Cirque de Céline Chapter One – North, He Said

Rating: This chapter is rated Teen – swearing in two languages, and a certain Québecoise singer who warrants a special DangerDanger rating all on her own. HOWEVER, the next chapters will go up in the ratings, due to explicit sexual content of the het variety – so if you want to keep reading it, check in the M section or bookmark it.

Summary: Response to the spnnorth challenge over at livejournal (Outaouais region). The boys keep secrets from each other while battling a demon at a Cirque casino extravaganza. Sin, pleasure, poutine, joual and...the voice that sank a really big ship! WIP, will be 8 chapters.

a/n: This story takes place after Old Rebel Yeller, but you don't need to have read that to understand this. Suffice to say, Dean's recovering from a bad dog bite, it's summer and it's before the Season One-ending story arc.

Disclaimer: I own nothing to do with Supernatural. Not anything to do with Cirque du Soleil (they're great, by the way, go see them NOW, please don't sue my ass). Not anything to do with La Céline and her husband/manager/father-figure (and, really, please don't sue my ass, I've got kids to support). I'm sure you're very nice people (maybe) and that you're not demons (probably) and that the events described herein are entirely fictitious (as far as I know).

This time, it isn't Jess.

Sam sees that right away, can tell that it's another woman, wrapped in satin and flame, face surprised in the same way you might be if you walked in on a murder, which in a way she has. All Sam can do is watch, that's it, lying on the bed wide open, helpless and small. Ceiling just another word for sky, silent with moving clouds. He can't touch those either, no matter how long his long arms are.

But this time, it isn't Jess. And this time, it's different in another way, too.

Hanging in the air, unbothered by flame, is sound, a high note of unearthly acoustic shock, not beautiful, utterly beyond notions of beauty and humanity. The note summons, calls to itself like things.

Things like: Flame. Wild. Unknown, terrible things.

But it's not sky, it's not even ceiling anymore. It is a mirror and Sam sees himself there, the surprise caught on his face, broadly describing 'shock', an icon of the flummoxed, a superlative of the expression. There is flame, always, around him and his surprise, and it is hot. Walked in on a murder. His own. Understands: dying by fire is the worst way to go, reserved for witches and demons and children trapped in churches.

Then it is sky, it is summer and it's still airless hot, the wash of heaven a vapor of heat-sealed white, not robin's egg spring, but anvil hot, punishing. The clouds move and a shadow falls across him.

Grass tickles his back, and Sam can smell the crushed scent of it as though it might ignite from the heat. Overcoming that, a terrible smell that causes the hair on the back of his neck to lift, that makes his breath hitch painfully. A smell of wild, of creation mysteries, musky forbidden knowledge, stone and ash. Lichen older than the pyramids.

The shadow blots out the blaze of sky, hovers close, right over him. Sam can't move. It is a huge beast, dark, impossible to make out the details but the red rim of the eyes and the hanging dewlap beneath chin and chest. It breathes and Sam breathes and he thinks he might just die now. That this is where all his roads have led.

And the flame comes again and the sky turns to ceiling and this time it is Jess.

Because it is always her, in the end.

All the while, that note hangs in the air, a sound only a dog could hear, a sound inserted like a questing finger, ripping open things that are more naturally left closed.

Finally, he screams her name, because his voice is the only thing that will reach her. But that too, is swallowed by the rending sound, and he knows that he is alone and that it will come for him.

Goddamn, it is hot, Dean thought, turning over, the sheet winding around him like plastic wrap round leftovers, tightening. Sausage casing. Candy wrapper. Mexican finger trap. Damn. Rearranging himself, careful of his newly healed thigh, which was still tender, and the reason for which he didn't like to think deeply or long, Dean straightened the sheet, hoped that he hadn't disturbed Sam in the next bed.

The window air conditioning unit mocked him noisily, squeaking and whirring at unpredictable intervals, sometimes pushing hot air around, other times sucking air out of the motel room and distributing it freely to the parked cars in the lot.

Dean watched a set of headlights sweep the room with horizontal bars of yellow light, blinds not up to the task of actually making their room blind. He'd open a window, except there were mosquitoes and marginally effective screens; he'd spent last night laying awake listening for the whining death drop they emitted when coming in to feed, little Japanese Zeroes kamikazeing their way to his body. He'd woken up with a dozen bites and several smears of blood and insect carcasses. A good aim, even in the dark. Even asleep.

He didn't think Sam had slept at all.

Dean knew this in the same way that he knew Sam was back to the nightmares tonight, had just entered another cycle of muttering and whimpers. The whimpers caught Dean in an unguarded place, landed with the force of a lead bullet.

