Dean could feel the moment that the ice-cold fingers wrapped themselves around his chest and yanked him away.
Eyes closed, there was no time to appreciate the disorienting sensation of flight before he landed painfully against the rock wall. The impact rattled his teeth and Dean could taste blood in his mouth, on his lips. Pain ignited in his side, a deep unrelenting fire, and warm liquid ran down anew from his waist to pool sickly against his jeans.
Dean was afraid to open his eyes. Everything hurt so badly that, for the first time in his life, he was afraid to look, terrified to discover that his body might be broken beyond repair.
When Dean was around sixteen, dad had taken him and Sam to some half hidden, half illegal bookstore in the middle of downtown New Orleans. This store was rumored in the hunting world to have some of the best, the oldest books on demon-lore and spells and John owed Bobby, so they'd come with a short list to fill.
The guy running the place had once been a hunter, a damn good one, according to John, but the 'had been' part had raised Dean's curiosity. Even at sixteen, he knew that hunting wasn't something that you just gave up on. Or retired from, for that matter.
The reason for this particular hunter's change of profession became clear as soon as the man greeted them warmly at the door.
A run in with the wrong side of a poltergeist that had been haunting an old train had resulted in two crushed legs. The man moved around his shop like there was nothing to it, but to Dean's young eyes, the sight of those curled up pants clipped above two non-existing knees had become the epitome of everything that Dean never wanted to see happen to any hunter.
Of all the consequences attached to the hunter's life style, the one this man in particular had suffered was what Dean Winchester feared the most.
It wasn't the danger, or the pain or even death. It wasn't anything that came and went with a hunt. It was the permanent damage, the incapacitating injury that would stay with you forever, altering your existence in to a mockery of what it was before.
His back was on fire, but it just hurt too much to actually be broken. Shaking the cobwebs from his head, Dean barely had time to figure where was up and where was down before the ghost was right in his face.
The old woman was fugly.
Dean suspected that she hadn't been all that pretty to begin with. The afterlife hadn't been kind to her either.
Fingers fumbling to reach the only weapon that he had on him, Dean cursed his lack of luck when he couldn't feel anymore salt granules in his pocket. There wasn't much to begin with, just a handful to appease the deeply ingrained precautionary measures that Dean had never been able to shake off ever since his days at school, when it was easier to stuff his pockets full of salt than to go around brandishing the switchblade in his backpack.
And now he had nothing. Reacting on instinct, he pulled his legs into his chest, an unconscious gesture of protection of his injured side. Dean looked around, trying to find something, anything to fight the ghost.
The place was too dark for him to see much; whatever debris and rocks Dean could see was illuminated only by the eerie, bluish glow of the old woman advancing on him. Looming over him, she smiled a toothless grin.
"YoUR FaULt... YoUu kiLLeD mEee!"
Dean opened his mouth to say no, to send the spirit to hell, to smart-mouth her somehow... but nothing came out. Nothing came in.
He smelled smoke. Burned flesh. The same mix of pork and putrid that was too familiar to him, too many 'fresh' corpses burned in his past, not enough time in the ground to separate their flesh from the living.
Dean looked at the spirit's empty eyes – at the fire that raged within them. The heat was such that he could feel the flames touching his skin, reaching out to him from the very pit of Hell.
Shaking his arm in attempts to extinguish the flames, Dean watched in terror as the blaze danced on his skin, refusing to let go. It was so real; he could feel the muscle beneath sizzled up and slowly cook. Then, sharp daggers of pain started shooting up and down his nerves, stealing the breath from his lungs, logic from his brain.
Oh God! Not yet... he wasn't ready for it yet. He said that he was, he pretended that he was, but nothing could be further from the truth.
He still had months to go, he still had so much that he wanted to do before dying... why was he being robbed of that? He had to make sure that Sam would be alright, that Sam knew how sorry he was for all of this... he still hadn't told Sam how much he loved him.
"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry," Dean mumbled, hands raised to his face, fingers helpless to stop the fire from nibbling at his eyes. There was something wet sliding down his face, warm and salty, impervious to the lapping flames. Blood, most certainly. Tears were made of water and there was none to be found in Hell.
