AN: Sorry this took so long! Two weeks is a long time between updates for me, so I you so much to all of you who have rode out the story. Reviews are love! And I do my best to respond to everyone that has PMs turned on.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I've got a lead on where they are. Yes they're in Canada, but if I'm following the clues right, they're holed up in a gal's closet and she only lets them out when she wants to write slash scenes. Yeah, you know who you are...I'm watching you.
It was a small noise, a quiet intake of breath, that caught Sam's attention. He glanced up from his book to find Dean staring hard at him, willing Sam to hear the non-verbal warnings Dean was sending him. Only his eyes moved, a minute movement first to the left and then to the right, bouncing from one spot to another; counting, Sam realized.
Sam made to step away from his place against the book shelf, but one frantic look from Dean stopped him, pinning him against the wall. Sam understood what was going on. The gnomes had returned…in numbers it appeared and Sam wanted nothing more than to go to his brother and help soothe his worry and the nightmarish hallucinations away. But at the same time, a voice in the back of his mind whispered to him. Dean's voice. 'What if what I'm seeing is real?'
It wasn't possible. Was it? Wouldn't he and Bobby have found something, some kind of credible proof of the gnomes' existence? What if Dean was right? Sam looked back to his brother.
Don't move, don't move, don't move. The mantra was set on repeat in Dean's head, willing Sam not to move, not to give the little king a reason to begin the attack. Not yet, not until Dean had come up with a new plan.
Behind him, the Gnome King laughed, painting the back of Dean's neck with the moisture of its putrid breath. To gain a height advantage it had climbed up on to the sofa behind Dean and was leaning against him, its clawed hands biting into Dean's shoulders painfully.
Dean fought the urge to cringe, his stomach rolling from the stench of rot and old blood. Stronger was the urge to bolt upright out of his chair and start swinging. Especially because it was chattering on in its own garbled language, about its intentions for Sam and Bobby; tearing Dean's family apart, piece by piece while he was forced to watch. It made Dean's blood boil and his hands itch behind his back where they were clenched in fists; the knuckles bone white.
They would start with the old man, he was told and Dean's wide eyes immediately swung to Bobby, who was now asleep over his desk. Standing beside him on the old oak desktop was a gnome with particularly deadly looking claws. It leaned over the Winchesters' surrogate father, grinning wickedly while clicking razor sharp nails. The repetitive tic, tic, tic of the action grated on Dean's very last nerve, but he managed to bite back the warning cry that was fighting its way out of him. He had to get to that fire iron.
The myriad emotions playing across Dean's face were rapid and hard to keep up with. Disgust, fear, anger, hatred; they each flashed so quickly, changing in an instant and Sam struggled against his need to reach out to his brother. Dean's eyes had begged him to stay still and so Sam stood still, wary yet silently watching what could be a volatile situation play out.
And then Dean's whole countenance sagged, his head bowing, his shoulders falling in…defeat? Sam pulled a face, recoiling from the sight. What was going on? Dean didn't give up. Never. He didn't know how to submit, didn't understand the meaning of the word. So what was happening in Dean's head that would force him to now?
Sam's brows pinched together in a deep frown and he couldn't stop himself.
"You alright?" His voice was low and even. It did not betray the uneasiness he felt watching his brother fight with his hallucinations; if that's what they truly were.
Dean did not lift his head, but from beneath long dark eyelashes he made firm eye contact with his brother. He considered his options, quickly devising a plan.
"Feeling…anemic," hoping Sam would cotton on to his meaning. He needn't worry. He and Sam had been in sync since childhood; symbiotic, almost to the point that Sam could read Dean's thoughts as though they were his own. Both brothers turned very slowly to look in direction of the fireplace. "Cold too," Deanadded.
"I could add more wood," Sam offered, acknowledging the low fire. Dean nodded.
"Oak…would be…good," Dean replied, his words were slow and deliberate, asking Sam for the same.
Sam dipped his head once, and peeled himself away from the wall, taking measured steps towards the fireplace, being careful not to wake Bobby as well as keeping a close eye on Dean, looking for signs and instructions from his older brother.
Dean watched Sam cautiously make his way to the fireplace. If he didn't know better, Dean would have assumed that the youngest Winchester could see the gnomes as well, as he already maneuvered his way around two of the little bastards. But of course Dean did know better. He knew that Sam was just following Dean's subconscious directions.
