Title: Detour part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4 - part 5 - On Hiatus
Sam rubbed at the spot between his eyes with thumb and forefinger and groaned.
It had been a very long time since he had indulged in a nickel shot night at a bar. Even in his finest moments of college when he had embraced sudden and perfect freedom a little too hard, he hadn't ever woken up feeling like this. It was easy to let the little line of shot glasses and his brother's easy laugh burn his thoughts away. It was numbing. It was like an axe coming down on the unrest in his head. He didn't remember when they finally managed to get back to the motel or even by what means. All he knew when he woke up in the cave dark room with his jacket and boots still on, was that whomever had first coined the term "get obliterated' must have been a damn poet.
Thankful for his sunglasses, he shoved a hand his pocket and tried to ignore the waves of nausea that had nothing to do with any mysterious voice or presence. With a sigh, he tried to force himself to sip the black coffee Dean had put in his hand when they stopped to fill up the near empty car.
At least Dean had made some gas money at the pool tables.
It was midmorning already but the sidewalks and streets weren't very crowded. With a rueful glance at the scene of the night's previous excesses, Sam turned his back to the closed bar and turned his attention to the reason he had peeled himself off the questionable motel bed flower patterned quilt.
Giving up on the lethal strength gas station brew, he tossed the cup in a trash bin and took a look at his watch.
He had been waiting for Dean to park the car but with almost half an hour gone, he decided just to go in and let him catch up. They had both noticed some of the local city cops checking them out and Dean had elected to leave the car in a more discreet place rather than out on the street by a stop light. Discreet turned out to be further away than Sam cared to wait around for. He wanted to get this over and done with so he could get around to figuring out how to get Dean out of here.
The door made a pleasant little welcoming jingle as he pushed it open. He had started to become accustomed to the slightly musty odor of the wooden buildings of the humid south. Nothing here in the older parts of town had ever been quite hermetically air conditioned. No matter what the season that liquid air seeped in through the cracks and lingered, green and heady, all year long.
The shop was exactly what he expected inside. A pit stop for the tourist that didn't want to look too hard or closely for that little piece of Savannah to bring home. Commemorative civil war pewter. Witty aprons. Bottles of BBQ sauce that anyone who actually lived here probably never heard of. Sam swallowed back another wave of sickness when he spotted the novelty shot glasses. Intermixed among it all he saw the obligatory smatterings of the occult that the shop purported to theme. That too, was what Sam had expected. The bunches of dried sage and the expensive crystal balls were just as useful as the weak fridge magnets shaped like peaches. The sight of the faux wands and trendy crystal necklaces was a little comforting. After everything he had been sensing, that some things were crafted just to be a facade and magic truly was, for some, just a game.
As in love with its ghosts as the city seemed to be, business didn't seem to be booming for this little shop even with the tours. Sam was the only person there and judging from the dust on the shelves, it didn't seem as if the place saw many visitors.
"Can I help you?"
Sam looked up to see the older gentleman that had emerged from a doorway behind the counter and was locking it behind him. He seemed fatigued and slightly put out to see a stranger had walked into his store. Sam put out a gentle feeler of thought towards him and found the man wary, vague with distracted worry about the mundane tasks of inventory, book keeping and a damp cellar below them. Sam also knew that they were alone in this building and this man would be the only person he'd find here in its open hours. A brief flash of a small dim apartment appeared and Sam glanced upwards at the ceiling. He lived here, this man, alone above the shop front. Sam saw the threadbare couch cluttered with newspapers and the sagging bed with a faded patchwork quilt over it. What he saw shifted into what he felt and with a flash of despair that wasn't his own, he knew that the old man had once shared the lonely apartment with someone else. But he was by himself now, a woman he knew was now replaced with the dull ache of loss. She hadn't been very old and she hadn't been-
The rush and sweep of phantom flames briefly filled his vision. The crackle of wallpaper as it bubbled on the walls and the suffocating heat felt as real as the ground under his feet. Within a few moments, it was gone, the smell of smoke seemingly still in the air. Sam realized he had been holding his breath.
Startled at how much information he had gotten, he looked back up into the man's heavily lidded eyes that regarded him behind bifocals. The woman who had lived here had died in a fire. The deep hollow agony of Jess came unbidden but he quickly pushed the image of her face aside.
