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! (& thank you tammylee!)
Summary: Dean accidentally uncovers something else left over in his father's old storage space...
The wooden handle burned Sam’s hands, the worn grooves grinding into already-broken blisters.
Agony was a nice diversion.
It allowed him to ignore the red fog now spreading throughout the tumble of the lowering storm clouds. The color of fresh blood had leeched into each snowflake and slowly built an undisturbed layer of lace across the ground. Each drop stung his face and weighted down his hair.
Sam watched it congeal and slide to drip off the end of the axe blade.
At first, he was only going to chop through the scattering of logs he found lying around. But after those were demolished he pulled the stiff canvas tarp off the stack and didn’t stop until every single log was reduced to kindling. Hefting the rusty tool over his head, he tried to silence the sound of his brother’s pleading voice repeating in his mind.
Sam squeezed his eyes shut and felt hot tears run down his frozen cheeks.
You let me go.
He swung the axe down so hard the metal sliced through the chunk of pine and sunk into the chopping block underneath. Yanking it free he automatically replaced the piece with another despite the knee-high pile growing behind him. When the rotten wood began to fall apart and shatter into useless splinters, he realized the ragged fog of his breath was coming too quickly. He stuck the axe into the frozen ground and sagged onto the step of the porch. Absently wiping his throbbing hands on his thighs, he was dully surprised to see smears of dark blood left behind on the damp denim.
I have to get out of here.
His gaze went to the loom of forest that started at the overgrown yard’s edge. It looked as undisturbed and desolate as the rise of mountains hidden on the horizon. The storm had picked up while he’d been working and was now blowing the heavy snow in swirling eddies up into the sky. His hands shook from exertion, his arms and legs shuddering from the wet and cold.
A red haze dripped between the trees and oozed down to the pristine white of the forest floor.
He knew the sight of it should have evoked more of a reaction from him. The curse his brother had released was on the wind and in the ground. There was no use in running from an entity formed of instincts like fear and anger. The strange fog filled the frozen muddy trials and languidly seeped into the air he breathed. Sam stuttered on his next inhale, his bleeding hands dripping bright red drops on the leather of his boots. It felt good to sit down.
It calmed him.
It soothed all his panic away.
He looked over his shoulder uncertainly at the dilapidated house. He could go plug in that fire hazard of the ancient electrical heater and sit down for a while. There were plenty of his father’s things left to go through. There was more than enough to take up an entire afternoon, the night, and another solid day before he’d have to stop to sleep—
Don’t leave me here.
Sam dazedly shook his head back and forth. He knew that his short break from the campsite had kept him away much longer than he had intended.
He blinked in bafflement at the time on his watch.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he didn’t understand how he could have possibly spent an entire two hours just standing here chopping firewood. Waving the lingering red mist away from his face, a surge of panic got him swiftly to his feet.
But his thoughts were inexplicably drawn back to the confines of the house.
A thought, as gentle and tenuous as a whisper, wrapped around his mind and softly dissolved his worry. One thousand different meaningless duties settled in his brain and quietly urged him to turn around. A descending quiet diffused his concern, the logical choice of seeking the warmth inside unyielding and unquestionable. His urgency dampened, he was half way up the back steps before he realized what he was doing.
“No… No… No.”
Clutching the railing, Sam forced himself to step back down into the yard. Every move away from the house and towards the campsite felt wrong and unnatural. All his senses screamed out in warning that he should stop, all his muscles wanted to seize and prevent him from going any further.
But Sam knew it was all a trick, a ploy, and a diversion.
With a roar, he broke into a run straight for the dark margin of the woods. The first several yards brought the overwhelming sense of panic so high that his vision went white with fear. But just as he stumbled into the tree line, the sensations vanished like cobwebs in a flame. Panting for breath, he gripped the soggy trunks of the trees and waited for the rest of the conjured fright to fade.
For a bunch of make believe, it sure as hell felt real.
