June 21th, 2007, 4:22am local time
One of the things Dean had never expected to experience above the age of eight was waking up in a tree.
Way up in a tree, on the side of a road, with no idea of what had happened for a long moment. He felt like he’d been thrown into it, bruised and battered and scratched. He was stuck in place, clothing catching on everything and one branch perilously close to making him a one-eyed hunter. Dawn was coming, or at least the darkness was lifting enough off to the east that he could make out the details of the tree he was in. It was windy as hell, and -
Sam, and the tornado.
The wings were caught between branches, holding him in place. He struggled, trying to get his bearings and figure out how high up he really was.
If it was windy, did it mean Sam was fine or was it just the tail end of the storm?
He got an arm free and used it to grab the nearest large branch hard enough to stabilize himself so he could pull first one wing free, then the other. With that came a sense of relief. His other limbs might have been caught, but it wasn’t half as claustrophobic if he could at least hold the wings up.
Lightning flashed to the south in a brief snap of light followed seconds later by a distant and surly grumble of thunder. A moment of it echoed in his chest, low and percussive. The storm was moving away.
The idea of becoming a winged lightning rod didn’t occur to Dean. He just wanted the hell out of the tree and to find Sam. Up was still up and down was still down, gravity hated him just like always, and he didn’t want to be airborne again unless there was no other choice.
Unless Sam needed him.
June 20th, 2007, 10:38pm
Dean flipped channels again. There was nothing to do, nowhere around there to go, and he was too obstinate about it to just go to sleep. He was too wired. Not from the hunt - it was pretty boring except for Sam being slimed - but he was geared to do something and had nothing to aim it at. He wanted it to be the charge in the air from the storms that had been circling the whole midwest all day, but he was really just waiting for midnight.
No bodies of water, no easy points of ignition, craploads of asphalt surrounding them. They’d chosen the place for how damn artificial everything was.
They were in a motel off the I80 in Julesburg, Colorado just after rousting a batch of some kind of slug-creatures from the rafters of a barn. Sam had received the majority of the fallout and was trying to scrub it out of his hair. While Sam was in the shower, Dean did what he always did and checked for messages on Sam’s phone. There usually weren’t any. If there were, it was Ellen, or some friend from college. Occasionally Bobby. Bobby usually tried Dean’s phone first and then Sam’s. This time he’d tried Sam’s first.
Sam. Listen, I wasn’t paying attention. Forget the thing in Ord. I’ve got this one. Just check in after the 22nd.
Dean scrolled back one message.
Sam, it’s Bobby. I think we’ve got one in Ord, Nebraska - you boys aren’t too far from there. Looks like possession in a couple of cases. It’s jumping from person to person but not being careful. Call me.
Dean left the phone open, staring at the screen. He kept doing that until Sam came out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel.
“What the fuck is this?” Dean said, standing and holding Sam’s phone out toward him.
“It’s a phone,” Sam said. “Tomorrow we’ll work on colors and shapes.”
“Okay, smartass,” Dean said, dropping his voice to a growl. “You get a tip on a demon and you don’t goddamn tell me? What is this?”
“I don’t listen to your goddamn messages,” Sam said, but there was more annoyance than outrage in it. “Stay out of my stuff.”
“Bobby sent you a message that there’s been possessions and shit and you decide whether or not I should know,” Dean said flatly. “You decide not to tell me.”
“Because you get pretty damn weird just before the wings come out,” Sam said. “You don’t...” He paused to wave a hand a little in midair while Dean flared his nostrils at him. “You can’t settle down, you don’t think. It can wait for a day.”
“You,” Dean said, still holding the phone out like a weapon, “don’t ever. Decide for me. Anything. Except when you pull the plug on my life support when I’m a hundred and six. I don’t need you doing what you think is best.”
“We’re not hunting again on a Sabbat,” Sam said, setting his jaw, resting his hands at his hips. “You can ignore it all you want, but you’re not you just before it happens. You’re like a wild animal.”
“Great,” Dean said. He walked over to the door, whipped it open, and sidearmed Sam’s phone out into the parking lot.
“Hey!” Sam yelled.
“That was pretty fuckin’ wild, right?” Dean said. “Asshole, pack it up. We’re going after that demon.”
“I’ll go,” Sam said. “I’ll go with Bobby. You wait out the wings and catch up after.”
“What the hell is your problem?” Dean said.
“Last time was too close,” Sam said. “You know it as well as I do.”
“Every goddamn thing we do is too close,” Dean said. “What is this?”
“Look,” Sam said, “the time we were at Bobby’s, you’re the one who thought it would be better to split up while this was going on.”
“Because they weren’t after you yet,” Dean said. “Right after that, you plugged a couple of them yourself.”
“I think it’s a better idea now than it was before,” Sam said, cocking his head and enunciating the words deliberately, trying to say more without having to actually say it. “Split up when this happens, and lay low for twenty-four hours, then meet back up and go on.”
Dean still had one hand on the door, and he tilted his face back to look at the cobwebs on the ceiling.
"The last two times this happened, one of us quit breathing. I'm a man of many talents, Sam, but
long-distance CPR isn't one of them."
Sam sighed. "The first time happened because we were together and too wrapped up in this" he waved a hand between them, "to hear the shamblers coming. And the second time..." we had sex in a church.
Dean executed a mocking version of Sam's hand gesture and said, "There is no 'this', whatever the fuck you think 'this' is.”
Sam shook his head and pursed his mouth in disgust as he turned and began walking away. He spun back on his heel, though, and jabbed a finger at Dean. “Don’t be a prick about this, like you are about everything else,” he said. “You saying it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean shit.”
Dean slammed the door and stepped up, head tilted forward a little in challenge. “You wanna do this now?” he said. “Really? I’m sick of your goddamn assumptions about everything, Sam. What the fuck do you think’s goin’ on? You’ve got a crush on the wings and you’ve gotta translate it into some big dangerous heartfelt whatever. It’s nothing. It’s temporary. You’d feel like this about anybody who was wearin’ ‘em. You don’t even fuckin’ see me.”
Sam’s eyebrows climbed halfway up his forehead as the color drained from his face. “Is that what you think?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Dean said. “You wanna pretend we’re distracting each other and it’s gonna get us killed, fine. Lie to yourself all day, I don’t care.”
