cri de cœur | chapter one

  • Jun. 19th, 2016 at 6:39 PM
kelleigh: (sn [cri de cœur] oaks hand drawn)

“Tell you what, man, I'm ready to just kick back, have a beer, and pretend this weekend never happened.”

“That might take more than one beer,” Sam points out as Dean trudges down the stairs into the bunker. Sam drops his bag on the table and rolls his shoulders to loosen one of the many knots in his muscles.

Aches and pains are just a few of the reasons hunting gets harder as they get older.

“Good thing I bought a whole case right before we left.”

“Fine. You go grab us a couple of those, I’m gonna go check on the system.”

Dean leaves his bag next to Sam’s before hitting up the kitchen. By the smell, something in the refrigerator has spoiled since they left for the Catskills to track down a nature spirit that had turned vengeful and started devouring campers. Beer’s still good, though.

“The system…” Dean mutters to himself, popping the bottle cap with a swift flick of his ring finger. “More like an antique piece of junk metal.”

He doesn't trust the room-sized computer and relay station, even after Charlie's thorough work to streamline the entire thing into their own personal Men of Letters iPhone app.

Things like that are better left to Sam. Sitting in front of the terminal reminds Dean too much of their friend.

He strolls through the bunker taking sips from his bottle. The sight of their bags on the table reminds Dean that he should probably start unpacking before Sam comes back. His mind is still circling their last hunt, however. The first one in months that’s felt anywhere close to normal.

Caging the Darkness—Amara—felt like a victory. The consequences rendered Dean totally fubar. The void left by her near destruction and banishment hurt for weeks, non-stop stabbing pains no amount of cheap alcohol could dull. She’d carved out his insides, left him hollow. If he’d known this would happen, maybe he would have stopped Sam from locking Amara’s prison. Or shoved his way inside.

Time and distance tell Dean they did the right thing. Sam saved his ass, took the brunt of Amara’s wrath when Dean couldn’t intervene, and Dean is more grateful than words can express. He just wishes he could’ve avoided the withdrawal.

Like a recovering addict, every day has been a test. First he couldn’t get out of bed without collapsing into a shaking heap on the bunker floor. Castiel couldn’t help him, either. After a week of trying, Sam passed along the message that the angel would be more effective back in heaven dealing with that bureaucratic nightmare.

It was Sam who took care of him; his brother’s unique brand of mother-henning got Dean out of his bed, then out of the bunker to face a world that couldn’t wrap its head around the biblical-level insanity of the last few months.

The Winchesters waited. For weeks they braced themselves for the next battle. Caging Amara came with consequences, didn’t it? But nothing came. No revelations, no destruction, no bigger, badder force to reckon with.

If the only thing left wrecked in the aftermath was Dean himself, he’d take it.

Sam began researching hunts after that. The first few were softballs to ease them back into the rhythm. To make sure Dean could. Together they salted and burned their way through a handful of straightforward cases, Sam remaining cautious. He breathed easier once Dean’s physical symptoms faded.

He couldn’t do anything about the other effects, the ones Dean kept buried as much as he could.

Amara’s curse—her parting gift—left Dean with a need to fill the void she once occupied in his soul. And he knows that he’s a terminal case. If he doesn’t find something, someone to hold him together, the pain will consume him until nothing remains but the empty husk of a washed-up hunter. It may take months, it may take years, but Dean won’t survive the emptiness.

He hasn’t told Sam.

Dean is finishing his first beer when Sam calls out.

“Dean! You better come listen to this!”

Shoving aside the thought of his own impending doom, Dean follows his brother’s echo through the bunker’s halls and finds Sam at the transmission board fiddling with a screen they've never used. The whole apparatus looks too clunky and intimidating for Dean. Sam, on the other hand, is familiar with all the knobs and readouts.

“Someone called us.”

“The bunker has a phone number?” Dean asks, surprised. “Are we listed in the yellow pages or something?”

Sam presses a button and static fills the room. “I think whoever called was using some sort of code. Hang on, just listen.”

Dean leans over the back of Sam's chair, inhaling the clean minty-fresh scent of Sam's shampoo. As the recording begins, he immediately notes the gentle southern accent in the nervous introduction.

