The Beltaine portion of the Turn of the Wheel series. Run-on sentences! Improperly used
punctuation! Blasphemy, cursing, wingcest, angst, Winchester-whumpage, babies in peril, and more.
Rated R due to the sexual situations and where they take place. Those of you squicked by wincest,
wings or no, skip this one. Those of you troubled by monsters grabbing babies, you skip this one,
too. Those of you troubled by inappropriate behavior in churches, I apologize. Still wanna read,
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?'
Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.’
April 30th, 3:22 pm
Sugar Grove, PA
“Well, well well.”
Sam ignored Dean while yawning and looking at the newspaper. He was reading the same article again.
“Well, well well. Sam.”
“Some people still think if you dig too far you can make it all the way to hell,” Sam said without looking up. “Assuming you make it past all the ground water. And, of course, that hell really is underground.”
“I get it, Dean,” Sam said.
“You got all the stupid puns last time, you bitch,” Dean said.
The local newspaper - more of a newsletter, really - in Minister, roughly an hour southeast, had unwisely chosen to run an article about a drunk who claimed he’d seen something climb out of a very old, long defunct well that had been built in the late 1700s. The homestead that had accompanied it was long gone and the area had been reclaimed by nature. There was a picture of the old well in the article and a history of the area including a legend about the homeowners ‘disappearing mysteriously’. Ash had managed to catch wind of it - Sam didn’t ask how - and had tossed it their way.
Bobby was still the only one that knew about their condition. They meant to keep it that way.
Don’t make it sound like we’re knocked up, Sam, Dean had said. If that was the curse, though, you’d definitely be the one to catch it first. You’d be such a good mom, wouldn’t you? You girl. Can’t wait to breastfeed something, I bet.
The best thing to do when Dean was like that - nervous and covering - was to ignore him. Screw it, that was the only thing to do.
There wasn’t a hell of a lot else to report in that place anyway. No wonder it had made the paper.
Sam folded the newspaper - carefully, back in the order it had come in, Dean noted with disgust - and tossed it to the head of the bed he was sitting on.
“If anything’s coming out of that well, it’s probably a raccoon,” Sam said. “We don’t have any myths or legends that I can find about things crawling out of wells to grab people. Waiting in wells, sure, and dragging people in. Plenty of spirits like to wait for the wrong wish to be made, and - ”
“So we got a bored critter who got tired of waiting,” Dean said. “We check it out, see what pops up. Bring your pennies and make a wish.”
Sam shook his head, eyes on the open door. It was a day of pale mid-spring sun and a threat of rain, low sixties warm and smelling of the flowers the roadside inn’s owner was growing in wooden boxes between each set of doors. “We’re a day away from the next point on the wheel,” he said. “We were gonna hole up in a subway somewhere, surrounded by concrete and all kinds of artificial stuff, where none of the goddamn elementals could get us. Now you want to hang around wells.”
“If Beltaine happens on the 1st of May this year,” Dean said. “It could be the second, or fifth, depending on how the elements view it.”
“They don’t necessarily follow a calendar,” Sam said.
“And you said the well was dry,” Dean said. “The one where something lives. So, no water. Earth and fire said they were done with us, so quit worrying. We hide out the first night, and then we’ve got plenty of time. Nothing ever bugs us the next day or night. If anything does, you blow them.”
“For the last time - “
“Jeez, come on,” Dean said. “Take a joke.”
“Let me know when you come up with one,” Sam said.
Dean hadn’t been interested in discussing why the elementals never bothered him during the day, or even the second night of the curse-that-wasn’t. Not all puzzles mattered, especially when it meant they were being left alone. From 12:01am until the following dawn, they were persona non grata with the physical manifestations of the four elements, and outside that time frame all they had to worry about were people freaking out about Dean’s amazing, out of season costume. Sam still looked the same; nothing sprouted from anywhere. His version of the curse meant it was windy everywhere he went while he was awake and nothing more...except for the hurricane-force destruction when he got upset.
The thing he had for his brother’s wings was a much bigger curse, anyway, to his mind.
“I’m not worried about anything attacking us from the air now that you’re scarier,” Dean said.
Sam was careful to move only his eyes to Dean without turning his face away from where he’d been gazing out the door. It was a strange thing for Dean to say even if he was supposedly talking about Sam’s temporary powers. Dean was still sprawled on the bed nearest the door, ankles crossed, hands folded behind his head, looking at the ceiling. He seemed more relaxed and indifferent than Sam thought he should have been.
Dean had reset the moment his wings had disappeared the last time, as if he occupied a variant of existence while wearing them. His skeleton should have been crushed the moment he found himself buried under tons of dirt. No amount of CPR should have been able to save him. He’d been hurt but not destroyed, and his biggest concern had been the pain of a broken wing.
As if Dean hadn’t already considered himself a little indestructible.
When Dean didn’t give him any indication that he knew the import of what he’d said, Sam reached back for the paper and tossed it at him and watched it land on his chest. “Did I mention it’s just off PA 666?” he said.
Dean couldn’t get back on the road fast enough.
It was some of the most scenic country they’d been through so far, glacier-tilled and wild, small towns well-spaced. Miles and miles of the Allegheny National Forest rolled by. They weren’t too far north to be in Amish country and passed an unhitched buggy by the side of a two lane road at one point. The green of the land almost hurt Sam’s eyes, the hues too rich to look straight at for long, and he wondered if it was just him or if things were really that bright.
They left the police scanner off. No point trying to tune anything in yet. Sam had plugged in the local channels back at the inn.
It was a short hike off a back road from the 666 about a mile from Minister into a clearing that almost looked manmade. The homestead’s foundation was long gone, and there was no reason for the trees to have hesitated in reclaiming what was left.
The circle of hand-laid river rock stood roughly four feet tall, time-worn and buckled outward on the south side. They couldn’t tell if it had been kicked at or had simply succumbed to time. The mortar flaked away easily under Dean’s knife and crumbled between his fingers. He wiped the residue on his jeans and straightened, circling the well from several feet away. Sam stood off to one side and took in the small clearing the well was centered in. The trees stopped within fifty feet and the low lying trillium, thistle and ferns came only within fifteen. He waited for Dean to spiral in closer to the edge of the well and then cleared his throat. Dean glanced at him, narrowing his eyes a little, and Sam flicked a glance at the trees. Beech and black cherry and sugar maple. Dean looked up at the canopy and followed several trees to where they met the ground, measuring, taking Sam’s hint. Things with deeper roots stayed further out, things with shallower roots came closer, but only so close. The ground immediately around the well had shorter grass and a few stray weeds, no stark lack of life, but they both read the signs the same.
“Poisoned well?” Dean said, hands on hips, a foot from the well itself and no closer. “Could be what happened to our homesteaders. Pissed off neighbor wanted the land, Iroquois got tired of ‘em, who knows?”
“The Iroquois didn’t have to poison anybody’s wells if they wanted them out,” Sam said. “Plus, nothing anybody puts in a well more than 200 years ago lasts long enough to do this and keep the trees back. This is bad.”
“Maybe they dug themselves right into a nice shallow batch of uranium ore,” Dean said.
“Hey,” Dean said, “Don’t piss on my creativity.”
Sam came closer and circled the well, thinking the grass shouldn’t have smelled so strong, the trees shouldn’t have felt like they were breathing on him. It wasn’t easy to see, but because he was looking he found the spots where individual blades of grass had been beaten down. He traced them back to a few feet from the well.
Dean came to stand next to him to look, too close. “Was in the paper,” he said.
“Could be,” Sam said, trying not to turn his head and breathe Dean in the same way he knew he was getting extra air from the trees. He didn’t think it was just people who had read the article and left their mark in the grass, like Dean was suggesting. People trampled things. This was lighter, skimming the surface. He dug in his pockets and came up with change, picking out the pennies.
It’s tonight, he thought. It had nothing to do with the calendar and all to do with the way the earth turned in relation to its sun. He could feel something coming.
He heard Dean say make a wish from too close and things seemed to waver for a moment when he stepped up to the edge and looked down, away into cold shadowed stone with nothing growing up the sides. No cooler air rose to greet him, no sense of damp earthiness. It was empty. No echo sounded when the first coin went in and flipped off one wall, bright copper color flashing away into darkness. He laid his hands flat against the stones and leaned in but not too far, shoulder to shoulder with the only force of nature he answered to.
There was no birdsong to distract them, no breeze to provide a living white noise; they never heard the coin reach bottom either because it was too far down or because...
“Hand dug,” Dean said as if he knew Sam’s thoughts, and it was entirely possible that he did. There was no way anyone dug down far enough into and past the water table to make it impossible to hear a stone or coin rattle down or splash.
“At first,” Sam said, staring hard into the circle of dark.