“Do you even hear half of what comes out of your mouth?” Sam said with an incredulous, humorless laugh. “You’ve been here for all of it. We’re officially distracted. We are, Dean. I don’t see you? What does that even mean?”
Dean just stared at him, closed off, the suggestion of a sneer beginning.
Sam was familiar with the tactic. Dean was going to try to stare him down and give him no choice but to walk away so that he could take a parting shot at his back. He refused to shoot even the nastiest damn monsters in their backs – he made them turn around before he destroyed them -- but he had no problem getting one last rude comment in once Sam had turned around.
He refused to play.
“You get that line from the last chick you spent more than a day with?” Sam said.
“You can do better than that,” Dean said. “Losing your touch, Sam.”
Sam huffed out a breath. “Don’t fuckin’ mess with me trying to get me to....” Sam paused because he absolutely could not finish that sentence. What came out instead was unintentional. “You kissed me.”
“You kissed me first,” Dean said evenly, eyes half-lidded in openly feigned boredom.
This was not how things went. This was not their regular argument pattern. Dean had rewritten the script and failed to give Sam a copy. “That was CPR,” Sam said just as calmly.
“Tell yourself whatever makes you feel better, Sammy,” Dean said, eyebrows raised in mocking sincerity.
Sam wanted to punch Dean somewhere in the middle of his face. It seemed fitting to just get it done and end it on that note.
“You’ve been trying to feel me up every chance you get since this started,” Dean said. “Now you wanna blame me for egging you on? C’mon, Sam.”
Sam wrinkled his nose in annoyance and narrowed his eyes. If Dean was baiting him, it was because he was on shaky ground himself. He knew that.
“Cocktease,” Dean said with a smirk. It was a challenge.
Sam began shaking his head, mouth pressed into a thin line of anger. He began to purposely breathe deep and slow through his nose.
Dean came closer, leaving less than a foot between them, smirk still firmly in place. “You’d step up if you really wanted it,” he said. “You have no idea what’s going on. It’s all temporary. Rather than face it, you wanna run.” He pitched his voice into a mocking whine. “To saaaaaave me.”
“You don’t know me as well as you think you do,” Sam said.
“Neither do you, from what I can see,” Dean said.
“I’m not walking away first,” Sam said.
“Gonna be standing here all fuckin’ night, then,” Dean said. “You started this, Sam. Say what you need to, and then I don’t wanna hear it again.”
“You just - “
“Ever goddamn again, Sam,” Dean said.
The anger seemed to just drain away and leave Sam looking at Dean with calm determination.
“You go on and on about how you want me to talk, but you guard everything you say,” Dean said. “Yeah, I’m gonna give you a hard time about whatever you do say. That’s us, that’s how we are. There’s me and you. We already don’t have enough boundaries. You wanna fuck up the last one we have, go ahead, Sam. But mean it when you do it and don’t get all worried about it.”
Sam didn’t speak but he kept staring, far too hard.
Dean stared back for a moment, then said, “It’ll all be over on Halloween. For me, anyway. And you’ll be wondering what the hell got into you.”
“I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see, then,” Sam said.
Dean gave him a look, a glare of annoyance and disbelief. He pointed a finger at Sam. “Don’t threaten me with leaving. You wanna go, just fuckin’ say so and do it, and quit lyin’ about why you’re doing it. Quit making something out of nothing.”
Sam shook his head. “Doesn’t feel like nothing. Go ahead and keep blaming it on the wings.” He leaned forward a little. “Whatever makes you feel better, Dean.”
Dean kept glaring at him. When Sam held his ground with uncharacteristic patience, Dean finally turned away. “Get dressed and get moving,” he said curtly.
“And in an hour and a half, we’ll be open to all four elements to take shots at us, because you have to do this.”
“You don’t have to come,” Dean said, throwing his stuff together without looking up.
“Then what are you gonna do, Dean?” Sam said. “Fly there? You kind of need me to drive.”
Dean whipped his half-full duffel at Sam, aiming right for his head. Sam ducked it easily because it was such an awkward missile, but he almost didn’t make it because of the surprise.
“I don’t need you for anything,” Dean said in a low, calm voice that was far too out of place after the minor tantrum.
Sam passed the words off because he knew better. “One day,” he said. “You can wait one day, Dean. Don’t make it easy for them to get at us.”
I’m already drowning in you in less literal ways.
“And in a day, it kills another person, maybe two, maybe takes out a whole goddamn group at once depending on who it possesses,” Dean said in that too-calm voice. “It’s not being careful, so it just wants destruction. Every minute we stand here is somebody else getting messed with or killed. That okay with you?”
“We’re not the only hunters in the world,” Sam said, shoulders beginning to itch as the water on his skin dried. “Bobby got the info from someone else, and there’s no way we’re the only ones who can handle this. We kind of have our own trouble.”
“Now Bobby’s thinkin’ we’re crippled while this is going on,” Dean said, swinging one arm out in a wide gesture of this is bullshit.
“We’re not at out best while it’s going on,” Sam shot back. “Bobby’s trying to watch out for us. Why are you pretending this isn’t a big deal? You wanna face a demon, knowing what happens to you when anything touches the wings? You have no problem with that?”
“I can handle anything,” Dean said.
“I can’t,” Sam said. “You dumbass, you just run right at things without looking, and every time you get hurt, I can’t think anymore. I want a crack at this demon too, but not while we’re off our game. You know better.”
Dean stared at him for a moment, smoldering.
Sam knew he was making sense, but he also knew Dean wanted something to attack. That overruled anything else. And he knew that whatever Dean decided to do, he would follow along.
“I do know better,” Dean said. “So get your ass ready to go.”
Sam never knew how Dean managed to pull off sullen and restless at once. It seemed impossible, since Dean was so rarely sullen anyway and the two just didn’t go together well. He was acting like a dog that really needed to be turned loose in a large field for a while to tear ass around the place and maybe chase something down, bark up a few trees, and piss on everything in sight to claim it. Maybe he could roll in something dead to top it all off. He was driving too fast, fidgeting and jogging his left knee against the door. He was also still trying to be pissed at Sam and and was obviously too distracted to keep focusing on it. Sam cracked the window so he could smell the air better, and he fought to keep equal attention on Dean, the map, the clock, and the weather.