As astounding as what he saw had been, there was nothing there to imply this man knew the things they knew. The symbol Dean had found was to have revealed this shop as place that knew about the flip side. Not a hunter like them, but someone who had some knowledge that there was anything to be hunted in the first place. Maybe the person who had placed the tell tale symbol in the store front window had been the one long gone from the apartment above.
This store was a place to get your scented candles and a key chain, not holy water and crossroad dirt. It gave him a little hope that when Dean saw the place, he'd probably assume the same. He'd see that this lead had turned out to be nothing and Sam would convince him they should just pack up and hit the highway.
"I said," The old man cleared his throat. "Can I help you?"
"Uh, yeah?" Sam smiled, shaking his mind free from the images it had summoned. He figured he might as well do a little leg work to at least have something to tell his brother instead of trying to explain what he had seen in his head. "Do you have any tarot?"
The shop keeper's face visibly darkened in what almost looked like passing anger but it was gone and replaced with a polite smile before Sam could wonder at it.
"Yes, right over here."
Sam followed the man's gesture to the display of colorful cards that sat under the glass case at the counter. The cards were oddly contemporary and by the rules no less relevant for having been factory made but factory made nonetheless. The price tags made Sam want to smile a little bit. Another sign of the underworld franchise.
"Present for a girlfriend?" The older man asked. His glasses were smudged and his white shirt was missing one button half way down.
"Sure." Sam nodded, glancing over his shoulder at the door. "You wouldn't happen to have anything... vintage, would you?"
As a last try, it was a clumsy and Sam knew it, but he also had already completely decided to have faith in his suspicion that this man wasn't the man they were looking for. Besides everything he could inherently sense, there was the simple body language of an old man that seemed to think that the cards Sam was interested in were more than slightly foolish.
"These items are for entertainment purposes only" He explained somewhat irritably while he turned to fuss with a banged up metal tea kettle that sat on a hot plate. "You want vintage, look on that ebay."
Sam did smile then. "Right. Uh, I'll try that."
He was about to excuse himself and head Dean off to save him the trouble when the little bell on the door chimed. Sam was too late, his brother had finally shown up just in time for them to make an exit.
Dean looked intently around at his surroundings and a nearby neon pink sun visor with mild offense.
Wearily, the older man turned to greet the new customer. "Good morning, can I help-"
The sound of the tea pot clattering to the wood floor jarred Sam badly. He hadn't realized he was already half way out of his skin as it was. He ran a shaky hand through his hair and cleared his throat.
"You ok mister?" Dean asked carefully.
The man was staring at Dean as if he'd just come across his pet cat skinned and nailed to his porch screen door. Sam felt the atmosphere in the shop do a polar flip, so palatable that it flayed across his nerves like a temperature change. All three of them had fallen silent in the shock and disbelief in the shop keeper's gaze.
"What-what is it?" Sam asked him softly.
"Who-" His voice and his frail frame shook. "Just who the hell are you boys?"
"Calm down." Vaguely alarmed, Dean had his hands slightly raised in an automatic gesture of compliancy. "Look, my name is-"
"Dean Winchester." Sam interrupted whatever name Dean was going to conjure. "And I'm-"
"I already know your name." The man silenced him curtly with a severe look from his cloudy blue eyes. "When you read a man Sam, you make yourself an open book."
Sam blinked in surprise and went cold. This man had known what he was doing all along and apparently could not only do a bit of what Sam could, but a whole lot better. He had not only picked up his first name, but he had known Sam had been sneaking around his mind like some kind of amateur thief. The thought that he had been caught at it made him feel slightly afraid and another uncomfortable sensation. Sam realized it was shame.
The old man continued. "I know why you're here."
Dean still had his hands up, slightly unsure by the exchange. "You do?"
"It's about the mark." He eyed Dean wearily.
Sam glanced back and forth between his brother and the shop keeper. "I'm sorry, did you say mark?"
The gentleman shuffled past them to the front door and apologized to the two sun burnt matrons that were about to enter. He turned the lock and flipped the open sign to closed. With that done, he turned and appraised the two young men doubtfully.
"We can't talk here." He finally said with a deep tired sigh and began to search through his baggy trousers until he produced a ring of keys.
