Your Sorrow for Another Coin
Winchesters always needed protecting, from themselves as much as anything else – so maybe it was no surprise that Mama added all that thyme and basil and oregano into spaghetti sauce every time a Winchester crossed their doorstep.
Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine but I'd make Dean wear his boots all the time if they were.
Overall Rating: M
Pairings: John/OFC, Dean/OFC
A/N: This was supposed to be my Big Bang entry last year but life had other plans. This story was inspired by the spnxx prompt - #149, Spelling by Margaret Atwood; it was a prompt from last summer's challenge and I will be posting it there once it is complete. All things being equal, it is also my response to the This Woman's Work challenge on spnhetlove.
Chapter Six: Against the chill that finds the bone
Stories had a way of spreading faster than magpies from the thunder.
Old towns didn't care what the stories were about so long as there was something shadowy inside, whispers that tended to nothing but the dark inside people's hearts until all that was left were the ghosts; those wild women who danced naked in the forest behind their ramshackle house, calling on spirits best kept to the night, or will-o-the-wisp phantoms slithering down the back roads past abandoned houses and the howls from the cemetery north of the mill where all those soldiers were buried without names to call their own.
Papa used to say that Shelton wasn't the only old town that liked nursing its secrets – but it didn't take much to shake out those stories like the good tablecloths Mama used when company was coming for dinner. Just a sweet-faced man named Daniel Ellison showing up at the bank with a deed to the old Blythe place and a plan to turn it into one of those fancy bed and breakfasts springing up like weeds all over the county.
It was all goddamn Michael Bailey wanted to talk about, a hot murmur into the curve of her neck that had nothing to do with the two of them biding their time at the crossroads while rain drummed down onto the roof of his junked-up car. There wasn't much hope of him shutting up the more he got wound up, even when Alice scratched down his back and arched underneath him, pushing her hips up into his.
"You're a fool idiot," she hissed into his ear. "Going on about a place where no one's lived for a hundred years like it's got some kinda boogey man hiding in the walls."
"Everyone between here and Sweetwater knows there's nothing kindly in that house," he retorted, sliding his hands up underneath Alice's shirt with a careless grin that made her ache in all the wrong places.
"That's 'cause you're all fool idiots."
There was nothing in that house – not the hanged man with a noose still around his neck that those high school kids from Lexington swore they saw back in the fifties or the little blonde-haired girl in a white dress that Barbara Jean swore she saw on the way to her grandma's funeral. There was nothing in that house but a bunch of old stories, lies so strong that Alice ended up dreaming about a dark-haired woman on her thirteenth birthday, rubbing her swollen belly and gliding across the chipped flagstones of that damn house's dead garden, crying tears of blood instead of salt.
Mama was already holding her close when Alice woke up screaming, brushing Alice's bangs off her sweaty forehead and whispering that stories were funny things; changing each time they were told until the truth was lost somewhere in the words.
Even if something unnatural was in that house, there were folks whose roads brought them close enough to set old ghosts to rest – hunters passing through Shelton on their way to somewhere else. And that wasn't even counting the ones who still thought she and Mama needed checking in on, Running Bear with his pockets full of fetishes and a new feather for Alice's box or Carl Bradley gunning up the county road with his motorcycle bags full of new books for Mama.
As many times as that big black car of his roared into the Meeks' driveway, only a yoo-hoo would have believed that John Winchester hadn't dragged his boys out to that old house; another one of those training exercises he was always setting up for Dean and Sam while she was at school or helping Mama in the garden.
Alice would have been surprised if Papa hadn't checked out the place before he died, walking through the door with a shotgun full of rock salt slung over his shoulder for good measure and one of Mama's charms tucked into his pocket. Walking right back out whistling the same song that echoed through the foyer whenever he walked through his own front door.
There were stories of her own that Alice Meeks could tell, ones that would make the blood drain from Michael Bailey's face, but his thumbs were making slow circles and all she could do was sigh; crinkling skin reaching towards rough calluses built by wrenches instead of the butt of a gun.
"You're the fool idiot," he said, his grin turning as hard as his eyes. "Always thinking you know more than anyone else 'cause you're a witch's daughter." He chuckled when Alice jerked, fingers pressing into her hips as he pushed her down onto the vinyl seat. "Way I see it, it's their own damn fault what happens to those city folks, calling up trouble from not understanding the way of things."
It wasn't Michael Bailey's fault that he would never understand the way of things, how the dark fought back until something came along to stop it no matter how bloody and sad the whole thing was going to end, but that didn't keep Alice from jamming her knuckles between two of his ribs just the way John Winchester's boys had taught her.
