Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine. More's the pity. Title comes from Led Zeppelin song of the same name.
Spoilers: Set in Season 2, after Crossroad Blues.
a/n: This story was originally written for the zine Brotherhood 2. This was my first zine experience and I sincerely thank K. Hanna Korossy and Yum for the opportunity to contribute not only to Brotherhood 2 but also to the upcoming Brotherhood 4 release.
I had never written for a zine before, and this story was originally much too long for print. I know. You're shocked. But, because of that, and because it was written over a year ago, I've gone back through and "tweaked" a bit. I don't want to send anyone reading this into a coma, so I've broken it up and will post in sections.
I hope you enjoy. Thanks to all who read the printed version and took time to send me emails. You guys are my reason.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sam waited. It began with a frantic rustle of sheets, escalating soon after to rapid breathing and sometimes low, pain-filled moans in the back of the throat. If Sam didn't intervene, Dean would pull himself forward into a sitting position, his right hand outstretched, gasping, choking on a word, always the same word.
Sometimes Sam couldn't wait; sometimes he woke him with an, "Easy, Dean, it's just a dream… wake up."
If Sam caught him in the early stages of the dream, he would be met with a familiar sleepy grumble, perhaps a thrown pillow, and then Dean would roll over and curl himself up into his bizarrely angular sleeping position, his hand snaking under the pillow to grip his knife. If Sam waited too long, though, he would be met with an unguarded look of heartbreaking loss in his brother's eyes.
Sam learned that he either woke Dean early or he let the nightmare run its course. Otherwise, he had to face that look and the emptiness that resulted when Dean forced the pain from his eyes. The dead look was almost more painful for Sam than the raw intensity of a broken heart laid bare.
When Sam suffered from nightmares, Dean always asked what kept him from peace, what kept him staring at the ceiling even a year later. Sam didn't always answer, but Dean never failed to ask. But every time Sam opened his mouth, every time he attempted to discover the source of his brother's nocturnal torment, Dean would somehow sense it and avoid him with an irritated growl, a dead-eyed stare, or a swift change of subject.
So, Sam waited.
He lay on his side, left arm tucked under his head, watching as the nightmare captured his brother once more, watching as Dean struggled, fought, as his face pinched with a pain that went far beyond physical, far beyond emotional. Sam could see this pain was something a simple discussion wasn't going to fix. The weight Dean had carried since Dad died was crushing him, and Sam didn't know how to help him, dying a little more inside each day as he watched his brother struggle to live with a burden Sam didn't understand.
Sam watched as Dean slowly pulled himself from the grip of the nightmare, his breathing rapid, his hand trembling. He dropped his outstretched hand, then covered his face for a moment, his body shuddering once. Taking a breath through his fingers, he lifted his head and rolled his neck. Sam heard the joints crack. He didn't bother to feign sleep. He used to when the nightmares began, shortly after going to Bobby's, worried then what Dean might think if he saw Sam watching him. Now, he worried what would happen if he didn't watch.
Dean didn't look over at him. He tossed the covers away from his bare legs and scooted from the bed, padding softly to the bathroom. In moments, Sam heard the water turn on and rolled to his back, left hand shifting behind his head, staring at the ceiling. This day had begun like so many others.
Dean had started to act a little more like himself after their quick return to Lawrence, had even opened up to him slightly, confessing his fear of what their father had done. But since the week before in Mississippi, since the demon at the crossroads had confirmed what his brother feared most… since Dean revealed to Sam that Dad was in hell… because of him… Dean had started to slip.
And Sam was afraid he wouldn't be able to hold on tight enough.
Dean leaned forward under the spray of the shower, letting the hot water beat on the back of his neck and run down his spine. Sometimes he imagined he could feel it hitting each scar, washing them away like memories he wanted to erase. He let the pressure of the water work on the tight muscles in his neck, then tipped his face back so the water hit his forehead and eyes, beating a staccato rhythm of light on his closed eyelids. The water ran down his face, poured from his chin, and raced itself down his body to swirl and drown in the drain beneath his feet.
The dream always left him confused, scared, and shaky. He couldn't remember details. It was a tangle of images, like childhood memories he manipulated or abbreviated clips from movies he'd never seen. He'd felt Sam's eyes this morning, knew his brother was worried, knew he was waiting for him to ask for help, to talk, to break. But Dean knew his job. He knew that he could not fail. Not with this.
You have to save him, Dean. Nothing else matters…
He lifted his hands from the tiled wall and rubbed his calloused fingers over his face, pushing the water from his eyes and blinking them open. The water stung them, but he allowed it. He embraced it. Pain meant feeling something. Pain meant he was still present. He was still alive. He could still do his job.
It was the ache he didn't want to feel. The hollow, bone-deep ache that wrapped around his heart, wrung the breath from his lungs, stunted his strength.
Sam pounded on the door.
"Keep your pantyhose on, Francis," Dean growled. "I'll be out in a minute."
He ducked his head under the water, letting it fill his ears and drown out his brother's reply. It wasn't anything he hadn't already heard before. He'd been listening to Sam for twenty-three years. He never tired of his brother's voice, his leaps of logic, his contrary dramatics. But he was tired. And he was scared. And he couldn't let Sam know… not now… not yet.
Nothing else matters…If you can't save him, you have to kill him.
He stepped from the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, and wiped the steam from the mirror to regard his reflection. Near as he could tell, Sam would have to look pretty damn close to see anything different from what he'd been seeing the last few months. Dean's eyes were carefully empty, his face blank. He took a breath and squared his shoulders.
"Game time," he whispered, then stepped out into the motel room. "Holy shit, Sammy, it's freezing out here!"
Sam scowled at him. "No, it's not. You're wet and naked. Get some clothes on." Sam brushed past him heading for the bathroom, pulling the plastic sleeve he'd fashioned over his cast to protect it from the water. "You better not have used all the hot water, man."
"There's a few drops left. 'Course, with all that girly hair of yours…"
"Shut up." Sam closed the bathroom door, and Dean felt his shoulders drop.
He knew the aftereffects of the dream would leave him as soon as they were on the road, the Impala hungrily chewing up the pavement, putting another town in their rear view mirror. He'd forget that he couldn't remember as soon as he was moving again. As long as he kept moving, kept his eyes up, he could keep his promise, he could do his job… he wouldn't be pulled under, consumed by a phantom fear he didn't understand.
"Here I come again now, baby, like a dog in heat. Tell it's me by the way now, baby, I like to tap the streets…"
Ted Nugent's Stranglehold riffed its electric-guitar beat through the interior of the Impala as they pulled away from the nameless motel in yet another small town. Sam sighed and leaned back against the seat. He had no idea where they were going: west was all he could tell. He'd stopped asking Dean about a week before. He simply followed as Dean kept moving, day after day, night after night, as though if his brother stopped too long, he would drown in time and memories.
It had been over a week since they'd worked a job. Since Evan Hudson. Since the crossroads. When Sam found a hunt he thought was possible, Dean found an easy reason why it wasn't their kind of problem. His hard voice and empty eyes left little room for Sam to push.
As he stared out the window, his head beginning to throb to the beat of the music, Sam saw Leaving Nebraska float past the car, followed closely by Entering Wyoming – Forever West. He knew his headache was brought on by the constant beat of the music, but he found himself almost wishing for the migraine-inducing flash of pain brought on by a vision.
A vision, Dean couldn't deny. A vision had to be followed. A vision gave them a purpose again…
"There has got to be something else on the radio, man," Sam sighed, propping his cast on the open window of the passenger door and tipping his head back against the seat.
"You jonesin' for some Britney Spears, there, Sammy?" Dean shot a sly look at Sam.
Sam rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Forget it," he sighed.
"Naw, it's okay, I'll flip." Dean shrugged, his lips pursed in a deceivingly innocent frown of acceptance. He punched the silver buttons on the radio until another familiar beat echoed through the car.
"Now you're messin' with a… A son of a bitch… Now you're messin' with a son of a bitch…"
Sam slid his eyes sideways to Dean's face, watching as a cocky half-grin pulled at the corners of his brother's mouth. "Yes, Dean. Thank you. Hair of the Dog is a definite improvement over Nugent," he said, amping up the sarcasm to drive his point home.
Dean pressed his lips together and shook his head. "Never did have much taste in music, Sam."
Sam looked back out the open window. "Better than you and Dad," he grumbled without thinking, and felt his stomach clench at the sudden silence that almost drowned out the rhythmic beat of Nazareth in the confines of the car.
Sam fought the urge to apologize. He had the right to mention Dad in casual conversation. Dean said it himself; he was Sam's dad, too. But the suffocating stillness that seemed to swamp Dean when Dad was mentioned these days was more than Sam could handle. He hurriedly changed the subject.
