Title: Open, Shut
Summary: A street prophet foresees a deadly disaster. He goes to the only people who would believe him: the Winchesters and Bobby Singer. It's an open and shut case except the only solution is-how do you empty a town of four thousand people? Post-Family Remains.
The final installment of Open, Shut is here, Chapter 7: Accountsand at the end, my standard Afterword with a Preview of a work-in-progress, Ever This Day. Thank you so much for taking the time to read, alert, favorite and especially review the fic - extended thanks are in the Afterword, along with explanations and background info on the story :) C&C's are always welcome, I hope you enjoyed Open, Shut and 'til the next post!!!
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Singer, Reade and Wei had bullied Sam out of rolling-out-the-stretcher duty, and he was pissed and protesting until he unloaded himself off the ambulance and realized that his body was pissed and protesting at him. He swayed when his feet hit the concrete of the busy ER driveway, and he slammed his hand on the metal steps of the back of the ambulance to keep his tenuous balance. The sound it made was a sharp, embarrassing clang! that had Reade abandoning Dean-detail to turn to him.
"Go," Sam gasped out, except Reade was not listening to him. And why on god's green earth would he? This ridiculous mashed-up bunch of rag-tag hunters he and Dean somehow stumbled into hasn't been in the mood to listen to him at all since this job started.
Hitting me on the head, he enumerated spitefully to himself, Keeping me on the bench--
Reade wordlessly slung Sam's arm over his shoulders and walked with him. It was more than enough to appease Sam; he just satisfied defying the growing distance between him and Dean, who was being quickly rolled away into the ER.
Reade kept him on his feet as he watched the medical personnel work on his older brother. This was an old scene, watching Dean duke it out with death; he's been watching this since they were kids. But it was an old scene that just never got old; it always felt new and intrusive and terrifying.
Everything seemed to transpire in some weird, contradictory buzz; busy, loud and all-encompassing but detached and incomprehensible at the same time. Hands – no longer Wei's or Bobby's – descended on his brother's still form, effecicient and helpful, but also inextricably cold. Scissors cut at his clothes, and Sam watched as the strips were tossed to the ground, looking lifeless and irrelevant when they had once protected and characterized and cloaked a man. They looked like they were going to cast away Dean's necklace with the same irreverence and Sam was going to open his mouth to protest, until a nurse – spotting the light tanline on Dean's neck marking years of faithful, unwavering wear – handed it to Wei who was nearest her before she continued working.
Dean was limp throughout the initial assessment, just a body really, pliant limbs getting moved and turned and poked and prodded like a piece of meat. Sam had hated it, until Dean's eyes popped open in pain and alarm for one remarkably lucid moment, before they rolled back and his body jerked, and then started to stiffen and descend into convulsions. People – strangers – held him as he rattled in his skin. The noise was unbearable as the machines that monitored him shrieked, and the metal of the bed he was laying in went tik-tik-tik as it shook with him. Hovering just above the racket was the profoundly alien calm of cold orders tossed around the room, equally discomfiting because it felt unnatural. Sam wanted to scream.
Dean stilled eventually, for the most part; it was a hybrid of the limpness of before with occasional, jerking remnants of the seizure he had just suffered. Whatever they had shoved into his veins was making come around a little bit more though, and his glazed eyes opened slowly, searchingly. Sam knew what – who – he was looking for.
One, he had told Dean. But he had a feeling that Dean's known that for far awhile now, and maybe discovered it sooner than he did.
"Sam," Dean mouthed, soundless because of the tube through his throat. But Sam heard; by god he heard and the sound echoed and bounced around inside him 'til he ached with it. It was louder than any sound Sam could have made; it choked him, and it paradoxically kept him silent even if he was the one between them who still had a voice to speak with.
Sam thought he was going to be sick, watching his brother just barely endure any of this. He swayed, felt Reade struggle beneath him before he was supported on his other side by Bobby. The two men knew better than to take him aside to be looked after himself. Though. To be taken aside was to be taken away from Dean, and that was unacceptable. They kept him standing exactly where he wanted to be, in his brother's line of sight, looking right back at him.
From the corner of his eye, Sam watched Wei drift closer to them. The doctor seemed pensive, watching the others work and listening to the medical jargon. He was absently playing with the necklace, Sam noted with some territorial irritation, though if it was a compulsion that helped him think, Sam was okay with that.
"They can tell we're from the Finn's Canyon thing," Wei told them quietly, and he started chewing at his lower lip too, "The injuries are consistent with exposure. There's just no question."
Sam let that sink in with all it's implications; they were going to get in trouble for all this and that was apparent enough. But the feeling of the dread of capture just slid from him; the job was done and in the end all he needed was for his brother to be okay. He was surprised, by how it easy it felt to let the idea of capture go.
"Dean," Sam murmured, and it hadn't been a question. It was more of an order; tell me his status, tell me he's going to be all right.
Wei ignored Sam for a moment, tilting his head at something he had heard from the doctors and nurses. "Stand taller," he told Sam in a clipped tone.
Sam caught the urgency, pulled strength from god-knew-where and did as he was told, holding his own weight and stepping apart from Bobby and Reade.
"This is his younger brother Sam," Wei called out to the doctors, "Let him help. Let Sam hold him."
Sam didn't know what Wei was talking about, but Let Sam hold him was motivation enough, for anything. He can stand taller, whatever the hell Wei meant, because he'd always stand taller, holding his brother.
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It was apparent that the poison had done and still was doing a lot of damage, and so the doctors have determined that treatment involved not just giving him medicine to neutralize the poison, but also hosing him down to get rid of the chemicals on his skin. It was as Wei had warned Dean when they first rescued him; they had to clean him up and remove the residual access of the poison to his body, otherwise there was no use getting the treatment if he just got exposed again.
