Sunday Bloody Sunday
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Just happy that they're out there. What? They are!
Spoilers: The story takes place roughly one month after the end of Season 2's All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 2). Pretty much anything is fair game.
a/n: This story is co-written by Gaelicspirit and Sojourner84. We have very much enjoyed weaving this tale and hope that you have as much fun reading it. As always, feedback is appreciated, to either or both of us.
Kelly – thank you for seeing what we could not.
And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin is pride that apes humility.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come here to justify
One man to overthrow
- Pride (In the Name of Love), U2
"Keep reading, Sam! Don't stop!"
His brother's command was like a slap of words upside the head and Sam grimaced as he lost his place one more time in the Latin text. His eyes skimmed the page, eating it up as fast as they could in search of the last word he'd spoken. One word. One damn word was all he needed to re-orient himself in the rite.
His search found diabolica and he started to read again. However, the soft, wet crunch of flesh and bone in a connecting punch tore his gaze from the page once again. Shit…
Sam saw his brother stumbling backward, reeling from a blow dealt to his jaw. Dean regained his balance, after he tripped a little, his feet twisting under him until he could plant both soles on the ground firmly. Dean risked a look back at Sam, and Sam could see his lip glistening with blood from the fresh split.
"Sam!" Dean's tone carried with it a desperate plea mixed with understandable annoyance. Either Sam got his act together or Dean would be hard pressed to keep his head attached to his neck.
Sam watched the large Hispanic man, twice Dean's size, move forward to take another swing. Dean stumbled back bringing up his own fists in a taunt. The man stepped forward under one of the warehouse lights, and Sam couldn't find anything but malicious intent in his unnatural, black onyx eyes.
"Dean! It's gonna kill you!"
Dean shot a look over his shoulder as if to say You think? Maybe you should finish the rite then!
The possessed man thrust out his tree trunk of an arm and Dean looked back just in time to twist under it and move away. The man's knuckles had missed his already bruised cheek by mere millimeters; the air that passed over his face carried evidence of the force the punch had held. If Sam didn't finish the rite soon, this guy was going to kill him. From the man's size alone, Dean knew a few more glancing blows like the one to his jaw would send his brain smashing into the side of his skull. A direct hit coupled with the inhuman strength of a possessed person could mean lights out… permanently.
"Just goddamn finish it already!" Dean shouted, ducking another swinging fist.
The frantic echo of Dean's voice booming through the warehouse shocked Sam out of his almost mesmerized focus on his brother being beaten to hell. He returned to the rite, skimming faster, wondering why Dean thought pulling a Balboa against a demon was a good idea for a distraction.
Though, it wasn't like either of them had had much time to think of a plan…
Satana….Satana…I'll take Satana for 300 Alex!
Sam started reading again, marking the words with his fingers this time.
The guy had come out of nowhere. They hadn't been prepared for this exorcism. The plan to use the devil's trap to help them extract the demon from Andre was screwed the moment they realized he was one step ahead of them. But it didn't matter now. What mattered was finishing the rite before Dean became Andre's heavy bag.
Before Sam could finish the line, the air was punched from his lungs as an invisible force gut-checked him. He was thrown backward across the room. The book had flown from his hands the instant he'd been hit and skidded away in the opposite direction. Sam met the ground hard, his limbs pin-wheeling for purchase until he came to rest against a far wall in a disjointed heap.
Dean heard the air rush from Sam in a surprised grunt, his eyes darting across the room, catching the end of his brother's flight as he crushed into the concrete floor. Dean let out a feral growl and ran toward Andre at a full sprint. He crashed into the large man at the waist and pushed him back until they both slammed into one of the support beams at the center of the warehouse. Dean felt the connection impulse through both of them and pushed away to see Andre momentarily stunned.
Dean used that moment to check on Sam, turning to see if his brother was all right. His eyes passed over the half-finished Devil's Trap on the floor of the warehouse. The bastard had ambushed them before they could finish it and now they had to do this without the safety net of a seal. These things were getting smarter; that or Dean and Sam needed to work on their approach. Neither of them could keep going into exorcisms like this. Especially against possessed beings like Andre the Giant here.
"Sammy, you still with me?" Dean yelled toward the heap that was his brother.
Sam was moving as fast as he could, given he'd just experienced something akin to stepping out in front of a speeding car. His whole torso ached and he had to bite back the bile, coughing. He could taste the coppery blood filling his mouth from where his lip had smacked into the ground. He had to wait for his breath to return before he could get to his feet. Holding his abdomen, Sam looked for the rite. He saw the book half wedged under a nearby crate. He looked up, searching quickly for Dean.
Dean saw Sam's eyes go wide and he turned back to the mastiff of a man who had recovered from his attack. His two meaty, work-roughened hands wrapped around Dean's arms and lifted him off his feet. Dean caught the smirk that crossed Andre's face before he was tossed effortlessly through a nearby dividing wall.
Dean's back connected with the wood-planked wall, sending a resounding shockwave of pain through his whole body, before he crashed through onto the other side. He heard the snap of the wood as he passed through, followed by a high pitched ringing in his ears. He lay there amongst the settling dust and debris, stunned, blind and unable to breathe. He couldn't hear anything except the ringing in his ears until the whine grew louder and eventually came around to thick silence.
As he laid there, his vision slowly shifting from black to a dull, featureless gray, he hoped the snapping sound he heard upon impact hadn't been his spine. His vision speckled back in vibrant stars and he became aware of the wetness running down his forehead and filling his left ear. There was something wet at the back of his neck but no pain…yet. Breathe. Why the hell couldn't he breathe in?
The thick silence gave way to a sick pop, as if his ears had just been cleared of water, and he could make out Sam's voice screaming out the rest of the rite in desperation. Dean finally took in a wet, ragged breath, and started to cough. The pain suddenly flipped on like a switch and it was all Dean could do to keep from going back into the dark silence.
He felt hands grab a hold of his shirt. Big, demon-possessed hands that he knew would throw him again if he didn't do something. Dean grabbed the wrists and tried to force the man away from him. It only served to bring a laugh from Andre before Dean was ripped back through the divider and hoisted into the air like he was made of paper. Andre then slammed him back against the wall, the blow rattling Dean's teeth. Dean's back bloomed with pain from where it had connected the first time and he couldn't still his cry.
Sam had gathered up the book after seeing Dean tossed through the wall. His heart was beating a dent into his chest as he continued to read where he'd left off. He was on his feet and walking toward Dean and the demon, nearing the end of the rite. He just had a few more lines and this thing would be gone. He knew it wasn't fast enough when he heard the second crash and saw that Dean had been pulled back through the hole his body had made and pinned to another wall by Andre's massive arms.
Sam read faster and louder, trying not to let the sight of Dean distract him. If he kept hesitating he'd be witness to Dean's death. As he continued he heard the man start to scream and he knew it was working.
Hold on Dean…
Dean watched Andre as the rite started to take effect. He was horrified to see the demon actually twisting beneath Andre's skin, moving beneath the surface like something out of one of the Alien movies. What the hell happened to just leaving in a black cloud? The thing was tearing Andre apart from the inside, and Dean could feel Andre's hands tighten and twist in his shirt.
Dean tried to take in something that resembled a normal breath, but that was impossible at the moment. The pressure on his chest was suffocating, and after his second introduction to the wall, he'd been trying to keep the darkness away from the edges of his vision.
Dean felt the grip on his clothes loosen and he started to slide down the wall a little. Andre's eyes flashed to a soft, sable brown, the black bleeding away from them for a moment to reveal true human suffering. There was desperation, a pleading in Andre's eyes that sliced at Dean's core, reopening old wounds. In that moment, Dean felt like he was back in Missouri, trying to breathe, trying to stay alive, witnessing his father begging the demon to stop, just stop…
The darkness slithered back in over Andre's eyes and Dean was lifted up again and pressed harder against the wall. Dean gripped the man's wrists with his waning strength, pushing back in another attempt to alleviate the pressure, but was only rewarded with another teeth-rattling slam.
"Jesus, Sam, hurry the hell up," Dean wheezed. His voice was too thin, however, and he'd barely heard himself utter the plea.
