The air feels funny that morning, right from the start. Dean isn’t Sam, he doesn’t have a handle on some of his feelings, but he can almost taste the strangeness. Sam is the one who puts his finger on what it is, though.
Do you hear them? Sam’s voice whispers in his mind.
He can hear them then. Loud barks and snarls, and the pawing of large feet on dry, packed earth. “Dogs,” he says. “Where are they?”
I don’t know. Miles from here. That’s pretty far, even for us.
Dean knows what Sam is going to say next. It isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation. He makes himself focus on the here and now, on where his body rests instead of on the nebulous distance. “Sammy, it doesn’t mean anything. A dog fight, maybe, and we’re picking up on it. Dad would say that we’re letting our imaginations run away with us.”
Dad’s dead. And Sam’s mind closes, drawn like a curtain over a window.
Dean wakes again suddenly, with the knowledge that something is wrong. He rolls over to look at the other bed, where Sam should still be sleeping. It’s empty. Dean breathes out, clamps down on the worry in his stomach, and gets out of the bed.
Danny’s standing there in the doorway. As Dean takes a few steps towards the kid, he starts signing. He’s not very good at it, but neither is Dean. The kid’s quick and picks up that he’s not getting through, but he starts signing faster, more frantically. Which means that Dean’s even less likely to understand what he’s trying to say.
“Slowly,” Dean signs back. One of the few that he knows, one of the easiest to understand. But he must be crappier at it than he thought, because Danny doesn’t slow down at all. Instead he just switches to fingerspelling.
“S-A-M,” Danny signs. And then another sign, one that Sam must have taught him — he makes a T with both fists, pounds the right one against his left.
The bad feeling in his stomach gets worse. “That asshole,” Dean says, and shoves his way past Danny.
Dean’s always been able to find Sam, no matter what, but in close quarters all that he can pick up is that Sam’s nearby. He’s not in the living room, not in the kitchen or dining room. In fact, Dean makes several circuits around the house before Imp starts pawing at the patio door. Dean’s better with people and things than animals, but even he can tell she’s trying to get his attention.
Sure enough, Sam’s outside. And so is Truck. Sam’s small for his age, smaller than Danny, though he’s almost two years older. And Truck is the oldest of the four of them, built exactly like his nickname, broad and beefy. Truck towers over him, stands right there inside the bubble of Sam’s personal space.
Dean knows Truck’s type. He’s a big guy who feels small inside, who pushes around kids that look weak or are different, like Sam. Dean pegged him as soon as they stepped out of the social worker’s car, and he’s never wrong.
Dean hates bullies.
“What are you doing to my brother?” he demands.
Truck turns to face him, smirking lazily. “Nothing,” he drawls back. “I was just talking to the little retard. Why don’t you mind your own business, Winchester?”
“My brother is my business,” Dean snaps back. He steps up to Truck, feels more than sees Sam move out of the way, to safety.
Don’t, Sam tells him. Not another fight, Dean.
It doesn’t matter, because Truck’s pissing him off. “I got it, Sammy,” Dean says.
“You’ve got nothing,” Truck sneers. And he swings one meaty fist towards Dean’s face.
Dean’s quick though, and he ducks out of the way. He has a song in his head, one of Dad’s, the one about being sent to war. He can hear John Fogerty’s raspy voice, can feel the guitar thrum through him. He hums along for a little bit, just long enough so that when Truck swings again, Dean’s ready for him. He reaches out with his mind, grabs the closest thing he can, and pulls it in front of his face to block the blow. It’s one of Danny’s many wiffle balls, and it breaks under the force.
But Truck takes a step back and stares at him. “The fuck?” he says, and then swings a third time. Dean hops out of the way, looks over to Mrs. Grindley’s garden. There’s a plastic bucket there, filled with a few handfuls of dried-out weeds. Even though the song is leaving him, draining out through his hands and feet, he still has enough strength to visualize it flying up and dumping itself on Truck’s head.
Truck stumbles back, blinded, and grabs at it. That’s when Dean sees something shiny and gold drop from his hand.
He gets pissed all over again, clamps the bucket down hard with his mind while Sam darts forward. Sam reaches out and the locket flies into his hand, like he’s Luke Skywalker reaching for his lightsaber.
Truck finally manages to pull the bucket off his head, spitting dirt and crabgrass. And he looks at Dean, the same way countless other bullies have looked at him before. Dean’s different, just like Sam. The difference is that Dean fights back.
“Freak,” Truck spits, like it’s a curse. Then he bolts.
You shouldn’t have done that, Sam tells Dean. But he’s holding his hands close to his chest, cradling the locket in them.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Dean demands. “I would have mopped the yard with his sorry ass for a whole lot less!”
Sam deflects the question. The social worker said that if you got into any more fights, they were going to separate us. Again.
“They can’t, Sammy, you know I won’t let them.” The last thing Dad ever said to him was to take care of his brother. And for the last seven years, that’s what Dean has been doing.
Sam looks up at him and holds out the locket. It’s the only thing of Mom’s that Dad could save from the fire, the only thing that Sam has connecting him to their parents. Sam was too little when Mom was killed to have any memories of her, and he was only three when Dad died. Dean takes the locket and puts it over Sam’s head, puts it on him like he did that first time in the backseat of Dad’s old Chevy.
“It’s yours,” Dean says. “I’m not letting anyone take it away from you.”
The morning sun is warm, and it heats up the air around them. It’s a little unseasonable for the end of October, but that just means they can sit quietly together. At least until the Grindleys get up and herd everyone to breakfast.
They’re an older couple, with several grown kids of their own. One of them, Dean’s figured out, is deaf, which is why they got both Danny and Sam. Danny can’t hear much anymore — Dean thinks it has something to do with a douche stepparent and would rather not know the details — but Sam just doesn’t talk, at least not out loud. Hasn’t since Dad died. Dean doesn’t really blame him. After Mom was killed, Dean didn’t feel much like talking either. He had to get over it and help Sam out, though, and Dean thinks that’s the difference.
Dean and Truck are different. Dean heard one social worker call him “high-risk” when she thought he wasn’t listening. Another one called him “a sarcastic troublemaker”. Why the Grindleys would willingly take in fucked-up kids is beyond him. But they seem like nice people, a good deal nicer than some of the other foster parents Sam and Dean have suffered through.
Dean used to think he was some kind of superhero, like Superman. He and Sammy used to think it was funny, back before they understood what it meant. People can’t do the things they do. If the Grindleys had walked out onto the porch and seen Dean throwing things around with his brain, who knows what would have happened. Dean’s seen enough television to know about scientists experimenting on people, trying to figure out what makes them tick. He and Sam, they’d be studied like bugs under glass. And that’s not the worst part.
There are other people out there, people like Dad. Dean doesn’t like to think about what they might do to them.
As he sits there, Impala jumps up into Sam’s lap. Dean can hear her deep purr rumbling across the porch. She’s a beauty, sleek and lean and black, like the car she’s named after. She’s not really theirs either, but Sam likes her. Animals have always been easier for Sam to deal with than people. They’re simpler, Dean thinks, and because of this they don’t clutter up Sam’s mind.
Dean reaches up to scratch Imp behind the ears.
Something feels funny, Sam says all of a sudden. Like a storm is brewing. Something like that.
“What is it?” Dean presses. He thinks that this is why Sam came out here in the first place. Sam’s always been better at seeing these things, probably for the same reason he’s better with animals and sucks so much with people.
Sam just looks out into the distance, beyond the Grindleys’ backyard and the houses and trees, off to the distant horizon. Dean can feel Sam reaching, searching for something while his body sits still. After a few minutes, though, he comes back, huffs a sigh of frustration. I feel like I should know, like it’s right there on the edge, just barely out of reach. But then it fades away again.
Dean reaches for him, puts his palm on Sam’s skinny arm. Sam reaches out with his free hand and puts it on Dean’s.
Some of the things they do come and go. Ebb and flow, like waves or a tide. Now is just a low point. “You’ll figure it out,” Dean says, and squeezes Sam’s arm. Sam squeezes his hand back.
