Title: Tripwire part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4 *Completed*
Rating: R - Gen - hurt!Dean
This story procedes directly after the events of S3 Episode 47
Spoilers: General to all aired ep in USA
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Beta: Thank you Kat!
Summary: Dean accidentally uncovers something else left over in his father's old storage space...
Sam blinked, his eyes opening to a hoarse shout still echoing from his mouth.
Sprawled across something uncomfortable, he realized that he was no longer standing on the stairs. From the bite of sharp corners of wood digging into his back, it felt like he was now laying on them instead. Unable to focus his eyes, he could do nothing but reassemble his rattled senses as quickly as he could. Easing his hands down his sides, he felt the gritty cellar steps underneath his body and tried to push himself up. Pain stopped him short and he fell back with a gasp. Groggily pulling at his aching shoulder, he struggled to remember his last clear thought before everything had gone blank.
Despite all the elaborate precautions, the monster had gotten free.
Sam had almost stopped it from getting past him up the stairs. They had been in deadlock half way up the steps when his brother had heaved Sam with a might that wasn’t his. Sam let his hands travel down his chest and abdomen to check for injury. The smell of the dank basement was as strong as the scent of blood. As his confusion wore off the anxiety quickly crept back in as the seconds ticked by. There was no telling how long he had been left laying there and that thing lurking inside Dean could be standing around just waiting for him to regain consciousness. The hush surrounding him told him that he was alone, but he knew better than to trust silence.
The rickety timber staircase beneath him suddenly jolted with the vibrating impact of footsteps.
When he attempted to sit up, excruciating pain spread up the side of his throat and jerked him backwards. He groped where neck and shoulder met, but stilled when a callused hand stopped his. Disoriented and unarmed, panic seized him and sent his body into motion before he could think. Aiming for the silhouette that blotted out the light, Sam swung out a fist as hard as he could.
Instead of flesh, his punch met nothing. The same sturdy hand caught his fist on its upswing and shoved it down to his side.
“Give yourself a second,” a voice told him. “You knocked your head pretty good.”
As firm fingers explored his wounded shoulder, Sam tried to concentrate his blurred vision on the person crouching over him. He finally sensed their relaxed posture was of no threat, the smell of the crisp winter and faint scent of wood smoke putting him at ease. Before comprehension dawned and reality sunk in, Sam was sure for just one moment that his father had somehow appeared.
“It’s all right now,” Bobby murmured.
His eyesight cleared enough to reveal what was prohibiting his shoulder from moving. The bowie knife he normally kept for protection pinned him to the wall. Sam watched the glittering blade as Bobby slowly worked it loose from the plaster, half a foot of the saw-edged metal hissing through the fissure inches from his face. He sagged down to the floor when its point slid free of his jacket and released him from the wall. Pulling at the blood soaked tear, he numbly understood that it had stabbed through his clothing but only grazed the skin of his shoulder. For a minor laceration, it hurt like hell. However, he didn’t understand why the tempered steel hadn’t been plunged through the breastbone and straight through his heart.
“I-I’m alive.” Sam stammered, his breath fogging as if they were in a meat locker and not indoors. “I’m n-not dead.”
“If it makes you feel any better?” Bobby studied the length of the blade. “I’m a bit shocked myself.”
The older hunter looked just like every other time Sam had seen him. An old corduroy coat sat over the flannels, but the threadbare jeans and ragged baseball cap were all in place. Sam tried to sit up the rest of the way and hissed at the burning ache at the back of his head.
“Why didn’t it kill me?” He felt blood sticking his shirt to his chest. “It got loose, it got out.”
“Did you get a look at it?” Bobby stuck the knife into the floor.
“Wh-what?” Sam let Bobby pull him forward by the elbow, the room tilting back and forth before his eyes. “No? I couldn’t see it. He kept saying there was something in here but I—“
“No, no.” The old man shook his head impatiently. “The jinx Dean found on the piece of paper?”
Sam swallowed and quickly shook his head.
“I couldn’t carry you around when you was a kid.” Bobby told him when dizziness pushed Sam over into the older man. “Sure as heck can’t get you up the stairs now.”
