Episode Fourteen: Nocturne

By Tracer

Part One

 

Dean groaned in disgust when the mysterious stickiness plastered onto the cheap mica table top clung mercilessly to his prized leather jacket. A rolling broken sound close to that of removing day old duct tape was heard as he jerked his arm away from the offending substance only to discover the grime had formed a filmy layer on the sleeve anyway. With a miserable sigh, the sandy-haired Winchester sat further up in the seat knowing full well that the booth's slimy crust had to be ten times worse.

Averting his attention lest he call Health Services, Dean garnered a look over at his brother. The last string of hunts had left behind slightly sunken features for the both of them, but that didn’t mean he was used to seeing them on Sam; because little brother’s were always ten times worse than his own.

It seemed the more they found out, the more confusion came into play. And Dean was beginning to find out that it took a lot more manipulation and coercion than he was willing to give to pry Sam off the laptop during “free time” after everything that had happened. All his brother wanted to do was research until he was blue in the face. As if Google held the magical answer to 'what to do when ancient demons are on your ass' he was looking for.

At the current moment, Sam's insanely long brown locks were nearly touching the luminescent screen and Dean had to smirk at his intense rapture in whatever the hell he was reading, although all that searching made his younger brother a horrible roommate. Sam wasn’t giving him any material whatsoever and Dean was running out of geek jokes faster than he could piece new ones together. Not to mention the silence and steady click clack of the computer keys were about to drive him damn near crazy.

Normally, he'd find the uber-wannabe librarian routine humorous but he couldn’t help worry a bit at the constant vigil Sam was holding in Wikipedia's honor. The dark circles under Sam's eyes and the paled features were only the beginning of the list. It was unnatural for anyone to have such an undying love for search engines, plus Sam hadn’t even commented on the resident deep coating of filth covering every inch of Dave's Truck Stop Diner, something he was more than ready to do whenever they usually entered equally fine establishments. His brother was simply zoned out, had been for days, clearly enamored with the hunt for a change.

Dean was about to comment on the shift too, until a greasy plate was shoved with a loud thud in front of him, the smell combined with the presentation causing him to slam his open trap shut. He couldn’t help but wonder if the plate weighed more due to the small yellow-brown pool of indeterminate liquid encircling his meal. His face clouded with a grimace and he looked helplessly back towards Sam who returned the look after seeing his own wilted salad.

“You gonna eat that?” Sam asked curiously and eyed the lumpy potatoes and what had to be beef reheated ten times over.

Dean let his eyes linger on the swollen reddish brown littering Sam’s salad and offered his challenge. “Only if you eat yours, veggie boy.”

Sam stabbed his fork into one of the reddish circles spearing it and bringing it up to Dean’s eye level. “No way in hell that’s a tomato.”

“Dude, c’mon, this is supposed to be a steak.” Dean laughed, pointing accusingly at the shriveled meat. “I say we stick to places that have the words Burger and King in the name from now on.”

“Right, cause who needs arteries.” Sam scoffed and pushed his plate further off to the side to resituate the laptop, turning it towards Dean. “Okay, I think I got something.”

“You mean all this time you haven’t been scouring for porn? I’m disappointed, Sammy. I thought I taught you better than that.” Dean appeared chagrined, but a smirk broke on his face when Sam huffed in irritation.

Maximizing two windows on the screen, Sam almost pushed the laptop into his brother. “You know, not everything is about sex, Dean. Some people actually think of, oh hell, I don’t know, work maybe…”

“But do those people get laid?” Dean shot back, as close to serious as he could muster, cocking his head as if daring Sam to defy his reasoning. “Probably not.”

Sam rolled his eyes at his older brother’s insistence, and tapped the keyboard to redirect Dean’s attention. “Read.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean snarked, but he acquiesced anyway, albeit grudgingly. “Couldn’t you just tell me?”

“And deprive you of that big successful feeling knowing Hooked on Phonics worked for you?” Sam mocked, acting nothing short of appalled by the suggestion.

“You’re just mad ‘cause they failed you the first time, O king of the reading circle,” Dean retorted without peeling his eyes away from the screen.

“You can’t fail Hooked on Phonics, Dean.” Sam protested unnecessarily.