Dean remembers the fire that killed Mom, but he was too young then to understand what was going on. He remembers the heat of the fire, the pain of it. He remembers Dad giving him Sammy that night. And maybe that’s it, the source of their connection.
The social workers tore them apart once. Well, more than once, but only that first time matters. That was when Dean realized it, when he knew that Sam was his and no one else’s. It took some planning to do, back then, but Dean was younger then. The social workers have given up on him now. They still make loud noises and threaten to separate them, but they don’t follow through.
Thinking about it, his skin pressed against Sam’s, makes a song come to mind. It’s an old song, one he heard before the fire, and he’s forgotten most of the words by now. He hums and reaches out with his mind for Danny’s sidewalk chalk.
What if someone sees? Sam asks.
But Dean has to draw it. There’s a picture in his head, and this is the only way to get it out. Dean’s tried drawing things by hand instead, but somewhere between his mind and his body the picture gets lost. The drawings wind up crappy and distorted instead.
He selects three pieces of chalk, three different colors. Blue, for windows reflecting the open sky. Pink, for a red rooftop. And yellow, for tall walls made of stone. It’s done, thankfully, before anyone can see. It’s a house, but not any kind of house Dean’s ever seen before. The music fades away in his head, and Sam leans forward to peer at the drawing.
What is it?
Dean frowns. “It’s a place. I think it’s somewhere we’re going.”
They sit together a bit longer, listening to the rumble of Imp’s purring.
Dean, what was that song? Sam asks, rather suddenly.
Dean shrugs. “Mom used to sing it to me as a lullaby. It’s by The Beatles.” After Mom was killed, Dad never listened to it again, if he could manage it. When it came on the radio, he would change the channel or turn it off. It reminds Dean of those good years with Mom, even now, and it must have done the same for Dad. But Dad didn’t like to dwell on the things they’d lost.
I remember it, Sam says. “Hey Jude”, right?
Dean doesn’t say anything. Sam was too little then. Hell, Dean was only four years old, and he barely remembers it. But he and Sam, while similar, aren’t exactly the same. Sam’s always been smarter, that’s part of the problem. He has so much brain power that it slows him down.
Sam takes out the locket and runs his fingers across the front. It has a strange tree design engraved into the gold, very pretty. The hinge has been jammed for almost as long as Dean can remember, though he thinks Mom once said there were pictures in it.
I remember the song and this, Sam says. But it’s not very clear. Maybe I’ll remember more later?
“Don’t try too hard,” Dean warns. There’s a lot of their past that isn’t pretty, things that Dean would rather Sam not ever remember.
Like the night Dad died, the one night Dean wishes he could forget.
Imp jumps down from Sam’s lap then, walks across the chalk drawing, dusting her fur with yellow dust, and presses her face against Dean’s leg.
She doesn’t like it when you’re sad, Sam tells him.
Dean picks her up, warm and soft and rumbly. “Thanks,” he says.
It’s later that same night when everything changes.
Sam and Dean are in their room, not really doing much of anything. Sam’s working his way through one of the Grindleys’ books, The Giver, and Dean’s just sort of hanging out on his bed, thinking. Without any warning, Truck bangs into the room and grunts, “Mrs. Grindley wants to see you,” without even really looking at them. Just as suddenly as he banged his way in, he thunders back out.
What was that? Sam asks.
Dean just shrugs and gets up to follow Truck out into the living room. He can feel Sam trailing right behind him, half a step away. This isn’t like all of the other times, when they’ve been thrown out of a house with only a few moments to pack, Dean can tell already. This isn’t some social worker dropping by to check in on them. This is something different.
Mrs. Grindley greets them in the living room. “Boys,” she says and signs at the same time, even though Dean told her that Sammy doesn’t need it, he can hear just fine. “This is Miss Deranian.”
Miss Deranian looks kind of like a businesswoman from TV. Her blonde hair is cut short, but neat. She’s in a business suit for women, the kind with a jacket and matching skirt, and her face is made up so that Mrs. Grindley looks old and plain in comparison. She stands up when she’s introduced and smiles. “Sam and Dean,” she says. She doesn’t sign, but Dean can’t tell if that’s a point in her favor or not. “You remind me so much of Mary,” she continues on, and then nods to Sam. “Especially you, Sam.”
“Who are you?” Dean demands.
She just continues to smile. “Dean, I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. It was a long time ago, and you were very young at the time. I’m your mother’s cousin, Lucy.” She pauses for a moment and purses her lips, like she’s been sucking on a lemon for a while. “No offense to your father, I’m sure he did what he thought he had to, but I don’t think he did you boys any justice running across the country like he did. It made it a lot harder for me to track you boys down. I’ve been looking for almost ten years, ever since Mary died.”
Dean looks at Mrs. Grindley, still a little baffled by all of this. Sam’s hand clamps onto his arm, and Dean can feel something roiling around in his little brother’s head, something that Dean can’t quite put a name on yet.
“Miss Deranian has come to pick you boys up,” Mrs. Grindley says, rather kindly.
Sam presses his face into Dean’s arm. Only then does he identify the emotion Sam’s feeling. Fear. “Now?” Dean asks, warily.
Both Mrs. Grindley and Miss Deranian laugh. Dean doesn’t think he said anything funny, but adults can be a little weird. “Unfortunately no,” Miss Deranian says. “The arrangements need to be made, Dean-o. There’s paperwork and lawyers involved. I can’t wave a few birth certificates around and have the state grant me custody, just like that.”
“Oh,” Dean says. He’s not sure what else to say, so he just waits it out.
Can we go?
Dean looks down at Sam. To anyone on the outside, Dean guesses that they might think Sam’s shy or reserved, but Dean can tell what’s going on with him. He’s shutting down, curling up inside of himself.
“Sam’s getting tired,” Dean announces. “Good night, Mrs. Grindley, Miss Deranian.”
“Please,” Miss Deranian says, “call me Lucy.”
Dean just sort of nods stiffly and gets to his feet. Sam comes with him, almost sealed against his side. Once they’re back in their bedroom, door firmly closed, Dean turns to his little brother. “All right,” he says, “what was that?”
Sam doesn’t look him in the eye. I don’t know, Dean. Don’t be mad at me for not knowing.
“I’m not mad, Sammy, I promise. I just don’t understand why you’re afraid of her.”
Not of her, exactly. Of what’s going to happen. We just got here, and Impala likes it, and I like it. I don’t want to go.
Sam never did like moving. “But we don’t have a choice,” Dean says. “I can’t get us out of this one, not this time.”
One thing they’re both certain of, Miss Deranian isn’t actually related to them. Dean doesn’t remember any of Mom’s family before the fire, not a single one. But within the week, Miss Deranian is back with gifts.
Radio-controlled cars, boxes of Legos, and a nice selection of books. “All for you,” she promises. While Sam is still wary, the promise of books brings him close. Even though she’s dressed very nice, she gets down on her knees to be on the same level as him. “What would you like, Sammy? In your new home?”
Sam hesitates, caught. He looks over his shoulder at Dean for support. Dean’s caught, too. He doesn’t want to seem rude, exactly, but he also doesn’t want Sam to back down and hide away inside of himself again. He shrugs.
Sam signs, and Mrs. Grindley translates for Miss Deranian. “My cat, he says.” She explains, “The boys have a stray cat they picked up somewhere. My husband is allergic, so she doesn’t come inside at all. He says she’s smart and knows about dogs.”
Miss Deranian gets a funny look on her face. “Did I say anything about dogs?”
It’s right then that Dean can hear them. Big dogs, mean dogs. And he knows at once that wherever Miss Deranian is going to take them, the dogs are going to be there.
And you wondered why I was scared, Sam says.
The entire household sees them off several days later, and even the worn-out social worker shows up to give them her best wishes. Sam’s hand is tight and clammy in Dean’s when they get into the back of Miss Deranian’s car. Even if Sam can’t remember what happened the night Dad died, he’s been wary of cars ever since. They’ve been a bad sign, an omen or whatever, of when things are about to change for the worse. Like moving suddenly, or another doctor’s visit, or a trip to some shrink to see why he won’t talk.
