Sequel to Removed
Author: Mink & Jink
Rating: R - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
They hadn't stopped driving all day long.
Dean shifted uncomfortably in the neatly packed network of their supplies. Everything was so precisely placed that nothing jarred even when they began to travel over unpaved roads. Cramped as he was in their design, he could only see glimpses of the road through the windshield ahead.
There were half a dozen things or more he could see that were easily within his unsupervised reach. All of them in some variation could have brought the van to a screeching halt. A few of them could have destroyed it completely. But then what? A strange and terrible sensation of claustrophobia that had nothing to do with his tight dark confines settled down around him, growing more solid mile after long mile. He undid the chafing tight seatbelt and tried to even out his breathing in long slow exhales. Any conversation stayed in the front seat and did not include him. He wondered after the first hard day of driving when and if they would ever pull over for anything at all. They eventually did at an abandoned shoulder of the road turned into a very brief rest stop. Yueller had quickly stopped him from walking anywhere near the trees and told him to unzip right where he was.
"Where’s the trust fellas?" Dean muttered.
Dean could still feel the van’s sliding door at his back while he did his business. So this was what the leash was going to be like from now on. Nice, tight and short.
When he was finished, he was given another water bottle and informed he wouldn’t get another until night fall. The last bottle had been clean at least as far as his tongue could determine. In transit, hydration was more important than the risk of being drugged out of his mind anyway. He wondered just exactly where nightfall would take them. He didn't see them as the motel type. Hunters, amateur or no, were like strays. They knew where to find shelter, each with their own singular maps of the country dotted with scattered dwellings. No hunter saw this land in the same way. Refuge could be taken where it was not offered.
Dean hoped the same held true for this small military contingent. Dean closed his eyes, pressing his knuckles into his forehead. His legs were asleep, blood tingling through every nerve. He tried hard not to think of Sam. He knew that it would have taken probably longer than three hours with what had been left around for him to get free. But he knew his brother would do it. And he knew his brother wouldn’t listen to a word he’d said.
That was why Dean had left his phone behind.
He decided to count on it.
The first house they stopped in they only stayed one night.
It was a halfway point, a shelter of sorts not meant for survival in the long term. Just a wall between them and the wind and a place to bunk down. Dean quickly learned he was expected to do all of the loading and unloading of the van. By the second night and the second house he did it before Yueller could take the metal flashlight to the back of his knee.
Frustrating as it was, Dean found playing along made life easier for the duration.
The largest frustration was the lack of information. The grand scheme of things was hidden from him, any information pertaining to a course of action or solution was not part of their dialogue with him. He was given orders and not expected to ask questions. At this stage in the game, if playing the backseat lackey meant saving him a fisted lecture from either of his cohorts, it was a rationalization he could put up with. Before the week ended they were in another location.
To Dean's surprise, this one had a front desk.
Abandoned, cracked and coated with mold, it gave their new haven an almost luxurious feel despite its decay. Some miles outside the South Dakota border they had stopped at the small shut up hotel. Two floors, more like a bed and breakfast for anyone bothering to spend the night in the vast tourist free wasteland of the plains. Whatever anyone might have bothered to take the trip out here for had fallen either to obscurity or the Wal-marts. Judging from the state of the carpet and the pattern on the wall paper, its maintenance had been neatly forgotten decades ago. It was probably condemned. Dean noted the barred windows and spray painted boarded exterior. The scattering of broken bottles and used condoms on the floor of the ancient lobby suggested it was still used at one time or another for other means.
"Check in at the Tetanus Motel?" Dean sighed as he hefted the first round of duffel bags up the stairs.
Yueller and Keens seemed familiar with it. He heard them discuss that this stay was for an entire fifteen days. Like most run down places in the middle of no where it had dead electricity, ancient plumbing and an over grown yard that was turning into a forest.
Dean was designated parameters and a bunk and then left to his own devices.
