A/N: I'm not big on warnings, but I must give one. This story is very dark and contains semi-graphic images of violence and gore. I've gone dark before, though maybe not quite like this, and I know it's not everyone's cuppa. This story was based on a prompt from another SPN fan, and she does like her fic dark. If you read, I hope you enjoy. If you don't, that is okay!
The fluorescent light in the motel bathroom wouldn't stop flickering. It created a strobe effect, noticeable mostly because of the confined space and stark walls. Sam Winchester wondered how it was possible so many motels across the United States had this particular problem. Normally it would be annoying and nothing more, something he could close his eyes against and forget about. Right now it was making him queasy. As he leaned on the sink, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. It was probably the intense artificial light that made him look like crap. Dark circles under his eyes. Bruises, cuts, blood. It didn't have anything to do with the sleepless weeks and worry, or the gash in his side. It was only an illusion of bad lighting.
He stripped off his jacket and outer shirt, weaving slightly from the exertion. He closed his eyes and waited for the spinning to stop. When he opened them again, the ghostly image of himself was still there staring back at him. Sam picked the T-shirt away from his skin gingerly, though he knew it wouldn't help. Toward the edges of the blood pattern, it had dried and formed a natural adhesive. Closer to the damage, it was still gummy and warm. He hissed and let out a small exhalation of pain, though the wound was not the worst he had ever received in his life. If he were going to be honest, it wasn't really the injury at all that was making him want to curl over and give up right here on the dirty bathroom floor.
One way or another, he felt certain that death was right around the corner. It was stalking him, getting closer with every misstep he took. He couldn't stop it, because stopping it would also be the death of him. It was a classic lose/lose situation, die or die even more painfully. Sam was the biggest loser here, except maybe that wasn't true at all. He wasn't the only one. He gasped, side twinging as he raised his arms and peeled the T-shirt off. His legs didn't want to hold him anymore. He sat down, hard, on the toilet. The impact jarred him, made his bones rattle. For a second, just a second, he rested his forehead against the cool edge of the sink and tried to pretend he wasn't where he was.
Sam knew he was going to have to suck it up or he wasn't going to last much longer.
He wasn't sure if he cared to last much longer.
Part of him had to believe his fatalism would prove wrong, that somehow there was a way out of this mess. If he lost that hope, he was as good as dead already. He wasn't done yet. He wasn't ready to die, but the longer this went on the more likely his decision to live would be taken from him. It would boil down to the lesser of two evils.
Sam stood and peered down at his injured side. The angle was awkward. It was going to be tough to patch up on his own. And he was very much alone. He didn't think he was ever going to get used to that. He didn't want to. That was the whole point of the path he was trudging. From the main room, the TV blared, on because he needed the noise to make him feel like he wasn't the sole occupant. He knew he was being weak. Dad would … Dad would've ragged on him about being a pansy, but Dad wasn't here. Dad wasn't good about answering his phone when it came to his boys. Besides, he'd been gone from Sam's life for a long time anyway.
No one was here but him. He was all he had now. Sam shook his head. Maybe he had a concussion as well. He couldn't stop thinking about himself, when he should have more important things on his mind. Those more important things were never actually out of his mind. He grabbed a washcloth, his bloody fingertips leaving rust-colored stains. He turned the hot water on and doused the cloth.
"Shit," Sam muttered, pressing the damp rag against his side.
His throat was tight from disuse. It wasn't the pain that had him cursing. Sam knew there was a reason he wasn't dead right now, but he couldn't figure out what it was. Applying logic to evil was a dangerous game he was not equipped to play. He'd lost reason nearly a month ago, or longer. Maybe forever. Hunting had never made that much sense to him to start out with. He didn't understand living in a way that would only guarantee heartache and blood. Hunting things, saving people. That last part made it palatable, but he still didn't want to understand.
"You gotta toughen up, Buttercup," he said, the words sounding all wrong coming out of his mouth. He half expected to see behind him in the mirror John Winchester or gruff old Bobby Singer or Dean, oh God, Dean should be telling him he was a bitch right now to rile him up and forget about the pain.
