banner by jessicarae24
Title: What Comes After
Character's: Sam and Dean Winchester, Jessica Moore, Sam's Stanford friends (most OCs), and a brief appearance by Missouri Mosley.
Category: Hurt/Comfort, Horror, Angst, and AU
Rating: T (PG-13)
Spoilers: None beyond second season if any…it's pretty much AU.
Disclaimer: Supernatural and its characters are the property of Eric Kripke and the CW. This is solely written for fun…obviously no profit made.
Summary: Sam and Dean travel to Stanford to investigate recent deaths of college students after receiving a call from Rebecca Warren. Meanwhile, as Dean recovers from his injuries, his new and bizarre visions of Jessica continue to haunt him and Sam. Sequel to "The Wake-Up Call."
A/N: As always, my apologies if I haven't responded yet to private messages or reviews and, most importantly, for the delayed update. I've had this chapter ready to post for several months, but I wanted to get the next one ready to go so you all wouldn't kill me for leaving you on a cliffy. Actually, my friend,gaelicspirit (who I want to thank for looking at this chapter long, long ago) was the one who warned me I'd better not leave you all to suffer from a big delay between these two chapters. :)
Also, I want to thank sodakey for beta reading it for me and helping me to improve it in many, many ways. I'm ever so grateful for her edits and her advice. All mistakes are mine as I do go over it again before posting.
The chapter after this one has been beta read by the amazing sodakey, but I'm still working on the edits I received this week. It should be up before too much longer, depending on what life hits me with over the next several days. If you wonder what my delays and issues are, please wander through my update tags--I don't want to bore you with a page of writer woes here.
Just know I really, really do appreciate each and every person reading this and, especially, each and every review and message left for me. In fact, I want you to know that the main reason this story is continuing despite the marathon of writerly torture its become is because of those of you who leave reviews and send me private messages encouraging me to keep going. Part of it is my determination to finish the thing, but even that gets bogged down in despair at times. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart for lifting me up with your kind words. I hope you enjoy this latest installment.
The title of this chapter is a reference to the song of the same name by The National. While the lyrics really have nothing to do with the chapter, it did seem appropriate in some ways and it was also a song I listened to a lot while editing this chapter. And to sum up my feelings on posting this, I leave you with these lyrics:
"The fear has gripped me, but here I go
My heart sinks as I jump up
Your hand grips hand as my eyes shut."
The rumble of the Impala solid beneath him, Dean tipped his face into the wind rushing in from the window and breathed. The cool air and steady, familiar vibrations helped clear the cobwebs clinging to his mind. He readjusted his grip on the steering wheel, alarmed at the weakness consuming him, bone and marrow. The encounter with Jessica had hit him hard.
He turned up the volume of the music playing through the Impala's speakers—purposely loud enough to prevent conversation. He really wasn't interested in anything Chris had to say anyway. Truth be told, Chris likely felt the same given the current verbal cease fire. Maybe acting like an ass had finally used up all his energy.
Dean was just grateful for the stillness the music provided his overtaxed brain.
When the apartment building appeared in front of them, it was too soon. Dean thumbed the corner of his mouth as he parked and climbed out, gesturing for Chris to join him at the back of the car. Lifting the trunk lid, he grabbed his green duffel and began holding things up, explaining as he packed.
"See these shells?"
"I know, salt-loaded. You said that already."
"Yes, but what I didn't say, we don't have many left—so go easy on them." Dean dug out an iron rod stashed beneath Sam's duffle. "Use this if you run out of shells. Iron works as good as salt in a pinch."
Chris nodded as he took it.
"And take this." Dean held out a wicked looking silver knife. "I'm not completely convinced this is a ghost problem. A few things we can try if it isn't—silver and holy water." Dean threw a bottle of what looked like ordinary water into the bag. Reaching deep into the back, he pulled out an old sawed-off and tossed it to Chris. "This is Sam's. It's old and he doesn't use it much, but if you damage it, he will be pissed—at both of us."
He grabbed his own shotgun, shouldered the duffel and slammed the lid shut, hand lingering on the warm metal a few precious seconds. Pocketing the keys, he turned and said, "You sure you want to do this? Not too late to change your mind."
Chris met Dean's gaze. "I'm no coward. Whatever you can take, so can I."
Dean snorted as he shook his head. "Alright then, let's go." He walked away without checking to see if Chris followed—sometimes, fake confidence was better than nothing, the rest he'd borrow with interest.
They made it halfway up the staircase before the first wave of disorientation washed through him. He paused mid-step. Gripping the banister, he waited for his equilibrium to return, eyes fixed resolutely ahead. Uncharacteristically, Chris said nothing—didn't even sigh—just waited quietly until Dean was able to go on.
