Knowledge is power, power is protection, protection is safety….Dante West
Craven read the email Concha West sent, with the picture of her and the three young men.
All debts have now been paid.
The torch was passed.
The first time Sam Winchester headed off to college hadn't been a happy time for either Dean or Sam. Dean would never admit it to anyone, barely admitted it to himself, but John Winchester's parting shot of, "If you walk out don't ever come back," to Sam was the closest he'd come to pounding his father to the ground. The closest he'd come to hating his father. His father had taken Sam from him, a part of Dean would never, could never forgive or forget that. It was the first time Dean was hit square between the eyes with the fact Sam was number one to him. Sam, who he'd raised, was his, a brother and a child rolled into one. He'd picked, though neither his father nor brother ever really knew, though possibly John suspected but never asked. Dean picked Sam, sticking as close to California for as much of each year as he could. His brief forays to the south or east were just that, brief. He went, did what he had to do, and was back to western United States within a few weeks or a month. John, and sometimes he and John would swing through Palo Alto, checking on Sam, but Dean doubted their father knew Dean practically lived within fifty miles of Stanford. Maybe he couldn't stand up to John at the time, but nothing and no one was preventing him from being close enough if Sam needed him.
Quite a few years had gone by between then and now, a lot happened to Dean, and to Sam, in the time between. The Dean today would have told John to take a flying leap, followed his obstinate brother, cracked the back of his head and told him to get in the car…..Dean would drive him, and no way would they not talk much for a few years. If he'd done that then, Sam would have listened, probably welcomed him along. Dean was the only person Sam ever really listened to. Sam was his responsibility, his alone, would be no matter how old they lived to be. Dean was proud of that, taking care of Sam, doing what was right for him, helping him…in some cases shoving him…down life's road. He might not have always been right, but no one could say Dean Winchester didn't try his hardest, put forth his best effort or use good parenting instincts and skills. It may not have been his only goal, but it was sure his most important, give Sam as good a life as he was capable, provide for him in any way Dean could. He'd been a child who'd raised a child. There was no one, not his father, not anyone who'd take away the accomplishment, his pride in it and his brother.
Dean learned, in bits and pieces, for Sam, leaving for college had been just as traumatic. Thinking his father's words final and law, and without Dean interjecting, he'd been devastated. He'd wanted to go to school, not become an outcast. Even after meeting Jess, Sam was an outsider there. His first year must have been incredibly difficult. He'd admitted to Dean how lonely he'd been, how he'd almost given up and called Dean to come get him. But he'd never ask Dean to pick between his father and he, Sam didn't think he'd win, though was never afraid of Dean's rejection. Sam knew better now, Dean made sure of that. He'd told his kid brother he'd have found a way, negotiated around John if need be.
So the day Dean got his second chance at taking Sam to college he didn't honestly know who was more excited, and who was happier, he or Sam. For once in his life Dean Winchester was given a gift he'd never dreamt he'd experience. The fact that this time Dean was partially responsible for it happening made it a hundred times sweeter. Maybe he and Sam didn't have a lot material things, or a big house, but they had each other. There was no reason they couldn't provide as many wishes granted for one another as possible. It might not be a law degree, but Sam sure seemed happy being given the opportunity to finish school and do further study. The fact it was in their line of work gave Sam a sense of purpose, he was really helping to save lives. Dean couldn't argue with that.
They'd left Wyoming, and Dante and Concha West, just under a week ago. Sam had them up every morning at six, and out the door by six-thirty. Somewhere in Michigan Sam wanted to stop for supplies, scouring the aisles of a Target for the right pens, and notebooks and paper, and files and more blank CD's. To Dean's utter amusement, and surprise, apparently peanut M&M's were required for studying….who knew? The warm glow blossoming somewhere in his middle when he and Concha told Sam about the chance to study at Cornell doubled by the time they'd paid for Sam's supplies and were back on the road.
Sam emailed this Marcus Crandall or Craven as he liked to be called, Dean still didn't know why, when they were two days out of Wyoming, with their expected arrival date in Ithaca. Then he'd paced their motel room for two hours waiting for a response before Dean dragged him out for a beer and some food. Sam nearly slapped him when they'd returned and lack of response brought fits of laughter to Dean. Fortunately the email was returned the next morning. Sam was not the most patient sometimes.