He’d called Bobby when they’d first headed out, to tell him they were fielding the tip. Of course, he’d had to go find his phone in the parking lot first and was glad it was only scratched by Dean’s temper. Bobby hadn’t said are you sure or any tried any other platitudes. He’d simply said let me know if you need backup, and stop by here when you’re done.
The ride after that was silent. They both knew that even the simplest hey they need to repave this section of highway would likely result in a reaction far out of proportion to the subject matter.
“It’s about five ‘til,” Sam said.
Dean mumbled something that sounded obscene under his breath and started looking for a decent spot to pull over. They’d left the 80 for state route 83 at North Platte and there was less traffic. He settled for a wider spot of shoulder a couple of minutes later. There hadn’t been anyone for a few miles behind them, and they were on a hill, so they’d see anybody coming up for quite a way. He shut the headlights off and then the engine. They listened to it click as it began to cool.
They both got out at the same time.
Sam stood facing into the wind, nose tilting up, eyes narrowed. He kept his hands in the front pockets of his jeans.
Dean watched him without saying anything even though he wanted to. Doing it made him feel calmer. He couldn’t quite bring himself to break Sam’s reverie, or interrupt whatever was causing it. It didn’t look like one of his internal pow-wows or big introspective moments. He wanted it to be; he wanted Sam to make a big flourish of whatever he was doing so he could mock him and take the edges off it. He wanted Sam to flaunt his powers a little and they could take turns taking each other down a peg.
It occurred to him, however, that if Sam was of a mind, he could easily make a kite of his brother.
Sam turned his head to look at him and smiled. His eyes reflected a streetlight further down the road.
“It’s gonna storm,” he said.
“You the weatherman, now?” Dean said. “Clear as a bell for miles.”
“I’m not sure it’s just air currents and barometric pressure causing it,” Sam said. “By themselves, I mean, doing what they do. I think it’s stuff we can’t measure. Like maybe something’s pushing on the whole atmosphere.”
Dean kept looking at him, waiting for any sign that Sam was messing with him or caught up in something that was maybe pushing on his whole atmosphere. “It’s still tornado season,” he said. He meant it to sound like well duh but it fell flat.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “It’s also elemental season. I keep telling you about the random storms in places they shouldn’t be happening, and you grumble at me about global warming.”
“It’s been on the news,” Dean said with a shrug, still looking doubtful. “Al Gore won an Oscar for it.”
“I can pick things up better when I’m like this,” Sam said patiently. “Same thing that goes on with you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dean said gruffly, frowning and looking away.
“Fine, whatever,” Sam said without annoyance, turning his face back into the wind. He was in no mood to keep arguing. There were better things to pay attention to, like...the wind. It felt good on his face, in his hair, soothing. It was like a living thing, curling around him the way cats liked to wind around people’s legs. He pulled his flannel off and then stripped his shirt off over his head without thinking about it, unaware that Dean was staring at him in alarm.
He just wanted to feel the wind a little better, that was all.
“You’d better strip if you don’t wanna lose those clothes,” Sam said without looking at him.
Dean didn’t move.
“You need help?” Sam said.
“I need you to quit yammering at me,” Dean said, but he started shrugging out of both shirts as he said it. He was pretty sure that Sam was thinking of stripping all the way and he wasn’t sure what the hell he’d do about that because he kind of understood and didn’t want to admit it. Sam was over there bathing in the wind that was picking up around them and it should have been weird, but it wasn’t.
He felt it for once, just before, like everything he was had come to the surface and was looking for a weak point to jump from. The weak spot just happened to be his shoulderblades and the result was like snapping the dust out of something by giving it a quick, hard shake. The shove came as no surprise and he was already braced. It was the relief that always surprised him. He didn’t want the damn wings but he was so damn grateful to have them out again, because the day before it happened was too much like holding a breath. The weight was welcome, and the chance to stretch them out even moreso. He felt vulnerable and dangerous and wanted to threaten someone or something to satisfy some unnamed impulse. He didn’t look at Sam to see if he was being watched. He knew he was.
“We gotta get moving,” Dean said. Even he knew it sounded off.
“I guess you’d better get in the back where it’s safe, then,” Sam said.
Dean didn’t like the tone, but he had no response for it. He stayed where he was and watched Sam while trying not to openly stare until Sam put his shirts back on and moved for the driver’s side.
Arnold, Nebraska, June 21st, 1:10am
They had to stay on the 92, away from the trees.
The wind had picked up to the point where Sam finally pulled over into a rest stop for a moment to watch and listen and check for a local news station on the radio. Dean was draped over the seat, wings held in low and tight but brushing the interior’s ceiling all the same. Lightning lit the interior for a long moment, throwing them both into film-negative relief, shadows with impossible angles. The thunder followed after a count of six. There was no rain or hail yet, but it was storming and they knew it. Dean was not going to say anything about Sam calling it earlier. He was also not going to ask Sam if he knew what kind of storm it was or how bad. If it was an elemental or two having a fit, they’d have already known. This was just hot and cold air doing the hokey-pokey and all he cared about was not getting stuck in it.
One of the music channels had a break in by a weather advisory and a nasal, vaguely male voice was droning about several storm cells and that the tornado warning for Lincoln, Custer, Dawson and Sherman counties had been upgraded to a watch until 5 am.
They were out in the damn countryside and Dean hadn’t been paying any attention to where the hell they were. The rest stop was numbered, he’d be able to find it on the map, but the signs had decided to quit being completely visible when the first rain came down in a sheet. It rocked the car along with the wind. There were picnic benches out there, in the open grassy area past the parking lot, but no buildings.
They both felt a rumble in the floorboards of the car for a moment. The drive’s side window wasn’t completely sealed and the wind whistled at it.
The indistinct and intermittent rumble began to sound like a train.
“We’re not gettin’ out of here in time,” Dean said offhandedly. “We haven’t seen an overpass, or ditches, or nothin’. We’re gonna have to outrun it.”
“We can’t,” Sam said over the sound of hail beginning to hit the roof of the car. “Dean, Jesus. No way.”
“You better come up with a better idea, then,” Dean said. “Please don’t fuck up my car worse than the hail already has.”
“We can’t see it,” Sam said. “We could be running right into it.”
They waited a few moments, trying to watch all sides, and were rewarded with sheet lightning within seconds.
The damn thing was huge, even from about a half mile off to their left, backlit with yellow-orange electricity in multiple widespread flashes. The reek of ozone was as bad as any haunting they’d ever encountered.
