...From Part 1
Kat hates--hates--what she looks like when she cries. She splashes her face with water for the second time in a few hours and takes a series of deep breaths, in an attempt to will her complexion away from strawberry.
"Were you close to the deceased?"
Kat startles, smacks her head on the underside of the small shelf above the sink, and feels her cell phone bounce from the shelf and off her shoulder.
Sam catches it. "Sorry."
Kat flushes all over again. "Why the hell--would you--"
"Sorry," Sam repeats. "The door was open, so I figured--"
Kat's definitely spent too much time living alone. She wipes her face with the back of her sleeve and accepts her phone from Sam. "She's Gavin's Auntie Jenn. I mean, I'd met her a couple times, but you know, whatever, right? We were just--I was just, you know, I was in town. And Gavin's mom, she was pretty broken up about it, so I told her I'd handle everything."
"I mean, it's not like she was a stranger, but--"
"So you two are pretty serious--you and Gavin, I mean."
"I don't really think it's any of your business," says Kat, and feels like an asshole for saying it. She doesn't know why she's being so defensive about it. "I mean, I'm sorry, but."
"Sorry, no, I'm just trying to figure out, you know, how…"
"Can we just talk about the case?"
Sam gives her a look like that's what he's trying to figure out. Like, How the hell did you end up like this?
"I didn't get into this because of Auntie Jenn, if that's what you're looking for. This isn't personal." Except it is, isn't it--is there really any other option? In fact, she kind of wants to blame Sam; you asked me if I wanted to leave, and we couldn't. We couldn't-- but that's not fair at all. He's not the one who dragged Gavin out on another bad date, four years later. He's not the one who kept looking.
"Nah, never mind. Just trying to be friendly."
He sucks at it. Kat checks herself before she says anything aloud; she knows a bad mood when she tastes one. She motions for Sam to lead the way back to her living room.
"Still, though," Sam continues. "You and Gavin must be pretty serious, if you're that close with his family. I mean, how many people would you trust with your sister's funeral?"
Fuck it. "You really suck at this."
Sam blows out a defeated puff of air. "Shit, sorry," he says. "It's just--it's been a really long year. Sorry."
Dean is scrolling through her iPad in the living room. "The funeral home is next door? Seriously?" greets Dean.
"I told you, it's not a coincidence."
"And neither are our three ghosts," says Sam. "Nikita's gotta be controlling them. We gotta keep tabs on all of them somehow."
"There's no way we can go after them one after the other. They're not gonna wait in line," adds Kat.
"But we're not splitting up," says Sam.
"No, definitely not. I mean, I don't want to, anyway. We'll have to draw them out together."
"With what?" asks Sam. "They're not dogs. We can't just--"
"Yeah, they are." Dean finally looks up from Kat's iPad.
Kat waits for an explanation, as does Sam.
"They don't make lights flicker because it's creepy," Dean offers as an--oblique, as far as Kat's concerned--explanation. "The EMF, the video cameras. Anything that's on their frequency--they're gonna be all over that."
Sam allows it. "So, what, a supernatural honeypot?" A police scanner and a couple of cell phones aren't going to offset the rest of the city. We'd need--"
"I got it covered. TV, laptops, Xbox, iPads--I mean, we could probably wire a small town with just the living room."
Dean again: "You realize it's all probably going to explode, and then catch fire."
Kat shrugs. "Gavin's not using it, is he. It's all his stuff."
Sam and Dean exchange glances.
"Okay, well," says Sam. "Middle of nowhere's not a great bet, but we'll need somewhere secluded."
"Out back?" Dean offers. "You saw that retaining wall. I mean, if I were going to kill anyone--"
"Good enough," says Sam, at the same time Kat says, "Can we not talk about that?"
There's a disconnected pause, until Kat fills it with, "So what do we need? I've got all the--"
"Like 400 aspirin," says Dean.
"The remains. Which I guess are--wow, that is convenient," says Sam.
"I told you it wasn't a coincidence. I already have the keys, from the funeral yesterday. I had to tear down after hours because Lee and Auntie Jenn had back-to-back fu--er, anyway. I have the keys."
"Saves us a break-in, I guess. And we've got, what, a couple hours to kill before it's after hours."
"I'm not kidding about the casseroles, guys. Eat them."
Sam is visibly disturbed by the prospect. He quickly volunteers to go prep the Dumpster and the pyre.
"Oh my god, seriously?"
