Back in December, eaten up with jealousy over everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo, I started my own mini-NaNo. It was really just a way to see if I could keep up with a daily word count, and the idea I picked for it suited that style of challenge-writing, being long and plotty. I fizzled out on my mini-NaNo early in January, but I had the rest of the story plotted out and just never got around to writing it. Anyway, it's done now.
It's an AU that assumes all of season 1 is the same - the changes start happening the moment after the crash that ended "Devil's Trap." There are three POVs being woven together: Kathleen's (the cop from "The Benders"), Sam's, and John's. A few secondary characters pop up along the way. It's gen, rated R for violence and language. Posted in parts due to length.
She takes a moment to wonder which cage her brother had been thrown into, hers or Sam's. It can hardly matter now, but she somehow feels it was hers.
Kathleen walks closer, looks into Sam's cage, and sees the two men piled in there, one on top of the other; Sam had thrown them in separately, not concerned in the least as to whether they could move or breathe. If their survival instinct kicked in enough to make them shift, that was enough for him.
It's not like she can claim to be any better. Their father, that cesspool of twisted love and demented logic, is dead by her hand. He died laughing, and the unfairness of that rocks her back on her heels. He and his murderous pack of children took Riley from her and Mom, so that Mom died crying for her lost baby boy, her frail arms stretched out hopefully, goosebumps rising on her skin because of the hospital chill in the air.
Nothing about this is fair. She knows that. She checks the lock on Sam's cage one more time and heads out to the shed, standing over the patriarch's fallen body. She wants to tear him to shreds, piss on the remains, desecrate the corpse in some way, but she's already stepped far enough outside herself by killing him, choking his laughter with a bullet.
The state police and the FBI will be here soon. She needs to lock the situation down, buy some time for Sam and his cousin, make sure they get away clean. Kathleen makes her way into the main house and whirls when she hears a relentless scratching. It's the girl, Missy, she realizes, remembering that Greg – no, not Greg, she hadn't pressed for his real name once his story of fire came tumbling out of him, lucky man – had said he and Sam had locked her in a closet. At the sound of her footsteps, the scratching subsides, so she takes advantage of the quiet to hear herself think, to assess the site. She steels herself to walk past the jars of teeth, the canisters of meat, the trophy case with jewelry and skulls jumbled together.
Kathleen turns the corner and finds a faded pale blue cloth strung up on hooks like a shower curtain, keeping one corner of the room hidden. When she shoves the dirty fabric aside, an enraged wail echoes throughout the house, and she knows she's found Missy's room, the hiding place of whatever treasures the girl has collected. There's a twin bed, made up with worn but once-fine linens, doubled back on themselves for the narrow mattress; a braided mat made of human hair rests on the floor beside it. A crude bookshelf holding clothes has a jar of eyeballs sitting on top, where any girl but this one, with her sly eyes and cruel smile, would have put a little jewelry box full of beads and friendship bracelets. Next to it is the picture of Sam that Lucky had handed her, and she feels an absurd surge of triumph bubble up in her breast when she slips it into her pocket. Her own shirt is hanging on a hook by the bed, Missy's fingerprints smudged all over the brightness of her badge. Kathleen folds the shirt down until it's the size of a washcloth and goes systematically through the compound, erasing fingerprints as she goes.
She comes across Alvin Jenkins's body when she circles the buildings for a final sweep before the reinforcements arrive; she wouldn't have recognized him. The picture his pretty wife had provided showed a handsome man in his mid forties, barbered and tailored for success. The reality is a bloody corpse, the face set in a rictus of pain and horror. Kathleen looks him over, trying not to disturb the scene too much. He looks like he could have been strong. There's no telling who will be a fighter when the chips are down, but she guesses she could attribute that virtue to him without straining anybody's credulity.
Kathleen's huddled against the wall of the house when Sheriff Biggs finally arrives, and she hasn't even gotten through a quarter of the story when the state police and FBI show up, wanting her to start again from the beginning, any detail you remember, ma'am. Please.
