Dean Winchester started his 24th birthday as Laketon, Maine was blanketed beneath twenty-eight inches of snow. Even the sunlight felt cold that morning, streaming in through the window of the hotel room sometime around seven, because Dean had forgotten to pull the curtain shut the night before. He woke slowly, one hand curled loosely around an empty beer can, the aluminium digging into his palm. Dean tossed it onto the floor before he opened his eyes, and it made a noise that he thought was the sound of the can bouncing off of another can before it hit the ground. He blinked slowly, his eyelashes sticky with rheum, and rolled over, instinctively reaching for the other side of the bed. The sheet was cool, empty.
Dean sat up and looked around the room, realizing he was alone. It shouldn’t have surprised him the way it did; apart from one night five or six days ago when he went home with a girl he met at a bar, he had been alone for the better part of two weeks. Lying down again, he fumbled for his phone on the bedside table. There were two text messages. The first one was coordinates from his dad, a location for the next strange death or disappearance John Winchester wanted him checking out. The other was from Sam, just two words. happy birthday. Dean’s finger hovered over the reply button for a moment, then the delete button, but in the end he did neither, just shut his phone and dropped it back on the table.
He turned over, pressing his face against the pillow to block out the sunlight, and tried to go back to sleep. When that failed, he got up, rubbing both hands over his eyes. He picked up all of the empty beer cans from the floor and stuffed them into the trashcan, enough that they are spilling out over the sides. He shut the curtain and then pulled off his boxers, dropping them next to his open suitcase and going into the bathroom to shower. When he came out, he put on clean clothes, or at least the cleanest clothes he had in his duffle bag, the ones that weren’t covered in mud from digging up a grave in Connecticut or stained with blood from a goblin killed in Vermont.
There was a knock on the motel room door just as Dean was putting on a button down over his t-shirt, pulling his necklace out from under the fabric. He glanced at the bedside table, where he knew his best knife was hidden in the drawer, and then walked over to the door and looked through the peephole. He recognized the man standing there as the desk clerk who checked him in the night before, so he cracked the door open and looked out. He shivered when a gust of wind blew into the room, and he glared at the guy standing outside.
The man looked apologetic. “Sir,” he said, “I know you only asked for a room for the night, but I just called the township and they don’t think the plows are going to get out here until evening at the earliest. We’re sort of on the outskirts.”
“You gotta be kidding me,” Dean said. But he could see why it would take the snowplows a long time to get through the whole town; with the way the wind was still blowing, the drifts were across the entire parking lot. He couldn’t even see the Impala underneath the blanket of white.
“I’m sorry,” the clerk said. “You can stay here another night. On behalf of the management. It’s not like we’re going to get any new guests in this weather.” He rubbed his arms with his hands and Dean realized that he was standing outside in just a thin long-sleeved shirt and a windbreaker.
“Hey,” Dean said, “You wanna come in here and warm up? I’ve got—“ he mentally calculated how much he had drunk the night before, “beer, or—“
“It’s 9 in the morning, sir,” the clerk—who was about five years older than Dean and really had no reason to be calling him sir except that his boss probably insisted upon it—said. “But thanks. I have to go tell the other guests, though.”
“You don’t think they’ll be able to figure out for themselves?” Dean asked, looking out at the piles of snow. “Anyway, uh, thanks for letting me know.” The clerk nodded and walked on to the next room. Dean closed the door. He looked around the room. Even with the beer cans cleaned up, it was still a mess, with clothes half-in his bag or scattered around it, sheets rumpled and falling off the bed. For a moment, he considered bundling up, going back outside, and trying to dig out his car, but he realized that unless he dug out a road as well, he’d have nowhere to go.
The thought of bundling up made Dean realize that he was freezing so, going outside or not, he dug through his duffle until he found a sweatshirt, and he pulled it over his head. It was one of Sam’s, left behind a few years back, but it was warm and relatively clean, so he didn’t really care whom it belonged to. There was a half-full can of beer on the table and Dean picked it up. He sat back down on the bed and drank the rest of the warm beer, then tossed it toward the trashcan, managing to knock over the rest of the pile.
With the curtain shut the room was dark enough that Dean thought he might be able to fall back to sleep. He crawled under the covers and closed his eyes. “Happy fuckin’ birthday to me,” he said aloud. He threw one of his arms across his face, but the sleeve of the hoodie smelled like sweat, so he moved his arm back to his side and went to sleep.
He woke up again two hours later, to the tinny sound of his cell phone ringing. He picked it up and held it against his ear. “Dean, you there?” His father’s voice came gruff and fragmented by static over the line.
“Yes,” Dean said, then amended, “Yes, sir.”
“You get the coordinates I sent?” John asked. The background noise behind his voice was loud, like he was in a restaurant or more likely a bar. Dean rolled over to look at the clock. It was barely noon. Then again, he had been drinking beer at just after 9am, so who was he to judge?
“Yes, sir,” Dean said. He sat up and put his feet on the cold floor next to the bed, resting one hand on his knee and using the other to hold the phone to his ear.
“I need you to get working on that case, Dean,” John said. Dean nodded even though of course his father could not see him.
“I’m kinda snowed in,” he said, “I’ll head out as soon as the roads are clear.” He hoped the plows had been through by now, but it wouldn’t hurt to give himself some leeway in case his dad checked up on his progress later.
“Alright,” John said, “You be sure and do that.” There was a click as he hung up, no goodbye. Dean wondered briefly what kind of case his father was working on at the moment. He figured it couldn’t be too serious or he’d be making Dean come back and help him on the hunt, rather than sending him off on his own again to somewhere in Massachusetts, judging by the coordinates.
Dean switched out the sweatshirt he had been wearing for a jacket and walked over to the window. He pulled back the curtain and saw that the roads have indeed been plowed. He would still have to dig around his car a little, and scrape the ice off the windshield, but that wouldn’t be too difficult. He went back and sat down on the bed, pulling on his boots and lacing them up. Then he packed his duffle bag, took his gun out from under the mattress and shoved it into the pocket of his jacket, and left the room.
He walked down the sidewalk to the motel office and found the clerk who had come to tell him about the snow sitting at the desk. “Looks like I won’t be needing that extra night after all,” Dean said, handing him the key. The desk clerk looked up from his computer screen to take it and smiled at him.
“Good luck out there,” the clerk said. “Careful on the roads.” Dean nodded and then left the room. Out at the car, he opened the trunk, threw his bag into it, and pulled a shovel and an ice scraper out from under the arsenal of guns, knives, and other hunting weapons. He cleared off the car first, careful not to scratch the black paint or the glass windows, and then dug around the Impala until he was sure he’d be able to drive out. Once he was finished with that, Dean got into the car and started it up, enjoying the low growl of the engine as it turned over and began to run. He pulled out of the parking spot, watching out for patches of ice on the pavement, and began to drive south toward Massachusetts.
He stopped for lunch at a diner on the way out of town, and after that it took about five hours to drive to the town at the coordinates his father had provided. Dean checked into a motel and debated what to do next. He knew that his father would be expecting him to go to a library, go out and interview some people, to start working on the case immediately in order to move on to the next one. On the other hand, it was still his birthday, which had never meant much to the Winchesters, but considering that he wasn’t exactly with any other members of the fucked up Winchester household at the moment, he didn’t really think that mattered.
It was almost 7pm, so Dean decided to go to a bar he had passed on the way into town. It was a dive, rickety shutters on the windows and a door that squeaked on its hinges when he opened it to enter, but inside there was music, and it was crowded enough that Dean figured he could spend a few hours there. Dean had never cared much about the quality of a place anyway, much more interested in the quality of its booze and clientele. He deemed both satisfactory a few minutes later when, as the bartender handed him a beer and Dean paid for it with a few bills, a young women came to stand next to him.
“Mind if I sit here?” she asked. Dean looked over at her. The woman was a few years older than him, Dean guessed, with shiny brown hair and brown eyes. She was wearing jeans and a white top, and she grinned when she caught Dean looking her up and down. “I’ll take that as a yes,” she said, sliding into the seat beside him. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”
“First time in,” Dean said. “I’m Dean.Winchester.”
“Ashley Morales,” the girl replied. “Nice to meet you, Dean Winchester. So what brings you to town?” She pushed some of her hair, which had fallen into her face in a thick curtain, behind her ear and smiled at him. Dean grinned back and, before he answered, gestured for the bartender to come over in their direction.
“Two of whatever she’s drinking,” he told the bartender, pointing at Ashley’s drink and thinking that his birthday might be turning out a little bit more interesting than he had thought it would.
“Whiskey sour,” Ashley said. Dean nodded to the bartender, and the bartender began making the drinks. “Anyway,” she said, turning back to Dean.
“Just passing through,” Dean told her. “I’m meeting my dad down south, family business stuff.” The bartender passed him the drinks and Dean paid before pushing one of them in front of Ashley.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling at Dean. “What’s your family’s business?”
“My dad runs an auto shop,” Dean said. “He sent me to pick up some parts for a classic car.” It was his usual cover story when meeting ‘civilians,’ and Ashley nodded like she believed it and took a sip of her drink. “What about you? What’s your story?”
“Not much of a story,” Ashley said, still smiling. “I grew up here, went to college, came back, and now I work at the bank. Exciting, right?”
Dean grinned. “Very,” he joked. They talked for a while and then Dean admitted that it was his birthday. Ashley didn’t believe him at first, laughingly accused him of making it up to try to hit on her, but when Dean showed him his driver’s license (the real one), she leaned in and kissed him on the mouth.
“For your birthday,” Ashley said. This time it was Dean’s turn to lean in for a kiss. When Ashley stretched on her bar stool and said that she should probably get ready to head out, Dean wasn’t surprised when she invited him to come with her. “My brother’s staying with me but he probably won’t be around,” she muttered, kissing the shell of Dean’s ear.
“You have a brother?” Dean asked.
“Yeah,” Ashley said, “He’s staying with me while he’s home from college. Do you have siblings?”
“A brother,” Dean said, quietly, then even quieter, “He’s at school too.”
“We can take my car,” she said, steering him away from the Impala as they walked through the snowy parking lot.
They got into Ashley’s car and Ashley began driving to her house, her hand finding the inseam of Dean’s jeans, fingers grazing lightly over his thigh. As they drove, the homes began getting larger until Ashley pulled up at a house that Dean thought was about as big as all the motel rooms he had ever stayed in put together.
“Bank must pay well,” Dean said, half jokingly, as he pulled into the driveway. Then he realized that talking about someone’s income probably wasn’t a good way to get into their pants.
Ashley didn’t seem to mind too much, though. She just took Dean by the hand when they got out of the car and led him through the garage and into the house, explaining, “It’s my parents’, actually. I live in an apartment across town, but they’re in Europe for a few months, so I’m house-sitting.”
Dean looked around the house as he followed Ashley through the kitchen and up the stairs to the second floor. He could see that it didn’t look as though it was lived in by someone who was still in their twenties, with its fancy decorations and furniture. They went upstairs and into her bedroom. When they got into the room, Ashley closed the door and then turned to put her arms around Dean, pulling him into a kiss. He walked backwards, moving them both away from the door, and worked at unbuttoning her top while they kissed. She took her arms from around his neck and pushed his jacket off his shoulders and then pulled up the hem of his shirt, and he raised his own arms to allow her to take it off. They fell backwards onto the bed, still kissing and removing their clothing. All in all, Dean thought, leaning back against the pillows with Ashley on top of him as she slid her hands down his bare chest to undo the zipper on his jeans, it wasn’t a bad birthday.
Later, they were wrapped up in the soft cotton sheets and Ashley was sleeping quietly, her hand flat on Dean’s chest. He moved it gently, disentangling himself from the sheets and her legs to get up. He felt strange in the big house, like he didn’t belong there, and even if he wasn’t usually the type to sneak out on his one-night stands when they were still asleep, he sort of wanted to get back to his own crappy motel room, even if it meant walking back to the bar in the dark to get to his car. He was in the process of pulling his jeans back on when he heard a noise from the bed.
“Leaving already?” Ashley asked, sitting up in the bed and leaning back against the headboard.
“I—“ Dean faltered. “I don’t know.” Strange as it seemed, her noticing him leaving made him want to stay.
“Come back to bed,” Ashley said, pointless because Dean was already letting his jeans drop back down to his ankles, leaving him in only boxer briefs and the amulet Sam gave him for Christmas once when they were kids. “I make a mean chocolate chip pancake,” she told him. “I’ll drive you back to your car after breakfast. But you look like you could use a good night’s sleep.”
Dean climbed back into the bed, getting under the sheets and lying down. Ashley lay down again too, and Dean let her put her hand back on his chest. He closed his eyes and managed to fall asleep, listening to the slow, even sound of her breathing as she, too, drifted off.
In the morning, Dean woke up and rolled over before opening his eyes. Like the morning before, he was alone in the bed, but this time the sheets beside him were warm and indented with the shape of a body. They were also far nicer than any motel, and after a moment of grogginess he remembered going home with Ashley the night before.
He noticed a door near the one they had come in the night before and decided it must lead to a bathroom, so he grabbed his clothes off the floor and went in. The bathroom was bigger than some motel rooms he had stayed in, Dean thought, and he turned on the shower and grabbed a towel out of a closet. He didn’t spend long washing, just soaped his skin quickly and rinsed off. When he got out of the shower, he didn’t bother to wrap the towel around his waist, just began drying himself off with it as the steam on the mirrors began to dissipate.
Dean heard the door open behind him as he rubbed at his hair with the towel. He thought it must be Ashley, but then a very male voice said, “Oh, shit, sorry.” Dean turned around, lowering the towel to cover himself, and found himself face to face with someone who was definitely not Ashley. Dean assumed the guy was Ashley’s brother; he had the same brown eyes and rosy complexion on his tan cheeks. His hair was black where hers was brown and much shorter (although long enough to push behind his ears), and he was taller than Ashley, taller than Dean even. He was shirtless, wearing sweatpants that sat low on his hips, and Dean couldn’t help but glance at the trail of fine, dark hair that ran from below his belly button down into his pants before he looked back up at the boy’s face.
“I thought you were Ash,” the guy said, sounding sheepish, “I was just going to sneak in for a towel.” Dean was standing by the linen closet so he reached in and grabbed one, tossing it to the boy. “Thanks,” he said, and hurried out quickly. Dean chuckled and finished getting dressed, and then left the bathroom, walked through the bedroom and out into the hallway, and then headed downstairs. He found Ashley in the kitchen. The whole room smelled like bacon. Dean grinned and walked over to where Ashley was standing at the stove. He leaned in to kiss her on the cheek and she turned to meet his lips with hers.
“Morning,” Ashley said, smiling. “How’d you sleep?”
“Good,” Dean said. “What’re you cooking?” He looked down at the pan she was using a spatula on, which had two pancakes cooking on it, specks of brown where the chocolate chips were showing through the browning crust.
“I did promise,” Ashley said, scooping the pancakes out onto a plate with a couple of slices of bacon and some fruit. She passed it to Dean and told him to sit down at one of the tall chairs at the kitchen counter; then she poured out another two pancakes into the pan. A moment later, her cell phone rang and she dug it out of her pocket to answer it. “Hello? Yes, hi. Uh-huh? Oh, are you kidding me? Yeah, I’ll be there.” She hung up and turned to Dean, looking apologetic. “That was the bank,” she told him, “The other manager is out sick and I’m the only other person with a key. Look,” she said, “I’ll be twenty minutes. I can take you back to your car on the way, but I think you should stick around for breakfast.”
“Okay,” Dean said. If he was going to be here for a couple of days working on the case, it wouldn’t hurt to stay friendly with her. Anyway, she was nice, and hot, and made him breakfast.
Ashley smiled and gave him a quick kiss. “Alright,” she told him. “Keep cooking these pancakes, will you? You can eat them if you want, or Will should be down soon. That kid eats like a horse.” It made Dean think briefly of Sam, but he didn’t say anything, just took the spatula from Ashley and watched her leave the room.
He had just thrown some chocolate chips on top of the pancake batter and flipped them over when Ashley’s brother came into the room. His hair was wet from the shower, and the collar of his t-shirt was a darker colour where the water had dripped onto it. He flushed when he saw Dean, but Dean just grinned at him and lifted up one of the pancakes with the spatula.
“Breakfast?” Dean asked. “Ashley had to go to work to take care of something.”
“They’re probably locked out again,” the other man said, rolling his eyes. “Happens once a month, at least, I think. I don’t know why the guy still has a job.” He took a seat at the counter, one down from Dean’s chair, and took the plate Dean passed him with pancakes and bacon. “Thanks,” he said. The blush had receded from his cheeks, but he coloured again when he said, “Hey, sorry again about earlier.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dean said.
“Thanks. I’m Will.”
Dean waited a moment to respond because his mouth was full of pancake, then he held out his hand for Will to shake. “Dean,” he said. Will took his hand and shook it before letting go to pick up his own fork and stab into his own pancake. “So, Ashley said you were home from school.”
“Yeah,” Will said, then glanced away from Dean and down at his plate. “Well,” he amended, “I’m kinda taking the semester off.”
“Oh,” Dean said. He didn’t really feel like listening to some college kid’s sob story, but then again he didn’t have much else to do while waiting for Ashley to get back. “Just for the hell of it?” he asked. The guy shrugged and put some bacon in his mouth. Okay, so much for small talk. Dean looked back to his own breakfast and kept eating. Every once in a while he snuck a glance over at Will.
The guy was good-looking, Dean noticed. The other thing Dean noticed was that every time he looked over, Will was looking back at him. This didn’t really surprise Dean; he had just slept with the kid’s sister the night before. Back when Sam was around, he had rarely gone anywhere with girls, let alone come home with them, despite Dean’s urging. But if he had, Dean would have definitely done his best to figure her out. Although he might not have turned the same almost appraising stare that Will was looking at him with on any hypothetical girlfriends of Sam. Maybe if they were hot.
Feigning nonchalance, Dean reached down and scratched at his stomach, letting his shirt ride up under his fingers, exposing a strip of skin on his stomach. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Will look down in the direction of Dean’s hand. That explained that, then; but it wasn’t like Dean hadn’t been checking him out a little just a few seconds earlier.
“So,” Dean said, “I was at the bar last night, and I overheard this girl talking about—“ he struggled for a moment, he didn’t actually know anything about the case yet other than that it was somewhere in the area, based on his father’s coordinates, “weird deaths,” he finished lamely.
“Weird deaths?” Will asked. He furrowed his eyebrows, forehead wrinkling as he thought, and then he straightened up, face smoothing as he nodded. “The Tinkers,” he said. Then he slapped his palm to his forehead. “Duh. It’s all anyone’s been talking about all week. In case you haven’t noticed,” he added, leaning in conspiratorially toward Dean, “this is a pretty small town. But yeah, really freaking weird. Both of the kids and one of the parents were killed, and the police aren’t saying anything but I heard it was really bloody. And here’s the weird part: Mr. Tinker doesn’t remember anything.”
Dean frowned. “Maybe he did it and he’s covering it up,” he said. The case sounded less like something he’d be investigating than he had thought it would be.
“No,” Will said, eyes bright and excited. “I don’t mean he doesn’t remember their deaths. He doesn’t seem to even remember that they existed.”
“What?” Dean asked, his interest piqued again.
“Apparently he told the police that he moved into the house where the murders happened after his wife died,” Will explained. “His first wife, and according to him he never remarried.”
“Huh,” Dean said. He leaned back in his chair a little and grinned. “You’re right. That is really fucking weird.” Then he looked away from Will and scooped up the last of his pancake from his plate, putting it into his mouth.
There was a sound from the front of the house, the front door closed, and then Dean heard the clicking of Ashley’s heels on the hardwood floor as she walked into the kitchen. “Miss me?” she asked, dropping her purse on the kitchen counter and leaning in to kiss Will and then Dean on the cheek.
“Every waking moment,” Will said, voice thick with sarcasm, and Ashley smacked him lightly on the side of the head.
“Hey,” she said to Dean, “if you’re finished eating, I can take you back to your car. Unless you want to stick around for a while.” Her voice went up slightly at the end of her sentence, not quite a question.
Dean was surprised to realize that he did want to stick around. There was no chance of him getting laid again, not with Ashley’s brother right there, but he wanted to stay and hang out. Damn, he was really going soft in his old age.