"Where're we goin', man?"
"West," was Dean's husky reply. Sam heard his brother swallow and waited to look over at him until Dean had a chance to pull his mask back down.
"Yeah, I got that," Sam replied, rolling his head to watch Dean's profile.
If he hadn't been watching him so closely for the past couple of weeks, he would never have noticed anything wrong. But Dean's freckles stood out just a little more against the subtle paleness of his features. A slight dusting of purple shadows colored the soft skin under his hazel eyes. And his mouth was tight. Sam recognized the look from his own reflection in the mirror months after Jessica's death.
"So, why'd you ask then?"
"West where? What's there?" Sam sighed, rotating his head so he was looking back out the front window. He absently scratched at the back of his right hand where the cast rubbed against his skin.
Dean just shrugged. "Dunno, Sam. It's someplace else."
The Impala suddenly jerked, and Dean's eyes, previously unfocused and staring at the empty, open highway, immediately narrowed and stared at the dials in front of him.
"What is it?" Sam asked.
"Not sure," Dean muttered. The Impala jerked again, a cough of motion. "She's trying to tell me somethin'…"
Sam lifted an eyebrow but didn't dare question his brother's affectionate address of the car. Rebuilding this car helped put Dean back together. Helped him build that internal wall Sam had become convinced Dean would crumble without.
He would never again scoff at the sanctity that was the Impala.
"Want to pull over?" Sam asked, his dark eyes lighting on an exit sign for a town called Wells. Didn't look like there was much there, but at least it was a town.
Dean nodded, and his fingers gripped the wheel as he turned immediately to the right when the exit came up. Sam heard his silver ring click against the steering wheel as he adjusted his grip. Dean coasted to a stop just beyond the town sign, checking over his shoulder for traffic, then pulled forward as the Impala jerked roughly.
Sam gripped the dash to steady himself. "Whoa!"
"Easy, girl," Dean whispered.
He pulled into a gas station just off the exit, bypassing the pumps and backing into a parking spot so that he could get to the hood. When Dean slid the gear into Park and turned off the engine, the Impala shuddered and sighed ominously. Dean looked over at Sam, concern evident on his face.
"That did not sound good," he muttered.
Sam felt the chill of worry at the uncertainty of that sound. John had included him in the many lessons he imparted on the maintenance of car engines, but Sam never absorbed the information. Not like Dean. While Sam looked at the engine and saw an engine, Dean looked at the engine and saw each individual part that sustained the car and, in turn, sustained them.
The Impala was the only place that truly pulled them together. It had carried his father, his brother, and Sam safely through many nights of terror. Its sturdy metal body had saved their lives when the demon-driven semi endeavored to shatter them all in one moment of violence. It was their escape, their home… and Sam suspected it held a little bit of Dean's soul.
"Uh…how can I help?" He felt strange asking; the Impala was Dean's car. But he couldn't just hang around while Dean worked on it—her. Again.
Dean lifted surprised eyes to meet his. "I'll, uh…," Dean started, then looked away, his hand on the door latch. "I'll take a look and let you know."
They opened their doors in a stereo echo of creaking metal and shut them with dual finality. Dean slid his fingers under the lip of the hood, shifted the release, and eased it up into the air, propping it up on the brace. Sam watched his brother more than the engine. Dean's eyes darted quickly, knowing what he was supposed to be seeing and what he wasn't. Sam watched his eyes pause, his expression folding into a pained sort of disappointment.
"Sorry, baby," he whispered. "I should have seen this coming."
"What is it?"
"See this here?"
Sam looked as Dean gestured to a piece of car guts that, to Sam, seemed like every other piece of car guts under the hood. Sam started to nod, then lifted a shoulder. At his silence, Dean looked up, meeting Sam's eyes.
Sam shrugged. "It's all ball bearings nowadays," he said, the corner of his mouth pulling back into a rueful grin.
Dean shook his head, ducked back out from under the hood, and closed it gently. "Funny, Fletch."
"Think we can get what we need here?" Sam asked, shoving his left hand into the pocket of his jeans and looking over his shoulder at the silent gas station.
Dean shrugged. "Hope so, 'cause she ain't goin' far unless we do."
They walked across the deserted lot and up to the glass door of the station. Sam pulled open the door, and Dean stepped in under the clatter of a cowbell tied to a string at the top. There didn't appear to be anyone behind the tall counter…which was at a level just below Dean's shoulders. It took mere seconds to look around the small station. Empty.
"Hello?" Dean called.
"Be with you in a minute," came a deep, rheumy-sounding male voice from behind the counter.
Dean tossed Sam a confused look, then stepped up to the counter and boosted himself up so he could lean over and look down the other side. Sam saw his eyebrows shoot up, and Dean pushed himself hurriedly back across the counter and to his feet.
Curious, Sam stepped forward one pace, then nearly backed up two paces when the person behind the counter stood. The man was easily seven feet tall and twice as wide as Sam. His dark hair seemed to seep down his forehead into his eyebrows and then spill across his wide cheeks in a tangle of curls, short braids, and multi-colored rubber bands. His eyes were a bright gray, almost false in their richness of color.
"Help you?" he asked, then coughed violently into the crook of his arm.
"Yeah." Dean's voice broke on the word. Working to mask his obvious surprise at the size of the man, Dean shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, ducked his chin, and repeated, "Yeah."
Sam just nodded, not trusting his voice. He fought the childlike urge to hide behind Dean.
"We, uh, we're lookin' for a part," Dean cleared his throat again. "For a '67 Chevy Impala."
The giant tilted his head to the side, and Sam was reminded of the grizzly bears he'd seen on the Discovery Channel. Just before they demolished their prey with one massive paw. Sam held very still, hoping the giant wouldn't notice him.
"'Kay" the giant said, his voice sounding less rheumy after his coughing fit. "What is it you need?"
Sam shifted his eyes to Dean as his brother explained the problem. He had always admired how easily Dean slid into whatever skin was required for a moment with a stranger. He could charm or threaten, draw them in or send them away. Despite his initial surprise at this stranger's size, Dean spoke to him as one mechanic to another. He spoke as his father's son, caretaker of their home.
The giant shook his head, and Sam tuned back into the conversation. "Not a lot of call for that 'round these parts," he rumbled, one large hand reaching up to pull worriedly at his tangled beard. "Gonna have to order it. Might take a couple days."
Days. Multiple twenty-four hour periods. In one place. Sam couldn't hide his swift grin of delight.
"Name's Kelly," the giant said, holding out his massive hand toward Dean. Sam watched as Dean reached out to grasp it, his entire hand and most of his wrist completely disappearing in Kelly's hand.
"Dean. This is my brother, Sam." Dean jerked his head in Sam's direction.
Kelly nodded to Sam, releasing Dean's hand. Sam nodded back.
"Couple days, huh?" Dean sighed. He dropped his chin and looked over at Sam out of the corner of his eye. Sam lifted a shoulder. "Any suggestions on where we might stay, Kelly?"
Kelly shook his head. "You boys don't want to stay here."
Dean lifted a brow. "Not like we got a lot of choice, man."
"No one you can call? No… no people?" Kelly sounded slightly desperate.
Sam licked his lips, feeling his chest tighten. It was a thought he didn't like to dwell on too long. He had people. He could name seven off the top of his head back in Palo Alto who, if he called, would have a place ready for him. But they didn't know about Dean. No one did. His brother had no one, really. Unless you counted a hunter here or there that had known their Dad, Dean was alone, save Sam. Time had seen to most of the friends they'd had in their youth. Meg had seen to the rest.
"No, man, it's just me and my brother," Dean was saying, the strain in his voice evident to Sam's ears but expertly masked to anyone else who might actually be listening to him.
Kelly looked away from the brothers, out into the vacant lot, toward the Impala. They waited, unsure as to his hesitation. He looked back at them, blinking his sterling-silver eyes, and sighed.
"I'll do my best to hurry up that order," he said. "You take yourselves to Maxine's up the road a piece."
"Maxine's," Dean repeated.
"Next to Becket's Diner. Can't miss it. You tell her Kelly sent you."
Dean nodded and turned to go.
"Make sure you tell her Kelly sent you!" Kelly called after them, his tone once again verging on desperation.
The hairs on Sam's neck rose as he looked back over his shoulder, nodding their understanding. Kelly was leaning over the counter, staring after them.
"Will do," Sam said.
"Make sure," he repeated again, then stepped back, looking down at the countertop as though it held the answer to a question he'd forgotten to ask.