Behind him, the Gnome King shifted uneasily, studying the back and forth going on between the brothers. But for reasons unknown to Dean, it held off on the attack.
Dean held his breath as Sam knelt down beside the fireplace and picked a log off the top of the short stack.
"Just one?" he grabbed up a piece of White Ash from the pile and waved it at Dean, glancing at Bobby's oak desk and asking a completely different question.
"One right in the middle," was Dean's tense reply, casting a quick glance at Bobby and then back to Sam who had been joined by a curious little gnome.
It stood beside him with its head tilted inquisitively. It leaned in to get a good look at Sam's face and then turned to look into the fire, like it was trying to puzzle out what Sam was doing.
Sam, of course, being unable to see it, did not realize that as he shoved the big chunk of wood into the fire, he had also inadvertently knocked the creature head first into the fireplace.
Dean's eyes widened in shock, following the little gnome as it scrambled from the flames, screaming, and tore across the room, a flash of fire and ash raining down behind it.
All the other gnomes also stopped, frozen in place watching the scene; a wave of faces turning as one to watch the blazing gnome screech out of the room.
There was a pause in all movement and sound; the silence before the storm and it seized Dean in panic.
Bobby groaned, waking from his bent over position on the desk to find the man frozen in fear. "What's…"
But in Dean's head, Bobby's voice was drowned out by the ear splitting scream of the Gnome King, signaling the attack. Dean couldn't help but tuck his head when a chorus of gnome cries answered back, the air shimmering with the volume of it.
"Now would be good, Sam," Dean shouted over the din in his head, throwing himself up and out of the chair and away from the clawing hands of the king.
At Dean's sudden escape, Bobby sat up in surprise, shocked when an iron fire poker sailed past his head into Dean's awaiting hand. And then not a second later, he jumped back when the same metal rod came crashing down into the center of his desk, mere inches from where he'd just been sleeping.
"Dean!" Bobby bellowed, one hand gripping the arm of desk chair, the other gripping dramatically at his chest.
But Dean wasn't about to stop. No sooner had the iron connected with the desk, and then he was ripping it down the length, taking out four more of the rampaging beasts.
"What do I do?" Sam shouted. His head tilted for a moment while he considered his reasons for shouting in what was virtually a quiet room. The only noise at that point in time was Bobby's heaving, panicked breathing and the whistle of Dean's iron rod being swung at full speed through the air.
"You swing!" Dean answered back as he continued his own assault. All lined up on a group of three scurrying toward him, Dean lowered one end of the poker to the floor, brought it arching back behind his right shoulder and swung, golf style, knocking all three into the far wall, where they slid to the floor unconscious.
"Too many, now shut up and batter up!"
"Will you two knock it off?" Bobby interrupted, dodging out of Sam's way when all of a sudden the youngest man decided to get into the act. "Stop, ya idjits! There's no such thing as," he ducked Dean's baseball swing just in time, "gnomes! No! Not my…arghhhh," Bobby groaned as a three hundred year old Hoodoo binding urn exploded beneath the weight of Sam's iron. The younger hunter muttered a low and hurried apology, but kept brandishing the deadly iron around the room, not really understanding what, if anything he was accomplishing.
"You, com'ere," Dean commanded, grabbing Bobby firmly around the upper arm and dragging him out of Sam's line of fire. He pushed the older hunter behind him, using his own body as a shield between Bobby and dozen or more gnomes circling at their feet. "Aim lower, Sammy!"
Sam adjusted the downward angle of his iron and took aim at empty space, flushing with both embarrassment and exertion.
"Am I hitting anything?"
"Doin' beautiful," Dean grinned up at him. He lowered a look to the center of the library floor where a rather vicious looking gnome was sizing Dean up. "Okay, ya lil prick, bring it!
It snarled once then charged at him.
"Fore!" Dean brought the business end of the fire poker down in a sweeping arch, catching the gnome dead center in the chest and lifted it high. But the powerful monster held on and as Dean brought the long iron over his shoulder, the weight of it knocked him off balance and the iron was pulled free and knocked across the room, sliding beneath the sofa. Dean stared down into his empty hands in surprise. "Crap."
