The stampede-like sound of small feet on the hard board floor announced the imminent arrival of the three young kids, just seconds before their flushed little faces grouped around the old man by the fireplace.
"Grandma kicked us out of the kitchen," Lucas, the oldest, let out with an offended pout. Six years old, and he already managed to make it sound like the worst offense ever, not allowing him to do whatever he pleased.
The smear of chocolate in his right cheek, a good as any guilty sign of the reasons why Sam had banned them from her culinary kingdom on that particular day, seemed completely unnoticed by the young boy.
"We were good," Alex, the youngest, chimed in.
Given that he was wearing what looked suspiciously like chocolate lipstick, the old man wasn't entirely sure if he meant good-behavior or good-stealthy.
"And you?" the man asked the remaining child, Sarah, the precocious five year old.
"Guilty by associazion," she offered with a shrug, the elaborate words ruined by the fact that she was missing her two front teeth and half the words she said escaped through there.
"I see," the old man said, knowing his granddaughter well enough to know that she had probably just been sneakier than her brothers. "And what shall we do to correct such wrongness?"
"Kick grandma off the keechen!" Alex said, jumping up and down like the hyperactive little monkey that he was.
Lucas turned to his brother with terror in his face, cupping his hands around his mouth as he whispered some hurried words into the youngest ear.
"No chocolate cake?" Alex let out, the same horror coloring his puffy cheeks. He quickly turned to his grandfather to backtrack on his previous demand. "We don't wanna kick grandma off the keechen."
The old man nodded seriously, trying to keep the smile off his lips. "Very well then," he agreed. "A story, perhaps?"
The bobbing heads answered in unison... or as noisily as bobbing heads could be.
"Which one do you want to hear? The one with the bear, the one with the alien—"
"Tell us one from the motel," Lucas said, his eyes glinting. For some reason, that boy loved to hear stories about regular people, rather than about princes and knights; kindhearted presidents and soldiers, or whatever it was that little kids liked these days.
"Yes!" Sarah agreed, a rare event in between the older brothers. "Tell us a Christmassy one."
The old man's gaze turned to the youngest, waiting for his input in the poll.
"One with swords, and cake, and snow, and angels, and a monster—" the little kid said, barely pausing for breath.
"My goodness, Alex," the old man cut in with a chuckle, "Is that all?"
"No," the little kid said, crossing his arms in front of his chest, figuring it added weight to his demands. "And kittens... it has t'ave kittens."
The old man leaned back against his seat by the fire, waiting for the children to take up their usual places when it was story-telling time. Lucas and Sarah took the chair's armrest and leaned against his shoulders while Alex sprawled over his lap, like he himself were one of the kittens he loved so much.
"Well, then," the old man started. "I have just the one for you all..."
It was the winter of 2009 and it was the worst snowstorm that had been heard of in years had taken over Christmas Eve...
... The end of the world, folks were calling it. And it certainly was for a number of those caught in the middle of the worst of the blizzard that had covered the whole town in white that day.
The motel, that had been barely making enough to pay the bills every end of month since June, was suddenly filled with people caught in the storm and not wanting to risk the dangerous roads outside.
Those seeking shelter were right to do so. Already the tally was up to fifty dead in car crashes and traffic related accidents and only those who absolutely needed to, ventured further.
The minute the two tall strangers walked through the door Sebastian cringed; with no more rooms and the storm worsening by the minute, he had no idea how to tell them to turn around and look for shelter somewhere else. The way things were, it wouldn't be overly dramatic to say it was tantamount to sending them to their death.
But he hardly had a choice in the matter. The only thing giving him pause was the fact that, after taking a good look at the pair -and putting it nicely- death seemed to be the place from where those two looked like they were returning.
In the few minutes it took them to walk the short distance from door to the registration counter where he was, Sebastian knew that fate wasn't in the mood to be kind to him. One of them was limping and using the other, a giant of a man, for support, not only to make the few steps, but mainly to keep himself upright.
The guy looked so fragile and beaten that, honestly, the only thing worse than those two that could walk through the door on that night, was a pregnant woman ridding a donkey.
His face was bruised, dark shadows spreading beneath each eye and, in between, what looked like a recently broken nose in vivid colors of red, black and blue. His upper lip had a couple of stitches as decoration, as did his left eyebrow.
