Season Two

Episode Four: Measure of a Man

By Thru Terry's Eyes & Tree

Part One

 

1995 Pine Barrens, N.J.

The first punch of pain struck her earlier in the afternoon, a hard fist to her abdomen that stole her breath away as she was washing the dishes. Fear and excitement strangely combined, she knew this was the beginning of the end, which in itself was a relief. Nine months of waiting and worrying, of cravings and nausea, and of carrying around a belly that was certainly not conducive to good posture, sleeping or even breathing was finally culminating this day.

Now, several hours later, Elaine McGregor lay on the living room sofa writhing in agony. The euphoria of labor and the promise of soon meeting her firstborn were now lost in the sheer pain that coursed through her body. The contractions tore through her in one huge wave after another, so rapid in fact that she barely had time to catch her breath before the next one threatened to drown her. That they had waited too long to leave for the hospital was an obvious fact. But more than the procrastination and imminent birth, a nagging fear chewed at Elaine’s subconscious.

Stephan McGregor slammed the phone down for the third time in less than ten minutes. He also knew that they should have left for town long before his wife’s water broke, but the damn Lamaze instructor had insisted that first babies always took their time and that there was no need to rush. What the hell had that old biddy known anyway? He was willing to bet that she hadn’t had a baby since before the invention of electricity.

Elaine’s scream stole his attention again and he rushed once more to her side. Her face was bathed in perspiration and her brows were scrunched up as she fought against the incredible pain that was emanating from inside her. Looking closer, Stephan now saw the large pool of blood beneath his wife that stained the floral print of the couch. Something was definitely wrong: Lamaze class never mentioned any of this. Another scream from Elaine interrupted her rhythmic panting as she sat forward, grabbing a handful of Stephan’s shirt.

“Where are they,” she managed before collapsing back against the couch.

Her husband flew to the living room window, pulling aside the curtain fervently seeking the familiar glow of flashing red lights that signaled the approach of the ambulance. When only the darkness of the night met his eyes, he strained to hopefully pick up the telltale sound of a siren. Grabbing the phone, he frantically dialed 911 once more.

“This is Stephan McGregor again. How much longer will it be? There’s something wrong, the baby isn’t coming and my wife is bleeding badly!”

Elaine tried to listen to the one-sided conversation, but between the knife-like contractions and the pounding of her own heart in her ears, she could only focus on the sudden fear that covered her husband's face. She watched as he came to her, dropping to his knees on the floor beside her, the phone still at his ear. She could vaguely make out a voice coming from the receiver as Stephan listened intently.

“Okay, I’m here. What do I do?” he asked anxiously. The voice responded.

Stephan followed the dispatcher’s instructions, looking closely for any sign of the baby’s head. A brief smile flashed across his pale face and he excitedly voiced an affirmative into the phone.

“Honey, he says to push. The baby’s head is right there, but you gotta push!”

Elaine sucked in a deep breath and with more strength that she ever thought she could muster, she forced downward. Another scream, more panting and she tried again. And then again, repeating the process until her body was tingling from hyperventilation.

Stephan tried to look encouraging despite his feelings of helplessness and panic. He watched his wife with trepidation as first blood-matted hair and then a whole head finally appeared. Grabbing a nearby blanket, he held it there as Elaine pushed one final time and the baby was expelled.

Collapsing backward, exhaustion taking its toll, Elaine breathed more easily. Quickly regaining her composure, anxious to see her baby, she scooted upright, a broad smile covering her perspiration-soaked face. Short-lived, the smile rapidly faded, replaced by concern as she watched her husband. Stephan sank limply to the floor, his arms still holding the small, ominously quiet bundle. Panic gripped her, and Elaine moved to the edge of the sofa, straining to see.

“Is he okay? Why isn’t he crying?” she pleaded.

Stephan remained silent, unable to tear his eyes away from the object in his arms. Blood covered the blanket, his arms and hands and even the baby, but he was too numb to even consider cleaning it up. As he watched the little newborn wiggle within the cotton swaddling, he fought down the bile that was rising in his throat.

Elaine pushed closer to her husband, reaching out to tug at his sleeve, forcing him to turn towards her.

“What wrong?” she asked, her voice trembling with dread.

As Stephan’s body twisted towards her, she caught the first glimpse of her baby. Her hand flew to her mouth, stifling the scream that threatened to escape as her mind fought to process the visage before her.

As the sound of the approaching siren drowned out the strange mewling sounds of the tiny baby, new mother and father could only stare in horror at the cruel joke nature had played on them.

