At first I was afraidRecipient:
some reference to possession with its attendant issues around consentAuthor's Notes:
This was a very late delivery so I would like very much to thank the mods for their understanding and my beta denugis for being willing to sit down and read this lengthy fic many weeks after I originally asked for her help. I had a great set of prompts so I have no idea why this took me so long to write! But I love Summergen and I'm so glad I could participate again this year.Summary:
Three months after Michael leaves Dean's body, Sam wants to take on a case.
Michael didn’t eat. Angels don’t. By the time Sam and Cas rescued him, Dean hadn’t so much as scented a cheeseburger for four months. Now he’s been binge-eating for almost three. He finds himself waking hungry in the night, making his way to the kitchen on socked feet like he used to, sometimes, as a teenager ravenous from growing. There was rarely anything in the fridge in those days; the leftovers of a takeout from the night before, the congealed remains of whatever exotic macaroni he’d been making last. Things are a little better now, and he’s thinking as he walks down the corridor of the lasagne that they didn’t finish last night.
The kitchen is dark, of course; but when the light flicks on it reveals Sam at the table, solid and silent and huge. Dean jumps half out of his skin.
“Christ, Sam, warn a guy,” he says.
Sam has his back to Dean but he half-turns towards him, enough that the ski-slope angle of his nose is outlined in light. “I didn’t exactly know you were coming.”
Dean, right now, is not light on his feet. He’s surprised Sam didn’t hear him. He’d have thought-- but he lets that one slide and crosses past his brother to the refrigerator. “You want anything?”
“No, I’m good.” Sam has the coffee pot beside him on the table. It’s empty.
“You need more coffee?”
Dean scoops himself a generous helping of lasagne, looks at the plate and adds another half a scoop. He sits down at the table opposite his brother and begins to eat. Sam wrinkles his nose. “Dean, would it kill you to close your mouth?”
“Don’t see why it bothers you,” Dean says through a thick mouthful of cheesy sauce. “Not like you can--”
“It’s disgusting,” Sam says, clipped. He stands up, coffee pot in hand, takes three steps to set it on the sideboard and turns towards the door.
“Hey, man, don’t be like that,” Dean says. He swallows his food. “I’m sorry. That was a dick comment.”
“Yeah,” Sam says. He hesitates, his fingertips resting on the sideboard, before he steps forward to sit back down. Dean’s not sure whether he’s pleased or not. He is pleased. It’s just that things have been weird since he got back. Sam has a beard now, for one thing.
“You not sleeping?” Dean says.
Sam laughs. “When am I ever?” He taps his fingers across the edge of the table. “No. I did wonder, with Lucifer gone, but no.” He raises his head. “Neither are you.”
“Yeah, well,” Dean says. “I was hungry.”
At least Jack seems to be sleeping okay. One of them should be all right, after all of this.
Sam clears his throat. When he speaks his tone is artificially light. “I, uh, I found a case.”
“You found a case?”
“Yeah. You know, like a job. Work. The way that we occupy our time.”
“All right,” Dean says. “Simmer down, princess. You found it where?”
“Online,” Sam says, in a tone that doesn’t invite questions. (Dean has questions.)
“What kind of case?”
“It’s in Montana. People are turning up calcified. They’re saying it’s some kind of snakebite.”
“Okay. Tell me again why that’s not a job for the wildlife service?”
“Tell me again what snake turns people to stone?”
“Stone snake,” Dean says vaguely before tailing off. He’s not super-up on his biology. Sam’s always been the nature nerd. If Sam thinks it’s a case, he’s probably right. But there are a lot of parts of Dean that don’t feel great about taking a case right now.
“If you’re not ready,” Sam says.
Well, that’s a reliable button to press. “Of course I’m ready.”
“Great, then. I’ll tell Jack when he wakes up.” Sam’s jaw is set in that stubborn line familiar from a lot of not-quite-fights. Usually Dean would rise to it with a snarky remark. He’s not sure they’re there quite yet.
