Season Four

Episode Five: Blood At The Root

By calUK

Part One

 

There’s no warning.

No cries to break the peace of the crickets chirring in the dark until the door’s lying in pieces on the floor and the torchlight burns crazy shadows over the rough walls and the tattered sacks that hang between the beds.

Even that illusion of privacy, of humanity, is ripped away as they storm through the barn, rough hands and hard eyes searching, his name spat out as if it turned their stomachs.

There isn’t even time to roll out of his cot before they find him and lock hands around his wrists, as iron-cold as the bracelets that mark him and all the rest of the crowd that swarm up, try and swamp him, hide him in their midst.

He’s dragged through them, one elbow cracking hard against the packed floor, his arm going numb and tears springing to his eyes. He wriggles, cries out, but he’s dizzy, the world lurching from one side to the next as he’s carried, dropped, shoved stumbling over the yard and the lawns. The light streaming through the windows of the house flickers by, brief moments when he can see them in the dark, can make out their eyes in the shadows and his heart seizes up as he sees the blood-lust in them.

And then he fights harder, so hard his joints ache and his muscles burn as he squirms and twists and finally manages to drag one arm loose.

The adrenaline’s pounding through him, still, draining and energizing at the same time, leaving him shaky and furious and he swings his free arm, curls his fingers into a fist and lets the iron around his wrist power the blow. It smashes into a face, nameless and only vaguely recognized, warmth spurting over his hand.

Nameless staggers back, clutching his nose and gurgling curses. Through the gap in the bodies surrounding him, he gets a glimpse of another crowd, eyes wide and horrified, white against dark skin, spilling along their trail. Voices raise over the growls and imprecations, cry out in fearful indignation.

The head of the cane glitters as it fills his view, the lion’s head snarling before the night erupts with stars. He sags to the grass, curls in on himself, wraps his arms around his head as fists and heavy boots rain down and turn the world to jagged chaos.

He hears shouts, screams, wonders why his own voice doesn’t join them but clings to the sounds. They mean he’s still there, to be fought for, to be accused. He knows that it’s the silence he has to fear, because when the mob goes quiet it will be over.

Through the din of blood pounding through his ears he makes out snatches of what they’re saying, the rattle and clink of chains a harsh underscore.

“A girl, just a little…”

“Eho! É gbedé…”

“My niece and he…”

“Please, suh, jus’ lissen…”

A din gbawe! Nu gbo we ã!

“…worst kind of sin, she’s ruined…”

Vi sunnù! Eho, nu gbo…

“…only one punishment…a crime so…”

Blood trickles into his eye, hot and acid and turns the world red. He blinks, sees grass slither by, feels it coarse against his bare legs, against his side as the thin shift rides up his back. They’ve woven chains through the iron on his wrists, using the length to drag him along, bouncing and jolting across the immaculate lawns.

For a moment he thinks he can feel the sun on his face, turns his head up to it just as he did the morning before as he carefully trimmed the edges of this same lawn.

It’s the heat of the torches, flaring and sparking as they gutter in the breeze that stirs the leaves of the cottonwood trees on the far side of the grounds.

A ringing starts up in his ears, sets his teeth on edge and his stomach flips, rolls greasily. He can taste the congri they ate at dusk, bitter in the back of his throat, and swallows hard, pulls at the chains until the iron chafes through the thin skin of his wrists and blood trickles down his arms.

He tries to kick, tries to gather his feet under him, knows that if he can just stand he might have a chance and even life as a runaway, the threat of recapture and punishment, of maiming and feeling the bite of iron locked around his throat instead of his wrists, even that would be better than the cottonwood trees that are getting closer and closer with every shaky breath he sucks down.

The air’s cold, pluming in front of his face as he gasps out the names the shaman taught them in their stables after dark, Ogun, Yemaya, help me! Hopes the blood on his arms and face is offering enough for the Orishas, but the moon and stars are lost in the shadow of the cottonwood as he’s dragged underneath its spreading branches.

And then it’s quiet.

He hangs from pale hands, marked with bruises and scrapes, the world spinning around him as he sways on his knees and fights to lift his head.

One eye swollen shut, the other dark with blood, white gathering at the corners of his vision, he strains to see and his heart leaps once as he sees them, standing still and proud, dark skin almost lost in the shadows as they surround the tree.

The men holding him stir, uneasy in the face of such calm defiance. His lips twitch in a faint smile, cracking, fresh heat spilling down his chin.

At the back of the crowd, half-hidden behind shoulders and arms, a face he knows better than his own smiles back, tremulously, fearfully. Her dark eyes full of pain shared, so like his own the others used to call them Mawu-Lisa, the twins who birthed all the gods.

“Step aside.”

They flinch, start to move, instinctive response to the voice that commands them every day.

“Eho!”

It’s too deep to be her voice, but he sees his sister’s lips move, shape the denial, and they still, his family, by blood spilt together in the fields if not shared.

