A/N: This fic previously appeared in Brotherhood 6, so it may be familiar to some of you. It was written about a year ago, and so it's more AU than suitable to fit somewhere in the canonical timeline. It's also, yes, another Sam-leaning fic. I can't help it. My boy needs the attention. That said, it doesn't mean that Dean's not in the story or not incredibly vital to it. They're both my boys.
Feedback is welcome, as always, but I don't require it and I won't beg for it.
All the Little Children
There was no warning.
Sam Winchester glanced up from the newspaper he was scouring for signs of demonic activity to make sure Dean wasn't getting himself in trouble with the huge bikers at the pool table. When he looked back down everything became blinding light and indescribable agony. He ground the heel of his hands into his eye sockets, an automatic reaction to try to stem the pain through pressure. It didn't work. It never did. He was helpless in the grips of the hurt, and then the vision.
The fourth floor of the parking garage was nearly vacant. There was a dark-colored van parked in the farthest corner from the elevator. It had been abandoned for so long the regular users of the garage barely even noticed its presence anymore. Darkness shadowed the corners, the bare orange glow from the sporadically placed lights doing little to combat the ever-encroaching night. One gray, unassuming Toyota Corolla Hybrid, parked on the outermost row of spaces, remained as evidence of someone's extra late night at the office. The Kansas license plate was customized "SULLY," marking the car with pride and assuring everyone knew who drove it.
The elevator opened with a ding, expelling a squarely built man in a business suit. He was in his early forties, with a high forehead and dark, thinning hair salted with silver. He hummed softly to himself. If anyone else were around, the tune would be unrecognizable to them, merely a series of hardly differentiated notes. The man clearly had no musical ability, but he didn't seem to care. He glanced at his watch and sped up a little after reading 10:30. He walked toward the Corolla, exhibiting no signs of unease. It probably never once occurred to him to think someone might be lurking in the darkness, the way a woman walking alone in the near dark might. He raised his right arm, and pointed the keyless fob from ten steps away. The car horn chirruped twice and the parking lights flashed. The man had a grip on the door handle when he paused. He looked toward the shadows, a puzzled expression on his face. He tilted his head, as if listening for something before shaking himself.
"Huh," he said out loud, rubbed at his ears, and shook his head again. After a moment, he went back to humming his undistinguishable song. The man opened the car door, paused, turned and stared at the dark shadows, bewilderment changing to resignation on his face. He stopped humming and started to chant softly, putting to words the song in his head. "I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away."
With stilted steps, he moved toward the gaping black maw of a window, leaned over and looked down. He dropped his car keys on the cold concrete and took off his jacket and tie. The clothing puddled on the floor, on top of the keys. He removed his wedding ring, watch and his wallet from his pocket, discarding them, too. He stepped over his personal effects, and walked back to the rear of the Corolla.
"I believe I can soar," he sang, louder now. "I see me running through that open door…I believe I can fly."
Still singing, he ran toward the large open window and leapt, as graceful as a professional diver. He did not stop singing until he landed, face first on the pavement below. In the otherwise still night, the sudden surge of wind sounded eerily like a child's laughter.
Sam came out of the vision like a drowning man surfacing the water, gasping and choking. His head throbbed with pain that was all bursts of static, alternating white and vermilion. He heard nothing but the blood rushing in his ears, felt nothing but the hard table beneath his elbows, smelled nothing but beer and smoke, tasted salt and metal. Everything rushed at him. It was sensory overload. He groaned and tried to fumble to his feet, but was held back. He felt like he was trapped in a long, dark tunnel and the walls were closing in.
"What the hell is wrong with him?"
"Get me a towel."
He was going to puke. Now.
"Forget the towel, where's the bathroom?"
Hands that had held him back before now pulled him up and bore most of his weight. Sam tried to open his eyes, but even the dark bar was too well lit for him. The invading brightness only made the bile at the back of his throat surge up faster. He closed his eyes again and retched. Dean swore in his ear. He somehow found himself on his knees, clutching at something cold and smooth. He heaved until he had nothing left in him. The worst of the headache dissipated after he emptied his stomach, leaving a lingering pulsation of pain that wasn't pleasant but was tolerable. Sam slumped and rested his head on the arm he had draped across the disgusting and grungy toilet, unable to rely on his muscles to hold him up.
"Hey," Dean said softly.