Dean circled around again and found a stone he liked the heft of, and Sam watched him raise it above his head to drop it in as if the extra height would make a difference. It clattered against fellow stones and then vanished, silent.
“It’s not bottomless,” Dean said. “Sam, please.”
“I didn’t say it,” Sam said.
“It’s all over your dorky face,” Dean said. “Mulder was never cool again after Scully started buying all his crap. So toss your ivy league education around, Sam Nye the science guy.”
“I got nothing,” Sam said. “I liked the uranium hypothesis, though, if it makes you feel any better.” He paused. “You’re totally wrong, but I liked it.”
Dean sighed and ran a hand along the lip of the well, then dug the EMF meter out of one pocket and rested it on the edge. It didn’t react, so he shook it a little. Nothing. He shrugged and put it away. He glanced at Sam, and Sam smirked again. They were staying to figure this one out.
They stopped for a beer at the restaurant and bar attached to an inn in Endeavor to decide how and when to stake the place out after dark and see whether there was a library that kept records back into the 1700's. The cemetery they’d passed had definitely kept residents back to the 1600's under simple, tilting stones.
They sat side by side at the bar and listened, recognizing the regulars by the way they made beelines for the same places they always sat, the way they spoke to the bartender.
Sam had a way of listening to people talk in a gathering and then matching his speech pattern to theirs, not necessarily mimicking the local accent or dialect or idioms but picking up the edges enough to sound like a local who’d been away for awhile. He’d done it his whole life and Dean wondered if he even knew if he was doing it. He didn’t put that much thought into it, figured it was a quirk of Sam’s when he wanted to put people at ease, one more survival tactic in his arsenal. That, and his patience with strangers let him get away with things and get all kinds of things out of people that Dean never could. Dean wanted things done. Sam knew when to let things happen. People forgot that they’d never seen his little brother before, that he was so tall. He was everyone, everywhere.
So when he spread a copy of the local news out on the bar and said whattaya all think about that story, the one about the well, he got a few stares and then there was a rousing debate about what and who and when, none of them agreeing with each other, one older guy proclaiming that his own grandfather had told him that story. It was a shunned member of the Amish community, it was a Native American curse, it was one of those missing babies looking for its unbaptized soul.
Sam said right, missing babies, no one’s ever solved that yet and he was met with ayuh, I heard there were a dozen in three different counties, coyotes takin’ ‘em. It was pronounced ky-oats, said with absolute certainty. Too many ky-oats.
They finished their beers and decided to look around a little more.
There was a volunteer library next to the cemetery they’d passed earlier, a small house that had been converted. Luckily it was packed more with the history of the place than the latest bestsellers; newspapers on microfiche back to 1824 and photos of some of the area’s founders. They were both convinced there would be a discernable pattern every fifty or a hundred years, superstitions cropping up.
Hours later it hadn’t happened and they were dusty and annoyed. People were always missing, but there was nothing out of the ordinary from any other time in history. There weren’t large numbers of people, kids or animals missing at any one time. They tracked forward to newspapers from the last several weeks instead of decades and centuries, and found reports of missing children from surrounding counties, none linked together, none close enough together that anyone was suddenly thinking there was a widescale child-grabber. Except a couple of older guys in a bar.
If they triangulated the areas the kids were missing from with the location of the well, they were all just inside the maximum distance anything could travel on foot - feet, claws, appendages, whatever - in the dark and still make it back by dawn. Assuming no wings were involved.
“Kids are the easiest to pick off,” Dean said. “Not much of a fight. Easy meal. Whatever this is, maybe it chooses something different every time it hunts, and this time it hasn’t been able to keep itself under the radar. Ate that family that dug the well, hasn’t been able to resist since, but until now it’s just been grabbing a traveler here and there.”
Sam listened to the flip words and tone and only heard the rage underneath.
“We gotta get a look at it,” Sam said. “We don’t know anything yet. We don’t even really know if anything’s coming out of the well. Let’s just...look at it.”
“Sit in the bushes and lose half our blood to bugs,” Dean said. “We should just...blow the fucking thing up, put a bundle of dynamite down there. Backfill it, seal it in.”
Sam leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. “Can’t be sure it doesn’t have another way out,” he said. “Something’s going on, out there. Don’t you wanna know what, first?”
Dean was silent, looking weary in the low level fluorescent lights.
“We could put it off a couple of days,” Sam said. “Not a good idea to risk being out in the open tonight when you - “
“We’ll be done by then, if it’s tonight,” Dean said. “It’s not gonna wait until midnight to come out. Whatever crawls out of there, we shoot and burn it, and then we get the hell out of here. And I don’t care about being in the open, let the fuckers come. Shoot ‘em all right out of the sky.”
He stalked out of the library, footfalls soft across the aged hardwood despite the mood he took with him.
Sam gathered their stuff but waited a few minutes to follow. Neither of them took it well when it looked like there might be kids involved, but Dean had a scorched earth policy about it. Kill everything twice and raze the place if necessary to make sure the threat was gone.
They parked further away than they had in the daylight, picking their way along without flashlights, making sure they stayed downwind of the well. With a full moon, there was enough light to let them avoid stumbling over exposed roots and things hidden by the brush. Dean was in the lead, swiping branches out of his way and holding them for Sam, checking for shadows that didn’t jibe with the breeze, gun out and held down along one leg. The small clearing seemed brighter than it had, standing out in the dark more sharply than it had in the daylight. It seemed more out of place in the moonlight, too, trees standing loose sentinel around a raised stone circle. They agreed on an exposed root by trading glances and vague gestures and shrugs. The root curled up from the ground as if trying to escape it, broad and twisted. Dean straddled it and settled in, watching Sam set a container of salt next to their feet and sit facing forward, toward the well. They were covered by branches and brush well enough not to be noticed by anything creeping the clearing. The breeze remained in their favor and they both wondered if that was Sam’s fault, but midnight was a way off.
Something that sounded like an owl crooned a ways down the treeline. Silence without the low hum of distant traffic seemed oppressive and close for once. It was cool but not cold, and neither of them felt the urge to huddle into their jackets.
Dean shifted every few seconds like he couldn’t keep still. Sam kept his hands down, ignored it, ignored the slight pressure in his head.
They had done this so many times. They had waited for something to arrive, something to happen, anything to show itself. Lying in wait. It had never really been done with true patience, but for once the whole approach seemed off, as if they couldn’t get into synch or deal with the inaction.
Sam reflected that it was a bad time to be attempting to hunt anything, in the way that Egon Spengler had used the word bad in the Ghostbusters films. Crossing the streams is bad. They were distracted and twitching.
An hour and a half in, something crossed the far side of the clearing just inside the treeline, and Dean nearly went on point like a retriever. Sam tapped his raised gun hand with one finger, down boy, and they watched a deer pick its way past them and keep a wide berth from the well. It kept moving, a hushed whisper of leaves against hide, the muted snap of twigs softened by past rains.
Dean continued standing even long after it was gone, listening, tense. Sam recognized the stillness, had seen it in his brother and father so many times, had felt it in himself. Millennia of standing upright and inventing doorknobs with opposable thumbs had not completely removed the predator from the human animal. The stillness came only halfway this time, stuttering and incomplete as if someone was constantly trying to turn their heads.
Only minutes later there was a scraping that seemed hard to focus on at first. It didn’t even sound directional, just a suggestion of a disturbance in the air.
A hint of motion near the well got their attention, the darkness blacker near one thin section of the sidewall. A flutter of deeper darkness was followed by a larger portion, but the shape eluded them; the shadows shifted too hard and didn’t seem to commit to a solid form. The moonlight wasn’t enough to add detail; maybe it pushed the light away. The scraping got louder and a section of the stone wall vanished for a moment, melding into the darkness behind it. There was a pause while something hovered at the edge. Then the darkness poured itself down the side and shifted along the grass. The motions were spider-hitching increments, but still graceful. The size wasn’t as hard to gauge as the shape; it held the dimensions of a Great Dane as it began to move low to the ground.
There should have been some sort of warning, since Sam knew Dean better than anyone, but he missed the mark and was nowhere near to preventing Dean from hurling himself out of the bushes toward the thing.
Sam didn’t call for him, just followed.
Instead of bolting back to the well, the thing shifted upright out of the grass, five feet of razor blackness, and emitted what sounded like a cough.
Dean fired at it as he got closer, six silver rounds in quick succession, accurate even at a run. It broke to his right, sliding low to the ground, leaving a suggestion of limbs in the way it moved. It was running, not slithering; they could both tell that much. Dean changed direction as it ran, chasing it at full bore into the trees, heedless.
Sam went after him, knowing it might turn in the darkness and attack, bent on keeping it from happening.
They lost it almost immediately.