Sebastian's heart clenched in sympathy. Whoever that guy had pissed off, the beating had been nothing short of brutal.
"We'd like a room for the night," the giant said as he slapped a credit card on the counter.
Sebastian considered the odds of his next few words resulting in a broken face for him to match the other guy, before clearing his throat and delivering the bad news. "I'm sorry. We're full," he managed to get out without flinching, even though he could see the rising anger in the giant's face. "The 'no vacancies' sign is on."
The tall man exchanged a look with the bruised one, bottom lip disappearing under his teeth. "Yeah, I saw that," he forced himself to say gently. "But the skies are really coming down out here and this place is the only one for miles. It's this or the car and with the freezing cold temperatures, that stopped being an option long ago."
Sebastian bit the inside of his cheek. The minute he'd handed over the key to the last room he knew this moment would come. But it wasn't like he was running a magically expandable hotel. Once the last room was gone, it stayed gone until someone checked out. "I'm really sorry, sir," he started, knowing that his apology was genuine, even if the man looming over him would never believe as much. "But there is noth—"
The giant's fist slammed down on the counter's surface. The thunderous sound made Sebastian flinch and a couple of other patrons milling about the entry, turned in their direction.
"HAVE YOU LOOKED OUTSIDE?" he yelled, one long finger pointing exactly in that direction. "I don't care if it's a brooms closet or the ducking couch—"
"Come on, grandpa... he didn't really say 'ducking', did he?"
"Who's telling this story, buddy? If I say he yelled the 'ducking couch', that's exactly what happen."
"—ducking couch, just figure out a place for us to stay for a few hours!"
The few guests that had started to gather in the main lobby, taking advantage of the large fireplace, were mostly passers by that hadn't even planned to stop for the night and Sebastian doubted any of them would move a finger to stop the giant from yanking his head off if he decided to do as much.
"Sam," the other guy, the one slightly less giant, spoke softly, a raspy sound that barely made it out, focusing one eye on the angry man. Sebastian guessed that he was probably focusing both, but the right one was swollen shut. "Just... just let it go."
The giant seemed to shrink under the defeated sound of those words. Even Sebastian, who knew nothing about the two of them, could see that their meaning conveyed so much more than what was going on in there. They spoke of a loss too great to bear, they spoke of a weight too heavy to carry, they spoke of giving up on everything and failure without even trying.
"No, Dean," the giant, 'Sam', said, his voice melting into a softer tone, like words too harsh or too loud would be enough to shatter 'Dean'. The way his floppy brown hair danced around his head as he shook it in consensus with his words made him look less of a giant and more like a big 'little' kid. "I promised the doc I would have you resting the remainder of day if he let you out today," he offered with a hand on the other man's shoulder. It wasn't so much a show of affection as it was more an attempt to stop Dean from swaying from side to side as he had started to. "Being suck inside a car for ten hours straight does not count as resting."
Sebastian gulped. Of course the guy had just left the hospital. Probably far sooner than he should have, from the looks of his face. And lord knows the size of the beating that had landed him there, not to mention the reason behind it.
"I'm okay," Dean said, sounding as convincing as a drowning man saying oxygen was overrated. "Lets just," he went on, seemingly lost at to what other options they had in life. "... lets just sleep in the car."
Sebastian was no longer paying attention to the interaction between the latest arrivals. In his mind, he was already going over the alternatives because there was no way he could ever live with himself if he allowed these men leave and freeze to death inside some rust bucket.
There was the broom closet and the ducking couch... and there were his private quarters. Only, his sister was in town, staying with him while she got back on her feet, he wasn't all that sure about putting two strange men in there...
"Wait," he found himself calling out before Dean was able to convince the other guy out the door. "I… it isn't exactly a room, but I might have a place for you guys."
"Great," Sam said, a smile splitting up his face like it was the best news he'd heard in a very long time. "We'll take it!"
He didn't even bother asking where it was.
And it wasn't like they had a choice, but Sebastian wasn't that much of a low life that he would even dream of charging them for the 'room' he was giving them. After all… it was short of being a glorified attic.
Short being the operative word.
The idea of trying to get two giants to fit inside a tiny room that was, at best, five and a half feet high, would've been hilarious if it weren't for the sheer amount of gratitude in Sam's eyes when he looked around and saw two fluffy cots on the floor and the generous pile of blankets on top of them.
