A Delicate Desiccation
Word Count: 4.7K
Category: One-shot; Behind-the-scenes canon compliant; Melancholia; Friendship; Mystery; On-the-case
Rating: Teen & Up
Character(s): Dean, Sam, Cas, Reader/Female O.C.
Warnings: None, just an FYI for my regular readers - not the darkest thing I’ve seen around here, but it is the darkest thing *I* have ever written.
Author’s Note: see below!!!!
Overall Summary: The Winchesters must deal with a creature unlike one they’ve tackled before & accept some things can only be preserved in memories.
*~* ADVISE YOU DO NOT LOOK AT THE COMMENTS PRIOR TO READING - someone accidentally spoiled the ending! Oops! *~*
A DELICATE DESICCATION
I inhaled deeply, letting my eyes close and my head rest atop my folded arms. I’m not sure how long I was like that, thinking too hard, trying to recall the scent. Never even heard the approaching footsteps.
“Because it’s creepy as hell.”
“It reminds me of something. Not a perfume or a shampoo. Well, maybe shampoo, but—”
I did, but only briefly.
“Maybe a cake recipe? Except it’s not sweet…"
I raised my head again, but didn’t open my eyes, just tilted over the side of the bathtub, drawing in an even deeper breath.
The ‘please’ made me open my eyes and turn my head towards him but he’d already turned, too, walked off without waiting to see if I’d done as he’d asked.
I was so bad with him lately.
I gasped, snapped my fingers as it hit me. It was citrus and some cedar, sure, and I’d seen the cloves… no, cardamom. It had to have been cardamom that was tripping me up.
I sprang to my feet and as I bounced through the bathroom doorway, stepping into the frigid motel room, grinning happily, excited to tell him, I heard the Impala’s engine gun. The front left tire still needed air; it screamed as it ground into the asphalt. The setting sun was cutting through the window at just the right angle to hit my eyes, but I didn’t need to blink.
That part, I remembered. And the eating and the sleeping parts. Could not for the life of me remember the part about breathing.
Anyway. He’d return. They’d return. One of them. Someone. At some point.
So for now, I went back to sit with my body.
STEPS ONE THROUGH FOUR:
BE ON RECEIVING END OF SIX-TO-EIGHT FATAL STAB WOUNDS;
LURCH NO MORE BUT NO LESS THAN EIGHT STUMBLING STEPS TO THE LEFT, THEN THREE SMALL WOBBLES OR ONE LARGE LURCH BEHIND;
ALLOW FORM TO FALL ATOP ALTAR, MOMENTUM BRINGING BOTH SELF AND VARIOUS ITEMS TO REST ACROSS ANCIENT ENGRAVINGS IN STONE FLOOR;
EXSANGUINATE 40-60% TOTAL BLOOD VOLUME AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE
Those were not the first steps as detailed in the scrolls - but they were the first steps for me.
In the time it took to get back to the bunker, Sam had come through like he always did, determining what had been awakened and what had to be done. Even so, it was Castiel who would be attending to the details. But first the angel had to attend to Dean.
I’d watched as Dean argued with the both of them for hours, about why I couldn’t be brought back, then why I shouldn’t be pyred and fired immediately. I’d watched for another few hours as they talked the whiskey, then the gun, out of his hand.
They’d cried. I’d cried, though they couldn’t tell, and I couldn’t tell that anything was hitting my cheeks. Dean tossed and turned so fiercely, his bed linens were damp with perspiration. It smelled of hundred proof.
So I’d laid by Sam that night. I was fascinated at how my presence made the breath coming from his lips look like thick clouds. I’d held my hand over his face, mesmerized at the little crystals forming in the lines of the salty tracks from his eyes, on the tips of his lashes.
I’d stopped when his breathing went shallow, jerking myself away from him so fast I shot myself clean through the wall of his bedroom.
I had no concept of how long I had been there in the hallway, statue-still.
“They can’t hear or see you,” Castiel told me quietly, coming to stand by my side.