So she does. Kathleen tells them about an anonymous tip that spoke of a "whining growl," how a little luck led her here to this horror show, how she found Alvin Jenkins and set him free, how their escape was blocked by three armed and dangerous men. Got knocked out early, shovel to the noggin, she thinks, and tilts her head obligingly for inspection. Jenkins must have tricked the sons somehow, led them away from her and gotten them into the cage where he'd been kept. The father had stayed behind, and he must have been the one to take her shirt off. No one wants to meet her eye when she gets to this part, and it makes it easier to spin her tale. She'd woken up as he reached for her pants, struggled against him, and ended up with her hand on his shotgun. He'd lunged for her and the gun went off. She called for backup and went to find Jenkins again, but she'd been dizzy, couldn't walk too well, and might have passed out again.
She lets herself be bundled into an ambulance, bows her head when Williams calls the morgue to pick up the bodies of Alvin Jenkins and Abraham Bender. She closes her eyes and feels tears leak from beneath the lids. Her baby brother is dead.
Mercifully, she's checked out of the hospital the next day, before the real work of sifting through the house and cataloging the findings has begun in earnest. Sheriff Biggs walks in as she's tying her shoes. "Kathleen," he says, a note of warning in his voice.
"Don't tell me to take it easy, Mike," she says curtly. She knows what she has to do.
He holds his hands up in a placating gesture. "There was a little girl in the house, locked in a closet. Wasn't even screaming when we found her; must have been in there for hours, maybe days."
She nods tightly; she has no pity to spare for Missy. "We've got her and Lee and Jared Bender – the two men Jenkins subdued – here in the hospital." She has to get out of here right now; there's no way she can share space with Riley's murderers.
Mike takes one look at her face and drives her home.
She'd packed up Mom's house three years ago, when Riley went missing and Mom was diagnosed with cancer, and she's relieved that in her own apartment there's not too much more to do before her entire life is packed away in brown cardboard boxes. Kathleen cannot fathom waiting for the labs to finish unpacking the Benders' trophies and calling to say that they've set aside the bones in the mobiles, the eyeballs in the jar, the teeth in the cans, that were once Riley's; the list of families they will be contacting is terribly long.
In the back of her closet she finds the box the hospital had sent when Mom died. She knows its contents by heart. There's a small envelope tucked inside Mom's jewelry box that holds two locks of baby hair, a few baby teeth, and a couple of snapshots with "1971" and "1977" inked faintly on the back. This is all that's left of her family. She's all that's still standing.
When Sam wakes up, he could swear that his body is still vibrating from the impact of the truck. Everything's resonating at a painful frequency, and he wishes it would just stop. He can feel his own pulse beating insistently at his temples, and it's too strong, it's making his head pound, and he knows better than to want that to stop, but he still wants to turn the volume down a little.
As Sam grows accustomed to the throbbing, he becomes aware of a disturbingly unpleasant sound, a wet sucking wheeze, coming from his right.
His neck feels like it's been pulled too tight and lacerated by wicked blades, but he manages to flop his head around enough to see the source of the noise. It's Dad, unconscious and bleeding from pretty much everywhere, his lungs fighting for air and his hand clenched tightly around his thigh. He can see Dad's chest rising and falling – a hitch every third breath, not quite smooth – and beyond Dad but in the same line of sight he can make out the figure of the truck driver, his torso hanging out of his window, blood and glass pooling on the ground.
Dad's still clutching his cell phone with his other hand, and Sam braces himself to try to reach for it. Every inch he shifts costs him, and he's sweating and shaking, not allowing himself to think beyond getting the phone into his own hand and praying that it's still functional.
Sam's palmed the phone and set it down on his lap when he realizes the only sounds in the car are of Dad's uneasy respiration. He can't hear Dean at all, can't turn far enough to check, and the rearview mirror's lost somewhere near Dad's feet. Dean, you better be doing what you spent a lifetime perfecting he thinks, but that cool, logical part of his brain sees fit to cut in at that point and lay out just how unlikely it is that Dean's mimicking Dad so precisely as to breathe in time with him. Sam tries once more to turn, but his body simply refuses to bend or twist, so he drops his heavy head, and painstakingly directs his thumb to dial 911 and press send. He can hear the ringing and a click as the line connects, but after that it's just a soft sound in the distance as the steering wheel comes up to pillow his cheek.