"Jackass," she spat, cheeks burning from two parts shame and the one part deep inside that made her fingers twitch. Alice twisted out from underneath him, pulling her jeans jacket tight around her chest. "The only thing that's gonna happen in that house are two people setting down roots."
"Someone might," she snapped, opening the door and sliding outside, "but it's never gonna be you anymore." Alice popped her head back into the car. "And the next time that little sister of yours slinks up to my mama's house thinking there's a love spell waiting for her with Bobby Kimball's name on it, I'm dragging her back to the county road myself."
Michael Bailey was still cussing when Alice slammed the door hard enough for something to rattle.
She trudged up the county road as raindrops spilled into every crack and crevasse, stomping through the mud with her hands jammed into the pockets of her jeans jacket, and she shivered once when a crack of lightning burned its way across the sky.
There were some mysteries that a Meeks woman took on faith, like the way the earth thrummed inside her belly when she was on her knees in the garden with the sun spreading warm across the back of her neck.
But some signs didn't take more than time to learn how to see.
The sugar cookies cooling on racks in the kitchen meant that company was coming, the clean smell of chamomile tea as sure a sign as spaghetti sauce for all that it was someone else who would be knocking on the front door before the afternoon was done, but the sharp rap of the knocker echoing through the foyer made Alice jump all the same.
The sound had Mama stopping in her tracks, smoothing her hair back from her face and replacing her frown with a smile before she opened the front door. Daniel Ellison's blue eyes were bright against the clouds when he smiled at Mama and introduced himself – and nothing could dim the way his face glowed when he wrapped an arm around his pregnant wife's shoulders, not even Mama's searching gaze when she asked the Ellisons if they would help her drink up a pot of tea.
The look on Mama's face when Alice followed them into the kitchen was as much a warning as the words she wouldn't say.
It wasn't like Alice was going to stick around listening to some married couple asking after a midwife when there were chickens to feed and berries to pick before the storm dancing in the clouds outside bruised the juice right out of them. All she wanted was a bucket for the berries and a pair of gloves and enough time when she was done to curl up with Physica on the porch swing before the rain came in.
But Daniel Ellison's questions made the soles of her feet itch, setting small shivers up Alice's spine as the room started filling up with all of those stories that weren't supposed to be true – about the little blonde-haired girl and the scratching in the walls when the house was settling. Marita Ellison's voice shook right along with the wind when she asked how Orson Blythe had killed his baby girl and why there was a broken-hearted woman that no one could see sobbing out her sorrow on nights when the moon was dark.
And it didn't take anything at all to see the skin stretched tight around their eyes when Mama set down her teacup, to see the phantom thing between them start to fade because the butcher on Main Street said that Jane Meeks out on that farm would know what to do.
Sometimes things came true when people believed in them hard enough.
Her mama just listened the way that she always did, telling them to bundle up against the weather when they left – but she was already turning on her heel as soon as the whir of tires kicked up rocks and dust and Mama didn't even wait for Alice to follow her into the shop, rummaging through the shelves and only looking up when Alice showed up in front of her carrying a milk crate. The way Mama suddenly smiled at her, they could have been packing for a picnic instead of collecting the things a Meeks woman used when there was something needful to be done.
"Take this out to the van, Sweet Pea."
There wasn't much to do but nod and walk to the front door of the shop, bumping it open with her hip and biting her lip when something inside set off a sound like a tiny bell. And there wasn't much to do but slide the crate behind the passenger seat and wait until Mama was ready, hopping into the van to hold the crate stable and wishing her heart wasn't speeding up to keep time with the staccato beats falling onto the roof.
The way that hummingbird heart of hers was beating, Alice Meeks was going to make a right mess of things the first goddamn time her mama brought her along on a cleansing. Just like that time she handed Mama a bloody rag instead of a clean one to wipe up Tommy Archer back when he was getting born.
They started with a house blessing, salt water in a ceramic bowl sprinkled on window sills and Mama's sing-song voice calling out all of the old ghosts that a town had conjured for a hundred years. Alice followed her with the smudge stick, waving it in Mama's wake like she knew what she was doing instead of just doing what her mama said; pulling out a solemn expression every time Marita Ellison looked at Alice from her rocking chair.
Maybe she was just being kind, sitting there with her Madonna's smile instead of speaking the truth. There was more power dancing around the edges of that smile than anything Alice Meeks' could call after nineteen years of trying.