“I should get going,” he said instead. “But thanks. And thanks for breakfast. And for—“ he winked at her, and Ashley grinned.
“Oh, gross,” Will said.
“We’re all adults here,” Ashley told him, still grinning. She looked back to Dean. “Okay, let’s go.” She grabbed her purse again and Dean followed her out the door and to her car. On the way back to the bar, Ashley said, “I hope Will didn’t bug you too much while I was gone. I swear, that kid never shuts up.”
“Not at all,” Dean said, “He was actually pretty quiet.”
“Oh really?” Ashley said, adjusting her rear view mirror. “Well, he used to get really shy. I haven’t seen that in a while, but he’s mostly been in college. Maybe he’s changed. Or maybe we just don’t run into enough people that he doesn’t already know. Small towns, y’know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean agreed. He had been in plenty, even if he didn’t usually stay long enough that most of the people he met in them ever stopped being strangers, let alone acquaintances. He thought briefly of Matthew Harrison, the closest he’d had to a friend growing up, and how, when his dad told him and Sam to pack their stuff in the middle of the night because he had found a new case, that was it. He’d tried to look Matty up a few years ago, on one of his first hunts on his own, but the boy must have moved because his family was no longer listed in the phone book for the town where they had met.
They reached the bar and pulled in to the parking lot. It was nearly empty at this time of day, and on a weekday, and Ashley pulled her car into the spot right next to Dean’s. “I think this is you,” she said, and Dean nodded. She leaned over and kissed him, quick and closed-mouthed, and Dean put a hand against the back of her neck to deepen the kiss. When they broke apart, she reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “If you’re going to be around for a few days, we should see each other again,” she said as she programmed her number into his phone. “If you want.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, “Yeah, sure. I’ll call you later.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Ashley said, laughing. Dean got out of the car and dug his keys out of the pocket of his leather jacket, then unlocked the door. As he slid into the driver’s seat, Ashley started her car beside him and he watched her pull out of the parking lot and drive away before he started the Impala.
Back at his motel room, which he wouldn’t have paid for that night if he had given some thought to the fact that he wouldn’t be sleeping there—although it didn’t really matter, since it wasn’t him who would be paying for it, Dean decided he should start looking into the case in case his dad called to check in. He changed his clothes and headed over to the local library, where a librarian pointed him to their computer desk to look up the website of the town paper.
“POLICE BAFFLED BY MURDER OF THREE IN HOME.” Dean printed off the page to read and then sat down at a nearby table with the paper and a pen.
Sources say police still have no leads on the triple murder that occurred Saturday in the house at 42 Wellstone Street. Janis Tinker, 45, and her two sons, age 9 and 7, were slain in the early hours of Saturday morning by an unknown person. Police questioned husband Charles Tinker, but did not arrest him. There are no other suspects in the case, and sources report a lack of evidence. Police chief Brian Watson could not be reached for comment.
Dean underlined the address of the house with his pen and went back to the computer to search through the other articles. None of them gave him any more information about the case or the victims, but he printed them all off just in case, and asked the librarian for a manila folder to put them in.
Then, checking through the last of the publications on the online database, Dean came across a tabloid-style paper with a more sensationalized headline than the local newspaper’s vague, unhelpful article.
“SUSPECT IN SHOCKING MURDER CASE CLAIMS AMNESIA, NO MEMORY OF VICTIMS,” Dean read. The headline on the front page was followed by a subheading which read “STORY, PAGE 4” so Dean paged through the tabloid using the mouse until he got to the correct page and found the article.
Charles Tinker claims to remember nothing of his wife or sons, not even their deaths. Police brought Tinker in for questioning after the brutal murder of his family in their home Saturday. Tinker, already a widow when he married Janis Tinker ten years ago, claims that he never remarried after the death of his first wife, and claims no knowledge of his slain wife or young sons, despite evidence throughout the house proving their existence. Sources report that Tinker told police that he has lived in the house for the past ten years alone, and that there seem to be no gaps in his memory except for his alleged amnesia regarding the victims. The police have concluded that Tinker did not take part in the murders, although they cannot account for his memory loss. Tinker has been moved to Shady Hills Psychiatric Institution for examination and observation.
It didn’t tell Dean much more about the case although it did confirm what Will had told him earlier that morning. He decided that the best next course of action would be to go to the house and see what he could find for himself.
The house at 42 Wellstone Street was, unsurprisingly, cordoned off with bright yellow police tape that stood out against the grey fog of the drizzly afternoon. Dean parked a few houses down from it and walked up, looking at the neighbouring houses to make sure nobody was around watching him. Then he ducked under the tape and walked up to the front door. Covering his hand with one of his sleeves tugged down past his wrist, he tried the front door. It was locked, so he walked around to the back yard. The back door was also locked, but when he tried a nearby window he found that he could raise it and, with a little bit more effort, pull up the inner screen. He climbed over the windowsill and found himself inside the kitchen.
It looked like any typical suburban home’s kitchen. Dean had seen plenty of them over the years, mostly either belonging to the women his dad had hired to babysit him and Sam, back when they were too young for even John to consider leaving them someplace alone while he hunted, or belonging to the various victims of supernatural evil that he had gone to for information. There were hand-drawn pictures on the refrigerator, and a B+ book report. Dean frowned.
“I’m gonna kill the shit out of you, you son of a bitch,” he muttered under his breath as he walked through the kitchen and to the staircase in the front hall. The murders had taken place in the family’s bedrooms, one of the newspapers had said, which made the fact that Charles Tinker had claimed to have seen nothing even stranger, and Dean thought that the bedrooms would be the most likely place to have some sort of clue as to what the hell he was dealing with here.
There was a strange smell in the air that Dean noticed as he walked up the stairs, and although it seemed familiar, he couldn’t place it. At the top of the stairs, the smell was stronger, but still unrecognizable. He went to the master bedroom first; the police may have decided that Charles Tinker had no knowledge of the murders, but Dean wasn’t convinced. Whatever was in the room could help explain how he got out alive and how he ended up without his memories, whether or not he was involved in the killings.
The odour that Dean had smelled as he walked up the stairs was still present in the master bedroom. The police’s clean up crew had stripped the carpet from the floor and only dark stains on the wood beneath remained. The bed sheets were similarly stripped, and while there were a few dark splotches on the mattress and the floral wallpaper, there was little that reminded of what had happened in the room less than a week before.
Dean’s first course of action was to pull his EMF detector out of his jacket pocket. His father had told him when he made it that the mechanism was the stupidest thing he had ever seen, but even John had to admit that it worked just as well as any that could be bought—and better than any of the fakes marketed to people who didn’t actually know shit about angry spirits and their paranormal attributes. He turned it on and put the Walkman headphones against his ears, listening as it whirred and began to scan for electromagnetic frequency that would indicate a ghostly presence in the house.
The little machine blipped a few times and Dean walked around the room, trying to pick up the scent of whatever was causing the signal to spike, but after a few minutes it fell into a flat line and did not rise again. Dean took the room into the bathroom, the closet, and even walked back into the hallway, but whatever frequency the detector had picked up on seemed to be gone, or at least residual. That meant he had to look a little deeper. He returned to the bedroom and pulled a knife out of his jacket, then knelt down and began to cut pieces out of the carpet, pulling them up to check underneath for sigils, hex bags, anything that could have caused the Tinker family to be killed.
There was nothing to be found, however, save from a small pile of foul-smelling yellow sand that blew across the floor and into the cracks in the floorboards when a gust of wind came through an open window. Dean tried to dig some of it out of the floor to take a closer look, but it didn’t seem like any hex powder or anything he had ever heard of used in black magic. Sulphur, maybe, considering the rotten egg smell, but unless Satan himself came to kill the Tinkers, Dean didn’t think it was relevant.
The upside was that it probably wasn’t witches. Of all the stuff he hunted, witches were definitely some of the worst. Not to mention that it was so much more difficult to kill a human than a creature, even if you knew that the human was an evil bitch who had been killing people herself. The downside was that this meant that Dean still had no idea what had happened in the house a few nights before.
The best thing to do would be to visit Charles Tinker in the hospital, but Dean wasn’t sure he had an ID in his wallet or duffle bag that would get him through the door. He could get one made, but first he decided that he should go back to the library in order to do some research and see what he could find about monsters that could kill without a trace and leave their living victims without any memory of their dead. As he pulled into a parking spot outside of the Harold Community College, a larger one than the public library he had visited before, Dean wished Sam were around.
It was something he thought about a lot, after he had gotten over the first few months of anger at his younger brother for walking out on Dean and their father, for deserting their family. He still tried not to think of that night, Sam and dad yelling at each other at the top of their lungs, Dean pulling them apart whenever it looked like it might be about to get physical, Sam finally storming out and telling them not to call—looking at John but speaking to his father and his brother both—and John assuring him that they wouldn’t. Dean hadn’t said anything, but in the end it was Sam who had called first anyway, and Dean had answered, listening just long enough to be sure that Sam was still alive and then hanging up on his younger brother in the middle of a sentence about how maybe Dean should think about quitting hunting too, that there were plenty of jobs he could do, or community colleges he could go to, or…
They hadn’t talked since then, although Sam texted him every so often and Dean called from pay phones whenever he hadn’t heard from Sam in a while, hanging up as soon as he heard Sam’s voice. He had been on one hunt in northern California a year or so ago and had driven through Stanford, staking out Sam’s dorm for a few hours to keep an eye on him, and Dean knew that his father had done the same at least once. Dean had thought of going in, knocking on Sam’s door and convincing him to come back on the road. He still thought about it sometimes, but mostly he wished Sam were around for times like this, outside a library with probable hours of research ahead of him. Sam was always happy to hit the books rather than checking out the scene of the crime or interviewing witnesses in seedy bars or on the street.
In the library, Dean looked up folklore and local history on the computer card catalogue, and then walked back through the rows of shelves looking for the numbers he had written down on a piece of paper. He found the aisle he was looking for and walked back into it, scanning the titles of the books looking for anything that might have the kind of information he was looking for.
He found a book called “Strange Tales of Horror in Harold County” and pulled it off the shelf. The cover didn’t inspire confidence, a stark black front with a semi-creepy looking image of an empty churchyard and letters that Dean assumed were supposed to look like dripping blood spelling out the title. Still, it was the only one of the volumes lining the shelves that looked like it might have anything specifically about the paranormal, so it was a good place to start. There was a desk at the end of the aisle so Dean set the book down there, then pulled a few others off the shelves and stacked them up as well.
Two hours and at least fifteen books later, Dean had no more clues as to what had killed Janis Tinker and her sons than he had two hours before. Another hour on the computer confirmed it: there had never been any cases like the Tinkers’ murders before in Harold. The closest he came was a triple murder in Washington State, in which a father and his daughter had been killed in their home and the wife couldn’t seem to remember them. But that was nearly ten years ago, on the other side of the country, and the woman had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Dean couldn’t find an update on her condition, although the doctors in the original medical report he hacked into said that it was likely she would regain her memories after she had recovered from the shock.
Even if she didn’t, the similarity between the cases didn’t mean there was a connection. Dean had seen monsters that lay dormant for years between deaths, but when the space between them was almost a decade there usually was more than one killing at a time, and never so far apart in distance. Dean looked up a few more newspaper articles to see if the original murders had been publicized much, if the latest deaths had been the work of a copycat, but he didn’t know how someone could have selectively erased someone’s memories even if they wanted to copy the Washington killings.
Nothing in the town’s history gave him any leads either. There was the occasional murder and some of them were a little weird: a woman who hung her boyfriend with a shower curtain, a man who killed another man with a slingshot and poison-coated rocks, but none of them bore any resemblance to the most recent murders.
Dean decided it was time to go to the hospital. He would have to stop at a copy shop in town to make himself a fake ID, and probably a thrift store to find something that would make people think he belonged in a hospital investigating patients.
At Stop & Copy Dean made an ID that said he was James Morrison, FBI. He had learned that CIA was less likely to get questions; the few times he had used that cover it made people nervous, and fewer people thought it odd that someone his age was in the CIA than the bureau, but he couldn’t think of any reason that the CIA might get involved. Not that, as a CIA agent, he would really have to give a reason. Then he went across the street to Stacy’s Consignment where he picked out the least rumpled of the black suits in his size.
“You look very handsome, hon,” a middle aged woman behind the counter—Dean assumed that she was the “Stacy” of the store’s name—told him. “Some girl is very lucky.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he agreed, offering her a grin as she rang him up. He noticed that she took twenty dollars off the price of the suit. He left the store and drove west, out toward the edge of town and toward the psychiatric hospital.
Shady Hills Psychiatric Institution was a large white building just outside of town, surrounded by green lawns on which the snow from the previous few days had accumulated and was now melting in large, slushy puddles. It looked like a perfectly pleasant place, but Dean frowned anyway as he parked the car in the street in front of it and walked up to the front doors. Hospitals never meant anything good; the last time he had been in one it was because he had almost had one of his legs ripped off by a black dog.
Inside the hospital, Dean flashed his badge at the nurse behind the front desk and told her he was here to speak to Charles Tinker about the open murder case involving his family. The nurse didn’t even look twice at his badge or blink at his claim to be a federal agent.
“Right, Agent Morrison,” she said. “Mr. Tinker is in room 308. He needs a lot of rest and calm, so try not to upset him. I’ll send a nurse up in a few minutes.” Dean thanked her and then followed her directions to the staircase and up the two flights of stairs to the third floor. As he was stepping out into the hallway, he heard a beeping noise, and then someone calling a code. A moment later, several doctors and nurses were rushing into a room down the hallway. He was too far away to see the number, but he didn’t need to be closer to be able to guess that it was room 308.
Knowing that they wouldn’t let him in if he walked over anyway, Dean hung back and waited for the nurses and doctors to come back out of the room some time later before he went down the hallway to look in. Inside room 308 was a hospital bed on which lay a body covered in a sheet. There was no movement from the bed, and beside it a nurse was turning off the various machines around the bed.
“Can you tell me what happened here?” Dean asked. The nurse turned around and he showed her his badge.
“I don’t know,” the nurse said. “I was in just twenty minutes ago to check on him and he was awake and eating yogurt.” Dean could see a mostly empty plastic yogurt container on the ground near the nurse’s feet. Some of it had spilled out onto the floor and been stepped in, leaving pink footprints on the linoleum. “It’s a terrible thing; his wife and kids, all murdered. He couldn’t remember it. I assume you know about that, that’s why you’re here.”
“Yes,” Dean said, then, “I see. I’m going to need to take a look at his file, if you don’t mind.” The nurse got it out of the container attached to the end of the bed and handed it to him. Dean only needed to scan through it quickly to know that there was nothing out of the ordinary. The man was sixty years old and in near perfect health, except for a benign tumour that had been removed a few years back. He left the hospital, yet another dead end.
The afternoon was becoming evening, and Dean remembered that he had promised to call the woman he had met the previous night. If he didn’t call, it wouldn’t be the first time he had made that kind of promise and not kept it, but he decided to pick up the phone and scroll to the number she had entered into his phone that morning.
“Hello?” The person who picked up was definitely not Ashley, unless Ashley’s voice had become more masculine and about an octave deeper in the past few hours.
“Hey,” Dean said, “I think I have the wrong number. I—“ he felt slightly disappointed that she would give him a fake number, but he guessed he had done the same thing once or twice.
“Dean?” the voice asked. “Is this Dean from this morning?”
“I—yeah,” Dean said. He thought for a second, remembered Ashley’s brother’s name. “Will, right?”
“Right,” Will said, “Hi. Ashley forgot her phone at home when she went to work, but she’ll be home in like two hours if you want me to have her call you.” Dean was about to agree when Will spoke again, “Hey, no wait. Why don’t you come over?”
“What?” Dean asked. “No, that’s fine, just have her call—“
“I’m making dinner,” Will told him. “It’s easy enough to put out an extra plate. If you want. Ashley will think it’s cool.”
Dean paused for a second, and then said okay. Will told him to come over whenever he wanted, that he was just cooking and watching tv while Ashley was at work. Dean drove back to his motel room and changed out of his FBI agent clothes and into jeans and a button down shirt and a brown jacket. He got back into the Impala and tried to remember the way to Ashley’s house.
Twenty minutes later he pulled into the driveway of the big house and parked the car. He realized that he should have brought a bottle of wine or some beer or something with him, or at least he thought so; it wasn’t like he had much experience having dinner at somebody’s house. Usually he ended up in girl’s homes after dinner, and only rarely stayed for breakfast, let alone any other meals. Only Cassie, and look how that had turned out. He thought about going back out to get some, but before he could open the car door, the front door opened and he could see Will lean out.
“Hey,” Will said. “Come on in.” When Dean walked up to the front door he saw that Will was wearing an apron and holding a spatula, and Dean followed him back into the kitchen, where he could smell something roasting and see vegetables sautéing. “Dinner should be ready in about an hour, when Ashley comes home,” Will told him. “If you want a beer, they’re in the fridge. Grab me one too?”
“Are you even twenty-one?” Dean asked as he opened the fridge, although he was the last person who should ever lecture anyone on underage drinking.
“Recently,” Will said, taking the beer that Dean handed him and digging into a drawer for a bottle opener. “My birthday was at the end of December.” He popped the cap off of his own bottle and then handed the opener to Dean, who took off his own cap and tossed it in the garbage. Will gestured to one of the seats at the counter, where he and Dean had sat and ate pancakes that morning while Ashley had gone to work, and Dean pulled out the tall stool and sat down.
There was a television in the living room that they could see from the kitchen, and Will had turned on a football game with the sound off. Dean didn’t really care about the game, and it was clear that Will didn’t either, but they both watched mostly in silence, with Will making an occasional comment about what he was cooking or repeating that Ashley would be glad to see Dean in a tone that made Dean think that Will was glad to see Dean. He wasn’t sure if he hoped that was the case. Will was attractive, yes, and smart, and clearly a good cook if the smells coming out of the oven and off the stove were any indication, but Dean had also slept with his sister, had come over to the house ostensibly to see his sister. Having two relationships was a bad enough idea, and not something Dean particularly wanted to do, but having two relationships with two members of the same family would be an even worse idea.
“Can you do me a favour?” Will asked, startling Dean out of his thoughts. Dean nodded, and Will handed him the spatula. “Just keep moving these around while I finish up the chicken,” Will said, pointing at the vegetables in the pan. “They’re getting close to done and I don’t want them to start burning.” He moved away from the stove and over toward the large double oven on the other side of the kitchen.
Dean took the spatula and began stirring the zucchini, mushrooms, and chunks of eggplant that were covered in olive oil and simmering on the stove. After a few minutes, as Will used oven mitts to take the chicken out of the oven, Dean tasted one of the circles of zucchini and it seemed done, so he got a serving plate out of one of the cabinets and scooped the vegetables onto it.
“Thanks,” Will said. He brought the chicken over to the counter and put it on the serving plate as well, and then Dean picked it up and took it over to the table. Will grabbed his beer and Dean’s and took them over too, then went back to the fridge and got out a third for Ashley, placing each at one of the table settings he had put out.
Ashley came in as Will was washing lettuce for salad and Dean was cutting up a loaf of bread. “Dean,” she said, “Hi. I figured you weren’t actually going to call.”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “This is okay, right?”
“Definitely,” Ashley told him. Dean turned as she walked over and kissed her lightly on the mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Will looking at them. “I think it’s cool.”
“That’s what I told him,” Will said from beside Dean. Then, “Dinner’s ready.” The three of them walked over to the table and sat down, Dean at the head of it with Ashley and Will on either side.
“Looks great, Guillermo,” Ashley said, starting to cut up the chicken and lifting it onto each of their plates.
Dean looked at Will and raised his eyebrows. “The Spanish version of William,” Ashley told him, catching the glance.
“Please just call me ‘Will,’” Will said, looking slightly uncomfortable. “It’s my dad’s name, my parents named me after him, but ‘Will’ is fine.”
“Okay. Will,” Dean said. He took a bite of the chicken that Ashley had served him and had to stifle a moan of pleasure. “Oh my god, this is delicious,” he said.
Will looked pleased. “Thank you,” he said politely, “I cook a lot for my family. Do you cook?”
“Yeah,” Dean said, “I used to cook for my brother all the time. Now—“ he shrugged. “Diners are the easiest way to go, when I’m travelling.” He didn’t add that he was travelling all the time.
