"Hey Jake, check this out." The voice is loud, slurring and it echoes through Dean's head: check this out…out…out …out…..There are hands on him, rolling him over, pushing into his pockets and rummaging around, but they're not going to find anything, Dean knows. His cheek's pressed against frozen pavement, there's a puke-inducing smell clogging his nostrils and his head hurts like fuck. But the hands…the hands are what are important here because they're touching him and any minute they might start…start… he can't remember, but whatever it was he doesn't want it to happen anymore. He can sort of see the guy who's robbing him in the dimly lit alley, but the man's eyes are hidden in the gloom and the eyes… he needs to see them because….he doesn't know, but he needs to see them.
"Ge' the fu' off me," he growls at the man pawing at him, but it comes out so garbled that the man just laughs and tries to knock Dean's teeth down his throat.
"Hear that Jake? Think he's tryin' to tell me somethin'?"
"Think he's trying to tell you that his stinkin' ass don't have nothin' for you. Come on, Stevie. Let's head to Washington Ave. and see if we can't score over there."
"Nah," Stevie answers. "Gonna have a little more fun here, first." He upends the bottle he's holding, sloshing its contents over Dean until the reek of cheap bourbon mixes with the sewer smell already overpowering the rancid odors of the alley. There's a clicking noise and Stevie stands back, lighter flickering in his hand.
Dean can't look at the light; it's burning through his brain like a laser. He closes his eyes and sees his father, a lighter a lot like Stevie's falling from his hand, setting the body beneath him ablaze.
"Just like that," he hears his dad's voice in his head. "You burn 'em and they never come back."
"Nuh," he mutters, holding his hands up like that's going to stop the lighter from dropping. "Nah dead. Don' hafta. Gotta…Sammy."
"We're taking care of Sammy now, Dean." There's a girl in a bar and he's telling her that he's maybe going to head to Palo Alto to make sure his brother's not alone on Thanksgiving. One thing leads to another and they head back to her place because it's not like he's gotta leave right this second, and he's got his jacket off and they're kissing and then there's three fucking guys in the bedroom and "sweetheart, I ain't into dudes" and he can't move and they all have these pitch black eyes and…..
"No, you fucking drunk, you're not dead. You're gonna freeze, you keep laying there, so we're gonna help you out and warm you up a little."
"C'mon, man." Jake's pulling at Stevie's arm, but his friend isn't budging. "It's almost Christmas, don't be doin' this."
"Nah Chr'sm's," Dean slurs. " 's Th'nksgivn'. G'nna see Sammy." He tries to get up, but Stevie's boot slamming into his chest keeps him in place. His hands try to grip Stevie's ankle but there's no strength left in them and they just slither back down to his sides. "Ge' off me f'ckr. C'n't br'the."
"Come on, you said we could play now. He's been down here for weeks and you ain't let us have any fun." He feels like he's been in the sewer tunnels forever, with only a few scraps of food every eternity or so, and he can feel his body starting to eat itself. He's only had enough water to keep him alive and if they untied him he could maybe take one of them down before he passed out from the exertion and the big guy with the heavy boots takes a step forward and slams his foot into Dean's chest until it feels like his heart is gonna stop and…
"Thanksgiving? That must have been one hell of a bender, pal. Thanksgiving was almost a month ago. And leave me the fuck alone, Jake. Never let me have any God-damned fun." Stevie steps back and is swinging his hand in an arc that will land the lighter right in the middle of Dean's chest when a door opens into the alleyway and a burly man steps through, holding a couple of bags of garbage.
"Hey! What have I told you fuckin' bums about hangin' out back here?" The man drops the bags and storms toward the men in the alley.
"Shit!" Stevie's hand opens, but it's the empty bottle that drops and Dean watches it fall in slow motion, down…down…down… until it's in pieces and shards of broken glass slice into his arm. Stevie's pocketing the lighter as he and Jake sprint out of the alley, the garbage man's curses echoing behind them.
"You too, pal," he rumbles, moving to prod Dean with his foot. "Can't sleep it off here. Why can't you God-damned drunks pass out indoors where you're somebody else's problem?"
"Nah dr'nk," Dean mumbles. "Nah dead either. Don' hav'ta burn me. Don' burn."
"I'm not gonna burn you, Jesus Christ. Come on, get up." The man leans down to grab Dean's arm, but as soon as he gets within smelling distance, he backs up quickly, gagging. After a few moments spent bent over, hands braced on his knees, he manages to keep his dinner where it belongs and heads back through the open door. When he returns a few minutes later, he's got a cloth knotted across his nose and mouth and garbage bags tied over his arms.
"Okay, let's try this again." He takes a deep breath and bends over, grabbing Dean's wrists and jerking him to his feet. He keeps his plastic covered hands on Dean's biceps as Dean sways and almost pitches over again. "Come on man, cut that shit out. You fall on your face again and I'm callin' the cops to come haul your ass away."
Dean's staring at the guy's face, trying to focus as it bobs and weaves in his blurry vision. The man sighs and pushes Dean into baby steps down the alley. Dean steadies himself on the hands gripping him and by the time they reach the street he's moving on his own.