It had been a long time since they’d had to really deal with a tornado.
“Gotta figure out what direction it’s headed,” Dean muttered. He was not able to keep the awe completely out of his voice. “And just go the other way.”
“It’s not that easy, and you know it,” Sam said. “It’s at least an F3 and it might not be alone.”
Another set of flashes made it look like it was moving a little to the southwest at possibly a million goddamn miles an hour.
“We’re just a little fucked, here,” Sam said. “Even if we had somewhere to duck, if you get out of the car you’ll be in Oz before you can click your heels together.”
“Just turn around,” Dean said. “It’s going the same way we are, now. I can tell. Go the other way.”
Sam was suddenly scrambling for the map, flipping the overhead light on and searching.
“What’re you - “
“Wait,” Sam said. “Just wait. If it’s headed southeast of here...yeah, we can avoid it, maybe, but it’s headed straight for Callaway.”
“Okay,” Dean said. “That sucks, but – “
“It’s wind,” Sam said, staring out the driver’s side window, hands suddenly still, voice trailing off. “It’s made of...wind.”
“Sam,” Dean said, dropping his voice into a don’t you dare tone, “don’t think. Just drive.”
Sam got out of the car. He had to fight against the wind to do it, but he got out.
“Sam!” Dean scrambled for the passenger door in the back, and the wind tore it open right out of his hands. He knew he was screwed if he got out, no way he could control the wings in that kind of wind, but Sam getting out and walking away into the dark toward the goddamn storm was a catastrophe.
His feet slid in the gravel when he tried to brace himself. He felt the muscles in his back and shoulders strain when he grabbed the roof of the car. He dropped the wings as far as he could and tried to trail them behind, thinking that would make him a little more aerodynamic, but it could only work so far. The wind still pulled at them. He didn’t keep shouting for Sam, since there was no point. All he could do was take off after him. He could barely see Sam in the dark between flashes of lightning and he had to catch himself on his hands in the gravel twice trying to keep the random gusts from throwing him down altogether. He was going to pound Sam for a week, just hit him every chance he got, anytime the kid turned around or was trying to sleep or brush his teeth.
Sam was in the road and crossing it, not looking either way to see if some scared passerby was trying to get the hell out of there at top speed. He was walking into the field across the way with his arms out for balance because the wind was trying to knock him down.
Dean caught himself on the asphalt with his palms and still managed to keep moving forward. He was going to start losing feathers if it kept up, and he wondered if the wings themselves could dislocate. Finally, he realized that if he was careful, he could angle them out to ride the wind instead of fighting it. They were wings, dammit, they were made to handle wind. He kept the wings perpendicular to the wind, top edges facing into it, and most of the drag vanished. If he didn’t keep them steady he’d be in a tree in no time.
Something the size and shape of someone’s roof sailed over him and into the trees. There was a shriek of bent metal and splintering wood over the sound of the wind.
When the lightning hit again, it was closer, and so was the twister.
Sam had stopped and planted his feet, right out in the open.
Dean wound his hands into the back of Sam’s shirt, first trying to pull him back and drop the wings, then realizing it wouldn’t work. He wrapped arms and wings around Sam from behind and pulled. He’d carry him if he had to.
“I think I can stop it!” Sam shouted, not budging.
“You’re out of your mind,” Dean shouted. “C’mon, we have to get out of here!”
Sam worked an arm free and turned his face away from the wind, holding a hand out like he was trying to shield himself from the sun. He stumbled back into Dean, but Dean still saw everything over Sam’s shoulder. He’d seen so many things that anyone else might have labeled impossible, had treated them with a shrug and a weapon of his choosing, but he knew for sure this was a first and that no one else on the planet had ever, ever seen it.
The force generated by a tornado was absolute; maybe it slowed a little while chewing through housing developments or a stand of trees. Maybe they were forced to change course by ravines or slopes, maybe they even jumped their tracks occasionally because of counterwinds and downdrafts. They ran out of power after awhile, sooner rather than later, and trailed off, disconnected from the parent cloud in wisps and stutters.
They did not just stop.
They were not meant to stop.
In the flutter of blue-white electricity that happened to crackle behind the twister, Dean watched the gray-black funnel develop an edge, a single black line down one side. It was slamming into something but there was nothing there to see. Then it unraveled.
It collapsed like a piece of pottery thrown wrong, spinning outward in all directions, slamming down with unspent energy that had to go somewhere.
When the shockwave hit them, Dean was acutely aware that the wings were not really much of a shield.
He sat up fast, wondering how long he’d been out, because there was time missing between where he’d been and where he was. It was still dark but not as dark, and the wind had died to a soft breeze. The soil was soft and rich and dark but not damp enough to soak through his jeans, and he was sitting on a slope that led straight to a lake. Soft blue sky was reflected back from the water, twilight-deep and starless. Just to their left and as far from the water as it could get was a small campfire ringed with stones. It all felt encapsulated; he couldn’t see the far edge of the water, couldn’t see into the dark beyond several feet around him. None if it looked anything like the side of the 92.
Sam sat up beside him looking like he’d been asleep for a while, hair askew in a way only Sam’s hair could be.
Dean flexed his wings. They were there and real and he didn’t feel dead, so, things could still be worked out.
“How’s tricks, Toto?” he said to Sam.
“Really tricky,” Sam said, blinking. “What --?”
Right about then the fire talked to them like the one in Yonah had, spiraling up into a small twister of its own, bending in the breeze. It wasn’t a language they understood, not something spoken and translated across soundwaves. They twisted to look at it, catching whispered and crackling mutterings, less coherent then the one that had spoken to them before. More basic, like it hadn’t been exposed to anything else but other fire in its time. The last one had tried to assume a shape and had tried to mimic them. They glanced at each other to see if they were both hearing and seeing it.
Away. Done here, away.
Neither Winchester said anything. The next glance they shared was an acknowledgment that they were pretty much surrounded by all four basic elements.
The breeze picked up, bending the flames further, focusing it, blending.
They both understood fire.
The water rippled, splashing against the edge of the land, a trickle of sound. To Sam it sounded like it said going home. To Dean it sounded like splashing. He’d never been drowned. When the breeze moved the dry upper layer of earth away from the fire, the grains hitting each other sounded like words meaning ours to fix. To Sam it was just dust; he’d never been buried.
