Death After Sorrow

The Nice Thing About Engines

Sam instantly panicked. "No! No! Dean, come on!" He checked for a pulse, and was relieved to find it racing. It wasn't good, but Dean's heart was still beating. That would have to be enough for now. Without a second thought, he tilted back Dean's head and began mouth to mouth, keeping his eyes on Dean's chest to make sure the air he was forcing into Dean's lungs was getting in.

Two breaths, check the pulse. Two breaths, check pulse. Sam's panic increased as he realized his brother's pulse was slowing down. "Damnit, Dean, please don't do this," Sam begged, going back to his measured routine.

After what seemed like forever, and when Sam could barely feel any pulse at all, Dean sucked in a breath on his own, coughing violently. Sam sat back in relief to catch his own breath. Scrubbing his shaking hands over his face, he couldn't believe how close it had been. He was disconcerted to see Dean was unconscious, but relieved to find a more normal pulse when he checked.

It was then he became aware of a pounding on the door. Remembering he'd locked it on his way back from the bathroom, Sam opened it a fraction, unsurprised to find Rita standing there in her bathrobe.

"What the hell is going in here?" she demanded.

"Dean had a nightmare, that's all. He's okay now," Sam explained, doing his best to keep himself calm.

"Should I call Dr. Brown?"

He knew he should say yes, get Dean to a hospital. This was so much worse than a little lost time. But instinct was telling him it wouldn't solve anything. Heavy with uncertainty and guilt, he forced out his answer. "No, he'll be fine now. He just needs some sleep. Thank you for checking on us, and I'm sorry he woke you up."

Rita's features were still hard with suspicion, but she nodded. "I'll bring him up some breakfast in the morning."

Sam gave his thanks again, then closed the door. Rita hadn't bought a word of it, especially not after what had happened earlier, but he would deal with that later. Going back to his brother, he again checked his pulse and breathing, relieved to find them even. Even his fever was abating.

Pushing his shirt back up, Sam examined the mark that had been branded into Dean's chest. Frowning, he realized he recognized it. Without thought for the hour, he picked up his cell.

"What?" came the gruff reply.

"Bobby," Sam started, then had to collect himself. He was a little lost, and didn't know what to do, but he didn't want to fall apart.

"Sam? What happened? Is Dean okay?"

Sam immediately told the older hunter everything that had happened since he'd left. "I think I know the symbol, it looks like Mercury. The stick figure with horns and no feet. Bobby, what the hell is happening to my brother?"

"I wish I knew, Sam, but I'll look into it. Get some rest, and I'll call you tomorrow."

Sam hung up, knowing their friend wouldn't be getting anymore sleep tonight. He almost felt guilty when he laid down next to Dean, making sure his hand was resting lightly next to his chest so he could monitor his breathing.

It took only moments before he was asleep, the roller coaster of emotions of the day having taken their toll on him.

Sam groaned as a tiny jingle penetrated his deep sleep. He tried to ignore the annoying sound of Metallica's Unforgiven, but there was nothing for it. He was going to kill his brother for messing with his ring tone again. It was with that thought that the memories from the previous night flooded back to him. Dean! Sitting up abruptly, Sam realized the bed was empty save for himself.

He grabbed his phone off of his hip, having fallen asleep still dressed. "Hello?" His voice was still shaky, and he tried to calm it.

"Sam? What's wrong? How's Dean?" Bobby demanded.

Sam looked around the room, and saw plenty of evidence that his brother was long gone. "Uh, don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know?" Bobby accused, making Sam wince. "After everything that happened last night, how could you let him out of your sight? What were you thinking?"

"Whoa! First of all, he slipped out while I was asleep. He's probably just downstairs." He didn't believe it for a second. Dean's clothes were changed, and their first aid kit was open. Nope, Dean probably wasn't anywhere near the Bed. "Second, even if he wanted to go, there isn't a whole lot I could have done to stop him!" Sam defended himself.

Bobby acknowledged the truth of that by moving on. "That mark you told me about? It's used a lot by alchemists. Mercury symbolized the spirit imprisoned in matter, communication and duality in opposition. Then there's also the mythology. Mercury is the Roman version of the Greek Olympian god Hermes, the messenger. In Egypt he was known as Thoth, who carried the souls of the dead to the underworld. From the Zodiac, Mercury represents communication, the mind, memory, expression, language and intelligence."

