SUMMARY: Murders in two separate cities draw the brothers into a case that has Sam teaming with someone he never thought he'd meet, and Dean fighting for his life in a way he never imagined. Casefic. Chapter 1 of 4.
SPOILERS: Technically, the story is set within Season 9, post trial-related fallout, but is a standalone case-fic–no spoilers–and may become slightly AU depending on what happens in Tuesday's Season 9 premiere. Right now, though, it fits within canon.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Supernatural belong to Eric Kripke, Jeremy Carver & Co. I am playing in their sandbox, with their toys, with much gratitude.
RATING: T for swearing, including the 'big boy' words, as Jensen calls them.
WORD COUNT: Chapter One: 5K+ Complete story: 24K
A/N: A scene set late in Season 8 inspired this case-fic. Which one will become obvious as the fic progresses, but to state it here may spoil things. It's four chapters long, and all chapters are complete. I'll post every other day this week. Many thanks and big hugs to my beta, Harrigan; my stories are always better with your help. I tinkered post-beta, so any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone. Thanks also to Freya for the encouragement to get this done. And Suzee51: the scene you wanted the last time around that wasn't there? It shows up here. Cryptic enough? ;-) On the whumpage front, I'll just say that neither brother escapes this fic unscathed. (Shocking I know, coming from me.) Enjoy! Written to fill the 'Job-related Injury' square in my h/c Bingo card over on LJ.
STAINLESS AND HONORABLE LIVES
The bullet did more than rip a hole through his shoulder; it slammed him into the brick wall and dropped him on his ass.
For a few far-too-brief moments, shock numbed all feeling. Head fuzzy, vision blurry and coughing as he sucked air back into lungs emptied by the violent collision with the wall, Sam felt nothing. His head lolled forward and he watched detachedly as blood darkened his suit jacket around the ragged bullet hole and blossomed across his white shirt beneath.
He sluggishly rolled his head toward his brother's voice; it came from his phone. Knocked from his hand when he was attacked, it lay on the road about ten feet from him…too far to reach. "De…."
Pain stole his voice, the welcome numbness now gone. Sam screwed his eyes closed as the soft burn quickly became white hot, intense jolts shooting through his shoulder, down his arm and across his back. He swallowed against rising bile, fighting both the urge to puke, and to stay conscious.
The curse came from the man who'd shot him. He slid in and out of focus as Sam opened his eyes and stared blearily up at him. His attacker's gaze jumped from the growing blood stain on his victim's shirt to the still-smoking gun in his hand, seemingly in shock at what he'd just done.
His partner was even more on edge, his eyes darting about the street in search of any witnesses to the shooting. He reached out suddenly, grabbing the gunman's sleeve and tugging on it. "We're outta here. Move!"
They turned, started to run but came to an abrupt halt, their path blocked by…what the hell was it?
"What the f–"
There was more than one. And whatever they were, they were big–bigger than both men who'd attacked him. Sam squinted against the streetlight above, its harsh light putting a halo around everything. He flinched at the sound of another gunshot, quickly followed by an odd metallic sound and a flash of something bright. There was a kaleidoscope of movement that made him dizzy, punctuated by an agonized scream.
That scream seemed to cut through the fog in Sam's head and his eyes focused. He saw one of his attackers running away at top speed, leaving his partner behind. The gunman was on his knees, but staggered to his feet, then stumbled away, disappearing around a corner leaving a trail of blood behind him.
The newcomers didn't give chase, but turned their attention to Sam.
They moved closer, staring down at him. Sam swallowed, willing his vision to stay in focus as he returned their stares. Son of bitch…. It couldn't be. The facts of the case that had brought them here filled his head, swirling around in a jumbled mess. It made no sense. But if he was right, he knew what he had to say. "Mercy…." Sam was fading; he swallowed, forcing out the words. "I ask…for mercy…."
His eyes slid closed. From off in the distance, he heard his brother yell over the phone.
"Sam!" Fear mixed with fury in Dean's voice. "If you fuckers hurt him, there is no place you can hide that I won't find you."
Sam almost managed a smile.
Ten hours earlier…
The Bunker, Lebanon, Kansas – Dean glanced at the caller I.D. then lifted the phone to his ear. "Garth–what's up?"
