Sam had been plagued for weeks by the creeping certainty that something was going to happen. There was a wrongness that hovered on the edge of conscious thought, like a burner left on or a lock unsecured. Originally he attributed it to mid-terms, but his nerves jangled with unfocused tension even after his last test was turned in. Sleepless at night and exhausted in the daytime, Sam was unable to point to a single reason his outlook should be shrouded with such a sense of... dread. His scholarship was intact, he was sharing an apartment with the woman he adored, and he was more likely to be injured while jaywalking on campus than by the nightmare hazards of his previous life.
Monsters and magic were in short supply in Palo Alto.
Jessica never asked about his scars, and Sam never volunteered his history. He wanted to talk to her about his restlessness, but immersed in her second week of finals she was unimpressed with anything that didn’t involve differential equations or was actually gushing blood. Her sympathy for his plight was limited.
“Eat more fiber.”
Sam slumped back in his chair with a halfhearted frown. “You aren’t taking this seriously.”
She glanced up from her notes, giving him her full attention for the first time since he had wandered yawning out of their bedroom.
“Seriously? All of your exams are over with and you’ve got some lingering free-floating anxiety combined with sleep deprivation. I, on the other hand, have some very real test anxiety and three more exams this week. Go away.”
“I thought you said I should eat more fiber.”
“You should. Why don’t you go find some?” she suggested pointedly, blue eyes narrowed. “And pick me up some shampoo and another pack of highlighters while you’re out.” A long strand of wavy blond hair had escaped her hair tie and she blew it away from her face with an exasperated huff.
“What’s wrong with the ones we already have?” Sam asked as he leaned over to grab his keys from the counter.
“I only like the orange ones. Oh, get some of those too.”
“Highlighters?” Sam asked, confused.
Sam rolled his eyes and headed for the door, but hesitated on the threshold and glanced back, struck by a reluctance to leave her alone. “Why don’t you take a break and come too? We can get lunch.”
She waved a handful of notes at him. “Math waits for no man. Or woman. Go. Shop. Stretch your legs out. I’ll still be here contemplating suicide when you get back.”
And that should have been enough, but still indecision pulled at him. “You sure?”
He pulled the front door shut behind himself. It settled into the frame with a thud that brought to mind the lids of caskets and Sam cursed his imagination. Jessica was right, it was just the grocery store, not the other side of the world. His nerves were shot from the stress of the past week. Some lunch and a few good nights of sleep would do wonders.
He returned home an hour later to raging flames and sirens, and a vast, echoing silence where her laughter had been.
No one could explain the fire. No one could explain why she had been trapped. At least not to Sam’s satisfaction, just vague mutterings about electrical outlets and old wiring. A mid-morning nap and the subtle dangers of smoke were just theories without any proof. They had found her in the bedroom, but Sam doubted she had been sleeping. Not with exams the next day, not when she’d had the peace and solitude to really knuckle down. It was the kind of mystery that would have raised his dad’s eyebrow in another life, but Sam was out of the business. His life with Jessica had never been touched by the shadows of the supernatural.
Green and black bruises on his arms and waist where the gathered crowd wrestled him back from the burning apartment would take weeks to fade.
The fire department, the police department, even the school therapist sent to talk to him when he failed to show up for classes after her death, had all been crystal clear about the futility of his efforts. He could never have saved her. He’d been two miles away at a grocery store buying highlighters and oranges when smoke inhalation choked out her breath and burned his world to ashes -- for the second time in his life.
Fact and logic did nothing to ease the ache of grief. It sat inside, a festering wound that gnawed at him with maybes and might-have-been's. If he hadn’t gone to the store, if he had tried harder to make her go with him. If he had stayed in the dorms, if they had never moved in together, if he hadn’t sat next to her in that class, if he had never come to Stanford in the first place; a multiverse of possibilities and minute changes that would have steered her clear of her fate. Sam dwelled on them every waking minute, dreamed about them in his sleep. The fire had swallowed the terrible feeling of dread, and in its place left debilitating loss.
On the fifth day he woke up alone staring blindly at the unfamiliar ceiling of a local motel, Sam forced himself to face what lay at the core of his guilt and fears -- and called the father he hadn’t spoken to in three years.
By midnight John Winchester rolled into town. Gruff, grim, and as taciturn as ever, he’d given the scene his own kind of professional assessment while Sam trailed silently in his wake. Sam had never been close to the kind of hunter his father was, and he needed to be certain that it wasn’t the shadows of his own blood-soaked past that ended Jessica’s life.
“There’s nothing,” his dad said, dusting soot and ash off his hands when he finally emerged from the ruins of the apartment.
“Sure as I can be. There’s not a lot of things that start fires, and no local pattern of indicators that one of them might’ve been at work. I looked into the official reports, seems fairly run-of-the-mill. Bad outlet, a lot of smoke.” John hesitated. “I don’t see the hand of anything supernatural in this. Just--”
“Bad luck,” Sam finished dully, not feeling the relief he’d half-expected. She was still gone; no resolution of his own culpability could change that. “What about-- I mean, I knew something was going to happen. I knew it!”
“Sam,” John sighed. “You’d been under a lot of stress, not getting much rest--“
“That’s what she said,” Sam said tightly, “that it was in my head, but...” his voice trailed off as he glanced over again at the smoky ruin.
“Have you ever felt this before when something happened? This kind of premonition?”
“No.” And there had certainly been plenty of opportunity.
“This wasn’t your fault, Sam,” John said, his voice full of gruff reassurance. “You couldn’t have known. You didn’t know. Whatever you were feeling... she sounds like she was a smart girl.”
They stood awkwardly for a moment. With the question of the fire dealt with as much as it could be, it was the harsh words and anger of their last meeting that hung like ghosts in the evening air between them.
“What do you want to do?” John finally asked with customary bluntness.
“About what?” The glare of parking lot lights picked everything out in harsh detail, sharp edges of a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from.
John gestured towards the burned out apartment, with its plywood covered windows and police tape still fluttering from the doorway. The stink of char hung over everything. “You want to stay or do you want to come with me?”
Sam tore his gaze away from the apartment to meet his father’s eyes. “I’ve still got school, things to do. What am I supposed to do if I leave? Hunt?”
John was silent.
“I’m not going to give up here. I don’t want...” Sam let his voice trail off, the rehash unnecessary. Whatever wreckage was strewn across their relationship in the wake of his leaving, his dad had still come when he had called. Sam felt a brief tug of nostalgia for the years he’d spent on the road learning the family trade at his father’s side, before a scholarship offered him the chance at a different life, and he had seized it with both hands.
He didn’t regret that decision. He just wished there could have been an easier way to leave.
“What are you going to do?”
“Move.” Sam smiled humorlessly. “I’ve got some friends who have offered me a place to crash in the short term, I’m sure I can find another place after that.”
His father shifted. If it had been anyone but John Winchester, Sam would have said he looked uncomfortable. “Do you... want me to stick around? For the funeral at least?”
“No.” Sam turned so the apartment was edged out of his field of vision. “Her parents are handling all that. I don’t know that I’d be welcome.”
His dad’s eyes narrowed and even through the numbness of his grief Sam felt a surge of unexpected affection for his father. He couldn’t accept that Sam wanted a life of more than bloodshed and nightmares, but still took offense that his son might be slighted by strangers.
“They’re grieving,” Sam explained, feeling renewed tiredness creep through him. “I’m an easy target. If it wasn’t for me, she wouldn’t have been living here.” It wasn’t fair, but Sam had encountered enough grieving families in his life before college that he knew fair didn’t always have a lot to do with how people handled their pain.
John grunted in acknowledgment, but the grim cast didn’t leave his features. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do?”
“No, just -- thanks. I mean that.” Sam tried to smile, but wasn’t sure how successful the attempt was.
John’s own smile was tight, but it was there. Rueful, a silent acknowledgment of the tension between them, and its cause. “We’re a lot alike, you know. Makes it hard to just talk.”
Sam shrugged, unsure how to respond. His dad rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. “You should call sometimes.”
“My phone’s not exactly been ringing off the hook either,” Sam retorted, feeling a flare of the old heat. He didn’t move though, the point of contact on his shoulder felt good, like forgiveness. Which was irritating since he hadn’t done anything wrong. Only in his family was a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League school something to be scorned.
But that wasn’t fair either. It had never been about the scholarship, it was the betrayal that his father couldn’t handle.
“I know. I’ll try and do better. We’ve got to look out for each other.” John glanced across the parking lot at the charred wood where living tendrils of flame had crept out from the heat-shattered window casements to eat at the outer frame and siding. “I’m going to stick around for a few days anyway, I think.”
“What about the job? Don’t you have monsters to hunt, people to save?” Sam struggled to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He’d thought he was over this, thought he had accepted the priorities of his father’s life.
The building held John’s attention for a moment longer, like he was seeing another ruin, another death, then his eyes flicked back to Sam’s face. “Nothing that won’t still be there later. I’ve got a double at a motel across town. Why don’t we swing by a store and pick up anything you need, then you can just stay with me for a bit? You need some time, and friends aren’t going to give you the space you need. They won’t understand.”
But his father would, and Sam suddenly couldn’t remember why he hadn’t called him right away. He managed a more genuine smile, nerves raw and fighting tears he’d thought already exhausted. “Thanks. I think I’d like that.”
One Year Later
Sam moved the last of the boxes out of the small storage unit and into the back of the truck. He wiped sweat from his forehead with a grimy hand and drained the dregs of his water bottle under the bright California sun. He didn’t know why he’d even bothered packing any of the apartment crap in the first place. Everything was soot stained or water damaged and stank like smoke. But they were her things, their things, and he just couldn’t throw them out. There had been some vague idea that he might want them, or her family might. But the Moore’s had barely managed to even look at him at the funeral, and after his dad had left it had just been... something to do. And now he was closing the chapter, sending what was left away. There were still a few boxes in his closet at the new apartment; pictures, letters, a couple of knick-knacks that had held some meaning for them, but nothing else.
“That all of it?”
Sam nodded to the man from the Salvation Army, feeling sorry that he had kept the guy so long out in the sweltering day.
“You want a receipt for taxes or anything?”
“No,” Sam declined. “I really don’t think you’ll be able to use much of it.”
“Hey, man. Don’t worry about it.” The guy fanned himself with the clipboard. “The shelters need anything they can get. We’ll take what we can use and pass on the rest.” He held out the board for Sam’s hasty scrawl, then locked the truck’s roll down door and headed for the cab. “You have a good day now,” he called back as he waved and climbed in.
Sam watched the truck rumble down the road until it was lost in the stream of traffic, and then walked to the office to turn in the unit keys; he felt oddly like some weight had been lifted. Keeping her things wasn’t the same as keeping Jessica, and it was time to start making his peace. Like registering for classes again, and actually attending. Everyone had understood that he needed time off after the fire, but a part-time job as a research assistant and long, solitary walks had healed as much as they could. It was time to get back to the business of life. Things like getting some real sheets for the bed, not just a blanket to wrap up in, and plates that weren’t made of paper. Even some second hand furniture. All he had now was a bed and a couch he’d found sitting on the curb and dubbed “not too offensive.” Sam knew Jessica would’ve been furious with him for the way he’d let things fall apart. He owed her memory better than that.
But it was hard. Almost the anniversary of her death and he was feeling it again, a low level sense of impending something. Echoes of the past. Sam shrugged it off and focused on keeping busy, on picking up the discarded pieces of his life. Trying to stay to preoccupied to dwell on... anything.
Back at his apartment Sam jogged down to get his mail. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, he had books to buy, bills to pay--
“Sam! Hey, Sam!”
Sam paused and backed up a few feet until he could see Cindy, his office manager, waving a flat package wrapped in butcher paper at him.
“I found this in the office. It didn’t fit in your mailbox and the oversize bins were already overflowing with care packages. Finals are around the corner and everyone’s getting cookies to eat and handkerchiefs to cry in to,” she explained.
“It’s that time of year,” Sam said, keeping his memories at bay as he took the package from her hands curiously. All of his friends were local, so there was only one person likely to be sending him stuff. An envelope with his name and address was taped to the front of the package. No return address, but the postmark was from Shreveport. He gave Cindy a distracted smile. “Thanks.”
She nodded and smiled back, then vanished into the office. Sam got his mail and went back to his apartment. Inside, he pulled a folding knife from his pocket and slit the side of the envelope. The note was terse.
Busy, on the move. Didn’t have a safe place to stash this. I’ll be by in a week
or so to pick it up. Tell you all about it then.
It was unsigned, but the handwriting and message told him everything he needed to know about the sender. Sam frowned and checked the postage marks again. The package had been mailed almost five weeks earlier. With a deep sense of trepidation he tore open the butcher paper. Inside was exactly what he’d expected, smelling of old leather and gun oil -- his father’s hunting journal. Sam stashed the journal in an empty kitchen drawer and walked back down to the office. Cindy looked up with a professional smile.
“Hey, Sam. What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to ask about that package you gave me. Did that just come in today?”
Cindy’s face clouded and she pursed her lips. “You just missed Michelle, you know, the new girl?”
“Dark hair, wears a ponytail?”
“Right. I found the package on the shelf,” she nodded towards a bookcase by the door, “and I asked her about it. I’m really sorry, Sam. Apparently it showed up a few weeks ago and she didn’t know where to put it and... forgot. Was it perishable?”
A few weeks. “No.” Sam forced a smile. “That’s fine, I was just curious. Thanks.”
“It won’t happen again,” Cindy assured him. Sam mumbled something polite back and left the office. His father was seldom far from the journal, tearing out, adding, and condensing pages as he moved through the world uncovering horrors -- and better ways to kill them. But the journal had been mailed five weeks earlier, and his dad had never showed up, and never called. By itself that was unusual, after their reconciliation John had been making more of an effort to check in periodically. Trying to get his life somewhat rebooted had kept Sam suitably distracted so that time had slipped by before he had really realized it had been... six, seven? weeks since he had spoken to his dad. Three years of weighted silence between them made the absence of communication seem... normal. Even if it had crossed his mind that it had been an unusually long time, he’d have just assumed his dad was distracted with a hunt. Now the lack of a phone call was an ominous portent. Back in his apartment, Sam grabbed his cell phone where he’d left it on the kitchen counter. Before he could dial a number it rang in his hands, startling him so badly he almost dropped it.
He recognized the number immediately and pressed the talk button. “Dad?”
“Who is this?”
It was definitely not his dad. “You called me, who are you?” Sam demanded.
“Detective Peter Regalo with the Shreveport police department. Your turn.”
“You’re calling from my dad’s cell,” Sam said sharply. “Has something happened to him?”
“You’re...” a fumbling sound as if the detective on the other end was checking something, “Robert Elmore’s son?”
Sam had to blink. Robert Elmore? That was a new one, and only four syllables. His dad must have been tired. “Yeah, I’m...” Fuck it. He had no idea what his dad was into and what he didn’t know was probably not stuff he wanted coming back to his real name. Not to mention explaining Robert Elmore, “Sam Elmore. Is he okay?”
The detective on the other end of the line sighed heavily and the vague uneasiness Sam had been feeling crystallized. He knew exactly what the man would say before the words even left his mouth.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this Mr. Elmore, but your father is dead.”
Three days later, the word still made no sense. Sam would have flown out immediately, but he had excuses to make and fake ID’s to obtain. The police were involved and they were going to have questions. Lots and lots of questions. Sam needed something that was going to stand up to more than a cursory glance and those kinds of documents took time.
He had never harbored any illusions that his dad was going to live to a ripe old age. It was a miracle he’d survived as long as he had in the first place, but when it happened Sam had expected his dad to go down under the claws and teeth of one of the monsters he hunted, or maybe to just vanish without a trace and never surface.
Gunned down in an alley hadn’t even made the top ten list of ways his dad might die when Sam had been a frightened thirteen year old left alone to huddle under blankets in motel rooms while his dad went out to... do what his dad did. It had been a rough time in his life. Until he was twelve “dad” was just a guy who showed up once or twice a year to take him shopping or to a movie, buy him some ice cream and listen patiently while Sam told him about school, and the zoo, and trying out for the soccer team. But then Pastor Jim had a heart attack and suddenly Sam was being packed into the backseat of the Impala along with the rest of John’s baggage.
His dad had still managed to keep the truth of what he did a secret for a while, but Sam wasn’t stupid and John’s vague muttering about being some kind of special policeman stopped holding water fairly fast. So his dad told him the truth, and Sam started sleeping with a gun.
And a nightlight.
And a bag of salt.
He learned the hunters’ trade because he had to, because it was stupid to know what he knew and not learn it. Because it was the family business, even if it was just a family of two. But then Stanford happened, and Jess, and... murdered.
He knew his dad had some people in the hunting community that he called more often than others, but Sam didn’t have any of their numbers. Barely knew their names. He’d never hunted alone, never worked a job that his father wasn’t right there at his side. His dad had never seemed to feel it was important for Sam to make contacts of his own.
Maybe that was one of the reasons why it had been so easy for him to walk away.
Sam sighed and slumped down as far as he could in the tiny airplane seat. His knees were already aching and the baby four aisles up hadn’t stopped screaming since coming on board.
Still twenty minutes left before taxi.
Sam closed his eyes and wished himself far, far away.
Sam nodded and tightened the arms he had wrapped around himself. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“Alright.” The detective motioned and the morgue attendant on the other side of the glass tugged the white sheet back up over the... corpse. Sam let out a deep breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding.