A cold sweat covered Dean from head to toe by the time they reached the floor of the apartment. His temples were damp with it and he had to work hard to control the tremors in his hands. This close to the apartment, he felt a subtle difference between here and the hospital. Much of it the same—but the resonance in his bones told him it was somehow different too.
The feeling grew as he entered the room, increasing with every step toward ground zero. He stopped once he reached the bedroom doorway, one hand firmly fixed on the frame, head bent against the wash of manic energy zipping through him. Felt like a euphoric buzz, except dissonant and frenzied, an unpleasant itch crawling under his skin. He shivered.
Dropping his duffel to the inside-right of the room, he bent to rummage through it until he found the flashlight and clicked it on. Yellowed light cut through the dimness, revealing all was the same as when they'd left—no sign there had been any fire at all, old or new. Over his shoulder, he said, "Cover me, but stay close to the doorway. Don't come into the room if you can help it."
Chris nodded, raising the gun in both hands—if his grip was a little white-knuckled, well, Dean wouldn't begrudge the guy that much. Maybe there was some sense under the bravado after all.
Flashlight roving over the room, Dean searched for anything out of place. The nearby dresser was devoid of all but a thin layer of dust, but it was a good place to start. He pulled each drawer open swiftly. Each one was empty, nothing but lint and more dust inside.
Moving toward the closet, Dean faltered. His stomach clenched. Something wrong, a vague tingling of his senses, shivered through him. Forcefully, he twisted the knob and jerked the door wide open. Nothing.
Giving it a thorough once-over, he pushed aside the empty hangers and searched the corners of the floor. Still nothing. He grabbed the chair in the nook next to the closet and used it to climb up, shining his light along the top shelf. Yahtzee!
Snugged up along the far left corner was a small, blackened locket. Dean stretched on his tip-toes and made a lunge for it, barely snagging the end of the chain. He quickly stuffed it in his coat pocket, needing both hands to ease down from the chair, head ringing as fresh dizziness swept through him in a whirl.
His feet had just touched the floor when Chris warned, "Dean."
Dean followed the direction of Chris's pointed gun. Familiar pressure ballooned against the backs of his eyes forcing him to grimace and squint at the light gathering in the center of the room. Keeping his legs stiff against the sudden jelly sensation, Dean stepped closer to Chris and dropped the flashlight, letting it bounce soundlessly on the carpet. Reaching a hand out to Chris, he waited for the cold confidence of his shotgun to settle against his palm. Before Chris had finished digging for the weapon, Jessica had fully formed in front of them. Chris froze as he stared up in astonishment. Here, in this place, she was strong enough to make her presence seen by anyone.
"Chris!" Dean hissed. "Shotgun!"
"Wait, you're not gonna shoot her!?" It was half demand and half question, as Chris stood with Dean's weapon clutched tight.
"If she tries anything, damn right I will!"
"I won't let you hurt her!"
Dean's eyes snapped to glare at Chris. "She's already dead and I like my hide intact," he growled, trying to snatch the weapon away from Chris.
Chris glared back, keeping a firm grip and yanking back. "Doesn't mean—"
"Dean," Jessica said, the syllables not all quite there, but clear enough to be understood. "Please."
Giving up the fight over the weapon, Dean turned to Jessica, swallowing against the unbearable sadness she pushed into him.
"You're not the one who's been hurting people. Am I right?" Always go with your gut, son, echoed in his ears.
Jess shook her head from side to side. "It's… me…"
Which, okay, that wasn't altogether clear. "Jessica, I want to help you, but I don't—ahh!" Dean doubled over when she suddenly appeared two feet in front of him. Pressing an arm against an aching throb in his stomach, Dean struggled to keep his feet. "Please. I want to help," he grit out. Groaning, Dean ducked his head when another bolt of pressure lanced his skull.
"Look!" she whispered.
"Wh-what should I do?!" Chris stammered from beside him.
"Shoot her!" Dean pushed between his lips, trying not to pass out. "Oh, God," he moaned even as he turned his head to where Jessica was pointing. Behind Chris, a black shadow appeared, one long arm stretching toward him. The interior space was too dark to make out much more than a flash of yellow eyes and filthy claws.
"Chris!" Dean cried, "Behind you!"
Chris twisted to look behind him, lifting the gun seconds too late. The weapon ripped from his hands and flew out of the room. The duffel followed, sliding across the floor until it came to rest somewhere in the living room. The bedroom window behind them banged open, wind tossing the curtains in gales that whipped at their clothes and hair. Dean yanked Chris out of the way just as the creature's arm slashed down, claws raking across Dean's chest in deep furrows. He cried out, the burning shock barely settling in before Jessica threw one hand out toward the shadow and one hand toward Dean. The room motion-blurred around him, pain exploding as his back crashed against the wall, his head bouncing hard against the plaster.
