Disclaimer: They are simply a muse, and sadly don't belong to me. Story title comes from Zeppelin song of the same name. No, I don't own Zeppelin, either. More's the pity.
Spoilers: This is set in Season 2, immediately after Born Under a Bad Sign. Anything before that is fair game.
a/n: This story is dedicated to Nana56 (http // www . fanfiction . net / u / 1121605 / Nana56 -- url spaced out so that it will show up here; remove spaces to see). She bid on me at the 2007 Kazcon author's auction and has been so very patient—I've actually had the outline completed since August of '07, but I've had some promises to keep.
I will be returning the character Abe Nakomis from Ramble On to the boys.
Also, my good friend Tara made a vid to Stone Sour's Bother when I first told her about this story. She has a fantastic eye for images and lyrics and this vid really kicks off Dean's mindset in this story. Here is the link if you'd like to check it out: http // www . youtube . com / watch?v dBQXW-np1Uw (remove spaces to link).
Glad to have you back, Kelly. You're a corker.
And if you feel that you can't go on. And your will's sinkin' low
Just believe and you can't go wrong.
In the light you will find the road. You will find the road…
-- Led Zeppelin, "In the Light"
"When Dad said I might have to kill you… it was only if I couldn't save you. And if it's the last thing I do… I'm gonna save you."
It was something about the eyes. They looked too human and yet not human enough. They stared at him with an unsettling mixture of sadness and curiosity. If he could have spoken, he would have demanded that the eyes close, that they stop staring, that they look away.
But they continued to stare. They watched as he wavered. They watched as he fell. They watched as he clutched his chest, violently, as if trying to pull his skin apart and open his lungs to the air. They watched as he writhed, as every devastating moment in his life slammed into him, as every wicked deed and unholy thought he'd experienced chased red ribbons of blood across his vision.
They watched as he cried, as he pleaded silently for release, as life trickled away from him with the faint echo of a hurricane in his heart.
Sam was shivering.
Dean sensed the tremor across the bench seat, the darkness not thick enough to hide the nightmares that swirled around his brother's head in clouds so dense Dean imagined he could reach out and brush them away.
He folded his lips against his teeth, knowing that memories couldn't be blocked in sleep, and the memories that had to be plaguing Sam couldn't be pretty. Dean didn't even know all that had happened to his brother in the time they'd been separated. Only that Sam had taken a life. Had seen himself kill a man and had been powerless to stop it. Had shot his own brother then beat him nearly senseless.
Pressing the back of his fingers gently against his bruised lip and tender nose, Dean cast a look over to Sam's bandaged arm, currently draped across his midsection. He knew the burn had to be painful, but there wasn't anything they could do about it until they got to Plummer.
They had been traveling North on Highway 59 for several hours after pulling over at a rest stop for some abbreviated sleep. The day was fading into evening; a gray twilight of secrets hovered just outside the confines of the car. Bobby's directions to the safe house were specific, as with everything Bobby provided them.
Once they reached Plummer, they were to travel north on Maine Street to a railroad crossing, turn left just before the tracks, and stop at a small brick house. There they were to ask for an M. Flynn. Dean sighed. He hoped this Flynn was a hunter that hadn't heard of Steve Wandell.
Shifting stiffly in the seat, his shoulder alive with heat left over from Jo's probing knife, Dean wriggled his tense fingers into his jacket pocket, rubbing the smooth surface of the charm Bobby had given them for protection from possession.
"Stop…" Sam gasped suddenly, hands flailing out, catching his body against the dash and the window.
Dean jerked his eyes over. "Stop?"
"What?" Sam blinked, looking at Dean with the hazy confusion of waking dreams still clouding his eyes.
"You need me to stop?"
"Uh… no," Sam shook his head. "No, I…"
Sam rubbed his eyes. "Think so."
"Vision bad? Or…"
"Nah…" Sam rolled his neck, pushing himself straighter in the seat. "Just a dream."
Dean checked his side mirror, pulling past a car in front of them that was slowing to turn right, then gunning straight ahead.
Sam watched the car turn, then looked around them. "Where are we?"
"'Bout twenty miles outside of Plummer," Dean answered, reaching for the radio. Now that Sam was back with him, he needed the distraction of the music. He punched the pre-set buttons until he found a clear station.
"I've been trying to make it home… got to make it, before too long. Ooh, I can't take this very much longer, no. I'm stranded, in the sleet and rain. Don't think I'm ever gonna make it home again…"
"What were we hunting in West Texas?"
Dean glanced to his right, not quite at Sam. "You don't remember?"
"Was it a Death Spirit?"
"Or so we thought," Dean bobbed his head to the beat of the song.
"Did… did we get it?" Sam turned slightly in the seat, facing his brother.
Dean shook his head, shifting his shoulders and bouncing his fingers on the wheel.
"Hope there's a bar in this town," Dean said, avoiding the subject.
Sam exhaled, his body bowing forward slightly with frustration. "I want to remember, Dean."
"Really?" Dean asked, skeptical. He lifted his eyebrow, turning his head as he did so. "You already said you were awake for some of it… saw what happened with Wandell. You really want to remember?"
"Yeah," Sam barked. "Yeah, I do, Dean. I want to know how I left you. How you let me leave you."
Dean winced inwardly. "Hey, you're a big boy. You're the one always telling me you can take care of yourself."
He took the exit to Plummer, digging the paper out of his pocket where Bobby had written directions to the safe house, double-checking the name of the street where they were to turn. Glancing at it quickly, he caught Sam's tortured expression in his periphery.
"Sammy," he sighed, giving in. "Don't do this, man. She possessed you. Nothing you could do about it."
"Yeah, there was," Sam grumbled. "How did I let that happen?"
"You're human, Dude," Dean reminded him. "Happened to Dad, too, remember."
Sam rubbed his face, glancing at his bandaged forearm. "Yeah, I know."
Dean slowed along Maine Street as a blue and white neon sign flashing Maggie's Hideout caught his eye. Pausing for one moment to consider the time, the need to hide for a while from Steve Wandell's hunter friends, the need to rest up, heal, the need to help Sam get over a missing week of his life, Dean pulled into the parking lot.
The building looked a little like Harvelle's Roadhouse, only newer, sturdier. There were Harleys parked outside, rolled backwards against a hitching rail for easy escape. The 'a' in Maggie's blinked in and out, and Dean could hear the fuzz of the shorted sign like a bug zapper over the rumble of the Impala's engine.
"What are we doing here?" Sam asked, frown lines aging his features.
"Getting a beer, hopefully," Dean replied, shutting off the motor. "Don't know 'bout you, but I could use one."
The pain pills Jo had tossed him had worn off long ago, and he hadn't bothered with another while Sam was watching. He couldn't tell if Sam remembered shooting him, and until Sam was steadier, he didn't want to remind him.
"You sure we should go somewhere public, Dean?" Sam's voice was clipped with worry.
"No one but Bobby knows we're even here, Sam," Dean retorted. He curled his fingers around the door handle. "And besides, we gotta find this Flynn dude to get into the safe house."
"Thought he'd meet us there," Sam said, still not moving.
Dean dropped his shoulders, resting his chin on his chest for a minute. Tension sat like a third party on the seat between them. Dean heard Sam swallow, felt the unabashed fear roll off his brother, washing over Dean in waves. Putting his back to the door, Dean faced Sam, staring at him until Sam looked back.
"You're gonna be okay, man," Dean reassured him.
Sam jerked his chin forward once in disbelief. "How the hell do you know that? Were you there when she… when she took me? Possessed me? How the hell did that happen, huh?"
"I don't know how, Sam," Dean said softly. "When we were in Texas, you were you. You were fine. I grabbed a shower, you left for coffee, and…" Dean stretched his hand across the back of the seat, tipping his fingers up helplessly. "You never came back."
It's like looking for Dad all over again… The staccato rush of annoyance, anger, and fear that had beat into Dean when he realized Sam wasn't just late, Sam wasn't just lost, Sam was gone sifted through him with a chaser of heat.
They sat facing each other, lost in memories and darkness.
"So, how do you know it can't happen again?" Sam asked, his voice thick.
Dean reached into his pocket, pulling out the charm. He waggled it, making sure Sam saw, then pulled his mouth into a half grin. "Hey, listen," he cajoled. "Couple hours of pool and beer and you'll forget all about Meg. C'mon," Dean tipped his head toward the outside. "I'll even let you hustle me."
Sam grinned half-heartedly. "Hey, Dean."
Dean paused from his exit, looking back.
