All hurt, no comfort (big_pink) wrote,
All hurt, no comfort
big_pink

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SPN fic: Red 8/10

Red, Chapter 8/Between the Ribs

Huff and Puff: Gen, PG-13, loads of sordid, violent, and downright creepy scenes, swearing laid on pretty darn thick, and Sam running around like a chicken seeking revenge for its missing head. Canon characters belong to the canon gods; words and other characters belong to me. Me! You heard that Kripke? WIP, but we’re pulling into the home stretch.

My, What Big Betas You Have: I have no words left to adequately thank jmm0001 and lemmypie, other than to say that neither of them are particularly ‘big’, though they are ‘good’ and ‘fun’.

Read Chapters 1-7




Once Upon a Time:
There was a Big Bad Wolf who set his sights on our hero Dean. After two harrowing encounters when he was 13 and 18, Dean once again faces the same creature – Ludovic, Lukas, the Wolf – in the woods of Washington State. This time, Sam has his back, or would if Dean would only rely on him. When we last left Dean…jesus, what was he doing again? Thinks hard. Right, he had impaled himself on a STAKE, with the Wolf coming on. Meanwhile, Sam is racing down from the treeplanter camp to check up on the lovely Ruby, who has chained herself to a tree at the protest site, which is on the way to the cut block. Racing, yes? In time? Well….

--


“Talk to me,” the Wolf – Ludovic, Lukas, whatever name it wanted to take, whatever made him feel more human, or pass for more human – hunched over, shivering. Not with cold, Dean suspected. The creature was much the same as he remembered, a little older. Both of them older. He hoped it would make a difference this time.

Even Ludovic laying eyes on him was somehow thieving, and the whole point of him coming here was to take shit back, not to give it away, so he forced his attention to anything that wasn’t the Wolf’s cold blue gaze, noticed how Ludovic was barefoot in the soggy slash, ankle tendons stretched taut in his crouch, furred and angular. Dean felt the briefest hover of sharp fingernails at his chest, soft as wasps landing on something sweet. Touch there, and there.

“You don’t want to talk to me?” Ludovic murmured, accent bubbling into something that was a trick of the tongue, some sound foreign to human speech. “Please.” And one inquisitive finger explored the base of the stake, found flesh under cloth.

Ludovic pressed hard like he was trying to get an elevator to come more quickly, and the pain was so fast and complete that Dean didn’t even have time to scream before he passed out.

When he came to again, his breathing was ragged, horrified, sky darker now. He chanced a look at Ludovic, still crouched, moving crabwise around him, now at his right side, one hand resting lightly on the bloody stake. One moment of stillness, then Ludovic leaned forward quickly, blurring, and he sniffed the stake, moved his head down, nostrils wide.

Getting my scent again, Dean thought, too dazed to be properly revolted.

Dean’s left hand closed around a handful of wet leaf mold as he tried to hang on to consciousness, the rain splattering him like some kind of Chinese water torture, no way to wipe it away. The sky was darker, definitely, but that might just be the rain, not the time of day. So hard to know.

Ludovic turned to Dean again, and this time Dean was caught in his blue stare. Stealing bits of me. A smear of Dean’s blood smudged a line where Ludovic’s cheek had pressed against the pointed sapling. The hand still rested there, threat implicit. His nails were the streaky sepia of goat’s hooves, long and curving. Ludovic’s other hand reached out and he bent down to Dean’s right ear, inhaling deeply, fingers brushing through Dean’s hair – trying to find the scar, Dean thought – a low growl in his throat.

“I have something for you,” Ludovic breathed, and he pulled back, eyes gleaming like a vampire’s, catching the last of the hazy light. Pulled out of somewhere – and Dean realized right then that he was drifting, because he hadn’t noticed where Ludovic had pulled it from – a perfectly flat, almost mint hundred dollar bill. Except it wasn’t folded in half, it was torn.

And Dean didn’t understand at first, because it had been fifteen years, and he had tried so hard not to remember certain things. Especially not that. Because that was blood money, that was everything black and shameful, was the worst of what he was in one piece of paper and why the fuck would he want to remember that? It hit him worse than a physical blow, and he’d almost have preferred Ludovic to jostle the stake again.

The swallow the Wolf took was obvious, mostly because his neck was long and exposed and Dean wanted nothing more than to draw a blade across it. No weapon this time, though, and even if he had a knife, he doubted he could get to it. He could barely move. The Wolf’s hand folded the bill and put it in Dean’s jean pocket, the left one, where it wouldn’t jar the stake. Put it in deep and so slowly Dean thought he might pass out again.

He closed his eyes, willing the nausea to pass. It didn’t, not really, because in the lowering darkness, he knew Ludovic was changing, remembered from that first time how it had been, the hoarse grunts and snarls covered by his own voice, soothing the Wolf with inane baseball talk. The time trapped under the tree with fuckwit Proctor, how he’d used every breath of persuasion to hold the Wolf off. Given it what it wanted, just to stay alive.

And that’s why kept it coming back for more, Dean thought. And Tanya paid, and Lori paid, and not a word does this motherfucker get from me today. Not one word.

