Title: Night of the Hunter
Characters: Dean, OC, with appearances by Sam, Bobby, and Castiel
Disclaimer/Warning: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title of the story comes from a 30 Seconds To Mars song of the same name. This story is definitely PG-13 and might be considered borderline R in some parts for language, violence, and one mature scene in the first chapter.
Author's Note: Thank you all for coming back! I promised that Sam would return, and for those of you who have been waiting, he's here at the end of all things. Okay, well, not all things. I suppose I always feel a bit (overly) nostalgic when wrapping a story – especially when the creation of it has felt slightly epic to me.
I should note: this is a chapter to bring everything together. It's not meant for action; a bit of angst is the order of the day. And a sense of completion. But after the events that transpired in the previous chapter, I hope you won't mind.
I want to thank my dear friend ThruTerrysEyes for giving each chapter a sanity read, exclaiming at the scenes where I needed her to exclaim and pointing out the flaws that inevitably occur due to writing at light speed. You are truly good for me, mo chara.
To Janet, for whom this was written, and everyone else who has given me their time reading this story, I hope you've enjoyed the journey.
A revolution has begun today for me inside
The ultimate defense is to pretend
Revolve around yourself just like an ordinary man
The only other option is to forget
30 Seconds to Mars, R-Evolve
Kansas City, MO
Tired wasn't a big enough word.
From the moment he'd hung up with Bobby, sitting along the side of that darkened road, Dean had wanted nothing more than to get to Sioux Falls. However, it seemed having a celestial destiny was going to take precedence over anything Dean wanted. After Cas left him outside of Waterville, Dean set his sight on a cross-country trek. Maine to South Dakota was a trek.
Might be time to re-think the value of angel transportation, Dean thought as he passed the Jehovah's Witness outside the run-down motel tucked back into the Bottoms of Kansas City.
Dean spared a thought for Castiel as he dropped his duffel on the floor. The angel had been focused on finding God, on proving Raphael wrong. Cas needed the archangel to be wrong. Dean could understand that, could sympathize, even, since it would really help his situation if the big guy were hanging around somewhere.
The thing Castiel seemed to sometimes forget was that Dean was Michael's very human vessel. Despite the drawback of the news Raphael shared – and despite Dean informing the angel that he needed to get to Bobby's – Castiel had been relentless in his quest to keep moving, keep searching.
But Dean simply had to stop. Just for a night.
He was too close to Lawrence for his liking, but he knew if he didn't stop now he was in danger of making a mistake; now was not the time to take risks. Being healed from the wounds left behind after his latest battle with the nosferatu had not, apparently, included an angel-sized Red Bull shot of energy.
Castiel was anxious. It radiated through the phone lines as he urged Dean to help him find the Colt. The fucking Colt of all things. His father had practically killed himself to get it and now Castiel thought it would be powerful enough to defeat the devil.
Body aching, demanding at least four hours of sleep, Dean wearily wrapped his arms around the damp-smelling pillow. It hadn't taken long for Hell to creep back in to taint any sleep he'd been able to catch in the small pockets of time Castiel had allowed him to rest. If he could just get four hours nightmare-free, he might actually be able to function with a clear enough head to make it to Bobby's tomorrow.
Armageddon could wait until he found out how the hell Noah had survived that inferno.
He'd almost relaxed enough to drop over the edge of when his phone vibrated. Growling, unwilling to open his eyes, he reached blindly for the phone and practically bit off his words into the receiver.
"Dammit, Cas, I need to sleep!"
"Dean. It's me."
His heart froze. His breath caught.
Three weeks. Three weeks of too much blood, too much doubt.
Three weeks and a choice made. Three weeks and needs changed.
"Sam?" He sat up, squinting blearily at the digital read-out of the alarm clock. "It's a quarter past four."
"This is important." Sam's voice held that note of entitlement he always got when he'd discovered something he knew Dean didn't know. When things were going well, it ticked Dean off. When things were off – as they were now – it put him on instant alert.
"Gimme a sec," he grumbled, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and pushing to his feet.
Setting the phone down on the bed, he shoved a hand through his hair. He almost didn't want to pick the phone back up. It had taken this long for him to accept that he was better off without Sam. It had taken this long for him to not want Sam there. He knew how easy it would be to go back on that. He knew how easy it would be to just stop being alone.
Tugging on his jeans – something told him he'd feel more balanced if he were clothed for this conversation – he took a breath and picked up the phone. Ears alerted, he could now pick up the hum of the highway behind Sam's breathing.
"Yeah," Sam replied, sounding slightly startled to hear Dean's voice so abruptly. He'd clearly been caught up in some pretty heavy thoughts.
Sam paused. Dean lived four lifetimes in that pause. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"Where'r you headed?"
"I, uh…," Sam faltered, and Dean could practically see him flex his mouth back in a helpless, humorless smile. "I don't really know. Just…away."
"Where I was."
Pressing his lips closed, Dean dragged his free hand down his face. He had to be careful here. He wasn't Sam's big brother right now. Sam had walked away from his brother. Had chosen a life separate from hunting.
Dean couldn't handle this conversation the way every instinct inside of him was screaming at him to behave.
"Okay, Chief, what's so important you had to interrupt my beauty sleep?"
"Where are you?"
Dean hesitated. He wasn't sure why. Instinct? Wariness?
"What's going on, Sam?"
Whatever he'd been expecting Sam to say, the words Lucifer told me I was his vessel were not on the list of possibilities. He stood for a beat, listening as Sam described the dream of Jessica, knowing how seeing her would have simultaneously ripped out his brother's heart and enticed him to sleep forever.
He wandered to the room fridge he kept stocked with beer – always the first supply on his list to acquire when arriving in a new town – and felt a fist close around his heart. It was a wall of defense, protection…something real that he could count on, lean on as he let his brother's voice wash over him.
"So," he said, reaching in for a beer. It was five o'clock somewhere in the world. "You're his vessel, huh? Lucifer's wearing you to the prom?"
"That's what he said." Sam sounded wound up. Anxious.
And for good reason: Satan just said he wanted his body. That was not normal. And yet, Dean couldn't bring himself to react with anything other than, of course. The universe seemed destined to screw with them. Pitting them against odds decidedly never in their favor.
And he had a feeling it started with his deal. The deal he made to bring Sam back, to make sure he was kept in the world. For this? To be the human condom for the Angel of Darkness?
"Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in, huh, Sammy?"
"So, that's it?" Sam sounded pissed. "That's your response?"
Dean knew what his brother wanted to hear. He knew Sam was looking for a big brother rallying cry of they'll never take us alive! He knew Sam needed him, needed reassurance. But he couldn't give it to him. Too much had happened.
He simply didn't have it in him to placate Sam with assurances he didn't believe, faith he no longer had.
"What are you looking for?"
"I don't know. A…little panic? Maybe?"
Dean sank down into a chair, feeling his bones creak like the seventy-year-old man his soul truly was. He huffed slightly. "Guess I'm a little…numb to the earth-shattering revelations at this point."
"What are we gonna do about it?" Sam demanded, his eagerness setting Dean slight off-balance.
He took a sip of beer. "What do you want to do about it?"
Sam's voice hardened around his next words. "I want back in, for starters."
"I mean it," Sam snapped, cutting him off. "I'm sick of being a puppet to these sons of bitches."