Maybe it was the keys, he forced himself to admit. Those damn keys that Sam had thrown away in Virginia, the last vestiges of his life with Jessica, gone with all the finality of an amputation. A ghost limb, thrashing about in dreamland. Put his teeth on edge, hearing that first moan.

That's how it usually started, these past weeks. The moan, and Sam would toss a little, mutter shit Dean couldn't make out. Sometimes, Dean had discovered to his horror, Sam dreamed with his eyes open, unseeing. The moans, the tossing, the muttering, the whimpers and whispers. Jess's name. Followed by a silence, a laden silence with Sam's freaky eyes moving back and forth as though he was reading a fucking menu, lips moving over unpalatable choices.

Then the screaming.

Dean contemplated waking Sam before it escalated into screams. Maybe tonight it wouldn't come to that. Let him sleep. The moans stopped suddenly, and Dean listened, as though he could reach Sam with his ears alone. Nothing. Breathing slowed. Shallow. Turned over. A sigh, not a moan.

See? Dean thought. Nothing to worry about. And just like that, was asleep.

One thing Sam knows about is plains. Wide open spaces, flying with things that liked to kill, whether it was deer flies that didn't so much bite as take chunks out of you, or stinging ice pellets that sought confusion above all else, mind-muddling nighttime drives with Dad, ice colliding, condensing, confounding.

Prairie, he knows. Or knew. It's hard, in this timeless place, to understand if something has been known and changed, or has always been understood and is changeless.

Here he is not being burned alive, he is running, prodded by forces unknown, and there is danger and subtlety and subterfuge, but none of that changes the fact that he must run.

Dark beasts collide beside him, around him, unseeing, unknowing, startled, frightened.

It's not right, he has time to think before the ground disappears and he is not running, but falling.

Sam sat up with a jerky confused tangle of breath and phlegm. He had caught a summertime cold back in Virginia, staying out all night and worrying about Dean. Now it had passed, mostly, except when he was lying down and the vestigial moistures collected in his lungs.

He couldn't remember what it was about this time. Earlier, yes, it had been Jess, but it had changed somehow, here in the northern part of upper New York state, as though they'd come into a different sphere of influence, a different time zone. Like when the radio station slowly started to crackle and fade between cities and you had to fiddle with the knob to find something else.

This was something else.

He glanced over to where Dean lay sprawled on the bed under the window, the sheet wound round his torso, but his legs dangling off the edge, sleeping almost sideways on a bed that had been amusingly advertised as queen. The bandage was gone from his leg a week ago, his hand mostly healed except for the vivid pink scars. They'd fade, given time. Sam wasn't worried about that. Wasn't worried for anything except how he was going to talk Dean into moving.

Moving now. In the morning, it wouldn't have been a problem, of course. Dean was always up for a drive, but it was – quick glance at his watch in the dark – it was 2:47 am. And Dean was not going to like this, for a whole lot of different reasons. Still, it wasn't going to wait, and Sam ordered his explanation as though he was actually going to give it voice: I think something's trying to kill me, Dean. Same way as killed Jess. And I think we ought to drive right into it, because it's going to kill and keep killing until it gets to me. And no, there's nothing you can do to protect me, all you can do is come with me, because I don't think I want to do it alone.

Yeah, that'd work out just fine.

Sam decided that he'd just become Forward Motion Man and not explain anything. Dour Inscrutable Man. Just Trust Me Man. He ran fingers through his hair, staggered to the bathroom where he brushed his teeth with a finger and paste, not able to find his toothbrush at the bottom of his bag. Sam turned on the overhead light on as he spat into the sink. It was like a fucking klieg light, illuminating the sleeping room beyond like an incendiary bomb.

Inevitably, swearing ensued.

"Sam, what the fuck?" were the first predictable words. Then Dean sat up, blearily consulted the bedside clock, stared at Sam's back as his brother stuffed their few belongings into a duffle bag.

"We're going." Not much of a reply, or an explanation, but Dean seemed to take it in stride. Sam threw Dean a pair of pants and a t-shirt, which Dean – still more than half-asleep – pulled on unquestioningly. Sam couldn't have timed it better: a little earlier and Dean would have been ballistic and cranky; an hour later and he would be permanently and immediately awake. But this was Dean's magic hour, when he would fall back asleep inside two minutes given a soft seat and a moving car, when you could move him from one location to another without disturbing his nocturnal pattern, when the need for oblivion outmatched everything else, including blunt curiosity.

