Finding the Campbells is easier said than done.
Dean would say they were like ghosts, but ghosts stay put. Ghosts make the papers. Everything he hears about the Campbells— rumours, mostly, and even those are sparse— puts them all over the country, working a huge swath of jobs. After a month of chasing his own tail, Dean gives up tracking down the leads; by the time he hears anything, the Campbells have been weeks or months gone, and he doesn't want rumours about his search to beat him to the punch. Reluctantly, he turns his energy where it's needed most— hunting.
It takes him longer than it should to realize he's goodat it.
He works solo, which limits what he can take on even more than his age, so he narrows his focus to things that don't require impersonating law enforcement— home haunts, with a few urban legends come to life he can pass off as interesting to a novice reporter. The witnesses are the hardest part, but the hunt itself... well, Dean's a natural. His instincts are good, and Bill's training is better. All he has to do is buckle down and work, and all the monsters' secrets open themselves up to him. He almost never has to call Ellen, but he does anyway, her voice a comforting thrum through the receiver. Jo almost always sounds strained when Ellen hands the phone over, and Dean knows they're fighting, but neither of them will talk about it. Dean feels guilty, but he never offers to come home to mediate. Jo seems to always know when he's about to offer, and yells at him until he caves.
Ellen proves herself right; the job is about saving lives, and that's important enough to make the Campbells a side project, something to keep his eyes open for but not to run himself ragged over.
He's in Chicago, following what by all appearances is a hitchhiking siren, when he meets the Campbells again.
Dean's spent two months following the thing down the interstate, always just two steps and a body too slow, and if he hadn't found a witness who swore up and down there was a monster preying on men in his old hang out in Chicago, Dean would have given up when the thing hit the big city. Searching for a monster in a city is like looking for a wasp larvae in an ants nest, and the people tend to be just as unhelpful; they keep to themselves even if they know something, and so Dean much prefers to stick to the smaller towns.
Fuzeis the type of club Dean is uncomfortably familiar with, a long hall leading to a wide room filled with dark corners and hidden doorways. It's just crowded enough that if anyone wanted to work the crowd they'd be able to go without notice, slip out back or behind closed doors without drawing attention to themselves. He looks at the booths and the small dance floor, grabs a beer from the bar and sits himself down in one of the booths to watch the crowd. From his vantage point, everything seems normal; the dance floor is filled with groups of girls who drift off to dance with the men around them and then back, and the loud chatter of voices from all around him as people try to hold a conversation over the pound of music.
Dean knows this scene. A few years ago, he'd have snuck in and done something very similar, eyes keen for just the right combination of horny and rich. He recognizes the various types that parade themselves before his eyes; time's passed, but people are the same. He's sure there's some girls working the crowd, and he keeps his eyes peeled for them: if he's right, the siren will be pulling a lot of the same moves.
He drinks his beer slowly, but it's drained before Dean has seen anything note-worthy, so he ditches the booth and moves onto the dance floor. He doesn't like drinking on the job, but he can't sit for long without a drink and not expect trouble: the only people Dean's ever seen stay dry at a bar are either dancing or dealing, and he doesn't want to have to deal with a pissy bouncer if he doesn't have to.
The crowd parts for him like water, and the girls take notice immediately. They check him out from the corner of their eyes and the whispers turn to smiles and inviting looks almost immediately. Dean feels the attention of the men around him shift, too, and immediately starts performing the sort of awkward shuffle he's seen scare girls away all across the country. The attention fades, from both sides, and he's free to watch again.
He's spotted either a working girl or his target— a blonde, older, who's circling the crowd with keen eyes and a predator's walk— when he's distracted by the press of a hard body against his back.
Dean tenses, the crowd suddenly too close, and a pair of hands slide around his hips with a strong grip he knows could leave bruises. "I recognize you," purrs a voice into his ear, and the hand edges under the line of Dean's jeans. "You were so pretty, then— but you grew up nice, didn't you?"
The crowd is too close to step away but Dean forces it anyway, earning a curse and a dirty look from the pair of girls in front of him, but there's a solid foot between him and the man behind him when he turns around. It's a man— of course it's a man— old, dressed in a business suit. "I don't know you," Dean says, but he doesn't believe it himself. This man set off all of Dean's instincts, rich and just a little dangerous; willing to pay.
The John doesn't seem bothered by the distance Dean's created, just steps in close and lays his hands all over Dean again. "You need to get your eyes checked then, hm? Dean," he says, and it's filthy, and suddenly Dean feels like he's been dunked in a bucket of oil, like there's a film laid over his skin.
Off the dance floor, through the first door marked exit he sees, then around a corner toward the back of the building, the alley dark and quiet. There are a handful of cars, obviously belonging to the staff, crammed into the tiny lot. Dean ducks into a doorway and plants his hands against the wall and tries to catch his breath as his skin tingles with memories he refuses to acknowledge. He tastes salt on his tongue and spits on the ground, frantically, but the ghost-taste doesn't go away. He closes his eyes and bites his lip, hard, until the taste of copper fills his mouth and chases the other away.
He pushes the memories away with the taste and calms, then straightens. His gun is a comforting press in the small of his back and he reaches one hand back to touch it, then the knife strapped to the inside of his wrist. It's the first time he's encountered someone from Before, but he shouldn't have reacted the way he did. There was no threat, nothing but a reminder of where he came from, and Dean did nothing but confirm it by running away, and probably drew a lot of unwanted attention in the process. He takes a few deep, even breaths and steps out of the doorway and into the middle of a mugging.
There's a kid laid out flat on his back with a man perched on top of him, hands wrapped around his neck. The kid's face is red, and though he's struggling, his motions are clumsy and sluggish, obviously weak from the lack of air.
"Hey!" Dean calls, striding forward quickly. The kid's eyes widen and he waves his hand as though he wants Dean to mind his business, and the man perched on his chest twists toward Dean with a smirk on his face, his eyes a solid, inky black.
Dean jerks to a stop, but his gun is out an instant, shooting the man in the chest before he can think, What the fuck.
The man— monster— snarls and raises a hand toward Dean, and Dean goes flying back, lands hard on the ground a good ten feet away. His head is ringing, but he can hear what must be the kid, voice returned to him by Dean's distraction. His voice is quiet and hoarse, but it gets louder as he goes, as he spits out a string of what Dean distantly recognizes as Latin.
