rageprufrock: beach (Default)
[personal profile] rageprufrock
Title: Wayfinding, pt 8/?
Rating: R, because they crack open the gate of hell, just a bit, here
Summary:

It's horribly fitting, in a way, that it's Sam and John who bury her.

They pick a spot behind the house, away from the barn, where it's green and lush and the trees bow into a heart across the Carolina blue sky and dig in unbroken silence. Deanna never got to be a little girl or a young lady or anything other than the fulcrum on which Sam and John tilted, and she'd loved them anyway for it, and John feels sick, and selfish, and numb, and when they put her down into the earth — in a pine box, dressed in a pale yellow sundress she swore she didn't like that much — Sam cries the entire time, hurt, his voice cracking so badly and his knees so weak John finishes the job himself, hiding his baby girl away under six feet of reddish-brown dirt.

The next three days John drinks a lot and remembers very little. He thinks there's a fight, somewhere in the middle, where he calls Sam an ungrateful, selfish little shit and where Sam yells back that he wished Castiel was Deanna's angel, that Dad being dead was a fucking blessing and his coming back was the curse. It's shortly after that that Bobby arrives, and hell, John barely remembers any of this, just has the vague impression of Bobby dumping him into his bed, saying, "You poor, sorry son of a bitch," and taking off his boots.

He dreams about hell, dreams about Deanna on the rack, and when he wakes up to go hug the toilet he doesn't know if it's the bourbon or the fear.

It's almost a week later by the time he comes out of it, shaken awake by Bobby, who slaps him — furious — across the face, and when John's cussing, "Jesus fucking Christ, you — " he cuts in, saying:

"Fuck your self pity, Winchester."

"Jesus, Singer," John gasps, dazed, tasting blood on the corner of his mouth. Bobby looks red-eyed, tired, and John doesn't remember him staying. He'll add it to the list with all the other things.

He points toward the bathroom door.

"Go get showered and brush up. It's past noon."

He does, but only because the prospect of fighting with him is more energy than it's worth, and when he staggers out of the shower, Bobby's sitting at the foot of his bed whittling a fucking stick. He tilts his head toward a stack of clothes.

"Get dressed," Bobby tells him. "Work to do."

"Bobby, get the fuck out of my bedroom," John tells him. "If you wanna baby someone, Sam's down the hall and — "

"Sam," Bobby snarls, "has been doing some fucked up shit in your cellar, and is not down the hall." He picks up John's pants and throws them at him. "Now, as I said: get dressed — there's work to do."

***

The cellar, when John gets down there, is covered in runes, in Enochian, in sanskrit, in Latin. It's covered in Gaelic and there are, John recognizes, symbols, painstakingly copied from the old tortise shell relics of pre-dynastic China. There're candles burning, a gas lamp humming, flashlights all over the place, a scrying dish. John tastes brittany and lavender and witch hazel burning, the smoke from rosemary, and he sees bone ash in a bowl and says, "Jesus, Sam, what the hell are you doing down here?"

"Something," Sam growls at him, and when he looks up, his face is thin with grief. None of it's in his eyes. He's always been able to shut it down, lock it away, close the door on it better than Deanna, in a way John couldn't do it at all. "Anything to figure out what did this to her."

John picks up the scrying dish. There's dredges of what he bets is grave dirt and blood in there, and he sets it back down. Somewhere in Lawrence, Missouri Moseley is writing his ass a pissed off as shit letter, John just knows it.

"That angel said it was hellhounds," John says, and he can't keep himself from remembering the way Deanna looked, dead on the barn floor, a flash before his eyes and gut-wrenching, unforgiving, as sharp and nauseating a pain today as it was before.

Sam turns back to his book, hands preternaturally calm, but John sees the way all the knives on the tables are shifting, uneasy, and he presses his hand down on the handle of one to still its rattling.

"Hellhounds don't act of their own volition," Sam lectures. "They always move on orders, and they don't just wander out of hell, either, someone — "

"Someone sent them after her," Castiel interrupts, there suddenly and leaning over Sam's book, his fingers trailing across the page. "This is the right summoning."