Dean squeezes Sam’s hand. “I’m here, Sammy,” he whispers. “I’m not leaving you.”
“Not ever,” he promises.
Miss Deranian doesn’t try to talk to them during the drive, which is nice. Dean’s not sure he could keep up a conversation at this point. He sits with Sam and watches the scenery fly by. Sam keeps mostly to himself, toying with Mom’s locket or poking his fingers into Imp’s carrier.
The trip isn’t exactly long, but it goes through all of these winding back roads. That kind of reminds Dean of being in the backseat of Dad’s car with Sam, the windows rolled down and the music blaring. So it surprises him when Sam reaches over and taps him on the leg and brings him back to the present.
Look! Sam says urgently, and hands over Mom’s locket.
It’s open. It must have happened when Truck stole it, or when Dean tossed the bucket on his head and Truck dropped it. He looks inside eagerly, runs his fingers over the pictures inside. Dean doesn’t recognize them, an older man with no hair and a craggy face, and a woman with light hair. He has to force himself to close it again, to hand it back to Sam.
“Put it away,” Dean whispers, even though he wants to sit there and stare at it for a while.
Sam puts it back around his neck and tucks it under his shirt again. We’ll look again later, he says. When she’s not around.
By the time they get to their destination, Impala’s getting restless in her carrier, rubbing up against the cage front, stretching her paw out to Sam. She doesn’t like this trip any more than Sam does, but she’s been awfully well-behaved so far.
First, they get stopped by a big stone gate. There’s a man there in uniform who peers in through the window at them. “Are these the children?” he asks.
“Sam and Dean Winchester,” Miss Deranian replies. “Could you call up to Xanthus and let him know?”
The man nods and waves them through. The gate swings open on its own and Miss Deranian keeps driving. But Dean hasn’t seen any sign of a house yet.
“Who’s Xanthus?” he asks.
Miss Deranian laughs. “It’s not a who,” she says. “It’s a place. Mr. Bolt named his house Xanthus.”
“Mr. Bolt?” Dean repeats.
He can see her eyes in the rearview mirror, crinkling at the edges, like she’s very amused by something. “He’s my boss,” she says, “and your host. You and Sam and Mr. Bolt and I are all going to live here. Don’t worry, he’s very interested in you boys.”
Yeah, that wasn’t creepy. Not at all.
When they finally see the house break through the trees in the distance, Sam grabs Dean’s arm again and leans close. It’s huge, and it’s also familiar. The roof is a dark red color, the walls are high and made of a light-colored stone, and the windows are wide and arched and reflect the sky. It’s the same place that Dean drew with the chalk. Everything’s starting to come all together, but Dean doesn’t know what it all means. He keeps his arm around Sam’s shoulder and pulls him in as much as he can.
There’s a man standing out front when they pull up to the mansion. He’s a bit younger than Mr. Grindley, a bit thinner, and dressed much nicer. He has next to him a few men, dressed up in some weird matching outfits that Dean guesses are uniforms. Miss Deranian gets out of the car and opens the door for Sam, who squirms past her to stare after all of the people.
Dean comes around the car to stand next to Sam. He feels Sam slide back a few steps, away from these new people. Maybe it’s too much for his brother, but he can still feel Sam there with him. He tries to help, to put himself between everyone and Sam.
“Miss Deranian.” The man Dean guesses must be Mr. Bolt has a deep, gravelly voice, kind of like Dad’s. But he sounds a little more friendly than Dad usually did. “These must be the boys. Look at you! Sam and Dean Winchester.”
Impala yowls from inside the car, bangs on the carrier with a loud clanging sound. Sam scurries back to the car and lets her out, picks her up and hugs her close to his chest.
“And this,” Miss Deranian says, “is the cat I spoke of, sir. Imp.”
Mr. Bolt takes a few steps forward, towards Sam, and reaches out his hand for the cat to smell. Imp doesn’t hiss or growl at him, but she doesn’t look too pleased to see him so close either. “I’m really more of a dog person,” Mr. Bolt says, “but I believe it’s important to have pets close to you.”
He straightens up and turns to the men in the uniforms. With a sharp gesture from him, they come forward to the car, one opening the trunk and another reaching into the back for Imp’s carrier.
“These men will take your things up to your room,” Mr. Bolt tells them. “They only today finished installing the gaming systems. I wasn’t sure what you boys would enjoy the most, so I bought Atari, Super Nintendo, and a Sega system. Hopefully they’ll appeal to you. But you also mustn’t neglect your schoolwork. I hired special tutors for the both of you. Sam, I understand that you have special needs when it comes to school.”
“Sam’s smart,” Dean interrupts. “Smarter than anyone I know. He just doesn’t talk.”
Mr. Bolt doesn’t say anything about Dean interrupting him. He just nods thoughtfully. “I understand that, my boy. I hired a live-in tutor for his sign language, someone who can interpret for us when we need it.” He pauses, looks back and forth between them and then smiles again. “But enough about the boring things. Let’s show you to your room.”
Mr. Bolt calls it a room, but when they walk into the place where they’re going to be living, it looks more like an entire apartment. A nice apartment. Dean and Sam have lived in some nice houses before, but those were usually crowded with other foster kids. It was all borrowed, then. And even before that, before Dad died, they lived in crappy apartments or skeevy motel rooms.
Not since Dean was little has he had a place of his own. And this place, despite everything, is amazing. There’s a TV with gaming systems already hooked up, a black shelf next to it stocked full of games. There’s a study area, with desks and comfortable chairs and even a PC. There’s a reading area, with two plush couches and bookshelf after bookshelf filled with books. Dean and Sam even have their own sleeping areas, though they’re close enough for it to not be a problem. When Dean opens the top drawer of the dresser, there are already clothes in it. New clothes, still with the factory folds in them, smelling fresh and clean. The beds are custom-made, Dean’s shaped like a racecar, Sam’s designed like an open book. They have an attached bathroom with a stand-up shower and a bathtub almost big enough to be called a pool. There’s even a place for Impala. She has a tall cat tree, taller than even Mr. Bolt, and a wide windowsill with potted catnip and a birdfeeder right outside. She wiggles her way out of Sam’s arms and jumps up on the sill, staring at the birds and lashing her tail.
All of this for us? Sam asks. It’s more than Dean can remember from before the fire, and it’s a whole lot more than Sam has ever had.
“This is awesome,” Dean breathes, awed in spite of himself. “Totally, incredibly awesome.”
Miss Deranian steps up next to him. “I’m glad you like it, Dean. Mr. Bolt has been very generous, and you should tell him that you’re grateful.”
Mr. Bolt just stands there in the doorway with a little half-smile on his face. “Sam,” Dean says, and Sam comes away from Imp’s window. Dean nods his head to Mr. Bolt, and Sam signs at him a quick thank you. “You’ve done a lot for me and my brother,” Dean says. “We appreciate it.”
Mr. Bolt nods once and turns to leave. “I’ll let you boys get settled in, and I’ll see you at dinner. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about then. Miss Deranian?”
“Yes, sir,” she says, and then turns back to Sam and Dean. “I have to get back to work, but I think you’ll find plenty of things to do right here. I want you boys to be happy.” Then she turns and leaves, shutting the door behind her.
Yeah, not creepy at all.
They sit down on the racecar bed, Dean with his back to the door, just in case. He has to take care of Sam, watch out for him, and that means being the one in the line of fire in case something happens. Sam pulls the locket out and lays it on the bedspread between them. It gleams in the light, a little brighter than Dean remembers from before, and when he picks it up to look at the front of it, he notices that the surface looks cleaner, too. The thing has taken a lot of bumps and tumbles during its time with them. Bullies like Truck have thrown it, and it’s gotten scratched and dented before, too.