“Step aside, or I’ll see you all whipped.”

“Eho.”

She whispers it this time, no, and it’s still that low, resonant growl that pins them there, backs to the tree and won’t let them obey anything else.

Something flashes gold in the corner of his eye, the lion’s head that’s snarling in bruises on his cheek and he twitches away as far as he can as the tall figure strides to the front of the quiescent mob, stops beside him, too close.

“This boy committed a crime. Justice must be done.”

“No, suh. He wouldn'a do what ya say. No way.”

Someone else this time, a faceless call from the back of the crowd and the overseer stiffens at his side. He sees knuckles turn white around the lion’s head.

“You doubt my word? You call me a liar?”

“No, suh. Someone told ya false.”

There’s a pause, so long he finally dares to look up again, to hope.

Stand aside. Or you can join him on the bough.”

“Eho.”

But he can see them shift, can hear the way that growl is losing its power and he sees a few of them glance up at the branch, rope-scarred and waiting.

Somehow, he can’t find it in himself to forgive them as they drift away, one at a time until only a single, slight figure is left.

The tree trunk is wider than her shoulders as she presses into it, the overseer taking four long strides to crowd her against the rough bark. He gestures at the men holding the chains and they drag him forward again, a rope tossed over the branch, quickly fashioned into a noose and he can’t believe it, suddenly, wills himself to wake up from the nightmare.

The leaves of the cottonwood are still, the crowds, dark and pale, all motionless below as the rope burns his neck.

It’s silent.

* * * *

Bare branches sketched across the sky, tiny buds painted red as the rising sun caught the rain water soaking them.

The trees looked as though they’d been dipped in blood.

He blinked, frowned at the morbid thought.

Jeez, Dean. Creepy much?

The car rocked steadily beneath him, the low hum of the tires enticing him to shuffle further down in the seat. He gave in with a weary sigh, rolling his head along the back, leather warm against the short hair on the nape of his neck and felt his brother’s glance skate over him.

His jaw tightened on the angry snarl that crawled under his skin, the fist that was tucked down between his thigh and the door curling tighter until his nails dug into his palm.

Sam’s quiet huff was almost lost in the sound of the engine, and Dean’s anger evaporated as quickly as it had formed. He loosened his fist deliberately, one finger at a time, staring through the window as the sun came up behind them and threw shadows out along the road in front.

“Should hit Damascus in another hour or so.”

His brow smeared sweat across the glass as he nodded, frowned again and reached up to swipe at the mark with his sleeve.

“It’s pretty early. I figured we could get some breakfast; maybe see what we can find out before we head to a motel?”

“Sure,” he muttered, carefully noncommittal. He could almost hear his brother’s teeth grinding together and chewed at his lip, biting back the reprimand he was too used to giving. You’ll wear them down to stumps, Sammy. We’ll have to pull them all out and get you a set of dentures, call you Granddad. He almost smiled at the thought, from a time when “Sammy” didn’t earn him a scowl and a slam of whatever door was handy.

Rolling his shoulders stiffly, he stretched his legs out until his boots bumped into the wall of the foot well.

“You okay?”

He shot a look across the car, took in his brother’s eyes, tight and pinched, the way his hands tightened around the wheel as if he could strangle the spirit that had tossed the older man down two flights of stairs a couple of days ago.

The fact that the spirit had been aiming for Sam until Dean shoved his brother violently out of its reach and taken the brunt of its attack himself hadn’t exactly helped make the experience any easier for either of them.

“Yeah,” he answered softly. “I’m fine. Scratch that, I’m starving. Breakfast sounds good.”

The younger man smiled briefly, face lighting up, the tension around his eyes easing and Dean felt his own shoulders relax in unconscious echo. He stretched out a hand to the radio, grinned a little as his brother snorted and slapped it away.

“House rules, Dean.”

Pressing his lips together in a pout, the hunter settled back into the seat, head cocked a little to one side as Sam flicked through his collection of CDs and finally slipped one into the player with a smirk.

Dean groaned as a cheerful, light guitar solo rang out and clamped his hands over his ears.

“Dude! I swear I never woulda fitted the damn thing if I’d known you’d play this in my baby!”

His whine was drowned out as his brother warbled along to the vocals, a persistent half-tone out of tune and three beats behind, lips split in a grin the older man couldn’t help but mimic.

“Sometimes you call me your baby; sometimes you call me your man. You can call me anything you want to, babe, but just call me anytime that you can.”

He twisted, hiding a wince in his arm as bruised muscles protested the stretch, and reached into the back seat for his jacket, wrapping the leather around his head and curling into the corner with a grumble. Hidden, he grinned outright as Sam laughed and the engine roared a little louder and the music played on unaccompanied.

“’Cause I’m the one to see it through, at three o’clock in the morning I’ll be there for you.”