Those nineteen years had made it easier to see some things all the same.
It should have been Marita Ellison walking behind Mama with a fist full of dried sage, blessing the rooms where her baby would learn to walk; filling up the house with a mother's mystery, the riddles laid bare in her round belly and a laugh that could outshine the wind chimes outside losing themselves in their own dance. Maybe that was a kindness, too – sitting in her living room doing nothing but watching, rubbing the swell of her abdomen as she sang to her child, lilting melodies in Spanish that were soft and sweet and overflowing with wishes.
Their eyes met when a dark shadow crossed Marita Ellison's face, its half skull marring the smooth lines of her flushed cheeks, and Alice swallowed hard. She clutched the smudge stick tight enough for her knuckles to turn white and pulled her own smile out from wherever a Meeks woman kept them before following Mama into the kitchen.
There was a stink wafting through the crack underneath the battered door leading into the old cellar, strong enough to make anyone start gagging, and Alice was on her knees; heaving once before she bit the inside of her cheek, focusing on a woman singing lullabies and tamping down the decay and rot seeping into her lungs. Mama rubbed her back, the smoke from the dropped smudge stick making Alice's eyes water as much as the vomit she was choking down.
"Is something wrong?" Daniel Ellison's voice was soft.
"I won't lie to you, Mr. Ellison," Mama answered. Alice heard the swish of Mama's skirt as she stood up, falling onto the back of her heels just in time to see Mama open the window above the sink before looking Daniel Ellison right in the eye. "There's something unseemly in your house." Her voice was gentle even though Mama's mouth was a thin, hard line. "But don't you worry. We'll be seeing to it before the night's gone."
"With a bowl full of salt water and a handful of sage?" Knuckles scrubbed down his cheek. "Jesus, they... They said you could help."
Even a fool idiot like Michael Bailey would have heard the bitter in the man's voice.
Not that Alice could blame him, not when there was only one Meeks woman in the room who could dream true. All Mama had on her side were three different charm bags and a crystal ball in a milk crate. The daughter knocked flat on her ass, gagging on the smell coming up from the basement, wasn't doing jack except blocking the hallway with her sweat and her stink.
But when something roared up the driveway like it was chasing the Devil, Alice knew that there was one thing even her mama would always put her faith into – and he was slamming the door of his big black car shut, his rough voice telling his sons to stay sharp and bring the guns, his heavy footsteps crunching their way through gravel as he marched towards the house.
And the shine in Mama's eyes when the frayed curtains in the window framed John Winchester's head as he passed on by wasn't a mystery at all.
There wasn't time for social particulars, what with the Winchesters standing in the living room sliding bullets full of rock salt into their shotguns.
Rain pooled around their boots while Mama's voice fought against the thunder with a rhyming incantation Alice had never heard her use, all guttural vowels and fierce consonants that spread like a slow sting through Alice's belly before settling into her fingers and toes.
And there was no way in hell she was crossing that room herself, no matter how much those feet of hers were burning to move.
All she wanted was to throw her arms around both of John Winchester's boys, whispering how brave they were and kissing their foreheads for luck because something in that house was strong enough to set the back of her head to tingling as soon as her mama had started chanting, but they weren't even looking in her direction; two boys who should never have been soldiers standing at attention and waiting for their orders, both of them giving a sharp nod when their papa said 'Grinning Man' and cocked his shotgun.
Alice knew the stories well enough but the laugh got her all the same, shrill like a hooting owl as it followed a crack down one of the baseboards; goose bumps springing up her arms and legs when a sharp chuckle danced near Alice's ear, the hair rising on the back of her neck as much from the laugh as from the crackle in Marita Ellison's voice returning the dare. A wolf's snarl hiding underneath words so pretty they came out like a song when she muttered them.
The only thing to do was what Alice Meeks did best.
She touched Daniel Ellison's arm, watched him swallow as he stared down at his wife like he was staring at a stranger – but he didn't jerk like Alice did when a laugh bubbled out of the fireplace.
"Nothing we can do here, Mr. Ellison," Alice said softly. "It's best to get your wife outside before..." Her voice trailed off, the scratch of his sweater rough against her fingertips when she tightened her hand and watched him nod. "We're gonna take her someplace safe until this gets sorted out."
The shutters on the windows started rattling from the wind whipping through the leaves outside as soon as Alice slipped an arm underneath Marita Ellison. She eased the woman to her feet, waiting for Daniel to take her by the elbow before daring a glance at Dean. He was on his knees, rummaging through the insides of a blue duffel bag until he pulled out a silver flask of what Alice figured was holy water. Sam was flipping through a book so old it should have been dust, with its tattered cover and thick crack down its spine, and there was a worry line creasing his forehead.