Dean felt himself slide up the wall, out of reach of whatever was still inside the doorway. The shadow was also stuck fast in its tracks.
"Jessica!" Dean yelled. But she paid him no attention and his body continued to slide up until he was pinned to the ceiling—just like Jess had been when he'd saved Sam a second time from fire.
Just like his mom before that.
Below him, Chris cowered in the corner by the dresser, whipping his wide, disbelieving eyes between Dean and the thing in the doorway and Jessica. The boy looked ready to keel over if someone so much as yelled boo at him. Obviously no help coming from that direction. A gust of unnaturally cold wind blew the shadow out of the room as the door slammed shut and shook on its hinges. The door continued to rattle and bang and the wind grew in angry intensity.
Jessica turned, then winked out mid-motion. "Listen!" she demanded, re-materializing beneath him, with the ceiling against his back and Jessica floating parallel to his front. She placed both hands on his head, her eyes bore into his even as his body burst into flame. Blood dripped from his wounds, falling straight through her to the bed below. Fire engulfed them both, and, though it hurt, and he could hear himself cry out, he had enough presence of mind to know it wasn't physical. His clothes did not melt, his hair did not singe.
Jessica caressed his cheek, then spoke, "It's not me. But I am bound. They will all die if you don't stop it."
Black haze blurred Dean's vision, but he widened his eyes, forcing himself to stay awake. Forcing his lips to move, he asked, "What is it?"
Jessica shook her head. "Very angry and very old. It feeds on them. You must break the bond, Dean. Let me rest, save my friends."
A single tear washed down her cheek and she flickered. Then, like a switch being thrown, she was gone and he was falling. His body bounced roughly on the bed below, the haze taking over his vision completely. The next thing he knew, Chris was turning him onto his back and leaning over him.
"Oh God, you're bleeding!" Chris was panicking. Dean could hear it in his voice—could see it in the kid's white face. He was punching at his cell phone with a thumb, saying, "Hang on, just hang on."
Dean grabbed the arm that held the phone, grunting when his wounds pulled. "No," he whispered through his teeth. "No. Please."
Shocked, Chris stuttered, "Y-you need a hospital—your chest is ripped open! You passed out—"
"I'm… okay," he managed to say. "Just need stitches."
"Dude, your color is completely wrong—you were on fire!"
"A hospital can't fix it… not real…"
"How can you know that? Look at you!"
Dean felt his eyes roll and knew he didn't have long. "Not as bad as…as it looks, just need some sleep s'all. Lori. She'll know wh..." Dean swallowed against his parched throat and drew in enough air to whisper, "what to do."
Dean could see the doubt rippling across Chris's face. Reaching up, he gathered a handful of Chris's shirt and yanked him closer.
"Promise me. No hospitals. S-sam—you said you wanted to protect him. Then do it. Has enough on his mind."
Something settled in Chris's eyes at the mention of Sam. He nodded and then pressed a single number on his phone.
"Lori? It's Chris. You home right now?"
Dean sighed in relief and let his hand drop to rest atop his bloody chest. Finally, he could close his eyes. He was so tired. Snatches of Chris's voice faded in and out—but not much penetrated the buzzing in his head.
"…he said you'd know…."
"…be ready…ten tops…"
"Man, you're heavy…"
"...keys, keys, where are the damn keys?"
"Almost there, keep your eyes open…Dean!"
He tried to obey the words, he really did—but the pull of unconsciousness felt too right. Surrender was easy.
Pacing the waiting room, Sam pushed handfuls of hair away from his face, giving it a tug before letting his hands rest on his neck. A nurse had come and taken Becky and Nathan back to see Aaron, leaving Sam alone with his thoughts. His mind replayed events from earlier in a loop, his brain sorting through all that had happened. He tried not to worry, but Dean was scaring him. Sam couldn't put his finger on it exactly, but there was something going on he felt like he should be seeing but didn't. It was a nagging feeling that left him irritated – an itch he couldn't scratch.
Tired of pacing the same fifteen feet, he slumped into the chair across from the doorway. Families shuffled by, some looking worn out and others relieved and still others bored. People clad in different colored scrubs walked by discussing their day and laughing together. Sometimes someone would speed by in a white coat. Inside the waiting room, time was frozen—but out there, life went on. People went to work and took lunch breaks. Others left for their homes and some were just arriving. People moved. People breathed. Life moved forward.
Sam sighed, rubbing the pads of his fingers in circles at his temples. He thought about calling Dean—just to make sure he'd made it back to their room okay. But every time he reached for his phone, the thought of Dean actually getting some sleep would stop him from carrying it through.
"Hey, you okay?" Nathan's voice interrupted his thoughts.