Balance, the fire said again. Balance, then go.
The breeze in their ears whispered, sacrifice.
“Bullshit,” Dean said, standing and flaring his wings. “You guys started this, so you can just shove the eye-for-an-eye crap. We’d’ve left you alone if your pets hadn’t been smashing buildings. No deal.”
The breeze said done and then it blocked everything else out.
June 21st, 2007, 4:25am local time
It turned out to be dawn and not just the lifting of the storm. Dean began to make out details of the world around him while he struggled out of the tree bit by bit. Telephone poles flung like toothpicks, trees stripped of branches and tossed, bits of paper and wood and branches. A toaster, a screen door, a mailbox. Things the twister had been holding for a while, like a kid trying to pretend he’d eaten a brussels sprout until his parents weren’t looking and he could spit it out.
“Sam, I mean it!” he yelled. “Answer me.” He wrangled one leg loose enough again to ease down a step. Luckily the tree was thick with close branches, but he had to coordinate two extra limbs and what was easy for the four he was born with was a contest for the two he had not. He’d come down by several feet, and as long as he didn’t look down, he was fine. “Please,” he said conversationally for his own benefit, sighing with weariness. “You’re a dork and a geek but I need to, you know, find out you’re okay and then yell at you. Fuckin’ accuse me of being impulsive and then you wander off and battle a tornado, dumbass, not good enough to save a couple of people here and there, you gotta save a whole town from a tornado.” He paused for breath, then began struggling down again. One foot at a time, one hand at a time, pulling a wing in here and stretching one out there. Not looking down.
“You could be in that town right now for all I know,” Dean said. The bark was reminding him how torn up his hands were from trying to catch himself on the gravel earlier. He’d wiped blood on the gray of his shirt more than once, leaving crimson smears. “If it put me in a tree, then who knows where you are.” He paused again. “I’m telling a tree about how my brother is everything to me, who fuckin’ cares?”
“I do,” Sam said.
Dean twisted to look down. Sam was looking up at him from maybe ten feet away, face scratched, clothes soaking wet with rain and mud. Dean had almost made it down.
“Asshole!” Dean growled between his teeth.
“I’m fine,” Sam said.
“I’m in a fuckin’ tree,” Dean said. “You put me in a tree.”
“The car’s on its side about fifty feet from where we left it,” Sam said, still calm, sounding mildly confused. “You’re gonna kill me.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, sliding down another couple of feet. All he had to do was unbend the left wing past a thicker branch without splaying the feathers too hard, and he could jump the rest of the way. “I’m gonna go F3 on your ass when I get down.”
“Our phones were still in the car,” Sam said, sounding sleepy. “Bobby left us messages. He thinks we’re dead.”
Dean paused. Then he swung his legs clear of the lowest branches and hung by his hands from them about six feet from the ground, wings flared out to full span for balance.
Neither of them had heard the car pull in off the 92. A nineties Chrysler sedan with two amazed faces peeking out through the windshield coasted past them and circled back toward the lot’s entrance before peeling out. Rubberneckers looking at storm damage, probably. Well, they’d had an eyeful they hadn’t counted on.
Dean cursed for a moment, then dropped to the ground. It shot pins and needles up through his legs; he’d been off the ground long enough and cutting off circulation in several places by balancing on branches that his muscles rebelled at being slammed back to earth. At least nothing seemed to be broken. He stood and stretched for another moment, then stepped forward and grabbed Sam, looking in his eyes, running his hands over his head to look for cuts or bumps, feeling his ribs.
“Hurt anywhere?” Dean said.
“Nah,” Sam said.
Sam was cold to the touch and shivering, so between being soaking wet and treating a tornado like it was an errant top, he was a little shocky. Not bad enough to be unable to figure out how to get messages off his phone, so at least it wasn’t a concussion. Wherever he’d landed, it hadn’t been on his head.
“You remember the whole thing with the fire talking to us, right after the tornado?” Dean said, steering him in the direction of the parking lot.
“Yeah,” Sam said dully. “Balance.”
“Okay, so it wasn’t just me,” Dean said.
“Let’s not go back to the car,” Sam said.
“Phones and blankets there,” Dean said, pushing him ahead. “Gotta make sure you’re fine, first, then I’m gonna kill you.”
“Sorry,” Sam said. “I had to, it was...I had to.”
Dean reached around and bunched Sam’s shirt close to the throat in one hand and pulled him around. Sam’s lips were cold under his but still Sam’s, and after a moment of surprise, Sam held Dean’s head in his hands and smeared enough mud on him to make it obvious that he’d been the one to do it.
When Dean saw the car a minute or so later, he cursed a blue streak. It was lying on its passenger side, scraped and dented. The tornado might have easily done that anyway, but Sam had made it a certainty. Sam had left their phones on the pavement next to the car, close to a puddle, and Dean was brought back around to the fact that Sam really had to be in shock because he wasn’t that careless. He’d been right; Bobby’s tone said he thought they were dead even if the words weren’t spoken. They should have long since been there and the area they’d been driving through was all over the news.
He opened the trunk just enough to keep most things from spilling out, and pulled a blanket out for Sam and made him sit on a second blanket and huddle up. He stepped away just inside the trees and dialed Bobby back. When Bobby answered, he said, “Could you come get us? Hitchhiking is pretty much out of the question.”
A few minutes later, he sat next to Sam and wrapped one wing around his shoulders. That would warm him up faster.
When Bobby drove up an hour or so later, the sun was out and the pavement was mostly dry. Sam had a few things out of the car – aw, shit, the car, Dean must have had a fit – and was leaning against it with his head propped on folded arms. He was muddied and scraped and his hair had dried in clumps that looked suspiciously like he was thinking of trying dreadlocks.
Dean was nowhere in sight. Bobby figured that was because he’d heard the truck coming and was wary of passing traffic. Sam confirmed it a moment later.
“Nice place,” he said. “Three people have pulled over and tried to help.”
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “I got a couple thermoses of coffee in the truck, why don’t you go get started on it? Then we can put the car right and tow it out.”
Sam nodded, then lifted his chin toward the trees. “Careful,” he said. “I’ve pretty much worked his last nerve, and then the one after that.”
Bobby found Dean with his back turned to the parking lot, sitting on a fallen log. Dean must have heard him coming but remained where he was, wings folded. Bobby knew he’d never quite get over seeing the wings. But if they had to be on anybody and look like they were meant to be there, it was Dean Winchester.