They had to risk his life by removing some of the machines; but then again, they also assured it by putting him in his younger brother's arms.
They lent Sam scrubs that he could get wet in and that he could just throw away afterwards, and then he knelt in the middle of the industrial-grade shower. Two male nurses stripped Dean down and lowered him into Sam's sure grip.
Dean simply nestled into his brother's arms; it was a space he knew, a space he fit into. He drifted as Sam hung onto him not just by his body but by talking against his ear, asking him to fight, asking him to stay, as two nurses ran water over the both of them, and scrubbed at Dean's skin.
When they were done, Dean was asleep and taken away from him again. He watched as the doctors toggled with the machines on him, got rid of some more, added a few others. They dried him with thick white towels and wrapped him in blankets, almost smothering him in them. When they were done he actually looked worse; pale and swollen and unbearably clean, and him on the stretcher looked like crowding, overpacked groceries on a rare, lucrative supply run: machines and wires and pillows and blankets and plastic and gauze and the remnants of his brother somewhere underneath it all, like he was going to either spill out or be crushed or deformed, 'cos there wasn't much room left for him.
A nurse pulled Sam aside, told him to finish up his own shower to get rid of poison on him from his contact with Dean, and that they would check Sam and his companions out also. He started to fight her, give some stubborn excuse, except by this time his friends have decided to draw the line.
"He'll be shuffled around for tests for awhile," Wei told him, placating him by giving him Dean's necklace back. Sam reflected that this man was a wily, clever, brilliant bastard.
"If you don't do the shower thing properly," Wei went on, "You might still have poison on your skin, Sam. They wouldn't let you near him when he settles in his room. I wouldn't let you near him."
"Okay," Sam said quietly as he slipped Dean's necklace over his head. The last time he'd done this... he shook the shuddering thought away.
Things will be different this time, he told himself, It's only for a little awhile, and then I'm giving it back.
The three men did as instructed – showered thoroughly – and then slipped into scrubs and got examined one by one.
Sam suffered it quietly in muted, exhausted shock, letting his mind drift, letting his own injured body crash from the adrenalin of having to look for and then look after Dean. Thoughts and strength all but bled from him as he sat on the exam bed, spent, at the very limits of everything: at the limits of his strength, at the end of his abilities, at the periphery of the things going on around him. It was not much different from when he finally closed his eyes.
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All of the hunters were hospitalized for one reason or another: mild smoke inhalation injuries and chemical poisoning exposure for Bobby and Wei, continuation of the treatment for Sam's injuries, and a considerable stint in the ICU for Dean. Reade was completely unscathed and preferred to be away from the hospital premises after things settled down, in case the EMT he had 'punched' recognized him. In the hunter-fashion he was beginning to understand, he rented out a motel room nearby.
To Bobby's vindictive triumph over Wei's comment that he should be more wary of the smoke because he was older, his injury did not progress to serious complications and he was released in two days. Wei, who was far less wary and whose lung capacity was compromised by his smoking habit, stayed longer. Both men resided in the same motel as Reade to regroup and regain their strengths after they checked out of the hospital. Sam didn't mind being confined more lengthily though, because it allowed him to be with Dean as much as he wanted.
He was there minutes into Dean settling down in the ICU; wheelchair-bound and still tethered to an IV as a compromise with his doctors, but determined to just be there. He watched the machines around Dean; the mechanical breaths, the too-slow beats of his heart that eventually had the doctors coming in and leaving flat, white pads on his chest that beat his heart for him and jolted his body every few seconds. He watched the poison-driven fever start to build, making his brother's skin slick and sallow. He watched the IV liquids – painkillers, treatments that neutralized the poison, things to keep him hydrated, things that sedated him, things that kept him from seizing, and so on - journey from bag to line to vanish through needle and tape and skin. It was all so terminally boring, and it was all blindingly terrifying.
He watched the fever lower and settle, watched the lines of pain mar Dean's forehead as he slowly made his way closer and closer to the surface. He was therefore ready when Dean opened his eyes, and searched for him, and searched for answers.
"You're okay," Sam assured him softly, laying a hand on his, "I'm okay... everyone's okay."
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News came in fast and furious in the days that followed the explosion: The hunters and Paul Reade did indeed succeed in saving the 4,000 residents of Finn's Canyon. The only fatalities were the five federal agents who had stayed back with the 'alleged bomber,' whose body was yet to be found. Other things yet to be found were traces of a bomb in the first place – investigations had determined structural failure in the plant following damages from an earthquake, instead of foul-play. The plume of smoke and the general manner of how the plant exploded was also inconsistent with the destructive behavior of any bomb the experts knew about. No one could explain it.
For the first few days, the authorities left the brothers alone. The nature of Dean's injuries however, pointed to the obvious fact that he was from the Finn's Canyon incident, and it was only a matter of time before they knocked on his door.
He was conscious and alert when they came in, but still unable to speak given the tube that was inserted into the cut on his throat to help him breathe. He also looked ill, gray and weary, barely healing from the most complex developments of his injuries. His brother was with him, sitting on a wheelchair by his bed and looking not much better with all his bruises in the height of their coloring.
The cops were Finn's Canyon locals Rosetti, Jennings and Garcia, flanking their Mayor. They looked stunned by the sight of the injured brothers, until Dean lifted up a white board Sam had given him when Dean finally woke up after four days of being unconscious. He wrote down: 'Should see the other guys.'
Mayor Keys frowned, but stepped forward. "The doctors reported that they had a patient with injuries consistent with having been caught in the blast. All of our residents were safely evacuated and accounted for so I knew it would not have been one of us. Having said that... I wasn't expecting you."
Dean shrugged opened his palms up to the Mayor as if saying, 'Well here I am,' or 'What do you want from me?'