If there was any kindness at all, the pieces of herself she was leaving behind would be enough, the bear fetish on Sam's wrist that looked as small as the crescent moon charm on the old bracelet Papa had given her when she was six and the ring on Dean's finger that shone just as bright as it had on the afternoon she gave it to him; a girl's lonely wishes warding off the nightmares that came from too many days of waiting.
Mama was the one always telling her that wishes were enough.
But Mama wasn't the one slinking out the front door with a throb where her heart should have been, feeling nothing but stupid because the last thing Alice Meeks should have been wishing for was to see Dean Winchester's smile one last time, not when she was standing inside a house with a Grinning Man roaming somewhere inside the walls and a pregnant woman in the crook of her arm.
Not with the grin spreading wide in front of the fireplace like the Cheshire Cat. Cold fingers brushed the inside of Alice's wrist, a frozen flower blooming inside her chest just the way ice cracked across a window during a snowstorm. And if the damn thing laughed one more time, those feet of hers were going to start running before she could even get Marita Ellison out the front door.
"Not so fast now," a man's voice hissed, the stink cutting through the smoke from Mama's smudge stick as the words tumbled out from a shining smile. "The girl's marked by sin but she's still mine."
Doors started slamming shut and windows started closing themselves so hard that glass shattered. Alice twisted herself in front of the Ellisons, bracing her feet on the cold floor and wincing as she stepped on fallen shards. There wasn't enough of her to shield them both, not from the pinpricks leaving gashes across her arms and her legs or the laugh that was whirling around all three of them, but an arm bumped into her shoulder and she could see the barrel of a shotgun before she heard the bolt sliding into place; a glint of silver near the trigger.
Only a goddamn Winchester would tempt fate before saying 'hello.'
It was like that time Barbara Jean tripped backwards over a log, her arms flailing and her hair falling limp around her face before she landed flat on her ass; the wind knocked out of her before Barbara Jean even hit the ground.
Except there wasn't the snap of cracking bone, not like there was when Marita Ellison's body slammed into the wall near the fireplace and she slumped against the fractured plaster like she was nothing more than a rag doll caught in the middle of a two-year-old's temper tantrum – one leg twisted underneath her in a way that ached just to see; a puppet whose strings had been cut with nothing but a monster's laugh.
Its grin sharpened into points while Alice watched, swallowing as swirling cobwebs and sawdust coalesced into the shape of a man, and the shadow of a rough scar sliced across its neck as the dust took on the semblance of flesh. It moved towards the fallen woman with an outstretched hand.
"I told you that it's not seemly to go out like this." The pleading tone belied the smile, made a mockery of the sorrow conjured in the bright blue eyes staring merrily out of its body of dust. "Not even to visit your mama's grave," it added.
The damn thing's fingertips, as sharp as its teeth, were covered in blood.
Five identical crimson half-moons seeped through Marita Ellison's yellow dress, peeking through the latticework of her fingers when her hands came up to hold her belly. A low moan poured out of her husband, hitching breaths that kept time with the pulse rushing through Alice's temples, and the back of her scalp itched. There was nothing inside of her strong enough to keep Daniel Ellison from where he was going, only one chance to keep him from doing something that he wouldn't walk back from as sure as anything.
But Dean's name stuck in her throat.
Water stained the floorboards, spilling out from between Marita Ellison's legs.
"Get the fuck over here, Sammy," Dean roared.
Alice didn't realize that she had let go of Daniel Ellison's arm until her feet were slapping against rough wood, shards of glass working their way past the hardened skin on her heels. Marita's scream couldn't drown out the sound of something sharp cutting through soft flesh, a wet noise that melted into a groan, and the color was draining from Marita Ellison's face as fast as the water pooling on the floor underneath her.
The only thing to do was fall on her knees and wish for a circle that Mama would have known how to raise, to wish for something strong to come out of all those mornings Alice sat with her back against her oak tree and tried to pull the strength dancing between the roots up through her spine. Something hot pulsed underneath her palms as Alice crawled towards the fallen woman, the whisper of a calling-on song on her lips, eyes clenched tight with the hope that the trees and the tide would answer no matter how weak her blood was.
Hope was the strongest thing Alice Meeks had to her name, even it if was never enough.
Sam skidded to a stop behind her.
"Holy shit," he breathed. "Holy fucking shit."
