Rating: PG-13 (mature themes)
Characters/Pairing: Sam/Ruby (don't mistake sex for love); memories of Dean
Words: ~12,000 (total story)
Disclaimers: These characters belong to Eric Kripke, Wonderland Sound and Vision, and Warner Brothers Television. No infringement is intended.
Warnings/Summary: As the days add up after Dean's death, Sam does his best to keep fighting -- and that means hunting with Ruby and his mind.
Copyright 2008, Bardicvoice
One hundred and twenty-two days.
His face looked gaunt in the bathroom mirror, the strain on it apparent even through the slowly fading fog of condensation from his shower. He didn’t want to meet his own eyes, but every morning he forced himself to look. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see there, but at least the images of his nightmares didn’t seem to show.
His nightmares were different now. He’d have preferred the old ones, the visions of Jess eviscerated and burning on the ceiling and of random evil killing seemingly random strangers. Instead, his dreams replayed Dean’s death in hideous detail, drawing out every second of his agonized screams and highlighting in slow motion every spurt of blood from shredded flesh. And they didn’t stop there. They went on into Hieronymus Bosch territory, inserting Dean’s face and body into Bosch’s grotesque paintings of the tortures of Hell, with rotoscoped animation by Ralph Bakshi. He saw Dean slowly flayed, impaled, gutted, raped, blinded, crushed, dismembered, castrated, burned, strangled, drowned – the methods weren’t infinite only because his imagination seemed to be on a continuous loop that just reran the same sequence from the beginning. This time around, he didn’t have the Trickster’s inventiveness to extend the variety.
As if the images themselves didn’t bother him enough, he was troubled by realizing that he hadn’t experienced them before, with Dad in Dean’s place. It had hit him about two weeks after Dean’s death that even after he’d learned about Dad’s deal, he’d never been plagued with imagining Dad in Hell the way he was now imagining Dean. Now, though, he wondered if Dean had: if part of what Dean had never shared after Dad had died was that he’d constantly been torturing himself by imagining Dad being tortured in Hell because of the deal he’d made for Dean’s life. Sam knew how that felt, now. It hurt more than he could say to think that Dean might have felt this way and said nothing of it, but looking back in memory, he could almost see those images buried in Dean’s haunted eyes, and he castigated himself for not having seen them then. Not that he could have done anything about it, but at least he should have known. And he felt obscurely guilty that he’d never really thought about Dad suffering – just about him being gone, being dead – until that moment in the Wyoming cemetery when he saw him proud and at peace with love in his eyes, until the moment that all that pain was gone and forgotten.
It’ll be gone for Dean, too.
The pledge was automatic. Even though he couldn’t put any conviction in it any more, it was the only thing that kept him putting one foot in front of the other. He would find a way to get Dean out of Hell. He’d failed to keep Dean from going there, but he was damned himself if he’d leave him there. He’d keep fighting. He’d pretty much given up believing that he could get Dean back alive – the image of his mangled body rotting in its coffin was another favorite of his nightmares – but he clung to the dream of seeing Dean, intact, smiling in light the same way they’d last seen Dad. Looking in the mirror, he finished his morning ritual the same way he always did, looking himself in the eye since he couldn’t look at Dean, touching the cord of Dean’s amulet around his neck, and renewing his promise.
I’m going to get you out, Dean. I swear. Whatever it takes.
He wiped off the last of the shaving cream, tossed the damp towel over the rod, and opened the bathroom door, to be met by Ruby brushing past him and elbowing him out of the way.
“I was starting to wonder if you were ever going to get out of there,” she complained, practically shutting the door on his ass. Her voice carried effortlessly through the cheap hollow pressed wood veneer. “When a girl’s gotta go, she’s gotta go.”
“If you were in such a hurry, why didn’t you just go somewhere else? Seems to me you demons can get anywhere you want to be just by snapping your fingers,” he countered, pulling on his jeans and grabbing a t-shirt.