"The hospital records said your names are Sam and Dean Reade," she added.
Dean's brows rose, and he looked at Sam inquisitively. These were, of course, names they've never used before.
"I'll tell you later," Sam promised, before turning to the Mayor edgily, "So what now? Are you going to have us arrested?"
"I want to," Keys admitted, "But I'm trying to figure out for what. You confessed to a crime that categorically isn't a crime – no evidence of a bombing was found. You're claiming to be a person who died years ago - except there's proof of this 'Dean Winchester' character's death firmly established by federal records. And now, you even have documents that show you're actually someone else. What can I possibly do with all of that? No bomb, no bomber, no crime."
Dean looked pretty surprised himself, but he just shrugged.
"When you said you were going to blow up the town," Keys said, "You didn't ask for anything; all you wanted was for us to empty her of all the people." She laughed at herself nervously, "I don't know what's crazier: I guess I could think that maybe you knew this would happen and saved us. Or I could also think that you rigged a non-traceable bomb to blow up, for no reason at all. Both are... incredible."
"There is no reason to any of this that we can give you," Sam told her earnestly, "None that you will find any more believable. I'm sorry."
"Try me," she dared.
The brothers looked at each other.
"Try me," she said again, "Or I tell the feds the alleged-bomber is here."
Dean gave Sam a terse nod.
"Paul Reade saw the tragedy in a dream," Sam said, "He didn't know what to do. We all know he made his lottery money with similar visions, so he had every reason to believe that what he saw would also happen. Check your records: he sought out help from a psychologist, cops, priests, the damn bartender too, but who would believe him?"
"You did," Keys pointed out.
"It's what we do," Sam said, "We're uh..."
"Paranormal investigators?" Jennings filled in.
Dean winced, but Sam jumped on it because it was a hell of a lot easier to digest than if he said they were hunters.
"Yes, exactly," Sam agreed, "We believed him, and knew we had to empty out the town."
Keys chewed at her lip thoughtfully.
"We were gonna do it ourselves," Sam went on, "But when it became apparent that we needed help, we couldn't come forward with a prophetic vision. So we went with a credible threat instead."
Keys rubbed at her face wearily, "It's uh... I can't just..."
"We don't expect you to believe us," Sam said earnestly, "But that's as far as I can tell you, and you'll make of it what you will. Now as you can see... we can't... we can't just bust out of here. You can have us arrested if you want and there's no way we can run away. But your people are alive, and there's no proof we did anything to try to hurt them. What you do with that is just up to you."
Keys hesitated, glanced at her men. They all had families, friends, who survived the disaster. "I come from a place where we look after each other. This situation can only be explained in two ways: One, either you're incredibly good people who put their lives on the line for strangers who can't believe in what you do; or two, you're incredibly evil and can get away with it. As for myself... I've always believed in the best of people. I'd rather... I'd rather believe in the first.
"I can't thank you," she went on, "I'm not that sure. But if you get caught here... it won't be because of me."
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When the Finn's Canyon people left, Dean scrawled something furiously on his white board, which Sam squinted at trying to read.
"Man, I never thought I'd say this," Sam breathed, "But I cannot wait for your voice to come back. Your handwriting sucks."
Dean tapped at the board anxiously, wordlessly telling him to shut up and read.
"I'm trying, I'm trying," Sam said, and eventually made out from the mess of words that Dean was telling him to leave his ass and skip town.
"We're not gonna do this again," Sam told him sternly, "And besides, I don't think she's gonna call the cops on us, Dean."
Dean's jaw dropped in disbelief, soundlessly indignant.
"Just trust me, all right?" Sam sighed, "Those people have been through a lot, and there's a whole lot more they still have to do in terms of rebuilding their lives. They can't believe us completely, but there's a lot of things they can't explain anyway, like Reade."
Dean scrawled something on his board again: 'Speaking of...?'
"Oh yeah," Sam said, "About that. He's still got most of his millions stashed around somewhere."
Dean looked at him with sour skepticism.
"I know where you're coming from, believe me," Sam said, "But he's the one who set up our bogus info here, and he managed to bribe someone to back that up with documentation. And get this," Sam squirmed around and drew out his wallet from his jeans. He drew out a credit card and an insurance card under the same name.
Dean's eyes widened in disbelief.
"He told me he can't do what we do," Sam said, "But that people should help the best way they can. We, brother, now officially have a sponsor."
Dean put an inquisitive finger to his chest.
"Yeah," Sam laughed, "You too. I'll give it to you soon as you bust outta here."
'Nice,' Dean mouthed, and wrote down – 'We married a rich old man.'
Sam laughed again, "I prefer to think of it as getting adopted, jerk. Anyway it's one less thing to worry about." He turned pensive and added, "What with... everything else on our plates."
Dean pursed his lips and nodded.
"So ah..." Sam hesitated, "Four thousand people."
Dean scribbled something on his board: 'Sleepy.'
"Oh no you don't," Sam told him, "You've been dodging this for days. This is what you wanted, right? So it's all square now."
Dean glared at Sam, and then showed him another note: 'Drop it.'
"I can't," Sam admitted quietly, "I just... I just want you to get better."
'I'm f-' Dean was writing, except Sam knew the rest so he cut him off by grabbing his hand.
"You're not," Sam snapped, "Give me that much."
Dean wrenched his hand away from Sam's grip in annoyance, writing: 'Was wrong. Doesn't work that way.'
Sam bit his lip as he read it.
Dean wiped at the board with the blanket, wiped it clean like he wished he could wipe himself clean, his conscience and the blood off of his hands.
"So what now?" Sam asks, "How long are you gonna punish yourself for this, Dean? What do we do? Save four thousand more people? Eight? How many do we have to save?"