The reaction is immediate. Dean stares, shocked, as the he man with the black eyes screams, then throws his head back in agony. Black smoke explodes from the man's mouth and circles in the air, almost hesitating, but the kid starts speaking again, another long string of Latin, and the smoke shoots up, over the roof of the building and away. The body collapses to the ground with its exit, a broken pile of limbs with nothing left to animate it. Dean drags himself up and steps around the small puddle of blood growing around the body and approaches the kid, who's raised himself into a crouch and is rubbing his already red neck.
"Are you okay?" Dean asks, eyes flicking over the kid as he sweeps the parking lot for any further threat. There's nothing, just the faint hint of music from a window above them; they're alone.
"I'm fine," he answers, as Dean lowers his gun but doesn't put it away. He studies Dean intently and tilts his head. "Are you a hunter?" There's an undercurrent of excitement in his voice, and a shiver makes its way down Dean's spine to match. He's met a few hunters on the road, but they've all been— well, frankly, old.
"I am." Dean tucks his gun away and offers the kid a hand, then blinks when it's taken and the kid grows up, and up, and up. He's taller than Dean by maybe two inches, and skinny as a beanpole, like he's been stretched tall with not enough time to adjust. He's too young to have gotten into the club, and from his dress it's obvious he didn't even try. "What was that?" he asks, staring between the body and now-empty sky.
"Demon," the kid says. He runs a hand through his hair and rubs his neck again. He blinks, and his eyes focus in on Dean sharply as his eyes drag down Dean's body and then snap back up to his face. He licks his lips. "Thanks for saving me. I'm Sam." He sticks his hand out for Dean to shake, and his hand is clammy. There's dirt on his palm, and it digs into Dean's skin as they touch.
"Dean Winchester," he says, and pumps Sam's hand once, firmly.
Sam looks eager and his grip tightens on Dean's hand for a moment, but it fades and he lets go of Dean's hand, blinking wildly. He opens his mouth as though to speak, but then his eyes flick over Dean's shoulder and he jerks to attention.
"Sam!" a woman calls, and Dean twists around to see who's joined them.
It's the woman Dean had tagged as the siren, a gun in her hand, though Dean can't tell where it's come from; her clothes are so tight he should have seen it, inside. Adrenaline rushes through him and he steps back to keep both Sam and the woman in his sight.
"Who's she?" Dean asks, directing the question at Sam but keeping his eyes on the woman.
She's drawn close enough that she can hear Dean's words, and she answers Dean's question herself. "I'm Mary Campbell," she says.
She keeps talking, but Dean doesn't hear. There's blood rushing in his ears, and his focus has narrowed in on her, everything else fallen away. She doesn't look how Dean expected. He doesn't know whathe expected, he'd never asked, but— she looks like Jo. Or like he imagines Jo would, when she's older. She's blonde, athletic, with the same intense, focused look he's seen on the faces of hunters from around the country. There's nothing about her to tip Dean off to the fact that she would get her partner killed.
The burning pit of hollow anger that's lived inside Dean for most of his life, directionless for so long, doesn't seem to care about that. It swells up and before he quite realizes what he's doing, he's stepped forward and is taking a swing at her.
It's not a calculated move, all instinct and rage, and there's a voice that sounds like Bill at the back of Dean's mind already critiquing his technique. Campbell sees the punch coming and easily ducks out of the way, her body leaning away in a practiced, flexible roll, and Dean twists himself back toward her, even though he hasn't regained his balance. Campbell takes the opening and knocks Dean's legs out from under him with one swipe of her leg.
Dean lands hard on the ground, ready to roll, but Campbell throws herself down on top of him, one of her knees digging hard into the base of his ribcage, right over the delicate bone at the joint. She slams her forearm into his neck and he freezes as he struggles to draw in a breath; Campbell just lets her weight fall onto him more firmly, the weight on his larynx an undeniable danger. "Who are you?" she asks, eyes narrowing down on him.
She doesn't move her arm and Dean doesn't have enough air to reply, but Sam pops up from the sidelines. "That's Dean Winchester." On top of him, Campbell gives a full body jerk like she recognizes the name and then slowly, deliberately, climbs off him. There's a strange look in her eyes, and Dean hopesshe recognizes the name— hopes she knows that Dean's here to make her answer the questions she left for his family four years ago.
"Pleasure to meet you." It's an obvious lie. Dean's maybe being a little heavy on the eye contact, too-hostile, but he can't just turn off the anger he feels as he stands. "I've spent a good amount of time trying to find you." Dean flicks his eyes at Sam. "You a Campbell, too?"
Sam opens his mouth to reply but Campbell gets there first. "He is. And I did hear you were looking. Too bad for you, our family doesn't come running any time some two-bit hunter has a bone to pick with us."
The barb stings, and Dean straightens. "I'm not just some two-bit hunter. Bill was my family, and he died when he was with you. You think that little note you wrote meant anything? It didn't even say what killed him!" Campbell flinches at the mention of the letter, and Dean is filled with a grim sort of pleasure at her obvious guilt.
From the corner of his eye, Dean can see Sam; he's watching Campbell with a half-angry, half-expectant expression on his face. He swings his gaze over to Dean. "Bill Harvelle?" he asks, obviously looking for clarification.
"They were on a hunt together," Dean confirms. "I think it's safe to say that she came home, but we never even got to see his body."
"There wasn't much of a body left to see," Campbell says. She's shut the guilt away, and her words are distant, cold— but she's not looking at either of them, staring off into some scene only she can see. "I burned the rest." Her eyes focus in on Dean. "Would you rather I have brought him to you, give his spirit a chance to manifest?"
Dean only realizes he's clenched his teeth when he they unclamp as he replies, "No. But you should have talked to us. How would you feel if you found out from a letter that someone you loved had died? Didn't you owe it to Ellen to talk to her face to face? Didn't you owe it to Bill?"
Campbell spends a long moment staring at him, her eyes tracking over his features. Even Sam's started to shift in place, impatient, when she answers. "It wouldn't have been safe for me to come myself. I was still being followed."
Dean narrows his eyes. "Followed by what?"
Campbell hesitates, and Sam takes the opportunity to speak. "Demons." He's looking at Dean, but he switches his gaze to Campbell. "It was demons, wasn't it? It's always demons." His mouth is twisted in a moue of distaste, and he ducks his head so his too-long bangs cover his eyes.