“There are limits,” her voice came back. “And it takes effort. Always helps if we’re summoned; that takes care of the power boost, right there.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d have to go. Wasn’t the body dead when you moved in?”
“C’mon, for way less than a minute. Everything started right back up like a charm, just like on all those TV doctor shows. Except that it was me turning the heart key, not some machine.” The toilet flushed, and he heard water running in the sink. “As long as I’m in here, everything runs just fine, and I’ve been taking good care of it.” She pulled the door open and leered at him from behind the towel, running a hand seductively down her body from breast to thigh. “As you should know by now.”
He turned away, feeling queasy. The first time he’d taken Ruby, almost a month after Dean had died, it had been hard and fast and brutal, all rage and despair and hate aimed as much at himself as at her. Afterward, though – the second time had been born of grief and loneliness, sad and almost tender, and then she’d held him while he’d cried. It still felt wrong, but when the frustration and the nightmares and the grief got to be too much, he took the escape she offered. It was just a relief of a different kind. Sometimes, though, his skin still crawled when he remembered that no matter what Ruby looked or acted like, he was screwing a demon.
But that was still better than letting someone else, someone innocent and human, get close to him and get hurt.
“Take a shower and get dressed,” he said, shrugging into a cotton shirt that had seen better days. Hell, what hadn’t seen better days? And what did it matter, anyway? “We’ve got a long drive to Georgia.”
She closed the door again – as if that mattered in such a cheap place – and he heard the water start. He started shoving things into his duffel.
“So, what’s in Georgia?” she called.
In the beginning, Ruby had directed all the hunts, pointing him toward demons with whatever witchcraft or weird demon radar she used. After they’d escaped Lilith’s trap and he’d accepted his need for more practice before trying to take her on again, though, he’d finally gotten back into the game, trolling through internet news, obituaries, paranormal websites, and weather trackers in search of possible cases. As he’d begun picking targets, Ruby had backed off, following his lead instead. He had the sense that she was watching him, weighing his choices, but that as long as he was functioning and mostly sober, she was willing to give him at least the illusion of freedom and choice. Somehow, they still managed to run across more demons than he ever remembered encountering before. He wasn’t certain if that was simply due to more demons being out there, or if he’d begun developing some sensitivity of his own. Ruby gave him no hints on that score, and just continued to work with him on honing and strengthening his ability to pull demons out of their hosts.
“I don’t know, but whatever it is, I think it’s either on or following the S/V Denis Sullivan, a sailing cruise ship. There’s been freak weather from the St. Lawrence Seaway all down the Eastern seaboard for the past two weeks, and the reports match the schooner’s ports of call. It put in at Savannah last night, and it’s due to stay the next four days.”
“A demon on a sailing cruise – that’s a new one. Guess somebody’s enjoying being out of Hell.” The water shut off. “I can appreciate that.”
“So glad you approve,” he said dryly. He picked up his duffel and the laptop case and headed for the door. “I’m loading the car. Don’t take too long, or you’ll be doing the demon shuffle there on your own; it’s a nine-hour drive, and time’s a-wasting.” He didn’t wait to hear her comeback, but shouldered through the door into the parking lot. He never knew in advance whether she would join him or not. Sometimes she rode with him like the human she pretended to be; other times, she’d just disappear, and simply turn up waiting for him wherever it was they were going. He’d never discerned a pattern to her choices and he was never sure which he preferred. Being alone on the road just left him too much time for thinking, but looking over and seeing Ruby in the seat next to him never failed to bring the thought, Dean would hate having a demon in the car. At least he never let her drive.
The Impala waited for him under the early morning Virginia sun, the one and only constant in his life. He took care of her as best he could; he wasn’t Dean, but he’d learned. He’d kept her mostly as Dean had left her, even as the steady passage of time argued that Dean would never drive her again. She was the last bastion of his stubborn refusal to accept that Dean was gone. He never tried to impose order on the disorganized mess of the arsenal and the scatter of tools in her trunk, no matter how much the random jumble offended his sensibilities; the cheerful haphazardness was an echo of Dean. He vividly remembered having sorted it out rigidly when the Trickster had made him accept Dean’s death once before, and he adamantly refused to make that mistake again. Instead, he let the fleeting irritation of old arguments on organization warm his memories every time he opened the messy trunk, no matter how wrong it felt to heave in only one duffel.