"Dean. Need your help, dude."
"Oh, yeah…yeah. I'm fine. It's just there's, um, something weird going down."
Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. "Weird is what we do, man. You wanna narrow it down a tad?"
"Oh…right. OK. Broadswords. That narrow enough?" Garth snickered over the phone. "That was good, right? Broad…narrow."
"Broadswords?" Dean stopped pacing and raised an eyebrow at Sam. His brother sat back from his laptop, the word obviously piquing his interest, too. Dean pressed the speaker button, and set down the phone on the bunker's map table. "OK, you've got our attention."
"Seven days ago a serial rapist was found fried on Chicago's El-train tracks."
"Nice to know there's some justice in the world." Dean resumed pacing. "But a sword ties into it how?"
"He was, um, in two pieces when they found him. Initially they thought he'd been run over by a train but the coroner's report says the damage was done by, quote, 'something like a large sword'–before he was tossed onto the tracks."
Sam's chair creaked as he leaned in toward the phone. "What are the cops saying?"
"Not much. But the intended victim said that when the rapist attacked her, the platform, quote, 'filled with this bright red crackling light.' It was enough of a distraction that she was able to kick him in the jewels and get away. She heard a scream as she ran down the steps to the street, but never looked back–good call, if you ask me. By the time Chicago P.D. got up to the platform, her attacker was toast–literally–and no sign of anyone, or anything, else."
Dean scrubbed a hand over his head. "OK, so far the world's down one scumbag. What else have you got?"
"Fast forward four days and jump west to San Francisco. Two known drug dealers were taken out. Vic number one was decapitated, vic number two was run through and left to bleed out. He was still alive when 5-0 got there, lived just long enough to babble something about…." A rustling of papers came over the phone. "Get this–'came out of the red lightning…carrying swords.'"
"Red lightning?" Sam looked over at Dean. "Why do I feel we should know that?"
Dean stopped pacing. "Garth, you sure that first body was toasted–not mummified?"
Sam's eyes widened. "You're thinking Chronos?"
"Um…I thought you dudes killed him in that whole Back to the Future/Untouchables mash-up?"
"We did," Dean growled. "Doesn't mean something else didn't borrow his M.O. Was that first body mummified?"
"Um..." There was more rustling of papers. "No…definitely fried. At least part of him was sprawled right across the live track–and no sign of, um, frying or mummification in the second case."
"OK, scratch Chronos wannabe." Dean frowned. "But Chicago to Frisco in four days–that's a big leap if these cases are connected."
"Yeah, even for our kind of suspects. SFPD is thinking gang turf war…maybe Yakuza. But the wounds are all wrong for that. No way were they made with a bushido blade."
"Bushido?" Dean scowled down at the phone. "No offence, but since when are you an expert in Japanese swords?"
"Since the Thighslapper Brewery case, dude. With what happened with that Shojo?" Garth whistled. "I keep a blessed blade in my car–and I've been practicing."
Dean massaged the back of his neck, his muscles tensing at even the thought of Garth with a sword. "Look, as intrigued as I am, so far this…whatever it is, is just picking off human garbage. What do you need us to do?"
"My ride just died." Garth sighed. "Guess she didn't like the express haul from Chi-town to San Fran. It's gonna be a few days before they can find the parts, fix'er up, so–"
"What?" Dean shrugged at Sam. "You need bus fare?"
"No…no. Oh, I didn't tell you about the third attack, did I?"
"No, you didn't." Dean's knuckles whitened as he squeezed a chair back. "What third attack?"
"The one in St. Louis–yesterday. You gents are a lot closer, can get there a lot faster than me. I kinda hoped you'd pick up the case before it goes cold."
"Damn, this thing gets around." Sam turned to his computer and began tapping keys. "Who died in St. Louis?"
"No one. That's why we need to jump on this. A mugger, get this, got his hand chopped off–right after knocking down an old man, the owner of some mom and pop outfit on a bank run. The mugger grabbed the cash, took off, but didn't make it a block before he was pole-axed by 'some big guy–with a sword.' He wouldn't talk to the cops but a paramedic swears that's what he said."
Dean snorted. "OK, we've got a Highlander fan turned vigilante, apparently with the ability to teleport. That ringing any bells for anyone?"