"Look," the man says, turning him to the right. "You're gonna freeze to death if you stay out here. There's a shelter about three blocks that way, so why don't you go be their headache for the night."
Dean braces one hand against the wall and tries to focus on what's in front of him. If he turns his head, he's going down again, and now that he's off the ice-cold ground he damned well wants to stay there. He's not going to get to Thanksgiving with Sammy if he's face-planted in an alley.
"Gotta fin' Sammy, he's prob'ly waitin'," and then he's staggering in a zigzag pattern down the sidewalk because Sam's not going to wait long. Shelter, keeps running through his mind, but not a shelter, and he doesn't know what he's looking for but he'd better find it soon. Now that he's out in the open, the bitter wind is cutting through his soaked clothing and burning his exposed skin.
There are Christmas lights everywhere on the street, multi-colored or white, blinking or solid, all are haloed and swirling in full 3-D concussion vision. Brightly glowing sparks dart around Dean's face like incandescent gnats. He closes his eyes before the sparks can fly straight through them and loses his balance so fast that only a lurching spin into the nearest wall keeps him vertical.
His brain feels like it's being tumble-dried and he presses into the wall so hard that he's afraid it's going to open up and swallow him back into the dark. By the time he's steady enough to open his eyes again, he's got indentations in his cheek from its impact against the rough bricks. Dean's hands are flat against the wall, bracketing his head and he stares steadily at his left thumb as he gulps in the short, shallow breaths that are all his ribs can handle. There's light shining from above and he wonders how he can be so cold when the sun is right there.
The light's bright and his hand is dark with grime and he scrapes it against the wall like that's going to make him clean. The palm of his hand runs down the bricks and he turns it over to get the back and lets out a choked cry. Outside of the sledgehammer beating on his skull and the vise strangling his lungs, he isn't in much pain. The bitter cold has been good for that much, at least. Now though, his hand is throbbing and he stares at his fingers as they get bigger and smaller, bigger and smaller, like Wile E. Coyote's hand when he smacks it with a hammer.
"Where's your daddy, Dean?" He's underground, squinting his dark-adjusted eyes into the light of the torches his captors always bring and he's already inhaled the food they threw him and this is new because usually the soundtrack to his torture is bullshit about what they've got going on with Sam and he tries to twist away when one reaches for his bound wrists but they grab him and pull his hands to them. One has a pair of pliers and they start pulling his fucking fingernails out and asking their stupid questions that he's never going to answer and they tell him they've got to go now, but to think on where his daddy is and they'll see if they can't manage to actually make him scream when they come back and….
Dean pushes himself off the wall, because this standing around crap isn't going to get him to his brother. The lights are still flying into his eyes, but he forces himself to not react. If they want to zip right through his head, he's gonna give them the fucking green light. Every time one buzzes him it sets off a tiny explosion behind his eyeballs, but he just stirs it into the crushing agony that's already there. There's a pulsing beat to the pain and his feet follow its rhythm as he shuffles into the night.
The sun comes and goes as he wanders down the sidewalk, shooting stars flying by him in the dark. More people appear as he gets closer to the shelter, just shadows, blurry in his fading vision; any of them could be Sam. Any of them could be Sam and Dean could just be walking right by without knowing so he begins to grab for anyone within reach.
"Sammy? 's 'at you?" Dean's got a fistful of jacket and is pulling its occupant closer to peer into a face that really doesn't want to be peered at.
"Get the fuck off me or I'm calling the cops," rings in Dean's ears and that's not Sam. His family doesn't do police. Ever.
"Sorry. My m'stake." Dean's already moving on, there are more people down the block and maybe Sammy's there. He begins to call his brother's name and he can't tell, but he thinks some of them are looking back at him. If Sam hears Dean calling, he'll be sure to come. Then they can have their Thanksgiving dinner because Dean's gonna die of starvation if he doesn't find his brother soon.
The shadows Dean's chasing move further and further away as he approaches. They're fast, darting like quicksilver across his vision, and they must be something unnatural, because people can't get away from Dean like that. There's no one he can't chase down and these things are evading him like he's standing still.
There's sunlight ahead and the shadows aren't as dark, though they still swirl around him like schools of fish. He reaches for them as they flit by, but he's always a step behind. Their voices are loud, strident, there and gone like the shadows. There's movement beside him, quick and sure and he tries to turn because maybe he's finally found Sam, but the sudden motion is too much and he starts to pitch forward. A strong hand grips his arm and pulls him upright, steering him toward an open doorway.
"Hey. Hey, buddy." It's not Sam. He's got the same blurry look that everyone has, but it's sure as hell not Sam. "Why don't you come on in here, get a cup of coffee and some food. You sure look like you could use it."
"Nuh." Dean shakes his head, tries to pull away. "Gonna have dinner wi' Sammy. He's waitin' for me."
"Yeah? Maybe he's already inside, and he's got a plate all set for you. Come on, man. You look like haven't had a meal in a good, long time. Aren't you hungry?"
