Title: By the Horns
Word Count: 7,000
Author's Note: The real author's note is at the end, but I'll apologize here for being tardy! I would whine and complain about how busy life has been, but the real reason is that instead of spending Saturday writing, as I intended, I spent Saturday reading all the things you more deadline-respecting sorts had already posted. I didn't comment on them because I didn't want our lovely mods to know that I was reading when I should be writing, but there's so much great stuff! I'll be back to comment soon, now that I can do so legally.
Prompt: Pre-series fic showing how Sam is torn between wanting to do well at school and trying to fit into the hunters lifestyle.
Summary: At sundown he quit being Sam Winchester - Straight A Student, and became Sammy Winchester - Hunter In Training. Sounded glamorous, right? But in reality, it mostly just meant missing out on a lot of sleep.
By the Horns
"Shit," Sam muttered to himself as his pencil lead collapsed. What would have been a "9" was now just a dark smear of graphite. He sighed and went at it with his admittedly grubby eraser, wincing when the gray blob only spread.
Footsteps on the steps leading to the front door made him freeze. He craned his neck in the direction of the window and swore again at the quality of the light outside. Maybe 15 minutes left until sunset, and he was less than halfway through his second-to-last geometry proof. Then there was his chemistry lab to write up. Acid/base titration had seemed interesting enough at the time, but now, with 39 steps worth of notes to sift through, the very idea made his eyes swim.
Looked like another all-nighter was in his immediate future.
Returning his attention to his geometry homework, he found that he'd managed to rub a hole in the paper while his mind was elsewhere. Which meant he'd need to recopy the half a page of work before he could get on with it; Mrs. Best didn't accept sloppy work. She said they needed to learn to apply themselves to a higher standard if they wanted to succeed in life, much less college.
Sam let his head thump down on his notebook …
… where he apparently fell asleep. Or at least that was the only explanation he could come up with when he was jerked awake by the sound of the bedroom doorknob banging against the wall.
"Sammy!" Dean roared, despite the fact that Sam was less than 10 feet away and not hard of hearing, actually. "Sundown! Get your ass in gear!"
Sam sucked in a deep breath, let it out in a blustery rush and banged his head against his books three times for good measure. But then he pushed himself up off his makeshift desk of a bed and shuffled over to his sneakers. At sundown he quit being Sam Winchester - Straight A Student, and became Sammy Winchester - Hunter In Training.
Sounded glamorous, right? But in reality, it mostly just meant missing out on a lot of sleep.
Tonight it was an aatxe. Or maybe The Aatxe. They weren't sure yet if this was an isolated case – the work of one particular god that had migrated along with the Basque sheep herders to Nevada back in the 50s – or just a type of evil they should expect to see more of. What they did know is that he was a shapeshifting spirit of Spanish/French descent that could take the form of a bull or a man. And he didn't like cheaters. Which, you know, in Nevada of all places was a problem.
So. While Sam's classmates were finishing up their geometry, starting in on their chemistry and maybe even getting a little ahead by studying for that history test on Friday, Sam was preparing for a bullfight with a ghost.
Yup. Typical Winchester Wednesday.
When Sam stumbled into the living room, Dean had the sword – silver and blessed by Spanish priest – out, his toothy reflection winking in its high polish.
"Dude, this is so cool," he repeated, for probably the 30 gazillionth time. Which, OK, for all the weapons they generally had lying around the house, swords were a new one. But geez. It was going to rust if Dean didn't stop drooling on it.
Sam told Dean as much, with mixed success – Dean did put the sword down, but for the purpose of launching himself at Sam in a flying tackle.
"Boys," John drawled in the wearily chastising tone of parents the world over. Dean rolled cheerfully off of Sam, but once his hands were free, Sam couldn't resist one last jab at Dean's ribs. Dean just grinned back at him like it was all great fun, while Sam scowled and rubbed his elbow. John paid neither of them any attention, strolling briskly into the room and dropping a clanging duffel in front of each of them.
"Go through it again," he instructed. "Check your gear one last time, and we'll head out."
John would, of course, be carrying the sword, playing the part of the matador. Ideally, if they were really going to go for a one-to-one comparison with real bullfighting, he'd have an entourage of six assistants, and Sam and Dean would be on horseback and armed with lances. But John's theory was that if stabbing a real bull through the heart did the job for matadors in Spain, stabbing a shapeshifter bull through the heart with a silver sword should be enough for a hunter in Nevada. Sam wasn't sure it could exactly be called sound logic, but they'd gotten by on less.
