Sequel to Removed
Author: Mink & Jink
Rating: R - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Dean knew that it had all seemed a little bit too… unproblematic.
Of all the things human beings could inflict on each other, the illusion of freedom was one of the bitchiest. The cruelest men didn't believe in a short leash. Those kind of men will let you run the yard just to get a taste of what it feels like. Letting him keep his cell phone. Rewarding him access and the freedom to feed himself. They were not hoping to win his trust with these and if they were, then they were pretty fucking naive. He, however, was not.
He was desperate.
Sam was in bad shape. Whatever they'd done, it was meant to keep both of them in one place. He was severely dehydrated and could barely stand on his own. Getting Sam out of dodge was above any rational thought in his head. By the time he had gotten the car started and the rusted sliding doors open he thought somewhere, in the back of his mind, that he must be nuts for thinking that he could pull this off. He knew that as soon as he pulled out onto those muddy farm plowed lanes, Yueller and Mr. Keens would be in his headlights, guns at the ready.
It turned out he was right.
He was about to slam his foot down onto the accelerator and just let the tires run right over them when something strange happened. Sam was suddenly painfully gripping Dean’s arm, his other hand clutched tightly against his middle.
"Dean. Stop." Sam's eyes were fluttering closed, his face drained of color.
"Hope you didn’t drink any of that water yerself!” Yueller called out. "Or it'll be biting you in the ass about now."
Sam groaned, fumbling with the door latch.
Dean swung his own door open with a growl.
“What did you do!” He demanded.
"Just bring him back to the house Dean.” Yueller told him. "We need to have a talk."
"I'm not goin’ anywhere!" Dean hollered.
"Fisticuffs?" Yueller had the gall to smile as Sam coughed and heaved. "Bring 'em on. But you don't know what's in your brother and I can tell you right now, you won't wanna find out in the time it takes to get to a hospital."
Dean clenched and unclenched his fists, so hard his knuckles went numb. He turned at the sound of Sam tossing up whatever he had managed to get into his stomach. It sounded bad. Worse than bad. He grit his teeth. He'd go back to them. If this was what it took, then he was ready to make deals. Slumping down into the driver’s seat he cut the engine with a short sigh. As unplanned plans went, this one was going exactly as he’d figured it might.
But at least the car was working.
Edwards opened the front door for them.
His face was swelled up and bruised, but it didn’t hide the rage that Dean had seen there once before. The anger of a year ago when he had dared take advantage of the man while he slept. He remembered paying for it. He could still feel the needle like bite of glass in his hands, still felt the echo of pain from shattered bone. And Dean had never quite forgotten having been left hanging, his beaten body waiting to die on a meat hook as Edwards' tended his own wounds.
Edwards’s glare as they passed by him seemed to promise more of the same.
Shoving Sam down by his shoulder, Keens seated him in one of the leather chairs. A small amount of white chalky liquid was poured into a shot glass and shoved into Sam's shaking hand.
"Drink." He said.
"Better give 'im another dose." Yueller advised. "He's a big fella."
Dean could hear Sam's breathing even out as he tipped back whatever he was being given. Over the Captain’s shoulder he saw Sam's body leaning weakly over the arm. His skin was still a pale cast of sickly gray, his eyes dull and unalert. Glad that Sam had stopped puking almost on the mark at the end of every ten seconds, Dean was slightly more concerned about his own situation at the moment. Edwards was waiting at attention against the wall, seething and trembling. It made him nervous. But not as nervous as Captain Yueller was making him.
Yueller had his gun out and aimed at the center of Dean’s chest.
“You put those handcuffs on your brother and you do it now.”
“No.” Dean growled.
The gun that was aimed for him swung easily to the right. Before Dean could even reason what was going on, Yueller made one easy squeeze of the trigger, sending a bullet right through Lieutenant Franklin Edwards forehead.
Edwards hovered for a moment, his body still obeying its last order, before he slowly slumped to one side and then down to the floor.
Yueller hadn’t even looked at the man.
