Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to the television program Supernatural, and I'm not gaining any monetary profit for writing this.
Dean's awake, but he doesn't want to open his eyes just yet, because he's pretty sure he's not going to be happy when he does. But just as he's become certain that strong denial will change reality and that he's really not in a bad—okay let's be honest here, very bad— situation, he feels the breeze of displaced air as something not quite touches the side of his face. He startles at the sensation, and his eyes open.
"Awww, crap," he breathes, because it's just as bad as he imagined.
The strigoica's spirit is hovering over him, and her long hair is what is not quite brushing against his face. She leans down further, causing his skin to sting where she touches him, and suddenly Sammy's words are flying through his brain.
"Sort of like a shtriga, but more dangerous. Undead spirit that steals souls on top of stealing life forces."
"Aren't souls and life forces sort of the same thing?" Dean had asked.
"Not quite. The life force animates a body. The soul, well, it's just more. You know?"
Dean had been shocked that his geek brother couldn't seem to put definition to word and had been about to harass him about it when Sammy got a few words in ahead of him.
"Don't even start, Dean. People with better minds than you and me have been trying to define the soul for centuries, and they still haven't managed. I doubt that you can do any better."
Dean had cursed himself, because usually he was good at coming up with a smart mouth answer to these challenges of Sam's. But for some bizarre reason, he had found it difficult to even poke fun at the topic of souls and had settled on waving his arms uselessly as he tried to find something appropriate to say.
"Okay, it's just more. I gotcha," he had eventually resorted to admitting.
Sam had smiled triumphantly, and Dean had almost—almost—wanted to slap that look off of his face.
And now he'd do almost anything to see that triumphant smirk all over again. Hell, he'd do almost anything to see Sam at all, because he's figuring that Sam might be able to help him out of what is most definitely a situation gone all fucked up.
He's thinking all of this, but what he's seeing is her. And she's beautiful. All wide, blue eyes, ginger-bright hair, and fine features that he normally would never say no to. Even now, he feels himself giving in to her, leaning towards her ever so slightly.
But she comes too close, practically stretches out and lies on top of his supine body. And since she's way too fucking close, he feels the loud, out of sync thrum of her hearts beating. Her two hearts.
Sam had said that there would be two, and damn if there aren't. He's not quite sure how a spirit can have a heart beat, not to mention two heart beats, but they're there. And it's just so god awfully strange that he scuttles out from under her clutches to fall off the edge of whatever surface it was that he had been lying on.
His own heart is now pounding wildly in his chest, and his face still stings where her hair had brushed against it. Again he wonders how a spirit can be so tangible especially when the stinging becomes outright burning. Sweat begins to pop out on his forehead which only aggravates his condition, and he brushes the salty liquid away as he takes in huge, desperate gulps of air.
The witch cackles, and he looks up to see her beauty flash to abject hideousness and then back again. For a moment, the exquisite young woman before him had had the face of a disfigured crone, and Dean fights against a wave of strong nausea.
He looks to his right and has a moment to see the coarse, wood table he had been lying on and to realize that he has no weapons before his brain is awash in adrenaline and he's pulling himself up and making a move to go somewhere—anywhere—that is away from her. But before even one muscle can twitch in any direction, he's bound by some invisible force and slammed against the top surface of the table again.
He's lying there, just fucking lying there and doing nothing as she comes back and starts caressing his face and staring into his eyes as if she were looking for something vitally important.
Windows to the soul, he thinks and tries to turn his face away from her unpleasant searching.
She hisses and hooks her nails into the side of his face as she forces his gaze back to her own. He's uncomfortable with the way she's looking at him, and her touch is causing the burning feeling in his skin to increase. He realizes that a small but steadily growing part of him is starting to gibber with unaccustomed terror.
"So bright and shiny, like a new penny," she mutters wondrously.
He's momentarily swayed by the resonant tones of her voice, but he fights the allure despite the fact that it eases the terror and pain.