All in all, it should be an interesting hunt, if nothing else. Which was good, because Sam wasn't sure he could have kept his eyes open through the hurry up and wait of a generic salt and burn. He had slept on … Saturday for sure. For a couple of hours on Monday night, probably. During lunch yesterday, maybe. But the further the week progressed, the less time he spent with his eyes closed. And with midterms starting next week, his prospects weren't good.
So a ghost with horns and hooves was just the thing he needed to keep the adrenaline coming. Who knows? If things got really exciting, maybe it'd be enough to keep him awake through the chemistry homework.
Four hours later, Sam was blinking into the darkness of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Because ghost bulls were cave dwellers. Of course.
The Winchester clan was lying in wait at the appointed cave. (Sam didn't know how they knew this was the appointed cave. That wasn't on John Winchester's need-to-know list. But for whatever reason, John believed this to be it.) They'd been lying in wait for about two and a half hours now, and, to tell the truth, Sam was having to fight pretty hard not to nod off.
It was so quiet out here. Especially compared to the slum they lived in. Sam thought about a geometry proof they'd done back toward the beginning of the unit: Given the length of the three square sides of Nevada and the total population of the state, find how many people there are per square mile.
The answer was 17 (A=1/2h(b1+b2)=115,200, so P/115,2000=17), but that was crap. Geometry didn't account for how everyone in the state seemed to have piled into their outer Las Vegas neighborhood. He'd gone to the library and looked it up, just to know for sure, and he was right: the average for the state was 17 people per square mile, but the average for Las Vegas was more than 4,000.
Which was how he could be pretty damn sure that out here, there was no one for 20 miles or more. Besides, he could feel the lack of people in his backbone and his eardrums. The silence echoed loudly in them, taking on a pulsating life of its own and giving him a headache. And the sky was so close he could touch it, but so black that he was scared to. It coalesced into shadowy half-shapes and made his eyes throb to look at it.
Of course, that could also be the lack of sleep.
Anyway, the point was, it was dark and quiet. Ideal conditions for sleeping, and it wasn't like Sam needed ideal conditions these days.
He gazed up at the stars, then scowled when they seemed to arrange themselves into figures from his geometry homework. That Nevada problem was just one of those that they put at the beginning of the chapter to demonstrate how easy and useful math could be. 'See!' they always said. 'If not for math, we'd never know how many people there were per square mile, never know that an average of 17 is ideal! Golden, even!' Everything in geometry was golden – golden ratios, golden triangles, golden squares. Unlike hunting. Everything in hunting was silver.
He squinted at three stars in particular, which seemed to be placed just like the points in problem 7 – P, Q and R, connected by lines PQ, PR and QR. That's the one he'd been halfway through when the sun set. It was weird how he was like a vampire. Not that vampires were real. But if they had been, the Winchesters would hunt them, no questions asked, despite the fact that they were the same – only coming out after sunset and all. Of course, vampires drank blood, and Sam … Well, Sam did geometry. So not exactly the same.
Given angle Q is obtuse and line PQ=11, QR=25 and PR=30, find the altitude of line PQ and the area of triangle PQR.
'To make it work, you had to draw in another triangle from QP, using lines x and y,' Sam thought, studying the stars, 'so that the new triangle has a right angle.' Then you know that x²+(11+y)²=30². Pythagoras. More golden stuff. But anyway. x²+121+22y+y²=30². So x²+22 …
The next thing Sam knew, he was jolting awake to a piercing scream.
It was coming from a man about 30 feet away from the opening of the cave. Though he probably didn't realize it. Judging by the fact that his scream seemed to have knocked him off balance, he probably wouldn't have noticed if he'd been 30 feet away from the edge of the Grand Canyon. His companion, a round-shouldered bear of a man with wooly red hair, had the screamer's elbow and solicitously prevented him from tipping over. But Sam wasn't fooled; he could tell by the cool look the helper was giving the weapons John and Dean were pointing at him that he was the aatxe.
"Grab the guy, Sam!" John yelled over his shoulder.
Sam launched into action. His job, if you could call it that, was to baby sit the civilian. Get the guy (and himself – he wasn't fooled by Dad and Dean's protests to the contrary) out of the way while the grownups took care of the monster. It chafed a bit – Sam was 15, just a year younger than when Dean killed his first werewolf, but John hardly trusted him with a gun. So all he did was train, train, train, giving up hours and hours of time that could be spent studying – or, better yet, sleeping – for nothing.