His smile tightened at the promise in the words, the leather suddenly stifling and he fought free of it, pressed his head against the window, trying not to let his brother see the shift in his mood as he watched the trees blur by on the other side of the glass.

Always on the other side.

He rolled his shoulders, remembered the way the girl the spirit had latched on to had looked at him when they’d first turned up on her doorstep, the way want had glittered in her eyes as he unlocked the Impala’s door for her and turned to disgust as they tumbled out of the cleansed house, battered and bleeding, job done.

The way she’d curled one delicate lip when he suggested going for a drive that last night and shrugged one tantalizingly bared shoulder, smile remote and automatic. Cold.

Nothing new.

He wondered if Sam still wished for Jessica, if he still dreamed of her the way he used to.

A sign flashed by, the name familiar from the pages of research his brother had shoved at him.

“Damascus, Alabama. Five people turned up dead on the edge of town. Cops think it’s some kind of serial killer. The way they were killed, beaten to death and dumped under this one tree… vengeful spirit maybe. ”

When he’d suggested that maybe, just this once, the cops had it right, Sam had just looked at him and tapped one long finger on the pages he’d barely even skimmed through.

“Coroner’s photos. They had exactly the same injuries, Dean. Same bruise patterns, same ligature marks on their necks. Exactly the same. No one could do that. No one human. ”

The cottonwood trees gave way to houses, red and blue roofs stark against the washed-out sky, only the faintest traces of night still darkening the horizon ahead of them. In the seat beside him, Sam muttered a low curse as they cruised down the street; the No Vacancy sign half-visible in the shadows in the window of the single motel.

Dean reached up, rubbed at the livid bruise on his cheekbone, murmured a reply to his brother’s sullen, idle anger.

“Dude, let’s just find somewhere to eat, okay? Check out isn’t for another couple’ve hours.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

He snorted softly, tipping his head sideways against the glass again.

“What?”

Sam glanced at him, faint irritation in his scowl matching the question. Dean shrugged.

“You were the one who was all gung-ho for this hunt, Sam. We’ll get a room next town over if we have to. Just take it easy, okay?”

The younger man looked at him for a long moment and finally sighed.

“Yeah. Looked like the diner back down the street was open.”

The black classic swung into the empty parking slots lining the sides of the main street, silencing with a rumble that echoed in the town and turned the heads of the few passersby.

Dean smirked, basking in the attention as he opened the door and shoved to his feet, the dull ache lingering in his ribs and shoulder easing. A quiet chuckle drifted over the roof of the car, his brother’s head shaking in the corner of his vision.

He set off for the diner, a familiar shadow falling into place at his shoulder with a yawn as they crossed the street. The hunter in him flicked a glance left and right, up and down the main drag of the small town. Twin rows of houses stretched to the edge of the forest, most small, patchy grass stretching from peeling clapboard and sagging porches to the sidewalk. Scattered among them were larger properties, freshly whitewashed, wide columns lining shaded verandas.

His eyes narrowed and he slowed, stopped in the middle of the street.

“Huh.”

“Dean? You tryin' to get run over?”

The older man slanted a look up at his brother, gestured at the deserted road.

“Unless the Delorean comes into town, I think we’ll be okay Sam. You notice anything about this place?”

Sam frowned, followed his gaze back to the houses and Dean felt him shift as he saw it.

Black ribbons, tied around the cottonwood trees in the yards of the larger houses.

“You think that’s for our vics?”

Sam hesitated, turned and looked back down the street behind them.

“Five vics. Five houses with ribbons.”

“Hell of a coincidence, Sammy."

“I’ll check addresses when we get inside.”

“So we got a ghost that’s, what, some kind of equal rights protestor?”

Sam shrugged, followed the shorter man as Dean strode towards the diner again, patting his growling stomach absently. He squinted in the morning sun, the brightening light making his eyes water, ducking his head to let his bangs shade them a little. He blinked at the backs of his brother’s legs, not really seeing them.

Not really seeing anything but the gut-wrenching sight of Dean disappearing into the stairwell with a yelp while he sprawled on the floor.

He’d kept hidden the bruise on his arm where Dean’s shove had sent him crashing into the edge of a small table, seeing enough guilt and hurt in his brother’s eyes lately to make the thought of adding to it turn his stomach.

Since he’d dragged the older man out of the church at Stull and they’d watched it disappear with their father still inside, Dean’s stare had been more carefully guarded than ever, the walls behind it shored up with hunt after hunt. He torched spirits, beheaded vampires with a reckless desperation that was only matched by the fervor with which he kept the younger man safe.

It was only in the downtime between hunts that the masks ever slipped, that he saw the raw ache his brother was hiding. Sam had searched, poured over every ancient tome he could, the echo of the days he’d spent trying to find a way to save Dean from the demon possessing him trailing goose bumps down his spine.

The bell in the diner rang jauntily, bringing him back to the present with a jolt as his brother shouldered through the door. The Winchesters hesitated just inside the large room, packed with tables and dark-wood booths lining the walls.

