banner by jessicarae24
Title: What Comes After
Character’s: Sam and Dean Winchester, Jessica Moore, Sam’s Stanford friends, 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 and not profit.
Summary: Sequel to "The Wake-Up Call." Sam and Dean travel to Palo Alto to investigate recent deaths. Meanwhile, as Dean recovers from his injuries, his new and bizarre visions of Jessica continue to haunt him and Sam.
Chapter One ~*~ Chapter Two ~*~ Chapter Three
A/N: I want to thank each and every one of you for your patience in waiting so long in between chapters. It’s been quite a long year and I’m grateful that you all were so understanding.
I tried to respond to all of the PMs and e-mails I got, but just in case I missed anyone, I wanted to thank you all for your support, good wishes and prayers—it really did help just knowing someone out there was thinking about me and my family and wishing us well.
Hubby is doing well. He’s still off from work because his workplace won’t allow him to return until he has a full release and his doctor wouldn’t give him that just yet. He has an appointment for Monday to find out if he can finally go back to work. Gotta say, I have a lot of mixed feelings about it.
Again, for all of those who have stuck with me, I can never say how much your support has meant. Each little prod to see if I was okay or how the chapter was coming helped keep me motivated. It feels good to know that you all are still there and want to see more—all my humble gratitude! It continues to astonish me that with all the awesome choices out there, you guys still want to see what I have going on in my little brain, lol! Hope this is well worth the wait…and sorry I’ve been sitting on it for almost a week. I got nervous, lol.
I wanted to wait and post this after I got home tonight so I could post simultaneously on my LiveJournal at the same time, but I just have to get this up somewhere...so...
All my thanks to Sodakey for continuing to see this through, for all her hard work in helping me make this better…and most especially for poking me once in a while to make sure I was still working on it. It means a lot to have that support.
To Mady Bay and Tidia—you girls have the sharpest eyes! Thank you for those catches!
Chapter 4: Scene of the Crime
Sam felt Dean shiver, the tremors bleeding into the arm and leg he had pressed against his brother’s. He watched Dean bring the odd-shaped coffee mug to his lips and gulp deeply. He’d already downed two mugs over the course of their questioning and was now working on a third.
How can he possibly be cold? Sam thought as he shifted his sweaty body away from Dean’s. What’s going on you with, man? Sam eyed his brother covertly. Dean just didn’t look right—his skin color was all wrong. Even his freckles were a figment of themselves.
Maybe it’s nothing…but what if its not? Not like he’d tell you.
Sam huffed quietly to himself. You’ve gotta get grip, dude. He’s here; he’s fine—stop treating him like a China doll. You’ve gotta give him some breathing room.
A subtle rustle-crinkle pulled his attention to the other side of the room. Lori had finally shown up and polished off the last two slices of cold pizza before curling up on the only seat left—a bright orange beanbag. As Sam watched, her eyes slid slowly up and over to Dean, then darted away again.
At first, Sam had chalked the attention up to simple attraction. Dean was a girl magnet personified, and his initial meeting with Lori had been charged with sparks even Sam had felt, but as he continued to slyly observe her, he noticed tiny lines forming between her brows and a rigid set to her mouth.
The knot in Sam’s gut tightened. He felt his fingers tingle from the tight grip he had on his long-warm Coke. Obviously, he wasn’t the only one who had noticed Dean’s sweaty pallor and intermittent trembles, and that twisted something in his stomach.
“Okay, well…” Dean rubbed a thumb under his nose, smearing away the dampness collecting there. “Have any of you been back to the apartment since the fire? Taken any mementos, that kind of thing?”
Guilty looks passed between Rebecca and Aaron. Lori looked down, and Nathan locked eyes on Sam. Chris continued staring out the window as if he were bored.
Sam cocked his head, puzzlement bunching his brows together.
Dean’s voice rumbled next to him, “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Well,” Rebecca began, cleared her throat when it caught, “we sorta, kinda…held a…séance.” Her shoulders slumped on the last word.
“You did what?” Dean asked, eyebrows up, then held up his hand, palm out. “No, I got it the first time.” He shook his head, an incredulous smirk twisting his lips. Sam watched his knuckles whiten as he set down his cup and stood, pacing to the window. “Do you have any idea how dangerous that was? How incredibly stupid?”
“Dean,” Sam reprimanded, also standing. “They didn’t know.”
