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13 August 2009 @ 02:10 pm
Not An Ounce of Peace  
Part One

*

Dean blinked and rolled over, the cheap motel sheets scratchy against his chest. It was still dark, too early to be awake. He instinctively reached his hand under his pillow, checking for his knife, in case something had woken him up. The room was silent, though, except for Sam’s rhythmic breathing and the noise of Interstate 40 outside.

Sighing and leaning back against the sagging old mattress, cataloging his muscles and his thoughts, Dean tried to remember what woke him up. Normally, he slept straight through the night, unless something happened. Sleeping when they could - when there was a roof over their heads and salt lines at the doors and windows - wasn’t just a habit, but a survival skill. If they could sleep now, they needed to take what they could get; their next gig might be a nighttime thing, might be chasing a chupacabra through the desert for three days, might be hunting up witnesses by day and digging up bones at night.

It could have been a dream, Dean thought. Normally bad dreams were Sam’s department, but ever since - ever since waking up in that grave in Illinois, Dean had been plagued by nightmares that were only worse when he was startled awake because he knew they were real. He had done those things; he had hurt and tortured and killed. He was everything he had ever hated. Pushing those thoughts aside, Dean closed his eyes and tried to remember. It would be better to remember in the safety of a bed, with Sam’s breathing a soothing sound in his ears, than to be scared out of his wits on the highway in the morning.

It was Sam, he remembered, although that wasn’t unusual. Alastair had loved to dangle visions of Sam in front of him, to give Sammy’s face to his torturers. And his other dreams, the strange ones he’d been having, they had all had Sam in them, too. Dean twisted his neck, stretching the muscles in his neck and shoulders. This memory, this dream, though, didn’t feel like Hell. It wasn’t as frightening or as painful. Sam was there, but it was only Sammy and he wasn’t hurting him or screaming or crying. He was… he was looking at Dean the way he used to, like Dean was everything, like Dean was Batman and Superman and his own personal guardian angel all rolled up into one. He was holding onto Dean, watching Dean, touching Dean.

Dean shot up in bed as though someone had electrocuted him. It took a moment for him to steady his breathing back to something approaching normal. He was tempted to cross himself, just for the effect of it, but he really didn’t think it would make much of a difference. He looked over to the other bed, to Sam’s sleeping body, all cocooned in the blankets like they could protect him from the world. He had never thought of him like that before, Dean told himself. He had never ever wanted to touch Sam like that, never wanted Sam to touch him. He had never wanted to hurt Sam, had never ever tried to do anything like that to Sam, not when they were kids, not when he’d rescued Sam from the fire in Palo Alto, not when Sam had died.

He bit his lip to keep in his broken breath. He wouldn’t. He didn’t really want to do that. Not really. It was - a side effect of hell or something. He just wanted something to remember other than the lies the demons had given him, besides the hallucinations he’d had. He wanted something to have other than his baby brother with demon eyes, other than his brother killing him slowly. That was all. And he would never do that. Not really.

Dean lay back down in bed, pulling the blanket back up over his shoulder and curling on his side so that he couldn’t see Sam. He didn’t even bother to close his eyes. He wouldn’t be sleeping again that night. He could only hope that their next case would let them sleep, wherever they were.

*

Dean stifled a moan as he swallowed the steaming, bitter coffee in the diner in Topeka. He knew that Sam had thought it was weird, that Dean had been awake and waiting with breakfast shortly after dawn. He hadn’t been able to sleep after those dreams the night before and tossing and turning in the thin motel blankets only took him so far. He’d been careful to be quiet until dawn, but then he took off to get food and coffee. By the time Sam woke up, Dean was itching to get on the road.

Sam knew something was up. He hadn’t bitched at all, not even when Dean put on Led Zeppelin IV and broke the speed limit all along Route 169. As they passed into Kansas, he tried to ask if something was wrong, if Dean had talked to one of the angels, but Dean just turned up the volume and pretended Sam hadn’t said anything. The morning had been one long run of Robert Plant’s wails and highway scrub. Eventually, Sam had just pulled out Brodbeck’s dusty book from his duffel and read it, instead of eying Dean’s white knuckles with big eyes and silence.

