This started out as a block beater, but it ran away with me. Well, we'll see where this leads …
I hope Ridley doesn't mind me using her Caleb again. I can't help myself. He's such fun!
Naturally, I don't own supernatural, or its characters.
This is also for Supernoodle. Merry Xmas pal.
Dean tried to move forward, tried to push past the pain that threatened to shut him down. He took another hard won step forward; one arm braced against his ribs the other supporting him against the wall.
One more step had him crashing to his knees, painfully. As much as he could, Dean kept his weight to his left leg, but the damage had been done and he couldn't stop the moan that escaped his tight throat. He swiftly slid so he sat on his butt, trying to stretch his injured leg out before him and ignoring the mess he was getting on his favourite jacket.
Breathing hard, Dean wondered just when the night had gone so bad.
Caleb watched his friend through narrowed eyes. It had been three months since Sammy had left – three months since the smile had slipped from Dean's face and the sparkle had faded from his eyes.
The younger man put on a good front for his dad, nodding in the right places, doing as he was told as always, but Dean was unusually quiet. He reminded Caleb of a withdrawn little boy with blond hair and large, sad eyes. It was a painful image and not one he ever thought he'd see again.
Dean felt his stare and lifted his head, but the frown of annoyance, and its accompanying smartass remark, was horribly absent.
Before Caleb could say anything to break the ever-present silence, the door to the nearly empty bar banged open to admit John Winchester.
Caleb caught Dean's frozen flinch, before the younger man lowered his eyes to his barely touched beer bottle.
"Boys," John greeted them in his low voice. "We've got a lead."
Caleb whistled as they drove up to the old house. Beside him, Dean continued to stare out at the rain and frustrated, Caleb punched his shoulder.
"Dude, look at the state of this place!"
Dean turned complacently to do so, receiving another punch for his trouble.
"Snap out of it, man, we got a job to do."
Dean shot him a glance, but simply opened his door and disappeared into the rain. Caleb sighed, banged his head against the steering wheel once and followed his friend.
John watched his eldest son step into the rain. He didn't appear to notice the weather, simply waited for his next instructions.
As much as he loved his boys, John couldn't abide moping. He'd given Dean some space and a bit of grace, because he knew his leaving had hit the older boy hard, but enough was enough. It was time for Dean to get his head back in the game before someone got themselves hurt.
John spared both boys a quick glance as he exited his truck, before turning back to the run down house.
"My contact told me the body was buried here. I'll take the grave; think you two can handle the spirit?"
"Piece of cake," Caleb shrugged, both he and the elder Winchester waiting for an agreement from Dean that never came.
"Dean," John pressed.
His oldest turned those remarkably expressive eyes towards him and John felt that funny little twist in his gut he seemed to get more and more often these days. Dean was calling out to him without words and John didn't have the time or energy to answer him. Each time the boy looked at him, it felt as if Dean were four again and begging John to make it better, to bring back mummy.
Only, Dean hadn't spoken to him for months once John had explained that he couldn't and John hadn't the strength to disappoint his little boy again when Dean's eyes asked him to bring back Sammy.
"Get your game face on, son," he grunted. "I'm not picking up your slack again."
Dean hid the pain well from his father, who was staring at the house once more, but Caleb thought he saw the flicker of emotion that Dean seemed to shrug off, letting it slide from him as easily as the rain ran down his jacket. Caleb frowned unhappily.
Dean and John had an emotional hit and miss relationship, based on hero-worship on Dean's part and fear of loving him on John's, as if the emotion would strip away his ability to distance himself. And if John was going to send the kid out as a soldier of his own personal war, the father in him needed to be able to shut his eyes.
John and Dean were a minefield at the best of times, with Dean defending his dad on any subject, but the exit of Sam confused Dean's black and white rigid certainties, smudging the edges of where he thought his place was marked. No longer able to follow the guidelines, Dean was simply and sadly lost.
