This is an AU written per tinhen's instructions: Mary died in 1979, Sam never existed at all, and Dean was the Demon's chosen child. Also, there had to be voodoo dolls made out of pears. Yeah, I don't get her either. Anyway, title and quote are from the Josh Ritter song of the same name. Enjoy!

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Monster Ballads

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the ones and zeroes bleeding mesa noise
when you're empty there's so much space for them
you turn it off and then a still small voice
comes in blazing from some vast horizon

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August doesn't feel early in the season. In fact, August feels a lot like hell. If it wasn't for the Oregon sun being filtered in a harmless green halo by the branches above him, Dean'd be likely to assume it is. But still, the pears heaped next to his knee are small and hard, picked before their prime. It's a halted development he thinks is particularly fitting as he selects one and starts whittling.

He misses the visions, as mental as that sounds. For the two-and-a-half years he was cursed (or blessed, the jury's still out) with them, they made his job so much simpler. See death and destruction, head to Ohio. Or Massachusetts. Or New Mexico. It was easier, then. There was always a new job to head for. And if there wasn't, well—that just meant one more day he could sleep in without having his head split open and drained out.

But he remembers the graveyard in Wyoming, the place he shot the yellow-eyed bastard that had been fucking with him and Dad for so long. And he remembers the feeling of emptiness that flooded his mind, the absence of a part of him he'd only been aware of for a short time. Other parts were quick to fill that space up, like the memory of bashing Jake's face in during the clusterfuck that was Cold Oak.

You never get used to it, Dad would say, after he'd killed a werewolf or a possessed body or somebody who didn't have the good sense not to side with monsters. You never get used to it, but sometimes it has to be done.

Dean sets down a tiny human-shaped figure made out of woody unripe pear, then picks up another piece of fruit.

God, he misses Dad. Sometimes he'll sit in the passenger seat of the Impala and pretend Dad's just stepped into the convenience store for a cup of coffee. And when it gets to be too long for anybody just getting a drink, he'll slide on over and start up the engine, find a motel, and not move from his bed for the next twelve hours.

It was never a question of forgiveness when Dad left that first time—Dean was twenty-five, and he could take care of himself. Hell, he'd done solo jobs before. But he'd never been alone before, not like that. Not without at least the end-of-the-day-roundup call. Not without the coordinates of the place they'd get back together. And when the headaches started, the white-light-blinding pains ricocheting through his skull like endless games of squash, he tried calling. And when he had his first vision—nonsensical, just noise and color and pain—he tried calling for five hours straight. (When Dad died and he went through the old man's phone to find someone to contact, he'd come across those messages. The terror-pitch in them, the half-sobbed begs for help, for advice, for anything, made his sinuses burn in shame.)

Still, it was never a question of forgiveness. He was just too glad to see Dad again when it finally happened, too glad his father still acted like he was a human being and not some creature that needed to be eliminated. For a long time he'd wondered if Dad would have to take care of him, if he'd be nothing but salted ashes after their next encounter. He thinks it probably would've been justified.

He places another figure beside the first and sets blade to another pear. On a whim, he cuts out a bad patch and continues working around the hole.

And then Dad'd died. Well, okay, there was the bit about the possession and the car wreck and the coma, but the conclusion was the same: Dad was dead and Dean was alone for good. The visions kept getting worse, the demons more prevalent, and it was his fault Dad had made that deal. Dean really thinks he might've gone mad had Bobby not extended the offer of a bed and a short-term job around the yard.

It's funny how his connections to other have waxed and waned of late. Apparently he doesn't have the asshole nature that made his old man so repulsive to a lot of the others, but all the same he doesn't like the look in Ellen's eye that says family. It's not that he's particularly opposed to family, it's just…it's only ever been him and Dad, and he's not looking for that feel-good bullshit, not even from the Harvelles. Still, it's nice to know he's got somebody to back him up when he goes parading boy-king triumphant into cowboy graveyards.

By the time he finishes with the last pear, it's nearly dark. He arranges the seven tiny pear-shapes around the base of the tree and waits. As soon as the last traces of light have disappeared into the endless west, the leaves of the gnarled tree begin to shake violently, although there is no wind. The earth heaves as roots begin to slither out to snatch at his boots.

Dean steps over the progressively-thicker roots as he pours a salt circle around the spasming tree. When he's done, he douses the whole thing in gasoline and strikes a match. As the still-shaking tree erupts in flame, there's a shrill shriek. For a brief moment, Dean sees the bark-rough skin and hollow-knot features of the dryad, screaming out its death-curse at him, then it's consumed. Lapped too by the flames are the tiny pear-figures, one for each victim consumed flesh, bone, and spirit by the dryad's tree. He hopes Bobby was right, and this will at least unchain their souls.

The trunk and branches are still crackle-popping from the fire when Dean feels the new noise in his head. It's been growing steadier since Wyoming, when he'd thought there was nothing left. And now he can feel Lilith moving closer, less than three states away.

He walks back to the front of the abandoned farmhouse and turns over the Impala's engine. She'll be here within a day, and he doesn't feel like dying just yet.