Dean’s eyes shone mischievously as he flicked his sight toward his brother quickly. “Well, that says something about you, don’t it, Sammy?”

Sam sighed heavily, “God help me.”

“Can’t right now. I’m busy…reading.”

The silver fork slammed into a wrinkled cucumber this time as Sam tried to ignore the fact that his brother had just likened himself to God and shook his head in disbelieving bewilderment. He noticed Dean’s cooling lunch had acquired a putrid smell as the minutes ticked on, and Sam waited rather impatiently for his brother to finish the articles he’d pulled up just so they could leave. Dean, however, was dragging out the process, he was sure, and his steady stream of ‘huhs’ and ‘okays’ were becoming more and more grating by the second.

“Are you done yet?” Sam crossed his arms over his chest, and offered a ‘you’d better be’ look for added measure.

“Yeah,” Dean drawled, his boredom with the articles more than evident. “Dude, what are you smoking? This is so not our kind of thing.”

Sam’s hands gripped the edge of the table. “Well, I think it is.”

“Want to know what I think?” Dean chirped but didn’t wait for an answer, “I think that you’re focusing too much on those “personal” calls. All that heavy breathing is messing up your brain, dude.”

“No thanks to you,” Sam muttered bitterly, spinning the laptop back to face him and reviewing his find.

“Whatever, dude, that Risa chick sounded pretty cool,” Dean joked and began to saw into the stiff meat prepared on his plate.

Sam’s eyes widened and his stomach lurched at what his older brother seemed ready to attempt. “Ugh, don’t, Dean. Just don’t.”

“I can’t get her number if it doesn’t look like I actually ate the damn thing,” Dean replied smugly and proceeded to spread the gooey white mess over the chipped plate.

“Someone dropped you when you were a baby didn’t they?” Sam asked with mock concern as he watched Dean’s apparently mastered process of looking like he’d eaten a full meal. “Would it kill you to focus for a second and actually concentrate on our next job?”

Dean snapped his head up, his eyes lit with resistance. “I already told you, Sam, that’s not our kind of thing.”

With a deep breath, Sam chose to blatantly ignore Dean and began reading aloud. “Dr. Larry Mills, a professor of Microbiology at Britannia College in Dale, Pennsylvania, was found paralyzed in his bed after attending a staff party the night before.”

“Dude,” the sandy-haired Winchester interrupted, his hands gesturing for Sam to fall silent. “Paralysis sucks, but that’s more like Dr. Quinn’s thing right?”

“Yeah, but how many 5K runners in perfect health just wake up paralyzed?” Sam asked incredulously, his forehead creased in thought.

Dean shrugged. “I don’t know. But it’s probably some freak medical thing.”

“Or some freak supernatural thing,” Sam offered with a grunt as he reached across the table and snatched their father’s journal. “It’s been almost three days and, according to this, the doctors have nothing.”

Dean surveyed his brother’s quick flipping of the journal’s well worn pages. “I’ve never heard of anything that could do something like that though.”

“Me either,” Sam agreed absently, and damn if he didn’t sound intrigued when he brought his head up from the binding. “All the more reason to go, Dean. Dad hasn’t called or left a message in a while, and it’s either this or a rumored-to-be-haunted chicken farm in Ohio.”

“I like chicken,” Dean assuaged with a smirk.

Sam closed the journal and gathered his stuff. “You never eat it.”

“Why would I eat something I like, Sammy?” Dean questioned openly, refusing to move from his seat.

“Oh, there’s logic for you,” Sam rolled his eyes and heaved an exasperated breath causing the long bangs adorning his forehead to lift slightly. “C’mon, you have to admit this is a little bit interesting.”

“Okay, maybe. But if this turns out to be an episode of Quincy M.D. you have to detail the Impala,” Dean bargained but it was to empty air because Sam was already halfway out the door before he even finished. Annoyed, Dean pursed his lips and dragged himself out of the booth’s bench, grumbling under his breath. “Paralysis. Yep, you officially lost it psychic boy.”


