Authors: Mink & Jink
Rating: PG - Gen
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
It had begun with unhallowed ground; an accident, a mistake.
Years upon years the shining surfaces had done nothing more than exist in a sunless world, unaffected by the goings on above. Like fine art, they required patience, and extremely controlled conditions. The rest was up to chance. A pool of forgotten energies left dormant for centuries until an otherworldly element was introduced to it. From that union came a newborn thing, twisted, hungry and very much alive. As snakes lie beneath rocks for days unseen, so this creature's niches had been well chosen. Its temporary feeding grounds unearthed, it had returned to its essence. It thrived in forgotten places. After all, it did not need to feed so very often. Only when something wandered near.
Who knew how many times it returned to this place after being uprooted. Sam felt the slow warm pulse of the amulet over his heart, shielding him from whatever it was that probed the darkness around them. Tentatively, he ran his searching hands over the smooth mirrored surfaces.
"It's here." He murmured." It's everywhere."
It didn't take much to subdue the thing that resided in his brother's body.
Dean's body trembled against the chill and damp. Sam felt his own skin prickle, hearing nothing but their breathing and the distant sharp plink of moisture falling against the rocks.
Sam tightened his grip on his brother's arms, and had to lean forward to make him move. Dean's body was pushing back into him with all the strength it had, digging Dean's boots into the dirt cave floor and swinging his head back and forth in anger. Dean's breaths had turned rapid and uneasy, as though the thing inside suspected the danger all around them. But worst of all he was trying to speak, the sound seemingly like the beginning of a protest that rose and settled deep in Dean's throat.
Willing it to shut up, Sam felt the amulet against his chest grow uncomfortably hot as they approached the nearest mirror and the largest around them. When they got close enough, Sam saw their reflection. What he saw made him almost let go of the thing that inhabited his brother's body.
A pale face replaced Dean's, its lack of eyes, left two gaping black holes in wide sockets, the rest of its long face was smooth and bare, with no mouth of any kind. With a blink the image was gone, and it was his own brother's features once again, twisted in panic and desperation. Sam took a deep breath, the smell of his brother's sweat, and the familiar feel of him in his hands making him concentrate on what he was about to do next.
Feed the monster to another monster.
"Let's see if this thing is hungry shall we?"
Sam could almost hear the word it was attempting to form, the thought that it was having difficultly because of its lack of a mouth made his stomach churn. A small low whimper that sounded all too much like Dean's pain, his brother when troubled, and his flesh and blood in danger. It made him pause and his grip go slack for just one second. That pause was all the thing needed to break free of Sam's grasp.
"Stop." Sam hated the sharp tone he now used with this thing with his brother's face. Dean flinched, shrinking back slightly against the rocks. Suddenly, a shadow moved around them, light shifting off and on the formations even though Sam had not moved his flashlight.
A sharp strangled sound from Dean made him start. Dean was clutching his head as if in pain, his face full of fear.
Sam reached for him but he lashed out violently making them both stumble back against the fragile rock fragments, the heavy flashlight clattered to the ground. They struggled together in the dark, breathing fiercely, clothes catching against jagged spears of crystal. Sam managed to get the upper hand, his full weight on Dean's chest as the thing kicked and seized underneath him.
Sam was panicked, so intent on calming him down, pinning his arms to his sides that he did not see Dean's fingers curl around the handle of the fallen flashlight. With a half-formed cry, one arm tore free and Sam felt the soundless contact of metal against his skull, lights exploding in bursts of pain behind his eyes.
He sat up just in time to see Dean disappear into the maze of rock. But if it was trying to escape him, it was going the wrong way. Instead of trying to find the sun’s light at the entrance, the thing had taken flight down into the deep recesses of the cave.
It had no where to go, but it had plenty of places to hide.
The depth of the darkness was a physical thing, the sound of his own labored breaths deafening in his ears. On all fours, he fumbled around until his fingers found the still working flashlight lost in the scuffle. The bright beam of light cast its glow around the silent glittering columns.
