Laoich, ch. 8

xxxx

"How do we get in?"

Sam heard Dean's casual question to the two boys behind him and ground his teeth. Sam knew his brother was deliberately trying to annoy him, but Sam couldn't seem to stop letting him. He was embarrassed that Dean had noticed the food-stealing, and Sam wasn't even sure why—not sure why he was stealing food, not sure why Dean's subtly calling him out on it was making his skin itch. Be an adult, he told himself fiercely. He'd been one successfully for a year while Dean had been gone. Why was being around his brother again making him revert to being a four-year-old? This was the reason Sam was better off on his own. Because Dean made him feel like a child, because Dean

But even as his mind started down its well-worn path of resentment and blame, Sam could feel his breath starting to hitch, panic beginning to rise in his chest at the thought of Dean out of reach, Dean gone again, Dean dead.

"Are we all here?" Dr. Deaton's even tones managed to break through the thoughts in Sam's head that were like actual voices in his ears – bitterness and fear and don't leave all clamoring for his attention.

The vet raised an eyebrow at the expression on Sam's face. "Everything OK?"

"Fine," Sam said shortly. "We're all here."

Dean ambled up next to Sam, crumpling the onion ring boat in one hand. "The boys say they've got a way in." He said it to Deaton, not looking at Sam.

"Good." The vet dipped his chin at Scott and Stiles. "Lead the way."

The way in turned out to be a narrow, unlocked window to the boiler room. While the boys were able to slip through pretty easily, the adults had a harder time.

Sam rubbed a shoulder that stung like hell and would probably be bruised in the morning as he looked around.

"Where to next?" Dean asked.

"This way." Scott and Stiles were already navigating the cluttered basement, more familiar with this part of the school building than a couple of students probably should be.

The hallways of the school were dark, lit only by the moonlight that filtered through classrooms into the corridors and the occasional dimly lit fixture that was clearly meant to provide a way to maneuver through the halls when the lights were off. But the boys moved confidently toward their destination, Sam and Dean and Deaton trailing in their wakes.

The musty, oddly familiar smell of a high school made Sam smile slightly. School had been the place where Sam had most felt like he could be himself growing up, in control and heading toward a goal that was still tantalizingly out of reach – escape. It hadn't always been easy – the awkwardness, the differentness had always been there, especially at the beginning of any school stay. But eventually, given time, Sam had inevitably been able to find a place for himself at school where he felt like he fit in to one degree or another. And there'd been a sense of safety at school that had eluded Sam elsewhere in his life.

Sam shook his head. "Do all schools have this same smell?" he wondered out loud.

Deaton gave him a fleeting smile with an accompanying nod. "They seem to, don't they?"

Dean said nothing, not glancing Sam's way, not mocking.

Sam swallowed. Just an hour before Dean hadn't hesitated to call him a dork. But something had shifted. Again. He slid his eyes to Dean, missing once more, incongruously, the easy jabs from his brother, fought the urge to say more, to goad Dean into making an annoying—but Sam was beginning to realize, weirdly comforting—comment at Sam's expense.

In that moment, Dean looked at him, face a mask, eyes meeting Sam's with a level of disinterestedness that startled Sam before they moved away. Sam swallowed again.

"This is Ms. Blake's room," Scott said. He peered through the window into the darkened room and then opened the door. Sam saw the boy's nostrils flare as he stuck his head around the corner. "She hasn't been in here recently." He sniffed again. "Probably since school was out."

"How…?" Dean started.

"Smell," Scott shrugged. He looked at the two hunters somewhat self-consciously. "I can get a sense of how long since someone's been at a certain place by how strong their scent is. Especially if I know them."

"Interesting," Sam said. And it was. He wondered what all the young werewolf could deduce from the smells around him, if the boy could pick up more than just the scent of someone's presence. Like dogs that could sense when their owners were sick or upset.

"Here's Mr. Harris's room." Up ahead, Stiles had opened the door to another classroom. "Looks like my dad's guys have been here," the kid observed.

Entering the room, Sam thought Stiles was probably right. The room wasn't in disarray, but books in the shelves looked like they'd been re-shelved somewhat haphazardly and the drawers in the desk weren't completely closed.

"Your dad say anything about the case when you had dinner tonight?" Dean asked.