Sam frowned. "The common pattern being communication. Do you think something is trying to communicate with Dean? Or through him?"

Bobby sighed, and Sam could almost picture him running a hand over his face. "I don't know, Sam. It would sure help if your brother would open up a little. But I've looked through everything I can find, and I can't find any mention of any spirit or demon using these methods to communicate. If you hadn't been there last night, Dean could have died. Killing the messenger isn't usually part of the game, at least not until the message has been delivered."

"Dean's more determined than ever to keep this from me. I don't think we're going to get much out of him. But thanks for looking, Bobby, at least we've got something to work with."

"Call me the minute you have anything more, and Sam?"

Sam closed his eyes. "I know, Bobby. If he gets worse, I'll call off this hunt and hightail it back to your place, even if I have to drag him behind the car to do it."

"Just so we understand each other," Bobby agreed, then hung up.

Sam flipped his own shut, hanging his head. If they managed to live through this, he was going to kill his brother. As slowly, and as painfully as he could invent. And right this second? He was feeling pretty inventive.

Dean looked up as he heard the now familiar rumble of the rental truck. Sam was coming up on them at a fast clip. Joe just grinned at him, then turned back to the tractor they were working on. With a sigh, Dean cleaned his hands up as best he could using the soiled rag, then walked out toward the parking lot. He frowned as he watched his brother jump out practically before the truck had stopped.

"Ease up there, Sammy. You trash that thing, we have to pay for it," Dean scolded lightly, not missing the furious look on Sam's face. He could take a guess at the cause of it, but wasn't feeling particularly generous today.

"Really? And how much is it gonna cost us to replace you?" Sam snarled. He was at the end of his rope. First the thrashing from Bobby this morning, then Rita had added her two cents in as well, giving him a long lecture on the importance of caring for family, especially if said family had given up their own lives to care for you. Apparently Dean had once again slipped out without breakfast.

Dean bit back the instant quip that lay on the tip of his tongue. It didn't take a genius to figure out Sam wasn't really in the best mood for his particular brand of self-deprecating humor. "What's wrong, Sammy?"

Sam glared at him. "What's wrong? Well, let's see, yesterday you collapsed in front of the Bed, then went into one of your trances for hours. You finally come out of it, end up with a raging fever, then while you're unconscious, you somehow manage to get the mark of Mercury branded into your chest. Then, let's see, what else? Oh yeah, you quit breathing! I spend the night hovering on the edge of a panic attack, finally fall asleep, then lo and behold, I wake up and find you gone! Bobby and Rita have each ripped me a new one this morning, during which I finally find out you went to work. You know what, Dean? I don't know why you think something might be wrong!"

Dean swallowed. He had noticed the mark this morning. It was hard to miss. It felt like it was still being burnt into his skin. It was constant, and no amount of ointments from the first aid kit would ease it. But he hadn't known about the rest of it. Rita had frowned at him on his way out the door, but hadn't said anything.

His brother was breathing hard, and Dean could tell Sam was well and truly worked up. He knew what Sam wanted from him, but he wasn't willing to give it. Not just yet. So he did what he did best. Changed the subject.

"I've got a lead on our witch," Dean started, but was cut off by the swing of Sam's fist. The action shocked him so much it took a moment or two to feel that it had connected with his jaw. "What the hell, Sammy?"

"You almost died last night, and the best you can offer me is a lead?" Sam growled, moving forward as though getting ready to hit him again. Surprised, Dean backed up a little.

"You okay over there, Dean?" Joe called out with a frown on his face.

Dean waved him off. "We're good. I'm taking fifteen."

Joe nodded and went back to work, throwing the occasional glance their way. He didn't know what was going on between the brothers, but he'd developed a soft spot for Dean. The kid had a way with engines that seemed almost magical. It was a shame he wouldn't be staying. Joe would have liked to keep him on, even with his poor health.

"Sam, what do you want me to say? I don't remember any of what you just described," Dean offered, trying to placate his furious younger sibling.

"What do you remember?"

Dean thought hard, then shrugged. "Honestly, standing in front of the Bed watching you leave in a snit. Then waking up this morning. Speaking of which, did you get around to talking to everyone?"