Dean still felt confused. He should have been nauseous, sickened, but he wasn’t and that might have bothered him more than the dreams themselves did. He should be bothered, should be disturbed, should want to keep himself as far away from Sam as possible. His mind, however, kept slipping back to the dream, remembering the comfort of Sam really seeing him again and without the disdain. Dean ground his teeth and when he saw the sign that said the roadside diner had free wi-fi, he had taken the exit.

Sam poked at his chicken salad sandwich and finally put his book and the amulet down on the table next to his plate. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“What are you talking about?” Dean gripped his coffee mug tightly in his right hand.

Sam rolled his eyes and scowled. “Don’t pull this, Dean. I woke up this morning and you were staring at me and sharpening your knives. It’s more than a little creepy. And you haven’t said anything all day. What the hell is going on?”

Dean scowled at him. “I don’t ask your secrets.”

“You don’t?” Sam laughed, but it was bitter and his eyes stayed serious, stayed trained on Dean.

Remembering their fight on the road to Carthage, Dean frowned and gulped down more coffee. He might have pressed Sam, needed to know what was going on, needed to know if his baby brother had gone dark side while he’d been six feet under, but this was different. Dean had gone dark side. Dean had done the unthinkable in Hell; he had become everything he had ever hated, everything he had been raised to kill. If he were someone else, he would hunt himself. Sam didn’t need to worry for Dean; he needed to worry about Dean tainting him.

“Dean.”

Dean looked up from his coffee. Sam’s face was a portrait of concern, looking even more worried, even more focused on Dean than he had since Dean had died. His hair flopped in his face in that way that had always driven Dad nuts, but was something that Dean knew as quintessentially Sammy. None of the demons in the Pit had ever been able to replicate it quite right and there was something comforting in seeing it again.

“It can’t possibly be that bad.” Sam was so earnest, cared so much; his tone reminded Dean of that first year on the road after Dean pulled Sam from that fire in Palo Alto.

“What have you figured out about the pendant?” Dean asked abruptly, nodding at the book and amulet by Sam’s plate.

Sam sighed, but picked up the piece. “As far as I can tell, it’s Enochian, maybe English originally. According to Brodbeck’s book, it’s some kind of pewter alloy, but the research is slow going.”

Dean made a face and stole one of Sam’s sweet potato fries. “Enochian? That’s not usually that useful.”

“Not in our line of work,” Sam said, pouring more ketchup over the fries. “But if angels are real, I don’t see why it couldn’t work.”

“What’s it for anyway?” Dean reached over the table and picked up the amulet. It was far heavier than it looked and deeply engraved with charts and letters and numbers on both sides and along the outer edges. It looked more like a geometry equation than a piece of powerful magic.

“I can’t tell,” Sam admitted, sounding frustrated. “It’s pewter, which doesn’t help anything at all. Alloys don’t have distinct associations. Aaron said that Leland wanted me to have it and I trust him, but -” Sam let out a discontented growling noise that told Dean he was coming to the end of his rope with the research.

“You trust him?”

“He’s a psychic, a real one,” Sam explained. “He runs a shop out in Maryland and was helpful when I ran into him. He said that he would be sending something important my way, that I would need to trust him if things were going to go well at all.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Dean cautioned, not liking the idea of Sam being at the whim of a stranger’s magic.

Sam shook his head, as though Dean couldn’t understand. He took a final bite of his sandwich and shoved the plate at Dean. Dean frowned, the fries unappealing now that they were offered and waved over the waitress, feeling the need to get back on the road. He felt totally off balance, like he’d woken up that morning and seen fish flying in the sky, and the only thing that could help would be his baby, the road, his music, and Sam in the seat beside him.