“Exactly.” Dean stabbed a finger at Sam. “That’s what makes it so dangerous. Hell, even professionals are taking their chances with something like that.” He ran a hand roughly over his hair. “I mean, for all we know, they could be responsible for this whole mess!”
Both Rebecca and Aaron paled. Rebecca’s hand landed at her throat, her eyes huge as saucers.
Lori leaned forward, the scrunching noise of the beanbag alerting everyone to her movement. “Wait a minute…what are you saying?”
Taking a slow step toward her, a vein throbbing in his temple, Dean enunciated slowly as if speaking to a wayward child, “I’m saying, sweetheart, that when you had your little chat with the dead, you could’ve released whatever’s doing this.”
Her eyes widened for a second, then flitted side to side. “Wait. That can’t be…I mean,” she turned toward Rebecca, “wasn’t that Simms girl attacked before we held the séance?”
“Yes…yes,” Rebecca drew out slowly. “And Ann had already freaked out about the shadow in her room,” Rebecca continued. “Remember? That’s why we decided to do it. It was a week later she moved out.” Her eyes lifted to include Dean. “By the time we held the séance, things were already happening. We were convinced that if we could talk to Jess, find out if it was really her, it would help us figure out what to do next.”
“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” Sam asked.
Rebecca didn’t answer at first, a long pause widening in the room like a canyon gulf. But Sam could see the answer in her eyes without having to hear it said. “Because of me. It was because of me, right?”
“I’m sorry, Sam. We just weren’t sure if we should involve you. We knew how hard losing her was.” Sadness and regret punctuated Rebecca’s expression.
Sam nodded twice and blew out a breath to ease the tightening in his chest. Giving Rebecca a hesitant smile, he said, “Its okay. But I wished you’d called sooner. Any kind of supernatural contact can be dangerous. Not only can you put yourself in danger, but others as well. It’s like poking a hibernating grizzly with a stick.”
“How many of you were there?” Dean asked.
“Just three of us. The book said it should be done in threes and only by believers—so that only left me, Aaron and Lori.”
“What book was this?” Sam asked, looking back and forth between them.
“Uh…” Rebecca looked to Aaron for help.
“Don’t look at me; I was just an extra body.”
Lori cleared her throat, then said, “I think it was called Practical Color Magick.”
“Are you sure?”
She ran her lower lip through her teeth. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
“Do you still have it?” Sam asked.
“No,” Rebecca answered. “We checked it out from the university library and took it back when we were finished.
“Do you think you could get it back?”
Rebecca nodded. “Sure. We could probably get it tomorrow. Do you think it will help?”
“Not really,” Sam answered. “If you’re sure you saw Jess and noticed the strange stuff before the séance, it’s not likely that you did any harm. But, we have to cover all our bases.” He traded a look with Dean.
Dean held out a finger as he asked, “So, did anything happen? Did it work?”
“No. Nothing happened. The candle didn’t even flicker.” Rebecca shrugged.
Dean nodded, eyebrows pushing up. “That’s actually good news.”
“So what now?” Aaron asked.
Dean sighed, rubbing a hand on his neck. “Well, I guess we check out the apartment and the other places where the victims died.”
“Wait…you don’t mean,” Rebecca gestured between him and Sam, “both of you are going back to the apartment.”
Sam tried not to cringe.
“Well, yeah,” Dean shrugged.
He almost bought Dean’s cavalier response. Almost.
“You’re kinda thick in the head, aren’t ya, cowboy?” For the first time in many minutes, Chris broke his skeptical silence.
Rubbing the top of his head, Dean shrugged again. “Comes in handy in our line of work.” He flashed Chris a brilliant, toothy smile.
Sam opened his mouth to intervene when he felt fingers grip his forearm. Rebecca’s eyes searched his worriedly. “Do you think that’s a good idea? I mean, are you okay with this?”
He set a hand over Rebecca’s, squeezed it and then shook her off gently. “You worry too much. I’ll be fine.”
Chris stood, approached Sam’s left, hands beckoning. “Look, man, can’t your brother go by himself? There’s no reason you have to go.”
In his peripheral, Sam saw Dean stick his hands in his pockets and let his head fall forward, but at the last second, his eyes flicked up from under his lashes, and their gazes caught. The sadness, the bone-weariness lining his expression caused Sam’s throat to clog against the protests he’d been aiming at his friends.