Alice opened her eyes and sucked in a breath, getting a mouthful of hair for her troubles. The room might as well have been spinning around them, a rain-soaked wind running wild like someone had uncorked a tornado and let it go.
"Just lay the goddamn circle, Sam," she managed, tugging Marita's underwear down as gently as she could past the woman's swollen knee.
"But – "
Alice could see him out of the corner of her eye, just standing there watching; Sam's eyes going wide like someone had clobbered him on the back of the head with a stick. He probably never had much cause to see a child coming into the world – but the last thing the poor woman needed was Sam Winchester gawking at her like a slack-jawed yoo-hoo.
"You're the one standing there with the rock salt," Alice hissed, placing a hand on Marita's distended abdomen. A little body moved underneath her palm, too high up in her mama's belly to be anything but a girl. "None of us stand a chance if you don't," she added.
"I'll kill it as soon as it comes," a dark voice taunted. "I'll kill you before you can tell your mama's ghost what you did to me."
Sam's eyes were stormy as he pulled a handful of salt from the bag. It dripped slow out of his fist, his jaw clenched so tight that Sam looked more like Dean busting down the door into Mama's shop with a roar and a shotgun and nothing like the little boy who used to catch crawdads and laugh when they caught the ends of Alice's braids. He was growing into his name, the Winchester scratching itself into his bones for all that a different ghost was going to shine out of his eyes when the time came.
Alice shook her head sharply, grounding herself with the sound of a Grinning Man's litany.
"Children who misbehave are punished." The thing was so close, it could have been whispering in Alice's ear. "You tempted your father when he should have been grieving, tempted your father until he put something into your belly that no daughter should have."
Mama's voice cut through the wind and the heat on Alice's back, a command and a punishment all at once that turned a laugh into a gasp. If anyone could tear that thing apart piece by piece, it was her mama and John Winchester.
Marita moaned, her body shifting underneath Alice's hand. The baby was moving too quick, ripping her way out before that damn ghost could kill her – ripping her way out before a goddamn ghost killed her mama faster than the blood staining her mama's thighs would. Mama would have been able to calm the tremors tearing through Marita Ellison's body, finding the song gentle enough to stop Marita's tears with nothing but a brush of fingertips across her temple instead of trying not to bawl herself.
But Alice brushed the sweaty hair back from Marita's forehead all the same.
"Easy now," she whispered. There was no way anyone could hear her tiny voice against the splintering wind and the crack of a shotgun and two voices chanting; one high and one low – one cadence as perfect as an arrow rushing towards it target. Alice bent down so that her mouth touched the limp hair near Marita's ear, her arm throbbing when Marita's hand clamped around her wrist. "Hold on tight," Alice said, an ache building up in her belly. "Hold on as tight as you need to."
A contraction tore through Marita's body so fierce that her back buckled.
Sam met her eyes when Alice fell back onto her heels and he was already slipping his t-shirt over his head before Alice could say anything, both of them taking deep breaths when Marita started shaking. The poor woman was propped up against the wall as best as they could make her, bearing down hard for all that her knees were bending the wrong way; feet slipping on the slick all around her.
The only thing that Alice could hear was the pound of blood through her temples but she could feel the cold against her cheek and a shotgun shell dropped to the ground next to Sam's knee. All that mattered was the baby, coming unnatural fast and killing her mama from coming too slow all the same, a head pushing through mucus with another swell of blood. She got the baby breathing somehow, a startled cry that broke through the silence, and wrapped her tight inside Sam's t-shirt.
His fingers were just as cold as hers when Alice passed him the baby.
"Time to come home to Papa," a sibilant hiss murmured into the wind.
"You're gonna have to come through me first, asshole," answered a rough voice and the cock of a shotgun.
Marita whimpered, the afterbirth bringing with it another rush of blood that mixed with the water spreading the red stain across the floorboards, and her head fell backwards against the wall.
She was already getting cold while they did nothing but watch, breath coming out heavy like Marita Ellison was walking up the steep side of Weatherly Hill.
Alice's fingers twitched and she ripped a strip of fabric off of her skirt, swallowing as she bunched up the fabric and held it there with one hand, hoping it would staunch the flow long enough for the twitching to stop. "It's not time for you to go yet," Alice said softly. Marita's eyes focused on Alice's face, so full of hurt it made a heart sore. "Your baby girl needs her mama now more than anything."