“You gonna come help with the car?” he said.
“Already been seen by the locals once.” Dean’s tone was low and neutral. “No harm in scaring them long enough to fuck the car up a little more.”
Bobby didn’t ask him if he was actually okay. Sam would have been wearing it on his face and in his stance if he was worried about Dean. Both boys were obviously worse for wear, and Dean was using the wings as a protective barrier after the too-honest conversation he’d had with Bobby over the phone. Too much like his dad on the surface, that one. Not many ways to handle him except the way he was about to.
“You’re gonna have to stay damn low in the back of the Impala,” Bobby said. “No way you can hide in the truck.”
“Better than the trees, I guess,” Dean said.
“Yeah, so, piss now or forever hold your piece.”
There was the faintest note of amusement in Dean’s answer. “Noted.”
Bobby passed Sam coming out of the trees. He noticed it was getting windy again, but it was clearing and there was no sign of another storm. “I suggest you ride with me and tell me everything this time,” he said. “Let him cool off and lay low for a while. Won’t kill either of you.”
Sam nodded, eyes down.
Dean came out of the trees looking bored, shuffling his feet as he walked, but his wings were half-unfurled in a way that couldn’t be taken as anything but blatant aggression. “Let’s get this done,” he said. “Unless Sam wants to take a crack at blowing it back over.”
Sam didn’t say anything.
Bobby looked between them, at the blank faces and the shoulders braced for blows. Sam was careful not to look at Dean directly, and Dean was circling him as if all he wanted to do was make Sam look. Bobby had seen much the same thing in his own kitchen the previous January. There were so many things going on with the Winchesters that he could guess all day what had them tapdancing around each other this time and still need a few days.
Bobby used the hitch on the tow truck to pull the car back onto its wheels. The impact didn’t harm the struts or suspension, but it did crush the engine mount like he’d figured it would. It was still driveable but better off being towed.
Dean was uncharacteristically sullen when he tucked himself into the backseat after another warning from Bobby to stay low and cover up. Sam watched him lean over the seat to mess with his tapes and put them back in their box with a scowl. He turned away to help Bobby hitch the car up. When he glanced again, Dean was no longer visible. Probably listening to MP3s on his phone.
“C’mon, Sam,” Bobby said. “Let it be.”
Sam got into the truck with a last glance at the sky.
Bobby rolled the truck forward a little to warn Dean, then accelerated onto the road. “First thing,” he said. “You hear any of it when your brother called me?”
“No,” Sam said. “I stayed with the car.”
“He’s not worried about the car. You’ll say you know that, but I don’t think you realize how bad you scared him. It true you stopped that tornado?”
Sam knew that Bobby was not questioning Dean’s account. He was asking how much was Sam.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “I just...I knew how. It was headed –“
“I know where it was headed,” Bobby said, eyes on the road. “That’s comic book, super-hero stuff, Sam. Human body’s not meant for that kind of thing without a price. Let nature do what nature does from now on without any help from you.”
“I could argue that half the shit we hunt has some kind of start with nature,” Sam said with a slight edge. He didn’t like the suggestion that he’d made the wrong choice any more than he liked the hint of awe in Bobby’s voice.
“Watch your tone.” It was said almost indifferently, out of habit. “You boys, you get into things I’ve never seen. You can’t even keep up with yourselves. You get any more attention with all this, and nobody’ll be able to help you.”
Sam didn’t bother saying it’d been Dean’s idea to keep going and his own to stay low. It made no difference. “What do you mean, more attention?”
Bobby was silent for a moment. Then he said, “No more spectacles. Whether they were on purpose or not, you boys have done a few things since this all started that made you way too visible. And too many people have had a real good look at Dean’s wings. Word’s going around. You got the elements after you, and the last thing you need’s a batch of curious folks.”
“What’ve you heard?” Sam said softly, realizing he didn’t necessarily want to hear.
Bobby didn’t glance at him. “You’ll see when we get in. No point trying to describe it.”
Sam thought about Bobby telling Dean to stay down with a lot of emphasis. There had been several times when Dean had intentionally flashed the wings at people, and not always under the guise of a holiday.
“Now,” Bobby said. “They’ve been talking to you. Let’s hear it.”
Sam recounted what he remembered of the strange, dreamlike discussion with the elementals.
“Sacrifice,” Bobby said. “Could mean anything, with them. Change of form, loss of something important...not necessarily life. Best to assume the worst, though. Haven’t been able to reach Keith Ryan, or I’d have put him on it long before now.” When he felt Sam’s stare, he added, “Kid’s an expert on elementals. He’ll love this when he hears about it.”
Sam watched the road, glancing in the rearview occasionally. There was no sign of Dean.
“Any chance you boys’ll steer clear of the thing in Ord?” Bobby said.
“I don’t think so.” Sam said. “And putting it off just because we’re right in the middle of this...it’s like copping out.” To Dean, he added silently.
“What about you?”
Sam shifted a little. Sometimes Bobby heard the things he didn’t say, and Sam wondered if it was because Bobby knew him that well or if he was showing everything on his face. Questioning was not something Bobby did often. His face evinced nothing when Sam glanced at him. He was a little too stonefaced. “I watch Dean’s back,” he said. “He’ll go after it with or without me.”
“Which do you think’s more dangerous?”
“Bobby,” Sam said, “what’s –“
“You guys are so distracted,” Bobby said. “You guy’s’ve had enough time to get around the situation but you’re both stumbling around each other like it’s new. So what the hell’s going on?”
Sam had a brief, terrible moment of wanting to lay it all out. The words would be clumsy and miss the mark on doing it all justice. It would all come out sounding like I can’t keep my hands off him and I don’t think he wants me to. That oversimplified it. And he didn’t want the whole thing to come off as being about that. They’d been through too much to make it about that.
“I don’t think they’re wings, Sam,” Bobby said.
Sam covered his face with both hands briefly before running them through his hair. A pattering of dried mud came loose.
“Samhain’s the Wiccan new year,” Bobby said. “That’s probably why it took so well when the first one hit Dean. Let it get all the way through the cycle, just make it through, and see what happens. Until then you can’t put stock in any of it.”
Sam was careful to keep quiet.
“You okay?” Bobby said.
Sam nodded. It would have to do.