Sam heard a trickle of water and then there was something cool and damp at the nape of his neck, a gentle but firm squeeze. Dean wasn't touchy-feely except for when he was freaked out.
"You all right now?"
He couldn't muster a verbal reply, just kept his head down. Dean rubbed his shoulder awkwardly and let him off the hook for the time being. They knelt in the dirty stall for a few minutes. When Sam finally opened his eyes, he cringed at the up close and personal view he had of his own reddish-tinted vomit and eased back. Shit, was he puking blood now?
"No, your nose is bleeding."
Oh. Sam blinked. He must have said that out loud. Dean still sounded spooked, in a way only Sam would probably ever pick up on. The noise of the toilet flushing was sudden, resonant and nauseating. He winced again, rubbing a hand under his nose. It did come back red.
A wad of coarse paper towels appeared in front of him. He squinted at them, mostly to block their whiteness out, because his head still hurt just enough that he might hurl again. Sam shifted around to sit on his butt, back leaned against the stall door, one leg pulled up. He blotted at his nose and hand, hoping he was cleaning himself up adequately. The truth was he didn't care to do more than a cursory dab and wipe.
"Shit," he said thickly.
Dean didn't push him. Sam appreciated both that and his brother's steady presence. He'd forgotten what havoc visions wreaked on him physically, let alone mentally; it helped to have Dean there. He hadn't had a vision in over seven months, and he'd fooled himself into thinking since the yellow-eyed demon was dead it was all over. Even being out of practice with the visions, this one seemed stronger than anything he'd experienced before, and different. Sharper. He opened his eyes a crack and caught a bleary glimpse of Dean's worried face. He blinked and Dean was calm and collected again, just like that.
"You okay to move?" Dean said.
"Yeah." Not really. He swallowed, wincing at his sore throat. "Let's get out of here."
Sam let Dean help him to his feet, but then bucked away from assistance, not because he didn't want or need it but because they were in a dive bar surrounded by rough guys who might cause them more problems if they looked weak. If he looked weak, he amended. It was probably an unnecessary precaution given that he'd just about collapsed right in front of them already, but he didn't want to draw any more attention if he could avoid it. He headed for the door, conscious that his unsteady gait was giving his condition away despite his intentions. Dean seemed to understand, though, and kept his eye on Sam from the time he made for the table to grab their stuff until he rejoined him at the door.
"Vision?" Dean said once they got into the car.
Sam slouched against the window and nodded once. Dean cursed, started the engine and steered out of the parking lot.
"I thought we were done with that shit. I thought since old yellow-eyed Azazel was dead, and all the other…."
"Freaky kids like me are dead, too, that we were … I was … in the clear?" Sam said softly.
The pause was long enough for him to know that he'd correctly guessed what Dean had been thinking. He knew without looking that his brother was clenching his jaw angrily to keep emotions in check. They didn't really like to talk about it, the constant battles with the demons unleashed that night were reminders enough on their own, of things they'd rather forget but never could. Death was Dean's middle name now, and Darkness Sam's own.
"I guess not."
"What did you see? Any clues where we need to go?"
Sam straightened a little, keeping his eyes at half-mast. His head still hurt too much to face the glare of oncoming traffic straight on. His throat was sore and burning, aggravated by the unpleasant and unexpected vomit session. He cleared it gingerly. He could work through the physical discomfort. He had to, and he appreciated that Dean didn't even hesitate to follow the lead of what Sam saw.
"Saw a license plate," Sam said. It was the same way they'd tracked Max down, forever and ever ago. He didn't particularly like the connection, or the memory. "Some guy…launched himself out a parking ramp window from four levels up, for no reason."
"I don't think so, man. One minute he was humming along and the next…I dunno, Dean, he was so calm about it. He unlocked his car, but stopped and looked around like he heard something." There was something about it Sam couldn't quite name, but it made him uneasy. "If this is like all my other visions, then it appears someone like me is involved. It's possible there's another mind control thing going on."
"Like Andy Gallagher," Dean said. "Right. You don't happen to know how much time we've got to make sure this guy doesn't take a nosedive, do you?"
Sam glanced at his watch. He had to blink a few times to clear bleary vision. It was ten to midnight. His unease increased. He wasn't and hadn't been in the best state to gauge the passage of time, but he doubted the span from when the vision hit to when he and Dean left the bar had been more than fifteen minutes. That meant the vision had likely started at about 11:30, East Coast time. That made it 10:30 in Kansas. His vision had occurred at the same time exactly, and that had to mean something not very good.