Very seriously. Sam puts her and Dean to the task of getting the living room de-wired. "Since you're familiar with the funeral home, you guys can go get the remains and bring them around," he adds. "I'm gonna get some stuff from the car."
Once he's gone, Kat turns to Dean. "Casserole?"
See, Kate hates this kind of situation. "Are you okay?" she asks. Part of her wants to help, and the other part is proud of her lifelong, principled aversion sticking her nose in other people's business. It's not really her thing.
Wo-o-w, Kat mouths, and redirects her attention to the speaker system. Okay then.
The wiring in the back is 100% Gavin. If there's one thing that can be said about him, he doesn't mess around with his home theater systems--Klipsch, she remembers. She remembers Gavin's insistence that it had to be Klipsch. She wonders if he's moved on from all of that. There's nothing about this house that matched up with anything he'd told her about in the last year. Nothing except for her.
The Klipsch is color-coded with painter's tape, over-long cords strapped together with computer ties, and overall just a orderly as she would have imagined, but there's something about the meticulous forest that reminds her of a bomb waiting to be diffused--or ignited. Like one wrong move and the whole order of it goes to hell.
"Gavin's not really in Brazil, is he." Dean, above her.
"He really is." She's almost as confused by the insinuation as she is by Dean's interest in and proximity to her.
"Use this," he says, and drops a switchblade in front of her face. "There's no way this doesn't get messy, so there's no point in trying to avoid it."
"He really, really is," Kat repeats, and takes the knife. "You're in my light."
Dean moves. "So Gavin's not--there's not tropical Heaven euphemisms, going on here--"
"Sorry? No?" For people who don't seem that interested in sharing, these Winchesters guys seemed pretty interested in getting other people to. "It's called a long-term, long-distance relationship? They exist? I'm kinda starting to feel like a zoo animal, so…"
Kat's phone chirps.
And again. Oh god, he's calling.
"Are you going to get that?"
"Gavin has his shit together," Kat says simply. "I don't."
"Don't break him," says Dean.
"Wow, none of your business?" Kat sneezes. Clean cords does not a clean house make.
"But that's why you're not talking to him, isn't it. You don't--"
"I'm not talking to him," Kat sniffs, "Because I don't want to move to Brazil. I don't want to get married. I don't want kids. Except I do want kids. I do want to get married. And I don't really have anything against moving to Brazil."
"Oh, well, problem solved, then. Here, just--move--I got this--"
Dean swings the oversized speaker over her head, and Kat follows the cords behind the TV.
"No, my problem is, I don't want to do any of it now, at least, I don't know--I mean-- Gavin's been talking strollers since before he left, down to the kind of wheels he wanted on it. And I just, I-- You can borrow the bedroom, you know, if you need a nap. I can--"
"Did you seriously just say that."
"Just offering. You just look really--"
"Nap time, Kat? See, now I believe you. You've been texting Gavin about strollers and nap times and--bassinets--all damn day, haven't you."
"You just seem kind of--"
"It's been a really long," Dean's voice catches, "--forever. Sue me."
Kat gathers up the last of the cords. "That's what Sam said, too."
"I have an old car battery," Kat continues. "That'd work, right? At least for a while?"
"Long enough. Uh, why--"
"Because I used to have a car. Now I don't. It was a personal choice, okay?" Which isn't entirely true, it never really us. But goddamn. "Everything is some big mystery for you guys. It's possible to just--total a car. It's possible to have a boyfriend--yes, even me. And yes, I can actually work for a newspaper. Why can't you guys believe any of this? Haven't you ever heard of Occam's Razor?"
"See, that's my life philosophy; Occam's Razor. Sam, on the other hand--"
"You know what? Never mind." It's not her fight. "You ready to take the first load? If you can get part of the Klipsch, I can go grab the battery, and we can take the rest down all in one more go."
It makes Kat feel like she's moving out, with the living room gutted like that. She's actually thinking about how many more trips it'd take to put the whole house in the Dumpster before she realizes that they're done, they're not taking any more, she's not going anywhere.
"Maybe I should just grow up," Kat says suddenly. "You know, get with the program." She should just leave. She's clearly thinking about it, so why not? She should make the leap--drop everything. Why bother with a two-week notice, why bother finding a sublet. She's twenty-six and with the exception of a couple ghost-fights and one journalism retreat gone awry, she hasn't done anything crazy yet. Maybe it's just a rite of passage. "I just need to grow up. I can handle all of those things; I just need to make the leap."
"You know, sometimes growing up involves--not chasing after any of those things," says Dean.
