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December 1999

They got to the cabin a little after sunset, bloody and exhausted and beaten half to hell, with a blizzard an hour behind them and the stench of death on their skin.

The place wasn’t much, just two rooms beneath a ramshackle roof, half-hidden by the drooping branches of the giant pines; they’d stayed here before, more than once, on the long haul through the mountains. Something was slinking out of sight around one side—two somethings, three somethings, four-legged and tailed, gone before the Impala’s lights could wash over them in the dark. Wolves, maybe, Sam thought, but there was a cold, curious feeling in his gut—

(not wolves you know they’re not)

—and he looked after them for a long moment, neck prickling as though there were spiders beneath his skin.

‘… think it’s got cable yet?’ Dean asked, as he cut the engine. Their dad was already climbing out into the cold.

They got the generator up and running, got the lights on, hauled in their bags and a pile of firewood, pulled a tarp down over the car. Swept out the cabin, checked the locks, spilled the salt lines, cleaned themselves up. Cleaned the shower stall up, too, when they were done, and then burned their towels and ruined clothes in a metal bin out back, the snow already starting to fall. By then Sam was so tired he damn near fell asleep over supper, stayed awake only because he was also so hungry that he hurt. He let Dean take a look at his face and ribs once they finished (those bruises are gonna impress the ladies, Sammy), swallowed the pain pills his brother brought him after, then eased into bed while their father put down a second line of wards at the windows and doors, this one made of iron dust and rowan ash and rue.

It was the winter solstice, and the veil was thin.

***

He came awake, some indeterminate time later, to the ribbons of a nightmare fraying around him in the dark: shadows pressing in around him, hot and close; firelight, the smell of sulfur, the sound of … of something, singing. On his back in their borrowed bed, sweat-slick and panting, he could hear it, still, a dry, slithering sort of hiss that reminded him of a nest of adders, writhing.

Rex adulescens, domine umbrarum, rex adulescens, domine tenebrarum—

It took him a minute to realize that the soft clatter he could also hear was his teeth chattering; he clenched his jaw and pulled in a shuddering breath and tried to get his heart back out of his throat, feeling shaky and shaken and—and unclean. There’d been hands on him, in his dream, dozens of them, groping and greedy and wanting, and he was sick to his stomach but also shivery-hot and more than half-hard in his shorts, and he didn’t—he didn’t know what—

—domine noctis, domine crepusculi, domine abyssi—

‘Stop it,’ he whispered, gripping both sides of his head, and the remembered echoes faded to a whisper, to a breath, and died beneath the scrape of branches against the roof, beneath the soughing of the wind. Sam swallowed, tasted copper, breathed. Wiped a wrist across his mouth, felt it come away wet; his nose must have started bleeding again, sometime in the night.

(not your nose you know it wasn’t)

His skin felt tight. The small rough room was as black as pitch; he could hear their father snoring on the cot beneath the window, could hear Dean breathing soft and slow in the bed beside him, but he couldn’t—he couldn’t see, and for one twisting heartbeat he was certain that something was in here with them, watching and waiting in the dark. He fumbled his flashlight from beneath his pillow, switched it on. It flickered once, twice, steadied into a beam skittering over empty corners, across bare scarred floors. No one. Nothing. He reached for his gun with his free hand, eased quietly (slowly, stiffly) to his feet, padded into the kitchen. Found nothing but broad-planked walls and too many windows, saw nothing but mice scurrying towards the baseboards away from the light.

He stood there for a moment, breath coming quick and light, skin all gooseflesh, for no reason he could name.

The cabin was empty, and he was cold.

He went to the sink, caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window as he bent to rinse his mouth: white-faced, bloody-lipped, something odd and fey and … and wrong in the dark of his eyes, though it was gone a heartbeat later.

(not gone you know it’s not)

Wiping his mouth on his shirt, he crept back into the other room, killed his flashlight, lit the hurricane lamp by the bedside, dialed it down low. Lay back down, slowly, still sweat-damp, his back to his brother, gun still beneath one hand; felt Dean shift, gently, old springs creaking soft beneath his weight.

‘ … Sammy?’ Dean’s voice was thick with sleep. He yawned. ‘You all right?’

‘ … yeah.’ His own voice was, almost, steady. ‘Yeah I’m fine; it was just … it was just a dream.’

‘Yeah?’ His brother stretched, settled. Then: 'Clowns or midgets?'

Sam snorted, once. ‘Shut up.’

‘’Cause we can get you help for the clown thing, you know.’

‘You’re not funny.’

‘I am fuckin’ hilarious, and you love it.’

Sam kicked him, just on general principle, got a gentle elbow to the kidney in reply; felt something lighten in his chest, felt the anxious knot in his stomach start to loosen. After a moment Dean shifted again, just a little, so that his spine and shoulders pressed up against his brother’s, and Sam was painfully, painfully grateful for the familiar comfort in the dark. They didn’t speak again. Dean fell back asleep, not long after, warm and close; Sam curled deeper beneath their musty blankets, listened to the steady rise and fall of his brother’s breath, to the sound of the wind, to the soft rattle of the windows in the storm.

An animal was howling, somewhere close amid the trees.