He slid into the driver’s seat, but didn’t key the ignition. The white iPod gleaming in its jack on the dashboard was glaringly obvious, still incongruously out of place even after nearly two months. It marked his only change to the car, and he excused it to Dean’s imagined protest as necessary self-defense. When he’d driven away from Bobby at Dean’s grave, the oppression of lonely silence had prompted him to turn on the tape deck, only to ambush him with Dean’s music. He’d felt the songs’ accusation of his failure so acutely that he’d pulled off the road, staggered out of the car, and thrown up. He’d bundled Dean’s tapes into his leather jacket and buried them in the trunk, only to learn that the radio was no safer. There were emotional minefields lurking in the airwaves, and he’d nearly put his hand clean through the dash trying to punch off the radio when some random rock station played Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” After that, he’d bought the iPod and carefully loaded it only with things that Dean would never have listened to. Safe things that wouldn’t evoke memories of Dean alive and grinning, singing loudly and happily off-key, poking him to join in.
He closed his eyes against the burn, waiting for the latest memory to subside. They still came out of nowhere with no warning, stirred by a sound or a smell or an image or a thought, and overwhelmed him with grief. No matter what people said about time healing all wounds, he didn’t think anything would heal Dean’s absence, not given the certain knowledge that he was suffering in Hell. He couldn’t lie to himself with the comforting thought that Dean had gone to a better place when he knew that the opposite was true, and that Dean had gone there because of him. He endured the memories as his own form of punishment.
The passenger door creaked open and Ruby bounced onto the seat and slammed the door, tossing her small backpack into the back seat.
“You still here? I thought you were in a hurry.”
Irritation flashed, ironically wiping away the deeper pain, and he turned the key, momentarily amused at the thought of being grateful to a demon for pissing him off. He left it unspoken and just headed for the highway, putting it in the rearview right along with the irony of leaving Winchester, Virginia. He turned on the iPod to be spared the necessity of conversation, and relaxed into the drive.
Or tried to, anyway.
“This one almost got away from you, you know,” Ruby said, her tone deliberately casual. “You need to stop hesitating and just pull them straight out.”
“I pulled him,” he snapped. “It worked.”
“But not before he got to you.” She hesitated – he heard her take a breath – and then continued. “You need to stop asking, Sam. They’re not going to tell you anything about Dean that you really want to hear. Most of them wouldn’t know anything, anyway. Anything they say is going to have just one purpose: to hurt you, make you falter. You can’t give them that chance. All they’ll do is lie.”
The great Dean Winchester ... He begged. All hung up on hooks like a side of beef. He cried and he pleaded and he begged. When I got my turn, I buggered him with a knife, and he screamed and screamed and…
“I pulled him.” His tone was flat, a warning she ignored.
“And how bad was the headache? You nearly passed out from the pain, and the bleeding was the worst it’s ever been. You’ve got to let it go.”
The road blurred in front of his eyes, and he shook his head hard to clear it.
“I can’t. If I’m not angry, it doesn’t work.”
“That’s not the problem. Wrath is good. Anger makes you strong. So does hate. But grief? Guilt? Pain? Fear? Those things make you weak. They make you fight yourself. They make you uncertain. They make you doubt. That’s why you hurt. You’ve got so much more power than you’ve ever been able to use, and it’s all because you’re holding yourself back. You’ve got to let go.” She let the words hang for a moment, and then played the trump card. “If you’re ever going to take on Lilith head-to-head and win, you’ve got to let it go. Just use the power; don’t agonize over it. Don’t waste effort on things you can’t change, on things that don’t matter.”
