Disclaimer: Supernatural belongs to E. Kripke and various others Certainly not the author of this free fic.
Warnings: horror and supernatural themes, angst, mild bad language.
Authors Notes: Very sorry all, for the long silence. I've had hospital procedures, check ups and various crises, and the stuff they put me on made me sooo depressed that I just couldn't write a word. This weekend was the first time I'd written in over a month, and I just kept writing and writing, anything to keep the juices flowing. I post this very strange little AU fic as proof I am still alive and still writing.
For all those fans on 'Bolt Out of the Blue' and 'In the Corner of my Third Eye' I am still working on them and they're coming next. I just have not been able to write a word for weeks. I'm very sorry for the wait.
This fic is a little on the incoherent side. It moves very fast, and is very long, but I just forced myself to keep writing it so it would at least be complete. It's actually two different ideas for stories combined. I did all I could with it. I hope you like it – it's basically popcorn – lots o supernatural stuff, a little action and brotherly love.
Needs Must – by Ryuuza Kochou
There is a proverb – Needs must…when the Devil drives.
It started with a talk. Only weeks after Sam had left, John Winchester sat down with his son over a beer. "Son. There's something I have to tell you…"
We all know this isn't going to end well, right? Right.
It started with a dream. Sam woke up screaming, and screaming, and Jess was terrified by it because Sam never screamed. A few days later he asked, tentatively but desperately, if she would mind moving out.
No, no, nothing like that. It was stupid, he'd said, but I can't ignore these dreams. Please, can you just go visit your friends in San Francisco over the weekend? Please.
Jessica, taken aback by the naked fear she saw in him, agreed.
It started with…
It started with…
…Sam, his mind screaming at him, the smoke choking him, reached in desperation anything he could use. He found couple of paperclips. It was crude, but it would do.
It was coming.
The fire ripped through the thin walls of his apartment like paper, rushing along the wiring, surging along the draught holes, burning posters and schedules pinned up all the walls of the study. From here, only the window was as escape. Standing in the centre of the blaze it stood, gleeful and patient, waiting for it's prey to succumb to the inevitable.
"Sammy boy," it sing songed. "Saaaammy Boy! Time to come out and plaaa-ay."
Sam scalded his hands slamming the door shut. He had the salt shaker he'd hastily grabbed from the dining room table and made a salt line across the threshold. It wouldn't hold for long but it gave Sam a precious minute. He bent the paperclips, twisted them around desperately. He wished he had something better. He wished he had more time. He really wished he had a better plan than this but this was it, all he had; one last ditch million to one long shot. He was cornered, he was alone, he was weaponless. Three things his father had told him never to let happen. He was as good as dead, and he knew it. Or he'd still be alive at the end of it. That would be much, much worse.
The metal was bent into as good a shape as he could get from memory. Breaking the salt shaker on the floor, he used a jagged edge to slit open his palm, blood pooling out fast to the tune of his frantic heartbeat. Cupping it in one hand and placing the makeshift sigil into it, Sam took a breath and hissed out an ancient prayer and jammed it onto the now superheated round doorknob. The white, cutting pain shot up his arm. It sucked the air out of his lungs. It nearly – nearly – drowned out the terror.
Through his watering eyes, the first miracle of the day occurred - it worked. Bits of charred flesh had actually been left behind and the sigil had been welded to the knob, but there it was etched in pain and blood and desperation onto his red raw hand.
Human beings are complete bastards, Sam thought incoherently. We do this to all those poor cows. He clutched his wrist, trying to cut the pain off, gasping in the smoke laden air, choking and flailing, slamming his shoulder against the door mindlessly as he sought to get past the hideous torture of it.
The window broke open when the hellspawn, abandoning it's meat puppet, came for him in a cloud of oily smoke. It was hard to see through the fire smoke pouring into from the vents and the door cracks, the paints in the thin, cheap walls was starting to blister as the fire pushed through from the side and behind.
"Ssssssaaamy…" it was laughing. It was always laughing. "A single salt line? What was that for?"
"A decoy, you son of a bitch," Sam screamed back. The anger had suddenly engulfed even the pain. The fire was chewing the walls like a ravenous beast, eating the papers and the books and the memories. Sam stood with the demon and watched his world burn, and he could never remember being so angry.
Sam began repeating the exorcism prayer again. Loud and clear, so the demon could feel every word of it. It laughed and laughed and laughed.
"Oh Sammy, Sammy," if it had had a head, it would be shaking it in amused exasperation. "You think words will stop me? Dead words?"
Sammy didn't stop reciting. He even raised an insolent eyebrow at the thing, daring it to try.
The demon swirled towards Sam reaching out with feathery tendril so that Sam could see it slowly evaporating into him, could experience the terror of it, the inevitability of it. Sam was knocked back, his back hitting dead centre on the literally red-hot door knob, branding him even deeper with an agonising hiss.
"Dean? It's time for you to take the Walk, son. And Dean? I know how weird all this is, but I need you to do this. Just trust me, I need you to do this."
Two weeks later, Dean was meeting his destiny.
He wouldn't have called it that, of course.