"I'm sorry about… y'know, hitting you."
Dean froze. For a moment every bruise still visible throbbed and those buried deep whimpered with need. He curled his fingers into his palm to keep them from reaching up to his shoulder.
"You remember that?"
Sam shook his head. "Not really, but… unless Bobby beat the crap outta you, figure it was me."
Dean folded his lips, nodding once. Not yet… "Let's go, Fast Eddie."
A ghost of his old smile, dimples making a cameo appearance, crossed Sam's face.
"Does that make you Minnesota Fats?"
The interior of the bar was dimly lit, a halo of cigarette smoke hovering just under the blue and red stained-glass covered lights. The room was shaped like a skeleton key. As they stood at the entrance they could see a bar with a wide mirror to their left, several tables in the center of the room, and a jukebox directly across from the bar. A single pool table and shoulder-height wooden shelves made for beer mugs filled the narrow space of the key.
They had been in a million bars that looked exactly the same. Wooden floors, wooden furniture, wooden people. Once in awhile, a character would step from the gray background and show up in Technicolor, offering one of them—usually Dean—companionship or a mark for a hustle. But for the most part, patrons of a bar blended like the background noise of jukebox music and multiple conversations.
Sharing a glance as they stepped through the door, Dean and Sam parted ways, Sam moving toward the bar, Dean toward the jukebox. He fed a five dollar bill into the slot, poking buttons on the control pad for every classic rock song he could find in the minimal collection. If nothing else, he'd fill the night with something to listen to besides the clinking of glasses, the cracking of billiards, and the muted sounds of the train whistle from the tracks outside.
Dean glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder at Sam settling on a stool at the bar, nodding at the bartender—a middle-aged woman with lined, cautious features, short blonde hair spiked up in tufts, and a visible tattoo on the inside of her right forearm—for a pint. Shifting his eyes back toward the front door, Dean watched the bouncer, who looked too old to do the job, but too tough to do anything else. The man's steel-like eyes slid over the smattering of clientele and Dean knew he missed nothing. His lips were completely shadowed by a wide, white mustache, and his thick-knuckled hands hung loose at his waist, thumbs tucked behind a gold buckle.
It took less than twenty minutes for the brothers to work their way to the pool table, set up the hustle, and run a set of losing games to match Dean's story at being new to this. As the evening lengthened, they drew a small crowd and the sharp eyes of the blonde bartender, but so far, their marks hadn't taken the bait.
"Man, you really do suck." The laugh punctuating the sentence was high-pitched, nervous. It seemed out of place emanating from the stocky, dark-haired man stroking his pool cue as though it was a lover. "You weren't kidding."
Dean offered him a self-deprecating smile, glancing down with a shrug. "Guess I figure the more I play, the more I'll learn."
"Dude, this guy's taken like… a hundred bucks from you," the stocky man guffawed, pointing a stub-like finger at Sam. "Just give up already."
Sam folded the bills Dean had laid on the mahogany edge of the pool table, tucking them into the front pocket of his jeans. He smiled and slid his cue back into the circular stocks at the back of the room.
"He's right," Sam said to Dean. "I've taken enough of your money, friend."
"C'mon, now," Dean protested, putting a hand up and stopping Sam from stepping past him. "You gotta gimme a chance to win some of that back. That's gas and whiskey right there."
Sam's smile was softly sympathetic, but he shook his head. "Know when to say when, man."
He side-stepped Dean, who rotated smoothly as Sam headed to the bar in the adjoining room. Dean bounced the rubber end of the pool cue against the floor.
"Seriously? No?" He called to Sam over the sound of the jukebox.
"Dude," came the high-pitched, nervous voice behind him. "I'll play ya."
Dean watched Sam's shoulders twitch as the line they'd cast caught and held. He turned from his brother's retreating back to face the stocky man, carefully reeling him in.
A hand flashing a ruby-studded gold ring was thrust toward him. "Sal. Sal Jeffers."
Dean clasped his hand. "Vincent Lauria."
"Nice ta meetcha, Vince," Sal grinned, showing a gold tooth. His face held signs that he may have once been attractive before time, booze, and several pounds morphed him into a stereotype. His dark hair was thinning, buzzed short to hide that fact, and his leather jacket creaked with attempted status.
Dean resisted the urge to shake his head.
"That's Jones and Lloyd," Sal said, point to the two men sitting along the back wall, each with a brown bottle of beer in their hands, looking like they had been cut from a piece of cast-off cloth that had created Sal. "This here's Vince, boys. He's gonna…" Sal glanced at Dean. "Learn a few things."
The duo in the back nodded as one, and Dean flicked them a two-fingered salute. Moving around the table, Dean cast a quick glance up to make sure he could see Sam. The muted glow from the covered lights that dangled over the top of the bar threw strange shadows on the floor.
Sam leaned against the bar, his elbows resting lazily as he waited for his order. He watched Dean move hesitantly around the table, continuing his Oscar-worthy performance of a rookie pool player. He'd never confess as much to Dean, but he enjoyed watching his brother play—both pool and people. He enjoyed watching Dean perform; it was something he was good at, and it wouldn't get him killed.
"'Kay, Vince, you ready to see some magic?" Sal stretched over the table, sliding the cue through his tented fingers. "Nine on the break."
Dean's smile was natural as the click of the balls drew his attention away and Sam heard him whistle appreciatively. Sam felt a tug on his shirt and he glanced over his shoulder, nodding his thanks at the woman who set a pint of dark beer down on a small white napkin. He felt her eyes rake over him, as if looking for something. Glancing up, questions balanced at the edge of his lashes, Sam waited until she turned away before returning his attention to Dean.
As he watched, Dean flexed the fingers on his left hand while he waited for Sal to finish his turn. Sam frowned. Something about that motion seemed… off. A pulse began to beat a cadence of pain behind his eyes. Sal missed a pocket, straightening up, and Dean shifted the pool cue up in his hands, rotating his shoulder in an almost unconscious gesture of pain.
Like a movie on a broken reel, images slit Sam's vision with visceral clarity.
No, you'll live… you'll live to regret it…
Sam shook his head, blinking his eyes wide, trying to see the bar once more, and not the image of his brother turning, falling, bouncing off of the floor of a cheap motel.
You can't hurt me...Not without hurting your little brother. See, I think you're gonna die, Dean...you and every other hunter I can find. One look at Sam's dewy, sensitive eyes, and they'll let me right in that door…
"Guh," Sam breathed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He lifted his head, looking for Dean and seeing him…standing on the edge of a dark pier. The sharp, unmistakable retort of a gun made Sam jump. Dean fell away.
Sam ground the flat of his fingers into his eyes, seeing the image of Dean jerk and fall loop through his head, over and over.
"You okay, sugar?"
"What?" Sam blinked wide eyes, looking around. He turned on the bar stool, present surroundings finally coming back into focus.
Electric-green eyes peered at him from under dark eyebrows, the color contrasting sharply with the bleach-blonde hair. The bartender was standing before him, a pint glass in one hand, a towel in the other, paused in the act of drying.
"Said are you okay? Need me to call someone?"
"No," Sam shook his head, taking a hefty drink of the beer in his pint. "No, just… just keep 'em coming."
"Oh, it's like that, is it?" she commented dryly.
God, Dean… I shot you… I tried… I tried to kill you and you didn't say anything…
"Yeah," Sam nodded, draining his glass and setting it down on the bar, ignoring the man who had stepped up beside him. "It's like that."
Dean watched as Jones returned from gathering another round of beers. He rested his eyes on his brother's slumped form, knowing that the cloud he'd seen around Sam in the car wasn't completely imagined. Dean knew what it felt like to want to be left alone and have a brother constantly there, constantly looking for normal again. Sometimes quiet could only be found midst a crowded, noisy bar.
Dean paced himself through two games, losing money, but vocally picking up pointers. Sal took another break for a beer and Dean began to rotate through his cronies, winning a few games, losing a few. As the night wore on, Dean continued a steady stream of meaningless banter with the threesome, periodically checking on Sam, and subtly collecting over twice as much money as he'd lost.
The few patrons from the bar had circled them, observing, commenting, then either left the bar or returned to their tables and barstools as the games continued. Dean simply noted how many were around him at any given time. If they were male or female. If they were drunk or sober. If their hands hovered near waistbands or pockets. If there was a click of metal on metal when they moved.
A petite brunette had settled herself in the back corner of the pool room, slightly in the shadows, one foot cocked up on the wall in a lazy pose. Dean found his eyes traveling to the darkened corner on more than one pass around the table, picking up the soft tease of her perfume, noting that her straight, dark hair fell like rain over her shoulders, hiding part of her face from his calculating eyes.