Campbell sighs. "Yes." She turns her eyes on Dean with a sudden, intense focus. "Our family specializes in them— they like to play cat and mouse with us." She grins, her teeth bared fiercely. "We prefer to be the cat."
"And Bill got caught in the middle." He looks at Sam. "The demon that was attacking you— that's just normal?"
Sam raises his head to speak but Campbell beats him to the punch again. "So there wasa demon attacking you," she says, relief an inexplicable undertone to her voice.
"There was." An all-too familiar expression of teenage petulance comes over Sam's face, a forceful reminder of his youth; he can't be much older than Jo. "You know the spell works, so what were you expecting?" he asks her, an old argument brought into the open.
Interesting content, for an argument. "Spell?" Dean asks.
Campbell ignores him. "It's far from perfect; if it had changed," her eyes flick to Dean, "I would want to know about it."
"What spell, Campbell?" Dean asks, taking an aggressive step forward.
Campbell's breath hitches, and her face shuts down cold. "That's family business."
Dean really doesn't want to take any more of this family business bullshit. "You made it my business when you got Bill involved."
"He's right, Mom," Sam says, and Dean blinks. For some reason, he hadn't made the connection. He'd never thought of Mary Campbell having her own children. Sam steps toward Dean and rests one hand heavily on his shoulder, a casual point of contact that makes Dean want to step away. "I'm sorry she didn't say it to you, but Mom's talked to the family about Bill a few times. What you just saw, that happened to him. He helped Mom get away from a demon, and the next day she found his body." He's turned to Campbell now, but he angles himself back toward Dean, the motion pressing him to Dean's side. "He'll have to come with us." He says it like an ultimatum, absolutely sure of himself.
Dean can't decipher the expression on Campbell's face, but she nods, slowly. "It would be safer." It seems too easy. It is too easy. Dean doesn't believe in easy.
He takes a small step away from Sam, so they're no longer pressed against one another. "I'm not some lapdog that'll come just because you called."
Sam rolls his eyes at him. "You were just asking to be included," he points out, and Dean's annoyed to realize he's right. He's just gotten everything he wanted handed to him: a connection to the Campbells and though them, a way to get justice for Bill. But it istoo easy, too perfect. "You're here because of the murder cases, right?" Sam continues, oblivious to Dean's line of thought. "Well, so are we. We'll start there and pool our resources."
Despite his trepidation, Dean forces himself to volunteer his information. Suspicious circumstances or no, if he's going to work with them he'll have to at least seem willing to share. "It's a siren." he says, "I've been able to track its trail back to Wisconsin. It's been moving fast, and I don't know how long it'll stay in town."
"Not a demon?" Sam asks, looking at Campbell rather than Dean.
Campbell tilts her head, the blue of her eyes just visible through the pale fan of her lashes. "It could be a siren. Gwen did the research, and we haven't had a chance to talk to anyone yet. All of the reports talked about this drive to hurt people, but that isn't specific enough to tell." She looks at Dean, her face indecipherable. "There's no way to know for sure. We've already met a demon here, and I'm not going to put you at risk. Are you staying close by?"
"Good." Campbell takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders. "Let's go get your stuff. I'll pay for the room." She says it like it's only just occurred to her and she likes the idea, like she's doing Dean a favour.
"I don't want your charity." He crosses his arms and scowls at her.
Her lip quirks up and she smiles, though she looks sad. "I'm asking a lot from you. I only think it's fair. In the morning I'll go to the police station and arrange a blood sample."
"Ash can make sure it's done as a rush job," Dean says. It'll be just the excuse he needs to step out and call the Roadhouse, and hopefully talk to Jo. Ash is a new feature in their lives, and this will be the first time Dean will have made use of his services; if his work is as useful as his mere presence in the house, Dean is going to buy him a beer on his next trip home.
Campbell raises her eyebrow but says nothing in reply. She steps up to Sam and straightens the collar of his jacket. "I'm going inside to get my coat. You'll be okay on your own?"
Sam looks mortified, eyes flashing over toward Dean, and he waves her away from him. "I'll be fine." He's blushing, Dean is bemused to note. It's cute.
Campbell frowns at him but nods and turns to go back into the club. "I'll meet you back at the car," she says. "Dean, we'll stop by your hotel to get your stuff first."
Dean bristles under the order but agrees. It isn't so much that he thinks all her precautions are necessary, but Dean's willing to let go of a little personal freedom if it means he gets to keep Mary Campbell in his sights for longer. Campbell disappears around the corner and Sam and Dean are alone.
"I don't like this," Sam says.
Dean blinks at him, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"My mom." He's still staring after her. "Something's off." He glances at Dean through his lowered lashes, head tilted down to do it because of his height. "No offense, but it should have taken a lot more than my word alone to make her agree to work with you, let alone drag you to our motel. Something's up."
Dean can feel his brow crinkling in confusion. "Guilt?" he suggests.
"No," Sam says slowly. He pauses, as though reconsidering the thought, then shakes his head. "No, something else. I just don't know what." He's talking to Dean like it's the most normal thing in the world to share this kind of information, taking him into his confidence like Dean's earned it.
"Possession?" Dean suggests, only half-joking.
Sam doesn't laugh, though. "She's got a tattoo— so do I— that makes that impossible." He grins. "I designed it myself," he says proudly, eyes eager on Dean as he speaks.
"And it works?" It is impressive: Bill had once tried to teach Dean and Jo something about creating their own protection sigils, but neither of them had taken to it. It's a complicated, delicate art, which didn't suit Dean one bit.
"Perfectly," Sam says, grinning. He goes into an enthusiastic description of the research he had to do to get the design just right, all waving hands and barely-contained energy. The atmosphere is easy, and Dean finds himself smiling despite himself. They've just met, but conversation between them feels easy, in a way Dean's only ever had with family. It sends a shiver of unease down Dean's spine. Sam's young, and young people can make mistakes, but Dean feels it too. Feels like he can trust Sam. That's dangerous.
"Can I see it?" Dean interrupts Sam to ask.
Inexplicably, Sam blushes. "Sure," he croaks. He shrugs out of his jacket and just as he's unbuttoning his shirt to Dean's wide-eyed surprise, Campbell is back. She's wearing a black leather jacket that hugs every one of her curves.