“You know,” the Wolf managed in a moment of oral clarity, lying beside Dean in the cool rain, its body misshapen and growing larger and more dangerous, “once…inside, it’s easier. Much…easier. They rail and they scream. They beg for release. Eventually they tell me everything. But you-” And Dean’s eyes flickered open, not feeling any hand upon him now, only rain and cold. A mistake, because the Wolf was horrific and close and not even nominally human anymore. A cold sweat broke over him and he started to shake. Shock, he knew. He was going into shock.

About fucking time.

The Wolf sidled close, a big beast, coarse gray hair, wiry like a terrier, all teeth and saliva and eyes that burned. “You,” it choked out. The Wolf suddenly shook and was more manlike again, the hair covered with clothing, but Dean’s vision doubled and he had to close his eyes once more. The sweat poured from him, mixed with the rain, which hadn’t stopped the whole time.

“You…inside…” and the Wolf lowered his head to Dean’s neck, teeth sharp, not human, “it’s not forever,” and a thin thread of anguish wove through the voice, “I wish it was forever. Only till the new moon. But you’ll talk. They all…talk…” and the teeth found flesh, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much as being impaled on a fucking stake, “it’s never…enough. You, though. You’re different.”

Dean shook his head, vehemently. I’m not going to be enough, asshole. You are nothing but hunger, and nothing is going to satisfy you.

Rough dog-tongue lapping the sweat and the rainwater and maybe new blood from his neck and then his face and if Dean could have done anything right then, he would have. One hand came up, then fell, and he instead pulled his head to one side uselessly. The Wolf moved with him.

It was huge and dark and on top of him.

Instinctively, Dean raised his right hand to push it away, but a sharp whipcord of pain ran up his side so quickly and with such a rush of blinding light that he found himself with his hand fisted in the Wolf’s shirt, not pushing away, just holding on. Only a moment and he saw the Wolf’s smile. Somehow, this had been a mistake, but Dean couldn’t see how.

Not until the Wolf took Dean’s hand in its own, and pulled it under the shirt to the warm and narrow lupine chest, fingers like a blade, forcing Dean’s hand in, right into flesh, between sternum and rib. Dean’s hand, then his whole arm, and then more as the world swam blue and red and Dean thought, this is crazy. And then couldn’t think because the pain right then was more than he could possibly bear, even him, who had borne so much and so often.

The Wolf got Dean’s voice in the end, not as a caress, but as a scream.

It took Dean inside like a snake swallowing a sheep whole, gorged on what was desired. Something precious, something hoarded against lean times. Something to be absorbed over the long haul when night fell and everyone was safe in their beds. Inside.

And his.

--


What the fuck was Willy doing? Just sitting there, enjoying the view? Dave stumped over, heavy boots kicking shit out of the way, good light almost gone – did Willy not even hear the air horn signal from downhill, from where the mechanical faller was clearing out the smaller trees? Shit, Dave couldn’t see a thing down there for the fog. It wasn’t much better uphill, either, especially with the rain coming down like it was. Early evening dark, quitting time already. Willy would fucking listen to that.

“Willy!” he shouted and Willy didn’t shift from the stump, just tossed the remainder of his coffee into the bushes and grinned big.

“Hey, boss. Some rain. Fucking dark, eh?”

Dave looked around, ears sharp. He heard the sounds of machinery, of the hauler, but that was behind him and down the hill. He didn’t hear any saws. “Where’s Dino?” This part of the cut block had been worked ten years ago, most of the big trees gone, only smaller thirty-year-olds to take out, lots of hand-clearing in the slash. Not as dangerous as bringing down the big logs, but the incline was steep, too steep for the larger machines, had to be done by hand. Still worth the trouble for a smaller outfit.

Willy shrugged. “Checked up on each other about a half hour ago. Had my saw running, haven’t heard anything.”

Uh, and isn’t that when you’re supposed to check, dumbfuck? Dave thought, but didn’t say, because Willy was pretty good at his job most days and squeezing pennies out of this forest was getting harder and harder. “Where’d you last see him?”

Willy gestured vaguely in two directions at once. Oh, well, this would be easy. Dave brought out his whistle, ready to blow the signal for ‘all done, bring it in’. Had it between his lips, thinking about how he wanted a smoke there not a whistle, when they heard the scream.

Not close, uphill, past the screen of second growth trees. The terrible sound went on long enough to be recognizable as human, then choked off piteously. They both stood for a moment, the mist moving like a living thing, dark ferns bent with the rain, smell of exhaust and rot. The forest floor tilted at an angle, steep terrain this, loamy, and the earth didn’t register the sound of their footfalls as they raced towards the scream, wondering where it had come from, and if whoever had made it was still alive. They wondered these things, but the scream didn’t come again.

--


It was too rainy and dark to be driving as fast as he was. He didn’t care.

Sam took the corner wildly, and the back wheels slid to the side, bumped into something hard that didn’t seem to alter the integrity of the vehicle in any significant way. The windshield wipers were only marginally effective; the road he almost didn’t recognize, it had been so washed by the day’s downpour.

