A/N: So here's the final chapter. I had an idea of maybe an epilogue, but don't know if there's anything more to say. Let me know what you think. Also, tons and tons of thanks to everyone who stuck with me, and who enjoyed my little slice of Winchester heaven.
Disclaimer: Don't own them, and even if Kripke ever gave them up, I think BigPink has first dibs.
Dean stood at the line where lawn met blacktop, furious.
Waking that morning, late morning, to an abnormally quiet house, no smell of coffee percolating, and no sounds of Sam snoring. Feeling the pull of the sedative Sam had given him, weighing down his arms and legs, dulling his mind. He had pushed himself up, stood and stared at Sam's empty bed, his mind trying to push past the grogginess, striving towards an answer. Padded across the hall to his father's room, stared at his father's bed, the peaks and hollows of the kicked aside blankets empty no matter how many times he blinked.
And it took two trips, two fucking trips, stumbling like an idiot from bed to bed, before his mind reached the obvious conclusion, his mind exploding into absolute, white-hot fury. Paired with the bitter undertow of betrayal, both emotions immediately lost in the overwhelming blackness of where the hell is everyone?
He knew instantly where Sam was, it didn't take a college graduate to see why Sam had deuced him with the sedative. And John's paranoia at an all time high, dragging him out of bed to hunt down his wayward son and administer that unique, loving brand of justice John was so good at. But knowing where they were didn't rest Dean's fears; if anything the knowledge gave a weird, undead life to it, zombie fear stalking the shopping mall of Dean's mind.
The Impala was gone also, leaving Dean with no alternative but waiting, feeding his fury. Which was normal for his family, right? Going from the safe, bacon-scented comfort of the night before, Sam content and chattering next him to here, alone, furious and worried, knowing full well his family was off self-destructing without him. It was wrong, his family couldn't be both, couldn't be rage and comfort at the same time. One had to be a lie, the duality of both together was unsustainable without something giving, mutating – but to find the truth? To choose the truth?
He shied from the thought, recognizing the darker danger there. Dean did not want to find the truth.
The sedative Sam had given him the night before had done nothing for his pain, and pacing restlessly from room to room in the house had only encouraged its stealthy burn along his arms and legs, a deep ember resting in his belly. He leaned in the archway between kitchen and living room, stubbornly refusing to glance at the prescription bottle on the table, twisted thoughts --
This will show 'em, leaving me – I'll just stand here in excruciating pain – that will get 'em.
-- meandering through his groggy brain, Dean able to see the silliness of it, but sticking with the thought anyway. And the odd kind of hope, that Sam would somehow sense his pain, and come in the door with the stupid grin and concerned brown eyes. Upon which, Dean would immediately take him to the floor and beat the piss out of him, payback for the fucking sedative the night before. He stood there for about ten minutes, before his breath huffed out angrily, almost a sob, and he hobbled across the living room and out the door.
He lost track of how long he waited, the sun moving above him unnoticed, his eyes watering from the heat and the pain. He checked the ground behind him, dazedly scouting out a soft spot to land, knowing he would eventually just drop.
The low growl of the Impala, her acceleration dropping to take the turn towards home. The sound revived Dean, brought rationality back to his brain, and he shifted, straightening his stiff back. The Impala slowed to a crawl, turned into the driveway, the engine cut off. John did not budge, one hand still on the wheel, his face in profile to Dean. The tableau held for a moment, neither Dean nor John wanting to move forward.
Then the door opened with that annoying squeak John kept trying to fix, and Dean stepped forward, rage he had thought burned out of him returning with a rush. "He went looking for Cannibal Woman last night, didn't he?"
John, sliding out the car, paused and looked at Dean over his shoulder. "Is that what he calls her? Yeah, out on the south side of town, next to that honky tonk place." The door slammed with a bang, but John did not turn, resting his head lightly on the Chevy's hot frame.
"What happened?" Dean took a pace toward his father, stopped when John turned, seeing the last vestiges of rage in the corners of John's eyes, in the shadows bracketing his mouth. "You're mad."
"Have you taken a pain pill this morning?" His father spoke mildly, ignoring the question, and stepped past him towards the house. The unmistakable scent of lighter fluid rode the air from his passage.
Dean, totally taken aback, his mind stumped, said the first thing that came to mind. "You've been hunting?" Feeling hurt, feeling shit am I that stupid? jealous that his father had done so without him.
That brought John to a halt, halfway in the doorway of the house, and he turned to face Dean. Behind him, the phone began to ring, harsh and demanding. "I found the bones of the dogs in the library, salted and burned them."
This made Dean realize both father and brother had been hunting without him. He was so stunned he didn't know what to feel. "Where's Sam? Is he okay?"
The phone called again, the third or fourth ring.
"He's okay." John said, not meeting Dean's gaze. "He split his head open, probably has a concussion, and sprained his wrist."
"Where is he?"
Fifth ring. Sixth.
"In the hospital. They wouldn't – I've got DCFS on my ass now." Rage again, bubbling like boiling syrup, viscous and sticky. "That's probably them, now." He stepped into the house, holding the door open. "Now get your ass in here and take a pill."
Tenth. Eleventh ring. The sound sharp and tyrannical.