"It's a surprise that none of my kind has taken you before now. Bright and so shiny," she says, and she's practically salivating in anticipation.
Both the burning and her hands move to his neck and then caress further down towards his chest. He senses some sort of power building, and he knows that he's in the worst situation of his life.
But what Dean doesn't know is that this strigoica is newly born, young and careless. Abandoned by her elders she knows little except for her over-riding need to feed.
And she knows nothing about how some souls are protected by charms, and spells, and fathers' knowing hearts. Nothing until she stretches her fingers and they touch the skin of Dean's heaving chest and something burns her. Oh! How it burns! She curses in some vicious language that is unknown to Dean and pulls her hand away from him. Her hand that had been milky white and as delicate as fine china is now twisted and blackened. She stares at the monstrosity of her limb for a long while before she shrieks in a way that has Dean thinking he's sure to go deaf. The shrieking goes on for a long time, and he begins to think that if she doesn't stop soon, he's going to start begging for the quiet that deafness brings.
It finally stops, and she's breathing as fast as Dean is. He doesn't know what happened, but he has the idea that whatever it was, it just saved his life.
"Take it off!" she commands, and Dean looks at her with a mixture of confusion and shock. "That! Take it off," she repeats and points with her uninjured hand at the leather cord that is wrapped around his neck.
He feels his eyes narrow as thoughts collide together, and memories with insisting, promising voices drift through his head.
"I have something for you."
"Aww, Dad. No, please don't make me wear that thing."
"You'll wear it! Always. And I don't want to see it off of you. Ever."
"It's awful, Dad. Please, you're not making Sammy wear one. Why do—"
"Dean, it's an order. Put it on."
"Promise me you'll never take it off."
They had been sullen words describing reluctant promises, but his father may have just saved his life. And more.
"Huh, that's what that's for," he says in a breathy voice. He can move his arms now, and he fingers the amulet that his father gave him so long ago. He silently thanks his father, where ever the hell he is, and re-commits himself to never taking the damn thing off.
So instead of foolishly doing what the witch demands of him, he uses his new found freedom to form a fist. Figuring that she must be as tangible to him as he is to her, he strikes her in the face. The blow accomplishes little but it does surprise her, and while she is momentarily startled, he struggles to lift himself off of the table.
He knows that he's failed when he's brutally slammed back into the table's wooden surface. He can't move, not even to scream, and he realizes that this may not be the stalemate he had been hoping for.
"Take it off, or I'll have you begging for me to drink that pretty soul of yours," she hisses.
That's when the gibbering part of himself—which is by far no longer small—starts up again.
How could this have gone so wrong? He and Sam had just been hunkered down in the woods not too long ago, talking and messing around like they usually did while they searched moonlit woods for broken burial grounds. They had just decided to call it a night, that the plots were hidden too well in places far too secret for them to find, and that they would have to kill this strigoica the old fashioned way, with cold iron as it fed, when Dean's vision had blurred and he had heard Sam's shout. Then he had woken up on this god damn table—which was going to give him splinters in very bad places, by the way—with the strigoica floating over him. He wondered where Sam was but was pretty sure that he was safe. After all, he had been told by his little brother—his genius little brother—that strigoica tended to be secretive and usually only took one victim at a time.
At least they aren't greedy, Dean thinks and allows himself to believe that Sam's okay. That Sam will get him out of this. That Sam's safe and not dead.
He's beginning to think that his status is falling into the "or worse" category.
After her initial fury, the strigoica started 'coaxing' him to remove the amulet by simply keeping up the touching and caressing. It's not pleasant and it stings, but Dean withstands it by being a smart ass, and all the while he wishes that he could clutch the necklace—his only source of relief—between his two hands.
But that's not going to happen, because he's been immobilized. And he remains that way after she tires of the touching and moves on to the knives.