"Thank you," he said, sounding genuinely grateful for the dusty corner that Sebastian had literally dug out for them.
He couldn't tell for sure, but Sebastian figured that the attic room hadn't been used in some good five years, the last time being when Norma, their long gone in-house maid, used it for her sleepovers.
"Lemme know if you need anything else," Sebastian offered with a tense smile. If Mr. Lars, the motel owner, ever found out that he was sheltering random strangers just because they looked beat up, Sebastian would be looking for a new job before the year was over. "We don't usually serve meals, but given that no one can really leave the motel, our cook managed to rustle up a some food to put together a pretty decent dinner," he added, watching as Sam guided Dean to one of the cots and gently lowered him until he was more or less horizontal. "Feel free to join us and the rest of the guests once you've settled."
"Was there cake, grandpa?"
"Yes, Alex, there was cake."
"Grandma's chocolate cake?"
"No… but almost as delicious as hers."
"Shuddup, Alex! Let grandpa tell his story."
Sam nodded in response, Dean's one unswollen eye already closed as he sunk deep into an exhausted sleep. From the way Sam was carefully and methodically wrapping one of the blankets to cover the sleeping man, Sebastian doubted he would be seeing either of them again that evening.
"You sure your friend shouldn't have stayed at the hospital instead?" Sebastian found himself voicing. In part, it was pure concern for the stranger whose breathing sounded so painful and labored just from climbing the few stairs to the attic; and in part it was concern for the business he was in charge of. If things went south, he didn't want to be responsible for a guest dying on his watch.
"My brother," the giant corrected. "And you don't need to worry about us. He'll be fine."
Sebastian wasn't really sure if Sam was saying that for his benefit or if he truly believed those words. The man lying on the cot didn't look fine by any definition of the word. His cheeks were flush now that he was out of the cold and his breathing rattled inside his chest like a bag of broken dishes. "You know, my sister is staying here," he added without pausing much for thought. "She could give him a look."
"Why?" the tall man asked, taking a step back, closer to his brother.
The defensive stance didn't go unnoticed by Sebastian, who raised his hands in a show of good faith. "She's a doctor."
Sam bit his lip. It was clear to see, both from his reaction to the offer and his earlier excitement over the small room, that these were not men used to the kindness of others.
"It's no bother at all… she'll be glad to," Sebastian pushed in, catching the concerned looks that Sam kept given his brother.
Sebastian turned around, not giving Sam the chance to say no. "And for what its worth, Merry Christmas, man," he found himself calling out as he exited the small room.
Sam offered him a confused look. "What day is it today?"
Sebastian stopped as he was about to close the door and stared at the one called 'Sam'. "It's the 24th," he said, not quite understanding how someone could lose track of the calendar when the whole place was decorated for the season and everything you heard on the streets were Christmas carols and people talking about their plans for the holidays. "Of December," he found himself in need of adding, because the guy did in fact look that clueless.
And that was as much as Sam commented on the matter.
"I'm a veterinarian, Bastian... I don't treat people!" the woman with a head full brown curls said, jumping from the couch were she'd been pretending to read a book.
"They don't need to know that, Susie."
Susan gave him a look that clearly said he'd lost whatever marbles he had left inside that skull of his. "And why the hell would I be making house calls on the two strangers that you decided to pick up on Christmas Eve?" she let out as quietly as she could, trying keep her frustration under control. "We're not six anymore, Bastian. You can't keep bringing home every stray dog you find."
Sebastian ran a hand through his hair. This wasn't the little sister he remembered, but then again, life hadn't given her many chances to hold onto to that child-like wonderful view of the world, something that he had always admired about her. Her willingness to help others, however, couldn't be that far gone.
"Look, I wouldn't be asking this if the guy didn't really need it," Sebastian went on, reaching out to grab the hand that she'd been anxiously worrying at the rim of her jacket's sleeves, pulling it further down to cover her bony wrists. "You should've seen those two, Susie. Beat up dogs manage to have more confidence in their eyes than those two brothers. And the older one is really in pain… I… I don't think they could afford the stay at the hospital and left before he was actually healed."
Susan sighed, knowing that when her brother got that glint to his eyes, there was no reasoning with him. "Do you know anything about these men? Anything at all besides what they put in the registration form?"
Sebastian diverted his gaze to the wall. There was a crack in there that he really, really should fix—
"Bastian…" his sister called out in a warning tone.