The protest camp was easy enough to spot, though. Over the bridge, more signs now, several news vans with satellite feeds, lots of reporters with golf umbrellas, must be preparing for the five o’clock news. And cops, way more cops, both State and what looked to be the local sheriff’s office.

The protestors had multiplied like tribbles: more tents, more fires, more blue tarps tossed over branches and secured with colorful climbing ropes. Sodden Tibetan prayer flags hung limply from between trees, perhaps put up to look cheerful. He wondered where Ruby was in this circus. He parked by the side of the road and stuffed the bag of food in his knapsack, jammed the machete in beside it. He pulled his raincoat around him, glad of it for once, despite the reflective tape and the stupid barrage of adjustable toggles. Too many decisions for a piece of clothing.

Clerks in the Seattle outfitter’s store had turned when they’d heard Dean’s delighted and slightly malicious laugh. Dean had spent a lot of time adjusting the toggles so that the coat cinched tightly around Sam’s waist, or so the hood folded in on itself, or so the underarm vents were open. Fucking underarm vents, you are so set, dude, Dean had snickered and Sam suddenly missed him fiercely.

The shock of light startled Sam for a moment, but it was only a news team testing its equipment. He skirted around them, looking for the cedar he’d climbed before to see Eileen. Found it easily, a knot of reporters and company reps gathered below. Company reps and he had an idea.

A white pickup truck with the multinational’s logo on the side sat across the muddy road from the gaggle of journalists, a bored looking man in the cab watching the proceedings with a long and practiced eye. Sam rapped on the window, which slowly unrolled.

“Yeah?” the company man said. Hardhat, reflective vest. He was ready for the field, maybe some kind of inspector hitching a ride up to the cut block and waylaid here at the protest camp so the communications officer could make sure the company spin was intact.

“Hi. My brother’s a logger with the Goodenauer outfit, the one that’s working the contract up on the block?” Got a nod, sufficient encouragement. “So I was wondering – are you in contact with them? Can you radio their office or something? Just with the rain-” Okay, and this was going to sound stupid, but this guy was bored out of his head, was looking for anything to keep himself from sliding into a coma.

Sam pulled out the big guns, the Sincere Face. “I just want to make sure he’s all right.”

The guy took a long look at the treeplanter clothes, the shaggy hair, everything screaming them, not us. The beseeching forest-dark eyes.

“What’s his name?” the guy finally drawled, coming to a sit, marginally more alert than two seconds ago, maybe happy that Sam wasn’t offering to talk about spotted owls or damage to watersheds.

Sam gave the name and waited until the crackle of the radio got to the logging camp, and the guy had a quick coded conversation with whoever was there. Finally, he turned to Sam. “The crew hasn’t come in from the block – they should be there soon. It’s only a twenty-minute drive, more maybe in this weather. You got wheels?”

Sam nodded. “It’s okay. I’ll drop something off here then head up. Thanks.”

Lukas had said that he’d take both if Sam wasn’t quick, but there was nothing quick about rain and washed out logging roads. Jesus. Usually, when it came to things like this – supernatural things – Sam didn’t worry about Dean too much, had seen the bloody mess Dean could make of just about any monster. Usually. This wasn’t usual, though, this was weird and old and obsessed. The Winchesters had been in Washington State any number of times over the years. That ’97 stint in Tacoma had been the longest, Sam thought, deciding to try the tent city to see if someone there knew where Ruby was.

But they’d spent a couple of weeks on the San Juans once, and another time in the area around Concrete. Neither of those times had anything unusual happened. Well, other than the usual unusual. But not a Wolf.

Earlier, maybe? Sam wondered, and something niggled. Not the mountains, not deep forest, where you’d expect a Wolf to be hiding out. The city. It was sharp, this sudden memory, one that had been tucked away with any number of truly unpleasant ones. Sam had a library of them, catalogued, numbered, shelved. He didn’t like looking at them, they just made him mad. And John Winchester deserved his sons to be mad at him, god alone knew, but Sam wasn’t really ready to deal with the anger he had, mostly because it scared the shit out of him.

And it wasn’t the point, was it? Being mad at Dad for…stood blinking in the rain. Dad had disappeared. He hadn’t come back. Where’s Dad? Almost heard the voice in his ear, skinny scared kid, hungry as sin.

Mrs. Legris.

She’d been nice, and Sam remembered her precision haircut, the way she smelled of burnt coffee and Play-doh, the swathes of Indonesian batiks she habitually wore. Just that, though. Damn, it had been Seattle, maybe fifteen years ago. And Dad hadn’t come back, not for a long time.

Hard to remember, because Dean had never spoken about it, not even once, and collective memories were things built up with mementos and spoken word, with photos and details accreting until it was some kind of complete story – messy, inaccurate, but shared. And this was not. This was a faulty half-memory of a young boy, whispering of fear and cold and hunger and things that neither his father nor his brother would speak of.

Dean curled up on the front seat of the Impala, bleeding, not saying anything, upsetting in his uncharacteristic silence. Dad stroking his hair and Dean flinching, pulling away into a tighter knot. Dad’s rumbling voice, soft and demanding – who did this, who did this – promising violent revenge like early Christmas, if Dean would just open his mouth.

That, a flash, nothing more.

