A/N: Story title taken from the KT Tunstall song of the same name. I've twisted canon a little. What? No, you're surprised at that? Huh. I've also AU'd the four horsemen of the apocalypse. This story contains violence, cussing, and character deaths. *Taps foot impatiently.* Ye have been warned. It's Halloween weekend, people!
Summary: Dean's past life as Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, catches up with him when his black horse comes looking for him during a hunt that does south. Dark AU.
His head hurts.
He can't remember exactly where he dropped his shotgun, and the only thing he's got left on him is his silver knife, which means he'll have to get close enough -- too damn close -- to stab the fugly in the heart. Repeatedly.
Before those huge hooves pound him into a grease spot on the ground.
Something blindsided him. Dean remembers that much, something large and fast. Felt like the night sky just dropped on top of him, fierce and muscular and raging, never mind that the sun's out, shining overhead. He doesn't think he was out for that long. Getting picked up and body slammed into a friggin' tree hurts just as much as being picked up and slammed into a friggin' wall, and Dean briefly wonders why nearly every fugly he and Dad hunt lately tries to use him as a human tennis ball.
Dean's been off his game ever since Sam left for college months ago. Maybe he's broadcasting some sort of signal, some kind of sound that only fugs can pick up. Come and get me. Kick my ass, why don't you.
The hell of it was, during the drive to the bus station, Sam had the nerve enough to ask Dean how he was feeling. Hell of a time for a chick flick moment, bro. Dean huffed laughter, a sharp, broken sound, and he should have known fucking better, should have kept his damn mouth shut.
"The three of us, that's all we have, and it's all I have. Sometimes I feel like I'm barely holding it together, man. Without you or Dad…"
Sam stuck his chin up and out defiantly. That wasn't the kind of thing he wanted to hear. He was too busy being righteous and angry, and Dean realized too late that Sam's anger included him, as well as Dad.
One more kick in the teeth. One more epic fail. Dean could kill demons, vanquish angry spirits and slay all manner of fuglies, but he couldn't even keep his own family together. Just another day in the life.
Right arm's dislocated, dead, useless. Luckily he's just as handy with his left (thanks, Dad), but still, it's awkward as hell with that sizzle of adrenaline twitching his muscles, surging through his veins. It's almost too much, makes his heart and breath hitch in his chest. Dean knows he needs to settle himself, right the hell NOW.
He's barely aware of how his breathing shifts into what he and Sam used to call combat Lamaze. Dean breathes in for four counts, holds for four counts, breathes out for four counts, holds for four, then does it all again. He goes from breathing quick, fast and ragged to the steady four count as he stumbles forward on the uphill slope, through the brush. He tightens his grip on the knife in his left hand, cradles his right side with that useless right arm of his.
He glances back, and yep, it's still there, following him. Pitch black, gliding silently between the dark green shadows and splashes of sunlight. It moves more cat-like than horse-like, and this son-of-a-bitch is huge.
Bobby supposed that it was a puca, or a kelpie maybe. Sucker some unsuspecting dummy onto its back and then take them away for the ride of their lives. That was the best case scenario.
Dean has a pretty good idea what worst case would be.
Somehow he makes it up to the top of the hill, and nothing's happened yet. Maybe the patron saint of hunters is feeling charitable this time. Maybe this time he's finally gonna get a break, yeah, a good break, a little good luck would be nice…
From behind Dean hears the thing whinny, a high-pitched sound, almost a shriek, and those massive hooves hit the ground at a dead run. As Dean turns he grips the knife in his left hand, ready to start slashing with it, for what little good it'll do. The thought of going down quietly doesn't even occur to him.
The damn thing runs right past him, wheels around and stands there, stamping its feet, shaking that chiseled head and that long tangled black mane at him. Dean backs up, quick fast and in a hurry. Every instinct inside him screams at him not to drop the damn knife, but he does it anyway as he lands on his ass with an awkward thump, braces himself with his good arm.