"Highlander…I loved that show. Remember when–"
"Garth, focus." Sam glanced over his laptop at the phone. "No red light or…red lightning this time?"
"Nope, not according to the police report. Of course, the dude wasn't exactly co-operative…and he was bleeding out. The only thing he gave the cops was the finger–with the, um, one hand he still had…not the one they picked up from–"
"We get the picture." Dean reached for his phone. "We'll talk to him…jog his memory."
"Thanks, dudes–you need me, you know where I am. I owe you one. Later"
Dean hung up the phone. "One, huh? Don't think math is one of Garth's strong suits."
Sam smiled as he hit the print button on his laptop. "OK, I've got copies of the police reports from Chicago, San Francisco and St. Louis. We can go over them on the drive to Missouri."
Dean raised an eyebrow as he watched the printer start to spit out paper. "That was fast–even for you.
Sam pushed his chair away from the table. "I kinda tagged Garth's computer the last time we met up with him–you know, in case he disappeared on us again." He shrugged, looking only slightly guilty. "He would've sent them if we'd asked."
"You're a fine, upstanding, white collar criminal, Sammy." Dean's grin faded as he turned to glance in the direction of the bunker's bedrooms. "We're leaving again." He sighed. "For the first time in my life I have a bed I like, and a bed that likes me–and we rarely get to sleep together."
Sam smiled as he snatched up the papers from the printer. "Come on. The sooner we get this mess cleaned up, the sooner we'll be home again–then you and your bed can have fun making up."
"Hilarious." But as Sam left the room, Dean smiled–not at the jibe, but at one simple word: home. He liked the sound of that.
Dean glanced over at Sam in the passenger seat of the Impala. They were about two hours into the seven-hour trip; so far, they'd gone over the police reports, arranged access to the latest victim who was in St. Louis's University Hospital and hypothesized up the yin-yang about what could be behind the attacks. Sam had been in touch with a handful of trusted hunters, checking up on demonic and angelic activity in the area, while also running searches for anything that tied swords and the three cities together. He'd cross-referenced murders using swords, Civil War re-enacters, military buffs, weapons collectors–you name it. He'd even texted Charlie to see if she or her Ren-Faire crew knew of anything that might fit the bill. So far, they had squat. Now his brother was staring at the screen of his phone, his brow deeply furrowed. "Huh, what?"
"It's a text from Charlie." Sam ran his finger over the screen as he scrolled through the message. "There might be something here."
Dean groaned. "Please tell me she's not digging into this case, not on her own. She–"
"Chill." Sam shook his head. "More like costume research for her next visit to Moondor. Two weeks ago she was at The Art Institute of Chicago. It hosted a traveling exhibit called The Chivalry of Arthur's Court. The items are all on loan from a London museum and illustrate the story of King Arthur and Camelot. It's mostly paintings but there's also a replica of the Round Table, clothing, armor, items from court life–and a collection of antique weapons, including swords. There's a link to the schedule for the exhibit…." He tapped the screen. "And, yeah…Chicago, San Francisco and St. Louis are all on the list."
Dean's frown now matched Sam's. "You're thinking something hitchhiked a ride with one of the objects in the exhibit?"
"I was, but apparently no." Sam shifted in his seat to face his brother. "Did you know Charlie now carries an EMF detector?"
"Yeah. She writes….'Dudes, you seriously need to check this out–even if it doesn't tie into your case. Major awesome.' That's followed by three exclamation points. Then, 'BTW, ran EMF–nada. Sigh. Would love to meet Guinivere's spirit. Me and Lance? Definitely on the same page there. Peace out.'"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's healthy–crushing on a ghost. So, no EMF but the exhibit has been to all three cities where the attacks took place."
"Well, no…at least not yet." Sam gave a frustrated exhale as he flipped through the police reports, cross-checking them with the schedule on his phone. "The exhibit closed in Chicago three days before the first murder, and it's not scheduled to open in St. Louis until Friday." He shook his head. "And it won't be in San Francisco until the end of next month. Huh…."
"Would you stop with the huhs…." Dean scowled at his brother. "What now?"
Sam looked up from his phone. "Turns out the original schedule had the exhibit going from Chicago to San Francisco. Plans changed last minute when a pipe burst in the wing being renovated to house the collection out west. Repairs couldn't be finished in time so the museums in St. Louis and San Francisco changed timeslots."