Shallow cuts, that's all they are, but there must be spells attached to each blade, because even though the cuts are relatively superficial, the pain goes deep. Deeper than any stabbing he's ever experienced before, and he's experienced some humdingers, oh, yes, he has. But these cuts that barely break skin and draw little blood reach past nerve and bone to tear at the meat in his center. He's screaming, and he knows she's going to stop soon and command him to take the amulet off again. And he's wondering if he'll have the strength to follow through on his promise and keep it on. Wonders if he'll be able to save his soul from her after all. Wonders if something so indefinable is worth all of this.
After what feels like hours, she does stop, and she does command him to take off the necklace, and even though every organ, tissue, cell and organelle in his body is screaming, "DO IT!" there's some other part of him that is bellowing, "LIKE HELL!"
It's this second part of him that occupies most of his attention now and has him begging for Sam. Sammy. It's the part of him that is attached to his brother, that knows that Sam wouldn't want him to give up, that believes that Sam will get him out of this. It's the part that makes him draw together what little moisture is left in his mouth and spit in her face.
She screams her rage now, and he laughs to himself to see that she's no longer as collected as she has been pretending to be.
Fucking bitch, he thinks.
And that's when it really gets worse.
Because this has been going on for a long time now. Hours, days, weeks, hell, it could be months or years for all Dean knows. Time is meaningless to him, because it's just filled up with ubiquitous pain and the struggle for something important but indescribable. But this has been taking a lot of time, and she's finally impatient.
Impatient enough to forget Dean and find another. It's gone far past hunger for her and well into rage. She's going to see him suffer a little bit more—she's got just enough patience for that—before she scurries off to soul suck someone else.
Dean knows this as well as he knows that the pain he felt before is nothing compared to what's coming down the pike.
She screams, and he's quiet, but that's not from wont of trying. She's tied him up, good and tight now. Muscles everywhere are locked up, and he's even having trouble breathing. He worries that she'll completely stop his diaphragm from moving up and down, worries that he won't have breath enough to live this out.
But she really does have just enough patience left. Really does want to drag this out a little bit more. Dean knows this part because he's still breathing. It's ragged, shallow, and rapid, but it's breathing nonetheless.
Pressure builds in his chest, and as it passes painful and quickly approaches agonizing, Dean realizes that she's somehow got invisible hands wrapped around his heart. She's squeezing his heart for fuck's sake. She's trying to crack it open like an egg, and he feels, actually feels it when it closes up so tight that the chambers empty and become devoid of blood.
He can't even think how bad this all must be for the tissue, can't even wonder how much more his ticker will be able to take, what with that electrocution and now this. He can't think about it, because the pain is just too damn much.
His stomach rebels, and he feels the need to puke. But he can't catch his breath and, oh, so sorry, doesn't look like she's going to allow the relief of a good old fashioned heave ho, because now bile and acid are being forced backwards into his stomach. It sits there and simmers and burns, burns, burns.
She cackles gleefully, and he suddenly feels like his heart. Crushed and empty. He wants to scream, but she's still not letting that happen.
He wants Sam. He wants his little brother so much that if she would allow it, he'd be sobbing out his name. If Sam were here, this wouldn't be happening. And this may or may not be the truth, but for Dean, it's all he's willing to believe right now.
And while he's concentrating on all the good things that would happen if Sammy were here, the pressure in his chest moves into his head. Intense, blinding pain fills his head, and he's given the chance to think that now she's squeezing his brain before everything starts to get muddled.
He's too stupefied to really understand that he finds comfort in this horror. Is no longer able to understand that when the witch moves on to the central part of his central nervous system she ultimately grants him escape and relief from what has suddenly become way too much to handle.
His eyes are dulling, and his breath is slowing, and his mind is emptying fast. It's over, over, over, and no one would be happier about that than Dean if he were able to think about it anymore.
He's almost vacant now, almost gone.
Except there's still that part of him that's screaming, "NO!" Still that amazingly strong, bright and shiny part of him that will not let go. He's not conscious of it, can't feel it or think about in any real way. But it's there, and it's still screaming for Sammy.