Ten minutes of beating the bushes and circling and listening didn’t give them any kind of clue as to which direction it had taken once it had hit the trees. They tracked back to the road and followed, trying to see if they could see where it might have reentered the woods, anything broken or disturbed. It was too hard in the dark.
Dean stood in the road and vented his frustration to the trees.
Sam felt it coming, felt something coming. Dean had been noticeably different the last couple of times that Sam could clearly remember, quicker at everything, including anger. This time he felt it more, not to the degree that Dean obviously did, but like he was lighter, not as caught in his own flesh as he should have been. Calmer. Things felt in their place, easier to deal with. The harder he tried to rationalize it, the further it drifted from him. And talking to Dean about it? No. He got a lot more intel by watching his brother, not by trying to get him to explain what it felt like.
It was like they stepped a little sideways into a world running parallel to the one they understood; a world where things saw them that never would have otherwise, where they came into power and attention they neither wanted nor really had a grasp of.
Dean was out in the middle of nowhere getting jumpy and really wanting to kill something.
“Fuck,” Dean said again with less volume but the same level of vehemence.
Sam followed him back to the clearing and watched him circle the well. Their clues were going to have to come from there and whatever it might have left behind. Maybe there’d been no way to prepare for any eventuality in this case, to have been ready to catch anything that would have come out of the well. But Dean had jumped the gun and the thing had chosen to run rather than challenge them, and now there was only this, a long minute of frustration for a hunt that had suddenly become long and complicated. They couldn’t sit out there until dawn waiting for the thing to come back. Not if they were going to become targets of much more than the well-dweller.
Dean dug his flashlight out and leaned over the side of the well, checking for anything left behind, any sign of something different. He checked the side he’d seen the creature emerge from, saw the glisten of water. The edge was wet, holding a hand-sized transparent pool. The EMF meter held a steady note, whining about the presence of electromagnetic energy screaming off the stones. He reached out and dragged his fingertips through the wet, putting aside his annoyance in favor of wondering how far down the water had to be, about what sort of subterranean thing the well-dweller was and what it used for eyes, about how it -
He remembered the shambler grabbing his wing a month or so earlier. He fixated on that because it was the last time he’d felt something so wrong. The burning started in his fingers but nailed his entire nervous system, racing flash-fire ruinous and acid corrosion cruel. He recoiled so hard that he lost his balance and ended up on his knees, sight snapping off and ears ringing in shock, never feeling Sam’s hands on his shoulders. Something else had recoiled, and for the first time he felt the wings before they emerged, felt them where they hid folded and almost-safe. He understood for just an instant that they were not wings, had never really been wings, but what they were made of hadn’t had many other ways of expressing itself based on what had knocked them out of him the first time. He understood it all for just a moment, the whole of it, behind shock-blank eyes.
Mostly he was just busy trying not to scream while he wiped his hand on the ground.
Sam had grabbed his hand and was trying to see what had happened, pouring holy water over his fingers in the dark from a plastic bottle.
Dean opened his eyes when the pain receded enough that he could focus. He expected his fingers to be gone, to be blistered at the least. He clenched his hand into a fist and felt nothing different. He wiped his hand on his shirt and let Sam check him with his flashlight. The fingers weren’t even so much as red, and the world was suddenly back where it had been, deep lungfuls of spring air and a feeling of having been violently swung around, not enough to get dizzy but just right for losing perspective.
“Just say something,” Sam was saying, and Dean figured he’d probably kept up a whole monologue of chatter while Dean had been kneeling there having what even he had to designate as an epiphany.
It faded from him, though, leaving him with a feeling of trying to remember a word for something simple but failing.
“They could bottle it and make a killing,” he said.
Sam sighed heavily with relief and hung his head for a moment. “What the hell was that?”
“At least we know the well’s not empty,” Dean said. “You were probably right about it having another way out...it poisoned the water.” He paused. “Not poison, though.” He didn’t even bother trying to get up yet, because sitting there seemed like the thing to do if he was going to remember what he’d actually seen.
“You gonna tell me what happened?” Sam said, one hand on the back of Dean’s neck, warm and solid.
“It’s water,” Dean said, realizing he was sounding like he’d lost his mind. “It doesn’t have anything in it, it’s just bad.”
Sam paused, then said, “Like...anti-holy water?”
Dean blinked. That made perfect sense to him. “Yeah, why not?”
Sam snorted and gave him a hand up. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “Yeah. No wonder the trees wouldn’t grow too close.”
“So what lives in groundwater and is so damn bad that it can make it unholy?” Sam said. “Demons can’t even do that. They can desecrate ground, but not water.”
Dean had the urge to talk about what desecration and consecration really meant and where they stemmed from, but he suppressed it with an effort. What the hell was wrong with him? They had to kill it, end of story. This was not an ecumenical field trip and he was not in the mood for soul-searching. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “We gotta get it and kill it any way we can.”
“Then we need a lot of holy water,” Sam said. “We can drown the bastard in as much holy water as we can get. Fill the well with holy water and trap it when it gets back in.”
“Then let’s go,” Dean said. “Let’s do this. There’s gotta be a hundred - “
“We’re in Amish country, Dean,” Sam said. “We’re way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s not gonna be that easy to come across a Roman Catholic church, or even Episcopalian. Or Baptist, or Methodist, or - “
“Okay okay!” Dean yelled. “Dammit, we can’t just throw a rosary into water and call it holy, we need the real thing, a lot of it. There’s gotta be something.”
Sam aimed his flashlight into the part of the trees the well-dweller had run into one final time, then headed back for the car.
They listened hard as they went, wondering if the thing had lit out for familiar parts to hunt or whether it would wait for them and try for the meal that had come to its doorstep.
Dean flipped the Impala’s headlights on and Sam dragged out their maps and knelt in front of the car with them. “Back in Endeavor,” he said. “Tionesta...or the other way, up to Sheffield or Clarendon. No way there’s anything closer than that that’ll have enough on hand to make a difference.”
Half an hour in either direction, assuming they drove like the wind. Or flew. Assuming they found a church that left its doors open, assuming they found one with a font large enough to give them enough holy water. They were looking at hours of wasted time.
“We’ve only got about an hour until - “ Sam began.
“Hey,” Sam said, “We’re not gonna catch it tonight. We’ve at least got a plan, we can - “
Dean came after him, and Sam knew right away he didn’t really see him, just wanted to pound something. He stood and waited until it was almost too late and then sidestepped, letting Dean catch himself on the car.
Something was coming. They were already different.
“Don’t waste time with this,” Sam said, circling around the back of the car, watching Dean roll up off the hood and begin to prowl him. “Let’s get out of here before it gets a lot harder for you to get around the regular way. We’re gonna get it, Dean, but not tonight.”
“It’s gonna grab a kid out of its bed, Sam,” Dean said.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Sam said. “We have to be smart about this. We can’t catch it and shoot it like we do most other things. Listen to me, Dean. This sucks but we have to do it right.”
Dean stared at him over the top of the car, and Sam had seen the look on his face before but never directed at him; something voracious. Down to basics, hyped-up exhilaration and anger getting sorted into need of any number of kinds.
Sam dropped his eyes to keep from answering it.
He’d done all the reading that Dean wouldn’t. Beltaine is a main fertility holiday, a celebration of coupling.
He couldn’t help but wonder if a full moon made any difference.
He waited until Dean’s eyes cleared a little before he got back in the car.
Dean drove and Sam kept an eye out for churches. Sam recognized the feeling in the back of his throat, the pressure in his chest, and shoved it down. Dean’s scent was new-mown grass and gathering storms and Sam didn’t care why it translated to him that way, he just understood it and preferred that Dean had no idea how cruel the teasing had been in the culvert just over a month earlier.
They had to leave the 666 and get all the way back to Endeavor before they saw their first decent-sized church; it was as if the ground wouldn’t hold their foundations beyond some unseen boundary delineating that road.
The doors of the first were locked and padlocked. The next had lights on and the outer doors were unlocked but the inner doors were not. The third had to wait because it was so close to midnight and they had to pull over on a dark side street not far from Endeavor Presbyterian. Dean left the car running and whipped his jacket off with a growl, tossing it across the roof of the car at Sam, who was shifting his eyes from Dean to the sky and back. It all got riskier by the minute, but they weren’t very well going to try and get gallons and gallons of holy water in broad daylight. The air elementals had stayed away the last time and it was too much to ask for that much luck again.
Dean tugged his flannel off and flung that into the back seat, and when he grabbed the edge of his tshirt in both hands and tugged it upward, it no sooner cleared his shoulder blades than the wings spilled out and shook themselves free, making it look as if Dean had been keeping them tightly rolled under this shirt. He pulled it over his head and stood with it in one hand, bracing his feet at shoulder width to automatically account for the extra weight and change in his center of gravity. He put his elbows on the roof of the car and rested on it for a moment, looking relieved, like the wings were a breath he’d been holding in for too long.