"Snap out of it!" A strange voice boomed near his ears. A dark hand darted from no where and started shaking his shoulder so hard that Dean was sure it would eventually come loose from its hinges. "Wake up Dean!"
Dean blinked, lashes sticking wet and heavy against his face. He looked around. Gone were the old woman and the fire that surrounded him. Dean worked hard to focus on the face of the man leaning over him. He knew that face. What was he doing in Hell? "Henricksen?"
The black man rolled his eyes and placed the rusty piece of metal he had been holding on the floor, near Dean's right leg. "Now he knows me," the fed whispered, using both hands to pull Dean straight and look at his bandaged side.
"What-" Dean hissed in pain when the man's fingers brushed against the raw wound. "-happened?"
"Turns out you were right about the iron thing," Henricksen supplied, sounding a bit surprised himself.
"You know about... ghosts?" Dean asked in confusion. He couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that the FBI agent, who'd been hot on their asses for so long, knew anything about the supernatural world. But then again, not much was making sense to him right now. "Where's Sam?"
Dean felt more than saw the other man sigh.
"Not here," Henricksen mumbled, pulling his tie tighter around Dean's waist. "Can you focus on the here and now for a minute? I need you to tell me what to do."
Dean blinked away the tears that had somehow pooled in his eyes. For a moment he thought that there was some truth behind the whole 'seeing stars' bit, until he realized that he was looking at the shimmering walls of a cavern.
"Hum?" Dean eloquently asked, the sound squeezing through teeth clenched in pain.
"The ghost, Dean... you need to tell me how do we protect ourselves against it long enough to pass through that hole in the wall and get the hell out of here."
More unreal than the stars trapped inside the walls and the fact that just minutes ago he was burning in Hell, it was this new Henricksen, who not only wasn't trying to put him behind bars, but was actually trusting Dean.
Maybe this was Hell after all, this twisted version of reality where things were close enough to sound real but always somewhat off, rubbing you raw with inconsistencies and slowly driving you insane; maybe this wasn't Henricksen at all, just some demon using his face to mock Dean.
Whoever it was, Dean was just glad it wasn't using Sam's face... or his dad's. "Not falling for... that one... you black-eyed... sonofabitch!"
"Not falling for what, you brain damaged ass? We discussing eye-color now?" The other man asked, managing to sound genuinely confused.
Dean snorted, glad to have find out the demons' ruse. "Henricksen spent months... hunting me and Sam down... why would he... be helping me... now?"
It was hard to tell what was a result of the head injury and what was just crazy talk. Not when you don't know the guy from Sunday. Not when you've just spent the last hour realizing that all the things you thought you knew about the guy, were wrong.
Even in the dimly lit cave, Henricksen could see that Dean was messed up. God alone knew what the man had seen when the ghost touched him.
Because Victor remembered all too well how it had felt when the old woman had reached out her frozen fingers to grip his temples. It had been bad, and grim and he'd felt like he was going to die. But the look on Dean's face when he'd managed to reach him?
It was something else entirely. It was fear.
And if there was one thing that Henricksen knew his files had gotten right, it was the fact that Dean Winchester didn't scare easy.
"I'm not helping you out of the goodness of my heart," the fed confessed. "I just wanna get out of here alive and, right now, whatever's inside that messed up head of yours, is my best chance."
Dean scrunched his eyes shut, nose twitching in pain. Right now, his head didn't seem that much inclined to aid them in any way, shape or form.
Dean took a deep breath, or tried to; the air caught in his throat and sent him into a fit of wet coughs that looked painful enough for Henricksen to flinch in sympathy. The wracking agony soon carried him back to unconsciousness once again.
Which left the FBI man alone with one pissy ghost and no help whatsoever from the one person with a frigging clue on the matter there.
So, what did Henricksen know about ghosts?
The FBI man snorted silently, catching himself recalling movies like Ghostbusters and Poltergeist for reference. How screwed was he if all he had to cover his back was Hollywood?