Unfortunately, his devices fell woefully short of anything that wasn’t one of Yueller’s or Keens’ immediate concerns; securing the compound and settling in. As he climbed the free standing concrete inlaid steps once again with two heavy buckets filled with rancid pool water, he ignored the sweat staining the front of his shirt. Keens decided that even with the lack of plumbing he’d make his own makeshift version by filling his own toilet tanks with what was available.
Dean figured he could do this. He didn’t have to grin, but he could bear it.
His day had been so exhausting that when Dean finally set down his last crate and found his bunk, he found himself particularly grateful for his next issued bottle of fluids.
The many trips up and down the complex’s three stories carrying industrial sized plastic jugs of water had left his arms limp and his body wasted. He quickly unscrewed the cap of the bottle handed to him and started to down it as fast as possible. But the first swig made him spit it back out onto the floor. It was bitter on his tongue. If he had bothered to look at the plastic bottle itself he would have noticed it was slightly cloudy, grains of some fine dust settled down onto its bottom.
“No.” He said evenly to Keens who was watching him with interest. “Not any more. Sir.”
“Don’t make a fuss son, you know I’m a parade in the sunshine compared to Jack." His smile was genuine. "No offense meant to the man but he just doesn’t take to your outbursts as well as I do.”
“Forget it, I’m not drinking any more of this shit.” Dean growled, tossing the water aside and letting it drain rapidly all over the floor. “What are you going to do about it? Shoot me?”
Keens smiled just a little bit. “I was hoping your medication could be done in a civilized manner with the water, but if you insist?”
Dean stepped backwards, unsure of what was going to happen next. Keens simply raised his hand.
Before Dean could react, he lay twitching on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. Two metal barbs hooked into his skin through his damp green T-shirt, the surges of electricity roaring through his body and making him involuntarily seize and stiffen.
“Now we have to go ahead and do it the hard way.” Keens said from above him.
Dean’s eyes stuttered in a blink, his back violently arching when a new flow of sizzling jolts of energy pumped through him.
“It’s good we have a nice solid week. No Skin Walkers. No Sam Winchester. Not a thing to distract us at all.” Keens sighed. “I was telling Jack before, I think it's about time we got some real work done.”
Dean would have reminded him of all that work that had been done back on that ranch, but he was too busy trying not to bite off his own tongue.
It had taken an entire week to get to this point.
An entire week filled with hours of being hooked up to that fucking machine. Dean was really damn tired of Keens assuring him that it really wasn’t torture.
Yueller spent quite a bit of time making sure every contact was just right. He dabbed the places the connections would be placed carefully with alcohol first. He’d straighten out his chair and make sure he was comfortable before he even plugged the thing in. Then Yueller got to talking. It always started with a kind of pep talk first.
"Now before we begin today I wanna level with ya son."
Dean breathed in and out against the rubber bit between his teeth, waiting.
"I know we've done this before. Maybe you're even thinkin it's a mite....tolerable for lack of a better word. Don't blame you for setting yourself up it’s only natural. After all, learning is all about just getting used to things. Sooner or later though it boils down to what a man will or will not endure. Now I bet you're sayin to yerself, what's a few hundred white hot milliamps coursin through my noggin’ every now and again? Not so bad if I shut my mind off, play along and go with? Hell, this'll all turn into just another one of life's necessary hardships." Yueller stopped to look Dean dead in the eye. "I’d like to discourage you from such logic."
Dean’s mouth worked uncomfortably behind the gag. Yueller continued, hands folded in front of him.
"After tonight you'll think, so what? A few singed hairs and a jumpy heart, no sweat. Have you taken a look at yourself? Your arms and chest are starting to scab real nice with the burns. After a few more times and they’ll start to scar. After session eight or nine, you'll start havin' some memory loss, you might even black out once or twice. The tics'll start showin after that. Hell, knowing you we'll probably have to do this another….oh, I’d say… five more days before you really get the picture. Do you understand what I mean by all this, Dean?"