Stiles shook his head. "Couldn't get him to talk about it at all," he said with disgust.

No one moved to turn on the lights, the clear night and the almost-full moon providing enough brightness to navigate the room. Sam had a flashlight, just in case, but so far it had proved unnecessary.

Dean pulled a book off one of the shelves, flipping through it before returning it. "These shelves were a lot neater when I was here this morning." On Sam's confused frown Dean added, "Ms. Blake was in here subbing when I talked to her."

Sam nodded, moving toward the desk.

"Yeah," Stiles agreed, rolling his eyes. "Mr. Harris was kind of OCD about things being neat." He looked at Scott with a small, and frankly, kind of evil smirk. "He'd get up and straighten any book you didn't shelve exactly right."

Scott laughed out loud. "How many times did you do that before he gave you detention that day?"

"Seven."

Dean barked out a laugh of his own, which earned him a grin from Stiles.

"He'd been in the military or something," Scott shrugged, picking up one of those desk things that often had a person's name on it. He turned it to face Dean and Sam. "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do," he read while Stiles mouthed along. Scott waved the placard around before plunking it back down on the desk.

"Dick," Dean said. "Hey, where's the bathroom? I gotta take a piss."

"Nice, Dean." Sam couldn't help himself. Because this was what he did, what he'd always done, played the embarrassed little brother when Dean was crude. It hadn't always been play, admittedly, especially when he'd been younger, especially when things were tense between them like they had been for a while, but he was testing now, seeing if Dean would engage again, would snap back or up the ante by saying or doing something even coarser in reaction. But evidently Dean still wasn't in the mood, because he just ignored the comment and Sam, raising an eyebrow at Stiles.

"Uh. Down that hall and to the left." Stiles gestured vaguely back in the direction they'd come.

And Sam also couldn't stop himself from following Dean's progress out the door with his eyes.

xxxx

Dean left the door open slightly as he left the room. It seemed unlikely there'd be any trouble in the deserted school, but he'd rather not have any more obstacles than necessary between him and any sound of a problem.

Dean had felt Sam's eyes on him as he walked away, but hadn't had it in him to—hadn't wanted to—try and make his brother feel better. Because Dean knew Sam was struggling, although with what exactly Dean wasn't sure. Those easier moments earlier in the day were gone, Sam pissy with him again over the fries/onion rings or whatever the hell was going on in his brother's brain. Dean knew part of his own pissy reaction to Sam was based on discouragement over being in this place – which sucked, by the way – again after a few good hours.

The reality was this sort of annoyance with each other was nothing new; Sam had always gotten impatient and mad with Dean over things he'd said or done that pushed his younger brother's many buttons, and Dean had always reciprocated. They were brothers; they lived in each other's pockets and had their entire lives. Conflict and hurt were inevitable. But since Dean had gotten back from Purgatory, it had been different – Sam swinging from seeming indifference about Dean's existence one day to attempts at chumminess the next, and Dean trying to get his feet under himself in a world that wasn't trying to kill him 24/7. It wasn't the first time Dean had come back from the "dead" to a brother who was changed, but at least when Dean had come back from hell, Sam had missed him while he'd been gone. Gotten in bed (literally) with a demon intent on causing the apocalypse, sure, but still. At the moment, Dean couldn't get a handle on where he stood with Sam, and it made him tetchy.

Dean ran his fingers down the lockers as he walked, flipping the locks absently as he went. He turned the corner and spotted the bathroom across the hall. Angling toward it, he stopped to get a drink from the water fountain, then pushed through the door labeled "Boys." He took his time, not particularly eager to get back to his brother and the tension that thrummed between them. When he was finished, Dean washed his hands, and spent a few minutes in front of the mirror there staring at his reflection. It was still strange to him sometimes, after his time in Purgatory, to see himself in mirror, shaven and clean, hair cropped short again. There hadn't been mirrors in Purgatory, of course, but he'd caught glimpses of himself reflected in water from time to time – filthy, hair and beard matted. Eyes oddly wild, terrified. But centered, too. He'd known what needed to be done there. Here, he was no longer so sure.

Dean ran a hand over the top of his head, studying himself a second longer before shaking himself and turning away.