“Um, hello. My name is Edmond Tallier. I'm not entirely sure who I'm calling, only that my late aunt told me to use this if—well, if something…”

“Is that it?” Dean looks at Sam when the voice hesitates, a good ten seconds of white noise following that.

Sam shakes his head. “There's more. Just wait.”

“My aunt’s name was Jocelyn Campbell, and she told me to call this number if I ever saw a ghost.”

“Campbell? As in the Campbells? What the hell is this, Sam?”

“Come on, just listen to the rest.”

“I know they're real, which may sounds crazy, but my aunt knew all about them. Which is why I'm going to assume that whoever may be listening knows that, too. Jocelyn left me this number—more of a code I'd say—in a warded chest for emergencies.

“There's an estate nearby, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, that I was meant to keep an eye on after she passed away. Told me it was haunted, but I'd never seen proof until tonight. Now, I don't know who you are, or how you can help me, but I don't know what to do. Call me, please.”

Sam is quick to type the man’s number into his cell phone, staring at it after the recording ends. The red light on the transmission board stops blinking.

“He sounded scared.”

“Not a hunter, then,” Dean muses. A hunter asking for aid would've given them specifics.

At the mention of Charleston, Dean’s mind makes the journey back to long, lazy afternoons in an old beachfront motel. Sand warming the space between his toes and the texture of his younger brother’s skin after it turned brown in the sun. The peace that could be found on a stretch of empty coastline, just Dean and Sam and the Atlantic Ocean stretched out before them.

Sam is focused on the message, oblivious to Dean’s mental wanderings. He plays it again.

“Jocelyn Campbell. The name can't be a coincidence.”

“He mentioned a warded chest,” Dean points out. “Something a hunter in the Campbell family would know how to create and use.”

“I've never heard of a code before.”

Dean gives it a moment of consideration. “Makes sense though, right? Hunters would need a way to contact the Men of Letters that wouldn't go through regular channels.” He laughs. “Would've been nice to know, huh?”

Sam frowns. “They were all dead, Dean. Remember? And now it's just us.”

That's the way Dean prefers it. Living in the bunker with only his brother for company makes it feel like they own it. As if it's a home instead of a base.

“And if it is just us,” Sam continues, “we ought to help. That's what we do, right?”

Sam’s voice wavers on the last part, and Dean knows what’s running through his brother’s mind. Keeping the balance is paramount. Caging Amara hadn’t brought about the next apocalypse, and the Winchesters intend on having it remain that way. If that means laying low and taking on these routine hunts, then so be it. They can’t wreak any more havoc on the world.

If other hunters can do their jobs without opening gates to Hell or causing the angels to fall, so can Sam and Dean.

“Sounds like a basic haunting. Ghost of an estate. Classic.”

“Be nice if it's that simple.” Sam sighs and stands, stretching out his back. Dean waits for the inevitable wince that follows. “You know, I'm pretty sure I've seen lists of hunters and their families in the records room. Maybe I can find Jocelyn Campbell, see how her family might've related to Samuel.”

And to Mom is added silently by both of them.

While Sam communes with his precious records, Dean uses his phone to dial Edmond Tallier’s number.

The same nervous, accented voice picks up after the second ring.

“You're an expert in these matters?” Tallier asks after Dean explained how they received his message.

“Something like that,” Dean assures him.

Tallier sighs, some of the reticence dropped from his words. “To be quite frank, I didn't think I'd hear back from anyone. My aunt was never... specific about what the number would do.”

“Your aunt,” Dean broaches, stomach heavy, “she knew about the supernatural?”

“She was a hunter, Mr. Winchester. I gather you know what that means. She was largely retired in the time I knew her. Concentrating on family and such.”

“Not you, though?”

“A hunter?” Tallier laughs, composed. So different from what Dean is used to when he's scouting a hunt. “I'm afraid the closest I'd been to a ghost before last week were Jocelyn’s stories. I don't believe I have the constitution for such a thing.”

Dean asks, “And you're sure you saw a ghost?”

“Never been more sure,” the Southerner says with conviction. “It was just like Jocelyn said. A flickering specter, gray like a storm cloud. Even if my eyes were playing tricks on me, it wouldn't explain the feeling. Like ice water running down my spine, air gone cold and wrong, sir.”