“Dean matters!” His fury transferred to the car; he felt the surge as his foot mashed the pedal down, and he yanked the wheel to swerve the car past other traffic suddenly moving too slowly for his rage. In the engine’s sudden snarl he heard Dean chiding: Hey, hey – don’t take it out on my baby. You promised to take care of my wheels, remember? He eased off the pedal a bit, and the engine settled back to its steady throb. “Dean matters,” he repeated softly.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I didn’t mean to suggest that he didn’t.” He could hear the caution in her tone, the careful deliberation in her choice of words. Since she’d come back, she’d learned to tread lightly around Dean’s name and used it sparingly. “But you can’t keep torturing yourself like this. You’re doing the demons’ jobs for them. Be angry – fine. Be vengeful – fine. But don’t think too much. Don’t feel too much. And don’t ask demons about Dean.”
He kept his focus on the road and didn’t look at her, but the question he hadn’t yet asked burned its way out anyway.
“Not even you? Did you see him, while you were back in Hell?”
She sucked in a breath, and he counted the beats when she exhaled. The tension thrummed like an over-tightened guitar string, and he waited for it to snap or subside.
“Sam, I swear – I didn’t see him. Wherever Lilith sent me, he wasn’t there. I swear.”
“Would you tell me if he was?” he asked bitterly.
“If it would make you focus!” she snapped back. “Hell’s a big place, Sam. I was there for centuries and never saw a fraction of it. This last time? Lilith had her fun with me, and that was all. Wherever Dean wound up, I haven’t a clue. And that’s the truth.” The passion in her voice didn’t mean anything; he knew from experience – both his and Dean’s – that she could lie with conviction. But there was a weary edge to it that sounded defeated and real. “I don’t know what Hell is, for Dean. I don’t know where in Hell he is. But whatever you’re thinking? It’s worse. Hell isn’t limited by the human imagination. So you trying to imagine what he’s going through, or listening to demons tell you what they want you to hear – none of it means a thing. Not to him. All it does is work against you.”
He had no answer for that. The highway ran under the Impala’s wheels, smooth and boring; there wasn’t a lot of traffic on I-81, out away from the occasional city. Dean would have cranked the window down and the music up; he left them both alone.
The miles ran in virtual silence for a while, just engine noise and meaningless songs that made no more impression than elevator Muzak. Ruby carefully didn’t look at him and he kept the same distance, trying not to think, until she finally cleared her throat.
“So – this case, Sam. This – sailing ship? C’mon, tell me about it.”
Tell me about the psychotic killer. C’mon, Sam – tell me about the psychotic killer. He swallowed against the memory of Dean using the same tone and the same gambit to break away from an argument, and then slammed the door on the thought, throwing himself back into the details of the hunt for distraction.
“The Denis Sullivan is a reproduction of a nineteenth century Great Lakes cargo schooner. Spends the summer sailing out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and then goes through the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic to spend the winter down in Florida and the Caribbean. It’s not your standard cruise ship; it’s a teaching vessel, history, oceanography, seamanship. Sleeps twenty-eight: ten crew, up to eighteen students and teachers.”
“Doesn’t sound like a demon’s playground,” she said doubtfully.
“You wouldn’t think so. But they hit weird weather off the Bay of Fundy and it’s tracked their course all down the East Coast. Most storms run west to east, or come up from the southeast in hurricane season; whatever they’re dealing with, it isn’t natural.”
“So – demon?”
“Or cursed object, maybe. The ship has an authentic nineteenth century deck, but it’s twenty-first century all the way in communications technology; they post a blog report from the cruise every few days. According to the blog, they visited an old wreck near the bay and did some diving just before the weather blew up. I’m thinking they brought up something.”
“And depending on what it is, it either has its own power, or it’s attracted the attention of something else,” Ruby finished. “Nasty.”
“Wherever they put into port, they offer ship tours, and sometimes short cruises. I figure it should be easy enough to get on board. The ship is publicity-friendly; we’ll be reporters.” He snorted. “Hell – we can even ask about the freak weather as our hook for the story.”
