Tule Lake, CA, 2007
The waning moon rose over the lake, silvering the surface. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky but the night was still warm. Dean balanced the large brown bag on top of the cooler and carried both around to the front of the Impala. It should have been easy, but his injured hand was stiff and painful and he fumbled with the box. He swore as he almost dropped it, but Sam caught his movement and reached out to steady the box. Dean regained his grip, then set the cooler on the car, picked up the bag and took his place on the hood beside his brother.
Tonight they had nothing to hunt and nothing chasing them. There was nowhere in particular they needed to be. Tonight was a rare night for peace and quiet and watching the stars.
Dean took a bottle of beer from the cooler and prised the cap off using his ring. He took a long drink.
Sam hummed a tune quietly as he gazed up at the sky above them. There was a knife in his hand and he turned the blade idly so the silver flashed in the moonlight. He appeared completely absorbed in his own world.
Worried, Dean said sharply. “Yo! Sam! You home?”
Sam’s head jerked up and he stopped humming. “Oh. Hey, Dean. How’s the hand?”
Dean raised his hand and flexed it. “Just bruised. It’ll be fine in a few days.” Are you okay?” He offered Sam a beer.
Sam waved it away. “No thanks. I think I’m getting a headache.”
Dean shrugged. “Probably your singing,” he quipped.
Sam protested. “I wasn’t singing!”
“Wow. Did you hit your head back there or something?” Dean tossed the rejected beer back into the cooler and fished a piece of pie out of the bag. Having claimed his share, he threw the rest to Sam.
Sam caught the bag. “I’m fine.” He pulled a pie from the bag and began to eat.
Dean shrugged. “Okay.” He leaned back on the hood and joined Sam in watching the stars.
Dean was in the middle of brushing his teeth when Sam barged into the bathroom and hopped into the shower. It wasn’t that unusual, though usually Sam waited for Dean to be done. Dean finished up, packed his toothbrush with his shaving gear and headed out. As he left the bathroom, he heard Sam singing.
Dean stopped in the doorway. It was the same tune Sam had been humming the night before. Dean didn’t have a clue what it was. It sounded really weird, like maybe Indian or Chinese music, but that could have been just because Sam was a terrible singer.
Dean didn’t know the tune, but there was something about it that made his blood run cold. It triggered a memory: the smell of the ocean, a cold wind and fear. But Dean couldn’t place it.
Shaking his head, Dean gathered up their bags and headed out to the car. Once the bags were stashed, he sat down behind the wheel and rummaged through the box of tapes while he waited for Sam. Let him try singing over Dean’s music! He selected Black Sabbath and turned up the volume.
When Sam finally reached the car, his hair still damp from the shower, Dean was sitting in Sam’s usual place, reading their Dad’s journal. He waited until Sam slid into the driver’s seat. The keys were already in the ignition.
“You mind drivin’?” Dean asked. “I’m, uh, busy.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, Sam, I’m fine. I’m just tryin’ to remember something about an old hunt. It’s been nagging at me. I know Dad wrote it down, but I can’t find it. His notes are all over the place.”
Sam grinned. “Yeah, Dad never got the hang of indexing, did he?” He fired up the engine. “Did you find a new hunt?”
“Not yet,” Dean answered, turning the page. Then he mentally translated Sam’s question: where are we going? “You wanna head to the Roadhouse?” he suggested.
“If you want to, but...” Sam turned Black Sabbath off as he pulled out of the parking lot, “I’d rather find another job.”
“Hey!” Dean reached for the stereo.
Sam smacked his hand away. “Driver picks the music, remember?”
Dean scowled, but he couldn’t argue with his own rule. “Fine. But if you pick that foreign crap, dude, I swear to God you’ll never drive my car again.”
“What foreign crap?” Sam asked as he turned on the radio.
Dean shrugged without answering and turned his attention back to the journal. He knew it must be in here somewhere. Dad wrote everything down. But his journal wasn’t exactly organised. Dean had read it cover-to-cover, several times over, but he still couldn’t find anything when he really needed it. He tuned out the music Sam had chosen on the radio and concentrated on reading while Sam did the driving.