Dean pressed his eyes shut and focused his entire consciousness on Sam's voice, focused on the cadence of the rite. He breathed in and out to that rhythm, coming back to himself slowly. He opened his eyes and saw the demon smiling up at him with its dead, opaque eyes and arrogant grin. It thought it was winning. Well, we can't have that...Dean took the demon's twisted expression as a challenge and tipped the corners of his mouth up in a cocky grin of defiant confidence.
The demon's smile faded quickly, confused by Dean's actions.
"Climbed out of Hell just to possess a butcher," Dean managed to get out, his lips curling. "Seems fitting."
The demon slammed him back again and Dean's vision crinkled to gray at the edges before fizzling back.
"Easy, Fezzik. I'm not wearing a damn black mask…just trying to carry on a conversation."
Andre jerked his head to the right and Dean heard Sam cry out. He looked past the tower of human flesh and saw Sam fall to his knees, the book falling from his hands as he grabbed at his head in pain. Sam's face contorted, and Dean knew the demon was twisting his brother up inside. It looked like Sam was having a vision on Speed as his head snapped up and his back arched.
Dean released Andre's wrists and grabbed hold of the man's throat, squeezing and digging his fingers into the soft, vulnerable flesh of his neck. His hands barely wrapped around, but he was able to press his thumbs forcefully against Andre's windpipe.
"Let him go," Dean ordered.
The demon turned its attention back to Dean and started to laugh.
"You won't kill me," it mocked. "There's an innocent in here with me. He's praying for help now. Begging you not to kill him… to save him. Por favor, señor. Ayúdeme. Sálveme."
"Shut up!" Dean growled.
"Easier to do when it's me up front, ain't it kid? When Sam's in danger you don't care who gets in the way. Meg for instance…that guy beating the shit out of Sammy's face in the alley."
Another cry came from Sam's direction and Dean looked past the dark eyes and to his brother whose mouth was open in a silent scream, eyes pressed shut and squeezing out tears. He was slumped against the far wall, writhing, hands reaching out, grasping at air, desperate for release.
Dean was treated to yet another slam before he could get out his brother's name. This time the ringing returned with the burnt edges of his vision.
"You were the one that wanted to have a conversation, Dean Winchester," the demon reminded him. "We've got a place all picked out for you down in Hell. I know a few souls who've been asking about you."
The mention of his deal blindsided him; he felt himself tremble, needing a moment to recover. He didn't want to know who was asking for him in Hell that was for sure. He knew he'd lost the edge in this verbal combat, and he shook off the words of the demon, hating himself for those few seconds of weakness.
"Your daddy was fun to play with," the demon continued. "Took a while for the man to break, but boy was he a sight when you dug into the right places. The way he'd scream… until his fucking throat bled."
"You can't touch him anymore," Dean growled, his nostrils flaring as he tried again to get free. "He's free, you son of a bitch. And as soon as we send your sorry ass back to Hell, you can say hello to the others we've sent back there."
Three of the Hell Gate escapees had been returned so far this month, and Dean intended to add Andre's demon to that number.
The demon's mouth twisted into a cruel smirk and he nodded. "Your daddy's free…but you belong to us now." The demon laughed to himself, shaking his head. "One year was a fucked up deal, Winchester. There's no way you'll be able to put all of us back in Hell."
Dean pulled the corner of his mouth into a sardonic smile. "I see we made the Demon Newsletter again. That or you're banging the Crossroads bitch."
The demon drew closer and Dean had to turn his head to avoid the sulfur on its breath. "I'm going to enjoy watching you break in eternal death," the thing whispered harshly. "Watching you die slowly here, crumbling apart inside that corpse of yours, is entertaining as well, but maybe I should speed up the process. Kill you today."
Dean was pulled off the wall and the demon ran him back into it, hard. He blacked out this time, unable to stave off the darkness, the silence. When he finally was able to blink open his eyes, his vision folded back like burning paper until he could see Sam standing behind Andre. He was reading the rite and Andre began to writhe again, releasing Dean this time, and backing away.
Dean's feet touched the ground, but his legs folded under him, refusing to support his weight. He collapsed against the wall and slid to the right, landing awkwardly on his side. He lay there, watching Andre back up, clutching his head and screaming. Dean tried to get up and go to help, but he could only manage to push up slightly with one hand before collapsing down again.
Andre was dying. Dean was watching him die. The demon was twisting so violently inside of him that Dean could see it pushing out beneath the skin again. Blood was sputtering from his lips, pouring down his chin, soaking his shirt. He was choking on his own blood.
He heard his brother finish the rite and saw Andre fall to his knees. The giant man's head shot back and the demon escaped in a dark cloud, punching into the metal rafters and dissipating.
Sam saw Andre starting to fall forward and he ran to grab his shoulders, sliding in next to him for a save. But the man's weight was too much, too fast, and Sam found himself pinned under his body, staring up into dead eyes.
"Nononono," Sam whispered, knowing Andre was gone, knowing they'd lost another innocent, unwilling to give in. He shoved hard against Andre's shoulder, turning the big man to his back, and leveraging himself up so that he was essentially holding a giant in his lap. "Don't… don't do this." He shook the wide shoulders and the man's large head rolled limply against Sam's pinned thigh. "Goddammit."
"Sam," Dean called to his brother in a strained voice. He pressed his hand against the floor again, working to push himself up, working to move toward Sam.
"Sa—" he started, but stopped suddenly, closing his eyes as the warehouse floor tilted violently and threatened to send him careening across the room.
Dean turned his face down, away from Sam's hunched, dejected form, resting his forehead against the floor. Pressing his fingertips into the concrete, he forced himself to drag in slow, deep breaths. He felt the muscles along his back catch and pull at the motion, but it was the only way to slow the sadistic turn of the earth.
Gritting his teeth, Dean forced his knees up and under him, resting on his forearms, his head still tipped forward onto the floor. He felt the blood from the back of his head run down his neck and across his jaw to drip off of his chin. Get it together, man… Sam needs you… get your ass off this floor…
He'd managed to push his arms straight when he felt hands pulling him up and tipping him back slowly. Blinking, squinting, working to focus, he saw the dusty air of the empty warehouse settling around him as Sam sat him up. He turned, hissing as the tender flesh of his back rested against the wall, and looked at Sam who was crouched in front of him, one hand still resting against Dean's shoulder, supporting both of them.
"That's—" Dean started, then swallowed the cough that rose like a wraith in his chest. "That's four," he managed.
Sam leaned forward until he was resting on his bent knees, dropping his hand from Dean's shoulder, his eyes drifting toward the floor. "We lost him, Dean."
Dean didn't miss the subtle shift of Sam's arm as he wrapped it around his middle. That demon had slammed his brother pretty hard. He blinked, licking his dry lips.
"You okay, Sammy?"
"We can't keep losing them, man."
"Not… not what I meant," Dean tilted his head, trying unsuccessfully to push himself forward, adjusting the pressure on his bruised back.
Sam lifted his eyes. "I'll be fine," he said. "You look like crap, though."
"What—" Dean couldn't bite back a second, wet-sounding cough. "What are you talking about? I h-had him against the ropes."
"Uh-huh," Sam shook his head. "Here," he reached for Dean's hand, clasping it at the wrist, and supported him under the shoulder until they were both standing.
Dean felt the room spin drunkenly around him, and bent forward, his shoulder overlapping Sam's in an attempt to remain upright. Sam held still, silently waiting for Dean to regain his balance. After a moment, the world settled back in place, and Dean pulled back, releasing Sam's hand and looked up.
He narrowed his focus when he saw blood on Sam's lip. Reaching up, he grasped his brother's neck, turning his face to the side. There was a gash on Sam's ear and a deep cut at the corner of his mouth.
"I'm fine, Dean," Sam pushed his brother's hand away. "I'm fine."
Isn't that usually my line? Dean frowned at the shadowed eyes, usually so steady, averting their gaze from his.
"We saved people by getting rid of that thing, Sam," Dean started. "That has to count for something."
Sam slid hollow eyes to meet his. "I'm tired of losing the people we are trying to save."
"Exorcism isn't… easy," Dean hedged. "People don't always make it out—"
"I did," Sam argued.
"That's different," Dean took a step back, thrusting an arm out against the wall to stop his sway.
"Meg just left you, Sam," Dean swallowed. The room had started a slow, languid turn around Sam. He was having trouble keeping his breath steady. "S-she just left, we didn't exorcise her."