“Actually I, uh, I’ve been doing some research of my own.” It’s true. He has almost as many books in his bedroom as Sam does. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes at night he feels like he can’t breathe.
Sam raises his eyebrows. “On what?”
Carefully, without looking at his brother, Dean scrapes the last of the lasagne from his plate. He chews it and swallows it, feels the refrigerated chill at the back of his throat. “It’s a ritual, actually. Healing ritual.”
“No,” Sam says. He pushes back his chair and stands up. “I’m going to bed.”
“Come on, dude,” Dean says. “At least listen to me.”
“No,” Sam says. “Absolutely not, no.”
“A year. One year, it would take, Sam, and then you could see again. Isn’t it worth it?”
“It wouldn’t work,” Sam says. “My eyes are dead, Dean. Everything. Back to the brain.” He shakes his hair back from his face and turns towards the light. It illuminates the shiny pink skin of the starburst scars in Sam’s eye sockets, the pearly white of his eyes. Dean can’t stand it. He drops his gaze to the table. “Look at me,” Sam says, with a strain in his voice. “Get real, Dean, okay?”
“It’s my mess,” Dean says. “I need to fix it.”
Sam draws in a long, slow breath; then he pushes his chair back under the table and walks to the door. He stops once he gets there, his hand clutching the frame. “It’s Michael’s mess, or my mess; not yours. And I don’t need fixing. Let it go.”
Here’s the thing: Dean is no good at letting go. That’s why he’s still got the same box of cassette tapes he’s been playing in the car since Dad gave it to him when he was 18. It’s why he’s been making the same jokes for the last twenty years, taking the same shortcuts and ordering the same meals from every shitty takeaway in the lower 48. And it is his mess. Sam doesn’t get to take that away. Dean thought he could make a deal with an archangel-- thought he could keep Michael reined. It was dumb and it was arrogant and it left Sam blind. Sam can’t cope with being blind. He likes to know everything. Seeing is part of that. So Dean needs to put it right.
“We should leave early tomorrow,” Sam says. “Good night.”
Sam gets it. Dean isn’t good at fucking up. Well, he’s pretty good at fucking up, at that part of it, if Sam’s honest. What he’s less good at is the aftermath. Something about apologies seems to scare the shit out of Dean. He’d always rather slide past it, move on. Failing that, he takes on too much responsibility, a weight of it so big that it threatens to crush him, and labours under it conspicuously until everything somehow becomes about how to get Dean to stop feeling so guilty about shit he didn’t even do. The stuff he did
do gets lost in the static. “I’m sorry,” that just doesn’t happen. “It’s my mess,” instead.
The bunker is big. Sam can negotiate the major routes pretty well by now, but he’s stopped straying off track. There are rooms in the bowels of the building he’ll never go into. Probably half of the place he calls home he’ll never even look at. There’s a metaphor in that.
When he gets to his bedroom, he turns on the television. He’s not watching anything, or whatever you’d call it. He used to have a night light. This is the next best thing. The darkness he can cope with, mostly, but darkness and silence together can be too much. It leaves him floating. And so the TV.
He still doesn’t sleep.
He half-expects an argument with Dean in the morning but this case seems to come under the heading of Things Dean Is Letting Sam Have. He takes a wrong turn on the way to the garage and spends ten minutes blundering around the hallways, so he gets there feeling grumpy and on edge, but Jack greets him cheerily enough and Dean grunts, at least, before slinging Sam’s bag into the trunk of the car.
Sam gets into the passenger seat and Dean eases the car up the ramp to park it outside the Bunker, then runs back to get the garage door. When he comes back to the car he doesn’t start the engine. Instead, they sit there in silence while Dean tries to frame whatever it is he has decided to say.
“We’re going to go right past Sioux Falls. You wanna look in on Jody and the girls?”
“No,” says Sam.
“That would be great,” Jack says at the same time from the back seat. “I want to see Claire.”
Dean doesn’t usually give much of a shit what Jack wants, but of course he takes this moment to take Jack’s side.