"Show him your tattoo later," she says to Sam. She jerks her head toward the parking lot. "We should get going."
Sam coughs and puts his jacket back on. The movements are awkward and jerky, a complete contrast to the ease he'd shown when taking it off.
He dawdles between walking with Campbell or Dean but eventually shakes himself and falls into step with Dean.
"You're getting along well," Campbell says neutrally, not bothering to look back at them, her voice floating back to their ears on the wind.
Dean hunches in on himself and says nothing. He's not too sure Campbell approves of Sam showing so much interest in him.
Sam touches his elbow and says, "I've always gotten along well with hunters from outside the family. Someone needs to, after all," he says, pointedly.
Campbell looks back over her shoulder at them, her expression indecipherable, then turns forward again. "You might be right."
She stops beside a dark blue Firebird, one of the classic models— something from the early third generation, though Dean can't pinpoint the year. "Which one's you?" she asks, scanning the lot for a likely target.
Dean points to his car, the old Datsun Ellen gave him when he left. He hadn't been able to give it up, despite how ugly it was. It was Ellen's car— a car Bill had driven on occasion— and Ellen had said she'd understood when Dean asked to keep it, the smile in her voice audible even over the phone. Sam makes a faint noise of surprise and then coughs, earning a disapproving look from Campbell.
"We'll follow," she says, the order clear.
Dean keeps his trap shut, just walks to his car and gets in. The radio's set to country, and he taps his finger on the wheel to the beat idly as he pulls out and makes the short drive toward his motel. Lucky for him, Fuzeis just inside the city limits; Dean doesn't like the feel of being deep inside a big city, and it means there were a few only moderately sleazy motels open for his patronage. He pulls into the parking lot of the Magic Fingers Motel and rolls the car to a stop in front of his room.
He's just pulled out his room key when Campbell pulls her Firebird into the lot and then climbs out of the car. She's white-faced and tense, and Dean stops where he is at the sight of her.
"What's wrong?" he calls to her.
"You're staying here?" she asks, hoarse.
Dean's brows crinkle and he nods. "So?" he asks. Did she think he'd be staying at the Ritz?
Campbell pulls out a key from her pocket that matches the one in Dean's hand. "So are we."
That's not good. Sam's climbed out of the Firebird and is staring at Dean over the top of it. "What does that mean?" he asks, shaken.
Campbell looks grim. "We're being set up." She tosses the key over the hood of car at Sam, who grabs it out of the air easily. "Get our stuff. We're relocating." She stares at Dean, hard. "You too."
Dean's not sure he's down with this plan at all— there's doubtful coincidence and then there's walking into an episode of the X-Files— but he doesn't want to stay here anymore than Campbell seems to. He ducks into his room and gathers his things, stuffing his bag fast and neat.
By the time he steps outside, Sam's back, two matching duffel bags clutched in his hands with white knuckles. He throws them into the back seat of the Firebird and says nothing, eyes worried.
Campbell watches Dean toss his own bag into his car and then comes forward and holds out a flask of holy water for Dean. "Drink it," she orders, eyes locked onto Dean's. Dean raises the flask to his lips. "Christo," Campbell says, and Dean forces himself not to blink as he takes his first swallow.
"You satisfied, Campbell?" he says as he lowers it from his lips.
Campbell relaxes and shakes herself. She sends a small, tight smile at Dean. "I had to be sure," she says by way of explanation.
Dean nods. "It's better to be safe," he agrees.
Sam comes around from the other side of the Firebird, turning the standoff between Dean and Campbell into a triangle. "Where are we gonna go?" he asks. There's something in his voice that calls to the lost feeling digging at Dean— the utter uncertainty of what to do when faced with a situation he's never had to deal with before.
Campbell is there to take up the slack. "Another motel, for now. We'll batten down, make sure we're safe for the night. In the morning I'll see what I can turn up." Campbell turns toward Dean before he can say anything. "You'll be staying with Sam when I go, make sure he's safe."
"He can't take care of himself?" Dean asks skeptically, looking at Sam. Sam's not big, but he must weigh at least as much as Dean with his extra height.
Mary bites her lip and takes a deep breath. "The demons... they're fixated on Sam, for some reason." Her eyes are heavy on Dean. "I won't risk my son. Not for anything."
Dean makes a show of his reluctant nod, but part of him is glad. Spending time with Sam is easy; he's not sure what it would be like to spend time alone with Campbell, even on a hunt.
He gets into his car, and stretches just slightly out the window. "You got a place in mind?" he asks.
Campbell nods, eyes distant. "Follow us." She hesitates and rests one hand on the car door, strangely close . "And Dean— call me Mary. Please." There's a strange note of uncertainty in her voice.
Dean blinks, and nods. "Mary," he says obediently.
She smiles at him and taps the door before withdrawing. Dean follows her path back to the Firebird and then turns his eyes to Sam, who's lingering between the cars. He's looking at Dean with this confused, frustrated expression on his face. When he sees Dean looking back he ducks his head and smiles, eyes flicking toward his mom in the car in a moment of silent explanation.
Dean doesn't know Mary Campbell enough to know what's strange and what's not, but he trusts Sam's instincts, as inexplicable as that is. He'll be keeping his eyes open.
Dean insists on getting his own room, despite Campbell— Mary's— protests. He likes his space, and more than that, he won't get any sleep at all if they all stay in the same room. The expression of dismay on Mary and Sam's faces are so acutely identical it's funny, and he agrees to Mary setting up a few more complex protection charms around his room than he knows how to do.
It's late enough that the hush of the night has seeped in when there's a knock on the door.
He's stripped down to the black T-Shirt he wore to the club and has just finished washing up for bed, and he dries his face before he goes to answer it.
"Dean?" comes Sam's voice, disembodied and strange. "You in there?"
Dean rolls his eyes and opens the door. Sam's hand is raised as though to knock again, and when he sees Dean, he swallows once, hard. "Yeah, I'm here. What's up?" He steps back so Sam can join him inside; the night air is cold on his bare chest, but as Sam passes, a wave of warmth trails in his wake.
"My mom's feeling edgy, she's gone out to do a sweep of the area." He rolls his eyes like that kind of over-active paranoia is just another Momthing for her to do.
Dean waves at Sam to sit down and takes a seat on his own bed when Sam sits on the other. It's a small room, and Sam's right knee just touches Dean's when he spreads his legs out. Dean can't bring himself to move away, and Sam's eyes brighten.