There are half a dozen people rushing all around, shouting at each other, and Sam can't get them to quiet down and answer his questions. "Dean?" he keeps gasping, but they just keep on chattering while they get his stretcher into an ambulance, and then the sirens drown everything out.
Sam's surprised that so little of their code is intelligible to him; after all the time he's spent in hospitals, hanging out in ERs and near admitting desks, he thought he'd learned the lingo, but their crisp words are curiously elliptical, like not all of them are getting through. He still doesn't know if Dean is alive. "Brother," he tries, figuring it's probably safer to give no names for now.
"Take it easy, buddy," a big guy says, leaning over him, his shaved head stubbly and pale. His eyes look black and Sam chokes and arches up, fighting against the restraints. The guy moves to hold him in place, and in the shifting light, his eyes are blue again. One touch of the guy's fingers against his ribs, though, is enough to knock Sam out again.
Sam's tucked in a narrow hospital bed, his ribs taped up tight and small gauze squares dotting his skin. He aches all over like he's got the flu; if this is the worst he's got, he knows he's incredibly lucky. It's still easier to turn his head right than left, and when he surveys the room, he sees Dad in the bed next to his, clean and pale yet somehow still sturdy-looking, with a brace around his neck, a cast on his leg, and a sling holding his right arm close to his chest. Dad's breathing much more easily now, quiet and steady. Sam fumbles a bit and presses the button for a nurse.
The one who comes in has a kind smile and messy hair. Her nametag says "Anne." She smells like face powder when she leans in close to try to hear him. "I'm sorry, Mr. McGillicuddy, I can't make out what you're saying," she says, and he gives up on verbal communication, instead making his eyes as pleading as he can.
She rocks back a little at his look and draws his blanket gently up, smoothing it down with soft little pats. "You've got three badly bruised ribs and minor lacerations. Your father" – she spares a glance for Dad, faint frown lines appearing on her forehead – "in the accident, he wrenched his neck quite badly and broke his right arm and leg. He also had a bullet embedded in his leg." She looks vaguely puzzled, but he can't come up with a story for her at the moment. "You'll both be just fine."
She steps forward again to fluff his pillow and Sam growls low in his throat. She drops her eyes and his heart sinks. "Your brother's not doing so well," she admits quietly. "His injuries aren't consistent with yours, so it's been difficult to know what to do for him." He thinks of Dean being torn apart from the inside, just like his visions of Monica, of Jess. Even if he could explain it, he doesn't know if Dean can be fixed.
The entire room seems to shimmer and sparkle suddenly, and he braces for a vision before he realizes that his eyesight is just distorted by the tears in his eyes. When they spill over onto his cheeks, Anne settles into the chair next to his bed and reaches for his hand. Sam holds hers like a lifeline.
After the flood of commendations had dried up, after she'd cremated what was left of Riley and sent his rusted and completely uncooperative Mustang to a junkyard, Kathleen had tendered her resignation from the Sheriff's Department and put in for a transfer. There was nothing left for her in Hibbing, and she wanted to go somewhere big, someplace where she could be anonymous for at least a little while, a city where she wouldn't be "Officer Kathleen" anymore, with a standing seven a.m. order for a coffee regular and a raisin bran muffin at Meredith's Meals and an annual trip to the elementary school to talk about traffic safety.
She hadn't quite counted on feeling anonymous – lost, really – in her own department. The JCPD is big, large enough to stand with the state police on equal footing and fight for jurisdiction on interesting and politically important cases. There's no time or manpower to spare to show a new cop the local ropes, and it's not like she's some fresh rookie – she's a decorated officer, a veteran of a dozen years, and she's never developed a taste for being babysat. Kathleen takes the lion's share of hours at the front desk, waiting for a case she can call her own, being a team player and covering for the others when they're wrapped up deep in delicate investigations. It is an election year after all.