Sam exchanged a silent look with his older brother as the old shop keeper made his way back behind the counter and slid a brass key into the door there. It creaked open on its rusted hinges and a strange warm draft flowed out, heavy with the spice of burnt herbs and pungent incense. The stairwell was dark and deep, but a flicker of far off candle light played briefly from below.
So there really was a shop in here.
And it wasn't for the tourists.
Sam breathed in the warm, musty air of the subterranean space, taking in his surroundings with interest. The store looked more like storage. Shelves and locked glass cases labeled with yellowing paper. Work had lead him in to a few places like this one and he always expected to find more startling signs of the occult instead of just the apothecary it was. It was a pharmacy of clay mortars dusty with misuse, brass scales, various plants and specimens of animals. Dried toads hung by one leg from the rafters like ghastly fruit. The skull of a horned animal, a cow probably. Even the corpse of a blood red snake floating in formaldehyde.
"So, uh, what's your return policy like?" Dean asked as he examined a jar with a large iridescent beetle trying to scurry up its slick sides.
Sam threw him an exasperated look.
The old man was lighting the gas lamp that hung from the ceiling. "I hope you hold on to that humor, sonny. You're gonna need it."
Sam licked his lips. He had been frustrated with his own vague warnings but now that they were finally here, he feared any answers they might actually get.
"Say about a week ago, I knew something was headed this way." He cast Dean a sour look. "Can't say I thought I'd see it come walking into my shop."
"You said something about a mark?" Sam pressed, his urge to ask every question on his mind quelled by the knowledge that he had to play it right or he might not get anything at all.
"Yes, I did." The old man sighed, leaning against a dark mahogany work table. "But first things first, how'd you boys know to come looking for me?"
Dean held up the journal with the circular symbol sketched on it. "You left a little calling card in your window."
"In the window ah?"
Sam was nodding alongside his brother.
"Lily must have put it up there." He murmured absently, eyes lost in thought. "Years ago."
"I'm sorry." Sam mumbled his condolences before he could stop himself.
The man stared at him hard and Sam's shame rushed back flushing his face red. The intimate knowledge he had plucked from this man without his permission. That empty apartment and his sorrow. And now apologizing about a wife that the old man hadn't offered to explain was dead. There was another flash of flames. It made Sam grit his teeth as he smelled the acrid burn of wood and felt the fall of searing ash. Then just like that it was gone again.
Dean was wandering the cellar behind him, pausing at a cluttered bulletin board filled with old lists, paper clippings, and photographs. "So, this mark? What is it?" he ventured. "Like what, a kind of curse?"
"Last time I saw the mark, was on my wife."
Sam shifted uncomfortably in place and ignored the look Dean gave him over his shoulder.
"You sure as hell can read a lot but you didn't see that did you boy?" The old man almost chuckled as he shook his head. "Swore I'd never mess with this nonsense again after she passed. It's been ten years now."
"This mark…" Sam frowned. "What exactly is it?"
"There are dangerous things in this city." He murmured softly as he began to light several deep red candles that sat on the table. "Old magic brought over with the slaves and up from the islands. Things that can bring a man across an ocean and he won't know why until it's too late."
"You're saying some kind of mind control?" Sam could not hide the urgency in his voice. "A magnetism, power of suggestion--?"
“Suggestion?” Dean's doubtful reproach stung. "You call driving across three states in your sleep a suggestion?"
The old man ignored him and went on.
"There are ways to bring a man into your reach and keep him there, no matter what he wills."
The memory of the voice that drew Sam echoed in his memory. Its words still perfect and whole whenever he turned his thoughts to them. Bring him closer.... Closer…
"Do you know why we're here?" Sam asked him softly.
"Maybe with that nice read you got, someone knew you could hear something if they shouted loud enough out in the dark." The shop keeper grinned unkindly. "Maybe it knew that wherever you went, the marked one would follow like a fool."
A muscle in Dean's jaw twitched.
Sam's protest flared and faded, each word settling on him with the chill of the truth he knew lay behind it.
"He answered your question Sam, let's get out of here." Dean was already moving up the rickety wooden stairs.
"Wait-" Sam tried to gather his thoughts but his brother's ire was affecting and distracting him. The buzz of his anger spiked and ebbed like white noise on a snowy TV. He made to follow but the old man stopped him.
