Disclaimer: I own nothing of the great show Supernatural. Nothing, I tell you. Sigh.
A/N: There are a couple of firsts here. This is my first ever one shot and my first ever beta'd project. A HUGE shout-out to MAZ101, who came through for me and helped me when I used the wrong word and didn't structure the sentence properly and kept me in my correct POV's. When I got the story back with all of her red marks, I actually clapped with glee. MAZ, you are exactly what Dr. Korossy ordered!
"Her mother's dead. And her father…" the old man shot a look at the younger men standing in the room, studying their faces, trusting strangers with everything he had left in this world, "her father is gone."
The old man was portly, bent over from the give of a spine that'd picked up too many sacks of potatoes in a unkind life. Too unkind. But weren't they all? He'd worked hard labor far back as he could remember. Back when he could make fifty cents for his family to survive. Wasn't exactly the life he'd dreamt for himself, but people had depended on him. First his Momma, then for love, then his own kids, and now…
Now his family was pretty much gone. Except for the girl. Or what was left of her.
"She just got sick." He scrubbed at the back of his thick neck as his gray bushy eyebrows lifted in an attempt to find one another. "Like they all did."
The girl moaned from her bed, her hand clutching her tiny abdomen in agony. Her eyes were screwed shut, letting no light in and no light out. Her red lips pinched together in tight pain as her breath hissed from her teeth. Her skin was flushed and horribly hot to the touch. She had tracks of what had been freckles on her cheeks, but they had now morphed into spots and blotches, smearing her youth away from her cheeks. She looked old. She looked spent. She looked like death was rapping at her door.
But she was eleven. And five days prior she had been laughing and playing and… healthy.
"How many were there?" Sam's voice interrupted the old man's thought process. He watched the girl from above, watching her grimace in pain, watching her fingers clutch at blankets and sheets.
"Oh," the man wrung out another washcloth and placed it over her heated forehead. "Guess in the past year… maybe five."
"Five?" His voice raised an octave. Bobby hadn't mentioned five. He had used the term "a couple". Five kids, same area, same strange illness, same end results. But really? Sam didn't want to think about that right now.
"Meggie'd be the sixth one with it." The old man's voice was soft and disappeared into the stale air as he bent over the girl, covering her forehead with the terrycloth. "Already took her sister."
Sam glanced over to his brother, but Dean didn't seem to notice his look. He was too busy watching the man's arthritic fingers shake as he smoothed the wet material over the girl's face. His cheek twitched as the old man's brows bunched again finding one another over the bridge of his nose as he shook his head back and forth.
"It's a shame," he growled out. "Nothin' up here but mountains and trees. S'posed to be a great spot to raise kids. Out in the nature. No city rules to worry 'bout."
Sam cleared his throat, drawing Dean's attention over to him. He gave a quick tick with his head, motioning quietly for the two of them to head for the door. Leave Grandpa to tend to his granddaughter.
The living room was small, warm and jam-packed with clutter. It was full of a lifetime of memories the old man was unable to sort through, let alone throw out. There were pictures hanging on the yellow painted walls, some in frames, some literally taped up. Obituaries next to them. Some old, one from two months ago. The sister.
He heard his brother's size ten's clomping up behind him as the door softly clicked shut. He turned around, his shoulder bumping off Sam's. They had gotten their groove back, at least that's what he'd told himself. Things were clinking back into the right spots, voids were being filled. They weren't holding onto secrets. That was the first big step. In all honesty though, there were times when his synch was off and Sam got in the way. Or maybe it was his own two left feet and it was him that was out of step. It was hard to decipher. Maybe they had gotten their groove back as hunters, but as brothers there were things they were both still adjusting to. Since the return of the living dead. Since an angel had altered the course of their lives. Since Sam had gotten back the one thing he had lost that had mattered the most. Since Dean was home.
Sam's neck swiveled to his brother and he shrugged. "Bobby said it was an acheri."
Dean shook his head back to him. His voice was worn and graveled, distant. "Hate those damn things." He hated all evil things that disguised themselves as little girls as of late. Blond and blue eyed and full of wonder.