“Grab a seat guys. I’ll be with you in a sec,” the harried waitress called to them, peering through a cloud of steam behind a large, battered coffee machine.

Sam eased past his brother as Dean leered at her, weaving between the tables to a booth at the back of the room. He dropped into one side, back to the door without even thinking about it, leaving the opposite side for the older hunter. Slouching in the deep cushions, he yawned, narrowed his eyes to slits and gazed blankly at the wall.

He didn’t move when Dean slipped into the booth, slid a mug of coffee over the table to him and sat back with a sigh.

“Annie says the motel’s closed down.”

Sam let his eyes shut completely, reached out and wrapped his hands around the mug, letting the warmth sink into his fingers.

“There’s a few over in Warrior, ’bout eight miles away. She reckoned we’d get a room there alright.”

“’Kay,” Sam murmured, sipping at his mug, quirking an eyebrow as he tasted vanilla and creamy froth. He took another, longer gulp as Dean buried his smile in his own brew, slurping at it noisily, and wriggled further into the seat.

“I ordered already.”

The younger man nodded, rubbing at gritty eyes and hunching his shoulders until his spine popped. As soon as he’d stopped moving, the weariness he’d been holding off suddenly became all-consuming.

Dean grinned outright as he yawned cavernously, curling forward and folding his head down into his arms as he crossed them on the table.

“Wake me up when breakfast gets here,” he mumbled into the table top, letting himself drift to the muted sounds of his brother fidgeting, nails clicking out a rhythm on the battered Formica, one boot heel thumping a quiet bass beat on the floor.

He’d spent a lifetime falling asleep to the same lullaby and it never failed, no matter how rough things got between them.

Sam dozed off, slipped into dreams where fire flickered in the dark, threw strange shapes on rough walls that billowed and shifted. He knew he was sleeping but he couldn’t help the guttural cry that clawed out of him as hands grabbed his arms, his legs, dragged him kicking and flailing through the smoke.

Adrenaline ran hot through his blood, curling his hands into fists, lashing out with elbows and feet. But for everyone that fell away, there were two, three, four more waiting, blows raining down on his head and shoulders, one boot slamming into his kidneys and he arched away, crying out again as voices snarled at him, low and rough with fury.

In the middle of it, he heard something he knew instantly.

“Hey! Sam!”

What?

Dazed, hurting and confused he still recognized that voice.

Dean?

Flinching back from a blow that spilt blood down his cheek, he squinted, searching for his brother as something grabbed his shoulder and shook him until he blinked at a dark scrawl that looped across a pale, stained surface.

Slowly, as his heart thundered at his ribs, the curls cleared, resolved into shapes he knew.

W.E. + A.G.

“Sammy?”

He mumbled something that didn’t make sense, even to him and peeled his head up from his arms, still folded across the graffiti-scarred table top.

“You awake?”

Sam squeezed his eyes closed, still trying to shake the dream that clung to his thoughts.

“No.”

“Wanna skip breakfast?”

He peeled open an eye at that, gazed blearily at his brother through the slit. “You’re offering to miss pancakes?”

The older man tried to look offended, but the worry behind his pout shone through. “Hey!”

Shaking his head slowly, carefully, Sam eased back in his seat, sniffing at the smell of blueberries and maple syrup. “Nah. I’m good.”

He managed to fumble at his knife and fork, slice off a bite of the pancake and shovel it into his mouth.

It tasted like soggy, burnt cardboard.

Dean snorted, rolled the pancake on top of his stack and swiped it through the syrup spilling around his plate. Sam watched in horrified fascination as the hunter chewed contentedly on half the roll in one mouthful, grinning at his brother with blue-stained lips.

The younger man heaved a sigh, stirred his breakfast around on his plate and shifted uncomfortably under Dean’s scrutiny. The diner was quiet, so early in the morning there were just a few scattered locals sipping moodily at coffees in the booths lining the walls and it felt like he was the center of everyone’s attention.

“Sammy.”

He jerked in his seat; belatedly realizing he’d begun nodding off even as he squirmed under the weight of so many gazes.

“What?”

“Dude, I’ve been calling you for five minutes.”

“Sorry. Sorry, just tired, I guess. Long drive.”

He regretted it as soon as he said it, but couldn’t help his shoulders relaxing as the guilt that flashed through his brother’s eyes made him drop them. He didn’t protest when Dean reached out and snagged one of the shreds of pancake from his plate.

“You done?” the older man asked, already digging in his pocket for his wallet. Sam nodded, swallowing as his stomach flipped greasily at the ripe, sweet smell of the berries and syrup.

“’M gonna use the bathroom,” he mumbled, already sliding from his seat. “I’ll meet you outside.”