 

 

* * * *


Present Day – motel room – Cincinnati

Dean reached out to turn off the weak drizzle of the shower, changing his mind at the last second and turning off only the cold. He stood there letting the hot water run over him for a moment, barely registering the burn of it against his skin. No matter the temperature, he always felt cold lately, ever since—

He made a disgusted noise and reached out again, shutting the water off with an angry jerk. Stepping out of the tub he grabbed the thin, scratchy towel off the rack and roughly dried off his body.

As he did so, his eyes roved over his skin, disturbed by the fact that despite the brutality he had experienced from Haris’ servants over what had been his nearly week long time in hell, he was remarkably recovered. The only sensation was the bullet wound he had taken through the shoulder at his father’s hands, now no more bothersome than a strained muscle. At least physically.

He yanked on his boxers and ruffed his short, ragged hair to get the excess water out of it.

Finally, reluctantly, he stretched out the towel and rubbed the fog from the mirror over the sink. He glanced at his reflection. The sudden shift of blackness that slithered over his eyes, obscuring the familiar green, was so fast it might not have happened. Dean looked away, knowing it had.

Feeling sick, his hand closed over the amulet hanging around his neck, darkened now to almost the same black as the cord it hung by.

He closed his betrayer’s eyes, not wanting to see that blackness again. Wondering how long he could keep that darkness coiled inside him under control. The battle raged constantly, the demon within him howling and clawing for release. Dean kept reinforcing the barricades but knowing that, despite his desperate efforts, if they couldn’t find a solution to this nightmare, time was against him. Slowly, but inexorably, the barriers would give way, crumbling under the relentless assault of the demon within him.

What hurt the most was the knowledge that Sam no longer trusted him. He might say he did and act like he did, but Dean was now an unknown quantity and he knew Sam couldn’t afford the luxury of trust. He would deny it if asked, but Dean couldn’t blame him. Hell, he wasn’t sure he could trust himself.

But it still hurt.

Dean gripped the amulet tighter, lifting his eyes once more, daring himself to meet his reflection in the glass. Feeling anger boil up as blackness danced across his eyes once again, taunting him.

I’m still here…

Dean’s fist smashed the mirror before he realized what he was doing. Broken mirror cut into the skin of his knuckles and blood dripped onto the dirty sink.

“Shit!” he swore, cradling the injured hand in its mate, not surprised at the sudden knocking on the door.

“Dean?” Sam called out. “You okay?” He didn't wait for Dean to reply before opening the stupidly unlocked door and coming in.

Sam took in Dean’s bloody hand and the smashed mirror in one quick glance. Sam didn’t need to say it for Dean to know what he was thinking and his face must have shown it because Sam quickly forced the panic from his face and replaced it with an expression of general concern.

“Your hand’s bleeding,” Sam said, gesturing.

Dean grimaced. “Slight difference of opinion with the mirror.” He forced the grimace into a smirk. “So you never heard of knocking? So desperate to see the body all the chicks fight over, you just burst in?”

The thin humor Sam recognized for what it was, a weak attempt to divert him from his fear of Dean losing control. Of losing Dean.

“Lemme help you…” Sam said quietly, reaching out.

Dean straightened, moving away. “No,” he said quickly, a flash of a smile to go with it. “It’s no big deal, I got it.”

They looked at each other for a long moment, then Sam nodded. “Fine, well…hurry up then. I got some stuff that might interest you. Maybe a new hunt.”

Dean lifted his eyebrows and nodded back. “Oh, good.” He dabbed at his cut knuckles with the towel he’d dropped on the floor. “l’ll get dressed and be right out.” He looked over at Sam briefly and then turned back to the smashed mirror.

Sam’s tongue drifted over his lips and he nodded shortly again. “Okay.”

Dean closed his eyes, dropping his head and sighing as the door closed behind Sam and the latch clicked into place.

 

 

* * * *


A Week Earlier – Pine Barrens, NJ

“Beep-beep! Watch out Davey, you’re gonna hit my truck.”

“No, I’m not. Move over, quit hogging all the toys. I had that one first!” the blonde-haired boy shouted back, launching a fist-full of sand at his older brother.

“I’m tellin’ Mom!” the older boy cried out, blinking rapidly as he wiped the offending grit from his eyes.

A split second pause and the two boys were back to playing again, laughter filling the back yard, a sibling’s transgression forgotten in the desire to have fun.

The creature observed the exchange from its position just at the edge of the woods. It had carefully crept closer and closer to the backyard, intent on the two children playing in the afternoon sunshine. Normally, it never chanced coming in so close to humans, especially during the daylight, but ravenous hunger had driven it today.