His battered reflection was the only one there, and it twitched in response. Sam sighed, examining his side more closely. It didn't look like he'd need to stitch much more than a few centimeters of the gash. Unfortunately, the worst of it wrapped around his back and was difficult to reach. His vision blurred, more from exhaustion than anything. He didn't know if he'd ever get a good night's sleep again, even if he survived this. He gritted his teeth and got on with it. The longer he waited, the more he'd psych himself out and not just for tending the wound. The road he walked now was unalterable. There was only forward.
Sam staggered into the bedroom, the first aid supplies spread out on the empty bed. For a change, he was glad that he was skilled enough at basic sutures he didn't have to go back to the bathroom. He didn't want to see his mirrored image anymore. He was sick of his own company. As he threaded the needle, the powerful lead-in tone of the local news chimed at him. As he completed his first stitch, he listened to the top story without trying to hear it. It was the same no matter where he went. The story followed him. Or he followed it. He wasn't sure anymore if he was the chicken or the egg.
His fear was more deeply rooted and more personal than that of the locals. Fargo, North Dakota had a right to be terrified. Moorhead, Minnesota shouldn't sleep at night. But he, he was the only human being who truly understood why.
He looked up at the mention of FBI and the word serial, feeling like it was all spinning out of control. He was lucky it hadn't sooner. It took the locals awhile to connect the dots in each new location, of course, but this time it was different. The proverbial clock was ticking. The wound in his side stung and burned and throbbed a mocking beat at him, the hands of that proverbial clock personified. The pictures on the television gutted him. They called the madman that had run rampant across much of the nation wily and sociopathic. They called him relentless. They called him brazen. They called him a butcher.
And he was all of those things.
Yes, they – the press, the cops, the general public – called the elusive, anonymous killer many things. They whispered the fear he evoked in them to each other, like they were secret sharers. They talked about it over the dinner table the way they would celebrity gossip. But to Sam the killer had only one name.
Sam sat tucked in a corner in his customary position, nose buried in a newspaper and laptop never out of reach. Dean kept an eye on him, still not certain after all these months how to handle this little brother who was that much different than he used to be. There were glimmers of his pain-in-the-ass Sam there, hidden behind years away from him and Dad and tragedy Dean couldn't fully grasp. Sometimes Dean wanted to slap the guy, like that would help yank him out of his misery. Sometimes he wondered if it was worth it to have his brother by his side, at least until he remembered what it was like to be alone. The simple fact of the matter was, he didn't particularly care which version of Sam he had – the kid was pretty much all he had until they found their dad.
"You gonna stand there all night, or are you gonna miss your shot?" a gruff voice said in his ear. It was Zeke or Wayne or maybe the name was Jimbo, the local yokel Dean was currently hustling at pool. "I need your money to pay for the next round."
A bunch of Jimbo's drunken friends laughed like they were a pack of hyenas. The idiots had no idea what was coming. It was all about the right balance of booze, manly pride and stupidity, and right here and now was the perfect storm of hustling. Dean couldn't have set it up better himself. A few more bad shots, and he'd clean up so fast Jimbo wouldn't realize he'd been had until he and Sam were long gone. That meant it was the last call for them, and he needed to make sure his brother knew to get ready to go. As if tuned into his thoughts, Sam looked up and caught his eye. The barest of nods had Sam folding up the newspapers and finishing the single pint he'd been nursing all night.
"You can't blame me for stalling, man," Dean said, adopting some of the whininess Sam excelled at naturally. No one could ever say he didn't work damned hard for their money. "You're killing me here. I guess this just ain't my game."
"We can't all be awesome," Jimbo said with a good-natured slur.
Truer words had never been uttered so ironically. Dean thought it well past time he started getting a little luckier with his shots, so Jimbo could understand on some level the actual meaning of awesome. Standard definition in Webster's: Dean Winchester. Judging from the unsteady gait of his soon-to-be-broke opponent, though, Jimbo wouldn't remember much about the fake etymology lesson. He was counting on the drunken stupor. Casually, he surveyed all of the people watching the game. Just one too-sober friend and he was out a couple hundred bucks, but the magic eight-ball said the outlook was good.
Ten minutes later, Dean strutted across the parking lot with a smile on his face and a wad of cash in his hands. He didn't think he'd ever grow tired of this part of the job, hard work or not.
