Characters/Pairings: Dean, Sam, OFC/OMC
Word count: ~3,400
Supernatural and all related trademarks belong to Eric Kripke, Wonderland Sound and Vision, and Warner Brothers Television; no infringement is intended.
Copyright 2008, Bardicvoice
“Sam! Drop!” Knowing his brother would react without thought, Dean was already squeezing the trigger, and the rock salt shot sprayed out across the landing where Sam’s chest had been an instant before to shred the ghost who’d been about to hit him from behind. Sam rolled and came up in a crouch, while Dean, still lying where he’d fallen on the stairs, jacked another round into the chamber.
“What the hell?” Sam panted, his head swiveling for more targets. “We burned the bones, man! This was supposed to be over!”
“Yeah, well, tell that to them! We must’ve missed something.” Dean shifted his grip on the sawed-off and started to straighten up, then hissed in pain as the ribs that had hit the stair risers stabbed him right back. The sudden flare from the twisted ankle that the first ghost had yanked out from in under him made him reconsider trying to stand.
“You okay?” Sam asked, and Dean grimaced.
“Yeah. But no footraces.” The sudden, cut-off scream from down the hall changed his mind. “Screw that. Help me up.” Sam’s mighty pull hauled him mostly vertical onto the landing, and while he wound up leaning on the wall and the banister, he stayed upright. “Go on! I’ve got your back.”
Sam threw him one worried glance, then took the last three stairs in one leap and charged off down the hall. Dean followed at his best cripple pace, slinging the shotty and using one arm on the wall and one on the railing to lever himself up the final three steps one at a time. His right ankle wouldn’t take his weight, so at the top, he grabbed the shotgun left-handed and kept his right hand on the wall for balance as he hopped in Sam’s wake. He heard rather than saw Sam burst through the door into the Mitchell’s study, and the blast of Sam’s shotgun announced a ghost dispersed. He made it to the door in time to see Amy Mitchell swinging an iron fireplace poker through the second of the ghosts, the bitch who’d dumped him on the stairs, while her husband Don, bleeding from his scalp, wavered on his knees behind her. Still, they were doing better than most civilians would have; they hadn’t curled up or run screaming.
“Why are they still here?” Amy called, looking around desperately for the next attack, putting a hand on her husband’s shoulder for both support and reassurance.
“The family that slays together, stays together?” Dean offered. “Damned if I know.” He leaned against the doorframe for support and checked the gun, then kept scanning for the next shimmer that would mark a ghost appearing. Sam was doing the same from inside the room, his back to a wall, and the look on his face was a mix of hunter alertness and desperate intellectual search. Dean knew he was sorting through his memories of the research they’d done, trying to find the missing piece. The two ghosts, a nasty husband and wife pair of killers from back in the ‘20’s who’d committed suicide in the house when they were about to get caught, had been escalating nightly attacks on the Mitchells since the couple had bought the house a month before, after the house had known more than forty quiet years. Sam’s guess, based on combining John’s old journal entries about the house with having met the Mitchells, was that the ghosts couldn’t abide a happy marriage, which may have said a lot about the dysfunctional state of the families that had lived in the house during the decades while it was quiet.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Sam said suddenly. “That damned locket – the one from the wedding photo. Didn’t you say it was still in the house?”
“Yeah – we found it, cleaning the basement.” Amy used the poker to point at the cardboard box on the floor beside the desk. “We packed it with the other stuff for the historical society.”
“I’ve got an idea!” Sam threw Dean a look and dove for the box, dropping his gun beside him as his knees hit the floor. As he scrabbled through the contents of the box, the male ghost appeared above him, and Dean fired the shotgun to scatter him again. Amy yelped as the female ghost appeared beside her and took another swipe at Don, but her startlement didn’t prevent her from getting in a solid whack with the poker, slicing through the ghost before its clawed hand could connect.
“Hurry up, Sam,” Dean shouted, his ears ringing from the blast in the confined space, just as Sam yanked up his fist, a thick gold locket dangling from his fingers. He snapped it open. Inside with two photos lay a braided coil of hair, blonde woven with black.