God, he loathed them.
But their investigating had found that it wasn't just an acheri. Not in the least. It was an acheri with an agenda. She was picky, choosy who she went after, inflicting the greatest amount of damage she could. And she did it all for revenge.
Ginger Wallis had been her name a few years before when she was human. She had died when she was twelve, after being molested, raped and strangled to death with her own red hair ribbon. The perp had been someone she knew, of course. Someone she trusted, she knew no better. It had been her thirty-year-old Uncle Bentley, a man whom she had lived with her whole life. Had been in her Barbie underwear for as long as she could remember. She was an adorable child, a smart girl and when she learned in Kindergarten where she wasn't suppose to be touched, she tattled. She told her teachers, the nurse, her mother, the policeman. The nurse had it investigated, but the social service agency couldn't come up with any solid proof of abuse. The police liked Uncle Bentley, he volunteered on the fire department. Always brought a cheesecake to the dual policeman/fireman picnic. And he could whip their asses at Volleyball. They thought he was a swell guy. And her mother? Well, she had said little Ginger always liked to tell a story. So the girl was warned instead of being protected and she was punished instead of being believed.
When she was found dead, however, it took all of four hours to put together the case against Uncle Bentley. Now he was serving a life sentence in the penitentiary. Three balanced meals a day, an hour outside in the fresh air, Oprah on the TV, Radiohead playing on his CD player. And Ginger was angry, wrecking havoc on the mountain town, ripping apart the children of those who would not hear her. Grandpa and his granddaughter had been her neighbors. Grandpa had giggled and shooed the child away when she cried to him about Uncle B.
She'd make them all pay.
The door to the house swung open in Sam's hand and the November night air fell inside, the coolness from the mountains rolling off the tops and down to the valley. Dean shivered behind him and Sam could see his older brother pulling his jacket around him tighter. Sam led them out, his eyes snaking to the left and the right. Not expecting to find anything hiding in the dark, but…
The door to the Impala creaked open. "Sam." Dean jingled the car keys in his hand as Sam pulled out empty fingers from his own pockets. Right. He wasn't always the one behind the wheel anymore. Dean was back. Dean's car. Dean was driving now.
Sam walked around to the passenger side. He slammed the door shut and pulled out the map of the area, his flashlight illuminating the red inked X's he had placed there earlier. His finger moved up the trail of red, and he tapped lightly on the paper. "A couple of miles up the hill. Should find her grounds up there."
Dean was staring at him from the driver's side. His head was bouncing up and down, agreeing with Sam's assessment. The acheri had been seen in the small town when the last child had came down with illness. She had been described as small and vicious, dead-like, with hollowed-green eyes, amber hair with a red ribbon. Just like Ginger had sported.
She came in the night, while the families slept and would creep into the child's bedroom. Last time it had been Sean McNichols, her teacher's eight-year-old son. She bent over his bed and spewed a cloud of toxins into his mouth as he slumbered on. Then she climbed back up the mountain to wait a week, letting the sickness settle into the boy's body. Let it weaken him and then when his breathing had lagged, when his fever was spiking, when his mind had transferred to some other dimension, she struck.
The child had been ripped apart. Hell, they all had. And now parents were fearful. And desperate. One of the old-timers had heard of a man who hunted things that were not of this world. Things that only the special and elite were privy to. And that had led the town to the Winchesters.
The brothers drove a short distance to the bottom of the mound. The streets were quiet, lined with modest houses and small yards. The trees were mostly bare of leaves now, but around the trunks they were decorated with ribbons. A rainbow of colors. Dean pointed out an old oak tree to his brother, with a wide yellow ribbon wrapped tightly around it. He smirked.
"It's said the ribbon will protect them. But they should be red," Sam had explained earlier when they had hit the town. The townsfolk, however, had insisted on the variety of colors. She had been killed with her own red hair ribbon. How could that protect us? Sam had tried to explain, but there was only so much a posse of fearful people was able to listen to. Just kill the thing. Use whatever it takes. Our babies are dying. Money was offered and accepted. Ammunition was given, weapons were offered. Beer was nestled into the backseat of the Chevy. All in all, it was a pretty good gig.