Dean's voice took that edge again, barely discernable fear. Before all this, before their lives had gotten even more screwed up, Sam wouldn't have noticed it, but now he read Dean better than Dean was probably aware. Sam reached up and brushed a finger across his upper lip, where the blood had slicked. He wasn't alone in knowing this was different, he knew. When was a nosebleed not just a nosebleed? He shivered.
"I'm pretty sure I watched it happen in real time," Sam said, shooting Dean an uncomfortable look. "It could be a coincidence, but the guy looked at his watch and the vision must have started at about the same time. But it felt different somehow."
"Well, that sucks. Poor guy," Dean said, sounding as uncomfortable as Sam felt.
Sam touched his upper lip again.
"Your nose has never bled before."
Sam dropped his hand. The conversation dwindled and they rode in silence until they reached the motel, to pick up their stuff. Sam was okay with the silence. His head still throbbed, every little light and noise seemed magnified. It was taking longer than usual for him to pull himself together, and he hoped like hell it wasn't obvious. But it probably was, so he decided again that trying to hide it was a wasted effort. The neon motel sign flickered. Sam had to close his eyes momentarily, before he opened the door and kind of fell out of the car. He gently rubbed at his temples, aware that Dean was staring at him. He ignored it and headed for the door to their room, unlocked it and went in. The bed, lumpy and smelly and way too short, looked wonderful.
"Dude, just lie down. You look like death war…." Dean stopped, cleared his throat, and swallowed loud enough to be heard. "You look like you could use some sleep, Sam. Tell me the license plate number. I'll dig around while you rest."
"Dean, we should get going. I can sleep in the car," Sam said. His protest aside, he took a wobbling step toward the bed.
"I'll wake you if I find out nothing's happened to the guy yet. I promise. If it's too late, we can spare a few hours for you to get some rest."
Sam sat on the bed, hoping he said and didn't just think "Sully." He was asleep before he was fully horizontal.
Dean had let Sam sleep for a few hours, but rest didn't come for himself; the bad feeling he'd developed the second he saw Sam hunched over with blood streaming from his nose prevented him. Finding out the registered vehicle owner for the license plate, one Eric Peter Sullivan, age forty-two, husband and father of three, was already dead just the way Sam had described did little to help. Finding out Eric Peter Sullivan was a resident of Lawrence, Kansas just tipped him over the edge. Despite having promised to not be a stranger to Missouri Mosley, Dean had never intended on returning to that place ever again and now it looked like his intentions were a complete waste of time. They were on a beeline to Lawrence.
They didn't have much of a choice. All they seemed to do lately was chase demons, so it didn't make any difference if the personal ones were now Sam's instead of Dean's. In some small, sick way, it was almost a relief to have something for his brother to concentrate on besides the deal he'd made to bring Sam back to life, which he did not regret for himself. He felt like an asshole for thinking that, but he'd been on Sam's laptop long enough to see the search history had been overwhelmingly dedicated to his own…situation. He appreciated Sam's perseverance, he really did. It worried him all the same. Sam wasn't even willing to talk about the possibility there was nothing that could be done to save his soul. That was something he did regret. Dean'd be dead in eight months thanks to his deal with a demon. The way Sam was going… Well, it concerned him to leave his brother in such a bad place.
He shook his head. Now was not the time to think about that, or to mention his unpopular opinion that Sam should stop trying to save him. Dean spared a glance away from the stretch of highway in front of him to look at Sam. He didn't like what he saw. Six hours of sleep had done nothing to lessen the dark circles under his eyes. Sam hid it well, but Dean knew the headache was still there, long hours after the vision. He didn't like driving straight toward trouble, specifically trouble related to demons that were long dead and shouldn't be screwing with his brother anymore. It didn't matter that they knew they were looking for a kid with abilities, though he had no clue how that was even possible. All of those kids had died, or so they'd thought. That wasn't set in stone anymore. There would come a point where Dean might have to stay behind for his own safety, or at least a point where Sam would try to make him stay behind. No way was he letting Sam bear the weight alone, not when his brother was already bearing the heavy weight of finding a way to foil a crossroads demon's deal. Dean knew how carrying too much felt.
"Won't Missouri know we're there anyway?" Dean said. "She is psychic."