"I… they didn't actually fill one out."
"Good lord… you let them stay for free, didn't you?"
When the only answer her brother gave her was an embarrassed smirk, Susan had no alternative but to indulge Sebastian's request. After all, now that her brother had risked his job and their lives in such a foolish manner, the least she could do was see for herself how dangerous those men really were.
Less than a minute after approaching the stranger on the cot, Susan ascertained two things straight off the bat: first was that, whatever had happened to him, it had been no mere beating like her brother had thought. The digit-shape bruises in his neck, the burst blood vessels in the guy's working eye… that had been a full on murder attempt.
The second thing was that Sebastian was right. That guy belonged in a hospital, not in that drafty and cold attic, lying on a hard cot that was probably doing a number on the guy's certainly broken ribs.
Sebastian had wasted no time introducing his two charity works of the year as Sam and Dean. No last name, which Susan doubted her brother knew and the two strangers hadn't bothered to offer.
Sam, the one who wasn't injured, presented an imposing presence as he hovered around her personal space the minute that Susan tried to get near Dean. Like a guardian dog.
Even with the ridiculous way he was forced to slightly tilt his head to the side, to prevent himself from bumping against the ceiling, the intensity with which he carefully watched Susan's every move was almost hawk-like. In fact, the opened way in which he seemed ready to bite her head off if she made the wrong move, was starting to make her skin crawl.
She was going to kill Sebastian for this.
Her patient, at least, was the complete opposite. When she had arrived and told him to pull his shirt up without barely a 'how do you do' he had merely given her a half-hearted once over and promptly obeyed.
From the detached way he barely reacted to any of her prods and touches, Susan had started to figure that there wasn't much he'd find the energy to argue or oppose if she tried anything weird.
Maybe that was why the other one was watching her so close. Somehow, Susan figured that at that point, the one lying down wasn't all that concerned about what went on with him or the world. He had that air about him… the lost gaze of someone that was watching the world from the outside and waiting for all the spinning to stop.
It was a look she had seen before. It was a look that she found staring back at her every day in the mirror. It was a look that had driven her over the edge of despair .
Maybe he too had lost someone.
"Did they catch him?" she found herself asking, just to fill the silence that had settled in the tiny room.
"Catch who?" both of them asked, even though she mostly heard Sam's voice.
"The guy who almost killed you," Susan pointed out. One would think that it wouldn't be so hard to guess about whom she was talking about.
From the long look that passed in between the two brothers, Susan guessed that maybe things weren't as straight and narrow as she had imagined.
Already her mind was going over the scenarios, thinking about gang related fights, about deals gone wrong, about professional assassins and lovers turfs gone out of hand—
"I hit a door," Dean offered, not even trying to mask his pathetic lie with any sugarcoating of truth.
"And the door hit you back?" Susan offered in the same tone. Hell if she cared about what had happened to him. Probably a jealous boyfriend or something.
"It was a revolving door," he pointed out with a smirk that was cut short by the coughing fit that racked his body.
"He should be in a hospital," Susan declared. She aimed the comment at Sam, recognizing him as the only one able to make the decision to drag Dean back to a hospital whether the other man wanted it or not and all the while ignoring the pointed look that Dean leveled at her from behind the hand covering his mouth as he tried to cough his lungs out. Sam remained silent, not daring to agree with her out loud, even Susan could see that he shared her feelings. "But as long as you're staying here, I'd feel a lot more comfortable if he were in my bed instead of this drafty attic," she said, dusting her hands on her jeans, realizing just how dirty that whole place was.
Sam blinked at her.
The minute the words were out of her mouth, Susan could feel herself growing beet red. "I mean," she quickly cut through, "I meant that I have a bed in my brother's private quarters and Dean would be better there than—"
"That's okay," Dean rasped out, the words sounding painful on his throat. Susan imagined that, with the level of trauma on the outside, they probably were. "We'll be fine here."
The words tasted like hot coals in her throat. 'He'll be fine' was a sentence that forever would be branded in her head. The same dismissing tone, the same reckless disregard for life, the same cockiness that came from just not caring. Susan hated those words, but more than anything, she hated the feeling behind them.
"You know," she said, hand on the handle of the door, eyes looking over her shoulder to hide the tremor in her lips, "the last time I heard those words, someone died before the day was over." The hand holding the door handle trembled and she squeezed it harder. "Merry Christmas to us all," she finished, the door closing behind her with a bang.
