my fault. Everything is my fault.
Dean wasn't about to let Sam be consumed so easily.
The creature looked up to see Dean before him, gun raised to his head. It watched the bullet in slow motion as its last moments flashed before its eyes - pain, suffering, an evil that encompassed its soul. All were over in the instant the bullet entered its skull.
Sam struggled to the reality of everything he just lived through. His shortness of breath was due to the essence that escaped from his being, but it was also the reality of knowing who and what he was.
"You ok little brother?" called Dean from across the room, gun still pointed at the monster.
All he could manage was a weak thumbs up as he made his way from the bed to a standing position. Bits of spiritous vitae escaped the Shtriga's now dead lips and Sam felt a slight rush as what was taken from him returned. Somehow, it didn't make him feel any better.
Dean fired three more times and more mist escaped its lips. Somehow, it did seem to make Dean feel better.
The next morning, Michael's mother returned from the hospital touting the good news about her son and the other children in the pediatrics ward. All would recover and life would continue on as normal in Fitchberg, Wisconsin, except for a young boy who now knew the truth about the world he lived in.
The Winchesters watched as the boy and his mother drove to the hospital to see their youngest family member nursed back to health.
Sam was melancholy in their moment of victory, reliving everything he had thought and felt in the moment when the Shtriga almost took his life. A part of him . .. a part of him almost wished it had.
"It's too bad," he said, turning from the car and making his way to the passenger seat.
"No, they'll be fine," replied Dean, not seeing where his brother was going with the conversation.
"It's not what I meant," Sam interrupted. "I meant Michael. He'll always know there are things out there in the dark. He'll never be the same, you know?"
He drifted as he thought about his own darkness, and all that was waiting in it for him. "Sometimes I wish that… "
Dean looked at his brother with concern. "What?"
Sam sighed. "I wish I could have that kind of innocence." He shook his head, trying to jolt free the horrors that it held inside.
His brother obviously felt the sadness and pain in Sam's voice and demeanor. "If it means anything," he began, "sometimes I wish you could too."
With that, Dean opened his car door and climbed in.
Sam's large torso draped over the passenger side roof, knowing that Dean meant every word. Unfortunately, Sam now knew the truth, and there was nothing Dean could do to take away the guilt that was his to bear.
The truth that there was a darkness in his soul, and someday it would come to claim him.
And he knew, deep in his bones, that the day was coming soon.