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Title: Courage is Not the Absence of Fear
Characters: Dean, Crowley, and Sam
Rating: PG, gen
Length: 1,325 words
Spoilers: AU with heavy spoilers for 5x20, 'The Devil You Know'
Author's Notes: First place winner in the spnland 'Metamorphosis' writing challenge. Thanks to my beta, Stevie.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Kripke.
Summary: Hellhounds. Why did it have to be hellhounds?

ETA: Now with podfic by reading_is_in!

“Was that a hellhound?” Dean demands as the distant, baying howl fades.

“I’d say yeah,” Crowley answers.

“Why was that a hellhound?” Stupid question. Dean knows why it’s here. It’s here for him. For all of them, probably, but definitely for him.

Dean’s brain yammers at him to go, to run, but he knows there’s no point even before Crowley confirms it. Once a hound gets your scent, it runs you into the ground. And Dean sold his soul. He’s prime, grade-A hellhound chow.

Brady’s freaking out. Sam’s the only one in the room who isn’t terrified. He’s seen what hellhounds can do, but he hasn’t felt it. Not like Dean has.

Crowley flips the tracking coin to Dean and disappears. Dean keeps it together for Sam’s benefit, drops the coin in his pocket, and goes to grab some salt from the kitchen. Not that it’ll make a difference. Salt hurts hellhounds, sure. It slows them down a little, pisses them off a lot. They only heard one hound. Maybe Dean can keep it busy long enough for Sam to get away.

A hellhound smashes through the window. Dean can already feel those claws ripping through him. It wasn’t just the one time. Alistair figured out hellhounds scared the crap out of him. Used to toss him off the rack sometimes, let him play fox while a whole pack of them chased him through Hell, brought him down, and tore him to pieces.

Dean runs. He slams the door on the hellhound, and on the part of himself that’s screaming he should toss the coin to Sam, let Sam keep the hound busy so he can get away. Dean grabs his shotgun and fires off a round as it crashes through the door. Freaking hellhounds got Jo and Ellen; they’re not getting his brother. Dean backs up step by step, firing until he’s dry, yells a warning to Sammy and reloads. Sam’s still trying to untie the damned demon. Dean wants to tell him to leave Brady, just go, but it’s too late for that. Hellhounds love to chase things that run away from them.

Only thing keeping him on his feet is that Sammy’s watching. Can’t punk out in front of him. Better to go down fighting.

“Hey,” Crowley yells, appearing behind the hellhound. And then, at the sound of a deep, vicious bark, “Stay!”

“You can control them?” Dean asks, not liking the way his voice is shaking. Fuck, they might actually make it out of here alive.

“Not that one,” Crowley says, pointing to the space between them where Dean thinks the hellhound’s crouched. Crowley reaches out a hand at shoulder level and pats the head of something enormous and invisible. “And not this one, either, when it comes right down to it. But,” he says with a smirk, “mine’s bigger, and he’s on our side. Sic ‘em, boy!” he orders.

Something huge tears at the floor with razor-sharp claws and lunges. Blood spatters against the wall just before the hounds crash into and through it. There’s snarling, yelping, and Dean’s scraping frantically at the devil’s trap, yelling, “Go, go, go!” Then they’re outside, at the car, the house behind them being torn apart in the battle. Dean throws Brady into the back seat and slams the door closed.

“I wager a thousand your pup wins,” Crowley gloats, and it’s at that moment Dean finally realizes Sam’s not with them.

“Sam?” Dean yells frantically. He spins to face Crowley. “Where’s Sam?”

Crowley points at the house. “Rear guard action.”

“Fuck!” Dean checks his shotgun. He remembers reloading, but he’s not sure if he’s fired since then. “That first hound was bad enough, but he won’t stand a chance against that gigantic –”

Crowley snickers.

The shotgun’s leveled at Crowley chest. “What the fuck did you do?”

Crowley grins. “It was quite brilliant of me. I can’t take all the credit, though. Sam’s normally blood-thirsty, but with Brady around, he feels just like a hellhound. All that urge to destroy, barely contained? It’s enough to make a demon weak in the knees. If I’d tried to transform him into a swan or something, now that would’ve been difficult.”

