A/N: This is a story that won't let me rest. It started poking me just after the first airing of Jus In Belo and since then keeps poking. It even went so far as to hold my beloved plot bunny, OneBun, hostage. Now, it wouldn't let me move on to anything else until it was set free. Edge and The Forest will both be updated this week. I'm stuck in bed, mostly, but I finally convinced people that not writing was bad for my mental health, so I get a few hours a day to write. I am still trying to catch up on replies, I will get to everyone, cross my heart! Thank you to TraSan, Abni and InfiniteShadow for handholding on this one I needed it!
A/N II: I know it seems grim at the beginning, I promise it will be better! Promise! Just bear with me to the end of this chapter! AU. Title and chapter quotes are from the song by Kansas.
The mist of time is still concealing
The vision that I seek
Those who died have all borne witness
If only they would speak
Sleep was catching up with Dean. He'd made a mistake and had one shot too many, passing the line between buzzed enough to be numb and too drunk to stay awake. It was a huge mistake. Sleep was full of nightmares, of a return to hell and worse, far worse, were the dreams that came after hell. They weren't nightmares, exactly, but they had taken on nightmare proportions. They skewed his waking reality to the point that he was occasionally reacting to Sam based on those dreams and not the real world.
The real world pretty much sucked out loud.
As bad as it had been before he'd gone to hell, since he was back it was worse. Most of the time his brother felt like a stranger to him, the world had changed in ways he didn't recognize, and well, things sucked. The only escape he really managed was that numb buzz, but he couldn't maintain it all the time, and Sam was starting to notice. The problem with the booze was he occasionally slipped and ended up sleeping.
Dean struggled against the encroaching sleep, but couldn't fight it. The nightmare began almost immediately, forty years in hell playing over and over in his head. Then, as it all reached the point of too much, his sleep altered, he wasn't sure what it was, what made that difference, but something changed and the dream did, too.
He was warm, lying on something soft, the scent of coffee drifted around him. His body shifted a tiny bit, like someone had sat down on the bed. It felt like something cool swept over his face and hands, then a gentle pat on his chest.
"Hey, Dean," Sam's voice filtered into the dream. "Bobby's on the way back. He's been out hunting. I think he has an idea, but I'm not sure it's the right one." There was a pause, like Sam had stopped to drink his coffee. "We are getting closer, though." Another pause, a soft female voice. "Oh? Really!" Sam's voice vibrated with excitement. "I don't believe it!" The warmth of Sam's hand rested on Dean's chest for a moment. "I'll be back, Dean, I might have news!"
A loud sound from somewhere stopped the dream. Dean lay on the bed with his eyes closed, trying to drop back into sleep. Sam has sounded so much like... like... Sam, not the stranger. The door to the room opened quietly, Dean held still, feigning sleep. The smell of coffee came with Sam, like it had in the dream, but so did the smell of smoke, cheap perfume and something oddly... Dean concentrated. He couldn't place that other smell, but every instinct he had said it was bad.
He waited to the count of ten before opening his eyes. "Hey, is that coffee?" Dean asked.
"Yeah, I walked down to that stand at the corner."
Liar. I bet if I walked out of here and put my hand on the Impala, the engine would be warm. "Good, I could use it."
"Yeah," Sam said, frowning at the bottle beside the bed.
"So," Dean sat up and took the cup Sam held out, "tell me why we're here again?"
"Six eviscerated dead bodies ring a bell?" Sam dropped into the chair at the small table and brushed an overly long strand of hair off his face. I hate that hair. "What?" Sam asked with a growl.
Hate the growl, too. "Just like cattle mutilations, right? But people?"
"Right, didn't we cover this last night?"
"We were in Hooters, you expect me to remember anything you said?" Dean asked with a little laugh. Sam was even more... more... than usual. It all felt so wrong.
"You were pretty fixated." Sam smiled, it was almost, so close, but not quite right.
