Written for Sisabet, with much love, on the occasion of her birthday. elynross is the bestest beta (and friend) in the history of ever. Luminosity and renenet get huge hugs for encouragement. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
Days Like This
The whole night had been jacked up from the start, and it only proved what Dean Winchester had always believed: California had it in for him. Not that he was any stranger to sewers, or the monsters that sometimes lurked therein, but at the moment, that didn't make him feel any more charitable toward the state as a whole. Nothing good had ever happened to him in California, and as far as he was concerned, he'd be happy never to set foot there again. Lindsay Lohan notwithstanding.
The smell was enough to knock out a corpse-eater. Dean did his best to ignore it, concentrating instead on trying to remember how many lefts and rights since the last junction. The last thing he needed was to get lost down here with some horror-show, razor-toothed tentacle thing for company.
Not for the first time, he wished Sam were with him. Not that Sam's sense of direction was worth a damn, but it would've made him feel a hell of a lot better to have his brother's familiar presence at his back.
His flashlight flickered again, and he cursed softly, shaking it. Thing must have a short. He'd changed the batteries before they left the motel, what felt like a lifetime ago now.
The light steadied. Dean stopped for a second to wiggle the switch -- and froze at a sound behind him, so soft it barely registered.
He shut the light off before he even had a chance to think about it. Breath held, he listened. His eyes were useless in the dark, so he closed them, focusing instead on his other senses, on instincts that had kept him alive more times than he could count. He stuck the Maglite in his pocket and shifted the crossbow to his left hand, bending down slowly to retrieve his hunting knife.
Before he could reach it, a hand closed over his mouth and nose, clamping down without mercy, ice-cold and suffocating.
Dean fought like a mother, but the son of a bitch anticipated him, wouldn't stand still for Dean to get in a good stomp to the instep, dodging him easily. Fucker was strong -- inhumanly strong. Dean thought he heard a faint curse as the back of his head connected with something more yielding than bone, but there was no budging the arms that had closed around him.
"Quit it," a voice hissed close to his ear.
"Mmf," Dean protested. He tried again to dislodge the meaty hand over his mouth, to no avail.
"Shh," his captor insisted, sounding pissed. "Have to draw it deeper, away from the surface, or next thing we know it's loose in the streets."
Dean's instinct was to keep fighting, but he forced himself to stillness and strained into the dark, listening. He couldn't hear anything, but it registered that the arms locked around him were intent on immobilizing him, nothing more; the guy had done everything he could to keep Dean quiet, and nothing at all to hurt him. Forcing himself to relax, he nodded. After a moment, the hand over his mouth fell away; the steely arms kept him pinned, though, not trusting him.
"You can hear it?" Dean breathed softly. He was registering the pressure of the guy's body against him, solid strength, at least thirty pounds advantage on Dean, and an easy mastery of leverage that promised any play Dean made for freedom stood a good chance of failing.
"Something like that," the other man said, breath ghosting over Dean's neck. He was scenting the air, Dean realized, and felt gooseflesh prickle over his arms. Trying to smell the thing in the dark, in spite of the pervasive stench of sewer. It hit him a second later that the guy hadn't had a flashlight. How the hell--?
"It's moving away," his captor said at last.
"Great," Dean said, jaw tight, trying not to embarrass himself further with another fruitless attempt to break free. "So you can let go any time now."
"Yeah, sorry about that." He didn't sound all that sorry. But the steely, implacable grip released him, and Dean put a good three feet between them. Sensing the other guy moving off down the tunnel, Dean followed, shifting his grip on the crossbow.
"You know what it is?" he asked, as much to track the guy's position as anything. He slipped the light from his pocket and flicked it on, the sudden brightness glaring in the pitch blackness. Dark eyes turned and shot him an irritated glare from beneath heavy brows, and Dean got an impression of heavy-boned, sullen impatience and stylish black clothes far too expensive for hanging around in sewers. If he was a hunter, he was like none Dean had ever met.
"Hafgufa," the guy said, and turned his attention back to the tunnel ahead.
Dean tried to remember if he'd ever read about one, but came up empty. "Demon?" he asked, figuring he might as well get the intel if the guy had it to give.
A short, sharp nod. The long, prowling stride didn't falter. "Rare one. Shouldn't be here."
"You're tellin' me."
They took a left at the next junction. Dean thought the guy was done talking to him, but after half a minute, he said grudgingly, "They nest under the ocean floor, only come out every couple months for food. You hear about that big quake out in the Pacific? Must have disturbed its burrow."
"You know how to kill it?"
Dean shrugged. "I got a few theories. Sea monster, right? Likes water? I figure torchin' the thing's a safe bet." He pulled his jacket back, revealing the flare gun jammed into the waistband of his jeans.
The flat, dark eyes gleamed at that. "Yeah, that ought to do it."
"What about you? Plan on talking it to death?"
The guy slowed a step, lifting his coat to show Dean an honest-to-God broadsword, like something out of the Middle Ages. Dean grinned in spite of himself. "Awesome."
They came to another junction, and Dean counted turns again while the guy crouched down at the edge of the halo cast by Dean's light, touching long fingers to a shallow puddle with an oily sheen. Dean grimaced, not wanting to think about what it might be. But the guy didn't seem to care, just lifted the tips of his fingers and sniffed them. He glanced down the left-hand tunnel, balancing easily on his heels. "That way."
Dean decided he'd had about enough of tall, dark, and mysterious, and raised the crossbow. "Okay, you know what? That's far enough."