It's not really what Kat wants to hear.
"Don't get me wrong," she starts. She never wants to be That girl. She never wants to be "all about Gavin." But she's got everything else figured out, it's all going, it's all working. She's being obsessive, and she knows it, and maybe it's stupid, and maybe it's setting her gender back a thousand years. But fuck them all, honestly. If she's going to obsess over a problem, she needs to have a damn good reason, and the love of her life is a pretty good one.
"But I love him," she says. "I want him. I want all those things with him someday. I just--"
"I want urns full of dead people," says Dean. "Tonight."
"You look like shit."
"Don't worry, we weren't having sex."
"I'm going to shoot you on purpose this time, you--bro." Kat hands an urn off to Sam, and slides a laquered box under the Dumpster. "This is the last of it. I can hook up the battery, and then we're basically set."
Three urns and their personal effects. One Kat, who hourly reminds Sam more and more of Jo. And it's terrible because mostly Sam just thinks, this is how old Jo was the night she died.
He banishes the thought.
Three urns, one Kat, and one Dean--who really does look like shit. Which, again, is not exactly off the norm, but that's the whole problem, isn't it. He's tired, that much is obvious. He braces himself against the massive speakers now standing a few feet from the Dumpster for a few fragile seconds. When he heaves Nikita Nekrasov's urn into the Dumpster for safekeeping, it's clear he has no desire whatever to be bothering. But they've also been through enough shitstorms to know Dean will be fine; Sam can trust that much. Cursed or not, Dean will be fine for the job tonight. What Sam's concerned about is tomorrow--about two, three weeks from now, when Dean finally throws a gear, derails.
Sam maintains that it is, fundamentally, a dumb curse. But it's a bad mix, and it's that incremental, creeping danger that will always be the death of them.
"I can feel you cruising me, Sam. What the hell."
"Don't get all anger management on me," Sam begins, voice low, and pulls Dean's sleeve toward him. He doesn't want Kat to hear but he still wants Dean to listen.
Dean's eyes narrow. "Off to a good start, Sammy."
"Look, I know why you're angry at me. I didn't believe you about the curse thing--"
"Under the bridge, Sam."
Right. Because things that go under the bridge always stay there. "But think about it. This--" Dean looks drawn, overtaxed and overstretched. Guilt fatalism shame. "This is not the curse. I'm with you 100 percent, it's a pretty wicked catalyst but this--this is bigger. This is deeper. And I need to know--"
Dean steps from him, and opens toward Kat. "You have bed head, and you smell like a Dumpster. Let me think of all the dots I can connect. Are you done, Sam? Or do you want me to make you a little tin hat to go with your crazy?"
Sam's practically quivering with frustration, but he keeps his mouth shut. "That Dumpster's loaded with explosives. I went ahead and hooked it up with this--" He hands a small remote off to Kat. "So once we figure out how the hell Nikita's running all this, he's gone."
"We don't even know if Nikita's controlling anything," Kat objects.
"Li and Auntie Jenn are cremated. Their life histories are actually more bland apart than they are put together. Jenn asphyxiated--some bruising, suspected allergic reaction anyway--and Li had an aneurysm. If--and yeah, it's a big if--" Sam acknowledges, "Nikita's controlling them, we need to figure out how. He's a ghost--a very well-trained, extremely magical ghost--so we're just gonna have to hope it's something he brings to the party tonight."
"That's a lot of ifs," says Kat.
"We have explosives," says Dean. "We're good. And once we get this hooked up," Dean scuffs his boot along the side of a pile of Toshiba products, "We're starting this showdown on our terms. We've got the edge over them."
He neglects to mention that it's a pocket-knife edge on a situation that probably warrants at least a machete, but it's clear from Kat's derisive snort that she's well aware of that. But her derision doesn't keep her fingers from trembling as she works through the finishing touches on their ghost honeypot.
Sam, on the other hand. It's hard for Sam to be scared of this anymore. Not shit-your-pants scared, but scared enough to give a damn. Maybe this is a consequence of Sam's upbringing, but to him fear has a lot to do with respect, and Sam lost all respect for this kind of thing a long time ago. He's seen the cogs turn and he's watched even those cogs be forged, and they've come a long damn way from one crazed ghost in one haunted asylum. To Sam, everything is about as legitimate and insidious as Pepper's ghost. Once you've seen it all from the deep end, it's hard to pay your dues to anything short of transverse dimensional warfare.