The house has gone silent. Dean turns to face it, nightmare-slow. Everything’s still for a moment, just a quiet hum of traffic from the highway. With the city nearby, Dean can only make out a few stars in the night sky.

The wall of the house explodes outwards and something lands maybe ten feet away, heavy enough to shake the ground. A second, smaller thump and a puddle of blood appears in the dirt, gradually spreading towards Dean’s boots.

Dean finds himself backed up against the Impala. “Is it really Sam in there?”

“Of course!” Crowley assures him. “Well, mostly. In any transformation the subject has to take on the instincts and reactions of the shape it inhabits. Otherwise you’d spend months learning to walk – all very tedious. But it is definitely mostly Sam in there. Just don’t run. And can you try not to smell so much like prey? Sam has impressive self-control, but that’s no reason to test it.”

There’s a low, rumbling growl. A little noise escapes from Dean’s throat before he can stop it. The Impala creaks and tilts as a heavy weight rests on her trunk. The car’s rear window fogs up, and Brady crawls away into the front seat, eyes fixed on something Dean’s real glad he can’t see right now.

“Sam,” Dean yells unsteadily, “back off! We still need Brady. And even if we didn’t, you are not fucking up my car to get to him.”

A disgusted snort, much louder than Sam’s usual, and she groans back to true as the weight disappears. Dean tracks Sam by his heavy panting as he comes closer. Closer. There’s a brimstone stench. Dean flashes on the hellhound that bit right through his skull in the Pit. He closes his eyes and holds his breath. Don’t run. Don’t run. It’s just Sam. Don’t run.

A huge wet tongue rasps across Dean’s face, more like a cat than a dog. “Dude,” he says, way too high-pitched, but it’ll do. “Your breath stinks. Get off me.”

Sam pads away. Dean collapses back against his car, gasping for air and scrubbing at his face with the bottom of his shirt. There’s a quiet lapping sound, and the surface of the blood puddle ripples.

“Turn him back,” Dean whispers.

“Oh, I will,” Crowley says. “But we might want to wait a bit. Sam does a marvelous job of motivating Brady in this form. What’s say we adjourn to a location not on Lucifer’s radar and have ourselves a little chat. I’d prefer you leave the coin behind, though,” he adds.

Dean pulls the tracking coin out of his pocket and drops it. He gets into the car, shotgun close at hand; ignores Brady huddled in the passenger seat. Crowley slides into the back. Dean hesitates. “You think Sam can fit back there with you?” He’s not sure he can drive with a hellhound literally breathing down his neck from the back seat. But it’s Sam. So he’s got to.

Crowley glances out the back window. “Doubt it. He’s at least three times the size of a normal hellhound. But, no worries, Dean. Do you really think you’re going to out-run him in a car? Or that, should he get distracted and fall behind, that he couldn’t find you … anywhere in the world you might try to hide?” The malicious glint in Crowley’s eyes is more obvious than usual.

Dean swallows hard and rolls down the window. “Right, Sammy, you’ve been getting soft lately, so we’re going for a road work drill. Keep up, no side trips, and no freaking howling.”

There’s a soft yowl in response. Dean shudders and turns the key in the ignition.

Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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arliss
May. 26th, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
Oh dear. All too plausible. I admire your mind.
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:52 am (UTC)
Why thank you, arliss!
counteragent
May. 26th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
Fantastic! Great idea--I'm as gleeful as crowley!
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:53 am (UTC)
Thanks, counteragent! How could Crowley resist?
jacyevans
May. 26th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
I never would have thought of this, but of course - it makes perfect sense :)
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:56 am (UTC)
thanks, jacyevans, I'm glad it worked for you!
vanillafluffy
May. 26th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC)
Brilliant!
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:56 am (UTC)
Thanks!
labseraph
May. 26th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
Hee! It's cute and disturbing and cute and scary and cute with a dash of angsty but just plain out CUTE!