I looked down at my dress, my cardigan, the brown leather boots that came to my knees. The boots and the cardigan were old; the dress was brand new. I’d bought it for a special purpose, though I couldn’t call up why right then. Not a crease, not a blemish, like I’d just taken it off the hanger.
I turned to my friend.
“Will they, though? Because I’d like to tell them thank you. For being good friends. Make sure they know I don’t blame them.”
“Perhaps. If they choose to. But I can tell them.”
“That’s not the same.”
“I’ll tell them it came directly from you.”
“Don’t do that, Cas.”
“Play dumb about this stuff. About what guilt does to us carbon-basers.”
A fraction of a tilt to the corner of his mouth and I wiggled my eyebrows, forcing the tilt into a small grin.
“I think I may miss you.”
I sighed, turned away, brought my eyes over to stare at the wall I’d come through.
“You don’t need to do that,” he informed me. “Breathing, that is.”
I nodded. I was distracted. But I acknowledged him.
STEPS FIVE THROUGH TEN:
ALL VISCERA EXCEPTING HEART AND LUNGS SHOULD BE REMOVED, SOAKED IN HOLY OIL PRIOR TO BURNING, ALLOWING FIRE TO BURN OUT FOR COMPLETE DISPOSAL;
RINSE BRAIN, SKULL, AND BODY CAVITY WITH PREPARED MIXTURE, COATING LIBERALLY, LEAVING SKULL FILLED;
INFUSE VESSELS WITH SAME, FOLLOWED BY NATRON SOLUTION UNTIL RUNNING CLEAR, LEAVING HEART CHAMBERS FILLED, CLAMPING ENTRY AND EXIT POINTS;
PACK CAVITY WITH LINEN-WRAPPED POULTICES OF NOTED FLOWERS, HERBS, SPICES AND SALTS, BLESSED AND HEXED APPROPRIATELY;
CONTINUE TO PACK ANY REMAINING SPACES AND SURROUND EXTERNALLY WITH SALTED ICE;
REPEAT EVERY 36 HOURS FOR NO MORE BUT NO LESS THAN 70 DAYS
Each time the second hand hit twelve or the calendar flipped, signalling the arrival of the next stage, I’d tag along to one of the bunker’s more clinical interrogation rooms, stick around to observe Cas’ doings initially, but then I’d always have to go walk, get distance, get away.
Dean never joined me, but Sam did, wouldn’t hesitate to follow after, though with my irritable, dissipating nature I’d tend to sail through trees and gates, adopting a hellish pace. He’d jog along for awhile. He’d give up long before the corn.
I kept making a beeline for it, I just loved it - rows and rows of thick, swaying curtains. I would wander, swaying with it, breaking into sprints for who knew how long, daydreaming. Maybe I’d turn north, run so far as to come upon Iowan ballplayers and field a few grounders. Maybe even stumble into a cult of misfit children, give them a stern talking-to on my way back to my friends.
I got lost a few times… maybe more than a few. They would call me back to them, and it burned the same way it had when I’d gotten stabbed. Before I woke up feeling hollow. At least the burn let me not be cold for a moment or two, and that felt nice until I saw them.
They would look at me so sadly, be so frustrated, try to bind me to something else. I didn’t fight it, that I know for sure. I’ve always been happy to do anything for them, happy to help where I could, and that was a part of myself I would never let change.
Even so - my exploring days soon met their expiration date.
I had begun to associate the sound of the nighttime talk show hosts’ voices with feeling itchy and heavy and blurry and nauseous… even angry. Then I’d feel something like sleepiness, but not - more like drugged, I supposed, but I’d never been drugged so I couldn’t say. Never taken them, never had cause to need painkillers, never put under for surgery. I’d always been perfectly healthy.
Some sort of spirit sun-downing, the way Castiel talked. He would explain it to me, and while he was kind and patient, I got the impression this was not even close to the first instance he’d had to repeat himself. As time was passing, more and more often it seemed that I needed to stay in the motel. Whichever motel it was; they moved my body constantly, keeping it off some sort of otherworldly radar.