Those familiar marks are gone, like the locket is brand new. Dean feels a strange lump in his throat, a sudden worry. But the weight of the locket is familiar, and Dean can’t imagine that Miss Deranian or anyone else could have taken it without Sam knowing. When he opens it, there are the pictures, exactly the same as when Sam showed him during the drive. Looking closely at the woman, Dean thinks he kind of sees a resemblance to Mom. It’s been years since Dean has even seen a picture of his mother’s face, but he can recall her kind eyes and the soft curve of her cheek.
“I think these are Mom’s parents,” Dean says. “Our grandparents.”
That makes sense, Sam says. It’s her locket, after all. By why did it open today? Why is it changing?
Dean shakes his head. “I don’t know the answer to that, Sammy.” He runs his thumb across the thin glass covering the photo of the woman. To his surprise, that entire side of the locket depresses and pops open. Under the picture is a secret compartment.
“Look!” he exclaims. “There’s something in here.” It feels sort of like paper, but a weird kind. When he unfolds it he discovers it’s very thin, like tracing paper, but it isn’t fragile at all. He lays it out on the bedspread, smooths the folds and wrinkles away, and stares down at the mess of lines and writing that’s sprawled across its surface.
It’s a map, Sam says. But that just leads to more questions.
“But why?” Dean asks. “Who put it there?”
Sam shrugs. He takes the map and deftly folds it until it will fit back in the secret compartment, and then puts the locket back around his neck.
Dean flops down on the bed, wraps his arm around Sam and pulls him down on the bed next to him. “What are we gonna do, Sammy?”
Sam snuggles against him, but Dean’s pretty sure he doesn’t have an answer, either.
They get called for dinner a little before seven. Miss Deranian comes to get them, but first she instructs them to wash up and change into some clean clothes. The drawers are crammed full, so it doesn’t take long to change out of their hand-me-downs in favor of something newer.
But in spite of the trip and everything else that’s happened today, Dean isn’t very hungry. He eats when the food is set in front of him, but he doesn’t register what it is or taste it at all. During the main part of dinner, there’s very little talking at all, mostly some murmurs between Mr. Bolt and the men bringing out the plates of food.
It’s about then Dean realizes that Miss Deranian and Mr. Bolt haven’t eaten anything. He nudges Sam under the table with his foot, hoping to bring it to his attention, but Dean can sort of feel the strangeness in the air now, so it stands to reason that Sam would feel it too.
It feels like that morning, at the Grindleys, when we heard the dogs.
They haven’t heard the dogs since, but Dean thinks he can feel them too. They’re not like normal dogs, he thinks to himself. He and Sam would have no problem dealing with normal dogs. But these animals, the thought of them makes Dean’s hair stand up on his arms.
“I think,” Mr. Bolt begins, “we should talk business now.”
“I don’t understand,” Miss Deranian says. “I thought the plan—”
He cuts her off. “The plan hasn’t changed. But Sam and Dean, they’re not part of that plan. I thought you knew that.”
Miss Deranian looks down at her lap, like she’s been told off by a teacher or a parent. “Sorry, Father,” she mumbles.
He smiles at her, all sharp edges and unfriendly teeth. “No worries.” Mr. Bolt then pushes his chair away from the table and gets to his feet. “I’ll admit that I’m a fan of the long game. But sometimes life throws you a curveball.” He shrugs. “Ah, I’ll not bother you with speeches and metaphors. You boys are special.”
“I don’t understand,” Dean tells him, hoping that his surprise at this reads as confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Mr. Bolt clucks his tongue. “Now, Dean. Don’t you lie to me. I’ve had people watching over you and Sam for a while now. John certainly made it harder, moving the two of you around all the time. Sam was too young to remember, Dean, but I’m sure you do. I had expectations for Sammy, always have, so imagine my surprise when you both started turning up with little gifts.”
He knows, Sam says.
Thanks, Dean thinks back at him, even though Sam’s never been able hear him like that. I already figured that part out.
“I won’t bore you with the details,” Mr. Bolt continues. “I know Sam can talk to you, Dean. I know you can make things move with your mind. I’ve heard of a few other tricks as well, stories from some of the other foster homes you’ve been in. Mr. and Mrs. Malone in particular were very helpful.”
The Malones, a family some years ago who had been terrified of them. Dean and Sam hadn’t hidden what they could do then, and the three weeks they had stayed there were some of the most unpleasant that Dean can remember. Dean tries to think of all the tricks they had back then, but his mind is blank.
“What do you want from us?” Dean asks, hoping that his voice sounds more unsure than afraid.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Dean,” Mr. Bolt says. “Let’s take care of the two of you first. If you agree to our terms, you’ll live in the lap of luxury. Everything you want will be brought to you on a silver plate. We have the best food, the best education, the best toys, even the best doctors within our reach.”
“Doctors,” Dean echoes. He looks across the table again to Sam. Dean’s not sure if it’s a ploy to draw him in or if Mr. Bolt really thinks Sam is defective the way he is. “It doesn’t sound like we have a choice, Mr. Bolt.”
“Take your time,” Mr. Bolt says. “Think about it. After all, you’re not going anywhere.” He turns to Miss Deranian again. “Take them back to their room,” he tells her. Then he shrugs, like this entire conversation was completely normal. “Bring them some ice cream. Sam barely ate anything at all, and I’d like to see him grow up big and strong.”
“Yes, Father,” Miss Deranian says. She gets to her feet and looks back and forth between Sam and Dean. “Come on, boys.”
They don’t have a choice, obviously. Dean has to keep Sammy safe, and he’s not safe in Xanthus, and he’s definitely not safe around Mr. Bolt. That much is clear. Dean’s run away before, but usually he’s running towards Sam. He doesn’t have anywhere to run to this time, just the urge to take Sam and go.
But they have to play it carefully. Mr. Bolt is a very powerful person if he can make his own daughter claim to be their family. They can’t leave a trail for anyone to find.
So they wait.
Miss Deranian comes by close to eleven to check in on them. She doesn’t turn the light on or anything, just peers in like a creeper. Sam and Dean pretend to sleep, but when Miss Deranian shuts the door, they continue to lie still. They haven’t made any real plans, for fear that Mr. Bolt has their room bugged and is listening in on everything Dean says. They stay in bed until almost midnight, until Impala jumps down from her cat tree and stalks over to Sam’s bed.
She has no patience for either of them, it seems. She pats at Sam’s face until he sits up and tosses the covers back. They’re in the middle of changing from pajamas back into their older, more worn clothing, when Sam goes still.
Dean knows better than to ask what’s going on. Instead, he comes up beside Sam and takes Sam’s hand in his own.
And he can hear it, sharp and clear. Mr. Bolt, halfway across the house, talking about them.
“We’ll let them stew for a few days. Continue to be generous, just in case that bullshit works on kids. If it doesn’t, I have an old friend who can stop by and make sure everything goes the way we want it.”
There’s a mumble, something faded into background noise. It’s Miss Deranian, that much Dean can tell, but the words fly past him like they’re not important. And, in the end, they’re really not.
“I did like Mary. She had such style, such spunk. She was my favorite of them, you know. I was sad that she had to go.” There’s another mumble, followed by, “We have them exactly where we want them.”
“We need to go,” Dean whispers to Sam. “Now.”
They open Imp’s window and push out the screen. The window barely opens enough to let Dean out, but he manages to squeeze through. The night is good and truly dark, but Dean’s never had much trouble with low lighting. They slide down the slippery red tile of the roof, Imp trailing behind them like a shadow. Below the eaves there’s some bushes that look like they might break a fall, so Dean scoots all the way to the edge on his butt, holds the edge of the tile tight in his hands, and slides off. The tile breaks away with him and he drops onto the bush.
Dean gets up and dusts himself off, and then holds his arms up to Sam. Sam slides a little less carefully than Dean did, but that’s okay. Sam has Dean to catch him. He jumps down into Dean’s arms, and once he’s standing he reaches up himself for Imp. As soon as all three of them have their feet on the ground, they start to head towards the stone gate. Dean’s not sure exactly how they’re going to get through it, but he can cross that bridge when he comes to it.
