This is it, folks! Thanks for bearing with me all this time. There's a sequel in the works, for those of you who are interested, but I have no idea when it will be fit for publication. You all have been wonderful! Your feedback has made writing this story even more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. :)
The bar is dead. Deader than some of the corpses Dean has had the dubious pleasure of salting and burning during his short and not especially illustrious career as a hunter. Of course, it doesn't help that it's a Wednesday right before finals season, and so while there are a few regulars there, most of the students are either frantically trying to write term papers or have at least opted for the bars that are closer to campus. It's also the post-Hallowe'en slump, pretty typical his boss assures him, right before giving him the rest of the night off.
"Go on. I haven't managed to properly tend bar since you got here, and I could use the practice. I won't dock your hours, promise. Don't take this the wrong way, sweetie, but you look like you could use a proper night's sleep."
"You're a pearl among women," he gives her a wink, and she snaps her bar cloth at his ass.
"Get on with you! You're utterly shameless. Give my best to your brother and his girlfriend, you hear?"
"You got it," he flashes her an 'ok' sign over his shoulder, slips out into the night.
He's walked maybe five feet when he's immediately accosted by a small, shapely feminine form that all but plasters him to the closest wall.
"Hey, stranger. Going my way?" Lauren purrs. She's wearing perfume, something musky and kind of intoxicating. Dean laughs, jerks a little bit when her knee slips right between his thighs and nudges maybe a shade too close to home.
"Whoa there. Hey, hi, how are you? Were you waiting for me?" he asks, just a little uneasy.
She snorts. "Yes, Dean, I was waiting for you, four hours before you're meant to be off shift. I figured I would just lurk in this deserted alleyway all night long until you came out, rather than go inside the bar where it's nice and warm and there's plenty of alcohol if you have money and this really cute bartender who, I must say, is a fan-fucking-tastic lay."
"Yeah, okay, okay, I get your point. And I do try," he makes a lame attempt to recover his poise, but she's wearing this hot little number that looks like it might have velvet in it —he kind of wants to slide his hands over her waist to see what it's like— and that's exposing her cleavage in the nicest way. "So, uh, you weren't waiting. Does that mean you have plans?"
"As it happens, my plan was to come sit at your bar and flirt with you until you were so worked up you fucked me against a wall in the closest bathroom during your break."
His mouth goes dry, and from the looks of things Dean Jr. would have been entirely on board with that plan. "Uh. Wow. Okay, then."
"Of course, since you're off work now, that kind of puts a damper on my plans. Luckily for you, I'm very, very flexible," she leans up on tiptoe to whisper the last few words in his ear on an exhale of warm breath, and he feels a shiver run through him.
"Yeah," he breathes. "Definitely flexible. I, uh, I'm just going to, uh... wow, your doing that is not helping me in the forming-coherent-sentences department—" he squirms a little against the wall, but manages to fish out his cell phone. "I have to call. Just... let them know I'm going to —oh God— be late. Please don't do that while I'm talking to my brother's girlfriend, okay?"
She giggles, and licks a stripe up the side of his neck. "I don't know. That seems like an awfully boring thing to promise."
There was a time when Lauren would have been pretty much the ideal girl. She's maybe a bit smaller and a bit plumper than Dean usually likes women to be, but she's a wildcat, and one who has made it clear that she wants absolutely no attachments except for mind-blowing sex as often as they can manage —which is really less often than Dean would like. In fact, the whole set-up is what he would have asked for, six months ago, except that now it apparently comes with a side-order of guilt and mild dissatisfaction. The sex is absolutely mind-blowing, so it's not that, and Dean isn't exactly the kind of guy who's given to introspection, so it's not like he's given the whole situation much thought.
When he does bother to think about it, it strikes him that, six or seven months ago, Lauren would have been a one-night-stand, or maybe one really long shut-in weekend at best, and then they both would have moved on, no muss, no fuss. As it is now, he sees her almost every week, although it doesn't always end with them hooking up: sometimes she just shows up at the bar, has a few drinks, flirts a bit, and then drifts away when it's obvious he's too tired or preoccupied or whatever to really be into the sex. That right there is weird enough as it is, like she's the guy with the endless sex drive and he's the girl who needs to be in the right mood for sex. That, coupled with the fact that his brother has very evidently rekindled something with his own girlfriend, well... it just feels weird to be this casual about something that's become recurrent, even if neither Dean nor Lauren want anything more from each other.