His brother frowned at him, called after him as he bolted for the battered door at the back of the diner, vision blurring, the world lurching around him. It felt like someone was drilling through the back of his skull, like he’d swallowed a handful of snakes that were churning in his stomach, and he staggered to the stalls, the slam of the door behind him detonating in his head as he hunched over the toilet and heaved.

Finally, he sagged against the graffiti-covered wall, barely stifling a cry when his back pressed against it and pain stabbed deep into his kidneys. Flinching away, curling forward he hissed as he pushed to his feet, a dull throb building across his lower back.

“What the hell?” he murmured, wondered briefly, idly about food poisoning and salmonella, shaking his head at himself as he shuffled out into the bathroom. He recognized the sullen ache, knew it for what it was.

Just a bruise from the hunt, that’s all. I didn’t notice before. Stiffened up in the car or something.

He twisted awkwardly, painfully, in front of the mirror, gingerly tugging his shirt up, eyes going wide as he saw the shadow that spread dark across his side. It curled around to his spine, faded into purple and blue around the edges of the unmistakable boot print.

That’s not from the hunt.

“Sam?”

Sam jolted at the soft call from the other side of the door, couldn’t remember how to make his tongue form the words in his throat, Dean, something’s wrong. That’s not from the hunt.

He was fixated, pinned in place by the dark print, staring helplessly at it, mind circling over and over, coming back to it again and again.

Not from the hunt. It’s not.

He heard his brother sigh, a soft rustle that sounded like someone leaning against the door.

“Okay, Princess. I’ll be at the car while you fix your hair.”

He choked, found his voice.

“Dean…”

There was nothing but empty space on the other side of the door, empty space and the black and blue boot print, burning on his skin.

It’s not from the hunt.

* * * *

 

“Okay, Princess. I’ll be at the car while you fix your hair.”

Dean waited for a moment, leaning one shoulder against the wall beside the door.

There was nothing but strained silence on the other side.

Rolling his eyes, the hunter shoved away from the wall and walked back to the table. Digging in his pocket, he tossed a few bills onto the table, gulped down the dregs of his cold coffee and rolled up half a pancake, munching on it as he headed for the door. He ignored the weight of eyes on him, the other patrons watching him pass. It was easier to do when he had his brother in his usual place, two paces behind Dean’s shoulder.

The door clicked shut behind him and he shivered once in the cool air, hunched his shoulders inside his jacket and strode across the parking lot to the Impala, tucked into one corner. Edging around the classic, he leaned against the side, shifted uncomfortably as the bruises on his back twinged.

The quiet street felt empty, almost deserted.

Lonely.

He dropped his head, lifted one hand to knead at the tension riding the back of his neck. A dull throb centered around the bruise on his cheekbone, thumped behind his eyes, and he closed them, listened to a car splash past on the wet road.

The pressure behind his eyes had been a steady, slight weight ever since the desert. Ever since the yellow-eyed version of Sam had started tearing him apart from the inside out. He frowned, dragged his hand around his neck, up over his jaw, his ring scraping against his lips. Leaving his dad there had felt like claws tearing at his insides all over again, the desperation to find John a wall between Sam and he that he couldn’t reach through. Sometimes, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to.

His brother felt like a different person now. Dean knew that what the Yellow-eyed...Sam had said to them still haunted his brother.

“Don’t be like that, Sammy. You might be from a different reality but we’re the same person deep down.”

Hell, it haunted him, left him feeling somehow off-balance. The shift in their roles didn’t help, the way Sam just seemed to want to throw himself into the hunt while all Dean wanted to do was search for a way to find their dad and fill the hollow that had lodged in his throat, drown out the echo that always followed him up out of dreams of choking, dangling helplessly in the twisted version of his brother’s mental grasp.

Take your brother and run. Now Dean, go!

He forced out a long breath between clenched teeth, felt a muscle in his jaw ticking, one hand curling into a fist at his side.

“Dean!”

The cry, punctuated by the glass doors of the diner slamming open startled him out of his daze, spinning so fast his aching back spasmed, locked up, sent him lurching into the car, one hand halfway to the pistol tucked into his jacket.

Sam bolted across the parking lot, eyes so wild Dean could read the raw fear in them from where he stood.

“Sam?”

“God, Dean,” Sam panted, stumbling as he neared the Impala and Dean didn’t even think as he limped stiffly around the car, reaching out for his brother, catching hold of Sam’s arms and steadying him as the younger man tripped again and almost went down.

“It’s not... from the hunt... it’s not. Dean, it’s not from the hunt!”

Dean blinked, ducked his head, trying to catch his brother’s roving gaze.

“You said that, Sam. What’s not from which hunt?”

“The bruise... it’s not... I don’t know...”

He quirked an eyebrow, tried not to feel like he’d just walked into the middle of a conversation but the younger man’s near panic was infectious, dragging along his nerves, making his mouth dry and his hands tremble.

“Sam, what the hell are you talking about?”

