Chapter 1: The Apocalypse Everyone Forgot
All our love and kisses to artist sophiap, who spins our words into gold :D
The last page was bloody and torn out. The journal dated from 2006, soon after John's death. Dean stared at it, his name clearly legible on the pebbled cover, and shoved it back inside the lining of the trunk, deciding he must have been drunk when he wrote it. He would have remembered bombing Las Vegas.
He'd put it out of his mind until he discovered that room in the Bunker.
Every Man of Letters was required to keep a journal of their exploits upon joining the brotherhood. The official number of members tallied at eighty-five, but the number of journals in the Bunker's windowless storage room...reached the ceiling.
Dean clicked on his flashlight and picked two journals from the pile at random. The author was the same, but kept writing different accounts for the same dates. Dean couldn't decide which was worse, that the author's memory might have been altered, or that something had been sitting on this pile and writing their own contributions in the dark.
After dinner, Dean dropped their dishes in the sink and went to check his journal, the one Sam insisted he begin keeping after the first Croatoan sighting, under his mattress. Flipped through it, the newspaper clippings and case notes styled after John's journal. No bombs, no bloody tear-outs. Nothing seemed out of place.
He went up to the library, where Sam sat reading in a wing-backed chair by the fire. "Hey Sammy, check out this room."
Sam marked his page with a scrap of notepaper.
“What’s in it?” he asked, but he had his answer soon enough; the room was crammed with handwritten journals, the bindings old and rich. Sam wiped his nose against the tickle of dust in the room and ran his fingertip gently down a row of book spines.
He eased a book out of its place on the shelf and opened it to a page recounting research into fairy magic, the handwriting bold and spiky. “This is amazing,” he said, his voice full of awe.
Dean chewed his lip, scanning the W's for their grandfather's name. "Look, here it is again, somebody keeping two journals at once."
He pulled the books down and blew off a cloud of dust. Professor Whistler's first journal covered all his 1928 research, with a seemingly identical journal beside it except that the first was a labored year-long account on Kentucky ghost trains, while the second journal was written in code and stopped on October 1st, 1928 with the cryptic note, 'The same nightmare as yesterday, Arkham is active. See File L-355'.
Dean flipped through the remaining blank pages. "Sammy, you're a nerd, do nerds write their dream diaries in code?"
Sam gave Dean a half-frown, then took the journal from him. “I guess they do if they want to protect the information from others.”
He flipped through the age-worn pages, which were a jumble of nonsensical letters like the cryptograms Sam used to work in the daily paper, then stopped at the last entry, intrigued. “We should check out that file.
Sam pulled the L file box from its shelf while Dean cleared space on the library desk and set down two mugs of coffee, eyebrows raised hopefully at Sam's interest in the case. "You're um...you're looking better."
A beat, and then Sam said, “I’m feeling better.”
“Here we go,” Sam said, lifting the lid off the box. Inside were a number of file folders, and Sam flipped the first one open to reveal a sheaf of old, handwritten letters. He accepted a cup of coffee from Dean with an upflick of his eyes before he began thumbing through the letters.
“This is... “ he flipped from first to last pages, then said, “about ten years’ worth of correspondence between Whistler and a man named Marston.” He slid a file folder to Dean. “Check this one out.”
Dean skimmed the letters, much of which complained about the Men of Letters inability to keep linguists on the payroll for more than a few months, especially when it came to the native dialect of Port Benbow, California.
"August 2, 1918. First recorded account of sailors returning from uncharted island (see Map A) with Benbow dialect. Though lacking in formal education, their knowledge of the language is complete and eidetic."
"January 9, 1919. Pastor in town's single church has vanished, new pastor has razed the chapel and commissioned a larger building closer to the ocean. The liturgy is not in Latin or vernacular or anything I've come across. The two linguists I sent inside returned with no memory of what they had seen except for some drawings I dare not show here. They died three weeks later of unknown causes."
"March 5, 1921. In the cells. My trial begins Monday, though surely they'll see it was no fault of my own. Father Gregory had just finished listening to a phonograph recording of a Benbow church service, when he stood up, laughed to himself, then pulled out his sidearm and killed five men in the library before turning it on himself. Please bring tobacco."
"March 19, 1921. Trial delayed. Father Gregory exhumed, autopsy shows advanced decay and large blue parasite attached to his spinal column. All tests to kill said parasite, including stabbings, burnings, suffocation, and negative psychic energy have had no results. Recommend burying it before Doctor West gets any ideas about cloning."
Dean skipped ahead. "Ah, there it is."
"January 5, 1928. Visit to Arkham for lunch with HPL, sickly young squire never known to travel outside New England, but able to provide detailed illustrations of both the interior of the Benbow church, translations of the liturgy, and historical accounts of the uncharted island dating back to pre-Adamite times."
Dean rifled through the folder, where several black and white photographs of HPL's illustrations lay.
"When asked how he knew all this, HPL claimed..."
Dean took a breath. "...he claimed angels told him."
He held up the photos for Sam to see. The sketches were an excellent likeness, the brothers portrayed in profile against a church backdrop.
Dean turned to the last letter from Marston, addressed to a senior official within the Men of Letters. "December 15, 1928. Further research in Arkham on hold, advise class A amnesiac for Prof. Whistler."
Dean ran a hand over his mouth. "What are we looking at?"
“Huh.” Sam blew out a huff of air. “That’s us, all right.”
He took the last sheet of paper from Dean. “Class A amnesiac.” He stared at it in thought, eyes unfocused. “Do you think this HPL was a prophet? I mean, he could have been a psychic, right? I wonder why Cas never told us about him, if he knew about us. This seems like it would fit right in with the ‘Winchester Gospels.’” He made air-quotes around the words, never having been able to take himself so seriously as to accept a gospel written around him.
Then he frowned. He reached for the picture, studied it. “Dean, I don’t remember this church. It’s pretty unique-looking, I think I’d remember it.”
Dean surveyed rambling transcripts of the end times beneath a blurry photo of HPL. He pushed them away and sipped his coffee. "Dang man I can only take so much paranoid rambling from a man in a bowtie. So, okay, you check the maps for this island, if it even exists, I'll look and see if that church service recording is collecting dust in the basement, and...and..."
Dean stared at his coffee. Had he always drunk it black?
"...and who knows maybe it's garden variety demon possessions and the drawings are just..."
He always drank it black. Unless someone had told him he always did...
Dean set down his mug. Reached across the table and took Sam's wrist. "Sammy I gotta show you something in the garage."
Sam let himself be led away from the library, taking long strides to match Dean’s fast pace. “You know, he could have been wrong. The picture. Being psychic isn’t an exact science. I think we should try to figure out who… “
Sam slowed to a stop when they reached their car. “Dean, what is it?”
Dean placed his hands flat on the trunk of the Impala. "You gotta believe me when I say I forgot all about this until today."
He lifted the trunk, straight-arming it as he rooted under the lining with his other hand. "It was a little after we got the Colt. I was just out of the hospital, we were back on the road, and with Dad gone, I didn't want anything distracting from the mission."
Pulling a battered journal from inside, he shut the trunk and finally met Sam's eyes. "You know there's not another man alive I'd trust this sorta thing with. You know that Sammy."
Dean opened it toward the end. "I got another journal under the bed I been keeping since John died, and the first few entries sync up, word for word. But then everything goes sideways and the army's on the phone..."
Flipping toward the back of the book, Dean pointed to a paragraph summarizing 'Executive Order 3783' . The order to bomb Las Vegas. "I mean, you think the President really signed this?"
"This is... really bizarre. I mean, this couldn't have happened, right? But... " Dean trailed off, reading the last page again. "It's like those other journals. It doesn't match.
"But it can't be a coincidence, can it?" Sam blew out a sigh. "We've got to figure out what the hell is going on here.”
Dean searched Sam's face for any trademark tells, finding none. Animated with relief, Dean rocked on his heels and deferred to Sam, eager to dissect the problem with a partner in tow. "Yeah, yeah exactly, so what should we check out first, the map or the recording? Here, you get started, what do you wanna eat, I mean, ya know, real food, I can't think straight on frozen waffles."
Back in the kitchen, Dean was halfway to getting the apron over his neck before Sam could reply.
Sam followed him in, watched him root around in the refrigerator. “Whatever you want. But make me a salad, too.”
Sam stood in the doorway, his mind half on Dean and half on this disturbing mystery. “I think I’ll start with the map. And maybe try to figure out who this HPL was, if you’re not ready yet. I kind of think we should both be there for the recording, just in case. It doesn’t sound pretty.”
With Dean’s distracted nod, Sam took himself to the files, searching for Map A. When he couldn’t find it, he searched for maps of the Western U.S. He gathered up as many as he could find, pillaging several storage rooms to get to them, and spread them out on a library table, the unfolded maps overlapping. None of the maps held any clues except for one: a water-stained, crumbling, hundred-year-old thing, that had a notation in the Pacific. Benboa, it said in a wide, untidy scrawl, but there was no outline, no point, just the word floating in the middle of the ocean in what could have been a few dozen miles, or a hundred, off the coast of California.
So there was some clue, at least, that the letters hadn’t been complete nonsense, connected to nothing. He was buried deep in the files, searching through the L’s when Dean showed up with lunch.
"Sir's rabbit food."
Dean slid a plate across the desk, tomatoes and red cabbage and grated carrot and more color than Sam was used to seeing from Dean. Dean wiped his hands on his jeans and perched on the edge of the chair beside Sam, tearing into a porkchop. "I don't think you got enough stuff on this table, lemme go find the Sunday comics."
Sam laughed and carefully shuffled some of the maps aside, keeping the brittle old map on top. He took a bite, crunched the veggies in his mouth, making a pleased noise and nodding at Dean in thanks, then pointed to the crumbling map.
"It's the only one I could find," he said, "And it looks like it's old enough to match up with the journal entries."
Dean opened the bloody journal, where a circle on a scrap of gas station map circumscribed four points: the island, Port Benbow, Las Vegas, and a red X in the Sierras. He pointed to the X. "Betcha a dollar this is Fort Cloud. Dad used to whine about this place, they'd send up Marines for high elevation training. It should still be operational, maybe we can call and ask if Agents Smith and Wesson breezed through in 2006," said Dean.
Dean wrinkled his nose, glancing first at his map and the old one at Sam's elbow, "These maps suck, the rivers are all wrong and you can't even see the mountains."
“Huh,” Sam said. “You’re right. Look at the Colorado. It skips Nevada entirely, Goes nowhere near Vegas, and goes straight up through Utah. That’s some sloppy map-making.” He twisted his lips. “I don’t know if we can trust this map, then. But we should hang onto it anyway, for the Benboa reference.”
He finished off his plate, scraping a forkful of lettuce and carrot around to wipe up the last of the dressing, thinking nebulous thoughts about Las Vegas. “Why don’t you make the call, and I’ll keep digging.”
Affecting a Texas twang, Dean called from one of Bobby's military intelligence phones. He twiddled a pencil between his fingers. "Mornin' this is Lieutenant Richards, is uh..." he checked Bobby's rolodex, "General McKenzie in his office? We sent two men for recon at Fort Cloud back in' 06, but there's a discrepancy in our records and we....yes I'll hold."
Dean stared at the phone. "That's weird."
After a few seconds, an older voice sounded on the other line, a few rapid words, and then a dial tone. Dean turned off the phone. "Well that number doesn't even work, I got transferred to some spook in Virginia and all he said was 'classified schmassified' and the Fort's been decommissioned since the Cold War and if I call again he'll fry my ass from space."
Sam looked up from the maps, which he’d been rearranging again. “That’s strange. Didn’t you say Dad used to bitch about the place? Maybe he got the name wrong.” Sam frowned. “I’m starting to think he didn’t, though.”
Sam spread three old maps out. “A lot of stuff isn’t adding up. Or rather, it is adding up, just in a really weird way. You know what you said about the mountains missing? It’s not just the one map. Look.”
He splayed his fingers wide on a map of North America. “This one’s from 1920. It shows the Appalachian mountains in the eastern U.S., but it looks like everything west of the Mississippi is pretty much flat. It’s not like this was Lewis and Clark times, either; if it existed, it’d be here. And these are the same,” he said, waving his hand to encompass the other maps. “1914. 1928. 1946. This one’s old, but no date. All the same, the Colorado all twisted up wrong, and missing half the mountain ranges. There’s not even a Grand Canyon. But why?” he asked, almost to himself, his brow furrowed in concentration.
Dean thought back to John's old campfire stories. The snowstorms at Fort Drum. The toothless rednecks at Fort Benning. What else had Dean invented from thin air, when even written accounts were suspect?
Dean walked along the bookshelf, fingering a library copy of Kafka's The Trial he'd swiped in high school. He opened it, found all the sex parts underlined. Some things never changed. "Let's check out that recording. I'll prep a room---salt, water, iron---and if that doesn't lead us anywhere," he said, setting Kafka back on the shelf, "I say we pay Fort Cloud a visit."
Once Sam finally found the phonograph in a locked storage closet, inside a heavily warded box, he met Dean in the media room. The screen was furled up on the far wall, and Dean had stacked the plastic chairs in the dark corners and placed the record player in the center of the room, its cord trailing off into the darkness. Sam stepped over a salt line to enter the room, and he noticed paint drying in Dean’s knuckles, as well as sigils on the walls warding against angels and various other evil entities, supplementing the devil’s traps that were already permanently part of the room.
“Good idea,” Sam said, nodding toward them. “I found it, and it was warded against just about everything. There were some signs I didn’t even recognize. We should copy them down sometime and figure them out,” he said, then he shook his head. “Not right now, though. Here.”
He handed the record to Dean. “Remember, a priest allegedly shot several people and himself after listening to this. Do you think you should wear earplugs and just let me listen?”
Dean walked to a mop bucket and poured paint thinner over his hands. "Yeah okay, but gimme your cell phone. Anything smart enough to manage mind control from a record, well, I don't wanna think what it could do with modern tech. Steal an image and crawl right out of the screen like some Asian midnight movie," said Dean, taking out his own smartphone and turning his back on Sam. "Just a sec, gotta *cough* clear my browser history."
Sam smirked, and waited until Dean had pocketed both of their phones, then screwed the earplugs Sam handed him into his ears.
He looked at Dean, who gave him a nod, then he placed the needle on the phonograph.
It crackled and hissed for three slow turns, then there was the sound of instruments tuning up. The pastor said something in a voice that Sam couldn’t quite make out, and then the church musicians started in on a weird, discordant song. Sam squeezed his lips tight as he listened, slightly disturbed already by the tidal rhythm and the chords that weren’t in tune, but which seemed to create their own harmonies nonetheless.
A crash of instruments made him jump, and then another, and he looked back at Dean to let him know he was alright. The music swirled down, deeper and deeper, and there were voices interspersed throughout, strange ones, and Sam could feel a cold stirring in the pit of his stomach.
When it finally ended in a crash of piano and horn, Sam relaxed. But only until the pastor began speaking. He greeted his flock in a high, reedy voice, the glottals sticky and guttural in contrast. He spoke of the sea, he spoke of a mother and a father who would take them back, that no one need die, that they would be enfolded into the waters when their time came, to worship at the shrine of Dagon.
Sam frowned. He’d heard of many gods, but Dagon was not one of them. And the sermon, the pastor’s droning voice, were creeping into him, chilling him.
Then the speech changed, distorted. The pastor led the group in a series of chants in a language Sam had never heard, never heard anything like, could barely process the consonants and vowels of.
“Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!” the pastor said, and his congregation repeated it in many voices, as discordant as the music had been.
“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu P’lyeh wgah--”
There was more, but Sam didn’t hear it. He felt it, curling and swelling inside him, this presence, this sickly seawater presence darkening his bones. He both yearned for the sea and hated it, both yearned to see these gods that the congregation worshiped and feared them. He held on tightly to his core being, fearful of being swept away. Mankind was pitiful and to be subjugated. Their world was but a tiny speck in the universe, and outside of the universe there were things he could not imagine. The sea called to him.
He choked and it tasted like salt, and suddenly he was furious, furious that he was being violated. Thrice he’d been possessed, and he wouldn’t be possessed again. Rage filled him. These gods could go and shove it where the sun didn’t shine.
And so could Dean, who had forced Gadreel upon him, who had let in this wgah-nagl.
He turned on Dean, the whites of his eyes swirling with muddy brown.
Before Dean had time to react, Sam had him by the wrists and was wrestling him down to the floor.
“You did this to me!” he yelled. “You let him in, ph’nglui mglw’nafh, and I didn’t have a say!” Spittle flecked his lips and sprayed onto Dean’s face, and Sam tightened his sweaty grip on Dean’s wrists, pinning him hard to the ground with his body. “Never again! Never!”
Sam choked. An arm snaked around throat, Dean clearing the length of the room before he could suck in his next breath and then Sam was looking at the ceiling, Dean's boots scoring black hatchmarks on the floor as he struggled to keep Sam in a headlock. Flipping them over a hundred and eighty degrees, Dean grabbed the back of Sam's shirt and flung him belly-down on the table, knocking the bare lightbulb in a wide arc.
Sam panted, sweat rolling down his face, shadows dancing across his features beneath the swinging light. Cold iron cuffed his wrists, manacles dangling from the table legs with sigils newly carved into the locks.
Dean steadied the lightbulb. Pulled out a straight razor. Set his teeth against Sam's ear. "You're not gonna like this next part."
He pulled Sam's hair away from the back of his neck, counting vertebrae with the tip of the razor, some jointless thing worming under the skin. The lyrics from 'Cheek to Cheek' came to him, and he had to remind himself this was surgery and not wetwork.
"I owe you a shirt dude."
Dean make a small cut, blood spraying everywhere, and retrieved his two other tools from a back pocket, a stick and a plastic baggie full of dog treats. He shook the baggie at the open wound. "Baaaaacon?"
A blue worm poked its head out of Sam's neck, sniffing the air, and grabbing it Dean twined the worm around the stick and, slowly, began twisting it away. He flung it in a jelly jar. The manacles came off and a vodka bottle landed beside Sam's face.
Five minutes later Dean was waving a suture needle over a lighter flame, black thread between his teeth. Sam was pale but himself again. "It's kinda cute," said Dean, nodding toward the jar, "You think it'll go crunch when we step on it? It doesn't look crunchy."
Sam shook his head, winced, reached up to touch the back of his neck. His fingers came away bloody, and he glanced at the blue thing in the jar again. “Where the hell did that come from? Did we summon it?”
He saw Dean approaching with the needle and held up his hand, took three long slugs of the vodka, and motioned Dean forward again. He felt sick and cold and shaky, even Dean’s hands brushing the hair away from his neck hurting. He reached up to hold his hair out of the way and winced when the needle went in.
“You know I didn’t mean what I said, right?” Sam asked, though it wasn’t entirely true. If forgiveness was as easy as pushing a button, he’d have pushed it long ago. But it still crept up on him sometimes, the anger, the distrust. That Dean had allowed an angel to possess him, and hadn’t told him.
He felt none of that now, though, the rage torn away with the parasite. He felt Dean tie off the last suture, felt him pat Sam’s shoulder. Dean smiled. "Hey we still got the right number of holes in our heads."
Dean put down the sewing kit. "As to what it was, I never seen anything act so quick. Not like smoke flew through an air vent and crawled down your mouth. And it wasn't hypnosis, unless you've been spending your summer doped up in a CIA jail with somebody telling you to go Terminator every time you listened to a Friday night tent revival. Whatever that guy said laid eggs in your head," said Dean, tapping his temple, "The words were infected."
A neat row of stitches crossed the back of Sam's neck. Dean sluiced vodka over the wound, flinching in sympathy, and when he looked around and could find no more clean rags he pulled off his flannel and folded it into a compress, biceps bulging in his shirt sleeves as he bent to his task. The worm writhed in the jelly jar, slowly scooting itself across the table.
"I didn't know that was gonna happen Sammy," Dean whispered, "I'da known I would have taken it on myself."
But you’ve never been possessed, Sam thought. You don’t know how to fight it. But he said, “If it was you, this might have all gone differently. Better, worse, we can’t know. I say this is an acceptable outcome,” Sam said, gesturing to the worm that had been successfully excised from his flesh. “A couple words, a little blood. And now we have the thing.”
He took a deep breath and placed his hand over Dean’s on the compress on the back of his neck. “And now we have at least some idea of what we’re up against. It’s still all in pieces, but if just listening to words can do this to you, then we have to figure out where those words came from. And figure out where this… specimen came from.”
For answer, the jelly jar clattered to the floor, landing on its side and changing direction midway until it faced west. It rolled into the shadows, out of sight. Holding tight to Sam's hand, Dean listened to it, the grinding of glass against stone as it rolled up the wall and smacked the ceiling over and over in the same spot like a bee trapped in a hot car.
Dean wet his lips nervously, but walked over with a lid and plucked the jar from its hiding place, the glass blood-warm where the worm had touched it, and screwed it shut. Flipping it on its side like a game of Spin the Bottle, he watched it stop and turn and surge toward the same spot, where a groove was starting to wear.
He went back to tend to Sam. "Did that recording...show you anything?"
Sam screwed up his face, watching the worm. “It was like… impressions. That humans were insignificant except to be preyed upon and used for vessels of worship. That there was more to the universe, outside the universe, than man could ever comprehend. It’s hard to explain.
“And toward the end I saw this… vision, like I was deep under green water, and there was this huge, and I mean inconceivably huge, gargantuan, shape moving through the water and blocking out all the light. I didn’t know what it was, but it felt evil. It was terrifying.”
He cleared his throat, pressing Dean’s rolled-up shirt to the back of his neck. He still felt cold and shaky, still keenly felt the horrifying vestiges of his experience, though it had lasted only minutes. “I could feel it. Getting inside me. Trying to, to wear me.”
Dean's heart ached at this, Sam's weary voice, the hairline wrinkles around the corners of his eyes. He wanted to take Sam out of this haunted place and wrap him in a blanket and hold him until they both fell asleep, not that it would change anything, not that there weren't more monsters coming over the hill.
Still, the instinct never left him, and Sam did not pull away when he felt arms tighten around his waist. Dean would carry that infant with him wherever he went.
"Sammy don't let them get to you. So the odds are against us, so every Big Bad wants a shot at you in the ring. So what? That doesn't make you weak," said Dean, whispering into Sam's hair, "It makes you a worthy opponent."
Before Sam could answer, Dean moved away from him, mercifully cutting off the conversation. Action would count more to Sam than Dean's fortune cookie wisdom.
Dean snatched up the jar and studied the worm. "Damn Sammy. You make ugly babies."
A horrible notion lit Dean's eyes. "Is that why I blanked out in the other journal? What if they got me too? For all I know your ocean princess roofied me in 2006 and now I got neck-babies in the..." He totted up the years on his fingers. "...in the third grade, sniffing glue and cutting out paper pumpkins and listening to Daft Punk."
A new zeal lit his eyes, the worm flopping against the glass. "We can't sit here. It's pointing us to its mama, I'll eat my boot if it isn't. Come on Sammy," said Dean, hand slapping the table, "Let's go hunt the Little Mermaid."
Sam gave Dean a smile, one that was thanks, for everything, and let the compress drop away from his neck, trying not to wince. “Give me a bit. I wanna find some reading for the road.”
Sam climbed the ladder to a high shelf in the library, running his fingers over books so worn they'd been rebound and the titles stamped by hand. Though the music had faded, the pastor's words still floated in the back of his mind, and he felt that failing to understand them would be to their disadvantage in a fight. This was no different than memorizing a Latin incantation or an Egyptian summoning spell. He stared at the corner of the shelf, thousand of tiny dimensions curled up inside the intersecting right angles, closed off to mortal ken. He wondered which word would open them.
By the time he emerged, the Impala was packed and Dean was silently playing air guitar to 'Under the Sea' with his feet kicked up on the dashboard. He opened his eyes into Sam's one-sided smirk and shook his head. "Don't judge man."
He pushed open the passenger door and eyed Sam's tower of books. "Took you long enough, what'd you get?"
Dean opened the top volume. "Lovecraft?" He flipped to a woodcut of something halfway between an octopus and a dragon, a waterfall of slime beneath its cold stare. "Dang man you found vintage tentacle porn on your first try?!" Dean held up his palm. "High five little bro."
Sam scoffed and batted Dean’s hand away, awkwardly balancing the rest of his books. He managed to get the back door open so that he could carefully place them in the back seat. All but the one in Dean’s hand, which he took and opened.
“So apparently,” Sam said, “Lovecraft, that’s HPL by the way, was a published author. Dozens of books, and published in lots of magazines, too. But you know what? I’ve never heard of him. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not saying I know of every author ever, but I would have heard of this stuff. You know how I chewed through sci-fi and horror in middle school.”
He flipped through the pages. “The thing is, the internet’s never heard of him either. Something this weird, and I mean, his stuff is weird, would be a cult classic kind of thing. Maybe taught in college. And even if it wasn’t, there’d at least be traces of it, right? You could buy it on Amazon, or find it in libraries. But it’s like Howard Phillips Lovecraft never wrote a single word.” He looked over at Dean, his eyebrows raised. “Things just keep piling up, don’t they?”
Dean tapped the worm jar, a laser-mounted compass from one of his hunting rifles attached to the lid. It wasn't an exact science, he had to pull over every hundred miles to stare at a map and get his bearings, but eventually the corn fields turned to rolling hills and then the flailing blue sky behind the Rockies. He said nothing, drumming his fingers to the music as he stole glances at Sam and the growing inkstain on his right hand as he wrote in a spiral-bound notebook, diagramming an unnatural history of America.
Chapter 2: Bombing Las Vegas
When they reached Utah Dean pulled over and stripped off his jacket and lay on the hot hood of the car with two bottles of beer, trying to spell out his name in the stars. 'The Battle of Evermore' unspooled from the tape player. He untwisted a bottle and set it aside for Sam. "Tell me there's a way to kill this thing Sammy."
Sam scooted onto the hood beside Dean and took a long swallow of his beer. “I think there is. The guy writes all cryptic, nothing like Chuck. From what I gather, there’s a spell.”
He rubbed his eyes, sore from hours of reading, and let his knee fall casually against Dean’s, still starved for warmth and comfort, though he could barely admit it to himself. “There’s an incantation, if I can figure out how to pronounce it.”
Dean listened to the engine settle, their breath coiling into the chill night air. Unconsciously wiping the ghost of Sam's blood on his jeans, he wanted to hide and drink himself numb, which meant they were getting close. He could feel the gap in his memory now, as present and unknowable as an empty room to which he had no key, shadow hands reaching through the door to pull him in.
"This spell, is it in that language? Is it--" Dean laughed, taking Sam's hand as the joke washed up in his own fear, "Is it safe?"
Sam squeezed Dean’s hand, grateful for the touch. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I’m reading the books and it’s in there, and as far as I can tell I’m still me, right?”
He turned to face Dean, saw the dim light glinting in his wide eyes. “Did you hear any of it? You had the earplugs in, but I don’t know if I was speaking it when they came out.”
"Yeah but I didn't understand anything, not on your level. You think I should? I mean," said Dean, wetting his lip, "You think it might help us remember?"