I shouldn’t come to the bunker anymore, I’d be reminded. I would ask why, then Castiel would show me pictures on his phone, of the damage. Once I think he showed me pictures of bruises and cuts. I can’t be certain. I don’t know when exactly it was that they’d started locking me into the room when they left, with their drawn lines and invisible walls that sometimes worked, sometimes not-so-much.
All I know is that when I got the idea, Castiel had looked at me skeptically just for a few moments before nodding his head. He spoke for awhile, processing the pros and the cons aloud, eventually settling on reasons that amounted to practicing so I would be convincing, if need be, to… to the… But that wasn’t my reasoning.
Mine was simpler: the nightly pull might not be preventable, but I wouldn’t be able to reach the bunker and cause any upset if I were back in my body.
STEPS ELEVEN THROUGH FOURTEEN:
ETCH RIBS AS OUTLINED;
INTERNAL SUMMONING GLYPHS SHOULD BE PLACED VERTICALLY ON STERNUM ONLY;
EVERY EXPOSED SURFACE SHOULD BE WRAPPED IN PRE-SOAKED LINEN STRIPS AND SECURED WITH LIGHT RESIN;
CONTINUE MANUAL MANIPULATIONS AT MINIMUM EVERY TWELVE HOURS TO ENSURE PLIANCY AND REDUCE STIFFNESS
“Why not the eyes?”
Castiel glanced from the covered jar filled with a thick, opaque, honey-like fluid sitting on the bathroom counter and over to where I stood by the bathtub.
“Why not burn them, too?”
“It will be more convincing if they can see once the body—”
He cut himself off immediately.
“It’s okay, Cas.”
“Once they inhabit the body.”
“Makes sense,” I responded, though none of it did.
I’d been hoping for something more along the Eva Perón spectrum versus Boris and Lon, but my friends’ guardian - my guardian - had truly done beautiful work. More than he’d had to, according to the scrolls. It was odd to look at myself from this perspective, odder still as the months went by and I looked less and less like me.
I finally had the cheekbones I’d wished for as a teen, those of a supermodel, high and sharp. My eye color had darkened. My skin was slowly changing, shrinking, tightening, though honestly not as much as I’d imagined it would’ve. I took it all in slowly, the first time I’d been able to make use of a mirror in months.
I edged out of the bathroom, stepping carefully around the large body bag left beside the door. Various apologies hit the air, someone scurried over to move it away, but I wasn’t paying much mind. I was moving my neck back and forth gently, gingerly stretching my bandaged arms as I walked, concentrating on getting to the edge of the bed and sitting.
“Stiff?” asked Sam.
I opened my mouth to reply, but just a croak came out.
Castiel quickly brought one of the motel’s plastic cups to my lips but it only contained a teaspoon or so of water.
“Don’t drink - just gargle a little, swish and spit.”
I nodded, did as instructed, tried to commit the rule to my mental list:
BREATHING NOT REQUIRED
YOU ARE ALREADY GONE
The last one was mine. But it was the one, to me, that was most important, the one I could not forget. The one that tried to slip through the ever-widening gaps in my mind each time I saw my friends.
Even when they looked at me how they were just then - disgust, maybe awe. Hard to say. Functional eyes, yes, though still not working as well as they used to.
But I did see them. Through the window, when I would dare to peek out at my old world, once the sun had gone down. They were taking turns as my bodyguard, seeing as how I’d taken to having one again during the night.
Sam would stay awake the entire time, six-to-six, back against the passenger door, feet crossed and propped over the open-windowed driver’s door, a tablet in his hands. Sometimes his knees would be pulled up and I knew a book must’ve been leaning against them, judging by the flashlight he’d have wedged in between tilted head and shoulder. He flipped pages quickly - that seemed familiar, him being a lightning-fast reader.
I think he may’ve seen me watching him once or twice. The shadows across his face, created by the small amount of light beneath it, definitely didn’t do my waning vision any favors. If he did know, if it did bother him, he didn’t let on. Being studied by a monster would’ve unnerved most anyone else.
Then there was Dean.
I suspected he was the one choosing the motels towards the end because once bodyguard duty became routine, I noticed there was always a bar nearby. He would have his fill of camping in the Impala, the restlessness coming on around eleven. By twelve I’d see him stalk off, striding out of the parking lot.