* * * *


The morning sunlight bathed the Impala in a harsh glow, turning the back of Sam’s eyelids from darkest black to deep, bright red as his head lay propped against the car door. With a slow yawn, the dark haired passenger blinked his eyes open, chancing a glance at the dash clock, the time shone by the dim numbers making him jolt up quickly in the seat.

“Good morning, princess,” Dean quipped, finishing off the rest of his coffee and setting the empty cup in the holder.

Sam stared dumbly at the blur of green outside the car window dotted with the occasional road sign. “Where are we?”

“Just entering good ole Pennsylvania.”

Sam rubbed the grit out of his eyes and groaned when Dean turned the volume on the stereo as high as it would go. “Do you have to do that?” he rasped, his voice thick with lost sleep.

“It’s Zeppelin, Sammy.” Dean replied, beginning his rendition of the Immigrant Song complete with drawn out scream. “I already have to turn it down when you sleep.”

And for that Sam was incredibly grateful, because in his mind good sleep consisted of minimum noise and no visions. If he couldn’t have one, at least he could get the other.

Leaning forward awkwardly in the front seat, Sam twisted his back and arched it until the desired trailing series of pops could be heard. With the lingering feeling of shifting bone along his spine, the younger man brought a hand to his jaw line and pushed, smiling when the same satisfying pop could be heard.

“That’s disgusting,” Dean muttered, his features furled in distaste, which Sam merely ignored.

Long legs curled up onto the seat, Sam maneuvered his body to rest against the passenger door frame to accommodate his gangly limbs. Fire burned in his knee joints, a reminder that he’d slept most of the way in what had to be the worse position imaginable, and he winced as he tried to situate himself comfortably.

“So how much longer we got?” Sam inquired, his long arms outstretched as he worked out his shoulders. “You want me to drive?”

“Close to two hours, I think,” Dean offered, shifting in the driver’s seat as if evaluating his condition. “Nope, I’m good for now. Maybe when we stop in Chesterfield.”

Sam raised an eyebrow in question. “What’s in Chesterfield?”

“Shane’s Photo Emporium,” Dean replied with a mocking laugh, but the expression shifted a little more to the serious side when he turned his sight to Sam. “You still got your student ID right?”

“From Stanford?” Sam asked, sounding more around thirteen than twenty-three. “Yeah.”

Dean nodded shortly. “Good.”

“What do you need that for?” The question held his nervousness. That ID was it, the last small piece of school he had, and Dean wasn’t going to cut it up. He just wasn’t ready to see that yet.

“We’re gonna need it.” Dean shrugged, ignoring his brother’s scrunched look of disbelief and turning the volume up to what big brother jokingly referred to as ‘eleven’ which nearly destroyed any chance of Sam hearing his last comment. “It’s a small school, they’ll know if we’re not in the professor’s class.”


* * * *


“Professor Johnson? Are you crazy?” Sam whispered heatedly, glancing back at the innocent gray-haired receptionist his idiotic brother had conned and fingering his old school ID, adamantly refusing to look at the forged copy in Dean’s possession. “You don’t know the first thing about Micro. Did you even take a science class? No way this is going to work.”

The fact that his concerns went completely unnoticed furthered Sam’s irritation. For starters, Dean looked nothing like a science professor. His tattered jeans and tight tee gave off the frat-boy grunge air, not the educated, lost within one’s own mind and benzene ring structure element that all science lovers conveyed.

At least the long car ride had succeeded in making his older brother’s hair slightly askew in the back, a staple of every professor in college science departments. They had that going for them. As well as the interrogation Dean had instigated about what Stanford’s rules and requirements for student TA’s were.

Sam had lots of things he wanted to confide about his college experience to his brother, but TA jobs weren’t even on the list, and had he not been born into the family Winchester, he’d have been disappointed in the strictly business, no fun time stories rundown.

Dean was fearless, he’d give him that. The cocky swagger that usually checked itself out at the door in any overtly educational setting was in full swing, and Sam couldn’t help but shuffle behind it. He had been a law student, not a science major and there was no way he could help his brother should the questions of legitimacy arise.

In fact, he could barely recall the one required Biology class he had been forced to take, and that was as general as a class could come. If Dean’s posture was due to little brother’s college experience, he was in for the let down of the century.

