AN: Holy shit. This is awful. It turned out long and dark. I apologize in advance. But I worked SO hard on it to be able to get it posted by Halloween, because Halloween is my favourite holiday and my annual Halloween story is one of my favourite/most stressful times of the year, so... I hope you enjoy! So, just FYI, this story is a missing scene from my big ongoing epic ''Everything You Want'' and yes, reading that is recommended before reading this. There will definitely be storylines and characters that won't make sense if you're not at least somewhat familiar with EYW.
So, anway, I have to stop blabbering and go back to prepping for my Halloween pary. But I hope this disturbs you all greatly and creeps you out. And I hope you like every second of it.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN, MY LOVELIES!
Title: breathing river water
Summary: You are living in a world where everything is right. This is your first clue. Missing scene from ''Everything You Want.''
Pairing(s): Dean/Ruby, Josef(OC)/Adele(OC), mentions of Sam/Amelia and Dean/Lisa.
Rating: M for massively dark themes.
Timeline: AU season six.
Spoilers: Blanket spoilers for all seasons.
Warnings: Well, huge mindfuck. For starters. A whole lot of bodily fluids (more specifically, vomit - there's a lot of illness in this story), character death (sort of), violence, gore, sort of suicidal themes, sexual situations, lots of mention of the plague, general creepiness, and there's a definitely disturbing non-con scene. I...think that's it, but if there's anything else you notice please let me know and I'll add it to the warning list.
Notes: Title from the poem ''Litany In Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out'' by Richard Siken.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters you recognize, or the poems that make appearances in this fic.
breathing river water
Written by Becks Rylynn
''the truth is this:
my love for you is the only empire
i will ever build''
- mindy nettifee; this is the nonsense of love
You are living in a world where everything is right.
This is your first clue.
In the mornings, you are happy.
You wake to green eyes, his lips quirked into a soft smile as he watches you, with adoration you still don't understand, clear in his eyes, calloused hands warm against your skin; fingers that trail over your body, writing stories and drawing maps to places that haven't been named yet.
''I love you,'' he whispers, and kisses his way up your inner thigh.
In the afternoons, you are happy.
You make iced tea, you wear a dress, you hum under your breath and you decide, on a whim, to make a pie with the fresh cherries Adele brought you yesterday. He watches you from the doorway, shoulder resting against the doorframe, eyes following your every movement. He kisses you when the pie is in the oven. Backs you right up against the counter amidst the flour and the sound of your laughter and he covers your mouth with his, hands slipping around your waist.
''I love you,'' he says into your mouth, and flips your skirt up.
In the night, you are happy.
You no longer fall into bed with him like you used to, all haste and desperation, harried movements and frantic kisses, teeth scraping and biting, fingernails drawing blood. You melt into bed with him like it is second nature, because you fit against him, you do. You fit like nobody else in the world could, and perhaps that is presumptuous, a selfish thing to say, but fuck it, that's what you know. You come undone, fall apart underneath his body, his skin against your skin, whispered promises lingering in the space between breaths.
''I love you,'' he breathes into your ear, before you fall asleep, so that it is the last thing you hear.
You life is perfect.
And really, you should know better.
There is a part of you, made up of cynicism, defeat and self-hatred, that still cannot believe this is all yours. Your life belongs to you here. Not anybody else. There is a part of you, made up of logic, rationality and self-hatred, that knows.
''if the window is over your heart and it is painted shut
then we are breathing river water''
- richard siken; litany in which certain things are crossed out
Adele is singing in the backyard, dancing around with her sundress swishing around her, bare foot and smiling. The sunlight bounces off of her long dark hair, cascading down her back in waves. She has always done this, she has. She takes normal mundane tasks, like watering the rose bushes in her backyard and feeding her cat, and she turns it into a musical. But her voice is beautiful, enthralling and sweet, familiar and comforting, so distinctly Adele, that it is so hard for you to find fault in it.
''Take my lips, I want to lose them,'' she croons to the roses. ''Take my arms, I'll never use them. Your goodbye left me with eyes that cry. How can I get on, dear, without you?''
The slight swell of her stomach is obvious under the thin material of her dress and there is a glow about her that you can only hope to have one day. You watch her from the back porch, gnawing on your thumbnail. Adele's voice rises, wafting through the rose scented air, sharp and powerful. ''So why not take all of me?'' She has one hand on her stomach and she is beaming. Something about it hurts, but you don't understand why.
''She looks happy,'' you muse when you feel Josef behind you, an ability you have always had. Even before you were a demon with Spidey Senses, back in the days of sweat and dirt, you always could feel people before you saw them, like your soul was reaching spindly arms out and embracing them.
Josef doesn't feel right today. You can't feel any of that coiled, restrained, pure power of his. Strange. It's usually so obvious to you. It's the kind of power that, on a good day, oozes out slowly, little bursts of intimidation and cat like grace, and on a bad day, explodes out of him, leaving bruises and snapped necks in his wake. It's not exactly the kind of power that can be ignored. He is more like a blank canvas today. But he's happy.
He smells like orange peels and cologne, clean soap and Adele, reminding you that these two are pretty much the definition of soulmates; two people who are so closely connected, so uniquely woven together that sometimes it is hard to tell one from the other.
''She is,'' he agrees, the usually gruff rumble of his voice lighter and happier than you have ever heard it. Peaceful.
You turn around to face him, soaking in the sight of the sun against his face, the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles, that same old lazy smile on his face - the one that somehow manages to look the same in every life they live, in every body he inhabits. You breathe in and out slowly and count each breath until you can smile back and mean it, despite the grating feeling of wrongness that has invaded your chest. ''You're going to be a daddy,'' you say, and his smile widens into a full fledged grin, stretching across his entire face, ear to ear and beautiful.
You don't know why this makes you want to cry.
In the roses, Adele is still singing.
''You took the part that once was my heart. So why not take all of me...?''
You visit Sam at his apartment downtown and forget which door is his.
He catches you in the hallway on his way home from class, his large hand wrapping around your elbow and spinning you around to face him, greeting you with a sweet smile and a hug. There are no shadows under his eyes. You don't know why you thought there would be.
''So, how was your date?'' You ask, accepting the cold beer he hands you before he flops down on the couch next to you.
A goofy grin lights up his eyes and you laugh, propping your feet up in his lap. ''It was good,'' he says, almost shyly, like an adorable kid brother. Like the adorable kid brother you still remember. The one who died in your arms. ''Really good.''
''Yeah? What was her name again?''
''You really like her, don't you?''
There is a blush in his cheeks that makes you smile. He nods and takes a pull from his own beer. There's a certain look in his eyes that you recognize. You think of Dean: the way your stomach flip flops when you're around him, the way your mouth dries, the way all the air whooshes to your head and makes you so wonderfully dizzy, how every part of your body feels him, even when he's not there, as if you are magnets. You think about how happy you are. Truly happy. So happy you could die. ''Are you happy, Sam?'' Your voice comes out as something halfway between a whisper and a croak, but Sam doesn't seem to notice, bobbing his head enthusiastically.
''I'm happy,'' he says.
You let out a breath.
''And you're happy, too.'' He doesn't phrase it as a question. Something about the tone of his voice - almost like a command - makes you vaguely uncomfortable. You shake it off. You can't understand the inexplicable tightening in your chest but you know that it hurts and you wish it would go away. It has no place here.
You sit up, swinging your legs off Sam's lap as you lean forwards to put your drink on the table. ''Sam,'' you start, but don't know how to finish. ''Can I ask you a question?''
His body tenses so briefly you think you might have imagined it. ''Shoot.''
''Do you ever feel...'' You have to stop to think, but can't quite manage to gather all of the racing thoughts in your head. There are too many of them to sort through, rushing around in your bloodstream, in your head, your heart, so you pluck one at random. ''Do you ever get the feeling that you don't deserve this?''
''No.'' He says it quickly, forcefully, with genuine conviction. There is something in the sudden stillness of the room that unnerves you. ''We deserve this,'' he murmurs shakily, putting his beer down. ''After everything we've done,'' he looks at you, mouth set in a firm line, eyes flaring with intensity and passion. His hand moves to your leg. ''After everything we've given,'' he leans in a little closer. ''Don't you think we deserve a happily ever after? A paradise?'' Closer still. ''Shouldn't we be able to rest?''
You swallow hard.
None of the puzzle pieces fit anymore. But why should you care? You could force the pieces together and you're sure the picture would still resemble something.
Sam is right.
You should be able to rest now.
Dean is waiting for you when you get home. You're rattled and trying to convince yourself that this is the way things should be, but when you see Dean, you relax. It's instant. He is leaning back against the kitchen counter, arms folded, t-shirt tight across his taut muscles. When you left this morning, he was in the kitchen. It's as if he never leaves. As if he doesn't exist outside of it.