Sam had been flailing his iron weapon wildly, but truthfully, he had no idea what he was doing or if he was even accomplishing anything. For that matter, was there even anything to really accomplish. This is so messed up, he thought, but somehow he was unable to distrust Dean's instincts.
Hearing the heavy metal clang against the floor, Sam stopped what he was doing to find Dean weaponless. Sam looked to his brother for instruction, unsure how he should refocus his own attack.
Sam nodded, quickly swapped places with Dean, the two of them moving like a well oiled cog, Dean now using his fists and well-placed kicks to defend against the attackers.
"Are you outta your ever-lovin' mind?" Bobby whispered harshly, jabbing two thick fingers into the back of Sam's shoulder and spinning him around. "Why are you playin' along with this? Encouraging him?"
"What if he's right?"
"Oh, so you have lost your mind!"
Dean was too busy devising a plan to deal with the wild horde of gnomes to notice the argument between the men going on behind him. He considered upending the sofa to get his fire iron, but the Gnome King still maintained its advantage there, surrounded by a protective guard. It seemed that no matter which way Dean turned a handful of gnomes were advancing on him. The iron had worked in keeping them at bay, but he had yet to put one down completely. He needed to get in closer. He needed that iron knife of Bobby's.
With a deciding nod, Dean got a running start, leapt and did a near perfect Luke Duke slide across the surface of Bobby's desk, sending debris flying in his wake. His landing, however, left much to be desired. Dean slid off the edge of the desk, crashing ass first into Bobby's castored chair, a tangle of limbs following after. He scrambled to his knees, knocking the chair rolling and smashing into the two gnomes who were just rounding the corner of the oak desk.
Dean dove into the top drawer of the desk, pulling and tearing things out of it with desperate haste; hunting for the iron blade he knew was hidden there. He found it when the knife's sharp edge sliced into the meaty flesh of his palm. Biting back a wince of pain, he wrapped his hand around the handle and pulled it free with a proud, "Aha!"
His elation was short lived, however, as he was promptly attacked by a rather robust gnome who had managed to clamber its way on top of the desk. It leapt from the desktop, landing square on Dean's face and muffling his cry of "Sonuvabitch" as together, they toppled to the floor.
Using the momentum of the fall, Dean rolled on top of the round little monster. He peeled it from around his face, yowling as the gnome refused to relinquish its hold on his hair. Dean pressed it into the floor, pinning it there with his knees, focusing all of his body weight down his legs. He took the knife in both hands and plunged it down in the chest of the struggling gnome. It cried out, gurgled around blood, shaking in the throes of death and collapsed.
Wasting no time, Dean pulled the knife free and was surprised. Not by the sucking sound of blood soaked flesh popping around the blade, no he was surprised that once the iron was free, the gnome burst in an explosion of glittery dust and light.
"What the Hell?"
But he had no time to ponder as all the gnomes had focused their attentions on Dean and were galloping sideways from every direction at him.
Dean jumped free of the desk out into the center of the room, scattering the gnomes in his path. Then because he needed to get down on their level to fight properly, Dean knelt on one knee. Knife in one hand, his other outstretched in an invitation.
"Come on ya little goblins, let's do this," he growled.
Bobby had a hand fisted in Sam's over shirt pulling him in aggressively, trying to pour on the fatherly intimidation, while Sam attempted to press Bobby away and still maintain a defense against the would-be invisible gnomes. But both men came to a halt, dumbfounded, when Dean let loose a warrior's cry and started hacking and slashing at all the space in a three foot radius around himself,bellowing, "I'LL," thrust, "KILL," slash, "EVERY," stab, "LAST," hack, "ONE," jab, "OF YOU MOTHER…"
"There goes the neighborhood," Bobby groaned and they both flinched as Dean let the curse fly and then again a few minutes later when Dean fell to his hands and knees, near the point of exhaustion. But he quickly waved them off, sitting back on his knees, the remaining gnomes scattering away from him in fear.
Before him stood the Gnome King looking genuinely surprised by the turn of events. It jumped down from the sofa causing Dean to tense in anticipation.
"I'm not letting you walk outta here," Dean said firmly, his lip curled in controlled rage, the gnome mirroring his look.
