A/N: Long story short, this is a re-telling of a recent nightmare that I had. No joke, it scared the living hell out of me. Anyways, this takes place in season one because I miss the good ole' days, damn it.
Warnings: Slightly disturbing content, minor hurt!freaked!Sam and hurt!Dean, language, minor violence, and bro mo (aka schmoop...I've been big on this lately.)
Disclaimer: Only in my dreams. And yes, there have been dreams…not those kinds of dreams, perverts.
"It could be nothing."
"When is it ever 'nothing?'"
"Sometimes it's nothing," Dean smirks as he shoves another ketchup soaked fry into his mouth.
"Dean, we've checked out cases that didn't even have victims yet."
"Yeah," Dean replies around a mouth full of food, "But they all had the signs."
"And this doesn't?" Sam demands, glaring at his nonchalant sibling.
"No. This has a fire, in a backwoods cabin, in California, during fire season," Dean lists as he shrugs, "Sounds pretty normal, dude."
Sam sighs morosely and stabs his salad, "We always check out fires."
Dean freezes, glancing up at Sam as another fry hovers in front of his lips. Sometimes, when things between him and Sam feel normal and easy, he forgets about Palo Alto. He forgets that Sam had just re-lived the Winchesters' worst nightmare four months ago. Another woman on the ceiling, burnt alive. Another Winchester man destroyed. Sometimes he forgets until they pick a motel for the night, and Sam wakes up screaming Jessica's name. Then Dean remembers, and feels guilty about forgetting in the first place.
But Sam's right. For years after their mom died, they looked into every fire related incident that made the news. After Sam left and dad put more pieces together, they stopped checking them all out and only paid attention to the relevant ones. Sam doesn't really know that, though. He was at Stanford.
Dean sighs. What's a little detour to Cali? They're not that far away, and as long as they stay clear of Palo Alto, there shouldn't be a problem.
"Alright, Sammy, let's hit the coast," Dean says as he shovels in three fries at a time.
Sam's face lights up, but he's also visibly hesitant, like he's waiting for Dean to slam the door in his face.
"Yeah?" Sam asks, testing the waters.
"Yeah," Dean repeats and then smirks, "And when this turns out to be nothing, we can check out the beach babes."
"The fire's still under investigation, so nothing's really concrete, but it looks like they're leaning towards arson or accidental explosion," Sam says as scans over the newspaper article, "Derek Ellsworth is the only victim. He was fifteen."
A tense silence fills the Impala. Cases with kids are the worst. The fact that it's a kid and a fire makes it unforgivable. Suddenly Dean hopes the fire was caused by something that he can gank, because anything else won't be justified in his opinion.
"Witnesses?" Dean finally asks, breaking the silence, pushing the moment behind them.
Sam shakes his head, "None. Some hikers saw the smoke and called it in. Cabin was destroyed by the time the rescue team showed up."
"Why are they thinking arson?"
"Paper says that a gas stove was the point of ignition, but the place was abandoned. It could've been some kids messing around, things went bad, and one of them got caught in it. Or it could've been some kind of freak accident. Or…"
"Or it could've been something nasty. You thinkin' spirit?" Dean finishes, glancing over at Sam.
Sam shrugs, "Maybe."
"Guess we've got some digging to do."
They decide to hike to the cabin first to check out the evidence, and ask questions later. Dean figures there's not much use in conducting interviews if they don't even know if this is their kind of gig or not.
"How far in is it?" Dean asks as he pushes the trunk lid open on the Impala.
"A mile, maybe two," Sam replies as he scans the looming forest.
The trees look infinite, stretching to the sky, skewering the horizon line, blocking out the sun. The vastness makes Sam feel small, which is no easy feat.
"'s quiet out there," Dean comments as he peeks over the trunk lid, his eyes squinting in suspicion.
Sam cocks his head, frowning as he realizes Dean's right. The forest obviously runs for miles, but he can't hear anything. No birds, no insects, nothing scampering in the near distance. There's nothing but looming trees, tangled foliage in the shade, and a huge, dead silence.
"Comforting," Dean grumbles as he slams the lid shut, temporarily disturbing the stillness. It still makes Sam jump a little.
Dean shoves their large canteen into Sam's hands, "Here, man the water, Samantha."
The shotgun hangs in Dean's good shooting hand, and Sam can see the EMF detector in his brother's back pocket. He also knows that Dean's aware of the Taurus tucked in Sam's jeans, and the knife strapped to his ankle, hence him forcing the water canteen into Sam's hand rather than a weapon.