“Was it fast?” he managed to ask.
“It was fast,” Detective Regalo assured him. “Even professional, you could say.”
Sam tore his mind away from waxy, pale features and the wide strip of gauze hiding an obvious head wound. “Professional?”
“Two in the torso, one in the back of the head, from about ten feet away. Why don’t we go upstairs and talk -- unless you need a minute?”
Sam shook his head and followed the detective to the elevator. “I don’t know how much I can really tell you. I haven’t seen my dad in about a year.” Not since the fire. “He and I didn’t talk often, and when we did, it was mostly family stuff.”
“Can you tell me what he did for a living? Because I have to say, he’s pretty much a blank slate.” Detective Regalo gave Sam a hard look as he ushered him into a tiny office. “In fact, as far as we can determine, he didn’t even exist before a few months ago.”
“Must be a clerical error,” Sam said evenly.
“Must be.” Detective Regalo’s smile didn’t reach his eyes.
Sam sank into one of the chairs in front of the desk. “Do you have any suspects?”
“None we could name, but you might be able to help out with that. I have something I want you to watch,” Detective Regalo said. He sat on the edge of his desk and reached for a remote control. “The security footage is a little fuzzy; it’s from a convenience store camera down the street. The camera shouldn’t have actually caught any of this, but someone angled it wrong when they were installing it. Sometimes the mistakes work in our favor. Still not as useful as it could be, but I’m hoping something about the shooter will be familiar to you.”
Sam angled his chair towards the television and VCR sitting on a media cart in the corner of the office.
The video itself was both better and worse than he had prepared himself for. It was black and white, the lack of color and fine detail made it seem... unreal. His father’s last minutes looked like news footage of a robbery. It was hard to connect with and Sam struggled to take in the important details.
Oddly, John was wearing only a pale colored t-shirt over his dark jeans. Sam couldn’t remember having ever seen his dad outside without a jacket of some kind, usually to cover the weapons. He was obviously not armed in the video. From the hand gestures and movement he seemed agitated, and appeared to be talking to another man, who stood with his back to the camera. From what the tape showed the stranger had short hair and was dressed in jeans and a light jacket. Where his dad was animated -- almost vibrating with energy, or anxiety, the stranger was unnaturally calm, watching patiently while John railed. Finally John scowled, gave one last impatient gesture, and turned to walk away.
“We have no idea what he said,” Detective Regalo’s voice shattered the silence of the room, shockingly loud against the mute tension of the tape. “The recording quality is too poor. We have some people working on enhancing it, but they don’t seem optimistic of recovering that kind of detail.”
Sam nodded, still focused on the tape. His dad, normally the most paranoid and cautious of people, didn’t seem tense or concerned about the man at his back. And he should have been, because he had only taken a few steps when the stranger casually retrieved a handgun from under his coat, pointed, and pulled the trigger. Three bright flashes and John Winchester, monster hunter and Sam’s father, was lying dead in a spreading dark pool.
The stranger picked up his shell casings, then rolled the body over. What was left of John Winchester moved bonelessly until sightless eyes stared up at the sky. The footage was grainy, but the features of the shooter still seemed unusually distorted, impossible to distinguish, even when he turned in profile. Sam could make out the basic human arrangement of a nose and mouth and eyes, but the detail seemed deliberately blurred.
“We don’t know what’s going on with the camera, maybe something on the lens,” Detective Regalo commented on Sam’s unspoken thought, sounding less than convinced. Sam agreed with his skepticism -- a convenient something on the lens that just happened to move around only with the shooter’s face? Sam didn’t know of any technology that could do that, but there was more out in the world than technology and a man interested in killing his father was likely to be well aware of that fact.
On the tape, the shooter crouched down beside the body for a long moment, apparently just admiring his handiwork, then reached out with gloved hands and closed John’s eyes. His head jerked up sharply--
“The gunshots were reported, we think he was responding to sirens from approaching officers.”
--and then he turned his attention to John’s hand. He pulled at something in apparent frustration, then stood up and walked briskly away. A few seconds later a car with flashing lights pulled up to the curb and a pair of uniformed officers piled out. Detective Regalo raised the remote control and the tape shut off.
“What was he after?’ Sam asked.
“Not entirely certain, but seems to have been a wedding band. It was pulled up to the victim’s knuckle, but apparently the assailant had trouble getting it off before he had to flee the scene. Can you think of any reason he’d be interested in it?”
“I don’t think so. My mother passed away when I was a baby. It’s been just my dad and me for a long time.” Sam was genuinely baffled. His father had worn his wedding ring, but Sam couldn’t imagine how that would be interesting to anyone.
“Maybe... a trophy of some kind? To prove he’d done the job?”
“Have you seen that man before?” Detective Regalo asked. He slid off the desk and ejected the tape.
Sam’s hands were so cold he could barely feel them and he stared down at the carpet, not sure how he felt. He was certain of one thing though, blurred-out features on a few minutes of tape wasn’t going to stop him from finding the killer and getting answers.
“No. I’ve never seen him before.”
The detective sighed and took his own seat behind the desk. “I’ve got to level with you, Sam. This mysterious background you and your dad have going is causing me and the department some headaches.”
“Sorry to be an inconvenience, do you want to see my driver’s license again?”
“No,” the detective pinned him with a look, “I want to know what your dad was involved with that ended up with his body in my morgue.”
“My dad was a mechanic, Detective Regalo, not some kind of covert spy or government agent. I don’t know why someone would have done this. I can’t help you.”
“Your can’t sounds an awful lot like won’t, Sam.”
“My dad worked on cars,” Sam said evenly, “and I’ve never seen the man who killed him before in my life.”
Sam sighed and rubbed his face. “Look, detective. I’m exhausted. I haven’t slept in two days, and just watched my father’s execution. What possible reason could I have to lie to you about this? I would tell you if I had anything that could help.”
Detective Regalo leaned back in his seat and crossed an ankle over his knee. “And what do you do again?”
“I’m--“ a student would be too easily disproved under his new name, “--unemployed. Thinking about going into the family business.”
Sam nodded shortly. “Yeah.”
The detective laced his fingers together, watching Sam speculatively. If the goal was to unsettle him it failed, Sam was more or less proof against that kind of intimidation, and it wasn’t the first time a police officer had found him suspicious.
“What about the body?” Sam finally asked after the silence had stretched out several minutes.
“We like to hang on to the bodies of unsolved murder victims in our area for a while. Make sure we dot all our i’s and cross all our t’s. So it’ll probably be a week or so. You’ll have to make arraignments with a local funeral parlor; they can work out the details with the M.E.” He paused, and then continued in a slightly gentler tone, “Are you sure there isn’t anyone else you want me to call? An aunt, a sibling, maybe a cousin or something?”
“There’s only me.”
“So much for the family business.”
Sam met his gaze. “It’s a small family.”
“Apparently.” The detective’s gaze didn’t waver.
Neither did Sam’s. “So, are we done here?”
“I don’t have any more questions for you right now, but I’d like you to stay in town for a few days -- in case something else comes up.”
“That’s fine. You’ve got my cell number.” Sam stood up to leave, but hesitated at the door. He couldn’t help the police, and he couldn’t help his dad, but he could find the bastard that had pulled the trigger and extract his own form of justice. He just needed one little thing. “What about his personal effects?”
“There wasn’t much on him other than his clothes. Just the wallet, the phone, and the ring.”
“Can I see them? I can tell you for sure if it’s his wallet or if there’s anything weird about his things. I really do want to help you catch this guy, Detective.”
Detective Regalo didn’t look entirely convinced, but he picked up the phone and spoke quietly to someone on the other end for a moment. He tucked the receiver under his chin and looked at Sam.
“Did you want to take a look now?”
The faint glimmer of a plan was forming in the back of Sam’s mind. “It’s been a rough day. Can I come back and do it later this afternoon?”
“It doesn’t have to be today. You can come back tomorrow if you’d like to instead,” the detective offered.
“No, I want to get it over with. Just need to take a little time to get my head together first.”
Detective Regalo shrugged and spoke briefly into the phone again before hanging up. “Deborah is the evidence clerk handling the case. She’s going to be here until six this evening. All you need to do is go to the desk downstairs and give them your name when you’re ready.”
“Thanks,” Sam said sincerely. “I appreciate it.”
The first thing Sam did when he escaped from the detective’s office was borrow a phone book from the receptionist and call the first funeral home listed. The very sympathetic young woman on the other end of the phone assured him dealing with the situation wouldn’t be a problem and that his father’s ashes would be available for pick up a few days after the coroner released the body. Sam gave her a credit card number linked to his new identification to pay for a cremation, and the mailing address of Pastor Jim’s old church for shipping. They wouldn’t know who Roger Elmore was, but they would probably hang onto the box until Sam could swing by and pick it up.
Sam hadn’t realized how cold and tense he was until he finally made his way back out onto the street and the heat of the afternoon sun began to soak in. Not even Jessica’s death had rocked the foundations of his world like this. This had always been the death he feared most. And he was utterly alone with it, the result of a lifetime of secrets and lies. Fortunately, he had other things to distract himself with -- like rage, a roiling anger to spill into that empty confusion. Fury to keep him warm in the places grief left cold. Jessica’s death had been an accident, freak happenstance that left him with no one to blame and only his dad to lean on, but someone had done this.
That someone was going to pay.
Everything else would have to get in line.
The first step to exacting the justice that no court would condone was finding out who the son-of-a-bitch was. And the easiest way to do that was to exploit the only obvious mistake the man in the video had made.
“I need a ring,” Sam told the harried looking man at the counter at the first pawn shop he found.
“What kind of ring?”
“A man’s wedding ring. Plain, yellow gold.”
If the salesman thought the request was odd he didn’t say anything, just fished a tray out from under a locked counter and set it out for Sam to view. There were a depressing number of the bands tossed rather haphazardly into the box, each one probably a gleaming tribute to a private pain. He picked through the disorganized mess until he found one that seemed about the right weight and fit him well enough, then slid it on. He paid the two hundred dollars the clerk quoted and headed back to the police station.
It took Deborah-the-evidence-clerk less than five minutes to show up in the lobby after Sam asked the receptionist to call her. She looked him over and then examined his identification with a thoroughness unusual in Sam’s experience. Finally satisfied, she ushered him through the door and into a long hallway painted industrial grey.
“I’m sorry about your father,” she offered after the heavy glass door closed behind them.
Sam just nodded. ‘Thanks,’ didn’t seem like the right thing to say and nothing else came to mind. Deborah led him to a small, cold room containing a metal table in the center, a couple of folding chairs and a long reflective window. On the table was a cardboard filing box with “Elmore, Robert” written on the side in heavy black marker over a series of numbers that didn’t mean anything to Sam.
An entire life, brought down to this. Sam had been doing a good job of just not dealing with the fact that his dad was dead. But the reality of the box just sitting there was driving it home in a way that even viewing the body hadn’t done.
Deborah’s voice drew him back. “Pete says I’m supposed to let you take a look at this stuff.”
“Yeah, I’m supposed to tell you if any of the things he had look unusual.”
“All right.” She walked over and signed her name on a form taped to the top of the box, then pulled a utility knife from her pocket to cut through the official evidence seal taped around where the lid attached to the box. Seal cut, she pulled off the lid and glanced up at Sam. “Are you sure you want to do this now? You look a little pale.”
“I’m fine,” Sam assured her. “It was a long flight. I just want to get this over with.”
She smiled in sympathetic understanding and turned her attention to the contents of the file box. The first things she removed were two large zip lock type bags. In one Sam could make out a folded shirt, and in the other, jeans. It was hard to see the blood on the jeans since they were folded and already dark, but the off-white shirt was liberally covered in rusty stains. Deborah hurriedly set them aside, and then placed the lid over them. “I don’t think you need to examine those.”
No, he really didn’t.
“There’s not much else.” She pulled out two smaller bags and set them on the table, one had a battered leather wallet and the other his dad’s wedding ring. “There wasn’t anything in the wallet except his driver’s license and about twenty dollars. Nothing on the money to make it stand out. There were several numbers programmed into the phone, but except for yours they all led to dead-end prepaid cell phones.” Sam nodded, unsurprised.
Deborah glanced at the one-way mirror and continued. “There were some calls on the phone about a month ago, and then nothing until the day he... died. Then there was the call Detective Regalo placed to you and one other number, but it’s one of the dead-ends I mentioned. The phone is still with the techs. You want to look the wallet and the ring over anyways?”
“Yes, and... can I have a minute? Alone?”
She hesitated. Sam tried to relax some of his walls enough to let his genuine grief and confusion show. Deborah’s expression softened and she glanced at the wall length mirror. “I need some coffee, do you want a cup?”
“I’d love one,” Sam said gratefully.
“All right, it’ll just take a minute. It’s right on the other side of that glass.”
Sam nodded obediently at the warning and took a seat in front of the items with his back to the two-way mirror as she left the room. There was no way to know if he was being watched, or how closely, but as long as no one was carefully scrutinizing his every move.... Sam picked up the wallet in its bag and turned it over, examining it. It looked like his dad’s, but the details of his father’s wallet hadn’t been something Sam had ever paid close attention too, and he couldn’t swear one way of another. He set the wallet down and picked up the bag with the ring.
It slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and Sam swore and picked it back up. His heart was pounding in his chest and he forced himself to calm down. He had never done a job as personally important as this one and nerves were making him stupid. He took a deep breath, then slid the ring in the bag into his palm, and the ring from his finger into the bag. He slipped his dad’s wedding ring on and set the bag back on the table just as Deborah tapped on the door and walked back in.
“I didn’t know if you wanted anything in it,” she said, setting a Styrofoam cup of coffee on the table next to him. “So I just went with black.”
“That’s fine.” He took a long sip. It was old, the bitterness appropriate. Sam drank it without comment.
“Did you see anything you want me to tell Detective Regalo about?”
Sam stood up. “No. Nothing. I appreciate you letting me look.”
Deborah carefully replaced all of the zip lock bags into the file box and set the lid in place. From outside in the hallway someone called her name. She settled the box on her hip with a sigh. “Always something. Do you remember the way out or do you need someone to take you?”
Sam rubbed his thumb over the worn gold of the ring on his finger. “I’ve got it. Thanks.”
As he walked away from the police station Sam pulled the battery out of his phone and tossed both pieces into the trash can. He slipped the ring off and slid it into his jeans’ pocket. It would have to do until he could secure it in something better.
He went to see where the shooting happened, but didn’t know what he expected to find. If he hadn’t seen the tape it would have been... just another random low-rent street corner. Sodium streetlight, battered brick that had seen better days, and shop fronts with barred windows and fading signs. The murder had happened days ago, and other than a pool of blood and the body itself, there had never been much evidence. The police had taken the body, and a fire hose had dealt with the rest, but the stain of that dark pool was still faintly visible on broken concrete. Sam knelt, pressed one hand to the cement, and closed his eyes. In his mind he could see the killer, crouched in almost the same place. He stood up abruptly as if burned. His father was gone, and there was nothing left of him here.
Sam spent the next three days scouring the city, trying to find the reason John had been in Shreveport in the first place -- but his efforts uncovered nothing. No motel room, no bartenders who recognized his picture, not even his father’s truck. There wasn’t any supernatural activity Sam could identify that might have merited his dad’s interest.
It was as if John had come out of nowhere to die on that street corner, and left no trace of his presence or passing.
The last thing John recorded in his journal had been a werewolf hunt. There were indications that it had been unusual somehow -- sending Sam the journal in the first place spoke to that if nothing else, but the details were all missing. Including where the hunt had actually been. Sam figured his dad had probably pocketed the relevant notes before dropping the journal in the mail since he was actively working the case. But if the hunt had been in Shreveport, then Sam wasn’t able to find any evidence of local attacks for at least the last six months and John had only been missing five weeks before his death. Truthfully, Sam wasn’t particularly worried about the werewolf anyways -- he wanted the man with the gun. Anything else was hunting, and no business of his.
But the killer, that was personal.
There was nothing in the city or the journal that pointed in any particular direction, nothing that hinted at a motive for murder or the identity of the killer. It was time to take another path.
Sam could feel the ring in his pocket like a five pound weight as he knocked on an unassuming door at a cookie-cutter house in the suburbs of Atlanta. The house was as carefully maintained and orderly as any other on the street, but in the neat flower beds around the door Sam could make out at least half a dozen plants with occult properties that he could almost guarantee didn’t come from any casual nursery. After a moment, the door flew open and the personality of the woman who greeted him was almost an assault after the sterile blandness of the neighborhood.
“Sam!” Pamela Barnes stood on her toes and threw her arms around his neck before he could do much more than blink, surrounding him in a cloud of patchouli and jasmine, wild dark hair and jangling bracelets. As she stepped back, her lively green eyes flashed with good humor and the glance she raked him with could only be called inviting. Sam smiled back despite himself and motioned towards the greenery.
“Is that Henbane and Belladonna?”
Pam glanced at the plants in question and raised an eyebrow. “You think I’m likely to get visitors who decide to chew on the greenery while waiting for me to open the door?”
Put that way... “It looks nice. Very, uh, healthy,” Sam said diplomatically. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” she peered past him up and down the street, “you don’t have that jackass skulking along in my bushes or anything do you?”
“Dad? No, he’s.... dead.”