Dean closed his eyes, listening, his heart rebelling. Sure you are, now that it's touched you. Now that you're scared. Now that it's personal.
He forced himself to bite his tongue against the onslaught of words that stepped on each other in their rush to tumble free. You were pretty happy walking away before. Didn't matter that I was being dogged by a fuckin' archangel with Armageddon staring me in the face.
He exhaled slowly.
"I'm gonna hunt him down, Dean."
Bitterness climbed over Dean's imprisoned words and colored the ones he let loose. "Oh, so we're back to revenge, then, are we?" He heard an echo of his own caution – not to Sam, but to Noah – reverberate back to him. It's not just about revenge. It can't be. "Yeah, 'cause that worked out so well last time."
Sam bit down on his reply. "Not revenge. Redemption."
Dean suppressed the need to roll his eyes, clenching his jaw as he filtered Sam's demands. "So, what? You're just gonna walk back in and we're gonna be the dynamic duo again?"
Doubt saturated each word. Sam hadn't left because he was bored. He hadn't left because he didn't want to hunt anymore. He left because he couldn't. Because he couldn't be around the demon blood and not thirst. Not hunger. He didn't have the control Noah had. He couldn't hack it. And it would get him killed.
Dean was sure of it. It would get Sam killed or it would get Dean killed.
Apparently zeroing in on the source of Dean's hesitancy, Sam pressed, "Look, Dean. I can do this. I can. I'm gonna prove it to you."
Dean rubbed his forehead. This was Sam. His Sam. He couldn't let him do this. He couldn't let him come back. Not now – not like this.
And the hell of it was, Dean didn't want him back. He didn't want to lose himself inside of the role he played around Sam. He didn't want that constant, gnawing fear that he was going to lose Sam. Again.
And this time, no one would want his soul in exchange.
"Look, Sam. It doesn't matter. Whatever we do. I mean, it turns out that you and me? We're the, uh, the fire and oil of Armageddon."
He stood up, turning to face the window. He needed to move. This was too hard. What he was saying, what he was about to do? It was too hard.
"On that basis alone we should just pick a hemisphere. Stay away from each other for good."
"Dean, it doesn't have to be like this!" He could hear Sam's desperation, vocal fingernails clinging to a ledge of reason. "We can fight it!"
Turning away from the window to pace in a tight, four-step pattern, Dean nodded.
"Yeah, you're right. We can," he said, swallowing hard and forcing himself to say the rest. "But not together. We're not stronger when we're together, Sam. I think we're weaker. Because…whatever we have between us? Love, family, whatever it is…they are always gonna use it against us." He felt the fist around his heart squeeze, the ache intensifying as he felt Sam listening, felt Sam's denial. "You know that. We're better off apart. We got a better chance of dodging Lucifer and Michael and this…this whole damn thing, if we just go our own ways."
"Dean, don't do this."
He'd expected anger in Sam's voice. The plea held there, the pain layering the words, caught him by surprise and he almost relented. Almost changed his mind and told Sam where to find him.
And then an image flashed across his mind's eye. An image of blood splattered across a battered face, spreading across a rough-hewn floor. An image of Noah pressing his forehead to Luke's. And image of a knife cutting cleanly, ending it all.
And the memory of how easily that could have been him and Sam rocked through him once more.
"Bye, Sam," he choked out, hanging up the phone before Sam's voice could draw him back.
It's for the best, he reminded himself. It's for the best.
Somewhere outside of Kansas City, KS, the next day
Give yourself to Michael. Say yes and we can strike.
Dean pulled the Impala to a stop beside a small grove of trees. The air was clean, cool, coppery-bright with the after burn of morning. The leaves had yellowed with the departure of summer and the world seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation. Dean glanced through the windshield; his present day surroundings held a sense of innocence, a sense of peace, when compared to the horrific, Croatoan-infected reality of the future he'd just witnessed.
Before Lucifer gets to Sam. Before billions die.
He turned off the car and let the sound of the cooling engine crowd out the sound of Zachariah's voice in his head. He had to hand it to the angels – they had some pretty nifty tricks up their sleeves. Time travel wasn't one he'd expected, but it had certainly done the trick. Though, admittedly, not the trick Zachariah had been hoping for when he propelled Dean into 2014.
They'd almost had him. Almost. He'd almost backed himself so far into a corner of stubborn independence that he practically handed Zachariah the victory he'd been vying so desperately for all this time. But the answer, Dean knew now with a certainty born of witnessing his own death, must be no. He could not become Michael's vessel any more than Sam could become Lucifer's.
Once more, Castiel had rescued him. Just in time. Keeping a promise. Saving him from a darkness he couldn't begin to fathom.
Taking a slow breath, Dean climbed from the car, shutting the door decisively behind him. He couldn't remember a time when he wasn't at least a little bit exhausted. It seemed he wasn't meant to have a break; he simply had to keep going. Keep fighting. Keep surviving.
However, thanks to Zachariah's tactics, he now knew that doing it alone was not the answer. He'd made a mistake. He'd let pain and doubt and circumstance cloud what he knew in his gut to be right. He and Sam, they had their issues, sure. Some that would take time to work through. But being separated like this, it had made them weaker, not stronger. The angels had sensed that weakness and exploited it. And he would not let the angels work this wedge any further.
He was going to fix this.
Dragging a hand across his mouth, Dean leaned against the hood of the Impala, waiting. He was nervous, he realized. It was a rare sensation. He hadn't felt like this since John had returned to hunt with them for that short time before his death. He'd made the right choice; he was sure of it. But time had passed and much had happened; he was flat-out nervous about seeing his brother again.
He'd sent Sam coordinates and two words: meet me. He knew his brother would find him. John had made sure they could always follow coordinates. He knew Sam would be confused, uncertain, but he had no idea how to explain what had just happened to him. Especially over the phone. He needed to see Sam again to know how to tell him about…everything.
A shiver of memory caused beads of sweat to gather along his hairline. He'd been skinned alive, ripped apart. He'd been food for nosferatu. He'd survived the death of his whole family.
And nothing, none of it, matched the mind-numbing horror he'd felt seeing Lucifer stare out at him from his brother's eyes.
He tried to decide what he should tell Sam; it was hard enough to process the idea that two guys from Kansas were the chosen ones for the universe's ultimate cage match. Telling Sam he'd seen him – seen Lucifer – kill without mercy, without thought….
Dean swallowed hard as the sound of an approaching engine cut the quiet. He glanced to the right; Sam had nabbed a beater this time around. He didn't move as Sam rolled to a stop, waiting as his brother unfolded himself from the car and began to approach, his whole being radiating anxiety.
Rotating on his hip, he met Sam halfway.
Sam jerked his chin up, his eyes betraying his uncertainty. Dean pulled out the demon-hunting knife Sam had carried since Dean returned from Hell. He watched as Sam's eyes shifted to the sharp blade nervously.
I'm not gonna use it on you, ya freak, Dean thought as he handed it over to his brother, handle first.
"If you're serious," he said, keeping his head lowered, his movements slow, voice modulated, instinctively trying to alleviate Sam's nervousness, "and you want back in…you should hang onto this. I'm sure you're, uh," he glanced up at Sam, "rusty."