Dean's frown deepened. "So the attacks followed the original schedule…but the timing's all off. So…coincidence?"
"My gut says no." Sam glanced again from his phone to the police reports. "The El-train station where the first victim was fried is less than a block from Chicago's art institute, and the drug dealers were killed in a parking lot next to the California museum." He shrugged. "Look, I know it's thin, but when it comes to swords, there's not a lot here to work with. I think it's something we should at least check out before we ditch it completely."
"Museums." Dean feigned a shudder. "OK, new plan. You dig out that jacket with the patches on the elbows and go hang out with the stuffy types at the museum. I'll go chat with the one-armed man, play bad cop, see what I can get. We meet up afterwards, exchange notes, decide then whether this exhibit thing is a dead end–no pun intended."
"Deal." Sam punched a number into his phone and hit send. It was answered on the second ring. "This is Special Agent Osbourne with the F.B.I.. I'd like to speak with your curator, Dr. Malcolm Carstairs. He may be able to help with a murder investigation."
"I didn't do nothin'."
Mickey Rogan scowled up at Dean from his hospital bed. His right arm, which the hospital's trauma team had surgically reattached, was completely swathed in bandages, right down to the fingertips, and resting on a pillow at his side. IV's were attached to his left arm, in the back of his hand and at the elbow. Beneath the sheets, his right ankle was handcuffed to the bed. A local cop, obviously on the shift sergeant's shit list, had drawn guard duty outside the room.
"'You didn't do nothin'–a double negative, which technically means you did something." Dean, wearing a sterile gown over his suit, smiled coldly. "See, I didn't sleep through all my grammar classes. And mugging an old man, stealing from him, putting him in a room down the hall with a cracked skull–all for a bag of change? Yeah, that definitely qualifies as something. Now, why don't you cut the bullshit, and tell me what went down."
Mickey's eyes narrowed. "I'm the victim. They cut off my fucking arm. Why aren't you going after the psychos who did this instead of harassing me?"
Dean took a step forward, biting back a satisfied smile when Mickey flinched. "To do that, we need to know who to go after." The mugger's snarled response had given him at least one new piece of information. "You said they. They cut off your arm. Psychos–plural. If you saw nothing, how do you know there was more than one?"
Mickey rolled his head across the pillow, his expression sullen. "There were three of them–that I saw."
Dean frowned. "Three men?"
"What the fuck…of course, men." He motioned to his arm. "You think chicks could do this?"
Dean snorted; not exactly what he'd meant but he'd work with it. "Listen, tough guy, I know plenty of chicks who could take you down with one arm tied behind their back–and not in a fun way. Did all three of them have swords?"
Mickey turned sullen again. "I only saw one sword–when it was cutting my arm off. Two of them grabbed me while the other was…muttering something weird."
"Dunno…guy had an accent, it was hard to tell what he was saying…." Mickey turned his scowl on Dean. "Something about…might makes right and protecting his mistress."
Dean's eyebrow peaked. "Mistress?"
"I told you it didn't make any fucking sense. I ain't been screwing around with anybody's old lady." Mickey stared down at his injured arm. "And I was a little busy bleeding out to ask for details."
Dean tapped his fist on the bed's safety rail. "When these guys showed up, you see a red light?"
"A red light. It might have flashed, kind of like lightning."
Mickey snorted. "You're as fucking crazy as they are."
Dean's expression stayed neutral. "You give the local cops a description of the three men?"
"I don't talk to cops."
"Fine then. Talk to me. I'm here for as long as it takes." Dean pulled a notebook and pen from his inside jacket pocket. "Let's start with the guy with the sword."
Forty-five minutes later, and after a few veiled threats from Dean about removing Mickey's other arm, he had vague descriptions of all three attackers. Leaving the room, he tossed his robe in the disposal bin, nodded at the bored cop seated by the door, then pulled his phone from his pocket as he walked down the corridor toward the elevators. Opening his address book, he tapped Sam's number.
"About five minutes ago. I'm on my way to the bar around the corner from the museum. You get anything?"
"Dude says he was attacked by three men with accents–couldn't decide between Russell Brand and Crocodile Dundee. Did say one of them muttered something about…." Dean checked his notebook. "'Might makes right' and 'his mistress,' right before slicing off his arm. That mean anything to you?"