Dean obeyed, first the unspoken command, giving up his rage in light of what John was feeling, and then the second, stepping across the dead grass to the porch. He did not see John's face as he walked past him into the house, a quick expression of despair more appropriate on the face of a drowning man. Dean stopped just inside, and John brushed by him towards the phone. He grabbed the prescription bottle off the table, and tossed it to Dean without breaking stride. The phone was silenced, throttled in John's grip. "Hello?"
The act of catching the bottle cost Dean, the sudden move sending slivers of darkness into his sight. He closed his eyes, one shoulder bumping into the doorjamb, able to stand only with help from the house's bulk. John's conversation faded into the background as Dean caught his breath, caught the last few wisps of strength in his grasp in order to open his eyes, push away from the doorjamb and take the last few steps to the couch.
"So you've talked to Sam? Is he okay?"
Dean canted his head back over the worn edge of the couch, closing his eyes and listening to John's side of the conversation with CPS. The tinny, tiny sound of the voice on the other end was just audible.
"No, I'll be here." Pause. "Is that what he said?" John's voice, soap slippery, no change except to Dean's ears, a small hitch of uncertainty. "Of course. I'd like to get Sam home as soon as possible." Another pause. "Three will be fine. Okay." The click as the phone was set back in its cradle.
From where Dean sat he could just see the rear end of the Impala in the driveway, the sun glittering on the black and chrome. He did not look up as his father came in the living room, stood at the end of the couch. "Have you taken anything yet?"
"No." Dean's voice brittle and sharp, frost on the Impala's windshield.
The sounds of John's steps back into the kitchen, water running, and then John back out to the living room, and across to Dean. "Drink it, son."
With a shaking hand, Dean popped the top of the bottle, shook a pill into his mouth, and gulped from the glass John handed him. He swallowed, his gaze going back to the small spot of Impala he could see, like a child and a favorite blanket. "What did CPS say?"
"DCFS. They said –" John stopped. "Someone will be here at three to discuss my situation." He moved closer to Dean, leaning down to cup Dean's chin with one hand, raising Dean's face to meet his gaze. "Those stitches could come out."
Dean blinked, processing the sudden change of subject. He raised his hand, brushed the small black knots just under his eye. He had forgotten about the gash on his cheek. "Okay."
And here it was again, comfort and ease and the warm familiarity of his father's body next to his, John's hands sure on his face as the tiny thread was carefully plucked from Dean's cheek. It was nearly unbearable, when Dean could relax into contentment, and open his eyes and still see rage in the back of John's gaze.
And it was John's touch, the physical closeness that caused Dean to speak. "Sam isn't a hunter, Dad."
John's hand stilled briefly, his dark eyes hooded, and then he deftly plucked the last wisp of thread, and set the tweezers down on the coffee table. "He's been hunting for nearly five years, Dean."
"And there's no one I'd rather have at my back. But his – he's – he doesn't -- " Dean was stuttering, fumbling, and he closed his mouth with a snap and met his father's gaze.
A long look between them, unspoken communication that Sam had never been able to achieve, understanding that had been born the night a demon had stood at Sam's crib. John looked away first. "I know."
The door shuddered from a hard knock.
You'd think an immunity would build up, was John's thought as he stood, tidied up the first aid kit, and went to the door. Dean stood also, slower, his face already closed up and stone. Mount Rushmore was all weepy and emotional, compared to that face.
Over the years, many people from DCFS, or CPS, or DHS, (the acronyms changed from place to place but always voiced the same intent) had looked at John with serious expressions, serious voices, seriously concerned about his sons. In response John would duck and weave, lie bald-faced and agree to their plans for improvement, always with the same outcome; packing up and heading out, disappearing into the vastness of the open road.
It was a plan of action that was perilously close to becoming routine, considering the number of serious conversations he had with the same/different agencies. He knew the phrases that sounded sincere, he knew which looks turned him from suspect to good; but he still didn't know how to quell the rage and hurt each visit inflicted. It made the inside of his head itch, this idea that someone would dare to think abuse and neglect at him. It made him want to reach behind his brain and just scratch.
You'd think an immunity would build up, he thought again, and opened the door.
"John Winchester?" Weaver stood on the porch, dressed in the same shirt and loose tie Sam had seen him in, colorless eyes steady and blank.
"I'm Brett Weaver, with Division of Child and Family Services."
And for a moment the two men stared at each other, testing the blank expressions worn like helmets, taking the other's measure. The silence was thick.
"Come in," John said, reluctantly,
He watched Weaver step into the room; watch him run up against the stone wall that was Dean's expression. Dean stood at the far edge of the couch, his arms crossed clumsily over his chest. John knew Weaver saw hostility and anger, but John saw the stark fear in the rigid line of Dean's jaw. Weaver was the childhood monster that Dean would never outgrow, the monster that could so easily appear and hurt his family. A monster that no amount of killing could destroy.
"Dad. Can I go see Sam?" The question meant for Weaver, but damned if Dean was going to acknowledge the social worker.
John flicked his gaze to Weaver, who was still staring at Dean expressionlessly. Weaver felt his gaze, the blank eyes rose to meet it, and the man nodded. "I'm sure Sam would love company. I understand he had a rough morning." John saw Dean's lip curl slightly in an involuntary reaction.
"Keys are on the table."