After a minute, Dean seemed to come to some kind of a solution. “They’re right. There’s no reason I can’t do this one alone, Sam. You stay at the motel and see what else you can find out.”
Sam stepped forward, forcing Dean to keep eye contact. “No. I’m going.” Setting his jaw to stubborn, he continued, “I want to.”
Dean opened his mouth, but Sam turned to Chris and said, “I’ve been back since…well, since the fire. It was tough, but I got through it. I appreciate the concern, but it’s really not necessary.” Looking back at Dean again, he said, “Besides, I don’t like the idea of you going alone.” And he didn’t. Dean had seemed a little better since his nap, but something was going on with him. The sweating, the shivering, the paleness—it wasn’t just nothing.
“All right. Okay,” Dean shrugged, hands still deep in his pockets. “Now that we have that settled...” He made as if to leave.
“You’re going now?” Aaron asked, eyes round with excitement.
Dean smirked. “Nah. We try to keep breaking and entering limited to certain hours of the night, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh.” Aaron looked disappointed for a second.
Sam couldn’t get past the stunning eagerness with which his old friend had accepted his shameful secret. It was discombobulating to say the least.
Walking over to a side table, Rebecca pulled the drawer open and rummaged around before turning back with a key dangling from her fingers. “No need to break and enter—I have the key.” She beamed at them.
Sam saw Dean mirror his raised eyebrows.
“How did you—?” Sam began.
“I have connections,” she teased. “Actually, I not only have this key—but I also have permission from the super to go in. Turns out, he’s just as anxious as we are to have this solved—so I told him I was bringing in some…shall we say, experts. He didn’t even ask questions, just handed me the key and told me to make sure we locked up afterwards. Does this mean you guys can go now?”
“Uh—” Dean started to protest.
“I don’t see why not,” Sam interrupted. He really just wanted to get it over with—now was as good a time as any.
“Oooh, can I come with?” Aaron was practically bouncing on his heels.
Sam looked at Dean with a barely contained grin.
“No,” Dean said firmly. “Not a good idea. It’s safer if you stay here.”
“Oh, c’mon!” Aaron beckoned to Sam. “I promise I’ll stay out of the way. You won’t even know I’m there.”
“Dean’s right,” Sam said, shaking his head. He hated to burst Aaron’s bubble, but... “It really isn’t safe.”
“No, look, I’ll stay right behind you guys. I’ll do anything you tell me. Please, guys, please.” Aaron’s earnest face made it hard to resist.
Dean was shaking his head, but Sam could see he was starting to soften. “You know, this really isn’t a good idea—like, at all.”
“Pleeaase,” Lori’s was standing, too.
“Well, I don’t care if you like it or not, I’m going,” Chris said firmly.
“I thought you didn’t believe any of this crap,” Dean reminded him.
A smug smile stretching his lips, Chris answered, “I don’t. I’m going as moral support for Sam. It’s called being a good friend.” The sneer was hidden behind a smile.
Throwing his hands in the air, Dean declared, “Fine. Whatever. But, no girls.”
“What? That’s not fair.” Lori looked affronted. “Why not us? That’s being sexist.”
Dean looked her and grinned, “No, that’s being practical. We,” he gestured between him and Sam, “can’t keep an eye on all four of you.”
Lori’s face fell, but her chin jutted a little in rebellion.
Aaron turned to Rebecca, placed a hand on both her arms. “He’s right, Becs. I’d feel much better if you stayed here.”
“Hey, not a problem—I’ve had enough supernatural contact to last me a lifetime.”
“Finally. Someone with some sense,” Dean groused as he pulled the door open and marched out without one look back.
Sam briefly turned to Nathan, who had been quiet—apparently forgotten by everyone else. “You staying here?”
Nathan cleared his throat, “Naw. No. I’ve got some studying to do…and it’s been a long day. I think I’m gonna head out.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, I remember what that was like. Okay, catch ya later, then.”
“Be careful.” Nathan threw after him.
Chris and Aaron on his heels, Sam bee-lined for Dean.
Sam had only half-listened to the barrage of questions from Aaron on their way down and he’d done his best not to let the stony, disapproving silence from Chris get to him. His main focus was on catching up to Dean. Only good manners had prevented him from abandoning his friends and jogging to catch up with his storm of a brother.
