Genre: gen, unsouthern gothic, vignette
Word Count: ~2140
Summary: Dean goes looking for the scars he's left.
Notes: 1x12 "Faith" / 9x23 "Do You Believe in Miracles?"
There are reapers everywhere, not just the kind that have sublimated or aspired to angeldom or whatever it is they've done. They cluster around scars, and like tiny birds or dry leaves, they move when the wind blows; or when a freight train trundles past, when it bellows and clangs; or when Dean blows past them, and does the clanging. There are bells in the trees; they're supposed to ring when the devil's afoot. Dean makes music, and the reapers scatter. He laughs. He remembers once they'd been worth his fear.
Fear: Leeching over the shoulder of a blind man, cut out of reality in the shape of a skeleton in an impossible suit. Fear, fixing him a heart.
Four hearts later, Dean churns up Nebraska. He follows the train tracks. He stomps down the first of its powdery snow--flurries that will melt before the next freeway exit--its tiny birds, the last of its dry leaves its dry leaves which are still falling.
He comes to a small house masked with reapers. Many of them are skeletons in impossible suits, and some are women, are families; one a cloud-encrusted ogre, and yet another just a fruit tree that occasionally makes a shaking sound. A murder of reapers, Dean figures. But knowing this universe, it probably stood an equal chance of being a harem of reapers. A gaggle.
They are doing what other monsters do when they can't take the screaming (monsters not Tessa; monsters not Dean).
Dean is in Nebraska because he has no because he is in Nebraska. It's just that demons have long memories, and sometimes these memories become spells and enchantments. Other sometimes, they just act like them. What, it's nice to have tradition to fall back on (this is not the first time you've landed on an old stranger's doorstep, Dean Winchester).
Dean's memory has always been plenty long, with thin taut corded muscles and an infant's indomitable grip, its indomitable wailing. But where once he held memories of memories he would like to forget (photocopies as such, sketches relegated to someone else's journal) now he is whole--S A V E D, if you will--and now they are his again. They lurch to the surface, new cavitations as demon punches through Dean's body. Not blood, not smoke--just demon. It rips through his brain and his pathetic, wheedling little heart and it makes things whole, things Dean never could have survived whole before, not all at once. Dean's memories suck and grasp at each other, hiccuping hot against pudgy shoulders and digging in with teeth because as is Dean's always they do not know if anyone will save them. The demon in Dean turns out the light and closes the door.
"You," says the woman as she opens a different door, the door Dean Winchester finds when he has pulled back her wallpaper of death (a murder, a harem, a gaggle) and led himself to the porch.
"Me," he replies. "Small miracles." Which is not something he says but maybe is something she's thinking (demons hear things).
Dean actually doesn't recognize her, though he knows who she must be, he knows it's she he's come for.
It's been ten years. She's changed a lot. But she still knows him, so really, it can't be change that blinds him. He probably just hadn't paid enough attention to her the first time around. Other bigger fish in the sea, that sort of thing.
He's not distracted this time. She has pale, white Nebraska skin, white like retired and reclusive, not white like royalty; and her veins stand out at her temples, again at the base of her neck, and over her breasts. She's thin in the way that some old ladies get, having withered away like woody plants starved for water. But hey, it's Nebraska, and loathe though Dean is to admit it, global warming is probably a thing. Still, her hair is permed, probably the same way it was when Dean first met her, though again it's been a while, and he hadn't been paying attention. Mostly Dean detects too-high blood pressure, even for a woman with a stranger at her door. A reliance on church leftovers. A TV program she would like to get back to. Permeability, somehow. If that's a thing people can be. (He thinks of the smoke in his lungs and his veins, tiny atoms sprinting back and forth to push him forward, spilling out of him in a never-ending piss, caking the tread of his boots with sulfur. Of course. Permeable is possibly the only thing humans ever really are.)
"She's been dead for almost ten years, you know," says the woman, because she is the kind of woman who does not round up or down. She counts those extra weeks, days, hours. She remembers them well, like they were yesterday. He holds to them tight. Because Dean, where were you on the eleventh of December, in the year 2006?
"Not a damn clue." Dean replies. "Mrs. Rourke."
This last Dean appends to offset his damnation.
Mrs. Rourke doesn't blink.
"We held the service four days later. Layla picked all her own hymns."
Mrs. Rourke invites Dean into her world of dimly lit brown, knit couches, and cabinet upon cabinet of good and less-good china. A reaper catches itself on the door as the wood swings back into frame. The weatherstripping at the bottom of the door is snaggletoothed and must be iron.
The reaper dissipates when the door closes shut. This is hallowed ground, and they are not angels.
Dean sits. Dean thinks: By the time Layla dies her once, he'd already backslid, sloppy, out of death at least twice. Was already gunning for further encores--and only Heaven knew how many times he'd ding dong ditched the pearly gates since. Probably never again, at least, he thinks.
If Heaven still exists, he will never see it again.
Dean would be uncomfortable in Mrs. Rourke's house whether he was a demon or not, but today he is. Today he beats discomfort in ways that would have been forbidden under lesser circumstances. (Whatever Sam believes, there are still perks to this gig.) Dean salves himself in the threat of murder. The necessity of veins and capillaries, the easy either-or of a human windpipe. The tiny little bones that decorate the spinal column. Interior decoration.