Sam took the knife, but wouldn't meet Dean's eyes. The echo of their last conversation hung heavy in the air between them. Dean watched his brother. It had only been a month since he'd seen him, but it felt like longer. The Sam he'd seen in 2014 had been his brother's shell only. The person standing before him, the essence that made Sam so vivid and real and vital had been missing.
And standing in that garden, surrounded by the sickeningly sweet smell of roses, Dean had been swamped by memories of his brother, of being stronger because he had Sam there to fight for, to fight beside him. He'd known that there was good in the world because Sam was alive. Alive, alive, alive.
"Look, man, I'm sorry," he said, his voice brisk with emotion. Sam blinked, finally looking back at him. "I don't know. I'm…whatever I need to be," he finished helplessly. It was so hard to say I need you. Especially when it wasn't really need as much as it was right. "I was, uh…wrong."
"What made you change your mind?"
Dude, I've got so many answers to that question, I don't know where to start.
"Long story," Dean evaded. "The point is…maybe we are each other's Achilles heel. Maybe they'll find a way to use us against each other, I don't know." He shifted his weight, glancing to the side and seeing an abandoned house, a blood-smeared floor, a hunter slouched against the wall, tears on his face, as he uttered the broken confession of a brother's downfall. "I just know we're all we've got. More than that," he looked back at Sam, narrowing his eyes slightly against a ray of sunlight slipping the cover of clouds. "We keep each other human."
With those words, Sam relaxed. It was instantaneous and pervasive, sending relief through Dean as he regarded his brother carefully.
"Thank you," Sam said, a small smile ghosting his lips. "Really, thank you. I won't let you down."
The sincerity in Sam's words spiked an ache in Dean's heart. Before he'd returned from Hell, he would have said it wasn't possible for Sam to disappoint him. But things had changed.
"Oh, I know it," he said, drumming up a pale shade of cockiness in his tone. "I mean, you are the second-best hunter on the planet."
Sam's grin stretched a bit with his nod. They were quiet a moment, getting used to breathing the same air again.
"So, what do we do now?"
Dean lifted a shoulder. "We make our own future."
"Guess we don't have a choice," Sam replied, returning the shrug.
Dean glanced over Sam's shoulder at the car his brother had arrived in. "What do you want to do with that thing?"
Sam followed his gaze. "Leave it?"
Dean shrugged, his lips folding down in a quick frown. "Works for me. Got anything in there?"
"Just my bag. One sec."
Dean turned and headed toward the trunk of the Impala, waiting until Sam jogged up with his duffel.
"Dude," Sam frowned, pushing a few things aside to make room for his bag. "Is this…dynamite?"
"Uh, yeah." Dean waited until Sam pulled clear before slamming the lid closed.
"What the hell did you need dynamite for?"
Dean moved around to the driver's side, pausing a moment before opening the door. "Vampires."
Sam blinked at him, eyebrows up. "Come again?"
"Just get in the car, Sam," Dean grumbled, absentmindedly rubbing his neck where the ropes had dug in. Thanks to Castiel's magic touch, the wounds had healed without scars, but the memory of the pain wasn't going away anytime soon.
Sam did as he was told, closing the door in unison with Dean and adjusting his legs so that he fit comfortably in the seat that had always been his. Dean looked over at him for a moment, finding that it was just as strange seeing Sam sitting there again as it had been seeing the seat empty.
"What?" Sam asked, self-conscious.
"Nothin'," Dean mumbled.
"You look tired," Sam commented.
Dean huffed, twisting the ignition and listening to the Impala rumble to life. "Yeah? Well, you would, too, if you had to take on half the population of County Evil by yourself."
Sam let his comment slide, resting his arm on the door frame as Dean pulled out of the grove of trees. "Nightmares?"
"Let it go, Sam."
"Just asking is all."
"Well, don't ask."
"It's been a few weeks, Dean—"
"Exactly!" Dean snapped, pulling out onto the highway and heading toward the interstate. "It's been weeks. And since you're the one who walked away, I get to ask the questions."
Sam pulled in a slow breath, tucking his chin against his chest as if trying to taper his anger. "Okay. Fine. Ask."
Dean hadn't expected Sam to agree so quickly. He didn't know which question to ask first. Where had he been all this time? Had he been alone? Had he missed this life before Lucifer dropped by? Had he missed Dean?
"Did you get a job?"
Sam nodded, rubbing his thumb along the interior of the window frame. "Yeah. A bar."
Dean smiled slightly. "I pictured you waiting tables."
"Kinda," Sam grinned slightly. "Met a few people."
Sam rolled his eyes. "One track mind, I swear."
"What? Hey, it's possible, even for you."
"Did you meet any female people?" Sam jutted his chin forward, then held up a hand to pause Dean's answer. "Who weren't working poles, that is."
"Classy," Dean glanced askance at his brother. Their familiar exchange was starting to ease the ache in the center of his chest. Like muscles long dormant starting to warm up again. "I met one," he confessed, face clouding as he thought of Ali. "Didn't work out so great, though."
"She shot ya down, huh?" Sam quipped, leaning back against the door in that way he had that always made Dean want to make sure the thing was locked.
"Not exactly," Dean replied. Then, just to wipe the smirk off of Sam's face, continued, "She got turned into a vampire and I had to cut off her head."
"Jesus, Dean," Sam exclaimed softly.
"Been a busy month," Dean offered.
"So, Cas thinks the Colt can kill the devil," Dean interrupted.
"Wait, what?" Sam did a double take at Dean's abrupt left-turn in topics.
His fingers moved down the window's edge to worry at the fold of leather near the door handle – the same spot, Dean registered, that Sam always rubbed when he was distracted, unfocused, at a loss.
"He had me running over hell's half acre looking for Raphael – not the turtle, the angel," Dean tilted his hand in Sam's direction.
"Yeah, I worked that part out on my own, thanks."
"Cas said Raphael would know how to find God. Literally."
"Wait, so you guys went up against an arch angel?"
"And he told you the Colt – as in Dad's Colt – could kill Lucifer?"
"No, that part came after."
"I think you're gonna have to start at the beginning," Sam muttered, shaking his head and looking out through the front window.
Dean merged with traffic and then reached over to turn on the radio. The fact that things were comfortable with Sam was both reassuring and disconcerting. Part of him wanted to make Sam work a bit before finding a comfortable groove. The rest of him knew that it wasn't possible to grow up like they had and not find that groove immediately.
It didn't mean that the hurt wasn't still there. It didn't mean that Dean accepted Sam's choices. It didn't mean that Sam understood what drove Dean. But they were family. And no matter what happened outside of that, they were kind of family that would always reach out a hand to stop each other from walking blindly into traffic.
Dean just hoped that one day he'd be able to trust Sam again.
"Dude, grab me a cassette."
"You and your damn cassettes."
"You've been out of the game awhile, so maybe I should remind you about the rules," Dean teased. "Driver picks the music—"
"Dean, is this…blood?"
Dean closed his mouth and looked over to see Sam holding two cassette cases with smears of dried blood on them.
"Uh, yeah," he answered, looking away, his mouth pressing into a grim line. He could feel Sam's eyes on him.
Dean shook his head. "Not that blood." He remembered Noah slouched, nearly unconscious from blood loss, blowing cigarette smoke out through the opened window.
"But…there was other blood that was yours?"