Sam braced himself against the railing and waited until his equilibrium settled back into place. The sight of the lone, empty chair in the middle of the cellar brought his panic back, quick and cold, to the pit of his stomach. The duct tape he had spent so long wrapping painstakingly around his brother’s arms and legs sat gaping open like a shrugged cocoon against the chair. Neatly sliced – it looked as if someone had taken a razor blade to it.
“Bobby, Dean is—he’s not—it might take him into the woods—“
“Don’t worry about that right now. He’s not going anyplace,” Bobby took a doubtful look at his watch. “At least not for a good while.”
The clipped responses were what Sam had grown up listening to. At one time, when he was younger, it was second nature to demand details only when they were absolutely required, if ever. He nodded hesitantly at the older man, realizing Bobby had something up his sleeve.
Sam looked up the steep stairs.
Knowing that the location of anyone on its three floors was easily detectable by the whine of the old boards, he listened for any sign of Dean. The man next to him noticed his apprehension even if none of it was shared out loud.
“Told you to not to worry,” Bobby repeated. “He’s gonna stay put right where I left him.”
Sam tore his gaze from the silent upper floor and tried to keep the uncertainty off his face.
“What’d you do?”
“Set up a few snares outside.”
Knowing there was no conventional snare on the planet that could keep a man like his brother down, Sam wondered what that meant.
The house was quiet, except for a soft tapping and the sound of the wind. Pausing at the open front door, Sam touched it, stopping the brass knob from knocking against the wall. The door hung from the frame, a doorknob-shaped hole in the plaster behind it. He looked out across the small porch towards the edge of the woods and the dirt road that meandered through it. Aside from Bobby’s truck, there was nothing else visible in the muted dawn but the sag of the peeling fence.
Snow had begun to drift down from the gray wash of clouds. White flakes had started to collect on the ground, layering on the windshield of the pickup and the frozen muddy path that led through the withered yard. The rusty gate had been left unlatched, and was swinging in the breeze with a whining hinge.
“What did it do to him, Bobby?” Sam asked. “What is it?”
“Just show me where that card is.”
Sam led them to the back room on the first floor where Dean had been sorting through their father’s belongings from storage. Placed evenly out on the floor, the items were strangely arranged in equal distances from one another. It vaguely reminded Sam of how his brother treated the precious individual parts of an engine during repair. Bobby stood a few feet from the only pieces of furniture in the room and took a deep breath. The folding table and the chair next to it were still piled with a clutter of yellowed papers, but the ripped envelope and card were lying right where Sam had left them.
“I’m guessin’ Dean didn’t get around explaining what he saw on the thing?” Bobby had pulled a manila binder from the heap and was using them like tongs to flip the envelope over. “What sort of symbols and such?”
With some embarrassment, Sam realized he had never even thought to ask his brother those all-important details. All he had known was that the paper was cursed; all the rest seemed like insignificant minutiae until now. Bobby examined the sachet dangling from the length of the folder.
“Get me some fire,” Bobby decided. “And something to keep it in.”
Sam looked around and spotted a tithing bowl his father had collected for some purpose or another. Bobby saw his logical choice, which killed two birds with one convenient and blessed stone. A container that sat on an altar to collect donations in the name of Our Lord and Savior would be just the trick. The older man was shaking his head again.
“What’d say we try this procedure out with something your daddy didn’t hide for a good reason?”
Quickly changing his mind, Sam discarded the idea of the convenient bowl and headed for the dingy kitchen. Without a flashlight, he used his hands to search the cabinet’s contents in the dark. A mechanical calm took over his mind, fixing on what bag out in the car had a canister of lighter fluid and all the weatherproof matches. All he had to do for the moment was start a fire.
“Meet me outside.” Bobby called out behind him. “I don’t wanna leave Dean alone for too long.”
Sam heard the urgency in the hunter’s voice and hastened his pace through the empty house.
The gentle winter storm brought the clouds down low in the sky.