Kathleen's there Monday morning at six when a call comes through on line four, the line dedicated to contact with other city departments. "Detective Hudak," she answers, waiting for a meter maid's story about a car with no plates, something quick to check out and write up and feel like she's earned at least a little of her paycheck. Mundane isn't the release she thought it'd be after the Benders.
"Hudak, this is Gregson, over at Sanitation. We got a body. Shot through the head." Kathleen can feel her spine straighten, her mind start to race. This case is incontrovertibly hers; she took the call and she hasn't been assigned a partner. She ropes Caldwell into sitting at the desk by handing over her cinnamon streusel muffin and swigs her coffee as she steps out of the station and into her squad car. She catches every traffic light at yellow and takes the time to re-orient herself with the downtown area.
She doesn't recognize the address she's scribbled down, but at least the street name is familiar, and she doesn't need the GPS to direct her. She pulls up short when she sees the building. If Gregson had just said "Sunrise Apartments" instead of "1386 Riverside Drive," she'd have known what she was walking into. She parks in the lot, organizes her thoughts, and steps out into the bright, cold November sunshine.
The man standing on the front steps walks toward her with his hand outstretched. Kathleen would never have taken him for a sanitation worker – he looks too thin to haul around fifty- and hundred-pound loads all day, six days a week. But his grip is reassuringly firm and his dark face is drawn and serious. He leads her around the apartment building, unlocking the rear gate and latching it shut behind them. There's an alley behind the building that intersects with a small street, and she can see the body lying at the crossroad.
Kathleen circles the body once, noting as much as she can. Caucasian male, anywhere from twenty-eight to thirty-five, slim build, short hair, light brown with expensive-looking blond highlights. No rings or personal jewelry visible, but he seemed likely to have a piercing or a tattoo – that black leather jacket, fashionably faded jeans, and heavy boots all spoke of a certain type. Head aligned with the east near some oil stains on the blacktop, sprawled legs pointing mostly west with the knees jerked north like compass needles.
First cursory examination over, Kathleen turns back to Gregson. He's a superb witness, telling his story clearly and thoughtfully, without any prodding at all; she'd bet this is not the first corpse he's come across in the line of duty. "Found him when we started our rounds this morning. Five forty-five a.m.," he clarifies, watching her jot everything down in shorthand, understanding that this has to be done right. "Last pickup at this location would have been same time on Saturday morning. At least," Gregson pauses and she meets his assessing gaze evenly, waiting to see what he'll come out with, "it's scheduled to be five forty-five, six, but Saturdays tend to run a little later. But no later than seven for sure." She nods to let him know she appreciates his honesty. The lines on his forehead iron themselves out when he's done, and his parting handshake is warm and commiserating.
Kathleen calls for backup, turning the scene over when they arrive, cameras and gloves and evidence bags in hand. The crew is evidently surprised not to see a familiar face directing their efforts, and she smiles and introduces herself, apologizes for covering well-worn ground, and specifies that the site needs to be documented, the slug recovered, and everything in the vicinity, from the fire hydrant to the parked cars and the fire escape ladders, should be dusted for fingerprints. She asks for their findings by noon and turns away, hearing the Saran-wrap sound of police tape being unfurled.
She squares her shoulders and walks back around to the front steps and begins the long task of questioning the building's residents. Not many are home at this time on a weekday, and she'll have to come back tonight. In the meantime, she's got a preliminary report to write up and a replacement muffin to buy.
Sam shuffles back from the bathroom slowly; he's not really so hurt anymore that he needs to move like an ancient tortoise, but all that's waiting for him is a hospital bed so small it's making him practically claustrophobic and an update on Dean that will simply say, like all the others he's been demanding every hour, "No change." But when he gets back to his room and does his usual paranoid survey of each corner of the chilly white space, he sees his father, dark eyes glittering, snapping his cell phone shut.
"What's going on?" Sam asks, picking up the pace, one hand dropping to the metal rail that brackets the bed to steady himself; his coordination's been gone since the crash, and it's like he's fifteen again, growing like a weed and unable to calculate how much space he would take up at any given moment. Math was never his thing.
But Dad remains silent, his eyes merely flashing a warning since the brace won't allow him to do his typical dismissive head shake.