"Yeah…you guys broke the lock," Sam said, his eyes darting down to the faded burn scar on his forearm.
"Right," Dean nodded, immediately wishing he hadn't.
Sam looked over at Andre; the giant man looked small and fragile in death. He'd sworn to himself that this year would be about saving people. Saving Dean. And they'd been witness to four deaths in as many weeks since Jake used that damn Colt to open the Hell Gate.
"Yeah," Sam replied, not looking away from Andre.
"You gotta let it go, man," Dean said.
Sam looked back at him. He knew Dean was right. He couldn't carry the weight of each lost soul if they were going to stop the demons. If he was going to find a way out of Dean's deal. But he felt heavier with each death.
"Let's get outta here," Sam said, reaching out to grasp Dean's arm.
"Gimme a sec," Dean pulled slightly away, not yet willing to leave the support of the wall. He did not want Sam to have to help him out of that room.
Sam's eyes darted over to the Dean-sized hole in the dividing wall. "We keep this up, they're gonna tear you apart, man."
"You just gotta read faster is all," Dean argued, eyes on the ground, focusing on breathing, willing the rotation of the earth to just slow the hell down already.
"This one knew, Dean. He jumped us before we even finished the Devil's Trap."
"I know, Sam. I was there, remember? Big fists swinging, body flying, the whole nine yards."
Sam sighed and Dean dragged his eyes up. "I'm just saying," Sam bit out, "that if we keep this up the way we have been, they're gonna beat us."
Dean watched him, silent.
"We need a new plan," Sam said, wrapping his long fingers around Dean's upper arm and pulling him away from the wall.
Sam shook his head. "I don't know… but I'll think of something."
Dean winced as the movements of his legs shot a hot throb of pain through his back. He let Sam keep his hand on his arm, looking pointedly away as they walked past Andre's body and to the wide door of the warehouse.
"You just keep thinking, Sam," Dean muttered. "That's what you're good at."
"Yeah?" Sam cast a look over at him. "And what special skills do you bring to this partnership?"
Dean leaned against the doorframe as Sam dug a cell phone out of his pocket, the display screen casting a blue hue across his face in the murky night.
"Besides my devastating good looks you mean?"
Sam lifted an eyebrow, a smirk twisting the corner of his mouth. "Yeah. Besides that."
"I thought it would be obvious, Sam," Dean winced, pulling away slightly from the support of the frame and attempted to stand without swaying. "I'm the brawn, the muscle, the heavy…"
He listed to the side and Sam shot an arm out to grab his sleeve and pull him back against the wall.
"How's that working out for you?" Sam finished dialing, and pressed the phone to his ear, keeping one hand on Dean's arm as support.
"Think we need a new plan," Dean muttered, closing his eyes and listening to Sam report finding a body in the abandoned warehouse over on Utica Avenue. He opened one eye, peering at Sam when he heard him pause.
"Uhh… Phil Rudd," Sam said, then, "yeah, thanks, okay."
He snapped the phone shut and looked over at Dean.
"Dude, you been hanging around me too long," Dean's grin was crooked. "Why didn't you just hang up like usual?"
Sam shrugged. "Dunno. Not like it matters, though." He wiped his prints from the phone, then gripping it with his coat sleeve, tossed it back through the opened warehouse door.
Dean nodded. They'd been forced to do more than change the plates on the Impala to stay under the radar since Hendrickson found them in Arkansas. 'Disposable' cell phones had actually been Sam's idea.
"Hope the dispatcher isn't an AC/DC fan," Dean mumbled as Sam pulled him away from the wall. He dropped wearily into the passenger seat of the car, tipping his head back against the seat as he waited for Sam to get in behind the wheel.
When he felt the reassuring rumble of the Impala's engine, Dean rolled his head on the seat to look at his brother. Sam stared back at the warehouse, a dark look scuttling across his smooth features.
"What?" Dean asked.
"Nothing," Sam replied.
Dean pulled his head up from the seat. "It's gonna be okay, Sam."
Sam looked over at him and Dean felt an odd chill roll down his neck at the bleak expression in Sam's eyes. "Maybe it's time we stop telling ourselves that lie."
Sam shifted into reverse, and Dean let his head drop back on the seat with the motion of the car. He knew Sam was churning underneath his quiet exterior. He could feel the helpless frustration rolling off of his brother—and he knew he was the major cause. I don't care what it takes… I'm gonna get you out of this.
Dean blinked, remembering Sam's voice, the determined look in Sam's eyes. Maybe it's time I saved your ass for a change.
"What day is today?"
Dean pulled his eyebrows together. "Uh, Sunday, I think." He tipped his head until he was resting against the closed glass of the window. "Why?"
"I just couldn't remember," Sam said softly. "You ever lose track?"
"Sometimes," Dean mumbled, feeling the heavy pull of post-battle exhaustion. "I don't always think about it… Not like time matters to demons…"
Sam shifted in his seat, his grip tightening on the steering wheel. "Matters to some," he said, looking over at his brother… feeling the year they had left together tick away. "Don't go to sleep, Dean."
"Seriously, man," Sam reached over and shoved gently at Dean's shoulder. "Roll the window down or something. You probably have a concussion."
"Yeah, well, I don't care. Open your eyes."
Dean sighed, "Alright, alright." He shifted stiffly in the seat, forcing himself to sit up, blinking into the night. "You're so bossy."
Sam ignored him, peering at a passing street sign. "Where the hell is the turn-off…"
"By that lake… Leggy Lake? Liquid Lake?" Dean said.
Sam saw a brown sign with a figure of a boat ramp pointing toward Long Lake.
"Long Lake," Dean pointed to the sign triumphantly. He reached up and tapped gingerly on his temple. "Like a steel trap."
Sam rolled his eyes, pulling to a stop in front of the motel, the blue-neon 'vacancy' sign flickering indecisively in the dark. Sam stepped out, walking around to the trunk, and dropped the book of Latin rites under the false-bottom floor of the car. When he slammed the trunk closed, he saw Dean pulling himself slowly to his feet using the door of the car as support.
He waited, watching as Dean shut the door, squaring his shoulders as if walking to the motel room was going to be as difficult as fighting a werewolf without the aid of silver bullets. Thinking back to the gut-wrenching visual of Dean's body smashing through the dividing wall, Sam knew that comparison probably wasn't too far off the mark.
He took a hesitant step forward, intending to grab Dean's arm, offer him support, when his brother moved away, his walk unsteady, slightly skewed, but in the general direction of the motel door. Not asking for help, not expecting help. Carrying his load and the weight of the load he'd taken upon himself twenty-three years ago without complaint.
Goddammit, Dean… one day you're gonna have to let me save you…
Sam stepped past him, up to the motel room door, unlocked it and entered, tossing the key on the nearby table and heading back to the bathroom. By the time he returned to the room with what he needed to help Dean patch up his Andre-inflicted wounds, Dean had made it into the room, shut the door, and was working himself out of his leather jacket with the creaky movements of an eighty-year-old.
"Want some help with that?"
"I got it," Dean groaned, dropping the jacket on the floor and sitting heavily on the bed.
He slumped forward, resting his forearms on his knees. God, he hurt. He hurt in places he'd forgotten he had muscles. He hurt worse than when the blast from Sam's shotgun sent him through a wall over a year ago. It's not the years… it's the mileage.
"You ready?" Sam voice trickled down from above him, stealing into his muted consciousness.
"No," Dean groaned, keeping his head down. Blood had dried on his cheek, chin, and forehead, making his skin itch, but he didn't have the strength to reach up and scratch it.
"C'mon, Dean," Sam sighed. "Don't be a baby. Let me clean you up so you can get some sleep."
"Thought I wasn't allowed," Dean groused, looking up at Sam through squinted eyes. Sam was staring back at him with a strange expression. Bored? Tired? Irritated? Empty? He could usually read Sam. Not tonight.
"I'll wake you up in a few hours," Sam said, motioning at Dean's shirt with his fingers. "Take it off."
Dean straightened up, lifting an eyebrow. "That's just so wrong coming from you," he teased.
Sam rolled his eyes. Dean crossed his arms over his chest, grasped the edges of his T-shirt, and uncurled his arms as he pulled the soft cotton material over his head with a barely-suppressed groan. He dropped the shirt on top of his jacket, resting one bent arm on his knee, his other hand gripping the edge of the bed. He waited for Sam's predictable reaction at seeing his bruised back.