But he gritted his teeth and pushed the thought out of his mind, as he skidded up to the screamer and started playing tug-of-war with the bull in man's clothing. It didn't take much. The man almost immediately let go and begin to shift into a bull. It was a bizarre and disturbing site, and Sam and the screamer both froze for a moment to watch in horror as hands morphed into hooves, shoulder swelled and horns sprouted.
The screamer, who had been fitfully fighting against Sam's pull, was suddenly plenty eager to get away. He took off running, and Sam followed, reasoning that a drunk man wandering the dessert alone in the dark was only slightly better off than a drunk man wandering the dessert with an evil bull ghost in the dark. He snagged the man's collar and easily pulled him into a copse of scrub and cacti. The screamer struggled, but, inebriated as he clearly was, it didn't take much effort to hold him down, and Sam was able to divide his attention between the man and the fight without much trouble.
John, of course, had the sword out and was circling the aatxe warily, occasionally making thrusts that usually turned into parries. There was only the one sword, so Dean circled with a silver-loaded revolver that was for in case the guy hadn't morphed. Since it had, his real purpose was to be on hand to pick up the sword if something should happen to John.
There was no red cape, no guitars or castanets. But John said those things weren't needed. They'd been added long after the origins of bullfighting, so shouldn't be necessary. To Sam's admittedly untrained eye, however, it looked like a red cape wouldn't be unwelcome at this point. Something to distract the bull for a second or two and give John access to its head would definitely come in handy. The primary goal was to get into a position that would allow John to stab down through the shoulders and into the bull's heart. If that wasn't immediately accessible, stabbing into the muscles of the bull's neck was a good second choice – that should make it harder for the aatxe to hold its head – and more importantly, its horns – up. If you could do that, you didn't have to worry so much about getting gored. A worthy goal, in Sam's opinion.
John, unsurprisingly, was concentrating all his effort on the killing blow, and not getting much of anywhere. Though the aatxe had the body of a bull, there was no missing the spark of human intelligence in its red eyes. It was matching John step for step, countering every swing of the sword with a swipe of the deadly horns. John darted forward and back, while Dean tried to keep both close enough to help if needed and far enough away to not get underfoot. Sam and the screamer looked on, panting loudly in the bushes.
John got in a thrust that seemed to nick the aatxe's shoulder … except not. Where it should have met resistance, there was none. But it clearly made the bull mad. It threw back its head and bellowed loudly enough to leave Sam's ears ringing. Even John had to step back, caught off guard by the power of the sound.
And it was a good thing that he did – the cry was followed by a shot of fire from the aatxe's nostrils.
"What the hell?" Dean yelled.
"Get back!" John barked. "Get back!"
The aatxe swung its head back and forth, bawling and spitting fire in columns three feet long. John and Dean scrambled out of the way and managed to avoid the immediate threat of flames, but this was the dessert, and Sam couldn't remember getting any rain since they'd moved to the area. The brush surrounding the clearing might as well have been stacks of kindling.
Sure enough, Sam spotted it a moment later. "Dad!" he yelled, shooting up from his hiding place and pointing behind his father. A Joshua tree was just beginning to catch. John turned around, stripped off his jacket and began beating at the flames. Dean moved to help, and so they both missed what happened next.
In his haste to alert John to the new danger, Sam had let go of the screamer, who took advantage of the situation by scrabbling out of the scrub from the other side. It only took Sam a second to realize what happened, and, without thinking, he yelled, "Hey!" and lunged for a handful of the fleeing man's shirt.
Between the scuffle and the noise, the aatxe took notice and realized its quarry was making a break for it. It pawed the grown twice and rushed the bush, head down, horns and flames leading. It covered the few dozen feet in a matter of seconds, and Sam didn't have time to do more than fling himself in the other direction as the copse erupted into flames.
He rolled clear and looked up just in time to see the aatxe's left horn catch the screamer in the stomach.
Everything seemed to slow down at that point. The screamer was screaming again, agony rather than fear coloring the timbre this time, leaving it fuller, deeper, raspier. There was a sort of Doppler effect working on the sound as the aatxe wrenched its head up, bone slicing up through the skin of the screamer until it hit sternum. Then the screamer went cartwheeling up and over the bull's head, guts raining down in a shower of blood and gore.
The aatxe vanished before the screamer hit the ground.