Dean stepped backwards. “Jesus Christ—“
The muzzle of the pistol carefully swung to the back of Sam’s head. Sam looked steadily up at Dean and didn’t shut his eyes when the gun was cocked.
“Don’t make me ask one more time Dean.”
Stunned, Dean knelt down to grab the cuffs off the floor, his gaze avoiding the still body of Edwards in the corner.
"Yer a fucking lunatic you know that?” Dean muttered as he separated the chains from one another. “You’re fuckin’ out of your mind!”
“Do you know how many times Edwards here has failed us?” Yueller asked. “He cost me you the first time and I don’t have the hours it would take to regale you with all the little tragedies in between.”
Cursing when the chains wouldn’t untangle, Dean tried to ignore the smell of spent gunpowder filling the room and underneath it the metallic flat scent of warm blood.
“And then right here? About to lose you again?” Yueller asked in disbelief. “He couldn’t even manage delivering a bottle of God damn water.”
Dean bit down hard, a muscle in his jaw twitching when Sam wordlessly held out his hands for him.
“Go ahead,” Yueller urged. “Put ‘em on.”
Sam hissed involuntarily when they tightened. The restraints clicked closed, their size much too small for his brother’s wrists.
“I’m sorry Sam—"
Yueller’s pistol whipped across the side of Sam’s face leaving a bright straight line. Sam blinked once in shock before his eyes rolled and he started to fall forward, right into Dean who was crouched in front of him.
“I think you’ll learn a lot faster this way Dean.” The Captain nodded. “In a way, this was one of the best possible things that could have happened for you to …take …this ….seriously.”
The end of the man’s sentence rose to the frayed ends of checked rage. Dean stared up at the Captain, trying to keep Sam up on top of him and not down on the floor. He let himself look at Edwards then, his grip hard on his brother’s shoulders. A dark flat pool of blood was spreading out from under the body, dripping down between the floor boards and running in rivulets down the natural grooves left in the wood.
“Now finish up with Sam here, and then clean that mess up.”
Edwards was now no longer Edwards. He was now ‘that mess’. Dean wondered if the same order had been given for Johnson. For who knew how many other people that didn’t make Yueller’s cut. Despite Yueller’s unrequited interest in him, Dean knew he wasn’t immune. He carefully tipped Sam back into the chair he was seated in, the line of blood under his eye running wetly down to his jaw. Dean quickly snaked the chain down to the much looser ankle restraints and flipped the lock closed.
"Leave him right there." Mr. Keens said from his place at a table across the room. "When he do come 'round I sure would like to talk to him for a spell."
Dean's confusion shifted to dread.
"You said you didn't have any-"
Yueller shrugged with something like disgust. "What can I say, Dean? Things have gotten a little bit... complicated."
Dean looked back over at Keens and couldn't read the expression the man had on his face.
"But let me make this clear. From now on we aren't playing any more games. Got me?"
They needed more help now. Dean had been wondering since he found his brother why they hadn't been using him from the start. Sam was full of the stuff guys like them needed to know. Maybe they thought they were doing pretty good on their own until that Walker showed up on their doorstep. But now they were more than a little bit nervous. But about what? What in the hell were they doing out here?
Despite all their promises, it had been weeks and he had not once been subjected to their own regiment of training. Whatever that entailed. Teaching some old dog some new tricks. But Dean doubted that despite their advanced years that they had anything to teach in regards to the hunt. All their guns and games could do was teach him that he was not in command of himself while within their ranks.
If they didn't know so much about his father he'd write them off as some civilian thrill seekers.
"There’s some tarp out back.” Yueller told him. “You use it and then you burn that up good.”
Dean stood up and pushed all his other thoughts aside. Edwards was still emptying out his blood onto the floor, his skin now cast into a strange color that a person only got when they were dead. Tarp or not, Dean wondered just exactly how he was going to get Edwards body anywhere. It was about then, as he was looking around that he noticed something on the table.
There were a scattering of books.