He drank again after he left the bathroom, memories of Purgatory always causing him to slip unthinkingly back into survival mode – take water when you can get it, stay alert, never let your guard down. And even as Dean straightened, his eyes narrowed, scanning the shadows, looking for threats. He saw nothing in the darkness, but down the hall, past the corridor with the chemistry lab, a light glowed dimly. Dean canted his head to one side, tensing when a shadow moved on the wall opposite what he realized must be a window in the door of a classroom.

Dean forced himself to relax. It was probably a teacher here late or a janitor. Maybe Ms. Blake? She hadn't been in her room, but maybe she'd been somewhere else in the school. He headed toward the light, glancing down the hall with Harris's classroom as he passed, just in case the others were done and waiting outside the door. No one was there, so Dean continued on. He'd look in to the room and see if it was worth further investigation.

It was the library rather than a classroom where the light seemed to be on. Through the window, Dean could see that the overhead lights were dark, but beyond some of the stacks he could see a light on. And he pulled the door far enough open to slip inside.

xxxx

Sam breathed out a somewhat unsteady breath when he noticed that Dean didn't pull the door completely shut behind him when he left the classroom. Even pissed at Sam, Dean couldn't seem to keep himself from being ready to protect his brother if something went wrong. Not just him, Sam realized, of course, but Scott and Stiles and even Deaton. Some days that protectiveness drove Sam to distraction, but some days – like today – he found it remarkably reassuring. Reassuring not because (today at least) Sam was particularly worried about his own safety, but because it seemed like a sign he and his brother weren't completely disconnected.

"Hey," Scott said, sounding confused. "Mr. Harris gave this paper an 'R' grade." He looked up at Deaton, then at Stiles and Sam. He was holding a sheaf of papers he seemed to have pulled out of the bottom drawer of the desk.

"That's weird," Stiles said. He sidled closer to his friend as Scott lay out the papers on the desk and sifted through the messy stack of papers. "This one has an 'H'." He pointed.

Both Deaton and Sam joined the boys at the desk, and the vet, with a deepening furrow in his brow, sorted through the papers, too. There were indeed an "R" and an "H" along with more recognizable letters for grading – a "C," a "D," a couple of "A's."

Deaton moved the papers around, putting them in an order not immediately apparent to Sam. The vet fanned the assignments out slightly so that the letter grades at the top of each sheet formed a word.

"Darach," Sam read quietly. He looked over at Deaton, who was grim-faced in the moon light.

"Dark oak," Deaton translated.

xxxx

Dean moved stealthily across the room, glancing down each aisle as he moved toward the light source. It was probably the librarian, staying late, doing whatever librarians do after the kids were gone, but best to be careful.

There was a room at the back of the library, and the light spilled out of the open door. Dean approached cautiously, keeping to the side. He could hear what sounded like the click of keys on a keyboard, and he peeked carefully around the corner.

Jennifer Blake was at one of a row of computers in the room, but before Dean could pull his head back out of sight, her head turned and their eyes met.

"Mr. Smith," she said with a surprised, but open smile.

Damn. "Ms. Blake." Dean stepped fully into view.

"Were you looking for me?" She swiveled around in her chair, and Dean noticed she was no longer wearing the demure pencil skirt and cardigan that she'd been wearing earlier in the day. Her black pants looked like leather and the tank top showed some cleavage. But the expression on her face was pure sweetness.

"No, actually, I wasn't." Dean took a couple of steps farther into the room. "I got permission from the principal to do some investigating after hours – no kids to interfere," he smiled.

Jennifer closed the window open on her browser as Dean approached, standing and giving him a slightly flirtatious look. "Principal Thomas is very accommodating, isn't he?"

"Yes, he is," Dean agreed, hoping that was, in fact, the case. And the name of the principal. He gave Jennifer his own toned-down version of a seductive smile. She seemed to want to flirt with him and who was he to deny her the opportunity. Even if he had serious questions about her motivation.

The teacher looked down and then up at him through her lashes, closing the gap between them. "See, the thing is …," she started quietly.

Without realizing he was doing it, Dean leaned closer to hear. And Ms. Blake's hand shot out, fingers curled at the second knuckle, a bony set of brass knuckles connecting powerfully with Dean's throat at the Adam's apple. Dean gagged, pain exploding in his neck, collapsing forward, choking as his hands came up—belatedly—in reaction.