Dean wasn't so sure what he'd do in Ithaca, but he'd find something to amuse himself he was sure. They expected to be there maybe a month or so, but Dean would have stayed for as long as it took. For the first time Sam was excited about hunting. For the first time Dean was excited about school.
It was with a minimal of fuss they found their way through the town, then the campus to the address Marcus Crandall emailed to Sam. His home doubled as his offices for the grad students. He'd have a class of one, Sam….well maybe two if Dean tagged along too. This was specialized training, his research and database where in his home. Dean didn't really question it…much.
Pulling up in front of Crandall's house, Dean cut the engine of the Impala, expecting Sam would have been out of the car before it completely stopped. Dean couldn't help but smile when he looked over at his brother. Stealing a glance out the front window at the house, his brain played the theme from Psycho, the house inspired that song. He wondered if bats lived in the turret near the roof. He could occupy some of his time with a bit of landscaping, because damn, this house needed it.
A second look at Sam had Dean grinning broadly, not that Sam would notice. His attention was focused on the house. He'd bent over, nearly doubled in the seat. His neck stretched, his gaze trained on the top of the house. Mouth dropped open, he was a bit wide-eyed and definitely transfixed on the creepy house.
"Sammy, you look like a turtle."
Sam turned his head, settled his gaze on Dean for a few seconds, wrinkled his nose and turned back to the house. After a few more minutes Dean sighed.
"I think you're going to actually have to get out of the car and go inside Sam."
This time Sam barely turned his head, lifted an eyebrow, gave him a dirty look and didn't move. Running his tongue around the inside of his mouth, then popping it through his lips Dean sighed more heavily, pulled on the door latch and got out of the car. First he straightened, and then stretched…Sam still hadn't moved. Dean trotted to the far side of the car, wrapping his knuckles lightly against Sam's window. He bit back a laugh when Sam jumped, nearly hitting his head on the ceiling of the car. Sam rolled down the window, looking up at him expectantly, sort of looking like he had the day Dean left him in kindergarten for the first time.
"Sammy, really, you need to get out of the car. I don't think he's going to bring the work out here for you." Dean opened the car door. Sam's gaze shifted from Dean to the house and back again.
Finally the kid got it, and unfolded out of the car. They started to the house, Dean going as far as the front of the Impala, sitting on the hood, he didn't think Sam wanted him trailing along. Sam got a few feet farther along before he stopped, turning back to Dean, hands spread wide, ducking his head with a silent 'coming?' question.
Dean lifted his eyebrows, surprised. "You want me to go with you and hold your hand?"
Sam turned back to the house, then faced Dean, then the house, then Dean, "Well, you can't sit out…um….it's sort of….I mean…"
"Dude, you seriously want me to hold your hand?" Dean hopped off the car, grabbing Sam's hand as he walked by, heading along the path to the door.
Sam's face turned red then white then settled on some odd shade of pink. He yanked his hand away, "Don't actually hold my hand!" And punched Dean's shoulder.
Dean just laughed, shaking his head, "It's the first day of kindergarten all over again." Wondering how his brother managed to get through the front door at Stanford the first day. Every other first day of school Dean had gone along, right through high school, driving Sam the first day, waiting out in the car until his brother was safely inside his current school. Feeling simultaneous twinges of silliness and warmth, Dean led the way to the front door. Sam was twenty-four, six-foot-four, been to a college on his own for three years and now nervous, meeting this man, wanted Dean's reassurance. It touched Dean very deep down in a way he didn't expect.
They stopped at the front door, hands folded in front of him, rocking from the balls of his feet to his heels a few times, Dean waited for Sam to ring the bell. Sam backed up a step or two, moved back next to Dean, glancing sideways at him. Heaving another sigh, Dean scratched the back of his head, "Uh, Sammy, maybe ring the bell?"
Sam gave him a deer in headlights on the first day of kindergarten look. "Maybe I should have called first."
Dean rolled his eyes, reached across Sam's chest, finger hovering over the bell. The door swung open before his finger could land. "That's sort of creepy." He tried to sound nonchalant.