'CH3COOH(aq)+NaOH(aq)' Sam copied from his notes, ' CH3COOSNa2(aq)+H2O(l)'
No wait. That couldn't be right. Where had the sulfur come from? And the extra sodium? He seemed to have managed to create matter.
Sam shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. His calculations said he had .0035 moles of NaOH after the titration, so …
So, he had no idea what that meant. It was 4:43 a.m. They'd trudged back through the door just after 2, and Sam had immediately headed back to his books figuring he might as well let John and Dean have the first showers.
Now Dean was snuffling in the next bed and John was sawing logs down the hall. It was a quiet symphony that Sam was used to, though to be honest, he didn't know how they could sleep. Even though Sam was running on a total of about four hours in the past three days, he didn't think he could have managed it even if he'd had time for sleep. Every time he closed his eyes – anything longer than a blink – he saw the screamer flying through the air.
The screamer's name turned out to be Josh. Dean'd found an ID in his pocket – along with a couple of crumpled aces and about $45. So he was a cheater, as expected, but not a very good one. Certainly not good enough to deserve his punishment.
Sam fiddled with his equation until it indicated that he had neither created matter, destroyed it nor broken any other laws of physics. He moved on to his conclusion.
'From this lab we can conclude that by using titration and finding the equivalence point, it is possible to find the concentration of a solution.'
Not exactly poetry, but he guessed it got the point across well enough.
'In part one, we made cabbage extract for use as an acid-base indicator to show when the equivalence point was reached in parts two and three.'
He'd never seen a man die before.
'We first used an acid (vinegar and NaOH) and then a base (ammonia and HCl).'
He'd seen dead men, but he'd never actually witnessed the process.
'Using the data we obtained in this process, and given the molarity of the NaOH and the HCl we were able to find the molarities of the solutions by dividing the number of moles in each by the volume of the solution we used.'
The ride home had been tense and quiet. Sam was sticky with Josh's blood. Dean was muttering about how the fact that the aatxe could breathe fire had not turned up in any of their research. Dad was pointedly not talking about how his silver sword had done nothing but anger the aatxe – even if he'd been able to get a good blow in (a big if, in Sam's opinion), he wouldn't have been able to kill it. They needed a new plan.
And in the meantime, a man was dead. A man whose safety had been entrusted to Sam. What was he supposed to do with that?
He put down his pen and rested his forehead against his lab notebook, carbon paper rustling with the movement.
He thought about the titration, how adding the vinegar, drop by drop, had changed the cabbage extract. One second it had been red, and then a single drop later, green. Not even recognizable as cabbage anymore. He felt like that was happening to him. He was Sam, but the hunting was changing him. It might not be visible now, but he wasn't sure how much more it would take until he wasn't Sam anymore. How was he going to go to school tomorrow – today, rather – and sit at his desk with the little groove in the top so that your pencil didn't roll down and not think about Josh Hogan split open and lying in a heap of his own intestines?
But if he did, then it was already too late.
He pushed the subject out of his mind again, and lifted his head and his pen. He still had the discussion of theory, experimental sources of error and questions sections to get through.
6:32 a.m. – Dusty Lane
Sam ran down the street, hair still wet from his shower. He'd finished the chemistry with just enough time for a quick cup of coffee and a shower, and had left Dean and John snoring in their beds. He wished they sold coffee at school. He was awake right now – between the coffee, the cold water and the run to catch the bus, his blood was singing. But he knew that first period, with its ongoing dissection of Wuthering Heights, was going to be an issue.
8:48 a.m. – Rm. 103 (English)
Sam blinked out of his stupor and whipped his attention back to Ms. Scott. "Yes ma'am?" he croaked.
"I asked if you would be so kind as to give us your opinion on the effect Heathcliff's social standing played in his fate."
"Right. Sorry, Ms. Scott. Uh. Well, he was an orphan and he fell in love with lady that he could never have …"
11:55 a.m. – Library (lunch)
Predictably, Hermann High School's library had nothing on aatxes, but there were a few books that mentioned the Basques. Sam wasn't sure how it'd help with the hunt, but he now knew that the race may have settled their patch of land on the Spain-France border as much as 75,000 years ago, and that no one knew where they came from before that. They were believed to be the oldest race in Europe and their language was in a family all its own. One theory even said that they were the descendants of the survivors of Atlantis.
1:10 p.m. – Gymnasium (P.E.)
"Winchester, you asleep out there?"
"Sorry, Coach," Sam called back, rubbing his nose. Thankfully the rubber ball wasn't quite hefty enough to do serious damage.