It never came. Sam silently cleaned out the cut on the back of his head and the ones on his cheek and forehead with antiseptic. He started to apply butterfly bandages to the cut on Dean's forehead, and Dean pulled his head back.
"I got this," he said.
"Dean, you can't even stand up," Sam argued.
"Since when do I need to stand up to put on bandages?"
"Since you have to look in the mirror," Sam said, reaching for a suture kit.
Dean put his hand out. "Whoa, wait…"
"Dude, you've got a crevasse back here," Sam said. "Needs stitches. And I know you can't sew up your own head, so can it."
Sam was careful, gentle even, but silent. It wasn't as if Dean wanted him to worry… but a word or two of concern would be more… Sam.
Maybe losing Andre got to him more than I thought… maybe he's hurt worse than he's letting on... Dean halted his line of thinking just shy of the yellow-eyed demon's taunts that Sam hadn't come back whole. Hadn't come back Sam. Had been tainted.
Dean winced as a stitch shot a sharp pain through his scalp. Sam hissed out a heartfelt "Sorry," and Dean almost smiled. That's my boy…
Sam finished the stitches, and Dean felt his fingers lightly probing his back, checking for broken ribs.
"You're gonna be sore—"
"But you're not broken, and I think your jacket protected you from any major cuts…" Sam continued. "I can get you some ice for the bruising."
"Nah," Dean shook his head when Sam stood up. "I'll just take a bunch of aspirin. Be fine in the morning."
Sam handed him some pills and a glass of water, then crossed the room, shoving his hands into his hair, pushing it away from his forehead and giving him a boyish look that wasn't reflected in his troubled eyes.
"Spill it, Sam," Dean said tiredly. "You're gonna bust a seam or something."
Sam dropped his hands and stared at him. How could he tell Dean what he didn't know himself? How could he articulate feelings that surfaced just long enough to crash against each other in a chaotic mess, then split apart and drop again? How could he tell him that he was angry and afraid, proud and pissed, determined and wary all at the same time?
"It's nothing," Sam finally said, his eyes not leaving his brother's face.
"Sam," Dean said. "It's me."
That's the problem…
"These people, Dean," Sam said, clenching his jaw, forcing the words out through his teeth. "These people are dead because of me."
Dean pulled his eyebrows together, puckering the cut that Sam had neglected to bandage. "How do you figure?"
"Jake got the Colt from me… opened the gate because I couldn't stop him…"
Dean pushed himself to his feet and Sam watched his hands curl into fists tight enough to turn his knuckles white.
"That's bullshit, Sam," Dean said darkly.
He straightened, despite the obvious discomfort, and Sam couldn't help but notice that the bruising from his back snaked around over his shoulder and across his ribs on his left side.
"Is it?" Sam said, unconsciously facing off with his brother. "The demon told me, Dean… he told me only one of us was going to walk out of that town. It should have been me, not Jake."
"Dammmit, Sam," Dean growled. "You died trying to stop him." His voice broke and he felt a tremor shimmer through his chest.
Sam pulled his lips in tight across his teeth. "Doesn't matter… it didn't work."
Dean rubbed a hand over his face, closing his eyes. "Sam…" he started, feeling the world begin to shift under him. He opened his eyes, steadying himself with the sight of his brother. "You were the one that told me it was worth it… that what we did was worth the sacrifices we make…"
Sam watched him, waiting.
"You still think that?"
Sam blinked. "Yeah… I guess." He rested a hand on his hip. "We can't let those demons stay free…"
"Well, then stop all this worrying about what if…" Dean tipped his head forward slightly, his eyes steady on Sam's. "What if you'd stopped Jake? What if he'd never..." Dean swallowed, "stabbed you? What if I hadn't brought you back? It is what it is and we deal with it."
Sam shook his head. "We just deal with it, huh?"
"Think you'd be saying that if I was the one who made the deal?"
Dean went cold. He felt his balance shift abruptly, the edges around Sam blurring and fading.
Sam watched the blood drain from Dean's face. He allowed himself a small, silent victory cheer that his words had struck a cord with his stubborn brother before stepping forward, catching Dean's arms as his knees buckled. He turned Dean so that he was again sitting down on the bed.
"Sonuvabitch," Dean muttered, rubbing at his head with a shaking hand.
"Lay back," Sam commanded, his voice soft.
"I just need a minute—"
"You're beat, Dean," Sam shook his head. "Just relax, okay? I'm not going anywhere."
He'd said it without thinking, but when Dean brought his head up, his green eyes snapping at him with focus, Sam knew he'd needed to say that. He needed to reassure his brother that he was going to stick around. He was going to fight with him. He was going to save him.
"I'm not going anywhere," Sam again.
Dean blinked once, then reached over to pull down the comforter. He shifted to his elbow and then his back, gritting his teeth as the bruises protested. Carefully, he rolled over onto his stomach, stuffing his hands under his pillow.
"Sam?" he muttered into the soft cotton of the pillowcase.
"It's right here," Sam replied, sliding his Bowie knife under the pillow until Dean could wrap his fingers around the hilt.
"Thanks," Dean breathed, and Sam watched as the muscles in his back slowly eased, the tense concentration Dean always held his body in, no matter the situation, faded and sleep claimed him.
Watching him another moment, Sam knew he should climb in the adjoining bed. He knew he should be exhausted. He knew he needed rest—they had a long road ahead of them and over a hundred demons to slay. But he couldn't stop the spinning of his thoughts, or quiet the uneven, frantic beat of his heart as he watched his brother sleep.
He grabbed the key and turned to the door, pausing a fraction of a second to consider leaving Dean a note. With a slight shake of his head, he told himself he'd be back to wake Dean up in a couple of hours anyway; a note wasn't necessary. He just wanted air. And quiet. And with the lake nearby, he knew where to get both.
The click of the door's closing latch echoed in the tangled, confused images of Dean's dreams. Faces and monsters burned and faded in a disjointed melee spawned from the life of one who walks the line between what others perceive and reality. Dean rubbed his face into the pillow, willing the images away, willing blackness to once again take hold.
He rolled to his side, unaware, focused only on the dream. He saw Sam stumble toward him, right arm hanging low, clutched in his left, a bruise across his jaw that Dean was instantly ready to kick somebody's ass for giving him. He saw the crooked, little-boy smile of relief, saw Sam mouth his name, Dean…
He turned to his back, oblivious of the pressure he was putting on his bruises, face pulled into a frown. He felt the mud from the dirt road of Cold Oak seep through his jeans as he knelt in front of Sam, feeling his brother's limp weight in his arms, against his chest. Sam was heavier than he should be… heavier than Dean remembered. He felt Sam's head drop limply against his shoulder as he gripped Sam's coat, shoulders, back, hair… as he screamed out his brother's name in denial.
Dean twisted his head to the side, banishing the image, banishing the feel of Sam's breath stuttering out, ceasing. He saw Bobby running back, shotgun gripped in his hand, horror etched on his face. He heard Bobby's whisper of Oh God… no, God no!
He rolled to his side again, reaching out for balance, for something to anchor him in the here and now, not let him slip back into the nightmarish memory of losing Sam. His arms wrapped weakly around the spare pillow as he tightened his grip on Sam. He heard Bobby say his name Dean… Dean come on, kid… let's get inside…
He saw Bobby reach for Sam and shook his head. No… stay back, stay away, he's gonna be fine… he's okay, he's okay… He hooked his hands under Sam's limp arms. You gotta help me out here, Sam, c'mon… c'mon... He wouldn't believe Bobby's eyes. He wouldn't. He's not gonna be okay, Dean… let me help you… He shook his head, once, refusing the truth, denying reality. Sam was the only one who could help him now.
He shifted Sam's bulk, his taller build, heavier frame, over his shoulder and with a guttural cry, pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the near-impossibility of carrying his brother. He had carried Sam before… he had carried him out of fires, had carried him away from battles, had carried him without even touching him... all of Sam's life. He was not about to let anyone else carry him in death…
"Sammy…" Dean turned in the bed, sweat beginning to trail down his face, stick his hair to his head, run into his closed eyes. He gripped the pillow tighter as Bobby hurried ahead of him and threw open the door of the nearest house, clearing the way as Dean staggered, stumbled, pulled himself through, tipping forward and rolling Sam's inert form from his shoulder to the bed.