That part of him is still fighting when his empty eyes see the strigoica step back and twist her head in a way that conveys puzzlement. The pressure on Dean's internal organs eases and then slacks off completely, and the witch slumps and melts into the ground.
If Dean were conscious anymore, he'd think that she looks just like the Wicked Witch did when Dorothy splashed water on her at the end of The Wizard of Oz. He would think this is cool, because he really loved that movie as a kid.
But his eyes are closed, and he's no longer cognizant of anything around him. It ain't a healing sleep, but it's better than he's been given for a while now.
And he'd say he is thankful for it, but he's not saying anything and won't be for a while.
He wakes some time later. He's not sure where he is, but he knows it's not where he was, because there are no splinters digging into his ass.
Instead, there are tubes, and leads, and beeping sounds all around. It's bright, and the place smells abhorrently like antiseptic, and he thinks he's in a hospital room, but that news would be too good to believe right now.
He turns his head, just a little bit because apparently that's all his body is going to allow for the moment. But it's enough, because he's able to see Sammy slumped forward in a hard chair with his sleeping face pressed into the side of Dean's bed.
"S..S..Sam," he tries to say, and the only reason he has the strength to try is because he's finally willing to believe that this is a hospital room. He doesn't really accomplish saying his brother's name, but apparently the whispered stutter is enough, because Sam's body immediately springs up. Dean would laugh at the dazed look on his little brother's face, but he doesn't have the strength. Actually, that's what he tells himself. In truth, it's just that he doesn't have the inclination right now.
"Dean! You're awake!" Sam exclaims way too loudly.
No shit, Sherlock, Dean thinks but given the circumstances, he's willing to keep it to himself.
"Wha?" he asks instead and can only hope his brother is psychic enough to understand what he can't quite verbalize.
Sam offers Dean a sip of water for which Dean is grateful. He takes a moment to let the liquid ease the pain in his throat, and then meaningfully glares at Sam who shrugs.
"She took you. Took you right from under my nose," Sam says, guiltily. Dean wants to yell at his brother for adding to his already significant burden of remorse, but his throat still isn't working right, and he knows the chewing out will have to wait until later. "I didn't know where she took you, and I didn't know how much time you had. Ended up deciding to find the burial place, because I figured it would be easier to find her grave than it would be to find her spirit's lair."
Thinking how difficult that particular decision must have been for his brother, Dean grimaces. Sam catches it and nods knowingly.
"Yeah, it kind of sucked," he admits quietly. Dean wants to pat his hand reassuringly, but all of his strength is being focused on just staying awake and hearing Sam's side of things. "Took a while, but I found it. Burned her, and then went looking for you. That took—too long. I'm sorry."
Dean can imagine all too well the panic that Sam must have felt as the minutes ticked by way too fast. Can guess at the horrors that had danced through Sam's head like demons made to twist and torture every thought and feeling that manifested. When he's stronger, he'll tell Sam about how the amulet protected him, and he'll downplay what happened. Sam won't believe him because he's the one that found Dean broken and bleeding in places where blood shouldn't flow.
But that's for later.
Right now, Dean just says, "S'okay, Sammy," and tries to smile.
The smile doesn't quite work, and Sam's looking upset, and Dean suddenly wants to tell him that he's learned what a soul is. Well, what his soul is, anyway. He wants to say that it's the part of him that's Sam, and that it's the best part of him. It's the part of him that screams out for Sammy when everything is at its worst, and it's the part of him that just will not give up a fight because it will not give up on his brother.
Just this once, he wants to let Sam in on the secret.
He opens his mouth, and the words almost, almost slip out. But he catches himself, shudders, and only repeats, "S'okay, Sammy."
He closes his eyes to avoid Sam's look of confusion. He knows now that soul calls to soul, and that Sammy's has just seen something big and important. Sam's going to want to talk about what he might have just seen in Dean's face. Right now, Dean doesn't have the strength to try to avoid that conversation but knows that later he will.
So he closes his eyes and lets himself drift off to sleep, all the while trying hard to stifle the tears which could be of joy or of sorrow.