Sam began to pull away, but Dean held fast, curiosity coupled with his deep-seated fear of being psychically compromised. "Not, you know, a lot, just a word. Any one word you can remember. It's like..."
Dean turned on his side. "It's like in the Batman comics, when Joker poisoned all the bath products. The poison won't kill you if you just use the soap, it's when you use the soap AND the shaving cream AND the hair tonic, the combination of these things is what kills you."
Sam snorted quietly. “And you say I’m a nerd. But anyway… “ He trailed off, thinking of the record and all the words he did remember. And the music... that had been what started it all, that dreadful cold hook in his gut pulling him down into it. Maybe that was the soap, the words were the shaving cream.
He took a deep breath and looked into Dean’s face, the warm colors leached away by the starlight, rendering him in blues and whites and blacks. His lips were dark, pressed into a thin line.
Dean had good instincts. Even when Sam didn’t trust them, Dean had good instincts. “We can try that. I remember quite a lot of it. Maybe I’ll just, say a few words?”
"Start with one. A little one. Actually, hold on, let's put some guardrails on this," Dean said, leaping up and running around to the trunk and returning with a motley crew of tools, "Grab a blanket and the flashlights."
Spread out on the ground, Dean scribbled something on two pads of paper, one for each of them, and set down an airhorn hooked up to a timer in the center. He sat down and gestured for Sam to the same. "This," he said, pointing to the airhorn, "Will sound off every sixty seconds. When that happens we will take a pencil," he said, tossing Sam said pencil, "And read this."
Sam scanned the paper. The same phrase had been listed ten times, reading, "You are under mind control. Scream obscenities, check off this line, then skip to the next line."
Sam nodded, recognizing this from years ago, something that John had put in place when they’d been using a spell from dubious sources. He nodded again, looking around at the blanket where Dean had spread the first-aid kit, a rolled-up sheaf of knives, salt, a camping lantern, and various other implements. Dean flicked on the lamp and it was a relief to see his face washed in warm color again now that they were going to do this, and less like the underwater blue of the starlight.
“Ready?” Sam asked. With Dean’s nod, he took a deep breath, locked eyes with Dean, and uttered a word that tasted alien and foul and brackish in his mouth.
The word uncurled in Dean's mind, traveling down his spine and setting taproots into the earth, down below the continental shelf where the Dreamer slept. It had a secret to tell him. The desert air thickened and became seawater, washing over his head, threatening to choke him. When he could no longer hold his breath, he inhaled...and smelled perfume. Carpeting. The sweaty desperation of slot machine levers.
The airhorn blared. Looking at the paper, Dean shouted a stream of curse words and made a little x. The seawater receded. He flexed his fingers experimentally. "I'm remembering something. How are you doing?"
It took Sam a moment to answer, to shake off the pressure and the salt-taste in his mouth, to clear the abhorrent words from his memory. He shook his head to clear it and swayed, putting a hand out to steady himself.
“I’m… a lot better than last time,” he said, giving a half-hearted laugh. “But I’m not remembering anything, just… seeing things. The same things. Underwater.” He blew out a breath. “We should try again."
The next word was more dense, an equation packed inside it the way 'pi' stretched into infinity, but the word was a key, bisecting dimensions in an angular geometry that changed shape whenever Dean looked at the numbers too hard. The pi symbol became a red door with a velvet rope across it. If he could just study the word a little longer....
The airhorn blared. More cursing, another x. Sam wasn't looking too hot, and Dean took his hand. "You wanna take a break?"
Sam twined their fingers together and squeezed. “No, I think I’m getting closer. I had a flash of… something, the desert heat, a jagged skyline. I think I’m remembering something finally, and I don’t want to stop.”
He grasped Dean’s other hand, looked into Dean’s eyes, and spoke.
The word solidified in Dean's mind, slotting into place, and when he reached out for the red door he heard music on the other side. A familiar song filtered through seawater. A walkie-talkie crackled on his shoulder, Sam telling him to pull back, and when he looked down he saw he was wearing army-issue riot armor.
When they came to they were on their backs in the fetal position, hands clasped, a warm trickle of blood running over Dean's lip. He swiped his face. "Did you hear that? I don't think that was church music."
Sam gasped, focusing on the light smear of blood left in the corner of Dean’s mouth to ground him. He wanted to reach out and swipe it away, but Sam left touching on Dean’s terms, no matter how much he might want to sometimes. The clutch of their hands together was enough.
Images still flickered through his mind, leaving him breathless. It was a strange transposition of memory over memory: 2006, being trapped in a closet while Dean was about to be killed by a psycho in the room upstairs, and at the same time he was back-to-back with Dean, shooting down a mob of weak-chinned, pale-eyed men; teaching the other special kids in Cold Oaks how to dispel ghosts, and at the same time, riding through hot, dry Nevada and seeing Las Vegas shimmer on the horizon like a mirage.
Fighting with Jake. Crouching in the corner of a bombed-out luxury hotel.
“I heard it,” he said, breathless. “It wasn’t the church music, but it sounded familiar, I just, I can’t place it.”
He reluctantly untangled their fingers and sat up, massaging the bridge of his nose. “I’m starting to remember things. It’s making my head hurt. You?”
The lamp was on its side, the blanket tangled beneath them. Sam picked up a pad of paper and frowned. “Hey, we crossed out four more of these.”
Dean shivered. The desert got so cold so quickly. "Do me a favor. Write the next word in the dust so I can see it. So we can say it together."
Sam did so, an English transliteration that clicked on the end of his tongue. Dean memorized it, and coming to some decision he dialed the airhorn alarm to ten minutes and lay back down beside Sam on the blanket. "This next part, we may be in for a long time," said Dean, pulling out his pocketknife, "And I need to know we got each other's backs."
In a perfect world they'd have a third person to bridge the psychic link, but blood bonds made for a dirty close second. Cutting a line across his right palm, Dean took Sam's palm and made as small a cut as possible, blood seeping through the cracks of their fingers as they clasped hands. Anchored to each other. Dean's free hand cupped the back of Sam's head until their foreheads touched. "On three."
The tide rolled over them. Something glittered at the surface, and swimming up to it the water became a darkened theater and the light a lounge singer beneath stage lights, sequined suit and slicked-back hair and hands raised as his eyes rolled white in their sockets. All of the chairs were covered in webbing. They stank like sour milk.
Dean looked over at Sam, wearing identical riot gear with a gun that must have weighed thirty pounds and a mounted headset that blocked outside noise. A spindly limb emerged from the webbing of the nearest chair.
Without hesitation, Sam shot the creature as soon as its torso cleared the chair. It exploded in a rain of iridescent green viscera that reeked of dead fish. The singer didn’t pause for a second, his voice drifting in and out of tune.
More of the creatures staggered toward them, their heads an abhorrent blend of human and fish, their bodies frail and white and scaled. Sam and Dean hadn’t had time to find lore on them, but they’d found that a high-caliber bullet to the vitals killed them just as dead as any human. They went down in twitching piles, their fluids spreading and seeping into the rich carpeting.
A few more advanced on them from around a corner, and Sam made a stiff hand gesture that splattered them against the wall.
“Let’s go,” Sam said, and they jogged forward, through a door that took them into a service corridor, fluorescent lights flickering. The walls were slick, and Sam nearly slipped in a clutch of fish eggs.
“Basement,” Sam said, nodding to the sign at the end of the hallway. He hefted his gun.
They walked past offices and an employee break room, where a poster of President Palin reading DRILL BABY DRILL was pinned to the corkboard, her eyes and teeth blacked out. Dean scanned the news articles pinned around it, the promise of cheap oil in the Pacific, the mysterious offshore drilling rig explosion, the White House declaring a state of emergency when the entire bottom third of California broke off during an earthquake and sank into the ocean.
A broken padlock lay beside the basement door. The ground shuddered and the building powered down until the generators coughed to life and the hallway was reduced to shadows. Dean looked up at Sam, silhouetted against the red emergency lights, face freckled with blood. Giving him the all-clear, Sam kicked in the door and lunged forward with Dean taking up the rear.
"Are they dead?"
The room was a jungle of plastic tubing. Casino employees lined the floor on make-shift mattresses, IVs running from each of their arms into a collective blood bank that whirred far up in the rafters. They whispered a name in unison, eyes alight with ecstasy as something burrowed under their skin. The entire ceiling, as long as a football field and twice as wide, was covered in webbing.
Dean swallowed. "What now?"
Sam surveyed the hundreds of parasite-infected bodies. "There can't be anyone left," he said, his voice devoid of hope, something that he'd not felt for days. "We burn it down, just like we did the others."
They lined the basement and hallways of the first floor with gasoline, putting a mercy-bullet through the lounge-singer's head on the way out. Sam let Dean do the honors of tossing the match, and they stood outside just long enough to watch the smoke begin to pour from broken windows.
The once-grand skyline of Vegas was now in ruins, buildings crumbling and sinking into the earth. The western horizon was a heavy purple with storm clouds that had been coming their way for the last day, storm clouds which had turned the remaining residents of California into gibbering messes intent on moving east, on taking more humans with them into madness.
There was nothing left of Las Vegas but fish-men and parasites.
"Is it worth it to check any more hotels?" Sam asked, because he had to ask, the stink of gasoline and smoke and burning flesh in his nose, the weight of all those hundreds, those thousands of empty, burnt bodies in his chest.
When Dean shook his head after a long pause and made no move to call it in, Sam took a deep breath and thumbed on his radio.
"Vegas is lost," he said to whoever was listening on the other side.
Their Hummer was trashed, but Dean coaxed the engine to life, watching a fish man climb the outside of a bank and bust a window and pull a worker out and drop her to the hungry mob below. Dean hoped the fall killed her first. They had other towns on their list that night, and they let Vegas dwindle in the rearview mirror as stealth bombers rocketed over them, skyscrapers swaying drunkenly under the first round of fire.
Dean radioed in. "Base command, where's next on the evacuation list?"
Crackle. "Negative, we have a helicopter waiting, you and Sam are to report to Fort Cloud."
The map of a military research compound near Gerlach, Nevada sprang to their minds. Dean looked at Sam, brow furrowed. "What do they want with us there?"
The airhorn blared. It had dropped below freezing in the intervening time, and Dean sucked in a long shuddering breath. "That happened. All those people. The city..."
Scooting everything off the blanket with his boot, Dean yanked it over them both and burrowed a cold nose into Sam's neck. He wouldn't be able to stay in the car tonight. It was important that he see any threat coming from a long way off.
When he'd stopped shivering, Dean let himself process. It was that or puke up his dinner. "Okay. Monsters aside. Who would go to so much effort, changing the maps, the history books, the international mindwipe, to hide this?" he said, pale in the moonlight, "And who would have that kind of power?"
Sam lay deep in thought, but not so deep that he didn’t feel the shock of Dean’s long body pressed against his. The last time they’d lain like this, Dean had been the taller of them. Dean’s temple was freezing where it pressed against Sam’s cheek, and his chest and thighs were warm against Sam’s. He draped an arm around Dean to pull him closer, to share more warmth.
Who would have that kind of power? And who would go to this much effort? His mind still reeled from the revelation of the memory, clearer now than the ones that were apparently implanted. Or perhaps real, but in a reality that was not their own. Dean’s closeness made it easier to deal with the weight of all the bodies they’d burned, all the people that had died on their call.
“Could the government have the resources to pull it off?” Sam asked, halfway to himself. “But it would have to be a joint effort between every government, and I don’t think they’re organized enough to do something on this scale.”
He paused, shivering, while Dean burrowed deeper into his neck. “Maybe whatever happened, it wiped our memories. Maybe this is some kind of djinn situation.” The thought was repulsive and hopeless.
Dean's fingers pressed into Sam's shoulder. As much as he loved having his own room in the Bunker, the sound of his brother breathing was often the only thing that settled him during jobs like this.
Dean thought about that year after John's death a lot. Missed it. Out from under his father's shadow, ignorant of bigger players at large, the easy camaraderie between him and Sam.
Dean wasn't willing to admit how much of a relief the vision had been, to know the horror was no fault of his own and they'd only been doing their jobs. To know that even in his worst nightmare Sam had been fighting alongside him, strong, confident, before death and deals and distrust had sprung up between them, and he clung to this version of their lives as much as he did to present-day Sam.
Dean squeezed his eyes shut, trying to retain the details as if from a dream. "I remember where Fort Cloud is now. Not what's inside, but, there's an abandoned mining town a day west of here, if you didn't know what to look for," he said, an overgrown tunnel entrance looming in his memory, "You'd never know it was there. You think maybe their records survived the blast radius the same way the Men of Letters did?"
“It seems like anything’s possible right now,” Sam said. “If they’re constructed half as well as the Bunker, I wouldn’t doubt that something survived, anyway.”
"We'll head out...in a few hours," said Dean sleepily, relaxing against Sam now that the pressing danger had past, "How's your neck?"
“Hurts,” Sam said, “But not too much. It’s okay.” He felt how the tension melted out of Dean, and he wondered how it would be between them now, had that terrifying past continued on into the present. If they’d still be close, if they’d even still be alive. But they were alive now, despite everything real and imagined, and they were nestled up close together against the night, and Sam felt a rush of warmth for Dean.
All they’d been through. And there was even more, now, and he didn’t doubt that more nightmarish memories would surface. Dean would do anything for him, and Sam found the last layer of resentment over Gadreel peel away to reveal final forgiveness. Whatever Dean did, he did it for them both---he always had.
Sam yawned and pressed his cheek against Dean’s temple, face turning inward so that the corner of his lips barely brushed Dean’s skin, all that he thought Dean would be comfortable with. I forgive you, he wanted to say.
Instead, he murmured, “Lets get some sleep.”
Chapter 3: Dangerous Women, Continental Drift, and Other Dreams
Sam awoke to the sound of Dean working on the car in his shirt sleeves. Smearing brake oil on his jeans, Dean drank most of a water bottle and poured the rest over his hair, his wet dog shake framed against a sky choked with color. The hood slammed shut. The trunk opened and Dean knelt behind Sam with a first-aid kit. "Roll over sunshine, you ain't getting infected on my watch."
Groggily, Sam rolled onto his stomach, and Dean’s hands were warm in the cool morning air when he brushed Sam’s hair out of the way.
“Hey, Dean, did you dream last night?” Sam asked. Sam had; it had been as if it had picked up where the vision left off, with the two of them driving out of Las Vegas and the city being obliterated in their rear-view. They’d had to drive north, going by the map that the Army had given them showing routes around broken roads and bridges, and had been picked up in Utah by a helicopter that flew them over breathtaking views of the new mountains that had sprung up. Dean had been a silent presence beside him the whole time, gazing out to see the towering slabs of rock unfold beneath them.
He’d had other dreams too, dreams that he couldn’t even put words to. Gargantuan shapes moving out of the sea, unearthly languages being spoken in his ear. The taste of fear in his mouth.
Dean tore open an alcohol swab. "Nope." he lied.
On the edge of sleep, Dean had thought back to the Men of Letters transcript and had a herky-jerky black and white dream like a silent film reel, sailors coming home from an uncharted shore, their islander brides pale and lithe with eyes set a little too far apart to be considered beautiful. A seaside church. A woman on a bloody altar, a monster, a queen, and the longer you touched her the more your identity circled down the drain until you were only left with her name.
He’d tried saying it. It tasted like sour pennies.
He'd awoke in a cold sweat from that one, and lept to mundane tasks to scrub the woman from his mind. Sam's hair had stuck to the bloody stitches, and he cleaned it best he could. "What about you?"
Sam lay still as Dean worked on him. “The mountains. The old maps were right; the western U.S. was flat before. The bomb changed everything. The roads, the bridges, so many towns were destroyed. I think we flew over the Rockies when they were brand-new.”
"The Rockies..." Dean said to himself, humming the snatch end of 'Big Rock Candy Mountain' as he cracked open another water bottle and wet a clean rag and daubed at the stitches. In his dreams, the President turned a map toward them on an antique desk, pinching the center of America as if he’d caught a spider underneath. A spider so big you had to crush the world around it.
The sun rose, pencil-thin shadows stretching from the stones, the kind of cowboy backdrop Dean had spent his childhood memorizing. What else had been substituted? He tossed the bloody bandages in a plastic bag and slapped Sam’s shoulder, happy for something solid. “Let’s grab some road food. There’s a stop fifty miles out, they got a special on waffles and trucker showers.”
“A shower sounds good,” Sam said, climbing to his knees and brushing the worst of the grit off his front. He helped Dean gather up their supplies from the night before, and he shook out the blanket before folding it up.
The air was warm by the time they got on the road, and Sam rolled down the windows and let it blow through his hair. Dean sang along to one of his tapes beside him. This was so familiar that it grounded Sam, made the strangeness of last night feel faint and far away, left in the dirt where they’d slept.
Later, clean and full with a plastic bag of junk food in the seat between them, Sam said, “Fort Cloud. Do you remember anything about it? I don’t.”
Dean turned down the volume, left elbow stretched over the open window. “Honestly all I can remember for sure is the way in, this corrugated steel storm drain that had no business being in a desert.”
The opening chords of ‘Go Go Godzilla’ started playing, and Dean ejected the tape. “I never liked their later stuff.”
The landscape went from cattle fields to salt flats, thorn trees bending in dust devils ten stories high until the air was so white Dean had to slow the car and roll up the window. Flipping through the box for an Eric Clapton mix, Dean asked, “You dream about that church at all? The one of us in the drawing?”
Sam shuffled through the hazy images of his dreams, looking for a church. After a moment, he shook his head. “No.” Then he added, “Not yet.” This wasn’t over, he knew. The floodgates had opened last night, and he had no doubt that there would be more where that came from. He shuddered, even as he looked forward to piecing together the puzzle.
“You know, I think I almost understood the language, back then. Maybe because of the psychic thing,” Sam said, gesturing toward his head. “In my dreams, I heard them speaking, and it was like... like it was right on the tip of my tongue. And it was like they were talking to me, not just talking. Trying to communicate with me.
He concentrated, sifting through the dregs of the dream, and a thought occurred to him. “I wonder if… I wonder if they wanted me, too? Like Azazel did, to lead an army?”
Dean watched his reflection, the dust storm filling the windshield like a dead TV channel. If the perfect woman existed she was a cold one. A dark one. Black eyes with a touch of cinder and a hunger that would eat the whole world if it could.
Dean laughed and shook the dream away. “And what would the Devil say if you brought Little Mermaid to prom? ”
Sam barked a laugh. “I think he’d say I belonged to him. Would have said.” If he’d allied with the other side, he wondered who would have won. If the end of the world came and went, would Lucifer have ever had the chance to break free, or would he be stuck in the Cage for eternity? “It hurts my head sometimes, seeing double like this."
Dean’s mouth twisted a little at belonged, but he swiped his face before Sam could catch it.
Chapter 4: Fort Cloud
They passed through Gerlach and drove another thirty miles to a state route that wound toward the mountains and turned at a cattle gate that hadn’t seen cattle in a hundred years. Stone quarries dipped along one side, then the black skeletons of cranes and train tracks reclaimed by the local flora. A company store sat at the end of the town’s one paved road, and parking the car Dean stepped out and pulled on his jacket and tapped the hood wondering if he ought to pack a gun. The worm stuck to the inside of the jar like a question mark.
“It’s just through there,” said Dean, pointing to the thicket behind the store.
Sam went to the trunk to tuck a gun away in his jacket and a sheathed knife at his belt, then walked up to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dean.
“So this is it, huh?” Sam asked. Something about it tugged at him, telling him yes, this was it. And something about it repelled him, maybe some as-yet-unsurfaced memory, maybe some instinct, and he knew he’d rather stay outside with Dean and say hollow, pointless things than pass by the store and into the thicket.
It was just as Dean had said, corrugated steel half-buried in mud and curving downward with a ladder running inside. Flashlights clamped between their teeth, they descended and arrived at a rough-hewn entrance with miner caps and lockers lining the wall, the door unlocked. Dean pushed it open and threw up his hands.
Their lights shown on black water. Had it flooded over years of neglect or was this a security measure? Dean had a vague recollection of a U-shaped corridor dug far below with the other end opening into a staging area, but how to get there...
Dean snapped his fingers. "The lockers."
He opened the one nearest here, inside of which hung scuba gear with oxygen tanks. Not a lot of oxygen.
"How long you think we could stay underwater with these things Sammy?"
Sam crowded in close to get a look at the levels. “Fifteen, twenty minutes? It’ll give us a little time, anyway.”
Sam dropped his backpack on a bench and began peeling off his jacket, quietly mourning the loss of his gun.
"Wait, I got something in the trunk," said Dean back and returning with two plastic trash bags, "No way am I walking around some haunted missile silo in wet jeans, I will frikkin chafe."
They stripped down to boxers, boots tied around their belts that cinched the bags. Dean dipped his hand in the water, yanked it back. "Ugh it's cold, frikkin hate the cold."
“We’ve been through worse,” Sam said before he fitted his mask over his face. He grabbed one of the waterproof flashlights that were mounted to the side of the lockers and waded into the water. After a few steps there was a steep drop-off, and Sam took a deep breath of oxygen and dropped in.
His whole body shuddered at the immersion in cold water. His flashlight made a ghostly greenish cone of light in front of him, and after a second, Dean’s joined his, searching.
They swam through an office, papers hanging in the water, fluttering as they passed. Through a doorway, luckily open. Another office and they reached an airlock. Together they spun the wheel and floated backwards as the porthole opened into another space full of water.
Sam glanced at Dean, tilting his head in a question, and at Dean’s nod, they went through. It went deeper, the ceiling pressing down on them at an angle.
A current pulled them along a steel tunnel, lichen dripping at the seams, their flashlights shining crazily in observation windows behind which sat hulking outdated security cameras. A generator kicked in and the cameras whirred to life. Were they still hooked up to the grid?
They kicked along, Dean ignoring the pressure headache behind his eyes and listened for trouble. Listened to the hiss of oxygen. The hiss became a church by the sea, a woman on her back, hair fanned across the altar, breathing in his ear as waves gently creamed on a black sandy beach.
The current changed direction and a trunk of light appeared as Dean grabbed Sam's wrist and they were sucked upward. Breaking the surface, Dean pulled himself on a tile floor by his elbows and yanked off his mask, shaking with cold.
"He-e-re," he stammered, helping Sam up, "Th-there sh-should be..."
Dean stood and cast around the room, startled when his light fell on the machine guns bolted into the ceiling, trained on his path. He swallowed. He took another step, and when the guns followed but did not fire, he fumbled with the door of a medical storage locker and searched inside until he produced two mylar blankets.
"Here," said Dean, unfolding what appeared to be candy wrapper the size of a circus tent and wrapping Sam in it, "Keeps your body heat from leaking out."
Dean wrapped himself in one and sat toe to toe with Sam, lips blue, smiled. "Dude we look like baked potatoes."
Sam huffed out a shaky laugh but couldn’t say anything yet, not liking the way Dean looked, cold and wet and pale. The ride through the current had disoriented him, had triggered sense-memories of underwater, green and dark with ripples of light shining down through waving black hair. Running out of breath. Language he could almost understand in his head. He still felt claustrophobic from it, could still hear the disturbing echo of alien words.
He spoke just to get rid of the sound, teeth chattering. It echoed off the water and the metal walls. “After this, we get a m-motel room. Heater on full b-blast, I don’t care if I sweat. Lots of coffee, too.”
Untying the bag, Dean pulled out his flannel shirt and began drying Sam's hair. "Here, stand up."
Dean's blanket crinkled to the floor, busily toweling off first Sam's legs and then his thighs and wicking water from his arms, so intent on his brother that he almost missed the clink of glass against the tiles.
Dean shined his light. "Hello?"
Several doors led out of the room, unfinished concrete painted black with exposed pipes rising past hooded fluorescent bulbs, a few filing cabinets, hospital smocks in a laundry bin. The glass worm jar lay silent, propped against a door with large block letters over the lintel. AMNIOTIC TANKS.
He rushed back. "I found something, how ya doing Sammy?"
“Better,” Sam said, pulling on his jeans, his wet boxers in a puddle on the floor. Goosebumps still pebbled his chest and arms, but he felt almost warm, would feel good once he had all his clothes on. “Thanks. Hurry and get dressed before you freeze,” he said, tossing Dean’s bag to him.
They finished dressing quickly, and their wet boots made squish squish sounds as they approached the door. “Worm led you here, huh?” Sam tried the knob, found it unlocked.
The door opened to an unbelievably large room filled with rows upon rows of upright glass and chrome tanks full of bodies floating in glowing blue fluid, countless tubes and wires running in tangles along the floor. That sight alone was enough to leave Sam breathless. Then he took in the sheer size of the room, ten times, twenty times as big as the basement of the bombed-out Vegas hotel, a hundred times. The light from their flashlights couldn’t penetrate the darkness far enough to reach the ceiling.
Heart beating hard from the sheer shock of it, Sam asked, “What the hell is this place?”
Dean ran his hand along the wall until he found a breaker box and start flipping switches. No lights came on, but the clank of machinery echoed at the far end, followed by an ominous 'BEEP oooooo BEEP oooooo'.
"Shit, sidearms out Sammy."
They aimed at the shadows, flashlights over their guns, bodies angled sideways, tensed as the noise grew closer. It sounded like an electric drill...or a bulldozer. Just as it closed the gap, a low sputter buzzed in the ceiling and hummed to life and straightened out into...Christmas music?
"Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, / Ring-ting-tingling too, / Come on, it's lovely weather / For a sleigh ride together with you."
A bot the size of a horse rolled into the light. Sam and Dean craned their necks. It had two eyes, one white and one red, tractor treads, shoulder-mounted laser cannons, and a nametag that read, ‘Hello! My Name is BOWIE’. Several more bots like it watched, clinging to the tanks like crabs, but they were smaller and seemed preoccupied with scanning barcodes and dropping dipsticks into the water.
Bowie's face-plate rotated toward Sam, a steel lobster claw pinning his wrist and pressing a sensor to his hand. He gasped at the jab of a needle, but the robot made a soft 'ding' and greeted him in a high chipmunk voice. "Hello...Mister Winchester...It has been...3,293 days since your last check-in...I was getting worried about you...Would you care...for some salad?"
The Christmas music abruptly switched to Fleetwood Mac, and Dean raised an eyebrow. "Seriously Sam? 'Rumors'?"
His question was punctuated by a 'sonuvabitch!' as the bot identified him and the music switched yet again.
" Why do stars fall down from the sky, every time you walk by?
Just like me, they long to be close to you."
Sam coughed behind his hand, barely hiding the laugh as Dean frowned so hard the lines of his mouth hit his chin.
The absurdity of it had snapped Sam out of his shock, but now he couldn’t even process it. “Dean, this is seriously weirding me out,” he said under his breath, finger still on his trigger though he knew it wouldn’t do much against this tank of a robot.
However, it might have some of the answers they sought.
“What are you?” he asked it. “How do you know us?"
"I am head of hospitality and information services...Mister Winchester...I know all the personnel...Would you like to ask a question?"
"Did we have a job here?"
BEEP oooooo BEEP oooooo "Dean Winchester, level 5 enforcer, specialized in search and rescue. Sam Winchester, level 5 enforcer, specialized in occult combat."