The blood that coated Sam's jacket caused Dean's hands to slip… and he stared at his hand covered with his brother's blood for what felt like years. He looked down at Sam's pale, still face, arms resting on his chest, blood soaking into the faded, bare mattress beneath him. He looked at Sam and he saw his father… he saw the tears in his father's eyes as he told him to watch out for Sammy… he saw his mother, smiling, holding, kissing, dying… he saw her look at Sam, I'm sorry…
He shifted suddenly, his bruises forgotten, his cuts forgotten, the only pain being that of his heart when it split, shattering, breaking as he hit his knees next to Sam's bed, Bobby watching in helpless sorrow from the doorway. He felt his lips pull back from his teeth, felt his head tip back, felt hot tears burn his face as they fell, felt his bloody fists crack as he growled out his rage, his pain, his defiance in a scream torn from his soul.
He jackknifed forward in the bed, the cry still on his lips, sweat running down his spine and gathering at his collar bones. He was panting, his bruised back pulling tightly at him. He darted his eyes quickly around the room. Empty.
"Sam?" he rasped, looking toward the dark, opened doorway of the bathroom.
Where the hell... He rubbed a hand over his face, working to dispel the dream, and at the feel of the moisture there, pulled his hand away swiftly. No blood. Just sweat. Sam wasn't dead. He got him back. He'd gotten him back. Then where the hell was he?
Dean shoved the twisted sheets away from his jean-clad legs and pushed himself slowly to his feet, hissing as he straightened. He staggered over to the table. Laptop, Impala keys, Glock… no note. He started to rub his hand through his sweaty hair, remembering the stitched cut just in time. He bent slowly, grabbing his T-shirt and jacket from the floor.
"Son of a freakin' bitch," he muttered as he raised his arms over his head, pulling his T-shirt on. So gonna need more aspirin… He slid his arms into his jacket sleeves, and opened the motel room door.
He glanced to the left—pop machine, vending machine, ice machine. He glanced to the right—motel office, neon sign, Impala. Sighing he started to step back inside and figure out Plan B when he happened to look straight ahead, across the parking lot and down the pier that jutted out from the motel into Long Lake.
A familiar, lanky figure sat at the edge of the pier, the silver of the fading moonlight dancing off of the water and silhouetting him. Thank God… Dean thought. He stepped out of the motel and closed the door behind him, walking in a slow, halting gait toward his brother.
Sam's need for air and quiet had only taken him as far as the end of one of Long Lake's finest rotting wood piers. It was at the water's edge that he'd discovered just how much the night's events had taken out of him. His feet were lead, and after he'd tripped on one of the loose and slightly raised planks, he'd decided that a walk wasn't the best idea. He sank down beside a crate and leaned into it, his eyes brushing over the moon-lit silver tips of each undulating wave on the lake before him.
Just need a few minutes… just a little bit and I'll go back in and check on Dean… wake him up… maybe get some sleep…
Sleep would have come so easily to him if it wasn't for the way his mind twisted in and out of dark memories. The phantoms of his mind, created from a past he'd sell his soul to have a crack at again. Sam laughed dryly at that thought. Dean had already sold his soul, and their father before him. Sam would look like a desperate imitator if he did the same. But what the hell was he supposed to do? What the hell was he supposed to be thinking at that moment? Deal with it? No friggin' way. He wanted another shot. He wanted another chance to make things right...
As he leaned against the crate, Sam's eyes grew too weighted to keep open. He drifted to sleep against the side of the weathered surface, the sound of the waves gently rushing the shore creating a hypnotic and false sense of security. However, the moment he was locked down behind his closed lids, the images that constantly scratched at the back door of his mind were let in.
Sam drifted, seeing Andre, his eyes wide and his mouth full of blood. A death rattle in his chest reverberated through the empty warehouse, and through Sam's core. The sound was so thick and wet that Sam could swear he was drowning as well, right there beside him.
His dreams always focused on the eyes… Sam found it impossible to shut out the way Andre's eyes went cold. Or the way the eyes of Jack, Harry, or Erin, the three previous victims, had looked exactly the same… Their wide, lifeless windows to their recently discarded souls carried the unrelenting message that Sam had failed them.
If I had just stopped Jake…
Jake. He was never far from Sam's dreams. Jake's dark irises held so many things behind their glassy surface. Cold calculation and soulless action. Until Sam recalled the moment he pointed a gun right at Jake's face. Sam could always see his own eyes reflected in Jake's scared, pleading ones. Right before he squeezed the trigger. Pulled the trigger too damn late to stop anything.
Killing Jake then—after the gate was open, after Andy, Lilly, and even Ava were dead, after his brother had sacrificed his life—served to do nothing but momentarily quell the rage inside of him, leaving something disgustingly wrong in the satisfaction of feeling Jake's blood spatter against his cheeks. Because in that moment, Sam knew—just knew that Jake cost him everything.
And then his eyes met Dean's…
Tell me the truth. Dean, tell me the truth…How long you get?
One year... Don't get mad at me…Don't you do that…
Mad? There wasn't even a word to describe what Sam felt the moment he saw the truth written in his brother's eyes. To do that… to give up his soul like that… Did Dean think he was worthless?! Dean, who'd held everything together, who was the best damn hunter he knew, who defined their small and dwindling family, thought his life worth so little… Mad didn't quite blanket the emotion Sam was feeling. How could he describe the sick panic that coursed through his veins like ice water? Hurt? Betrayed? Angry? Scared? He wanted to collect his rain-check from Dean and grab hold of him all in the same moment. Don't get mad?
You sacrifice everything for me… Don't you think I'd do the same for you?
Sam woke with the echo of his words in his ears. The cold of the night air had sunk deep into his bones by that point and he debated going back to the room to check on Dean while moving his legs into a new position to slosh about the liquid in his veins. The reintroduction of blood to stiff limbs woke him a little more, and he convinced himself that he could stay outside a little longer.
The longer he stayed outside, the longer he didn't have to go to a place where he was reminded of what he'd done to Dean… to Andre and the others… He ignored the fact that asleep inside or against the crate… he wouldn't be free of his memories. He sat quietly with those ghosts, staring at the water, lulled to sleep once more by the waves, pulled under into the dream—the same damn dream—by the weariness of his mind.
After he woke for the third time, Sam stood and went to the very edge of the pier, sitting with his legs dangling heavily above the water. His logic was in hoping that he'd fear falling in and drowning enough to stay awake. Here at the edge, the night winds were stronger and Sam shoved his hands deep into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt to contain the remaining warmth of his body. His tired eyes watched the midnight sky turn teal as the sun began to tease the horizon in a sliver of light.
Dean's voice had been quiet, but so damn close that Sam had jumped. He had to quickly grab the edge of the pier before toppling into the water.
"Did you sleep at all?" Dean asked. "What the hell were you doing out here?"
Dean watched his brother turn his face to him, and saw the dark bruising beneath his eyes. At first Dean had wanted to tear into him for taking off like that, but seeing the defeated exhaustion on Sam's face took the fight right out of Dean. He dropped his head, sighing as he sat beside his brother. It took him a while to get down, his back protesting the whole way.
"Always took you for more of a sunset guy," Dean poked.
Sam barely cracked a smile.
"It's not your fault…" Dean exhaled. He knew that was what was on Sam's mind. He carried it like freakin' Atlas carried the world on his back. "You tried, Sam. You did what you could to keep that yellow-eyed bastard from winning. You called for help…"
Sam looked up from the water below his dangling feet and looked at Dean surprised. "You got that?"
It was Dean's turn to take a sudden interest in the water.
"I…uh, had a vision, or whatever… Saw the town bell and a quick flash of you. Bobby seemed to know what the hell I meant by a bell with a tree and we were able to find you."
Sam smiled sadly. "It worked then."
"Andy," Sam said, picking off some old paint from a loose piece of wood at the edge of the pier. The memory of Andy's open torso flashed before Sam's eyes and he winced inadvertently. "He sent that to you. I never asked how you guys found me. I was just-" Sam threw the splintered wood into the lake and brushed at the paint that had come off in his hands. "Just glad to see you..."
Dean shook his head. "You thought it was over – you did all you could… and yeah, I'm pissed so many demons are out dancing in our backyard, but, Sam, Dad's out, too..."