“Hey, are you chaining up?” Astrid’s voice, a hand on his arm and Sam was jerked back from memory by today, which was plenty distracting enough. Astrid’s serious pale eyes were on him jackhammer intense and Sam stepped back.

Shaking his head, he looked beyond her into the squatters camp. “No, but I brought some food for Ruby. Where’s she at?” He smiled, knowing that it worked. For the first time, Astrid gave him a look that might be construed as ‘warm’.

“Down there, next to the Granny’s tree. See that spruce?” And Sam didn’t know a spruce from a telephone pole, but saw where she pointed. “She’ll be glad to see you,” she finished, turning away to trudge through the downpour to where protest organizers were speaking to some press.

Ruby wasn’t alone; a photographer was taking her picture. The chain wrapped around the tree and her waist, looped through her clothing. How the hell was she going to sleep? Go to the toilet? Sam didn’t want to know. He was sure he wouldn’t like the answers. And she was good and locked; thick kryptonite bike locks secured the chains. Nothing a good chaincutter wouldn’t handle in three seconds flat if the police decided to move in, but there would be cameras everywhere and she was a very pretty girl. She was making it hard for them.

That brought a smile again, her making things hard, and he slipped off the backpack and pulled out the food while Ruby called hello. He tried to make sure the photographer didn’t see the machete, didn’t want those sorts of questions. The photographer finished up and Sam passed Ruby a sandwich, which she ate immediately and with enthusiasm.

“God, this is boring,” she said. “You look worried.”

He did? He did. His brow furrowed further. “Yeah, I can’t reach Dean. He’s out in this weather someplace.” He cleared his throat. “Hey, has Lukas been around?”

Her Grecian nose wrinkled. “What’s with you and Lukas? Yeah, I saw him earlier, mid-afternoon maybe.” She shivered, an invitation.

Sam came closer, reading the signs correctly, leaned into her. “He’s not right, Ruby. Trust me on this one. If he comes close, and you’re alone--”

She pushed him away. “You see all these people? Reporters? Photographers? Cops? I’m not alone, okay?” She responded poorly to possessive, which was actually good, Sam thought.

One breath, then she pulled him to her again, her point made. Sam was quiet on the subject. What was he going to say, anyway?

Someone distantly shouted, “Hey!” and Sam paid no attention, because Ruby was warm, dammit, and he didn’t feel like moving at the moment, but then it was repeated and Ruby, ruddy cheeked from the cold rain maybe, muttered against his chest, “I think someone’s trying to get your attention.”

So Sam turned, and the company guy was walking quickly towards him, orange safety vest glowing in the news crew’s lights. Almost running, face gray and taut…face panicked…and Sam’s heart sizzled straight to his mouth.

“We need to get up to the cut block,” the company guy said, looking anxiously past Sam to Ruby, chained to a tree his company was desperate to cut. He wasn’t going to say anything in front of her, so Sam kissed Ruby on her ruddy cheek, whispered goodbye, walked a few steps with the company man, who had taken his elbow in agitated hurry.

Sam snatched it back, annoyed. “What’s going on?”

“They don’t know, not exactly,” the company guy said. “The crew can’t find your brother. He didn’t come back in. Something’s happened. Best not to let the press…”

“Fuck the press,” Sam returned harshly over his shoulder, already running for his truck.

--


He groaned, rolled over, his elbow hit something hard and he tried to pretend that he didn’t care, but he did. He cared because it was all so wrong, because this wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Dean blinked his eyes open, and everything spun. He closed his eyes quickly, and waited for the spinning to stop. Cautiously, he tried again, felt as though his brain had been rewired by stoners in the a/v closet. Everything was blurry at first, and dark too, and he couldn’t focus on anything, just buried himself in the sound of heavy rain splattering against – a car roof? But this wasn’t the Impala, god alone knew he’d woken up enough times in the front seat of the Impala, banging himself against the steering wheel, all sore from being hungover, or just sleeping the wrong way in a car that wasn’t really made for sleeping in.

The seats weren’t leather, didn’t slip, and his clothes caught on the napped fabric. All around him, a deep illuminated red. He listened to his own breathing for a while, staring at the stitched patterns in the roof above his resting head, trying not to completely lose it. It would be possible, of course, to do that here, to come unraveled like a badly made sweater.

Because he knew where he was.

He sat in the front seat of a late-model Cadillac, complete darkness outside, nothing but the interior dashboard lights glowing hazy yellow and green. The steering wheel wrapped in leather like he remembered, the squared lettering of the instruments, the fancy script spelling Cadillac and the goofy crest.

Slowly, Dean sat up, alert, wishing for a weapon, but he had nothing, just his work shirt over the t-shirt, jeans, heavy calk boots. Not even the safety belt and…

Fuck, he looked down to see the dark streaks and a punctured tear on his shirt where the stake had gone in. Well, technically, where the stake had come out, he supposed. He glanced quickly into the back seat: nothing, it was dark, but empty.

Gritting his teeth, although it didn’t hurt, it was just that he was slightly afraid, he lifted his white t-shirt, wanting to see what the damage looked like. A ragged hole in his side, that was what, crusted, dark. But not bleeding and not hurting, and that told Dean something else about where he now found himself.