Finally, Dean found something. A North Carolina address, in Dad’s handwriting, was followed by five names, each of them crossed out. There were rough sketches of several things that looked like ornaments: a vase, a box, a bowl of some kind, and what looked like a woman’s head with a couple of lines coming out of it. Dean had no clue what that was. Beneath them was a drawing of some kind of flute. Under the sketches Dad had written a date, and a note scrawled so badly Dean could barely make it out. The date seemed right, and North Carolina was right, too. Dean marked the page with a paperclip and put the journal away.
His stomach growled and he remembered they had skipped breakfast. “Let’s find a place to stop,” Dean suggested. “I’m starving!”
“We passed a diner a couple of miles back,” Sam said. “You want to head back there?”
Dean looked up, paying attention to the road they were on. All he saw ahead was lonely, two-lane blacktop. It might be hours before they found another place to stop. “Yeah, let’s go back,” he decided.
Sam nodded agreement and slowed the car. He checked the rearview and began to turn the car around. Dean wasn’t really paying attention; he knew Sam could handle the Impala. But though the highway was wide enough that even the Impala should have been able to turn fairly easily, Sam ran her rear wheels up onto the verge.
“Hey!” Dean yelped. He stared at Sam indignantly.
Sam braked hard and raised a hand to his eyes. “Crap!” he muttered.
“Sammy?” Dean was immediately concerned.
“Sam rubbed at his eyes. “God, Dean, I’m sorry. My eyes...”
“Move over. I’ll drive.” Dean got out of the car and walked around as Sam obediently slid across the seat. Dean started the car again and finished the turn. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“I don’t know. Everything blurred for a moment there. I’m okay now.”
Dean doubted it, but he didn’t argue. He started the Black Sabbath tape again and started looking for that diner.
Over a stack of pancakes and a great deal of coffee, Dean showed Sam the page he’d marked in Dad’s journal. “I can’t make out that last part,” he admitted.
Sam studied it closely. “Ninety-seven,” he said thoughtfully. I don’t remember Dad hunting in Carolina.” He frowned at the page. “Dad’s writing is awful,” he complained, then, “F.M.L. That must be someone’s initials. The next part could be anything, but this says ‘should be over’. Is F.M.L. the spirit he salted and burned?”
Dean frowned, confused. “You don’t remember that hunt? The house on the sand dunes?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Dad thought it was a haunted house. Everyone who lived there went nuts or died.” Dean pointed to the crossed out names. “These were the original owners. Dad thought one of them was the spirit. I’m not sure if he crossed ’em out as he burned them or if he decided none of them was the suspect. But we never finished that hunt because you got sick.”
Sam blinked. “I got sick? I don’t remember.”
“You and Dad had a fight and you ran off and collapsed on the dunes. By the time I found you, you were burning up. It was bad enough that Dad left the hunt to get you help. We nearly lost you, Sam. How can you not remember?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because I was so sick?”
“Like you blocked it out or something? I don’t know, man. It doesn’t sound like you.”
“Why are you bringing this up anyway? I mean, this was ten years ago.”
Dean hesitated. “Yesterday, and this morning, you were singing. It’s the same tune you had stuck in your head back when you were so sick.”
Rodanthe, NC, 1997
Dean found his little brother unconscious on the sand dunes.
He was half-hidden in the long grass, lying on his side. Dean knelt beside him and shook his shoulder. “Sammy! Sam! Come on!”
Sammy didn’t respond and his skin was hot under Dean’s hand. Dean thought at first it was heatstroke, but the day wasn’t that hot. He touched Sammy’s cheek. He felt rough sand against his palm; the sand clung to Sam’s face. He also felt the dampness of sweat and the boiling heat of Sam’s skin. The kid was burning up.
“Sammy!” Dean tried again, shaking him harder.
Sam shifted slightly, and mumbled something that sounded almost like singing. An instant later, Dean realised it was. Sam had been humming the same damn tune all week. It was driving Dean crazy, but right now he was glad for the evidence that Sam was still in there.
At fourteen, Sam was no longer a lightweight, but Dean was strong. He managed to hoist his brother onto his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and started back along the beach. Sam groaned as Dean walked.
“I know, Sammy,” Dean tried to comfort him, “but it ain’t far.”