The fugly walks towards him slowly, head down, neck stretched out, ears pricked, whinnying and nickering. It stops three feet away and then just stands there, shaking its head no no no, over and over again, making that rumbling sound deep in its throat.
"What the hell d'ya want from me!" Dean finally yells. He's pissed. He's had it with the cat and mouse game, horse and mouse, whatever the hell game this damned thing's playing.
The horse thing shakes its head right back at him, rears up and comes down hard with both forelegs on the ground. Clods of dirt fly up into the air and Dean leans back to avoid getting hit.
Now that he's close enough, nearly nose to nose, he gets a really good look at how huge this damn thing is. It looks like an oversized Arabian. Sleek, coal black, not a speck of color anywhere, except for those reddish gold eyes and those too bright white teeth. It snorts fire and steam with each flex of those wide red nostrils. Muscles shiver underneath that smooth fine coat.
What the hell… The fingers of Dean's left hand twitch in response.
Stupid, Dean tells himself. He wants to touch it, wants to run his fingers over that sleek black fur. He's sitting there on the ground like some dazed, mind-fucked civilian when he should be looking around for his knife. People have died because of this thing. It smashed its way into houses and stomped the humans inside into jelly. That was why Bobby called Dad. They had a job to do, people to save, something evil to kill.
Why's it just standing there?
Dean sits up straighter, his useless right arm in his lap. The fugly pricks its ears at the change in his position and stares at him intently.
Stupid fuckin' idea. Don't do it…don't ---
He raises his hand, palm out, fingers flat, spread a little. The horse-fugly stops and stares, ears pricked, then delicately walks forward, placing each hoof daintily here here here and here, like so.
It lowers its head and those soft whiskers tickle as they brush the skin of his palm. The touch sends a shiver of pleasure jolting up Dean's spine.
The horse whuffs, its breath warm against his skin. It mouths Dean's palm with those soft flexible lips, and if he had any sense he should be fucking afraid that it's just suckering him in, that it'll suddenly twist its head to the side, bare sharp jagged teeth and rip his damn arm off.
It lips his fingertips, then his palm, right down to the heel of his hand, forwards and backwards, then it backs up, quiet, as it briskly shakes its head up and down.
Yes what? Dean wonders.
The sense of loss he feels when the thing pulls back confuses him. This is wrong. This is all wrong.
It takes him a few false starts to get to his feet. Plays hell with the macho image he'd like to project, isthatallyougot,bitch? but he's only human after all, and his body clearly has other ideas.
His knife's in the grass, a few feet away. The critter just stands there, making this soft sound like a kitten purring.
Dean stumbles and wobbles onto his feet like a newborn foal. He cautiously eases past the thing, up to the line of tall brush and trees ahead, and he leans over, stops and stares. "Oh, fuck me," Dean whispers roughly, and his throat's so dry it hurts.
Beyond the brush the hillside drops down and away into a pretty impressive six hundred fifty foot drop into the picture post card perfect valley below. If he'd kept on walking he would've walked out onto thin air, done a pretty good imitation of Wile Coyote doing an air dance, just before our good friend Mr. Gravity took over and splattered him all over the hillside below.
The horse thing pricks its ears up, snorts, then stretches out its neck and whickers at him.
"Don't expect me to thank your sorry ass," Dean snaps, and the thing jerks back, eyes wide, obviously offended by the sharp tone in his voice. "Wouldn't have come up here in the first damn place if it hadn't been for you."
Those large black shoulders slump and it hangs its head, big ears pointed in opposite directions, the very picture of rejection.
Dean walks past, tries to control the shakiness in his knees. God he hates heights, hates the Great Outdoors. He grunts softly in pain, the skin around his eyes crinkling with effort as he leans down to scoop up the knife with his left. Gray spots dance around the edge of his vision. The ground comes rushing up at him, and it takes an effort not to let go, to just keep on falling. He's tired, and the ground looks soft like a bed.