"At least for her there was no option to transplant," Mrs. Rourke says, once Dean is on her couch and complimenting her interior decoration. She's fed this line to so many distant friends already. Her breath reeks of rubber stamps and an inky sponge.
"Her father"--a catch to her breath--"had it in his liver. And we waited on that list for years; we wasted our miracle on that stupid list. Because you know what happens when God answers your prayers and gives you a liver?"
Dean doesn't. Though he's familiar with that happens when anyone gives you a new body, liver and all.
"You die slow, and sicker than you ever were before."
Okay, he does know.
"I don't have cookies, and I don't drink tea. I have nothing to offer you," she continues. But she's not talking about cookies or tea, because she says, "I have no debt to you."
She asks, Why are you here?
Somewhere out there, there's a poignant refrain. The refrain of the return; it's what these moments are for, it's why they're written, why they're built on, why people drive out to Nebraska why they leave their human brothers somewhat indisposed, their angels mystified. In this refrain there is an old, bitter woman and she reminds Dean that his whole life has been leading up to this. She lives in a house papered by reapers she is alone and she will die soon. But Mrs. Rourke is not she. Mrs. Rouke is the kind of woman who does not fold.
Dean can still smell congregation on her, and feels with an allergic flare the memory of bodies sweaty at their armpits, crowded into a too-small wooden church, hands uplifted, throats ripping with their faith in the lord. There are dress shoes clomping mud and snow onto raw, splintering pine, and workers' boots and rubber children's shoes. At least one person is sick and if you are an angel in the room you can see their swollen lymph nodes from the hanging lights above. Still they sing and sing and they pray loud and Dean feels it in his sinuses and his eyes water and then they burn and then they flick black, cinder-like.
"Mrs. Rourke, do you believe in the devil?"
"Faith in all things," she says.
Whether the miracles happen or they don't.
"It's been ten years," Dean notes, and he's found himself at a crossroads of sorts.
"Yes, it has."
Mrs. Rourke curls a hand around his cheek, thumb to the bags under his eyes. Index, temple. Middle, hairline. Third, ear. Pinky, lobe. She has soft hands and they smell like soup stock and Lysol. Beeswax candle underneath. Arthritis beneath that. Her other hand does not quite curl around his neck.
She presses her mouth to his forehead. A kiss. It feels a lot like dead weight and it feels a lot like a reaper throwing life back into him.
It's not a deal, as crossroads are wont, or even a deal thrown backwards. There's no magic to this. But it's been ten years and here we are again Mrs. Rourke here we are and I don't know what to do.
Mrs. Rourke breathes deep and holds. They kiss, and the refrain is this: a melancholy legato with unexpected trills.
Some have called this song the threat of murder (never ameliorated).
Black-cloaked reapers mime chorus against the windows.
There's a rumbling under the floorboards, and a swell of pressure beneath Mrs. Rourke's fingertips. A freight train powers by, rattling her photographs in their frames and tipping junk mail out of baskets. The crossroad bell clangs, and somewhere outside metal arms come down. They creak in the cold and Dean feels it like a twinge in his neck and pennies in his throat. They're holy places, crossroads. At least for some among us.
"People don't like living here," says Mrs. Rourke, without lifting her lips from Dean's brow. "It reminds them that time is passing."
Ten years ago, Dean was let live. More accurately, he was released--live, like a wire, and he's been writhing electric ever since. Nothing of the last ten years is the reason Dean didn't die in April, in 2006, under the shade of a tent in the mud. It's all just moments.
Dean feels Mrs. Rourke's pulse beneath his jaw. It continues to beat against him even when she's left, the kiss is broken, this moment is over.
"Were you planning to stay?"
Mrs. Rourke has a roast to defrost.
Dean has no reason to be here; he just needed to come. Maybe not even that. "Not long," he says.
Nebraska has no valleys and few shadows, yet plenty of room for evil. There's a gaggle of death waiting on the other side of double-paned windows. And inside there is dry flesh crossed with blue veins and there is a petulantly beating heart and there are scrawny pieces of spinal column, strung together and pulled taut like the pearls (freshwater) around a white thin neck. Inside there is fire, smoke and fire, but not a drop of fear.
Where are your scars? someone should ask, and soon. Where is the scar where is my home? cries a pudgy barely-waddling memory, in the dark inside of Dean.
I am a demon where is my proof
where are the scars I've left
where is it written
is what I lived all that
where is my climactic refrain?
Outside, the reapers take to the sky, the dusty road. Some ride the train. On to the next roost. Sun filters through in their absence.
"I don't get it," says Dean, finally. Part of him would not mind killing her. After all, he's come all the way to Nebraska for this. He should write his own pages, and they should begin painted with old blood. Because that's the story, right? Of his former family. Another part of him is waiting for her to tell him, faith, faith sweet child. You were meant to be no demon. You've been raised, in so many ways, to escape. Have faith.
"There's no lesson here," Mrs. Rourke reminds him. She goes to tend her roast.
In Dean's mind: The either-or of a human windpipe; capillary roadmaps; sulfur, powdery, under his boots. Lone reaper, caught on the weatherstripping.
And a wandering, a wandering on.