Sam swallowed against another lurch of nausea when he realized he’d just gotten a small taste of what the curse had done to his brother. All the adrenaline fueling his terror would be an even better ride with some hallucinations and a voice telling you what to do. Sam picked up his pace as he fought through the frozen branches heavy with snow.
Sliding to a halt in the campsite’s clearing, he saw the sputtering remains of the violet fire before he saw his brother was gone.
Lines of fine ash fell in streaks across the pine needles, the network of shimmering ropes disintegrated in precise slashes along the ground. Bobby was almost exactly where he’d left him. But the man had recently been on the losing side of a one sided struggle. A line of blood marked his temple and his awkward posture on the ground revealed pain he wasn’t wasting effort articulating.
“B-Bobby?” Sam knelt beside him and pushed back his jacket looking for blood. The snow around them was thankfully a pure white. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“I’m fine.” Bobby snarled. “You go find him!”
Sam saw the man wince as he tried to push his weight up by his left foot. The boot strings were unlaced and his ankle swollen badly so he could move his leg without a grimace.
“B-But Bobby.” Sam stammered. “What do I do?”
The old hunter pushed him into action with a rough shove to the shoulder.
“Whatever you can.”
The dull red sky had deepened into a glaring red.
Sam walked cautiously through the undergrowth as he scanned the trees around him.
Now that the curse’s tricks had been exposed the thing no longer made any effort to hide itself. The distraction it had used to delay Sam was now gone. Once he had figured it out, it had taken its two-bit parlor tricks and evaporated like a shadow in a spot-light.
Sam followed his brother’s familiar boot tracks. The tracks wandered aimlessly for a few dozen meters and then abruptly stopped. For no reason Sam could discern, Dean seemed to have suddenly changed his mind and headed due north. That point of the compass didn’t have much besides a mountain range and a wilderness deep enough to make anything disappear.
The boot prints continued up a steep ridge.
He knew Dean hadn’t chosen this path himself. It was that voice speaking to him. Urging him towards a secluded place where he could finish himself without interruption. Climbing up a moss covered boulder, Sam tried not to think of how little time his brother needed to vanish like a ghost. Sliding down the other side of the rock, his hand came away with a slick red substance he’d seen many times before.
“I know you’re here,” Sam said softly. “I can see you.”
No longer interested in worming its way through Sam’s thoughts, the thing simply let its bare flesh been seen draped between the branches. Hanging smooth like untreated animal skins, it slipped from tree to ground, bush to sky. Its pace was eager and jovial as its one and only task was rapidly reaching its climax.
Sam slid down another steep embankment, following his brother’s messy trail. There were broken branches, churned earth, and perfect prints in the frigid mud that a trained man would never leave behind. Sam charged forward regardless of the noise and tracks he left in his wake. It wasn’t as if he had the element of surprise working for him. He didn’t have any more of a clue regarding their terrain than his brother did.
The pale winter sun was starting to slant down through the trees. It would be night soon and Sam’s slim chances of finding his brother were about to be cut in less than half. Standing breathless in yet another small clearing, Sam looked in all ten directions his brother could have taken off for next. Growling in frustration he decided to try a different approach. Taking a deep breath, he figured he might as well start shouting in the hopes that Dean was crazy enough to start yelling back.
“Dean! Dean, where are you!”
Lifting his hands to his mouth he shouted again and again until he completed a 360-degree turn in the pine needles. He yelled until it ached to even speak, the dry winter air filling his lungs and rasping in the back of his throat.
“Hey!! Dean! You hear me?”
It was then that he saw that the red thing that had teased and taunted him through the woods had begun to change. The shapes convalescing amongst the trees had started to solidify. Frozen in place, Sam took one step back before he realized his wide eyes were staring back at something of the same but of a much larger size.
A gigantic face hung between the trees.
The nebulous substance had formed into a blank eyed visage of a smiling mask. It appeared thick like wax, soft and malleable. The mouth sagged between an expression of ecstasy and revulsion. The wide set eyes were two vacant holes burned black into pits. In their depths pinpoints of light ignited the hollow skull like a lamp.