But the reality of the situation was that Dean had been right. The campus was nothing more than six buildings encircling a huge lawn littered by a few small study circles and text books. If Sam had to guess, he’d estimate that the student population couldn’t be more than a couple thousand seeing as they only had one dorm building, probably co-ed, and it stood all of about three stories.

Small campuses were notorious for that ‘everyone knows your name’ advertising and it’d be stupid to doubt it, especially in a case like this considering the amount of digging they had coming their way. Sam was beginning to wonder if he’d bitten off more than he could chew by bringing up this particular case, and Dean’s gung ho attitude wasn’t doing anything to quell the nervous churning in the pit of his stomach. This was so going to backfire.

“This is it,” Dean announced, halting his conquering pace in front of a small door leading into the department offices, and Sam had to lean back to avoid ramming into him. “And its student professor, okay?”

“Whatever,” Sam muttered, and scanned the office numbers grinning when he found their guy. “Dr. Mills. 205.”

Their entrance to the office area was signaled by the old door’s creak and a flood of chirping birds, why people couldn’t stick with the damn jingle bells, Dean would never know. Neither brother could escape the thick recycled air that reeked of stale cologne and the aesthetically displeasing aroma of formaldehyde due to the office’s great location next to the biology labs.

Both brothers were relived to find nothing but wide space where a secretary usually lurked, and took off down the first hall they came to, Sam directing their path. Halfway down, Dean was cursing under his breath at the campus numbering system as the brothers were forced to turn around and choose another avenue. What idiot puts all the even numbers on the same damn hallway?

“Way to lead, Sammy,” Dean drawled, smacking his brother lightly on the back of the head as they proceeded in the opposite direction. “There. On the right. It should be empty, yeah?”

“Should be.” Sam agreed but took a long precautionary look down the hallway nonetheless.

Dean fumbled through his jacket pockets, smirking coyly when he found the object he was searching for and crouched down in front of the lock. He hadn’t even inserted the metal before Sam was hitting his shoulder, a panicked look on his face. “Dean, get up.”

Older brother was about to inform Sam of how many ways he could lose that hand when a firm, sultry voice rang in his ears. “Can I help you, gentlemen?”

“In more ways than one,” Dean quipped, the corners of his mouth creeping up in Cheshire fashion.

“I bet,” The girl replied with an equally suggestive smile. Dean took a good long look at as he took her outstretched hand in greeting, loving every inch of the fit body, every curve accentuated beautifully by her tight jeans and golden colored, skin-hugging sweater that complemented her assets in the best possible way. “I’m Kinsey Martin, by the way. And you are?”

“You’re one of Dr. Mills’ TA’s?” Sam inquired, avoiding the question for the moment, and stepping forward. The motion officially startled Dean because hell if he knew the boy was still in the room.

Kinsey’s blue eyes flickered akin with amusement. “In case you haven’t noticed, this school isn’t that big. I’m more of a--oh…abused intern.”

“The doctor’s that bad, huh?” Dean questioned, taking to leaning against the wall in a position close enough to feel Kinsey’s body heat as the girl fumbled for the office keys.

“Oh, no.” Kinsey shook her head. “Just, well, science guys can get kind of testy when you deal with the research side of things.”

Dean smirked, pushing off the wall smoothly. “Well, not all of us.”

“I’m sure,” Kinsey laughed, finally shoving the correct key into the lock, and Sam had to bite his lip to fight the urge to join her.

Kinsey cracked the door open and took a step into the office. The brothers moved to follow, but as soon as she’d crossed the threshold, the blonde turned back around to face Sam and Dean, her thin frame resting slightly against the jamb. Sam and Dean instantly halted their steps. “I can’t let you in. Not until you tell me who you are.”

Sam’s lips parted and he fumbled slightly before beginning the introduction--well, lie-- they were using this time. However, a deep-baritone interrupted the exchange before he had even revealed their aliases. Three sets of eyes immediately turned towards the source of the interruption. They were met with a muscled, had to be a former lineman figure approaching with hurried, long strides.

The man looked less than happy to see a crowd outside Dr. Mills’ door, and more than furious about Kinsey’s fraternizing with the brothers. “Who the hell are you? If you’re reporters get the hell out.”