Inside.

The idea of a huge hole in his side that didn’t bleed and didn’t hurt wasn’t exactly making him feel calm, so he dropped his inspection and took a deep breath, hand on the door handle. Get me the fuck out of here. Eased it up, but the chrome handle, thin and tapering like a rib, wouldn’t budge. The little electric toggle buttons for the windows and door locks glittered in the half-light. He flicked them, to no effect and maybe a little more strenuously than needed. Okay. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears, pounding as though he’d been running. It’s okay, Winchester, take your time, no hurry.

Everything was locked, including the glove compartment. The wipers didn’t work, neither did the headlights. No keys in the ignition, no underdash wires to strike an igniting spark. Stuck here, inside a goddamn theater set, a perfect simulation of a Cadillac. Except it wasn’t. It was the very same Cadillac from fifteen years ago, because that was how the Wolf played.

It smelled of moldy damp and fresh meat and dog hair and it turned Dean’s stomach.

He brushed his forearm against the driver’s side window, and it was cold. He could only see the pale oval of his own face. He was startled by how scared he looked. Stop being such a pussy. Pressing his face against the cool glass, hands cupped to shade out reflections, he tried to see what was out there.

Spattering rain. No light, just what spilled from the car itself. The cool was nice, though. Thought that, then realized a cold blue eye was inches from his face on the other side of the driver’s window and he scrambled back from the door with a huff of shock, heart pounding. Damn.

The car rocked slightly as something big moved outside it, the shock absorbers groaning, screech of metal bending, but Dean couldn’t see anything other than running drops on the windows and his own distorted reflection.

Then nothing, just rain. One minute, then two. Silence and stillness, nothing moving other than the rise and fall of his own chest.

Dean didn’t precisely relax, it wasn’t the kind of place where you could do that. Eventually, he stretched his legs, tried the door handle again. He climbed into the backseat, tried those handles and window buttons. He searched under the seats, tried taking apart the backseat to get into the trunk, see what was there. The seat cushions were solid and intact and he’d need more than his bare hands to remove them.

His watch had stopped working. Typical, he thought, tapping it with a fingernail as though that would fix it. Anything to keep me disoriented. Finally, he stretched out on the backseat, kicked off his muddy boots, wiggled his toes.

He couldn’t believe it, but he was bored.

“What kind of radio reception does the inside of a wolf get?” he wondered out loud, and climbed back into the front seat. He tried all the buttons, turned up the volume, but nothing. “Shit reception, that’s what,” he muttered, glad to hear his own voice. It was too quiet, just the hush of rain. If it was one thing he hated, it was being alone.

Time passed; without a working watch, or the change of day to night and day again, Dean had no way of knowing how much time was going by. After a while, he couldn’t even guess – three hours? Five? More? It must be almost morning, he thought. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t hungry, didn’t have to take a leak.

“Think these windows are made of safety glass?” He banged his heel against the window, but not meaningfully. “Where the fuck would I go, anyway?” he continued. “Wandering around the inside of a fucking Wolf.” There was the eye that had been watching him, though. He shuddered. At least it was outside, not like last time, when the Wolf had been in here.

Like most things last seen when young, the Cadillac seemed smaller than it had when he was thirteen.

“This is going to be a long wait.” He breathed against the window, wrote his name on the pane before it disappeared. “Even Steve McQueen had a tennis ball.”

He tried to remember all the words of the Metallica back catalog. Sang them. Loudly. Then listed every girl he’d ever slept with, in order. Rated the experiences one through fifty. Recited the peasant’s monologue from the Holy Grail. The starting lineup and pitching staff of the Mariners and Royals, mid-1970s through to the present day. ERAs, RBIs, and batting averages. The area codes of all the cities and towns he’d ever lived in. All Sam’s teachers, starting with Miss Eliza in kindergarten. Ranked them in terms of relative hotness. He’d always paid way more attention to Sam’s teachers than his own.

Slowly, a wind picked up outside the car. It grew stronger, and the car groaned, buffeted by the wind. Dean’s running chatter petered out and he sat up, looked out the window, but saw nothing.

Shit. Eased back into the seat, wished he felt remotely tired. Or hungry. Or anything. He thought about poking around in his wound, just as a diversion, but there was no way he was that bored.

The name and dispatch method of every monster he knew. That would take a while.

The worst of it was, he had no idea what he was waiting for, but knew he wouldn’t like it much when it got here.

--


“You gotta get some sleep, man.” Dave Goodenauer bent down to where Sam slumped against a tree trunk, a Styrofoam cup dangling precariously in his lax grip.

Sam straightened, swirled the coffee around in the cup, shaking his head. “I’m okay.” He glanced at his watch: almost five in the morning, still no sign of Dean. At least the rain had stopped. All his nerve endings were exposed, he felt as though his skin had been stripped raw. Livid, he was livid, and coffee was not the main thing keeping him going, not by a long mile.

Neither he nor Dave, nor Stanley the Company Man had had any sleep yet. Dave because he was genuinely worried about Dean, Stanley because he was afraid of a media relations disaster.