Dean was already snagging and stuffing weapons and things into their green army duffle by the time Sam caught up with him. Looking at the tense lines of his brother’s back, Sam began framing a defense for the two men he’d left standing at the front of the car.
Sam tugged on Dean’s sleeve, kept his voice low as he implored, “Hey, relax…I doubt we find much, if anything. It should be safe enough.”
Dean’s eyes shifted up from under his brows and then back to the job at hand. “Should be? Better hope so, little brother. Last thing we need is amateur hour in the middle of getting our asses kicked.”
“Come on, Dean.”
Jerking his arm away, Dean turned and stepped up to Sam. “Since when do we involve civvies in our hunts?” Dean gestured, arms out to his side, hands full of duffle and car keys. “Huh?”
“Um, well, there was Sarah. And Cassie.”
Dean straightened. Glared. Sam raised his chin into it, stared quietly back.
A moment passed between them before Dean’s eyes broke away, off to the side. He cocked his head down. Shoving the keys into his coat pocket, he dug out his favorite sawed off and shoved the bag into Sam’s arms.
“You’re in charge of babysitting, then,” Dean said, voice loud enough to carry to the others.
Aaron looked up at that, grinning conspiratorially at Sam.
“Hey man, I can take care of myself,” Chris shot toward Dean’s retreating back.
Dean ignored them both and strode back toward the complex, lowering his sawed off so that it was hidden by his leg.
Rounding on Sam, Chris pressed, “What’s his problem? Didn’t your daddy teach him how to share?”
Sam rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen the tension there and shook his head. He met Chris’s defiant eyes as he said, “Give him a break, okay? He’s worried, just like you. And he doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt.” When Chris dropped his gaze, Sam heaved the bag over his shoulder and began walking.
“So,” Aaron chimed in, hands moving in the air as he spoke, “do we need some kind of a weapon? Is there any special equipment we need, like special night vision goggles? Any tips for the amateurs?”
When Sam turned his head to look at him, he saw the big grin spreading across Aaron’s face again. He smiled back and began explaining about their specially made shotgun shells and what kinds of things could be used should you lose your gun. The general ghost hunting 101 spiel.
Dean was waiting for them outside the room when they rounded the corner—tight lines around his eyes, shoulders hunched as if he were standing in a blizzard. The hairs on Sam’s neck rose as he drew near and he shivered against the feeling building vaguely in the back of his head. It’s nothing, just my imagination. I haven’t had any visions or dreams. It’s just being back here, that’s all. It’s fine. We’re fine.
“You okay?” The words were out before he knew they were coming.
Dean grimaced, eyes flicking to the others. “Sure,” he shrugged, “why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. Just—” Sam felt Chris and Aaron crowding behind them. Shaking his head, he continued, “No, it’s nothing.”
He felt Dean’s gaze linger, then caught his brother’s nod out of the corner of his eye. Digging out a spare shotgun and a canister of salt, he handed the gun to Chris, and, to Aaron, he handed the canister of salt.
Aaron rolled his eyes but took it, muttering, “So, if I see anything, I just throw handfuls of salt?”
Sam had already explained that they didn’t have enough guns for everyone and since Chris had extensive gun handling experience where Aaron had none, he automatically got the last remaining weapon.
“Pretty much.” Sam dug the key out of his pocket and stuck it in the lock, giving it a twist. Looking up from under his bangs at Dean, he whispered, “Ready?”
“Yep. Let’s do it.” To Aaron, Dean whispered, “Whatever you do, stay behind me.”
Smiling to himself, Sam carefully hid his face and pushed in the door. To his left, he heard Chris cock his gun and to his right, peeking out from behind Dean, Aaron inhaled.
Moonlight spilled through the uncovered windows, washing the walls and abandoned furniture in pale blue. Shock reverberated through Sam. It looked nothing like he’d expected…didn’t look like home, didn’t telegraph thoughts of familiar things or of Jess. It had been completely renovated, just like his friends had said. New carpeting, missing walls, wallpapered designs that seemed overly feminine. It even smelled different—freesia rather than homemade cookies.
Then, a sudden flash of memory transposed over the room. Jessica, smiling sweetly as she slipped an earring into her left lobe. Soft blonde curls shifting in the light, blue eyes sparking with mischief. Sam’s heart tripped, sputtered, beating sharply against his chest.