It would be nice to have Venkman around to give him some tips though, or maybe one of those gizmos they use to trap ghosts and the Stay Puffed marshmallow man.
'Stick to the facts', the fed reminded himself. The grip on the piece of metal he had in his hands grew tighter. Dean had told him that iron worked, and Victor had seen the ghost disappear right before his eyes when he'd swing the thing on it.
Salt. Dean had taken some of the stuff from his jacket pocket.
Keeping a weary eye out for ghostly reappearances, Victor knelt by the injured man, intent on searching his pockets.
A bloody hand caught his sleeve in a tight grip. Startled, Victor looked up, straight in to pain filled green eyes and a ghostly white face. "Take it easy man... just looking for the condiment-weapons," he whispered reassuringly, not knowing which version of Dean he was talking to right now; the cocky bastard, the confused man or the frightened to death wounded. "That ghost lady is about to chew on our asses again and I got nothing but a rusty stick to defend us."
"We need to... close the door," Dean said cryptically, his gaze fixed on the tiny hole that signaled their exit. "Rock salt circle... around the tunnel... entrance... she won't... she won't be able to cross it."
"A ring of salt," the FBI man confirmed, his voice laced with disbelieve. "Of course we need a ring of—do you have salt enough to do a circle? Wait... would a triangle do, or does it have to be some specific geometrical shape?"
"No," Dean answered, showing him his empty jacket pockets. "And yes... it needs to be... a circle."
"Got a plan B in those pockets? Because it looks like we're fresh out on the condiments."
Seemingly ignoring the question, Dean trained his unfocused gaze downward, eyes searching the ground for something. Finally, when it appeared he'd found what he was looking for, he stretched, grunting at the pull on his wound, stubbornly reaching out to grab at a fragment of shiny rock until he clutched it in his hand. It was the same type of shiny rock that lay all around them.
Without preamble, Dean put the rock to his mouth and licked it.
"What the f..." Henricksen started, his eyebrows frowning above his scrunched nose before he whacked the rock away from Dean's hand. "Are you insane or did your brain just break?"
Dean looked at him, confusion marking his expression, like he'd forgotten the other man was even there. Or maybe because he was expecting someone else to be there with him.
Henricksen could see that Dean was dying to ask where Sam was, but he could see the man curbing that desire in order to deal with the most urgent matter. "Halite," he whispered instead.
"Hali—am I supposed to know what the hell you're talking about?" Victor asked, unable to decide if this was actually going somewhere or was just the man's head injury talking.
"Halite is... sodium chloride... your basic caveman... rock salt," Dean supplied with an feeble attempt to smirk.
Henricksen stared at him, a hint of astonishment in his voice mixed with surprise. "A minute ago you had no idea who I was... but the chemical composition of a damn rock you can remember?"
"I liked chemistry," Dean replied, choosing to not voice the implied 'I don't like you'. His words were quickly followed by a long, sluggish blink, signaling his rapidly growing tiredness. "Beside... I still don't know who... the fuck you are."
The FBI man studied the injured man at his side. The one that had taken him by surprise by managing to pull off not one, but two daring escapes right under his nose. Dean's resourcefulness hadn't stopped surprising him yet. "Same here, buddy," Victor said sincerely. "Same here."
When the ghost attacked not two seconds later, the fact that Victor had been ready, swinging without hesitation his rusted piece of metal, wielding it like some sort of twisted, blunt sword, spoke heavily of just how fast one's life could go from normal to freakishly weird.
"So... this is what you guys do, hum?" Henricksen asked, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his sleeve. Most of the bigger pieces of Halite were near the surface, but plucking them off the rock wall was still hard work, especially at the fast pace the FBI man had set for himself.
The amount of rocks that they would need to cover their backs wasn't particularly large, but it still had taken him a good part of the past twenty minutes to get enough. "You go around the country, dealing with other people's ghosts, filling their basements with salt?"
"Salt... and burn'em," Dean supplied, his voice barely above a whisper. Despite the fact that Henricksen had maneuvered him to stand semi-seated against the rock wall, the position wasn't doing much for the injured man's breathing.