"Enforcers huh," said Dean, tapping the nearest water tank, a woman suspended by tubes inside a thick white caul, "So why are you growing people?"
BEEP oooooo BEEP oooooo "Uterine replicators are a necessary addition to Class Object Impala."
The boys looked at each other. "What's Class Object Impala?"
BEEP oooooo BEEP oooooo "Classified."
Dean attempted to move around the bot. "Well take us to your file rooms and---"
Bowie moved impressively fast, hind quarters unfolding like a grasshopper and suddenly doubling in height, laser cannons training red dots on Dean's forehead as it continued in that little girl voice. "I would not recommend that...Mister Winchester... Any unauthorized personnel found in the classified cell blocks will be disciplined. Any unauthorized personnel found hacking into classified files will be tracked, located, and detained. Any unauthorized personnel found with classified materials will be terminated. If you wish to research Class Object Impala, please submit your request to base command and wait upon security clearance approval." said Bowie, making a tinkly bell sound, "Ah your quarters are ready...Mister Winchesters...This way please."
The brothers watched Bowie return to its previous form, and they shared a tense look before turning to follow him. The wall was on their right, the glowing amniotic tanks on their left, and Sam studied them as he followed the metallic sounds of Bowie’s treads on the concrete floor and the seemingly random songs he kept cycling through. The tanks were filled with all shapes and sizes of people, from infants to the elderly, men and women of all races and colors.
After a few hundred yards, they reached a large set of doors which slid open with a quiet whoosh. Bowie made a series of beeps, and the dark corridor they faced flickered to light as fluorescents powered up overhead and wall fans spun into life, showing concrete walls painted institutional gray and dozens of doors lining the walls on either side.
“Your quarters,” Bowie said in its unnaturally high voice, pausing outside of one door.
The room was cramped, big enough for two beds reminiscent of the cot in Bobby’s panic room, a small table with two chairs, and a pair of closets. Sam opened one closet door to see several uniforms hanging. He tugged on a pair of dark, stained coveralls, noted that it was his size, and that S. Winchester had been stitched onto a patch at the chest. He didn’t doubt Dean’s closet would be any different. He glanced at the cup-rings stained on the table, the scuff-marks on the floor.
“How long did we live here?” Sam asked.
But he turned to find Dean gone, his clothes---boots, jeans, flannel, undershirt---dropped onto the floor in descending order on the way to the shower. A yelp sounded from within the open door, and the top half of Dean's head peered around the frame. "The, uh, the hot water works."
The bathroom was utilitarian but clean, a mirror cabinet full of soap and shaving cream and half-empty boxes of sleeping pills and pain meds, with a second door connecting it to the neighboring bedroom. No personal effects. No graffiti on the walls. On a hunch, Sam lifted one of the mattresses and found a copy of Busty Asian Beauties still in the cellophane. Okay, almost no personal effects.
A few minutes later Dean emerged pink and clean with a towel around his waist. He stepped on a bed, lightly bouncing the springs as he plucked the magazine from Sam's fingers. "Hey Sammy, I think I got something stuck to my shoe."
Sam's brow knit, then he followed Dean's eyes as they flicked to an air vent in the corner. Bugs.
Sam looked away casually in case there was visual feed as well as audio. If anyone was monitoring the feeds, they’d realize that their secret, the full extent of which Sam still didn’t know, had been found out. If anyone was manning the feeds, they might be on their way. If they weren’t already there in the building.
As quietly as he could, he whispered, “Dean, we gotta get out of here.”
The Carpenters played on in the hallway, and zipping up his bluejeans Dean turned to Sam and said, "Boy I do love me some Leon Russell don't you?"
Tearing little strips from the towel, he rolled the world's tiniest earplugs and handed them to Sam. "But you can't appreciate the piano solo..." he said, putting in his own earplugs and screaming in the hallway, "...UNLESS YOU REALLY CRANK IT."
Suddenly the music changed, so loud they could feel the bass through their feet, and the first little microphone exploded in a puff of smoke like someone had tucked a lit cigarette in the air vent.
"Yeah, the colonel said that women are for loving, not fighting,
But that didn't clear the air
'Cause Junior's still living in the blackboard jungle
With his Elvis Presley hair."
Let's go. Dean mouthed, and together they ran to the bathroom where the second door stood unlocked. All of the rooms were connected thus, the doors opening easily until they arrived at one with a meat locker smell inside and a plaque reading HIGH COMMAND. It was a cheap lock in a rotting wooden frame, but Dean had no luck. Can you get this? he mouthed.
Heart beating overtime with adrenaline, Sam slammed his foot into the door, which burst inward with a satisfying crash and a shower of splinters. They rushed inside, and Sam quickly took in two dessicated bodies slumped in chairs, their upper halves draped across panels covered in dials and keypads. There was a large, heavy metal locker to his left, and with Dean’s help he shoved it in front of the door with a squeal of metal on concrete. The doorway was small enough that it could keep out Bowie, but Sam didn’t know what other devices might be prowling the complex.
Leon Russell was still thumping through the floor, and he could hear a small, tinny version of it playing through a speaker in the command center. It was a large room, the walls a lighter shade of gray than the corridors, and there were banks of file cabinets along one wall, half a dozen neatly squared-off desks, a row of lockers, and the panels of electronics which the corpses were slumped against. Above these were a dozen monitors cycling through various rooms in the facility.
Breathing hard, Sam’s eyes flicked from one monitor to another. He saw himself and Dean standing wide-legged in the command center, shoulder-to-shoulder, their stances those of men ready to fight. He saw Bowie in the corridor, nearing their end. Movement caught his eye on another screen, and displayed there was a bot half the size of Bowie treading between rows of amniotic tanks, blue light glistening on the steel of its four arms.
Sam touched one of the bodies, lifted it so that rows of bars and stripes showed on its chest.
“I wonder if one of them could have gotten us into the file room,” he said, fishing the plugs out of his ears.
Dean rummaged through the men's pockets, unearthing a motley of ID badges with code names---Orange Crush, Dirty Rider, Pink Satin---until he came upon one with a key ring the size of a grapefruit. He wondered how much of his brand of humor had spread through the department. He wondered if he had a cool code name too. "Here," he said, tossing Sam the key ring, "The really important ones are usually magnetized, see if you can find---"
Crack. The lights went out. Somewhere an engine whined and a small red dot appeared on the wall nearest the door they'd just blocked, slowly turning orange and then yellow and then traveling down in a white vertical line. The monitors flickered to life behind them, Bowie's mismatched eyes filling all twelve screens at once.
"Hello...Mister Winchesters...A Class-A personnel breach has been reported...Please stand by for Emergency Order 292 Disciplinary Action."
A rectangle glowed in the wall and clattered to the floor, the four-armed bot from the video skittering inside and vanishing into a corner.
Bowie continued. "Records forbid the termination of any mobile task force units...But as your action constitutes a national threat, you will be neutralized...until further notice from High Command."
Two steel pincers lifted Dean off the floor, the other two stretching several feet to pin Sam against a wall.
"Have...a nice day...Mister Winchester."
The screens fizzled out to snow. Dean sneered at the bot holding him by the biceps. "Come on if you're hard enough."
The bot's head swiveled to Dean. "Is that...a joke?"
Sam held his breath, and for answer the bot held out Dean's left arm and wrenched it until Sam heard the pop of dislocation.
Dean howled, tears in his eyes as the bot held him in place and let him kick the empty air. Unable to escape its steely grip, something stirred in Sam's memory, something Bowie had said earlier. Specialist: Occult Combat.
Sam closed his eyes and tried to ignore Dean’s pained noises, tried to ignore the metal pressing him against cold concrete. He buried himself in his mind, focusing on those strange words that had taken him deep into memory, focusing on the strong sense of deja vu he’d had since they stepped foot in their quarters, the sense of barely-repressed memories.
Grasping, clutching, straining, something finally snapped into place.
Heat, the sound of metal screeching on metal, and the sudden, stomach-dropping feeling of weightlessness. The elevator they were in was in free-fall, and they landed at the bottom of the shaft with a deafening crash. The doors crumpled under the impact.
Sam took a deep breath, concentrated, raised his arms, palms outward, and recited one of the scores of spells he’d painstakingly committed to memory. The battered doors vibrated and twanged. They bent themselves inward, leaving a space large enough for Sam and Dean to escape.
Sam opened his eyes. Dean was still struggling and cursing. Sam raised his hands toward the arms pinning him and recited the incantation, felt a cold burn in his chest and stomach and watched the metal warp and bend, huffed out a breath when he was dropped to the floor. He recited the spell again directly toward the bot this time, and blood dripped, then streamed out of his nose as the robot collapsed with metallic pings and clangs while smoke poured out of its joints. Dean fell to the concrete as the last arms crashed to the floor.
The bot tried to turn over, one claw grazing Dean's cheek. "404 system error...My arms...hardware parity malfunction, please notify...I can't feel my arms."
Sparks arced, the bot’s voice falling in pitch until it sounded like an old man, then stopped altogether. Dragging himself across the floor, Dean curled up against the wall beside Sam, breathing hard through his nose. "Damn. Damn. We almost got killed by a toaster oven. How...?"
He turned to Sam, relief and fear playing over his features, and turned back to the bot. It looked like an elephant had stomped on it. The first question was on the tip of his tongue, but Dean tucked it back for later and lifted the hem of his shirt with his good hand and spat on it and said, "You got blood on your mouth Sammy."
Sam held still and let Dean wipe the blood away, feeling a tightness in his forehead and sinuses and a thunderstorm of a headache forming behind his eyes. He hated the angle of Dean’s other shoulder and the way Dean’s face was pale with pain, a dark red cut welling up with blood along his cheekbone in stark contrast, but he knew Dean wouldn’t let him do anything about it until he was able to take care of Sam.
Finally, Dean stepped back, apparently satisfied. “It happens,” Sam said, the feel of blood clotting in his nose all too familiar. “Now we gotta fix your shoulder, then figure out what to do. Come here.”
Gingerly, Sam took hold of Dean’s arm, feeling the abnormal separation in the joint of the shoulder with his hand and not missing Dean’s wince. “Okay. On three. One… “
"NNNN okay," said Dean, rolling his shoulders, "I'm gonna feel that in the morning."
Dean turned to say thank you, the words still ringing long after Sam had said them, and for a moment there two Sams overlapped beside him. One clapped his shoulder and made concerned noises. The other was trapped with him in an elevator, scared he wouldn't be able to get past the soldiers with Dean's semi-conscious body. Smoke poured from under the elevator doors. The floor light dinged. Sam opened the doors with a thought, and draping Dean over his back and touching his fingers to his brother's bloodied mouth, Sam drew three lines across his face, his warpaint bending itself into an UnWord that saw the soldiers approach and reached out and stove in their skulls in puffs of red mist. More were coming, but Dean wasn't scared. It would take more than bullets to stop his Sammy.
Dean blinked, nodding to whatever present-day Sam had asked, and studied the key ring. "The file room can't be far...dang there's gotta be more than fifty keys on here."
He looked up at the monitors, as if the answer might be read in the snow. "The music, the code names, Ziggy Stardust's exoskeleton, we're all over this place like a bad rash. It knows us, but we've forgotten it. So what kind of key would unlock the basement at the bottom of the world?"
He flipped to one larger than most, and the boys looked at each other and said in unison, "A car key."
They stared at it for a few seconds. It was an old-fashioned one, plain metal without the plastic grip or buttons or beepers of a modern car key.
In the hall outside, they could hear the hum and clang of the big bot rolling along the corridor on its massive treads.
“We’ve still got to deal with Bowie,” Sam said, standing to help Dean to his feet. He swiped at his upper lip, nose filled with the smell of dried blood and head aching. “I think I’ve still got the juice. But whatever weapons he has aren’t going to be easy to dodge. Any ideas?”
Dean ran a hand over his mouth. "Okay, um..."
Casting about the room, he ran to the monitor station and ripped open a panel, fans whirring and lights flashing red and green within. "There's a crawlspace back here. It's hot, but it's good cover."
Sam was about to protest, but Dean said, "I'm gonna climb over the top of the door. I can buy you, maybe, five seconds, then you do your thing when I yell."
Sam nodded, framed against the constellation grid of blinking lights as Dean shut the panel and took off his boots and ran on silent feet.
For a while it seemed as though Bowie had changed direction, perhaps decided to recruit other bots for back-up. And then a familiar voice echoed down the passageway...
Sam balled his fist into his mouth. Of course they would have gotten a hold on old phone calls from Lawrence...
"You're so quiet. Are you still there?"
The sound of metal scraping as Bowie widened the hole in the wall. Lasers swept the room.
"I brought you some pie."
CRASH. Mary's voice vanished, replaced by a high keening like a driver pressing the gas and brake pedals at the same time. Risking a look, Sam kicked open the panel and rushed out.
Holding fast to a pipe he'd driven into Bowie's eye, Dean moved with it like a bull rider, one arm in the air and legs locked around the robot's neck while it whipped round the room to shake him off. Chairs smashed beneath its treads. One of the sprinklers popped off and they were doused in a cone of rain. Unable to train its sights or fire a plasma beam for fear of triggering an electromagnetic pulse at such close quarters, Bowie stretched itself to its full height and Dean disappeared in a cloud of ceiling plaster.
Sam’s hands shot out and he yelled the incantation, putting all of himself into it, headache exploding behind his eyes. Bowie imploded, crumpling like a can crushed by a huge invisible hand, sparks flying and arcing off metal surfaces. Dean dropped from the ceiling and rolled to the floor with a grunt that Sam could barely hear above the squeal of metal as Bowie continued to warp inward, its voice small as it said in Mary's voice, "Dean, help me."
Sam fell to one knee, feeling the blood gush from his nose again. His head throbbed like a rotten tooth. He wiped his face on his sleeve and pushed up to his feet, then rushed to Dean who was still being rained on by sparks.
Through the clouds of smoke, Sam could see Dean clutching his shoulder, trying to raise himself off the floor. He took Dean by his good arm and moved him away from the bot, who was still slowly being destroyed, gibberish words and bits of song being emitted in bursts and crackles from its speakers.
He led them toward the door, coughing. "Dean, are you okay?" he asked, his voice rough.
Dean nodded, buzzed from the fight. Water dripped down his heaving chest and soaked him through. "Yeah I'm good. Let's bolt before Optimus Prime here calls in the honor guard."
Leaning on each other for support, they made their way through the exit to an elevator that only went down and required a separate key for each floor and had little office party notices taped to the wall. HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGENT STICKY FINGERS, CAKE IN THE MAIN LOBBY at 21:00, D-CLASS WEAPONS PROHIBITED.
Dean shoved the car key into a slot the same size and dropped his head on Sam's shoulder and closed his eyes. Pearls of water clung to his lashes. "You hurt? You don’t look hurt."
The elevator hummed and began its slow descent into the earth. Dean opened his eyes, tired and grateful and a little bit scared of Sam's expanded vocabulary. Words were weapons. If a monster word could kill with a thought, what might the monsters do with human words, like 'city' or 'moon' or 'sky'? Or 'brother'?
Sam pressed his arm around his brother’s waist, snuffling, drying blood coating the back of his throat. He could see their blurred reflections in the metal doors of the elevator, slumped and clinging together, bedraggled and soaked. Red still streaked his face.
“I’ll be okay,” he said thickly, knowing that wasn’t a real answer. It would have to do. His vision was blurred, his head felt like it was going to split open, but having Dean this close to him helped. It always helped.
Chapter 5: How the Rockies Were Made
The elevator slowed, then came to a halt, hydraulics hissing. With another turn of the key, the doors slid open.
Sam let his arm slip away from Dean, and they stepped into a wide, high-ceilinged room. Something about it, about the heaviness of the air, the darkness in the corners, made it terribly apparent that they were deep under ground.
Computers lined the left and right walls, their screens dark, and actual file cabinets stretched across the back wall. The center of the floor was dominated by a large metal table encircled with aluminum folding chairs. Papers were scattered across its surface.
Sam took a quick glance at the papers, then sat himself at a computer and powered it up.
A blinking cursor appeared. LOGIN?
Sam entered his name and text scrolled past ending in C:/Users/SamWinchester/Dir>. Sam read through the directory and noted the most recent changes on three security files: 'Operation Heaven's Gate', 'Operation Mermaid', and a cryptic audio recording with a string of random numbers in the title.
He stared with dread at the audio file, then his mind hovered between the other two. Arbitrarily, he chose ‘Operation Mermaid.’
A video file appeared, a brief burst of static, and then it went to split screen. Night-vision cameras panned to show flat, grassy land littered with Army jeeps, and then in a disorienting spin the brothers could be seen facing each other.
Dean stood in the right half of the screen and Sam stood in the left, their faces ghostly, eyes glowing in the night vision. They wore headsets with cameras mounted at their temples. There was a narrow crack in the ground before them, and as Camera Sam looked to his right, Sam saw that the crack widened into a deep valley. Outlined by the pale moon, far away but approaching at an astounding speed, was an unbelievably huge, monstrous form, its tentacles writhing, its body blocking out the moon as it moved closer.
The video shook and a loud, otherwordly gurgling growl sounded through the speakers.
“Dean, you might want to watch this,” Sam said. Footsteps, then he felt Dean’s hand on his shoulder.
Camera Dean said, “Sammy, you ready?”
Through the speakers, Sam heard himself take a deep breath. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“I’ll see you after this. If we get separated, we meet up at the cave, remember?” Dean said.
“Yeah. Don’t make me wait too long,” Camera Sam said, and Sam could hear the quiet fear in his voice.
Dean’s camera panned down, showing a small table holding a bowl, the contents indistinguishable in the dark. He sliced open his palm so that blood dribbled into the bowl and then lit a match, the sudden brightness whiting out his half of the screen. Sam’s voice came through the speakers then, strong and confident as he spoke words of power that tickled and throbbed in Sam’s memory, resonated all through him. His voice became louder. He was staring at Camera Dean, and Dean was staring back, fierce resolution on his face.
The speakers crackled as Sam’s voice deepened and seemed to double, a whisper dancing behind his normal voice. He spoke the incantation and the beast roared, and the cameras shook profoundly as the earth began to move.
Both cameras shuddered. Army jeeps teetered on the edge of the chasm and fell in. Geysers of lava shot up in the distance as Camera Dean glanced back and forth between Sam and the liquefying earth rising up before them in a mile-high wall of rock that stretched forever in either direction.
Camera Dean radioed in. "Denver is green light, how's Reno?"
Crackle. "Solid. You two got cover?"
"The caves aren't far."
Crackle. "We're getting some weird reports on your end, but tell Sam it's a go and then evacuate."
Camera Dean's brow knit at this vague piece of intel, but nodded and signed off, holding tight to his rifle as he looked to Sam. As he watched his baby brother slowly bring his upraised hands together, continental plates folding at his command with a horror sandwiched in between.
Lever-legged fish men rushed to stop them, but Dean raised his gun and punched holes in their heads while keeping his eye on Sam. An inhuman wail pierced the night, and Sam's side of the screen flipped ninety degrees, blades of grass bending in the wind.
"Sam!" Camera Dean shouted, hurrying over, "We gotta move, can you walk---"
Camera Dean looked up at a klaxon alarm, thinking perhaps the monster was lobbing comets again. Then the first mushroom cloud bloomed over downtown Denver, the jet wheeling round for another strike as smoke spread in a fast-expanding ring and then sucked all the debris back toward the center. Anyone inside would have been turned to human salsa.
Stricken, Camera Dean returned his attention to Sam. "Can you hear me?!"
“Yeah, I… Dean… “
In a confusing jumble of video images, Dean helped Sam to his feet. Sam’s face came into focus, blood smeared under his nose and leaking from his ears.
Camera Sam wiped at a trickle of blood below his ear, his eyes dazed. “I can walk,” he said, though he didn’t sound so sure. “Did we do it?”
Dean’s camera panned to the side, moving upward to survey the high, jagged peak of the new mountains Sam had formed, and Sam’s camera followed, shaky.
“Yeah, we did it, Sammy. Let’s go.”
A Jeep came into view on both sides of the shuddering split screen, the ground surrounding it littered with the corpses of fish men, and then the feed shut off, leaving a blank window on the monitor.
In the file room, Sam huffed out a breath. “Jesus,” he breathed. “We killed Cthulhu. We made… a mountain.”
Chapter 6: The White House and Other Sacred Spaces
Dean turned one of the papers with his fingertips, a map of America with Xs suturing the west and curving toward Mexico. "I think you made more than one," he said, the after-image of Sam's re-shaping the earth still fresh in his mind, "But why make everyone forget? I mean, okay, crowd control for the civilians, but why us as well?"
Dean put a hand on Sam's shoulder, leaning over to squint at the computer. "What's 'Heaven's Gate'?"
Sam opened the file, and a grainy security video showed four individuals in a sumptuous office with heavy gold curtains and a bald eagle on the carpet---George W. Bush by the bar, Dick Cheney in a wheelchair, Sarah Palin behind the desk, and a well-dressed older man with his back to the camera. The other three stared at him like they might puke on their shoes.
"Sign it!" the old man barked, and Palin jumped, eyes unfocused on the document before her. Bush filled a glass with something expensive, downed the whole thing in one go, then went for seconds.
Cheney was the first to speak. "What kind of numbers are we talking about?"
"If this thing gets loose? You're all toast. You follow the plan? You might slide with a few million casualties." said the old man.
Palin's eyes watered. "This isn't real...oh why did it have to be me..."
The old man's hands slapped the table and she snapped to attention. "You've seen this coming!"
"He's right Sarah," said Cheney, wheelchair turning, "CIA's been all over this for a while. Army's got underground computer banks storing the memories and genetic data of millions of U.S. citizens for the purposes of cloning and memory modification, in case of a planetary extinction event. We even got robots for civic reconstruction, fixing up the roads and buildings. Someone dies, we grow a copy, program it to think they survived a natural disaster instead of Godzilla's evil stepmother, and no one's the wiser."
Bush set down his drink, hand trembling. "Dear lord, how can we trust our own minds? How do we know this hasn't happened to us before?!"
Cheney gave him a small enigmatic smile. "You ask that every time."
Palin sniffed hard. "I won't sign it."
The old man grabbed her by the hair and bounced her head off the desk for emphasis. "You will sign it. You will do this. I got you elected, I make the decisions around here, and no way is some punk...stealing...my...apocalypse!
She grabbed his wrist, manicured nails digging in until she drew blood. "Go screw yourself."
BANG. Her brains splattered across the bald eagle, and Bush stood there with smoke coiling from the barrel of a gun. "I-I-I exercise the right of a-a-article II, Section 1, Clause 5 and, oh lord," he paused to vomit up his martini and wiped his mouth, "Somebody get me a damn pen."
The old man clapped him on the shoulder, now turned in profile to the camera.
"I assure you, Mister President," said Zachariah, "You're doing the right thing."
The video ended.
Sam was speechless for a moment, shock layering upon shock. In his head, things fell rapidly into place.
Who would have the power to do this? they’d wondered.
“They wiped… the entire country’s memories,” he said slowly. “Just so they could have their own apocalypse."
Dean touched his own face absently. Was he a copy? How would he tell the difference? He fought the urge to shave both their heads to check for bar codes and picked up a folder entitled ARKHAM with Sam's cramped handwriting in the margins of the title page. Surveillance images of a dark-haired woman walking out of a church lay within. "I know her. Or at least, I've forgotten her," said Dean, looking up, "Think she's in that last recording?"
Sam stood beside Dean, studying the photos. Frowning, he ran his finger over the image of her, dark visions stirring deep in his mind.
“I know her too,” he said quietly, caught up in images of flowing hair, pale skin in the moonlight, her cold, clammy hands on his face. “She was there, she was a part of it. I can’t… I can’t remember much of it. But she wanted me for something.”
He picked up the photo. “The church. Dean, this is the church from Lovecraft’s drawing. I wonder if… did we fight her? Did we defeat her?”
The throb of his headache made it hard to think, and as he looked at the woman, alien words stirred in his mind, making him dizzy. He closed the folder and dropped it on the table, then took a few deep breaths to clear his mind. He suppressed the urge to reach out for Dean, to feel human warmth to combat the alien chill in his bones.
“I don’t know if she’s in the recording. But I think we should be careful. What if it’s another mind worm?”
"Dang I hadn't even thought of that," said Dean, noting Sam's pinched expression, "I'll take this one. Gotta be some extension cables in here, you can tie me to a chair and cover your ears."
Sam nodded and did so, waiting for Dean's signal and then hitting ENTER before covering his ears and counting backwards from one hundred. Dean held his breath, hands braced on the chair arms.
The sound was low, and Dean had to lean forward to hear it. At first there was just labored breathing, then Dean heard his own voice.
"Sammy, you're okay," he said.
"Dean, I feel like I'm gonna... I feel... " Sam's voice was strained, agonized. "I'm not myself anymore."
There was a rustle of movement, and then Dean said quietly, "You are. You're still Sammy. You're still my little brother."
"Dean," Sam pleaded, sounding much younger than his years.
"Come here," Dean said, his voice low and intimate.
There was another rustle, and then soft, wet sounds, barely audible through the speakers. A sigh, and Sam whispered Dean’s name.
"Sammy, Sammy," Dean whispered back, then more wet noises, and the swish of fabric moving, and Sam moaned quietly. "You're still my brother. You're still mine."
Chapter 7: Forgotten One Night Stand
The screen returned to the main menu, a blinking cursor beside PLAY AGAIN Y/N?, and Sam tentatively removed his hands. Dean had that Look. Sam knew it well. The one Dean used when he wanted the other poker players to think he had a losing hand.
Frowning, Sam knelt down to untie Dean from the chair, noting the way Dean wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Dean, what was it? What happened?”
Dean's jaw worked, some chivalrous impulse rising up in him. Sam must never perceive his intentions as anything less than pure, at least until the case was over. He smiled.
"It's just us, whining about the job. Well, Past Us, the ones we lost. Either way," he said, standing up and straightening his shoulders, "It's not very helpful."
“Hm,” Sam said, eyeing the blinking cursor. He glanced back at Dean, who was rummaging through the documents on the table again, and sighed.
“Well, we’ve got some answers now.” Sam opened the ARKHAM folder again, quickly flipping past the photos of the woman and the church to find documents and maps, which he scanned. “A whole other apocalypse, and we helped end it. Angels. The government. The amniotic tanks, the memory wipes.”
He could still feel the gaps in his memory, though it seemed that the longer he was in the compound, the more things tickled at the edges of his mind, waiting to be recognized. Words sprang up in his mind at random, singularly and in strings, alien words which were at the same time familiar to him. Random sensations assailed him as he flipped through the folder. Cold water, sea spray on his face, a hand combing through his hair.
“We’ve still got the worm to deal with,” Sam said, “And…”
He got to the end of the documents. A slick hand clenched in his guts. “They never closed the file on her. She was never accounted for.”
Dean nodded, scanning the papers for anything incriminating, another transcript, another string of random numbers, and when he considered the recording might have taken place in that very room, his hands flew off the desk as if they'd been burned. "Yeah, we oughta see what that lady's been up to the last eight years. This thing may not be done with us."