"She seems convinced you're in danger," Dean says. He makes his hands lay relaxed between his legs instead of fidgeting like he wants.
Sam shrugs, like it's normal. "It's not all paranoia. I've been attacked more than most members of my family combined, and I've only been leaving the compound for a year."
"You lived on a compound?" he asks skeptically, frowning.
Sam ducks his head and nods, raising one hand to rub at the back of his neck. "All the Campbell kids do. There's too many of us to live in a house."
It's a foreign concept, the idea of having so much family they couldn't fit in between four square walls. "Huh." He coughs. "You've been hunting for a year?"
Sam makes a so-sogesture. "I've been on the road with my Mom for a year. We start training from a young age; it feels like I've been doing this my whole life, sometimes." He smiles at Dean, his teeth bright white. "What about you? You knew Bill Harvelle?" he asks, then his eyes widen, like he realizes what a sensitive question that could be. "I mean— I never met him, but Mom used to talk about him." He gave Dean another smile, helpless. "Mom doesn't have a lot of friends outside the family, and she... she really cared about Bill, I think."
Dean didn't know what to do with any of that. "Bill adopted me," he settled on eventually. "Trained me. I've been out on my own for the last four years."
Sam ducks his head, acknowledging the date. "I've never met another hunter my own age who wasn't a Campbell," he offers. He presses his knee more firmly into Dean's. "My family's kind of xenophobic. I've always hated it."
The conversation falls out of Dean's mind, and he shifts his knee away, awkward. "I don't— you don't have to thank me for saving you." The words feel sour in his mouth. He feels cold, suddenly.
Sam frowns. "That's not what I was doing," he says, the confusion evident in his voice. "I." He cleared his throat and red creeps up his neck. "I just like touching you." His ears are bright red. "Like that."
Dean blinks. "But you can't," he says, like it's obvious. "You're good."
Sam's brows are furrowed in confusion. "What does that mean?"
Sickness roils in Dean's stomach as he realizes what he's said, and he shifts his body away from Sam's, shoulders hunched. "It doesn't matter. You're what— eighteen? I remember eighteen. It's all," he waves his hands vaguely, "Hormones and being kept in with just family."
"You don't know me well enough to know what I want," Sam says, scowling. He leans forward aggressively and pulls Dean back around by his shoulder. "I was barely touching you. If you don't like it, then all you have to do is say so."
"I just don't want you doing something you'll regret because you feel obligated," Dean says. He leaves the question of whether or not he wants it unanswered; it's something he's never had to think about. Other than the Harvelles, he's never wanted to touch or be touched by anyone. Even now, Sam's hands on him feel normal, feel right, but that doesn't mean anything.
"Why would you even think that?" Sam asks, like he's honestly confused. He reaches out to Dean and then draws his hand back, frustrated. "I just want to touch you."
Dean closes off. "I'm not going to talk about that with you," he says, and he doesn't care how strange it sounds. He might trust Sam far too much for having just met him, but he's not about to go spilling his guts to him.
Lost in his thoughts, Dean doesn't notice the expression of determination replace the anger on Sam's face. His hand shifts from Dean's shoulder to his face, gentle. "Well I'm going to make it clear for you' obligation doesn't feel like this," he says, leans in and presses his lips to Dean's.
Dean opens his automatically, but his eyes are wide open and startled. Sam's are closed, and so close, and his hand reaches around to curl into the short hair at the back of Dean's head, gentle. Dean closes his eyes. Lets it happen.
Sam's not an amazing kisser. He presses a little too close, and he tilts his head too far, so his cheek sits too close to Dean's nose and cuts off his air. Dean tilts his head into a better position and reaches up to grip Sam's shoulder as he kisses back.
Sam takes that for the permission it might as well be and surges against Dean at that, propelled off his bed and into Dean. He sneaks his tongue into Dean's mouth, angling Dean's head back just slightly with his grip on his hair. Dean sucks in a sharp breath through his nose and sucks, just once, on Sam's tongue. Sam gives off this little sound of desperate hunger and draws back, mouth wet and panting.
Dean is wide-eyed and his mouth is just slightly tender, his skin highly sensitized. He liked the kiss, he's surprised to note. He's got goose bumps, the hair standing up straight and light from his arms, but it's good. He's almost shocked at how presenthe feels; none of his internal alarms have been set off, and his thoughts are free from the shadow that had dogged him the night before at the club.
Sam removes his hands from Dean's hair like he's been burnt and stares at Dean eagerly. His leg bounces like it's on a spring for two seconds before it stills with the deliberateness of a forced stop. "Well?" he asks, finally.
Dean licks his lips. "That didn't feel like obligation," he admits. He doesn't know why Sam would want him, but he can't deny that he does.
Sam's brow furrows and he nods. His hands are pressed to the tops of his thighs. "Well. That's good." He bites his lip and ducks his head, suddenly looking small and unsure. "Did you like it?" he asks, hesitantly.
Dean blinks. "Oh. I." He coughs. "I did, yeah." It's strange; none of his Johns ever asked if he liked it, even when they were telling him he did.
Sam perks up and grins, so bright and wide. "Good. That's good." He's blushing, just a little, and when he stands his hands hang by his sides awkwardly. "I've got to go," he says. He reaches toward Dean's face quickly, like he can't help it, and touches the skin just under Dean's bottom lip. He makes a small sound of hunger and withdraws. "My Mom'll be back soon."
Dean finds himself smiling. "Sneaking out, huh? Trying to make up for the strange childhood by acting out all the teenage stereotypes, now?"
Sam smiles back; he looks relieved and slightly goofy. Like he's smitten. It makes Dean feel warm. "I guess." He leans down and gives Dean a quick kiss and steps back toward the door. "Don't forget to redraw the salt line," he warns. He casts one look back at Dean as he closes the door, and then he's gone.
Dean stands up and locks the door behind him, and stands with his forehead pressed against it for a long moment. He doesn't know what he's doing, doesn't know what Sam is doing. He adjusts himself with his left hand, absently, decides he doesn't care. It feels good, and Dean doesn't have enough things in his life that feel good to chase them away.
Dean wakes the next morning to the sound of Sam's knock on his door. He rubs a hand roughly over his face as he lets Sam in, accepting the cup of coffee Sam holds out as a peace offering. "What're you doing up so early?" Dean grumps. The coffee is hot on his tongue but he drinks it down quickly, grateful for the caffeine.