Something of a common sight whenever he and his brother were set down under a mountain of what ifs that you couldn’t just find on the internet. But there were notebooks as well, filled to the margins with Navajo writing that Dean couldn’t read, but on the top was one word and it was underlined.
Yueller’s hand came down on top of it and slid it away.
“That was an order Dean.”
Dean turned and walked the back hall that emptied out into the rear of the cabin. It was nothing but stacks of firewood, saw dust under his feet and the night sky cold and purple above. He stood for a moment in the brisk night air, watching the fog of his breath cloud and dissipate. It suddenly occurred to him, that whether Yueller had intended to or not, he finally had gotten his wish. They’d lost a man last year to God knows what, and Yueller had just wasted one of his own right in front of his eyes. But despite all that, all that talk about replenishing the ranks had come true.
His team was intact.
They always say you never miss someone until they’re gone.
Dean held back a branch in his way but winced when it slipped out of his gloved hand and smacked him on the back of his head. Or how did it go? You never knew what you had until you ate the last one. No, wait… if you let something go free it won’t come back because who the hell would want to be around you anyway—
He paused in the damp undergrowth, and slid a hand down his face. The smell of gasoline was still on his gloves. The black acrid smell of the rubber tarp igniting and smoldering over the body was still right there stuck on replay in his mind. They told him he had done a real good job but Dean already knew that. It wasn’t the first, or he figured, the last time, he’d have to burn human remains. He knew for a body that size you had to have a lot of fuel under it so it would burn slow, let the heat rise real high until after a few hours there was nothing left but pale ashes and splinters of bone. In fact, Edwards had just barely turned to dust when Dean’s keepers suddenly had a brand new set of assignments for him. Apparently Edwards did more than make Dean’s life miserable with a tube and constant idle chatter. He also had quite a few duties around the ranch, all of which now fell on Dean’s shoulders. He just got to do them unarmed.
The most vital apparently, was to patrol the expansive perimeter at least once a day.
Take a long walk. Look at some cows. Didn’t seem so bad? Actually, Dean welcomed the time to refocus his thoughts, get out of range of them and their cameras. Just start thinking clearly again if he could. Dean was doing just that, his other thoughts straying to just how easy it would be to keep walking and walking until the road was in sight. But they had him pinned down better than any locked room or chained tether. He wouldn’t leave Sammy here and they sure as fuck knew it. Hell, they counted on it.
The weather had changed, the temperature rising just enough to turn the precipitation into rain. The steady drip of it was slowly rotting the piles of snow that lay everywhere. Here out in the woods the snow was still pretty thick, but turned slush and ice water for the most part, soaking his boots and the bottoms of his jeans. For the first time since he arrived there he wished they had issued him some of their military digs just so he could get around more easily—
The perimeter of the inner part of the ranch was marked. The acres that held the structures and old vehicles were encircled by a low barbed wire fence for the cattle that wandered the hundreds of square miles that surrounded them.
There were tracks in the softened snow and they didn’t belong to any cow.
Bipedal but the gait too long to be human, the set of the toes too wide even with the distortion of the snow to exaggerate anything left behind. Dean crouched down and took a closer look. These weren’t from the Walker he had done in the night before, this was something new. Dean’s gaze flickered upwards and saw claw marks up and down a nearby pine. Stepping over the tracks he’d found he studied the ripped bark, the sap bleeding down the tree’s side and down into the snow. Following the trees that went deeper into the wood and closer to the ranch’s center, he saw that something had traveled from tree to tree without setting a foot down onto the forest floor.
So there were two sets of tracks. And both looked like Skin Walkers.
Looking several yards ahead, Dean half smiled at the section of barbed fence that was toppled over and pressed down into the snow as if it was nothing. It wasn’t so much of a footstep as it was a total barrage, as if something had just plowed and rolled its way through the flimsy barrier. With a small laugh, Dean shook his head. He had no freakin’ clue what could have made that trail.
Correction. Three sets of tracks. If you could call whatever that last thing was a track. It looked more like a small tornado had torn a path through the woods.