Dean shifted at his side and the vision evaporated, gone as suddenly as it came. “Sam?” Dean asked gruffly.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. It’s…not like I remembered.” Sam stepped across the threshold, making room for the others once inside.
Eyes big, Aaron whispered from behind Dean, “The girl that lived here put a lot of money into fixing it up. Money didn’t seem to be a big issue for her.”
“Obviously,” Dean muttered, eyebrows quirking.
Sam raised his EMF and began scanning. Signaling to Dean, Sam indicated he’d take the kitchen area and leave the bedroom for Dean. “Meet you back in the living room?”
“Dude,” Dean cautioned Aaron over his shoulder.
Looking sheepish, Aaron dropped his hand from where he’d bunched it into the back of Dean’s coat and rocked back on his heels.
“Sure, see ya in a few,” Dean directed to Sam.
Beside him, Chris didn’t look scared exactly, but the serious set of his face, the way his eyes would flick to the EMF and away made Sam wonder if his denial of the supernatural was just a front. He was obviously nervous and on guard, hand tight on his shotgun.
Sam hefted his shotgun into a better position in his hand and then, EMF in the lead, Chris close by his side, moved toward the darkened kitchen. It, too, was different in unexpected ways. New oak cabinets that still smelled faintly of lacquer, tan marble tile, stainless steel appliances. More frilly wallpaper. Nothing like their plain, functional set up had been.
He had a brief vision of Jess whirling around, a pan of eggs in her hand, hair tousled and looking beautiful on a lazy Saturday morning. Jess loved cooking for him.
Beside him, Chris gestured at the EMF with the tip of his shotgun. “What’s that supposed to do?”
Sam shook himself. “It’s an EMF detector. It looks for disruptions in natural magnetic fields…and, hopefully, indicates the presence of paranormal events.”
Chris took that in with a frown, caught somewhere between disbelief and something else Sam couldn’t identify. After a while, his friend started moving around the room with Sam again.
“Did you make it?” Chris asked, voice hushed. “It looks like an old walkman.”
Laughing, Sam paused in front of the sink, saying, “Yeah, that’s what it was made from and, no, I didn’t build it. Dean did. The one I use is like the kind used by scientists for electromagnetic radiation detection, but it broke a while back.”
“Oh. Well, if that’s his, what’s he using?” Chris asked, looking behind him like he’d heard something, then back around again like he’d already dismissed it.
“Well…he’s trying something…new,” Sam tried to hedge. Please don’t ask, please don’t ask, you don’t want to know.
But Chris had already turned to the refrigerator, pulled open the door and was checking out the contents. “Hey, Sam. Look, they left the beer.” Taking out a bottle of expensive looking brew, Chris held it up with a huge grin.
A loud crash and cut off, “SAA—!” stopped them in their tracks. It took only a second for their expressions to switch from surprise to determination and they were both sprinting toward the bedroom.
Reaching the room first, Sam was immediately struck by fiery pain, forcing him to grip onto the doorjamb for support. His brain took in several facts at once.
Aaron lay at his feet limp as a rag doll. Dean was slumped against the dresser at the foot of the bed, one arm wrapped around his middle, the other struck out in front of him as if holding something at bay, his face contorted, eyes fixed on the ceiling…
Jess flickered, white dress flowing, arms reaching toward Dean, yellow flames dancing all around her, right above the bed.
Chris crashed into Sam’s back, his sharp inhale sounding loudly in Sam’s ear.
…but Sam couldn’t look away, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breath. Two different sets of pain washed over him. A past pain that would never completely heal and the fresh physical pain of skin scorched by fire.
Dean, he thought—but couldn’t take his eyes away from flickering image of Jess.
“Aaron!” Chris yelled beside him, trying to push past Sam, but Sam was a big guy and was firmly rooted where he stood. Chris worked until he managed to shove himself through the small opening between Sam and the doorway and knelt beside Aaron, levered their friend up and checked his vitals. Still supporting Aaron, Chris looked up and yelled, “Sam, snap out of it man! I need your help. Aaron’s hurt!”
Finally, Chris seemed to notice Sam’s face. He followed Sam’s gaze to the air above the bed.
“Sam, what is it?”
“Don’t you see her?” Sam answered uncertainly, swallowing down the shock, the emotion.
“Who?” Chris asked, eyes searching the room.