It was raining when they reached Savannah. He’d pushed the drive, although not as hard as Dean would have, so it was just after four when they’d pulled into a little motel on the outskirts of the city just long enough to grab a quick shower and change of clothes. It was still short of five when he parked the Impala on East Bay Lane, a few blocks up from the scenic riverfront. The gray-green color of the overcast sky made it look later and turned the famously pretty historic district of the Southern city into a gloomy, foreboding Victorian painting.
Her three tall masts made the S/V Denis Sullivan easy to spot. The ship was tied up near the Riverfront Marriott, east of the ferry docks, right beside the deserted Riverwalk. Her deep green hull and oak deck gleamed darkly with the unseasonably cold rain that had driven off the usual tourists. The deck was empty and the gangway was roped off, and he hunched his shoulders, feeling faintly ridiculous as he glanced across at Ruby and raised his voice.
“Uh, ahoy the ship? Denis Sullivan?”
He wasn’t expecting the blonde head that popped out from the deckhouse. Somehow, the majestic, historical tall ship didn’t match a pert, cheerful twenty-something woman smaller than Ruby, shrugging into a yellow rain slicker.
“Sorry – wasn’t expecting visitors in this weather. How can I help you?”
“We freelance for Savannah Magazine – I’m Allen Collins, and this is Billie Powell. We’re thinking of doing a feature on your visit. May we come aboard?”
“You’re welcome, but no one’s here at the moment. The ship’s company was invited to dinner tonight at the Ships of the Sea Museum.” She grinned and unhooked the gangway chain, opening their way aboard. “I drew the short straw and got the watch. Terry Donovan, deckhand.” Her small hand was strong and calloused in his, evidence of experience with lines and sails. “I’d be glad to give you the tour, if you’d like. If you need interviews, we might be able to set something up for tomorrow, or the day after.”
“That would be great. And maybe the weather would be better for pictures.”
“It’s been filthy the whole trip, ever since we passed Nova Scotia. I sailed the transit last year, and it was beautiful. Go figure.” She guided them into the deckhouse, where all resemblance to an historic vessel promptly disappeared in the accoutrements of a modern lab and classroom, with a traditional chart table beside a state-of-the-art electronic navigation station. She grinned at their obvious surprise.
“Takes everyone that way. Wait until you see below decks: most people don’t even have to duck. We’ve got six feet, four inches of headroom down below, something you’d never have seen on a real schooner of the day. She’s also lot heavier and with a deeper draft, which makes her more stable than most. Comes in handy when the seas get rough.” She chattered amiably as she showed them the captain’s quarters and the head, and then guided them through the companionway to the below deck area, with its three main compartments and very snug, cubbyhole-style berths built into the walls and hidden behind white cotton curtains. Sam obligingly took pictures. They finished up in the large aft compartment, where she treated them to coffee from the galley.
“It will take daylight and preferably sunlight to show off the deck,” she finished. “Besides all the rigging, we’ve got our tender and ROV stored topside, near the winch.” The blank looks on their faces made her laugh and backtrack. “Sorry, I forget English sometimes. The tender is our small maintenance and rescue boat. The ROV is our underwater remotely operated vehicle, the robot we send on dives.”
“You do that a lot?”
“Well, we are a research ship. We take a lot of underwater samples, and sometimes we investigate wrecks. We had a bit of excitement with that this trip, just before the weather turned ugly. That’s why we got the dinner invitation to the museum tonight. We brought along some artifacts from a dive off St. Paul Island, to get help authenticating them. We think we found the Mette Margrethe, a barque out of Sauwig, Norway. The records show she caught fire in a fog and sank in 1881. Five men died, and that’s pretty much all we know.”
“What kind of artifacts?” Ruby asked, the edge in her voice betraying her eagerness. He shot her a look, but Donovan just chuckled.