It flexed its clawed hands, a threatening display of the weapons it possessed. Dean did the same, spinning the knife until it was turned around and held in Dean's hand, his fists raised, ready to jab like a boxer. It was a ridiculous scene. Even on his knees, Dean towered over the miniature monster, but at least this way he was on it's level, able to defend any attack. And the attack was immediate.
Without warning the Gnome King rushed Dean. Faster than the hunter expected, the gnome was on him and they were toppling backwards into the rug covered floor, Dean's legs trapped beneath him. Try as he might, Dean could not gain complete control of the situation, the knife held precariously between them and the gnome surprisingly strong.
After a minute's struggle, Dean was finally able to kick his legs free and in a swift motion, had them turned over and the knife sunk home, deep into the Gnome King's chest. It looked down at the fatal wound, then glared angrily back up at Dean, who gave the knife a violent twist and yanked it free, collapsing into the glittery burst as the gnome exploded with a savage cry.
Dean unfolded himself from the floor, coming to stand unsteadily, his chest heaving and his throat convulsively swallowing the bile he felt rising.
For a long moment, Sam and Bobby stood staring, completely astonished., unsure of what they'd just witnessed. Bobby was the first to break out of the fog, determined to take back control of the unstable situation.
"Give me the knife, Dean." his voice low and gentle.
Cautiously, Bobby stepped in front of the older Winchester, approaching with his hands open and non-threatening. When Dean didn't flinch or shy away, Bobby slowly lowered his hands to carefully grip the man's arms, sliding a hand down over the knife handle. Dean followed the movement and then, as if Bobby's touch had doused him in cool water, he took an awakening breath; his eyes finding Bobby's.
"Let go, Son. S'okay, I got it, you just let go."
Dean released the knife, pulling his hand away quickly like he'd been stung by the weapon. Crossing his arms, Dean tucked both hands beneath his arms and shivered visibly. Sam was beside him instantly, wrapping his arm protectively around Dean's back and pulling him into Sam's side. Dean didn't bother to shake him off.
"Hey," Sam nudged softly, "Y'alright?"
The responding head nod was subtle but definite.
"No more gnomes?"
Dean shook his head, remaining quiet.
"How 'bout a beer?"
"Whiskey?" Dean asked, turning an anxious face up to his brother.
"Absolutely," Sam nodded, pulling Dean away from the disastrous library, furniture overturned, books, papers, glass and clay shards scattered everywhere.
Bobby shook his head at the disaster. He sheathed the knife at his waist before joining the boys in the kitchen. Whiskey was a necessity at this point.
Bobby poured the last of the Jack Daniels into his glass, sealing the empty bottle with a quick twist of the cap before setting it firmly on the kitchen counter. He lifted the glass to his mouth, looking out over the rim at the boys in the next room. The youngest, sitting loosely on the sofa, his head hanging, shoulders falling in fatigue. Bobby nodded in silent agreement when Sam shifted his weight to lean back into the cushions.
Dean wasn't to be settled as easily. The older brother slowly paced the floor, rolling his neck and shoulders, trying to work the surplus energy from his limbs. This, Bobby knew, was how Dean always was after a hunt, often needing extra time to calm down.
Bobby admitted that he hadn't been much help in that department earlier. As soon as he had entered the kitchen, Bobby had lit into both Sam and Dean about the night's hallucination inspired escapades. Chewing Sam up and down for playing along with and encouraging Dean's delusions. Berating Dean for letting those same delusions run away with him and drilling home the fact that 'Gnomes don't exist, ya idjit!'.
Looking back, he felt a little foolish. He'd used words like, 'not in my house' and 'I don't care who started it'. Bobby knew he wasn't the boys' daddy, but that didn't stop them from bowing their heads sheepishly and answering in unison the way they'd always done with John.
He took another drink, watching Dean turn and make his way back across the library floor, before Bobby himself turned back into the kitchen to give the young man some privacy to work the energy out of his system.
The house had been quiet now for a good two hours and Dean could feel the tension slowly draining from his body. He clasped his hands together, cracking his knuckles and then shook them loose, letting the movement travel up his arms and down his chest. His entire body ached from a day full of activity and conflict and he wished for nothing more than to be able to settle down like Sam and let sleep wash away all these feelings. Dean took a deep inhalation, attempting to exercise his inner demons through controlled breathing.