Susan let it go. She'd done her part. She'd done more than her part. On that day, the only thing that she wanted was to spend the night with her memories and just forget there was a world outside the walls of her room.
Susan's words had left the air heavy in her wake, ominous despite the fact that she couldn't possibly know about the impending end of the world.
The doctor was gone and Sam watched helplessly as Dean curled on his side and shut everything out again. Like it had been on the ride away from the hospital, the only sounds coming from Dean were his breathing and that deep cough that was getting more and more raspy as time move forward.
Dean had told him about what Alastair had said, about how Dean had been the one to break the very first seal in Hell.
He told him about what Castiel had said as well, and even as he spoke, Sam could hear the disbelief in Dean's voice about his part to play in stopping the apocalypse.
As much as Sam agreed with his brother about Dean's lack of power to single handedly stop something as big as the end of the world, Sam hated to see his brother give up like that.
All he wanted was to see Dean's fighting spirit again, to see the Dean of old that would defy every authority and rule to do what he thought was best.
"How did we miss out that it was Christmas Eve, Dean?" Sam whispered, even though the other man was, for all intents and purposes, asleep.
"Not much jolly spirit when the world is ending," Dean whispered from his cot. His eyes were still closed, but his face was a mask of sadness and pain.
The taller man sat heavily against his own cot, drawing his knees up to his chest. With his chin supported by his knuckles, he looked about half his age and height.
"Dean… I—" Whatever words of comfort he was about to say next, were engulfed by an awkwardness that had settled over the otherwise quiet room. "I'm going downstairs to get some food," he said instead, getting to his feet. "Do you want something?"
Dean mumbled a 'no, thanks' before curling on himself, barely registering the sound of the door closing behind Sam.
Alastair was waiting for him as soon as Dean closed his eyes. And of all the countless days and nights and all the time and space in between that Alastair had tormented him, lately there was only one instant that Dean saw in his dreams: the moment Dean had said yes and ended the world.
"Do you know what day it is today, Dean?" Alastair, superimposed image of possessed undertaker he was on Earth and the fleshed out demon that he was in Hell, both looming over Dean.
Dean could only gargle, mouth stuffed with sulphur like a yellow candle, wick sticking out from in between his teeth. The small light at the end held no warmth, no light in itself, just a sickly blue glow that hurt the eyes if you stared at it for too long.
"What was that?" the demon went on, fingers ghosting over his blades, carefully choosing which to use that day. "That is correct, Dean! Today is Christmas day up there, up where... Sam is."
Dean could barely recall what a Sam was, but he was sure it was something bad because nothing good could cause the painful heaviness he always felt inside in his chest when he heard that name.
"Thirty years have passed, Dean," Alastair went on, finally deciding on a curled up blade that shimmered even in the dark. "Sam's an old man now, Dean... he'd forgotten about you, about getting you out of here."
Everything was shadow down there. Shadow of distance memories that no longer held any shape or meaning but still filled the same space, still lingered above oblivion.
Nothing held meaning any longer.
The sense Dean too would become a shadow for Sam hurt more than the knife that Alastair stuck beneath Dean's knee, twirling it around until the kneecap popped like the lid on a soda.
He said yes before that day was over.
Susan had given up on staying inside her room. Memories had a persistent way of sneaking in and jump her when there was no one around her, her own mind taking her hostage and holding her at gunpoint, reminding her of all the things that she didn't want to think about.
Things like the warm feeling of her baby's body against her chest.
Things like the sound of his giggles when it was bath time.
The look in her husband's eyes when she had walked out of that ER room and couldn't quite form the words necessary to tell him that they had lost everything.
The sound of his car, grading against the gravel of the driveway as he took off without looking her in the eye.
The pattern on the white tiles in her bathroom as they turned red from the cuts in her wrists.
The grey ceiling of the hospital room where she had woken up and the realization that she hadn't been able to escape.
Despite the fact that it was bellow zero outside and snow was still falling down and sideways, Susan grabbed her packs of cigarettes and went outside. She had promised her husband she'd quit; he had promised her his undying love. Promises weren't worth a damn anymore.
There was a balcony that ran the expand of the dinning room, one that smokers like herself usually used to sneak in a smoke. There was a roof over her head, but it didn't do much for the powerful and chilly winds.