I hate that smile, too. Wish they'd just left me in the damn grave. "Did you see the red head? Holy shit, Sammy," Dean stopped, the name had just slipped out, it did sometimes after the dream. "She was a former Miss something or other," he continued, Sam didn't seem to be aware of the pause.
"They found another body overnight, out in that field at the edge of town."
"Oh," Sam looked confused for a moment, Dean saw something shifty in Sam's eyes before Sam covered with a smile. "You know, the big one on the left as we pulled in."
Out there with your little demon girlfriend? "I didn't, I guess, I was too busy trying to keep the car from ending up in one of those potholes."
"I don't blame you, it might have broken an axle. You ready to go?"
No, I want to stay here, I want to... "I should probably shower."
"You might want to wait, I..." the pause was almost imperceptible. "From the reports, I think there might be bodies buried out there."
You find them last night, Sam? "Nothing like bodies in the morning to clear the sinuses. Okay, I'll get dressed and we can head out."
Twenty minutes later Dean was standing in the middle of a muddy field looking down at something that looked suspiciously like a little piece of... "Is that part of..."
"Someone's insides? Yeah," Sam said, sounding more like Sammy than he had in awhile.
"Always a party," Dean said. "So where to?"
"I found a pattern, one body was here," Sam paced away, stopping several yards away. "A hand here." He turned left and walked several long strides. "Part of the stomach here." Sam continued to pace around stopping every few yards. "It all adds up to something that looks almost like the pattern for a devil's trap when they are connected."
"How'd you figure that out?"
That look, the one that meant Sam was about to lie, crossed his face. "I mapped it out."
Ah, so Ruby told you, is that it? "Good thinking. You said something about more bodies?"
"Over here," Sam said, walking away. Dean could see tension in his back. He stopped by a mound at the edge of a drainage ditch. The ground was freshly dug. "Here... I think."
"You think?" Dean wandered over and looked down, there were still shovel marks at the edge of the loose earth.
"Yeah," Sam said in the hard voice that had become common since Dean's return from hell.
You dug it up, didn't you? "Why are you sure it's bodies?"
"The smell?" Sam asked, eyes narrowing.
Dean took a deep breath, under the smell of cold, of damp, there was the unmistakable scent of death. "Pretty faint."
"Maybe you're stuffed up."
Maybe you're lying to me. "Could be. Should we dig?"
"I'll get a shovel," Sam said, looking away from Dean. He turned and walked quickly towards the car.
Dean watched him go, as he stood there, he thought he heard an odd buzzing. He looked around, nothing seemed to be moving. A knot of tension started tying itself at the base of his neck, he wasn't sure what was causing it. When Sam reached the car, he glanced back, Dean quickly looked away. Sam moved away from the car to the broken down shack they'd parked beside. Dean spotted movement and knew, before he even saw her, who was there. Ruby. I knew you were lying to me Sam, knew it. Dean turned away and looked across the field.
The wind had come up, he could see the first puff of it moving the dried grass as it got nearer. He caught a whiff of something, carried on the breeze. Something in the smell sent all the warning bells of in his head and he was running before he even knew why. Whatever it was hit him, and hit him hard. He felt himself moving through the air, almost as if he was being blown along by the wind. He connected with the car and everything went black.
"Dean?" Sam's voice was anxious, "Dean, come on, can you hear me?" Gentle, worried, Dean could almost hear the frown in Sam's tone, that funny little squinch of worry. Dean tried to fight his way out of the dark, but it was hard. "Dean!" a warm hand on his, squeezing. "Dean, come on! Can you hear me? Give me a sign, man, something." Dean tried to close his hand over Sam's. "DEAN!" Sam's shout was almost deafening. "I think he moved! Dean, come on!" The dark was starting to give way, light creeping in under his eyelids. "No, Dean..."
Dean opened his eyes as Sam bent over him. "I'm okay, Sammy," he said automatically, reacting to the fear in his brother's voice.