And Dean was gone, his fist tight over the silver of the Impala's keys, only a little wobble in his walk as the door closed behind him. John put his back to Weaver to watch Dean cross the lawn to the car, watch him slide into the Impala gingerly.
"That's your oldest, Dean?" Weaver said behind him, and John's eyes slid to their corners, and he crossed his arms over his chest unconsciously. The couch squeaked slightly as Weaver sat, and John heard the rustle of paper. He glanced out the window again, slightly surprised to see Dean still sitting behind the wheel, his head bent as he looked at something in his hands.
"June sixth. Emergency units respond to a 911 call in Vicksburg, a boy reporting his brother injured in a fight. The paramedics find the brother not breathing, and have to revive him. The ER doc diagnoses the brother with a cracked pelvis, three broken ribs, a punctured lung, a concussion, a compound fracture of the right arm, and internal bruising of the gastric and reproductive organs due the severity of the crack in the pelvis." Weaver paused, took a breath of air.
John had not moved, his arms still crossed over his chest. He felt curiously light-headed, distant, the only thing anchoring him to here the solidness of the Impala, the Impala's occupant.
"So. That explains Dean. What happened last night with Sam?"
In the car, Dean raised his head from whatever he was looking at, and met his father's gaze through the window. His gaze was feral, predatory, the green shaded into grey. John raised an eyebrow, questioning. In response, Dean held up Sam's notebook.
And the hunter in John, shaken and unsure since the completely fucked up hilarity of the great poltergeist chase, came roaring forward, senses alive. Fierce pride in Sam, putting together the pieces, fierce pride in Dean, hobbled and lame with the eyes of a hawk. And John, walking around half-dead, his confidence gone, filling up with adrenaline and surety and power. The farmer at the hospital, dropping the Impala's keys into his palm, I've brought your car. The farmer must have grabbed Sam's things also, and John felt a touch of humor, wondering at the look on the farmer's face upon discovering the contents of Sam's backpack.
John mouthed, Cannibal Woman?
Dean nodded, his smile sharp and wild.
"Mr. Winchester? Care to tell me --"
John, the answering smile on his face knife-thin, wiggled his fingers at Dean in a shooing gesture. The Impala roared to life in response, Dean giving it more gas than necessary, the sound like an animal voicing a challenge. Weaver's sentence was drowned in the noise. John watched Dean until the car was out of sight, then turned back to the man on the couch.
"You wanted to know what happened last night?"
Weaver blinked, a sudden wariness in his face. "Yes. Sam mentioned something about a walk?"
John chuckled humorlessly, rubbing his jaw. "Yeah, well, you could call it that. Jared down at the honky tonk called me, said Sam was there drinking. By the time I got there, Sam had tried to hightail it for home. I caught him crossing the field."
"I understand." Weaver's eyes narrowed, studying John. "And what did you do, when you caught him?"
John, eager for a fight, reveling in the sudden return of confidence, found himself hard pressed to keep his temper. "What do you mean what did I do? What any father would do, catching his boy out after midnight and drunk – I punished him."
"Which means beating him into a concussion and sprained wrist?"
John's move was abrupt and sudden, quickly began, and quickly aborted. Weaver blinked, leaned back, his gaze going from John's hand, fisted at his side, to John's face. John smiled, his eyes warm and innocent. "I didn't beat Sam."
"So what happened?"
"He tried to run, and fell." John shrugged. "Found an unfortunate place to land. That's when the farmer found us."
Weaver's gaze, blank again, studied John, taking in the open face, the closed fist. He looked down to the file he had spread on the couch next to him, fingered through the loose papers there. "You don't understand, Mr. Winchester, the kind of place this county has been lately. Lots of kids missing, lots of kids hurt. I can't let any suspicious incident involving children go unnoticed." He picked up a paper, John could see the words Vicksburg Police Department in bold across the top. "And with this incident in Vicksburg, Dean beaten, and this screaming argument you apparently had with Sam --" He dropped the paper, raised those colorless eyes to John. "Your sons sure seem to get hurt a lot, Mr. Winchester."
John was silent. There was nothing to say, nothing that would change Weaver's mind.
"I'm going to recommend DCFS take Sam into protective custody. We'll place him in a foster home, and work with you to establish a healthier parenting plan –"
He never saw it coming. One moment John was standing loose and quiet in front of him; the next John had grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling him violently to his feet and shoving him across the room to slam up against the wall. The file on the couch was knocked to the floor, scattering paper across the room.
John's lips were pulled back in a snarl, his eyes, once warm and open, now sparking rage into Weaver's face. "You will not take my boy." His voice was quiet, poisonous. "You have no idea what he means –" He paused, his breath coming quick and hard. "You will not destroy this family."
To his credit, Weaver did not back down, though his voice broke before he could articulate his words. "This isn't going to help."
With the suddenness of a striking snake, John punched Weaver hard, beneath his ear. His head slammed back against the wall, the drywall giving with the force of the impact. Weaver's eyelids fluttered and his body went limp, sagging against John's hands fisted in the collar of his shirt.
"Well, shit," remarked John.
Walking across the parking lot to the entrance of the hospital, Dean decided it wasn't worth it to stay angry at Sam. If anything, it would piss him off more; Dean was never good at giving Sam a lecture. Too many thoughts of John doing the same thing ruined his own head of steam, besides the fact that one hurt look from Sam melted his anger. Having to endure that look would just make him angrier. Dean snorted at the twisted logic; Sam had a way of warping the world to fit his own needs.