Sam grimaced at the cold mud seeping into his boots as he followed Bobby with the only thing in the place he could find that wouldn’t burn. Setting the aluminum trashcan on the ground, he unlocked the car’s trunk for everything else they'd require. He noted with relief that the thin blanket of snow was untouched on the black paint of the roof and doors. No attempt had been made to gain access to the arensenal locked inside. A brief look around showed him no sign of footsteps had ventured within its vicinity within the last hour. The relief shifted back into uneasiness, the fact that his brother hadn’t attempted to arm himself as troubling as it was reassuring.
Shoving all his thoughts aside, Sam slung the bag of supplies over his good shoulder and got moving.
“I made a few stops before I drove all the way in here.” Bobby nodded to the thick tangle of the forest. “Set up some traps. Knew if he crossed any of them it’d wrap him up good.”
Taking the lead, Sam started walking eagerly in the direction indicated.
“You saw him?” He asked. “Was he okay?”
Bobby was close behind, swearing softly when the snap of branches whipped back into his face.
“He got through a couple, but one of ‘em worked just fine.” He said. “Over there, back behind that old shed.”
Noting that Bobby had completely ignored his question, Sam hurried as fast as he could without tripping through the underbrush. He could now plainly see the path Dean had made through the broken foliage and brittle weeds.
“It’d be better to do this in the house.” Bobby sighed. “But we can’t move him. Not now.”
“You didn’t have much time for snares.” Sam tried not to slip over the slick surface of a moss covered log. “How’d you know he’d come this way?”
“Didn’t figure he’d head for the road,” Bobby answered. “There’s a river all swelled up from the thaw just south of here. I know that if I didn’t want to run into nobody I’d head into some woods. Checked the map and this stretch don’t end for miles.”
Sam readjusted his grip on the bag and gnawed on the inside of his mouth. That was exactly what that thing inside of Dean said it would do. It would take off for the darkest parts of nowhere and disappear. The idea that the creature had almost succeeded in making good on its threat made his agitation grow.
A strange noise made him pause.
He strained to listen to the faint sound of something thrashing in the dry leaves of the forest floor. Ignoring the cuts of nettles and vine, he pushed his way through the thicket until he stumbled out into a small clearing. At first, he thought the day had gotten slightly brighter but the dull gloom of the clouds had dimmed with the storm. The black lace of the bare branches overhead was softly lit by something else. For a moment the forest was filled with crimson vapor, dripping off the trees and pooling within the hollows of the ground. Sam blinked and it was gone, the snow rushing in where he’d only seen a murky haze seconds before.
His brother swung to look in his direction, anger seeping from him visibly like steam. Clothes coated in dead leaves and clumped soil, each side of his face had matching scratches from his passage through the dense undergrowth. Dean’s retinas had only been tinged when Sam had seen him last, but now everything including the whites of his eyes were solid red. The only way he could tell Dean was looking at him was because of the tilt of his head.
Sam waited for words, swearing and worse, but his brother said nothing.
Dean’s struggles suddenly renewed, a pained whine coming from the back of his throat like a wounded animal. His body was bound in what looked like thin strands of rope glowing as white as the sky above. Several had looped around Dean’s wrists while countless others had coiled around his legs and arms. It appeared as if he had walked right into a spider web and tumbled forward onto his knees. Their tight stretch didn’t quite let him reach the ground, his hands were in front of him to catch the fall that never came. Sam saw the wards hastily marked on all the surrounding trees. Broad slashes with a piece of coal or burnt tinder were almost completely hidden by the wet black trunks.
Bobby’s trap had worked just like he'd promised.
The length of the stuff coiled around Dean’s throat was just tight enough to make talking difficult. If it wasn’t constricting around his neck already, he was strangling himself trying to break free. He moaned and wheezed for air, pulling and twisting his body any way he could.
Sam was sliding to his knees beside him before he knew what he was doing. Trying to push his fingers between the tight coils of fiber, he couldn’t find any slack in its constraints.
“Bobby!” Sam gasped. “He-he can’t breathe!”
“About as fun as a choke chain.” Bobby shrugged. “But it does the job.”