"Dad," Sam says, hearing his own voice pick up steam and volume. "Tell me. What's going on." It can't be news about Dean; Dad wouldn't need his cell for that. And Pastor Jim and Caleb – memory comes flooding back and he's almost sick all over his father and wouldn't that just be hilarious – are dead, murdered by a demon masquerading as a pretty, flirtatious girl. Dad just keeps glowering at him like the hospital visit is all his fault. Well, fine. Two can play this game. Sam might have shot Dad and been driving the car when the collision came, but Dad was the one who'd left himself open to demonic possession, who had begged him to shoot, and who had never taught him how to avoid getting flattened by a Mac truck when it was being driven by a long-haul trucker who happened to have been possessed by a demon.
"Let's see," Sam says, pretending that he's merely musing, knowing by the way his father's eyes track him that his anger is apparent. "You haven't asked me how I'm doing. You wouldn't need the phone to ask how Dean's doing; you could push that call button for a nurse to find that out, but you haven't bothered to do that. Let me think – what could be more important than the fact that your son is dying somewhere in this hospital? Dying because of what you let that thing do to him. Oh, I know! The fucking Colt. The gun that's going to solve all of your problems. Have to make sure that's safe and warm, can't let anyone touch a hair on its precious head, right?" He's shouting, clutching the bed rail with both fists, jarring the bed with each sentence so that it scrapes against the wall, leaving gouges in the plaster.
Dad just stares at him with dark eyes, then closes them. "Well, guess I've been dismissed, huh, sir?" Sam spits, and turns around to make his way back to the nurses' station. Maybe today they'll let him see his brother.
Dean looks waxy and fragile, his skin nearly as pale as the bleached sheets tucked tightly around him. His eyebrows stand out like dark slashes, matched by the ugly and jagged gouges littered across his face and arms.
Sam stumbles a bit at the sight, but Anne catches him and guides him to the chair without a word or even a reproachful look. He tries to mumble a thank you but he doesn't think it comes out. Dean looks even worse than the last time he'd been in a hospital bed. Then Dean had looked tired and bruised, his skin green and purple in patches, his freckles dark as dirt against his worn-thin skin. But weariness and bruising – those were things that could happen to anybody, things that someone could get over. This utter stillness, this complete shutdown, is new, and Sam clasps his hands together instinctively. He doesn't know who he's silently imploring, but when he hears a soft sound, he looks up to see Anne with her eyes closed, chanting a prayer under her breath, her hand wrapped loosely around Dean's wrist.
Sam hasn't touched his brother since he carried him out of the cabin and settled his boneless, insubstantial weight into the backseat of the Impala, letting the car cradle the one who loved her best. He reaches his hand out, gingerly, aware of his own potential for clumsiness and absolutely unwilling to touch Dean any way but gently. It feels momentous, watching his hand – it looks dark and huge, destructive and deadly – descend inexorably toward Dean's milk-white form.
Dean is cold beneath his hand, like his vitality has already been spent and all that's left is a cool shell, a simulacrum, and suddenly he can't bear to keep the contact going. Sam shakes his hand loose and stands, looking down at the small figure on the bed. This can't be Dean, who's got broad shoulders and a broader grin. But he knows he's lying to himself even as he formulates the protestations.
Sam turns when Anne clasps his shoulder gently, his eyes locked on the prize in her other hand. He reaches out, shaky and unsure, and wraps his fist around the amulet she surrenders to him; it stabs the flesh of his palm as he rests his hand on his brother's chest to try to say goodbye.
He was stripped and bathed clean while he was unconscious. He can taste dirty rage in the back of his mouth every time he swallows, feel his boy's blood settling stickily into his skin despite it.
When John wakes up, all he can see in his peripheral vision is a mop of brown hair and several feet away, at the other end of the bed, a pair of enormous feet. Sam's feet are bare, and he remembers, absurdly, playing "This Little Piggy" with his baby's toes, Mary laughing when he got stuck on the sequence of events and pigs and shushing Dean by tickling him so he couldn't bail Daddy out. Sammy had watched the whole thing with solemn, sleepy eyes, reached up and grabbed his nose, and then made an enormous mess in his diaper.