Other than the briefest flicker of his gaze to the silver tip of the bolt pointed at his heart, the guy showed no sign of being disconcerted by this turn of events. He straightened up with that inhuman grace and cocked his head.
"Mind telling me what you plan on doing with that?"
Dean was pretty sure already, but a brief, direct flash of his light at the guy's eyes confirmed it; they glinted back yellow, preternatural in the darkness.
"Depends. Mind telling me what the hell you are?"
All hint of geniality vanished. "Something you don't want to mess with."
"Didn't answer my question." Cold blooded, he was thinking, remembering the marble-cool touch of his skin. And unless Dean was mistaken, the guy didn't need to breathe. Undead, then, or something worse. Would silver even faze him? Maybe he should have gone for the flare gun instead of the crossbow.
Something that might have been irritation or amusement flickered in the guy's face, neither of which thrilled Dean. "Give the kid a gold star for persistence. Survival instincts could use some work, though." Hooded eyes sized him up, looking anything but impressed. "Let me guess, demon hunter?"
Dean grinned, showing teeth. "Among other things."
The guy managed to project bored now and dangerous as hell at the same time. "Well, you're on my turf, and I've got a hafgufa to kill. So I suggest you go back topside and leave this one to me."
With that, Dean's quarry made like he was going to keep right on going; Dean scowled, and moved fast to block his path. He gestured meaningfully with the crossbow. "Dude, I think you're kind of missing the point."
The guy just rolled his eyes heavenward and stuck out his hand, shaking hands with the air. "Vampire, hi, name's Angel, pleased to meet you. Now, there's a big, scary monster needs killing, it went that way, and I don't have time to argue about it, so can we cut to the chase? Are you going to shoot me, or get the hell out of my way?"
Dean hesitated, no more than a second or two. No freakin' way was this guy a vampire -- at least, not like any he'd met before. But he could've snapped Dean's neck easy, back there, and he hadn't. Plus, he sure didn't act like he was all that worried about Dean's chances of stopping him.
What the hell. A metrosexual maybe-vampire who went by the name of Angel and hunted monsters? California was messed up, man. Don't ever let Sam tell him different.
Dean shrugged, shifting on the balls of his feet, then lowered his weapon and stepped aside.
"Great, glad we could work that out," Angel said, and strode off down the tunnel without a backwards glance. Dean had to jog to catch up.
Despite his size, the guy moved fast, and managed to do it without making a sound. Dean pushed himself, trying not to look like it was an effort. "Vampire, huh?"
Angel didn't bother answering. He moved with his head thrust forward like a boxer's, or a bloodhound's, heavy neck and shoulders taking up a good bit of the tunnel. Vampire or not, Dean wouldn't want to go up against him in a fight. "It's just, you don't look much like any vampire I've ever met."
"Where you from? Iowa?"
"Whatever. Look, just do me a favor, and don't get in the way."
And with that, Angel took off at a smooth, ground-eating lope.
If Dean had any real doubts about whether Angel was telling the truth on the vampire thing, he lost them pretty quick. The guy was fast -- inhumanly fast -- and even at speed, he never made a sound. He outpaced Dean's flashlight in a few strides, and Dean realized he was going to have to push himself hard if he was going to keep from losing the guy. Cursing softly, he slung the crossbow over his shoulders and moved.
Son of a bitch had every intention of ditching him, that much became clear before they'd gone a hundred yards. It just made Dean more determined to keep up -- and not just out of pride. Dean was a good tracker, but this Angel guy seemed to know these tunnels up close and personal, and Dean wasn't about to let anyone beat him to this particular kill. This one was personal. Sam was holed up somewhere a few miles from here, bitten and bleeding, shaky with fever and pain from this thing's venom, and Dean had a date with the slimy fucker that he didn't intend to miss.
He was barely fast enough to see Angel slip down a maintenance hatch into a deeper level of tunnels, these older and narrower, seemingly not in use any more. Dean had to duck his head as he ran; up ahead, he could see Angel doing the same. The hafgufa, whatever it was, could obviously reshape itself into something long and slithery enough to fit, because the smell of sea water and that briny, carrion-smell of its breath was thick enough down here to make Dean gag. Dean thought the sewer smell might be better.
How big was L.A., anyway? There must be miles of old pipe down here, running God knew where. It felt like they'd just gone in a big circle. A honeycomb of unused tributaries branched off from both sides of this one, some dry as bone and others slick with mold. Roots had split the concrete in places, and Dean tried not to think about the weight of earth and asphalt and fucking overpasses and apartment buildings on top of them.
He was just starting to wonder whether they might chase the thing for days through these tunnels without ever catching it when the ground beneath him went down a step and he nearly ran right into Angel's back. Dean pulled to a halt just in time.
"You hear something?" he breathed.
Angel just raised a hand sharply, listening. Ten seconds passed as Dean tried to listen for wet, tentacly sounds over the pounding of his own heart. The heavy smell of sea water pervaded his senses, and he realized they'd stepped out into an old nexus of sewer lines, the claustrophobic tunnel opening up into a cavern-like hub, arched openings circling them in the gloom. The whole left-hand wall was black with mold, and brackish water seeped through a small spider web of cracks in the concrete, like the old city planners had run up against an underground river or something. They must have circled back around toward the marina.
"Your light," Angel hissed at him.
"What?" Dean hissed back.
"I can see in the dark better than it can."
"Guess that makes one of us," Dean muttered, but he shut it off.