The house the Winchesters were investigating was abandoned and damaged by the recent coastal storms, but from a distance it appeared intact. Only the broken staircase and crooked shutters gave away its fate. The Impala stood on the far side of the house, protected from the worst of the weather. By the time Dean reached it, his shoulder and back ached like a bitch and he was as sweat-drenched as Sammy. He got the rear door open and managed to lay Sammy down on the back seat. Then, finally, he sank to the ground, wiped his face with his sleeve, and waited for his heart to slow down.
Inside the car, Sammy started humming again. Now wasn’t the time to get mad at Sammy’s crappy taste in music, but man, that was irritating!
Dean dragged himself back to his feet. He checked Sam’s forehead: he was still burning up. “Okay, Sammy. Stay put. I’m gonna get Dad.”
“Dad doesn’t care,” Sam mumbled. Then he went back to humming that irritating tune.
Dean pretended he hadn’t heard. He took his jacket and tucked it under Sam’s head as a pillow. He closed the car door and took off as fast as he could run, yelling for Dad.
Sam covered his ears with his hands, moaning as he thrashed on the bed. “Make it stop, Dean! Please make it stop!”
Dean, kneeling beside the bed, looked up at John helplessly. “We’ve got to do something, Dad.” He dipped the cloth into a bowl of iced water, wrung it out and stroked Sam’s face with the cool cloth. “Make what stop, Sammy?” he asked gently, but it was obvious Sam couldn’t hear him. When Sam didn’t respond. Dean climbed up on the bed and held his younger brother, stroking his sweat-damp hair the way he used to when Sammy was little and suffered from nightmares. He looked up at their father, silently pleading.
John nodded grimly. “I thought his fever would break overnight, but you’re right. Sam needs help.” He offered the car keys to Dean. “Don’t go to the clinic. There’s a hospital in Williamston on the mainland. Take him there. The afternoon ferry leaves in 74 minutes.”
Dean accepted the keys. “What about you?”
“I can’t abandon this hunt without at least making sure no one lives in this house again. I’ll join you at the hospital as soon as I can.” John bent over the bed and lifted Sam up into his arms.
Dean scrambled up and hurriedly packed their things while John carried Sam out to the car. By the time Dean ran down the steps with his bag and Sam’s in his hands, John had extracted everything he thought he needed from the Impala’s trunk. Sam lay on the back seat, a blanket tucked around him.
John had more instructions for Dean, and reminded him not to give their real names at the hospital. He gave Dean a credit card. “If no one asks you for insurance, don’t bring it up. But if you need money, use this. I’ll be there in two days at the most.”
“Yes, sir,” Dean agreed, pocketing the card. He looked worriedly at the gasoline cans around Dad’s feet, but he was more worried about Sammy. Dad knew what he was doing.
John reached through the car window to ruffle Sam’s hair. “Hold on, son. Dean will get you help.” To Dean he added, “Don’t drive too fast – you don’t want to get pulled over. Take care of Sammy. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”
The road to town was wet, but not flooded. At high tide the sea covered the road, cutting the house on the dunes off from town. Dean was forced to drive slowly as the waves broke beneath his tyres. And then he had to wait for the ferry to the mainland. Once back on solid land, he put on as much speed as he dared, wishing he had ignored Dad’s orders and gone to the clinic as Sammy, behind him, kept begging him to make it stop.
At the hospital, the doctors took over quickly. Dean did his best to stay close but he was made to leave while the doctors worked on Sam. He filled out forms, remembering to check Sam in under their current alias to match the credit card Dad gave him. Then all he could do was wait.
Sam had a tube in his arm pumping some kind of clear liquid into his veins. They must have given him some kind of sedative because he had stopped thrashing. Sam’s eyes were closed in sleep, but Dean didn’t think it was a healthy sleep.
“What’s wrong with him?” Dean asked.
The doctor, a middle-aged man, answered gently. “Mostly likely it’s flu, but we aren’t sure yet. We need to wait for the test results. For now, we’re just treating the symptoms.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, he was very dehydrated, so we’re fixing that with the drip. We’ve given him something to bring the fever down, and we took some blood to find out what’s causing the fever. You see, if we try to treat him before we know for sure, we might make it worse.”