Lighting the cigarette still took three tries and almost two decades of experience.
Beyond the doors of the dinning room, she could catch a glimpse of a large number of the motel guests, floating around the buffet table that her brother had insisted on decorating with tinsel and little angles made out of paper mâché that he'd bought from a local lady.
She could see Sam's head, sticking out from above all others, a tall pole that seemed out of place amongst the others. He looked preoccupied, mind far from the plate he was filling with home-made food and candy.
"Was he eating cake, grandpa?"
"Well, no, Alex… he wasn't eating cake, but he had a slice of pie in there, for Dean."
"Is pie better than chocolate cake?"
"It was chocolate pie, Dean's favorite."
"Alex, be quite and let grandpa finish his story!"
The rest of the guests looked happy, despite the fact that they were trapped inside a crappy motel and had been cut off from whatever parties and family dinners they had been heading to. Few of them had planned to spend Christmas there, but all seemed to be enjoying the unpredictability of it, the novelty of making do with whatever was at hand.
She hated them for that. She hated unpredictability too, for that matter. Unpredictability had taken her baby boy from her and she would not spend her night in the company of people who so openly celebrated it. She'd rather venture hypothermia outside.
Susan was half way through her second cigarette when the backdoor opened and a tall figure stepped outside. It wasn't hard to recognize the sick guy from the attic room. If nothing else, the limping and the slight off-balance tilt to his frame were dead give aways.
The leather jacket covering him was hardly warm enough for the freezing temperatures and she doubted that he was wearing any proper wintery long johns under those jeans. Even from a distance, she could see him shiver.
"Still trying to kill yourself, I see," she huffed from her hiding place, her words punctuated by a red dot in the darkness as she pulled a smoke in.
"Likewise," Dean said with a pointed look at the cigar hanging from her fingers.
"Saw your brother inside," she said when it looked like he had no intention of going back inside and leave her alone with her self-pity party.
"Saw yours too," he gave back in the same tone that made Susan wonder what had driven him outside at that late hour. He looked as eager to be left alone as she was. "Shouldn't you be celebrating Christmas with him?"
Susan flicked the cigarette butt to the ground, watching it fly and land with a hiss in the snow carpet covering the ground. "I'm hiding. Christmas is for kids... and my brother," she let out, the words biting on the way out as she remembered how excited she and her husband had been at their baby's first Christmas. "And I'm long past the time I believed in Santa. Or some sort of higher power, for that matter."
Dean nodded, his face turned upwards, letting the snow flakes land on his cheeks. In the paleness of the cold, the dust of freckles that covered his face, stood out like landmarks, making him look like a little kid tasting snow for the very first time.
"What about you?" Susan found herself asking when it looked like that nod was all the answer she was going to get. Usually, and more so in times like that day, people took some opposing to her dismissals of God. "Whom are you running from inside to be freezing your butt in here?"
There was a haunted look in his eyes when Dean looked down at her. It was the same look that she had seen before in the attic room, the same look that she had identified herself with. The look of someone who was done with life.
"I'm running from the future," he said enigmatically. For most, the words made no sense at all, but Susan knew exactly what Dean meant by them.
"How old?" Dean asked out of blue and Susan almost choked on her own spit. "The one who died before the day was over," he elaborated when she turned a flushed gaze his way, "your child."
"Ho— why do you thi—" Susan tried to put her confusion to words, failing at every turn.
"You're still mourning," Dean started, stating the fact without doubts in his voice. "There's a wedding ring mark on your finger from it being only recently taken, which means that the husband is gone but still alive... and your brother was too cheerful for it to have been the death of a parent or even distant relative," Dean said with a shrug that was meant to tell her that it was no big deal that he had guessed her whole life with just a glimpse. Instead, he ended up coughing again.
"My son," Susan confessed. "He was seven months old," she pushed out of her constricting throat, the same block of cement that usually pressed on her chest, mangling her words. Still, it felt somewhat liberating to be talking about her baby angel to someone, even if it was just a stranger. "His name was Jacob."
"I'm sor—" Dean tried to convene, even though his raging lungs wouldn't allow him to go very far. The cough was getting worse, rasping sounds that seemed to scrap the insides raw and that left him panting and grabbing his chest whenever he managed to pull a breath in.
"Come on," Susan said, moving in to push him back inside. She was ready to use force if need be, but there was no way that he was staying in that cold and harsh weather any longer.