Sam struggled to his feet, hand outstretched to steady himself against the wall. His head was thrumming, the spot on his chest burning with a steady, dull heat. For a while he just stood, tense and waiting. Dean was gone, but he was not alone.
A flicker of movement in the shadows passed through the beam of his flashlight. Instantly, his hand jerked, following the movement. Like some animal flitting from rock to rock, it fled from the light wherever he pointed it.
No. Sam trained his eyes hard on the rocks.
Through the columns it moved, dully flickering and then fading as it manifested from place to place. Its form was nebulous, like honey that dreamed itself into glass. It ran through the veins of rock, slithering through its domain like blood through its chambers, gliding soundlessly. Sam held his breath as he felt the subtle vibration in the solid surface at his back. Quickly, he moved away in time to catch the flash of its great undulating body behind him.
The creature was hunting.
Sam clutched the flashlight tightly in his grip. The amulet on his chest grew so hot he thought it might be burning his skin when it suddenly cooled. The large shape that hovered in the stone slid away, back towards the dark unknown parts of the cavern, towards the breathing unprotected being that had fled there.
There was prey wandering in its den and Sam had been deemed unsuitable. He grasped the amulet beneath his shirt. He had that to thank for that. Now he had to find Dean and what better guide could he have than a predator in its element?
Sam followed the driven pulse through the twisted uneven passageways that cut into the earth, sometimes breaking through the fragile formations with the butt of his flashlight to wedge himself through difficult enclosures. The rock hummed with the living thing that traveled through it, the creature in its pursuit seemed as if it was tracking the human being that ran from it in the dark of its den. Like some distant call, not unlike the language of deep sea creatures, its ghastly song echoed off the rocks in flowing patterns.
A sudden guttural sound made Sam freeze. Feeling along the walls, he hurried down the narrow opening in the rocks, boots stepping into something freezing and wet. He jerked back in shock.
"Dean!" He shouted, hearing his voice get swallowed by the vast silence.
Something was happening The air was heavy with cold humidity, his flash light catching on the hundreds of surfaces of the quartz and igniting the chamber he'd found in a dim sickly light. He had found water. It was in small puddle like pools leading up towards a small gravel beach. The water was crystal clear and calm in its shallows, abruptly plunging into the pure black of the unknown labyrinth that extended underwater for who knew how many miles under the surface. The ceiling arced high above, its cathedral like curve broken only by shafts of the opaque mineral that held reflections within reflections.
But that wasn't what had caught Sam's attention.
His brother was standing very still before a slanted length of mirrored quartz. Sam felt the talisman against his chest grow red hot as what seemed like faint wisps of cobweb drifted away and up from the stone and towards Dean. Fascinated, Sam watched the subtle seemingly benign process, the almost invisible strands were gently settling in greater numbers, binding and tightening.
Sam started when Dean fell to his knees with a small strangled sound of distress. The thing inside was fully aware that it had been found by what lurked in these passages. Sam wanted to smile at the thought of this mindless thing doing the job for him, ripping out this intruder and leaving Dean's body alone. He didn't care who he had to go to or what he had to do, as long as this monster in the rocks was alive so was his brother in one way or another. He still had time, he still had a chance to make everything go back to where it belonged.
The strands tightened and pulled now, making Dean let out a low horrible moan. His body was forced prone on the sandy ground.
His heart pounding, Sam saw the separation begin, the faint traces of the thing inside his brother being pulled upwards towards the reflective surface. But it was resisting, its groans becoming louder and more pained. It fumbled to its knees, almost falling backwards but held up by the creature that had sought to consume it. Dean stumbled to a stand and then several feet towards the quartz.
Sam watched with aching hope, his hands worked into tight fists. Just a little further and the thing inside would be dislodged, just a little more and that thing with its gaping blind stare would be plucked out like all the other victims. But something was strange. Sam frowned. The creature inside the stone seemed to be straining itself, the process it surely had performed so effortlessly on Dean all those days ago now seemed to be taking too long. His brother stumbled even closer, his hands pushing against the stone, the pull growing stronger as if the thing inside Dean was of the wrong make and substance to ingest.