"Might makes right…mistress... No…no, that's not right. It's 'distress' not 'mistress.'" Sam now sounded excited. "It's 'Right must be defended against might and distress must be protected.'"
"OK." Dean frowned as he pressed the Down button for the elevator. "You just pull that out of your ass?"
"No, Dean–it's Arthurian code of honour…one of the vows the Knights of the Round Table took when they were called to serve. The old man who was mugged was in distress, had his property stolen, so they went after his attacker–defending right against might. And cutting off the hand of a thief–that's about as Biblical as it comes. The knights were all devout men."
Dean shook his head as he stepped into the elevator. "Dude, we really should patent that brain of yours–or at least donate it to science when you're done with it."
Sam snorted. "I've just spent an hour and a half talking to the curator here about all things Camelot. It's kinda fresh."
Dean was the only one in the elevator as the doors closed. "Well, Rogan fought with these guys–they're solid, which means some kind of human. So, what? Cosplayers who took the game off the reservation?"
"How does that explain the red lightning?"
"It doesn't. But FYI–Rogan confirmed he didn't see any red light."
Sam's huff of frustration came clearly across the phone. "We're like two out of three on every lead."
"I know. What'd you get from the curator?"
"We talked about the exhibit, the history behind the pieces….nothing really stood out. Most of the really cool items, the likely suspects for our purposes, are replicas. He did give me an inventory list, which includes provenance. Once we get a motel, we can go through it, item by item, see if anything raises a red flag."
An item-by-item inventory check. Yeah, that sounded like fun. Dean's shoulders slumped a little as the ding announced the car had reached the lobby and the elevator doors opened. "Well, stay put at the bar 'til I get there. If we've got a night of research ahead of us, I want a drink–or four–first."
Sam chuckled. "Fine. First round's on me. I-oof." There was a clatter as his brother dropped the phone.
"Dude, if you walked into a streetlight again, I swear I'm buying you a helmet." Dean's smile faded quickly when there was no answer. "Sam?"
"Whoa. Put the gun away. You want my wallet, just take it."
Gun? Fuck. Heart racing, Dean picked up the pace as he crossed the hospital lobby; he was about ten minutes away from Sam but, right now, it felt like the other side of the planet
There was another grunt from his brother and what sounded like Sam being slammed against a wall. "Take it easy…take it easy. I was just reaching for my wallet…that's all. It's in my back pocket."
"Shut the fuck up and keep your hands where we can see'em….Yo, Joey–the watch."
"I'm getting it. I– Fuck, he's got a piece."
Dean didn't know either of those voices–but he knew the moment Sam decided to fight back by the sounds of a scuffle breaking out. He heard punches landing, the unmistakable sound of bone smashing into bone, the grunt of air being forcibly expelled from lungs. Then he heard a gunshot.
Dean froze. "Sammy?" There was no answer. Inside the hospital lobby, all sound faded away save for the pounding of his heart, hammering against his chest. The two strained voices over the phone burst that bubble of silence.
"We're outta here. Move!"
Dean heard the footsteps of at least two people running, then stop abruptly.
"What the f–
A second gunshot made him jump; that was quickly followed by the clang of something metallic, more scuffling, yelling that drowned out other voices and then a loud, agonized scream. Dean's knuckles whitened as subconsciously he tightened his grip on the phone. But the scream wasn't Sam's.
Someone was running again–then two someones–but the second person's steps were much slower, more stuttered that the first, and punctuated by pained curses. Both the voice and the footsteps faded as they moved away from the phone.
Dean's stomach lurched. That was Sam's voice–weak and in pain.
There were more footsteps–slower, heavier and moving toward the phone.
"I ask…for mercy."
"Sam!" The footsteps came closer to the phone. Dean swallowed. "If you fuckers hurt him, there is no place you can hide that I won't find you." He jumped at the deafening crackle just before the line went dead.
Dean broke into a run, oblivious to the surprised looks from others walking through the lobby as he bolted for the parking lot and the Impala.
By the time Dean got close to the museum, he didn't have to guess where whatever had happened had gone down. Two police cruisers were blocking off a section of the street, red and blue flashing lights visible from more than a block away. Crowds were already starting to gather behind rapidly erected police barricades.