"Take the money and run," Dean said, waving the cash at Sam, who leaned against the car, waiting. "That was too easy."
"I'm just glad you didn't make me play along this time."
Dean loved his brother, but sometimes he didn't like him much. To be met with that sour face and scoffing tone struck a nerve after a whole night of letting Sam take it easy and hide in the corner. He could relate to Dad's frustration with Sam.
"What, you'll put on some stupid coverall costume for the job, but you won't hustle pool? This is our bread and butter, Sam." Dean glared at his brother and that pinched and unhappy expression of his. "Jeez, do you ever take that stick out of your ass?"
He was in the process of yanking the car door open, but Dean didn't miss Sam flinching, recoiling from the barb. Good, the guy could stand to be reminded of his own flaws now and again. It only took until he'd tucked his winnings into the inside pocket in his jacket and slammed the door to wish he'd tempered his reaction. It seemed strong. No. He wasn't out of line at all, and he hated that for some reason he always felt the need to apologize anytime he voiced his own feelings. He knew that was messed up, but it was also so deeply ingrained he doubted he'd ever overcome it.
"I didn't mean anything by it," Sam said softly. "I wasn't up for it tonight, that's all."
Then there was Sam making him feel repentant when he had no reason to be, just by being Sam.
"I know," Dean said, the closest he was going to verbally get to acknowledging his own inexplicable crankiness. "You find out where we can start here?"
All they really knew was that there had been a marked increase in homicides in the greater Fresno area. That wouldn't have been enough to investigate on its own, as all the homicides seemed run-of-the-mill. But a text from Dad implied he didn't think these deaths were natural. Whatever it was that was doing whatever it was it was doing, they would have to figure it out on their own, though. No direct contact had been established with their father, a fact which frazzled Dean more than he wanted to admit.
"No. At first glance, the killings don't seem to fit a supernatural pattern. I was wondering if maybe this was more something for the police to handle. A human kind of monster."
"That's not a happy thought." Dean also didn't buy it. Dad wouldn't send them anywhere to deal with a human threat. It wasn't in the job description.
"No," Sam said, sounding grim, "but then again, I haven't had a chance to do any real research. Public information in newspapers doesn't always tell the complete story."
That was true. They'd rolled into Fresno after normal business hours. No library time. It had been Dean's call to head out to one of the small towns surrounding the city to hustle up a game instead of breaking into various offices for police and autopsy records. No wonder Sam had scoured the newspaper all night – his inner geek needed the exercise. Add to that the chronic dark smudges under Sam's eyes, and Dean understood further still why Sam seemed like such a wet blanket lately. Damn, he was good at excusing his brother. Dean stared at the blurring fields, taking his eyes off the road for a few seconds. The crop reminded him of childhood and lurking behind bleachers at middle school baseball games.
"Sunflower seeds," he said.
"There are sunflowers in the field." He pointed to the wash of yellow zipping by, shoulder height. "So now I kinda want sunflower seeds."
"Okay, so we'll get some the next time we have to fill the tank." Sam shot him a weird look, but then he looked out the window and his face took on a nostalgic air. He even turned in his seat when they whizzed by the last sunflower.
A spark of memory flashed in Dean's brain.
"Oh, that's right. You used to love sunflowers when you were a little girl," Dean said. "It drove Dad nuts. I swear for a month or two when you were four, they were all you could talk about. Then we moved."
He glanced over, the light from the dash bright enough he could see the tips of Sam's ears turning pink and his lip curl in protest at being called a girl. Hey, it wasn't Dean's fault Sam had been really peculiar as a kid, with that mop of hair and starry look in his eyes. The hair had stayed, but the look in his eyes had changed to constant unhappiness overnight, at age eight. Understandable, all things considered.
"I don't remember much except they fascinated me," Sam grumbled. "I'd never seen anything so tall that wasn't a building or a tree."
"Sure, Frances. What about Dad? Dad must have looked like a giant to you." Dad still looked like a giant to Dean.
"Dad was different. Dad was kind of scary sometimes, Dean. Loud and gruff and mysterious and absent. Sunflowers were…" He trailed off.
