Questions and Answers
Pairings: Will/Sam, Dean/Ashley, past Helen/John
Warnings: Nothing really. Contains cannon character death, a bit of naughty language and some references to eventual sex. Oh, and a smooch or two. Really, I didn't know I could write something this tame and enjoy it so much. Contains het and slash but not Wincest
Author's Note: I know, the time lines don’t quite match. Fortunately, this is fiction, so we can all pretend present day is happening at the same time in each universe. Present day action takes place just after the series ends for Buffy, just after the beginning of the episode Kali pt II
for Sanctuary, and Exile on Main St.
for Supernatural. Written for Crossover BigBang, on LJ.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, and as my beta put it, all kinds of copyright lawyers would need to die to make this happen. All characters are the property of their creators and/or copyright holders. However, no deliberate copyright infringement intended and no profit was made. And now, on with the story...November 2002
Stanford University Campus
Blowing out a long breath, Sam tried to blink away the burning grit that seemed to have taken over his eyes. The later it got, the more he confirmed he was getting too old to be staying up all night, at least intentionally. Blinking led to rubbing his eyes, but it didn’t really seem to help much. Shrugging his shoulders in an attempt to loosen the knots that had taken up residence there, he forced his eyes back to his textbook. No one in their right mind needs to know this much about economics, he told himself. Well, no one but those writing their econ midterm at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, his conscience reminded him. Flicking his eyes to his flashcards, Sam tried to remind himself that he was good at taking tests. That didn’t really lower his stress level but high expectations were nothing new. The only difference was that he was putting these on himself, instead of having his dad demand the impossible.
He’d just turned the page and regained his focus when the sound of several different people screaming drifted through his door. Sam gritted his teeth and ignored it, though it went against his reflexive urge to help. “Get a grip, Winchester,” he muttered. “You can’t go rushing to off to save everyone who gets into a fight on campus. It isn’t your job, anymore.” He might even have convinced himself, but his thoughts were interrupted by a scream that cut off as the lights in his room flickered and the temperature plummeted. Ignoring a scuffle was one thing, ignoring signs that could mean this was more than a petty dispute was quite another. “God dammit,” he cursed, reaching to unlock his lowest desk drawer so he could reach the gun it held.
He really wished the monsters of the world would get the memo that he was out of the business. The supernatural had already intruded on his life twice since the beginning of the quarter, and it was getting old. Some of the sightings he let pass because they were minor, more mischief than anything. That was something he could never get his father to see: different didn’t always mean evil. His own experience since leaving home had proven that. Swallowing the old bitterness, he tucked the gun into his waistband and opened the door to find the source of the noise.
Skin prickling with anticipation of a threat, he moved toward the stairwell at the end of the hall. As he opened the door, Sam all but tripped over a petite blonde girl whose eyes were wide with fright. She backed toward the corner at the first sight of him. “It’s okay,” Sam told her, flashing his most reassuring smile, twitching his shirt to make sure it was covering his gun. “I heard screaming. Just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
To her credit, the girl pulled it together enough to answer him, though she had to choke back tears to do it. “I’m fine, just shook, really. But there was some guy in some kind of insect costume. Thought it was funny to block my way and then herd me in here. He was making some kind of strange noise, or at least I think it was him. I figured it was safer to hide in here until I knew he was gone.”
Still working to radiate his best harmless, nice guy vibe, Sam nodded, keeping any hint of unease off his face. Somehow, it didn’t seem likely that someone thought Halloween had come early this year. All his instincts were telling him that something was off. “I’m pretty sure he’s gone. You should be fine if you want to go back to your room. Do you want me to walk you?” He didn’t have the time to play bodyguard, but offering was the right thing to do. He was relieved when she shook her head, thanked him for his concern and quickly disappeared.
Minutes later he slipped out the front door. The night seemed quiet at first, but after a moment he could hear odd clicking sounds coming from somewhere behind the building. Following the noises, he warily made his way through the open space. Usually the area near his building was deserted this time of night. It was landscaped to be more of a park, but was only popular during the day. It wasn’t empty.
At first glance he might have thought it was, but further back, he saw movement. There were five people dressed all in black, in what he assumed was the height of commando style. Four of them were bigger, burly football types. The fifth was slightly smaller, and female, judging by the voice which was issuing low voiced commands to the others using an earpiece he could see a small LED light flashing on.
As he slowly drew closer, he could detect the movement of something else. There were a couple of streetlights scattered through the park, none particularly close to whatever it was. Even so, he could tell it wasn’t a person in a costume. It was emitting a high pitched whine no human throat could produce, that made his teeth itch and his head pound. Whatever it was, it was definitely taller and a hell of a lot skinnier, than the average human. Then there was the clicking from two wicked looking pincers that were longer than his arm.
Whoever the men were, it was obvious they were professionals. Working together with a smooth precision that spoke of many hours of practice on previous hunts, they cornered the thing. Then they shot it with an oversized gun that fired some sort of bio-luminescent liquid capsules he could see lined up in a chamber close to the grip instead of bullets. Only after the thing had toppled over to the grass and lay still for several long moments did they approach, removing some sort of custom-made ear protection pieces as they walked.