The fed looked at him, his eyes sharp as he tried to judge the seriousness of Dean's statement. Remembering the several accusations of grave desecration involving burned coffins, he had to agree that reality was much more insane than anything that he could've imagined.
The other man coughed wetly and, despite the distance between them, Victor could still see the black dots that decorated Dean's chin afterwards. He had to move faster.
Victor had insisted on tightening the bandages around the man's torso, managing to actually stop the bleeding completely, but from the color of his face, it either wasn't enough or Victor had just been too late.
In between the spirits visits, the cave wasn't all that cold, but still Dean wouldn't stop shivering, despite the fact that he was now hoarding both his and Henricksen's jackets.
"I thought the old lady burned to death," Victor supplied, his arms filled with pieces of rock as he went to place them around the exit. The other man was clearly slipping away and Victor needed him talking, needed to know that the Dean was still breathing.
"Not... enough... apparently."
Silence stretched between them. Victor looked back, making sure that Dean's chest rose and fell, debating over whether to finish the circle or abandon his task to see for himself.
"I don't get one thing though," he went on casually, deciding that assuring their escape was the far more pressing matter. Or at least the only matter about which he could actually do something about. Dean was probably bleeding out from some internal injury that Henricksen couldn't see or do anything to stop, so, for now, all he could do was to keep the injured talking; keep him engaged in life. "Salt sends these bastards away, right?"
Dean uh-huhmed quietly, his eyes still closed.
"And this cave is basically one giant salt container, right?"
Dean cracked one eye open, apparently guessing where Victor's questions were heading.
"How can this ghost even be here?" The fed asked anyway. "Should all this mineral in the rock vaporize her away?"
Dean sighed. "Same principal... as ghost... ships," he offered.
Henricksen finished the circle and hurried back to the wounded man. Temperature was dropping again and, if Dean was right about this, he wanted them both on the safe side of that circle before their friendly ghost dropped the next dime on them. "And what principal might that be?"
Dean opened both eyes, apparently surprised by the sudden nearness of the other man's voice. Henricksen could see him force himself to relax, sharp reflexes that, even dimmed by injure, were alert and present. "Ghost ships... sail on... salt wat—"
"So, it's a matter of quantity?" Henricksen offered, trying to figure the best way to get them moving. If it had been hard before when Dean was still somewhat moving, it would be nearly impossible now. And yet, staying there had long stopped being an option.
"Orga—" Dean hissed when Victor touched his bandaged side to make sure that it wouldn't come apart in the next few minutes. "Organization... versus... chaos."
Henricksen just nodded. "Ok, man... we're getting out of here," he announced as he grabbed both of Dean's arms and pulled him up against him. "You up for that?"
"Nah," Dean whispered faintly, his head lolling back. "'m comfy... right here."
"None of that now... don't you want to go see Sam?" Henricksen asked in despair. He felt like he was talking to his six year old niece and with about as much chance of winning this argument as he had with her.
"Sam?" Dean asked hopefully, eyes focusing on the man in front of him. "Sammy... left," he whispered, heavy lids closing once more. "Not... here."
Henricksen let his head hang in defeat. Damn the man and his big, sorrowful eyes. His second ex had eyes just like that. He even let the bitch keep the house, despite her screwing around behind his back.
The rumble started low enough to be dismissed as their own stomachs complaining about lack of food. Henricksen's senses, however, were on high alert. Hands filled with the almost-limp Winchester, the fed turned his head around, searching for the source of the new sound. The vibration was all around them.
The smaller rocks on the ground were hopping, for lack of a better word. Like popcorn in the microwave, the debris was twitching and jumping off the ground, seemingly eager to defy gravity.
At first, Henricksen's gut twisted at the prospect of an impending earthquake.
He'd been through a couple of quakes in his life, most of them when he'd been stationed at the Los Angeles office. It hadn't been fun, by any definition, that sensation of the ground escaping your feet, that pressing feeling that nothing is secure and everything around you can turn on your ass and chew massive amounts of it off.