“Well, if you ever get the urge, our kitchen’s open,” Ashley said with a laugh. “I’m sure Will wouldn’t mind a night off.”
“We could cook something together,” Will said, turning Ashley’s joke into a more serious offer. Dean glanced at him quickly to see if there was a double meaning to his words, but Will was stuffing a piece of bread into his mouth.
“I might do that,” Dean said. Their conversation died down as they continued to eat, all of them focused on the chicken, vegetables, salad and bread. When they had finished, Ashley got up to clear the plates away. Dean offered to help her, but she waved him away and told him to sit down and wait for dessert. Dean didn’t really think that the meal could get any better, but then Will jumped up and went to the pantry, where he got out a glass pie plate holding a freshly baked pie.
“I made this earlier,” he said to Dean, “It’s cherry; I hope you like it.”
“I like all pie,” Dean said honestly, and when Will cut three slices out of the pie, he gave Dean the biggest piece. Dean could’ve kissed him right there. He was more interested in women than men for the most part, although he had been with guys before, but none of his conquests, male or female, had ever made him a pie. Not that Will had made the pie for him; he couldn’t have even known Dean was coming to dinner when he started baking it if it was finished before he had arrived, but it was close enough.
After they had finished their pie, Will cut himself and Dean another piece. He offered a second piece to Ashley but she said no, and got up to start putting dishes in the dishwasher. When there was nothing left but crumbs on their plates and a half eaten pie on the glass plate, Will went upstairs—to shower, he said—and Dean hesitated, not sure what he should do. He didn’t know if Ashley wanted him to leave now that dinner was done, or stick around.
A moment later, Ashley solved his dilemma by coming back over to the table and sitting down. “So,” she said, “Do you want to stay over? It’s a little unorthodox, this ‘having dinner with your one-night-stand’ thing, but we had a good time last night. We could, you know, have a good time tonight too.” She threw Dean an exaggerated wink and he chuckled.
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” he said, although they both knew that he would stay, “Isn’t it weird? Hanging out with your brother and then—“
“Hey,” she interrupted, “You hung out with him this morning. After.”
“Point,” Dean said. “Well, then I guess I’ll stay.” He had to look for more leads on the mysterious deaths anyway; he’d much rather be with Ashley than be alone in the motel room.
“Good idea,” Ashley said, standing up and grabbing Dean by the collar of his shirt to pull him with her. He followed her up the stairs and into her bedroom.
“So listen,” Ashley said when Dean woke up the next morning. She was propped up on her elbows, chin resting on her palms, and she smiled at Dean when he rolled over, hair mussed and eyes bleary. “Where are you staying in town?”
“Some motel,” Dean said. He couldn’t remember the name of it. Something with a T. Or an M.
“And how long are you planning on staying?”
Dean thought for a moment. He hated to give up on a case, but every trail was a dead end, and while Dean didn’t relish the idea of calling his dad and telling him he had come up short, there wasn’t much he could still do here. “The parts should be in tomorrow,” he told Ashley, remembering his cover.
“So a day,” she said. “Maybe two?” Dean shrugged. He should get on the road by tomorrow afternoon at the latest, maybe sooner once he had exhausted all of his last resort methods for finding ghosts and monsters. “I think we could find a place for you for that long.”
“What?” Dean asked.
“Sure,” Ashley told him. “You can sleep in here, or we’ve got about six guest bedrooms if you’d rather, or if you need somewhere to put your stuff. I don’t know what you’ve got planned for up until you have to go pick up your parts, but I wouldn’t mind the company.” She reached over and ran her fingers over his hair, and cupped her hand around Dean’s ear when he leaned into her touch. “And when I have work earlier, I’m sure Will would appreciate it. Although after a couple hours with him I won’t blame you if you want to run away.” She laughed.
“He seems like a good kid,” Dean said.
“Kid?” Ashley asked, laughing again. “He’s twenty-one. How old are you?”
“Twenty-four,” Dean said, then, “How old are you?”
“Twenty-seven,” Ashley said. “And yeah, he’s a good kid. I just wish—“ she paused, “He still hasn’t told me why he didn’t go back to school this semester. He’s not usually the kind of person who would just give up on something like that.”
Dean didn’t really know what to say to that. College wasn’t something that had ever been on his horizon—bad grades, lack of extracurricular activities (at least, nothing he could put on a transcript), and no permanent address had all made even graduating high school pretty much a no-go. He kept telling himself he was going to get his GED one of these days, but so far it hadn’t happened. So anything relating to college wasn’t anything he knew anything about.
Sam on the other hand… Dean wasn’t sure how Sam had managed to scrape together an impressive enough application to get into Stanford, and with a scholarship no less, but then again Sam was way smarter than him or Dad. Sam probably could’ve talked to this kid too, found out why Will didn’t want to go back and why he wouldn’t tell his sister.
“Dean?” Ashley said gently.
“Huh?” Dean said, “Still waking up, I guess.”
“It’s fine,” Ashley said. “I’m going to go make us some breakfast and then you can go pick up your stuff from the motel. If you want to stay here, that is.”
Dean hesitated. Although he had no problem eating a meal with Ashley or sleeping in her house because they were having sex, he didn’t really know what to say to her offer to give him a guest bedroom for the next night or two if he wanted. It sounded a little too much like charity, a favour he probably couldn’t repay. But eventually he decided that he could try to figure out something; Dean liked to pay his debts.
“Yeah,” Dean said, “Thanks.” He smiled at her, aiming for smooth, maybe a little cocky, but instead he had to swallow hard and take a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said again, and she nodded and got out of bed. She put on a robe, wrapping the tie around her and tying it as she walked out through the doorway, and Dean got up and pulled his clothes on to follow her.
Downstairs they found Will already up, wearing boxers and a sweatshirt that said “Northwestern Wildcats,” and frying eggs at the stove. He scooped two eggs onto a plate and turned around when he heard Ashley and Dean walk in.
“Morning,” he said, setting the plate down on the counter. “I was just making breakfast. Dean, you can have those.” He nudged the plate in Dean’s direction as Dean walked over.
“Thanks. Hey,” Dean said, “Alright with you if I stayed here for a night or two? Ashley asked, but if you don’t want someone else hanging around—“
“No,” Will said quickly. “I mean, no, yeah, that’d be cool. You wanna cook while you’re here?”
“Sure,” Dean said, grinning.
“I’ll come up with something,” Will told him. He leveraged two more eggs out of the pan and onto a new plate. “Here, Ash,” he said to his sister, handing the plate over to her and flipping the eggs he was making for himself. “Are you working today?”
“Two to ten,” Ashley said with a groan. “Can we eat a late dinner?”
“And a late lunch,” Will promised. He took his own eggs and put them on a plate, and then the three of them stood by the counter, eating breakfast and drinking the coffee Will had also made, which Ashley poured into three large mugs, taking hers with milk while Will spooned sugar into his own cup and Dean drank his black.
After breakfast, before he went back for his duffle bag at the motel, Dean went upstairs to take a shower. Ashley followed, behind him under the warm spray of water, and jerked him off until he had to press a hand against the wall as he came. He turned around and kissed her, and got her off with his fingers as well, and then they finished washing up and he got dressed again and headed back to the motel.
At the motel—the Triumph Motel, Dean noted, something with a T—Dean reorganized his duffle bag in case Ashley or Will looked into it while he was at their house. He took out the guns and the rock salt bullets and when he checked out of the motel, he put them in the trunk of the Impala with the rest of his arsenal. He left one of the knives and the holy water, just in case, but he tucked his father’s journal into the glove compartment. Holding it made him realize that he would have to check in with John about the case, so, sitting in the motel parking lot, Dean got out his cell phone and called his dad.
John Winchester answered on the third ring. “Dean?” He said gruffly, no hello. “I was expecting an update by now.”
“Well, that’s what I’m calling about,” Dean said. “Sir.”
“You figure out what killed that family?”
“Here’s the thing, dad,” Dean said, shifting in the driver’s seat of the car, knowing that his father wouldn’t be happy to hear what he had to say. “There’s no clues, no leads, nothing. I couldn’t find anything in the family’s history or the town’s history, nothing in the house, and the last guy, the one who survived, died yesterday before I could talk to him.”
“You should’ve moved faster,” John said. “He could’ve known something.”
“Yes, sir,” Dean said. “I was calling to see if you have any ideas.”
John was silent for a moment and then said, “I’ll think about it. If you don’t hear from me tonight, I want you heading toward Pastor Jim’s first thing in the morning. I’ll meet you there, sounds like he’s got a case for us.” He hung up without saying goodbye, and Dean kept the phone to his ear for another minute before he pressed the end call button and turned the key in the ignition to go back to Ashley’s house.
When Dean walked back inside the house, not bothering to knock or ring the doorbell, he found Will in the kitchen reading the newspaper. “Ashley’s upstairs,” Will said, “She’ll be down in a minute, I think. Hey, you remember that weird murder I was telling you about the other day? The husband just died in a psych ward. Heart attack, they think.”
“Wow,” Dean said, feigning surprise, acting as though he hadn’t been some twenty feet away when Charles Tinker had died. “That’s too bad.”
“Yeah,” Will said. “Although I guess, you know, he lost his family and he got locked up in a hospital. Maybe he didn’t have that much left to live for.” There was something about his tone that made Dean look closely at him, but Will’s face betrayed nothing; he just turned another page of the newspaper.
Dean leaned against the counter and watched Will read for a few minutes, until Will closed the newspaper and folded it back up, tossing the bundled up paper onto the kitchen table.
“Let’s go into the other room,” Will said. “We can watch television, or, I dunno, do you play video games?” Dean had, but they were arcade games mostly, a pinball machine when his dad had given him a few quarters at a bar as a kid, some first person shooter in a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room where the game attendant rested an elbow on the counter and looked bored. Once, his friend Matt Harrison had invited him over to play with his SNES, but that was nothing compared to the new-looking video game system and nearly overflowing box of games that Will had in the living room.
“My roommate and I just had his tv in my apartment,” Will told Dean, “and it’s small, so when I was at school I left these here. That’s why they’re around now,” he said, trailing off at the end of his sentence. Dean wanted to take the opportunity to ask him something about college, his apartment, anything, maybe something he would be able to tell Ashley later was the cause of her brother’s problems, but he couldn’t think of what to say so he just sat down on the couch and let Will hand him one of the controllers.
Dean picked up the game fast; it wasn’t that difficult and his hand-eye coordination was excellent from years of target practice, sparring, and all of the other training and hunting he had done with his dad and with Sam since he was a kid. Will beat him in the first two games they played, but in the third, Dean narrowly edged past him in points and speed to win.
It was only after the third game ended that Dean realized that Ashley had come back downstairs, probably some time ago, and was standing behind the sofa and watching them play. He turned around, starting to stand up from the couch, but she motioned for him to sit back down.
“Don’t stop on my account,” she told him, “Just give me one of the controllers.” Will handed his to her, and she came around the side of the sofa and sat down, the left side of her body pressed closely enough against Dean’s that he could feel the warmth of her leg, covered in black leggings, through the denim of his pants. On his other side, Will, pressed almost as closely, the couch not really big enough for the three of them. They kept playing the video games, and Dean was slightly surprised when Ashley beat both Will and Dean, but Will just rolled his eyes and told him to get used to it. They kept playing until Ashley got up, telling Will that since he had made the last couple of meals and he and Dean would be making dinner, she would come up with something for lunch.
Will was in the middle of roundly kicking Dean’s ass in the latest round, so Dean didn’t turn to watch Ashley walk into the kitchen, but he could hear the click of her heels and then heard her opening cupboards in the kitchen and taking things out. With her off up from the sofa, there was a little more space, enough that Dean could have moved over onto his own kitchen rather than the one he was half-sharing with Will. But he didn’t budge; he just kept his thigh pressed against Will’s their shoulders brushing as they both moved their arms and hands to use the controllers.
Will didn’t ask him to move either. Will did move at the end of their game, but it wasn’t to put space between himself and Dean; he just shifted enough to shrug off his Northwestern sweatshirt, then settled back in next to Dean. This meant that his bare arm was against the thin fabric of Dean’s shirt when they bumped shoulders choosing their players for the next game, and Dean could feel the heat of his skin as he could Ashley’s leg a little while earlier.
Dean looked over as Will set up the next game. Will’s expression was pleased, a small half-smile curling up one corner of his lips, and when he blinked his eyelashes were long like Dean’s, almost long enough to hit his cheekbones. His eyes were brown, Dean noticed, the same deep brown as Ashley’s, and his hair was long enough that it grazed his eyebrows until Will brushed it impatiently away from his face.
It was then that he noticed Dean looking at him. Will’s eyes met his, and he tipped his head to the side, questioning. Caught, Dean just stared at him, but Will didn’t say anything, just nodded slightly, almost imperceptibly, and then turned back to the television screen. Dean shook his head, eyes refocusing, and he turned away from Will too. A minute later, Ashley yelled from the kitchen that they needed to tell her if they wanted meatballs or meat sauce on their pasta and that served as enough of a distraction that Will didn’t comment on Dean watching him so intently, and Dean didn’t comment on the fact that Will had been watching him just as intently almost since they had met the day before. They played another game and then went out to the kitchen to eat lunch with Ashley before she had to go to work.
“The pasta’s good, Ash,” Will said, loading his fork up with spaghetti and thick meat sauce. Dean nodded his agreement, and Ashley smiled in acknowledgement, took a bite of her own lunch.
“I was going to make some salads and stuff too,” she said, “but knowing you, Will, we won’t be eating a light dinner.”
“I’m a growing boy,” Will said cheerfully, patting his flat stomach. “Anyway, I was thinking Dean and I could do something with that couscous that’s been sitting in the pantry forever.”
“Couscous?” Dean asked sceptically.
“You’ll like it,” Will promised. “We’ll put some squash in it, and chicken, and… we’ll figure something out,” he told Dean and his sister.
“When do you have to pick up those parts, Dean?” Ashley asked, changing the subject. “Today? Or—“
“Not until tomorrow morning,” Dean said. “Plenty of time for… couscous.”
“Great,” Ashley said. Then she looked at the clock on the oven. “Oh, shit,” she muttered, “I have to go finish getting ready for work.” She scooped up a large forkful of her pasta and ate it quickly, then got up from the table and hurried upstairs. Dean and Will finished their meals while she was upstairs. They were taking the plates over to the kitchen counter and putting the leftovers into a tupperware container that Will had pulled out from a cabinet next to the refrigerator.
“Don’t get into too much trouble,” Ashley told them, picking up her purse from the counter. She kissed Dean on the mouth and Will on the cheek, then grabbed her keys and left them alone in the kitchen, front door slamming shut when she left.
“So,” Will said, putting the leftover food in the fridge and turning back to Dean, “What do you want to do?”
“Uh,” Dean said. Small talk wasn’t his strong suit, and neither was spending what little down time he had with anyone other than Dad or, until Stanford, Sam. Domesticity was never something he had nor something he thought it was likely that he would ever have. Normally, what he would do in this situation was go to a bar, but he didn’t think Will would go for that at two in the afternoon.
“It’s cool,” Will said, “We can just hang out.”
“Hang out,” Dean said. “Sure.” They went back to the couch where they had been playing video games before lunch, and Will flipped through the channels for a few minutes looking for something to watch before he turned the television on low to one of the sports channels. Dean grabbed the newspaper off of the kitchen counter, where Will had left it that morning, and sat beside him on the sofa. He found himself as close as they were before, when Ashley had been sharing the cushions at him, and Dean spent as much time watching Will as he did reading looking at the newspaper—mainly because Will kept looking over at him.
“Can I help you?” Dean said, and Will’s eyes widened for a moment before he shook his head and turned back to the television. Dean almost laughed; the kid had looked so surprised that his incredibly unsubtle staring had been noticed. Dean looked back down at the newspaper, but he wasn’t really reading. Will shifted on the sofa beside him, and Dean glanced up at him again.
It was then that Will moved, leaning in toward him, the newspaper crumpling in Dean’s hands between them as Will came forward, pressed his lips against Dean’s. It was a messy kiss; Will’s nose bumped against Dean’s before he tipped his head to the side enough for their mouths to fit together, lips slightly chapped from the cold weather, Will’s eyes closed and Dean’s half opened. Dean kissed him back, parting his lips and closing his eyes when Will put a hand against his cheek and stroked his fingertips down Dean’s jaw.
Will got a knee up on the couch on the other side of Dean so he was straddling Dean’s lap, pressing him backward against the leather sofa back, cupping his face in both hands and kissing him harder. One of Dean’s hands found the back of Will’s head, fingers sliding in the soft, thin strands of Will’s dark hair, and the other he put on Will’s back and clenched his hand in the fabric of Will’s shirt. He hadn’t expected this, hadn’t expected Will to have the courage to actually make a move despite obviously being interested, but he was happy to go along with it.
At least until a loud noise from the front of the house caused Will to almost fall to the ground in his haste to get away from Dean. They listened, both expecting Ashley to come into the room, saying she had forgotten something or that work had let her go early or some other reason that would have caused her almost to have caught them red-handed—or red-lipped, Dean thought, judging by Will’s appearance—but there was no further sound. After a moment, Will stood up and walked over to the edge of the room to look down the hallway toward the front door. He turned back to Dean and shrugged, then walked back over to the couch.
When Will sat down again, he moved as though to resume kissing Dean, but this time Dean thought better of it, and leaned away from him. “I don’t think this is such a good idea,” he said. Every part of him except for his brain was telling him that it really, really was, but he’d been sleeping with Will’s sister. He wasn’t really okay with cheating but even if he was, logic told him that getting with two siblings in the same house, in the same week, was one of the worst possible ideas he could have if he didn’t want to get himself into trouble before he left town.
“Yeah,” Will said, moving back, shifting so that he was further away on the couch than he had been when he first sat down. “Yeah, no, you’re right.” There was a line of worry creasing his forehead, like he was afraid he had made Dean angry, and Dean couldn’t help but reach for him, tipping Will’s chin up with his hand to kiss him again, slower, less desperate than the first kiss. It was no better an idea than it had been thirty seconds ago, but Dean closed his eyes and tried not to think about it.
When he pulled away, he had a thought. “Is this why you left college?” he asked, “Were people giving you shit because you’re into dudes?” Dean didn’t know much about college in general, knew even less about Northwestern, where he guessed Will had been going based on his sweatshirt. He had always heard that most colleges, at least the ones that didn’t have “St. Something” or “Bible” in their names, were pretty liberal about this kind of thing, but maybe people there weren’t actually okay with it.
“No, not exactly,” Will said, though. “I mean, I was dating this guy for a while and asshole frat guys occasionally said some things, but most people were cool with it. It’s more, uh, well, my dad’s kind of a big deal alum, I guess, and I kinda got involved in this protest group, you know? And I know it’s going to get back to him soon, and he’s not going to be happy, so I figured, might as well leave before he can come drag me away.”
“You think he’d do that?” Dean asked, deciding he didn’t think much of Will and Ashley’s father. He had never told his own dad that he slept with guys sometimes, and he stuck to flirting with girls when they were hunting together, but even if he thought John probably wouldn’t be too happy about it, he mostly figured that his dad wouldn’t care much as long as it didn’t affect him on the hunt. Of course, that didn’t mean Dean wanted him to find out, and he had never found a way to tell Sam either, so he knew where Will was coming from, especially if it was likely that Will’s father would find out second hand rather than from Will telling him himself.
“I don’t know,” Will admitted, “But he’s never liked me much anyway. This could be the last straw. I’m at school on a partial scholarship, but he gives me checks to cover the rest of tuition and my apartment rent, so I took it and put it into my saving’s account. That way I’ll have something if he kicks me out, at least.”
“Maybe he won’t,” Dean said. He realized that his hand was still on Will’s face and he dropped it down to his shoulder, squeezing lightly before letting go. As he moved to put his hand back at his own side, Will caught it with his own hand and Dean let him hold on to it.
“If he doesn’t, then I’ll go back to school in the fall,” Will said. “I want to either way, but right now I’m trying to find a job in case I have to pay my own way.” He let go of Dean’s hand, and Dean let it fall to his side. He nodded.
“Hey,” he said, “Does Ashley know all this? I know she’s worried about you.” Will shook his head no. “You should tell her. Maybe she could help you out.”