Two men stayed back with their weapons still trained on the creature as the other two made sure it was actually incapacitated before gesturing to their teammates. The smallest one stood back and evaluated the actions of the other team members, and advised them to ready the thing for transport. The words confirmed his suspicion that the thing wasn’t dead, whatever it was. If the oversized bug had been squashed, it was likely they would be more concerned with disposal than transport.
Within minutes of the woman’s rather clipped orders, they had the monster bundled into an oversized sling that had been rigged to be carried by the four of the men. When the men had everything in order and were ready to leave the area, the mysterious woman spoke again. “Our guest here shouldn’t wake for at least six hours. However,” she continued, making eye contact with each team member, “I shall be very displeased if any of you fail to take precautions in case our information on the creature proves incorrect.”Though her voice was calm the underlying tone of authority had Sam straightening his shoulders before he caught himself.
After she finished speaking, the men left, taking the monster with them. As they disappeared into the darkness, the woman turned around, walking towards him with a stride that wasted no movement but still managed to seem unhurried. Rather than showing any surprise at seeing him standing there, she seemed pleased. Even better, she didn’t bother asking inane questions about why he was there, or making excuses about what she and the others had just accomplished. “It would appear you are my second surprise of the evening. It’s been my experience that most young men run away from things of this sort.” The woman gave him a polite smile. “I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Helen Magnus.” She extended her hand.
Sam shrugged mentally before answering. “Winchester. Sam, actually.” Reaching forward, he shook her hand, slightly surprised at how firm her grip was. “Nice to meet you,” he added as an afterthought.
Another smile, this one warmer, before Helen dropped his hand and set off back toward the residence. “The feeling is mutual, Sam. But tell me, what were you going to do when you caught it?”
There was intensity to her words that told him how he answered was important to her, though he couldn’t be sure why. “I heard a girl scream as he…it…was leaving my dorm. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t hurting anyone, and that no one needed help.” That seemed safe enough, and it had the added bonus of being true. He wouldn’t have killed it outright unless he had to, not without researching what it was first. That was always a point of contention between him and his father. Even if they were hunting various monsters, he couldn’t always bring himself to shoot first and ask questions later. Shaking his head slightly to pull himself away from those memories, he looked over at Helen to gauge her reaction to his answer.
She didn’t seem surprised, and was nodding thoughtfully. “That’s an admirable intention. But for someone who just had their first brush with the unexplainable, you seem remarkably calm.”
Sam couldn’t help but pause. There was no way she could know that his first exposure to such things had been decades ago. Oh, to be that naive again. The thought was fleeting, but it made him smile.
Helen stopped walking to inspect him. “It seems I’ve made an incorrect assumption. Will you tell me how you came to see such things as routine?”
Sam debated what to tell her. “You might say it’s a family business,” he chose his words with caution. “My family helps people who get caught up with things like that. I used to, before I came to school.” An oversimplification, but the best he could do under the circumstances.
“And by things like that, you mean?” she trailed off in question.
Nodding, Sam smiled at her and glanced towards Roble Hall. “I mean monsters, yeah.”
They started walking again, as Helen nodded. “I prefer not to use that term. A being isn’t evil because it’s different.” Her tone was still friendly, but there was a touch of frost to it to indicate her disapproval.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, surprised to realize he truly was. Stranger or not, what he’d seen so far told him this woman lived by a moral code he could respect. Besides that, she was right. “I didn’t mean anything by it, really,” he told her. “It’s just the terminology I’m used to.”
“It’s alright, Sam. You’re hardly the first person I’ve met who doesn’t make the distinction. The abnormals of this world are, on the whole, a vastly misunderstood group.”
That answered his next question, what to call them if he wasn’t calling them monsters. But her answer raised more questions. He’d probably just spent a large portion of his evening with someone better used to keeping secrets than he was, and wasn’t that just a novel thought. His curiosity urged him to ask at least some of the questions crowding in his brain, but practicality kept him silent. There wasn’t a lot of point in asking her things she wouldn’t be able to answer. By this point they’d walked past his residence to one of the auxiliary parking lots. As they came closer to the entrance the last of several dark SUVs was pulling out in a convoy, and a sleek, black town car idled in one of the closest spaces. “I take it this is your stop,” he guessed.
“Yes,” Helen agreed. “I have a pressing appointment that I am already late for thanks to this incident.” A regretful look flitted across her face, as she produced a business card from a pocket in her pants. “This has my contact information. If ever you find yourself in a situation you think you might need my kind of assistance with, get in touch, and I’ll help all I can.” Moving towards the car, she smiled at him one last time. “It really was lovely to meet you, Sam Winchester. Take care of yourself.”
Nodding, Sam returned the smile. “You too,” he called to her. Sighing, he shifted his weight and watched as she climbed into the car, wanting to be sure she was safely on her way before starting the walk back to his room. He wasn’t sure he’d ever met someone that competent, but some habits were too ingrained to break.
Just before the door closed, Helen leaned back out to ask, “What are you studying, Sam?”