What a ridiculous thought.
You slip your jacket off and smile at him, but he doesn't smile back, body tight and on edge. ''Hi.'' You widen your smile, all razor sharp teeth and glinting eyes as you slink forwards, falling back to your familiar play of seduction and destruction, minus the destruction this time - unless, of course, it's yours. You place one hand on his arm and touch his face with the other, fingers dancing over his skin, tweaking his ear, moving back to tangle in his hair. You lean in as close as possible, press your body against his to remind yourself he's tangible, and you kiss him on the side of his mouth, just barely, just a taste. ''How was your day?''
He doesn't answer, remaining stoic and impassive, though he uncrosses his arms and they fall to his sides.
''What's the matter?'' You push yourself onto your tip toes to whisper in his ear. ''Bad day?''
His hands slip around your waist and you roll your eyes, thinking it is to push you away. ''Fine.'' But when you begin to push away from him, his grip on you tightens and he yanks you back into him roughly, keeping you tight against him, making you gasp. Your wide eyes meet his. They are crackling with electricity.
''Sam called me,'' is all he says, like it's supposed to mean something. And that's definitely anger. Anger directed at you.
You squirm, wriggle, make an attempt to struggle away, but he won't let you.
''He told me what you said,'' he deadpans.
''What I said,'' you repeat. ''What did I say?''
He stares at you. You don't think you've ever seen that look in his eyes before. And you've seen all the looks. You know Dean like you know the back of your hand; it comes with falling in love. You've studied him - loved him - for so long that you can describe him from the inside out with your eyes closed and your back turned. But you don't know that look, soft and dark. This scares you. For so many reasons, this scares you, sends your pulse racing.
He doesn't answer your question, just dips his head and nips at your neck, hands steady on your hips. You want to push him away. You want to tell him not tonight. You want to ask him who the hell he is.
''Ruby,'' he whispers your name like it means something you cannot even begin to fathom. ''Are you happy?''
That shouldn't be a hard question.
Yes, you want to say. You want to shout it from the rooftops, tell everyone you know, yes, I'm happy. I'm happier than I ever thought I could be. Your voice gets stuck in your throat.
He spins you around and your back hits the counter hard and he kisses you hungrily, like he needs you, like he doesn't know what he would do without you. ''You're happy with me, right?'' His slow and steady fingers slip lower and yours are still in his hair. His knee slips between your legs. ''Right?'' He kisses your neck and you let your eyes flutter shut.
''Right,'' you breathe out, and it's not a lie.
It's not exactly the truth either.
''there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but i'm too tough for him,
i say, stay in there, i'm not going
to let anybody see
- charles bukowski; bluebird
You go to the local farmer's market in the daylight and you pretend you are a person. Someone who is real. Someone who goes to the stupid farmer's market. You drift between the organic strawberries and blueberries and watch the people milling around you. They are all so calm and carefree, self assured and joyful. You feel so envious of them. You narrow your eyes at them as they pass you by. You are not better than me, you think, rather childishly.
Yeah, see, this is why you hate most things. You are definitely regretting your thought of, I am going to be a person today. Because you may have everything you want, but you are not a normal person and maybe you should really stop trying.
You wander aimlessly in between produce, feeling hopelessly out of your element - because farmer's. market. jesus. - until you get to the peaches. Peaches are always a safe bet. You have no idea what you're doing, but you can fake it with the best of them, so you hem and haw before you reach for what looks to be the biggest and juiciest peach of the bunch.
Someone else grabs for it at the same time and your fingers touch. Your heart stops. The hand is soft and warm and when you lift your eyes, you can't breathe. You have never met this woman before, the one holding your peach, you have never seen her before in your life, you're sure of it. But you know her name. You look at the boy standing beside her, the spitting image of his mother except for that oddly achingly familiar look in his eyes. She smiles at you, sweet and friendly, and holds out the peach. ''Okay,'' she says with a small laugh, eyes lit up and happy. ''You win.''
Your numb fingers accept the peach. ''Lisa.''
She freezes. Her smile slips. Her hand snakes to her son's shoulder protectively, subtly pushing him back just a little. ''Do I know you?''
You're losing your mind. You say no, and you lie to her. You tell her that you live in her neighborhood and she believes every word of it, smiling genuinely and telling you that you should get a cup of coffee sometime. Her son keeps looking at you like you're not real.
You give her back the peach. You don't need it.
You already feel like you've taken something from her.
You have bought enough fresh fruits and vegetables to last a lifetime and by the time you've put all of the bags in the car, you're nearly laughing, imagining Dean's reaction to all of the so-called rabbit food. You jingle your car keys in your hand and hum Sinatra under your breath. By the driver's side door, you drop your keys and when you crouch down to pick them up and then lift your eyes, there is a little boy in front of you.
He is a beautiful little boy, tiny, five years old, with a messy mop of dark curls on his head, dimples and an impish smile. His skin is gray and his lips are tinted blue. Just like the last time you saw him. He is your little boy. The one who used to call you ''mama'' because you were the only mother he had ever known. The baby brother who died in your arms.
You stand up slowly and don't blink, petrified he'll disappear if you do. He doesn't say a word, staring at you intently with those all knowing eyes of his, a small smile curved over his pale blue lips. Your heart is drumming against your ribcage. ''Matthew?'' You croak out.
He still doesn't say a word.
''Ruby?'' The voice comes from somewhere behind you, off in the distance, light and cheery. Adele. You don't dare turn around.
''Mattie,'' you choke out the old nickname painfully. ''What are you...?''
He moves. Just one step. Right towards you.
You move back.
''Ruby!'' Adele's voice is getting closer and you can hear the concern bleeding into her voice.
Matthew - it's not Matthew, it can't be Matthew - takes another step closer, seemingly unaware of the terror that you're sure is radiating off of you in waves. You can't move, mesmerized by his very presence. He touches your wrist and a strange cold starts to seep through you, your blood, your veins, your bones. It's odd but it almost makes you feel...real. There is noise in your head now, a mess of voices, all talking at once over the loud roaring of your blood in your ears. You gasp and the air surges through your body, oxygen filling your lungs. For a brief moment, it makes you feel better. It feels good. But then a tidal wave crashes into you and everything goes hazy. The world swims before your eyes and you sway on your feet. A quiet sound, halfway between a moan and a sigh, passes through your lips.
''Ruby!'' Adele is practically screaming now. She sounds terrified.
You reach out a hand to steady yourself against the car, but your legs crumple underneath you and black spider webs are clawing at the edges of your vision. Matthew is standing over you, flickering, flickering like ghosts tend to do, and you try to say his name but nothing comes out.
You disappear right along with him.
You open your eyes and immediately wish you hadn't. Your vision is blurry and your mouth is dry, head throbbing painfully. There's a bothersome dripping noise coming from somewhere to your left, which is impossible because you're lying on Adele and Josef's couch and the only thing to your left is a vase of fresh flowers from the garden. It feels like you're hungover, even though you're not. You know you're not. Also impossible. You heave yourself into a sitting position with a great amount of difficulty and choke down the bile that rises in your throat. You cradle your head in your hands and a whimper escapes your lips.
All at once, there is the sound of fast approaching footsteps and Adele's worried voice is crying out, ''Oh, thank fuck! You're awake!'' She comes out of nowhere, rushing towards you and depositing herself on the couch next to you, pulling you in for a tight hug. She breathes a sigh of relief into your hair and you try to hug her back, but your entire body feels like it's been hit by a semi truck. ''Honey, you scared the shit out of me,'' she murmurs and you chuckle.
You're beginning to understand the ''sweetest person I knew, but she had a mouth like a sailor'' comment Josef made when... Actually, wait. When did he say that?
''Seriously, Ruby,'' Adele pulls away and meets your eyes. She tucks a strand of hair behind your ears and looks at you the way you used to look at Cecily, the way your mother never looked at you. ''What happened back there, sweetie? You look like you've seen a ghost.''
You have to laugh. You have to laugh because if you don't, you'll start crying and you don't know if you'll ever be able to stop. How do you explain that you think you just saw the ghost of your long, long dead baby boy? How do you even begin to spit those words out? ''Addie,'' you rasp. You never finish. You rake your hand through your hair and try not to think about how gray your perfect Mattie had been. ''I-I'm fine. I just haven't eaten anything all day.''
She stares at you, unconvinced and unimpressed. She's got a better bitchface than Sam. ''You're a terrible liar, Ruby.''