A breeze had started to pick up, and Sam knew he was responsible for it. He popped the trunk and dug around for the extra set of shirts they kept around that had been amended to be worn with wings, velcro up the back. He came around the car and handed them to Dean wordlessly, watching him shrug into them from the front. He had to fix them in place from the back, and he did so while trying not to touch the wings.
The wind picked up suddenly and only died down again when he stepped away.
Dean stood back and waited at the very edge of a wide parking lot furthest from the road while Sam checked the doors of the Immaculate Conception Church on Main. They’d ended up much further south, all the hell the way down in Clarion, roughly an hour away. Sam returned a moment later with the news that it was open, empty, and had a large baptismal font close to the entrance. They had pulled a batch of plastic gallon milk jugs from the trunk - good for so many uses - and Sam took off with them.
Dean retreated grouchily into a grove of willow near the ‘lot to wait, wings drooped to the ground to keep the breeze from fluttering his feathers and making him more visible.
Sam left several containers near the inner doors and crossed himself when he crossed the threshold in pre-apology for using the font without giving anything back. He’d only be able to carry so many containers at once, and he didn’t want to be caught with too many if he was caught. It’d be hard to explain.
It was warm and silent and lit with candles near the altar. Someone would be there all night in case they were needed, but Sam doubted they’d appear if he was quiet enough. He didn’t want to give into the temptation to try and get a priest to believe him and come with him out to the well and bless it and solve the whole problem. First, the sight of Dean would be a shock. Of course, Dean would suggest just ‘appearing’ to a priest and commanding him to get into the car in the name of God, but, there was only so much blasphemy Sam felt like doling out per week and that exceeded it exponentially.
The raised font was two-tiered, a shallow basin at the top for sprinkling and a shallow pool closer to the floor for immersion of adults. It was maple hardwood and marble with a tile interior, maybe fifty gallons. They likely wouldn’t notice what was missing at first.
He immersed two containers at once, listening to them bubble and fill, keeping his eyes trained on the chancel at the front, watching to see if anyone appeared. He felt a tickle in his throat and turned his face into the crook of one elbow when it got bad enough that he had to cough. He cleared his throat, coughed again, and then gagged when he tried to take a return breath.
He dropped the containers in the water and braced his hands on the edge of the font, trying to pull air in. He got just enough to cough violently as he backed away from the font, and with the cough came a mouthful of room-temperature water.
He was drowning on dry land.
Coughing more required the existence of at least a small amount of air already in the lungs, and on that point he was already out of luck; gagging required the response of any number of muscles in his abdomen, and they were locked up. Instinct caused him to bring his hands to his throat and to lean over at the waist, counting on gravity to help him at least a little. Water poured from mouth and nose but didn’t clear from his lungs; if anything he continued to fill with water, lungs and stomach and mouth, so much water that he couldn’t close his mouth if he’d wanted to. It poured from his ears and finally his eyes, cold and steady, burning him as his muscles and brain began to beg for air.
The font continued to empty.
Sam continued to fill.
Dean looked up from the shadows of the trees bordering the parking lot. The breeze had died completely the moment the doors had closed behind Sam. He frowned at the church doors. Sam should have been back with the first batch of water by then.
He looked at the sky, wary of the possibility of elementals. What the hell could possibly bother Sam in a church, anyway?
He thought he had enough time left to get his cell phone out and speed-dial Dean, anything, but his fingers were numb along with his face and it skittered away from him across the floor. He tried to reach, finding himself on his knees, throat still working convulsively and lungs still trying to expand.
His last sight, through water-blurred eyes, was of the altar, softly lit for the night, candles wavering in a dying breeze.
His last thought was something involving the irony of drowning in holy water and how funny Dean would think it was if only,
Dean looked at his watch. Then he dug his phone out and dialed., not caring if Sam had his phone on vibrate or not or if the ringer gave him away to anyone praying or wandering around in there. Sam better not have been having second thoughts or counting out change for a donation in return for the water, he’d better fucking not have struck up a conversation in there with anybody and flashing dimples and talking about how plants did better with holy water or whatever bullshit he thought he should say to get himself out of there. He’d better goddamn be coming out the doors soon, there was a baby-eater wandering the countryside miles and miles behind them and time was of the essence.
“Sam,” he growled aloud to himself, “Answer your goddamn phone. Now. Now. All you had to do was fill a couple of goddamn plastic jugs. C’mon.”
He could not admit that down in the spark that made him Dean and not any other person or life form was the feeling that Sam was in trouble. It was safer to be annoyed about how long his brother was taking and why.
He tucked his phone away and sighed. There was no way to avoid walking right into the church with wings. No way at all.
He tucked them back as far as they would go, knowing it was like asking Prince Charles to try combing his hair over his ears. Then he marched along the perimeter of the parking lot to at least partially avoid the safety lights. He ran across the lawn, keeping close to the brick facing, then took the stone stairs three at a time, wings half-unfurled for balance. He pulled the door open and ducked into the entry alcove, eyes already adjusted to the darkness. He left his gun on his hip but let his hand stray to it and rest lightly. He didn’t hear anything, so he poked his head around the corner to look into the nave.
Candles were lit, and he knew someone would be there all night tending the place. There wasn’t anyone visible, not in the pews or walking along the rows. It was warm and quiet and peaceful, nothing out of place. Set into the floor off to one side was a baptismal font, like they’d thought there would be, and -
Sam, flat on the floor in a pool of water, soaking wet from head to toe. Eyes open and locked on nothing.
Dean moved, he must have, because he was there without remembering how he did it, cold water soaking his jeans from the knees down when he slid to a stop across the floor. Shaking Sam and yelling his name wasn’t going to make him less gone but it seemed like the only thing to do at first. It looked as if Sam had drowned right in the font but that wasn’t possible, not even if someone had held his head under the water, Sam was bigger than almost anybody and it was too awkward an angle to -
There was no pulse.
"No!” Dean shouted, and he never heard his own voice echo off the walls. “Not like this, Sam!” He took Sam’s head in his hands and tried to tilt it, and dammit his mouth was full of water. He pulled Sam over, using his wings for leverage, sitting right on Sam’s back and shoving water out of him. Not even floaters had that much water in them after days in a lake, no way it was normal, no way this was just an accident or even something grabbing Sam and shoving him into the water. Sam was so waterlogged that if he lived he’d have water intoxication, and -
There was no if.
He yanked Sam over again and started chest compressions. He remembered how to do all of it even if it had been a year or more since he’d had to use it, five compressions and five breaths, Sam’s mouth cold and blue under his. He’d go on counting five until Sam breathed or something took his own head right off, there was no inbetween. He tried so hard not to think between breaths, just to keep moving, but not without me and don’t you leave me drifted in anyway, traitorous. When it started getting hard to breathe he didn’t even waste time wondering why; when sweat started pouring off him it didn’t matter because Sam should have been back by then and every second that went by suggested he might not be back.
I came back when you breathed for me, fair’s fair, tag, you’re it.
When his muscles seized and cramped hard enough to involuntarily arch his back, it got his attention enough to make him realize that he wasn’t just sweating, he was being desiccated and the two-thirds of him that was water was vacating him through every pore at top speed. It shouldn’t have been possible to lose that much water that fast, not even in a desert, but his mouth was bone dry and he was gasping for air before giving the little he could get to Sam.
Sam, whose mouth was filling with water again. Dean had the presence of mind to consider the fact that whatever it was, it was using him as a water source to continue drowning Sam.
“Sammy, please,” he whispered, and then his elbows locked and his eyes were too dry to keep open any longer. All he wanted to do was put his hands into the water on the floor, he’d have licked it right off the floor if he could have, but Sam needed air.
It was an awful way to die.
Then Sam took a breath on his own, a rough dragging of air into abused lungs, painful and desperate, and it was worth dying for. He didn’t see Sam convulse with coughing or turn over on his side, but he heard the splash of one large palm hitting the floor when Sam tried to brace himself and felt the weight of Sam’s sodden hair when he held his head off the floor and out of the water. He tangled his hands in Sam’s hair and at any other time would have laughed with relief or made some crack about how Sam was demon-proof now or said I thought I told you to hurry up but his higher brain functions were gone and he was reduced to sucking the water off the back of Sam’s neck.
Sam wheezed for air, unable to find bottom, his lung capacity ruined by the water he couldn’t get rid of, pain lancing through his chest while his bronchial passages spasmed. He was scrabbling at the floor with his nails and didn’t know it, his entire focus leveled on the red behind his eyes that demanded he keep trying to get more air by any means necessary. Feathers brushed his face and he felt Dean at his back, so he braced his elbows against the wet floor and tried to leverage himself up enough to look at him. When he had just enough control of the coughing to roll up on one shoulder, water streaming from his eyes, he got a glimpse of Dean that shot enough adrenaline through his system to jolt him the rest of the way back to consciousness.