It was then that he heard it: a soft, clicking sound that made the back of his neck go cold. He remembered hearing that same sound right before--
The shush of Angel's sword sliding free of its sheath was all the further warning he got. Dean grunted, then cursed as something slick and heavy slapped up against his thighs, wound itself fast around his right leg and snaked up toward parts of him that never wanted to be mauled by anything that smelled like rotten fish.
He didn't try to break its hold or stop it from yanking him off his feet, just concentrated on bringing the crossbow around and pointing it into the slimy, shifting darkness. That clicking sound felt like it was right down by his feet -- he seriously prayed that it wasn't the thing's teeth making that noise, but it seemed like a safe bet that it'd like nothing better than a Dean-snack, so he did his best to aim that way and fired.
The bolt made a kind of dull, wet shunk sound, and Dean thought he felt the thing shudder. He was too busy trying to keep his head from getting smashed open as it whipped him around to be able to tell whether he'd done any real damage. The constrictor-hold on his thigh didn't let up, and he was dragged feet first a short distance, expecting any minute to feel needle-sharp teeth take his leg off at the knee.
"Come on, you slimy bastard!" Angel yelled. Dean heard steel bite into monster meat and the thing made a horrible, high-pitched whine that made Dean think of a semi-truck's screeching tires. It crashed into a wall with about the same force; dirt rained over Dean's face and the iron vise that was cutting off all circulation in his leg suddenly went slack. With a desperate grunt, Dean shoved hard at the slippery flesh. It was warmer than he expected. Shuddering when he felt suckers clinging to his thigh, he worked himself free of the thing at last and the now-severed tentacle flopped to the ground with a disgusting, squishy sound.
Somewhere in the dark, he heard Angel grunt in pain and swear in no language Dean knew; Dean scrambled back and fumbled for his dropped flashlight, palm skidding across old concrete wet with slime. The ground shuddered just as his fingers closed around it. Jesus, how big was this thing, anyway?
And you know... some questions, you just really didn't want answered. Dean's light flickered on after he whacked it once against his thigh; he cast it up into the gloom and got a good look at a sailor's worst nightmare. What he and Sam had seen had been only the tip of the proverbial iceberg on this sucker. His crossbow suddenly seemed ridiculously inadequate, a toy; even Angel's three-foot blade looked like a kitchen knife next to the heaving, twisting mass of tentacles and the bulbous, misshapen mass of the thing's body. Dean frowned. Or was that its head? Hard to tell. Either way, the flare gun was definitely looking like the better plan. Abandoning the crossbow, wishing like hell he'd brought the 12-gauge, he pushed himself to a crouch and ran forward.
Getting close enough to make it count was gonna be the hard part, the way the thing was heaving around, lashing its fury at the dark figure that was slowly but steadily slicing pieces out of it. Angel moved with an agility and unnatural speed that managed to keep him mostly out of reach of the thing's vicious, poisoned barbs; despite himself, Dean was impressed. He'd never seen any hunter move like that -- never seen any human move like that. A tentacle lashed out his direction and Dean dropped into a crouch, felt it whistle over his head. At least three of the monstrous appendages lay severed on the floor of the chamber, seeping black, foul blood in slippery lakes of gore. The thing howled, but showed no signs of weakening.
A half-snarl, half-growl suddenly rent the air, and all the hair on Dean's arms stood up. The hafgufa had scored a hit on its tormentor. Angel was knocked back, slammed hard into a wall, and for a second, the edge of Dean's light caught Angel's face, twisted into a mask of deadly fury. Then Dean realized what he was seeing: it wasn't just rage that contorted Angel's expression. Something had shifted his bones into the face of a different kind of monster, something that set every killing instinct in Dean's body on edge. Angel's eyes were entirely yellow now, gleaming with an unnatural light of their own.
Then he snarled again, grinning, and Dean saw the teeth.
At the moment, though, he had bigger problems to deal with. Angel had already thrown himself headlong back into the fight, his sword flashing, gleaming black now with the thing's blood. Fear and adrenaline spiking through him, Dean launched himself into the fray in Angel's wake. He shoved the Maglite into a pocket and went for the lighter fluid, popping the top. It wouldn't be the first time he'd fought something deadly in the dark.
The whistle and rhythmic slice and tear of the sword guided him. He followed it like a screwdriver followed the spinning bit of a drill, letting Angel drive them inside the mass of writhing tentacles, toward the central mass of the thing and the deadly, venomous mouth. Salt-brine fish breath hit Dean like a wall, nauseating and foul; he followed its direction unerringly, narrowing down to the pinpoint focus he'd been trained to, no room for mistakes. The moment came and he squirted lighter fluid in an arc, then let the bottle fly like a world-class southpaw, throwing himself to the ground. "Get down!" he yelled, and pointed the flare gun, blind.
With only the faint glow of Angel's yellow eyes to keep him from torching the guy, Dean pulled the trigger.
The flare hit the hafgufa right in the face -- as much as the thing could be said to have a face -- and the sudden brightness seared hot against Dean's retinas, made him blink and fall back, raising an arm to block the sudden heat and light. His eyes dropped away from the burning horror of its maw, the flames racing along its blood-slick hide, and fell on the little bottle that had rolled up against its globular underbelly. "Back! Get back!" he shouted, and didn't wait around to see if Angel took his advice. He scrambled, heedless of which direction he was going or how many sea monster parts he scrambled over, just trying to put as much room between him and that thing as he could.