Sam followed Dean out to the Impala to grab their bags and lock her up. "Okay, that was weird on so many different levels," he muttered when he was sure they were out of earshot.
Dean looked up at him as he unlocked the trunk and lifted the lid. His eyebrows were pulled together in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"
Sam whipped his head around to look at his brother incredulously. "What do you mean, what do I mean? You didn't think that was weird?"
Dean shrugged, reaching for the latch that popped up the false floor, revealing their weapons. "Don't know what you're getting your boxers in a twist for, Sam. It's a small town. Don't keep parts for classic cars on hand, that's all."
"Are you serious?"
Dean looked over his shoulder as he started to gather weapons: two sawed-off shotguns, his bowie knife, rock salt, and regular ammo. As he pulled them from the trunk, he handed them to Sam, who automatically stuffed them into their spare duffel.
"What the hell are you talking about, Sam?" Dean's voice had grown impatient.
"You didn't notice anything weird about that guy Kelly?"
"You mean aside from the fact that he's actually taller than you?"
Sam shook his head and zipped the weapons duffel with slightly more force than necessary. "Yeah. Aside from that."
Dean closed the false floor, reached for his duffel, and waited while Sam grabbed his. "Not really."
"Not even his insistence that we tell this Maxine he sent us?"
"So?" Dean closed the trunk. "He wants to make sure she puts us up. What's the problem?"
Sam dropped his chin in a quick gesture of disbelief. "And the fact that he repeated it no less than three times… that he didn't want us to stay here in the first place… none of that seemed weird to you?" He kept his eyes on Dean as he reached into the car for his laptop.
"What's your deal, Sam?" Dean walked to the front of the car, opened his door, and rolled up his window, gesturing for Sam to do the same. "A month ago, you were ready to have me committed for seeing a hunt that wasn't there that really was, and now you're all bent out of shape because I'm not seeing a hunt that isn't there?"
Sam blinked. "Dean –"
"Just…" Dean sighed, a sound that seemed to double his age. He locked the car, pocketed his keys, and shifted his duffel to his shoulder. "Let's just walk down to Maxine's, wait out the part for the Impala, and get the hell outta Dodge, okay?"
He picked up the second duffel of weapons, leaving Sam with just the one to carry, mindful of Sam's broken hand. He turned then and began to walk slowly away. Sam watched him as he'd done so many times before. Watched the loose-limbed control of each step, the set of his shoulders, the way he dropped his chin but somehow managed to keep his head up—always aware—the grip on his duffel in one hand and the weapons bag in the other, bouncing away from his leg with the weight of their guns.
Sam had watched his brother his whole life, and it was only recently that he realized he'd never really seen him. Not like this. Not the way he did now.
"Sammy, you coming or what?" Dean called over his shoulder, already several lengths ahead.
Sam jogged up to him, slowing his long-legged stride to match Dean's shorter one as soon as he was next to his brother.
Up the road a piece, Dean thought with a scowl after they'd been walking about an hour. Right. Just up the road. Hop, skip, and a jump… if you're a GIANT.
In all that time, Sam hadn't said a word, but Dean felt the weight of his silence. He knew his brother was working out a way to get Dean to talk, get him to share, get him to confess that Kelly the Giant's actions had weirded him out. But if he did that, he'd have to reveal his reasons for avoiding the hunt, for always moving, for keeping Sam away from evil, from the very possibility of—
"Think we're, uh, here."
Sam's voice broke into his thoughts, and Dean was grateful. His brother had become uncomfortably good at reading his expressions, forcing him to become better at masking them. Sometimes, though, he just didn't have the energy to support the disguise. He lifted his eyes to the horizon and was surprised to see an actual town in front of them. A town that looked like it hadn't seen an upgrade since the 1950s.
The main street was about double the size of a normal two-lane road, allowing room for cattle to be guided through. Cars were parked at angles in front of the stores, un-metered. Here and there, a person walked down the sidewalk, eyes downcast, expression carefully blank. As the boys approached the main street, they saw several faces at random windows peer out, then drop the curtains swiftly when the brothers caught their eyes.
Dean pulled his eyebrows together and cast a glance at Sam, noting his brother's equally puzzled expression. He saw Sam's eyes track along the length of the street and land on something beyond the series of buildings. He lifted his head to follow Sam's eye line and blinked. At the end of the road, set up on a slight rise so it looked over the town, was a large house. It was at least five stories tall and literally sprawled over what appeared to be two acres. Additions had been tacked on with no real order or planning; the wood was different shades, the windows different shapes.
As Dean stared at the architectural tangle, he felt as if someone were watching him, close enough that he felt breath on his neck. He looked quickly over his shoulder and saw only more worried, anxious expressions on the people of the town, pausing in their slow sojourn down the sidewalks of Wells.
Sam jostled him with an elbow, nodding to a building with a tall false front, the name Becket's Diner scrawled across the front in faded red-paint script. Remembering Kelly's instructions, Dean looked to either side of the large building and saw a smaller one with a sign in neatly printed black letters: Maxine's Sleep-Inn.
He jerked his chin toward the sign, and they angled their path toward that building. As they stepped up onto the wooden sidewalk leading to the two buildings, Dean couldn't shake the feeling he'd stepped onto the set of an old western. Shifting the duffel full of weapons in his grip and rotating the one of clothes over his right shoulder, he mimicked his brother as he looked around at the small collection of restaurants and businesses along the main street. Not one stoplight. Not one stop sign.
Dean paused just outside the door of Maxine's, still looking around.
"Weird," Sam whispered.
Dean squared his shoulders and shook his head, consciously halting his scan of the time-frozen town. "Just a small town, Sam. That's all."
Sam peered at him, his dark eyes that were so like their father's staring at him with obvious disbelief. "Are you kidding me with this?"
"C'mon," Dean said, not elaborating, effectively shutting Sam down when they entered the public building.
The slight bit of noise from a slim, white-haired clerk at the desk and a tall, dark-haired woman cleaning the drapes of the front room ceased as they stepped through the door. Attempting to look like movement stopped every time he walked into a room, Dean approached the desk.
"How are ya?" He nodded at the man behind the desk, who was staring back at Dean with what could only be described as complete fear. "We, uh, need a room for a couple of nights."
The clerk continued to stare.
Dean canted his head to the side. "Kelly sent us."
"Here? Kelly sent you here?"
Dean nodded, feeling Sam's presence close behind him, feeling Sam's silence scream of I told you so like a hawk about to pounce on its prey, victoriously digging into the heart of his denial.
"Yeah, man, he said Maxine would have a place for us." Dean shifted his eyes over the man's shoulder as if looking for Maxine.
"I'm Maxine," said the woman, turning from the drapes and stepping up to the counter.
Her hair was a wiry tangle of natural curls that didn't look like they'd seen a brush in a while, and her eyes were a familiar sterling-silver color with a hard edge that Dean felt could slice him if he looked directly at her for too long.
Dean turned the corners of his mouth up in a slight smile. "Kelly said–"
"Don't believe you," she barked, her voice betraying a habit of cigarettes and liquor. "Kelly would have sent you packin' the minute you pulled off the highway."
"W-why do you want to stay here?" the clerk stammered, looking from Dean to Sam and back again. "Casper's not too far. Or Riverton. Or Cheyenne."
Dean sighed. "Yeah, we, uh, we realize that, but you see, our car broke down and Kelly's getting us a part. Said it could be a couple days." Dean looked back over at Maxine, shifting his smile into cold charm and leaning forward onto the counter. "Now, I'm sure we could sleep in the car while we wait but, if memory serves, it gets pretty cold at night in these parts."
"Y-yeah," the clerk stammered, his eyes wide as he looked over at Maxine. "Yeah, it does."
Maxine's eyes narrowed. "You actually talked to Kelly, then?"
"Yes, ma'am," Dean answered. "Big guy, beard, lots of colored rubber bands."
"He sent you here, did he?"
"He did." Dean blinked, turning his smile slightly shy. "Said this place was the best place in town. Said you'd take real good care of us."
Maxine's eyes actually softened at Dean's smile. "Heh. It's the only place in town, big dumb ox."
Dean tipped his head down in a single nod. "Okay, then… about that room?"
Maxine tilted her head toward the nervous clerk. "Take care of the boys, Clancy."
The clerk's hand shook as he traced the back of his fingers along the row of brass keys in front of him. "We, uh, we just don't usually have, uh… guests."
Dean suddenly sensed Sam still, as if he'd stopped breathing. He kept his eyes on Clancy but listened for Sam, wondering at the change he'd felt from him. "How do you stay in business, then?"
The clerk shifted frightened blue eyes to Maxine. Dean didn't miss the warning look she shot him back. He leaned more of his weight onto the counter, pulling closer to the clerk in a conspiratorial manner.