He found Sam sitting cross-legged on his bed, squinting at a book he held in his lap. He looked tired and pensive and pale, and Dean was never so glad to see him.
He looked up, and for a moment the two could only look at each other; Dean trying not to wince at the sight of Sam's face purple and yellow and puffy, the gash a line of red across the smooth forehead. Sam noticing Dean's smudged, tired eyes, the thin sheen of sweat coating his face, the tremble in his hands, and trying not to feel guilty.
"Dude, you don't look –"
"Dean, you need to –"
Their sentences overlapped, harmonized for a brief moment, and they both broke off, Dean grinning and Sam chuckling slightly. "Maybe we should try out as extras on Day of the Dead." Dean said, limping across the room to sit on the edge of Sam's bed.
"You hate that movie."
"So? Chicks dig movie stars. And black eyes. You're gonna clean up with the nurses." He leaned closer, staring at Sam's face, striving for a light-hearted tone. "Crap, Sam, you look like some sort of mutant raccoon."
Sam grinned, remembering Dean's standard response to such questions. "You should see the other guy."
Dean's grin was brief, and he looked away. "Dad torched the dog bones."
Sam's grin faded. "This is bad."
"You read my notebook?"
"Just now." The green eyes were shuttered, hiding any reaction to the day's events. The back of Dean's neck was lightly burned from standing in the sun too long.
"Has Dad read it yet?"
"No. He's doing the dance for CPS."
"Whatever. Same shit, different name."
Sam stared out the window, chewing at his lower lip. Dean picked listlessly at the pattern on the bedspread, his eyes lowered, unwilling to look at his brother.
"She's loose, then."
"Yeah. How do we stop her? Can't salt and burn her."
"I don't think Weaver is gonna let me go home with you guys."
A pause. What had been ruthlessly ignored had been said. A cannon ball through a glass house would have done less damage.
"Weaver's got nothing to do with it. You could six him easy. Sam, do you want to come home?" The green eyes on Sam's face were suddenly full of emotion, too bright for comfort.
It was Sam's turn to stare at the bedspread. He couldn't answer. He didn't know. "You need to find the Flint Man, Dean. I think he could stop her." Sam was desperately waving the red cape.
"Stop it, Sam. I need to know. Do you want to come home?" The sword was dodged. Dean's eyes on Sam's face, turning back on the younger brother the pleading look Sam was so well versed in.
"Of course I do." Sam's long fingers bent the book's spine, nervous and fidgety.
Dean didn't have an answer for that, Sam's reply both a lie and a heart-felt promise at the same time. He crossed his legs at the ankle, tried to fold his cast across his chest. The air conditioner kicked on, filling the room with a small hum and cool air. Dean struggled with himself, wanting to pursue it but without the strength to do so. He sighed, and let it go.
"What's the Flint Man? There's nothing in your notebook except his name."
Sam's eyes glinted, relieved, feeling the usual rush of knowledge, the eagerness to share. "The Flint Man was chosen by the people to approach the god or goddess... I guess whatever god was needed to pray to, you know, like if you needed rain you went to the rain god, or fertility rites, or whatever."
A ribald snort from Dean. "Fertility rites."
Sam rolled his eyes, grinning. "And the Flint Man has to make an offering to the god and make obeisance and the god grants the request."
"Cannibal Woman isn't a god, Sam. How will this stop her?"
"Well, I got this theory..."
"Shut up and listen. I found this ritual in this old book at the library, a ritual performed to the goddess of death, Sinda? Sneda? Ah, shit, the name's in the book, you'll have to get the book, it's called Native American Religions and it's at the library."
"Breathe, geek boy, you're having a breakdown."
"Anyway, the Flint Man makes an offering to the goddess of death, and if she finds the offering good enough, she'll grant the Flint Man one favor, like a wish I guess. She's like a death genie."
"So you're thinking to raise this death goddess and ask her to take Cannibal Woman?"
"Um." Sam blinked, looked at Dean. "Basically. I don't have any other ideas." He spread his hands.
"Dad wants to take Cannibal Woman down."
"He does?" The pleased look of amazement on Sam's face made Dean's heart thump oddly. "I thought he didn't want to hunt."
That sentence was too close to where Dean did not want to go. He shifted uncomfortably. "Well, he changed his mind. Apparently he's back in the game."
"What about you?"
And Dean told himself don't look, for God's sake don't look at him but he did anyway, and Sam was watching him with that pleading look turned up 500 watts, a look that begged him to be smart, to be safe. Dean pushed away from the bed impatiently, trying to ignore the constant pain in his hips. "Jesus, Sam, you think I'm stupid? There's not much I could do to help anyway."
"I don't think you're stupid, Dean. I never have."
This time Dean did look at him, green eyes to brown, searching. "And you'll come home?"
And Sam told himself don't look away, for God's sake don't let him see you lying but he did anyway, and tried not to wince as Dean turned on his heel and walked out of the room. "Of course I'll come home," he whispered, but it was too late, and he couldn't convince himself anyway.