Dean thought about it for a second, before writing down decisively: 'Everyone.'
Sam shook his head in dismay, "You didn't owe anybody anything to begin with, Dean," Sam said quietly, knowing it was fruitless argument.
Dean just shrugged and closed his eyes, pointedly ignoring his brother.
Sam knew he couldn't convince Dean of things not being his fault, and though it was slowly killing Dean, that sense of responsibility and righteousness was also what made him who he was, what made Sam love him all the more.
"You were in hell," Sam went on, "Everyone breaks, and that's precisely the point."
Dean just shook his head vigorously, and waved his brother away.
Sam sighed. He was tired, and he didn't have the answers. He was tired of hurting for his brother, was tired of Dean hurting for himself. "I don't know what to say to you anymore."
Dean peeled one eye open, and then the other. He wrote: 'Quittin on me? Good.'
"No," Sam said vehemently, "No. Never. I just... I don't know what to say to you right now."
Dean placed an emphasis on the word 'good' by underlining it three times.
" " "
Even in the week that followed, Sam could not find voice to his efforts to comfort Dean or ease the guilt and disappointment he felt in himself. Dean had once told him, 'There are no words', and he knew exactly what that meant now, and knew exactly how Dean felt. There were no words for his brother's misery, just as there were no words to ease it. There was no job, no number in the world that could convince Dean he was redeemed, and all they could do was trudge on forward, like they always did.
Sam, unable to help Dean, found his strength in a functional, simmering anger that he'd almost forgotten about since Dean came back. Lilith broke his brother and if he could kill her, he could fix Dean. Killing Lilith can solve everything.
Dean, on the other hand, found strength from... god knew where. He was dried out and exhausted, and yet he moved forward by sheer momentum and reflex, not knowing how else to be. Or maybe he moved because he sensed that Sam was moving and determined and that if he didn't follow, he'd be left in the dust or caught in that efficient, single-minded whirlwind that was Sam in his most inexplicably hungry form.
Both men threw themselves into recovery and when they were finally able to check out, Dean was still winded and shaky but at least he was on his feet and out of the hospital. Armed with a bag of his prescriptions, he hopped into the passenger seat of the Impala and shut the door.
"Ready?" Sam asked.
"Yeah," Dean replied with a wince. Not that he had much of a choice, really.
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Reade, Bobby and Wei were going to meet them for lunch at a pizza place next to a neighborhood specialty bookstore. The usually reclusive Winchesters were unused to company outside of Bobby, but Sam insisted it was the decent thing to do, given that the two men had saved their lives, stuck around to see them after Dean was checked out, and not to mention the fact that Reade would be footing a good bunch of Winchester operational expenses (as opposed to [Dean's] vices, which Sam said they shouldn't charge him for) from now on.
"Hunter Etiquette 101?" Dean snorted. He coughed slightly; his voice was still hoarse from his injury and unavoidable damages from the tubes that helped him breathe, but Sam was happy it was back, nevertheless.
"Well we owe 'em," Sam pointed out, "And you know what that means to Winchesters."
"We owe everybody lately," Dean sighed.
"Before lunch we'll drop by the bookstore," Sam said, "Look for a new journal."
Dean's brow quirked, "Whatever happened to hitting the digital age?"
"You didn't seem too inclined..." Sam hesitated.
"When did that ever stop you?" a loaded question that Sam decided not to go too deeply into.
"Fair enough," Sam conceded, "I guess I just don't think we'll have the time for any major overhaul... yet. Maybe the scanning and stuff can be a retirement activity. You know... for after we get Lilith."
"We're retiring after that?" Dean asked, skeptical.
"I don't know," Sam admitted, "We were gonna retire after getting the yellow-eyed demon, weren't we?"
"You were," Dean said. He scratched the back of his head in thought, "I'm wondering if you'd have really retired after that, if I didn't... you know."
"Get into that damned deal," Sam finished.
"Yeah," Dean grimaced.
"When you were gone," Sam began carefully, "I changed, and I can't change back. But back then, right after the yellow-eyed demon died... maybe. But shoulda-woulda-coulda... I've stopped thinking about all of that, now. We just gotta get Lilith, and then figure it out from there. I feel like the moment we get her, the world is going to open up, Dean, you'll see."
"Dad always did say you're 'results-oriented,'" Dean commented neutrally.
The brothers stepped into the bookstore, and went straight for the journal section. Dean picked up a Hannah Montana diary with a heart-shaped lock and raised it for his brother to see.
"Sam, I found what you're looking for!"
Sam didn't dignify it with a reaction, and then focused on a few leather-bound pieces with durable sewed-on binding and thick, cream-colored pages without lines. He touched the rough paper with a calloused finger in approval.
"Dean, check this out," he called.
Dean walked toward him and picked up a copy, turning it over in his hands. He pretend-gagged over the almost forty-dollar price tag. "Jesus, Sam!"
"You gotta be willing to pay for quality," Sam sighed, "So what, is this good?"
"Well, you're the one writing in it," Dean pointed out.
"Very funny, Dean," Sam snapped, "We're both writing in it. Just like in the old one, we both have to write useful stuff in it every time. Dad's rule, remember?"
"But you said my handwriting sucks."
"And you said so did mine."
"Then why are we doing this if no one will understand anything we write?" Dean asked.
"Someone will," Sam sighed again, "Why are you being difficult?"
"'Cos I just got my voice back," Dean wiggled his eyebrows at his younger brother, "You said you missed my voice."
Sam was going to roll back his eyes, but his lips quirked in instinctive humor, and Dean caught it easily. The older Winchester grinned too.