*

“What the Hell are we doing tromping through a swamp in the middle of the night in the dead of winter?” Dean bitched, knowing the answer as well as Sam did. He shuddered as he slowly waded through the knee deep, icy cold water. It would have been better - safer - to stay on dry land, but the night was overcast and dark as pitch. But they wouldn’t have been able to see or do anything if they’d stayed on the safe, snowy bank.

“You know why we’re here,” Sam said in that way he had when they were hunting now. Something had changed in the time Dean had been gone, had been burning. Something had changed for Sam or in Sam and Dean wasn’t dumb enough to ask questions about it. If all of this shit with Hell and angels and demons and God and Lucifer had taught him anything, it was that questions led to more problems than they solved. “We’re not going to just let more people die because we don’t want to go into cold water at night. And it isn’t a swamp, anyway, it’s just a flooded river.”

“Fucking lorelei,” Dean muttered. Just let more people die, he thought. That’s cozy.

“We don’t know that it’s a lorelei,” Sam pointed out. He paused in the water, pulling his coat tighter around his body as though it could protect him from the icy water around his legs.

“It’s luring people out to their watery deaths in a mostly frozen river and people in town have been hearing violin music - beautiful violin music, I might add - at night. If that isn’t classic lorelei pattern, Sam, I don’t know what is.” Dean froze under a low hanging branch by an outcropping of the bank when he heard a splash of water further out in the river. “If that’s a hot chick, don’t go chasing her.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Sam muttered under his breath as he swung the beam of the flashlight out toward the sounds of the splashing.

In the yellow, electric glow of the flashlight, the dark river water turned a murky and deadly looking brown-green. Further from the shore, there were thin patches of ice, broken up by stretches of choppy water. Sam swung the flashlight in a slow arc, looking for the source of the splashing.

“Well, that’s not a lorelei,” Sam said, when the flashlight revealed a miniature horse struggling to swim to shore.

“Water horse, then?” Dean asked, cocking his gun.

“Or it could be entirely unrelated,” Sam told him. “There are a couple of farms on the other side of the river and at least one has miniature horses. Wait on the property damage until it does something.”

“It’s coming at us,” Dean said, not taking his eyes off of the pale animal. “This whole thing would be easier if we just shot it.”

“And then we can get shot for killing some farmer’s escaped animal? That he’s out here looking for? No thanks.”

“It’s been killing people and we need to kill it.”

“Dean, it’s not doing anything!” Sam protested. “Wouldn’t it have done something by now?”

“You found my Goldilocks!”

Sam spun around to see a harried looking man standing on the river bank. He was bundled up in a barn jacket and heavy pants. Sam eyed Dean and he lowered his gun. “Goldilocks?”

The man shrugged. “My daughter named her; I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.”

“So she’s your horse?” Sam asked.

“She’s been missing since this afternoon. I have no idea why she would have come down to the river,” the man told Sam. “Could you help me get her out of the water?” He began to climb down the bank and into the water.

Sam waited for the man and then began making his way toward the horse with him. However, before the reached the horse, when they were waist deep in the numbing river water, the man reached out a gloved hand to grab Sam’s. Sam didn’t even notice until the man had grabbed him and then started pulling him deeper into the river, away from the horse.

“Sam!” Dean shouted.

Sam didn’t react to Dean’s voice at all, only following the stranger deeper into the water.

“Damn it, Sam, move!” Dean tried to aim so that Sam wouldn’t get hit, but the stranger, the goddamn nix, was clever, keeping Sam between himself and Dean.

The nix continued to pull Sam deeper and deeper into the icy river and Dean could see Sam shivering, even as he was entranced by the nix. Dean began to curse under his breath, following them into the river and trying to remember what could break a nix’s spell other than iron.

“Sam! Damn it. Fuck… Nix! Nacken! Fosse-Grim!” Dean shouted, already waist deep in the water.

The nix dropped Sam’s hand suddenly and Sam pulled back, giving Dean a clear shot. Dean slammed three rounds into it and reached forward to grab Sam. “Sam! Sammy!”