Letting his hands slip down to rub his thighs, Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm good. Just been a really long day, ya know?"
"Tell me about it." Nathan took a seat across from him and leaned back with a yawn. "It has been a long day. I think hospitals are caught in some weird time lag. Becky said you could come back, just give it a few minutes—the nurses were changing his sheets and she didn't think you or Aaron would enjoy that awkward moment."
Sam laughed lightly. "No, not so much. How was he?"
Nathan's face sobered and he shrugged. "He looks like he's sleeping. Actually, he looks pretty good for someone who coded. It's… I don't know… hard to believe, I guess."
Sam nodded, thinking about what Dean had said earlier. Dean hadn't been around when Aaron slipped into the coma, but it did seem that he was better now that Dean was gone. Sam didn't know what to make of that.
"So," Nathan began, "you really saw Jess? She was here?"
Inwardly, Sam groaned. This really wasn't something he was keen on discussing. "Yeah, she was… and I did."
Nathan nodded, pulling a lip in under his teeth. "I don't get it, Sam. Why is she hurting Dean? It doesn't make any sense."
Shrugging, Sam said, "I don't think it's intentional—just a side effect of the whole thing."
"But why him? None of us even knew Dean. Why not haunt someone she was closer to?"
"I honestly don't know." Sam hesitated, wondering how deep to get into this. "It's a long story, but it's our best guess that Dean is attracting that kind of attention right now. Remember the nightmares I told you about? Well, it's all a part of it."
"And she hasn't told you what she wants?" Nathan whispered as a couple walked into the room.
"No. She's trying—but sometimes spirits have a hard time communicating. Plus, it takes a lot of energy for a spirit to communicate from distances—I don't think she's strong enough outside the apartment."
"But if she's attached to Dean, how are you able to see her? We didn't see anything."
"I don't know if direct body contact would work for anyone or if it's just me… but I can see her when I'm touching Dean."
Nathan rubbed a hand over his mouth. "Wow. No wonder you seem distracted. What are you guys gonna do?"
Sam shook his head. "Man, I don't know. I mean, we don't even know how any of this is possible."
"Maybe you guys should just get as far away from here as you can? Maybe with distance, it would break whatever this is?"
"Only problem is," Sam said, "distance doesn't seem to stop the nightmares. Plus, something is killing people. Dean's not gonna walk away from that. He thinks it's his personal duty to save everyone in the world."
Sam felt Nathan's gaze sharpen on him as he asked, "And you don't?"
Slouching back in his chair, Sam confessed, "In this case, it strikes a little too close to home—but, otherwise? Not really. I mean, why does it have to be us all the time? And you can't save everyone… no matter what we do, people die."
Nathan's jaw clenched. "But you have to try, Sam. People—people don't know about all the darkness in the world. They don't know monsters are real… but you do. I mean, for every person you save, someone else doesn't have to grieve for them. Doesn't that make it worth it?"
It hit Sam where Nathan was coming from and the guilt that rose up twisted his stomach sour. "I'm sorry, Nathan. I'm so sorry about Rachel. If I could have saved her…."
"So, you do know something." Nathan shook his head and looked down as he took a breath. "With all you know, why didn't you help her? She was my sister, my whole world."
And there was the question Sam had been hoping to avoid since meeting back up with Nathan. Again, the guilt bubbled up thick and inescapable.
"It's complicated. But the short of it is, I wasn't in a good place when all that was going on—I was still so angry with my dad, with our way of life. Maybe I got too comfortable being normal. But, I swear, I didn't know what was happening until it was too late or I would've tried."
Nathan smiled bitterly. "Do you know what I would have given to talk about it with someone? I thought I was going crazy, Sam… and I couldn't talk about any of it because who would've believed me? If only I had believed in her—but I didn't. I pretended not to see, pretended not to notice the weird things happening."
"You can't blame yourself. You weren't prepared for something like that. I should've known, but even I didn't figure it out. And I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you like I should've been. I was too scared to tell anyone about myself—I just wanted to get as far away from that life as I could, especially after Jess and I got together."
Nathan sniffed and rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah, I get fear, I do. I understand all too well about being scared. But you could've trusted me. I would've kept your secret, I would've believed you."
Sam swallowed and stared at the space between their feet. "I'm sorry. I wish I could go back, do a lot of things different."
"Well," Nathan shrugged, "hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I just don't want anyone else I care about to get hurt—I'm glad you and your brother are here." Nathan smiled tentatively, his eyes still shiny.
"Yeah," Sam whispered. "I promise, we'll figure this out. Dean and I will stop whatever this is."
Nathan looked at him a little sadly. "Good."
"Sam?" Becky said from the doorway. She waited until Sam looked up and then said, "You can come see him now."