" " "
Later that night, Sam watched his brother sleep fitfully. He'd almost forgotten that this was Dean's new 'normal;' Dean had soothed the nightmares by rendering himself practically comatose with alcohol, or beat-up after a job. But he was heavily on medicines now and could not drink, and he was recovering and apparently strong enough to have them again. Even exhausted and barely-healed, Dean's body refused the rest of complete oblivion, and he was once again thrown into agitated grumbling and turning.
Sam used to wake him up until he realized that nightmare or not, sleep was sleep, and Dean had too little of it as it was. He left Dean alone, regretfully trying to drown out the barely audible whimpering. He'd get used to it, he thought, or Dean would get used to the nightmares. One way or another, like they always did, they'd find a way to move on.
He ran his hand over the entry he'd made relating to the Finn's Canyon incident on the last few pages of their father's journal; their new one was kept in a plastic bag in the trunk, ready for use when their current one eventually ran out.
John Winchester's journal already contained a lifetime of things, and he wondered how far they'd get into the new one until they stopped hunting, or… or died. He also wondered how much he'd have to write about his... his own 'extracurricular' activities, the ones Dean wished he'd stop, that could be useful in the future. He'd never written anything about his demon-blood or what he'd done to strengthen himself; he noticed that neither did Dean, or their dad. He wondered what else his dad knew or did that wasn't encapsulated in the book.
Thinking about demon blood always made his heart beat a little faster; his head throb a little, as if there were a stream of fire coursing through his veins.
It doesn't matter what I have in me, he thought. In Finn's Canyon, they'd changed their destinies; they'd saved themselves and people who were supposed to die, they'd changed their fate, what they were made for. Destiny was not set in blood or stone. The future could be fought and changed.
Demon blood didn't mean he had to do demonic things, just as human blood didn't keep Dean from doing inhuman things in hell. He could use what he had and do the right thing. He could save everybody. He could save Dean.
July 24, 2009
February 23, 2010
Afterword and Story Preview: Ever This Day
I. The Story
II. The Characters
A. Dean's Mathematical Compulsion
C. Good Old Bobby
D. The Original Characters
III. Massive Thanks and Replies
IV. Next Project Preview: Ever This Day
I. The Story
Open, Shut has had a fairly long journey... my best-reviewed SN fic so far is an angsty adventure called Underworld, which I was so apprehensive about because of the complexity of the story and my profound insecurities on my capacity to tell it. But I found the challenge exciting and wanted to write another story that placed the brothers in an impossible situation (Underworld pitted the brothers Winchester against the distinctly urban setting of New York City's subways). Open, Shut then became a unique job where there were no monsters to hunt, just 4,000 people to evacuate from a town that a street prophet believes is about to be destroyed.
The same worries I had for Underworld plagued me for this fic, unfortunately, and I was stuck with a considerable amount of work done, with zero certainty if what I wanted to say was understandable. Open, Shut was going to languish in my laptop for months more if not forever, until I decided the best way to check was to get some beta help, for the first time ever.
The awesome Merisha assisted me in this respect. She was patient, precise, encouraging and insightful, and I am very privileged to have arrested her attention for a couple of weeks while working on this fic. All mistakes and disagreeable elements left on the final posted fic are of course, mine, especially as I added a couple of scenes she had never even seen along the course of posting. I had a good experience with my first ever beta, and have resolved that this is a really good exercise in tackling particularly plot-challenging fics for me.
Aside from my initial apprehensions and the extra time from the beta process, the 'long journey' of Open Shut can also be traced all the way from its first appearance as a short reference in one of my older fics. For those who've read Steps Behind, this fic should be familiar. Like I said... Open, Shut has been in the pipeline for awhile, it just took a long time to gather any real steam :)
II. The Characters
As always, this is the part where I explain questionable character aspects that were raised in the story.
A. Dean's New Mathematical Compulsion has two parts: (1) his intellectual capacity to get the idea and do the math; and (2) his delusion that it would solve his problems.
I really had doubts about this one. Sam had always been looked to as the scholarly one, but Dean's intelligence is also often hinted at in the series (when he surprises Sam by his research and the things he remembers from the academe), and is well-accepted and used in the fandom. I guess I decided to play with this intelligence and make it a firmer component of the character by using it to distinguish him further from Sam. In Open Shut:
"While Dean was hardly a fan of mathematics, he understood that he needed it in life and so, as he did in hunting, excelled in it also. While Sam was great with the humanities: literature and history when they were younger and eventually philosophy and the law, it was the practical and the physical that Dean had an aptitude for: the sure and quantifiable sciences like math and physics and chemistry. They both equally sucked at art. Either way... if Sam had less of a sense of self-preservation, he would have been calling his older brother geek-boy instead of letting it happen the other way around."
Either way, this is me justifying that it's possible, haha. The other component is the delusion. Remember in Monster Movie Dean made mention of how a second chance to go on a mission from god was a blessing? And how in Death Takes a Holiday Tessa asks him not to delude himself about these things? His feeling that he can make up for his sins in Open, Shut hopefully captures that same anxiety and rationalization.
On a season 5 note, I was particularly giddy when Sam, Interrupted tackled the question of how many people Dean had to save and he said, "All of them." That was the conclusion he comes to at the end of Open, Shut – which was already pretty much complete by the time that episode aired – and so I edited my fic further to recycle some of the lines from that episode just to emphasize how Dean's characterization in Open, Shut is more-or-less in-line with the series.
B. Sam as depicted here might also be questionable; why would he let these delusions run wild like that? Why not be smart about it and nip it at the bud? The answer is in the passage:
"...Dean's current mathematical fixation. Sam had decided to call it quantifiable retribution, this decision of Dean to pursue a numerical approach to salvation and penance. It was... mildly deluded, to be generous. But maybe there was something in Sam that hoped it was true too; maybe if they solved this problem, Dean would be fixed..."