"Hey, you were the only one who stopped hunting, Sam."
Sam sat back, quiet for a moment. "Is it Cas'?"
"No," Dean replied, not elaborating.
"Put a tape in, Sam." Dean cut him off.
He was suddenly not ready to talk about what had happened to him while they were apart. Not the vampires, not Ali, not Noah; that would come soon enough. He heard Sam sigh with mild frustration; after a moment "Ride the Lightning" filled the empty spaces between them.
"Where are we going?" Sam asked.
"He got a job? Lead on where the Colt is?"
Dean tightened his grip on the steering wheel, looking out through the side window. "Not exactly."
Sam went quiet again. Dean felt the muscles of familiarity and family begin to grow stiff again. He'd expected too much, too soon. Neither of them was ready for the details.
"You know something," Sam said after awhile, his voice so quiet, Dean was tempted to turn down the music to hear him better. "I don't think either of us will ever really be able to stop hunting."
Dean glanced over at him. "You get a job in that bar of yours?"
"The freaking world is ending, Dean," Sam snapped, rubbing at the dried blood on the cassette. "It was on the news, in the papers…everywhere."
Dean stayed quiet. The end of the world hadn't stopped nosferatu from using a small college campus as a smorgasbord. Evil is as evil does, he supposed.
"I, uh…," Sam exhaled a soft, humorless laugh. "I alerted Bobby to some…events. Knew it was demons. He sent some hunters."
Dean shot a look in Sam's direction. Something in Sam's voice….
"I don't know how, but…," Sam licked his bottom lip nervously, "they found out what I'd done."
"What do you mean, what you'd done?"
Sam lifted sorrow-filled eyes to meet Dean's quick glance. "That I started the apocalypse."
"No," Dean shook his head once, decisively. "You didn't start it, Sam. I did."
"You didn't kill Lilith," Sam argued. "You didn't turn Lucifer loose."
"I broke the first damn seal, man," Dean pointed at his chest. "This is not on you."
"Yeah, well. That's not the word on the street," Sam informed him. He glanced quickly at Dean. "I didn't kill them, if that's what you're wondering."
Dean felt an arrow of shock slide through him – partly because Sam nailed a concern he'd not been ready to voice. "I know that."
Sam looked out through the front window. "There was this girl working at the bar," he said softly. "She told me…she said that no one has ever done anything so bad they can't be forgiven." Years falling from his face, his eyes, his voice, Sam turned to Dean once more. "You think that's true?"
Dean rolled his lips against his teeth, weighing his words. He thought of Noah standing in the abandoned house, looking down at him and saying you made a deal to save your brother…I vowed to kill mine.
"I hope so, Sammy," he said quietly.
They drove on, the light outside turning the prairie that stretched out on either side of the highway to a tin-like yellow. Sam quietly exchanged tapes when one ran out. They stopped for gas and food, speaking only about the essentials – get me a soda, where's the next exit, hand me a napkin – and not touching on the sensitive subject of what happened when they were apart. Dean didn't ask Sam about the hunters he'd encountered; Sam didn't ask Dean about the blood on the cassettes.
They just drove, letting the road decide if their bond would be mended or if time and circumstance had done too much.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that night
The edge of twilight had nearly given way to night when they pulled into the junkyard behind Bobby's place. Dean had checked the date on a newspaper at the last gas station and reassured himself that it was still roughly a week before the next full moon. If Noah was still here, at least he'd be here in human form.
"Y'know, sometimes I really miss Rumsfeld," Sam commented suddenly.
Dean leaned forward, peering around the seemingly abandoned lot before turning off the engine. "You hated that dog," he commented.
"Nah," Sam shook his head, also checking their perimeter, "he just liked you better."
Dean glanced at his brother, surprised. "Yeah?"
"Guess he recognized a kindred spirit," Sam said, a small grin tugging at his mouth.
"Bitch," Dean remarked good-naturedly.
"Jerk," Sam amiably replied, then opened his door.
As they approached Bobby's back door, Dean cleared his throat. "Listen, Sam," he started. "There's something I should probably—"
"Took your damn time getting here." Bobby's grizzled voice cut through Dean's confession. "You take the scenic route?"
Dean stepped up to the door where Bobby sat in his wheel chair, a sawed-off shotgun across his lap. The light from the study tossed shadows across the hallway behind Bobby, his ever-present trucker hat revealing nothing but his bearded chin. Dean smiled. Returning to Bobby's always felt a little like coming home, no matter the reason.
"Bobby, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Bobby tipped his chin up. "Picked up a straggler, did ya?"
"Hey, Bobby," Sam said from behind Dean, his voice almost shy.
Dean swallowed. "He still here?"
"He is. He's out there wandering somewhere," Bobby muttered, indicating the junkyard behind Dean with a tip of his chin. "He does that once in awhile. Gets restless, I guess. Don't think he's used to staying in one place so long."
"He? He who?" Sam asked.
Dean ignored Sam for the moment, waiting for Bobby to back his wheelchair into the hall before following the older hunter inside.
"Liked to give me a heart attack, his showing up like he did," Bobby said over his shoulder. "Thought he was a zombie. Especially with the way he was all torn up."
"Glad you didn't try to stake him," Dean commented dryly.
"Tried everything else," Bobby said, turning his chair next his old desk and looking back at the brothers.
Dean stood in the center of the room, resting his weight on one leg. Sam moved to sit on the couch beneath the big picture window.
"Only thing he reacted to was silver, but by that time, I figured he wasn't here to kill me."
Dean rubbed at his bottom lip. Thinking.
"You're looking good, Sam," Bobby said. "Retirement suits you."
"I'm coming out of retirement," Sam commented.
Bobby glanced at Dean. "You responsible for this Lance Armstrong maneuver?"
Dean shook his head. "Tell him, Sam."
"Uh, so…," he cleared his throat. "I'm, uh, Lucifer's vessel."
Bobby sat quietly and started at Sam for almost a full minute. "Well, ain't that just a kick in the balls."
"Pretty much," Dean muttered. "Listen, Bobby, there's more."
"There usually is."
"Wait," Sam held up a hand, standing and moving toward Bobby's desk. "Who is the guy wandering around Bobby's junkyard?"
"Uh, that'd be me," came a rough voice from the hallway.
Dean turned on his heel, eyes seeking out the source of the voice. Noah stepped forward from the shadows, his face a bit thinner, slightly pale, a two-day old scruff framing his jaw, but alive. The side of his mouth turned up in a small grin at Dean.
"So much for being right behind me," Dean growled, but felt himself smiling in return.
"I was behind you," Noah defended himself. "Just…a lot further behind than I realized."
Dean dropped his hands at his sides, turning his palms out almost beseechingly. "I thought you were dead, man."
"I know," Noah replied softly.
"I thought…I thought you'd burned up with—"
"I didn't," Noah broke in, taking pity on Dean's suddenly fragile voice. "You look a helluva lot better than I thought you would. Your neck doesn't even look—"
"Yeah, well…I know this angel."
Noah narrowed his eyes. "This the same angel who hauled you out of hell?"
"You look a lot worse than I thought you would," Dean returned. "What happened to those magical healing powers of yours?"
Noah lifted a shoulder. "The silver," he told Dean. "In the bomb. I breathed it in and…it's kinda taken my body a bit longer to rebuild than usual."