The kid didn't know how to blame his father for sending his brother away, didn't know how to blame Sam for making it impossible for John. Caleb knew exactly how to blame the both of them for messing Dean up so badly he could barely function.
John, and more importantly Sam, had given him something to be proud of and now that was gone, taken away in the cruellest of ways. Dean understood he was being punished. He understood he had done something wrong. He just didn't know what.
Sam and John. Caleb would have liked ten minutes alone with each of them.
As it was, he was alone and dealing with a shell-shocked, numb and increasingly dangerous to himself Dean Winchester.
The two younger men left John outside and entered the building. Almost immediately, the hairs on the back of Caleb's neck prickled and he could feel the cold enter his lungs, burning with each breath.
"He's certainly aware we're here," he huffed. "We haven't even done anything yet."
Dean gave his standard issue non-grunt of agreement and Caleb fought hard not to sigh. Sighing had been more Sam's bag, after all. It was unnerving, Caleb had rarely found himself on a different wavelength to Dean before and these days he found himself sighing in frustration with alarming regularity.
So caught up with these thoughts, Caleb almost missed the signs as Dean's movements tightened, his body tensed and then the younger man was sprinting through the hall and into the far room.
Caleb raced after him just in time to see Dean blast his shotgun at the emaciated form of Kain Walsh. Dean turned to him with an imitation of his cocky, shit-eating grin and Caleb answered with one of his own.
Dean's expression turned deathly serious with a suddenness that Caleb appreciated as he levelled his gun at him. "Drop!"
Caleb did without hesitation, hearing Dean's shot blast through the space he had previously occupied as Kain reappeared behind the younger hunter.
Caleb scrambled to his feet as the spirit shrieked and sent Dean through the air.
"Dean!" Caleb shouted again as the man crashed into the bottom of the wall.
Sitting up, Dean let out a harsh burst of laughter. This was the first time in weeks he had been able to feel anything other than the gaping hole left by his brother's abandonment and he gasped through the last of the short laugh, relishing the pain. He stood unsteadily, gathered his bearings and his balance and spread his arms wide.
"Come on, you son of a bitch! Take another shot!"
The second spirit, the one who had initially taken to Caleb, appeared beside Kain and the psychic groaned when he realised it was Helen Walsh, the wife supposedly murdered by her husband upon finding his dark secret and store of decomposing bodies.
Either she was amazingly forgiving or in on the whole thing from the start.
Dean shouted again, taunting the two, before telling Caleb to find John and tell him to find where Helen now lay.
Caleb started to protest but Dean, looking the most animated he had all night, shouted that they didn't have time to argue. If he kept them busy, like the original plan, Caleb and John would have time to find Helen's grave too, without the benefit of a pissed off spirit breathing down their necks and trying to find some walls to throw them against.
Despite his better judgement and mainly because Dean had engaged the ghosts again by reloading and blasting Helen, Caleb threw his gun to his friend and sprinted out the house.
As Caleb left, Kain lifted Dean up, the hunter unable to bring the loaded gun into play. Naturally, the previous owners of the haunted building had left their immense wall cabinet behind.
Kain, just as naturally, found it perfect for bashing unwelcome visitors upon.
Duck and cover, Dean told himself as his body hit the furniture solidly. Landing hard, the wind chased from his lungs, Dean watched as the cabinet wobbled above him.
He hesitated, remembering actually being able to feel something other than loss. He began to curl into the foetal position, lifting his arms to shield his head as the monstrosity fell on him, glass slicing in several places.
Desperately trying to encourage oxygen back into his lungs, Dean was pulled abruptly from beneath the wreckage. Twisting mid air, he could see Helen had reappeared beside her late husband and had taken over. She gave him a smile before casting him casually aside, as if bored of a new toy.