“Not gold doubloons, if that’s what you’re thinking! We brought up some broken pottery, but the really interesting piece was a small lead and iron box with a silver goblet and ring inside. We took pictures; hang on a sec.” She stretched across the table to snag the notebook computer lying there and powered it up. “We haven’t had the chance to post them to the online log yet, but – here.” She turned the screen so they could see, and tapped the key to toggle through a series of images. Each photo included either a gloved hand or a ruler to provide scale, showing first a rough-textured, pebbled black box about twelve inches long and eight inches wide and deep, and then a goblet about eight inches high, with a four-inch bowl. The metal of the cup was a good quarter-inch thick with a deeply carved, almost crude design of two ravens, each one covering half of the outside of the bowl. The birds were nearly black with tarnish, with only a few bright silver highlights showing, but the inside of the bowl gleamed brightly. Each bird had a single glittering dark ruby or garnet eye. The heavy ring bore the same double raven design in miniature, and displayed the same bold, primitively brutal workmanship.
“Beautiful, aren’t they? They look Norse – after all, ravens are Odin’s birds – but we definitely wanted more scholars to take a look. As you can see, there wasn’t much left of the ship – ” The dark underwater photo on the screen wasn’t anything that he could even remotely identify, seeming just to depict two spot-lit irregular wooden slabs lying on edge in mud, and Donovan spread an apologetic hand. “The cold water that far north preserves wrecks pretty well – they last a lot longer up there than in the Caribbean! – but since she evidently burned before she sank, there wasn’t much to go on. And since there have been something on the order of ten thousand wrecks off Nova Scotia, pinning it down to a single ship is a bit of a challenge.” She grinned. “Still, we know where we’d put our bets.”
“Could we have copies of those photos?” he asked.
“Sure. I’ll burn them to CD right now, if you’ve got a minute. We’ll get them up on the web in a day or two, before we leave port, anyway. I’m hoping that the museum folks might be able to come up with more info on the artifacts in a few weeks or months, see if there’s anything that would establish the identity of the ship.”
“Who gets to keep them?” he asked.
“Not us, more’s the pity! They’ll stay here at the museum for a while, at least. If their provenance is established, who knows? The Norwegian government may want them. My bet would be they’ll eventually go on display at a maritime museum somewhere, whether this one or the one in Nova Scotia. Or Norway!” She popped out the CD, tucked it into a sleeve, and handed it to him with a flourish. He found himself thinking that her attitude was proof that at least the cup and ring weren’t cursed to make people covet them.
“Thanks for all your help,” he said. He could see Ruby already itching to follow the goblet and the ring, but he kept to the form of their cover. “We’ll talk to our editor, see if she’s interested in a story. If she is, we’ll be back for the deck visit and more interviews.”
“We’re always happy to oblige,” Donovan said cheerfully. “Just hail the ship. We sail early on Thursday, though, so step lively.” She opened the companionway door, then winced and pulled up the hood of her slicker against the rain. “And pray for better weather!”
The sidewalks were still deserted as they crossed the gangway and started back to the car. Ruby wasted no time.
“We’ve either got to get those things back in their curse box or find a way to destroy them,” she said.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Sam snapped back, then took a breath and forced himself to organize his thoughts. “We’ll need to case the museum, figure out the alarm system, and deal with it. And be ready to be the number one suspects when the damned things disappear.” The sinking feeling in his stomach was all too familiar, and this time he didn’t have Dean’s manic enthusiasm for a challenge to counteract it. There was just too much that could go wrong in stealing things, and he had no desire to see the inside of a jail again.
“It’s a fair bet the museum will be closed tomorrow, so we won’t be able to visit it then.” At Ruby’s interrogative look, he shrugged. “Every place we’ve ever been in Georgia, Monday was always the day tourist things were closed. So, we’ll try to find plans to the building, see what we can learn. Then case it during the day on Tuesday, and go in Tuesday night.”
“Unless those things being out of their box and in one place means that all hell breaks loose sooner,” Ruby observed, and Sam snorted.
“Yeah. Well, every silver lining has a cloud.”