Sam swallows hard. "Yeah?" he croaks.

Castiel tilts his head, and John can't see the look that's exchanged, but hell, he can guess. The angel says, "It's not necessarily going to yield results, but it's worth a try."

"Good to know," Sam says, mostly to himself.

"Is that why you prayed for me?" Castiel asks, brisk and barely civil, like he wants to be anywhere but this house, and John can understand that feeling, he knows it in his gut. "To check your spellwork?"

"And to see if you found anything," Sam says, hasty.

Castiel's face darkens. "I haven't."

"And to give you this," Sam says, voice strange. For a beat, John wants to ask what the hell Sam thinks he's doing, but then he sees the letter, Deanna's familiar handwriting tiny across the front, spelling out, Cas, and Sam says, "She — she left it for you."

Before John has an opportunity process whatever the fuck that means, Cas is taking the letter, and John doesn't know that he's ever seen a solemn hand before now, but Castiel's hands are solemn, and he and stares and stares at the envelope, his mouth going slack with something John knows intimately is loss.

"Thank you, Sam," Castiel says, finally, tracing a thumb over his name.

Sam's flat-lipped smile is brittle and he nods. "Let us know if you find something."

Cas doesn't look away from the letter, but he does say, "I will," the last syllable of his words still lingering long after he's gone.

John clears his throat. "What summoning was he talking about?"

Sam shows him a book. "Here," he says.

***

John hears Sam and Bobby on the phone with Rufus, with Ellen, with a half-dozen other hunters scattered around the country. There are signs, they're saying; something's not right, something making the sky heavier and everyone nervous. Ellen says she's got a kid named Ash — "Hell of a haircut to go with that brain of his." — is finding the beginnings of a pattern in supernatural events. They've got compounding questions and no answers, and Bobby and Sam take notes and keep digging and John spends hours sitting in Deanna's room. The first time he lost one of his girls he'd been so busy trying to avenge her he hadn't grieved; this time, it's all he can do.

His letter had said:

Daddy —

I'm sure by now you're all trying to figure out what happened, or why I did it, or how, and I know telling you all to leave well enough alone is pointless. But I do want to say that I'm sorry for upsetting you, probably upsetting Sam. I know you probably won't believe me (and that's okay, too) but I had to do this; it was my problem, I caused it, it's my responsibility to deal with the consequences.

I know you and Sam will fight like idiots, but please take care of each other for me.

Love, Deanna.

John's read it so many times, folded and unfolded it until the paper was soft. He keeps it tucked in his wallet, he folds it up in the pocket of his shirt. He keeps it nearby all the time. He keeps trying to find if there's a message in the words, some clue left behind, but it's just blue ballpoint pen ink and yellow legal pad paper, Deanna's familiar, crushed-tight handwriting crawling across the lines like a line of ants. He wonders what she wrote Sam, if his letter was longer, if she told him any more than she'd written to John — and Jesus Christ, John knows he's a jealous shit when he comes to Deanna — and he wonders what she had to say to Bobby, to Ellen — to fucking Castiel.

It's better than the other stuff he thinks about.

But he still thinks about it, the memory of Sam begging, his ugly, desperate crying, and Deanna small and bloody in his arms, guts spilling out, vivid and hypsersaturated.  It's worse than the dreams of hell because the only thing that had kept him going, for time that seemed to arc out into eternity, was knowing that Deanna was aboveground, that she'd forget him, forgive him, eventually, because that's what Deanna does.

He can barely close his eyes before he starts remember: the rack, the screams, the peeling skin, the fire and the way after a while the coppery warm smell of blood had been good and rich, and luxurious in his mouth.  But it always circles back around to Sam's face, Deanna's slack and bloody mouth, and he wakes up gasping, heart trying to tear its way out of his chest. He's back to drinking himself to sleep, and without Deanna to shuffle everything under any convenient rugs, there're empty bottles of fuck knows what bottom-shelf liquor littering his bedroom floor, hiding away in the corners of the library, where the rug now wears a dark-red stain, too, like the rest of them.


