Author: krisomniac / Chrissie Hynde
Warning: Gratuitous sparkler fighting
Author's note: ~3000 words. Spoilers through AHBL 2. A thousand thanks to k. for the beta and for telling me it didn't suck too hard. This one was surprisingly hard to write, and I agonized over it far too long.
Summary: The Fourth of July is not a relaxing holiday.
A lonely sliver of moon hovers overhead while the sun slips below the horizon. The manicured lawns of Hillcrest Road are lit by flickering tiki torches on tall bamboo rods, mosquito candles on picnic tables and porch lights shining into the darkness. The sounds of beer-bubbled laughter and conversation drift from the scattered groups of picnics and parties, over the white picket fences and into the road.
"And you never wanted to go to one of these when we were kids?" Sam asks suddenly. His habit of picking up a conversation Dean thought died hours ago is especially annoying tonight.
"What, and baby-sit the neighbors' brats? Wave stupid paper flags?" Dean grunts, "No thanks. Save suburbia for someone else." He brushes aside the memory of a humming lawnmower under a window box of bright red flowers, glimpse of blonde hair from the kitchen inside. "They're stupid parties, anyway," he adds after a moment's thought.
"Right." Sam walks ahead with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his jeans, scanning the house numbers in the semi-darkness, then stiffens--the silhouette of his shoulders too straight, too tight--when a round of firecrackers bursts somewhere behind them.
"Look, I wish you could've had better," Dean begins, "but--"
"That's not what I--" Sam shakes his head and glances back, frustrated. "We could stay and watch the fireworks, after it's done at least."
"You really don't get it at all, do you?"
They continue to walk in silence.
Dean listens to the high-pitched squeals of two children--they can't be more than six or seven--chasing each other around their yard, waving glow-sticks and noise-makers, the family's little dog yapping at their heels. He's struck by how happy they seem, half-smiles at them, and walks quickly past.
They come up to a line of cars parked in the grass along the edge of the road, the gathering up ahead larger than any they've seen so far.
"I think this is it." Sam checks the name on the box against a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He walks a few steps before turning around. "Dean! Did you hear me? I said, we're here."
"Yeah, great. You see this, though?" Dean runs his hand along the smooth paint of a convertible parked at the curb, red paint bright even in the dusky evening. "You know what this is?"
"Old car," Sam replies, deadpan.
"Old car? Sam, this is a '57 T-bird. Do you know how few of these are left?" He bends down to run a hand along the fender, kneels to watch the hubcaps glinting in the night.
"I'm sure you do." Sam only half-hides his smile. "No joyriding." He comes back and grabs Dean's arm. "At least until after we kill this thing."
He doesn't have to add that they have no idea whether this thing can even be killed, that they don't even really know what they're hunting, but they're running in blind because Dean said they should. He says it in the set of his shoulders, the purse of his lips. Dean ignores them both; he's tired of chasing demons, of dreaming about black eyes and fiery pits, he wants a clean kill, salt and burn, a break from demonic omens and interrogations and a search that's going nowhere for all that.
And for once in his life--to Dean's silent relief--Sam lets the old, endless arguments lie.
"If you're right, we've got less than an hour before it shows itself."
Dean clenches his jaw. "Look, I know this isn't what you want to--"
"Doesn't matter." Sam drags him another step forward. "Two sightings in forty-eight hours, all these people here tonight; it's coming again."
The house is three stories tall with lights in the windows and lanterns strung across the lawn. It's white with green shutters, surrounded by flower beds and tables; thick hedges separate it from the neighbors' properties and there's a bright blue pool in the back yard.
"You must be-- Wait. Don't tell me." The woman looks Sam and Dean from head to toe. She's wearing too much eye-makeup and the bright, condescending smile of a queen bee in her hive. There's more spray in her hair than hair, and her sweater is layered in red, white, and blue sequins. "Barb's cousins, from the Cooper side!"