“I’m pre-law,” Sam told her, confused at the question. He waited for the next question, but she waved and slid into the back seat of the car, which pulled away a moment later. Turning to walk back to his residence hall, he examined the business card she’d given him. It was plain white with black lettering, stamped with the embossed phrase Sanctuary For All, and listed Dr. Helen Magnus, M.D. D.T.C.X.B. as executive director. On the back, there was a phone number and an email address, neatly written in a feminine script.
A small part of him wanted very much to go online and probe for more information, but he resisted the impulse. The last thing he needed to do was call attention to himself. He’d left the paranormal part of his life behind for very good reasons. Back in his room, he entered the information into his contact list on his encrypted laptop, then put the business card in the small safe he’d put under his bed. He didn’t intend to contact her again, but he wasn’t stupid enough to trash it. You never knew when friends in high places would come in handy.***
San Francisco Sanctuary
VIP Guest Wing
“Yes, I know it’s early, Henry. And, I know your precious servers underwent maintenance overnight, and you likely haven’t been to bed yet. The sooner you comply, the sooner you can go to bed.” Though she wanted very much to crawl into bed as well, Helen wanted information more. Since she would be traveling and dealing with new arrivals most of the day, her resident computer genius would have to get it for her.
“You’re the boss, doc,” Henry told her, hiding a yawn as best as he could manage. “What is it you need me to ferret out for you, exactly?”
“I met a young man today, and I want to know everything about him, nothing difficult.” Helen told him as she slid the pins out of her hair and rummaged in her luggage for sleepwear. “I’d like the results on my desk when I get back later today, which is why I’m calling you now.”
“Alright. Who’s the lucky contestant this time?” he asked, and she heard him rolling his chair over to the appropriate keyboard.
“His name is Sam Winchester. He’s a first-year student at Stanford University, pre-law.” Removing her jewelry to set it on her night table, Helen sat on the edge of the bed, waiting to see if there would be any questions.
“Okay, got it,” Henry agreed, as she heard keys clicking in the background. He didn’t ask anything further, though knowing his usual level of curiosity, it was almost certain there would be questions once she was home in Old City. Still, for such a young man, Sam was remarkably collected in crisis, if a little intense. He could be a valuable asset in future, and it paid to keep an eye on such people. It was worth a few inconvenient questions, to be sure. Besides, she had a hunch about his history. Shaking her head, she said goodnight to Henry and assured him she was on schedule. Despite the unforeseen problems, she would be returning in plenty of time to deal with the incoming abnormals that were scheduled to arrive.
Helen dropped the hands-free headset onto the night table, undressed, and hung her clothes out of habit. After the long day, and the inevitable reaction from the earlier incident, the bed felt heavenly. She’d long since grown accustomed to sleeping wherever she found herself. She used the phone beside the bed to request a wake-up call for ten am, and then settled herself more comfortably. Tomorrow would be soon enough to get the answers she wanted.***
Old City Sanctuary
Main Computer Lab
One of the things Henry liked best about his job was that he never knew what his day would bring. Variety kept him from being bored, which tended to make him somewhat less destructive. Research was high on his favorite things list, no matter who he was digging into. Even better, the information on Samuel Winchester was almost too easy to find. It would be a bit longer before he had the complete background assembled but given Magnus’ penchant for detail, it was better to be thorough. At least this time when she claimed the task wasn’t difficult, it was actually true. Magnus didn’t have the same definition of difficult as most people, likely because accomplishing the impossible was almost a regular occurrence for her. Slurping up more coffee, he grimaced and swallowed the cold liquid anyway. He didn’t want to waste the time to reheat it, since he still had work to do.***
Old City Sanctuary
Every time she was away from home there was the inevitable crisis of some variety waiting for her when she wanted nothing more than some peace and quiet to collect her thoughts and a chance catch up on what she had missed. This time it was a leak in the coolant systems in one of the containers for an abnormal being transferred in from Moscow. Though the creature was quite small, it was incapable of surviving in temperatures that weren’t positively frigid. Fortunately, Henry had managed to jerry rig a solution to whatever had ruptured. He’d explained the intricacies, of course, but she had been less concerned with the details than the end results.
In the end, all of the new residents were safely tucked away, and she was finally able to collapse at her desk, and sip at the hot tea Big Guy had left for her. Lips curving in a smile, she made a mental note to thank him for once again knowing her schedule better than she did. She set her cup back on its saucer, and let her head fall against the soft leather back of the chair. As her mind slid toward a lovely daydream about some uninterrupted time with the first edition on her night table, the sound of footsteps intruded. Her hirsute manservant came into the room, a file folder clutched in one oversized hand. “I’m sorry to bother you Helen,” he told her with a soft growl for emphasis. “But Henry told me that you wanted this information right away. It’s the background information on Sam Winchester.”
That got Helen’s attention. She scanned the pages quickly. She couldn’t help the slight smile she wore as her suspicions were confirmed. Lost in her contemplation of the young boy’s life, she wouldn’t have noticed that Bigfoot was even there until he cleared his throat. “The boy, he’s a hunter, isn’t he?” The shadows in his eyes made it clear he knew the answer.