Sam shoved his hands back into his pockets, twisting them and nodding reluctantly. "I'll give you that. But even with the yellow-eyed demon gone, having a couple hundred demons in the world is-is almost worse."
Dean knew he couldn't change Sam's mind right in that moment. This was something his brother was going to have to sort out on his own. He just wished Sam could see that even though they seemed more screwed than anything right now, there was some good that came from everything that had happened. Their father was free, and the demon that had started it all was dead.
Dean leaned back, tired and sore. He was hurting more than he cared to admit at that moment, and sitting over the water wasn't helping the swollen, stiff muscles in his back. He moved a hand to his neck and massaged out the kinks, gingerly avoiding the cut there.
Without thinking, he sighed, "I just--just want to spend the time I have left with you, Sammy."
Sam looked at Dean quickly, a mixture of hurt and confusion flashing across his blue-green eyes. Dean instantly regretted what had just escaped his lips. It didn't matter if it was the truth. He shouldn't have said it. Shouldn't have reminded Sam… not now. He tried to explain himself.
"I know we have work to do, Sam. I just don't want to… to lose you in the process," Dean admitted. "Not again…"
Sam watched Dean's eyes reduced to slits as he lifted his head to the horizon, taking in the light of the new day. Sam knew Dean meant more than a physical loss, but he couldn't just pretend that everything was okay. He couldn't just request that the incessant screaming in his soul stop.
I cost you everything…
They continued to sit there in silence, nearly touching, watching the morning amber grow stronger. Sam felt his brother lean into him a little and noticed he was having trouble staying upright.
"You all right?" Sam asked.
Dean turned and nodded, forcing a smile. "Always." He rubbed at his shoulder, probing at the torn tissue there. "I just need a freakin' cup of coffee."
Sam huffed out a laugh and got to his feet. He pulled Dean up with him and dusted himself off. They walked back to the room in silence, side by side, each in-unison footfall on the pier leaving Sam feeling somewhat less empty.
The sun that had illuminated their slow walk back to the motel danced in dusty beams through the small motel window and across Sam's legs. Dean sat in the shadow of the room at the small table, standard in pretty much every motel he'd ever stayed in over the last twenty-three odd years… and that was a helluva lot of motels. With a helluva lot of tables.
After protesting that he wasn't tired and couldn't possibly sleep, Sam had stumbled to his bed and face-planted into the pillow, fully-clothed. Dean had waited two beats, then removed his brother's boots. He knew Sam wouldn't sleep long, but intended to help him get as many hours of rest as he could. He had grabbed a quick shower—the hot water simultaneously soothing and torturous depending on what part of his battered body it struck—and then had settled down in front of the weapons bag to clean their guns.
It was an automatic, habitual, calming task. Their weapons were their lives—if they weren't in top shape, Dean knew he and Sam wouldn't stand a chance. John had lived by that rule, had drummed it into Dean's head from a young age, and Dean had realized how vital that rule had been when a well-timed blast from a rock-salt-filled shotgun had once saved his father's life.
Sam shifted on the bed, muttering, and buried his face deeper into his pillow. Dean lifted his eyes to watch his brother sleep, but his hands never ceased in their motion. It was a checklist in his head, a process so natural he could do it blindfolded: break down barrel, empty chamber, clean, oil, reassemble, load.
Sam either slept on his back or buried so deep in his pillow that Dean sometimes worried he'd suffocate. Watching Sam now, though, Dean realized he almost preferred the burrow; when Sam slept on his back, he awoke staring at the ceiling and Dean knew he'd never truly understand how the images Sam could still see there haunted him.
Dean winced as he set down one of their shotguns and reached for Sam's Glock. The sleep he'd had wasn't restful, and the aspirin had worn off awhile ago. He glanced at the red numbers of the digital clock between their beds. He'd give Sam one more hour, and then he'd go get them food.
"Didn't you just do that yesterday?"
Sam's sudden, muffled voice surprised him. He hadn't moved, his head was still buried in his pillow, but Dean could tell by the set of his shoulders that Sam was now awake.
"Clean the guns," Sam rolled his head on the pillow so that he was peering at Dean out of one squinted eye.
Dean looked over to the side. Had he? He hadn't been lying when he told Sam he lost track of time. He just moved. Days blended and time paused for meals and sleep and hunting, but he didn't always pay attention.
Until now. Now every hour that spilled into twenty-four counted. Every moment was purposeful, necessary, needed.
Sam chuckled softly and pushed himself up, swinging his long legs over the edge of the bed. "Well, be careful. You might pull something."
"Very funny," Dean said, keeping his hands moving, his eyes on Sam. The mop of too-long hair was tousled and he had a pillow-crease running down the side of his face. "You hungry?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "I could eat."
"How 'bout you shower, I'll get food, and then we can…"
"Work on a plan that doesn't end with you looking like hammered shit?"
Dean grinned. "Yeah."
"'K," Sam sat still for another moment. "Hey, Dean?"
Dean set the Glock down. "Yeah."
Sam paused a moment and Dean waited. "Nothing."
He pushed himself to his feet, and with an almost shy smile tossed his brother's way, retreated into the bathroom. Dean sat for a moment, staring after him. Sam hadn't needed to say anything—Dean heard all he needed to know in the way his brother said his name.
By the time he returned from the fast-food drive-thru with hotcakes, sausage, and large coffees, Sam was showered, dressed and sitting in front of his laptop.
"I got you twenty-five creams and thirty sugars," Dean said, handing Sam a coffee. "That about right?"
"Fifteen sugars," Sam said without missing a beat. "I'm trying to cut back."
Dean grinned. "What are you looking up?"
Sam watched as Dean rolled the sausage patty into one of the hotcakes and inhaled half of the concoction in one bite. Grimacing, he shook his head and poured syrup over his breakfast.
"Anything that could be weird, off… possibly demon-related," he shrugged. "The usual."
"Well," Dean said around a mouthful of hotcakes. "We found Andre 'cause of that news report." He reached for the remote and scooted himself and his breakfast back on the bed, leaning against the headboard. "Let's see what Tulsa in the Morning can tell us."
Cheek bulging with hotcakes, Dean flipped through the limited TV stations until he found the local news. Sam pushed the laptop away, tipping back on the rear legs of his chair, and watched along with Dean. They sat in comfortable silence, the only sound being the low murmur of the TV, and Sam reflected how that hadn't always been easy to do.
There had been times when he was younger—during high school mostly—when Dean's constant motion, constant noise, constant vigilance had driven him crazy. He'd sometimes find himself looking for anyplace to be that was other than where his brother was. The library of whatever town they'd paused in was usually a safe bet.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught Dean rubbing gingerly at the still-unbandaged cut on his forehead and wondered idly if his absence from the room last night had been what prevented Dean from sleeping as long as his battered body had so obviously needed. The first several months at Stanford—before he'd met Jess—Sam had found it almost impossible to sleep without the sound of Dean's breathing.
His brother's movements had become the background of his daily routine, his brother's voice, the soundtrack of his life. And it was only after the sudden lack of both that Sam realized how much he'd come to depend on Dean for more than just physical protection. Dean was his partner, his best friend. Sam had resisted that realization when Dean came for him again. He'd resisted their natural rhythm. He'd resisted being a brother.
And he didn't know why, really, until Dean had almost been taken from him. Sam rolled his neck. He'd been fighting so hard to chip out his own personality, his own identity, in a family that he thought was so different from him that he hadn't taken the time to realize how badly he needed his brother in his life. He'd needed Dean more than his dad, more than Jess.
The yellow-eyed demon had been wrong. Dean didn't need them more. The need was the same. They could sit in silence now because it was the same, and finally, they both knew it. All he'd wanted when he'd been trapped in Cold Oak was Dean to be there with him, fighting alongside him. And he'd heard the echo of that need in his brother's voice when he'd called out his name a moment before Sam's world had shattered.
"Huh," Dean sat forward, remote in one hand, coffee in the other.
Sam blinked, shaking himself free of the morose path his thoughts had suddenly led him down.
"Listen," Dean instructed, turning up the volume on the TV.