Fortunately for Stanley, Sam didn’t want media attention either, so they’d been searching the forest by themselves. The whole crew had been pressed into service, and Willy had taken them to where he’d last seen Dean. Goodenuff had ordered Stottlemeyer to bring up the big lights and the detailed contour map, assigned them a grid. It was slow going with the rain and the dark.

Sam had watched Dave blow up at Willy; the rat-faced guy, Brent, had prevented the huge and glowering Goodenuff Dave from actually getting physical with the faller. Now Brent was coming in from the bush, taking a cup of coffee from the urn that the camp cook had brought up to them. No logging today, apparently, not until they found Dean.

A scream, Dave had said. It had sounded human, not a cougar’s yowl, or the roar of a bear. It’s got him, Sam thought. Sat against the tree, watching the despairing look on Brent Proctor’s stricken face. I wasn’t fast enough. I should have killed it.

Brent sat down next to Sam, shaking his head. “Not a goddamn clue. It’s a fucking jungle though, and with the rain…” He sighed. “Your brother wouldn’t have gotten picked off by a bear. You know that.”

Sam turned, blinked once, surprised. “How would I know that?” His voice was utterly calm, a trick. A practiced trick.

Brent wriggled as though he had hives. “You know. How he talks to them.”

The day brightened incrementally and Sam could see the awkward sincerity on Brent’s skinny face. Some good weather finally, they might even see sun; the sky was streaked like smokehouse bacon, strips of pink running with white and gold.

“Dean talks to bears?” Well, this was news. There were all kinds of things Sam didn’t know about Dean, though. Every day demonstrated that.

“Well, yeah,” like Sam was a moron. Brent launched into the world’s most improbable story: Dean trapped under a tree, the bear, Dean sweet talking it, Brent drifting into a comfortable daze while it happened. Goodenuff stood beside them, took over the story when Brent admitted he’d been wired up the wazoo with morphine. Dave’s story was even more bizarre: Dean had broken his arm, but had nevertheless picked a fight with Ludovic, the timber scout, who’d been run off by their camp cook, the one who’d dropped Dean off at their family’s apartment in Tacoma.

“He never told you any of this?” Dave asked, mouth twisting under his blond beard.

Sam shook his head. No, he didn’t tell me any of this.

“Think I still owe him some money from that. Never collected his last pay packet.” That dropped into silence, because Dave had been about to offer the money to Sam, and that was territory neither wanted to get into.

Sam stood up, crunched the cup in his hands. “I need to get the crew chief’s truck back to him.” He needed to find Lukas, more to the point. “I have a satellite phone and there’s a radio in the truck.” They stood quietly for a minute, Sam’s raw nerves humming. I should be finding him, not remembering him.

“We’ll keep looking. If we don’t find anything in the next hour or so, we should call search and rescue.”

Sam nodded once, and turned back to the mountain, wondering where on earth his brother was. He isn’t dead, he told himself firmly. People in our family disappear all the time. They always come back. And he didn’t believe that either.

--


Remarkable that he could be here, in this car, and not remember certain things. By now he was trying to: what had the Wolf done, exactly, fifteen years ago? It had been dirty, yeah, but more than just a pervert getting his rocks off. Had been more like he wanted to…wanted to…

And his mind shied from that, seeing shadows. He’d run; he’d heard his mother’s voice and he’d run. He thought that might have been the last time he’d had her inside his head, that night. For a long time after she’d died, he’d heard her voice, usually when he was avoiding homework, or skipping out of class, or about to do something deliberately antagonistic to Sam. But she’d been here, in this car, and she hadn’t told him off, she’d told him to get himself out of there.

It gave him no comfort now, remembering that.

I wish it was forever. Only till the new moon. And now Dean knew what that meant. A whole month here, more or less. A whole month inside, and then? None of the others had ever come back. He wouldn’t either.

He moved suddenly, stretched, had already figured out the best way to do sit ups and push ups in the confined space. His side wasn’t bothering him at all, not unless he looked at it and even then it was only psychological. Of the mind. He would go crazy here before long. Tried to push that down, because it had a really unpleasant laugh, a drunk at the bar on a weeklong bender.

He took out his wallet, threw it on the dashboard. He’d already looked at its contents, made anagrams out of words like ‘license’ and ‘detective’ and tried to see how many new words he could make out of the phrase ‘Singer Auto Self Service Salvage Yard’. His other pockets were empty.

Almost empty.

Something hard and folded hid at the bottom of his front pocket and he drew it out: a perfect one-hundred dollar bill, whole and ready to spend. He swallowed, flattened it out on the dashboard. He’d been paid for. He had taken half of it, promised and been promised. And now he was here and there was nothing much to be done about it.

He’d taken the money, and Tanya had been ripped to pieces. He’d agreed. He’d gotten into the car of his own free will, and somehow Lori had died because of it. This is on me.

The car was too red and it smelled of raw meat and sex and things that aroused and repelled and his breath was coming too fast now. Everything stirred up in him, needing to take care and needing to be a man, and needing to bring home the bacon, and needing to keep it together and none of those things was remotely possible.

He crushed the crisp new bill in his fist and it wasn’t enough.