But then a slight movement caught his attention and Dean's eyes flicked to the sofa back and then widened in genuine surprise.
There, working its way down the length of the couch was a tiny little gnome and for a split second, anxiety permeated Dean's mind. He'd been so sure they were all gone. He had slowly been coming down from the adrenaline high, only to have it come pouring back into his blood stream at the sight of a single gnome.
Smaller even than the king had been, this gnome also seemed to be younger. All of its attention was focused on Sam and Dean could just barely make out its excited chattering about earwax as it approached Sam.
His brother was leaned back into the sofa, not asleep, just resting his head against the back, an arm draped over tired eyes. He didn't feel the slight dip in the upholstery as the gnome got closer, didn't hear its constant gibberish. Sam didn't notice a lot, including Dean approaching with an open hand raised high in the air, ready to strike out at the little monster that stalked the younger Winchester.
The floor board creaked beneath Dean's boot and both Sam and the gnome peeked up in time to see Dean take action. The gnome squeaked and dove off the back of the sofa a split second before Dean's hand connected with it. Missing his mark, Dean was unable to stop the downward motion and his open palm collided with the side of Sam's head with a resounding pop.
Sam's hand flew to his ear and he jumped up, the top of his head connecting squarely with Dean mouth and nose. "Son of a…" Dean cried.
"Bitch!" Sam finished, wobbling.
Both men fell backward, Sam to the sofa and Dean to the floor, each cradling his own specific injuries.
"Boys?" Bobby's voice echoed from the kitchen.
He downed the glass of whiskey, setting it aside and hurried back into the library.
"Geroff," Sam slurred, feeling suddenly woozy. He kicked his legs weakly when Dean grabbed a hold of Sam's pant leg, using his brother to climb his way back to his feet.
Dean glared over the hand he held cupped over his face, trying to contain the blood. Then he collapsed on the sofa beside Sam, tilting his head back to stem the flood from his nose.
"What the Hell happened?" Bobby growled at them with his hands on his hips, taking in their appearances.
As a wave of a nausea swept through him, Sam closed his eyes, groaning, "He hit me."
"Again?" Bobby fixed Dean with a disapproving look , "What is wrong with you?"
"I'm sorry," Dean cried. "It was an accident. There was a…"
"So help me," Bobby interrupted, "if you say there was a gnome, I'll knock you upside your fool head, myself. What am I gonna have to do, lock you in a closet?"
Dean had the decency to shrink back into himself, pulling his knees up to his chest. The man looked miserable and for a moment Bobby felt the sharp sting of guilt. It was obvious Dean hadn't returned to his senses yet, but neither could they continue to allow him to be such a dangerous nuisance. Bobby quickly turned his attention to the younger of the brothers, not wanting to witness the emotional breakdown that Dean was now fighting.
"Sam? Can you open your eyes for me?"
Sam tried. He pried them open and instantly regretted it, groaning again as the room zoomed quickly by, his eyes spinning beneath heavy lids. The man's eyes didn't appear to be dilated, but Bobby caught the rapid eye motion and had a good idea what had happened.
"S'okay, Sam. Close your eyes if that helps. The vertigo will pass…I hope. You got pain? Gonna be sick?"
Sam raised his hand, rocking it side to side in a 'so-so' gesture and then pointed toward his ear. Bobby leaned in close, tilting Sam's head carefully toward the light.
"I don't see any fluid, but I'm still gonna hazard a guess and say you gotta ruptured eardrum."
Bobby left the room and busied himself in the kitchen only to reappear a minute later with two wet wash clothes. He placed the first warm cloth against Sam's neck, just below his ear, securing it there by placing Sam's own hand against the cloth. He brushed an affectionate hand through the kid's hair, garnering him a weak smile. "You just sit still, but let me know if you're gonna get sick. I'll get this place squared."
"I can help," Dean offered, unwinding the human knot he was in.
"No, you stay put. We're all safer if you just sit on your hands."
Dean sunk back into himself, pouting.
"Oh, untwist your panties," Bobby admonished. He took a seat on the sofa arm next to the younger man and pulled Dean's hand away from his nose. The bleeding had stopped, but Dean was now sporting two lightly blackened eyes. Tilting Dean's chin up, Bobby began carefully wiping away the drying blood, Dean submitting completely to the attention. Bobby stopped briefly when he felt Dean's eyes locked on him, willing Bobby to meet his gaze. The sad look tugged at the older hunter's heart and he was reminded that this man, this boy really, was still very much in need of approval.