"What happened?" Sam asked in an entirely different tone.
"What?" Dean struggled to sit up. Sam offered him a hand, then moved away. Dean sighed, there had been a time when...
"I don't know, did you see anything?" Dean said, looking at the shovel in his brother's hand and feeling the lump on the back of his head. Did Sam...?
"No, I heard something behind the building and went to investigate and heard you shout."
"Oh, I thought, huh." Dean pushed himself up, using the car for leverage. "What was behind the building?"
"A cat," Sam said with a smile that was almost convincing, except for the lie in his eyes.
Yeah, a catty bitch of a demon. "Gotta watch out for the cats."
"Yeah," Sam laughed.
They walked back over to the mound. Sam jammed the shovel in the ground and had a body unearthed in less than two minutes. He used the shovel to turn it over. "Oh nice," Dean said, swallowing his coffee back where it belonged. Dean squatted down. "This looks like..." Like it was cut.
"Like something with claws did it."
What the hell? Do you think I'm blind? "Claws?" Dean bent closer like he was confirming it, it looked more like a knife in the hands of someone that knew exactly what they were doing. A thought so terrible it chilled him to the bone started to form, he shoved it away, not willing to look at it. "Yeah, I guess, so you think it's an animal?"
Sam was staring at the body with the odd look he got sometimes. "Hmm? Yeah, I think so, black dog?"
"No, they would have done more damage, not this specific."
"Yeah," Sam squatted beside him. "Werewolf?"
"Heart's missing, but so are the lungs, and other organs."
"A lot of predators eat the intestines and stuff first."
"Then bury some of the food in mounds and leave some out in devil's trap patterns?" Dean couldn't keep the incredulous tone out of his voice. What the hell, how stupid do you think I am?
"No," Sam said in that irritating "what are you thinking" like Dean was a moron tone that popped up all the time anymore. "I was just saying..."
"Saying what, Sam?" Dean snapped. His head was pounding.
"Nothing, what's wrong with you?" Sam tried for a concerned look. "Maybe we should head back, you hit your head pretty hard."
"Yeah, you noticed that?" Dean said, not sure where the anger was coming from, it was always there anymore.
"Should we look anywhere else? Did the cat mention anything?"
Sam looked at him for a moment, a scared look, like he'd gotten caught at something, then huffed, stood and walked to the Impala. He opened the trunk, threw the shovel in so hard Dean heard it where he still crouched by the body and then got in the car, arms crossed, looking out the windshield, not even acknowledging Dean's presence.
Yep, sucks out loud. Dean stood and headed to the car.
They managed to reestablish the armed truce between them on the way back to town. Dean couldn't help himself, in the car. Sam in the passenger seat, still reminded him of more good times than bad. By the time they got to a small diner and ordered food, Sam was talking again. Chatting about what it could be, still with the dark look in his eye, but sounding like Sam chasing answers. Dean smiled. The year before he'd died had been rough too, and as the year had moved on, his brother had become more withdrawn, the relationship starting to break. Dean blamed himself, figured Sam blamed him. He missed Sam, his Sam, the Sammy of years past. Missed the man who said... Dean turned away from those memories, they seemed so long ago. What ever happened to "I want my brother back just 'cause" Sam? Maybe I should...
When they left the diner, Sam headed to the library and Dean to the public records department. After a futile hour questioning various clerks, he finally managed to charm some information out of the town historian. The seventy-odd-year-old woman pinched him as they walked into the records' room. Dean smiled, blushing, wondering what Sam would have to say to that. Once he got the files—and himself—free of the woman, he walked across the street and bought a bottle to numb himself for the evening.
Sam played at research for a couple of hours when they got back to the room, sitting at the table, poking at his laptop. Dean set out to drink. Sam didn't seem interested in his conversation, so Dean watched "Rock of Love" and finished half the bottle. He had drifted into something close to sleep when he heard Sam's phone ring. A moment later, Sam got up, the door closed softly and the Impala had roared to life.