Sam turned away, so all Dean could see was half of his face reflected in the window. He wondered how he and Sam had grown up with such different visions of their father. The echoing desolation in Sam's voice even now made his own heart ache to change things, make it so Sam could understand and be like them. He was glad to see the outer limits of Fresno nearing, suddenly weary. He didn't want the buzz of a good hustle to end, but it was fizzling fast. Hell, it had disappeared the second Sam had spoken.
"Were what? Were they pretty, you pretty little princess?" Dean said, faking the good-natured ribbing and the chortle of laughter. It was what he did best.
"Shut up, you dillhole," Sam said, but without real heat. "I was just a little kid."
"Sure, then. But admit it – you still like them."
"I don't think about flowers. I'm not actually a woman, Dean," Sam said. He looked uncertain for a second, then pained. "But Jess liked them a lot."
The hiss from a small leak in the sealing around one of the back windows and the soft sound of Led Zeppelin were the only noises in the car for a moment, increased traffic eventually impeding on them as they entered city limits. Dean didn't know what to say on those rare occasions Sam volunteered information about Jessica. It wasn't like he'd ever let anyone in on that level, not even Cassie. He'd known before he'd opened his mouth to tell her the truth how she'd react to the insanity of his words. He'd done it anyway, and there had to be a reason for that.
"She seemed like the type who would. Cheerful and smart," Dean said. The words were inadequate for the depth of the subject and he knew it. "Sunny."
"Yeah," Sam said. He gave a laugh, which quickly turned into something more like a sob before he turned further away to rest his forehead on the window.
That was it for conversation. Dean reached over and squeezed his brother's shoulder once, the only comfort he knew how to give. Sam didn't pull away, which was something. It didn't seem like enough. He wished he'd never even brought up the stupid sunflowers, though now he wanted the sharp saltiness of the seeds more than ever. It would kill his taste buds, mask the bitter flavor suddenly in his mouth.
The quietness remained as they pulled up to the motel, and as they strode to their room. Dean wasn't surprised when Sam lay down immediately after tossing his jacket across the end of his bed, flat on his back and staring without blinking at the ceiling. He'd probably killed the few hours of sleep Sam got on a good night with the unintentional reminder of the dead girlfriend. He'd probably also be too preoccupied with Sam not sleeping to get much sleep himself. It wasn't a good way to start off a hunt, but until he figured out time travel there was nothing he could do about it now. Of course, if he could master time travel, they wouldn't even be in this craphole of a motel in this craphole of a city hunting some crapass monster.
Mom would be alive and everything would be the way it should be, not the way it was.
Dean didn't want to dwell on that and he didn't want to broach the subject of a poor night's sleep with Sam after the turn the night had taken. He didn't think he could wash the motor oil taste of unhappiness out of his mouth, but he could try anyway. He headed for the bathroom, where he brushed his teeth until they squeaked. He was surprised but relieved to find Sam in an uneasy-looking sleep when he wandered back into the main room.
He counted it as a small blessing and decided he was going to try hard to rest while the resting was good. In a few hours, he'd likely be woken by Sam lurching out of a nightmare or moving about the room in near-silence. But images of Mom and Dad, sunflowers and Sam kept Dean from sleep. The burnt taste was back on his tongue. An hour passed, then two. He heard Sam starting to shift around on his bed, nightmare taking hold. He wasn't sure if he was ready for it tonight, this morning, whatever the hell time it was. He was never ready on the inside to put on a strong front on the outside, but he had to do it.
He was just too tired right now.
He got up, redressed and slipped out of the room for a pre-dawn run to the convenience store. Sam was going to need coffee, and so was he.
Loud thumping startled Sam out of a stupor. He must have phased out during the news, the TV now blaring an infomercial about some miracle fat-burning pill. He blinked and looked down at himself. He had no shirt on, a sock in his hands and one bare foot turning icy cold, ankle rested on a knee as he perched on the edge of the bed. His joints cracked when he straightened his leg and stood. He felt every bit of eighty years old. There was a stitch in his side. Dazedly, he looked down before he remembered it wasn't a stitch, it was a gash. Actual, sloppily done thread-and-needle stitches held him together. The hammering on the door increased into a steady, incessant beat.