Sam’s hand was almost as cold as the river water when Dean grabbed it. When he began to pull him into shallower water, Dean realised that Sam’s skin was clammy, cold, and white and his teeth were chattering uncontrollably. Dean did his best to pull Sam onto the bank as quickly as possible, but it was slow moving in the water and even the ground had a layer of ice and snow on it. When they got there, he wrapped Sam in his mostly dry jacket, but it wasn’t likely to help much. Dean knew the signs of hypothermia; Sam probably needed a hospital.

“Sam, Sam, come on, you need to work with me here,” Dean told him, trying to pull him up. “I can’t just carry you to the Impala. You need to help me, come on, we’re gonna get you warm. It’s not that far, come on.”

*

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Dean stared at Sam’s still body in the hospital bed. It wasn’t like when they were kids and Sam was tiny and alone and scared. They barely made hospital beds big enough for Sam now. No, these days it was Dean who was tiny and alone and scared. Some big brother he turned out to be.

“He’s doing well.” The nurse had big, liquid brown eyes and tits that should have just been begging for attention, but somehow Dean couldn’t bring himself to care and damn, if that just didn’t show how fucked he was. “You’ve been here all night. Go, find something to eat. The vending machines should be fixed by now.”

“Fixed?”

“They’ve been down for a couple of days,” the nurse said, pursing her lips prettily. “Dr. Cooley’s been ready to kill someone for a candy bar since they went down. One of the nurses called the repair company yesterday before he actually did kill one of us.”

Dean smiled weakly at her. “If they’re working again, I’ll bring you back a Kit-Kat bar.”

“I won’t say no. If you take a left once you get past the nurse’s station, the machines are at the end of the hall.” She smiled gently when Dean turned to look at Sam again. “I’ll keep an eye on him. You’ll be no good to him if you’ve got no food in you.”

Dean sighed, not wanting to leave Sam’s side, not after almost losing him again, but he couldn’t argue with the hollow gnawing in his gut. He doubted that a Snickers bar would really help all that much, but eventually someone would have heard the rumbling and groaning. The hospital, despite being well lit, was a bit eerie at five o’clock in the morning and Dean regretted that he’d been forced to leave his gun in the Impala, but Sam had been more important than being armed. A patient, somewhere on the hall, let out a strangled yelp and Dean berated himself as he reached into his pocket for a dollar bill. They’d been in Chain-O-Lakes for four days trying to find the goddamned nix and there hadn’t even been a breath of anything supernatural in Monett.

“Dean-o!”

Dean froze and stared at the repairman, who was smiling and munching on his own candy bar. There was some candy in boxes by the machine, but it looked like he’d been waiting there, eating candy, for a couple of hours and not doing anything to fix the machine.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said and tossed Dean a Snickers bar. “You’ve been a busy boy. Of course, Sammy has been pretty busy, too, but we all could have guessed that would happen with you gone, couldn’t we? But you, you’re a surprise. I heard you really were touched by an angel, but I had to see it myself.”

“What the Hell are you doing here, Trickster?”

The Trickster grinned like a feral cat. “What, you’re not happy to see me? No, don’t answer me. I don’t want us getting off on the wrong foot here.”

“What are you doing here?” Dean repeated, reaching for the silver plated knife in his boot.

“I don’t think you want to do that, buddy,” the Trickster said, toying with Dean’s knife in his free hand. “Now, I just want to talk.”

Dean gripped the Snickers in his left hand impotently. “I don’t want to hear it. Sam told me what you did in Broward County.”

“Did he? I don’t think he told you the whole story.” The Trickster snapped his fingers and strolled past Dean, still playing with his knife. “Walk with me. We gotta talk.”

Dean followed cautiously and stared at the nurses’ desk. “What did you just do?”

The Trickster shrugged genially and continued to make his way toward Sam’s bed. “I figured you might make a scene. It’s easier just to put things on hold a little bit than to cover things. But, really, Dean, the first resurrected in over a thousand years? You got yourself a pretty impressive resume there.”