"Wait, bomb?" Sam spoke up. "Someone want to tell me what the hell is going on here?"
Dean watched Noah's eyes flick from him to Sam and back. "Is that…?"
Dean nodded. "My brother, Sam."
"Hey," Sam greeted, nodding once.
"Hey, Sam," Noah said, then tilted his head slightly. "My name's Noah. And I'm a werewolf."
Sam's exhale was equivalent to someone landing a fist in his gut. Dean winced, then looked at Noah.
"You were right. Not the best approach."
Noah nodded. "Told you my way was better."
"Oh, right," Dean scoffed. "Much better to see you rip a vampire's heart out—"
"Hold up. Wait." Sam stepped forward, hands out. "Werewolf?"
"It's a long story," Dean told him.
"Well, until we figure out how to kill the Devil," Sam snapped at him, "I think we've got time."
Dean rubbed his face. "I need a drink."
"I'm on it," Bobby spoke up. He pulled a new bottle of Jack Daniels from his lower desk drawer. "When your old 'Nam buddy shows up after thirty years and hasn't aged a day, you stock up."
Dean went to the kitchen and grabbed four glasses. When he returned he saw that no one had moved, but that Sam's steely-eyed gaze had practically pinned Noah to an invisible display board.
"Sam," he said quietly. "Stand down. It's okay."
"Okay?" Sam whirled to face him. "He's a goddamn werewolf, Dean. And not only have you not put him down…you're…you're friends with him?"
"Sam, it's not like that—"
"Dad would've put a bullet in this guy on principal!" Still looking at Dean, Sam gestured to Noah with the flat of his hand.
"I'm not Dad," Dean shot back, an edge crystallizing on his voice. "This is different. It's not like with Madison."
"Don't," Sam snapped, pointing at him. "Don't you bring her up."
"Why?" Dean challenged. "Isn't that why you're pissed? Because of what this job made you do? Made you give up?"
Sam closed his mouth, eyes hot. Dean was aware that Noah hadn't moved. He held perfectly still, eyes on Sam, taking in the whole scene.
"We have sacrificed so much because of this job, Sammy," Dean continued, his body weary. He leaned a hip on Bobby's desk. "We've lost so much. Maybe it's just time we got something back."
Sam turned to Bobby. "Why didn't you kill him?"
Bobby shrugged. "Because he saved Dean's life."
"How'd you know that?"
"He told me."
Sam's eyebrows went up. "And you just…believed him?"
Bobby's voice leveled, offering no room for argument. "Yeah, son. I did."
"Sam, listen," Dean stepped forward. "It's a shock, I know."
"You should've told me." Sam stared at him, chin trembling.
"You're right. I'm sorry. But I…, dammit, Sammy, so much has happened since you walked away that I…," he paused again, setting the glasses down and running a hand over the top of his head. "I wanted you to suffer for a bit, I guess. You left, man. And I did the best I could."
"It's not like I went to Disneyworld, Dean," Sam muttered. "I had my own shit to deal with, y'know."
Dean nodded. "I know. And you're right. I should have told you before. But I'm telling you now."
The room was quiet a moment. Dean heard his own heartbeat, heard Sam breathing, felt Noah and Bobby's eyes on them.
Sam looked at Noah, who offered him a small smile. "You saved my brother's life?"
"In all fairness," Noah said. "He returned the favor."
Sam's eyes raked Noah, then shifted to Dean. "You gonna pour that stuff or what?"
Once glasses had been handed out, Dean and Noah began talking. Noah elaborated on what he had been when he and Bobby met in 'Nam; Dean could see by Bobby's easy eyes that he was well ahead of them in that respect.
"Explains how you managed to get out of that vampire hut," Bobby commented.
Dean shot a look in Noah's direction. Noah waved him off. "Not the time."
As they delved into what had happened with the nosferatu, Dean continued to refill his glass, letting Noah do most of the talking. He filled in the parts he needed to, but living through it the first time had been hard enough. The only way he'd been able to stave off the nightmares, really, had been to force himself to not remember.
Don't think about it and it can't hurt you.
Sam leaned forward, elbows on his knees, listening intently as he stared at Dean with large eyes. He looked sick, hurt, shocked by what Dean had survived, but he didn't say a word. As Noah talked, Dean watched his brother, remembering the same little-boy-lost expression ghosting Sam's features when he'd confessed to remembering Hell. In those moments, Dean felt something shift between them, course-correcting their partnership.
"I had been hunting that nest for so long," Noah said in a quiet, broken voice, "that when I found them…when I found Luke…I didn't really know how to let it go, let it be over."
"How'd you get out of there, man?" Dean asked. "I lay outside that ring of fire until the next morning. I never saw you."
"I didn't see you either," Noah replied. "The floor collapsed and I…I couldn't…I think I passed out. One minute I was yelling at you to go and the next…I was in Hell." He glanced apologetically at Dean. "Or, what felt like Hell. It was just…fire and screaming and every time I took a breath the pain just…." He shook his head. "I forgot that I was breathing in silver."
The room was quiet. Dean poured himself another drink, swallowed it fast, then refilled his glass. He'd lost count of how many this made, but he didn't care. He wasn't alone right now with no one to watch his back. He wanted to be comfortably numb, able to let the memories slide off an alcohol-saturated mind.
"I almost didn't…I almost stayed. I mean, I was done, y'know. It was over. I didn't so much care what happened to me. And you were out. Safe." Noah pulled his lips against his teeth in a grimace. "But I was burning."
Dean grit his teeth, pulling in a breath across parted lips. He didn't want to know anymore. He didn't want to hear. And yet…he had to.
"It's weird, y'know," Noah continued, his voice taking on a ragged tone. One that all three men listening reacted to by instinctively closing off. Dean wrapped an arm around his chest, leaning heavily on the edge of the desk. Bobby gripped the wheels of his chair. Sam crossed his arms, his back to a wall.
"I've survived plenty of things over the last eighty years. Got gut-shot in 'Nam," Noah glanced at Bobby, who nodded, face gray with memories. "That was pretty awful. Been stabbed, staked, poisoned by silver…. But never burned. I never thought about fire not being able to kill me. God, I wanted to die."
He held his glass out for more whiskey and Dean obliged.
"Something made me…," he shook his head. "I couldn't just…."
His voice faded and he stared at the floor in such a way Dean shuddered to think of what he was seeing. There was something there, something Noah wasn't saying. Couldn't say. Sometimes a man's reason to survive isn't something that can be easily categorized.
"Sorry," Noah said, clearing his throat. "I don't know what…. Words just don't…y'know, cover it."
Dean pulled his brows close, swirling whiskey at the bottom of his glass. He got it. By the silence wrapping around Bobby and Sam, he guessed they got it, too. Words rarely did what he wanted them to, anyway. Sam was so good at it, but Dean couldn't always find the right ones to translate his emotions so that others felt what he needed them to feel in order to understand. Words were just words. Tools. And sometimes they were a shotgun blast when a knife worked better.
Noah took a breath and lifted his eyes, finding Dean's already settled on him. Dean nodded. I get it, man. You just go on and you don't even know why until you're halfway down the road.
"Anyway, there was this shallow creek not far from the mill," Noah said, his voice cutting through the quiet. "I hadn't seen it before – it was on the opposite side from the house. I literally fell into it. And just…laid there. No idea how long."