Remember, this fic is set after Family Remains and Dean's revelations about hell and the things he did and how he enjoyed them. Sam is clueless as to how to handle his brother and is willing to latch on any way to 'fix' him.
At the end of Open, Shut, it should also be noted that after this exercise of saving four thousand people, Sam realizes that there is nothing he could say anymore to convince Dean that he couldn't have helped what he did in hell. I felt that there had to be a tipping point for Sam; I mean, when did his concern for Dean change into helpless weariness over hearing about his problems? I wanted to capture a point where Sam simply got resigned to that fact that he could not convince Dean or pull him out of his guilt. Note that in the series, the next time Dean's stint in hell is mentioned in a monumental manner after his Family Remains admissionis during Sex and Violence. I guess Open, Shut is my version of that tipping point for Sam.
Also a notable character point at the end of Open, Shut is that Sam channels that helplessness and weariness back into determined anger against Lilith. As surely as Dean was deluded at the start that he could fix himself by saving people, Sam was convinced that everything could be fixed if he could kill Lilith. I think this is similar to his fixation on getting the yellow-eyed demon during season 1.
C. Good Old Bobby is a fun addition to any fic, as always. What I did do that might be odd in Open, Shut is that he loses it when he thinks Dean is dead and that he failed the brothers. But I didn't feel this was too much of a stretch considering he buried himself under a bottle after Dean died, and one of the major issues about hunting in this fic that is articulated by Wei applies to Bobby too:
"Hunters help people. That's what we do. But sometimes, we're victims too... Everyday we put our lives on the line for people we don't know, some of them worth the sacrifice, many... not so much. On the other hand, my life for another hunter's... it doesn't get anymore worth it than that."
Hunters are heroic, but they're human too. I think this is why it fascinates the fandom to delve into how the boys would fare in 'normal' conflicts like illness, poverty, school and the like.
D. The Original Characters are always risky. Sure, the series and the books have them left and right. They are so prevalent that I watch movies and TV shows and keep seeing people who must have appeared at Supernatural at one time or another, haha. But I'm always scared that the OCs I come up with may cross the line... you know, that magical line we fans put up that's like, a forcefield that repels most OCs and female cast members, haha... seriously though, it's hard, setting up a fic that begins with and prominently involves OCs. Personally, my rule of thumb to keep them from being intrusive is if they make the characterizations of the main characters better. For instance, you might have noticed that Dean magnetized to Wei and Sam magnetized to Reade. I enjoyed writing their conversations with each other because they revealed more about the Winchesters than anything else. I hope my rule of thumb is palpable and palatable.
III. Massive Thanks and Replies
Thanks to all who read, alerted, favorited and especially all who reviewed Open, Shut. The reviews of these wonderful people were encouraging and insightful and the time you took to think about the story and tell me what you thought and analyzed it is vastly, vastly appreciated. Love to you guys:
adder574, apieceofcake, borgmama1of5, deangirl1, Janissa11, judy jai, Kritty, Laura, Lisa Paris, Mistress Sorcha, Ophium, .paper.93, Poppy, rockpaperscissor, silencesoloud, sweetpea84, Von, YankeeFan87, and zuimar.
Anne1013: I did a good deal of research on the medical aspect – if watching House, M.D. and wikipedia counts as credible haha :) I appreciate the 'fake research beautifully' comment completely, because I seldom go into the medical jargon that I appreciate in h/c fics because I cannot for the life of me figure all that out, haha, so thank you very much for appreciating the effort re: the research. I also appreciate that you share my views re: the different types of smarts the boys have :)
Mandy: Thank you so much for the encouraging, faithful readership – if you're not careful, you might end up getting stuck with me, haha, instead of the other way around :) Seriously though, always appreciated :)
masondixon: Thank you for letting me know you appreciate my efforts with the original characters; they are always a gamble, and I'm always a little bit scared putting them in and it's nice to know that I managed to make them unobtrusive and even contributory to the fic :)
Maz101: You caught the tracheotomy before anyone else, haha :) And I also appreciate your commentary on how clever Dean really is :)
poppi: Unfortunately, a follow-up story to this one is not on the pipeline :) To go into a sequel carrying profound medical consequences would take a lot more knowledge than I have :) But it's an interesting idea, and thank you for not only reading my fic, but commenting and suggesting :)
IV. Next Project Preview: Ever This Day
Title: Ever This Day
Summary:"We have been through much together, you and I," Castiel had said. This is Dean through the eyes of his overburdened, self-appointed guardian angel.
" " "
Chapter 2: Be At My Side
Before, During and After The End: It's 2014, and Castiel is not quite sure what he wants back more - his old self, or the old Dean.
" " "
He missed being well and truly high.
Chemical substitutes worked marginally well, but they were hardly adequate. They were crutches where once he had wings, taking him deep into memories and distortions of them when once there had been truth and unparalleled beauty.
"Now I'm surrounded by shit," he declared absently, as he laid on his back and stared at the ratty old ceiling of his cabin. He'd just woken up, and these were the first words out his mouth. It could have been any other day, in this sense.
"And a good morning to you too."
Castiel grinned a little, closing his eyes and shaking his head in mixed amusement and dismay. Dean sat against the ledge of the window, a couple feet from the bed. His left hand rested lightly against his hip, the fingers drumming in his ever-movement.
"I didn't know you were sensitive," Castiel said, pushing up to his elbows. He winced in the pain the movement caused, and halted midway between lying down and sitting up. He leaned heavily and awkwardly against the headboard of his bed, "What brings our fearless leader to my neck of the woods?"
Dean had watched the entire exercise with a quirked brow, made no move to offer assistance. "I heard you got hurt."
"Worried about me?" Castiel smirked.