“Got it!” Sam didn’t bother standing up, but took a diving roll across the floor to fetch up hard against the bricks of the fireplace. He yanked the screen aside, burning his hand on the brass, and tossed the open locket into the glowing logs. An unearthly shriek made him cover his ears and turn his face aside as both ghosts abruptly materialized above him, but even as Dean’s gun thundered again, the salt pellets bouncing off the bricks to sting Sam’s neck and upflung arms, the braided hair caught fire and flared up with a sharp copper stink, and the ghosts’ tattered black remnants similarly flashed and burned in the air, and disappeared.
“Sam? Sam!” Dean’s voice was sharp as he hopped/limped away from the door, and Sam waved a reassuring hand as he started to uncurl, trying to catch his breath. Still wide-eyed, Amy glanced around once more, and then dropped the poker and knelt by her husband, taking his bloody head in her hands to assess the damage. Don patted her comfortingly on the arm, and both of them wilted to sit on the floor, holding each other. Dean caught himself against the desk before his rebel ankle would have stretched his length on the floor, and Sam got slowly to his feet. From her husband’s arms, Amy looked up at them.
“Is it over? Really over, this time?”
“It’s over,” Sam promised. He fetched up next to Dean, both of them still catching their breath, half-sitting, half-leaning on the desk, and found a ghost of a smile. “It’s over.”
The fading adrenaline opened the way for all the bruises to make themselves felt. Dean had cracked enough ribs over the years to be intimate with that particular pain, and found himself trying to breathe shallowly to keep from jarring them as he set the gun gently down. Without the spur of action driving him on, he realized that more than just his ribs and right ankle hurt; he’d come down hard on his hip and elbow when he fell, and even the right knee was throbbing. Sam flexed his reddened fingers, blowing to soothe the burn, but he looked up with peaceful eyes, shaking his head to convey that he was fine. For a few minutes silence reigned, and Dean just closed his eyes, feeling Sam’s presence in the warmth along his side and hearing nothing but the crackle of the fire and the sound of human breathing gradually slowing from battle frenzy into peace.
“God, what a mess.” Amy’s voice made him startle and the stabbing ribs robbed him of breath again. He opened his eyes to see her on her feet and heading for the door. “I’ll get the first aid kit. Does anyone need more than that?”
“About a week’s worth of sleep,” Dean offered, and felt as much as heard Sam’s chuckle as Amy smiled and left.
“You’re welcome to it,” Don said. “Along with anything else we can provide. We owe you our lives.”
“It’s our job,” Sam said automatically, and Don laughed incredulously.
“Some job. Is it always like this?”
“Nope,” Dean answered breezily. “Sometimes, it’s worse.”
“Worse,” Don echoed. “I’d hate to see worse.”
“Hopefully you never will,” Sam said. “Most people never see this much.”
“If that’s meant to be reassuring, it isn’t,” Amy said, carrying in a medical kit even more comprehensive than the one in the Impala’s trunk. Since she was a doctor and her husband was an EMT with the local fire department, that wasn’t particularly surprising, but Dean was abruptly grateful that he and Sam weren’t going to be patching each other up as usual. He was tired, heart and soul tired, and he hurt, and he could feel Sam’s fatigue and pain like an echo of his own. Even so, Sam started to shift, automatically reaching for the next chore, but Amy caught his arm and stopped him. “You, sit. Stay. Let me do my job. I’m the only one in this room who isn’t walking wounded.”
“We really should go,” Sam began, but Don cut him off before Dean could even begin to protest.
“No, you really should stay. You’re both hurt, and it’s after midnight, for crying out loud! You helped us; now let us help you. It’s only fair.”
Dean felt Sam subside. He was happy enough to sit and wait his turn, knowing the danger was over for the moment, until the next job, the next town.
Amy was quick, thorough, and gentle, dealing first with stitching Don’s bloody gash, then dressing Sam’s burned hand, and finally anointing Dean’s assorted lumps, pronouncing the ankle a bad sprain, not a break, and getting Dean settled with Sam’s help onto a sofa with the ankle bound, elevated, and iced and his ribs strapped for comfort. By the time she finally sat down, after ensuring that everyone had appropriate painkillers of either the pill or bottled liquid variety, Dean found that he’d relaxed and didn’t want to move.
“You meant what you said, didn’t you?” Don asked out of nowhere. “This is what you do all the time, this ... supernatural stuff.”