“Exactly,” he says. “It would be good to see them, see all of them. Right, Sammy?”
“Don’t you mean let them see me?” Sam says drily.
Dean huffs out an exasperated breath. “Come on, man. Fricking Jody. What do you think, she’s gonna judge you? She’s gonna feel different about you? Alex is a nurse, man, she sees this shit all the time.”
“Great,” Sam says. “So she can do without me.”
“Why can’t we go and see them?” asks Jack.
“Yeah, Sam. Why not?” Dean says.
Maybe Sam is doing Dean a disservice. Maybe he isn’t intending to drop Sam off - probably drop Jack off, too - and drive away while they’re at dinner to deal with this thing on his own. Maybe he wants some emotional support, a hug. Jody is good at those. And Dean was possessed for four months. He probably needs a hug from someone. God knows he hasn’t touched Sam since he got back. It’s like Sam’s infectious.
Maybe Dean just wants to unburden himself, to tell Jody his woes. It doesn’t seem likely.
“Let’s just press on, okay?”
“Will you just leave it
, Jack?” Sam snaps. He feels bad immediately. He’s been on the wrong end of Dad’s tongue enough times in similar situations: wanting to stop and say goodbye to a friend before they pulled out of town; begging for a pit stop with Bobby or Caleb or Jim, a night in a house with a proper kitchen and a bedroom he and Dean didn’t have to share with Dad. Jack barely spends any time with people his own age. He likes Jody’s girls. It’s not his fault.
He can practically hear Dean’s eyebrows rising, but at least his brother doesn’t push the point any further. Instead, he clanks the car into gear and cranks the stereo loud, pulling out to start the long drive up north.
When the music is at this volume, Sam can’t hear what Jack is doing on the backseat or what Dean is doing next to him. He’s able to orient himself only through the soft leather of the Impala beneath him and the air coming in through the window, the scent of it and the temperature on his skin. He might as well be alone. The feeling is unsettling, but he’s not about to mention it to Dean. He’s fine. He leans his cheek against the cold glass of the pane.
Dean nudges him and the music dips momentarily. “You got to have the window open?” he says. “I’m freezing my nuts off, here.”
Sam tightens his lips and rolls up the window, tipping his head back against the glass. The thrum of the engine climbs up through the pane and into his skull, vibrating. He can see the shape of the Impala in his mind’s eye but everything around her is fuzzy, like static on a television. She could be driving through space.
The drive to Montana takes thirteen straight hours. They stop three times for food; once in Nebraska, once in South Dakota and a final time just as they cross the state border into Montana. Dean fuels up on coffee every time. Another inconvenience: Sam can’t drive, not even the boring stretches on highways which Dean used sometimes grudgingly to cede. One driver. It’s not good. Sam was teaching Jack for a while, during Dean’s absence, but Dean still thinks he can fix Sam’s eyesight. He doesn’t want to plan around it. And whatever he says about it, he still doesn’t really like Jack. So, one driver.
On the third stop, Jack says to Sam, “Will you buy me some snacks?” Sam’s pretty sure he’s only saying it to get Sam out of the car. Dean is not known for his snack-related discernment. But when he stops to think about it, he realises that his legs are aching and his back is tight, so he follows Jack obediently into the gas station and holds out his credit card at the appropriate moment. They pay for the gas, too, and buy some food for Dean as well as the coffee.
“Thanks,” Dean says shortly when they get back to the car. As they drive away, he turns the volume down on the stereo for the first time since Kansas.
They stop, finally, at the Big Timber motel outside Colstrip. Dean gets them a room on the ground floor, which Sam appreciates. Stairs are still a complication. It smells like every other motel; laundry soap and air freshener and mould, stale cigarette smoke still clinging to the plasterwork.