“Yeah,” Will said, “You’re right. I will. I should probably wait until after you leave, though,” he added, looking thoughtful, “In case she wants to know why I decided to tell her now.” He made a small move toward Dean, and then hesitated like he thought Dean was about to back away again. But Dean didn’t back away; he let Will lean in and kiss him again, another slow kiss that deepened as Will put his arms around Dean and eased him back against the couch again. Will was a good kisser, gentler than Dean was used to. Most of his previous encounters with men had been hurried, fumbled, desperate hook-ups in back alleys or bar bathrooms; he definitely preferred this.
They didn’t actually go farther than making out on the couch, but they spent some time exchanging kisses, rubbing against each other relaxed and lazy, enough to feel good but not enough to get off. After a while of alternating between more video games and more kissing, Will said that they should probably get started on dinner as it would take some time to cook, and Dean suspected that the dish they were preparing, a fairly simple one, probably took longer to make than usual given that they kept taking breaks to make out against the kitchen counter. Still Will showed Dean how to make the squash, chicken, and couscous meal and told him he would make a copy of the recipe if he liked it, as if Dean would ever be buying couscous to cook in the motel kitchens. Then he got out a wooden spoon and used it to take a small taste of the sauce that was simmering on the stove before he backed Dean up against the counter and kissed him hard, his mouth tasting like spices.
Dean and Will ended up back on the couch while they were waiting for the food to cook. Will, no longer the least bit shy or quiet, talked to Dean between kisses. “I know,” he said, “we can’t do this when Ashley gets home. And I know you’re leaving tomorrow, but—“ he trailed off and slid his thumb down the side of Dean’s neck and under the collar of his shirt, using it to pull the fabric away from Dean’s skin before he pressed his mouth to Dean’s collar bone. Dean couldn’t help the noise that escaped his mouth, and he rolled his hips up against Will’s. If Will kept doing that, he thought, their time on the couch was about to turn into a whole lot more than just making out.
The timer in the kitchen beeped then, preventing things from going any further, and Dean took a few deep breaths to calm down as Will got up to check on the food. Will’s hair was messy, his face red and lips slightly swollen from kissing, and Dean knew that his appearance must be similarly debauched. He also knew that Ashley would be coming back from work soon and even if he had decided he definitely wasn’t going to sleep with her that night (he might be an asshole when it came to girls and relationships a lot of the time, even if part of it was the nature of his life, but he liked Ashley and he would’ve felt shitty about having sex with her after making out with her brother all day), he didn’t really want her to know about him and Will. If Will wanted to tell her after Dean left, when he was explaining why he hadn’t returned to Northwestern that semester—well, at least Dean would be several states away by that point.
He went into the bathroom downstairs and washed his face, did his best to get some of the wrinkles out of his shirt. He needed a haircut, he thought; his father used to make him keep it as short as possible, a tight, military crew-cut, but he hadn’t cut it in a while and it was starting to get shaggy. For now, he just wet his fingers and ran them through his hair, smoothing it down where it was sticking up from Will’s hands. When he went back into the kitchen, Will was doing the same to his own hair at the kitchen sink, and Dean grinned, watching him.
They finished making the couscous and Will took the squash out of the oven, chopping it into small pieces to mix in with the couscous, while Dean did the same with the chicken. They were just pouring the sauce over the whole thing, spooning it out of the pan on the stove, when Dean heard the front door open. Ashley came in to the kitchen a minute later and Dean busied himself with the food, but she didn’t try to kiss him, just tossed her purse onto the counter away from where Will and Dean were preparing dinner and sat down in a chair.
“That was the longest fucking shift,” she announced. Will took one of the plates and put it in front of her, motioning that she should start eating while they finished serving up the other two. “Nobody was where they were supposed to be,” she continued, waving her fork for emphasis, “And two of the tellers got themselves locked into the damn vault.” Dean and Will got their own plates and sat down, listening to Ashley’s story about her day at the bank.
After that, nobody said much during dinner, except Dean mentioning that the couscous was pretty good and Will saying again that he would give him the recipe. After they finished, Will got up to clear the plates and Ashley leaned toward Dean, speaking in a whisper. “Look,” she said, “I know we talked earlier about… I’m really exhausted. I—“
“I’ll sleep in a guest bedroom,” Dean told her, thinking that things had worked out better than he had expected on that front. She smiled at him, and he could see that her eyes looked tired. “Go to bed,” he suggested. “Will and I can finish up down here and I’m sure he can show me which room I should sleep in.”
Ashley stood up from the table. “I’ll put your bag in the guest room,” she said, “Thanks, Dean.” He nodded, and she said goodnight to Will before going upstairs. After she had left, Will got a couple of beers out of the fridge. The house had an indoor porch, a room encased in walls with large windows, and Dean followed him out there, where they sat on a wicker sofa with large green cushions.
It had begun to snow again, soft flakes falling on the glass ceiling above them and melting in thin streams of water down the windowpanes. With the lights off in the kitchen and no lights on the porch, the room was dark; the small glints of starlight that peeked through the clouds didn’t provide any brightness. Dean was accustomed to having to see things in the dark on hunts, but he let himself relax and focus only on Will’s silhouette beside him. When Will stretched an arm out across the back of the sofa and then curled it around Dean’s shoulders, Dean let him, leaning into the warmth of Will’s body.
They drank their beers and watched the snow fall, and Dean felt himself falling asleep, eyes drifting shut as he rested his head against Will’s shoulder. He felt comfortable and something else, something that it took him a few moments to identify. Safe, he realized; he felt safe, even with his nearest weapon the knife in his duffle bag upstairs. He hoped that Ashley hadn’t opened the bag when he moved it, but he suspected that if she had she would have come downstairs to ask him about it, or that she would have called the cops and they would have come, sirens blaring and lights, flashing by now.
With his job, with his life, he had grown accustomed to an ever-present feeling of danger and fear, even when he wasn’t directly on a hunt. He had learned to suppress it, for Sam’s sake, to keep his little brother calm and tell him that nothing was going to hurt him, and for his own, to stay sane and be able to go from day to day knowing how many evil and supernatural creatures there were in the world, but it was rare that he didn’t feel it lurking in the back of his mind. Right now, all he felt was Will’s body warm against his, the soft cushions they were sitting on, the cool air that snuck through cracks in the walls and made their breath visible in the darkness.
He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew Will was shaking him gently, telling him that they wouldn’t be able to stay down here all night or Ashley would find them like this. Dean tilted his head up and Will kissed him, and then they got up from the wicker sofa and went back into the house, up the stairs, and down the hallway. At the room Will told him was the guest bedroom, Dean walked through the doorway and then turned back to Will.
“Goodnight,” Dean said. He expected Will to kiss him again, but instead Will put his arms around him and pulled him close, wrapping him up in a tight hug. It surprised Dean—hugs between Winchesters only happened after close brushes with death, and all of the men and women he had been with in the past had been more interested in other things—but he put his arms around Will too, held on and pressed his face against the juncture of Will’s shoulder and neck.
When he pulled away, Will smiled, looking somewhat hesitant. “I figured tomorrow,” he said, voice barely above a whisper, “Tomorrow when you leave, I won’t be able to say goodbye. Not like—“ he lifted a hand to cup Dean’s face briefly and kiss him again and then dropped it back to his side. “Goodnight, Dean,” he said, and then turned to walk to his own room. Dean watched Will glance back from his own doorway and then pull the door shut gently behind him before Dean went into his own room. Inside, he pulled off his jeans and shirt, pulled on the sweatshirt he had worn the other night, the one Sam had left behind when he went to college that had somehow made it into Dean’s bag, and fell asleep almost instantly.
In the morning, Dean discovered that the guest bedroom had a bathroom attached to it, so he took a shower and got dressed. It wouldn’t do him any good to stick around for longer than he strictly had to, not with his father waiting for him in Minnesota and no more clues on the Tinker case, so he took his duffle bag with him when he went downstairs. Ashley was up already, making coffee and half-watching the news on the television in the living room, and there was no sign of Will.
“Good morning,” Ashley said. “I hope you slept well.” Dean poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter while he drank it, watching her opening and closing cupboards and taking out bowls. “I was thinking about making pancakes again, if that sounds good?”
“You don’t have to cook for me,” Dean replied. “I should be heading out anyway; those parts are in and my dad’ll be wanting them as soon as he can get them.”
“Well, you’re absolutely not leaving without breakfast,” Ashley told him firmly. “So how do pancakes sound?”
“Good,” Dean said, “Great, actually.” Ashley smiled and started getting out the ingredients. Soon she was stirring up the batter and heating a pan with a little butter in it on the stove. Will came downstairs as he was pouring the first batch of pancakes into the pan. He said good morning to Ashley, and then glanced over at Dean.
“Hi,” he said, with a heated glance that Dean knew meant he was thinking about the night before. Dean was thinking about it too, but he nodded toward Ashley, who was turned away from them, focused on the stove. Will nodded too, agreement that their flirtation had ended. That didn’t prevent Will from reaching out a hand to brush his fingertips over Dean’s bare arm when Dean got up and walked past to help Ashley bring the pancakes over to the table. Still, over breakfast, everything was normal between them, innocent, even if Will talked less than Dean had come to know he could.
After breakfast, Dean said to both Will and Ashley, “Look, I really appreciate this, all of it. I wish there was some way I could make it up to you.” He meant it, he never liked taking anything from anyone if he couldn’t do something for them in return; it felt too much like owing a debt.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ashley told him. “It was nice to have you around.” Will nodded in agreement.
“I gotta get going,” Dean said, standing up and picking up his bag from the floor beside him. Will and Ashley walked with him to the front door, where Ashley gave him a quick hug and a kiss, and Will shook his hand, not looking Dean in the eye. When Dean pulled his hand away, there was a folded piece of paper in it that Will had slipped into his hand, and Dean tucked it into the pocket of his jacket without Ashley noticing. He thanked them both again and told them that if he was ever in town again he would call—not a lie, although the full truth was that it was unlikely he would ever be passing through Harold in either the near or distant future. Then he walked out to the Impala and drove away.
In the middle of the afternoon, stopping in a diner in Ohio for lunch on his way to Illinois, where he would stay for the night before continuing on to Minnesota in the morning, Dean pulled the piece of paper Will had given him from his pocket and unfolded it. He wasn’t surprised to see that it contained a phone number. Dean took out his cell phone to program it into his contacts, and then thought better of it. Ashley he might check in with if by some chance he did happen to drive through Harold again, but he wasn’t going to call her on a whim. Will, on the other hand—with his phone out, he was already thinking about calling Will, and that wasn’t a good idea. Hunters weren’t supposed to form attachments; it was an idea that he had had drilled into him by his father for years, and all of his experience had borne it out: his friend Matthew who had moved out of the town where they had met before Dean could look him up in the phone book, the small number of girls he had actually wanted to call again who had given him fake numbers or when they did answer had been angry with him for leaving and not saying goodbye. His father never even kept contacts in his phone if they weren’t the few other hunters and people with knowledge of hunting like Pastor Jim and Caleb and Bobby Singer. Dean looked at Will’s number for a minute longer and then crumpled up the piece of paper and put it with the wrapper from his soda straw. He could always call Ashley and ask to speak to Will if he wanted to, although he knew he never would.
After lunch, he left the piece of paper in its tiny, wadded ball with the rest of the remains from his meal, and he started driving again, to meet up with his father in Minnesota down the road.
“What about this one?” Sam asked, turning his laptop from where it was perched precariously on the wooden coffee table that was the only piece of furniture in the abandoned house they were staying in. Dean looked at the newspaper article scan on the computer screen and shook his head. Sure, there were some hallmarks of an angry spirit, but when a twice-divorced woman and her new boyfriend are murdered, it was just as likely to be the living ex-husband as it was to be the dead one, especially since he died of natural causes according to the police report Dean pulled up on the screen. Anyway, it was halfway across the country.
“Sam,” Dean said, voice full of false patience. “I get that you aren’t into trying to get some leads on Dick Roman, even though he’s the biggest threat coming against us right now, but if you want me to keep my mind off him, a two thousand mile drive through the middle of nowhere for a salt and burn isn’t the way to do it.”
“Okay, well,” Sam said, turning the laptop back to face him, “You come up with anything better?”
“Yeah,” Dean told him. He took a swig from Bobby’s beat up flask, emptying it before he answered. “Dick Roman.”
“What about him, Dean?” Sam asked, sounding frustrated. “We don’t know where he is, we don’t know how to reach him or what he’s doing or anything more than we did before. Look,” he continued, “I get it. The Leviathan killed Bobby, and they killed Cas, so you wanna kill them. I want to kill them too. But we can’t just—“
“Do anything,” Dean interrupted. “That’s what you’re saying. We can’t do anything.”
“Not until we have some idea what to do,” Sam said. Dean made a face, but he didn’t say anything else. It was true; they had no idea what the Leviathan were doing beyond a vague “destroy the world” plan, and as much as Dean wanted to stop them—and get some revenge for Cas and Bobby’s deaths—it was no use to go in blind. He had read up on Dick Roman until his eyes crossed and the screen blurred in front of him, and there was still nothing that would help them figure out how to stop him.
“How about this?” Sam asked. He turned the laptop again, so Dean could see the news article Sam had found that he thought might be a hunt for them. As Dean read the article, he was struck by a sense of déjà vu that he couldn’t quite place at first. Two children and a father killed, mother left living in the house where the murders took place. It wasn’t until he read the last paragraph of the article, where a “source close to the case” claimed that the mother had no memory of her children and her husband either from the time of their deaths or prior to it, that Dean connected it to an actual memory.
“I had a hunt like this before,” he told Sam. “Nine, ten years ago? Up in Massachusetts. Two kids and their mom, and dad said he didn’t even know they existed.”
“So what killed them?” Sam asked.
Dean shrugged. “Never figured it out,” he said. “I went to the house and there were a couple spikes on the EMF detector, but no sign of angry spirits. And the family history was nothing special either.”
“What about the husband?”
“Died before I got a chance to talk to him,” Dean said. “Heart attack, natural causes.”
“What’d… what did Dad think?” Sam asked.
Dean shrugged again. “He was working his own case. I met up with him at Pastor Jim’s once the trail went cold, and he didn’t have any better idea than I did. It doesn’t make sense,” he said, thinking aloud, “Nothing about them are the same: different states, different family members, the kids aren’t the same ages or genders. And what the hell kind of creature kills twice in nine years but nothing before that? I couldn’t find anything last time around.”
“But that type of memory loss—” Sam began.
“Yeah,” Dean agreed. “That’s frigging weird.”
“Too weird to be a coincidence. Maybe it’s two of the same creature,” Sam said. “But not the same one? Could explain the difference in times and locations.”
“Maybe,” Dean said. He looked up the town; it was about a day’s drive away. If they left immediately, they could get there by the following morning, to check out the crime scene, talk to the police who were handling the case, and con their way into the hospital where the wife of the dead man and the mother of the dead children was being held, a psychiatric ward like in the Tinker case. Dean hoped that what happened to Charles Tinker wouldn’t happen to her, especially not before they got the chance to find out what she knew. He shut the laptop and stood up, and Sam looked up at him from where he was still sitting at the table.
“This mean we’re leaving?” Sam said. Dean nodded. “Alright,” Sam said, standing up as well and grabbing his duffle bag, the strap of it slung over the back of the chair. “Let’s go.”
They drove until late in the evening, the sky black around them, the headlights of the car they had hotwired illuminating only a few feet ahead of them on the road. Just before midnight they stopped into a diner for dinner and after lukewarm hamburgers and equally lukewarm sodas, the waitress had directed them to a motel not far off the main road. They checked into a room and Dean went to take a shower while Sam did a little bit more research on the town they were heading toward and the family that had been killed.
While he was washing the grime of the road off of his body, Dean thought a little bit about the similar hunt he had been on before. He had just turned twenty-four, he remembered, and his birthday gift from his father had been coordinates to the New England town where Charles Tinker’s wife and children had been killed. While he had been investigating he had met a woman named Ashley Morales… and her younger brother Will. Dean’s hands stilled in the middle of washing his hair and some of the soap dripped into his eye, but Dean didn’t notice the sting of it.
He had forgotten about Will Morales until that moment, but he had thought about him with some frequency for several months after that case. Will Morales, who liked cooking and playing video games and making out with Dean on the couch in his parents’ living room. Who had given Dean his phone number and whose phone number Dean had thrown away so that he couldn’t be tempted to call. It wasn’t that they had had a serious relationship—it wasn’t like Cassie a few months before; it had only lasted a day before Dean had to move on to the next hunt—but there was something about Will that Dean had been drawn to, that he liked even as the years went on and the memory faded.
Dean stood under the shower until the spray of water began to grow cold, which he knew would annoy Sam, turned off the water, and grabbed a towel off of the rack. When he stepped out, wearing his clothes and rubbing the towel over his hair, Sam glanced over at him from his computer.
“Glad to see you didn’t drown,” Sam said dryly. He was pressing the fingers of one hand to the palm of the other, Dean noticed. That wasn’t a good sign; Sam said had been seeing Lucifer less frequently as of late, and Dean hoped that his visions of Hell weren’t returning. “You better have left some hot water,” he said, and the face that accompanied with it, eyes squinted, lips pursed, broke the tension. Dean smirked and threw the wet towel at him. Sam grumbled and went in to the bathroom. He shut the door behind him, but Dean could still hear Sam say his name, annoyed, when he turned on the shower and only cold water came out.
In the morning, Dean decided that he was going to go to the hospital to try to talk to the victim whose husband and children had been killed. It was early when he left, but he told Sam he didn’t want to risk something happening to her before he could get a chance to ask a few questions, like with Charles Tinker in the last hunt. Sam agreed that it was a good idea and said he was going to go to the police station and see if they had found out anything.
At the hospital, Dean was digging his FBI agent’s ID out of his jacket pocket when the nurse said, “Is the man who was in here earlier your partner?”
“What?” Dean asked, confused. Sam had gone to the police station to see if he could find out some more information about the case, and anyway, they had only gotten into town a few hours before.
“Well,” the nurse said, “He didn’t say he was FBI, really, so he could’ve worked for another bureau. But he had that look about him. Same as you.”
“Oh,” Dean said, “I see.” He didn’t bother to get out his ID badge, but the nurse didn’t stop him when he walked through the door leading to the patients’ rooms. Apparently “having that look about him” was good enough for her. Dean walked down the hallway until he found the room where the victim, Marla Anderson, was. There was a nurse tending to her but Dean was relieved to see that when he knocked and pushed the door open, Mrs. Anderson looked up, still alive and conscious. She didn’t look good, but Dean couldn’t really blame her. He imagined for a moment not just losing Sam but forgetting he had even existed, then felt a twinge of guilt and thought of Lisa and Ben. He shook it away and went into the room.
Inside, he showed the nurse and the patient his ID. “I’d like to ask you a few questions,” he told Marla Anderson.
“Alright,” she said. Her voice was weak and hoarse. “Although I don’t think I’ll be much help.”
“Why don’t you just start by telling me what happened?” Dean said. He pulled out a notebook and a pen from the pocket of his jacket.
"That's just it," she said, "I can't remember. I had a late shift the night before—I'm a nurse—and so I took a nap when I got home. When I woke up and I came downstairs, I found the bodies."
"The bodies of your husband and children," Dean said quietly, gently.
"The bodies of three people I've never seen before," Marla said. She began to cry. "They—the police—told me it was my husband and my kids and... and he looked like the kind of person I would want to marry, and the children, they looked like us, so I suppose it must be true. But how? I've lived in that house for ten years and I've always been all alone"
"Ten years?" Dean asked, and Marla nodded.
"Almost exactly," she said. "It's... March 12th? I moved in March 17, in 2002. I remember because my friend helped me move in and then we went to a bar for St. Patrick's Day."
“Alright,” Dean said, “One more question. Does the name Charles Tinker ring a bell?”
“Tinker?” Marla asked. “Charles Tinker… no, I don’t think so. Who is he?”
"Nobody,” Dean told her. "We'll be in touch if we have any more questions." He left the room and headed out of the hospital. As he got in the car, he called Sam. "Lady says she lived in the house alone, doesn't remember her family at all. But get this, she says she lived there almost exactly ten years. What do you want to bet Charles Tinker lived in his house ten years too?"
"You think this is some kind of demon deal?" Sam asked. "What kind of demon kills the people around the person who made the deal? Unless you think a four year old kid found a crossroad six years before he was born?"