Dean frowned.

“The only problem is that only the righteous get resurrection privileges, at least from the angelic types.” The Trickster cocked his head. “And you aren’t righteous, are you, Dean? Sam thought he could save you, but you knew you were going to Hell and it was only a matter of time. You damned yourself before you made that deal.”

Dean gripped the edge of Sam’s bed tightly with one fist, watching Sam’s deathly still body.

“The heavenly host fucked up when they picked you, didn’t they?” the Trickster continued, circling Sam’s bed. “Choosing a killer, a sinner. They pulled the damned from damnation.”

“Shut up.”

“Oh, I’m not complaining, Dean-o. I figured the game was up when you went under. That was it: game over, no more lives. I mean, I could have my little amusements, but that would have been it. Poor Sam, poor us.”

“What do you want?” Dean asked, grinding his teeth together.

“They changed the rules of engagement when they made you our new favorite Zombie Boy. But you do know that it was a mistake, don’t you, Dean?” the Trickster asked, staring at him across Sam’s silent body.

Dean didn’t answer him.

“I told your brother than things would change when you died,” he continued, his voice loud in the unnatural stillness of the frozen hospital. “I tried to show him his lesson before he had to learn it, but you people never learn, do you?”

“Give me my knife.”

“I told him you couldn’t be saved, that you were bound for Hell, no can no how.” The Trickster burst into a leering grin again. “But those angels proved me a liar, didn’t they? Tricked the trickster. They knew you’re Sam’s weakness and that he’s yours, don’t they?”

Dean leaned across Sam’s body to look the Trickster in the eye. “Is there a point to this or you just going to try to talk me to death before you kill me?”

“I told you, you’re my new favorite zombie, Dean-o, better even than old brother Johnny. No, I’ve got a proposition for you. And don’t tell me you don’t make deals; I’m not asking for your soul.”

“I don’t make deals,” Dean told him tiredly.

“You want to be the angels’ red herring, then?” the Trickster asked. “They broke the rules, not me. You want to be their trick, their bait for Sammy?”

“What the Hell are you talking about?” Dean wanted to be angry with the Trickster, wanted to fight him. He still didn’t know what happened back in Florida last year and he knew tricksters were dangerous, screwed with your head, but he couldn’t bring himself to care, not with everything else. He couldn’t care with thoughts of Sammy running through his head, the need to touch him pulsing under his skin, and Sam lying still as death in his frozen, timeless hospital bed.

The Trickster sidled back from his side of Sam’s hospital bed, his arms spread wide. “I’m just offering you an out. You don’t need to be their tool to get to your brother. They’ve changed the rules and I’m happy to teach you how to play the game. After all, you and Sammy have always been my favorites.” He paused and studied Dean’s wary face for a moment. “I see you need some time to think. No problem. I can always find you later.” He snapped his fingers.

Dean blinked and winced at the bright sunlight coming through the window on the other side of Sam’s bed.

“Mr. Streiner, there you are.” The nurse with the nice rack smiled at him from the doorway. “We’re ready to release your brother. Just fill out these forms and let him get dressed.”

*

“The Trickster?” Sam asked, pushing his chicken salad around his plate in the diner somewhere north of Branson. The diner wasn’t much of anything, just a roadside stop on Route 160. Sam had wanted to ditch the hospital in Monett as soon as possible and Dean couldn’t blame him, but nobody should go twenty-four hours without food, not if eating was an option, and Dean hadn’t been able to bring himself to eat the Snickers bar, even if it was still in his jacket pocket.

The diner was mostly dead midmorning, with a couple of waitresses in blue and white shirts loitering at the counter and some cooks arguing in the back. Sam had followed Dean to a booth by the window, far from the door. There were a couple of locals drinking coffee and talking to the waitresses with brassy, bleached out hair and tired faces. No one cared about a couple of muddy travelers ordering lunch before the rush and Dean appreciated the blessed anonymity.

“Why would I lie?” Dean demanded.