After his initial shock subsided, Sam's shaking hands told him that his brother’s chest was rising and falling. When Dean was at rest, his breathing wasn’t impaired at all. There was an intense heat radiating with the damp smell of churned earth under the trap, making the snowflakes settle on Dean’s face and stream off his skin like sweat. Holding onto Dean’s heaving body Sam checked his face as carefully as he could. With no discernable pupils, his brother seemed blind, his face stricken with the same panic Sam had observed all night long. Dean writhed in his grip, all his muscles tensed in the web of thin string biting sharply into his flesh.
“Dean?” Sam held his chin so he couldn’t look away. “Can you hear me?”
The frantic whimpering growl that came out of his brother made him grit his teeth. The acrid scent of lighter fluid and the bright orange flicker of flames redirected his attention.
“Over here, Sam,” Bobby said. “We can take a look at it now.”
Sam got to his feet and moved towards the fire in the garbage can.
The flames didn’t burn it up like it would any other piece of paper. Edges curled back and the sachet crumbled into flimsy black ash immediately. However, the vellum underneath didn’t combust like nature warranted it should.
“I’ll be,” Bobby muttered.
Even knowing it was now safe, Sam still had to force his gaze away from the sputtering remains of the envelope and to the card itself. Its rectangular shape hadn’t darkened with the flames, but instead turned translucent. An opaque film dissipated as the fire began to die out. The disarmed symbols on it were plain to see but Sam had no idea of what they might be.
“You’ve seen one of these before?”
“Few times.” With a knife point, he pushed the soggy vellum around in the lighter fluid to keep the burn going. “It’s not a possession.”
Sam looked uneasily at his brother.
“Wish it was.”
“You can exorcise a demon.” Bobby dusted off his hands. “You can’t do anything with this but let it run its course. These cards were created to ruin someone’s day. Like that lucky charm you found, some were made bad enough to see you dead at the end of it.”
“If he isn’t possessed then what is he?”
“Crazy.” Bobby said bluntly. “This curse prefers suicide but it’ll take any murders Dean commits on the way down.”
“That’s it?” Sam blinked. “That’s all it does?”
Bobby barked out a laugh. “Not good enough for ya?”
“I thought- I thought he was—“
“Don’t you worry. There’s some son of a bitch runnin’ the show. Bet Dean can see and hear the bastard clear as you or me.”
Sam looked down at the smoldering remains of the card. It had finally blackened. The symbols that had been drawn across its surface had faded away and now resembled something that reminded him of a mask. There was a slight suggestion of wide set round eyes, a smear of a mouth with the ends turned up in a cheerless smile.
“Dean said he saw a face.”
Sam rubbed his eyes trying to remember the blur of his brother’s shouting and confusion. It had been hard to listen to everything he had said because most of it hadn't made any sense. After a while all Sam could think about was the raw red gleam of his eyes and the horrible misery in his voice.
“He said something was talking to him,” Sam said. “Said something was inside of him.”
Bobby considered Dean panting down into the thick carpet of rust colored pine needles. Although he was still pushing his boots into the dirt behind him and wrenching his wrists, he appeared more subdued.
Sam felt the sick dread he’d been fighting to keep down surfacing again. “How do we know that’s still him?”
“We don’t.” Bobby nudged the smoking garbage can with a knee. “But there’s one sure sign that he’s not completely gone.”
“Coulda killed you.” Bobby glanced at Sam’s wounded shoulder. “And he didn’t.”
The shimmer of ropes stretched taut between the trees seemed duller, the texture and shade of something physical rather than the gauzy light that bore them from thin air. Sam remembered the hunter’s warning about the extraordinary trap lasting for only a certain measure of time. The minute hand on his watch seemed stuck in place, the remains of the curse spanned out over an eternity of hours. With a sigh, Sam tipped his head back in the fluttering swirl of snow.
“This day is going to take a while.”
“Let’s start a real fire,” Bobby told him. “I’m freezin’.”
Bobby made a few trips back to the house for some dry kindling. After that, the man had settled down on a spot between the roots of a tree and shut his eyes. Sam pulled his hood up against the wet fall of snow and tried to do the same but he couldn’t go to sleep - no matter how worn out he was. The frosty air made his banged-up head pound and his shoulder throb. But regardless of the distracting aches and pains, there was no way he could drift off and ignore the sounds of his brother’s distress only a few feet away. Although Dean’s frantic mumbling waned, his fear set Sam on an identical edge.