At one point he looked over and she slid her eyes from the floor to his face in a slow blink. Her eyes were almond-shaped, her features exotic. The way she looked at him made him tighten in all the right places.
As Dean racked the twelfth—or was it thirteenth?—he felt the weariness of the night settle into his bones, highlighted in the ache of his shoulder. He glanced over at Sam. His brother had barely moved except to signal when he was ready for more beer. Dean chalked his cue, nodding at something Sal was saying, but kept his eyes on Sam. The further his brother plummeted into melancholy, the sharper Dean's game became.
Last one, Sammy. Need to get you out of here…
As he leaned over the table to break, Dean didn't bother with the hesitant positioning, the uncertain balance of the cue. His body curled expertly over the edge of the table, his fingers a perfect tripod for the tip of the cue. Sliding the smooth wood along his fingers twice to line up the ball, he called the shot, tapped the white ball with just the right amount of power to send it careening into the others and tumbling two into the corner and side pockets.
It was an expert shot, one not many could have made sober, let alone after many rounds of beer and several games. As he straightened up, Dean was aware that his comrades had quieted. In an automatic gesture of protection, his shoulders squared and his chin lowered as he rested his eyes on Sal. A low hum began in the back of his head.
"Nice shot, Vince," Sal chewed out, his dark eyes flat with distrust.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Guess you guys are good teachers."
"You can't teach that shit, man," Lloyd spoke up, stepping forward.
Dean lifted an eyebrow, but Sal just tapped the air next to him, calling off his dog.
"Naw, naw, Vince is right," Sal cooed. "We're damn good. So good in fact, well, Jones! You been keepin' track how much we've let Vince here take from us?"
"Two hundred," Jones piped up. "From each."
"Yeah," Sal bobbed his head. "Yeah, that sounds 'bout right."
Dean stood still, his senses at Defcon five. The lights in the bar seemed to suddenly brighten. He heard glasses click and voices murmur and the thrum of the music from the jukebox behind him. He could smell the hops from the different brews being pulled from taps behind the bar, the tobacco in the cigarettes surrounding him, the sweat from the men across him, and the musky, heady scent of the dark-haired woman's perfume.
"What are you driving, Vince?" Sal broke in.
Dean looked back at him. "Come again?"
"Y'know… car? How'd you get here, man?"
Unsure where Sal was taking this line of questioning, Dean simply narrowed his eyes, settling his hips to at ease and tipping his head to the side. This hustle was going south, and his instincts screamed for back-up. He didn't look back at Sam, however. He had it under control for the moment, and as long as they didn't realize that Sam was with him, his brother would be kept out of this.
"Chick car," Lloyd snorted.
Dean quirked an eyebrow at that. "A '67 Impala," he tossed back.
"Nice," Sal nodded. "Think I saw that when I was hitting the head. Black one, yeah?"
"What say we play for your car, there, Vince?"
Sal nodded stepping close to Dean and clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Your car. Make up for what you took. Double or nothing."
Dean forced a friendly smile across his frozen face. "Don't think I'm interested in that, Sal."
Sal tightened his grip on Dean's shoulder, looking down, leaning close. Dean could smell a mixture of Coors Light and Wintergreen Skoal on his breath.
"Here's the thing… Vince," Sal whispered. "You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls," he quoted, the nervous pitch in his voice gone, dark intent lacing his words.
Dean swallowed. Shit. Hearing the movie he stole the name from tossed back at him, he realized they'd been made the moment they stepped up to the table. Shoulda stuck with rock 'n roll aliases… He twisted sideways, checking on Sam. Jones had made his way toward the bar and was about to clap Sam on the shoulder. Dean turned to warn him and Sal yanked him back.
"Where the hell you think you're goin', Vince?"
The hum in his head increased until Dean finally realized it was a voice. This ends, tonight… I'm ending it… Loosening his grip on the pool cue so that he could slide his fingers down to the mid point, Dean faced Sal, taking a step forward, his nose a breath away from Sal's.
"You have exactly three seconds to let go of me," Dean growled, his eyes purposefully empty, his jaw tense.
"Yeah?" Sal challenged. "Or what?"
Twirling the pool cue easily around his wrist, Dean shoved the rubber-tipped end of it into Lloyd's gut as the man crept up behind him. The air rushed out of him with an audible ooof and Dean jerked the cue back, swinging it around to crack across Sal's shoulder.
The would-be pool shark stumbled back with a cry of surprise and Dean dropped into a crouch.
"Aww f'ckit… why cantcha jus' leave us 'lone…"
Instead of the reassuring feeling of Sam's presence, Dean heard the slurred curse in Sam's voice. He shot a look over his shoulder to check on him, and Lloyd took advantage of this moment of distraction. His large fist plowed into Dean's temple, jarring already-bruised skin, slamming him to the ground and loosening the cue from his grip.
Dean's ears were ringing. His vision swam. Amazingly, he always forgot how damn much it hurt when fists collided with bone. The impact was enough to stun him, causing him to taste his own blood.
Instinct took over. Dean brought his arms up, deflecting a blow he hadn't seen coming. Rolling quickly to the right, he pushed himself to his feet and immediately stumbled backwards as a flash of gold and rubies crashed across his vision. Arms caught him and tossed him forward. He fell swinging, blinking blood from his eye and snarling as his knuckles cracked against something solid.
"Sam!" This time his brother's name was less of a warning, more of a plea. He was getting his ass handed to him by a group of locals and his brother was AWOL. "Could use a hand here!"
"'M comin'," Sam called back.
Dean risked another look at Sam, ducking a swing from Lloyd's fist and pushing him into Sal, knocking them both over. Blinking in surprise, Dean saw Jones out cold on the floor, his head bleeding and a broken Johnny Walker Red bottle gripped by the neck in Sam's hand.
Someone seemed to hover in the shadows behind Sam, but Dean couldn't focus on the figure.
"'M comin', D'" Sam hiccupped, stumbling forward.
Dean shook his head, tried to clear his vision, reaching out with the intent to catch Sam before he took a header to the floor. In a series of events that happened too fast for Dean's foggy brain to register, Sam seemed to disappear from view, replaced by the imposing form of a man in a red flannel shirt. Dean was caught around the waist and crushed to the ground from behind.
Gasping as the air rushed from him, Dean flipped around to his back, struggling against the hold on his body, working to get his fists up, his legs up, to get something between himself and the blows raining down on him.
When a hand ground hard into his left shoulder, Dean saw white. He felt a raw burn in his throat as a scream of pain tore through him, echoing through his head. He twisted again, desperate for release, but felt himself falling, tumbling, shaking.
The woman's voice bore witness to too many cigarettes and just the right amount of whiskey. As the fists paused and the hand on his shoulder slacked, Dean blinked up at the blonde bartender wading into the melee, a shotgun at home in her hands.
"Get. Up. Now."
Lloyd and Sal stayed where they were and the bartender cocked the shotgun.
"Don't test me, boys. I'm not afraid to clean up a little blood now and again."
Sal and Lloyd released Dean and stood, backing away. Dean slowly crab-crawled with one arm until he felt the wall against his back. Using the wall as support, he painfully dragged himself to his feet, slouching there and blinking blurred eyes at the woman facing the locals.
The bar was silent except for the rhythmic chants of Deep Purple's Hush from the jukebox.
"Sal, I'm fuckin' sick of you and your bunch bustin' up my place. I see you round here again, it's gonna be the last time, you get me?"
"You can't do that," Sal shook his head, squaring off with Maggie.
The weathered bouncer appeared as if from thin air, standing weaponless behind Maggie and looking more dangerous than the shotgun she held in her hands. The shadow Dean had seen behind Sam materialized and joined the bouncer, the bar lights making his red flannel shirt appear black. Dean blinked again, trying to see his face.
"I want you out of here," Maggie said, not even bothering to glance at the men backing her up.
"He hustled us," Sal pointed to Dean. "He and that other guy."
Sam… Dean turned his head to find his brother and felt the world shift under his feet. His shoulder seared, pain flashing up into his teeth and making his fingers throb. He pressed his right hand flat against the wall, desperate for balance.
"Well, that's just too damn bad for you," Maggie shot back. "Guess you ain't the shark you thought you were."
Lloyd moved over to pick up Jones from the floor, draping his arm over his shoulder. Maggie lifted a dark eyebrow, her green eyes dancing in the light of the bar. Hush gave way to Triumph's Spellbound and Dean licked his lips, his breath stuttering and his stomach lurching from the pain.