“Got a triple,” Dean says, and Jack takes Sam’s hand, leading him across the room to show him the bathroom door. Once Sam has the room layout established in his mind, he sets his bag down on the bed nearest the window. No sense crossing more floor space than he has to. Dean and Jack are both getting better at remembering, but he doesn’t altogether trust them not to leave their boots out on the floor, and he could do without sustaining any more head injuries for a while. The last time he got badly concussed, the doctor had asked him if he had a history in contact sports before making disturbing noises about CTE. Sam can just about cope with being blind. Losing any more of his cognitive function might tip him over an edge.
Sam’s pretty sure Dean’s out tending the car when he takes the opportunity to apologize to Jack. “I didn’t mean to snap at you,” he says. “We can probably go see Claire soon.”
“That would be great,” Jack says, seriously. “Thank you.” He’s quiet for long enough that Sam thinks that’s it, but then he says, “I’m sorry that I upset you.”
“It’s okay,” Sam says. “Really, it wasn’t you. It was--” Dean, he’s going to say, but of course it wasn’t just that. Everything.
“It’s okay,” Jack says.
“I know,” Sam says. “But you’ve been-- you’re really patient with me, Jack.” More than patient. Thoughtful. Considerate. Kind. The least he can do is offer patience in return.
The air turns cold. Dean’s in the doorway. “It’s late,” he says. “You want to hit the bar?”
“Oh, yes.” Alcohol is still a novelty for Jack. Sam might have drunk a fair amount during the months they were looking for Dean, but it wasn’t social drinking; late-night whiskies that he tried to kid himself might be soporific. He’s trying to make sure Jack sticks to beer.
“Not for me,” he says.
“Come on, man,” Dean says. “I can’t drink with just the kid.”
“Sure you can,” says Sam. “I’m tired.” He is, bone-tired. Nowadays it’s like everything takes twice, three times as much effort; once to do it, once to do it without falling over or hurting himself or breaking everything around him, and, last and most exhaustingly, the additional layer of pretending that it’s easy, that he’s got everything under control. More to the point, drinking is another nudge into unreality. Sam’s down one of his senses. He needs to keep the others in hand.
“Whatever,” Dean says shortly. “Come on, Jack.”
“Um,” Jack says.
“Or don’t.” The door slams.
“You can go if you want to,” Sam says. “I’m only going to sleep.”
“Have you got everything?” Jack says. There’s a rustling sound and then Sam feels a toothbrush being pressed into his left hand, the plastic give of a toothpaste tube against the palm of his right. There’s water running, somewhere, and then the clunk of glass on wood. “Your sweat pants are on the bed.”
Sam would object to being babied but he’s too exhausted and grateful. He follows Jack to the bathroom, brushes his teeth, and waits until the kid has left before he takes a piss and gets into bed. There must be a television in the room, but he forgot to ask Jack to find him the remote control. It’s okay. The motel is just off a busy highway and he can hear cars passing by. That’ll have to do for white noise.
Dean’s already a whisky and a half into the hole when Jack appears at his elbow. For a moment he’s irritated. There go his chances with the chick behind the bar. On the other hand, he’s been drinking alone for weeks now so this is probably a positive change. And there’s a certain easy satisfaction in getting the kid drunk. It makes him think of the time, years ago, when he used to do the same to Sam; drag him to a bar when Dad was out of town and surreptitiously top up his drink all night.
“So,” he says to the kid, oh-so-casual, after they’ve played a couple rounds of pool (at which Jack sucks, by the way) and retreated to a table at the back of the room. “Your powers. You ever think about trying to get them back?”
Jack side-eyes him warily. Dean doesn’t altogether blame him. His relationship with Jack’s powers has always been ambivalent (if he’s honest, ambivalent to kill-it-with-fire). But since Cas failed so completely to fix Sam’s eyesight, he’s started to consider them a little differently. Archangel trumps angel, apparently. Dean’s pretty sure that nephilim trumps everything.
“No,” Jack says eventually, with some finality. “I can’t get them back. Lucifer took them, and he’s dead. They’re gone.”
“You never think they could be useful? For Sammy?”
Jack frowns. “Is that what Sam wants?”
“I don’t know,” says Dean.