Kinsey hummed a sigh, turning a hard glare towards the man. “We were just getting to that part.” She shifted her attention to Sam and Dean, raising an eyebrow in waiting. They got the hint.

Sam outstretched his hand in greeting towards the lineman, a tight smile on his face, “I’m Sam Walker. I’m a student in the Micro. Program at Stanford, and this is Dean Johnson. He’s the TA for my upper level class.”

“Stanford?” Kinsey breathed, clearly impressed. “I spent a summer there working at Baxter Labs there working on the immunology project. It was amaz--”

“That’s great, Kins, really. We’re all happy for you.” The recent addition to their discussion interrupted tersely, his teeth grit tightly. “But that doesn’t explain why these guys are here.”

“We read about Dr. Mills’ condition,” Dean offered, doing his absolute best to maintain eye contact with his newly formed enemy. “I thought this would be an interesting case study seeing as I’ve done some work with sleep attributed disorders. Thought maybe I could help or be another set of eyes.”

Sam tried not to look shocked at the fact his brother sounded completely legitimate a brief instant ago, but he got the feeling he was failing miserably when scrutinizing brown eyes latched onto him. “Don’t look at me, man. He’s the professor. I’m here for the ride.”

“Actually, he has a term paper overdue,” Dean quipped, a classic annoyed authoritative tone every teacher in the world could convey with ease clouding his voice. And if Sam had to guess, he’d assume Dean did it so well because big brother had heard it more times than he could count.

“You should see my stack.” The brothers watched in slight amazement as the red fury faded from the man’s face, replaced by a calm, approachable smile, “I’m Nick. Sorry, ‘bout before. Just with all this…whatever it is, we’ve got a lot of people asking questions you know?”

The boys nodded sympathetically and Kinsey gestured for them to come into the office space, “We don’t have much.”

The statement could have been construed as true had it not been for the mass of papers, medical journals and articles sprawled haphazardly over every inch of the office. Dean whistled under his breath as he drew near the far wall, unable to help the instant connection his brain made between Nick and Kinsey’s idea of research and his father’s.

“So all this?” Sam mumbled, waving a hand around.

“Everything I could find on sleep disorders, deprivation…just everything. But they either don’t cover all the symptoms or don’t explain why the rest of his body is just shutting down. Initially we thought sleep paralysis, you know?” Nick rambled, wide fingers shifting absently through the mounds.

“His body’s shutting down?” Sam questioned, cocking his head in interest.

“Yeah, it’s weird,” Nick mumbled. “I mean, when I found him, it mimicked sleep paralysis in every way. But then, he never came out of it, and now, well…His organ systems are just shutting down one right after the other and he’s completely unresponsive. No talking, blinking—just almost, well, dead.”

Dean raised his eyebrows in thought. “And the doctors don’t have any idea what this is?”

“It’s not a virus, or bacterial infection,” Kinsey chimed in, shrugging her shoulders, “They don’t have a text book answer for this one. Unless it’s all in his head, which I don’t think it is.”

“Was he sick or anything before this happened?” Sam asked, taking a seat at the small side table and riffling through the documents there.

“No,” Nick replied, “We were at a staff party the night before. Everyone seemed fine. Basic party stuff—small talk, alcohol. Dr. Mills seemed good. Hell, I don’t think the man was even buzzed when he left which was why it was so strange that he didn’t show up to work in the morning. And when I went to check on him…well, you know.”

Sam nodded and sighed. This was turning out to be a ‘maybe Dean was right’ kind of job, and by the way his brother kept glancing at him with eyes screaming ‘what I’d tell you’, they both knew it. “Right.”

“Weird thing,” Kinsey noted, coming over to stand along side Nick, struggling to balance the stack of folders she’d accumulated, “is that you would think the doctors would have some clue, seeing as this has happened before.”

Dean’s smug look crumpled. “There are more?”

“Yeah,” Nick sighed, “I guess the doctor said he had a couple cases similar to this a few months back. They didn’t make it. But still, I mean, those guys, we looked them up, and didn’t even know them. Dr. Mills definitely didn’t know them.”