"There's boundaries you can't see, rules already broken." His grip on Sam's wrist was surprisingly strong.
"What? I don't--"
Sam not only felt it, but he could now see the wake of Dean's temper rippling through the air. He was dizzy and struggling to rein the stream of jumbled information and emotion that was coming at him from every side, doubled and then tripled by the physical contact. Was it because he had opened the fount of his own ability so wide for the mere glimmer of anything? He felt strained and unable to let it seal itself off like it usually did.
"It might not be too late." The old man was looking at him carefully. "The thing that's laid claim on him needs a token of his to finish its work. To keep him here."
A token? The hunter in him swept through the encyclopedic knowledge he owned. Dark magics. Placing a remote curse on a living person for death or worse. A personal object in order to gain control of human will.
He wretched his hand away and staggered backwards.
Concentrating on getting up the stairs, he just wanted to put distance between himself and the shop keeper, his wrist still burning where it had been grasped. The echo of the man's footsteps as he followed him urged him to walk faster, made his heart race with need to take a breath of un dusty air, and find his brother.
Just as Sam had reached the door to take his leave, he paused, his hand lingering on the door latch. A shadow passed over his features as he turned to the old man who had never given them his name.
Sam was surprised to sense the man's sudden flood of emotion so strongly. It was as if this man's ability was like a magnet against his own, feeding off and drawing each other out. He opened the door and half stumbled out onto the sidewalk, the irrational hope that fresh air would clear the feel of the mind that brushed up against his like a foul tide.
It was regret. Remorse. Disgrace.
"Leave the city now. You may not get another chance." The shop keep said from behind him.
For a moment, Sam wanted to turn and tell him how extraordinary it was that the sickness felt just like his own, that in that one moment he realized what it truly meant to be what he was, how he could feel another person as if he were living inside their skin. The moment by moment fluctuation of the human mind, in its sublime joys and abject horrors. It was there, as tangible as the smell of smoke or the touch of cobwebs across your face in the dark.
He was trying to form what he felt into words, and ask the why of this man's reason to hold this raw feeling of powerful guilt and pain at this very moment....And why it was directed at Dean and himself.
But as he turned to try, the door shut in Sam's face.
Dean waited by the corner and paced.
It was interesting what his brother managed to keep to himself these days. That man had seen something on Dean as if it was written there on his face. Seemed to scare the hell outta of him too. But not Sam. Sam had looked at the old guy and asked him what it was he saw like he already knew there was something there to see. Dean found that very interesting indeed.
The shop door finally opened.
Sam was looking around with a bewildered look that shifted to vague annoyance when he finally spotted him. His younger brother, for what it was worth, was still fairly predicable. The way Dean had left like that would be the first thing on Sam's mind. His brother knew he wasn't the type to balk at such information, bad news or not. And it was after all, some pretty bad news. Given the curse source location and the background of the city, he had figured they were dealing with some vodun. Oldest religion in the world and something he had dealt with only once before in New Orleans. Voodoo.
But truth be told, what the old man had revealed hadn't bothered him that much. So he was cursed. He figured something like that would happen sooner or later. The self admission of it made Dean laugh a little bit to himself.
No, what had really rubbed him the wrong way was what the old dude hadn't said.
His brother had waited until he had reached an appropriate angry whispering distance before he started into him.
"What's gotten into you?" Sam asked with a drawn face. "We needed to talk to him Dean, we needed to know what he knew-"
"I'm marked. Thanks, got it." Dean started walking briskly towards the car, forcing Sam to match pace.
Sam was struggling a little to keep up beside him, his steps lethargic as if he was walking off an injury. Dean could tell that the place had had some affect on him. Of what he wasn't sure, and he'd learned to stop asking, but it made him nervous just the same. So he followed Sam here like a fool just like the old guy had said. There were still places Dean couldn't follow Sam even if he wanted to. A fact that was beginning to get a little frustrating.
"And about that..." He stopped short and swung purposefully into his younger brother's face. "Seemed like you knew all about that minor little detail way before gramps clued us in."
"Dean, I- I wasn't sure and I didn't want to, I mean-“
"Forget it." Dean told him. He knew this game well enough and he didn't feel like playing it right now. "Look, if we want to find out anything more about this curse of mine, it isn't going to be with that guy." He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder towards the shop.