“They hurt people.” Jack’s getting louder, his voice wobbling. “I don’t want them back.”
“Okay. Keep your hair on,” Dean says. He lets it drop.
Like with Cas, Jack’s lack of social sensitivity is sometimes a blessing. After a pause, the kid starts talking about-- something, some book or TV show, like nothing ever happened. Dean smiles and nods and tunes him out.
Sam might be tall but he’s always been a lightweight. Jack, smaller, is lighter still. Dean’s drinking at double the speed and he’s still only mildly buzzed by the time Jack stands up to go to the bathroom, stumbles on the edge of the booth and ends up sprawled giggling on the dirty concrete floor.
“Yeah, you’re done here,” Dean says, throwing a twenty on the table and hauling Jack up by the arm.
“That was fun,” says Jack, his breath fumy-thick with alcohol.
“Sure it was.”
The motel is so close by that they can see it when they leave the bar; just a short stagger over the highway (mostly deserted at this time of night) and a shuffle up a non-existent sidewalk. Jack’s hiccuping drunk, still giggling, and Dean’s holding him to keep him upright as much as to keep him out of the road.
“Sometimes I think you don’t like me,” Jack says, “But I like you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean says. “Just keep walking, all right?”
“Can you teach me to drive your car?” Jack says.
“No way, sunshine,” says Dean.
Dean goes to fill a glass of water at the bathroom tap when they get in, but in the thirty seconds it takes before he’s back out in the bedroom, Jack’s crashed out face-down on his bed - the middle one, the one next to Sam. Dean tugs half-heartedly at Jack’s boots but the kid isn’t moving and really, it’s not worth the effort. They’re only going to sleep.
It only feels like five minutes before the alarm on Sam’s phone goes off. Dean groans and rolls over. Across the room, he can hear the creak of springs as Sam sits up in bed.
“Hey,” says Sam, quietly. Dean half-opens an eye in time to see Sam sitting up in bed, turned in towards the room. Jack is sprawled on top of the blankets, exactly as he fell asleep. From where Dean’s laying, he can see that Jack is drooling onto his pillow. There’s no way Sam’s going to wake him.
“Think he’s pretty hungover,” Dean says. Sam jumps.
“I thought that was you, in the middle bed,” he says. “I can smell the liquor from here.”
“Kid wanted to have fun,” says Dean. “Don’t blame me.” He closes his eyes. Usually, at this point, he would bully Sam into going out for coffee. In fact, usually, Sam would already have gone out, jogged five miles, and come back with breakfast. It’s a bit more complicated now. That’s fine. Dean can get the coffee. It seems like a suitable penance. He’s just going to sleep for ten more minutes.
Half an hour later, he drags himself into the bathroom to find his toothbrush damp and minty.
“What the fuck, Sam?”
“I don’t know what you’re mad about,” Sam says, wearily. He’s sitting on his bed, wearing dress pants and a T-shirt. Dean strides over and scrubs the toothbrush over the back of his neck. Sam jumps.
“You used my toothbrush, asshole.”
“Come on, man. I thought it was mine.”
Well how come, Dean wants to say, this has never happened before? Then Jack snorts in his sleep, murmurs something. Sam’s eyebrows perk and he turns towards him but the kid hasn’t woken. Sam sighs. “Can you pass me one of my shirts?”
As Dean gets dressed, he watches his brother. Sam keeps making tiny movements in Jack’s direction, turning involuntary like he’s going to ask for something. Dean wants to say, “How can I help?” But he’s seen Sam and Jack together and it’s seamless. You don’t even notice it, Dean hasn’t noticed it until right now when he’s starting to think. Jack’s just… there. He knows what Sam needs. Which-- well. Dean can’t do both, can’t work on finding a cure and also spend all his time with Sam. That’s what teams are for, right? And with Cas out of action while he’s making up the numbers in Heaven, this is it. The team. Everyone’s got their job.
It still feels fucked-up.
“How can I help?” he says, in the end.