Dean’s eyes had sunk back into his head, skin pulling against his bones. His skin in the waning candlelight was crusted with salt and he looked like one unlucky bastard after a day in the desert but without the burn, unrecoverably dehydrated, shutting down. Sam could still feel water under his skin, caught in his sinuses, trapped between the layers of muscle at his ribs. He was overflowing and Dean was lacking and it made perfect sense to him for a moment as he remembered that the water had come for him without getting near his face. He’d have said so if he could have, but there was water in his mouth again from nowhere or everywhere and his throat slammed shut again to try and protect his lungs. He lashed out instinctively and caught the back of Dean’s neck just as Dean pressed his face into Sam’s throat, the only moisture left in the world.
And the water drained out of Sam’s mouth before he could spit it out.
He took in another whooping breath and coughed, wracked with a fit of it, grabbing Dean with both hands and rolling until they were chest to chest. He got both hands on Dean’s face, brushing away salt, unable to believe it would be that easy and that awful, but when he got enough skin to skin contact, the rest of the water he could feel lurking in the bottom of his lungs cleared and he could get the one deep breath he’d been hoping for.
“Fucking water elementals,” he said aloud, voice ragged from coughing. “Dean, c’mon.” He felt around Dean’s back, feeling for the velcro he’d sewn into this particular set of shirts so that Dean didn’t have to keep destroying and replacing clothes every time. He found it and pulled it apart, rolling Dean’s dead weight and pulling the shirts off him, laying him in the water and sitting up enough to strip his own shirts over his head. He pulled Dean upright and back into his arms and blew out a breath in relief when it seemed to work, when the feeling of being weighted with water and continuing to drown eased a little. Dean jerked in his arms and grabbed onto him, fingers digging into his biceps, turning his face into Sam’s neck and breathing him in, not quite back but reacting to the change.
Sam looked at the candles they were surrounded with and thought there had to be a way to get them both into a ring of them, water unable to cross fire, but what they really needed was a sealed ring. Water could get between the candles, and -
He was overthinking it.
He quit when Dean shoved his hands into his hair and made full body contact and sealed his mouth right to his. Dry, too dry, and Dean tasted of salt that cancelled out the sour tang of terror, but Sam felt a pulling and leaned into it, realizing he was getting drier without any kind of cost. Not in pain, anyway. He knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he should have been shocked about it all and didn’t really have the brain space left to deal with it for once; it was good enough to be reversing something that should have been fatal to them both. He started out with both arms wrapped around Dean and meant to stay that way until they were back in balance, he could tell that was going to happen, Dean was going to get everything back - whatever they were while transformed was more than they’d been, they could fight off anything an elemental threw - but when his hands strayed a little further up there were the anchoring points of wings joining skin and he had to.
Father Albright came up the stairs after that last thump, knowing someone was in the church and realizing he’d better make sure it wasn’t teenagers again.
He turned the corner and saw movement in the front, so he leaned over to get a better look. He frowned and looked at his own hands, using them for reference, knowing he was awake.
He looked again. It was past one in the morning but there were two figures in the back of the church. As he rounded the corner and opened his mouth to call out to them and ask them if they needed help, he caught sight of something in the candlelight that made him pause.
He stared for a long moment, then hurried back the way he’d come, locking the door behind him. There was no way he’d just seen one of the Lord’s own angels and a soaking wet young man locked in a passionate embrace on the floor near the baptismal font. A rational mind didn’t imagine such things.
Somewhere in there was a pulling, something unseen trying to drown Sam again and trying to pull Dean back the other way, but the combination, the balance, kept it from working. If it was a water elemental, it wasn’t smart enough to try drowning or drying them both at the same time, and Sam couldn’t say he actually felt it give up, but he felt the floor dry beneath him. Dean’s skin had smoothed out under his hands and he dropped his mouth to Dean’s throat, hating to pull away but needing air, hating to move but finding himself catching the phalanges near the edge of each wing in each hand and gripping, thumbs digging in.
Dean’s hands closed into fists in his hair and Sam didn’t mind it, didn’t startle when Dean thrust roughly against him, didn’t have second thoughts about biting down on Dean’s shoulder. He’d thought before that maybe they weren’t quite themselves for one day every few months or possibly more themselves, brought to a common denominator, less evolved and more primal, less likely to say I don’t think we should.
Especially when the wings were lit up from behind by candlelight, living stained glass.
There was nothing troubling about leaning back onto the floor of a church, upper back braced against a wood-paneled wall, gripping his brother’s wings hard enough to cause the feathers to stand up between his fingers while he made rough circles against the bone with his thumbs, because it drove both of them fucking crazy and made Dean move his body against Sam’s whether he wanted to or not or even knew he was doing it. Sam was as hard as he’d ever been in his life and when he shifted his hips and tugged Dean off balance by his wings it got one hell of a lot better, because Dean was hard too and he’d managed to line them up just right. Dean planted his hands on the floor on either side of Sam’s chest and breathed open mouthed against the bare skin there, reduced to grinding himself against Sam helplessly when Sam couldn’t let go of him. Sam pulled his knees up and splayed them, slamming the back of his head against the wall when Dean whimpered and shuddered against him, wings shuddering in his hands. Sam arched and gasped, hips jerking when molten need finally let go and wrenched outward from his spine, the red behind his eyes no longer a lack of oxygen.
They didn’t come back to themselves and scramble apart; Dean slowly rolled away onto the dry floor in a loose limbed tangle and lay, wings spread, eyes closed, out of breath. When Sam could finally open his eyes, he let himself slide sideways to ease the kink in his neck...
...but not the other kinks, obviously, he thought.
After a minute or so when his body felt enough like his own again, he got to his feet and pulled his sodden shirts back on.
He looked at Dean for a moment and couldn’t say anything, not yet, just stood and made sure he was okay.
He went for the empty plastic jugs. He was no longer concerned about the water elemental.
The font was still full.
He filled the jugs and stood over Dean with them wordlessly. After a moment, Dean cracked his eyes open and stared at him. There was so much in that stare that Sam couldn’t read it. Then Dean took the hand Sam offered, got up, shook his wings out and tried to mantle them but failed.
They made five trips between the car and the font and nothing troubled them again. The only sign of Sam’s state of mind was how rough the wind was in comparison to the breeze that had been chasing him earlier. When they felt they had enough holy water to put a crimp in the well-dweller’s style, Dean curled himself into the back seat and they headed back for Sugar Grove without a single word said. The wings had stopped giving off heat.
Sam had to pull over five times; his kidneys did what they were there to do - get rid of excess water. It was an understatement in his case. He made Dean eat pretzels for the salt and drink a 32 ounce Gatorade from the first open store he could find, while he watched. Dean did it without argument but struggled not to gag it back up, and Sam left several bottles of water on the floor of the back of the car, trying not to be frightened.
He kept the heat on full blast and talked to Dean during the longest and darkest stretches of road, about the stuff they’d killed with more trouble than that, that at least it hadn’t been a fire elemental that was pissed at them, that at least they were both good swimmers. The humor fell flat and he couldn’t tell if anything he said made any difference.
It stayed windy and he couldn’t help it, and was never sure if it was all him or whether the air elementals were going to try and finish them off right there on the road.
By the time they got back, it was too late to catch the well-dweller at its rounds, even if they’d been in any condition to try and chase it again. They were exhausted. They might not have still been in any danger, but their bodies had done the impossible and felt it. Sam was still soaking wet and cold even with the heater going the entire drive, and he felt off kilter. Dean had slept - he knew it, because he’d caught him twice and it had frightened him into thinking he was more than just asleep.
He tried not to think that the shivering they were both doing was from shock, but he knew it was. They were quite possibly immune to being severed completely from life while they were sporting their elemental armor - the idea was beginning to occur to Sam - but they still had to suffer the effects of the things they survived. Not all the laws of physics were suspended for them.
Sam tried to worry about stuff like electrolytes and whether they were really lacking any of them after what they’d been through but he just couldn’t focus. Dean’s joints were too stiff to allow him to get himself out of the car, and it took Sam a lot more effort than it should have to help him while trying to make it look like he wasn’t. Dean hadn’t gotten enough water back in him, salt had crusted around his eyes, and he was so damn cold, cold enough that Sam realized it wasn’t over, and he had to get warm water in him and on them both. Dean still wasn’t able to fold his wings or hold them up, and they dragged behind him.
Not a hell of a lot of modesty left after all that. And it wasn’t like they hadn’t grown up together in various stages of undress. Sam stripped his clothes off inside the door and let Dean sit on the bed furthest from the door with a glass of water barely held between his hands, half of it spilling on him when he tried to get it all in at once.