Sam turned to him, focused on him, pupils dilated and Dean winced away from the sour smell of bile on his breath.

“Damn, dude,” he muttered, started hustling his brother to the passenger door. Sam dug his feet in, brought Dean stumbling to a halt and twisted his arms in the older man’s hold until his hands caught at Dean’s wrists.

“The bruise on my back, Dean.”

He spoke clearly, precisely and something about it set the hunter’s teeth on edge, made his hackles rise.

“What about the bruise on your damn back, Sam? You’re not the one who got thrown down the stairs, remember?”

Sam huffed, let go of his arms to tug at fistfuls of his hair in palpable frustration.

“It’s not from the hunt, Dean.”

“Well, where the hell else is it from, Sam?”

Voice tight and clipped with more than a little frustration of his own, Dean finally managed to fold his brother into the car, hurrying around the hood and yanking open the driver’s door. Sam’s whisper stopped him in his tracks, halfway into the seat.

“I think it’s from my dream.”

“Come again?”

“I had a dream about...” Sam trailed off, shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I got kicked in the dream, and there’s a bruise on my back right where it happened.”

Dean gaped, dropped heavily the rest of the way into the seat. The younger man stared at him, wide-eyed.

“That’s... that’s just crazy, Sam.”

“I know!” Sam almost yelled, thumping one hand against the dash, the other reaching around to skim over his back. Dean watched him, saw the way his eyes crinkled at the corners, lips thinning as he shifted in the seat.

“Sam, it was probably just a bruise from the poltergeist, that’s all.”

He pitched his voice low, soothing, acting on instinct older than the distance between them. His brother was scared and hurting, and Dean couldn’t do anything other than try and make it alright.

“Your freaky mind just worked it into some random dream about getting the crap kicked out of you. Which is, admittedly, kinda twisted, but the dream didn’t give you a bruise.”

“It wasn’t there last night.”

Dean chewed back the retort that simmered in his mind, stuffed down the irrational irritation with his brother’s stubborn pout.

“Sam, you got pretty beat up by that ’geist. Between that and patching me up, driving here. You probably just didn’t notice one more bruise.”

Sam glared at him through his bangs, folded his arms across his chest, jaw set tight, and Dean almost growled.

“Come on, Sam. Think about it for a second. Which is more likely, huh? That you didn’t notice a bruise because you were already hurting and a little preoccupied with picking me up off the floor, or that you had a dream that somehow managed to kick your ass? Even in our world, that’s just buckets of crazy.”

The younger man didn’t answer, just sat there glowering at him, arms still... he looked closer, saw the way his brother’s fingers dug into his biceps, the way his elbows were pulled against his ribs. Arms still wrapped around him, like they were all that was holding him together, like they were the only defense he had against the world. Against Dean.

When did this—we—get so screwed to hell?

Dean deflated at the thought, reached out awkwardly for Sam’s shoulder, curling his fingers around it.

“Let’s just find a motel, okay? Get some sleep,” he murmured, felt his brother twitch under his hand and forced the irritation and disbelief out of his face. He smiled gently when Sam finally nodded, pulled back and twisted the key in the barrel, shrugging out of his coat as the engine roared to life. Tossing it at his brother, he grinned as Sam huffed, untangling himself from the leather, one flailing arm catching the older man in the side. Dean “oofed,” winced and rubbed at his ribs, flicking a mock glare at his brother as he turned onto the street.

Sam just ignored him, slumping down against the door, long legs sprawled out under the dash as he tugged the jacket up to his shoulders. Dean rolled his eyes, watched the road and quipped out of the corner of his mouth, “Dude, are you snuggling?”

Sam huffed and the older man smirked, flicked on the radio, static muted under the thrum of the tires as he spun through snatches of stations, settled on a whispery, crackly rendition of Freebird and beat out a rhythm against the steering wheel with his thumbs all the way to Colquitt.

* * * *

Something shaking his arm woke him from an uneasy doze. Sam blinked at foggy glass under his head, peered sleepily at a vague suggestion of cracked asphalt though the white.

“Sam?”

“Hmm?”

Behind him Dean snorted, the hand still gripping his arm gently turning to a fist that thumped him lightly.

“We’re here, dude.”

Sam frowned, shook his head a little, trying to clear the haze out of his mind.

“Where?”

“The delightful Star Motel, Colquitt, Georgia.”

“Oh.”

He could almost feel the eyeroll.

“Let me know when you’ve graduated beyond words of one syllable, huh Sam? We’re in room eight.”

Sam hunched forward in his seat, massaging his brow and trying to work the kinks out of his back. He heard a door creak open, felt a brief rush of cold air across his bare arms and shivered, tipping his head back to finally look outside.