“Where is he?” Sam growled.
The face hung in immobile silence.
“Tell me where he—“
The hushed voice was subdued, as if afraid of any disturbance.
He is so close now.
Sam swung around, afraid to see a slack body hanging from one of the towering boughs of pine.
Do you see him?
The evergreens parted as if by invisible hands, the branches gently displaced almost in a perfect rectangle like a window frame.
He is so close.
Sam staggered towards it, blinking at the light the forest kept above the dense thicket of its cover. Sam could have walked along side this path all day and never known there was a sizable lake just a few feet beyond the undergrowth.
The frozen sheet of ice stretched out for at least a mile, the smooth surface interrupted occasionally by the branches of a tree fallen in the shallow waters. The sky above swirled scarlet, bright and mixing with the storm clouds. A strip of stony beach was crowded with pines, the meandering shore curving into small inlets and bays. Sam took one step forward, testing if the ice was as solid as the earth behind him.
The creature withdrew into the shadows of the trees.
He took another step on the slick surface.
His brother standing too far away to tell what kind of condition he was in. But upright and breathing was all Sam cared about at the moment.
“Dean, it’s me!” Sam heard his voice, possessed by a calm he didn’t have. “Dean!”
His brother looked strange standing alone on a field of fractured ice.
“Dean!” Sam called out again. “W-Why don’t we—“
“I don’t want to go anywhere.”
“Okay,” Sam quickly said. “We’ll just talk. That’s all I want. I just want to talk.”
Sam studied the groaning ice he was standing on. It was pock marked from rain and rife with fissures. Entire pieces had separated from the coastline and were nothing more than slush. It was thick enough to take his weight so far, but the entire lake was just a rotted patchwork of sinkholes. Sam swallowed nervously when the next step he made caused an air pocket to billow under his feet. The bubble shimmered like liquid mercury before it dissipated to either side of him. Holding his arms out for balance, Sam gritted his teeth as his next step created a horrible crackling noise through the silence.
The wind gusted across the lake’s surface and tossed the snow up into the air like glittering confetti.
“You should go back, Sammy.”
Dean had somehow gotten closer.
Now only several yards away, Sam could see his brother's face. The whites and color of his eyes were still completely missing, but it had elongated into gashes up and down his cheeks. Like a knife point had been taken from hairline straight down to his chin, Dean’s eyes were lost in the raw red gleam of blood and bared flesh. There were traces of his footsteps behind him that made Sam’s heart skip a beat in his chest. The trail had left a series of holes in the soft ice, each footprint of Dean’s passage pooling slowly with near freezing water.
“D-Dean, you gotta to listen to me,” Sam said carefully. “We’re just gonna go-go over there okay? On the bank? We’ll just talk for a while and then—"
“You think I’m crazy,” Dean laughed, his tears and spittle spattered crimson on the white snow. “You think I’ve lost my shit.”
“Maybe a little,” Sam attempted another step forward. “You’re standing in the middle of a fucking lake.”
Dean tilted his head back and laughed some more.
But Sam could see something else there that was lucid along with all the madness. No matter how lost his brother was and no matter how far gone, he was still right there; just a few centimeters under it all and struggling to surface. Sam suddenly looked down at the shifting ice under his feet.
With a flash of revelation, he looked back up at Dean. Maybe his brother just needed a little thawing. A crack there, a sledgehammer right down the center...
“This will all be over in a second.“ Dean assured him. “I like messy but… way out here? This place doesn’t leave a guy much of a choice.”
Sam met the hard look that glowed behind the red eyes.
“You could have used the knife,” Sam said. “Plenty of guns around. Think I even saw a few cliffs on my way over here—“
Sam breathlessly watched as Dean crumpled to one knee, his hands clasped tightly over his ears.
“You could have done it a hundred times already but you didn’t,” Sam continued. “Man, you can get it done even when text books say it’s impossible so don’t give me any of that crap. If you really wanted to off yourself we wouldn’t even be standing here right now—“
“Shut the hell up!!”