Sam was an unhealthy shade of gray under his perpetual golden tan. He was wearing Brodbeck’s amulet and the silver chain caught the sunlight coming through the window. “What did he show you?”

“Show me?” Dean repeated, frowning at his his burger. “He didn’t show me anything. He wanted to talk.”

“Talk?” Sam didn’t bother to hide the disbelief in his voice.

Dean shrugged and tried not to stare at Sam, though Missouri diner food was a poor distraction. “He kept saying that the angels shouldn’t have taken me out of Hell and that it changed the rules.”

“And he threatened to send you back?” Sam dropped his fork and stared at Dean sharply across the table.

“No.” Dean was taken aback by the ferocity in Sam’s voice. “He said he wanted to teach me the new rules so I wouldn’t be bait anymore.”

“Bait?”

“I’m your weakness, Sam.”

“And the bad guys know it, too,” Sam finished, half under his breath.

“What was that?”

“He doesn’t want us to be each other’s weaknesses,” Sam explained with a frown creasing his face as though the Trickster were some kind of logic puzzle in a book.

“Yeah, well, ain’t gonna happen,” Dean told him, catching himself watching Sam’s hands wrapped around his icy glass of soda. “You’re stuck with me.”

“Stuck?” Sam asked.

Dean looked away from Sam’s hands and tried to focus on his food. Food was good, right? “I’m not going anywhere, not back to Hell, not staying behind.”

“You don’t know that,” Sam said, his voice flat and dry as a Kansas road. “We thought we could save you last spring.”

Dean toyed with his coffee mug, but didn’t drink it. It was as hot and bitter and strong as Dean could have asked, just the way he liked it, but it had burned going down.

After a long paused where neither of them ate anything and their waitress cast a couple nervous glances at their table, Sam finally sighed and frowned at Dean, making the same sad-bitchy face he’d been making since before he could talk. “Bobby called.”

Dean looked at him with not a little disbelief. After watching Sam’s frozen, silent body with the Trickster and losing time, Dean had spent the morning watching Sam like a hawk, not letting him out of his sight. “What? When I was driving? Or maybe while we were ordering food?”

“Last night. I got the message this morning.”

Dean stared at his brother, trying to measure him wordlessly. He knew that Sam was trying to change the subject. Last year, when Sam drove them out of Broward County, breaking every legal speed limit and possibly some laws of physics, Sam had been frighteningly cold and silent, worse even than he’d been after Dean had died. At least when Dean came back, he’d fought. He never told Dean what had exactly happened that day in Florida, beyond some half-remembered incoherent babble about time loops before he’d tried to attack the Trickster and that strange, lengthy hug when Dean had woken him up on Wednesday. For weeks, Sam wouldn’t let him out of his sight on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, even following him into the bathroom like he had when he was a toddler. Whatever the Trickster had done or been a part of, it had been bad, had nearly broken his brother, and Dean had learned to accept the fact that Sam would never tell him everything that had really happened in Florida. Even with his silence, though, Dean knew that Sam had developed an inexplicable and fiery hatred of the Trickster, one that rivaled Dad’s endless, futile rage at the yellow eyed demon during their childhood. “What did he have to say?”

“It looks like there might be a case in Eldorado, up in Illinois. There have been a couple major disasters and missing people. Some locals have reported seeing a tiny red person running around, especially near the disaster areas, about a day before they happen.”

Dean snorted, still playing with his coffee mug. “A tiny red person?”

“The last disaster Bobby mentioned was a school bus crash,” Sam said seriously, knowing that Dean would pay attention. “A couple of kids died on impact. The driver swears up and down that he saw a little red imp dancing in the road before he skidded on the ice.”

Dean grimaced and looked at his mostly eaten burger with disgust. Even the fries, now cold and greasy in their congealed ketchup, looked unappealing. “You done? I think we should get on the road.”

Sam shrugged and swallowed one last mouthful of his chicken salad before standing. “I’ll see you at the car. Why don’t you see if you can some coffee to go?”

*

Part Three
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