“How can you be sure?” Sam leaned forward in the chair, confusion written all over his face. This whole thing was weird—no other word for it.

“One of the guys didn’t even go to this school, and the one that did, wasn’t in any of Dr. Mills’ classes,” Nick informed and wiped a splayed hand over his face before his eyes flicked to the wall clock. “Dammit! Kins, we got class in ten.”

Instead of following a bolting Nick out the door, Kinsey lingered in front of the work table, her focus entirely on Dean. “I’m doing the lecture today. It’s on the organism groupings and Nick always thinks I do well. But I’d really love an outside opinion. If you wouldn’t mind…”

Dean’s eyes widened and he cleared his throat a few times. “Uh…well, Sam--”

“Oh, it’s okay,” Kinsey interrupted quickly. “You said you were here to help with the research, so he can stay here and do that. The computer lab is downstairs, and well, you see all the stuff we have all over.”

“I’m okay with that,” Sam spoke up, eyes sparkling with laughter, his mouth shut tightly to prevent indulging the emotion.

“Great!” Kinsey exclaimed with a Crest-worthy smile plastered on her face, “The class is an hour and a half so it’ll be a while.”

Sam could barely contain himself when a small audible groan from Dean met his ears but managed a response. “That’s fine.”

The blonde turned sharply back to Dean. “So, you ready?”

“Sure,” Dean replied. “Just give me a minute with Sam, here, and I’ll be right there.”

“I’ll be in the office lobby,” Kinsey informed them before exiting the room, and Dean heaved a relived sigh once she’d cleared the door.

“An hour and a half?” The sandy haired brother whined, although it was smothered by Sam’s roar of laughter at his expense. “Shut up.”

“Hey, you wanted to be the professor, Lussac,” Sam shot back, regaining some sense of composure. “You might learn something.”

“Whatever, dude,” Dean mumbled grumpily. “You better figure out what this thing is ‘cause I ain’t sitting through days’ worth of this geek crap.”

Sam chewed his bottom lip and darted a glance at the piles of loose papers. “It’s not going to be easy. I’ve never heard of something like this.”

“Yeah, me either,” Dean conceded, dropping his head in defeat but lifted it quickly with feigned resolve. “Okay, I’m going to go try to stay awake through Boring 101. You think maybe if I behave in class, the teacher will reward me?”

Sam groaned, shaking his head, and stretched out a gangly arm to give his brother a not so gentle push towards the office door. Dean feigned a stumble and begrudgingly left to follow Kinsey into the torture that was a lecture class leaving Sam alone with the mountain of inconclusive research.


* * * *


Thirty minutes into Kinsey’s exhilarating lecture on risk grouping systems, Dean was convinced that the rambling spew of scientific facts was directly proportional to the amount of sleep one would acquire during class no matter how hot the professor. As it was, the sandy-haired Winchester was struggling to keep his eyes open even after determining that Kinsey was smoking.

Letting out a small puff of air, Dean leaned forward in his small desk, resting his elbows against the faux wooden desktop, and allowed his bored eyes to wander around the small room. The classroom itself held about thirty people, most of whom looked vaguely interested in the topic, save the dark haired Nike wearing guy in the far back corner who at the moment was out cold, head resting against the back wall.

Dean considered chucking the outline Kinsey had so graciously passed out at the beginning of class at the kid simply because he could, and dammit if he wouldn’t give anything to be that guy right about now. But no way in hell he could with the rate Kinsey kept glancing his way, making eye contact before turning back to her notes.

At first, he’d offered a small smile and affirming nod, but now the constant attention was bordering on annoying, the wall offering a more intriguing game of count the painted cinderblocks. Dean reached a grand total of forty when the muffled notes of Back in Black rang out.

The sound was unmistakable and every head in the place began looking around for the source, laughing because Kinsey had stressed the cell phone rule at the beginning of lecture. As irony would have it, it was the TA’s blushing face and frantic search for the singing phone that brought the class into moderate hysterics.

A quick order for silence and a sharp look later, and everyone in class fell eerily silent as Kinsey flipped her phone open and took the call. While the class fidgeted in their seats, Dean studied the way Kinsey’s face looked all but drained of color, her eyes wide, and lips parted in muted horror.

 

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