The lighter fluid caught; the shuddering mass of enraged hafgufa went up like so much barbecue. Dean felt the heat of it on his ass and the back of his thighs as he turned and threw himself away from the thing. He made it a few more yards -- and a scream shattered the air, felt like it exploded inside his head.
Fucking siren-- of course it's a fucking siren-- Dean thought wildly, crashing to one knee and scrambling for purchase as the earth shook. A tentacle lashed out and smashed down right next to his head, cracking the concrete and sending up an explosion of dust. The flames rose, a wall of heat now, and the thing was still fucking screaming, wailing its death throes even as the fire consumed it. Dean flattened himself and felt the world shudder under the supersonic shock of its scream.
Angel shouted it right in his ear; Dean could barely make out the words over the roar. It sounded like a mountain was coming down on top of them, like an avalanche. Angel grabbed him, hauled him bodily to his feet and propelled him forward with brute force. In the crashing chaos and leaping flames, the maddening torment that was the thing's death-screams, Dean might as well have been blind and deaf. He stumbled. A slab of concrete the size of a Volkswagen crashed down twenty feet away, and Dean realized the tunnel was coming down; it sounded like the whole fucking city of Santa Monica was coming down. His feet left the ground and for long seconds he was sure he was dead.
The screaming and flames ended with a deafening roar, a wall of sound that felt like dying -- and then suffocating dark, and dust, and silence that rang like the aftermath of a nuclear detonation. Dazed, disoriented, and knocked half-senseless, Dean just lay still for a long minute, trying to take stock.
He tried to breathe, and got a lungful of dirt. Coughing didn't help much; something heavy was on top of him, smothering him, and he felt a spike of panic. I'm buried alive, the thought came, shaky and ice-cold in his gut. But when he jerked and tried to move, his limbs were free; he could feel his hands, scraped up and flattened against the cold concrete. The weight on top of him shifted. It was Angel, he realized. His thoughts felt as slow and heavy as molasses.
Dean coughed, tried again for air; this time, his lungs managed to find some. Enough to ratchet down his panic a notch, at least. He tried again to move, and Angel rolled off him, dust falling from his shoulders onto Dean's face. The blackness was absolute.
"Well, that was different," Angel said at last, his voice a rasp in the dark.
Dean tried to laugh, and coughed some more. "Yeah, no shit."
"You all right?" The vampire's hands moved over Dean's back and neck, cool as they checked for obvious injuries.
"--m'okay," Dean managed. He tasted concrete dust and spit it out, gagging. True as far as it went -- he didn't think he was missing anything important, and his body's complaints seemed fairly low key, all things considered. He reeked of dead sea monster, but it was far from the worst thing he'd ever been covered in. "I'll live."
Angel's low growl said different. "Pretty sure it's dead, so you can drop the tough guy routine. How badly are you hurt?"
He smells my blood, Dean thought, clear and crystalline between one breath and the next. His skin crawled; he reminded himself the guy had probably just saved his life again. "I'm okay," he repeated. "Just cuts and scrapes." He managed to roll on his back, and brought a hand up to feel the wetness on the side of his face and neck, touched a shallow gash at his temple. "Cut my forehead up -- s'bleeding like a bitch, but won't slow me down any." His voice sounded funny to his own ears, he realized, kinda muffled. Maybe that thing had done something to his eardrums. He pushed himself up with effort, fighting the wave of dizziness that followed. "So how the hell do we get out of here?"
Angel said nothing. He could see in the dark, Dean remembered, and something tweaked his suspicions, a whisper of awareness he didn't really want to acknowledge.
He fumbled in his pocket for the Maglite, and was ridiculously grateful when it was still there. He was even more grateful when the pale beam leapt out, illuminating the tunnel with its watery nimbus of light.
For a second, he couldn't quite get his bearings. This wasn't the arched chamber where they'd taken the hafgufa down; this tunnel was a lot smaller, barely big enough to be a drainage pipe at all. Maybe an access tunnel. Just to the left, it took an abrupt, upward turn that disappeared into darkness.
He cast the beam of his flashlight down the tunnel to the right, and saw -- nothing. A wall of rubble. Massive pieces of concrete and steel and earth. Oh.
Angel sighed, and pushed himself up. "Yeah, pretty much." He dusted himself off without much noticeable effect; Dean saw him absently wipe blood off his face from a cut that had already healed. His normal, human face -- which reminded Dean, hello, scary-ass vampire. Not that he didn't appreciate the saving his life part of the equation, but that didn't stop him checking to see that his knife was still in his boot.
Hunched over to avoid hitting his head, Angel paced the length of their small prison. At the far end of the tunnel, where the pipe turned upward, there was an old, rusted ladder that disappeared into the dark. Dean watched Angel leap lightly up the wall and start climbing; that uneasy feeling coiled in Dean's stomach again, warning him against something unnatural, something that needed killing. Balanced against that was the weird way he kind of liked the sarcastic bastard, and not just because he carried a sword.
"See anything?" he called up into the dark.
He heard Angel grunt softly, exerting himself against something unseen above. "There's a hatch here, but it's been sealed, probably years ago. Don't think it's going anywhere." He gave one last grunt like he was trying to force concrete and steel to obey his will against all the laws of physics; at last he dropped easily back down to the ground, landing in a crouch with his black coat spread around him like wings. Dean saw his hands bleeding, where they weren't before. "Yeah, not getting out that way," Angel said, the words clipped.
Dean pushed himself to his feet, feeling, as Sam would say, like he'd gone ten rounds with a block of cement. Truth was, shape he was in, if the guy wanted to eat him he was probably dead meat. He left the knife where it was and started checking out the pile of debris that blocked the tunnel.