He turned around savagely and smashed his elbow as hard as he could against the driver’s side window, shouting. Sounds, not words, that was all, nothing that made sense. His elbow should have gone through the window, or cracked, or shattered all along its length. He knew how this was supposed to work, the gruesome mechanics of breaking bones.

None of those things happened: his elbow bounced back, intact, the window intact, nothing changed. “No,” Dean growled. “No, you don’t get to keep this. You don’t get to keep me.” He put his boots back on, heavy lethal things that would inflict damage. He braced himself, understanding that this wasn’t making sense, that there was no way to make this make sense, and brought both feet against the window at the same time, swung all his weight into it.

His feet rebounded, a horrific shriek of spikes against glass – or what only seemed like glass – everything just as it was before, and Dean wound up, tried again. And again, over and over. The whole time shouting – screaming – his independence, his sense of self, his way of being in the world, and the wind picked up again and he didn’t stop until he could barely breathe and his throat was hoarse and he was burning with something that felt like fever but was not.

Only for a moment though, because wind and form combined shifted outside and he saw a gray shape move against the window and the car rocked again. He brought his feet up, not hurting himself, not able to hurt himself, even that taken away from him. He smashed at the window one last time with his boots, then sat up quickly, didn’t give himself time to truly think about it, because he saw the blue eyes glowing outside, smelled the thick scent of animal musk, felt used and hollow – and hit his forehead against the window with skull-crushing force.

It didn’t even hurt, and he fell back on the seat, an arm over his burning eyes, shaking.

He heard the growls and the half-howls and knew the Wolf was pleased. Goddamn, he whispered, over and over and over.

But you’ll talk. They all talk.

He put one hand on his chest, felt his heart hammering away. It took a long time for it to slow, but he waited, ignoring the grunts of pleasure coming from outside. I still have something it wants, he thought, slowly sitting up. Fuck you, Ludovic.

Not one word, he thought rubbing his head where it should have hurt but did not. The circling gray outside stilled, stopped its noises. Fuck you, Dean thought again, summoning cold as a weapon, and it swirled in him like white flakes in a shaken snow globe. You’ll have to come and get it.

A slow smile crossed his face, one his brother would have recognized and understood. Keep your eyes peeled, Sam, because I’m going to fuck this asshole up from the inside out.

The howl he heard then was full of longing, but it was far away and Dean took off his boots again, slipped the hundred dollar bill into his wallet.

You get what you pay for, he thought.

--


He wasn’t even trying to hide and if Sam hadn’t been so shocked to see him, he would have been incensed at his sheer gall. And he was talking to tree-chained Ruby while Tommy and Astrid looked on, obviously on their way down to the town, judging from Tommy’s lack of treeplanting gear. Off day today. In all the commotion, he’d forgotten. Tommy saw him first, waved him over.

The knapsack wasn’t heavy; a machete didn’t weigh hardly anything at all.

Sam swallowed with some difficulty, felt heat creep up his neck. Everything hummed for a second and he slowly got out of the truck, dizzy with murder. Despite this, he couldn’t very well lop off Lukas’s head in front of bystanders, many of them cops. Not to mention that he needed to know what had happened, and a dead Lukas wasn’t going to be saying much of anything.

Lukas altered his stance at Tommy’s cry, turned to look at him, and Sam noticed right away that something wasn’t right with him. Pale, sweating, more gray than tanned. Their eyes met, and Sam looked away first, found Ruby across the shortening distance. She suddenly looked worried, and Sam knew it was because of the expression on his face, the look that wasn’t Dean’s Don’t fuck with me, but more I’m going to fuck you up.

His attention flicked to Lukas, then back to her and he couldn’t have found a smile right then if his life depended on it. What had he told her about Lukas? One of Ruby’s brows quirked: It’s not as though I can walk away from him, can I?

Shouldering between them, Sam grabbed Lukas’s arm, bent his head and whispered, “I need to talk to you,” in a voice that none of them had heard before. Hard, harsh, unforgiving. Behind him, Ruby flinched.

“Dude,” Tommy said. “We were just heading down to civ. Had a helluva party last night, man. Where the hell were you?”

Sam didn’t take his eyes from Lukas, who had taken a step back, sensing intent maybe. No way this thing gets one over on Dean, especially when he was expecting it. What the hell had happened? “I was busy.”

“What was that suit so worried about?” Ruby asked, one hand coming to rest on Sam’s side, trying to guide him back to her, difficult to ignore the animosity in the air.

He was in no mood for that. He recognized his anger when it came; he’d had a lot of practice over the years. For their father it had always been hot and fast, for Dean a slow burn, flaring up during his brother’s more outrageous behaviors. But for others, for things that ought not to be bothering humanity, Sam’s anger was deep and abiding. It was present in him as much as his intellect and his drive.

Lukas, ashen face tense, smiled slowly, not showing his teeth. He looked ill, and Sam had no idea what that meant. “It’s okay. I have business with Sam.” He slid his frigid attention to Sam, and for a moment all Sam saw was hunger and want. It looked human enough right now, but it was nowhere near human.