He pulled on a shirt and grabbed his weapon, hobbling for the rest of his things. He wasn't ready for this, but he'd never be ready for this. He should have been on the road an hour ago, another mistake he'd have to die with. Each thump on the door was a nail in his coffin, no matter who or what was on the other side. For the first time ever, he would prefer it to be the cops, that they'd somehow made a connection to him or identified their unknown, very careful subject. The alternative was so much worse because he wasn't, he wasn't, he wasn't ready. Sam knew what he should do, but he also knew he wasn't going to do it. Not tonight. He couldn't. He wouldn't. He held onto the belief that more time would reveal a better solution.
There was a lump in his throat. It felt like his heart.
Sam jammed his feet into his boots, casting a glance at his bag. He never unpacked much anymore, knowing even two days in one place was too long. Knowing a quick getaway was more important than ever. Logically, he'd known at least a month ago that he shouldn't stay at a motel at all. It was too easy for someone to trace his movements, track him down and trap him. Even now, when it was obvious there was no way for this to end well, a part of him wanted his brother to always be able to find him. No horrible circumstance could ever change that. It was one of those inevitabilities of his short life, and always had been. He wished he had understood this before it was too late to show Dean he got it. He got why Dean had come for him at Stanford.
The pounding stopped, but Sam knew that didn't mean the person on the other side was gone.
There was no real escape. That was one of the few things Sam knew with any certainty. If he got away again tonight, there'd simply be another attack on another day, and more people killed in between. As the door shook from the force of a kick, fear took over. It wasn't regular fight or flight. He backed up a futile step and numbly watched the door splinter and break in. He took aim, willing his hands not to shake and give away his pervasive dread. The intruder smiled at him coldly.
When it came down to it, Sam wasn't going to pull the trigger and both of them knew it.
"Hello, Sammy," Dean said, strolling toward him with the confidence he naturally possessed and the casualness of the monster inside him. "Long time no see."
"You don't get to talk to me like you're him," Sam said. Where his hands were steady, his voice was not and his legs propelled him backward, seemingly of their own volition. He scowled at Dean's knowing smirk. He tightened his grip on the handgun. "We're long past the pretense, so can it."
"Big man. I like this side of you. Can I tell you a secret? Dean's never been sure you had the cojones for hunting." The thing inside Dean tipped his head to the side in a deliberate, slow move. His neck cracked. "But you want to get right to business. I can get behind that. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
If this wasn't very, very real, Sam would think he was watching a bad movie with an over-the-top bad guy menacing some fool too stupid and slow to run. It was easier to think that there wasn't anything left of his brother in there, and he tried desperately to cling to that illusion. To think of Dean in there, buried and screaming and used, it was too much most days. It was too much when the barrel of the gun Dean was facing was gripped in Sam's own hands. It couldn't be Dean. Sam had to believe, finally, that it wasn't.
"It's been fun. I think I'm bored now," Dean said.
But try as he might, Sam couldn't stop seeing his brother in the monster. They were intertwined. Inseparable. He stared, all the while knowing the clock was ticking down fast. Dean's face had at least two days' growth on it, his hair greasy and matted. He didn't look like Dean, therefore he wasn't. Couldn't be. Oh, God, was. Sam noticed there were bloodstains on Dean's dark T-shirt. He didn't know if they were from before, if Dean … Dean's body … had been injured during the fight when he himself had taken a knife to the side.
"Dean, you're hurt." The words were a whisper, slipping out unintentionally. He might as well have screamed them. Sam couldn't take it back it any more than he could unsee the smug expression on the monster's face. Sam's nostrils flared, emotion almost getting the better of him.
"Aw," Dean said, tilting his head in a not-Dean way again. "How touching. Makes it all worth it."
The problem was that Dean could beat him with one hand tied behind his back on a good day, and Dean knew that Sam knew it. Today was so far from a good day it was almost laughable. He wanted to cry. Adrenaline prickled on his skin, surged in his muscles, but Sam was still sore and bone weary. Even if that thing wasn't his brother anymore, it had some of Dean's mannerisms. For all Sam knew, every memory of Dean's had been taken and would be used against him. It was partly why he had been a walking dead man nearly since the day Dean had disappeared out of his life.