Still, those experiences had been either in the middle of the street, where Henricksen could take refuge in the sturdier structures, on inside said structures, the ones that were supposedly prepare to withstand the nastiest of the planet's bowl movements.
None of them, however, compared to the feeling of being inside the planet as it shook.
When the first rock flew, Victor was almost relieved. He'd known earthquakes to do a lot of things, but send things' flying sideways wasn't on the list.
The ghost was back and she'd changed tactics. No more getting close enough to them to allow for any defense. She had decided to start playing dirty.
"Come on, we gotta move, NOW!" Henricksen shouted, hissing in pain when a larger piece of debris hit his back.
Dean mumbled some protest or another when Henricksen grabbed both his wrists and threw him over his shoulders, ignoring the sobbed gasps of pain as Victor tried to serve as human shield as best as he could even though he knew that it was an almost impossible task.
Even through the ground tremors, the fed could feel the painful spasms that coursed throughout the other man's body at the abuse, but with sharp rocks literally raining down on the both of them, he had no time to be gentle.
Making a mad dash for the tunnel entrance, Henricksen wasted no time in crossing over the circle of rock salt. The flying debris stopped immediately.
Carefully settling Dean as near to the entrance as he could, the fed stood up and looked back to the rest of the cave. There was a thin trickle of blood, sluggishly dripping down the side of his face, that the man annoyingly clean away, taking no notice of what it was or where it was coming from.
Victor had far more pressing matters.
The flickering figure of the ghostly woman was right there, on the other side of the circle, staring back at him.
For a moment, Henricksen thought that maybe Dean was wrong about this, that maybe he'd been a fool to trust the word of a man he'd been hunting for the past few months.
Certain that she had them trapped and helpless, the ghost growled at them, murderous intent in her empty, dead eyes and a victorious snarl in her hollow mouth. The ground under her naked feet had turned in to ice, white crystals spreading like a veil of death at her every step.
Victor looked longingly at the metal shaft that he'd abandoned in lieu of carrying Dean. They were so screwed.
The ghost charged forward, her grim smile fierce and ominous. It was almost funny when she hit the invisible wall created by the salt circle and shrieked back.
"Ah!" Henricksen let out in surprise, mostly at the fact that they were still in one piece. "Take that, you gassy skunk!"
The ghost charged one more time, like a fly that can't quite believe that the glass window can keep it from getting out. The result was the same, the shriek grew louder.
"YoUrrr FaULt.... YOu kiLLeD mEee!!!" The ghostly voice boomed all around them.
"Yeah, yeah... file a complaint to your congressman," Victor said, promptly ignoring her and turning his attention back to Dean.
Who had taken advantage of him being distracted to slip in to unconsciousness sometime during their short journey.
Henricksen sighed. In between all the moving around that he'd been through and what the FBI man had to do next, it was probably best –for both their sakes- that the wounded man was out.
"Gezz... bring the whole cave down on our heads, why don't you?"
Sam turned his flashlight around and pointed it straight at the demon's face. In the dark, like she was some sort of freakish cat, Ruby's eyes reflected nothing but blackness when light hit them. "Shut up, " he hissed curtly and sharp before turning once more to the long path ahead of them. "DEAN!--- DEAN, CAN YOU HEAR ME?"
"I'm only trying to help here... but if you want to join your brother and be maggot food too, hey! be my gue-"
"We've been walking for more than an hour... you sure this is the right cave?" Sam asked swiftly, cutting short any further hints that Dean was anything but alive.
Even in the dim light, Sam could feel Ruby's eyebrow raising. "I never said this was the right cave."
Sam stopped, abruptly enough for his feet to burst out a small cloud of dust. "What?" He said slowly, his voice dropping three tones until it was nothing but a menacing growl. He took one step towards the demon, his eyes black in the dark of the cave.
Ruby took one step back, her hands raised in a appeasing manner. "Hey, easy there big boy... don't go all caveman on me."
Sam's fist closed around the lapel of her jacket. "Tell me one good reason why I shouldn't just snap your neck right here, right NOW!"
"It was the only way to keep you from doing something insane... like, oh, you know, going TOWARDS a whole group of armed feds!"