But it was there. Sam heard it. Dean’s muted voice buried under the curse and its noise. His brother’s rationality had brushed up against the thinnest parts of the creature’s membrane, stretched tight to keep in all that rage and ire all in one place.
“It’s making you do it, Dean,” Sam hazarded a step closer. “I bet you love having some dime store hoodoo burrowed in your head. Some third rate spook callin’ the shots.”
His brother slumped forward on his knees, his fists and face rolling in the freezing slush.
“Don-Don’t leave me here,” Dean murmured into the ground. “Please...”
“Sun’s going down soon," Sam murmured up at the hazy horizon above the pine forest. “Then all this will be over.”
Dean struggled back to his feet, his breath fogging rapidly out into the twilight air. He staggered backwards towards where the opaque ice was as thin as paper.
“Wait.” Sam demanded. “Don’t move.”
Dean’s gashed eyes seemed to clear for a moment, consider Sam and their surroundings as if he’d just noticed them for the first time. His brother looked down in bewilderment at his shaky hands and started to wipe them across his dirt-streaked jacket. Sam maintained the tone in his voice. It was the one dad always used when they were danger but he didn’t want anyone to lose focus.
Sam held up his hands in a gesture of compliance.
“I can hear it laughing at you. I can hear it laughing at me because it thinks there’s nothing I can do.”
Dean blinked at him uncertainly.
“But the bastard is wrong,” Sam straightened and looked around. “There is something I can do.”
Sam took in a deep breath.
“I can do it first.”
With one hard step sideways he felt the fragile ice beneath him give way.
The shock of the water blinded him but he fought the instinct to claw towards the murky light.
He kept his eyes wide open, the feel of his flesh freezing with the contact of the icy water kept his consciousness from slipping into black. There was a perfect circle above him, the winter sun dim and blemished red. His throat hitched, and his chest spasmed, denying his next lungful of air. He exhaled a trail of bubbles to accelerate his decent, his padded clothing filling slowly and providing more weight.
After the searing burn of the water there was something almost pleasant that replaced it instead. Sam struggled to keep his eyes open as the euphoria of oxygen deprivation slowly spread through his limbs and body. The rosy sense of well being he’d heard many drowning victims recall now made perfect sense.
The visions of angels about were nothing but the halo of light around the hole in the ice.
The serene warmth was hypothermia settling in every nerve and vessel.
As he sunk lower, the light grew less, the dark below him hungrily swallowing him inch by inch.
Dean, don’t leave me here.
The gauzy circle in the ice above him was completely eclipsed, causing the faltering shaft of light reaching down into the depths to blink out. The total darkness threw all of Sam’s composed calm to pieces. He did start to thrash then, his body overcoming all coherent thought and survival becoming its only function. His limbs weakly cut through nothing, his hands open to an empty void in every direction.
Snow falling lazily from the gray sky and slowly burying this lake.
Drifting under this ice.
Sam caught glimpses of it in the black, a sheet of red whipping through the water like a predatory animal. He saw the laughing face form and fade as the bloody film engulfed him, smothering him even further, tangling around his arms and legs. He violently shook his head from side to side as it rushed tightly over his mouth and nose. By the time it had seeped over his eyes, he could no longer move to try to dislodge it.
The lake tugged him steadily closer to its muddy bottom.
All this won’t matter.
It won’t matter.
Numbly, as the first mouthful of frigid water passed over his lips, he also felt something else lock down on the collar of his jacket. The strong hand wadded his coat up in a firm grip and started hoisting him upwards. He had drifted too far, sunk too low to save himself.
But saving himself had never been the point.
Someone was smoking a cheap cigar.
The smell of smoldering leaves seemed real even though no other sensations upon waking did. Sam fought his heavy eyelids, finally opening them to find the darkness flashing with firelight. Awareness sank in slowly and terribly. The sluggish sound of his breathing was deafening.
When he attempted movement, there was pain.