"I don't know," Dean said grimly. "I'm going to see if I can find anything at the library. Any luck at the police station?"
"Not yet," Sam said, then grumbled, "They're making me fill out paperwork to get into the evidence room." Dean chuckled and then said goodbye as he pulled up to the local library. A few seconds with the computer card catalog informed him that all of the newspapers older than two years were not scanned digitally but were on microfilm.
"Great," Dean said out loud. It sucked, but he wanted to find out what he could about Marla Anderson's life a decade before, if she had experienced a sudden change for the better, or what appeared to be for the better. He was on his way back to the news archives and the microfilm readers when he bumped in to someone coming out of one of the aisles.
"Sorry," the guy said, starting to move away, but then he did a double take and stayed where he was, right in front of Dean. "Oh my god," he said, “Dean Winchester.”
Dean looked at him and his eyes widened. "Will," he said. He wouldn't even have recognized the man if it had been any other case but this one. Will had definitely grown up In the 10 years since Dean had seen him—his hair was shorter and he was wearing a suit instead of a threadbare college sweatshirt. He still reminded Dean a little bit of Sam but whereas his brother had filled out somewhat over the years, Will Morales was still lean, bordering on skinny.
"Wow," Will said. "Dean. I didn't expect to ever see you again." He was holding a book, although Dean couldn’t see enough of the cover to recognize what the title was. Then a look of alarm passed over his face and he took a step back. "I saw you on the news, they said you—"
"No," Dean said, his voice low so the other patrons in the library wouldn't hear, "It wasn't me. Whatever you saw, it wasn't me, Will, I promise." Dean was somewhat surprised when Will nodded, seeming to believe him.
“I thought it—“ he paused, and then started again. “I know it’s been a while, and people change, and I didn’t know you that well to begin with, but you didn’t seem like the type. Is the other man your brother?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “That’s Sam. He didn’t do anything either. It was… it’s a long story,” he finished, not sure how to explain a couple of Leviathan cloning himself and his brother and going on a rampage worthy of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers.
“You know,” Will said thoughtfully, “Some strange things have happened in the past couple years. Seeing you on the news with ‘America’s Most Wanted’ slapped over your face isn’t the worst of them. Although, speaking of weird, you remember the last time we met? There was that family that got killed in their house, and the guy who survived didn’t remember any of it? Something like that happened around here a couple days ago.” Suddenly he looked suspicious and said, after a brief hesitation, “You don’t know anything about that, do you?”
“I hadn’t even heard about it until now,” Dean lied, feigning surprise. “But wow. Weird coincidence, huh? You don’t know anything about it, do you?”
“Hey,” Will said, with mock defensiveness, “I’m not the one who just happens to be passing through.”
“Wait, you live here?” Dean asked.
Will nodded. “For about five years now. Since graduation. I work at a law firm downtown.”
“You’re a lawyer,” Dean said, incredulous. Dean had already noticed the parallels between Will and Sam, and now apparently at some point between the first time he and Will met and now, Will had ended up in law school? Dean thought for a moment that maybe he should be a little bit more disturbed that the similarities between this man and his brother did nothing to diminish the fact that he found Will just as attractive now as he had a decade ago.
“Yes,” Will told him. “I’ve got an apartment a couple of blocks away from here, I just came for some books.” He gestured with one hand at the novels in his arms. “What about you, Dean? Do you still work for your dad?”
“No, not anymore,” Dean said. “He died a few years back.”
“I’m sorry,” Will replied.
“It’s fine,” Dean said, “We sort of took over the family business, me and my brother. We—I—Those murders,” he said. “The ones you mentioned a couple of minutes ago.”
“What about them?” Will asked, then, only half-joking, “You didn’t do it, did you?”
“No,” Dean said. “But you want the truth?” He didn’t know what suddenly compelled him to tell Will, to trust him after knowing him for three days a lifetime ago, before Sam came back from Stanford, before their father died, before Hell and the apocalypse and—“I’m trying to figure out who did.” Or what, he adds silently.
“Are you a detective?” Will asked.
“Private investigator,” Dean said. It was close enough to the truth. “Sorry I didn’t say anything at first but you know how it is. Gotta keep things close to the belt.”
Will nodded and then said, “So does this mean you’re going to be around for a couple of days?”
“That’s the plan,” Dean said.
“Then, uh,” Will paused, his cheeks coloring slightly, “Maybe you want to have a drink and catch up?”
“Sure,” Dean said. There was no harm in it, and maybe Will could tell him something about the town that would be useful in the hunt. At least, that’s what he told himself, ignoring the warmth curling low in his stomach as he looked at Will.
“Great,” Will said. “There’s a bar on Grays Street I go to sometimes. We could meet around 7? I’d give you my number but I know you wouldn’t call.” Dean opened his mouth to respond but before he could, Will chuckled. “I’m kidding,” he said, “It’s been almost ten years; I’m over it.” Dean tried not to read anything into the idea that he was something Will had had to get over—they had spent a day together, one day, and hadn’t even done anything more than make out on Will’s parents’ couch like a couple of high schoolers.
“Seven sounds good,” Dean said. He was sure he could get away from Sam for a few hours that night. Will said goodbye, saying he was on his lunch break and had to get back to work, and went to go check out his books while Dean headed to the back of the library to the newspaper archives.
He found all of the newspapers between January and July of 2002 and began to search through them one at a time, looking for any stories relating to Marla Anderson, or her husband, or any strange happenings from around the time. It took several hours, during which time Sam texted him that he had no luck at the police station and was going to check out the house where the murders had taken place, but Dean finally found a short article announcing Marla and her husband’s wedding in April. The article didn’t say much, but it did say that the couple had only known each other for about a month and at the end of it there was a mention that the new Mrs. Anderson owned a house in town and her husband would be moving into it from his old apartment in a nearby city.
It wasn’t much information, but it was something—a woman moves and within a month she has a husband and, judging by the ages of her children, a kid on the way. Dean went back over to the computers and looked up Charles Tinker, information from around 1993. The circumstances were slightly different, he found out: Tinker and his wife had met and married within three months (the date of their meeting almost exactly a decade before the murders), and had moved into their house after that, but the timelines were otherwise similar. He searched a little more to see if he could find any connection between Tinker and Anderson, but apart from the parallels in their stories they didn’t have anything in common and it seemed unlikely that they could have ever met or known each other.
Dean walked out of the library and called Sam. “Dean,” Sam said when he answered. “I’m at the house. It’s definitely a demon, there’s sulfur all over the floor, under the carpets.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, “Listen, Anderson and Tinker—that’s the guy from the other hunt like this—both had ten years with their husbands, wives, kids, whatever. I’d guess they made deals for families, and then for some reason instead of sending the dogs after them when their deals came due—“ here, Dean suppressed a shudder, the memory of the hellhounds still haunting him, “the sonofabitch they dealt with decided to take back what they had been given. All of it, memory included.”
“Sounds about right,” Sam said. “But what’s the connection? Different towns, different years, they probably weren’t at the same crossroads when the demon was hanging around. So how did they both end up like this? And how do we find it?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said. Just then a police car sped past the sidewalk where he was standing, siren shrieking and lights flashing. It was heading in the direction of the hospital, and Dean had a bad feeling he knew which patient it was going there for. “I’ll call you back,” he told Sam, and then got in his car and followed the police car back toward the hospital.
The nurse who had let him in before was no longer behind the front desk, but Dean flashed his badge at the one who was there instead and she let him in to the hallway, which was filled by doctors, nurses, and police officers. “What happened here?” he asked one of the nurses, and the nurse shrugged.
“Looks like it was a heart attack,” he said. “The patient was pretty young for that, but stress and shock can do that.” Then he walked back into the room with one of the doctors. Dean didn’t bother to follow. He hung around for a while longer, hoping to find out more about what had killed Marla Anderson, but apart from it happening so suddenly, everything seemed to be pointing to natural causes.
“Happens sometimes,” one of the police officers commented to him, “Someone goes through trauma and it just takes a few days to catch up to them.”
When Dean had determined that there was nothing further he could learn from staying at the hospital, he drove back to the motel room he and Sam were sharing. Sam was still at the crime scene, so Dean wrote him a note saying that he was going out for a couple hours and left it on Sam’s laptop. He left out any specifics; Sam didn’t need to know about Will. It was just a drink anyway, although that didn’t explain the amount of time he spent messing with a shirt to try to get the wrinkles out of it, meanwhile wondering if Will would still be wearing his suit from work and if he should wear one of the suits he used when he was posing as a federal agent. He was glad that Sam wasn’t around when he used a little bit of hair gel from a travel-sized bottle he stuffed in his shaving bag to smooth down a cowlick; he gave Sam enough crap about his hair that he didn’t need to provide his brother with any ammo to send back at him. Finally he grabbed his jacket where he had left it on the chair when he came in, and went out to the latest in a long line of cars he didn’t like half as much as his old Impala.
Dean arrived at the bar a few minutes after seven, finding a place to park at the edge of the parking lot, out of the brightness of the street lamps. He walked inside and looked around; it was a nice place, but casual, and the lights gave off a yellow glow that made the room feel warm. It wasn’t crowded, but Dean still had to search for a minute before he saw Will, sitting at a table in the corner of the room. Dean walked over and pulled out a chair opposite Will, sitting down as the man looked up at him and grinned.
“Hey,” Will said. “I wasn’t sure you were going to show.”
“I said I would, didn’t I?” Dean replied. Then, because he didn’t want Will to think he was annoyed, he said, “You look good.” Will did; he had obviously just come from work because he was still wearing his suit pants and a white button-down shirt, but he had taken off his jacket and tie and rolled up the sleeves a little bit. He had also undone the top two buttons of his shirt, creating a triangle of light brown skin at his neck. Dean found himself looking at it, at the hint of Will’s collarbone, until Will coughed and Dean looked back up.
“You look good, too,” Will said quietly. He stared at Dean for a moment, unblinking, then shook his head and breathed out a laugh. “Sorry, it’s just weird. Seeing you again, now. After all this time. I don’t usually expect to run into people I know around here, unless they’re from work.”
“You’ve lived here for five years, you said?” Dean asked.
“Yeah, going on six,” Will confirmed. “But I’m still kind of the new guy at the firm. Not much time for a social life. Well,” he continued, looking away from Dean, “I was—I was seeing someone for a while, but it ended a couple months ago.” He looked back at Dean, as though to see his reaction, but before Dean could say anything, Will stood up. “I’m going to go get us some drinks,” he said, heading toward the bar. Dean didn’t turn to watch him go, just looked at Will’s empty chair.
He wasn’t sure how to handle this kind of situation; the few times he had seen someone after sleeping with them, he had gone to see them or they had contacted him and it hadn’t been completely out of the blue like this. His relationship with Will hadn’t been like with Cassie or Lisa—they hadn’t even slept together—but Will had been the only guy to date that Dean had had something that wasn’t just sex in a seedy bar or crappy motel room. Surely Dean wasn’t the only person Will had ever made out on a sofa with, though, so he didn’t know what he meant to Will, or how to interpret the way Will was acting. Sam was the people person, he knew how to connect with people, how to understand them; Dean’s specialty was just being able to fake it.
Will came back to the table a few minutes later with two beers and two of what looked like whiskey and coke. “I realized when I got over there I forgot to ask you what you wanted, but—“
“This is good,” Dean said, taking one of each drink when Will handed them over to him. He took a sip of the coke and whiskey first; the ice in the glass clicked against his teeth as he drank. “So, lawyer, huh?”
“Yeah,” Will said, sipping his own drink. “When we met, I wasn’t in school, right? I went back the next semester—my dad didn’t freak out the way I was expecting him to, although he wasn’t thrilled about me being, you know. And I ended up at law school after I graduated, so he couldn’t really complain that I wasn’t doing something with myself.” He paused and then said, “And what about you, Dean? What have you been doing for the last nine years?”
Dean almost laughed. Where even to begin? Once you took out all of the stuff about his life that he had no intention of sharing with someone like Will, there wasn’t really much left. What should he say, that he traveled around the country in stolen cars and Dean was doing his best to drink himself into oblivion while his little brother went insane thanks to a stint in Hell and a little expedition from Dean’s dead best friend? “Working, mostly,” is what he decided to go with. “Like I said, after my dad died, my brother and I took over.”
“As private detectives?” Will asked. “Didn’t you tell me back then that your dad owned a garage?”
“Working undercover,” Dean lied. Then, changing the subject, “Speaking of back then, how’s your sister. Ashley, right?”
“Ashley,” Will said. “She’s doing well. She’s vice president of that bank where she was working. Been married four years, first kid on the way.” Will smiled fondly. “Next time I call her I’ll tell her you asked about her. She’ll probably think it’s funny that you remember her. She was pretty pissed off at you for a while, but that was years ago, of course.”
“Pissed off at me?” Dean asked. Ashley hadn’t been angry at him when he left, as far as he remembered, although he had a pretty good idea why she might have been after the fact, which Will confirmed a moment later.
“Yeah, I told her that we, uh…” he trailed off. “Anyway, she was annoyed with me for a couple days, but I’ll tell her you said hi.”
“Alright,” Dean said, chuckling. They kept talking, about the town and Will’s job mostly, although Dean threw in whatever stories he could about being a “private investigator” without giving too much information about his real job. When they had finished their drinks, Dean got up to go to the bar and got two more beers, and brought them back to the table.
An hour passed, and then an hour and a half. Dean took another sip of his drink and looked as Will picked up his beer, watched the movement of his throat as he swallowed. A drop of the alcohol escaped out of the edge of his mouth and Will caught it with a small movement with his tongue at the corner of his lips. Dean took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. He could lean across the table right now and kiss Will, suggest that they go back to his apartment right now. He knew Will would be up for it, he’d made a point to let Dean know right away that he was single, and he was doing even less than Dean to hide his interest.
But then he thought about Sam, who had been touching the scars on his hand almost constantly during the drive, which meant that the visions of Lucifer that had been prickling at the corners of his mind were growing more prominent again. It seemed to come in waves, nothing for a while and then all of a sudden back in full force. Dean didn’t want to be with some hookup if Sam had another break that landed him in a warehouse with a gun in his hand. And he had promised he would be back in a few hours, even if Sam might not have gotten back to the motel to see the note yet.
“You know, I gotta get heading back,” he said. “Early start tomorrow. We’re paid by the hour and I’m sure my client wants this case closed as quickly as possible.”
“Who is your client?” Will asked curiously.
“Relative of the deceased,” Dean said. “Anyway, it was good to see you, Will.” He took the last swallow of beer left in the bottle and then pushed his chair back from the table to stand up. Will got up as well; he still had half a beer left but he walked out of the bar with Dean. It was cold in the parking lot, the early March wind blowing past them, through the thin cotton of Dean’s shirt. They stood at the edge of the light coming out of the bar, at the edge of the parking lot, looking at each other.
Dean waited to see if Will was going to make a move, and Will did, but it wasn’t what Dean expected. Like that night when Dean had slept in the guest bedroom of Will and Ashley’s parents’ house, Will’s touch was gentle, intimate, although this time he didn’t hug Dean. He reached out, thumb pressing against Dean’s lower lip, fingertips along his jaw, and just let them rest there. He blinked once, slowly, and then looked Dean in the eyes, but he seemed to have no intention of doing anything else. Dean took the initiative and kissed him, Will’s thumb caught between their mouths for a second before Will pulled it away so their lips could press together. Will moved his hand to the side of Dean’s face as they kissed, blocking the wind that whipped around them from Dean’s cheek.
When Dean pulled away, their breath was visible between them, white vapor from their parted lips. “I’ll be in town for a couple days,” Dean said, and Will kissed him again before answering.
“Dinner tomorrow?” Will said, his voice tipping up into a question at the end. “There’s a steakhouse a couple of blocks from here or—“
“You know,” Dean said, more puffs of visible air clouding out between them, “I seem to remember that you were a damn good cook.”
“You remember right,” Will told him. “Okay, then you should come over for dinner.” He gave Dean the address of his apartment and they decided to meet there the next night around seven-thirty. Dean kissed Will again, lips against the corner of Will’s mouth as Will turned his head away from the wind, and then left him to walk back to his car and drive to the motel.
When he arrived he found Sam stretched out across one of the beds, reading something on his laptop. His face was slightly pale, but other than that he looked okay. His hand looked uninjured except for the still-healing scar across his palm. That was a good sign, that he hadn’t needed to do anything to himself to as a reminder that he was out of Hell and free from Lucifer. He looked up when Dean walked in and Dean just looked at him for a minute, neither of them saying anything and Dean wishing he could do something to help his brother feel safe again.
Finally, Sam spoke. “Where’d you go?”
“Out,” Dean said. He took off his jacket and dropped it on to the chair near the door.
That answer didn’t seem to satisfy Sam, who glared at him and shut the laptop. “To a bar, you mean,” he said. Dean rolled his eyes. He had given up arguing with Sam when it came to his drinking. He drank too much, knew he drank too much, but really, what else could Sam expect? Sam had said it himself, that Dean had gone “wobbly” after Cas died, worse after Bobby. Dean thought that was pretty accurate, if “wobbly” meant teetering on the edge of a cliff, with Sam as one of those grippy metal things rock climbers use, the only one left. Maybe Will was a foothold in the rocks, just a small one, but if it was enough to help Dean hold on a little bit longer, he wasn’t going to apologize for it, even to Sam.
“Out,” he said again. “By the way, you’re on your own tomorrow night. Go get laid,” he suggested, “It’ll make you feel better.”
Sam made a face at him. “You remember we’re working a case, don’t you?” he asked sarcastically. “Where are you going? ‘Out’?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “Anyway, we’ve got all day tomorrow to find this demon and gank the sonofabitch.”
“Well, we can be sure to get that done in time for your date,” Sam said dryly. “So who is this girl anyway, and how’d she talk you into taking her out for dinner instead of just going home with her from the bar? You still feeling burned from mother monster?”
“It’s not,” Dean began, stopped, started again. “It’s someone I met a long time ago,” he said. “From when you were at, uh, school. We ran into each other at the library.”
“Wow,” Sam said, “And you remembered her? And she actually wanted to see you again?”
“It wasn’t exactly—I don’t have to tell you any of this,” Dean said. He went into the bathroom and turned on the shower before Sam could say anything else. While the shower was heating up, Dean stripped off his clothes, tossing them into a pile in the corner of the bathroom. They would need to hit a laundromat at some point in the next couple days; he was down to his last pair of pants.
While he showered, he considered the strange coincidence of running into Will, living in the same town where the deaths had occurred, just like the last time. It was strange, but he wasn’t sure if it was strange enough to be suspicious. They had encountered stranger coincidences over the years, and not all of them amounted to anything, and Will hadn’t been related to Dean’s hunt in any way. On the other hand, running into an old acquaintance without the Winchesters being the ones to search them out usually meant trouble, and Dean knew that’s what Sam would say, was surprised that Sam didn’t say it when Dean had told him.
In fact, that’s exactly what Sam did say when Dean came out of the shower, tossing his towel back into the bathroom. “How well did you know this girl, Dean?” Sam asked. “Seems weird, that you’re on a hunt you’ve been on before and now you’re running into someone you’ve met before.”
“Unrelated,” Dean told him shortly, falling down onto his bed and burying his face into the pillow. He hadn’t mentioned to Sam that the case he met Will during was the same one they’re on now, and he decided that now wasn’t the time to do so. Really, he planned to tell Sam as little as possible, to the point of allowing Sam to keep believing that Will was a “she,” but he particularly didn’t want to raise Sam’s suspicion that the man was the demon they were looking for. Dean planned to do some investigating on his own to make sure that this wasn’t the case, but he knew that if Sam found out he would be distrustful, and Dean couldn’t blame him.
“So,” Sam said, and Dean rolled over to look at him, hoped he was going to change the subject, “Did you find out anything that might actually be useful?” Good enough. Dean filled him in on what he had been told by Marla Anderson, more specifics than he had given Sam on the phone that morning, and he told Sam what he had found out (not much) at the library. Then Sam told him all the information (even less) he had gotten at the police station and at the house. While Sam spoke his gaze sometimes flickered to the corners of the room, and Dean wondered what he was seeing there, although from the way his brother was rubbing the palm of his hand, he had a pretty good idea.