"You know, this isn't over," Sal said, pointing at Maggie, then turning to point at Dean.
Dean tipped his chin up, unable to reply even if he had something clever to say. Sam, where the hell are you…
"Whatever you say, Sal," Maggie's words were controlled, her reluctance to walk in bull shit obvious in her tone. "Now, get the hell out."
Sal led the way, followed by Lloyd who was dragging Jones along with him. Maggie glanced around at the five or six remaining patrons.
"Closing early tonight, folks," she said, her voice softening with hospitality. "C'mon back tomorrow."
As the people filed out, the door swung open letting sounds of motorcycles and car engines into the bar. The fierce barking of a dog reached Dean's ears and he frowned in momentary confusion before being distracted by Maggie's voice yet again.
"You, too, sweetheart," she was saying, her voice even softer than before. "Time to head on out."
"I am leaving." The voice that answered was feminine, quiet, and held a tick of an accent that Dean couldn't trace. The petite brunette crossed his path and walked from the pool table to the front door, an odd halo shimmering around her through his blurred eyes.
Dean was losing his battle with gravity. As the front door banged shut a final time, he felt his hand slip along the wall, his knees trembling. The edges of his vision grayed and he pulled in air through his nose, desperate to remain conscious.
Maggie turned to him, handing the shotgun behind her. The bouncer grabbed it from her, resting the stock on his shoulder. She ticked her head to the side.
"Bobby," she murmured the name like a curse. "What the hell'd you send me this time?"
Dean's knees buckled and he met the darkness with a sigh.
"That one okay, Yeats?" Maggie's voice was brisk, business-like, but worry flowed like a riptide from her bent form.
"Seems to be." Yeats' voice slid around the empty voice sounding like rock being pulverized by a grudging force. "Just passed out drunk."
"Well," Maggie sighed. "This one ain't so lucky."
Crouching next to the crumbled figure of the battered hunter, Abe Nakomis listened to the quick exchange of voices, his eyes on the familiar, bruised, bloody face before him. It seemed he was destined to run into Dean Winchester when life had tried its best to break him. Wincing at the sight of the damaged knuckles, Abe remembered another time when Dean had gone down swinging.
As necessary to him as breathing, the healing chants of the Ojibwa people immediately echoed in Abe's head, though he'd left the reservation behind months ago. Abe unbuttoned the cuffs of his red flannel shirt, rolling the sleeves to his elbows, and passed his empty hands over Dean's still form quickly, as if doing so could pull the pain from him. A song crooned from the jukebox and made him pause with memory.
"Half my life's in books' written pages. Lived and learned from fools and from sages. You know it's true, all the things you do come back to you…"
"That gonna help him?" Maggie's voice was soft against his ear. She hadn't know his story, didn't know his history, but she accepted him as one of them on sight when he'd shown up at her door, and for that the Ojibwa hunter was in her debt.
"No," Abe shook his head. "But it won't hurt, either."
"You know these boys, Abe?" Maggie's tone shifted.
Abe looked over at her. "They're hunters."
"Doesn't answer my question."
Abe glanced at Sam, slumped at the base of the bar where he'd placed him when the liquor had tried to expedite gravity. He looked back at Dean, the young face guarded even in oblivion.
"Yeah," he said softly. "I know them."
"Yeats, go check on their car." Maggie raised her voice, addressing the bouncer. "Uh… Chevy Impala… probably one of the only ones in the lot. I think I heard Sal's smart mouth saying something about it."
The front door creaked open to reveal unintelligible shouts and curses, then banged shut as Yeats stepped outside to do Maggie's bidding.
"I'll get some ice," Maggie said, clicking her teeth together as she stood.
Carefully, Abe slid his sinewy hands under Dean's curled shoulder, straightening him out to a visually more comfortable position. The groan that crept from the parted lips had Abe pulling his hands away as if they'd been burned. With surprise, he looked at the smear of blood along his palm.
"What the—" He wiped the blood on the sleeve of his shirt, then peeled away the corner of denim to expose a slash of red spreading across a white T-shirt.
"Maggie," he barked.
"I'm moving as fast as I can," she replied, her voice slightly muffled.
"Bring some bandages," Abe commanded. "Wait, wait… I think he's coming around."
Lashes long enough to portray youth blinked up to reveal green eyes that had left innocence behind. Abe found his gut knotting as he waited to hear the first words uttered as Dean focused on him.
"Where's Sam?" Dean's voice was rough, thick with pain, but demanding.
Abe released a breath of tension, thankful that the hunter hadn't once again mistaken him for his father in a confused tangle of pain.
"He's okay," Abe tried to soothe him.
Dean tried to push himself up to his elbows, stopping with a hiss and closed his eyes tight. "Where is he?" He growled through clenched teeth.
Abe waited until Dean's eyes blinked open once more, then nodded over his shoulder. "He's over there, up against the bar."
"They hurt him?"
Abe shook his head. "No. I'm afraid he did that all on his own."
A line bisected Dean's brows, crawling up to meet folds of worry on his forehead. His eyes darted over Abe's shoulder, but Abe could tell he couldn't see Sam. Dean tried to push himself upright again and this time Abe reached for his arm, silently asking permission before he helped him rest back against the wall.
"Your shoulder's bleeding," Abe pointed out.
Dean glanced down. "Son of a bitch."
Maggie appeared in Abe's periphery. Setting a white plastic mop bucket near Sam's slumped form, she turned and crouched next to Abe, across from Dean, careful not to obstruct his view of his brother.
"Here," she said, her throaty voice calling Dean's wavering attention. "Drink this."
She trust a wide-mouthed shot glass filled with dark, yellow liquid toward him.
"What is it?"
"Irish chicken soup," she replied, the corner of her mouth turning down in what seemed to pass as both a smile and an order. "From the looks of you, you're gonna need it."
Dean looked at her a moment, then swallowed the beverage in one healthy toss. He immediately gasped, blinking watery eyes.
"That'll wake you up in the morning," Maggie said.
"What the hell…" Dean wheezed.
She handed him a bag of ice wrapped in a white bar towel. "Put this on your face," she instructed. "I'm gonna take a look at that shoulder."
Dean took the proffered ice pack, but shook his head when she reached for his shoulder. "It's okay."
"And I was homecoming queen," she scoffed. "Suck it up and let me take a look."
"How much did he have?" Dean asked, pressing the ice gingerly against his bruised cheekbone and eye, nodding once more at his now-snoring brother.
"I cut him off after four shots," Maggie said, handing Abe the bandages and bottle of antiseptic she'd brought so that she had both hands free to reach for Dean's shirt.
"Lightweight," Dean snorted.
"'Course, that was after he had six pints," Maggie finished.
"Jesus, Sammy," Dean cursed, tipping his head back against the wall as Maggie peeled away his shirt, exposing the blood-stained T-shirt underneath.
"Sal didn't do this," Maggie stated.
Dean simply closed his eyes. Abe watched the lines tighten on Dean's face as Maggie slid his arm free of the denim shirt, then pulled off the saturated bandage, tossing it aside. He frowned at the sight of the torn skin on Dean's upper shoulder, edged with red and raw from abuse, bruising spreading across his clavicle and crawling up his neck.
"That's a bullet hole," Abe muttered.
"Someone sure butchered you good, digging the slug out," Maggie grumbled in a tight voice.
Abe saw Dean's lips quirk slightly in response.
"Should've had stitches."
"Wasn't time," Dean replied, glancing away, his jaw tightening as her fingers continued to probe.
The front door banged shut drawing three pairs of eyes.
Yeats stared back, his craggy face expressionless. "Car's fine," he announced, his quick eyes zeroing in on Maggie before he glanced at the other two. His thick, white mustache twitched once. "Want I should let the dog in?"
"Dog?" Abe found himself asking.
Abe turned back to Dean. "You two got a dog?"
"No," Dean shook his head, finally looking at Abe with more than empty eyes. Recognition was settling in slowly like an ancient man sinking into a chair. Abe found himself relaxing slightly in relief.
"Well, it's got you," Yeats replied, an eyebrow crooked. "Wouldn't get off the car."
"It's on my car?" Dean leaned forward, rewarded for his outburst by the strong-armed push of Maggie's restraining hand.
Abe caught sight of the green and black maze of her Celtic tattoo on the inside of her forearm.
"Sit still," she ordered.