Dean nodded, appreciating the plain explanation.
“Does your brother have problems with his hearing?” the doctor asked.
“No. Well, he has lousy taste in music, but that’s all. Why?”
The doctor smiled a little. “He said he could hear music.”
Dean frowned. “Yeah, he’s been saying that for a few days. Is that something to do with his sickness?”
“It’s an unusual symptom, but it could be related.” The doctor glanced at Sammy, then back to Dean. “You can stay with him if you like. I’ll let you know when the test results are back.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Dean sat down by the bed.
It was dark when John reached the hospital. A quiet conversation with a nurse gained him access to Sammy’s room. He peered through the open doorway.
John saw Sammy first, pale in the moonlight coming through the window. He looked like he’d lost weight and John cursed himself for failing to notice sooner how ill Sammy was. The boy was growing so fast it was hard to keep track, but this gauntness was more than a growth-spurt. Sam had been sick for a while and John hadn’t seen it. Now he was lying in a hospital bed with a tube in his arm.
On the far side of the bed, Dean was slumped in a chair, sound asleep. He was wearing his leather coat as a blanket. John thought it likely he hadn’t left Sam’s side since they arrived here. John was filled with pride for the boy. He did his job: he got Sammy the help he needed.
As John watched, Dean stirred and opened his eyes. He saw John in the doorway and started up, going for a weapon.
John spoke quietly. “It’s okay, son.”
Dean relaxed, but stood up and crossed the room. “Dad.”
“Let’s talk outside,” John suggested, not wanting to disturb Sammy. He led Dean to the waiting area nearby and went to a vending machine for coffee. “How’s Sammy?” he asked.
“They say he’s stable, but they don’t know what’s wrong yet. It ain’t the flu.”
“Dean, I didn’t ask what the doctors say. How do you think he is?”
“I don’t know, Dad. His fever broke and he managed to eat something. But I’m still worried. And so are they or they wouldn’t be feeding him the sleepy juice.”
“Makes sense. But he’s better? I mean, a little?”
“Yeah, some. We were right to bring him here. Dad, did you take care of the house?”
John nodded. “Burned it to the ground. It’s not as final as locating the spirit, but at least I know no one will live there again.”
“What if they rebuild it?”
“Out on the dunes, it’s probably not worth the trouble. The next big storm will turn what’s left into driftwood and splinters.”
“Is the spirit what hurt Sammy?”
John was surprised Dean made that connection. He answered cautiously. “I don’t think the spirit caused Sam’s illness. It could be making it worse. That’s why I wanted you here, off the island.”
Dean considered that and nodded. “Can I go back to Sammy now?”
“Yes, if you want to. I’ll wait here until the doctor comes around.”
John watched Dean walk away, observing the stiffness of his shoulders and knew the boy blamed him for Sam’s illness. Something was going on with those boys. He remembered Sam back at the house, begging Dean to make it stop...whatever “it” was. There was a time when Sammy would have directed that plea to his father. Now it was Dean he turned to when he was scared or in pain. That was a good thing, John told himself. John wanted them to be close, for their own sakes. But it hurt to know he was losing one, maybe both, of his boys.
“Haven’t heard that name in a while,” Ellen said.
Dean let out the breath he had been holding. “You know who it is?” He could hear glasses clinking in the background.
Ellen muttered a curse, evidently trying to balance something as well as the phone. “M.F. Luder is an alias for Fox Mulder. He used to be an FBI agent.”
Dean’s heart sank. No help there, then. “Why did Dad have a Fed’s name in his journal?”
“Well, Mulder wasn’t your typical G-man. He was obsessed with the paranormal. Aliens and U.F.O.s in particular, but he did a little monster hunting on the side.”
“Aliens. So he’s crazy.”
“You said he was a Fed. Is he dead?”
“I don’t know for sure. The Feds kicked him out on some trumped up charges. He disappeared after that. He’s in hiding, most likely, but he could be dead.”
Dean thought it over for a full second, but he didn’t really have a choice. “Ellen, I need to track down how he knows Dad. It could be important.”
Ellen was silent for a while. “He had a partner at the FBI who quit a couple of years after he did. Doctor Dana Scully. I’ll see if I can track her down.”