Brought a girl back with him once, but their groping and grinding across the trunk never made it to the backseat. Not once he spotted me in the window. He shoved her away abruptly, mouth moving, gesturing apologetically, making some excuse.
I was still standing there, running an ice cube across my parched lips, watching as she made her way back across the street to the bar, when he burst through the door so suddenly that the handle punched into the wall.
“What is wrong with you?!”
He yanked hard on worn paisley curtains, enough to where I heard a seam or two pop, hurrying to cover the windows.
I slipped the dwindling ice cube into my mouth, splintering it into little shards as I shifted to face him.
I normally would’ve shrugged but the upper body wrappings from that morning had apparently been applied with extra grit, and I normally would’ve sighed out of unbroken habit but rigid lungs made that list item close to null during bodily hours.
So I just looked at him blankly with my new dark eyes, and the dark circles I knew were under them, and the unmovable brows I knew were above them, blinking only as he shut the door quietly when he left, despite the lack of tears.
He was drunk enough not to care when he found me lying in the backseat upon his return from the bar on another night. He never locked that car. Never had, long as I’d known him, though I had no clue how long that had been.
I’d forgotten not to wander on my futile hunts for memories.
My legs wouldn’t fit onto the seat as I couldn’t bend them at the knees well, so they were dangling crookedly to the side, my feet mostly on the floorboard. I was surprised when he calmly climbed in, lifting my legs and placing them in his lap. A glimpse of familiarity there, then it disappeared.
I’d been fussing with the bandaging on my hands. The tiny bindings on my fingers were now loose and pooled around my knuckles. He noticed.
“Cas is gonna be pissed.”
I forced a few mouthfuls of air down; he watched and waited.
“Things feel strange.”
“I mean literally.”
I reached to my side, ran a few fingers across the leather of the front seat.
My chest pulled and ached inside with every inhalation of air. But I wanted to talk with him. I wanted to tell. So I took in as much as I could hold.
“Like there’s a piece of plastic wrap between my skin and… and… things. Even water. Even me.”
I brought the fingers to the tip of my nose. That, and the areas around my eyes and mouth, were all that stayed uncovered. Then I brought my fingers to the ends of my hair, just below my shoulder.
It had grown long enough to keep it in a braid, which I could manage alone, even with my bandaged, barely-bendable fingers. It was silky, due to the oily potion Castiel had to apply to my scalp. It still felt fake to me, like the synthetic hair of a doll.
An audible gulp, followed shortly by a sniffle, hit my ears and I looked up to find tear-filled, bloodshot eyes looking into mine.
“You and Sam are brothers?” I asked.
“I think I had a crush on one of you.”
He nodded again, and a hint of a smile appeared.
“But you were mad at each other the day I died.”
He hesitated for a moment before he answered.
“Because one of us finally got up the guts to ask you out. We were, ah…”
Dean paused, chuckled lightly, ran a hand across his face.
“We were both crushing on you, too. Never told each other.”
“I don’t… is that why I bought a new dress?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess.”
I was suddenly uncomfortable, began shifting around, and Dean started to reach out, then stopped.
“I won’t come apart.”
He helped me sit up, my back now against the seat, both of us staring out the front window. It started to sprinkle. But neither of us moved.
I turned my head to find those eyes were glassier than ever.
“I remember. You’ve said. Both of you,” I pointed out.
He touched my lips with his, don’t know how hard or soft, and he closed his eyes but I didn’t close mine. I couldn’t feel a thing. I hadn’t felt anything before, either, when…
“Sam did that, too,” I told him once he’d pulled away. “Last… no, not last night…”
My mind drifted.
“When he dropped off more salt for…”
“Must’ve been last week.”
Dean’s voice was cracking. That did trigger a memory. That it was unusual.
I touched a finger to the tip of his nose, ran it down, over his lips, then down again, over and across his chin.
“You both feel like wax,” I whispered.
“No, we don’t,” he whispered back.