"Your body started healing," Dean stated.
Noah looked down at the glass, turning it in the palm of his hand in a repetitive, nervous manner. "Yeah, mostly. The burns started to heal first. My arm was wasted, though. I wasn't really thinking clearly, y'know? I should have made my way to the house first, but…."
"How'd you get here," Sam asked, his voice soft, finally sounding like the person Dean knew his brother to be when people were in pain.
"There was still some stuff in my room," he said. "When I got back. Enough stuff that I could change clothes, since the ones I had on were pretty much gone. I still had all the files from the M.E.," he looked up at Dean, "and that's when I remembered you talking about this hunting guru friend of yours. The only name I could ever really remember from 'Nam. From any time after the curse, really."
"Gee, I feel so special," Bobby groused.
"I called information, found out where he lived."
"Wait, how did you know which one was our Bobby?" Sam asked.
"The journal said South Dakota," Noah offered.
Sam shot a look at Dean. "You showed him Dad's journal?"
"No," Dean muttered, pouring another drink. "He broke in to my room. The bastard."
"Anyway, I was used to jumping trains, so I hopped a freight train west, bailed when I got near Sioux Falls, and just…hoped he didn't shoot me on sight."
Dean glanced at Bobby. "Thanks, man."
"Don't go getting all mushy on me, cupcake," Bobby grumbled. "Still not so sure I like the idea of a werewolf running amuck in the world."
"A werewolf that kills vampires," Dean pointed out.
"When he was hunting that nest," Sam countered, looking at Noah. "Now that you're all filled up from revenge, what happens next?"
Dean leveled his eyes at Sam's slightly caustic tone, watching his brother glance quickly his way, then back at Noah. He knew what Sam was thinking: that his wanting redemption was not the same thing. But Dean found it hard to draw a clean line between redemption and revenge.
Noah swallowed, his eyes moving from one hunter to the next, appearing to weigh his answer carefully. "Seems there's a bit of a ruckus going on out there right now," he said finally. "Something about the apocalypse?"
Dean exchanged a look with his brother.
"Someone told me demons don't like losing," Noah continued.
"You got that right," Bobby muttered, narrowing his eyes at Noah.
"Well," Noah rolled his shoulders, then tossed the rest of his drink to the back of his throat, baring his teeth as he swallowed the burn. "Figure you could use another soldier. Especially one who's pretty damn hard to kill."
"How do we know you won't go rogue?" Sam countered.
"I told you, kid," Noah looked at Sam, his face emptying of expression, his tone stating clearly that he'd been patient to this point because of who Sam was, but he was wearing thin, "I control the hunger."
"Now," Sam pushed. "Who knows what could happen down the road?"
Noah tilted his head, taking a step forward. Dean watched Sam's shoulders square up, but he didn't make a move to step in. Instead, he swallowed another shot of whiskey. He knew Sam was speaking from a personal fear, and his concerns were legitimate, but his brother was a grown man. If he wanted to challenge Noah's claims, he would have to handle Noah's response.
"You think that after fifty years of channeling a strength and power that could wipe out the three of you inside of a minute into one night of destruction dedicated to a single species of evil I'm going to just say fuck it and start sampling the goods? That it?"
"Well, I—" Sam faltered as Noah took another step forward.
"Kid, if I wanted to kill humans, I would have done it a long time ago." It came out in a low growl. Dean saw Noah's hands flex at his sides, his left one shaking a bit. "I would have done it in Cambodia when I saw the desecration of entire villages. I would have done it in South Central LA when I saw gangs and drugs annihilate kids before they knew what hit them. I would have done it when countless idiots got between me and the fucking evil I was trying to save their asses from. You think I'm going to throw all of that away now just 'cause the mission's changed?"
Sam shot a nervous look to Dean, who shrugged and lifted his glass in salute.
"I suppose not," Sam finally replied.
"No," Noah agreed. "No, I'm not."
"Want to back off him a bit, now, tiger?" Bobby quiet suggestion came out like an order. "Pretty sure you made your point."
Noah looked down as if just realizing that he'd basically backed Sam against the desk.
"Sorry, kid," he said, patting Sam's shoulder, then moving back across the room.
"'S okay," Sam replied, sagging against the desk a bit.
Noah looked over at Dean. "You got my picture?"
Dean nodded, his body starting to go numb from the alcohol. "In the Impala. C'mon."
Without a word to Bobby or Sam, he headed outside, his stride not quite steady, the bottle of Jack Daniels still clutched in his hand by the neck. Noah followed him. The night was cold; their breath puffed out before them in tiny clouds of condensation. Dean squinted up at the high, bright moon crowding out the lesser stars and turning the sky around it a luminescent gray. In a week it would be full.
And Noah would turn into the monster Dean had seen tear apart vampires. And Dean wouldn't be there to make sure that's all he tore into.
He basically had to trust the man…or kill him.
They reached the trunk of the Impala and Dean opened it, digging into his duffel bag to retrieve Noah's wallet and notebook. He had to lean on the bumper of the car as he turned; the world had started a slow, languid spin.
Noah's smile was genuine when took the wallet from Dean. "I missed her," he said, sliding Maggie's picture out of its pocket.
"I know," Dean said quietly.
"You look beat, kid," Noah commented, putting the picture away, and tucking his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans.
"I am," Dean confessed, the liquor turning him a bit maudlin. "It's not like it was before…having Sam back."
"Don't imagine it would be," Noah said. "You've both been through a lot."
"Yeah, but," Dean sighed, taking a pull on the bottle. "We've always been through a lot. All our lives, y'know? From Mom dying to Dad hunting…I mean, it was just Sammy and me. And then Dad got killed by that damn yellow-eyed bastard. And Sam died. And I died. And Sam started to use the Force and had to go cold turkey from the demon…from the demon blood…."
Noah took the bottle from Dean's hand. "Jesus, kid. This is practically empty."
Dean felt a sloppy grin waver at the corners of his mouth. It had been a long time since he'd allowed himself to be drunk. "It's been a helluva week. I mean, time travel ain't easy."
Noah gave him a look that Dean couldn't figure out. But he needed Noah to understand that it was more than just the vampires. It was everything. All of it. A destiny too big for any human to accept. A guy just wanting to live a normal life. And so much pain.
"See, I didn't say yes," he told Noah. "And Sam did, and the world was shit. It was shit."
Noah simply nodded, starting at Dean with sad eyes.
"And I turned into this…this person without a soul. I wasn't me, but I was, y'know? And I didn't have Sam with me. I let him go and I shouldn't have." He closed the trunk, and took a stumbling step toward Noah, surprised that the driveway was so uneven in that spot. He pushed his fist against Noah's chest. "I shouldn't have let him go."
"He's back now, Dean," Noah pointed out. "He's with you. Whatever you want to change…you can."
Dean nodded. "I can, right? I mean we can. Sam and me. Do you know how much we've been through? How much we've done?"
Noah shook his head, closing his fingers around Dean's fist, gently turning Dean until he sagged against the Impala's trunk. Dean suddenly felt a bit more balanced.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, kid," Noah replied, smiling at the slur of Dean's words.
"You told him you hated him."
Noah frowned. "What now?"