So Sam drove and Dean curled up on the passenger seat, not the back, nominally signaling that he was alert and instantly making a lie of it by snoring, sliding awkwardly against the side panel, his head dropping into the space between seatback and door. Sam was constantly amazed at Dean's ability to sleep in the midst of extreme adverse physical conditions. More surprised that he usually awoke cheerful.

Dean was resilient, had demonstrated that over and over, but this last thing with the dog had taken it out of him, had left him more brittle than Sam had ever remembered, which was why the canine jokes had worn thin after a few days and why Sam wouldn't burden his brother with things he could do nothing about.

Sam drove north, came to a crossroads, chose north again. Kept driving through low hills and scrubby dark trees. It didn't scare him that he had no idea where he was going; that seemed to describe most of his life. That was just the physical location, the name of the place that he didn't know. Because in the most elemental sense of it, he knew exactly where he was going.

He had an appointment with a demon, and there was flame and someone was going to die. And that was the piece that he wasn't about to tell Dean when his brother awoke in a state that grappled with questions like a Doberman with a meaty stick: Sam didn't know who was in danger, not exactly, but it felt like it was going to be him.

Dean only woke up when Sam drove off the road.

Forgivable, perhaps. Sam had closed his eyes, after all, which wasn't a recommended state for maneuvering a heavy vehicle down an unknown, unlit roadway. Lucky for them both, and for the Impala, that Dean had had enough sleep and woke up completely alert and ready to move. No matter how much his hand ached as he did it, ignoring the searing owowow of the mostly-healed dog bite, Dean flung himself onto Sam's sagging body and pulled the wheel to the right. The car turned back onto the road, jerked Sam's nerveless body directly onto Dean.

Who swore conversationally and pushed Sam back to upright as the younger man blinked dry-eyed and owlish and the car rolled to a stop in the middle of the deserted road.

"I fell asleep," Sam explained, just in case Dean had missed it. Dean nodded, once. Better this way.

"Get in the back. I'll drive," he said, trusting Sam without understanding him. It came fairly naturally by now.

"Nh," Sam replied.

"What?" There was a limit to understanding Sam under these conditions, however. "Use a fucking vowel in there, dude."

"North," Sam managed, flipping himself inelegantly over the back of the seats, his All-Stars the last part of him to make the transition, and then only because Dean threw one freakishly large foot back to join the rest of its owner.

"North, what?" But Sam was asleep again. Dean got out the passenger side, more to stretched his cramping legs and clear his head than anything. His watch said 5:36. He cracked his back, felt the muscles ripple up and down and a twinge that was the only indication that he'd been jammed between a seat and a door for the better part of...

Shit, where the fuck was Sammy taking them? He seemed so sincere that Dean wasn't going to doubt that his brother thought it important. Only one thing was that important and that secret: demon dreams. Stupid useless freaky hinky – had he already said useless? – worth mentioning again useless fucking powers. Couldn't even bend a fucking spoon.

I need a coffee, Dean thought, looking around.

The sky was an indeterminate gray, weirdly non-time specific: early evening, late afternoon, just before a good thunderstorm, slightly before dawn. Just after dawn. No sun, not yet, or it was hiding. Trees, nothing but trees. Where the hell were they? The road was gravel, and potholed and looked like it was going nowhere.

Even in a dark room with his eyes closed and drunk, Dean could tell north. A good sense of direction. North. Okay. We'll play it your way, Sammy.

Don't sneak up on him, he doesn't like it. Sam reminded himself of this, staring up at the Impala's roof, watching the sunlight dapple and change on the canopy above, the dome light long ago burned out, recently replaced along with the driver's seat cushion and window. Dean had said that he wanted to keep the steering wheel, even with the bite marks. Sam hadn't commented, had kept that silence between them as Dean worked through whatever that dog had meant to him.

Oh god, the steering wheel...and sat up quickly, saying Dean's name almost directly into his ear.

"Oh, fuck," Dean yelped, jerking his head around in alarm, the Impala responding by leaping forward at Dean's involuntary pressure on the gas.

"Sorry," Sam replied, climbing into the front seat. "Sorry about last night." He peered out the window. More trees, a paved road now, sun not high, maybe eight or eight thirty. North. They were going north, still. "Sorry," Sam whispered and hoped Dean wouldn't ask.

Fat fucking chance.

"Sam, I like an adventure as much as the next guy, and this little tour of the northern states has been swell, but I swear to god we're somewhere in Vermont by now, maybe Maine, and I haven't seen sign of human habitation for hours."

"What's the gas situation?" Sam asked but looked at the same time, just in case Dean was going to make light of it. Nearing empty was the answer.

Dean shrugged. "I'm more worried about the lack of caffeine. Give me a cup of coffee and I'll walk to a gas station."