"You lied to me," Sam realized, knowing that he had no right to be surprised by that at all.
"Humm," Ruby started, pausing to look at herself, "demon—we do that, on occasion. Besides, I never said that Dean was inside this cave. I just reminded you that there's a bunch of them in these parts."
Sam let go of her jacket, shoving her back. The pained grunt Ruby let out when her body hit the dark, hard rock wall, didn't even registered in the young hunter's ears. "He's not here," Sam said with conviction. It was the most certain he'd been of anything in the past couple of hours. "I'm going back."
This time around Ruby didn't try to stop him. She didn't even try to argue back. Maybe she knew of the knife that Sam had clenched between his fingers inside his jacket pocket; maybe it was the fact that she knew it wouldn't matter either way.
Sam was slightly disappointed when, after walking double-time back to the cave entrance, he turned around to discover that the demon was long gone.
Life was funny. In that 'let me screw with you in ways that nobody but myself will think hilarious' kind of way. Henricksen was far from catching the butt-end of this particular joke.
Not even a couple of hours ago, he was certain -positively convict- that there would be no way, come hell or high water, that he would be hauling Winchester's heavy ass out of this cave on his back.
And for all intents and purposes, he kind of stuck to his promise. Of course that, carrying him like this, was far, far worse. It was also the only way.
The tunnel was simple too low. Four feet high would be too short for a short person and neither Henricksen nor Winchester were it.
There were two ways they could crawl through it: on their backs, crablike, or belly-down, wormlike. Either way, they were crawling. Well... Victor was crawling. Dean was out.
Making use of both their belts, Henricksen laid down and positioned Dean over himself, chest to chest, strapping each of Dean's legs to his and effectively gluing the unconscious man to him.
The proximity was awkward, to say the least, but it allowed him to both have his arms free in order to pull them forward, and to keep an eye on the injured man, in case he decided to take a turn for the worse and give on the shallow form of sort-of-breathing that he was doing for now.
Victor could feel every pouf of air coming out of Dean's mouth, hot against his neck; could feel his own stomach getting doused by the man's bleeding wound; could feel the heat coming off of the other man's skin. It was the closest he'd been to another human being ever since that all fiasco with Jenny, from Humans Resources.
Dean was out, but he wasn't quiet. Henricksen was starting to realize that the man was probably incapable of doing that. Words and fragments of thoughts and sentences kept being whispered against his skin and Victor shivered, not because of the intimate contact, but because of what was being said.
They were the same mumbled words as before, as far as he could tell, the same ramblings about fire and hell and Sam, always Sam. Only, now that he'd open his mind to the possibility that there were things in this earth and beyond that escaped his comprehension and knowledge, the ideas behind those mumbles took form, became scary places, became more than delusions and verbosities of a deranged mind. They became tangible.
Those were real fears, real concepts, real places that Dean was whispering about and the despair behind those words made Henricksen's gut twist. He moved faster.
Maybe it was an figment of his imagination, maybe it was his body telling him that it had enough, maybe it was his momma eternal optimism that had finally found its way in to him, but Victor could swear that the air was getting fresher around them.
He'd started to notice the slight slope upwards that the tunnel had taken about thirty feet ago, mainly because he'd started sweating twice as much with the redoubled effort, but the FBI man had refused to get his hopes high.
Now, though,-- now he could definitely feel a breeze up ahead. The light hadn't changed all that much but, then again, as far as he could tell, it was still night outside. "Hey, man! Can you feel that? We're getting out of here!"
Dean was quiet. Victor stopped his progress, resting his sore back against the hard rock and twisting his arm around so that he could get two fingers on the other man's neck pulse.
His own heart was beating too fast, too hard, both from physical exertion and the perspective of rescue so near. All Henricksen could feel under his fingertips was his own pulse, rapid, strong.
"Come on, man... don't do this to me now," the FBI man whispered, surprised by the genuine concern in his voice. They'd been through too much for Dean to just conk out now, when freedom and medical supplies were just a few feet away.