He wanted to call his father back and ask him if he was sure about this. It just sounded so…new age, touchy feely and all that crap. They were doing to during a Wicca holiday, for crying out loud. Okay, so Samhain was a pretty important holiday as far as the supernatural was concerned – it was about the descent into winter, darkness, the dead, connection to the family, fires to keep the dark at bay, all powerful stuff. It also happened around Halloween. It was the busiest time of the year for hunters. Not only was the supernatural stirred up, but all the monsters who didn't go in for all that Celtic New Year crap still walked the streets with impunity, hiding under the glitter and glamour. It was a time when all the hunters were out in force, ready to meet them. And what was Dean, hunter extraordinaire, doing? He was in some remote part of the North West meeting some old friends of Dad's, and he guessed that made him friends of his too.
It was called the Fellowship of St Hubert – there was so many things Dean wanted to say about that name and none of them were nice. Dean couldn't tell if they were a secret organisation or just an ignored one, but Hubert was the patron saint of hunters, and just about the only organisation Dean had seen yet that made hunters into a group instead of a collection of outcast individuals.
The important thing to remember was that they'd helped his Dad when we first stumbled into this world. They'd given him advice, kept him from making the fatal mistakes and all that stuff. They put him into contact with people that could help him, people like Bobby and Father Jim and Caleb who made sure he survived long enough to become good.
Dean owed them for that, if nothing else. But it was more than that, his Dad had said. Then Huberts (oh god, the Huberts, Dean would shoot himself before it ever came to that) traced their origins back as far as the Knights Templar. And they were gifted.
Dad had sat him down and explained it after Sam had left for college. Maybe he was scared that Dean would leave too without some incentive to stay, or maybe he just felt Dean was old enough to really understand what it meant to be in the Fellowship. Some of the Fellowship were chosen to receive powerful abilities, Dean. Not all of them, but some of them. I saw one of them once, John's voice had dropped. I saw him toss a car over a street. They gather at Samhain and they walk into the forest – any forest – and a few are chosen. They're chosen to be the best damn hunters on the planet. Sometimes you got a huge power, like the car flipping guy. Sometimes you only get a small one, an extra edge. Sometimes you just got information. Sometimes the hunters didn't walk back out.
Dean had asked him incredulously if he actually believed in all this weird-ass mojo crap.
I should do, Dean, John had answered. I walked into the grove. And I saw…
But here, his Dad had stopped, and looked sternly into Dean's eyes. What happens in the grove is private, son. Not that I don't want to tell you, it's just that I can only share it with one other person, and you were still very little when it happened to me. I told Bobby instead.
Dean had remembered gaping at his father. Eventually he'd asked if Dad could flip cars or something.
John had just laughed. Nah. Ever wonder how I could figure out what we were hunting just by looking at a few marks?
Something about the way his Dad had laughed about it had made Dean a little less uneasy about the whole thing. Hunters didn't have any truck with magic, or supernatural deals because they dealt too often with the bloody results. But his Dad wasn't scared by this, and that made Dean feel a lot better.
Dean had been on a simple solo job when John had called, telling him to haul ass to an out of the way township up north for the Fellowship's Samhain ceremony. Dean had been pencilled in for this year, if could make it there in time. It had been unexpected, but Dean was too damn curious about the whole thing to raise any objections. He'd never met a Chosen hunter yet, but the lure of being the best was too attractive to ignore. Dean was good at what he did and loved his job. Anything that improved it would be sweet.
Dean had driven past the front entrance of the national park a little over twenty minutes ago, passing a bunch of wiccans who were celebrating their holiday. Dean smirked at what they were doing as he went past. Maybe if he came back this way he'd gatecrash, do a little mixing. Purely for supernatural research, of course.
Dean wished Sam were here. Sam would have gotten such a kick out of this. He was actually pretty enthusiastic about the parts of hunting that didn't involve killing and shooting. But his baby brother was off at his college, and had been for….shit, it had been over a year already. Dean felt an old pain right beneath his heart at the thought. He'd never been separated from Sam for more than a week before this. They had always been Dean & Sam, an inseparable entity.
Dean turned on the radio, static filled or not, to drown out the thoughts.
"….ester, 20, is still missing after his girlfriend Jessica Moore's body was unearthed from the ruins of the burned apartment building. California Police were perplexed when the Stanford student was spotted in several locations around the state, the last being a week ago when the young man was positively identified at a local post office. He is wanted in relation to several other investigations including two murders and another fire. His manner has been described as both furtive and relaxed, and the state police are seeking him to help with their enquiries…" Dean switched off the radio irritably. He was trying to get his mind off his brother, and reports of trouble in California did not help. Maybe, when all this mojo stuff was over, he'd go down to Cali and check up on him. Not that he was worried about Sam or anything. Sam could take care of himself. But maybe he would just swing by on his way to a hunt. There must be something to hunt somewhere in California.
Dean pulled up to the parking lot in the cul de sac at the end of the road. There were a lot of other cars there, and none of them were flashy. There were a couple of jeeps, a smattering and land rovers, trucks, and some panel vans. All of them were dusty and scratched, and had the look of well used vehicles. Dean grinned. Looks like the usual suspects had showed up.
Dean sighed to himself, grabbed a handgun, and walked into the park, up the track already marked by heavy boots.
He felt the eyes on his as soon as he entered, and he was scanning back. Hunters lined the clearing – there was an overwhelming impression of flannels, leathers and jeans. It was an immense meeting of big cats – they were calm and collected; and just incidentally sizing each other up just in case there was a fight. Just in case.
They were mostly men, but there were a few women there too, all of them had the dark, calculatory look of experience about them. There must have been at least fifty, Dean had never seen so many hunters in one place. There were a few young ones, but most of them were older than him.
He looked around, but the Librarian had gone.