"Dean," Sam ground out between clenched teeth. "It didn't bother you in the least that you lost that much time? Or that you woke up with a fairly specific brand on your chest?"

Sam narrowed his eyes when his brother looked away. Ah, so Dean remembered more than he was letting on, and was once again going to keep him in the dark. He let out a huff of breath and spread his arms wide. "Fine, Dean, if that's the way you want it, you got it. You want to deal with this on your own, then go ahead. I'm going back to Bobby's tomorrow morning."


"No, Dean! I'm tired of this! Do you have any idea what this is doing to me? What part of you could have died last night did you miss in my little rant? Bobby and I can't help you if you won't tell us what's going on. I could force you into going to a hospital, but you'll just sign yourself out anyway. I obviously can't force you to talk to me. So it's going to keep happening, and I'm not going to sit around to watch you commit what amounts to suicide for the sake of your damned pride."

Sam walked back to the truck, slamming the door as he got in. Dean watched as his brother spun the tires in his hurry to get away from him. Realizing he hadn't had a chance to get whatever information Sam had gathered yesterday, nor tell his brother of his own lead, Dean headed back to where Joe was watching with sympathetic eyes.

"Bit of a spat?" the older mechanic asked.

Dean grunted, flexing his jaw. "That's the nice thing about engines, don't you think? They don't talk back, and if they make a sound you don't like, you fix it."

Joe laughed. "Amen!"

Glancing at the falling sun light, Dean decided he needed a cold beer after the day he'd had. The tractor was finally back in one piece and ready to be delivered tomorrow morning. Sam hadn't reappeared, or even answered his cell, but he wasn't worried. It was hardly the first time he'd gotten the silent treatment. He didn't know if Sam would make good on his threat to leave in the morning, but in the end, it didn't really matter. He didn't know why it was so important to keep Sam from what was happening to him, but he felt on an instinctual level that this was something he would have to deal with himself. He had made his choice, and no amount of Sam's conniptions was going to change his mind.

Changing his direction to the Pub, Dean was surprised to find it almost empty. Cole was cleaning behind the bar, and Lily was busy serving the few patrons there were. Choosing the bar instead of a table, Dean sat on the stool with a smile.

"It's a little dead in here, isn't it?" he asked the odd looking bartender.

Cole grinned. "Actually, it's a bit early. Everyone is home being fed, then they'll start making their way here in about an hour."

Dean nodded. "Beer, please. Draft."

"Only got the local stuff," Cole warned.

"It'll do." As soon as the glass had hit the bar in front of him, he took a long haul, giving a sigh of satisfaction as it scratched an itch he hadn't realized he'd had. "This is good," he complimented.

"Rita's really picky about it. She wants to support the locals, but won't serve crap."

"She's a spit fire, isn't she?" Dean chuckled. Still, he was here on business. "So, Cole, I hear you went up to Rapid City the other night. You're not looking for a new job, are you? Rita would be devastated."

Cole chuckled. "Nah, was up there with my girl. She wanted to go, said she had something to take care of. It worked out well, since I wanted to watch the game."

Dean offered his most charming grin. "Lucky guy, to have a girl like that. I can't believe I haven't heard from everyone else who this wonder woman is."

Cole blushed. "Well, technically, we're not supposed to be dating. We're keeping it pretty quiet."

Dean laughed. "You're not robbing the cradle or anything, are you?"

"God no!" Cole grinned. "She's married, at the moment. She's had her problems in the past and ended up with a real loser. The courts are taking their sweet time about it, though, and can't offer her protection from him yet. That's why we're keeping it low."

Dean's face crumpled in genuine disgust. He could see the picture being drawn, and had no use for men who abused women. "Well, I'm glad she's got someone like you to help her through it."

Cole nodded. "It's tough, but we manage. She's an awesome girl, and definitely worth the extra effort. Sometimes life just throws us a shitty deal, right?"

Dean raised his glass in agreement. He knew that all too well.

"Sammy, you have to go!" Dean shouted as he raced into the bedroom. He could hear their father in the shower. Given John's current state, he could guess pretty accurately at what was coming next.

Sammy looked up from the book he was reading. "Why, Dean?" His young voice tinged with a reflection of the panic he could sense from his brother.