3:15 p.m. – Rm. 224 (history)
"OK, that's the bell. Remember! Test tomorrow. Essay. Twenty-five percent of your semester average! I'd suggest you reread chapters 12 through 15 tonight, if you haven't already done so."
Sam groaned along with his classmates and added that to his mental to-do list, along with the introduction and first 35 pages of Jane Eyre, 10 more geometry proofs, 15 Spanish verbs to conjugate, two miles to run and an hour of target practice with knives.
They weren't hunting tonight, so the routine changed a bit. Instead of having until sundown to himself for studying, Sam had to wait until sundown to start his homework. Even then, it was only on the condition that he got his training in beforehand, and he was expected to spend as much time as necessary after dinner going over the plan for tomorrow.
As much time as necessary proved problematic tonight.
He'd finished the proofs and skimmed the novel, but he was only halfway through the geometry and hadn't even started on the history. And yet. Here he was pouring over a book on Spanish bullfighting, trying to come up with an alternative method for killing an aatxe. Dean, meanwhile, was sitting across the room looking for unorthodox shapeshifter lore that might explain why the silver hadn't done anything. And John was at the table updating their aatxe notes to include "fire breathing."
Sam wasn't sure how he'd drawn this duty. The pictures in the dusty book were graphic – bulls run through, horses run through, people run through. His imagination really didn't need the fodder. He'd hardly been able to think about anything else all day. Which put him behind on his work, which made him feel like he needed to hurry through this, which was a mistake because he could miss something, which could mean he'd see a repeat performance tomorrow night and start the vicious cycle all over again.
"Sam," John snapped sharply. Sam had zoned out again. He rubbed his eyes and tried to find the last thing he'd read.
That was apparently when the Spanish-style bullfighting practiced today originated. But … that …
Wait. What had he read at lunch? The Basques' culture was at least 10,000 years old, maybe seven times that. If the aatxe belonged to them, he'd been around a lot longer than 1776.
Three hours later they had a new plan. A pretty ridiculous plan, but no one had been able to come up with anything better.
Once Sam pointed out the connection between the Basques and Atlantis, things had gone quickly. Atlantis, it turned out, was believed to have had its own share of bulls in its religion. Its people – if they existed – were thought to have worshiped the sea-god Poseidon, who preferred regular sacrifices of bulls. This was probably the origin of bullfighting, but it didn't bear much resemblance to the modern version. For example, no weapons were used at all. Instead, the animals were hunted by kings with only nooses and staffs to help them.
Of course. Because a sword had made it too easy.
So anyway, the plan was now for John to somehow string the bull up while Sam and Dean … poked it with sticks, basically. Then they'd use a silver knife to slit its throat. They'd skip the part where they added clots of its blood to their wine, though.
And they still didn't know what to do about the fire. The best the could come up with was bring fire extinguishers and wear fire-retardant jackets.
It was a crap plan, but it was past midnight. They weren't likely to come up with anything better. So John and Dean were turning in for the night. And Sam … Sam was turning back to his homework.
8:15 a.m. – Sam and Dean's bedroom
"Dude. Aren't you supposed to be at school?"
Sam woke up slowly, unsticking the glossy pages of his history textbook from the drool on his cheek, and peered blearily up at his brother, who clearly had just woken up himself.
But. Dean was never awake when Sam got up. What …
"Shit!" Sam tried to push himself up off the bed, but got tangled in the mess of covers and notebooks and ended up falling off instead. He shot to his feet and spun around in search of the alarm clock. 8:15! He'd not only missed the bus by more than an hour and a half, he was already missing first period. "Shit!"
He ran blindly toward the dresser, forgetting that clothes rarely made it into its drawers, pinballed off of it and back toward the pile of jeans and t-shirts in the corner. Pulling out a pair, he began struggling into it, hopping on one foot at a time while trying to veer back toward the closet and his shoes. Dean looked on, confused.
"Those are my jeans," he pointed out.
Sam tried to pull his foot out of the second leg and pitched over backward for his trouble. But that landed him back by the pile of jeans and he tugged another pair out. He stood up to repeat the process.
"You've gotta drive me to school!" he said, trying to hop around his brother.
"What?" Dean said, moving straight from sleepy to righteously outraged. "That's like, a 20-minute drive. 40 minutes, round trip."
"Well, I can't walk," Sam pleaded. "I'm already going to be 40 minutes late!"