And now he can't even look at his child, of whom he'd asked far too much. John's still not sure if Sam would have done it – shot him through the heart – and he's not sure he wants to know how complex Sam really is, how many layers of grief and care and hatred he's mined in his baby boy.
His body takes the coward's way out and he falls back asleep.
John's pretty sure that Missouri's the only one who will still take his calls, and before she can say a word he asks her to get Bobby to get the Impala towed somewhere safe and to keep the Colt under every sign of protection he can muster.
"Oh, John," she says into the phone, anxious and alive, her steady breaths into the receiver calming him down. He's called her so many times in the past just to hear a soft, sweet voice, concerned and tender, and he wonders if she's aware of how he's used her. "Baby, I know," she says; "I'll take care of it."
He closes the phone slowly, the snap of it distinct against the sliding shuffle that heralds Sam's return to the room.
Sam looks surprised to see him awake and coherent, and hesitates, lingering in the doorway for a long moment. But he doesn't stay quiet for long. Sam surges forward, looming over the bed and gripping it fiercely; "I want some answers, Dad," Sam says, sounding furious.
John's got none to give. Sam doesn't so much ask questions as hurl accusations, and there's a familiarity to his own rising anger, the furious jut of Sam's jaw, and the harsh words between them. The bed shakes, bites into the wall deeply enough that he can feel flakes of paint settling on his skin, and he wants to roar back at Sam, say something that will shut him up for good, when suddenly his body goes hot.
His eyes slam shut and he thinks he can hear Sam saying something, suddenly soft and echoing distortedly like he's down a well, little boy lost, but he can't think about that now, not when there's something inside him, holding him aside like a curtain at a window it wants to peer out of. But that's his guts, his lifeblood, his heart it's pushing to one side to make room for itself, and the agony is wrenchingly familiar; the Demon is back.
It's a quicker drive back to the station than it was to get out to the river, and Kathleen closes her eyes at the only red light she hits, fixing the image of the body firmly in her mind. That picture is going to live behind her eyelids until she can solve this case and put him to rest.
The station is noisy, overcrowded at the moment because the shifts are overlapping, and she weaves her way to the desk that's got her nameplate on it, a pocket of quiet next to her as she goes. They fall silent when she approaches, not out of malice or spite, just because they don't know her well enough for casual conversation – talk of misspent weekends, the kids' Halloween costumes, doctors' appointments before the insurance slates wipe clean in January. They smile, though, and Kathleen takes what she's given and smiles back.
She's always had the knack of tuning out the rest of the world when she's concentrating, and inside of ten minutes she's typing up a preliminary report for the captain's inbox, detailing the source of the case, the site, the body, and the course of action she's decided upon. Ramirez has to nudge her to make her stop writing, look up, and realize that it's her phone that's been ringing for the last thirty seconds.
"Hudak," she says, smiling at Ramirez, who puts a cup of coffee on her desk carefully away from her notes.
"Kathleen?" she hears, and she frowns at the eager, breathy voice even before the greeting's strangeness strikes her. There's no one she's given this number to who would call her by her first name. "Kathleen, it's Georgia. Can you come down here? You're going to want to see this."
Even the name isn't ringing any bells for her, and she hangs up the receiver, reaches for the cup of coffee, and catches Molinson's eye over its rim. "Is there a Georgia who works in this building?" she asks.
"Down with the stiffs," Molinson responds, smoothing back her ponytail. "One of the medical examiner's interns."
Back in Hibbing, she'd never spoken to, let alone met, the ME; Dr. Riviera could have been a figment of three counties' collective imagination for all she knew. She keeps forgetting that she's in the big city now, a place with money to spend keeping its citizens safe and buying justice for them when it fails.
If there's already news about the body in the alley, that can only be good. She grabs her notebook again and heads for the stairs.
She'd never known anyone funnier – or more likely to be just completely and totally wrong about things – than Riley.
"Girls named after states, cities, scenic views," he'd said once when they were both a little drunk and he'd been dumped by the girl he'd met at the dry cleaners, "really have no choice, Kath. They have to become strippers." He'd nodded solemnly. "You can look it up. It's a law."