"Dad and I have something we have to take care. Please, Sammy. Here, take some money and go see if Martha's kid wants to head up to the arcade with you." He shoved whatever dollar bills he had in his pocket at his brother, glancing back at the bathroom as he heard the water shut off.

"Dean, is everything okay?"

"It will be, Sammy, as soon as you leave. Now please, go. Just trust me, this once?"

That got an immediate response as Sam jumped off the bed and grabbed his jacket. Dean followed him to the door, holding it open as he turned back to his older brother. "Dean, promise me you're gonna be okay."

Dean offered his patented grin. "I'm gonna be fine, Sammy. You come back in about two hours, okay? Dad and I should have taken care of it by then."

He had barely closed the door when their father emerged from the bathroom, dressed again. Dean couldn't help but glance at the large silver belt buckle. Looking back up at John's face, he knew things had just gotten a whole lot worse.

"Where's Sammy?" John demanded drunkenly, taking another pull from the bottle in his hand.

Dean forced himself to stand up straight. "Out with a friend. He'll be back in a couple of hours."

John's face thundered. "And you let him go? Alone? Without asking me?"

Dean shrugged. "You were in the shower. He's with Martha's kid. He'll be fine."

"You just let him walk out the door? You know what's out there, Dean. What the hell were you thinking?"

Dean swallowed the fear that rose in his throat as John's hands automatically started unbuckling his belt. He quickly reached behind him and locked the door, making sure Sam couldn't walk in on what was about to happen.

"Buddy? You okay?" Cole asked, squeezing the hand he had laid on Dean's shoulder, jerking the hunter out of his thoughts. He winced at the action pulled the still burning brand on his chest.

Blinking his eyes, Dean forced a grin. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking."

Cole hesitated before nodding. "Okay, but I think maybe that's it for you."

Trying not be offended, Dean smiled and took another haul from his beer. "Only wanted the one anyway." Lie. He'd wanted to get stark raving drunk. Anything to avoid Sam that much longer. The memory stayed lingering on the edge of his consciousness. It was weird, how they seemed to come on him lately, more vision than memory.

He could have sworn he was actually back in that dank motel room, watching his younger self get the living snot beaten out of him. His back still had the scars from the gouges that belt buckle had made. John had had a nasty hunt that night, and lost an innocent. A young girl. Dean knew himself how that could eat you up inside. His father had needed an outlet. He was only glad that he'd managed to get Sam out of the room. Sam had been a bright kid, but he wouldn't have understood, back then, the kind of pressure their father was under. Everyone needed someone to vent out to, and he had willingly stepped up to the plate.

Finishing his beer, and unhappy that his lead had turned out to be a dud, Dean knew he'd have to face his brother sooner or later. Still, he needed the girlfriend's name. Turning back one more time, he grinned at Cole.

"You know, I've known a lot of women in your girlfriend's position. I'm just glad she's found the strength to get away from it, and I'm glad you're sticking with her. A lot of women get sucked under in those situations, can't break away. She's a lucky girl."

Cole's grin was full of pride as he beamed. "Nah, I'm the one that's lucky. Ly deserves so much better than what she's been through."

Dean nodded. "I'm sure she does."

Ly. A nickname, obviously, but at least it was a place to start. He didn't think they'd come across anyone named Lydia, which was the safest assumption with a nickname like that. He would have to make sure to ask Joe tomorrow if he knew anyone by that name. Of course, if Sam actually left, he'd lose the cover of investigating for the article, but Dean was nothing if not quick on his feet.

Standing outside the door of the Pub, he heard a sound from the small alley between the buildings. Passing it off as a cat, he started next door, but stopped again when that cat let out a very human sound of distress.

Without hesitating, Dean squeezed into the small, dark space. Coming out the other side, he looked around, and was surprised to see a woman kneeling on the ground. Pulling out the gun he kept strapped to his ankle, he rushed over to her, keeping an eye on his surroundings.

Kneeling down, he placed a hand on her shoulder. He couldn't see her face through her hair, but could feel her shaking shoulders. "Easy," he soothed. "What happened? Is someone here?"

The woman raised her head and looked him straight in the eye, making him gasp in recognition. Before he could swing his gun to cover her, she blew a fine powder in his face. Staggering back, Dean was surprised to feel like the buildings were rushing in to crush him as he choked. He didn't even have time to yell out before his world went black.

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