Dean slammed the gearshift into park when they reached the bottom of the rocky path, which led up the mountain. It was eerily inviting to the hunters, dark and damp with a soft-pink glow seeming to rise up the terrain.
"Ready?" Dean's voice floated over to Sam. He killed the ignition and stepped out of the car.
His brother joined him at his side. He was quiet, watching the mist meet somewhere between the earth and heaven as his eyes traveled up. "You hear that?" He glanced over to Dean.
Dean stopped at Sam's side, his head tilting towards the mound. The music that played could have been a couple of feet up, could have been a couple of hundred feet up. Wherever it was playing from though, something inside the boys told them it was for them. It was for her. It was for him.
When you were here before/Couldn't look you in the eye/You're just like an angel/Your skin makes me cry.
"Damn," Dean breathed. "This is gonna be bitch."
The mountain was wet. Muddy. There were rocks spaced all around, trees growing wildly on slants, giving off the appearance that they would fall over at any moment. Probably will, Dean thought as they trekked up the terrain. Probably fall right on my head. He made it a point to stay away from the hanging branches, walking around the entire mess.
Sam, however, plowed right through, throwing back thickets of brush from his trail. Thorns scraped along his cheek, a few tangles in his hair, but his hands, his heart were unaffected.
It was like forty years.
A large branch kicked back and smacked him in the face, causing his head to snap back and away. Still caught him, though. Real good. He could feel the sting of the cuts immediately and his eyes burned in response. Or maybe it was in a different response.
How I feel… inside me? I wish I couldn't feel anything, Sammy. I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing.
His eyes slid across to Dean, who was still making his way cautiously up the rocky landscape of the mountainside. He seemed to not notice the beating the trees were giving his younger brother. That, or he was just choosing to ignore it. Either way, Sam felt it. He felt the emptiness off to his right. It still felt too raw, too heavy, too fragile to talk about. It was hard to care about saving the world from the end when you didn't even care about yourself anymore. Let alone a small town.
Dean's hand pushed off from a large boulder and he kept his stride, kept his rhythm up the side of the incline. The rocks were ice cold though, and getting worse the higher they climbed. There hadn't been any snowfall this season, but the frost was just as bad and it stung his hands. He absently wondered why he hadn't grabbed his gloves. Sam had his, he could see. He just hadn't been thinking…
It was a harsh whisper behind him and Dean sensed Sam's lanky form crouch low, ducking out of sight of the acheri. He felt his brother's gloved hands push him down, behind a large bush and they held there together, peering out into the open landing.
She was grotesque. Her body anorexic-slender, her face contorted with a long chin, a too high forehead and cheekbones that stuck out unnaturally far. Her eyes were dark from their viewpoint, but they were sunken with black, greasy circles encasing them over her cheeks. Skinny arms followed abnormally to hands where her fingers didn't seem to end. She walked from one end of the muddy landing to the other, dragging her hands at her sides, nails jagged, embedding into the dirt collecting sludgy silt underneath.
Her feet, however, moved nimbly, almost like a cat, prancing on the hard ground. The music playing in a loop, her forever dance.
You float like a feather/In a beautiful world/I wish I was special/You're so fucking special.
Dean whipped out an iron spear, his eyebrows shrugging to Sam. They weren't sure exactly what would kill it. Sam had encountered an acheri back in Cold Oak. He had used iron to make it "go away", although it had came back, didn't seem like it actually killed it. Of course, when he ventured a mention of Cold Oak, Dean seemed to turn himself off. So Sam had shut his mouth about it, not wanting his brother to shy away any further.
Or maybe it was how it made him feel inside.
Sam pulled out a silver blade and imitated the same look back to his partner. He grasped the shaft in his hands and started to push off when Dean's cold fingers caught his jacket. Sam stopped and turned on the heels of his shoes, staring at his brother.
The older hunter's breath was more rapid than before. Sam narrowed his eyes. Doubtful it was from the hike up the mountain. Dean could make it up and down ten times before he started to get winded. But this… this wasn't someone out of breath. It was someone trying to catch his breath. Someone second-guessing his plan of action. Someone doubting.