It wasn't encouraging. From the looks of things, the entire main chamber had come down and pulled the mouth of the tunnel in with it. If he had a shovel, he might be able to dig out to the junction in three to four hours. It might easily take twice that long; worse, once they got there, they might find that this entire section of the sewer system had come down, that there was no way out without many more hours of digging. It had sounded like that thing pulled down half the city with its screams, and Dean could all too easily imagine collapsed tunnels for hundreds of feet in every direction.
But the real problem was one of simple geometry -- mass and volume. The pipe they were in was too small to work in. Even if they'd been able to move the wall of concrete and dirt, there was no place to put the debris they moved.
That cold truth had to be as evident to Angel as it was to Dean, but it didn't stop him from grabbing hold of a broken slab of steel-reinforced pipe. There was no way he could move it -- the thing had to weigh at least two hundred pounds, and it was wedged deep in the middle of what might as well be a mountain of gravel and stone. He laid into it anyway, his hands blood- and gore-streaked and as strong as iron. Grunting faintly with the effort, he pulled; the slab shifted almost infinitesimally.
There was no point to it; Dean knew that. Angel knew it, too, he was pretty sure. But there was something in the other man's face, some thread of desperation and the blunt refusal to give up that made Dean toss his jacket and his flashlight aside and grab hold alongside him, hauling with all his strength.
Slowly, scraping and grinding, the piece of pipe started to move. "Wait," Angel said, voice tight. "Pull together." Then, "Okay, now."
They pulled. Dean felt something small tear under his ribs, and kept pulling. A centimeter at a time, the pipe section started to move-- and then Dean felt something give, and the sickening, slow shift as the weight above and behind the wedged slab bore down and started to collapse. "Stop, let it go!" Angel warned, then cursed, as pieces of concrete and broken rebar and about six tons of earth started to slide. With a grunt of pure will, Angel got his strength under the thing and stopped it sliding long enough for Dean to let go and get clear; the second he did, Angel lost his grip and the massive weight slid another foot before scraping uneasily to a halt.
"Dammit!" Angel swore. He stumbled, yanked himself free; the weight had come down on his hand, pinning it between metal and concrete. He cradled it tight to his body, swayed a little.
"You all right?"
"Just peachy." It was hard to tell in the weak light, but Dean thought he'd gone several shades paler, and his mouth was a tight line.
Dean held out a hand, impatient. "Come on, let me see."
Angel glared at him, face set, and Dean thought this guy could give Sam lessons in stubborn. He just waited. Finally, Angel gave in, let him see the injured hand.
Dean looked it over critically. Angel's skin was cool, but not as cold as before. Not all that different -- if you didn't notice the lack of a pulse. "Looks like it's broken. Maybe in a few places."
"You think?" Angel snapped. Then, quieter, he said, "Doesn't matter. It'll heal."
Instinct urged Dean to leave it there and back out of his personal space. Standing around holding hands with a dead guy wasn't his idea of a good time, and he was pretty sure Angel wasn't much into getting touchy feely with demon hunters, either. But that was three times tonight Angel had risked himself for Dean, and immortal or not, the guy wasn't immune to pain.
Before he could think better of it, Dean let his fingers seek out the broken bones, guided them back into place as best he could. Angel flinched almost imperceptibly, but never made a sound; when Dean was finished and let him go, he pulled away and drew in on himself, his face setting in an expression Dean couldn't read.
"You didn't have to do that," he said at last.
Dean shrugged. "You didn't have to get yourself trapped down here with me, either. Probably coulda got the hell out of there if you hadn't been so worried about savin' my ass."
A half-smile quirked Angel's mouth. "Didn't exactly work out how I planned."
"Yeah, well. It's the thought that counts." Dean brushed gravel and concrete dust off his palms and sat down on his jacket, propping his back against the curve of the pipe. "So, how long you figure I got, anyway? Before the air runs out."
Maybe there was a part of him that hoped Angel would contradict him. Angel didn't immediately answer, though, and that was an answer in itself, wasn't it? If there was air getting in here, the vampire would know. He'd smell it, just like he'd smelled the hafgufa.
"Don't know," Angel said at last. "An hour, maybe?"
Dean chuckled softly. "Guess nobody ever taught you the value of a strategic white lie, huh?"
Angel huffed a bitter laugh, barely audible. "Never was much good at that, I'm afraid."
Dean closed his eyes, resting his head against the pipe. There was a muffled, dead sound to the air he didn't much like; he could feel the first signs of anxiety, the first physical symptoms of the claustrophobia he liked to pretend he didn't have. Sam always saw right through him on that one, but Sam wasn't here, and for a while, at least, he could pretend it didn't bother him, thinking about just how deep under the ground they were, just how much air there might or might not be in this place.
The thought flickered at the back of his mind that there was a chance he wouldn't see Sam again. Then he thought of Sam in pain, waiting for him to call, of what might happen to Sam if Dean just never came back, and then he got pissed at himself and put all thoughts of Sam out of his head.
Dean opened his eyes to see Angel crouched near the collapsed end of the tunnel, running the fingers of his good hand lightly over the wall of debris like if he looked at it long enough, he'd see a way to change the reality of the situation.
"Gotta say, I don't envy you having to dig your way out of here. Could take a while."
"Four days, give or take, I'm guessing. That's if the main's still intact."
"So what are you waiting for?"