“Oh honey,” Pamela stepped back gesturing for him to enter, “I’m sorry. For you anyways, I’ll personally sleep better at night knowing he’s not going to be grabbing me in an alley or something.”
Sam looked around at the eclectic decorations of the house, Pamela’s personality beamed at him from every corner. “It’s not that he personally disliked you--“
“Can it,” she cut him off as she ushered him to the kitchen. “You don’t need to be defending John-fucking-Winchester to me. He wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to kill me if I had given up that coven in Wichita and we both know it.”
“He didn’t have a lot of patience for the supernatural, Pam. You’re a psychic, that crossed his line.”
“I must have missed the holy light that shone down and dubbed him the lord high executioner,” she retorted, “and it didn’t cross his sacred little line until I personally pissed him off. Then suddenly I’m lumped in with the rest of the monsters. Your dad would have been a much happier person if he had taken me up on my offer to get a little high and go for a roll in the sheets.”
“To what?” Sam blinked at her.
She grinned, unrepentant. “It was his personality that was the problem, Sam, nothing wrong with the package. Did I thank you for saving my life?”
“That’s kind of what I’m here about,” Sam admitted, desperate to shelve the mental images Pamela had conjured up. The call that warned her about his father’s change of heart had been a spur of the moment decision, but he hadn’t regretted it. Sam didn’t have any argument with most of what his dad had chosen to hunt, having seen firsthand too much of the pain and mess that monsters left in their wake. But Pam was different. She might not be pure vanilla human, but Sam thought monster was a little extreme for the psychic gifts she had been born with.
“All business.” She rolled her eyes good naturedly. “You Winchester men need to learn how to live a little.”
Sam ignored that and fished the plastic sandwich bag with the ring out of his pocket. “This is my dad’s wedding ring, I know the man who killed him touched it. Can you help me find him?”
“You’re really just gonna jump right into this, aren’t you?”
Sam tried to quell his impatience. “I just want to do what I need to do and get back to my life. This isn’t what I do anymore. Not that I ever did this, but I don’t... I’m not a hunter. Whatever happened to my dad, I want answers and whatever kind of justice I can get. Then I’m done.”
“Good,” she said with surprising feeling, and then sighed and focused her attention on the ring. “If you don’t know who he is, how do you know he touched it?”
“The police had a video they let me watch.”
She looked at him, a searching kind of look that made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. “I’ll do this for you, Sam, because I owe you and I think you’re a nice guy. I’m doing this only for you.”
“He wasn’t a bad man, Pam,” Sam said quietly, thinking of baseball games and fishing trips. Even on the road, even hunting -- John had made time. Not much, but there had still been the odd soccer game, and side trips to state fairs. But what Sam remembered most from those first years on the road was that his father had listened. For miles and hours all across the country, during a period of adjustment that must have been almost as difficult for John as it had been for himself, his dad had taken the time and attention to make Sam feel like he had a place to belong.
It had been easy to forget that in the anger and frustration that dominated their last years together. He still thought his dad had been an ass about a lot of things, but had enough perspective and self-awareness to know the bad behavior hadn’t been all one sided.
It was hard to feel anything but grief and anger, but Sam was grateful they’d made peace before John died. He had enough shadows to live under.
“He was an asshole,” Pamela snorted, snapping Sam back to the conversation.
“He was my dad.”
Pamela raised an eyebrow and held a hand out for the ring. “I thought that’s what I said?”
Sam gave her a look and handed the ring over.
She wasn’t phased by his irritation and held the ring up in the clear plastic baggie. Her eyes narrowed in consideration as she examined it. “Gold’s good for imprints, and a wedding ring doesn’t usually have a lot of strangers to sort though, plus a strong emotional connection to the owner. Did you take this off his body?”
“It was in police evidence.”
She frowned. “At least one other person then, the morgue tech who bagged it. Maybe more depending on how they handled the scene.”
“Does that make a difference?”
Pamela shrugged and set the bag on the table. “It won’t make it easier, but you’re looking for the killer, and that’s a pretty strong impression. Shouldn’t be a problem to sort that one out from other random debris.”
“Good. How long will it take?”
“Why, Sam,” she said dryly, “it’s like you’re in some kind of hurry or something. What do you plan to do when you find this guy?”
Sam appreciated her use of the word when instead of if. “I’m going to ask him why he did it, and then I’m going to finish it.”
“What if he had a good reason? You dad wasn’t exactly a saint.”
Sam’s jaw tightened, but he didn’t reply. He had considered that, and admitted to himself that there might be some possibility that what had happened on that tape had been... not completely without cause. But shooting an unarmed man in the back with no warning? It would be a hard sell.
A very, very, hard sell.
Pamela’s assessing look was harder this time. “You’ve changed.”
“It’s been a few years. I’ve grown up some.”
“I noticed,” she agreed. “It looks good on you. But that wasn’t what I was talking about, and you know it.”
Sam shifted impatiently. “Was this something you wanted to share or can we get on with things?”
She looked like she wanted to say something else, but in the end just shrugged and led him from the sunny kitchen down a hallway. At the end was a heavy wooden door that matched nothing else in the house. Without hesitation Pamela pushed it open and led Sam into cavernous darkness.
Inside the room, Pamela pushed the door closed and Sam stood in the pitch black, deeply aware of the sound of his own breathing and soft footsteps on the wooden floor.
“Give me a second.”
The sharp scent of sulfur stung Sam’s nose as Pam struck a match and lit a candle. She lit several more in short order until the room was bathed in a warm, golden glow. It wasn’t a particularly small room. In the center was a circular table of dark wood with five heavy straight-backed chairs spaced evenly around it and a matching long table pushed up against the wall. A large cabinet of the same dark wood sat against the opposite wall and heavy curtains covered what must have been windows across from him. The room smelled of clean herbs and wood wax. Pam was ignoring him as she rummaged in a trunk.
“Nice place, probably not good for plants,” Sam observed.
“I need a dedicated place to work,” Pamela said absently and she searched for something.
“It doesn’t exactly scream wholesome family fun in here, you know.”
She flipped a lock of dark hair out of her eyes and glared at him. “Do I seem like a wholesome family kind of person? I’m not slaughtering goats or summoning zombies. If you thought I was, you would have let your dad kill me years ago.”
“It’s really... dark,” Sam said, still looking around.
“You know what likes the dark, Sam? Ghosts, spirits, the restless whatevers I communicate with. Not the ones you and your kind hunt, but the quieter, more delicate things out there that have voices so faint even a heartbeat can drown them out. A girl’s got to be hospitable if she wants to get paid in this world. Or the next.” She tossed a folded paper on the table and set the ring on it, then closed the trunk and opened a cabinet. From where he was standing Sam could make out a half-rack of drawers and shelves with glass bottles and containers unidentifiable from where he stood.
“You don’t have any eye of newt in there do you?”
“No,” Pam retorted, “but I might be able to come up with the testicles of a smart-mouthed hunter if you keep this up.”
When she turned back to the table she unfolded the paper and it turned out to be a huge highway map of the United States. It covered most of the table with the corners falling over the edges. Pam frowned.
“Better hope your guy doesn’t like Alaska or Hawaii.”
She poured a handful of dark powder from one of the jars into her hand and sprinkled a fine dust over the map, then grabbed another jar and repeated the process.
“What is that?” Sam asked.
Sam rolled his eyes, but took the hint.
Pam muttered something under her breath, then held a sprig to one of the flames. It smoldered and a heavy, smoky scent slowly filled the air. Sam sneezed and rubbed at his eyes.
“Should I even ask?”
“You should shut up and take a seat.”
Sam pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, grateful when she stubbed out whatever she had been burning and the cloying smoke began to settle a bit. He waited until she had pulled out her own chair and sat next to him before speaking again.
“If your ability is something you were born with, why is all of this necessary?” He motioned to the candles and scattered herbs.
Pam reached for the ring and turned the bag over in her hands, studying it again. “The short answer is that it isn’t. I could try this in the kitchen over lemonade and sandwiches and probably get something. But those spirits I mentioned can help. Give me a clearer or more focused answer, and I thought that was something you might want. On my own I could read this and maybe tell you the guy you are looking for is out west somewhere. With the help of the spirit world we can probably get a hell of a lot closer. I’m going to try for his name and the town, but it’s a lot like playing darts -- only drunk and with your feet. These trappings are just rolling out the welcome mat for the powers that be to feel free to lend a hand.”
Sam nodded and sneezed again. “Maybe you could have doubled up on the powder and skipped the poisonous fumes.”
She gave him an exasperated look. “You don’t see me telling you how to do your job, do you, Grumpy? Now sit back , stay quiet, and let’s get this party started.”
Without waiting for a reply, Pam opened the bag and spilled the ring onto her palm. Candlelight gathered on the metal, making it almost appear to glow. She closed her fist around the ring and her eyes fell shut. The air grew heavy and close. Sam saw sweat break out across her forehead as she mouthed things silently to herself. Minutes ticked by while Sam sat in painful silence. There was a growing tension, something almost palpable pushing against him, inside of him. He shifted on his chair, uneasy. Pam’s fist was so tight Sam could see her nails cutting into her skin.
“Pam,” he risked, quietly. She gave no indication she had heard him. Two of the candles flickered in the still air, making shadows dance wildly before steadying. Sam didn’t see a vent of any kind in the room, and felt a cold sweat break out under his shirt. “Pam,” he repeated, louder.
She remained still, lips forming words Sam couldn’t make out. He counted seconds, forcing himself to patience. She was a professional. She knew what she was doing. She hadn’t seemed concerned about trying this. She... remained locked in place as blood welled from her fist and landed on the edge of the map, heavy drops black in the golden light.
That was the line for Sam. He wanted his father’s killer, but he didn’t want to kill anyone else along the way, and the expression on Pam’s face was looking more pained by the second. She hadn’t mentioned bleeding as an integral part of the process, Sam wanted it stopped before things got any worse. If this was normal she could tell him, he would apologize, and they could try again. Maybe over the lemonade and sandwiches she had mentioned. No reason to go the extreme route until they had tried the easy ones.
He wrapped his hand around her fist, meaning to force her to drop the ring. As soon as his skin touched hers the growing pressure in his mind snapped and suddenly he was no longer in the dark, candle-lit room. The world around him was a blur, and then there was a glass counter, and a woman. She had long blond hair and blue eyes and seemed oddly out-of-focus. Things jumped again, dizzyingly, and then paused. Now things were crystal clear, almost in slow motion, even. He could hear spoken words like they were under water, impossible to make out. The same woman, and her hand wrapped around his for an impossibly long second. His chest felt full and aching. Sam recognized the emotion, even if he didn’t recognize the girl.
He’d loved Jessica like that.
Things went dark. Pain was everywhere and for an instant Sam had the incoherent idea that Jessica’s memory had conjured the agony of her loss, but the towering flames weren’t from any apartment fire. The only thing louder than the screaming in his head was the wailing cries of a baby. He looked down and a solemn faced child looked back at him from under a tow-headed mop. The infant clutched in the child’s arms looked half as big as he was, and Sam knew with total certainty the baby was safe there. Something about the scene was ringing alarm bells in the tiny corner of his awareness that was still conscious of himself as separate, but before he could pin it down the world dissolved again into a violent, merciless rage. Flickers of light, images so brief he couldn’t even understand what they showed, the reek of old blood and fresh wounds. And under all of it a pain and fear that made it hard to breath. Choking, pushing, always the struggle. Relentless. And then, in a rain-washed alley, the face he had wanted to see. It was so real that even in the waning sunlight of early evening Sam felt like he could count every freckle and every line. Hard green eyes and firm set lips. Still, expressionless, an endless second to memorize. Sam couldn’t interpret the feelings that welled up this time, everything was jumbled together. Above the man’s head, over the rough edge of the concrete building, the moon was rising in the darkening sky. He felt an unexpected flare of panic, could almost grasp its meaning...
Then darkness. And grief again, but this time it was different. Shaded less with rage and more with regret.
Into that perfect night intruded the blues guitar and southern twang of a modern country-western hit. Sam didn’t know what it was called, but it played in stores when he shopped. Slowly the darkness faded as the music was drowned out by voices and the clinking of glasses and scuff of chairs. The air was heavy with rich beer and grilled food, and the varnished pine wood of the bar stood in stark contrast to the darker wood of the floor. A bartender in a low cut top flashed a generous smile at a man sitting on the end as she slid a shot glass his way. At the other end of the bar a rowdier crowd let out a collective groan as the game playing on the bank of flat screens failed to meet their expectations. One of them yelled out and the bartender abandoned her position by the tap and headed down to take another round of orders. Alone now, the man shrugged off a hoodie and draped it over the empty stool at his side. Somewhere behind Sam a dropped glass exploded like a gun shot and the man at the bar spun to look, expression wary. Sam recognized the killer’s face now, and clenched his hand into an involuntary fist at his side. He forced it to relax... and felt Pamela’s fist open beneath his. The ring hit the table with a metallic clink as Sam’s eyes flew open. The ring rolled across the map in a graceful arc and then abruptly toppled over onto its side.
Pam shook her head as if trying to clear it. She looked like a woman waking up from a nightmare.
“Pam?” Sam asked hoarsely. His own skull felt like it was on fire. She shook her head again, then stumbled out of her chair and walked shakily to the other side of the table to peer down at the ring.
“I don’t know what the hell just happened, Sam, and it’s going to be a cold day somewhere damn hot before I do you another favor, but your boy is apparently living it up around Delcambre, Louisiana. I hope you like swampland.”
Pam stayed on her feet long enough to blow out the candles and press a bottle of aspirin into Sam’s hand. She dragged a heavy quilt and a pillow from somewhere while Sam washed his face with cold water. When he reemerged from the bathroom, she mumbled that he could have the couch before vanishing into the recesses of the house. It was only about five in the afternoon but Sam was bone tired and didn’t even notice the lumps and springs on the old sofa when he passed out on it.
Sam’s dreams were haunting flashes of visions and memories, and he was grateful when Pam woke him up. Even more grateful that the nauseating pain in his head had mostly subsided, though echoes of it stirred warningly when he moved too fast.
He could have done without the splash of icy water in his face.
“You could have just called my name,” Sam grumbled, wiping at his eyes. Pamela sat the glass down on a side table with unnecessary force and glared at him.
“You’re an asshole. Family trait, is it?”
The flirty professional from the day before had faded into a rumpled, hollow-eyed shadow of her former self. Tight lines of tension creased the corners of her eyes and Pam looked like she hadn’t slept in days.
“I don’t know what--“ he began, genuinely confused as to why she was pissed at him.
“You’re a fucking psychic! You didn’t think that might be important information to share before leaping into my reading? The least you could have done was keep your big, clumsy paws to yourself, not throw yourself head first into the middle of everything with no warning!”
“I’m--” was as far as Sam got before she cut him off.
“And I think it’s even more ballsy of your dad to be hunting people like me when his own damn kid can read the tea leaves as well as any of us can. The next time I say he’s a jackass and you do anything but just nod I’m kicking your ass too. Jesus.” She raked hands through her tangled hair and exhaled heavily. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Sam sat in stupefied silence for a moment until it became obvious she genuinely expected an answer.
“Pam,” he said with complete sincerity, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m not psychic,” Sam repeated for what felt like the hundredth time since he had woken up. After his earnest insistence he had no clue what was going on, Pamela had managed to get him into the kitchen and fixed them both toaster waffles and tea. She had also set a fifth of whiskey on the counter and Sam wondered if that was part of the usual routine or something special for the occasion. He had been seriously eyeing it for the last ten minutes.
“You are,” Pam said patiently. “What the hell did you think happened yesterday?”
“You were bleeding! You wouldn’t answer me. I just wanted you to drop the ring.”
Her gaze was both heavy and knowing. Sam stubbornly refused to look away. Finally Pam rolled her eyes, winced, and then poured enough whiskey into her tea to top up the glass. “Want some?” she offered. Sam shook his head. He was confused enough; there would be plenty of time for getting hammered later. And probably plenty of reason the way the conversation was going.
“Are you seriously going to try and tell me you didn’t experience anything?”
Sam did look away then, seeking support from the smooth grain of the table. It was pine, and the pale hue of the wood reminded him of the bar in his... vision. “I don’t know how these things work,” he said aloud, “I probably just hitched a ride on what you were seeing.”
Pamela reached out and wrapped strong, slender fingers over his wrist. He started to jerk away from the touch, but... nothing happened. Her skin was dry and warm and came with a complete lack of head-splitting images. She stayed quiet until he had relaxed under her hold.
“Sam,” she said calmly. “I didn’t see anything. That’s not how my gifts work. I feel... impressions, directions. Intuitive leaps in logic and deduction. I don’t get any pictures to go along with that. All I was trying to do was feel out the right impression and link it to the man who made it, to try and get you as close as possible. You stumbling into that was as obvious as a firecracker in a funeral home. You’re messy, and out-of-control, but your gift is strong. Visions are actually pretty rare.”
Sam shook her hand off gently and rubbed his temples. “If it’s a gift, I’d like to return it.”
“Talent, then,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“I don’t know what to do with this, Pam. I’m not saying I believe you, but I’m willing to... think about it.” Jessica’s death. Weeks of overwhelming dread. The certainty of the phone call. Coincidence, imagination... “I just -- what do you want me to do with this?”