STEPS FIFTEEN THROUGH TWENTY:
SOAK LINENS IN BLESSED HOLY OIL MIXTURE FOR NO LESS THAN ONE WEEK PRIOR TO PLANNED CEREMONY;
FINAL WRAPPINGS MUST BE TIGHT AROUND ALL EXTREMITIES AND CORE, USING COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF RESIN ON ALL EDGES AND ATOP EXTERNALLY WRITTEN SCRIPT;
INTERNAL CAVITIES AND VESSELS MUST BE FILLED TO CAPACITY WITH MIXTURE;
ANY EXPOSED PART OF BODY UNABLE TO BE WRAPPED MUST BE COATED THOROUGHLY WITH MIXTURE;
CLEANSING FIRE SHOULD ONLY BE CAST DURING LAST QUARTER OF SUMMONING RITUAL;
CAST FIRE WITH CAUTION TO IMMEDIATE SURROUNDINGS
“So then we’ll… like a Viking funeral…”
“No, that’s mostly… but there was… ship captain…”
My hearing was all but gone, though I found the two voices drifting over from some place nearby to be soothing. My vision was nothing to speak of, either - a milky film coated my eyes. But I could make out the bright blue ones looming above me.
I liked the voice of this man, too. And he was gently adjusting various parts of me, arranging things around me. He placed something small - a wildflower bouquet, he said - on my belly and folded my hands around it. He spoke the entire time, softly, but firmly.
He kept repeating his speech over and over again, so that what was left of my brain function would concentrate on three simple things:
I still had pieces of what he’d told me on our way to the lake floating in my mind. The parts he said I didn’t need to bother remembering now. How the show we’d been running, the ruse I’d survived and had been convalescing somewhere, was over.
The preservation had been taken to its limits. What could be done had been done, and now all that was left was to hope these ancient entities would fall for the trap my friends had laid. Surmise I’d finally succumbed to the damage their minions had inflicted upon my body that night over a year ago, and that a hunter’s funeral awaited me.
They would not be foolish enough to believe that between their stolen scrolls and an angel of the lord, at least some semblance of an effort to thwart them wouldn’t have been undertaken by the resilient, stubborn hunters. They would recognize this funeral of mine to be an odd take on the typical tradition. They would assume measures had been taken to trap them in the fire.
They would have to be fast. And they would have to take the risk. They had no choice but to try.
All because it was my blood that flooded their carvings, my body that had lain across their altar, and my mummified shell was the only one that would do, that could serve as their earthly temple.
I’d kept trying to resurrect the memories of that night, the night I was on a first date with a friend who may’ve become more. This was the only thing the sky-eyed caretaker never had to repeat or remind me of - I had managed to hold on to that one memory above all. I was with the ones who had cared for me, who had fought for me, who fought for me still, even in death.
And now I was to fight with every piece of spirit I had left to keep what would soon possess my body inside when they would most certainly attempt to flee, once… once…
“Once you feel them, hold tight, just for a second,” the deepest voice ordered gruffly, as the three of them guided the small boat into the lake.
“Then you’ll feel warm,” said the voice coming from the largest shadow. “You can leave then - they won’t come with you.”
“I’ll meet you after,” said the caretaker as he leaned over me, one last promise before he closed my eyelids.
A few grunts along with the heaving, then a final shove and out into the water I sailed. I enjoyed the swaying. It was peaceful. As stuffed and bound as I was, there was comfort.
It didn’t hurt. I wish I could’ve called out to them and let them know, though my filled-to-the-brim, sealed-lipped state wouldn’t have allowed it. Even if I’d had the energy to spare.
Whoever these old troublemakers were, well, maybe they were running low on energy, too. Or maybe I just had more than they’d ever had to begin with. But it didn’t matter either way.
When the hunters on the shore let loose their arrows, we were all toast.
I inhaled deeply, letting my eyes close as I thought. I’m not sure how long I was like that, thinking too hard, trying to recall the last time I’d smelled that mix of hops and peanuts and cigarettes. Never even heard the approaching footsteps.
“Because it ain’t right, a face like yours not having a smile on it.”
I opened my eyes, took in the cocky grin, then took the small plastic card from the outstretched hand. A glance at what was written there, then I looked up, raised an eyebrow.