But the answer stuck in Sam’s throat, dry and crisp, as a subtle whisper of noise began to grow into a soft chant, “Not alone, not alone, not alone, not alone…”
His brother’s lips moved over the words repeatedly, the intensity growing until his voice filled the room. Dean’s hands buried into his skull as he went down on his knees with a groan. Bent in on himself, Dean continued to make pained noises as the words slipped through his clenched teeth.
“Dean,” Sam begged, his own pain building.
Then, finally, Dean whispered roughly, “No. No. Stop.”
Just like flipping a switch, the searing pain fled from Sam and, with it, the image of Jess.
He sagged in relief.
“What the hell?” Chris whispered, wide eyes staring at Dean in ways that made Sam feel protective.
Dean knelt, hands trembling at his head, heavy gasps of air moving his shoulders up and down. He was covered in sweat. It was as if he’d run five miles on a Texan July.
Sam quickly bent and checked Aaron’s pulse, found it strong and steady, and then moved to his brother. He reached for Dean, but he flinched away, hard. Sam hesitated, surprised and bewildered. “Easy, Dean. It’s okay.”
Moving slowly this time, Sam gently placed one hand on each of Dean’s shoulders. He winced and pulled away again, his sudden intake of breath loud in the now quiet room. It was then Sam noticed how his brother held his hands and arms out, away from himself.
“Sam,” Chris hissed behind him, “we have to get Aaron to the hospital. I think his arm is broken and his head is bleeding a river.”
Sam spared his friends a brief glance, could see Aaron was coming around. Sam said, “Dude, hang on. Something’s wrong with Dean.”
Chris’s derisive snort was followed by, “Ya think?”
Sam ignored him, held his hand out. “Toss me your flashlight.” When Chris stared at him liked he’d grown another head, he snapped, “Chris. Now. I think he’s hurt.”
Obeying, Chris patted Aaron. “You gonna be okay, man?”
Aaron nodded, cradling his arm close to his chest. Chris helped him lean against the wall and then, fumbling behind him, came up with the flashlight and walked it over to Sam.
Chris crouched down, letting his hands hang limp in between his open knees. Giving Dean a cursory once over, he said, “He looks fine, Sam. Other than, you know, the freak out and a bloody nose.”
Sam ignored that, too. “Dean?”
Dean slowly met Sam’s gaze, green eyes wide and uncertain.
“Let me see your hands.” Sam held up the flashlight, flicking it on with his thumb.
Dean blinked, seemed a little more himself when he looked back. Holding his hands out in front of him, he let Sam shine the light on them.
“Holy shit!” Chris exclaimed.
Sam swallowed hard, blinked his own eyes to make sure he was seeing correctly. Dean’s face reflected their collective shock. “They’re burned,” whispered Sam. And they were. The skin was bright red, white-grey patches dictating more severe damage in some areas. “God, Dean.”
“But, but… how’s that possible,” Chris squeaked.
Dean wavered, shook his head and had to grab for Sam’s arm for support, hissing sharply when his hands made contact.
“Damn it,” Sam snapped, angry, unsure where to direct it. “Let’s get you outta here.” Then hesitating a second, said, “Can you walk?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m good,” Dean nodded, struggling to find his feet.
Sam was as careful as he could be, but Dean still sucked his breath through his teeth when Sam gripped hands around his shoulders and elbow.
“Chris, can you manage Aaron on your own?”
Chris was already moving, tugging Aaron up close to his side. “Got ‘im,” he grunted.
Having to support Dean more than he’d like, Sam took the lead and quickly got them out. Not giving the apartment a single backwards glance.
Gasping under the weight of his friend, Chris asked, “Should I call 911?”
“No!” Sam yelled automatically. “It’ll be faster if I drive. Head for our car.”
“What about the girls?”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Sam said, spotting Rebecca and Lori waiting at the end of the hallway.
Seeing them, the girls gasped, Rebecca’s hands flying to cover her mouth.
Dean’s knees buckled, nearly taking them both down. “Hey, c’mon, man,” Sam commanded. “Stay with me. You can do this.”
His brother didn’t say anything, but as Sam started moving again, Dean held his own.
“What happened?” Lori jogged toward them.
Becky made a beeline for Aaron. “Is he okay? What happened? Is he okay!?”