Sam watched Dean's fingers claw against the glassy surface. With his useless mouth, Dean groaned and heaved, the thing in him frantically trying to back away. Suddenly one hand held fast to the stone and Sam heard the sickening crunch of bone and tear of ligament when Dean jerked violently back, trying to regain his arm. In horror, he saw the white flesh of Dean' wrist melt into the living stone.
Sam let out a small sound of horror when he realized his brother's hand was beginning to be pulled in along with the essence of the beast inside him.
Without thinking, Sam tore across the shallow lake's surface, barely feeling the icy chill of the frigid water. Dean's body shuddered against the stone, one shoulder and part of his face now partially submerged. With the free arm, it lashed out at Sam, swinging violently in its panic. Sam caught the wrist in an iron grip to still him.
"No! Hold on to me! Hold on to me!" He shouted wildly.
Dean's cries suddenly increased, his eyes wide as he gasped for air. Trying not to panic, Sam searched desperately for a grip. The rock that was rapidly encasing his brother's body was pure solid stone, unyielding and relentless. If he yanked Dean by the waist, he risked tearing a limb clean off.
On pure impulse and not a little bit of hope, Sam smacked his palm against the surface, close to his brother's wrist.
A cold fire burned the flesh of his hand, the charm at his neck scorching. Sam felt the cold black surface give beneath his fingers, sinking into what felt like molten metal but frozen and numbing to the touch. Yelling out in pain, he grit his teeth and steeled himself. Bracing his footing as best he could, he felt the slow, steady pull of the creature within. He gasped as his hand groped through the thick ether, searching for purchase. His fingertips brushed Dean's cold lifeless hand and grasped it, crushing his knuckles together in a viselike grip.
Suddenly Dean's body sagged, his head flung limply back.
"Aw, don't do this to me, man." Sam begged, tugging uselessly on Dean's wrist lodged in the stone.
But the stone could not be pried open like the jaws of a beast. Stones had no mind to give sway. Try as he might to wrench free of their immobile prison, Sam could not budge an inch. Fingers searched frantically for the steel pistol in his jeans. Again and again he struck the smooth surface, chipping away at the rock like glass. Bits of crushed quartz showered his arm. A noise filled his ears, a hollow empty sound of a thing in pain.
Sam watched another inch of Dean's arm sink further into the rock.
"NO!" Sam's outburst exploded from his chest, ragged and spent. He stood weakly panting, leaning against his brother's cold limp body. As he stilled, he felt the suction pulling him in, muscles shaking from exertion.
He forced himself to calm down, taking in huge gulps of air. He and Dean were both caught. He looked into the crystal's depths, watched the nebulous form of the creature encase the dark outline of the body within. Sam let his eyes slip close, head sinking down to his chest. His other hand still clutched his weapon. He could end it sooner. For both of them.
And he would make sure that somehow this thing would die with them.
But suddenly the sickening pull on his wrist stopped. Sam's eyes fluttered open. Dean stirred weakly next to him, now half submerged in the wall of quartz. Sam’s arm was in there with him, numb to the bone, his skin feeling like it was being peeled back layer by layer— There was a sudden heave and Dean began to be swallowed in quickly and steadily into the mirror surface. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist.
The shock of his head and face sinking into the stone stopped him from breathing. His heart skipped in his chest from the tremendous crushing cold, the sudden noise of it startling him. He was surrounded by the creature’s rapid enclosed heart beat, fluttering like some fetal mass, hammering in his ears with its liquid inhale and exhale.
But it didn’t want him. The amulet he wore made its form curve around his body to avoid him. It redoubled its efforts on his brother’s body.
Dean…Dean… I can’t hold on…
Sam felt his grip slipping, his hands and arms locked on their own, numbed to uselessness and his motor control gone. His brother was pulled from him, inch by inch, half blinded by the swirling chaos inside the rock, he saw the demon extracted. He tried to pull Dean back and away from the turmoil of feeding that had begun, but his brother was still being drawn into the creature’s core.