"C'mon, man," he whispered. "You guys built on top of a gold mine or somethin'?" he teased. He wasn't prepared for the look of complete terror that crossed the clerk's face. "Whoa, easy," he said, easing back and tapping the air with his hand. "Seriously, we just need a room. Won't be any trouble." His eyes darted from the clerk to Maxine. "Once our car's fixed, we're outta here."
"Dean," Sam whispered.
Dean realized he'd been waiting to hear his brother's voice for what felt like several minutes. He started to shift his attention from Maxine to Sam, when a voice like mercury slid through the silence and down his spine.
"Clancy, are you keeping paying customers waiting?"
The man appeared like a product of the darkness from the room behind Clancy. He seemed to be made of shadow…except for his eyes. They were the same silver as Kelly and Maxine's. He was extremely tall, thin, dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and black tie; his dark hair was cut military short and he was clean-shaven.
His hooked nose cast a shadow over thin red lips, and he leaned against the doorframe with his spider-like fingers clasped in front of him, regarding Dean with a measured coolness that instantly stood the hairs on Dean's neck at attention. He realized this man was what had caused the change in Sam. His brother had seen him before the other three in the room had been aware of his presence.
"N-no, sir," Clancy stammered, quickly grabbing a key and sliding it across the counter to Dean.
Dean slapped his hand down on the counter, stopping the key's slide. "I gotta sign something?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," Clancy said, looking frantically around on the desk. "Right."
He tore off a piece of paper and handed it to Dean. Dean filled out the top part with bogus, nonsense information, then paused at his signature. He glanced up at the shadow of a man leaning against the doorway, narrowing his eyes. The man's silver eyes rested on him, steady, calculating. Dean felt his back tighten, his stomach clench. He recognized it as the automatic reaction of his muscles to an impending fight. He didn't look at Sam. He didn't look down. He kept his eyes on the shadowed man and signed his name.
When he set the pen down, the man shadow walked over, and Dean saw his pallor was practically translucent. He clenched his jaw. Vampire? The man reached forward, through a slice of sunlight, and grasped the paper Dean had just signed, pulling it to him.
Okay, maybe not a vampire, then, Dean thought.
Dean felt Sam step up behind him, not close enough to touch but close enough that he felt the comforting weight of his brother's presence. Dean tilted his head to the side, waiting.
"Fitting, I suspect. Strong, historic, bringing both death and peace." The voice became whiskey-smooth, the eyes alight with intrigue as they rested on Dean's.
Dean blinked slow, not speaking, and carefully emptied his eyes of all emotion. He had become quite good at that in the past few months. The shadow-man held his gaze a long moment, then seemed to come to a decision.
"Silas Wells," he said, stretching out the last name as though tasting it. "Welcome to my town."
Dean lifted an eyebrow but remained silent.
"Maxine, a word?" Silas looked over at Maxine. The tall woman seemed to shrink under his cold gaze. Keeping his cold eyes on Maxine, he then addressed Dean. "Clancy will show you to your rooms," he said, then stepped back into the darkness of the room behind Clancy, his slim, pale hand beckoning for Maxine to follow him. The moment he was out of sight, Dean felt an aching cold seep into his bones and resisted the urge to shiver.
"Lead on, Clancy," Dean said in a thin voice, nodding at the desk clerk, sympathetic to the guy's fear of his creepy-ass boss.
Clancy stood, his lanky frame moving slowly around the desk to stand in front of Dean. Sam shifted his weight from one leg to the other just off to Dean's right. They stared at Clancy. He stared back. Dean raised his eyebrows, tipping his head forward.
"Right," Clancy muttered, then turned around and led them from the front room, down a long hallway lit by what looked like gas-powered lamps flickering firelight and dancing shadows along the corridor, and to a room. He inserted the brass key and turned, swinging the door wide and stepping back.
"Thanks." Dean smiled tightly. Clancy pulled the key from the door, handed it to Dean, then practically sprinted back down the hall.
Shaking his head, Dean stepped in behind Sam, kicked the door shut with the base of his foot, and tossed both duffels on the bed nearest the door. Sam dropped his bag on the empty bed, and Dean saw him put his hands on his hips, looking at the duffel as though he had more chance of getting it to talk back to him than he did his brother. He waited. It was coming…he could practically feel the tension rolling off Sam.
Five, four, three, two…
"What the hell, Dean?" Sam finally spat at him. "You gonna tell me that wasn't weird?"
Dean lifted a shoulder, setting the duffel of weapons on the floor next to his bed and unzipping his bag of clothes, rifling through it for something clean. He had the sudden urge for a hot shower; he couldn't seem to shake the cold ache that had settled in him.
"Takes all kinds," was all he said.
"Takes all—are you serious? Dean, that man was… not normal. Like our kind of not normal. Don't you even think we should look into it?"
Dean didn't answer.
"Dean!" Sam lifted his arms out to his sides in a frustrated, impatient gesture.
"What, Sam?" Dean asked, grabbing a grey T-shirt and a pair of boxers. He looked up at Sam and was mildly surprised to see through the window behind his brother that the sun was beginning to sink in the western sky. He hadn't realized how late it was; neither of them had eaten yet that day.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" Sam's eyes were worried, his face tight.
Dean pulled his eyebrows together. "Nothing's the matter with me." He started to move toward the bathroom.
Sam stepped forward, putting himself between Dean and his destination. His jaw clenched, and Dean took a tired step back so he could look up at Sam, his eyes empty, his mouth hard.
"What?" he sighed, hearing how dead his voice sounded, and inwardly winced, knowing that, more than anything, would trigger Sam.
"You are ignoring…everything. You won't stop…moving. You're not sleeping. You won't hunt." Sam's left hand clenched into a fist, his right hanging loosely at his side, fingers curled against his cast.
"That should make you happy," Dean said, leveling his empty eyes at Sam.
"Thought you said… what was it? I was downright scary when I was hunting."
Sam pressed his lips together in frustration. "Well, there's a difference between that and avoiding it altogether."
Dean just looked away.
"Why can't you just… just talk to me?"
Dean tightened his jaw, shifting his gaze to his brother's eyes. "Nothing to say, Sam."
Sam's upper lip bounced in barely restrained anger. "Like hell."
And in that moment, Dean had had enough.
He took another step back, practically daring Sam to move forward. To give him a reason to explode, even if it wouldn't make sense to Sam. Even if it wouldn't be fair to Sam. He wanted to hit something. To hurt something as badly as he hurt when he allowed himself to feel. He felt his fingers tighten their grip around the clothes in his grasp.
"Dammit, Sam," he said through clenched teeth. "Why can't you just leave it the hell alone?"
Sam looked almost triumphant. "Because I care about you, man."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "If you cared about me, you'd Leave. It. Alone."
"No," Sam said, bitterness creeping into his voice. "That's what you'd do."
Dean knew Sam was angry, knew he was frustrated, and knew he sometimes said things purposefully to get a rise out of him. But it didn't stop the words from sucker-punching him. He turned away from Sam and threw the clothes back at his duffel with extra force. He no longer felt cold, no longer needed the shower. He was actually too hot, too wired. He needed a drink. Without a word to Sam, he walked to the door.
"Where are you going?" Sam asked, sounding more than a little concerned.
"I'm gonna go get a beer." Dean pulled the door open. He tossed the key to the room over his shoulder at Sam, who reached out and plucked it from the air. "Don't wait up."
Dean closed the door on Sam's protest, hoping he wouldn't be followed. He just needed a minute. Just a minute to breathe, to get a grip on his emotions, to get his game face back. He walked through the now-empty lobby and out the door. Caleb used to call this the witching hour, when the day was not yet dead, and the night was clawing for dominance. He said it to them as children to scare them into giggling and as teenagers to get them to pay attention.
Dean turned and walked toward the building with the false front and the red letters scrawling the name Becket's Diner at the top, trying to force back the bitter taste at the back of his throat when he thought of Caleb… and Meg… and the way she'd taken his life. He grasped the iron handle of the entry doors and pulled, ignoring the fleeting thought that everyone leaves… no matter how badly they might want to stay, everyone would eventually leave… including Sam.
The raucous noise of the diner surprised him as he walked into the smoky, dimly-lit interior. He blinked as he looked around, taking in the unexpected environment. Calling the place a "diner" was decidedly deceptive. It was more like… a saloon. Complete with a massive leaded mirror behind the bar, dancing girls on the stage bouncing to an out-of-tune piano, and two billiard tables toward the back.