They were both thick in the blood, a rusty tang that made her heady every time Alice breathed; a rusty tang that had her whole body twitching with the need to do anything but watch, twitching until Alice was sinking past the splintered wood and the beams holding up the house into the earth underneath – sinking down to the roots weaving their way through the soil and wrapping around her spine. A woman's hum resonated through Alice like a bell when she spread her palm across Marita Ellison's belly, flushing from the warmth wrapping her up in the arms of something as gentle as a breeze and as old as the oak tree out on the farm.
There was just as much power in blood as there was in anything, even blood as weak as hers.
Alice fell backwards, breath coming out in a huff as she sank into the arms that were still holding her tight, keeping her body from slumping over no matter how limp she got – no matter the pain arcing through Alice's skull or the way her body bucked, too tired to hold back the bile burning its way out of her throat.
Cool fingers that felt like home brushed the hair off of Alice's forehead, tucking a tangled curl behind her ear when a rain-soaked draft set her to shivering. Alice wrapped her hand around the glass someone was holding to her lips, the water passing rough over the ache in her throat until Alice pushed the glass away and opened her eyes.
There was a dull twinge in her belly every time Alice breathed – but that was nothing compared to the throb in her temples every time Alice moved her head. At least Marita Ellison's baby girl was making soft sounds, safe in the cocoon of Sam Winchester's arms, instead of crying as loud as she had a right to.
Her poor mama was resting easier than she should have been, stuck with nothing but a girl pretending to do her mama's work and a boy raised for soldiering, a flush creeping across her cheeks underneath darkened eyes still touched by a raven's call. A bloody handprint was splashed across Marita's dress, a crimson stain sitting stark against the yellow; marks from Alice's lifeline and the wrinkles between her knuckles soaked into the fabric along with the scar from that time she was helping Papa gut some trout and the knife slipped.
No amount of washing was going to clean that dress.
"There's my good girl," Mama said softly, her voice full of sunshine and wind chimes and a mother's pride that Alice didn't deserve – the only Meeks woman who couldn't do jack until her mama knelt behind her and finished calling whatever Alice was too weak to hold. But that didn't keep her mama from kissing the back of Alice's head before she let go, moving next to Marita Ellison with the smile already sliding off of her face.
The ache in Alice's throat only got worse watching the tears catch in Marita's eyes while she held up her hands for her baby girl; watching one little fist push its way into the air when Marita whispered something low that made Mama close her eyes and shake her head. And there wasn't much for Alice to do but wipe her cheek with the back of her hand once those tears finally started falling, her throat as tight as the arms holding Marita Ellison's daughter close.
The tattered hem of her dress swirled around her thighs as Alice stumbled to her feet.
She probably should have felt the broken glass stabbing into her heel when she stepped over the thick line of salt on the floor the same way she should have felt something when her toes reached the blood thickening around Daniel Ellison's lifeless body and she saw what was left behind, all cold eyes and curled fingers and a second smile sliced into his throat that was never going away no matter how hard John Winchester squeezed Dean's shoulder.
"You did good." John's voice was gruff, two gashes splitting his cheek as the words tumbled into the room, tangled up with soft sobs that Alice was never going to forget. Dean's jaw clenched while he slowly flexed his fingers, his eyes going dark when John's hand dropped to his side. "You protected your brother and that girl of yours. Couldn't ask for anything more than that, son."
But that didn't mean much with a dead man bleeding out in front of them, another ghost etched into their skin.
Dean scratched underneath his ear before jamming his hands into his pockets and a strangled noise popped out of his throat when he turned around and saw her gawking at him. The scowl on Dean's face only got worse when he took in her soiled dress and the dried blood on her hands and all those tiny cuts marking up her arms and her legs, little bee stings made from glass.
"Guess I'm gonna get the gas and matches from the car," he managed.
The way Dean Winchester looked at her, his eyes overflowing with the crackle and spit of fire, made Alice's stomach churn. She understood the particulars for all that Mama taught her different, had heard enough tales from the folks passing through Mama's store to know that angry ghosts could be sent to rest with salt and fire. How it was best not to take chances before vengeance and loss and whatever else kept a soul from passing could bind a person to his sin or her sorrow.
How they wanted to burn themselves instead of coming back unnatural.
Even Papa had been buried with a rune-stitched sachet full of salt, angelica and bay leaves; the final charm any Meeks woman would give her man.
It was more than Daniel Ellison was going to get in the end and a good sight less than he deserved, cut down by some twisted monster wanting the most precious things in his world – making the same choice her papa would have made, full of the same need that sent the people Alice loved most into the dark. It only seemed right to sit a vigil knowing that, knowing that the man had left behind a baby girl who would never see her own papa's smile or hear her papa's laugh or have the chance to see how brave her papa really was. Hoping that someone would be there to do the same for Alice Meeks on the day the dark laid low someone precious to her.