He pulled the Impala to the curb, and launched himself from the car. The cop trying to block his access didn't even get chance to protest before Dean flashed his FBI badge and shouldered his way past.
Quickly scanning the scene, he saw no sign of Sam–just two uniformed officers, one talking into his shoulder radio, and both standing behind a third cruiser parked next to the sidewalk. He felt sick when one of the cops bent down to lay a black tarp over something on the ground–something hidden from his view by the police car.
"Stand by." The cop released the button on the radio and scowled up at Dean as he approached "Who the hell are you?"
Again, Dean flashed his badge. But he wasn't looking at the cop as he moved around the cruiser; his focus was on the ground and the black tarp.
He swallowed. Whatever was underneath was way too small for Sam–way too small for a body, but that didn't stop of the burn of bile in his throat. He glanced at the officer crouched beside the sheet and jabbed his finger at the tarp. "Show me."
The second cop raised an eyebrow but obediently lifted the corner. Underneath was a severed arm, a handgun still clutched in its fingers. The jacket sleeve covering the arm was leather, the gun some late model Glock–neither of them Sam's.
"How the hell did the Bureau beat our own suits here?" That was from the first cop.
"This may be connected to a case I'm working on." Dean scanned the crime scene, looking for any clue to his brother's whereabouts. "There was no one here when you showed up?"
The first cop shook his head. "But the owner of that…." He pointed to the arm. "He didn't get far. My partner followed a blood trail down that alley. He's with him now…perp collapsed less than a block from here. Ambulance has already been dispatched."
Dean squinted against the bright lights as he scanned the scene. "And he was alone?"
The cop nodded. "When we found him, yeah. But I don't think he was the only one bleeding after whatever went down."
Dean's stomach lurched again. "What makes you say that?"
The second cop stood up, pulling a flashlight from his belt. "There's a pool of blood here, where the severed arm was found." He shone the beam off to the left. "A blood trail from it leads that way, down the alley and right to the guy Bailey is with now."
"But over here…." Cop Number 1 shone his flashlight on the brick wall. "We have blood spatter, then blood drops that lead off to the right." He shrugged at Dean. "C.S.I.'s get the big bucks but I'd say that's from a second victim."
Yeah. And there was a damn good chance that second victim was Sam. "Anyone follow that trail?"
The cop shook his head as he clicked off the flashlight. "We're still securing the scene. Once the suits get here, we'll check it out, see if there's any more and where it leads."
Dean nodded tersely. "You do that." But he'd check it out first.
"You're here because of that other attack, right?" Cop Number Two glanced down at the severed arm. "The mugger who got his arm chopped off two days ago? What kind of psycho have we got on the loose here?"
"I'll let you know." Dean pulled out his own flashlight and shone the beam along the brick wall, across the sidewalk and onto the road. There, the light hit something he recognized all too well–Sam's phone. It was crushed and sitting next to the curb just in front of one of the cruisers. He clicked off the light; the local cops didn't seem to have picked up on it–yet. Understandably, the severed arm had drawn their attention.
Dean glanced over at the crowd behind the barricade; it had almost doubled in size since he'd arrived. "You question the crowd yet?"
Each cop shook his head.
"Then I'd get started if I were you. A few are already wandering off."
Neither cop looked too happy to be taking orders from a fed, but nodded and moved off toward the barricades. Dean took a knee and feigned re-tying his shoelace, before scooping up Sam's trashed phone. It would tell him nothing, but now it would tell the cops even less.
Slipping the phone into his pocket, Dean stood up and walked toward the blood spatter on the wall. Was it Sam's blood? If it was, the bullet wound was most likely a through and through; too much blood for a flesh wound and if the bullet was still in the victim–in Sam–there's no way there'd be spatter on the wall like that. "Son of a bitch…." A through-and-through could cause a hell of a lot of damage and without help, Sam could bleed out fast. Where the hell had he gone?
He clicked on his flashlight and began following the blood trail. "Damn it, Sammy–where are you?"
To be continued…
A/N: And we're off…. Hope you enjoyed it. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Next chapter up Tuesday. Hopefully, it will serve as an appetizer to the main course – the Season 9 premiere. Cheers!