The problem is, ghosts don't stop being dangerous. They can't be profiled; their motives only make them unpredictable. The most deadly weapon a ghost has is its victim's ignorance, and then their inability to suspend disbelief. For Sam, both those things walked out the door a long time ago. You can be stronger, faster, better-oiled, but at the end of the day a ghost is a ghost; and to be over-jaded is its own type of disbelief.
Kat's scared. She's precise and efficient and tuned in in a way Sam's not sure he can be anymore. He tries to step up to her frequency, that level of hyperattention, but it feels like climbing into something jagged and alien now.
"Kat." Sam motions to the side of the honeypot nearest him with a nod of his head.
"This is the last of it," she says, switching on the stereo. It broadcasts a heavy, bass static. "And Kat's a scared teenager. I'm Katherine now."
Sam chuffs. "Katherine's a scared twenty-six year old. What difference does it make?"
And electric snap rips through the speaker set; the hum of static drops out, flickers back in stages. Another crack. Kat's phone chimes. She glances at it, but there's another crack and she throws it into the pot and jumps back. "Yeah, she is--" The sound and look of adrenaline all through her. She turns to Sam. "--because I'm not hiding. You ready for this, Sammy?"
Something screams. Nikita Nekrasov screams, and he sounds in death exactly as he did in life. The register is immaculately human, bounded, chilling. The too-familiar noise of immolation all over again. The static surges, riffs, like a tidal wave of electric current's crashing through it, and Sam feels Arizona's 85 degree dusk plunge a couple lines of latitude.
A small, chemical, pop. An explosion of sparks. A thunderous crack, like an electric rattle snake. And there's Lee and Auntie Jenn.
Electricity arcs through their makeshift honeypot. Sam smells ozone and burning plastic, and this is probably why they've never made something like this before.
Nikita Nekrasov screams again. Dean drops, both hands clasped over his ears, and matches the ghost for volume.
"Dean!" Because why not add to the cacophony. The honeypot throws sparks, but Sam shields his face and makes a run towards Dean. They're playing a close field, it's not that far, but the ghosts are faster than Sam is.
This is exactly the kind of--
Nikita Nekrasov plunges his hand through Dean's chest, slams him against the side of the Dumpster. Dean crackles blue at Nikita's every point of contact, and goes limp.
Sam hits the ground for the angle, and gets off two shots before Nikita's on him, instead of Dean. Kat follows with the third, just as Sam rakes an iron knife across Nikita's throat. He parts at the cut like a sheet of blubber, and screams, doubles back. Lee and Jenn fall into line behind him.
Sam seizes the opportunity and scrambles the short distance to Dean. "Hey, hey--"
Dean groans, pushes up to his hands and knees. "What the fuck is your problem!" he shouts, in the general direction of mayhem. "I'm not even the dumb fuck who killed you, you douchebag! --No offense, Sam," he adds.
Kat dispatches Lee in a spray of rock salt, who leaves a cold trail of frost when she goes, and Nikita turns to Dean.
"Down--" Dean elbows Sam down, Sam hears the shot above him, and Auntie Jenn disappears in a plume of rock salt behind Kat.
"Dean, get off, off--" Sam tries to slide out from under his suddenly prone brother, and finds Nikita face to face with him. It's the closest Sam's been to Nikita, living or dead, and it's then Sam sees how young he is. Round pearls on his ears and around his neck make his face seem almost cherubic.
Sam jerks back, and a rogue spray of rock salt streaks past the tip of his nose. "Sam, are you okay?" Kat asks, breath ragged.
The crack of electricity. There's a bright surge behind Sam, and Sam pulls Kat into him with violent desperation. Dean, recovered, knocks both of them to the ground. Not ten feet away, the honeypot erupts into flame.
Once the initial upthrust settles, Dean rolls from them, brushing plasticky embers from his shoulders. "Wondered when it was gonna do that," Dean pants. "Sammy, did you see?"
Sam shakes his head. Theory confirmed: Nikita's the ringleader, his screams a rallying cry. But how?
"Once a witch, always a witch. Ain't that the truth."
Dean makes a partition of Auntie Jenn. "Watch her neck."
"Gavin gave that to her," says Kat. A pearl necklace, right before she mists away.
Nikita was wearing one, too.
Sam feels Lee at his left. "Earrings," he breathes. He throws himself out of Lee's range and shoots.
"Nikita!" Dean roars. "Never could resist a little bling, could you!"
Sam does not have time to contemplate the sentience of ghosts, relative to each other, relative to human speech, but if he could, he would.