“I think I’m good now,” Sam says. He stands up. “Do I look okay? Did I miss anything?” Then, “Can you pass my glasses?” Dean does, reluctantly. They’re this dorky pair of Ray-bans that Sam’s adopted. They make him look like Stevie Wonder; like a blind guy. Sam thinks they’re less conspicuous. For somebody who’s never seen what he looks like - what he looks like, now - he’s certainly sensitive about his eyes.
Jack wakes up, looking green, just as they’re about to head out. “Do you need me? Sam?”
“Stay here,” Dean tells him. “We got this one. We’ll come get you after.” He casts an eye over the rack of leaflets on the motel table and throws a takeout menu onto the bed. “You might want to order some eggs.”
Dean takes Sam’s elbow as they cross the parking lot towards the morgue, guiding him around the parked cars. Sam hates how conspicuous they must look. He finds himself holding back from slapping Dean’s hand away, which is stupid. Dean’s right. He can’t do this by himself.
He’s on edge. He hadn’t realized how much he depends on Jack for his morning routine-- for everything. It sucks. Dean, grumpy and hungover, wasn’t much of a substitute, which just makes Sam feel even shittier because this is the kind of thing Dean would have lived for, once; flapping around making sure that Sam had whatever he needed. Honestly, Sam would probably resent it or at least pretend to resent it, coming from Dean. But now it feels like he’s nothing but an inconvenience. All Dean cares about is finding a cure, fixing him, getting things back to normal. It’s not unprecedented. Dean doesn’t deal well with change, especially in the people he loves. This is a change.
It’s not just Jack’s absence that has left him feeling off; not just the anxiety that Dean might have given him some conspicuous novelty tie to wear, that his jacket doesn’t match these pants. No, on top of that, they still haven’t figured out their new schtick. Blind, Sam can’t really play FBI. It’s funny, really. He used to worry about getting busted for his non-regulation hairstyle. Now he has a full beard and it’s the least of his worries.
“Agent Stradlin, FBI,” says Dean as they get to the desk. “And this is, uh, Professor Rose. My associate. An expert.” He doesn’t say what Sam is an expert in.
Luckily, the woman working reception doesn’t appear to be too concerned about their motives, or about what this mysterious blind guy could possibly do for the FBI. In fact, it seems like she goes for the helpless type.
“So, Professor,” she says as she hands them their security badges. She’s wearing perfume, a sweet fresh floral scent. “Will you two be in town for long?”
Sam’s blind but he’s not stupid. He knows a pick-up line when he hears one. “No,” he tells her. “Not long. Just until we finish this case.”
“That’ll be a few days,” Dean says. His elbow digs sharp into Sam’s side. “I’m sure we’ll have a little time for fun, right, Prof?”
“I don’t think so,” Sam says. The woman forces a laugh.
The morgue is cold and chemical-fresh, and the tray rolls out of the locker with a smooth metallic whirr. Shoulder-to-shoulder with Dean, Sam shuffles forward until he feels the chill hard line of it against his thighs.
“Nasty,” says Dean, and the mortician hums in agreement.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Path said it was snake venom. There are bites in the legs and hands. But I know-- I hike. I know wildlife. I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s rock solid. And I mean literally, like a rock.”
“The police--” Dean says, and she says, “Well, they called you boys in.” Then the phone rings in the outside office, and she leaves them to it.
“I wonder--” Sam says, and leans forward slightly, reaching out to touch the icy fingers of the corpse. Panic constricts his chest so tightly and immediately that it’s as though the body has reached in through his ribs to grasp a fist around his heart. He gasps, can’t help it, and steps backward.
“Sammy?” says Dean.
“I’m okay,” Sam says, and moves back again, extending his hand to hover over where the body must lie. He can feel it, even here, like a forcefield; a palpable cloud of fear thrumming electric around the corpse. “Dean,” he says quietly, “do you feel anything weird?”