Coming in the door, Dean placed a book in John's hands; a large, coffee-table type book titled Native American Religions, and told him to read. John wordlessly pointed out the county library stamp on the book's back, raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah," Dean said, setting a bulging paper bag on the table. "Fun story. I'll tell you about it sometime."
Dean emptied the paper bag, placing a pack of cigarettes, a smudge stick of sage and sweet clover, and a bottle of cheap whisky on the table. He ignored John's questioning look, pointed to the book and said, "Read." He began gathering other supplies, adding them to the growing pile on the table.
"I shouldn't have burned the dog bones," John said, coming to the table and setting the book down.
"What can you do," replied Dean, checking the blade of a knife. "You make a mistake, you learn and move on."
John was silent, looking sideways at Dean, the weight of Dean's words hitting him like a sucker punch. "Like taking a nineteen year old hunting a poltergeist."
Dean froze, his eyes flying to his father's face in surprise. "Dad, I –"
"Stow it, Dean. Never mind." He checked the arsenal Dean had collected. "Get some holy water. Just in case. I've gotta run an errand."
"What errand?" Dean, his eyes still too bright from the thing that had almost occurred.
"Dropping Weaver off. Be back in a few."
Dean followed his father to the door, held it open for him and watched John disappear around the side of the house. After a moment, John reappeared; holding Weaver in a fireman's carry, and dumped the social worker in the Impala's back seat. He glanced up and saw Dean standing at the door with his mouth open.
John's mouth quirked with a suppressed smile. "Fun story," he said, deadpan. "I'll tell you about it sometime."
John dumped Weaver, arms handcuffed behind his back, in the barn north of town that he had found earlier, when he had salted and burned the dog bones. By then Weaver was awake, watching John with those unwavering empty eyes. Both men were silent as John took another pair of handcuffs and secured Weaver to a sturdy beam in the barn, and turned to leave. He stopped at the door, remembering the bulletin board in the library, the dozens of missing children. The thought spurred him into turning back. "I'll call and let them know where you are tomorrow night, when we're gone."
Weaver said nothing, and John left with barely a second thought.
He returned to the house not more than thirty minutes later, left the Chevy running as he sprinted inside. It was close to sundown, and for the ritual John needed sunlight. Inside he found Dean on the couch, slumped down with his head on the arm, eyes closed. "Dean?"
Dean opened his eyes, and slowly came to a sitting position. "Everything's ready, Dad. The duffle on the table."
"Goddamnit, Dean." John went to the couch, found Dean's painkillers on the coffee table, and the half-empty glass of water from lunch. "They tell you to take these things every four hours for a reason." He watched as Dean popped a couple of pills, swigged down the stale water with a grimace. "Soon as I'm gone, fix yourself a hamburger and get some sleep. Got it?"
"Wait. You're going?"
John looked at him blankly. "Of course."
"But this goddess of death only listens to the Flint Man."
John looked away. "The book says the Flint Man is in the tribe, but not of the tribe. Sound familiar?" His eyes were distant, his focus inward, on something that had occurred years ago.
Dean nodded slowly, still not quite understanding, but as John took a step toward the table, touched him on the arm. John stopped, glanced down at him. "Dad. Be careful, okay? She's not gonna kill you, but just watch it, okay?"
John smiled. "I'll be fine." The gleam in his eye was anticipation, and turned the smile into a promise of violence.
He decided the closest place to holy for a Native American ritual was near where the burial mound had been. He didn't like being so close to the Samaritan farmer's place, but when he slowed the Impala down just past the honky tonk, saw a rather large grove of trees off the right. It would be large enough to hide him from prying eyes. He just hoped that the goddess of death wouldn't be too noisy.
John backtracked to the honky tonk, parked the Impala near the back, grabbed up the duffle and began to jog up the road to the place he had marked for the ritual. He skirted the farmer's place warily, scanning the place for any sign of life, seeing only an old dog asleep on the porch, the gravel drive empty. Felt better only when he entered the grove of trees, the trunks quickly blocking out the house.
Sun dappled his shoulders and face as he moved quietly to the center of the grove where he found a small clearing about two paces wide. He dropped the duffle, opened it and quickly set up a make-shift altar, using the first aid kit and a bandana of Dean's, not quite able to hide the red and black Def Leppard logo printed on it.
He opened the library book, set it on the ground below the altar, and began the ritual.
Sage smoke first. He lit the smudge stick, watched it burn in the cereal bowl Dean had scrounged up. It caught easily, and soon the fragrant smoke hung in the humid air. He checked the book, read the words of the first stanza out loud.
Pause. A quick scan of his surroundings, checking for signs.
Whisky next. The golden liquid seemed to glow in the leaf-tinted light. He opened it, took a quick swig, wincing at the burn. Then, carefully, a small measure spilled into the dust at his feet. The bottle set on the altar next to the smudge stick, and John read the next stanza of the ritual, his voice sure and clear.
Another check of the grove, the trees still in the early evening air.
Cigarettes last. He shook the pack into his hand, set aside two on the altar, and tore those remaining into shreds. The remains went into another cereal bowl, covering Count Chocula's grinning face. He lit one of those left, took several drags, and lit the last one off of the glowing cherry. Balanced both carefully on the altar, their tips hanging off the edge. Then read the final stanza.