Like he was actually obeying the commanding voice, Victor could feel the flutter of Dean's heart against his fingertip. A quiver of a butterfly's wings, but there.
"Just hang in there man, I'm getting you out of here."
Sam banged open the door of his –their- motel room and sank to the floor. There were fresh tears running down his face, cleaning his skin from all the dirt and soot that he'd accumulated over the previous night.
Dean was gone.
There was no way to avoid that fact any longer. Sam was now the last Winchester standing and Dean was... Dean was burning in Hell. It wasn't fair, it was too soon.
Sam had reached the collapsed house just in time to see the FBI team pulling up stakes, loading up their circus for their next stop. Dust from the med-evac's rotating blade still stirred as the white chopper gently took off, taking with it the last of the injured.
The feds had called off their search for survivors. All bodies had been accounted for, Sam overheard.
Clinging to the feeble hope that Dean might've been in one of those choppers, Sam had managed to find out to which hospital the injured had been taken, only to discover later that federal agents alone had been admitted. No unidentified bodies, no out-laws. Just FBI personal.
According to the officer in charge at the site of the crumbled building, Dean Winchester was pronounced dead on the spot, his body left to be retrieved later, when the heavy machinery arrived to clean up the debris.
Not one soul was overly concerned with giving a murderer a swift final resting place. Not one soul would ever know the man that Dean was. No one would know what he'd done for others. What he had done for Sam.
Dean's duffel was open, abandoned at the foot of the bed he'd slept in two nights ago. Sam could see his brother's red shirt, the one he loved to wear when he was less than tanned, saying that the color made up for the 'frigging cold places that they were always stumbling upon'.
Underneath it, the shiny metal of one of Dean's guns, was peeking. Innocent and harmless, just sitting there, amongst dirty laundry, waiting for the time when it would be needed.
Sam had no idea why he picked it up, but the weight of it in his hands felt reassuring. Felt like a way out.
Sam almost jumped when the phone in his pocket started to tremble. Numb fingers fumbled with the device, putting the gun away and opening the phone. It took a while for Sam's watery eyes to focus enough to read the tiny green letters on the screen.
That couldn't be right. The display announced that 'Ozzy' was calling. Dean was going through a 'Black Sabbath' phase and the British rock star was the latest of his aliases.
The young hunter's heart leaped to his mouth. It had to be a trick, some sort of trap set by the FBI to catch him too. The vibrating cell twisted in Sam's hand one last time and went silent, screen darkening and taking with it his brother's name.
Realizing that he'd stopped breathing, Sam hiccupped a mouth full of air. The loss of the failed call left behind a bitter taste similar to having left Dean behind to die alone.
Dean's phone had been in his jacket pocket. Dean always carried his cell in his jacket pockets. What if, somehow, that had really been Dean calling? What if Dean was hurt, or lost, in need of help, and Sam had just stood there, looking dumbly at his ringing phone and failed to pick up the call that could save Dean?
Sam could taste the bile in his mouth, feeling sick to his stomach at the possibilities alone. Hurrying his uncooperative fingers, he quickly hit the speed dial. Before the call on his side could connect, Sam's phone started ringing again.
This time around, Sam wasted no time. "Dean?"
"Hello, Sam... I have someone here who really needs to see you," someone said on the other side. Someone that was, most definitely not Dean.
This was a trap. There was no possible way that this was anything other than a trap. But still, Sam's heart was light and fluttering against his chest as the nurse took him to room 504. He barely heard her warnings about 'looking worse than it was' and 'medical induced coma' or even 'slow but sure recovery'.
Sam just needed to prove himself that that wasn't really Dean.
Opening the door with some trepidation, Sam was relieved to discoverer a dimly lit room and noticeable absence of the sound of guns being cocked.
There was a strong smell of disinfectant inside and the soft, timed and mechanical whirl of a ventilation machine. The monitors above the bed provided a sort of greenish glow that made the bed and its patient look eerie.
The further into the room Sam moved, the more certain he was that, any minute now, the feds would be bursting through those doors to take him in. He couldn't even tell if the man lying on the bed was his brother or not.