"You're fine, Kid. Quit worryin'."
He gave the back of Dean's neck a firm squeeze and finished clearing away the blood.
"Get some rest. Things'll look better in the mornin'. Promise."
Bobby made his way around the room picking up and straightening everything that had been knocked loose in Dean's 'gnome raid'.
It was three o'clock in the morning before Bobby was satisfied that the house was safe, quiet and secure. He finished a note in his hunter's journal, swallowed the last swig from his glass and turned off the kitchen light before passing through the library. He stopped to regard the boys, passed out with exhaustion from the longest day in his recent memory. Bobby's head ticked to the side in thought, trying to put a finger on the noticeable difference.
Sam was leaned into his brother, his sore ear tucked in against the warmth of Dean's chest, which Bobby knew right away was a comfort against the pain. Dean's arm was slung around Sam's shoulders, his hand resting in the length of his brother's hair and his chin resting against Sam's head. And then it clicked.
Sometime between chaos and silence, things had gone back to normal. Dean had gone from being a 24 hour victim of terrible circumstance to his rightful place as protective older brother.
A warm smile graced the tired features of Bobby Singer.
"Gnomes," he chuckled softly, turning out the hallway light before trudging up the stairs, never knowing that beneath the sofa sat a solitary young gnome trembling, in fear of discovery.
It was a cool feeling of loss that woke Dean. He stretched, feeling sore muscles pull throughout his entire body, but it was the yawn that brought on the sharp pain of a broken nose and busted lip, that had Dean sitting quickly. An entire day's memories flooded back and he turned quickly in search of Sam.
His brother was sitting beside him, rubbing slow circles into the side of his neck. It was obvious to Dean that he'd just woken up too.
"How's your ear?" Dean asked carefully.
"I'll live," Sam answered sourly, his voice gravelly with sleep. "How's your nose?"
"Hurts like a sonuvabitch. Can't breathe." Dean snuffled to demonstrate, cringing when pain flared across the palate of his mouth.
Both men slouched back into sofa, suffering their individual pains. Dean was the first to move again, turning his head in his brother's direction.
"I'm sorry, Sam. Not just for the ear, but for everything."
Sam's head rolled slowly toward Dean, his eyes shut while he waited for his equilibrium to catch back up with the movement.
"It was a lot for me to put on you…and Bobby. I just…"
"Hey," Sam interrupted. "I know, okay? S'alright. Already told you, Dean. You're as much my responsibility as I am yours. Brother's Keeper and all that. Okay?"
Dean swallowed hard, nodding. It didn't make his actions in the last twenty-four hours disappear, but it helped to lessen the guilt a bit, knowing that Sam didn't begrudge him those actions.
"You smell coffee?"
"Dude," Dean rolled his eyes at Sam, "I can't smell anything right now."
"Hey!" Bobby hollered from the kitchen. "If you two are done with the hand holding', you can get in here and give me a little help."
The boys frowned at each other, Sam's eyebrows lifting high into his hairline. Dean shrugged and pushed himself to his feet, then turned to offer his hand to his brother. Sam eyed it once before reaching out cautiously and accepting the help up. Afraid of what they'd find, they walked slowly into the kitchen, Dean's hand beneath Sam's elbow, steadying him.
"Whatcha doing there, Bobby?" Dean asked nervously.
Bobby turned away from the counter, a Sharpie marker held between his teeth, grinning.
"You back to your usual self? We all through with the crazies?"
"Yea, pretty sure," Dean answered, shakily.
"Good, pull up a seat."
Bobby strode around them and slapped something down on the table. Sam lowered himself into a chair, looking at the materials, curiously. He lifted a sheet of paper only to discover that it wasn't paper at all, but address labels.
"What are we doing?"
"We…are labeling everything in the house. You can start here," Bobby added, placing a white jar on the table.
Dean set a cup of coffee down in front of Sam and then took a seat across from him, nursing his own steaming cup.
"What's this?" Dean asked, lifting the jar lid to eye the white crystals within.
Bobby couldn't keep the small smile from playing across his face when he answered, "Sugar."