Dean made his way to the bar, swinging a leg over the barstool and hooking the heels of his black boots on the brass runner. He glanced down and was not surprised to see an actual spittoon a few feet off to his left. The bartender stepped up to him, tossing a white bar towel over his shoulder.
"Get you somethin'?"
"Beer. Whatever's on tap," Dean said, looking at the wiry grey hair and beard, and noticing the man didn't meet his eyes. He looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Grizzly Adams.
The bartender tipped his head down. "Comin' up."
Dean nodded once, then flicked his eyes up to the mirror, surreptitiously looking at the other patrons of the bar. He noticed Maxine off in the corner talking to another man about her age and Clancy the desk clerk. As he cautiously ran his eyes over the other patrons of the saloon, he realized something very strange. He looked over his shoulder at the dancing girls, thinking he was surely wrong, but, no… no, even they looked… older. He was the youngest person in the room by at least twenty years.
"Eyes down, boy," the bartender said in a low voice.
"'Scuse me?" Dean looked back at him, startled.
"People see you looking…"
Dean blinked, lifting a shoulder and offering the bartender a sideways grin. "Just gettin' a lay of the land."
"You know what's good for you, you'll drink your beer, head back to Maxine's, then walk back to Kelly's tomorrow."
Dean narrowed his eyes, sipping his beer, not bothering to ask how the man knew of his situation. "Waiting on a part for my car," he said.
The bartender met his eyes then, and Dean suppressed the urge to shudder. There was a look of such complete hopelessness in the pale brown depths that Dean had to glance away.
"It's not in tomorrow, you find a way to get that car to run without it," the bartender said, then moved back down the bar to wait on another person.
Dean watched him go and shook his head. Dammit, he groaned inwardly, continuing to sip his beer, keeping his eyes down as instructed although it went against every instinct. He couldn't lower the hairs on his neck, couldn't quell the tightening in his gut. There was something going on in this town—something the Winchesters were trained to deal with—and he was purposefully turning his back on it… because of Sam.
On cue, Sam's voice broke into his thoughts.
"1962," he said, his voice low and just off Dean's right ear.
Dean lifted his eyes and met Sam's in the mirror. He said nothing, simply sipped his beer and looked at his brother.
"After you left, I did some checking. News reports, historical records, legal documents, all of it. They stopped in 1962."
Dean kept silent. If he opened his mouth, it would be to agree with Sam, and he needed to keep Sam out of this…whatever this was. Keep him safe. Save him. Watch out for Sammy… Nothing else matters…You would never have pulled that stunt if you knew… The Winchesters boys, together again… Don't be scared, Dean…
"Dean, hey." Sam's hand was on his shoulder, steadying him.
He hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he felt Sam's hand. His beer slid out of his grasp and clunked on the bar. The sudden feeling of vertigo passed as quickly as it had hit him.
"You okay, man?"
Dean licked his lips and nodded once.
"You sure? You looked like…" Sam didn't finish.
Dean felt his brother's eyes on his profile and took a few shallow breaths. He looked back up at Sam in the mirror. Feeling his gaze, Sam slid his hand from Dean's shoulder and met his eyes in the reflection.
"You want me to find out more? I'll find out more," Sam said softly. "You need proof? I'll find proof. But we can't ignore this, man."
Dean dropped his eyes. "Sam," he said, hearing the slight desperation there, and tried again. "Sam, look. Just take it easy, okay?" He slid his eyes over to his brother's face.
Sam was practically radiating nervous energy. Dean could see that if he weren't trying so hard to keep Dean focused on him, he'd be bouncing on the balls of his feet, he was that eager for this hunt.
"There is something going on here, man," he whispered fiercely.
Dean saw the bartender flick his gaze their way, and the muscles in his stomach clenched in warning. He needed to get Sam to shut up, or they were going to be in trouble with the locals.
"Dude, grab a beer, get some food, just… just ease up, okay?"
Dean looked from the bartender back to his brother. He saw a slight flicker of understanding light Sam's eyes. His look telegraphed Are you back? Are you with me?
Dean blinked slow, looked down, then back up at Sam as his brother swung his lanky frame onto the barstool to the right of Dean. He met Sam's pleading gaze and nodded.
I'm with you. I never left you.
"If we're gonna do this, we need some more intel," he said softly so that only Sam could hear. "I'm gonna go hunt up a game." He shifted his eyes to the billiard tables toward the back.
Sam looked over his shoulder, nodded, then back at Dean. "Yeah, okay. But info only, dude. No hustling."
Dean spread his hands wide and grinned an easy grin that he saw Sam reflexively respond to. "Hey, it's me," he said.
"Yeah, that's what worries me." Sam shook his head, his grin staying in place as he signaled the bartender for a beer.
Dean stood, clapping Sam on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Sammy. I won't mess them up too bad."
He stepped away from Sam's incredulous look and walked across the saloon to the billiard tables. He walked up to the nearest table and reached for a cue in the rack against the wall.
"You don't want to do that, boy," said one of the pool players, currently stretched across the table, lining up a shot.
"Oh?" Dean replied, his fingers wrapping around the neck of the cue.
"What you want to do is get your brother and get on out of here."
"Do I?" Dean asked with a lift of his eyebrow, ignoring how spot-on the man's sentence actually was. "And here I thought I wanted to play a friendly game of pool. Go figure."
"There's no winning this game," the man said, sinking the nine ball neatly and straightening up to look at Dean.
Dean felt his chest tighten at the same stark hopelessness in the man's blue eyes that he'd seen in the bartender's. It was as though the town was slowly being strangled to death and the people were powerless to get out, to stop it. They simply had to sit, watch, and wait to die. That was it, Dean realized. The man's eyes held the look of the condemned.
Dean gave him an easy smile but kept his eyes wary, watchful. "Dunno, man. It's not always about winning, you know?"
The man let his pool cue slide through his grip and thump once on the wooden floor, stepping purposefully around the table toward Dean. Dean felt his shoulders tense, but kept still. In his periphery, he saw the other players straighten, turn, and watch.
"It's always about winning," the man said, looking Dean up and down, setting him on edge, readying him for battle. "Especially when you got nothin' to lose."
Dean lifted his chin, eyes darting from the man advancing on him to the three other players who were now approaching. "Is that a fact?"
The man nodded once. "You've been warned. You've been asked to leave. And here you are."
"My mistake," he said, making a move to slide the pool cue back into its rack.
"Buddy, if he shows up," the man glanced quickly from Dean to the player directly across the table from him, then back to Dean, "if he shows up, that mistake could be your last."
"Who?" Dean asked, but he already knew who held the town by its throat in his cold, pale grip.
"There a problem here, gentlemen?" A voice slid past Dean's ears from behind him and, as Dean watched, the four men approaching him froze.
Dean pivoted slightly, wondering briefly where Sam was and if he could see this situation unfolding, and looked at the steely-eyed man standing behind him. He was part of the shadows still. The only things visible were his face and his hands. His eyes blinked calmly at Dean, not looking at the other men.
"Just someone thinking we needed a fifth, Silas," the man who'd been speaking to Dean said in a thin, dead voice.
"Four is a perfect number," Silas murmured, still looking at Dean. "Don't you agree?"
Dean clenched his jaw and lifted a shoulder. He kept his eyes on Silas but didn't pull his attention from the four pool players. "I was always partial to eight myself."
"Interesting," Silas said, his eyes growing hard. "Interesting that you don't agree."
Dean lifted an eyebrow. "I was born disagreeable." Especially if it's with a freaky-assed zombie-vampire man…
He couldn't help himself. The very air the man exhaled was cloaked in darkness. He was the definition of everything Dean hated in a person: controlling, unreasonable, arrogant.
"That will be your downfall, Dean Winchester," Silas said, matching Dean's raised eyebrow.
Dean dropped his chin, not liking the way his name sounded in the man's slippery voice. "That's anyone's guess," he said, keeping his eyes on Silas.
"Well, then," Silas said, his lips tilting up in a cold smile. "You know what to do, gentlemen. We can't have interlopers disrupting the balance of the town, now can we?"
He flicked his gaze to the man who'd been speaking to Dean, and Dean felt the same cold ache flow over him. He blinked once, and Silas was gone, melting back into the shadows as if he'd never been standing there.
Dean pivoted slowly back to the four pool players and gave them a shaky, insincere smile. For the briefest of moments, he saw something close to regret pass through the eyes of the man closest to him, but it was swiftly ejected by the blind obedience and impotent rage that flooded his gaze seconds later.
Dean swung the pool cue that had thus far been held loosely in his left hand into a solid two-handed grip and had just one moment to take a breath and drop into a crouch before they came at him in a rush of anger and desperation. He didn't even have a chance to call for Sam. He was completely focused on staying alive.