Sam rolls his eyes and takes a sip from his own cup. "My mom's off tracking down a lead and doesn't trust me to be alone."
Dean puts his coffee down on the night table and sits down to rummage through his duffle for clothes. "Do you think that's really necessary? Nothing happened last night."
Sam sighs, pacing the small length of the room with restless energy. "I don't know. She has good instincts."
Dean grunts in agreement sniffs his shirt. "You wanna go get some breakfast?" he asks. He stands and pulls on a pair of jeans over his boxers, then switches his sleep shirt out for the fresh one. Sam is staring at him when he pushes his head through the neck hole, mouth hanging open slightly.
Sam blinks, and takes a sip of his coffee. "Hungry," he croaks, then clears his throat. "Yeah, I'm hungry. You got a place in mind?"
Dean nods. "There's a diner just two streets over I went to yesterday. Good omelettes."
They toss their empty coffee cups and leave. Mary's taken the Firebird, so they both squeeze into Dean's Datsun. Sam looks crowded even with his seat pushed all the way back, and Dean shoots him an apologetic shrug as they pull out of the parking lot.
"We should go after the siren while my mom's out," Sam says suddenly, eyes staring vaguely out the front of the car.
Dean shoots him a look as he pulls into the parking lot in front of Rose's Diner. It's small and faintly dirty looking from the outside, but the distinct blend of breakfast smells that surrounded it draws Dean in just like it did the first time. "I called Ash last night," he says. "We might be able to talk our way into a blood sample if we say we're just picking it up." The IDs Ash makes are second to none, and Dean's never been spotted out for their quality; his age, especially with Sam in tow, would pose more of a problem.
Sam climbs out of the car and stretches, his body long and lean as he reaches toward the sky. The sun has been up for an hour and the air is clear, still chilly from the night. "Who's Ash?" he asks as he falls out of the stretch.
Dean can't help the frown that tugs at his lips. "He's a stray Ellen picked up on one of her hunts; he's a computer whizz, been helping us out with the research the last few months."
Sam nods like that means something to him and reaches out to hold the door for Dean when they reach the diner. Dean rolls his eyes and goes inside, Sam a warm shadow at his back. "You any good with computers?" Sam asks as they slide into the booth.
Dean shakes his head, and they continue with the idle small talk until the waitress comes to their table and takes their orders. Once she leaves, Sam settles down. "There wasn't a murder last night, I checked first thing. It's been three days, now. If it's a siren, it'll be back tonight." He's different when he's talking about hunting, more serious. It's the same way he looked when he was talking with Dean last night, Dean realizes with a flutter of nerves in his stomach.
"Unless it's moved again," Dean points out easily. "Ash made it a rush job, but the police don't always cooperate with anonymous orders from above."
Sam nods, but doesn't say anything as their food arrives. They eat, talking quietly all the while. They've finished formulating their plan for that night by the time they've finished their meals, and Dean waves away Sam's attempt to pay for their food. They're strolling toward the door, strides long and bellies full, when Sam stumbles.
They're walking single file to leave the diner, Dean in front, but he's twisted around to speak to Sam when Sam trips on nothing and falls to one knee. He's got a hand clamped to his head and his face is twisted in agony.
"Sam!" Dean barks out, and spins all the way around to see what got the other hunter. There's nothing, only the concerned faces of the other diners, and Dean reaches out a hand to touch Sam's shoulder. "Sam, what's wrong?"
Sam doesn't reply for a long moment, eyes squeezed shut. Wetness is gathered at the edge of his eyes and his jaw is tight, a muscle ticking wildly in his cheek. "It's— Mom," he grits out eventually.
"Mary?" Dean says dumbly.
Sam blinks his eyes open, and they're bloodshot, pupils dilated with his pain. "We've gotta go," he says, and struggles to his feet. Dean steadies him with a grip on his shoulders and looks around at the other diners with wide, shocked eyes, but hustles Sam out of the diner obediently. He props Sam against the door of his Datsun and shakes his head when Sam takes a deep breath and climbs in.
"What was that?" Dean asks as he climbs into the car, adrenaline still running fast and hard through his veins.
Sam's hunched over in his seat, one hand rubbing hard at his temples. He's quiet, but sighs as the silence continues. "We need to go to the harbour," he says.
Dean gives him an incredulous look, but starts the car and pulls out anyway. "So?" he asks when Sam doesn't elaborate.
Sam bites his lip and draws in a quick, shuddering breath, before he squares his shoulders and turns his face toward Dean. "I'm psychic," he says, simply.
Dean almost laughs, it sounds so cliché. "Psychic," he repeats. Then he frowns. It does make sense. "Is that why you've got demons chasing after you?" His mind is whirling, putting pieces together fast and easy now that this last bit of the puzzle is out in the open.
Sam studies Dean's face before he replies, slowly. "No. No, not as far as we can tell. We've found other psychic kids, and most of them have never even heard of demons. The older ones I've talked to have all agreed that I'm unusual." He pauses. "I'm convinced Mom knows why. She put me under this protection spell when I was four years old, before I was ever attacked." He looks tired and drawn, like the words have haunted his own thoughts in the way Dean feels they'll haunt his.
Dean taps the wheel, mulling it over. "So what happened in the diner?"
Sam closes his eyes and leans his face against the passenger window. "I had a vision." He sounds tired, like the pain hasn't fully left him.
"A vision?" Dean prompts.
Sam makes a small noise of agreement. "I can see things before they happen, sometimes. They've gotten stronger, clearer, in the last year." He hesitates. "It's why we're here at all," he admits. "I saw that something important would happen here, though I couldn't see what." He bites his lip. "I thought maybe I supposed to meet you, but now... I'm not sure."
Dean pushes the pedal more firmly toward the floor. "Maybe it's both," he mutters, off hand. "What did you see?"
Sam leans his head back against the car seat and closes his eyes. "My mom, hurt. A warehouse. Fire."
Dean's silent, waiting for him to continue. But Sam doesn't say anything, so Dean asks, "Was it demons?"
Sam gives a short, angry bark of laughter. "Of course it is. It's always demons."
Dean can't make himself continue the conversation after that, and Sam is pale and quiet in the seat beside him. The factories around the harbour rise up around them and Dean throws a glance at Sam. "Where am I going?"