Off to his nightly entertainment with Ruby. Nice.
The sun was rising as Sam drove the Impala through town. It had rained the night before and the sky was an amazing shade of pink and apricot. It had been a long night. He had been sure he'd found what he needed, but it hadn't panned out. Then Ruby called. It looked like an answer, finally an answer. Sam sighed, easing the car into the lot. He took a sip of his coffee and rested his head against the steering wheel for a minute before getting out. Bobby was due in later, and he had no idea what the older hunter would say when he got there.
Ruby was waiting when he got out. She pounced on him with her usual energy, demanding answers before he even got a chance to say hello. She always was like that, he had no idea where she got the energy. Of course, she knew him well enough now to just keep talking when he was silent. Sam leaned against the brick wall and waited for her to finish. "And I double checked, I think it will work."
"I think so, too," he said quietly. She smiled at him, the smile, no doubt that had launched a thousand ships in its time. "What we tried yesterday didn't."
"It was close, though, so close," she said softly, laying a hand on his arm.
"Yeah, close." Sam sighed and pushed himself off the wall and headed into the building. He could hear Ruby trailing behind him.
When he reached the room he walked in, knowing she would wait before she came in. He set his coffee on the table and walked into the small bathroom wet a washcloth and sat on the edge of the bed.
Oh, god, Dean.
Sam gently washed his brother's face and hands with the cloth. He knew the nuns took good care of Dean, but he needed this contact, needed to somehow pay back a little of the huge debt he owed his brother for raising him, for everything. Sam swallowed, as usual tears found their way down his face. It had been so long since the warehouse, so long since he'd found Dean like this.
Ruby came into the room, Sam looked up at her with a smile. He had no idea how he would have made it without her support, she was the anchor in a very stormy sea, offering friendship and affection and hope. It was the unflagging hope that she gave so freely that Sam loved her for, that "never say die" attitude that preceded her into the room, that surrounded her like a curtain of joy and warmth. There was something about the way she smiled, the way it lit her eyes and crinkled her face, that helped him get through.
He thanked every power in the universe daily for pointing him to the small facility for the elderly and dying run by the Sisters, even though he had at first been a little intimidated by the full habits the sister wore. Something about that brought back bad memories of the one Catholic school he had attended briefly when he was ten. The reluctance had disappeared as soon as he'd met the ever -fficient, joyful and bubbling eighty-five-year-old Sister Ruby.
"How is he?" she asked softly, resting her wrinkled hand in Dean's forehead. She whispered a soft Ave then smiled at Sam. "Did you tell him?"
"Not yet." Sam put his right hand on Dean's chest and picked up his brother's hand in his left. He squeezed it. "Hey, Dean," he said gently, a lump in his throat. "Sorry about yesterday, it wasn't quite what I wanted. But Dean," He glanced at the small nun, she nodded, beaming at him. "Ruby... I think she found a way, Dean, a way to help a way to end this."
He tightened the grip on Dean's hand. So many months clinging to hope as the coma continued, so many months waiting for Dean to just die, to just finally slip away forever. So many months hunting the thing that had done this.
"Dean, we've found a way, I'm coming, Dean, just hang on a little longer. We found a way to get to you, to free you from this. Hang on, please, Dean, just..." He tried to swallow the lump, Ruby put her arm around his shoulders as he fought the tears. "Tonight, Dean. I'll be there tonight, I promise, wait for me, please."
It caught up to him, then, that there was finally something he could do to save Dean. He leaned forward and put his head on Dean's shoulder and let the tears go. He'd need everything he had to get through what was coming.
Maybe I can bring you home, Dean. Maybe this time you can come home.
To Be Continued
A/N III: Don't worry I won't keep you hanging long. Like I said, this story will not let me rest. Hey—if anyone is going to LA, I would love a chance to say hi and thanks in person!