He was able to block the first swing of a pool cue with his own, but they came too fast and there were too many of them. The second swing took his wind as it cracked across his back and brought him to his knees. Dean gripped his cue like a bat and swung upward from his disadvantaged position, catching the man who'd talked to him across the face at the temple, felling him.
A blow from behind knocked him off balance, and he fell to his side, the cue rolling out of his grasp. Another blow from a cue hit him across the top of his left arm, and a third caught him on the side as he quickly rolled away from that attacker and into the legs of another, tripping him and bringing him to the ground.
Dean was on him in a flash, straddling his belly and slamming his fist into the stranger's face repeatedly until the man no longer offered resistance. He noticed then that there were other noises above him and looked up from the two bodies he was sprawled between. Sam was there.
He held one man by the shirt collar, twisting it tightly until the man was purple, unable to pull in enough air to do more than claw helplessly at Sam's grip. Sam ducked the swing of the fourth man's pool cue, dodging twice as the follow-through nearly caught him across the temple but missed. Dean stood and grabbed the cue from behind, pulling it from the man's grasp and slamming his bruised fist into the man's surprised face. The man fell, sprawled across his friend.
Sam released the collar of the one he was suffocating and allowed him to pull in a breath. He drew back his left fist and paused just long enough for the man to hold up his hands in surrender and step away. Sam lifted his eyes to Dean, matching his brother pant for pant.
"Told you I wouldn't mess them up too bad," Dean gasped, swaying slightly on his feet as the blows and bruises started making themselves known.
Sam stepped toward him, shaking his head. "I can't take you anywhere," he muttered, putting a hand on Dean's shoulder and turning him toward the door. "Just walk out, man. I'll keep you in a straight line."
Dean nodded appreciatively and began to move forward, realizing for the first time that the other activity in the bar had ceased. As he passed the dancing girls standing still and silent on the stage, he offered them a dazed grin, and one actually smiled back. That made him chuckle. Even in a dying town, he could work the Winchester charm. Maybe he wasn't as far gone as he sometimes feared.
"Hey, Sam?" he said in a low voice as they reached the door, Sam's hand on his shoulder subtly making sure he didn't run into the wall.
"I think there's something weird goin' on in this town," he said.
Sam's frustrated curse in response made Dean smile. He pushed the door open and they stepped outside. The night had completed its takeover and the surrendering day given way to a chorus of stars.
They walked the short distance to the inn with the light of the stars guiding them. Once at their room, Dean leaned tiredly against the wall under the flickering light of the gas-powered lamp while Sam unlocked the door. When Sam pushed the door open, Dean rolled his shoulder around the doorway and literally stumbled to the bed, pushing his duffel to the floor and falling face-first onto the covers.
"Dean," Sam said, shutting the door.
Dean ignored him. His back hurt, his shoulder ached, his hand burned, and his side was throbbing. And he was cold. Cold from the inside out.
"Dean, you can't sleep like that," Sam continued, gently jostling Dean's boot. "We need to check you out. Make sure they didn't break anything."
"Didn't break anything," Dean mumbled, his mouth pressed into the comforter. He didn't want to move, to open his eyes. Even the mere act of breathing seemed monumental.
"Dean," Sam said again.
"Oh, for the love of God, Sam," Dean said, exasperated. He rolled carefully onto his back, suppressing the overwhelming urge to groan. "I. Am. Fine."
"I saw that guy hit you with the pool cue, man." Sam raised an eyebrow. "You're not fine."
Three guys, three pool cues…
Dean knew this was another battle he wasn't going to win. His big brother is always right track record was teetering on dangerous ground. He blinked twice at Sam, who stood at the foot of his bed, his knees resting against Dean's boots, blinking back.
"Fine," Dean grumbled and slowly pushed himself up, giving in to the low groan of pain as he did so. Damn his back hurt. "Nothin's broken, though."
He struggled out of his jacket, dropping it onto the floor, followed by his long-sleeved blue shirt. A darkening mark had appeared just below the sleeve of his t-shirt on his arm where the cue had caught him. He knew that was going to be a bruise by morning. Taking a deep breath, he reached up with his good arm and grabbed his shirt behind his head, between his shoulder blades, and pulled it off.
He heard Sam hiss in sympathy before the shirt hit the floor. He braced himself for the pressure of his brother's fingers across his back as he verified that no ribs were broken. To distract himself, Dean let his mind wander, thinking about what Sam had said when he came into the bar, thinking about the fact that the town was just… just old. The youngest person he'd seen so far had to be in their late forties. The make and models of the cars. The gas-powered lamps in the hall. And, finally, Silas—
"Dammit, Sam! Easy!" he gasped as Sam's fingers probed directly over the bruised skin.
"Nothing's broken, but you're gonna be pretty sore tomorrow," Sam said, straightening up.
Dean glared at him. "You did that on purpose," he complained as Sam sat on the opposite bed, shrugging out of his own coat.
"What?" Sam asked innocently, his eyes betraying him.
"I admitted to the weird. You should be happy, not torturing me." Dean toed off his boots and shifted out of his jeans. He pulled the covers back and slid between the sheets in his boxers, enjoying the feel of the cool cotton against his skin.
"Why'd you fight it so hard?"
Dean eased his head back into the pillow. His stomach growled once, reminding him that all he'd had for nourishment that day was a pint of beer. He ignored it, shifting his eyes to Sam, who sat fully clothed on his bed, his eyes on Dean, waiting.
Dean sighed. What could he say that would satisfy his brother? That would stop the questions, even if just for a little while?
"I don't know, man, I just… how many bullets can we dodge, you know?"
Sam narrowed his eyes, tilting his head to the side. "Dean, you were the one… you're the one who is always telling me that this is our job."
Dean sighed and lifted his bare arm to rest over his eyes. "I know. It is. But…" It only takes one time, Sam… one wrong move, one bad choice… And I lose… I lose you…
Dean felt Sam hold his breath, felt him wait, and remained silent. He breathed a silent sigh of relief when Sam seemed to concede the match for the moment. He reached over to flick off the light next to Dean's bed, then stood.
"Get some sleep, man," he said, looking down at Dean. "We got some work ahead of us in the morning… if that part for the Impala isn't in."
Dean blinked once at Sam and felt his eyes slide shut. It was rare he actually felt himself fall into sleep. He was such a light sleeper that it was simply a change of perception for him. But tonight he felt the tumble and the weightless sensation that accompanied the loss of consciousness.
The dream seemed to start right away, although in reality hours had passed. Enough hours that Sam had left him to run across the street to the small market for sandwich fixings, returned to research a lead on Wells, Wyoming, and crawled into bed himself, working his wired body into a state of rest.
I think I was in a car accident… I need to find my dad and brother…
That's your MO… mask all that nasty pain… mask the truth…
The images were disjointed, blurry, the words alternately increasing and fading in volume like someone had their hand on the dial and wanted to torture him by letting him hear only parts of the song.
I won't hunt this demon… not until we know Dean's okay…
How do you think angry spirits are born…
They don't need you… not like you need them…
He saw his father, he saw Sam, he felt pain, he felt confusion, he saw a dark-haired girl with yellow eyes, he saw another dark-haired girl with red eyes.
You did that… and you didn't complain, not once…
It's my sandbox… I can make you see what I want you to see…
I am so proud of you…
He tried to move, tried to breathe, tried to fight his way free, but he was pinned to the wall, he was trapped in a bed with a tube burning his throat, he was backed against a wooden beam, he was standing beneath a devil's trap.
Today's your lucky day, kid…
You're all lit up with pain… After all, you loved him so much…
It's an honorable death…
He knew what was coming; he could see it. In his dreams, he remembered. He knew the girl with the yellow eyes and remembered the haunting words at the crossroads.
Killing this demon comes first, before me, before everything…
You wake up and the first thing you think is, "I can't do this anymore"…
You shouldn't have had to say that to me, I should have said that to you…
It's good to hear from you, man—it hasn't been the same without you…
You wouldn't have pulled this stunt if you knew…
He knew he'd lose the memory when he woke, that he had to stop it now, in the dream, but it hurt… it hurt so much. He felt his lungs tighten… he felt as though something were digging into his chest, pulling his heart from him with fingers of vengeance.