Sam tried one more time, gathering all his strength, drawing a deep breath of the icy vapors that churned thick and molten in his lungs. But instead of backing up and out with Dean locked in his arms, the creature pushed him out. Hard. It expelled him with force, sending him crashing onto the rocky ground breathless and half blinded. Sam looked down in shock at the starch white his submerged hands and arms had become from being exposed to the creature, he touched his face wondering if his skin and hair were also affected.
Wiping a thick strange film out of his eyes he got unsteadily to his feet to the sight of his brother fully encased, eyes wide open and unseeing, a hand out towards Sam. Sam banged at the stone until his fists were bloody. But then even Dean seemed to begin to fade away right before his eyes. His memories weren’t enough? Now his physical body had to be dissolved into this thing’s entrails?
Sam punched the column again in his frustration, his tears borne from outrage, his strength a product of pure fury.
But something was still wrong. The demon writhed and thrashed in the nebulous jaws of its captor. It had been wrenched from its human shell, unwound until one last strand of it clung to its host to spare itself from being destroyed. But it didn’t fit or belong within the dark linings and hidden folds of the digestive chambers. Like a toxin it was being rejected and the effect were destroying both predator and prey. The shapeless form roiled and boiled over the demon it caught and soon started to leech a black bile like substance, spreading through its translucent limbs and traveling like blood through veins.
The ground under Sam's feet rocked and he fell to one knee, an arm up over his head when some of the overhead formations shifted loose and began to shatter around him.
The demon was no more, the creature’s efforts to store it for consumption had turned it inside out and ripped it into unintended pieces. It was gone. But it was too late for the hunter, the demon's poison was already at work. Another rumble went under Sam’s feet and he heard a sickly sloshing as if the beast was trying to gather its body into one place but could no longer do so. Creaking started all around him, mirrors cracking, leaving fissures and shattered shining surfaces to ruin. Each crack and splintered rock oozing the black bile Sam had seen the demon infect it with.
So this was it.
“DEAN!” His bloody fists struck the rock one last time.
The mirror before him went dark with his touch and with a great loud crack, shifted into two massive pieces. Startled, he staggered backwards and fell. The sight of it sickly reminded Sam of the mirror halves in the funhouse.
Sam picked up a piece of quartz that lay on the gritty ground. The column of rock it had come from was pitted, like a smashed in television set, all its light dimmed and gone. The beast was dead, he could smell it now. Something like an animal washed up on a shore and left under the sky for days on end, food for scavengers lost in a collection of death. It hung suspended in the stone it had made its home in, solidifying to rot in the dark.
It was gone. The thing inside his brother was gone. And Dean's body...
Sam felt a hard burn in his eyes. If only he could have held on to that, at least he could have taken him somewhere. Brought him to that plot Dad left Mom in. It sickened him to think of Dean left behind deep down here in the dark. He was in there somewhere suspended and staring. Sam wiped a hand under his nose and threw down the piece of quartz that he had held. He’d come all this way just to fail. He did one hundred things wrong and still got this far and it all still went sideways.
The thought of climbing out of this cursed place and getting back into that car made him want to throw up. He couldn’t do it. Maybe he’d just leave the car where it was. Let some drifter find it. He could just walk to whatever town he came to first. He couldn’t drive that car without the ghost of his brother always at his shoulder, but never really there.
And Dean wouldn’t be there because Sam had failed him.
The pool beside him rippled slightly.
It was shallow for the first few meters, deepening to the black under water stretch of the unexplored caverns below. It rippled again, a surge of bubbles briefly erupting on its surface.
Sam staggered to a stand, wiping a hand across his eyes.
The water was slowly filling with something, objects floating up from somewhere, unidentifiable at first but then Sam caught sight of bones, loose animal skins, and parts of human bodies in various stages of decay. His mouth open, Sam stumbled backwards from the nightmare of it. The slain creature's stomach had been ruptured and severed in its death throes, the contents of its innards released like refuse. Holding his sleeve over his nose and mouth over the sudden overpowering smell, Sam blinked at what he saw appear next.