He can hear the dogs again, closer than they’ve been before. Even in the dark, Dean can see Imp jerk in Sam’s arms when they snap and growl. They sound hungry to Dean, but angry and mean at the same time. Sam stares off in the distance, head tilted to one side like he’s listening to them. But Dean grabs at his arm and tugs. They don’t have time for this.
They don’t get much further before they run into their first guard. It’s strange; Dean didn’t even know the guy was there until they practically ran straight into him.
“Isn’t it a little past your bedtime?” the guard sneers.
Imp takes off, and both Sam and Dean bolt after her as fast as they can, leaving the guard behind in the dust. But Sam jerks Dean to a stop, suddenly, right before he trips over Imp. She stands still, tail lashing, fur standing up all along her back. That guard, the same guy they left behind, stands in front of them now.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy to escape, did you?” the guy laughs.
Only, his laugh quickly turns into a scream. Water suddenly spills over him, drenching his head and shoulders. Steam rises from his blistering flesh, though, Dean notices, the water isn’t steaming at all.
The guard’s scream gets all distorted, like he’s yelling into a very large fan, and then Dean sees it. Black smoke, thick and billowing, pours out of his mouth. And once that’s gone, the man collapses into a heap at their feet.
Behind them is another man, but he doesn’t look like the sort of person that Mr. Bolt would hire. He’s an older man, with a scruffy beard, a flannel jacket, and a trucker hat, and he’s holding a large bucket. He stares at them for a moment, like he’s been taken completely by surprise, and then he spits out one word, fast and hard.
It’s been a long time, but Dean recognizes something in this gruff man. Oh, he’s never seen him before, but he’s seen the type. Rough around the edges, gruff and mean, usually very heavily armed. Dad was like this. After Mom was killed, Dad threw himself into living on the road and killing everything he could find that wasn’t human.
“You’re a hunter,” Dean says in surprise.
The man doesn’t have time to react to that. All at once, Dean can hear the dogs again, but this time with his ears. He can feel the thundering of their giant feet hitting the ground, and judging by the look on this stranger’s face, he can hear it too. “Hellhounds,” the man breathes.
Dean turns to look, but while he can hear them, he can’t make out any details. “Only the damned can see ‘em,” the man growls. “You want to live, follow me.”
Dean grabs Sam’s hand and tears after the man. He doesn’t trust him, of course. Even Dad couldn’t always be trusted, but following this man seems a good deal better than staying at Xanthus with Mr. Bolt and those dogs, or hellhounds, or whatever they are.
“Is there anything you can do to stop them?” Dean shouts after him.
“Nothing, except pray we outrun ‘em!”
The man leads them to the front gate, which is still shut. He stops in his tracks when he sees it, and Dean can only assume that he came in this way. “Balls,” the man mutters, after giving the iron bars a good shaking. “They closed it up and locked us in. We’ll have to find another way out. Quick.”
Dean turns to Sam. “Can you?”
Sam reaches out to touch the bars, and the gate slides open. The man stares at them, horror mixed with awe. “I stand corrected,” he rumbles.
The man’s car is parked a ways down the road, hidden under a layer of cut branches and greenery. He opens the back door for Sam and Dean, but doesn’t wait to get into the car himself and start the engine. They pile in the back, and Imp jumps in and settles on Sam’s lap. Dean turns in his seat and sees lights flickering and coming closer. He can see dirt flying up around them, can see the greenery ripping itself apart in a cloud of destruction.
“Go!” he yells at the man. “They’re coming!”
The engine roars and the car takes off into the night. The man drives with his lights off until they get to the main road, and he also drives like Dad used to, with very little thought paid to speed limits or traffic laws.
We did it, Sam says. We made it out.
Out of the frying pan, but into what, Dean wonders.
The man stops a little less than an hour later. He pulls off onto the side of the road, but keeps the engine on and just turns in his seat to face them. Dean’s aware that they look pretty pathetic. Their clothes are old and worn and dirty from the slide down the roof, and all they have with them is Imp.
“I’m Bobby Singer,” the man says. “You boys gonna tell me what you were doing up there in that nest of demons?”
“I’m Dean Winchester,” Dean tells him. “This is my brother Sam, and the cat is Impala.” He does his best to explain Miss Deranian and how they were brought up to the house for some purpose that they don’t understand.
Bobby Singer watches Dean with a stern face the entire time, and when Dean finishes, he sighs. “I don’t know exactly what I got into here with you boys, but you don’t seem dangerous. You have a run-in with a hunter before?”
“Our dad was one,” Dean explains. He can feel Sam go stiff next to him. Dean only ever told Sam a little bit about what Dad did before he died. Most of the time, he didn’t want to talk about it at all. “Mom was killed by something when Sammy was just a baby. Dad never talked about it much, but soon after he started meeting up with people like you.”
Bobby Singer looks thoughtful. “Winchester, you said? Your daddy wouldn’t have been one John Winchester, would he?”
“You knew him?”
Bobby Singer shook his head no. “I heard about him a couple years ago. Military guy, with kids. I heard he died bloody.”
Dean doesn’t like to think about that night. He reaches out for Sammy to steady himself, and he hears Sam pressing relentlessly, How, Dean? What happened when Dad died?
He visualizes it for Sam, holds the picture of it in his mind. The night is dark around them, but the car is on, rumbling softly. “Burnin’ for You” is playing on the radio. Sam’s so little in his arms, a skinny three-year-old who won’t stop talking. Dean can’t remember what he says to Sam here, in these last moments of peace, but Sam laughs at him, a deep belly laugh.
It doesn’t last. In Dean’s memory, it happens in slow motion. The sounds near the car, the bellow of Dad’s rifle, the muffled cries of Dad calling out to them. And then that great, terrible ripping sound, the jolt of the body hitting the car. Dean can see him there on the windshield, eyes staring off into nothing, his blood staining the glass.
He puts himself between Sammy, covers his eyes and whispers, “Shh, don’t look, Sammy, don’t look.”
The sun rises and sets again before they’re found, cold and filthy and hungry.
Then it’s all over. Sam is leaning into his touch, and Bobby Singer is staring at them. “Anything you want to share with the rest of us?” he says, his voice gruff.
Dean meets his hard gaze. “You’re a hunter,” he says, lifting his chin up in defiance. “Are you going to kill us?”
“Not unless you give me a reason to,” Bobby Singer replies. “Now, I’ve seen a lot of strange shit in my time, but you boys are something else. I think yer human, or at least that yer daddy was human. Considering the line of work he was in, someone would’ve figured it out if he wasn’t. The question is, now that I got you, what am I going to do with you?”
Dean looks over at Sam, but neither of them has a good answer.
Bobby Singer drives for a while. It’s obvious he knows where he’s going, so Dean doesn’t question it. He seems enough like Dad that Dean’s wary of pissing him off anyway. Besides, the man was nice enough to help them escape, and for that Dean will put up with quite a bit. After almost an hour of driving, they come across a run-down motel. Seeing it makes a million old memories well up to the surface in Dean’s mind. It’s kind of like coming home again after a very long time.
“I got a few places I can hide you boys,” Bobby says as he pulls the car into the parking lot. “I don’t know how much good it’ll do, but it’ll keep you safe until I figure out what to do next.”
We should follow the map, Sam says.
He hands the locket over to Dean, and Dean just looks down at it for a while. It’s so strange, seeing it without the familiar scratches, like it’s healed itself. Now it looks even brighter than it did before, like it’s just been polished. Dean leans forward into the front seat, holds the locket out for Bobby to examine.
“Where’d you get that?” Bobby asks.
“It was our mom’s,” Dean says. “Here, look. There’s a secret compartment and a map inside. Sam thinks we should follow the map. I think he’s right.”
Bobby rubs the engraved tree on the front with his thumb, and as Dean watches the locket kind of fades. The bright finish is gone, the small dents and scratches are back, and when Bobby tries to open it, the hinge is jammed again.
“I don’t think I’m meant to open it,” Bobby says. “Demons are my area of expertise, but I know a little about all kinds of other creatures. That tree is a symbol of the Fair Folk.”
“Fair folk,” Dean repeats. “You mean fairies?”