Then Nikita's on Dean, whisper close. Dean murmurs something indistinct, then, louder: "We used you again, buddy. And now we've got everything we'll ever need from you. Sam!"
"On it!" yells Kat, and pulls out an iHome remote. There's a rumbling boom chased by the jangle of fracturing ceramic, the ripping of metal as something explodes inside the Dumpster. Nikita Nekrasov follows suit screaming.
"Yeah, yeah, takes one to no one. Bastard," Dean growls, as Nikita dusts from his boots.
There's a hiss of static, and Sam blinks blearily, eyes watering from the acrid, petrochemical smoke. They're riding it, Sam realizes. Lee and Jenn were in the smoke.
And Kat's too close.
"Kat," says Sam, with a hoarse, dizzying urgency.
She turns to him, and away from the smoke. "The jewelry's in the--"
Lee and Jenn rush Kat's body and throw smoke down her throat with thin white hands. She doesn't get a chance to scream. The back of her skull makes a resounding crack against asphalt.
Sam thinks fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck and something shatters behind him, there's a resounding explosion behind him, a litany of additional fuck! fuck! fucks behind him. And then there's Kat.
"Kat--Katherine, Kat," Sam rasps, accompanied by a collection of still more useless words. She's not moving, everything is pounding around him, he can't (won't?) check her pulse, her breathing.
He chops her collarbone with both hands, untender. Kat yelps. "Oh," Sam coughs, coughs. "God."
Kat doesn't move. She's staring, dumbfounded, at the sky.
He pulls her to sitting, and she brushes the back of her head gingerly. Her fingers come away clean, but trembling. "That's a big fucking fire," she croaks. Wipes soot and grime from her lips. Sam turns.
It's a really big fucking fire. Two big fucking fires, actually; one in the Dumpster, another, electric and pulsing thick black smoke past the retaining wall up into the sky. Dean, made grim and wraithlike as the smoke billowed out between them, on the other side. Conspicuous, but effective.
"That doesn't usually happen when we do this," Kat and Sam say, only a beat off sync from one another.
Sam turns to Kat. "Good," he says.
"Surprising," she replies. "And I think I have a concussion."
"I know you do." Which is, frankly, the best news ever.
"Sammy--?" Dean shouts, though the second half the word is choked out by a succession of short barking coughs.
Sam waves back. "Holy fuck."
Kat follow suit. "Holy fuck. Holy fuck."
They should do something about their obvious, urban, and extremely volatile electrical fires, but for now, Sam is content to let broken asphalt bite into his knees, skin hot and tight across his cheeks, and breathe.
She makes it look like a break-in. The urns, the jewelry--all of it was gone. What was left of Li Hing Ping and Auntie Jenn was gone. She breaks the locks and overturns tables and vandalizes the exterior of the funeral home. And as she buries their rescue in a petty, stupid crime, she wants, more than ever, to leave this place.
She didn't want to know about witches. She didn't want to know that certain ghosts could pull others into their service (though Sam assures her that's a new one). She doesn't want to know how. Kat draws the line just after ghosts. Ghosts, she'll take. Ghosts are a part of who she is now. Shakily, she reasons, there are more than enough of them to last a lifetime. And she wants them to move on, wants to help move them on.
I want to move on, she thinks. I want to leave this place.
The ghosts, of course, will follow her, and she will let them come.
She takes a deep breath, and welcomes herself back into the rough blaze that's Sam and Dean Winchester. They've let both fires run down to almost nothing. The first thing she hears:
"Well, it looks like your weirdly specific sartorial knowledge of Nikita Nekrasov saved the day, Dean. Congratulations." Sam neglects to mention her stunning supply of over-the-counter explosive agents, but why credit everyday tools, right?
"Next time you can Carebear the next crazy person involved in a case. My treat. I won't even get jealous" Dean rotates his shoulder gingerly, muttering an even stream of tetchy nonsense. Jesus christ, why is it always the walls, always with the wall-smashing, is there less fine motor control involved or what, if I were a ghost I'd get right to the neck-snapping, I don't understand the appeal of drawing things out, et cetera.
Kat hopes, but does not hold out for, the day these guys realize how weird they are. Maybe she's earned a backstage pass because of the whole ghost thing, but every time she walks in on them, that's what it sounds like. "So--!" she chimes in. "Artificial crime scene, check. Since we, you know, destroyed everything."