“Great,” Dean said, trying to sound cheerful. To his surprise, it wasn’t completely forced. He didn’t know if Sam could tell, although he was sure Sam noticed that most of his attempts at cheerfulness were an act. “Alright, Sammy,” he said, “Lights out.” He hit the light switch as Sam lay down in his own bed. As he did most nights, Dean waited until Sam was asleep before closing his own eyes and trying to rest.
In the morning, Dean woke with the sunrise, realizing that their motel room, an even more run-down place than they were used to (although still better than the houses they had been squatting in as of late) had a window but no curtains. He looked at Sam, who was still sleeping in the other bed, and got up, trying to be quiet while he changed into his jeans to let his brother sleep. There was a time when he would’ve crashed around as loud as possible, because the best time for annoying Sam was in the morning, but that was a long time ago.
Sam woke up a few minutes later anyway, as the sun fell across his bed and into his face. He groaned and stretched his arms up over his head, and Dean noticed that the cut on Sam’s hand had almost entirely healed, although it was red where Sam had undoubtedly been picking at it. Dean didn’t know if that was a good thing or not—an open wound wasn’t safe in their line of work, too much chance of infection by something nastier than what had originally caused the cut, but on the other hand he knew Sam had been using it to banish the demons (well, angels; well, angel of sorts) that had been plaguing him since Cas had knocked down the wall Death bricked up in his head.
“It would’ve broken eventually,” Sam had said once, the two of them driving late at night on a dark highway through cornfields somewhere in the heartland, but Dean chose to believe the alternative. Feeling uncharitable toward his former friend, no matter how much he had wanted to think, even at the end, that the angel was still on their side, was easier than believing that Sam’s situation was inevitable. Better to blame himself for not stopping Castiel than to feel helpless, to think that there was nothing he could have done.
“Dean?” Sam said, looking over at him. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. He rubbed his eyes with his fists, pushing the last of the sleep away, and pulled on his jacket. “Coffee,” he said, and Sam nodded although it wasn’t quite a question. Dean left, heading toward a diner he had seen on their way in, a couple of blocks down. He half expected to run into Will when he got there, not because it was anywhere near Will’s work place or apartment, according to google maps, but because the last few days had been that kind of weird. The man was nowhere in sight, however, and Dean bought two cups of coffee—black for him, with milk for Sam—and a couple of donuts, and walked back to the motel.
The shower was running when he came in, so he set one of the paper cups down on the table and sat down, opening the bag of donuts and pulling one out. He ate it slowly and licked the chocolate icing off of the tips of his fingers when he finished. Sam came out of the bathroom, towel around his shoulders with his hair dripping onto it, and picked up the other coffee cup, nodded thanks to Dean.
When Sam had finished eating his breakfast and his hair was dry, they decided that the best thing to do would be to hunt around for someplace that looked like it might be able to accommodate a crossroads demon, assuming that’s what they were dealing with. Technically speaking, a demon could make deals at any intersection of two roads, but they tended to prefer those that looked more “authentic.” Dean thought briefly of Crowley and imagined the immaculately suited demon standing in the dirt and dust of some old west crossroads and working his evil.
Ideally, they would have gone back to the actual crossroad where Marla Anderson had made her deal, but since they suspected she hadn’t been in town at the time, and nothing about what they could find from her pre-Ramfield history indicated any possibility that she had made her deal in the same place as Charles Tinker, the Winchesters decided that it was unlikely they’d be able to figure out what crossroad it had been, let alone reach it.
“Of course,” Sam was saying as they walked out of the motel room and toward the car, “We can’t just make a deal in broad daylight. But we can scope it out and then come back tonight to finish the job. Oh wait,” he added, “I forgot you had a date.” The tone of his voice made it clear that he hadn’t forgotten at all. Dean wasn’t having any of it, however; while he felt it was his right as the older brother to rib Sam all he wanted about his love life (or lack thereof), that didn’t mean he had to allow Sam to do the same in return. He didn’t respond to Sam’s comment, just climbed into the driver’s seat, put the key in the ignition, and turned the radio all the way up. Sam made a face at him and said something, but Dean couldn’t hear him over the music, and would have pretended not to hear him even if he could.
They drove slowly around town, looking for places that might be fitting locations for calling crossroads demons. The crossroads where demons lurked usually had some sort of a history, something that drew candidates to them, the people who wanted to make deals with hell, their souls in exchange for their deepest desires. But Ramfield wasn’t that sort of place, Dean thought, as they drove down the main street. There were no shady corners or seedy bars to be seen, and most of the streets were paved, which would’ve made it impossible for someone to bury their box there. The best candidate they found was on the outskirts of town, a place where two roads intersected just beyond a grove of trees. It was isolated, bordering on run-down, and looked like the kind of place a demon might want to make its deals. Most importantly, the roads were dirt and gravel, loose enough to dig up.
Dean parked the car by the tree grove and he and Sam walked over to the crossroads. They searched around, but were not really surprised to find there was no evidence that any of the gravel had been disturbed to bury a box of graveyard dirt. “Close enough,” Sam said, kicking at the dirt. “You have the stuff?” Dean pulled a box containing graveyard dirt, yarrow, and a bone from a black cat out of his bag. Sam dug his wallet out of his jacket and leafed through the fake IDs in it until he found an old FBI badge with his photo on it, then tossed it into the box. Dean took a spade out of the bag as well and they dug down into the middle of the road and buried the box.
“You think they’re gonna recognize us?” Dean asked quietly. “You know, from being—from being down there?”
“I don’t want to sound arrogant,” Sam said, smiling grimly, “but I doubt there’s a single demon from here to hell that hasn’t seen our faces. You think that means it’s not going to show?”
Dean shrugged. “Only hope we’ve got. If it doesn’t come, maybe we can get Jody to drive over here and throw her picture in the box.”
“Maybe,” Sam agreed. Dean knew he was hesitant to get anyone else involved in anything, and Dean felt the same way. Better to risk their own safety than someone else’s. “Back here at midnight then,” Sam said, “Guess you’ll have to cut your date short.” He said it with a grin but then his face softened and he said, “Sorry.”
“Whatever,” Dean said. He unconsciously reached for Bobby’s flask, battered and tarnished, hidden in the depths of his jacket, then remembered that it was empty. It was okay, he didn’t need a drink, he told himself, even as he wondered how soon he would get a chance to refill it. They walked back to the car and drove back into town. Sam suggested they stop for lunch, and they ended up at a diner near the center of town. Dean noticed a street sign after they parked the car and walked across the street to the diner. They were on the same street as Will had told Dean he worked. Dean hoped they wouldn’t run into him; he didn’t want to have to explain things to Sam. Not when he would see Will that evening, they would (hopefully) kill the demon that night, and then they’d move on. Like always.
There wasn’t much left to do for the rest of the day. While there were rituals for summoning demons, they were nearly as dangerous for the demons themselves, and weren’t worth the reward. Crossroads demons were usually so good about showing up when called, and it usually tended to be at midnight, so Sam and Dean figured that was their best bet. Seven o’clock found Sam with his laptop in front of him, looking for a next case. He looked calm and relaxed, wasn’t even rubbing the scar on his hand. Dean on the other hand, felt somewhat less than relaxed. He had changed out of the clothes he had been wearing earlier, his jeans having been covered by dust and grime from the digging at the crossroad.
“Chill out, dude,” Sam said, looking up from his computer screen at him. “You already know she has bad taste; she slept with you once. I’m sure it won’t be that hard to get her to sleep with you again.”
“Actually we didn’t—“ Dean said, before he realized what he was saying and bit off the words mid-sentence.
But Sam had already gotten the gist of it, and he grinned. “So what, is this some kind of ‘seal the deal’ thing? I mean, better with her than with that demon later, but—“
“Shut up, Sam,” Dean said lightly. He turned away and dug through his duffle bag for a button-down shirt, then deliberating for a moment between blue and black. He could feel Sam watching him, even though his back was turned, and he ignored him. When he grabbed his jacket off the bed and pulled it on, Sam spoke again.
“Hey,” Sam said, “Have a good time.” There was no more mocking edge in his voice; he was being sincere. For a second, Dean thought about telling him who he was really going to see. Instead he just nodded, offered Sam a half-smile. Then he left, the door clicking firmly shut behind him.
The drive over to Will’s apartment building only took a few minutes, but Dean hesitated before getting out of the car. He wasn’t nervous, exactly; despite what he would have led people to believe, he did go through that stage of sweaty palms and nervousness at asking a girl out when he was younger, and this didn’t feel like that at all. But there was something that didn’t feel quite right, an uneasy feeling that Dean didn’t like. He did his best to brush it away, and then got out of the car and walked up to the apartment building.
There wasn’t much security, not in a town like this, so Dean didn’t have to have Will buzz him in to the building; he just opened the door and went up the three flights of stairs to apartment 4C. As he knocked on the door, he wondered if he should have picked up a bottle of wine on his way, wondered if he should go out and get one, bring flowers, something, but then he chided himself for being stupid and knocked on the door.
There was no answer. Dean waited for a minute before he knocked again. Still, Will did not come to the door, and when Dean put his ear up against the wood, he heard no sound from inside the apartment. The creeping feeling of unease had returned, but Dean pushed it away again. Will could have forgotten something and run out to pick it up. He could be in the shower, on the other side of the apartment where Dean wouldn’t be able to hear it running from outside. It wasn’t like Will could stand him up when Dean was meeting him at his place. Although Will standing him up wasn’t actually what Dean was worried about.
He waited for ten minutes, then fifteen. Every couple of minutes, he knocked on Will’s door again. Once, a woman opened a door to a nearby apartment and looked at him for a moment. Dean just smiled at her and she smiled back and returned inside. At fifteen minutes, he checked in his wallet to see if he had anything for picking locks, but there was nothing. He could go downstairs and try to convince the apartment supervisor to let him into Will’s apartment, but he hadn’t brought any identification that would make the super believe he should be in the apartment. His only option would be kicking in the door, and Dean didn’t really want to do that when there was a good possibility that Will had just lost track of time.
Twenty minutes passed, and when the little screen on Dean’s cell phone read 8:00, a half an hour after Dean was supposed to meet Will at his apartment, Dean decided not to wait any longer. He couldn’t keep ignoring the uneasy feeling that had taken hold of him. Hoping he was about to barge in on Will and then have to explain the reason he had just busted through the man’s front door, Dean pulled his foot back and delivered a strong kick to the wood. Another kick, and the door creaked on its hinges, swinging open again smacking against the wall with a bang.
It was immediately clear that Will was not in the apartment. He had said he would be cooking dinner for them, and unless he had decided to cook rubber, then his dinner plan would not account for the grey smoke that filled the hallway or the sick, burned smell that permeated the apartment as Dean entered. He hurried to the kitchen, where the light was on and the oven was on fire. A fire alarm hung from the ceiling, broken. Dean found the fire extinguisher in the pantry and put out the oven, hoping that none of the neighbors would think to look out of their apartments and call the fire department before Dean could get a good look at the place.
He opened the windows, letting the smoke dissipate, and then looked around the room. The table had been knocked over, two empty wine glasses and a bottle of red wine smashed on the floor beside it, the deep burgundy of the wine soaking a stain into the hardwood floor of the kitchen. The rest of the room was in similar disarray. Dean saw a smear of brownish red across the kitchen counter and, with a sick feeling in his stomach, ran a finger over it, sniffing to confirm that it was blood.
“Shit,” he said, his voice loud in the empty room. He had left all of his hunting equipment at the motel or in the car, including the knife he usually kept tucked into his pants, and he wished he had it now. Still, the car was just downstairs, out in the parking lot, so Dean left Will’s apartment, hoping none of the neighbors would come to investigate while he was gone, and went out to the car. He brought back the EMF detector, a knife, a gun with rock salt shells, a vial of holy water, and one of his FBI badges in case someone decided to check what was going on. Turning on the EMF reader, Dean walked slowly around the room, but there was no sign of activity on the screen.
The coincidence of meeting Will during the case involving the same demon Dean and Sam were hunting now returned to Dean, and he took the knife and dug it into the space between the floorboards. Sure enough, he came up with some foul-smelling grains of yellow powder on the blade. Sulfur. He swore again and stood up, tucking the knife into his pants.
On the bright side, at least he had a pretty good idea where he would be able to find Will.
There was no point in remaining at Will’s place. Eventually somebody was going to notice that there was something strange going on, and Dean didn’t want to be there when they did. He left the building and got back in the car. He considered placing an anonymous call to the police to have them go check it out, but decided it wouldn’t be much use. It wasn’t like they would have more luck finding Will than Dean would; more likely, they’d end up after him and Sam, and that was the last thing they needed if they wanted to finish this case. He looked at the clock; it was just after nine. He and Sam had agreed to meet at the crossroads just before midnight, but aside from telling Sam what had happened, he had nothing else to do so he just drove toward the intersection where they had buried the box.
Dean parked by the same grove of trees where they had parked that morning and stepped out of the car. He opened the trunk again and took out some chalk, although he doubted he would be able to lure the demon into a devil’s trap. Sam had been right earlier; it was too much to hope that any demon would fail to recognize them. The best they could hope for, Dean thought, was that the demon might be willing to bargain, that they could come up with something other than their souls that it would be willing to take in exchange for not making any more deals with innocent people, in exchange bringing back Will from wherever it had taken him.
He wondered for a moment what he would do if it turned out that this wasn’t the demon that had been in Will’s apartment, but he knew he had to focus on the task at hand. He brushed away the dust from the road, drawing as many devil’s traps as he could and covering them up in leaves, dirt, trying not to smear the chalk, just in case the demon was stupid enough to step into one of them. It was just after eleven by the time he finished; Sam would be meeting him soon, and the demon soon after. He leaned against a tree and waited for his brother, looking out at the intersection, the moon casting a sickly yellow light across the ground through the clouds.
Sam arrived about fifteen minutes later; Dean heard his car pull up and listened to his brother’s footsteps as he got out of the car, walked over to the trunk, and then walked up to where Dean was standing. “Hey,” Sam said. “You’re early.”
“Yeah,” Dean agreed.
“Bad date?” Sam asked.
Dean shrugged. He should tell Sam why, tell Sam that they should be expecting a guy who looked like Will except with black eyes, but it didn’t matter. Whatever the demon looked like, they would try to exorcise it. And if they couldn’t exorcise it, well, they would have to kill it, vessel and all. They never liked doing that, but Sam had reasoned once that most of the bodies demons took had been so bashed and battered by their hellish occupants that the people inside them wouldn’t have lived anyway. At the time, Dean had thought back to Meg, in her first vessel, falling out of a window and breaking her neck, then walking on until the demon had disposed of her, and he had always tried not to think about it one way or another after that. Sam had a demon-killing knife though, Dean saw, the silver glint of it in the moonlight, and he barely suppressed a shiver.
They waited in the dark, watching the crossroad, Dean silently pointing out some of the places he had drawn devil’s traps on the ground and Sam taking note of them. Somewhere, a church’s bells struck midnight, and a cold breeze blew from the north. Dean looked toward the crossroads, but there was no sign of the demon or of Will, although he suspected that when one showed up they would turn out to be one and the same.
The wait felt even longer than Dean’s wait outside of Will’s apartment earlier in the evening. The minutes dragged on, the air an icy chill around them, Sam crossing his arms and rubbing his hands over the fabric of his jacket. Dean glanced over at him, then back to the road. Although he kept his eyes trained on the crossroads, watching the surrounding area with his peripheral vision, he still didn’t notice when the demon stepped out of the shadows, moving silently, swiftly, until it was standing right in front of Dean. At his side, Dean could sense Sam drawing his knife, but he put a hand out to tell him to stay back.
Will’s skin had an odd pallor, like someone had dusted white powder over it. When Dean met his eyes, they were a deep, rich black, almond-shaped pools of ink.
“You son of a bitch,” Dean muttered.
“Aw,” the demon said, voice cold, mocking, “You don’t like seeing a familiar face? I thought you might enjoy it, seeing as you got stood up earlier. Sorry about that, by the way, would’ve loved to give you two time to catch up, to really let you know what you’re missing, but we really had to be going.”
“Dean? What’s going on?” Sam said from behind him, but Dean just shook his head, glancing back at Sam with a look he hoped his brother would understand as a promise to explain later.
The demon grinned, leveling its black-eyed gaze on Sam. Dean took a protective step in front of his brother, but the demon didn’t move toward them, just kept smiling with Will’s mouth, a twisted, false smile. Dean looked away, at the ground. “You don’t know, Sam? Baby brother isn’t kept in the loop?” He looked back to Dean, “That’s never worked out for you before, Dean-o.”
Dean’s head snapped up at the nickname, his eyes widening. It couldn’t be what he thought, but he still found himself searching for something he found familiar. “No,” he whispered, not realizing he was speaking until after the word had slipped out.
The demon grinned wider. “No,” it agreed. “Your old buddy Alastair’s still dead, and more’s the pity. But wouldn’t it have been nice? One old friend inside another? That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Dean didn’t miss the double meaning in his words.
“Dean,” Sam said again. Dean could feel him move beside him, shifting the knife from one hand to the other. He knew what Sam was thinking—the demon had come, kill and be done. No more deals; it didn’t matter what weird game the demon was playing by taking what it gave and the dealmaker’s memory as well.
Except the demon was possessing Will. It wouldn’t be the first time they had killed a demon inside a live vessel. Sometimes they just didn’t have a choice. But they were always strangers, and Dean and Sam never talked about it, thought about it. Dean thought about it now, remembered Bobby stabbing himself, losing his ability to walk instead of letting the demon kill Dean. And now Bobby was dead. Dean was damned if he or Sam was going to stab the demon and Will along with it. If Sam’s life was in danger, sure, but otherwise, they were going to exorcise the sonofabitch whatever it took.
He wasn’t really sure how they were going to do that, though. There was little chance of getting the demon to trip up and step on one of the devil’s traps Dean had painted that afternoon, and no other way to get the demon to stay put for long enough to exorcise it otherwise.
“Well then,” the demon said. It sounded cheerful. Dean gritted his teeth. “What are we waiting for. You called me here for a reason, didn’t you? Let’s make a deal.” Dean and Sam glanced at each other, then back at the demon. It watched them and then grinned that wide, horrifying grin again. “Of course not,” it said, “Not even when I have something that you want.” His words were directed straight at Dean, but Dean didn’t take the bait. No matter how bad he would feel if Will were killed in destroying the demon, there was no way Dean would make a deal in exchange for his safety. Feeling selfish, he wondered if even Sam was enough to make him go through that again; he didn’t linger on this long enough to give himself an answer.
“No?” the demon said, jerking Dean out of his thoughts. “Nothing? Ah, well, you know how to reach me.” It stepped back into the shadows and disappeared, Will’s body disappearing with it. Dean lunged forward as though to grab it, as though he could hold the demon in place with his bare hands while Sam performed the exorcism, but he grasped only empty air.
When he was sure that the demon was gone, Dean turned back to Sam hesitantly. His brother still had the demon-killing knife in his hand, but he lowered it slowly and glanced at Dean. Dean wondered how much of what the demon had alluded to he would have to explain to Sam; Sam was smart, probably figured out most of it on his own, but was still looking at him questioningly, uncertain.
“Well,” Dean said grumpily, mustering up as much false bravado to hide his worry as he possibly could, “That was useful.”
“That guy,” Sam said slowly, and of course he was going to ignore the fact that they were no closer to stopping the demon in order to talk about Dean’s feelings. “The man the demon was possessing… you know him?” He thought for a moment, and then said, “That’s who you were going to see tonight?” He paused again and then added, “That’s who you were going on a date with tonight?”
It was too late to avoid telling Sam anything, and Dean wasn’t going to lie to him. Not about something like this. He nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Met him about ten years ago. Haven’t seen or heard from him since then, but we ran into each other yesterday and we were going to… yeah,” he finished lamely.
“So you’re—“ Sam began, “It’s okay, I just didn’t realize—I didn’t know you…” Even in the dark, Dean could see the slight flush on his cheeks.
“I don’t,” Dean said. “Well, yeah, I do, okay, but not that often. And it’s not—“
“No,” Sam said, looking worried. “It’s okay. I think it’s okay. It’s fine. You just never told me.”