“Not the kind you are thinking of. I am the first to agree that Hunters are, for the most part, a necessary evil. But this boy, he’s different.” She paused, lips pursed as she searched for the words to explain it. “He has an extremely active and flexible mind, I think and his test scores confirm it. Perhaps even more telling, he’s walked away from the life. Young Sam plans to be a lawyer. I suspect he’ll be a good one, because he also seems to have a conscience.”
Though his outward expression didn’t change much, Magnus recognized the cynical glint in her old friend’s eyes. “Conscience or not, what use can there be for those who kill because some beings are not human?”
“Most Hunters serve a valuable function. Without them, many more people would have to come face to face with a level of evil they aren’t prepared to accept.” Helen rolled her shoulders to rid herself of the tension in her shoulders. This was by no means a new debate between them, but she couldn’t forget the pain he had been through that had formed his opinions on the subject. “The reason I wanted to know more about him wasn’t because of his background, though that is useful. He was absolutely level headed in crisis, more concerned with protecting his fellow students than what he might have been chasing. At some future point, if he finds that the mainstream world isn’t to his taste, he could be a valuable asset to the Sanctuary network.”
With a long suffering sigh, Bigfoot came around the desk and cleared the tea tray. “You see such goodness in people, Magnus. That can be a weakness as much as it is a strength,” he cautioned. For a moment, she thought he would say more, but when she nodded he seemed satisfied, and left to attend to whatever was next on the endless list of chores he maintained for himself.***
Old City Sanctuary
Helen Magnus’ Office
Irritated, but determined not to show it, Helen hung up the phone without giving in to the childish urge to slam the thing into the cradle. Wexford was so damned arrogant that he was very lucky he was also extremely competent in his duties as head of the New York Sanctuary. There was no point in letting the absolute gall of the man spoil her night. She picked up her handheld terminal to check her email. Her lips curled into a smile as she glanced at her inbox. She hadn’t expected to hear from Sam Winchester, but here was an email from him.
It was short and to the point, which she appreciated. He detailed an encounter with a being he had never seen before, and couldn’t seem to track down information on, except that it was nomadic. Given that he was tied to campus, he thought she should know that it had passed through and was on the move again. He made a point of telling her that the being, which approximated a cross between a crocodile and a hyena, appeared to be docile and wasn’t attacking people, only scaring them. That explained why he hadn’t called his own contacts; he probably didn’t want to see the thing killed if it was misidentified or caught by hunters with little or no conscience.
Helen paused to sip from the mug of tea at her elbow before she composed a reply thanking him for the information and assuring him that the abnormal would be dealt with. Once those assurances were made, Helen told him she would welcome correspondence with him at any time, regardless of subject. To reinforce it, she asked how his classes were going and typed out an anecdote that had circulated the Sanctuary in the last few days. Granted, it had ended with Henry covered in a corrosive purple slime, but a little embarrassment was nothing in the bigger picture of cultivating what she hoped someday would be a friendship, especially when the embarrassment wasn’t her own. She tapped send with her index finger, then set the tablet down. She allowed the satisfaction of knowing Sam Winchester had reached out to her to bleed away her frustration with Wexford. With luck, this email would be the first of many.***November 2005
Old City Sanctuary
North Tower Rooftop Balcony
Even Helen knew it was late enough that she should be in bed. Instead of sleeping, she was on the roof of Sanctuary gazing at Old City spread out in twinkling lights before her. She wished that the beauty would distract her from the contents of the email she had received from Sam earlier that day. It didn’t, nothing could. Imagining the pain he must feel made her hurt for him. She could no more turn that part of herself off than she could stop breathing, and she didn’t want to. The sound of footsteps didn’t surprise her; neither did the soft, guttural growls of concern.
“It’s late. You should be sleeping.” The statement was quiet, but the scolding was still obvious.
“I know, old friend. I’ve just had some bad news. I needed a chance to think.” Crossing her arms, Helen tipped her head toward the view. “I thought I’d let the view help me quiet my mind.”
“You heard from him, the hunter boy. I can see it on you,” Big Foot told her, his expression concerned. “What has happened?”
Helen fought the urge to sigh. “His girlfriend was murdered, by person or beings unknown. He’s gone back to the life, to avenge her. He’ll be traveling with his brother, who I am given to understand might be able to keep him out of a measure or trouble.” She trailed off, going over the facts Sam had been so sparing with, and adding in what Henry had been able to dig up. There wasn’t much, given that most the world had no idea that demons were real. She wasn’t going to burden Henry for the sake of her own curiosity.
Big Foot already knew that demons existed. He and members of his tribe had personal experience, though he would not go in to detail as to how or why. He had always been intensely private on the subject of those who had exiled him.
“Do you still think he will show mercy to those who deserve it?” His tone conveyed the skepticism he felt, but somehow it was that very skepticism that made her feel better.
“I think he has the potential to be a powerful ally, provided he manages to keep himself alive . He has enough empathy to let me know he may not be able to keep in touch for quite some time. He didn’t want me to worry. That doesn’t sound evil to me.” Helen thought it said quite a bit about any young man’s character to be able to think of others in the midst of suffering.
“If you have such faith in him, Doctor, I will reserve judgment, I am not certain you are correct this time.” Bigfoot looked at her with concern, angling himself to shelter her from more of the wind.