It was like a goddamn convention had just gotten into town. Dean looked around in frustration. Whatever those guys had done out there in the desert they had set something large into motion. And they were worried. From the look of these tracks they had a right to be.
He had to figure out what the hell a Noqoìlpi was.
Sam was locked up and there was no way Dean could get a chance to talk to him without calling attention to himself. That left only one other person around here that seemed to know something about anything.
Dean was going to have a talk with Mr. Keens.
“You don’t mind much if I go right ahead and make myself comfortable do ya?”
Dean silently shook his head as the cold point of the gun never quite left the flesh of his neck. Sometimes traveling under his chin. For a moment, tracing a line up to his temple. By the time Keens had made himself comfortable, Dean couldn’t move his hands or legs.
“No offense.” Keens offered as the last buckle hissed firmly into place.
"None taken." Dean grunted beneath the heavy restraints.
From what little he knew of Keens, he could be sure of one thing: The man took no chances.
This man had the fancy stuff, those heavy and wide things you saw in movies about insane asylums and crazy people. Dean smiled a little bit at that. A guy really had to know his subject to know enough to get the good stuff. No clumsy locking metal for this man, old school leather and buckles all the way. He tested it and found it as secure and unmovable as it looked.
However, he wasn’t here to fight.
Dean looked around at the clutter that surrounded them. Keens had claimed Johnson’s library as his private quarters. A cot was shoved in the corner like an afterthought, but even that was covered with a messy pile of opened and tagged books. It was as if Keens had never seen a collection like it before. Once again, it was obvious that Yueller and Keens’ knowledge seemed to be almost completely limited to the pure basics of everything else a hunter ought to know. Dean hadn’t stopped wondering since he’d arrived there at how their ‘names’ had grown so big in certain circles. Staring at the clean pistol in Keens hand, he considered that it might not have ever been because of any expertise but maybe just their efficient brutality. If you hit anything hard enough it’ll give but in the end all you’d get were bits and pieces.
Dean saw that most of the books left open were filled with old Anasazi script and markings. The others were Hopi and Navajo. All native lore. Whatever it was that they were doing, they sure seemed set on some dark stuff that roiled just out of their reach settled deep in the canyons out west.
“Found yourself a pretty decent stash of info, didn’t you sir?” Dean remarked, all too aware of his disregarding protocol. But there was no response.
All of Johnson’s shelves seemed to have been poured over, pulled out of place and left aside on chairs or the floor.
Keens placed his pistol on the table and sat down next to it. His green fatigues were neat and ironed. For being the civilian of them, he seemed to pay the most attention to his own details. The trousers were tucked perfectly into the tops of his combat boots. The Army green was all in perfect creases and folds. He moved as slowly as he spoke, forcing Dean to think of that measure of time that only people down deep in the south seemed to follow. Unhurried. Leisurely. Dallying. Almost concerned about being unconcerned.
“How old were you the first time you went and pulled the trigger on one of your Daddy’s guns?”
Dean blinked, surprised by the question.
“Go ahead, don’t be shy.”
Dean felt his anger simmer back up at the tone in the man’s voice.
“I don’t know, nine or something.”
“Nine years old.” The corner of Keens mouth pulled down in appreciation as he folded his hands over one knee. “And you never stopped since then.”
“Did it ever bother you just a little, all those years your Daddy dragged you through?” Keens was smiling a little bit. “All those years were for just about a little bit of nothin’?”
Dean worked his hands in the binds, the strange sensation of worry starting to eat away at the edges of his anger.
“What I mean is, Dean,” He stood up and walked around the desk towards a pack of cigarettes. “What exactly you got to show for it?”
Dean looked down and away.
“Gotta stash hidden somewhere? Or is it just the nice smile on people's faces?"
He didn’t want to listen to this bullshit.
"Bet some don't even smile atcha, do they? Hell, even John knew better n' to expect a goddam thank you."
Dean felt his chest heave. He wanted to ask to be released so he could go take up some make believe chore. He wanted to be anywhere but here.
"You mean to tell me there's no part of you that asks yourself what its worth getting spit on for a living?"