“Yeah, Sam,” Dean says, heavy-sarcastic. “Dude seems to be made of granite.” There’s a dull knocking sound, then a metallic chink. Car keys, maybe, against the flesh. “That’s weird enough for me.”
“No,” Sam says. “In the-- the air, I guess.” He reaches out to take Dean’s hand, holds it at the point where the atmosphere shifts. “Right here.”
“I don’t know, man,” Dean says, wiggling his fingers. “No.” He tugs his hand away and lifts it to Sam’s forehead. “You feeling alright?”
“I’m fine,” Sam says slowly. “It’s just cold in here, I guess.” It isn’t just cold.
“Tell you what was cold. That hot receptionist tries to chat you up and you shut her down. Come on, Sam.”
“Come on, what?”
“Live a little. It could be good for you. And you know… you could be getting, like, freaky. Next level. You know?”
“We’re on a case.”
“Right,” Dean says. “Remind me of the last time that stopped me having some fun?”
“What do you mean, next level?”
“You know. Extra sensitive. That kind of--”
“Oh good,” Sam says. “I wondered if this was just regular-level dickishness but no, of course, you have to make it about that.”
“Fuck you, man,” says Dean.
By the time they leave the morgue, Dean has the receptionist’s number. He’d usually be above taking Sammy’s cast-offs but she looked so genuinely crestfallen when Sam brushed her off that it feels like the gentlemanly thing to do.
They swing by the motel to pick up Jack before they drive on to their next port of call. He’s still looking fairly pale, and Dean can smell the alcohol he’s sweating, but the extra couple hours of sleep were definitely a good idea. Truth told, the exhausted, hungover look actually makes him look older, more convincing as a fed. Dean did the right thing for the team, getting Jack drunk. A tactical move.
Lucy Bentley lives in a scruffy apartment in an old house in the middle of town. It’s pretty obviously a girly flat; there are postcards hung all around the kitchen with motivational messages on them, and a cat appears from under the couch when they arrive, making Dean sneeze. Lucy herself is pale, with white-blonde hair and watery blue eyes, and she’s still clearly shaken by the events of six weeks before.
She makes coffee for everybody and offers them cookies and they sit down in her mismatched living room and she talks to them about what happened. Lucy had been out hiking with her friend Michelle - a college friend and not-quite roommate, who lived in the apartment upstairs - when Michelle made a misstep that left her in the morgue, by all accounts in the same condition as the dude who they saw this morning. They’d got lost, Lucy tells them, up on the trail in the hills above town. “I guess it was really winter already,” she says, “so it got dark quickly, faster than we’d expected.”
“We were, uh, we wandered around for a while up there.” Everything about her is trembling; her hands, her posture, her voice. “Then we finally figured out the route back.” Sam leans forward, frowning earnestly above the stupid sunglasses. “We saw the lights from the building site, the new housing estate. We could see the cranes. We were so relieved.” She sniffles. Dean’s looking at her. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Sam extend a hand, but his brother stops at the last moment and draws back, uncertain.
Dean reaches out instead, settling his fingers over Lucy’s. She smiles at him.
“That’s when Michelle went on ahead?” asks Sam.
Lucy’s face clouds over as she turns in Sam’s direction. “Yes. She was, uh-- my feet were hurting, so she said she’d go up ahead and check that we were on the right path. She-- she was only just around the corner.” A tear spills over, tracking down the pale skin of her face. “I heard her screaming. I ran, but it was-- by the time I got there, she was--”
“Frozen,” says Sam softly.
“Did you notice anything else unusual about the scene?”
“I don’t know. I told everything to the guys at the time.”
“Oh, yes,” Dean says. “We have that information. But we need you to tell us again.”
“People can remember things that they never even mentioned before,” Sam tells her. “You understand.” He clears his throat. “Now, what about this, uh, track? The burning?”
Lucy nods. “That’s right. There was… all around where she was lying, in front of her, the grass was burned, and the trees. Everything was dead. Not like, fire burned. Chemical burned. A big pathway of it, right back deep into the woods.”