It was a body, intact and floating face down.
Sam splashed into the slurry of rotten refuse, the water only coming to his waist when he fell to his knees beside the body. He ignored the frigid water that seeped into his bones, his jaw clenching and teeth chattering as he quickly turned the body over.
"Dean?" Sam breathed in a small voice.
Laying still under several inches of water, Dean's eyes were wide open and his skin too pale, almost the color white like the other bits and pieces the creature had expelled in its death. His hair and skin were bleached, bled of pigment like something exposed to gastrointestinal juices. But here was his brother, discarded, his divided form come together now--the imprisoned with its shell. From where it had been preserved within the creature, Dean's physical body now bore the effects of the prison his mind had endured.
His initial shock evaporated, Sam pulled him free of the water, watching in horror as clear liquid ran from the sides of Dean's mouth as though he were filled with it. Without thinking, Sam tipped his brother's head back, used one finger to check his airway, and pressed his mouth over Dean's. With steady strong exhales he felt his brother's limbs twitch in his arms. Knowing what was coming, Sam tilted his body so he could vomit up the fluid in his lungs.
Then it happened.
Dean started breathing on his own. It was ragged and labored, but it was breathing.
"Dean! Dean?" Sam shook him gently.
Getting no response, Sam carried him to the small dark shore and quickly began exchanging his clothes for Dean's wet ones. After discarding Dean's soaked flannel, he saw Dean's lips had turned blue and his skin was freezing to the touch. Sitting behind him, Sam shrugged his own shirt off and held him against his body. It was a good sign when Sam felt his brother start to shiver violently, his system finally beginning to make its own warmth. Raising Dean's arms, Sam slipped his large fleece over his head easily, encouraging the slow process of raising his body temperature until they could both make it out into the sun.
Sam stared down at Dean's pale face, wondering silently if indeed what he held in his arms now was even his brother at all. He hefted Dean to his feet and shouldered him. He struck out with the flashlight, Dean's soaked clothing on his skin making him will the journey to the bright desert sunshine as soon as possible.
Hanging limply across Sam's shoulders, Dean groaned in some far away protest. Sam would get him out of here. He wasn't sure what was lost and what he'd left behind, but he had his brother finally two halves of a whole.
For now, that would have to be enough.
Sam didn't expect miracles.
That first night, he watched as Dean drank bottle after bottle of water, mindlessly until he choked and Sam had to pry the plastic container away. Later he had taken a little food, chewed and swallowed to Sam's hesitant relief before bringing it back up again.
Eating was going to take some time.
But he regained familiarity with food quickly enough, his body's need to replenish overtaking its initial revulsion to nourishment. It was as though it was re-learning itself cautiously and on occasion, it rebelled.
A week of desert sunlight and rest had restored Dean's coloring almost to normal, the tender skin under his eyes and the cuticles of his nails still pale and fragile. His blood, reacquainted to its familiar channels, flowed steadily in its rhythm. Every night, he'd cause Dean pain as he massaged the life back into his extremities, until his skin was flushed and warm again.
The telephone ringing made him flinch.
Car horns made him nervous.
It took a little while before Sam could bring him into diners and trust that he would stay seated if someone dropped a glass.
There still were no words.
At first Sam thought they might not come at all. But even that would be alright. Whatever had been lost might stay lost. But that became less and less important as time went on. Dean was alive and that was all that mattered.
After a few weeks Sam no longer had to wait by the sink while his brother showered. Dean started shutting the bathroom door behind him. Sam waited near the door anyway, still wary of the first day when Dean had scalded his now sensitive skin. Like everything, it left Sam anxious about leaving him out of his sight.
They traveled when Dean woke up long enough for Sam to collect their things and load them into the car. The highway exits became a delirious haze, stopping to rest and refocus before driving straight onwards. He traveled slowly to allow Dean's body to adjust to the shifting environments, unaccustomed to change after being in stasis for so long.