One hundred and twenty-three days.
Monday was as dead as he had feared, but more productive than he’d hoped. First and foremost, the rain stopped Sunday night while he and Ruby were walking casually around the block dominated by the elegant cream-colored 1819 mansion that housed the museum, and the atmosphere seemed to lighten up despite the darkness of the night. His best guess was that the goblet and ring had been put back in their iron and lead shielded box, which at least would likely buy them time.
The sign outside the museum grounds showed public hours Tuesday through Sunday from ten until five. Ruby stuck out her tongue when he pointed to the words and raised an eyebrow, but refrained from any verbal sallies. They strolled like casual, gawking tourists around the entire complex, following the fig-covered wall of the mansion garden and peering through the gates, admiring the profusion of flowers and the brick pathways revealed by the garden’s artistic illumination. From the sound of things, there was a private party going on under the white tent in the central garden – undoubtedly the museum’s celebration for the Denis Sullivan crew – but he wouldn’t have tried conning their way in even if there hadn’t been a uniformed cop on site obviously moonlighting as a security guard. There were subtle cameras on the walls positioned to catch not only the sidewalk and the pathways, but glimpses of the street as well. He was glad he’d left the Impala parked a few blocks away; the car was too memorable.
Collecting the car, they drove back to the motel, and he hit the internet. The museum was obliging enough to have posted a virtual tour, although it left off all the non-public areas he really wanted to see. He also found that, although the museum wasn’t ordinarily considered a research facility, it had a renowned authority on nineteenth century maritime trade as a guest scholar in residence for six months, which helped explain why the Denis Sullivan had brought its find here. Not that the guy was likely to realize that he had something supernatural on his hands.
When his books, the internet, and Dad’s journal all turned up empty on anything even remotely relevant to the cup, the ring, and the evident curse box, he toyed with the idea of calling Bobby, but shut it down nearly as fast as the thought occurred. Bobby would want to know too much. He’d sniff out Ruby in an instant, and it would be a short road from that to sussing out that he’d been using his powers. He wasn’t ready for that. Not yet. Seeing judgment in Bobby’s eyes would be too much to bear.
Just like seeing it in Dean’s.
He flipped back to Norse mythology, but found nothing beyond what he already remembered: Odin sacrificing an eye for wisdom and prophetic knowledge, being attended by ravens of thought and memory, bringing fury and victory in war, doing magic despite its female connotations, being slain by the wolf Fenris at Ragnarök. None of it gave him any better handle on how a cup and a ring could bring storms, or how their power could be dispelled. Hell, the whole reason for building a curse box was usually to contain dangerous magic you didn’t know how to destroy without potentially blowing yourself up in the process, or thought you might need to hold in reserve as a doomsday weapon of your own.
He’d never forget that damned rabbit’s foot. Sure, Bobby’d found a workable ritual in time, but he definitely hadn’t known about it when Dad had first acquired the thing and asked him to build the curse box to hold it. He didn’t really believe that either Bobby or Dad had ever intended to use the foot as a weapon – although it had worked pretty well when Dean had tricked Bela into touching it. A wry smile tugged at his mouth, and he shook his head to try shaking his thoughts back into order.
Memories wouldn’t change the present.
He and Ruby got another look at the museum in daylight. With the gates locked, they couldn’t get close enough to give him a look at the security system, but it seemed pretty clear that the place didn’t bother with human guards during off-hours. The next stop was the Savannah Research Library and Municipal Archives, where earnest politeness, fake credentials, and a lot of sweet talking gained access to historical information on the Scarbrough House, the mansion restored to become the museum, including the renovation plans approved in the 1990’s by the Historic District Board of Review. The plans didn’t include the security measures, but long experience left him reasonably confident about what he’d be likely to find where. The museum wasn’t a high-risk target. It had very few really intrinsically valuable items like gold or jewels in its collection, focusing more on ship models and paintings, tools, logbooks, records, and ordinary artifacts of the shipping life, so he bet that the security system would be relatively simple, relying on cameras and electric eyes rather than elaborate motion or infrared sensors.