She'd laughed and he'd grinned, pleased with his theory, not knowing it was his crossed eyes that were amusing her.
Georgia Peters could never in a million years have been a stripper. She's plain and immersed in her work, and she's got a voice like a girl half her age. But her enthusiasm is clearly real, so Kathleen smiles and introduces herself and waits for the news.
"This is your John Doe, right?" Georgia gestures at the body on the autopsy table.
Kathleen looks over and sees the body neatly laid out, a sheet covering it from the waist down, autopsy incisions evident on the chest. She nods, walking a little closer, and bends to look at the perfect circle in his left temple. "What's that sound?" she asks; she can't place it except to think that it's halfway between a crinkling like aluminum foil and the whiny hiss of air escaping from a balloon through a pinprick.
"John Doe's making that sound. I've never seen anything like this before," Georgia says, clearly happy to be given a break from the more routine examinations. "What was the time of death?"
Kathleen stares, uncertain whether this is a rhetorical question. "You tell me."
"If the body temperature wasn't so anomalous, I could," Georgia responds without any fuss. "It's over 100 right now, and it was probably several degrees above that when he died. He's losing heat much more slowly than he should. And what's really bizarre is that he's got sulfur everywhere – on his skin, in his blood, in his organ tissue. No one should be able to survive with these levels inside them." Her face is flushed with excitement.
"And that sound?"
"The body is disintegrating, breaking itself down, like there's an acid eating away at it. It might even be the sulfur that's doing it. It's hitting the extremities and the major organs first." Georgia peels back the sheet and Kathleen can see that the feet already look a little misshapen. Same goes for the hands.
Georgia covers the body again. "I couldn't get a complete set of fingerprints. I think I've got a usable print of the left thumb, though."
"Hopefully that'll be enough for IAFIS."
"I'm documenting everything as best I can," Georgia reassures her, pointing to the video camera. "Everything the body tells me is getting recorded."
"I don't want to keep you," Kathleen says. "Looks like you've got a deadline. Thank you," she calls from the doorway, and then trudges back up the stairs.
Come on, now, it says. Let's hit the road, Jack.
John sucks in a lungful of air, gasping even though it's not doing much of anything except talking in that insolent, amused tone that drags through his head like claws, leaving behind bloody furrows.
Oh, but you might want to close your eyes. You don't want to watch this.
He's aware that he's climbed out of the bed that's held him for days and that he's resting his weight on both his legs. John expects the broken one to snap beneath him, but it doesn't, and he finds himself moving swiftly, like his limbs aren't mismatched, and both his arms are swinging freely and painlessly at his sides.
He doesn't quite know what happens next – the speed of the thing inside him is as formidable as its strength. All that he sees, in disconcerting flashes, is blood blooming under his fist, the cast lending his blows extra weight, his punches snapping with military precision, and then he's out of the hospital, dressed in his own jeans and shirt, getting into a car that's been left in front of the ER entrance with the engine still running. He peels out and drives.
He wishes he had the Colt in his hand. He knows he wouldn't falter. All he'd have to do is bring his hand up, slide the gun into his mouth and let the weight of it hang heavy on his lip, make his jaw feel like rock, and squeeze the trigger.
John pulls over onto the shoulder so that he won't kill someone else in a collision. He manages to open the glove compartment. Any gun will do. Clearly he's worth something to it, so if he can take himself off the board, remove himself from the game, whatever it's planning won't go quite so smoothly. His hand scrabbles desperately, rifling through the papers that are stuffed into the glove compartment, dropping them onto the passenger seat and floor like confetti as his fingers dart into the corners over and over again, willing a weapon to materialize from the dust and grit.
He screams when it speaks, words slicing into his head again.
Oh, no, Johnny. Let's have no more of that kind of talk. You have to live, live for your precious boys. You have to stay strong.
It pauses and he throws every curse he can think of at it, chanting Latin under his breath.
It laughs. Thought you were going to be more interesting than that, Jack boy it says, mockingly, voice dripping with disappointment. Well, if you can't keep me entertained, you don't get to speak anymore. What's that your boy likes to say? Driver picks the music? You're shotgun now, Johnny; I'm driving. Best get used to it.