Sam balled back into his crouch, his head leaning in towards his sibling. "Come on." He gawked back at the uncertainty in his brother's eyes and then, not wanting to, but having no other choice, he found himself reassuring Dean. "It's okay."
And Dean nodded. It wasn't believable, it wasn't strong. It was weak and accommodating.
Jesus Christ. Sam turned from his brother and pulled out from behind the bush, his boots scraping along the rocks as he did. He wanted to be stealthy and covert as he emerged from their hiding spot, but the acheri apparently had very sharp ears. She turned to face him and Sam heard Dean gasp.
The light from the waning crescent moon hit the earth below just as the acheri locked eyes with Sam. Her hair was twisted into dreadlocks, shades of amber and strawberry blond visible to the eye. There was a hefty section of the fiasco that was once her trademark locks, which was pulled back and up, stacked on top of her head. Held securely together by a bright, red ribbon.
Sam walked around the bush, holding the silver close to him. He held the acheri's gaze, letting her follow him as he wandered out alone onto the landing with her. He could hear Dean twirl on the muddy ground, testing his footing, crunching twigs under his feet. The neck of the girlish figure bent to the right, catching the sounds, trying to decipher what else was back there, but she kept her focus with Sam. Let him continue to make his way to her. Her dark pupils flicked over the blade and then back to the man again. Her nails curled under as she brought her long fingers out in front of her body.
Sam was within a few feet, maybe four, when she unleashed her arms. She moved so fast, he didn't even seen skin, just a flash of white. She grabbed his hands simultaneously and turned them back, coiling them oddly away from his body. The pain was just as quick, just as blinding and drove him to his knees, white spots covering his vision.
He wanted to yell out, but his breath was sucked into his lungs and he held on fast, waited for her to snap his arms in half, the music pounding in his ears.
I don't care if it hurts/I want to have control/I want a perfect body/I want a perfect soul.
"Hey." It was low, a growl, not a shout. And Sam felt a sense of euphoria race through him.
Dean's pace was accelerating, a snappy jog and then a full on run, as he pressed towards the acheri. The iron spear was pulled back behind his shoulder, close to his ear and he didn't give her the chance to flinch. He released it when he was about eight feet out, plunging it heavily into the creature's chest.
Not many people could have made that shot.
She stumbled back, her arms stretching with her as her steeled fingers released from her hold on Dean's younger brother. Sam fell to the ground, but Dean was already passing him by, watching the frail body gain her strength and then charge towards the older hunter.
Iron hurt, but didn't kill. She'd make him pay, too.
Dean stopped in his tracks, pulling out his shiv, silver, like Sam's and prayed it would work as she slammed her body into his, the metal piercing into her abdomen. She didn't stop, though. It only angered her further. She wrapped her right hand firmly around Dean's neck and squeezed, greeting his widening pupils with razor-blade teeth, her lips disappearing into the ugliness of her face. Her fingernails uncurled from her left hand as she ripped through the hunter's jacket, slicing easily through his shirt, watching his bare chest heave, hopeful for air.
She was a thief, after all. As she watched him struggle in her hold, her fingernails mapped out the portion of his chest she would start with. Where the red would bubble under her possession. The ripping was her favorite part.
But I'm a creep/I'm a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here.
Dean's body swayed. His right hand was still hanging on to the hilt of his shiv, wanting to pull it out just to plummet it back into her again. But what good would that do? His left hand reached up towards her, making a half-hearted attempt to scratch at her face. She brushed her eyes down at him, her head easily moving away from his weak attempt. Her face contorted before him. Colors swirled quickly, blending and molding into images that crept into his nightmares. Her auburn hair turned to blond, her dark eyes changing to blue, her skeletal cheeks puffing full.
Silly goose, it's me –
Dean's eyes narrowed, he wanted to scream out , but there were no words. Her grip was like a vice around his windpipe, the edges of the night starting to sparkle with gray and orange. He was losing fast. He was going to die at her hands again and be sent to hell. And that damn music played on…
She's running out the door/She's running/runrunrunrunrun…
God, he wanted to run.