Dean worked his hands where they had been strapped firmly to the forearms of the heavy wooden chair he’d been placed in.
"This is something you'll want to avoid. Until you learn our methods, our codes and truly believe them, all you'll get is this."
Dean stoically watched him prep the machine.
“Let’s start on a low setting.”
Dean felt the heat growing under his skin as he heard the slow hum of the charger. It exploded suddenly and violently moving his muscles without his command, stopping his lungs and sending his heart into involuntary panic. His teeth were clenched and locked on the black rubber bit between his jaws, agonizingly tight.
He heard himself make a strained noise, muffled and desperate behind the gag.
His vision began to go pale around the edges.
“Go ahead.” Yueller offered. "Take a breath."
The world was suddenly still again. Dean felt as though he'd just run a mile in the desert. Cold sweat prickled his pale skin, stomach churning at the acrid burning smell.
"Do I make myself clear?"
Dean tried to nod.
He attempted to listen to Yueller talk between the bursts of pain behind his eyes. Eventually the lecture stopped and the gag was removed for the second phase of their exercise. It was implemented, Dean surmised, to examine just how closely he was retaining his new set of rules. These new rules manifested themselves in the new mantra and handbook, all composed and written by Yueller himself. Dean was punished when he didn’t respond. He was punished if his response was incorrect. He was punished if he didn’t respond quickly enough.
When it was over, it always followed with an entire bottle of dosed water that they watched him drink carefully. It left him in a permanent daze, unwilling to do or resist anything. All he wanted to do was sleep but they wouldn’t even allow him that. Dean knew deep down that no matter what Yueller said that every single one of his answers were all a cover. He knew that every time he obeyed them that it was so he could bide his time. Wait it out. Figure out just exactly how to get out of their hands and out from under the curse they’d pulled him into. He’d done a lot of things to save his own life. This was just another one of them.
By the eighth day of his sessions he started dreaming about Yueller’s lectures. He had woken up in a cold sweat on his sleeping bag, expecting his arms and body to be restrained. The simple sight of the machine had started to provoke a reaction out of him. The sight of Yueller waiting did the same. He found himself responding faster to the carefully memorized phrases. Sometimes he started to say them before he had even thought about it at all. The punishments became less frequent. The reward of their absence started to become Dean’s one and only goal as soon as he was seated and prepared. To make the sessions end faster he was required to do well. To do well he had to listen and behave more carefully than he ever imagined he was capable of.
When they left that house and were on the road once again, Dean slept through it and his handlers didn’t wake him even once. He came to having no idea how long or far they had traveled.
After the van doors rattled open to a cold night outside he wordlessly began to unload and methodically place everything required into another empty house. He made sure to place all items separately in sections on the wooden floor.
It was only after he’d finished that he realized he had never been told to do it.
It was another boarded up place of by gone leisure.
Dean wondered why his keepers seemed to gravitate to the derelict and previously opulent. This one looked like it could have been some kind of country club. It would explain the massive amount of sloped forest that surrounded it. It sat in clumps, oddly sectioned off as if it had once been mowed down to a perfect regulation golf course. Not anymore. The ponds were all thick with monster green and the brambles that choked the hedges made the forest a nasty place to take a stroll in.
When the last box had been stowed in the space designated as storage, Dean found himself standing listless but ready in the empty lobby, waiting for someone to do something with him.
Keens was starting a fire in the old dusty fireplace.
“Come sit down over here Dean.” He gestured to an over stuffed chair that sat beside his. “I want to show you something.”
Dean nodded in his dull haze. “Yes, sir.”
Keens spread out a map on the low table that sat before them, poking the crackle and hiss of the logs he'd set to slowly catch. Curls of newspaper licked hungrily under the wood, chemicals in the paper turning the pin points of flame into strange greens and bizarre blues. The map looked new but it had been well handled, smudged with finger prints and folded and refolded so often that the creases were worn down to fragile lines, liable to tear if it was tugged too roughly.