"Wouldn't let no one near it, either," Yeats finished, crouching down next to Sam who, Abe noticed, was beginning to frown a bit in his sleep, his lips pushed out and his face pale and sweaty.
"Wait," Dean said, gritting his teeth with a groan as Maggie cleaned the blood from his shoulder. "The dog wouldn't let anyone near… what?"
"Your car," Yeats replied, standing to fill a white mug with steaming coffee from a decanter sitting on the top edge of the bar. He looked down at Sam, frowned, then reached behind the bar and grabbed a bottle of whiskey, adding a generous shot to the coffee, evidently deciding Sam was too far gone for caffeine to be much help.
"Scared the shit out of Sal and his bunch when they tried to go for the tires," Yeats said with a low chuckle as he sipped the steaming beverage.
Abe shot a look at Dean and saw the grin he was expecting. Sam's low groan knocked the smile from Dean's face as quick as a slap. He started forward again and this time Maggie didn't push him back, but offered him a hand.
"Don' feel s'good," Sam muttered, eyes closed.
Maggie shifted on her knees, one strong hand on Dean's right bicep, balancing him as he crawled from the wall to the base of the bar and dropped down next to Sam.
"Yeah, I don't expect you do," Dean answered. "What were you trying to do, drink the place dry?"
Sam blinked one eye open, regarding his brother with a look of relief laced with shame.
"Forget," Sam whispered, his chin quivering. He closed his eye.
Abe watched as Dean sucked his lips against his teeth, sliding his eyes to the side. His left arm tucked protectively against his side, Dean reached up to carefully brush some hair away from Sam's eyes, barely touching his brother, but conveying a lifetime of loyalty with that gesture.
"Thought you wanted to remember," Dean said softly.
"Did." Sam opened blurry eyes, resting them on nothing. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Dean stiffened. "Tell you what?"
"Tell me… that I shot you."
Abe blinked in surprise and caught the slight jerk of Maggie's head as she brought it up, bright eyes darting between the brothers.
"Wasn't you, Sam," Dean was saying, his hand now on the back of Sam's neck as the younger man's face continued to lose color, gray turning to a greenish, chalky white as Sam swallowed convulsively.
"Saw you," Sam was saying. He swallowed hard, pulling in air through his nose. "Standing on the dock. Felt the gun kick. And you… you just…"
"Easy," Dean soothed as he reached for the plastic bucket, sliding it smoothly between Sam's outstretched legs, holding his brother's neck as Sam heaved, releasing the copious amounts of alcohol he'd ingested. "Easy, Sammy."
Abe didn't know what Sam was talking about. The brothers he knew would willingly die for each other without a second thought. Sam shooting Dean was as unbelievable as—
"It wasn't you, man," Dean crooned, his fingers flexing carefully on the back of Sam's neck. "Told you this. She possessed you. She shot me."
"Holy shit," Abe breathed. It had been months since he'd seen them. In that time his life had taken a left turn from normal, but it seemed that their lives had just been filled with more of the same. Pain, paranormal, and perseverance.
"Here," Maggie said, reaching across Abe and sliding a wet towel into Dean's outstretched hand.
Abe watched as Dean gently ran the towel over Sam's sweaty forehead, along one cheek, and then laid it across the back of his neck. Sam was panting, holding the edges of the bucket. Abe sat back on his heels, pressing the back of his wrist against his mouth, watching the brothers.
A thin trickle of blood was drying along Dean's profile from where Sal's ring had sliced open his eyebrow. A muscle in his jaw was bouncing almost in beat to the music from the jukebox. Abe could see the tremble coursing through his body from where he crouched, but Dean's eyes never left Sam's heaving form, his hand steady and sure on his brother's neck.
The horrible retching sounds finally stopped and Sam slumped back against the bar, raising a shaking hand to his lips. "Never 'gain," he whispered.
"Want some water?" Dean asked.
Sam nodded carefully as if afraid his head would roll from his shoulders and across the bar if he moved too much. Dean lifted his eyes and Abe saw Yeats hand down a tumbler of water as if he'd anticipated the request. Dean lifted the glass to Sam's lips and helped him drink.
"Slow sips, man," Dean instructed.
"You boys sure picked one helluva hustle," Maggie shook her head, standing up, joints popping on the journey. "Maybe next time you can just grab a beer and the key and save us all the trouble, huh?"
Dean blinked up at her, his bruised eye squinted closed. "Key?"
Maggie quirked her head to the side. "You're Bobby's boys, yeah? Here for the safe house?"
Abe watched as Dean's eyes shuttered, carefully masking something that had crossed his face at the mention of Bobby. Sam reached up and took the glass from Dean, pressing one hand flat against the floor and holding the glass of water at his waist.
"Wait, you're M. Flynn?" Dean asked.
"Maggie Flynn," she nodded.
Dean looked up at Yeats, then over at Abe, sliding his eyes back to Maggie. "You're a hunter?"
"Nope." Maggie shook her head.
Abe saw Dean's eyes dart in thought.
"Married to one?" he asked.
"God, no." Maggie's chuckle was deep, shaking her shoulders slightly. She rested an elbow on the bar, cocking her hips to the side. "Hunters might be as sexy as cowboys, but they'll hurt you twice as bad."
"Damn right." Yeats' gravely voice cut in.
"I learned that lesson a long time ago," she said, her voice softening as she bent to retrieve the messy bucket and take it into the back room.
The jukebox ticked to an empty slot in the rotation and the bar went silent. Abe stayed still, watching the scene quietly. Yeats was leaning against the bar, slowly sipping his coffee. A low rumble of what might pass for a tune bounced around deep in his throat. His dark eyes rested on the middle distance as he waited for Maggie to return.
With a tired sigh, Dean pivoted and sat next to Sam, back against the base of the bar. Abe watched him pull his left arm against his chest, cupping his shoulder with his right hand. The open wound was no longer bleeding, but looked ragged and painful. Dean's green eyes were shadowed with fatigue and bruises, and there was a cut on his lip Abe hadn't registered before.
"You know I'm gonna give you shit about this in the morning," Dean said softly to his brother, tipping his head back, his arm resting lightly against Sam's.
"I know," Sam muttered, his lips pouted out, eyes on the floor between his legs.
"Not that you don't deserve it."
"You're one to talk."
"When's the last time I puked in a bar?"
Sam paused, brought his head up, blinking at Abe.
"Hey, Abe," he said, his voice carrying a sleepy, pleased lilt that made Abe smile in return.
"Hey, Sam," Abe returned.
"Holy shit," Dean breathed, bringing his head forward, blinking tired eyes wide. "Abe."
Abe nodded back at Dean. "Wondered when you'd put it together."
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Maggie stepped back into the room, freshly washed bucket in her hands, water dripping from the edges and leaving a tiny path from the door to Sam's side. She set the bucket down, then stepped over Sam's long legs to crouch next to Dean once more.
"I'm, uh… visiting," Abe hedged.
Maggie wet a gauze pad with antiseptic and gently moved Dean's soiled shirt away from the open wound. Dean jerked when the gauze touched the damaged skin, bouncing against Sam and eliciting a low moan of protest from his brother.
"Dude," Sam complained. "Don't shake me."
"Sorry," Dean snapped. "I'll try and remember that for your next bender."
Sam pulled his legs up, balancing his elbows on his knees and resting his head in his hand. "Not like I do this all the time."
"No? Two words, Sam. Connecticut and Jagermeister."
Abe resisted the urge to shake his head. Siblings were strange creatures. Siblings who lived in each other's pockets were unique.
Sam turned his head carefully, his fingers knotted in his long hair. "There were—" he hiccupped, then groaned. "Esssstinuating cir—hic—cumstances."
"Whatever you say, Dude." Dean dropped his head back and Abe could see that he wanted to pull away from Maggie again.
"Okay, boys, that's enough." Maggie's voice was flat, leaving no room for protest. "Sam, I've got enough to clean up 'round here. You keep that bucket close."
"'M okay," Sam mumbled.
"Dean, hold still so I can patch this up, or I am going to get my needle."
"Yes, ma'am," Dean sighed.
"Yeats," Maggie lifted her voice. "Why don't you take Sam over to the house while I—"
"No," the brothers interrupted in unison.
"I got him," Dean said quickly. "I'll take him."
Maggie's lips twisted in disapproval. "While I appreciate familial loyalty as much as the next guy, I doubt you're gonna be able to take yourself, let alone your giant of a brother."
Dean's eyes met Maggie's squarely. "You might be surprised what I can do."