They both looked in, Sam unexpectedly backed up a step. Dean's reflexes were honed and instantaneous. He brought up his hand to press against Sam's back, stopping his retreat. "Sam, enough." He gave Sam a push, shoving him through the door and down another of life's roads.
The entry-way was large, sort of dark and creepy. Dean chuckled, the guy sure liked to set the stage for his 'class-work.' One wall was covered with tapestries depicting scenes of vampires, werewolves, something Dean took for a shtriga, and of course good ole' Ichabod. A second wall had paintings of Norse demi-gods, a soul-eater, wraith, something looking Incan, or Mayan, Australian aboriginal dreamscapes, and of course good ole' Ichabod. It was New York after all, dear Mr. Crane and his big, black horse and decapitated rider were everywhere. The foyer ceiling was two stories up, a railing wound around the second floor. One wall was a staircase leading to a second floor, seen from the foyer.
"Maybe he's not here. I should have called." Sam said.
"Sam the door was open, someone is here. Say something."
Rolling his eyes, Dean huffed a laugh, "Yes you genius, you're the reason we're here, the man doesn't want to meet me."
"Sure he does, Dean, why wouldn't he want to meet you?"
"Actually I've been looking forward to meeting you both." A man strolled down the stairway, surprising Dean, since the hallway of the second floor was perfectly visible from all parts of the entryway. He wasn't as tall as Dean, but close, with gray hair and pale gray eyes. He wore khaki's and a sport jacket, no tie. He was one of those men who could have been anywhere between forty and sixty, it was difficult to tell. He looked from one brother to the other, "So, which one is which? Concha, the dear girl told me your names, sent me a picture, but didn't bother telling me who was who."
Sam sort of jerked around when Crandall spoke, then edged close enough that Dean's elbow could nudge firmly into his side.
"Sam, I—uh—I'm Sam." He grabbed Dean's arm, pulling him along, "This is Dean."
"Nice to meet you." Dean lifted one hand to his waist and let it drop.
Crandall walked in a circle around them, seemingly appraising them. Sam turned in one direction, Dean in the other, following the man's movements. He didn't speak until he was back to his starting point. Dean thought the guy was more than a bit creepy.
"I'm Marcus Crandall, but you may both call me Craven."
Dean still wondered why.
"Because I like that name." He looked from Sam to Dean, talking to them both. It gave Dean a shiver, he instinctively took a step forward, leaning his weight to one side so he was between this strange man and his brother. A move which apparently didn't go unnoticed. "Ahh….just like Dante and Concha a nice set. I suppose you'll be hanging around here with him?" Craven addressed his last question to Dean.
"I..uh…not if…" Dean stammered.
Sam was slightly more articulate, "He..uh…is it ok?"
Craven ignored them both, waving one hand in the air, "He's the hunter," pointing at Dean, "And can only benefit. Besides it would take too much effort to lock him out." He turned, Sam sprinted after him, Dean shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and wandered along after Sam. Leading them out of the large foyer, into an even larger room lined with books, computers, CD's. Maps covered the walls, papers covered the tables. It was as much a contrast to the outer room as it could be, this room was modern, work-filled, no art, no clue as to the purpose it served. Dean liked it.
He motioned them to take a seat. There were plenty of places to sit, a couch, three large chairs, two desks with chairs. Craven settled behind one of the desks. Sam and Dean each in one of the chairs.
"So, I understand you two are one set of the Elements." It wasn't a question. "I've arranged for a place for you to stay, nothing much, but it's within walking distance and I'm told in the winter the heating is good." He slid a paper across the desk, which Dean retrieved. "This is what you'll need to work on to finish your degree, and will get you started on your further study." He picked up a rather large stack of books and, standing, dumped them in Sam's arms. "Now," Craven resettled in his chair, leaning back comfortably, "Tell me about these visions."
Dean straightened, stiffening. Sam's eyebrows bounced up under his bangs, his mouth dropped open. He glanced over at Dean.
"Why do you need to know? How do you know?" Dean snapped out.