Calloway was still standing. It had wind damage, but it was safe.
After the boys had a chance to shower and eat, Bobby laid several pages out on the beaten maple table in the kitchen. “Any of this look familiar?”
Sam rested the fingertips of one hand along one page, spreading them out further, finding several copies of newspaper articles. The crater from Georgia in March. A police blotter from the bar in Indiana last December. The place had still been full, and when that many people – not all drunk – insisted that they’d seen a guy sprout wings in front of them, it was an attention-getter. There was the searcher in the woods in Pennsylvania claiming an angel of the Lord had handed him a missing baby. Any one of those things would have had a hunter headed there for a closer look.
Dean watched over his shoulder, wings and arms folded, face impassive.
Bobby saw the chagrin in Sam’s face and nodded.
“Not everything about this is temporary,” Bobby said, and was interested to see a flash of surprise in both faces as if he’d touched on something they didn’t expect to hear. “You boys want even more than you can handle, keep it up.”
Dean snorted. “What do you want us to do? Hide? We haven’t had much luck with that so far.”
Bobby plucked one page from beneath the others and splayed a hand on it, shoving it toward them. It was a copy of a handwritten account dated May 3rd detailing what an eyewitness had seen in his church. As soon as he realized what it was, Sam looked away, pale.
Dean slapped a hand down, clenching the page in a fist and crumpling it. He didn’t look angered or startled, just weary. “We don’t have that much further to go,” he said.
“You keep this up, that’ll be true in ways you don’t like,” Bobby said.
The boys shared a glance. He didn’t even try and decipher it.
“Nothing to worry about,” Dean said, and it didn’t matter who he was talking to. “Look, we get rid of this demon, the wings vanish at midnight, business as usual. I’ll just...be more careful about who sees me. Halloween comes around again, it’s a moot point.”
Sam was eyeing a stained and chipped hardwood box in one corner with a stack of books on it. It was roughly the size of a large shoebox. “You using that for anything in particular?”
Bobby looked at it. “Holdin’ up books,” he said.
“I’ve got an idea,” Sam said.
It was careless. It wanted the attention, or it just didn’t care, because it was far too easy to find. It had been leaving a trail of people behind it, some alive and some...otherwise. Sam had postulated in the car Bobby loaned them that it was looking for the right fit.
“First you’re a weatherman, now you’re a goddamn demon profiler,” Dean said from under a blanket in the backseat. “Does it mumble to itself and have mommy issues? Is it going to escalate its behavior?”
“It’s probably as insecure as you are,” Sam said. “Overcompensating for something.”
Dean was silent, and Sam smirked in triumph. Dean was basically a captive audience, and Sam didn’t want it to go to waste. He turned the radio on and fiddled with the channels until he found a Classical station. Actively annoying one another would go a long way to keep their minds off what was immediately behind them. It didn’t replace their game faces, though. They were demon hunters and this one seemed to be an idiot but would get no less attention than any other.
“Could just be a trap,” Dean said, muffled.
“For just any hunter?” Sam said. “Pretty messy just for that.”
“It can do whatever it wants right in front of everybody if they don’t believe in demons,” Dean said. He sounded thoughtful but Sam knew better. “People love ignoring what they don’t understand. Sometimes a punk gets loose and has a little fun, though. They don’t all have an agenda.” He paused. “Can you actually do this?”
“I’m pretty sure,” Sam said. “After the last day or so, no reason to think otherwise.”
“You better be all the way sure,” Dean said. “We’re gonna have a really bad day otherwise.”
“I can do it,” Sam said.
Dean seemed to accept that.
Things got ridiculously easy even before they made it to Ord; they passed a cop on a back road beside a car he’d pulled over. He was standing over a guy lying on the pavement who was the cause of a large, spreading pool of blood.
The two in the car were dead.
The cop didn’t seem to notice Sam and Dean when they pulled over several yards away.
“Dean,” Sam said, “get out on the driver’s side, keep low, and draw before you do it. We found it.”
Dean didn’t say anything as he kicked the blanket off and pushed the door open with one hand. Sam stepped out of the car, pulling the box from Bobby’s with him, and as he and Dean stood using the back corner of the car as a shield, the cop raised his head. Red hair, face pale and freckled, eyes as oildrop black as any small rodent’s could be. He didn’t go for the gun on his hip.
It looked at them and began to smile. “Oh, this is the best,” it said. “This is what I get?”
Sam and Dean kept their guns leveled on it. Sam pulled the box out of the car with him and rested it on the pavement.
“Don’t need the gun, for you,” it said to Dean with a grin. “You have any idea what’s happened to you? What you’re walking around out here waving at everybody?”
Dean ignored it, beginning to circle around behind it.
“Gonna enjoy this,” it said, turning toward him and countercircling. “I’m gonna show you what it all means when I get hold of you. Hope you haven’t let anybody touch them.”
“The cop’s not gonna be able to go back to his life,” Dean said, raising his gun in both hands at shoulder height, keeping a careful bead on one of the body’s eyes. He didn’t want to, but he’d distract the demon by taking its eyes out if he had to. It would have to leave the body to see him. “Not with what you’ve been doing with his body. No point trying to save him. So we’re not going easy on you to save the host. Understand?”
“Makes you more cautious, keeps you off balance, when you’re like this,” the demon said. It stopped circling, and with its eyes still on Dean, said, “Right, Sam?”
Sam stayed where he was.
“Find one Winchester, find the other,” the demon said. “Especially now. Kind of hard to leave it alone, isn’t it, Sam?”
“Do whatever you’re gonna do and get it over with,” Dean said. “Then I can send you to hell and get on with my life.”
“I can almost believe all this is old hat to you, Dean,” it said. “Even when you’re distracted. Such a professional.”
Dean lowered the gun but kept both hands on it. “All seems kind of predictable, right?” he said.
Sam tensed and the demon narrowed the eyes of its host at Dean.
“I wonder what’ll happen to you if you touch the wings,” Dean said. “You’re not gonna ‘show’ me anything, you’re just talking big. C’mon over and try it. Gun’s not gonna hurt you anyway.” He took one hand off the gun and tapped his own chest. “Better yet, why don’t you just try leaping in and fly around?”
Sam stepped out from behind the car and made sure the demon saw him. His stance made it clear that something was going to go down if it tried.