He had started to rub his wrists raw in the stiff binds, his gaze fixed on the bookshelves beyond Keens. He tried to read each title, one by one….
“Or maybe” Keens grin settled on him. "A punk like you just does it for the pussy?"
Dean suddenly felt sick, all his urgent questions had completely evaporated.
“Lemme go.” He murmured.
Keens went on as if he hadn’t even heard the request.
"You start out thinkin good. Most of us do. We go on thinkin we're just doing the right thing all the way. Protecting the weak like life was some freakin comic book. That works real well when yer 13 and don't got the real world up your ass. Hell, even Jack. All we wanted was to rid the planet of some nasty buggers."
Dean sneered. "Save me the psycho-babble would ya?"
“You got your skills and that’s just fine.” Keens continued. “Some men would give a lot of things to know what you know. Seen what you’ve seen.“ He nodded as he struck a match. “But what else did your Daddy leave you with?”
Dean realized that he’d tensed every muscle in his body until he had started to slightly shake. Keens was quiet, his cigarette smoke slowly moving around the room, unfurling around them both like ghosts. He sat forward, smiling a tight even smile.
“I once taught in a big fancy school Dean, taught young men like yourself about what was out there in our big wide world.”
Dean heard himself sigh. A school teacher. Probably some big time University professor. Anthropology. Mythology. American Folklore. They were always the type to go off the freakin’ deep end. Obsessions, academic or not, tenured or not, were still a part of the psyche that required a temperament of control. There was no control here. Just the iron guidelines that these men chose to enforce. The rest… the rest was chaos.
“Then I met my good friend Jack Yueller who showed me that not all of this shit on paper,” He flipped through a near by book. “…necessarily started right there on paper.”
Keens tone changed down into something different. Almost reverent. It made Dean look up at him in confusion.
“Aren't you just a little bit tired of swindling credit like a third world con artist? Risking life and limb for people who wouldn't even look at you twice if you asked them the time? Bringing things down on your head for no gain?”
Dean could feel his eyes burn, his anger and frustration mixing to mist and cloud his vision. He angrily blinked it back.
“You call us lunatics Dean,” Keens settled back onto the table. “But what exactly would that make you?”
“What—What do you want?”
“We can put our hands around something that makes all this,” he gestured vaguely to the dilapidated house, the piles of decomposing books and out to the abandoned ranch that spread out for miles in every direction around them. “… worth it.”
Dean looked up at him uncertainly.
"We can give that to you too Dean." Keens smiled. "We can make all this rigmarole you call a life worth something."
The conversation had tilted and whirled out of his control. Dean couldn’t find his bearings, couldn’t find one single question that he had ready on his tongue when he’d first arrived. The restraints felt ten times heavier than they had in the beginning. He briefly struggled in them, suddenly nervous that Keens may not remove them when their business here was concluded.
“And now,” Keens said. “With you and your brother, we’re four again.”
“W-why four?” Dean suddenly stammered, grasping onto the one question he could remember having. “Why do you need four?”
Keen raised his eyebrows.
"You don't know?"
"I guess not!"
“Four points of the compass. Four phases of the moon. There are four wings on a bee and four leaves on a clover.” Keens drew on his smoke. ”That is, if you are lucky.”
Dean stared at him without understanding.
“And we do need to be lucky.” Keens winked.
He was freed again by gunpoint.
Each buckle that came loose let him breathe that much deeper. Each strap that fell away made him feel that much lighter. When he finally stood it was as if he could walk away from Keens and his words and never think back on them again.
They let him bring Sam his water again. Yueller didn’t ask, he just handed him the plastic bottle and then handed him the key. Dean stared down at the small thin key that had been the only thing that kept the door to his prison shut tight. He had laid in that room night after night just thinking about what that key may even have looked like. Smiling a little, he gripped it in his fist, letting its sharp edges bite the inside of his hand.