"You've got us." Dean opens his arm for a hug, winking at Sam over her shoulder. "Sam and Dean… er… Cooper."
"I knew it!" She waves her wine glass proudly. "Never forget a face." Then she takes them, one on each side, and leads them towards the crowd of people. "Now let's get you boys fixed up with some food. I'll make the introductions."
"How do you like Fourth of July parties, now?" Sam whispers under his breath.
Grinning, Dean follows Mrs. Hairspray to the picnic tables out back.
The yard is huge and lush, an expanse of green sloping down from the house and pool. The neatly trimmed grass is cool and dewy underfoot, right up to the edge of thick brush that borders the lawn. There, at the bottom, just past Sam's dark silhouette, the hill falls off so steeply it looks, from where Dean's standing, like they're perched at the edge of the world. The whole town and lake are spread out before him, hundreds of feet below. Somewhere out there, he knows, something evil is hiding.
Sam looks up at the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Whew, never thought we'd make it out of there," Dean says around a mouthful of potato salad.
"Never thought you would, anyway--not while there was still any food at the buffet."
Dean may not be the most perceptive of men, but even he can see Sam's twitchy tonight, at this party, on this case, around this crowd of strangers. Sam takes a deep breath, eying Dean's heavily laden plate. "You ready for this, whatever it is?" he asks, kicking a clump of grass on the ground.
"Dude." Dean swallows his salad. "Gimme some credit."
"Because I think we're wasting our time, Dean, and if you're more interested in the food than--"
"Sucks to hunt creepy-crawlies on an empty stomach."
Creepy-crawly is the best description they came up with for the thing stalking this suburban neighborhood, stealing stray cats and anyone else who wanders too far from home. It's no demon, no refugee from hell. They think it was a spirit born of accidents off the hilltop road, violent deaths and missing bodies, but there's no corpses they could find and no way to learn more. They've tracked its movements, to this house, this night, but all they know is that it's hungry.
It's become real, ready to feed, but if it has a body, Dean pointed out, that's all they need to kill it.
"Look, I get it." Sam stares back at the party, at the families laughing and drinking at waiting for the fireworks to begin. "But this?"
"Just because I couldn't say no to Aunt Betty's guacamole, and cousin Irma's potato--"
"They're not your cousins."
"They loved me."
"They've never met you before in their lives."
Dean shrugs and takes another bite of white, creamy potato. He glances at his wrist watch. "Almost time."
"Great. Let's get it over with."
"Hey, kid, got any more of those?"
"You're too old for sparklers."
"Yeah," the other children echo.
Dean only smiles. "I may be too old," he says, "but you see my brother over there?"
"He's the world sparkler-sword fighting, uh, federation champion."
"No such thing."
"Cross my heart," Dean says. "I bet he'd give you a demonstration, only he doesn't have anything to fight with tonight."
Before Sam can say 'bad influence', the kid has stuffed a sparkler into his hand. Dean reaches over his shoulder and pockets three or four more when he isn't looking. Better to be safe, he figures, and you never know when combustible metal sticks might come in handy.
He tosses his lighter to Sam, who catches it easily, flips the lid, and touches the dull, grey stick to its wavering flame. Sam's sparkler lights.
After the first two strikes and second singe of sparks grazes the corner of his eye, it occurs to Dean that Sam's pissed for real. Sam's sparkler swishes past his ear a moment after Dean leaps to the side, landing off-balance in the tall grass at the edge of the lawn. The children are watching eagerly, cheering--he's not sure if it's for him or Sam, or if it even matters.
"Dude," he hisses. "What's your problem?" He stumbles and catches his footing as Sam advances again, towering just uphill of him. Dean's hit by the sudden realization that only Sam could make a wavering party favor look so damn threatening.