Dean gathered up stray papers, the strain of the last few hours landing on him heavily. "We'll grab some coffee and go through the rest of this...on the ride out...there's this great Indian taco stand..." He yawned involuntarily and shook his head. "Sorry, tacos? Tacos. Yeah."
Dean grabbed the key ring and gestured toward the elevator. Sam hefted an armload of file folders and followed, watching the slump of Dean’s back. His own shoulders felt heavy too, his mind strained by all they’d been through in the past two days. It was almost too much.
But they’d been through more before, and even more that they couldn’t apparently remember, and they’d be through more again. They were Winchesters. It was what they did.
They rode up the elevator in silence, and there were no robot watchdogs to greet them, no menaces awaiting them in the room full of amniotic tanks. Finally they reached the exit, the room half-filled with water, and Sam watched as Dean scooped up the jar containing the blue worm, still struggling to push through the door.
"In you go l'il man," said Dean, gently laying the jar in a plastic bag with the papers and turning away to peel off his shirt, "Soon as we're back in civilization we are writing all this down, making Xerox copies, and then blacking out the bits about my poor music choices."
Chapter 8: Unresolved Sexual Tension and Sam in a Towel
Two hours later they were checked into a room outside Carson City with Sam at his laptop and Dean warming their tacos on the engine block. Pushing dinner toward Sam, Dean tore open a pack of index cards and began a flow chart on the mirror with HPL at the center, stealing glances at the back of Sam's neck. "Anything in the news feeds around Arkham?"
Unwrapping a taco, Sam said, “Yeah. Torrential rainfall last night, out of nowhere. I found files of institutions in the county that reported unusual amounts of inmate violence.”
He took a bite, chewed, clacked a few keys on the laptop. “And this is weird. There were so many 911 calls about domestic violence that the cops were swamped, and it turned out that most of them were people screaming in their sleep. It was such a big deal it made the papers.”
Dean added this to a yellow post-it, noting the date on the news article and sticking it beside his notes for the previous day, the mirror filling with index cards until he was boxed in by his own timeline. Dean sipped coffee and shut his eyes and forced them open again, swaying on his heels. "Awesome."
The sun sank behind the mountains. In the reflection, Sam turned his head, finger pressed to a book, profile lit in pinks and shadows as his lips moved through a Latin translation. Dean must have stared for a good thirty seconds before Sam noticed and he cleared his throat. "I'm gonna...ask the front desk for a newspaper, see if there's anything else connected to this."
“All right,” Sam said, looking up from his work. “Can you see if they have coffee? I still feel like I’m freezing.”
When Dean came back, a newspaper under his arm and two cups of burnt-smelling coffee in his hands, he found Sam’s clothes piled neatly on his bed, heard the rush of the shower. He took a seat at the table and began perusing the paper, sipping at the bitter coffee.
Sam emerged a few minutes later in a cloud of steam. A towel was loosely wrapped around his hips, and droplets of water shined on his chest and stomach. His hair hung in damp tendrils around his flushed face.
“Thanks,” he said, walking to the table to grab a coffee. He blew across the top of the cup, took a sip, and winced.
Steam coiled and broke apart around Sam's face. Dean watched, waiting for Sam to look up and lock eyes with him. He didn't. The newspaper had gotten his attention, or at least the part he could get to. Dean had unintentionally fortified his side of the table so that anyone wanting to get near him would have to step over luggage and milk crates full of books.
"Um," said Dean, re-reading a sentence for the third time, "Found this article about an investigation in the Arkham area, some rock band got arrested after the audience broke into a riot and, quote, 'began crawling into the ocean on their hands and knees.’"
He tossed down the newspaper, taking out pencil and scissors so he wouldn't have to look up. "It gets better, 'The CDC has issued a statement that all rock music is dangerous, and directs the constituents of greater Arkham to turn off all radios, televisions, CD players, or other sources of music until a thorough investigation is completed'."
As he read he cut out the article and underlined important points and stared at it, blanking on what he'd planned to do with it. Ammo, ear plugs, radios in case the cell towers were out. He talked out loud, his mouth making equipment lists while his brain kept screaming at Sam to make him shut up.
“Sounds good,” Sam said, placing his cup on the table. “I just can’t help but think there should be more info on the woman.”
He went to dig in his duffle, his back to Dean, and dropped his towel to pull on a pair of sweatpants. Then came back, digging in the milk crates to pull out old journals. “I’ll have a go at HPL again. See if he had anything to say about her. I wasn’t aware of her the first time I read through, so I may have missed something.”
He looked up at Dean, whose eyes were guarded. “What?” Sam asked.
"It's nothing, it's..."
Dean twisted around in his chair and made for the mirror. "We don't have near enough guns this time around. All the military support, all the experts on whatever we're up against, that's gone, and..."
He slapped the article to the glass, tearing the tape with his teeth. "...and that woman can't be anything good if she survived the mindwipe, and..."
He finished and kept his hand on the mirror, cotton shirt stretched tight across the back of his shoulders. "...and if there's any kind of ward against that language I am tattooing it to your ass tonight just so I don't have to play field surgeon tomorrow." His voice dropped to almost nothing. "Cuz damned if I'm gonna have the strength to cut into you a second time."
Sam rose. He walked up behind Dean, wanting to lay a hand on his shoulder, to reassure him. Looking over Dean’s sprawling flowchart, he said, “Dean. I’ll find something. We’ll find something. No way we’re going into this unprepared.”
In a gap between newspaper clippings, he saw the reflection of Dean’s eye, green and intense. Dean’s back was a tense line, and again, Sam wanted to reach out, to comfort him by touch. He tentatively rested a warm hand between Dean’s shoulder blades. “And if you think about it, we survived the mindwipe, too. It’s not all there yet, but it’s coming back. I remember a little more every hour… words, spells, images. And it’s not like there are other monsters this time. There’s just her.”
Dean tensed, wondering what Sam might already recall. In an effort to distance himself from possibly worse revelations, he gently dislodged Sam's hand and rummaged around in his own bags. "You're right. All these outbreaks in the news gotta have a common thread that'd lead us to her, we do enough background checks tonight and something'll pop up."
Dean pushed aside clothes until he produced a fat man's hoodie he'd once stolen off a laundry line. It could have housed conjoined twins. "Lift your arms," said Dean, averting his eyes, "I'm cold just looking at you."
Sam laughed a little and did as he was told, let Dean slide the hoodie over his head, and for the first time in decades he felt small, dwarfed by his clothing, like it was another one of Dean’s too-big hand-me-downs. Already much warmer, he glanced at Dean’s crates of books and files.
“You know… “ he said, his brow wrinkling in a thoughtful frown. “There’s nothing that says we couldn’t have had warding tattoos before. It only makes sense. And if they could wipe our minds, it would be simple to get rid of tattoos. I mean, Cas burned mine away in a second.” Sam unconsciously raised a hand to press it over his heart. He still felt the loss of the anti-possession sigil sometimes, wanted to match Dean once again, wanted the security of it.
“I’ll look through the files and see if there are any notes,” Sam said. “You check out the news and stuff.”
Dean managed an awkward head tilt as thanks, though whether it was for the tattoo or the sweatshirt, Sam could not tell, and spent the next hour combing police records. When Sam next looked up, Dean had fallen asleep with his cheek on his fist.
Sam smiled and kept crawling through his mountain of file folders. He felt, he realized, unexpectedly cheerful. They had a case in front of them, a whopper of a case with a monster at the end that was as terrifying as it was mysterious. It was intimidating; it was exhilarating. That old mantra: saving people, hunting things. And they would save so many people.
Then there was Dean. It had been months since they’d enjoyed the easy harmony of the last few days. Before this, there had been anger, betrayal, suspicion, secrets… but the vestiges of all that had burned away when they’d spent that freezing night in the desert, trapped in dreams. You and me against the world, he thought, pressing his thumb against the small cut in his palm that Dean had made to link them together.
They were a team again. They were in sync. It had taken this much---a mind-blowing, unbelievable conspiracy---to push them back together, but here they were. Sam heard Dean breathe, and he realized that his own breaths were matching Dean’s same rhythm.
He watched his brother for a few more minutes, his messy crown of hair and the crooked bridge of his nose and the drool shining on the edge of his fist, and then he went back to work.
Long after the sun went down, Sam turned a page and sat bolt upright.
“Dean,” he said, reaching out to shake Dean’s shoulder. “I found it, this is it!”
Dean jerked awake and rubbed his stubbled mouth. "Found what?"
“The warding.” Sam passed a piece of paper to Dean, which held a precise rendering of a protective sigil, text whose origins Sam couldn’t identify contained inside a wavy, symmetrical border. “This must be it, look.”
He handed Dean a small sheaf of photographs, the torsos of men and women with the tattoo, all of them fit and strong. Their codenames were stamped across the tops of the photos. The tattoos were anywhere, on their chests, between their shoulder blades, on their biceps. One was unmistakably Dean’s body, the tattoo on his pectoral opposite the demon-warding sign.
Dean's chair shot back, his weariness forgotten. "Hot damn, let's go!" he said, stuffing his arm into a jacket and pinging around the room snatching up items for the road, wallet, keys, phone, "I saw a tattoo parlor off the exit ramp, we get there now they could probably fit us both in before close."
In his haste to escape the hotel, Dean looked at Sam's boots and knelt to re-tie the laces. "You are gonna trip and break your teeth one of these days."
Sam grinned, once again feeling like a five-year-old with Dean looking after him.
An hour later, he was lying face-down on a padded table, feeling the buzz and sting of the tattoo needle pricking his back. Dean was on the table next to him, getting the identical tattoo between his shoulder blades. Sam watched the tattoo artist swab Dean’s skin before placing the needle against it again, and his chest prickled with dull pain where he’d had them replace his anti-possession symbol as well.
When they were done, bandages over the fresh tatts and tubes of cream stuffed into their pockets, they sat in the Impala, and Sam smiled at Dean. “That’s done, then. Do you feel any different?”
Sam did. His skin seemed to tingle and tighten all over his body. He felt more secure with the knowledge that there would be no more brown-outs, no more parasitic worms attaching themselves to his spine, some protection against things to come. And he felt better in a spiritual way knowing that he had the twin to Dean’s anti-possession sigil on his chest, identical marks linking them together again.
Dean drummed his hands on the steering wheel, happy to have something concrete to keep Sam out of harm’s way. "I feel great. You know how great? While we were in there I think I pieced together why Arkham lost it's cookies," said Dean, pointing first at himself and then at Sam, "Us."
Sam was about to protest, but Dean held up his hand. "Here's my theory. This guy Lovecraft knew everything about this party years before it happened, getting visions and translations and insider knowledge, while he sat thousands of mile away in his crappy fishing town. He was a receiver. So what happens if you broadcast Mermaid Radio, but there's no receiver to take the signal?"
Dean made a broad hand gesture at the street before them. "The radio waves wash over the whole neighborhood. I checked and re-checked the reports, none of the people arrested were in any way connected via family, work, church, nada, but, they all lived within a mile of Lovecraft's house and all went nuts around the same time we played the phonograph in the Bunker. We turned on the radio. But the old antenna is gone. So now all of Arkham is tuning in."
“Huh,” Sam said. “That makes sense. So, we go to Arkham, and… what? Any ideas on how to fix it? We can’t exactly unplay the record.”
Dean shrugged. "Depends. Maybe the effects are temporary this time around and it'll go away on it's own. And if it's not, and everyone's brain-fried...we'll know more when we get there."
“Okay.” Sam blew out a breath. “Arkham, here we come.”
Chapter 9: The Horror Over Dean’s Mouth
With Dean’s insistence that he’d had enough sleep, they packed up their supplies and hit the road. Sam drowsed in the passenger seat. Cool night air came through the window, blowing through his hair as they descended the Sierras. He woke from green-tinged dreams whenever Dean changed tapes, the lack of the familiar noise rousing him.
“She was a priestess,” he said groggily at four in the morning, his eyes still closed, when Dean was digging through his box of tapes. “She wanted me to… ”
Sam dozed off again, falling back into the dream. He held powerful words in his mind, words that could break and reshape the world. He gathered up his strength and spoke a single word, and the entire world changed.
Water pooled around his bare legs. Shadows formed behind him, ready to follow wherever he might lead. Following the moon's broken reflection, he walked into the sea until the waves closed over his head and a woman's arms pulled him down.
Her mouth was cold on his, the last lights of civilization blinking out as they sank into the abyss, tangled together beneath the continental shelf with a thousand other creatures he had no name for.
Dean's voice. Dean's mouth on his. Dean sitting up in bed and drawing Sam by candlelight, smiling like he'd won the lottery.
"Sam, wake up."
Sam gasped awake. The last image clung to him, made him flushed and ashamed, and he looked out the window for a few seconds so that he didn’t have to look at Dean.
He ran a hand through his hair and breathed out a shaky breath. There had been other dreams, cold ones, and he clawed past the image of Dean to get to them.
“What is it?” he asked, mouth dry.
Morning. The air was thin, so they'd yet to clear the mountains. A beefy cook in an apron flipped the OPEN sign on a truck stop cafe, and cars topped with ski equipment milled about. Dean dragged Sam into a booth and slid a menu his way. "After we eat here I'm tapping out for a few hours, you good to drive?"
Sam cleared his throat and flipped open the menu. “Yeah, once I get some coffee in me I’ll be fine.” The mundane setting, just another variation of the countless truck stops they’d visited for decades, anchored him firmly in the real world and cleared away the mist in his head. “You think they’ve got oatmeal?” he asked.
They didn’t. He settled for ordering the same thing as Dean, and he chewed in silence, his back and chest itching where the ink was healing into his skin.
Midway through the meal a truck pulled in pouring black smoke from the hood. When no one jumped to help, Dean volunteered and ten minutes later was on his back under the carriage.
The trucker shuffled on his feet nervously? "You find it?"
Dean scooted out, cotton undershirt splotched from dirt and brake oil. "You gotta watch your clutch going up those hills man, you nearly cooked this one. Wait a coupla hours and then keep it in low gears the rest of the way."
Shaking hands, Dean turned back to the cafe where Sam still sat within, wiping his hands on his ass until he was all over marked with fingerprints, the white sweat-soaked shirt clinging to him in places. He slid into his seat and bit his toast and licked butter off his filthy blackened fingers. "I'm ready when you are."
“You’re disgusting,” Sam said with a laugh. “Go ahead and finish.”
Dean bit into his toast again and Sam watched him eat big, hearty bites of diner food. His muscular forearms were sweaty and dirty, his drying t-shirt showing pale tan shadows of skin where it still clung to him. There was a smudge of grease in the stubble of his strong jaw. A phrase came to Sam: virile manifestation of the divine. Dean had shrugged it off angrily when that hippy waiter in Lilydale had said it and Sam had laughed, but it kept coming back to him as Dean finished his meal and stood, still crunching on his bacon as he laid down the money for the check.
“Let’s hit the road,” he said, and Sam took the wheel.
Led Zeppelin played as they rolled out of the mountains and into the rugged country that preceded the flatlands, and Dean snored in the passenger seat, his head pillowed against his jacket. After a few hours had passed, Dean stirred and said, “Next rest stop. Gotta take a leak.”
“Okay,” Sam said, and a few dozen miles later he pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of a squat brick building.
Chapter 10: Sam Finds the Missing Page
When Dean returned from the men’s room yawning and scrubbing a hand over his face, Sam was digging in the crates of books and files in the back seat. He piled a few in his arms, cursed when one slipped out, and stacked a few on the top of the car as he bent to gather up the loose papers strewn in the footwell.
He froze when he found a sketch, the left edge ragged where it had been torn out of a book, and stained with a thin line of rusty brown. D. W. was pencilled in at the bottom.
It was a sketch of Sam. Sam, shirtless, leaning up on one elbow and smiling. Dean had gotten their father’s eye for detail, and it showed in the way he’d carefully rendered the snarls of Sam’s bedhead and the sinuous lines of his muscles. A sheet was draped over Sam’s hips, barely hinted at with light lines, and there was no background, only Sam.
His dream of earlier hit him full force, and more came to him, memory strong enough that it felt like one of his visions.
“What, am I one of your French girls?” Sam asked. His body was tired and sweaty and sweetly sore.
“Shut up and be still,” Dean said, grinning at him.
Just as he had been then, Sam was still. He stood, mouth half open, frozen in place.
"There's construction on the interstate," said Dean, folding a map and stuffing it in the glove compartment, "Faster to take the county roads til we hit Saint Louis. Need a hand back there?"
“No, I’ve got it,” Sam said quickly, slipping all the loose sheets into a book along with the sketch. He climbed into the passenger seat beside Dean, and then they were on their way.
There was something about county roads that Sam loved. The narrow blacktop and the way that the Impala seemed to take up the whole width of the road, as if it had been made for her and only her. The way that the sun flickered through the trees in quick dazzles of light. He watched out the window for a while as they took a heavily tree-lined road, smelling dust and pollen and earth.
Then he turned to his books. The sketch, the dream, they stayed at the back of his mind, but he kept them firmly there, locked away as he pored over pages. He found another mention of the woman, one that brought up a memory of standing on a seaswept outcropping of rock, the sky dark and heavy with unshed rain, Dean a warm and steady presence at his back. His bedrock, always.
Words swam up beneath his tongue. They were beginning to come to him in full passages, as if it were some language in which he’d once been fluent, and was now beginning to pick up again after years of disuse.
Dean turned down the music. “Anything in there that’ll stop a priestess?”
Sam looked up, and Dean continued, “You were talking in your sleep.”
“Oh,” Sam said, and his eyes went unfocused. The priestess. Memories and intuition wove themselves together, and he spoke slowly. “Whatever they did to me at Fort Cloud… I’m the weapon. I’m the one who has to stop her.”
He watched the trees go by for a few seconds, fingers tracing the binding of the book in his lap. “But not alone,” he said. “I need you with me, you’re a part of it. You keep me… balanced. That’s not the right word. Human, maybe. The things I have to do kind of... tear me apart.”
"I ain't going anywhere," said Dean, one side of his mouth lifting into a smile, "Who else would sit in a car with me doing...this?"
He popped in a tape and did a crude impression of Mick Jagger as Honky Tonk Woman pulsed through the speakers, pooching his lips and gyrating his head to the beat. Shouting over the refrain, Dean said, "We stop for a room tonight, I'm gonna load up on ammo. We're lucky we can put on the hurt without you going atomic."
They checked in near the Pennsylvania state line, and Dean sank onto his bed and pulled off his boots and lifted two beers from a brown paper bag. He hadn't had a dirty thought about Sam all day, and felt the worst was past.
Sam sat on the bed opposite him, placed a book on the blanket beside him, and accepted a beer. After a swallow, he dangled it between his legs and stared at Dean for a few long seconds, his expression serious.
“Dean,” he said, his voice quiet.
Taking this for battle nerves, Dean asked, "What's on your mind?"
The sketch tucked away in the book seemed to burn beside Sam. He stared at Dean, taking in the easy confidence and sincerity in his face. Always there for Sam.
Sam took a deep breath and decided that now was not the time to open a chapter that perhaps neither of them could handle. He took a swallow of beer.
“I’m starting to feel strange,” Sam said. “Like the magic is coming back, like it’s in me. You know that other language? Well, I caught myself thinking in it earlier, came to me just as easy as English.”
Dean listened, watching beer foam over the lip of Sam's bottle and spill down his hand. Sam needed a haircut. And how old was that flannel shirt he had on?
"Well that's good. That's great even. It means you can control it, right?" said Dean, unsure, "What kind of things do you remember?"
Taking Sam's wrist in his hand, Dean began pulling stray threads from Sam’s sleeve.
Sam watched this idly. “Yeah, I hope it means I can control it.” Dean turned his wrist over, worrying at a long thread. “I remember… a lot of it’s mixed up. I killed a monster the size of a house just by squeezing my hand into a fist. If I tried hard, I could kill a person with one word. Not even said out loud, just in my head. And the way I used to burn hot when I was hopped up on demon blood… it’s different, with this kind of power. I burned cold. I’m already starting to feel the power in me, it’s like this throbbing, tidal thing, and I’m already getting cold all the time.”
He took a drink of his beer, and it was a frozen bullet sliding down his throat. He shivered and placed the bottle on the floor. Dean’s hand was warm on his skin. “I dream a lot about water. Being on the coast, being on the beach. Being pulled under by the priestess. I can’t tell if that happened, or if it’s going to, or what.”
Dean had gone still, thumb running up and down Sam's vein, but he caught himself and placed both hands flat on the bed. "I could run you a bath or...I don't really need the extra blankets, or..." His gut tightened, desperate to keep his hands at his sides. "I could find you a girl."
Sam laughed. “Thanks, but I’ll pass,” he said. “And water doesn’t really sound all that welcoming right now, either. I think I will take you up on an extra blanket tonight, if you don’t need it.” He knew with a guilty pang that Dean would give it to him even if he did need it, would probably insist on giving Sam all his covers, because Dean was Dean and Sam was Sam. And Sam always came first, whether he wanted to or not.
Not wanting to sleep in his jacket, Dean pushed their beds together, all of the blankets on Sam with the spare coverlet shared between them while the TV glowed across the room. Batman punched the Penguin, WHAM, KAPOW, ZOWIE, and Dean sat against the headboard, alternately drinking his beer and experimenting with the worm in the jar.
"Check this out Sammy."
Taking out his walkman, Dean slapped a pair of headphones on either side of the jar and pressed play. The worm gave a little flick, then settled. Dean pressed stop. "Yeah yeah, Steely Dan is an acquired taste."
He tried a second tape, and the worm hunched into a ball. Dean's eyes narrowed. "So you don't like Queen. Huh. How about..."
He popped in a third tape. Pressed play. A high, nearly inaudible hum came from within the jar. The worm appeared to look around for the source of the music, its head swelling, and with a pop painted the inside of the jar in a collage of fine blue viscera. Dean pumped his fist in the air. "HA! I knew it!"
Sam grinned and scooted closer, dragging the blankets with him, to better examine the remains of the worm in the jar. “Too bad the Men of letters didn’t have Walkmans… what’d you play it, anyway?"
Sam's body was very close, but Dean was too eager about his experiment to be alarmed. "Blue Oyster Cult. I was trying to think what could disrupt Mermaid Radio, confuse the signal, ya know? And if any band is gonna sneak cosmic subliminal messaging in their music..." he twisted one of the headphones around and pressed it to Sam's ear, "Dude, guitar solo."
They lay on the pillow, heads touching, finishing the On Your Feet or On Your Knees tour album and then Don't Fear the Reaper and then Dean insisted they listen through the live version of Veteran of the Psychic Wars for the, as he put it, 'sweet ass riffs'. "I'll hook up a loudspeaker system to the car tomorrow. If we can broadcast this riding through Arkham, maybe we won't need so many bullets."
Chapter 11: In Bed Awake
Dean’s thumb tapped to the walkman, wishing he could have Sam’s hand back in his, tracing the lines, the old scars.
“Good idea,” Sam said. “You know… it kind of helps me, too. I mean, I don’t know if that’s a good thing---I think I need to try to remember all I can before we get there---but while it’s playing, the words in my head are kind of… muted.”
But then the music had ended, and the language was back even stronger than before, a constant stream of alien syllables in the back of his mind. He shivered, more cold creeping in, and wished not for the first time that he’d put on an extra pair of socks.
“I think anything that’ll let us kill less innocent people is worth it,” he said. He shivered again, rubbing his feet together under the blankets. “Jesus, it’s cold. I’ll probably get used to it---I mean, in those memories I had, I wasn’t freezing like this---but damn, it sucks right now. Can the heat go any higher?”
On the TV, the Joker slipped on his own banana peel and sailed headlong into a brick wall. It was a Batman marathon that weekend as it turned out. Just like old times, the two of them up all night in their pillow fortress mining the Lucky Charms for marshmallows. Dean pulled back the blankets. "C'mere," he said, patting his chest, "No point in you getting sick."
Sam hesitated for only a second, then he slid over the hard ridge between their mattresses and let Dean pull him in close.
A shocking sense memory hit him then. His palms tingled as he remembered the feel of Dean’s bare, muscular thighs under his hands. He shook with it, wanting Dean badly. This wasn’t a new thing; he’d become used to it over the years, used to pushing it down and burying it, but this time it was with a ferocity that scared him.
He’d had Dean. In that history-that-was, he’d had Dean, they’d been together, and that meant that Dean had allowed it. Might allow it again. Might even… might even want it. Heat pooled inside him just as Dean’s body-heat penetrated his oversized hoodie and sank into his side.
With difficulty, he buried those feelings again, compartmentalized them and locked them away, because Dean was offering him comfort when he needed it, and Sam felt sick that this comforting touch and warmth set off such a wrong, such a twisted reaction.
Taking a deep breath, we’re brothers, he’s my brother, Sam relaxed and settled into Dean’s side, burrowing his cold nose into the crook of Dean’s neck where it instantly warmed. He wrapped an arm around Dean’s waist, greedy for his heat, and he felt some of the chill seep out of his bones.
“Thanks,” he said, barely audible over the TV. “You’re warm.”
Dean smiled at this, taking another sip of his beer. Content to be Sam's teddy bear.
And then something caught his eye. The framed art behind the TV was vibrating, followed by a loud smack on the other side of the wall that nearly made it jump off the nail. Dread coiled in Dean's gut.
"Holy heartbreak, Batman!" yelled Robin in the TV, as another smack sounded, "We're trapped!"
Whoever was in the next room was trying to be discreet, but their headboard was too close to the wall and bounced every time they moved. The noise came faster, harder, the picture frame clapping in time, while Batman searched the corners of the TV screen for a way out. The beer was gone. A flush had crept up Dean's face, and he prayed Sam's knee wouldn't collide with the crime scene in his boxers.
The noise was a familiar one to Sam, having heard it in countless cheap motels since he was a kid, and he tuned it out just like he tuned out the noise from the television. Just background noise, nothing to concern him. He found himself drowsing against Dean, the blankets and Dean’s body finally beginning to warm him. He draped a leg over one of Dean’s, pressing closer.
This is how Dean had gotten him through colds and flus when he was young; he remembered being seven years old and snuggled up next to his brother, leeching the warmth from him to combat the chills from his fever. He felt familiar and safe, half in dream, half in memory, and he sighed against the side of Dean’s neck.
The Joker frowned comically. "Ooo Bats. I go to all this trouble, and you didn't make me laugh once." It cut to a commercial, and, mercifully, the couple next door stopped.
Dean stabbed the air with the remote. The room went black, the street lamp casting a ribbon of light across the bed. "Get some rest Sammy," he whispered, resting his hand on the back of Sam's head, idly twisting a lock of hair until he fell asleep, "You got a big day tomorrow."
Chapter 12: Battle Nerves in a Hotel Bed
It didn't feel like a dream. It was too dark to see the ground, but Dean knew he'd been here before. The church loomed, three stories high with a barbed wire fence and doors with metal spikes on the front. He didn't want to go inside. He didn't want to watch it happen again.
He looked around. A crowd had gathered behind him, pale, large-eyed children whose mouths stretched so wide when they smiled that the tops of their heads fell back as if they had been unzipped. They moved forward, and he had no choice but to enter.