Maybe four yards, that’s all Lukas would give him. State police. Television cameras. Smart. It didn’t matter how sharp his blade was, he wasn’t going to be able to use it here. “Where,” Sam growled, hands balled at his side, “is he?”

The smile again, still sickly. And Lukas scratched his stomach leisurely, calloused and broken fingers their own kind of sharp. “You want to kill me. I know that.”

Sam wouldn’t be goaded, he had too much experience with being angry. Maybe not with being this scared at the same time, but he shoved that down hard. “I asked you a question.”

“You kill me, and you’ll never see him again. He dies with me.” The fingers drifted over the Wolf’s chest, and down to his belly again, trailing patterns. Lukas closed his eyes, angled his face away from Sam. Enjoying himself.

Jesus Christ.

“So help me god,” Sam whispered, unsure what he could threaten that would be enough.

Lukas glanced up, a sheen of sweat making him look basted. “Funny thing is, I’m still hungry. It’s never,” and he paused for the right word. “It’s never enough.”

Despite what Sam just grasped, what he just understood, he forced a smile. Dean was all sharp angles and prickles and jags, nothing soft or safe about him. He was also broken, yes, in a fundamental way that Sam was coming to recognize, but smashed glass could inflict horrible damage all the same. “He doesn’t taste so good now, does he?”

And knew from the way Lukas turned away that he was right. He took a shaky breath, feeling a little ill himself, and so alone.

Inside an abandoned garage that smelled of piss, a loaded gun in his hand, watching and waiting, alone. Dark shadow too big to be Dean – suddenly Dad, and coughing and tears and finally, Dean in the Impala, outside.

Dad wasn’t coming this time.

He heard his name being called and Tommy trotted to his side, pointing to the company trucks where someone in a sweatshirt with a medley of bald eagles on it was waving to him. Oh, god, what now? And looked back, only to see Lukas walking away, body heavy, no lightness in him, no speed. Then around to Ruby and Astrid. He didn’t care how insane it sounded.

“Don’t you let him near you, Ruby,” he said, edging down to the roadside, where a makeshift parking lot had been claimed from the forest. “He’s dangerous. Believe me.”

Twenty minutes later, he was back on the cut block. Dave had radioed; they’d found Dean’s chainsaw in the underbrush. It had lodged in a hollow beside an old stump, and Sam approached the scene with trepidation, worried that the more he looked the more he’d find. Parts, isn’t that what both Dean and Dave had said about the camp’s cook from ten years ago? The others had just disappeared, but that woman had been shredded to bits.

“I’m calling search and rescue,” Dave said to Stanley, who resigned himself with a weary nod.

“Dave,” Sam looked at the chainsaw; unremarkable. A way to end the Wolf’s life and apparently Dean hadn’t been able to do it. Why?

Goodenuff looked up and Sam jerked his head: let’s talk over there.

“Don’t call it in just yet,” Sam told him softly. A waste of time, first of all. But more importantly – “Dean’s got a warrant out on him. Why do you think he wanted to be paid under the table?”

A measure of Dean’s reputation that Dave didn’t look surprised in the least. He nodded. “You think he wandered off, maybe to avoid it?” Yes, that’s exactly the sort of thing Dean would do. Sam wished he could believe it, wished that was a story he could tell himself.

“It’s possible.” He clapped Dave on the shoulder. Dean had trusted this guy, this old friend, who knew Dean well enough to know he was just the sort to fake his own death.

Too bad it wasn’t the truth, not this time.

Dave bit his lower lip. “What about the scream?” Sam knew to leave Dave room; he’d fill in his own blanks. Most people did. Most people needed things to make sense and would make up what excuse they needed. “He might have done that to make us think an animal had got him?”

Sam shrugged noncommittally and told Dave he wanted to look around a little more. The boss picked up the chainsaw, face still worried. Even if Dean had disappeared on purpose, it was dangerous country.

The clearing was pretty big, dominated by the enormous stump. It was covered in moss, except for one long divot, recently scraped away, cedar red underneath, crumbling, rotten. Around the stump, deep slash, the forest coming back after the cut. Nature abhors a vacuum. Recently cut saplings lying like fallen soldiers around the stump. Something wasn’t right.

Sam imagined standing on the stump. He imagined falling from the stump, calk boots taking out a skidding cushion of moss. Sam turned very gradually, eyes narrowing. Three strides and he bent down.

A sapling cut at an angle a foot or so from the forest floor, tip sharp as a spear. Covered in blood. Without hurry, Sam reached out and touched it with a sure finger. Tacky, maybe because the air was so dense with moisture. A couple of fibers stuck to the stake, and he pried them off: blue thread, white thread. Someone’s clothing.

He came to his feet slowly, thinking. Something had happened here but he wasn’t sure what.

--


Go to Chapter 9

a/n: I TOTALLY had the Great Escape reference before The Usual Suspects aired. Just ask the betas.

--

ETA: Because JM actually does rule the universe and wanted to change Sam's eye colour -- I humour her like that because she's...right. And because the Mariners were one of the '76 expansion teams. And Play-doh is spelled 'Play-doh', as one would usually spell such things.
Tags: fanfic, red, supernatural
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