It had watched humans before, especially enjoyed the small ones, so much more accepting of his presence than the bigger ones that usually screamed or tried to hurt it. Never before though, had it ventured so close as it had today. Hovering at the edge of the tree line, obscured by the taller grass and bushes, it maintained its position as another voice sounded.

“Boys! Come and eat. I made some cheeseburgers for you.”

“Aw mom, we’re playing” the young brothers whined in unison, reluctant to move from their sandbox and toys.

“Okay, okay, I’ll put your lunch on the picnic table, but don’t go feeding it to Shadow,” the woman instructed, a knowing smile broadening her face as the dog looked up in response to its name.

The creature lifted its head, sniffing the air as the smell of the cooked meat wafted on the afternoon breeze. It licked its chops, mimicking the large dog that was also eyeing the ignored meal. Hunger was a powerful motivation, instilling boldness that overrode caution. Stealthily, the creature edged even closer to the backyard, its dark predator’s eyes flicking back and forth between the children, the dog and the house.

The distance between the relative shelter of the forest and the plastic Little Tikes picnic table wasn’t far, but it was all in the open, no cover, and no means of escape except to turn and scuttle back into the woods. Then there was the dog, chained to a nearby doghouse, no telling how far the leash would reach. The creature hadn’t survived for so long by ignoring potential threats to its existence, and the pet was definitely a threat.

Still, in the creature’s food-centered mind, the gnawing deep inside was in overdrive, survival instinct kicking in and driving the animal brain. It inched slightly closer to exposing itself, its face expressing something that could have been a smile had it not been for the pointed and yellowed incisors that peeked out or the saliva that began to trickle from the corners of its maw.

As the small boys played, blissfully ignorant of the thing that lurked so close by, the creature stepped out of the wooded cover. Just then, the breeze shifted ever so slightly and the black lab lifted its head, testing the air for the hint of the foreign scent that had just caught its attention.

The dog’s ear’s pricked up and a low growl began in the back of its throat. Muscles tensed and bunched as its eyes caught the hint of movement at the forest edge.

The creature took another step out of its cover just as the black lab lunged from its crouched position. Snarling teeth and raised hackles rushed in a black blur towards the creature. Survival instinct kicked in and the creature twisted in mid-stride and disappeared back into the green foliage.

The dog’s second lunge was powerful enough to snap the small chain links and its momentum carried it into the woods in pursuit of the creature. From behind it, the two boys dropped their toys and had simultaneously begun yelling for their dog and their mother.

The creature tore through the underbrush, seeking nothing more than escape from the snapping jaws that were nearly upon it. As it dodged behind the trunk of a large pine, the dog anticipated its quarry and moved around from the opposite side. The animal sprung from the ground, powerful hind legs launching it at its prey. The dog’s jaws clamped onto a flailing appendage of the creature, teeth piercing its hide and locking in as the creature loosed a horrifying scream that radiated throughout the forest.

Reacting in fear and pain, the creature slammed the dog into the trunk of the nearest tree, once and then twice, until the dog’s broken body released its hold. In anger, the creature lifted the dead carcass of the family pet and threw it viciously into the backyard where it landed with a sickening thud at the feet of the little boys.

As the children screamed in horror the creature watched from its place of cover for a moment more. Hunger still gnawing, but pain now dominating that need, it turned away and moved silently back into the deeper forest, the greenery swallowing it up as though it had never been there at all.

* * * *


Present Day – Motel

Dean sat on the edge of the bed, absently massaging the knuckles of his right hand which still throbbed, reminding him of the basic law of nature that states that flesh and bone is generally not an equal of glass and drywall. He ignored the pulsating burn as he always did, focusing his attention on his brother seated across from him at the motel room’s standard issue table.

Laptop open, Sam’s fingers glided over the keyboard, pausing occasionally to lightly touch the built-in mouse pad. He worked the computer like a pianist would tease beautiful music from a baby grand and Dean was always impressed at how well his brother could so effortlessly tap into the limitless information contained on the Internet.

“So, you caught some story on Unsolved Mysteries about a woman and her kids that spotted a bear in their back yard?” Dean asked skeptically. “That’s your big, ‘hey, I’ve found a hunt’ announcement?”

Sam shot his brother a scowl that also said “be patient” and then turned the laptop screen to face Dean.

“It’s not just that single sighting Dean, there have been dozens around the area over the past few months. Every one of them with a similar description of a creature or something that has been rummaging through trash, killing pets, and stalking in the shadows around the homes in Pine Barrens, New Jersey.”