It's all your fault…
Dean is dying, and you have a plan…
You took care of Sammy, you took care of me…
I can bring him back, just as he was… you would get ten long years together…
You're not the first soldier I've plucked from the field…
I think you're here and, if you are, don't make fun of me for this, okay…
It was coming. He knew what was next. He knew…
Aren't you gonna do anything… Aren't you even gonna say anything…
Don't be scared, Dean…
I gave everything I ever had…
No, sir… not before everything…
He didn't want the truth, he didn't want to see it again, to hear the silent screams of his father in a hell he couldn't imagine, but he was powerless, he couldn't move, couldn't fight against the pain as he was made to watch, made to hear, made to understand, and he screamed as the fingers tightened, fought against the pain with everything in him, finally able to reach, to grasp, to wrap his fingers around his father's wrist as his still-beating heart lay in his father's hands.
Sam had watched Dean fight the dream again, pulled from sleep by the tortured sounds coming from the bed next to him. He wanted to wake him, to stop it, but he couldn't. He couldn't bear to see that destroyed look in his brother's eyes. Eyes that had steadied him through the worst moments of his life: through physical pain, through heartache, through loss, through disappointments. And now… Sam was cursed to sit by and helplessly watch as Dean fought against a force that couldn't be exorcised.
This time when Dean sat forward, reaching out, Sam held still in the dark, keeping his breathing measured and even, his eyes closed. He heard Dean's shuddering breath as he worked to orient himself, his quiet groan of pain as he eased back on the bed, and the rustle of sheets as he adjusted himself back to sleep. Sam waited until his brother's breathing evened out once more, then rolled to his side, his eyes on Dean's still form.
Dean lay on his stomach, one hand under his pillow, the other canted at an odd angle across his back. He always looked to Sam like he was prepared to grab anyone sneaking up behind him. How he ever relaxed was beyond Sam.
He watched the faint starlight dance across Dean's features and forced himself to match his brother's rhythmic breathing. In minutes, he was asleep.
Sam awoke to the sound of the shower, groggily blinking his eyes at his wristwatch: 6:07. It was early, even for him. Then he realized that he'd actually slept, through the night, no nightmares. As he heard the shower shut off, Sam grimaced. Dean was the one holding the corner on the nightmare market these days. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, yawned, and sat up, watching the bathroom door. Dean exited in a billowing cloud of steam, a blue towel wrapped around his waist and water beading on his chest and shoulders.
"'Bout time you woke up, Princess," he said, his voice rough from lack of use.
He padded over to his bed, turning his back to Sam and digging through the duffel for clothes. Sam winced at the large bruise that spanned his brother's back from left shoulder to right hip.
"Dude, your back," he said in a tight voice.
Dean didn't look over at him. He simply lifted a shoulder, dropped his towel, and pulled on his clothes in the same quick, efficient manner he did everything that simply had to be done.
"Looks worse than it feels," he said, zipping his bag, then reaching stiffly for the duffel of weapons with his bruised hand. "If you're gonna get a shower, get goin'."
"You in a hurry?"
At that, Dean did look over his shoulder at Sam. "You bet your ass," he said, lifting an eyebrow. "You practically sprained something convincing me that we're stuck in Weirdsville, Wyoming. So, let's get to un-weirding it."
Sam grinned and scooted out of bed. "I found some stuff last night," he started as he moved toward the bathroom.
"Yeah, I know," Dean said, walking across the room and reaching for the bread and peanut butter Sam had set on the small table in the corner of the room. "I saw it this morning."
Sam paused in the doorway. This morning? "How long you been up?"
Dean shrugged, stuffing half the sandwich into his mouth and chewing noisily. "A while," he said around the peanut butter. "Go on, man. This town isn't going to get any less creepy waitin' on you."
Sam stared at him another moment, watching as he stuffed a second sandwich into his mouth. He looked normal; he looked fine. But there was something… hidden in Dean's eyes.
Sam blinked. "What?"
"Quit staring at me like that, dude." Dean took a swig from the water bottle.
Sam shook his head and started to duck into the bathroom. "Sorry," he muttered automatically.
"They have any coffee at that place you picked this stuff up?"
"No," Sam said.
He suppressed a shudder at the thought of coffee. He'd never said anything to Dean, but he didn't think he'd be able to drink coffee again anytime soon. The smell alone triggered the memory of Dad lying still and quiet on the hospital floor.
"And I don't think we'll be welcome back at Becket's anytime soon," he continued as he closed the door.
"True," Dean answered.
Through the door of the bathroom, Sam could hear the smile in his brother's voice. He shook his head. Those men could have killed Dean, but because he walked away in one piece, he was grinning about it. Sam finished showering and stepped out into the main room to find Dean peering at the screen of the laptop. He blinked. Dean wasn't the 'sit still and research' type. That was Sam's role.
"Who are you and what have you done with my brother?"
Dean pulled a face at him. "Shut up," he grumbled. "You think he's a zombie?"
"Who's a zombie?" Sam stepped over to his bed and pulled out a blue T-shirt with a greyhound on it, a long-sleeved white shirt, and the cleanest pair of jeans he owned.
Need to find a laundromat sometime…
"Silas," Dean said, taking another drink of water.
"As in the Silas that pretty much told those guys to kick your ass last night? That Silas?"
"That'd be the guy."
"Okay, fine. Well, not a zombie… no sign of unholy ground," Sam said, pulling on his clothes and heading over to the table for his own peanut butter sandwich breakfast. "A vampire?"
Dean shook his head, tapping the down arrow on the laptop. "Already thought of that."
"We're sure he's not human?" Sam needed to be certain. He needed to know Dean had felt the same aching cold around the man that he had.
Dean lifted an eyebrow and glanced up at Sam, "Are you seriously doubting it, man?"
Sam shook his head. "Nah, just throwing it out there." He sat down across from Dean, pulling the pad of paper he'd scrawled on last night toward him and stuffing part of his sandwich into his mouth.
Dean tipped his chin toward the pad of paper. "You jotted down a bunch of stuff there about 1962," he said.
Sam shoved the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and nodded, flipping the pages until he found a clean sheet. "Figured on doing a timeline," he said around a mouthful of peanut butter. He started drawing a line and began numbering at 1900.
"So…" Dean said, squinting back at the screen. "Near as I can tell, Wells, Wyoming, was a prosperous town back in the day until someone came in, bought up all the businesses, and started running things his way. Built that freaky house on the hill and everything."
"Sound familiar?" Sam said, watching Dean shake his head slowly.
"Yeah, like every friggin' western I've ever seen," Dean mumbled, scrolling more. "Dude…"
"What?" Sam stopped writing, his head coming up.
"You are never gonna believe this," Dean said, lifting a brow.
"I wouldn't bet on that," Sam answered, resting the pen against his cast.
"Wells wasn't always Wells," Dean said, his eyes flicking up quickly to meet Sam's and then back to the screen.
"Prior to 1957, the town was named Sweet Water. Until…" Dean paused, cocking his head to the side as if he'd heard something.
"Until what?" Sam prompted.
"Until Silas Wells came to town," Dean said, eyebrows up.
"Huh." Sam tipped his head back, absorbing that information.
"Says here he and his wife, uh… Jenny, and their twins moved to town shortly after the babies were born and… oh, nice, Silas inherited a large sum of money." He glanced off to the side, his brows pulling together, then returned to reading. "Dead grandparent, apparently. He became obsessed with control and power, building the House On Haunted Hill and buying up all the businesses." Dean pulled his eyebrows together and looked over his shoulder. "What is that?"
"Don't you hear it?"
Sam shook his head. "What?"
"That… scratching." Dean turned his head back toward Sam, reaching for the top of the laptop screen and pulling it toward him. "It sounds like—" His eyes widened.
Sam blinked at the look of shock on Dean's normally guarded face. It wasn't until he saw Dean looking at the pad of paper on the table that he looked down himself and saw it. His right fingers were gripping the pen and his hand was moving over the paper, his cast creating a rough sound as it slid over the paper.
Sam gasped and shook his arm. He couldn't let go of the pen. He shook his arm again, and Dean reached over and pulled the pen from his grip. Released from the bizarre hold, Sam shot to his feet, knocking his chair back to the floor.
"Dude, what the hell," he breathed, holding his right hand in his left.
"You okay?" Dean asked, throwing the pen in the wastebasket quickly, as if afraid it would take over his hand next.
"I-I didn't even... feel anything, man," Sam said, looking at his own hand in horror. His eyes went from Dean's worried face back to his hand, then to the paper. "I didn't even know…" He started to breathe harder, trying unsuccessfully to calm his racing heart.
"Easy, Sam, take it easy," Dean said, standing slowly, patting the air with his hand. He took a step forward and grabbed onto Sam's upper arms, rotating him so he could sit down on the bed.
"Dean, I—I didn't—"
"Just take it easy," Dean said. "We've seen this before, okay?" Dean crouched in front of Sam, forcing him to drop his gaze in order to meet his brother's eyes.