You squeeze your eyes shut tightly and absently scratch at your wrist, fingernails itching at the smooth skin stretched tight over the veins. When you open your eyes, Adele is staring at you with her soft, maternal gaze and your eyes sweep over her, down to her growing stomach. You don't have the heart to tell her the truth. She doesn't need the stress, you tell yourself. You try to shake off the pain and discomfort, like you've done so many other times, with a bright smile and confident posture, back straight. ''I'm fine,'' you repeat firmly. ''I promise. I swear, I just need to eat something.'' Your master plan to pretend you're a-okay pretty much goes crashing out the window the second you rise to your feet and your legs promptly give out underneath you.
''Whoa, hey.'' Adele's reflexes are just as good as ever and she catches you, latching onto your arm tightly and pushing you back down into the soft cushions of the couch. She laughs at you and says, while patting your head like you're a child who wants to fly to the moon, ''Well, that was very convincing, honey.'' Despite her initial amusement, there is fear lurking in her voice, in the backs of her eyes and right before she walks away, she lets her hand linger, for just a moment, on your cheek, her palm warm against your skin. You wisely decide to stay where you are, sitting down and scratching at your wrist.
Josef and Adele's cat, a small housecat named Mae - a black cat, of course, because Adele firmly believes that everyone is wrong about them and they bring with them the best luck in the world - jumps up onto the coffee table and stares up at your warily.
Irritated by the continuous crawling feeling, you lift up your sleeve to inspect the inside of your wrist. There is a sharp intake of breath and your eyes widen, but you work very hard not to react, not to scream. You don't want to scare Adele. But you don't think veins are supposed to look like that. And you're certain they are most definitely not supposed to move like that. You flex your hand. You make a fist. The veins wriggle and crawl. You blink.
And they're gone.
You pull your sleeve back down when a shadow falls over you, and you don't freak out. Not even when you realize that that is exactly where ''Matthew'' touched you.
''Here,'' Adele hands you a glass of water and sits down next to you, one hand brushing over her expanding stomach, the other rubbing your back. She stares at you until you drink from the cup and she chews her lip, looking worried. ''Dean's on his way,'' she offers quietly.
You nod slowly. Even that hurts.
''Ruby,'' her voice lowers even more and she glances around the room, apparently for prying eyes, leveling Mae with a stare until the feline gets up and slinks away, looking offended. Adele leans in, eyes lit up. ''Are you pregnant?''
You choke on the water, spluttering helplessly. ''What?! No!''
She doesn't look convinced. ''Are you sure?''
''Trust me, I'm sure.''
Adele shrugs it off and drops it, but still doesn't look like she's buying what you're selling. ''Well,'' she says. ''Whether you are or aren't - ''
''You passed out at the farmer's market today. I want you to go home and go straight to bed. Take a day off. Rest. Watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.''
''Why would I ever - ''
''Just,'' she squeezes your hand, ''let Dean take care of you.''
You freeze. You meet her eyes, scanning them thoroughly from the sweetness to the no nonsense don't fuck with me glint that has never ever left her shining eyes. You remember all the times she has told you that no woman needs a man. Not to fight her battles, not to save her, not to take care of her. You move away from her, just a little. ''Take care of me,'' you echo.
''Yes.'' She doesn't let go of your hand. ''We all need to be taken care of every once and awhile.''
Dean comes bursting through the door shortly after, short of breath, concern written all over his face in permanent ink. And then he's there, in front of you, kneeling on Adele's carpet with one hand cupping your face and the other holding your hand, desperate and frantic. ''Tell me you're okay,'' he begs you, soft, gruff, tired. He can't lose anyone else. ''Sweetheart. Ruby. Fuck. Tell me you're okay.''
This is the Dean you know. This is the boy you love, still so fearful because he just loves so much, hidden behind the gruff exterior of a man who's been to war. You forget things momentarily when you look into his eyes, and you smile, leaning in to catch his lips. ''I'm okay,'' you whisper.
He laughs, short and fake. He kisses the pulse point in your wrist and the itching stops. ''I love you for lying to me,'' he says.
I love you for knowing I'm lying.
You and Dean bicker the entire way home about the definition of okay and you don't tell him about Matthew. There's no reason to worry him. You... You were seeing things. It couldn't have been real. It's impossible. You're just tired. It got to you. It happens. You just need a good night's sleep. Maybe it's the flu.
You're still grumbling that you're perfectly fine when you get home and Dean tries to help you out of the car like you're some sort of dying patient. You swat him away from you stubbornly and drag yourself to your feet, keeping one hand on the car in case your unsteady legs decide to crumble.
Dean leans back against the car, looking annoyingly at ease and he says, ''If you're fine, walk in a straight line.''
You scowl at him. ''Bite me.''
He snaps his teeth, just for you.
''Just...'' You roll your eyes. ''Ugh. Fuck you. Help me get inside.''
He cackles - the bastard - and sweeps you up into his arms, chest still rumbling with laughter. ''Hey, though,'' he says when he pauses in the doorway, eyebrows raised. ''This is good practice for the wedding night, huh?''
You arch an eyebrow at him. You tense up and hope he doesn't notice.
He does. ''What?'' He grins. ''Big bad Ruby afraid of commitment?''
You don't know what you're afraid of.
But you are afraid.
''forgot in cruel happiness
that even lovers drown''
- william butler yeats; the mermaid
In the middle of the night, it is raining.
You wake to the soft, almost melodic pitter patter of rain against the windows and the sound of thunder rolling in the distance. Normally, on a good day, you love storms. You are a storm. Except you also wake to blinding pain and a churning in your stomach, so tonight you do not love storms. At first, disoriented and half asleep, you try to make it go away. You switch positions, rolling over onto your back, but that only makes the throbbing in your head worse. You open your eyes reluctantly and blink to clear your vision, but nothing clears. You can hear something dripping in the distance. The pain is worse on your back, so you roll onto your side, but you still can't get comfortable and Dean's arm is too heavy around your waist and you're going to throw up and you need to be sitting and -
You bolt upright, cradling your head because it's going to explode. Every noise is too loud: the rain, the clock, Dean's breathing, your breathing, the rustle of the blankets, the dripping, the dripping, the dripping. You bite your tongue to keep from crying out in pain, every muscle in your body tensed in an attempt not to writhe.
''Ruby?'' Dean's voice is coarse and rough with sleep and you flinch at the sound, because it's too loud. He brings a hand to your back, which only serves to magnify the pain for some reason.
''It's nothing,'' it comes out sounding like a croak. ''Go back to sleep.'' You slip out of bed before he can protest - which he will - and you stumble into the bathroom, barely managing to stay upright. You shut the door as quietly as you can. Your stomach is currently trying to climb its way up your throat. You try to breathe through it. Although your fingers feel oddly thick and disconcertingly sausage-like, as if they aren't your own, you manage to fumble your way through the medicine cabinet until you find the aspirin, swallowing more than the recommended dosage dry. You close your eyes, brace yourself against the sink and wait for the pills to kick in, knuckles white.
The rain is louder in the bathroom. So is the dripping. Is silence too much to ask for?
You open your eyes. Your reflection is ghastly and pathetic, pale skin, light sheen of sweat on your forehead, dark bags under your exhausted and bloodshot eyes. You moan lightly, but breathe through it somehow. The dripping doesn't stop. Reluctantly, even though all you want to do is go back to sleep and avoid consciousness, you flick on the bathroom light, instantly regretting it. The light is like a sledgehammer pounding into your skull. Bright fireworks explode behind your eyeballs and you hiss, one hand moving to cover your eyes, like you are a vampire. You blink a few times and clench your jaw.
When your eyes focus, you see it and your entire body goes rigid.
There is red spilling onto the white tiles, a vicious oozing liquid, unnervingly thick and unmistakable. It's dripping, dripping, dripping onto the floor and making a pool. It's blood. A shiver runs down your spine. But you do not scream. You do not shout for help. Your mouth feels like it's glued shut. You don't know how to convince yourself this isn't real. You lunge forwards, acting on instinct, to pull the shower curtain back slowly. This time, you do scream.
The bathtub is filled with blood, so full it is overflowing, blood sloshing over the rim and running down the side of the claw foot tub. In the blood, there is a little gray head just above the surface, blinking owlishly. Sightless eyes find yours.
You ignore your first instinct, fighting the muscle memory; the reflex to pull him out, and spin around but there is a girl blocking the door. Her hair is curly and unruly, streaked with dirt and tangled beyond repair. Her clothes are frayed, her feet are bare, and she looks horrified.
Your dead sister takes your hand. This is not real. This cannot be real.
''Ruby,'' her touch sends you falling to your knees and a burst of white hot agony goes shooting through your whole body, right down to your core. Pictures dance behind your eyelids, reminding you of all of the pain you went through before you got what you wanted, before you got the storybook ending. Cecily's eyes are still sweet, she is still such a pretty girl, forever thirteen, and on the left, Matthew's small hand is slipping into yours. It feels warmer than it should. ''Listen to me,'' Cecily's hands move to your shoulders and she holds your gaze, never letting you look away. ''Listen to me, please,'' her voice cracks. ''You're running out of time. You can't be here. You shouldn't be here. You know this, you do.''