Sam soon got him to use some language. Yes. No. Stop. Go. More.
Do you know who you are Dean?
Do you know where you are?
Do you remember this car?
Dean had learned that the small word would halt the endless stream of questions that came from Sam. Sam always did as he asked and grew silent, the real question still burning unasked in his mind. He was not sure what he would do should the outcome turn out negative.
Do you remember who I am?
There were unexpected things as well.
Dean developed a fever shortly after crossing into Arkansas and Sam stopped their journey abruptly.
Sam hadn't considered the state of Dean's altered immune system, affected by its unnatural reincarnation. Raked down to its most rudimentary function, it had left Dean vulnerable to elements now alien to him, like a newborn susceptible to pathogens once harmless to his adult state. Two sleepless days and Dean's temperature fluctuated wildly until Sam managed to control it with fluids and antibiotics, tapering off to a slow, steady burn. He kept his environment as immaculate as possible, hoping to encourage the rebuilding of Dean's natural defenses. Though troubling, Sam took this as a sign of Dean's adaptation to the world. Sooner or later, a body learned to fight what attacked it from the inside. Quicker than expected, the fever vanished and they were on the road again.
Beyond the handful of simple vocabulary that got them through one day after another, the words still would not come. A week outside the Pennsylvania state line and Dean was silent, unable or unwilling to delve into the untouched recesses of his memory. He smiled on occasion in his sleep, gestured for wants, used Go when Sam slowed for yellow lights. But most of the time, Dean slept. He was exhausted.
Sam realized he was too.
He braked at the first lake he found in New Hampshire and hustled enough funds in the local beer halls to last them the month in a water side cabin. It was cheap because the plumbing didn't work, but he managed to get it running enough for some sink water and a lukewarm shower once a day.
Dean found the bed and for a long time, he did not move.
Sam roused him by intervals to force vitamin supplements and water into him, struggling when he resisted. There was no real violence behind Dean’s protestations and it gave Sam hope that Dean was there, emerging as slowly as he had once disappeared.
While Dean slept, Sam occupied his time with the computer. After a long battle with the laptop, he managed to hack into a nearby network, regaining internet access to contact Bobby, and made sure to make a phone call to thank the wise man he'd left so far behind in the desert.
"Do ya pray, son?" The old man asked.
"Every day." Sam said.
"Keep doing that."
He jogged in the chill early mornings next to the lake, watching the newborn sun glint like a slash of blood on the mist. Slowly, he felt his strength returning, kept alive by the hope that Dean was breathing and mending on his own. Autumn had arrived, the trees exploded in an array of colors, the mornings cool and damp. The lake turned a tapestry of red, yellow and gold with the refection of the leaves.
In his way, Sam gradually began to feel like himself again. Settling back into the ritual of mundane things, burning the coffee, worrying about faulty pipes, gathering sources for the next gig. All that was missing was the voice.
He was kneeling before the unused hearth, fanning the embers of a newly lit fire when above the crackle of birch and newspaper, he heard it.
Sam paused, swallowed hard and braced himself before turning around.
Dean was sitting up in bed.
"Smells like Vermont." Dean said, voice rough with sleep. He rubbed a tired hand across his slack, stubbled face.
"New Hampshire." Sam said, feeling his eyes burn.
Dean lay back against the pillow.
"S'nice." He said, closing his eyes again. "Real nice."
For any of you out there that liked Receding and ALSO like to listen to stuff read out loud, you are in luck! This incredibly organized chick named Issaro has a fan fic recording project going over on fanfic_read_by. She has one of the most pleasant and even reading voices I think I've ever heard and the quality of her recordings really blew me away. The time and work put into this thing was mammoth. To say I'm 'flattered' that my fic was on her list wouldn't quite cover it. ♥
Hey, even if you hated 'Receding', check out the other stories she's got set up. I'm sure there's something else to dig around there! :D
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