"In that stairway, you told Luke you hated him. Not hate. Hated." Dean stared at Noah intently. It was important he know this. He just had to find the right words for the question he was trying to ask.
Noah had started to breathe funny. Dean wondered if the silver was still bothering him. He waited.
"I did hate him."
"But that's not what you said," Dean pressed. "You almost didn't do it. But then he said please and…then it was over."
"How the hell do you remember so much damn detail when you're three sheets?"
"I've got a freaky memory. Answer the question."
"What is the question?"
Dean swallowed, trying to pull the double image of Noah into one, working to steady his voice. "Did you forgive him?"
Noah stared at him, incredulous, for nearly a minute, and then Dean saw his eyes begin to well up. "Yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, I think I did."
"Because…," Noah swallowed, giving Dean a weak, watery smile. "He was my brother."
"He killed your wife."
"The vampire did that. Not Luke. I think I realized…somewhere in there…in all that talk when you were fighting the fever…I think I realized that Luke's big sin was basically…not waiting for me to come home from the war."
"But you still killed him."
"Yeah." Noah nodded. "Yeah, I did. I couldn't let the vampire in him live anymore. Cause anymore pain."
Dean stared at tip of his boot, dusty and scuffed in the light of the moon. It dawned on him that his fist was still resting against Noah's chest and that his body had started to sway sideways.
"Sammy wants to know if he can be forgiven."
Noah nodded carefully. "Do you want to forgive him?"
Dean dragged his eyes up. They were so damn heavy. "I never blamed him. I mean…he hurt me. And I'm mad. But…I'll get over that."
"Did you tell him?"
"Nah," Dean shook his head. "I can't tell him that shit."
"What about how you felt when he left you?" Noah raised his voice slightly. "How you thought it was him in that meat locker? How you went through every memory of every pain he'd ever experienced when the fever ate through you?"
Dean looked at Noah, slightly puzzled. He was being incredibly specific. And loud.
"No, man. None of it."
"Well," Noah rotated, managing to get Dean's arm over his own shoulders. "Maybe he already knows."
"Yeah," Dean mumbled. He was so tired. The ground was looking pretty comfy right about now. "He's pretty smart. He figures shit out all the time."
Noah chuckled low in his throat and began to move them back the short distance toward the house. Dean stumbled up the stairs, seeing a shadow lurking at on the porch.
"Hey, Sammy," he greeted blearily.
"Hey, Dean," Sam replied, an odd note in his voice.
Dean was too tired to figure it out. Didn't matter anyway. Sam was back, Noah was alive, Dean was finally freaking drunk enough to forget the feel of mouths on his skin, the sound of nails skittering across stone. They were all safe at Bobby's and for one night, nothing else had to matter.
No angels, no demons, no destiny.
He let Noah maneuver him inside, trying valiantly to make his feet cooperate, but his limbs were completely uncoordinated.
"Couch?" Dean heard Noah ask someone.
The reply was apparently in the affirmative because the next thing Dean knew, he was being eased down onto the couch in Bobby's study, rolling to his side and dropping a hand to the ground to try to keep from falling off the world.
Someone tugged off his boots. Someone else draped a blanket over him. He waited to pass out completely, but oblivion was slow to oblige. Voice spun around him, speaking softly, drifting in and out of meaning.
"Been awhile since I've seen him this far gone."
"He's gonna have a helluva headache in the morning."
"He's had worse."
He could hear Sam and Noah. Idly he wondered where Bobby was.
"You get all of that out there?"
"I got the important parts."
"Your brother's a good man, Sam."
"Huh, yeah. I think he's the only one who doesn't believe that."
"You are, too, y'know."
Dean held still, listening, the buzzing in his body rushing to carrying him away.
"You don't know me."
Sam's reply was so filled with self-loathing that Dean automatically protested. It came out as sort of a low moan. The men speaking around him ignored it.
"I know how he sees you," Noah replied, nudging the couch and sending the world spinning once more. "That's enough."
Whatever Sam said in reply was lost to the alcohol-induced haze of nothingness. Dean fell into the void gladly, seeking a few hours of peace before the world bit into him again.
As it was, even Jack Daniels wasn't strong enough to combat Dean's memories.
There was a hand on his chest, heavy, warm, familiar.
Belatedly, he realized he'd been calling out – seeking help, solace, rescue from the torment of their mouths, the knives, a bizarro-world mix of the nosferatu and Hell's rack. He'd been strapped down, sliced into, and then they had started to feed.
He wasn't breathing right. Air would go out, but then he couldn't suck it back in.
"Just a dream, Dean."
Sam. That was Sam's hand on him, steadying him, grounding him.
Dean obeyed, finding it easier to do. He wasn't gone. He wasn't there. He opened his eyes, taking another breath as he tried to quiet the screams still pressing out through his skull. The weight on his chest suddenly made him feel trapped and he pushed Sam's hand away, struggling upright, his head pounding, stomach churning.
"Get off me." He was sweating and shaking, and his mouth tasted foul.
"All right, hey, backing off."
Dean shot his eyes around the room. The gray of early morning filled the room, hazy yellow rays beaming at him through the picture window. He took stock of what his eyes landed on, all images yelling safety.
They were at Bobby's. Sam was with him.
And he had the mother of all hangovers.
"Yeah, I got it," he snapped, angry with himself for thinking that he could drown the memories. All he ever ended up with was a wicked headache and the inability to eat red meat for a day afterwards.
"Fine," Sam grumbled, irritated.
He felt Sam start to pull away and reached out instinctively, grabbing his brother's wrist. "Hey, wait."
Sam paused, dropping back down on the folding chair where he'd been sitting.
Sam shrugged. "'S okay. You're never really fun to be around the next morning."
"You sleep?" Dean asked, gingerly rotating until his feet were on the floor.
He rubbed his face and then balanced his head in the palm of his hand, his elbow on his knee. If he wasn't very, very careful, he was pretty sure his head would simply detach from his shoulders and roll across the room.
"Yeah. It's early. Don't think Bobby's up. Not sure where Noah is."
Dean swallowed thickly.
"Here," Sam said, handing him three ibuprofen and a bottle of water.
"Oh, you saint," Dean groaned, taking both gratefully. He drank slowly, not relishing the journey to the bathroom if anything decided to make a reappearance. "How'd you know to come in here?"
Sam gave him a sad half-smile. "I could hear you."
"It's okay. Don't think anyone else did. Besides, if anyone knows about nasty dreams…."
Dean smiled weakly. "You're a good brother, Sammy."
"So are you, Dean," Sam replied sincerely.
Dean looked away, not quite up to his brother's level of familial angst. "Noah out wandering around or something?"
Sam shrugged. "He brought you in here last night, then headed back out. Didn't have anything with him, so I assume he's still around. I just went up to…well, I was going to say our old room." He chuckled.
"Need to get my ass in gear," Dean muttered, rubbing the top of his head.
"You're gonna let him go, aren't you?" Sam asked suddenly, without malice.
Dean squinted up at his brother. "Don't think I really have a choice."
"What if he kills someone – someone not a demon, or a vampire, or, y'know…evil. I mean, he's a werewolf, Dean."
Dean hung his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "What if we do?"