There was a big man – a huge bear of a man – dressed in a heavy coat standing near the forest. He commanded attention with raised hands. "Hello all. I hope you know why you're here. If you don't, you're probably in for a shock. My name is Ruck Isling, and I am a Chosen of the Fellowship. This is the Walk. You walk in, and maybe fate smiles on you and you get Chosen. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the start and the finish of it. No punishment if you fail, and no shame. There are not many, at the end of the day, who get Chosen." The big man was blunt and sincere. "We start as soon as full dark falls. Listen carefully to the next part, people," he watched them solemnly until he had full attention. "There are ground rules here. One, anything that happens on the walk, stays on the walk. You get one confidant, and that's it. You start running your mouth off, and whatever you get given gets taken back. Two, if you abuse anything you're given in there, you start using it for riches or fame or for anything else but your duty, the Chosen will be the ones hunting you down." Isling seized a short, thick branch at his feet. It was twice as thick as Dean's arm. Isling gripped it by either end, flexed, and with no more effort than that, snapped it with a shower of splinters.
The gathered hunters all backed off and dropped into ready stances. They knew trouble when they saw it.
Dean stepped forward with one hand on his gun, looked Isling straight in the eye and said "Christo."
The was a moment of pause, and Dean felt eyes turn toward him, but he was watching Isling, who had merely raised his eyebrows in surprise.
Dean smirked and relaxed. "Just checking."
Isling gave half a smile. "Fair enough. Rule three," he continued as the other hunters hackles went down. "You do the walk, you do it naked." There was an awkward pause. Isling flashed a toothy grin. "By that I mean no weapons. No guns, no knives, no salt, no silver. That's the rules. You can leave your stuff here, I ans the others," he nodded to a few nondescript people hovering around the big central bonfire. "Will watch it."
Dean could feel the unease rise around him. Hunters' leaving their weapons behind was the same as cutting of their hands.
'I need you to do this, son. It's important.' Dean closed his eyes, and starting stripping off his assorted weaponry, his tension rising. But he was here, and it was too late to go back.
As the light drained away, the hunters ghosted into the forest like the mist, separating and vanishing into the dense trees. Soon you couldn't see them, couldn't hear them, they were so lost in the trees.
Dean walked into the grove.
The light streamed in from the park, though the sun was yet to peek over the lip of the deep well where Sam huddled. Sam opened his eyes, and it was Sam opening them. His branded left palm was mangled with scratches and cuts. The demon had tried to dig the brand out. It clearly hadn't succeeded, because Sam was back in control. Clearly it hadn't made the connection with the brand on his back yet. It only worked during the day - right now the demon was just a sickening but bound presence in his head, so chained that it was even silenced.
Sam couldn't remember what had happened to him during the night, but half his fingernails had been torn off as the demon tried to climb out of the well. It would have had a hard time with the smooth, high walls and it would probably have had even more trouble with the demon traps and protective symbols etched in the walls and around the lip. Sam knew this, because he had carefully spent an entire day arranging for this to be so. The demon may be in his head, but it couldn't read his thoughts; Sam was free to act against it. Sam had fought with it and tried to exorcise it at first, but the same magic that Sam had employed to get control of his body from the demon also allowed the demon to stay right where it was until it decided to leave. He knew if he called Dad or Dean and they came at the wrong time, the demon wouldn't hesitate to kill them – it had pretty much said so in one of it's cruel little notes that it had been leaving for Sam to find. You will kill every night. And The blood isn't yours – do you wonder who's it is? And, of course Daddy and Dean are going to die. And more like it. The demon wanted him to give up, to maybe spare a few more lives. Sam's phone had burned, so the demon couldn't contact his family.
Sam had decided not to sacrifice anyone else. He found the well, remote and off the walking paths early one morning, prepared it, and when he was sure, he threw himself into it – which accounted for the broken leg. If he just suicided, the demon would simply escape and find someone else to torment. Sam wanted it to be sorry. Sam wanted it to suffer.
His broken limb throbbed, his branded hand and back was swelling and his stomach cramped agonisingly, but he'd only feel these things during the day. At night, the demon got the full package. If someone managed to drag them out of the hole there may be trouble, but no one came near here during the night, and Sam just sat there during the day, not moving and not making noise. They had water – there had been rains and some fetid stuff ran off into the old well it a stagnant puddle. But there was no food. There had been none for a week now, and Sam was feeling it. He hoped the demon was too.
The demon had scratched you won't win into the well wall. His body was covered with bruises of the demons abuse at it flung itself at wall and scratched itself with sharp stones, anything to make Sam give it up. Enough pain might do it.
Sam, with great deliberation and no little satisfaction scratched back I have won. And then he cried silently, tears leaking down his face, because he wished so much that Dad and Dean were here. At least Jess hadn't been home when it had come. At least she was okay.
huddled in further, and prepared for another
Dean walked through the trees cautiously but easily. He'd lost track of any of the others a while ago. If Dean had ever thought his father capable of such a thing, he'd be thinking that he was going to walk into the whole group any minute, with a banner saying 'Just Kidding!'
There was the smell of smoke. Not wood smoke, but cigarette smoke. Dean turned his head…
"Hey son, y'all want one?" There was a man there, dressed in old ripped jeans, cowboy boots and a heavy raw leather jacket. He perched on a low branch, one foot cocked up on the length of it, at ease. He was a slightly grey fifty-ish, Dean decided, well built, lean, muscled, tanned, fit and weathered, he looked like he'd been born outdoors. He blew out a stream of smoke and grinned at Dean. "I was lookin' for all them naked lady witches runnin' around on the other side of th' forest. I figured that was about as good as it got, but I got myself a mite turned around…women, eh?"