Even if that damn slash across Daniel Ellison's neck made her want to turn tail and run.
"I..." Alice shook her head sharply. "I'll go with you."
"The only place you're going is back home, Sweet Pea."
"The hell I am," Alice snapped. She stomped across the floor so fast that she was standing in the foyer before Dean caught up with her, his mouth twisting.
"The fuck you are," he retorted, grabbing her wrist when Alice reached for the door knob.
"I came here with my mama and the only person I'm gonna go back with is her." And it probably would have been more convincing if she wasn't acting like she was six years old.
"Jesus Christ, I'll…" Dean's voice trailed off, his eyes dropping to the faded scars on her right arm; tiny half-moons that he suddenly brushed with his fingers. "I'll drag you home myself if I freaking have to."
"I'm staying." Alice swallowed, wishing like hell that her voice would stop cracking every time she opened her mouth. Wishing like hell that Dean Winchester would stop staring at her goddamn arm with that goddamn frown of his until his eyes went soft and she was suddenly touching the scar on his cheek. "My mama needs me the same way your papa needs you and Sam."
He had the grace not to call her on the lie.
Especially when they both heard Mama's soft voice telling his papa that Marita Ellison needed to get to a hospital, that the bleeding had stopped but only just.
Dean Winchester could make a girl believe she was the most perfect thing on earth just by kissing her.
Water rained down on both of them, warm drops turning cold the longer he thrust up inside her; Alice hooked her feet behind his knees, propping herself up as they rocked hip to hip. She couldn't stop touching him, fingers digging into the coarse skin around the scars on his back to prove to herself that he was there; listening to sharp gasps whenever her hands grazed down a mottled bruise and not even knowing Sam was trying to sleep in the guest room on the other side of the wall kept her from moaning when Dean dipped his head down – a stuttering hitch that filled the spaces between them when Dean caught a nipple between his teeth and flicked it with his tongue.
There was nothing to do but tangle her fingers tight into his hair when that mouth of his left little glimmers of flushed skin wherever it touched, pulling his head back and bringing her lips down to his. Dean was already teasing past them, his tongue darting inside like a firefly; plucking out every gasp and groan until Alice spread her thighs wide.
Hard thrusts cracked her open like she was that old honeycomb they stole from Mama's bees, swollen full of sweet and dripping over his fingers, and his thumbs pressed into her hips when she whimpered.
He was as swollen as she was, ready to spill over with every slap of skin against skin.
But Alice could still see Marita Ellison's eyes go wide during that one last push and she could still smell the rusty tang that filled the room right after, no matter how hard she tried to outrun the woman's white face playing on the back of her eyelids; no matter how hard Alice shuddered, a tremor fluttering around his cock.
"Fucking come for me, Alice."
She sucked in a breath, leaning her head back and bracing her hands on Dean's arms, and looked him in the eyes. Whatever she was going to say got swallowed whole by her bucking hips, lost in the goose bumps rising on her thighs and down her arms as her back arched; stiff little nubs brushing slick skin when his mouth wasn't sucking them. Dean grunted into her neck as they crashed into the tiles and pinned her there. That didn't keep Alice's hips from crashing into his, riding every swell that pulled him deep until his pulse pounded against hers and a ragged cry roared through the room, ripped out of her belly as defiant as a blue jay.
Alice lowered her head, shivering from the cold as each drop slid into cracks and crevasses. He was shivering himself, hitching up to capture her mouth with his; shivering when the pads of her fingers traced down his back, trailing down the scratches she left on top of those scars of his and every bruise blossoming underneath his skin.
Dean was still kissing her as he lifted Alice up by the hips, her legs sliding slowly down his until her feet were resting on the bottom of the tub. He hissed into her mouth when she slipped off the condom, reaching around his back and hoping she hit the wastebasket when she threw it outside the shelter of the shower curtain.
She rested her forehead on his chest, wrapping her arms loosely around his neck, still as hollow inside as she had been when Dean Winchester dragged her into the bathroom.
"How do you do it?" she asked softly, blinking away hot tears in spite of herself.
Dean surprised her with a hand coming up underneath her chin, tilting her head up and holding it that way when she flinched from staring up into the ghosts and the dust that swirled inside his eyes even when he was watching her with as gentle a smile as the ones he made in his sleep.