Abe stood, watching as Maggie absorbed the rebuff and continued to silently dress Dean's wound. Words and images tangled in Abe's head; memories he'd unconsciously stored, memories that had driven him to this lifestyle, to this purpose, to this mission.
"We're not leaving him, Dad."
"It's my job. You know that, Dad."
"So, uh, Abe," Dean grunted, pulling Abe back to the present. "You… aw, damn…"
Abe watched him squeeze his eyes closed as Maggie pressed down on the wound, closing the skin before she applied a bandage.
"You… visiting Maggie, here?" Dean finished, panting.
"Ha!" Maggie barked out the laugh.
"No," Abe shook his head, his grin soft. "No, I'm just… passing through. Thought I'd rest up here for a bit."
"Sure, sure," Dean said, releasing the breath he'd been holding as Maggie finished taping the bandages in place. "Seems like a good place to, uh… rest," he teased as Maggie started in on the cut above his eye.
"I'm gonna start cleaning up," Yeats growled, setting his coffee cup on the bar with a hard thump, stalking past the group huddled on the floor.
"Was it something I said?" Dean asked.
Sam huffed out a low laugh at that.
"Don't mind him," Maggie muttered. "He's just been with me a long time. Gets a little protective."
"Sorry," Dean offered sincerely. "I didn't mean—"
"No, no," Maggie shook her head, finishing the cut off with a butterfly bandage. "Not with me in that sense. He helps me run the Hideout."
"'Kay," Dean nodded.
"Well, I don't think I can do much more here," Maggie said, sitting back on her heels with a satisfied nod at Dean's bruised face. "You ready to head to the house?"
Sam nodded. Dean reached above himself for the lip of the bar and used it to gain his feet with a groan. Once vertical, he swayed dangerously and Abe was next to him in an instant, hands on his front and back to balance him.
"Take it easy," Abe said. "Don't want to have to carry you out of here."
"I got it," Dean said, nodding down at Abe's hands. "You can let go."
"Help Sam," Dean instructed, leaning heavily against the bar as Abe released him. He slid his left arm back into the loose sleeve of his denim shirt.
Giving Dean one more glance, Abe reached down and tucked his hands under Sam's arms, lifting him to his feet and instantly shoving a shoulder into Sam when the taller man threatened to topple.
"You're not gonna hurl on him, are you, Sammy?"
"Shut up," Sam groaned. "Never again, man."
"Uh-huh." A grin was plain in Dean's voice. "That's what we all say. Until there is a next time."
"No next time." Sam kept his eyes closed as Abe slowly turned them toward the front door.
Dean waited until they'd passed by and then followed. Abe was struck once again by memory. There was so much he wanted to ask them. Where had they been? What had happened to them? What had they hunted? Had John told them that he'd met Abe? Why wasn't he with them yet again?
Maggie crossed in front of Abe, the key to the brick house clutched in her fist, and opened the door.
"Yeats," she called over her shoulder. "Don't let the place burn down."
Yeats muttered something back as they exited the bar into the night. Abe heard the door bang shut behind them and adjusted his grip on Sam's arm flung over his shoulder, curling his fingers in Sam's belt loop. The cooler air of the night seemed to revive the tall hunter slightly and Abe felt Sam straighten against him.
"Uh, Dean," Sam called.
"I see it," Dean replied.
Confused, Abe looked around, only then noticing a large, wolf-like canine perched on the hood of the Impala like a masthead. The animal's brown eyes were mild but alert, its ears up and tracking the sounds of the four humans. Its undercoat was a dirty white and its back was gray, with a smudge of black crossing the bridge of its nose. If it weren't for the black, Abe would have sworn he was looking at a wolf.
"Dean, wait," Abe warned as Dean began to approach the car with a wavering, unsteady gait. Abe frowned.
"I need to get our bags," Dean replied, keeping his eyes on the dog, walking in more or less of a straight line toward the driver's side door. The dog kept its eyes on Dean, watching as he unlocked the door, reached in and retrieved Sam's messenger bag, then backed out, closing it behind him.
Warily eyeing the dog, Dean backed around to the trunk, opening it, and setting out three duffels.
"Somebody wanna give me a hand with these?" Dean called, one hip pressed against the trunk, his focus on the dog who had twisted its head sideways in order to return Dean's stare.
"I got it," Sam tried, stepping away from Abe on rubber legs.
"Oh, no you don't, sweetheart," Maggie protested. "I may be a tough old broad, but I prefer carrying bags over lifting your pretty ass up off this ground."
Dean handed her one of the duffels of clothes.
"Dean," she said softly. "I think that's a Lobo."
"A Lobo," Abe echoed. "Part wolf, part dog. Doesn't really fit in with either pack. It's too wild for humans to tame and too tame to survive in the wild."
"Just keep clear," Maggie suggested, turning back toward the safe house. "It'll be gone by morning."
Dean rested his eyes on the dog, tilting his head in curiosity. "Why do you think it's sitting on my car?"
"Not sure," Abe said, starting to turn Sam around, looking away from Dean. "But Maggie's right. It'll probably be gone by morning."
"Dean, what the hell—" Sam pulled roughly away from Abe, planting his feet purposely to keep from falling on his ass.
Abe and Maggie turned to follow, both uttering low hisses of warning as Dean reached out and let the dog sniff his hand. The Lobo studied Dean a moment, then leaned its snout forward, sniffing the back of Dean's fingers, allowing him to rotate his hand and reach up to scratch behind its ears.
"Atta boy," Dean murmured.
"I'll be a dirty name," Abe said, admiration in his voice.
Dean turned from the car and the Lobo hopped down, trotting ahead to the house as if it knew where they were going. Abe heard Dean chuckle.
"Sammy," he said, stepping up next to his weaving brother. "I think we might've gotten that dog you always wanted."
"Wanted a puppy," Sam muttered. "When I was nine."
Dean clapped a hand on Sam's shoulder, then gripped him when his affection threatened to topple him. "Better late than never, I guess."
Abe grabbed the heavier weapons bag from the dirt next to the car, then took the clothes bag from Dean, nodding that Dean should follow Maggie.
"Not sure I like leaving her out here exposed like this," Dean said over his shoulder.
It took Abe a moment to realize he was referring to the car.
"It's not gonna be hard for those idiots to figure out where we went," he continued.
"I'll move it for you," Abe offered. He drew up short when both Sam and Dean stopped in their tracks, pivoting to stare at him with something akin to horror. "What? I drove it once before!"
Dean shook his head. "Yeah well, there were… what was that you said, Sam?"
"Extenuating circumstances," Sam provided, squinting in the lights from the bar at Abe, his eyes half-mast.
"Right, that," Dean nodded. "No offense, man, but… I barely let my brother drive her."
Sam shrugged, nodding ruefully.
"Okay, fine," Abe lifted his fingers in surrender, the canvas straps of the duffel hooked on his thumbs. "Just offered."
"Door's open," Maggie called, and the trio turned to join her on the porch.
Abe looked around the porch, but saw no sign of the Lobo. He followed the boys into the small brick building, dropping the bags inside the door. It was a one-room house, one set of bunk beds and a separate single bed on the far wall, a nightstand with a phone and a light between them.
A pot-bellied, wood-burning stove, large, round, braided rug in the center of the floor, and a square table with four chairs covered the space between the beds and a small door that led to a bathroom. A kitchenette with fridge, stove, sink and cabinets flanked the far wall. Directly across from the front door was a wide, multi-paneled window with heavy curtains flanking either side.
Abe watched the boys take in the surroundings with one sweep of their eyes, then Sam stumbled directly to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
"This gonna work?" Maggie asked, dropping the brass skeleton key on top of the table.
"It's great, Maggie," Dean nodded picking up the bag of weapons and setting it with a hefty thunk next to the key. "Really appreciate this."
Abe shifted back to the shadows, leaning against the wall, watching. Dean had changed in the months since he'd seen them. It was more than the wounds, more than the life he knew they led. There was something missing inside of his young friend. A spark of life that had saved him in the woods that night so long ago. A palpable feeling of devastation had replaced the gritty determination Abe had seen before.
"Bobby said you needed it," Maggie shrugged. "That's enough for me."
Rubbing the fingers of one hand across his tired eyes, Dean sank slowly down into one of the chairs, evidently unwilling to give in to exhaustion until they had left or Sam emerged.
"So," he said, blinking up at Maggie. "You're not a hunter. Not married to one. But… you know about them. Us."
Maggie glanced back at Abe, who kept his face carefully blank.