Why did the altar need chains? That was different. The dark-haired woman was sitting on someone's back, her voice a high drone like a wasp circling the room.
The look in Sam's eyes was the worst. His fear. His helplessness as the fish children held a goblet under the edge of the altar and the woman grabbed a handful of Sam's hair and and slid the box cutter across his throat. It was an expert cut. Two dark jets of blood poured into the goblet, while everything else that was Sam---his first day at school, his first hunt, looking over the birthday candles at Dean before making a wish---drained onto the floor.
He was back in the hotel. The bed was squeaking, and it took Dean a second to realize why because he had Sam wrapped so tightly in his arms and he was rocking back and forth and sobbing hard toddler tears in Sam's neck.
Sam’s arms were wrapped just as tightly around him, strong arms squeezing him so hard it hurt. They were chest to chest, legs tangled together and cocooned in all the blankets.
“Dean, it’s okay,” Sam said. He felt Dean’s fingertips dig into his back, and he loosened his hold just enough to reach one hand up, to cradle the nape of Dean’s neck, to smooth down the short hair at the back of his head. “It’s okay Dean, you’re awake now, it’s okay,” he repeated.
Dean choked, taking a shaky breath and whispering, "I lost you. She cut you and poured your soul out on the floor and I was never gonna see you again. I was never..."
Dean was breathing fast against Sam's throat now, marshalling his thoughts. Had it been a memory? Or a vision? He pressed his mouth to Sam's forehead, keeping it there, wishing he could stay in the hotel forever and let Arkham self-destruct. His hands found Sam's face, thumbs in the soft flesh beneath his jaw.
"I don't want to go tomorrow," he whispered, mouth ghosting over Sam's closed eye, "She's waiting for you."
Dean’s panic was contagious, and it had Sam’s heart beating hard as Dean pressed their faces together. Sam felt Dean’s lips whisper across his eyelashes when he blinked. He gripped one of Dean’s wrists, pressing Dean’s hand harder against his face, and squeezed gently, strong pulse racing under his thumb.
I don’t want to go either, the small, scared, selfish voice inside of Sam said, I wanna stay here with you and watch Batman and order pizza and forget the world outside and the horrors in my mind, and hold onto you and never ever let go, but couldn’t say aloud. Dean was never this vulnerable, but when it happened, it was Sam’s turn to take care of Dean.
Which meant being strong for both of them.
“We know she’s waiting for me. That’s why we have to go, Dean,” he said, speaking quickly. “But you’ll see me again, she doesn’t want to kill me. Doesn’t want to kill me. She wants me for something else, but she can’t have me. Because---”
Sam stroked his hand up and down Dean’s back, feeling the fine tremor in his brother’s muscles. He turned his face so that their cheeks brushed, stubble stinging his cheekbone and Dean’s lips sliding down his skin. “We’re going to beat her, Dean. I can feel it. I can feel it in me, and I’ve got you, and there’s nothing in this world that we can’t do if we’re together.” Sam swallowed and squeezed Dean tight, ribs crushed together, and spoke against his cheek. “You’re not gonna lose me. I promise.”
Dean turned away and covered his eyes. "Damn I thought this job, that watching out for you, was easy. I mean,” he gave a bitter laugh, “Look at the things you've done! It's like the stuff of myth.”
Dean studied the inside of his hands. “And you know, that gave me hope for a while, because it meant I didn't have to be the hero this time. You're the hero Sammy. I'm just the driver. It was my job to get you where needed to be, and up til now I thought I was taking you to better things," he said, fresh tears sliding down his face, "But instead I'm gonna put you in that car tomorrow and find this awful place where they will butcher you in front of me."
Hot, exasperated anger welled up in Sam, and it was his turn to grip Dean by the face.
“Do you really think that? Do you really think so little of yourself?” Sam tilted Dean’s head toward him, staring into Dean’s streaming eyes. “You’re not my damn chauffeur! Look at what you’ve done. You’ve saved more people than anyone will ever know. You killed Azazel. You got my soul back. You helped stop the Apocalypse that I started. And that’s just the beginning of it! Every time I fuck up, you’re there to pull me out of the fire and fix it.”
Now Sam swiped tenderly at Dean’s cheeks with his thumbs, smearing the trails of his tears into his skin, his voice softening, growing plaintive. “Dean, you were my hero growing up. Not Dad, not Bobby, not Superman or Batman or anybody else, you. And you know what? You still are.”
Hero. Coming from Sam the word sounded thin to Dean, conjuring breakfast tables with little Sammy and his toy soldiers, plastic, neutered, bloodless. His whole life measured by a child's narrow definition of a protector.
"Is that all I am?"
The question hung in the air. Dean held his breath, eyes as hollow as a lovesick dog waiting for the first kick.
"Dean!" Sam said, his voice thick with emotion, trying to rein in his frustration at Dean's self-deprecation. The look of pain in Dean's eyes turned him raw and desperate. He found himself babbling. "Of course not! You're a freaking genius, you're the best man I’ve ever known, you're strong and capable and better than anyone at reading a situation. You are good and selfless and..."
Sam took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and touched their foreheads together, unable to look at Dean's face any longer. "It kills me that you can't see yourself the way I do. I wish you could just... understand, Dean, you're so much better than you think you are."
"Please, Dean." Sam pressed their foreheads together harder, as if he could transfer his own image of Dean directly into Dean's brain. "Please understand. I'm not just your kid brother talking. I've been with you all these years, I've seen you become great. Legendary. You think I'm so good, so strong, but Dean, that’s you. I need you to believe me," he said, with such pained love in his voice that it came out cracked.
Dean sat up and turned on the bedside lamp, shielding his eyes with one hand. "Don't kid yourself Sammy, we're still walking into a meat grinder blind and all the good intentions in the world won't make any difference," he said, pulling aside the blankets and pacing the room, "If I have to bury you tomorrow."
He swatted Sam's book off the table for emphasis, watched it sail across the room and hit the wall and fall open to a loose leaf of paper. Dean's eyes unfocused.
Sam's internal whiplash was so severe that he was still sitting up when the book hit the wall. Then there was the sketch in plain sight, and his mouth gaped open, trying to form words. Cold panic made his face go numb.
"I found it... I found it in one of the books," he said quietly.
Dean bent to pick it up, noting his initials in the corners, searching his memory for the day attached to it. Nothing. It might as well been drawn by someone else. It might as well been a different Sam in the picture.
How long had Sam known? And even if he'd known years back after the re-start, would Sam have ever acted on it? No, Dean decided, lightning did not strike twice. Not in this lifetime. They had been different people back then. He was lucky to have Sam still alive, and if he was very, very lucky, the day in this picture would be waiting for him after he died. That had to be enough.
He snatched up his jacket. "Be right back."
Dean opened and shut the door, and outside the curtained window Sam heard the unmistakable click of a cigarette lighter.
Sam sat very still, trying to feel nothing at all. Of course Dean would burn it. Of course he’d want to destroy the evidence of what they’d done. He didn’t know why he’d kept it anyway, hadn’t thrown it away at that rest stop, except that he did know.
Their memories were scrambled messes, and they could be certain of nothing. Except for that; that scrap of paper had told him that once, he and Dean had been together, and if they had been then, they could be again. It was hope against desperate hope. And Dean had burned it.
He debated going outside, but he didn’t know what he’d say. There was nothing to say.
So instead he straightened the blankets from the tangle they’d become in slow, precise movements and huddled up in them.
Dean walked back inside, and Sam looked up at him, and all he could say was, “Dean.” The only word in his current vocabulary that wasn’t twisted and warped and slinking through his mind.
He'd forgotten how fast Dean moved. Two hard steps and his weight shifted the bed, a hand shaped to the back of Sam’s head, lifting him until his mouth pressed to Dean's in a slow inhalation of sweat and gunpowder and ashes with Dean's other hand clutching the headboard.
Dean came up for air. He reached over and turned off the lamp and a flame clicked to life in his right hand, casting his body into half-shadow. Locked eyes with Sam.
"Take off your clothes."
Chapter 13: Portrait of a Hunter as a Young Man
Heart beating like a trapped bird in his chest, Sam sat up and peeled off his shirt and hoodie with shaking fingers. His lips tingled hot where Dean had kissed him. By the time he’d stripped the rest of his clothes off, his whole body was trembling, not with cold this time, but with nervous, exhilarated anticipation. He watched Dean, eyes wide.
The flame floated over his skin, the hollow of his throat, the wide muscled chest, the curve of the hip bone, mapping Sam's body, Dean's hand lightly turning him to see better. Shadows bent with him, etching Sam's muscles in hard lines.
"I don't remember drawing that picture," said Dean, fingers tracing the length of Sam's leg, "But I wish I did."
The sheets hit the floor, the pillows balled up and stuffed behind Sam to prop him up. "Here." said Dean, placing Sam's left hand behind him on the headboard, and cutting an emergency candle into four and teasing out the wicks and arranging them to Sam's right on the table, Dean pulled out his journal and sat on the end of the bed.
"That old picture wasn't you," said Dean, digging for pencils, "I want this one."
Sam shifted slightly, his whole body abuzz. The kiss, that touch of Dean’s hand on his bare skin, lying here naked with Dean’s eyes roaming his whole body… it was too much, too much good after that terrible waking, and it wasn’t nearly enough. He found himself short of breath.
“Dean, do you remember anything? About us?” he asked quietly.
Dean stared at the blank page. "No," he said, looking up and back for the first outline, "I wouldn't have even guessed til we started digging through the computers at Fort Cloud."
He narrowed his eyes, measuring Sam's arms, pencil scuffing across paper. "There wasn't a whole lot in that last recording. We talked. You sounded...unhappy, probably been unhappy for a long time," said Dean, Adam's apple bobbing, "And I made the first move."
Knowing this, that he hadn’t pushed anything on Dean, relaxed Sam, and he nodded. After a few seconds, he said, “I remember this. I remember you drawing me. You looked… really happy. And I felt good, all tired and sweaty and lazy, like you do after you’ve been screwing.”
Sam continued, “I remember the way your thighs felt.” He closed his eyes for a second, and the smell of melting wax and the sound of pencil scratching on paper plunged him further into memory. “Wrapped around my hips.”
The pencil didn't stop. The candles didn't explode. The window didn't burst outward in a shower of glass as though Sam's confession had ignited the room. Only in Dean's head.
Sam shivered as a chill passed through him, but deep in his core he was burning hot, and he wouldn’t stop this for the world
The way their chests had slid together as Sam had crawled up to kiss Dean, his brother’s mouth tasting faintly of blood. This was like a waking wet dream, only with Dean watching him, and that made it so much better.
“You were… “
Dean’s silence gave Sam permission to say things that he perhaps wouldn’t have had the courage to say otherwise. “You were so hard against my stomach. And you… “ Sam felt his whole face go hot as the vivid memory of plunging into Dean swept over him. You were so hot inside. He gripped the headboard tight as all the muscles from his navel to his thighs contracted, and he felt himself swelling, lengthening against his hip.
“Jesus, Dean,” he said, voice a harsh rasp. “You felt so fucking good.”
Dean listened, filing all this away to the little black box in his head, where it would be ruthlessly exploited the next time he got drunk in the shower. He circled an x beneath Sam's collar bone where the tattoo would go, and moved on the shoulder. The tricep. The joint. Only little things. If he took in all the things at once, if he took in all of Sam stretched out on the bed with that look on his face, he would lose.
After several minutes, Sam’s breathing slowed from big, chest-expanding breaths to normal. In a softer voice, he said, “Do you know what I liked most about it though? The way you kissed me. Like you wanted me just as much as I wanted you.”
"Did I say anything?"
At Sam's puzzled expression, Dean looked at the ceiling and said, "I uh...I had a waitress in Iowa once, and afterward we were laying in bed and she said I never once called her 'darling' or 'beautiful' or anything I was supposed to call a girl. That I was a cold kind of player."
Sam’s eyes went unfocused as he scanned through his incomplete memories of that night. “You said my name. A lot, like, over and over. Like it meant something. And… you told me I was yours.” He watched the curve of Dean’s mouth, then said, “I couldn’t stop saying your name, either. I’d wanted to say it like that for so long, it just kept tumbling out of my mouth.”
Sam paused. There had been a moment, one that had knocked the breath out of Sam, had squeezed a warm fist around his heart. “You called me ‘baby boy,’” he said, feeling that warmth in his chest all over again.
Dean traced along Sam's face, first with his pencil and then with imaginary hands. Sam had always been a good fighter, with sharp reflexes and an instinct for guessing the opponent's strategy three or four moves in advance. Had any of that translated over? Had Sam read his body, moved with him in silent exploration, or had there been a lot of schoolboy fumbling?
Dean lay the paper and pencil aside. "It's getting late," he said, gently pulling the blankets over Sam, "You should sleep."
Dean lay beside him on top of the coverlet, tracking Sam's eyes, holding him there. Even with dawn two hours away, trucks were already pulling out for the morning deliveries. Foghorns sounded to one another in the dark, loud enough to cover the noise when they kissed and said each other's names and Dean's hand slid under the sheet and circled Sam's leaking cock and wrung it in one hard wet squeeze.
Sam made a high, hurt noise in his throat and thrust up into Dean’s hand, pressing his open mouth against the corner of Dean’s lips.
"Now you listen, you do whatever you have to do to kill those sons of bitches tomorrow, but you come back to me," Dean hissed, "You have to live."
“I will,” Sam said breathless, eyes closed, and he focused on his brother’s hand on his cock. He’d wanted Dean to touch him ever since Dean had stormed in and told him to strip, hell, ever since Dean had come to pick him up at Stanford, and it was perfect, the way Dean touched him, like he knew exactly what Sam needed. He gripped the back of Dean’s shirt, then slipped his fingers under the hem to skim his hand along Dean’s hot skin.
He could feel the hard shape of Dean’s cock through the coverlet, and he pressed his hip against it, wanting.
“Dean,” he moaned when Dean gave him a twisting, slippery squeeze, and he turned his head to find Dean’s mouth again. Dean coaxed him through it, Sammy, Sammy, into Sam’s mouth, the gentle words in stark, perfect contrast to the way Dean handled him; rough, the calluses on his palm sliding along Sam’s slick cock creating a friction that had Sam at the edge far before he wanted to be.
He dug his blunt fingernails into Dean’s back, and “Call me baby boy,” he breathed, and when Dean whispered it in his ear Sam came with a wordless cry, arching and spilling hot all over his brother’s hand.
“I promise I’ll come back to you,” he said once he could speak again, words soft and slurred, eyelids heavy. Dean kissed him one more time, lips gentle and clinging before they drew apart.
They listened to each other breathe, Sam fast fading against the pillow, and when his eyes fluttered into dreamless sleep, Dean showered and shaved and walked to the corner diner and walked back listening to the wind in the trees like they had a secret for him.
Sam woke hours later to the blare of Go Go Godzilla in the parking lot. Coffee steamed on the bedside table with SAM scrawled on the styrofoam.
Sam crawled out from under the covers shivering. He found his clothes lying in a heap on the floor and pulled them on. He felt loose and relaxed as he sipped on the hot coffee, despite the knowledge of what they might be up against today, and the words swarming at the edges of his consciousness. He stilled, cup half raised to his mouth, when he realized that they’d been gone ever since Dean had walked into the motel room and kissed him, and were only just now coming back.
He dressed for cold weather, double socks and a long-sleeved thermal under his layers. Leaving the beds a mess, he walked outside. He smiled when he saw Dean leaning against the Impala, the morning sun bright on his face.
Dean got right up to him, stepping on his toes. He wasn't smiling, but his eyes glittered green and he pressed the tip of his tongue to his upper teeth like Sam had seen him done on a thousand cute bartenders. "Car's packed," he whispered, conspiratorial, as if they were sneaking out while John was asleep, "You ready to roll?"
“Just about,” Sam said, and he grabbed Dean by the nape of his neck and kissed him hard on the mouth. He didn’t care that they were out in the open. Didn’t care that anyone could see them.
“Okay,” Sam said, a little breathless. “Now I’m ready.”
Dean's lips parted, cheeks and the tip of his nose pinked by the winter wind. He'd never had many high school sweethearts, none that lasted, but he knew this was different. His fingers found Sam's right hand hanging by his side, their breath steaming in the parking lot.
"I um, I got you something," said Dean, standing close so Sam couldn't see what he was getting out of his pocket, "I haven't used it in years, and it's only good for opening beer bottles, and you don't have to keep it..."
Dean took his wrist, his touch gentle, his eyes on the ground, as a ring slid onto Sam's finger "...But I meant to give it to you a long time ago."
Sam stared down at Dean’s ring on his hand, and a smile spread over his face. He’d missed Dean’s ring, the clink of it when he’d opened bottles, the tap of it on the steering wheel, the way Dean fiddled with it when he was nervous. It had been as much a part of Dean as his freckles, as his green eyes. Now it was as if he was wearing a part of Dean on his hand, a part that fit perfectly around his finger.
“Thank you,” Sam said quietly, and repressed the urge to kiss Dean again, suddenly shy about it. Then he reaffirmed the vow he’d made hours before, this time fierce and determined: “I promise I’ll come back to you. No matter what happens.”
Dean didn't meet his eyes, the poor macho bastard, but he held onto Sam a little longer and ducked his head and let out his breath and turned toward the car. "I'll take the first leg."
Chapter 14: Arkham
The roads on the outskirts of Arkham were depressing, title pawns and old men burning trash in shopping carts, but that was a Carnival cruise compared to what lay beyond the city limits.
Dean peered through the window. "That's not creepy at all."
The door to a general store stood open, a boy of seven or eight standing behind the register in an over-sized suit like one of those fairy tales where a child wishes to become a man and then changes back after midnight. A girl the same age pushed groceries onto the counter, soup and juice and frozen pizza, and the boy marked her down in a heavy brown ledger.
A flyer rolled across the sidewalk and caught in a tree. A man's photo sat above the caption HAVE YOU SEEN MY FATHER? and flipped up in the wind and vanished down the street.
Dean slowed the Impala to a crawl so that they could study the surroundings. The day, which had started out so bright, had taken on an overcast, muddy light. They passed by houses with their doors wide open like gaping black mouths. At least one house on every block had its windows busted. A handful of disconcertingly pale men in various stages of undress (at the sight of them, the alien words in Sam’s head swelled and lurched) lurked in the shadow of a narrow alley between deserted businesses with their signs still flipped to OPEN.
“Where is everybody?” Sam asked as they passed the dozenth car left idling or dead at the side of the road, doors open.
Dean stopped the car suddenly, pulling up to the curb. "Look." he said, pointing at a leaflet taped to a bookshop door. He stepped out and walked past a clerk so thin he looked like five broomsticks tied together and plucked the leaflet from the door and sat back in the car and looked at Sam. "It's her," he said, "It's the woman."
A dark-haired woman in pink, pumps, and pearls smiled at the camera. LADIES AUXILIARY 8:00 AT ARKHAM CHURCH OF THE COVENANT.
Dean checked the time. "We got a few hours, wanna scope out the place?"
Dread threatened to rise in Sam, but he pushed it down. This was what they were here for, after all. “Yeah, let’s go check it out.”
He took the leaflet from Dean. It was strange to see the priestess looking so normal, other than her eerie, wide-set eyes. "It's 1314 Main Street. That should be easy enough to find."
They cruised down the street, evidence of abandonment and decay growing more obvious as they reached the heart of the town. Identical fliers to the one in Sam's hand were stapled to telephone poles, taped to dirty windows, fluttering by in the cold, sea-scented breeze.
Dean took a left onto Main Street, and they counted the blocks before they reached the address. In the space where the Arkham Church of the Covenant should have occupied, there was only a large, weed-choked lot surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.
Dean scanned the field, chewing his lip but secretly relieved. "Maybe it's further back in the woods."
He leapt up onto the fence, but the trees distorted around him, some appearing to touch him while the others stretched miles away into the clouds. No wind blew but they rocked back and forth, hundreds of them, alive and more aware than any forest had a right to be. He stepped back and blinked. No, there were perhaps a dozen trees behind the field. Either way, he felt sick, and gripped Sam's arm to steady himself.
"It's late," said Dean, "Let's get a room. Maybe the files have something on this place."
Sam didn’t answer right away. His eyes were unfocused, mouth a thin line. “There’s something here. I don’t know what. But it’s… it’s loud.”
The words weren’t in the back of his mind any longer; they’d come up to the forefront, an echoing chant that he could barely think around. He let Dean coax him back into the car, and barely paid attention to the road on the way to the motel they’d seen on the way in.
“You check us in, okay?” he asked when they parked.
When Dean came back with the keys, Sam was standing in front of a motel door, trying unsuccessfully to turn the knob.
Dean dangled the key in front of him, a rusting antique as heavy as a grapefruit. "This might work faster," he said, shoving it in the keyhole, "Though honestly everything in this place is so worn down you could probably take the lock apart with a pencil."
He caught the look in Sam's eyes. "Maybe you oughta get some sleep."
“Yeah,” Sam said vaguely. He walked into the motel room and took a seat at the small table by the window, barely noticing when Dean shuffled in, laden with all their bags.
The words were deafening. He could feel power that had begun subtly when they’d entered the town and peaked when they’d stared at the abandoned lot, beginning to thrum through him, cold and squirming inside him. Sam took a deep breath and thumbed Dean’s ring on his finger, looking down at it and remembering with warmth the way Dean had kissed him the night before. The noise in his head receded from a shriek to a scream; a fractional difference, but definitely an improvement.
So he needed something to focus on. Speaking quietly, he tried counting through perfect squares. The Fibonacci sequence. All the digits of pi that he could remember.
“One. Two. Four. Eight. Sixteen. Thirty two. Sixty four. One twenty eight. Two fifty six,” he said.
A warm hand clapped his shoulder. "Dude, wake up, you ain't speaking English." said Dean, pushing Sam onto a bed. Except the bed felt off, the floor bending at strange angles as if the whole room were on a tilt. Dean kept his hand on Sam, waiting.
“It’s just so loud,” Sam said, and just as he realized his voice sounded all wrong, the mattress of the other bed exploded off its box springs, crashing into the wall. The tattoo on his back tingled.
But he felt… better. As if he’d cracked open a pressure valve and some of the steam had run out of him. Not enough, but he was afraid of what would happen if he kept speaking in that language, releasing the pressure, with Dean so close.
Sam ran his hands through his hair, making it a complete mess. He focused, enunciating carefully. “That wasn’t in English either, was it?” There, that came out right.
Sam hummed like a lightning rod, glass rattling in the windowpanes, but Dean took his hands and knelt down and looked him square in the eye and bit back the kind of Jedi Knight crack he always made when Sam scared him. "That bed probably sucked anyway," said Dean, "This has to have happened before, back at Fort Cloud, you just gotta remember how to dial it down."
Sam stared back, eyes glassy. “I don’t think… I don’t think it ramped up like this before. I think I had time to get used to it.” Or maybe they’d done something to him then, something to combat this overwhelming force. If so, there was nothing he could do about it now.
He closed his eyes as a surge flashed through him, making his teeth chatter and all the hair on his body stand on end. It was excruciating. Then he opened his eyes again, searching Dean’s face. “I know one thing that helps, though,” he said, and then he was standing, pulling Dean up with him and crowding into his space.
He kissed Dean, relentless and hard, and his big hand slid down to the crotch of Dean’s jeans, kneading at the shape of his dick through the denim as he held him close with a hand at the small of his back. Almost immediately, he felt some of the frenetic energy suffuse.
All down the street lights flickered, cracks starting at Sam's feet to branch across the room and up the walls, the trembling of the earth only quieting when Dean took Sam's face in his hands and gently kissed back, bodies swaying like two trees. "Slow down baby boy..."
It was like kissing marble, Sam was so cold, but Dean kept on, softly pressing his hand to Sam's chest until they were together on the bed, ignoring the little voice that said Sam was safe. Sam would never hurt him. Sam would never...lose control and splatter Dean's brains on the ceiling like caramel left too long on the stove.
Sam lay flat, hair fanned across the pillow while Dean straddled him and unbuckled Sam's belt. "Let's play a game."
The belt hit to the floor. "I say a word in English, you say it back to me in...whatever that scrabble is," said Dean, bending low so his mouth was close to Sam's, "Only you gotta say it nice."
Sam curled his hands around Dean’s hips, trying hard to keep his breathing steady. “Okay,” he whispered, leaning up to brush his lips against Dean’s.
Dean put his mouth to Sam's ear, fingers twisting Sam's boxers tight against his body. "Say my name."
Sam nuzzled into the hair at the side of Dean’s head, thinking furiously. There was no word for Dean but Dean. He knew this wasn’t what Dean wanted though, so he searched.
Gentle words weren’t part of his other vocabulary. There was no word for fraternal brother, only brother-in-arms. There was no word for lover, no word for partner, only rutting mate. He tried to combine these concepts in his head and got a spiky, violent word that stung when he thought of it. Not Dean at all.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, smelling Dean’s hair. He took the word and remade it, sanding off the edges, slicing out the black at the heart of it. When he opened his mouth, it spiraled soft off of his tongue.
Dean held fast to him, listening to the word repair the damage. The walls squared themselves. The cracks closed. Hairline fractures in Dean's shoulder from the robot fight went away. Outside the open window the words "...probably take the lock apart with a pencil..." drifted upward, a little temporal leakage it seemed.
"See? It's not all blood and fire," said Dean, as footsteps creaked in the next room. Had someone called the police?
They kissed again, the air greasy with black magic. Sam was calmer but still throwing off sparks, like wheels spinning on a flipped over car, and Dean pressed his knee suggestively between Sam's legs, whispering, "Say the place you call home."
Sam slipped his hands under Dean’s shirt, long fingers sliding up Dean’s warm back, and he curled his face into the crook of Dean’s neck. Rocking his hips up slowly, he traced the shapes of Dean’s shoulder blades and said the same word against Dean’s skin, slower, deeper, the shape of it taking on a familiar taste in his mouth.
Light filled the room. Tires squealed in the parking lot. Their shirts rode up and fell away. Dean barely, barely heard Sam say "get the hinges", but from the wrong end of the room.
Dean rolled over with Sam on top, mouths sealed together. "Now," he said, "Think the word that always brings you back to me."
Sam kissed him, shaking now from the expulsion of energy and the sweetness of the moment. He felt light and insubstantial, the slinking power in him buried deep, the cold in his body forgotten. He thought of the word for Dean, but it needed more. Found the harsh word for possession, polished it and slid it in within the syllables of Dean’s name. The word was multilayered; you’re mine, my brother, my partner, my home, and I’m yours. It exploded in his head, all white light and heat like a lightbulb bursting, and he nearly sobbed against Dean’s shoulder as all the dark power and alien words left him, his body and mind his own again.
“Dean,” he said, pressing his cheek against his brother’s and twining their fingers together, raising Dean’s hands above his head and stretching his long body over him.
Chapter 15: Sam Winchester’s Guide to Occult Combat
Dean let himself be moved, boneless in Sam's embrace, and yet time eddied around them---a gun firing, pockets of conversation yet to be, the rush of seawater---with the melancholy reminder that this was temporary. That soon this too would be ripped away from him.
"Sam," Dean rasped, "Whatever happens here, whatever happens to me, it's important that---"
He never got to finish sentence. Glass shattered and a brick skittered across the floor.