"… Principal Thomas died last year," she finished as something breakable shattered over Dean's head.

xxxx

"So, is Mr. Harris the dark oak?" Scott asked.

"Or is he warning us?" Stiles mused. It seemed unlikely that the man would be the darach given how he died.

Sam exhaled noisily and agreed with Stiles. "Given that he was killed by means of the three-fold death, I'm going to guess it's a warning."

Dr. Deaton didn't add anything, just continued to frown vaguely. He walked away from the desk, down the aisle, along the side of the classroom. He stopped and looked out the window, brow wrinkled, silent.

Stiles rolled his eyes at Scott. Seriously, man. Could the vet not just contribute to the conversation like a normal person? Did he always have to sigh mysteriously and look troubled?

"What?" Sam asked, a bite to his voice. His eyes were on the vet, and he had a fairly ferocious scowl working on his face. He wasn't super-patient, this guy. Seemed pissed off about three-quarters of the time. But at the moment, Stiles could sympathize.

"There's a ritual," Dr. Deaton said slowly, turning to face Sam and taking in Scott and Stiles with a glance. He stopped.

Stiles resisted the urge to scream.

"What ritual?" Sam gritted.

The vet shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be evasive." And he gave Stiles a fleeting, but knowing look. "I'm just trying to remember."

"If you give me an idea about what you're thinking, I may be able to help," Sam said. His face had smoothed out some at the vet's comment. He glanced toward the door of the room.

"If it's the ritual I'm thinking of, it bestows on the person performing it great power at the cost of the lives of several different classes of victim." He chewed briefly on his lower lip. "Virgins, healers, I think, maybe guardians," he trailed off. "I need to do some more research, but I believe there were groupings of three along with the three-fold death." He raised an eyebrow at Sam. "Does any of that sound familiar?"

Sam blew out a sigh and shook his head with obvious reluctance. "No. It doesn't." His head turned back to the door again.

Stiles glanced at the door, too, wondering what the guy was looking for.

"Would Mr. Harris be a guardian?" Scott asked uncertainly. "I don't think he's a healer or anything." He looked at Stiles.

Stiles shook his head. "Not that I know of."

"A warrior," Deaton said suddenly.

Stiles frowned at him. That hadn't been one of the options presented before.

"Virgin, warrior, healer, philosopher, guardian," Deaton said, and it was kind of a chant. "That's what it is," he said, voice sure now.

Sam raised an eyebrow at the man. "You just remembered?" he asked.

"Yes," Deaton said coolly. "Ours is a mostly oral tradition. I learned about the ritual during my training many years ago; it just took me longer than usual to recall it. It's been a while since I thought of it at all," he added dryly.

Mr. Harris was a teacher and that seemed like it could fit a couple of the other categories, as well. "He could be a philosopher or a guardian, too, though, couldn't he?" Stiles asked. Even if Mr. Harris hadn't seemed particularly philosophical. Or protective of his students for that matter.

"Maybe," Deaton allowed. "But the ritual requires that the sacrifices be performed in a particular order for the maximum effect – virgin, warrior, healer, philosopher, guardian. I think for the moment we should assume that order, especially given that the killings started with three virgins."

Stiles drew in a startled breath at the mention of the virgin sacrifices. He still felt blindsided by any mention of the deaths that had included Heather. It was like he forgot in the heat of trying to figure out what was going on that his friend was actually gone. Even as she was one of the driving forces behind Stiles's and Scott's involvement in these killings, her death still didn't seem real until someone said it out loud.

"Hey." There was a bump against Stiles's shoulder, and he blinked over at the person who had done it. Scott. Of course. "You okay?" Real concern and hurt for him.

Stiles sniffed and wiped almost angrily at the tear on his cheek. "Yeah," he said. "It's just …. It's like I keep forgetting," he said quietly.

Scott didn't respond, but he didn't move either, standing shoulder to shoulder with Stiles until Stiles felt steady again.

Sam was eyeing them curiously, but the man didn't ask any questions. Instead he asked Deaton, "What do we do to stop it?" His eyes drifted to the classroom door again.

"We need to identify the darach and stop it."

"How do we stop it?" Scott asked.