Pamela shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “You don’t have to do anything with it, Sam. It’s yours. It can be a tool or a weapon, just like any other talent. Now it’s been woken up. You might be forced to deal with it on some level, or it might just quiet down and go back to sleep. You won’t know until you’re driving in rush hour traffic and a stripe of sunlight sends you into convulsions.”
“Thanks. That sounds... exciting.”
“Probably more so for the other drivers,” she said with an easy smile. Sam glared, and changed the subject.
“So what else did you get?”
“What do you mean, ‘what else’?” Pam demanded. “I got you his location, Delcambre. What else do you want from me?”
“Unless he’s buried there, that’s only limitedly useful,” Sam growled. “I don’t know who he is, I don’t know where to find him, and I don’t know when he’ll be in town. Am I supposed to just try and draw a picture of him and then flash it around town until someone recognizes it?”
“Are you a good artist?”
“Pam!” Sam slammed down his mug.
“You saw his face. That’s more than you had,” she argued. “Before this you probably would’ve just passed him on the street. Did you see anything else?”
“I saw--“ Sam hesitated. The visions of the previous evening were almost like a fading dream. He could remember pieces, and they had been fragmentary to start with. But that last part, and the end-- “a bar,” he said slowly, forcing his brain to draw it back up. Sam closed his eyes and concentrated. “I saw him in a bar. They were playing country-western music and... he was sitting alone.”
Pamela’s voice was excited when she spoke. “What else was going on?”
Sam’s eyes flew open. “What do you mean ‘what else’?” he echoed her question from before. “I saw the inside of the bar! If it was in Delcambre I can find it and stake it out. He looked pretty comfortable, odds are he’ll turn up eventually and then we can... chat.”
“That’s it?” Pam pressed. “You saw the whole inside of the bar and all it had was this guy sitting in it?”
“What are you after?”
“Just trust me, Sam. I’ve been doing this for a while. What else did you see?”
Sam sighed and closed his eyes again. “The bar itself looked like pine. There were a lot of people in the place, they were loud. There were waitresses serving tables, one of them dropped a glass. On the other end of the bar were a bunch of guys watching a game, the bartender didn’t look like she liked them much. Maybe they were bad tippers.” Sam opened his eyes. “Was that helpful?”
Pam looked at him like he was an especially disappointing puppy. Sam frowned, knowing he was missing something, and wishing his headache hadn’t renewed itself so that he could think. “What?”
“You said the guys were watching a game. Do you mean like pool, or like sports on television?”
Her eyes bored into him. The light bulb went off and Sam groaned, then smiled fiercely. “I’ve fucking got him.”
“As long as you can figure out what game it was,” she agreed. “Did you see enough detail?”
Sam considered. The images were a wash of moving color and green field, but given some time and the internet -- “Yeah. I can figure it out.”
“Then you’d better get cracking, Sparky,” Pam said as she pushed away from the table and stood up. “Visions are fleeting and erratic things. You might have lucked out and gotten what you wanted, but if that game was on last night you’re still SOL.”
“Where’re you going?” Sam asked as she set her plate on the counter and headed for the living room.
“Back to bed. You have fun. We’ll talk again when I can see straight. And the next time you want something from me it had better be a cup of sugar, got it?”
“What about if I have money?”
Pam paused in the doorway. “What about if you have money? You know where the guy is, what else do you need?”
“Just an idea. It can wait until you wake up.”
She gave him a suspicious glance, but refrained from comment. Sam stole her tea cup and downed the last few sips, then grabbed his laptop from the rental car and settled onto the couch to do research. He still wasn’t sure he believed her about the psychic thing, but wherever it had come from the vision was the only lead he had to find the killer. He was going to run with it as far as he could.
Pam paused on the stairs and eyed him. “Pardon?”
“The game they were watching.” Sam closed the laptop decisively. “It’s next Sunday. Or several years ago, but that does me no good so I’m going to go with--“
“Next Sunday,” she finished. “Good job, Grumpy. Now you just have to scout every bar in the region until you find the right one.”
“Assuming it’s even in Delcambre,” Sam agreed, struggling to ignore doubts and a sense of futility that had haunted him all morning. He needed a few hours of real sleep, not uneasy dream-plagued restlessness, to regain his equilibrium.
“Welcome to the psychic business, Kiddo. All uncertainty, all the time,” Pam said. “You get used to it,” she added as she caught the annoyed expression on Sam’s face. “What are you going to do after you find the guy anyway? Ask him nicely why he pulled the trigger and if he doesn’t mind following you down some dark ally?”
“Something like that. How much do you know about recreational drugs?”
She frowned. “Are we talking about a little weed or something more like liquid Drano? Considering what we’re talking about, you need to narrow ‘recreational’ down a little.”
Sam tilted his head back against the couch, trying to work out a kink from hours of sitting hunched over the computer. “I’m going to find him in a bar. I can try just following him and waiting for the right moment -- but if I lose him I might not get another chance. It seems like it might be easier just to strike up a conversation and slip something in his drink. He’s doing shots, no one’s going to be terribly suspicious if he gets a little unsteady on his feet and has to be helped outside by a friend. Once I get him in the car I can... do whatever I need to.”
Pam looked thoughtful. “I think I can get you what you want. Go pick us up some lunch while I make some calls. I’ll leave the door unlocked if I have to run out while you’re gone.”
Sam wasn’t terribly familiar with the Atlanta area Pamela lived in, but it wasn’t that hard to find local restaurants in a suburban neighborhood. Pam hadn’t indicated a preference for food choice so Sam pulled into the parking lot of the Chinese take-out and ordered a variety of numbers from the menu. He figured if she couldn’t find something she liked out of that then they could just call out for pizza.
She was sitting in the kitchen flipping through a magazine when Sam let himself back in.
“Do you always leave the door unlocked when you’re home?”
Pam looked surprised at the question. “Have you seen my neighborhood?” She pulled the bag open and started setting out cartons. “Grab some plates from that cabinet to your left.”
“I’ve hunted a lot of bad things in places that looked just like this.”
“Were they the kind of things that were strongly deterred by locks?” she asked pointedly. “I’m a big girl, Sam. I can take care of myself.”
Sam had to admit to himself that locks would barely slow down most of the things he would be concerned about, but it still seemed irritatingly careless. He could hear his dad’s voice in his head lecturing on basic safety. He sighed and pulled a couple of forks from the dish drainer.
“What’s eating you now?” Pam asked.
“Just...” Sam shrugged.
She offered him the lo mien. “You’ve got a lot going on. Try to keep your chin up or the crap will bury you before you have time to blink.”
“It’s been a bad year,” was all Sam said, not wanting to get into the fire and Jessica’s death, the fight with his dad and their reconciliation, and even less his feelings of isolation and rootlessness. And now Pam’s insistence that he was some kind of psychic on top of everything else. It was enough for the moment to be sitting in a friend’s kitchen sharing a meal and he tried to convey that with a reassuring smile.
Pamela snorted. “Try that one again after a few days of sleep and some serious uppers, Sam. You’d depress my aunt Milly right now and she’s been dead twenty years.”
“Thanks,” Sam said dryly.
They ate in companionable silence until most of the food had been demolished. Sam chased the last noodle off his plate and sat back in his chair. “Did you make any headway earlier?”
“You know, getting the stuff.”
“Stuff?” Pam raised an eyebrow.
Sam gave her a mild glare. “This isn’t fun for me, Pam.”
“When the fun starts, you let me know.” She stood up and opened one of the drawers by the sink then set a tiny glass vial of clear liquid on the table in front of him. Sam picked it up.
“This is it?”
“You could drink it and find out,” Pam suggested with an inviting smile.
Sam ignored that. “Are you sure it’s enough?”
“It’s enough. That’s actually two doses, in case you screw up the first time and want to take another run. My source knows her business. Just pour half of it in his drink when he isn’t looking. I told her based on your description we were talking about a reasonably athletic guy of at least average height, and you wanted him... compliant. She said that as long as your target isn’t allergic this should mess pretty severely with his head. The guy might pass out on you, but he won’t be in any shape to put up a fight. There’re also always the side risks of nausea, coma and death -- but I didn’t think those would be deal breakers in this particular case.”
Sam closed his hand around the tiny vial, a set expression on his face. “No, those aren’t anything I can’t live with.”
“So, that’s it then?” Pam asked him the next morning as he was zipping his laptop into its case. His sleep had been as restless as the previous night’s, and it left Sam feeling almost as exhausted as he had been when he laid down in the first place. His eyes itched like there were full of sand and all he really wanted to do was curl back up on the couch. But there was too much to do, and little time to do it.
“Yeah. I know when to find him, and as much of a plan as I can get together at this point. Now I just need to identify the where and scout out the area.”
“For a good place to dump a body.”
“For a lot of things, Pam.”
“You’re just going to creep up on this guy, drug him, drag him out into the woods, beat some answers out of him, and then put a bullet in his head?” she pressed.
Sam’s jaw tightened. “Pretty much.”
“And you’re okay with this?”
“I owe my dad this, and one less murderer in the world won’t keep me up at nights. Right at this moment I’m more concerned about this psychic crap.”
“It’s what you make of it. Like I said, it might just go quietly back to sleep.”
Sam sighed. “I’d have to be someone a hell of a lot luckier than I seem to be lately to catch that kind of break. I don’t even know if I believe you, but just in case... do I need to be doing anything? I’m not going to wake up one morning possessed by the inhabitants of the local haunted house or anything, am I?”
“It’s more like having a window in your mind where other people only have walls. You can see out, and other things can see in, but only a little. To get more of a connection you’d have to actually open it.”
“Any way I can get some really good curtains on this window?”
“I’m serious, Sam.”
“So am I,” he sighed.
She rolled her eyes.
“Just... don’t go messing with it and you should be fine.”
“Define ‘fine,’ assuming that it doesn’t quiet down on its own.”
“The most likely things you’ll pick up are like what I described last night. Intuition, leaps of logic. Maybe some emotions from people around you. Little things, nothing world-shattering.”
“But no voices or disembodied beings trying to hijack my skull?”
“That would be more like demonic possession. I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
Sam slid the strap on the case over his shoulder. “At this rate, I will by next week.”
“I didn’t say anything before, I was hoping... I don’t know what I was hoping. But I have a terrible feeling about this, Sam. It’s just... I think there’s a lot more to this.”
Sam frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “It’s just what I feel. There’s more going on here than a random murder, and you know what they say about the devil in the details.”
“I can’t make decisions based on vague feelings and maybes, Pam. I have to move on what I have, there isn’t time and I may never get another chance.”
“I know. Good luck. I wasn’t your dad’s number one fan, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to see him gunned down either. I hope you get this guy. Try not to get killed in the process.”
Pamela followed him to the door, expression pensive but said nothing. She stopped in the doorway and crossed her arms, watching as he made his way down the steps. Her position reminded him of something and he hesitated. “What you were saying when I first got here, about how I’d changed. What did you mean?”
There was something less than happy in the look that she gave him. “Before, you weren’t a killer.”
Delcambre was a rambling town set against the bayou, populated with aging chain link fences and clapboard houses. There was evidence that it had weathered rough times and might not be quite through with them yet, but the people seemed friendly and the properties relatively well maintained. Ancient sprawling trees dominated the mainland, fading to the scrubbier overhang of the swamps. Multiple docks and bait shops littered the margins if town. It was obvious that the majority of the local economy was based around the bayou, and Sam imagined half the population was out on the water at any given moment.
Finding a bar in Delcambre wasn’t hard, but the right bar remained frustratingly elusive. After two days Sam expanded his search to the larger nearby cities of Erath, Abbeville, and then New Iberia. Finally, on Sunday afternoon with nothing to show after days of carefully planned and executed searches; he decided to gamble on Pamela’s insistence that he had some kind of “ability” and pulled the car off the road under the canopy of the trees. She had told him he had a gift that might work through intuition, subtle magics of suggestion and instinct, so Sam set his hands on the steering wheel, closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. After a few minutes of trying to force clarity without coming to any revelations, other than feeling like an idiot, he turned the car back on and just... drove. He chose roads that meandered west and south. Within an hour he passed at least two buildings with flickering neon and dusty parking lots that caught his attention but brought with them a wavering feeling of... wrongness. Sam ground his teeth and drove on.
He could always come back.
The feeling eased twenty minutes later, on the outskirts of Intercoastal City, just as another roadside bar came into view on the right. No signs marked it from the road, but the parking lot was so full cars were parked along the street. The hand painted sign over the porch read “Mike’s.” Sam checked his watch, the game had just started. If this was the right place...
He shouldered his way in through a crowd of people chatting around the door and stopped dead just over the threshold with a tangible sense of déjà vu. The music was wrong, and there were only a couple of guys watching the game. Most of the patrons were lingering at pool tables on the other side of the room or ensconced in booths and at tables. But the dark wood of the floor and the varnished pine of the bar were perfect... and so was the man seated alone at the quiet end of the bar. One of the overhead lights had burned out leaving him in shadow, and Sam could only see his back, but it was the guy. It was absolutely him. Sam wrapped nervous fingers around the tiny vial in his pocket to reassure himself he was ready. At the bar, the stranger turned a little and leaned back on an elbow, surveying the crowd while he sipped a beer. Sam looked away, then realized there was nothing more out of place than a guy standing alone in the middle of the entrance looking studiously elsewhere, and managed to find an empty corner table.
He had seen the man’s features in the vision at Pam’s house, but it hadn’t really registered to Sam that the man was... good looking. Really very good looking, and probably not hanging around a bar alone on a Friday night with intentions to stay that way. Sam didn’t have a good plan for how exactly to get the drug in his target’s drink, assuming that he’d have to work that detail out once he was in place. The guy had been alone in his vision, but there was no reason to think that was a permanent state. Maybe his date had gone to the bathroom, maybe he was about to walk up to someone and suggest a quieter venue. Sam had only seen a few seconds after all, and there were plenty of unattached women in the bar that were casting speculative eyes around. Sam felt a twinge of cold panic that everything he had done could collapse just that easily.
It was going to be a lot harder to drug someone and smuggle him out, if there was another person invested in his welfare.
“What can I get you?” Sam looked up startled. A bored looking waitress was standing at his elbow, waiting expectantly. Sam recognized her.
“Aren’t you the bartender?” he asked before thinking, still caught up in his rapid reevaluation of the situation. She looked a little surprised and gave him a closer look, which made Sam swear internally. Making an impression on other people was definitely not in his plan. He forced himself to keep a friendly smile on his face.
“Yeah,” she shrugged after a moment. “But not for about half an hour. Linda and I trade off. Keeps the evening less tedious, you know? I don’t recognize you though, come here often?”
“Sometimes,” Sam shrugged a little noncommittally. “I’ll take whatever’s popular on tap.”
“Decisive kind of guy, aren’t you?”
Sam really wanted her to go away. “I like to try things.”
When she was gone Sam went back to studying his target... who, in the reflection from the mirrored wall behind the bar, seemed to be studying him back. Sam’s heart hammered in his chest and he looked casually away and took a long pull of the beer the waitress had set in front of him. He was afraid to look back up in case the man was still watching him, but when he went up to the bar to get a refill about fifteen minutes later the guy seemed absorbed in watching a game of darts and gave Sam only the most casual of glances. He was still nursing the beer he’d been drinking when Sam walked in, and Sam considered the merits of knocking something off the bar to see if the guy would reach down to pick it up for him.
It could be that fast, Sam could see it in his mind. The vial was tiny, and Pam swore its content was undetectable in alcohol. Sadly, there was nothing conveniently located for a casual ‘accident.’ This close and Sam could smell the clean scent of the guy‘s aftershave. A deep sense of rage welled up and he had to wrestle down the sudden desire just to haul off and punch the guy. It would be momentarily satisfying, but ultimately pointless.
The bartender slid a refill in front of him and Sam impulsively slid onto the stool one down from the guy. Opportunity wouldn’t matter if he wasn’t close enough to take advantage of it. He could feel the weight of the man’s appraisingly glance and tried to focus his own attention on what was happening on the screen at the other end of the bar. It was a bad angle, but better than counting liquor bottles on the shelves.
A few minutes passed and Sam, still hyper aware of the guy sitting barely two feet away, felt himself slowly relax into the ambiance of the room.
“You could see better if you sat closer.”
“Sorry?” was all Sam could think to say as he turned to face the target of his hunt.
“The game,” the guy nodded towards the screen. “You could see it better if you sat closer. Can you even see the score from there?”
He really couldn’t. “I can see enough.”
The corner of the man’s lips quirked up as he turned his attention back to his beer. Sam tried to think of something to say to continue the conversation, but only managed a lame, “Do you, uh, like watching sports?”
The guy looked back at him, there seemed to be a hint of genuine amusement in his eyes this time and Sam figured that had to be a good thing.
“If I did, I’d sit closer to the television.” Which effectively killed that line of conversation. But the guy took mercy on Sam and threw him a bone. “I don’t remember seeing you around here before.”
“I’m from out of town. Just wanted to get a drink and it seemed like a popular place. Always a good sign, you know?”
“Yeah,” the man agreed. “I do a lot of traveling myself. You here for work?”
Sam shrugged. “I’m a student. School’s still on break and I was passing by, thought I would stop and check out the local sites.”
“I hope you like gators and crawfish,” the man snorted. “Not much else around here.” He swept Sam with another assessing look, then stuck out a hand. “Dean Young.”
Sam took it with a smile and hoped the brittle edges were well hidden. “Sam Smith.”
“Really?” Dean raised an eyebrow.