Sam wasn't ready to die, and he wasn't ready to kill. His mind raced, searching for any way out of this that wouldn't result with a bullet in Dean's forehead. His eyes skittered around the room, never straying far from Dean, who was advancing almost imperceptibly. Cautious, like a cat waiting for the exact right moment to pounce. Dean wasn't the only one who knew what to expect from his brother. Sam knew what was coming. He had spent his whole life watching, aspiring to be as good as Dean and only managing to cheat his way through. Cheating sounded good. He wanted to cheat both life and death. Sam paused. He had salted the windows when he'd checked in, old habits refusing to die. He'd salted at school.
"I'm so sorry, Dean," Sam said, as if his brother were standing before him. Hoping now that maybe he was, just enough to hear his regret. "I don't know what to do yet. I don't know how I'm supposed to help this thing inside you."
Sam fired the gun a millisecond later, aiming at the wall above Dean's head. He only needed to buy some more time for him to retreat again so he could think, think, he wasn't ready, this wasn't the right time. As he expected, Dean ducked and left himself temporarily unguarded. Sam's real weapon was a fistful of salt hastily collected from the windowsill, thrown directly in his brother's eyes. Dean howled, an inhuman sound, and lashed out. A hard jab to his injured side made Sam drop the gun and double over.
Dean was scrabbling, though, half-blinded. It was only going to last a moment, and Sam took it. He delivered a quick punch to Dean's throat, not hard enough to damage. While Dean choked and clutched at his new injury, Sam grabbed his gun and bag and stumbled out the door. The wail of sirens filled the night air, drawing ever closer. A gunshot in the middle of the night in a peaceful town like Fargo was like chumming for a shark. Quick bait.
Sam didn't make it the twenty steps to his stolen car.
Though it was not even five AM, the city was starting to wake up. Kids were on paper routes, sleepy-faced men and women headed out to make the doughnuts, a few insane people were out for a jog. That sort of thing. In that regard, Dean's morning run for coffee was perfectly timed. Being up at the ass crack of dawn increased the chances of a fresh pot of coffee and fresh pastries. He knew it wasn't logical, but he also thought it offered a fresh way to start the day after the depressing turn he and Sam had taken last night. He knew a good cruller wasn't going to make Sam forget anything, least of all his dead girlfriend, but the jolt of sugar and caffeine could never hurt. At the very least, Sam would be distracted for a few minutes by how awesome his big brother was.
Dean pulled into the Johnny Quik parking lot, a little surprised to see the convenience store had more than the night cashier inside even though people were out and about just as he was. Tipping his jaw in greeting to the disheveled, puffy-eyed woman behind the counter, Dean aimed straight for the coffee stand and the clear pastry case right next to it. As he'd thought, he had first pickings and they didn't look too bad. There was even a blueberry cream cheese muffin he knew Sam would appreciate more than a cruller. Condensation on the inside of the case was evidence that the food hadn't sat there for days, still warm from delivery. He stuffed the muffin and three old fashioned doughnuts for himself in a paper bag and filled two large paper cups with coffee (one with vanilla-flavored creamer, a poor man's latte for his girlish brother), jamming all of the breakfast contraband onto a cardboard carrier. He headed for the snacks, figuring he might as well kill two birds and get sunflower seeds while he was here. And definitely Peanut M&M's. His stash had run out a few days ago.
Dean brushed by a huge and hugely smelly man pondering the alcohol section of the refrigerated beverage cooler. He thought it was a bit early for booze, but he wasn't exactly one to judge. It was five PM somewhere, and by the looks of the guy his primary pleasures involved drinking and peeing in public. A petite, dark-haired woman in a nurse's uniform had a half-gallon of milk in her hands as she headed for the front of the store with a determined stride. She had a nice ass, firm. He tracked that part of her anatomy until she turned a corner, from there he could only see her shoulders and up. He admired the rich, dark skin at the nape of her neck, the curve of her jaw. Best part of waking up, right there.
He took a sip of coffee, turning back to his own business when he heard the chime of the door as she exited. Beer guy was quick to follow, leaving Dean, the cashier and one other person in the store.