''You do not belong here,'' says Matthew.
You falter. You ask them, ''Where do I belong?''
''You know that, too,'' Cecily says. ''You just have to remember.''
They come undone before your very eyes, unfolding and fading, flickering and shifting until they are nothing but wisps of smoke in the air, the smell of fire lingering long after they are gone. You are the girl alone on the bathroom floor, left behind to figure it all out for yourself. You are always that girl. There is no blood on the floor but there is sweat dripping down your neck and you can't make the air reach your lungs.
But then the door bangs open and there is Dean. He drops to the ground in front of you, on his knees, and his hands are warm on your face, smoothing hair out of your eyes. ''Hey, Ruby. Ruby, what's wrong? I heard you screaming.'' He bites back a curse when he lays his hand on your forehead. ''Jesus, honey, you're burning up.''
You can't speak. You can't tell him what you saw. What they said. You can't even lie to him and tell him you're okay. He wouldn't believe you, anyway. You don't believe you. You can't make that wounded, frightened look on his face go away. There's a horrible, painful curdling in your stomach and a burning in your ears. Your whole body is shuddering violently and you feel like you've been out in the cold for days. Hysteria building and bubbling inside of you like a hurricane, you shove Dean out of the way and crawl away from him. You barely manage to make it to the toilet before you start retching, body expelling whatever's in your stomach.
This is not right.
None of this is right.
Dean does take good care of you. You have to admit that. He's calm, he doesn't panic, he holds your hair back for you, tucks you into bed, feeds you meds, tries all the home remedies he knows to get your fever down. But he's quiet as he does all of these wonderful things. He doesn't tell you stupid jokes to try and make you smile. He doesn't hum Metallica or sit in bed with his ankles crossed, flipping through every channel mindlessly, without seeing anything, making idiotic comments because he's worried about you. He is methodic. Precise. Sweet but...strange. You try not to read too much into it. You try to believe he's just trying to let you get your rest. You try to believe a lot of things.
You spend the next day in bed, alternating between asleep and throwing up. You never stop shivering. Dean never leaves you.
''Something's wrong,'' you try to get him to believe, in between bouts of vomiting, while he's mopping your forehead with a cool cloth and holding a bucket under you. ''Dean,'' you slur. ''Something's wrong with me.''
He shushes you gently. ''You're just sick, sweetheart.''
''No.'' You shake your head. ''No, Dean...'' Another round of gagging cuts you off and he tsks, pulling hair away from your neck. You collapse in a boneless heap as soon as your stomach stops twisting, breathing hard and fast, your vision blurred by sweat and tears. This does not feel like just a simple flu. Dean leaves you briefly, disappearing to go empty out the bucket and get you a glass of water. You wind up curled in the fetal position, trying to will it all to go away.
The air shifts, barely noticeable to anyone but you and then Matthew and Cecily are there, both of them peering down at you worriedly. You swallow thickly and try to call out for Dean, but all that comes out is a moan. ''Ruby,'' Cecily pleads. ''You have to fight this. Please. Please.''
Matthew is crying, tears making track marks on his pale face. ''Mama, please,'' he begs, and your hands curl around the sheets.
You remember the last time you heard him say that, when he was lying on his deathbed, gray and trembling, sweating and bloated, skin cracking. ''Mama, please,'' he had whimpered, using up every ounce of his strength to turn his head and look at you. ''Make it stop.'' A cry tumbles out of your mouth and you cover your face with your hands. It's not fair. Yesterday morning, your life was perfect. You should have known. You don't get perfect. You get horrific nightmares and never ending sadness. Matthew and Cecily are gone by the time you remove your hands from your eyes.
Dean brings you a glass of water and forces you to take at least one sip, even though you're sure you won't be able to keep it down. ''Get some sleep, okay?'' He leans down to kiss your feverish forehead. ''I'll be here when you wake up.'' For some reason - and it must be the crazy fever delirium - it feels more like a threat than a promise.
''you have a heart of gold
and i am kneeling in your bloodstream
panning for the only thing that has ever felt like home.''
- andrea gibson; staircase
You dream of Matthew and Cecily inside the one place you truly knew as home. It is a rickety structure, poor protection from the elements and grossly unstable, but in 1350, in the twenty one years before, it was all you knew. You began and ended with this place.
Matthew is sitting on the ground drawing pictures in the dirt with a stick. Cecily is sweeping. There is a welcoming, tempting sort of quiet here, a peacefulness that draws you in. You want to stay here. You feel incredibly out of place in your modern clothes - your leather jacket and jeans, your stiletto boots and make up - but you want to stay here. You feel like they've been here all alone, since they died, waiting for you.
''This is where you'll come,'' Cecily says, as if reading your mind, though she doesn't look up from what she's doing. ''When you die.''
''You'll get to spend forever with us,'' Matthew adds. ''We won't be alone anymore. None of us will.''
Your breath catches and there is glass in your throat, shredding and tearing. ''Do you promise?''
Matthew beams. It's like the eighth world wonder. You've seen a lot of beautiful things, but nothing can ever replace the beauty of seeing your children smile.
''But Ruby,'' Cecily tacks on slowly. She sets the broom aside and side steps Matthew's portrait in the dirt to glide over to you. You are still in awe of how alive they both look here, in this space, in this silence. There is life in their eyes and color in their cheeks. You're not sure you ever want to leave. ''You are not meant to be here with us. Not yet.'' Cecily's voice is gentle but firm, leaving no room for arguments. She sounds so much like you. ''You have things to do. Places to go.''
You take a deep breath and look around you at the warmth surrounding you, at the children you never got the chance to raise, the children who never got the chance to grow up. ''Would it be so bad?'' You finally get out, whispering it out around the glass. ''I could be happy here.''
''Yes,'' Cecily agrees. ''But there are people out there who need you.''
''Don't you need me?''
''We're dead,'' says Cecily.
''Mama,'' Matthew tugs on your jacket. ''If I could keep you,'' his fingers, small and bony, dance over the back of your hand and then your palm, before he weaves them through yours. ''I'd keep you forever. But you can't be here. You know that.''
Your heart is in your throat. ''Mattie - ''
''You have to go back,'' his voice is commanding, like a little lion. You'd almost forgotten how brave he used to be, fearless and impish. Like your father. He levels you with a stare. ''You have to go back to what's real.''
Except you don't know what that means. You don't know what any of this means.
''He's right, darling,'' a disembodied voice says, rumbling through the air, coming from everywhere; the corners, the walls, the ceiling, the floors. It sucks the warmth out of this place. The color drains from Matthew and Cecily's faces. ''You don't belong here. You belong with me.'' That voice... You recognize that voice. The skin on your wrist burns and itches and you pull back the sleeve to inspect the spider-like veins, worming and wriggling. ''You belong to me.''
You bolt upright in the bed with a gasp. Your heart is pounding, fast and painful against your ribcage, so hard it feels like it's bruising you. You do not feel any better. In fact, you feel worse. You are drenched in sweat, the pillows and sheets soaked, you are hot, you are cold, you are shaking, you are nauseous and tired and aching and your head feels too heavy. You are still shaking. There was one other time that you felt like this. One other time that all the strength drained out of your body and you were laid up in bed, choking on your own tongue and unable to catch your breath. It was a long time ago - a long, long time ago - and it was not just the flu. It was the fucking plague.
And look where that got you.
Black eyed and bitter, with a chip on your shoulder, two dead kids lingering in your heart and your head, an older sister literally pulling off the most elaborate identity theft scheme in the history of identity theft schemes, and life full of hellfire, tragedy and misery.
You do not want an encore presentation of that.
Gingerly, you untangle yourself from the sheets and swing your legs over the side of the bed, careful to move extra slow as you rise to your feet. Every part of your body hurts and feels weak and shaky, but somehow you manage to stay standing. You go slow, don't push yourself, shuffling out of the bedroom and down the short hall to the rest of the apartment.
It's dark outside and you can hear the wind howling, spitting rain quietly. In the kitchen, there is a pot simmering on the stove and Dean is standing at the counter with his back to you, cutting up carrots. You can hear the television on in the background, droning on about the evening news. You can smell something cooking. Just the smell of food turns your stomach. The lights float in front of your eyes. You shake your head to clear your vision but it doesn't help. You curl an arm around your stomach and clutch at the paneling on the wall for support. ''Dean.''