"Maybe. I don't know, but if we don't have to, we don't call her, Dean," Sam said. "I don't want to put anyone else in danger."
Dean didn't really want to bring Missouri in on this either, but after months of fighting a war most people didn't even know was being waged, sometimes it was good to be in the company of friends. Besides, she might actually be of some help along with her usual routine of being a tremendous pain in his backside. He smiled softly. For all the crap she had given him the last time they were in Lawrence, he had figured out after the fact that she'd done it to keep him from freaking out about Sam's visions. Funny how all that still freaked him out but was almost normal. Except for the sudden resurgence and intensity of this latest one that, frankly, scared him. He gave Sam a sidelong look, catching his brother in a moment when the fear was palpable. He frowned.
"All right, all right," he consented. "We don't call her."
They weren't far from the city now, and they didn't have much of a plan. Dean's search online had yielded no other strange deaths or occurrences. He figured Sam would have seen them anyway, providing the same rules applied based on previous experience. Sam confirmed his lack of findings, being the obsessive-compulsive that he was. They didn't even have a way to determine who the "special" kid who'd murdered Sullivan was. Sam's was the only nursery fire in Lawrence twenty-four years ago, though that theory had been debunked when Sam had met Ava. The handful of people Ash had uncovered what seemed like forever ago were all dead.
Hell, according to reports, a lot of twenty-three and -four-year olds had up and disappeared within the last year. That wasn't tangible proof – people disappeared all the time for normal, non-supernatural reasons – but Dean really had to wonder how any of those special kids besides Sam could be alive. He cringed, relived the horror of Sam falling to his knees in the mud and rain for the billionth time, as fresh a memory as if it had just happened. The sense that they were going to Lawrence like a moth to the flame only to get burned made his stomach hurt worse. He pretended it didn't.
"So you'll take the blame if she finds out we're in town without calling her."
"Of course. Don't be scared, Dean. I won't let her hurt you."
"I'm not scared," Dean said a little too quickly.
Sam started laughing.
"Shut up. She was mean to me, dude."
"She really was," Sam said a little too gleefully.
Dean cursed under his breath.
"Sticks and stones won't break your bones, but Missouri will always be a big meaniehead?"
"Shut up and navigate."
Lawrence wasn't that bad of a town, even though Dean was certain it was on a freaking hellmouth. It was a quiet city, flat and suburban. It was even academic. It still gave Dean the heebie-jeebies. He wanted this job over as soon as possible. He blamed it on the location, though that wasn't the real reason for his reluctance.
"Are we finding a place to stay first or going right to the parking garage?"
"Let's get the garage out of the way." Sam was the one insisting on going there. "We probably won't find anything."
"Okay. We should see a sign for the city center. Follow Massachusetts to Eighth and take a left. The entrance to the parking garage is between Massachusetts and Vermont."
Sam was good. He almost sounded nonchalant, but he couldn't be. The whole vision thing had always screwed with his head as much as it did with Dean's. More, in the literal sense. Sam hadn't once tried to talk about it or push Dean into revealing his feelings. That part of Sam he thought he'd never miss in a million years was absent more often than it was present lately. God help him, Dean did miss it, because its absence made it feel as though he were riding around with a stranger sometimes. Dean tried to think about other things. Unfortunately almost everything else in his life was equally messed up. He couldn't even throw himself into the hunt, knowing it revolved around Sam, even tangentially. He had to try.
They stared at the sparse, uninteresting scenery as Dean pulled off Highway 40 and followed the signs to Massachusetts, which would bring them directly downtown. The city was like so many others. On the outside it remained All-American and as idyllic as any mid-sized Midwest town could be. Its residents, or most of them, were unaware the world was falling apart around them. Dean hated the fight, but damn it if he didn't also hate that he'd be dead before it was over. So maybe he did have regrets now and then. But then Sam would be Sam again and the downside of demonic deals didn't seem to matter so much.
"I see it," Dean said.
It was already dark, which hopefully meant many of the cars were out of the garage. Dean wasn't quite sure what they hoped to uncover there, tried not to think that maybe Sam wanted to see if there was some psychic vibe going on. As for himself, he kept his eyes open for any sketchy-looking twenty-somethings.
"He was parked in the middle of the exterior row, by the windows." Sam pointed. "There, I think."
Dean parked the car two spots down from where Sam thought Sullivan had jumped.
"I still think the guy was probably a random victim."