Deaton looked at each of the people in the room grimly. "All things considered, we're probably going to have to kill it."

"And how do we do that?" Sam asked. The line was back between the man's eyebrows, but his attention was still on the door.

"There's a way," said Deaton. "But it won't be easy."

Sam sighed, eyes finally coming back to Deaton's. "Of course it won't," he said. Now he looked at Stiles. "How far away is that bathroom you sent Dean to?" he asked.

Stiles felt his eyebrows go up. It hadn't really hit him that Dean had been gone for a while. And as annoyed as Sam had seemed with his brother earlier, maybe that helped explain the man's distraction the last few minutes. "Not far. Just around the corner."

Sam's face set, pivoting toward the door. "He should have been back by now. I'm going to go find him. We'll meet you outside."

Stiles shrugged. Overreact much, dude? "I'll go with you," Stiles said. "I actually gotta go," he explained when Sam gave him a bemused look.

"Yeah, me, too." Scott caught up with Stiles and Sam as they headed for the door.

Scott and Stiles tried to keep pace with Sam, but the man's long legs ate up the hallway, and after a couple of seconds trying to keep up, both boys fell slightly behind. Stiles didn't see any reason for the urgency the tall man seemed to feel. They were just rounding the corner of the hall when Sam swung into the boys' room.

"Dean." Sam said his brother's name sharply.

Stiles and Scott followed Sam in, but Dean wasn't visible. There was no verbal response to Sam's voice. Sam pushed open the doors to each of the stalls. "He's not here." There was a weird edge to Sam's voice that had Stiles and Scott exchanging glances.

The boys moved toward the urinals.

"Maybe he went to check something out?" Scott offered over his shoulder.

"Like what?" Sam snapped, turning abruptly to Scott.

Stiles raised an eyebrow at the tone, unzipping his pants. "Maybe he saw something down one of the other halls? Would he go off on his own?"

Sam snorted and turned away. "Yeah," Sam gritted, but with a small laugh. "That's exactly what he'd do." He took a couple of deep breaths, and Stiles was aware that Sam was trying to calm a level of frustration that seemed a little extreme to Stiles.

"You want to go look for him?" Scott asked. "We can help." Finished now, Scott moved toward the sink, turning on the water. He moved out to the side when Stiles came up beside him. Stiles stuck his hands under the still running water, watching Sam's response.

Sam pulled his phone out of his pocket. He eyed the device, thumb moving over its face, expression oddly still. He stuck the phone back in his pocket. "No," he said finally. "He can catch up with us."

Stiles frowned, wiping his hands dry on his jeans. Weird, given the slight freak-out the man had just had. He looked at Scott. Right? Scott shrugged.

When they came out of the restroom, they saw Deaton waiting for them at the place where the classroom hall met the main hall. As they approached, Scott said, "Let's go out the other side. You can get out the doors, even though you can't get in."

Everyone shrugged in agreement, continuing down the long corridor.

"Is someone in the library?" Scott asked as they approached.

Stiles looked in that direction and sure enough you could see that the lights were on somewhere in the library.

"Can you tell if it's Dean?" Sam asked tightly.

Scott sniffed the air and nodded. "He's been along here at least."

"Stay here," Sam ordered. He opened the door and slipped inside.

"Bossy," Stiles observed quietly, and Scott just rolled his eyes in response.

Deaton didn't seem to be paying attention, standing still, lost in thought. Stiles hoped he was trying to remember how to stop darachs from murderous killing sprees.

They waited a couple of minutes until Stiles could stand it anymore. "The library's not that big," he said, reaching for the door. "He should be back by now."

There was no sound as they walked through the stacks, angling for the computer lab in the back where they could see the light was on.

When they got there, the saw Sam standing like a post in the back of the room amid the fragments of what Stiles realized had been the globe that had sat on the lab proctor's desk. Sam's arms hung loosely at his side. In one hand he held a phone that wasn't his, in the other he held a gun.

The boys and Deaton approached cautiously, uncertain in light of Sam's utter stillness. There was blood on floor—a fist sized stain in the carpet and crude lettering just to the side of it.

"L-A-O-C-H," Scott spelled out, eyes uncertainly on Sam.

"Laoch," Deaton supplied softly. "Warrior."

xxxx