Lauren bites his earlobe and laughs. "Where did you go, there? Lost you for a minute."
He yelps, rubs gingerly at his ear. "Yeah, sorry. No, I'm just going to call, let them know I'll be late."
"Dean, you're leaving four hours early. They're not expecting you back anytime soon..."
He shrugs, flips open his phone. "Yeah, I know. I just... it'll make me feel better if they know where I am. I mean, if something happens and they call the bar and I'm not there?"
"Hello, cell phone. You're not leaving the state, baby. I'll make sure you're home before curfew." she snakes a hand under his shirt, and God, does that ever make it hard to concentrate, except that this really isn't something that's negotiable on his end. He leans over, slips his tongue into her mouth, kisses her until she's breathless, then pulls away again.
"Two minutes, tops, and then I'm all yours."
She out-and-out sulks at that, and the expression isn't a nice one on her. "Fine."
The call goes to voicemail after three rings. Dean frowns at his phone, double-checks the time, and tries again. Voicemail. "That's weird." He scrolls through the numbers, tries Jess' cell phone instead, but that one goes right to voicemail, which means she went home and switched off her phone. He tries the apartment again, and gets voicemail for the third time. "They're not answering."
"Maybe they're having sex, the way we could be having if you'd just let your brother and his girlfriend be independent adults for a single night." Lauren's tone is a little sharp, impatient. She's not really used to being denied what she wants, he thinks.
"No, it's not normal." Whatever other thoughts he was having about this evening, they're gone now, replaced with a weird, uneasy feeling about the whole situation. "Sorry, sugar, but I'm going to have to take a rain check."
"You're really just going to run because they won't answer one phone call? Come on," she scoffs, and her face turns a little ugly in the light of the street lamp. "They're grown adults, Dean. Let them take responsibility for their own actions for one night. It's not like anything special is happening today, anyway."
He blinks at her, feeling his blood run cold. "I forgot the date," he murmurs to himself. "I fucking forgot!"
She sounds insincere. How did he never notice that before? "Fuck. Are you trying to keep me away from them?"
"What? No! Well, yes, but just for tonight. Is that so bad?"
He pushes her aside, none too gently. "I have to go!"
Before she so much as has time to react he sprints across the parking lot, wrenches open the door to the Impala, and speeds toward home as fast as his baby can take him.
For a moment when Dean pulls up in front of the apartment building, everything is quiet, and he breathes a sigh of relief, feeling a little stupid for letting his imagination get the better of him. The street is still, utterly silent, and it's only after a moment that he realizes that the streetlights have all gone out, that nothing at all is stirring. There isn't a single light on in any of the nearby buildings, nothing. That's when he spots the flicker of light coming from his own living room.
Not light. Fire.
There are flames licking up the far wall of the living room, easily visible from the street, since Jess apparently didn't draw the curtains this evening. Sam doesn't care about curtains, but Jess does, always complaining that the neighbours can see right through their home. Ridiculous to be thinking about curtains right now, but it's the only thought in Dean's mind as he scrambles to disentangle himself from his seatbelt.
Finally he's out of the car and running, clears the short flight of stairs in a single leap, heedless of the way his ankle protests the treatment. He kicks at the door, which flies inward so easily he realizes it must not have been locked at all, sprints down the hallway to the living room, and stops short. The fire has spread in the few seconds it's taken him to get inside, and the flames are roaring and crackling across the ceiling, gnawing hungrily at the walls, the curtains, the bookcases. The rest of the apartment is invisible, shrouded in smoke and flames, the kitchen and both bedrooms blocked by a wall of flame.
Dean throws up an arm in a vain attempt to shield himself from the heat, the acrid smell of smoke and something else he can't identify, a choking, rotting scent like death filling his mouth and nose and making him want to puke. There's smoke everywhere, blinding him, seeping into his lungs and making him cough, all but doubled over. He takes a couple of halting steps into the blazing inferno, feels one foot come into contact with something soft, and nearly trips over a prone form on the floor. It's Jess, lying curled on herself, a pool of blood gathering somewhere near her stomach.