"My problem?" Sam asks, advancing again. "My problem?" The sparks leap and crackle in his hand. "I'm not the one who has a problem, Dean. What I can't figure out--" He whips the sparkler wide; Dean raises his wrist and unlit one to meet it. "What I can't figure out is why you're taking us on these stupid witch hunts instead of trying to solve it."
"I--" Dean's words are cut off as the sparkler in his hand lights off of Sam's. Just as well; he lunges forward and they circle warily, watching the white glow in each others' faces. "Whatever this thing is, it is definitely not a witch."
He's pretty sure Sam's rolling his eyes.
It isn't that he doesn't want to answer, not that Sam doesn't deserve one. But every time they start to search, every time he sees a way weasel out or break his word, he sees Sam laid flat under the cold moonlight, blood on his lips, chest still. So he finds the nearest rumor, hunch, whisper of a hunt, and follows it, chasing the things that hide in the dark until the image fades from the back of his eyes. He knows enough about hell. And there are some things he can't explain, even to Sam.
"You know what I mean." Sam's never been good at accepting his bullshit. He thrusts and parries, and there's a gasp from the audience of children as Dean ducks below the sparkling blow. "You can't just give up--"
And then it's Sam leaping away from Dean's offensive. Dean scowls, forcing them towards the bushes at the back of the clearing. Below them, the world is spread out past the sudden drop of the hillside.
Sam raises his hands; the sparkler is nearly spent, sputtering its last gasp. He stands, chest exposed, and shrugs, dropping the blackened twist of metal on the damp grass. When he looks back up at Dean, he's a kid again, wide-eyed and scared. "You haven't even tried…"
Dean shivers and swallows, pausing to take a deep breath if night air. "I--" can't, he thinks, but before he can say anything Sam will believe, he catches a whiff of something not right, scent of grave dirt and old decay on the night breeze. "Hang on."
Sam smells it too. Turning to face the unknown, his questions and pleas are suddenly--if temporarily--forgotten. He tucks low and turns towards the bushes at the crest of the hill.
Dean sees them both at once: the silvery glint of moonlight on sharpened claws through a gap in the leaves, and the cluster of wide-eyed children wondering how this display is going to end. Silently, he curses himself for leading them down here.
"Guys, watch out!" he calls, waving them what he hopes is a safe distance from the creature lurking in the bushes. "It's almost done."
He feels in his back pocket for the last few sparklers and pulls them out, touching them gently to the one dying in his hand. They light with a whoosh of sucked-in air. Step for step, he matches Sam's retreat towards the brush, the creature's musk stronger the closer they get. Slivers of light fly off the sparkler to land on his wrist and hand, but if they burn, his blood is pumping too hot to feel it.
Sam opens his hand just in time to grab the sparkler Dean's shoved at him.
They had spent the better part of a week trying to figure out its weaknesses, following it from place to place-- it's born of the things that die and rot in the ditches by side of the road, looking for light and life to feed on, sharp claws and teeth, always hunting.
"We could just burn it," Dean says, quiet and low.
It's as good a plan as any, and they're just about out of time.
It smells of old leaves and matted flesh; Sam wrinkles his nose. Branches rustle as it shifts its weight from side to side, waiting.
Dean lifts his sparkler to see its eyeshine in the glow, a flash of iridescent red in the dark.
Ready? Sam mouths.
Silently, Dean nods.
No matter how many times they do this, his heart still thuds against his chest. He glances back at the ring of expectant faces behind them and hopes to hell this plan's gonna work. They aren't going to get another chance.
The new moon appears from behind a cloud. Pale sliver, and the creature stills in its meager light.
Together, they leap. It's a brief flurry of fists and claws. Legs and arms and rotting limbs. Whatever this thing is, it's no spirit, solid and gritty in Dean's hands. Sam hisses as it rakes his arm, then Dean is on its back, wrapped around its bony shoulders, holding on as it bucks and writhes beneath him. He's pissed now, and stubbornly holds on, losing track of time and direction, hoping Sam's made it clear of the razor-edged nails. It shines dull and rusty brown in the last of the glow from the sparkler in his hand.