***

The forensics of the supernatural are complicated, arcane, rooted in gossip and ashes, and it takes a week and a half to get everything just right. They gather a sage stick and a dozen white candles; Sam breaks a thermometer, mixes mercury and acid and a scrap of Sam's t-shirt, stiff with Deanna's blood, in the silver cup with its grotesques along the base rolling forked tongues at John like a threat.

When they do, they do the ritual in the library, because he can't go into the fucking barn without being wrenched by it, without still smelling the blood, feeling the dizzying vertigo.  

"You're sure this will work?" he asks, but there's no fire behind it, he can barely keep himself standing, leaning against a wall and hoping it's enough to keep him upright.

Sam, across the room, nods.  "Yeah — it should summon whatever demon..." he trails off, because Sam can't bear to say it either, say, dragged her off, stole her from us.

"Most demons would leave some residue," Castiel growls, there suddenly and occupying a once-empty space by the fireplace, comprehensive in his stillness.  

John asks, "Most?"

Castiel looks wrecked, wild, and he has dark circles under his eyes, like he's losing his veneer of angelic distance. Castiel is an asshole and useless but he's an angel, for fuck's sake, he shouldn't look thinner and crazy and like he's falling apart, like he's been pulled inside out, but he does, and when he turns to look at John, he says:

"Ones that won't would be beyond summoning, anyway."

"Nice of you to finally fucking show up," Bobby spits at him, and the glance Castiel gives him could flay a man.

"Did you find anything?" Sam asks, before Castiel can do it, rip Bobby from stem to sternum, and John thinks Castiel would do it, too, just to get it out from underneath his skin.  They're all particularly dangerous recently, and John tries not to think about how it might have been for his baby girl, always being everybody's emergency handbrake.

Castiel shakes his head and looks toward the windows of the library, where the leaves are rustling, lazy, on the summer-heavy trees, blanketing the ground in pale green light.  

"The gates of hell are still closed to me, and my superiors haven't answered any of my questions," he says, and he runs his hand along the edge of a bookshelf, fingers touching the spines of Deanna's Little House on the Prairie books. "I have felt no indication of her on Earth, either, in the course of my other duties."

John barks out, "Other duties? What the hell other duties do you have that — " are more important than getting Deanna out of hell, John means to say, but Castiel cuts him off, interrupts and grinds out:

"We're wasting time." He nods at Sam. "Do the ritual."

Sam does.

They stand, all of them, in a half-moon around the arc of a devil's trap, and Bobby and John hold shotguns and holy water and Sam is holding a book — old vellum, rumored to be human skin — chanting Latin until the walls shake, the lights flicker, the daylight goes prematurely gray outside the windows.

The space inside the house and around it shake, overfull, filled up to the brim with the heavy, dusty sweep of magic, and it always feels like someone's tickling fingers up John's spine when it happens: invasive, unexpected, unwanted, cold. Castiel just leans against the bookshelf — still tracing a copy of Little House in the Big Woods with his fingertip — and watches, utterly untouched by it, his trenchcoat and hair and everything perfectly still, the moving eye to a coming storm.

The wind kicks up, and all the papers in the room are swirling like a hurricane, pens and glasses rattling off desks, and it's like a storm trapped inside a house except that all of a sudden everything goes quiet, goes still, and John has just enough time to ask, "Was that it?" before a sonic boom swallows all the questions in the room in a column of blue flame and something ugly and skeletal gets spat into the room, sucked out of nowhere and sprawled in the devil's trap now.

Bobby says, "What in the hell — ?"

"Stay still," Castiel hisses at all of them. "Don't move — any of you."

And they don't, any of them, because John doesn't believe in Castiel's God or any of the work that Castiel says they have for him, but there is something in his voice that is old like water in stone, like the darkest, oldest parts of a forest, the black corners of oceans no one has ever seen. When he talks, the room shakes, too, and John watches Sam freeze and Bobby freeze and watches whatever the hell it is they've summoned freeze, watches Castiel take easy, unhurried steps closer to it, his long legs eating up the length of the library floor.