"Jesus," Dean drops to one knee, turns her over to check her pulse. Her eyes fly open and she clutches at his arm, mouth working silently, her expression one of absolute, abject terror. "Oh my God!" He jerks back reflexively, startled in spite of himself, somehow not expecting her to be alive.
He forces himself to lean over, dragging her into his arms. "Okay, I got you. Can you walk?" He gets his answer a moment later when her knees buckle and she sags in his arms, barely conscious. He spares another glance for the bedroom he can't even see. "Okay, okay Jess, I got you!" He has to shout to make himself heard over the roar of the fire, and even then he's not sure she can hear him.
It feels like hours before he's able to drag her all the way outside. They collapse in a heap on the grass, and he pulls off his over-shirt, wadding it up and pressing it against what looks like a horrific laceration in her side.
"Hold that there. Hold it!" he snaps, turning aside to cough out what feels like a lungful of smoke and ash. "I'm going back for Sam. You stay here, and hold that tight!"
He's up and on his feet again, running back for the open door, when there's a sort of dull whump! and the next thing he knows he's being sent flying backwards, as easily as if he was being tossed by a poltergeist. He lands hard, arms and legs akimbo, and his head snaps back to crack painfully against the cement walkway. For a moment he can't move, can't think except for the terrible certainty that Sam is still inside, and he's never going to get to him in time. There's a constant ringing in his ears, and the ground won't freaking stay still when he tries to get up. Suddenly there are hands on his shoulders, an indistinct silhouette above him wreathed in flames. He struggles against the guy trying to hold him down, hears his voice like it's coming from far away, under water.
"Hey, hey! You all right? Take it easy!"
It's the stupidest thing he's ever heard, because how is he supposed to take it easy while Sam is still in there, trapped behind the flames? He scrabbles uselessly at the ground, vision blurring, finally reaches out and grabs the guy leaning over him by the arm and uses him as leverage to pull himself upright, in time to see flames burst through the living room window as the entire ceiling collapses inside the building. Distantly he hears someone screaming incoherently, and it takes him a second to figure out that the sound is coming from his own throat, that he's being restrained by two sets of arms now, pinning him in place, and he's too dizzy and winded to put up a fight.
More hands join the mix, and the next thing he knows he's being rolled over on the ground, strapped down to something cold and hard and plastic. He kicks weakly, one of his hands coming into contact with the smooth fabric of an EMT uniform.
"Sam," he tries to tell them, batting at the oxygen mask being lowered over his face. "My brother, he's inside," he breaks off, coughing, keeps trying to fend off the oxygen mask. "His leg —he can't walk. Someone has to get him!"
"Don't worry," another muffled voice filters past the ringing in his ears. "The firefighters are already working on it. You just let us do our jobs, okay buddy? Take it easy, don't fight us on this."
The oxygen mask gets strapped firmly in place in spite of his protests, and he feels them tying straps over his wrists, and they obviously haven't understood, haven't figured out that he has to get to Sam. He can't tell them anymore, can't lift his head, and it's not just the edges of his vision that are blurring anymore. There are black spots wherever he looks, and they grow larger and larger into a swirling vortex of darkness that swallows him down whole.
Dean can hear beeping when he wakes. He feels weird —heavy and sluggish— and after a moment he figures that he must be drugged. If he's drugged then that means he's in a hospital, and that would explain the beeping. Heart monitor, or something. His leg is throbbing in time with his heart, and dimly he remembers waiting for Sam to come find him. Didn't he call? He should find his cell phone, make sure everything's okay. Call Dad, too, just to let him know, not that he's looking forward to telling his father just how badly he fucked up that hunt. He's pretty sure the thing is dead, though, so maybe it's not a total fuck-up.
He feels sick. He can feel his mouth filling with saliva, forces his eyes open and swallows only to feel his gorge rising again. There's nothing within reach except the call button, so he presses it a little frantically and concentrates on not puking until a nurse pulls back the curtain by his bed.
She smiles. "Welcome back, honey."
He doesn't have time for pleasantries, just swallows again and tries to make himself understood. "Sick."