"Max Miller had specific targets."
"Max Miller came a long time before any of the other psycho kids. He never mentioned being coached by our favorite yellow-eyed son of a bitch."
"That doesn't mean he wasn't. We didn't ask him. Besides, Anson Weems was coached by Azazel and he had specific targets. Maybe Sullivan had a personal connection with whomever did this."
"Then we should talk to friends, family, and coworkers, not hang around in dark garages," Dean said, not really knowing why he was arguing now when he should have fought harder earlier. Sam huffed at him. "I know, I know. You have a feeling."
"Mock me all you want, Dean."
Sam got out of the car and moved around it until he stood in Sullivan's parking space. Dean didn't have anything else to do, so he got out as well. He didn't like the pinched, in-pain expression on Sam's face, but it didn't look like his about-to-have-a-nosebleeding-vision face. Still, Dean kept a close eye on his brother. If, for the sake of argument, there really was some psychic link, it could cause damage to Sam again. He casually strolled to the window and looked down.
"I have to say, plunging headfirst onto concrete is not the way I'd choose to go."
He knew the comment was unwise even before he heard Sam give a little squeaky gasp and follow it up with mutterings Dean was sure included hellhounds and mauled to death and, okay, it was true the deal he'd chosen so Sam would live and breathe again wasn't any better than jumping out a building. The silence was thick and painful. Dean suddenly couldn't look anywhere but at the sidewalk where Eric Sullivan had died not more than a day ago. The knowledge that Dean was on borrowed time was always going to be there for Sam, no matter what else was going on. That wasn't a surprise, really, just an unlucky circumstance.
"Don't say it. It's not your fault," Sam said quietly.
The absolution only made Dean feel worse. He didn't mean to keep bringing up reminders about his impending fate. It seemed unavoidable. If he stubbed his toe and cursed "damn it to hell," Sam cringed. If he ordered Eggs Diablo for breakfast, Sam would turn greenish and lose his appetite. They were only on month four. Dean wasn't entirely sure either of them would make it to twelve at the rate they were going.
"Yeah, actually, it pretty much is," he said under his breath. Louder, he spoke to Sam, "So are you picking up anything, Super Sleuth?"
"Ha ha, Dean. You are so very funny." Dean smirked. Deflection accomplished. "All I know at the moment is that this is definitely the place."
The streetlights below showed the sidewalk cracks were rust-colored, evidence of a poor cleanup job. Dean nodded his agreement with Sam's unnecessary statement. He'd seen pictures of Eric Sullivan. He tried to envision what Sam had seen happen to the guy, then didn't know why he even wanted to.
"Do you think the kid who did this was here at the time?" Dean said.
"I don't know. We saw that powers of influence, assuming there really was mind control going on, can span distances. They could have been anywhere."
Dean didn't know what Sam meant by assuming. He'd seemed sure before that mind control was involved. In the months following the yellow-eyed bastard Azazel's death, who was to say skills hadn't been honed even more in anyone left behind? Just because Sam hadn't experienced anything didn't mean a thing about anyone else who might have survived. Sam had never been under demonic influence. Dean rubbed his head. Andy had reached out and touched him from Cold Oak. According to Sam, poor Andy had still been himself when he died and he'd managed quite a lot without evil manipulation. Dean didn't want to think about what a kid who'd been toyed with by Azazel could do. He thought compelling someone to jump to his death was the tip of a very big, very awful iceberg.
"Can't hurt to check things out," he said.
Sam didn't answer. Dean finally turned to look at his brother, but Sam wasn't there. Dean's heart started racing. He looked up and down the garage. But by all appearances he was alone.
"Sam?" Dean called. This was too much like a crappy diner in the middle of nowhere, Sam gone right from under his nose. His heart started beating faster. "Sam?"
Jesus. Dean's shoulders slumped in relief. He wondered if he was ever going to get over that panicky feeling every time Sam was out of eyeshot. Amid the battles and exorcisms and everything, it still happened. Dean pushed it away the best he could, his skin prickling slightly, and looked to the left. Sam stepped out from behind a dark-colored conversion van.
"Does this look familiar to you?"
Dean headed over, steps slowing the closer he got. It did look familiar. More than familiar, actually. Speak of the devil, and he will come. In the dark corner of the parking garage sat Andy Gallagher's van, fierce barbarian queen painted on the side. He didn't think it was a coincidence.