Despite her mood, she chuckled. “I never claimed I was always correct, regardless of what my detractors say. You, of all people, should know that.” Helen looked out at the view one last time, then walked back toward the door. “I’m sure we both have things we should be doing, my friend. I, for one, should be sleeping.” Back inside, Helen let the warmth and comfort of the familiar wrap around her. Sam would either channel his grief and prove himself, or he wouldn’t.***
EZ Sleep Motel, Alliance, Nebraska
The sheer volume of the snoring coming from the blanket-covered lump in Dean’s bed was enough to make Sam fantasize about stuffing cotton in his ears, or being able to wave a magic wand and have a room of his own. They were low on funds, he’d lost his last pair of ear plugs two jobs ago, and he was too damn tired to find a drug store and replace them. He made his way to the rickety table across from their kitchenette. Sam hoped Dean would stop snoring loud enough to register on the Richter scale when he changed positions. Until then, there were things he could check on the laptop to distract himself.
Drumming on the table with his pen while the machine booted up, he started his usual scan of obituaries. Given the number of key search terms he had to keep his eyes out for, he had a program that did the drone work of sorting through the listings nationwide that flagged the ones which were likely matches., However, the program was no use to him if he didn’t go through the results. He’d nearly finished sorting through when a name from an in memoriam listing jumped out at him. As he re-read it, all thoughts of sleeping were forgotten. He read a second and then a third time, and his stomach knotted. It was a full color announcement, with the name Ashley Magnus in ornate font at the top and a poem beneath it. He barely glanced at the poem, before he shook his head and opened his email inbox in another tab in the browser.
When he started typing her name, Helen’s address filled in automatically. They’d kept in touch over the years when he found a job that was more abnormal than monster-like. Dean never questioned him about how he knew her or what she did. He seemed content to accept Sam’s word that she was an expert in that sort of thing. Still, just to be on the safe side, Sam never told Dean about the job offer. The last thing he needed was his brother convinced he was going to leave again. He emailed as often as his schedule would permit. Helen frequently told him stories about Sanctuary staff: Big Foot, Henry, Ashley and Will, the newest recruit, who was something of a protégé. Even though he’d never had a chance to meet Ashley in person, Sam had liked what he’d heard and could only imagine the pain Helen and her friends were feeling.
Taking a moment to organize his thoughts, he composed a letter of condolence. It seemed pitifully inadequate as his finger hovered over the send button. Remembering what had helped him, he added a line at the end. No matter how many loved ones we lose to the darkness, if we let that make us bitter and angry and refuse to be happy again, then the darkness gets what it wants, he typed quickly, signing his name and sending it before he could edit further. Helen would know what he meant. He hoped she’d also know all the things he wanted to say but couldn’t find the words for.
Lisa Braeden’s Residence
The alarm jarred Dean out of the nightmare, and he rubbed a hand over his face, as he slapped at the snooze button to silence the horrendous noise. He tried to calm his racing heartbeat as he turned to look at Lisa, asleep beside him, and reminded himself of all the things he had in his life that he should be grateful for. It wasn’t every day that you found a beautiful woman who would accept you, with all your baggage. Throw in a kid who was surprisingly awesome, and any way he figured it he was damn lucky. The only problem was a large part of him didn’t care.
As he stared at the ceiling, Dean heard himself promising Sam, for what was probably the thousandth time, that he would live and have a life and not try to find a way to bring him out of hell. The strength of Sam’s voice, the intensity in his expression, not to mention the grief in his eyes, wouldn’t stop replaying in his mind. Logically, it was obvious that his own guilt was dictating the playlist for his subconscious. Emotionally, Dean wasn’t sure how much more the guilt could eat at him and still allow him to function. He hadn’t slept a full night in months, was barely eating enough to keep himself going, and the amount he was drinking wasn’t exactly healthy either. If he was being honest, he had to admit it only added to guilt knowing that Lisa was getting the short end of the relationship equation.
The hole caused by Sam’s absence was getting bigger every day. He could work himself to exhaustion, or drink until he passed out, but nothing was going to make it go away. As if that pain of loss wasn’t hard enough to deal with, there was also the weight of knowing he had failed. If only he’d managed to find a way to change things. It was his job to save Sam; it had been his job since he was four years old. Still, Sam was gone. Not just gone, but in Hell. Suffering agonies that defied description. Of course, he didn’t really need a description. His own time in Hell was vividly etched in his mind
Caught up in his thoughts, Dean didn’t notice Lisa was awake until after she stared at him for a long moment. “Another nightmare, Dean?” she asked, the gentle concern in her eyes a good match for the sympathy in her tone.
He resisted the urge to bristle at the sympathy and nodded. There wasn’t really anything he was comfortable saying. Lisa knew more about what had happened than anyone else in his life, except Bobby. She had been with him long enough to know when not to push, so she only stroked her hands down his chest and up again to hold his arm. When he didn’t protest the contact, she leaned over and kissed him gently, a comfort to the ragged edges within him. Pulling back, she smiled at him sadly, before sliding out of the bed and heading for the bathroom.