It works. "All right, hold on," she nods briskly, retrieves a basin from somewhere he can't quite see, then places it in his lap and raises the bed, and not a moment too soon. She rubs his back while he pukes, which is a little humiliating, but he's lived with worse. When he's done she holds a paper cup filled with water to his lips. "Rinse out your mouth, honey, you'll feel better. " She guides him back onto the bed, checks the monitor. "The doctor will be in to see you really soon, now you're awake, but off the record I'd say you're looking pretty good, apart from the concussion. Just a little smoke inhalation, but nothing too serious. Do you need me to call anyone for you?"
Her words bring it all back in a dizzying rush: the fire, the stench of sulfur, Jess on the ground, her blood seeping into the grass... Sam. Sam was in the fire. He has to fight not to be sick again. There's nothing left to bring up, anyway. "Sam..."
"Who's that? Do you have his number so we can contact him for you?"
"No," he shakes his head. "Sam, my brother. He was inside... did they find him? Did they get him? I couldn't get to him..."
She tilts her head, her expression sympathetic. "I'm sorry, I don't know. I'll try to find someone who can answer your questions, just as soon as I'm done here. I heard that they brought in a girl at the same time as you, but I haven't heard anything about your brother."
"Jess." His thoughts are all jumbled. "I thought... is she okay?"
"I couldn't say for sure, she's not on my rounds. I'll go check for you, how does that sound? Someone will come back as soon as we know something."
"Where is she?" He should go see her, make sure she's all right. Sam would want him to.
The nurse puts a hand out to stop him from pulling at the IV in his arm. "I don't know. I'll find out her room number for you, but you have to leave that be. You can't get up just yet, all right?"
"I'll be fine," he says, but he can't even pull his fingers out of her grip. "I have to go see if she's okay."
"No, you can't," she says, her tone gentle but still firm. "Stay here, and I promise, as soon as we can, we'll come let you know what's happened. If you're feeling up to it, in the meantime, there are some police officers who want to ask you some questions about the fire."
"Questions?" He wishes it wasn't so damned hard to think.
"Only if you're up to it. We have to clear it with the doctor first, in any case, but ultimately it'll be your call."
He's never been around the aftermath of a fire. He's set more than his fair share in his lifetime, usually small, controlled things, even when salting and burning a corpse, but he's never stuck around long enough to find out what happens afterward. His whole body hurts distantly, and when he lifts a hand to his face his cheek smarts as though someone's just slapped him. He must have gotten burned at some point and not realized it. There are cops outside his door, or close enough that it makes no difference, and he doesn't have the first idea what he's supposed to say to them.
He should get out, except that his head aches and he's still feeling kind of nauseous and dizzy. Jess is hurt somewhere in this hospital, Sam is still missing, and everything feels like it's spiralling out of his control. He doesn't even know where his phone is, stashed somewhere with his personal effects. There's no one he can call, anyway, apart from Bobby, and what would Bobby be even able to do ? He misses his father with a sudden, fierce ache that, embarrassingly, brings tears to his eyes, and he scrubs them away with the palm of his hand.
"Dad, what am I supposed to do now?"
It's hours before anyone at all speaks to him, but after he kicks up enough of a fuss and threatens to sign himself out AMA if he has to, eventually he's given the answers he wants. They even let him change back into his clothes, even though they're blood-stained and still reek of smoke and are probably going to have to be thrown out when all this is over. Still reeling from the impact, he lets himself be wheeled into Jess' hospital room, where she's lying, pale and frightened-looking, hair tangled around her shoulders, eyes wide in her face.
"They won't tell me what happened to Sam," are the first words out of her mouth. "They gave me something, and now no one is telling me anything!"
He clears his throat, looks up at the nurse. "You want to give us a minute?" He wheels himself closer to the bed, takes Jess' hand. "They, uh. They didn't find him."
She shakes her head. "What? No. He was there, I was with him. How could they not find him?"
"I don't know. I didn't get much from them, except that the whole place collapsed, and they couldn't get to the bedroom in time. They're—" he clears his throat again, blinks hard, "they're searching the debris now. They think —they think they might be buried."