Dean found himself grinning. The older man was clearly a hunter, he had that wary fearlessness about him and a few visible scars as well. His hard, strong jawed face had clearly seen a lot. "There's an upside to everything, that's what I always thought," Dean replied. "Aren't you supposed to be looking for your destiny or some such bull?"
The man gave a rich chuckle. "Shoot, son, I'm just a hunter. I got no love of this sacred walk crap. If yer a hunter, yer a hunter. Yer reward is you get to hunt. Hands round a solid weapon, mind singin', heart breakin' at the pumps, ya have that one perfect moment 'fore ya run the prey into the ground an' make sure it never hurts no one or nothin'…this whole sacred duty stuff it a load of manure. 'M a simple man, son, I cain't understan' civilised stuff like this." He stubbed the cigarette out on the stem of a vine growing up the tree.
"So, why do it?"
The man shrugged. "Somethin' ta do. Sizin' up the competition an' whatnot. Every hunter's a hunter alone, right?"
"The best hunters hunt in groups, that's what my brother told me," Dean looked around warily. The trees all looked the same, but his usually unfailing directional sense was failing him now. "Actually he was just trying to get my Dad not to go out alone on hunts. He worried."
"What a girl," the older man grunted. "Take it from me, son…women, they slow ya down."
"Sam never did," Dean replied, daring the old man to make something of it.
"Hell son, I ain't sayin' nothing 'gainst him. 'M just sayin' that a hunters gotta have a certain mindset, that's all."
"What mindset?" Dean challenged, amused.
"'Total bastard' usually works," the man nodded amiably and Dean let out a bark of laughter. He lit up another cigarette and dragged on it. "Yer figured it out yet, son?"
"You're the person I'm supposed to meet, right? The great chooser, or whatever the hell they call it."
"Yeah, right," the man grunted. "Good one. The best hunter always acts dumb but thinks smart, right? But 'ave ya figured out what I am?" The man grinned.
Dean grinned tightly. "Demon comes to mind. But my old man could spot demons at half a mile, and I reckon he's met you before. Other than, I dunno. You've taken the form of every man I've ever respected. You got a little of my Dad, Pastor Jim, Bobby, Caleb. Restless spirit?"
"I'm The Restless Spirit," the man chuckled. "Y'all ever chased down one of them things…whaddya callem's…summoned spirits? They get pulled into the world an' turn inta the sum of someone's hate, or fear, or anger, or somethin'? Right? Well, it ain't just fear that make a spirit come ta ya, is it? Anything can, son. Any strong emotion. An' when the bloods a rushin' and the target's a runnin' an' ya take that one chance ta swing or ta shoot or to jump an' yer body feels more alive than any other moment – that moment belongs ta me. I'm the push that makes the wolves jump and th' falcons dive, and the salmon swim a hundred miles against the current and the bear snap it's jaw. I drives and I watches over men like you. I'm the Huntsman." He blew out the smoke again and stubbed out the thing on another vine.
Dean watched him. "So…what, you're a nature spirit, or something?"
"Not too long ago men though I was a god, son," the man grinned lewdly. "An' the ladies too."
Dean snorted. "Why leave all those butts around then, Mr Nature God?"
"I'm huntin' aphids," he replied amicably. At Dean's look, he added. "Look, the Huntsman is basically the killin' force of nature. I kills so's that other things can live. I kill a few aphids, the vines grow, then they die so that the deer live, the deer die 'cause the wolves live, the wolves die so the plants live…balance is a lot harder than it looks, let me tell ya! It ain't easy to be the thumb on life's scales."
Dean shook his head. "You're insane."
"Ya mean I ain't a sane human," the man shrugged. "Fair enough. S'all a matter of perspective, ain't it? You're brother left the Great Hunt, I reckon that makes 'im pretty loco, or at least too cowardly ta be a hunter."
The punch knocked the alleged nature spirit of it branch and hard onto the ground. He rolled upright in a very mortal way, he even bled from the split lip.
"Ya hit me!" the man seemed completely bewildered.
"You're damn right I did," Dean replied calmly.
The nature spirit stared at him for minute and then burst out laughing, great, heavy guffaws that made him shake and the leaves tremble. "I knew there was a reason I liked ya! Okay, I get it, ya ain't a lone wolf. Ya not a hunter. Hunters are just hunters, see? Y'all are a guardian. You got something to protect." The man sighed. "Aw, shoot, this is gonna be difficult. I usually only make hunters into Hunters – that's capital H there, son. But hell, why not? Yer enough of a hunter ta call me."
Dean frowned. "I never called you. I don't call anything, I know what hell'll probably answer."
"Ya did, son. You've been a-callin me all ya life," the man persisted. "I jus' can't come any old time, is all."
Dean remained silent. He wasn't even sure where he was anymore. A mist had sprung up, and weird sounds hit him from all around. He could smell the pine of pine forests, heard the rustle of oak trees, the creaks of palms and the decay of jungles – it was made of everything that made a forest, anywhere. In between there was nothing but the furtive rustle of small animals, the buzz of insects the screech of night birds, the silence of the stalking animals that circled for the kill, their eyes glowing in the night. It made adrenaline spike and the heart ring. It held the beat of every living thing, predator and prey, connected and battling, living and dying. Dean knew there wasn't a human word for it. He wasn't in a forest, his senses were just interpreting it that way. He was in the Hunt.