There was an odd sort of wrinkle in the air suddenly, as if a heat ripple rising off of blacktop had become a sound, as if a sonic boom had suddenly become visible. John blinked at the force of the sound/sight, unsure of what had occurred. The smoke raising lazily from the smudge stick bent slightly at the top, trailing in an undetectable breeze. John frowned at the sight, the frown deepening as the smoke abruptly formed a loop-de-loop in the still air.
"You make a face like that, it'll freeze that way."
John turned, forcing his body to move slowly, instinct making him push away the sudden start and fear that rose in his belly at the inhuman accent in the voice behind him.
A boy about Sam's age stood in front of him, tall and gangly, with a bit of breadth to his chest that put John more in mind of Dean's solidness. His hair was long, a straight sheet of blackness falling from a razor straight part, the face thin with a large, beak-like nose. His eyes were dark, not the oil slickness of one possessed, but black and deep. He was clad simply in a light shirt and twill pants, and he was watching John with amusement.
"Are you Sedna?"
The boy's eyes widened in surprise, and he let out a sudden guffaw of laughter. "Oh, shit, no! Sedna's been dead for decades now. I'm Raven."
John was at a lost, fumbling for a way out of the sudden mess he was in – facing a god unsummoned and unprotected. He said the first thing that came to mind. "I was summoning Sedna."
"Only the Flint Man can summon Sedna." The answer was immediate, and derogatory.
"I am the Flint Man," tried John.
Again the guffaw of laughter, harsh and coarse, like the call of a bird. "If you're the Flint Man, I'm Rick Allen." At John's lack of response, he gestured to the altar, a bit of the Def Leppard logo visible. "I'm keeping with the theme you've got going. Ask Dean, when you can."
So far, so good. In that John was still standing, wasn't ripped apart or hurt or soul sucked. That was always good. He pushed his luck, brushing aside Raven's distraction, the name of his son on the god's lips. "I want you to take Cannibal Woman."
"Wow, John, aren't you demanding." One thin, pale hand went to Raven's head, scratched at his hairline. "I can't take Cannibal Woman, only Sedna can do that."
"That's why I summoned her." Pushing more, a light emphasis on the last word, John's eyes steady on the boy's – god's – face. "I wanted her."
The boy's amusement abruptly faded, rage lighting his eyes. "Well, you can't have her!" His arms were flung wide in response to his emotion, and John, for a moment, remembered ketchup squirting across dead grass. "She's dead! The Kachinas are dead, even fucking Eototo is dead! It's been too long! And me?" His long arms came in, his fingertips tapping his chest, his tone suddenly reflective. "I'll be gone, too, soon."
"But Cannibal Woman is still here. She's taking kids. How long will she be around?"
"Salt and burn?" Raven looked slightly interested, his rage immediately gone.
John swallowed his surprise, keeping firm rein on a mind that already wanted to bolt. "Don't have all her bones." He spread his hands, gestured to the altar behind him. "That's why I wanted Sedna, to take her."
Raven's interest turned to mild surprise. "Wow. I didn't think anyone would have thought of that." His thumb went to his mouth, chewing a cuticle, the move so Sam-like John blinked rapidly. "That would have done it. Sedna would have taken her." His eyes, bird-sharp, flicked to John. "What were you going to offer?"
John gestured to the altar again. "Sage. Tobacco. Whisky."
Raven crossed the small clearing to the altar, leaned into the thin column of smoke from the smudge stick. The smoke responded to his presence, looping and writhing like a cut earthworm. Raven breathed in the whorls deeply, his eyes closed in rapture. He found the lit cigarette, brought it to his lips in a long drag, the smoke blown out his nostrils. A quick slug from the open bottle, Raven's throat working. "Shit, that's good!" His eyes were watering as he turned back to John expectantly. "What else?"
John watched Raven with narrowed eyes, noting the god had accepted his offer – sage, tobacco, and whisky, just as he had enumerated them. Raven met his gaze, a thin eyebrow raised. John shrugged, remembering the ritual. "Sedna demanded blood."
This time Raven laughed for a good minute, his head back, the black sheet of his hair trembling from his effort. When he subsided, he gazed at John almost fondly. "Oh, yeah, you would have been a great Flint Man. All sacrifice and duty, without a thought for tribe or family."
John was silent, his mouth thin with the effort.
Raven turned, took the two spaces to the edge of the clearing, then back. His face was sober, considering. "I'm too old for blood, John. Too old and tired. Doing what you demand would hasten my death substantially. The offering has to be good."
"So you're accepting it, you're willing to be bound by it."
"Depends on what you have on follow-up."
"If you're talking sacrifice –"
Raven was laughing again, one hand up in negation. "Oh, fuck yeah, you're so ready, aren't you. Sometimes the most onerous duty is the one that doesn't let you out in a blaze of glory." He moved towards John, one hand touching him lightly on the chest, the narrow face slightly disapproving. "I don't want your life, either, old man."
"What do you want?"
Raven's hand, still touching his chest, and suddenly the memory of Sam on the dead lawn with a ripple of red at his feet filled John's mind. The memory solid and real, like it happened seconds ago, the scent of the summer night in his nose, the feel of humidity on his cheek, the absolute rage at Sam, the absolute rage and love and fear and….so much in his mind, too much, he couldn't, he couldn't….