He startles and nearly slices open his finger, whirling around to face you with wide eyes. After about five seconds of stunned staring, he abandons his task and rushes over to you. ''Ruby,'' he helps you over to the kitchen table, pushing you into a chair. ''You shouldn't be out of bed.''
''Dean...'' Even sitting down, you feel unusually weak. Out of breath and sickly. ''I don't think this is the flu.''
He sighs and strokes your hair. ''Of course it is, babe. What else could it be?''
You shrug helplessly. ''I don't know. I just... I think...'' You lick your dry lips and struggle to get the words out. For some reason, your gut is telling you that out of all the people in the world, you should not be telling him this. You ignore your gut. It's ridiculous. This sickness is fucking with your basic instincts. You should trust Dean. You should trust him with your life. ''I think something is doing this to me. Like... A demon or something. This doesn't feel right, Dean.''
He makes a noise in the back of his throat. Something unnervingly akin to an annoyed growl. You lift your eyes, expecting determination and steel. Instead, he looks frustrated, lips pinched, eyes narrowed. It takes a minute for you to realize he's frustrated with you. ''Nothing is doing this to you, Ruby,'' he snaps. ''It's the flu. That's all.'' He turns away from you and goes back to the cutting board. You try to ignore how uncomfortable you feel when you watch him pick up the gleaming knife, hands tightening around the handle, eyes inspecting the blade, body tense like he's poised for a fight, before he goes back to calmly chopping up the carrots. ''It's not a conspiracy,'' he says with a shake of his head. ''Everyone gets sick. Even you.''
You remain silent and study him closely. He is completely at ease here, dressed down in a ratty white t-shirt and sweats, feet bare. His hair has grown out slightly and the stubble on his face is getting out of control, transforming from a five o'clock shadow to a full on beard, like he's just too lazy to shave. He gets to sleep in now, that's why. He doesn't have a strict morning routine that he follows to a tee like a good little soldier in order to make it out the door of the motel room by check out time.
There is no motel room.
There is a warm apartment, small but home, where he can sleep in, shave or not shave, putter around the kitchen, watch TV and sit on his own couch with his arm around you. Dean is happy here, living the life that he's always wanted, making dinner, coming home to a cozy apartment, to you. It's a safe, normal, domestic life and it's what he wants. He wants kids. He's made that clear. He'll wait until you're ready, but he wants kids with you. He wants to marry you. You found the ring in his jacket pocket. He wants a backyard and PTA meetings and taking the kids trick or treating and stringing up lights at Christmas time. He wants to give you a real life.
And you are the selfish brat who wants to drag him right back into the life that broke him. (selfish, Margaret used to taunt, stupid. worthless. that's my sister, everybody. isn't she pathetic?)
Dean glances over his shoulder. When he sees the stricken look on your face and how glassy your eyes are, he frowns deeply and shuts his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. ''Ruby.'' He pulls out a chair and sits down across from you, knees touching yours. ''I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...'' He pauses, trips over his words and shakes his head. He takes your hand, rubbing his thumb over the back of your hand. ''You're starting to scare me.''
Your hollowed out, bloodshot eyes stare into his and you force a smile onto your lips. ''You're right,'' you say. ''It's probably just the flu.'' You give a half hearted laugh that turns into a cough. ''I guess I'm just not used to being sick.''
He smiles sweetly and leans in to kiss you, but you recoil. ''What are you doing? You'll get sick.''
He shrugs, offers you a small smirk. ''Then we'll die together. Come on,'' his eyes flicker with something dark and heady and he leans in close. ''We'll be a tragic love story. Everybody loves tragedies.''
And he kisses you.
''and repeat after me with your heart:
i no longer need you to fuck me as hard as i hated myself.
make love to me
like you know i am better than the worst thing i ever did.
i'm new to this,
but i have seen nearly every city from a rooftop
- buddy wakefield; we were emergencies
You are not any better the next day either, but you pretend you are and tell Dean that he shouldn't take another day off work. He's reluctant to leave you, getting ready for work sluggishly, lingering behind like he's waiting for you to change your mind. He doesn't seem to believe your ''actually, I'm feeling better today'' story. But you finally manage to get him out the door sometime after one, waving him away with a kiss on the cheek and a smile, promising to stay in bed and rest up, even though your fingers are crossed behind your back. You wait five minutes after he walks out the door and then you drag yourself out of bed. You suffer through a painful shower, trying to ignore the way the hot water beating down on your bare skin feels like needle pricks, and then you sluggishly step into some yoga pants and pull on a tank top, throwing one of Dean's hoodies over it.
You make it all the way downtown to the local library without collapsing, which you count as a huge victory. In theory, you could just call Bobby for help. That would probably be easier. But he would definitely report back to Dean and you are determined not to get Dean involved in whatever is happening. Besides, it's not like you're contagious. You're fairly confident that whatever this is, it's just for you. You can tell.
Shivering under the warm fabric of the sweatshirt that smells like a mixture of both Dean and Sam, you find a secluded corner, away from the judgmental eyes of the librarian - who thinks you're a homeless person, which rude...but not entirely unfounded because you look horrible - and you get to work. You sit there or hours, researching various things that go bump in the night, until your head aches and the words on the page swim in front of your eyes. One thing is for damn sure: You have a brand new appreciation for Bobby Singer.
Somewhere in between witches and genies, when the words are blurry and you're freezing cold, something weasels its way into your brain. A seed of doubt. What if you're wrong? You try to ignore it and pick up another book. You get halfway through the first section and then you put the book you're reading down and rub at your eyes. You need a break. You sit in silence, head in your hands, palms rubbing at your sore eyes, and the thoughts come in droves, barreling into you like a train that has spun off the tracks. What if you are wrong? What if it's just the flu? What if you're trying to see the supernatural where there is only the natural?
What are you trying to do, Ruby? Dean's voice asks in your head, sounding frustrated and annoyed and so disappointed. Why are you trying to destroy everything we've built here?
Don't you want to be happy? Sam murmurs.
No, another voice says, talking over the low rumbles of the Winchester ghosts in your head. Josef. You trust your instincts, his voice is hard and gruff, like a warning. They've gotten you this far in life.
Maybe so. However, it's incredibly hard to trust your instincts when your instincts are telling you that someone - something - has poisoned you and your live-in perfect boyfriend is not to be trusted. You cough miserably into your elbow and lean back in your chair, letting your eyelids drift shut for a moment. Honestly, you're hoping you're insane. Let's face it; everyone would be so much better off if you were carted off to the funny farm. You lean forward and lay your head on your arm, eyes finding the clock on the wall. It's getting late. Dean should be home soon. Absently, you rub your nauseated stomach in an attempt to lessen the twisting knife-like cramps and take a few gulping breaths. The library has emptied out considerably now - not that it was incredibly busy in the first place given that it's a library. There are no more students milling around, cursing and mumbling under their breath as they try to navigate the maze. There are no more whispers flooding through the stacks. It is utterly, eerily, scarily silent.
And your Spidey Senses are beginning to tingle.
A soft sound begins to reverberate through the wide open space, starting out quiet and growing in volume as it gets closer and closer to where you are. It's a strange sound; one you can't quite put your finger on. At least not until you see the bright sunshine yellow ball bouncing out from one of the aisles and out of sight. An echo of child's laughter cuts through the air, followed by the sound of shoes squeaking against the linoleum floor. You swallow hard. Something pulls at you - invisible, icy fingers snag in your hair and poke at you until you stand. It isn't until you begin to move that you realize how cold and dark and empty the library has become.
Something is fucking dripping in the distance. Something is always fucking dripping.
You take cautious, careful steps forward, keeping your eyes peeled. There doesn't appear to be another soul here with you, but you look anyway, scanning down every aisle. The laughter gets louder as you venture deeper into the darkness, like a song stuck on repeat. You reach the end of the row of shelves and poke your head into the back of the library, eyeing the empty tables and empty chairs suspiciously. Behind you, something brushes past you and you swear you feel fingers on your waist, breath on your neck. You whirl around. No one's there.
You take a deep breath. ''Matthew?'' You turn back around when the sound of footfalls rushes past you and down another aisle. ''Cecily?'' Experimentally, you take one single step down the history section. Almost immediately, you feel two strong hands against your back, roughly shoving you farther into the row of books. You stumble and nearly lose your footing, but manage to catch yourself, turning to confront the culprit. All there is is empty air and before you even have a chance to open your mouth, a book flies off the shelf behind you. As soon as you spin around, a handful of books go rocketing off the shelves.
You wait precisely thirteen seconds for the other shoe to drop. It does. Out of instinct, your hands fly up to cover your face and you duck as every book goes crashing to the ground, sailing through the air around you and landing nosily in a heap. Amazingly, not one book hits you. When you finally look up, there are two faces staring at you through the empty shelf. The second you look at them, they both shriek and giggle and take off running. Despite your weakened state, you set off after them. They race through the aisle with you hot on their heels and then they disappear around the corner. You turn the same corner and stop in your tracks. They are both sitting at the table you had been working at, waiting patiently for you to catch them. You falter briefly at their appearance, heart skipping a beat.