Angel glanced back over his shoulder, arms resting easily on his knees. "Not much fun with a broken hand." He gave Dean that not-quite smile, and it occurred to Dean to wonder how old the guy was. He might have been thirty or three hundred, for all Dean knew. And what was the deal with this trend toward kinder, gentler vampires, anyway?
As if he read the thought, Angel straightened up and came to join him, settling himself beside Dean with his knees bent, hands crossed between them.
Absurdly grateful, Dean covered by asking, "Got a deck of cards?" He fished under him and pulled his flask out of his coat. "We could play poker for who gets the last of this."
Angel looked impressed. "You must've been a boy scout."
Dean laughed. "Not in their worst nightmares. Friend gave it to me. Gave me another one just like it with holy water, but I'm guessing that's not your favorite flavor."
"Good guess. No cards, though, I'm afraid."
"Guess we'll just have to drink it, then." Dean uncapped the flask, downing a swallow against the dirt and ash that felt like it was coating the inside of his throat. He thought he could still taste the smell of that thing burning on the back of his tongue; the whiskey's bite was stronger, sweeter.
He handed it over and Angel took it. "So," Dean said, watching him drink. "Just Angel? No last name?"
Angel wiped his mouth, handed the flask back with a shrug. "Never saw the point."
"Yeah, true. How many demon-hunting vampires named Angel could there be in the world, right?"
They passed the whiskey, making it last. There was enough to make Dean feel pleasantly buzzed, to make him forget he wasn't supposed to think about Sam. To make him wish--
He drank deeply, coughing from the burn. Sorry, Sammy. Wasn't supposed to happen like this.
The flashlight flickered, then steadied. Was it his imagination, or was it starting to get harder to catch his breath? His head throbbed, a dull ache that started in his temples and ran down his neck.
"What was that, before?" Dean asked by way of distracting himself. "With your--" He gestured at his face. "I mean, I've fought vampires before -- nothin' personal -- but that's a new one on me."
"These so-called vampires you've seen, they can walk in the day?"
"More or less. My dad said it weakens them."
Angel shook his head. "A true vampire is a demon. Sunlight will kill us within a few seconds. Those things you saw, they're closer to human than vampire. It's an infection, a sickness in the blood. I thought their kind was extinct."
That explained the yellow eyes, Dean thought. He remembered what his dad had told him about most vampire lore being crap. "So, crosses, holy water--"
"I wouldn't want to take a bath in the stuff."
Dean thought about that. It was hard to conceive of John Winchester being wrong about anything, but he guessed there had to be an exception that proved the rule. "Demon, huh?" he said at last, handing the flask over. "You don't seem like such a bad guy for a demon."
"Yeah, well." Angel smiled small. "I kinda got a special deal."
The way he said it, Dean guessed it wasn't a lollipops and candy canes kind of deal.
He studied his companion sidelong, curious. "You do this sort of thing often? Hunt things like this?"
"Used to. It's been kind of a rough year." Angel gave a soft laugh, and it was a brittle, rusty sound, like it had been a while. "Guess I'm out of practice."
"Could've fooled me. You kick some pretty serious ass with that freakin' sword of yours, I gotta say."
"Yeah?" Dean could tell Angel was pleased, even though he tried hard not to show it. "I mean, it's just, you know, something I picked up. I guess a flare gun would come in handy now and then."
Dean chuckled. "It never hurts." Then he frowned, and amended, "Well, almost never."
Angel passed the flask back. "Sounds like you've fought your share of demons."
"Demons, vengeful spirits, cryptoids, you name it. If it's supernatural, we hunt it."
"What was the worst thing you ever faced?"
"Archdemon," Dean said without hesitation. "You?"
"Evil law firm."
Dean's eyebrows rose, and he gave a soft whistle. "Dude, nice."
"Yeah." Angel studied his hands, looking, for the moment, as human as anyone Dean had ever known. "Cost a lot of good people their lives, though. Friends of mine. I'm not so sure it was worth it."
"What about them?" Dean asked. "What would they say?"
Angel looked like he was struggling with it. Finally, he admitted, "That it was their choice."
They fell quiet. "Sucks to be the one left behind," Dean said at last.
"It wasn't supposed to happen that way."
"Funny how that works, huh?"
Angel nodded. He rested his head against the wall, and Dean felt the weight he carried like it was his own.
After a minute, Angel frowned. "Who's we?"
"Beg your pardon?"
"We. You said, 'if it's supernatural, we hunt it.' So who's we?"
Dean huffed a laugh, painfully. "Sorta runs in the family. My dad taught us, but he's been gone for a while -- now it's just me'n my brother. We usually hunt as a team. Kinda glad he's not here tonight, to tell you the truth."
"Why isn't he?"
"That thing took a chunk out of him earlier tonight. We were working a haunting down at the marina, the spirit of this woman whose husband murdered her in 1958. Went off all right, but Sam got torn up, as usual. I sent him back to the car after, and that thing must've smelled the blood. He was walking along the dock, and it just reached up and took him right under the water, right in front of me. Scared the piss out of me."
"What'd you do?"
"Taser'd the son of a bitch." A wave of nausea came over Dean, and he swallowed it back with effort. The pain in his head was getting worse.
He reached into his pocket and fished out his wallet. The name of the motel was printed on the key; he handed it to Angel. "Listen, when... when this is over, you gotta go find m'brother for me, okay? Make sure he's all right. He was in pretty bad shape. And it's gonna be-- It's not gonna be easy for him."
"You two are close."