John took a breath, gasping, stumbling away from the cold tips of the god's fingers, a shaking hand flung out for balance. "What…" A huge gasp shuddered his shoulders. "What was that?"
"What I demand." Raven's voice was deeper, more present, and John glanced up at him. The god had aged, had fled the gangly phase and entered more into young man, his shoulders wider, his chest deeper. He looked more Dean's age, now, perhaps older. "I feed off the emotion associated with such memories. Give me enough and I'll have the strength to take Cannibal Woman."
"Give you… memories?" John's equilibrium had tentatively returned, and he straightened cautiously, watching the god.
"Only what you give me. But the more emotion behind them, the more strength I receive." Raven crossed his arms over his chest, looking at John greedily. "Give me, and I take."
Early evening. John glanced casually at the sky, the subtle shift in the blue to a more indigo as the sun began its descent. This morning seemed years away, this morning when Sam had been in the dirt with his head on John's thigh, bleeding. "How much do you need to take?"
Raven shrugged. "Don't know." His need was plain on his face. "I'll know when I'm done."
Tricky. Gods could be insatiable, saying when only after decades of taking. John rubbed his face, wincing at the rasp of stubble against his fingers. "And you'll take only what I offer?"
Sensing agreement, Raven dropped his arms, his face greedy and innocent like a hungry infant's. "Only what you offer." His voice a whisper.
"Then take this."
He remembered chasing Dean and the poltergeist through the barn, John closing his eyes, and suddenly the god was taking, a pressure like a cotton swab inserted into his ear too far, an intrusion into his brain. And the memory wasn't a memory anymore, was happening….
Dean's short, bit-off cry as he was dropped from the hayloft, his green eyes wide and ringed with white, looking up at his father, searching for help. The sun shining through the empty slots of the barn's side, checkerboard across his son's body. The cool metal of the sawed-off in his hand, the creak of floorboards beneath his feet. John was John, was Dean, was the chaff floating in the air, was dimly the poltergeist, was every sensation his body had felt that day, all a conduit for the god's bottomless hunger.
And as Raven took, taking the emotions of fear and love and frustration from the memory, the sudden overload of sensation began to drain away, like color graying from a picture. The memory faded, faded, a last gleam of light from Dean's hair, and … gone.
"More," said Raven, his eyes blank, his tongue touching the corner of his mouth.
John remembered Sam bringing him a picture from kindergarten. Again, the sudden there-ness thrust into his brain, the overload of sensation from the colors of the finger paint to the coolness of the fridge magnet in his hands. Feeling a soft sort of pride, a weariness and despair that Sam would place so much into a picture. Again, the slow drain, the colors graying to nothing, a last flash of primary red, and … gone.
The sun set, rays bouncing into the darkening sky like a disco ball catching light. The peace of a summer evening spread through the small copse of trees.
"More," said Raven.
John remembered the first time he had hunted with Elkins.
John remembered a firefight in the jungle.
John remembered seeing Sam for the first time.
John remembered first touching Mary's breast.
"More, oh fuck, MORE!"
Dean was pushed abruptly out of sleep by the sharp sound of a door slamming. He sat up quickly, wincing at the movement, one hand going to his chest. The room was dark, full of shadows and contrast of stark white from a lamp post leaking through the blinds. Dean stilled his breath, listening.
In the living room came the quiet brush of bare feet on the threadbare carpet.
Dean swung his legs to the floor, pushing himself to the edge of the bed, quiet, quiet, softly putting his weight on the balls of his feet and standing.
Something in the living room fell to the floor, rattling. Dean recognized the sound of the prescription bottle. He went to the closed door of his bedroom, his hand curling around the knob, twisting carefully, releasing the catch without a click of noise.
A low groan, the sound inhuman and chilling.
He pulled the door open slowly, peering through the widening gap into the dark living room. The soft gleam as metallic surfaces caught the light from outside. The humming of crickets and heat, the smell of the hamburger he had fried for dinner heavy in the air.
A vaguely human form stood stock still in the middle of the living room, between the couch and the TV, turned in Dean's direction. A sound of liquid dripping, constant and thick, hitting the carpet.
Dean took a short step into the hallway, his broken pelvis a ball of pain and heat in his stomach. The form reacted to his movement, one arm raising towards him. A sound, slurred and almost a word, and shit, did the thing just call his name?
There was nowhere for him to go except forward, remembering the piece of broken railing from the porch that had somehow ended up propped against the wall just inside the living room. Dean couldn't place where any other weapons could be, his mind seizing on the relative nearness of the piece of wood. He moved forward quickly, ruthlessly ignoring the pain from pelvis, ribs and arm.
The thing responded to his movements by shuffling forward, one arm still raised. Her legs hit the couch, and she stepped back, then forward again, and abruptly she was past the couch, suddenly that much closer to Dean. The sharp smell of sage filled the room, drowning out hamburger and mustiness.
Dean's fingers found the piece of wood, caught it up as he stepped fully into the living room. On the wall, spot lit by a stray beam from the outside porch light, was the light switch. Dean flicked it on with the edge of the railing.
At one time, Dean recognized that the thing standing in his living room had been a woman; her hair was still long and full, shiny, with blue highlights in the shadows. That was all left of her beauty. Her breasts were gone, sliced off cleanly, her nose also, surprisingly neat slabs of flesh cut from her haunches and upper thighs. The steady sound of dripping was the blood, blood running ceaselessly from the cuts she had inflicted on herself.