"Brought you some breakfast, Dean." They upend the bucket on the ground in front of him like they always do, and it's scraps of rotten meat and moldy vegetables and he scrambles to his knees and bends low to eat every last bite. It's disgusting, but it's keeping him alive and if this bunch of assholes wants him dead he's not going to help them one damned bit and as long as they keep feeding him, he's gonna keep eating no matter how humiliating it is because he's not fucking dying down here and..
Dean is, but he's having Thanksgiving dinner with Sam and he'll eat when he finds his brother. He doesn't have time for this now.
" 's okay." Dean pulls out of the man's grasp. "Gotta find Sammy."
"Your choice, buddy. Hang on just a sec , would you?" The man takes a step to the door and calls out to someone inside. A minute later he's coming back to Dean, a steaming paper cup and a sandwich in his hands. "Take these with you so you've got something to tide you over until your dinner with Sammy, okay?"
Dean wraps a shaking hand around the cup, and hisses. " 's too hot. What'r you doin'?"
"No, man. You're too cold. Just take a few sips, get something warm in you. And eat the sandwich too."
Dean lifts the cup to his mouth and takes a sip, wincing as the hot liquid slides over his cracked lips. He takes a bite of the sandwich and God, it's real food and he stuffs it into his mouth, swallows and it's gone in seconds. He clenches his jaw because his head doesn't seem to want to let his stomach go about its business and after a minute or two the food decides to stay where it is.
"Thanks," he mutters to the stranger, and takes another drink, some coffee making it into his mouth, some sloshing down his chin. He raises his hand weakly to rub the liquid away and his fingers tangle in the tufts of beard matting his face. "Wha' th' fu'?"
"Looking a little worse for wear these days, Dean. Couldn't get a hot chick like me to take you home now." Fingers tighten in the tangled mess that is his hair, rip at the sparse beard dotting his face. He's been wearing the same clothes for weeks and it's not like there's a bathroom in his tunnel; the stink of himself and his surroundings has long since lost its effect on him and he'll worry about getting his hair right again when he's out of here and….
His eyes meet those of the man in front of him in confusion and he's suddenly not sure why he's here or where he's going . His head is pounding and he can't breathe and he just wants to take the man up on his offer and head inside for a month or two. He takes a step forward and the man smiles and holds out a hand and then there's a backbeat to the throbbing in Dean's skull and no. He's supposed to be finding Sam.
The new noise cutting through the clutter in Dean's brain is what he's been looking for all night. It's not coming from here, but it's not too far away and when he gets to where it's coming from he'll be safe, he'll be home. And home is where Sam is.
"You hear that?" He looks at the man and gestures vaguely to his ears. "Sammy's there. Gotta…"
"No, man. That's just our resident Grinch, Mr. Morris. He don't like Christmas music much, so he blasts his damned heavy metal over it. Store's not even open now, nobody's there."
Dean's not listening. Not to him anyway. He knows that sound, knows what it means. It's the sound of his life, and he's going home. He stumbles down the sidewalk, the full cup of coffee falling from his hand. The shelter worker watches him go and shakes his head.
Dean's got a destination now, and he's reeling down the sidewalk , following the sound of Blitzkrieg to warmth and safety. His vision's getting worse, but the music pounds into his brain and he follows its ever increasing volume. The next intersection is a busy one, but he just stumbles off the curb, weaving his way blindly through the traffic. The cars screech by, horns blaring, brakes squealing and the headlights stream into his brain like spaceships at warp speed. It's a miracle that he makes it across without being hit by one of the speeding cars, but he reaches the other side in no worse condition than when he started across.
The curb is trickier going up than down, and Dean sprawls on his hands and knees after his foot catches the lip of the concrete. It's a tough call in his fuzzed brain whether he's going up or down from here, but the music's calling him home and he's so, so close. He manages to get his feet under him and slowly, cautiously, forces himself upright. He's in the cold sunlight again, and the music's beating a molten drum cadence behind his eyes.
Loudspeakers blare over Dean's head, but he doesn't see them. His eyes scan the sidewalk, the curb, the street. His vision has grown so dark that even if something was there he wouldn't see it, but he keeps looking because if the music's here, home has to be here too.
"Sammy! Hey, bitch! I'm waiting, where are you?" His voice is harsh, gravelly, and his already overworked lungs strain to scream the words out over the music. Dean staggers up and down the sidewalk, calling for his brother, but no one's coming. His eyes dart to the street, but there's no familiar growl of an engine, no warmth and shelter waiting at the curb. They're not here. He's come so far and he's going to have to go further because it's not enough. It's never enough, and he turns back into the wind, ready to soldier on because he has to get to Sammy. There's a wailing noise assaulting his ears and it's trying to drown out the music, but that's okay this isn't really home anyway. Dean takes a few halting steps down the sidewalk before his eyes are caught by the police car that's speeding his way. The flashing, spinning lights are the last straw for his pounding skull and he's falling, head bouncing off the pavement, consciousness finally deserting him as the cops pull up beside his sprawled body.