Sam shrugs. They don't seem overly concerned with the collateral. But in the scope of things, Kat figures, it's just stuff. Symbols, pieces of old routines, the reminder of memories. You can't keep everything.
"Everything else is salted, burned, extinguished, disposed of," Dean returns. "Tight ship, Kat. Good work."
Kat's never been complimented on a job--this kind of job--before. It doesn't seem appropriate somehow, to say something like that unironically, or bereft of sarcasm. The job's good if everyone lives; earning gold stars for participation seems overwrought. But to each their own; maybe it's different for them. What she's used to is the look on Gavin's face whenever they finished a case. He never helped--no planning, no research, no supply runs--but if she put the gun in his hands and instructions in his head, he'd do it. He'd do it for her. And when it was all over, he'd look at her, puffy-eyed and stricken, like her smile at the end of the night meant everything. In the morning, he'd care about her happiness, her sense of duty, her desire for another roll of tin foil for the kitchen, if he's already getting milk; but on those nights, he strips it down to her sheer existence. He strips it down to "I want you to live."
Kat's never been good at taking compliments. But that's okay, Gavin's never been good at giving them; it's the kind of skill that goes hand in hand with orchestrating good date nights. It's their deficiencies that make them good for each other.
They're good for each other.
"What? Oh, yeah, sure," Kat mumbles, and Dean chucks her DVD player into the Dumpster. He then begins to untangle the frazzled pile of electronics that comprised most of what used to be her living room. "Um, need any help?"
Sam shakes his head. "He'd rather die trying. He's a dumbass. I wouldn't worry about it."
Kat raises her eyebrows. Definitely missing something there. "Right. Hey, I was wondering if I could maybe… borrow your phone, since mine, uh."
Sam feels around in his pockets. "Gavin?"
Kat nods. Hell yes, Gavin. That and an urgent care clinic; her head's killing her. But mostly Gavin. "I need to tell him." She takes the proffered phone and starts punching in the country code. "We're moving to Brazil, we're getting married, we're going to buy strollers with little truck wheels, we're--oh, this is about to be an international call, so--"
"Whoa whoa whoa," Sam jumps forward, grabs her hand.
"So I'll pay you back, don't worry." Kat tries to pull away from Sam, but he grips her tighter. "Hey, don't."
Reluctantly, he releases her. "Look," he says.
Her television hits the bottom of the Dumpster with a hollow crash behind them.
"No, you look. I'm not a little girl chasing after some prince," says Kat. "We just exorcised three ghosts. I get it."
"That has nothing to do with--"
"Don't Carebear me, Sam, I--"
"Dean said earlier--I thought it was a… That's not a thing, is it, you guys have your own little vernacular going on, so I just figured… Yeah, okay, never mind. Just--
"This discussion is over, Sam."
"Look. From one… ghost-hunting felon to another, don't jump into anything after one wild night."
Kat can't keep the rude incredulity from her face. "One wild night is why I'm here, burning bodies behind my apartment in the first place."
"Yeah, exactly." Sam offers her an apologetic grimace. "So just… Buy a new phone. Don't expedite shipping--take that time and think about it. Don't live next door to a funeral home. Find a city with a better crime rate. Find an apartment complex where someone gives a damn if people are screaming, and shooting things, and their Dumpsters are on fire. Start there, okay?"
Kat crosses her arms. "You realize I can accomplish the same thing by moving to Brazil, right?"
"So visit Brazil. Get your boyfriend to teach you Portuguese. Fall in love with it before you're forced to, and you're faking it 'til you make it… you know? You have plenty of time." Sam takes a shuddering breath. "And trust me, it takes everything I have, and everything I am, to say this to you--to me, to anyone.
"You have plenty of time."
"You let her borrow your phone?"
Dean is limping. Sam tries to match his pace, but it's almost excruciating. Sam wants nothing more than to rush to the car, jump in, and find some place to knock out for a few hours.
It's almost dawn again. Twenty-four hours ago, Sam was also wishing he was asleep, and driving instead. This is the problem with stasis: You never actually want to be the thing you're stuck in. And yet, in about five minutes, Sam's going to be driving again, the sun's going to rise again, and they're going to do it all over again, in a slightly different down, averting a slightly different crisis, slogging through the exact same bullshit. He's glad Kat found some direction tonight, whether he agrees with her newfound commitments or not. Because to Sam, it's still all just a bunch of bullshit.