Dean found himself shrinking away; found himself nearly sitting on his haunches in his instinctual rejection of the monstrosity in front of him. Cannibal Woman dropped her outstretched arm, brought the fingerless hand up to her mouth, and Dean made a small sound as a pink tongue coyly licked the blood pooled in her palm. Her hair swirled with her movements, silken and beautiful.
"There you are."
A man stood in the open door to the house, and with the first sound of his voice Dean thought his father had returned. But the man standing there, like his father in so many ways, was a stranger. Straight sheets of black hair fell from a razor straight part. The man was older, perhaps older than John, with a smattering of silver threads amongst the black, dressed in a light shirt and twill pants. His eyes were dark, deep, and moved with amusement as he watched Cannibal Woman.
"Time to go, bitch. No one wants us anymore."
Cannibal Woman groaned, and shit, was she calling Dean's name again?
"Nope, gonna say no to that. We gotta go." The man stepped forward, age and inhumanity and power sparking off him like iron on flint.
A sudden flash from outside, followed by a sky-cracking clap of thunder. A smell of rain drifted in the open door.
The man glanced over his shoulder out the door. "Oh, yeah, definitely time to go." He crossed to Cannibal Woman, ignoring the gore and blood, and picked her up easily, cradled her like she was an infant. The beautiful hair swung like a bride's. The man smiled into her mutilated face, tender. "And. Here. We. Go."
There was an odd wrinkle in the heavy air, like a ripple of heat made into sound, or a sonic boom made into taste. Dean rocked back from the force of the sound/taste, losing his balance and dropping to his butt with a pained grunt.
Another crack of thunder from outside, the flashing of lightning almost constant, like flashbulbs popping at the Superbowl. The smell of rain was overpowering.
John stood in the doorway, backlit by the constant lightning. He looked tired and drained, one hand clutching the doorjamb.
His father quickly crossed to him, bending and hauling him to his feet roughly. Dean grunted from the sudden pain, John's hands grabbing his arm, his side brutally. "Easy, easy," he hissed, pushing at John's shoulder in an attempt to move away from his father's too-casual touch. Together they crossed to the couch, and John was gentler helping him to sit.
"Sorry. I forgot… your arm's broke?" John's face just inches from his own, searching his face. "You okay?"
Dean blinked under the sharp regard. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Um, personal space, dude."
John backed away, standing at the far edge of the couch, his gaze never wavering from Dean's face. "You broke your arm?"
Dean, uneasy, became angry. "Yeah, remember the poltergeist?" He waved his splinted arm in the air, ignoring the pain. "The barn?"
Thunder roared through the silence, and abruptly the world was filled with the sound of rain.
"Yeah," said John softly. "I remember."
At the first sound of thunder, Sam had swung out of bed and gone to the window, stood in the darkened room and watched the storm sweep across the farmland towards the small town. Stars were quickly swallowed by storm clouds, and lightning flashed in the hollows and curves of the billowing thunderheads. His hair was tousled into curlicues and twists, took years off his age until he seemed barely ten.
Now, rain ran in heavy rivulets across the glass of the hospital window, the light from the hospital's courtyard casting wavy shadows across Sam's face. He gnawed absently at a fingernail, worrying about Dean, wondering what his father had done to destroy Cannibal Woman, wondering if somehow, the gone kids had magically reappeared, happy and whole, in their beds.
Somehow, he doubted it. There was a miracle in the sudden downpour, but also violence. Seedlings could be swept away in the force of the flood, things unable to breathe the sudden influx of water, smothered in the miracle.
Dean had asked him Do you want to come home?
He still didn't know.
Every little brother gathers an arsenal with which to do battle with his family. Sam was tired of the fight, tired of his instinctual reach for the sword when his father frowned at him, when Dean told him to wait in the car. He wanted to halt the battle, wanted to wave the white flag and perhaps, at last, have peace.
In halting the battle he would be destroyed as John continued fighting. In waving the white flag he would be run down by Dean's constant cavalry coming to the rescue.
He was tired, his head throbbing with the rifle shots of thunder from the storm, the storm of emotion inside his own mind. He padded back to his bed, sliding into the cool covers, reaching for sleep.
Fresh and clean, like a pair of favorite jeans from the wash, smelling of a day given over to games of catch, picnics, watching fireworks. For the first time in years, a haze of green hung over the small town, trees perked by the sudden downpour reaching for the soft light from a subdued sun. A few trees blown down, a car crumpled, a fence destroyed. A small price for the clean glory of the morning, heat gone, a soft breeze rustling the flag at the county library.
Dean stood at the line where lawn met blacktop.
Sam had told him Of course I do.
Both a lie and a promise. The contradiction that made up his world. Lie and promise. Rage and comfort. Dean still did not want to find the truth, because in finding the truth he would lose the core of his family. In choosing comfort he would lose Sam on the dead lawn, arms wide with the violence of his convictions. In choosing promise he would lose Sam wanting so much more than seedy motels and unrewarded hunts.
Rage and comfort.
Sam turned the corner for home, his shadow stretching out behind his long form as he walked steadily towards Dean.
Promise and lie.