“Pine Barrens?” Dean repeated, eyebrows raised, his interest suddenly captured.

“Yeah, Pine Barrens,” Sam replied as Dean leaned closer, his eyes now intently focused on the laptop’s screen.

After a moment Dean sat back shaking his head. “You’re thinking the Jersey Devil aren’t you? There haven’t been any serious sightings in over fifty years.”

“That’s not true Dean, look here!” Sam said excitedly, swinging the laptop back around, his fingers flying once more over the keys. Dean rose, coming to stand behind Sam’s shoulder and peering down to see what his brother’s search revealed.

“See Dean, sightings in 1951, two boys in Gibbstown said they were chased for nearly a mile by a winged creature, snarling teeth, saliva dripping from its jaws. 1991, a women in Leeds says she saw a creature ripping apart her German Shepherd in the back yard. She said the creature had yellow eyes, a white face like a horse and long teeth. 2001, a pizza delivery boy breaks down on Lakehurst Road and is attacked in his car by a large winged creature. Look at the picture of the car, Dean. Seems like something clawed it up pretty good.”

Dean stood upright, stepping back and sighing deeply. This was thin, even by his standards. For a moment, he considered that Sam was just trying to find some way to distract his older brother, that tempting Dean with a hunt would somehow erase the constant reminder of the demon inside him. Maybe it was even Sam’s way of trying to erase how badly things had gone with Laura. Whatever his brother’s motivation, Dean wasn’t buying it.

Shaking his head, he strode back to the side of his bed, his hand once more caressing the tender skin of his right hand.

“I dunno Sam, the sightings are all different, the descriptions don’t always match. Besides, the Jersey Devil lore goes back to the 1700’s. It can’t possibly be the same creature all that long and hell, other than some scattered tracks, there’s never been one shred of physical evidence,” Dean stated. “It’s probably just some wild animal from time to time that gets too close to some yuppies’ backyard picnic. I mean, come on, supernatural creatures do not rummage through trash looking for food. They break into houses and eat little kids,” Dean finished, tilting his head and forcing a sarcastic smile.

Sam looked up at his older sibling, unable to hide the look of astonishment that was plastered across his face. He couldn’t believe that he was trying to ‘talk’ Dean into a hunt. When had his brother ever turned down the opportunity to search and destroy? Wasn’t it always the other way around, Sam being the resistant voice of reason while Dean chomped at the bit to take on whatever ghost of the week life had in store for them?

But maybe that was old Dean. Dean before the possession had been dead set on destroying evil anywhere and in any form. Dean after the possession maybe didn’t have the same deep-seated desire to destroy one of his own.

No! No way! Sam thought to himself, immediately forcing away any thought that his brother could have changed or been swayed by the demonic presence within him. Still, how could he not be different after everything he’d been through?

Sam quickly regrouped, determined to make his case.

“I know that the lore behind the Jersey Devil is prolific but vague, but Dean there is a bunch of documented sightings in 1909, the whole ‘Week of Terror’. Night after night, the creature was seen by dozens of folks; decent, respectable people that corroborated each others stories. Besides, there’s one other piece of the Devil lore you should know,” Sam continued.

Dean looked up once more, the hesitation and seriousness in Sam’s voice drawing his attention as surely as flames attracted moths.

“Yeah, what’s that Sam?”

Sam took a deep breath before continuing, the next piece of the legend chilled him to the bone the first time he read it and its effect was not lessened now as he prepared to repeat it.

“One of the stories about the origin of the Jersey Devil says that the widow Shrouds made a wish that if she ever had another child it would be the devil. Supposedly, she did have another and it was deformed, but that wasn’t the interesting part.”

Dean came around the edge of the bed and plopped down into the chair opposite Sam. His deep sigh was audible and the look on his face said "go ahead, I’m bored but listening". Sam ignored him, but inwardly he was becoming exasperated by his brother’s behavior.

“Well, this one website says that not long after the child was born, the widow’s house caught on fire and burned to the ground. No one saw the old woman ever again or the child, but Dean, what if it somehow connects to the other kids like me? Maybe even way back then?” Sam asked, eyebrows knitted together, his green eyes clear but reflecting the pain that constantly haunted him about his ties to Haris and the demon’s plans for him.

Dean shook his head, unable to believe that Sam would so easily make that huge leap in logic. He knew that his brother was preoccupied with finding out what the demon had planned for him "and all the children like him", but to imply that Haris had been at work over three hundred years ago in New Jersey of all places, well that just seemed like a stretch to the older hunter.