"Let's just say that Bobby Singer and I have… a history," Maggie said, her eyes sliding around the room, resting on nothing. "I owe him."
Abe saw Dean's eyes settle on her, understanding making them appear too large for his face. Dean pulled his lower lip in, then dropped his chin. The bathroom door opened and Sam stumbled out with a groan.
"Kill me now," Sam muttered.
Abe suppressed the urge to draw in a breath at the sight of Sam. It wasn't simply weariness and drink that clung to the younger man like tendrils of a nightmare. Sam was wading through something, running from something, carrying something that he didn't know how to hold onto. If Dean reeked of devastation, Abe suddenly saw that it was because the acid of Sam's guilt was eating through both of them.
His lips twisting in a slightly malicious grin, Dean tilted his head over his shoulder, addressing his brother. "Aw, c'mon, Sammy, it's not so bad. Everyone needs to get shitfaced once in awhile."
"Says you," Sam grumbled, stopping forward movement when his shins hit the single bed, then tilting forward to land on his belly across the mattress.
"Poor kid," Dean looked up at Abe. "Always easier going down than coming back up."
"Shut up, Dean," Sam pleaded, his voice muffled by the pillow.
Chuckling slightly, Dean pushed himself to his feet, making his way over to the bed. He pulled Sam's boots off, lifting his brother's long legs by the ankles and setting them on the bed. Sam shimmied up, shoving his arms beneath the pillow and burrowing his face deeper.
Dean pulled the blanket from the top bunk, shaking it loose and spreading it over Sam's legs and across his back.
"G'night, bitch," Dean said, fingers resting lightly on the back of Sam's head.
"Jerk," was a whisper against cotton.
Dean looked down at his brother for one moment more, then turned to face the other two in the room.
"So, you gonna tell me about this hunt?"
"Hunt?" Maggie asked innocently.
Dean ignored her for the moment, turning to look at Abe, a don't bullshit me expression plain on his face. The older man seemed to settle into himself, his dark, lined face registering understanding and acceptance. Dean vividly remembered the dark eyes, the plaited hair, the silver earring. He remembered the voice mostly, the voice that had caught him when he'd fallen into the dark, that had carried him through the woods, that had saved him, saved Sam.
I'm sorry I forgot you…
"Let's talk on the way back to your car." Abe acquiesced.
Maggie shot Abe a look of surprise. "You're gonna tell him?"
Abe lifted a shoulder. "He already knows."
"Bobby said to keep them safe," Maggie protested. "A hunt isn't safe."
"Bobby means well, Maggie," Dean said, stepping toward the door. "But he doesn't always know what's best for us."
"Dean, you need to rest," Maggie reached out to put a hand on his arm.
Instinctively, Dean flinched away, turning to face the care on the woman's face. "I will. After I hear what made Abe, here, turn hunter."
Abe looked at Dean once more, wrapping long fingers around the door knob. "You did," he said, stepping out into the night.
Dean blinked at his back, then looked at Maggie. "Well, now I really gotta know."
Maggie sighed with a shake of her head. "I think I'm gonna regret telling Bobby yes…" she joined Dean on the porch. "But, guess it wouldn't be the first time."
"Hey, Maggie, you mind staying here until I move the car?" Dean asked, looking back at the brick house. "Don't really want to leave Sam alone."
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," Abe said from the base of the steps.
Dean turned to follow his eye line, stifling a surprised jerk as his muscles constricted. The Lobo sat at the edge of the porch, ears up, regarding Dean with curious eyes.
"Hey, boy," Dean said, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. He hesitated a moment, then nodded, addressing the dog, "Okay, well… don't let anyone get past you." He stepped down next to Abe, then turned back. "That includes Sam."
The Lobo stretched his paws forward, lowering his belly to the porch, and rested his head on his legs. The trio turned from the small house tucked safely behind the bar to walk around to the front of the building.
At the edge of the Hideout, Maggie paused, turning to point behind them. "About a hundred yards out, the property runs into the Clear Water River."
"Okay," Dean nodded, not really interested in a geography lesson.
"It's about a twenty foot drop to the river," Maggie informed him.
"Ah," Dean nodded. "So… just make sure we don't go jogging into the woods at night."
Maggie simply lifted a brow, then without a word of farewell, left them to return to the bar. Dean continued to the car, then leaned against the Impala, watching Abe, waiting for the story. He didn't have to wait long.
"When you left, I was unable to return to my life," Abe started. "It was as if a curtain had been pulled away and I realized I'd been only seeing half of reality all my life."
Dean reached over and gripped his left shoulder, trying to press back the continuous, throbbing ache there. His eyes dropped to trace patterns of boot prints in the dirt, lit from the neon lights of Maggie's Hideout. Abe began to pace, a sign Dean easily recognized as someone explaining something for the very first time.
"Doc—you remember him?"
Dean nodded. "Steven Tyler stunt double."
"Right. Doc never did believe me, not really. Not even after Running Horse healed you. When he talked to your dad, it was all—"
"Wait, what?" Dean was grateful that he'd been leaning against the car. His legs suddenly felt cold, weightless, as if they'd disappeared. "Doc talked to my dad?"
"Yeah, why? He didn't tell you?"
The amount of things he didn't tell me would choke a giant…
"No," Dean breathed. "No, he didn't tell me."
Abe stopped pacing, turning to face Dean, concern on his face. "Your dad showed up at the clinic the same night you guys left. Looked… tired. Was worried about you. Seemed… I don't know… sad, I guess."
Dean felt the coldness in his legs travel up to his gut, climbing slowly to his heart. John had been there. He felt his face pull tight in memory of need, of hope, of horrible disappointment. Dad had been there…
"So, uh…" Dean cleared his throat, tightening his fingers on his shoulder as the cold swept over the throb of heat that beat there. "Doc didn't believe you about… what?"
Abe stepped closer to him and Dean suddenly found it hard to pull in a breath. The cold inside was starting to make him shiver and he thought for sure his next exhale would be a visible condensation of air. He pressed subtly back against the car.
"What?" He meant it to be defiant. He sounded five. He looked at the front door of the bar. He looked at the night. At the stars poking through the blanket of night like a child's Light Bright. Anywhere but at Abe.
"What happened to you two?"
Dean glanced at him. Laughter tripped on irony as it stumbled out of his mouth and fell into the air between them.
"You said… earlier, in the bar, you said that Sam had been… possessed?"
"It's a long story, man," Dean said tiredly. "Too long."
Abe stepped back, and the pressure building inside Dean vanished. The Ojibwa's dark eyes saw more than Dean could hide, climbing through the cracks in his wall, peering at secrets safer buried. Clearing his throat, Dean turned and opened the car door, more to have something tangible between them than to actually climb inside the car.
"So… you're hunting?" Dean prompted.
Abe's face settled slowly, lines deepening around his eyes, questions stepping back into the queue until the time was right to move forward once more.
"I left the reservation about a month after you and Sam. I wasn't sure where to go, how to learn what you knew—"
"Dude, we've been doing this our whole lives," Dean said, pulling his head back.
"Exactly," Abe nodded, resuming his pacing. "All I knew was that there was a truth out there… a truth I had barely glimpsed and that no one else knew about. But they needed to be protected from."
Dean simply nodded, leaning on the window of the driver's door and watching Abe's measured steps as he rotated and returned to his point of origin, stepping in his own foot prints. It was a familiar habit. One that had often brought clarity to Dean.
"I read papers. Followed empty leads. Basically… wandered. I had never lived away from my people…" Abe glanced once at Dean. "The anonymity of a hunter became protection for someone like me."
"I can imagine."
"I found this place in Nebraska… a bar, kinda like this one."
"No freakin' way," Dean exclaimed.
"What?" Abe stopped, looking at him.
"This bar… was it run by a woman named Ellen?"
Abe nodded. "Yeah, she, uh, showed me a few things. Like weapons. Salt, for example. Didn't know about the salt."
"Holy shit," Dean shook his head. "The world is too damn small, man."
"You know of this place?"
"You could say that," Dean nodded.
Abe watched him for a minute, eventually realizing he wasn't getting anywhere honest with his silent wondering, and continued. "While I was there, a hunter came in, barely walking, eaten up from the inside out."
Dean's brows pulled together and he felt his mouth turn down as he leaned on the door, unconsciously closer to Abe.
"He collapsed two steps inside the door and all he got out was that he'd been chasing a witch and then… he died."
"Damn," Dean breathed, captivated.
"Jo," Dean supplied.
"Jo, right, she was ready to find this witch. Got into it with her mom right then and there."