Sam snatches the canteen, "Jerk."
They hike maybe thirty minutes before they smell lingering smoke wafting through the air.
"Guess we're close," Sam mutters from behind Dean as they make their way down the narrow, dirt path.
"You're telling me. Smells like a Yogi Bear Camp Ground over here," Dean observes, flicking a tree branch out of his way. Sam dodges it as it flings back, and glares at Dean's head.
The path is tiny, small enough that the brothers have to shuffle and twist through it to avoid the random thorny bushes, and sharp protrusions from the trees. It smells like pure earth, like dirt, rain, and leaves. If it weren't for the near claustrophobic feeling, the scent of smoke getting stronger, and the silence that nature still hasn't broken, it'd almost be a nice place. Peaceful.
Dean stops suddenly and Sam barely manages to keep from bulldozing his brother right over. He huffs in annoyance but refrains from saying anything as he catches sight of the bright yellow 'Crime Scene' tape in front of them.
What was once a cabin is now nothing more than a pile of ash inside a giant, coal colored square. The fire destroyed everything except the foundation, the brick fireplace, and the iron stove. A few pieces of the walls are still standing, but they look so brittle and frail that Sam doubts it'd take much to make them crumble.
In front of him, Dean is jittery and vibrating with angry tension. Sam understands; he can feel his own spine prickling with bad memories, can even feel sweat start to bead against his hairline.
"C'mon," Sam says gently, breaking the silence as he shifts, hoping to snap Dean out of it.
Dean doesn't say anything, but grunts in agreement, and stalks forward. They duck the yellow tape and slowly work their way around the perimeter of the cabin ruins, searching for any clue.
"Anything?" Sam asks from one side of the cabin, his eyes on the ground as he sifts through the ash and dirt with his boot.
"Nada," Dean replies, as he sweeps the area with the EMF detector, "If something of our pay grade is behind this, it isn't a spirit."
Sam nods as he tentatively steps on to the charred foundation. A glance back tells him that Dean has one eye on the area around the foundation, and one eye on Sam. Sam smirks, knowing that Dean is both looking for clues and watching his every move in case the wood gives.
His big brother, ever the multi-tasker.
Sam goes back to work. The EMF ruled out a spirit, so next on the list is demons. He starts looking for traces of sulfur, even though he knows that the chances of it surviving the fire are slim to none. He sighs, slowly making his way over to the oven. The report named it as the ignition point, so it seems like a logical place to start looking for 'signs,' as Dean calls them.
The oven was probably dark in color to begin with but now it's practically a black hole. Its features are indistinguishable, twisted and deformed by the heat of the fire. Even so, it's undeniably a stove, and it's giving Sam a creepy, foreboding vibe. He frowns deeply and runs a finger over the edge of it. His finger is black when he pulls away, but from what he can tell, nothing's abnormal about it.
He hears the snap of a tree branch right before he hears Dean's startled shout, followed by a sickening thud. Sam whips around fast, gun already drawn as he quickly scans the area. He doesn't notice him at first, but a fast second look has him seeing Dean sprawled on the ground, out for the count.
"Dean!" Sam shouts and half runs, half tip-toes across the foundation. Once he's in the clear, he leaps from the ruins, and sprints the short distance to his brother.
He's immediately at Dean's side, hands on his face as he takes in the closed eyes and the warm blood under his fingertips.
"Dean, hey man, come on," Sam urges as he searches for the spot that's causing the bleeding. He finds it about mid-skull; it's a cut, with a small lump to go with it.
Sam looks up, and half turns on his haunches as he tries to get a look at whatever got the drop on Dean. The clearing is empty, and is as silent as ever. Still no birds. Not even a damn squirrel.
"Dean, wake up," Sam tries as he turns his attention back to his sibling, "Come on, don't make me carry you down that tiny path."
No response, not even a twitch. Sam sighs and presses his fingers against Dean's throat, feeling for his pulse. Not too fast, too slow, or too faint; so nothing dire, Dean's just out.
It doesn't make sense. What could sneak up behind Dean - who's near impossible to sneak up on - knock him out, then disappear, all without making a sound? Without Sam noticing?
Sam frowns. But it wasn't without a sound; a branch snapped, which means whatever it was could be corporal. But there's no way to know if it was Dean who stepped on it or if it was the attacker. Sam sighs again. No time to worry about that now, he has to get Dean back to the Impala. He shifts his weight, assessing the situation, preparing to pick Dean up so he can start walking.