"I wanted to make sure you weren't malingering," Dean growled, "You've been 'hurt' and sat out missions before."
"As you can see," Castiel said grandly, hoping it masked the sting he felt at the rebuke, "I am neither high nor hungover this time. Are you happy?"
"Well why would you be," Castiel sighed, "You haven't been happy in years. Hey – hand me that, wouldja?" He nodded at an orange plastic container of pills an arm's reach away from Dean, perched pertly on top of a rickety table. It blinked at Castiel, offering relief.
Dean offered him another eloquent brow-quirk - "You kiddin'? Do I look like an enabler to you?"
"No, I'm fucking not," Castiel said, "I broke my foot, Dean. I need the damn things this time 'cos I fucking hurt."
A moment of contemplation crossed Dean's green gaze. There was something in him, something that was thinking of giving in, before he shut it out. He picked up the bottle, and then walked across the room and placed it on the very top of a bookshelf.
"You are so perverse," Castiel said wearily, after his mouth opened and shut in a mad, scrambling search for words that matched his level of incredulity.
"I need you dried out and sober," Dean said as he walked to the door, "I need you thinking clearly."
"You don't need anybody, Dean," Castiel sighed, calling after him as the door clicked shut. He didn't mean it, wasn't sure why he said it.
" " "
Dean didn't visit him again, but maybe the bastard did worry even just a little bit, or felt guilty over acting like a douchebag because in the next few hours, a stack of back issues of Busty Asian Beauties were delivered to Castiel's cabin for his amusement, and then days later, crutches that matched his height in the most unimaginably perfect way.
Said crutches were made of fresh wood, the same trees found surrounding the camp. They were irregular and natural-looking, but smooth and solid and finely cut and varnished. The handle grips were made of weathered leather, and Castiel thought the material looked familiar; that it had once belonged on Dean Winchester's back, when the jacket had been useful before getting ravaged and rendered unusable by the unkind years.
He ventured out of his cabin for the first time since getting injured. The air felt fresh and open, and he felt a little bit revived. The camp was in the middle of its usual bustle, people running back and forth, buffering up defenses, figuring out where to get the next meal as much as the next box of tampons. Someone in one of the cabins was of all things giving birth, her determined cries piercing the clear blue skies – it was not the first birth in the camp nor would it be the last – and life went on somehow, stubbornly.
He greeted friends he had passed, a lot of them comely women who cooed about his injured foot but who had not really visited him when he was stuck in bed. His taste in women tended toward the fatalistic hedonists, after all, and what fun was the stark realities offered up by a gloomy, drugged invalid? He did not mind; his purpose was clear, after all, and he clutched at the back issues of the magazines tightly as he made his way to Dean's cabin.
He knocked on the door smartly; Dean was more discreet in his affairs in the camp, but one never knew which lady could be rolling around naked in there. Knocking was one of the first human things he got used to, after being around Dean so much. There was some shuffling and muttering, but finally the door unlocked and Dean appeared by the crack of the open door, looking like he just came from bed.
"Giving these back," Castiel said, raising up the magazines, "I didn't think they were mine for the keeping."
"You got that right," Dean said, almost-smiling. He opened the door wider and let the ex-angel in, and Castiel shut the door behind him and hobbled along to follow. Dean's cabin looked spartan, just a little-bit-lived in, as if the person who once owned this place had recently died.
Castiel put the magazines on the table where maps were laid out with Dean's work. His powerful scrawl was on miscellaneous pieces of paper, on the indents of books and maps. His trusty ballpoint pen looked haggard and overused and precious, bitemarks of thought on one end.
"Those are a bitch to come by now," Dean said of the magazines, "Wonder how many of those chicks have been turned, or if there's any of 'em still alive."
"Either way," said Castiel, "Salut! to them for the endless hours of fun and amusement." Castiel sat down on one of the random seats in the cabin, watched Dean as he washed some dishes on the sink. One cup and a clean plate done with a flourish, and they looked clean and lonely.
"You didn't join everyone else for breakfast outside?" Castiel asked.
"I was busy," Dean said as he dried his hands, "And it's so fucking cold." Castiel noted the two button-down shirts he had over his tee, and the slight shudder.
"It's nice out," Castiel corrected with a frown, "You coming down with something?"
Dean flashed him a wicked grin, "Does it matter? We got a shitload to do and you know, with one man down--"
"Yeah, yeah," Castiel snorted, "Because I like having broken feet for enjoyment."
Dean coughed into his sleeve; it sounded rough, doubled him over a little bit.
"Maybe you should sit this next mission out," Castiel suggested, uncertain.
"Been thinkin about that," Dean admitted, eyes taking on a dark hue and a distant gaze, "Mick and Dana and that kid we found last week are pretty bad off though, so... what else do you do."
"Shit," Castiel muttered, "We're out of meds again?"
"They're going through the damn things like a bunch of addicts," Dean said, adding mock-gravely, "No offense."
"None taken," Castiel said mildly, "They're really bad off?"
"Yeah," Dean winced, "They've been waiting awhile too...those damn pills are getting harder and harder to find."
"You sure they can't wait a little bit more?" Castiel asked, looking down at his broken foot.
"For you?" Dean asked back, reading the regretful gaze very clearly, "You're gonna be laid up for awhile, man. Otherwise, you know who I'd have bothered first." Dean licked his lips thoughtfully, and his fingers drummed against his thigh again in anxious consideration.
"What?" Castiel prodded him.
Castiel's brows rose in surprise. Dean looked like he did that first year Castiel had known him, and he never thought he'd see that again. He looked uncertain, unseated.
"Dean," Castiel said, more firmly and sternly that his mode lately, because if Dean can be his old self, Castiel could damn well try too, "What?"