It looked like a shadow of a monster moving behind her as his conscious tried to stay in the now. He could barely make out the figure looming over the child's body. Dean blinked hard, watching with horror, watching with pride as Sam reached out and plucked the red ribbon from the acheri's hair and before she could even register his presence, he enveloped the fabric around her tiny, too long neck. Then he pulled it tight.
The release came slow for Dean, her fingers lost their grip feebly. His breath returned in uneven raspy pants. He fell back to the muddy ground looking on like a sick puppy. It was like forty years… Pull it together, Winchester... This feeling inside me… I don't belong here… I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing… runrunrunrunrun…
Sam had her. The acheri was suffocating from her own ribbon, the same device that had strangled her when she was a sweet little girl. When she was violated. His face cracked from the pressure, his knuckles white from the force. He wished it hadn't come down to this, wished it could have ended softly for her, wished he didn't have to be the one to smother her to death. For good this time.
Dean's eyes refocused. The soft graying light that was available returned his sight to the landing. He pushed off and watched his brother, shaking with effort, killing what Ginger Wallis had become. It wasn't Lillith. Had never been. Just his own fears showing their repulsive faces from the hiding places in his mind.
Sam jerked the ribbon taut, his muscles flexing, pumping his own silent fear into the red material. Can't have him, he said over and over, I won't let you have him again.
The acheri released a gurgling sound from inside, her long fingers tracing up to the ribbon as she tried to weakly pull at it. She was too late now. It was eating right through her, burning through her translucent, paper skin. Her dark eyes closed and her small body dissipated into the air. In the end, she seemed to surrender and went… gently.
Leaving Sam folded to his knees, holding onto an empty red ribbon.
Dean scrambled to his feet, offering his hand down to his brother. Sam's breath released harshly into the frigid air, blowing clouds of smoke between the two of them.
"Huh." He grabbed roughly at Dean's open palm and pushed while his brother pulled.
Dean shrugged at him, fisting his cold hands into his jacket and yanking Sam to his feet. He clapped his hand over Sam's chest, his mouth mumbling, "Tied one on."
Sam looked to his brother, his arms still shaking, his legs wobbly under his weight. He shook his head softly, sweaty bangs falling in a mess over his forehead. "Jesus," he straightened his jacket out, "why does it always have to be little girls?"
Dean's face fell. His thoughts hammered to Lillith. Towards the small and the delightfully frightening. "Dunno."
The air thinned around them, the mist seemed to glide away, and the music had mysteriously stopped playing. No one serenading them to run. No one telling them they didn't belong. They were surrounded again by the sounds of the cool night. By the sounds of each other. By the silence.
Dean lifted his eyes up. He saw his brother's small smile and what it masked. He saw the calm and the storm it hid. Sam had a way of listening without talking. He was always quiet when it came to his own fears. Dean swallowed, not wanting to answer. Not wanting to say another goddamn word ever again. Just run. Run until the pain was a distant memory. Until it wasn't real. "Sam," he began and then hesitated, "I'm tired."
Sam nodded, his neck gesturing to the rocky path they'd climbed up. "Race ya."
Dean couldn't help but chuckle. His eyes smiled back and for a second, he forgot about the mountain. Forgot about demons and angels. Forgot about saving the world. His brother wasn't running. Sam was standing right there. Right in front of him. He wasn't going anywhere.
Maybe Dean did have an answer to some things. Even if they were small. "No, but I'll walk with you."
Their steps back down the mountain were taken as one as they hit the rocks and slid on the mud. Dean watched his own footing, his eyes sliding over to his brother, watching his descent on the spiky stones below. Sam's arm came out when needed to catch him from falling and once or twice a hand grabbed at Dean's coat before he kissed a rock himself. It was a quiet journey, though. Words only thought, not spoken.
The Impala was in sight as they rounded the last of the scattered trees and something else that caught their eyes. Standing like trees themselves were several of the town folk. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers gathered in their coats and mittens, waiting for the brothers to make their way off the mountain. Grandpa was there, his granddaughter bundled up next to him, a small smile on her face. Dean smiled back. Her eyes were brown and they had a lot of light behind them.