After a few moments, the taps came on just after the toilet flushed and then he heard her feet shuffling in the hall carpet as she headed to the kitchen to make coffee. She didn’t have to be up for work for another hour, so he appreciated the gesture enough to drag himself out of the bed and start making himself presentable. The thought of another day of mind-numbing monotony of construction work was a lead weight in his stomach, and his hands were shaking, but that was nothing a hot shower and a decent breakfast wouldn’t cure. With an effort, he ignored the tiny voice in the back of his mind that disagreed, and headed for the bathroom.
By the time he walked into the kitchen, dressed except for his socks, Lisa was pouring him a cup of her truly excellent but top-secret coffee blend. It took him a moment to notice that she had her serious face on, and looked far more awake than the hour of the morning required. “What’s wrong? Did something happen while I was in the shower?” For once his first thought wasn’t of monsters, but of the boy who was supposed to be asleep upstairs. “Is Ben alright?”
“Ben’s fine, Dean,” Lisa told him. For a moment, her hands shook, and so did her tone, but then she seemed to settle. “I just think we need to talk.”
The chuckle escaped before he could stop it, but it was more nerves than humor. “In my experience, it’s never a good thing when a woman says that to me.” When she didn’t show a hint of a smile, he felt a ball of icy dread form in his stomach. “Look, I know I haven’t been at my best lately, and I am sorry. But I can do better,” he told her. Even as he said it though, he could hear the edge of desperation in his tone. The little voice in the back of his mind asked him which one of them he was trying to convince. The day-to-day routine already took everything he had just to stay afloat.
“It’s not about you doing better. You’re doing fine. But we both know you’re miserable, and you’re getting worse, not better. I thought if you just had a chance to rest and recover with people who cared about you…who loved you,” Lisa’s voice broke, but then she cleared her throat and continued. “I thought you just needed time to heal, but time isn’t helping you. The weight you are carrying around just keeps getting heavier and heavier and if you stay here, I’m afraid it will crush you.
Shaking his head, Dean resisted the urge to slam his mug onto the table. She didn’t deserve his temper for being honest. “I’m not miserable, Lisa. I’m just…” he trailed off. Who the hell knew what he was, but he wasn’t miserable. A man would know that about himself, wouldn’t he?
It was Lisa’s turn to laugh. “Yes, you are. You just won’t let yourself stop long enough to realize it.” She stepped closer until she could take his hand, and squeeze it gently. “I know you love me, I do. But if you loved me the way I love you, then being with me would be enough to hold whatever is haunting you at bay. And it’s not. You want to honor Sam’s memory by doing what he asked of you, and I understand that.” She paused and stroked her fingers down his cheek so tenderly it made his chest ache. “Dean, he never would have asked you if he knew what it would cost you. No matter how much you wish it were otherwise, the truth is, you love the idea of having a real family, of being able to be happy in that kind of life, much more than you love me.” Tears pooled in her eyes as she spoke, but her voice stayed steady as she stared into his eyes.
“I know I don’t know all the details about what happened, but it’s obvious you still need answers about some of it. You owe it to yourself and to Sam to go find them. Once you have them, then maybe you’ll be able to find the person who’s the one for you. More importantly, maybe you’ll find some peace. Either way, I’ll always be your friend. I’ll always be here if you need me. Nothing will change that.”
Dean opened his mouth to deny again, then closed it with an audible snap that sounded loud in the pre-dawn light of the kitchen. Hearing her say it made him hurt inside, but it didn’t make her wrong. After everything she had done for him, the least he owed her was some honesty. He hadn’t cried in so long that it was surprising he hadn’t forgotten how. He’d hadn’t allowed himself to feel enough to need to, at least while awake, but staring at Lisa dressed in a plain white cotton t-shirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants, he had to swallow a lump of tears before he could speak. “I want to argue with you, to prove you wrong, but I can’t. You’re mostly right.” he told her, ignoring how his tone wavered. “But it’s not just the idea of family life I love, it’s you too.”
“I know, Dean. But not enough. And that’s not your fault and I don’t blame you. And when he gets over being mad, I’ll make sure Ben doesn’t either. So you don’t have to worry about us. We’ll be okay.”
This time, when he smiled, Dean was able to actually find a genuine laugh. “Oh I have no doubt of that. You’re the strongest woman I know. Everything will be alright because you damn well say it is,” he told her, only half kidding.
Of course, leaving wasn’t as simple as that. He had to pack up all his things to be put in storage, and get the Impala road-ready again. Most of the supplies he needed for the trunk weren’t just things he could pick up at the corner value mart. He wasn’t so out of practice that getting everything was difficult, just time consuming. What he thought would be the hardest part, saying goodbye to Ben, was both easier and harder than he expected. Oh, the kid was mad alright, and had no problem making that known, but when Dean finally turned to look at him it wasn’t anger he saw, but sadness. “Look, Ben, I know it’s hard to understand now, but it’s not that I want to go, it’s because I have to go,” he explained, hating how much he sounded like his dad, but knowing it was still true.
“I know,” Ben told him, looking down at his feet, shoulders slumping. “I’ve always known you would go,” he continued. “That’s what guys like you do.”