Dean shrugged. “Sorry?” he offered. Then he thumbed at the knife stuck into his waistband. “Look, we can cry over decaf lattes later if you want to talk about it, but right now—“
“Right,” Sam said. They turned away from the crossroads, back toward the woods, and headed in the direction of the car. Dean got in and started up the engine while Sam slid into the passenger’s side. They drove back toward town, back to figure out what to do next, and Sam said, “Dean?” quietly. Dean glanced over at him; Sam’s expression was soft, thoughtful, and Dean mentally prepared himself for whatever Sam was about to say. “What is his name?” Sam asked.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Dean said, rolling his eyes.
“Well, at least you aimed high,” Sam said, which made Dean roll his eyes harder and turn on the radio.
They drove in silence back to the motel, the music playing loud between them, but when they parked the car and Dean shut it off, he said, “His name’s Will.” Sam nodded and followed him back into the motel room.
“So,” Sam said, dropping his knife, flask of holy water, and book of exorcisms down on the table and then sitting down on the edge of Dean’s bed. “What now?”
There was a half-empty bottle of whiskey on the table and Dean picked it up, uncapped it and raised the bottle to his lips, and took a long drink before answering. “Well,” he said, as the liquor burned pleasantly down his throat, “We can’t summon the sonofabitch. And I’d rather not kill it while it’s still in—before, uh, before we have to, so I’m open to suggestions.”
“Okay,” Sam said. “Do you know where his apartment is? Will’s? He was probably coming from there to meet you, that might be where the demon got him. We could check it out. Look for anything that might help?” Dean agreed, and they went back to the car. He didn’t mention to Sam that he had already been there; he hadn’t had time to search thoroughly for clues, and it did mean that he knew for certain that it was where the demon had possessed Will.
The parking lot of Will’s apartment building was crawling with police when they pulled up. Not surprising, considering that Dean had kicked in the door of the apartment and there was plenty of evidence of a crime for the neighbors to notice inside. Indeed, he could see some people he presumed were Will’s neighbors outside, talking to the police officers on the scene. Dean parked the car down the street—it was an old, beat up Ford, not recognizable like the Impala, but it was also stolen—and he and Sam took a couple of badges out of the glove compartment before they walked over to the building.
“Agent Smith,” Dean said, pointing to himself, then, “Agent Smith,” pointing to Sam. “No relation.”
“Good evening, agents,” the officer said, looking confused. “It’s a little late for you to be getting here, isn’t it? Who put in the call to the feds?”
“Ongoing investigation,” Sam said firmly. Dean nodded, all too aware that they hadn’t even put on their suits before coming over, and that if the cop got suspicious, things wouldn’t go well for them. But the police officer just looked at them for a long moment before ushering them past the yellow caution tape cordoning off the building and up the stairs inside to the floor of Will’s apartment. Upstairs, there was more yellow tape, and several more people from the police department and coroner’s office. The cop led them into the crime scene, where Dean had been just a few hours earlier, and walked them through Will’s apartment and into the kitchen.
“I have to get back downstairs,” he said, “I’m interviewing neighbors and possible witnesses. Charlie’s out front if you need anything, agents.”
“Much appreciated,” Sam said, and the officer left the way he came in. Dean watched his brother as Sam looked around the kitchen. The burnt food was still on the counter, the kitchen walls blackened by smoke. “Uh, Dean,” Sam said, “Was he… cooking you dinner?”
“Shut up,” Dean replied. Sam walked over to the kitchen counter, mumbling something that sounded like “cute” as he went. Dean ignored him and began his own investigation. He had already found the sulfur in the floorboards, already tested the EMF reader and found nothing, already seen the sickening smear of blood on the countertop. He decided to look in the other rooms, to see if there was any sign of where the demon had entered, or how it took Will out, since the door had been locked when Dean arrived and demons didn’t usually have that kind of concern.
He went first into the small living room attached to the kitchen. There wasn’t much to it, just a sofa and a television and a table with a lamp. Dean switched on the light, casting a pale orange glow on the room, and knelt down, looking for more sulfur in the carpet. There was no sign of the foul-smelling yellow powder, and when he pulled the EMF detector out of his jacket and turned it on, there was nothing registering on it either.
He scoured the living room thoroughly and didn’t find any evidence that would help them figure out what the demon was planning to do with Will or where it might have taken him during his possession. The apartment wasn’t very large; Dean was certain that the next room to be checked out was Will’s bedroom. The door to it was off of the living room, so Dean walked over and turned the handle until the door opened.
Inside, he fumbled for a moment until his hand hit a light switch against the wall, and he turned it on, bathing the small, sparsely furnished room with light from a lamp on the bedside table and an overhead light on the ceiling. The only furniture in the room was a bed, the table, a desk, and a bookshelf, but all of them were practically overflowing with everything from books to photographs to other random objects. Dean took a look at a couple of the photo frames on the bedside table before he got down to business; one was a picture of Will with what Dean assumed must be his family—he recognized Ashley, several years older than she was when he had last seen her, and the older woman and man standing with her and Will looked sufficiently like them that he could be sure they were Mr. and Mrs. Morales. Another photograph was of Will and a couple of other boys in graduation caps and gowns. They were all grinning, Will’s arm slung over one of their shoulders, and Dean looked back toward the doorway, toward where Sam was still looking through the kitchen. Sam had never gotten to graduate college; Dean had pulled him away during his senior year to look for Dad and then Jess had died and Sam had never gone back. Dean had never had a chance to begin with—lack of money, lack of motivation, lack of choice, whatever it was—but he found himself wishing their father could’ve waited a few months longer to disappear, long enough for Sam to have the opportunity to wear those black robes and that stupid hat.
Dean put down the picture frame he had picked up and opened the bedside table drawer. He smirked when he saw a couple of condoms and a small bottle of lubricant, pushing away a small, guilty, selfish feeling of regret that the demon had possessed Will before they could see each other. He shut the drawer, seeing nothing useful in it and reminding himself that he was trying to find something that would help them rescue Will, not snoop around his apartment, even if he and Sam usually did a little of that in whatever victim or suspect’s house they were in.
He looked everywhere he could think of in the bedroom and adjoining bathroom, but after half an hour or so he had to admit that there was nothing useful in either of the rooms. He went back to the kitchen to see if Sam had been more successful, but Sam just shrugged and shook his head.
“I don’t know, man,” Sam said. “Demons are never easy to track down. You’d think this one would want you to find him, given that you’d… well, it’d think you’d be more likely to make a deal with it to get Will back since he’s someone that you—“
“I wouldn’t make a deal,” Dean said firmly. He’d been down that road before, and after Hell he’d think twice before making a deal even for Sam’s sake.
“I know,” Sam said, seeming to understand, “I’m just saying that this demon wouldn’t necessarily know that, and it might think it could bait you. But then why did it leave, and where is it now? That’s what we need to figure out.”
“No shit,” Dean said. He followed Sam out of the apartment and down the steps. The police were less numerous and so were the neighbors, probably having given up due to the late hour and the cold wind swishing around them outside. Dean nodded at the police officer who had let them into the crime scene upstairs and then they went back to the car parked down the street and returned to the motel room once more.
Two hours later, Sam was trying for the fourth or fifth time in the course of three minutes to suppress a yawn, and Dean pulled off one of his socks, wadded it into a ball, and threw it at him. This time Sam did yawn, while turning his head to glare at Dean. “Get some sleep, dude,” Dean told him. He yawned too, infected by Sam’s yawn, and watched as Sam shut his laptop and lay down on the other bed. Dean waited until Sam fell asleep before he turned off the light, watched as Sam rubbed his fingers over his palm, even as he drifted off, and finally climbed into his own bed when Sam’s breathing turned from ragged to steady.
Still, sleep for Dean was a long time coming. That wasn’t unusual; he couldn’t remember a night when he had gotten more than six hours, and four or five was a good night, but he lay in bed and looked up at the water-stained motel ceiling and wondered what he was going to do. He didn’t have Cas anymore, didn’t have Bobby. Sam was half crazy and ready to tip the other half over the edge any day. And now Will, someone Dean barely even knew, was getting hurt just because he knew Dean. Sure, Dean liked Will, in that way you like someone you had met for three days a decade ago and wanted to have sex with, but it wasn’t like he was family, barely even a friend. And yet somehow, just by virtue of being associated with Dean Winchester, he was stuck in a load of shit.
The next thing he knew, it was morning. Sam was puttering around somewhere on the other side of the room, getting dressed and doing something on his laptop. Dean opened his eyes slowly, the left one glued shut with sleep and the edge of his eyelashes nearly stuck to his pillowcase.
“Morning,” Sam said, sounding grim. Unusually grim, Dean thought, sitting up and shoving a hand through his hair, considering Sam was usually the only one of them who was up and at ‘em before coffee. “You sleep okay?”
“Fine,” Dean said, pushing back the blanket with his feet and climbing out of the bed. Then he glanced at the clock. 6:43am. “Any particular reason we’re up at the ass-crack of dawn?”
“Speak for yourself,” Sam said, “You woke up too.”
“How long have you been up, Sammy?” Dean asked. He tried to examine whether the circles under Sam’s eyes were darker than the day before without his brother realizing what he was doing.
“Stop that,” Sam said, realizing, of course, exactly what Dean was doing. “We’ve got work to do. I haven’t been able to find a surefire way to summon that demon if it doesn’t want to come, but I’ve come up with a couple summoning rituals we can try.”
“Any that might be able to get it in a certain spot?” Dean asked. “Like right over a devil’s trap?”
Sam nodded. “If we’re lucky. Get dressed. The faster we can get exorcise the demon, the less likely it’ll have had a chance to damage the, uh, vessel.” Dean was pulling on his jeans as Sam talked, grabbing his shirt from the day before off the chair—they really needed to do laundry. Sam was right; Dean thought again of Meg, falling out of the building, the other demons they had exorcised over the years who had been shot and stabbed, billowing black smoke out of their vessels’ mouths and leaving the bodies to bleed out on the pavement. He closed his eyes for a moment as he buttoned his shirt, and thought of Bobby in the hospital bed, Castiel walking into the lake, Sam falling forward, falling backward, falling, falling, falling. He imagined Will, on the ground staring up at him, black eyes turned back to grey and becoming glassy with death.
“Alright,” he said, opening his eyes, picking up his duffle bag and sliding the strap over his shoulder, and grabbing his gun off the bedside table. “What do we have to do?”
The first summoning ritual they tried out was deceptively simple. Just a couple of animal bones that Sam was able to buy from a local butcher, some holy water, and a number of sigils that Dean drew, taking a sharp silver knife to the palm of his hand for the blood to draw them with. He wasn’t particularly surprised when it didn’t work, conjuring up a cloud of dust and a burnt, ashy smell, but no sign of any demon, let alone the one wearing Will’s face.
The second had slightly more success than the first. This one was more complicated, and took them most of the morning. Sam drove around town to several health food stores, a Korean grocery, and a New Age store looking for the correct herbs and plants to burn while they chanted in some lost language. Aramaic, Sam told Dean. More blood, more sigils, and when the demon appeared it was clear that it was the wrong one. Not only was it wearing a young woman as its vessel, it didn’t seem to have any idea who Dean and Sam were. Demons lie, sure, Dean thought, but even after several doses of holy water and thin cuts on its arms from the demon-killing knife, it couldn’t tell them where Will or the demon possessing him was.
“You summoned a demon,” it hissed as Sam began the exorcism, “Didn’t get to choose which one.” Then the vessel opened its mouth and black smoke exploded out of it as Sam finished chanting the words of the exorcism.
“Anything else?” Dean asked, staring up to the sky where the black smoke had gone rushing into the ether. In the devil’s trap lay the body of its vessel and now that Dean looked closely he could see the gaping wound in her chest, peeking out from under her shirt. The skin was raw and angry and looked infected, and Dean wondered how long she had been dead with the demon still inside her. He and Sam pulled her off to the side and covered the body with leaves and branches from the underbrush, planning to bury her when they were finished. Dean hoped they wouldn’t be burying Will’s body with her.
“There’s one more thing,” Sam said, “But it’s the most dangerous. I found, uh, there’s a ritual to summon a vessel. Well, a person. Who is being possessed. So we could bring Will directly here, whether the demon wants it or not.”
“What’s the catch?” Dean asked, glancing over at the pile of branches that covered the other corpse.
“Well,” Sam said. “What I found was pretty conflicting. Some lore says that the possessor will be forced to come along with the possessed. But according to other things, it’s also possible that the demon will just be able to pull the victim apart from the inside and escape on the way.”
“Oh,” Dean said heavily. He had never been possessed by a demon, was probably one of the few hunters these days who hadn’t, but he’d had enough experience with demons messing around with his insides that he knew they could make it extra-unpleasant. Still, it was just as risky to let the demon keep running around in Will’s body, especially since it knew that the Winchesters were after it. It wasn’t likely to be careful, even by demon standards.
Dean left Sam kneeling in the dirt, touching up the chalked-in devil’s trap that had been smeared by the body of the other demon’s vessel, and went back to Will’s apartment.
“Get an object that is important to the vessel,” Sam had said, except Dean had no idea what that would be. It wasn’t as though he knew much of anything about Will, except that he was a lawyer and a good cook and a better kisser and he had an older sister and he liked Dean. None of those things were particularly helpful, except maybe if he could find something related to Ashley. Once he was in the apartment, still barricaded off by crime scene tape, Dean headed straight for the bedroom. He remembered the family picture Will had by his bed and tucked that into his bag, but he figured he should bring a couple more options in case one held more importance to Will than the others.
Half an hour later, he had collected the family portrait, Will’s law school diploma, the most dog-eared of the books on his bookshelf, and a ragged blue baby blanket that he found hidden high on a shelf in Will’s closet. Childhood belongings often held special importance, especially if their owners kept them around that long. Dean thought of the stuffed animal dog that Sam had carried around for almost two years when he was about seven, and how their dad wouldn’t go back for it when Sam had accidentally left it in a motel room. If it hadn’t gotten lost, he wondered, would Sam have grown out of it and stopped caring, or would he have stopped carrying it around but kept it tucked into a corner of his bag, hidden away from Dad’s and Dean’s judgment?
Dean’s next stop was a cemetery. The idea of using a human bone as part of a spell didn’t sit well with Dean but he justified it to himself by thinking that it’s owner wouldn’t care. The main problem laid in how to acquire one of the bones. Grave robbing was tricky enough at night; there was always a groundskeeper or some late-night mourner to look out for, and it wasn’t exactly a fast or easy process to dig up the grave and open the coffin. In broad daylight, Dean wasn’t sure how he was going to do it, but it was more likely to work than going to the morgue and trying to convince the coroner that the FBI needed a piece of one of their males. It was too bad that Will wasn’t a girl, Dean mused, they could have used a bone from the previous demon’s unfortunate vessel. Waste not, and all that.
He got lucky, however, when he saw the mausoleum, a hulking shadow across the field of marble tombstones and angel statues and Celtic crosses. Looking to see that no one was around, Dean slipped inside and looked at the rows of drawer-like spaces holding twenty or so coffins. He looked at the dates engraved on each placard and picked the one with the least recent date of death—less chance that a family member would show up and notice that the coffin of an 86-year-old who had died in 1994 had been broken in to than that someone had disturbed the everlasting sleep of a 22-year-old who passed away in 2009.
There was a small lock on each of the spaces, but Dean picked it easily and pulled out the drawer, listening closely for any sign that someone might be nearby. The coffin proved to be more difficult than the lock, but even with the metal lining under the wood cover Dean eventually managed to get it open. The body of Donald Munce was mostly decomposed, and Dean had to take a step back and fight the bile that was rising up in his throat from the rotting, decayed smell. When he was relatively sure he wasn’t about to throw up, he drew a small, sharp silver knife from his jacket and cut around the blackened flesh covering two of Munce’s fingers, then snapped the bones and pocketed the now-detached fingers. He shut the coffin quickly and pushed it back into the wall, swinging the door shut and leaving the mausoleum at a near-run.
Back by the crossroads, in the woods on the side of the road, Sam had gotten everything else set up for the ritual. When Dean arrived, Will’s belongings and Donald Munce’s phalanges in tow, Sam was finishing up a series of sigils, the most complicated they had drawn that day. He had cut open his palm—the palm with the almost-healed scar, Dean noticed—and was drawing the sigils in thick, tacky blood on the ground, the devil’s trap in the center.
“Hey,” Sam said as Dean approached. “You get everything?” Dean pulled the fingers out of his pocket and tossed them into the center of the circle. Sam grimaced, wrinkling his nose. “Gross,” he said. “What about the personal object?”
Dean pulled the photo, the diploma, and the blanket out of the bag. “I wasn’t sure which one,” he said. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Sam said, shrugging. “If it was me, I’d go with family,” he added, glancing up at Dean, “but maybe he’s a workaholic and the law degree would be better. I don’t know him.”
“Neither do I,” Dean said. It was true; he couldn’t have guessed much better than Sam which of the items would mean the most to Will, but the family photo was as good a choice as any, so he placed it on top of the severed fingers in the center of the circle. Sam finished up the sigils and then stepped back, picking up the piece of paper on which he had written the summoning words he had found.
“Do you want to—“ Sam began, holding out the paper to Dean.
“Doesn’t matter,” Dean said, but he took the paper and began reading while Sam set the photo and the fingers on fire with a lighter. The language was difficult, combinations of letters that Dean wasn’t sure how to pronounce, and he stumbled over them a few times, but he hoped they would work anyway, and that they wouldn’t end up with a disemboweled corpse in the middle of their devil’s trap.
It happened suddenly; one minute there was only the sigils in blood and the chalk on the ground, and the next there was a creature in the circle, hissing and spitting and trying to escape. But the trap held, as Dean knew it would, and eventually the demon stopped fighting long enough for Dean to get a good look at it. Will’s body had scratches on its arms and what looked like a burn mark on the side of its face, but he didn’t see anything that would indicate that Will was dead inside the demon-possessed form. The demon looked up at him, its eyes cold, black, and narrowed into a glare.
Dean’s first thought was just to start the exorcism, to get the demon out of Will and send it back to Hell immediately, but first they wanted some answers. “What did you do to those people?” he asked, “What kind of deal did you make?”
“The same deal as all of us make,” the demon snarled, “Ten years. I just… collected differently.”
“So what,” Dean asked, “Sending the hellhounds after the people who sold their souls to you wasn’t enough? You had to take away what you gave first?”
“I didn’t send the hellhounds after the people who sold their souls,” the demon said. “That was part of the deal. Ten years you get what you asked for, and then I get your soul when you die. It’s not my fault if one closely followed the other. Well, I did have to help that last bitch along in the end, she seemed to be coping just a little bit too well.”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Dean said, “Any last words, you sonofabitch?”
“I’ll come back,” the demon promised. “Eventually. You and I both know the only way to really kill one of us is to use that knife of yours. And we both know you won’t. Not with this body. Sam knows too, isn’t that right, Sammy?” The demon turned its flat, black gaze on Sam and Dean took a step in front of him, even knowing that the devil’s trap kept the creature contained. “So I’ll come back, and who knows? Maybe I’ll take your boyfriend for another ride.” It smiled, twisting Will’s lips into a grin.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus,” Dean began, “omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio...” The demon hissed as smoke began to curl from the edges of Will’s mouth, out of his nostrils, from the corners of his eyes. It clouded around him, twisting and twisting until it disappeared, seeping into the ground and dissipating into the sky.
Dean and Sam stood still, not wanting to risk breaking the devil’s trap before they were sure the demon was gone, but when Will, whose body had fallen to the ground as the demon left it, made a small, pathetic sound and shifted in the dirt, Dean stepped over the bloody sigils and made his way to him.
“Hey,” he said, kneeling down beside Will. “Hey, Will, you’re okay. Alright? You’re okay.” He put a hand under Will’s head, cushioning him from the hard ground, and when Will opened his eyes he was relieved to see the grey irises surrounded by white instead of the flat pools of demon-black.
“Dean,” Will said; his voice was ragged and hoarse and Dean’s name came out closer to a moan than an actual word. He was wearing a button-down shirt and Dean quickly undid the first couple of buttons, checking Will’s stomach and chest for anything that might indicate he needed to go to the hospital. There were a couple more cuts, and some nasty looking purple bruises, but nothing that looked life threatening. Dean moved his hand from the back of Will’s head to get an arm around his shoulders, pulling him up a little more, and Will closed his eyes again so Dean just held him like that until he looked up.
“What the hell was—“ Will began, then coughed, choking on the words.