"…small community of Mercy was hit by tragedy early this morning when Daniel Gibson, 43, husband and father of two was found dead in the backyard of his family home. His family had been away for the weekend and returned to find Gibson tied, naked, to a rock in the back yard. Gibson, a mayor-hopeful in the coming election, has been described by local residents as a true friend, active in his community and local church. Authorities are investigating several leads. Detective Tom Cullen, of the Mercy Policy Department…"
"Huh," Sam echoed. "Tied to a rock?"
Dean nodded, watching as Detective Cullen continued to talk to the reporter. Sam turned to his laptop and typed in Mercy, OK. The town was small, only 8,000 residents. Daniel Gibson's death was already hitting nearly every link Sam found in the search engine.
"What are you thinking, Sam?"
Sam glanced over. Dean's gaze was on him, steady, the bruising on his cheek and forehead contrasting sharply with the green of his eyes.
"Well, there are a lot of cults that tie their victims to boulders or rock altars to, y'know, bleed them out."
Dean shrugged. "Doesn't necessarily mean demon."
Sam turned in his chair, resting one hand on his bent knee. "What? So if it's not demon-related, we don't hunt it anymore, that it?"
Dean muted the TV and tossed the remote down on the bed. "C'mon, Sam," he set the coffee cup on the nightstand between the beds. "If we run into a vampire I'm not gonna let it run off with its head still attached, I'm just saying… why invite trouble?"
Sam narrowed his eyes. "Dude, the guy was naked… tied to a rock. Trouble invited us."
Dean sighed, "Yeah, the naked part does sound hinky."
"So," Sam stood up. "Let's check it out."
"Easy there, Sparky," Dean stood as well, and Sam didn't miss the way he braced a leg against the side of the bed to steady himself. "We can't just barrel in there, guns blazing."
Sam pulled his head back. "Since when did you start shaking hands with caution?"
Dean simply looked at him. Sam swallowed at the swift flash of naked fear that shot through Dean's guarded eyes.
"For all we know," Dean said, clearing his throat. "This dude could have been banging his secretary, his wife found out and off'd him."
"She wasn't home, reporter said."
"Ah, and we know that both the TV and women never lie," Dean lifted an eyebrow.
"Fine," Sam tossed his hands up in mock surrender. "You want me to do a background check on everyone in Mercy?"
"Nah," Dean grabbed his trash and crossed the room slowly. "Just Daniel Gibson. And maybe the town itself."
Sam sighed and sat back down in front of his laptop. As he worked, he kept Dean in his periphery. His brother would sooner cut off his tongue than admit to needing more down time between hunts. If Dean's movements stayed stiff, halting, unsteady, Sam would back off of this Mercy hunt. But something told him this was definitely their thing. This was something they needed to do…
Dean sat on the edge of his bed, his Bowie knife in one hand and a whet stone in the other. As Sam typed, he listened to the hushed sh-sh-sh of the blade across the stone. It was a cadence that spoke of hunting, of wariness, of purpose, of Dean.
"Okay, here's something," he said. Dean didn't stop brandishing the knife against the coarse gray stone.
"Mercy was voted Friendliest Town in Oklahoma last year," Sam looked over at Dean who shot him a look with his eyebrows in inverted V's. Sam looked back at the computer screen. "Let's see… crime rate's been at an all-time low… they've got four churches, two schools, one hospital—"
"I'm bored already," Dean muttered.
"This isn't the kind of place where wives tie cheating husbands to rocks, Dean," Sam said, closing the laptop.
"Whatever," Dean shook his head. "Every place is like that. Every place with people, anyway."
"Dean," Sam sighed. "There's more evil in the world now because of us."
The knife stopped.
Sam kept his eyes down. "We're supposed to… to do something about it, right?"
"We can't stop it all, Sammy," Dean said softly. "Not all evil is supernatural."
"There's something about this case, man," Sam said. "You feel it too, I know you do." He looked up at Dean. "What made you stop at that story on the news?"
Dean turned the corner of his mouth up in a false grin. "Thought the reporter was hot."
"You thought something sounded off," Sam insisted.
Dean rested his forearms on his thighs, letting his wrists relax, the knife and whet stone hanging limply between his knees. "Okay, but we go prepared. I mean… town that size, we won't be able to get the police records, but we could crash a crime scene easily enough."
He stood up and went over to the weapons bag. Shoving the knife in its sheath, he dropped it and the whet stone inside, then looked at Sam. "We gotta be careful. Even itty bitty suburbs get the wanted posters."
"You're telling me to be stealthy?" Sam gave him a disbelieving grin.
"Dude, stealth is my middle name."
Shaking his head, Sam stood and started gathering up their clothes. "You just keep telling yourself that, Dean."
"If memory serves, it was you who tripped the silent alarm back in Arkansas."
"That was so on purpose," Dean argued, pulling on his jacket with a grimace. "Besides," he forced out, teeth clenched against the obvious pain that was moving across his bruised back. "Who got us into the Blake Auction House to get that creepy-assed painting? Or into the antique store to smash Mary's mirror?"
Sam jerked open the motel door, holding it for his brother. "Okay, so you have your moments."
"You're damn right," Dean set his bag into the trunk of the Impala.
He held his hand out for the keys. Sam paused at the driver's side of the car. Dean stared at him, his intent to drive obvious. Sam flicked quick eyes over Dean's visible wounds, silently arguing. Dean tipped his chin down, his eyes staying on his brother, and wiggled his fingers. Sam sighed and tossed him the keys, which he caught easily and slid slowly behind the wheel.
"So, Mercy it is. Friendliest Goddamn Town in Oklahoma," Dean muttered, firing up the engine.
An hour later, the Impala rumbled with eye-catching slowness down Main Street in Mercy. The windows were down and Alice in Chains' Rooster growled seductively from the speakers. Sam watched out of his window as three elderly ladies regarded their approach with disdain.
"Got my pills 'gainst mosquito death. My buddy's breathin' his dyin' breath… oh god please won't you help me make it through…"
Dean nodded and tipped his hand in a salute at a man mowing his lawn and was rewarded with a scowl. Friendliest Town, my ass…
"Uh, Dean?" Sam hedged, shifting in his seat. "'Member those moments I was talking about?"
"Uh-huh," Dean reached over for the radio dial.
"This isn't one of them," Sam looked at him; Dean resisted temptation and turned the volume down, rather than up.
"How far is this Gibson dude's place?"
"Four blocks down, two blocks over," Sam said, looking down at a paper in his lap. "According to mapquest."
"I'm gonna hide the car," Dean said, turning abruptly into a church parking lot.
They rolled up the windows, locked the car, and started down the road in step. Sam ran the details of Daniel Gibson's death—or at least the limited details they knew—over in his mind. Dean hummed Rooster next to him. Sam worked to ignore his slightly halting steps and focused instead on the fact that Dean humming meant Dean thinking.
"Right up there," Sam said, tapping Dean lightly with his elbow. He nodded toward a well-landscaped, bungalow-style house. Yellow crime-scene tape could be seen from the equally well-manicured lawn in back.
They glanced to either side and crossed the street, slipping through the white picket fence quickly and making their way to the back of the house.
"Doesn't look like anyone's home," Dean whispered, glancing into the darkened windows as they passed.
"Just as well," Sam muttered.
He glanced at Dean, who nodded, stepping back over to the edge of the house, and kept his eyes moving steadily over the serene environment. Sam moved over to the large, rounded boulder still sitting in on the lush, green lawn next to an obvious indentation in the earth. The top of the rock reached the mid-point of his thigh, and he could tell just by looking that he wouldn't be able to wrap his arms completely around the circumference.
There goes the wife-as-killer theory…
He tilted his head, confused, at the indentation in the lawn. Crouching down, he pressed the tips of his fingers into the earth.
"Hey, Dean," he whispered.
"Yeah," Dean answered, not looking away from his watch of the road.
"I think… I think the rock was on… on top of him," Sam said.
"Huh?" Dean turned, looking down at Sam. "Didn't they say tied to a rock—"
"Not under one," Sam finished.
Dean frowned, coming closer to his brother's crouched form. "Well, that changes things." He glanced over his shoulder at the back door of the house. "Hey."
"You bring the…"
"Always," Sam stood, reaching into his pocket and pulled out the lock-pick kit, handing it to Dean.
His brother took the worn leather case and flipped it open fluidly to begin his craft. Just a few movements and Dean pushed the door open, slightly disappointed. Sam shook his head at Dean's thwarted expression, ducking down to look at the lock.