Dean pulls himself upright with a visible effort.
The thing snorts as it follows Dean down the hill, trailing behind him like some hopeful little kid.
He makes it to the bottom of the hill just fine, but then he has trouble remembering how to walk. Something warm and sticky runs down the right side of his face, and that dull heavy ache inside his skull starts throbbing in time with his heartbeat.
Dean stares at his feet as he concentrates on putting them down and picking them up. The ground is a lot further away than he thought it was.
He stumbles, loses his balance and almost topples over sideways. Sam's there to push him back up.
Or maybe it's Dad. Dean's not really sure at this point.
It happens several more times. Each time he's gently nudged back upright, but after the fourth time it dawns on him that hell, that can't be right.
Dean turns his head slightly to the left, and right beside him he sees a broad back, powerful muscles moving smoothly underneath glass smooth coal black fur. Large reddish gold eyes turn towards him, and Dean's swallowed up. He can't look away; he doesn't want to. The last thing he remembers is grabbing handfuls of mane with numb clumsy fingers before he slides into darkness as black as the thing's hide.
He can hear Dad now. Whatever you do, don't get on its back, Dean. Don't.
Nothing else matters now, only the sun and sky above them, the grassland that stretches all around. He's relaxed now, totally pain free. That tightness he usually carries in his back and shoulders is gone. He sees Sam and Dad, but it's different now. There's no heat associated with any of it.
Dean hears voices, angry and sharp --
I can't live like this anymore, Dad. I'm done with this life.
You go out that door, Sam, don't bother coming back, you hear me?
--- but the voices get fainter with every step the black horse takes.
It's been a while since Dean rode, whether for pleasure or on a job. He fell in love with horses from the first time he ever saw one, learned to ride when he was ten, but it's one of the things that Dean keeps hidden inside. Whatever he loves dies. That's a lesson he learned that November night years ago back in Lawrence.
He shifts his weight to match her motion as she walks. She responds to the slight pressure of his thighs, his hand light on the side of her long swanlike neck. The slow, stately walk shifts into a brisk trot, free and easy. Dean balances on her bare broad back, moves to match her rhythm. Sense memory makes his skin tingle.
After twenty feet or so Dean firmly grabs that handful of mane a little more securely as he gently nudges her with his heels. He's giving her permission to run, letting her know that it's all right, he's fine with it.
He leans forward a little, balancing over her center. She's all tightly coiled energy, and he knows it, but even then he's still not fully prepared when she takes off.
Son of a bitch.
She has a long stride, fluid and smooth, too long even for a horse that size. It feels like she puts up a sail between strides, just hangs there in mid-air for a moment. They take that sloping hillside no problem, and she moves so easily, so gracefully, that he's almost tempted to head back to that other hill and leap off the cliff edge into space.
She'd do it if he asked her to. He has no doubt she could fly.
Dean whoops, loud, wild and joyful, as they come out of the run. She tosses her head, dances sideways as she slows down.
I didn't mean to hurt you. I was angry, the black says softly, inside Dean's head.
You left me. You left us.
Oh. Hell. All this time Dean thought he was the one who did the staying, he was the one who never left.
He senses the exact moment when the sky darkens overhead. The black steps daintly, avoiding the bones and human wreckage on the ground all around them. Human remains carpet the fields as far as the eye can see. Bones and bodies, and some of them are still alive. Barely. They move feebly on the ground, trying to get away, and none of it moves Dean. It's death by violence, disease, and starvation. He's seen it all before, different times, different places. It's all the same.
The air is ripe with the stench of rotting meat and disease. Dean smiles to himself. They've done good work here. He turns his mount around and the others follow him out.
"Knew you'd remember this life," the black dude says. He sits his big red horse proudly. His dark locked hair coils tight past his shoulders like a lion's mane. He wears denim and leathers, dusty from the road. There's a reddish-orange glint in the man's eyes. Dean's eyes glow in response as he looks at the others.