Dean's face tightened. Several somethings giggled in the street, like a chorus of plugged toilets.
He slid out from under Sam and noiselessly lifted the gun from his jacket and flattened himself beside the window with one finger on the curtain. He turned white.
"Sam," he said, managing to keep his voice flat, "It's time to go."
Sam rose. He was ready; clear-minded, calm and rested and from the few moments they'd had. Moving quickly but not rushing, he slid his shirt and belt on and hoisted their weapons bag. He was aware of the strange laughter and shuffling outside, aware of the way Dean was watching him, but he continued on, strapping a machete to his thigh and tucking a gun into his belt.
"You take such good care of me, Dean," he said, feeling power well up in him again, strong but without that bitter, acid edge of overload. He motioned with his head. "Now, move."
When Dean took a few steps sideways from the window, another brick came flying through, landing with a thump in the glitter of broken glass. Sam made a gesture with his hand, quietly spoke a string of words, and the furniture in the room rose to rearrange itself, mattresses floating against the window to cover it, table and chairs sliding into place to buttress them.
Dean gaped, taking a wary step back, then shut his mouth. "Right."
Shrugging into a holster, Dean strapped guns and ammo and a flashlight over his cotton shirt with the jacket concealing most of it, not liking how dark it had gotten outside. "I counted forty, with more waiting in the buildings across the street," he said, checking to see if he had a round in the chamber, "And not one of them looked like they were meant to be walking on two legs. We’ll take the fire escape to the roof, if we pick off enough..."
Dean turned the knob, but the door would not open. "The hell...?"
“It’s locked?” Sam asked.
Sam knelt by the gun bag, rummaged through and came out with a screwdriver. “Here,” he said, tossing it to Dean. “Get the hinges.”
Dean caught the screwdriver and was about to start when the whole frame started leaking gray goo like curdled milk, sizzling and eating a hole right through the floor.
Taking a deep, chest-expanding breath, Sam squared his shoulders. “Stand back,” he said to Dean. “Get ready.”
Dean moved behind Sam, gun in hand.
Sam raised his hand and moved his lips, and the door exploded outward from its frame.
It bowled over a group of the pale creatures, trapping them beneath it. Their spindly legs twitched, and they let out ear-piercing, gurgling cries.
Sam and Dean glanced at each other, eyes battle-ready, then rushed the gaping hole of the door and the narrow exit created by the gap in the attackers. Dean turned left, always the driver’s side. Sam took his place at Dean’s back and faced right. The unnatural creatures swarmed them, their pale eyes round and wet as poached eggs glowing in the early darkness, their many-jointed fingers reaching for the brothers.
Sam heard weapons fire behind him, and he spread his hands toward the onrushing creatures and spoke a garbled sentence. Unleashing the dark, slippery power felt like victory in itself.
The first wave fell backwards, unconscious, knocking over many of their kin, and the second wave were sent flying even more forcefully, a dozen of them landing with a metallic bang sprawled on the Impala, arms and legs twisted at unnatural angles.
“You good, Dean?” Sam asked, clenching and unclenching his fists to limber up his fingers.
A shot rang out and a creature's head sprayed across a storefront window. Dean reloaded without even looking. "Yeah, let's get the hell out of here."
They headed north, bodies sliding off the hood of the car as they backed out, and didn't get two blocks but an electric pole had been knocked down, cables whipping in the wind. Another mob rushed them from the side, smashing the glass and pulling Dean through the driver window.
"Damn it!" Dean shouted, his gun jamming and more creatures on the way.
Sam shot after him, barrelling through the driver’s side door to get to Dean. In his need to save Dean, he momentarily forgot that he was anything but hunter’s instinct and muscle; he tore the machete from his thigh and slashed at the creature who clung to Dean, cutting clean through its shoulder and neck. Then he sliced through the other half-dozen attackers just as brutally. Bones cracked and black ichor spewed, stinking droplets splattering his face.
He grabbed Dean by the forearm and hauled him to his feet, swiveling his head. They were coming from all directions, the pale, jointed things being joined by hulking, slimy beasts with tiny heads and knuckles that nearly brushed the pavement.
“New gun,” he reminded Dean, elbowing the duffel on his back. They could do this, and he could take them on if he were being attacked on only one or two fronts, but they were everywhere. He thought that he and Dean could fight through the thinnest group to the east, but they needed time.
As he felt Dean lift the bag over his head, he closed his eyes and dug deep, rummaging through his mind.
There. He sucked sickly-sweet power into his bones, opened his eyes, shot his hands down toward the ground and yelled, and a wave of shimmering darkness spread in a ring around him, washing over into their pursuers and spreading.
The creatures’ movements slowed to a crawl, as if they were moving through thick, viscous black slime.
Dean kicked dead bodies out of his way and stood up and surveyed the frozen tableau. The interstate was just beyond the next three traffic lights, with more things climbing out of manhole covers like an upset ant hill. "There's hundreds of them," he whispered, "How in the hell...?"
He spat a bloody mouthful on the ground and unlocked the trunk. "Damn I hope this works."
Pulling out something halfway between a bullhorn and a boombox, Dean spent a minute hooking the machine to the roof with rope and said, "Sam, you drive for a bit, I think I got something to clear the road."
Back in the car, Dean brushed away broken glass and ran a long extension cord from the car roof to the tape player, with something Sam couldn't quite see gleaming under his right arm. "Let's get around this."
A word shoved the nearest black-bloodied corpses away, their bodies dragging across the concrete. With an impatient flick of his wrist Sam sent glass shards scattering from the driver's seat onto the street, then he climbed in beside Dean.
"You ready?" he asked. He got his answer when Dean grinned at him and pushed play on the tape player, and Blue Oyster Cult pumped out of the speaker roped to the roof, the bass shaking the whole car.
Sam grinned back and put the car in drive. Music thumping, Sam made a right turn. The creatures were beginning to speed up now that the spell was wearing off. Sam thrust his hand out of the window and made a wide gesture that cleared the monsters out of their path in a tangle of bodies that slammed into the nearest buildings.
Meanwhile, more creatures howled behind them, claws out and frothing acid at the mouth, when suddenly the guitar solo began and they clutched their skulls, the music expanding their brainpans until their eyes bugged and they popped like bloody champagne bottles. A few worms survived, crawling out of neckholes into sewer grates, but soon nothing was left standing and the waterfront, their only way out, glittered nearby.
"Cut the headlights," said Dean, hand on Sam's arms, head turning toward a distant moan, "Do you hear that?"
Sam turned off the lights, engine idling. The moan echoed high and low from under the street, call and response, more voices adding to the mix. Something shuffled in the dark.
Dean's breath plumed in the cold. "It's getting closer," he whispered, staring through the darkened windshield, "It's here."
Sam turned on the headlights. The bodies were gone. The worms were gone. Only great splashes of blood remained, with a pink mound of scar tissue in the middle of the road that, if Dean watched it long enough, moved up and then down again. As if it were breathing.
"Oh shit drive Sam."
Concrete crumbled under its weight. The street split, setting off a wave of car alarms. The thing peered into the Impala's headlights and uncurled itself, a fifty-foot torso with no face or legs and arms that stretched the length of the block, dragging itself toward the Impala with a horrible moan from its mouthless head. Sam yanked the steering wheel to the right.
"I got it, I got it!" Dean shouted, peeling off his jacket, holster stretched across the back of his shoulders, "Cut through the alley! There's a bridge on the other side!"
Sam wrenched his head around and went into reverse, trash cans flying as Dean snapped two rounds in his shotgun and planted one buttcheek on the open window and took aim and punched a hole where the torso's eyes ought to be. A stream of pink pulp sprayed out the back of its head, but it did not slow down, and Dean cursed as the wound sealed up.
"We gotta split up," said Dean, spying a gas station by the waterfront and jumping out of the car with a duffle bag, "Finish off anything left in town, I've got Pinkzilla. Take surface streets and meet me on the other side of that bridge."
Sam peeled away, driving in parallel one street over. He went slowly for two blocks, catching sight of Dean between buildings until he didn't any more, then he turned left.
The streets were deserted. Power surged under his skin begging to be used, thrummed with a rhythm that seemed to come from the city itself, making him grind his teeth and squeeze hard on the steering wheel. After a few blocks the constant backdrop of alien language squirmed in his head, clashing painfully with the music, so he hit Stop on the tape player.
Now there was only the purr of the Impala's engine echoing down the street.
And now there were pale creatures peeking their heads out of alleyways, clawing up out of broken windows.
Sam didn't know he was smiling when he swung his legs out of the car and stood. He throbbed inside, brittle and cold, and he welcomed the first onslaught.
Raising his hands, he called out words that he hadn’t used in Dean's presence, fearing they'd affect him as well. They tasted like poison on his tongue, but felt sweet spewing out of his mouth. The approaching fish-men yowled before their spines cracked, torsos snapping backwards so that their heads nearly touched the ground before they crumpled.
More fish-men rushed him. They exploded in place, black ichor splattering the pavement and the storefronts. Sam's nose tickled, and he tasted the familiar, slick copper of blood in the back of his throat. He wiped the string of blood from his nose with his fingertips, then flicked it onto the ground.
He marched forward. The fish-men were approaching cautiously now, but still approaching, and he reached a hand out, squeezed it into a fist and plucked a word out of his head. The creatures fell to the ground, twisted, their bones crushed to shards inside their misshapen sacks of skin.
Blood dripped down over his lips and chin and onto his shirt. The street was empty. He kept walking, leaving cracks in the pavement wherever he stepped.
There; a murmuring, scraping sound. He turned his head to see a small army of the slimy, tiny-headed things he'd noticed before creeping between two buildings toward him, and this time he knew he was grinning when he looked at them. He turned to face them head-on, set his feet apart and raised his hands, then brought them together hard, his voice booming down the streets and shaking windows in their frames. Sickly sweet seawater sung in his veins, and the buildings on either sides of the creeping mass crashed together, smashing the monsters between tons of brick and mortar and steel. Huge cracks in the pavement snaked out, curving to avoid Sam.
His shirt was warm with the flow of blood from his nose, and he reached a hand up to swipe it away. Cool metal touched his face, and he looked down at the ring on his finger.
Dean's ring. His pulse slowed as he thumbed it, slowed again as he wondered how Dean was doing, brief worry crossing his mind.
An explosion sounded to the east, and he looked to see a fiery column lighting up the sky. Heart picking up speed again, he raced to the car. It was time to get his brother.
As outnumbered as Dean was, the music played on in his head, pumping his arms, bouncing from car roof to car roof as the giant torso pulled buildings down around it in an effort to trap him.
"Just...a little...closer..." Dean hissed, not daring to look over his shoulder as he sprinted over the bridge, cables snapping as the giant torso, predictably, followed. Past the gas station, past anything like human habitation, Dean knelt behind a tree and unzipped his duffle, drenched from running the last few blocks uphill.
"You like me so much," said Dean, shouldering the rocket launcher, "Let's see you eat this."
The blast flattened his hair, the gas station erupting in a small mushroom cloud that grew and grew until Dean backed away, afraid it might touch him, but then the fire sucked inward and the creature raised its arms to the sky in two long tendrils of flame, the bridge collapsing beneath it, and it dropped into the waves below.
Dean's chest heaved, dropping the rocket launcher. It was done. It was over. The Impala squealed to a stop beside him, and seeing Sam was safe Dean sank to his knees on the grass and shut his eyes, heart hammering. "I think..." he swallowed, catching his breath, "I think we're clear Sam."
Dean looked up. Three little girls in ties and short-sleeve shirts watched him through rifle sights, barrels hovering inches from his face. Tattoos shifted across their arms as if seen through a heat haze. "Wgah'nagl fhtagn Dean Winchester?"
He nodded, hands up in surrender. Around the corner came a station wagon pulled by eight doubled-over fish creatures, a boy pulling in the reins with a cowboy whoop. The girl looked at Sam and motioned to the car. "K'yarnak shtunggli gof'nn."
As the brothers climbed into the foul-smelling station wagon, Dean noticed that Sam was not quite as he'd left him; his pupils were contracted into tiny pinpricks, and there was blood crusted around his nose and lips, and coating his teeth when he smiled.
Sam said something unintelligible to him that made the tattoo on his back feel tight against his skin as two of the girls climbed into the back seat and slammed the doors, hinges creaking. Sam shook his head as if to clear it.
Dean felt the cold metal of a rifle barrel press against the back of his skull. “Gotha athg stell'bsna mnahn! Chtenff n'gha!” said the girl triumphantly, but then Sam said something in quiet reply and she backed off, mouth trembling.
"They say she’s waiting for us," Sam said, his voice deeper, thicker than usual.
Chapter 16: The Church
They pulled up to the empty field on Main Street, unchanged though perhaps the moonlight looked a little more angular to Dean. To Sam however...
Dean's eyes slid over to him. "What? There's nothing there."
In the previously vacant lot stood a church, the stone columns and carvings familiar. It seemed to vibrate like a tuning fork, setting up an answering hum in Sam’s bones.
“Dean, that’s the church!” Sam said, turning his face to his brother, looking more normal now that he had another piece of the puzzle. “The one from the Lovecraft drawing!”
Dean looked again, but was prodded out of the car by one of the girls. "I don't see any church."
"You cannot thee becauth you don't know the wordth!" she lisped, with a pronounced Cthuvian accent, "Our wordth are your thingth, your buildingth, your world!"
Dean turned to Sam. "So how come you can see it?"
Sam stared at him for a few seconds. “Because I know the words, Dean,” he said simply, the deep tug still in his voice. But then he circled the station wagon, shooting a brief, hungry look at the panting fish-men from the sides of his eyes, and stood next to Dean.
When Sam looked at Dean, the tiny pinpricks of his pupils seemed to vibrate. “Do you remember in the desert, when we said the words? Do you remember any of them?”
"No, no I don't, and I don't get any of this...thingness of words business," said Dean, imagining the word 'church' falling out of his mouth in steel ten-inch letters and landing heavily in the grass. He took Sam's hand, cold power humming through him. "Hey man, you don't look good, are you still with me?"
Sam’s shoulders fell an inch as he breathed out, relieved by Dean’s touch though he hadn’t known he’d needed it. “Yeah, I’m still with you,’ he said, the words truer as he said them. The power of words was still in him, whether they were the arcane ones he spoke to destroy, or the plain English he used to talk to his brother.
He squeezed down on Dean’s warm hand. Feeling a muted arc of electricity pass between Dean’s palm and his own, he had an intuition. He pointed. “Look now. See anything?”
Dean's eyes flared. "How...?"
He put his hand on the translucent fence, a lumbering house of seven gables overgrown with ivy now superimposed against the empty field.
"I don't like this," said Dean, mouth right against Sam's ear while the children drew starfish people on the sidewalk with chalk, "Why toss fifty-foot soldiers at us and then roll out the welcoming committee to bring us here alive?"
In the adrenaline rush of the fight, Sam hadn’t yet fully considered this. He stared up at the church, aware of the ichor and blood on his clothing, thinking of all the bodies strung out in their dust.
The first thought that came to him was a dark one, and he shook it off. You were supposed to die in those attacks. She only wanted me.
But then he guessed, “It was a test. She wants me, she wants us, for something, but not if we can’t handle ourselves.” There was more to it, as well; Sam had a feeling she wanted Sam primed for something, all juiced-up and ready to go. Which he was. But he refrained from saying this to Dean, wanting to protect Dean from that thought. Wanting to protect Dean from the knowledge that if Sam wanted to right now, be could wipe the whole city off the map with a single word. “We handled ourselves. Let’s go find out what she wants.”
The door opened on a sparsely furnished hall with heavy beams and candles burning in the high ceiling, long wooden table flanked by two rows of straight-back chairs. Children in oversized suits and dresses sat at attention, the bottom halves of their bodies masked in shadow. No stained glass, no altar, no iconography of any kind signifying its purpose, except for the woman standing at the far end of the table with an open book in her hand. Dean shivered in a cold sweat.
"Who are you?" he asked, struck by her alien beauty, her porcelain skin and hair spilling over her shoulders like black foam. It would have been easier if she'd been ugly.
She said nothing. Her mouth hung open, frozen as a mannequin, the only sound she made like a circling wasp far back in her throat. Dean snapped his fingers in front of the children's faces, nothing.
Swallowing his fear, Dean walked up to her, the buzzing growing louder.
Something crawled out of her mouth, a black-winged fly as big as his thumb with long feelers and a pink pinched face at the end. Lovecraft's face.
It leapt onto Dean's cheek. "Behold, the prophecy is made flesh!" it buzzed, "One soul with two names shall lay the salt-bourne low with word and fire, and the Dreamer shall claim his crown!"
Dean slapped it away, staring at Sam. "What the hell...what is he talking about?"
The tidal pull was strong here, dark magic ebbing and flowing in Sam’s veins, and it made it hard to concentrate but for Dean’s warm hand gripping his. “One soul,” he said meaningfully, squeezing Dean’s fingers gently and trying to keep his gaze away from the priestess’s face. “But who’s the Dreamer supposed to be?”
He looked around, studied the weather-worn interior of the church, the open, glass-less windows. Outside the landscape was all gray sand and sky, as far removed from wet New England as you could imagine.
“Take a look at the walls,” he said, and he dragged Dean along with him to study foot-tall words etched on the flat surfaces. The Lovecraft bug followed, perching on Sam’s shoulder. Familiar words and phrases leapt out at him, things he’d read in crumbling journals in the Bunker and in motel rooms on the way here. “Look familiar? It’s HPL.”
It might have been the flickering candles, the way the walls bulged like baby octopuses dragging themselves under the wallpaper. "I can't read it," said Dean, positively clinging to Sam's arm now, "What's it say?"
Sam unshouldered his duffel bag and pointed to a passage above eye-level. "There. One soul with two names; that's what the bug said."
He scanned the walls, looking for something more concrete. The letters seemed to tremble as he read them, slipping back and forth from English to angular Cthonic script. "In the destruction of the Dreamer will be borne the Dreamer again." Sam's body trembled at this, the dual words for Dreamer setting up a buzzing feedback in his head.
It was coming together all too clearly, and yet Sam struggled to fight it. He twined his fingers around Dean's, feeling the metal bite of the ring. He touched the wall, tracing letters, and a jolt sizzled through him, power pulsing thick and slimy enough to make him nauseous and effervescent with it at the same time. "The Dreamer and His Consort are destined by the stars of many universes to sleep beneath the seas, shaping the world with their minds until the time comes to rise again and reign."
The buzzing in the room grew louder, more organized, as the children joined in tritone harmony until a much higher fourth tone met in the center on the dog-whistle edge of perception. The woman had not budged yet long umbilical shadows stretched from her to the children, their faces losing definition until one girl collapsed, the front of her head as featureless as bread dough. Whereas Sam...
Dean looked down. The front of the church had been muddy, yet he saw only one set of tracks. Sam stared mesmerized at the walls, his feet hovering an inch above the floor, the dead girl's face pressing from under the skin on the back of his neck in a silent scream.
"Oh you bitch..." Dean hissed, releasing Sam to cross the room and land a punch in the priestess's face that should have loosened her back teeth. If the children hadn't stopped him first.
Their little fingers scrabbled at his clothes, thin and short but far too strong. He felt himself being pulled back, his recently-healed shoulder twisting painfully in its socket and his boot being wrenched from his foot.
“NO,” Sam said, voice booming in the church, dust shaking down from the rafters. Struggling, Dean turned his head to see Sam’s eyes blazing cold, power visibly sizzling off him like heat off a July sidewalk.
“Stay still, Dean,” Sam said, voice echoing off the walls. “I don’t want to hurt them.”
Sam swiped a hand down the back of his neck and then made delicate gestures with his fingers, neat little puppeteer flicks that plucked the children that Dean couldn’t even see any more off of him, one by one. Sam’s intense gaze was leveled at the priestess, whose small, sharp teeth were bared in a grin right back at Sam.
At this, the children all lined against the wall with their backs facing out. The woman's book fell with a bang, as loudly as a door being shut. "Bless-ed, bless-ed, bless-ed art thou. Behold I have a gift," said the children in unison, a piece of chalk in the woman's outstretched hand, "I have your true names."
She drew a word on the table. Her eyes glowed and the prophecy melted from the walls and streamed toward Sam, crowding his skin until he became a living book, but only the woman's chalk word hung in the air before Dean, and he couldn't even read it.
"Bless-ed is the Consort who will lead the Dreamer's army in the next age." said the children. The room bent around Sam as though Dean were looking at him through a fish-eye lens.
"Sam we gotta get you out of here." said Dean, as the chalk word flew from the table into Dean and reshaped to Consort and burned with terrible knowledge. He shook his head. Sam, he had to get Sam to safety, but the room was so distorted he couldn't judge distance anymore.
The children spoke on. "The people are dust on his fingers, he but puts out his hand..."
Angered, Dean reached to grab the nearest child, to see if there were still a face to the voice, but when he touched a little girl's shoulder… she smeared. A chalk drawing. He looked at the wall, the children now two-dimensional, and then at the dust on his hand, trembling. "But the kids were real. They were right here," he said looking first at Sam and then at the woman, "What have you done to Sam?!"
“I have fulfilled the prophecy,” she said, her voice an insectoid buzz.
When Dean looked at Sam again, the words on his skin were bleeding upward, snaking under his eyelids until his skin was eggshell white and his entire eyes were a deep, ocean blue. Sam’s very presence expanded and he seemed to grow, towering above everything.
Sam stood galvanized, his mouth open as unbelievable power flowed into him. His mind was cracked open and attuned to the world. Every living being was a shining pinprick in his mind, spread over countries, over continents. He could feel the residents of Arkham milling by the sea, their presences a sickly green. The sea glowed in his mind, the deeps beckoning him.
All were pinpricks but for Dean and the priestess. The priestess glowed red, brighter than the humans, but Dean was even brighter, a bonfire in his head.
His Consort. The connection was strong, and Dean’s panic was loud in his head, the bonfire flickering as if in a strong wind. The ocean called to him so strongly it was all he could do not to stride out of the church and walk into the water, to Dream the Dreams for thousands of years, but Dean’s distress was the only thing that kept him here. His Consort. Sam, holding the world in his mind, knew that he could spend millennia away from the corporeal world if he had Dean by his side for the entirety of it.
Sam turned his solid blue eyes to his brother and said Dean’s name, not Dean, but his version of it; the spiraling, soft syllables of brother-lover with a deeper resonance of Consort. “We could be together forever,” he said, his voice hollow and deep, echoing within itself.
Sam touched his hand and they shared a vision of eternity, wrapped in each other's arms, impervious to time, lungs full of salt water, and for a moment Dean weakened. But only a moment. "No, not like this, this isn't you Sam. As for you," said Dean, rounding on the woman and grabbing her jaw in his hand, "You got ten seconds to start running or there won't be enough left to draw a chalkline."
He turned back, his voice pitched low so only Sam could hear. "Don't listen to her Sam, the prophecy got it wrong, they all got it wrong. We only have one name," he said, hands gathering Sam's face and bringing him close, "Because of us, people hear 'Winchester' and they don't think of the gun, they know that help is on the way. That they're going to live."
Slow tears streamed down Dean's face. "And if we could turn a word that meant taking lives into something that means saving lives, then you can take whatever damned name that bitch fed you and make it human again."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Dean felt the skin of his entire body tightening, burning. He flinched as something was torn out of him.
“You’ve rejected my offer,” the priestess said, her eyes cold embers, a look of smug satisfaction on her face. “Now he’s mine.”
Dean’s hands on Sam’s face suddenly felt distant and insubstantial. His focus snapped, centered instead on the woman, who suddenly filled his mind with images of deep underwater, blackness upon blackness, her dark hair swirling about him as he Dreamed. Now there was nothing standing between him and the sea.
“Come,” his Consort said, holding out her hand to him. Sam broke effortlessly from Dean’s grasp and took her cool hand, felt the connection with her grow and deepen. He knew now that he was no longer human, but a god, and god-power welled up inside him, filling him almost to the point of bursting. But he was made for power, born and bred to hold infinite amounts of it, and he held it as easily as a balloon holds air, his presence expanding and filling as he let the god-power shape him.
He let her lead him out of the church, the bonfire of Dean’s existence now a single note in the back of his mind.
Dean howled after them, running across the room after the door had shut only to open it and find them gone, a wasteland of monuments and gray sand before him.
"Sam..." Dean whimpered, clutching his sides in paroxysms of grief, "How do I get home?"
The chalk drawings giggled as he began frantically searching the church for another way out, a sigil, a trapdoor, anything, but Sam had walked them both here and Dean could not leave the way he came. Even the UnWords Sam had taught him were useless. Frustrated, he kicked a chair, the woman's chalk rolled toward him...and he got an idea.
"Stop it!" cried the chalk children, as he smeared them into a uniform gray background and began sketching Arkham, the waterfront, the spires, a triangle at his feet to indicate a road narrowing into the horizon. Lastly he drew Sam, taking care to get all the face right, and when he ran out of chalk he bit his hand and painted his brother in his own blood.
He looked down at his filthy hands, his right ring finger humming in sympathy to the ring Sam wore.
"Damn I hope this works."
And with one last look for the nightmare church, Dean took a deep breath and walked into the drawing.
Chapter 17: Sam Walks Into the Atlantic
The priestess led Sam by the hand through a small grove of trees, down a grassy hill that gave way to sandy scrub grass, and finally onto a rocky beach. Sea-spray wet Sam’s face and hair, and the salt-smell in his nose was like coming home.
At least a thousand men and women stood on the long beachfront, staring out into the waves. Mostly nude, their pale skin glowed in the moonlight.
"They will follow us," said the priestess. "Sacrifices to Your Greatness."
Sam nodded and stood, surveying the beach and the cliffs in the distance. The tug of loss he felt at this being the last time he'd see land for millennia was brief, and it drifted away before he barely registered it.
There was another tug. Warmth encircled his finger, and he felt momentary discomfort in the back of his mind, the distant bonfire of his brother’s soul in distress. He looked over the humans waiting patiently to walk to their deaths.
"I need no sacrifices," he said, “I’ve had enough in my lifetime,” and the woman narrowed her eyes at him, then bowed her head in acquiescence. "Free them," he ordered.
With a few harsh words from the priestess, the men and women on the beach began to look around, visibly confused. In ones and twos, and then dozens, they turned away from the water and started climbing the slope to dry land, back to what was left of Arkham where their houses and businesses and cars and children waited, abandoned.
"The Dreaming awaits," said the woman.
Without another word, Sam let his Consort lead him into the sea.
After what seemed years of darkness, the soft flutter of bat wings flying past him, Dean emerged from a natural cave that opened to the harbour. He put up his hand against the blinding moon, having lost his boots and shirt in transit. People lurched past him like shipwreck survivors, but two figures remained in the water...
Sam's head vanished, though to Dean's magic-addled eye he glittered like a star beneath the waves. Cursing, Dean clamped a knife between his teeth and tore down the long long pier in his bare feet and moonlight glinting off his shoulders and dove into the black water below.