Sam hesitated in the bathroom doorway and hated it, hated the moment of trepidation at getting anywhere near a water source. If the water elemental that had tried to kill them had wanted another crack, it would have used the gallons of water in the car to drown him again while he drove. It was close to dawn, it was the next day, and not once had any elemental come anywhere near them on the day after the change or the following night. He knew all that and he still froze.
Then the hot water was a blessing and he let that kill everything else off.
He opened the shower curtain and left it shoved open as far as it would go against the wall, not caring if they got water everywhere because no way was a shower curtain going to survive those wings anyway. Sometimes Dean didn’t quite understand how big they really were and definitely not when he was half out of it.
He didn’t ask Dean if it was fine to take his clothes off, he didn’t approach with caution; he simply stripped Dean’s clothes off him and didn’t get an argument. Dean being silent so long freaked Sam out more than what they’d already been through in the past few hours, but he realized that they should both have been dead. People were saved from drowning all the time but not from having the majority of the water in their bodies removed.
Or, he was overthinking it again, in an effort to keep from thinking at all about what had gone before.
“C’mon,” he said, and it felt like his voice would never be normal again, like he would never quite get all the water out of his ears. He held a hand out to Dean and then pulled him up by the hand that was offered in return, looking at his face and not his wings.
Dean stood under the spray, wings still held low, hands braced against the wall of the shower. He kept his face tilted into the spray, taking in mouthfuls of it at a time. Sam gave him a few minutes and then got a washcloth and scrubbed the residue off the skin of his back and shoulders, avoiding the wings like they might sting him. He left the washcloth on one of Dean’s shoulders and watched him take it and scrub his face and neck and just breathe the steam in. Sam leaned against the wall of the shower wearily, glad to be safe for just a little while, wishing they were done with the whole thing and through with the cycle of seasons, no longer visible to the elementals or -
He went from leaning against the wall to being pinned against it. He opened his eyes to Dean’s, opening his mouth to ask him what was going on but getting his head yanked forward for his trouble. Sam had to wonder if Dean kissed like that all the time, like it might be the last one he ever got, and decided the answer was yes.
Dean tasted like Dean again. Sam didn’t want to think about what he knew about that, or how.
Dean pulled him a step forward and wrapped his wings around them both and Sam pretty much stopped giving a damn about anything else. He got his hands under the wings and held them in against them both and braced his back against the wall, making sure he wasn’t pressing too hard against the feathers. He wanted to ask Dean if he was okay, if he was entirely in there, and he kept quiet because no way in hell would Dean do anything like that in his right mind but he’d stared straight into his eyes and known Dean was with him. They didn’t have to hold the same rules this once. Dean had said it’s temporary, they show up for a day every few months, then they’re gone again and I’m me and you’re you. And in the meantime, perks are perks.
Sam was not going to deny this as one hell of a perk. They were alive, and it was good to be that way, and there was no better way to prove that right then than to let feathers slide against his skin and brace a foot against the sidewall. He spread his hands against Dean’s back where wings met skin and held him in close and let it all go.
Dean insisted - when he was coherent - that it didn’t hurt to have Sam lie right on the wings; chest to chest and hip to hip on their sides with Sam’s head under Dean’s chin. Naked and warm and safe. He’d have slept that way forever if it was possible, wrapped in feathers, one arm draped across Dean’s ribs, fingers drawing lazy circles where layers of contour feathers met shoulder blade. He’d have to stop sooner or later and sleep, let Dean sleep, stop strumming his entire nervous system by touching him. But when he rolled onto his back, onto a spread of feathers, Dean moved the other wing to rest across his chest, feathertips ghosting along his skin.
Sam wished for once that they had not been so damn tired.
Dean awoke to full daylight and tried to move but felt resistance.
He opened his eyes to Sam, whose back was tucked close against him. They’d kicked the covers off in favor of feathers; it was too warm otherwise. They put off enough heat to warm the room. He’d wrapped them both so tight in the wings that neither of them could have moved.
He pressed an ear to Sam’s back and listened close, waiting for the sticky-pop sound of rails, crackles of fluid gathering in his lungs. Nothing. Sam was dry. He wasn’t going to end up with pneumonia or God knew what else from having stagnant holy water or - he tried not to think about it - the water content of his own brother choking off his air.
He sighed in relief and turned his head, pressing his mouth to the smooth skin of Sam’s back before he could think about what he was doing. Sam was still asleep, so it didn’t matter the way it would have otherwise.
And how could he not.
They slept through the morning and into early afternoon before Sam unwillingly untangled himself. He ran his hands along the feathers on his way up, luxuriating in the opportunity. Dean awoke and squinted into the light, watching Sam dress. He felt like he’d been on one hell of bender, based on the headache and the dry mouth. A bender would have at least been fun before he paid for it, though.
“Sammy,” he said. It was a croak of sound.
Sam didn’t look at him. “Gotta grab us something to eat,” he said. “Just...you probably better have some water.”
Dean was never going to hold a lack of sympathy for vampires again. He had, after all, however briefly...been one. Thirst got you to do all kinds of things whether you were an evil bastard to begin with or not.
He let Sam go, let him hide for the moment.
At least he could fold his damn wings again.
After another shower and a couple of glasses of water, Dean felt almost human again, whether he looked it or not. Hard to feel completely human with wings sprouting out of his back. Sam returned with diner food in styrofoam, and neither of them had realized how ravenous they were until then. They ate without making eye contact, news from Buffalo on the TV in the corner. Dean glanced at Sam periodically, waiting for him to quit eating. He reflected that he’d spent Sam’s teen years waiting for him to quit eating and that had never really happened.
He was oddly accepting of what had gone on. Or he thought he was. That was what mattered to him. Not as much as what Sam thought of it, but still.
“So you want us to wait for it to get out,” Dean said, tossing styrofoam containers in the trash can by the door. “Let it take off and go hunting, then dump all that water down the well. You also wanna wait for it to come back, or go after it? Because we’re already too late to figure out where the nearest kids are. And if we check the papers today and look hard enough, there’s another kid missing around here somewhere.”
Sam sighed and gathered his trash. “We gotta guess what it is before we try and kill it,” he said softly, keeping his face down.“Silver didn’t do it. For all we know, it’s just gonna poison whatever water we put down there, and it might only slow it down.”
“It’s pretty basic,” Dean said. “Whatever it’s made of. It might have been down there long before the well was built. Could be a kind of kelpie that predates the stuff we know about ‘em, could be some other kind of water devil. For all we know, it’s one of the damn elementals. Whatever kills it is gonna be pretty basic, too. The water’ll work.”
“That sounds like faith,” Sam said.
It was a dull monotone, no trace of sarcasm, but Dean glanced at him anyway. Dean wanted to shoot back with some remark about how well Sam retained water and that it was further proof of what a girl he was, but it seemed to take too much effort. A lot of what they did was on faith and they both knew it. It just seemed so odd to call it that with everything that seemed to go wrong on such a regular basis.
“Whatever works,” he said.
Sam kept looking at the floor.
“Ostara was a fertility festival, too,” Dean said.
Sam blinked. Sometimes he preferred it when Dean pretended not to understand. If he wanted to blame it on that...maybe he was right. It was an easy way out, as easy as saying it was the nature of the curse that was solely responsible for Sam’s longing to just touch.
“There were extenuating circumstances,” Dean said, and he just didn’t want to talk about it or anything but there was no way he was getting out of it, and he knew it. “Really fucking extenuating. It doesn’t get a hell of a lot more extenuating than that, Sam, goddamnit.” There. Case closed.
Sam shook his head.
“You, not talking,” Dean said. “Fuckin’ end of the world, without you explaining every - ”
Dean sighed and came closer, gripping Sam’s shoulders. He looked at him, eyebrows raised, kind of wobbled him a little, then clapped his hands down on his shoulders again. He wanted to say tell it like it is, Sam, we committed incest in a church, right in the holy water. It’s where we’ve been headed since this wing-thing started. He settled for “One day the wings won’t come back and we’ll be as fucked up as we used to be, only without the groping.” He started to turn away.
“No, Dean,” Sam said, holding him in place. “That’s not how it works and you know it.”
“It’s just the curse, Sam,” Dean said, shaking him off. “Not everything needs discussion. You have to just leave it alone.”
“Wish I could,” Sam mumbled.
“Don’t mumble,” Dean said over his shoulder.
“I said I wish I could,” Sam said louder.
>Dean paused, shoulders slumped, back still to Sam. “I heard you the first time,” he said. “You were supposed to let me pretend I didn’t. Sam - “
“I don’t always play your games,” Sam said. “When are you gonna catch on?”
Dean turned back to him but flared the wings out, and there was just enough room for him to get away with it without knocking anything over.