"Why? What do you mean?"
Dean looked up sideways at him. "Happen to notice his photo collection?"
Sam shook his head, flustered. "No, what about it?"
Dean was well aware that his brother hadn't noticed much in the cellar. It disturbed him that Sam had been so focused on the noise in his head he had barely noticed anything but the old man. Sam was getting lost in his own fog more and more often these days.
With a sigh, Dean slipped out a yellowed photograph from his jacket pocket. "If the date on the back is any good, this was taken almost exactly ten years ago. Right about when he said his wife died."
Sam took the photo his brother had procured while he had been distracted talking with the store owner.
The picture held a much younger man than the one that they had just been speaking too, suggesting that time was not the only thing that had aged him. Alongside him was a woman whom Dean assumed was Lily, the deceased wife. The photo was stark and unflattering. He watched Sam's gaze linger on her pale face, framed with even paler hair. She wasn't smiling.
"She died in a fire." Sam said blankly.
Dean stopped the question on his lips and filed away the information away for later consideration. There was was one more person in the photo that Dean was much more curious about.
The third figure was almost cut out by the misplacement of the photographer and blurred by movement when the film had been exposed. But the familiar set to the third man's frame was unmistakable. The face, no matter how distorted, was one both brothers knew almost as well as their own.
Sam stared at it.
"After you took all that trouble introducing us with our real names and all..." Dean tapped the photo. "Seems funny that our friend back there didn't mention it huh?"
Sam nervously swallowed while he found his voice again.
"He knew dad."
Sam knew even before they had parked that something was just not right. What Sam always picked up first without seeing, Dean identified with his eyes almost as quickly. The cracked frame around the cheap aluminum motel door was subtle considering the condition of the near condemned place.
With one small touch the door revealed that it was hanging open on the hinges. The lock had been jimmied and the mechanism jammed open.
Dean went in first, ducking into the dark motel room they had been staying in for days. Sam followed, ignoring the silent order to wait, and knew as well as Dean did that whoever had broken in, was long gone.
Sam stepped over the broken lamp and tried the wall fixture light over the dark television. It flickered on, its sickly yellow light revealing the room strewn with clothing and what little belongings they had stored in the drawers. He picked up his duffel on his bed, and the silver shape of his cell phone slid into view as he tipped it. It surprised him as he rarely went anywhere without. He must have forgotten it when his hung over hazed mind had tried to get himself dressed and out the door that morning.
"The day just gets better and better." His brother switched the bathroom light on and off as he gave it the once over.
Sam checked the phone for damage before slipping into his inner jacket pocket. "If you call getting robbed in a 20 dollar a night dive interesting, sure, why not." Even before it came out of his mouth, he knew he didn't believe this was some ordinary or random break in.
"Wouldn't exactly call it robbery." Dean answered, slightly distracted.
His brother was like a laser beam in physical perception. Nothing was lost under just one brief glance, one carelessly spoken word or fleeting sweep of a weak flashlight. Sam knew it wasn't just the years of hunting that had honed Dean into that. Despite of how he felt about the family business, Sam had to admit, Dean was just extremely good at it. Sure Sam had fallen back in step with the job a little too easily for his comfort, but he wasn't sure he would have ever spotted that photograph down in that dark cellar like Dean had. And now, once again, he had that look on his face when he had picked up something that had fallen under his younger brother's notice.
"Now," Dean asked with a raise of his eye brows. "Who breaks into a place and doesn't even take something as shiny as that phone of yours?"
Sam paused and looked around them again, his hand flexing on the expensive phone in his pocket that somehow wasn't now being purged to be sold in a pawn shop. Dean was right, while the room was torn apart nothing seemed to be actually missing.
"I'm going to check out back, whatever it was, it left through the bathroom window."
Sam stood still as Dean brushed past him and out the open door in search of any evidence of the intruder whose trail was already at least an hour cold. A keen a hunter as his brother or not, Sam had noticed something that either Dean missed or more likely, hadn't considered important.
None of the clothes all over the floor and bed were Sam's. He looked down at his full duffel realizing that it had been left completely untouched and exactly where he'd had left it before they left for the shop.
Whoever it was that had broken in had only bothered to rummage through Dean's things.