Bobby shakes his head. “They ain’t like Tinkerbell, boy. The Fair Folk are dangerous, for one, and capricious for another. It was yer mama’s, you say?”
Bobby hands the locket back.
Once the locket is in Dean’s hands, it gets that bright, polished look again. It opens easily, and he barely has to touch their grandmother’s picture for the secret compartment to open up too. He pulls the map out and starts to unfold it, but Bobby puts a hand on his arm to stop him.
“Wait until we get inside,” he warns.
Bobby’s room is at the far end of the motel, away from other people. The room is small, has two beds, one covered with books and papers, the other rumpled and unmade. The entire place smells, kind of a mixture of hard water, smoke, and stale piss.
This feels familiar, Sam says.
“Dad used to stay in places like these,” Dean tells him. “You don’t forget the smell easily.” He nods over to the unmade bed. “Get some sleep, Sammy. I’ll wake you up when we figure something out.”
But Sam doesn’t move. He just looks at Dean, eyes defiant, chin up.
“Let him stay,” Bobby says. “This affects him, too.”
The three of them sit down at the little table by the door. There’re only two chairs, so Sam and Dean sit while Bobby stands over them, and Imp just purrs and rubs against Dean’s feet. He feels both too young and too old for this, like he shouldn’t have to figure out how to escape the clutches of something strange and decidedly evil.
But he has to look out for Sam.
He gets the map out of the secret compartment and spreads it out across the table. Bobby leans in to peer at it, but doesn’t actually touch it. Considering what happened with the locket, Dean wouldn’t be surprised if the map is meant to self-destruct if anyone else touches it.
“We didn’t have much of a chance to look it over before,” Dean explains. “We only discovered it earlier today. I think it’s where we’re supposed to go. Like an emergency exit or something.”
Bobby frowns. “That would make sense, if — look, I’ll be honest here, and I get the feeling the both of you can tell when someone is being honest. You boys look human, you act human, and I’m pretty sure that yer daddy was human. But that tree on yer locket is a symbol of one of the courts of the Fair Folk, and I think that might be the reason why those demons are after you.”
But Mr. Bolt had said something about a plan, and how they weren’t a part of it, despite Miss Deranian’s protests. “I think there’s something else going on, too,” Dean says. “I think they were planning for something big, but Sam and I can do more than they expected.” He shakes his head and focuses on the map again. “If this is an emergency exit, then we should be able to follow it.”
Sam leans forward and touches a spot on the map. Look, he says. There’s that tree again!
Dean looks at the spot Sam’s pointing to. There’s a bunch of squiggles, Fair Folk writing he guesses, but Sam’s right. In the middle of the squiggles is the tree from the front of the locket. Obviously they’re meant to go there, but where is there? He stares at those squiggles, hoping that if he looks hard enough they’ll sort of morph into something he can read. It’s only after he’s been staring for a while that he realizes that it’s not writing. The little rows of squiggles are punctuated at one end by a small collection of little crosses in a rough circle.
“I know this place,” Dean breathes. “Mom took me there once. It’s a cemetery outside of our old hometown.” He looks up at Bobby. “Lawrence, Kansas,” he says. “Can you take us there?”
Bobby sighs. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, son. Go get some sleep, and I’ll make a few calls, see if I can dig anything up. Not all of the Fair Folk are kindly, and it ain’t easy to tell the difference.”
Bobby’s still up when Dean wakes up early the next morning. He barely feels like he got any rest, and Sam’s little fingers are curled around the hem of Dean’s shirt, so he can’t get far without waking his brother. But he can sit up and look at Bobby.
The man doesn’t look like he’s slept at all, and Dean thinks he can sort of remember his voice rumbling softly off and on through the night. Making calls, calling in favors. Dean kind of remembers Dad doing the same thing, all those years ago.
Bobby looks over at him. “Wake yer brother up,” he says. “I got a plan.”
The plan sounds simple. “Simple is best,” Bobby tells them during the drive. “I’ve got to go find some books and make sure what I think is right. And in the meantime, it’d be best for the two of you to stay somewhere safe.”
Nowhere’s safe, Sam tells Dean. Even now, in the car, he’s keeping his grip on Dean tight. I can feel Mr. Bolt. I can tell he’s after us.
And if Dean lets himself listen, he can hear the dogs. They’re not real dogs, he reminds himself. They’re something else. Something that makes the hair on his arms stand on end.
“Where’s safe?” Dean asks Bobby.
“Holy ground,” he answers. “And the holiest I can think of is in Blue Earth, Minnesota. There’s a man there, Pastor Jim Murphy. He’ll be able to hide you away until I can come back.”
The drive is only a few hours long, but Bobby is tense the entire time. He keeps fiddling with the radio, which after a while Dean realizes is actually a police radio. And as they pass the line into Faribault County, the crackles on the radio become more distinct.
“Two-oh-seven,” Dean makes out. “Males, ten and fourteen, last seen with an older man heading east—”
Bobby cusses and shuts it off. “Things just got a little harder, boys. That’s a local report, which means we’ve been seen in the last hour or so. They got a direction on us, but not a destination. Sorry to say it, but I think we gotta part ways a little sooner than I thought.”
Dean looks over to Sam. “Can you still hear them?”
Sam nods. Close, I think. He leans against Dean’s side, presses himself under Dean’s arm, holding Imp tight in his arms. Dean, I’m scared.
“I know,” Dean tells him softly. He can see Bobby’s reflection in the rearview mirror, watching them. “I’m scared, too. But Mom and Dad would want us to be brave. Okay?”
He feels Sam nod against his side, hear Imp’s soothing rumble echo through the car.
It doesn’t take long before things get worse. Dean doesn’t know how or when it happened, but Bobby is the one who points out the tail. “Third car back,” he tells Dean. “Don’t look out the back, use the mirror.”
The car following them doesn’t look like a cop car, but it’s been years since Dean’s had to look hard at one. “What are we going to do, Mr. Singer?”
Bobby pulls his hat low across his brow. “I can give ‘em the slip, but I’d feel a hell of a lot better if I had you boys safe first. I don’t want to just drop you off on a street corner, but I’m running out of options.”
Dean looks over to Sam and Impala. They’ve been set adrift before, under worse circumstances. Dean can hear Dad’s voice in his mind, clearer than he’s heard it in years.
Take care of Sammy.
“You could drop us close by,” Dean says. “Not at the church, but near it. Me and Sam can make it there on our own. You can keep driving and lead them away from us, then double back when you think it’s safe.”
Bobby glances over his shoulder at Dean. “You sure?”
And Dean isn’t, but as long as he and Sam are together, he can do anything. “Just tell us when,” he says.
Bobby nods his head once. “Let’s get off the main roads,” he says. “You boys hunker down in the back, and once we get some cover I want you to jump out and get to that church. You can’t miss it, I promise.”
Are we taking Imp with us? Sam asks.
Dean just nods and tries to swallow a pit of worry caught in his throat. Bobby Singer is a good person, Dean would have to be an idiot not to see that already. And he’s genuinely concerned for their safety.
But he has a bad feeling about what’s to come. And if he’s worried, he can only guess at what Sam’s feeling.
“It’ll be all right,” Dean says, but he doesn’t know whom he’s trying to convince.
They take a side road, dirt and gravel washboarded into ruts and potholes. Bobby swears every time they hit a rough spot, but the good news is that the car kicks up enough dust that they can’t see much behind them. Dean hopes that it means that when they jump out, the car tailing them won’t notice.
They make a break for it when Bobby hits a patch of road with a stand of trees on one side. It isn’t much, but it’s enough of a screen that they can hide until the dust settles and the unmarked police car flies past.
“I think we’re good,” Dean says finally.
Sam puts Impala down on the ground and gives her a funny look for a moment. She doesn’t like this plan, he tells Dean, but it doesn’t matter because they don’t have much of a choice about it now.
“Tell her to be quiet and to keep out of sight,” Dean says. “If something happens, I want to know that she’s safe.”