“Okay. Thanks, Ellen.”
Dean pocketed his phone and headed back to the motel room. He hesitated outside the door, wanting to be sure he wouldn’t show how worried he was becoming. Then he took a deep breath, pushed the door open and stepped over the salt line.
“Hey, Sam. I saw – ” Dean broke off abruptly. “What’s wrong?”
Sam lay in bed, though it was barely nine o’clock. He had one arm covering his eyes. “I feel like crap,” Sam confessed with a groan. “I guess I’ve got flu or something.”
Dean leaned over the bed and lifted Sam’s arm away from his face. He laid the back of his hand on Sam’s forehead. The skin felt burning hot. “Geez, Sam. Did you take anything?”
“Well, you’re gonna.” Dean rummaged through his bag for the Tylenol and made sure Sam swallowed two of them. He left the rest beside the bed.
This was a coincidence. It had to be. They hadn’t been anywhere near North Carolina, so how was it possible for that spirit to have gotten its claws into Sam again?
Dean left to get a bucketful of ice. He covered the ice with water and left a cloth in there to soak. By the time he was done, Sam was asleep. Dean watched him, worried. Maybe Sam was right. Maybe it was just the flu. But flu could be dangerous. Dean pulled out the laptop and spent an hour with bustyasianbeauties.com. Then he tried to get some sleep.
When Dean woke, Sam wasn’t in bed. He was working on the laptop, which was normal behaviour for Sam, but he looked terrible. His hair was damp with sweat and hanging over his face in rat-tails. His face was flushed. He was propping his forehead up on one hand, his eyes half-closed as if he could barely stay awake.
“Sam, what the hell?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Sam explained. His voice sounded as dull as his eyes. “Decided to do some research.” Sam closed the laptop and ran a hand through his hair.
“You’re sick, Sam!” Dean protested. He looked for the ice bucket, but of course the ice had melted while he slept. He pulled the cloth out anyway, wrung it out over the bucket and threw it to Sam.
Sam tried to catch it and failed, which made Dean worry even more. Sam retrieved the wet cloth from the floor and used it to wipe his face. He mumbled a thank-you and laid the cloth over his knee. “I, uh, I looked up that guy. M.F. Luder.” The tone of his voice suggested he hadn’t found good news.
“Yeah?” Dean prompted.
“The guy is a nut, Dean. No way is he a hunter.”
Uh-oh. “What did you find?”
Sam shrugged. “A bunch of articles he published, mostly on U.F.O. watcher websites. According to him, aliens are abducting humans to infect them with alien D.N.A.” Sam rolled his eyes. “Yeah, they’re building a slave-race of alien/human hybrids. Oh, and there’s an international conspiracy of government officials helping them by covering up the evidence.”
Dean nodded. “You’re right, that’s crazy.” It was disappointing. But if the guy was nuts, why was his name in Dad’s journal? “Sam, that doesn’t make sense. Dad obviously trusted the guy, and I talked to Ellen; she kinda vouched for him, too.”
“So, what? The U.F.O. stuff is a cover?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Wait.” Dean remembered Ellen’s information, then. “M.F. Luder is an alias. His real name is Fox Mulder.”
Sam smirked. “His parents must have really hated him. Who the hell calls a kid Fox?” He opened the laptop again. “Do you know anything else about him?”
“He used to be a Fed. F.B.I.”
“Okay. I’ll try the F.B.I. database.” Sam started to type. “Let’s see what...woah!”
“Fox Mulder’s file is sealed.”
“Can you unseal it?”
Sam gave him a weary look. “Crack military-grade encryption on my laptop? Sure; I’ll get right on that.”
Dean knew he was being sarcastic, but Sam seemed more alert than a few moments earlier, so he answered deadpan. “Think you can be done by breakfast?”
“Dude, I’d need a supercomputer and even we had one, I couldn’t do it fast enough. We’d have agents breaking down the door in no time.” Sam wiped his face again and sighed heavily. “Maybe we could, uh...”
Dean walked over and gently closed the laptop. “Sam, it’s not important.”
Sam looked up at him miserably. “It might be.”
“What do you mean?”
In answer, Sam hummed that weird, haunting tune. “I couldn’t sleep,” he confessed.