"Have you ever been down to Window Rock, son?"
The name sounded familiar in that way that all those southwestern places did. Everything was shaped into one mind boggling sculpture after another out there. All within as many colors than the desert sky that seeped into everything after the sun dipped below the horizon. Some things were named for the tourists. Some were names taken off what the natives had dubbed it in the first place. Some ended up being a hybrid of both.
"It's the administrative Capitol and administrative center of the Navajo nation." Keens finger found it easily on the Arizona border. There wasn't much else around it besides more sand. "They also call it Ni’ 'Alníi’gi. That means 'Center of the Earth'."
Dean looked down at the splay of photographs that had been spread out over the map. A towering outcrop of sandrock, about 200 feet of it, with a large hole weathered into the center. Like a window. The pictures weren't exactly like a picture one would take of a thing they were trying to capture for a slide show later on. They were partial and disjointed, showing the rock formation at odd angles. The camera seemed to hide the aspects of it which had made it something of note amongst a never ending landscape of oddities. The shots were almost clinical.
Keens suddenly blocked his view of the closest and most impressive of the formation. Someone had stood directly underneath it, and looked right up almost into the face of the sun. Dean blinked down at the round blue stone that had been placed on top of the photograph.
“Do you want to hold it?” Keens asked. “I understand the desire, I do.”
Dean stared at the smooth blue surface and swallowed. The strange thing was, he did want to touch it. He had never had the urge before, but now he found it almost irresistible. The contours of its mass seemed like they would be supple and pleasing to trace. The pale color was suddenly a fascination as to what it would look like held closer to the firelight. Looking back up at Keens uncertainly, Dean reached out, touching his fingertips to its cool smooth surface. It was heavier than it appeared as he weighed it gently in his palm. He could feel something whispering, radiating down over his skin, up along each of his fingers and creeping up his wrist. It felt warm and soothing, like dipping your arm elbow deep into hot fragrant bathwater when you were cold.
“Close your hand around it.” Keens tone shifted from causal, to an order.
“Do it.” He chided.
As soon as he made a fist he heard himself sigh. The vague tingling suddenly enveloped and saturated him completely. Gasping, he felt the back of his chair as he slumped backwards, his eyes clouding and tunneling to almost nothing. Thinking he was about to pass out, he was shocked to see his vision return clear. Bright and clear. Too bright.
It was a cloudless sky that spanned over head for miles and miles. The craggy red earth hissing with the wind that moved forever across its surface. There was someone standing off in the simmering distance. The heat warping the shape as the figure moved closer. The mirage of glimmering liquid mercury pools of water forming and dissolving at its feet. Dean felt the stone burning in his hand, too hot, searing through his skin, grinding against bone, charring what it touched into ash—
He dropped it.
When his eyes opened again, he was right back in front of the crackling fireplace. The heat of the flames weak compared to the flood that warmed his flesh. He stared at the stone where he had dropped it on the floor. With a small bit of wonder, he examined his unharmed hand.
Keens easily picked it up.
"You may understand now our reluctance in parting with it.”
“B-But-“ Dean was partially still lost in the flash of the vision. The desert air still lingered, the feel of the red grit of the sand scoured walls still under his fingertips. “It’s- It’s not yours, that Noqoìlpi thing, it won’t stop looking for it—“
"That has been our dilemma hasn’t it.” Keens sighed. “But that might change soon.”
Dean’s gaze flickered back and forth from the man’s face and the stone in his hand.
“Don’t you think that it’s a strange thing that something like a god would need anything at all?”
Dean didn’t think much of anything was strange but he couldn’t form a coherent sentence of his thoughts in his head so he stayed quiet.
“It would lead one to believe that if gods have needs, they might share a few other traits with us lesser beings that walk down around their earth.”