He anxiously watched as the struggles became weaker and Dean’s body became heavier within the mass of strands. When Dean’s forehead finally rested against the ground, he even allowed himself to relax slightly in turn. At first, Sam hoped his brother’s calm had set in because of exhaustion, but then he heard something else.
It was the hoarse whisper of muffled crying.
Sam had gotten up and tried pacing.
Dean’s weird silence had done nothing but grate on his raw nerves and now all he wished was it had never been broken. Falling to a kneel between the tangle of ropes, Sam got as close as he could to mumble all the canned words he’d learned were meant to soothe. But any babble of false comfort was useless against whatever insidious litany was running in a loop inside his brother’s head. Although the crackling fire was blistering hot behind them, Dean tensed again as his body lapsed into a violent fit of shivering. Sam began rubbing the trembling bare hands, but they weren’t stiff with cold. All the pale exposed skin he could find was searing with heat. He was uncomfortably reminded of an overheated furnace when the smolder of red eyes flashed in his direction. Dean’s missing pupils momentarily sharpened into pinpoints with the glow of molten metal.
Sam looked at the duffel bag he had set by the fire.
Bobby hadn’t mentioned what they were going to do once this trap evaporated back to where it had come from. Whatever was urging Dean towards ending his life could break through a lot of things but he’d be interested to see if it could eat through stainless steel. If the other restraints he had on hand didn’t work, he’d keep him here himself if he had too. He squeezed his eyes shut with the knowledge of how well he’d accomplished that task the last time. This round he had a feeling he wouldn’t be as lucky with the outcome.
Hoping his touch would do better than his voice, he felt at the cords that were bunched around Dean’s limbs and neck.
His brother’s words startled him, the language coming out crystal clear when it had been nothing but garbled nonsense before.
“I can—I can’t—” Dean’s strained voice was almost gone. “I-It hurts bad.”
Sam remembered his brother saying the same the night before. He’d been lying then, trying to get Sam to move when he didn’t want to. He wondered what Dean meant now, the thin twine that cinched into his skin, or the rancid lull of persuasion that was boiling over inside his skull.
“Y-You gotta let me go.” Dean said.
Sam stared down at his brother’s lost expression.
The desperate appeal sounded genuine because Bobby was absolutely right. What was trapped in the makeshift campsite wasn’t a demon hiding in the guise of flesh, it was his brother. Dean’s frustration peaked again, his fatigued body shuddering in the effort to get free. The fire lit his brother’s face and reflected off his toneless blood-red eyes. The snow had started falling harder, vanishing over the flames as it licked into the air.
Sam shut his eyes again.
“Bobby’s crazy.” Dean breathed through a sob. “Not me. You let me go. I have to get out of here.”
“I can’t, Dean.”
Kneeling down with his face in the rot of leaves, Sam screamed inside his head as hard as he could so he wouldn’t do it out loud. He flung a few crushed handfuls of pine needles aside and got up again. From the slack fall of Bobby’s mouth, he could tell the man was actually getting some sleep under the pull of his cap.
“Don’t leave me here.” Dean whispered down to the ground.
Sam breathed. In and out – dragging air into his lungs. Watching his breath fog in long steady exhales, he shifted in place and worked his hand over the handle of the sheathed knife tucked in the belt of his jeans. Bobby wouldn’t have closed his eyes if the snare didn’t have some decent time left on it. With a brisk pace the dirt road that emptied out to the highway was only a short hike away.
He could take a few minutes to stretch his legs.
“Oh god, don’t fucking leave me here...”
Maybe he could go back to the house and warm up a little by that electrical heater. Sort through some of the crap they’d dragged out of storage. Take the axe out back and start chopping up the soggy firewood until his palms bled.
The temperature plunged when he stepped outside the circle of the fire’s light and into the dim hush of the surrounding forest. He heard Bobby stir behind him, the soft question on his lips slurred with disrupted slumber. When Sam started moving through the white dusted trees his brother’s words disintegrated again.
Stumbling through the fall of snow and branches, he began walking faster when he heard his brother call out.
He broke into a run when Dean started to scream his name.