"Let me ask ya something," the man watched him.
"Yeah?" Dean gasped, trying to think past the sensation.
The man smirked. "I jus' want to know if you'd sell you're soul to keep yer family safe."
Dean opened his mouth.
"Ya gotta be careful. This is a creators place. Words have a lotta power," the man warned.
"Yes, I would," Dean replied without hesitation. "If there wasn't any other way."
"Would ya keep ya soul to keep them safe?"
"Simple enough question, son. Would ya hold onto yerself even if they were sufferin'? Would ya take responsibility for what ya do? Once yer give up ya soul, yer pretty much given your free will away, haven't ya? No more responsibility, an' no more decisions."
"I…yes. If it would keep them safe." The words seemed to throb in the air, like they were real.
"Okay. That's ya promise. You stick to it."
"Yeah – yer not getting' anything for free, son. You gotta hold a promise, you gotta give a tribute and you gotta make a sacrifice."
"Relax," the man gave a chuckle. He seemed to be getting taller. "A virgin ain't required. Ya made yer promise. Now I need a tribute. Ya gotta give me somethin' important to ya. Anythin'."
Dean reached into his boot, and withdrew a long hunting knife. "This was my Dad's. And my Grandad's too. It's a legacy."
The man took it and turned it over. "Ya would give me this?"
"I got others," Dean shrugged, but the set of his shoulders told the lie.
"But not as important, I reckon," the man smiled. "Fair 'nough. I gotta tell ya, you broke the rules, but quite frankly I ain't never gotten a useful weapon from any of 'em. Got lot's a pendants and photos and one guy offered up his son but a good knife or bow? Stupid bloody rule."
"His son?" Dean asked sharply. "You took him?"
"I'm the Huntsman. All hunters and hunters alone, remember? I ain't involved in the whole family bit. Don't worry, the lad gotta a good job as a river or some such."
Dean swallowed and reminded himself that he wasn't dealing with a human, just something human shaped.
"Now then…sacrifice….hmmm….usually that means giving something you need up. If yer been fasting or celibate, that'll do it."
Dean stared at him. "Celibate? Are you nuts?"
"Hunters find that one a mite hard, yeah," the man chuckled. "Okay. But you fasted and purified and all that shit, right?"
"No? Geez, the standard's really dropped down, ain't it? Men used ta have to starve and sweat and half broil themselves in a lodge before they came ta see me."
"Welcome to the modern world," Dean shrugged. "If I can't sacrifice I don't win the lottery, do I? Okay, fine, just send me back." He should be scared and worried, he knew this. But this place called to a part of him, it was home to a part of him. The throbbing pulse of life and death at the brink found a resonance in him. He was enough of a hunter for it.
"You'd just give it up? Just like that?"
Dean shrugged. "Look, I'm not saying that the ability to flip cars over or know exactly what you're hunting all the time and stuff like that ain't cool and all, it's just that I got stuff that needs doing back in the real world, people to check on, things to kill; and I'm not sticking around here starving myself for you, okay?"
"Ha! Y'all are a guardian down ta the bone," the Huntsman seemed amused. "You know, other spirits'd take a finger or something in payment, but there's no point to a crippled Hunter," the man paused, looking Dean over with interest. "How 'bout we sacrifice by proxy?"
"You mean have someone else do it for me? No way in hell."
"Nah, nah, nah, nothin' like that. Someone is already sacrificing for you, to keep you safe. The shield-mate to yer swordsman. I c'n feel the resonance of it. We take the sacrifice that's already been done and bung it into ya, see, and then I take that sacrifice from you, right? Normally this wouldn't be an option, but the two of ya….yer so intertwined that takin' one thing from yer is takin' it from both of ya, see?"
"You mean Sam? What the hell is Sam doing for me?" Dean grabbed the man by his jacket. "Is he in trouble?"
"He's sacrificin'" the man replied calmly. "I don't know the what's or the why's. I c'n just see in the air around ya. The sacrifice is there. Do ya wanna take it from him? Take it away from him?"
"Okay. Jus' think on him real hard for a sec."
Dean concentrated. Everything he knew or thought or felt about Sam rose in his mind. It was sense tapestry, made of sights and smells and touches and memories and feelings. This place made them to real that it was almost like he'd conjured Sam in the air next to him. He opened his eyes…
….and doubled over pain pain pain, it hurts it hurts, hurts, hurts worse than anything…
"Oooh, good one. Now that's a sacrifice – pain, hunger an' connection. A bonafide triple score. Okay son, looks like y'all done and dusted. For that sacrifice, I think I'll give yer a Hell Hunter's gifts. Seems appropriate, eh? Usually others only get 's far as a Night Hunter."
From his hunched over agonised curl on the ground, Dean saw the Huntsman dig a motorcycle helmet out from behind a tree. For some reason, intricate and lifelike antlers had been painted across it. "I'll see y'all 'round, Dean Winchester. I think 'm gonna enjoy ridin' your hunts. In fact, I'm lookin' forward to it so much, I'll send ya a freebie ta get yer started. No good getting a new gun and not havin' anything to shoot." The darkness swallowed him.
Blackness overtook Dean.