"Stand between the dark and the people it wants to hurt." Her throat started aching all over again and it hurt to breathe, the way his face softened like she was another innocent he needed to protect. And maybe she had never seen eyes that stopped shining before Daniel Ellison but Alice Meeks had touched the truth of what monsters could do to a man, right there in her grandma's claw foot tub. She swallowed. "Watching them die while you stand there bleeding from the thing that tried to kill them."
"That thing won't kill anyone else."
Alice couldn't keep from trembling. He sounded like every hunter who passed through Mama's store, singing the same refrain even when the lyrics were different; passing off the frost rattling around inside their rib cages with stories of the good they had done, a hunter's prayer holding them steadfast against the memories of the ones they lost carved through muscle and cracking through broken bone. One hand slipped down into his.
"But there's always something else that will."
"It's part of the gig."
"And so is dying," she snapped.
There was no use trying to take the words back for all that she should have kept her mouth shut, not after Alice had burned an armful of clothes in the incinerator after they got back. Not after Alice had scrubbed the crimson stains on her hands and her arms with that stupid loofah sponge Dean stole as a joke. She had kept right on scrubbing after the water ran clear, her skin rough and red until Dean pried the sponge out of her fingers.
Alice bit her lip as the color drained from Dean's face, his freckles standing out across his nose. He was frowning, a bend to his mouth that made him look like his papa, and he brushed one thumb across her cheek; catching another teardrop before it fell into the swirl of water rushing past their feet.
"You didn't run when the shit hit the fan," he said finally. "You're tough like your mom."
"Nothing says tough like bawling your eyes out after." She snorted, a laugh cutting its way out of her throat. "Mama's the one with the gift. I'm just the girl who ties ribbons on a tree 'cause there's nothing much else to do but hope." A hot flush spread down to her toes. "And I go to sleep every night hoping you're safe 'cause I don't know what I'd do if you weren't. That's nowhere near – "
Dean cut her off with a kiss that made her stomach jerk and pushed her backwards, tiles cool on her back. He left a wet trail across her breasts, sliding one hand between her thighs; curling two fingers up inside as Alice moaned, pushing through the salt until she was throbbing around his knuckles. She leaned down just enough to capture his mouth, tongue dancing with his as fast as he moved his fingers into the swell, and she was nothing more than a spray of firefly kisses blooming across her belly; flickers sparking into flame and a moan that overflowed onto his hand just like that broken honeycomb.
"You talk too much," he breathed against her lips.
"And you're a yoo-hoo."
His mouth quirked to the left when he stood up but there was no hiding from the truth of things, no matter how that grin spread slowly across his face when he licked his thumb and pressed it right in the middle of Alice's forehead. Some hurts buried themselves too deep, hollowing out secret resting places and never bleeding clean once they were scabbed over.
Those eyes of his were going to be the death of her.
That didn't keep Alice from licking Dean's collarbone, marking a trail of her own past the jagged scars on his abdomen; not stopping until she was on her knees, one hand on each thigh. That didn't keep Dean from sighing when Alice's lips wrapped around him, rocking in slow counterpoint to the slip and slide of her mouth. Maybe it was a small thing, the tug of fists in her hair every time his hips bucked or the way her hands tightened around his thighs hard enough to leave behind the white imprints of her fingers when they were done.
Maybe it was never going to be enough in the end, maybe it could never hold up against the weight of the dark and the things that danced in it.
But Dean whispered her name like it was a blessing when they ended up back in her bedroom, tangled together on top of her comforter with the house settling around them. And waking up next to him, his breathing slow and soft while a shaft of sunlight peeking through the curtains warmed her skin, was more than enough for her.
The title of this chapter is a song lyric from "I Dream an Old Lover" by Jeffrey Foucault.
Physica is a series of books written by Hildegard Von Bingen, one of my personal heroes.
Angelica is an herb that is associated with "fire" in magical circles. It is a protective herb specifically associated with exorcisms. The same properties are associated with bay leaves, so I thought it was appropriate to incorporate them both into the sachet that was buried with Jacob.
On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has asked about this story since I posted the last chapter. I know this chapter is long overdue and all of my multi-chaptered WIPs suffered from a lot of crap that happened to me in the last year and a half: anemia, menorrhagia, chronic fatigue, endometrial cancer, major surgery and chemotherapy. Now that I'm starting to feel more like myself again, I'm going back to the things I love most – and emSorrow/em is one of them. Thanks for sticking with me until I could write it again.
Lastly, my apologies for the slight change in format. I had to use different section breaks to keep from getting horizontal lines in the text where I didn't want them.