Looking back at Sam, he said. "What makes you and me any different, man? When we're in it…who's to say there won't be…collateral damage? Not to mention, we've both been dead and come back. I've done time on the demon side of Hell." He cushioned his head in his palm once more. "To some hunters, we're no different than Noah."
Sam looked down at his hands, hanging loosely between his legs. "Yeah, I guess you're right. And…it's not like he wasn't doing it for fifty years before he met you."
"Just…feels weird, I guess."
"Weird like letting Lenore live?" Dean countered.
Sam shrugged. "That's different. She wasn't killing anyone."
"So she said," Dean pointed out, finishing the water bottle. "Damn, I need coffee." He pushed to his feet, swaying a moment and steadying himself on the edge of the couch before shuffling toward the kitchen. "When it comes down to it, Sam…all any of us got is our word, y'know?"
When Sam didn't reply, Dean pivoted slowly to regard his brother.
Sam looked up, shifting uncomfortably to be caught in his own thoughts. "Yeah."
"You okay, man?"
"Yeah," he smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Just…y'know. Lot to take in."
"No doubt," Dean turned back to where Bobby kept the coffee percolator on the kitchen counter.
He knew there was even more he had to lay on Sam – the reality of what he'd seen in the future was something that could be avoided, if they worked together – but that was going to have to wait until coffee. Everything would have to wait until coffee. He leaned against the counter, holding his aching head in his hands, as he waited for the coffee to bring him back to life.
"That coffee I smell?"
"God, Bobby, not so friggin' loud," Dean groaned.
"You owe me a bottle of Jack, kid," Bobby returned, wheeling his way to the table. Dean just shot him a look. "You two figure out what you're gonna do next, now that Sam's back?"
Dean frowned. "Haven't got that far yet."
"Well, if you want to say good bye to your friend, drink your coffee fast, 'cause it looks like he's ready to go."
Dean's frown intensified as he straightened up, peering through the window. Noah stood on the front porch, a back pack over one shoulder, hoodie tied around his waist, his short-sleeved T-shirt exposing still-healing marks on his left arm. He was looking down the road as if trying to determine which direction he should start.
"Sam," Dean called. "Where'r my boots?"
He heard them hit the floor near his feet and fought back the nausea as he bent down to pull the on. Sam was on his heels as he headed out to the porch, the screen door banging shut behind them. The sun was high enough in the sky to have burned off the morning fog and the air smelled clean, fresh. It was just warm enough that Dean felt the nightmare sweat that had dampened his T-shirt begin to dry.
"Hey," Dean greeted.
Noah rotated and smiled at them. "Winchesters," he replied.
Noah nodded. "Bobby gave me this pack last night," he said, shrugging the shoulder with the backpack. "I got enough clothes and supplies to last me awhile. Figured I'd taken up enough of his time." His eyes shifted to the doorway and Dean knew Bobby was sitting there, watching. "Only so many war stories you can share, right?"
"You know where you're headed?" Dean asked.
"Not really," Noah said. "Been on the trail of that one nest so long…not sure what else is out there, to be honest. Thought maybe I'd head back down to New Orleans. Stock up on more of that voodoo powder."
Dean pressed his lips together, nodding slowly. He knew Noah had really only been waiting for him to show up; it wasn't as if he'd been planning on staying.
"How about you two?"
Dean glanced over at Sam, not surprised to find his brother watching him. Meeting Sam's eyes he searched an answer, a balance that had always been there before Hell and demons and angels and destiny sought to destroy it. He saw the same questions in Sam's eyes and felt himself smile.
"Still working that part out," he replied. He let his gaze take in Bobby, watching them from the doorway. "All I know is we're not going down without a fight."
Noah cleared his throat, turning to face the younger hunter. "Sam. I'm glad I met you."
Sam's smile was surprised and Dean smirked watching his brother struggle to find something both polite and sincere to say in response.
"It's been…educational," Sam replied.
Noah glanced through the screen door. "Corporal," he nodded at Bobby. Dean saw Bobby toss Noah a salute.
And then he looked at Dean.
"I feel like this is the end of Wizard of Oz or something," Dean grumbled, finding the emotion that tightened his throat warring with his raging headache. "You gonna miss me most of all?"
Noah grinned and Dean saw that it lit up his face – the weight, the worry, the guilt of his mission to find and eliminate the nosferatu nest was gone. In its place, Dean saw the person Noah had been before the curse.
"Good luck, Dean," Noah said, holding out a hand for Dean to shake. "I hope when this is all over, we run into each other again."
Dean shook Noah's hand and then exhaled in surprise when Noah gave his hand a sharp tug and pulled him in for a one-armed hug. He slapped Noah on the back and said into the man's shoulder, "Next time, no vamps."
Noah released him and nodded. "Deal." He headed down the stairs and turned west. Just before he walked away, he turned.
"Hey," he called, drawing both Dean's and Sam's eyes. "Nothing trumps family. The one you're born with or the one you choose. When it comes down to it…nobody can take that from you."
Dean smiled slightly, raising his hand. "See ya, man."
His aching head was spinning on the axis of Noah's words. Noah waved back, then turned on his heel, walking with that coiled grace Dean had admired.
"You think we will see him again?" Sam asked.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Dunno. Hope so." He glanced at Sam. "Don't really have a lot of friends, you know?" Looking back at Noah's retreating figure, he mused, "Would be nice to hang on to at least one."
As he watched Noah walk down the side of the road, he felt Sam shift his weight next to him, staying close. It wasn't going to be the same, Dean realized, but maybe it wasn't supposed to be. They'd been through too much to go back to the way things were. They needed a new normal. One that was big enough to take on every nightmare, every scar, every celestial battle.
And something inside of Dean had shifted since meeting Noah…a scarring over of a wound that had been so raw it had been bleeding out for months. The fact that Noah was walking away from them - and not in a grave with a silver bullet through his heart - gave Dean a kernel of faith that the world wasn't all tunnel. There was light.
There was the possibility that redemption – if not revenge – could win.
There was the possibility that this struggle – this perpetual, uphill battle – would end.
"Y'know your friend? The one who said anyone could be forgiven?"
Sam shuffled his feet on the wooden boards of the porch. "Yeah."
Dean turned to look at his brother, eyes serious. "I think she was right."
Sam's grateful smile told him that it might take a while, and they may have to course-correct a few more times, but they were going to get there.
"You two are breaking my heart," Bobby grumbled from the doorway. "Can we please get that coffee now?"
"Oh, hell, yeah," Dean grinned, clapping his brother on the shoulder and following him inside.
They had a future to change.
a/n: Thank you so much for reading. Apologies for the delay in replying to your reviews! I will respond to each – just wanted to get the story finished and posted before the premiere on the 3rd. *smile*
I have truly enjoyed writing this story; the character of Noah will live beyond fanfiction in an original story of his own called "Kill Creek Road." Come back around (in a year or so) when I've finished it and see if you remember him.
Also, next up is "From Yesterday," a multi-chapter AU of Swan Song which will also return the character Brenna Kavanagh to the boys. What if the amulet wasn't just a failed God-beacon? What if Sam never went to the Cage? And what if two hunters were left on their own to pick up the pieces, try to heal, and live in a world where it seems even the demons had gone quiet? Though the angels take away the upper hand, evil still finds a way and Sam and Dean Winchester are pitted against a powerful force – with no back up, no resources, and only their faith in each other to keep them alive.