"Yeah," he said hoarsely. "Real close. Nobody but us, the last couple years, you know?" His eyes drifted closed. It felt like the light was fading, like he was hearing their voices through soft cotton.
"It's good," Angel said at last. "Having someone to watch your back."
Dean nodded. "He's kinda... special. That's why bad things always go for him. Think they can sense it, you know?" Shit, he must be getting loopy.
"What's your brother's name?"
"Sam." Dean swallowed against a sudden welling of emotion, embarrassed. He finished the last of the whiskey, barely feeling it. Sam-I-Am, he thought. That's what I used to call him. "His number's in my phone." The pain in his head made him slur his words.
"Sam," Angel repeated, his voice rough. "I'll keep an eye on him. I've got-- I know people."
"Thanks, man, that's-- Thanks."
The flashlight flickered again, guttered, and finally gave up the ghost. For long seconds they sat in darkness, saying nothing.
"Know any good jokes?" Dean asked at last.
He surprised Angel into a short, sharp laugh; Dean liked the sound of it. "You have so come to the wrong vampire."
Dean smiled at that, and was just about to tell the one about the six-inch pianist when Angel amended that to, "Well, there is one. But I warn you, I'm really not very good at this."
"Don't hold out on me, man. Hit me."
"Okay. Just remember, I did warn you." Angel cleared his throat and paused, like he was trying to make sure he got it right. "So, a bear walks into a bar, right? And he asks the bartender for a beer. But the bartender won't serve him. He says, sorry, buddy, we don't give beer to bears in bars. Now, the bear isn't too happy about this, so he says, if you don't give me a beer, I'll eat that woman over there. And the bartender says, go ahead."
Dean chuckled. "I like this joke already."
"So, the bear eats the woman, and asks for a beer. And the bartender says, sorry, we don't serve beer to bears on drugs. What do you mean? says the bear. I'm not on drugs. And the bartender says, yes you are, that was the barbitu-ate."
Dean groaned. "Oh, man, you gotta be kiddin' me."
"Sorry." Angel sounded genuinely chagrined.
"No, no, it was good, really."
"No," Angel admitted, "it really wasn't." He hesitated, then almost as an afterthought, he added, "The guy who told that to me was a good friend. The best. He thought it was hilarious."
"What was he, an English professor or something?"
"Something like that."
Dean reached out, brushed his fingers against Angel's coat in the dark. They fell silent. Dean's head felt heavy, like a vise was pressing on it, slow and inexorable. "Tell me about him," he murmured, starting to fade.
So, Angel told him about a quiet-spoken, brilliant and true friend named Wes. He told him about a beautiful girl named Fred, who was the bravest person Angel had ever met. He told him about a hunter named Gunn who had died too young, and a smart, funny woman named Cordelia with the heart of a lioness, who sounded like she'd give both Ellen and Jo a run for their money. Dean was so tired, it was hard to concentrate on what Angel was saying, and he thought maybe he wasn't really meant to, but the words washed over him and there was comfort there that tasted like grief, bittersweet and familiar.
Familiar most of all when, after all his friends who had fallen, Angel told him about a boy away at college, a boy with a sweet smile and too much knowledge in his heart, a boy with his hair in his eyes and a darkness inside him that Angel had tried to spare him, that he'd once sold a whole universe to spare him.
Dean surfaced with effort, the words slurred, hard to say. "You miss him."
"Every day," Angel whispered. "But at least he's safe."
Dean frowned. The boy reminded him of someone, made him want to hold on a little longer. "That's bullshit," he managed. "Nowhere's safe."
Angel made a soft, choked sound. "Yeah, I know."
They fell silent. Darkness started to close over Dean, a cool wave.
It took him a minute to be able to surface again -- longer to make his throat work. "Yeah."
"Is there anything you want me to tell your brother?"
Dean thought of Sam, and the image came easily. He'd kind of gotten used to the idea that when they went out, it would be together, guns blazing or some shit like that, but of course life never really worked that way.
Thinking about Sam on his own in the world hurt too much, so he just shook his head. They'd said it all already.
"Nah, man. He knows."
Angel sat in the dark, eyes closed, listening to Dean's breathing as it slowed, as he slipped under the surface of unconsciousness. There should have been something he could do. Some way. He'd gone up against gods and higher powers, against the combined horde of a whole Hell dimension, but against this, he was powerless.
When he was sure Dean was out, he reached over and rested one hand against his chest. He didn't need to touch him to hear his heartbeat, but he did it anyway; it was still steady, still beating with its strong, even rhythm, but Angel knew there would come a moment when it stopped, and he wanted to make sure he knew when it happened.
He could smell the blood, dried now on Dean's skin, his shirt. It was an ache in him, like always -- some things didn't change. He tried not to think too much about how long it had been since he'd last eaten, how long it might take him to dig his way out of here. He'd gone months without blood before. A few days was nothing.
He wondered, idly, what the chances were that Spike would come looking for him. Probably slim to none, the way things had been between them lately. With everyone else gone and just the two of them left, it was only a matter of time before they finally drove each other past the point where their old patterns of bickering offered even pale comfort. He'd been expecting Spike to leave for months, now. Truth was, maybe he'd been pushing Spike to leave.
He'd pretty much convinced himself Spike's stupid ice hell would come to pass before he'd go out of his way to look for Angel, so at first, he thought it was his imagination when he heard something. Then it came again; it was coming from above him, a scraping noise, muffled. A thump -- and then the unmistakable sound of a jackhammer, more or less directly overhead.