“You want to kill it.” Dean heard himself say.
Keens smiled broadly at him and nodded. “Yes, we would like that very much.”
Dean looked back down at the dozens of photographs that the natives had deemed the center of the Earth. Their Earth. Maybe Noqoìlpi’s too. Keens was planning something. Something bigger than their last blundering foray into magic and the flip side. Dean felt something tug at his gut, a sense of foreboding at just what these men thought they might be capable of.
Yueller appeared at the bottom of the creaking stairs.
Dean automatically stood.
“Turn in Dean, room at the end of the hall is yours.”
Dean heard himself reply, not even wondering anymore at how his mind had taken over his mouth. He walked up the stairs slowly, seeing the small short hall and the open door with his gear sitting inside of it.
Automatically he made to close the door but he stopped himself before Yueller heard or saw him do it. It wasn’t allowed. It was a part of the rules. Rolling out the deep weather sleeping bag, he tiredly lay down on top of it and closed his eyes. With a deep sleepy sigh he folded his arms behind his head and crossed his ankles. He could still see that clear bright blue sky. And he could still see the steady approach of whatever it was that caught sight of him looking out over the glare of the painted desert.
Dean was starting to get a small idea of just how exactly the desert god was finding his new friends so fast and so often.
It sure didn’t have a damn thing to do with being a fine hunter.
The next day he felt even more tired than he usually did.
He wasn’t sure if it was the strange contact with the rock he’d had the night before or his disturbed sleeping patterns. Maybe it was the endless supply of drugs that they were pumping into his system. All he knew was that the simplest tasks had now become difficult.
He had been sitting quietly in the dark living room staring into the fireplace and trying to keep his eyes open. They had caught him dozing a few times and he'd been woken up unpleasantly with the flat end of a rifle. He wasn't sure what else they expected but he no longer questioned their expectations these days.
Dean just did what he always tried to do best. Run with it.
"Y-Yes, sir." Dean stood up stiffly, unaware he had been sitting in the same position for quite that long.
"One of our cameras in down," Yueller said as he tapped on one of their laptops. "Number 4."
He blinked his eyes that were dry from sitting so close to the flames. They burned and watered a little. Glancing down at his wrist, he realized he had never put his watch back on after his 5 minutes of allotted time in the shower. He didn't know what time it was but he didn't want to ask just in case the benign question shifted Yueller from his focus. Dean had learned little by little what actions caused the Captain to drop everything in order to show Dean just exactly how it should be done. And if the new recruit didn’t get it and get it good, there was always extra time for more reconditioning on the machine.
“I want you to go out there and check it out.”
Dean felt himself nodding as he took one look at the soft nylon jacket and decided it made too much noise when he moved. It could be nothing of course. Faulty wire. A burst of wind and a bad signal.
However, it could also mean that something had caught up with them once again. The desert god may be at this moment sending out its scouts in front of it, checking out the lay of the land before arriving itself. Yueller didn’t say a thing when Dean approached the white plastic latched chest they kept their replenished supplies in. He gathered in small pinches what he needed and carefully pushed the ingredients one by one into a small leather sachet.
What he had used on one Skin Walker would work again as long as he didn’t stumble over any of his words. Dean grinned grimly to himself as he palmed the totem before pushing it down into his front pocket. Just as good as a hand grenade given the right inflection of just the right syllables. Just a bag of smelly dirt if he said everything right but to the wrong target. He’d just have to concentrate hard that was all. He’d just have to do his best. Like Captain Yueller always said: Only the dead have seen the end of war. Dean was pretty sure the man hadn’t came up with that himself. Most of his lectures and rules seemed like a conglomeration of much wiser and older people. Probably mostly dead guys. But Dean wasn’t dead yet and he didn’t plan to be anytime soon. Besides, he always made sure he had some decent backup on hand just in case Plan A blew up in his face.