Sam sits up and stares out the front of the car. "Straight. Number thirty-six." Dean keeps an eye on the numbers of the buildings they pass, old brass with lines of red rust dripping down from them. He stops the car a half mile away and shifts it into park and cuts the engine, climbing out. The air smells dirty, unnaturally full of ozone, like burnt metal.
"You got a plan?" he asks, squinting toward a pillar of smoke in the distance. Bingo.
Sam climbs out the car and shields his eyes against the glare of the sun, just rising above the arched rooftops around them. "Go in, get her out. Hope we're not too late."
It's not the sort of plan Dean was hoping for. He goes around to the back of his car and pops the trunk, frowning at his supplies. He grabs a flask of holy water and tosses another to Sam. "You'd better be quick with the exorcisms. That demon didn't even blink when I shot it."
Sam gives a grim little nod and tucks the holy water away. He grabs a shotgun from Dean's trunk without asking and heads off. Dean grabs a Bowie knife and makes sure the safety's on on his handgun and follows. They turn past the edge of the nearest factory and Sam falters and then breaks into a run with a curse. The smoke is coming from a car across the lot from them, black and ruined. It's lopsided from where the back tires have blown apart, huge swatches of the paint burned off to expose the steel framework. Dean recognizes it right away as Mary's Firebird, and follows in Sam's wake on quick, quiet feet. When he gets close enough, he can see that the car is surrounded by broken glass, and the guts of the engine have been ripped out and are spilling out from the hood of the car. There fire is mostly out, though the inside of the car is still glowing a dull, sinister red. The smoke is thick around the car, but Dean can still see the number of the building behind it, a predictable thirty-six.
"She's already inside," Sam says in a tight, strained voice. His eyes take in the car without surprise, and Dean knows he's still this all before. "We need to move fast."
An explosion rocks through them before Dean can reply, but they recover and are running toward the factory without a word. The windows of the building have been blown out, and familiar black smoke is billowing out from them, completely unlike the smoke that still rises off the Firebird. Dean keeps pace with Sam as he yells, "What the fuck was that?"
Sam's voice is dark with worry when he answers, "That was my mom—probably cast a spell. That many demons, you couldn't pull off an exorcism." He falls silent as they reach the factory doors, and jerks his head at Dean to cover him from the other side. He stands to the side and pulls the door open slowly, the creases in his face deepening in worry. He looks old, and strangely resigned, even as he pushes his way inside.
Dean covers Sam's back instinctively, and only thinks briefly about the trust Sam has shown him to put Dean at his back. They go in fast and hard, but even as Dean flicks his eyes around the corners of the space, he can see they've missed the party. It's mostly empty, a few broken crates the only thing to break the void, and it's quiet in the way things get when there's just been a storm of noise.
Dean's still scanning the scene when Sam makes a low, broken sound and runs toward the crates. Dean follows, but when he sees what set Sam off he slows to a crawl. Propped up against one of the crates in the middle of what looks like a Devil's Trap painted in blood, lays Mary Campbell.
She's not in good shape. She's pale, her eyes sunken into her face and a thin trail of blood leaking out of her mouth, nose, ears. She's got an arm cradled around her front like she's holding herself together with it, and when Sam drops to his knees in front of her, the hand she reaches up toward his face is visibly shaking. Sam is like a slightly healthier mirror, pale and sickly looking.
Sam cradles her hand between his own, and the blood smears over them wetly. He brings it up to his face and holds it against his cheek. "Mom," he says, voice broken as her body.
"Baby," Mary says, and her eyes are happy through the pain. "You got here fast."
Sam smiles, and tears fall from his face to wash away the blood on their hands. "Dean drove me." He flicks his eyes toward Dean, and nausea twists Dean's stomach when Mary Campbell's eyes rest on him and sharpen, the vagueness that had taken over falling away.
"Oh," she says quietly, almost surprised. Her eyes flick between Dean and Sam a few times and she puffs out a harsh breath, a blood bubble swelling from one of her nostrils. It bursts, sending a tiny spray of blood over what's left of the clear skin of her face. "It's lucky you're here." With those words, her hand snaps out past Sam and grabs a fistful of Dean's shirt, dragging him toward her. Dean lands awkwardly in his attempt not to crush her beneath his weight. Mary doesn't seem concerned with his comfort; she rips apart Dean's shirt with shocking strength and then looks up to meet his eyes. "You have a knife?" she says, as though it's a completely normal question.
"Mom?" Sam asks. Dean keeps his eyes on Mary's, and slowly pulls his knife out from his boot sheath. He flips it over and offers it to her handle first.
Her hand is trembling, but she curls it around the handle of the knife tight. "I'm going to die," she tells Dean calmly. Sam makes a small sound of denial, but Mary ignores him. "When I do, all the protections I have on Sam go with me. He'll be vulnerable, and more than likely dead before he can get to safety. You don't want that, do you, Dean?"
Dean shakes his head dumbly. Mary smiles, relief and some strange satisfaction painted over his face. "Good. That's good. I can," her breath stutters and she coughs, catching Dean with the spray of blood. Her lips are a bright red cut across her face. "I can switch the spell's anchor from me to you. It'll tie you together. Keep him safe." Her eyes snap over to Sam. "Keep you both safe."
Dean frowns and looks at Sam, whose white-faced silence says it all. He's afraid. His mother is dying, and with her, his safety net against the demons that have haunted his family for years. He looks terribly young, so unsure, and he's looking at Dean like Dean can save him. Like Dean already hassaved him.
Dean licks his dry lips and turns back to Mary. "Do it," he says. She smiles, and she looks proud, like Dean's her prodigal son and just proved himself to her. She tightens her grip on the knife and pressed it just below the jut of Dean's collarbone, and draws it along the skin of his chest slowly. Dean's always been one to care for his weapons, and his knife is razor sharp; his skin splits with minimal pain, only a strange, familiar sting. Mary lowers the knife and reaches out with her left hand to smear the blood on Dean's chest with her fingertips. Head craned down to look, Dean watches Mary draw a sigil into his skin. He can't see the whole thing, but it looks strangely familiar. Before Dean has a chance to study it, Mary cuts her hand and presses against the mark on his chest in one smooth, practiced motion.