A long, low roof stretched away on either side, dark gray tiles shading a narrow porch that ran the length of the building. Faded blue paint peeled away from the doors, a corroded number “8” crooked on the door in front of the car. Thin clouds muted the sun, turned the bleak building oppressive, almost ominous and Sam sighed, elbowed his door open with a groan that almost matched the screech of the hinges. A shadow passed over his boots, his bag thumping to the ground beside his legs and he rolled his gaze sideways, saw his brother bouncing a key in one hand, one duffel slung over his shoulder, the other dangling at his side as he strode to the room.

Tipping forward, the younger man snatched at the handle of his bag, almost face planted before stumbling to his feet, the old motel tilting dizzily around him for a moment. He grimaced, grabbed at his back as it throbbed fiercely and hobbled wearily after his brother.

Dean disappeared through the door, left it ajar behind him and Sam shuffled across the porch, caught himself against the jamb. Sucking in a breath of cold air, he pushed away, felt his brother’s eyes on him as the older man rummaged through his bag, dropped on the closest bed. A pulse of irritation cut through Sam, weary, unreasoning anger at the added distance he’d have to haul his own bag and his jaw locked tight, knuckles white around the handle of his duffel.

“Do me a favor, Sam.”

Dean’s low rumble made him start and he tossed back a sullen, “What?” over his shoulder.

“Grab a shower and pull that stick out of your ass.”

His bag thudded to the floor beside his boots as he whirled, hands curling into fists, eyes hot. He deflated as his brother shot him a tired grin, went back to unpacking, tucking his knife under his pillow, slipping his Colt into the drawer of the cabinet between the beds. Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Sam sighed, taking in the slump in Dean’s shoulders, the edge of shadows darkening his skin under his collar.

“Sorry.”

Dean shrugged, checked the load in a shotgun and propped it against the wall beside his bed.

“You’re tired.”

It sounded a little too much like it had when he was five, but Sam squashed the flare of anger and crouched, unzipping his bag. His breath hitched as he twisted and pain stabbed deep along his spine.

“Sam?”

“I’m fine,” he bit out, staggered to his feet, caught sight of Dean watching him across the beds. The older man huffed, edged around the end of the bed.

“Let me see that.”

Rolling his eyes, Sam turned, tugged at his shirt. He heard Dean whistle, low and heavy with sympathy.

“Jeez, Sammy.”

He winced as cold air stirred across his lower back, twitched away with a hiss when Dean pressed one hand against the bruise.

“What the hell did you land on?”

Clamping his jaw shut, Sam grabbed for his bag, sucking in air with a gasp as the movement stretched aching, sore muscles, half relieved, half annoyed when his brother lifted it to the bed. He slumped down beside it, elbows on his knees, heard his brother pace away a few strides, to the table and back again.

“I didn’t land on anything, Dean. I told you -”

“Yeah, that you dreamed it and it came true.”

“It’s not like that’s anything new, Dean!”

He looked sideways, saw his brother, silhouetted against the window, throw his hands out in palpable frustration.

“So now it’s a vision? Come on, Sam, no way. Your visions have always been about someone else, right? Why would that just change now? No.” Sam watched as the older man started pacing again, hands clenching at his sides, jaw locked tight. He bit off a sigh, couldn’t keep the snap of accusation out of his voice.

“Dean, the only bruise I got from that hunt was when you shoved me into the bookcase.”

“Well I’m sorry for trying to save your ass a trip down the stairs, Sam!”

Sam huffed, pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, frowning hard at his knees. Dean rolled his eyes, swung around at the end of his short circuit to face his brother.

“Look, Sam, maybe you fell or something and you didn’t notice.”

“It’s a bootprint, Dean. There weren’t any boots on that bookcase.”

Dean rolled his eyes, forced his voice to stay calm and level in the middle of the frustration pouring from his brother.

“Well maybe the poltergeist threw a boot at you or something. It’s a little more likely than you… spontaneously bruising, or whatever.”

“It wasn’t spontaneous, Dean. It was the dream.”

“Come on, Sam. That’s so thin it’s freakin’ transparent.”

Sam sighed, shoulders drooping.

“I know,” he murmured, finally peering up at the older man through his bangs. “It was so real, so vivid, Dean. It just… it felt like a vision, I guess. Kinda.”

“So it’s some new twist on your psychic gig?” His stomach churned as he spoke, the old fear stirring bile in the back of his throat now that the burning anger had subsided. I can’t protect him from that. I can’t look out for him when there’s nothing I can fight. He shook the thought off, stopped pacing, scrubbed one hand over his lips and sighed between his fingers.

“Look, I’m gonna head back into Damascus, see if I can find any intel on our five vics. Whatever’s going on has to be something to do with them, and if you’re right and they’re all descendants of the founders, there should be records in the library.”

Sam stood, wobbled, grabbed at the wall for balance.

“Gimme a second, I’ll come with.”

“Sam, sit down before you fall down.”

“I’m fine, Dean.”

Even as he said it, the younger man twisted and paled, his free hand lifting to flatten across his lower back. Catching the movement, Dean frowned, peered more closely at his brother. Sam was gray, dark circles shadowing eyes tight with pain and exhaustion as he wavered.