“Really,” Sam said firmly.
Dean took his beer and slid onto the seat next to Sam. “Some parents, huh?”
Parents were not something Sam thought he could discuss with Dean and remain civil so he changed the topic. “Do you live around here?”
“It’s a little bit of a drive,” Dean said easily, “but I like the joint, and there aren’t really any good places to get a drink near my place. Tall stories and moonshine, sure, but it’s not the kind of joint you can really get out and meet people.”
“Is that what you’re doing down on the end of the bar by yourself, meeting people?” Sam asked dryly.
Dean smiled and Sam saw something in the green eyes that raised a hint of unease. “I seem to be.”
Right. “So, what kind of work are you in?”
Dean finished off his beer and signaled for another. “Private contracting, mostly.”
Of course he was. “Like engineering?”
“Like a variety of things.” Dean’s tone indicated he wasn’t going to welcome more questions on the subject and Sam let it lie. If “contracting” was Dean’s clever way of saying he killed people for money, then the question and answer session Sam had planned for later might take more time than he had thought. It was entirely possible the guy had been paid to kill John, and Sam could be looking at doing this entire thing all over again to reach the bastard who had paid for the hit. He hid the surge of disappointment behind his own glass and had his friendly mask firmly back in place when he set the beer down.
Sam wasn’t sure where to steer the conversation to keep Dean’s interest, but his willingness to listen seemed to be all that Dean needed to launch into a series of stories, each one more wildly improbable than the last, that had Sam smiling with genuine amusement despite himself. According to Dean, he had been everywhere, done everything, and no woman could resist his charm. Apparently no man either -- Sam sobered abruptly when he realized the conquest of the current story had decidedly less curves. Dean was still narrating as his hands sketched out a fish of ridiculous proportions, but his attention on Sam seemed unusually focused. It took Sam a minute to grab the thread.
“Wait, you said that was in his aquarium?”
“The freaking thing was as long as his living room!”
“And he just pulled it out and carved it up? For dinner?”
Dean shook his head in disgust. “It even had a name. He kept talking about how delicious ‘Bethany’ was.”
“I can’t believe you ate that.”
“It wasn’t the worst thing I had in my mouth that night, and he did have a fine ass.” Dean chuckled and seemed to be waiting for a reaction. Sam wasn’t sure what to give him and finally settled for a grin and shake of his head. Dean seemed appeased by that and launched into his next story, leaving Sam free to do nothing but smile and nod and hope that all the beer Dean was consuming would eventually have the usual effect. He was horrified with himself to realize that he was actually enjoying Dean’s company. There was something about his presence that just felt... natural.
It seemed a small eternity before Dean stretched and slid off the stool. “Gotta hit the head, watch my drink for me? The barmaid around here is a little quick with the clean-up.” Sam nodded and raised his own glass in salute.
He watched Dean vanish past a bank of payphones down a dimly lit hallway, then steadied his nerves and pulled the vial from his pocket. One quick twist took the cap off, then Sam just casually reached over as if he was stretching out and like that it was done. He twisted the cap back and tucked the vial into his pocket again. He stomach was tied in knots and adrenaline had his hands shaking. Dean sauntered back out of the bathroom a few minutes later and took his seat. He seemed to be in a more somber mood than he had been, and kept giving Sam odd, sidelong looks. Unfortunately he also showed no interest in finishing his beer and the minutes passed in agony as Sam tried to stay calm and relaxed. At least on the surface.
Abruptly Dean stood and stretched. “Well, I think that’s probably about it for me tonight.”
It was barely ten o’clock and the beer was still sitting untouched. Sam had to quell a surge of alarm. “You want to finish your drink?”
Dean glanced at the half-full glass of amber liquid, Sam thought he saw something calculating flicker in the cool green eyes, but then it was gone and Dean’s attention returned to his face. Sam struggled to keep the worry and first hints of panic from his own expression. There was no way Dean could know about the drug, no reason he wouldn’t be willing to down the rest of the beer he’d been enjoying for the last hour. Calm, casual, everything was going fine--
Or not so fine. Shit.
“I’ve had enough of this place.” Dean shrugged his jacket on and fished a couple of bills from his wallet. Sam watched as Dean slid the wallet into his threadbare back pocket. He had to think of something. If he failed now he wasn’t going to get a second chance, but short of just pulling his blade from the sheath at his ankle and going for Dean’s throat, which lacked a certain requisite subtlety, Sam was at a loss. There had to be something he could do, something to convince Dean to stay... His desperate plotting was interrupted by a warm hand that rested briefly over his own, before sliding away. Sam looked up, startled, and found his gaze trapped by Dean’s. The green eyes were still cold, but there was an... interest in them that opened up a world of possibilities. Bad, bad possibilities. Suddenly the last few stories and the assessing looks made a lot more sense.
“If you’re still thirsty, I have liquor back at my place,” Dean suggested.
Sam was frozen, speechless. It was the opportunity he needed, but all of his instincts were screaming at him to refuse. “I...” he began, before trailing off, unsure what he wanted to say. Dean’s expression shuttered.
“I’ll see you around then.” He turned away and started threading his way towards the door. Sam swore internally and downed the rest of his glass, then hurried after him, catching up at the door. Dean raised an eyebrow.
“Are you gonna drop me off at my motel afterwards?” Sam asked.
“I’ll give you a ride back in the morning,” Dean promised. Sam caught the measuring glance Dean gave him and nodded, forcing his mouth into something approximating a smile. It must have worked because Dean gave an oddly sardonic half smile of his own and led Sam to a dark corner of the lot. The familiarity of the classic car he unlocked made Sam pause a minute as memories assaulted him. His dad had driven a ’67 Impala for years. Dean opened the passenger door and gestured Sam to climb in. The car even smelled like his childhood and he had to force himself to relax into the worn, leather upholstery. The tiny vial tucked in his pocket felt like a lead weight. There was barely half left, he’d only have one more chance to do the job and he silently thanked Pamela’s foresight that he even had that. If he botched it then things would get dicey. Sam had reach, and estimated a better advantage in height and sheer muscle, but Dean almost matched him in both categories, and had an unknown amount of experience to back it up. Sam’s only real advantage might be surprise, and the odds weren’t much in his favor.
The ride out to Dean’s house was filled with easy conversation, safe topics like food and the unseasonable weather. When those fell into a companionable silence Dean turned on the tape deck and Sam was assaulted by a fresh round of déjà vu.
“I wouldn’t have taken you for a Metallica fan,” Sam commented a few minutes later in the silence between songs. And he wouldn’t have, it seemed... messy. At odds with the slick touch that had so far marked everything about the killer at his side. It reminded Sam of childhood, riding beside his dad down long, empty highways. He’d always played stuff like that.
“Only the classics. The new stuff is trash.”
Sam nodded in agreement as the car sped deeper into the night.
Dean’s house was more of what Sam expected. Set off the road, he could hear the singing of frogs and the musical rush of flowing water sliding against the bank somewhere nearby. The house itself had more huge panes of glass than Sam himself would have been comfortable with, but they accented nicely the pale woods and stainless steel of the interior. The furniture was heavy, natural woods and everything he could see was modern, orderly, and strictly arranged. Even the remote control for the flat-screen television mounted on one wall was lined up perfectly with the edge of the coffee table it sat on.
The hands on his shoulders made him jump.
“Easy, just thought you might want to take off your coat.”
“Yeah, sorry. Just--“ Sam swallowed. “You said something about a drink?”
Dean shrugged off his own jacket and held out his hand for Sam’s, then draped them both over the back of the couch. Sam watched to make sure nothing fell out of the pocket. He didn’t want to give up the jacket but didn’t see any reasonable way out of it. He wished he’d had the foresight to shove the bottle into his jeans pocket, but he was having trouble focusing. Things were moving fast and in unanticipated directions.
“Why don’t you let me give you the tour first?” Dean’s smile was inviting, warm, and didn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t entertain many visitors.”
Sam didn’t want a tour. He didn’t even want a drink. He just wanted Dean to pull out some glasses and give him a few seconds alone with them. He wanted this over with, he wanted to go home. Back to his boring life of books, and school, and be done with anything to do with murder and death. But he couldn’t have that unless he did this first.
He forced an answering smile. “That sounds great.”
Dean's smile broadened. “I was hoping you'd say that.” He gestured towards an alcove, guiding Sam to examine a painting with a hand on his shoulder. Sam was painfully aware of the gentle contact, the warmth of Dean’s hand soaking through his t-shirt and into his own skin. He nodded when Dean spoke and took in almost nothing. But after that painting, there was another, and then another. Then a long swath of woven fabric framed and hung in a hallway, a statue carved of ivory, and another of stone, and then... a dark room. Dean flipped a switch and recessed lighting showed the smooth, even grains of a furniture set that matched the living room, a few tasteful watercolors, and a hand-woven rug in colors like the sea.
All Sam really took in was the bed.
It seemed impossibly large, head and footboards as tasteful and expensive as every other item in the house, and covered with a deep blue comforter that would have looked inviting anywhere else. As it was, Sam stopped dead a few feet into the room and licked dry lips. “I could really use that drink now.”
He could feel Dean’s heat against his back, and then a hand steadied itself on his hip and lips brushed against the side of his throat. “How about later.” Dean’s voice in his ear was low and thick, breath warm and scented faintly with the alcohol he’d been drinking earlier. He tugged Sam back by his belt loop until Sam was feeling more than just heat as Dean molded their bodies together.
Sam wanted to twist free and attack, to slam his fist right into Dean’s face and keep hitting him until he was broken and bloody and so, so sorry. But if he would just be patient, just do what he had to and stay the course, he could do it right. There wouldn’t be more than one chance. Throwing his own life away wouldn’t accomplish anything. He’d made a promise, and if this was the price of his revenge... Dean nuzzled at his throat and slipped a hand around his waist while Sam focused on relaxing into the unwanted embrace. One hand pulled his t-shirt out of his jeans and slipped under it, roaming over his belly before dipping just under his waistband. Fingers were undoing his belt and the snap of his jeans and the other hand was lower, much lower, cupping him and rolling one thumb gently over the crown.
“You don’t feel like you’re enjoying yourself,” Dean said.
“It’s the weather,” Sam muttered, feeling his cock start to harden in Dean’s hand despite himself. “I don’t like thunderstorms.”
Dean chuckled, the sound sending a not-unpleasant puff of warm air against the damp skin he had been nuzzling.
“We’ll have to see what we can do to distract you.”
“I don’t...” Sam paused to swallow. He hated to admit a weakness, but it was going to be pretty damned obvious to Dean in a few minutes and admitting it up front might make things easier. “I don’t have a lot of experience with, uh--” Dean’s hand between his legs was starting to short circuit some of Sam’s ability to think clearly, he unconsciously leaned back and spread them wider to give Dean more room, “--guys.”
“Why’d you come home with me then?” Dean's other hand found a nipple and gave it an experimental squeeze. Sam sucked in a breath.
“My, uh, girlfriend dumped me. I thought...”
“You thought you’d try the other side of the street for a while?” He didn’t sound upset, more like amused. Sam took it as a good sign. If he was amused, he probably wasn’t suspicious. If he wasn’t suspicious, there was still a good chance Sam could complete his mission.
“I... yeah. Why not, you know?”
“Right. Why not?” Dean echoed. He released Sam and stepped back, Sam turned to face him. “How about you get yourself undressed and I’ll go fix those drinks?”
“Uh...” Sam stared helplessly as Dean winked and slipped out of the room. Alone in the bedroom, Sam raked frustrated fingers through his hair and sat on the edge of the bed, considering his options. Which seemed to boil down to finding some excuse to join Dean in the other room and trying to spike his drink, or... do as he was told; strip down, and get through the night. The morning after would almost certainly bring more opportunities. He could get up early and cook or something. His girlfriends had always liked that, he didn’t see why Dean wouldn’t. It was a normal, non-suspicious type of thing.
If he was more confident he could go into the living room and seduce Dean into distraction right now, get his hands on the glasses, and his coat, and--
“Here.” A tumbler of amber liquid was pushed into his hand. Sam flashed a reflexive smile and swallowed hard. Sometime between leaving the room and returning Dean had managed to lose his shirt and was dressed only in unbuttoned jeans and a frown. He held his own glass loosely in his hand. Not that Sam could do anything about it from here anyways. “You don’t listen very well, do you?”
Dean motioned to Sam’s clothes. “This looks a lot like what I left you in.”
“Oh, yeah.” Sam downed the liquor in his glass, then set the tumbler down on the bedside table and peeled his shirt up with one easy movement. Dean whistled low in appreciation and held his own glass out to Sam.
“You look like you might need another.” Sam hesitated, remembering his own plan. Dean smiled and set it down on the table next to the empty glass. “It’s there if you want it.”
“Okay, thank--“ The word cut off as a strong, callused hand cupped the side of his face and warm lips pressed against his own. Sam felt a brush of tongue and opened his mouth obediently, deciding in one rush to just go with it. Dean was a good looking guy, and he seemed to know what he was doing. Sam was sure he'd done worse things on a hunt than sleep with a guy. Maybe not a guy that was his father’s killer, but if he could just ignore that for a few minutes... The image of John’s lifeless body bleeding out onto the sidewalk flashed behind his eyes and he pulled back with a grimace. Dean was sitting on the edge of the mattress beside him, and his voice was rough when he spoke.
“Nothing,” Sam muttered, “just...”
“You’re not having a heterosexual freak out are you?”
“What? Uh, no. I don’t think so. Just a headache.”
“I don’t hear that often.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Of course it isn’t.” Dean walked over and flipped off the overhead light, then turned on the bedside lamp, leaving the room awash in a more intimate glow. Rushing water from somewhere just beyond the massive window filled Sam’s ears. The shadows of the room seemed impossibly deep and drowning. Dean took his seat on the bed again and ran a hand gently down Sam’s thigh. “Why don’t you just relax a little and let me see what I can do to make you feel better?”
"I've been told I give a pretty mean massage." Dean grinned. "Lie down on your stomach and I'll show you." Dean fished a small bottle from the nightstand. In the dim lamplight the oil glowed a warm ginger color.
Sam hesitated. "What about the sheets?"
Dean's hand settled on his thigh again, a warm point of contact that seemed to swallow Sam's ability to concentrate. Or panic. "Sam. This is supposed to be fun. If you want to leave..."
Sam had a sudden vision of Dean dropping him back off in the bar parking lot.
"No, of course I don't. A massage sounds great." He scooted back further onto the bed and stretched out on his belly. Dean chuckled, and Sam felt the mattress move as Dean kicked off his jeans and climbed up alongside him.
"Sorry, it's not as warm as I'd like. It'll heat up fast though."
Sam lay still as liquid pooled in the middle of his back, spilling the faint scent of sandalwood into the room. He heard the faint pop of the cap as Dean closed the bottle and then strong hands settled onto his skin. After a few minutes it was obvious Dean hadn't lied about his skill and the oil wasn't the only thing heating up fast. Dean's hands glided over his skin, finding just the right places to press and rub to melt Sam under him. As Dean worked the muscles of his shoulders and back, other parts of Sam started to take more of an interest.
He didn't know how much time passed before those hands began to work their way past his waist. The first few strokes were hesitant, but seemed to take Sam's lack of protest as the invitation it was and began working down his lower body. By the time Dean's hands slid back up over oil-slicked skin Sam was past being concerned over details and twisted against the sheets, reaching down to relieve the pressure in his aching cock. He growled in wordless frustration when Dean grabbed his arm, preventing the move, then stopped resisting and turned over at Dean's prodding. It was a good decision as Dean immediately wrapped one of his hands around Sam's cock and squeezed with just the right pressure.
The rain pounded against the glass and thunder rumbled in the distance. Dean touched him, stroking his cock smoothly, getting the rhythm right. Relaxed from the massage and feeling strangely peaceful, Sam let himself forget for a few minutes about death and pain, that he was in Dean's bed to do a job, and none of this was real. The touch felt good. Being touched at all felt good. It had been a year since he'd spent this much time with any one person, and there was something about Dean, something elusive and compelling that was giving him a sense of safety he knew was false.
Dean’s voice was low, soothing. He leaned up, moved to straddle Sam’s thighs and met his eyes.
“You like that?”
“Yeah,” Sam breathed out.
“I’m going to do more. You okay with that?” Green eyes, steady and calm. Sam rolled his shoulders, not a shrug, exactly. Easing more deeply into the amazing bed.
“Let’s try… this.”
Dean’s free hand, which had been resting lightly on Sam’s hip, ran down the outside of his leg and then up the inside. He pressed gently and Sam moved, spread his legs, going with it. The heat of fingers behind his balls, where Jessica – she’d been outgoing and flirty but not what you’d call sexually adventurous – had never gone. Those fingers slid down the smooth skin, making Sam shudder, and then paused.
Sam nodded and shifted, spread his legs further. Dean was being surprisingly gentle in his exploration. Even though Sam had already agreed to sex, Dean’s approach was building honest anticipation. Seducing him with slow, skillful touches and enthusiasm.
Dean moved and reached, his hand leaving Sam’s cock. Sam had a heartbeat to miss the touch before he was back, a bottle in his hand. Sam saw that the liquid inside was clear and guessed what it was. Lubricant.
Dean caught something in Sam’s expression. “This’ll make things easier.”
Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly, wondering if Dean would take offense if he refused. Before he made a decision either way Dean shuffled down a bit and bent over him, one finger carefully circling Sam’s hole, drizzling lube over it. It wasn’t cold, just barely cool enough to feel the difference, but now Dean moved with pressure against the tender skin, and Sam felt a slight burn as a finger began to push in. He stiffened; suddenly unsure he wanted to just go with this.
“Easy there. Easy.” Dean’s reassurance helped calm Sam’s nerves. “I’ll make it better.” He ducked his head and began nuzzling along Sam’s stomach. He licked over the point Sam’s hip, sucked on it hard. Sam gasped and moved, cock hard and heavy. Thick wetness oozed over the head and down the shaft. Without warning Dean opened his mouth and slid it down over Sam’s cock.
Sam cried out, grabbing the pillow under his head so he wouldn’t grab at Dean’s short hair. There probably wasn’t enough of it to get a good hold anyhow.
Dean hummed briefly and Sam shuddered again. Dean’s mouth was so hot, so wet. It felt better than anything. It wasn’t long before he was panting, hips jerking, fighting the urge to thrust. Dean slid back long enough to say “I’m good. Go for it.” Sam groaned and immediately began thrusting, carefully at first; short and controlled. Then he felt Dean’s finger, Dean’s finger that was inside him, start moving as it slipped deeper. It stung and suddenly his body lit up, heat rushing through him.
Dean looked up at him, eyes bright and amused. He hummed again and Sam’s hips pumped harder, his cock going deeper. Dean’s throat opened up around him and he slid until he felt himself hit the back of it and groaned again, louder. Dean decided that was a good time to add another finger and Sam felt that same unexpected surge of heat rush over him with the discomfort.
It went on and on, Sam lost track of everything but the heat around his dick and the hit caused by Dean’s clever, clever fingers. His orgasm was pooling in his belly, tightening him and he could almost taste it, he was so close.
Dean pulled off, pulled his fingers out, and sat up on his knees, wiping his mouth with almost delicate movement. He looked down at Sam, seeming pleased with what he’d done, but there was still a question in his eyes.
“What?” Sam gasped out, short of breath. Dean slid his hand back down between Sam’s thighs, brushing over the muscle there again.
“You know you want to.” He grinned.
Sam barely hesitated; everything else had just felt so, so good. “Yes.”
That was enough for Dean. Need must have been riding him hard because he moved quickly back between Sam’s legs, slicked up his fingers and pushed them back in without ceremony. Gasping, Sam accepted the mix of pleasure and pain, lifting his legs to give Dean more room.
Dean stroked him with his free hand and worked another finger in. Sam felt impossibly full and knew that Dean’s cock was thicker than three fingers. Another stab of nerves, swiftly suppressed. The rain continued outside, occasional rolls of thunder fading into the distance.
Dean pulled his fingers out and poured lube over his straining cock. “I’ll try not to hurt you, but first times are the worst. Just do what I say, okay?”
Lost for words, Sam nodded in agreement. He gripped the bedspread with both hands, hanging on.
Dean moved closer, taking one of Sam’s legs and putting it around his waist. He urged the other out to the side, then took his cock in one hand and pressed it against Sam, gentle pressure, a preview of what was coming. A sudden hard shove, Dean holding his legs tight, probably leaving bruises. Sam ground his teeth, the pain immediate and harsh. Dean must have seen it in his face, he paused and held still. It looked like it hurt him to do it.
“Bear down,” he said. “Just... bear down, it’ll help.”
It sounded counterintuitive, but Sam was in no position to argue. He forced his body to follow Dean’s direction and Dean, somehow, slid in deeper. The burn didn’t really get better, but it didn’t get worse either.
It went like that for a few minutes, Dean waiting and Sam pushing and progress being made. Then he felt Dean’s balls on his ass and Sam exhaled heavily, relieved.
“Not as bad now?” Dean asked. He was shining with sweat. His restraint had probably cost him and Sam appreciated it, more than he could say. The burn was fading now and he had a few seconds to catalogue and consider the sensations; too full, achy, hot – then Dean was dragging himself back out again. Sam heard him add another splash of lube before he pushed back in and then he was moving, a slow, deep rhythm. After a few thrusts Sam began to move with him, and gradually it began to feel pretty good. Dean flashed him a quick grin and then frowned in concentration a moment before sliding his cock against something that made Sam catch his breath.
“Fuck, yeah,” he groaned. “That, do that.”
There was a low, rough chuckle but Sam was too busy being blown away to look at him.
“That’s it – that’s a good boy,” Dean muttered. “Take it, like that. Yeah.”
The words made Sam’s face hotter, but they also made his dick harder. He gave in to the need he’d been fighting and reached to grab his cock, pulling it almost roughly, the friction a touch abrasive.
“No, here – none of this should hurt. Like this.” Dean closed a hand still slick with lube around Sam’s. The lube rubbed onto Sam’s hand and his strokes evened out, smoother, and the pleasure flared even brighter. Dean sat back further on his knees and his movements sped up, harder.
“Hurry up,” he growled at Sam, voice rough with restraint. “Come on, you gotta get there, Sam. I’m gonna –“ he closed his eyes tightly and his hands tightened even more on Sam’s legs, deepening bruises Sam knew he would feel for days.
“Yeah, yeah,” Sam groaned. “I’m – yeah.” He finished with another long, low moan, come spurting and dripping over his hand and belly. Dean rammed himself in one last time and froze there, chest heaving like a bellows. He gasped a faint smile at Sam and let go of him, pulling out fast – Sam winced – and rolling to the side, on his back so they lay side by side on the mattress, cooling down to the steady rhythm of the rain.
Some time later Sam lay calmly on the tangled sheet, sweat still drying on his skin. His brain was trying to absorb what he’d done, to record the sensations, the satiation he felt now. Centered.
The mattress dipped as Dean sat up beside him. Dean’s expression was hard to make out in the semi-darkness, but it wasn’t just the air conditioning that raised goose bumps on Sam’s skin.
“Something wrong?” he asked, starting to sit up himself.
Gentle pressure from one of Dean’s hands pushed him back down. The touch turned into a caress, nothing threatening in the gesture and Sam let himself be resettled. Dean used the edge of one of the sheets to wipe some of the mess from his skin.
“No. Just a little restless. You want a drink?”
Sam wanted a shower, and to not have to deal with anything outside of the surprisingly pleasurable haven of Dean’s bed. A thought that doused him with a wave of guilt like ice water on a hot summer day. “I think I’ve had enough alcohol.”
“What about some water?”
“Sounds good.” Sounded perfect. “But you got the last round, I’ll get it.” Sam smiled. It was easy. Dean had been right, he gave a fantastic massage and what had come after had been just as good. Sam felt almost boneless, and this time tomorrow all of this would be a bad memory. He would deal with the fallout then.
And there would be fallout.
But Dean was already on his feet and pulling on his jeans. “It’s my house, you’re the guest.”
“Relax. Or do I need to work on those muscles some more?” Dean flashed him a smile full of charm. “I’m not going far.” He downed the contents of his tumbler from the bedside table and vanished into the bathroom. Sam heard the brief sound of a tap and then Dean reappeared. He handed one of the glasses now filled with water to Sam, who was suddenly twisted with indecision.
Dean drained his own glass, and then frowned at Sam who was still staring at his own. “I thought you said you were thirsty?” Sam looked up. There was nothing on Dean’s face, nothing in his voice to indicate any kind of problem. But that tiny bell in the back of Sam’s mind was starting to ring.
“Are you okay?” Dean sat beside him on the bed, one hand resting on Sam’s thigh. The touch felt good. Being touched at all felt good. It had been a year since he'd spent this much time with any one person, and there was something about Dean, something elusive and compelling...
Dean was a killer. He killed Sam’s dad. The only thing between them was death, and in the morning Sam would have his chance to get answers.
The water had the faint bitterness of the whiskey from before. Sam drained it and set the tumbler on the table beside Dean’s. Then he shoved everything else to the back of his mind as Dean reached for him again.
In the morning.
Light seeping through his eyelids woke Sam to a stabbing headache. He instinctively raised a hand to shield his eyes, but the motion was brought up short by the sharp yank of metal against his wrist. His eyes flew open, pain momentarily forgotten. He craned his neck around and stared at the handcuff shackling his right wrist. A quick inspection showed similar restraints around his left hand and both ankles. He slumped back onto the bed and hastily catalogued the room, trying to force unusually scattered thoughts into some coherency. The room was more or less as he remembered it, but he didn’t remember handcuffs, and the thick layer of plastic under his body was definitely a new, and ominous, addition. Sam tried to wriggle free of the cuffs, but when discomfort bordering on pain radiated up his spine he grimaced and gave up. The cuffs were tight enough to pinch, he wasn’t going anywhere. He remembered having sex. He remembered Dean handing him water. And he remembered lying afterwards on rumpled sheets with the heat of Dean’s body pressed against his side.
He didn’t remember anything after that.
Not that he needed the roadmap, it was pretty fucking obvious what had happened. He just didn’t understand why.
Sam raised his head and looked towards the doorway. In it, fully dressed with hair still damp from a shower, stood the focus of Sam’s angry thoughts.
“You fucking asshole, let me go!”
“Why would I do that? I’m enjoying the view.” He raked Sam’s naked body with a leer and Sam blushed furiously despite himself. It was hard to tell if it was anger or embarrassment, because both were pounding through his veins.
“You got what you wanted, uncuff me and give me my clothes.”
Dean’s smile was thin. “I will. Eventually. Of course, you’ll be dead and unlikely to appreciate the gesture, but at least you’ll leave a modest corpse.”
Sam’s thoughts stuttered. “What?”
Dean crossed his arms and all hints of levity fell from his face. He dragged a straight-backed chair close to the bed and slouched into it. His expression was as cold as the blood frozen in Sam’s veins “Do you think I’m some kind of moron, Sam? Maybe it’s all luck and I actually kind of suck at my job?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”
“You were stalking me in the bar, and those weren’t admiring looks you were casting at my back all that time you were sitting in the corner watching me. Your attempt to get closer was laughably sad and if that was the best ‘interested’ act you could come up with you should probably stick to lurking in alleys and hitting your marks in the head with a tire iron or something,” Dean said scornfully. “If that had been a real pick up I wouldn’t have given you the time of day.”
“Then why take me home with you?” Sam ground out.
“Call me paranoid, but I’m not in the habit of letting assassins trailing me around keep trailing me around -- not when there’s an easy solution to the problem.”
“I’m not an assassin!” Sam protested. “And what the hell is this all about then?” He rattled the cuffs against the bed frame. “If you wanted me dead you could have just killed me last night. You didn’t have to... drug me and... and... Why?”
Dean kicked his feet up onto the bed. The soles of his shoes brushed Sam’s hip and Sam flinched away, which set off the ache in his backside again and made him grind his teeth together at the reminder.
“Why not? You’re a bad actor, but a good looking guy. Besides, you knew what I was asking for when I invited you to sleep over,” Dean shrugged. “It’s not like I ripped your clothes off and tied you to the bed.” Dean smiled. “You know, before.”
“Then why the drugs?” Sam spat.
Dean’s thin smile cooled. “You don’t recognize the flavor? Those were your drugs, Sunshine. The ones you intended for me. I just wanted to confirm what it was and feeding you your own poison seemed the most convenient route to take. I noticed the bottle was half full, by the way. You have a good time playing freshmen pharmacology in the bar with my drink?” He leaned forward in his chair and his expression hardened. “What was the plan? Get me sauced and then help me out to your car? A few apologetic looks for the locals and then a quiet boat ramp while I’m so drugged up I can barely stand? Nice set-up for a drowning, if the drugs break down to acceptable levels before anyone thinks to run a tox screen. Not a bad gamble in the bayou. Hell, with the gators most bodies never surface at all.”
Sam blinked. Dean had come up with a more thought out plan in one rambling monologue than Sam had in the first place.
It seemed counterproductive to argue that he wasn’t an assassin. Dean didn't seem in a credulous mood and the heavy plastic smacked of a certain lack of willingness to compromise.
“So what then?” Sam asked quietly. “A bullet in my head, a pillow over my face? Roll me out in the swamp with all the other people you kill?”
“Not quite,” Dean said calmly. He leaned over and pulled a small black box about the size of a pencil case from the bedside table. “I actually want you found, I want to know who you are and I figure the cops can do a better job of spreading your picture around than I can. I could just carve it out of you, but that takes time and gets messy. I’m not that interested.” He pulled a syringe half full of a pale green liquid from the box and pressed the air out. The cool spray of liquid expressed from the needle fell across Sam’s stomach and he shivered, eyes glued on the syringe.
“This?” Dean raised an eyebrow. “No. Well, not really. It’s a sedative. A little bit will make you sleep, the whole dose will sink you into a coma. It would eventually kill you too, but I need your death to look accidental. No reason to get the cops stirred up to do more than slap a name on your face. It’s true that around here one dead homeless drifter wouldn’t create much of a stir, but it could be a slow week. There’s a public pool not too far from here in need of repairs, it’s closed for renovations but they haven’t drained it yet. I think a nice drowning would light a fire under the construction company’s ass.” Dean smiled and Sam saw death in the curve of his lips. “See? Your little accident will serve a higher purpose. Little kids all across the parish will be thanking you in their sleep.”
He grabbed Sam’s leg and Sam jerked violently in his grip. “Wait! Wait. Just, I need an answer first, you owe me that much--“
“I don’t owe you shit,” Dean snapped and for the first time Sam saw the heat of real anger under the cool exterior. He matched it with his own, almost unprepared for the explosion it touched off.
“You do, you asshole! You killed my father. He was the only person I had, the only fucking person left in my life and you gunned him down like it was nothing. You want to kill me? Well fuck you, you can damn well tell me why first, goddamnit!”
Dean sat back with a frown, the needle lowering as he studied Sam’s face. Sam felt hot tears of frustration and anger sear down his cheeks but didn’t give a damn. He wasn’t going to live to see tomorrow, but he would get this one thing before the end.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dean said after a moment. “If it was that job in Munich, that guy had it coming and I’m not gonna fucking apologize for killing a man who could rape his own daughter, so you can--“
“What?” Sam yelled, outraged. “I don’t know anything about fucking Munich, I’m talking about last week, I’m talking about--“
“Then you’re even more incompetent than I thought you were, because I haven’t done any jobs in the past week. Or even the past year. I’ve been out of the business for months now and if someone capped your pops last week then I’ve got sad news for you, you’ve--“
Sam cut him off. “No, no, I saw you. The cops had a tape. I saw you on it, and-- it was you. In Shreveport. You shot him in the back you asshole. Not even to his face? You’re a fucking coward. He was unarmed, and you just shot him. You’ve got to have some kind of reason!”
Dean’s face had gone very still and his eyes were expressionless. Sam had the feeling he was looking at a statue and the living man was suddenly far, far away.
The silence stretched out.
“Dean?” Sam asked warily.
“What was your father’s name?”
John was dead, and Sam didn’t have anything to protect anymore. “He was calling himself John Elmore, but his name was John Winchester.”
“You’re a liar.”
Dean’s voice was remote, almost mechanical. Sam’s eyes narrowed in renewed fury. “Are you still trying to say you didn’t kill my dad? Because I’ve got sources I trust a hell of a lot more than you who are pretty damn sure you did, so--“
“I shot John Winchester in Shreveport last week, but he wasn’t your father.”
Sam stared, unsure how to respond. “Uh, I’m pretty sure he was.”
Sam’s eyes grew widened. “Then so was he, because I remember an awful lot of fishing trips and motel rooms with my dad that don’t make a lot of sense otherwise. He was there when I was born, he spent years teaching me how to do his job, and he damn well took a parental interest when I decided to do something else with my life! Where the hell do you get off trying to tell me he wasn’t my dad?”
“He didn’t raise you.”
“He didn’t,” Dean said flatly. “I think I would have fucking noticed if you’d been riding along in the backseat. What game are you playing?”
“In the... what?” was all Sam could manage, dumbfounded at the abrupt turn in the conversation. Instead of answering, Dean grabbed one of Sam’s legs again and plunged the needle in before Sam could do more than jerk in his grip. The icy burn began spreading outwards and Sam could feel his consciousness draining into darkness no matter how hard he fought the inexorable slide. The last thing he registered before passing out was Dean’s voice.
“John Winchester wasn’t your father, you lying son-of-a-bitch. He was mine.”
Red was the color of the lipstick on the mirror. It was cheap, part of last year’s Halloween costume. Her friends would call on lazy weekend mornings and she would perch on the edge of the sink and take down dates and phone numbers where they could be easily washed away. Sam kind of liked the crimson scrawl on the edges of the glass, each stroke a reminder of his new life, and her companionship.
But it was still a big mess.
“Are you going to wash this?”
“Nope. It’s an art project.”
“I thought it was just a monument to your laziness.”
“It’s a carefully crafted tribute to our relationship.”
Sam gave the mirror a skeptical look. “Aren’t most of these numbers for times and dates you went out with your friends alone?”
She uncapped the lipstick and drew a big heart in the center of the glass. Then stuck the cap back on, tossed the lipstick in the sink, and left her towel on the bathroom floor as she headed into the bedroom with an inviting smile.
Sam didn’t have much to say about the lipstick after that.
Red was the color of the dress on the back of the door. The dry cleaning bag clung to him when he brushed by it until he was finally irritated enough to carry it into the bedroom and stick it in the closet. Jessica was studying on the bed when he entered and looked a little apologetic.