Dean doesn’t reply. He doesn’t want to think about it, like thinking about it at all will make it more likely that something bad will happen. Considering everything, considering their chances of getting out of this, Dean doesn’t want to tempt fate.
They walk for almost an hour before Dean sees the spire of the church. They’ve tried their best to stay out of sight, and Dean thinks they’ve succeeded. At the very least, no one tries to stop them, even as they climb the steps and push open the heavy oak door.
The inside of the church is dark, and there’s a foul, almost metallic smell hanging around the pews. Like a mixture of blood and piss and shit. Dean turns to wave at Sam to stay by the door, and catches a glimpse of the first corpse.
It isn’t like seeing Dad, all those years ago. The man is well-dressed, though his clothes are a little torn, and there’s only the one gash across his neck. When Dean reaches out to touch the body, it’s even still warm.
Dean? Sam’s voice is small and frightened.
The door slams open all of a sudden, and in the light streaming in, all Dean can make out is a large shadow. “Get where I can see you,” it booms in a loud and menacing voice. The voice of a police chief, Dean thinks, or a sheriff. Someone used to having his orders obeyed.
Dean stands up slowly, lifts his hands up in a quiet surrender.
I knew it! Sam cries, messy tears streaking his face. I knew this was a bad idea!
The man turns out to be a sheriff, called in to investigate a disturbance at the church. He doesn’t like Dean from the start, and eyeballs Sam like he’s damaged when Dean tells him that Sam doesn’t talk. And Sam, well, he uses his small size and delicate look to his advantage, refusing to let go of Dean at all. It doesn’t make the sheriff happy, but he pats the both of them down and empties out their pockets, and then shoves them away in a cold, dark room.
It’s only once they’re left alone that Dean starts to calm down.
He didn’t take the locket, Sam tells him, and that’s reassuring enough. Other than Imp, it’s all they have left.
“Good,” Dean says. He doesn’t care about anything else. So long as Sam’s safe and it’s safe, he can manage. Dean goes over to the door and tries to turn the knob, but it’s locked, and he isn’t so sure about having Sam use his trick to open it. “This is an interrogation room,” he says, “or at least it looks like one from TV. They have cameras that record everything, Sammy, and who knows what would happen if someone like Dad got his hands on it?”
Mr. Singer doesn’t mind.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Dean replies. “And he sent us to that church with a lot of dead bodies in it. Maybe he’s working for Mr. Bolt after all. Maybe...” And Dean has to trail off, because even if Bobby Singer is working for Mr. Bolt, he’s still been more helpful than anyone else they’ve met.
We can’t stay here, Sam says. They’ll take us back to a home somewhere, or try to split us up again, and Mr. Bolt will find us. I know he will. Dean, we have to go.
Dean nods. “You’re right, Sammy. Open the door.”
There aren’t many people in the little sheriff’s office, but there are enough that it’s going to make slipping away really hard without a good disturbance.
I already unlocked the door, Sam points out. We might as well go big. Scare them enough, and maybe they won’t follow.
Dean doesn’t like the plan, but what else can they do?
“I need a song,” he whispers to Sam. Something good and loud, something ready to stir up some trouble. Sam reaches out to touch his arm, and Dean hears it. Angus Young on the guitar, Bon Scott wailing, and Dad belting the chorus along with him. “Problem Child,” Dean says, even as the music is swelling up inside of him. The memory is clear, but he doesn’t have time to ask Sam about it before one of the deputies stumbles across him.
Dean hums along with the guitar playing in his head. There’s a chair nearby, and Dean casually picks it up with his mind and slides it under the deputy. In his surprise, the deputy falls backwards onto the seat, and then Dean sets it spinning in midair.
Let’s go! Sam shouts at him.
Dean turns away, but the music is strong under his skin and he can still feel the chair whirling in place. He’s never had this much control over it, and he feels just a little bit dizzy with the strength. Sam tugs on his arm, leading him forward, but Dean can feel the sheriff waiting ahead of them, just out of sight.
They come around a corner, only a few steps from the front door and freedom, and there he is. “What’s going on here?” the sheriff booms, but even that doesn’t stop Dean.
The room is full of things. Chairs, a coat rack, pencils and pens and a computer. Dean picks all of it up, all at once. It’s hard and he’s sweating from the strain of it, but he can’t have anyone following them. He doesn’t want to hurt the sheriff, so he pulls in everything around him, spins it all in a tight circle, like a tornado. The sheriff ducks and cusses and shouts all sorts of things at him, all of the names Dean’s heard before.
Freak. Devil. Witch. Monster.
Dad would have killed them if he’d known.
Bobby Singer should kill them.
Sam yells at him again and tugs on his arm, and Dean throws everything in the air at the sheriff. He makes it so that the heavy stuff lands softer than everything else, but buries the man under the debris instead.
Dean staggers out the door after his brother, shaking hard. Sam takes his hand and pulls him forward.
Come on, we have to go before anyone else sees what you’ve done!
All Dean can think is that it wasn’t just him, it was that memory of Sam’s that did it. That they did it together.
Sam’s grip on his hand tightens. Hurry, he begs. Impala’s waiting for us. She says that Mr. Singer is there, too.
Dean’s exhausted by the time they get back to the church, but seeing Imp and Bobby Singer there makes everything seem a little better. Imp’s curled up in Bobby’s arms, and Dean’s glad that at least she was safe the entire time.
“I figured you boys got into a little trouble,” Bobby says. He puts Impala down and reaches out to pull both Sam and Dean in close. It’s not exactly a hug, but Dean leans into it anyway. This man reminds him so much of Dad, it’s hard not to.
But they’re not out of the woods yet. There’s yellow police tape everywhere, after all, and without any more hesitation they go back to Bobby’s car and get moving.
The bodies, Sam reminds Dean, and Dean tells Bobby all about showing up and finding people dead inside the church, and the sheriff taking them away. “We only just got free,” he finishes, “and I only managed it because Sam helped.”
Bobby nods, like Dean just confirmed something that he was already thinking. “You boys are special,” he says. “But we don’t exactly have time to dwell on it right now. That church has been desecrated by the blood of holy men. Jim Murphy is in the back, and it ain’t pretty. Those demons knew we were coming this way.”
The map, Sam says again. I think we should follow the map.
Dean repeats that for Bobby, and he just sighs. “I still think it’s dangerous, but I don’t see that we have any other choice. Let’s just hope that if we do run into some of yer family, they’re of the friendly persuasion.”
It takes them longer to find the cemetery than Dean thought it would. The drive into Lawrence isn’t very eventful, which Bobby says is a good sign, but it takes almost three hours to locate the cemetery that Dean remembers. The map doesn’t actually give them that much to go on. A lot of the landmarks marked are either missing or unrecognizable.
“You sure it’s here?” Bobby asks.
“I’m sure,” Dean replies. He can remember the car ride, can remember the trees being in bloom and the afternoon sun slanting through the branches. He can even remember the little circle of crosses and the white flowers that grew across them. But he can’t remember more than that, where exactly it was or why Mom took him there. “It was west,” he says.
Bobby grunts. “That narrows it down a little.”
When they get there, it’s exactly as Dean remembers. The trees are turning colors and not in bloom, but other than that the cemetery looks completely undisturbed.
Why would Mom bring you here? Sam asks.
“That’s a good question,” Dean replies softly.
The graves are unkept, overgrown with weeds. It’s been years since anyone has been here. Maybe that time with Mom was the last time. He doesn’t remember exactly where Mom took him in this graveyard from here, and that bothers him. He wonders if it’s something like how Sam can’t remember the night Dad died, if something bad happened here and he just can’t bring it to mind.
“Come here,” Bobby calls.
Sam and Dean follow Bobby to one gravestone, and as Dean gets closer he can see why. The headstones are worn and covered in dirt and damp vegetation. But the one Bobby’s looking at is different. The stone is clean and white, like it was just recently placed. And when Dean comes around the side to look at the inscription, he finds the same tree on their locket engraved above a name — Deanna Campbell.