And there was something weird about that one other person, who was standing in front of the pre-packaged tuna sandwiches. Not an everyone-in-California's-a-damned-hippy kind of weird and not a who-on-Earth-would-buy-vending-tuna kind of weird, but something that pinged Dean's internal alarm. He checked the weapon tucked in the back of his jeans as he casually sauntered down the snack aisle, setting the coffee carrier on a shelf and picking up a bag of pork rinds. He feigned interest in the ingredients label, while casing out the rest of the joint looking for signs that his feeling might be right.
His attention was drawn back as tuna man picked up his sandwich of choice and headed for the front, gait stilted and stiff. Dean swore he heard the guy humming, which wasn't weird except for some reason it was. He furrowed his eyebrows. No flickering lights and no bursts of static from the security TV behind the counter. This wasn't a demon, but there was something, something was off. He just couldn't place what.
Tuna man pivoted slowly, then, looking right at Dean. He tilted his head to the left, the sound of his neck crackling loud in the quiet store. Then he smiled, like he knew a fantastic secret and was about to share it. Dean stiffened, internal alarm clanging like mad now. A bare second later tuna man vaulted over the counter and half a second after that he had the clerk's insides in one hand and a huge blade in the other, both blade and hand slick with blood. The clerk hadn't had a chance to scream or move or beg for her life. She let out a weak, involuntary moan and simply slid to the floor with an awful, lifeless thud.
Dean shouted, though, reaching for his weapon and taking aim without thinking. It was pure reaction, instinct. Time seemed to be moving both too quickly and too slowly. He knew that was impossible. Tuna man turned back, immediate but casual, looking at him again with his knife hand up and gesturing for him to stop with an anh-anh-anh-no waggle of the blade. Oh shit, there were chunks of the cashier on it. In a move uncharacteristic of himself, Dean halted in his tracks. He stared at the blade for a millisecond, before making eye contact with tuna man.
Despite all of the horrors Dean had witnessed in his life, he recoiled at the look in the guy's eyes. The malice and hate were shining like virtual beacons, but mirth was also present, and overwhelming self-satisfaction. There was something human about it, but also something totally inhuman. He knew he was screwed to hell, the security cameras eyeing him from all four corners of the store and directly above the cash register. But he knew he couldn't let this guy walk out of here no matter the consequences to him. The cashier's entrails slipped out of tuna man's hand, landing on the floor with a squelch. Dean resisted the urge to watch it go down.
That was it. His moment of hesitation and shock was over. His brain automatically traveled to Sam as he pulled the trigger to end this guy, hoping his brother wouldn't hate him too much for letting it go down this way. He was going to be busted for murdering a murderer, and that wasn't exactly how he'd planned it himself. He was supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, fighting some legendary monster. Fighting the good fight. The sound of the gunshot reverberated in the small store, echoing loudly enough someone outside had to have heard it.
He couldn't reconcile what happened next with what should have happened.
Tuna man suddenly wasn't in the line of fire, leaving the bullet to take out the window behind the cashier's station. All Dean could hear was his amped-up breathing and a soft humming sound. His eyes darted to the door, a brief flash of self-preservation racing through his head. He should say screw it, leave this mess for the cops. He'd never make it to the door, he realized. The humming got louder. Werewolves of London. Totally cliché. Right out of the manual. Crazy man humming a crazy song: check. He thought maybe he was half crazy himself, because in his whole life he'd never seen anything like this. He'd expect it out of a shapeshifter or some poor possessed soul.
People were fucking nuts.
He couldn't get a visual on the man, but he knew the chime of the door hadn't gone off; he had to still be in the store somewhere. Dean kept his eyes pinned on the cashier's counter, thinking the guy must have managed to duck the bullet. He edged himself all the way to the back of the store, to the freezer section. The goddamn humming sounded like it was coming from everywhere all at once, and that just wasn't possible. Attack could only come from in front of him. Snugged up against a wall of frozen pizzas and ice cream wasn't the world's best defensive position, but he found himself still processing the speed with which this guy moved.