Dean tried to find the words that would help, as his stomach twisted with guilt. “Not every guy leaves, you know. And if we do, it’s not because of you, I promise.” He kept his voice calm, and willed the boy to believe him.
“Oh, I know that,” Ben exclaimed, looking surprised. “I just meant that guys like you, who save people, they can’t stay with one person, because then they aren’t doing their job. And since most people don’t know about monsters, you have to do your job. Well, that and you have to at least try to find Sam. But that’s because that’s your job as the big brother.”
Both the words and the calmly matter-of -fact tone threw Dean. He wanted to ask how Ben had managed to find out about Sam, but it didn’t matter. He cleared his throat and nodded. “You know kid, that might just be the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me. And you’re right about why I have to. But, if you know that, why are you mad?”
“It’s just not fair. I like having you for a dad, and I wish you didn’t have to go.” The first part came out in a rush and then Ben paused, looked down again. “Besides, I don’t think you are going to come back to live with us after. And I’m going to miss you.” The admission was made in such a low voice that Dean could hardly hear it, even as he opened his arms to hug Ben, who squeezed tightly right back.
“I’ll tell you what,” Dean promised, ignoring the roughness in his own voice. “You might be right. I may not be back to live with you, but you can always call me. I may not be able to stay here to be your dad, but you matter to me, and I will help all I can, even if it has to be from a distance, deal?”
“Deal,” Ben replied, voice still muffled in the fabric of Dean’s shirt.***
Old City Sanctuary
Infirmary, Recovery Room
Moving as quietly as he could manage, Big Foot covered Helen with a soft blanket that had been folded on a chair in the corner of the cheerfully appointed room. She hadn’t been to bed since they had transferred Will home from Mumbai. Though everyone was concerned that young William hadn’t woken up, Helen seemed particularly frustrated with the fact that although Will seemed physically within the normal ranges for someone recovering from trauma, he had yet to regain consciousness. After everything that Will had been through, it didn’t seem so strange that his mind would need some time to process everything, so he wasn’t overly worried yet.
He had the utmost confidence in the doctor’s medical skills. True, he suspected there had been close calls she hadn’t told anyone about, but the boy was here, and stable. He had also known Magnus long enough to know that if he woke her, rather than going to bed, she would simply continue in her search for answers. Better she get what rest she could, even if it was in a position guaranteed to give her a stiff neck.
There were many other things on his schedule for the morning that he needed to get to, especially given that he would need to keep a better eye on Henry and Kate with Helen occupied with Will as she was. Helen’s tunnel vision could be useful, but it also meant opportunities for mischief that could be exploited, even by those with the best of intentions. He would need to make sure nothing got out of hand, while he made sure that the household ran smoothly. Near death experiences, attempted coups and catastrophic disaster cleanup would come and go, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a need for clean laundry, good food, and hot coffee or tea, not to mention properly filed paperwork.
Just over an hour later, he slipped back into the room to check on the sleeping woman again. Helen was still in the same position. When she allowed herself to crash, she tended to crash hard. As he stepped forward to make sure her blanket was covering as much of her as possible, the devices hooked up to monitor will caught his attention. Though the young man’s vitals were still stable, his brainwave activity was not what should have been showing up for an unconscious person.
Given Will’s encounter with the goddess Kali, it made sense for there to be some abnormalities in the scans. These readouts were well outside range. They showed someone engaged in activities that were intensely emotional, and not necessarily pleasant. Coupled with that, the centers responsible for higher reasoning and critical thinking were working over time. Since this was Will’s brain, the latter wasn’t much of a surprise, but the combination was cause for concern. Noting the time, Big Foot went to the computer to log the event and take an image of the readouts, in case they changed before the doctor woke up.
As soon as keyboard clicked, Helen stirred and sat up, uttering a soft groan as her hand went to her neck. Big Foot turned to watch awareness come back to her face, as she stretched her shoulders and automatically checked the readouts from the monitors. The only sign of outward reaction was a slight widening of her eyes, but he saw the concern she was working to hide. “How long has that been going on?” she asked, as she joined him at the computer.
“A few minutes, no more,” he assured her. With the ease of long practice he moved out of her way and went to refold the blanket she had discarded. “The readouts match the screen capture images I just took, so you haven’t missed anything important.”
Helen nodded and called up Will’s medical file on the main screen. There were definite differences between his baseline and the output now. There was no way to know how much Will’s experiences with the Macri and Kali had fundamentally altered his brain chemistry and function. His deliberate brush with death to try to contact Kali was another variable. She hadn’t found any literature to counter Rheka’s assertions that Will wasn’t long for this Earth because he was no longer host to Macri. He was still alive, which would seem to contradict the tradition, but Rheka had told Helen not to get her hopes up. Helen shook her head slightly and squared her shoulders. Damned if she was going to lose another loved one. Will would fight, she knew he would. All she had to do counteract the physiological problems he may have and keep him alive to find his way back to himself.