“Sorry, I meant to hang that up.”
“What’s it for?”
“That’s ambitious, shopping a whole year ahead.”
“Helen’s graduation. Next week. I borrowed the dress from Amy.”
“Did Amy want to know why you couldn’t wear your own clothes?”
“I traded her my blue tank top and those cut offs you like for the weekend. It’s a girl thing,” she assured him solemnly.
The dress never left the closet again.
Red was the color of fire, was the color of the spray of roses on her casket. Twenty-two flowers, crimson on mahogany. One for every year of her life. He had stood there, awkward in a rented suit, unable to meet her parent’s eyes.
Red was... the color of sunlight through his eyelids. Sam squinted without opening them, trying to get away from the irritation without having to actually move. Exhaustion lay on him like a physical weight and the sheet covering him seemed an impossible burden to struggle against, but eventually the persistent annoyance of the light prodded him to try rolling over. Plastic under his body clung and crinkled as he moved. Even in his befuddled state Sam knew that was very wrong. He forced his eyelids open and stared up at the sloped, white ceiling, trying to reconstruct his last memories. Everything seemed ... hazy.
And like he’d been here before.
Sam grimaced and shifted again under the thin sheet, meaning to put his back to the wall-length window while he puzzled things out. The dull ache in his thigh when he rested his weight on it brought back his last waking moment in a rush and he sat up in alarm -- then swore violently as the ache from the injection site took an abrupt back seat to the discomfort his new position caused. But at least it wasn’t the sharp pain from... earlier. He looked around warily, but the door was closed and he was alone in the room. The syringe Dean had injected him with lay on the bedside table, still half full of whatever sedative he’d used. Sam didn’t know why he wasn’t dead, but he didn’t intend to give Dean a second chance. Someone had covered him up, and someone had uncuffed him -- but until he knew why he was going to arm himself with whatever was available.
Sam was just reaching for the needle when the bedroom door swung open. He froze and stared in disbelief as Bobby Singer walked in. Sam would not have been more surprised if Santa Clause and twelve festive reindeer had entered the room and he wondered for a heartbeat if the residual drug in his system was causing him to hallucinate.
Even though he’d spent years on the road in his father’s shadow, Sam had met few of John Winchester’s hunting contacts more than once. Bobby had been the exception. In the confusing period after Pastor Jim’s death Sam spent a lot of time at Bobby’s place. He’d found Bobby’s patient ear and the sunny junkyard kitchen more comforting during that time than his father’s gruff directives and the cramped boredom of the Impala’s interior. John seemed to understand that and left Sam to Bobby’s care for weeks on end while he pursued his own business. But there had been a growing tension between his dad and Bobby, late night arguments and angry silences that neither adult would explain. Finally John packed Sam in the car and just never went back.
Not with Sam, anyway.
They looked at each other for a long, studying moment. And then the sound of shattering glass rang down the hallway and Bobby shut the door firmly behind himself.
“Bobby, I....What the hell is going on?” Sam finally demanded, at a loss for a better question. “What are you doing here?!”
Bobby exhaled heavily and scratched at his head. “How much do you know?”
“Know? I don’t know anything, except some jackass named Dean murdered Dad and...” The last words Dean had spoken as Sam blacked out surfaced in his mind and he licked suddenly dry lips. “I don’t know anything, Bobby,” he said again in a quieter voice. “What the hell is going on?”
Bobby bent to scoop Sam’s jeans off the floor and tossed them onto the bed next to him. “You look like five miles of bad road. Take a shower, get dressed, and I’ll tell you everything I know. Dean... won’t bother you. He’s busy demolishing the kitchen. Get cleaned up and then we’ll sort things out.”
“I don’t want a shower! I want some fucking answers!”
The door opened and Dean slouched inside the frame, arms crossed tightly over his chest and no expression at all on his face. “Sounds like sleeping beauty’s finally awake.”
“Who the hell are you?!” Sam demanded, hitching the sheet a little higher. He hadn’t missed the assessing sweep of Dean’s gaze and wasn’t happy about the position he was in.
“Your big brother, apparently,” Dean replied tonelessly. He glanced over at Bobby. Sam followed his eyes, not even sure where to start with the hundreds of questions swirling through his mind.
“I told your dad this was a shitty thing to do, and I’m damned unhappy he’s not here to clean up his own mess,” Bobby growled.
“He’s not high on anyone’s list of favorite people today,” Dean snapped.
“Wait! Just-- wait.” Sam stopped the conversation. “I don’t even care about the rest of this yet. You killed my father, and I want to know why before we talk about anything else. He trusted you, he turned his back on you, and you killed him! I don’t care who you are, you’re going to pay for that.”
“Even if he was dying?” Dean asked quietly. “Even if he wanted me to?”
“I don’t believe you,” Sam said. “I saw the security tape, and he wasn’t expecting the bullet.”
Dean shifted. “I thought it would be kinder that way. Easier. And there wasn’t any time left to make other plans.”
“He was infected by a werewolf, Sam,” Bobby explained.
“I think you need to start at the beginning.”
“There’s not much of a beginning to start at.” Dean gave a half-shrug from his still slouched position. “I hadn’t heard from him for awhile, then he called me up one afternoon sounding half out of his head and said he’d been bitten by a werewolf and he wanted me to finish it for him. I was a few hours away, so I got in the car and drove to Shreveport, but by the time I found him the sun was setting. He was barely coherent. It was the full moon, Sam, and the moon was already up. What was I supposed to do? Wrestle him down in the maybe five minutes he had left and then hope I could drag him off before he turned infectious? Pray for a convenient holding pen so I could wait it out and we could spend one last dreamy day together? He was my dad, and he asked me to do this for him. What the fuck did you want me to do?”
“You said he was out of his head and barely coherent -- that doesn’t sound like werewolf symptoms! Maybe he had hit his head, maybe he was drugged! Did you even slow down to find out?” Sam shouted.
“Sam,” Bobby said gently, “he was tracking a werewolf when I spoke with him last. It doesn’t matter how good a hunter somebody is, you were in the business long enough to know that there’s eventually gonna come a time when you aren’t good enough. You know it, I know it, and John sure as hell knew it. Sometimes when people are getting ready to turn for the first time they show some confusion and bizarre behavior. It’s not common, but it happens.”
“He also had a nasty bite on his forearm,” Dean offered into the bitter silence of the room.
“It can’t have been just a werewolf hunt,” Sam said after a moment. “He mailed me his journal and a note that said he would be by to pick it up. It was over a month later when the police found his body. He never called, he never wrote -- what was he doing for all that time? Not tracking one werewolf, and he wouldn’t have sent me the damn book if that’s all it was.”
“He mailed you his journal?” Dean asked sharply. “All of it?”
Sam looked at him, surprised. “He took out the pages about whatever he was working on when he fell off the map. Why?”
Bobby and Dean exchanged an unreadable look. “Just curious,” Dean said finally.
“Curious,” Sam repeated flatly.
“If you had the whole thing it might help us backtrack what he was doing and make sure at least the wolf that got him is dead,” Bobby said.
“You seriously think he was tracking a werewolf for five weeks?”
“Who knows? Maybe he finished up his last job and just tripped over this one,” Bobby shrugged. “We didn’t have a long conversation about it. He didn’t need my help for one damn werewolf.”
“What about his truck and his things? I checked around the usual places and couldn’t find anything. And he was completely unarmed! Without even his jacket? You think he just got bitten and wandered off? Why the hell wouldn’t he have called me? He had time!”
“I found the truck and stripped it,” Dean said, meeting Sam’s eyes evenly. “It was in a mall parking lot a few blocks away. He didn’t leave any smoking guns in it, if that’s what you want to know. I took the gear, ditched the truck -- problem solved.”
“And his jacket? The missing notes? Being unarmed?” Sam demanded.
“He was confused,” Dean shrugged. “He probably had to take the jacket off to check out the bite. Maybe he lost the gun in the fight--”
“What fight?” Sam snapped.
“The one where he got bitten,” Dean snapped back. “You don’t think he just held his arm out pretty as you please to get chomped on? And who the hell knows what happened to the missing pages from the journal? Maybe they’re in the coat in some godforsaken Shreveport alley, or maybe he spilled coffee on them and they got trashed at some roadside dive. It doesn’t matter. I did what I had to do, what he wanted me to do. If he wanted you to get a fucking say he’d have called you too.” On that note Dean peeled himself off the doorframe and vanished back down the hall. Sam glared after him in mute fury.
“Is he really my brother?” Sam demanded to know, still glaring through the doorway.
“Yeah,” Bobby sighed. “He really is.”
In the wake of the conversation Sam put his anger on hold as his body took the opportunity to remind him of all the way it had been abused in the last twenty-four hours. He needed more answers, but he needed a shower and some time to get his bearings more. He was grateful that other than one long, hard look Bobby had refrained from commenting on the plastic sheeting, syringe, and handcuffs still attached to the bed frame. Sam escaped into the bathroom and stayed under the pounding spray of the shower until the hot water had long run to tepid. Careful fingertips found the marks of the night before; a bruise here, the scrape of teeth there. He barely remembered getting some of them, but he remembered the pleasure. With his brother. Sam didn’t know why that made it so much worse than it had been when all Dean had been was his dad’s killer. He didn’t even know where to start reconciling the new information, but at least it explained the sense of... connection. Maybe.
He was going to send Pam a pointed letter about the usefulness of vague warnings.
When he was finally dried off and dressed in clothes that still smelled like bar smoke, he went to find Bobby again. The bedroom was empty and all signs of the previous night were gone, the mattress had been stripped and the comforter lay in a jumbled heap at the foot of the bed. Sam stepped over it and followed the sound of clattering plates and running water to the kitchen.
Bobby glanced up when he entered the kitchen and set aside the bowl he had been rinsing out. “I didn’t get a chance to say earlier, but it’s damn good to see you again. Even in this situation.”
“It was nice to see a friendly face,” Sam told him, managing a tired smile. “What’re you doing here?”
“He called me. You said some things that made him suspicious during... whatever you boys were doing, so he got in contact to find out if there was any truth to what you were saying. I was only a couple of hours away on my own business. I got here about thirty minutes before you woke up.”
Sam’s stomach reminded him that it had been more than twenty four hours since he had last eaten. He picked up a box of Cheerio’s.
“You can eat whatever you can find; Dean’s not gonna care.”
Sam really hadn’t been concerned about how Dean would feel if Sam ate his cereal. He opened cabinets until he found some bowls. Though speaking of Dean... “Where is he?”
“Out, picking some things up. He’s already heard the story and I didn’t think it needed his editorial.”
“Was that why he was throwing dishes around earlier?”
“He wasn’t happy,” Bobby said in what was probably a wild understatement.
Sam sympathized. Or would have if he hadn’t spent part of his time in the shower cataloging all the places Dean had touched him. He didn’t want to think about his own marks left on Dean’s skin.
“How can he be my brother?” Sam tried to keep the plaintive note out of his voice. “Dad and Pastor Jim always had the same story about how I ended up staying at Pastor Jim’s place. The house fire, mom dying -- that was all the same. No one ever mentioned a brother.”
Bobby sighed. “I doubt Jim knew about Dean. He was about four when Mary died. You were a baby, only about six months old. John barely managed to get you out of the nursery. Smoke inhalation did some damage and you were in and out of the hospital for a while. John didn’t have a place to live; he was... crazed, after the fire. He’d seen something awful in that house and no one could convince him otherwise. By the time we did meet up he was already on his path, it was all anyone could do to convince him that eating and sleeping were as important as hunting and killing things. He was like a machine for awhile. Mellowed out some as he got older.”
“Not much,” Sam said.
“You should have seen him then,” Bobby snorted. “When I met him he was two hundred pounds of anger and rage. All grim stares and a twitchy gun hand. I’d rather have tripped over a bear in an alley than have your dad at my back with a grievance. And trailing along behind him was the blondest little wide-eyed boy you’d ever seen. John used to leave the kid locked in the car while he did some of his more irresponsible things in the early days, finally Bill Harvelle and I sat him down and insisted that wasn’t anyway to raise a kid. John didn’t like that much, but then he turned up out of the blue one day and asked if I wanted to babysit for a few days. Since I’d been the one pitching a fit about leaving the boy sleeping in the car while John stalked monsters I didn’t feel like I was in much of a position to argue, besides -- getting along with your dad back then was like trying to befriend a wild animal. If he was willing to leave his son with me then I figured we were making progress. And Dean was a sweet kid. I’d always planned on having some, but... that didn’t turn out. I didn’t mind having him around.”
“I have trouble imagining Dean as a sweet anything,” Sam said darkly.
“Well, time took care of the kid part and life took care of the sweet. He’s not a bad man, Sam. You guys could’ve had a better first meeting than a mutual murder attempt… But he’s not a bad man.”
Sam didn’t think there was enough fervor in Bobby’s wish filled in on everything that Sam’s first meeting with Dean had entailed. He wondered how Dean had explained the situation.
“He killed dad.”
“He did what he had to,” Bobby countered.
Sam grunted in acknowledgment but didn’t otherwise reply to that. “That still doesn’t tell me anything about why we didn’t know about each other.”
“I told you John was a madman after the fire. He didn’t have a place to live and he didn’t care. He was obsessed with research and trying to prove he wasn’t insane. Social services was all over you. They took a dim view of your dad’s situation and assigned you to foster care. They tried for Dean a couple of times, but John wouldn’t turn him over and kept moving around so they couldn’t find him. It finally got to the point where when he tried to visit you they tried to arrest him and... That seemed to be the last straw. You were sick, and an infant and he couldn’t care for you. Hell, he could barely care for himself, or Dean for that matter.”
“But... I didn’t grow up in foster care. I grew up with Pastor Jim.”
“Your dad had some questionable parenting skills, but no one ever faulted his sense of ownership. By the time you were healthy again he’d regained enough reason to know he had no business with a baby, but he knew and trusted Jim. More than he trusted anyone else at that time, certainly not some random state-assigned foster parents. As far as I understand Jim agreed to take you in and your dad pretty much went and snatched you the next day.”
“Why not tell me about Dean? Why not tell Dean about me? Didn’t he remember having a baby brother?”
“I didn’t meet Dean until he was about six. He was already a decent shot and could name more monsters off the top of his head than I could. His idea of entertainment was to quiz me on various ways of disposing of a chupacabra. Sometimes though, when he was playing alone he’d talk like there was someone with him, an imaginary friend named Sammy. I didn’t think much of it, but I mentioned it to John later. With the business we’re in you can never be too careful about the line between imaginary and dangerous. Half a bottle of cheap whiskey and I got the whole story of how your dad got into the business in the first place. Dean grew out of it, turned up one day saying imaginary friends were for babies.”
“But... if you met Dad when Dean was six then I’d already been at the Pastor Jim’s for a year and a half. You didn’t know about me?”
Bobby shrugged. “I didn’t know Jim then. I knew of him, he was a good source for the Carolina hunters, but I didn’t know him personally. He was one of the first people who took your dad in, but your dad and I met later through the Harvelles. You don’t think I know every hunter, do you Sam? They call it a loose network for a reason.”
“None of that explains why he didn’t tell us about each other!”
“Because he thought you were safe.” Dean’s unexpected voice from only a few feet behind caused Sam to spill the juice he was drinking. He grabbed a kitchen towel off the table and glared at Dean, who continued on unconcerned. “By the time he decided that was something worth having I was already in it up to my eyeballs, but you weren’t. He could leave you alone in your nice, normal life and keep you out of all the crap and blood the rest of us wade through.”
“Did he tell you this or are you just taking a guess?”
“You think we had a lot of long meaningful conversations while standing on that street corner?” Dean demanded. “I knew the man; you fill in the blanks if you think you knew him better.”
“Fine,” Sam gritted.” That explains why I didn’t know about you when I was little, but I did get dragged into all of this, so why the hell wouldn’t he have told me about you then?”
Bobby and Dean exchanged another one of those silent glances that set Sam’s teeth on edge, then Dean shrugged. “He didn’t approve of some of my life choices. I guess he thought I would be a bad role model.”
Sam did some quick calculations in his head. “I was... twelve when Pastor Jim died and dad took me with him. You were only sixteen or so. What kind of life choices did you make at sixteen that he disapproved of so much? Where the hell were you?”
Dean shrugged and pulled a bottle out of the refrigerator. “Mostly in Europe. A little in South America.”
“What was dad’s problem with that?”
“Not all monsters have claws and fangs.” Dean’s smile was thin.
“He was an assassin,” Bobby cut in irritably. “John didn’t approve.”
“Is there an echo in here, Samantha?” Dean picked a black duffle bag up off the couch and shrugged the strap over his shoulder. “Are you about ready to go?” he asked Bobby.
“Go where?” Sam demanded. “I’m not done getting answers.”
“Tough,” Dean said flatly. “I’m done giving them. Dad was mauled by a werewolf, he was out of his head, I did what I had to do. You found out, didn’t know fuck-all about what was going on, and decided to toss your hat in the revenge ring. We met up, fucked up, and Bobby sorted us out. Now the big kids have work to do while you... run on back to your nice college life. I got you a reservation on a flight this afternoon. No need to thank me, just go home. We can pretend these last few days never happened.”
“That’s it?” Sam asked incredulously. “That’s how you want this to end?”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Seems tidy to me. Questions answered, problems solved. Everyone currently alive gets to live. What’s your problem with that?”