Dean felt Yueller watch him as he slowly loaded the shotgun. For a moment, he visualized turning the double barrels right at the center of the man’s chest and blasting a hole so wide that he could see right through to the other side. The maniacal urge flickered and vanished as Yueller pulled out a long saw-toothed blade from his belt. He held it out to Dean, blade first.
He closed his hand around the cold sharpened metal and flipped it so the hard rubber handle smacked into the palm of his hand.
“You have 30 minutes to report.”
Sliding the knife down through his belt, Dean answered as required.
Dean knew he should be shivering when the wind picked up but his body seemed to be burning almost with a fever, the elements not affecting him as they rightfully should.
He knew it was what whatever it was that diluted his food and drink. It did things other than keep him calm, non confrontational and almost dulled to the point of listlessness. At least he thought it had. Out here in the woods he felt suddenly hyperaware to everything around him. It was almost the sensation of delirium, everything painfully in focus, every sound clear, his skin prickling with the graze of dried dead leaves from the undergrowth as he moved through it.
It took him almost ten minutes to reach the camera location.
He could have cut that in half but he came at it around and the long way. He wanted to be ahead of whatever it might have been that disabled it. If anything actually had. While he walked he knew that messing with cameras wasn’t really a thing many Skin walkers would bother with. They tended to just not be seen at all rather than foil any technology that would never even glimpse them anyway. But he knew when to be cautious and when not to be.
There were six cameras out here and this one was the closest to the access road that lead up to the property and it ran a lead to another camera that hadn’t been affected at all. There was something strange here, he just wasn’t sure exactly what. Closing in on the location in an ever tightening circle, Dean found nothing. Some animal tracks but nothing that would suggest a Walker. By the time he was standing underneath the tree that the camera had been placed in, he had more or less determined that it must be the equipment itself that had gone awry this time.
Dean spotted it under the small veil of camouflage Yueller had planted it under. Turning it in his hands, he flicked on the small pen flashlight he had brought in his back pocket. He blinked down at it. There was nothing wrong with the camera.
It had been simply manually shut off.
By the time Dean heard the sound coming up from behind him it was already too late.
A gloved hand went over his mouth and yanked him backwards off his feet. In a brief struggle for his firearm, the shotgun discharged in a deafening flash as it hit the forest floor. Growling, he sent a sharp elbow backwards into yielding flesh and turned himself into dead weight by letting his knees go.
As soon as he hit the leaf littered ground he rolled to the side and away pulling out the wicked length of knife at his side. A strong kick sent a flare of agony up his wrist, his hand turning numb and losing the grip he had on its handle. He was rushed again, grabbed by the shoulder and his already out swinging arm. Trying to wrench himself free into the opposite direction, he was lifted clear off his feet and swung around. Dean gasped when his back and head struck up hard against the damp bark of a tree. The gloved hand returned to smother him as he thrashed in their grasp.
He couldn’t catch his breath. Those god damn drugs they kept him down on made him at best almost half his usual speed. This fight wasn’t even over yet but he already knew he was going to lose. The knife was gone, the shotgun lay down somewhere in the damp leaves and the leather packet filled with Walker-Be-Gone wasn’t going to do much to whatever it was that was kicking his ass. Cursing, he pulled at the hand that was clamped down hard over his mouth. The shadow of his attacker finally stilled. Turning its head back and forth, listening for anyone else who might have been near by.
Dean surged forward again but couldn’t break free of the grip, his boots scrambling for purchase on the slick tree roots. He’d been out 30 minutes by now easy. Yueller would have heard the racket of gunfire half a mile away if it didn’t get picked up by one of the other cameras already. Yueller would help him, hone right in on his location and get some use out of that pistol he liked waving around so much—
Dean stared up in the dark, his head ringing and his chest heaving for air.
The hand fell away, leaving Dean’s mouth gasping, the fog of frantic breath mixing together between their bodies.
Dean blinked again, swallowing back the dry night air and still not quite believing his own eyes.