They are both dressed in modern clothing, looking totally at home, like any other kid. Cecily is wearing a simple yellow sundress with a white cardigan over it, white sandals on her feet, and a daisy in her hair. Her dirty blond hair is sleek, clean and combed, falling in waves down her back. Matthew is wearing a blue t-shirt with the Avengers on it and jeans. His sneakers have Batman on them. You would give anything for this to be real. You would give anything for the chance to be able to give them the life they should have had. Matthew is lying on his stomach on the table, playing with a toy fire truck. Cecily is standing, hovering over the table, thumbing through the books.
Both of them look up at you and greet you with big, welcoming smiles. ''Hi, Mama!'' Matthew chirps cheerfully, unaware of the knife he's digging into your heart.
''So,'' he sits up, sitting cross legged on the pile of books. ''Have you figured it out yet?''
''She's always had it figured out, Mattie,'' Cecily huffs. She sinks down into your vacated chair and pulls a book onto her lap. She flips through it quickly, then scoffs and throws it back onto the table. Matthew picks it up and opens it, flicking through it for pictures. ''Ruby,'' she says. ''Your time is running out.'' Her chair scrapes back against the floor and she stands, pausing to smooth down her dress. ''You can't stay here. You know you can't.''
You frown and shake your head. ''What are you talking about?''
''You know what I'm talking about.''
''Cecily, stop talking in riddles. Nobody knows what the hell you're talking about.'' It takes you a second to realize you're using your 'Mom' voice. It's been so long since you've gotten to use it. ''If you're trying to tell me something, stop playing games and just tell me.''
The girl looks mightily perturbed. Her lips are pressed into a tight line and curved down into a frown and her arms are folded over her chest. She is the perfect picture of a moody, grumpy thirteen year old girl. ''I shouldn't have to say it,'' she argues.
''Cecily - ''
''You know, Ruby,'' she insists loudly. ''You've always known! You just don't want to face it.''
You feel like you're about to explode. ''Face what?!'' You look around her to where Matthew is and feel anxiety creep into your chest when you see he's not there. It's amazing how one can go hundreds of years without being a mother and still slip so easily into mommy mode. Like riding a bicycle. Your eyes dart around the vast emptiness of the tomb-like corner of the library before you look down and see that he's right next to you, holding onto your hoodie in a clenched fist like he's holding onto Superman's cape.
He takes your hand and pushes up your sleeve, turning your wrist over to look at the vines creeping up your arms. He clicks his tongue and shakes his head, but doesn't seem all that surprised. ''Uh-oh,'' he says. ''That looks real bad.'' He reaches out to touch the veins, but stops. ''You're happy here,'' he says sadly, and then frowns. ''I'm sorry.'' His fingers touch your skin. There's a short, sharp electric shock, a burst of icy cold, and you watch, lips parting in shock, as the veins in your wrist twist and contort into a familiar symbol. You recognize that symbol.
All of a sudden, a heavy weight crashes into you, crushing you and pulling you under. It knocks all the air out of your lungs and you swear you can feel your heart shattering into a million pieces. You can't breathe. You're dizzy, only it's not from a mysterious illness this time, it's not from the flu, not from poison. It's grief.
When you look back to Cecily, she is looking up at you with a mixture of sorrow and relief. ''Ruby...''
''No.'' You shake your head adamantly and back away from them. ''No. You're wrong. You're both wrong. This is real.'' You dig your nails into the palm of your hand just to feel the pain. Because pain is real. ''This is real!''
Matthew says, brokenly, in a ragged whisper, ''Mama, please.''
Cecily says, eyes like fire, ''Wake up.''
You wake up, jolting awake in the library, head snapping up from the book you've been sleeping on. You lose your balance and fall back, tumbling ungracefully out of your chair and to the hard floor. You're gasping, desperately trying to get air into your burning lungs, and you scramble to pick yourself up. Your dream repeats in your head, racing through your mind in bright flashes of light and hopelessness. Your fingers, grasping the chair, loosen and you fall back to the ground and give up.
The tears don't start slow, it's not gradual, it's all at once, it's sudden, like a wave, emptying you of hope and filling you with despair, a build up of heartache that you thought you were past. You burst into tears on the library floor, sobbing into your hands. You feel like you're dying, weak and broken, sick and lost, and all you can think of is that you should have known.
You are a demon. You are made up of impurity and things unholy. Fire and smoke and blood. You are a tragedy. You do not win. You do not get the guy. You do not get the happy ending.
You do not get anything, says Margaret.
''i believe you did not have a happy life.
i believe you were cheated.''
- mary oliver; a bitterness
You trudge home in the cold night air and enter the empty apartment before Dean gets home. You fall into the bathroom and splash your face with cold water. Attempt to wash out the pain. It doesn't work. You can try to tell yourself stories all you want. You can whisper to yourself that it was just a dream. That the Matthew and Cecily you have been seeing are not your Matthew and Cecily. You try to tell yourself that you can stay. But a mother knows her children and a demon knows to trust their instincts. You clench your teeth together and stare at your sad and pathetic reflection in the mirror - your dying reflection.
Hesitantly, you push your sleeve up and pray that nothing is there. Your veins are still coiled into that painfully familiar symbol that you just can't ignore.
Your life is an illusion. Everything you have, all of your happiness, the happiness of the people you love... It is a painting created by someone else. You grip the edge of the sink tightly to keep yourself upright and close your eyes. A movie plays behind your eyes, of the perfect life, of happiness and peace. Josef's smile, Sam's twinkling eyes, Adele's swelling abdomen, Dean's peacefulness. The sounds - laughter and whispers and declarations of a love that doesn't really exist - all blur together into an indistinguishable buzz of noise. You feel phantom touches all over your body, memories of Dean's hands, Dean's lips.
You wanted a real life.
Yet there is nothing here that is real.
The stomach acid bubbles in your throat.
You go down hard on your knees in front of the toilet and lift up the lid, body shuddering as you retch and heave into the bowl. All that comes up is blood. You understand now, what Cecily meant by your time is running out.
Your body is failing.
And you need to go home.
Dean comes home with groceries, struggling through the door with two heavy bags and no free hands. He kicks the door shut behind him and calls out to you, ''I'm home!'' You are in the kitchen, slicing up a cucumber for the salad on the table that no one will eat. ''Hey, babe,'' he plants a distracted kiss on your cheek and strips off his jacket, draping it over the back of a chair. You put the knife down and turn to lean against the counter, watching him unload the groceries. ''How are you feeling?'' He asks, putting the milk in the fridge.
''Fine,'' you lie.
''Is leftovers okay for dinner?'' He asks. ''Because I think we have enough leftover chicken soup to last us a lifetime. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have followed a recipe that was for six people.'' He chuckles lightly. ''I'll have to bring some to Sam.''
''Sure,'' you shrug noncommittally. It's not like it matters anyway. ''Whatever.''
He stiffens at the dismissive tone of your voice and shuts the cupboard, turning to toss a worried look in your direction. ''Are you okay?'' He crumples the empty paper bag and throws it in the garbage. He finds his way to you and winds his arms around your waist. Your breathing shallows. Your arms snake around his neck because you can't help yourself and he leans down to kiss you, even though you're sick. You kiss back because you are not strong enough not to. He rests his forehead against yours. ''You're upset.''
You try to smile but there are tears in your eyes. ''I'm just...'' You blink away the tears. ''...Thinking about how much I love you.''
His hand starts to slip up your shirt. ''Why would that make you upset?''
''Because I don't deserve you.''
''Ruby,'' he mumbles. ''Don't be stupid.''
You smile and kiss him again, one more time, one last time. ''Dean,'' your voice is raspy and quiet when you pull away from his embrace, turning your back to him. You drift towards the counter and stare down at the knife. ''Can I ask you a question? It's important.''
You hesitate and think - briefly - maybe it would be better if you stayed. At least you would die happy. You shake it off and ask for proof. ''What happened to Crowley?''
There is a beat of silence. Then... ''Who's Crowley?''
The flimsy walls of your dream world come crashing down around you and leave you standing amongst the rubble of everything you thought you knew. Your eyes flicker between black and blue before settling, finally, on black. There's a rush of strength in your failing body. Your fingers curl around the handle of the knife. You try to move fast, whirling around with the knife raised, but you're not at your best and he's faster. It is his job to keep you here. Evidently, he is very good at your job. He catches you with ease, latching onto your wrist and twisting, pulling you into his body. He stares down at you, unsurprised but disappointed. ''You just had to keep digging, didn't you, sweetheart?''