The cold nearly stopped his heart, but he did not die. The riptide pulled him down and forward, but he did not sink. The ocean was a sunless, loveless world save for the songs of whales greeting their new master, but he did not lose hope. He let out the last air in his lungs to plunge deeper, chasing that fading light that was surely the corona of his brother's soul, calling him home…
The Impala zoomed through empty streets, corn fields waving in a gentle wind. "Hey wake up," said Dean, patting the bundle in the passenger seat, "We're nearly there."
The blanketed figure did not reply, and panic gripped Dean's chest as he shook Sam's shoulder. "Can you hear me?"
The old house loomed into view, a pie cooling in the kitchen window and the TV flickering behind the curtains. Mary opened the door in her bathrobe as Dean leapt out and raced around to the passenger side. "Dean honey, you're early."
"He's not waking up!" he shouted, gathering Sam in his arms and carrying him up the steps.
John came out, the younger version from Dean's wallet photo, and Dean sprang upon him, pressing Sam to John's chest. "Please help him!"
John searched his face, looking at one eye and then the other. What was wrong with them? Dean wondered, Why weren't they saying anything? Dean looked down at his arms. Pulled back the top of the blanket, let it unroll onto the carpet.
It was empty.
The knife fell from his blue lips. If Sam called back, Dean was not there to hear it.
Chapter 18: Dean is Dead
They were alone, Sam's eyes unnaturally bright through the flames. "I don't know what to wish for." said Dean.
"Hurry up and think! The candles are melting!" said Sam, "You could wish for a bike. Then we can chase the ice cream truck in our superhero capes."
Sure enough, they'd been sitting so long that only one flame remained. Dean swallowed back tears. "That sounds really good Sammy. But I'm not a kid anymore," said Dean, "And neither are you."
Young Sam closed his eyes. "Then I'll make one for you."
Sam rushed to Dean’s side, skidding on his knees in the rocky sand. “Dean!” he yelled, voice booming off the cliffs. Then he lay his hand over Dean’s heart, and softer, over and over, he said the gentle, spiraling word that would always bring him home. It pulsed into Dean’s body, warmth that could only be summoned from Sam in the presence of his brother curling around his brain and his lungs and his heart.
For a moment nothing happened. Then Dean opened his eyes. Looked at Sam.
“Did you get your wish?”
Sam breathed out hard and looked down at Dean with his god-blue eyes. “Yes,” he said, and he grabbed Dean by the face, thumbs pressing at the hinges of his jaw, and kissed him hard.
“I could never have been hers,” he whispered, pressing his forehead against Dean’s, wet strands of hair sliding against Dean’s face. “I’m yours.”
Sam was changed, or rather he looked like a dream of Sam, droplets shining in his lashes, skin a pearly luminescence, his hair the iridescent rainbow of an ocean sunset. He looked beautiful. He looked cold.
"Am I dead?" said Dean, half-convinced Sam was some god of death come to reap his soul and wrapping his arms around him anyway, "Tell me it’s really you."
Something broke in Dean as he pulled Sam in, stealing the breath from his lungs as water crashed and dissolved around their bodies, Sam's fierce kisses calling him further from that borderland between life and death, until finally a great tumult echoed from the cave behind Dean as bats burst forth and spiraled upward and the moon disappeared in a cloud of black wings.
And then they heard her singing.
Sam looked round. Farther down the beach, waves pounded the surf, some as much as thirty feet high, but Sam knew it was neither the tide nor a storm nor any natural thing that might force the water to act in such a manner.
The Atlantic was rising.
A path had been carved in the ocean. Hair coiling upward, naked save for a scanty loincloth about her hips, the priestess's hands stretched over her head between two walls of water hundreds of feet high, a dry ribbon of land leading from her to Sam.
"Come back," she commanded. Dean clutched Sam's arms, sand shivering around them in the wake of her words.
Sam felt the pull of her words, felt the tug of her command as his Consort, but it was nothing compared to the grasp of Dean’s hands on his arms. He stared down into Dean’s eyes, ignoring the priestess for a moment.
“I won’t,” Sam assured Dean, though the warmth that would usually be in his eyes was absent in the solid cold blue of them.
Sam pressed one more hard, cold kiss to Dean’s lips, then stood, facing the priestess.
“No force can make me,” Sam said, his voice booming over the tumult of the raging waters, standing tall and solid and immovable, his broad shoulders squared. He felt energy rise up in him in preparation for this confrontation. Thin ribbons of it spilled out of him and gave the air around him a curling, hazy glow.
Storm clouds boiled in the sky. She walked toward him, her footsteps filling with blood. "Then I will take my wedding gift."
And with that her body swelled and tentacles burst from her face, whipping round Sam to latch onto Dean.
"Dammit!" Dean shouted, catching sight of his knife mere inches away. He rolled over, black tongues whispering his name and licking his bare skin hungrily, but the knife lay out of reach.
"Sam!" Dean shouted. Slimy tendrils dragged him belly-down across the sand, his fingers scoring deep grooves in the sand, and then lifted him in the air like a trophy as the walls of water closed in fast, ready to swallow him up.
Rage boiling up inside Sam as he watched the tentacles writhe and clutch at Dean, pulling him toward the priestess, into danger, away from him, Sam took a step forward and whipped his hands outward, thrusting the walls of water away from Dean and the priestess.
She was powerful, yes.
But she seemed to have forgotten that she had given him the power of a god.
“You can’t have him!” he bellowed, thunder in his voice, lightning arcing down from the clouds to strike the beach around him, burning the sand into jagged formations of glass where it struck.
Though Dean was lashed to and fro in the air, like the world's last bone being tossed between two dogs, Dean had a moment of clarity. He wasn't going to die, not today at least.
Sam would not permit it.
"Lady," said Dean, his little smartass smile hovering inches from the dripping horror of her face, "You shoulda run when you had the chance."
Sam took another step forward. With a slice of his hand, a razor-thin sheet of water jetted out from the churning walls of the sea, severing the tentacles off a foot from her face. As she shrieked, he jerked his fingers backwards, and Dean was sent flying to the beach, still-flailing tentacles wrapped around him. He skidded across the rocky sand for a dozen feet before he came to a stop.
The priestess advanced on him, her face twisted in rage, black blood streaming from the slashed tentacles dangling from her mouth. Sam held his ground. Dean was a warm, living presence at his back.
The priestess's face squirmed into a smile, triumphant.
But Sam smiled back.
Cthulhu, whose Dreams and godhood Sam had inherited, had been many magnitudes of power stronger than Sam, possessing knowledge and abilities beyond comprehension. However, he lacked one thing: Sam's sharp, well-trained, analytical human brain. For Cthulhu, the language he spoke had been just that: a language.
For Sam, the vocabulary was a machine with many parts, one that could be taken apart and put back together as he saw fit. He could make and remake words, and this he did now, thinking furiously, concentrating his entire being on pulling the correct syllables and accents and subtleties together.
The priestess opened her mouth to sing once more, a garbled, many-voiced horror of a song.
Sam smiled wider as the machine parts fit together in his head. Hair whipping around his face, he raised his hand to her, palm out. He took a deep breath.
He spoke the word of UnMaking.
The world flashed white as her song was abruptly cut off, and then there was a crater miles wide and miles deep beginning where she had stood, digging out the bottom of the sea. Tumultuous waves rushed in to fill the hole.
Sam made it to Dean’s side before he fell to his knees in the sand.
Chapter 19: Fourth-Dimensional Declarations of Love
Dean sat up on his elbows, bruised and ears ringing. A helicopter droned nearby.
"Sam, are you okay..." he said, his fingers glowing pink when he touched Sam's hand, the way some jellyfish do.
Time had solidified around Sam, a hundred semi-transparent Sams trailing from where he had stood before the blast to where he sat now, all his moments trapped in amber. Or maybe Dean was just seeing the world from the Dreamer's perspective.
Dean wrapped his arms around his shoulders, fingers twined in his hair, but multiple Sams continued to blur the air like a camera shutter left open.
"Can you hear me?" asked Dean, as an Army helicopter swung overhead.
“Yeah,” Sam said, reaching up to grab Dean’s shoulders, swaying on his knees.
"Ezeerf!" said a soldier with a white megaphone, "Meht ees nac I erehw sdnah ruoy esiar!"
Dean shut his eyes, trying to blink away Sam's reality. "We gotta move," he said, standing them both up, "The car shouldn't be far---"
Bullets strafed the sand a few feet away. Dean grabbed Sam’s wrist, wondering where they could run and hide with Sam's timeline tailing behind them. The car keys bit into his leg through the pocket.
He drew a line in the sand. "This is a dream," said Dean, told himself, barely sane this close to Sam, "We are sleeping, so we can go anywhere..."
All his training, that little voice that reminded Dean that the human body was allergic to bullets and they should run like frightened piggies, was deep underwater. Another line, another curve, a square for a window, and under that a door handle. He jammed the key in the sand.
"Okay Sam," he said, helicopter fanning his hair as Dean lifted a door to the Impala interior, "Climb on in."
Sam tumbled in. Once Dean climbed in half on top of him and closed the door, the whole world shifted ninety degrees. Sam rocked with it, still disoriented from the last huge expenditure of energy.
It was an intense relief for Sam to be with Dean in the Impala, moving down blacktop shining with the recent rain. What little was left of both of their clothing was in tatters, and Dean was scuffed up and bruised, with raised welts where the tentacles had grabbed him… and Sam had no idea what kind of condition he himself was in; he felt a deep buzzing, churning in his chest and in his groin, skin electrified, power lashing at him from the inside.
But the priestess was gone.
Dean was alive.
Sam had to reach over and touch him, touch the skin of his bare waist, run a finger along a purpling bruise. It was hard to take his eyes off of Dean, but he finally looked out to survey Arkham. It was wrecked, buildings sagging, windows broken everywhere he looked, and Dean had to swerve occasionally to avoid fish-man corpses. A few straggling townsfolk walked the streets, looking around in a daze.
“Are you okay?” he asked, but it came out in that other language, echoing through the car and setting the windows to shaking. The radio crackled then switched itself on, Blue Oyster Cult setting up a monstrous, dizzying feedback in his head before it switched itself off again.
Dean swerved, a truck honking as he swung back into his lane, then watched as he and the truck driver drove in reverse and replayed the same swerve with Dean braking right sooner the second time around.
Dean pulled off into a field facing a concrete wall, nearly falling out the door. He couldn't drive. He could barely move through time in the right direction.
"I had a strawberry lamp," said Dean, on his knees searching the ground for a rock, "It poured champagne all over the basement."
Finding one, he began a pale line drawing of the Men of Letters garage on the side of the building, columns and cars inside a square big enough for the Impala to fit. Would the Bunker let them through?
Dean leaned into the passenger seat window. "Is the Men of Letters Bunker spell-proofed against Cthonic magic?" he asked, though it came out as, "Can you grow roses by candlelight?"
Sam heard both questions. He opened his mouth to answer, but he tasted the oil slick of the wrong language on the back of his tongue. He climbed out of the car.
The tattooed skin between Dean’s shoulder blades felt soft and humid under Sam’s hand. He looked away from Dean’s inquisitive, frustrated face and around to the drawing on the wall. If he couldn’t speak without making things worse for Dean, then he could point, and nod yes. He motioned to the car with another nod, then back to the drawing.
Even if it was warded, Sam had a feeling he could force them through.
"My house is full of friendly trees," said Dean, smacking the tape player, "Where's my chainsaw parade?"
He pulled out Blue Oyster Cult, flipped it, and gently bopped his head to a backwards rendition of ELO's Can't Get It Out of My Head. He smiled at Sam. "Fossil your teeth silt."
With Sam’s magic, the Impala oozed through a concrete tunnel, the journey taking somewhere between three and ten hours depending on how slowly Dean drove, but when they arrived the same song was still playing.
Dean pulled into a parking space. Staggered out of the car. His body was exhausted but his brain was still going a hundred miles an hour, strange shapes pixelating behind his eyelids whenever he closed his eyes, and he feared he might never sleep.
He opened the passenger door, a finger against Sam's lips. "Don't speak, there's no telling what you might trigger in this place," he said, which came out as, "Experts agree, black rainbows are very low in sodium."
The imperative was obvious, and Sam kept his mouth closed, but pressed it harder against Dean’s finger, looking up at his brother with his sea-blue eyes intense in his pale face. The touch of Dean’s skin, no matter how insignificant, warmed him inside, set up a hectic fire which crashed against the seething, lashing cold inside him.
He climbed out of the car. Dean was staggering away now, seemingly unable to get his feet under him, so Sam wrapped an arm around his waist and helped to steady him. Dean felt light as a child, but his skin was so hot and smooth, setting fire to Sam’s entire left side, and Sam just wanted to burrow inside him. He couldn’t help the way his fingers stroked Dean’s hip as they climbed the stairs to the main floor of the bunker.
Chapter 20: Noises from the Bunker Bedroom
Dean leaned into Sam. "Damn it's good to be back home," said Dean, which came out as "The mice have trapped me in the carpet pattern.”
He stopped at his bedroom door, hand on the knob. "I don't think I can sleep, my head's all messed up from the fight," said Dean, which came out as, "I've planted a garden in your heart, but only you will see the flowers."
He met Sam's eyes. He did not need words. Stay.
Sam crowded into his space, grateful for the silent invitation. He didn’t know what he would have done, had Dean closed himself off in his room and away from him.
Sam cupped Dean’s face between his cold hands and kissed him, tasting sea-salt on his lips. He licked it away and then kissed him again, everything in him urging him to be rough and uncareful. His hands shook with the effort it took to be gentle.
Dean gripped the knob for support, letting the door take his weight as Sam's mouth trailed down his jaw and searched the shadows of his throat, hips slowly pivoting into his, body as hard and cold as if he he'd been carved from stone. Fingers trembling, Dean turned the knob, and walked them backwards into the room.
"Lay down a while, you're not yourself," said Dean, which came out as, "He can stop me, this orbiting in time."
A single lamp burned in the corner. The floor was ankle deep in clothes, but the bed was clear. Sam stepped back from Dean just long enough to peel off his own tattered, salt-crusted jeans and drop them in the pile. He stood still, taking a great breath, wanting to strip Dean’s pants off of him, but not trusting himself to do it without damaging Dean or scaring him away.
Sam was tense all over, muscles bunching, veins standing out on his neck and his arms. He looped his thumbs through Dean’s belt loops and nudged him toward the bed, fingers digging into the meat of his hips.
Magic had heightened Sam's natural beauty a hundredfold, the lines of his muscled body standing in sharp relief against the light. Dean fingered a trace of sand along Sam's collar bone. "Damn. Are you really here? You know I dreamed this a thousand times, but it never felt this real." Which came out as "Well. Did my heart know? Your face was a labyrinth, and every day I got a little closer to the monster."
He kissed Sam, lightly at first, pressing his mouth to the corner of his lips, scraping their stubbled jaws together. "How many years have we wasted baby boy?" which came out as "What time will the clock strike on my wedding night?"
No matter what words Dean said, what words Sam heard, the affection and intent behind them were clear. Sam took it as another invitation, to get closer, to push harder, and he opened his mouth against Dean’s, cupping the back of his head and the base of his spine to hold him in place. The heat of Dean, the feel of his skin, his earthy, blood-thick, real scent had Sam groaning, the sound doubling and deepening in his throat.
Without warning, he lifted Dean by the ass and dumped him onto the bed, climbing over him, crawling in between Dean’s legs. Sam ground down against him as he scraped his teeth along the side of Dean’s neck, the bare head of his cock digging into Dean’s belly. Dean’s skin, Dean’s skin, his taste and his warmth, and Sam gritted his teeth, nose burrowing under the hinge of Dean’s jaw.
It was easier to concentrate now with Dean so close, wrapped around him like this. Sam focused, kissed his brother’s skin, and then spoke against his throat. “Dean,” he said, and the word came out clear and true.
Dean waited. The lights did not flicker. His name did not hang in the air in big flashing red letters. A human word.
He ran sweaty fingers along the curve of Sam's spine, melting into the bedsprings, face tilted into Sam's for another kiss. Vague guilt for having been with other women when really they'd been a cheap substitute, like driving cute little sedans cuz he was too scared to climb into a real machine.
"Fuck you're amazing," Dean whispered, which came out as "Fuck you're a fast ride."
And what all had gone down below the waves? Had she...had Sam? Somehow Sam kissing her like he was now kissing Dean was a thousand times worse than if she'd fucked him. And damned if he was going to spend the rest of his life competing for Sam's heart with another dead girl.
He rolled Sam onto his back, grabbing a fistful of hair and sucking a lovebite behind Sam's ear until he got a noise he liked, eager to let his mouth go elsewhere. Everywhere.
"Now you just lay there til I sweat the taste of that woman out of you," said Dean, which came out as, "Mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine."
Mine, mine, mine, Sam thought back with a ferocity that made blue embers burn deep in his eyes. Panting for breath, Sam's hands clutched along Dean's back, blunt fingernails scoring pale red lines into Dean's skin as Dean kissed wetly down his chest. Arousal coursed through Sam, sudden and searing, and the surge of it pulsed out of him in a shockwave. The bedframe broke in a loud crack. It dropped them a foot until they bounced off one another, hard bodies crashing together, and fine cracks radiated out from the center of the room, spiderwebbing up the concrete walls.
Sam arched his body up, rubbing his belly and slick cock against Dean, wanting more skin, more touch. Not trusting himself to speak yet, he grunted and reached for the waistband of Dean's damp jeans, tugged at them so hard one of the belt loops tore.
Dean made a soft shushing sound by Sam's ear, as one might a startled horse, and ran his hands down Sam's arms to place his wide hands on the cracked headboard.
"Yeah go on and kick," Dean whispered, one finger sliding toward the wiry hairs above Sam's cock, "I got all night to break you in," he said, which came out as "You got punches and I got kisses. I will always win."
Dean straddled his hips, bluejeans blown out at the knees, head tilted back so he looked at Sam through his eyelashes. His green eyes glittered. "You wanna see it?" Dean asked, which came out as "Are you thirsty?"
With a deep growl and an upthrust of his hips, Sam gripped the headboard, breaking it further, and the hairline cracks in the walls spread.
Dean's cock jumped behind his zipper. He wanted to submit right then and there, spend the rest of the night on his knees like a trembling prom date, begging to be claimed. Instead, he smiled, running his fingers through the fine rain of plaster dust in his hair, then slowly leaned over to the side table and rifled around in the drawer without breaking Sam's eerie stare.
"You know you can't hold onto that power for long?" said Dean, which came out as "Can't you feel the spider in your chest trying to get out?"
"It always seems like the best solution, stealing from the enemy's toolbox," said Dean, which came out as "Every time the world ends, the bomb only goes off in you."
He leaned back, straight razor gleaming in the light. "But I can give you something in its place," said Dean, though this time there were only two words.
Dean ran his thumb along the blade, blood welling, a thin line dripping down the length of his hand. Set the razor on the bed. Ran his thumb along Sam's mouth, his teeth, pressing it against his cold, cold tongue, all the while clamping hard around Sam's hips as he moved beneath him, as a lifeline was cast between his soul and Sam's, anchoring them.
Dean kissed the corner of his mouth, smearing their faces red, eyes shut tight as he focused on the right words. "I would give you every drop of blood in my body if it made you well. If it brought my brother back," said Dean, lips stretched over his teeth, "Cuz I don't. Fuck. Monsters."
Sam caught Dean’s wrist in his hand and held it close, lapping and sucking on Dean’s thumb, suckling the blood out of it. He looked up at his brother, lips swollen with kisses and smeared with blood. His brother, who clearly loved him, and to whom he clearly belonged. Feeling Dean’s cock rub against his through his jeans, watching Dean’s heavy-lidded eyes, Sam wanted to fuck, wanted to rut, but more than that, he wanted Dean to belong to him, too.
Licking Dean’s thumb one more time, Sam took Dean by the nape of the neck, dragged him down, and sucked hard on the thick muscle that ran from his neck to his shoulder. Then he bit down fiercely enough to break the skin, marking Dean his own, and he sucked at the blood that seeped out of him. It was Dean’s essence, stronger than a kiss or a touch, and if Sam had wanted to burrow under Dean’s skin earlier, that was nothing compared to now.
But then Sam’s working mouth slowed as the blood flowed deeper through his system. Pathways in his mind that had previously been blocked by poison magic slipped open, allowing some clarity of thought to seep back into him in tiny increments. It warred with the furious cold inside him, warred with the alien words and the need to take, take, take.
He needed to be Dean’s brother again.
He licked the wound he’d made, and “Dean,” he said, his voice beginning to lose some of its hollow timbre.
Dean touched his neck and blinked at the bright red of his hand, flushed, breathing hard. "I heard you, the real you," said Dean, which came out as "I hurt you, the R'lyeh you."
Dean rolled off, a little punch drunk from bloodloss, pulling Sam on top. The whole right side of his chest was a root system of blood. "Now we're getting somewhere," said Dean, which came out as, "Now we chase the white hare."
He shaped his left hand to the back of Sam's head. Nightmare magic discharged from their bodies into the furniture, paint blistering, a chair leg fruiting eyeballs, yet Dean found it easier to think straight. "Breathe in. Don't listen to the words in your head, listen to me. Cuz this next kiss," Dean whispered, circling Sam's cock in his bloody fist before he pressed his mouth to his, "It's a deep one."
Sam gasped, then took the deep breath Dean had told him to, and he moaned as their mouths came together. He ran his hands along Dean’s side and chest, smearing the blood over Dean’s tattoo, bucking into Dean’s hand when it tightened on him. Dean’s thumb smeared over the head of his cock and Sam went rigid all over when he felt the tingle of Dean’s blood ease inside his slit.
He let Dean touch him, Dean’s hands moving over his cock and stroking up his back as their mouths moved together, lips sticky with blood and tongues wet with spit. Sam stroked his thumb over the wound on Dean’s shoulder. He buried his thoughts inside his brother, and a moment from hours past stood out to him with absolute clarity.
He’d been drunk on new power at the time and unable to process it. But now he heard Dean’s words as if he were saying them directly into his ear.
Because of us, people hear 'Winchester' and they don't think of the gun, they know that help is on the way. That they're going to live. And if we could turn a word that meant taking lives into something that means saving lives, then you can take whatever damned name that bitch fed you and make it human again.
Sam’s hips stilled as revelation came over him. His magic was destructive. The very language of it was harmful, spiky and dangerous. Yet with Dean’s help, Sam had once found a way to turn it into something better.
Hoping Dean wouldn’t try to stop him, that he would understand, Sam pressed his lips against the stubbled edge of Dean’s jaw and his hand over the wound on his shoulder, and he whispered the smooth, gentle word he’d made that meant ‘Dean’ in that other language.
When he took his hand away, the bite mark was gone. He looked down to see the red lash-marks on Dean’s body made by the tentacles fading, the bruises turning from purple to green to yellow to gone. Blood and sand dried off of their bodies and flaked away into the air.
Sam placed his hand over Dean’s heart and said the word again, louder. He closed his eyes, and he could feel Dean’s body knit itself up, could feel a tiny fracture in his elbow mend, a strained tendon in his knee heal itself, could even feel his liver renew. There was movement and creaking, and he opened his eyes to see that the bed had remade itself, that the cracks in the walls were snaking downward, leaving behind unbroken brick and plaster.
His head was clearing, the cold inside still slithering through him, but it was less intense.
Eyes closed, he kissed the corner of Dean’s mouth, soft and sweet, lips lingering before he pulled away.
Carefully shaping the words, he said, “Dean. I have to… heal. Make... things good. Kiss me.”
Sam was close. Dean could feel it. He wanted to finish him, watch Sam's beautiful face twist until hot ropes shot across his chest and Sam collapsed on him like some beached sea monster. But not yet.
"Hold onto it," Dean whispered, "Don't let it go, wait til you got your balance." Wait til we can be together, he thought.
They kissed and a pressure built behind Dean's eyes, his hand letting go. He didn't need to touch Sam. The magic was so thick they weren't even in their own bodies anymore, a light in Sam's mind merging with his like two rivers, like stars colliding, and any words Dean might have had for it burned away in a wash of white noise.
Dean forced himself to look at it. At his brother's soul. He didn't know if he'd ever be able to look away.
Buoyed up by this new connection, Sam held tight to the bonfire of Dean's soul, let it sear and burn and purify him.
"Just... hold onto me," Sam whispered, meaning with your body, with your mind, with your heart. He felt Dean's arms wrap warm around him, felt Dean envelop him entirely.
He had to heal what he'd destroyed. Had to make things better. He plucked words out of his head, finding them as easily as keys on a typewriter. Kneaded them together and rolled them in the tumbler of his mind, humanized and gentled by Dean's essence, until they were as smooth and polished as stones at the bottom of a riverbed.
With his brother's arms around him, his brother's very soul entwined with his, he held the words in his mind, held them tight, and let his consciousness drift away from his body. It spiralled out, finding troubled sleepers in Lebanon and soothing them into sweet dreams. Then it shot like an arrow east until he found Arkham.
He held tight to the human part of his mind, body going tense against Dean's, soul vibrating, barely aware of Dean's hand smoothing through his hair.
Arkham and the land miles around it were wrecked from the surface to deep underground, and it would take an enormous expenditure of energy to put it back together. One so huge that it might take everything Sam had in him.
Sam concentrated, gathered Dean up against himself and spoke the words, and watched through a blue-tinted lens as buildings righted themselves, streets became whole, windows pieced themselves back together, the corpses of monsters burned to ash which blew away. He healed those townspeople who had been injured, quieted their unquiet minds.
Sam was panting now, sweating, his body warming against Dean's. He remade the hole in the sea, the bridge, the destroyed gas station. Clouds parted and the stars shone above the town as Sam delved into the sewers and repaired the cracks and fallen masonry, dug deep underground to mend profound rifts in the earth.
Breathing as if he'd run a marathon, Sam surveyed Arkham, his vision getting blurry and going white as his power finally leached out of him.
It was done.
Chapter 21: The Sex Scene
Trembling, Sam pressed his sweaty face into the crook of Dean's neck and breathed him in, then pulled up to look at his brother, opening eyes that were clear and hazel and warm.
"Dean," he said softly in his own voice, the word meaning so many things.
Dean looked up blearily. The world snapped back into focus, as if Dean had been watching it all through dirty glass up til now, as if he'd been sleep-walking. He touched Sam's face, warm, in his bed, afraid this too would dissolve into thin air.
"I had the strangest dream."
“It wasn’t a dream,” Sam said, smoothing the hair off of Dean’s sweaty forehead. “I came back to you.” Sam kissed Dean, then rubbed his nose against Dean’s cheek. “I promised I’d come back to you.”
Dean licked his lips, stomach tight with anticipation, terrified of the question he'd kept tucked away all this time. Point of no return.
He traced a slow pattern over Sam's chest. "Can you...?" Dean started, then gave up.
Sam made a sound low in his throat and kissed Dean, ran his mouth over his jaw and his throat and his shoulder, hand running down Dean’s solid chest and stomach and coming to rest at the button of his jeans. Skimming his teeth along the side of Dean’s neck and feeling goosebumps rise on the skin, he thumbed at the button, waiting a few tense seconds to see if Dean would stop him this time.