Sam grinned, aware that Dean wasn't asking the obvious, was waiting. Worrying maybe, but waiting.

"Well, we're on a paved road now, so that's a good sign," and immediately, the road turned to gravel again. Dean didn't even look over at him, but his mouth quirked in a little grin.

Just as suddenly, the road hugged a soft blind corner and they met up with a highway, a stop sign signaling them to take it easy. The highway ran smack dab down to a long bridge over a large river, a river too big to be merely ornamental: a serious river, the sort that it would take half the winter to freeze over, the kind that could manage the passage of tankers and tall masts.

Across the way, hazy in the morning heat, was a city: a big city already wreathed in a thin line of brown smog.

A few clues: the stop sign said arrêt. The cars flashed by and Sam read the license plates: je me souviens. Beside the highway, a blue sign with fleur-des-lis and a meaningless number. A large green sign pointed the way to Châteauguay and Ste-Catherine and Montréal, straight ahead. Across the highway, a gas station, recognizable by the pumps and little else. The signs read Couche-Tard and gaz, and bière froide.

"Wow. So you went north," Sam breathed, as though it were a pleasant surprise.

Dean's eyes were wide, but he shrugged with one shoulder. "You wanted north. I went north."

"You didn't see the border?"

"Guess not, Sammy!" And that was as much as Dean was going to tolerate, obviously. "Dirt roads, middle of fucking nowhere...longest unprotected border in the world, Sam. What the fuck did they teach you in school?" They glared at each other for a long moment. Don't push him, he's not asking me why, not yet, so I haven't had to lie, but it'll come.

Sam took a deep breath. "Think they have coffee as well as gaz at the Couche-Tard?"

Dean pulled forward, preparing to cross the highway. "Café, Sam. Even I know that."

Getting through Montréal was a little like street racing in Tokyo drunk with a blindfold. Not that Dean had tried that, but every cherished concept about how humans were supposed to act on a freeway was completely destroyed by the time they left the city behind them two hours later.

Two hours of bumper-to-bumper with no recognizable road niceties such as 'lane' or 'yield' or 'turn signals', randomly interspersed with many obscenities and speeds of up to 85 miles per hour, which Dean thought was ridiculously fast, even for him, especially as 100 was the posted maximum. Kilometers, Sam had clarified, but between gritted teeth. In Dean's experience, Sam was not a white-knuckle driver, but he'd allow it this time. Est turned into ouest, which turned into something else called a voie fermée, but that led them nowhere.

Then, a bus passed them on the inside lane, a big touring bus with dark windows and a stylish swoosh of verdant emerald and a glitter of violet, and Dean noticed how Sam stilled.

"Follow that one," Sam said.

So Dean did. He cut off about five cars to do it, ignoring the horns and the imprecations shouted out the open window: Tabernac! Anweille! You fucking cunt! But the bus was easy, it involved no quick interpretations and guesswork as to meaning, just required a certain ham-fisted tenacity. Dean knew himself to be possessed of that in spades.

Thank god they had a full tank of gas. Gaz. After the harrowing crucible of Montréal, Dean settled back, followed the bus, wished for another cup of coffee. Café. Despite the lack of sleep, despite Sam's stupid hinky suspect nightmares, Dean grinned cautiously. An adventure, that's what this was. Disguised the fact that he wasn't asking and Sam wasn't telling and they could keep that up for another few miles. Kilometres. Like a fucking European vacation, if you discounted the nightmares.

But if they were actually chasing the nightmares now, hunting them, there'd be no vacation. Not on his watch, even with Sam and his stonewalling.

They followed the bus along a smaller highway, occasionally spotting the river – might be the St. Lawrence, might not be, wished they had a map at least – heading west, away from Montréal, through silver-spired villages with magasins that were ouvert and fields of cow and sheep. The highway shimmered ahead and their windows were open, catching the smell of river and cow and grass. The river led away from the metropolis, into hinterland, narrowing, and Dean felt as though they were going back in time. That was a little too close to hearing the cries of Civil War ghosts on battlefields, so Dean glanced at Sam, hoped his brother hadn't noticed the sudden scowl.

Looking at Sam, he was less than pleased by what he saw. "Sam?" he gentled, trying it like a foreign phrase. Sam looked rough, like he'd been beaten as he slept.

"Yeah?" Sam had released his death grip on the dashboard, was now peering anxiously at the road signs.

"You know any French? At all?"

Sam shrugged – Dean wasn't looking, but he felt the evasion. Dean raised his voice a little over the rush of the warm wind. Behind his sunglasses, his eyes felt sticky. "Sam?"