“Thank you,” Sam says. “That’s really helpful. Is there anything else?”
Sam starts talking before his butt hits the passenger seat. “Okay, as I see it, there are three possibilities. Gorgon, basilisk, cockatrice. All of them - first two especially - associated with snakes. And all of them are going to turn you to stone. You just look them in the eyes and--”
“Zap,” says Jack.
“Exactly,” Sam says. “Zap.”
Dean interrupts. “Okay, enough with the zap talk, all right? Enough with the, the, the eyes.”
He can still see it, what it was like from his point of view; trapped inside his own skull as Michael bloomed out of him and Sam’s eyes began to burn. That sight had brought him as close as he’d ever come to taking back control-- taking it back on his own. Close, but not quite close enough. Two days later, when Sam, Cas, Jack, and Mom had come after him again, done the spell and made it stick, he’d passed out as soon as Michael left him. He’d come to in an anonymous motel bed, shaking and sick and barely able to control his limbs. When he remembered what had happened - when he saw Sam’s face, still raw with the scars unhealed - he’d almost fainted for a second time. It wasn’t exactly the reunion he’d been imagining.
“It’s fine, Dean,” Sam says. “This isn’t the same.”
“It’s not fine,” Dean says. “None of this is fine.”
Sam clears his throat. Jack shifts uncomfortably in his seat. For a couple of minutes, the only sound in the car is the rumble of the engine.
“Look,” Dean says. “Sorry. That was-- that was good. Useful. Hey, uh, Sam. The bit about the burnt vegetation, how did you know that?”
“It was in the newspaper.”
Dean read all four of the articles Sam found, the ones that put this case on their radar. There was nothing like that in any of them. He looks sideways at his brother.
“Can we stop at the library?” Jack says.
Dean drops Sam, Jack and half a ton of esoteric literature off at the motel room and goes out to get food.
When he gets back to the motel, he sits in the car a little while before he goes into the room. He closes his eyes. His baby still smells the same, still feels solid underneath him. Like this, he can pretend just for a moment that things are normal; that he’ll go back in and find Sam with his nose in a book, and they’ll eat the whole bag of crappy takeout before they hit the bar across the street and hustle the locals at the pool table. Just for a moment, it could be true.
He allows himself five minutes of that imaginary life before he leaves the car and walks over to the room. Cracking open the door, he can hear the low tones of conversation. Jack is speaking.
“In Ancient Greece they typically guarded prophetic shrines.”
“No,” says Sam. “Try the next one.”
Dean edges a little further into the room. Sam’s bed is spread with plastic-covered library books, stacked in sliding piles over the blankets and down on the floor. Jack is sitting at the end of it, cross-legged, with a volume open in his lap. Sam’s lying beside him on the floor, his knees bent and his forearm slung over his face, listening as Jack reads aloud.
“The Basilisk’s venom may be used to convert copper into gold.”
“No,” Sam says. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Jack says.
“Can you find anything that says Magical Bestiary in the title?” says Sam. “I think it’s green, maybe.” Jack sits up, meerkat-tall, and looks around.
Dean can see the book Sam’s talking about. It’s up on the bed, between the pillows. It’s the only green one there.
“There’s a lot of blue ones,” Jack says uncertainly. He’s sorting through the stacks at the foot of the bed. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?”
Sam laughs. “No. But you want to keep that one.”
“It’s up here,” Dean says, stepping into the room. They both jump, and Jack turns to look at him. Sam drops the arm that covers his face but otherwise, his position doesn’t change.
Dean picks up the book and looks at the spine. “Yeah.”
“Thank you!” Jack holds out his hand for it. Dean looks at it, back at Jack, and then at Sam, who of course is oblivious.
“No worries,” he says. He gives the book to Jack and sets the plastic bags full of takeout on the table. “Dinner’s here. I’m, uh, I’m heading out. Date.”
“With the morgue lady,” Sam says. “Have fun. Go wild.”
“You know it!” Dean says, forcing cheer. He lets the door swing shut behind him.Part Two