Sam pulled out his phone.
Leave the city. You may not get another chance.
That shop keeper had given him some pretty good advice.
He was going to listen to it.
As Sam had expected the trail was less than cold, there wasn't a single trace of whomever or whatever had broken into their motel room. While Dean reorganized the jumble of his things Sam slipped out, claiming to need to take a small walk to clear his head.
It wasn't exactly a lie.
One hour and some fancy cell phone work later, Sam had Dean loading their things into the back of the car. It hadn't been exactly easy and if Dean had taken a bit closer of a look than he had, Sam's plan would have been over before it even started. It was a simple thing to fake a phone call to your very own phone if you had the know how. It was a little harder to create the fake text message with the five digits of the coordinates that had been burning on Dean's wish list for about a week. However, making sure the signal originated from the Texas coordinates that were provided was something even a little out of Sam's league. All he had was the hope that Dean's need to comply would win over his inherent uncanny perception.
He had been right.
Intrigued as Dean had been with the photo find, Sam hadn't, once again, shared everything he had experienced. He wasn't even sure if he could or how. But an old man with a basement full of tools for craft and a tale or two wasn't anything Dean hadn't seen before. In fact, Sam's episodes aside, the entire hunt seemed to be Sam's alone with his brother alongside him in the dark. To his relief Dean decided that the confounding business in Savannah would have to wait in light of their father's supposed urgent phone call.
Somewhere within it all, Sam was surprised and a little amused that the largest give away of the phone sham was lost on his detective of a brother. Dad had never once called Sam's phone. Details. Details. But he smiled a smile that he only shared with the highway. Getting one over on his older brother still felt like scoring against him in a basket ball match. His smile faltered when he felt a little bit of unease there too, knowingly deceiving his brother with something as important to him as the possibility of meeting up with their father wasn't something he had enjoyed doing.
Sam looked silently at the road ahead as they drove. They had been driving without a word. Dean had relinquished the car to him, claiming fatigue. Sam relished the opportunity to drive again, especially out of this town. Any focus, however mundane, took away from the clamor in his head, the desperate hope that the clamor would die and fade the faster they drove.
But now his eyes were starting to get tired and heavy again.
Dean was silent in the passenger seat, smoking hand-rolled cigarette after cigarette. Sam was too relieved to argue about it. The sulfur burn of each match flaring as it lit and the acrid smell of dime store tobacco permeated the leather cushions. Dean artfully cupped his hands around a lit match and a new cigarette in the impossible task he somehow performed over and over in a car with the windows cracked.
Sam had stopped being bothered by it miles ago. Who cared as long as the miles kept going by and they'd be out of this place, this state, hell, this time zone even.
"Damn." Dean murmured to himself. It was the first sound either of them had made in an hour.
Sam silently thought of the vintage's car inevitable and constant repairs. A side effect of which also lent it a faulty cigarette lighter that had yet to be replaced. No more matches meant some fresh air. Sam suddenly blinked down at the empty book of matches that lay on the seat between them, his hands tightening on the wheel as he looked sideways at his brother. Something began to nag at the back of his mind.
"Hey," Sam tried to not sound like he felt. "Where's your Zippo, man?"
Dean sighed a little regretfully while he absently rubbed at his chest. "Think I might have left it in my bag somewhere."
Sam stared hard straight ahead. Their father had given him that Zippo for his 18th birthday. Dean carried it around with him every where he went. Did he forget to put it in his jacket that morning, too hazy to stick to routine? Just like Sam had forgotten his phone, maybe Dean had just left something behind that he never usually would.
There was a short cough from Dean. Sam ignored it, the nagging doubt at his own logic growing stronger. The background noise of the hum of the engine faded on the edges of the kaleidoscope of information and details that were shifting into place in his head.
The break in at the motel. Maybe something had been taken but they had both missed it. Who would even think to check if a Zippo lighter had gone missing? It was something too small, almost insignificant...
Was this what the shop keeper had mentioned? The belongings of a marked victim that sealed them to the power that desired them? Sam shook his head and himself, flexing his hands on the wheel. He was just thinking too much. That stupid Zippo was at this moment probably laying under a pile of Dean's laundry at the bottom of his pack.