John looks at the thing instead, and he stares and stares and stares until it resolves into something that looks human, a little. Hell is vivid, but hell is vast, and he doesn't remember this, whatever it was, that is bringing itself onto spindly knees, with cracking wrists and razor-sharp shoulders, skin that wraps possessively around the bone and green-gray with rot, dark, tried blood in the deep hollows between the ribs, in the well of its throat, where there should be stomach and muscle or sinew. But reflexive, John still freezes, he still feels his spine curl, he wants to look away when it looks up. He thinks, do it for Deanna, and meets its eyes only to find it doesn't have any: just black holes in a dried-out skull that seems to glow. In the yellowy light of late afternoon it looks small, unremarkable, and the whispery voice that comes out of its rattling throat hisses:

"Angel."

Castiel crosses into the devil's trap, and the thing flinches away, shuffles back on its creaking knees. The Daddy Long Legs fingers of it clicking across the library floor, nails scraping wood, catching the cheap rug fibers, dragging as it moved to get away.

"Deanna Winchester," Castiel spits at him, still advancing. "I can smell her on you."

The demon — it has to be a demon — grins, wavering, and it's a mouthful of rotted out teeth that John sees behind his shriveled lips.

"Oh, her. She came to me special delivery, all I had to do was pick her up." He makes a wheezing noise, like a whine of regret. "Didn't even get to keep her long."

"Who?" Castiel asks, and his voice sounds like the first tremor of an earthquake. "Who sent her to you?"

"Above my pay grade," the thing hisses back.

"Where is she now?" Castiel says.

The thing laughs. "Sweetheart, I think that's above your pay grade, but oh — " it shudders, the hollows of its eyes crunching together in delight, shivers rattling its bones " — oh she's so good, angel, all the guts of her are good, and her skin, that delicious, white, wet silk on the inside of her thigh — "

The only thing that keeps John from leaping into the devil's trap, too, is Bobby's hand like an iron vice on his arm, holding him in place, hissing, "Don't you fucking think about it, Winchester."

" — and when they took her away, they took her even deeper," it hisses. "Somebody else's turn, I guess."

Castiel is unblinking, his eyes as still as the locked-tight angles of his shoulders.

"Did she make a deal?" he asks. "Did she sell her soul?"

The thing makes s spitting noise, like a cat gone feral. "Why should I — " the rest of its protest is swallowed up in a shriek, unearthly, and John can't see what Castiel did, but he's done something, because the demon on the ground has folded even more tightly into himself, its body like origami, and it huffs for breath like it needs oxygen, gasps in between saying, "No — no."

"Then how," Castiel asks, very quiet and very dangerous, advancing again, just half-steps, the creak of his cheap shoes on the floorboards and carpet a menace like John's never known something made up of so many ordinary sounds could be, "did she end up on your rack?"

The demon stops, just a beat, and in an outward gush of suicidal delight, it shrieks, its bones rattle, its skin tears, it shouts, "Oh, it was you — it's your sticky fingerprints I recognized all over her, isn't it? I knew there was something familiar about you, angel."

John freezes.

"How?" Castiel demands again. "Answer the question."

"Your little princess was a gift, angel," the demon coos at him, still rapturous. "Someone cracked the Gate. I just followed the hounds up, found her soul wandering around, beaming like a lighthouse." It rasps a laugh, and asks, commiserating, "She's awfully skittish, isn't she?"

Castiel is reaching a hand to it, eyes blazing — and John's never seen a demon scared, before, but he's seen it now, watching it shake and look like it wants to plead — when Sam cuts in, shouts out:

"Wait — how do we get her out?"

The thing on the floor flicks its eyes over, to Sam, to the source of the sound — John could beat Sam to death for being completely unable to follow simple God damn directions, ever — except the demon's mouth is going manic with a smile, and like it forgets who's in front of him, what it's stuck inside, it sways, wanting, purring:

"Oh, Allistair loves her, he'd never give her up without a fight."