Bless you, you stubborn son of a bitch.
Angel grabbed hold of Dean's shoulders, shook him. At first, Dean didn't respond. "Come on, don't you die on me now, you hear me?" Angel shook him again and he stirred; Angel's relief made him feel light, like laughing. "That's it, stay with me. Spike!" he roared, keeping his hand on Dean's chest like he could will it to go on rising and falling. "Get your ass down here!"
It felt like a small eternity before he felt cool, fetid air rush in; the first thing Angel heard was Spike bitching at someone, "There you go, open sesame, just like I told you. Now try not to break your neck, if you don't mind? I'd rather not have to carry you out of here."
The boots that came down the ladder were definitely not the familiar Doc Martens; they were attached to a tall, lanky kid who practically slid down the pipe. He landed awkwardly and moved with a stiffness that signaled no small amount of pain, but he didn't let that slow him down. Pale in the glow of his flashlight, face drawn, he covered the distance to Dean's side in three strides and knelt beside him, hands shaking. Angel could see angry welts on the back of his neck where the hafgufa's venom had left chemical burns. But that wasn't what made his hands tremble; he was furious, Angel realized. Shaky and frantic, and mad as hell.
Angel gave him some room, and glanced up to meet Spike's gaze as he came down the ladder, leapt easily to the ground.
"Dean, dammit-- I told you to wait for me. You're supposed to fucking wait for me."
Spike looked a question; Angel nodded, sitting back on his heels as Dean's brother checked him over, finally choked out a breath as he realized Dean was alive. "God-- thank God," he breathed, sounding like he was close to tears. "I saw you. I saw you and I thought--" His hands smoothed over Dean's face, wiping away dust and grit, checking his pulse like he just needed to feel it before he let himself check for injuries.
Dean stirred under his hands. "S-sam?"
"I'm here, man. You okay?"
"He's okay," Angel said, embarrassed by the obvious emotion between the two brothers, too aware of what might have been on his face in the moment when Spike first saw him. He got to his feet, trying not to think about it. "He said he was just scraped up."
"Yeah, well what he says and what's true are sometimes two different things," Sam said flatly, checking Dean over with the swift efficiency of a man who'd done the same thing too many times before.
Dean rallied, managing a frown of weak protest and a weak push at his brother's invasive hands. "Stop fussing, dude. M'okay."
The relief on Sam's face hurt to look at. He grabbed hold of Dean's shirt, just let his fists rest there against his brother's chest. "We're getting you out of here, and then I'm gonna kick your ass, you hear me?"
Dean's face relaxed into a tired version of his usual cocky smile. "Sure you are."
Angel was pretty sure there would have been no taking Dean out of his brother's hands if Sam hadn't been injured; as it was, he let Angel and Spike hoist Dean up the ladder between them, but the moment they were safely out and in the tunnel above, he took charge again. He got Dean propped up against the wall and crouched down beside him, and Angel pitied the vampire or the hafgufa who tried to budge him an inch before Dean was ready to move on his own steam.
Angel and Spike exchanged a glance; Spike shrugged, and backed off, leaning casually against the wall, one leg bent and hands in his pockets. Angel joined him.
"How'd you find the brother?" Angel asked, voice low.
Spike shook his head. "He found me. Said he had a vision, practically dragged me down here by the short hairs. I had to knock him on his fundamentals to get him to wait long enough to bring the heavy artillery, there." He jerked his chin toward the jackhammer, where it lay in a pile of rubble by the open hatch. "Knew right where to go, though. That access tunnel wasn't even on the map."
"Either that, or he's been taking lessons from Lassie."
Angel turned to study the two brothers, so different in looks and temperament, but closer even than blood could make them. "Hell of a night," he said finally, shaking his head. He shot Spike a look sidelong, letting one corner of his mouth turn up, as close to thanks as they ever got. "Nice timing, by the way."
Spike looked pleased. "You think so? Been working on that."
"Yeah, well, don't let it go to your head. You're still a pain in my ass."
They watched as Dean finally nodded, let his brother help him up. The two of them stood like that for a second, touching easily, then separated; they came over, Sam at Dean's shoulder like he was used to being there, like all was right in his world.
Dean cracked an appreciative grin at Angel, eyebrows arching. "Dude, you save my ass one more time, I think you're gonna own stock."
Angel pushed himself away from the wall, cocked his head and gave him a once over. "As tempting as that sounds, how about you try to keep yourself out of trouble for a while? Let us take care of things, at least until Sam here's back in action."
"Best idea I've heard all day," Sam said. He stuck out his hand. "Will-- thank you. I can't thank you enough." Spike shook it, bemused, and ignored Angel's look. Will?
"Don't mention it, mate. All in a day's work."
Angel rolled his eyes, unable to help himself. "Okay, kids. Fun as this has been, I've got hafgufa in places I don't even want to think about. What do you say we call this a wrap?"
Dean said fervently, "I hear that." He looked at his brother, a softness touching his expression that Angel doubted he was aware of. "How about it, Sammy? Think we can make Vegas by morning?"
"I think you're crazy if you think I'm getting in a car with you smelling like dead fish," Sam shot back.
"Angel, man... thanks. It's been real." Dean held out his hand, and Angel shook it. He felt the steady beat of Dean's heart, the warm pulse of blood just under the skin, and it was a good sound, a good feeling.
He let go. "If you're ever in L.A. again," he said, meaning it.
Dean grinned, and shrugged his jacket on. "Not a chance in hell."