"We have?" Sam felt the trembling in his chest ease as his eyes were caught and held by Dean's steadying gaze.
"Automatic writing," Dean said, pressing his lips together.
"But, Dean," Sam shook his head, "that's usually people in… catatonic states, or daydreaming, or…something."
"Well, let's just see what message you channeled from beyond the veil, Zelda," Dean said, clapping a reassuring hand on Sam's knee and standing up. He pivoted toward the table and reached for the pad of paper.
Sam kept his eyes pinned to his brother's face, watching for a sign of reassurance. Instead, he saw fear. "Dean?"
Dean's throat worked convulsively and, for a moment, Sam was afraid the three peanut butter sandwiches his brother had inhaled were going to reappear.
"Dean, what is it?"
"Sam." Dean's voice was thin, strained. "Did I say anything last night?"
"What do you mean?"
"When I was sleeping." Dean didn't lift his eyes from the pad of paper. His hand was frozen in the act of reaching.
"No." Sam shook his head, dropping his right hand from his protective grasp and standing up. "No, man, nothing."
"But I-I know I… I know I dreamed." Dean's voice was soft, but he still didn't look at him.
Sam watched the muscle in his brother's cheek twitch as he stepped closer. It was the first time since the dreams began that Dean admitted to having them…to knowing that Sam was aware he had them.
"Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, you dreamed. Just like every night… Why?"
Dean didn't answer. Sam looked down at the pad of paper. Written in a scrawl that was decidedly not Sam's handwriting, at odd angles on the paper, was the phrase: It's all your fault. Over and over until the page was practically filled.
Sam looked at his brother, then back at the paper. "Dean, tell me about your dream," he said softly, reading the scrawl again.
"I can't," Dean whispered. He had yet to drop his hand, to blink, to look away from the words.
"No, man," Dean said, and Sam pulled his eyes up to his brother's pale face. "I can't. I don't remember."
Sam pulled his eyebrows together. "Then why did you say…?"
As he watched, Dean's hand began to tremble. Sam started to reach out to him, to offer some kind of connection, some kind of balance, but Dean fisted his trembling hand and dropped it at his side. He pulled in a breath and took a step back from the table. Then he lifted his eyes to Sam, and Sam felt his stomach turn to ice at the emptiness he saw there. It was the look he avoided every night.
"I remember parts of it," Dean said. "Sometimes. But those words," he jerked his head to the paper, "are from the crossroad demon."
Sam swallowed. "Oh."
So Dean dreamed about the crossroad demon… Sam had suspected as much, but he knew that wasn't the whole of it. Dean had been suffering in the night since they had been at Bobby's. Sam knew it was more than just the confirmation of his father's deal that disturbed his brother's sleep.
Dean turned his back to the table and walked across the room, crossing his arms over his chest. He began to pace, a set eight-step pattern back and forth across the far end of the room. Sam slowly sat down at the table in the chair Dean had vacated, watching, waiting.
"So, what are we dealing with here?"
Sam took a breath. "Vengeful spirit?"
"A spirit that knows what the crossroad demon said to me?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "Maybe… maybe there's a way it sees us… sees you…"
Dean pulled at his lower lip. "Well, that's a cheery thought."
"I'm reaching, man, but… automatic writing is usually a way for the spirit to communicate, right? To try to tell the physical world something?"
"So, what if what this spirit wants to tell us is that it can get to us?"
Dean paused halfway through his pattern. "Okay, that's just all kinds of wrong."
"You're telling me."
"Why would it care?"
"Maybe," Sam looked over at the screen on the laptop, the newspaper article Dean had left onscreen catching his eye. It was about the construction of the house up on the hill above the town. "Maybe it's threatened…" he said, scrolling down the article.
"What?" Dean asked at his silence.
"Dean, you notice how there isn't anyone around here younger than us?"
Dean nodded, turning to face Sam, his legs braced apart as if waiting for a blow. He didn't come closer to the table, though, Sam saw. Sam casually reached over and flipped the pages of notes from the night before over to cover the lines of text. Dean stayed where he was, but his stance relaxed somewhat.
"Well, you want to know what happened in 1962?"
"I'm guessing old Silas got himself whacked," Dean muttered.
Sam tilted his head. "Only, he did the whacking. Says here that he called a town meeting, cursed the town for thinking they could thrive without his, uh, influence, returned to his house where his wife and children were waiting… then… hung himself in front of them. Ew." He looked up at Dean. "Guess the house has been deserted ever since."
"Does the article say what the curse was?"
Sam scanned the article, then shook his head. "But I'm willing to bet on black magic. I mean, if you think about it, that was…what, forty-four years ago? You see anyone that could be younger than forty-four?"
Dean shook his head.
Sam sighed, then flipped the lid of the computer shut, looking over at his brother. "We need to go check out that house."
Dean was chewing on his bottom lip, staring a hole into the floor. He nodded. "After we head back and check on the car."
"Dean, it's, like, an hour walk in both directions."
"So, we could check out the house first, get that out of the way, then go check on the car," Sam lifted a brow at his brother's stubborn expression. "We could have this whole thing wrapped this afternoon if we find this guy's bones and burn 'em."
Dean stared at him a moment longer, then shook his head. "You better be right about this, Sam."
As they grabbed the weapons they thought they'd need, neither vocalized the doubt they felt that this job was going to be that easy. Sam couldn't quell the feeling they were being watched, and the automatic writing… the words that shook his brother… how had the ghost known? As they walked down the deserted corridor, a thought struck Sam. "Dean," he breathed.
"He… he touched the paper." Sam reached out and stopped Dean's stride by grasping his arm. Dean winced slightly, and Sam remembered his bruise. "Sorry."
"What paper? What are you talking about?"
"When we checked in," Sam said, dropping his head so his eyes met Dean's. He saw Dean remember, saw him realize the possible implications…
After a second, Dean shrugged and waved a dismissive hand in the air. "Doesn't matter, Sam. He died at the house. The house is where we start." He moved forward through the empty lobby and to the door. "But if we get to Kelly's and there is one scratch on my baby, I'll have your ass for making me wait," he tossed over his shoulder.
The walk out of town was much like their arrival the night before. When they reached the end of the street and continued walking, Sam heard some commotion behind him and turned to look over his shoulder. Maxine stood just outside of Becket's Diner, her flinty eyes on them. She wore the same clothes she'd had on the day before. He saw her cross herself, then turn and walk quickly up the street, past her hotel, past the rest of the buildings, in the opposite direction of the boys. He realized after a moment that she was walking to Kelly's.
"Dude, I feel like John Wayne in High Noon," Dean muttered.
Sam turned back to pay attention to where they were walking. "Gary Cooper," he said automatically.
Sam looked over at his brother. "Gary Cooper was in High Noon."
"Whatever," Dean scoffed, twisting his mouth into a disbelieving grin.
Sam lifted his eyebrows, slightly buoyed by actually knowing a movie Dean didn't. "Dude, I'm telling you, Gary Cooper saves the town. Marries Grace Kelly. Rides off into the sunset."
Dean shook his head. "Are you high? It was John Wayne."
They were getting closer to the house, and Sam saw there was a set of four stairs leading up to a wraparound porch. The double front doors were filled with leaded glass, and there were ten-foot double windows flanking either side of the front doors.
"Bet me," Sam said as he scanned the windows on the first floor before lifting his eyes to the stories above. He could see Dean doing the same out of the corner of his eye. Both pulled their shotguns from the protection of their jackets and held them loosely at their sides.
"Fine," Dean said. "But it's a fool's bet."
"We'll see about that," Sam muttered as they reached the stairs. "When I win, I get to listen to whatever music I want… in the Impala… for a week."
Dean looked at him, a slight grin pulling up his mouth. "All right, Samantha. What about when I win?"
They climbed the wide staircase in unison. "What do you want?"
"You called the bet, man."
Sam thought quickly. "Okay, if you win… I'll, uh… wash and wax the Impala."
Dean's eyes widened, and he looked like a kid who had been denied the one Christmas present he always wanted. Sam might as well have just said he'd paint the Impala purple.
"It's like you don't even know me," Dean said with a shake of his head.
He put his arm out, automatically moving Sam behind him, and lifted his right foot, slamming it against the locked double doors. Standing in front of Sam, he paused for a split second to check for anything coming out at them before entering the room.
That second saved their lives.
The explosion from the tripwire behind the doors was meant to obliterate anyone standing in the entrance of the house. As it was, the blast hit Dean first, knocking him with force into Sam and propelling both of them off the porch and over the stairs, landing them in a tangled heap of limbs in the yard below.
Stranglehold by Ted Nugent
Hair of the Dog by Nazareth