“Who’s Deanna?” Dean wonders. Bobby opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, but he never gets the chance. He goes flying backwards, like he’s been hit by something very large. All of a sudden, Dean can hear the dogs again, but this time it’s different. This time, they’re here, with them, in the cemetery.
“Fucking hellhounds again,” Bobby groans.
“I believe,” says a familiar voice from behind Dean, “that I can clear some of this up.”
Dean turns to face Mr. Bolt. He didn’t hear any cars, and there’s no way that a human could have followed them like this, not without some kind of vehicle. But then, Mr. Bolt isn’t human. Dean isn’t sure how he didn’t realize it sooner. He can see roiling smoke just below his skin, and his eyes blaze an eerie yellow color.
The man with the yellow eyes, Sam says.
“What?” Dean asks blankly, but all Sam does is shake his head.
Mr. Bolt nods to the headstone. “If only I’d known about all of this, I might have done things a little differently,” he says, and then shrugs. “That’s hindsight for you. You see, little Sammy, this is where it all started. Your mother made a deal with me twenty years ago. I liked her, she had a lot of spunk, but she didn’t listen to my warning, and so certain things had to happen.”
“The fire,” Dean realizes. “You killed her in the fire. Dad was looking for you.”
Mr. Bolt laughs. “Ooh, you’re very good, Dean. I like you too. I like the both of you. I have plans, you see, plans that involve children like Sam here. But together, you’re something else, something fortuitous. It would be a shame to waste you.” He reaches out one hand, his fingers curled into a claw, like Darth Vader. Somewhere behind Dean, he can hear Bobby choking.
“Let him go,” Dean demands. He feels the music in his veins, like fire, burning white-hot. It’s not one of Dad’s songs, and it’s not one of Mom’s. Sam’s always been the one to give him strength, and so the song has to belong to Sam. It’s not enough to hum it this time either. He hears Paul Rodgers’ voice around him, clear and strong. “Seagull, you fly,” Dean sings along, “across the horizon, into the misty morning sun...”
That’s all that he needs, a few bars and he’s ready to go. He only has to look at one of the old headstones, and it lifts up into the air to swing at Mr. Bolt like a baseball bat. The stone cracks over Mr. Bolt’s head, but Mr. Bolt doesn’t even wince.
Dean drops the remains of the headstone in surprise, all of the music in his head gone.
“You done?” Mr. Bolt drawls, an amused smile playing on his lips. “Now it’s my turn.”
Mr. Bolt waves his hand and the world goes flying. Pain explodes across the middle of Dean’s back, and then he’s sprawled out on the weeds and grass, struggling to breathe. Deanna Campbell’s headstone is under him, cracked in two. He coughs and tries to get to his feet, but all of the strength he got from the song is gone, and he can barely manage to roll over and look towards Sam.
“Come on, Sam,” Mr. Bolt says. “It doesn’t have to be this way. You and your brother will live like kings with me. You’ll have everything you need, everything you could ever imagine right at your fingertips. What do you say?”
Dean wants to yell at him, tell him that Sammy hasn’t said anything out loud in seven years. But Sam opens his mouth, and sound comes out.
“Screw you,” he says.
Dean doesn’t have the strength to watch. He knows that Mr. Bolt is going to kill them, and he knows that Mr. Bolt is going to start with Sam. I’m sorry, he thinks. Dad, I tried. But there’s nothing left that he can do. He hears Imp scream, first in anger, then in pain, and he knows that Mr. Bolt has taken her away, too.
Under his hand is a broken piece of Deanna Campbell’s headstone, and he looks at that instead, at the cracked carving of the tree.
And that’s why he sees it. The leaves on the tree are moving, and behind it, Dean can see a faint golden glow.
“Sammy,” he tries to say, and chokes.
Sam answers anyway. “Dean!”
And then it’s Mr. Bolt who is screaming, and there’s golden light everywhere, and for a little while, time seems to stop. Sam runs to his side and helps him get to his feet, and when Dean looks up, he’s astonished to find the woman from Mom’s locket standing in front of him. Her hair is longer and her face looks younger than in the picture, but the eyes are the same.
“You’re Mary’s children,” she says, with something like wonder.
Just like that, the pain is gone. Sam still clings to him, though, and Dean puts his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “You okay, Sammy?” Dean asks.
Sam nods. “But Impala,” he says, his eyes clouded and sad.
But that doesn’t last long, because the woman is moving in that direction, and when she bends to pick up Imp’s body, the cat is alive and purring loudly. Which makes Dean think of Bobby Singer. He turns to where Mr. Bolt threw him. But even Bobby is rousing, though by the way he holds his head Dean guesses that he has a bit of a headache.
“They’re all fine,” the woman says.
Sam speaks first. “Who are you?”
And Dean answers for him, because this part he’s figured out. “You’re the one whose grave Mom took me to see all those years ago. You’re Deanna Campbell. Our grandmother.”
“Yes,” she replies. “It’s not safe for the two of you here. Though I banished that thing, it won’t stay gone for long. I see you’ve run into one of the helpful humans here in this world, but,” she holds out her hands to them, “it’s time to come home.”
There’s a sense of peace in Dean’s chest, a sense of belonging that he hasn’t felt in a long time. He reaches for her hand, but then Sam calls out, “Wait!”
Sam takes Impala and gives her a hug, and then goes over to Bobby. Dean watches in surprise as Sam throws one skinny arm around his middle. “Mr. Singer,” he says, “I’m sorry we dragged you into this mess.”
“You didn’t drag me into anything,” Bobby replies. “And hell, after what we’ve been through, Mr. Singer sounds a little formal. You boys can call me Uncle Bobby if you like.”
“Thanks, Uncle Bobby,” Sam says. Dean jolts in surprise again. Sam’s never needed people, not beyond Dean at least. But Sam holds out Impala for Bobby to take. “Please, look after Imp for us? Just until we get back.”
Bobby looks a little surprised. “Get back?”
Dean is the one who answers. “Dad was hunting something, something that killed our mom. That demon with the yellow eyes, he’s the one that Dad was after. He’s the reason this all started.”
“He’s gone, now,” Uncle Bobby says.
“Not for good,” Dean replies. He can still sort of feel Mr. Bolt out there, damaged and weak but still alive. “Not yet. Someday we’ll come back, and we’ll make sure it’s for good.”
And then Deanna takes their hands. It feels familiar, almost like it’s Mom’s hand holding his again. Sam reaches over to grasp Dean’s other hand, like always, but he doesn’t let go of her.
“No more goodbyes,” Deanna says kindly, gently squeezing their hands. “It’s time to go.”
The golden glow surrounds them, and the cemetery fades away into nothing. The last thing Dean sees is Bobby standing there, Impala in his arms.
He thinks they both look sad.
Impala perks up her ears when someone knocks at the door. She’s well past middle-aged as cats go, arthritis setting in, and much more in favor of sitting in the sun and sleeping than she was when Sam Winchester first put her in his arms, twelve years ago. Bobby watches her get to her feet, her eyes wide, trilling happily like she’s met an old friend.
Bobby thinks he shouldn’t be surprised when he opens the door and sees them. They look pretty much like they did when he met them, just older. Dean’s hair is lighter, maybe, and he looks a little like one of those pretty boy actors on TV. Sam’s face is longer, his hair shaggier, and he’s a hell of a lot taller, towering over both Bobby and Dean alike. They stand there casually, Dean’s hand on Sam’s neck, shoulders brushing, like this is nothing at all.
Imp winds her way between their legs, and Sam reaches out to pick her up. “Did you miss me?” he asks. She flops in his arms, purring thunderously.
“Hey, Uncle Bobby,” Dean says.
Bobby’s not really one for physical affection, but he has to grab these kids in a hug. Imp squeaks between them in protest, but she’s obviously too happy to squirm out of Sam’s arms. Bobby knows how she feels. “It’s good to see you two,” he says.
But they’re not here for a social call. Bobby’s not an idiot, he can tell.
He releases them from his hold and takes a step back. “Come inside,” he says. “There’s a storm brewing, and I have a feeling you boys are at the center of it.”