*loves*
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
That's the really odd thing about this one. From inside Dean's POV, it's terrifying. From the outside, it's cute. So it just depends how closely you, as a reader, associate with the narrator.
tifaching
May. 26th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
I love you. No really, I do. I think I may have mentioned before how the way that your brain goes to the places no one else's does just slays me. And the title. So perfectly Dean. I'll just say again how much I loved this and then I'll go read again 500 times.
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
*hugs* Thank you, tifaching, I feel appreciated!
jorma_duran
May. 26th, 2010 03:07 am (UTC)
I love this! What a great spin you've put on this part of the story.
keerawa
May. 26th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
*grins* Glad you enjoyed it, jorma_duran!
faos
May. 26th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
Brilliant! This is simultaneously disturbing, plausible, extremely tension-filled... and yet there's still a rather odd sweetness to it.
etrix
May. 26th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
I can't say that any better so, yeah, what ^ said.

I'll add that the title is perfect for the story. Bookmarking this. =]
(no subject) - keerawa - May. 26th, 2010 07:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - keerawa - May. 26th, 2010 07:01 am (UTC) - Expand
phorenice
May. 26th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
Ok, this was definitely weird - but a good weird ;). Certainly an interesting twist on the episode as well as on the average animal transformation story.
I love the atmosphere in this; Dean's fear is almost palpable, but of course he won't give in to it: He slams the door on the hellhound, and on the part of himself that’s screaming he should toss the coin to Sam, let Sam keep the hound busy so he can get away. Love this sentence.!
keerawa
May. 27th, 2010 03:43 am (UTC)
a good weird
Can't ask for better than that!

And thanks for calling out that sentence, it's one of my favorites, both for Dean resisting his fear and for the balance it strikes between internal and external.
ratherastory
May. 27th, 2010 11:35 am (UTC)
Very nifty idea. It also explains why we couldn't see Sam when we were seeing things from the Hellhound's POV in 4.20.

Love the fact that Sam is still so obviously Sam, still in dog form (or Hellhound form).
keerawa
May. 27th, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks, ratherastory! Sam's really trying to reassure Dean - it just doesn't work out so well.
rockstarpeach
May. 27th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
Haha! Oh, Crowely is awesome! This was fun :)
keerawa
May. 27th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
Crowley just can't resist fucking with Dean. Thanks for the comment, rockstarpeach!
debbiel66
May. 27th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
What a great idea for a fic - very original!
keerawa
May. 27th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks debbiel66, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
marlowe78
May. 27th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
I loved the tension. I love the way Jensen Ackles can create this awesome, powerful tension and feeling of fear and doom on screen, and it is very admirable that you manage to create that on paper. Or, well... a different screen.

Good idea, and I like how Dean tries so hard to be brave, faced with Sam-hound, still treats him as Sam but shuddering underneath.
keerawa
May. 28th, 2010 12:45 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was Jensen's wordless not-allowing-himself-to-freak-out-look in response to Sam's, "No salt?" in that scene that inspired me to write this.

Not showing fear and reassuring Sam are two things Dean's shown a life-time commitment to. Way back in "Nightmare", season 1, when Sam confessed he'd moved the cabinet with the power of his brain, Dean's suggestion that they go to Vegas was pure reassurance. Wasn't until "Simon Said" that we found out how worried he really was.
ndmzero
May. 29th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Hello,I followed a rec (from tifaching) here -- I really liked your story - your grasp of Dean's headspace is very good (although it's scary that your Crowley seems to be there too.) Anyway, nice imagery and neat idea. Thank you for sharing.
keerawa
May. 29th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks ndmzero!
Crowley's King of the Crossroads - he knows what effect hellhounds have on the damned. And anyone who has that much fun using his sexuality as a weapon couldn't resist playing with Dean's fears.
putu2sleep
May. 30th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
This was such a great idea! I enjoyed how it started out scary, then a bit worrisome and angsty, and ended up with a twist of humor in there.

“Right, Sammy, you’ve been getting soft lately, so we’re going for a road work drill. Keep up, no side trips, and no freaking howling.”
--That was hilarious!

And as my very good friend in England would tell me, your Crowley was"spot on!"

Great story! :)
keerawa
May. 30th, 2010 05:14 am (UTC)
I'm glad Crowley sounded right, he's got such a distinctive voice. Dean knows how to handle Sam, even when he's freaking out. Thank you for the comment!
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( 46 comments — Leave a comment )