You feel the rage enter your system and begin to boil in your blood. A welcome burst of adrenaline bursts through you. ''Don't call me sweetheart,'' you hiss, and bring your knee up, slamming it into his groin. He goes down groaning and you feel a cool smile slip onto your lips. ''Oh, good,'' you remark casually. ''You can feel pain. I wasn't sure.'' You pluck the knife from the ground and crouch down in front of him. ''So then let's play a game. I'll ask the questions and if you answer them correctly, maybe I won't slit your throat just to watch you squirm and bleed. Got it? Good. Question number one: Does this hurt?'' You grab his wrist and slam his hand, palm down, onto the floor. He struggles and pleads. You stab the knife through his hand. He howls in agony, spitting and cursing, and you swallow bile because it's still Dean's voice crying out in pain and it's still Dean's eyes lighting up with hurt. Instead of vomiting, you grin and pat his cheek. ''Good answer.''
He yells even louder when you rip the knife out. He looks at you, right into your eyes, green eyes pleading, wide and sad. ''Ruby,'' he tries.
''Do not do that,'' you warn. ''Now, for question number two. What's happening to me?''
He looks away. ''I don't know,'' is his quiet answer.
You suck in a breath. Shake your head. ''Wrong answer,'' and you slash the knife across his cheek. He yelps, mostly out of shock, and tries to throw himself back, away from you, but you grasp his shirt and pull him back. ''Let's try that again, hmm? What is happening to me?'' Your free hand snakes down to his uninjured hand and you graze your fingers over the back of it. He squares his jaw and tries to look though, even though all you really see in his eyes is fear. Well, good. That was exactly what you were going for. You lift his closed fist and pry his fingers apart, holding tightly to his index finger. ''FYI,'' you tell him. ''If you don't give me the answer I want this time, I'm going to break your finger.''
''I-I don't know,'' he stammers frantically. ''I really don't. You're...You're right, okay? Something's wrong. You're reacting negatively to the poison.''
You press the tip of the knife against his throat and watch him swallow nervously. ''Why?''
''I don't know.''
''I'm not! I swear! I don't know anything! That's not what I was built for. Ruby,'' he locks eyes with you, his own glimmering with obsession, adoration and desire. ''I was built for you.''
You throw the knife aside and use your bare hands, hauling him to his feet and throwing him like a rag doll. He crashes into the table and falls limply to the floor. You let the black drain out of your eyes and pull him to his feet, pushing him into the wall. You want him to be able to see your eyes for this. You all but lunge at him, wrapping your hand around his throat. You get a sick sense of satisfaction at digging your nails into his skin. ''You're not Dean,'' you snarl. ''You have no idea who Dean is.''
And something changes.
The power in the room shifts.
His face goes blank, the terror leaving his eyes, and his eyes move down. When he lifts his eyes back up, he is smirking and his eyes are dark and rich. You have never seen that look on the real Dean's face. If he's trying to convince you, he's doing a shitty job. ''That's where you're wrong,'' he says. He grabs your arm and it feels like he's vacuuming up all of the power and strength that has been used against him. He pries your hand away from his neck and bats you away from him easily, like you're nothing more than an annoying pest. ''I,'' he pushes off the wall with a sneer, ''am what you want. I am everything you want.'' He comes closer and closer and closer still, moving with a disturbing elegance, a kind of grace that no human possesses. You back away until you hit the table. ''I am the one who loves you, Ruby,'' he growls. ''I want to be with you. I want to marry you. Have kids with you. Grow old with you. Die with you.'' He cocks his head to the side and blinks. ''Does he?''
''You're not real,'' you point out.
He tips his head back and laughs, loud and booming. He enters your personal space, jamming his knee between yours and grabbing onto your wrists so tightly you think he's trying to crush them. ''I can make it feel real,'' he promises. He kisses you hard and ignores your struggling, trying to bend you back over the table. You bite down on his bottom lip hard until you taste blood and he pulls away with a curse, wiping away the blood dribbling down his chin. You shove off the table and away from him and try to put as much distance between you and Crazy Hallucination NotDean, but he is not having any of it. He grabs for you and manages to grasp the fabric of your sweatshirt, pulling so hard it rips. You swing around and slap him as hard as you can, trying your best to dig your fingers into the cut on his cheek. When he roars and stumbles, you push him into the fridge. He slams his head and slides to the ground, looking dazed.
You turn to run, even though there is nowhere to run. He crawls after you, all tunnel vision and determination, and grabs your ankle, yanking. You go down hard on your stomach, half in the living room and half in the kitchen. He catches your foot when you try to kick him in the face. It's like a horror movie. You try to dig your nails into the floor, you try to hang onto something, you try to save your own life, the last act of a desperate scream queen, but the villain of this movie is strong and he pulls you over to him like you're as light as a feather. You have never seen Dean look so monstrous before.
Not Dean, you remind yourself. Dean would never do this.
He looms over you, wide fairly psychotic grin stretched out on his lips. He straddles you, sitting on your legs to keep you from kicking at him. He stares down at you like you are something he's won. ''Hey, Rubes,'' he coos sweetly, while he rips off your hoodie and tosses it aside. ''Do you want to know what's really twisted?'' He tries to tear off your top and you fight back, clawing and scratching. He pins your hands above your head. ''This is happening,'' he starts, and makes the mistake of letting go of your hands. ''Because somewhere in that battleground of a mind, you feel like you deserve this.'' He laughs. ''Just how fucked up are you, sweetheart?'' His big, rough hands move down, one to the buckle on your jeans, one to the buckle on his, and you lick your lips and make your move.
You threw your left hand out and grope around until you grab the lamp off the table. He goes down like a rock the second you smash it over his head and you roll onto your stomach, crawling out from underneath him and staggering to your feet, using the coffee table as leverage. You break into a coughing fit as you stand, covering your mouth. There is blood coating your hand when you pull it back.
NotDean is still conscious, moaning and bleeding profusely from a wound on his forehead. You chuckle, a throaty laugh that turns into another cough. There's blood on your tongue and on your pale nearly blue lips. ''Thought I told you not to call me sweetheart,'' you say.
He is choking and spluttering and there is blood on his teeth. You hope he's swallowed glass. You hope he chokes on his own damn tongue. ''You're - ''
''A crazy bitch?'' You finish for him. ''This coming from an attempted rapist?'' You shrug and press your foot to his throat. ''Well, we're all mad here, baby. Now. I have one last question and I want you to think real hard about it, Mr. Dream Lover. See, technically, you should be able to take me. I'm dying. I'm weak. But I think you underestimate how much pent up aggression I have inside me. So, here's the question. Do you really want to fight me, asshole, or do you want to let me talk to your boss?''
You take the foot off of NotDean's throat and turn to face the newcomer. He's an average looking guy. Medium height, medium build, dirty blond hair. Flawless English accent. There are no tattoos visible on his body. He's got a mean looking smirk, though, and he's wearing an expensive looking suit. He may be an idiot, but he sure thinks he's important.
''Slow clap for the lady,'' he says. ''Congratulations, detective. You've figured it out.'' He bows to you, eyes twinkling impishly. You look over your shoulder to where NotDean is, but he's gone. ''I do have to apologize,'' he confesses, taking slow and measured strides towards you. ''I was unaware of your...condition.''
You narrow your eyes, following his movements as he circles you. ''You mean you didn't know I was a demon.''
''An unfortunate mistake,'' he nods. ''I take full responsibility. I'm afraid my poison cannot co-exist with your demonic essence. Hence your drastic illness. It's your body trying to combat it.'' He snickers. Meets your eyes. ''There is a war going on inside you, gorgeous.''
''Will it kill me?''
He snaps his fingers. ''That's the unfortunate part.''
You don't answer for a moment. You watch his careful predatory steps. He's got quite an ego, this one. He not only thinks he's important but he thinks he's charming. God's gift. ''You got a name? Or should I just call you Djinn?''
He laughs pleasantly. ''My name is David.''
You nod. ''Well. David,'' you take a step. ''Let me the fuck out.''
His eyebrows knit together. ''Why? So you can kill me?''
''If you let me out, I won't have to kill you.''
More laughter. ''You know, for some reason, I don't believe you.''
''My word is better than yours.''
''Probably true. But why on earth would you want to leave?''
''Um. ...Because I'd rather not die?''
''Ah,'' he raises a finger. ''But you would die happy.'' He closes the distance between you and strokes your cheek with the back of his hand. ''If I gave you a stronger dose of the poison, you could live your dream life. The life you've always wanted. With the people you've always loved. You and Dean will get married, you'll have beautiful babies. You'll live a real life.''