“Bec,” Sam’s voice was calm, in charge, “he’s gonna be okay, but we need to get them to the hospital. You and Lori follow in your car, ok?”
Nodding, she said, “Just let me get my keys.” Then she was running full tilt back toward her apartment.
“I can ride with you guys, take a look at them on the—” Lori started to offer.
Sam interrupted her, saying, “I’d rather you drive Becky, make sure she gets there okay. Please.”
Lori nodded and with one last look at the group, hurried to catch up to Rebecca.
Getting down the stairs was tricky and difficult at best, but they finally made it out to the car. Chris eased Aaron into the back and climbed in beside him. Sam lowered Dean into the passenger seat, fumbled in his brother’s pockets until he found the keys and then ran to the driver’s seat. Dean hadn’t said a word since the apartment…not even while Sam had rifled through his pockets. He seemed in a daze, in and out, eyes glazing over periodically. That scared Sam.
There didn’t seem to be any injuries outside the burns. But usually after connecting with Jess, he’d be more alert by now. It was as if he was having trouble severing the link completely this time.
As Sam barreled out of the parking lot, he gave Dean a sideways glance. Took in the increased pallor, the bright red patch decorating his jaw, another one on his cheek, and noted the way Dean’s hands clumsily clutched his coat closer around him, face twisted with the pain of raw skin making contact with the leather.
“Hang in there. We’ll be at the hospital in less than five,” Sam reassured.
Dean blinked again, shook his head slowly. “Don’t need a hospital. Just need to sleep it off.”
Sam gaped. “What are you talking about? Have you seen your hands? Have you seen your face? God only knows what’s hidden under your clothes. You have serious burns, Dean, and burns aren’t something to play around with.”
“No, dude, I don’t even think they’re that bad anymore. They’re not hurting as much.” Before Sam could argue, Dean called over his shoulder, concern heavy in his voice, “Aaron, buddy, you okay?”
At least Dean was seemingly more aware now even if he was being a pigheaded bastard.
“I think so,” came Aaron’s strained reply.
“No, he’s not okay!” Chris spat. “His arm is broken, his head is bleeding, and he’s in and out of consciousness.” Disgust rode strong in the timbre of his voice when he continued, “You were supposed to be watching him, Winchester, keeping things like this from happening. I thought you were supposed to be good at this stuff.”
“Chris,” Sam said sharply. “That’s not helping.” He shot a look at Dean’s profile. His brother’s throat worked as he swallowed hard, jaw muscle twitching visibly. Gentling his voice, Sam asked, “What did happen?”
Dean smiled bitterly. “I screwed up. Didn’t Chris just read you the newsflash?”
“No. I shouldn’t have let him go in there, especially without a real weapon. I should have kept better control.” Dean shook his head. “I don’t know, it was weird. I could tell something was in there the moment we crossed the threshold. I could feel it. But… it was different.”
“I don’t know, man. Just…different.” Dean brought a hand up to his eyes, hissed at the contact of skin on skin, and let his hand drop back to his lap, careful of his burned flesh this time. “Look, can we talk about this later?”
Dean looked at Sam, eyes not quite pleading, but something there settled heavy and jagged in Sam’s heart.
“Yeah, sure,” he nodded, trying hard to keep his voice steady. Eyes back to the front, he gestured out the window, “I think that’s the hospital, anyway.”
Sam had made record time, the late hour making the streets less crowded and less of a cause for worry over speed limits. He skidded to halt at the emergency entrance and moved to get out. Dean stopped him and their gazes met.
“Take care of Aaron, ok. I’ll wait here.”
“Sam, just help your friend. He’s in a lot worse shape. I’ll be here when you get him taken care of.”
“You’re having someone look at those burns, Dean.”
Dean nodded once. “Aaron first, then we’ll see.”
Sam watched his brother for a minute, shook his head in frustration, and rushed to help Chris get a semi-conscious Aaron out of the backseat and into the waiting care of the emergency room staff.
Left alone in the Impala, Dean let his head fall back against the seat with a heavy sigh. His face clouded and he pinched his eyes tightly shut.
“’M sorry. Don’t understand whatcha want,” he whispered to the air. “I promise, I won’t give up. I jus’ need ta rest a min’it. Just a minute…”
And, finally, he was able to let go, hand falling lax and open on the seat, head lolling to the side—all awareness blissfully and thankfully gone.