When Dean didn’t say anything, only stretched his neck to the side and let Sam suck on his throat, Sam flicked the button out of its hole and grasped the zipper.
Something hot and huge expanded in Sam’s chest. They’d been through hell and back, he’d ascended to godhood and then with great difficulty had thrown off the mantle for Dean, and now, now, he would finally get to have Dean, after so many years of wanting.
Dean shivered, the cocky exterior he'd built up for so long cracking as his eyes flicked down to Sam's big, capable hands. He was tired of having to be hard all the time, of making the first move, he wanted...
He pulled them together, hands sliding around Sam's waist and finding the small of his back, grinding into his cock even though he knew that wasn't gonna happen right away, whispering all the things he wanted Sam to give him, pouring sin in his ear, ending with, "Fuck me before I change my mind."
“Jesus, Dean,” Sam breathed, mind spinning and whole body aching to give Dean what he wanted. “Want you so fucking bad.”
Sam kissed Dean hard and sloppy, then sat up on his knees and unzipped Dean’s jeans. He jerked them down over his hips and watched Dean’s cock spring out to slap against his belly, thick and fat and dark, dark pink. Sam’s mouth watered, his hands itched to touch.
But first, Sam roughly tore Dean’s jeans the rest of the way off, yanking them over his feet and tossing them to the floor. Climbing back up, he spread Dean’s legs to take a long, lingering, hungry look at all of his brother’s splayed-out body, starting at his already flushed face, traveling down the solid, strong lines of his torso and ending at his hard dick and full balls. He gripped the undersides of Dean’s knees and pushed them up, groaning when Dean’s little asshole was exposed, all pink and tight.
Sam gripped the base of his own cock and pressed the blunt tip against Dean’s asshole, smearing slick over the tight little furl. He pushed, just a bit, just enough to feel a little give, then pulled back, circling with the wet tip of his cock.
“Tell me again,” Sam said, breathless. “Tell me you want me to fuck you.”
Dean panted, Sam's hands skating possessively along his inner thigh, bed springs creaking with his labored breathing and fuck was the bed gonna hold up to this? "Fuck me, with everything, your mouth, your fingers, your cock, wring me out til you don't want me no more," he said, sucking on Sam's lower lip, "Make me forget I ever fucked another living soul on this earth."
Sam let out a rough noise and his hand skidded inward, taking Dean’s cock into his hand. Sam groaned at the weight of it, the heat of it, and he began giving Dean long, languid strokes.
He kept jacking Dean, faster now, kissing down his body. As he placed a slow, open-mouthed kiss over Dean’s tattoo, the second-hand memory of their night together in that other history came to him, and he slid his mouth a few inches to latch onto one of Dean’s sensitive nipples. Pulling on it with his lips and teeth, he felt Dean’s hands tangle in his hair. Sam’s fingers slipped down, tracing a thick vein in Dean’s cock, cupping his balls, then pressing at the divot of his asshole.
“Lube?” he asked, lips moving against Dean’s hard nipple.
Dean looked up, arms stretched toward the side table to feel around for a plastic bottle. Fuck, all those hotel rooms, an adolescence spent perfecting the quiet orgasm, and how often had Sam had to hide it as well, stealing five minutes alone, greasing his wooden leg of a cock under a blanket while Dean was in the shower?
But he didn't have to be quiet now. He could be loud. He could be greedy, no longer nickled and dimed for love, his body learning the shape of Sam's mouth, Sam's fingers, invaded by the world's most dangerous predator in a bed so far underground no one would hear his screams.
He held his breath as Sam's finger tested him, exhaled fast and then held it again. Fuck he'd be happy with this right here, impaled on Sam's finger like teenagers messing around in the backseat of a car, his cock leaking a medallion on his belly. "Damn. When did I become so easy?"
Sam didn’t have an answer for him. He was mesmerized by the sight of his finger sliding into Dean, the way Dean’s hole clung to his finger when he slid it out. He breathed open-mouthed and squeezed his middle finger in alongside his first, slow and easy, and leaned down to taste the pool of pre-come on his brother’s belly.
He moaned when it slicked over his tongue, salty and musky and viscous, the side of his face brushing Dean’s bobbing cock. A line of wetness smeared across his cheek and he turned toward it, hot breath wafting along the length of it before he took the head in his mouth and sucked. It was blood-hot and heavy and felt too big for his mouth. Saliva flooded under his tongue and some of this dripped out of the imperfect seal of his lips, sliding down Dean’s shaft.
Sam tilted his head, his hair brushing Dean’s stomach, and took more in, jaw opening wider around Dean’s cock as he finger-fucked Dean, pushing in until his last knuckles hit Dean’s body before pulling out to do it again.
Dean's knees shook with the effort of staying apart. Watching Sam, how eager he was to have Dean come around his fingers, daring him even, tight and wet and hungry for Sam's cock to stretch him out.
Cool air prickled his fevered face as fingers widened him, readying him for Sam's pleasure (he nearly thought King, the way Sam's eyes looked him up and down like a ransom he'd yet to take), but Dean didn't want to finish, not yet. He wanted to share that final moment, to drag Sam on top and dig his heels into the dip of his back, rough hands locked around Dean's wrists, that huge body slamming against Dean as Sam's cock pumped into his tight pink ass, writhing in cockbound agony when Dean finally, finally came.
Sam took one more long lick of Dean’s cock and sat up on his knees, hectic spots of flush on his cheeks, his lips swollen pink, his hair a messy halo around his head.
“Dean,” he groaned, pulling his fingers nearly all the way out and teasing around the stretched, slick rim with his ring finger before he squeezed three fingers in, cock jumping at the way Dean clamped down around the stretch before letting him in. Sam jacked himself a few times, running his fingers over the head of his dick to swipe up the welling pre-come. Wrapped his hand around Dean, adding his own wetness to his spit, and gave Dean a long, slow, twisting squeeze as he delved deep inside Dean with his fingers, spreading him and stretching him.
Dean’s face was a beautiful mix of agony and ecstasy, and Sam couldn’t help but to lean up and kiss him.
Fingers curling inside Dean, aching cock pressed up against Dean’s heaving belly, they kissed wet and sloppy, tongues licking together, teeth scraping and biting.
Dean groaned, his body tightening around Sam’s fingers again, and Sam groaned with him. He’d be feeling that around his cock, fuck.
“Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted you?” Sam asked, but he kissed Dean and let it hang in the air instead of letting him reply. Forever, it felt like, though decades was close enough. Since Stanford, yes, but even before that. Teenaged Sam had watched his beautiful, beloved big brother, full of hormones and hero-worship and conflicting feelings, had covertly watched Dean change clothes, had stumbled upon Dean making out with girls and secretly, so secretly it was almost a secret to himself, wanted to be in their place.
Jealousy suddenly overtook him and he shoved his fingers in deep. How many girls had Dean been with, how many times had Sam sat in the Impala while Dean got his rocks off with some no-name waitress in their motel room? Sitting in the car pining, walking back in to smell the sex in the room and watch the way Dean moved, all languid and satisfied.
Sam breathed out hard through his nose. He would, he would make Dean forget all those women. He’d fuck them all right out of him. But first there was something he needed to know.
“Have you ever done this with another guy?” he asked, stabbing his fingers into Dean.
Something dark flashed in Dean's eyes,and he pulled Sam down for a kiss, fingers twisting his hair. "What" mouthing the stubble of his jaw "Would any other man have" bit his lip "That haunted me" forced his mouth open, tongue darting in "The way you did?"
Dean's kisses were desperate, bruising, trying to say all the things he had no words for. "Damn you were so beautiful growing up. I'd been with some women, I mean write a letter to Playboy material, but there was nothing so damning as having to watch you become a man. I used to..."
Here Dean stopped, licking his lips nervously. "You were so quiet around girls, you kept asking me for advice. How to talk to them, how to do... " he said, looking up through his eyelashes, "...other things."
Soft warm kisses down the side of Sam's face, Dean's thumb gentle against his mouth. "I spent a lot of time wondering how to get you in the backseat of the car. It wouldn't count. It would just be...practice. You would be you," said Dean, a dark glitter in his eyes, "And I would be the girl."
A torrent of feelings ran through Sam. They could have had so much time… But before he could get misty-eyed about it, he felt Dean’s cock twitch against his own, felt Dean’s insides tighten around his fingers. Jealousy and lust twined in him then, obliterating his momentary dismay.
All those women. Playboy material. Sam bit down on Dean’s full bottom lip.
“You wanted to be my girl? Even back then?” he asked, breath humid against Dean’s mouth, curling his long fingers inside of Dean. The thought of his gorgeous big brother letting him take him in the Impala, horny teenagers fogging up the windows and getting the leather seats all messy, made heat coil tight, a heavy weight in his lower belly. He pumped his fingers in and out, knuckles stretching Dean’s hole. “Wanted me to finger you? Eat you out? Fuck you in the back seat of the car?”
Flash of Sam's white teeth, kisses rough and messy, letting Sam use him, do whatever he wanted to him, and Dean wanted it, wanted to come apart beneath seven feet of demon blood and gleaming muscle. He wanted it for all the wrong reasons. Not because he was lonely or because he admired Sam's nobler qualities, but because Dean had spent a lot of nights after hunting wanting some Big Bad to ravish him in his bed and Sam Winchester was the hottest, scariest motherfucker he’d ever met.
With one more biting kiss, Sam pulled back onto his knees, grabbed Dean by the hips and manhandled him onto his stomach. Dean groaned when Sam jerked Dean up onto his knees, ass in the air.
“I wanna do so many things to you,” Sam husked. He clutched the muscular swells of Deans ass and ran his cock up between his cheeks, gliding along Dean’s messy, slick crack. The head of his dick caught on Dean’s rim, and Sam almost, almost pushed right inside, but he wasn’t done with Dean yet.
With the corner of the sheet he wiped lube off Dean’s ass, then he bent down and spread Dean wide, staring at his pink, stretched asshole and watching the way it clenched closed and then open again. Moaning, he leaned in and licked, tasting the artificial edge of lube in his mouth but licking it away until all that was left was Dean’s raw, earthy taste. Spreading Dean with his thumbs, he shoved his tongue inside him, curling and thrusting, eating him out with messy abandon.
Dean choked, grabbing sweaty fistfuls of white sheets, cockhead grazing the bed, the barest touch setting him on the razor's edge of orgasm and fuck where had Sam learned to do that? He wanted to come but he didn't want to lose this, that hot wet mouth sucking on his aching pink ass, the bite of Sam's nails on his hips, holding him, marking him, owning him. "Damn boy," said Dean, panting, barely holding it together, "You got an educated mouth."
In answer, Sam growled against his skin and thrust his tongue in deep, deeper, until his mouth was wide open against Dean’s ass, muscles of his tongue aching. He was playing it by ear. Just wanted to make Dean feel good, wanted to make Dean desperate for it, wanted to make Dean his. He pulled back, getting the rim of Dean’s ass between his lips and sucking on it, then he delved inside with his tongue again.
He reached down between Dean’s legs and found his cock, full and rock hard and wet, and he wrapped his fist around it, milked it, long, slow strokes that made Dean drizzle precome out onto the sheets and made Dean clench up in pulses around his tongue.
Dean's face pressed into the pillow, mouth shaped around a dirty word, cock swollen as though it had been capped at the end. No one had ever made him this crazy, no one knew his body this well, and he was torn between saving himself for the very end and wanting to thrust into Sam's expert fist. He was a martini glass filled to the brim and balanced on a rubber ball. He was at Sam's mercy.
"Fuck fuck gun's gonna go off, please," said Dean, whimpering shamelessly.
Immediately, Sam’s tongue was gone from his ass, Sam’s hand was gone from his cock. He felt the weight of Sam’s long body on top of him, Sam’s hot dick pressed against his lower back.
Sam grabbed his wrists and pressed them hard against the bed. “Don’t you dare,” Sam hissed against Dean’s ear. He thrust against Dean’s lower back, dick and balls dragging against sweaty skin. “You’re gonna come on my cock, or you’re not gonna come at all.”
Dean pulled against him, but Sam had leverage on his side, breath hot on the back of Dean's neck, every muscle tensed for a fight. And Dean wanted to fight. He wanted to fight Sam, and he wanted to lose hard.
Dean turned his head, his mouth twisted in an insolent smile.
Sam bared his teeth in an almost-smile, reveling in the way this had become a battle. He was still full of steam, still shaky with adrenaline from all that had come before, and Dean was giving him the perfect chance to let it out.
He sat up on his knees, pressing one hand hard against Dean’s lower back, pushing him down and pinning him to the bed. With his other hand he popped the lid of the lube open and drizzled a line down the top of his dick, slicked himself up, and yanked Dean’s hips back up off the bed.
“I’m gonna make you come so hard,” Sam said through gritted teeth. He nudged his blunt head against Dean’s wet asshole, took a deep breath, and slid in, in one long, unforgiving thrust until his hips were flush against Dean’s ass, groaning the whole time.
Dean's stomach swooped, mouth watering, plump pink rim stretched tight around the base of Sam's cock, thick and leaking and parked deep inside where it wasn't gonna leave until Dean milked every drop out of it. This was it, this was the line crossed, he was compromised, tainted in the best possible way, but he had to relax, if he didn't, if he crushed Sam in his desperation, he'd come all over the sheets and he wanted to keep Sam angry.
Dean panted words between slow thrusts. "You like that?" Sam's cock slowly pulling out "Fuck you're hard" the last inch left inside "I'm surprised" fuck getting stretched out on Sam's huge cockhead "I thought you couldn't get it up" Dean whipped up on his knees until his back was flush to Sam's chest, mouths kissing close, Sam still just inside him "Without the taste of evil cunt in your mouth."
Dean looped his arm around Sam's neck, hand flat between his shoulder blades. "The things I seen you put your dick in," said Dean, wicked little whisper against Sam's cheek, "You'd fuck a slit in a piece of meat if it had fangs on it."
Shame and anger made Sam lash out. “Oh, you fuck,” he gritted, and he grabbed Dean’s hips hard enough to leave bruises. He yanked him down as he thrust up, stabbing his cock in deep. Held Dean immobile while he pistoned his hips in a fast, punishing pace.
“Like you’re. So. Innocent,” Sam hissed in Dean’s ear, punctuating each word with a thrust.
The headboard slapped the wall, bang bang bang, and Dean took the pounding, a one-note litany of violence punctuated by his delirious, breathless laughter. How long did Sam think he'd last now?
“You think it’s funny?” Sam grunted. He pushed Dean down onto his face and grappled for his wrists, twisted them until they were at the level of his hips and slammed forward, using Dean’s wrists to pull Dean back onto his cock. The flat of his hips smacked Dean’s ass in a sweaty staccato rhythm as he drilled in.
Anger, always just under the surface, made him fierce. But as he fucked Dean, the repetitive movement of his muscles cleared his mind just enough for him to understand something. Dean wasn’t meaning to be cruel; or rather, he was, but it wasn’t to hurt Sam. It was to get this out of him, to get Sam to give him the hard, painful, cathartic, good fuck he needed after all the uncertainty and pain and emotional upheaval of the past days.
So Sam gave it to him as hard as he could, panting and gasping as he pistoned into Dean’s tight, swollen asshole.
Being rough had never been a problem. Since Jess, it had been being gentle that was difficult. Since Jess, sex had always held an edge of anger, and he held onto that edge as he gripped Dean’s wrists tighter until Dean made a pained noise, and continued to pound into him like he could heal Dean if he just hurt him enough.
Sam's thick naked cock sliding into his tight hole, widening him, disciplining him with every punishing thrust, stamina to burn. Even if Dean came now, Sam could probably go on for hours, hammering away until Dean damn near split in half. It was agony. It was worth coming back from the dead. For once, Dean was glad Sam couldn't see the look on his face.
"That all you got?" Dean slurred. His eyes opened and slid sideways to look at Sam, chest heaving, lips parted, lathered with sweat like a hard-ridden horse. He tried getting a rise out of Sam, but the trash talk was pro forma now, the fuck having taken it out of him, softened him, and he sure as hell wasn't about to ask for what he really wanted.
“Jesus,” Sam breathed, both turned on and exasperated by Dean’s running mouth. Thighs shaking, he ground deep into Dean one more time before he pulled out, grabbing Dean’s hips again to muscle him onto his back.
He spread Dean’s legs and got down in between them. Leaned down close, Dean’s trembling thighs sweaty against his hips. “Just shut up, Dean,” he said, and he kissed Dean, a sloppy kiss, panting and open-mouthed and wet.
Dean was a wreck, hair dark with sweat, pretty-boy face atop miles of wet muscle, sunburned shoulders to chiseled chest and narrow waist flowing to the cut of his hip bone as he wrapped his legs around Sam until their bodies molded, hot skin sliding over each other. Wanton little noises as he moaned into Sam's kiss, fingers catching in the tangle of Sam's hair as he dragged his teeth up his throat and bit his ear and whispered, "Don't stop. I'll die if you stop."
Sam found Dean’s mouth again, opened up for him. In a slow kiss, he reached down between them. Dean’s cock was so hard in his hand, hot and slippery, and he took that slick and rubbed it onto his own cock, moaning. Then canted his hips, found Dean’s asshole, open and wet and ready for him, and he slid inside with a long, harsh sigh.
The anger was gone, had evaporated with Dean’s mouth on his. Now he could be gentle, now he could take Dean however he wanted. And right now that was slow and easy, rocking his hips up into Dean, feeling the tug and give of his ass and the way Dean’s cock rubbed against his stomach, precome mixing with sweat, their breaths mingling, lips coming apart and then together.
“God Dean, you feel so good,” he whispered. “Wanna make you come apart.”
The sheets were soaked through, the bed a sweaty imprint of their bodies, but Dean could've stayed there all day, drunk on Sam, wearing his sweat. The way Sam moved on top of him, powerful, back muscles like bridge cables beneath Dean's hands, wet warm skin the way Dean had always imagined he'd feel after a shower, his own cock pinched between their bellies and fuck he is close, whole body contracted with need every time Sam's cock slid up inside him, hands pushing his ass up a little higher, like Sam is winding him up but won't let him go until he says the right word. Until he asks permission.
Dean sucked on his mouth, sucking the air out of his lungs, his voice molasses and rough timber. "Fuckin give it to me already."
“Dean,” Sam groaned, almost the only word he had left. Without the anger driving him, all that was left was pleasure, huge and intense, like he could drown in it. He sat up slowly onto his knees, wanting to look at his brother when Dean came, his hands sliding down Dean’s body, fingers leaving lines in the sweat, Dean’s ring on his finger making a deeper imprint. “Dean,” he said again, almost reverent, and he tilted his hips back so that only the first few inches were sliding into him. Dripping with sweat, hair stuck to his face and muscles heaving with deep, starved breaths, Sam angled himself until, there, Dean’s cock jerked and blurted out a thick slurry of precome unto his stomach.
He stayed there, rocking back and forth. Staring into Dean’s heavy-lidded, glittering eyes, he wrapped his hand around Dean’s cock and stroked him, long and slow and loving the way Dean felt around him, squeezing down tight every time Sam eased in.
“Wanna watch you come,” Sam whispered.
Fuck, Dean had had lays say that to him, but not like that, not like some harbinger sex-god carved out of wood bent on giving Dean the most mind-blowing, world-changing orgasm while speared on his first big cock like a bride to be claimed.
Dean closed his eyes at first, but he had to see this. See his legs spread wide open around Sam, bicep edged in the lamplight as his hand slid possessively up Dean's ripe cock and stopped right beneath the head until Dean whimpered and then did it again.
Dean thrashed, fingers clawing the top of the headboard, trying to get more, trying to fuck himself on Sam's cock, his insides on fire, letting rip a string of curses and making the headboard thump the wall like a broken washing machine.
Sam tilted his head back to take a deep breath, sweat rolling down his bared throat, then shoved more of his dick into Dean. Dean’s dirty mouth was driving him crazy in the best possible way, and he felt his own orgasm beginning to bloom deep in his belly, making his thrusts deep and sharp.
He gripped Dean’s leg behind the knee and held him open, the other hand busy on Dean’s cock, faster now, getting wetter every time he stroked. Sam’s red, kiss-swollen mouth was open, sucking in air when he pulled out, grunting when he shoved back in.
“Say it Dean, please say it,” he panted.
The sound of his voice, the light burning in the back of his eyes, dammit Sam had no right to be that beautiful, he could have had anyone and he was giving this to Dean, and more than anything Dean wanted to touch him, feel Sam's mouth on his when he said his name.
“Oh god, Dean,” Sam panted, his vision going blurry. He let himself fall forward, bracing an elbow beside Dean’s head, groaning out Dean’s name again before he leaned in to kiss him. Then he was uncoiling, body going hot all over, his dick swelling so hard he gasped, and he came deep inside Dean. Mouth open against the corner of Dean’s lips, he panted and groaned through it, cock bucking and spurting and filling his brother up.
His hand had gone lax on Dean’s dick, but he felt it swell against his fingers, and while he was still shuddering through his orgasm he gripped him tighter, wanting to take Dean down with him.
There it came, that creature trying to climb out of him, a moment stretching into days as Dean's orgasm started in his cock and ran around to the small of his back and then punched him in the gut so hard he felt his heart stop, meaningless words between kisses, hot ropes of pearl in Sam's fist, the aftershocks lingering long after he was spent as Sam continued to work him, teasing his twitching cock in slow, wet strokes until his eyes rolled white into his head and he fell back in a boneless heap.
Chapter 22: Afterglow
It was a rare luxury for Sam to be able to collapse, to let his long body drape over Dean’s without fear of hurting him. He gathered Dean up in his arms and pressed his face into the crook of his neck, breathing in his sweat and skin and musk. Dean’s legs slid slowly away from his hips and Sam shifted, but not much, not ready to pull out. This physical connection was so new, he wasn’t ready for it to end.
“Dean, Jesus,” he whispered, kissing Dean’s sweaty neck. He felt Dean’s hands move in exhausted, nonsense patterns on his back and shoulders, and he smiled into Dean’s skin. Words ballooned up in him, words he wasn’t quite ready to say, wasn’t sure Dean was quite ready to hear. But he tried to say them in the way he tilted Dean’s face to his and gave him a long, languid kiss.
Dean curled a lock of Sam's hair behind his ear, floating in the jizzfog. He ran a finger down Sam's jaw to his chin, drinking him in, and gave a little embarrassed laugh. "Sorry I...I never get tired of looking at you.
Sam felt himself redden, but held back from his first impulse of ducking his head away. If Dean wanted to look, he could look. They’d kept themselves from this for so long, but now they could do whatever they wanted. Instead, he rolled off of Dean, groaning when he finally slipped wetly out of his body, and moved them until they were on their sides, face-to-face, with Dean’s head pillowed on his arm.
He’d never get tired of looking at Dean, either. He stared at Dean’s face, his dark-lashed green eyes, the dusting of freckles across his nose and cheeks, his full lips. Took in the strong curve of his shoulder, the sweep of his collarbone. The marks on his neck he must have made unawares. “You’re not so bad yourself,” he said, smiling, deep dimples creasing his cheeks.
Dean smiled, looking around the room. Nodded toward a pile of clean shirts. "I'm gonna have to build another bookshelf."
He twisted a piece of Sam's hair around his finger, let it fall back. "I always wanted to do that, be someplace that felt lived in. This place is great, but it's like walking through a dead museum, the guns and the radios and the alphabetized file with our names on it so that in a hundred years some poor schmuck can read about the all the things we've done, all the people we helped. It's a great life. I've seen so many things, sometimes I lie awake and try totting it all up..."
He kept his eyes in the corner. "...but if I didn't have you I don't know what I'd have," said Dean, "Not much. Probably not enough to put on a bookshelf."
Sam didn’t know what to say, so he ran his hand down Dean’s side instead, ending in a caress and squeeze of Dean’s thick, calloused fingers. The thought of Dean adding to this museum that was now their home made Sam warm inside; Dean in a sweaty t-shirt, capable hands creating. Something to build on, something to make this place theirs.
He gave Dean another long look, drinking him in. Dean’s thigh was hot between his, his whole body was too hot, sweaty and sticky but Sam couldn’t pull away. He wanted to luxuriate in Dean’s closeness, in this new intimacy.
“It wouldn’t hurt to get a bigger bed, either,” Sam said with a little smile, running his hand down Dean’s back.
"Gonna have to with your legs taking up most of my side, I swear you were weaned on steroids and chicken milk." said Dean, imagining Sam's laundry, Sam's everything mixed up with his. He slapped his ass playfully. "Go pick a book. I'll make a space right here," he said, scooting Guns and Ammo off the table and then bringing his green eyes back around, "And then you'll have something to read tonight."
Sam grinned. Sleeping with Dean tonight. It’s not as if they’d never shared a bed before, but never like this. He’d be able to wrap himself around Dean, to breathe in his hair and touch his skin, and all the things he’d ever longed to do when they lay beside each other, elbows or knees bumping in the night.
“Okay,” he said, and he leaned in to kiss Dean. Then kissed him again. And damn, was it going to be hard to get out of bed. Dean’s mouth was warm and welcoming, and smiling against him. Sam slipped his hand down Dean’s spine and rubbed the curve of his ass, feeling the cool circle of the ring on his finger against Dean’s hot skin, and Jesus, he felt like a teenager, all soppy and starry-eyed and already getting horny again.
He sucked in a deep breath, and then, “Okay,” he said again, untangling their legs and pulling back to climb out of bed.
Dean watched him go, pulling up the blanket and measuring the walls with his eyes. He could knock out one and hang shelves off the supporting beams, maybe take out the ceiling and re-plaster it to follow the stairs on the floor directly above him. Who knew how much room was up there...
By the time Sam returned, Dean was fast asleep, a Sam-sized space beside him on the bed.
Sam left Kafka, with all its dirty parts underlined, on the bedside table and crawled in beside Dean. Threw an arm over him and tucked his knees up behind Dean’s legs. Dean might bitch in the morning about being the little spoon, but Sam, already falling asleep, was too comfortable and too exhausted and give a damn.
With the oddly comforting sound of David Bowie blasting from the kitchen and Dean singing along loudly while he made lunch, Sam typed away on his laptop. It had been a beast of a case and it would take weeks at least to properly square away. Best to get the notes down while it was still fresh.
Transcribing a page out of Dean’s journal, he glanced up when he heard a clang from the kitchen and the sound of Dean cursing. On the way back down, he noticed a few torn-out pages from Dean’s journal peeking out from under a file folder. He slid them out.
The top page was a sketch of one of the fish-men, rendered in Dean’s clean, detailed hand. He placed it in the scanner and flipped through the rest of the sketches. One of the small-headed monsters. The large pink beast Dean had destroyed with the rocket launcher. The church. The priestess in her loincloth with the sea opening up for her.
The very last one made Sam’s hands slow.
It was Sam. Sam sleeping, his head on one of Dean’s pillows, hair fanned out in tangles around him, face relaxed and peaceful. The lines were gentle and light and clean, and Sam delicately traced his finger over what Dean had written at the bottom, not wanting to smear the lead.
I never was good with words, it read.
Sam grinned and looked toward the kitchen, where Dean had resumed his off-key singing to Bowie, and he climbed out of his chair.
The filing could wait.