''Except it won't be real,'' you snap. ''And need I remind you that your fucked up Frankenstein version of Dean just tried to rape me?''
''So I'll make a better one,'' he vows. ''A nicer one. Ruby, think about it, love. Think about your family. Josef and Adele will get to be parents. Sam will finally be free. Happy endings all around, yeah? And think about what else I can give you. Think about Matthew and Cecily.'' You look up at him sharply. ''That's right,'' David says. ''I can give them back to you. You'll get to raise them. They can have the life you've always wanted them to have. You and Dean... You can raise them together. The perfect family.''
''But it won't be real,'' you insist.
''It'll be better.''
''Maybe I don't want perfect,'' you muse softly.
''Ridiculous,'' he scoffs. ''Everyone wants perfect.'' He rolls his eyes at you and leans in close like he's going to whisper the meaning of life into your ear. ''He doesn't love you,'' he whispers. ''Back there, in that depressing reality of yours. He doesn't love you.''
''Probably not,'' you agree. ''But he needs me. And I need him. I need all of them.''
He blinks and steps away from you, looking stunned. You get the feeling no one's ever said no to him before. ''So that's it?'' He questions. ''That's your final answer? You want to go back to a world where you are a slave to the king of hell and death follows you like a dog, picking your life apart?''
You look around the destroyed apartment, the shattered glass and the blood. You give a firm nod. ''Yes.''
He blinks. ''Huh.'' Slowly, an amused smile dances over his lips. ''I'm beginning to think Mr. Crowley is grossly underestimating your strength.''
Your lips pull back into something vaguely reminiscent of a smile. ''People usually do.''
''Alas,'' he shakes his head and places a hand over his heart. ''I don't like losing. So, with a heavy heart, my dear, my answer has to be no.''
''Mmmhmm,'' you nod understandingly. ''I understand. Hopefully, you can understand why I have to do this.'' You catch him off guard with a right hook and when he stumbles, you snatch the knife off the floor and shove it up, into his jugular. It won't hold him long, it's not a silver knife dipped in lamb's blood, but hopefully it will stop him from dosing you with even more poison long enough for you to take a swan dive. You take off running, sprinting out of the apartment and into the hallway. You climb the stairs as quickly as possible, using up every last ounce of your quickly dwindling strength to get to the roof. You get up one flight and then you start coughing up blood.
Time is running out.
You're practically deflating. Every part of your body is beginning to go numb. You make it to the roof, but you don't make it to the ledge. You collapse halfway there, crumpling and folding into yourself, falling to your hands and knees. The blood comes rising in your throat, pouring out of your mouth. You can't feel your fingers. You can't feel your legs. Oh, no. No, no, no, no. You can't die like this. Not trapped in some fucked up dream world, coughing up blood and shivering on a rooftop. If anyone is going to kill you, it's going to be Crowley and it's going to be because you killed him first.
Then, in a turn of events you did not expect, there is David. He's tearing off his suit jacket and rolling up his sleeves and then his hand is white hot against your forehead, tattoos creeping down her arm and everything explodes in a bright blue light.
He may be charming.
But you are a damsel and if there is anything you know, it's that egotistical men cannot resist the chance to save a damsel.
''i want to be a cloud so full of honey
that there is nothing left of me
until i throw myself into the fire
and am contained forever
i will be contained forever, a thing of beauty
i will be that thing forever
i don't want to be beautiful with you
i want to be an ugly, wretched, bleeding thing''
- dorothea lasky; you are beautiful
You wake up with a gasp and a scream, strung up in a dingy basement. You're home. David the Djinn rips the needle out of your arm - in the same spot where your veins crawled and wormed and burned - and he cuts you down, sending you sprawling to the floor. Your head is spinning from the blood loss and your wrist itches, but you feel so much better than you did.
David, on the other hand, is sighing heavily and sadly. ''We are all allowed one mistake,'' he mutters. ''I suppose you were mine, love.''
You look up at him slowly with red eyes.
He grins back. ''But what a lovely way to burn.'' He claps his hands together. ''Alrighty then. Now that you're home, safe and alive, I believe it is time we part ways.''
You clap a hand down onto his shoulder and spin him around into the wall. Your hand snakes for your knife; the one that is silver and coated in lamb's blood. Poor David looks like he's about to pee his pants. ''Now-Now, Ruby. I thought we had a deal. I let you out, you don't kill me.''
''Oh, we did,'' you smile. ''But, you see, David, I'm a demon. And what do demons do, love?'' You show him the knife and watch it reflect in his terrified eyes. ''Demons lie.''
The knife comes down.
You are sitting on your kitchen floor where none of it ever happened. Dean never kissed you here, never told you he loved you there, never brutally attacked you, never made you chicken soup. You are tired. You cannot remember the last time you were this tired. You sit back against the counter, legs sprawled out in front of you, and you replay it all in your head, every little bit of it, over and over again until you have it memorized. Until you can repeat every word that was said. You know how happy they were by heart. You know the job on their faces. The happiness. It's like a song on repeat, stuck in your head.
You have never cared much for history books or romance novels. You don't watch most TV. You don't sing or play any instruments. You don't collect things. So you study people. You watch them. Read them until you know them. You know the people you love like you know the back of your hand and maybe that is your curse. Your wish - your dream - turned into a nightmare, because you knew them too well. Because none of it felt right and you knew that.
And now you are left here with that one nagging thought: Would it have been better if I stayed? You could have died with them instead of for them like you know you are going to. You could have had it all.
Your front door creaks open and then clicks shut. Heavy footsteps approach. You don't react. Two familiar boots walk into your line of vision and your eyes trail up the jean clad legs and the green Henley and leather jacket until you get to his face. Josef says, ''Got your voicemail.''
You nibble on your lower lip and nod. ''Hmm.'' Then you have to abruptly look away because your eyes are stinging.
''Oh, doll.'' He lets out a breath and takes a seat next to you on the ground. He doesn't say anything but his shoulder touches yours. You try not to think of Adele. You try not to think about how Joe would have been the best dad. How beautiful his smile was before you got his wife killed. ''Djinn hunts are never simple, Ruby.''
You try to swallow it but it won't go down. Something rips free and you can't tell if it was a moan or a cry. His hands touch your hands, threads his fingers through yours like he's trying to keep you afloat, and then he pulls you in, wrapping you into the safety of his arms. Lets you cry against his leather jacket.
He never asks you what you saw. He doesn't need to.
''we were never tragedies
we were emergencies
you call 9-1-1
tell them i'm havin' a fantastic time''
- buddy wakefield; we were emergencies
You shouldn't be here. You know that. But if you are a tragedy then you need someone to die for, a forbidden love, an anchor. If you are Juliet, you need a Romeo, and there is no one else in the world it could be. You approach the house silently in the dead of night and watch the silhouette's in the window, moving animatedly even though it's two in the morning.
For a very long time, you didn't understand what love was. Not this kind of love. You knew love when it came to your children, your family, but passionate love? This kind of love? It was an anomaly, an enigma, a fairytale you wanted so badly to believe in but had never seen. And then there was Dean. Somewhere along the way, back in 2008, when you were a red hot angry fighter, fought demons with your bare hand, bled yourself dry for them, he unknowingly taught you all about what real love was. How addicting it is. How beautiful it can be. How painful it always will be.
There are many things in life that are worth dying for.
Love is at the top of the list.
You sit outside and watch Dean while Josef watches you from somewhere in the shadows.
It's a pattern. It's a rhythm. You turn to leave at four past three, just as the door opens. ''Ruby?'' You freeze, hidden away in the shadows. ''I know you're out there,'' he says, and you are gone by the time he steps out into the light. It's a pattern. It's a rhythm.
And this is the map of your heart.
You are living in a world where nothing is right.
But it's real.
That has to be good enough.
''we were together. i forget the rest.''
- walt whitman
AN: So, I was hoping I'd get more Josef in here, but unfortunately I only got in those couple scenes (sorry Kathey!). And holy moly, this definitely wound up going in a very dark and disturbing direction. It was just going to be super angsty when I started but then it got all fucked up and freaky. Anyway, info dump: This story takes place in between chapter ten and chapter eleven of Everything You Want (so not actually at Halloween) when Ruby was avoiding Dean and Dean and Lisa's relationship was unraveling. Oh, and by the way, I apologize profusely for the long wait for the next chaper of EYW. I promise I am working on it and I will finish that story. You have my word.
Also, for anyone who was affected by Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, my heart goes out to you. I heard she was a nasty one and I try to avoid saying this a lot, but I'm praying for you. I hope that you are all safe, healthy, warm and dry.
And one last time: HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE! I hope you all have a spooktacular night. Stay safe and warm! Watch lots of scary movies and eat lots of candy!