Light shone done the well again. Sam was too tired to raise his head now, too tired to move. It had been three weeks. Three weeks of throbbing pain, cold nights, and hunger. The demon hung onto him grimly and hadn't left him yet, but Sam was pretty sure he didn't seem like such a prize catch any more. The demon was feeling pain, and Sam was willing to bet it was bewildered by it.
How do you like it, Sam thought viciously. How do you like the pain? How do you like wanting something – needing something – and having it taken away? Sam's old life was gone and all he had left was his petty revenge against the beast.
He wished Dean were here. He knew it was stupid, but he still wished it anyway.
We wanted to scream out. His stomach cramped so badly he could barely breathe, and his other wound pains seemed brighter and sharper with every passing day. His throat was sore and hoarse, and he knew the demon had been trying to draw rescue to them. But Sam was the master in the day. He'd put pentagram on the left side of the binding ring, and a crude wiccan triple moon symbol in the right. Binding the demon to the cycle of the night and the day. Wiccan magic – Old wiccan magic, from the old Celt witchcraft, with blood and pain to seal it in. He'd been thinking on it for so long, ever since Jess asked him to help with her essay on Wiccan rituals for anthropology. He thought maybe he'd send it to Dean, another weapon in their arsenal. Even when he ran from it, hunting found him.
Clouds were gathering across the circle of blue sky, promising rain. He faded in and out of restless sleep, filled with strange and disconnected dreams about fire, and children and death. The images wouldn't leave him be, wouldn't let his mind rest. Even with the water he was getting , Sam had a splitting headache. He felt hot all over
He thought he was seeing things at first. There was a figure standing over the side of the well, and where he bent to look at Sam, there were shadows swirling around him.
"No…" Sam choked out. "No….don't…save me…"
The figure shook it's head. "It ain't my job to save yer, kid," it was wearing a motorcycle helmet with antlers on it. "I just gotta drop soimethin' off to ya. Take somethin' from one, take it from t'other. Give somethin' ta one…" the figure shook his head again. Sounds had become fuzzy and distant, but the man's voice was a clear as a bell. "I dunno what you're gonna do with this one, kid. Yer brother called me, but you ain't no hunter. Not inside, leastways. But….fro' what I hear, ya got other thin's goin' fo' ya." The figure shrugged as if it was giving the whole thing up to fate. And then he was gone, disappearing over the lip and was away.
Sam's body uncurled. It didn't hurt so much anymore. That wasn't to say the pain was gone, but it was fainter, more distant.
Sam sighed, and tried to prop himself into a comfortable position. He wondered if his brother was out having fun. Sam hoped his was. It was a happy thought at least.
Dean staggered out of the forest. He'd woken up and the day had started already, but it wouldn't take him long to get back to the car.
He wasn't entirely sure what had just happened. He remembered meeting someone, he even had the leftover cigarette butts to prove it, but the rest of his memory was a blur and a blank. He vaguely remembered a different forest and something about aphids and he definitely remembered the pain, but there wasn't a mark on him. His knife was missing, and that freaking sucked, though.
Don't tell anyone? No one had bothered to mention that this was because he wouldn't remember!
His head ached, and he hated not being able to remember because it smacked of something demonic. Hangovers didn't count, unless they were really bad. He emerged into the clearing, rubbing his head irritably.
"Anything interesting happen to you, son?"
Dean jumped, and swung around in a fighting crouch to face Isling.
"Relax, son," Isling smiled at him.
"I wish people would stop calling me that," Dean muttered. "What do you want?" He was too tired, and admittedly too disorientated to be polite.
Isling tiled his massive, ursine head. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. You're one of the last to come out." He waved a shovel like hand across the clearing, where hunters were standing around, conversing, or heading back to the car park. "I need to know if you saw anything in there, that's all."
Dean's eyes narrowed slightly. "I thought the whole thing was private."
"The specifics are private. The fact that it happens at all, that you can tell to as many people as you like. In my case," he smiled. "It was hard to hide."
That's right, the man could rip Dean in half couldn't he? "How did you do that whole branch thing anyway?" Dean asked.
"Honestly? I have no idea how it works. I was a fire fighter once you know," Isling looked down at his hands, ragged with burn scar. "I stumbled onto a Salamander one day, but as if I could convince anyone that a glowing lizard had turned a building to ash along with most of my crew. I didn't know that at the time, though. Ever since then, the Fellowship helped me. And when I did the Walk," Isling smiled down at his hands. "These didn't bother me so much any more."
Dean didn't know how to reply. The day had been strange so far, he didn't have any firm footing to get a handle on things. Besides, something was distracting him. There was a distinct odour in the still air that was maddening, because it was faint and familiar, and Dean was trying to pin it down. Now, in the dawn, everything seemed so much sharper and clearer, the mutterings of the other hunters seemed loud and invasive. Dean shook his head, trying to clear it from the chaos.
The odour was still there though, and it kept nagging at him. Isling asked him something, but the words faded into fuzz as Dean focused on the scent. He headed across the clearing, down the path, past uneasy groups of hunters. The scent was getting clearer, and so were his suspicions. Even as he rounded out to the car park, a hunter was flung at his feet, bleeding and beaten.
"Demons!" he hissed through broken teeth. Another hunter had reached into his truck, and gotten a shotgun out, getting of a shot before one of the two black eyed hunters was on him, knife out. The shot echoed the park, and hunters came sprinting down the path. They were armed. They were edgy. It had been a weird night.