Suddenly, there's a whoosh past Sam's arm. "Oh, fuck--" Before Sam can catch him, Dean goes down in a lopsided sort of way. Maybe he tripped on a slab of uneven pavement in the half-dark, who knows. Adjusting the straps of their duffel against his other shoulder, Sam tries to pull him back up, but Dean doesn't go for it, like his knees wouldn't support him if he made it back up that far. He doesn't seem that hurt, not in any concern-worthy sense; Sam figures he's probably got some massive ghost bruising, but what else is new. Bone-tired is probably more apt.
"You're rethinking your little TV-throwing coda right about now, aren't you. And yeah, I let Kat borrow my phone. She's booking a flight," Sam explains, as he scans the parking lot for the Impala. There she is--matte in the muted twilight.
"She's looking at flights to book after she clears the vacation time with her boss," Sam amends. He interlocks one arm with Dean's, and waits for his cue.
"Yeah, because that was the surprising part of that statement."
Sam coughs. There's something about Dean that broadcasts exhaustion beyond stress headaches and bags under his eyes. It's probably not specific to Dean, but it's particular to Sam's understanding of him, and he reads it in the way Dean runs his tongue over his chapped lips, the lituus cast to his shoulders as he tries to put himself back together from the ground up. It is a part of his brother Sam would not mind losing. The rest of him, Sam pulls upward.
"There we go. Listen, Dean--" he says, urging Dean in the direction of the Impala. He gives him a gentle shove to the back.
"Not this again." Dean groans, and the exhaustion surges into misplaced vitriol and murderous intent, like a leaf being taken up in the swell of a drain.
"We've been through this. I just want to go h-- I just want to get out of here, Sam, so leave it."
"Right, because, you don't want to 'deal' with me. Well guess what, Dean, that's too b--"
Dean abruptly jabs his elbow backward, throws his arm across Sam's chest and pushes back hard. "Whoa there, partner. You don't have the high ground here, Sam," he warns. "It's always something, with you, you always--"
Sam shoves back. "Hey." Yes, fantastic. This is exactly what they both need right now. Just fantastic. "Watch it. I can put you right back on your ass right now, and you know it."
"Back off." Dean spits. "'Cause you know what, this needs to be said. You always assume there's something wrong with me--"
"Not this again."
Unchecked, Dean can go 0 to 90 in a matter of seconds, and fuck ramping up. Sam just heard the starting gun.
"No, seriously, Sam. Don't give me that face. I need to know, what do you see in me, what do you see in me that you think it's more likely I'm off my goddamn rocker--"
Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. "Jesus christ, Dean."
"--you never believe it's something supernatural, you saw Nikita, you knew it was a curse, and you still--"
"For the love of--"
"No, fucking listen to me--"
Sam shoves Dean backward again. Dean slams into the Impala, staggers a little. "I don't know what I see in you, Dean," Sam pants. "And that's what terrifies me. It terrifies me, okay? Because I don't know--I just don't know. But right now I see someone who wants to start a fucking shouting match in a fucking parking lot, when all I want to do is leave this fucking place. So can we go?"
But when Dean gets tired, he falls into ruts, and this one is angry, and livid, and it's not going to stand for any of Sam's bullshit. Apparently.
"Oh for fuck's sake, Dean." For lack of a better punching bag, Sam flings the duffel and all the artillery inside against the side of the Impala. It hits the ground with a heavy thud. "That's the point of this whole fucking mess. I was wrong at first, okay? That was days ago--almost a week ago. Since then? You've just been proving my point."
Sam's spent years bearing witness to Dean's various tailspins. If this time around there was actually a curse involved, then power to it. Sam's bad. But it was a stupid curse--because its function is supposed to be, what? Gossip? It was just a stupid curse in the wrong place, at the wrong time, borne out by the wrong person with the wrong kind of history. This level of fallout--that's all Dean, and Sam knows it. Normal people shoulder this kind of curse and find out their boyfriend's cheating on them, that the barista told all his co-workers that he thinks you're a tool for ordering one big latte in two small cups. But whatever the world's saying about Dean Winchester, it all cycles back into their own apocalyptic little clusterfuck. And that's getting harder and harder to avoid, even on normal days. That's their curse.
Sam takes a deep breath. He's committed to fighting Dean on this, though at the moment he'd settle for just fighting Dean, period. But he tries to take the tempo down a notch. "Would you rather have it the other way around? Do you seriously want me to wake up and think, Gee, Dean's sure acting weird today. He must have been cursed by a witch again?"
"Yes," Dean snarls. And then he's shouting again. "BECAUSE THAT'S YOUR JOB, SAM."