"I'm good right here," he said, pulling his arm away from her reach, trying to look as comfortable as someone bracing against heavy snow could look. Susan caught him looking inside, his eyes resting against the rest of the joyful people with the same resentment that she had felt only minutes before.
Suddenly, it clicked inside her brain and she got a glimpse of his life as well. Of what tragedies had driven him to bear the same look as she did.
"It was someone you knew, wasn't it?" she asked.
He gave her an honestly puzzled look, clueless about her question. Above them, the lights flickered, seemingly too shy to keep on lighting the porch.
"The guy who beat you up, who nearly killed you," Susan let out, not really sure why she was meddling in the affairs of that perfect stranger. "It was someone you knew well, wasn't he?"
The paleness that she had thought to be caused by the cold, grew more intense and for a second there, Susan wasn't sure if Dean would fall down or run away.
"It was his mentor," a man's voice answered for him. The owner of the voice was a short man wearing nothing but a thin track suit. For all intents and purposes, he should be half frozen already, and yet… he advanced towards them like it was the breeziest of summer days. "Isn't that right, Dean?"
Susan found herself taking a step back even before Dean signaled her to stand behind him. There was something off with the guy in the violet training suit, even if she couldn't quite put her finger on what it was.
The lights above them exploded in a shower of glass and sparks, scratches of pure energy like jagged lines etched across the air that made Susan close her eyes. For a moment, it was like the whole world had gone deaf and blind, trapped inside a bubble where nothing got in or out.
In between one breath and the next, there were three more men standing beside the track suit guy.
"Who the duck are you?" Dean yelled out even as his lungs took offense on that and he bent over coughing.
Susan had no idea what she should do. She wanted to run inside and call for help, because it was clear from the looks on the faces of those men that they weren't the most friendly of people. But she couldn't bring herself to turn her back on Dean and leave him alone to face four guys.
The tallest of the three new men smiled at Dean, even though his face showed nothing but contempt and hatred. "Uriel's work was left unfinished," he said, vicious gaze moving from Dean to Susan. "We will make sure his death was not in vain. Now, all that is missing is the abomination. Where is he?"
"North Pole," Dean deadpanned. "Helping Santa with the presents. You guys, by the way, are all getting big lumps of coal this year."
"Uriel told us that you were a funny one," another one, a large black man with a golden watch that glinted in the dark, said. The flash of metal that suddenly appeared on his hands was almost too fast for the human eye to track. One second he was empty handed, the next there was a long and sharp looking sword grasped between his fingers. "I myself like to take a stab at comedy every once in a while."
When they started to move as a single entity towards Dean, Susan did something that she would never understand.
"Leave him alone!" she yelled out, stepping from behind Dean and moving to stand in front of him instead.
The three men laughed, a deep and cavernous sound that sounded as joyous as a sinking ship.
"Found yourself another whore to die for you, Winchester?" the one in the track suit said, his eyes roaming over Susan. "Ah, even better… a suicidal," he said, as if he'd just found some sticking tag that identified Susan. "You do manage to surround yourself with all sorts of defiant beings to our Father's creation, don't you?"
Dean's gaze was hard, completely focused on the four men and Susan resisted the urge to pull harder on her sleeves down to hide the scars that gave her away. She had no idea how the man had been able to see them, but she hated him for exposing her like that.
"Pathetic mud monkeys," another one of them hissed, apparently disgusted by the defiance in Susan's and Dean's stance. "What exactly do you think you can do to stop us?"
Dean remained silent and Susan followed his lead. The guy was right, of course. There were four of them against Susan, who had no fighting skills, and Dean, who even if he had, was barely standing as it was.
"You should go back inside," Dean told Susan quietly, unhurried, like he was telling her to pick some bread on her way home. His gaze, however, remained focused on the four men in front of them.
She looked at him in disbelief. If he thought that she was going to leave a sick man alone with four guys that inspired no confidence at all, just because she was a woman, he had anot—
"That's a great idea," the guy in the track suit cut in. "We should all go inside, say hello to Sam..."
Susan could see the progressive slump in Dean's shoulders, even though she couldn't understand why. Other than the one holding a sword, a weapon Susan had been certain no one fought with anymore these days, the others carried nothing that she could see.