John feels something hemorrhage and break in two in his chest.

He'd spent 200 hundred years in the Pit, 100 on the rack, unbroken, because he had people to live for upstairs, something to clutch at.

But John had also spent 100 years at Allistair's side, stringing people up when he'd just gotten tired of fighting, when he'd climbed off the rack and picked up the knife, and the honey sweetness of it, the dizzying pleasure of it, the memory of Allistair as he'd picked up a blade is bright and visceral and inescapable in his mind.

"You're Castiel, right?" the thing hisses, turning back to the angel, tongue curling out of its withered mouth, and John watches Castiel tense up, his arm stretch outward and fingers freeze, just long enough for the demon to add, "She dreamt about you."

And then Castiel closes the heel of his palm over the thing's forehead and turns it to dust in a blaze of light.


***

After that, there's nothing.

There's nothing long into that night, after Sam's exhausted himself trying to discern answers in the ashes. Nothing after they all go through all the lore again. Nothing after Sam goes hoarse and terrifies the neighbors standing in the backyard, yelling at the sky for Castiel, who doesn't darken their doorstep for days that stretch into weeks.

There're no signs, there's nothing. Everything's quiet, so quiet it doesn't make sense, and there're no answers, still, nothing to cling to and no one to ask and John's collection of newspaper clippings turns psychotic while Sam's stack of spellbooks gets darker and blacker at the edges.

After a month, Bobby goes back to South Dakota, hushing something into Sam's ear when he hugs the boy goodbye, as Sam clutches at him too closely, hollow eyed. Two days later, Jo and Ellen roll into town, and John could kill Singer, for being a crazy old fucker, yes, but for dispatching the Harvelles, too. Ellen's hated John ever since he got her husband killed, and he understands that, but maybe she doesn't hate him that much after all, because she picks her way up the stairs and sits next to him on his bed late the first night they're at the house.

"Ellen," John says to her.

She plucks the SoCo out of his hands and looks at it, assessing. "This doesn't work."

He laughs. "No. Sure doesn't."

Ellen puts it down, far away from their feet, closes one of John's hands into her own — and his fingers feel stiff, numb, the skin wrapped around them papery and strange against his own touch — and she puts the other on John's neck. She says, "John — I'm so sorry." He tries to shove her away, but he's too God damn drunk; he hasn't slept in weeks; he's half dead, all sick, completely spent, he's got nothing left, flat out and run down, and he can't even move fucking Ellen Harvelle when she drags him into a hug.

"We'll get her back," he tries to tell her, but he's not sure all the words come out right, because Ellen just ignores him, cards her fingers in his hair, and chokes out:

"John, I'm so sorry."

He tries to blubber something at her, about how Deanna's strong, how she'll make it, how she'll be okay until they figure out how to break her out. But he doesn't mean any of it. He doesn't even really believe any of it, and at its heart none of it matters, because his baby girl is six feet under and a million miles away; her Dad and her brother can't save her; hell, an angel can't save her, and she's strapped down on a rack under Allistair's knife, and it doesn't matter if John gets her out, it doesn't matter if they do it tomorrow, in the next minute, five hours ago — it will never be okay. She will never be fine. John will never be able to save her when she's already lost, and he's not sure how it happens, but he's thinking this and thinking this and ends up on his knees in front of the upstairs toilet, sobbing and throwing up and letting it all hit him, Ellen rubbing his back.

The next morning John packs up his truck.

"Where the hell are you going?" Sam asks. "We haven't — "

John closes his eyes. "I can't just sit here," he says, and it feels funny to be talking again after so long being silent. "I've gotta do something — maybe I'll pick something up along the way."

Sam stares at him, and John knows that look on his face. That's his, Don't You Dare Make Us Move Again face. That's his, I'm Gonna Be A Lawyer face. That's his, I Hate You Because Deanna Listens To You face.

"So you're just leaving," Sam says, dully.