Dean twists his wrist and angles the last bit of flaming metal into the creature's eye.
They stumble, and he drops to the ground, looks up, disoriented, while the creature advances. Sam is behind him, steadying weight of his hand on Dean's shoulder.
It's nostrils flare, teeth bared in fury as it claws at the fiery stick piercing its right eye. The glow passes deep into the center of its skull and-- "Sam, run!" is all the warning Dean has time for as it begins to erupt in a fiery display, eerie green light and foul smell erupt from its pores.
They emerge from the brush, scratched and bleeding with leaf-litter strewn through their hair. The children are cheering.
Behind them, something blows.
They stand at the edge of the lawn, overlooking this small edge of the world, while the last foul remains burst and bubble, exploding in a rainbow of greens and shining white light. The children who stayed to watch are ringed, wide-eyed and safe behind them.
Dean finally exhales.
"How's the arm?" Dean settles down, straddling the bench of a picnic table out of the way of the festivities, only half-surprised that not one of the adults at the party seemed to notice the recent display on the lawn. He pops the cap off a bottle of beer and sets it in front of Sam, then opens another for himself. It's some microbrew, 'Lone Beast' stamped ironically across the label, but Dean figures it's as good as anything.
"I'll be fine." Sam shrugs, wincing. He stares off into the dark.
"You can drink that you know."
Dean raises his eyebrows. "You drink this stuff at Wussy State?"
"Jess had a thing for microbrews."
He says it so quietly, just a fact, a thing that was. Something twists uncomfortably in Dean's gut.
They sit in silence, listening to the peals of laughter as a crowd of children plays swordfight with their sparklers, carving white lines across the night. They'll never knew how close they came to the flashing claws and razor teeth, and the thought makes Dean a little proud.
"No one tried to kick you out for disrupting the party?"
Dean shrugs, watching the condensation run down the side of the bottle. "Thanked me for distracting the kids." This was a night for strange lights and loud noises. The beer is hot in his blood, heady and tired in the wake of the fight, and part of him still can't believe they won. "Sparkler to the eye," he says, "Who'd've thought."
"You." Sam sips his beer thoughtfully. He opens his mouth to say more, and Dean braces himself for a Talk. "About earlier--"
There's a boom overhead that they feel in their bones. Throughout the yard and the neighborhood, faces turn towards the sky.
"Show's starting," Dean says, though he doubts even fireworks can derail a patented Sam Winchester heart-to-heart when it's trying to come out.
"Yeah," is all Sam says, and his silence is almost more disconcerting.
The next round of fireworks is red and green, loops and stars, sunbursts that float to the earth in glittering rings. He tries to find the words Sam needs to hear, I'm sorry, I had to, Some things even you can't change, considers them carefully, and discards each.
"I just… want things to go back to normal," he finally says between fireworks, but the words sound stupid the moment they're past his lips. Normal died, burning on the ceiling a lifetime ago, and wherever they drive, the aftermath follows, a giant clock, pendulum swinging slowly over their heads.
Dean forces a smile. "Well, for us, anyway."
Sam nods, avoiding his eyes.
"She said she'd take it back," Dean says suddenly. "I mean, if I tried to get out of the deal."
"But you can't just--" Sam sets his bottle too forcefully on the table as a green sunburst blows above them. "Give up."
"I won't. You know I won't." He clenches his jaw, trying to swallow the sudden knot in his throat. "Sam, these hunts are just…"
"Yeah, I get it." They watch the fireworks in silence for a while. "You know this display isn't bad."
Dean nods. It's easy to get lost in the deep rumble of the fireworks and the ohhh's of the crowd, colors that burst across the sky and drift lazily down. "What's say we put it on the list of places to crash next year?"
Sam swallows audibly. "Yeah," he finally says. "Okay."