"Like I said," Dean replied, and his eyes had shuttered again, "The damn pills are getting harder and harder to find. They're gonna run out eventually, and we're gonna watch 'em die one day - Mick and Dana and that kid and a whole lot of the sick people we keep trying to save by getting medicine. They're gonna die one day, and we're just gonna have to watch. Can't help thinking... maybe we're just postponing the inevitable here."
Castiel felt like he just got punched in the gut, "You're not saying--"
"We keep sending the strong, healthy people out to get their medicine," Dean went on, "A lot of the time we end up getting hurt or killed. The missions are getting more and more dangerous, and there's less and less of the able-bodied men to do the job and for what? A lost fucking cause."
"And what?" Castiel snapped, "We just let them die?"
"It's going to—"
"Say it," Castiel commanded, sounding alien in reclaimed angel-form again for the first time in years even to his own ear, "Say it, and tell me what it tastes like."
"Either they die," Dean growled, "Or we all--"
Dean's jaws tightened. He looked Castiel in the eye, and for a moment the angel thought he may have won. But then his eyes hardened again, and gone was the hesitant, genuinely-bothered Dean that Castiel had thought may have returned.
"We will let them die," Dean said, with finality, "It just does not make any sense to keep doing this."
Castiel felt ill, disgusted and the worst feeling of all for some reason of all these vile things was the disappointment. He had no words for it, nothing to justly encase the level of offense that he felt. And so he masked it, like he's long ago learned how.
"Sense- when has that ever been our strong suit?" Castiel countered, as flippantly as he could manage. He started hobbling for the door. It would have been a semi-graceful exit, the two of them going back to the old dance that was their norm of late; name-calling and snideness in a weird mashed-up camaraderie and dependence. No one else at camp truly knew either of them in better times except for the other, and they both loathed each other and loved each other equally for that knowledge. They shared a secret, or maybe it was harsher than that. Mutual blackmailing, more akin to a nice little gun-toting stand-off. Dean had known Castiel when he was stronger, as an angel. Castiel knew Dean when he was – arguably, of course because Castiel most certainly felt differently – weaker, when he was Sam's older brother.
" " "
The camp, under Dean's leadership, was going to let the sickly die but apparently, not today. Not today because the next time Castiel sees Dean, he's seated on the passenger side of one of their few running jeeps, having just returned from the mission.
The people who greeted them were in a celebratory mood – patting him on the back as they unloaded the medical supplies and other goods the team had procured. Dean nodded at them dismissively, which was not atypical. But he made no move to rise from where he sat, and Castiel noted that while the other men helped to unload the supplies, one of Dean's grunts had closed rank on him, not leaving his side. He hobbled toward Dean faster, and the closer he got, the more apparent it became that something was wrong. He was pale, and shadows underlined his dull eyes. His shoulders shook twice in suppressed coughing.
"Later," Dean barked at him, and only when the crowds started to disperse following the supplies did he push up to his feet, gripping at the jeep tightly. He swayed, and growled and slammed a fist against the vehicle in frustration at himself.
"What happened?" Castiel asked the man beside Dean, one of his more reliable grunts, a towering man named Yager.
"He's kinda sick," the man replied, and gigantic and imposing as he was, his hands hovered at Dean's elbow uncertainly, knowing that any unwarranted assistance and he was going to get his ass handed to him, "Collapsed after we finished the job. Scared the shit outta me."
Dean glared as he was told on, and then looked worriedly up at the groups of people still mulling around. He did not want to be seen like this.
"You gonna keep yappin or are you gonna get me outta here?" he rasped at them.
" " "
They settled Dean in bed, and Castiel found himself lingering, even after Dean thanked Yager gruffly. For a moment there, Yager had mistaken it for some sort of invitation to stay, causing Dean to bark at him to get the hell out to work and just leave him alone. He was surly when feeling badly, Castiel has known this for years.
"You too, cripple," he muttered as Castiel, before turning his back on the ex-angel, fully-clothed with his shoes on.
Castiel just sighed, set his crutches aside and sat by Dean's knees. He started working on unlacing the other man's boots. Dean kicked his legs to dislodge Castiel's grip.
"Dude, get off me!" Dean bellowed.
"Shut up and have a modicum of dignity about this," Castiel told him simply, unlacing the boots and tugging them free, before tossing them to the floor, "Now was that so hard?"
Dean just groaned, pressed his palms against his eyes. He shifted restlessly, breathing hard and moaning low. "I don't know where the fuck to put my fucking head."
"I have some standard stuff," Castiel said, drawing out a couple of pill bottles from his pockets. He looked through them and selected a Tylenol.
"Walking pharmacy," Dean said wryly, before opening up his palm and accepting the offering. He dry-swallowed the two white pills, closed his eyes for a moment before looking at Castiel meaningfully, "You really should get a handle on that."
"I thought you'd ah..." Castiel hesitated, "You've quit trying to make me a better man a couple years ago."
"Yeah?" Dean asked, sounding surprised.
Castiel snorted a little, "I was the angel and you were doing all the converting. At the start it was saving towns instead of destroying them for the greater good. And then it was to decide my own fate, exercise my free will. And then it was to wine, women and song. And then a little bit less of the wine and the women, and certainly nothing of... of the drugs. You stopped, a couple years back. I didn't know if I should be relieved or insulted that you've finally written me off."
"I haven't quit," Dean argued, though he did not sound all that convinced himself.
"You should get some rest," Castiel said, getting up from the bed and arranging his crutches again, "I'll go catch up to Yager, lend him my shoulder to cry on."
"I wasn't that mean," Dean said indignantly.
"Rest, Dean," Castiel said emphatically, "I'll check on you later."
"I'm fine," Dean called out, "You don't have to."
To (maybe, eventually) be continued...
Thanks for reading and 'til the next post!