"Just skip it. We could use the help getting ready, anyway. And it's Friday. No one goes to school on Friday."
Sam stopped at that, turned back to his brother and rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Dean. People go to school on Fridays. It's, like, a rule. Do you not want me to ever graduate?"
"There's not a rule like that. Besides, one day isn't going to keep you from graduating. You're not even a senior."
"There is a rule like that; it says you have to go to school every day! And it's not just one day. I'd already missed, like, two months before we even got here! They'll make me repeat the year if I miss any more!"
"Fine! … So you'll take me?"
"Whatever, but you owe me."
9:00 a.m. – Rm. 103 (English)
"I know, Ms. Scott, I'm really sorry. But I read the material last night. I thought the, uh, ghost in the red room was really, uh, scary."
11:49 a.m. – Library (lunch)
God, how could he have forgotten his history book? He was so screwed. What was the test even going to be over? He'd hardly gotten more than half a chapter read last night.
'McCarthyism.' Sam stopped in his perusal of the books on the shelves. That'd definitely been in there. He flipped through the book reading sentences at random.
'Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, paints a deadly portrait of the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials as an allegory of McCarthyism.'
Huh. He hadn't realized that. It'd just seemed like a very boring Winona Ryder movie when he and Dean had watched it on HBO out of desperation one dull Sunday afternoon.
He moved on.
2:10 p.m. – Rm. 224 (history)
"Books off your desks. And if I see you looking at someone else's paper, you'll get a zero. Now. You have one hour. Go."
Sam scanned the choices. He locked on to "Discuss the government's role in the Second Red Scare. Were there historical precedents for it?" and breathed a sigh of relief. Between his lunchtime reading and his intimate knowledge of the Malleus Malificarum, he might just be lucky enough to pass this test. Comparing the government's hunt for communists to the church's hunt for witches ought to impress Mrs. Norwood well enough.
3:04 p.m. – Rm. 224 (history)
Sam paused and looked over his last line, trying to hide his fifth yawn in about two minutes.
'Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, painted the Puritan origins and legacy in a deadly portrait of the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials as an allegory of McCarthyism.' Why did that sound familiar?
Crap. It was from that book at lunch. Did it count as plagiarism if you did it subconsciously? He should probably erase it and rephrase it. He stared at the paper and yawned again. On the other hand, he only had 10 more minutes to write, and he still had a lot of ground to cover. It wasn't like it was saying anything brilliant anyway.
He suppressed a twinge from his conscience and another yawn and moved on to his next line.
Another night, another drunken cheater stumbling toward the aatxe's cave unawares. How did it find these people? How drunk did they have to be to head out into the desert with a massive stranger?
Sam tensed, tightening his hold on his stick. His knuckles were white and his hands were trembling. But at least he wasn't falling asleep tonight. The nerves and exhaustion were combining to make him feel shaky and fragile, but he wasn't sleepy. He'd been preparing all afternoon with Dean, hadn't even cracked a book, and he was satisfied that he'd done everything he could to make sure that what happened on Wednesday night wouldn't happen again.
All he was waiting on now was John's command.
Sam and Dean shot out of their respective hiding spots. Sam moved first to pull the woman with the aatxe away from it, but this time didn't bother trying to keep her from going far. They'd track her down after the kill if they needed to.
No, John needed all hands on deck for this one, which meant Sam had other responsibilities tonight. Sure they were mostly poking a bull with a stick, but he'd take what he could get.
They'd chosen oak for their rods, because oak seemed to be the only significant wood in the Basque religion, and it was clear right away that they were on the right track. Dean got in the first blow while Sam was tugging on the civilian's arm, and smoke started pouring from the aatxe nose even before it'd begun to change. Dean and Sam flung themselves away from it in anticipation of the flames that came just a moment later, once the aatxe's head had fully transformed.
They'd gotten to the area earlier today and cleared away as much of the brush as possible and soaked everything they couldn't with water. Barrels of it – another reason Sam's arms were shaky. So they were less worried about starting a wild fire tonight, but still plenty concerned about ending up with burns themselves.
Sam ducked as the blistering heat turned in his direction, and Dean darted forward again to poke the aatxe. It shuddered and bawled, giving them a short break from the flames, but not accomplishing much, otherwise. The goal was to use the sticks to herd it toward John, who was waiting with a flame retardant rope dripping with holy water, tied into a noose and draped over a nearby Joshua tree. Once it was close enough, John would work to get the noose around its head, then pull on the other end, dragging its head up and exposing its neck for Dean, who was armed with his usual silver knife.