Dean grinned ruefully, thinking of the hot-headed blonde and her doe-brown eyes. Wrong place, wrong time is right… "Yeah, that sounds like Jo."
"I started searching the man's pockets while the two of them went at it like a couple of wild cats and I find this."
Abe handed Dean a piece of worn, folded paper. Dean reached out and took the paper, unfolding it and peering at the words in the light from the bar's neon sign.
"Throughout all the world there is nothing that's permanent. Even the Earth has the nature of transience. Bodies are centers of sorrow and emptiness. All of my parts are devoid of self, are dependent on causes and therefore impermanent, changing, decaying and out of control."
"Um…" Dean read the first passage on the paper. "What the hell?"
"You got me." Abe shrugged. "It's a Buddhist Sutra."
"Okay…" Dean's eyebrows practically met over the bridge of his nose. "I repeat… what the hell?"
"I haven't been able to figure out what that has to do with a witch," Abe reached for the paper, taking it back from Dean, returning it to his pocket. "But… I have found evidence of her curse."
"Yeah?" Dean folded the corners of his mouth down, eyebrows quirked in curiosity.
"The hunter at the Roadhouse died of something similar to belladonna poisoning. You ever hear of that?"
Dean grinned. "Belladonna…isn't that the name of a porn star?"
Abe blinked, surprise etching his features.
"Forget it," Dean waved a hand at him.
"It's a plant. My people called it the Devil's Herb. Its leaves and berries are extremely poisonous—irregular heart rate, hallucinations, loss of balance, blurred vision, and eventually suffocation."
"Yes, well," Abe rubbed a hand over his mouth. "The man who died in front of me, and the three other men I found as I followed the path from Nebraska to Oklahoma, to Western Texas suffered mightily before they died."
Dean frowned. "West Texas?"
"I just came from there. The last victim was a Liam Grayson. He was born near here, but… it's a thin lead." Abe shrugged. "I thought of returning to my people, but… I stopped here to see what Maggie and Yeats might know."
"Wait, they're not hunters, you're new to hunting, but you… you knew they could help you?"
Abe shrugged. "I listen," he said. "Maggie Flynn is known in the hunter community as a friend. And Yeats—"
"Yeah, what is his deal?"
"No one really knows anything about him. Not even his real name."
"Coulda told you it wasn't friggin' Yeats…"
"But he'd lie down in traffic for Maggie."
Dean sighed, rubbing his burning eyes with one hand. "So, you're stuck."
"You could say that, yeah."
"You need our help."
"Only if you're ready to offer it," Abe said solemnly.
"This is what we do, man," Dean shrugged. "We don't know anything else."
"You're tired, Dean." Abe pointed out. "Your soul is tired."
"My soul is fine," Dean snapped. "I just got shot by my brother two days ago and let some locals kick my ass because I wasn't paying attention. Gimme a day and I'll be back to normal."
Abe drew his head back, his eyes shadowed. In that instant, the neon sign above the entrance to Maggie's shut off.
"Guess she's pulling in the carpet," Dean commented. "You better go… wherever it is you go."
"See you in the morning, Dean Winchester," Abe said quietly, then turned on his heel and disappeared into the shadows at the edge of the building.
It had been a long time since anyone had said his name—his full name—with such respect. Dean found that he'd forgotten to continue with the natural act of breathing. Pulling in a lungful of air, he dropped behind the wheel of the Impala, the scents of leather and life and Sam and survival wafted around him. The smell of home.
Shaking his head, Dean shoved the keys in the ignition, pulling the door closed, and turned the car on.
"Nothing's ever easy."
He hid the Impala behind the brick house, centered in a small cluster of trees, invisible from Maine Street. Locking the door, he headed back to the porch, nodding once at the Lobo.
"Good boy," he whispered. "If you're still here in the morning, I'll give you some jerky."
Lobo lifted an eyebrow, but didn't raise his head. Dean stepped in through the door and closed and locked it behind him.
"Dean?" Sam's sleepy voice drifted to him through the dark.
"Hang on." Dean went to the kitchenette, grabbed a glass from the cabinet—pausing for one amusing moment at the predictability of human nature: glasses are kept either to the direct right or the direct left of the sink—and filled it with water. He crossed the room, bouncing a hip against the table in the unfamiliar landscape and found Sam's bed with his shins.
"Here, bro," Dean said, touching Sam's back.
Sam rolled over, accepting the glass, and raised himself to his elbow to drink. Dean dropped on the bottom bunk, toeing off his boots.
"Abe has a hunt doesn't he?" Sam asked once the glass was drained.
"We gonna help?"
Dean shimmied free of his jeans, dropping them in a pile on the floor on top of his boots.
"Your shoulder okay?"
"It will be."
"You need some aspirin?"
Dean pulled the covers back and eased the long-sleeved denim shirt from his arms, dropping it to the floor.
"What is it, Sam?"
There was a pause long enough that Dean's stomach muscles tightened.
"Sorry I… sorry I didn't help you with those bastards in the bar." Sam apologized quietly.
Dean closed his eyes. The fear of Sam being gone hit him with the force of a punch. He could once again smell the stale cigarette odor of the motel where they'd been staying in West Texas. He could hear the silence greet him in response as he called Sam's name. He heard his brother's voice mail over and over. He felt the week of fear, of confusion, of anger, of loneliness, of failure, of want, of need, of not knowing who to call, who to go to, who to ask for help.
When Dad had disappeared, Dean knew exactly what to do. He went to Sam. He found Sam. He knew he and Sammy could fight anything together. Together.
When Sam disappeared… Dean had nothing. Dad was gone. Gone because of him. Gone to save him. Desperation drove him to call Ellen, time and again. Need drove him to connect with Bobby. Fear drove him to call Sam's cell fifty times a day.
"Hey, man, you okay?"
Dean felt the sick rush of relief and hope and anger once more at the sound of Sam's voice after a week of not knowing if he should bother to continue. Finding that hotel room, finding Sam covered in blood… a flash of heat and chills had run through him leaving him weak and dizzy, even as instinct had taken over. Do the job. Find the reason.
Sam's bed creaked as he sat up in the dark, uncertainty in his voice. "Dean? You're scaring me, man."
Sam had asked him to kill him. Reminded him of his promise. Put the fucking gun in his hand.
I've tried so hard to keep you safe…
"'M okay, Sam." His whisper was far from convincing.
"Are you hurting?"
Hell, yes, I'm hurting. You shot me, Sam. You beat the shit out of me. You dug out the darkness, the doubt, everything ugly that I know to be true and you slapped me in the face with it. You said I was worthless. You said I was worthless…
"I'll be okay," Dean said, barely audible. "Nothing some sleep won't fix."
"Sure, I'm sure." Dean forced levity in his voice. "Just thinking about those sonsabitches back at the bar."
Sam paused, and for a moment Dean wondered if he sensed the lie.
"They were abused children," Sam shrugged. "Idiots, Dean."
"You're right there, brother."
Sam sank back on the bed, and Dean heard the glass clunk on the nightstand between the bunks and the single bed. He rotated, easing carefully back against the mattress and pillow. His body was ticking like a cooling engine. He felt his heartbeat in his shoulder, his eye, his head—nearly everywhere but his chest. He closed his eyes, feeling the moisture gather there immediately to combat the burn. He let the tears trail down the sides of his face into his hair in the dark.
"Abe's hunt… it's not… clowns, or anything is it?"
Dean laughed softly. "No, Sam."
"Well, that's good."
"Get some sleep."
Dad had met Abe. Dad had talked to Abe. Dad had been worried about them. Dean's mind went through the last times they'd seen their father like a film on fast forward. From Elkins' cabin to the hospital… so much he didn't know. So much John could have said. So many secrets. So many lies. So much regret. So much love.
God, I miss you, Dad.
"I gotta feeling we're gonna have a long day tomorrow," Dean whispered to his softly-snoring brother.
a/n: I've outlined this story to six chapters, but in the past, six has always turned into eight, so, be warned. Also, it's been awhile since I've written a multi-chapter story of my own. Between the VS, zines, and co-writes, I had to get back into the groove; I hope you'll hang with me as I get my story legs back under me.
The sutra on the paper in the hunter's pocket is the Sutra on the Eight Realizations.
Wheel In the Sky by Journey
Hush by Deep Purple
Spellbound by Triumph
Dream On by Aerosmith
When IN THE LIGHT is completed, it will be available as a zine from Agent With Style (www . agentwithstyle . com). For more information, go to their website or contact Mysti at zines agentwithstyle . com.