Dean sighed as he stared down into his glass of whiskey. Another day, another case... getting by just to get by, like he always did.
Picking up the glass, he swirled the dark amber liquid around, making the ice clink merrily against the side before he downed it in one go. The warmth of the drink helped pushed away the dark thoughts that lurked in his mind, the cloud that hung over him for half his life.
That was what made him motion for another drink, tapping against the glass with a light finger. With only a few other patrons in the bar he had another whiskey in hand in less than a minute. The bartender knew better than to ask him about his woes, by the set in his shoulders and the look on his face.
For years, this ritual helped him dull the pain that lurked within him. A pain that had appeared after losing his younger brother, Sam. The pain that was the source of the dark cloud that hung over him. After that loss, Dean had tossed himself into learning all he could about hunting. From his father, from Bobby... it hadn't mattered. He wanted to know it all. Every facet of the job could be vital one day...
...Especially when you were on your own.
There was no one around for Dean Winchester to call on to be his backup. Not even his father.
Tracking, research, building his own weapons... it didn't matter what he was learning. Dean threw his all into mastering every skill that he could.
His life might not matter anymore, but he could at least save someone else’s.
The cloud of pain had dampened when his father first started taking him on hunts, giving him the opportunity to focus his efforts into helping people. And then John Winchester had vanished into thin air.
The dark cloud returned.
Dean was alone. And this time, it might be for good.
He sighed. A hard look in his eyes deepened infinitesimally. The whiskey wasn't cutting it for him tonight. The amulet around his neck hung heavy, bringing to mind two hopeful hazel eyes staring up at him as he opened his present...
Sam's screams fill the air as the light hits him. The cackle of the witch echoes around both brothers as the world turns white... and Sam vanishes.
Dean, pinned to the wall. Forced to watch the little brother he was supposed to protect, the little brother he'd do anything for, give up anything for, even his own life, die.
“No! Leave Sammy alone, you bitch! ”
What use are you? No matter how many people you save, you can never go back. You can never save him. You failed, and that's all that matters.
Dean tossed back his new whiskey with a faint grimace, trying to force the self-flagellating voice out of his mind. Bury it back, deep in the corners where it belonged, waiting to haunt him in his sleep with shattered memories of a life lost years ago. A promise to always be there for his little brother crushed in a moment.
The voice always waited. Patient, lurking until his barriers dropped, and then burying him underneath a wave of guilt and self-loathing the second he let down his shields.
A buzzing noise from his pocket caught his attention. Curious and grateful for the distraction, Dean dug out his cell, flipping it open.
A message lit up the screen, two words glowing in front of his eyes.
Dean frowned. The name tickled at his memory, and he didn't recognize the number it had come from. There were only a few people that had Dean's number, so that narrowed down the list of possibilities. He wasn’t what people labeled as ‘sociable.’
Throwing down the cash to cover his tab and tip, Dean stalked out of the bar, dialing up his father's cell.
Desperate for an answer.
Never drop your guard. Take it in steps. Stay alert. Patience is key to survival. Wait and analyze if ... if the risk is worth the gain.
The lessons repeated haltingly in Jacob's head as he followed close behind Sam, blinking in the dark. He was still getting used to the almost total lack of light in the walls, and had yet to develop the extra sense for it like Sam and Walt had. It was Walt's expert advice that played in a near constant loop in his head. Every single time he was allowed out, he tried to go through all of it.
There was so much to remember. Jacob's hand tightened on the strap of his leather satchel as he walked along on silent steps, determined to commit them to memory.
His survival depended on it, after all.
He took a deep breath of the stifling air within the walls. It smelled of dust and wood, with the occasional whiff of mouse. Their furry companions in the walls were nowhere to be found now, but Jacob guessed they'd become more active as the day grew closer to evening. It was usually safer to move about when the humans were asleep or close to it.
When Sam had invited him along to go on a supply run in one of the motel's rooms before check-in time, Jacob leapt at the opportunity.
He was still learning the ropes on how to survive at his reduced size. At least Jacob wasn't alone. He had a family of people like him who had taken him in as soon as they found him. The world was too big for a boy reduced to almost a twentieth his natural size by a witch's curse.
It had only been about three years ago, but the time stretched out behind him. A number of harsh lessons had to be learned. Things before the curse felt distant, and yet so close he could imagine they were yesterday.
Jacob simply couldn't be a part of the world he grew up in anymore. He was tiny, standing just under Walt's 3.8 inch height. Walt, the man who saved him and stepped up to be his father in his new family.
Sam, on the other hand, was like a brother to Jacob. He'd helped with the rescue. He was always nearby in the following weeks as Jacob adjusted to his new size, and his new life hiding away in the walls. Jacob had to hide away from everyone he might have known in his old life. They were a danger to him now. Jacob's mother, thinking him lost or dead, had left the motel, and left Jacob behind for good.