Sam leaned back in his chair, staring, pupils blown.
“I’m pretty sure I caught on,” Dean said, folding the wings back down with a snap.
They were back in the trees just before dark, watching the well, waiting with less impatience despite the fact that they had no idea what the hell would happen. It had taken numerous trips from the car to get all the water in place. Gallon containers surrounded their feet.
“This doesn’t work, we’re going with my first plan,” Dean said, keeping his voice low. “Fuckin’ dynamite. Gasoline. Napalm. C4, backfill, blessed battery acid, all of it.”
“Yeah, the locals will love having that in the ground water,” Sam said. “Didn’t you make napalm for that one science fair in junior high?”
Dean gave him a sidelong glance, checking him for an attitude adjustment. “It was my backup plan in case that one dumbass with the motorized solar system won.”
What had happened the night before was not far enough in the past to be ignored, but at least it was in the past.
When the well-dweller appeared, it did so with almost the exact same motions, creeping over the same spot on the well’s sidewall, not taking any precaution. It was the predator, there, the top of the food chain, and didn’t care what might be watching...or didn’t have any developed self preservation instincts. Running from Dean the night before might easily have been about hunting with limited time and not whether it thought a winged yelling thing was any kind of threat.
It was a rolling blackness with spiderlike legs and hooked claws, sharp beak-like face and short head attached to a long slender body that didn’t seem to have any detail. It moved like a sidewinder across the grass at the base of the well, heading for the trees. They watched it go with tense anticipation, hoping and dreading that it might turn in their direction.
Minutes after it slipped into the trees, they carried water out and checked the edge of the well for traces of wetness. The moonlight made a swatch of it plain. Sam dribbled a little of the holy water over it, and it sizzled off as if the surface was hot, leaving the edge of the well dry.
They shared a glance over it.
They dumped all but two gallons of the water in, splashing the inner walls, careful not to get any of it on or around the edge of the well. They didn’t want the thing to get any idea that the jig was up until it got too close to bolt again.
Then there was the waiting, again. They were much more settled this time and not dealing with the effects of a buildup of energy trying to get out.
Sam’s feelings about waiting, about many things, became apparent when the wind picked up. Dean reached out and placed a hand flat against Sam’s chest without a word. Sam took a deep breath without knowing if it would help, and worked at staying calm. The wind died down to a crisp breeze, and Dean patted his chest.
They heard the baby long before they saw it.
At first they thought it was an animal - a wildcat or something, because the shrieking was so uneven, and what the hell would a baby be doing out in the middle of the -
“It’s got a kid,” Dean said, and Sam would never forget the panic he heard in his brother’s voice. “Holy shit, Sammy, the thing’s actually got a kid.”
Sam resorted to catching the edge of one wing to keep Dean from blowing their cover too early; the thing had to make it to the well before they tried to corner it. They didn’t want it taking back off into the trees with a kid.
When it hit the clearing, they could see it was holding the baby just clear of the ground by one of its legs. The baby was wearing a diaper and a tiny short sleeved shirt and was screaming as loud as its little vocal cords would let it. The well-dweller skittered toward home without hesitation or wariness, one black-clawed appendage reaching for the stone, meaning to take its latest catch below ground.
Dean’s feet left the ground a little in the wind that was gathering, wings out as far as they would go. He brandished them like weapons as he came out of the trees, gun out whether it would do any good or not, hearing and feeling Sam break to the left behind him with the last gallon of holy water. The full moon turned the wings into filamented sails with a fiber optic glow, making them seem even larger. Dean challenged the well-dweller at a full charge, yelling at the top of his lungs.
The creature paused but didn’t drop the baby. It rose to its back appendages and seemed to swirl in place, shifting in size and shape while it assessed Dean as a threat.
All Dean wanted it to do was drop the baby. Whatever came after that would have to figure itself out, they’d done everything they could do, and he just really needed the critter to drop the baby on the ground and not down the well.
It waited until he came within five or six feet of it before it went for the well with the baby still in tow. Dean changed directions to account for the motion and hunched lower, ready to tackle whatever it was. If he rushed it too quickly, it might bolt, find another hiding spot and eat the baby anyway. If he gave it too much room, he might give it the idea that he considered it the stronger monster. There was less thought to the whole process than instinct.
Dean tucked his gun away without dropping his eyes from the thing. He couldn’t be pointing anything at it while it had the baby.
One really, really unhappy baby.
He snapped his wings out again, aggressive motion and intimidation, crowding the thing closer to the well. Sam came around the other side of the well with the holy water. When it saw Sam, it made the same coughing noise it had expressed itself with the night before. It jumped for the edge of the well with the baby in tow, dangling it down the outside. Sam moved first, trying to drive it back from the edge in case it decided to drop the baby in ahead of itself to make sure it kept its meal. It reared up on the edge of the well and Dean went for the baby.
When he got close enough to grab, when it turned and swiped at him, the wings folded back and down by themselves, cringing away automatically. Its claws came within inches of him as he reached for the baby, as it let go of the baby to attack him, and just the proximity alone was enough to give him another dose of that acid burn he’d felt from the well water. He managed to get the baby by one little arm, crouching low with eyes involuntarily closed, hoping he wasn’t going to hurt the baby any further. The fucker had, after all, just dropped the kid on its head. What he totally missed was Sam splashing a handful of holy water on the thing from the other side of the well and diverting its attention to keep it from leaping off the edge of the well and right onto Dean.
Dean had turned away with the baby tucked under one arm by the time the thing started shrieking; it sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Dean turned back once he was several yards away, his wings flared to make sure the creature kept feeling hemmed in. It wavered on the edge of the well for a moment, misshapen head whipping between Sam and Dean. Then it dove into the well.
The shrieking echoed on the stone walls when it encountered an interior that was still damp with holy water. Sam poured water in after it, wagging the plastic jug in midair to splash the thing. He could hear it receding down the well even over its enraged voice, the dragging of claws down stone. Thick black smoke rose out of the well, and Sam leaned away to avoid breathing it in. It stung when it brushed against his skin, clung greasy and damp on the plastic of the jug. He wondered briefly whether it would have affected him at all if he hadn’t been caught in the event horizon of an air elemental’s death throes.
He poured the remainder of the water in, then startled when the shrieking was suddenly cut off. Smoke continued to curl from the well, and the only thing left to hear was the baby, who had switched from screaming in panic to a jagged wailing, complaining about the night it was having.
Dean snuggled the baby in tight with both arms, making hushing noises, and Sam was torn between laughing and tearing up at the picture Dean created, like something right out of a Sunday school poster.
Sam used the final gallon of holy water to ring the well just in case, getting the edge of it and the ground immediately around it, then wiped his wet hands on his shirt and came to stand in front of Dean, who had turned to face into the moonlight to get a better look at the baby.
“Some scrapes and bruises,” Dean said. “Nothing broken, though. Flexible little things, huh?” He lifted the front of the diaper just a little and peered in. “Boy,” he said. “Or, he will be one day.”
Sam held his hands out to take the baby, meaning to wrap it in one of his shirts, but Dean swung away from him and curled his wings in. “Get your own.”
Sam snorted. “Fine, enjoy.”
“This is all you did for a long damn time,” Dean said, heading for the trees in the direction of where the car was parked. “Yell, and bitch, and chase me around. Some things never change.”
Sam shook his head.
Dean sat in the back seat and smoothed a hand over the baby’s head until he calmed a little. Wailing had been replaced with small snorts and whines of discontent and kicking feet. Sam clicked the scanner on and let it roll through the channels on its own, looking for any broadcast. It picked up a brief check-in from a traffic stop near Clarendon, then static for several minutes.
“We could drop him at a church if we don’t pick up the call,” Sam said.
“I’m not hot on going anywhere near a church for a little while, how ‘bout you?” Dean said.
Sam nodded, then twisted around so he could watch. The baby was chewing a fist and staring at Dean’s wings with rapt attention. “How old you suppose he is?”
“Six months,” Dean said without hesitation. When Sam kept staring, he glanced up. “What? Evil shit likes six month old babies, I think we’ve proven that.”
The scanner picked up the call. Home break-in, child missing in Minister.
Sam wondered if they’d heard the baby screaming as it was dragged away. He started the car, backed off the side road and headed east toward Minister.
“I’ll take him.”
Sam kept holding his hands out for the baby. They were parked on the side of the road, keeping to the trees, knowing a search party was pounding the bushes below.
“Let you show up with the kid?” Dean said. “No way. Not even your dimples and pleading eyes are gonna keep you from getting questioned all night on this one. And I like the idea of that as much as you do. So forget it and go back to the car.”
Sam stared at him for a moment. “You’re loving this,” he said.
Dean grinned and winked at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t pose for any pictures.”