"No, not much. How different from Spanish could it be?"

Dean wasn't going to answer that, mostly because he wanted to say 'a lot' but didn't know if that was the truth, so he just shut up. The bus, with Québec plates and lettering that identified it as coming from Outaouais, which was way too many vowels for Dean this morning, rumbled along reassuringly. Dean vaguely hoped it wasn't heading for a border crossing that involved an actual border crossing guard. Not with the weapons they had in the trunk. Hard for a bus to sneak across the border like they had.

"Sam?" he tested out again, but Sam was like the mid-Atlantic, dark and restless and unfathomable. "Sam."

"Hmm?" Not exactly an opening.

"Where are we going, Sam?" He'd been avoiding it because he didn't want to be lied to and Sam had been lying about this for weeks. Just a dream, Dean. But Sam, how am I supposed to fight what you won't name?

You're not a dog, Sam had said, back in Virginia. Dean didn't want to think about that, either.

They'd been coming into a city for a while now – three story buildings with wrought iron stair rails, the occasionally recognizable housing development, a series of Couche-Tards, and a McDonalds. Something out of Pulp Fiction, Dean thought into the silence. What do Parisians call a Quarterpounder with cheese? A royale with cheese. And that was the extent of his French. Oh, wait: voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Yeah, he oughta mention that to Sam. Sam would laugh and laugh.

They were so fucked.

"There," Sam said suddenly, and the highway multiplied alarmingly, Dean's stomach clenched, and the roadway filled with cars on a death mission. Taking a deep breath, Dean tightened his grip on the wheel, swerved two lanes to follow the bus onto an off-ramp circling a deep quarry lake, a single fountain blasting skywards. One turquoise tower, the Hilton logo at the top, the city filling in the skyline beyond, crowding the river they'd been following. Saw signs for 'Gatineau', but Dean had no idea what that meant, or where they were.

The bus circled the Hilton, and they took another side road, this one marked Boul du Casino, and suddenly a huge beautiful sign emerged roadside, a large teeming parking lot behind, nestled cheek by jowl with the hotel. Casino du Lac-Leamy. A roulette wheel etched in neon, twenty stories high.

"Oh Sam," Dean breathed, easing the car to idle, letting the bus take its spot in the parking for l'autobus (souterrain). "Oh Sam," he repeated.

You got us to Vegas, he thought. You and your stupid superpowers.

He turned to Sam, just before a loud honk behind them signaled that he ought to keep moving, find parking. It was past noon, he was hungry, and he was going to take his psychic brother gambling in a French casino. Dean Winchester didn't know if there was a god, but he thanked him in both English and Latin. Discovered he knew something else: Merci.

It lasted all of ten minutes, Dean's happiness, the time it took to park, lock, and walk into the casino's cavernous lobby. One look at what was there, what was the obvious destination, the reason Sam had brought them here.

"Sam, your superpowers? They suck." And Dean wandered away in disgust, toward the bright shiny lights of the slot machines, row upon row not unlike a graveyard, walked into the inevitably-accented dulcet tones of "Pina Colada" emanating from a house band perched high on the casino's interior ramparts in front of a mirrored ball the size of a hot air balloon.

There would be no getting over this. Sam knew he'd said that before, sure, but this was different, was a debacle on a literally monumental scale. This was a vinyl banner more than thirty feet high and twelve wide, full-color, hanging in the main lobby just beside the concierge desk, near the bored girl at the guestless coat check. The banner stretched from vaulted ceiling to red carpet, just behind the marble staircase leading to étage supérieur casino and les restaurants. Emblazoned on the banner, way larger than life, IMAX big, was a face. A face bathed in stylized fire, ecstatic as an Italian saint. Glory be to something. Beside the instantly recognizable face were smaller visions of fire-eating tumblers and painted fairies and girls who bent like pretzels dangling from bright ribbons.

Un soir magique. Cirque du Soleil avec la voix du Québec - Céline Dion! Un grand spectacle pour tout le monde : Inferno!

For the anglos in the audience, in smaller letters: A magic night with Cirque du Soleil and Quebec's voice – Celine Dion! A fantasy for everyone: Inferno!

The French text was Sam-tall, and surrounded by the same emerald green and violet swooshes as decorated the bus they'd followed here. Was the reason Dean had taken one look, rolled his eyes, and slouched off to the slots.

Every dream coalesced in a sick twisting mess of sound and fire and Sam wanted to run so fast he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep himself rooted in the lobby.

Because this was it. This is where it ended. Not the casino, not the roulette wheel, not the craps tables or the baccarat. Not with Jess. With her, and with the flame.