“You’re my brother! We’re family. The only family we have left, unless you know of anyone else hiding under some damp rocks!”
“Family?” Dean repeated skeptically. “We’re total strangers who have some common ancestry. I’ve got almost as much in common with Jo Bob down at the riverside bar. Should we invite him to hang out too? Paint our nails, braid each other’s hair?”
Sam looked between him and Bobby for a long frustrated moment, then an expression of resolve crept over his features that would’ve set anyone who knew him on alert. “What work?”
“You told Bobby you guys had work to do. What work?”
“Trolls. We think they took over a farm somewhere near Pinola,” Bobby offered when Dean remained silent.
“Fine. Sounds good. I don’t even have to pack.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean demanded.
“You’re in such a mad rush to get out of here for the job that you can’t even take an hour to talk to me? I’ll just come along with you.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Dean said flatly.
“Why? I’m an adult, and it’s not like I haven’t done this before.”
“You’ve hunted Trolls?”
“I’ve hunted a lot of things,” Sam snapped. “I can take care of myself.”
Dean’s expression grew speculative, he looked over at Bobby. “What do you think?” The question seemed more loaded than it should have been and Sam frowned.
Bobby studied him silently for a long moment, then shrugged. “He’s a full grown man who can make his own decisions. John did have him under his wing for about five years and never complained about his skill. He can probably watch your back.”
“I don’t even know if I want him watching my front yet.” Before Sam could object, Dean gave a resigned sigh. “Yeah, fine.”
“You still want me to come?” Bobby asked.
Dean waved dismissively. “No, go on. We can handle this. Go finish up what you were doing before I dragged you into our little family squabble.”
Bobby looked a little uncertainly between them. “You sure? I don’t mind.”
“What about it, Sam? You think we need Bobby around to make sure we play nice with each other?” Dean’s smile was mocking, but Sam wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of rising to the bait.
He couldn’t do much about the anger in his eyes, but he pasted a fake smile firmly on his face. “I’m sure we can handle it ourselves.”
Bobby didn’t look convinced, but raised his bottle in a half salute anyways. “It’s your funerals.”
Sam walked around the Impala in the sunlight, seeing all the little details darkness and his preoccupation had hidden from him. Scratches on the fender from a hunt in Waxahachie, a thin score where he had shot cans off the trunk during one particularly surly summer afternoon. His dad had not been amused. Sometime between now and then the paint had been redone and the car was waxed to a high gloss, but his fingers could still find the imperfection.
Inside there were even more reminders he had missed in the dark. Neatly repaired rips in the leather of the backseat, discoloration in the carpet where a solution for dissolving Shalgoth bones had spilled on a bumpy backcountry road just north of Chattanooga.
His initials scored into the plastic under the dash where they couldn’t be seen unless you knelt outside the car and knew exactly where to look.
Sam pulled the box of tapes out from under the bench. The music had reminded him of childhood, and for good reason. It was the exact same soundtrack. Familiar recorded tapes filled the box, some were store bought, but most were compilations with their white track-listed liners in battered plastic cases.
Sam pulled one of the cassettes from the box and examined the hand writing, then frowned and examined another tape. He had never noticed, back when his life had revolved around the Impala and the endless miles that vanished under her wheels, that the track titles had been written in more than one hand. He recognized his dad’s bold print on about half of them, but the rest were distinctly different, less angular, and the slant was all wrong. Someone else who had been at his dad’s side enough to take an interest in the music collection had labeled those tapes. Someone else... whose life had also revolved around the Impala and the merciless quest that drove his father’s life.
Their father’s life.
Sam hadn’t necessarily doubted what Bobby had told him, but holding proof in his hands made everything so much more real.
Real like the bruises on his skin and the vivid memories of Dean’s callused hands, rough in sensitive places.
Sam swore quietly to himself and stuffed the tapes and the box back under the bench seat. He was suddenly sorry he had invited himself along on Dean’s little outing. He needed time and space to think, to deal with the last two days and try and sort out how he felt.
“Ready to go?” The impatience in Dean’s voice wasn’t reflected in the expressionless mask of his face. Sam was filled with a sense of utter certainty that if he walked away now he would never see Dean again.
Family he had been unaware of, a brother he had never known. That he wanted to know. Regardless of what had happened between them so far, he still wanted that chance.
“Yeah. I’m ready.”
He could always leave later.
“Fantastic.” Dean walked around the Impala and tossed his bag in the trunk, then slid into the driver’s seat and pulled the door closed.
“I figure I’ll take you back to the bar to get your rental, then we can drop it off and you can clear out of your motel room. Unless you like paying for days you won’t be living there.”
Dean still didn’t start the car, drumming his fingers on the wheel indecisively until Sam frowned and opened his mouth to ask what the problem was. Dean cut him off. “I think we need to set some ground rules.”
“Like what?” Sam asked warily.
“Like I don’t want to talk about dad,” Dean snapped.
“There’s not a whole lot we can talk about that doesn’t involve him,” Sam snapped back.
“We don’t need to talk about anything.”
Sam stared at him in disbelief. “What about last night?”
Dean scowled and turned the key. The Impala rumbled to life around them. Even distracted and twitchy with adrenaline Sam couldn’t believe he hadn’t recognized this car.
“I don’t want to talk about what happened in Shreveport,” Dean clarified as he shifted the Impala into gear and headed down the long, canopied driveway.”
“What about you being an assassin?” Sam asked pointedly. “Can we talk about that?”
Dean heaved a heavy sigh. “How ’bout we play the quiet game until we get your damn car, and then... you can ask me anything you want. As long as it’s not about Shreveport. Oh and here,” Dean pulled something from his jacket pocket, “you should probably take this back.”
“How did you get my wallet?” Sam demanded, flipping it open to make sure everything was intact.
“You were snoozing and Bobby was still a few hours away. You didn’t think I sat on my ass all that time, did you?”
“You broke into my car?”
Dean gave him a look like he was slow.
“Right,” Sam sighed. “You took my keys.”
A long pause stretched out between them.
“So,” Dean changed the subject, “how much do you know about trolls?”
For someone who had suggested a trip in silence Dean hadn’t shown much interest in letting conversation lapse, as long as it was restricted to hunting matters and didn’t touch on anything personal. Sam had tried segueing into areas he was more interested in, but Dean routed his attempts by simply ignoring the off-topic remarks. By the time they pulled into the bar parking lot Sam hadn’t managed to satisfy any of his curiosity, but knew chapter and verse what it was like to hunt kappa through swamplands. He made a mental note to avoid that experience if at all possible.
The car was in the bar parking lot where he’d left it. It was sunset by the time he reached the rental lot and slipped the keys in the night drop off box. Clearing out his motel room took no more than five minutes, and he left the swipe card for the lock on the bed where the maid would find it. When he left the room he half expected to have been abandoned, but the Impala sat right where he had left her, rumbling idly under a street lights while Dean drummed out the rhythm to Paranoid on the steering wheel. Sam tossed his bag into the backseat and slid into the car like it was the habit of decades. And it was, he’d just been a lot shorter then.
And someone else was driving.
Dean had lost the mood to talk in the time it had taken Sam to return his car and pick up his things. After a couple of grunts and one word answers Sam let himself relax into the familiar leather seat that still radiated traces of the day’s warmth. In spite of having slept most of the previous day he found himself surprisingly exhausted and was lulled into a nap as the last traces of daylight slipped from the sky.
He wasn’t sure what time it was when he woke up. Black Sabbath had given way to Led Zeppelin playing quietly through the speakers. Sam ran an admiring hand over the dashboard, smooth and clean like factory new. Whatever else could be said about Dean, he knew how to take care of a vehicle. Sam figured that if Dean didn’t want to talk about personal stuff, maybe he would be more talkative about a car he obviously cherished.
“I always wondered what happened to the Impala.”
“What did dad tell you?” Dean asked quietly.
“Not much,” Sam shrugged. “One day he left for a hunt driving it, and he showed up a few days later with the truck. Didn’t seem interested in talking about it, just said the truck was better suited for the job.”
“How did you get it?”
“How do you think I got it? He gave it to me.”
“That’s real informative, thanks.”
For a moment Sam didn’t think Dean was going to say anything else, but then his expression relaxed a bit and he sighed. “I always took better care of it than he did. We had a disagreement and I left for awhile. Things weren’t great between us for a few years. We never really patched it up for the father and son thing, you know? But we did okay on jobs together, even if he wasn’t real happy about some of my decisions. One day he just tossed me the keys and said she was mine.”
“You didn’t ask him about it?” Sam asked, wanting to hear more about the relationship between the father he felt like he knew less every day, and the brother he hadn’t known at all.
“Do I look like a girl to you?” Dean demanded. “He gave me the car! You think I wanted to have a long teary discussion about it? He was thinking that the Impala gets crappy mileage, sticks out, and tends to not do so well off-roading. So he got a truck, and gave me the cast off.”
“You don’t treat it like a cast off.”
“I thought we were discussing what dad was thinking.”
“What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking I was grateful I was an only child and didn’t have to share,” Dean growled.
Sam reached out to turn the air conditioner up a little. “Earlier you said I could ask you about anything but Shreveport.”
Dean groaned. “I didn’t say I was gonna answer.”
“You brought it up,” Sam said heartlessly. “That disagreement you mentioned, that was the assassin thing?”
“’Assassin thing,’” Dean repeated with an eye roll Sam could hear in his voice.
“You don’t like the word?”
“It’s the way you say it, like something exotic and dripping with Hollywood. Killing people is just another dirty job. Like being a janitor, but with a gun.”
“And that’s how you make a living?”
“On and off.”
“On and off? What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that when there’s an interesting contract floating around I’m on, and when there isn’t I hunt things that go bump in the night with the rest of you,” Dean said irritably.
“Not with me.”
“No,” Dean’s voice was thoughtful. “You walked out.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“What was it like then? Because to hear Bobby tell it, one day you were learning the trade and shaping up well, and the next you flipped dad the bird and caught a bus to sunny California. Sounds like walking out to me.”
“You’re one to talk! Whatever you did was so bad he didn’t even let me know you existed.” Sam felt a brief surge of satisfaction in the silence that followed his outburst, but it quickly faded to guilt. Dean hadn’t known about him either, and John’s blanket of silence had started long before anything an adolescent Dean could have done to break their dad’s trust that profoundly.
“Sorry,” Sam muttered.
Dean shrugged, eyes still glued on the road ahead. It was fully dark and the desolate highway around them was lit only by headlights and the overhead moon.
“I just mean--“ Sam continued when Dean didn’t say anything, “--I don’t know what you did. But that’s the problem, I don’t know anything about you, and I’m starting to seriously question if I really knew anything about dad either.”
“And you think you’re going to catch up on twenty something years in a couple of hours on the road?”
“I think I’d like a few things explained, if it’s not too much trouble.” The sarcasm caused the corner of Dean’s mouth to twitch. “ Bobby said you were four when mom died, dad picked me up when I was thirteen and you were already gone by then so you had to be about seventeen when you embarked on your new career.”
“Sixteen. I turned seventeen a few months later.”
“Sixteen -- and you what? Just decided one day that there weren’t enough monsters out there and you wanted to expand your horizons?”
“They’re all monsters, Sam. Some of them just clean up better in the light.”
“We have police for that, Dean. Cops, court systems, prisons. Hunters exist to take care of things that other people can’t deal with.”
“Yeah. Exactly. There’s a lot of horrible people that people can’t deal with. You don’t let them keep on breathing just because you’re a little squeamish about what spawned them in the first place! If a rugaru kills a little girl at least it’s for food and not sadistic sport. I don’t take contracts from people who want insurance money or are bored in their marriages, Sam. I only hunt monsters. I just don’t care about their species.”
“So you decided to strike out on your own one day?”
Dean snorted. “Get real. That’s like striking out on your own to hunt vampires armed with an Anne Rice novel and a wooden stake.”
“Dad did. Not the vampires, but the striking out on his own with no clue what was really out there.”
“Dad was not even close to being in his right mind. He was just lucky enough to trip over people with real skills almost immediately. I was... Is this really even important?”
“Yes,” Sam said.
Dean’s sigh spoke of long suffering and a deep desire for Sam to shut up. “There was a man I needed to kill. I couldn’t do it for a long time and it bothered me. A lot. Eventually I decided to do something about it, dad found out what I was planning and we had a pretty public fight about it in a bar out East. It’s a hunter hang out -- Harvelle’s Roadhouse, know it?”
“I’ve heard about it, never been there.”
“Of course not, someone might have asked you how your older brother was or told me about dad dragging around another kid and then his game would have been up.”
Sam frowned.“You were hanging out in a bar at sixteen?”
“Ellen didn’t care as long as I wasn’t at the bar, they weren’t exactly worried about a raid, you know? Good local connections.”
Sam resisted the urge to wander down another conversational corridor. “Tell me about the fight.”
“There’s not much to tell. You know dad; we hunt monsters, cops hunt people, and any laws he finds inconvenient are for other people. He was pissed at me, told me if I did this he never wanted to see me again. I said fine and stormed out. Dad stayed inside to drown his anger under enough alcohol to fill the Impala’s tank. While I was kicking rocks in the parking lot a guy came up and said if I was serious about killing this person, he’d show me how to do it smart and not get caught. Humans take a little more finesse than unnamed horrors in the dark.”
“A strange guy walked up to you in a dark bar parking lot, offered to take you off and show you how to murder people and you just hopped in the car?” Sam asked incredulously.
“I could handle myself.”
“I’m starting to really understand why dad kept me on a short leash.”
“Maybe you just needed more hand-holding.”
“At least I wasn’t climbing into cars with strange men in the middle of the night!”
“Not when you were sixteen maybe,” Dean said in a voice that invited Sam to remember a time when he had made that mistake. No matter how deliberate.
“I hope you had a better outcome,” Sam snapped.
“I didn’t find any long lost family if that’s what you’re asking.”
Sam refused to get dragged into that discussion. “So he was legit?”
“Yeah,” Dean exhaled heavily. “He was.”
Sam waited until it became obvious Dean didn’t intend to keep talking. “And?” he prodded.
“And what happened!”
Dean shrugged easily, but his knuckles on the wheel were white with tension. “What do you think happened? I killed the guy. And then I didn’t see any reason to stop with one scumbag, and dad wasn’t talking to me, so I stayed on with my new teacher and learned the ropes of the trade. When I had enough skill I started flying solo. Dad and I eventually made up, a little at least, and he gave me the car. We hunted together occasionally, then one day I got that call and went to Shreveport and that’s pretty much it.”
“That’s a short story.”
“Yes,” Dean said pointedly, “it is.”
Silence filled the car again. “What about the plan?”
“The troll hunting plan; the whole point of this outing!”
“That. Yeah, hard to make much of one at this point. We’re pretty sure they’re in that area, so we’ll get a room for what’s left of the night, and start poking around tomorrow.”
“You don’t have any other information?”
Dean scowled. “There’re trolls. We have to find them and kill them. How much of a roadmap do you need?”
If Dean didn’t want to talk about the hunt, Sam had another topic all ready to go. “We have to talk about Shreveport eventually.”
“We really don’t. I’ve already told you everything you need to know about it.”
“He was my dad too, Dean.”
“You keep mentioning that, I’m kind of surprised you dwell on our siblinghood considering how our first meeting worked out and all.”
Sam stiffened in his seat. “I don’t want to talk about that.” It was too big of a mess in his head, he needed more time before he could talk about it.
“Oh, now we have a topic you don’t want to talk about. How is that fair?”
“You were there,” Sam said defensively. “I don’t need to fill anything in for you.”
“I’d like to know more about what the hell you thought you were doing coming home with me that night! Did you even have a plan?”
“I think my plan was pretty obvious!”
“Right, but I was talking about your plan to kill me or whatever it was you were after. Not your plan to get my pants off.”
“I just needed to get close to -- Jesus, Dean! I wasn’t planning to go to bed with you!”
“’Go to bed’ with me? What did you think that was -- a slumber party? It’s called sex, Sam. If you can’t even say it, you probably shouldn’t be having it. And whatever your other plan was, it sucked. Obviously.”
Sam groaned in wordless irritation. It didn’t help that Dean was right. His plan had sucked. Demonstrably. But grief, anger, and the tight time frame had made things more difficult. In the aftermath he could think of a hundred things he should’ve done differently. Hindsight was like that.
“Besides,” Dean continued, “what if you’d succeeded? What were you going to do then, genius? Cut my throat with a kitchen knife and congratulate yourself on a job well done? Bet that’ve stung if you ran into Bobby again sometime and found out the truth.”
“I’d would have gotten it out of you before it went that far, and I would have been curious just like you were,” retorted Sam.
Dean snorted indelicately. “You wouldn’t have gotten shit out of me.”
Sam bristled. “You have no idea what I would’ve done.”
“I know I wouldn’t drink from a glass that had been out of my sight for an instant. And I know you can’t take me in hand-to-hand.”
“Oh, you know that.”
“Yeah, I do. But feel free to not take my word for it. Wanna wrestle it out?” Dean’s confident smugness faded and the sidelong glance he raked Sam with was all together more... appraising. Sam didn’t think it was the size of his muscles that were being sized up.
He grit his teeth, suddenly wanting out of the car more than he wanted answers about his family. “How much further?”
“You’re in luck,” Dean told him, voice heavy with personal amusement. “We get off here.”