“This reminds me of something.”
“I’m gonna keep on loving you.”
“Well, wow, that’s a little forward.”
“Is it, Kevin? Oh, sorry, Mr. Cronin.”
The cocky grin faded into a sheepish one.
“Yeah, I get that a lot, see—”
He did, but only briefly.
“We’re cousins, and my parents were set on the name, and how were they supposed to know he’d end up—”
“You know, I can tell that you are old enough to ride this ride, so I don’t get why the fake I.D., but your puppy here I’m not so sure about, and I really hope he’s not about to try and screw me over, too.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flirty one’s taller, shaggy-haired companion immediately re-fold his wallet, casually return it to his back pocket.
“Maybe a just a couple beers, huh? We tip real good, and then we’ll be outta your—”
I frowned, feeling oddly out-of-place, my head and then my eyes drifting down, past the taps, past the edge of bar, watched as the plastic card slipped from my fingers and hit the sticky floor. My hands reflexively balled into fists and I squeezed my eyes shut.
The immediate pin-drop quiet and the echo of my 'please’ made my eyes go wide. But an unfamiliar sound, something flapping, rustling, is what made my head snap up and over to my right.
Everyone and everything was frozen, ricocheting pool balls to mid-air darts, all except one trench-coated patron at the far end who was seated on a stool, calmly sipping a pilsner I hadn’t poured.
I walked over, felt the smile stretching across my face as I came to a stop in front of him.
“I meant to meet you sooner, my apologies for the delay,” he said, nothing but sincerity in those bright baby blues.
“I couldn’t tell,” I answered honestly. “It’s good to see you. It’s good to see…”
My thoughts drifted as I glanced to my left, to where they stood.
And just like that, I remembered everything, all in the time it took to turn my head back to him - but he’d already turned, too, walked off without waiting to see if I was going to say anything else.
I was so bad with that - moving too slowly, not reacting quickly enough - and the thought chilled me to my core.
“Cas, are they– are they really here?” I called after him.
Castiel paused, not but a few steps from the door, and I took the opportunity to dash out from behind the bar and rush to his side, standing in front of the door as if I could block his exit.
“Did I mess it up?”
A slight frown came across his face and he tilted his head a bit as he took in what I knew was absolute fear radiating off of me.
“I don’t mean that night, I know I messed up then, not getting out of the way when those people, when those things were—”
I did. He brought his hands to my shoulders, gave them a reassuring squeeze. He waited til he knew he had my complete attention before he spoke.
“This place is whatever you want it to be. Whatever you choose to do. Anyone you’d like to have with you.”
I nodded slowly, processing his words. Then I looked around. Some paradise I’d created - an afterlife in the bartending job from my early twenties that I’d hated with a passion.
I gasped, snapped my fingers as it hit me. What it was, that scene I’d stepped away from. It was a re-enactment of the first time I’d laid eyes on the Winchester brothers. The seconds that had snowballed into years.
There’d been adventures and arguments - and laughter, to be sure - and I’d certainly seen the heartaches firsthand… all that sadness. It had to have been the sadness that was tripping me up. Why that part had to come along for the ride.
And maybe Castiel had read my thoughts because he leaned in close, gave me one final reminder:
“You don’t have to remember everything.”
Suddenly I was bounding towards the bar again, crunching fallen peanut shells under my boots as the sounds of conversation, then the music from the jukebox, resumed. I was grinning happily, excited to tell Dean and Sam their drinks were coming right up, but with one condition. They’d owe me a story about those fake I.D.s and what had brought them to the middle-of-nowhere joint that night.
This I wanted to remember, those stories over beers, the phony ones that gradually turned into truth. The eating road food and the sleeping in motels, the hunts and the saved lives, all those parts that were pushing back in, filling up my mind.
I knew how to hold on and I wasn’t letting a bit of it spill out. Well, mostly. Could not for the life of me hold on to the parts about dying.
Still. I knew it was only real for me, just like I knew that would eventually change. Because they’d turn up again. One of them. Both of them. At some point.
So for now, the angel went back to be with my friends.
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