His limbs felt heavy and detached, as though they belonged to someone else. Sam managed to turn his head, eyelids fluttering at the confusion of shadow and light. His eyes focused on a tiny orange point, glowing like a firefly between Dean’s lips.
"Haven't smoked one of these in while," Dean held the remainder of the stogie between thumb and forefinger. "Nothin’ like a special occasion to get out the good stuff."
“Actually I found it in dad’s storage,” his brother’s shoulders hitched in a laugh. “When will I ever learn?”
“Yer okay.” Dean’s hand held him down firmly over his chest. “It’s okay.”
Sam stared up into clear green eyes. The raw gleam was gone, leaving the whites bloodshot and tired. Dean had looked a lot worse after a sleepless, boozing weekend bender. Sam couldn't resist proving it for himself, and lifted a hand to touch his brother’s face. Dean looked like he wanted to move away from his hand but he didn’t. His brother's gaze flickered down and away when Sam’s fingertips explored the puffy bruised skin beneath his eyes and down his grazed jaw.
“Tho, I think you swallowed ‘bout half that damn lake back there. I should know because you puked most of it right back up into my face.”
Sam's body started to shake he began to feel what seemed like tiny shards of glass beneath his skin, warm blood throbbing through his trembling limbs. He was dimly aware his clothes were gone, replaced with fleece blankets, and warmed by a comfortable fire. He recognized it was the hearth from the old house they’d spent all those days squatting in.
They were safe.
Sam smiled as the fire crackled and hissed, gripping the blankets closer to his shivering body. Good thing he’d chopped all that goddamn fire wood.
“That water was pretty cold,” Dean took Sam’s wrist and put it back under the blanket. “Didn’t think I would get either one of us all the way back here.”
Sam’s teeth clenched in agony as he tried to sit up. "H-hurts."
"You should try ‘an get some sleep."
He wanted to close his eyes. That wouldn't be hard to do. But not yet.
"He'll be back."
Sam watched his brother settle back towards the light of the fire. The trip through the ice had done its damage to him too. His movements were slow, his skin pale and a thick wool coat too large for him wasn’t stilling the tremors in his hands.
“He packed up dad’s stuff from storage. All of it.” Dean tossed another log on the blaze. “Even that crap I stashed in the glove box.”
“But, some of that stuff is toxic, if someone dug it up again it could—“
“Bobby knows a trick or three," Dean said. “If you bury something right it’ll stay there.”
Sam fought his eyes from closing again. He had a childish urge to ask his brother to keep talking aloud. When they were kids anything used to do just fine. The back of an album cover. Some old outdated magazine. He never cared about what stories Dean found where, he just wanted the sound of a voice to follow him into sleep.
But he still needed to know something.
“What—“ Sam’s voice slurred with exhaustion. “What happened?”
The curse. The pull of its voice. The red tears streaming down Dean’s face.
“Bobby’s callin’ it a conundrum,” Dean rubbed at his bloodshot eyes. “I like the word accident a whole lot better.”
“It wasn’t gonna stop until you were dead.”
“I saw you go in,” Dean chucked the cigar into the fireplace. “A-And well... you can figure out the rest.”
Sam sank back in his bedding and debated the wording and intent of stupid backward curses. It was quite a prize to steal a life that willingly sought its end. But it was quite a loss when that same life was salvaged by risking everything to save another. Everything became equal within the cosmic realm of checks and balances. And it was all contained in the holy tracts given to man in regards to his freely given will.
As far as Sam was concerned, it was all perfect lunacy.
Dean slowly stood up, slightly unsteady on his feet, but solid just the same.
“Get some sleep.”
Sam let his eyes close this time.
And while his body was weary, he couldn’t drift away until he heard his brother settle back into the chair nearby and start humming. That was another trick his brother had picked up when the comfort of voices was no longer an option.
Half the time Sam didn't recognize the tune until sleep came.
Sometimes he did.
Didn’t matter, he thought fuzzily as dreams started to cloud his eyes and dim his mind, because as long as he could hear it, they both would be fine.