As usual, Ruby disappeared during the library visit. The nuts and bolts of case investigation bored her every bit as much as they’d always bored Dean. Oh, Dean would have been all over the building plans themselves, gleefully plotting the break-in, but he’d have found the process of unearthing them tedious in the extreme, and he wouldn’t have hesitated to say so. His own mind supplied the snarky comments that Dean wasn’t around to deliver, filling up the silence with echoes of Dean’s voice. Wouldn’t mind investigating that rack accompanied the passage of a well-built, forty-something brunette clerk with an indulgent smile, and the groaning Oh, God – not another stack greeted the delivery of four more record books. He almost turned to hush him, before remembering that the voice was only in his mind.
Would always be in his mind.
Ruby sauntered up to him as he left the library building in mid-afternoon sunshine, when public hours ended.
“Get what you need?” she asked, and he nodded.
“Enough, I think.”
“Good.” She put her arm through his and pressed close against his side, making them the image of a tourist couple, leaning in the direction she wanted them to go. “You were geeking out all through lunch, and I’m starving.”
He hadn’t noticed, but her words made his stomach growl and he gave in with poor grace, letting her pull him toward whatever restaurant she’d picked to assuage her customary craving for french fries. She smelled sourly of cigarettes and booze, and he pulled away for fresher air.
“Where’ve you been?”
“Around.” At his irritated snort, she yanked on his arm to reclaim his attention. “I was checking out the demonic neighborhood, okay? There’s nothing shaking, here; I don’t think there’s another demon for miles around. Whatever’s going on with the cup and the ring, it hasn’t set off any echoes in Hell, anyway. Some things are like beacons, but this isn’t one of them.”
He couldn’t figure out how to respond, being equally torn between too bad and good thing. Not having to keep one eye over his shoulder for outside interference would be a relief, but it was always nice when cocky demons came after him just begging to be taken off the board instead of making him hunt them down. Now that he knew what he was doing, if too many days went by without the challenge and adrenaline rush of a mental exorcism, he got itchy and impatient like a gunslinger looking for a fight. At least when he went up against a demon he was doing something, even if it wasn’t the one thing he most wanted. And when the host survived – that just helped make the whole day worthwhile. Saving people, hunting things – that was the family business, right? It’s all that Dean had wanted, and he was starting to understand the attraction. All the anger, all the hate – it was a relief to turn it loose, to unleash it on another bastard out of Hell. The righteous satisfaction never lasted long – he never forgot Dean, never – but at least it sometimes let him sleep without dreams.
Unless the demon got in a few choice verbal shots before it got evicted. He screamed and screamed and ...
Maybe Ruby had a point.
After eating, they went back to the motel, and he spent a couple of hours cleaning weapons and choosing the tools he thought they might need the following night while Ruby flipped through the television channels, still fascinated by the diversions technology offered. He set up the printer and ginned up business cards for his reporter alias, and then learned his way around the Savannah Magazine website, memorizing names and looking at past stories to get a feel for what would sound authentic. He was amused to discover that Savannah tour companies offered “ghost rides” in romantic horse-drawn carriages, showing off the historic locations of reputed hauntings, and idly wondered what he’d turn up if he took one. When his eyes started to cross from fatigue, he closed the laptop, brushed his teeth, and went to bed, just turning his back on Ruby. He could almost pretend that it was Dean sprawled on the other bed, except that Dean would never have chosen to watch some idiot sitcom. Well, unless it had cute chicks – in which case he’d still have turned the volume down and just appreciated the view. Still, the thought made him smile, and that was the image he carried into sleep.
Continued in Part Two ...
Author Note: For the purpose of the timeline in this story, since the episode itself didn't give us a date, I assumed that Dean died on May 15, 2008, the night that No Rest For the Wicked aired.
All my fanfic is also up on ff.net: if you'd rather read it there all in one go, you'll find it in Keep Fighting.