Bullets started flying. As far as Dean could tell, only two hunters had been possessed, but they could hide behind a line of cars that had most of the weapons in them somewhere. Damn it.
He looked at the hunter who crouched next to the same tree, a thin, bearded, long haired man. "Christo," Dean said to him.
The man nodded. "Christo," he said back. "My name's Bill, by the way."
"Dean," Dean reached out a hand and received a spare hand gun. "Nice to meet ya, Bill."
"Jesus H Christ, this happens every year," Bill swore, returning fire.
"What?" Dean squawked incredulously.
"Every single damn year. This is why the Fellowship doesn't meet too often. There's always some low class demon scum looking to take out a whole bunch of hunters. Crazy ass, stupid…" bang bang bang.
Dean sighed, and gave in. "Cover me."
Bill swore fluently and laid down cover fire as Dean dove into the fray, heading for the wounded man. Other hunters joined the shooting as Dean reached the fallen hunter with the shotgun, reaching down and hauling him up over one shoulder, even though it jolted is bleeding gut. There was no kinder way to do it. Dean went headlong for the nearest cluster of hunters firing at the gun toting meat puppets, and was nearly there before one of the possessed pair took a flying leap off the bonnet of a jeep, the demon giving the frail human body speed and strength beyond its limits. It landed, bounced forward and snatched at Dean leg, yanking his footing out from under him. The injured man was thrown forward, in a last ditch move, out of the demon's immediate reach. Holes began to pop all over the jerking body as the hunters opened fire on it, but it wouldn't do any good. The damn things could keep their hosts alive after fatal injuries.
Dean rolled and kicked out, catching the demon's rifle as swung in for the shot, redirecting the fatal bullet. Black, soulless eyes grinned at him. Without even considering it, Dean snapped up a hand, gripping the still hot barrel, getting his legs under him as he grappled the beast for it. Much to his surprise, and certainly to the demon's, Dean yanked the rifle out of the demons steel grip. There was no time for finesse. Dean swung the rifle away from his opponent, adjusted his grip and swung the stock of the rifle up in a desperate upswing, putting all his force into it. Dean expected to knock him back a few steps and gain some ground.
The man literally flew backward in a graceful arc, landing on the windshield of a car twenty feet away, the impact so hard that the windshield shattered inwards. Dean froze in shock, blood singing in his veins.
"Duck boy!" Bill yelled from behind him. Dean reacted automatically, getting beneath the line of fire spraying toward him.
hunters had circled the target and pincered him, already the steady
strain of Latin reached Dean's roaring ears through the haze of
bewilderment. He rose to his feet, staring at his hands, thinking how
the hell did I smell the sulphur all the away from the clearing
and how the hell can I hear every word of Latin from over here
and how the hell did I know?
"You've been Chosen," Bill breathed, coming up to the younger man. "Hey, he's been Chosen! We've got a Chosen!"
Dean started to smile at his hands. He started to laugh uproariously. He was good. He was powerful. He felt unstoppable. He didn't know what this was, but damn it felt good!
Damn, Sam felt bad. He was so lethargic now that it was an effort to lift his head, to move his hands, to even get to the water puddle. Sweat beaded on his forehead relentlessly. The demon wasn't writing notes anymore. The demon was getting tired. The demon wasn't used to feeling pain. It wouldn't die with the shell of Sam's body, but it could make the meat puppet's suffering as bad as possible. Soon he would leave Sam to suffer and die alone. It was the cruellest thing you could do to a human.
Another week passed.
Bobby Singer stopped by the post office on his way back from an exorcism. He didn't get service but he kept a PO Box because you just never knew. It may only be checked once every few months, mind you. No need to encourage debt collectors.
It was sheer luck he even remembered at all. His mind had been going over the last exorcism job in his head, tallying it up with the worrying amount of them he'd done this year. Something was smarting to smell bad, but damn if he could figure it out. Just as he thought perhaps he should put out some feelers among his contacts, a post box rolled past his vision, giving him the idea to check his mail. Maybe someone had sent him something. Otherwise it could have been another month before he even considered it.
He sorted through the stacks as he drove, all pretty straightforward. Bills, junk, odd letter from old friends….
Hold the phone. There was a thick envelope with his name handwritten on it in an unfamiliar script. On the back was: From Sam. READ THIS NOW.
Sam? Sam Winchester?
He dumped the rest of his letters onto the floor. Tugging open the envelope with his teeth, he scanned the pages and subsequently nearly caused a pile by slamming on his brakes. Before anyone could start road raging, Bobby swung his truck in a screeching U turn and headed back the way he came, flooring the pedal and fumbling for his phone.
Dean was a happy camper. After he drove away from the car park, he'd headed south again. When he first parked the car, he tried lifting up one end. It was an effort, but Dean had gotten two wheels of the ground. He'd spent the next twenty minutes laughing hysterically on the ground.
And that wasn't all. When the kids playing baseball in the next field had batted ball toward him, his hands had moved faster than he could see. He was so enthralled, he'd had them batting things at him for an hour, and he'd caught every one without even breaking a sweat. He could see and hear and sense things coming at him almost before they did. His steps bounced, he was just so full of energy. He wanted to track, to stalk. He would go and find Dad, and they would find the meanest, toughest predator in the country so Dean could kick it's ass.
He had to tell…
His phone rang.
"Dean, it's Bobby."
"Bobby! Oh, man have I got some news for you! Have you heard from Dad, I've been trying to call him, but he's still on his hunt."