Sure, there were four of them, one of them so skinny that she was surprise the stronger gushes of wind didn't blew him off his feet. But once they stepped inside, with that many people around, surely one of them would be able to call the police at the first sign of violence or even fight these guys off. Going inside was a good thing.
Dean, however, was acting like they were facing a death squadron rather than four regular guys and that going into the motel was the equivalent of jumping off a cliff.
"And the rest of the people in there?" Dean asked, his voice betraying his concern and the tiredness in his breath. "They have nothing to do with this."
"Come quietly and swiftly," track suit said. "And we will forget about your pathetic attempts at rebellion and everyone inside will live to see Christmas day."
"Either way," the third one offered, "today is the day that the rest of the heavenly host is shown how truly flawed their champion is. The day that the abomination known as Samuel Winchester ceases to exist."
Standing beside Susan, Dean recoiled from the man's words like he'd been physically hit. Before she could voice her questions, there was a whirl of sound, like feathers dancing in the wind, and they were out of the snowy porch and in the dinning room of the motel, right in the middle of all the guests, Sebastian and Sam.
And that was when she knew why Dean was acting like everything was already over and there was nothing that they could do.
The man in the track suit and his friends were not men at all. And whatever they were, they had bent space like it was nothing but a piece of paper, traveling from one place to the other without taking a single step. It was a thing straight out of science fiction and yet, Susan could not deny that she and Dean were no longer in the same place where they'd been a second before.
Everyone noticed their arrival. It was hard not to, when six people pop into existence in the middle of a room that wasn't all that big.
There were gasps of surprise along with the sound of more than a few dishes crashing to the floor. In the silence that followed, the faint sounds of 'Silent Night' seemed ironic.
"No one moves!" one of the 'men' yelled, commanding the immediate obedience of the scared guests.
More than the fact that half a dozen people had just materialized out of thin air, the presence of those violent men, all four now holding those same shiny swords, felt uncanny and jarring.
There was a Christmas tree blinking brightly on the corner, near the fireplace, and every where else, Sebastian and the rest of the motel staff had hung more decorations, giving the whole room a festive look that seemed, at the same time, homely and tasteful.
The four men holding them hostage at the point of sharp weapons clashed terribly with the Christmas spirit that clang to the air.
"Please... please, let us go," a young man, his wife clinging to him, begged. His eyes were wide, scared, focused on the weapons. "My wife—"
He wasn't the only one trembling in fear, imagining that there was no other way for the night to end but in a blood bath.
"Silence! Nobody leaves!"
"Please," Sebastian started shyly, exchanging a quick look with his sister and fully aware that he was taking a big risk in further annoying the short tempered men holding the swords. "Just... take whatever you want and go."
The man in the track suit smiled as he pointed his weapon in Sam's direction. "We intend to, don't worry, little monkey."
Taken advantage of the conversation taking place in the foreground, Thomas, the cook, tried to make his way out through the kitchen door. He was well in the back, far from sight by any of the strange men.
He didn't got far.
One of them extended his arm in Thomas direction, a sardonic smile in his face as he closed his hand around nothing but air.
Ten feet away, Thomas dropped dead, hands clutched around his head like he feared it might explode. The people around him screamed in fright, not really understanding what had happened or why Thomas had dropped dead without anyone touching him. Instinctively, they all knew that it had been neither an accident nor a coincidence.
"I said," the man said, his arm still extended, like a loaded gun ready to fire again, "no one leaves."
Sam exchanged a look of his own with Dean. The resignation that Susan had seen in Dean's eyes was absent from Sam's; in him, she saw only fight and anger.
"Haven't you guys done damage enough?" Sam said. In his voice, there was the peculiar kind of venom reserved not for strangers, but to well known and familiar enemies.
Whoever these new arrivals were, waiving their swords at them, Sam and Dean had met them before.
"You want to discuss damage, Sam?" one of the men said. "Or has Dean not told you who the real damage maker is amongst us?"
Dean's eyes had grown cold, dead looking. He raised his head to look straight in the face of the man who'd spoken. "You have the both of us. Let's just go."
"Don't assume that you can command me to do anything," the guy in the track suit snarled, his voice deep and menacing, lights exploding above everyone's heads like volley of mortars. "You are nothing but a piece of dirt with an overblown sense of importance... and I will not stand to be soiled by dirt!"
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter end notes:
Beta work by the lovely Jackfan2. All remaining mistakes are mine.