Dean poked its flank again, and it went scuttling in Sam's direction. Sam rushed up and to the right, trying to get behind it so that he could start poking as well, but he froze when the aatxe's furious gaze locked suddenly onto him.
He could feel it, somehow, in his head. A tickling, searching sensation that made him a little dizzy. He shook his head fitfully, trying to force it out, but nothing happened. He was dimly aware of Dean calling his name, but all he could really see were those eyes – those intelligent, malevolent, red eyes.
He knew the second it found what it was looking for. It bawled again, the ringing roar of rage from Wednesday night, not the cry of pain it'd been making so far tonight. And suddenly Sam realized his mistake.
He'd cheated on his history test that afternoon. At least, it was cheating in the aatxe's eyes.
He didn't bother with another thought, just turned and ran for all he was worth. He heard his dad and Dean calling from behind him, confused and annoyed and fearful. But he didn't want to waste his breath trying to make them understand. He needed all of it for—
He almost didn't understand the sensation at first. A prick, and then a burn, and then the feeling of something ripping open inside of him. All in the space of a second, just before he went flying forward.
Distantly he heard Dean's scream, but it barely registered a blip on his radar in face of the agony just gasping for breath brought. He was down in the dirt – mud now, thanks to their afternoon drenching – and Sam could feel the grit of it between his teeth as he clenched his jaw around a guttural moan. The hooves of the bull went thundering past his ear, but he couldn't bring himself to try and roll out of its way. Didn't even know which way to curl to try and appease the white hot demand of the wound in his back. Just writhed on the ground looking for some sort of relief.
He never heard the hooves skid into a turn and come back.
It was almost a week before Sam was really coherent again. He woke in a hospital bed with too many vague sources of a cotton-balled kind of pain to really track down. He was propped on his side with pillows, and when he finally managed to lever his eyes open, Dean was staring back at him. He seemed surprised but pleased by this development.
"You're awake," he remarked. "They said it'd be another few hours. Good thing I didn't take that nurse up on her offer."
Sam just blinked at him.
"How ya feelin'?"
Sam went back to sleep.
When he woke up again, Dean was still there, but wearing a different shirt. The pains were more defined, which was good and bad. They hurt a little more, but were less all over, so Sam judged it a wash.
He yawned, and the familiarity of the motion suddenly made him realize—
"Shit!" he said succinctly.
Dean started and turned back from the Bonanza rerun he'd been watching just in time to see Sam take a nose dive into his pillow, following a decidedly unsuccessful attempt at pushing himself up.
"What the hell are you doing?" he cried, swearing.
"What day is it?" Sam asked, frantically.
"What day is it?"
Dean fixed him with an incredulous look. "I don't know. The twenty …" he trailed off and gave up. "I've been a little busy!"
"Day, Dean! Saturday? Sunday?"
"Wednesday! It's Wednesday. God. What is your problem?"
"WEDNESDAY?!" Sam yelled. And that was a mistake. Suddenly the pain that had been throbbing steadily in his side was surging to the surface in a wave of wet, scouring heat.
"Shit." Dean that time, and then he was gone, presumably after help.
For awhile the pain was all there was, and then it faded, and Dean was there again with a sandy haired man in his fifties.
"Better?" the man asked.
Sam nodded as well as he could without actually moving.
"You're going to want to hold still for awhile and not get worked up again. Between the holes the bull made from the outside and the ones your ribs made from the inside, you're practically a sieve."
Sam wasn't sure what answer he was supposed to give to this, and he wasn't feeling up to coming up with one, so he just nodded again.
The doctor raised his eyebrows and then went through the motions of checking all the different monitors and lines Sam was hooked up to, before leaving Dean instructions to let him know if it happened again and leaving.
Dean watched him go and then turned apprehensively back to Sam.
"You really OK?"
Sam gave a miniscule shrug.
"Wanna tell me what that was about?"
Suddenly Sam remembered why he'd been upset in the first place. He squeezed his eyes shut and groaned. "Wednesday," he said.
"Yeah. Got that part. But since when do you hate Wednesday so much?"
"I told you, Dean," he mumbled, half into the pillow. "If I missed anymore days of school, I wouldn't be able to pass the year no matter what my grades look like."
Sam didn't actually see Dean's jaw drop, but it was practically audible. "School? You're worried about school? You about give me and Dad freakin' heart attacks, and you're worried about school? Dude!"