“Dude, get some rest, okay?”

“Dean, I should help you… research or something.”

“Sam, you’re exhausted, you’re freaking out. Last thing you need to be doing is staring at dusty books all afternoon. Seriously. Sleep, alright?”

Dean crouched, rooted through his bag, finally pulled out a chemical ice pack and snapped it. He tossed it over to Sam, watched from the corner of his eye as his brother fumbled with it before pressing it gingerly against his back. The younger man sank back onto the bed with a wince, the lines etched around his eyes crinkling as he moved. Dean tucked his Colt into the back of his waistband and snagged the laptop from the table, stuffing it quickly into its leather satchel. Grabbing the keys, he bounced them on his palm as he turned back and stopped dead, smiling at the sight of his brother, tipped sideways against the headboard, eyes sliding shut.

Chuckling softly, the hunter shook his head and strode to the window, drawing the curtains, casting the room into shadow. Slinging the satchel over his shoulder, he crossed to the door, glancing back once as he opened it. Sunlight streamed around him, stretched out across the floor, but it didn’t quite reach the bed, leaving his brother just a pale blur in the dark. For a moment, it seemed like Sam was unreachable, like there were a thousand miles between them and a shiver crept down his spine, fear he couldn’t place crawling under his skin. Swallowing hard, he almost stepped back into the room, almost drew the Colt from his waistband, a blind, unreasoning urge to stand between his brother and… nothing.

“Dammit,” he breathed, shaking it off, forcing himself to close the door, unable to stop himself ducking down and pulling a Sharpie from the satchel, scrawling a small charm onto the frame. Reassured, he lingered for a second, fingers skating across the grip of the gun against his back. Finally he shook himself and turned away, headed for the car parked two spaces down from their door. The familiar creak of the door as he hauled it open and slid in behind the wheel comforted him, the throaty growl of the engine reassuring, and he sighed, relaxed into the seat as he pulled away, turning north towards Damascus.


* * * *


The door clicking shut woke him, hazily, and he blinked at the dark wood under his nose. He took a moment to orient himself, tricks he’d learned over a lifetime of waking up in a strange room that had only taken weeks to relearn after Stanford. Faintly, he wondered if his brother even remembered what it was like to know without even looking where you were, wondered if Dean even cared that he probably didn’t.

Sam frowned at himself, shook the melancholy off, told himself it was just the weariness talking. Sniffing back a yawn, he rolled over away from the door, belatedly realized the room was dark, the curtains drawn tight against the sun, and smiled sleepily.

“Thanks, Dean,” he murmured, sliding down into the bed, cringing once as the bruise on his back pressed against the mattress. His blood ran cold for a moment and he swallowed hard against the memory of being helpless, of iron around his wrists and hands dragging him across wet grass, fists and boots raining down, thick voices growling at him, cursing him. His back twinged again, pain flaring deep and his breath caught, held against the burn until it faded into a dull throb. He yawned again, didn’t bother to cover it, just closed his eyes and waited to sleep.

In the dark behind his eyelids, something flashed, moonlight flickering silver through the clouds, glittering from a pale, bright blur that slammed into him and he bolted up with a yell, one arm raised in front of him. Panting, he stared wildly around the empty room, slowly convinced himself there really was nothing there and tried to steady his breathing. He sagged back against the headboard, licked his lips and ran his hand through his hair, yanking it back out of his face, his pounding heart settling.

Giving a half laugh, he shook his head.

“Spooked by a friggin’ dream.”

It sounded hollow even to himself. His hand trembled as he dropped it to his lap and he curled it into a fist, willed it to stop shaking. Easing round, he gazed at the window, curtains drawn tight, bright sunlight burning through the thin cracks around the edges. Squinting at the shadows, he guessed it was about midday, pushed out a long breath and pushed himself down in the bed again, burrowing into the blankets as a chill born of exhaustion stole through him. He relaxed, breathed out tiredness and closed his eyes again.

Stared at the dark.

And stared.

Finally, he huffed, flopped over, groaning into his wrist as his back hit the edge of the mattress.

“Sonofabitch…”

His eyes burned, weariness and frustration running riot with his emotions and he bit the inside of his lip, listening to cars outside on the road, the quiet in the room suddenly feeling empty and lonely. Rolling his head sideways, he stared at the window, watched the light shift, a shadow flickering past as someone walked by outside.

Slowly, by degrees, the sun crept closer until it spilled across the edge of the bed, warm on his eyelids as he closed them, drifted.

And then the light on his face was cold moonlight and a silver blur flashing in the dark.

Continue...

Translations:

Eho! É gbedé…No! He never…

Vi sunnù! Eho, nu gbo… My son! No, it’s not…

A din gbawe! Nu gbo we ã! It’s a lie! It’s not true!

 

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The Winchester Chronicles

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