“Bet you miss having your own, huh?” Dean said, voice dropping to a suggestive, mocking leer. “Didn’t you all have ‘em, once? Not feathers, maybe, but wings of some kind, something you had to earn. You had grace that everybody could see, and then you just lost it because you’re a fuckin’ joke.”
He was only shooting in the dark, but the demon was not; it drew the cop’s service revolver and had point blank range when it pulled the trigger three times in quick succession.
Dean felt the air get sucked right out of his lungs when the pressure around him changed, but he didn’t flinch. Not even when Sam’s hand darted around his shoulder and snatched something out of the air in front of his chest.
“Ow, shit,” Sam said, and the high tinny sound of metal bouncing off the pavement followed Sam shaking his hand out.
“Too hot?” Dean said, keeping his eyes on the demon.
“I don’t catch a lot of bullets right out of the barrel,” Sam said. He dropped the box on the ground next to Dean’s feet.
The surprise on the face in front of them was the demon’s surprise, and Dean grinned. “Did I hit a nerve?” he said. “He can slow pretty much anything down, so, show me what else you got.”
They didn’t even have to exorcize it; it left the cop’s body right then and there, making a run for it. It wasn’t necessarily using the air itself as a medium of travel, but Sam was still able to force it down as it emerged, using pressure and slamming the air molecules together until there was no space, until the air itself was close enough to solid that it was visible as a ripple, the same way heat rising off hot surfaces was able to distort light passing through air. Sam could feel the size and shape of the air he held as some kind of boundary in his head, distant from him but pressing against his skin as he spun the demon into a black, dusty orb at chest height.
The cop had slumped to the ground, unconscious, and Dean hoped he stayed that way because it was pretty awkward to explain any part of it. Dean decided to knock him out if he came to.
The concentration on Sam’s face was hard to look away from, but Dean slid the wooden carved box over with a foot and said, “Think you can get it down that far?”
Sam didn’t answer. The orb was spinning furiously in midair, and if it spun outward, so would the demon. Dean picked the box up and held the lid open. It reminded him for a minute of trying to get a bee out of the house by sliding a piece of paper under a jar that had been clamped down over it.
Sam narrowed it further, hands only inches away on either side until it was about the size of a softball. Then he shoved, and Dean felt the box nearly jerk out of his hands, but he slammed the lid shut and held on. Sam took it out of his hands and put it on the ground, then put a foot on the lid.
With Devil’s Traps carved into all four sides and a fresh coat of paint on the inside loaded with salt, there was no way the damn thing was getting out.
There was a humming inside, but the box didn’t move. Dean leaned down and snapped the latch shut.
“Let’s wrap it and give it to Bobby,” Dean said. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
“Makes a great doorstop,” Sam said. “Nice conversation piece.”
They took it back to the car and drove a couple of large blessed silver staples into the lid with a hammer, then put it in the backseat. They would give it to Bobby, and he could do whatever he liked with it, including trying a few exorcisms to see which had the biggest impact.
“I mean, he’s always had a dog,” Dean said. “Time for a cooler pet. Soon everyone will want one.”
Sam looked at him over the top of the car. “Are we good?” he said.
“It’s the demon in a box and not you,” Dean said. “Yeah, we’re good.”
“The elementals aren’t done with us,” Sam said.
“Poor, poor elementals. Let’s start a campaign for ‘em. Put out little containers on store counters, asking for loose change.”
Sam stared at him. Then he said, “You kissed me.”
“I didn’t,” Dean said. “You were in shock. Anything you remember right after the tornado is suspect.”
There was nothing dismissive or uptight in Dean’s expression that Sam could see. Dean held his gaze without flinching, infusing a bit of challenge in it.
Sam quirked one corner of his mouth for just an instant and looked away. “I’m gonna...dammit. Put the cop in his car. I don’t think we can do anything about him, they’re gonna trace his gun to this.”
“Leave him there and toss his gun,” Dean said. “And don’t say anything about wishing we got here a few minutes earlier.” He was carefully not looking at the guy on the road, at the people in the car. He didn’t want their faces on the undersides of his eyelids. “Maybe...they’ll just think someone knocked him out while he was pulled over and took his gun. Bang his head on the pavement a little to make it look like he was hit.”
Sam looked at him. “Get in the car before someone drives by. Please.”
Dean looked him up and down and then headed for the car.
Sam took the cop’s gun and tucked it in the waistband of his jeans. Then he gathered the three spent shells he’d caught and put them in a pocket. He hesitated only a moment before grimacing and grabbing the cop by his hair and slamming his head onto the pavement a couple of times. It broke the skin and caused a trickle of blood.
Sam walked quickly away and got into the car.
Bobby stared at the three spent shells on his table and listened to the boys – no longer boys, at all, but it was still easy to think of them that way – check the saltline around the house. They were quiet and a little grim but unharmed, murmuring to each other as they paced.
The carefully carved box sat just inside the doorway, inside its own circle of salt and the additional Devil’s Trap above the door. Sam had carved the symbols himself and Dean had painted the inside. They seemed to share a knack for cooperative shrewdness, adding and connecting parts of all manner of puzzles. It was one of the reasons why they were still alive.
It was dark again and Dean was loping around the yard with the dog, wings held high. He might have caught a breeze and caused a step to become a momentary glide, but Bobby didn’t mention it. Sam caught Dean just outside the light of the back door and stood leaning in, whispering in his ear, eyes bright with laughter that Dean soon echoed.
They’d seemed a little exhilarated by the hunt, even under the grim realization that they hadn’t kept the demon from its self appointed rounds. But it was more than that. They were both high on whatever it was they were carrying every Sabbat.
There were two wild creatures in his yard and a demon in his house.
That seemed best.
Hands carefully shuffled pages over and over, reading and rereading, keeping them in careful order.
A newspaper account from December 22nd with a picture showing the damage to the light above the pool table. A woman claiming to see the winged man the next day. A couple, telling friends they’d seen someone with wings get out of the back of a car in front of a motel - wings that moved like a bird’s, not a costume. A report from May from a man insisting an angel quoting scripture had returned a kidnaped baby. A sighting in a church.
One day earlier, a sighting at a rest stop.
A picture from a camera phone, slightly blurry but enough to make out a taller, dark-haired man standing with the Winged One.
The hands placed the pages into a folder again. Then they hovered over a long blade lying flat on the table.
They were very close.
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