“Look,” Dean said. “I know you’re going to have a lot of questions, but right now just try to relax.”
“Try to relax,” Will repeat. He coughed again and his mouth cracked into half a smile as a tear squeezed out from the corner of his eye. “I don’t—I can’t… can you help me up?” Dean nodded and kept his arm around Will to help guide him to his feet. When Will was standing he looked from Dean to Sam and then back to Dean. “Um,” he said, “Thank you?” Dean nodded; he wasn’t sure if he should let go of Will, but the other man was making no effort to move away so Dean jut kept his arm on Will’s shoulders, hand curled around his arm, holding him up.
“This is my brother Sam,” Dean said, gesturing in Sam’s direction with his free hand. It probably wasn’t the best time for introductions, but he wasn’t sure what else to do. “Sam, this is Will.”
“Hi,” Will said weakly.
“Good to meet you,” Sam said, “Sorry it had to be under these circumstances.”
Will managed that half smile again. “I don’t really know what happened,” he said, “But I think you saved my life, so—“ he broke off and looked back to Dean. “Is this—“ he began, “Do you—?” He seemed like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask, so Dean cut in.
“You could probably use some rest,” he said. “Your apartment’s a crime scene but all the cops have left. I can take you home.” Will hesitated and then nodded, and Sam nodded too, so Dean led Will over to one of the cars and they headed back to his apartment. They didn’t talk in the car, although with his peripheral vision Dean could see that Will was watching him for most of the drive.
Once they were back in his apartment, Will looked around, horrified by the damage and the smear of blood in his kitchen. He touched the side of his head and winced when he felt the burn. “Oh my god,” he breathed out.
Dean hung back, in the doorway, and let him look. Then he said again, “You should get some rest.” He almost offered to stay with Will, but he figured Will was probably freaking out and could use some time alone, and he didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. He also almost offered Will his number, to tell him to call when he was ready to talk, but that would have given Will the option to not call, and Dean knew that this was something they would need to discuss, no matter who Will was or what his relationship to Dean was. So instead he said, “I’ll stop by sometime tomorrow and see how you’re doing.” Will just nodded, looking dazed, and Dean slipped out the front door while Will was still staring at the ash-covered walls of his kitchen.
Sam looked surprised to see Dean when he got back to the motel room. “I figured you’d want to stay and make sure he was okay,” Sam said, and Dean couldn’t tell if was intending some innuendo with his words, but if he was Dean ignored it. He had pretty much given up on anything he had originally intended with Will; in his experience, “let me thank you with sex for saving my life” came much less frequently than “I’m still freaking out and you’re just reminding me that monsters are real.”
“I figure he needs a break from… from us, and what we do,” Dean said. “We can take a day and get our bearings anyway. I’ll go back tomorrow and explain.”
“Alright,” Sam said. “I’ll start looking for something new, I guess.”
“Food first,” Dean said, his stomach gurgling, and Sam agreed. After going to a diner for a late lunch (or perhaps it was an early dinner; their work had taken most of the day), Sam started researching for a new hunt while Dean read and reread everything they had found out about Dick Roman and the Leviathan while trying not to wonder how Will was doing. After an hour or so he gave up and just stared at the same page on the screen, wondering how Will was doing. He looked up Will’s number in the online phone book and punched half of the number into his cell phone before deleting it and tossing his phone back onto the table.
“You could go back over there now,” Sam suggested, knowing what Dean was thinking about, but Dean just shook his head.
“I’m going to get some shut eye,” Dean said, turning off his laptop and shucking his jeans and shirt, then climbing into bed and burrowing down into the blankets. He knew Sam was watching him over the top of his own computer, but he just closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
In the morning, Dean was awoken by the smell of coffee close to his face. He cracked his eyes open and saw a paper cup on the bedside table, its contents steaming. He didn’t even bother to sit up before he picked up the cup and put it to his lips, which was probably a mistake since he managed to get very little of the coffee into his mouth and most of it ended up on his pillowcase or dribbling down his chin, but he was still only half awake so he didn’t really notice or care. When he did sit up, Sam was watching him.
“Hi,” Dean said. He drank more of the coffee. “How’s the hand?” They both had bandages around their palms from where they had cut them open to draw the demon summoning sigils.
Sam waved his absently. “Fine,” he said. “How are you?” His eyes grew big and sad as he said it, so Dean figured that meant it was feelings time, and he downed the rest of the coffee.
“Good enough,” Dean said. “This is about as close as we get to winning one; I’m happy.”
“Are you going to go back and talk to him?” Sam asked. He sat down on the edge of Dean’s bed and Dean pulled his feet out of the way to make room for him.
“Later,” Dean said, “If he hasn’t packed up and run for the hills.” He swirled his empty coffee cup and Sam offered the rest of his. Dean took it; it had too much milk and sugar for him, but he drank it anyway. “Thanks,” he said.
They sat in silence for a while until Sam spoke again, hesitantly. “You know,” he said, “I didn’t know there was anyone… I mean, I knew about Cassie, of course, and—“ he paused rather than saying Lisa, “but I didn’t know you—“
“It wasn’t serious,” Dean said shortly. “It was a day, maybe two. It wasn’t like Cassie or—“ a pause long enough for Lisa’s name to hang in between them.
“Look, you don’t have to be—“ Sam began, but Dean cut him off.
“Fuck off, Sam,” Dean said, mostly good-natured, “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or whatever you think. I just didn’t want Dad to know. And after… after, there wasn’t really a good time to say, uh, anything. It didn’t matter anyway; it’s been strictly chicks for the past couple years.”
“Oh,” Sam said. “Okay.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dean agreed. “Can this conversation be over now?” Sam nodded, and Dean went to take a shower.
He didn’t make it back over to Will’s apartment until the early evening. First he and Sam had to go back to the place where they had summoned the demon and clean up. Sam had buried the body of the female vessel shallowly, enough that nobody would stumble on it if they were walking through the woods, but they went back to dig a deeper grave, and salt and burned her body before placing it into the ground. Then they got rid of all evidence of the devil’s traps and sigils and removed any other traces that they had been there.
Afterwards, Dean stalled, taking another shower, fiddling with his laptop, eating a long lunch at the diner, beginning the search for another case. Finally, as the sun turned orange at the edge of sunset in the sky, he told Sam he would be back soon and left for Will’s.
“See you tomorrow, Dean,” Sam said gently. While Dean thought that was probably more optimistic than was likely, he nodded as he shut the motel door behind him.
Will opened the door the second time Dean knocked. Dean wasn’t really sure he was going to, wouldn’t have blamed him if he hadn’t (although it wouldn’t have stopped him from kicking it in again). His hair was wet and messy and he was wearing thin, wire-rimmed glasses and sweats with a faded t-shirt. He didn’t look surprised to see Dean, but he didn’t look exactly happy about it either, and he didn’t say anything, just stepped back from the door to let Dean into the apartment. He walked down the hallway and Dean followed him, into the kitchen. Will must have been busy that morning, Dean thought; most of the ash had been scrubbed off the walls, and the kitchen counter was clean. There was also something bubbling on the stove, and Will gave it a sir before he turned back to Dean, leaning against the counter.
“How are you doing?” Dean asked finally, breaking the silence. Will looked away from him, back to the stove, then looked at Dean again.
“Honestly?” he said, “I don’t know. You’re kind of warping my worldview here, Dean.”
“You’re not the first,” Dean said. “And you’re taking it better than most. I dated this girl once that I made the dumb mistake of telling her what I do and she was about ready to call the cops or the psych wards.” He thought back to telling Cassie, how she had yelled at him and asked if he was playing some kind of freaky joke on her, and he couldn’t suppress a smile. “Let’s face it, she had every right to.”
“It’s just… it’s hard to wrap my head around,” Will said slowly. “I mean, I don’t even believe in God, let alone monsters or…”
“Demons,” Dean said. “You were possessed by a demon.” Will flinched, and Dean almost reached out a hand to him, but he held back. “Anyway, it seems like most people are more likely to believe in God than they are in demons, except for those hellfire and brimstone types. And he’s real too.”
“That’s good, I guess,” Will said. “I’d rather believe there’s something equally powerful but at least on the good side.”
Dean nodded, deciding not to give Will any indication of what he knew about God. “What are you cooking?” he asked, to change the subject.
“Oh,” Will said, looking back at the pot as if he was noticing it for the first time. He picked up the wooden spoon and gave it another stir. “Soup,” he answered. “Comfort food, you know?” he managed a small laugh that sounded genuine. “There’s—there’s more than enough if you want to stick around for a while,” he offered.
“Only if you want me to,” Dean said. He definitely wanted to, but Will still looked spooked as hell and Dean didn’t know if his presence was helping. But Will nodded, and so Dean said, “Yeah, okay.” Will directed him toward the fridge, asking him to put together some salad while he finished making the soup, and Dean obeyed, filling two bowls with spinach and romaine lettuce and sliced carrots and tomatoes. He also noticed a bottle of red wine next to the refrigerator; it looked nicer than something someone would drink on their own, although Dean didn’t know much about the drinking habits of lawyers, or about Will’s financial situation. Maybe Will could drink an expensive bottle of wine every night.
“I got that for, um, the other night—“ Will began, noticing Dean looking. He trailed off and then started again. “We can drink that, if you want, or there might be some beer left, I don’t—“
“This is good,” Dean said. He grabbed the bottle of wine and brought it over to the kitchen table. Then he went back to the counter and dug through the drawers until he found a wine opener, then the cupboards until he found two wine glasses. When he turned around, he bumped into Will, who was trying to move past him to get something out of the fridge. The space between the counter and the island was too small for both of them, and their bodies were pressed together from chest to hip, Dean holding the wine glasses out of the way.
Dean made no effort to move, looking up slightly to meet Will’s eyes. Will flushed a little, but didn’t break eye contact, although his eyes widened behind the lenses of his glasses. “Sorry,” he said.
“Alright with me,” Dean said, smirking. Between the wine and the way Will’s lips parted, the way his breathing had quickened, Dean figured that he was sufficiently un-freaked-out enough to be able to handle a little flirting. Will kept moving without answering, but Dean didn’t think it was an accident that Will’s hand came up to brush against his stomach, almost under the fabric of his shirt, as they passed.
When the soup was ready, Will ladled it into two bowls and took them over to the table while Dean popped the cork out of the wine and poured it. They sat down on adjacent sides of the table, and the table was small enough that Dean’s foot bumped against Will’s as they settled in to eat. Dean watched Will scoop up a spoonful of his soup before he took a bite himself, and when he tasted it he grinned.
“This is great,” he said sincerely. Will looked up from his food and saw Dean’s smile, and offered a small smile of his own. Then he said, “Have you always done this? Hunting—hunting demons and stuff?”
“Pretty much,” Dean said. “My dad really did work as a mechanic, but by the time I was old enough to help out that was pretty far in the past.”
“I’m sorry,” Will said. He put his spoon down on the edge of the bowl and reached over, fingertips brushing against the back of Dean’s hand.
Dean shrugged. “Someone has to do it, and people aren’t exactly lining up for the job. Anyway, Sam and me, we do okay.” It was a lot easier to make hunting sound like a less than miserable existence with someone who didn’t know the ins and outs of it, he thought. Will asked him a few more questions about hunting while they finished up their meal; Dean answered as honestly as he could, although he avoided saying anything about the apocalypse or the angels or Lucifer. Afterwards, Will put the leftover soup in a plastic container to go in the fridge, and he split the rest of the bottle of wine, mostly empty from the meal, into his and Dean’s glasses.
Dean was just holding his wine glass, watching the burgundy liquid swirl around in the glass, when Will said his name. Dean looked up and Will took a step closer, setting down his own wine glass on the counter. Dean could tell what was coming so he put his own glass aside and let Will kiss him, backing him up against the kitchen island, the edge of the marble pressing into the small of his back.
Dean’s hands found Will’s hair, threading through the thick brown strands, still slightly wavy despite being so much shorter than when he and Will had first met. He tugged Will in, deepening the kiss, making Will let out a small moan against Dean’s mouth. Dean smiled into the kiss, and rolled his hips up against Will’s as Will pressed against him from chest to hip again, this time very deliberately, and put his hand on Dean’s back, clenching a hand in the fabric of Dean’s shirt.
“Bed?” Will said, a question against Dean’s mouth. Dean didn’t answer, but let Will pull him backwards out of the kitchen, still kissing him, working at the buttons on both of their shirts as they went.
Dean woke up the next morning with Will spooned up tight behind him, one hand wrapped around him, fingertips on his bare stomach, feet interlocking at the ankle. He could feel Will’s breath on the back of his neck, warm and humid, lips brushing his skin as Will breathed in and out. Will awoke slowly behind him; Dean could feel his cock, half-hard against his ass, and he shifted his hips back slightly.
“Mm,” Will said, only half awake. “Morning.” Dean pulled away and turned over to look at him. Will’s hair was mussed, one side flattened by the pillow, and his eyes were barely open but he smiled at Dean. Dean swallowed hard and smiled back; it had been a while since he had done this with anyone, man or woman, this waking up without the thought of how soon he could leave or whether or not his partner would make an excuse to kick him out. Will leaned in to kiss him and for a while longer, all thoughts were forgotten.
“Oh, hey,” Dean said, afterwards. He stretched over Will and reached into the drawer of his bedside table, fumbling past condoms, Will’s contact lenses, and a bottle of aspirin until he found a piece of paper and a pen. Using Will’s back as a table, he sketched out a rough drawing of the anti-possession symbol. “I need you to get this as a tattoo,” he said, holding the drawing in front of Will’s face.
Will squinted at it for a moment, then grabbed Dean’s hand and pulled slightly further away, to see the drawing clearly, then looked at its counterpart on Dean’s chest. “Kinky,” he said finally.
“I’m serious,” Dean told him. “This afternoon. Tomorrow. ASAP.”
“Dean,” Will said. Dean dropped the paper on Will’s pillow and rolled to look at him. “I’m a lawyer. I’m sure tattoos are okay in your line of work—“ he paused and rubbed his fingers over the tattoo inked into Dean’s skin, “but if anyone even found out I had it, an occult symbol nonetheless…”
“Get it somewhere no one will find out, then,” Dean told him. “Get it on your ass,” he suggested, moving one hand to the body part in question, noting the way Will’s breathing picked up slightly. “I don’t care. Just do it, okay?”
Will stared at him for a minute before leaning in and catching Dean’s mouth with his own, teeth tugging lightly on Dean’s lower lip. “Okay,” he said, when he pulled away. They fooled around for another hour or so before they got up, got dressed, and Will was in the middle of scrambling some eggs on the stove when Dean’s cell phone rang.
“Hi, Sam,” Dean said without even looking at the display before he answered. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, yes,” Sam said. “I was going to wait until you came home but I wasn’t sure when you would, so—“
“It’s fine,” Dean said. “What’s up?”
“I just got a call from Jody,” Sam said.
“Is she all right?” Dean asked, worry jolting through him. Jody Mills had thus far managed to survive her association with him and Sam to little ill effect, so he figured she was about due for something bad to happen.
“She’s okay, Dean,” Sam said, reading the fear in his voice. “She just, she thinks she might have found a case and wants to know if we can meet up with her and check it out. It’s in Wisconsin, she thinks she should be there by tomorrow morning.”
Dean mentally calculated the distance from Ramfield to Wisconsin. If they wanted to meet Jody, they would have to leave by early that afternoon at the latest. He looked across the kitchen to Will now measuring grounds into the coffee maker. Then he said, “Okay, I’ll be back soon.” He hung up before Sam could say anything else. When he put his phone down on the kitchen table, Will looked at him.
“So you have to leave,” Will said. He didn’t sound surprised, but his tone was flat, unhappy.
“I can stay for breakfast,” Dean said, although it would mean he and Sam would either have to cut out dinner or cut back on sleep that night. Both things they were used to, at least.
“Okay,” Will said. He scooped the eggs onto two plates, added a couple of slices of bacon from the other frying pan, and brought the plates over to the table before going back for coffee. They ate without talking until Will stood up to take his empty plate over to the sink. Dean did the same, and then Will said, “Well, see you in a decade, I guess.”
“You never know,” Dean said, “Maybe I’ll pass through again sometime.” It was unlikely, the town wasn’t on the way to much of anything, and he doubted they would be having anymore supernatural phenomena there in the near future. Will seemed to realize this, and he frowned.
“I know this doesn’t, last night, it doesn’t mean anything,” Will began, stumbling a little over the words. “And I’m not saying that we were, you know, destined to see each other again—“
“I don’t believe in destiny,” Dean interrupted, thinking of Michael and Lucifer.
“No, me either,” Will said, “But it just made me think, I don’t know, I’d like to talk to you again. Keep in touch. As friends, I’m not expecting anything or—“
“I don’t really keep in touch,” Dean said, “And I don’t have friends.” It wasn’t meant to be a brush-off, just honesty, more honesty than he was usually capable of with his romantic partners, but Will looked almost crestfallen and Dean suddenly felt the need to try to explain.
“Look,” he said, “Bad things tend to happen to people—to people I’m with. Believe me when I say that it can get a lot worse than being possessed by a demon, weird as that sounds. It has gotten a lot worse than being possessed by a demon, for some people.” He thought of Bobby, thought of Cas, thought of Lisa and Ben alive but not remembering a significant period of time in their lives the way it actually happened, thanks to Dean. “And I don’t want anything bad to happen to you,” he admitted. “Anyway, I’ve tried this before. This coming back stuff, it doesn’t work for me. Hell, I’d like it to; believe me, I would. But that’s not what I do, and things always end up worse for the people I do it to.”
“But we don’t get a choice in that?” Will said. “The people you leave.”
“No,” Dean said firmly. He scuffed a foot against the kitchen floor. “Sorry.” Will put a hand on Dean’s arm, then slid it slowly up over his shoulder until his fingers were cool and smooth against Dean’s neck. “Will,” Dean said, but Will didn’t say anything, didn’t move his hand. “I don’t know what you want me to—“
“I don’t know,” Will said. “This isn’t really something I’m used to. The demon stuff, not the break-up stuff, unfortunately,” he said with a bitter little laugh.
“I’m not breaking up with you,” Dean said, “We’ve known each other for less than a week.”
“We’ve known each other for almost ten years,” Will said.
“Consecutively,” Dean retorted. “Come on, man, I’m not your boyfriend.”
“I know,” Will said, “Okay, I know. I’m just… this is so fucking weird.” He pressed his fingers against his temple, forehead furrowing between the pads of his thumbs. “I’d give you my number but you wouldn’t call, would you?”
“Probably not,” Dean agreed. They had made their way to the front door as they talked, and Dean hesitated, his hand on the doorknob. “Okay,” he said finally, “Here’s the thing. Sam and I… you might have noticed that a lot of what we do ain’t exactly legal. Everything has to change a lot. IDs, cars… that includes our phones. So I can’t promise you’ll be able to reach me with this number—“ he said, pulling a pen out of his jacket pocket and grabbing Will’s hand, scrawling it across his palm, “And I can’t promise I’ll answer. But uh, if you want to try, you can.”
Will nodded. He raised a hand to cup Dean’s jaw and Dean leaned into his touch, closing his eyes slightly as Will said, “Goodbye, Dean,” and kissed him again. It was a soft kiss, light, slow; the slight rasp of Will’s stubble against his cheek as he angled his face to fit their mouths together made Dean want to deepen the kiss, but he held back, just let Will press their lips to each other and then pull away.
Dean opened the door to the apartment and stepped out. He looked back halfway down the hall, but Will had already closed the door silently behind him.
Three days later, Dean was in the passenger’s seat of yet another car that wasn’t half as great as the Impala with Sam driving, having just finished the case and left Jody Mills until the next time they met up, when he received a text message from a number he didn’t recognize. He opened it and saw a picture of what was clearly a man’s ass, gauze peeled away from the anti-possession symbol tattooed on it. Dean grinned and thought for a second before typing a response. “Kinky,” he wrote, and pressed the send button before adding Will Morales’s name to his contacts.
“What’s funny?” Sam asked, looking over at Dean and smiling slightly. Dean looked at him; with the way the sun was falling across his face through the car windshield, he looked very young, and Dean smiled back.
“Nothing,” he said. “I’ll tell you later.” They drove on, and for a moment, Dean turned in his seat to look back at the road behind them.