Sam's world has shrunk down to six feet. He's aware, in an uncomfortable way he never was before – not even when he was used to stitching Dean back together, splinting bone, or pressing into firm muscle with insistent fingers – how incredible it is that everything his brother is, all of it, can be housed in a breakable body six feet long.
Dean can't die, not now, not when Sam's finally figured out how to pull his own weight and make this an equal partnership. Winchester and Winchester, brothers in arms and brothers at heart. Dean's been leaving the light on for him all year, and at long last he's taken him up on the invitation and stepped inside, only to find the shitstorm to end all shitstorms. Dean deserves more than just one minute of happiness. Dean deserves better, and it's Sam's turn now to keep the light on.
He keeps vigil with his fist still closed tightly around the amulet, his torso tight and sore but bent close to Dean despite it.
"This isn't doing your ribs any favors, sir," one of the doctors finally says to him, impatient and uninclined to let Sam break the rules. "And you're not doing him any good. He's not responding to you or to any course of treatment."
Sam stays silent, just challenges him to continue with that line of thought with a steely glare, and the man turns away, shaking his head; he finishes his notes and slams the file back in its slot. That still went better than his latest round with Dad. The moment he thinks it, his rage soars again, flying high and bright. He might have been slow to appreciate Dean, but Dad's been worse. Dad's never acknowledged Dean as anything except a grunt, a babysitter, or a hired hand.
Dad really should be here to make it up to Dean, but Sam has some work of his own to do. He lays the amulet down on the blanket somewhere in the vicinity of Dean's left knee and clasps his brother's cool hand in his own.
"Dean, please." It's been so long since he had to ask for anything and he wonders if he's lost the knack because Dean always anticipated him. "Please, you have to wake up."
He rubs his thumb gently over the veins on the back of Dean's hand. He is asking every way he knows how – with words, with touch, with his very presence. Dean will come back to him if he gives him enough time. He puts his palm flat on Dean's belly and prepares to wait.
The muscles under his hand heave suddenly and Dean starts to choke around the tube shoved between his lips, trying to eject it from his throat. His eyelids are fluttering wildly with instinctive panic, and Sam stands and yells for a doctor. He turns back to his brother's spasming form and catches Dean's hips in his hands, weighing them down gradually like he's rocking Dean to sleep.
"It's okay, I'm here," he says, and then he's set firmly aside as a group of doctors and nurses works to get Dean off the respirator and check his vital signs. Dean's eyes close in slow motion as the noise level in the room reaches nearly unbearable heights.
The medical team finally finishes discovering and documenting every possible statistic about Dean and they all walk off together, their voices light and contented, offering congratulations and swapping theories about this recovery that came out of the blue.
Sam moves back to his brother's side as soon as there is a sliver of space for him to squeeze into. Touching is a different proposition now that Dean is awake, so all he does is tap at Dean's wrist with one careful finger, like a hesitant knock on an unfamiliar door. Dean's eyes open and meet Sam's briefly before closing again tiredly. Dean pokes Sam in the belly, the closest spot he could find, evidently, and Sam goes dizzy somewhere between his tears and his laughter. He sits abruptly, the plastic chair skidding a little on the cold bare floor, and he leans in close to whisper his brother's name. Dean manages to lift his eyebrows questioningly but his eyes stay shut and his hand rests limply on the mattress.
He knows what Dean wants. He fights against his fear of letting Dean out of his sight and says, "I'm gonna go tell Dad you're awake. His leg is broken, but maybe they can put him in a wheelchair or something and get him up here to see you. Stay awake, okay?" He stands and squeezes Dean's foot and walks out to the elevator.
The sixth floor is a mess. There is blood in patches all over the floor and there are no personnel anywhere in sight. Dad's bed is empty, a torn neck brace lying on the bed, and a lot of nurses and security guards are standing around inside. They start shouting questions and accusations at him as soon as they spot him, but all of his attention is fixed on the sooty handprint on the ceiling above his father's bed and the smell of smoke staining the air.