Dean didn’t tell the Captain about the two tracks he’d found or about the third that he wasn’t quite sure what to make of. The two Walkers were around here somewhere, their tracks ending around the tree line that encompassed the ranch’s structures. The other thing, the thing that had blazed a path right through tree and stone, had up and vanished about a few dozen yards in. Dean had looked up, down and sideways but couldn’t figure which direction, if any, it might have gone.
He slid the key into the locks.
The door swung open easily. He had to click on the light to find his brother already inside. Sam was lying on Dean’s ex-bed in his old private room. He was still restrained for some reason, his knees and wrists awkwardly pulled too close together. It seemed his brother had graduated from the barn to this. Dean wasn’t too sure where he was better off. At least it was warmer in here.
Sam tried hard to focus on him when he knelt by his bedside. He was fading in an out, his consciousness tenuous at best. Trying to keep conversation unheard and at a minimum, Dean squeezed his brother’s wrist in a silent greeting. He unscrewed the bottle top and sniffed its contents. The stuff they had forced into Dean had always smelled bitter and off. This water had no odor whatsoever.
“Myths.” Sam breathed in a barely audible voice.
Dean knew Sam was holding on so he could tell him what Keens had asked him after he’d left to take care of Edwards.
He lifted the back of Sam’s head and tipped the bottle up so he could drink. Dean had no choice but assume it was safe to let him have it. They set them up last time but now they had Dean right back where they wanted him. Like Yueller had said, why bother with games now?
“Myths, a-about—“ Sam spit up some of the water while he tried to talk. “About the Navajo—“
“Okay, okay, just take it easy.”
Dean knew he couldn’t do much for Sam while under the Captain’s watch, but he made sure he could at least get two fingers between Sam’s ankle and the metal around it. He did the same for his hands, loosening the binds up just enough so they wouldn’t carve into his skin—
“Myths about the Diné, about the Kintyèl...”
“Wait, wait, hold on a second.” Dean looked into his brother’s glazed eyes and cursed. Whatever they’d given him to make him stop puking had sent him into la la land. But he recognized the sound of the names. They were native. “What do those words mean?”
Dean sat back, watching Sam’s eyes flutter open and close again. While he was grateful that the drugs probably took some of the pain away, he hoped that some of Sam’s reality stayed a little less blurry at the edges for the time being. Dean needed to know what Keens and Yueller were doing. He needed to know why Skin Walkers were coming at this place in droves just for a taste of one of these guys.
“He came to the Diné, the People. Th-the gambler.” Sam smiled a slow strange smile. “And He tricked them.”
Diné. Wasn’t that what the Navajo called themselves? Dean glanced nervously over his shoulder, they were going to come looking for him soon.
“Who Sam, who tricked them?”
“Noqoìlpi.” Sam told him. “He Who Wins Men—”
Dean pushed the bottle back to his brother’s lips while he still had the time. He didn’t like forcing it on him, but his brother needed it more than he knew.
“H--He never loses Dean.” Sam coughed. “Not unless you trick Him back.”
A myth. A fairy tale. A creature from stories that tricks people and never loses. Sounded great. Sam tried to reach out and touch his arm, but the chains stopped him short.
“You know how he n--never loses?” Sam tried to whisper. He was already half gone, his hands still trying to reach out but unable.
“How?” Dean asked, carefully humoring his brother so he’d keep talking.
“He has a talisman.” Sam said trying to rub at his eyes but failing. “S-Some say it’s an animal, but--but it’s a stone—“
“A stone?” Dean sat up and firmly patted Sam on the face to keep him lucid for just a little while longer. “What kind of stone? Did you tell Keens? Did you tell them that this thing has a— Hey. Hey? Sammy?”
His brother was out. His hands limp on Dean’s. Dean checked his pulse and found it thready. With a small shake of his head he slid down the side of the bed to take a seat on the floor.
He Who Wins Men. Dean didn’t quite like the implication of how far that ownership might go.
There was a being out there that possessed something that made it incapable of losing a wager. Something like that? Well hell, it seemed like it was worth going through a whole lot of trouble for. But a creature with a talisman that granted the biggest wish of them all sounded a lot like something he knew about real well.
And it sounded like a demon.