"Lever lock," Sam observed. "What? Too easy?"
Dean shot a look over his shoulder. "It was uh…already unlocked."
Sam blinked a few times, running his hand over the knob as a 'huh, well how 'bout that' look passed over his face.
"Well they did say Friendliest Town, Dean."
Dean audibly scoffed. "And that's why, kiddies, Mr. Optimism, 'The world is a fine place so I leave my doors unlocked,' is now making friends with the county medical examiner."
"Be careful what you touch," Sam cautioned as he followed Dean in through the kitchen.
The house was bathed in the smell of potpourri, and every picture frame, nick-nack, book, and votive holder was meticulously placed. The place was spotless. Dean stepped through the kitchen and into the living room, keeping a look out for any clues as well as listening for the return of the family. As he passed his umpteenth doily, Dean wrinkled his nose, wondering how anyone could live around this much fluff.
Sam was still looking through the kitchen and Dean poked his head around the corner, holding one of the lacey objects in his hands like it was something he'd picked up alongside the road.
"I solved it, dude," Dean announced. "The guy pinned himself under a rock."
Sam stopped looking in the pantry to give Dean a 'stop playing around' glance. "Doilies, Dean?"
"He couldn't take how it looks like Martha Stewart threw up all over his home… found himself a boulder…"
"Put it back and get serious."
Dean feigned a hurt look before returning the doily to its proper spot under some Precious Moments figurines, using his sleeve to wipe away his finger prints, and backed away slowly.
He found a door off of the living room and stepped inside. The smell of cigar and pipe smoke saturated the air, and Dean shoved the door closed behind him with his elbow before flicking on the lights. Richly colored wood book cases and a massive desk were what filled his vision at first. To his left was a fireplace and the walls were littered with mounted game.
"Sanctuary," Dean muttered.
He'd found Daniel Gibson's office. It looked like the only stretch of property that the man himself had actually owned. Dean's nostrils thanked the deceased as they drank in the robust smoke aroma, drowning out the potpourri.
Dean made his way to Daniel's desk and sat down in the chair, feeling the leather stretch and give behind his aching back. He knew Sam would have a few things to say about his nonchalant approach to this investigation. Dean, do you want to get caught by the FBI? You like jail-time, Dean? 'Cause I sure as hell didn't.
But knowing his time was limited, Dean could honestly say he didn't care… and this chair was a thing of beauty, and would be a shame to pass up. He was about to set his feet on the desk and indulge when his eyes fell across the open Holy Bible he would have set his feet right on.
He sighed and leaned forward to look at what the good Daniel Gibson was reading before he died. He found a letter with humilitas written on the envelope, sticking out of the spine crease. He looked at that first, noting that there was no return address, or any address for that matter. The scrawl was simple, clean-cut.
The content wasn't so much disturbing as was the way in which the writer gave their message.
It is a shame that your name should resemble that of a man who stood in a den of lions and was not eaten. Daniel was a man who did not fear what man could do to his name or life, or what the jaws of a lion could do to his flesh. You, Daniel Gibson, fear what man will make of your beloved public name. Your romance with narcotics is laughable, dear Daniel, because you would rather indulge in a substance that will tear you apart from the inside out, than face your demons and suffer the rumors that seeking help will bring about. Shame. Shameful. Your pride, Daniel, will be the death of you.
Dean set down the letter, shaking his head to clear the creepy feeling that had set in. This wasn't a letter of concern from someone who cared. It was clearly mocking Daniel, but in a sickeningly gentle manner. So much so, that Dean felt like he'd spent a few minutes on the opposite side of a glass cell housing Hannibal Lecter.
He leaned over to see that Proverbs 6:16 – 19 had been underlined in the Bible several times. "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him…" Dean read out loud. "Doesn't get more straight to the point than that," he mumbled.
"Find anything?" Sam's voice came out of nowhere and Dean jumped.
"Knock or something!" Dean said, running a hand down his face while his heart slowed down a little. Sam was leaning on the desk in front of him. "Christ, Sammy. I didn't even hear you come in."
Sam gave him an apologetic look. "Must have been some good reading…"
"Not really," Dean said, folding the letter back into the Bible and closing it. He shoved the small book and letter into his jacket and stood up, noting the horrified look on Sam's face.
"You're stealing a Bible?" Sam asked.
"Well, not like I don't already have a penthouse all lined up down in Hell," Dean smirked.
Sam wasn't amused, the lines of his lips drawing tightly.
"Lighten up, dude," Dean exhaled as he brushed past Sam and made his way for the door.
"Like it's that easy…" Sam breathed out of earshot, before he turned to follow Dean.
Dean started to head upstairs, but Sam stopped him.
"Already been up there. Nothing. This place is clean, Dean. No sign of forced entry. No ectoplasm, sulfur, nothing, man."
Dean stared at Sam in puzzlement, before shrugging and heading for the kitchen again. "Guess we just wasted our time in Mr. Roger's neighborhood then."
"Dean, doesn't that bother you at all?" Sam asked, on his brother's heels as they exited into the back yard.
"Yeah, it bothers me, Sam," Dean said, irritated. "Look, I found a letter stating that Daniel had a drug problem. Maybe he and some friends went a little too far on an acid trip. Maybe Jim Morrison and Elvis were there and told him to go pin himself under a boulder."
Sam rolled his eyes and went to the edge of the deep impression in the ground. He kneeled at the edge and poked around in the dirt aimlessly with his fingers, looking up at Dean after a few minutes of deep thought.
"It just feels like our thing, Dean…" he said, his eyes searching Dean's for the same familiarity of the scent of a hunt. His brother looked bored, but recognition was there. Dean felt it too, even if he wasn't about to admit it.
Sam's fingertips brushed over something cool and metallic in the dirt and he tensed up, eyes diving into the depression. He grabbed a small object on a chain and pulled it from the dirt, dangling it before his eyes, taking it in, before standing and setting the dirty chain into his palm.
He tapped away at the dirt and could see that it was a Catholic pendant. He wasn't positive, but it appeared that the saint on the front engraving was Saint Patrick—a man who'd written a prayer of deliverance from demons. Sam had seen his image before in texts they'd used in exorcisms.
Sam felt Dean hovering, and turned his hand so Dean could see the ornately shaped pendant. He then flipped over the small piece of jewelry and saw the word liberalitas inscribed on the back. The indentations were caked with mud, making the word stand out more against the gold plating.
"Liberalitas…"Sam said. "Latin for liberality…"
He looked up at Dean again, and his brother returned his glance with equal confusion flashing across his green eyes. Dean pursed his lips in thought for a moment, then pulled out the Bible and letter, sticking his thumb in the Bible to hold the page and handed the letter to Sam.
"Humilitas," Sam read. "Humility? Generosity and humility…"
Dean reached down and took the letter back from Sam, sticking it back in the Bible and returning the Bible to his jacket pocket. Sam looked back at the boulder.
"He was naked, tied to the boulder, and the rock was rolled on top of him. Crushing him…" Sam said softly, working through the maze that suddenly sprang fully-formed in his mind.
Dean silently watched his brother think, Sam's blue-green eyes staring holes into the indentation of the earth. Eventually Dean shrugged up the corner of his mouth and shook his head.
"Beyond me, dude," Dean said, patting Sam on the shoulder. He started back toward the church lot where he'd parked the Impala. "I have a feeling this will make more sense over a beer."
"Yeah..." Sam said absently.
The words, the evidence, the whole situation had an air of familiarity about it. Sam knew it would twist in his brain until he figured it out. He pocketed the pendant, pushing himself to his feet.
"Wait up," he called, following Dean. "Where you gonna find a beer in Mercy?"
"Always a bar somewhere, Sam," Dean tossed over his shoulder. "People need a place to hide," he said softly.
Sam caught up to Dean in four quick, long-legged strides. They crossed the street, heading back down the sidewalk, the afternoon sun angling directly in Sam's eyes. He squinted, glancing surreptitiously at a couple stepping out of a house, the man resting his hand on the small of the woman's back. The man smiled, the woman didn't. He glanced around quickly, watching plastic smiles cross empty faces as people waved from their open car windows.
Following Dean into the church parking lot and up to the Impala, Sam ran his finger over the shape of the pendant in his pocket. "Something tells me people 'round here hide in the open…"