"Shut up and listen to me! You've got to get to California. Sam's in trouble."
Dean slammed on the brakes. "What? What? He's in college! What the hell, Bobby?"
"He sent me a letter. I think he's run afoul of a demon. He's managed to trap it somehow but he's trapped with it."
Dean felt an icy fist squeezing his chest. "Okay, I'm on my way. Have you called Dad?"
"I can't find him, son. I tried."
Damn, damn. "Just get there Bobby. I'll meet you at the university." Dean threw down his phone, and the Impala left dust trails on the road.
Rain had fallen in the old well over the last few days. Sam lay in the water that slowly lapped around him.
Sam was seeing things. He was just too weak to do anything about them. His mind was so far gone now that the demon whispered into it.
You think you've won. Your death will just make it easier.
Doesn't explain why you didn't just kill me outright, Sam thought fuzzily.
You will die alone, Sam. And your brother will find the body. Imagine how it will break him. You did more damage to your family just by being alive than I ever did.
Sam didn't answer that, and the demon laughed gleefully.
Did you think you could outdo me just because you could see me coming? Poor little Sammy, did you think you'd saved her?
Her? Sam thought frantically. Her?
The demon laughed. Didn't you know Sammy? Precious little Jessica came back. She came back. You killed her Sam. You couldn't save her from me. You couldn't even save yourself from me.
No, it wasn't true, she wasn't there….but the demon showed him, showed him what it had seen. Showed him Jess, oh God Jess….you couldn't see the rain for the tears on Sam's emaciated face.
It all true, Sammy. You know it. You have nothing. You always have nothing, until you die. Oh, and what's this? I hear voices…
Bobby was following Dean's lead. After spending days without sleep getting to Stanford and ten minutes just staring at the wreck of Sam's old apartment, Dean had been a man, figuratively, possessed.
Bobby could tell he'd been on the Walk. They really powerful ones had a look about them like Dean's. That same Walk had given Bobby Singer the power to sense any demon within twenty miles, and he was feeling a big one now.
"Enjoy the Walk, son?" Bobby asked as Dean paced a fast jog through the car park of the park.
Dean swung around to stare at him. "It was…interesting."
Bobby grinned. "I'll bet. Chosen, huh?"
Dean looked at him suspiciously.
"You got that look about you. I've known a few really powerful ones in my time," Bobby patted his shoulder. "You gotta be careful. You've been given a shitload of power, Dean. It's harder to control than you think."
Dean shook his head. "I gotta find Sam. That's all I'm thinking of right now," he closed his eyes. "He's close, I can feel. I just freaking know, okay?"
"I know. He'll be okay."
Dean shook his head, and took of into the park. They made it a dozen steps before Dean let out a startled roar, and accelerated. Up ahead in a small copse, a cloud of sickly black smoke rose into the sky.
Brother dear is here, isn't that nice Sammy? You're too weak now, Sammy. Maybe I'll take him. I'll make you watch me take him. And I'll make him watch you die. Keep it all in the family. How does that sound?
The water nearly drowning Sam rippled back under the sheer force of the push, half climbing the walls, which cracked like thunder, chunks falling out.
How about, Sam screamed in his mind, too tired and too wounded and too angry to be shocked, how about I bury us both! And you'll be bound to a dead buried corpse! The rim of the well seemed to distort and fold in, chunks of old, worn stone tumbling inwards, yanked inwards by a furious mind..
The demon, suddenly desperate, finally forced his mouth open. The taint of evil drained out of Sam's mouth into the sky. The water washed back down, engulfing Sam's lax body. He didn't have the strength to raise his head anymore. He barely had the strength to open his eyes anymore. The waters were black, and Sam just wanted to die.
Dean never looked before he jumped. This time was no exception.
He was down the well and rolling safely. "Sammy!" He reached down and yanked the dim form out of the murk, and nearly screamed at the sight of Sam's hollowed out face. His little brother, who had once never stopped growing, had now shrunk. "Sammy!"
The deep circled eyes opened, startled coughs ripping from the thin chest. "Dean…" he whispered. "She's dead….she's dead…it killed her…" Sobs started to shake the thin, feverish body.
Sacrifice. When Dean met that Huntsman again, he was bringing the shotgun. Sacrifice Dean's ass!
"It's okay Sammy, it's okay. Everything's going to be okay." He gathered his brother up, and there was barely any weight there at all. He jumped up, bounced off a wall, and gained the top of the lip just barely. Bobby grabbed him as he teetered.
"Well, that's one way to do it," Bobby said as he yanked them to safety. "I would have used a rope."
"Ambulance," Dean snapped, yanking off his jacket to wrap around his baby brother. He rocked Sam in his arms. "Sammy, Sammy, can you hear me? Stay with me, you bitch. Stay with me."
The Huntsman was right. Even now, all the Hunter in him wanted to do was hunt the hellspawn down, stalk it, attack it, destroy it. All of the strength and speed and senses he'd gained formed the core of that need, and Dean couldn't care less.
Sam needed him. He was a hunter in his head, but a guardian in his bones.
Sam slept for a week. Dean worried about John, because he still couldn't find him. He didn't leave the hospital to go find him. Sam needed him. Sam was connected to him now, like a solid line of light right into his soul. Sam had sacrificed so Dean could be the Hunter.
Sam opened his eyes blearily. "Dean?"
Dean smiled at him. "Dude. We have just had the weirdest month ever. I love you."
"Love you too."