Now it was Craven's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Concha told me, I naturally asked why she'd been convinced you were one of the Element sets, and why I should take Sam as a student, well both of you it seems. Did you expect I would accept a student, and what comes with him…?" Craven glared pointedly at Dean…"on blind faith? Not know anything about either of you? Not anyone can sign up for this, I chose, accepted you as much as you chose to come here and do this. You think I don't know exactly what Concha does, what she is?"
"I get these, ah…" Sam shrugged, looking at Dean, then down at the books in his lap, "Headaches. They usually start with headaches—"
"Unless they happen while he's asleep." Dean cut in. Drawing in a deep breath he pointed at Craven. "And if you breathe a word of this, anything freaky happens to him, he gets—"
Craven waved him off, looking bored. "I know, believe me, I know. He gets hurt, you'll kill me. I've heard the speech before, don't' forget you're not the first overbearing, very overprotective sibling I've ever dealt with. Now, if you're done with your theatrics, or if you're not I can direct you to the drama department. Shall we do what you came here to do?"
Sam's head ducked down a bit, smiling a bit too much Dean thought when he gave Dean a sidelong glance. "The visions, it's like I'm in the middle of it, but can't interact. I just watch. Usually they show me someone dying, or about to die. Sometimes we can get there in time to stop it, most the time not."
"Isn't that enough?" Dean countered.
Nodding a bit Craven said, "I'm sorry, it wasn't what I expected. Concha only told me there were visions; she didn't give me a lot of details."
That revelation made Dean only feel marginally better. He was definitely going to have a conversation with Concha later, though he couldn't feel much anger towards her, she knew better than to endanger Sam, she had no reason to. In fact she had every reason to want Sam alive and healthy. Still he wished she'd given them some forewarning, well maybe she thought she had. He'd find out later. This man knew the information; it was no reason to try convincing Sam not to follow through with this, especially since he wanted it so badly.
"Can you…" Sam shifted his gaze for an instant to Dean again, "Help me with them, the visions?"
Craven's face softened for the first time. "We'll look into it, see what we can find out. Though Concha's theory is sound."
Dean's heart fell, he wanted the damn things gone from Sam maybe more than Sam wanted them gone. With that final statement Craven sent them on their way.
Sam got to carry the books, somehow the only thing Dean carried was the paper with what would be their home while in Ithaca.
"Dude, that guy is seriously creepy. He didn't creep you out totally?" Dean unlocked Sam's door before jogging around to the driver's side of the car.
"Yeah, a bit. I guess." He hoped Dean wasn't so freaked he'd want to leave, quit this. Sam wasn't sure he didn't want to quit this. But Dean, being Dean surprised him. Just got in the car, and handed Sam the paper with the address, asking him to find directions to the place. Sam told himself for the millionth time that week, his brother really was a great guy, an ass, but a great guy.
The apartment turned out to be small, but clean and nice. It was one giant room, with a kitchen and a bathroom. Beds were along one wall, and a small sitting area with a couch, chair and TV along the other. They'd stayed in much worse.
"I don't know Sam, I don't mind telling you, I don't like it he knows so much about us."
"You mean me."
"Yeah, ok, you, I mean you. Ok? Guilty as charged! Happy Sam? Yeah, it bothers me when people know about the visions, bothers me because they make you vulnerable whether you want to admit it or not. I don't like it when you're that vulnerable to others, 'cause some people think you're something you're not. But we need some answers, and I'm fresh out of ideas where to get them. You want to do this, we'll do it…..WE will do this. But I don't have to like everything about it."
"Fair enough." Sam agreed happily, he really didn't want it any other way, but telling Dean that would get a huffy noise, waved hand and some snide comment. "He already knows, so there's no point worrying about it. I need to know, find answers. What we know now, it sort of conflicts with what Dad told us about the demon, the plans." He dropped his eyes to the floor, then looked up again, meeting Dean's. "I don't want to die. I really don't want you to have to…."
Holding up one hand, Dean predictably halted Sam's speech. "I'm not, we've been over this, not happening, so just don't go there. Just don't. You're right, conflicting information for sure." Dean shrugged. "But maybe now you, we, will have the resources to figure it out."
Sam smiled his agreement and began unpacking.