Dean's back found the old wooden table as he slammed into it from the force of Kain's strike and he rolled off it from momentum, knocking his right knee with such force he suspected he might have knocked the patella out of alignment if only briefly. Its soaring chorus of pain accompanied the dull throb of bruised ribs from the first pasting he had received and with a soft groan and a wide smile; Dean pulled himself once more to his feet.
Caleb, panting, skidded to a halt before John as he pulled himself out of the grave, asking the younger man what the hell he was doing.
"Two spirits!" Caleb gasped, gesturing towards the house. "Need Helen's grave!"
John didn't waste time questioning the younger hunter; he simply spun on his heel turning back to the half dug grave in the extensive, overgrown lands surrounding the property.
"Go back to Dean!" John ordered over his shoulder as he began to dig once more. "I'll take care of the bodies."
Caleb didn't hang around to argue, sprinting back to the car and plucking his .45 out of the glove box before heading back to the house.
"Deuce!" he bellowed, as the door crashed open in his hurry.
There was no reply and Caleb swallowed his worry to check each room methodically, starting with the end of the corridor where he had last seen the younger Winchester.
Dean had fallen through the rotten floorboards on the third assault.
His damaged knee had screamed silent agony and his ribs had flared angrily but the spirits hadn't followed him. He wasn't naive enough to think that his dad had banished them yet; Dean knew they had assumed him taken care of. Miserably, he acknowledged that he had failed his father; the spirits would attempt to stop John from lighting their remains.
Now he sat on the cold, damp ground of an old tunnel, contemplating all the bad things that had happened since … that night.
An involuntary shiver passed through him and he let his head fall back against the wall with a soft groan. Why did that happen when he let himself be aware of his missing presence? Like he couldn't breathe and like he had too much air all at the same time. He could feel it in his chest. Bubbling, clawing. Building up. Pressing against his sobbing heart, longing to scream and held in by icy iron will. Winchester will; the coldest steel ever forged.
Banishing the feelings to the darkened grave of his soul, Dean caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Lifting his head he frowned, concentrating as a figure moved towards him, far too solid to be a spirit and somehow much more threatening.
Feeling at a distinct disadvantage on the ground, Dean struggled to rise to his feet, favouring his right leg and leaning heavily against the wall. The stranger, a man of his father's age reached him, standing close enough for Dean to insist on his personal space. Far off he heard Caleb call for him and the figure raised a finger to Dean's lips and a gun to his stomach.
Dean blinked sweat out of his eyes and locked gazes with the man before him.
"That won't kill me," he pointed out quietly.
The man smiled slowly. "Not quickly," he replied with apparent relish. "It could take hours. You'll die in terrible pain, son, begging me to end it."
"I don't beg," Dean responded.
The man smiled again. "You sound like him." He swung the gun quickly, catching Dean's temple and causing him to smack the back of his head on the old brick wall. "I never could stand the self-righteous bastard."
Caleb found the hole in the floor with a sense of trepidation. He hadn't seen a trace of the spirits and he knew with a sinking certainty what that meant. Caleb figured John could hold his own for a while at least and peered into the gloom unsure whether to be relieved that Dean wasn't sprawled among the splinters of wood. On one hand, it meant he was obviously very much alive, but on the other …
"Dean?" he called. "Come on, kid, answer me! John's gonna be pissed enough that the ghosts are on his ass without you going MIA."
The haunting whisperings of echoes answered through the tunnel.
"Shit," Caleb complained, dropping through the hole and onto the pile of boards.
"You just can't make my life easy, can you?"
Dean was aware of the cold first.
It crept upon him nerve by nerve, as if submerging slowly into ice water and as he breathed, the sensation seemed to coat the insides of his lungs until every breath bit into his chest.
After the cold came the pain, a sharp ache in his knee and fiery trails across his thigh, abdomen and shoulder.
Then sound returned, lost in the distance at first, but coming ever closer and clearer. Eventually he could hear his own ragged breathing and the groan that escaped his tight throat and when there was nothing else to do but wonder what had happened, Dean opened his eyes.