He doesn't hear the small shift behind him. He doesn't even know he isn't alone until pain explodes in his head, and everything goes dark.
Awareness filters in slowly like a tide, coming in and out, in and out, until Sam isn't even sure what's in his head and what's real. When he does break the surface of consciousness, he can immediately tell that he's restrained; with his arms over his head. His eyes still aren't quite cooperating, so he's not completely sure of the entire situation yet. He's sitting, but there's no back to whatever he's on, which gives his torso full movement. His ankles are restrained somehow as well. Sam's first thought is that he's on some sort of stool, and that the rope that's around his wrists is attached to something in the ceiling. Sam can only hope. A set up like that would give him a fair amount of leverage for escape.
He finally pries his eyes open, but the brightness of the room immediately makes them shut again. His head rolls backwards as pain spreads through his brain like cracks in glass. He takes a few deep breaths, knowing that he's going to have to push through it if he wants to get out of here. Unless Dean comes for him, which he usually…
Dean. Dean was knocked out cold the last time Sam saw him, and God, he hopes that's where he still is. Sam doesn't know where he is or what has him, but he doesn't want his brother caught up in it. He hopes that whatever grabbed him left Dean in the clearing with the burnt down cabin. At least that way, Sam knows he's ok, knows he's safe.
But that also means that Sam's on his own, which isn't a very reassuring thought right now.
Hesitantly, he opens his eyes again and much to his relief, the pain isn't nearly as bad as the first time. The relief is short lived, however, when he realizes where he is and what he's tied to.
He's in an abandoned cabin, and he's secured to the top of a large gas stove, with his arms tied to the ventilation system above it.
His brain clicks the facts together like puzzle pieces in no time flat, and it sends an immediate shiver of dread down his spine. The cabin, the fire, the one victim, the stove being the ignition point; it all makes sense now that he's in the position. It isn't a spirit, hell, it probably isn't even a demon, this has human written all over it. It has serial killer written all over it, someone who apparently ties their victims to gas stoves and lights the fire.
Sam's chest starts to heave as fear spirals through his nerves, and he starts pulling on the ropes wrapped around his wrists. As he looks up to get a visual, he pauses, frowning. He's seen those knots before…
The echo of footsteps brings his attention forward, putting him on full defensive alert. Just as he had been taught, he squares his jaw, erases the fear from his face, and waits. The enemy rounds a corner and passes through an open doorway. As Sam suspected, it's just a man, no black eyes, no tell tale signs of possession. He looks to be about mid-forties, well structured, with silver eyes and hair. Dog tags rest against his dark blue tee shirt. Military. That explains the familiar knots, and why neither he nor Dean heard the guy sneak up on them. He's been trained.
"What do you want?" Sam demands, his chin high, eyes narrowed.
The man tilts his head, studies him, "There was a time when it was worshipped and not feared. Once, many would've considered it a gift to be in your position."
He walks closer and Sam tenses, trying to mentally prepare for anything that he's going to do. But he doesn't approach Sam, he brushes by him. Sam stares, watching the stranger's every move. The man leans down and picks up a plastic milk jug off the floor. As he straightens up, he untwists the cap. With him this close, Sam can see the name stamped into the dog tag: Gates.
"You shouldn't be afraid," Gates assures, "This is an honor."
Then, starting with Sam's left shoulder, he starts to pour the contents of the milk jug on him.
Dean groans, "Sonuvabitch."
His hand goes to his head and he winces as he makes contact with a lump, and comes away tacky with drying blood. Jesus, what the hell hit him? A steamroller? He sits up with a wince and then immediately folds over, his head cradled in his hands. Once the vibrations in his skull ease up, he lifts his head, and studies his surroundings. He frowns, confused. He's still in the forest. And Sam…
"Sammy?" Dean calls, ignoring his pain and vertigo as he pushes himself to his feet.
Dizziness threatens to take him right back down, but he manages to keep upright, "Sam!'
He steps and his foot connects with something hard. He looks down, moves his foot and feels a pit of dread fill in his gut. Sam's gun. Sam never would've left it lying here; staying armed at all times is in the Winchester rules.
"Goddamnit," Dean mutters and places his hands on his knees, breathing deeply, trying to calm himself down. Sammy's missing, obviously taken by something or someone, the same something or someone who knocked Dean out. And that something likes fire. Goddamnit.