"I'll have my phone," John tells him. "I'll check in — "

"Fuck you," Sam interrupts, and John can tell he's been dismissed. "Just — go. Leave."

He clutches at the truck, tries to dredge up any patience, or hell, any of the anger Sam used to light in him, how the way his son tilted his head and rolled his eyes could make him furious, incandescent. He can't find any of it. John just says, "Sam, I'll call."

"Forget it, Dad," Sam tells him, flat and already disengaged. "You never did anything to deserve her before, I don't know why I thought you'd shape the fuck up now."

That doesn't stop hurting until John's already back in Kansas, parking the car in front of Missouri's house. He calls Bobby to let him know he's back on the grid, dials the first digits of Sam's number a half-dozen times before he throws the phone into the backseat.

"He doesn't mean it," John mumbles, when Missouri makes him a coffee and sits him down at the kitchen table, frowning at him.

"Oh sweetheart, you know he did," she confides, and gives him a cookie. "That's okay, we both know it's not true."

Since John doesn't know it's not true, he'll let Missouri know it for both of them, and he eats the cookie and sleeps for 12 hours before he gets back on the road.



Happy reading!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-24 09:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] romyra.livejournal.com
OMG! This is painfully good! Talk about angsty goodness and well worth the wait!.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-24 09:03 am (UTC)
jeez_louise: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jeez_louise
Yay! Wow, am I happy to be awake in the middle of the night. I'm loving this story. So many little details that I particularly liked about this. Like how Castiel was touching the books, he's always doing that isn't he? And Sam's I'm Gonna Be A Lawyer face. And John, oh man, you know, I have been really missing him lately. I think he was such a wasted character, and it's fascinating how you're imagining later seasons with him in it.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-24 01:47 pm (UTC)
kogane: Tron: Legacy; Gem (Default)
From: [personal profile] kogane
Beautiful and gut-wrenching. I wish I could tell me just how much of an impact this story has on my, but I just can't find the words to properly express it.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-24 10:21 pm (UTC)
objectivelypink: Castiel looking fierce w/ text "BRING IT" (bring it)
From: [personal profile] objectivelypink
Oh christ, each chapter you post is like a punch to the gut, they hit me so hard. Um. I mean that in a good way? I don't think I've been so happy to be teary-eyed.

You do such a good job with these characters, and how much do I love the description of Dee as the handbrake of the family? Also, I agree with jeez_louise that John Winchester had great potential as a character that the show never really utilized, but you totally are.

Gleefully looking forward to the next chapter!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-25 02:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arabella-w.livejournal.com
*gulp*

This is so painfull for all of them. I wonder too what Deanna wrote to Cas and Sam.


This fic is amazing

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-25 03:47 am (UTC)
crossroads: (Default)
From: [personal profile] crossroads
The creepy demon thing is my favorite part, ngl. This fic brings me to tears of JOY. Thanks for the update!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-27 01:39 am (UTC)
thankyoukindly: sam and dean winchester's carved initials. (i will follow you into the dark.)
From: [personal profile] thankyoukindly
This chapter was amazing. I love your take on the demon, and the emotions you're conveying. Wonderful.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-27 02:13 am (UTC)
jezebeljade: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezebeljade
I really dig your writing. Mind if I add you as a friend?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-07 03:03 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is wonderful. I find the idea of what would change and not for Dean fascinating. He plays such a traditionally female role in the series in some ways -- uniting the family -- that I can imagine being female might make that more visible to and openly appreciated by her dad and brother. At the same time, I can see it as limiting too -- John's protectiveness here seems very in character. I'm really enjoying this and hope you continue.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-07 01:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh, this is wonderful! I only discovered this story today, and I've loved every chapter. What a marvelously intriguing AU - I love how Deanna is Dean and yet her own character and the tracings of her relationships with Sam and John and Castiel and even Bobby. This is one of the best new stories I've read in ages and I'll definitely be looking forward to your next chapter.

I don't have a DW account, but I'm ginzai over at LJ. :)

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