“Sam, are you listening to yourself? Why in the hell would Haris be after kids way back then? Dude, I’m telling you there is no connection between the Jersey Devil, if the creature even exists, and that bastard or you,” Dean stated. “Besides, if the damn thing does exist, its never killed anyone, at least that’s ever been documented. If it’s managed to survive this long, then I say leave it alone; we shouldn't hunt it down and kill it just 'cause people saw it and got scared.” “I haven’t hurt anyone! Can’t everyone leave me alone too?”

Sam slammed the laptop closed while rising to his feet, his face suddenly red with frustration and near anger. “I can’t believe you, Dean!” he shouted. “Why don’t you want to check this out? What the hell has gotten into you?”

As the words slipped out of his mouth, Sam saw the immediate reaction in his brother as Dean visibly flinched, his head dropping down, his eyes instantly hidden.

“What a stupid bastard I am!” Sam thought to himself. “Gee Dean! Just in case you forgot in the last five minutes that you had a demon stuck inside you, your dumb-ass brother has to go and remind you.”

“Dean, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it the way it came out,” Sam stammered, coming to stand beside his brother, his hand automatically reaching out to make contact with Dean’s shoulder.

An instant before fingers touched the fabric of his shirt, Dean pushed up from the chair and deftly twisted out of Sam’s reach. He moved quickly to the side of the twin bed and began tossing yesterday’s dirty clothes into his duffle, eyes remaining downward, carefully obscured by long lashes and the turn of his head away from his brother.

“Dean, I’m really sorry,” Sam offered again.

“No problem, Sam,” Dean replied dryly.

“It is a problem Dean. Look, I understand …”

“Understand?” Dean interrupted shouting. “How could you possibly understand Sam? Do you have a demon stuck inside you?”

“No, but …”

“No! You don’t! You don’t have to listen to the damn thing scream inside your skull every waking moment. You don’t go to sleep wondering if you’ll wake up the next day and be yourself or something … else. You don’t spend every last drop of energy trying to keep the son-of-a-bitch locked in some remote corner inside of you. And you don’t have to worry every friggin' second that if you don’t control the thing that you might hurt someone!” I might hurt you!

Dean finished, his chest heaving from the emotion contained in his outburst. He glanced up at his brother only briefly before his head moved downward once more. “Don’t look at my eyes Sam. Please don’t look!” But the glance was long enough for Sam to see the desperation and weariness contained in the hazel eyes.

Softer now, Dean continued. “I know you don’t trust me Sam. Hell, I don’t even trust myself anymore. It’s getting harder and harder to control this thing. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out.” His shoulder’s sagging, Dean dropped to the bed, running a shaking open palm across his face.

Sam closed the small space between them and plopped down beside his despondent brother. He knew implicitly that anything he said at this point would be rejected by Dean as surely as the physical contact had been moments before. Still, Sam knew he had to say something. Was he worried about his brother? Hell yeah! Dean could be intimidating enough under normal circumstances, but having seen his brother in full-on demon mode take on Haris and fight Laura had truly scared Sam.

“Dean, you’re my brother, and I trust you. I’ve trusted you all my life and I trust you with my life. You didn’t hurt me in the chamber and I know you won’t hurt me now, not ever,” Sam said sincerely. He watched as Dean absorbed his words, hopeful that he could bring some manner of encouragement.

Dean met his gaze, studying Sam’s face, looking for the hint of uncertainty and fear that he knew his brother felt. He had tried to brush off Sam’s extra watchfulness over him since leaving Bobby’s, he’d even overlooked the questions that always bordered on asking if he was in control or not. But the one thing Dean couldn’t ignore was the apprehension in Sam’s face every time he looked at his brother.

“Sammy, you never could lie worth a damn dude,” he replied finally, the corners of his mouth turning upward into a smile that couldn’t remotely cover the agony he felt at knowing that his baby brother was afraid of him.

“Dean …” Sam began once more, ready to refute the implication.

“Come on Sam!” Dean interrupted again. “You want to go to New Jersey and look for some trash eating, dog mauling, pizza-delivery dude terrorizing creature, then what the hell. Let’s go! Not like there’s anything more exciting on the agenda.”

Stunned at Dean’s sudden acceptance of a hunt that he had opposed so fervently moments before, Sam sat, mouth gaping in silence as his brother shut down the conversation in true Dean Winchester fashion.

Watching his brother as he resumed packing his meager belongings, Sam inhaled sharply as the briefest flash of black cascaded over Dean’s eyes then reverted just as quickly back to green.

“I do trust you Dean, but I can’t trust the thing that’s inside you,” his mind whispered.

 

 

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