After almost a week with around the clock effort, they had managed to keep him alive, but Helen began to wonder if Kali had spared his body only to keep his soul. As she checked on him after the session with the physiotherapist, a small voice in the back of her mind insisted on reminding her that if she hadn’t recruited Will into this life, he would have been fine. Granted, he would still have been unhappy and searching for his answers, but he would have been living his life, not lying in an infirmary bed. She pushed the guilt away. He had survived being host to the Macri, the forceful removal of the tiny abnormal and its death. His organs should have shut down, but he was still alive. She hoped that the latest drug cocktail would tip things in Will’s favor.
Footsteps in the hall preceded Kate by a few moments. The normally brash girl was quiet, and twisting her hands as she approached the doorway. Knowing how uncomfortable she was with all things medical, and how close she and Will had become, Helen was not surprised.
“Any change, doc?” Kate asked, leaning against the door.
Summoning a reassuring smile, Helen shook her head. “Not as of yet, I’m afraid. He’s not declining either, and that’s a positive for us, I believe.”
Kate frowned as she edged closer to the bed. “No offense, but I think a positive would be him opening his eyes and telling us all not to worry.”
Helen reached down to adjust the pillows on the bed behind Will’s head and resisted the urge to sigh. “Yes, I agree with you. Unfortunately, I can’t predict when that will happen.”
Kate shifted her weight, and stared at her feet as her shoulders slumped. “I want to keep my hopes up, I really do. But the longer he stays unconscious, the harder it gets.”
Careful not to give in to the urge to reach out and touch the other woman as she moved closer, Helen nodded in sympathy. Before she could find words to comfort, there was a muted beep and both of them swung their attention to the monitors near the bed. Another higher pitched tone sounded and Helen hurried to check Will’s vitals.
“Is he getting worse? Is that what that means?” Kate asked.
“Quite the contrary actually. It appears he has decided to come closer to consciousness. I can’t take the credit for it, as we have done nothing differently today than any other day of treatment. But the readouts indicate he could be waking up.” Helen stole a glance over at the smaller woman. Though she pretended she was as mercenary as ever, Kate had gotten close enough to everyone to be considered one of their small, occasionally dysfunctional, family. She masked her feelings under her usual layer of streetwise toughness, but they were there. Watching Will, her emotions were closer to the surface than usual.
Kate looked down at Will’s still form doubtfully as she reached for his hand. “He still looks asleep to me,” she countered.
“Waking from a coma is often a gradual process. It may take hours, even days for him to come to full consciousness. What’s important is that he’s begun the process, that he’s finding his way back to us.” The weight of the guilt clenched around her heart lessened, the relief so huge it took all of her control not to give in to tears. If she cried, it would be later in the safety of her room. Helen Magnus was not a woman who lost control easily, and certainly never with an audience, she told herself.
“Well, if you are finally waking up, you ought to hurry up about it, man.” Kate held to her tough demeanor “I’m tired of carrying your weight while you laze around in a bed. And we’re due for a large refuge arrival, and let me tell you, I am not doing your paperwork, psych boy.” Helen squeezed her colleague’s shoulder and laughed as she led the way out of the room to spread the good news.
Everyone found their way into the recovery room over the course of that day, calling to Will, catching him up on recent events, bribing with promises of his favorite food or movies. Though he was now very definitely restless, moving around much more and edging closer and closer to wakefulness, he didn’t open his eyes until sunset. As the light painted the walls varying shades of red, Helen stepped into the room. She had forced herself to catch up on some of her work backlog, checking on Will only remotely. Still, it was one thing to see him on a monitor in her office and another to be in the room with him.
Walking to the window to admire the last of the streaks of color painted across the sky, she crossed her arms over her chest, and breathed deeply. “Alright, William,” she murmured, about to turn back to the bed. “You’ve rested long enough. It’s more than time for you to wake up.” She could admit she half hoped he would answer her, but there was no response. After a few more moments, she smoothed her hands down her shirt front and moved to leave, glad there was no one to hear her chuckle softly to herself. “Can’t say I didn’t try, I suppose.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” The voice was so weak, if the room hadn’t been so quiet she might not have heard it.
Rushing to his bedside, Helen couldn’t help but beam happily. “About time you woke up,” she teased, close to tears again, even in the midst of her happiness at seeing Will looking back at her.
In typical Will fashion, he noticed the sheen of tears in her eyes, and even weakened and confused his first reaction was concern for her. “Hey, don’t cry. I’m okay, I promise.”
Helen kissed his cheek lightly, then shook her head. “I think I shall be the judge of that.” She grabbed the medical bag she had been keeping in the room since the start of her vigil over Will, and confirmed his vitals. She felt steadier with each normal reading, but more emotional than she was altogether comfortable with. After assuring herself that Will was alert and oriented and had all his faculties intact she managed to get him to promise to rest.
She left to let everyone know the good news but only made it a short distance before realizing she was in no shape to talk to anybody, even about good news. Backtracking quickly, she all but slammed the door to her bedroom before her knees gave way. She slid down to the floor and let the tears come. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe her own findings. One thing she always had confidence in was her own abilities. But she hadn’t realized just how scared she had been until the fear was gone. And it had been so very close; she hadn’t told the rest of the team the number of times she’d had to revive him. Without a doubt, she would be fine in a few minutes, but until then, she would very quietly fall apart, at least until she could purge the last of her careening emotions.