Light bursts into being between them, so bright Dean can't look directly at it, so bright he can't see Mary through its glare. He tries to flinch away but can't; he's frozen in place, pinned down. For a long moment, he can't breathe, and then the light condenses, and pressure builds on his chest, trying to crush his ribcage. It finds the hollow, dark place inside him and fills it up, hot and bright, like love, like come. He tries to make a sound of protest when the paralyzing force on his limbs breaks, and he goes flying backward, hitting Sam in the process and taking him down with him. His body feels hot where it touches Sam's.
Sam catches himself first and helps ease Dean back into a sitting position, but freezes when he looks over at his mother. Dean blinks the spots of out his eyes and follows Sam's gaze. Mary has collapsed down onto her side; she looks thin, like the life has been sucked out of her by the spell. Sam scrambles toward her and grips her shoulders. "Mom?" he asks, frantically.
Mary opens her eyes and blinks up at Sam, and smiles. She whispers Sam's name, so quiet Dean can barely hear, and then closes her eyes. The air takes on the faint, chill quality of a room filled with spirits. It's quiet, and eventually Dean realizes it's because he's holding his breath: he releases it in a whooshof air, breaking the artificial hush. He turns his face away as Sam ducks his head into his mother's neck and sobs wrack their way through his too-thin frame, a belated attempt to give them privacy.
Eventually, Sam quiets. Dean looks over his shoulder to see Sam bowed over his mother, one hand spread over her face. When he draws it back Dean sees that her eyelids have been closed, and she looks to be at the best kind of peace a hunter could hope for. Dean slides his eyes back to Sam, who straightens his shoulders from his hunch.
"We're gonna have to light her," Dean says eventually, when Sam doesn't make a move. His voice is quiet, but fills the space between them easily. He feels hyper-aware of Sam's presence, like the room can only be warm with Sam in sight.
Sam nods and raises his head. His lips are pressed together so hard they've turned pale, and Dean can't quite resist the urge to reach out and touch his shoulder. Sam leans into the touch from a moment and then pushes up from his crouch. "There's salt in your car, right?" he asks, voice hoarse.
"Yeah," Dean answers. He withdraws his hand and clenches it a few times to work out the faint tingle the contact with Sam brought. "You want me to get it?"
Sam turns his head to the side, and the mask he's put over his pain is obvious as it breaks apart for a moment. "Please," he whispers. He turns back to Dean and catches his eyes. "Thank you."
An old, dirty part of Dean curls up under the gaze, trying to draw back, breaking through the happy haze. "Don't thank me," he says. "I couldn't— " His first though when he saw the blood was that it was strangely fitting, for Mary Campbell to die on Dean's hunt, just like Bill died with her. "Don't thank me."
Sam nods, and Dean makes the trip to the car on autopilot, mind whirling with the seemingly endless possibilities spread out before him. He passes the burnt out husk of the Firebird, the sight of it slamming home that Sam is stuck with Dean, now. There's a warm burn spreading itself out from his chest, and he raises one hand to touch the cut Mary made on his skin. Nothing's there; the symbol drawn in blood has vanished. His shirt is hanging open from where Mary ripped it, but he doesn't feel cold. It's fascinating.
Dean blinks, and when he opens his eyes he's back in the factory. Sam's got a small pyre set up, and he takes the salt and accelerant clutched in Dean's hands with a murmur of thanks. Sam douses his mother with the salt but freezes when he goes to pour the accelerant on her. Dean watches, then moves forward. "Let me," he murmurs.
Sam blinks and nods, handing over the accelerant without protest. Dean pours it over the body and moves on to the walls around the warehouse, splashing out wide sprays of it, careful to cover the puddles of blood. He's using an oil based accelerant, and it pools beneath the blood, the two looking filthy mixed together. He stops at Sam's side when he's finished, and takes a long moment to take in the shape of Mary's face, iced with a sprinkle of salt.
This is the woman he's blamed for Bill's death. The woman who stole Dean's last safe haven from him and left nothing but a note and the whisper of rumour behind. If ever there was a fitting revenge, this is it. But he feels no vindication. Mary Campbell was a hunter, and without her the world is less safe than it was.
He hands Sam a mini pack of matches, and stands firm at Sam's side while he lights it and drops it on his mother's chest. The fire spreads quickly, and Dean grabs Sam's arm before it reaches her face and turns them away.
They make their way back to Dean's car at a slow pace, and Dean sits on the trunk before Sam can get any ideas in his head. Sam joins him on the trunk and they watch the fire consume the warehouse. He doesn't look at Sam, but he doesn't have to, to know the other man is crying.
They stay until sirens wail out from the distance, and then get back into Dean's car without even stopping to debate. Sam's hand covers Dean's as he moves his keys to the ignition, and when Dean looks up, Sam's eyes are hard but earnest. "I had a dream of you burning," Sam says, and the eye contact is no longer something to chaff under, no longer something to escape. "That's why we were here— I dreamed of a hunter dying in fire."
Dean sucks in a breath, shocked like a punch to the gut. "You must be kicking yourself for coming," he manages to say past the rock in his throat. His mind is at war with the warmth in his chest, feeling guilty for the closeness he feels.
Sam tilts his head like he's considering Dean's words, but he eventually lets go of Dean's wrist and shakes his head. "No," he says slowly, the words dragged out of him. "I can't," he struggles for a moment and then says, simply, "Mom wasn't like that. She always wanted to go down fighting." Sam smiled, the empty, loving smile of grief. "She's always had a thing about protecting the younger generations of hunters."
There's a low thrum of energy starting up underneath Dean's skin. He looks at Sam, and it calms. He swallows. "I'm sure she did," he says.
He understands the urge, when it comes to Sam. The dark place inside of him has been filled up, and it tells him everything he needs to know; keep Sam safe. Stick together. Fuck the rest.
Dean nods to himself and turns the ignition. They've got work to do.
-TBC in No Dawn, No Day
A/N: This fic was for the Sam/Dean Mini Bang on LJ. See the gorgeous art dollarformyname drew for it here: dollarformyname dot livejournal dot com slash 47213 dot html
It will be longer until the next installment, which will be posted under a separate fic (for those of you tracking this one in particular). The next thing I'm working on is the sequel to Torque, so this verse might be a bit slower in coming than we'd all like, but look forward to it!
Thanks for all the lovely, lovely reviews- you guys are stars, and the major reason I keep going. I always love feedback.