"No." She's shaking her head. "No, that's not right."
She looks as baffled as he feels. "What do you mean?" It's easier to treat this like a case, not to think about the rest of it, of Sam... "What do you mean, it's not right? What happened?"
"Um. We were... he told me, about what you do. About the ghosts and the monsters."
"He what?" Dean straightens involuntarily in his wheelchair. Of all the things that might have come out of her mouth, this is the last one he expected.
"I didn't believe him," Jess' voice breaks. "I didn't believe what he was saying, but it's true, isn't it? What you do, the hunting, the monsters, it's all true, and I didn't believe him and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..." Her breath hitches as tears start to run down her face.
He's on his feet, leaning over her bed, heart racing. He can feel sweat trickling down his spine, his hands clammy. "Jess, how do you know? What changed your mind? How do you know it's true?" He reaches out, brushes the tears from her face. "Hey, come on, don't cry. It's okay, don't cry. Tell me, it's okay," he lies, a little desperate by now.
"It—" she hiccups in a vain attempt to get herself under control. "Brady —before the fire. He came, and he said he was coming for Sam. Oh, God his eyes," she tries to hide her face in her hands, but Dean grabs her by the wrists, pulls her hands away from her face and forces her to look him in the eye.
"Jess! Come on, talk to me. What did you see?"
"I don't know," she moans. "It's –his eyes were black. Like, all black, even the whites. He th-threw me like I was made out of paper… I thought he was going to kill me, kill us both. Why am I not dead? He was going to kill me!"
Dean pulls her awkwardly against him, wraps her in his arms and lets her cry, then, because he doesn't have an answer, not for any of it. She sobs until she's exhausted, stays quiet and trembling against his chest, tears soaking through his already-filthy shirt, and he strokes her hair and tries to sort out all the thoughts whirling in his head. He's never heard of anything like this, but it's definitely nothing natural. People's eyes don't turn black, and how the hell did he manage never to notice anything wrong with Brady? His only goddamned job, his one role in life, and he keeps screwing it up, over and over again.
"Jess," he murmurs. "What happened to Sam? Did you see what happened?"
She shakes her head. "I heard him scream, but I couldn't see, and it hurt so much... I'm sorry. I tried, I did, I promise…"
"Hey, it's okay," he lies. He wants to shake her, scream at her for not looking out for Sam, except that that's his job, and he wasn't there to do it either. "It's okay, we'll fix this. I'm going to fix this."
He shakes his head. "I don't know yet. I don't know yet, but I have to make some calls. Just… just wait for a minute," he yanks his cell phone out of his pocket. "I'm gonna call Bobby, and –and there are others I can ask. There's gotta be a way –" he stops, words dying in his mouth, staring at the blinking message light on his screen.
1 missed call.
Jess notices the change on his face. "What is it?"
"I, uh. There's a message. From my Dad."
He tries to wave her off, suddenly not sure he remembers how to breathe, but she tightens her grip on his arm, fingers digging in hard enough that he's going to have bruises later.
"What's he say?"
He shakes his head, just punches in the code to retrieve his messages, holds the phone so they can both listen. The sound of his father's voice hits him like a sucker-punch, and he has to bite down hard on the inside of his cheek —hard enough that he tastes copper on his tongue— to keep his eyes from tearing up. He swallows the lump in his throat, forces himself to breathe, to listen to his father's words.
"Dean... something big is starting to happen... I need to try and figure out what's going on. It may..." There's a burst of static, and then his father's voice comes through again, and Dean feels a chill run down his spine. "Be very careful, Dean. We're all in danger."
There's nothing else. The message ends, and Dean finds himself staring stupidly at the blank screen as though it might just hold all the answers to the universe. He can feel Jess waiting expectantly, watching him, but his tongue has cleaved to the roof of his mouth. He's not sure he can even form words anymore. Jess' voice is soft, barely registers in the quiet of the room.
"What does it mean?"
He shakes himself, can almost hear his father barking at him to pull it together, to work the case. He flips the phone shut, puts it in his pocket, and feels his mouth pull into a feral grin. He finds his words, finally, and it feels like a promise, a vow that he can see reflected in Jess' eyes.
"It means we're going to go find my Dad."