Sam understood his pain and fear. He'd been in the same situation thirteen years ago. Cursed, reduced in size, abandoned by his family ... he and Jacob would always share the aching loss.
Jacob looked up to Sam. His skill with his fishhook and climbing line was unlike anything Jacob had ever seen. Over a decade of practice had made him as quick and stealthy as Walt, and he was good at the patience their adopted father urged so fervently. Sam was like some kind of Indiana Jones in real life (and in miniature). Jacob could only hope to be as skillful someday.
Take it in steps. Listen for breathing. Wait ... Jacob repeated in his head. Walt had the same lecture for him every time he left their home under the floor. Even Sam heard the same warnings every time he would leave for the rooms. Neither of them would even dream of ignoring him. Walt knew better than anyone how dangerous and ruthless humans could be if they got their hands on one of their kind.
After all, he’d lost a child to humans years back.
Jacob's boot scraped over what to him was like a pebble, but in reality was more like a speck of dust. In the cautious silence he and Sam walked through, it seemed like the loudest sound in the world. Jacob grimaced, knowing he should have paid more attention. He barely refrained from whispering an apology to the man walking ahead of him. He had to prove himself.
Sam remained silent for the journey, used to the long trip through the walls. The room that they lived in with their adopted family was almost never used, along with the rooms around it. Because of that, they had to comb farther away for food and supplies, but it was worth the extra work. Fewer humans around meant less chance of them being discovered, less chance of being captured. It was easier to learn the ropes around there in the walls because if you made a mistake, there wasn't anyone around to hear it.
Eventually, a light shone in the distance. Soft grey morning sunlight was filtering in through a vent in the wall. Sam hunched over and motioned Jacob to do the same, padding silently up to the slitted vent. He almost held his breath once they were next to it, listening for any unexpected occupants.
The room beyond the bars of light was silent. He was disappointed to see signs of a vacuum being run; it meant the maids had already gone through and cleaned. The only good thing about that would be the fact that they weren't overly thorough, and if they'd already cleaned inside the room, it was unlikely to see any humans come around until the afternoon check-in time at theTrails West Motel.
They'd need to remain vigilant the entire time regardless. Check-in time might be hours away, but the motel was lax as long as the patrons were willing to pay. Any room that had been cleaned was up for grabs if someone needed a place to crash after a night's drive, and that meant that finding a time where it was completely safe to comb through a room was nearly impossible.
Safe or not, they needed the food.
The cozy room that Walt and Mallory used as a pantry was nearly empty of any of the food they'd saved up over the last weeks and months. Even the jerkied rat meat from the last rat that made the mistake of making its home nearby was almost depleted, leaving them without a fallback supply.
Walt himself was debating on making a run to the kitchens, one of the more dangerous sources of food available to them. With four families living in the motel, it would be easy for them to be discovered if everyone went to the kitchen to find supplies, which was why Sam and Walt, and soon Jacob once he was more certain of himself to go on his own, spent so much time searching rooms that humans had stayed in recently.
Once he was certain the room outside was empty, and there were no sounds that came from within, Sam grabbed onto the thick metal vent and shoved it so the panels were horizontal. He and Jacob were small enough to slip right through, and Sam did so the moment he could.
Head on a swivel, Sam assessed the room before gesturing to Jacob to follow. There was no sign of habitation, and the only sound that filtered in was the birds chirping peacefully outside in the morning air. The rumble of cars was distant, the parking lot silent. Sam let out a nervous breath as he waited. No matter how prepared they were, there was always the possibility that this time would be the time they were caught. He was determined to keep Jacob safe, no matter what.
Jacob did his best to mimic Sam. His stance, his watchfulness, the way he planted his feet, all of it made an important contribution to why Sam had never been caught. Jacob had to be that way too if he wanted to survive as long. There wasn't room for slacking in anything that he did like there might have been in his past life as a human.
The big difference between the two of them was that when Jacob slipped out of the wall, he had quite a bit more awe on his face than Sam did. From the position by the vent, everything stretched out in front and to the sides. The ceiling was impossibly far away, and all the furniture was towering and unmoving. Lit up by the light through the thin curtains, the shabby motel room tried to look inviting, but it was tough to see it that way from his size. It was a terrain he had to deal with, but even Jacob knew that everything outside the haven in the walls was unsafe.
Without looking, his hand shifted aside the flap of his satchel and slipped into the supply bag. It wrapped around a coiled rope of twine with wires at one end, sturdy twists of metal salvaged from an old broken bag clip. Jacob anticipated there would be some climbing, so he had his grappling rope ready in his hand before even taking another step away from the wall.
Thankfully, the looming room was empty, so they could explore it without worrying about being spotted for now.
Jacob looked to Sam with a faint smile, ready to follow his lead.