Sam was so engrossed that he didn't think much about the slight wheeze above the next cough his brother muffled into a leather jacket sleeve.
"Maybe you should stop smoking those things." Sam heard himself say as his thoughts sped as fast as the car he drove. They were almost at the state border right? Even if the token was taken, they had made it this far already. He looked in the rear view, satisfied that he couldn't even see the city glowing on the night sky. They were less than 2 miles from putting the Georgia border in their tail lights and as good as home free.
Dean had leaned forward in his seat, and after fumbling off his seat belt, began rolling his cracked window all the way down.
"I can't- I can't breathe."
"It's not that hot in here." With a small roll of his eyes, Sam flipped the temp control back to the right where Dean usually kept it. "That better?"
"Sam, I can't-"
Panic. Sam looked back over at his brother, the twinge of exasperation fading from his face. Dean's hands were trembling and pressed up against his chest. He gasped twice, his throat working as he struggled to draw in air.
"What, are you serious?"
"Shit-I can't-I can't-" Dean's face had gone pale and his chest hitched violently as he fought to breathe.
Sam heard the tires squeal as he applied the brake and spun to a halt on the road side.
"Dean?!" Sam scrambled out of his seatbelt and out of the car door. He pulled Dean wheezing from his seat and onto the ground. Sam's hands checked Dean's throat as he pulled away the leather jacket and whatever constriction that could have been made by his clothing. Dean's hands kept going to his chest as if he was being squeezed. "Dean, what's wrong?!"
His older brother's eyes had lost their focus on him and were fluttering closed, the strong shaking hand that was gripping Sam's arm painfully, began to weaken.
Sam heard himself let out a small whimper when Dean stilled.
Frantic, Sam began to fumble for his phone.
His trembling fingers were clumsy on the digits. Fear clouded rational thought, eyes shifting from the glow of his cel phone to Dean's still face.
A sudden vague movement flickered and died across Dean's forehead. Sam snapped his cel phone shut, blinking. He waited, not breathing, intent on his brother.
A pinpoint of light. Without source. Flashing like a jewel in the dark on the roadside.
It shimmered and flowed like a fluid filling a groove, lead by gravity to fill a carved form as it moved, revealing itself slowly and deliberately. The glare of grim red lines spread and curved over Dean's still face, running and tracing paths across his flesh. Speechless, Sam watched it continue down Dean's neck and spread downward. Sam pulled up his unconscious brother's shirt to see the pattern seep down his chest and stomach, blossoming in complex symbols and expanding up over his arms. Sam felt its passage and hot flash sizzle under his hands as it traveled to cover Dean's entire body in some grotesque semblance of a tattoo.
The light pulsed softly when it had quickly finished. The lines simmered like hot coals in an old fire, rippling and flowing back towards to Dean's face where it had started. The light collected and settled on his forehead, illuminating the circular symbol there and flared brightly.
Sam swallowed, his throat dry.
He had no idea why he was doing it but he slowly placed his hand over the pulsing garish light, the feel of it like passing his hand through tepid water thick with rot, the ruby glow flickering and stuttering up into his own unadorned face, in what Sam sensed was, alarm. Anger. Rage. Impatience.
His hand felt cool on Dean's feverish skin, and when the light suddenly and abruptly vanished at his touch, he gasped at the departure of it from every one of his senses. But not a complete departure. It was dormant again. Laying unseen on his brother's body. Sam looked at his own hand in confusion and wonder. Had he silenced it?
Dean groaned softly, his eyes still closed, his skin pale and damp to the touch. His chest rose once, and then twice as his body began to struggle to breathe once again. Sam gathered his brother's limp body up to himself, and gently shook him. Dean stirred and started, his hands instinctively pushing at the hold Sam held him in, his eyes fading in and out, opening and closing.
"Hey? Are-are you okay?" Sam felt his muscles trembling in anxiety, the sound of his own frayed uncertain voice making him ill. "Hey, Dean?"
"Gim me.." Dean slurred, his eyes remaining closed, but the next breath he took was deeper. "Gim me... ten more minutes."
There's boundaries you can't see... The old man had said.
They were close to one of those borders and Sam had almost driven them right over it. What would have happened then? He had acted too late for the option to run. Now they had no choice.
He had to do something.
They had to go back.
to be continued...