Dean turns in a half circle, trying to steady his racing heart, and clear his brain enough to figure out what went wrong here. Dean has a feeling, he's had a feeling ever since they left Nevada. He told Sam this was probably nothing and now, with Sam gone and no visible signs of a ghoulie or ghostie, Dean's going upgrade that 'nothing' to 'human.'
Dean huffs. Humans are bad news. They're unpredictable, crazy, and worst of all, Dean can't kill them. More like won't kill them. Except maybe, this time there needs to be an exception because Sam's missing, Dean has a headache, and there's fire involved.
Yeah, exceptions are good.
He snatches Sam's hand gun and the shotgun from the ground, and starts moving. As much as he loathes leaving, there isn't anything here to tell him where Sam is, and staying isn't going to get him any closer to figuring it out. He needs more info. Maybe hit up the locals and find out whom in town is missing a few screws, check the newspapers, look for other arson cases.
Dean's almost to the path when he catches sight of something, something that they missed the first time because it's hidden in some bushes, and not visible when you're walking into the clearing. It's a wooden sign, worn down by years of weather and time. The paint's almost completely gone, but the etchings are still perfectly intact.
Harold H. Summer Camp
Dean blinks. Summer Camp. He looks back at the cabin and immediately the light bulb goes on. If this used to be a summer camp, then there's more cabins around here, probably close. Dean's willing to bet the Impala that Sam's in one of those other cabins.
He starts walking in the other direction, his movements full of purpose and determination, the whole time praying that Sam's ok.
The fumes are suffocating, burning Sam's airways, making his head too light and his eyes water. He can feel the oily liquid on his skin, raw and undiluted, and Sam just wants to get it off. Composure, training, and Winchester Toughness went out the window some time ago. His barely contained panic is beginning to bubble to the surface, spilling over, drowning out his dad's voice in the back of his mind that's telling him to pull it together. Sam struggles, pulls and twists, but the bonds around his wrists hold, even with the accelerant and blood acting as a lubricant. All he gets for his efforts are wounded wrists, which are burning from the kerosene and the twine pieces stuck in the lacerations.
The restraints around his ankles aren't giving either; Sam practically pulled a muscle trying to yank free. He's stuck, well and truly, and he's starting to understand that he's not getting out unless some gets him out.
Heavy boots clunking and scuffing against worn wood makes Sam pause and hold his breath. Gates is coming back. Seconds later, Gates emerges through the crumbling doorframe. He stands there motionless, starring at Sam with eyes that never seem to focus. Sam's heart pounds right up into his throat as he stares back. He wants to tug at his restraints some more, maybe loosen whatever the rope's attached to, but his fear isn't letting him move.
"It moves in waves," Gates finally says, feet moving sluggishly as he makes his way to the youngest Winchester, "Rolls like the ocean, but it has more power. Fire always has more power."
He's close now, too close. Sam can smell the grease in his hair and the rankness of his breath. He can see every detail in his face, can catalog every dirt and oil smudge on his shirt.
"So pretty, so much power," Gates coos as he drags a filthy finger down the side of Sam's neck. Sam flinches and jerks back as far as he can to get away from the unwelcome touch.
Gates pulls away slowly and rubs his fingers together, staring in awe as the kerosene shines between the pads of his thumb and forefinger. Sam finds it oddly reassuring that Gates is more interested in the oily substance on his skin, and not his actual skin. He doesn't think he could handle the guy being a pervert on top of everything else.
Nevertheless, Sam's normal 'fight' response dies, and 'flight' kicks in hard as he observes the pure insanity glowing in the stranger's orbs, "Let me go. Please. I swear, we won't tell the cops, we won't tell anyone. Just let me go. Please?"
Grey eyes shift towards him, but Sam knows they aren't really seeing him, they're seeing through him. Sam shivers as Gates' gaze sweeps over him slowly before landing on the stove.
"So pretty," He repeats as his hand reaches for the dull silver knobs of the stove, his eyes never leaving Sam's.
Sam knows what's coming and worse, he knows there's nothing he can do to stop it. He starts struggling in earnest, ignoring the pain in his arms as he pulls and pulls. Sam feels more than sees the hand connect with the knob, and a sob claws its way out of his chest, "No, don't! No!"
He hears the tiniest creak from the knob as it starts to turn, and Sam does the only thing he can think of.
A/N: I was planning on making this a oneshot but I was running out of steam, and I've been working on this for like three days lol. Hopefully I'll have the conclusion up soon. Any and all feedback is welcome, help a girl out :)