Dean met Sam’s eyes, and felt his own mouth quirk at the memories that one glance evoked.
“Yeah,” Sam affirmed. “All our lives.”
“I never would’ve believed it, if I hadn’t seen what happened here. I’m still not sure I’ll believe it tomorrow, when all this wears off.”
“Believe it,” Amy said. Her eyes rested on Dean. “You’ve got an interesting collection of scars, Dean. Bullets, knives, claws, bites, burns – I’ve never seen an assortment like that on one man before.”
“What can I say? It’s a dangerous gig, but someone’s gotta do it. And at least we know what we’re doing, and why.”
“Why?” Don asked, but his voice wasn’t challenging, just wondering, and Sam answered using Dean’s words, seemingly without even thinking.
“Saving people. Hunting things. The family business.” Dean could feel the worn, scuffed leather of John’s journal in his empty hands; he closed his eyes as Sam continued. “A demon killed our Mom when we were kids. Our Dad went after it, and learned about all this stuff. He taught us. We do what we can, because most people wouldn’t believe it even if they saw it. It’s too crazy. But it’s real, and it kills people. So we do what we can.”
“And your Dad?” Amy asked. Dean sensed with sudden certainty that she already knew the answer, that she’d seen something in his stillness or heard something in Sam’s voice. He knew and was grateful that Sam kept going so he wouldn’t have to say the words.
“He died, over a year ago. But we’re still here. And there are other hunters, other people who know the truth.”
“Like us,” Don said, but Dean shook his head.
“Not like you. You know some, sure, but just knowing a little doesn’t make you a hunter. Hunters go after it. Most of us don’t have anything else. You’ve got lives and jobs; you’re working on a family. That’s something worthwhile.”
“And what you’re doing isn’t?” Amy challenged.
“I didn’t mean that,” Dean said. “But no one does this if they don’t have to. We just – have to.”
“We know too much,” Sam said softly. “Quit while you’re ahead. One pair of angry spirits is enough for a lifetime, trust me.”
Don still looked thoughtful and curious, but Dean saw a darker understanding grow in Amy’s eyes, and her lips thinned.
“How can we quit?” she asked. “After what we’ve seen – how can we close our eyes and ignore what we know? How can we not try to stop this from happening to others?”
“How can you not go to Africa to help when you hear about genocide in Darfur?” Dean’s voice came out harsher and more ironic than he intended. Sam’s head came up in shocked protest and Dean raised a placating hand in apology, but kept going. “Look, you can’t help everyone. You can’t do everything. But you do what you can, what you’ve got the skill and the training for.” He nodded toward the first aid kit on the table. “You’re already saving lives with what you do every day. That’s enough.”
“Just, how – common is this stuff?” Don asked. “I mean – ghosts. Demons. Whatever.” The hand not holding his drink rubbed gentle patterns across his wife’s shoulder, but Dean saw no ebb in the tension etched into her posture.
“Not that much,” Sam said. “Not in any one place, anyway. Dad taught us to look for patterns. We go wherever we see things out of place.” He smiled slightly. “If it’s any consolation, this house is the only one in the county that ever even made it on our radar. The next thing may be three states away. Maybe sixty, seventy percent of the things we check out turn out to be nothing. Natural phenomena, coincidence, even criminal behavior are way more common than truly supernatural things.”
“Most people never see any of this.” Dean kept his eyes on Amy, gauging the impact of his words. “For most people, the odds of meeting even one angry spirit are slim. The odds against running into another one ... well, I wouldn’t try to make any money betting on you ever meeting another one. But if you ever did, you’d know what to do.”
“Salt, iron, holy water, fire,” she recited. “Symbols of purity and strength.” Her mouth quirked in a wry moue, and she shook her head. “Not much to hang your life on.”
“But enough,” Dean said softly. “Amy, the world’s no more dangerous now than it was a month ago. These dangers have always been there; the stories are as old as man. Knowing about them doesn’t make them worse. You just – can’t worry about them all the time.”
“Easy for you to say,” she said, but he saw an almost infinitesimal relaxation beginning in the frown lines between her eyebrows, and a faint smile tugged at the corners of her lips. She reached up past her shoulder to pat her husband’s hand, and his fingers squeezed back; she turned her head, and the two of them exchanged a speaking look.