Dean reached for his cell, figuring if he was going to go down for being involved in this even tangentially he might as well be the one to call the cops on his own presumed dead ass. He dialed by touch, keeping his attention where it needed to be – everywhere else. One blink and tuna man stood before him with that inscrutable smile on his face, humming that stupid song. Knife up in Dean's face, still with bits of cashier on it.
"Jesus," Dean shouted.
He twisted left, at the same time butting his weapon hand into the guy's chin. The blow didn't have any effect on his foe, but the phone flew out of Dean's hand, clattering across the tile floor out of his reach.
"You better not let him in – little old lady got mutilated last night. Ahwoooooo, werewolves of London," tuna man said, voice hoarse as if he'd gone a year without water. "You'll do."
Before Dean could align a shot, everything went gray and cold. He felt like he was suddenly behind a thick, suffocating veil. He choked and coughed. It was all around him, not dissipating. Tuna man gaped at him with a terrible grimace and hands held up and no, don't, please God don't hurt me, don't hurt me in that hoarse voice, now high-pitched and fevered. It was supplication or remorse, Dean didn't know which. The eyes, though. They were different, fully human and scared witless. From all appearances, the guy was barren of evil and had no memory of what he'd just done.
Dean felt cloudy, confused. None of this made sense. Two plus two was nine now, he thought suddenly, crazily, and he didn't know why. His weapon hand raised again, though not because he consciously willed it. He felt it happen as if he weren't really there. He was, he was. Where was he? He felt strange, a squatter in his body, not the owner anymore. That wasn't right. He tried to lower his hand, put his gun away. The guy wasn't a threat anymore. Dean's body was not his. This wasn't possible. Blackness surrounding, above, below. Everywhere. Dean hated the dark. The dark was alive.
Tuna man crumpled on the floor somehow, arms spread-eagled, a gaping hole in his gut. Eyes wide open, staring sightless at the ceiling. Blood everywhere, a widening pool, smooth and Dean, his face, his face reflected in it looking down. At himself. Not himself. It was all wrong. An oil slick over his eyes, distorting everything. He reached up to touch his cheek, but his reflected hand didn't parallel the action. Dean couldn't move. Trapped, trapped, drowning. He gulped, unable to pull a deep breath. Unable to draw a breath at all. He was not who he was. Oh shit, oh shit, this was what he and Sam were in Fresno to kill. The chances of walking right into it were astronomical, but there he was. Winchester luck. Winchester. Sam, Sam. Dad. Help.
"So long, and thanks for all the fish," his voice said, but it was different. Harder. Colder. He already knew he wasn't himself anymore. No surprises. Big surprises. He kicked tuna man viciously in the side, laughed when the body jostled. His head tipped side to side, jaw jutted out, Dean's face being appraised in a bloodpool mirror. A hand reached up to smooth down a flyaway piece of hair. "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's. His hair was perfect. Ahwoooooo."
Dean's vision faded ever darker into blackness. Sam, Sam, Sammy. It was too dark, he couldn't see anything. This shouldn't be … not a demon, not possessed. What? He couldn't see anything but what his imagination conjured. Sam. Mom. Sunflowers. Sun, sun. Dad, Daddy, help. Jesus, he couldn't help calling for his dad like a toddler. He could not allow this to happen, but he didn't know how to fight an enemy he couldn't see or feel or know. Sam, he had to find Sam.
"No, it was a false alarm. A car backfiring," Dean heard himself say. "You can cancel the police. No emergency here. Sorry for the inconvenience."
He could see again, through the oily haze. Phone slipped into his jacket. Black marker in his hand, the biggest damned Sharpie in the world, drawing what, where. Giant Xs on tuna man's eyes, and next the cashier's. His head tilted to the side in a move Dean recognized as not his own, neck not cracking. It would eventually. These weren't his ticks. Wrong, wrong. Someone help him. His legs walked stiffly to the back of the store, the stockroom. Destroyed the antiquated video security system in a move he would make, except it wasn't him. Grabbed a fresh coffee, stole a few beers for the road. Hands in pockets, searching for keys. Darkness.
"You drive a real honey of a car, kid," it said.
It took Dean a moment to realize it was talking to him in his own voice, with his own mouth. His hands on the Impala's steering wheel, caressing it.
"Oh, yeah. A beaut. I think I'm going to enjoy you."