Feeling a desperate need to make sure, before his days of freedom were over, Sam sprinted to the right side of the bed. The patient's face was covered in bandages, his eyes tapped closed. Other than the full lips that stood slightly parted to allow for the passage of the clear tube that was attached to the whirling machine, there weren't much of the man's features that Sam could see. It could be anyone. Any man with full lips.
Carefully leaning over, Sam gently pulled the bed covers down, exposing the upper part of the man's chest. He had to be sure, he had to see.
There were more bandages there, another tube draining liquid from the man's chest. And there, right above his left collarbone, a star-shaped tattoo. "Dean--" Sam whispered, the name like a prayer in his lips. Despite the medical paraphernalia circling the bed, despite the horrible amount of bandages covering his brother, despite the impending threat of getting arrested looming over his head, Sam was smiling. He was grinning so hard that his ears hurts. Dean was alive.
"There's nothing wrong with his face," the same voice that had spoken on the phone, spoke from one of the dark corners of the room. "It was the only way I could think of to stall the reveal of his true identity for a couple of hours."
Sam didn't bother looking up, his gaze focused on Dean, counting every rise and fall of his chest, marveling in the feeling of warm skin underneath his fingers. Lacing his fingers around Dean's lax hand, Sam finally registered Henricksen's words. "Why would you wanna do that?"
"Because it would be extremely hard for my superiors to believe that Dean Winchester is dead and buried under tons of rubble if I checked him in here under his true name, with his face on display for anyone who checks the news to see who he really is," the Fed said matter-of-factly.
"Why?" Sam repeated. The last time he'd seen this man, he was gloating over the fact that he'd managed to capture both of them. Despite what he felt inside, despite the roller-coast of emotions that Sam had been riding, making it seem like days had gone by, the fact was that only a few hours separated that federal agent from this one now. This one who had, apparently, lied to his superiors to cover for a wanted felon, who had gone as far as register Dean as a federal agent himself so that he could have all the medical attention that he was, obviously, in dire need of.
It made no sense. People didn't just pull a 180 like that. Not without a price attached. "What's the catch?"
"No catch," the black man said, honesty so solid in his tone that Sam could almost see it in bright colors. "Just paying my debts... your brother--" he stumbled, looking for the best words to describe Dean, "-- your brother is one hell of a hunter."
Sam blinked. Resisted the urge to pinch himself. Couldn't decide what surprised him more: the high praise or the fact that Henricksen seem to know exactly what they did and what that task compromised.
"And after what I saw, after what I learned... I couldn't think of anything worse than to deprive people of one of the good guys that they need the most," Victor went on, his gaze fixed on the unconscious man on the bed.
Feeling himself slipping in to uncomfortable ground, the FBI man cleared his throat, straightened his back and finally looked at Sam. "Doc says that, if all goes well, the ventilator can come off tomorrow morning... I suggest you get him out of here shortly after that."
Sam felt himself nod, numb from the whole conversation and from the fact that Henricksen was actually helping them, that, somehow, during the time that they spent together, Dean had actually managed to bring the law man on to their side.
Henricksen paused near the door, his hand on the handle. "Try to stay off our radar from now on, ok? I like my job, and I would like very much to keep it," he smiled, deep dimples decorating his scratched and bruised face. "Just do me one favor, ok?"
Never one to be given anything for free in his life, least of all his brother's life, Sam held his breath, afraid of how hard the other shoe would fall.
"For some reason -that I'll sleep better at night if I never find out-, your brother seems to be under the impression that hell is waiting on him. Just... make sure that hell, wherever that is, stays free of good men. Take care of him."
Sam tried to smile in response, his grip tightening unconsciously on Dean's hand. His face felt stretched beyond measure, beyond flesh and blood. The promise hurt his soul from the immensity of its reach, but it was one that he'd made to himself a long time ago. "Don't worry... I will."
AN: That's it, folks! Massive amounts of gratitude go to Jackfan2, for her wonderful work in this story.
To all of you that have read and reviewed this, one big teddy bear hug and a bucket of your favorite candy.