It feels strange, picking up a hunt this way. For so long it's been just Dean and Sam combing the papers and trolling the internet for hints and possibilities. Maybe this is the way the Men of Letters once operated, dispatching cases to the ranks of trusted hunters.

Now, Dean and Sam serve as research, dispatch, and trigger men, all in one.

“What about the estate you mentioned?”

“Empty for decades,” Tallier tells him, “until now. It's been spiffed up and cleaned out.” He takes a deep breath. “Guess there are some things you just can't get rid of, right?”

“Does this place have a name?”

“Oh yes, quite a history, too. Nine Oaks Plantation. You look that up, you'll see what I mean.”

Sam hits pay dirt with a volume of genealogies.

Jocelyn Campbell was listed as the youngest of three children. Her father passed away in the 1950’s. A simple handwritten notation next to his name stated ‘full moon’. For the rest, Sam went hunting for online records armed with the names of Jocelyn’s mother and siblings. It appeared her mother lived until 1981 and her two older brothers both died within the last decade. Their children were scattered across the country. Sam found no hints of the Campbells’ hunting legacies continuing with any of them.

Sam shares all of this before pushing another yellowed tome in front of Dean.

“Check it out.”

Dean frowns at line after line of handwritten notes. “What am I looking at?”

“You were right,” Sam says in lieu of an answer. “Jocelyn’s grandfather and Samuel’s grandfather were brothers.”

“Seriously?” Dean takes a closer look at the tables in Sam’s precious book. Sure enough, he finds the connection several generations back. “The Campbells sure knew how to procreate, man. Lots of births.”

“Lots of deaths, too,” Sam points out somberly. “Most of the people born with the Campbell name didn’t live past their twenties. Makes sense if the majority of them were hunters.”

Dean’s voice is flat when he says, “Look at us, Sammy. Defying the odds.”

Neither of them point out the number of times they’ve died already. Tends to ruins the mood.

“Guess this ghost down South is looking more and more like a family obligation.”

Sam’s gaze cuts across the table. “If you want to take a break, I could call someone else. Maybe Jesse and Cesar know someone who could take over—”

“We can handle this.”

Sam gives him a long look. When he continues, rationality keeps his tone level and metered. “We can take a couple of days, research from here. We’ll know what we’re getting into. Besides, Tallier only said he saw a ghost. He never said it was causing any trouble.”

“You’re the one who said we needed to help,” Dean throws back. “Even before you found out that Jocelyn Campbell was related to Samuel.”


“‘That’s what we do.’ Your words, Sam.”

It makes sense. Their bags are still packed, lying side by side on one of the tables in the library. He doesn’t relish the thought of getting back on the road again so soon, but having a hunt right in front of him is better than any of his other options. Better than staying here to face Sam with the knowledge that he’s deteriorating further each and every day.

“What happened to kicking back and having a beer?” Sam asks, sliding the book away from Dean and shutting it. There’s nothing quite like the smell of aged paper and the glue holding it all together.

“You’re the one who decided to check the voicemail,” Dean grumbles. He makes sure Sam hears him. His brother’s expression doesn’t change, though. Guarded acceptance, the tension at the corner of his mouth meaning he’s still trying to work out an argument that will keep Dean in the bunker for a few more days.

Dean sighs. “We’ll take the night, okay? It’s at least a full day’s drive down there and we need some supplies. That sound good to you?”

Sam looks tired when he smiles, but it’s bright all the same. Dean tries not to let that get to him.

“In the meantime, you can check out that estate Tallier mentioned. Must be something there if his aunt left instructions to watch over the place.”

“You’re thinking one ghost that’s been around for a while?”

The rest of the six-pack is calling to Dean from the kitchen. Can’t let it go to waste if they’re hitting the road again tomorrow. If nothing else, it might help him relax. Dull the edges around the hole in his chest.

“You tell me, Sammy. Research is your department.”

Dean dreams of sweetgrass and mint, shadows playing across his skin, his knees bare and warm from mornings spent in the sun.

Nothing solid, only wisps pulled from memory. Long days and quiet nights. The sound of gentle waves hitting the shore. Salt on the air, thin limbs curled close.

Sam, young and eager. So optimistic. So unprepared for what was to come.

On to chapter two.

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