Dean struggled against a yawn, ambushed by post-fight lassitude and hating even the thought of moving. He saw the same reluctance on Sam’s face and in the long limbs gracelessly sprawled out and overflowing the loveseat where his brother had taken up residence, but when their glances crossed, Sam nodded and started to reassemble himself, setting his empty glass on the nearest table.
“Well, we should – ”
“Get up to the guest bedrooms,” Don finished firmly, standing up, then looked at Dean. “Unless you’d rather stay right where you are, if the sofa’s comfortable enough?”
“Your doctor prescribes a week of rest and home-cooked meals,” Amy added. “Neither of you is actually in any shape to drive, after all. And you seemed to indicate that you didn’t have any other pressing appointments at the moment?” She cocked an eyebrow in ironic question, still smiling, and Dean turned that same eyebrow curve on his brother in a shameless plea. He grinned when Sam shook his head in reluctantly smiling surrender and stood up.
“I guess we don’t,” he said. “For a couple days, anyway. We need to look for our next job and figure out where we’re going, and we can do that as well here as anywhere, I guess.”
“Better,” Don chuckled. “Free high speed wireless internet, don’t forget – now that the ghosts won’t be screwing it up any more.”
Amy collected the empty glasses and smiled down at Dean, who hadn’t stirred.
“Blanket and a pillow, or would you prefer a bed?”
“I’m good,” he promised, and she laughed.
“You will be.” Her glance took in both of them. “You’ll be rested before you go. We’ll restock that first aid kit of yours, and I’ll write prescriptions for what you’re missing. Some blanks, too, for when you need them.” At her side, Don nodded.
“We may not be hunters, but we can help. Maybe we can’t do what you do – but you can let us do what we can do. And whatever that is, it starts with beds and breakfast.”
“And lunch and supper.” Amy eyed her husband’s stitched and bandaged head critically. “You’re going to be on sick leave yourself for a few days, dear, with that cut; you can make yourself useful around here cooking.” She winked ostentatiously at the Winchesters. “Always helps to have a firehouse cook around to deal with big appetites.”
Unaccustomed warmth wrapped Dean like a blanket and he saw Sam duck his head, blushing, plainly embarrassed and uncomfortable with gratitude that touched and fondly teased and didn’t simply shrink in their rearview mirror. It felt strange to be staying in a no longer haunted house, strange not to be saying goodbye or just driving off without one. He could count on his fingers the number of places the Winchesters had stayed with those who knew their trade, and he realized with dull shock that all of them, up until just then, had been the homes of hunters; never of civilians. He heard his own voice in memory, arguing with Sam: Screw the job. I’m sick of the job. We don’t get paid. We don’t get thanked. Only thing we get’s bad luck. He heard Sam repeating one of Dad’s mantras: Our big family rule number one: we do what we do, and we shut up about it. And for the very first time, he found himself wondering how many Mitchells they’d missed out on: how many opportunities there had been to forge bonds with the non-hunting but enlightened world, bonds that could have helped stave off the dark, bonds with friends who might have helped at least with heart when things got bad. He thought about the people he and Sam and Dad had helped, the ones who hadn’t totally freaked, the ones they’d always left behind, and he wondered how they might react to a phone call, or an email, or a text.
He wondered what some of them might do if he said, Do me a favor, would you: look after Sam for me. Don’t leave him alone, when I’m gone.
“You may regret that,” he found himself saying, but the look on Don’s face made him grin. It was challenge and laughter and friendship; and it was as close as anyone could come to understanding.
“Come on, Sam; I’ll show you where the blankets and towels are,” Don said. Amy handed him half of the empty glasses in passing as the two men left, leaving her one hand free; she bent down and used that hand to cup Dean’s cheek as she kissed him lightly on the forehead.
“Sleep well, Dean. Breakfast will be whenever you wake.” She straightened up, but left her warm hand touching his cool skin. Her voice was as soft as her eyes were knowing, and he felt in her an echo of his mother.
“We owe you and Sam our lives, Dean. Whatever you need from us, it’s yours. Let us help.”
“You already have,” he said, and knew it for no more than the truth.
Sleep stole up on him even before Sam got back with the blankets.