“And when someone takes a potshot at you?” Sam said. “You don’t know - “
Dean leaned in and kissed him.
Sam blinked and stepped back, face a study in shock.
Damn, he’d finally figured out how to shut the kid up. He wasn’t sure he was fine with what he’d just done, but it was funny as hell to him and the look on Sam’s face was worth it, so he went with it. “See you back here in a half hour or so,” he said.
Sam didn’t have anything to say.
Dean heard the searchers at about the same time he saw the beams of their flashlights. They were searching the woods closest to the hamlet, spreading out, not bothering to call out because an infant wasn’t going to respond. Their motions were frantic and unwilling, like they expected to find a tiny discarded form along the deer trails or flung into the bushes. They were pausing every so often to listen, probably hoping for the sound of a baby crying.
He didn’t want to imagine what any of it was like.
The little boy was finally quiet, eyes wide and following every motion Dean’s wings made as he walked along. He wondered if the kid would hold some subconscious memory of the whole thing and dream of it in later years.
He waited until one of the trailers of the search party walked by, further from the others.
He just shouldn’t say anything. He knew it was a bad idea. All he had to do was hand the kid over and walk away, nothing else.
Seemed like such a waste, though. Maybe just a little scripture, something general but official-sounding.
“Psst,” he said to the figure moving on the other side of a tree. “Hey. Dude. Over here.”
The guy shined his flashlight onto Dean and froze. The light wavered a little, giving him a view of a bearded man in a heavy jacket and baseball cap before the flashlight clattered to the ground.
“‘And then shall all the righteous escape, and shall live till they beget thousands of children, and all the days of their youth and their old age shall they complete in peace,’” Dean said. The Book of Enoch seemed appropriate.
The guy fell on his knees, mouth agape. “Ohmigod!”
“Aw, c’mon,” Dean said. “Get up. It’s no big deal. I found your missing diaper-filler.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean said. “Take the baby, would you?”
When the guy started crab-walking backwards on his ass, Dean lost his temper. “God told me he hates it when people grovel. Get up and take the baby home!”
The guy used a tree to leverage himself off the ground, eyes never leaving Dean’s wings.
Dean held the baby out and was disturbed to discover it was with reluctance. The guy came just close enough to reach the baby at arm’s length. He hugged the baby to his chest, not even checking to see if he was okay.
“Your kids won’t be disappearing anymore,” Dean said. “But you gotta lock your doors and windows, even out here in the middle of nowhere. Understand?”
The guy didn’t nod, didn’t shout, just stared at him. Sensing the anxiety, the baby began to wail.
“Okay, then,” Dean said. “Have a nice evening.”
The guy stared.
Dean sighed. “Get the baby out of the cold, dumbass!”
The guy began stumbling backwards, unable to take his eyes off Dean.
“Ramble on,” Dean said. “D’yer maker, the song remains the same.”
The guy wrapped the baby in his jacket and started off in the opposite direction, glancing over his shoulder at Dean.
Okay, so Dean laughed once he hit the road. He’d quit by the time he reached Sam and the car, so it didn’t count.
They went back to the well for two reasons: to put plenty of space between themselves and any remaining searchers, and to make sure the thing was dead.
“All that fuckin’ work and hassle, and it dies when we splash water on it,” Dean said, staring into the well without touching the sides. “All that for the wicked witch act. This is bullshit.”
“You got to shoot it,” Sam said, standing beside him. “It didn’t do any good, but you got to face it down, walk right up and shoot at it. That counts for something.”
Dean couldn’t quite tell whether Sam was messing with him or not. He decided it was too much trouble to pursue. “Cave it in,” he said.
“We’ve got a couple of shovels in the trunk, but nothing heavy enough to -“
“We don’t need any of that,” Dean said. “You can do it.” He twirled a finger in midair. “Woooo.”
Sam shook his head. “I’m not gonna use it for that. I’m not even sure how to use it on purpose. And it might bring something to look at us.” He looked at his watch. It was just past 11:30.
“Killjoy,” Dean said. “C’mon.”
“We’re surrounded by trees and you’ve got wings,” Sam said without looking at him. “So many reasons not to mess with it.”
“The rocks were all splashed with holy water, so, if we really close it up, even if the thing survived a nice bath, it won’t be getting out that way again,” Dean said. “You know you want to.”
“We can probably kick it down,” Sam said, finally looking up. Dean was smirking at him, face half in the shadow of one wing. “What is this? You just wanna see if it works?”
Dean shrugged with a rustle of feathers. “I don’t know, Sam, I’ve shown you mine.”
Sam tilted his face back to the sky with an open-mouth grin.
“Just the well,” Dean said. “Not the whole forest like last time. Public service.”
Sam looked at him, hands in pockets. “It’s not gonna work.”
“I’ll just be over here battening my hatches,” Dean said, gesturing at the trees behind them. But he kept standing there.
The wind gusted in the tree tops enough to cause them to lean. Sam’s hair ruffled along with Dean’s feathers, a precursor. Dean folded his wings back and grinned before heading into the trees.
Sam shook his head and stared at the well. He could, after all, shut it down if it got out of hand. Hopefully. It wasn’t like he was panicking or anything, like last time. Maybe it didn’t have to be brute force; maybe he could localize it. He had to admit to being curious about whether he’d be able to use it as a weapon if the air elementals took another shot at them.
The brush tucked under the trees began to stir as he thought about how wind was mainly a change in pressure forcing air to move from high to low, displaced and pushed; cold fronts often had edges steep enough to throw warmer air up and ahead so fast that the instability spawned huge storms. Supercells. Tornadoes.
The wind whipped around him hard enough to move him forward a step, so he adjusted, backing away from the well. He had to be careful or Dean would come close enough again to be caught up in the small weather system he was creating. It wasn’t so much a matter of details or finesse or deciding where the air should go; it was will and hope. When he imagined the stone wall of the well being enveloped, the air pulled in tighter, and the tops of the trees stilled while the brush and undergrowth was flattened under the force; he imagined the air in the spaces between the stones where they were coming loose, chinks in the mortar and cracks in the oldest stones, all moving in synch. There was a suggestion of a spiral, of a dust devil striving to be more, and as it tightened it spun faster.
The first stone that spun loose was slung off to his right in a blur, fast enough to kill someone, crashing into the bushes. Centrifugal force made the center of the well the eye of a storm and the uneven surfaces along the walls of the well caught the air and resisted. When the mini-tornado was widened just a little to encompass the entire well, hemming the walls in rather than balancing above, the stones began to shift inward. Instead of flinging outward as missles, they ground against one another and tumbled inward and spun down into blackness. The ground was scoured of any growth, leaving a trench that piled dirt and stone the more the wind was tightened inward. The speed increased but stayed localized in its destruction, the well filling and narrowing and receding under the amount of dirt that was shoved in. There was a depression in the earth, no longer enough to fall into but enough of a dip to be noticeable, a correction in the landscape. The dirt obscured anything inside the tornado, keeping the rest of the collapse from being visible.
He had to shield his face with one arm when he let go of it and the captive wind swirled outward, flinging dirt into his hair. Dirt and pebbles and bits of crumbled mortar pattered into the bushes in all directions, raining down on him. After a moment he dropped his arm and looked at the mess he’d made. There was still a hole but it was ragged, the stones underneath no longer visible.
Dean came to stand next to him, smirking, wings at half mast, cocked at an angle. “You liked that,” he said.
“So did you,” Sam shot back. “Help me cover the damn thing.”
They dragged branches over and carved a few symbols in the heavier pieces for good measure before laying them across it and burying it under several inches of dirt. Then they stood and stared at where the well had been. No point heading for the car until the wings were gone, anyway.
“Last chance,” Dean said.
Dean held his wings out the same way larger birds did when running after something on the ground.
“Okay,” Sam said, “You’ve gotta stop. I’m like...it’s not funny anymore. I keep trying to tell you - “
“Lighten up, Sam,” Dean said. “We just...it didn’t happen. It doesn’t count.”
Sam saw the wings fade in his peripheral vision, no more solid than the moonlight. When he turned his head, they were gone, and the breeze died around them.
“There, see?” Dean said. “You still wanna do me?”
Sam shook his head and headed out of the clearing, back toward where they’d parked the car.
Dean stood a moment longer, trying to shrug off several things - the phantom feel of the weight his shoulders were suddenly lacking, the itch between his shoulder blades...the look on Sam’s face.
They couldn’t hide in fear from the damn elementals every time a Wiccan solar holiday came up. They couldn’t do their job and worry whether they’d be drowned or crushed or immolated by whatever was angriest, and that held true even when they weren’t dealing with elementals and wings.
They couldn’t be wary of each other.
It wasn’t that big of a deal. It couldn’t be.
He ran his hands over his face and went after Sam.