"Right, great, it's like 4am, Dean, keep shouting--"
"WITCHES ARE your fucking job, Sam--"
"--get the cops called on us. That'll be great--"
"We could've brought down a drug lord with all that bullshit just now; obviously the neighbors don't give a damn what happens here. That's what you're supposed to do, what you're supposed to see--"
"You act weird every day, Dean," Sam hisses. "We act weird every day. It's been so long that most days I forget what normal even felt like. All this bullshit"--Sam gestures expansively--"starts sounding right."
"We've never been normal, Sam."
"--but we've been a hell of a lot closer to it."
"Well strap in and nut up, Sam, because this is normal, this is what we get; this is as fine as we are ever going to be, so--"
Dean halts, like Sam's thrown him off his momentum just far enough to break gravity. He tries to catch his breath, looks almost like he's headed toward collapse all over again. Diffused. Shaky from sleep deprivation. Pale.
"I know," Sam repeats; quick breath, because if he stops, he'll never finish, "that you're probably right."
"And that's why I've got your back--shut up, Dean--because--Look. You break a curse, and you're back to normal, like magic."
"That's because it is magic, Sam."
Sam ignores him. "--and this is different--this--is really fucking different. So try to see where I'm coming from here. I never--"
And this suddenly feels like the dumbest, wrongest thing he's ever said. Sam is his own land mine, jesus christ. He should just gear up preemptively, brace himself for the moment Dean blows him off all over again: "
"I never want to make that mistake with you, Dean."
Dean won't look at him. He shifts imperceptibly, but for the scritch of loose asphalt beneath his boots.
"I just--I can't."
Sam wipes his hands down his face, ends with his palms together, pressed to his lips.
"…What do you want me to say to that," asks Dean eventually, timbreless and uncadenced. "What am I-- supposed to say to you."
"Nothing," Sam realizes, and it's a good realization. Even liberating, maybe. "I don't need you to say anything."
Sam's got this. And if he doesn't, then he's going to work until he figures it out.
"Hey, does this mean we're going to Brazil, too?" Sam has all the guns locked back in the trunk by the time Dean finds his voice again. Like nothing has happened.
Sam plays along. Some lies are worth participating in.
He kicks a can under the Impala, fixates on the gray screech down her body, luminous in the half-dark. "So you heard that. Is this some kind of new side effect we should be worried about? It is at least satellite radio this time?"
"I was right there." Dean bends to inspect the Impala too, slowly, stiffly. He squints, runs his hands along the gray. Dean rubs at the scratch, and wipes the dust on his jeans. "Eh, she's fine," he whispers to himself.
Sam raises his eyebrows at that. "Seriously?"
"Of course I was there. I'm always right here, Sam." Dean groans when he straightens up, steadies himself with the Impala. Sam watches the pain settle into Dean, or Dean settle into the pain. Something like that.
Dean's only a little breathless when he continues, "I was gonna ask you--the world's got plenty of time to settle down later, huh? We've all got long lives, warm beaches, and the healing sands of time ahead of us? That's your takeaway here?"
"No, not everyone; I'm not an idiot. But she does."
Sam hears someone shout his name from high above. He squints.
It's Kat, waving his phone. Right, she borrowed it. Beside her there's a hulking garbage bag with the edge of Auntie Jenn in grayscale and several peonies peeking out from the top.
Some people get ripped to shreds. They bleed out. They burn from the core outward. They disappear, as though they never were. They disappear in increments, and those around them forget that there are pieces missing. They disappear, despite their best efforts, or none at all. Not everyone gets their sunset. But fuck sunsets anyway--even fewer are gonna get their sunrise the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next. It's the sunrise you want.
Sam watches bright orange casserole after bright orange casserole fly against the lid of the Dumpster as Kat chucks them in, like lumpy Frizbees illuminated unto bioluminscence by the thready sunlight filtering through the chain-link fence.
"God, I want one."
Something between a grimace and a smile. "Then we should ask if we can borrow her couch."
"Dude, that's creepy. We're already way beyond the friend-zone here, so--"
"Nah, Sammy. That is friendship."
The sunrise is blinding.
...Return to Part 1
+ The real Nikita Nekrasov is a mathematical physicist and string theorist. He is not a witch, and not dead.
+ As mentioned in the header, a director's commentary, detailing the inception and various themes running through this fic, is available, should your interests be so inclined!
Comments, constructive criticism, inquiries, &c are revered. ♥