"Meggie got better so fast," the old man chirped up for everyone, "and we knew you had done the job. You had saved our babies."
The boys started to scoff at them, started to downplay their recent actions, but they were being pulled into the crowd, each being taken by a different group, each separated by a dozen people, walking them down the street, past the ribbon clad trees.
The smells hit them first, before they even looked up to see the church watching over them as they got closer. The doors were open, the kitchen hot and bubbling with food and drinks the old ladies and young girls had cooked up. Boys out on the steps kept look out and jumped down to holler in that they had arrived. The Winchesters were ushered in and sat down at the end of a long table in the church hall. Plates - china, no less - were placed in front of them and full of turkey, potatoes and gravy, cranberry salad, green bean casserole…
Dean's eyes melted over to Sam. Aw, God. It was Thanksgiving. He'd forgotten. Had Sam?
His brother's attention, however, was on little Meggie who was playing waitress with their drinks. Possibly Pepsis, definitely a dark soda of some sort. She was smiling as she put the glasses down and Sam was grinning back at her, his dimples creasing the lines of his cheeks even more than before.
Dean had to look away. Even if only for a minute. He couldn't help it, his mind was running back in time. Back to a year ago. Their last Thanksgiving. Couldn't even remember where they'd spent it, what they'd eaten. Had he even remembered then? But Christmas… yeah, that he remembered. And Sam. Sam could barely make it through the day. But he did it. He did it for Dean.
I mean, I can't just sit around, drinking eggnog, pretending everything's okay, when I know next Christmas, you'll be dead. I just can't.
Well, look at him now. Alive and kicking. No scars, whole and new. Angel-fied.
Pumpkin pie was sat down in front of the boys, whipped topping and a twenty-something brunette started to slice a big piece for each brother. Dean looked up and flashed a sheepish smile. She handed over the dessert plate to him and winked.
Maybe his heart sped up for a second, maybe it skipped a beat. It was hard to tell these days. It kind of had a mind of its own.
He glanced back over the table to Sam, who was still smiling, dimples still adorning his face, but his mouth was full of food. He swallowed hard, taking a long drink of the soda and leaned forward, his voice traveling to his brother. "Happy Thanksgiving, Dean."
The tears that burned behind Dean's eyes didn't flow, didn't make an embarrassing appearance in front of the townspeople. But he couldn't help it as the shine reflected back to Sam and his mouth twitched his discomfort.
What's all this?
"Is it okay, dear?" an elderly woman's voice cracked into Dean's personal space, "You've barely touched your plate." He turned away from her, his napkin quickly following up to his face, rubbing his forehead, his mouth, his eyes. Especially his eyes. Make it look natural. Give nothing away.
He nodded once. "Yeah, I'm just…" his voice trailed and he cleared his throat.
"It's great. Thanks," Sam added on his brother's behalf. He reached down with his fork and speared another piece of turkey, taking a savory bite.
Dean picked up his own utensil and scooped up some mashed potatoes. They did taste buttery good. He took another bite and suddenly, he was so hungry. The turkey was moist and the cranberry salad was tart and sweet. He stole another look across the table. Sam was done with his first plate and seconds were already being laid out before him, without even having to ask.
Sam looked at his brother, meeting his gaze, and stopped. The world around them didn't seem so big anymore. The sounds of the children laughing and the metal spoons hitting the end of the casserole dishes were dissolving. Sometimes it's okay to give thanks for the things that we have, for the people who are in our lives. Sometimes it's okay to give thanks even silently, say it with your eyes and your heart and not with words and your mouth. Sometimes it's okay to say it in a wish. With hope and faith that everything that you have will be enough.
Dean smiled back. He pulled apart a dinner roll and brought it to his lips. But right before he took the bite, right before they let the rest of the world back in, he paused. For his brother. "Happy Thanksgiving, Sammy."
Because, considering the year he'd had… he was thankful.
Playlist: Creep performed by Radiohead
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And thanks, MAZ. You made my week.