"The whole year, Dean. All that work for nothing."
Dean just stared at him with his mouth open for a moment, then snapped it shut and shook his head. He slumped back into his seat.
"Do you even want to know what all they had to do to put you back together?" he asked.
Sam sighed and closed his eyes. "Not really."
Dean was quiet for a second, then piped back up. "Well I got something I wanna know," he said. "What the hell were thinking turning tail and running like that?"
Sam scowled at him without bothering to open his eyes. "Was I supposed to just stand still for it?"
"You were supposed to freakin' poke it with the stick and herd it toward Dad, not lead it in the opposite direction!"
"Dude, I didn't lead it in the opposite direction! It chased me in the opposite direction."
"Yeah, once you started running from it. Of course it's going to chase you if you run. It's like a law of nature or something."
"No it's not. And it didn't chase me because I ran, I ran because it chased me."
"Why would it do that?"
Sam peeked out at him for a second, then screwed his face up in preparation for his confession. "Cause … I cheated," he muttered.
"Because I cheated!"
Dean didn't say anything, so Sam gave in and opened his eyes. Dean was staring at him, confused.
"You … cheated?"
Sam sighed. "Yeah."
"On … what?"
Sam closed his eyes again. "A test. The test. The history test I was studying for last week. It was on Friday, and I'd fallen asleep and didn't get to study, so I cheated."
"You don't cheat."
"It was an accident."
"Sam. Think about who you're talking to here. I know from cheating. You don't accidentally cheat."
"Well I did. It was an essay test and I accidentally plagiarized without thinking about it. And when I realized it, I just left it."
Dean snorted again. "Dude. That's not cheating."
"Yes it is."
"No. It's not."
"Yeah well, the aatxe seemed to disagree with you."
That shut him up. For a second. "Man, you're going to be in so much trouble when Dad finds out."
It was Sam's turn to snort, though he regretted it immediately afterward. "Like Dad cares if I cheat," he groaned.
"Dad totally cares if you cheat when you know there's a cheater-eating bull ghost on the loose!"
Oh. Yeah. There was that.
Sam groaned again for good measure. And then he thought about how he was going to have to repeat chemistry and geometry, and it was all he could do not to cry.
A few more notes:
Everything I need to know, I learned from Wikipedia. And a few other random sites.
Most of the Aatxe stuff is based in truth (it is a fire-breathing, cave-dwelling evil spirit associated with the Basques, a culture of herders, 750 of whom immigrated to Nevada in the 1950s as part of the McCarran-Walter Omnibus Immigration Bill). I picked it at random from a list of mythical creatures, and then when I started researching it, it was so interesting that it ended up driving the whole story. But I don't know if it's something anybody would try to kill. No method was mentioned, so I made that up after running across the Atlantis connection. Since it's sometimes a bull and it came from Spain, bullfighting seemed like a viable option. With a silver sword, since it's a shapeshifter. But I needed that not to work, so I dug further back and found the Atlantis/Minoan bull sacrifice ceremonies.
The book Sam plagiarizes is also a book I plagiarized for the story, but it's actually not about McCarthyism. The line is from Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition, by Lincoln Konkle. I haven't read it and don't know if that is his *real* name. I just did a search for what I needed on Amazon.
The rest of Sam's schoolwork came from my old high school notebooks, which I conveniently rescued from my parents' house a couple of months ago. Honors geometry and AP chemistry. That was a rough time.
Oh. With the exception of the English. We had a horrible English department, and hardly read any appropriate books. I've read those books, but took discussion topics from the Spark notes.
And I don't know if its prevalence is a modern-culture myth or if I just had a deprived childhood, but I never played dodge ball in gym class.
Now. This was for Kokoda, whose stories are always good for that wonderful/horrible thrill of heart-clenching angst that a girl just needs sometimes. Her choices were worried Dean forces Sam to see a doctor; Sam faints; or a pre-series fic showing how Sam is torn between wanting to do well at school and trying to fit into the hunger's lifestyle. I had these grand plans to combine all three into one super story, where Sam works so hard at hunting and being a student that he wears himself completely out, faints from exhaustion and is dragged to the doctor by Dean. But then I got distracted by the aatxe. I hope that was the right choice, and I hope Kokoda likes it, because she definitely deserves a good story.
And thanks to Faye and Lisa for letting me play, even though I didn't get my act together enough to turn in prompts. I hope they don't regret the decision now that it's turned out I couldn't get my act together enough to write the story, either!