The rider on the white horse is a surprise. She's a little girl, couldn't be more than eight, nine years at the most. Long wavy red hair, a pert upturned nose, with freckles and the face of an angel. Her own eyes give the game away. Ancient and ageless. She sees him looking at her and grins.
Four horsemen? Well, don't believe the hype.
The Hispanic dude is just as broad as that huge dappled grey horse of his. He has a broad, pleasant face. "It's a new day now," he rumbles. "Come ride with us, brother. We can't do this thing without you."
The voice startles him. There's urgency, and fear. The fear's well-hidden but it's there just the same. Everything around Dean fades in and out on twin tracks, the darkened killing field in one blink of an eye, the wide open sunlit valley in another.
"Dean! Where are you?"
Dean stops short. Fifty feet away he sees John Winchester walking out in the open, shotgun at the ready, with Bobby Singer covering his back. Neither man notices the carnage all around them. It fades in and out around them at first. John and Bobby are scratchy negative images of themselves, but their color fills in and they get more solid as Dean stares at them.
The black tosses her head angrily.
"Dad." Dean whispers. As soon as he says the word a sharp spike of pain pierces the space between his eyes.
Your body remembers. Your spirit does. You don't belong with them. You were ours…you were mine before you ever belonged to them. Dean can feel the rage rising up from the black's skin. We moved as one. We were like nothing the world has ever seen, before or since.
Dean thinks of John and Sam. Each time he does the pain inside him sharpens, a bright ice pick of agony that churns his insides.
The three of us, that's all we have, and it's all I have.
"I can't. I can't do this," Dean stammers. The pain doubles him over, and he slides gracelessly off the black's back. "I can't leave my Dad and my brother. I just…I can't."
The mood of the others around him changes instantly. There's sorrow and anger in her thought voice as the black moves away from him, her ears flattened against her head. Remember this, Dean. Everything ends. Whether you want it to or not. Everything ends.
Dean turns and stares at his father, takes a few stumble-steps in that direction. The throbbing ache in his right arm sears his nerve endings as it travels up his shoulder to his head. He steps forward, and the scene around him shifts. He's ankle deep in blood one step, underneath a maroon dark sky, stumbling forward in a sunlit field the next.
John stops and stares directly at him. "Dean?" John rumbles.
Bobby looks on, startled. He steps back, tightens his hold on that shotgun of his. "John, he stepped out of thin air. What the hell is going on here?"
"Dad," Dean breathes. Another step, further into the sunlight, the horsemen at his back.
Dean barely feels it when he falls to his knees with a heavy thump. The ground is soft underneath him, and that's all he wanted now, someplace soft to land, somewhere safe to just lie down and rest for a bit. It's all good. Dad's here.
Dean curls up on the ground, and John's hands move over him, rough and capable, turning him over onto his back, assessing the damage. John hisses under his breath when he sees the deep cuts and bruises, the blood matting the left side of Dean's hair, thick streaks of dark blood striping Dean's face.
John curses when he sees Dean's dislocated shoulder.
It's okay, Dean wants to say, but he's too tired to even form the words. It's hard to speak, even harder to keep his eyes open. 'm just tired, that's all. Nothing to get excited about. Just gimme a minute. That's all I need, just a minute…
"Dean? Dean!" That echo is funny, reminds Dean of that time in that funhouse up in Milwaukee. Dean laughs out loud, a tired, wheezy exhale of breath that makes his lungs rattle.
"This isn't funny, kiddo," John rumbles. "You're not dying on me, Ace, not today, not ever. That's an order."
Dean mumbles "…sorry…sorry…" even though his mouth feels too loose and too weird. He breathes in darkness and everything grows soft, dim and quiet.
He can't stay awake, but he's not going anywhere, not yet, anyway. Dad told him not to.
Lest you think I'm taking it easy on you by not having a more devious cliffie, let me assure you, this story gets darker. This ain't My Little Pony, lemme tell ya. Second and final chapter will be posted on Tuesday.